Commentary Magazine


Posts For: July 20, 2012

Is Assad’s Regime Really Falling?

The events of  recent weeks in Syria have finally made some of the optimistic predictions about the fall of the Assad regime coming out of the Obama administration a bit more believable. The terrorist attack that decapitated the defense establishment as well as the defections of prominent supporters of President Bashar al-Assad has contributed to the idea that his government must soon collapse. The conventional wisdom of the day is that it is only a matter of time until he will be forced out, ase his bloody efforts to eradicate domestic opponents has failed to destroy a movement that began as peaceful protests in the spring of 2011 and has now evolved into an armed and potent insurgency.

But the problem with this faith in his imminent departure is that we’ve been hearing this talk for more than a year and yet the murderous ophthalmologist is still on his throne, albeit with a far shakier hold on it. Even though things look bad for Assad, Americans who assume that he can’t go on killing people in this manner and retain legitimacy don’t understand him or the political culture that created his regime. The variables in Syria are many, but the iron rule of history about despotism remains that tyrants lose power when they lose their taste for shedding blood. Assad’s willingness to commit atrocities seems intact. Just as important, the descent of the country into chaos with fighting in the streets of the capital and thousands of refugees fleeing the country is also putting President Obama’s “lead from behind” strategy into question. Those who assume Assad is doomed believe that by staying out of the maelstrom, the United States will succeed in avoiding responsibility for the Syrian mess. But if Assad has far more staying power than Washington thinks, the result will be even messier than President Obama imagines, and he will bear much of the blame.

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The events of  recent weeks in Syria have finally made some of the optimistic predictions about the fall of the Assad regime coming out of the Obama administration a bit more believable. The terrorist attack that decapitated the defense establishment as well as the defections of prominent supporters of President Bashar al-Assad has contributed to the idea that his government must soon collapse. The conventional wisdom of the day is that it is only a matter of time until he will be forced out, ase his bloody efforts to eradicate domestic opponents has failed to destroy a movement that began as peaceful protests in the spring of 2011 and has now evolved into an armed and potent insurgency.

But the problem with this faith in his imminent departure is that we’ve been hearing this talk for more than a year and yet the murderous ophthalmologist is still on his throne, albeit with a far shakier hold on it. Even though things look bad for Assad, Americans who assume that he can’t go on killing people in this manner and retain legitimacy don’t understand him or the political culture that created his regime. The variables in Syria are many, but the iron rule of history about despotism remains that tyrants lose power when they lose their taste for shedding blood. Assad’s willingness to commit atrocities seems intact. Just as important, the descent of the country into chaos with fighting in the streets of the capital and thousands of refugees fleeing the country is also putting President Obama’s “lead from behind” strategy into question. Those who assume Assad is doomed believe that by staying out of the maelstrom, the United States will succeed in avoiding responsibility for the Syrian mess. But if Assad has far more staying power than Washington thinks, the result will be even messier than President Obama imagines, and he will bear much of the blame.

The Obama administration’s assumption is that sooner or later Assad will get the message from the international community and his disgruntled people and head for the exits. But Assad and the rest of the Alawite sect that rules the roost in Damascus understand all too well that the only real alternatives for them is to win or to die. There is little future in Syria for Alawites once Assad is gone. What’s more, the Syrian leader knows there will be no safe haven for him anywhere even if he agrees to step down. The precedent for prosecutions of deposed despots has already been established. He knows that he will either end his days in his palace or eventually wind up in a courtroom in The Hague. That has concentrated his mind wonderfully on the task of slaughtering as many of his compatriots as needed to ensure the latter is not the case.

He must be shaken by the ability of his foes to snuff out members of his inner circle. But even more than the support of Iran and its Hezbollah auxiliaries, the willingness of the Russians to both fend off Western diplomatic initiatives and to keep his forces well-armed is giving Assad the confidence to go on resisting. The presence of armed Russian forces in their armed enclave in the port of Tartus also provides the regime with a fall back point from which it could go on fending off the rebels even if Damascus was lost. Tony Karon of TIME speculates this could lead to a Yugoslavia-style breakup of Syria into Sunni, Alawite and Kurdish sections. That is far from certain, but what all this does mean is the fighting could go on indefinitely rather than coming to a swift conclusion, as was the case when Muammar Qaddafi was toppled.

The one scenario that could bring the fighting to an end would be a Western intervention, but given President Obama’s reluctance to get the country involved in another conflict during his re-election campaign, that is highly unlikely. But absent such a move, the chances are increasing that not only will the fighting get worse and casualties increase, but that the region will be destabilized as the Syrian army comes apart and their chemical weapons become a spoil of war in which Islamist rebels will compete for them with Assad loyalists.

The point is, as the fighting in the streets of Damascus this week showed, Assad’s demise may not only not be imminent, but the entire country and the region could wind up bathed in blood long before his final chapter is written. In this case, the president’s “leading from behind” is being proven again to be no leadership at all.

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Politicizing the Aurora Massacre

On the massacre that occurred in Aurora, Colorado, earlier this morning, the most obvious thing to say is that the lives of the families and friends of those who were killed and wounded have been altered in an awful, nightmarish direction.

We all know evil exists, that life is fragile, and that people die. But the suddenness and scale of an event like this, in a country like this, is what shocks our system. And for all the efforts by the greatest theological minds in history to explain theodicy, nothing I have ever read or heard addresses it in a satisfactory manner. The “problem of pain” is something that some people might be able to wrestle to the ground when the issue is abstract. But when pain pierces our lives in ways we could never imagine, the neat, tidy explanations – that tragedy is the consequence of the fall of man, that God allows human beings to choose evil, and all the rest – often wash away like sandcastles on the edge of the ocean.

It isn’t that these explanations are necessarily wrong. It’s that they offer very little comfort to those besieged by sorrow. Because what we learn in time is that (to paraphrase the writer Chad Walsh) grief is the price of knowledge – not the knowledge of the mind but of the heart. It is the knowledge of friendship, of affection, of love. Those who live in the shadow of people’s love eventually live in the shadow of grief. Understanding this basic fact of life doesn’t make it any easier to endure. Bereavement can fracture even the sturdiest foundations of our lives.

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On the massacre that occurred in Aurora, Colorado, earlier this morning, the most obvious thing to say is that the lives of the families and friends of those who were killed and wounded have been altered in an awful, nightmarish direction.

We all know evil exists, that life is fragile, and that people die. But the suddenness and scale of an event like this, in a country like this, is what shocks our system. And for all the efforts by the greatest theological minds in history to explain theodicy, nothing I have ever read or heard addresses it in a satisfactory manner. The “problem of pain” is something that some people might be able to wrestle to the ground when the issue is abstract. But when pain pierces our lives in ways we could never imagine, the neat, tidy explanations – that tragedy is the consequence of the fall of man, that God allows human beings to choose evil, and all the rest – often wash away like sandcastles on the edge of the ocean.

It isn’t that these explanations are necessarily wrong. It’s that they offer very little comfort to those besieged by sorrow. Because what we learn in time is that (to paraphrase the writer Chad Walsh) grief is the price of knowledge – not the knowledge of the mind but of the heart. It is the knowledge of friendship, of affection, of love. Those who live in the shadow of people’s love eventually live in the shadow of grief. Understanding this basic fact of life doesn’t make it any easier to endure. Bereavement can fracture even the sturdiest foundations of our lives.

But I want to say a word, too, about something Jonathan touched on in his post, which is the effort by some – in this case, by ABC’s Brian Ross — to attempt to politicize this tragedy almost as soon as the bullets from the killer’s gun had found their targets. (Ross mistakenly speculated, based on the flimsiest evidence, that the killer was a member of the Tea Party. ABC has since issued a retraction and an apology.)

This kind of politicization occurs in part because reporters on the air feel they have to comment on an event when they in fact have very little to say. It is also the result, I think, of an effort to draw some larger meaning from acts that often turn out to have no larger meaning. Sometimes they are what they are: the malevolent actions of poisoned minds. But part of it, too, is a reflex by some to fit a massacre like this into a preexisting political narrative. We saw it happen in the aftermath of the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City; the 1999 massacre at Columbine High School; the 2011 shooting spree near Tucson; and we will undoubtedly see it after today’s slaughter.

