Commentary Magazine


Posts For: August 17, 2012

Putin’s PR Blunder

It’s not easy being a dictator in the media age. That is a discovery made most spectacularly by the likes of Moammar Qaddafi, Hosni Mubarak, and Bashar Assad, all of whom found, in differing ways, that repression is hard to carry out in the glare of media publicity. So, in a lesser way, is Vladimir Putin discovering that throwing dissidents in prison isn’t as easy in today’s Russia as it was in the bad old days of the czars and Communist Party bosses that he apparently so admires.

As Seth wrote earlier, today a Russian court sentenced three young women to two years in prison for protesting Putin inside an Orthodox cathedral. The result is to make their band, Pussy Riot, easily one of the most famous musical combos on the planet in spite of their not having released a single album. The Rioters have been championed by everyone from Amnesty International to Madonna. They have, in fact, provided the most attractive face possible for the anti-Putin opposition, giving rise to gibes that the supposedly manly president is afraid of a few girls, whereas if the authorities had simply ignored their performance art nobody would know their names.

Putin has already lost this round. Let us hope that he cuts his loss and pardons the Rioters before they have to serve their odious sentence.

It’s not easy being a dictator in the media age. That is a discovery made most spectacularly by the likes of Moammar Qaddafi, Hosni Mubarak, and Bashar Assad, all of whom found, in differing ways, that repression is hard to carry out in the glare of media publicity. So, in a lesser way, is Vladimir Putin discovering that throwing dissidents in prison isn’t as easy in today’s Russia as it was in the bad old days of the czars and Communist Party bosses that he apparently so admires.

As Seth wrote earlier, today a Russian court sentenced three young women to two years in prison for protesting Putin inside an Orthodox cathedral. The result is to make their band, Pussy Riot, easily one of the most famous musical combos on the planet in spite of their not having released a single album. The Rioters have been championed by everyone from Amnesty International to Madonna. They have, in fact, provided the most attractive face possible for the anti-Putin opposition, giving rise to gibes that the supposedly manly president is afraid of a few girls, whereas if the authorities had simply ignored their performance art nobody would know their names.

Putin has already lost this round. Let us hope that he cuts his loss and pardons the Rioters before they have to serve their odious sentence.

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Don’t Ignore Afghan Soldiers’ Progress

The dispiriting trend of “green on blue” attacks in Afghanistan, in which Afghan soldiers or police attack coalition counterparts, continues with two attacks, one of which killed two American soldiers in western Afghanistan. These are the sixth and seventh attacks in the past 11 days, indicating that we are seeing another spate of such attacks similar to the one that occurred early in the spring. In all, as Long War Journal notes, such attacks have accounted for 13% of coalition deaths this year–39 out of 299 fatalities. This is higher than the total (35) claimed in green-on-blue attacks in all of last year.

Such attacks are especially grim because they call into question the loyalty of the Afghan security forces and may lead many on the home front to exclaim in disgust that we should pull out because our purported allies are not just ungrateful but positively anti-American. But keep this in perspective.

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The dispiriting trend of “green on blue” attacks in Afghanistan, in which Afghan soldiers or police attack coalition counterparts, continues with two attacks, one of which killed two American soldiers in western Afghanistan. These are the sixth and seventh attacks in the past 11 days, indicating that we are seeing another spate of such attacks similar to the one that occurred early in the spring. In all, as Long War Journal notes, such attacks have accounted for 13% of coalition deaths this year–39 out of 299 fatalities. This is higher than the total (35) claimed in green-on-blue attacks in all of last year.

Such attacks are especially grim because they call into question the loyalty of the Afghan security forces and may lead many on the home front to exclaim in disgust that we should pull out because our purported allies are not just ungrateful but positively anti-American. But keep this in perspective.

There have been approximately 31 such attacks this year (not all result in casualties, others cause multiple fatalities), mostly carried out by lone wolfs, roughly half of them Taliban infiltrators, the others simply disgruntled personnel. The entire Afghan National Security Forces are roughly 350,000 strong. So only 0.009% have attacked coalition counterparts this year. The rest of the ANSF, especially the army, is growing in strength and competence. They are, in fact, suffering higher casualties than coalition forces as they fight the Taliban. As General Jim Mattis, head of Central Command, told Congress: “No force is perfect. I would just remind everyone that even Jesus of Nazareth had one out of 12 go to mud on him.” He noted: “We should not allow a few criminals, malcontents, to define the Afghan security forces…. This is a force that’s come a long ways.”

That is an admonition worth heeding.


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Putin vs. the Punk Rockers

In February, three members of a female Russian performance art/punk rock/feminist activist group took off some of their clothing, ran into a Moscow Russian Orthodox Church, and jumped around while yelling a protest song. They were arrested, and immediately became an international sensation. Today, the three—Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Maria Alyokhina, and Ekaterina Samutsevich—were sentenced to two years in prison for “hooliganism” and offending the Orthodox observers. The group’s intent was to be provocative—they call themselves Pussy Riot, no doubt leading to thousands of embarrassing Google searches for those who don’t follow Russian politics but wanted to know why Garry Kasparov was beaten and arrested by the Russian police today.

