Commentary Magazine


Posts For: September 10, 2012

Poll Shows Obama Getting Lowest Jewish Support Since Carter

President Obama may be enjoying a slight, if likely temporary, bounce in the polls this week. But one of the surveys showing him with a lead in a tight race over Mitt Romney also provides a breakdown of the data that confirms predictions that he is losing up to a quarter of the Jewish votes he got in 2008. The Investors Business Daily/Christian Science Monitor/TIPP Poll gives a breakdown of religion along with other demographic groups and shows Obama leading among Jews by a margin of 59 to 35 percent with six percent undecided. While that is still a majority it is a dramatic decline from the 78 percent of the Jewish vote he got four years ago.

Obama has a 46-44 percent lead over Romney in the TIPP poll. That means Obama is suffering from a decline in support throughout the electorate from his 2008 victory when he won 53 percent of the vote. But the president’s loss of approximately 25 percent of Jewish voters this year is not matched by a similar decline in any other demographic group. Indeed even in the unlikely event that Obama was to win almost all of the undecided voters in the survey, that would barely match Michael Dukakis’ 64 percent of Jewish votes in 1988. Far more likely is a result that would leave the president with the lowest total of Jewish votes since 1980 when Jimmy Carter received 45 percent in a three-way race with Ronald Reagan and John Anderson. While some losses in Jewish support could be put down to disillusionment with his economic policies that is shared across the board, the only conceivable explanation for this far greater than average loss of Jewish votes is the administration’s difficult relationship with Israel.

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President Obama may be enjoying a slight, if likely temporary, bounce in the polls this week. But one of the surveys showing him with a lead in a tight race over Mitt Romney also provides a breakdown of the data that confirms predictions that he is losing up to a quarter of the Jewish votes he got in 2008. The Investors Business Daily/Christian Science Monitor/TIPP Poll gives a breakdown of religion along with other demographic groups and shows Obama leading among Jews by a margin of 59 to 35 percent with six percent undecided. While that is still a majority it is a dramatic decline from the 78 percent of the Jewish vote he got four years ago.

Obama has a 46-44 percent lead over Romney in the TIPP poll. That means Obama is suffering from a decline in support throughout the electorate from his 2008 victory when he won 53 percent of the vote. But the president’s loss of approximately 25 percent of Jewish voters this year is not matched by a similar decline in any other demographic group. Indeed even in the unlikely event that Obama was to win almost all of the undecided voters in the survey, that would barely match Michael Dukakis’ 64 percent of Jewish votes in 1988. Far more likely is a result that would leave the president with the lowest total of Jewish votes since 1980 when Jimmy Carter received 45 percent in a three-way race with Ronald Reagan and John Anderson. While some losses in Jewish support could be put down to disillusionment with his economic policies that is shared across the board, the only conceivable explanation for this far greater than average loss of Jewish votes is the administration’s difficult relationship with Israel.

Over the past year, Jewish Democrats have scoffed at predictions of a dramatic loss of support for Obama. The president’s attitude toward Israel was a major issue in the special election in New York’s 9th Congressional District and allowed Republican Bob Turner to steal a long-time Democratic stronghold with a disproportionately large Jewish population. But Democrats dismissed that result as an outlier and have been predicting that the president, who has conducted an election year charm offensive toward Jewish voters after three years of constant fights with Israel, would recoup any potential losses by Election Day.

Given the fact that a majority of Jews identify as liberals, the Republican Party’s social conservatism would seem to set up Romney for the same shellacking among Jewish voters that every GOP candidate has received since 1988. Instead, the TIPP poll shows him threatening to rival Ronald Reagan’s modern record set in 1980 when he won 39 percent of Jewish votes, the most ever by Republican since World War One. Since it is unreasonable to assume that Jews are any more riled up about the economy than any other faith or demographic group, the only possible explanation for this stunning result is dissatisfaction with Obama on Israel.

While Jews constitute a tiny portion of the total electorate anything close to a 59-35 percent result could have a major impact on the outcome in Florida with its large Jewish community. But it could also be meaningful elsewhere, especially if states like Pennsylvania or Ohio turn out to be close.

This problem was highlighted by last week’s fiasco at the Democratic National Convention when pro-Israel language was first removed from the party’s platform and then clearly not supported by the majority of delegates when some of it was put back into the document. The spectacle of the majority of Democratic delegates on the flower booing when both God and Jerusalem were put back into their platform will linger with viewers. Though Jewish Democrats like Democratic National Committee Chair Rep. Deborah Wasserman Schultz have sought to dismiss this incident as a non-story, the TIPP poll illustrates its importance.

