Commentary Magazine


Posts For: July 2012

Barack’s Message to Bill: It’s My Party Now

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.

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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.

Consider:

  • Clinton signed the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA); Obama campaigned on unilaterally renegotiating it and possibly withdrawing from it–even running “Buy American, Vote Obama” ads during the election–and waited years to sign other free-trade agreements that were ready for him on day one.
  • Clinton signed welfare reform; Obama handed down an executive fiat to gut the very successful legislation.
  • Clinton tried, and failed, to pass health care reform; Obama tossed congressional Democrats under the Tea Party bus just to have health care legislation bear his name.

Clinton’s message to Democrats in 1992 was that they could either have a very liberal party, or they could win the White House. The country would not let them have both. Even so, the Democrats took a shellacking in mid-term elections, leading to the first Republican House majority in four decades. Clinton understood that this was a partial rebuke to his more liberal first attempt at governing, and was forced to the center to keep his job.

We should not overstate Clinton’s centrism, of course. He did not craft NAFTA; he inherited it from George H.W. Bush and signed it. He did not craft, nor even like, welfare reform; it was a Republican initiative that Clinton vetoed repeatedly before accepting it.

But Clinton left office with a high approval rating and was celebrated for his move to the center: he became the first Democrat to win a second full term as president since Franklin Roosevelt. Obama wants to step out of Clinton’s shadow and win a second term as well—but it won’t be enough for him to win it on Clinton’s terms. It has to be on his own terms, with a party remade in his image. That image is becoming clearer by the day, as moderate Blue Dog Democrats disappear, as do pro-life Democrats. And this year, as Joshua Muravchik writes for COMMENTARY this month, is the last in which the Congress will have a Scoop Jackson Democrat, as Joe Lieberman is retiring.

It’s a different party, and Clinton’s role at the nominating convention will make that clear.

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The Bogus Wimp Factor Argument

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.

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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.

Tomasky makes no real effort to figure out what makes Romney tick, and he obviously didn’t delve into the subject with empathy or open-mindedness or an interest in truly understanding the man. It’s unfortunate, because Romney is so guarded, and it would actually be interesting to know more about what drives him as a candidate.

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Bibi Caught Between Obama and Romney

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.

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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.

Netanyahu will be careful in the coming days to avoid any further “agreement” with Romney. And he will warmly greet Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, who will be the second major Obama Cabinet member to arrive in Israel in the past couple of weeks. But Panetta, like Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, is there to persuade the Israelis to continue trusting the administration on Iran. Given Netanyahu’s correct assessment of Obama’s foolish reliance on diplomacy and sanctions (which the president has undermined with the granting of exemptions to China and India to continue buying Iranian oil), that is impossible.

Indeed, the problem for Netanyahu is that while he may privately believe that a President Romney may have a far better grasp of the realities of the Iranian nuclear threat, as David Horowitz wrote yesterday in the Times of Israel, by January it may be too late for him to make a difference. If by next year, Iran’s nuclear progress is such that its program will have already reached a point of immunity where no amount of Israeli or American air strikes will be able to stop them, then it won’t matter who wins the U.S. presidential election.

What was on display yesterday is not so much a warm friendship between Netanyahu and Romney as the complete disconnect between Israel and Obama. So long as the United States is pursuing a diplomatic process with Iran, it is difficult to imagine an Israeli strike on Iran. The administration has little sense of urgency about the issue and it is worry about that, rather than any great affection for Romney that is motivating Netanyahu these days.

Netanyahu must, as much as he can, stay out of American politics. Anything that could be interpreted as an endorsement of Romney would be rightly viewed as damaging to the U.S.-Israel alliance. But the one thing Romney’s visit does do is give Netanyahu a bit of leverage as he seeks to convince the Americans to face up to the failure of their Iran strategy.

Yet as difficult as Netanyahu’s position may be, Obama must be equally careful. As much as he has made his dislike for the Israeli leader even less of a secret than Netanyahu’s views of the president, the difference is that while Obama is in the fight of his life to hold onto his office this year, Netanyahu is in a commanding position in Israeli politics and will likely hold onto power there throughout the next U.S. presidential term. Netanyahu has good reason to fear what a second Obama administration will have in store for his country. But the president is aware that Netanyahu is just as capable of making his life miserable via an Iran attack. At least until November, the Israeli may be holding more cards in his hand than the American president.

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Justice Scalia’s Place in Judicial History

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.”

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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.”

On the other side is purposivism (where the author’s purpose, not text, is king), consequentialism (which argues that statues should be construed to produce desirable results regardless of what the text may say), and those who argue that a text has no independent meaning apart from authorial intention, which means interpretation is wholly subjective and left completely up to the interpreter.

