Commentary Magazine


Posts For: July 27, 2012

The Key to the NRA’s Success

A week ago, a senseless and tragic shooting at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, took the lives of 12 persons and wounded dozens. But instead of discussing what appears to be the gunman’s mental illness, the liberal mainstream media has spent most of its energy trying (to no avail) to use the incident to revive interest in gun control. This effort has utterly failed, with even President Obama refusing to obey the admonitions of some of his journalistic supporters to leverage the bloodshed for an attack on the National Rifle Association (NRA). This has only compounded their frustration, leading them to publish editorials like today’s New York Times jeremiad against the NRA, which rails about the reasons why “Candidates Cower on Gun Control.”

It is possible to make a reasonable argument in favor of some limits on ownership of particularly dangerous weapons though, as Rich Lowry pointed out in a smart opinion piece published on Politico, the gun control solutions favored by liberals would not have prevented alleged Colorado killer James Holmes from carrying out his crime. As Lowry points out, “Even scary looking guns formerly banned by Congress do not go on killing sprees on their own.” But the interesting point to be gleaned from the rehashing of the old debate about guns is not so much whether the NRA’s critics are right but the way they have come to demonize the organization. Leave aside for a moment the merits of their case about guns, and what comes across most clearly is an unwillingness to acknowledge that the NRA’s success is rooted in the nuts and bolts work of political organizing. Like the Walt-Mearsheimer “Israel Lobby” thesis which cannot explain the enormous bipartisan popularity of the State of Israel by means other than a shadowy conspiracy of money and influence peddling, the NRA’s critics need to understand that it succeeds not by intimidation but because most Americans agree with it.

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A week ago, a senseless and tragic shooting at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, took the lives of 12 persons and wounded dozens. But instead of discussing what appears to be the gunman’s mental illness, the liberal mainstream media has spent most of its energy trying (to no avail) to use the incident to revive interest in gun control. This effort has utterly failed, with even President Obama refusing to obey the admonitions of some of his journalistic supporters to leverage the bloodshed for an attack on the National Rifle Association (NRA). This has only compounded their frustration, leading them to publish editorials like today’s New York Times jeremiad against the NRA, which rails about the reasons why “Candidates Cower on Gun Control.”

It is possible to make a reasonable argument in favor of some limits on ownership of particularly dangerous weapons though, as Rich Lowry pointed out in a smart opinion piece published on Politico, the gun control solutions favored by liberals would not have prevented alleged Colorado killer James Holmes from carrying out his crime. As Lowry points out, “Even scary looking guns formerly banned by Congress do not go on killing sprees on their own.” But the interesting point to be gleaned from the rehashing of the old debate about guns is not so much whether the NRA’s critics are right but the way they have come to demonize the organization. Leave aside for a moment the merits of their case about guns, and what comes across most clearly is an unwillingness to acknowledge that the NRA’s success is rooted in the nuts and bolts work of political organizing. Like the Walt-Mearsheimer “Israel Lobby” thesis which cannot explain the enormous bipartisan popularity of the State of Israel by means other than a shadowy conspiracy of money and influence peddling, the NRA’s critics need to understand that it succeeds not by intimidation but because most Americans agree with it.

You don’t have to agree with the NRA on its opposition to the assault weapons ban to understand that, contrary to the Times and the numerous other liberal editorial writers and columnists who have sounded the same theme, that its actions are a function of democracy, not an attempt to subvert it. If candidates — even a liberal Democratic incumbent — are loath to take it on, that is not because they are cowards, but because they know the NRA represents a critical mass of American public opinion.

The arguments in favor of gun control are at best questionable (such laws don’t reduce crime) and often a function of a cultural prejudice against firearms. But what’s really wrong with most of what we hear from anti-gun forces is their attempt to delegitimize the NRA. The group’s four million members represent not so much a special interest but a vanguard of a broad sentiment that sees gun ownership as a valid constitutional right. You don’t have to agree with them (though the Supreme Court does when it confirmed in 2008 that the Second Amendment meant what it says when it talks of “the right to bear arms”), but you must respect their right to organize. The NRA’s ability to persuade legislators is, like that of other successful advocates such as AIPAC on behalf of Israel, a reflection of the fact that their views are popular.

If the debate on gun control is to continue — and given the consensus that exists among the public and Congress though not among liberal editorialists against such measures there seems no reason why it should — it should do so without the imprecations of the NRA. If liberals wish to defeat it, they must do so by the force of reason, not by demonizing a legitimate and broad-based activist group.

