Commentary Magazine


Posts For: September 20, 2012

Obama: “You Can’t Change Washington From the Inside”

At the Univision forum today, President Obama said the “most important lesson” he’s learned since taking office is that “you can’t change Washington from the inside. You can only change it from the outside.”

It would have been nice if he’d discovered this piece of wisdom four years ago, before he ran an entire campaign based on a promise to change Washington (via BuzzFeed):

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At the Univision forum today, President Obama said the “most important lesson” he’s learned since taking office is that “you can’t change Washington from the inside. You can only change it from the outside.”

It would have been nice if he’d discovered this piece of wisdom four years ago, before he ran an entire campaign based on a promise to change Washington (via BuzzFeed):

The Obama campaign will undoubtedly defend this by saying he was referring to the power of the people — i.e. real change comes from the American public. Of course change in Washington comes from the American people. But it also comes from the president and the administration, something that Obama staked his campaign on in 2008. Now he says this “can’t” be done. So what was the point of electing him, again?

It’s Obama as the Wizard of Oz: “All this time you were looking for someone to fix Washington, and it turns out you’ve had the power of change inside you all along!” How patronizing can you get? The country elected Obama in 2008 based on his vow to transcend partisan politics and transform Washington. Now he’s acknowledging he has no control over any of it. If Washington has problems, it’s not his fault. All of you outside Washington just didn’t work hard enough to change it.

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Polls Set the Stage for First Brown-Warren Senate Debate

Just a few hours after I wrote about Elizabeth Warren’s consistent lead in the polls over Scott Brown yesterday, the Boston Herald released its poll showing Brown back in the lead. The poll has Brown up by six among registered voters and four among likely voters. Mark Blumenthal suggests the sample sizes are partly to blame for the poll variation, and that the polls tell us one thing–the race is close:

The five other polls have shown Warren leading by margins varying from two to six percentage points. Relatively small sample sizes likely contribute to the variation. All but one of the new surveys sampled from 400 to 600 likely voters, for reported margins of error ranging from +/- 4 percent to +/- 5 percent.

When combined in the HuffPost Pollster Trend chart, designed to smooth out the random variation inherent in most polls, the new surveys show a virtual dead heat, with Warren just a half percentage point ahead of Brown (46.2 percent to 45.7 percent).

That will account for the attention the two candidates’ first debate will attract tonight. It will also be a good test for the question I mentioned yesterday: Warren’s populism is the only polling advantage she seems to have over Brown, who voters say is running the more positive campaign, has closer ties to the state than Warren, and has a high approval rating. So if Warren’s only advantage is her middle-class focused, soak-the-rich message, will that be sufficient to win enough public support?

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Just a few hours after I wrote about Elizabeth Warren’s consistent lead in the polls over Scott Brown yesterday, the Boston Herald released its poll showing Brown back in the lead. The poll has Brown up by six among registered voters and four among likely voters. Mark Blumenthal suggests the sample sizes are partly to blame for the poll variation, and that the polls tell us one thing–the race is close:

The five other polls have shown Warren leading by margins varying from two to six percentage points. Relatively small sample sizes likely contribute to the variation. All but one of the new surveys sampled from 400 to 600 likely voters, for reported margins of error ranging from +/- 4 percent to +/- 5 percent.

When combined in the HuffPost Pollster Trend chart, designed to smooth out the random variation inherent in most polls, the new surveys show a virtual dead heat, with Warren just a half percentage point ahead of Brown (46.2 percent to 45.7 percent).

That will account for the attention the two candidates’ first debate will attract tonight. It will also be a good test for the question I mentioned yesterday: Warren’s populism is the only polling advantage she seems to have over Brown, who voters say is running the more positive campaign, has closer ties to the state than Warren, and has a high approval rating. So if Warren’s only advantage is her middle-class focused, soak-the-rich message, will that be sufficient to win enough public support?

As Jonathan wrote this afternoon, both Brown and Connecticut Republican challenger Linda McMahon will have to rely on ticket-splitting Democrats, since there simply aren’t enough Republican voters to put them over the top in their two states (in Brown’s case, as I wrote yesterday, Republicans make up only about one in ten voters). The Herald talked to some Democratic and independent Massachusetts voters about Brown, and heard exactly what Brown needs to hear to win this election:

“I wasn’t too sure of him at first, but he’s been very independent,” said Jo Ann Dunnigan, a longtime Democrat and President Obama supporter from Fall River who participated in the poll, conducted Sept. 13-17….

“I like the fact he grew up poor and knows what it means to have problems in your family,” said Valerica Stanta, a self-described independent from Haverhill who supports Obama and took part in the poll.

That will make it more difficult for Warren to paint Brown as the corporate candidate, which she is trying to do. Because Warren does not have Brown’s charisma, she’ll be at something of a disadvantage at the debate. She’ll have to rely on hammering home her campaign message, but it turns out there’s more bad news for Warren’s prospects at convincing the electorate:

Warren is viewed favorably by 48 percent of voters — a 14-point increase from nine months ago — but her unfavorable rating has also increased seven points to 34 percent. And three of 10 registered voters say Warren’s views are “too liberal.”

Stanta said she has a “trust” problem with Warren because of her differing explanations for why she listed herself as an American Indian minority in law school directories. “When they avoid explaining exactly what is going on, I don’t feel comfortable,” Stanta said.

Apologies for stating the obvious, but if Warren has a “trust problem,” she’s in trouble–all the more so because of her weaknesses in other areas. Additionally, Warren is too liberal for nearly a third of Massachusetts? Her class warfare may have helped her some, but perhaps even her deep blue state can only take so much bashing of business owners during an economic downturn.

If voters already find her untrustworthy and overzealous, tonight’s debate, which will be on C-Span at 7 p.m. eastern, will be her best chance to improve voters’ perception of her communication style just as much as her substance. But if her Democratic National Convention speech is any indication, that will be no easy task.

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Hey, LA Times: Where’s the Obama Video?

The Los Angeles Times, like most major media outlets, covered the leak of a video in which Mitt Romney speaks candidly to supporters about his beliefs regarding the economy and the Middle East peace process.

The video has thrown the Romney campaign off-track and undercut Romney’s outreach to the elderly and the struggling middle class. Journalists and editorialists have reacted almost with glee as they construct an unflattering image of the “real Mitt Romney.”

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The Los Angeles Times, like most major media outlets, covered the leak of a video in which Mitt Romney speaks candidly to supporters about his beliefs regarding the economy and the Middle East peace process.

The video has thrown the Romney campaign off-track and undercut Romney’s outreach to the elderly and the struggling middle class. Journalists and editorialists have reacted almost with glee as they construct an unflattering image of the “real Mitt Romney.”

