Commentary Magazine


Posts For: September 3, 2012

How Are University Presidents be Judged?

Yale University President Richard Levin has announced that at the end of the school year, his twentieth at the helm of Yale University, he will step down. The New York Times coverage outlined his achievements:

Under his presidency, the university has greatly expanded its academic facilities, including new quarters for science and medicine and a new business school campus; has overhauled its buildings, including all 12 undergraduate residential colleges; has started construction of two residential colleges to make room for the first major expansion in undergraduate enrollment in decades; and has embarked on new programs overseas. “Rick’s presidency hasn’t been revolutionary,” said Anthony Kronman, a former law school dean. “It’s been a steady, persistent accumulation that, I would say, add up to a massive set of achievements.” Dr. Levin’s administration has increased Yale’s endowment faster than those of its peers, despite heavy capital spending; as of mid-2011, it stood at $19.4 billion, second only to Harvard’s.

Levin has certainly between a master fundraiser, and he has increased the quantity and quality of university facilities that had deteriorated after many years of deferred maintenance. He has also improved relations with both the city of New Haven and the local unions, largely by giving into their demands, in a sense another type of deferred maintenance.

When it comes to intellectual leadership, however, Levin’s epitaph should not be so sunny.

Read More

Yale University President Richard Levin has announced that at the end of the school year, his twentieth at the helm of Yale University, he will step down. The New York Times coverage outlined his achievements:

Under his presidency, the university has greatly expanded its academic facilities, including new quarters for science and medicine and a new business school campus; has overhauled its buildings, including all 12 undergraduate residential colleges; has started construction of two residential colleges to make room for the first major expansion in undergraduate enrollment in decades; and has embarked on new programs overseas. “Rick’s presidency hasn’t been revolutionary,” said Anthony Kronman, a former law school dean. “It’s been a steady, persistent accumulation that, I would say, add up to a massive set of achievements.” Dr. Levin’s administration has increased Yale’s endowment faster than those of its peers, despite heavy capital spending; as of mid-2011, it stood at $19.4 billion, second only to Harvard’s.

Levin has certainly between a master fundraiser, and he has increased the quantity and quality of university facilities that had deteriorated after many years of deferred maintenance. He has also improved relations with both the city of New Haven and the local unions, largely by giving into their demands, in a sense another type of deferred maintenance.

When it comes to intellectual leadership, however, Levin’s epitaph should not be so sunny.

First, Levin has presided over a contraction in the embrace of free speech. In 2012, the university came in fifth on a list of the top 12 university violators of free speech. Compromises inherent in Yale’s overseas branch in Singapore are only the latest in a series neatly summarized by recent Yale graduate Shaun Tan. Levin also presided over unprecedented editorial interference in the Yale University Press to prevent publication of cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad in an academic work about the controversial cartoons. Levin has also presided over an increase in punishment for controversial and offensive speech, such as some students’ crude ridicule of the university Women’s Center.

Infantilizing students has been an even greater and more deleterious Levin legacy. Rather than let students sink or swim on their own merits and excel on their own initiative, Levin has built a formidable support structure to coddle students at almost every level. There’s nothing wrong, of course, with providing tutoring services for those who require and request it, but monitoring a student progress at every level to blur the distinction between hard word and entitlement does both students and employers a disservice. The infantilizing has expanded into the extra-curricular and even off-campus spheres. While bureaucratic logic can explain the requirement for student organizations to register their activity, big brother management runs roughshod over student initiative and increasingly inculcates students to the idea that they must always rely on larger government structures. The university’s most recent initiative to regulate off-campus student activity and parties is questionable at best. Lawyers might explain university actions in terms of the concept of in loco parentsis, the idea that the university is legally required to act in place of parents to protect students, but a true leader would have defended individual liberty in court instead of constantly taking the path of least resistance in the face of cynical litigiousness. Yale—or any other university—could not do better for its matriculants than inculcate the notion both of individual liberty and its inherent responsibilities.

Eviscerating donor intent is a third Levin legacy. Levin has capped student prizes and awards to equalize them across departments, diverting any excess into the university’s general fund. Never mind that Levin’s salary has continued to increase, even as funds for student opportunities have been cut. No longer will top Classics majors, for example, be able to study in Greece because their funding has been cut to less than that of roundtrip airfare, a move meant to demonstrate fairness to other groups like sociology majors, whose alumni hadn’t given equal amounts to enable such scholarships. Likewise, Levin has moved to equalize experience among Yale’s 12 residential colleges to whom alumni sometimes feel closer than to the central administration. Those like Pierson College Master Harvey Goldblatt undertook rigorous fundraising which enabled graduating class trips to Italy, for example, while other master—like those I lived under during my undergraduate years—were content to do little unless they could get handouts from Levin. This understandably bred some content. But rather than channel that content into a healthy competition to promote college experiences, Levin seized control of the funding to redistribute and equalize it regardless of donor intent. In a sense, his was a microcosm of Obama’s philosophy to redistribute wealth rather than promote the mechanism to grow it. As for Goldblatt—not surprisingly Yale’s most popular master in a generation—Levin ordered him forcibly retired so as to no longer break the curve.