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Where’s Winston? Not Where He Belongs

As part of its effort to try and show up Mitt Romney during his foreign tour, the White House is working overtime in a vain attempt to deny that President Obama has gone out of his way to de-emphasize the formerly “special relationship” that existed between the United States and Great Britain. The symbol of Obama’s disdain for Britain was his decision to remove a bust of Winston Churchill from the Oval Office. Some have wrongly claimed it was returned to the British Embassy but as Politico reports, the White House communications director blogged today to point out that it has merely been relegated to the part of the mansion where the First Family lives (and where David Cameron was marched to get a picture of him looking at the bust with the president in 2010).

That’s nice to know, because it will make it easier for Romney to make good on his promise to return it to a place of much greater prominence, but it also doesn’t quite debunk the charge that the removal of the bust is an apt symbol of Obama’s downgrading of the British alliance. To pretend that taking it out of the Oval Office was not a slight and an indication of Obama’s issues with the Brits is disingenuous. But as with the Democrats’ attempts to persuade Jewish voters to forget three years of slights to Israel, the administration’s cheerleaders have no shame about trying to re-write history. The substance of Obama’s attitude toward Britain is far more damning than any misplaced bust.

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As part of its effort to try and show up Mitt Romney during his foreign tour, the White House is working overtime in a vain attempt to deny that President Obama has gone out of his way to de-emphasize the formerly “special relationship” that existed between the United States and Great Britain. The symbol of Obama’s disdain for Britain was his decision to remove a bust of Winston Churchill from the Oval Office. Some have wrongly claimed it was returned to the British Embassy but as Politico reports, the White House communications director blogged today to point out that it has merely been relegated to the part of the mansion where the First Family lives (and where David Cameron was marched to get a picture of him looking at the bust with the president in 2010).

That’s nice to know, because it will make it easier for Romney to make good on his promise to return it to a place of much greater prominence, but it also doesn’t quite debunk the charge that the removal of the bust is an apt symbol of Obama’s downgrading of the British alliance. To pretend that taking it out of the Oval Office was not a slight and an indication of Obama’s issues with the Brits is disingenuous. But as with the Democrats’ attempts to persuade Jewish voters to forget three years of slights to Israel, the administration’s cheerleaders have no shame about trying to re-write history. The substance of Obama’s attitude toward Britain is far more damning than any misplaced bust.

This is, after all, the administration that openly sided with Argentina about its attempts to revive its bogus claim to the Falklands Islands and denied there was anything “special” about the relationship with the U.K. It takes a special kind of chutzpah for Senator John Kerry (who is openly auditioning for the chance to replace Hillary Clinton as secretary of state in a second Obama administration) to claim as he did today in the Huffington Post that it is Mitt Romney who has endangered the alliance by calling out Obama for his mistakes.

It is true Romney believes the United States should not allow its national interest to be held hostage by the fears of our European allies, even the Brits. Kerry is right about one thing. Since Barack Obama became president, Europe has not been allowed to hold America back, because on issues such as overthrowing Middle Eastern tyrants and confronting the Iranian nuclear threat, America’s allies have been more bold than the administration, not less.

Romney’s Olympic gaffe may have given the British and American press license to portray him as inept, but there is no covering up the fact that Obama entered office determined to distance himself from traditional allies like Britain and Israel. Indeed, he made no secret of this intention as he viewed it as part of a general policy of reversing any practice associated with his predecessor. Because George W. Bush was closely identified as a friend of Britain and Israel, Obama made it clear he was not and wound up embracing figures such as Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, an Islamist who has done much to thwart U.S. interests.

The point here isn’t so much where Winston is these days, though his removal from the Oval Office cannot be represented as anything but a slight, as it is what happened to the special relationship in January 2009. For all of his troubles in London the past couple of days, there’s little doubt that a Romney administration would likely not only return the bust to its rightful place of prominence but also revive the alliances with Britain and Israel.

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The IOC Didn’t Do Israel a Favor

On Wednesday, two of the widows of the Israeli Olympians who were murdered in Munich in 1972 made a last-ditch effort to convince the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to change its mind and allow a moment of silence in their memory at the London Games opening ceremony to be held tonight. But despite the tearful pleas of Ankie Spitzer and Ilana Romano, IOC head Jacques Rogge refused to be moved.

