Commentary Magazine


Posts For: September 2012

Libya Attack Still an Inexplicable Failure

All of the back and forth over whether the killing of Ambassador Chris Stevens in Benghazi was or was not a “terrorist” attack (can there be any doubt that it was?) has obscured attention from the real issue: Why wasn’t the consulate in Benghazi afforded better protection? There was obviously a grave breach of security. The Washington Post reveals the depth of unpreparedness:

U.S. officials appear to have underestimated the threat facing both the ambassador and other Americans. They had not reinforced the U.S. diplomatic outpost there to meet strict safety standards for government buildings overseas. Nor had they posted a U.S. Marine detachment, as at other diplomatic sites in high-threat regions.

A U.S. military team assigned to establish security at the new embassy in Tripoli, in a previously undisclosed detail, was never instructed to fortify the temporary hub in the east. Instead, a small local guard force was hired by a British private security firm as part of a contract worth less than half of what it costs to deploy a single U.S. service member in a war zone for a year.

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All of the back and forth over whether the killing of Ambassador Chris Stevens in Benghazi was or was not a “terrorist” attack (can there be any doubt that it was?) has obscured attention from the real issue: Why wasn’t the consulate in Benghazi afforded better protection? There was obviously a grave breach of security. The Washington Post reveals the depth of unpreparedness:

U.S. officials appear to have underestimated the threat facing both the ambassador and other Americans. They had not reinforced the U.S. diplomatic outpost there to meet strict safety standards for government buildings overseas. Nor had they posted a U.S. Marine detachment, as at other diplomatic sites in high-threat regions.

A U.S. military team assigned to establish security at the new embassy in Tripoli, in a previously undisclosed detail, was never instructed to fortify the temporary hub in the east. Instead, a small local guard force was hired by a British private security firm as part of a contract worth less than half of what it costs to deploy a single U.S. service member in a war zone for a year.

This lapse is all the more shocking given the fact that the State Department Bureau of Diplomatic Security is known for taking an ultra-cautious approach to protecting America’s representatives abroad. Heads should roll over this failure. (They should also roll over the Anglo-American military failure to protect Harrier jump jets at Camp Bastion in Afghanistan.) And senior officials in the Obama administration, starting with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, must explain how this inexplicable failure took place.

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No, Obama Didn’t Call Benghazi “Act of Terror” in Speech

Now that the Obama administration’s initial narrative that the Benghazi assault was a spontaneous response to an anti-Islam film has collapsed, the new spin from the White House is that President Obama has actually called it a terrorist attack all along.

“Well, first of all, Candy, as you know, the President called it an act of terror the day after it happened,” David Axelrod told CNN’s Candy Crowley this morning, referring to a speech Obama made in the Rose Garden on Sept. 12.

Axelrod’s claim has been pushed by journalists over the past few days, most notably Josh Gerstein at Politico, in a blog post headlined “Obama talked of Libya attack as ‘terror’ 2 weeks ago”:

Despite a drumbeat from the right and even independent fact-checkers that President Barack Obama has been unwilling to label as terrorism the attack on a United States diplomatic mission in Libya, the president indicated just a day after the killing of the American ambassador there that the assault was part of a series of “acts of terror” the U.S. has faced.

Mark Landler made the same claim in an otherwise solid article at the New York Times:

The White House maintains that its account changed as intelligence agencies gathered more details about the attack, not from any desire to diminish its gravity. Mr. Obama, his aides point out, labeled the assault an “act of terror” in his first public response, in the Rose Garden, a day after it happened.

Gerstein and Landler are simply wrong on this.

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Now that the Obama administration’s initial narrative that the Benghazi assault was a spontaneous response to an anti-Islam film has collapsed, the new spin from the White House is that President Obama has actually called it a terrorist attack all along.

“Well, first of all, Candy, as you know, the President called it an act of terror the day after it happened,” David Axelrod told CNN’s Candy Crowley this morning, referring to a speech Obama made in the Rose Garden on Sept. 12.

Axelrod’s claim has been pushed by journalists over the past few days, most notably Josh Gerstein at Politico, in a blog post headlined “Obama talked of Libya attack as ‘terror’ 2 weeks ago”:

Despite a drumbeat from the right and even independent fact-checkers that President Barack Obama has been unwilling to label as terrorism the attack on a United States diplomatic mission in Libya, the president indicated just a day after the killing of the American ambassador there that the assault was part of a series of “acts of terror” the U.S. has faced.

Mark Landler made the same claim in an otherwise solid article at the New York Times:

The White House maintains that its account changed as intelligence agencies gathered more details about the attack, not from any desire to diminish its gravity. Mr. Obama, his aides point out, labeled the assault an “act of terror” in his first public response, in the Rose Garden, a day after it happened.

Gerstein and Landler are simply wrong on this.

Obama said during the speech that “No acts of terror will ever shake the resolve of this great nation” — but at no point was it clear that he was using that term to describe the attack in Benghazi. He’d also spent the previous two paragraphs discussing the 9/11 attacks and the aftermath. “Acts of terror” could have just as easily been a reference to that. Or maybe it wasn’t a direct reference to anything, just a generic, reassuring line he’d added into a speech which did take place, after all, the day after the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. Here’s the line with some additional context:

Of course, yesterday was already a painful day for our nation as we marked the solemn memory of the 9/11 attacks.  We mourned with the families who were lost on that day.  I visited the graves of troops who made the ultimate sacrifice in Iraq and Afghanistan at the hallowed grounds of Arlington Cemetery, and had the opportunity to say thank you and visit some of our wounded warriors at Walter Reed.  And then last night, we learned the news of this attack in Benghazi.

As Americans, let us never, ever forget that our freedom is only sustained because there are people who are willing to fight for it, to stand up for it, and in some cases, lay down their lives for it.  Our country is only as strong as the character of our people and the service of those both civilian and military who represent us around the globe.

No acts of terror will ever shake the resolve of this great nation, alter that character, or eclipse the light of the values that we stand for.  Today we mourn four more Americans who represent the very best of the United States of America.  We will not waver in our commitment to see that justice is done for this terrible act.  And make no mistake, justice will be done.

If Obama wanted to call the Benghazi assault a terrorist attack in that speech, he had plenty of opportunities to do so. Instead, he described it as a “terrible act,” a “brutal” act, “senseless violence,” and called the attackers “killers,” not terrorists. It’s also important to consider the context. For a week after this speech, the White House would not call it a terrorist attack. The official position was that Libya was a spontaneous response to an anti-Islam film, not a premeditated or preplanned act.

Some may wonder why it even matters. Maybe Obama really was referring to Benghazi as an “act of terror” in the speech, and he just failed to make that clear enough — so what?

Actually, this is much more than an issue of semantics. Calling it a terrorist attack would have given Obama powers under the Authorization for the Use of Military Force Against Terrorists (AUMF) to use military action, including drone warfare, against the perpetrators. If he were serious about “bring[ing] to justice the killers,” which he vowed to do in the speech, then labeling this incident a terrorist attack (if he believed that’s what it was) would have been critical. Instead, we now have the FBI sitting with its hands bound in Tripoli, unable to move forward with a serious investigation.

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Gwen Ifill Preempts the Presidential Debate

Sure sign that President Obama’s media cheerleaders are worried about his upcoming debate performance?  Four days before the first debate, Gwen Ifill of PBS has an op-ed in The Washington Post downplaying the importance of . . . debates.  Or, as she puts it, “debunk[ing] five myths about presidential debates.”

Myth Number One: Voters use debates to decide.”

As Ms. Ifill explains, “Gallup polls going back decades show precious little shift in established voter trends before and after debates.”

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Sure sign that President Obama’s media cheerleaders are worried about his upcoming debate performance?  Four days before the first debate, Gwen Ifill of PBS has an op-ed in The Washington Post downplaying the importance of . . . debates.  Or, as she puts it, “debunk[ing] five myths about presidential debates.”

Myth Number One: Voters use debates to decide.”

As Ms. Ifill explains, “Gallup polls going back decades show precious little shift in established voter trends before and after debates.”

Her article consists largely of some pretty pallid pabulum, the tired clichés you might expect from a public television host whose expertise on the subject arises from her experience as moderator of the 2004 and 2008 vice presidential debates.  The moderator shouldn’t argue with the debaters, for example; the candidates don’t get to approve questions in advance; the best zinger doesn’t necessarily win a debate.  Yada yada yada.  Her point about the impact on voters of debates isn’t exactly hot news, either.  But timing is everything, isn’t it?

So, given that we all know that Mr. Obama doesn’t exactly shine without his teleprompter, and that Mr. Romney is pretty good in a debate, would it be too cynical to suggest that Ms. Ifill and The Post are engaging in a bit of preemptive self-comforting?

