Commentary Magazine


Posts For: September 2012

The Iranian Red Line (in One Chart)

At the United Nations this afternoon, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu sought to clarify an issue that has confounded President Obama for months — where to place “red lines” on Iran’s nuclear program — by using one simple, easy-to-read chart:

As you can see, that is a drawing of a bomb. It is divided into three stages. Iran has completed the first stage (amassing enough 70 percent-enriched uranium for a bomb), and, according to Netanyahu, can complete the second stage (amassing enough 90 percent-enriched uranium) as soon as next summer. The key here — and this is important — is to stop Iran before it enters the final stage, i.e. the completion of the bomb. Let’s hope the White House was paying attention.

Of course, the bomb drawing got its share of criticism on Twitter, as BuzzFeed reports:

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At the United Nations this afternoon, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu sought to clarify an issue that has confounded President Obama for months — where to place “red lines” on Iran’s nuclear program — by using one simple, easy-to-read chart:

As you can see, that is a drawing of a bomb. It is divided into three stages. Iran has completed the first stage (amassing enough 70 percent-enriched uranium for a bomb), and, according to Netanyahu, can complete the second stage (amassing enough 90 percent-enriched uranium) as soon as next summer. The key here — and this is important — is to stop Iran before it enters the final stage, i.e. the completion of the bomb. Let’s hope the White House was paying attention.

Of course, the bomb drawing got its share of criticism on Twitter, as BuzzFeed reports:

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu punctuated his attempt to rally the international community against Iran’s nuclear program with a crude illustration of a bomb in a speech to the United Nations General Assembly in New York today — a move that drew him an immediate wave of mockery, but also reflected an astute grasp of the changing media climate.

The chart wasn’t unserious, it was simple. And it’s precisely what the public needs to see at this point. The White House has been able to drag their feet on the debate, in part, because they’ve portrayed it as murky and complicated. It isn’t. There will be debates, if and when the time comes, over whether Iran has actually reached the red line, and whether the intelligence is accurate or complete. But there’s no question that a clear and firm line needs to be drawn.

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John Podhoretz, Jonah Goldberg and Rob Long….

still need to name their podcast. Our John Podhoretz, Jonah Goldberg of National Review, and Rob Long of Ricochet have another installment of their monthly podcast for your enjoyment today and they’re discussing an incredible array of topics: the malaise over the polls, why this campaign cycle isn’t nastier (and therefore more entertaining), the trouble with the undecideds, the fact that Google is now a moody teenager, Apple’s map fiasco, the new movie The Master, and much, much more.

Carve out some time (it’s a super-sized edition), get comfortable and enjoy. You can listen below or directly on Ricochet’s website here.

still need to name their podcast. Our John Podhoretz, Jonah Goldberg of National Review, and Rob Long of Ricochet have another installment of their monthly podcast for your enjoyment today and they’re discussing an incredible array of topics: the malaise over the polls, why this campaign cycle isn’t nastier (and therefore more entertaining), the trouble with the undecideds, the fact that Google is now a moody teenager, Apple’s map fiasco, the new movie The Master, and much, much more.

Carve out some time (it’s a super-sized edition), get comfortable and enjoy. You can listen below or directly on Ricochet’s website here.

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How Irrelevant Are the Palestinians? Very.

The key phrase in Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas’s speech to the United Nations General Assembly today didn’t mention Israel. He had promised Jewish leaders he would recognize Jewish rights to the land that is disputed by Israelis and Palestinians. He moved a little closer to such recognition with his mention of the ties of the three monotheistic religions to the country and did say he didn’t want to delegitimize Israel–though much of his speech was clearly aiming at just such a goal. But the most important sentence was the one where he complained about the Palestinians being moved “to the bottom of the global agenda.” He then went on to claim that the PA alone was the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinians and that there could not be two such bodies.

It was those sentences, in which he vainly banged his head against the wall of world indifference to his cause, that were telling. The fact is the Palestinians are at the bottom of the world agenda. That’s because, contrary to his boast, the PA is a corrupt, ineffective state which doesn’t control all of the territory it claims since Gaza is ruled by Hamas. Thus, while much of the world applauds Abbas’s imprecation of Israel as a racist, colonialist state and his outright lies about the fomenting of hatred that his government promotes, they have no interest in supporting him. It was for that reason that Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu gave Abbas’s speech barely a mention as he went on to concentrate on his country’s real problem: a nuclear Iran.

