The Cable’s Josh Rogin has more on the Obama administration’s decision to allow non-profit groups to send hundreds of thousands of dollars each in cash to Iran as part of earthquake relief efforts. Rogin reports that the White House was initially worried about the optics of temporarily relaxing sanctions so close to the election, but eventually agreed after getting support from the State Department:
State Department officials argued in favor of granting the license, while the White House resisted the move, worried about how even a temporary and limited relief of sanctions against Iran would play in the media so close to the presidential election. Eventually, with the support of top State Department officials, the White House was persuaded to agree to the move, these sources said.
The National Iranian American Council, a group that has advocated for weaker sanctions and other pro-regime policies, also played a major role in lobbying the administration (the organization touts a conference call it set up with the White House about this issue on its website).
Unsurprisingly, Rogin also reports there are concerns on Capitol Hill over whether the cash will make it to the people who need it, or whether it will intercepted by the Iranian government.
Israelis and Jews around the world are rightly outraged about an attack on Arab teenagers by a group of Israeli Jewish teenage thugs on Monday. The attack is being described as a lynching and the fact that one 15-year-old suspect said of a 17-year-old victim who remains unconscious and hospitalized, “For my part he can die, he’s an Arab” has shocked many Israelis and friends of the Jewish state. The incident, which took part in Jerusalem’s Zion Square and was reportedly witnessed by hundreds of onlookers who were apparently too afraid or too indifferent to intervene has garnered international press coverage and set off a round of soul searching by many who wonder how the seeds of hate could have infected Jewish youth in this manner.
Israelis do well to worry about such violence, just as they should be deeply concerned about so-called “price tag” attacks on Arabs by Jews living in the West Bank. But those who are now openly indulging in speculation about Israel’s lost soul or its descent to barbarism need to take a deep breath before jumping to such conclusions. The incident and any such occurrence in which Arabs are subjected to violence in Israel is deplorable and must be punished severely. But the outsized interest in the story has all the hallmarks of the traditional journalist’s dictum about what sells: man bites dog, not dog bites man. Arab violence against Israelis is so common that it takes a horrific mass slaughter or a dramatic attack involving borders and third parties (such as the recent terror attack that came from Egyptian-controlled Sinai) in order for anyone, even Israelis themselves, to take much notice. But the infrequent instances when Israelis succumb to the atmosphere of hatred with which they have been surrounded for a century are treated as not only a very big deal but also a cause for the entire Jewish people to take stock of their moral compass.
The Obama campaign’s theme this week is education. President Obama wants voters to believe that as president, Mitt Romney would be bad for education in every context: in public schools, in colleges, and for teachers.
So far, he’s not having nearly as easy a time convincing voters he’s the better candidate as he had in 2008. The Huffington Post tries to explain why:
Despite the attacks, a new poll finds Romney trails Obama by a small margin on education and holds a slight edge on the issue among independents.
The annual Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup Poll of the “public’s attitudes toward the public schools” asked registered independents to choose a candidate if they “were voting solely on the basis of a desire to strengthen public schools.” Overall, 49 percent supported Obama, compared with 44 percent for Romney. But Romney had 46 percent of independent voters’ support, compared with Obama’s 41 percent.
The findings make sense because Romney “was governor of an educationally successful state” that transitioned from mediocre performance to star status, said Chester Finn, who presides over the right-leaning Washington think tank Thomas B. Fordham Institute, and who worked in President Ronald Reagan’s administration. Finn noted that in 2008, Obama led John McCain in education by 17 percentage points, which “suggests that Romney is far better positioned on this issue.”
An Iranian op-ed writer recently urged his country to emulate Israel. Of course the “Zionist regime” is illegitimate, wrote Seyed Ammar Kalantari, but the fact that “this small group of around seven million people who only about 60 years ago moved to this small spot from all sorts of different cultures and nationalities” has managed to survive, despite repeated attacks by Palestinians and various Arab armies, shows it must be doing something right. That something, Kalantari argued, is Israel’s willingness to criticize its leaders.
What makes this remarkable isn’t just that Israel is being touted as a shining example in the very country whose leader regularly pledges to annihilate it as “a cancerous tumor.” It’s that the article appeared on a website closely affiliated with Mohsen Rezaee, a former Revolutionary Guards commander who now serves as secretary of Iran’s Expediency Council, a key organ of the regime. It’s one of numerous recent reminders that most Iranians are vastly more open-minded than the thugs who run their country.
