Commentary Magazine


Posts For: July 5, 2012

Fearsome Iran Sanctions Just a Ruse

To read some accounts of the impact of the latest Western sanctions on Iran, you’d think the ayatollahs ought to be packing their bags for exile in Paris. Today’s front page feature in the New York Times about the Islamist regime using out-of-service tankers as storage facilities for all the oil they can no longer sell paints a dismal picture of the country’s economy. The story spoke of the squeeze being put on Iran and the prospect that more economic pain is in the offing as the effects of the sanctions start being felt. All of which ought to presage either the collapse of the government or a decision on the part of its leaders that discretion is the better part of valor when it comes to their nuclear ambitions.

But the colorful imagery of the tankers notwithstanding there was nothing in this piece or any other that would lead one to believe that the ayatollahs are really worried. And that’s a point that left-wing pundit Robert Dreyfuss makes all too clear in an article in The Diplomat. Though an Israel-hater like Dreyfuss being right about a Middle East issue is a case of the proverbial blind squirrel finding an acorn, he’s right when he notes that President Obama’s Iran sanctions policy has more of a feel of a ruse aimed at quieting the concerns of friends of Israel than an actual method of heading off the nuclear threat. Nobody in Washington really thinks the sanctions will work and that includes members of the administration which is touting their ability to make the Iranians give in.

Read More

To read some accounts of the impact of the latest Western sanctions on Iran, you’d think the ayatollahs ought to be packing their bags for exile in Paris. Today’s front page feature in the New York Times about the Islamist regime using out-of-service tankers as storage facilities for all the oil they can no longer sell paints a dismal picture of the country’s economy. The story spoke of the squeeze being put on Iran and the prospect that more economic pain is in the offing as the effects of the sanctions start being felt. All of which ought to presage either the collapse of the government or a decision on the part of its leaders that discretion is the better part of valor when it comes to their nuclear ambitions.

But the colorful imagery of the tankers notwithstanding there was nothing in this piece or any other that would lead one to believe that the ayatollahs are really worried. And that’s a point that left-wing pundit Robert Dreyfuss makes all too clear in an article in The Diplomat. Though an Israel-hater like Dreyfuss being right about a Middle East issue is a case of the proverbial blind squirrel finding an acorn, he’s right when he notes that President Obama’s Iran sanctions policy has more of a feel of a ruse aimed at quieting the concerns of friends of Israel than an actual method of heading off the nuclear threat. Nobody in Washington really thinks the sanctions will work and that includes members of the administration which is touting their ability to make the Iranians give in.

It’s a sad fact that although the Iranian people are in for a rough time this year, the impact of the sanctions may involve nothing more than another round of belt-tightening for a nation all too used to having to put up with hardships since it came under the thumb of Islamic theocrats.

Dreyfuss also points out something you rarely read about on the front page of the Times. Though Iran’s exports are down, the granting of waivers to its biggest trading partners in China and India means that flow of cash into the ayatollah’s exchequer is reduced but still considerable. He quotes one analyst who points out that the $40 billion Iran will get in oil revenue this year is still twice as much that it got only a decade ago. While the administration is “huffing and puffing” like the Big Bad Wolf about what it is doing to Iran, it hasn’t escaped Dreyfuss’s attention — or that of Tehran — that President Obama and his foreign policy team have spent their entire term of office trying to “oppose, deflect, and tried to weaken sanctions legislation enacted by Congress.”

That these supposedly crippling sanctions on Iran are toothless is something that writers on both the left and the right are coming to realize. It’s just the administration and their cheerleaders who are still pretending as if they present a real threat to either the Iranian regime or its ability to keep investing in its nuclear program. U.S. policy toward Iran, is, like the sanctions exemptions granted to China, a “polite fiction” intended to kick the can down road until after November when a re-elected President Obama would then have the “flexibility” to back down from his pledges about stopping the nuclear threat.

Read Less

Ayotte Veep Speculation Mounts

VP buzz around Sen. Kelly Ayotte was already growing before she joined the Romney clan on vacation in New Hampshire yesterday. But Ann Romney has thrown fuel on it by telling CBS the campaign has been considering a female VP pick:

Ann Romney says her husband is considering a woman for the ticket—and admitted she’s been playing a big role in the VP search, too, according to an interview with CBS News.

“We’ve been looking at that,” Ann Romney replied, when asked if her husband should pick a female as his No. 2. “I’d love that option as well. So, you know, there’s a lot of people that Mitt is considering right now.”

While she had previously suggested she wasn’t playing a major role in the VP search, Ann Romney admitted she’s been giving the process “a lot of thought, actually” and has been offering her husband advice on his choice.

Read More

VP buzz around Sen. Kelly Ayotte was already growing before she joined the Romney clan on vacation in New Hampshire yesterday. But Ann Romney has thrown fuel on it by telling CBS the campaign has been considering a female VP pick:

Ann Romney says her husband is considering a woman for the ticket—and admitted she’s been playing a big role in the VP search, too, according to an interview with CBS News.

“We’ve been looking at that,” Ann Romney replied, when asked if her husband should pick a female as his No. 2. “I’d love that option as well. So, you know, there’s a lot of people that Mitt is considering right now.”

While she had previously suggested she wasn’t playing a major role in the VP search, Ann Romney admitted she’s been giving the process “a lot of thought, actually” and has been offering her husband advice on his choice.

Ann Romney doesn’t specify, but who else could she be referring to other than Ayotte? The chatter about Condoleezza Rice never seemed serious, and a Tea Party favorite like Nikki Haley would draw instant comparisons to Sarah Palin. Speculation about NM Gov. Susana Martinez also seems to have tapered down after this email flap. Ayotte is still a first-term senator, but she’s already impressed the party establishment, and she’s been a prominent and effective surrogate for Romney. That said, it would still be a bit surprising if she’s being considered seriously. If Marco Rubio’s lack of experience supposedly kept him off the short list, then why would it be any different with Ayotte? They’re both freshman senators, and both very capable on the campaign trail. Maybe this is a sign there was a deeper issue plaguing Rubio?

