Commentary Magazine


Posts For: September 25, 2012

Can We Pray About Iran on Yom Kippur?

At sundown tonight, Jews around the world will observe Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. It is a day of fasting and prayer as the ten Days of Awe, during which Jews account for their actions in the previous year and atone for their sins, come to a close. The point is to think seriously about our own behavior toward others and to our relationship with our Creator. Though it is the holiest day in the Jewish calendar, Yom Kippur’s significance is not just theological. As it is the religious service that more Jews attend than any other, it has also come to be a day of communal gathering. As such it is the day when synagogues appeal for funds to maintain themselves and the community. But it is also fitting that amid the traditional liturgy and prayers, attention should be paid to the dire threats that hang over Israel and the Jewish people.

It is in that spirit that the Orthodox Union and that movement’s Rabbinical Council of America issued a call for prayer on Yom Kippur for an end to threat of an Iranian nuclear weapon. This seems to me to be an utterly unexceptionable request. Why wouldn’t Jews, be they members of the Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist or even those who style themselves Secular Humanists and don’t even believe in God, not wish to devote a moment to calling for removing the threat of extermination from the State of Israel? Jews may disagree on every conceivable political question but surely there is nothing wrong with asking the Almighty to either soften the hearts of the tyrannical Islamist regime in Tehran or to strengthen the resolve of the rest of the world to stop them? But, believe it or not, some people don’t think such a prayer is a good idea. Peter Beinart, the author and blogger who fancies himself the conscience of the Jewish people and the State of Israel, thinks the rabbis are “disturbing his Yom Kippur” by injecting what he considers a political appeal onto a day that the OU says should be apolitical. Is he right?

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At sundown tonight, Jews around the world will observe Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. It is a day of fasting and prayer as the ten Days of Awe, during which Jews account for their actions in the previous year and atone for their sins, come to a close. The point is to think seriously about our own behavior toward others and to our relationship with our Creator. Though it is the holiest day in the Jewish calendar, Yom Kippur’s significance is not just theological. As it is the religious service that more Jews attend than any other, it has also come to be a day of communal gathering. As such it is the day when synagogues appeal for funds to maintain themselves and the community. But it is also fitting that amid the traditional liturgy and prayers, attention should be paid to the dire threats that hang over Israel and the Jewish people.

It is in that spirit that the Orthodox Union and that movement’s Rabbinical Council of America issued a call for prayer on Yom Kippur for an end to threat of an Iranian nuclear weapon. This seems to me to be an utterly unexceptionable request. Why wouldn’t Jews, be they members of the Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist or even those who style themselves Secular Humanists and don’t even believe in God, not wish to devote a moment to calling for removing the threat of extermination from the State of Israel? Jews may disagree on every conceivable political question but surely there is nothing wrong with asking the Almighty to either soften the hearts of the tyrannical Islamist regime in Tehran or to strengthen the resolve of the rest of the world to stop them? But, believe it or not, some people don’t think such a prayer is a good idea. Peter Beinart, the author and blogger who fancies himself the conscience of the Jewish people and the State of Israel, thinks the rabbis are “disturbing his Yom Kippur” by injecting what he considers a political appeal onto a day that the OU says should be apolitical. Is he right?

Beinart has a point when he notes that liberal denominations have undermined their credibility by attempting to portray their secular political agenda as Jewish causes, to their detriment of purely religious pursuits. Rabbis, like clerics in other faiths, have often used their sermons to foist their personal political agendas on their captive congregations. But is removing the Iranian threat really a partisan issue?

Beinart thinks it is because of the dispute between the government of Israel and the Obama administration over the latter’s refusal to enunciate red lines that would trigger action against Iran rather than more empty rhetorical promises that only serve to help kick the can down the road until the point where it may be too late to do anything about the problem.

Reasonable persons may disagree about what should be done about Iran. But does that quarrel mean that any concern about Iran should be off limits in the synagogue. Beinart thinks so. While he doesn’t want us to think he doesn’t care about Iran, he does seem to mock the special concern about it by asking why this year rather than previous years and why the OU is not calling for prayer to solve other serious problems or potential calamities.

What he fears is that if Jews spend too much time worrying or praying about the possibility that a vicious, anti-Semitic regime will get a nuclear weapon they might not think poorly about Netanyahu’s insistence on action. They may also not regard the president’s stance with complacence. Thus, by definition it seems, prayer about the Iranian threat ought to be off limits.

In stating such a position, he seems to be telling us that he does not take President Obama at his word about his promise about refusing to “contain” Iran rather than preventing it from obtaining nuclear capability. But Jews and other people of good faith need not interpret the call for prayer about Iran as a partisan appeal. Indeed, Democrats may take it as an impetus to press the president to make good on his promises.

But parsing the words of the prayer isn’t the point. Contrary to Beinart’s point of view, there are some issues that transcend partisanship, politics and even religious issues. Preventing a nuclear attack on Israel from a regime that has vowed to eliminate it is one such topic. That Beinart wishes to treat it as being morally equivalent to a liberal appeal for more social welfare spending or conservative calls for support for their issues tells us more about him and his very public angst about Israel and Jewish peoplehood than it does about what is or is not an appropriate prayer on Yom Kippur.

We at COMMENTARY wish all of our readers who will observe Yom Kippur an easy fast. But we also ask them and other readers to read the OU prayer and to add their own amens to its appeal to our own. We’ll be back after the holiday.

On Yom Kippur, the holiest day on the Jewish calendar, Jews worldwide spend the day in fasting, prayer and repentance. Yom Kippur is not a day for politics.

But Yom Kippur 5773 is different.

On this Yom Kippur – the world faces an evil regime whose leaders have publicly committed themselves to destroying the State of Israel and to harming Jews worldwide; in addition, the Iranians are a threat to the global community.

On this Yom Kippur – the leader of that evil regime will address the United Nations General Assembly and again preach his hatred;

On this Yom Kippur – the words found in the High Holiday prayer book, “God determines which nations shall face war and which shall enjoy peace,” prompt us to contemplate with anxiety the fate of the State of Israel and her people, of Jews throughout the world and, indeed, of civilization as a whole.

