Let’s specify that Mitt Romney probably would have been better off keeping any doubts about London’s preparations for the Olympic Games to himself. The British press jumped on the supposed insult to the United Kingdom implied in Romney’s description of the preparations being “disconcerting” and his question about whether the event would be embraced by the people of London. Prime Minister David Cameron, whose desire to emulate Barack Obama has at times bordered on the embarrassing, was just as quick in firing back at Romney by claiming that it was harder to organize an Olympics in London than “in the middle of nowhere,” which no doubt will not endear him to the people of Utah (where the GOP candidate headed up the 2002 Winter Games).
While the American media following Romney is declaring his trip a disaster even before it has gone on for one day, there’s no reason for Republicans to panic. Though the remark must be acknowledged as a gaffe, those claiming Romney has sunk the special relationship between the two countries seem to forget that supporters of a president who gave Cameron’s predecessor a set of movie DVDs that can’t be played on British systems are in no position to squawk too much about minor diplomatic errors. Yet, even if we acknowledge that Romney has once again shot himself in the foot, his gaffes are tribute to his awkward personal manner, not ignorance or incapacity. So while they are embarrassing and may get him off message, they are not the sort of thing that can do him serious political damage.
There was a bizarre scene during today’s White House briefing, when White House Press Secretary Jay Carney flat-out refused to say whether the capital of Israel was Jerusalem or Tel Aviv, despite repeated questioning from multiple reporters. The Washington Examiner’s Joel Gehrke reports:
Carney was caught flat-footed when asked which city is Israel’s capital. “I haven’t had that question in awhile,” he said after some hesitation. “Our position has not changed. You know our position.” The reporter said she didn’t know, but Carney moved on to another question.
That answer touched off a somewhat unruly scene, as WND’s Lester Kinsolving interjected that “she doesn’t know, that’s why she asked.” Carney moved on.
North Korea’s new dictator, Kim Jong-un, is getting a lot of publicity for the stylistic changes that separate him from his recently departed father, Kim Jong-il. He has actually made speeches in public. He has shown up at a concert where Mickey Mouse and other (unlicensed) Disney characters performed. And now he has revealed that he has a wife, the good-looking young “comrade,” Ri Sol-ju. There have even been reports of a top general getting fired, a move whose import is hotly debated among North Korea watchers–is the regime rent by dangerous schisms or is this a sign that young Kim is consolidating control?
No one knows. Which is precisely the point. Dear Leader the 3rd is getting breathless attention for pulling back the curtain a millimeter on his life. Only in the context of the world’s most closely controlled Stalinist state is this news. The fact that no one has any idea of what is actually going on behind the scenes suggests that we should not be distracted by a few publicity stunts. Life in North Korea has not changed a whit since the 3rd Dear Leader took over from the 2nd. A quarter of a million North Koreans remain confined to hellish gulags and the rest of the population–24 million people–is still living in the most abject poverty and isolation. Meanwhile, the leadership continues to lavish what little money they have on North Korea’s nuclear weapons program and their own extravagant perks.
Right before North Korea was set to compete in an Olympic women’s soccer match yesterday, an introductory video showed the South Korean flag instead of the North Korean one — prompting the team to walk off the field in protest. The Olympic organizers have since apologized to North Korea, but according to the Christian Science Monitor, this will “go down in Olympic history as a major insult”:
In the long history of the Olympic Games, stretching across more than a century, two World Wars, and a Games put on by the Third Reich, one might think that exchanging the South Korean flag for the North Korean flag might not be the worst mistake ever made by a host nation.
But it might well be.
“This is way more insulting,” says [David] Wallechinsky [author of a book on the Olympics]. “To actually raise the flag of a nation considered your enemy – that’s a real bad one.”
Mitt Romney is in London today showing his ability to act on the international stage as well as seeking to emphasize that he is prepared to embrace America’s traditional allies in Britain, Poland and Israel in contrast to President Obama’s desire to distance the U.S. from these nations. In London he will also get reacquainted with British Prime Minister David Cameron with whom he found himself in an unplanned and unnecessary spat about Olympic preparations. But rather than take lessons from him on how to get elected and to govern as a conservative, Cameron provides a sterling example of the bad choices that Romney should avoid during the campaign as well as once in office should he triumph in November.