To be clear: there is such a thing as political violence. But what is troubling is the immediate assumption by some people, usually those who are part of the political class, that every massacre can be ascribed to political motivations. Acting on this assumption, they contort things in order to make them fit a convenient political template.

This effort to interpret everything through a political and partisan lens – to reduce everything to a political and partisan interpretation – is itself a disfigurement of reality. Life is a complicated and endlessly variegated thing. Politics has a role in all our lives; but for it to play such a dominant role in people’s imagination is surely not a healthy thing. And for people to immediately and instinctively take every human event – no matter how tragic and how painful — and place it in the maw of our politics is wrong and even repulsive. It exploits people’s sorrow and grief in order to score cheap political points and frame stupid political argument.

A modest and civilized society would give room to the families and friends of the dead to begin to process their shattering losses. It would give room to the police to do their work and gather evidence. It would leave room for citizens of this nation to reflect with soberness and seriousness on what has happened; to participate, if only for a brief time, in a national mourning of sorts. And it might even resist the impulse to leverage a massacre into a political culture war. It would be helpful if members of the press and politicians understood this, and acted in a way that showed some measure of decency and compassion.

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Why is WH Meeting With Iran Apologists?

White House officials held a day-long meeting yesterday with the National Iranian American Council, a group that advocates for policies supported by the Iranian regime, including opposition to sanctions and acceptance of Iran’s uranium enrichment program. Officials in attendance included Valerie Jarrett and Treasury Department Secretary for Financial Institutions Cyrus Amir-Mokri, according to a posting on NIAC’s website:

In a demonstration of the Obama administration’s eagerness to build and sustain relations with the Iranian-American community, top officials yesterday hosted the first ever Iranian-American Community Leader’s Roundtable at the White House.

The day-long roundtable was attended by National Iranian American Council staff, as well as individual community leaders and representatives of national organizations, including Iranian Alliances Across Borders and Public Affairs Alliance of Iranian Americans. …

The officials on hand were eager to listen to the interests and concerns of the Iranian-American community and to determine ways to better serve and inform the Iranian-American community about important policies and programs.  All of the officials made clear that there would be a sustained effort to engage with Iranian Americans going forward.  “This is not good-bye,” many of the officials repeated, “this is hello.”

The fact that this meeting took place the day after five Israeli tourists were killed in what is believed to be an Iranian suicide attack in Bulgaria is a slap in the face to the pro-Israel community.

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White House officials held a day-long meeting yesterday with the National Iranian American Council, a group that advocates for policies supported by the Iranian regime, including opposition to sanctions and acceptance of Iran’s uranium enrichment program. Officials in attendance included Valerie Jarrett and Treasury Department Secretary for Financial Institutions Cyrus Amir-Mokri, according to a posting on NIAC’s website:

In a demonstration of the Obama administration’s eagerness to build and sustain relations with the Iranian-American community, top officials yesterday hosted the first ever Iranian-American Community Leader’s Roundtable at the White House.

The day-long roundtable was attended by National Iranian American Council staff, as well as individual community leaders and representatives of national organizations, including Iranian Alliances Across Borders and Public Affairs Alliance of Iranian Americans. …

The officials on hand were eager to listen to the interests and concerns of the Iranian-American community and to determine ways to better serve and inform the Iranian-American community about important policies and programs.  All of the officials made clear that there would be a sustained effort to engage with Iranian Americans going forward.  “This is not good-bye,” many of the officials repeated, “this is hello.”

The fact that this meeting took place the day after five Israeli tourists were killed in what is believed to be an Iranian suicide attack in Bulgaria is a slap in the face to the pro-Israel community.

On Wednesday, NIAC’s leader Trita Parsi suggested that Israel intentionally provoked the suicide bombing so it would have justification to attack Iran’s nuclear program:

U.S. officials have privately expressed concern that one of the purposes of Israeli attacks in Iran has been to generate an Iranian response that could serve as a casus belli for Israel. That way, Israel could target Iran’s nuclear facilities without paying the heavy political cost of starting a preventive war.

It was partly for this reason that the U.S. immediately and forcefully condemned the latest assassination of an Iranian scientist and denied any U.S. involvement. Simultaneously, other major powers pressed Iran not to retaliate, arguing that Israel would use any retaliation to expand the war.

The next day, Parsi’s organization went to the White House and met with high-ranking officials who were reportedly “eager to listen” to their “interests and concerns.” NIAC’s interests and concerns include advocating for pro-regime policies, opposing serious efforts to halt Iran’s enrichment program, and — apparently — blaming Israel for inciting Iranian terrorist attacks. The administration appeared to have distanced itself from NIAC in 2009, after the Washington Times reported that the group was setting up meetings between Iran’s UN ambassador and members of Congress — a potential violation of the Foreign Agent Registration Act. If the White House is now back to courting NIAC that raises serious concerns.

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Does Obama Have a Foreign Policy Edge?

It is a fact of political life that the 2012 presidential election will not turn on foreign policy. Unless something terrible happens between now and November, the focus of most voters will remain on the country’s failing economy. That’s probably okay with Mitt Romney because, unlike most Republican nominees in recent decades, prowess in foreign policy and defense issues are not among his strengths. According to New York Times columnist David Brooks, Romney’s inability to delineate strong points of disagreement with President Obama’s policies is not only a sign of the GOP standard bearer’s weakness but an indication that the incumbent can go to the people claiming to be a success on foreign policy. Though Brooks is right to characterize Romney as having done an inadequate job of articulating his foreign policy vision, his praise for the president is undeserved.

Brooks likes the fact that, for all of his hope and change rhetoric when first running for re-election, President Obama has proved to be no bold visionary on foreign affairs. The columnist believes ours is a time when nuance and a grasp of the complexities of a changing world are paramount. But contrary to Brooks’ belief, most of what we’ve gotten out of Washington since January 2009 is not smart power but muddled policies that are the product of indecisive thinking and a lack of principle. Though the president’s record is not without his successes (as you may have heard, he killed Osama bin Laden), on the big issues of dealing with the nuclear threat from Iran, a resurgent and authoritarian Russia, China and the Middle East peace process, Obama must be judged a thorough failure.

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It is a fact of political life that the 2012 presidential election will not turn on foreign policy. Unless something terrible happens between now and November, the focus of most voters will remain on the country’s failing economy. That’s probably okay with Mitt Romney because, unlike most Republican nominees in recent decades, prowess in foreign policy and defense issues are not among his strengths. According to New York Times columnist David Brooks, Romney’s inability to delineate strong points of disagreement with President Obama’s policies is not only a sign of the GOP standard bearer’s weakness but an indication that the incumbent can go to the people claiming to be a success on foreign policy. Though Brooks is right to characterize Romney as having done an inadequate job of articulating his foreign policy vision, his praise for the president is undeserved.

Brooks likes the fact that, for all of his hope and change rhetoric when first running for re-election, President Obama has proved to be no bold visionary on foreign affairs. The columnist believes ours is a time when nuance and a grasp of the complexities of a changing world are paramount. But contrary to Brooks’ belief, most of what we’ve gotten out of Washington since January 2009 is not smart power but muddled policies that are the product of indecisive thinking and a lack of principle. Though the president’s record is not without his successes (as you may have heard, he killed Osama bin Laden), on the big issues of dealing with the nuclear threat from Iran, a resurgent and authoritarian Russia, China and the Middle East peace process, Obama must be judged a thorough failure.

Brooks seems enamored of the ambivalence at the heart of many of the president’s foreign policy stands, but that says more about his own confusion about the issues than it does about the administration’s genius. In particular, he seems to think that Obama’s attempt to kick the can down the road on Iran is wise. Brooks deserves credit for stating that this is the president’s clear intention, as the administration and most of its apologists and cheerleaders have bitterly disputed that this is the case despite the overwhelming proof that the White House’s goal is simply to prevaricate on the issue until after the November election. But the Times columnist’s belief that “the delicate dance” that is the president’s excuse for a policy is “useful,” is hard to defend.