The threat is dire and demands our attention on our holiest day. Therefore, we call upon all congregations to dedicate a specific moment during their services on the upcoming holy day of Yom Kippur to pray for an end to the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran.

On Yom Kippur, may Israel and its people be sealed in the Book of Life for a year of life and peace.

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Ahmadinejad Fulfills His Role

I’m going to miss Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. It will be a sad day for Iran’s avowed enemies when he steps down from the presidency, which he is scheduled to do in nine months.

Admittedly, his post is mostly symbolic; the real decisions are made by the supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei. But Ahmadinejad performs an important, albeit inadvertent, role: He reminds Americans every year just how deranged and dangerous the regime in Tehran remains. Ahmadinejad has used his annual pilgrimages to New York for the UN General Assembly to opine on a host of topics–and almost everything he says offends some substantial American constituency.

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I’m going to miss Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. It will be a sad day for Iran’s avowed enemies when he steps down from the presidency, which he is scheduled to do in nine months.

Admittedly, his post is mostly symbolic; the real decisions are made by the supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei. But Ahmadinejad performs an important, albeit inadvertent, role: He reminds Americans every year just how deranged and dangerous the regime in Tehran remains. Ahmadinejad has used his annual pilgrimages to New York for the UN General Assembly to opine on a host of topics–and almost everything he says offends some substantial American constituency.

As the New York Times notes in a tour de force summary of his latest remarks: “President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran stoked the anger of Israel, the United States, Syrian insurgents and gay rights advocates on Monday, using the first full day of his final visit to the United Nations as Iran’s leader to assert that he has no fear of an Israeli attack on his country’s nuclear facilities, regards the Israelis as fleeting aberrations in Middle East history, is neutral in the Syria conflict, and considers homosexuality an ugly crime.”

Such remarks do not serve Iran’s purposes, since the Iranian government wants to project a false air of moderation. Rather, they serve to unmask the ugliness lurking not so far beneath the surface. They also serve as an implicit challenge to the U.S. and the West: Whatcha gonna do about it? Insofar as we have done precious little, beyond imposing sanctions, his annual mockery of the West is also a reminder of how much remains to be done to stop the Iranian nuclear program and to help the Iranian people rid themselves of their unelected rulers.

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Obama’s Apology Tour Continues at UN

President Obama was expected to discuss the anti-Islam YouTube film during his UN speech today, and he didn’t disappoint. He devoted over 1,000 words to the topic, much of which had already been said repeatedly by the White House, the State Department, UN Ambassador Susan Rice and government-sponsored commercials in Pakistan:

At times, the conflicts arise along the fault lines of race or tribe, and often they arise from the difficulties of reconciling tradition and faith with the diversity and interdependence of the modern world. In every country, there are those who find different religious beliefs threatening. In every culture, those who love freedom for themselves must ask themselves how much they’re willing to tolerate freedom for others. And that is what we saw play out in the last two weeks, where a crude and disgusting video sparked outrage throughout the Muslim world. Now, I have made it clear that the United States government had nothing to do with this video, and I believe its message must be rejected by all who respect our common humanity. It is an insult not only to Muslims, but to America as well.

For as the city outside these walls makes clear, we are a country that has welcomed people of every race and every faith. We are home to Muslims who worship across our country. We not only respect the freedom of religion, we have laws that protect individuals from being harmed because of how they look or what they believe.

We understand why people take offense to this video because millions of our citizens are among them. I know there are some who ask why don’t we just ban such a video. The answer is enshrined in our laws. Our Constitution protects the right to practice free speech.

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President Obama was expected to discuss the anti-Islam YouTube film during his UN speech today, and he didn’t disappoint. He devoted over 1,000 words to the topic, much of which had already been said repeatedly by the White House, the State Department, UN Ambassador Susan Rice and government-sponsored commercials in Pakistan:

At times, the conflicts arise along the fault lines of race or tribe, and often they arise from the difficulties of reconciling tradition and faith with the diversity and interdependence of the modern world. In every country, there are those who find different religious beliefs threatening. In every culture, those who love freedom for themselves must ask themselves how much they’re willing to tolerate freedom for others. And that is what we saw play out in the last two weeks, where a crude and disgusting video sparked outrage throughout the Muslim world. Now, I have made it clear that the United States government had nothing to do with this video, and I believe its message must be rejected by all who respect our common humanity. It is an insult not only to Muslims, but to America as well.

For as the city outside these walls makes clear, we are a country that has welcomed people of every race and every faith. We are home to Muslims who worship across our country. We not only respect the freedom of religion, we have laws that protect individuals from being harmed because of how they look or what they believe.

We understand why people take offense to this video because millions of our citizens are among them. I know there are some who ask why don’t we just ban such a video. The answer is enshrined in our laws. Our Constitution protects the right to practice free speech.

Obama did defend the First Amendment rights of “those who slander the prophet of Islam” in the speech, as well — but it came off as more as an explanation of why we haven’t banned the video or locked up the video producer than anything else. As I’ve written before, there’s no problem with Obama condemning the film, as any reasonable person should. But this is a matter of emphasis. Obama had a global platform, and he could have used it to primarily call out the Islamist leaders who encouraged the violence and reaffirm American resolve against the terror-supporters who raised Salafist flags above our embassies.

If no insulting video can justify violence, as Obama said during his speech, then why spend so much time apologizing for it? Why take paragraphs to explain that the U.S. does not support or agree with it? If the film is not responsible for the riots, then issue a press release criticizing it, and that should be the end of story.

Obama mainly just reheated the same old lines his administration has been saying for weeks, but he also threw some of his trademark cliches and straw men into the mix:

It is time to marginalize those who, even when not directly resorting to violence, use hatred of America or the West or Israel as the central organizing principle of politics, for that only gives cover and sometimes makes an excuse for those who do resort to violence. That brand of politics, one that pits East against West and South against North, Muslims against Christians and Hindu and Jews, can’t deliver on the promise of freedom.

To the youth, it offers only false hope. Burning an American flag does nothing to provide a child an education. Smashing apart a restaurant does not fill an empty stomach. Attacking an embassy won’t create a single job. That brand of politics only makes it harder to achieve what we must do together, educating our children and creating the opportunities that they deserve, protecting human rights and extending democracy’s promise.