An offensive prank of this kind may be illegal, but it’s hard to make the case the girls deserve years behind bars. Not surprisingly, the trial was rigged in classic Vladimir Putin style, even though journalists were there to witness the case and write about it. It’s become increasingly unclear exactly what point the Putin regime thinks it’s making by staging this sham trial and imprisoning these popular and precocious young women. Putin certainly felt the need to defend the Church, which has supported him over the past year politically (though not as much as Putin would have liked, having criticized Putin’s handling of the recent political protests) and with regard to Russia’s Syria policy of nonintervention, since the Church rightly worries that the West has no plan to protect Syria’s Christians, just as the Arab Spring in Egypt gave way to the open persecution of that country’s Coptic Christians.

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In February, three members of a female Russian performance art/punk rock/feminist activist group took off some of their clothing, ran into a Moscow Russian Orthodox Church, and jumped around while yelling a protest song. They were arrested, and immediately became an international sensation. Today, the three—Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Maria Alyokhina, and Ekaterina Samutsevich—were sentenced to two years in prison for “hooliganism” and offending the Orthodox observers. The group’s intent was to be provocative—they call themselves Pussy Riot, no doubt leading to thousands of embarrassing Google searches for those who don’t follow Russian politics but wanted to know why Garry Kasparov was beaten and arrested by the Russian police today.

An offensive prank of this kind may be illegal, but it’s hard to make the case the girls deserve years behind bars. Not surprisingly, the trial was rigged in classic Vladimir Putin style, even though journalists were there to witness the case and write about it. It’s become increasingly unclear exactly what point the Putin regime thinks it’s making by staging this sham trial and imprisoning these popular and precocious young women. Putin certainly felt the need to defend the Church, which has supported him over the past year politically (though not as much as Putin would have liked, having criticized Putin’s handling of the recent political protests) and with regard to Russia’s Syria policy of nonintervention, since the Church rightly worries that the West has no plan to protect Syria’s Christians, just as the Arab Spring in Egypt gave way to the open persecution of that country’s Coptic Christians.

Nonetheless, Putin’s typically heavyhanded reaction has made him look ridiculous. Not to be outdone, the band’s supporters have joined the circus. The band’s self-conscious effort to attempt to take up the mantle of rock music’s long tradition of protest and speaking truth to power has worked. Madonna staged a concert in Moscow dressed like the band members; famous actors have staged dramatic readings in Manhattan of the band’s closing statements to the court; Bjork sent a message of support to the girls at their trial; and Alicia Silverstone penned an open letter to Putin, appealing to his compassionate side, to let the girls eat vegan meals if they so choose—because only a monster would feed his political prisoners meat.

The trendy culture magazine “n+1” published the band’s closing statements on its website. The statements are as insufferable as you might imagine them to be, as the girls explicitly compare themselves to Solzhenitsyn, Dostoyevsky, and Socrates, who also didn’t have vegan meals provided for them, I suppose. But that insufferability is no crime.

This year has been something of a turning point in world opinion about the thug Putin, who seems to have lost many of his traditional defenders in the media. Russian public opinion is notoriously more difficult to gauge, but perhaps it’s no surprise that Vedomosti reported this morning:

According to Russia’s last nation wide poll conducted by the “Levada Center”, ratings of trust and approval of President Putin have fallen drastically since his return to the Kremlin. 48% of Russians have a favorable opinion of Putin, while 25% are hostile to his presidency. Back in May, the ratio was 60% to 21%; while during the first two terms Putin had an average of 65% to 15% (by the end of 2008 he even had 80% to 10%).

Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Maria Alyokhina, and Ekaterina Samutsevich may not be Solzhenitsyn, Dostoyevsky, and Socrates, but it’s heartening to see that the Russian protest spirit, which played an integral role in saving the world from Communism, is still keeping its repressive autocrats up at night.

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Romney Rejects Obama Tax Return Request

After accusing Mitt Romney of being a tax cheat failed to get results, the Obama campaign has written an open letter to Mitt Romney asking very nicely to see the last five years of his tax returns. Maybe they should have tried this approach in the first place. At this point, it’s hard to blame the Romney campaign for telling them to take a hike:

“Thanks for the note,” [Romney campaign manager Matt] Rhoades wrote. “It is clear that President Obama wants nothing more than to talk about Governor Romney’s tax returns instead of the issues that matter to voters, like putting Americans back to work, fixing the economy and reining in spending.”

Rhoades wrote that Messina and his campaign could continue talking about Romney’s tax returns – but that his team would focus on the economy.

“If Governor Romney’s tax returns are the core message of your campaign, there will be ample time for President Obama to discuss them over the next 81 days,” Rhoades wrote. “In the meantime, Governor Romney will continue to lay out his plans for a stronger middle class, to save Medicare, to put work back into welfare, and help the 23 million Americans struggling to find work in the Obama economy.”