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Is Abbas Israel’s Necessary Enemy?

As we noted on Thursday, the main point to be gleaned from Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas’s address to the General Assembly of the United Nations was his utter irrelevance. That Abbas was reduced to pleading with a friendly audience not to ignore his cause was both pathetic and a clear sign he is painfully aware that the international community has lost interest in him, if not the Palestinians as a whole. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, who spoke from the same podium shortly after Abbas spoke, confirmed Abbas’s insignificance by only briefly mentioning the Palestinians in remarks that were centered on the Iranian nuclear threat. But the PA head’s latest insults directed at Israel did not go completely unanswered by Israel. Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, never one to pull his punches, pointed out the obvious when he said, as Haaretz reports:

Lieberman characterized Abbas as “the biggest obstacle to peace…everyone who heard Abbas’s speech understands that he does not intend, and does not want, to be a partner in a peace agreement,” while in a meeting in New York with foreign ministers of France, Spain, Russia and others.

Lieberman is right about all of this, but his desire to see Abbas replaced as head of the Palestinian Authority generated a response from his cabinet colleague, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who characterized Lieberman’s statement as detrimental to Israel’s interests. Barak said the alternative to Abbas’s rule in the West Bank is Hamas. That both men are basically right about Abbas sums up Israel’s peace process dilemma in a nutshell.

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As we noted on Thursday, the main point to be gleaned from Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas’s address to the General Assembly of the United Nations was his utter irrelevance. That Abbas was reduced to pleading with a friendly audience not to ignore his cause was both pathetic and a clear sign he is painfully aware that the international community has lost interest in him, if not the Palestinians as a whole. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, who spoke from the same podium shortly after Abbas spoke, confirmed Abbas’s insignificance by only briefly mentioning the Palestinians in remarks that were centered on the Iranian nuclear threat. But the PA head’s latest insults directed at Israel did not go completely unanswered by Israel. Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, never one to pull his punches, pointed out the obvious when he said, as Haaretz reports:

Lieberman characterized Abbas as “the biggest obstacle to peace…everyone who heard Abbas’s speech understands that he does not intend, and does not want, to be a partner in a peace agreement,” while in a meeting in New York with foreign ministers of France, Spain, Russia and others.

Lieberman is right about all of this, but his desire to see Abbas replaced as head of the Palestinian Authority generated a response from his cabinet colleague, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who characterized Lieberman’s statement as detrimental to Israel’s interests. Barak said the alternative to Abbas’s rule in the West Bank is Hamas. That both men are basically right about Abbas sums up Israel’s peace process dilemma in a nutshell.

Though Lieberman is generally dismissed as a bull in the diplomatic china shop, his disgust with Abbas is entirely justified. The Palestinian’s stated desire for negotiations is given the lie by the fact that he has refused to negotiate for the past four years, even during a period when Israel adopted a West Bank settlement freeze. That followed his refusal even to discuss a generous peace offer from Israel in 2008 that would have given the Palestinians an independent state in almost the entire West Bank, Gaza and a share of Jerusalem. Abbas has neither the interest nor the will to make peace. Whatever his personal inclinations, he knows the Palestinians won’t accept any accord that legitimizes a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn, and he will never sign any treaty that would conclusively end the conflict. The PA leader sanctions the fomenting of anti-Semitism and hatred for Israel in his official media. Abbas is also corrupt and undemocratic, as he is currently serving in the eighth year of a four-year presidential term because he is afraid of facing his Hamas rivals in a free election.

But Barak is right when he notes that the alternative to Abbas is far worse. Were the Islamists of Hamas who currently run Gaza to extend their rule to the West Bank, it would produce a security nightmare for Israel. Abbas is an obstacle to a peace settlement. But the choice for Israel is not between peace with the PA or war with Hamas, but between the unsatisfactory status quo and a worsening security situation with a Hamas that has gained strength at Abbas’s expense.

The notion of a “Palestinian Spring” in which West Bankers would rise up and throw out a corrupt Fatah would not lead to either democracy or peace, but a Hamas government that would be a formula for further instability and violence.

Critics of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu like to blame him and Israel for the stalemate in the peace process, but Israelis understand that peace simply isn’t an option until there is a sea change in the political culture of the Palestinians that might make it a possibility. The best scenario they can hope for is a continuation of a situation where terrorism is under control. For that, as Barak argues, they need Abbas and Fatah. He may be an enemy, but under the current circumstances, he appears to be a necessary one. That’s a hard truth that both left-wing Israel-haters and Israeli right-wingers must make their peace with.

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Obama Poll Surge Doesn’t Jibe With Democrats’ Registration Decline

Many Republicans are not buying the numbers produced by national polls in the last few weeks that show President Obama padding his lead over Mitt Romney. Some of this sentiment can be put down to wishful thinking by conservatives who can’t fathom why so many Americans want to re-elect Obama. It is only human nature that we tend to think polls that verify our views of the way things should be are credible while dismissing those that contradict as bogus. Indeed, with the president taking the lead in so many national as well as swing state polls recently it is difficult to argue that the race hasn’t shifted in his direction. However, there are those, such as former Bill Clinton advisor/pollster and current pundit Dick Morris, who have consistently argued that the polls are wrong because their turnout model is incorrect. Morris believes that all of their numbers reflect a belief that the Democrats will be able to match their historic turnout they achieved in 2008, something he argues is not remotely likely to happen.

Morris’s argument was widely dismissed as mere spin by a conservative-leaning analyst, but recent reports showing a huge decline in Democratic registration when compared to four years ago should give even the most sanguine liberals some food for thought. As Fox News reports, several studies have shown that the number of voters declaring themselves to be Democrats has dipped precipitately in swing states, particularly in Ohio. The same is true, as I noted back in July, in Pennsylvania. That leaves us with a conundrum. If, as even left-wing think tanks agree, Democratic voter registration is in decline, why are pollsters assuming that the electorate will largely resemble the messianic “hope and change” outpouring that elected Barack Obama? And if they are wrong about the turnout model, does that mean their forecasts showing the president cruising to re-election are also incorrect?

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Many Republicans are not buying the numbers produced by national polls in the last few weeks that show President Obama padding his lead over Mitt Romney. Some of this sentiment can be put down to wishful thinking by conservatives who can’t fathom why so many Americans want to re-elect Obama. It is only human nature that we tend to think polls that verify our views of the way things should be are credible while dismissing those that contradict as bogus. Indeed, with the president taking the lead in so many national as well as swing state polls recently it is difficult to argue that the race hasn’t shifted in his direction. However, there are those, such as former Bill Clinton advisor/pollster and current pundit Dick Morris, who have consistently argued that the polls are wrong because their turnout model is incorrect. Morris believes that all of their numbers reflect a belief that the Democrats will be able to match their historic turnout they achieved in 2008, something he argues is not remotely likely to happen.

Morris’s argument was widely dismissed as mere spin by a conservative-leaning analyst, but recent reports showing a huge decline in Democratic registration when compared to four years ago should give even the most sanguine liberals some food for thought. As Fox News reports, several studies have shown that the number of voters declaring themselves to be Democrats has dipped precipitately in swing states, particularly in Ohio. The same is true, as I noted back in July, in Pennsylvania. That leaves us with a conundrum. If, as even left-wing think tanks agree, Democratic voter registration is in decline, why are pollsters assuming that the electorate will largely resemble the messianic “hope and change” outpouring that elected Barack Obama? And if they are wrong about the turnout model, does that mean their forecasts showing the president cruising to re-election are also incorrect?

While all polls are merely a snapshot of public opinion at a given moment, the registration numbers can’t be debated. Voter registration in Ohio is down by 490,000 from 2008 when, as was the case around the country, there was a flood of young and minority first-time voters eager to elect the first African American to the presidency. That decline in Ohio appears to be largely concentrated in the three largest counties that contain urban cities like Cleveland, where Democrats predominate. That same trend is reflected elsewhere. As Fox notes:

Ohio is not alone. An August study by the left-leaning think tank Third Way showed that the Democratic voter registration decline in eight key swing states outnumbered the Republican decline by a 10-to-one ratio. In Florida, Democratic registration is down 4.9 percent, in Iowa down 9.5 percent. And in New Hampshire, it’s down 19.7 percent.

Does this mean that the polls that show Obama ahead are, by definition, wrong? Not necessarily. After all, the president may be gaining among independents, something that the Fox story points out may be driven by Obama’s support for the auto industry bailout. It is also true, as liberal analyst Nate Silver pointed out last night in a New York Times blog that was intended to answer conservative skeptics about the Obama surge:

Party identification is not a hard-and-fast demographic characteristic like race, age or gender. Instead, it can change in reaction to news and political events from the party conventions to the Sept. 11 attacks. Since changes in public opinion are precisely what polls are trying to measure, it would defeat the purpose of conducting a survey if pollsters insisted that they knew what it was ahead of time.