The above may be the most meaningless paragraph of all time. Burning an American flag doesn’t provide children with education? Really? Those rioters in Pakistan must feel pretty foolish to learn they’ve been going about their childhood education advocacy all wrong. Good thing President Obama came out to set them straight.

This is Obama’s fundamental error. The mobs burning our embassies and attacking police are not seeking freedom, or gender equality or jobs. They are seeking the destruction of America and the Western world. We have no reason to apologize to them, nor is it prudent to do so. Not only are they our enemies, they’re the enemies of the liberals we’re supposed to be supporting in these countries. They’re the people who killed Salman Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti, threw acid at schoolgirls in Afghanistan, and burned Coptic churches in Egypt. They don’t care about “creating opportunities,” “protecting human rights,” and “extending democracy’s promise.” Quite the opposite, actually.

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NY Times Paints Unflattering Picture of Obama’s Mideast Diplomacy

Considering that President Obama is running for reelection in no small part based on his foreign policy accomplishments, supposed or real, this long frontpage story by Helene Cooper and Robert Worth in the New York Times–hardly a hostile organ–paints a surprisingly mixed picture of his handling of the Arab Spring. On the one hand, it gives him credit for being ahead of some of his advisers in recognizing that Hosni Mubarak was finished by February 1, 2011, seven days after the start of demonstrations in Tahrir Square.

On the other hand, it argues that he was not especially skillful in managing the Arab Spring, especially in Bahrain, which led to tensions between the calls of human-rights advocates to back peaceful demonstrators and the demands of Gulf states to support the Bahraini monarchy, because he had not cultivated close relations with leaders in the region–or anywhere else. The article notes:

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Considering that President Obama is running for reelection in no small part based on his foreign policy accomplishments, supposed or real, this long frontpage story by Helene Cooper and Robert Worth in the New York Times–hardly a hostile organ–paints a surprisingly mixed picture of his handling of the Arab Spring. On the one hand, it gives him credit for being ahead of some of his advisers in recognizing that Hosni Mubarak was finished by February 1, 2011, seven days after the start of demonstrations in Tahrir Square.

On the other hand, it argues that he was not especially skillful in managing the Arab Spring, especially in Bahrain, which led to tensions between the calls of human-rights advocates to back peaceful demonstrators and the demands of Gulf states to support the Bahraini monarchy, because he had not cultivated close relations with leaders in the region–or anywhere else. The article notes:

The tensions between Mr. Obama and the Gulf states, both American and Arab diplomats say, derive from an Obama character trait: he has not built many personal relationships with foreign leaders. “He’s not good with personal relationships; that’s not what interests him,” said one United States diplomat. “But in the Middle East, those relationships are essential. The lack of them deprives D.C. of the ability to influence leadership decisions.”

Arab officials echo that sentiment, describing Mr. Obama as a cool, cerebral man who discounts the importance of personal chemistry in politics. “You can’t fix these problems by remote control,” said one Arab diplomat with long experience in Washington. “He doesn’t have friends who are world leaders. He doesn’t believe in patting anybody on the back, nicknames.

“You can’t accomplish what you want to accomplish” with such an impersonal style, the diplomat said.

There are, to be sure, dangers of overly personalizing foreign policy. Even George W. Bush must cringe as he recalls the moment when he claimed to have looked into Vladimir Putin’s eyes and get “a sense of his soul.” But there is no doubt that the kind of relationship-building that Bush undertook–as did his predecessors–can pay off in a crisis. That’s something that Obama is still learning, just as he is learning how to respond to the desire for democracy in the Middle East. The Times article also relates that Obama has privately admitted the truth of Mitt Romney’s critique of his mishandling of the Green Revolution in Iran:

Mr. Obama followed a low-key script, criticizing violence but saying he did not want to be seen as meddling in Iranian domestic politics.

Months later, administration officials said, Mr. Obama expressed regret about his muted stance on Iran. “There was a feeling of ‘we ain’t gonna be behind the curve on this again,’ ” one senior administration official said. He, like almost two dozen administration officials and Arab and American diplomats interviewed for this article, spoke on the condition of anonymity.

One can only speculate about what other lessons Obama has learned from his first term. He’s certainly had enough setbacks and miscalculations to learn from.

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High Holy Days, and a Fifth Anniversary

Kol Nidre, the solemn service that leads into Yom Kippur, will be held in synagogues around the world this evening. Not actually a prayer but rather a “legal formula for the annulment of certain types of vows,” as Herman Kieval wrote in a brilliant 1968 article in COMMENTARY, Kol Nidre is a bit of religious theater by which the Jewish believer is transported across space and time into a primordial face-to-face encounter between good and evil, repentance (called teshuvah, or “turning,” by the Jews) and redemption.

The climax of the Yom Kippur service will come tomorrow afternoon, when the cantor’s repetition of the musaf “standing prayer” will undertake a mimetic reenactment of the Temple’s sacrificial service. Although the literal meaning of Kol Nidre is the cancellation of vows (“Our vows shall not be valid vows; our prohibitions shall not be valid prohibitions; our oaths shall not be valid oaths”), its dramatic function, then, is the discarding of ordinary habits and expectations at the entrance way to the absolute, the sub-zero of religious faith. By the time the believer falls to his knees during musaf tomorrow, hungry, stinking, and exhausted, he will have nothing left to give but his soul.

I already have my Yom Kippur reading picked out: Jon Levenson’s new Princeton book Inheriting Abraham, the first title in the new series “Jewish Ideas” sponsored by the Tikvah Fund and selected by former COMMENTARY editor Neal Kozodoy.

But these High Holy Days are meaningful to me in another sense too, a deeply personal sense. Five years ago, between Yom Kippur and Sukkot, I was diagnosed with Stage Four metastatic prostate cancer. “The thing about Stage Four,” the late Christopher Hitchens said, “is that there is no such thing as Stage Five.” Average survival time for men with M+ prostate cancer (as it is abbreviated) is one to three years. I was given a one-in-three chance of living another five years. Yet here I am, prepared for the fifth time since then to abandon all my oaths in order to start again. Every year at this season I must repent for vowing not to die (if I have anything to do with it). Late tomorrow night, around midnight, I will take the same vow again. In between, though, I must hover semi-deliriously in the disquieting faith that the Creator of the Universe will decide, as the liturgy has it, who will live and who will die in the coming year. Yom Kippur is the most difficult theatrical production I’ve ever had to sit through.