As I wrote yesterday, a lot was hanging on whether United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon would decide to ignore the urging of President Obama and go to Iran for the meeting of the Non-Aligned Movement. Doing so would make a mockery of the administration’s claim that they had successfully isolated the Islamist regime as part of a campaign to force it to give up its quest for nuclear weapons. But when faced with a choice of offending the Non-Aligned Movement and its Iranian host or President Obama and Israel, Secretary General Ban picked the lesser of two evils from his point of view and affirmed today that he was heading to Tehran.
There are those who will say with justice that nobody has cared about the Non-Aligned Movement since the fall of the Berlin Wall rendered this Third World strategy of playing the West against the former Soviet Union moot. However, Ban’s visit puts the icing on the cake for the ayatollah’s effort to show how the world is refusing to shun them the way other rogue regimes have been treated. That Ban would decide to go to Iran only a week after its leaders issued a new round of statements calling for the elimination of fellow UN member Israel is an outrage in itself. But by hosting the representatives of 120 countries with the head of the world body along with them, the Iranians have good reason to argue that this demonstrates that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s claim that she has successfully isolated Iran is a joke.
The Democratic Party is fighting hard to revive that tired “war on women” meme. Today it announced its list of 10 female convention speakers, which CNN described as part of an “attempt by Team Obama to woo women away from the Republican Party”:
Nine additional Democratic women, many with ties to specific voting blocks, will address the national convention in Charlotte, North Carolina, the Democratic National Convention Committee said Wednesday.
The list includes Rep. Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin; Georgetown student Sandra Fluke; Caroline Kennedy; Lilly Ledbetter; Eva Longoria, a co-chair of the Obama campaign; former Assistant Veterans Affairs Secretary Tammy Duckworth; Sen. Barbara Mikulski of Maryland and Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Action Fund.
Did you get that? Democrats want the world to know they’re going to have women speaking at their convention, which is apparently considered some sort of accomplishment in DNC-land. This may come as a shock to them, but the RNC has the same number of women slated to speak. That wasn’t widely promoted in a press release because, in 2012, Americans have become accustomed to women being involved in the political process. But kudos to the DNC for continuing that long-held tradition.
Last week, I wrote about the Israeli public’s preparation for one aspect of a possible attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities: the vast threat of Iran’s likely response, which would begin with thousands of rockets from Hezbollah’s stronghold in southern Lebanon. At this point, most of Israel is within range of rockets from either Lebanon or Gaza, though the rockets in Lebanon are more advanced and more numerous, and defended by a better-trained and more resilient terrorist organization.
Today, former Israeli defense minister Moshe Arens tackles what this means in practical terms for Israeli military strategy, and concludes that Israel should attack south Lebanon before a Western attack on Iran’s nuclear installations:
What is certain is that we are facing a real and imminent danger to our civilian population. Hezbollah’s rockets are the Iranian nuclear project’s first line of defense. Is it not reasonable to attack that first line of defense before doing anything else? Should it not be made clear to one and all that Hezbollah’s armory of rockets in Lebanon must be dismantled? They are a weapon of terror, pure and simple, and they now stand guard over the preparation of the worst terror weapon of all – an Iranian nuclear bomb. If all agree that the world will not accept the existence of an Iranian nuclear weapon, will it agree to the continued existence of the first line of defense guarding that weapon?…
Here, too, as in the case of the Iranian nuclear project, it would be preferable to do this without resorting to military action. The majority of Lebanon’s citizens are almost as interested as Israel is in dismantling Hezbollah’s armory of rockets. And Hezbollah, a terrorist organization and a supporter of Bashar Assad in Syria, has few friends aside from Iran in the world. A public campaign can be launched to send them the message that they must dismantle their rocket armory. It would exert pressure on them from other quarters of the world. And if that doesn’t work, there remains the military option. It is going to take some preparation, but it can be done. It needs to be done. First things first.
Republicans are mourning what most now concede is the certain loss of a U.S. Senate race in Missouri that they were sure was a pickup for the GOP only last week. Rep. Todd Akin’s idiotic comments about rape and pregnancy has elevated embattled Sen. Claire McCaskill from likely lame duck to someone who is favored for another six years in Washington. That’s a blow to Republican hopes of finding the four turnovers they need to take control of the Senate next year and repeal ObamaCare, but a Rasmussen poll may give them some hope of making up for the Akin fiasco. The latest survey of the race to replace outgoing independent Democrat Joe Lieberman shows Republican Linda McMahon grabbing a surprising 49 to 46 percent lead over Democratic Rep. Chris Murphy among likely voters.
Throughout this year, McMahon has polled badly in a general election matchup against Murphy. That was the argument former congressman Chris Shays used in the Republican primary earlier this month, but the overwhelming majority of GOP voters rejected him in a landslide win for McMahon. But if the Rasmussen poll is not an outlier, it may be a sign that the pro wrestling entrepreneur may actually have a shot of stealing a seat that almost all political observers had assumed was in the pocket of the Democrats.
