Reactions to the report that Bill Clinton will place President Obama’s name into nomination at the party’s convention in September, and that he will play a more high-profile role than the vice president himself, have generally fallen into two categories: mocking Joe Biden for his party’s treatment of him, and acknowledging that Obama believes he needs Clinton to win.
Both are correct. But there is another aspect to Clinton’s role as nominating figure: passing the torch. Obama wants to make clear that this is his party now. He has never been able to fully conceal his contempt for Clinton’s “third-way” politics, which seek to, like chess players, control the center. While Obama has tried to have his cake and eat it too, by spurning Clintonian politics while taking credit for the popular aspects of some Clinton policies, he has also tried to outrun Clinton, who is more popular than Obama.
Because the entire purpose of Newsweek’s cover now seems to be a) Generating stories for Fox News pundits to yell about, and b) Royals! Some editor apparently called up Michael Tomasky an hour before the magazine went to press and asked him to punch out a bunch of filler words to go along with the headline, “Romney: The Wimp Factor. “The result is a barely-readable 5,000-word blog post full of wisdom like, “Liberals, men of caution and contemplation, are obsessed with data” and “A Republican president sure of his manhood had nothing to prove” and “Harvey Mansfield must have swooned while watching that gripping 60 Minutes segment when Obama and others discussed how [the bin Laden raid] all went down.”
At the Daily Beast, David Frum compares Tomasky’s thesis with the claim that Obama is inspired by Kenyan anti-colonialism:
Michael thinks that Romney is insecure on the inside. Who knows? It’s possible. It’s also possible that Barack Obama is motivated by anti-colonial rage, or by a secret commitment to socialist ideas. It’s possible that George W. Bush was driven by daddy issues, and that Bill Clinton triangulated—not as a political strategy—but because (some) children of alcoholics become compulsive pleasers.
These beguiling theories can energize or console political partisans. They don’t answer the question for which we turn to political journalism: what will the politician do in office? Politicians are masters of appearing to be many different things to many different people. For this reason, the quest for the “real” Romney or the “real” Obama or the “real” anybody else is bound to lead nowhere unless it is bottomed on the hard ground of their record-to-date. Anything else evanesces into gas.
You can’t prove Obama isn’t driven by Kenyan anti-colonialism, just like you can’t prove Romney isn’t secretly insecure. Political bloggers and pundits are always going to try to get inside the heads of politicians. That’s what they should be doing, because it’s important for trying to understand what decisions they’ll make in the future. But Frum is right that it needs to be based on the hard facts of their records and statements.
It is a cardinal rule of foreign policy that it is almost always a mistake to interfere in another country’s elections. When it comes to the United States’ interest in Israel, that is a maxim that has often been observed in the breach. U.S. government attempts to influence Israeli elections are ill-advised and don’t always work, as Bill Clinton learned in 1996 when he did everything but go door to door canvassing voters in Tel Aviv in a vain attempt to stop Benjamin Netanyahu from becoming prime minister of Israel. But any Israeli efforts to signal their preferences in American presidential elections may have unfortunate consequences. That’s why Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has been at pains throughout the past year to make it clear he wants no part in the 2012 contest between President Obama and Mitt Romney. But however hard Netanyahu has tried to stay out of the fractious debate about which of the two is a better friend to the Jewish state, Romney’s visit to Israel yesterday left little doubt that while officially neutral, there isn’t much daylight between the GOP candidate and Jerusalem.
The upshot of Netanyahu’s meeting with Romney made it clear that his government is much closer to the Republican’s position on how to deal with Iran than Obama’s. Netanyahu’s saying, “Mitt, I couldn’t agree with you more,” about the need to stop Iran came on the same day that he reiterated his belief that the Obama administration’s reliance on sanctions and diplomacy was not working. Combined with Romney’s acknowledgement of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, the day’s events might leave some with the impression that Israel has a rooting interest in the U.S. election. That isn’t what Netanyahu wants, as he knows there is a good chance he will be stuck dealing with Obama next year. But there is no way of escaping this dilemma. Because the administration’s positions on Iran, like the stances it took on settlements, the 1967 lines and the status of Jerusalem prior to the president’s election year Jewish charm offensive, are antithetical to Israel’s point of view, it is only natural for observers to conclude that Netanyahu would rather not find out what a second Obama administration will be like.