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After accusing Mitt Romney of being a tax cheat failed to get results, the Obama campaign has written an open letter to Mitt Romney asking very nicely to see the last five years of his tax returns. Maybe they should have tried this approach in the first place. At this point, it’s hard to blame the Romney campaign for telling them to take a hike:

“Thanks for the note,” [Romney campaign manager Matt] Rhoades wrote. “It is clear that President Obama wants nothing more than to talk about Governor Romney’s tax returns instead of the issues that matter to voters, like putting Americans back to work, fixing the economy and reining in spending.”

Rhoades wrote that Messina and his campaign could continue talking about Romney’s tax returns – but that his team would focus on the economy.

“If Governor Romney’s tax returns are the core message of your campaign, there will be ample time for President Obama to discuss them over the next 81 days,” Rhoades wrote. “In the meantime, Governor Romney will continue to lay out his plans for a stronger middle class, to save Medicare, to put work back into welfare, and help the 23 million Americans struggling to find work in the Obama economy.”

Rhoades’ point about Obama wanting to make the tax returns the top election issue is probably spot-on. Obviously Romney has no intention of releasing his tax returns, or else he would have done it already. The only chance the Obama campaign has of getting those documents is if the media pressure forces Romney into it. But with the media tsk-tsking the Obama campaign’s mudslinging, and the Romney campaign acting righteously indignant over Harry Reid’s accusations, a polite open letter is the only way it can hope to get any results.

Is this a sign the Obama campaign is going to lay low with the over-the-top attacks for a while? Or just a last-ditch effort from a campaign that’s running out of ways to change the subject?

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Which Candidate Cares More About Israel?

Ever since the last of a series of full-scale blowups between the Obama administration and Israel, Democrats have been desperately trying to convince Jewish voters that the president really is the Jewish state’s best friend. In order to do so, voters would have to ignore most of what had happened in the first three years of his presidency but they were able to argue that his decision not to blow up the U.S.-Israel alliance completely ought to serve as proof of his good intentions. That’s enough for many Jews whose partisan preferences leave them ready to believe the Democrats’ talking points. But while American voters, Jewish and non-Jewish who consider the question an important one, ponder the question of which presidential candidate is a better friend to Israel, the people with the most on the line in the Middle East also have an opinion.

The latest poll of Israeli views of the U.S. election is similar to previous surveys on the question of American leadership: they don’t trust President Obama. As the Jerusalem Post reports, a new Peace Index/Dahaf Institute poll shows that 2-1 majority of Israeli Jews think Mitt Romney cares more about them than the president. Forty percent of respondents said Romney “assigns more importance to defending Israeli national interests” while 19 percent said Obama did. Ten percent saw neither as being more supportive than the other while 25 percent said they didn’t know and six percent said “neither” backed their country.  Back in April a Smith Research/Jerusalem Post poll found that 60 percent of Israelis saw Obama as either pro-Palestinian or neutral in the Middle East conflict. All of which leads one to wonder why so many American Jews think they understand Obama’s views of the question better than Israelis.

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Ever since the last of a series of full-scale blowups between the Obama administration and Israel, Democrats have been desperately trying to convince Jewish voters that the president really is the Jewish state’s best friend. In order to do so, voters would have to ignore most of what had happened in the first three years of his presidency but they were able to argue that his decision not to blow up the U.S.-Israel alliance completely ought to serve as proof of his good intentions. That’s enough for many Jews whose partisan preferences leave them ready to believe the Democrats’ talking points. But while American voters, Jewish and non-Jewish who consider the question an important one, ponder the question of which presidential candidate is a better friend to Israel, the people with the most on the line in the Middle East also have an opinion.

The latest poll of Israeli views of the U.S. election is similar to previous surveys on the question of American leadership: they don’t trust President Obama. As the Jerusalem Post reports, a new Peace Index/Dahaf Institute poll shows that 2-1 majority of Israeli Jews think Mitt Romney cares more about them than the president. Forty percent of respondents said Romney “assigns more importance to defending Israeli national interests” while 19 percent said Obama did. Ten percent saw neither as being more supportive than the other while 25 percent said they didn’t know and six percent said “neither” backed their country.  Back in April a Smith Research/Jerusalem Post poll found that 60 percent of Israelis saw Obama as either pro-Palestinian or neutral in the Middle East conflict. All of which leads one to wonder why so many American Jews think they understand Obama’s views of the question better than Israelis.

The answer to that question is fairly obvious. It’s not that most Jewish Democrats really believe that Obama is sympathetic to the Jewish state. They have eyes and ears like the rest of us and can easily pick up the fact that, as veteran peace processor Aaron David Miller put it, “unlike [Bill] Clinton and George W. Bush, Obama isn’t in love with the idea of Israel.” It’s not just that most Jews aren’t single-issue Israel voters, it’s that for many of them, it doesn’t much matter. Others, including many liberals who do care about Israel, find reasons to grade him on a steep curve that allows him to pass muster because of his liberal positions on domestic issues.

But for that 10-25 percent of the Jewish electorate whose votes are in play this fall, the question of the president’s record on Israel will be important. Polls showing Israeli distrust of the president — which is getting deeper because of his lack of resolve on the Iranian nuclear threat — will make it even harder for Democrats to convince voters that he can be trusted to do the right thing for the Jewish state.