If the focus on “oversampling” and party identification is misplaced, however, FiveThirtyEight does encourage a healthy skepticism toward polling. Polling is difficult, after all, in an era in which even the best pollsters struggle to get 10 percent of households to return their calls — and then have to hope that the people who do answer the surveys are representative of those who do not.

It seems reasonable to assume that turnout in 2012 will not be fueled by the same passion that drove his 2008 campaign and that Republicans will not have the same advantage they had in 2010 when discouraged Democrats stayed home and the Tea Party revolution powered the GOP to an equally historic victory. The decline in Democrat registration would seem to back up these conclusions.

A biased media may have exacerbated Romney’s recent difficulties but it would be absurd to deny that he has lost ground. To assume that all the polls are wrong may be wishful thinking by conservatives. But blind faith in their accuracy on the part of Democrats might be equally foolish. The turnout models may have baked in a pro-Obama bias that makes Romney’s plight look worse than it really is. Should the president start to widen his lead, that skewing of the numbers won’t be that meaningful. But if Romney uses a strong debate performance to turn the tide and the race tights back up, then it will be important.

Just as Republicans must guard against indulging in fantasies that reflect their desires rather than reality, so, too, must Democrats understand that if they allow a poorly constructed poll model to feed their overconfidence, they may regret it on Election Day.

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Sex, Gender and Culture on Campus

Meanwhile, on the lighter side, back in Academe . . .

The Eagle, American University’s student newspaper, was about to create a “hostile work environment” for Assistant Anthropology Professor Adrienne Pine by running a story about her breastfeeding her baby during the opening lecture of her intro “Sex, Gender, and Culture” class. It seems the baby woke up sick that day and couldn’t be sent to daycare. So, rather than cancel the class, Ms. Pine brought her daughter to the lecture room, where she crawled around on the floor, tried to eat a paper clip, made a beeline for an electrical outlet, and ultimately needed to be breastfed.

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Meanwhile, on the lighter side, back in Academe . . .

The Eagle, American University’s student newspaper, was about to create a “hostile work environment” for Assistant Anthropology Professor Adrienne Pine by running a story about her breastfeeding her baby during the opening lecture of her intro “Sex, Gender, and Culture” class. It seems the baby woke up sick that day and couldn’t be sent to daycare. So, rather than cancel the class, Ms. Pine brought her daughter to the lecture room, where she crawled around on the floor, tried to eat a paper clip, made a beeline for an electrical outlet, and ultimately needed to be breastfed.

A student — perhaps sadly inhibited about public nipple displays, or possibly arrogantly assuming that his or her $50,000-a-year tuition might have earned a professor’s undivided attention — alerted The Eagle, which promptly dispatched a reporter to get Ms. Pine’s side of the story. Was it appropriate to nurse in class? Was anyone made uncomfortable? Had she crossed a line? Ms. Pine — with visions of tenure dancing in her head — couldn’t have a story about her breasts circulating in an endless loop on the Internet. She tried womanfully to convince The Eagle that this was a non-story: “I tried to explain that in most other societies, people don’t have the kind of ridiculous Puritanical hangups that would turn a working woman breastfeeding into a newsworthy ‘incident,’” she reports in “The Dialectics of Breastfeeding on Campus: Exposéing My Breasts on the Internet,” published on CounterPunch, the news site once edited by the late Alexander Cockburn, RIP.

When it looked like The Eagle was going ahead with the story, Ms. Pine simply had no choice but to get out ahead of it and write that CounterPunch piece — all 3,800 words of it. There were, after all, principles at stake here. “I was being targeted as a working woman in a way that would permanently tie my reputation to my perceived biological condition.” And “[t]o be honest, if there were an easy way I could feed my child without calling attention to my biological condition as a mother, which inevitably assumes primacy over my preferred public status as anthropologist, writer, professor, and solidarity worker, I would do so. But there is not.” (Um, maybe a bottle?)

Well, there never was a story in The Eagle. But, thanks to Ms. Pine’s Counterpunch piece, the story did make it onto:

The Washington Post

ABC

Huffington Post

The Washington City Paper

Salon

Slate

Tenure, anyone?

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If Overconfident Obama Plays Not to Lose Debate, the Advantage Goes to Romney

With only three days to go before the first presidential debate, each campaign is, as Politico points out, already busy trying to depress expectations for their candidate and inflate those for their opponent. That means Democrats are hyping Mitt Romney’s extensive experience and preparation while Republicans are pointing to the president’s reputation as an eloquent orator even if they don’t really believe him to be all that great. But the really interesting items leaking out of the two rival camps is not so much their spin about who should be the favorite or the underdog but the candor about their approaches to the contest.

If the sources for the New York Times’s front-page debate preview story are to be trusted, President Obama seems to be preparing to play it safe on Wednesday night while Romney is going to be trying to win it outright. This may reflect their current standing in the polls, but if the president really is approaching the debate in this manner, it’s a mistake. If he really thinks that he merely needs to show Americans he feels their pain, rather than defend his record, it will allow Romney to seize the initiative. One Democrat quoted in the story says that “the sale has been made … He just needs to reaffirm it. He just needs to not get in the way.” But that approach will set him up as a standing target when what he needs to do is to try demonize Romney.

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With only three days to go before the first presidential debate, each campaign is, as Politico points out, already busy trying to depress expectations for their candidate and inflate those for their opponent. That means Democrats are hyping Mitt Romney’s extensive experience and preparation while Republicans are pointing to the president’s reputation as an eloquent orator even if they don’t really believe him to be all that great. But the really interesting items leaking out of the two rival camps is not so much their spin about who should be the favorite or the underdog but the candor about their approaches to the contest.

If the sources for the New York Times’s front-page debate preview story are to be trusted, President Obama seems to be preparing to play it safe on Wednesday night while Romney is going to be trying to win it outright. This may reflect their current standing in the polls, but if the president really is approaching the debate in this manner, it’s a mistake. If he really thinks that he merely needs to show Americans he feels their pain, rather than defend his record, it will allow Romney to seize the initiative. One Democrat quoted in the story says that “the sale has been made … He just needs to reaffirm it. He just needs to not get in the way.” But that approach will set him up as a standing target when what he needs to do is to try demonize Romney.

While one shouldn’t take expectations spin too seriously, the fact that Romney’s spent most of the last winter on the debate hot seat with a gaggle of opponents trying tear him down has to help him be ready for what will come this week. By contrast, Obama has not had to debate anyone in four years, and even then he did not face the kind of concentrated assault in his primaries that Romney experienced.

But perhaps even more important than that is the fact that the debate will subject him to something Obama has rarely experienced since taking the office: a direct and sustained face-to-face challenge from a determined opponent. This president has been largely insulated from questions about his policies. He rarely holds press conferences and generally confines his dealings with journalists to sit-downs with friendly writers. His arrogance has increased the longer he is in office, meaning the debates will be an ordeal for him and a test of his famously cool temperament. While the GOP candidate has reportedly been subjected to grueling insults in his prep sessions from sparring partner Ohio Senator Rob Portman, it is the president who is more likely to show impatience and anger than the affable Romney.

Even more to the point, if Obama believes the polls and demonstrates the kind of over confidence that his supporters have been spouting this last week, it could lead him to think he must only not lose rather than having to win. Just as Americans may not like the fact that much of the media has declared the election over several weeks before the votes are cast, the reaction to a demonstration of Obama’s well-known smugness will be very negative.

Romney is smart enough to know that he can’t play for a tie, especially in a crucial first debate. If the president thinks that’s all he has to do, he’s in for a rude awakening that could create the momentum shift that his party dreads.

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Obama Played Politics On Libya, Not Mitt

A tipping point in the ongoing efforts by the Obama administration to downplay the terrorist attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya may have been reached this weekend. After weeks of placidly regurgitating the White House spin on the Libya attack, the headlines on the front page of the New York Times showed that even the leading liberal cheerleader for the president understood the game was over: “Shifting Reports on Libya Killings May Cost Obama; An Opening for Romney; Intelligence Aides Say Attack on Compound Was ‘Organized.’”

That sums the situation up nicely, but the Times has it slightly wrong about the “Opening for Romney” it references. A proper understanding of what we have learned in the last 18 days is not that Mitt Romney’s campaign may have been given an opportunity to exploit the president’s shortcomings, but that the poor conduct of the administration in the aftermath of the Libya attack may have been motivated by their cynical political efforts to cover up a disaster of their own making. The refusal to talk about terror comes from a strategy in which the president’s re-election rests in part on promoting the idea that Obama won the war on al-Qaeda the day Osama bin Laden died. It isn’t Romney who has been playing politics on Libya but the president and his handlers.