It should be stipulated that the political cultures and circumstances of the two countries are vastly different. For all of their problems, Republicans are not in the position that Britain’s Conservative Party found itself prior to Cameron becoming PM in May 2010. The Tories needed a makeover after 13 years out of government while Tony Blair’s new Labor ruled. They got it with the handsome Cameron who sought to refashion the party’s image away from Margaret Thatcher’s “nasty party” to a new Conservative leadership that embraced environmentalism, gay rights and any other issue that would make them more popular. But while Cameron remains in residence at Number 10 Downing Street, the experiment of watering down conservative ideology has not been successful. The instinctively moderate Romney needs to take notice of Cameron’s failures. If he doesn’t, it will not only reduce his chances of victory over President Obama but impact his chances of making a difference even if he wins.
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel may, as Bethany wrote yesterday, have a problem with Chick-fil-A but apparently he has far more tolerance for anti-Semitic lunatics than for gay marriage opponents. Chick-fil-A might be getting blocked from the city, but Emanuel warmly applauded Louis Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam for patrolling the city streets yesterday, with no mention of Farrakhan’s long-held anti-Semitism:
Ignoring Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan’s history of anti-Semitic remarks, Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Wednesday welcomed the army of men dispatched to the streets by Farrakhan to stop the violence in Chicago neighborhoods. …
“The police have a role to play. Tearing down abandoned buildings has a role to play. Shutting liquor stores that are a cancer in the community have a role to play. Community leaders have a role to play. Pastors have a role to play. Principals have a role to play. And most importantly, parents have roles to play. They have decided, the Nation of Islam, to help protect the community. And that’s an important ingredient, like all the other aspects of protecting a neighborhood.”
Yesha Chairman Dani Dayan’s New York Times op-ed is sure to rankle Mideast watchers on both sides of the issue. Dayan writes that not only is the two-state solution dead, but it should be declared so and the settlement movement should be free to expand throughout the West Bank. Although Dayan makes a couple of important points about the weakness of the current push for a two-state solution, he ignores both an accepted reality and the Palestinian people, and two of his ideas contained in the op-ed would be, if accepted, detrimental to the American foreign policy doctrine that results in such steadfast American support for Israel.
First and foremost, a majority of Israelis (usually around the 60 percent mark, sometimes higher) consistently support the two-state solution, even at a time when that proposal is clearly at a post-Oslo low point. So Dayan need not appeal to readers of the New York Times; he is far from convincing his own countrymen to join him. It is much easier to understand why the Times chose to publish the op-ed: the American left would like to frame the debate as consisting of two points of view–Dayan’s and J Street’s. Both are outside the mainstream consensus on this issue, and it is only up against Dayan’s arguments that the hard-left can appear reasonable. With regard to Dayan, there are three questions he should be asked after writing this op-ed.
Via today’s Gallup, President Obama’s approval rating among business owners dropped significantly during the second quarter:
Business owners were the sole group that became significantly less approving, with their second-quarter approval of 35% reflecting a decline from 41% in the first quarter.
While there are too few respondents in some occupational groups to report their approval ratings by month, the internal data suggest the decline in business owners’ approval of Obama came for the most part between March and April, with approval holding at a lower rate since then. The data precede Obama’s much-discussed July 13 comments that small-business owners have had help from others to achieve success. Thus it is not yet clear whether those comments have led to further deterioration in Obama’s standing among small-business owners.
It’s interesting that the decline began in March and April, as the Obama campaign didn’t really start the full-on attacks on private equity until May. But if you recall, March and April were the Democratic Party’s “war on women” months, which certainly could have turned off business owners who aren’t thrilled with the federal government infringing on the religious beliefs of private employers.
Appealing to the Bible, Gershom Gorenberg earlier this week declared that the Republican Party is the “party of Sodom.” In claiming that “the GOP is rather obviously committed to the quality of Sodom,” he was not referring to a sexual sin (that is more a Christian than a Jewish interpretation of the biblical story), but rather to “economic injustice, selfishness, and refusal to redistribute wealth.” The Talmud pithily encapsulates this quality, he notes, with the phrase, “what’s mine is mine and what’s yours is yours.”