Having wasted most of his term on feckless attempts to engage the Iranians and futile diplomacy, all he has appeared to accomplish is to convince Tehran that he isn’t really interested in taking action and is just hoping that something will turn up that will relieve him of the obligation to do something or, as is more likely, to excuse his continued inaction.

Far from “moving aggressively to defeat enemies and to champion democracy,” he has done neither. Even Brooks concedes that his decision to stay and fight in Afghanistan, a stand that deserved praise, was fatally undermined by his setting a date for the withdrawal of American troops that made it clear to the Taliban that all they had to do was to survive until the bug out commenced. As for democracy promotion, this is a point on which the president’s intent to differentiate himself from his predecessor has been heard louder than anything else. It has been decades since we have had a president who was less interested in human rights than Obama, as his disgraceful refusal to back dissidents in Iran showed. Rather than the Arab Spring highlighting the president’s skill, his characteristic ambivalence has resulted in the United States getting the worst of both worlds. Traditional authoritarian allies have fallen without Obama getting the credit while anti-democratic Islamists who hate America and present a profound threat have achieved power. While Libya may be credited as a success (at least for now) for Obama’s “lead from behind” strategy, in Syria it has been a disaster as a far more dangerous country appears on the brink of civil war. The fact that the president touts a destructive force such as Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan as his favorite foreign leader tells you everything you need to know about Obama’s misguided approach.

The Middle East peace process is another area where again Brooks must admit that Obama took a difficult problem and made it far worse. By distancing himself from Israel, he encouraged Palestinian intransigence and alienated America’s ally, leaving the region in worse shape than before.

As for Russia, where Brooks sees wisdom, observers who are less enamored of the president can only see appeasement and indecision that, again, alienated our allies and emboldened the Putin regime to believe it can thwart American interests with impunity.

This is a record that seems to speak more of failure than success. One can applaud the president’s willingness to use drones to kill terrorists while still understanding that this is no substitute for a coherent vision of how to deal with threats. Mitt Romney needs to speak out more on foreign policy and give us a better idea of what he will do differently other than not bashing Israel (though this is not a minor point). If there are votes to be won on foreign policy, President Obama does not deserve them.

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Personal Attacks and Political Wives

The heated debate about whether Ann Romney said “you people” during an interview yesterday (she didn’t) was an example of the sillier controversies that tend to engulf candidates’ wives. (For another example, see: Michelle Obama accused of spending $50,000 on lingerie).

But it’s strange how much partisan vitriol is actually channeled into these debates. Take Salon’s Joan Walsh’s enraged column on the Ann Romney “you people” remark that never actually happened:

Ann Romney is too well-bred to call African-Americans “you people” in public, of course, especially after what happened to Ross Perot. But she obviously has no problem referring to other folks she holds in contempt that way. Of course Romney has displayed contempt for certain African-Americans – like when she and her husband told the Obamas to “start packing,” because in Ann’s words, “It’s Mitt’s time. It’s our turn now,” to live in the White House. As if the Obamas were troublesome tenants who’d overstayed their welcome in the home that rightly belongs to the Romneys.

She displayed her plutocratic sense of entitlement when she proclaimed Hilary Rosen’s remarks about her stay-at-home-mom status “a birthday present.” Romney’s sincere reaction wasn’t outrage but opportunism; she enjoyed the sight of Rosen being grilled on a spit over a bipartisan open flame. Good to know it’s all about you, Ann.

So Walsh mishears one mundane line from Ann Romney, and takes it as evidence that she’s an elitist, plutocratic, entitled, narcissistic, opportunist? I wonder if Walsh’s criticism would have been so personal if Tim Pawlenty, Marco Rubio, or any of Romney’s other campaign surrogates had actually used the phrase “you people.”

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The heated debate about whether Ann Romney said “you people” during an interview yesterday (she didn’t) was an example of the sillier controversies that tend to engulf candidates’ wives. (For another example, see: Michelle Obama accused of spending $50,000 on lingerie).

But it’s strange how much partisan vitriol is actually channeled into these debates. Take Salon’s Joan Walsh’s enraged column on the Ann Romney “you people” remark that never actually happened:

Ann Romney is too well-bred to call African-Americans “you people” in public, of course, especially after what happened to Ross Perot. But she obviously has no problem referring to other folks she holds in contempt that way. Of course Romney has displayed contempt for certain African-Americans – like when she and her husband told the Obamas to “start packing,” because in Ann’s words, “It’s Mitt’s time. It’s our turn now,” to live in the White House. As if the Obamas were troublesome tenants who’d overstayed their welcome in the home that rightly belongs to the Romneys.

She displayed her plutocratic sense of entitlement when she proclaimed Hilary Rosen’s remarks about her stay-at-home-mom status “a birthday present.” Romney’s sincere reaction wasn’t outrage but opportunism; she enjoyed the sight of Rosen being grilled on a spit over a bipartisan open flame. Good to know it’s all about you, Ann.

So Walsh mishears one mundane line from Ann Romney, and takes it as evidence that she’s an elitist, plutocratic, entitled, narcissistic, opportunist? I wonder if Walsh’s criticism would have been so personal if Tim Pawlenty, Marco Rubio, or any of Romney’s other campaign surrogates had actually used the phrase “you people.”

This is the strange contradiction about candidates’ wives. Should they be viewed as members of the campaign, fair game for the same criticism and political attacks as any other staff? Or should they be viewed as extensions of the candidates’ personal lives, to be treated with respect and restraint? Melinda Henneberger touches on this in the Washington Post this morning:

I’ve routinely defended women in politics, spouses included, of course, from unfair attacks — from racist “jokes” involving Michelle Obama to trivial slams on Ann Romney’s designer T-shirt. But spouses are full partners in the current campaigns, strategically and every other way, just as they ought to be.

And at some point – right now would be my preference – we’ve got to stop pretending that they are by definition off-limits, or ought to be.

After all, Michelle Obama is heading up a new get-out-the-vote initiative — the “It Takes One” program to encourage grass-roots turnout efforts. She’s cutting ads, and as the Post’s Krissah Thompson wrote, taking on an “overtly political role that is rare for a first lady.”

Ann Romney, meanwhile, is raising money and giving a series of high-profile interviews — answering questions about possible veep choices by saying “we” haven’t made any decision yet.”

These women are leading the charge, not sitting home asking how it went, and as they stand on stage, microphones in hand, it’s absurd and even infantilizing to claim that they should be left alone.

Henneberger makes a good point. Candidates’ wives are often deemed “off-limits” for typical political attacks. And when they are criticized, it tends to be for petty issues and infused with a disproportionate amount of animosity. But these women are active on the campaigns, and it makes sense that they should be fair game. Of course, that would also mean toning down the personal attacks and viewing these women as political figures rather than extensions of the candidates.

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A Vacuum Recognized Is Not a Vacuum Filled

The central pillar of the rebuttal to complaints about American defense spending compared to that of the rest of the world is the fact that other countries–or continents, in Europe’s case–can only afford to skimp on defense spending because the U.S. will pick up the slack. American defense cuts, if not done carefully and responsibly, risk leaving a vacuum in areas where the U.S. military has carried the burden of influence.

So it’s not surprising that the prospect of American defense cuts, together with the “pivot” of resources to the Asia-Pacific region, are making some European allies nervous. Britain’s new defense minister, however, has some advice for his European counterparts: stop whining and pitch in:

Instead of worrying about the cutbacks to U.S. military power in the region, which many NATO countries apparently had been counting on to offset their own deep defense reductions, [Phillip] Hammond said the allies must recognize that “as a result, European nations, including the UK, will need to do much more of the heavy lifting in the security of their own region,” including both Europe itself and the Middle East, Northern Africa, and the Horn of Africa, which he called “the near abroad.”

“This is not the end of Atlanticism, but the beginning of a new, more balanced relationship in the alliance,” Hammond said.