While the Los Angeles Times should not be faulted for covering what has become a national story, the juxtaposition of its Romney video coverage with its refusal to release an equally embarrassing video of Barack Obama feting former PLO Beirut spokesman and University of Chicago historian Rashid Khalidi is telling. In the video taken at a goodbye party as his friend departed for a new post at Columbia University, Obama reportedly talked perhaps too candidly about his views of the Middle East. That the Los Angeles Times refuses to release the video shows complete and utter hypocrisy.

Further underlying the Los Angeles Times‘s partisanship was its explanation when, despite warnings that its actions could kill American soldiers, it published two-year-old photos of American soldiers mistreating the corpses of Taliban fighters. As the editors explained, “At the end of the day, our job is to publish information that our readers need to make informed decisions.” Apparently, that is only true if the editors believe the informed decisions will support the politics in the newsroom of the Los Angeles Times.

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What’s Stopping a No-Fly Zone in Syria?

“ ‘Never again’ is a challenge to nations. It’s a bitter truth — too often, the world has failed to prevent the killing of innocents on a massive scale. And we are haunted by the atrocities that we did not stop and the lives we did not save.” So said President Obama earlier this year at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. One wonders, in light of what is happening in Syria, how he can fail to be haunted by his administration’s unwillingness to do more to end the bloodshed there.

Especially as one reads news items such as this one: “At least 30 people, and possibly more than 100, were killed in Syria on Thursday in the northern Raqqa Province, when government warplanes bombed a gas station crowded with people, according to activist groups.”

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“ ‘Never again’ is a challenge to nations. It’s a bitter truth — too often, the world has failed to prevent the killing of innocents on a massive scale. And we are haunted by the atrocities that we did not stop and the lives we did not save.” So said President Obama earlier this year at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. One wonders, in light of what is happening in Syria, how he can fail to be haunted by his administration’s unwillingness to do more to end the bloodshed there.

Especially as one reads news items such as this one: “At least 30 people, and possibly more than 100, were killed in Syria on Thursday in the northern Raqqa Province, when government warplanes bombed a gas station crowded with people, according to activist groups.”

It is true it is beyond America’s power—or at least the amount of power that any American wants to employ—to end all the killing in Syria. That would take a massive ground intervention which no one is proposing, and even the dispatch of large numbers of troops could simply lead to more fighting, as in Iraq. But it is not beyond America’s power to ground the Syrian Air Force before it carries out more such atrocities. Airpower is one instrument of power that can be safely employed in Syria. It would take only a few days for the U.S. Navy and Air Force to take down all of Syria’s air defenses and thus ground the Syrian Air Force before it kills again. Many allies, from France to Turkey, would cheer us on if we did so and cooperate to enforce a no-fly zone.

Yet President Obama refuses to give the order to act. This is a haunting abdication of power that shows the hollowness of talk about a “responsibility to protect” the victims of mass killings.

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Admin Using Fallen Ex-SEALs For Cover?

Obama administration officials have denied there were security breakdowns at the Benghazi consulate, with UN Ambassador Susan Rice citing the two former Navy SEALs killed in the attack, Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty, as part of the “substantial security presence” at the compound. But the Washington Guardian reports today that Woods and Doherty were not part of the official security detail:

The officials provided the information to the Washington Guardian, saying they feared the Obama administration’s scant description of the episode left a misimpression that the two ex-Navy SEALs might have been responsible for the ambassador’s personal safety or become separated from him.

“Woods and Doherty weren’t part of the detail, nor were they personally responsible for the ambassador’s security, but they stepped into the breach when the attacks occurred and their actions saved others lives — and they shouldn’t be lumped in with the security detail,” one senior official said, speaking only on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to speak publicly about the State Department. …

In fact, officials said, the two men were personal service contractors whose official function was described as “embassy security,” but whose work did not involve personal protection of the ambassador or perimeter security of the compound.

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Obama administration officials have denied there were security breakdowns at the Benghazi consulate, with UN Ambassador Susan Rice citing the two former Navy SEALs killed in the attack, Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty, as part of the “substantial security presence” at the compound. But the Washington Guardian reports today that Woods and Doherty were not part of the official security detail:

The officials provided the information to the Washington Guardian, saying they feared the Obama administration’s scant description of the episode left a misimpression that the two ex-Navy SEALs might have been responsible for the ambassador’s personal safety or become separated from him.

“Woods and Doherty weren’t part of the detail, nor were they personally responsible for the ambassador’s security, but they stepped into the breach when the attacks occurred and their actions saved others lives — and they shouldn’t be lumped in with the security detail,” one senior official said, speaking only on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to speak publicly about the State Department. …

In fact, officials said, the two men were personal service contractors whose official function was described as “embassy security,” but whose work did not involve personal protection of the ambassador or perimeter security of the compound.

Former Navy SEALS, who were in Libya as private contractors, were serving in some capacity unrelated to their official titles. That’s pretty vague, but you can probably connect your own dots from there. Whatever Woods and Doherty were doing, they were not in Benghazi as State Department employees, nor were they tasked with directly protecting the ambassador or the compound.

And yet both Hillary Clinton and Susan Rice have implied they were providing embassy security for the State Department at the time of the attack. During an interview with Jake Tapper earlier this week, Rice rejected charges that the State Department hadn’t provided adequate security for the consulate, saying that “two of the four Americans who were killed were there providing security” along with “other colleagues who were doing the same with them.”

TAPPER: Why was there such a security breakdown? Why was there not better security at the compound in Benghazi? Why were there not U.S. Marines at the embassy in Tripoli?

RICE: Well, first of all, we had a substantial security presence with our personnel…

TAPPER: Not substantial enough, though, right?

RICE: … with our personnel and the consulate in Benghazi. Tragically, two of the four Americans who were killed were there providing security. That was their function. And indeed, there were many other colleagues who were doing the same with them.

It would be perfectly understandable if the administration didn’t get into the details about what Woods and Doherty were doing in Benghazi, particularly if they were there in some covert capacity. But it’s another thing for the administration to use them as cover for the State Department’s failure to provide adequate security. These men served their country with honor, and they deserve more from this administration.

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Romney Isn’t Losing the Senate for the GOP

Republicans not otherwise occupied by the prospect of Mitt Romney slipping further behind President Obama have the option of being equally pessimistic about their party’s chances of retaking the Senate. A Politico feature and an analysis in the New York Times by blogger Nate Silver both highlight the raft of recent polls that show that the GOP’s once bright hopes of capturing the upper chamber from the Democrats have declined precipitately in the last month. But any attempt to pin the blame for this trend on the party’s presidential candidate is probably a mistake. There are states in which Romney will not help the rest of the ticket, but if Republicans wind up losing the Senate it will not be his fault alone.