Please forgive this resort to confessionalism. And for my Jewish friends: may the seal be for good! Talk to you Thursday.

Kol Nidre, the solemn service that leads into Yom Kippur, will be held in synagogues around the world this evening. Not actually a prayer but rather a “legal formula for the annulment of certain types of vows,” as Herman Kieval wrote in a brilliant 1968 article in COMMENTARY, Kol Nidre is a bit of religious theater by which the Jewish believer is transported across space and time into a primordial face-to-face encounter between good and evil, repentance (called teshuvah, or “turning,” by the Jews) and redemption.

The climax of the Yom Kippur service will come tomorrow afternoon, when the cantor’s repetition of the musaf “standing prayer” will undertake a mimetic reenactment of the Temple’s sacrificial service. Although the literal meaning of Kol Nidre is the cancellation of vows (“Our vows shall not be valid vows; our prohibitions shall not be valid prohibitions; our oaths shall not be valid oaths”), its dramatic function, then, is the discarding of ordinary habits and expectations at the entrance way to the absolute, the sub-zero of religious faith. By the time the believer falls to his knees during musaf tomorrow, hungry, stinking, and exhausted, he will have nothing left to give but his soul.

I already have my Yom Kippur reading picked out: Jon Levenson’s new Princeton book Inheriting Abraham, the first title in the new series “Jewish Ideas” sponsored by the Tikvah Fund and selected by former COMMENTARY editor Neal Kozodoy.

But these High Holy Days are meaningful to me in another sense too, a deeply personal sense. Five years ago, between Yom Kippur and Sukkot, I was diagnosed with Stage Four metastatic prostate cancer. “The thing about Stage Four,” the late Christopher Hitchens said, “is that there is no such thing as Stage Five.” Average survival time for men with M+ prostate cancer (as it is abbreviated) is one to three years. I was given a one-in-three chance of living another five years. Yet here I am, prepared for the fifth time since then to abandon all my oaths in order to start again. Every year at this season I must repent for vowing not to die (if I have anything to do with it). Late tomorrow night, around midnight, I will take the same vow again. In between, though, I must hover semi-deliriously in the disquieting faith that the Creator of the Universe will decide, as the liturgy has it, who will live and who will die in the coming year. Yom Kippur is the most difficult theatrical production I’ve ever had to sit through.

Please forgive this resort to confessionalism. And for my Jewish friends: may the seal be for good! Talk to you Thursday.

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Media Shocked GOP Hasn’t Conceded

When the mainstream media declares that Mitt Romney is finished, they expect everyone in the Republican Party to not just listen but to act accordingly. That’s the only way to respond to an astonishingly obtuse feature in Politico that centers on the willingness of GOP congressional candidates to embrace Romney. The story begins in this manner:

You might think Mitt Romney’s flailing presidential campaign would send his party’s congressional hopefuls fleeing from the GOP standard-bearer.

But in a curiosity of a bizarre campaign season, the opposite is happening. Few Republican House candidates have thrown Romney overboard — and many are embracing him.

Even as the nominee is forced to explain his politically damaging remarks about the 47 percent of voters who he claimed are dependent on the federal government, Republican prospects, by and large, say identifying with the GOP ticket is their best path to victory.

Let’s get this straight: The media decides that Romney’s gaffe about the 47 percent defines the election while Obama’s gaffes about the murders of Americans being “bumps in the road” isn’t worth discussing. They push this line about Romney’s incompetence relentlessly; accept speeches filled with misstatements and distortions at the Democratic National Convention at face value after treating GOP convention speeches as “fact-checked” lies and help manufacture a post-convention bounce; and then declare the race (which is still largely within the margin of error in most polls) over and consider it a “curiosity” that Republicans still like their chances and understand tying their fates to Romney is a lot smarter than writing him off. In other words, if the GOP doesn’t accept their narrative and give up, they are in denial. It never occurs to the chattering classes that about half the country still plans to vote to turn President Obama’s incomplete into an “F” in November and that his wife shouldn’t be fitted for her second inaugural gown just yet.

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When the mainstream media declares that Mitt Romney is finished, they expect everyone in the Republican Party to not just listen but to act accordingly. That’s the only way to respond to an astonishingly obtuse feature in Politico that centers on the willingness of GOP congressional candidates to embrace Romney. The story begins in this manner:

You might think Mitt Romney’s flailing presidential campaign would send his party’s congressional hopefuls fleeing from the GOP standard-bearer.

But in a curiosity of a bizarre campaign season, the opposite is happening. Few Republican House candidates have thrown Romney overboard — and many are embracing him.

Even as the nominee is forced to explain his politically damaging remarks about the 47 percent of voters who he claimed are dependent on the federal government, Republican prospects, by and large, say identifying with the GOP ticket is their best path to victory.

Let’s get this straight: The media decides that Romney’s gaffe about the 47 percent defines the election while Obama’s gaffes about the murders of Americans being “bumps in the road” isn’t worth discussing. They push this line about Romney’s incompetence relentlessly; accept speeches filled with misstatements and distortions at the Democratic National Convention at face value after treating GOP convention speeches as “fact-checked” lies and help manufacture a post-convention bounce; and then declare the race (which is still largely within the margin of error in most polls) over and consider it a “curiosity” that Republicans still like their chances and understand tying their fates to Romney is a lot smarter than writing him off. In other words, if the GOP doesn’t accept their narrative and give up, they are in denial. It never occurs to the chattering classes that about half the country still plans to vote to turn President Obama’s incomplete into an “F” in November and that his wife shouldn’t be fitted for her second inaugural gown just yet.

Both our John Podhoretz and Mona Charen wrote persuasive takedowns this morning of the way the press has distorted coverage of this election. But while it is one thing for liberal outlets to tilt toward Obama and Democrats, you would think even they would shy away from demanding that Republicans play along.