It’s also possible that Ayotte is being vetted as a possibility (as Rubio is) but hasn’t made it onto the short list. That’s what Erin McPike surmises at RCP:

Mitt Romney may be tight-lipped about his vice presidential short list, warning that only he and longtime aide Beth Myers know who is on it, but a close examination of the campaign’s activity suggests four contenders have risen through the ranks: Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, Ohio Sen. Rob Portman, Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal.

New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte and Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell may be considered wild cards, and Romney has said he’s thoroughly vetting Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, though the first-term lawmaker’s status appears unchanged.

That’s an interesting top four. Portman and Pawlenty are obviously very different picks than Ryan and Jindal. The first two are the safe and bland route, the second two would be far more exciting but riskier. Ryan in particular would be a game-changing choice, instantly turning the race into a referendum on his Path to Prosperity plan. Conservatives would love the opportunity to have that debate, but it would also be an uncharacteristically bold decision for Romney. Then there’s the question of whether Ryan would accept.

Read Less

The Manichean Temptation

In her 1965 New York Review of Books essay on the 19th century British businessman, essayist, and journalist Walter Bagehot (which can be found in this collection), the eminent historian Gertrude Himmelfarb wrote this:

The current intellectual fashions put a premium on simplicity and activism. The subtleties, complications, and ambiguities that until recently have been the mark of serious thought are now taken to signify a failure of nerve, a compromise with evil, an evasion of judgment and “commitment.” It is as if the “once-born” (to use the terms invented by Francis Newman and immortalized by William James) were reasserting themselves over the “twice-born”: the once-born, simple and “healthy-minded,” having faith in a beneficent God and a perfectible universe; the twice-born in awe of His mystery, impressed by the recalcitrance of men and the anomalies of social action.

Bagehot, who became editor of The Economist, possessed what Himmelfarb called a “compelling vision that inevitably brought with it a complexity, subtlety, and depth that he found lacking in much of the discourse of the time.” As it was then, so it remains today.

Read More

In her 1965 New York Review of Books essay on the 19th century British businessman, essayist, and journalist Walter Bagehot (which can be found in this collection), the eminent historian Gertrude Himmelfarb wrote this:

The current intellectual fashions put a premium on simplicity and activism. The subtleties, complications, and ambiguities that until recently have been the mark of serious thought are now taken to signify a failure of nerve, a compromise with evil, an evasion of judgment and “commitment.” It is as if the “once-born” (to use the terms invented by Francis Newman and immortalized by William James) were reasserting themselves over the “twice-born”: the once-born, simple and “healthy-minded,” having faith in a beneficent God and a perfectible universe; the twice-born in awe of His mystery, impressed by the recalcitrance of men and the anomalies of social action.

Bagehot, who became editor of The Economist, possessed what Himmelfarb called a “compelling vision that inevitably brought with it a complexity, subtlety, and depth that he found lacking in much of the discourse of the time.” As it was then, so it remains today.

Part of the explanation for this is that many of us who are active in politics eventually choose a side—whether it be the side of an individual, a political party, or a political philosophy. And once we do, we’re all on one side or all on another. As a result, we often lose our detachment and sense of distance. We go in search of facts to reinforce pre-existing views. Pastels are replaced by primary colors.

It’s important to point out here that the qualities Bagehot possessed are not antithetical to a principled worldview or advocacy. Seeing complexities in situations doesn’t mean that all politicians and all political ideologies are created equal. Nor is truth always equidistant between two end points. There’s far more to say for the philosophy of Adam Smith than for Karl Marx.

But what Himmelfarb found admirable in Bagehot, I think, was his refusal to hermetically seal himself off when it came to considering the merits of opposing views. “His sense of reality was multifaceted,” according to Himmelfarb, “shaped by the simple and the complex, the commonplace and the recondite.”

“He was that rare species of the twice-born who could give proper due to the rights and merits of the once-born,” she wrote.

Resisting the temptation to ascribe all virtue and intellectual merit to one’s own side while denying it to the other—as if on every issue all the arguments line up on one side and none on the other, freeing us of the need to carefully weigh competing goods—is among the more challenging things in politics. But most of us who comprise the political class struggle with this temptation more than we want to admit.

None of this is new and none of this is easy. Self-knowledge—including the ability to perceive when honest inquiry in the search for truth becomes subsidium to championing a person, a party, or a cause—rarely is. I wouldn’t deny for a moment that in politics, as in philosophy, arriving at the correct destination matters quite a lot. But so does integrity in the process. Corrupting the means to the ends can also corrupt the ends.

That’s worth bearing in mind in any age, but perhaps especially in ours, when the accelerated pace of commentary—from cable television to blogs to Twitter—makes serious thought that much harder and an appreciation for ambiguities and subtleties that much rarer.

In 21st century America—in the midst of an intense presidential election—we could all use a bit more of the sensibilities and disposition of a Walter Bagehot.

Read Less

China Fight Shows Obama’s Cynicism

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney is paid to deny the obvious on a daily basis, but even his ability to lie on behalf of his boss was strained to the max today when he told reporters on Air Force One the administration’s decision to file a complaint with the World Trade Organization about Chinese tariffs on American cars had nothing to do with the president’s re-election campaign. The WTO complaint just happened to coincide with President Obama’s bus tour of Rust Belt states where U.S. cars are manufactured and where he will beat his chest about the beastliness of China’s unfair trade practices. But though the move comes after three years of kowtowing to Beijing, Carney asserted that the complaint was in the works for years and the timing was pure coincidence.

“It can’t suddenly be a political action because it happens during the campaign,” Carney told the press. Oh, no?

