Commentary Magazine


Posts For: June 4, 2012

Obama Makes it Too Easy on His Critics

In a recent interview with Rolling Stone magazine, the president was asked about the tone and tenor of the debate that’s going to take place during the campaign. Obama answered, in part, this way:

[The GOP’s] vision is that if there’s a sliver of folks doing well at the top who are unencumbered by any regulatory restraints whatsoever, that the nation will grow and prosperity will trickle down. The challenge that they’re going to have is: We tried it. From 2000 to 2008, that was the agenda. It wasn’t like we have to engage in some theoretical debate – we’ve got evidence of how it worked out. It did not work out well, and I think the American people understand that. Now, the burden on me is going to be to describe for the American people how the progress we’ve made over the past three years, if sustained, will actually lead to the kind of economic security that they’re looking for. There’s understandable skepticism, because things are still tough out there… The fact of the matter is that times are still tough for too many people, and the recovery is still not as robust as we’d like, and that’s what will make it a close election. It’s not because the other side has a particularly persuasive theory in terms of how they’re going to move this country forward.

So Obama wants a debate based not on theoretical claims but on empirical achievements.

Wonderful. Why don’t we accommodate the president?

Read More

In a recent interview with Rolling Stone magazine, the president was asked about the tone and tenor of the debate that’s going to take place during the campaign. Obama answered, in part, this way:

[The GOP’s] vision is that if there’s a sliver of folks doing well at the top who are unencumbered by any regulatory restraints whatsoever, that the nation will grow and prosperity will trickle down. The challenge that they’re going to have is: We tried it. From 2000 to 2008, that was the agenda. It wasn’t like we have to engage in some theoretical debate – we’ve got evidence of how it worked out. It did not work out well, and I think the American people understand that. Now, the burden on me is going to be to describe for the American people how the progress we’ve made over the past three years, if sustained, will actually lead to the kind of economic security that they’re looking for. There’s understandable skepticism, because things are still tough out there… The fact of the matter is that times are still tough for too many people, and the recovery is still not as robust as we’d like, and that’s what will make it a close election. It’s not because the other side has a particularly persuasive theory in terms of how they’re going to move this country forward.

So Obama wants a debate based not on theoretical claims but on empirical achievements.

Wonderful. Why don’t we accommodate the president?

Annual economic growth was three times higher under President Bush than under President Obama. Under Bush, the unemployment rate averaged 5.3 percent; under Obama, it has never been under 8 percent. In the wake of a recession that began roughly seven weeks after President Bush took office, America experienced six years of uninterrupted economic growth and a record 52 straight months of job creation that produced more than 8 million new jobs. We saw labor-productivity gains that averaged 2.5 percent annually — a rate that exceeds the averages of the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s. Real after-tax income per capita increased by more than 11 percent. And from 2000 to 2007, real GDP grew by more than 17 percent, a gain of nearly $2.1 trillion. As for the deficit, it fell to 1 percent of GDP ($162 billion) by 2007. Indeed, before the financial crisis of 2008 – which I’ll return to in a moment — Bush’s budget deficits were 0.6 percentage points below the historical average.

As for the Obama record, as I point out in this essay in the current issue of COMMENTARY, President Obama has overseen the weakest recovery on record. He is on track to have the worst jobs record of any president in the modern era. The standard of living for Americans has fallen more dramatically during his presidency than during any since the government began recording it five decades ago. Unemployment has been above 8 percent for 40 consecutive months, the longest such stretch since the Great Depression. Home values are nearly 35 percent lower than they were five years ago. The United States has amassed more than $5 trillion in debt since January 2009, with the president having submitted four budgets with trillion-dollar-plus deficits. Prior to Obama, no president had submitted even a single budget with deficits in excess of a trillion dollars. In addition, government dependency, defined as the percentage of persons receiving one or more federal benefit payments, is the highest in American history. And a record 46 million Americans are now living in poverty.

On Obama’s record, then, it’s not like we have to engage in some theoretical debate. We’ve got evidence of how it worked out. It did not work out well, and I think the American people understand that.

Now unlike Obama, some of us are willing to concede that things need to be placed within a proper context. Obama took the oath of office in the wake of a financial collapse that made every economic indicator much worse; it’s only fair to take that into account. But even here, in characterizing what happened, Obama insists on presenting a distorted picture of reality, pretending that it was wholly the fault of his predecessor and the GOP. In fact, it was a complex set of factors that involved everything from credit default swaps to the Federal Reserve to policies in which both parties were complicit. But this much we know: Democrats bear the majority of the blame for blocking reforms that could have mitigated the effects of the housing crisis, which in turn led to the broader financial crisis.

As Stuart Taylor put it in 2008:

The pretense of many Democrats that this crisis is altogether a Republican creation is simplistic and dangerous. It is simplistic because Democrats have been a big part of the problem, in part by supporting governmental distortions of the marketplace through mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, whose reckless lending practices necessitated a $200 billion government rescue [in September 2008]. … Fannie and Freddie appear to have played a major role in causing the current crisis, in part because their quasi-governmental status violated basic principles of a healthy free enterprise system by allowing them to privatize profit while socializing risk.

The Bush administration warned as early as April 2001 that Fannie and Freddie were too large and overleveraged and that their failure “could cause strong repercussions in financial markets, affecting federally insured entities and economic activity” well beyond housing. Bush’s plan would have subjected Fannie and Freddie to the kinds of federal regulation that banks, credit unions, and savings and loans have to comply with. In addition, Republican Richard Shelby, then chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, pushed for comprehensive GSE (government-sponsored enterprises) reform in 2005. And who blocked these efforts at reforming Fannie and Freddie? Democrats such as Christopher Dodd and Representative Barney Frank, along with the then-junior senator from Illinois, Barack Obama, who backed Dodd’s threat of a filibuster (Obama was the third-largest recipient of campaign gifts from Fannie and Freddie employees in 2004).

So Obama and his party bear a substantial (though not exclusive) responsibility in creating the economic crisis that Obama himself inherited. And even if you set all this aside, Obama entered office knowing what he faced, including a deficit and debt that was exploding. And rather than promote policies that accelerated economic growth and began to address our fiscal entitlement crisis, Obama went in exactly the opposite direction.

One other observation: historically, the worse the recession, the stronger the recovery (it’s referred to as the “rubber band effect.”) What is noteworthy about Obama’s economic record is how, in an environment in which one would expect the recovery to be unusually strong, it has been historically anemic. It seems to me, then, that “the other side” has quite a persuasive theory when it comes to moving the nation forward, at least compared to the theory being advanced by the current occupant in the White House.

Sometimes it seems as if Barack Obama is making it too easy on his critics.

Read Less

OPEC Battle Ahead for Iran

When OPEC meets later this month for its ministers’ summit, price-hawk Iran will confront a new reality – for the first time since the beginning of international sanctions against the regime in Tehran, oil prices are in free fall.

In the last few days, Brent Crude is finally trading below $100, a barrel benchmark. Crude traded at the New York Mercantile Exchange was trading today around $83 a barrel.

For Iran, this is bad news.

For years, the regime was able to somewhat cushion the combined impact of externally imposed sanctions and self-inflicted economic mismanagement thanks to high oil prices. No more.

Read More

When OPEC meets later this month for its ministers’ summit, price-hawk Iran will confront a new reality – for the first time since the beginning of international sanctions against the regime in Tehran, oil prices are in free fall.

In the last few days, Brent Crude is finally trading below $100, a barrel benchmark. Crude traded at the New York Mercantile Exchange was trading today around $83 a barrel.

For Iran, this is bad news.

For years, the regime was able to somewhat cushion the combined impact of externally imposed sanctions and self-inflicted economic mismanagement thanks to high oil prices. No more.

There are several reasons why prices are falling – the most closely related to Iran is, no doubt, the fact that nuclear negotiations have reduced the risk of conflict, which an already extremely volatile market had factored into futures. Naturally, the hopes for conflict avoidance may be short-lived, as nuclear talks have yielded no result so far and are likely to fail – the only question being, how long will it take before this failure becomes manifest in Western capitals.

But conflict is not the only price fixer. Global economic slowdown influenced prices downward significantly. The steady expansion of Iraqi output is another game changer. The nearly completed recovery of Libyan oil is a significant psychological barrier that is now coming down to ease the pressure on markets. And last, but not least, a new pipeline designed to bypass the Strait of Hormuz is about to come online in the United Arab Emirates. The pipeline will reduce export costs for oil produced by Abu Dhabi and avoid exposing it to the hazards of an Iranian attempt to seal the Strait in the event of a conflict.

Another element is that sustained price hikes, over time, encourage further exploration because, at such prices, extraction of crude in remote locations becomes lucrative. Eventually, more oil comes into the market, affecting supply upward and contributing to price reduction. Finally, markets have discounted risk by moving away from Iran’s oil, even before the EU-imposed oil embargo sets in on July 1. Proof that Iran’s oil is less relevant to global markets is the fact that Iran’s oil production is actually declining, with no significant impact on pricing.