For decades, Jewish Republicans have sought a GOP candidate who could equal Reagan’s achievement but they were mistaken. They needed a Democratic opponent like Jimmy Carter and in President Obama they may well have found one.

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Rand Paul Bombs on Defense Analysis

In an interview with CBS, Sen. Rand Paul argued that the GOP’s “bomb everyone tomorrow” policy is hurting it on the East and West coasts:

Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul said Monday that Republicans can win in New England and on the West Coast if they’re willing to drop a “we need to bomb everybody tomorrow” foreign policy.

“I think one of the problems we face, as a Republican party, is that we’re behind the eight-ball to begin with,” Paul said on CBS’ “This Morning.” “We’re not winning the West Coast. We’re not winning New England. Maybe we need to embrace more Ron Paul Republicans, more libertarian Republicans. … It means people who are little bit less aggressive on foreign policy. They believe in defending the country, but they don’t believe we need to be everywhere all the time.”

If the Obama’s election illustrated anything, it’s that there’s not a major difference between the GOP and Democratic Party when it comes to a general willingness to intervene and a willingness to use force.

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In an interview with CBS, Sen. Rand Paul argued that the GOP’s “bomb everyone tomorrow” policy is hurting it on the East and West coasts:

Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul said Monday that Republicans can win in New England and on the West Coast if they’re willing to drop a “we need to bomb everybody tomorrow” foreign policy.

“I think one of the problems we face, as a Republican party, is that we’re behind the eight-ball to begin with,” Paul said on CBS’ “This Morning.” “We’re not winning the West Coast. We’re not winning New England. Maybe we need to embrace more Ron Paul Republicans, more libertarian Republicans. … It means people who are little bit less aggressive on foreign policy. They believe in defending the country, but they don’t believe we need to be everywhere all the time.”

If the Obama’s election illustrated anything, it’s that there’s not a major difference between the GOP and Democratic Party when it comes to a general willingness to intervene and a willingness to use force.

The differences are much more apparent when it comes to where, when and how they choose to intervene, and in areas like diplomacy. The Obama administration has ramped up the drone program, gone into Libya, and surged in Afghanistan. And it’s the Obama administration that leaked stories about the “Kill List” and worked with Hollywood on a movie about the Osama bin Laden raid. By Rand Paul’s logic, Obama should be losing New York and California, which he obviously is not.

Of course Americans don’t want the military getting entangled in unnecessary conflicts. But most would probably disagree with what Ron and Rand Paul view as legitimate reasons for national defense. For example, polls show the majority Americans say they would support a preemptive U.S. strike on Iran’s nuclear program, if it came to that.  People generally understand that sometimes preemptive action needs to be taken to prevent larger conflicts down the road.

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Bounce Means Uphill Battle for Romney

The Romney campaign made public a memo from their pollster intended to buck up the spirits of activists discouraged by the release of polls over the weekend that show President Obama emerging from his convention with a bounce in his ratings. Neil Newhouse, the campaign’s pollster tells them to “not get too worked up” about the latest numbers and dismisses the reaction to the conventions as a “sugar high” that changed nothing. He may be right about the bounce, as it is more than likely that the few points gained by the Democrats in the past few days will soon evaporate and that we will be looking at a statistical tossup within the week, if not sooner. But any Republican lulled by Newhouse’s “State of the Race” into thinking that everything’s still coming up roses for Romney may be in for a rude awakening in two months. The Obama bounce is an unexpected blow to the Romney campaign that makes it clear the challenger has an uphill slog until November.

Romney entered the conventions trailing the president, and even if the Obama bounce dissipates quickly, he will likely remain behind. Failing to gain ground over the last two weeks is troubling. But even more troubling is the fact that the president managed to pad his small lead even after the release of another terrible jobs report on Friday. Those numbers added considerable weight to Romney’s arguments that the president had run the economy into the ditch from which he cannot extract it. But if more Americans are swayed by a week of liberal rhetoric and the oratory of Bill Clinton to stick with the Democrats than are influenced by the collapse of the jobs market, then exactly how is Romney going to get to 50 percent plus one in 58 days?

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The Romney campaign made public a memo from their pollster intended to buck up the spirits of activists discouraged by the release of polls over the weekend that show President Obama emerging from his convention with a bounce in his ratings. Neil Newhouse, the campaign’s pollster tells them to “not get too worked up” about the latest numbers and dismisses the reaction to the conventions as a “sugar high” that changed nothing. He may be right about the bounce, as it is more than likely that the few points gained by the Democrats in the past few days will soon evaporate and that we will be looking at a statistical tossup within the week, if not sooner. But any Republican lulled by Newhouse’s “State of the Race” into thinking that everything’s still coming up roses for Romney may be in for a rude awakening in two months. The Obama bounce is an unexpected blow to the Romney campaign that makes it clear the challenger has an uphill slog until November.