This rhetorical flight of fancy doesn’t just display the boundless cynicism of the Obama campaign. It also illustrates the way the president is prepared to seemingly alter his foreign policy to suit the needs of his re-election hopes. Just as he expects friends of Israel to forget about what occurred during the first three years of his presidency prior to the current Jewish charm offensive he is pursuing, he thinks auto workers and their families have memories that are equally as poor.

Read More

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney is paid to deny the obvious on a daily basis, but even his ability to lie on behalf of his boss was strained to the max today when he told reporters on Air Force One the administration’s decision to file a complaint with the World Trade Organization about Chinese tariffs on American cars had nothing to do with the president’s re-election campaign. The WTO complaint just happened to coincide with President Obama’s bus tour of Rust Belt states where U.S. cars are manufactured and where he will beat his chest about the beastliness of China’s unfair trade practices. But though the move comes after three years of kowtowing to Beijing, Carney asserted that the complaint was in the works for years and the timing was pure coincidence.

“It can’t suddenly be a political action because it happens during the campaign,” Carney told the press. Oh, no?

This rhetorical flight of fancy doesn’t just display the boundless cynicism of the Obama campaign. It also illustrates the way the president is prepared to seemingly alter his foreign policy to suit the needs of his re-election hopes. Just as he expects friends of Israel to forget about what occurred during the first three years of his presidency prior to the current Jewish charm offensive he is pursuing, he thinks auto workers and their families have memories that are equally as poor.

The president is right when he now says U.S. car manufacturers have been adversely affected by China’s trade practices. But though the administration has registered prior complaints, the overall tenor of Obama’s attitude toward China has been more focused on appeasing Beijing rather than standing up to it. He has done little if anything to open up China’s markets to U.S. goods, China’s theft of American intellectual property, or to adequately respond to its currency manipulation. Indeed, the only consistent theme of Obama’s policies has been a desire to create U.S. subsidies that give the Chinese cause to complain they are being judged by a double standard.

The contrast between Mitt Romney’s aggressive stance toward China and the more lenient attitude of the Obama administration was illustrated during the Republican presidential debates when Jon Huntsman, the president’s ambassador to Beijing, accused the eventual winner of the GOP nomination of being too tough on the issue. The harsh talk about China we’re hearing now is just one more election-year conversion and about as credible as the laughable Democratic talking points about Obama being Israel’s best friend ever to sit in the White House.

While Americans are used to presidential candidates employing the most transparently cynical political tactics, Obama’s 2012 transformation into Israel’s friend and China’s foe is a bit much for even his most ardent loyalists. While his allies among the leaders of the labor movement have good reason to stifle their own disgust at his trade double-dealing, it’s not likely many rank and file members are going to buy this brazen baloney.

Read Less

The “Vital Force” of Winston Churchill

In 1935, British Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin refused to appoint Winston Churchill to a cabinet post. Asked to explain himself, Baldwin responded: “If there is going to be a war–and who can say there is not–we must keep him fresh to be our war prime minister.” The historian Max Hastings notes that Baldwin said this with a hint of jocularity, but he seemed to understand it was also quite true. Five years later, Leo Amery wrote: “I am beginning to come round to the idea that Winston with all his failings is the one man with real war drive and love of battle.”

While Churchill was always conscious of his own image, this aspect of his personality was ingrained and authentic. That is one of the clearest conclusions to be drawn from the summer exhibit on display at New York’s Morgan Library and Museum, “Churchill: The Power of Words.” There, among a fine collection of Churchill’s writings, speeches, and correspondence plus a 20-minute audio-visual presentation of excerpts of Churchill at his most inspiring, is a true gem. The exhibit includes a school report card for young Winston. His grades were mostly fine, but among the notes written by his instructors was the following, next to “General Conduct”:

Very bad–is a constant trouble to everybody, and is always in some scrape or other. He cannot be trusted to behave himself anywhere. He has very good abilities.

Read More

In 1935, British Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin refused to appoint Winston Churchill to a cabinet post. Asked to explain himself, Baldwin responded: “If there is going to be a war–and who can say there is not–we must keep him fresh to be our war prime minister.” The historian Max Hastings notes that Baldwin said this with a hint of jocularity, but he seemed to understand it was also quite true. Five years later, Leo Amery wrote: “I am beginning to come round to the idea that Winston with all his failings is the one man with real war drive and love of battle.”

While Churchill was always conscious of his own image, this aspect of his personality was ingrained and authentic. That is one of the clearest conclusions to be drawn from the summer exhibit on display at New York’s Morgan Library and Museum, “Churchill: The Power of Words.” There, among a fine collection of Churchill’s writings, speeches, and correspondence plus a 20-minute audio-visual presentation of excerpts of Churchill at his most inspiring, is a true gem. The exhibit includes a school report card for young Winston. His grades were mostly fine, but among the notes written by his instructors was the following, next to “General Conduct”:

Very bad–is a constant trouble to everybody, and is always in some scrape or other. He cannot be trusted to behave himself anywhere. He has very good abilities.

Churchill was always someone you’d rather have with you than against you. But the rest of the exhibit, which runs through September 23, contains fascinating glimpses into the gifted statesman. And it is a worthwhile project as well, because amidst our romantic view of Churchill’s belligerent brilliance, an important point often gets lost: Churchill’s words changed the world.

In an era of perhaps fetishized diplomacy, Churchill should loom larger than ever. Almost immediately upon replacing Neville Chamberlain as prime minister, Churchill had to turn the Dunkirk evacuation from a retreat into a triumph of the British fighting spirit. No sooner had he accomplished that then he had to convince the French not to surrender while nudging Franklin Roosevelt to defy Congress and help the war effort. “I shall drag the United States in,” he once remarked matter-of-factly to his son. And so he did.

A thematic current of Roy Jenkins’s biography of Churchill is Churchill’s belief, from a very young age, that he was destined for greatness. The Morgan exhibit shows a letter he wrote to his mother, in which he admits to being “more ambitious for a reputation for personal courage than of anything else in the world.”