The reason why Republicans are sticking with Romney is that they know the election isn’t decided. There are six weeks left to the campaign and despite the raft of bad polls they’ve gotten lately, they understand that their candidate is well within striking range of the incumbent. They also know that many of the polls have produced contradictory conclusions and that many are based on estimates of turnout that mirror the Democrats 2008 triumph rather than the Republican victory in 2010. Republican House candidates who won’t listen to Politico’s advice may actually be more in tune with voters in their districts than liberal reports.

For the media to declare the race over and to start covering the campaign from the frame of reference of whether Republicans are coming to terms with their inevitable defeat takes media bias to new levels of self-parody.

Make no mistake about it: having to cope with this level of distorted coverage is a handicap for the Republicans. A docile and adoring press is a major asset for President Obama, and anyone who doesn’t think it has helped him hasn’t been paying attention. But when journalists start pushing the envelope in the manner of this Politico story, it ought to worry Democrats. Media bias only works to the advantage of liberals when it is done in a manner that can be represented, however falsely, as objective. Once liberal scribes start jumping the shark, as they have done in this case, it discredits the entire enterprise. More to the point, it helps feed a backlash that can both anger and motivate conservatives to greater efforts.

Mitt Romney may be trailing in this race but so long as the liberal press keeps declaring him dead, he’s got more than a fighting chance.

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Akin Fiasco is Newt’s Last Stand

Today is the last day that Republican Senate candidate Rep. Todd Akin can get off the ballot in Missouri, but there is no indication that he will avail himself of the opportunity. Akin, who turned himself into a national laughing stock with his notorious comments about rape and pregnancy, appears poised to flush his party’s once bright hopes for picking up a Senate seat down the drain. But he isn’t alone. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who was otherwise coming to grips with the obscurity that comes from being a presidential primary also-ran, has become Akin’s loudest supporter these days.

Gingrich is urging the national Republican Party to back off from its vows to cut Akin off from funds and says the Missouri race is still a “winnable race.” The polls would indicate he’s wrong about that as Akin’s comments quickly transformed a big GOP lead into a Democratic advantage, and there’s no sign that’s about to change. Nor is it likely many Republicans will respond positively to Gingrich’s declaration that the party has a “moral obligation” to back Akin. But his crusade on behalf of what is looking like a forlorn hope for the GOP is accomplishing one thing: it’s got Newt’s name back into the news.

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Today is the last day that Republican Senate candidate Rep. Todd Akin can get off the ballot in Missouri, but there is no indication that he will avail himself of the opportunity. Akin, who turned himself into a national laughing stock with his notorious comments about rape and pregnancy, appears poised to flush his party’s once bright hopes for picking up a Senate seat down the drain. But he isn’t alone. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who was otherwise coming to grips with the obscurity that comes from being a presidential primary also-ran, has become Akin’s loudest supporter these days.

Gingrich is urging the national Republican Party to back off from its vows to cut Akin off from funds and says the Missouri race is still a “winnable race.” The polls would indicate he’s wrong about that as Akin’s comments quickly transformed a big GOP lead into a Democratic advantage, and there’s no sign that’s about to change. Nor is it likely many Republicans will respond positively to Gingrich’s declaration that the party has a “moral obligation” to back Akin. But his crusade on behalf of what is looking like a forlorn hope for the GOP is accomplishing one thing: it’s got Newt’s name back into the news.

If Akin’s determination to stay in the race is not as big a story as it was a month ago, that’s because in the intervening weeks, the Republicans have discovered they have bigger problems than Todd Akin. In August, the party’s biggest concern was whether one appalling comment would cost them a Senate seat that might be the difference between taking the Senate or of remaining in the minority. Though the GOP’s Senate hopes are not dead, they have been sidelined by fears that President Obama is assuming a lead in the presidential race that they may not be able to overcome.

But Akin’s forlorn hope is just the thing Gingrich needs to attract a little publicity. The former speaker has taken to referring to Akin’s critics the same way he bloviated about those who thought his presidential quest was hopeless. But just as those who invested heavily in Gingrich were wasting their money (yes, I’m talking about you Sheldon Adelson), the National Republican Senatorial Committee and super-PACs like Crossroads GPS would be crazy to divert any resources into the effort to defeat incumbent Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill. Though she remains deeply unpopular, Akin (whose narrow primary victory was materially aided by the senator in order to give her the weakest possible opponent) is a lost cause.

It may be too late to undo the damage Akin did to the entire Republican Party by feeding into the Democrats’ faux war on women theme. But it won’t help Romney or any other Republican who still does have a chance for the party to reverse its decision to treat Akin like a pariah.

But Gingrich is, as he always has been, in business for himself here. While he is the sort of personality who may never completely fade away, this is the last election cycle in which he can credibly masquerade as a serious player. Just as he kept his presidential quest going long after he was finished, he is milking the Akin shipwreck for an extra few days or weeks of publicity. Though Republicans have bigger problems these days than Akin or Gingrich, the former speaker’s last stand in Missouri may be an appropriately disastrous finish for the GOP’s political year: 2012 began with Gingrich seeking to discredit Romney by attacking his business career in a manner that Democrats soon copied. It could end with Akin sabotaging Romney and the GOP in a state they must win.

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Romney on How Foreign Aid Can Change the Middle East

At heart, Mitt Romney is a moderate and a businessman. So it’s not a surprise that his speech at the Clinton Global Initiative today, which was non-partisan and focused on fostering free enterprise in poor nations, was one of the best and most detailed ones he’s given in a while.

Romney delved into the cultural issues behind poverty and instability in the Middle East, a touchy subject that he got burned on during his Israel trip. But this time he made the case in a more elegant way. “Religious extremism is certainly part of the problem,” he noted. “But that’s not the whole story.” The other factor? A very young population with a bleak economic future, who have known nothing but corruption and oppression:

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At heart, Mitt Romney is a moderate and a businessman. So it’s not a surprise that his speech at the Clinton Global Initiative today, which was non-partisan and focused on fostering free enterprise in poor nations, was one of the best and most detailed ones he’s given in a while.

Romney delved into the cultural issues behind poverty and instability in the Middle East, a touchy subject that he got burned on during his Israel trip. But this time he made the case in a more elegant way. “Religious extremism is certainly part of the problem,” he noted. “But that’s not the whole story.” The other factor? A very young population with a bleak economic future, who have known nothing but corruption and oppression:

In such a setting, for America to change lives, to change communities and nations in the Middle East, foreign aid must also play a role. And the shape that role should take was brought into focus by the life and death of Muhammed Bouazizi of Tunisia, the street vendor whose self-immolation sparked the Arab Spring.