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A tipping point in the ongoing efforts by the Obama administration to downplay the terrorist attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya may have been reached this weekend. After weeks of placidly regurgitating the White House spin on the Libya attack, the headlines on the front page of the New York Times showed that even the leading liberal cheerleader for the president understood the game was over: “Shifting Reports on Libya Killings May Cost Obama; An Opening for Romney; Intelligence Aides Say Attack on Compound Was ‘Organized.’”

That sums the situation up nicely, but the Times has it slightly wrong about the “Opening for Romney” it references. A proper understanding of what we have learned in the last 18 days is not that Mitt Romney’s campaign may have been given an opportunity to exploit the president’s shortcomings, but that the poor conduct of the administration in the aftermath of the Libya attack may have been motivated by their cynical political efforts to cover up a disaster of their own making. The refusal to talk about terror comes from a strategy in which the president’s re-election rests in part on promoting the idea that Obama won the war on al-Qaeda the day Osama bin Laden died. It isn’t Romney who has been playing politics on Libya but the president and his handlers.

On Friday, James R. Clapper Jr., the director of national intelligence, issued a statement saying that American intelligence agencies have “revised our initial assessment to reflect new information indicating that it was a deliberate and organized terrorist attack carried out by extremists.”

But after two weeks of confusion and misinformation from Washington following the attack that came on the 9/11 anniversary, this belated clarity does not undo the damage done by the often-contradictory attempts by the administration to evade responsibility for the intelligence failure that resulted in the assassination of Ambassador Christopher Stevens.

Nor does it erase the clear impression that the White House and various leading officials such as Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, have been either deceiving the nation or themselves about what is going on in the Middle East. Clapper’s statement came on the same day that the Daily Beast’s Eli Lake reported that while White House mouthpiece Jay Carney and Rice were insisting that the attacks were merely a case of film criticism that got out of hand, U.S intelligence was intercepting messages from the group that pulled off the Libya attack bragging about the deed to an al-Qaeda affiliate that may well be their masters.

The implication of this information not only undercuts the false characterizations of the attacks by the administration, but raises questions about the fact that it did not adequately communicate the truth about the danger from al-Qaeda and its allies to Ambassador Stevens. As Lake writes:

Christopher Stevens, the U.S. ambassador who was killed at the Benghazi consulate, also expressed concerns about the rise of al Qaeda in Libya. CNN first reported Stevens had concerns that he was on a Qaeda hit list, something Secretary of State Hillary Clinton denied publicly. But CNN had access to the slain ambassador’s personal journal, which supported this reporting on his concerns about security in the country where he served.

As the Times headline makes clear, this is no small scandal. What’s really troubling here is not so much that U.S. intelligence failed to prevent the attack but the sense, reinforced by the weeks of deceptive statements about these events, that no one in the Obama administration was prepared to talk about terrorism because doing so undercuts the Democratic campaign narrative about bin Laden’s death and victory over al Qaeda. It was bad enough that this message was being conveyed to the country before the Libya attack, but the stubborn persistence with which the president’s foreign policy team and spokespersons continued to claim that the trouble was an Internet video critical of Islam rather than an al-Qaeda offensive fatally undermines their credibility.

Romney was widely lambasted for his criticisms of the administration’s behavior in the first days after the event even though what he said was correct. Since then, he has been wary of doing anything that would allow his critics to claim he was trying to exploit a tragedy. But what we have learned in the last few days makes it imperative that someone should try to hold the president accountable for what has happened as well as a mindset that makes it clear his aides are more worried about potential political damage than they are about the security of our diplomats or what al-Qaeda is doing.

Indeed, even in the conclusion of the Times article the same sort of complacence can be heard. Colin Kahl, “a former Pentagon official who is an advisor to the Obama campaign,” bragged that the death of bin Laden would overshadow the impact of the revelations about the Libya attack. But Libya proves that killing bin Laden is no substitute for a coherent foreign policy. What recent events have shown is that Obama’s weak leadership and politicized judgment is leading to disaster in the Middle East. If even the New York Times understands this, one suspects that the American public may be starting to think about it too.

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Romney, MSNBC, and the McGurk Effect

It would seem that MSNBC has been caught in an act that can only be called tantamount to journalistic prostitution. Ace of Spades reports (h/t Instapundit) that the cable news network ran a clip showing an airport rally where Mitt Romney introduces Paul Ryan and the audience starts shouting, according to the chyron at the bottom of the screen, “Ryan! Ryan!” and Romney interrupts saying, “No, it’s Romney-Ryan! Romney-Ryan!” This, of course, makes Romney look both churlish and pathetic at the same time.

The only trouble is that the crowd wasn’t yelling “Ryan! Ryan!” it was yelling “Romney! Romney!” when Romney interrupts and graciously insists that his running mate is a vital part of the team–just about the exact opposite. The video, apparently, came from a left-wing blogger who put the clip on YouTube, including the chyron, and it was just much too good for MSNBC to check.

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It would seem that MSNBC has been caught in an act that can only be called tantamount to journalistic prostitution. Ace of Spades reports (h/t Instapundit) that the cable news network ran a clip showing an airport rally where Mitt Romney introduces Paul Ryan and the audience starts shouting, according to the chyron at the bottom of the screen, “Ryan! Ryan!” and Romney interrupts saying, “No, it’s Romney-Ryan! Romney-Ryan!” This, of course, makes Romney look both churlish and pathetic at the same time.

The only trouble is that the crowd wasn’t yelling “Ryan! Ryan!” it was yelling “Romney! Romney!” when Romney interrupts and graciously insists that his running mate is a vital part of the team–just about the exact opposite. The video, apparently, came from a left-wing blogger who put the clip on YouTube, including the chyron, and it was just much too good for MSNBC to check.

How does it work? It’s the McGurk effect, which, I confess, I had never heard of before this afternoon. Vision rules the human sensory apparatus. If our eyes tell us one thing and our ears another, the eyes, to coin a phrase, have it. We “hear” what our eyes tell us we heard. There’s a fascinating video at Ace of Spades of a professor explaining it.

So if you want to make the audience hear something that wasn’t said, simply put it in a chyron and you have, almost literally, put words in another person’s mouth. That’s a neat trick, especially for “journalists” who have an agenda and no integrity.

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Soros Flip-Flops on Super PACs

After insisting that he wouldn’t violate his principles by contributing to super PACs, billionaire left-wing donor George Soros has reportedly caved, and gave over $1 million to Democrat-supporting groups:

Billionaire financier George Soros has given $1 million to the primary super PAC helping President Obama.

The funding is a boost to Priorities USA Action in the final weeks of the campaign.  …

Soros is also giving $500,000 each to two congressional super PACs, one aimed at protecting the Democratic majority in the Senate and the other dedicated to winning control in the House.

Soros and other Democratic donors are betraying their principles, though I’m sure they make excuses for their hypocrisy. For example, many Americans believe bribery is unethical and is rightfully illegal, but if they suddenly found themselves stuck in a country where bribery was a fact of life, they might grit their teeth and cave. I imagine that’s similar to the way people like Soros justify violating their principles on super PACs — they’re doing this because they feel it’s necessary to compete with Republicans, and maybe even comfort themselves with the thought that Obama will work to put an end to the practice in a second term. (Though that’s not to suggest that super PACs are akin to bribery, which is a common argument on the left. As I’ve written in the past, the Citizens United decision was a matter of free speech).

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After insisting that he wouldn’t violate his principles by contributing to super PACs, billionaire left-wing donor George Soros has reportedly caved, and gave over $1 million to Democrat-supporting groups:

Billionaire financier George Soros has given $1 million to the primary super PAC helping President Obama.

The funding is a boost to Priorities USA Action in the final weeks of the campaign.  …

Soros is also giving $500,000 each to two congressional super PACs, one aimed at protecting the Democratic majority in the Senate and the other dedicated to winning control in the House.

Soros and other Democratic donors are betraying their principles, though I’m sure they make excuses for their hypocrisy. For example, many Americans believe bribery is unethical and is rightfully illegal, but if they suddenly found themselves stuck in a country where bribery was a fact of life, they might grit their teeth and cave. I imagine that’s similar to the way people like Soros justify violating their principles on super PACs — they’re doing this because they feel it’s necessary to compete with Republicans, and maybe even comfort themselves with the thought that Obama will work to put an end to the practice in a second term. (Though that’s not to suggest that super PACs are akin to bribery, which is a common argument on the left. As I’ve written in the past, the Citizens United decision was a matter of free speech).

Still, there’s a difference between theoretically opposing a practice and actively advocating to put an end to it. For example, it would be absurd for an anti-corruption activist in Russia to engage in bribery while lecturing others against.