As Britain’s JC reports, Spitzer said this of the meeting with Rogge:

“I asked him ‘is it because they were Israelis?’ and he didn’t answer.

“We were just about rolling over the table for him. We are outraged. We are so angry. We are sad. We could not believe it but he is not going to do it.

“I was looking him in the eye but he said we had two different opinions. We said ‘you didn’t hear the voice of the world.’ He said: ‘Yes I did.’”

Were he an honest man, Rogge would have admitted that the Israeli identity of the victims was the reason for his refusal. Indeed, when he says he heard the “voice of the world,” it may be he is referring to the fact that he believes — and not without reason — the world doesn’t care about spilled Jewish blood. Someone who agrees with that conclusion is Amir Mizroch, the English editor of Israel Hayom who writes (h/t Uriel Heilman at JTA) that perhaps “the IOC is doing us a favor by rejecting” requests for a moment to remember the Munich victims, because he is sure that instead of respectful silence what would follow such a request would be “a minute of deafening cacophony of hate for Israel.”

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On Wednesday, two of the widows of the Israeli Olympians who were murdered in Munich in 1972 made a last-ditch effort to convince the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to change its mind and allow a moment of silence in their memory at the London Games opening ceremony to be held tonight. But despite the tearful pleas of Ankie Spitzer and Ilana Romano, IOC head Jacques Rogge refused to be moved.

As Britain’s JC reports, Spitzer said this of the meeting with Rogge:

“I asked him ‘is it because they were Israelis?’ and he didn’t answer.

“We were just about rolling over the table for him. We are outraged. We are so angry. We are sad. We could not believe it but he is not going to do it.

“I was looking him in the eye but he said we had two different opinions. We said ‘you didn’t hear the voice of the world.’ He said: ‘Yes I did.’”

Were he an honest man, Rogge would have admitted that the Israeli identity of the victims was the reason for his refusal. Indeed, when he says he heard the “voice of the world,” it may be he is referring to the fact that he believes — and not without reason — the world doesn’t care about spilled Jewish blood. Someone who agrees with that conclusion is Amir Mizroch, the English editor of Israel Hayom who writes (h/t Uriel Heilman at JTA) that perhaps “the IOC is doing us a favor by rejecting” requests for a moment to remember the Munich victims, because he is sure that instead of respectful silence what would follow such a request would be “a minute of deafening cacophony of hate for Israel.”

Mizroch may have a point. It is by no means unlikely that the crowd in London, not to mention even the athletes from Europe, the Third World and Muslim countries, would respond to a request for silence with jeers for the victims of Munich. Perhaps some would even take up chants in support for the terrorists who committed that atrocity.

Mizroch believes the moment of silence would be a replica of what happens at the United Nations General Assembly and the UN Human Rights Council. He thinks a repeat of this treatment on the far more visible stage of the Olympics would discourage the people of Israel, because they would see for themselves, “just how few friends we actually have in the world.”

But Spitzer and the others who have spearheaded the drive to pressure the world to commemorate the Munich massacre on the 40th anniversary of the crime were not wrong. It may well be that Jew-hatred would bubble over on one of the world’s biggest stages had Rogge done the decent thing and asked for silence. But the proper response to this hatred on the part of self-respecting Jews as well as non-Jews is not to slink away and meekly accept this treatment.

The reason why the IOC and many of its member nations resisted the call to commemorate the Munich victims is because they know that doing so brings into disrepute the effort to stigmatize and drive Israel out of the family of nations. Were there to be a moment of silence that was disrupted by boos, Israelis certainly would feel, as Mizroch put it, disgusted by their rejection. But the losers would be the Israel-haters. Like the UN’s “Zionism is Racism” resolution and the long list of other anti-Semitic acts perpetrated throughout the last century, the ultimate result would be to discredit the cause of those who think slaughtering Jewish athletes is a form of heroism.

What the Israel-haters want is to make the Jews go away quietly and accept their ostracism. Doing so allows Israelis to avoid unpleasant confrontations, but it is no solution. As with the memory of every other act of hatred against the Jewish people, the proper response is to fight back and never let the perpetrators or their cheerleaders think they will ever live down the infamy they have earned.

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Voters and Romney’s Mormon Faith

There’s been some concern that Republican-leaning evangelical voters might be hesitant to vote for Mitt Romney because of his religion. But the latest Pew Research Center survey found little justification for that theory:

The latest national survey by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life and the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, conducted June 28-July 9, 2012, among 2,973 adults, including 2,373 registered voters, finds that 60 percent of voters are aware that Romney is Mormon, virtually unchanged from four months ago, during the GOP primaries.