Universities have become a big business. If Levin is judged just by the financial balance sheet, then perhaps he succeeded. If he is judged, however, by the inculcation of liberty, individual responsibility, and a willingness to stand up for intellectual principle, than, alas, he has failed.

Read Less

Dem Chair Compares Paul Ryan to Goebbels

The disproportionate character assault aimed at Paul Ryan after his RNC speech (which, incidentally, bore a striking resemblance to the backlash against Niall Ferguson’s anti-Obama Newsweek essay) is driven by one thing: sheer terror from the Democrats that Ryan is going to break through to independent voters.

But the attacks just got a lot uglier this morning. The SF Gate blog reports that California’s Democratic Party Chair John Burton likened Ryan to Joseph Goebbels at a breakfast for the Democratic National convention (h/t Burns & Haberman):

“They lie and they don’t care if people think they lie… Joseph Goebbels — it’s the big lie, you keep repeating it,” Burton said Monday before the Blake Hotel breakfast. He said Ryan told “a bold-faced lie and he doesn’t care that it was a lie. That was Goebbels, the big lie.”

Reminded that Brown drew heat for comparing the messaging of Meg Whitman’s 2010 GOP gubernatorial campaign to Goebbels, he said sarcastically, “[Bleep] that’s right, she won the election!

Burton shrugged at Brown getting in trouble. “He won it big. Goddam he was in trouble.”

Not only did Burton compare Ryan to the Nazi leader, he shrugged it off and refused to back down when confronted about his language — quipping that Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown won an election after comparing his opponent, Meg Whitman, to Goebbels in 2010.

Read More

The disproportionate character assault aimed at Paul Ryan after his RNC speech (which, incidentally, bore a striking resemblance to the backlash against Niall Ferguson’s anti-Obama Newsweek essay) is driven by one thing: sheer terror from the Democrats that Ryan is going to break through to independent voters.

But the attacks just got a lot uglier this morning. The SF Gate blog reports that California’s Democratic Party Chair John Burton likened Ryan to Joseph Goebbels at a breakfast for the Democratic National convention (h/t Burns & Haberman):

“They lie and they don’t care if people think they lie… Joseph Goebbels — it’s the big lie, you keep repeating it,” Burton said Monday before the Blake Hotel breakfast. He said Ryan told “a bold-faced lie and he doesn’t care that it was a lie. That was Goebbels, the big lie.”

Reminded that Brown drew heat for comparing the messaging of Meg Whitman’s 2010 GOP gubernatorial campaign to Goebbels, he said sarcastically, “[Bleep] that’s right, she won the election!

Burton shrugged at Brown getting in trouble. “He won it big. Goddam he was in trouble.”

Not only did Burton compare Ryan to the Nazi leader, he shrugged it off and refused to back down when confronted about his language — quipping that Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown won an election after comparing his opponent, Meg Whitman, to Goebbels in 2010.

What was Ryan’s “Big Lie,” according to Burton? His comment about a Janesville plant closing down was, as I wrote last week, perfectly accurate. Burton may think Ryan remark was unfair to Obama, but that still doesn’t reach the threshold of a “lie.” And to compare it to Goebbels’ Big Lie — the Nazi attempt to justify the Holocaust — is just disgraceful and should be condemned by both parties.

The National Jewish Democratic Council has been one of the first groups to criticize inappropriate Nazi references when they come from GOP politicians. We’ll see what the group has to say about this incident (and whether the ADL and AJC weigh in as well).

Read Less

Obama’s Plans Won’t Soothe Israel’s Fears

As Seth wrote earlier today, Israeli distrust of President Obama’s intentions on Iran is the product of nearly four years of policies designed to create more distance between the two allies on this and other issues. But since the president wants to stop an Israeli attack on Iran (and worries that some pro-Israel voters will hold his inaction against him in November, the administration used its favorite media mouthpiece — the New York Timesto float a raft a proposals that are intended to calm Jerusalem and its overseas friends. But the problem with these ideas is that they are focused more on stopping Israel than Iran.