Soros and advocacy groups he’s financed, like Media Matters and Think Progress, have been out front in the fight against super PACs. It’s immensely hypocritical for Soros and these groups to decry the corruptive influence of unlimited money in politics when Soros is contributing to super PACs. Either you’re against the practice when everybody does it, or you’re not. Someone who actively advocates against Republican super PACs, but supports Democratic super PACs, is not honestly concerned about unlimited political spending — he’s a partisan, pure and simple. It will be interesting to see how this changes the discourse on super PACs on the left. Will Soros-supported groups continue to oppose Citizens United? Or will they stop treating it as a major concern?

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Left Turns Voting Rights Into a Farce

Last week, First Lady Michelle Obama sounded a battle cry at a Congressional Black Caucus awards dinner when she said protecting the right to vote is the nation’s most important civil rights issue. If that were true, that would mean there no credible civil rights concerns in the country. What Obama was talking about was the effort by Democrats to prevent the implementation of laws requiring voters to present a photo ID when casting their ballots. The common sense measure has the support of the overwhelming majority of Americans. They understand that cheating is baked into the DNA of our political parties and see nothing unreasonable about requiring someone to do the same thing as when they wish to board a plane, a train, open a bank account or buy a beer or a cigarette: prove they are who they say there are. Mrs. Obama’s attempt to demagogue this issue is the backdrop for false liberal arguments that voter ID legislation is the modern version of the Jim Crow laws of the segregation era. Those claims are currently being adjudicated in Pennsylvania, where a judge has until Tuesday to decide whether the state’s voter ID law should be thrown out.

In August, Commonwealth Court Judge Robert E. Simpson, Jr. threw out the challenge when he said that while he was sympathetic to those who claimed they had difficulty acquiring a photo ID, there was no proof of disenfranchisement. That ruling was appealed to the Supreme Court, which has now kicked the case back to him and hearings were again held this week to determine whether the state is acting appropriately. Though the state has loosened the already lenient requirements to get a state card, the judge hinted that he might give in to pressure from liberal groups and grant an injunction to block its implementation. If so, it will undermine attempts to ensure voter integrity.

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Last week, First Lady Michelle Obama sounded a battle cry at a Congressional Black Caucus awards dinner when she said protecting the right to vote is the nation’s most important civil rights issue. If that were true, that would mean there no credible civil rights concerns in the country. What Obama was talking about was the effort by Democrats to prevent the implementation of laws requiring voters to present a photo ID when casting their ballots. The common sense measure has the support of the overwhelming majority of Americans. They understand that cheating is baked into the DNA of our political parties and see nothing unreasonable about requiring someone to do the same thing as when they wish to board a plane, a train, open a bank account or buy a beer or a cigarette: prove they are who they say there are. Mrs. Obama’s attempt to demagogue this issue is the backdrop for false liberal arguments that voter ID legislation is the modern version of the Jim Crow laws of the segregation era. Those claims are currently being adjudicated in Pennsylvania, where a judge has until Tuesday to decide whether the state’s voter ID law should be thrown out.

In August, Commonwealth Court Judge Robert E. Simpson, Jr. threw out the challenge when he said that while he was sympathetic to those who claimed they had difficulty acquiring a photo ID, there was no proof of disenfranchisement. That ruling was appealed to the Supreme Court, which has now kicked the case back to him and hearings were again held this week to determine whether the state is acting appropriately. Though the state has loosened the already lenient requirements to get a state card, the judge hinted that he might give in to pressure from liberal groups and grant an injunction to block its implementation. If so, it will undermine attempts to ensure voter integrity.

Conspicuous by her absence from the second round in front of Judge Simpson was the lead plaintiff from the initial hearings back during the summer. At that time, opponents of voter ID heralded the participation in their suit of 93-year-old Viviette Applewhite, a woman who marched with Martin Luther King Jr. Ms. Applewhite didn’t have a birth certificate or a drivers license and might have been prevented from voting. But as I wrote last month, Ms. Applewhite subsequently undermined the voter ID challenge by strolling into a Department of Motor Vehicles office, explaining her problem and emerging a short while later proudly displaying her new state photo ID as a somewhat disappointed reporter from the Philadelphia Inquirer looked on. The Inquirer had hoped to document the difficulties of getting an ID, but they had instead proved just how easy it was.

Ms. Applewhite incurred the wrath of her erstwhile leftist sympathizers for ditching them but she has been replaced with others with their own exceptional stories to engage the judge’s sympathy. No doubt, they have also been instructed to on no account use some common sense and do as Applewhite did and resolve their problem without the help of liberal lawyers with a political axe to grind.

At stake here is a the principle that voters ought to be able to verify they are who they say there as well as being residents of the district where they seek to cast their ballots, not to mention being citizens. As an elderly African-American like Ms. Applewhite proved, minorities and senior citizens are fully capable of dealing with this challenge and the state has shown it is ready to bend over backwards to help anyone who really wants to vote.

The vast majority of Americans, including most members of minority groups, have photo IDs. Those who don’t can get them free of charge from the state. Those without them can cast provisional ballots that will not be invalidated unless they cannot subsequently prove their identity. The idea that this uncomplicated law is a new version of “Jim Crow” drains that term of any meaning. Liberals have redefined “voting rights” to mean something different from what it did half a century ago. Then it meant depriving people of the right to vote on the basis of race. Now it means defending the right of any person who can’t prove their identities or citizenship to vote illegally. Mrs. Obama and the left have turned a sacred cause into a farce.

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Obama Holding Onto Liberal Jewish Voters Despite Israel, Iran Concerns

American Jews may take a more jaundiced view of the Iranian nuclear threat than the Obama administration, but that doesn’t seem to be affecting their opinions about the presidential race. The latest poll from the American Jewish Committee shows President Obama likely to take a smaller portion of the Jewish vote than he did in 2008 but avoiding the catastrophic decline that Republicans hoped his combative attitude toward Israel would produce. Obama leads Mitt Romney by a 65-24 percent margin among Jewish voters. That represents a marked decline from the 78 percent he got in 2008 (though Democrats now claim the number was only 74 percent). But Romney’s inability to get more than a quarter of the Jewish vote shows that resistance to the GOP among this largely liberal group is still intense.

That still shows a potential loss among Jewish voters for Obama that was larger than his expected decline from the totals he had in 2008 among the rest of the population. That can be reasonably interpreted as a backlash against the administration’s endless rounds of fights with Israel’s government, such as the latest one over Iran that gave the lie to the Democrats’ election-year Jewish charm offensive. But Romney’s failure to make more of this weakness on Obama’s part undermines any scenario by which lost Jewish votes for the Democrats could alter the outcome in swing states like Florida. While the poll shows some progress for the GOP this year, the data show that liberal ideology and partisan affinity for the Democrats still overwhelms any concerns about the Middle East for the majority of Jews.

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American Jews may take a more jaundiced view of the Iranian nuclear threat than the Obama administration, but that doesn’t seem to be affecting their opinions about the presidential race. The latest poll from the American Jewish Committee shows President Obama likely to take a smaller portion of the Jewish vote than he did in 2008 but avoiding the catastrophic decline that Republicans hoped his combative attitude toward Israel would produce. Obama leads Mitt Romney by a 65-24 percent margin among Jewish voters. That represents a marked decline from the 78 percent he got in 2008 (though Democrats now claim the number was only 74 percent). But Romney’s inability to get more than a quarter of the Jewish vote shows that resistance to the GOP among this largely liberal group is still intense.

That still shows a potential loss among Jewish voters for Obama that was larger than his expected decline from the totals he had in 2008 among the rest of the population. That can be reasonably interpreted as a backlash against the administration’s endless rounds of fights with Israel’s government, such as the latest one over Iran that gave the lie to the Democrats’ election-year Jewish charm offensive. But Romney’s failure to make more of this weakness on Obama’s part undermines any scenario by which lost Jewish votes for the Democrats could alter the outcome in swing states like Florida. While the poll shows some progress for the GOP this year, the data show that liberal ideology and partisan affinity for the Democrats still overwhelms any concerns about the Middle East for the majority of Jews.

While previous polls of Jewish voters have encountered skepticism because of sample size, this AJCommittee poll avoids that problem. Though the margin of error is fairly large at five percent, the sample consists of 1,040 Jews rather than the much smaller numbers of previous polls, including one also sponsored by the organization that showed Obama leading by a larger margin in Florida than many though reasonable.

The breakdown by denomination shows the depth of the Republicans’ problem. Obama has large leads among Conservative and Reform Jews as well as those who call themselves “just Jewish.” But Romney has a 54-40 percent edge among Orthodox voters. Given that the survey showed only 8.3 percent of the Jewish voting population were Orthodox, that accounts for the lopsided margin. However, that does give the GOP some hope for improving their lot in the future, since the Orthodox are the fastest growing sector of American Jewry.