Todd Akin missed his 5 p.m. dropout deadline yesterday, but technically he still has a few weeks to step aside and make room for a Republican replacement (as long as he gets court approval). ABC News reports that Akin isn’t ruling out an exit:
Here’s what Missouri Congressman Todd Akin said when I asked if he was in the race to stay – even if it looked like he would lose and possibly cost Republicans control of the Senate.
“Well George, I’m never going to say everything that could possibly happen. I don’t know the future, but I do know this. I knew that the party voters took a look at our hearts, understood who we were, had a chance to meet us in many, many different ways and made a decision,” Akin told me. “And it makes me uncomfortable to think that the party bosses are going to dictate who runs as opposed to the election process.”
Avigdor Lieberman is back in trouble today. His boss, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, had to distance himself from a letter the foreign minister sent to the diplomatic Quartet urging the ouster of Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas. Netanyahu agreed with Lieberman “Abu Mazen” — Abbas’s nom de guerre — “creates difficulties in negotiations” but said he was dedicated to trying to work for peace with the Palestinians and had no interest in interfering in their internal politics. That was the appropriate response, but Abbas latest foray into “peacemaking” illustrates why many Israelis think Lieberman is right.
The PA president, who is currently serving the eighth year of a four-year presidential term, spoke today on the anniversary of an attack on the mosques of Jerusalem’s Temple Mount by a deranged Australian Christian in 1969. The man started a fire that was quickly put out. He was tried and found to be clinically insane and eventually deported. But the Palestinians, who have deliberately desecrated Jewish holy sites such as the Tomb of Joseph in Nablus, are still milking the unfortunate incident for all its worth. Abbas falsely alleged that Israel is plotting to destroy the mosques and then demanded that all Jews be thrown out of the parts of the city that were illegally occupied by Jordan from 1949 to 1967. That means over a quarter of a million Jewish Jerusalemites are, according to him, scheduled for eviction from their homes. This shows that Abbas’s vision of peace bears a strange resemblance to Hamas’s vision of unending war on Israel.
The “legitimate rape” comment is hardly the first controversial thing rogue Senate candidate Todd Akin has said in his career. So why did national Republican leadership stand by silently as he shot to victory — with the help of $1.5 million in Democratic money — in such a critical Republican Senate primary? You would think the fact that Claire McCaskill was running pro-Akin ads should have been enough of a red flag.
One reason could be that the National Republican Senatorial Committee has declined to endorse and fund candidates in open seat primaries, after the blowback it received from the conservative grassroots in 2009 and 2010. Back then; NRSC came under massive fire from the Tea Party for backing “RINO” Republicans like Charlie Crist (over Rubio in Florida), Lisa Murkowski (over Joe Miller in Alaska) and Arlen Specter (over Pat Toomey in Pennsylvania). Conservatives inundated the phone lines of the NRSC and its chair Sen. John Cornyn’s office, demanding support for Tea Party-approved candidates.
President Obama was talking tough on Monday when he said that he would consider using force in Syria if Bashar Assad uses chemical weapons against his own people. That’s a good marker to lay down, but the way the president phrased the threat he implicitly gave the Assad regime permission to commit any atrocities short of using chemical weapons safe in the knowledge that the U.S. will do nothing to stop the slaughter.
The hollowness of Obama’s policy has been further exposed in this Washington Post article which quotes Syrian opposition officials complaining that they have not gotten the influx of communications gear promised to them by the president. The provision of computers, laptops, radios, etc., has been the administration’s response to demands that the U.S. provide weapons and other supplies to help overthrow Assad. Turns out our help has been mainly rhetorical so far. The Post reveals: “U.S. officials and Syrian nationals involved in the program said that it is slated to expand in the coming months but that fewer than two dozen laptop computers and satellite modem kits had been distributed so far.”
I don’t want to be too optimistic about these numbers, since there’s still two and a half months of Mediscaring to go, and Democrats haven’t even gone full-blast on it yet. Still, this WaPo-ABC News poll (via the Fix) is pretty promising for Paul Ryan:
Grandma isn’t scared of Paul Ryan.
A new Washington Post-ABC News poll shows 41 percent of Americans view the new GOP vice presidential nominee favorably, while 37 percent rate him unfavorably — slightly improved from last week’s polling.
Among seniors, though, the numbers are even better for Ryan: 50 percent favorable and 35 percent unfavorable. Fully one-third of seniors say they have a strongly favorable view of the Wisconsin congressman, while one-quarter have a strongly unfavorable view.