Today’s front-page story in the Times states that the administration is considering the following: Naval exercises in the Persian Gulf to intimidate the Iranians; efforts to clamp down on Iran’s still-booming sources of oil revenue despite the supposedly “crippling” sanctions belatedly imposed on the country by the West; more covert activities aimed at sabotaging Iran’s nuclear facilities; the construction of a radar facility in Qatar and a clear statement by the president as to the circumstances under which the United States will use force to stop Tehran’s nuclear ambitions. The last point is the one the Israelis have been begging Washington for but it is also apparently the one that the president is least interested in carrying out.

As for the other ideas, they have all been tried and failed. Under these circumstances, can anyone wonder why the Israelis fear they are on their own and the Iranians are confident they can defy the United States?

Read More

As Seth wrote earlier today, Israeli distrust of President Obama’s intentions on Iran is the product of nearly four years of policies designed to create more distance between the two allies on this and other issues. But since the president wants to stop an Israeli attack on Iran (and worries that some pro-Israel voters will hold his inaction against him in November, the administration used its favorite media mouthpiece — the New York Timesto float a raft a proposals that are intended to calm Jerusalem and its overseas friends. But the problem with these ideas is that they are focused more on stopping Israel than Iran.

Today’s front-page story in the Times states that the administration is considering the following: Naval exercises in the Persian Gulf to intimidate the Iranians; efforts to clamp down on Iran’s still-booming sources of oil revenue despite the supposedly “crippling” sanctions belatedly imposed on the country by the West; more covert activities aimed at sabotaging Iran’s nuclear facilities; the construction of a radar facility in Qatar and a clear statement by the president as to the circumstances under which the United States will use force to stop Tehran’s nuclear ambitions. The last point is the one the Israelis have been begging Washington for but it is also apparently the one that the president is least interested in carrying out.

As for the other ideas, they have all been tried and failed. Under these circumstances, can anyone wonder why the Israelis fear they are on their own and the Iranians are confident they can defy the United States?

As to the administration’s ideas for mollifying the Israelis, they are not terribly impressive. There’s nothing wrong with conducting Naval exercises in the Gulf. But unless President Obama can convince the ayatollahs that their belief he is too weak to challenge them is wrong, little good will come of such activities.

Obama administration rhetoric about toughening the sanctions is about as credible as politicians promising to cut the budget via eliminating waste and corruption. The sanctions have been undermined by the more than 10,000 exemptions handed out by the Treasury Department to businesses to maintain ties to Iran as well as the president’s pass given to China to keep importing Iranian oil. That’s not counting the various measures the Iranians have come up with to evade the sanctions via smuggling and financial sleight-of-hand. Nothing short of a full economic boycott and blockade of Iran is called for, but we all know that isn’t happening. So any further discussion of sanctions is merely a diversion intended to distract us from the fact that the current policy has failed.

As for more covert activities directed at Iran, I might be more impressed with the prospect if I didn’t read about it first on the front page of the New York Times along with the Iranians whose responsibility it is to stop the West’s efforts. For the same administration that illegally leaked information about cyber-warfare to the Times earlier this year to go back to the same newspaper to publicly threaten a new round of attacks demonstrates astonishing chutzpah as well as incompetence.

But far worse than that is the talk of a new radar system to be installed in Qatar that would serve, along with other facilities in Turkey and Israel, to create an arc of anti-missile coverage. As much as such a system would be useful to defend the region against Iranian attacks, it is also a sign that, contrary to the president’s pledge, the administration is contemplating “containment” of a nuclear Iran rather than preventing them from obtaining such a capability.

That this is being publicly mooted makes sense, since everything the administration has done is leading to the inevitable conclusion that it will not undertake any concrete action to stop Iran. Under the best circumstances, containment would greatly empower Iran and allow it to intimidate its rivals in the region and strengthen its allies such as Hezbollah and the Assad regime in Iran. But the notion of deterrence of a fanatical, anti-Semitic regime determined to eliminate the Jewish state is probably a fantasy and that is why Israel’s leaders are determined to act to prevent their acquiring nukes before it is too late.

President Obama might avoid such an eventuality if he were to make firm public promises about the use of force and state that he would do so before Iran’s program got close to completion rather than afterward. But that is something he seems most reluctant to do. With reassurances like these, the Israelis are being brutally reminded that they must depend on no one but themselves.

Read Less

ISNA’s Anti-Semitic, Anti-Bahai Speaker

The Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) is a Muslim Brotherhood-inspired group which declares as its mission “to be an exemplary and unifying Islamic organization in North America” and to “advance the cause of Islam in North America.” Well-funded, in part by donations from the Emir of Qatar and other elements in the Persian Gulf, ISNA not only has become an interlocutor with the White House despite its status as an unindicted co-conspirator in a terror finance case, but goes so far as to claim to be the credentialing organization for American imams, including Muslim chaplains serving in the U.S. military.