Romney entered the conventions trailing the president, and even if the Obama bounce dissipates quickly, he will likely remain behind. Failing to gain ground over the last two weeks is troubling. But even more troubling is the fact that the president managed to pad his small lead even after the release of another terrible jobs report on Friday. Those numbers added considerable weight to Romney’s arguments that the president had run the economy into the ditch from which he cannot extract it. But if more Americans are swayed by a week of liberal rhetoric and the oratory of Bill Clinton to stick with the Democrats than are influenced by the collapse of the jobs market, then exactly how is Romney going to get to 50 percent plus one in 58 days?

Newhouse believes Romney’s advantage on the economy is decisive and that history and a powerful campaign machine are on his side. His argument is that simply by remaining within the margin of error along with a cash advantage and “a winning message on the economy” means Romney will be the next president. His prediction may turn out to be right; a lot can happen in eight weeks and a clear win in the debates would change the dynamic of the race. But the thing that should be scaring Republicans is their seeming inability to convert the bad economy into a clear advantage in the polls.

The Friday jobs numbers should have negated any advantage the Democrats derived from their weeklong infomercial in Charlotte. But if even the latest Rasmussen tracking poll out today (which averages three days of result) is showing Obama up by five points after being tied only a week ago, that illustrates that the Democrats’ arguments that the problems we are experiencing are not the president’s fault are being accepted by voters. Rasmussen’s analysis, like Newhouse’s memo, argues that the economy is still the key issue. Yet the results seem to be telling us that opinion about the economy is influenced more ideology and partisan preferences than it is by the objective proof of Obama’s failure. If, despite the passage of four years, they are prepared to accept the claims of Democrats that blame for the state of the country should be placed on George W. Bush instead of the incumbent, then Obama is in a stronger position that Newhouse is willing to admit.

Optimistic Democrats quoted in an analysis published yesterday by Politico claim there are simply not enough undecided voters out there, and that this means Romney will have to win the support of an unrealistically large proportion of this group in order to prevail. That may not be entirely true, but the data from the surveys of the key swing states seem to show that Romney is trailing in most of them. Something is going to have to happen in the coming weeks for Romney turn a string of close loses into wins.

If all the Democrats have done in the past few weeks is to hold their slim advantage, that is no small achievement. The longer Obama stays in front, the harder it will be for Romney to overtake him even if his edge is within the margin of error. The GOP candidate still needs to alter the dynamic of the race in order to make up that small, crucial gap with the Democrat. That is still quite possible. No one, not even the president is immune to unforeseen developments overseas or concerning the economy. But if the sort of bad economic news we got last week isn’t enough to shake wavering voters into backing Romney, then it’s difficult to imagine what will.

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Can Obama Replicate the “Clinton Bounce”?

President Obama is up by five in today’s Rasmussen and yesterday’s Gallup, in a post-convention bounce that hasn’t been tempered by Friday’s disappointing jobs report. Time for the GOP to panic? Not yet. At the Washington Examiner, Conn Carroll argues that if you take a step back, Romney is still better off in the polls than he was before the Republican convention:

When Mitt Romney selected Paul Ryan as his running mate on August 12th, dubbing themselves America’s Comeback Team, the Real Clear Politics poll average had Obama beating Romney by almost 5 points (47.7 percent to 43 percent). Today, even after Obama’s convention bump, RCP has Obama’s lead narrowed to less than 2 (47.8 percent to 46 percent). Don’t like RCP? Well the more liberal Huffington Post Pollster poll average had Obama up 46.8 to 45.1 when Romney picked Ryan. Today, HuffPo has Obama up by less than 1 point, 46.8 to 46.1.

Don’t let anyone fool you: this is a close election. It will be decided by two events: 1) the first debate between Obama and Romney on October 3rd; and 2) the next jobs report October 5th.

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President Obama is up by five in today’s Rasmussen and yesterday’s Gallup, in a post-convention bounce that hasn’t been tempered by Friday’s disappointing jobs report. Time for the GOP to panic? Not yet. At the Washington Examiner, Conn Carroll argues that if you take a step back, Romney is still better off in the polls than he was before the Republican convention:

When Mitt Romney selected Paul Ryan as his running mate on August 12th, dubbing themselves America’s Comeback Team, the Real Clear Politics poll average had Obama beating Romney by almost 5 points (47.7 percent to 43 percent). Today, even after Obama’s convention bump, RCP has Obama’s lead narrowed to less than 2 (47.8 percent to 46 percent). Don’t like RCP? Well the more liberal Huffington Post Pollster poll average had Obama up 46.8 to 45.1 when Romney picked Ryan. Today, HuffPo has Obama up by less than 1 point, 46.8 to 46.1.