All this means that oil prices are likely to remain low and likely to leave Iran in a pickle.

After all, Tehran is already finding it difficult to export – it is selling at a discount to a number of customers who have difficulty paying or fear political repercussions of doing business with Iran. It is accepting yuan and rupees payments from China and India – an element likely to limit Iran’s ability to use the revenue for anything other than purchasing products on the Indian market. Looming sanctions on oil exports and on insurance and reinsurance of crude carriers will corner Iran more and more – probably forcing Tehran to offer further discounts to prevent further flight among its customers.

And here’s the rub. Iran’s budget is pegged to an $85 a barrel oil price.

With prices below that benchmark and Iran having to offer further discounts or being dragged into barter agreements to avoid dollar payments that could trigger U.S. sanctions, it is very likely the regime will have less and less funds available to keep its power base happy.

Trouble is brewing then, and offering a facile compromise on nuclear matters to this regime at this juncture would be a terrible mistake. Sanctions are slowly working – but we should keep using them less to extract an impossible deal and more to undermine the regime in Tehran.

Read Less

The Falafel –Tikka Alliance

I have written here before to highlight the work of my colleague Sadanand Dhume, who has also penned this important piece for COMMENTARY a few years back. Dhume’s most recent essay in Tablet, “Coalition of the Nerds” should also be a must-read. Dhume begins:

So, the conspiracy theorists were right: Indians and Israelis really have been plotting world domination. In a 20-day contest in Moscow that ended last week, 42-year-old Chennai native Viswanathan Anand and 43-year-old Israeli Boris Gelfand battled for the 2012 World Chess Championship. Anand, the defending world champion, held off his challenger, but not before being taken to a tie breaker.

Indians and Israelis ought to savor this rare moment of sporting glory. Not to put too fine a point on it, but try to imagine an Indian-Israeli final in any other sport.

Take soccer, the so-called beautiful game. India is ranked a lowly 158th in the world; Israel last qualified for the World Cup in 1970. Or how about the Olympics? In Bejing four years ago, Israel snagged a single bronze … for wind surfing. With one gold (shooting) and a pair of bronzes (wrestling and boxing), India didn’t exactly set the medals table alight either.

Read More

I have written here before to highlight the work of my colleague Sadanand Dhume, who has also penned this important piece for COMMENTARY a few years back. Dhume’s most recent essay in Tablet, “Coalition of the Nerds” should also be a must-read. Dhume begins:

So, the conspiracy theorists were right: Indians and Israelis really have been plotting world domination. In a 20-day contest in Moscow that ended last week, 42-year-old Chennai native Viswanathan Anand and 43-year-old Israeli Boris Gelfand battled for the 2012 World Chess Championship. Anand, the defending world champion, held off his challenger, but not before being taken to a tie breaker.

Indians and Israelis ought to savor this rare moment of sporting glory. Not to put too fine a point on it, but try to imagine an Indian-Israeli final in any other sport.

Take soccer, the so-called beautiful game. India is ranked a lowly 158th in the world; Israel last qualified for the World Cup in 1970. Or how about the Olympics? In Bejing four years ago, Israel snagged a single bronze … for wind surfing. With one gold (shooting) and a pair of bronzes (wrestling and boxing), India didn’t exactly set the medals table alight either.

The whole article is worth reading. Dhume highlights the growing economic ties, as well as the two states’ mutual strategic interests. Both are democracies which battle the scourge of Islamist terrorism, but in which substantial Muslim minorities enjoy greater rights than their co-religionists do in many other countries in which they are the majority.

My own two cents: Colin Rubenstein at the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council (AIJAC) is right when he argues that for too long, Israeli politicians and diplomats ignored the importance of developing ties with Asia. There was too much hand-wringing in Israel about who let ties with Turkey collapse. Israeli officials’ belief that they might have done something differently was misguided. The simple fact was that Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan would stop at nothing to unravel Turkey-Israel ties out of his sheer hatred for the Jewish state. But, rather than grieve at Turkey’s loss, Israel should be celebrating its new partners in Asia, especially those like India with which it shares pluralistic, democratic values.

Read Less

Review: Who Killed the Dalai Lama?

Christopher Buckley, They Eat Puppies, Don’t They? (New York: Twelve, 2012). 352 pages. $25.99.

“They happened to get lucky — real lucky — with their timing,” a CIA official says of the co-conspirators at the heart of Christopher Buckley’s latest novel. Exactly the same can be said of Buckley. His ninth novel was in press, its dog-chomping title decided upon long before, when Jim Treacher of the Daily Caller broke the story that Barack Obama had boasted of eating “dog meat (tough)” as a boy, and the #ObamaEatsDog meme went viral. Then, just days after Buckley hit the bookstores with a new book that satirized the expensive sport of dressage (among other things), the New York Times obliged him with a 2,200-word front page story on Ann Romney’s immersion in “in the elite world of riding.”

You can’t buy that kind of publicity. Not that Buckley needs it. He may be the best comic novelist now writing in America, perhaps the best since Peter De Vries. His most celebrated novel is probably Thank You for Smoking (1994), a satire on the tobacco lobby and anti-tobacco zealots, which was filmed by Jason Reitman nine years later. I prefer Little Green Men (1999), his tale of a TV talk-show host who is abducted by aliens from a golf course.

The only child of William F. Buckley Jr., he was a speechwriter for Vice President George Bush before getting out of politics to mock it in hilarious restrained prose. The White House Mess, a 1986 parody of White House memoirs, established from the start of his career that Buckley had perfect pitch for the mendacious sincerity of Washington, D.C. Above all his characters want to preserve a reputation for high principle and upright conscience, even if everything they say reveals that they are, as Nick Naylor puts it in Thank You for Smoking — his second novel — “unholier than thou.” After God Is My Broker (1998), a caricature of self-help books that was cowritten with the science reporter John Tierney, Buckley knocked out a string of six political satires over the next 13 years. His targets included White House sex scandals, Islamism, bloggers, and the Supreme Court nomination circus.

In They Eat Puppies, Don’t They? the 59-year-old Buckley trains his sights upon China and especially America’s anxious relationship with China. In Washington, a defense contractor observes, “[t]hey’re more nervous about China than a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs.” Which makes life difficult for defense contractors, who only want to sell weapons to the government so that Americans can “sleep a lot more soundly.” Chick Devlin, head of the munitions giant Groepping-Sprunt (no one is better than Buckley at deflating an entire industry with one made-up name), hatches a plot to “gin up a little anti-China mojo.” As he explains to Walter “Bird” MacIntyre, his chief lobbyist:

“Last time I checked, their flag was flaming Communist red. Yes, I believe the time has come to educate the great dumb American public — God love them — to educate them about the . . .” — Chick paused, as if searching for just the right word — “the peril we as a nation face from from a nation of one point three billion foreigners. . . . If we can do that, then those limp dicks and fainting hearts and imbeciles in the United States Congress — God love them — will follow.”

Bird enlists the help of Angel Templeton, a dead ringer for Ann Coulter. “Tall, blond, buff, leggy, miniskirted,” Angel chairs the Institute for Continuing Conflict, which its detractors call the Institute for Never-Ending War. It is headquarters for “the so-called Oreo-Cons—‘Hard on the outside, soft on the inside.’ ” These are hawks who do not much care what Congress does “so long as they kept the Pentagon and the armed forces well funded and engaged abroad, preferably in hand-to-hand combat.” No one is more anti-China than Angel Templeton:

Am I the only person in this town who’s tired of hearing that the twenty-first century is going to be ‘the Chinese Century’? Could someone tell me — please — why America, the greatest country in history, only gets one century? And by the way, who decided this was going to be their century? Some thumb-sucking professor at Yale? Please.

Together Bird and Angel cook up a scheme. They plant the rumor that Beijing is out to murder the Dalai Lama. “You know the saying,” Bird tells Angel, “ ‘You can fool some of the people some of the time — and those are the one you need to concentrate on’?” The Dalai Lama collapses on his way to a meeting with the Pope. In the hospital in Rome, he is diagnosed with terminal cancer. He is given two months to live. But here the plot thickens. The medical report is stolen by the Chinese government, who keep the Dalai Lama’s condition a secret. The director of Chinese intelligence explains why: “Once he learns that he’s dying, he’s sure to petition to be allowed to return to Tibet.” And that the Chinese cannot permit.

They Eat Puppies, Don’t They? then becomes a fast-paced plot and counter-plot and counter-counter-plot involving not just Bird and Angel but the Chinese Politburo at its highest level and the inner bowels of the National Security Council to boot. Everyone, it seems, would prefer to see the Dalai Lama dead — the Chinese to remove the face and symbol of anti-China resistance, the Americans to blame the Chinese. And when the Dalai Lama finally dies, it is not clear if the cancer killed him, or if he was murdered; and if so, by whom. Buckley makes great use of the story’s twisting back-and-forth, not merely as a supporting medium for his tickling one-liners, but as a source of humor in its own right. National governments are basically spy agencies, he seems to be implying: plotting against enemies foreign, domestic, and inter-agency is the principal form of government work.