Over Labor Day weekend, ISNA sponsored its annual conference in Washington, DC. Among its featured speakers was Seyyed Hossein Nasr, professor of Islamic Studies at the George Washington University, who addressed a panel titled, “Interweaving Religion & Life in a Moral Society.” ISNA’s choice of Nasr to promote a moral society is deeply troubling. In October 2009, Nasr attended a reception at the Islamic Republic of Iran’s Interest Section in Washington, D.C. The Iranian press published an account of his comments there:

Read More

The Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) is a Muslim Brotherhood-inspired group which declares as its mission “to be an exemplary and unifying Islamic organization in North America” and to “advance the cause of Islam in North America.” Well-funded, in part by donations from the Emir of Qatar and other elements in the Persian Gulf, ISNA not only has become an interlocutor with the White House despite its status as an unindicted co-conspirator in a terror finance case, but goes so far as to claim to be the credentialing organization for American imams, including Muslim chaplains serving in the U.S. military.

Over Labor Day weekend, ISNA sponsored its annual conference in Washington, DC. Among its featured speakers was Seyyed Hossein Nasr, professor of Islamic Studies at the George Washington University, who addressed a panel titled, “Interweaving Religion & Life in a Moral Society.” ISNA’s choice of Nasr to promote a moral society is deeply troubling. In October 2009, Nasr attended a reception at the Islamic Republic of Iran’s Interest Section in Washington, D.C. The Iranian press published an account of his comments there:

Before the revolution all the chairs in Islamic studies were taken by the Jews and that now all the Shi’a studies chairs are taken over by the Bahai’s! Before the revolution I used my position to send professors from Iran to take over such chairs and I am pursuing the same goal today… Since I have access to the Dean of the George Washington University I have the opportunity to establish a chair in Shi’a studies and the preliminary phase of the course is also ready and I only need financial assistance from Iran in order to support the chair. If this does not happen before I become a pensioner this opportunity will be lost.

The Muslim Brotherhood has many differences with the Islamic Republic of Iran and Shi’ites in general. However, their invitation of Nasr shows that for ISNA, anti-Semitism and anti-Baha’i sentiment can be the ties that bind. So much for a moral society, but nevertheless insight into the values ISNA promotes in practice.

Read Less

Are We Better Off? Democrats Plead Guilty With an Explanation

Heading into their convention this week, leading Democrats are being asked a simple question about the administration they think Americans should re-elect in November: Are we better off today than we were four years ago? The answers have been variable, but they all have the feel of someone in the dock pleading “guilty with an explanation.”

Given the high unemployment rate, the lack of economic growth matched by a startling hike in the deficit fueled by administration spending programs, it’s little wonder that most Americans tell pollsters they are not better off and that the country is heading in the wrong direction. Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley admitted as much on CBS’s “Face the Nation” yesterday: “No, but that’s not the question.” He amended that answer on CNN to say that we were but the damage was already done. Senior Obama campaign officials weren’t much better than O’Malley.

Read More

Heading into their convention this week, leading Democrats are being asked a simple question about the administration they think Americans should re-elect in November: Are we better off today than we were four years ago? The answers have been variable, but they all have the feel of someone in the dock pleading “guilty with an explanation.”

Given the high unemployment rate, the lack of economic growth matched by a startling hike in the deficit fueled by administration spending programs, it’s little wonder that most Americans tell pollsters they are not better off and that the country is heading in the wrong direction. Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley admitted as much on CBS’s “Face the Nation” yesterday: “No, but that’s not the question.” He amended that answer on CNN to say that we were but the damage was already done. Senior Obama campaign officials weren’t much better than O’Malley.

David Plouffe, appearing on ABC’s “This Week,” tried to finesse it, and just said the country would be worse off if Mitt Romney wins. David Axelrod was similarly vague. But all agree that everything is George W. Bush’s fault and think President Obama should continue blaming his predecessor rather than owning up to the fact that things got worse on his watch and that he doesn’t have a plan for fixing that. All of which sets us up for a week in which Democrats will spend more time damning the 43rd president than extolling the virtues of his successor. That’s an odd strategy but one the Obama campaign feels is their only choice.

It may be that after three days of non-stop Bush-bashing, claims that the Republicans are liars and a defense of the status quo on entitlements, the Democrats will get some sort of a bounce out of their convention. All the while, they will be praying that the monthly jobs report due out on Friday will bring some good news rather than a negative report that might undo any positive vibes earned from the focus on their arguments.