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The Free Market Is Crushing CO2 Emissions

Anti-CO2 activists may have to find something else to give their lives meaning. The AP reports that “the amount of carbon dioxide being released into the atmosphere in the U.S. has fallen dramatically to its lowest level in 20 years, and government officials say the biggest reason is that cheap and plentiful natural gas has led many power plant operators to switch from dirtier-burning coal.”

So if you’ve been championing government action as the last best hope to save humankind from the big broil, you too should find a hobby: “Many of the world’s leading climate scientists didn’t see the drop coming, in large part because it happened as a result of market forces rather than direct government action against carbon dioxide.”

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Anti-CO2 activists may have to find something else to give their lives meaning. The AP reports that “the amount of carbon dioxide being released into the atmosphere in the U.S. has fallen dramatically to its lowest level in 20 years, and government officials say the biggest reason is that cheap and plentiful natural gas has led many power plant operators to switch from dirtier-burning coal.”

So if you’ve been championing government action as the last best hope to save humankind from the big broil, you too should find a hobby: “Many of the world’s leading climate scientists didn’t see the drop coming, in large part because it happened as a result of market forces rather than direct government action against carbon dioxide.”

Finally, if you think the problem has been America’s uncooperative attitude regarding international treaties, you’re wrong: “the shift from coal to gas has helped bring the U.S. closer to meeting some of the greenhouse gas targets in the 1997 Kyoto treaty on global warming, which the United States never ratified.”

It’s an amazing story, really. How did it happen? Shale gas and fracking: “A frenzy of shale gas drilling in the Northeast’s Marcellus Shale and in Texas, Arkansas and Louisiana has caused the wholesale price of natural gas to plummet from $7 or $8 per unit to about $3 over the past four years, making it cheaper to burn than coal for a given amount of energy produced.”

Whether or not you think anthropogenic global warming is a real problem, it’s hard to overstate the significance of this. For years, the Inconvenient Truthers have been telling us the sky will fall unless Big Government comes in to regulate emissions on a global scale. Federally backed “green-energy” companies like Solyndra have gone bust on the taxpayer’s dime trying to combat CO2. The free market is now under perpetual attack, as a human-killing, planet-destroying profit monster that can only be fought back by a new regulatory regime. Hydraulic fracturing (the practice of freeing underground natural gas by using a mix of pressurized fluid containing water, sand, and chemicals) has come under fire from environmentalists as the energy-evil du jour. And, of course, in the supposedly “post-American” world, we are told the United States can no longer afford to look down on international agreements that would hold the behavior of Americans to the standard of some mediating body like the UN. All of it, nonsense.

No government or bureaucracy can centrally plan to accomplish what the self-interested nodes of a free-market system can. The U.S. brought down CO2 emissions without help from Washington or the United Nations. We can always raise them again by killing free-market innovation on the advice of environmentalists.

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What’s Up With All the Clinton VP Rumors?

We all know it’s not going to happen. The White House has directly denied it. And yet, the rumors that President Obama is considering replacing Vice President Joe Biden with Hillary Clinton keep coming:

Pundits and talking heads have discussed in recent weeks the possibility of Vice President Joe Biden being replaced on the Democratic presidential ticket, particularly with news of his brief hiatus from the spotlight this weekend.

“Up until just a couple of weeks ago the White House was putting out feelers to see if Hillary would accept the vice-presidential nod and replace Joe Biden,” [author Ed] Klein said. “Bill Clinton was, I’m told, urging his wife to accept the number two slot. He saw this as a great launching pad for her for running in 2016.”

“But then Hillary had lunch in the White House a couple of weeks ago with Valerie Jarrett — Michelle [Obama]’s best friend, senior adviser to both the first lady and the president … and she told Valerie that she would not accept the vice president’s spot. The lunch was ostensibly about other matters, but it came up. … Hillary felt burned out after four years as Secretary of State. But I’m told there were more important reasons for her not accepting.”

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We all know it’s not going to happen. The White House has directly denied it. And yet, the rumors that President Obama is considering replacing Vice President Joe Biden with Hillary Clinton keep coming:

Pundits and talking heads have discussed in recent weeks the possibility of Vice President Joe Biden being replaced on the Democratic presidential ticket, particularly with news of his brief hiatus from the spotlight this weekend.

“Up until just a couple of weeks ago the White House was putting out feelers to see if Hillary would accept the vice-presidential nod and replace Joe Biden,” [author Ed] Klein said. “Bill Clinton was, I’m told, urging his wife to accept the number two slot. He saw this as a great launching pad for her for running in 2016.”

“But then Hillary had lunch in the White House a couple of weeks ago with Valerie Jarrett — Michelle [Obama]’s best friend, senior adviser to both the first lady and the president … and she told Valerie that she would not accept the vice president’s spot. The lunch was ostensibly about other matters, but it came up. … Hillary felt burned out after four years as Secretary of State. But I’m told there were more important reasons for her not accepting.”