To be surprised by anything about Churchill is a surprise itself–another reason such exhibits leave their mark. Jenkins warns readers in his introduction that his will be no “revelatory” biography: “Churchill in life was singularly lacking in inhibition or concealment. There are consequently no great hidden reservoirs of behavior to be tapped.” Hastings begins his book with a similar note, suggesting that “We have been told more about Winston Churchill than any other human being.”

And yet, Churchill’s reputation is a suit of armor–a few nicks and dents from battle, but none visible from afar and none compromising the integrity of the structure. Churchill’s career in government does not lack for mistakes–and in some cases, near mistakes that were avoided by the judgment of his generals. But the big things he got right, and though the West would not have won the war without the United States, it may very well not have won without Churchill staving off defeat and wrenching the very best from his country in order to give America a cause to save.

When the war was over, few had the strength or will or foresight to understand the nature of the Cold War that was in part the legacy of victory–but Churchill did. Out of power, he forged an alliance with the United States in peacetime that has endured until today, and shaped the West’s response to the growing threat of Communism, leading to another triumph that, too, endures to this day. Churchill was feared by all the right people–and trusted, respected, and admired by the right ones, too. There is no one on the world stage today who fits this description, and so there is a bittersweet element to the exhibit as well.

But most importantly, the exhibit honors Churchill the way he would want to be honored. As he wrote in 1938:

Words are the only things that last forever. The most tremendous monuments or prodigies of engineering crumble under the hand of Time. The Pyramids moulder, the bridges rust, the canals fill up, grass covers the railway track; but words spoken two or three thousand years ago remain with us now, not as mere relics of the past, but with all their pristine vital force.

Read Less

Palestinian Statehood Showdown at UN?

The last thing President Obama needs is another September showdown over Palestinian statehood at the UN General Assembly. Last year’s fiasco was damaging enough, and that wasn’t with a presidential election looming. But that’s exactly what Palestinian envoy Maen Rashid Areikat is threatening, according to The Hill:

The lack of progress on a two-state solution led the Palestinians to unilaterally seek United Nations recognition as a sovereign state last year — a move the Obama administration vowed to block — and Areikat warned that the Palestinians might well try again.

“The Palestinian leadership said that they reserve the right to resort to any and every venue possible to further our objectives,” Areikat said, noting that Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat made that clear to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton when he met with her on June 20, their first meeting in nine months.

“If the political vacuum continues, we will go to the United Nations General Assembly. We are going to explore other venues, and we have the right to do that.”

Read More

The last thing President Obama needs is another September showdown over Palestinian statehood at the UN General Assembly. Last year’s fiasco was damaging enough, and that wasn’t with a presidential election looming. But that’s exactly what Palestinian envoy Maen Rashid Areikat is threatening, according to The Hill:

The lack of progress on a two-state solution led the Palestinians to unilaterally seek United Nations recognition as a sovereign state last year — a move the Obama administration vowed to block — and Areikat warned that the Palestinians might well try again.

“The Palestinian leadership said that they reserve the right to resort to any and every venue possible to further our objectives,” Areikat said, noting that Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat made that clear to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton when he met with her on June 20, their first meeting in nine months.

“If the political vacuum continues, we will go to the United Nations General Assembly. We are going to explore other venues, and we have the right to do that.”

If the political vacuum continues? Of course the political vacuum is going to continue. Can you imagine Obama voluntarily resurrecting the issue of Israel-Palestinian negotiations before the election? It would only be a reminder of his failures in this arena, his clashes with Israel about settlements and borders, and his incoherent Middle East policy.

A Palestinian statehood bid at the UN would put Obama in yet another diplomatic and political bind. Last year, the criticism of Obama was relentless. The congressional race in New York between Republican Bob Turner and Democrat David Welprin evolved into a referendum on Obama’s Israel policy — and Obama lost. That’s not something he’ll want to rehash two months before the presidential election.

Read Less

Can Hillary Trump Romney’s Israel Visit?

There will be those who will claim Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s just announced trip to Israel this month will trump Mitt Romney’s visit later this summer. We will be told this will be evidence of the power of incumbency and the sweet talk uttered by Clinton will balance if not overshadow anything Romney might do or say. But that will be nothing but Democrat spin. Clinton’s trip will not only do nothing to ease President Obama’s difficulties with pro-Israel voters. The decision to send the secretary rather than the president finally breaking down and making his first stop in the Jewish state — something obviously in his political interests as well as a smart foreign policy move — only emphasizes the coolness in relations between the two countries during the past three and a half years.

Stopping in the one foreign country where Romney is more popular than the president won’t turn the election, but it does draw attention to the generally frigid atmosphere between Obama and the Israeli government. But nothing Clinton does or says on her visit can alter the impression of hostility that was the keynote of the U.S. attitude toward Israel prior to the start of the president’s re-election campaign. The one thing lacking from the election year Jewish charm offensive is any evidence of genuine warmth or a sense from the president he understands or sympathizes with Israel’s dilemma despite occasional rhetorical thrusts in that direction. A visit to Israel could perhaps help with that, but Israel is apparently the one American ally Obama refuses to call on even if he is already in the neighborhood. A Clinton stopover there won’t make up for that.

Read More

There will be those who will claim Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s just announced trip to Israel this month will trump Mitt Romney’s visit later this summer. We will be told this will be evidence of the power of incumbency and the sweet talk uttered by Clinton will balance if not overshadow anything Romney might do or say. But that will be nothing but Democrat spin. Clinton’s trip will not only do nothing to ease President Obama’s difficulties with pro-Israel voters. The decision to send the secretary rather than the president finally breaking down and making his first stop in the Jewish state — something obviously in his political interests as well as a smart foreign policy move — only emphasizes the coolness in relations between the two countries during the past three and a half years.