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The key phrase in Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas’s speech to the United Nations General Assembly today didn’t mention Israel. He had promised Jewish leaders he would recognize Jewish rights to the land that is disputed by Israelis and Palestinians. He moved a little closer to such recognition with his mention of the ties of the three monotheistic religions to the country and did say he didn’t want to delegitimize Israel–though much of his speech was clearly aiming at just such a goal. But the most important sentence was the one where he complained about the Palestinians being moved “to the bottom of the global agenda.” He then went on to claim that the PA alone was the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinians and that there could not be two such bodies.

It was those sentences, in which he vainly banged his head against the wall of world indifference to his cause, that were telling. The fact is the Palestinians are at the bottom of the world agenda. That’s because, contrary to his boast, the PA is a corrupt, ineffective state which doesn’t control all of the territory it claims since Gaza is ruled by Hamas. Thus, while much of the world applauds Abbas’s imprecation of Israel as a racist, colonialist state and his outright lies about the fomenting of hatred that his government promotes, they have no interest in supporting him. It was for that reason that Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu gave Abbas’s speech barely a mention as he went on to concentrate on his country’s real problem: a nuclear Iran.

Abbas’s unhappy acknowledgement of the world’s opinion of the PA summed up exactly why the “diplomatic tsunami” that was supposed to engulf Israel last fall never happened. The global community may not like Israel and is not enraged by the anti-Semitic incitement that the Palestinians routinely produce. But they know that Abbas can’t make peace with Israel and won’t negotiate with it to create a state that will, as Netanyahu said, recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state. They also know the PA is incapable of governing such a state and that Abbas, in the eighth year of his current four-year term as president, fears that Hamas will supplant him if given the chance.

The Palestinian issue is one that the world cares about. But it doesn’t care about the PA. That is why they are on the bottom of the global agenda and will stay there so long as they produce leaders such as Abbas.

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Will the World Heed Netanyahu’s Warning?

Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s speech to the General Assembly of the United Nations today centered on trying to convince the world that a red line needs to be drawn to stop Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. To do that he literally drew a red line on a cartoon picture of a bomb. To the chattering classes following the speech on Twitter, this was a joke. But the reaction to the simplistic bomb diagram illustrated Netanyahu’s problem perfectly. Iran is getting closer every day to achieving its nuclear ambition. In response, world leaders, like President Obama, talk about the need to stop Tehran and even pledge not to contemplate containment of a nuclear Iran. But unless they make it as clear as that red marker line on the diagram, they will fail.

That is the key issue. Netanyahu thanked President Obama for his promises on Iran, but pointed out that without a red line that will make it clear that Iran will not be allowed to accumulate enough uranium to build a bomb, such pledges are meaningless. The Israeli’s frustration stems from the fact that an international consensus about an Iranian bomb being a bad thing won’t stop it from happening. The complacent attitude that always thinks failed diplomacy and ineffective sanctions can be given more time is a guarantee of such failure.

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Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s speech to the General Assembly of the United Nations today centered on trying to convince the world that a red line needs to be drawn to stop Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. To do that he literally drew a red line on a cartoon picture of a bomb. To the chattering classes following the speech on Twitter, this was a joke. But the reaction to the simplistic bomb diagram illustrated Netanyahu’s problem perfectly. Iran is getting closer every day to achieving its nuclear ambition. In response, world leaders, like President Obama, talk about the need to stop Tehran and even pledge not to contemplate containment of a nuclear Iran. But unless they make it as clear as that red marker line on the diagram, they will fail.

That is the key issue. Netanyahu thanked President Obama for his promises on Iran, but pointed out that without a red line that will make it clear that Iran will not be allowed to accumulate enough uranium to build a bomb, such pledges are meaningless. The Israeli’s frustration stems from the fact that an international consensus about an Iranian bomb being a bad thing won’t stop it from happening. The complacent attitude that always thinks failed diplomacy and ineffective sanctions can be given more time is a guarantee of such failure.

Critics will claim that Netanyahu’s description of Iran’s enrichment process doesn’t tell the whole truth because they believe that the uranium accumulated so far isn’t of weapons grade material. But, as the UN’s own investigative body, the International Atomic Energy Agency has reported, the progress made in the last year makes the advances Netanyahu discussed quite realistic.

The wiseacres can laugh all they like about Netanyahu’s cartoon. But the facts that it represents cannot be dismissed with witticisms. Talk about Iran not backed up with clear warnings is exactly what the ayatollahs are counting on.