Don’t let anyone fool you: this is a close election. It will be decided by two events: 1) the first debate between Obama and Romney on October 3rd; and 2) the next jobs report October 5th.

Political commentators seem to agree that the most persuasive argument at the convention for Obama’s reelection came from Clinton, and that’s backed up by this morning’s Gallup. While 43 percent of all respondents rated Obama’s speech at “excellent/good,” 56 percent of all respondents said the same of Clinton’s. Among independents, those numbers are clarified further: 35 percent (for Obama) and 52 percent (for Clinton).

In other words, it was Clinton, not Obama, who was able to make the most effective argument for Obama’s reelection — a message that clearly resonated with independents. At WaPo, Jen Rubin writes:

At a time when the blogosphere is wildly overestimating the mild bump in daily tracking polls, it is helpful to remember that whatever nudge Obama might have gotten could very well be the Clinton bump, not his own. Unfortunately for Obama, his name will appear on the November ballot.

The takeaway for Romney is the more they see of the GOP nominee the better, and voters’ continued exposure to Obama is not necessarily a plus for the incumbent president.

Unfortunately for the Obama campaign, Clinton’s primetime speech isn’t something that can be replicated. While Clinton can play a prominent role stumping for Obama on the campaign trail, he’s not going to have another major national platform like he did at the convention. As Carroll notes, the most critical events between now and the election will be the debates and the next jobs report. Both are on Obama’s shoulders, and the public seems far less impressed with his persuasive powers than Clinton’s.

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Ethics Could Cost Dems CT Senate Seat

If Democrats weren’t already worried about the recent turnabout in the Connecticut Senate race, they got more bad news over the weekend. Republican challenger Linda McMahon filed a complaint with the Office of Congressional Ethics over the conduct of her opponent Rep. Chris Murphy. She accuses Murphy of getting a sweetheart loan from a bank that had donated to his Congressional campaign while he was serving on the House Financial Services Committee.

While Democrats will answer by pointing out McMahon’s own troubled financial past as well as that the complaint won’t necessarily lead to legal difficulties, this is a major problem for Murphy. Connecticut politics was turned upside down two years ago when similar questions about sweetheart deals for former Senator Chris Dodd forced him out of office after 30 years. Moreover, it levels the playing field between the two vying to succeed Joe Lieberman since the sort of public corruption that Murphy is accused of is generally viewed by voters as more serious than anything to do with McMahon’s World Wrestling Federation. Given that, contrary to all expectations, the race between Murphy and McMahon is tied and that the latter will almost certainly outspend her rival by a huge margin in the next two months, there is no longer any doubt that this race has become a tossup that may soon be leaning to the Republicans.

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If Democrats weren’t already worried about the recent turnabout in the Connecticut Senate race, they got more bad news over the weekend. Republican challenger Linda McMahon filed a complaint with the Office of Congressional Ethics over the conduct of her opponent Rep. Chris Murphy. She accuses Murphy of getting a sweetheart loan from a bank that had donated to his Congressional campaign while he was serving on the House Financial Services Committee.

While Democrats will answer by pointing out McMahon’s own troubled financial past as well as that the complaint won’t necessarily lead to legal difficulties, this is a major problem for Murphy. Connecticut politics was turned upside down two years ago when similar questions about sweetheart deals for former Senator Chris Dodd forced him out of office after 30 years. Moreover, it levels the playing field between the two vying to succeed Joe Lieberman since the sort of public corruption that Murphy is accused of is generally viewed by voters as more serious than anything to do with McMahon’s World Wrestling Federation. Given that, contrary to all expectations, the race between Murphy and McMahon is tied and that the latter will almost certainly outspend her rival by a huge margin in the next two months, there is no longer any doubt that this race has become a tossup that may soon be leaning to the Republicans.

As Politico reports, the detail of the Murphy complaint doesn’t paint the congressman in the best light. A few months after his first term in Congress began, Murphy was sued over his defaulting on a loan that originated with Webster Bank. That lawsuit was eventually dropped but the bank, which is listed as a contributor to the congressman’s campaign, then gave Murphy an additional loan and charged him the prime rate rather than one that would be given to an ordinary consumer. Members of Congress are prohibited from receiving any deal that a member of the public cannot obtain.