That the odds have now shifted in favor of the Democrats retaining control of the Senate is not in dispute. As we all know, a certain GOP pickup in Missouri became a likely Democratic hold the moment Todd Akin opened his mouth to talk about rape victims. But the Akin fiasco highlights an important truth about imposing a national narrative on what is essentially a series of separate elections. Attempts to wrap a number of different races with different candidates in different states are almost always something of a stretch. When you break down what is happening in the various Senate races, what we are seeing often has more to do with local factors than with Romney’s problems.

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Republicans not otherwise occupied by the prospect of Mitt Romney slipping further behind President Obama have the option of being equally pessimistic about their party’s chances of retaking the Senate. A Politico feature and an analysis in the New York Times by blogger Nate Silver both highlight the raft of recent polls that show that the GOP’s once bright hopes of capturing the upper chamber from the Democrats have declined precipitately in the last month. But any attempt to pin the blame for this trend on the party’s presidential candidate is probably a mistake. There are states in which Romney will not help the rest of the ticket, but if Republicans wind up losing the Senate it will not be his fault alone.

That the odds have now shifted in favor of the Democrats retaining control of the Senate is not in dispute. As we all know, a certain GOP pickup in Missouri became a likely Democratic hold the moment Todd Akin opened his mouth to talk about rape victims. But the Akin fiasco highlights an important truth about imposing a national narrative on what is essentially a series of separate elections. Attempts to wrap a number of different races with different candidates in different states are almost always something of a stretch. When you break down what is happening in the various Senate races, what we are seeing often has more to do with local factors than with Romney’s problems.

Republicans came into 2012 with a decided advantage in the battle for the Senate, as Democrats had to defend 23 seats to the Republicans’ 10. Democratic seats in Nebraska and Missouri were seen as likely losses while six others were toss-ups.  On the GOP side of the aisle, only Scott Brown’s hold on Teddy Kennedy’s old seat in Massachusetts was considered questionable.

Since then, Olympia Snowe’s retirement has moved one GOP seat from a likely hold to a likely Democrat pickup. Along with the Akin fiasco in Missouri, Democrat seats in Florida and Hawaii that were seen as very competitive races are now starting to look like easy Democrat victories. But even if we accept those outcomes as set in stone, that still gives us a Senate tally that is current 48 likely Democrats and 44 likely Republicans, leaving eight seats that are still very much in play for both parties.

That means there is plenty of room for a number of different possible outcomes. But while the remaining tossups in Connecticut, Massachusetts, Virginia, Indiana, Wisconsin, North Dakota, Montana and Nevada are bound to be affected by the Obama-Romney battle, the outcome in each will be more a function of the individual candidate’s strengths than any coattail or drag effect coming from the top of the ticket.

If Romney does fade in the final weeks, the assumption is that the impact in the two New England battlegrounds where Republicans never expected to win at the presidential level, Connecticut and Massachusetts, could be disastrous. But both Linda McMahon (who has put a Connecticut seat in play that most had assumed was safe for the Democrats) and Scott Brown are already running on the assumption that ticket-splitting Democrats are the key to victory. If anything, the perception that Obama is a shoe-in could help rather than hurt them since it would put less pressure on wavering Democrats to stay in the fold.

If Republican hopefuls are fading down the stretch in other tossup states, it will be equally hard to pin their troubles on Romney. The inability of GOP challengers in North Dakota and Montana to oust seemingly vulnerable Democratic incumbents in red states has to do with their own weaknesses, not those of Romney. In Nevada, the problem may be the resilience of Democrat Shelley Berkley, whose popularity seems to have withstood an ethics investigation, even though Republican Dean Heller still holds a small lead. And in Indiana, the failure of Tea Party favorite Richard Mourdock, who ousted longtime GOP incumbent Richard Lugar in a primary, to win over independents has placed that seat in jeopardy for the Republicans, though they are still ahead there.

That leaves two seats where the Romney factor might be decisive.

Both Wisconsin and Virginia are presidential tossups. Currently President Obama leads in both and it is arguable that his strength is helping Tammy Baldwin and Tim Kaine stay ahead of Tommy Thompson and George Allen. Should the Democrats win both these seats it will be reasonable to assume that distaste for Romney and enthusiasm for Obama helped make the difference there.

However, even there the results will be more about the inability of Thompson and Allen to seal the deal with voters than anything Romney does.

When there is a decisive result in Congressional and Senate races, the impulse is to always assume a national trend. But even in years when there is such a trend, such as 1994, 2006 or 2010, it is important to remember that such party victories are usually the aggregate result of an assortment of local factors more than one national issue. That’s why a Republican failure to take the Senate this year will have a lot more to do with Akin, Allen and Thompson than it does with Romney.

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Saban Spouse Gets “Key” WH Nomination

Billionaire Democratic donor Haim Saban wrote an effusive New York Times op-ed praising Obama’s Israel policy earlier this month. Today, the White House announced that Saban’s wife, Cheryl, has been nominated to represent the U.S. at the upcoming UN General Assembly. Now, before anyone jumps to conclusions, I’m sure these were totally unconnected events, and Cheryl Saban beat out a line of career diplomats for this important honor based on her resume as an “author, philanthropist, and advocate for women and children,” as well as her very serious book What Is Your Self Worth? A Woman’s Guide to Validation.

The Free Beacon reports:

The White House announced Wednesday it has nominated Cheryl Saban, the wife of Univision chairman Haim Saban, to be a representative of the United States to the General Assembly of the United Nations.

Cheryl Saban is described as an “author, philanthropist, and advocate for women and children” in the White House announcement, serving on boards of the Saban Research Institute, Girls Inc., and Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. …

Cheryl Saban’s nomination comes less than a month after her husband penned a New York Times op-ed defending President Obama’s Israel record.

The position was a marked turn for the Egyptian-born Israeli-American, who criticized Obama personally in 2011 for not visiting Israel, and labeled in 2010 the Obama administration “really left leftists, so far to the left there’s not much space left between them and the wall.”

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Billionaire Democratic donor Haim Saban wrote an effusive New York Times op-ed praising Obama’s Israel policy earlier this month. Today, the White House announced that Saban’s wife, Cheryl, has been nominated to represent the U.S. at the upcoming UN General Assembly. Now, before anyone jumps to conclusions, I’m sure these were totally unconnected events, and Cheryl Saban beat out a line of career diplomats for this important honor based on her resume as an “author, philanthropist, and advocate for women and children,” as well as her very serious book What Is Your Self Worth? A Woman’s Guide to Validation.

