The Obama administration has been bragging about the strength of the international coalition it has assembled against Iran and the “crippling sanctions” it has imposed on the Islamist regime. But the dirty little secret about the sanctions is they are riddled with loopholes. Not only has the Treasury Department issued thousands of exemptions to companies that wish to do business with Iran, but President Obama has also specifically granted permission to China and India to go on importing oil from it. Though the sanctions have caused pain to the ordinary Iranian, the government is still raking in more cash from oil sales than it did a decade ago before the sanctions took effect.
This gives some important context to the debate going on in Congress right now about the imposition of a new sanctions bill that takes aim at insurance companies that underwrite Iranian investments. The legislation is vital if a major loophole is to be closed that will make it even more difficult for Iran to conduct commerce. But lobbying from insurance companies that don’t wish to have their businesses impeded are working against the bill. Even more seriously, as the Washington Free Beacon reports, they’ve got Majority Leader Harry Reid on their side.
Last week, I discussed liberal intolerance of those in opposition of their particular viewpoints, and almost on cue, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Boston Mayor Thomas Menino came onto the scene today to embody the ideals of modern-day liberalism: tolerance of only those with whom they already agree. Both mayors expressed support for same-sex marriage and not only expressed their personal opposition to Chick-fil-A’s social conservatism, but also those of their cities.
In a public letter to Chick-fil-A’s President Dan Cathy, and carbon copied to the owner of a property that it appears Chick-fil-A would occupy, Mayor Menino expressed his opposition to the chicken restaurant’s plans to locate in Boston. The strongly worded letter reads in part, “I was angry to learn on the heels of your prejudiced statements about your search for a site to locate in Boston. There is no place for discrimination on Boston’s Freedom Trail and no place for your company alongside it.”
To be clear, Chick-fil-A discriminates against no one, not employees and not customers; its policies expressly forbid it. Chick-fil-A and its president have expressed their support of the traditional family and Christian values, which are not by definition anti-gay. Their charitable organization, WinShape, has donated money not only to organizations that support traditional marriage, but also to foster homes, college scholarships and international relief efforts. Chick-fil-A’s other charitable contributions are irrelevant to those who view anyone who is not with them on the quest to redefine marriage as a bigot who must be taken down at any cost.
While Obama campaign surrogates are spending the summer beating the bushes trying to convince Jewish voters not to believe anything they saw the president do to Israel during his first three years in office, a veteran Washington peace processor and critic of Benjamin Netanyahu has the chutzpah to tell the truth about the state of the U.S.-Israel relationship, in an article in Foreign Policy today. Aaron David Miller spent 24 years working for several administrations, pushing hard to force Israel to make concessions to the Palestinians. But he understands the difference between presidents who care about Israel and ones who don’t. In an article in which he forecasts “Turbulence Ahead” for the U.S.-Israel relationship if President Obama is re-elected, Miller says one of the key problems is the attitude of the man in the White House:
I’ve watched a few presidents come and go on this issue, and Obama really is different. Unlike Clinton and George W. Bush, Obama isn’t in love with the idea of Israel. As a result, he has a harder time making allowances for Israeli behavior he doesn’t like. Obama relates to the Jewish state not on a values continuum but through a national security and interest filter.
It’s true that the president doesn’t emote on many policy issues, with the possible exception of health care. But on Israel, he just doesn’t buy the “tiny state living on the knife’s edge with the dark past” argument — or at least it doesn’t come through in emotionally resonant terms. …
In this respect, when it comes to Israel, Obama is more like Jimmy Carter minus the biblical interest or attachment, or like Bush 41 minus a strategy. My sense is that, if he could get away with it, the president would like to see a U.S.-Israeli relationship that is not just less exclusive, but somewhat less special as well.
Miller doesn’t pull punches about Netanyahu’s shortcomings nor does he blow the current difficulties out of proportion. He rightly acknowledges this isn’t the first time there has been tension between the two nations. But Miller’s discussion of Obama’s view of the Jewish state goes right to the heart of the problem. Obama’s apologists can deny these facts all they want, but the ordinary pro-Israel voter isn’t fooled, which accounts not only for the polls that show the president bleeding support but also for the Jewish charm offensive the administration has been conducting in recent months.
Could the Jewish vote go Republican this year? The answer, as always, is no, of course not. But President Obama has lost enough ground with Jewish voters to create some problems for himself in Florida, as Democratic pollster Doug Schoen explained on Newsmax TV:
One of Obama’s biggest hurdles: capturing Florida’s Jewish voters. The president, polls show, has about 60-65 percent of the Jewish vote, but, says Schoen, if Obama does not win “a full 75 percent…it could, in fact, be decisive.”
The state is “effectively deadlocked,” said Schoen, the author of Hopelessly Divided: The New Crisis in American Politics and What It Means for 2012 and Beyond.