It is Bird’s wife Myndi, incidentally, who is into what he calls “the horse thing.” She is trying out for the American equestrian team which will compete for the Tang Cup in Xi’an, China. When her mare injures a tendon, she asks Bird for a $225,000 replacement mount. “The bloodlines are stunning,” she reassures him. “The House of Windsor doesn’t have bloodlines like this.” Bird balks at the price; Myndi gets angry. “Look,” she says — “we agreed when I decided to try out for the team that we were going to do this together.” Bird is struck by her conception of togetherness: “She’d compete for a place on the U.S. Equestrian Team and he would write the checks.” As for him, Bird’s avocation is writing novels — absurd techno-thrillers in the manner of Tom Clancy, to whom Buckley has long acted the part of scourge. When Angel teases him about his unpublished tetralogy, Bird explodes: “What is it with you people? Is being a novelist considered some kind of disability?”

Perhaps the most surprising thing about Buckley’s novel is its tone of quiet respect, even reverence, for Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th and current Dalai Lama. Along with Chris Matthews, he is the only character in the book to appear under his own name. “Americans love the guy,” Bird says. “The whole world loves him. What’s not to love? He’s a seventy-five-year-old sweetie pie with glasses, plus the sandals and the saffron robe and the hugging and the mandalas and the peace and harmony and the reincarnation and nirvana. All that. We can’t get enough of him.” In fact, Buckley gives little of him — but the little he gives is deeply moving. Not just for the reader, but for the characters in the novel too. Everyone who comes in contact with him is affected by him. Without any sermonizing at all, Buckley offers a serene and alluring image of anti-politics — the life of religion, which gives meaning to human conduct. Although he fires off a few zingers about public figures (“The vice president’s tongue is several time zones ahead of his brain,” the Chinese Foreign Minister says of a character who resembles Joe Biden), Buckley is more interested in more substantial figures.

The powerful example of the Dalai Lama accounts for Buckley’s own political attitudes in his latest novel. Ever since he famously broke with his father’s old magazine the National Review by announcing that he would vote for Barack Obama, Buckley has had a testy relationship with American conservatism. They Eat Puppies, Don’t They? is his first novel since the 2008 election. Its satirical transformation of neocons into “Oreo-Cons” is unlikely to win back many friends on the right. (“Norman Podhoretz?” Angel scoffs at one point. “That’s your definition of a major Jew?”) And a hint of sanctimony creeps into his political reflections early in the novel. The U.S. deployment of “killer drones,” he says,

was stark evidence that somewhere along the line Uncle Sam had quietly morphed into Global Big Brother. With wings. The proud American eagle now clutched in one talon the traditional martial arrows, in the other a remote control.

This is political speech more familiar among the neo-isolationist left. “If we’re really in the endgame of the American experiment,” as one character puts it in They Eat Puppies, Don’t They?, for Buckley the cause is not a decline of American power or the loss of American exceptionalism — the cause is a decline of religion and the loss of religious influence like the Dalai Lama’s. If Christopher Buckley remains a conservative, in other words, he is a conservative in the mold of Whittaker Chambers. The difference is that he laughs at American politics while he retreats from it, and gets the rest of us to laugh at it too. “How sad it would be if our people saw what was going on in the world,” the general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party says wryly when news of the Dalai Lama’s death is blocked at China’s borders. In Buckley’s fiction, what goes on in the world is less comic than what goes on outside its view — less meaningful too.

Christopher Buckley, They Eat Puppies, Don’t They? (New York: Twelve, 2012). 352 pages. $25.99.

“They happened to get lucky — real lucky — with their timing,” a CIA official says of the co-conspirators at the heart of Christopher Buckley’s latest novel. Exactly the same can be said of Buckley. His ninth novel was in press, its dog-chomping title decided upon long before, when Jim Treacher of the Daily Caller broke the story that Barack Obama had boasted of eating “dog meat (tough)” as a boy, and the #ObamaEatsDog meme went viral. Then, just days after Buckley hit the bookstores with a new book that satirized the expensive sport of dressage (among other things), the New York Times obliged him with a 2,200-word front page story on Ann Romney’s immersion in “in the elite world of riding.”

You can’t buy that kind of publicity. Not that Buckley needs it. He may be the best comic novelist now writing in America, perhaps the best since Peter De Vries. His most celebrated novel is probably Thank You for Smoking (1994), a satire on the tobacco lobby and anti-tobacco zealots, which was filmed by Jason Reitman nine years later. I prefer Little Green Men (1999), his tale of a TV talk-show host who is abducted by aliens from a golf course.

The only child of William F. Buckley Jr., he was a speechwriter for Vice President George Bush before getting out of politics to mock it in hilarious restrained prose. The White House Mess, a 1986 parody of White House memoirs, established from the start of his career that Buckley had perfect pitch for the mendacious sincerity of Washington, D.C. Above all his characters want to preserve a reputation for high principle and upright conscience, even if everything they say reveals that they are, as Nick Naylor puts it in Thank You for Smoking — his second novel — “unholier than thou.” After God Is My Broker (1998), a caricature of self-help books that was cowritten with the science reporter John Tierney, Buckley knocked out a string of six political satires over the next 13 years. His targets included White House sex scandals, Islamism, bloggers, and the Supreme Court nomination circus.

In They Eat Puppies, Don’t They? the 59-year-old Buckley trains his sights upon China and especially America’s anxious relationship with China. In Washington, a defense contractor observes, “[t]hey’re more nervous about China than a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs.” Which makes life difficult for defense contractors, who only want to sell weapons to the government so that Americans can “sleep a lot more soundly.” Chick Devlin, head of the munitions giant Groepping-Sprunt (no one is better than Buckley at deflating an entire industry with one made-up name), hatches a plot to “gin up a little anti-China mojo.” As he explains to Walter “Bird” MacIntyre, his chief lobbyist:

“Last time I checked, their flag was flaming Communist red. Yes, I believe the time has come to educate the great dumb American public — God love them — to educate them about the . . .” — Chick paused, as if searching for just the right word — “the peril we as a nation face from from a nation of one point three billion foreigners. . . . If we can do that, then those limp dicks and fainting hearts and imbeciles in the United States Congress — God love them — will follow.”

Bird enlists the help of Angel Templeton, a dead ringer for Ann Coulter. “Tall, blond, buff, leggy, miniskirted,” Angel chairs the Institute for Continuing Conflict, which its detractors call the Institute for Never-Ending War. It is headquarters for “the so-called Oreo-Cons—‘Hard on the outside, soft on the inside.’ ” These are hawks who do not much care what Congress does “so long as they kept the Pentagon and the armed forces well funded and engaged abroad, preferably in hand-to-hand combat.” No one is more anti-China than Angel Templeton:

Am I the only person in this town who’s tired of hearing that the twenty-first century is going to be ‘the Chinese Century’? Could someone tell me — please — why America, the greatest country in history, only gets one century? And by the way, who decided this was going to be their century? Some thumb-sucking professor at Yale? Please.

Together Bird and Angel cook up a scheme. They plant the rumor that Beijing is out to murder the Dalai Lama. “You know the saying,” Bird tells Angel, “ ‘You can fool some of the people some of the time — and those are the one you need to concentrate on’?” The Dalai Lama collapses on his way to a meeting with the Pope. In the hospital in Rome, he is diagnosed with terminal cancer. He is given two months to live. But here the plot thickens. The medical report is stolen by the Chinese government, who keep the Dalai Lama’s condition a secret. The director of Chinese intelligence explains why: “Once he learns that he’s dying, he’s sure to petition to be allowed to return to Tibet.” And that the Chinese cannot permit.

They Eat Puppies, Don’t They? then becomes a fast-paced plot and counter-plot and counter-counter-plot involving not just Bird and Angel but the Chinese Politburo at its highest level and the inner bowels of the National Security Council to boot. Everyone, it seems, would prefer to see the Dalai Lama dead — the Chinese to remove the face and symbol of anti-China resistance, the Americans to blame the Chinese. And when the Dalai Lama finally dies, it is not clear if the cancer killed him, or if he was murdered; and if so, by whom. Buckley makes great use of the story’s twisting back-and-forth, not merely as a supporting medium for his tickling one-liners, but as a source of humor in its own right. National governments are basically spy agencies, he seems to be implying: plotting against enemies foreign, domestic, and inter-agency is the principal form of government work.

It is Bird’s wife Myndi, incidentally, who is into what he calls “the horse thing.” She is trying out for the American equestrian team which will compete for the Tang Cup in Xi’an, China. When her mare injures a tendon, she asks Bird for a $225,000 replacement mount. “The bloodlines are stunning,” she reassures him. “The House of Windsor doesn’t have bloodlines like this.” Bird balks at the price; Myndi gets angry. “Look,” she says — “we agreed when I decided to try out for the team that we were going to do this together.” Bird is struck by her conception of togetherness: “She’d compete for a place on the U.S. Equestrian Team and he would write the checks.” As for him, Bird’s avocation is writing novels — absurd techno-thrillers in the manner of Tom Clancy, to whom Buckley has long acted the part of scourge. When Angel teases him about his unpublished tetralogy, Bird explodes: “What is it with you people? Is being a novelist considered some kind of disability?”