Fairly or unfairly, President Bush is still deeply unpopular and blamed for an economic downturn caused more by a federal intervention in the housing market that was the doing of Democrats than anything he did. But what the Obama campaign is asking the voters to do is not so much to give him a second try as to veto a third term for Bush. That’s a neat trick if they can pull it off, but their claim that Republicans are trying to make voters forget about Bush’s record is complicated by a concurrent request that they also forget Obama’s. The nuanced answers to the “are you better off” queries betray the fact that Democrats understand that few believe a trillion-dollar stimulus boondoggle or the vast expansion of entitlements and government power created by ObamaCare has done anything to improve the nation’s lot.

John Steele Gordon wrote yesterday that, “For liberals, it’s always 1936” because they have never quite absorbed the fact that New Deal liberalism and contempt for conservatives is a relic of a vanished age. But in order to win this election, Democrats are faced with the difficult task of duplicating Franklin Roosevelt’s successful campaign for a second term by running against the man he defeated four years ago.

George W. Bush may not be quite as unpopular as Herbert Hoover was then but, as his absence from the GOP convention proved, he’s still a liability to his party. However, there is no comparison of the economy Obama inherited to the one FDR confronted. As much as Democrats are now retrospectively trying to paint the state of the nation in January 2009 as comparable to the Great Depression, I doubt many will buy it. FDR was the only president re-elected on the proposition that four years was not long enough for him to acquire ownership of the state of the nation. Democrats are betting their political lives that Obama can do the same under vastly different circumstances.

While in 1936 Roosevelt could claim to have at least improved the morale of the American people by giving them the impression that the country was heading in the right direction, Obama can’t.

Guilty with an explanation doesn’t usually work when it comes to evading fines for traffic tickets. We’re about to find out whether it can re-elect a president.

Read Less

Obama Gets Some Bad Advice

New York Times political reporter Michael Shear has a list of advice for the Obama campaign’s upcoming nominating convention. Shear may think he is helping the Obama team, but he’s buried a landmine in his otherwise unremarkable list of helpful hints.

Shear tells the Obama camp the five things they need to do in Charlotte this week. These include such penetrating insights as “attack Romney” (No. 1) and “avoid mistakes” (No. 3), as well as reminders to fire up the base and reassure the public on the economic front. But his fifth piece of advice could not possibly play into Romney’s hands any better. Here is Shear’s final suggestion:

Read More

New York Times political reporter Michael Shear has a list of advice for the Obama campaign’s upcoming nominating convention. Shear may think he is helping the Obama team, but he’s buried a landmine in his otherwise unremarkable list of helpful hints.

Shear tells the Obama camp the five things they need to do in Charlotte this week. These include such penetrating insights as “attack Romney” (No. 1) and “avoid mistakes” (No. 3), as well as reminders to fire up the base and reassure the public on the economic front. But his fifth piece of advice could not possibly play into Romney’s hands any better. Here is Shear’s final suggestion:

5. RECAPTURE HOPE In his acceptance speech four years ago, Mr. Obama promised a new kind of politics, shorn of red-blue partisanship. As the cameras panned across the huge crowd, the faces revealed an eagerness for something new and different.

But Mr. Obama’s presidency has hardly met that expectation. His White House has gotten bogged down in an even deeper partisan morass that has ground political progress to a halt.

One three-day convention cannot change all that. But Democrats are going to try to use the speeches — capped off by Mr. Obama’s on Thursday night — to remind supporters of the passion and promise they felt four years ago.

If Mr. Obama can recapture some of that sense of “hope and change,” he may begin the final nine weeks of the campaign in a better spot.

Ludicrous. Without a doubt the most effective part of the Republican National Convention’s message, especially as expressed by Romney, Paul Ryan, and Marco Rubio, among others, was the idea that Obama was all lofty promises and excitement but no substance—that it was easy and understandable to get caught up in the moment the first time around, but now everyone knows better and it’s time to expect results.

“President Obama promised to begin to slow the rise of the oceans and to heal the planet. My promise is to help you and your family,” Romney said in his convention speech. It was a powerful critique of the president in part because of its very modesty—something difficult to pull off when you’re addressing thousands at a convention nominating you to be the leader of the free world.

The criticism will also stick to Obama, most likely, since it goes to the heart of the country’s disappointment with its president—a man for whom they had high hopes. John Dickerson at Slate put it this way:

The most devastating attack on Obama was his claim that there’s “something wrong with the kind of job he’s done as president when the best feeling you had was the day you voted for him.” That line, plus the image Paul Ryan’s speech conjured the night before of a young Obama voter staring up at the ceiling, will live past the convention.