While the U.S.-UK ties will always be Britain’s priority, Hammond said, “to support your rebalancing [to Asia], we will seek to work more closely with our neighbors in Europe, particularly France and Germany, to enhance capabilities in our own region.”

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The central pillar of the rebuttal to complaints about American defense spending compared to that of the rest of the world is the fact that other countries–or continents, in Europe’s case–can only afford to skimp on defense spending because the U.S. will pick up the slack. American defense cuts, if not done carefully and responsibly, risk leaving a vacuum in areas where the U.S. military has carried the burden of influence.

So it’s not surprising that the prospect of American defense cuts, together with the “pivot” of resources to the Asia-Pacific region, are making some European allies nervous. Britain’s new defense minister, however, has some advice for his European counterparts: stop whining and pitch in:

Instead of worrying about the cutbacks to U.S. military power in the region, which many NATO countries apparently had been counting on to offset their own deep defense reductions, [Phillip] Hammond said the allies must recognize that “as a result, European nations, including the UK, will need to do much more of the heavy lifting in the security of their own region,” including both Europe itself and the Middle East, Northern Africa, and the Horn of Africa, which he called “the near abroad.”

“This is not the end of Atlanticism, but the beginning of a new, more balanced relationship in the alliance,” Hammond said.

While the U.S.-UK ties will always be Britain’s priority, Hammond said, “to support your rebalancing [to Asia], we will seek to work more closely with our neighbors in Europe, particularly France and Germany, to enhance capabilities in our own region.”

It’s a nice thought, and it certainly would be the responsible thing to do. But there’s no reason to pretend this will happen. France just excused their pro-Western president from his duties to replace him with the leader of the French socialists, and absent conditions threatening a localized catastrophe–think Libya–it’s difficult to imagine the French increasing their role in defense of the West.

As for Germany, the country was greeted with Nazi catcalls for simply trying to maintain leverage over the conditions of bailing out failing European economies and saving the euro–just imagine what Europe’s reaction would be if Germany so much as hinted at becoming the continent’s new military power. It’s a nonstarter.

And what about Britain? As Max wrote here a couple weeks ago, British defense cuts will pare down the standing army to its lowest level in a century, and its diplomatic influence will wane accordingly. Hammond focused his remarks on, in his words, “the European NATO powers.” This is telling–and unfortunate. As Josh Rogin reported after the U.S.-hosted NATO summit in May:

This weekend’s NATO summit in Chicago is the first in decades to make little to no progress on the enlargement of the organization, leaving several countries to wait another two years to move toward membership in the world’s premier military alliance.

In the official 65-point summit declaration issued Sunday, there were several references to the four countries vying for progress on their road to NATO membership: Bosnia-Herzegovina, Macedonia, Montenegro, and Georgia. But none came away from the summit with any tangible progress to tout back at home. NATO expansion was just not a priority of the Obama administration this year, U.S. officials and experts say, given the packed security-focused agenda and looming uncertainly caused by the deepening European financial crisis.

So the crisis in Europe had the opposite effect from what Hammond is suggesting; rather than retrench and build the West’s military alliance, everyone was too busy chewing his fingernails to get any work done.

This is not to say there are no reasons for caution on enlarging NATO. It’s that no progress was even attempted. And countries developing or experimenting with democratic laws and norms don’t usually tread water–they should be helped forward so they don’t fall back. NATO membership action plans can often be useful in this regard, as Heather Conley of the Center for Strategic and International Studies told Rogin:

Conley pointed to the Serbian elections this weekend, where Serbians chose an ultra-nationalist known as “Toma the Gravedigger” to be their president, as evidence that these countries could slip back toward authoritarianism if not given full support and inclusion by Western organizations.

The West is not always to blame. Often a country slipping back toward authoritarianism and corruption poses a chicken-or-egg question: Was Ukraine rejected by the West, or did they choose to reject the West (or orchestrate their rejection by the West)? But the underlying point is valid, and we cannot continue brushing off countries and expecting them not to take a hint. (Georgia, for example, has contributed more to the Afghanistan mission than some NATO countries.)

Now would be a great time to expand the Western alliance. Until that happens, Europe and NATO will continue to recede from the world stage, and Hammond’s good advice will be unceremoniously ignored.

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Getting Améry Wrong (along with Everything Else)

I’ve been reluctant to comment on Anna Breslaw’s outrageous essay at Tablet last Friday, which declared that the European Jews who survived Hitler’s war against them were really “villains masquerading as victims.” John Podhoretz, the editor of COMMENTARY (whom I am proud to call my friend), has said pretty much everything that needs to be said, single-handedly exposing Breslaw’s rant for what it is and demolishing Tablet’s non-apologetic apology for the article.

Anyone who has read her essay knows that Breslaw does not merely insult Holocaust survivors but cancer patients too. As someone who voluntarily decided to adopt what Breslaw derides as the “extreme will to live,” I suppose I should be angered by her ignorant and dismissive comments about cancer patients:

If you have ever had cancer, or been kitty corner to cancer, you know there is a lot of waiting and pleasantries and HMO negotiation and the same bad jokes (and some good ones; my aunt who had a double mastectomy recently offered me the use of her $2,000 silicon falsies for a date). When you tell someone a relative has cancer, their immediate response is never shock but often, “Oh, my [insert X loved one here] had cancer” as if this knowledge is a comfort of some kind.

I’ll just say that I do not recognize my experience in this passage. And the comment “Oh, my [insert X loved one here] had cancer,” which was never spoken to me or my wife (and would seem to be a clumsy attempt to suggest the patient is not alone), is hardly the worst breach of cancer etiquette.

No, what pisses me off is what has been little remarked so far. Namely: Breslaw’s misappropriation of the great Holocaust writer Jean Améry as a source and ally in her attack on Holocaust survivors:

Evil, as Jean Améry says, overlays and exceeds banality. There is no “banality” of evil. In At the Mind’s Limits, Améry — a Holocaust survivor — discusses “concentration camp syndrome”: “The character traits that make out our personality are distorted. Nervous restlessness, hostile withdrawal into one’s own self. . . . It is said that we are ‘warped.’ ” He goes on to describe how the option of forgiveness is obsolete for him, and yet the acknowledgement that it would be moral and fair to forgive (a step that he felt unable to take because of this very emotional “sickness,” thrust on him by the very people he should forgive) created an impossible duality, one that doubtless led to his 1978 suicide.

Every word of this which is not an outright error is a shallow distortion. Améry would have spit upon Breslaw’s suggestion that some Jews were able to survive the death camps only because their “extreme will to live” led them to do something “villainous,” something they were unwilling to discuss afterwards. The reality of the camp, Améry wrote, was total. It obliterated human dignity, the self, the mind, everything Améry summed up as “the word.” The Jew in the death camp was not even a victim in the usual sense of the word. “The soldier died the hero’s or the victim’s death,” he said, “the prisoner that of an animal intended for slaughter.”

This is the sense in which Améry wrote that “evil overlays and exceeds banality.” Banality is an experience within the normal range of the human; the subjection to evil, which Améry identified with the experience of torture, “is the most horrible event a human being can retain within himself.” It exceeds the mind’s limits. At the first blow, the prisoner realizes he is helpless. And this changes everything. “The expectation of help, the certainty of help, is indeed one of the fundamental experiences of human beings,” Améry wrote. It is, indeed, one of the defining experiences of the human. To find himself beyond help is to find himself beyond the human experience. He is beyond villainy and victimhood, face-to-face with a reality that has obliterated his will to either. To speak of such a man as a “villain masquerading as a victim” is to display a depthless failure of understanding.

(And by the way, Améry’s suicide, as he himself explained in his 1976 philosophical essay On Suicide, was an act of freedom, an assertion of extreme will, a refusal to fall victim to “the very people he should forgive,” the insistence that he, not they, would decide when he should die.)

Breslaw may have quoted the great Jean Améry, then, but she did not understand the first word of him. And she herself acknowledges as much, although she does not even know her own mind sufficiently to see that she has done so. In her opening paragraph, she attributes her bad opinion of survivors to “gut instinct.” Then, seven paragraphs later, immediately after quoting him, she praises “Améry’s impulse to question his gut instincts” — an impulse that, by all appearances, Anna Breslaw entirely lacks.