Perhaps the most surprising thing about Buckley’s novel is its tone of quiet respect, even reverence, for Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th and current Dalai Lama. Along with Chris Matthews, he is the only character in the book to appear under his own name. “Americans love the guy,” Bird says. “The whole world loves him. What’s not to love? He’s a seventy-five-year-old sweetie pie with glasses, plus the sandals and the saffron robe and the hugging and the mandalas and the peace and harmony and the reincarnation and nirvana. All that. We can’t get enough of him.” In fact, Buckley gives little of him — but the little he gives is deeply moving. Not just for the reader, but for the characters in the novel too. Everyone who comes in contact with him is affected by him. Without any sermonizing at all, Buckley offers a serene and alluring image of anti-politics — the life of religion, which gives meaning to human conduct. Although he fires off a few zingers about public figures (“The vice president’s tongue is several time zones ahead of his brain,” the Chinese Foreign Minister says of a character who resembles Joe Biden), Buckley is more interested in more substantial figures.

The powerful example of the Dalai Lama accounts for Buckley’s own political attitudes in his latest novel. Ever since he famously broke with his father’s old magazine the National Review by announcing that he would vote for Barack Obama, Buckley has had a testy relationship with American conservatism. They Eat Puppies, Don’t They? is his first novel since the 2008 election. Its satirical transformation of neocons into “Oreo-Cons” is unlikely to win back many friends on the right. (“Norman Podhoretz?” Angel scoffs at one point. “That’s your definition of a major Jew?”) And a hint of sanctimony creeps into his political reflections early in the novel. The U.S. deployment of “killer drones,” he says,

was stark evidence that somewhere along the line Uncle Sam had quietly morphed into Global Big Brother. With wings. The proud American eagle now clutched in one talon the traditional martial arrows, in the other a remote control.

This is political speech more familiar among the neo-isolationist left. “If we’re really in the endgame of the American experiment,” as one character puts it in They Eat Puppies, Don’t They?, for Buckley the cause is not a decline of American power or the loss of American exceptionalism — the cause is a decline of religion and the loss of religious influence like the Dalai Lama’s. If Christopher Buckley remains a conservative, in other words, he is a conservative in the mold of Whittaker Chambers. The difference is that he laughs at American politics while he retreats from it, and gets the rest of us to laugh at it too. “How sad it would be if our people saw what was going on in the world,” the general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party says wryly when news of the Dalai Lama’s death is blocked at China’s borders. In Buckley’s fiction, what goes on in the world is less comic than what goes on outside its view — less meaningful too.

Read Less

Jews Liberal, But Obama Losing Ground

A poll conducted by the liberal Workmen’s Circle and published last week should reassure liberals that their views still predominate in the Jewish community, but it provided little comfort to those hoping President Obama can come anywhere near his 2008 share of the Jewish vote. The poll showed American Jews are far more liberal than most Americans. They are willing to pay higher taxes, don’t seem to like financial institutions, love unions and favor abortion and gay marriage in numbers that far outstrip the rest of the country. The respondents also give President Obama a big majority at a time when national polls are calling the presidential election a dead heat.

But despite the effort of the poll’s left-wing sponsor to treat this as a victory for the incumbent, it actually confirms the fact that the president is bleeding Jewish support this year and appears to be falling far short of the share of the community’s vote that he won in 2008. With the poll showing him getting only 59 percent of the Jewish vote as opposed to the 78 percent he received four years ago, there is no disguising a drastic decline in support for the Democrat.

Read More

A poll conducted by the liberal Workmen’s Circle and published last week should reassure liberals that their views still predominate in the Jewish community, but it provided little comfort to those hoping President Obama can come anywhere near his 2008 share of the Jewish vote. The poll showed American Jews are far more liberal than most Americans. They are willing to pay higher taxes, don’t seem to like financial institutions, love unions and favor abortion and gay marriage in numbers that far outstrip the rest of the country. The respondents also give President Obama a big majority at a time when national polls are calling the presidential election a dead heat.

But despite the effort of the poll’s left-wing sponsor to treat this as a victory for the incumbent, it actually confirms the fact that the president is bleeding Jewish support this year and appears to be falling far short of the share of the community’s vote that he won in 2008. With the poll showing him getting only 59 percent of the Jewish vote as opposed to the 78 percent he received four years ago, there is no disguising a drastic decline in support for the Democrat.

The Workmen’s Circle attempts to soften the blow by saying if undecided voters broke down the same way decided voters did, it would give Obama a 68 to 32 percent lead among Jews. But that’s an absurd assertion. History shows us there is no reason to believe that is the way undecided voters actually vote. If anything, it is more likely that in a close race, undecideds are more likely to break toward the challenger, but that is merely a guess. But even if that wildly optimistic supposition were to be borne out, it would still represent a ten percent drop in the Jewish vote for Obama–a result that would have to be treated as a blow to the Democrats and a minor success for Republicans.

If, however, the final results turn out to be closer to the 59 percent figure, Obama would receive the lowest percentage of the Jewish vote in a presidential election of any Democrat since Jimmy Carter.

The pollsters insist, not without some reasons, that Israel does not appear to be a determining factor in the presidential vote. It bears repeating that the vast majority of Jews are not single issue voters on Israel and, like most Americans, will cast their votes based on other issues–principally, the economy.

The pollster’s analysis points out:

Significantly, neither attachment to Israel nor confidence in Israelis vs. Palestinians as peace seeking strongly factor into Jews’ presidential vote decision. This was among the findings of the survey regarding American Jewish attitudes toward Israel.

Obama voters and Romney voters do differ on Israel; Romney voters are more attached to Israel and more confident in Israel’s commitment to peace. However, these differences are totally explained by prior factors like religiosity and political ideology, than are the primary determinants of Obama vs. Romney preferences.

These are fair points but if, as the poll shows, the decline in Obama’s share of the Jewish vote is greater than the losses he is encountering in other sectors in national polls, analysts need to ponder what it is about the president that is repelling a higher proportion of Jewish supporters to abandon his ship than elsewhere. That is a question the Workmen’s Circle prefers not to ask, let alone answer.

Because, as the Jewish Telegraphic Agency reports, this otherwise heavily liberal population is still steadfast in its support for Israel as well as sympathetic to its current government, it is not unreasonable to suppose that those sentiments have led them to be, at the very least, a bit less favorable to a president who spent his first three years in office picking fights with Israel. Like the rest of the country, more Jews are disillusioned with the president’s handling of the economy, but is that enough to explain a potential loss of almost a quarter of the votes he received four years ago?

Read Less

Michael McFaul’s Revealing Interview

It’s difficult not to feel some sympathy for Michael McFaul. He is extraordinarily qualified for his job–perhaps among the most qualified American ambassadors to any country. He has found himself in trouble recently for speaking “undiplomatically” too often, which means he lacks the PC-filter that dumbs down so much of our public diplomacy. And he has been treated with such suspicion by the Kremlin and the FSB precisely because he has been writing books for decades on establishing democracy in the post-Soviet space. And now the man who was once the darling of nearly every ideological subgroup in U.S.-Russian relations finds himself doubted or criticized by those same groups.

That is because of McFaul’s handling of the U.S.-Russian “reset,” about which McFaul opens up in an interview with GQ Russia, in which he offers some surprisingly frank assessments of the policy. The reset got off to a famously clumsy start, when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton handed her Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov a red button on which the State Department thought they had written the Russian word for reset. They had not; the button said “overcharge.” Clinton, apparently unaware of the mistake, said to Lavrov: “We worked hard to get the right Russian word. Do you think we got it?” They clearly had not worked hard to get the word, as there should be a Russian speaker or two at Foggy Bottom.

But apparently Clinton’s awkward, sheepish question was meant to hide the fact that the State Department already knew the word was wrong–they had shown the button to McFaul too late to be changed. McFaul recounts this episode in the 6,000-word profile for GQ Russia, which was then translated into English and reprinted by Foreign Policy. The latter seems to have omitted this story (among other things) from the English translation, but it’s a shame, because it is actually something of a metaphor for McFaul’s time in Russia–at least as he recounts it in the interview. McFaul is harassed mercilessly, causing him to lose his temper repeatedly. That leads to the following exchange in the interview:

Given all that’s happened, does he feel that the reset is stalling, or dead? Or, given the extent to which simple spite and wounded pride factor into Russian foreign policy, that it was a naïve endeavor to begin with?  “Our policy is that we think it’s in our national interest to have governments that are open, more transparent, and more accountable to their people,” he says, citing the widely held theory that democratic countries are more likely to be at peace with each other.

The obvious takeaway from this is that had there been any way to claim that the reset was still extant, McFaul–the architect of the reset and the ambassador charged with carrying it out–would have made it. Instead, he didn’t even answer the question. Thus, the argument now pits those who believe the reset is over against those who don’t believe it ever got off the ground.