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Greatest Foreign Policy President? The Case for Harry Truman

With the presidential debates coming up and foreign policy emerging as an issue in the election, CNN’s Global Public Square blog has asked a panel of historians and writers to weigh in on the following question: “Who was the best foreign policy president?” There are not many surprises–Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Ronald Reagan, and George H.W. Bush appear prominently. (Realists love Herbert Walker, and their votes for him can best be understood as a begrudging acceptance of the success of the Reagan administration he served without having to actually grit their teeth and name him.)

FDR and Reagan are fairly obvious choices, and not bad ones: Nazism and Communism are generally considered the twin evils of the 20th century, and each presided over the defeat of those ideologies. But there is someone else who deserves at least honorable mention, if not a nomination for the top spot himself. For although FDR and Reagan served decades apart, one president played a significant role in the achievements of both men, and whose foreign policy outlook eventually became the consensus: Harry Truman. This year marks the 65th anniversary of the Truman Doctrine, and it’s worth taking a stroll through his presidency and its legacy.

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With the presidential debates coming up and foreign policy emerging as an issue in the election, CNN’s Global Public Square blog has asked a panel of historians and writers to weigh in on the following question: “Who was the best foreign policy president?” There are not many surprises–Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Ronald Reagan, and George H.W. Bush appear prominently. (Realists love Herbert Walker, and their votes for him can best be understood as a begrudging acceptance of the success of the Reagan administration he served without having to actually grit their teeth and name him.)

FDR and Reagan are fairly obvious choices, and not bad ones: Nazism and Communism are generally considered the twin evils of the 20th century, and each presided over the defeat of those ideologies. But there is someone else who deserves at least honorable mention, if not a nomination for the top spot himself. For although FDR and Reagan served decades apart, one president played a significant role in the achievements of both men, and whose foreign policy outlook eventually became the consensus: Harry Truman. This year marks the 65th anniversary of the Truman Doctrine, and it’s worth taking a stroll through his presidency and its legacy.

It’s true that FDR got the U.S. involved in, and then successfully prosecuted, the Second World War, and there’s no reason to diminish that accomplishment. But it’s worth noting that FDR’s dismissal of Poland at Yalta opened the door to the spreading of Soviet influence that was only stemmed by Truman first at Potsdam and then in Greece. Truman’s decision to use the atomic bomb on Japan will probably always be the most famous wartime decision of his presidency. But it was Truman’s resolve to use the bomb immediately upon hearing of its readiness while at Potsdam that stopped him from even considering giving Stalin the foothold in Turkey he wanted in return for Soviet engagement in the Pacific.

While Truman certainly is given most of the credit for the doctrine bearing his name, he is rarely considered the visionary that he was. A certain snobbishness had always greeted Truman in Washington; he was our last president not to have a college degree, and he was always viewed as something of an accidental president. (This is surely unfair to Truman, since the decision to drop Henry Wallace from the final Roosevelt presidential ticket was made with succession in mind. FDR was dying.) Additionally, Truman had the blessing and the curse of being surrounded by what was an all-star team of advisers and diplomats. Many of these men believed that Secretary of State Jimmy Byrnes should have been president. Byrnes, who fashioned himself a kind of co-president to the ailing, but still globetrotting, FDR, certainly believed this. As such, Byrnes ran State as if it were the Executive Branch. Truman quickly reasserted his authority, but the underlying conflict sent Byrnes packing soon after.

And George Kennan, author of the famous “long telegram,” is widely credited with the American policy of containment toward the Soviet Union. This credit is an egregious and outstanding overestimation of Kennan’s contribution. He correctly diagnosed the political situation in the Soviet Union and even correctly predicted how it would act, and how and why conflict would arise in the future. He was a pessimist of the highest order, but he was no saber-rattler. Had Kennan been in charge of policy the Truman Doctrine would have been much weaker, and so would have been Truman and the U.S. As Elizabeth Edwards Spalding has shown, the Truman Doctrine’s ideas were Truman’s. Reading Spalding’s account, in fact, it seems that if anyone deserves more credit than he receives, it is (and I can already hear the groans in contempt) the self-styled “wise man of Washington” Clark Clifford.

The following year brought another momentous decision when Truman immediately recognized the new state of Israel. The significance of this recognition by the world’s new democratic major power (and emerging superpower) cannot be understated. As we now know, this decision not only was Truman’s call, but it seems there were scant few who even agreed with it around the president.

It is often noted that the Korean War was unpopular. But the legacy of South Korea speaks for itself. Truman’s dismissal of General Douglas MacArthur was controversial to say the least; “The Kremlin should give you a 21-gun salute,” a woman from Texas told Truman, according to Stanley Weintraub. But Truman’s decision served to fend off the last serious challenge to civilian control of the military, which thus reasserted by Truman became a prerequisite for democratic governance.