Stopping in the one foreign country where Romney is more popular than the president won’t turn the election, but it does draw attention to the generally frigid atmosphere between Obama and the Israeli government. But nothing Clinton does or says on her visit can alter the impression of hostility that was the keynote of the U.S. attitude toward Israel prior to the start of the president’s re-election campaign. The one thing lacking from the election year Jewish charm offensive is any evidence of genuine warmth or a sense from the president he understands or sympathizes with Israel’s dilemma despite occasional rhetorical thrusts in that direction. A visit to Israel could perhaps help with that, but Israel is apparently the one American ally Obama refuses to call on even if he is already in the neighborhood. A Clinton stopover there won’t make up for that.

Nor can Clinton credibly play the role of Israel’s friend among Obama’s chief counselors. Clinton has, after all, been the public face of the administration’s efforts to undermine Israel’s stand on Jerusalem, administering undiplomatic tongue-lashings to Prime Minister Netanyahu whenever the president’s pique at Israel flared up into the annual spats that soured relations and encouraged Palestinian intransigence. The contrast between her fervent support for the Jewish state while she was a senator (and beholden to New York’s Jewish voters) and the brusque relations between Foggy Bottom and the Netanyahu government is also a reminder of the hollow nature of Democratic assurances about an Obama presidency’s affection for Israel prior to his election in 2008.

Democrats will rightly recall President Obama did go to Israel when he was running in 2008, but the contrast between that visit and Romney’s illustrates the Democrats’ dilemma with the pro-Israel vote. Then Senator Obama schlepped to Israel four summers ago in order to counter the widespread impression he was cool to the Jewish state. Plus, he never stood out as a supporter up until that point in his career. While there, he said all the right things, but we all know now that once he took office, putting some distance between Israel and the United States was one of his top foreign policy priorities as well as satisfying his desire to be different from George W. Bush in every possible respect.

Romney has no such baggage with him on his trip. Nor does he have to live down his closeness with anti-Israel figures such as Rev. Jeremiah Wright and Palestinian polemicist Rashid Khalidi as Obama did. Though there are no guarantees a Romney administration will be as friendly to Israel as he claims it will, even most Democrats know it is unlikely he would perpetuate Obama’s well-documented personal hostility to Netanyahu. No matter what Clinton says or does on her trip, she won’t be able to alter the cloud that has hung over the alliance or reassure Israelis the president means business about Iran. Any political gains to be had on the question of Israel remain in Romney’s hands.

Read Less

Romney and Playing it Safe

The Wall Street Journal has a scorching editorial today that gets to the heart of conservative frustration with Mitt Romney:

The Romney campaign thinks it can play it safe and coast to the White House by saying the economy stinks and it’s Mr. Obama’s fault. We’re on its email list and the main daily message from the campaign is that “Obama isn’t working.” Thanks, guys, but Americans already know that. What they want to hear from the challenger is some understanding of why the president’s policies aren’t working and how Mr. Romney’s policies will do better.

“Playing it safe” is an apt description of Romney’s strategy so far. At the Weekly Standard, Bill Kristol sums it up: “Adopting a prevent defense when it’s only the second quarter and you’re not even ahead.” Conservatives had hoped this would be an election about ideas. Small government versus the nanny state; prosperity versus debt and deterioration; the choice of American decline. But unlike the soaring but empty vision that Obama offered Democrats in 2008, conservatives also want to hear specifics. Instead, they’ve gotten platitudes about how “Obama isn’t working.” True, but so what? Where is the alternative?

Read More

The Wall Street Journal has a scorching editorial today that gets to the heart of conservative frustration with Mitt Romney:

The Romney campaign thinks it can play it safe and coast to the White House by saying the economy stinks and it’s Mr. Obama’s fault. We’re on its email list and the main daily message from the campaign is that “Obama isn’t working.” Thanks, guys, but Americans already know that. What they want to hear from the challenger is some understanding of why the president’s policies aren’t working and how Mr. Romney’s policies will do better.

“Playing it safe” is an apt description of Romney’s strategy so far. At the Weekly Standard, Bill Kristol sums it up: “Adopting a prevent defense when it’s only the second quarter and you’re not even ahead.” Conservatives had hoped this would be an election about ideas. Small government versus the nanny state; prosperity versus debt and deterioration; the choice of American decline. But unlike the soaring but empty vision that Obama offered Democrats in 2008, conservatives also want to hear specifics. Instead, they’ve gotten platitudes about how “Obama isn’t working.” True, but so what? Where is the alternative?

WSJ continues:

All of these attacks were predictable, in particular because they go to the heart of Mr. Romney’s main campaign theme—that he can create jobs as president because he is a successful businessman and manager. But candidates who live by biography typically lose by it. See President John Kerry.

The biography that voters care about is their own, and they want to know how a candidate is going to improve their future. That means offering a larger economic narrative and vision than Mr. Romney has so far provided. It means pointing out the differences with specificity on higher taxes, government-run health care, punitive regulation, and the waste of politically-driven government spending.

Romney’s caution in this area is troubling. If he lacks the courage to offer up a broader vision and detailed solutions during the election, will he have the guts to fight for conservative policies after taking office?

Read Less

Dig Up His Crimes Along With Arafat’s Body

An Al Jazeera documentary and a statement from Yasir Arafat’s widow has led to a decision by the Palestinian Authority to exhume the former leader of the PA and to conduct an investigation into the cause of his death in 2004. While Palestinians have often spoken of Arafat’s demise being the result of an alleged Israeli plot, were such a probe to be honest, the Jewish state would probably have nothing to fear. More to the point, any discussion of Arafat’s death will necessarily involve highlighting what he did before he expired in Lausanne, Switzerland. And that is not something the Palestinians or their apologists ought to welcome.