Read More

It’s difficult not to feel some sympathy for Michael McFaul. He is extraordinarily qualified for his job–perhaps among the most qualified American ambassadors to any country. He has found himself in trouble recently for speaking “undiplomatically” too often, which means he lacks the PC-filter that dumbs down so much of our public diplomacy. And he has been treated with such suspicion by the Kremlin and the FSB precisely because he has been writing books for decades on establishing democracy in the post-Soviet space. And now the man who was once the darling of nearly every ideological subgroup in U.S.-Russian relations finds himself doubted or criticized by those same groups.

That is because of McFaul’s handling of the U.S.-Russian “reset,” about which McFaul opens up in an interview with GQ Russia, in which he offers some surprisingly frank assessments of the policy. The reset got off to a famously clumsy start, when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton handed her Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov a red button on which the State Department thought they had written the Russian word for reset. They had not; the button said “overcharge.” Clinton, apparently unaware of the mistake, said to Lavrov: “We worked hard to get the right Russian word. Do you think we got it?” They clearly had not worked hard to get the word, as there should be a Russian speaker or two at Foggy Bottom.

But apparently Clinton’s awkward, sheepish question was meant to hide the fact that the State Department already knew the word was wrong–they had shown the button to McFaul too late to be changed. McFaul recounts this episode in the 6,000-word profile for GQ Russia, which was then translated into English and reprinted by Foreign Policy. The latter seems to have omitted this story (among other things) from the English translation, but it’s a shame, because it is actually something of a metaphor for McFaul’s time in Russia–at least as he recounts it in the interview. McFaul is harassed mercilessly, causing him to lose his temper repeatedly. That leads to the following exchange in the interview:

Given all that’s happened, does he feel that the reset is stalling, or dead? Or, given the extent to which simple spite and wounded pride factor into Russian foreign policy, that it was a naïve endeavor to begin with?  “Our policy is that we think it’s in our national interest to have governments that are open, more transparent, and more accountable to their people,” he says, citing the widely held theory that democratic countries are more likely to be at peace with each other.

The obvious takeaway from this is that had there been any way to claim that the reset was still extant, McFaul–the architect of the reset and the ambassador charged with carrying it out–would have made it. Instead, he didn’t even answer the question. Thus, the argument now pits those who believe the reset is over against those who don’t believe it ever got off the ground.

McFaul, interestingly enough, says the reset surely existed and accomplished some of its aims, but talks like a man who doubts there ever was a reset. He claims his treatment has been far worse under Putin than during the Soviet Union, and when a Russian television reporter ambushed him unexpectedly, taking his last bit of composure, he yelled: “This turned out to be a wild country! This isn’t normal!” (He later claimed he misspoke.)

Yet McFaul is an unlikely target for such abuse–a fact he freely admits. He’s been advocating for the repeal of the Jackson-Vanik amendment without a bipartisan replacement bill that is favored here in the U.S., in Europe, and among Russia’s opposition–but is opposed by Putin’s government. And McFaul played a significant role in pushing Georgia to lift its opposition to Russian membership in the World Trade Organization. He talks about these successes often, the article notes:

But the virulent attacks clearly stung him in a personal way, and at times he sounded like a lover scorned. “They’re the ones who have changed,” he said, shaking his head and spreading his arms in a kind of stunned helplessness. “We’ve changed nothing. Zero.”

The Russian government, meanwhile, speaks of the reset in almost ridiculous terms:

“The reset has fulfilled its mission, which was to remove the foolishness of the Bush era,” [Sergei Markov, a high-ranking Russian official close to Putin] said, inhaling a mushroom pastry in one bite. “Now it’s time for the Americans to meet us halfway.” That means: Get rid of Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, develop their military strategy with Russia’s interests in mind, and change the anti-Russian “regimes” in Latvia and Estonia. (How? Well, that is up to the Americans, he told me.)

Hey, as long as they’re taking orders, Markov thinks, why not hand them the Christmas list?

Markov and McFaul are old friends, so this type of talk must be especially insulting to McFaul. Markov is speaking about McFaul as if he is Markov’s butler, and the Americans as if they are patsies. And it must be particularly difficult for McFaul to carry out a policy that leaves this impression.

Read Less

After Toulouse, More Attacks on Jews

When four Jews were killed in an apparent terrorist attack in Toulouse, France, in March, interest in the story quickly evaporated when the shooter turned out to be a Muslim extremist rather than a neo-Nazi, as it was first believed. But though the international press hasn’t done much follow up about the connection between the current wave of anti-Israel and anti-Semitic sentiment sweeping over Europe and violence against Jews, it appears the problem continues to grow. As the Times of Israel reports today, attacks on French Jews are becoming more frequent.

The beating of three Jewish men in Villeurbanne, outside of Lyon, by ten assailants believed to be of North African extraction is just the latest incident alarming French Jews.

Joël Mergui, president of the Central Consistory, an umbrella organization working to coordinate local Jewish communities, said the country’s Jews were under constant attack. “Not a week passes without anti-Semitic assaults in France. I refuse to believe Jews will be forced to choose between security and their Jewish identity.”

The chief rabbi of the Grand Synagogue in Lyon, Richard Wertenschlag, called the atmosphere “unbearable.”

“These incidents are becoming more and more frequent, so much so, alas, as to make one take them for granted,” he said.

While French authorities talked about a crackdown on Muslim extremists after Toulouse, the Representative Council of Jewish Institutions in France (CRIF) told Le Figaro that incidents such as the one in Villeurbanne are becoming commonplace, noting that in the month after the incident, more than 140 attacks on Jews were perpetrated. But the problem is not just the scale of these assaults but also the unwillingness of many to confront the source of the problem.

Though attacks against Jews in Western Europe seem to be the province of Muslim immigrants, it is a mistake to view this violence as solely the result of the importation of Middle Eastern attitudes.

Read More

When four Jews were killed in an apparent terrorist attack in Toulouse, France, in March, interest in the story quickly evaporated when the shooter turned out to be a Muslim extremist rather than a neo-Nazi, as it was first believed. But though the international press hasn’t done much follow up about the connection between the current wave of anti-Israel and anti-Semitic sentiment sweeping over Europe and violence against Jews, it appears the problem continues to grow. As the Times of Israel reports today, attacks on French Jews are becoming more frequent.

The beating of three Jewish men in Villeurbanne, outside of Lyon, by ten assailants believed to be of North African extraction is just the latest incident alarming French Jews.

Joël Mergui, president of the Central Consistory, an umbrella organization working to coordinate local Jewish communities, said the country’s Jews were under constant attack. “Not a week passes without anti-Semitic assaults in France. I refuse to believe Jews will be forced to choose between security and their Jewish identity.”

The chief rabbi of the Grand Synagogue in Lyon, Richard Wertenschlag, called the atmosphere “unbearable.”

“These incidents are becoming more and more frequent, so much so, alas, as to make one take them for granted,” he said.

While French authorities talked about a crackdown on Muslim extremists after Toulouse, the Representative Council of Jewish Institutions in France (CRIF) told Le Figaro that incidents such as the one in Villeurbanne are becoming commonplace, noting that in the month after the incident, more than 140 attacks on Jews were perpetrated. But the problem is not just the scale of these assaults but also the unwillingness of many to confront the source of the problem.

Though attacks against Jews in Western Europe seem to be the province of Muslim immigrants, it is a mistake to view this violence as solely the result of the importation of Middle Eastern attitudes.

The flow of raw hate speech against Jews from Cairo and Tehran and other Arab and Muslim capitals is not to be underestimated, but the willingness of European intellectuals to lend their support to the demonization of the Jewish state has given these sentiments a patina of undeserved legitimacy.

The notion that there is a clean distinction between street violence and the effort to delegitimize Israel’s right to exist and defend itself cannot be sustained. European intellectuals may think they operate on a different level from street thugs. But the logical next step from the hounding of Jews on the editorial pages and in academia is clear. So long as Israel is singled out for unfair treatment and economic and academic boycotts of the Jewish state are treated as “human rights” causes, we should not be surprised that violence against Jews is on the upsurge.

Read Less

Two Revealing Quotes on Peter Beinart

Jason Zengerie has written a sweeping profile of Peter Beinart at New York Magazine today. Before you read it, here are the two quotes that sum up the shifting public perception of Beinart, post-BDS endorsement.

First, an on-the-record knuckle-wrapping from one of Beinart’s benefactors in the “liberal Zionist” camp:

“I came to the book as a friend of Peter’s and as someone wanting to see it succeed and see it have a major impact on people’s thinking,” says Peter Joseph, a prominent liberal Jewish philanthropist who gave Beinart money to help launch the Open Zion blog, “but unfortunately what I’ve seen is the book has led to greater polarization, and that doesn’t serve Israel’s best interests.”