The Free Beacon reports:

The White House announced Wednesday it has nominated Cheryl Saban, the wife of Univision chairman Haim Saban, to be a representative of the United States to the General Assembly of the United Nations.

Cheryl Saban is described as an “author, philanthropist, and advocate for women and children” in the White House announcement, serving on boards of the Saban Research Institute, Girls Inc., and Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. …

Cheryl Saban’s nomination comes less than a month after her husband penned a New York Times op-ed defending President Obama’s Israel record.

The position was a marked turn for the Egyptian-born Israeli-American, who criticized Obama personally in 2011 for not visiting Israel, and labeled in 2010 the Obama administration “really left leftists, so far to the left there’s not much space left between them and the wall.”

Here’s the White House press release touting the nomination as a “key administration post.”

Cheryl  Saban, Nominee for Representative of the United States of America to the Sixty-seventh Session of the General Assembly of the United Nations

Cheryl Saban is an author, philanthropist, and advocate for women and children.   As an author, her work focuses predominantly on family, women’s empowerment, and healthcare.  In 2009, she founded the non-profit organization Women’s Self Worth Foundation.  Ms. Saban serves on the boards of The Saban Research Institute, Girls Inc., and Children’s Hospital Los Angeles.  She is a member of the American Psychological Association.  Previously, she served on the Board of Overseers at the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California (2008-2011), the Board of Directors of the Los Angeles Universal Preschool (2004-2007), and as a Commissioner for the City of Los Angeles Commission for Children, Youth, and Their Families (2002-2003).  She received a B.A., M.A., and Ph.D. from California Coast University.

Saban, a major pro-Israel Democratic donor, has been critical of Obama in the past, and indicated last year that he might not donate to Obama because of his Israel policy. He changed his tune recently when he reportedly pledged $1 million to pro-Obama super PACs, and penned the fawning Times op-ed. Obama has tended to give the UNGA representative position to top bundlers in the past, notably Elaine Schuster in 2009 and Carol Fulp in 2010, so his appointment of Cheryl Saban isn’t a surprise. But it certainly does shed light on what Saban’s getting for his support.

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Obama Official: It Was a Terrorist Attack

Josh Rogin reports that a top administration official conceded what had long become obvious during a Senate Homeland Security Committee hearing yesterday:

The Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi was in fact “a terrorist attack” and the U.S. government has indications that members of al Qaeda were directly involved, a top Obama administration official said Wednesday morning.

“I would say yes, they were killed in the course of a terrorist attack on our embassy,” Matt Olsen, the director of the National Counterterrorism Center, said Wednesday at a hearing of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, in response to questioning from Chairman Joe Lieberman (I-CT) about the attack that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans.

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Josh Rogin reports that a top administration official conceded what had long become obvious during a Senate Homeland Security Committee hearing yesterday:

The Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi was in fact “a terrorist attack” and the U.S. government has indications that members of al Qaeda were directly involved, a top Obama administration official said Wednesday morning.

“I would say yes, they were killed in the course of a terrorist attack on our embassy,” Matt Olsen, the director of the National Counterterrorism Center, said Wednesday at a hearing of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, in response to questioning from Chairman Joe Lieberman (I-CT) about the attack that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans.

At the White House press briefing yesterday, Jay Carney softened his language from last week, when he had insisted the violence was prompted by the film and had nothing to do with 9/11. While he wouldn’t confirm reports of terrorism, Carney referred to the “precedent in the past where bad actors, extremists who are heavily armed…have taken advantage of and exploited situations that have developed in order to either attack westerners or western assets or Americans or American assets.”

Still, Carney maintained that there was no indication the attack was planned in advance. “Based on the information we had at the time and we have now, we do not yet have indication that it was preplanned or premeditated,” he said.

In other words, a group of terrorists may have just lucked out and come across a spontaneous U.S. embassy protest on September 11, while they were transporting mortars and rocket-propelled grenades through Libya. Not ones to let an opportunity go to waste, they decided to take advantage of the situation. See? A completely reasonable explanation.

The White House is now hastily backtracking on the previous claim that this wasn’t a terrorist attack. But they still won’t acknowledge the advance planning, because that would mean they could have potentially prevented it, but failed to do so.

At the Daily Witness, Ivan Kenneally writes:

Of course, it is infuriating to be bombarded with attempts to spin the sad events of September 11th as feckless as the precautions taken to prevent it. The cavalier abuse of the truth, besides its grinding condescension, sullies the memory of those who died for their country, men already dishonored by the lack of effort devoted to their safety, by the incompetence that compromised their lives. The Obama administration is so singularly obsessed with pursuing every avenue that leads to their own exculpation that they have sacrificed even the bare appearance of coherence, no longer make common cause with the demands of common sense. The families of those brave Americans slain have surely noticed this disrespect with sadness, and our enemies have surely noticed, too, with an emboldening.

Good points. Some may dismiss this messaging debacle as a minor concern, but what signal does our government send to the world when it responds to terrorist attack by condemning fringe anti-Islam YouTube videos and trying to get them pulled from the internet? It looks either completely clueless or completely spineless. This was an enormous blunder by the White House.

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Focus on the Candidate, Not the Spending

After a week in which Mitt Romney allowed himself to become a mainstream media piñata, the Republican’s campaign is in the unenviable position of having to calm the frayed nerves of supporters who feel that a few days of bad polling numbers mean that all is lost. There is good reason for Republicans to be concerned about the way the race has gone since the conventions, but with most of the national polls still within the margin of error, the instinct to panic is, at best, premature. Nevertheless, it is likely that a New York Times article that noted that the Romney campaign is being “tightfisted” with its campaign treasury and allowing itself to be outspent in key states is bound to raise some alarms in the GOP.

But if anyone thinks the problem with the Romney campaign is that they are as cheap as the candidate supposedly is in his private life, they are missing the point about recent events. One can debate the wisdom of the campaign’s decision-making process about ad buys. But as the now infamous 47 percent video indicated, the trouble with the Romney campaign is Romney, not its pace of spending.

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After a week in which Mitt Romney allowed himself to become a mainstream media piñata, the Republican’s campaign is in the unenviable position of having to calm the frayed nerves of supporters who feel that a few days of bad polling numbers mean that all is lost. There is good reason for Republicans to be concerned about the way the race has gone since the conventions, but with most of the national polls still within the margin of error, the instinct to panic is, at best, premature. Nevertheless, it is likely that a New York Times article that noted that the Romney campaign is being “tightfisted” with its campaign treasury and allowing itself to be outspent in key states is bound to raise some alarms in the GOP.