Given the ongoing tussle between Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu over the former’s refusal to set red lines about the Iranian threat, it is interesting to note that 64 percent of Jewish voters don’t believe the president’s policies of diplomacy and sanctions will stop Iran. An equally large majority — 65 percent — would support U.S. military against Iran with an even larger number backing Israeli action that Obama opposes.

This data can be interpreted in one of two ways. On the one hand, Jewish voters may actually believe Obama will use force in a second term to stop Iran, rather than doubting him as apparently the Israelis do. On the other, it may be more proof that whatever their opinions about Israel or Iran, most Jews simply do not view these issues as priorities when they vote. American Jews are not only not one-issue voters, Israel ranks fairly low in their list of priorities with 61.5 percent listing the economy as the most important issue, 16.1 percent saying health care, 4.7 percent listing abortion and 4.5 percent mentioning U.S.-Israel relations. Only 4.2 percent called it the second most important issue and 6.1 percent said it was the third most important.

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Does Israel Want More Iran Sanctions?

On the same day that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the General Assembly of the United Nations that time was running out to stop Iran’s nuclear program, a leaked report from Israel’s Foreign Ministry is being interpreted in some quarters as contradicting his stand. The report, first published in Haaretz and then recycled in the New York Times, is supposed to say that existing sanctions on Iran have caused a great deal of damage to the country. Combined with the fact that Israel’s diplomats have been campaigning for increasing the sanctions, some are concluding that not only does the document undermine Netanyahu’s warnings but that, contrary to what the prime minister and other Israelis have been saying, it is reasonable to believe that sanctions combined with diplomacy can solve the problem.

But the problem with such a conclusion is that, as even Haaretz notes, even if ordinary Iranians are feeling the economic pain brought on by sanctions, there is no evidence that the resolve of Iran’s leadership to push on with their nuclear project has been altered. Even more to the point, there is no contradiction between Netanyahu’s statements and a desire for increased sanctions. Indeed, his call for Western “red lines” — a point now made famous by his use of an illustration of a cartoon bomb across which he drew a “red line” — only makes sense if the West is ratcheting up sanctions and enforcing them.

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On the same day that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the General Assembly of the United Nations that time was running out to stop Iran’s nuclear program, a leaked report from Israel’s Foreign Ministry is being interpreted in some quarters as contradicting his stand. The report, first published in Haaretz and then recycled in the New York Times, is supposed to say that existing sanctions on Iran have caused a great deal of damage to the country. Combined with the fact that Israel’s diplomats have been campaigning for increasing the sanctions, some are concluding that not only does the document undermine Netanyahu’s warnings but that, contrary to what the prime minister and other Israelis have been saying, it is reasonable to believe that sanctions combined with diplomacy can solve the problem.

But the problem with such a conclusion is that, as even Haaretz notes, even if ordinary Iranians are feeling the economic pain brought on by sanctions, there is no evidence that the resolve of Iran’s leadership to push on with their nuclear project has been altered. Even more to the point, there is no contradiction between Netanyahu’s statements and a desire for increased sanctions. Indeed, his call for Western “red lines” — a point now made famous by his use of an illustration of a cartoon bomb across which he drew a “red line” — only makes sense if the West is ratcheting up sanctions and enforcing them.

It may be that the leak of the report may be the work of some in the Foreign Ministry who don’t like Netanyahu. Perhaps it is a ploy by Foreign Minister Lieberman to cast himself in a more moderate light. But even if that is true, it should be remembered that it has been Netanyahu who has been the principle advocate for tough Iran sanctions for many years. Israel has been begging the West to shut down commerce with Iran and to embargo their oil exports long before the current administration in Washington took office. The problem is that up until this past year the only sanctions the West agreed upon were weak and utterly ineffective. It was only as the alarm felt in Israel about the progress made by the Iranians began to escalate that President Obama reluctantly acceded to tougher measures.

However, even those supposedly “crippling” sanctions have not been fully enforced with some of Iran’s best oil customers granted waivers to continue sending cash to Tehran. Worse than that, Iran’s ability to evade even those restrictions that are allegedly being closed up has been widely reported. Israel wants those loopholes closed and for Western nations to stop granting exemptions and to vigorously prosecute those firms and banks that are laundering money for the Iranians.

In theory, a fully enforced sanctions program could bring Iran to its knees and inflict enough economic pain to make the ayatollahs give up their nuclear dream. But in the absence of enforcement and the tightening of the restrictions, there is no reason to believe that the current slapdash effort, combined with a diplomatic track whose only effect has been to buy the Iranians more time to keep enriching uranium, could possibly work.

It should also be noted that while the Israeli report talks about the impact of the sanctions on the lives of the Iranian people and the dissatisfaction felt with the current despotic government, it would be irresponsible to jump to the conclusion that the Islamist regime is on its last legs. The ayatollahs have shown no hesitance in the path to use whatever force was needed to repress dissent, let alone any signs of regime change. Expecting economic hardships to topple them or even to weaken their commitment to building a bomb, especially when they may be very close to success, is not realistic.

While there are good reasons to doubt that President Obama means what he says about the threat and refusing to contemplate containment of a nuclear Iran, Israel has no choice but to continue to advocate for the sort of tougher sanctions that might enable him to keep his word. But it should also be understood that in the absence of tougher restrictions on commerce with Iran and enforcement of those that already exist, the notion that diplomacy can solve the problem is absurd. If force is to be avoided, it will require both the increased sanctions the Israeli Foreign Ministry favors as well as Netanyahu’s red lines.

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FBI Can’t Get to Benghazi Because of “Security Fears”

President Obama has promised to bring the perpetrators of the Benghazi terrorist attack to justice, but over two weeks after the attack the FBI still hasn’t made it to Benghazi. According to the New York Times, it’s because the security situation in Benghazi is too unstable:

Sixteen days after the death of four Americans in an attack on a United States diplomatic mission here, fears about the near-total lack of security have kept F.B.I. agents from visiting the scene of the killings and forced them to try to piece together the complicated crime from Tripoli, more than 400 miles away.

Investigators are so worried about the tenuous security, people involved in the investigation say, that they have been unwilling to risk taking some potential Libyan witnesses into the American Embassy in Tripoli. Instead, the investigators have resorted to the awkward solution of questioning some witnesses in cars outside the embassy, which is operating under emergency staffing and was evacuated of even more diplomats on Thursday because of a heightened security alert.

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President Obama has promised to bring the perpetrators of the Benghazi terrorist attack to justice, but over two weeks after the attack the FBI still hasn’t made it to Benghazi. According to the New York Times, it’s because the security situation in Benghazi is too unstable:

Sixteen days after the death of four Americans in an attack on a United States diplomatic mission here, fears about the near-total lack of security have kept F.B.I. agents from visiting the scene of the killings and forced them to try to piece together the complicated crime from Tripoli, more than 400 miles away.

Investigators are so worried about the tenuous security, people involved in the investigation say, that they have been unwilling to risk taking some potential Libyan witnesses into the American Embassy in Tripoli. Instead, the investigators have resorted to the awkward solution of questioning some witnesses in cars outside the embassy, which is operating under emergency staffing and was evacuated of even more diplomats on Thursday because of a heightened security alert.

This is mind-boggling. We are talking about a terrorist attack, carried out on American soil, on the anniversary of 9/11. And yet the FBI can’t even carry out a full investigation. The Times reports that even if law enforcement officials are eventually able to make it to the consulate, the unsecured “crime scene” has been so badly trampled that it may be impossible to collect evidence to use against the terrorists.

Why has this failed to register as a major scandal with the political media? There is ample evidence that the Obama administration intentionally misled the public in the days after the attack — while it designated it as a terrorist attack almost immediately, the administration insisted for over a week that it was a spontaneous uprising. The White House vowed bring the perpetrators to justice, and yet they’re slow-walking an FBI investigation that’s hampered by security restrictions and a lack of access to physical evidence.

Then there’s this:

President Obama has said the United States will bring to justice those responsible for the attacks. But there is little appetite in the White House to launch drone strikes or a Special Operations raid, like the one that killed Osama bin Laden, in yet another Muslim country.

American officials would prefer that Libyan officials lead any military or paramilitary operation, or work alongside American investigators, to arrest any suspects. But the transitional Libyan government still does not command a meaningful national army or national police force.

In other words, there’s a good chance many of the perpetrators will walk free. Instead of sending the FBI to sit around in Tripoli and wait for the transitional Libyan government to get its act together, perhaps what is needed is to send in the drones to pick these guys off. By the time the Libyans act, any chance of pinpointing the terrorists (and any evidence that could be used to try them in court) will likely be long gone.