What connects all these theories is the effort to, in the words of Scalia and Garner, “avoid the constraints of a controlling text.” The appeal of this approach is obvious: it allows judges to effectively write legislation rather than merely interpret it. They can encode into law their own political views. There is something tempting, even intoxicating, in “letting the intangible, protean spirit overtake the tangible, fixed words of authoritative texts.”

There are, however, several problems with this improvisational approach to judicial philosophy. For one thing, it is contrary to the views of the founders and our charter of government (see the United States Constitution, Article One/Section One, Article Three/Section One, as well as Federalist Number 78 for more).

In addition, as Reading Law points out, a philosophy of judicial hegemony and anti-textualism – of turning judges into “statesmen” and even quasi-kings — has led to the politicizing of judges, greater social rancor, less certainty in the law, and less faith in judicial institutions. Nor does it allow for any guiding principle for constitutional interpretation. The Constitution might be interpreted to align with the philosophy of James Madison — or the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. Non-textualists simply make it up as they go along. Which is why the constitutional scholar Gary McDowell has said, “[I]t is not too much to say that the preferences for the rule of law over the rule of men depends upon the intellectual integrity of interpretation.”

Antonin Scalia has spent the last four decades of his life seeking to restore intellectual integrity to the interpretation of the law. Borrowing from an observation by Frank Easterbrook, no one since Justice Joseph Story has done it quite as well.

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Obama Loses Pro-Israel Surrogates

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.”

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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.”

Ouch. Ross can advise any campaign? And speaking in the past tense about supporting Obama’s policies? It doesn’t sound like there was much love lost there. Ross did just return to the Washington Institute, but it’s hard to imagine he would be blamed for taking some time to help the president of the United States on the campaign trail. Note that Ross also bluntly criticized the president’s early focus on the settlement freeze in WaPo last month.

Aaron David Miller, Ross’s deputy on the peace talks under the Clinton administration, suggests that Ross wasn’t thrilled with the idea of trying to sell Obama’s Israel record to Jewish voters:

“Dennis is about doing things,” said Aaron Miller, who was Ross’s deputy on the peace process during the Clinton years and is now a scholar at the Wilson Center, a public policy think tank in Washington, D.C. “The peace process is stuck and is likely to remain stuck. The fact is no amount of hand-holding is going to assuage the concerns and suspicions of a pro-Israel community which has now seen some of its fears realized. It may well be that this is the other piece of this. I wouldn’t want to try to sell Obama to the Jewish community in this environment.”

Whatever the reason for Ross sitting this one out, it doesn’t look good for Obama or his pro-Israel outreach. The New York Times reports that another one of Obama’s top Jewish surrogates, Penny Pritzker, is also taking a less active role in the campaign than she did in 2008. Obviously, the president will always have the die-hard believers to stump for him at synagogues — Alan Solow, DWS, Robert Wexler. But will that be enough to combat the GOP’s serious play for the Jewish vote?

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Romney Lays Down a Marker in Jerusalem

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.

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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.

On Jerusalem, cynics are entitled to view Romney’s statement that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital as something that will not be translated into policy if he wins in November. For decades, American candidates and parties have pledged to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem and always renege. It is not likely that Romney will be any different in that respect. Coming as it did in the days after both the White House and the State Department refused to make the same acknowledgement, Romney’s remark sought to increase their embarrassment and angered the Palestinian Authority.

It should be remembered that in 2008, candidate Barack Obama acknowledged a unified Jerusalem as the capital of Israel when speaking to a Jewish audience and then quickly backtracked a day later. Though the embassy will probably not be moving in a Romney administration, it is doubtful he will retract his remarks.

On Iran, Romney’s position was much stronger than even the president’s often-tough rhetoric on the issue. Both say they will not tolerate a nuclear Iran and will stop it. But the administration draws the line in a different place. They seem willing to live with an Iran that might have the capability of getting a nuke, which explains the president’s going along with compromise proposals set forth by European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton that would allow Iran to go on refining uranium. Romney rightly opposes any such measure.

While Romney said, “It is our fervent hope that diplomatic and economic measures will” stop Iran, he made it clear that no other option — an obvious reference to the use of force — “should be excluded.” And by explicitly endorsing Israel’s right to self-defense in this same context, he also sent a signal (unlike Obama), that stopping Israel from acting on this issue will not be his priority.

Although the specifics of the speech were enough to present a strong contrast with the positions of the administration, the strength of his remarks was in how he expressed these points. It is not enough for an American leader to merely acknowledge the bonds between the two countries. It is vital they show they understand Israel and care deeply about it, a test President Obama has consistently failed.

Romney didn’t merely say Israel had a right to defend itself. By placing the current crisis in the context of Jewish history and saying Israel’s leaders have, in the words of Menachem Begin, “the responsibility to make sure that never again will our independence be destroyed and never again will the Jew become homeless or defenseless,” he demonstrated he understood that history and its meaning for policymakers.