I find it hard to believe that Obama would even be able to replace Biden at this point. Clearly Biden has 2016 ambitions — as delusional as that may be — and he knows getting axed as VP would effectively destroy any chance of that happening. Convincing Biden to leave gracefully (and quietly) would be near impossible. Plus, shaking up the ticket would be an admission of defeat and a sign of severe desperation from Obama.

So what’s the deal with these rumors? Is the Clinton camp putting them out to boost her name for 2016? Or, is it part of some GOP effort to psych out Biden and sow divisions between him and Obama? Notice that a lot of this speculation is coming from the right. The Republican Party knows these mind games all too well, since it’s previously been on the receiving end of them.

On the other hand, maybe I’m completely wrong and Obama actually is thinking about cutting Biden loose. His VP has given him nothing but grief since the beginning. And after days of disastrous media coverage over Biden’s billionth racially-charged gaffe, who could blame Obama for wanting him out?

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Syria Reveals Arab Leaders’ Hypocrisy

If you want to understand why much of the Arab world is a basket case, it’s worth considering Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi’s address to an Islamic Solidarity Conference in Mecca this week. Morsi came out in favor of regime change in Syria. But the most urgent problem facing the Muslim world today, he said, is the Palestinian issue.

Now consider a few simple statistics: Since the Syrian uprising began 17 months ago, more than 19,000 people have been killed, including more than 2,750 in July alone, according to the Syrian opposition. The number of Palestinians killed by Israel during those 17 months is around150, according to B’Tselem – less than 1 percent of the Syrian total. In fact, according to Palestinian casualty data compiled by the University of Uppsala, the Syrian death toll over the last 17 months is greater than the total number of Palestinians killed by Israel over the entire 64 years of its existence.

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If you want to understand why much of the Arab world is a basket case, it’s worth considering Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi’s address to an Islamic Solidarity Conference in Mecca this week. Morsi came out in favor of regime change in Syria. But the most urgent problem facing the Muslim world today, he said, is the Palestinian issue.

Now consider a few simple statistics: Since the Syrian uprising began 17 months ago, more than 19,000 people have been killed, including more than 2,750 in July alone, according to the Syrian opposition. The number of Palestinians killed by Israel during those 17 months is around150, according to B’Tselem – less than 1 percent of the Syrian total. In fact, according to Palestinian casualty data compiled by the University of Uppsala, the Syrian death toll over the last 17 months is greater than the total number of Palestinians killed by Israel over the entire 64 years of its existence.

So by any objective standard, the Syrian problem would look incomparably more urgent: Solving it would save far more Muslim Arab lives than solving the Palestinian problem would. But for Morsi, and for all too many others in the Arab world, securing the well-being of his fellow Muslim Arabs is evidently less important than undermining the well-being of the hated Jewish state. The Syrian crisis being a purely intra-Arab conflict, solving it doesn’t contribute one iota to the latter goal. But an obsessive focus on the Palestinian problem does.

Of course, it’s also possible that Morsi doesn’t actually believe in the primacy of the Palestinian cause, but is merely playing the time-honored game that Arab opinion leaders – politicians, journalists, artists and intellectuals – have been playing for decades: Let’s divert attention from the internal problems of Arab society by focusing on an outside enemy. But either way, the message is the same: What really matters isn’t what the Arabs do to themselves, but what the Jews do to them, even if what Arabs are doing to themselves (or each other) is far worse. And therefore, the focus of Arab activity must be Israel, not the Arab world’s internal problems – even if focusing on the latter would do more to actually improve the lot of ordinary Arabs.

More than half a century ago, former Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir famously said that “Peace will come when the Arabs will love their children more than they hate us.” Sadly, that’s still true. But it’s equally true that as long as Arab leaders accord higher priority to their campaign against Israel than they do to the welfare of their own people, the Arab world will continue to lag far behind the West by almost any standard of human well-being.

In fact, the Arab world has paid a far higher price for its Israel obsession than Israel ever has. The Jewish state has grown and thrived despite being continuously at war. But ordinary Arabs can still be slaughtered by their own government while their Arab brethren look on and yawn – and continue prating about Israel.

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Paul Ryan and the Role of “Ideology”

One year in college, I had a roommate who liked to talk about the implications of the idea of the “multiverse”—the existence of multiple universes—and the often accompanying theory of trans-world identity, which holds that probability suggests that these different universes likely contain identical objects. My roommate would explain that there was probably another planet out there with identical people in it, but they could be expected to react to the same events and stimuli in ways wholly different from us—a sort of bizarro Earth.

I couldn’t help thinking of that roommate’s expositions when I read the New York Times’s explanation of why Mitt Romney chose Paul Ryan as his running mate and how that changes the election. The Times writes:

In the midst of an election in which few voters have not already taken sides, he is now running a campaign more focused on energizing an anti-Obama coalition than on trying to expand the universe of Romney voters with an argument that he is the most qualified economic steward….

Persuasion, especially on the Republican side, has given way to partisan stimulation. A sharp focus on the economy is giving way to ideology and personality.