Now a few words from the anti-Zionist sump pit:

[Mondoweiss editor Philip] Weiss holds out hope that one day they might not be. “The interesting question to me is, What is the crisis of Peter Beinart? Those of us in the anti-Zionist camp wonder if this rude reception, this bum’s rush he’s getting, is going to send him into our arms.”

Read More

Jason Zengerie has written a sweeping profile of Peter Beinart at New York Magazine today. Before you read it, here are the two quotes that sum up the shifting public perception of Beinart, post-BDS endorsement.

First, an on-the-record knuckle-wrapping from one of Beinart’s benefactors in the “liberal Zionist” camp:

“I came to the book as a friend of Peter’s and as someone wanting to see it succeed and see it have a major impact on people’s thinking,” says Peter Joseph, a prominent liberal Jewish philanthropist who gave Beinart money to help launch the Open Zion blog, “but unfortunately what I’ve seen is the book has led to greater polarization, and that doesn’t serve Israel’s best interests.”

Now a few words from the anti-Zionist sump pit:

[Mondoweiss editor Philip] Weiss holds out hope that one day they might not be. “The interesting question to me is, What is the crisis of Peter Beinart? Those of us in the anti-Zionist camp wonder if this rude reception, this bum’s rush he’s getting, is going to send him into our arms.”

Beinart’s book hasn’t influenced liberal Zionists. Instead he’s repelled them, while encouraging the fringiest of the fringe Israel-bashers, who think it’s only a matter of time before he’s in Mondoweiss territory. Again, it has to be asked: What is Beinart’s end game here? As his audience dwindles, will he pivot back to the center, or venture further into the lunatic asylum?

Read Less

Turk Faces Prison for Insulting Religion

During the last few days, I’ve been highlighting the undeniable social changes Turkey’s Islamist government is imposing. The situation is fast going from bad to worse, as the Turkish government transforms the country from one which upholds liberalism (beyond the Kurdish issue, that is) to one which now seems to be following the self-destructive path Pakistan forged in the early 1970s, when Islamabad pushed a more radical interpretation of Islam as its chief national identity.

The most recent outrage against tolerance in Turkey involves pianist Fazıl Say, who shared a tweet reading: “Wherever there is a stupid person or a thief, they are believers in God. Is this a paradox?” That sentiment may not be my cup of tea, but the basis of democracy is tolerance. Not so in Turkey. On June 1, an Istanbul court handed down an indictment charging Say with “insulting the religious values of a section of society.” He now faces 1.5 years in prison.

Read More

During the last few days, I’ve been highlighting the undeniable social changes Turkey’s Islamist government is imposing. The situation is fast going from bad to worse, as the Turkish government transforms the country from one which upholds liberalism (beyond the Kurdish issue, that is) to one which now seems to be following the self-destructive path Pakistan forged in the early 1970s, when Islamabad pushed a more radical interpretation of Islam as its chief national identity.

The most recent outrage against tolerance in Turkey involves pianist Fazıl Say, who shared a tweet reading: “Wherever there is a stupid person or a thief, they are believers in God. Is this a paradox?” That sentiment may not be my cup of tea, but the basis of democracy is tolerance. Not so in Turkey. On June 1, an Istanbul court handed down an indictment charging Say with “insulting the religious values of a section of society.” He now faces 1.5 years in prison.

For President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton to continue to promote Turkey as a model for countries seeking to blend Islam and democracy, is akin to promoting Greece as a model for fiscal discipline, China as a model for multi-party democracy, and Greenland as a model for tropical farming.

Read Less

Liberals Comparing Conservatives to the Muslim Brotherhood?

What does Sarah Palin have in common with the Muslim Brotherhood? The answer to that question is, of course, absolutely nothing. But don’t tell myriad pundits and academics that. Cheap analogies between the Tea Party and al-Qaeda, Sarah Palin and the Muslim Brotherhood, or the Taliban and the Christian Right have become a bit too commonplace for comfort among those who are supposed to inform public debate or provide expertise. Politicization, intolerance for opposing views, and false moral equivalence each suggest a profound ignorance of what groups like the Taliban and Muslim Brotherhood stand for.

Here are just a few examples:

  •  MSNBC’s Chris Matthews: “So the Muslim Brotherhood has a parallel role here with the Tea Party?”
  • John Esposito, Georgetown University:  “The political Salafis believe that they have a true vision of Islam and that their version of religion is the one that they practice and the one that other people should practice too in their personal lives. Moreover, they are working to implement this vision in society as a whole… What you see in Christianity is that you have some very conservative Christians, you see them in the U.S. for example, many of them very conservative in their personal lives, and then there is the Christian Right in the U.S. that is involved in politics, another kind of Christianity that tries to impose its own will on other people.”
  • Princeton University’s Gregory D. Johnsen: “comparing [Tawakkol] Karman to [hardline Islamist Abdul Majid al-] Zindani is something akin to making Colin Powell responsible for what Sarah Palin says.”
  • Oxford University’s Richard Dawkins: “The fundamentalist Christian Right is America’s Taliban.”
  • University of Michigan Professor Juan Cole: “The mainstream Republican Party’s view on many social issues thus resembles that of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party and the Muslim Brotherhood and related parties in the Muslim world far more than it does the ‘conservative’ parties of Scandinavia and continental Europe.”
  • And, Juan Cole, again: “Is Sarah Palin America’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad? The two differ in many key respects, of course, but it is remarkable how similar they are. There are uncanny parallels in their biographies, their domestic politics and the way they present themselves — even in their rocky relationships with party elders.”
  • Cher: “We talk about how radical Muslims take away the Rights of their woman, but HOW CAN WE LET These RW [right wing American] Misogynistic Cretins take away.”
  • Occasional  Nation contributor David Lindorff: “But John Walker Lindh… is not the real American Taliban. That title surely belongs to our new Republican vice presidential candidate, Sarah Palin.”
  • Filmmaker Michael Moore:  Appearing on “Real Time” with Bill Maher on Friday, film producer Michael Moore said that we should consider people such as Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin “our Taliban” because “their level of bigotry is so un-American.”
  • Markos Moulitsas, Daily Kos founder: “In their tactics and on the issues, our homegrown American Taliban are almost indistinguishable from the Afghan Taliban.”
  • New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof: “We tend to think of national security narrowly as the risk of a military or terrorist attack. But national security is about protecting our people and our national strength — and the blunt truth is that the biggest threat to America’s national security … comes from budget machinations, and budget maniacs, at home.”

Read More

What does Sarah Palin have in common with the Muslim Brotherhood? The answer to that question is, of course, absolutely nothing. But don’t tell myriad pundits and academics that. Cheap analogies between the Tea Party and al-Qaeda, Sarah Palin and the Muslim Brotherhood, or the Taliban and the Christian Right have become a bit too commonplace for comfort among those who are supposed to inform public debate or provide expertise. Politicization, intolerance for opposing views, and false moral equivalence each suggest a profound ignorance of what groups like the Taliban and Muslim Brotherhood stand for.

Here are just a few examples:

    •  MSNBC’s Chris Matthews: “So the Muslim Brotherhood has a parallel role here with the Tea Party?”
    • John Esposito, Georgetown University:  “The political Salafis believe that they have a true vision of Islam and that their version of religion is the one that they practice and the one that other people should practice too in their personal lives. Moreover, they are working to implement this vision in society as a whole… What you see in Christianity is that you have some very conservative Christians, you see them in the U.S. for example, many of them very conservative in their personal lives, and then there is the Christian Right in the U.S. that is involved in politics, another kind of Christianity that tries to impose its own will on other people.”
    • Princeton University’s Gregory D. Johnsen: “comparing [Tawakkol] Karman to [hardline Islamist Abdul Majid al-] Zindani is something akin to making Colin Powell responsible for what Sarah Palin says.”
    • Oxford University’s Richard Dawkins: “The fundamentalist Christian Right is America’s Taliban.”
    • University of Michigan Professor Juan Cole: “The mainstream Republican Party’s view on many social issues thus resembles that of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party and the Muslim Brotherhood and related parties in the Muslim world far more than it does the ‘conservative’ parties of Scandinavia and continental Europe.”
    • And, Juan Cole, again: “Is Sarah Palin America’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad? The two differ in many key respects, of course, but it is remarkable how similar they are. There are uncanny parallels in their biographies, their domestic politics and the way they present themselves — even in their rocky relationships with party elders.”
    • Cher: “We talk about how radical Muslims take away the Rights of their woman, but HOW CAN WE LET These RW [right wing American] Misogynistic Cretins take away.”
    • Occasional  Nation contributor David Lindorff: “But John Walker Lindh… is not the real American Taliban. That title surely belongs to our new Republican vice presidential candidate, Sarah Palin.”
    • Filmmaker Michael Moore:  Appearing on “Real Time” with Bill Maher on Friday, film producer Michael Moore said that we should consider people such as Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin “our Taliban” because “their level of bigotry is so un-American.”
    • Markos Moulitsas, Daily Kos founder: “In their tactics and on the issues, our homegrown American Taliban are almost indistinguishable from the Afghan Taliban.”
    • New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof: “We tend to think of national security narrowly as the risk of a military or terrorist attack. But national security is about protecting our people and our national strength — and the blunt truth is that the biggest threat to America’s national security … comes from budget machinations, and budget maniacs, at home.”