Arafat’s death at the age of 75 was something of a mystery and predictably fueled conspiracy theories. Suspicion that foul play was involved will only be heightened if Al Jazeera’s allegation is accurate that his clothes contained trace amounts of polonium, a radioactive substance generally associated with assassinations carried out by agents of the former Soviet Union and the current Putin regime in Russia. That  helps to remind us that of all the players in the Middle East drama at the time of his demise, Israel was probably the only one that had an interest in keeping him alive rather than putting an end to his pathetic misrule of the territories. Hamas, his Fatah underlings as well as the host of enemies Arafat made during his career as the world’s number one terrorist, are all far more likely suspects than Israel. However, if Arafat is to be dug up, the focus on the mystery of his death ought to also revive some interest in his criminal career that provides an appropriate context to his ignominious death.

Read More

An Al Jazeera documentary and a statement from Yasir Arafat’s widow has led to a decision by the Palestinian Authority to exhume the former leader of the PA and to conduct an investigation into the cause of his death in 2004. While Palestinians have often spoken of Arafat’s demise being the result of an alleged Israeli plot, were such a probe to be honest, the Jewish state would probably have nothing to fear. More to the point, any discussion of Arafat’s death will necessarily involve highlighting what he did before he expired in Lausanne, Switzerland. And that is not something the Palestinians or their apologists ought to welcome.

Arafat’s death at the age of 75 was something of a mystery and predictably fueled conspiracy theories. Suspicion that foul play was involved will only be heightened if Al Jazeera’s allegation is accurate that his clothes contained trace amounts of polonium, a radioactive substance generally associated with assassinations carried out by agents of the former Soviet Union and the current Putin regime in Russia. That  helps to remind us that of all the players in the Middle East drama at the time of his demise, Israel was probably the only one that had an interest in keeping him alive rather than putting an end to his pathetic misrule of the territories. Hamas, his Fatah underlings as well as the host of enemies Arafat made during his career as the world’s number one terrorist, are all far more likely suspects than Israel. However, if Arafat is to be dug up, the focus on the mystery of his death ought to also revive some interest in his criminal career that provides an appropriate context to his ignominious death.

It bears remembering that at the time he fell ill in his besieged compound in Ramallah, Israel had good reason to keep the old terrorist safe and sound. So long as Arafat was the face of Palestinian nationalism, his bloodthirsty reputation guaranteed the Jewish state a degree of sympathy that it lost once he was replaced by the more presentable Mahmoud Abbas, though the latter was no less obdurate in his refusal to make peace than his predecessor.

Arafat more or less invented modern international terrorism in the 1970s. But even after supposedly embracing peace with his historic handshake with Yitzhak Rabin on the White House Lawn in September 1993, Arafat had continued to promote and subsidize terror attacks against Israelis, Jews and Americans. When then Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak offered him an independent state in almost all of the West Bank, Gaza and a share of Jerusalem at Camp David in 2000 and Taba in 2001, he turned the offers down flat. His answer to these peace initiatives was a terrorist war of attrition, the so-called second intifada that cost the lives of more than 1,000 Israelis and far more Palestinians.

In the aftermath of that debacle, Arafat was isolated and humiliated, living in the ruins of his compound in Ramallah after Israeli forces complied with American requests to spare the Palestinian leader. At this stage, he was unlikely to be able to do Israel any more harm, but both Hamas and his Fatah underlings had good reason to want him gone.

Hamas knew that without Arafat, their campaign to oust Fatah from Gaza and launch a long march to Palestinian power could never begin. Though Arafat ruled Fatah and the territories with an iron hand and the help of 17 separate and competing intelligence agencies, the mainstream Palestinian party and its terrorist thugs understood that recovery from the intifada required the imperious and corrupt Arafat to exit the stage. The bottom line is that a lot of people wanted Arafat dead. But Israel was the only party that had a vested interest in keeping him alive.

The puzzle of his death has so many pieces it is unlikely we will ever get to the bottom of the story, especially because Palestinian politics will require that Israel be branded as the guilty party even if all the evidence points in a different direction. The role of Suha Arafat, his much younger widow who has continued to live like a queen in Paris in the years since these events, is also complicated because, as Ha’aretz notes, she refused his doctors her permission for them to conduct a liver biopsy as he lay on his deathbed.

But no matter who was responsible for his death, there should be no doubt that the man who died in France November 2004 was responsible for the slaughter of countless thousands, the introduction of new and fiendish methods of terrorism and for preventing any hope of peace between the Palestinians and Israel. The Palestinians would do better to examine their own failed and distorted political culture that makes peace impossible rather than worry about who killed the man who put them in the impossible position in which they still find themselves.

Read Less

Pro-Obama Super PACs Outspending GOP

The common assumption is that conservatives will have an outside money advantage in the presidential election, thanks to massive spending by pro-Romney super PACs. This wisdom is on display in the New York Times today, which wonders whether Democrats will be able to “catch up in the super PAC game”:

“They’re spending ridiculous amounts of money on the other side,” [potential donor] Amber Mostyn said. “All the crazy commercials they’re going to put up — how do you combat that?”

Burton was ready for this question. “You don’t do it dollar for dollar,” he said. He whipped out his iPad and showed the Mostyns a few slides from his PowerPoint presentation. The slides included polling data indicating voters’ lack of familiarity with Romney’s business record at the private-equity firm Bain Capital, as well as financial figures from the 2010 midterm election showing how well-spent donations could help a Democrat prevail over a better-financed Republican opponent.

Read More

The common assumption is that conservatives will have an outside money advantage in the presidential election, thanks to massive spending by pro-Romney super PACs. This wisdom is on display in the New York Times today, which wonders whether Democrats will be able to “catch up in the super PAC game”:

“They’re spending ridiculous amounts of money on the other side,” [potential donor] Amber Mostyn said. “All the crazy commercials they’re going to put up — how do you combat that?”

Burton was ready for this question. “You don’t do it dollar for dollar,” he said. He whipped out his iPad and showed the Mostyns a few slides from his PowerPoint presentation. The slides included polling data indicating voters’ lack of familiarity with Romney’s business record at the private-equity firm Bain Capital, as well as financial figures from the 2010 midterm election showing how well-spent donations could help a Democrat prevail over a better-financed Republican opponent.