Truman forged a friendship with Winston Churchill and permitted Churchill to speak for the Western world on the evils of Soviet Communism–something Truman was under no obligation to do, since Churchill was no longer prime minister, and something which, as I have written, Truman went out of his way to do.

He oversaw the Marshall Plan for European recovery, the gold standard of foreign aid. And he oversaw the creation of NATO–though of course Dean Acheson (another of Truman’s all-stars) would play an important role in that as well. FDR worked hard to oversee the inauguration of the United Nations, but this week’s UN General Assembly should tell you all you need to know about which multinational organization is still upholding the defense of democracy, and which is undermining it.

None of this is to suggest that Truman didn’t make mistakes, but the crucial and successful implementation of American policy from the last stages of World War II through the early stages of the Cold War were Truman’s. More than half a century later, it’s Truman’s world we’re living in.

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Obama’s Dishonest Second-Term Plan

NBC is calling Obama’s latest commercial his “closing ad,” even though there’s 40 days to go until election day. After running a brutally negative campaign for most of the summer, Obama appears to be shifting into “above the fray” mode, now that the media has taken over the job of pummeling Romney. With a few notable exceptions, Obama’s proposals in the ad sound fine. Produce more American-made energy, create one million new manufacturing jobs, and focus on cutting the deficit — no complaints here. Of course, Obama has had nearly four years to do all of these things and done none of them. Instead, he played politics by blocking the Keystone XL pipeline construction, and relegated deficit reduction and job creation to the back burner.

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NBC is calling Obama’s latest commercial his “closing ad,” even though there’s 40 days to go until election day. After running a brutally negative campaign for most of the summer, Obama appears to be shifting into “above the fray” mode, now that the media has taken over the job of pummeling Romney. With a few notable exceptions, Obama’s proposals in the ad sound fine. Produce more American-made energy, create one million new manufacturing jobs, and focus on cutting the deficit — no complaints here. Of course, Obama has had nearly four years to do all of these things and done none of them. Instead, he played politics by blocking the Keystone XL pipeline construction, and relegated deficit reduction and job creation to the back burner.

Notice there’s nothing in this ad about immigration reform. Kind of an odd omission, considering Obama’s claim at the Univision forum that his lack of progress on immigration was the “greatest failure” of his presidency.

Then there’s this line, twinned with an image of U.S. service members stepping off a plane:

As we end the war in Afghanistan, let’s apply half the savings to pay down our debt and use the rest for some nation building right here at home.

Why is the war “ending”? Certainly not because we won it. It’s ending because Obama’s preset timeline ran out, and now he can finally apply the “savings” to pay down our debt and do some nation building at home. Well, if that was what Obama felt was more important all along, why did we send a surge of troops in to risk, and in many cases lose, their lives? Why did we ask their families to make the sacrifice? The intentional dishonesty about the status in Afghanistan is infuriating.

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Libel Suit Highlights Abbas Corruption

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas will address the General Assembly of the United Nations today. In doing so he will resume his disastrous campaign to get the world body to enable him to avoid peace negotiations with Israel by recognizing Palestinian independence. Though he will get more applause than Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, who will follow him at the podium, he will not succeed. There are many reasons why the so-called “diplomatic tsunami” flopped last year and why the same thing will happen at this session. But high on the list is the fact that the rest of the world knows that the PA doesn’t control all the territory it claims (Gaza is ruled by Hamas), survives only by foreign charity, and is utterly corrupt and dysfunctional. That corruption again came to the notice of the American media in the days prior to Abbas’s speech. That the issue was highlighted through an initiative undertaken by Abbas’s family rather than friends of Israel is ironic but telling.

The Blog of Legal Times reported earlier this week (h/t Politico), that Abbas’s son Yasser has filed a $10 million lawsuit against Foreign Policy magazine and author and COMMENTARY contributor Jonathan Schanzer for his June 2012 article “The Brothers Abbas,” about the way that Yasser and Tarek Abbas have become wealthy in the Palestinian territories through the use of their contacts and legal monopolies awarded to them by their father’s government, as well as from foreign aid from countries like the United States. The truth of Schanzer’s assertions is self-evident because of the circumstances of the Abbas family’s hold on such lucrative deals as the monopoly on selling American cigarettes and being awarded numerous public works contracts by the PA. But given the widespread corruption that began under his father’s predecessor Yasir Arafat, the only question to be posed about the lawsuit is why the Abbas clan would bother to sue in an American court when the only thing such a proceeding could possibly do is to shine a brighter spotlight on their shady activities.