I’ve been reluctant to comment on Anna Breslaw’s outrageous essay at Tablet last Friday, which declared that the European Jews who survived Hitler’s war against them were really “villains masquerading as victims.” John Podhoretz, the editor of COMMENTARY (whom I am proud to call my friend), has said pretty much everything that needs to be said, single-handedly exposing Breslaw’s rant for what it is and demolishing Tablet’s non-apologetic apology for the article.

Anyone who has read her essay knows that Breslaw does not merely insult Holocaust survivors but cancer patients too. As someone who voluntarily decided to adopt what Breslaw derides as the “extreme will to live,” I suppose I should be angered by her ignorant and dismissive comments about cancer patients:

If you have ever had cancer, or been kitty corner to cancer, you know there is a lot of waiting and pleasantries and HMO negotiation and the same bad jokes (and some good ones; my aunt who had a double mastectomy recently offered me the use of her $2,000 silicon falsies for a date). When you tell someone a relative has cancer, their immediate response is never shock but often, “Oh, my [insert X loved one here] had cancer” as if this knowledge is a comfort of some kind.

I’ll just say that I do not recognize my experience in this passage. And the comment “Oh, my [insert X loved one here] had cancer,” which was never spoken to me or my wife (and would seem to be a clumsy attempt to suggest the patient is not alone), is hardly the worst breach of cancer etiquette.

No, what pisses me off is what has been little remarked so far. Namely: Breslaw’s misappropriation of the great Holocaust writer Jean Améry as a source and ally in her attack on Holocaust survivors:

Evil, as Jean Améry says, overlays and exceeds banality. There is no “banality” of evil. In At the Mind’s Limits, Améry — a Holocaust survivor — discusses “concentration camp syndrome”: “The character traits that make out our personality are distorted. Nervous restlessness, hostile withdrawal into one’s own self. . . . It is said that we are ‘warped.’ ” He goes on to describe how the option of forgiveness is obsolete for him, and yet the acknowledgement that it would be moral and fair to forgive (a step that he felt unable to take because of this very emotional “sickness,” thrust on him by the very people he should forgive) created an impossible duality, one that doubtless led to his 1978 suicide.

Every word of this which is not an outright error is a shallow distortion. Améry would have spit upon Breslaw’s suggestion that some Jews were able to survive the death camps only because their “extreme will to live” led them to do something “villainous,” something they were unwilling to discuss afterwards. The reality of the camp, Améry wrote, was total. It obliterated human dignity, the self, the mind, everything Améry summed up as “the word.” The Jew in the death camp was not even a victim in the usual sense of the word. “The soldier died the hero’s or the victim’s death,” he said, “the prisoner that of an animal intended for slaughter.”

This is the sense in which Améry wrote that “evil overlays and exceeds banality.” Banality is an experience within the normal range of the human; the subjection to evil, which Améry identified with the experience of torture, “is the most horrible event a human being can retain within himself.” It exceeds the mind’s limits. At the first blow, the prisoner realizes he is helpless. And this changes everything. “The expectation of help, the certainty of help, is indeed one of the fundamental experiences of human beings,” Améry wrote. It is, indeed, one of the defining experiences of the human. To find himself beyond help is to find himself beyond the human experience. He is beyond villainy and victimhood, face-to-face with a reality that has obliterated his will to either. To speak of such a man as a “villain masquerading as a victim” is to display a depthless failure of understanding.

(And by the way, Améry’s suicide, as he himself explained in his 1976 philosophical essay On Suicide, was an act of freedom, an assertion of extreme will, a refusal to fall victim to “the very people he should forgive,” the insistence that he, not they, would decide when he should die.)

Breslaw may have quoted the great Jean Améry, then, but she did not understand the first word of him. And she herself acknowledges as much, although she does not even know her own mind sufficiently to see that she has done so. In her opening paragraph, she attributes her bad opinion of survivors to “gut instinct.” Then, seven paragraphs later, immediately after quoting him, she praises “Améry’s impulse to question his gut instincts” — an impulse that, by all appearances, Anna Breslaw entirely lacks.

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Outsourcer-in-Chief

President Obama’s outsourcing talking points have been silly and intellectually dishonest even by the standards of political rhetoric, which is saying something. Bain Capital isn’t in the business of creating jobs, it’s in the business of maximizing return on capital. Its principals would be violating their fiduciary duty to their investors if they maximized U.S. job creation instead. Investing overseas is not outsourcing. Outsourcing results in lower costs (otherwise, why outsource?) which means lower prices, which means that American consumers have more money to spend on other goods and services, which creates more American jobs. And so on and on.

But there is a major outsourcer running for president, one who has prevented tens of thousands of American jobs from being created and who has sent those jobs overseas instead. It is not Mitt Romney.

Obama’s obsession with “green energy,” and opposition to traditional fuels such as coal, oil, and natural gas, has resulted in a significant drop in permits for drilling on federal land. These permits increased 58 percent under President Clinton, 116 percent under Bush and are down 36 percent under Obama. But energy is a fundamental economic input. So, for every barrel of oil that is not explored for here, it is explored for in some other country. Every well not drilled here, is drilled there.

And that means that good jobs that could be American ones are not, because Obama won’t let those jobs be created here. On a visit to Brazil, he told the Brazilian president that he looked forward to America being a big customer for the oil coming out of Brazil’s spectacular new offshore oil fields. There is considerable evidence that we, too, have spectacular offshore oil fields. But Obama would rather see Brazilian oilfield workers be paid good wages than American ones.

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President Obama’s outsourcing talking points have been silly and intellectually dishonest even by the standards of political rhetoric, which is saying something. Bain Capital isn’t in the business of creating jobs, it’s in the business of maximizing return on capital. Its principals would be violating their fiduciary duty to their investors if they maximized U.S. job creation instead. Investing overseas is not outsourcing. Outsourcing results in lower costs (otherwise, why outsource?) which means lower prices, which means that American consumers have more money to spend on other goods and services, which creates more American jobs. And so on and on.

But there is a major outsourcer running for president, one who has prevented tens of thousands of American jobs from being created and who has sent those jobs overseas instead. It is not Mitt Romney.

Obama’s obsession with “green energy,” and opposition to traditional fuels such as coal, oil, and natural gas, has resulted in a significant drop in permits for drilling on federal land. These permits increased 58 percent under President Clinton, 116 percent under Bush and are down 36 percent under Obama. But energy is a fundamental economic input. So, for every barrel of oil that is not explored for here, it is explored for in some other country. Every well not drilled here, is drilled there.

And that means that good jobs that could be American ones are not, because Obama won’t let those jobs be created here. On a visit to Brazil, he told the Brazilian president that he looked forward to America being a big customer for the oil coming out of Brazil’s spectacular new offshore oil fields. There is considerable evidence that we, too, have spectacular offshore oil fields. But Obama would rather see Brazilian oilfield workers be paid good wages than American ones.

Despite the best efforts of the Obama administration and its environmentalist allies, the country is undergoing a huge energy boom on lands that Obama does not control. North Dakota is now number three among the states in oil production, surpassing California, thanks to the Bakken oil field. Oil imports are down from 60 percent of annual consumption to 45 percent in just a few years and are sure to fall further. Vast new gas fields, made accessible by hydraulic fracturing (fracking) has caused a dramatic fall in the price of natural gas. One result is that for the first time, coal is no longer the dominant fuel in electricity generation, natural gas—far lower in carbon emissions—now is.

This is no small part of the reason that carbon emissions in this country are falling, not rising. In 2007 they were 6.02 billion metric tons. In 2011 they were 5.473 billion metric tons, down almost ten percent in five years. This year they are down another 7.5 percent over the first quarter last year. In other words, carbon emissions in 2012 will be down to a level lower than when the Kyoto Protocol was signed in 1997. It’s one of the great success stories to come out of the U.S. energy boom (although a weak economy has contributed, to be sure). But because it doesn’t fit the green agenda—they’d rather build windmills and tilt at fossil fuels—it’s been a non-story.