But if anyone thinks the problem with the Romney campaign is that they are as cheap as the candidate supposedly is in his private life, they are missing the point about recent events. One can debate the wisdom of the campaign’s decision-making process about ad buys. But as the now infamous 47 percent video indicated, the trouble with the Romney campaign is Romney, not its pace of spending.

The Times article has the feel of a piece intended to feed the fears of Republican Chicken Littles who think Romney’s Boston headquarters is flushing their chances of winning down the drain. But while the response from the Romney camp to the effect that they have spent their money “smartly and efficiently” sounds sensible, the candidate’s supporters are bound to wonder whether waiting until later in the campaign to start spending all the money that has been raised is wise. It is difficult to know in advance when the crisis in an election campaign has come, but if there was ever a moment when it felt as if Romney’s hopes were hanging in the balance it is now. If his advisors think it’s too soon to start a massive effort to counter the negative messages being conveyed by the Democrats and the media, it may be too late to do any good when they think the time is right.

As I wrote yesterday, there is no reason for Republicans to give up just because the media is telling them to do so. Romney does have time to make up lost ground and there are still a host of issues concerning the economy and foreign policy on which he can score points against the president.

But the focus on advertisements tells us nothing about why Romney is still trailing the president or how he can change that.

It’s worth recalling that some of Romney’s opponents in the Republican primaries noted at the time that he wouldn’t be able to overwhelm President Obama with ad buys the way he did some of his GOP foes. That was true. But the conclusion to be drawn from this lesson is broader than that.

Journalists have covered the fundraising race between the two parties this year with almost as much interest as they did the contest for Republican convention delegates when the nomination was still in doubt. Money is the mother’s milk of politics. It is vital to running a credible campaign and its absence can doom an otherwise viable contender. But money alone never bought the presidency for any candidate. That is especially true when you consider the enormous sums both the president and the GOP standard-bearer have raised and which in practice almost cancel each other out.

It may be that it would be extremely helpful to the Republican effort for the campaign to invest heavily in ads in swing states right now. And if Obama’s lead starts to expand now, we may look back and accuse Romney’s advisors of making a critical mistake by saving their money for a subsequent offensive.

But Romney isn’t trailing in Ohio, Florida and Virginia — states he must win — because of Obama’s advertising or because too few GOP ads are being put on the air. He’s losing because of a widespread perception fed by his own gaffes, that the candidate is not presenting a viable alternative to the president. That may be unfair, but it is a perception that is based on his failure to close the deal with voters at a time when the country is in the sort of economic distress that might otherwise cause an incumbent to lose.

The obsession with the impact of money on the race has been a convenient theme for Democrats who like to pretend that the Republicans are trying to buy the election. That probably won’t change even if, as was the case in 2008, the Democrats wind up outspending the GOP this year. But it would be foolish for Republicans to buy into this idea by complaining loudly about the Romney camp’s spending. More ads may well help him, but no ad will save his candidacy if he continues to drift and allow his opponents to define him by his gaffes.

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PA’s Fiscal Crisis Is Due to Gaza, Not Israel

The World Bank issued another report on the Palestinian economy yesterday, and its conclusions were utterly predictable: The Palestinian Authority faces a fiscal crisis, and desperately needs additional handouts on top of the $1.14 billion it’s already getting this year; and the crisis is mostly Israel’s fault. But while blaming Israel is always easy, the truth is the PA hasn’t a prayer of ever resolving its fiscal crisis without addressing the real elephant in the room: Gaza.

According to PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, Gaza accounts for fully 48 percent of the PA’s expenditures. But since Hamas took over the territory in 2007, revenues received from Gaza have plummeted from 28 percent to a mere 4 percent of the PA’s budget. In other words, the PA has a hole equal to 44 percent of its budget due solely to its unbalanced income and outlays on Gaza. Nothing Israel does will be able to compensate for that.

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The World Bank issued another report on the Palestinian economy yesterday, and its conclusions were utterly predictable: The Palestinian Authority faces a fiscal crisis, and desperately needs additional handouts on top of the $1.14 billion it’s already getting this year; and the crisis is mostly Israel’s fault. But while blaming Israel is always easy, the truth is the PA hasn’t a prayer of ever resolving its fiscal crisis without addressing the real elephant in the room: Gaza.

According to PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, Gaza accounts for fully 48 percent of the PA’s expenditures. But since Hamas took over the territory in 2007, revenues received from Gaza have plummeted from 28 percent to a mere 4 percent of the PA’s budget. In other words, the PA has a hole equal to 44 percent of its budget due solely to its unbalanced income and outlays on Gaza. Nothing Israel does will be able to compensate for that.

The problem is twofold. First, because Hamas controls Gaza, the PA can’t collect taxes there – and Hamas has no interest in giving the PA any of the taxes it collects. Often, Hamas doesn’t even pay the PA for services received: After the European Union stopped paying for Gaza’s electricity in 2010, for instance, the PA picked up the tab. In fact, that the PA receives any money from Gaza at all is mainly thanks to Israel, which transfers the taxes it collects on goods imported into Gaza from Israel.

Second, much of the money the PA spends in Gaza is totally wasted. Five years after Hamas took over Gaza, for instance, the PA is still paying some 60,000 former PA employees full salaries to sit at home and do absolutely nothing, just to keep them from working for the Hamas government instead. It’s hard to imagine a more unproductive use of money than that. And the sums involved aren’t trivial: Gaza accounts for 40 percent of the 150,000 people on the PA’s payroll, and payroll accounts for about half the PA’s annual budget of almost $4 billion.

Meanwhile, the party that’s de facto been picking up the tab for Gaza’s fiscal black hole is the same one that’s been under constant rocket fire from Gaza for years: The PA has solved part of its budget shortfall, which the World Bank estimates at some $400 million, by not paying its electricity bills to Israel. These unpaid bills now total $160 million – at a time when the Israel Electric Corporation is so far in debt it can no longer raise money without government guarantees, and has been seeking a 30 percent hike in Israelis’ electricity rates to solve its financial problems.

The PA’s international donors are slated to meet on September 23, and will doubtless be tempted to simply regurgitate the World Bank’s Israel-bashing. But if they really want to solve the PA’s fiscal crisis, they need to issue an ultimatum: Either the PA stops blowing half its budget on paying people not to work and subsidizing the Hamas government in Gaza, or its international donors will finally close the spigot.

