Commentary Magazine


Posts For: June 27, 2012

Heritage Site is Jewish, Not Just Palestinian

On Monday, the New York Times reported about the effort by Palestinians to have the village of Battir designated as a World Heritage site because of the unique ecological nature of the ancient terraced irrigation system at work there. The terraces might be endangered by the construction of Israel’s security fence that in the area runs right along the 1949 armistice lines. While it is not clear that the barrier would actually damage the area, ironically the greatest obstacle to the designation of the site by UNESCO is that the Palestinians are also seeking to get the same honor for the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.

But as bloggers Elli Fischer and Yisrael Medad have pointed out, the problem with the article isn’t so much its acceptance of the Palestinian argument against putting the fence there (which is also ironic because Israel’s critics have objected when the barrier was placed anywhere but at the old green line), but that it completely ignored the Jewish heritage of the area. Battir is not just a Palestinian village with an old irrigation system but was the site of the ancient Jewish fortress of Betar, the site of the last organized resistance to Roman rule in 135 C.E. during the Bar Kochba revolt. Moreover, far from the irrigation system being, as the Times claimed, a remnant of the Roman presence, it predates their presence in the country and is clearly the product of biblical-era Jewish settlement. As Medad put it, “Romans, Shmomans.”

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On Monday, the New York Times reported about the effort by Palestinians to have the village of Battir designated as a World Heritage site because of the unique ecological nature of the ancient terraced irrigation system at work there. The terraces might be endangered by the construction of Israel’s security fence that in the area runs right along the 1949 armistice lines. While it is not clear that the barrier would actually damage the area, ironically the greatest obstacle to the designation of the site by UNESCO is that the Palestinians are also seeking to get the same honor for the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.

But as bloggers Elli Fischer and Yisrael Medad have pointed out, the problem with the article isn’t so much its acceptance of the Palestinian argument against putting the fence there (which is also ironic because Israel’s critics have objected when the barrier was placed anywhere but at the old green line), but that it completely ignored the Jewish heritage of the area. Battir is not just a Palestinian village with an old irrigation system but was the site of the ancient Jewish fortress of Betar, the site of the last organized resistance to Roman rule in 135 C.E. during the Bar Kochba revolt. Moreover, far from the irrigation system being, as the Times claimed, a remnant of the Roman presence, it predates their presence in the country and is clearly the product of biblical-era Jewish settlement. As Medad put it, “Romans, Shmomans.”

Medad also points out that a closer look at the accounts of the dispute there shows the villagers’ problem has more to do with their faulty sewage system than any threats from Israeli construction crews in a nearby valley.

But the main point here is not so much the argument about the location of the fence as it is the willful erasure of the Jewish connections of a place that Palestinians are seeking to have honored for its historical significance. Betar was the last gasp of Jewish sovereignty in the land of Israel for 1,800 years and a place where tens of thousands of Jews were slaughtered by the Romans.

As Fischer notes:

In fact, the Talmud offers an alternative explanation for the fertility of Battir: “For seven years [after the fall of Betar] the gentiles fertilized their vineyards with the blood of Israel without using manure.”

In this respect the promotion of Battir as a memorial to the supposed history of the Palestinians is stereotypical of the way their supporters have done their best to ignore or actually deny the Jewish connections to this land.

UNESCO stands alone as the only UN agency that recognizes the Palestinian Authority as an independent state. It has in the recent past recognized Jewish religious shrines such as the Tomb of Rachel outside Bethlehem as mosques, so there is little hope it will treat Israel or the Jews fairly. But if it is to grant this site the World Heritage designation, it should, at the very least, declare it to be important to the history of both Jews and Palestinians. In doing so, it would give the lie to the claim that Jews are usurpers or foreigners in the West Bank. And that is probably reason enough for it to continue denying Jewish history and heritage.