But NRO’s Jim Geraghty reports that as of right now, it’s the pro-Romney super PACs that have to catch up with the opposition. He crunched the Federal Election Commission data from January 2011 through this week and found a major discrepancy in spending:

According to Federal Election Commission data filed from January 2011 through July 3, super PACs and all groups making “independent expenditures” in the political arena have spent $35.3 million in opposition to Romney, and only $9 million in opposition to Obama. Rove’s American Crossroads, for example, has spent $3.1 million this cycle. But only $158,126.17 of that has been spent in efforts opposing President Obama, and a separate $7,500 has been spent on Web ads supporting Mitt Romney. For perspective, the group spent $358,202.98 in mid-June in just one expenditure on “TV/Media Purchases” opposing Democratic Senate candidate Tim Kaine in Virginia, and then spent the same sum a week later in the same race.

There’s still plenty of time until the election, and the political spending will pick up as it gets closer. Republicans also had the disadvantage of a competitive primary, giving conservative groups a smaller window of time so far to focus on general election messaging. But Jim’s findings certainly blow apart the narrative that pro-Obama groups are lagging far behind when it comes to super PAC spending. Interesting that the mainstream media hasn’t picked up on that yet, no?

Read Less

Jack Richardson, 1934-2012

It is customary for novelists to serve as occasional or frequent literary critics, analyzing the work of others who write novels. The same cannot be said of playwrights, who rarely write prose about the theater and almost never about the plays of others. The singular exception to this was Jack Richardson, who began writing about the theater for COMMENTARY in the mid-1960s when he was still considered one of the up-and-coming playwrights in the United States. He died this week at the age of 78. He wrote for the magazine on and off for about a decade, as his own promising career in the theater dwindled and then died out—articles of exceptional interest, intelligence, and cultivation. In tribute to his passing, we are making available eight of his best, including two that weren’t about the theater—a memoir of life as a gambler and a brilliant review of Saul Bellow’s Humboldt’s Gift that angered Bellow because, I suspect, he knew Richardson saw through to that novel’s fatal weaknesses.

On Reviewing Plays, September 1966

Groping Toward Freedom: The Living Theatre, May 1969

Musical Wastes, February 1971

From Plato to Las Vegas, October 1974

The English Invasion, February 1975

Looking Back at “The Waste Land,”August 1975

Humboldt’s Gift, by Saul Bellow, November 1975

Alas, Poor Hamlet, April 1976

It is customary for novelists to serve as occasional or frequent literary critics, analyzing the work of others who write novels. The same cannot be said of playwrights, who rarely write prose about the theater and almost never about the plays of others. The singular exception to this was Jack Richardson, who began writing about the theater for COMMENTARY in the mid-1960s when he was still considered one of the up-and-coming playwrights in the United States. He died this week at the age of 78. He wrote for the magazine on and off for about a decade, as his own promising career in the theater dwindled and then died out—articles of exceptional interest, intelligence, and cultivation. In tribute to his passing, we are making available eight of his best, including two that weren’t about the theater—a memoir of life as a gambler and a brilliant review of Saul Bellow’s Humboldt’s Gift that angered Bellow because, I suspect, he knew Richardson saw through to that novel’s fatal weaknesses.

On Reviewing Plays, September 1966

Groping Toward Freedom: The Living Theatre, May 1969

Musical Wastes, February 1971

From Plato to Las Vegas, October 1974

The English Invasion, February 1975

Looking Back at “The Waste Land,”August 1975

Humboldt’s Gift, by Saul Bellow, November 1975

Alas, Poor Hamlet, April 1976

Read Less

The Liberal Mind and Parental Consent: New York State Edition

The State of New York wants to you be a better parent, and they’re legislating to make sure you know it. The state legislature is well-meaning, and also apparently has a bit too much time on its hands judging by several laws passed this early summer to make parenting teens a little bit easier.

The first law out of the legislature requires tattoo and body piercing parlors to obtain the written consent of parents before inking or piercing their children. The authors of the legislation explained:

Millions of teenagers get pierced each year and many experience adverse health effects from these piercings without their parents’ knowledge. The needles used can sometimes result in a severe viral infection and immense discomfort. It is important that parents understand these potential risks and that teens are proactive in retaining their parents’ or guardian’s consent to have such piercing done.

While many parlors already required written consent before working with a minor, this law, effective immediately, has now mandated it. Parental consent is not only suggested, but also now required before teenagers permanently mutilate themselves in New York State.

A second bill recently passed by the New York State legislature is also designed to protect your teenager from him or herself. It is now illegal for a youth 16 years of age or younger to enter a tanning booth, even with parental consent. The legislators who sponsored this bill wrote:

Advocates and professionals agree that excessive tanning, popularized by indoor tanning salons, has led to an increase in skin cancer and our youth are at the greatest risk. According to the American Cancer Society, the popularity of tanning salons has led to a 72 percent jump in incidences of melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, from 1998 to 2008.

It appears that the New York State legislature believes that before a teen makes a life-altering and potentially dangerous decision regarding their bodies, they must first consult their parents or the state. Well, except in one area. New York teens are not required to request permission, or even inform, their parents of an abortion before or after obtaining it; at age 12 or 17, there is no distinction.

Read More

The State of New York wants to you be a better parent, and they’re legislating to make sure you know it. The state legislature is well-meaning, and also apparently has a bit too much time on its hands judging by several laws passed this early summer to make parenting teens a little bit easier.

The first law out of the legislature requires tattoo and body piercing parlors to obtain the written consent of parents before inking or piercing their children. The authors of the legislation explained:

Millions of teenagers get pierced each year and many experience adverse health effects from these piercings without their parents’ knowledge. The needles used can sometimes result in a severe viral infection and immense discomfort. It is important that parents understand these potential risks and that teens are proactive in retaining their parents’ or guardian’s consent to have such piercing done.