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Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas will address the General Assembly of the United Nations today. In doing so he will resume his disastrous campaign to get the world body to enable him to avoid peace negotiations with Israel by recognizing Palestinian independence. Though he will get more applause than Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, who will follow him at the podium, he will not succeed. There are many reasons why the so-called “diplomatic tsunami” flopped last year and why the same thing will happen at this session. But high on the list is the fact that the rest of the world knows that the PA doesn’t control all the territory it claims (Gaza is ruled by Hamas), survives only by foreign charity, and is utterly corrupt and dysfunctional. That corruption again came to the notice of the American media in the days prior to Abbas’s speech. That the issue was highlighted through an initiative undertaken by Abbas’s family rather than friends of Israel is ironic but telling.

The Blog of Legal Times reported earlier this week (h/t Politico), that Abbas’s son Yasser has filed a $10 million lawsuit against Foreign Policy magazine and author and COMMENTARY contributor Jonathan Schanzer for his June 2012 article “The Brothers Abbas,” about the way that Yasser and Tarek Abbas have become wealthy in the Palestinian territories through the use of their contacts and legal monopolies awarded to them by their father’s government, as well as from foreign aid from countries like the United States. The truth of Schanzer’s assertions is self-evident because of the circumstances of the Abbas family’s hold on such lucrative deals as the monopoly on selling American cigarettes and being awarded numerous public works contracts by the PA. But given the widespread corruption that began under his father’s predecessor Yasir Arafat, the only question to be posed about the lawsuit is why the Abbas clan would bother to sue in an American court when the only thing such a proceeding could possibly do is to shine a brighter spotlight on their shady activities.

While Yasser Abbas may have a degree in civil engineering from Washington State University, the notion that firms that he is associated with have won tens of millions of dollars of contracts from his father’s government solely on the virtue of his expertise is ludicrous. The world knows that the Palestinian leadership has already stolen a large portion of the billions of dollars in aid from the European Union and the United States that have been lavished on the territories since the Oslo Accords were signed.

Some of that corruption takes the form of outright theft and bribery and the senior Abbas is believed, like his predecessor Arafat, to have socked away vast riches (perhaps as much as $100 million) in foreign back accounts. But much of it comes in the form of crony capitalism by which family members are given control of product distribution or construction businesses that live off the public purse. The idea that Schanzer has damaged Abbas’s reputation is the stuff of satire, not law.

It isn’t likely that the United States District Court where Abbas filed his suit will take it seriously. Or at least his father should hope so. Should the suit be allowed to go forward, it would give Foreign Policy and Schanzer the opportunity to dig deep into the PA’s finances and records and expose even more wrongdoing. That might even help give those fighting to make U.S. aid to the Palestinians dependent on ridding themselves of the sort of corruption that the Abbas clan and other ruling families there embody.

That’s something to remember today when you hear the senior Abbas, who is currently serving the eighth year of his four-year PA presidential term, blame all of his people’s problems on Israel.

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That FBI Investigation in Benghazi Hasn’t Even Started Yet

For over a week, the Obama administration has tried to dodge questions on the Benghazi attack by saying it’s waiting for information to come in from the FBI. But apparently the FBI still hasn’t made it to Benghazi — at least not as of last night. Instead, CNN reports that the bureau just arrived in Tripoli, and hasn’t been to the scene of the attack that happened over two weeks ago:

More than two weeks after four Americans — including the U.S. ambassador to Libya — were killed in an attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, FBI agents have not yet been granted access to investigate in the eastern Libyan city, and the crime scene has not been secured, sources said.

“They’ve gotten as far as Tripoli now, but they’ve never gotten to Benghazi,” CNN National Security Analyst Fran Townsend said Wednesday, citing senior law enforcement officials.

Last Thursday, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told reporters that an FBI team had reached Libya earlier in the week.

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For over a week, the Obama administration has tried to dodge questions on the Benghazi attack by saying it’s waiting for information to come in from the FBI. But apparently the FBI still hasn’t made it to Benghazi — at least not as of last night. Instead, CNN reports that the bureau just arrived in Tripoli, and hasn’t been to the scene of the attack that happened over two weeks ago:

More than two weeks after four Americans — including the U.S. ambassador to Libya — were killed in an attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, FBI agents have not yet been granted access to investigate in the eastern Libyan city, and the crime scene has not been secured, sources said.