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GOP Shouldn’t Rush to Replace ObamaCare

With it a near certainty that sometime Thursday morning we will finally know whether the Supreme Court will strike down the Affordable Care Act, the political parties have spent much of this week pondering what they will do in the event the president’s signature legislation is ruled unconstitutional. The Democrats are fairly certain of their course of action if their side loses tomorrow. They will attack the Court and the GOP while attempting to change the narrative of the issue from one about a government power grab to the plight of the uninsured. Republicans are less certain; as the putative victors in the controversy, their inclination may be to sit back and gloat.

As Politico reports today, congressional Republicans have no plans to respond to the downfall of ObamaCare with legislation aimed at filling in the gap if the president’s plan goes down, even if it means allowing some of the more popular provisions in a profoundly unpopular bill are lost with the rest of the plan. While doing nothing may be dangerous as it risks losing the initiative to the left, the thinking here is they are right to pass on getting bogged down this year on an alternative. But a refusal to try to push through a new bill shouldn’t be confused with passivity. Conservatives must be ready to start pushing back against the left’s attempt to demonize the Court or allow them to make the public forget the issue here isn’t sympathy for the poor but the defense of liberty.

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With it a near certainty that sometime Thursday morning we will finally know whether the Supreme Court will strike down the Affordable Care Act, the political parties have spent much of this week pondering what they will do in the event the president’s signature legislation is ruled unconstitutional. The Democrats are fairly certain of their course of action if their side loses tomorrow. They will attack the Court and the GOP while attempting to change the narrative of the issue from one about a government power grab to the plight of the uninsured. Republicans are less certain; as the putative victors in the controversy, their inclination may be to sit back and gloat.

As Politico reports today, congressional Republicans have no plans to respond to the downfall of ObamaCare with legislation aimed at filling in the gap if the president’s plan goes down, even if it means allowing some of the more popular provisions in a profoundly unpopular bill are lost with the rest of the plan. While doing nothing may be dangerous as it risks losing the initiative to the left, the thinking here is they are right to pass on getting bogged down this year on an alternative. But a refusal to try to push through a new bill shouldn’t be confused with passivity. Conservatives must be ready to start pushing back against the left’s attempt to demonize the Court or allow them to make the public forget the issue here isn’t sympathy for the poor but the defense of liberty.

The temptation to come up with a comprehensive alternative to ObamaCare if it is struck down will be great. The Democrats will inevitably demand the GOP step into the vacuum left by the bill’s destruction, and there are some Republicans who have ready-made plans they’ll wish to put forward. But in doing so, they will just be providing the left with easy targets for criticism and perhaps render themselves vulnerable to the same problems that afflicted the Democrats’ rush to ram ObamaCare through Congress two years ago. The last thing Republicans need is to propose another bill that no one will have read or understood when it comes up for a vote.

However, Republicans do need to avoid sitting back and letting liberals get the better of them. So long as ObamaCare was on the books, conservatives could just fire away at its shortcomings and make the case that it was an unconscionable power grab by the federal government. Rather than just taking bows if the Court rules their way, they need to keep hammering away on this.

More to the point, they need to have the courage of their convictions and not fear the Democrats will have the better of the argument in the coming months. Though the left is acting as if a ruling that ObamaCare is unconstitutional will be a blow to Mitt Romney’s chances of defeating the president, that isn’t true. As liberal blogger/analyst Nate Silver points out in the New York Times, though Congress and the Supreme Court are widely disliked, ObamaCare is even more unpopular.

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We Still Need to Protect Oil Interests

The Wall Street Journal has the umpteenth article today trumpeting the technological advances–primarily fracking–that are allowing oil companies to uncover and exploit vast, untapped fields in North America. This is leading a dramatic decline in our need for imported oil, especially oil imported from the Middle East. As the Journal notes:

By 2020, nearly half of the crude oil America consumes will be produced at home, while 82 percent will come from this side of the Atlantic, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. By 2035, oil shipments from the Middle East to North America “could almost be nonexistent,” the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries recently predicted, partly because more efficient car engines and a growing supply of renewable fuel will help curb demand.