And they seem to have done so. The country wants optimism, but not of the vapid “hope and change” kind that Obama’s 2008 convention—with its Greek columns and promises to repel the ocean tides—offered voters. If Obama tries to recreate that atmosphere of stuffy narcissism and sanctimonious messianic fervor, he will look and sound ridiculous, callous, stubborn, and overwhelmed.

Republicans have been told repeatedly that they cannot successfully attack Obama as an unknown, mysterious force moved by ghosts of his past, like Rashid Khalidi and Bill Ayers, because the president now has a record in office and is more or less known to the American people. But the same goes for Obama. He cannot be the sudden and exciting cipher of 2007-08. And he probably won’t try. A president running for reelection has to defend his record. The Obama campaign may want Americans to forget the last four years, but they probably know better than to expect that.

Read Less

Is Georgia Helping Iran Skirt Sanctions?

Recent visitors to the Republic of Georgia say they saw roads packed with trucks transporting Iranian oil. When they asked multiple Georgians about the traffic, they were told that the Iranians are transshipping sanctioned oil through the Caucasus and then loading it onto ships in the Black Sea in order to conceal its identity. The Georgian government, for its part, appears perfectly happy to collect transit fees for the oil.

Georgia is an American ally. While it has the misfortune to border Russia, its president Mikheil Saakashvili has worked hard to reorient the country into the West. Georgia has stamped out once rampant corruption. Saakashvili has ordered all road signs to be bilingual, in Georgian and English, a symbolic move in a country where most citizens also speak Russian and one designed to wrest Georgia from the Soviet orbit.

Read More

Recent visitors to the Republic of Georgia say they saw roads packed with trucks transporting Iranian oil. When they asked multiple Georgians about the traffic, they were told that the Iranians are transshipping sanctioned oil through the Caucasus and then loading it onto ships in the Black Sea in order to conceal its identity. The Georgian government, for its part, appears perfectly happy to collect transit fees for the oil.

Georgia is an American ally. While it has the misfortune to border Russia, its president Mikheil Saakashvili has worked hard to reorient the country into the West. Georgia has stamped out once rampant corruption. Saakashvili has ordered all road signs to be bilingual, in Georgian and English, a symbolic move in a country where most citizens also speak Russian and one designed to wrest Georgia from the Soviet orbit.

Alas, true to the Obama doctrine of turning a cold shoulder to allies while genuflecting toward adversaries, Obama has had little time for Georgia, even referring to the tiny country as “Russia” in a meeting with Saakashvili. From his days as a senator campaigning for president, Obama has appeared to be embarrassed by if not disdainful of Georgia’s unabashed pro-Americanism.

Perhaps nothing symbolizes the failure of Obama’s foreign policy more than the Georgian smuggling of Iranian crude. Spurned dates will only stand waiting for the knock at the door for so long before they find another dance partner. Hopefully Governor Romney understands what Obama does not: First, friendship is not one way; allies must stand together. Second, the United States needs all the allies it can get in an increasingly hostile world and cannot afford to spurn them. Third, slapping sanctions on Iran and then giving a speech about a tough Iran policy is not enough.

No U.S. ally—let alone any U.S. adversary—believes the White House is serious on Iran. Until Obama demonstrates seriousness of purpose, even the closest U.S. allies will cash in on short-term interests rather than stand firm.

Read Less

It’s about the Iranian Bomb, Not Obama

Earlier this year, a leftist Israeli think tank surveyed Israelis’ opinion of the left. The results were shocking: 63 percent viewed it unfavorably, 48 percent deemed it elitist, only 33 percent said it shared their values, only 31 percent deemed it capable of governing effectively, and only 28 percent thought it had good solutions for national security challenges.

Clearly, this stems primarily from the disastrous outcome of the left’s territorial withdrawal policy. But leftists who profess themselves bewildered by these results would also be well-advised to study the recent spate of leftist pundits (here and here, for instance) claiming that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s main, if not only, reason for weighing an attack on Iran this fall is to harm President Barack Obama’s reelection bid.

Read More

Earlier this year, a leftist Israeli think tank surveyed Israelis’ opinion of the left. The results were shocking: 63 percent viewed it unfavorably, 48 percent deemed it elitist, only 33 percent said it shared their values, only 31 percent deemed it capable of governing effectively, and only 28 percent thought it had good solutions for national security challenges.

Clearly, this stems primarily from the disastrous outcome of the left’s territorial withdrawal policy. But leftists who profess themselves bewildered by these results would also be well-advised to study the recent spate of leftist pundits (here and here, for instance) claiming that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s main, if not only, reason for weighing an attack on Iran this fall is to harm President Barack Obama’s reelection bid.