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The Sad Reality of Harry Reid’s Senate

Yesterday afternoon, Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid took to the Senate floor and offered the words that will—or at least should—define his tenure in the Senate. “The amendment days are over,” Reid somberly declared. He was referring to a specific bill—Rand Paul’s legislation that would remove foreign aid from Egypt, Libya, and Pakistan—but Reid could say those words at any time, because that sentiment hangs over the Senate day after day.

The basic backstory is this: Paul has wanted a vote on this bill for quite some time, but since Republicans aren’t permitted to offer legislation or amendments in Reid’s Senate, he has been ignored. Paul decided he was going to hold up Senate business so he could get his floor vote. Liberals call this obstruction, but they are either uninformed or disingenuous; it’s actually a response to obstruction, which begins with Reid’s methodical deconstruction of basic Senate procedures. John McCain wanted to have a debate on the subject–something that is now foreign to Reid’s Senate as well–and to offer amendments to the bill. No, said Reid. Here is how the Hill framed it:

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Yesterday afternoon, Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid took to the Senate floor and offered the words that will—or at least should—define his tenure in the Senate. “The amendment days are over,” Reid somberly declared. He was referring to a specific bill—Rand Paul’s legislation that would remove foreign aid from Egypt, Libya, and Pakistan—but Reid could say those words at any time, because that sentiment hangs over the Senate day after day.

The basic backstory is this: Paul has wanted a vote on this bill for quite some time, but since Republicans aren’t permitted to offer legislation or amendments in Reid’s Senate, he has been ignored. Paul decided he was going to hold up Senate business so he could get his floor vote. Liberals call this obstruction, but they are either uninformed or disingenuous; it’s actually a response to obstruction, which begins with Reid’s methodical deconstruction of basic Senate procedures. John McCain wanted to have a debate on the subject–something that is now foreign to Reid’s Senate as well–and to offer amendments to the bill. No, said Reid. Here is how the Hill framed it:

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) caved on Sen. Rand Paul’s (R-Ky.) demand for a vote on his bill to end aid to some Middle Eastern countries.

It now constitutes “caving” for Reid to allow a vote in the Senate–and without amendments or debate. The amendment process is key to understanding why liberal commentators get it so wrong when they complain about the GOP’s insistence on being permitted to take part in the democratic process. Reid has perfected the art of “filling the amendment tree,” which is a device he employs to use up all allowable amendment space on a bill with his own so the GOP is unable to offer theirs.

The best demonstration of how far from reality the GOP’s critics are, and the best refutation of it as well, actually came in Senator Marco Rubio’s full interview with Jon Stewart on the Daily Show in June. Stewart asked Rubio about GOP obstruction, and what he sees as a one-sided refusal to engage in bipartisanship. He asked Rubio: “can you explain to me why my reality is wrong?” Rubio was happy to. He explained to Stewart that in order to protect Democrats from having to take any votes—even votes they’ll win—Reid won’t let the GOP offer amendments or get votes on their legislation.

Later on, Rubio gave a few examples of Reid’s obstruction. Rubio said he put forth a bill called the AGREE Act, because it was essentially a piece of legislation that incorporated the positions that Democrats and Republicans both agreed on. He said he offered a Jobs 2.0 bill that was bipartisan as well. He couldn’t get a vote on either one, he said.

Though Rubio didn’t mention it, it’s worth here pointing out what exactly Reid was doing instead of passing bipartisan legislation. While the Senate still hasn’t passed a budget in three years, Reid was wasting Senate floor time on stunts like leveling unfounded accusations against Mitt Romney and possibly flouting ethics rules to campaign for Obama on the Senate floor–all instead of a jobs bill or a budget. Then Reid has the audacity to say that the time for amendments is over, because they have to get moving on temporary bills to fund the government, which shouldn’t be necessary in the first place if Reid were doing his job.

The Stewart-Rubio debate on Senate procedure wrapped up with this exchange:

Stewart: “There is an accountability issue within the Republican conference that I think is not a fantasy of mine, or has been made up. And in any conversation of it, it’s been ‘well those guys are mean too, and we’re not’.”

Rubio: “But you’re talking about the filibuster. The filibuster basically is requiring 60 votes on a bill. That’s what the filibuster is. I’m saying we can’t even get the vote on the ideas that we’ve offered. And so when you don’t allow the minority party to get votes on legitimate ideas, the only tool the minority party has, the only leverage you have as the minority party in the Senate is the 60-vote threshold. That’s the counterreaction to it. And that’s what I’m trying to tell you.”

Stewart: “So you don’t feel that you’ve overused your filibuster, it’s you’ve overprotected yourselves from the viciousness of the lack of voting you’re allowed?”

Rubio: “No. I’m saying the Senate isn’t working the way it’s supposed to work. The Senate is supposed to be a place where any senator can offer amendments on any bill, you have a vote on it, [and] if they don’t like it you vote against it and we move on.”

And with that, the conversation moved on as well, with Stewart duly educated and pronouncing the debate—which he was losing, badly—too technical for the show. I’ve written before about the various Senate traditions and procedures that Reid has destroyed in his ongoing quest for a debate-free, vote-free, budget-free Senate. The amendment process is a major one, however, and those mourning the end of the Senate we once knew can either continue their partisan venting by attacking Republicans or they can be honest and go right to the source. They can talk to Harry Reid.

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Are Democratic Voters Surging?

The blizzard of polls that emerged yesterday afternoon had morphed into an Obama avalanche by the time dinnertime rolled around. Surveys at the national and state level disagreed with the results of the two daily tracking polls, Gallup and Rasmussen, which show a tied race around 47 percent. Every other survey, with the exception of one in New Hampshire, showed Barack Obama ahead, and in most cases ahead outside the margin of error. That includes polls of the swing states Mitt Romney has to win if he is to prevail in November.

I said yesterday afternoon that the polls suggested Obama was ahead, but by a little, not a lot. How does that conclusion stand after the data onslaught?

Look, when every poll but two points in the same direction, it would be madness to say signs point to the opposite. Clearly, Obama is leading, and maybe by more than a little. More damaging for Romney’s prospects is the fact that the lead is either stable or strengthening in those battleground states.

Or is it?

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The blizzard of polls that emerged yesterday afternoon had morphed into an Obama avalanche by the time dinnertime rolled around. Surveys at the national and state level disagreed with the results of the two daily tracking polls, Gallup and Rasmussen, which show a tied race around 47 percent. Every other survey, with the exception of one in New Hampshire, showed Barack Obama ahead, and in most cases ahead outside the margin of error. That includes polls of the swing states Mitt Romney has to win if he is to prevail in November.

I said yesterday afternoon that the polls suggested Obama was ahead, but by a little, not a lot. How does that conclusion stand after the data onslaught?