These “selfish economics,” Gorenberg goes on, are espoused by Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan, and shared by Benjamin Netanyahu. In Sodom, apparently, there would have been no problem passing the Paul Ryan budget. (Incidentally, how would the Democrats’ budget have fared? Oh right. Oops.) Read More
The Obama administration has been bragging about the strength of the international coalition it has assembled against Iran and the “crippling sanctions” it has imposed on the Islamist regime. But the dirty little secret about the sanctions is they are riddled with loopholes. Not only has the Treasury Department issued thousands of exemptions to companies that wish to do business with Iran, but President Obama has also specifically granted permission to China and India to go on importing oil from it. Though the sanctions have caused pain to the ordinary Iranian, the government is still raking in more cash from oil sales than it did a decade ago before the sanctions took effect.
This gives some important context to the debate going on in Congress right now about the imposition of a new sanctions bill that takes aim at insurance companies that underwrite Iranian investments. The legislation is vital if a major loophole is to be closed that will make it even more difficult for Iran to conduct commerce. But lobbying from insurance companies that don’t wish to have their businesses impeded are working against the bill. Even more seriously, as the Washington Free Beacon reports, they’ve got Majority Leader Harry Reid on their side.
Last week, I discussed liberal intolerance of those in opposition of their particular viewpoints, and almost on cue, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Boston Mayor Thomas Menino came onto the scene today to embody the ideals of modern-day liberalism: tolerance of only those with whom they already agree. Both mayors expressed support for same-sex marriage and not only expressed their personal opposition to Chick-fil-A’s social conservatism, but also those of their cities.
In a public letter to Chick-fil-A’s President Dan Cathy, and carbon copied to the owner of a property that it appears Chick-fil-A would occupy, Mayor Menino expressed his opposition to the chicken restaurant’s plans to locate in Boston. The strongly worded letter reads in part, “I was angry to learn on the heels of your prejudiced statements about your search for a site to locate in Boston. There is no place for discrimination on Boston’s Freedom Trail and no place for your company alongside it.”
To be clear, Chick-fil-A discriminates against no one, not employees and not customers; its policies expressly forbid it. Chick-fil-A and its president have expressed their support of the traditional family and Christian values, which are not by definition anti-gay. Their charitable organization, WinShape, has donated money not only to organizations that support traditional marriage, but also to foster homes, college scholarships and international relief efforts. Chick-fil-A’s other charitable contributions are irrelevant to those who view anyone who is not with them on the quest to redefine marriage as a bigot who must be taken down at any cost.
While Obama campaign surrogates are spending the summer beating the bushes trying to convince Jewish voters not to believe anything they saw the president do to Israel during his first three years in office, a veteran Washington peace processor and critic of Benjamin Netanyahu has the chutzpah to tell the truth about the state of the U.S.-Israel relationship, in an article in Foreign Policy today. Aaron David Miller spent 24 years working for several administrations, pushing hard to force Israel to make concessions to the Palestinians. But he understands the difference between presidents who care about Israel and ones who don’t. In an article in which he forecasts “Turbulence Ahead” for the U.S.-Israel relationship if President Obama is re-elected, Miller says one of the key problems is the attitude of the man in the White House:
I’ve watched a few presidents come and go on this issue, and Obama really is different. Unlike Clinton and George W. Bush, Obama isn’t in love with the idea of Israel. As a result, he has a harder time making allowances for Israeli behavior he doesn’t like. Obama relates to the Jewish state not on a values continuum but through a national security and interest filter.
It’s true that the president doesn’t emote on many policy issues, with the possible exception of health care. But on Israel, he just doesn’t buy the “tiny state living on the knife’s edge with the dark past” argument — or at least it doesn’t come through in emotionally resonant terms. …
In this respect, when it comes to Israel, Obama is more like Jimmy Carter minus the biblical interest or attachment, or like Bush 41 minus a strategy. My sense is that, if he could get away with it, the president would like to see a U.S.-Israeli relationship that is not just less exclusive, but somewhat less special as well.
Miller doesn’t pull punches about Netanyahu’s shortcomings nor does he blow the current difficulties out of proportion. He rightly acknowledges this isn’t the first time there has been tension between the two nations. But Miller’s discussion of Obama’s view of the Jewish state goes right to the heart of the problem. Obama’s apologists can deny these facts all they want, but the ordinary pro-Israel voter isn’t fooled, which accounts not only for the polls that show the president bleeding support but also for the Jewish charm offensive the administration has been conducting in recent months.