Fox News’ Chris Wallace conducted a fascinating interview with the longest-serving member of the Supreme Court, Antonin Scalia. Justice Scalia is on a media tour promoting a book he has co-authored (with Bryan Garner), Reading Law: The Interpretation of Legal Texts. It offers what the authors consider to be 57 valid canons of construction and dispels 13 false notions about legal interpretation.
The time has come, Justice Scalia told the Wall Street Journal, “to sum up the things I care most about with respect to the law.” The main controversy among judges, he said, “is not conservative vs. liberal. The main controversy is how to approach the application of legal text.”
The book’s preface and introduction beautifully frame the competing judicial philosophies in the modern era. On the one side are textualists like Scalia and Garner, who “look for meaning in the governing text, ascribe to that text the meaning that it has borne from its inception, and reject judicial speculation about both the drafters’ extratextually derived purposes and the desirability of the fair reading’s anticipated consequences.”
Conservative pro-Israel groups are preparing for a massive assault on President Obama’s Israel record that will dwarf any similar efforts from four years ago. But this time around, Obama won’t have support from his top Israel surrogate, Dennis Ross, a trusted face in the Democratic pro-Israel community who stumped at synagogues and helped calm Jewish voters in 2008. Eli Lake reports:
“I am the counselor at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy,” [Dennis] Ross said in an email on Friday. “The Washington Institute is a non-profit organization and I cannot do political work from here. When I acted for the campaign in 2008, I had to take a leave of absence to do so. Having only recently returned to the Institute, I cannot now again take a leave of absence.” …
Ross himself said, “I can give substantive advice to the administration, the president’s campaign, or any campaign that would ask for it. And, of course, when I speak I can talk about my views on policy and I have been supportive of the president’s policy on leading foreign policy issues.”
It is now customary for American presidential candidates to visit Israel and to express their warm support for the Jewish state. In that sense, Mitt Romney’s visit to Jerusalem may be viewed as just typical smart politics, especially for a Republican seeking to shore up evangelical support as well as hoping to make inroads among Jewish voters. Indeed, there was a good deal of overlap between some of Romney’s speech yesterday to the Jerusalem Foundation and positions that President Obama has taken the past few months, notably about rejecting containment of a nuclear Iran.
But Romney’s speech went further on several points than the standard American political pledge to back Israel. He not only acknowledged Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, he laid down a position on the Iranian nuclear threat that went much further than that of the administration. By saying Iran must not be allowed to enrich nuclear material, by saying stopping it is the highest national security priority of the United States and by explicitly and pointedly endorsing Israel’s duty to defend itself, Romney laid down a marker that signals if he is elected, American policy on the issue will be very different.
Today is Tisha B’Av, the date in the Hebrew calendar on which a number of catastrophes have befallen the Jews. This is the date on which both of the Holy Temples in Jerusalem were destroyed. Since then, other anti-Semitic powers have taken delight in launching fresh atrocities on the day, including the expulsion from Spain in 1492 to massacres during the Holocaust. It is a solemn day of fasting and one on which Jewish tradition commands us to think about the mindless and sinful hatred within the community that has often brought down calamity on the Jewish people. Such reflection is important at a time when issues and rancor divide Jews and cause them to forget that the values that should unite them are far more important than the issues on which they differ. But it would be more than foolish not to give a thought today to the still potent external threats. Though Israel is beset by many problems, there is no greater menace to the continuance of Jewish life than that posed by Iran’s drive for nuclear weapons.
Thus, it was heartening today to hear thatwhile visiting the Jewish state, Mitt Romney plans to endorse Israel’s right to defend itself against Iran. Romney, who will speak tonight after the conclusion of the holiday, met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu today, who rightly sounded a note of alarm about the failure of the sanctions belatedly enacted by the Obama administration on Iran. Though Washington has been boasting about their tough sanctions policy, today was an apt day for Netanyahu to point out their bravado was disconnected from reality.