Look, when every poll but two points in the same direction, it would be madness to say signs point to the opposite. Clearly, Obama is leading, and maybe by more than a little. More damaging for Romney’s prospects is the fact that the lead is either stable or strengthening in those battleground states.

Or is it?

The only reason to think it isn’t strengthening goes to one common feature these Obama-friendly polls share—a surge in the number of Democrats ready or likely to vote over the past month. Take Wisconsin, where two polls gave Obama great comfort. The Quinnipiac survey showed Obama gaining 4 percentage points over its survey last month. But that gain was the direct result of the fact that the number of Democrats polled was also up by 4 percentage points.

Even more telling was the Marquette University poll in Wisconsin, which showed Obama up a staggering 11 points since its last take—as a result of including 10 percent more Democrats in the survey.

Quinnipiac’s survey of Virginia featured a Democratic advantage of 11 points—a vast increase in the number of Democrats surveyed in previous tallies.

Some political observers would ask: What’s the issue? Democrats have outnumbered Republicans in every presidential year but one (2004) from time immemorial. That advantage has typically been around 4 percent. But exit polls in 2008 showed a Democratic advantage of a staggering 8 points. So why aren’t these 2012 poll results simply to be accepted?

Simple. We have solid, data-driven reasons to think 2008 was an unprecedented moment that will not be replicated this year. Put Bush fatigue, the Wall Street meltdown, the Obama novelty phenomenon, and a terrible GOP candidate in a blender and you get the 2008 Obama froth.

What would cause such a surge this year? Two thirds of the country says we’re on the wrong track.

That’s a wipeout-for-Obama number, not a number suggesting that Obama will match or better his result in 2008.

And bettering his result is what many of these surveys anticipate. In ’08, Democratic voters outnumbered Republicans by 6 percent—not 11, as the Marquette poll would have it in its present survey. Or 9, as Pew would have it.

But why would his result even remain close to the same? Just two years ago, there was a GOP surge leading to a 63 seat gain in the House of Representatives. Nationwide, the vote percentages from 2008 flipped. In ’08. Obama won 53-46; the GOP nationally won 53 percent of the vote in ’10. The 8-point Democratic advantage of ’08 declined into an even split—from 39D-32R to 35-35.

How could Obama get back to 2008 levels only two years later when conditions are not much improved, if at all, for him or the country?

The obvious riposte is that the presidential-year electorate is much larger and more varied than a midterm electorate. In 2010, 90 million people voted. In 2012, we can expect somewhere between 130-140 million. That’s a big difference, but it’s not a colossal difference.

Let’s assume every one of those 90 million people votes this year—a proper assumption, as midterm voters are extremely engaged politically. That would constitute something like 60 percent of the 2012 electorate. Imagine that they all were to vote the same partisan way in 2012. This would be like saying it’s election night and Bret Baier is already intoning, “With 60 percent of the vote counted, Mitt Romney leads Barack Obama by seven points.”

If that were to happen, it would be time to call the election for Romney. Almost certainly, it won’t. All the evidence suggests a measurable number of people who voted GOP in 2010 will vote for Obama in 2012. None of them, pretty much, will be Republicans, more than nine of ten of whom will vote for Romney. Nine of ten Democrats will vote for Obama.

So everyone who switches will be an independent. Independent voters swung harder and faster in 2010 than at any time in the nation’s history—from supporting Obama by 18 percent to supporting Republican candidates by 8 percent, a shift of an astonishing 25 percent. Obviously, people that fickle will bounce around some. But are they really going to swing back in numbers sufficient to hand Obama the kind of victory the polls are presaging? For what reason?

And talk about independents in this way doesn’t explain why it would be that Democrats would suddenly awaken from a three-year slumber and begin to feel like it was 2008 all over again. It could be happening. But shouldn’t something other than a good speech by Bill Clinton be responsible for such a thing? Romney’s inability to score any higher than 47 percent in any poll is certainly a sign he’s not making the sale—but whatever his weaknesses, it seems unlikely he’s the cause of a mad rush to ensure he doesn’t get the White House.

These are the reasons to be reasonably skeptical—not dismissive, not conspiratorial about motive, but reasonably skeptical—about the margins by which these polls are bolstering and boosting Obama. They appear to anticipate an electorate on November 6 that is more Democratic and Obama-friendly than is likely to be the case.

The Romney people should not be skeptical, though. They ought to believe it. They ought to think they’re behind, because they are; and they ought to think they’re farther behind than they are, because that is the only way they will experience the urgency they need to show to change the trajectory of this race.

Perhaps they, like their excessively calm candidate, haven’t quite reckoned with the degree of public humiliation and outright scorn that will be hurled in their faces and the damage that will be done to their professional reputations if Romney loses a race he should have won.

They, like Romney, have every reason to fear such a result and to act dramatically to prevent it. And they have an obligation to the 60-million-plus people who will vote for them, and who believe the country’s future is at stake, not to let this all dribble away.

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Does the Qods Force Operate in America?

The Washington Times is reporting U.S. concern that the Qods Force, the elite wing of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), could strike at targets in the United States:

“We have seen an uptick in operational activity by the Qods Force over the last year or so,” National Counter-Terrorism Center Director Matthew G. Olsen told a hearing of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. Mr. Olsen said the Qods Force, the elite division of the Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps responsible for operations abroad, “poses a threat beyond the immediate [Middle East] region,” including to the U.S. homeland.

This conclusion should be nothing new. Indeed, Iranian authorities have long sought, if not to carry out terrorist attacks inside the United States, then to maintain the option to do so. In 1980, of course, the Iranian government hired a hitman to assassinate a former pre-revolutionary Iranian diplomat living in Bethesda, Maryland. And, as Olsen sited in his testimony, the Qods Force allegedly planned an attack in Washington, DC, last year.

There is a deeper pattern, though.

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The Washington Times is reporting U.S. concern that the Qods Force, the elite wing of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), could strike at targets in the United States:

“We have seen an uptick in operational activity by the Qods Force over the last year or so,” National Counter-Terrorism Center Director Matthew G. Olsen told a hearing of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. Mr. Olsen said the Qods Force, the elite division of the Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps responsible for operations abroad, “poses a threat beyond the immediate [Middle East] region,” including to the U.S. homeland.

This conclusion should be nothing new. Indeed, Iranian authorities have long sought, if not to carry out terrorist attacks inside the United States, then to maintain the option to do so. In 1980, of course, the Iranian government hired a hitman to assassinate a former pre-revolutionary Iranian diplomat living in Bethesda, Maryland. And, as Olsen sited in his testimony, the Qods Force allegedly planned an attack in Washington, DC, last year.