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The Wall Street Journal has the umpteenth article today trumpeting the technological advances–primarily fracking–that are allowing oil companies to uncover and exploit vast, untapped fields in North America. This is leading a dramatic decline in our need for imported oil, especially oil imported from the Middle East. As the Journal notes:

By 2020, nearly half of the crude oil America consumes will be produced at home, while 82 percent will come from this side of the Atlantic, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. By 2035, oil shipments from the Middle East to North America “could almost be nonexistent,” the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries recently predicted, partly because more efficient car engines and a growing supply of renewable fuel will help curb demand.

Great news! We can all agree on that. But does this mean that in the future we will be able to ignore developments in the Middle East? That we will no longer have to spend some $50 billion a year (as estimated by Brookings’ Mike O’Hanlon) to protect the flow of oil? Were that it were so. In reality, as the article notes, oil is a global commodity, so supply disruptions in the Middle East–which our European and Asian trading partners remain reliant upon–would still drive up the cost of gasoline in the United States.

Another point worth keeping in mind, which goes unmentioned in this article: Much of the reason we remain concerned about the Middle East is because its oil supplies produce revenue streams that can be used for all sorts of nefarious purposes. Just think of the Saudis funding the promulgation of Wahhabi fundamentalist doctrines around the world–or of the Iranians building nuclear weapons. As long as oil is valuable–and there is scant prospect of that changing anytime in the foreseeable future–we will have to remain concerned about who controls it. And that means we will need to have a substantial military presence in the Middle East.

It’s not simply a defensive deployment either: Don’t forget that China is heavily dependent on the Middle East for its own oil. As long as our Navy can close its supply routes, we will hold a valuable cudgel that could be employed in the event of a crisis.

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Schneiderman’s Partisan Fishing Expedition

Liberals are still seething over the way the Supreme Court reaffirmed the Citizens United decision in the Montana campaign finance law case where state restrictions on political spending were rightly overruled. But this defense of free speech rights will not go unanswered by a Democratic Party that thinks allowing citizens and groups to support ideas and candidates is a scandal. That’s why New York’s left-wing attorney general is launching a brazenly partisan attack on the right of political speech in the guise of an investigation of alleged violations of the tax code.

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman is a hard-line liberal who has been itching to use his post to both fight for restrictive campaign finance laws and to garner the publicity that will enable him to advance his career. On the surface, Schneiderman is merely conducting a probe into contributions to tax-exempt groups. But by focusing his attention on the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a pro-business conservative group, the political intent of the investigation is obvious.

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Liberals are still seething over the way the Supreme Court reaffirmed the Citizens United decision in the Montana campaign finance law case where state restrictions on political spending were rightly overruled. But this defense of free speech rights will not go unanswered by a Democratic Party that thinks allowing citizens and groups to support ideas and candidates is a scandal. That’s why New York’s left-wing attorney general is launching a brazenly partisan attack on the right of political speech in the guise of an investigation of alleged violations of the tax code.

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman is a hard-line liberal who has been itching to use his post to both fight for restrictive campaign finance laws and to garner the publicity that will enable him to advance his career. On the surface, Schneiderman is merely conducting a probe into contributions to tax-exempt groups. But by focusing his attention on the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a pro-business conservative group, the political intent of the investigation is obvious.

Schneiderman isn’t the first Democrat to try to use the post of New York attorney general to conduct politicized prosecutions to burnish his reputation. The now disgraced Eliot Spitzer’s attacks on Wall Street paved the way for his path to the governorship of the state. Current Governor Andrew Cuomo also used the post in this manner. But Schneiderman is not just another New York Democrat on the make. He’s an ideologue who campaigned on support for campaign finance laws and now appears to be willing to use his power to conduct an inquisition of conservative non-profits that will make him the darling of the left around the nation.

There is no obvious evidence of wrongdoing of any kind or legal violations on the part of the National Chamber Foundation, the Starr Foundation or the Chamber itself, though all have received subpoenas from Schneiderman. There is nothing unusual in the financing of some of the group’s activities by non-profit foundations. But what they are guilty of is being conservative groups in the crosshairs of leftist opponents seeking to brand their donations as somehow running afoul of the laws governing non-profits because of their advocacy for tort-reform, a cause that doesn’t sit well with Democratic constituencies such as trial lawyers and unions.