To these pundits, it’s inconceivable that Netanyahu could be motivated by objective concerns, such as the latest International Atomic Energy Agency report, which shows that Iran has doubled the number of centrifuges at its underground Fordow facility. At this rate, given Israel’s limited military capabilities, Iran’s nuclear program may well be invulnerable to an Israeli strike by spring (if it isn’t already), meaning Israel’s only choices may be strike now or accept a nuclear Iran. But many leftists can’t credit a center-right politician with genuine concern for Israel’s wellbeing; they can only see him as driven by petty personal hatreds.

Similarly, these pundits can’t accept that Netanyahu might reasonably deem the sanctions/diplomacy track dead. After 120 nations sent senior officials to the Non-Aligned Movement summit in Tehran this week–where all, including the UN secretary-general, listened without demurral as Iran’s supreme leader reiterated his threats to annihilate Israel–many non-leftist commentators concluded that contrary to the Obama administration’s assertions, Iran is far from isolated, and will thus easily find allies to help it evade Western sanctions. But many leftists seem unable to imagine a reasonable person of goodwill evaluating the evidence differently than they do.

Nor is it conceivable to them that Netanyahu might have sensible geostrategic considerations. As participants at a recent Gatestone roundtable noted, this is a uniquely propitious moment for an Israeli strike. Hamas has abandoned Iran’s orbit over the latter’s support for Syrian President Bashar Assad. Assad’s regime is so embattled that he has neither men nor equipment to spare for joining any Iranian counterstrike on Israel. And Hezbollah is not only under increasing pressure from its Lebanese rivals, but it fears losing its main conduit for arms supplies, since Syria’s Sunni opposition might well block arms shipments to the Shi’ite group if it took power. Thus even Hezbollah will think twice about emptying its arsenal to support an Iranian counterstrike. None of this may still be true come spring. But many leftists seem unable to credit a center-right politician with rational thought.

Yet this petty inability to credit a rival with any positive motives is only the lesser half of what most Israelis find off-putting. Far worse is that in their desperate quest to deny that Netanyahu could possibly have valid reasons for his behavior, many leftists have closed their eyes to reality itself: They have become incapable of admitting that any of the factors cited above even exists, because doing so would undercut their narrative that Netanyahu is motivated solely by spite.

No, it really isn’t about Obama–it’s about the Iranian bomb. And as long as the left is incapable of understanding that, it will never regain Israelis’ trust.

Read Less

Is Obama Repeating Truman’s Error?

The Obama administration is signaling that, against the backdrop of genocidal rhetoric and faced with an existential threat from Iran, Israel cannot count on the United States. There is no greater sign than the wavering U.S. commitment to the Jewish state than the Obama administration’s decision to scale down considerably a forthcoming joint military exercise.

Obama may wish to express his displeasure with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but he should realize that it can encourage war when enemies believe U.S. commitments to American allies are shakable. Here, the genesis of the Korean war should provide an important lesson. On January 12, 1950, Secretary of State Dean Acheson gave a speech in which he laid out U.S. interests in Asia:

Read More

The Obama administration is signaling that, against the backdrop of genocidal rhetoric and faced with an existential threat from Iran, Israel cannot count on the United States. There is no greater sign than the wavering U.S. commitment to the Jewish state than the Obama administration’s decision to scale down considerably a forthcoming joint military exercise.

Obama may wish to express his displeasure with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but he should realize that it can encourage war when enemies believe U.S. commitments to American allies are shakable. Here, the genesis of the Korean war should provide an important lesson. On January 12, 1950, Secretary of State Dean Acheson gave a speech in which he laid out U.S. interests in Asia:

In the first place, the defeat and the disarmament of Japan has placed upon the United States the necessity of assuming the military defense of Japan so long as that is required, both in the interest of our security and in the interests of the security of the entire Pacific area… The defensive perimeter runs along the Aleutians to Japan and then goes to the Ryukyus. We hold important defense positions in the Ryukyu Islands, and those we will continue to hold… The defensive perimeter runs from the Ryukyus to the Philippine Islands. Our relations, our defensive relations with the Philippines are contained in agreements between us. Those agreements are being loyally carried out and will be loyally carried out… So far as the military security of other areas in the Pacific is concerned, it must be clear that no person can guarantee these areas against military attack. But it must also be clear that such a guarantee is hardly sensible or necessary within the realm of practical relationship.

Acheson continued to advise those states not covered by the defensive perimeter to resist on their own or rely on the United Nations. “It is a mistake, I think, in considering Pacific and Far Eastern problems to become obsessed with military considerations,” he explained.