The vast majority of those who are aware of Romney’s faith say it doesn’t concern them. Fully eight-in-ten voters who know Romney is Mormon say they are either comfortable with his faith (60 percent) or that it doesn’t matter to them (21 percent).

Oddly enough, more voters (60 percent) correctly identify Romney’s religion as Mormon than (49 percent) correctly identify Obama’s religion as Christian. Seventeen percent still say Obama is Muslim, a statistic that the media always loves to jump on as “proof” of public stupidity.

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There’s been some concern that Republican-leaning evangelical voters might be hesitant to vote for Mitt Romney because of his religion. But the latest Pew Research Center survey found little justification for that theory:

The latest national survey by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life and the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, conducted June 28-July 9, 2012, among 2,973 adults, including 2,373 registered voters, finds that 60 percent of voters are aware that Romney is Mormon, virtually unchanged from four months ago, during the GOP primaries.

The vast majority of those who are aware of Romney’s faith say it doesn’t concern them. Fully eight-in-ten voters who know Romney is Mormon say they are either comfortable with his faith (60 percent) or that it doesn’t matter to them (21 percent).

Oddly enough, more voters (60 percent) correctly identify Romney’s religion as Mormon than (49 percent) correctly identify Obama’s religion as Christian. Seventeen percent still say Obama is Muslim, a statistic that the media always loves to jump on as “proof” of public stupidity.

But in fact, religion doesn’t seem to have a major influence over who people vote for, according to Pew. Though it does seem to impact voter enthusiasm:

Comfort with Romney’s faith, however, is related to the enthusiasm of Republican support for his candidacy. Among Republican and Republican-leaning voters who say they are comfortable with Romney being Mormon, 44 percent back him strongly. Among those who are uncomfortable with it, just 21 percent say they back him strongly.

Romney hasn’t spent much time talking about his religion, and according to Pew, there is little reason for him to do so. Just 16 percent of voters say they want to know more about Romney’s faith — and it’s probably safe to assume most of them work at the New York Times.

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AQI Comeback Is Not Indictment of Surge

The “surge” which turned around the situation in Iraq in 2007-2008–at a time when the war appeared lost–is now history, but the debate about what actually happened continues. It is indeed heating up because of the recent resurgence of al-Qaeda in both Iraq and Syria. Does this mean that the “success” of the surge was overhyped? Short answer: Not really.

To see why the surge worked, there is no better source than this article by political scientists Stephen Biddle (my colleague at the Council on Foreign Relations), Jeffrey Friedman, and Jacob Shapiro in the new issue of International Security. They reject the commonly heard arguments of surge skeptics that violence declined because insurgents were bribed into joining the Sunni Awakening and that violence had run its course anyway because of sectarian cleansing. They write:

This evidence suggests that a synergistic interaction between the surge and the Awakening is the best explanation for why violence declined in Iraq in 2007. Without the surge, the Anbar Awakening would probably not have spread fast or far enough. And without the surge, sectarian violence would likely have continued for a long time to come—the pattern and distribution of the bloodshed offers little reason to believe that it had burned itself out by mid-2007. Yet the surge, though necessary, was insufficient to explain 2007’s sudden reversal in fortunes. Without the Awakening to thin the insurgents’ ranks and unveil the holdouts to U.S. troops, the violence would probably have remained very high until well after the surge had been withdrawn and well after U.S. voters had lost patience with the war.

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The “surge” which turned around the situation in Iraq in 2007-2008–at a time when the war appeared lost–is now history, but the debate about what actually happened continues. It is indeed heating up because of the recent resurgence of al-Qaeda in both Iraq and Syria. Does this mean that the “success” of the surge was overhyped? Short answer: Not really.

To see why the surge worked, there is no better source than this article by political scientists Stephen Biddle (my colleague at the Council on Foreign Relations), Jeffrey Friedman, and Jacob Shapiro in the new issue of International Security. They reject the commonly heard arguments of surge skeptics that violence declined because insurgents were bribed into joining the Sunni Awakening and that violence had run its course anyway because of sectarian cleansing. They write:

This evidence suggests that a synergistic interaction between the surge and the Awakening is the best explanation for why violence declined in Iraq in 2007. Without the surge, the Anbar Awakening would probably not have spread fast or far enough. And without the surge, sectarian violence would likely have continued for a long time to come—the pattern and distribution of the bloodshed offers little reason to believe that it had burned itself out by mid-2007. Yet the surge, though necessary, was insufficient to explain 2007’s sudden reversal in fortunes. Without the Awakening to thin the insurgents’ ranks and unveil the holdouts to U.S. troops, the violence would probably have remained very high until well after the surge had been withdrawn and well after U.S. voters had lost patience with the war.