The same amorphous questions could be put to any non-profit involved in public advocacy. But political observers on both sides of the aisle understand that when probes like this are conducted, the only possible motivation is not respect for the law but a desire to criminalize political opponents.

Local political payback is also involved here because the Starr Group is headed by former AIG chair Maurice R. Greenberg, who was driven out of the country by a vindictive and ultimately failed prosecution launched by Spitzer during his climb up the greasy pole of New York politics.

Above all, the Schneiderman fishing expedition is an attempt to supply some proof that the Citizens United decision has unleashed a wave of political corruption, a key talking point for liberal critics of the landmark free speech case. In spite of their allegations that allowing organizations, including labor unions and other left-wing groups, to spend to promote their ideas, has despoiled politics, all Citizens United has done is to increase the amount of political speech. That is antithetical to leftists who wish to regulate the marketplace of ideas and repress the efforts of grassroots groups to fight back against big government initiatives.

Given the almost unlimited power of Schneiderman to conduct his probe, conservative groups should expect to be harassed in the coming months and years. But while Schneiderman and his cheerleaders in the mainstream press will represent this investigation as a public spirited attempt to rein in corruption, there can be no doubt that it is merely an unprincipled political witch hunt whose purpose is to cripple the efforts of conservative groups.

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NRA to Score Holder Contempt Vote

The National Rifle Association (NRA) has leverage with House Democrats running for reelection in conservative districts, and its decision to score the Eric Holder contempt vote (in favor of it) will complicate Minority Whip Steny Hoyer’s attempts to keep Democrats united in opposition (h/t HotAir):

“I think there are some members that will consider the recommendations of the NRA,” Hoyer said to reporters today. “Whether they think those recommendations are founded or not, I don’t know at this point.”

The number of Democratic defections could reach 31, according to House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA), whose committee voted last Wednesday to move the contempt citation to a full House vote.

Issa cites a letter sent from 31 Democrats to the Obama administration last year asking for them to be forthcoming with details of the Fast and Furious gun-walking operation as a template for possible Democratic “yes” votes.

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The National Rifle Association (NRA) has leverage with House Democrats running for reelection in conservative districts, and its decision to score the Eric Holder contempt vote (in favor of it) will complicate Minority Whip Steny Hoyer’s attempts to keep Democrats united in opposition (h/t HotAir):

“I think there are some members that will consider the recommendations of the NRA,” Hoyer said to reporters today. “Whether they think those recommendations are founded or not, I don’t know at this point.”

The number of Democratic defections could reach 31, according to House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA), whose committee voted last Wednesday to move the contempt citation to a full House vote.

Issa cites a letter sent from 31 Democrats to the Obama administration last year asking for them to be forthcoming with details of the Fast and Furious gun-walking operation as a template for possible Democratic “yes” votes.

So far, Rep. Matheson is the first Democratic defector. Getting 31 Democrats to cross the aisle still seems like a long-shot for Issa, but the NRA scoring will certainly help. The lobbying group does appear to have had some interest or involvement in the Fast and Furious letter Issa mentions that had 31 Democratic signatories last year, since it was posted on the NRA website under “media.” If the Democrats lose 31 members on this vote, their argument that the GOP is using it as a ploy to tie Holder’s hands on voting rights becomes even more absurd.

The NRA, meanwhile, outlined its justification for scoring the vote in a recent letter to House GOP leadership, making the case that this is about gun rights, not partisanship (h/t Moe Lane):

It is no secret that the NRA does not admire Attorney General Holder. For years, we have pointed out his history of anti-Second Amendment advocacy and enforcement actions. Since taking office, Attorney General Holder has seized on the violence in Mexico to promote the lie that “90 percent” of firearms used in Mexican crime come from the U.S.; to call for bringing back the 1994 Clinton gun ban; and to justify the illegal multiple sales reporting scheme, which amounts to gun registration for honest Americans who buy long guns in southwest border states.