“Jews are necessarily torn, because they see the president as somebody who, aspirationally, has committed himself to Israel,” he said. “At the same time, there have been concerns about the settlement policy and also about the nature of his commitment to do whatever it takes in Iran.”
Ever since the confrontation between President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu in May of 2011 about the president’s attempt to dictate that the 1967 lines would be the starting point for future Middle East peace negotiations, speculation about the impact of this on the president’s re-election has been intense. Since then, numerous polls have shown it is highly unlikely that Obama would get anywhere close to the 78 percent of the Jewish vote he received in 2008. Republicans are eager to take advantage of this factor in November, much as they did last year when a special election in New York’s 8th congressional district went to the GOP over this issue. But leave it to the New York Times to focus an article on this almost completely on billionaire Sheldon Adelson.
Adelson is the centerpiece of an article on the front page of today’sTimes about an ad campaign undertaken by the Republican Jewish Coalition highlighting the “buyer’s remorse” felt by many Jews who voted for the president four years ago but will not support him again because of his stands on Israel and the state of the economy. That the RJC would be running such ads in battleground states is hardly surprising, especially because the question of the Jewish vote being a possibly decisive factor in the outcome this year has been a matter of discussion for months. Not only did I write about this in the March issue of COMMENTARY, but just yesterday, Reuters also devoted a feature to the way Jewish voters could make the difference in Florida. But for the Times, it’s all about Adelson, who, despite being mentioned in the headline (“Mogul’s Latest Foray Courts Jews for the G.O.P.”) and the caption to a photo showing the ads, is just one of several RJC supporters who helped underwrite their production and distribution. Though liberal Jews quoted in the article are in denial about the president’s problems, and the paper would like to make it appear this is merely the function of a plutocrat’s whim, the reason why the ads are resonating is that a significant percentage of Jewish voters have been disillusioned by the president’s attitude toward Israel.
This “Anglo-Saxon heritage” story sounded unbelievable from the get-go. An unnamed Romney foreign policy adviser allegedly told the LondonTelegraph that Romney would usher in better relations with the UK because he understands the “Anglo-Saxon heritage” better than President Obama — a oddly-phrased comment that clearly has racial undertones.
It’s usually a good idea to be skeptical of sensational-sounding Telegraph stories about U.S. politics in the first place, but this article literally relies on a single unnamed source — and yet Washington reporters ran with it anyway. Now the Romney campaign says the story is false, according to WaPo:
An unnamed “adviser” to Mitt Romney who told the London Telegraph that the candidate appreciates “Anglo-Saxon heritage” better than President Obama is not speaking for the Republican campaign, a spokeswoman for the former Massachusetts governor said Wednesday.
“It’s not true,” Amanda Hennenberg said in a statement. “If anyone said that, they weren’t reflecting the views of Governor Romney or anyone inside the campaign.”
The quote has created an early dust-up between the two campaigns as Romney begins his low-key, week-long trip through Britain, Poland and Israel.
“We are part of an Anglo-Saxon heritage,” an adviser told reporter Jon Swaine. “The White House didn’t fully appreciate the shared history we have.” The reporter later tweeted to clarify that the quote came from a “member of [Romney’s] foreign policy advisory team.”
BuzzFeed reports the Democratic National Committee is planning to go “nuclear” over the attacks on President Obama’s “you didn’t build that” speech, and launch a major assault on Mitt Romney’s small business record:
DNC Communications Director Brad Woodhouse outlined an all-out response to Mitt Romney’s attack on President Obama over his “You didn’t build this” line — which the president and independent fact checkers have said has been taken out of context.
“In conjunction with OFA, we’re going to turn the page tomorrow on Mitt Romney’s trumped up, out of context fact-checked-to-death BS about the president and small business and set the record straight on how Mitt Romney has a horrible record on small business,” Woodhouse said in a memo sent to BuzzFeed, saying there will be on-the-ground events across the country — including in Massachusetts — to rebut Romney’s attack.
David Rothkopf has an interesting essay on Foreign Policy’s website arguing that Western, and especially American, involvement in and attention to the Middle East is out of proportion to the region’s importance. He gets a few things right–such as the discovery of oil and natural gas elsewhere in the world and the fact that both rising state powers and extremist threats are increasingly coming from Asia (and Africa). The “pivot,” he correctly notes, wasn’t so much a strategic calculation as an acceptance of reality.
He could also have mentioned our role in the competition between China and Russia in Central Asia, or President Obama’s signature foreign-policy achievement, which was to identify Pakistan as the focal point of that region and plan accordingly. I think he underplays the threat of a nuclear Iran, but that may be (though he does not say this) because most of the world believes the U.S. or Israel will prevent that from happening anyway. But Rothkopf’s section on Israel gets a bit fuzzy, though in a roundabout way reinforces his underlying point. Here’s Rothkopf:
Barack Obama’s generation entered the workforce at the time Ariel Sharon was directing Israeli troops into the camps in Lebanon, a watershed that for many washed away much of the positive narrative about Israel the virtuous underdog. From then on, through the intifada and the construction of new settlements on contested land, Israel has systematically damaged its standing in the eyes of the world (which hasn’t been hard to do since so many around the world are predisposed for pretty awful reasons to dislike the idea of a Jewish state to begin with)….