I find that conclusion to be squarely in line with the facts as I discovered them for myself during my trips to Iraq in 2007-2008. Neither the surge nor the Sunni Awakening would have succeeded by itself; together they turned the tide and decimated al-Qaeda in Iraq. The fact that AQI has now made a comeback is no indictment of the surge; it is, rather, an indictment of Prime Minister Maliki’s recent leadership and of the Obama administration’s inability or unwillingness to extend the mandate of U.S. troops in Iraq past 2011.

It often takes decades to solidify the gains won on any battlefield. If U.S. troops had left Europe in 1945–as they did in 1919–it is fair to speculate that World War II would not be seen as the “good war”; it might even be seen, like World  War I, as a military victory undone by political defeat afterward. So too, if the U.S. had left South Korea after the end of fighting in 1953. It took decades of commitment to harvest the gains won on the battlefield by our soldiers. We have not made that commitment in Iraq, and so the result is to allow a once-defeated terrorist group to stage a comeback. The same thing happened in Afghanistan in the past decade: the Taliban were truly defeated, if not totally annihilated, in 2001, but our inattention and unwillingness to make a commitment to building a durable post-Taliban state allowed them to stage a comeback.

In war victory is seldom final; it is almost always conditional and provisional. President Obama has lost sight of that truth in Iraq, as President Bush lost sight of it in Afghanistan, and the result is needless fighting. But that in no way slights the achievements of either the soldiers and spies who brought down the Taliban in the fall of 2001 or those who routed al-Qaeda in Iraq in 2007-2008.

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NY Times’s False Attack on McCain

The New York Times carries an article today echoing congressional Democrats’ complaint that John McCain refuses to enable them to name, shame, and attempt to destroy the careers of Republican donors while shielding Democratic interest groups from scrutiny. That would be the DISCLOSE Act, which would force conservative grassroots to disclose publicly their political activity. Such groups and individuals have already been subjected to IRS shenanigans, death threats, and the occasional act of violence.

Democrats see no problem with this, as I detailed here. But McCain won’t help them get bipartisan support. So the Times sprang into action today, calling McCain a water-carrier for the Republican Party and suggesting he is a hypocrite on campaign finance. Of course that is not the case, as McCain has publicly lambasted the Supreme Court’s Citizen’s United ruling striking down campaign finance regulations that McCain likes. But aside from getting all its facts wrong, the Times article also gets personal:

Many of Mr. McCain’s other interests align neatly with the big issues of the day, particularly the debate over the role of the United States in conflicts in the Middle East — in which he has largely been a staunch critic of the Obama administration — and the planned Pentagon cuts.

The pattern is similar to that of other unsuccessful presidential candidates, like Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, who publicly sulked for a few years before becoming a major player on Afghanistan and other issues.

“I just think a lot of it has to do with the agenda,” Mr. McCain said of his re-emergence, in an impromptu interview with several reporters. “After I lost, I knew that the best way to get over it was to get active.” (Mr. McCain, who disputed some coverage of him by The New York Times during the 2008 campaign, has a policy of not speaking directly to reporters from The Times.)

Let’s take this from that last note. The Times wants readers to think McCain is sour over a generalized perception that the Times was biased against him in 2008. The Times doesn’t say what actually happened, because it was a low point not just for the egregiously unethical Times but for modern journalism in general, bringing shame to the paper from liberals as well as conservatives.

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The New York Times carries an article today echoing congressional Democrats’ complaint that John McCain refuses to enable them to name, shame, and attempt to destroy the careers of Republican donors while shielding Democratic interest groups from scrutiny. That would be the DISCLOSE Act, which would force conservative grassroots to disclose publicly their political activity. Such groups and individuals have already been subjected to IRS shenanigans, death threats, and the occasional act of violence.