There is a deeper pattern, though.

In 2003, an Iranian immigrant to the United States allegedly lied his way into the United States and then, subsequently, into the Arkansas National Guard. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eight Circuit found him guilty of lying on his visa application. In 2008, Joe Volpe, then an anti-terrorism advisory council coordinator in the U.S. Attorney’s Office (and now a judge), suggested that the case was actually deeper, and that the defendant—who had joined the Arkansas National Guard—was quite possibly an IRGC plant (see page 3):

Now here is the most interesting case in Arkansas to me that is hard to believe. An actual U.S. court case involving a probable Iranian Revolutionary Guard plant in our U.S. Army Reserve Forces here in this state. It was fund that this guy was an actual Iranian Army Officer and chemical engineer. A local bar tender flagged him as being strange from asking several questions involving troop movements and the strengths of all things. He was charged with visa fraud and is currently awaiting removal and deportation out of the United States.

If this is true, then the episode raises questions not only about how the convicted Iranian was recruited into the U.S. military, but also about whether U.S. authorities luckily got the only Iranian agent in the United States or, more likely, whether there are many.

No country has gotten as many passes from the United States as Iran. It has never paid the consequence for its Carter-era terrorism, its role in the 1983 Marine Barracks bombing, or the Khobar Towers attack. In all likelihood, what we know is only the tip of the iceberg.

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Iran’s Lies Are Matched by Obama’s

Yesterday, we discussed the latest attempt by the West to entice Iran to resume negotiations over the future of their nuclear program. Those talks, being conducted by European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, the head of the P5+1 group that includes the United States, were described as “useful and constructive” and were thought to be the prelude to further efforts to break the impasse over Tehran’s push for nuclear weapons later this month in New York, when the United Nations General Assembly convenes. But the same day that Lady Ashton was breaking bread with a representative of the Islamist regime in Istanbul, the head of Iran’s nuclear project was quoted in the London daily Al Hayat as confessing, or should we say bragging, that his country has repeatedly lied to the West in past exchanges about the subject.

As Haaretz reports, Fereydoun Abbasi-Davani, the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran told Al Hayat that the regime had provided false information to the International Atomic Energy Agency in order to protect their “nuclear facilities and achievements.”

“Sometimes we provided false information since there was no other choice but to mislead other intelligence agencies; sometimes we made ourselves appear weak and at other times we reported issues that made us appear strongly than we really were, he said, adding: “Ultimately it became exposed when inspectors directly asked us about these issues.”

He said such deceptions were necessary in order to prevent the IAEA’s investigation from aiding efforts to isolate and sanction Iran. These motivations are quite obvious and even understandable. The Iranians know the world is on to their plans for nuclear weapons and wish to do everything they can to throw the IAEA off the scent. What isn’t understandable is why the United States and its European partners would choose to enter into any diplomatic process with Iran that is predicated on Iran telling the truth about its facilities and keeping their word should any compromise deal ever be reached. That is why the insistence of President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton that diplomacy be given even more time is inexplicable if they mean what they say about wanting to stop Iran.

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Yesterday, we discussed the latest attempt by the West to entice Iran to resume negotiations over the future of their nuclear program. Those talks, being conducted by European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, the head of the P5+1 group that includes the United States, were described as “useful and constructive” and were thought to be the prelude to further efforts to break the impasse over Tehran’s push for nuclear weapons later this month in New York, when the United Nations General Assembly convenes. But the same day that Lady Ashton was breaking bread with a representative of the Islamist regime in Istanbul, the head of Iran’s nuclear project was quoted in the London daily Al Hayat as confessing, or should we say bragging, that his country has repeatedly lied to the West in past exchanges about the subject.

As Haaretz reports, Fereydoun Abbasi-Davani, the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran told Al Hayat that the regime had provided false information to the International Atomic Energy Agency in order to protect their “nuclear facilities and achievements.”

“Sometimes we provided false information since there was no other choice but to mislead other intelligence agencies; sometimes we made ourselves appear weak and at other times we reported issues that made us appear strongly than we really were, he said, adding: “Ultimately it became exposed when inspectors directly asked us about these issues.”

He said such deceptions were necessary in order to prevent the IAEA’s investigation from aiding efforts to isolate and sanction Iran. These motivations are quite obvious and even understandable. The Iranians know the world is on to their plans for nuclear weapons and wish to do everything they can to throw the IAEA off the scent. What isn’t understandable is why the United States and its European partners would choose to enter into any diplomatic process with Iran that is predicated on Iran telling the truth about its facilities and keeping their word should any compromise deal ever be reached. That is why the insistence of President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton that diplomacy be given even more time is inexplicable if they mean what they say about wanting to stop Iran.

Davani’s taunting of the West reflects an interesting dynamic in the ongoing negotiations with Iran. In a diplomatic dance that started before President Obama took office, we have repeatedly seen Western efforts to broker an agreement with Iran on nuclear issues founder on this same problem. Iran pretends to want to talk. Iran lies to the West about what it is doing on the ground and about what it may be willing to agree to and then reneges on any agreement and announces further progress toward its nuclear goal.

In the course of just the last year, the IAEA has found that Iran has doubled the number of centrifuges enriching uranium that can be used for a bomb and that these machines are now operating in hardened underground bunkers that may be invulnerable to attack. This “achievement” was bought with Iranian lies and Western diplomacy that allowed the process to be strung along while Western leaders said they were working to end the nuclear threat.

Even now, as Iran again starts the dance with Ashton and Obama, they are refusing to give the IAEA permission to inspect their nuclear weapons research site at Parchin and as, Davani noted, “obstruct efforts to bar aerial or satellite photos of these sites.”

But as outraged as the world should be about Iran’s brazen deceptions, it must be admitted that the ayatollahs’ representatives are not the biggest liars in this drama. Western leaders who continue to insist they are working to stop Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons but nevertheless play along with Iran’s deceptions are the real deceivers here.

It is one thing for Iran to tell open and obvious lies about what all the world knows to be true about their nuclear project. It is quite another for President Obama and Secretary Clinton to play along while telling the American people that a “window of diplomacy” still exists to end the nuclear threat, or to chide Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu for sounding the alarm about the refusal of the United States to declare “red lines” that will trigger action rather than further talk about the problem.

The longer the United States allows its representatives and surrogates to play a part in this diplomatic farce, the less likely it is that there is any chance to stop Iran. The falsehoods being pronounced on this issue in Washington by leaders who pretend to be steadfast in their determination to halt the nuclear threat are no less reprehensible than those emanating from Tehran.

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