Since the Arab Spring, Muslim Brotherhood activists have called for the eradication of national borders to form a global Islamic state and in recent weeks, a Muslim Brotherhood rally in Egypt called for armed insurrection should the election not go their way. The Brotherhood’s website is rife with anti-Semitism. Other examples are here. The United States and, more broadly, the West, will be paying the price for the Muslim Brotherhood’s rise in Egypt, and we have already paid the price for the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Arguing, in effect, that such groups have parallels on the American political spectrum is both dishonest, destructive, and bolsters an illusion that such groups hold pragmatic politics above intolerant ideology.

Read Less

Konarka Is Not Romney’s Solyndra

After trying and failing to pin the Solyndra debacle on the Bush administration, the left is trying another dubious spread-the-guilt tactic. Think Progress breathlessly reports that a solar company that Mitt Romney gave a government grant to as governor has just declared bankruptcy:

On Thursday, Mitt Romney campaigned at the headquarters of Solyndra — the first renewable energy company to receive a federal loan under the stimulus — and reiterated his debunked claims that its bankruptcy symbolized the corruption and cronyism of the Obama administration. But just one day later, a solar panel developer “that landed a state loan from Mitt Romney when he was Massachusetts governor” went belly up, the Boston Herald reports, creating an inconvenient storyline for the GOP presidential nominee.

The company, Konarka Technologies, “filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection and will cease operations, lay off its 85 workers and liquidate.”

Here’s a rundown of the case: As governor, Romney granted Konkara a $1.5 million state subsidy, about 350 times less than the half-billion dollar loan guarantee the Obama administration gave Solyndra. Konarka declared bankruptcy nearly a decade after Romney’s grant and five years after he left office, while the Obama administration’s investment tanked within two years.

Read More

After trying and failing to pin the Solyndra debacle on the Bush administration, the left is trying another dubious spread-the-guilt tactic. Think Progress breathlessly reports that a solar company that Mitt Romney gave a government grant to as governor has just declared bankruptcy:

On Thursday, Mitt Romney campaigned at the headquarters of Solyndra — the first renewable energy company to receive a federal loan under the stimulus — and reiterated his debunked claims that its bankruptcy symbolized the corruption and cronyism of the Obama administration. But just one day later, a solar panel developer “that landed a state loan from Mitt Romney when he was Massachusetts governor” went belly up, the Boston Herald reports, creating an inconvenient storyline for the GOP presidential nominee.

The company, Konarka Technologies, “filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection and will cease operations, lay off its 85 workers and liquidate.”

Here’s a rundown of the case: As governor, Romney granted Konkara a $1.5 million state subsidy, about 350 times less than the half-billion dollar loan guarantee the Obama administration gave Solyndra. Konarka declared bankruptcy nearly a decade after Romney’s grant and five years after he left office, while the Obama administration’s investment tanked within two years.

There’s a debate to be had about whether government (either federal, or in Konkara’s case, state) should use taxpayer money to prop up individual companies, and in effect bet against others. But while that’s part of the conservative case against Solyndra, it’s not the main reason why the investment is controversial. The Obama administration’s efforts to rush through the Solyndra loan, despite red flags that the investment was rickety, smacked of crony capitalism — particularly as the largest private Solyndra money man, George Kaiser, is also a key Obama supporter.

Unless evidence surfaces that Romney had his own George Kaiser at Konkara, and that he ignored financial perils to prop up the company, the comparison is moot. The only thing the Konkara comparison shows is that the Obama campaign is petrified of the Solyndra issue, and desperate for ways to redirect attention.

Read Less

Who is Leaking About Cyberattacks?

The Stuxnet virus, which caused Iranian centrifuges to malfunction and which became public in 2010, attracted worldwide publicity. It was always assumed by those in the know that this cyberattack was concocted by the U.S. and Israel, but neither country would provide confirmation about this highly classified program. That seems to have changed with the publication of this New York Times article by David Sanger, revealing (assuming the article is accurate) that Stuxnet was part of a covert program code named Olympic Games to wage cyber-war on the Iranian nuclear program,which Jonathan Tobin discussed on Friday.

The article is full of fascinating information that should be of great interest to American–and Iranian–readers. The question is: why are we reading this? There are probably few covert programs, if any, that are as sensitive as this one. As Sanger notes: “The United States government only recently acknowledged developing cyberweapons, and it has never admitted using them.”

Read More

The Stuxnet virus, which caused Iranian centrifuges to malfunction and which became public in 2010, attracted worldwide publicity. It was always assumed by those in the know that this cyberattack was concocted by the U.S. and Israel, but neither country would provide confirmation about this highly classified program. That seems to have changed with the publication of this New York Times article by David Sanger, revealing (assuming the article is accurate) that Stuxnet was part of a covert program code named Olympic Games to wage cyber-war on the Iranian nuclear program,which Jonathan Tobin discussed on Friday.

The article is full of fascinating information that should be of great interest to American–and Iranian–readers. The question is: why are we reading this? There are probably few covert programs, if any, that are as sensitive as this one. As Sanger notes: “The United States government only recently acknowledged developing cyberweapons, and it has never admitted using them.”

Was there, one wonders, a conscious decision made by President Obama and his senior cabinet members and generals to declassify this program through a leak to the New York Times–or was it perhaps a leak made with a wink and nudge from the White House but without a formal vetting through the interagency process? One rather suspects the latter for, just like another recent New York Times article on how President Obama personally decides who will be eliminated by CIA drones, this one casts him as a strong commander-in-chief in the secret war against America’s enemies. Suffice it to say, the president is not going to lose any votes come November for carrying out covert operations against al-Qaeda and the Iranian government–but those programs could very well be endangered by this public airing of their details. The same might be said about all the publicity that attended the SEAL raid on Osama bin Laden and the more recent public outing of the British-controlled double agent who infiltrated al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula to prevent a new “underwear bomber” plot.

Leaks of highly classified information by the U.S. government are not, of course, a new development. But his recent spate of disclosures raises serious questions about who is leaking and why–and, most important perhaps, what consequences if any they will suffer for such outrageous slips of the tongue?

Read Less

Democratic Disaster Looms in Wisconsin

With one day to go before Wisconsin voters vote to decide whether or not to recall Governor Scott Walker, polls are still showing the Republican clearly favored to retain his office. After more than a year of effort by a vengeful union movement and their Democratic allies, the decision to try to punish Walker for passing legislation that cut back on the power of unions to hold the state hostage in negotiations may turn out to be the biggest miscalculation of 2012. With President Obama looking on fearfully (and carefully avoiding any personal involvement in the contest), the only thing bitter Wisconsin liberals may have accomplished is putting their state in play for Mitt Romney this November.

With Walker looking like a winner tomorrow, the coverage of the race has shifted to a discussion of how the recall will affect the presidential contest, with even the New York Times now conceding the recall may have helped to turn Wisconsin from a solid Obama state in 2008 to a crucial swing state that could cost him re-election. If the GOP emerges victorious tomorrow, liberals will not only have transformed Walker from an embattled incumbent to a national powerhouse, but they may also have set the stage for a Democratic debacle that could cost their party the White House. If that happens, the party will have only their union allies to blame for a decision that was rooted in anger rather than smart politics.

Read More

With one day to go before Wisconsin voters vote to decide whether or not to recall Governor Scott Walker, polls are still showing the Republican clearly favored to retain his office. After more than a year of effort by a vengeful union movement and their Democratic allies, the decision to try to punish Walker for passing legislation that cut back on the power of unions to hold the state hostage in negotiations may turn out to be the biggest miscalculation of 2012. With President Obama looking on fearfully (and carefully avoiding any personal involvement in the contest), the only thing bitter Wisconsin liberals may have accomplished is putting their state in play for Mitt Romney this November.

With Walker looking like a winner tomorrow, the coverage of the race has shifted to a discussion of how the recall will affect the presidential contest, with even the New York Times now conceding the recall may have helped to turn Wisconsin from a solid Obama state in 2008 to a crucial swing state that could cost him re-election. If the GOP emerges victorious tomorrow, liberals will not only have transformed Walker from an embattled incumbent to a national powerhouse, but they may also have set the stage for a Democratic debacle that could cost their party the White House. If that happens, the party will have only their union allies to blame for a decision that was rooted in anger rather than smart politics.

Looking back on the process that led them to this situation, the problem for the Democrats is that there never seems to have been a point at which either state or national party leaders sat down to ponder a cost/benefit analysis of an attempt to unseat Walker. The political drama that unfolded in Madison throughout 2011 was an emotional roller coaster on which liberals realized only too late the ride had no escape hatch.