Democrats see no problem with this, as I detailed here. But McCain won’t help them get bipartisan support. So the Times sprang into action today, calling McCain a water-carrier for the Republican Party and suggesting he is a hypocrite on campaign finance. Of course that is not the case, as McCain has publicly lambasted the Supreme Court’s Citizen’s United ruling striking down campaign finance regulations that McCain likes. But aside from getting all its facts wrong, the Times article also gets personal:

Many of Mr. McCain’s other interests align neatly with the big issues of the day, particularly the debate over the role of the United States in conflicts in the Middle East — in which he has largely been a staunch critic of the Obama administration — and the planned Pentagon cuts.

The pattern is similar to that of other unsuccessful presidential candidates, like Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, who publicly sulked for a few years before becoming a major player on Afghanistan and other issues.

“I just think a lot of it has to do with the agenda,” Mr. McCain said of his re-emergence, in an impromptu interview with several reporters. “After I lost, I knew that the best way to get over it was to get active.” (Mr. McCain, who disputed some coverage of him by The New York Times during the 2008 campaign, has a policy of not speaking directly to reporters from The Times.)

Let’s take this from that last note. The Times wants readers to think McCain is sour over a generalized perception that the Times was biased against him in 2008. The Times doesn’t say what actually happened, because it was a low point not just for the egregiously unethical Times but for modern journalism in general, bringing shame to the paper from liberals as well as conservatives.

It was the Times’s unsupported allegations referencing McCain’s relationship with a lobbyist that the Times insinuated had become an affair. It was unsubstantiated, and the public generally recoiled in horror at the Times. Liberal bias is one thing, but not in anyone’s recent memory had a major newspaper published an unsubstantiated story to destroy the family of a respected politician simply because he was running against the Times’s preferred candidate.

Times editor Bill Keller took a lot of heat for the story. Did he backtrack and apologize? Nope. Here’s his response when he was asked about McCain’s criticism of the paper for running the story: “My first tendency when they do that is to find the toughest McCain story we’ve got and put it on the front page.”

Destroy McCain, Keller said. So now that the Times’s editor had announced a personal vendetta against McCain for disputing the coverage, McCain had the understandable reaction of avoiding the Times and talking to newspapers that hadn’t threatened to use whatever it had against him to destroy his career.

Now, on to the suggestion that McCain is somehow walking in John Kerry’s path by taking a vocal role in foreign affairs, it would appear that the Times reporter is mostly unfamiliar with John McCain. McCain, you’ll recall, has something of a background in military issues. After his heroics in Vietnam, he took that desire to serve his country to the Congress, where he has been easily the senator most engaged in foreign policy. (He was also right about the Iraq surge when his Democratic colleagues were abandoning the effort and sliming American servicemen and women.)

What is Kerry’s legacy on matters of war and peace? Well, most recently it was his far-too-cozy relationship with Bashar al-Assad, as Assad was gearing up to slaughter the Syrian population. This is Kerry’s audition for secretary of state in a hypothetical second Obama term. I don’t think the Times means this as a compliment to Kerry. More likely it’s part and parcel of the paper’s efforts to insult McCain, and those at the Times probably thought there was nothing more insulting than comparing him to John Kerry.

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British Press Pile On Romney

The British press had knives out for Mitt Romney before he even arrived in London, but the pile-on over his Olympics comment and some other (questionable) gaffes has still been surprisingly excessive. Says Piers Morgan on Romney’s Olympics remark: “He was just speaking the truth which can sometimes be rather unpalatable.” Morgan defended the candidate on CNN (via HotAir):

The issue isn’t whether Romney’s comments were accurate; it’s whether they were appropriate. Clearly the Brits didn’t think so, and that’s what counts. The Obama campaign is loving this, since it plays right into the whole “Romney is Bush” theme — voters don’t really want America to be despised in Europe like it was under G.W., right? Forget the fact that Obama’s insults have been far worse in degree: removing Churchill’s bust from the Oval Office, giving the Queen an iPod full of First Family photos, etc. He’s still a liberal Democrat, which apparently gets him some leeway with the British press.

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The British press had knives out for Mitt Romney before he even arrived in London, but the pile-on over his Olympics comment and some other (questionable) gaffes has still been surprisingly excessive. Says Piers Morgan on Romney’s Olympics remark: “He was just speaking the truth which can sometimes be rather unpalatable.” Morgan defended the candidate on CNN (via HotAir):

The issue isn’t whether Romney’s comments were accurate; it’s whether they were appropriate. Clearly the Brits didn’t think so, and that’s what counts. The Obama campaign is loving this, since it plays right into the whole “Romney is Bush” theme — voters don’t really want America to be despised in Europe like it was under G.W., right? Forget the fact that Obama’s insults have been far worse in degree: removing Churchill’s bust from the Oval Office, giving the Queen an iPod full of First Family photos, etc. He’s still a liberal Democrat, which apparently gets him some leeway with the British press.