Both Murphy and the bank claim no wrongdoing was committed. But the transactions appear to be symptoms of the usual influence peddling in which politicians are handled with kid gloves by businesses that stand to benefit from the decision made in Washington. Murphy may be entitled to the presumption of innocence under the law but in the court of public opinion he will soon find that the appearance of corruption will convince voters that he is guilty until presumed innocent. His answer to the charges, in which he says that they merely show he’s “not a perfect person,” may be the best he can come up with under the circumstances but are not likely to convince voters he is clean.

This will give McMahon a club with which to beat Murphy until the election and, given her considerable resources, it is likely that few in the state will not be aware of the case by the time she is done pounding the theme in her ad campaign. Though the Democrat has the advantage of running in a blue state and having the opportunity to catch Barack Obama’s coattails, the last thing he needed was something that would allow voters to see him, rather than the wrestling mogul, as the ethically challenged candidate.

While I was deeply skeptical of McMahon’s chances of doing better this year than in her first try for the Senate in 2010, it looks like I — along with a lot of others — may have underestimated her and overestimated Murphy. Republicans who wrote off their chances of winning the Senate when Todd Akin went off the deep end on abortion in Missouri may have found another pickup that will allow them to be in the majority next year.

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Basic Info About Israel Still Eluding Dems

When Massachusetts Democrat Barney Frank finally unburdens the Congress of his belligerent presence after his current term, he will leave two primary legacies. The first is his role in the housing crisis and subsequent deep recession by protecting Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac from much-needed reforms, and the second is his decision to take the nastiness found in the far corners of the liberal blogosphere and mainstream it, introducing it into the regular give-and-take of the Congress. Those seeking comity and civility in American public life had few greater obstacles than Frank during his time in the House.

But Frank has a chance at a third legacy: there is a possibility that his district, deep blue but perhaps tired of Democratic governance in the age of Obama (as when his state voted for Scott Brown), may give a Republican a serious look to succeed Frank. That Republican is the Georgetown and Harvard-educated Marine reservist Sean Bielat, who ran against Frank last time and gave him a bit of a scare. (When Bielat met Frank for the first time during the election, he told him it was a pleasure to meet his congressman. Frank’s response: “I wish I could say the same.”) But with the renewed controversy over the broad Democratic Party opposition to recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, a statement made by Joseph P. Kennedy III, Bielat’s Democratic opponent for the seat, may garner some increased scrutiny.

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When Massachusetts Democrat Barney Frank finally unburdens the Congress of his belligerent presence after his current term, he will leave two primary legacies. The first is his role in the housing crisis and subsequent deep recession by protecting Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac from much-needed reforms, and the second is his decision to take the nastiness found in the far corners of the liberal blogosphere and mainstream it, introducing it into the regular give-and-take of the Congress. Those seeking comity and civility in American public life had few greater obstacles than Frank during his time in the House.

But Frank has a chance at a third legacy: there is a possibility that his district, deep blue but perhaps tired of Democratic governance in the age of Obama (as when his state voted for Scott Brown), may give a Republican a serious look to succeed Frank. That Republican is the Georgetown and Harvard-educated Marine reservist Sean Bielat, who ran against Frank last time and gave him a bit of a scare. (When Bielat met Frank for the first time during the election, he told him it was a pleasure to meet his congressman. Frank’s response: “I wish I could say the same.”) But with the renewed controversy over the broad Democratic Party opposition to recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, a statement made by Joseph P. Kennedy III, Bielat’s Democratic opponent for the seat, may garner some increased scrutiny.

In a primary debate earlier this summer, the Democratic candidates were asked about Mitt Romney’s comments in Jerusalem about the city’s status as Israel’s capital. Kennedy offered the following statement, in direct contravention of an observable reality: “I think that the capital of Israel is Tel Aviv.”

It is true that some have decided not to recognize Jerusalem as the capital until a two-state solution is in place, even though much of Jerusalem is not contested nor considered “occupied.” This is a silly affront to Israeli sovereignty, but even that is a far cry from the bizarre claim that Tel Aviv is Israel’s capital. No one in Israel argues this, and the mayor of Tel Aviv has gone out of his way to ask people to please stop lying about the status of his city. Those who claim Tel Aviv is the capital of Israel are attempting to express a uniquely uninformed brand of trendy leftist opposition to Israel.