He was just 26-years-old.  He had provided for his family since he was a young boy.  He worked a small fruit stand, selling to passers-by. The regular harassment by corrupt bureaucrats was elevated one day when they took crates of his fruit and his weighing scales away from him.

On the day of his protest, witnesses say that an officer slapped Bouazizi and he cried out, “Why are you doing this to me?  I’m a simple person, and I just want to work.”

I just want to work.

Work.  That must be at the heart of our effort to help people build economies that can create jobs for people, young and old alike. Work builds self-esteem. It transforms minds from fantasy and fanaticism to reality and grounding. Work will not long tolerate corruption nor quietly endure the brazen theft by government of the product of hard-working men and women.

Romney proposed something he calls “Prosperity Pacts” for the Middle East, which will require developing countries to open up certain barriers to trade, investment and entrepreneurship in exchange for non-humanitarian foreign aid. Romney grasps a simple concept that the Obama administration apparently doesn’t. In some places, particularly those with deep-seated corruption, democracy needs a push. There should be a greater government focus on efforts like the one Romney outlined, that promote economic and political freedom.

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Warren Ad Repeats Unfounded Claims

One of the unwritten rules of political campaigns is that when there are accusations against a candidate that seem to be taking their toll on the candidate’s poll numbers, the campaign should seek to rebut the allegations without elevating them. That was one of the main criticisms–though surely not the only one–of Christine O’Donnell’s infamous ad proclaiming that she was not, in fact, a witch. Why even suggest to voters that they had any reason to believe she might be a witch, regardless of the stories of strange, and long forgotten, teenage eccentricities?

That is the primary difference between O’Donnell’s ad and a new one released by the campaign of Elizabeth Warren, who is running against Scott Brown in Massachusetts–O’Donnell was obvious innocent of the charges against her. Earlier in the campaign, it was revealed that Warren claimed Native American heritage on job applications that would give her “minority” considerations in the hiring process thanks to the increased focus on ethnic diversity in education. She did so without—then or since—providing evidence in support of her claimed status. Warren is now a tenured professor at Harvard Law, and has earned the ire both of Native American groups—whose heritage has been used as a prop by a wealthy, white, elite professor—and of minorities in general, who understand that Warren may have taken a spot away from a minority applicant by claiming she was one.

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One of the unwritten rules of political campaigns is that when there are accusations against a candidate that seem to be taking their toll on the candidate’s poll numbers, the campaign should seek to rebut the allegations without elevating them. That was one of the main criticisms–though surely not the only one–of Christine O’Donnell’s infamous ad proclaiming that she was not, in fact, a witch. Why even suggest to voters that they had any reason to believe she might be a witch, regardless of the stories of strange, and long forgotten, teenage eccentricities?

That is the primary difference between O’Donnell’s ad and a new one released by the campaign of Elizabeth Warren, who is running against Scott Brown in Massachusetts–O’Donnell was obvious innocent of the charges against her. Earlier in the campaign, it was revealed that Warren claimed Native American heritage on job applications that would give her “minority” considerations in the hiring process thanks to the increased focus on ethnic diversity in education. She did so without—then or since—providing evidence in support of her claimed status. Warren is now a tenured professor at Harvard Law, and has earned the ire both of Native American groups—whose heritage has been used as a prop by a wealthy, white, elite professor—and of minorities in general, who understand that Warren may have taken a spot away from a minority applicant by claiming she was one.

As I wrote last week, a Boston Herald poll showed that Warren might be developing a “trust problem,” because she has sought to avoid answering questions about her claim rather than provide an explanation. Voters may have been picking up on a sense that Warren was hiding something. In the candidates’ first debate last week, Brown criticized Warren on the issue at the outset, and has followed up with an ad about it. Warren has responded with an ad of her own, advancing her claim and suggesting Brown’s criticism should be off-limits. She also says in the ad that she never asked for any benefit from her unfounded claim. The problem is, she is wrong on both counts. As CBS reports in its story about Warren’s defensive ad:

Warren has said she is Native American, and listed herself as such in some professional forms in the past, but has not offered up documentation proving that she is an official member of the Native American community.

There’s just no way around the fact that she claimed unsupported minority status on a job application where that minority status was expected to give her an edge. And in an age when anyone can trace their genealogical history from their personal computer, and in an era when records have been digitized, it’s much less convincing for Warren to insist that family lore and childhood stories are to be the final arbiters of the truthfulness of her statements.

Additionally, this is not the first time she pretended to be the victim when called out on her dubious assertions. As I wrote when this issue first appeared on the national radar screen:

Then Warren waded into it herself, saying of Brown: “What does he think it takes for a woman to be qualified?”…

Despite her obvious smarts, she has reflexively fallen back on charges of sexism, even when they are so ridiculous as to make you cringe. If Warren, a rich, white, Harvard professor, is a victim, everyone is.

I said that this was something of a tragedy for modern liberalism, since Warren is extremely intelligent, informed, and capable. Yet now she wants her gender, along with her supposed ethnic identity, to insulate her from fair criticism. It’s a pattern, and it only reinforces the credibility of the accusations against her.

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Romney’s Lifeline: Debates Matter

Since early last week, the polls have been a string of bad news for Mitt Romney. Both in swing-state polls and in national ones, President Obama is pulling ahead. There may be some nuggets of good news in states like Colorado, but overall, in must-win states like Ohio, Virginia and Florida, things are looking dire for the Republican nominee. Is it time for Romney to radically alter his campaign or its strategy? Is he due for an ad-spending blitz to try to buoy his numbers going into the fall?

Last summer, pundits debated how long it would take Rick Perry to clinch the Republican nomination. Would he sweep every single primary? How long would it take before his opponents just threw in the towel? His peak was mid-September 2011 in the polls, when according to the Real Clear Politics average, he led the next-most popular candidate, Romney, by more than ten points. He had yet to participate in a debate. Perry’s record as governor of one of the most prosperous states in the union brought him to the lead, and unfortunately, Perry’s less-than-stellar performance in debates was what quickly undid his candidacy. By early October, his lead over Romney disappeared, and his popularity only continued to sharply decline until his withdrawal from the race in late January.