But our support of this contempt resolution is not about those issues — nor is it a partisan decision, for we have also expressed our strong policy disagreements with Attorney General Holder’s predecessors of both parties. The reason we support the contempt resolution is the same reason we first called for Attorney General Holder’s resignation more than a year ago: the Department’s obstruction of congressional oversight of a program that cost lives in support of an anti-gun agenda.

Hoyer will try his best to keep his party in line, but the election is a little more than four months away, and some Democrats won’t be able to afford being on the wrong side of the NRA.

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News Bulletin: Obama Isn’t Perfect

In a campaign event in Atlanta, President Obama employed this argument on his behalf:

I’m not perfect and I’ll never be a perfect president but I told you that I’d always tell you what I thought, I’d always tell you what I believe and most importantly I told you I’d wake up every single day and fight as hard as I knew how for you. That I’d fight as hard as I knew how for all those folks who were doing the right thing out there. All those people who’ve kept the faith with this country and you know what? I’ve kept that promise. I have kept that promise. I believe in you. I hope you still believe in me.

These words, while banal (and somewhat plaintive), are also instructive. A general rule in politics is that when a chief executive says he hasn’t been a “perfect president,” it means he’s been dramatically less than perfect. It’s analogous to John Edwards claiming he hasn’t been a perfect husband.

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In a campaign event in Atlanta, President Obama employed this argument on his behalf:

I’m not perfect and I’ll never be a perfect president but I told you that I’d always tell you what I thought, I’d always tell you what I believe and most importantly I told you I’d wake up every single day and fight as hard as I knew how for you. That I’d fight as hard as I knew how for all those folks who were doing the right thing out there. All those people who’ve kept the faith with this country and you know what? I’ve kept that promise. I have kept that promise. I believe in you. I hope you still believe in me.

These words, while banal (and somewhat plaintive), are also instructive. A general rule in politics is that when a chief executive says he hasn’t been a “perfect president,” it means he’s been dramatically less than perfect. It’s analogous to John Edwards claiming he hasn’t been a perfect husband.

A second rule worth bearing in mind is this: When an incumbent’s case for re-election rests in large part on the fact that he wakes up every single day fighting hard for the American people, he’s in trouble. It means the incumbent can’t make a compelling defense of his record or sketch out a compelling second-term agenda. And the promises he says he’s kept don’t have to do with improving the objective conditions of the nation; they have to do with a subjective claim of good intentions.

“I tried hard” and “I meant well” are explanations a mother might take into account if her son failed in his Algebra I course. As a re-election slogan, however, it leaves something to be desired.

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Bigoted Candidate Crushed in NY Primary

It wasn’t even close when the AP called it last night: Democrat establishment favorite Hakeem Jeffries crushed former Black Panther Charles Barron in a landslide, 75 percent to 25 percent. The Daily News recaps:

State Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries trounced City Councilman Charles Barron in a showdown for Brooklyn’s 8th congressional district.

With 54 percent of precincts reporting, the Associated Press deemed Jeffries the easy winner, 75 percent of the vote to Barron’s 25 percent.

“The political pundits said that this was going to be a close race, but that was before the people had spoken,” Jeffries told his supporters after hearing early results. “The people spoke with one loud voice and that’s why we’re going to Washington.”

Jeffries landed almost every major endorsement, winning the backing of Sen. Chuck Schumer, Gov. Cuomo and most Democratic bigwigs.

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It wasn’t even close when the AP called it last night: Democrat establishment favorite Hakeem Jeffries crushed former Black Panther Charles Barron in a landslide, 75 percent to 25 percent. The Daily News recaps:

State Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries trounced City Councilman Charles Barron in a showdown for Brooklyn’s 8th congressional district.

With 54 percent of precincts reporting, the Associated Press deemed Jeffries the easy winner, 75 percent of the vote to Barron’s 25 percent.

“The political pundits said that this was going to be a close race, but that was before the people had spoken,” Jeffries told his supporters after hearing early results. “The people spoke with one loud voice and that’s why we’re going to Washington.”

Jeffries landed almost every major endorsement, winning the backing of Sen. Chuck Schumer, Gov. Cuomo and most Democratic bigwigs.