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One year in college, I had a roommate who liked to talk about the implications of the idea of the “multiverse”—the existence of multiple universes—and the often accompanying theory of trans-world identity, which holds that probability suggests that these different universes likely contain identical objects. My roommate would explain that there was probably another planet out there with identical people in it, but they could be expected to react to the same events and stimuli in ways wholly different from us—a sort of bizarro Earth.

I couldn’t help thinking of that roommate’s expositions when I read the New York Times’s explanation of why Mitt Romney chose Paul Ryan as his running mate and how that changes the election. The Times writes:

In the midst of an election in which few voters have not already taken sides, he is now running a campaign more focused on energizing an anti-Obama coalition than on trying to expand the universe of Romney voters with an argument that he is the most qualified economic steward….

Persuasion, especially on the Republican side, has given way to partisan stimulation. A sharp focus on the economy is giving way to ideology and personality.

Ryan is just about the most knowledgeable and charismatic advocate for his party’s policy proposals, and persuading the undecided voters—not, as the Times has it, the base–tops the list of his priorities. The base doesn’t need to be persuaded to vote against President Obama, and the base doesn’t need to be persuaded of the importance of reducing the federal debt, easing the tax burden on small businesses, or reforming entitlements.

I think the key to understanding the Times’s analysis, though, is the use of the word “ideology.” It’s deployed here because Ryan is a conservative. It might be a better label for the GOP ticket if Ryan hadn’t been selected as Romney’s running mate, however, because in such a case it would have been more likely that the campaign would have relied on sloganeering more than concrete policy proposals. But Ryan authored a budget, and that budget passed the House of Representatives. By choosing Ryan, Romney has made the race less about vague ideological principles and more about putting solutions in writing. You can call those solutions “conservative” if you want, but once you put legislation out there, its ideological genesis becomes more abstract and less relevant.

In Jonah Goldberg’s latest book, The Tyranny of Clichés, ideology is the first such cliché dealt with. Goldberg begins the first chapter with a quote from then-president-elect Obama before his inauguration, in which Obama called for “a new declaration of independence, not just in our nation, but in our own lives—from ideology and small thinking, prejudice and bigotry.” It’s a telling categorization, Goldberg notes, to include ideology with other clearly negative traits.

Obama does this, Goldberg points out, because he doesn’t associate himself with ideology—a common leftist pretension. According to the left, conservatives are the dogmatic ones, while liberals just follow what works. The fact that the liberal experiment in governing is failing spectacularly all around us, and that Paul Ryan has dedicated his career and now this campaign to enacting specific plans to fix those failures, has left some political reporters at a loss for how to describe this campaign in a way that flatters not just President Obama but their own liberal self-regard.

It turns out that’s a pretty tall order. Somewhere in the multiverse, the president stood above cheap insults and partisan closed-mindedness and the Republicans nominated a flamethrowing ideologue. And the New York Times coverage got it exactly right.

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The Campaign to Demonize Adelson

As I wrote earlier this week, given the depth of his political involvement on behalf of Republican candidates it’s hardly surprising to find that casino mogul Sheldon Adelson is in the crosshairs of the liberal media these days. Adelson’s billions are derived from vastly profitable — and entirely legal — gambling enterprises in Las Vegas and Macao, China but there is an ongoing effort to depict him as a shady character with whom politicians should not associate. The investigation about possible bribery of Chinese officials, which the New York Times spread over their front page on Tuesday, is a serious matter but the allegation remains more a matter of assumptions of misbehavior than any proof. But that has not stopped Democratic groups from trying to brand Adelson as toxic or even repeating other outrageous and palpably false charges about him for which some have been forced to apologize. Now the Times has escalated the campaign with an editorial calling on Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan to distance themselves from Adelson and, no doubt, not take any of his campaign contributions.

The hypocrisy of the left’s assault on Adelson is so obvious it barely needs to be mentioned. Adelson is not nearly as shady a character as left-wing financier George Soros, whose activities have included international currency manipulation that sent some countries over the edge in the past. No one questioned whether it was wise for John Kerry to accept Soros’s money in 2004 as part of the billionaire’s crusade to defeat George W. Bush. Nor did anyone question his contributions to the Democrats’ successful get out the vote campaign in 2008. The Times did not speculate then whether Soros’s real agenda involved his business interests, as they do now about Adelson. Instead, they took him at his word that his commitment was ideological. The only real difference between the two is that Soros backs left-wing politicians and causes while Adelson has dedicated his financial resources to supporting Israel and conservatives.

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As I wrote earlier this week, given the depth of his political involvement on behalf of Republican candidates it’s hardly surprising to find that casino mogul Sheldon Adelson is in the crosshairs of the liberal media these days. Adelson’s billions are derived from vastly profitable — and entirely legal — gambling enterprises in Las Vegas and Macao, China but there is an ongoing effort to depict him as a shady character with whom politicians should not associate. The investigation about possible bribery of Chinese officials, which the New York Times spread over their front page on Tuesday, is a serious matter but the allegation remains more a matter of assumptions of misbehavior than any proof. But that has not stopped Democratic groups from trying to brand Adelson as toxic or even repeating other outrageous and palpably false charges about him for which some have been forced to apologize. Now the Times has escalated the campaign with an editorial calling on Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan to distance themselves from Adelson and, no doubt, not take any of his campaign contributions.