The new Johns Hopkins SAIS dean, Vali Nasr, is right to worry, in this New York Times op-ed, about the dangers lurking in a post-Assad Syria, which could turn out to experience a civil war like Lebanon or Iraq did–only with scant hope of outside forces (the Syrian army in Lebanon, the U.S. Army in Iraq) intervening to end the carnage. But he is advocating the height of unrealism when he argues that to prevent the worst, “the United States and its allies must enlist the cooperation of Mr. Assad’s allies — Russia and, especially, Iran — to find a power-sharing arrangement for a post-Assad Syria that all sides can support, however difficult that may be to achieve.”
Iran is the No. 1 backer of the Assad regime. As a Shi’ite state it is closely linked with Assad’s Alawite clan, an offshoot of Shia Islam. But Alawites are only 12 percent or so of the Syrian population. There is scant chance the overwhelmingly Sunni population will stand for the Alawites and their Iranian backers maintaining a significant share of power in a post-Assad state. Nor is this in America’s interest–the biggest upside of the fall of Assad, from our perspective, is that it will deny Iran a foothold in the Levant and hopefully lead to a decrease in support for Hezbollah. The chances of Russia–another backer of the ancient regime–maintaining a significant role in a post-Assad Syria are even more remote.
In the weeks and months prior to the opening ceremonies of the Olympic Games, the organizers and the International Olympics Committee were adamant in insisting that there was no time during the event for a single moment of silence for the victims of the 1972 Munich massacre. The 40th anniversary of the terrorist violence that disrupted the sports extravaganza went unmarked during the worldwide television show except for the courageous decision of American broadcaster Bob Costas, who silenced his microphone for five seconds in honor of the Munich victims. But as it turned out, those who produced the opening ceremonies were not opposed to commemorating the victims of terrorist violence, just to remembering Israeli victims. The official program included a nearly six-minute long choreographed commemoration of the July 7, 2005 London bombings.
The excuse for this is that the terrorist assault on London by four Islamist bombers took place 24 hours after the announcement that London would be the host of the 2012 Olympics and is thus associated in the minds of the British with the Games. Fair enough. Those attacks that took the lives of 52 people deserve to be remembered, as do those of other terrorist attacks by Islamists around the globe. But the juxtaposition of the tribute to those victims with the absolute refusal of the organizers to devote a moment to the memory of an event that is far more closely tied to the Olympics was both shocking and indecent. While there were those who speculated that prejudice against Jews and Israelis was at the heart of the IOC’s decision prior to Friday, the surprising inclusion of the 7/7 attacks as a major element in the ceremony confirms that this was the case. The only possible conclusion to be drawn from this is that the Olympic movement considers Jewish blood shed by terrorists at an Olympics to be somehow less significant than that of other victims.
There are few politicians–heck, few Americans, period–for whom I have greater respect than John McCain. Not only do I have endless admiration for his character, I find his policy judgment, especially in the national security area, to be close to faultless. Which may be just another way of saying I seldom disagree with him. But I find myself in disagreement with his stance on cybersecurity–as does one of his closest Senate colleagues, Joe Lieberman.
Lieberman is co-sponsoring legislation that would allow the Department of Homeland Security to set minimal cybersecurity standards for air traffic control systems, dams, power plants and other such facilities that are absolutely essential to the safe functioning of the American economy. This is a major issue at a time when, as Gen. Keith Alexander, the head of the National Security Agency and U.S. Cyber Command, has just warned cyberattacks aimed at U.S. infrastructure increased seventeenfold from 2009 to 2012. General Alexander further said that “on a scale of 1 to 10, American preparedness for a large-scale cyber-attack is ‘around a 3.’ ”
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The party line from Democrats this year has been to deny that President Obama is in any trouble of losing Jewish support to Mitt Romney in November. But the announcement that a group of Jewish liberals are seeking to form a group to counter the Republican Jewish Coalition’s campaign against Obama is proof the president is in trouble.
But these Jewish liberal donors who wish to offset the efforts of Romney donors such as Sheldon Adelson are making a mistake if they think all that is needed is to throw some money at the Jewish market. If the RJC’s “buyer’s remorse” ad campaign has traction it is because Jewish voters know that President Obama is, as veteran diplomat Aaron David Miller wrote yesterday, “not in love with the idea of Israel.” This is not, as one Democrat told Politico, a case of Obama being “swift-boated.” The GOP isn’t making up novel criticisms of the president so much as it is simply highlighting what everyone already knows