It is capitalism that is lowering American carbon emissions, not government edict. It is government that is sending American jobs overseas.

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Rushing to Judgment on Aurora

The nation is united this morning in shock and horror after a gunman’s attack on a crowded movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, that left 12 persons dead and wounded at least 38 others. This is a moment to put politics aside to allow the families of the slain to mourn and for the police to do their job. But that hasn’t stopped some in the mainstream media from rushing to judgment about this tragic event even before we know a thing about the shooter. So it was especially distressing to see, as Joel Pollak of Breitbart.com noted, that this morning on ABC News’ “Good Morning America” reporter Brian Ross threw out the suggestion that the alleged killer was a member of the Tea Party.

What was the basis for this accusation? The Colorado Tea Party website mentioned having a member named Jim Holmes, which happens to be the same name as the man who has been arrested in connection with the crime. But there are lots of people who go by that name in the state and, as Pollack notes, the Tea Party member appears to be someone in their 50s while the gunman has been said to be 24. One would think that elementary ethics, let alone the ethics of journalism, would have required Ross to verify the identity of the Tea Party Holmes before telling millions on national TV that this might be the Aurora terrorist. But because it fit in with the mainstream liberal media narrative that has labeled the Tea Party as a violent extremist group, rather than a group of citizen activists who pursue change through democratic means, he felt no compunction about slyly insinuating this choice piece of slander into our national discourse while saying he wasn’t sure if the Tea Partier was guilty. Nor did host George Stephanopolous feel compelled to caution Ross against this statement.

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The nation is united this morning in shock and horror after a gunman’s attack on a crowded movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, that left 12 persons dead and wounded at least 38 others. This is a moment to put politics aside to allow the families of the slain to mourn and for the police to do their job. But that hasn’t stopped some in the mainstream media from rushing to judgment about this tragic event even before we know a thing about the shooter. So it was especially distressing to see, as Joel Pollak of Breitbart.com noted, that this morning on ABC News’ “Good Morning America” reporter Brian Ross threw out the suggestion that the alleged killer was a member of the Tea Party.

What was the basis for this accusation? The Colorado Tea Party website mentioned having a member named Jim Holmes, which happens to be the same name as the man who has been arrested in connection with the crime. But there are lots of people who go by that name in the state and, as Pollack notes, the Tea Party member appears to be someone in their 50s while the gunman has been said to be 24. One would think that elementary ethics, let alone the ethics of journalism, would have required Ross to verify the identity of the Tea Party Holmes before telling millions on national TV that this might be the Aurora terrorist. But because it fit in with the mainstream liberal media narrative that has labeled the Tea Party as a violent extremist group, rather than a group of citizen activists who pursue change through democratic means, he felt no compunction about slyly insinuating this choice piece of slander into our national discourse while saying he wasn’t sure if the Tea Partier was guilty. Nor did host George Stephanopolous feel compelled to caution Ross against this statement.

Let’s be clear that at the time of the broadcast as well as at the moment this piece is being written, the motivation for this crime has yet to be discovered. That was also true in January 2011 when a deranged gunman attempted to assassinate Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in Arizona. But that didn’t stop much of the media from broadcasting incorrect assumptions about the perpetrator being part of the Tea Party or acting out what he thought was its ideology. Indeed, Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz has continued to feed that libel even though it was almost immediately debunked.

We may expect that no matter what the story about the shooter turns out to be, gun control advocates will exploit this tragedy. We don’t know if restrictions on gun ownership would have made this event less likely, but it is also true that the majority of Americans are not likely to change their minds about maintaining their Second Amendment rights. If the atrocity in Aurora turns out to be motivated by something other than the madness of the killer, it will compound the tragedy. But the effort to push the narrative in that direction on the basis of a name without any research or legwork to back it up is outrageous and, ABC has belatedly apologized for the gaffe on its website. That otherwise respected members of the journalistic establishment have no shame about doing so tells us a lot more about them and liberal media bias than it does about the Aurora killings or violence in general.

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The Damaging Sequester

If you missed Thursday’s Wall Street Journal editorial on defense sequestration, go back and read it. It’s as powerful a case as I’ve seen about the damage that mindless budget cutting will do to our nation’s defense. It also makes a powerful case that President Obama is being negligent for refusing to get together with concerned lawmakers to stop the deep slashes in defense spending that are due to begin in January. Instead, the president and Sen. Harry Reid are using the threat of sequestration to try to pressure Republicans into agreeing to tax increases.

Of course, the fault is not entirely the president’s. Hill Republicans also bear part of the blame, as the Journal notes, for accepting “the sequestration deal while leaving entitlements off the table, thus handing Mr. Obama more leverage.” That Republicans voted as they did last summer, despite the misgivings of many members, was understandable given that the federal government faced the threat of default if the budget ceiling wasn’t lifted—but nevertheless, the vote was a mistake and one that may come back to haunt the country.

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If you missed Thursday’s Wall Street Journal editorial on defense sequestration, go back and read it. It’s as powerful a case as I’ve seen about the damage that mindless budget cutting will do to our nation’s defense. It also makes a powerful case that President Obama is being negligent for refusing to get together with concerned lawmakers to stop the deep slashes in defense spending that are due to begin in January. Instead, the president and Sen. Harry Reid are using the threat of sequestration to try to pressure Republicans into agreeing to tax increases.

Of course, the fault is not entirely the president’s. Hill Republicans also bear part of the blame, as the Journal notes, for accepting “the sequestration deal while leaving entitlements off the table, thus handing Mr. Obama more leverage.” That Republicans voted as they did last summer, despite the misgivings of many members, was understandable given that the federal government faced the threat of default if the budget ceiling wasn’t lifted—but nevertheless, the vote was a mistake and one that may come back to haunt the country.

The good news is it is not too late to prevent these devastating cuts from taking place—but to achieve anything we will need to break through the partisan gridlock. At this point, that looks like a long shot.

 

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The Myth of Obama’s Rhetorical Brilliance

Checking for context before slamming someone for a single line in a speech is always a noble endeavor. But there’s a point when the “benefit of the doubt” becomes ridiculous. A prime example is the liberal argument that President Obama’s “you didn’t build that” comment wasn’t directed at businesses:

When he made the comment in Roanoke, Va. Friday, Obama was arguing that businesses needed infrastructure investment to succeed.

“If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help,” Obama said. “There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.”

The antecedent to “that” is not the business, but “roads and bridges,” as well as the “American system” as a whole.

To believe that Obama was talking about businesses, you only have to watch his speech in context and take it at its literal meaning. To believe Obama was talking about something else, you have to divine certain messages from his ambiguous body language, assume he mixed up his demonstrative pronouns, and concede that the context was structured oddly. Even then, it isn’t clear what exactly he’s referring to.

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Checking for context before slamming someone for a single line in a speech is always a noble endeavor. But there’s a point when the “benefit of the doubt” becomes ridiculous. A prime example is the liberal argument that President Obama’s “you didn’t build that” comment wasn’t directed at businesses:

When he made the comment in Roanoke, Va. Friday, Obama was arguing that businesses needed infrastructure investment to succeed.

“If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help,” Obama said. “There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.”

The antecedent to “that” is not the business, but “roads and bridges,” as well as the “American system” as a whole.

To believe that Obama was talking about businesses, you only have to watch his speech in context and take it at its literal meaning. To believe Obama was talking about something else, you have to divine certain messages from his ambiguous body language, assume he mixed up his demonstrative pronouns, and concede that the context was structured oddly. Even then, it isn’t clear what exactly he’s referring to.

How could this be, considering he’s supposed to be one of the world’s most celebrated orators? The answer is, no teleprompter:

Judging from video and photos of the event, Obama wasn’t using his teleprompter. According to the video footage posted below, Obama pulled a folded sheet of paper out of his front shirt pocket at the beginning of his speech, and slowly unfolded it. Throughout the speech, Obama glances down at his sheet of paper, rather than the usual mechanical side-to-side head turns from screen to screen.