The press has taken to calling Romney’s trip #Romneyshambles, and is now basically just creating stories out of thin air. One of the silliest ones so far has to be the Independent’s speculation that he forgot Labor Leader Ed Miliband’s name:

Romney also faced further embarrassment after he appeared to forget the name of Labour Leader Ed Miliband during a press conference.

Speaking with the leader of the opposition Romney said: “Like you, Mr. Leader, I look forward to our conversations this morning … and recognise, of course, the unique relationship that exists between our nations, our commitment to common values, our commitment to peace in the world and our desire to see a stronger and growing economy.”

As many Americans know, “Mr. Leader” is a term of respect used to refer to the party leaders in Congress — i.e. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor. It seems much more likely that Romney was using it in that context than that he forgot Miliband’s name. But it just goes to show you that the British press is so eager to play “gotcha” with Romney that it’s mixing up the media narratives for Republicans. Remember, it’s Bush who was supposed to be the dumb cowboy who blanked on names; Romney is supposed to be the money-obsessed robot who is too awkward for foreign diplomacy. Let’s at least get those memes straight.

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Who Can Be Trusted to Act on Iran?

With Mitt Romney arriving in Israel this weekend, the focus of the presidential campaign will turn, albeit briefly, to a discussion of the way the Obama administration has distanced itself from the Jewish state and whether the president or his challenger can be trusted to act on the Iranian nuclear threat. In an in-depth interview with Haaretz prior to his visit, Romney reiterated his familiar positions of stalwart support for Israel. He made clear his disagreement with Obama on the fundamental question of whether it is wise for the United States to seek to publicly pressure Israel to make concessions to the Palestinians. But he will get the most attention for his explicit avowal that he will not rule out the use of force against Iran.

President Obama has pushed back hard against talk about using force against Iran, but his rhetoric has been equally strong about the need to prevent the Islamist regime from gaining nuclear weapons. That leaves us pondering which of the two men is more likely to do what needs to be done to actually make good on their pledges of preventing a nuclear Iran. Romney’s position seems far less equivocal. Earlier this week in his speech to the VFW he explicitly said Iran should not be allowed to refine any uranium, a position that contradicts a weak compromise offered Iran by Obama in the P5+1 negotiations. Though Romney continues to speak of force as a last resort, he does not seem to labor under the same illusions that Obama has about the efficacy of diplomatic outreach with Iran. Nevertheless, in his column at Bloomberg today, Jeffrey Goldberg outlines the case for believing it is Obama rather than Romney who is more likely to actually take action against Iran. Though he makes some cogent points about the problems a Romney administration would face, the argument fails because it rests on the shakiest of all possible assumptions: that Obama fully understands the danger and has the will to do whatever it takes, even the use of force to stop the Iranians.

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With Mitt Romney arriving in Israel this weekend, the focus of the presidential campaign will turn, albeit briefly, to a discussion of the way the Obama administration has distanced itself from the Jewish state and whether the president or his challenger can be trusted to act on the Iranian nuclear threat. In an in-depth interview with Haaretz prior to his visit, Romney reiterated his familiar positions of stalwart support for Israel. He made clear his disagreement with Obama on the fundamental question of whether it is wise for the United States to seek to publicly pressure Israel to make concessions to the Palestinians. But he will get the most attention for his explicit avowal that he will not rule out the use of force against Iran.

President Obama has pushed back hard against talk about using force against Iran, but his rhetoric has been equally strong about the need to prevent the Islamist regime from gaining nuclear weapons. That leaves us pondering which of the two men is more likely to do what needs to be done to actually make good on their pledges of preventing a nuclear Iran. Romney’s position seems far less equivocal. Earlier this week in his speech to the VFW he explicitly said Iran should not be allowed to refine any uranium, a position that contradicts a weak compromise offered Iran by Obama in the P5+1 negotiations. Though Romney continues to speak of force as a last resort, he does not seem to labor under the same illusions that Obama has about the efficacy of diplomatic outreach with Iran. Nevertheless, in his column at Bloomberg today, Jeffrey Goldberg outlines the case for believing it is Obama rather than Romney who is more likely to actually take action against Iran. Though he makes some cogent points about the problems a Romney administration would face, the argument fails because it rests on the shakiest of all possible assumptions: that Obama fully understands the danger and has the will to do whatever it takes, even the use of force to stop the Iranians.