Recall that Barron lost his 2006 congressional race against incumbent Ed Towns by a mere eight points, so how did he manage to lose so epically to a newer, lesser-known politician like Jeffries just six years later? The David Duke endorsement video might have had something to do with it, but it’s likely the last-minute deluge of cash and endorsements for the Jeffries’ campaign helped him build an impressive get-out-the-vote effort in the typically low-turnout district. The Daily News suggests as much in its article comparing Barron’s campaign HQ to Jeffries’:

Earlier in the day, about 20 volunteers donned bright yellow t-shirts inside Barron’s makeshift campaign headquarters in a transformed family owned diner, Sistas’ Place on 456 Nostrand Ave.

Meanwhile, an army of volunteers flooded a campaign office in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn, where Jeffries’ father, Marland, 73, was patiently waiting for the election results.

Despite the drubbing, Barron reportedly refused to concede the race and is calling for a recount. Barron may be the sorest loser, but Crain’s New York makes the case that the biggest loser of the race is DC 37, the powerful city union that backed Barron and looked ineffective in the process:

DC 37. By backing Charles Barron for Congress, the city’s largest public employees’ union fueled speculation that the bomb-throwing councilman’s campaign was surging in its final weeks. But Barron’s crushing defeat by Jeffries was further proof of the union’s diminished political clout.

A stinging defeat for unions and David Duke fans all in the same day? Who could ask for anything more?

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Democrats Afraid to Be Seen with Obama?

Competing for a speaking slot at the Democratic and Republican parties’ presidential nominating conventions is a time-honored tradition every four years. The reason is simple: presidential nominees are generally popular within the party and may be the next leader of the free world, and the conventions provide an opportunity to be seen and heard by millions of Americans. (Nielsen keeps historical convention ratings for Democrats here, and Republicans here.)

So it is surely a sign of something close to panic that Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee head Steve Israel is publicly advising Democrats to stay home from President Obama’s nominating convention this year:

The man responsible for getting Democrats elected to the Congress this fall has a message for his party’s candidates: Stay away from the Democratic National Convention in September.

“If they want to win an election, they need to be in their districts,” New York Congressman Steve Israel, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, told the Reuters Washington Summit on Tuesday.

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Competing for a speaking slot at the Democratic and Republican parties’ presidential nominating conventions is a time-honored tradition every four years. The reason is simple: presidential nominees are generally popular within the party and may be the next leader of the free world, and the conventions provide an opportunity to be seen and heard by millions of Americans. (Nielsen keeps historical convention ratings for Democrats here, and Republicans here.)

So it is surely a sign of something close to panic that Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee head Steve Israel is publicly advising Democrats to stay home from President Obama’s nominating convention this year:

The man responsible for getting Democrats elected to the Congress this fall has a message for his party’s candidates: Stay away from the Democratic National Convention in September.

“If they want to win an election, they need to be in their districts,” New York Congressman Steve Israel, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, told the Reuters Washington Summit on Tuesday.

Who would have guessed the clear favorite for “least convincing political spin of the year” would go to someone other than Jay Carney or Debbie Wasserman Schultz? Not a single person will buy this spin, for two reasons: First, even if the Democrats expected another wave election in favor of the GOP, the very candidates most susceptible to that wave–less experienced members of the House–would benefit most by appearing at the convention, as it would raise their profile. And second, the announcement from Israel came after Democratic politicians began heading for the lifeboats.

The most notable of these Democrats was Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill, whose declaration that she would be caught nowhere near the president’s convention seems to have spooked her party into making a monumental unforced error. If Democrats think they’re headed for another shellacking at the polls, perhaps they know something the rest of the country doesn’t. Because there haven’t been any serious indicators of such a wave–at least nothing like 2010.

Volunteering that information won’t help them, because it won’t increase turnout and it will draw attention to the left’s sense of impending doom–something that occasionally develops into a self-fulfilling prophecy. It also forces media outlets to report a story that has thus far flown below the radar. If this were happening to a Republican administration, mainstream newspapers would be running story after story about how the president is so unpopular, even within his own party, that no one will be seen with him, his governance too radical even for the radicals.