Wide-angle photos of the event show no sign of the familiar twin-screens that typically follow Obama everywhere. Instead, a white sheet of paper is seen at the podium.

No wonder the speech was such a train wreck, and I’m not just talking about the most controversial line. Here’s a key excerpt:

If you were successful somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you own a business — that, you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen. The Iternet didn’t get invented on its own. Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet. The point is, is that when we succeed, we succeed because of our individual initiative, but also because we do things together. There are some things, just like fighting fires, we don’t do on our own. I mean, imagine if everybody had their own fire service. That would be a hard way to organize fighting fires.

Stilted, flat, unimaginative and full of banal observations. “Imagine if everybody had their own fire service,” he said at one point. “That would be a hard way to organize fighting fires.” Really? It actually sounds like firefighting would be pretty easy if America had 300 million fire services. Not that this is physically possible, or that anybody has ever proposed such a thing. “Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet,” he added. The idea that the government created the Internet to help companies make money is so obviously inaccurate that it’s not even worth discussing. And what does any of this have to do with raising federal income taxes?

For the past four years, liberals have tried to sell us on the idea that Obama is one of the greatest speakers of all time. Now they’re complaining that conservatives are taking his words literally and not cutting him enough slack. Which one is it?

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Despite Attack, Hezbollah Is Vulnerable

Hezbollah’s alleged role in carrying out the Burgas bombing shows how dangerous the organization remains. Not for nothing did the former American defense official Rich Armitage once call it the “A-Team” of terrorism. It is not as professional as it was in the days when terrorist mastermind Imad Mughniyah (who was killed in 2008, almost certainly by the Mossad) was running its international operations; in fact it can be downright amateurish at times as seen in its plot to kill the Saudi ambassador to Washington. It is certainly not as good as it once was about covering its tracks, assuming that it was behind the Burgas bombing, given that the Israeli and U.S. governments immediately traced the operation to it. But the Bulgaria operation shows that Hezbollah (along with its prime backer, Iran) maintains the desire and capacity to kill Israelis in particular and Jews in general around the world, and that, when push comes to shove, it will employ suicide bombers to do so–a tactic it hasn’t used in many years because it didn’t need to.

At the same time that Hezbollah is baring its fangs, however, it is also displaying its vulnerability. It has wound up in a no-win situation with regard to its patron in Syria: either Hezbollah embraces Bashar al-Assad and thereby alienates the Arab world, which has turned against this Alawite ruler–or it abandons Assad and risks losing its major source of weapons if Assad remains in power. Hamas, a Sunni terrorist group, has chosen to abandon Assad. But Hezbollah is a Shi’ite organization and remains true to the Alawites, an offshoot of Shia Islam. In fact, Hezbollah is doubling down in its support for Assad–and their mutual patrons in Tehran. As the New York Times notes:

In a televised address on Wednesday night, the Hezbollah leader, Hassan Nasrallah, offered eloquent condolences for the deaths of the three high-ranking Syrian officials killed earlier in the day. “These martyr leaders were comrades in arms in the conflict with the Israeli enemy, and we are confident that the Arab Syrian Army, which overcame the unbearable, will be able to persist and crush the hopes of the enemies,” he said.

He credited Mr. Assad and his government with the victory that Hezbollah claimed against Israel in the 2006 war in Lebanon and with saving Gaza during the 2009 Israeli incursion. “The most valuable weapons we had in our possession were from Syria,” he said. “The missiles we used in the second Lebanon war were made in Syria. And it’s not only in Lebanon but in Gaza as well. Where did these missiles come from? The Saudi regime? The Egyptian regime? These missiles are from Syria.”

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Hezbollah’s alleged role in carrying out the Burgas bombing shows how dangerous the organization remains. Not for nothing did the former American defense official Rich Armitage once call it the “A-Team” of terrorism. It is not as professional as it was in the days when terrorist mastermind Imad Mughniyah (who was killed in 2008, almost certainly by the Mossad) was running its international operations; in fact it can be downright amateurish at times as seen in its plot to kill the Saudi ambassador to Washington. It is certainly not as good as it once was about covering its tracks, assuming that it was behind the Burgas bombing, given that the Israeli and U.S. governments immediately traced the operation to it. But the Bulgaria operation shows that Hezbollah (along with its prime backer, Iran) maintains the desire and capacity to kill Israelis in particular and Jews in general around the world, and that, when push comes to shove, it will employ suicide bombers to do so–a tactic it hasn’t used in many years because it didn’t need to.

At the same time that Hezbollah is baring its fangs, however, it is also displaying its vulnerability. It has wound up in a no-win situation with regard to its patron in Syria: either Hezbollah embraces Bashar al-Assad and thereby alienates the Arab world, which has turned against this Alawite ruler–or it abandons Assad and risks losing its major source of weapons if Assad remains in power. Hamas, a Sunni terrorist group, has chosen to abandon Assad. But Hezbollah is a Shi’ite organization and remains true to the Alawites, an offshoot of Shia Islam. In fact, Hezbollah is doubling down in its support for Assad–and their mutual patrons in Tehran. As the New York Times notes:

In a televised address on Wednesday night, the Hezbollah leader, Hassan Nasrallah, offered eloquent condolences for the deaths of the three high-ranking Syrian officials killed earlier in the day. “These martyr leaders were comrades in arms in the conflict with the Israeli enemy, and we are confident that the Arab Syrian Army, which overcame the unbearable, will be able to persist and crush the hopes of the enemies,” he said.

He credited Mr. Assad and his government with the victory that Hezbollah claimed against Israel in the 2006 war in Lebanon and with saving Gaza during the 2009 Israeli incursion. “The most valuable weapons we had in our possession were from Syria,” he said. “The missiles we used in the second Lebanon war were made in Syria. And it’s not only in Lebanon but in Gaza as well. Where did these missiles come from? The Saudi regime? The Egyptian regime? These missiles are from Syria.”

Give Nasrallah points for honesty about the source of his weapons–but his embrace of the Assad henchmen who are killing thousands of their largely Sunni countrymen should dispel whatever appeal Hezbollah managed to win in the Arab world as a result of its wars against Israel, most recently in 2006. When Assad falls–it now seems more a matter of “when” rather than “if”–Nasrallah is going to have a big problem on his hands dealing with whatever regime comes next in Damascus. Assad’s foes will remember the way Hezbollah embraced the hated dictator.

Seen in this context, Hezbollah’s attack in Bulgaria–and its attempt to carry out similar murder plots elsewhere–is a sign of weakness, not strength. It is desperately trying to embrace the role of Israel-fighter even if it is not willing to risk a confrontation with the Israel Defense Forces–all it can do is slaughter unarmed tourists far from Israel.

Once Assad is gone, it will be imperative for the U.S. and its allies to once again turn their attention to Hezbollah and do what they can to undermine this murderous organization which has gained a stranglehold in Lebanese politics. By its own actions, Hezbollah is leaving itself vulnerable in the future. Let us hope we can exploit that vulnerability to allow Lebanon’s fragile democracy to reassert itself.

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Smart Power and Iran’s 3D Strategy

On July 18, Hillary Clinton published an op-ed in New Statesman entitled “The Art of Smart Power,” listing among its “successes” the maintenance of “broad-based pressure on Iran and North Korea.” Her judgment seems a bit premature, as (a) sanctions have not stopped Iran’s march toward nuclear weapons, and (b) North Korea obtained (and retains) such weapons notwithstanding similar smart power pressure. Pressure that has not achieved its goal is not generally considered a success, much less the occasion for a self-congratulatory essay.

A better example of “success” might be the Iranian strategy described in Irwin Cotler’s report in the Jerusalem Post yesterday. Colter noted that Hamidreza Taraghi, an adviser to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, recently described five Iranian successes:

First, Western countries did not want Iran to have a nuclear power plant, but its Bushehr reactor was now connected to the national grid.

Second, the West had opposed Iran having heavy water facilities, but the country now has one in Arak.