Just as important, Romney does not harbor the same illusions about Iran and its leaders that hamper the president’s understanding of the issue. Unlike Obama, who wasted most of his years in office on feckless attempts to “engage” Iran and weak diplomatic initiatives, Romney understands the conflict with Tehran is one that is, as he put it, as much a moral test as it is one of policy. He takes the Iranians at their word when they say they wish to destroy Israel and, to his credit, says, “I will not look away; and neither will my country.”

One cannot predict what a candidate will do once elected president. If he does win, Romney may well disappoint many of those who cheered his remarks yesterday. But the one thing he did establish was that he has a fundamental understanding of the moral aspects of Israel’s defense policy and the nature of the Iranian regime that threatens the Jewish state. Veteran diplomat Aaron David Miller wrote last week that President Obama is more like Jimmy Carter and unlike those presidents such as Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, who were “in love with the idea of Israel.” Whatever happens in the coming years, it’s clear Romney “gets” Israel–and Barack Obama does not.

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Tisha B’Av and the Right of Self-Defense

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.

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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 Obama administration has sounded tough on Iran but has made it clear it does not wish Israel to strike on its own. Indeed, the president has seemed to be more concerned about preventing an Israeli strike than on stopping Iran. The only accomplishment of the dead-end negotiating process on which he has placed the country’s hopes for a resolution of the problem has been to make it difficult if not impossible for Israel to act.

The reason why Obama’s sanctions and diplomacy have failed is that the Iranians don’t take him seriously. The exemptions granted to the sanctions have maintained Iran’s oil trade and will keep the regime afloat. More to the point, the ayatollahs believe the president is not only unwilling to hold them accountable, but he will shield them from Israel. The only chance to persuade the Iranians to back down on their nuclear ambitions is to convince them they will pay a terrible price if they do not. Thus, Romney’s willingness to say that Israel has a right to try to take out Iran’s nuclear facilities and that the United States will stand by them if they do sends a significant message to Tehran.

It would be far better for Israel not to be forced to act on its own against Iran. But in the absence of a credible American policy on the nuclear issue, it is Netanyahu’s responsibility to think seriously about doing so if there is no other way out of the dilemma. He understands that the point of the State of Israel is that the Jews will no longer sit and wait while their enemies plot their destruction. If necessary, his government must act to avert or at least postpone the Iranian threat. And America’s leaders should be not only acting on their own to stop Iran but backing up Israel’s right of self-defense.

While this statement will be dismissed as Romney playing politics with foreign policy, it will do more than merely make Iran’s rulers anxious. It also has the potential to aid Obama’s diplomatic efforts. The ayatollahs must now realize that if Romney is elected all bets are off when it comes to their heretofore successful strategy of dealing with the West. For years, they have been able to talk and lie their way through the crisis because they understood the Obama administration was only interested in kicking the can down the road to avoid having to take action. But unless the Iranians are sure Obama will be re-elected, they have to consider the possibility that they must try and cut a deal now with Obama (and therefore boost his chances of winning) or be left to face a far less accommodating new president next year.

Given the ideological premise of their nuclear ambition, it is to be doubted that anything, even the threat of having to face Romney and Netanyahu in January, can convince Iran to back down. But as Jews remember their past today, let us hope that the rulers of Tehran, who have boasted of their desire to eliminate the State of Israel and seek the means to do so, will listen to what Romney said and draw the appropriate conclusion. On this day, it is important that those who are intent on creating new tragedies understand that this time, the Jews will strike first.

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Way Forward in Syria Is Not Via Iran

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.

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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.

Nasr’s suggestion is reminiscent of the popular Washington delusion about Iraq, circa 2006, that its problems could somehow be solved by a “regional contact group” that would rope in interested parties from Iran to Saudi Arabia. This overlooked the fact that (a) countries such as Iran and Saudi Arabia had diametrically opposed interests in Iraq; and (b) outside players could not really control a volatile state anyway–that required boots on the ground. Both objections are just as valid in Syria as they were in Iraq.

The way forward in Syria does not lie in trying to perpetuate Iran’s malign influence, which is likely to be employed to keep the civil war going by providing backing for Assad’s security forces. The best bet at this point is to work, along with relatively moderate regional allies such as Turkey, the UAE, the Kurdish Regional Government in Iraq, and Jordan, to bolster the more moderate rebel factions and to try to help them build up security and governance capacity so that they can take over once Assad is gone. This could be aided by setting up safe zones along the border with Turkey and Jordan which the rebels could administer in, one hopes, an inclusive fashion that will send a signal to Alawites, Christians, Kurds and other minorities that their interests will be safeguarded in a post-Assad Syria. Sending international peacekeepers to aid the transition once Assad is gone is also a good idea but unlikely to occur.