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Guessing Israel’s Iran Plans

Foreign Policy’s website has the article that everyone will be talking about today: a piece by Mark Perry about the American military’s speculation about how Israel might carry out an attack on Iran. There are two important caveats for the article: first, Perry relies on anonymous sources and former officials. Second, the sources admit to Perry that Israel won’t tell the U.S. what plans, if any, they’ve drawn up for such an attack—obviously aware that the Obama administration will leak that information eventually–so the entire article is speculation. The sources are trying to reverse-engineer an Israeli strike based on Israel’s perceived capabilities.

That said, the speculation is divided into the political and military spheres. The military aspect is interesting—it includes what Perry’s sources call the “Entebbe Option,” which would involve special forces instead of an air assault—but doesn’t add much information to what we already know. The political guessing by Perry’s sources actually avoids the major question everyone is wondering at this point.

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Foreign Policy’s website has the article that everyone will be talking about today: a piece by Mark Perry about the American military’s speculation about how Israel might carry out an attack on Iran. There are two important caveats for the article: first, Perry relies on anonymous sources and former officials. Second, the sources admit to Perry that Israel won’t tell the U.S. what plans, if any, they’ve drawn up for such an attack—obviously aware that the Obama administration will leak that information eventually–so the entire article is speculation. The sources are trying to reverse-engineer an Israeli strike based on Israel’s perceived capabilities.

That said, the speculation is divided into the political and military spheres. The military aspect is interesting—it includes what Perry’s sources call the “Entebbe Option,” which would involve special forces instead of an air assault—but doesn’t add much information to what we already know. The political guessing by Perry’s sources actually avoids the major question everyone is wondering at this point.

The idea behind the “Entebbe Option”—one of three options Perry discusses—is that some Pentagon officials don’t believe an Israeli strike could or would be successful, and that Israel must realize this. So they’ll need another option. Here is how Perry’s sources describe the raid:

The Israeli unit would be transported on as few as three and perhaps as many as six C-130 aircraft (which can carry a maximum of 70 troops) that would be protected by a “swarm” of well-armed F16Is, according to the scenario being considered by U.S. military officers. The C-130s would land in the desert near Fordow. The Israeli commandos would then defeat the heavily armed security personnel at the complex, penetrate its barriers and interdict any enemy units nearby, and seize the complex’s uranium for transport back to Israel. Prior to its departure, the commando unit would destroy the complex, obviating the need for any high-level bombing attack. (Senior U.S. military officers say that there are reports that some of the uranium at Fordow is stored as uranium hexafluoride gas, a chemical form used during the enrichment process. In that case, the material may be left in place when the commandos destroy the complex.)

Perry’s sources also keep making similar statements about how the U.S. will not get involved in an Israeli strike unless Iran strikes back at American targets–which American planners expect to happen. In other words, the U.S. military won’t get involved at all in an Israeli strike on Iran … until it does.

But there’s one nagging question throughout an article like this: how much can you trust Perry’s sources? It turns out, about as far as you can throw them. Perry’s sources give readers a window into their thinking process when Perry discusses one of the three Israeli strike options: regime decapitation. He writes:

The downside of a decapitation strike is that it would not end Iran’s nuclear program; the upside is that it would almost certainly trigger an Iranian response targeting U.S. military assets in the region, as it would leave the Iranian Revolutionary Guard forces in charge of the country. It would be the one sure way, U.S. officers with whom I spoke believe, for Israel to get the United States involved in its anti-Iran offensive, with the U.S. mounting operations in a conflict it didn’t start.

Got that? Perry’s sources are operating under the assumption that Israel wants dead Americans. (Perry later adds that the number of American casualties could be as high as in the “hundreds.”) It is at this point that the thinking person thanks Perry and his sources for their suggestions, and—as with any such conspiracy theorists—backs away slowly.

There is one other interesting element to the story, however, and it is what is not said. All Perry’s military sources say the U.S. would not get involved in a joint strike or a backup strike or any other reactionary military operations after Israel takes the lead. But no one actually denies the possibility—indeed, it’s unclear if Perry talked about this with any of them—that the U.S. would strike instead of Israel. If you believe the Obama administration—or, if it’s next year, a possible Romney administration—would lead a strike on Iran, then Perry’s article is encouraging, for the officials he spoke with deny vigorously everything except this possibility.

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Obama E-Card Asks Mom to Pay $18K for Birth Control

It would be hard to dream up a clearer example of an entitlement mentality than this e-card on the Obama campaign website:

Dear Mom,

Mitt Romney says he would repeal the Affordable Care Act. So here’s a quick question: Can I borrow $18,000 to help pay for my birth control?

Thanks!

The e-card is supposed to point out that it’s ridiculous to ask your mother for $18,000 to pay for birth control. True, but that begs the question: wouldn’t it be even more ridiculous to ask a perfect stranger to pay for your birth control? Because that is essentially what Obama’s “free birth control” law does. Pills cost money to make — the materials, the research, the labor, complying with government regulations. It costs money to package and export to pharmacies. It costs money to advertise. It costs money to fight against class-action lawsuits. It costs money for pharmacists to fill the prescription. It costs money for the doctors to write the prescription.

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It would be hard to dream up a clearer example of an entitlement mentality than this e-card on the Obama campaign website:

Dear Mom,

Mitt Romney says he would repeal the Affordable Care Act. So here’s a quick question: Can I borrow $18,000 to help pay for my birth control?

Thanks!

The e-card is supposed to point out that it’s ridiculous to ask your mother for $18,000 to pay for birth control. True, but that begs the question: wouldn’t it be even more ridiculous to ask a perfect stranger to pay for your birth control? Because that is essentially what Obama’s “free birth control” law does. Pills cost money to make — the materials, the research, the labor, complying with government regulations. It costs money to package and export to pharmacies. It costs money to advertise. It costs money to fight against class-action lawsuits. It costs money for pharmacists to fill the prescription. It costs money for the doctors to write the prescription.

Previously, there was a co-pay that helped defray the costs. Now that the co-pay is being abolished by law, who ends up shouldering the cost? The insurance companies? Of course not. It gets passed back to the consumers through higher insurance premiums.

But let’s assume the people cheering on Obama’s “free” birth control law probably won’t think that far into it. What about a more obvious problem: how on earth does birth control cost $18,000? Is that over a lifetime?

The Obama administration has touted its birth control law by saying it will effect 47 million women. We are told by the Obama campaign e-card that birth control costs $18,000 for each of these women.

That would mean $846 billion is being passed along to somebody. For the sake of comparison, the global pharmaceutical market is a $300 billion industry. So, either we have a serious problem here, or the Obama campaign needs to recheck their numbers.

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Vaccines Necessary in the First World, Not Just the Third

Yesterday at the UN several groups, including Rotary International, the World Health Organization, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation met to discuss their commitment to, and the strides made, campaigning to end polio worldwide. Yesterday Rotary announced,

The side event — “Our Commitment to the Next Generation: The Legacy of a Polio-free World” — brought together leaders of the remaining endemic countries, and representatives of donor governments, development agencies, the GPEI partners, and the media to underscore the urgent need to finish the job of global polio eradication. Although the wild poliovirus is endemic only in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Nigeria, other countries are still at risk for re-established transmission of the virus through its “importation” from the endemics.

Millions have been pledged towards the effort and we are slowly watching countries become polio-free. Unfortunately, polio and other preventable diseases could (and already are) facing a resurgence thanks to dangerous parenting fads in the West.

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Yesterday at the UN several groups, including Rotary International, the World Health Organization, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation met to discuss their commitment to, and the strides made, campaigning to end polio worldwide. Yesterday Rotary announced,

The side event — “Our Commitment to the Next Generation: The Legacy of a Polio-free World” — brought together leaders of the remaining endemic countries, and representatives of donor governments, development agencies, the GPEI partners, and the media to underscore the urgent need to finish the job of global polio eradication. Although the wild poliovirus is endemic only in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Nigeria, other countries are still at risk for re-established transmission of the virus through its “importation” from the endemics.

Millions have been pledged towards the effort and we are slowly watching countries become polio-free. Unfortunately, polio and other preventable diseases could (and already are) facing a resurgence thanks to dangerous parenting fads in the West.

For several years, rumors have spread through all-natural, hippie parenting circles that vaccines contain chemicals that cause autism. They maintain, despite a total lack of scientific evidence, that children have been disabled and incapacitated by mercury and other preservatives in vaccines. The one scientific study that might have made their case was discredited last year and its results thrown out. Despite this, many famous parents, including Jenny McCarthy (of MTV fame) and Mayim Bialik (TV’s Blossom) have publicly lambasted vaccine research while declaring their children to be unvaccinated. Unfortunately, these conspiracy theories have hit the political mainstream as well. During the primaries this year Rep. Michele Bachmann repeated rumors she heard from an audience member at a debate about vaccine safety. In 2008, both candidates for president spread vaccine misinformation, claiming that the science was still undecided on the link between vaccines and autism.