It should be acknowledged that Goldberg is absolutely right it is always easier for a Democrat to wage war than a Republican. Most liberals will only back a military intervention launched by a Democrat, while most conservatives can be counted on to follow the flag and back any military adventure. If Romney were to order a strike on Iran, he must expect to be subjected to the same sort of opprobrium that George W. Bush got, whereas Obama would be widely applauded.

Goldberg is also right to point out that next year when it is likely that the proverbial manure will hit the fan on Iran’s nuclear program, Romney’s foreign policy team would be inexperienced. They might hesitate to attack Iran, something Bush refused to do.

But Goldberg’s assumption that Obama will act on Iran seems unsupported by anything we have observed about the president. Though he has often said the right thing about the Iranian threat, he is in marked contrast to Romney, who seems to instinctively understand the realities of the Middle East better than Obama even though he has little foreign policy experience. Obama is too much a believer in the efficacy of multi-lateral diplomacy and too eager to be loved by the Muslim world. Goldberg believes the president’s experience in building an international coalition against Iran is another reason to believe he could act effectively. But the coalition he has built is predicated on the ability of its least trustworthy members — Russia and China — to block any effective diplomacy let alone the use of force. Rather than being a reason to act, the president’s love of the United Nations and faith in diplomacy will act as a deterrent to action, not a spur.

It is entirely true we don’t really know what Romney will do once in office. He may prove to be a disappointment. But his statements about Israel demonstrate that, unlike Obama, he understands the Jewish state’s dilemma. As he rightly said in his Haaretz interview, the problem in the Middle East is not the debate about a Palestinian state but the effort to eradicate the one Jewish state. His instincts and principles on these issues are clearly good. And we already know Obama is someone whose views incline him to be less supportive of Israel even though Iran is just as much of a threat to America as it is to the Jewish state. Goldberg has every right to doubt Romney and to point out the difficulties he will face if elected, but his blind faith in Obama’s willingness to act on Iran is a leap of faith unsupported by any objective criteria.

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Obama’s Economic Calamity

The news this morning is, quite simply, catastrophic for the president. Economic growth in the second quarter slowed to 1.5 percent annualized from 2 percent in the first quarter. The economy is weakening as the election approaches. No one has ever won reelection in such circumstances. No one. (Harry Truman: 4.4 percent growth in Q2, 1948. Ike: 2 percent growth in 1956 Q2 after negative growth in Q1. Nixon, Q2, 1972: 5.3 percent. Clinton: 3.5 percent. GW Bush: 3.4 percent.)

Granted, things aren’t as bad for Obama as they were for Jimmy Carter; in the second quarter of 1980, the economy actually contracted by .7 percent. But in 1936, Franklin Roosevelt won a landslide despite the Great Depression; as Amity Shlaes noted yesterday on Twitter, annual GDP growth from 1933-1936 had averaged 9 percent. Nine percent.

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The news this morning is, quite simply, catastrophic for the president. Economic growth in the second quarter slowed to 1.5 percent annualized from 2 percent in the first quarter. The economy is weakening as the election approaches. No one has ever won reelection in such circumstances. No one. (Harry Truman: 4.4 percent growth in Q2, 1948. Ike: 2 percent growth in 1956 Q2 after negative growth in Q1. Nixon, Q2, 1972: 5.3 percent. Clinton: 3.5 percent. GW Bush: 3.4 percent.)

Granted, things aren’t as bad for Obama as they were for Jimmy Carter; in the second quarter of 1980, the economy actually contracted by .7 percent. But in 1936, Franklin Roosevelt won a landslide despite the Great Depression; as Amity Shlaes noted yesterday on Twitter, annual GDP growth from 1933-1936 had averaged 9 percent. Nine percent.

Perhaps the most interesting analogy is to 1992—a year in which the economy was actually staging a recovery from a recession in 1991. That was, you’ll recall, the year of “it’s the economy, stupid.” The annual growth rate in 1992: 3.4 percent. The incumbent president received 38 percent of the vote that year.

Prior results are no guarantee of future returns, of course. But this all gets to the central problem for the president: What case can he make for a second term with undecided voters?

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