Kennedy not only said that Tel Aviv is Israel’s capital (it’s not), but he also said that this reflects longtime American policy (it doesn’t). Some are pointing out that Kennedy’s fairy tale about Tel Aviv conflicts with what is on his website, but since he obviously has nothing to do with his own website, it only goes to show that his Tel Aviv pronouncements are his own and not those he’s hired to speak for him. Carl in Jerusalem notes that Kennedy’s great-grandfather was no friend to the Jewish people, but his grandfather, Robert Kennedy, was. (To the extent that a Palestinian assassin murdered Robert Kennedy to prevent a pro-Israel voice from gaining the White House.) So the Kennedy family influence is not the determining factor here either.

Kennedy’s comments also came before the Democratic National Convention scene in which Democratic delegates voted down adding a reference to Jerusalem back into the party platform, and booed loudly when the pro-Israel language was added over their objections. So Kennedy’s comments may be indicative of the Democratic Party’s antipathy toward Israel, but they were not inspired by the convention mess. Kennedy can’t blame this on his anyone but himself, and Bielat has decided that the best way to take Kennedy to task for these comments is simply to make sure people hear them. So Bielat has put together an ad letting Kennedy speak for himself:

Bielat (who seems to have a stronger grasp of basic geography) would like Kennedy to at least have to answer to the voting public for his foolishness. If he does, Frank’s new legacy might be helping to turn a blue district red. If not, Kennedy seems like the kind of politician that will make Frank’s current legacy look good by comparison.

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In Trying to End One Iraq War, Did Obama Restart Another?

It is surely no coincidence that on Sunday an Iraqi court sentenced to death Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi, a prominent Sunni, and on the same day Sunni militants unleashed a series of attacks across Iraq, many of them aimed at Shiites, which killed some 100 people. Not that the bombings were planned in response to Hashemi’s sentencing in absentia–such coordinated strikes have to be arranged well in advance. But the attacks are symptomatic of how Iraq is starting to unravel: Prime Minister Maliki is seen as a Shiite militant who is persecuting Sunnis and Sunni extremists are responding with their trademark terrorist attacks.

It is quite possible that Hashemi is guilty of the killings attributed to him–but then similar charges could be lodged against many senior Shiite political figures. Too many Iraqi politicos to count have blood on their hands from the dark days of Iraq’s civil war, which finally petered out in 2008–at least temporarily. The fact that the courts, which are widely viewed as beholden to Maliki and not in any credible way independent, have gone after Hashemi is widely seem as a political vendetta–not as justice being done. The evidence against Hashemi, moreover, appears to have come from the torture of his bodyguards.

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It is surely no coincidence that on Sunday an Iraqi court sentenced to death Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi, a prominent Sunni, and on the same day Sunni militants unleashed a series of attacks across Iraq, many of them aimed at Shiites, which killed some 100 people. Not that the bombings were planned in response to Hashemi’s sentencing in absentia–such coordinated strikes have to be arranged well in advance. But the attacks are symptomatic of how Iraq is starting to unravel: Prime Minister Maliki is seen as a Shiite militant who is persecuting Sunnis and Sunni extremists are responding with their trademark terrorist attacks.

It is quite possible that Hashemi is guilty of the killings attributed to him–but then similar charges could be lodged against many senior Shiite political figures. Too many Iraqi politicos to count have blood on their hands from the dark days of Iraq’s civil war, which finally petered out in 2008–at least temporarily. The fact that the courts, which are widely viewed as beholden to Maliki and not in any credible way independent, have gone after Hashemi is widely seem as a political vendetta–not as justice being done. The evidence against Hashemi, moreover, appears to have come from the torture of his bodyguards.

All of this is deeply disturbing because it threatens to throw off the delicate balance that Iraqi politics achieved after the success of the surge. By 2009 Al Qaeda in Iraq had been effectively defeated and Iraq had an excellent chance to emerge as an enduring democracy. Now that chance is being squandered because of Maliki’s short-sightedness–and because the Obama administration has totally given up trying to play any meaningful role in Iraq’s future. Not only do we not have any more troops in Iraq; we don’t even have an ambassador.

Iraq is only mentioned by the president in the context of “I ended the war.” On the contrary, it appears more accurate to say that Obama, with his failure to renew the mandate of U.S. troops, may have restarted a war that had been effectively ended after the sacrifice of the lives of 4,486 U.S. service personnel. Voters may not care now, but if the situation continues to worsen it will be a major blot on Obama’s historical legacy, something that he appears not to realize at the moment. More significantly, it will be a dangerous blow against U.S. interests in the Middle East.