The millions of dollars raised and spent by governments and organizations to end polio worldwide is money well-spent. Unfortunately, one epidemic could undo the decades of work making this vaccine available to every child in the world. We’ve already seen outbreaks of deadly and entirely preventable diseases like whooping cough and the measles, and instances of diseases with vaccines available have increased as immunization opt-outs rise. While it’s admirable that these groups are working to make vaccines available in the most remote villages in the world, parents in Portland and other liberal epicenters are setting medical science back fifty years in the United States.

All children, regardless of their parent’s scientific ignorance, need and deserve access to vaccines that were developed not just for their own sake, but also for the sake of public health. After these groups manage to get vaccines to children in isolated villages in Pakistan, perhaps they should schedule a stop-over in on their way home to explain science to self-described “educated” parents. Public health groups should be emphasizing the importance of vaccines in Pakistan and in Park Slope lest their efforts become undermined by parents in the latter.

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Joint U.S.-Afghan Operations Crucial to Long-Term Security

It is good to hear that most partnering operations between coalition and Afghan forces have resumed after a ten-day pause due to the furor over the anti-Mohammad video and a spat of “green on blue” insider attacks. Such operations are absolutely essential in order to improve the combat effectiveness of the Afghan forces; advisers stuck on giant bases, waving good-bye to Afghan troops as they venture outside the wire, would not be nearly as effective in getting the job done as troops who share the same hardships and risks with their Afghan counterparts. Out in the field, our troops can not only teach the Afghans by example; they can also provide the critical enablers (everything from IED-clearance packages to medevac) that allow the Afghan forces to be more effective.

This decision may, unfortunately, increase the short-term risk to coalition troops–but in the long run it will decrease risk because it is the surest method to bring about a more peaceful Afghanistan. Those who suggest a permanent end to partnering are raising the likelihood that the Afghan security forces will be unable to cope with an insurgency which benefits from bases in Pakistan–and thus raising the likelihood of a larger civil war leading, quite possibly, to the Taliban recapture of significant chunks of the country.

It is good to hear that most partnering operations between coalition and Afghan forces have resumed after a ten-day pause due to the furor over the anti-Mohammad video and a spat of “green on blue” insider attacks. Such operations are absolutely essential in order to improve the combat effectiveness of the Afghan forces; advisers stuck on giant bases, waving good-bye to Afghan troops as they venture outside the wire, would not be nearly as effective in getting the job done as troops who share the same hardships and risks with their Afghan counterparts. Out in the field, our troops can not only teach the Afghans by example; they can also provide the critical enablers (everything from IED-clearance packages to medevac) that allow the Afghan forces to be more effective.

This decision may, unfortunately, increase the short-term risk to coalition troops–but in the long run it will decrease risk because it is the surest method to bring about a more peaceful Afghanistan. Those who suggest a permanent end to partnering are raising the likelihood that the Afghan security forces will be unable to cope with an insurgency which benefits from bases in Pakistan–and thus raising the likelihood of a larger civil war leading, quite possibly, to the Taliban recapture of significant chunks of the country.

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Another Pro-Obama Narrative Gets Busted

The Obama campaign, according to the New York Times, has a very serious honesty problem. And, in a way, it’s Mitt Romney’s fault, they suggest. The old “Republicans made me do it” excuse is often trotted out in an election year. In 2008, when Obama put a stake through the heart of public financing—a cause liberals championed—by promising to use the system and then reneging on that promise when it became clear he would raise far more money than his Republican opponent, the Times bought the explanation that somehow it was the Republicans’ fault. (The Washington Post, to its credit, didn’t.)

But now it turns out that the 2012 Obama campaign has built its argument against the Romney-Ryan ticket on a slew of falsehoods so obvious that the Times seems to openly wonder what Obama could be thinking. The Obama campaign’s claims fall into two main categories, according to the story: (1.) Made up out of whole cloth; and (2.) based on figures the campaign knows aren’t accurate. The story beings with the Obama camp’s claims that Romney would raise taxes on the middle class and that his Medicare plan could raise seniors’ costs by over $6,000. The Times explains:

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The Obama campaign, according to the New York Times, has a very serious honesty problem. And, in a way, it’s Mitt Romney’s fault, they suggest. The old “Republicans made me do it” excuse is often trotted out in an election year. In 2008, when Obama put a stake through the heart of public financing—a cause liberals championed—by promising to use the system and then reneging on that promise when it became clear he would raise far more money than his Republican opponent, the Times bought the explanation that somehow it was the Republicans’ fault. (The Washington Post, to its credit, didn’t.)

But now it turns out that the 2012 Obama campaign has built its argument against the Romney-Ryan ticket on a slew of falsehoods so obvious that the Times seems to openly wonder what Obama could be thinking. The Obama campaign’s claims fall into two main categories, according to the story: (1.) Made up out of whole cloth; and (2.) based on figures the campaign knows aren’t accurate. The story beings with the Obama camp’s claims that Romney would raise taxes on the middle class and that his Medicare plan could raise seniors’ costs by over $6,000. The Times explains:

In making such assertions, the Obama campaign is taking advantage of the many unknown details of Mr. Romney’s policy proposals by filling in the blanks in the least flattering light, often relying on the findings of research organizations. In doing so, the campaign has leveled some charges that are more specific than the known facts warrant and others that are most likely wrong — though Mr. Romney’s decision not to provide more detailed explanations of his Medicare and tax proposals have made it difficult to provide a fuller evaluation of some of the competing assertions.

The outdated charge that future Medicare beneficiaries could face $6,400 in higher costs comes from an analysis of an old proposal by Mr. Romney’s running mate, Representative Paul D. Ryan, that has since been revised, a point that President Obama himself acknowledged in a speech last week. And the assertion that Mr. Romney would raise taxes on the middle class — contrary to his oft-repeated pledge not to — is based on an independent analysis of his tax plan that found it was “not mathematically possible” for his plan to achieve all of its goals without raising taxes on the middle class.

Now, as both campaigns prepare for the first Obama-Romney debate next week, Republicans have been signaling that they plan to more aggressively question the accuracy of the Obama campaign’s assertions. The Obama campaign has run ads distorting Mr. Romney’s abortion position; Republicans and some independent groups have questioned the president’s decision to count the savings the come from winding down the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan toward deficit reduction; and Mr. Obama recently said incorrectly that Operation Fast and Furious, a botched gun trafficking case, began during George W. Bush’s administration. (A similar program was started under Mr. Bush, but Operation Fast and Furious began in October 2009.)

You have to love the insinuation that Obama wouldn’t have to resort to this if only Romney would release more information. Did Romney put out a plan that would raise taxes on the middle class? No—but that’s just not good enough. You can see how easily this game can slip into the ridiculous.

This destroys a beloved liberal narrative of the election that the Obama campaign has been more honest and high-minded than the Romney campaign. The Obama campaign’s flagrant dishonesty has reached a point at which its defenders are running out of excuses, and fast.

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AP, Reuters Reportedly Post Bibi “Heil” Photos

The Weekly Standard’s Daniel Halper flags two photos of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu at the UN, which were reportedly pushed out on the AP and Reuters wires. They show Netanyahu waving his hand, but the camera caught him mid-hand gesture, making it appear that he’s doing the Nazi salute (except with his left arm). Halper writes:

Two shocking photos coming off the wire of Benjamin Netanyahu addressing the United Nations moments ago.

Of the hundreds of professional photos taken at this speech, the AP and Reuters decided to push these onto the wire.

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The Weekly Standard’s Daniel Halper flags two photos of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu at the UN, which were reportedly pushed out on the AP and Reuters wires. They show Netanyahu waving his hand, but the camera caught him mid-hand gesture, making it appear that he’s doing the Nazi salute (except with his left arm). Halper writes:

Two shocking photos coming off the wire of Benjamin Netanyahu addressing the United Nations moments ago.

Of the hundreds of professional photos taken at this speech, the AP and Reuters decided to push these onto the wire.

Maybe the Associated Press and Reuters didn’t catch the inference of the photos before blasting them out, though you would think it would be obvious that these pictures are offensive on multiple levels.

Netanyahu’s persistence on Iran isn’t making things easy for Obama right before the election, so there’s sure to be a big media push in the coming days to dismiss Bibi as a warmonger, a reckless saber-rattler, an extremist and so on. Get ready for plenty more where this came from.

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