The numbers suggest Democrats’ attempts to turn Ryan’s Medicare proposal against the GOP haven’t stuck yet among the most pivotal group: seniors. If a Medicare attack was working, after all, seniors would likely be the first group to start deserting Ryan.
It’s not just that the attempts have failed to stick. The fact that 33 percent of seniors (a plurality in this poll) say they hold strongly favorable views of Ryan suggests that this group a.) has probably taken time to think about him and made a relatively well-formed decision, and b.) is less likely to be swayed into the negative camp. That will make it more difficult for Democrats to spread misinformation about Ryan’s positions on Medicare.
The well-deserved furor over Todd Akin’s boneheaded comments has been diverting attention from another tempest involving a GOP congressman going skinny-dipping in the Sea of Galilee while on a visit to Israel organized by an offshoot of AIPAC. The New York Times, among other MSM outlets, appears eager to turn the entire trip into a “scandal”–see for example this editorial disguised as a news article. It discusses the Israel outing in the context of “famous travel boondoggles” such as the Scotland golfing trip arranged by influence-peddler Jack Abramoff. Yet by all accounts the Israel trips organized by AIPAC are filled with substantive policy meetings. Even if the congressmen spent all their time going to tourist attracts such as the Sea of Galilee and Dead Sea, however, I would still be all in favor of such trips.
Does anyone seriously think that members of Congress in general, and members of the House in particular, are too worldly, sophisticated, and cosmopolitan? Au contraire. Many of them don’t even own a passport when elected. That’s hardly surprising since the bulk of them come from local politics–not from the Foreign Service or, for that matter, the armed forces. But lack of personal familiarity with the world beyond America’s shores leaves them ill-prepared to vote on national security matters ranging from foreign operations and defense budgets to treaty ratifications and authorizations for the use of military force. This is a major problem and allowing nonprofits to fund travel for members of Congress helps to alleviate it. Banning these trips will do nothing to elevate congressional ethics. It will do much to elevate congressional ignorance.
One side effect of the American political habit of fighting metaphorical “wars”—the war on poverty, the war on drugs—is the blurring of distinctions. But the war on drugs stands apart as trickier case: it may be a metaphorical war here, but it is very real once that war stretches beyond our borders. The situation in Mexico is a perfect example, where Ciudad Juarez became one of the most dangerous and bloody cities in the world.
And paradoxically, in Mexico losing the war doesn’t seem all that different from what a victory might look like. The Washington Post reports:
It was one of the most sensational killing sprees in recent history, with 10,500 people left dead in the streets of Juarez as two powerful drug mafias went to war. In 2010, the peak, there were at least 3,115 homicides, with many months posting more than 300 deaths, according to the newspaper El Diario. Mexico is still struggling to make sense of the bloodshed.
But the fever seems to have broken.
Last month, there were just 48 homicides — 33 by gun, seven by beatings, six by strangulation and two by knife. Of these, authorities consider 40 to be related to the drug trade or criminal rivalries.
Authorities attribute the decrease in killings to their own efforts: patrols by the army, arrests by police, new schools to keep young men out of gangs and in the classroom.
Yet ordinary Mexicans suspect there is another, more credible reason for the decline in extreme violence: The most-wanted drug lord in the world, Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, and his Sinaloa cartel have won control of the local narcotics trade and smuggling routes north.
One of the unfortunate consequences of the Todd Akin fiasco for Republicans has been the way the jaw-dropping stupidity of his comment about rape and pregnancy has been used to shine a spotlight on the party platform that will be adopted next week at their national convention in Tampa. Not surprisingly, the document contains a plank opposing abortion and does so in absolute terms without discussing any possible exceptions including for the life of the mother or rape. That is a position that many social conservatives hold but is probably not shared by most Republicans, even those who consider themselves pro-life. This plank will help liberals who will use it to bolster their fallacious claim that the GOP is fighting a “war on women” so as to distract voters from the failed record of President Obama. But the real misnomer here is not so much the disingenuous talking points of the Democrats as the assumption that a party platform has any real meaning in this day and age.
Like the national conventions themselves, platforms are a vestige of a bygone era when the candidates were actually chosen at these gatherings. In the past, platforms were a big deal with the committees tasked with writing the document holding public hearings and the debate and votes on the various planks were big news stories. They aren’t anymore–for a good reason. Though some people take a lot of trouble writing them, they are utterly meaningless. They are a convenient way to mollify party activists by giving them something to do that will be ignored even if their side wins in November. If the platform actually meant anything there might have been a fight about its language. The only people who pay attention to the platforms are researchers looking for ammunition to use against their opponents.