Wisconsin elected a Republican governor and legislature in 2010 as the Tea Party revolt against President Obama and his stimulus and ObamaCare plans fed conservative anger about taxes and spending. Much to the surprise of his foes, Walker and his allies in the legislature decided they would fulfill their campaign pledges and seek to ensure the state worker unions would be prevented from dragging Wisconsin steadily over the financial cliff again. Though the proposal to cut back on some collective bargaining rights for state workers was controversial, the violent reaction from the union thugs who stormed the statehouse and the absurd decision of Democratic legislators to flee the state to avoid a vote on the measure didn’t help the liberal cause. Though Walker may have seemed vulnerable after winning this battle, the idea to push for a recall was based on emotion, not political calculation. Liberals were so angry at Walker for keeping his word to the voters and not backing down in the face of protests that they never stopped to think that an effort to reverse the 2010 election results would strike many voters as both unnecessary and unfair.

The immediate problem in Wisconsin for liberals is not so much that Walker has persuaded a majority of voters that he is right — though there is clear evidence he has made headway despite the avalanche of criticism he got in the mainstream media — but that even many of those inclined to side with the Democrats have been convinced the left is dead wrong. The recall election is rightly perceived as nothing more than a form of payback for the drubbing the unions got in the legislature last year, and that has left a bitter taste in many voters’ mouths. If Walker survives tomorrow, the consequences will not only mean he will be strengthened, but that Democrats will emerge looking both petty and weak.

But the blowback from this foolish effort will not just be felt by a thuggish union movement that thought it could intimidate Walker last year and bulldoze the state in 2012. It will be President Obama, who won Wisconsin by 14 points in 2008, who may ultimately pay the biggest price for the rush to recall. Though a Republican has not won the state’s electoral votes since Ronald Reagan did it in 1980 and 1984, it should be remembered that George W. Bush came close in 2000 and 2004. If it turns out the state changes back from solid blue to tossup, President Obama will look back at a recall that was the fruit of his supporters’ unchecked anger as the source of his troubles.

Read Less

Who Will Check Los Zetas Spread?

Earlier this year, a Mexican think tank released a report which found that five of the 10 most violent cities in the world are in Mexico, and 45 of the 50 most violent cities are in Central or South America (scroll down here for the list).

Today, I’ll be heading to Fort Bliss, a post I’m privileged to visit four or five times each year, to lecture on issues relating to Afghanistan. It’s always weird landing at El Paso International Airport, as the plane flies low over the Mexican border, giving us window-seat passengers a clear view of the slums of Ciudad Juárez, the second most violent city on earth, according to the list. When I talk to long-time El Paso/Fort Bliss residents or those who had been stationed at Fort Bliss in years past, many talk about the fun times, great restaurants, and excellent shopping they enjoyed in Juárez. Today, however, the city is strictly no-go.

The problem, of course, is the rise of drug cartels in Mexico. While Los Zetas may not be the dominant group in Juárez, they are one of the most infamous in Mexico. As the civilian murder rate in Mexico exceeds, according to some accounts, that of Afghanistan, the U.S. position has largely been to ignore the problem and hope it goes away. Alas, cancers left untreated spread.

Read More

Earlier this year, a Mexican think tank released a report which found that five of the 10 most violent cities in the world are in Mexico, and 45 of the 50 most violent cities are in Central or South America (scroll down here for the list).

Today, I’ll be heading to Fort Bliss, a post I’m privileged to visit four or five times each year, to lecture on issues relating to Afghanistan. It’s always weird landing at El Paso International Airport, as the plane flies low over the Mexican border, giving us window-seat passengers a clear view of the slums of Ciudad Juárez, the second most violent city on earth, according to the list. When I talk to long-time El Paso/Fort Bliss residents or those who had been stationed at Fort Bliss in years past, many talk about the fun times, great restaurants, and excellent shopping they enjoyed in Juárez. Today, however, the city is strictly no-go.

The problem, of course, is the rise of drug cartels in Mexico. While Los Zetas may not be the dominant group in Juárez, they are one of the most infamous in Mexico. As the civilian murder rate in Mexico exceeds, according to some accounts, that of Afghanistan, the U.S. position has largely been to ignore the problem and hope it goes away. Alas, cancers left untreated spread.

According to the Guatemalan magazine Siglo 21 (with a translation provided by the Open Source Center), the Zetas have now spread beyond Mexico’s borders and now operate in eight Guatemalan departments:

A mapping of the Interior Ministry indicates that the group of drug traffickers Los Zetas operates in eight departments of Guatemala, including the capital city which they have used as a transit point. According to the report, Los Zetas operate in Zacapa, Alta Verapaz, Baja Verapaz, Izabal, Huehuetenango, Chiquimula, and Peten. David Martinez-Amador, a social researcher, explained: “With little resistance from rival groups and due to their operational strength, it would not be crazy to think that they could be doing what they are doing in Monterrey, Mexico: seizing control of an urban area and eliminating and extorting money from other criminal groups.” According to the expert, that group “has the logistical capacity to seize control of territories with great ease.”

A lesson of the past two decades is that state failures, anywhere on the globe, can pose a security threat to the United States. When those failures occur on our border, the risk rises exponentially. Both President Obama and Governor Romney may seek to make the next election about the economy, but they are also running for commander-in-chief and national security crises seldom conform to a Washington political calendar. With The Zetas expanding beyond Mexico and potentially destabilizing other Latin American allies, perhaps it is time for Obama and Romney to talk about how to re-establish peace and security in our hemisphere and especially on our borders.

Read Less

Is Iraqi Kurdistan Iran’s Trojan Horse?

Last month, Max Boot and I debated here about what Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s consolidation of power meant. While we disagree on our assessments of Maliki, we do agree that that the Obama administration’s decision to throw the towel in on Iraq was a major strategic blunder, one which bolstered Iranian influence at a crucial time.

About the same time that Max and I were having our back-and-forth, Seyed Azim Hosseini, Iran’s consul-general in Iraqi Kurdistan, gave an interview in which he revealed that 70 percent of Iran’s Iraq trade is with Iraqi Kurdistan:

“‘The volume of trade between the two countries is officially $7 billion, but we believe the actual number in general is more than $10 billion, out of which 70 percent is with the Kurdistan Region.’ Hosseini said there are 500 active Iranian companies in the Region, and the number is increasing steadily.”

While journalists have reported on Kurdistan Regional Government oil smuggling to Iran, the proportion cited by Hosseini surprised me, so I check the figured with the Iraqi embassy in Washington; they confirmed the 70 percent.

Read More

Last month, Max Boot and I debated here about what Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s consolidation of power meant. While we disagree on our assessments of Maliki, we do agree that that the Obama administration’s decision to throw the towel in on Iraq was a major strategic blunder, one which bolstered Iranian influence at a crucial time.

About the same time that Max and I were having our back-and-forth, Seyed Azim Hosseini, Iran’s consul-general in Iraqi Kurdistan, gave an interview in which he revealed that 70 percent of Iran’s Iraq trade is with Iraqi Kurdistan:

“‘The volume of trade between the two countries is officially $7 billion, but we believe the actual number in general is more than $10 billion, out of which 70 percent is with the Kurdistan Region.’ Hosseini said there are 500 active Iranian companies in the Region, and the number is increasing steadily.”

While journalists have reported on Kurdistan Regional Government oil smuggling to Iran, the proportion cited by Hosseini surprised me, so I check the figured with the Iraqi embassy in Washington; they confirmed the 70 percent.

There is an unfortunate tendency among the Washington foreign policy elite to be swayed by suave English-speaking representatives. Sen. Arlen Specter and Rep. Nancy Pelosi, for example, too often took Bashar al-Assad at his word and so became useful idiots to a tyrannical regime. Qubad Talabani, Iraqi Kurdistan’s outgoing representative, massaged a bipartisan array of politicians, and helped channel senior retired generals and congressmen to Kurdistan where they were wined and dined in a highly stage-managed junket. Many U.S. senators swear by Barham Salih, a former Patriotic Union of Kurdistan representative who rose to the Kurdish premiership.  In the wake of the U.S. withdrawal, Barham has cozied up with Muqtada al-Sadr in an effort to form an anti-Maliki coalition.

Three lessons can be drawn by Kurdistan’s pivot:

(1)  Exposure of Middle Eastern politicians to the West does not make them more Western; rather, it enables them to adopt a patina of liberalism in order to fool interlocutors.

(2)  Even if they are sincerely pro-Western (as I believe both Qubad and Barham are), such orientations go out the window when it comes to political survival. When the Americans are not present in strength, even the most pro-American peoples will make their accommodation with America’s enemies.

(3)  To assume that the Shi’ites will be Fifth Columnists is to display willful blindness—the Iranian regime will find many mechanisms to extend their interests, be they among Christians in Armenia, or Sunni Muslims in Kurdistan. Most Shi’ites have reason to resent Iran, although too often anti-Shi’ite sentiment among senior American officials forces them back into Iran’s embrace.

One thing should be clear, however: For America to lose Iraqi Kurdistan to the Iranians suggests the hemorrhaging of U.S. influence under President Obama is far worse than many in Washington would like to acknowledge.

Read Less




Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.