While many parlors already required written consent before working with a minor, this law, effective immediately, has now mandated it. Parental consent is not only suggested, but also now required before teenagers permanently mutilate themselves in New York State.

A second bill recently passed by the New York State legislature is also designed to protect your teenager from him or herself. It is now illegal for a youth 16 years of age or younger to enter a tanning booth, even with parental consent. The legislators who sponsored this bill wrote:

Advocates and professionals agree that excessive tanning, popularized by indoor tanning salons, has led to an increase in skin cancer and our youth are at the greatest risk. According to the American Cancer Society, the popularity of tanning salons has led to a 72 percent jump in incidences of melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, from 1998 to 2008.

It appears that the New York State legislature believes that before a teen makes a life-altering and potentially dangerous decision regarding their bodies, they must first consult their parents or the state. Well, except in one area. New York teens are not required to request permission, or even inform, their parents of an abortion before or after obtaining it; at age 12 or 17, there is no distinction.

Due to its permissive abortion laws, New York is the abortion capital of America (one out of ten abortions nationwide occur in the state), and New York Magazine reported in 2005: 

In absolute terms, there are more abortions performed on minors, more repeat abortions, and more late abortions (over 21 weeks) in New York City than anywhere else in the country. In parts of the city, the ratio of abortions to births is one to one.

Abortion is a medical procedure, and is certainly more invasive and carries more immediate risks than tattooing, piercing or artificial tanning. One would think the New York State legislature would see the mixed messages it sends parents, on the one hand mandating their approval in decisions regarding their children’s physical well-being, and on the other advocating for a child’s right to “privacy” above all else. This liberal double standard regarding abortion, however, will continue to go unnoticed by an equally liberal press and electorate.

Read Less

Romney’s Personal Mandate Problem

Say this about Mitt Romney. He’s not one to let a problem fester if he can do something about it. When senior adviser Eric Fehrnstrom asserted on Monday that Romney did not believe that the ObamaCare individual mandate was a tax, it ensured the Republican candidate a day’s worth of negative attention. So Romney broke up his July 4th holiday by appearing on CBS News to contradict Fehrnstrom’s stance and position himself with the rest of his party that is eager to capitalize on the Supreme Court’s ruling that allowed the mandate to stand because it is a tax. However, in doing so, Romney was again forced to explain the difference between ObamaCare and his own Massachusetts health care plan that also had a personal mandate.

The problem for Romney isn’t so much the opportunity for the Obama campaign and newspapers such as the New York Times to call him a flip-flopper. It is that any discussion of the details of the president’s signature health care bill invariably involves a comparison to the GOP candidate’s own not entirely dissimilar bill and forces him to eschew the clear rhetoric about taxes and economic freedom which show him at his best and instead engage in the far less engaging hair-splitting about the differences between federal and state legislation. Despite the spin coming from the White House, the tax issue is a problem for the Democrats because they know the labeling of the mandate in this manner means that President Obama broke his word about raising taxes on the middle class and achieved ObamaCare’s passage by a deception. But the more Romney has to engage in what Politico calls “semantic and legalistic (you might say artificial) distinction(s)” about ObamaCare, the less able he is to rally to his side an American people who dislike the mandate and the bill.

Read More

Say this about Mitt Romney. He’s not one to let a problem fester if he can do something about it. When senior adviser Eric Fehrnstrom asserted on Monday that Romney did not believe that the ObamaCare individual mandate was a tax, it ensured the Republican candidate a day’s worth of negative attention. So Romney broke up his July 4th holiday by appearing on CBS News to contradict Fehrnstrom’s stance and position himself with the rest of his party that is eager to capitalize on the Supreme Court’s ruling that allowed the mandate to stand because it is a tax. However, in doing so, Romney was again forced to explain the difference between ObamaCare and his own Massachusetts health care plan that also had a personal mandate.

The problem for Romney isn’t so much the opportunity for the Obama campaign and newspapers such as the New York Times to call him a flip-flopper. It is that any discussion of the details of the president’s signature health care bill invariably involves a comparison to the GOP candidate’s own not entirely dissimilar bill and forces him to eschew the clear rhetoric about taxes and economic freedom which show him at his best and instead engage in the far less engaging hair-splitting about the differences between federal and state legislation. Despite the spin coming from the White House, the tax issue is a problem for the Democrats because they know the labeling of the mandate in this manner means that President Obama broke his word about raising taxes on the middle class and achieved ObamaCare’s passage by a deception. But the more Romney has to engage in what Politico calls “semantic and legalistic (you might say artificial) distinction(s)” about ObamaCare, the less able he is to rally to his side an American people who dislike the mandate and the bill.

Romney is on firm ground when he aligns himself with the dissent by the four conservatives on the High Court who denounced ObamaCare. But if the mandate in the president’s bill is a tax, then so was the one in RomneyCare, even if he and the Massachusetts legislature called it a penalty as the president and the Democrats did of their legislation. Chief Justice John Roberts’ majority opinion drew a distinction between state and federal mandates which dovetails with the talking points about health care that Romney has been putting forward for the last year and allows the candidate to claim some degree of vindication. But for the ordinary citizen, it is still a distinction without a difference.

More to the point, being mired in this linguistic tangle is pretty much the opposite of what the Republican standard-bearer needs to be doing if he is going to mobilize his party’s Tea Party base this fall. While the unpopularity of ObamaCare and anger about the personal mandate’s assault on liberty is a key asset to his campaign, Romney’s necessarily careful approach to the issue is a problem that isn’t going away.

Nevertheless, Romney did the right thing by quickly walking back Fehrnstrom’s latest blunder and taking the hit for it in the midst of a holiday. As he well knows, his hopes of victory rest more on his ability to point out the president’s poor economic record. With a new jobs report due out on Friday, this kerfuffle was best dealt with yesterday before what may be the latest dose of bad news hits the White House.

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.