But given the periodic flare-ups of unreasonable behavior at the top from the Israeli government, the embrace of Israel as an ally carries with it costs — and the new technologies of modern conflict offer many alternative ways to counterbalance these risks. That’s not to say America is better off without Israel as an ally. We are. Just not at any price.
The demographic and political tides in the region are turning against the Israelis in ways that rightfully have them nervous. Absent a deal with the Palestinians in the next several years, their situation is likely to grow more precarious — and, with the potential rise of Arab democracy, more difficult to defend for a country like the United States whose foreign policy is built (in theory at least) on ideas like the right to self-determination.
Yesterday, I noted the resurrection of al-Qaeda in Iraq in no small part because of the U.S. troop pullout after the Obama administration failed to get Iraqi agreement on a status of forces agreement. Today, the question I want to consider is: What, if anything, can the U.S. still do to prevent Iraq from going totally off the rails?
Sadly, with the loss of our troop presence and with it much of our intelligence-gathering capacity, our options are vastly diminished. If we don’t have a good handle on what’s going on in the country–and we don’t, having lost much of our situational awareness at the end of last year–it is hard to figure out how to shape developments. Heck, we can’t even be sure of the number of Iraqis killed in terrorist attacks; the U.S. military no longer compiles independent figures, and it’s hard to fully trust the numbers produced in Baghdad.
With the sequester looming, Republicans are scrambling for an alternative that will save the defense budget and the defense industry. The Hill reports on one idea being floated by Sen. Mitch McConnell, which would increase government and sales fees — but the idea could violate Grover Norquist’s anti-tax pledge:
“If you want to turn off the sequester, and I think that’s a good idea, there is a way to do it; we spent a lot of time last year finding legitimate pay-fors in the Biden talks,” McConnell said. “There are all kinds of legitimate pay-fors that were studied on a bipartisan basis in the so-called Biden talks, leading up to the final passage of the Budget Control Act.”
McConnell’s comments reflect a growing urgency among Republicans on Capitol Hill about finding a compromise to stop $55 million in spending cuts slated for defense programs in 2013.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.) and other Democrats have insisted that any replacement of the so-called defense sequester also reduce cuts to domestic programs and raise new revenues.
Focusing on sales and federal fees could be a way to raise revenues without violating the tax pledge GOP lawmakers have made to their constituents.
Though the press largely dropped the story weeks ago, no controversy has the potential to do as much long-term damage to the Obama presidency as the White House leaks investigation. That’s why Mitt Romney’s ringing denunciation of the administration’s fast and loose approach to classified information in his address to the Veterans of Foreign Wars yesterday had to scare the administration silly. In response, they not only prompted Senator Dianne Feinstein, the head of the Senate Intelligence Committee, to try to walk back her accusation that the White House was the source of the leaks about cyber warfare, targeted assassinations of terrorists, Iran and other national security topics that Romney cited in his speech. They also sent out campaign honcho David Axelrod to make the rounds of the morning news shows today to reassure the American people that President Obama played no role in the flow of secrets to the front page of the New York Times and other media outlets friendly to the president.
But Axelrod’s assurances ring false. Obama’s problem here is that the White House’s fingerprints were all over these stories. It’s not just that secrets were spilled, but that they were leaked in a manner intended to make the president look like he was actively involved in the details of national security matters. The Times stories in particular — served up as they were to fill the front page of a number of Sunday editions of the paper — were more than background material about the nuts and bolts of how the nation is pursuing terrorists and attempting to stop Iran’s nuclear program but crafted so as to make the president look good. Moreover, they were sourced in such a way as to make it obvious it came from the White House. That is why Romney’s call for a special prosecutor had to make the president and his senior advisers squirm.
Two days after the Turkish press reported that Israeli diplomats would not be invited to Prime Minister Erdoğan’s traditional iftar (breaking the Ramadan fast) dinner, Erdoğan showed that he may stand against tolerance but he does not stand against terrorism: He made Khalid Mishaal, the leader of the most militant faction in Hamas, his personal guest at an iftar dinner.
President Obama describes Erdoğan as one of the five foreign leaders with whom he is friendliest. Given Erdoğan’s anti-American and anti-Semitic rants, and his repeated support for not only Hamas terrorists, but also an Al Qaeda financier, perhaps it is time for Obama to describe why he embraces Erdoğan above most others. Then, again, perhaps it’s time for Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) and the other members of the Congressional Turkey Caucus to also explain against such a backdrop why they also shill for such an anti-American, anti-Semitic leader.