Kim Il Sung heard Acheson’s speech and interpreted his omission of South Korea (and Taiwan) from the defense perimeter as a green light to attack South Korea six months later. Had the Truman administration signaled an unshakable commitment to South Korea, it might have impacted Kim’s thinking.

Obama may not like Netanyahu, but by amplifying his antipathy into symbolic chastisement of Israel, the president may be impacting Iranian thinking in ways that will be very costly to the United States (not to mention Israel) and impossible to reverse.

Read Less

On Iran, a Full Range of Obama Failures

The news from Israel over the weekend has left no doubt that President Obama’s failure on Iran has been one of both words and deeds. Not only did Obama refuse to speak publicly against the regime at the most opportune moments, but his administration has also trotted out high-level appointees to undermine the credibility of a Western threat to use force if sanctions and diplomacy continue to fail. (Gen. Martin Dempsey may or may not have been speaking for the administration, but Leon Panetta most certainly does.)

Those are the words; unfortunately, the deeds match them. Obama has consistently sought first to prevent, then delay, then weaken tough sanctions against Iran. At times, the president has even faced down a united Senate to oppose sanctions. At the UN, we once could count on help from Turkey on international sanctions; in the age of Obama, the international coalition on this issue continues to fray. And then there was this weekend’s announcement that the U.S. dramatically scaled down joint military exercises scheduled for this fall, and is withholding certain military assistance (once the Obama administration’s claimed trump card when criticized over U.S.-Israeli relations). Message received, say the Israelis:

The White House at the weekend reiterated its commitment to Israel’s security, but this drew a withering response from the Israeli source: “It’s hard to explain the gulf between the White House’s comments about the commitment to Israel’s security and the comments made by the US chief of staff,” the official said. “What matters are not words but deeds.”

Read More

The news from Israel over the weekend has left no doubt that President Obama’s failure on Iran has been one of both words and deeds. Not only did Obama refuse to speak publicly against the regime at the most opportune moments, but his administration has also trotted out high-level appointees to undermine the credibility of a Western threat to use force if sanctions and diplomacy continue to fail. (Gen. Martin Dempsey may or may not have been speaking for the administration, but Leon Panetta most certainly does.)

Those are the words; unfortunately, the deeds match them. Obama has consistently sought first to prevent, then delay, then weaken tough sanctions against Iran. At times, the president has even faced down a united Senate to oppose sanctions. At the UN, we once could count on help from Turkey on international sanctions; in the age of Obama, the international coalition on this issue continues to fray. And then there was this weekend’s announcement that the U.S. dramatically scaled down joint military exercises scheduled for this fall, and is withholding certain military assistance (once the Obama administration’s claimed trump card when criticized over U.S.-Israeli relations). Message received, say the Israelis:

The White House at the weekend reiterated its commitment to Israel’s security, but this drew a withering response from the Israeli source: “It’s hard to explain the gulf between the White House’s comments about the commitment to Israel’s security and the comments made by the US chief of staff,” the official said. “What matters are not words but deeds.”

An Israeli military source and a political analyst were more direct when speaking to Time, the publication that first broke the story:

“Basically what the Americans are saying is, ‘We don’t trust you,’” a senior Israeli military official tells TIME….

In the current political context, the U.S. logic is transparent, says Israeli analyst Efraim Inbar. “I think they don’t want to insinuate that they are preparing something together with the Israelis against Iran – that’s the message,” says Inbar, director of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University. “Trust? We don’t trust them. They don’t trust us. All these liberal notions! Even a liberal president like Obama knows better.”

Even Obama knows better than to develop trust between allies—such a post-modern presidency! The irony is, telling Israel they’re on their own only makes a strike more likely. If the U.S. made a convincing case that the Obama administration will take care of Iran no matter what it entails—even, yes, a military strike—then the American timeline would predominate. But if the Obama administration spends its time trying to wash its hands of the whole thing, then the decision rests solely on Israel’s shoulders. And the if the decision is Israel’s, then so are the timelines and the judgments used to determine the course of action.

Additionally, the American decision to scale down military assistance considered vital to Israel’s defenses in the event of a post-attack flare-up in the region sends a message to Iran as well. And that message is not one of a united Western front, nor is it that the Iranian regime’s time to drop its quest for the bomb is running out. The Obama administration has made clear it does not necessarily stand by agreements made between previous American administrations and Israel. But going back on its own word tells America’s allies that they cannot factor in Obama’s support when planning ahead.

If the president thinks this will lead to order, not chaos, he is not much a student of history. And if he thinks this will lead to peace, not war, his lesson may come at the expense of those who possess the knowledge he lacks, but who lack the power he possesses.

Read Less




Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.