But those stories had yet to appear this time, with the media’s election-year sensitivity to Obama’s image helpfully guiding them. Israel took a story the president’s allies were keeping under wraps and put it in neon lights. Don’t believe the polls showing Obama and Romney just about even, the DCCC itself seems to be saying, the president is politically toxic and everyone knows it.

Well, now everyone knows it.

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Pakistani Taliban Pose Mortal Threat

The recent attack by Pakistan Taliban fighters, based in Afghanistan, into Pakistan, where they killed 13 Pakistani soldiers, has not gotten the attention it deserves.

The Pakistani Taliban fighters fled the Swat Valley in Pakistan after a Pakistani army assault beginning in 2009. They found refuge in Kunar and Nuristan provinces–remote areas of eastern Afghanistan where the U.S. Army fought many fierce battles (Sebastian Junger’s book War and his film “Restrepo” are set here) before pulling back. That pullback was undertaken because these frontier regions are not major population centers but, because U.S. forces are no longer there in substantial numbers, various insurgents have been able to filter back in. This should serve as a stark warning of what can happen, on a far larger scale, if the U.S. pulls out prematurely from Afghanistan, either before or after 2014.

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The recent attack by Pakistan Taliban fighters, based in Afghanistan, into Pakistan, where they killed 13 Pakistani soldiers, has not gotten the attention it deserves.

The Pakistani Taliban fighters fled the Swat Valley in Pakistan after a Pakistani army assault beginning in 2009. They found refuge in Kunar and Nuristan provinces–remote areas of eastern Afghanistan where the U.S. Army fought many fierce battles (Sebastian Junger’s book War and his film “Restrepo” are set here) before pulling back. That pullback was undertaken because these frontier regions are not major population centers but, because U.S. forces are no longer there in substantial numbers, various insurgents have been able to filter back in. This should serve as a stark warning of what can happen, on a far larger scale, if the U.S. pulls out prematurely from Afghanistan, either before or after 2014.

The Council on Foreign Relations has just published my Policy Innovation Memorandum suggesting what it will take to secure recent gains in Afghanistan. Among the most important steps that I urge are not cutting funding for the Afghan security forces and not cutting U.S. force levels prematurely. This may be a hard sell for a war-weary nation, but consider the alternative. If the Afghan Taliban come back into power, it seems safe to say their territory will be a staging ground for various multinational terrorists. The most prominent of these groups is al-Qaeda, which remains alive despite all of the losses it has suffered recently. But just as worrisome is the Pakistani Taliban, which poses a mortal threat to the nuclear-armed state of Pakistan.

By maintaining stability in Afghanistan, we also enhance the survival prospects of the shaky Pakistani state. If we pull out completely, the recent raid by the Pakistani Taliban will be a harbinger of terrible things to come.

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More UN Anti-Semitism From Iran

Iran’s apologists and others seeking to head off the effort to stop Iran from attaining nuclear weapons have been doing their best to portray the Islamic Republic as a reasonable nation run by rational persons. The goal of these arguments is to assure the world that the ayatollahs and their minions can be trusted to keep their word if the West negotiates a deal that would allow the Iranians to keep a peaceful nuclear program. Others go so far as to assert that a nuclear Iran would not be a threat to the West or Israel because its leaders are neither suicidal nor really bent on Israel’s actual destruction. But the problem with the Iranians is that their ideology of hatred is so deeply embedded in their political culture that they can’t help but undermine the efforts of those seeking to polish their image even when the world is watching.