Third, the West had said no to any enrichment, “But here we are, enriching as much as we need for our nuclear energy program,” Taraghi said, referring to the thousands of cascades of centrifuges spinning for years in the half-underground facility in Natanz.

Fourth, since January, and on the eve of the resumed substantive negotiations in Istanbul in April, dozens more advanced centrifuges were installed in the Fordo mountain bunker complex, near Qum, built to withstand a heavy attack.

Fifth, Taraghi also said that in the Istanbul talks, Iran had managed to convince the West of the importance of a religious edict, or fatwa, against the possession of nuclear weapons.

In a word, Taraghi and other Iranian officials concluded that their policy “forced the United States to accept Iranian enrichment,” and in effect, the related nuclear program.

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On July 18, Hillary Clinton published an op-ed in New Statesman entitled “The Art of Smart Power,” listing among its “successes” the maintenance of “broad-based pressure on Iran and North Korea.” Her judgment seems a bit premature, as (a) sanctions have not stopped Iran’s march toward nuclear weapons, and (b) North Korea obtained (and retains) such weapons notwithstanding similar smart power pressure. Pressure that has not achieved its goal is not generally considered a success, much less the occasion for a self-congratulatory essay.

A better example of “success” might be the Iranian strategy described in Irwin Cotler’s report in the Jerusalem Post yesterday. Colter noted that Hamidreza Taraghi, an adviser to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, recently described five Iranian successes:

First, Western countries did not want Iran to have a nuclear power plant, but its Bushehr reactor was now connected to the national grid.

Second, the West had opposed Iran having heavy water facilities, but the country now has one in Arak.

Third, the West had said no to any enrichment, “But here we are, enriching as much as we need for our nuclear energy program,” Taraghi said, referring to the thousands of cascades of centrifuges spinning for years in the half-underground facility in Natanz.

Fourth, since January, and on the eve of the resumed substantive negotiations in Istanbul in April, dozens more advanced centrifuges were installed in the Fordo mountain bunker complex, near Qum, built to withstand a heavy attack.

Fifth, Taraghi also said that in the Istanbul talks, Iran had managed to convince the West of the importance of a religious edict, or fatwa, against the possession of nuclear weapons.

In a word, Taraghi and other Iranian officials concluded that their policy “forced the United States to accept Iranian enrichment,” and in effect, the related nuclear program.

Cotler calls it the “Iranian 3D strategy” — denial, deception, delay — in which “not only are negotiations themselves a delaying tactic, but delaying the negotiations is itself a tactic,” combined with the continued avoidance of inspections and repeated refusals to comply with unambiguous treaty obligations.

While the American secretary of state writes paeans to her art, Iran gets closer every day to its ultimate goal, as it creates facts on (and underneath) the ground. Smart.

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Ahmadinejad Brags, U.S. Rationalizes

The day after the terror attack on Israeli tourists in Bulgaria, a senior U.S. official admitted to the New York Times that what Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu said publicly yesterday was true: Hezbollah did it at the behest of its Iranian sugar daddy. This was, according to the Times, confirmed by two other U.S. government figures who also declined to speak on the record. But if you don’t want to take the word of these anonymous Americans, all you have to do is listen to what Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said about it on Iranian television yesterday.

As the Times of Israel reports, when speaking of the bombing in Bulgaria, Ahmadinejad said the following:

“The bitter enemies of the Iranian people and the Islamic Revolution have recruited most of their forces in order to harm us,” he said in a speech reported by Israel’s Channel 2 TV. “They have indeed succeeded in inflicting blows upon us more than once, but have been rewarded with a far stronger response.”

He added: “The enemy believes it can achieve its aims in a long, persistent struggle against the Iranian people, but in the end it will not. We are working to ensure that.”

His bragging about the slaughter of five Israeli tourists (including a pregnant woman) and a Bulgarian bus driver contradicted the indignant official denials that were issued yesterday by the Iranian government in the wake of Netanyahu’s accusations. Yet one thing said by the senior U.S. official was almost as bad as Ahmadinejad’s appalling candor. The official described the atrocity as a case of “tit for tat,” meaning that the United States merely considered the slaughter as merely retaliation for Western and/or Israeli efforts to halt Iran’s drive for nuclear weapons. By rationalizing the terrorist attack in this manner, the official, who was clearly speaking on behalf of the administration (and to the newspaper which has served as the primary outlet for a series of leaks about policy and secret operations concerning Iran), demonstrated President Obama and his foreign and defense policy team don’t really understand the nature of the Iranian regime. Just as dangerously, the statement betrays a certain annoyance with Israel’s concerns about a genocidal terror-sponsor obtaining nuclear weapons.

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The day after the terror attack on Israeli tourists in Bulgaria, a senior U.S. official admitted to the New York Times that what Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu said publicly yesterday was true: Hezbollah did it at the behest of its Iranian sugar daddy. This was, according to the Times, confirmed by two other U.S. government figures who also declined to speak on the record. But if you don’t want to take the word of these anonymous Americans, all you have to do is listen to what Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said about it on Iranian television yesterday.

As the Times of Israel reports, when speaking of the bombing in Bulgaria, Ahmadinejad said the following:

“The bitter enemies of the Iranian people and the Islamic Revolution have recruited most of their forces in order to harm us,” he said in a speech reported by Israel’s Channel 2 TV. “They have indeed succeeded in inflicting blows upon us more than once, but have been rewarded with a far stronger response.”

He added: “The enemy believes it can achieve its aims in a long, persistent struggle against the Iranian people, but in the end it will not. We are working to ensure that.”

His bragging about the slaughter of five Israeli tourists (including a pregnant woman) and a Bulgarian bus driver contradicted the indignant official denials that were issued yesterday by the Iranian government in the wake of Netanyahu’s accusations. Yet one thing said by the senior U.S. official was almost as bad as Ahmadinejad’s appalling candor. The official described the atrocity as a case of “tit for tat,” meaning that the United States merely considered the slaughter as merely retaliation for Western and/or Israeli efforts to halt Iran’s drive for nuclear weapons. By rationalizing the terrorist attack in this manner, the official, who was clearly speaking on behalf of the administration (and to the newspaper which has served as the primary outlet for a series of leaks about policy and secret operations concerning Iran), demonstrated President Obama and his foreign and defense policy team don’t really understand the nature of the Iranian regime. Just as dangerously, the statement betrays a certain annoyance with Israel’s concerns about a genocidal terror-sponsor obtaining nuclear weapons.

This “tit for tat” comment will help feed the mainstream media narrative that the Jews murdered by Iran/Hezbollah had it coming, because Israel has been accused of assassinating Iranian nuclear scientists. But it ignores the fact that Iran and its loyal Lebanese Hezbollah auxiliaries have been in the business of killing Jews — and Americans — for decades whenever they had the opportunity. Does the Obama administration think Israel’s concerns about Iranian nuclear weapons inspired Iran to commission terrorists to blow up a Jewish community building in Buenos Aires, Argentina, 18 years ago this week? Tehran makes no secret of the official embrace of vile anti-Semitism of the Islamist regime that has ruled there for 33 years. Iran has also been listed a state sponsor of terror for decades and with good reason, as it has targeted Americans as well as Israelis.

Just as bad is the way the comment reflects a certain degree of American impatience with the sense of urgency about the Iranian nuclear threat that is clearly not shared by the Obama administration. Though the president has often pledged to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, the administration waited three years to enact tough sanctions on the regime. Today, it continues to insist diplomacy is the only way to approach the problem even though the P5+1 talks it sponsored have failed. The Iranians have taken the measure of President Obama and believe he isn’t serious about stopping them but is, instead, more concerned — as are they — with averting an Israeli attack on their nuclear facilities.

Far from being a responsible actor that merely strikes out in retaliation for Israeli attacks and which can be trusted to keep its word about confining nuclear research to civilian purposes, Iran is a terrorist state, infused with Jew-hatred and determined to achieve its nuclear goal. Until the administration starts talking — and acting — as if it understands this, its Iran policy will remain a muddle of half-hearted and ineffective measures.

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