The hypocrisy of the left’s assault on Adelson is so obvious it barely needs to be mentioned. Adelson is not nearly as shady a character as left-wing financier George Soros, whose activities have included international currency manipulation that sent some countries over the edge in the past. No one questioned whether it was wise for John Kerry to accept Soros’s money in 2004 as part of the billionaire’s crusade to defeat George W. Bush. Nor did anyone question his contributions to the Democrats’ successful get out the vote campaign in 2008. The Times did not speculate then whether Soros’s real agenda involved his business interests, as they do now about Adelson. Instead, they took him at his word that his commitment was ideological. The only real difference between the two is that Soros backs left-wing politicians and causes while Adelson has dedicated his financial resources to supporting Israel and conservatives.

As proof of its allegation that Adelson is up to no good, the Times editorial regurgitates the same story that was the only truly damning aspect of their several-thousand-word investigative feature. Ten years ago, Adelson called then House Majority Leader Tom DeLay and persuaded him to shelve a largely meaningless Congressional resolution that opposed China’s hosting the 2008 Olympics because of their dreadful human rights record.

The Delay story is interesting because it is supposed to depict how Adelson uses his power to affect policy but it does nothing of the kind. Adelson and Delay were in the wrong here but even if the resolution had passed, it would have changed nothing about the Olympics or U.S.-China relations. Treating Adelson as if he’s the sole reason for the decision to put aside our concerns about Chinese human rights abuses and concentrate on doing business there gives him too much credit. That’s a political trend that predated the phone call to DeLay and for which both parties and the entire American business community is to blame. As the recent story about the way Romney dismissed Adelson’s requests that he promise to pardon convicted spy Jonathan Pollard or immediately move the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem demonstrate, all his money buys him is access, not results.

The irony here is that unlike many large political contributors it’s clear that Adelson is not doing this to advance his personal interests but the ideas and people he supports. Israel’s security has been Adelson’s obsession and it has led him to not just give money to opponents of President Obama but to a raft of important Jewish and Israeli charitable causes. Indeed, if he was not an opponent of Obama and his policies toward Israel, there’s little doubt that the Times would have no interest in his activities and would merely refer to him as a philanthropist.

The goal of liberals in painting Adelson as a villain is to gain a tactical advantage in the fall election since his money is helping the Republicans. But their case against him rests more on assumptions about gambling and the corrupt business culture of China than on proof of anything he has done. Adelson’s legal campaign contributions are no more sinister than those of rich liberals who line up to pay for the right to hobnob with President Obama at parties in Hollywood and New York.

Adelson may be an easy target but the campaign to demonize him using language about politicians being “in thrall” to him has an unpleasant odor of prejudice. Instead of Romney worrying about associating with Adelson, the Times and the Obama campaign need to be careful about the way they are playing into traditional stereotypes about Jews and money and libels about the “Israel Lobby.”

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CNN Moves Wisconsin to “Toss Up”

Following several polls that show the race tightening in Wisconsin, CNN has moved the state from “lean Obama” to “toss up” on its electoral map:

CNN Thursday turned the important battleground state of Wisconsin from “lean Obama” to true “toss up” on its electoral map, in the wake of Mitt Romney’s naming of House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan, a seven term congressman from the Badger state, as his running mate. One contributing factor behind CNN’s move was a new poll that matched two others from last week that indicate that the presidential contest in Wisconsin is close. …

With Wisconsin’s move to true “toss up,” the CNN Electoral Map now suggests Obama leading in states with a combined 237 electoral votes, Romney ahead in states with a combined 206 electoral votes, and states with 95 electoral votes up for grabs. 270 electoral votes are needed with win the White House.

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Following several polls that show the race tightening in Wisconsin, CNN has moved the state from “lean Obama” to “toss up” on its electoral map:

CNN Thursday turned the important battleground state of Wisconsin from “lean Obama” to true “toss up” on its electoral map, in the wake of Mitt Romney’s naming of House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan, a seven term congressman from the Badger state, as his running mate. One contributing factor behind CNN’s move was a new poll that matched two others from last week that indicate that the presidential contest in Wisconsin is close. …

With Wisconsin’s move to true “toss up,” the CNN Electoral Map now suggests Obama leading in states with a combined 237 electoral votes, Romney ahead in states with a combined 206 electoral votes, and states with 95 electoral votes up for grabs. 270 electoral votes are needed with win the White House.

It’s a great sign for Republicans, who haven’t won Wisconsin in a presidential race since Ronald Reagan. But Nate Silver warns against putting too much stock in CNN’s decision:

Adjust the Rasmussen numbers upward for Mr. Obama, and the CNN poll downward for him, and it looks as though Mr. Obama might win by about two percentage points if an election were held in Wisconsin today. I wouldn’t quite use the term “tossup” to describe the state — particularly if Mr. Romney and Mr. Ryan are in the midst of a modest but temporary bounce — but it has become much more essential to the electoral math, and now rates as the fourth most important state in our tipping-point calculus, behind Ohio, Virginia and Florida.