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Since early last week, the polls have been a string of bad news for Mitt Romney. Both in swing-state polls and in national ones, President Obama is pulling ahead. There may be some nuggets of good news in states like Colorado, but overall, in must-win states like Ohio, Virginia and Florida, things are looking dire for the Republican nominee. Is it time for Romney to radically alter his campaign or its strategy? Is he due for an ad-spending blitz to try to buoy his numbers going into the fall?

Last summer, pundits debated how long it would take Rick Perry to clinch the Republican nomination. Would he sweep every single primary? How long would it take before his opponents just threw in the towel? His peak was mid-September 2011 in the polls, when according to the Real Clear Politics average, he led the next-most popular candidate, Romney, by more than ten points. He had yet to participate in a debate. Perry’s record as governor of one of the most prosperous states in the union brought him to the lead, and unfortunately, Perry’s less-than-stellar performance in debates was what quickly undid his candidacy. By early October, his lead over Romney disappeared, and his popularity only continued to sharply decline until his withdrawal from the race in late January.

There were two defining moments for Perry in the debate cycle. In his premier debate on September 7, Perry came off as far too aggressive in his efforts to be heard above the seven other voices on stage. A few days later, polls began to register the response to the debate and his numbers sank even with Romney’s. The second moment was so painful I muted the television as it was unfolding live. In a debate on November 9, Perry struggled to name all of the governmental agencies he would cut as president and, after he realized he couldn’t, he ended by saying “Oops!” On that debate performance Alana wrote,

A presidential contender forgetting the name of an agency he wants to cut is pretty awful, but momentary memory lapses happen. But as you can see, there were so many escape hatches that other politicians – smoother communicators – would have taken. Perry should have dropped the issue when Paul gave him a chance, moved on, changed the subject and tried to recover. Instead, he stood onstage for almost a full, excruciating minute, fumbling for an answer that never came to him.

If all Perry lacked was substance, he might still be polling in the double digits right now. Look at Herman Cain. Perry’s big problem is that he also lacks style. And in today’s media and political culture, that’s unforgivable.

After that November 9 debate, Perry lost any hope of regaining momentum, and soon he was an afterthought in discussions about the primary in the media. While few people were watching these endless strings of debates, the buzz after them permeated the consciousness of Republican voters. Tales of Perry’s poor debate performance impacted the perception of voters who weren’t even bothering to tune in yet, and soon Newt Gingrich rose on the back of his strong debate performances. Gingrich’s poor campaigning and checkered past couldn’t keep him in the running, but for a brief time in both December and January, he gave Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum a run for their money. Before Perry’s star took off, Tim Pawlenty saw the end of his campaign based on one moment in an early debate: his refusal to call ObamaCare “ObamneyCare” — tying Romney’s healthcare program in Massachusetts while he was governor to ObamaCare. Pawlenty’s nice guy moment put the end to his consideration as a serious contender for the nomination.

The first of three scheduled presidential debates comes in a little over a week. Historically, presidential debates have been unable to move the needle in favor of a candidate; generally the only way a candidate’s future has been decided is through a gaffe. While Romney’s numbers aren’t solid going into them, strong showings in the debates could help turn his campaign around, giving him the buzz necessary to get a boost among voters. Romney’s campaign isn’t failing, but it isn’t going to get him over the finish line first either. Totally revamping his campaign will only show signs of desperation and will surely fail to give the candidate a meaningful jump among voters. Only one thing can save Romney: himself.

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Obama’s Iran Failure is Complete

President Obama will speak to the United Nations today, and excerpts from his text that have already been released contain his pledge that he will not seek to contain a nuclear Iran and that “the United States will do what we must to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.” That is a vow that we must all earnestly hope that he will keep if he is re-elected. But as welcome as this renewal of his past pledges on Iran may be, it does leave open the question of how he plans to implement it and whether his judgment about the subject is any less clouded than it has been throughout his four years in office. After all, the president has been saying that an Iranian nuke is unacceptable since he was in the Senate, but his record of achievement on the issue is worse than negligible.

It’s important to remember the dichotomy between the president’s words and his actions on Iran not just because the UN speech, like much of what he has said on the subject, seems aimed more at American voters than at Tehran. The Washington Post devoted considerable space yesterday to an article devoted to spinning his record on Iran as mixed. He was given credit for organizing an “unprecedented” international coalition to support sanctions on Iran, but even the Post had to concede that the sanctions haven’t worked and there is no prospect of them ever succeeding in forcing the Iranians to surrender their nuclear ambitions. Most damning of all is the fact that, as the Post put it, “Iran’s rate of production of enriched uranium has nearly tripled since Obama took office.” Years of talking about engagement and diplomacy followed by belated and loosely enforced sanctions have convinced the Iranians that Obama isn’t serious no matter what he says today at the UN. But the question is not only whether the ayatollahs should take his warnings at face value, but also why anyone else should.

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President Obama will speak to the United Nations today, and excerpts from his text that have already been released contain his pledge that he will not seek to contain a nuclear Iran and that “the United States will do what we must to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.” That is a vow that we must all earnestly hope that he will keep if he is re-elected. But as welcome as this renewal of his past pledges on Iran may be, it does leave open the question of how he plans to implement it and whether his judgment about the subject is any less clouded than it has been throughout his four years in office. After all, the president has been saying that an Iranian nuke is unacceptable since he was in the Senate, but his record of achievement on the issue is worse than negligible.

It’s important to remember the dichotomy between the president’s words and his actions on Iran not just because the UN speech, like much of what he has said on the subject, seems aimed more at American voters than at Tehran. The Washington Post devoted considerable space yesterday to an article devoted to spinning his record on Iran as mixed. He was given credit for organizing an “unprecedented” international coalition to support sanctions on Iran, but even the Post had to concede that the sanctions haven’t worked and there is no prospect of them ever succeeding in forcing the Iranians to surrender their nuclear ambitions. Most damning of all is the fact that, as the Post put it, “Iran’s rate of production of enriched uranium has nearly tripled since Obama took office.” Years of talking about engagement and diplomacy followed by belated and loosely enforced sanctions have convinced the Iranians that Obama isn’t serious no matter what he says today at the UN. But the question is not only whether the ayatollahs should take his warnings at face value, but also why anyone else should.