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Obama Campaign Hits Romney on Russia

The Obama campaign is ratcheting up its attacks on Mitt Romney’s comment that Russia is the “No. 1 geopolitical foe” of the United States, reports Michael Hastings at Buzzfeed:

The Obama campaign has stepped up its mockery of Mitt Romney’s foreign policy views, continuing a theme rolled out at the Democratic National Convention to portray the Republican candidate, who has limited foreign policy experience, as out of his depth in international affairs.

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The Obama campaign is ratcheting up its attacks on Mitt Romney’s comment that Russia is the “No. 1 geopolitical foe” of the United States, reports Michael Hastings at Buzzfeed:

The Obama campaign has stepped up its mockery of Mitt Romney’s foreign policy views, continuing a theme rolled out at the Democratic National Convention to portray the Republican candidate, who has limited foreign policy experience, as out of his depth in international affairs.

The latest installment: a fake movie poster that uses the line Senator John Kerry debuted in his speech two days ago at the convention, where he compared Mitt Romney’s national security ideas to those of Sarah Palin.

“Sarah Palin said she could see Russia from Alaska,” Kerry said on Thursday. “Mitt Romney talks like he’s only seen Russia by watching Rocky IV.”

President Obama also piled on in his DNC speech: “After all, you don’t call Russia our number-one enemy — not al Qaeda, Russia — unless you’re still stuck in a Cold War mind warp.”

Admittedly, it was a dumb comment from Romney. On the other hand, the Obama campaign continues to insist that the Russian reset is going just swimmingly, so I’m not sure they have the authority to mock anyone else for delusions about the U.S.-Russia relationship.

Is this a smart strategy for Obama? He’s trying to brand Romney as a fumbling newbie on foreign policy issues, but Obama’s own Director of National Intelligence made a similar comment about the Russian threat in the past (which he was immediately pummeled for by Senate Republicans). Note that polls show Americans overwhelmingly view Russia and Putin negatively and do not view the country as an ally. By criticizing Romney on this issue, Obama is drawing attention to his own weak record on Russia and his troubling comment to Dmitry Medvedev about being “more flexible” after the November election.

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Bin Laden’s Dead. How Long Will GM Live?

If you heard it once last week, you heard it 100 times. General Motors is alive and Osama bin Laden is dead. That juxtaposition of the federal bailout of the car manufacturer and the killing of the terrorist is supposed to be the argument for President Obama’s re-election. While both are good things, neither tells us much about the administration’s value. It is likely that GM would have survived in one form or another no matter what the president did. Nor, despite the unseemly chest-thumping braggadocio about the bin Laden operation, is it reasonable to assert that it was only possible because Obama was president. Nevertheless, this catch phrase, made popular by Vice President Joe Biden, is an effective campaign slogan. Indeed, the car bailout is thought to be a crucial factor in propping up the president’s poll numbers in key swing states like Ohio and Michigan that may decide the election.

However, for all of the cheering for GM plants done at the Democratic convention, the notion that the company that once dominated the industry has been set back on the path to prosperity by the president may be something of an illusion. Last month, Forbes published a sobering piece on the company’s prospects that should give even the giddiest of Democrats pause. According to Louis Woodhill, the GM revival is all smoke and mirrors:

President Obama is proud of his bailout of General Motors.  That’s good, because, if he wins a second term, he is probably going to have to bail GM out again. The company is once again losing market share, and it seems unable to develop products that are truly competitive in the U.S. market.

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If you heard it once last week, you heard it 100 times. General Motors is alive and Osama bin Laden is dead. That juxtaposition of the federal bailout of the car manufacturer and the killing of the terrorist is supposed to be the argument for President Obama’s re-election. While both are good things, neither tells us much about the administration’s value. It is likely that GM would have survived in one form or another no matter what the president did. Nor, despite the unseemly chest-thumping braggadocio about the bin Laden operation, is it reasonable to assert that it was only possible because Obama was president. Nevertheless, this catch phrase, made popular by Vice President Joe Biden, is an effective campaign slogan. Indeed, the car bailout is thought to be a crucial factor in propping up the president’s poll numbers in key swing states like Ohio and Michigan that may decide the election.

However, for all of the cheering for GM plants done at the Democratic convention, the notion that the company that once dominated the industry has been set back on the path to prosperity by the president may be something of an illusion. Last month, Forbes published a sobering piece on the company’s prospects that should give even the giddiest of Democrats pause. According to Louis Woodhill, the GM revival is all smoke and mirrors:

President Obama is proud of his bailout of General Motors.  That’s good, because, if he wins a second term, he is probably going to have to bail GM out again. The company is once again losing market share, and it seems unable to develop products that are truly competitive in the U.S. market.