Whether it’s a temporary bounce or not, Paul Ryan does have high favorables in Wisconsin and his addition to the ticket puts an important state in play.

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No Need for NATO Ground Troops in Syria

In light of my recent writing on Syria, bemoaning the Obama administration’s strangely passive stance, a knowledgeable reader writes to ask:  “Would you be willing to support US/NATO/UN-backed troops on the ground in Syria?” He explains:

My big concern now is that simple aid, even with a no-fly zone in place, would be too little, too late, and we wouldn’t have enough organic C4ISR assets in country to 1) effectively leverage our assets to best effect, and 2) ensure that hostile or potentially hostile elements weren’t benefiting from our efforts at aid.  But Syria is untenable now.  It’s a failed state, with a rogue state embedded within it, every nasty element in the wider Middle East on the ground, and desperately in need of — and I use this term with some reluctance — Western intervention.

I agree with him about the need for Western intervention. I disagree, at least based on the situation so far, on the need for Western ground troops.

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In light of my recent writing on Syria, bemoaning the Obama administration’s strangely passive stance, a knowledgeable reader writes to ask:  “Would you be willing to support US/NATO/UN-backed troops on the ground in Syria?” He explains:

My big concern now is that simple aid, even with a no-fly zone in place, would be too little, too late, and we wouldn’t have enough organic C4ISR assets in country to 1) effectively leverage our assets to best effect, and 2) ensure that hostile or potentially hostile elements weren’t benefiting from our efforts at aid.  But Syria is untenable now.  It’s a failed state, with a rogue state embedded within it, every nasty element in the wider Middle East on the ground, and desperately in need of — and I use this term with some reluctance — Western intervention.

I agree with him about the need for Western intervention. I disagree, at least based on the situation so far, on the need for Western ground troops.

There is simply not the will in the U.S., or in any of our major allies, to organize the kind of ground force that would be needed to pacify such a volatile country of 20 million people–two-thirds the size of Afghanistan. Using a traditional counterinsurgency rule of thumb, which suggests you need at least one counterinsurgent per 50 civilians, would produce an estimate of 400,000 troops needed to bring peace to Syria. Simply stating the requirement is to suggest how fantastic it is to contemplate–there is no chance that the U.S. or our allies would ante up anywhere close to that number. Of course it’s possible to muddle by with less, as we have done in Iraq or Afghanistan, but there is scant chance of even sending 100,000 or 200,000 troops. And there is no point in sending a small, symbolic force, of the kind that the U.S., France, and other Western allies sent to Lebanon in 1983, following the Israeli invasion and in the midst of the Lebanese civil war. This would simply make our troops an inviting target for extremists, leading to more tragedies such as the bombing of the Marine barracks in Beirut.

The analogy is a sobering one because the architect of the Marine barracks bombing, which killed 241 sailors and marines, was Hezbollah–and that potent terrorist organization, with ample Iranian backing, is located directly across the border in Lebanon. It could easily extend its operations into Syria to target U.S. troops, as it did already in Iraq. The last thing we want is to fight a counterinsurgency campaign against a foreign-backed organization which enjoys safe havens in a neighboring country.

Luckily, however, I do not believe there is any need for American or other Western ground troops to go anywhere near Syria beyond a small number of Special Operations Forces and intelligence operatives to coordinate with the rebels. Turkey could usefully provide some troops, not to march on Damascus, but simply to protect “safe zones” along the Turkish border where refugees could come and Syrian rebels could organize to take over the country. But the American contribution should be limited to providing intelligence and other types of support for the rebels. At most we should conduct air operations to impose a no-fly zone and to attack regime targets in cooperation with rebel forces, as we did in Libya, Afghanistan (in 2001), Kosovo, and Bosnia. That’s it. The risks of such an operation are exceedingly small–it would take only a few days to neutralize Syria’s air defense, leaving the regime helpless in the face of Western airpower. Even such an operation should be mounted only with allied cooperation, preferably to include the imprimatur of NATO and the Arab League.

Once the Assad regime falls, it is possible that there will be a need for international peacekeeping forces to help an emerging democratic regime to bring order to the country and to safeguard dangerous assets such as Assad’s chemical weapons stockpile. Even then, the U.S. should tread carefully–putting American troops on the ground is a high-risk option and one we need to avoid if at all possible. I advocated the dispatch of an international stabilization force to Libya after the fall of Qaddafi and it may make sense to send such a force to Syria after Assad’s fall, but the U.S. should not take the lead on ground forces, because our troops are such an inviting target for terrorists. We could help as part of a multinational coalition with the backing of the UN, NATO and the Arab League but we should do nothing to convey the impression of an “American invasion.” This is a case where we would be wiser to act primarily although not exclusively through proxies–both external (Turkey, Jordan) and internal (the Free Syrian Army). But we do need to act; we can’t simply sit on the sidelines watching the civil war spiral out of control.

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