Could the Jewish vote go Republican this year? The answer, as always, is no, of course not. But President Obama has lost enough ground with Jewish voters to create some problems for himself in Florida, as Democratic pollster Doug Schoen explained on Newsmax TV:
One of Obama’s biggest hurdles: capturing Florida’s Jewish voters. The president, polls show, has about 60-65 percent of the Jewish vote, but, says Schoen, if Obama does not win “a full 75 percent…it could, in fact, be decisive.”
The state is “effectively deadlocked,” said Schoen, the author of Hopelessly Divided: The New Crisis in American Politics and What It Means for 2012 and Beyond.
“Jews are necessarily torn, because they see the president as somebody who, aspirationally, has committed himself to Israel,” he said. “At the same time, there have been concerns about the settlement policy and also about the nature of his commitment to do whatever it takes in Iran.”
Ever since the confrontation between President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu in May of 2011 about the president’s attempt to dictate that the 1967 lines would be the starting point for future Middle East peace negotiations, speculation about the impact of this on the president’s re-election has been intense. Since then, numerous polls have shown it is highly unlikely that Obama would get anywhere close to the 78 percent of the Jewish vote he received in 2008. Republicans are eager to take advantage of this factor in November, much as they did last year when a special election in New York’s 8th congressional district went to the GOP over this issue. But leave it to the New York Times to focus an article on this almost completely on billionaire Sheldon Adelson.
Adelson is the centerpiece of an article on the front page of today’s Times about an ad campaign undertaken by the Republican Jewish Coalition highlighting the “buyer’s remorse” felt by many Jews who voted for the president four years ago but will not support him again because of his stands on Israel and the state of the economy. That the RJC would be running such ads in battleground states is hardly surprising, especially because the question of the Jewish vote being a possibly decisive factor in the outcome this year has been a matter of discussion for months. Not only did I write about this in the March issue of COMMENTARY, but just yesterday, Reuters also devoted a feature to the way Jewish voters could make the difference in Florida. But for the Times, it’s all about Adelson, who, despite being mentioned in the headline (“Mogul’s Latest Foray Courts Jews for the G.O.P.”) and the caption to a photo showing the ads, is just one of several RJC supporters who helped underwrite their production and distribution. Though liberal Jews quoted in the article are in denial about the president’s problems, and the paper would like to make it appear this is merely the function of a plutocrat’s whim, the reason why the ads are resonating is that a significant percentage of Jewish voters have been disillusioned by the president’s attitude toward Israel.
This “Anglo-Saxon heritage” story sounded unbelievable from the get-go. An unnamed Romney foreign policy adviser allegedly told the London Telegraph that Romney would usher in better relations with the UK because he understands the “Anglo-Saxon heritage” better than President Obama — a oddly-phrased comment that clearly has racial undertones.
It’s usually a good idea to be skeptical of sensational-sounding Telegraph stories about U.S. politics in the first place, but this article literally relies on a single unnamed source — and yet Washington reporters ran with it anyway. Now the Romney campaign says the story is false, according to WaPo:
An unnamed “adviser” to Mitt Romney who told the London Telegraph that the candidate appreciates “Anglo-Saxon heritage” better than President Obama is not speaking for the Republican campaign, a spokeswoman for the former Massachusetts governor said Wednesday.
“It’s not true,” Amanda Hennenberg said in a statement. “If anyone said that, they weren’t reflecting the views of Governor Romney or anyone inside the campaign.”
The quote has created an early dust-up between the two campaigns as Romney begins his low-key, week-long trip through Britain, Poland and Israel.
“We are part of an Anglo-Saxon heritage,” an adviser told reporter Jon Swaine. “The White House didn’t fully appreciate the shared history we have.” The reporter later tweeted to clarify that the quote came from a “member of [Romney’s] foreign policy advisory team.”