The Post’s short history of Obama’s path on Iran traces its beginnings rooted in what the American Enterprise Institute’s Danielle Pletka rightly termed “Bush derangement syndrome.” As with his decision to distance the U.S. from Israel because he thought President George W. Bush was too close to the Jewish state, Obama’s frame of reference on Iran was that his predecessor was to blame for problems with Tehran. Bush had actually tried diplomacy — outsourced to the Europeans — and failed, but Obama thought the magic of his personality could resolve everything. But the Iranians, focused as they were on not letting anything the Americans did or said divert them from their nuclear goal, rejected his overtures and smugly concluded he was a paper tiger when he stayed silent about their brutal repression of dissidents (something Obama now says he regrets).

The administration continues to brag of their great achievement in passing sanctions against Iran. Russia and China were appeased to get their agreement to mild measures that did nothing to influence Iran. Even worse, the tough sanctions that were finally pushed through over Obama’s objections by Congress and European allies that were more eager to take on the Iranians than Washington were not only too late but also not fully enforced. Though the Iranian economy has been hurt by the measures, their oil continues to flow to foreign buyers whose cash continues to find its way to the ayatollah’s coffers. As Haaretz reports today, even after all the talk about crippling sanctions, the Untied States finds itself having to try to pass new rules to cope with the fact that the existing laws haven’t stopped the Iranians from circumventing the restrictions.

Though all we hear from the administration and its apologists is about how tough the sanctions are, the fact remains that:

The new penalties will not apply to countries that have been granted “exceptions,” or waivers, to the sanctions because they have significantly cut their purchases of Iranian oil.

The United States this year issued 180-day waivers for all of Iran’s major crude buyers. This month it renewed waivers for Japan and 10 EU countries, while exceptions for China and India are due to be reviewed in coming months.

All the while the Iranian centrifuges keep spinning. The International Atomic Energy Agency has reported that the number of these machines has doubled and they are now being stored underground in facilities that may not be vulnerable to attack. And their stockpile of enriched uranium continues to grow.

Four years of Obama’s policies have brought Iran to what may be the brink of a nuclear weapon with little, if any, time left to stop them by the use of force. The Iranians have ruthlessly exploited the president’s self-regard and his blind faith in diplomacy and international institutions. Far from being a mixed record, this is one of unmitigated failure.

Should he be re-elected, Obama has talked himself into a position where he is likely to face a stark choice between using force on Iran or backing down on his pledges. Nothing he has done in his four years gives anyone without blind faith in him any confidence that he will do the former rather than the latter.

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U.S. Officials Stay Seated While Ahmadinejad Blasts Israel

The AP is reporting that the U.S. delegation stayed seated while Iranian leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad waxed philosophical about the historical accuracy of the Holocaust and the illegitimacy of the “Zionist regime” yesterday, even as Israel’s ambassador to the UN walked out in protest. I don’t see Susan Rice on the Fox News video, but at least three U.S. officials remained in their chairs (one of whom seemed to be diligently taking notes).

A UN walkout can be an important symbol of rejection when done effectively, but the fact that Israel left alone, while the U.S. stayed to listen to Ahmadinejad’s eliminationist musings, sent another message. Taken with Obama’s refusal to meet with Netanyahu, and the recent dismissal of Israeli “noise,” there’s a growing sense that the administration is distancing itself from Israel because it wants nothing to do with a potential attack on Iran:

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The AP is reporting that the U.S. delegation stayed seated while Iranian leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad waxed philosophical about the historical accuracy of the Holocaust and the illegitimacy of the “Zionist regime” yesterday, even as Israel’s ambassador to the UN walked out in protest. I don’t see Susan Rice on the Fox News video, but at least three U.S. officials remained in their chairs (one of whom seemed to be diligently taking notes).

A UN walkout can be an important symbol of rejection when done effectively, but the fact that Israel left alone, while the U.S. stayed to listen to Ahmadinejad’s eliminationist musings, sent another message. Taken with Obama’s refusal to meet with Netanyahu, and the recent dismissal of Israeli “noise,” there’s a growing sense that the administration is distancing itself from Israel because it wants nothing to do with a potential attack on Iran:

Iran’s president called Israel a nuclear-armed “fake regime” shielded by the United States, prompting Israel’s U.N. ambassador to walk out of a high-level U.N. meeting Monday promoting the rule of law.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad also accused the U.S. and others of misusing freedom of speech and failing to speak out against the defamation of people’s beliefs and “divine prophets,” an apparent reference to the recently circulated amateur video made in the U.S. which attacks Islam and denigrates the Prophet Muhammad. ….

The U.S. delegation did not walk out of Monday’s meeting, as it has in the past when Iran attacked Israel directly.

Ahmadinejad did not name either Israel or the U.S. in his speech but his targets were clear when he said: “We have witnessed that some members of the Security Council with veto right have chosen silence with regard to the nuclear warheads of a fake regime while at the same time they impede scientific progress of other nations.”

This paragraph (via Breitbart) is also a clear allusion to Iran’s Holocaust denial conferences:

[Ahmadinejad] also bore down on those who have revolted at Holocaust revisionism. He did this by calling attention to those who “infringe upon other’s freedom and allow sacrilege to people’s beliefs and sanctities, while they criticize posing questions or investigating into historical issues.”

Keep in mind that yesterday’s speech was just a warmup for Ahmadinejad — he’s set to give his big UN address on Yom Kippur tomorrow. Unless he somehow manages to steal another term (not permitted under the Iranian constitution), this is his last hurrah at Turtle Bay. So we can expect plenty of insanity on Wednesday.

At the Washington Times, Kerry Picket flags a USA Today report that President Obama’s UN speech today will denounce, yet again, the anti-Islam film the administration has repeatedly blamed for provoking riots across the Middle East. The Obama administration gave a perfunctory condemnation of Ahmadinejad’s speech yesterday, but the big question is, will Obama’s speech address Ahmadinejad’s anti-Semitic vitriol, as well?

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