Trying to cut a deal with Iran, by contrast, is a bad idea and one with little likelihood of success. If we were to try it, the most likely consequence would be to alienate the U.S. from anti-Assad groups and limit our influence in post-Assad Syria.

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London Olympics Had Time for Some Terror Victims But Not Israelis

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.

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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.

It is therefore somewhat ironic that the main controversy about the opening ceremonies in the world press is not the omission of Munich but the fact that NBC, which broadcasts the Olympics in the United States, chose to cut away from the ceremony (as it does customarily throughout an entertainment spectacle that lasted several hours) during the 7/7 bombing tribute to show something else. In fairness to the organizers, we’re not sure that an interview with swimmer Michael Phelps was worth the time. But the exclusion of Munich from the official program renders NBC’s curious editing a minor issue. Those who have expressed outrage at NBC’s decision while being apathetic about or in agreement with the exclusion of any memory of Munich are hypocrites.

When Ankie Spitzer, the widow of one of the Munich victims and a driving force behind the effort to ask for a moment of silence at the Olympics, met this week with IOC head Jacques Rogge, she asked him if the reason he could not give up one moment from his precious TV show was that those who died 40 years ago were Israelis. He did not answer. But we now know that was the case. The minutes given to the London bombing gives the lie to the excuse given by the group that a commemoration of Munich would have been a political intrusion and therefore inappropriate for a joyous Olympics ceremony. For the Olympic Committee, like the United Nations and the rest of an international community, there are always different rules for Jews. And chief of those rules is that Jewish blood is cheap.

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McCain’s Stance on Cybersecurity Is Wrong

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.’ ”

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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.’ ”

The only way to raise our level of preparedness is to give the federal government more authority to protect civilian infrastructure. As things stand, Alexander’s NSA can mount offensive cyberoperations against other countries but can only protect Defense Department networks in this country. The Department of Homeland Security is supposed to protect the civilian networks on which we all depend–and whose disruption via cyberattack could cripple our economy. But DHS does not have the resources or authorities to get the job done. Understandable concerns about privacy have made it impossible to fix this situation on Capitol Hill. Lieberman’s legislation is a start toward fixing this major vulnerability but, thanks to objections from Sen. McCain and the Chamber of Commerce, the bill has been watered down so the cybersecurity standards will now be optional. Optional standards make sense when it comes to governing the size of sodas–not when it comes to protecting critical infrastructure.

While the federal government has undoubtedly extended its reach into all kinds of areas where it does not belong, national defense remains its core responsibility–and in the 21st century that must mean defense from cyberthreats as well as physical ones. Until Congress moves to fix our vulnerabilities, we will remain wide open to attack by China, Russia, and other countries in the forefront of developing offensive cyberwarfare capabilities.

One only need look at the damage that the Stuxnet virus–cooked up by the U.S. and Israel–did to the Iranian nuclear program; now imagine the Iranians returning the favor with a virus that incapacitates major parts of the American electric grid. That is a nightmare scenario that we must worry about, and Congress’s failure to act will only encourage the world’s cyberpredators to continue developing and deploying ever-more fiendish computer weapons against us.

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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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Democrats’ Jewish Problem is Obama

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

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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

The credibility of those who assert that Obama is the best friend Israel ever had in the White House is undermined not only by the memory of the fights he picked with the Jewish state over the course of his first three years in office or by the fact that he was determined to distance the United States from Israel in an attempt to draw a contrast between his policies and those of his predecessor. The fact that the president has been forced to resort to a Jewish charm offensive intended to erase these incidents from the public’s memory is testimony to the White House’s concern that there will be a political price to be paid for the distance Obama created by himself and the Israeli government.

As Politico noted in the same article, such Republican efforts to eat into the Democrats’ historic advantage among Jewish voters are not new. Major investments were made four and eight years ago to no avail as John Kerry and Barack Obama won huge Jewish majorities that were second only to African-Americans in terms of margins for the Democrats.

The difference this year is not about Republican campaign tactics. It is about the Democrats’ heightened vulnerability. For decades, Jewish Republicans longed for another presidential candidate like Ronald Reagan whose percentage of Jewish votes has not been equaled in the last 30 years. But what they really needed was not another Reagan but another Jimmy Carter. While Obama may not be as unpopular among Jews as Carter, there is little question that his open hostility to Israel’s government will ensure a drastic reduction from the 78 percent of Jewish votes he won in 2008, a loss that could put battleground states like Florida or Pennsylvania in jeopardy for the incumbent. A Democratic campaign targeting Jews may stem some of the bleeding, but their problem is not Adelson, his money or the RJC, let alone Mitt Romney. The Democrats’ only liability as far as Jewish voters are concerned is the man on the top of their ticket.

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