BuzzFeed reports the Democratic National Committee is planning to go “nuclear” over the attacks on President Obama’s “you didn’t build that” speech, and launch a major assault on Mitt Romney’s small business record:
DNC Communications Director Brad Woodhouse outlined an all-out response to Mitt Romney’s attack on President Obama over his “You didn’t build this” line — which the president and independent fact checkers have said has been taken out of context.
“In conjunction with OFA, we’re going to turn the page tomorrow on Mitt Romney’s trumped up, out of context fact-checked-to-death BS about the president and small business and set the record straight on how Mitt Romney has a horrible record on small business,” Woodhouse said in a memo sent to BuzzFeed, saying there will be on-the-ground events across the country — including in Massachusetts — to rebut Romney’s attack.
David Rothkopf has an interesting essay on Foreign Policy’s website arguing that Western, and especially American, involvement in and attention to the Middle East is out of proportion to the region’s importance. He gets a few things right–such as the discovery of oil and natural gas elsewhere in the world and the fact that both rising state powers and extremist threats are increasingly coming from Asia (and Africa). The “pivot,” he correctly notes, wasn’t so much a strategic calculation as an acceptance of reality.
He could also have mentioned our role in the competition between China and Russia in Central Asia, or President Obama’s signature foreign-policy achievement, which was to identify Pakistan as the focal point of that region and plan accordingly. I think he underplays the threat of a nuclear Iran, but that may be (though he does not say this) because most of the world believes the U.S. or Israel will prevent that from happening anyway. But Rothkopf’s section on Israel gets a bit fuzzy, though in a roundabout way reinforces his underlying point. Here’s Rothkopf:
Barack Obama’s generation entered the workforce at the time Ariel Sharon was directing Israeli troops into the camps in Lebanon, a watershed that for many washed away much of the positive narrative about Israel the virtuous underdog. From then on, through the intifada and the construction of new settlements on contested land, Israel has systematically damaged its standing in the eyes of the world (which hasn’t been hard to do since so many around the world are predisposed for pretty awful reasons to dislike the idea of a Jewish state to begin with)….
But given the periodic flare-ups of unreasonable behavior at the top from the Israeli government, the embrace of Israel as an ally carries with it costs — and the new technologies of modern conflict offer many alternative ways to counterbalance these risks. That’s not to say America is better off without Israel as an ally. We are. Just not at any price.
The demographic and political tides in the region are turning against the Israelis in ways that rightfully have them nervous. Absent a deal with the Palestinians in the next several years, their situation is likely to grow more precarious — and, with the potential rise of Arab democracy, more difficult to defend for a country like the United States whose foreign policy is built (in theory at least) on ideas like the right to self-determination.
Yesterday, I noted the resurrection of al-Qaeda in Iraq in no small part because of the U.S. troop pullout after the Obama administration failed to get Iraqi agreement on a status of forces agreement. Today, the question I want to consider is: What, if anything, can the U.S. still do to prevent Iraq from going totally off the rails?
Sadly, with the loss of our troop presence and with it much of our intelligence-gathering capacity, our options are vastly diminished. If we don’t have a good handle on what’s going on in the country–and we don’t, having lost much of our situational awareness at the end of last year–it is hard to figure out how to shape developments. Heck, we can’t even be sure of the number of Iraqis killed in terrorist attacks; the U.S. military no longer compiles independent figures, and it’s hard to fully trust the numbers produced in Baghdad.
With the sequester looming, Republicans are scrambling for an alternative that will save the defense budget and the defense industry. The Hill reports on one idea being floated by Sen. Mitch McConnell, which would increase government and sales fees — but the idea could violate Grover Norquist’s anti-tax pledge:
“If you want to turn off the sequester, and I think that’s a good idea, there is a way to do it; we spent a lot of time last year finding legitimate pay-fors in the Biden talks,” McConnell said. “There are all kinds of legitimate pay-fors that were studied on a bipartisan basis in the so-called Biden talks, leading up to the final passage of the Budget Control Act.”
McConnell’s comments reflect a growing urgency among Republicans on Capitol Hill about finding a compromise to stop $55 million in spending cuts slated for defense programs in 2013.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.) and other Democrats have insisted that any replacement of the so-called defense sequester also reduce cuts to domestic programs and raise new revenues.
Focusing on sales and federal fees could be a way to raise revenues without violating the tax pledge GOP lawmakers have made to their constituents.