That’s what happened yesterday when the United Nations convened an international anti-drug conference in Tehran. At the event, Iran’s vice president greeted the delegates by telling them the key to understanding the plague of the illegal drug trade was, you guessed it, the Jews and Judaism. Vice President Mohammad-Reza Rahimi said the Talmud, a sacred text of Judaism, was responsible for the spread of drugs because it instructs its adherents to “destroy everyone who opposes the Jews.” As the New York Times reported from the conclave, European diplomats who came to make nice with the Iranians were “shocked.” But even this display was not enough to convince the West to connect the dots between this open display of hate and Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

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Iran’s apologists and others seeking to head off the effort to stop Iran from attaining nuclear weapons have been doing their best to portray the Islamic Republic as a reasonable nation run by rational persons. The goal of these arguments is to assure the world that the ayatollahs and their minions can be trusted to keep their word if the West negotiates a deal that would allow the Iranians to keep a peaceful nuclear program. Others go so far as to assert that a nuclear Iran would not be a threat to the West or Israel because its leaders are neither suicidal nor really bent on Israel’s actual destruction. But the problem with the Iranians is that their ideology of hatred is so deeply embedded in their political culture that they can’t help but undermine the efforts of those seeking to polish their image even when the world is watching.

That’s what happened yesterday when the United Nations convened an international anti-drug conference in Tehran. At the event, Iran’s vice president greeted the delegates by telling them the key to understanding the plague of the illegal drug trade was, you guessed it, the Jews and Judaism. Vice President Mohammad-Reza Rahimi said the Talmud, a sacred text of Judaism, was responsible for the spread of drugs because it instructs its adherents to “destroy everyone who opposes the Jews.” As the New York Times reported from the conclave, European diplomats who came to make nice with the Iranians were “shocked.” But even this display was not enough to convince the West to connect the dots between this open display of hate and Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

Rahimi’s speech was actually par for the course when it comes to Iranian discourse about Jews and Israel. Tehran is now one of the world centers of anti-Semitic propaganda. It shouldn’t be surprising when the second in line to succeed the Holocaust-denying President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad says things like this:

The “Zionists” are in firm control of the illegal drug trade, Mr. Rahimi said, asking foreign dignitaries to research his claims. “Zionists” is Iran’s ideological term for Jews who support the state of Israel.

“The Islamic Republic of Iran will pay for anybody who can research and find one single Zionist who is an addict,” Mr. Rahimi said. “They do not exist. This is the proof of their involvement in drugs trade.”

Mr. Rahimi … told stories of gynecologists’ killing black babies on the orders of the Zionists and claimed that the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917 was started by Jews, adding that mysteriously no Jews died in that uprising.

He also said the Talmud teaches Jews to think they are a superior race. “They think God has created the world so that all other nations can serve them,” he said. Halfway through his speech, Mr. Rahimi said there was a difference between Jews who “honestly follow the prophet Moses” and the Zionists who are “the main elements of the international drug trade.”

But the Western impulse willing to believe such statements are aberrations or irrelevant to policy is still stronger than common sense.

A European diplomat said afterward: “This was definitely one of the worst speeches I have heard in my life. My gut reaction was: why are we supporting any cooperation with these people?”

But the diplomat, who declined to be identified by name or country, defended his presence at the conference. “If we do not support the United Nations on helping Iran fight drugs, voices like the one of Mr. Rahimi will be the only ones out there,” he said.

At the conference, Antonio De Leo, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crimes representative in Iran, praised the Islamic Republic as a “key strategic partner in the fight against drugs.”

But though it is true the Iranians want to halt the flow of drugs across their border from Afghanistan, the persistence of belief in the idea that Tehran is a rational actor on the international stage is the real obstacle to stopping their nuclear ambitions. So long as Western nations are prepared to treat Iran’s government as a normal partner in trade and diplomacy, it will be impossible to muster support for a genuine effort to isolate them or to place sufficient pressure on Tehran to give up its nuclear dream.

Though Western sanctions on Iran will be increased at the end of the month, such displays as this week’s drug conference in Tehran have convinced the ayatollahs they can defy the West with impunity. Three rounds of failed sessions of the P5+1 talks after similar failures in the past have not been enough to persuade the Obama administration the “window for diplomacy” is already closed.

But even were a deal of some sort were concluded, there is no reason to believe that an Iranian government so besotted with delusional anti-Semitic conspiracy theories could be expected to observe a treaty or to stop its drive to create a weapon with which to threaten the existence of the “Zionists.”

Rahimi’s speech is yet another warning that any diplomat tasked with negotiating with the Islamist regime has been sent on a fool’s errand.

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