Woodhill points out that the value of GM stock has crashed since it went public in November 2010. That leaves the federal government, which owns about 26 percent of the company, sitting on what he estimates is a loss of $16.4 billion. He predicts that the president will probably ride the decline of the company’s stock down to zero as its house of cards inevitably collapses.

Just as important, Woodhill asserts that the failure of the company’s cars to make headway against its rivals means that its decline is an inevitable result of failure rather than merely the vagaries of stock speculation. With Chevy’s Malibu failing to stock up against comparable models from Ford (the U.S. company that wasn’t bailed out by Obama), Volkswagen, Honda, Toyota, Nissan and Hyundai, he thinks there’s little reason to believe that anyone will be bragging about GM’s Lazarus act in a year or two. He believes that if Obama is re-elected, it is a certainty that the company will be back begging for help and that the president will be forced to oblige with another bailout.

If he’s right, rather than the bailout being a triumph for his administration, Obama’s bouquet to the United Auto Workers will turn out to be a cautionary tale about the folly of government intervention in the market.

A year from now, Osama bin Laden will still be dead, meaning that Barack Obama can go on bragging about the one bright spot in his career as commander-in-chief until the end of time. But if Woodhill is right, we will look back on the GM bailout as just another failed government boondoggle.

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Is Morsi Preparing for War?

When the Muslim Brotherhood’s candidate won Egypt’s presidential elections, the comforting theory pronounced by diplomats and pundits worldwide was that power would force the Brotherhood to moderate its views: Once in power, its first priority would have to be rescuing Egypt’s shattered economy, and this would force it to avoid radical steps liable to antagonize Western donors.

That power isn’t moderating the Brotherhood is crystal clear already: Within two months of taking office, President Mohamed Morsi had already blatantly violated the cardinal principle of the peace treaty with Israel–the demilitarization of Sinai–by sending tanks into the area near the Israeli border without first obtaining Israel’s permission. But now it turns out the Brotherhood also doesn’t care about the economy. It’s only Morsi’s third month in office, and he is already negotiating to spend hundreds of millions of dollars he doesn’t have on something that won’t help the economy one whit: two state-of-the-art submarines from Germany.

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When the Muslim Brotherhood’s candidate won Egypt’s presidential elections, the comforting theory pronounced by diplomats and pundits worldwide was that power would force the Brotherhood to moderate its views: Once in power, its first priority would have to be rescuing Egypt’s shattered economy, and this would force it to avoid radical steps liable to antagonize Western donors.

That power isn’t moderating the Brotherhood is crystal clear already: Within two months of taking office, President Mohamed Morsi had already blatantly violated the cardinal principle of the peace treaty with Israel–the demilitarization of Sinai–by sending tanks into the area near the Israeli border without first obtaining Israel’s permission. But now it turns out the Brotherhood also doesn’t care about the economy. It’s only Morsi’s third month in office, and he is already negotiating to spend hundreds of millions of dollars he doesn’t have on something that won’t help the economy one whit: two state-of-the-art submarines from Germany.

The price tag for a new German submarine is about $510 million, meaning two would cost over $1 billion. Thus Morsi is planning to waste more than a fifth of the $4.8 billion loan he just requested from the International Monetary Fund not on helping Egypt’s economy–the ostensible purpose for which he sought the money–but on acquiring expensive military equipment for which Egypt has no conceivable need: It isn’t currently facing a maritime threat from any country or terrorist organization, nor is there reason to think it will in the future.

Or to put it another way, Morsi plans to blow the entirety of the $1 billion debt relief package he is now negotiating with Washington on military hardware rather than helping Egypt’s economy.

The first obvious conclusion from this fact is that neither Washington nor the IMF should approve the requested aid. There might be valid reasons for giving Egypt aid to rebuild its economy. But there are none at all for giving it money to purchase state-of-the-art submarines.

Far more worrying, however, is the issue of why Egypt even wants these subs–because the only possible purpose they could serve is for use against Israel.

Granted, the two countries are officially at peace. But Egypt’s army has continued to view Israel as its principal enemy, and to train accordingly, throughout the decades since the treaty was signed in 1979. Moreover, Israel is the only country in the region that has a state-of-the-art submarine force itself: It recently took possession of its fourth German-built sub, and has two more on order. Taken together, those two facts make it hard to envision any other purpose an Egyptian submarine fleet could rationally serve.

And when you add in Morsi’s move to remilitarize Sinai, the final conclusion from the submarine deal becomes inescapable: Morsi’s top priority isn’t rehabilitating Egypt’s economy, but preparing for war with Israel.

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