“They’ve gotten as far as Tripoli now, but they’ve never gotten to Benghazi,” CNN National Security Analyst Fran Townsend said Wednesday, citing senior law enforcement officials.

Last Thursday, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told reporters that an FBI team had reached Libya earlier in the week.

Just as shocking, CNN reports that the State Department apparently hasn’t secured the consulate since the attack, despite requests from the FBI. That means any investigation might be meaningless at this point, since evidence could have been removed or tampered with or compromised over the past two weeks. The more that comes out about the attack, the more it sounds like the administration has been stringing along reporters and the public since day one.

Then there is the next piece of the puzzle, one which the Obama administration may not want answered until after the election. Did the U.S. embassy riots in Egypt and Yemen coincidentally erupt on the same day as the terrorist attack at our Benghazi consulate, or were they coordinated in advance? As the Weekly Standard noted recently, al-Qaeda leader Ayman al Zawahiri’s little brother, fresh out of prison in Egypt, has claimed credit as an organizer of the Cairo protest. The timing is certainly suspect — that anti-Islam film was available on YouTube months before the riots, and yet it didn’t become an issue until days before the attack.

Keep in mind that what we call the “Arab Spring,” the jihadists call the “Islamic awakening.” Unfortunately for al-Qaeda, there’s been no evidence that the public in Egypt, Yemen, Libya, Tunisia, etc. have embraced their twisted ideology. Hence, the need to manufacture some.

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Lugar Proves His Critics Right

Richard Mourdock’s decisive Republican primary victory over six-term Indiana Senator Richard Lugar was fretted by the D.C. foreign-policy establishment as yet another death knell for comity in Washington. But it turned out that it was Lugar, not Mourdock, who eschewed civility and grace with an angry and bitter response to the election.

Politico reports that time has not yet healed Lugar’s wounds or his ego. In his last months in the Senate, he has turned his attention to cementing his legacy abroad while Mourdock is locked in a close, and “costly,” general election fight. It’s true that Lugar has left at least one important legacy: his efforts, along with Democratic Senator Sam Nunn, to gain control of the collapsing Soviet Union’s nuclear material. But that was two decades ago, and in the foreign policy community the phrase “Nunn-Lugar” is a household term, and as such his legacy is in no need, and arguably cannot even really benefit, from his farewell tour. Instead, there is another legacy Lugar can cement in the coming months, and it isn’t a good one. From Politico:

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Richard Mourdock’s decisive Republican primary victory over six-term Indiana Senator Richard Lugar was fretted by the D.C. foreign-policy establishment as yet another death knell for comity in Washington. But it turned out that it was Lugar, not Mourdock, who eschewed civility and grace with an angry and bitter response to the election.

Politico reports that time has not yet healed Lugar’s wounds or his ego. In his last months in the Senate, he has turned his attention to cementing his legacy abroad while Mourdock is locked in a close, and “costly,” general election fight. It’s true that Lugar has left at least one important legacy: his efforts, along with Democratic Senator Sam Nunn, to gain control of the collapsing Soviet Union’s nuclear material. But that was two decades ago, and in the foreign policy community the phrase “Nunn-Lugar” is a household term, and as such his legacy is in no need, and arguably cannot even really benefit, from his farewell tour. Instead, there is another legacy Lugar can cement in the coming months, and it isn’t a good one. From Politico:

Mourdock “will achieve little as a legislator” if he pursues his goal of pushing partisanship in Washington, Lugar wrote in a 1,425-word statement. And he has insisted for months that he has no plans to campaign for Mourdock. In an interview with POLITICO, the lame-duck senator declined to say why he won’t stump for Mourdock or whether the nominee has even requested his help.

But Lugar recently told an Indiana blogger: “I’ve not been a factor in the campaign and I don’t intend to do so.”

This behavior will ensure that Indiana voters won’t regret voting Lugar out no matter how the general election turns out. Lugar’s behavior has, in fact, proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that voters’ complaints about Lugar were spot-on, and Lugar’s defenders way off the mark.

The two most common complaints about Lugar were that he has become too comfortable and embedded in D.C. culture and far removed from those he is supposed to represent, and that he no longer possesses loyalty to the Republican Party—something that may earn him bipartisan plaudits from the media and his peers in Washington, but which would certainly concern, if not perturb, Republican Party voters to whom Lugar owes his cozy spot in the nation’s capital.

Lugar’s bitterness and refusal to help the candidate voters chose to serve in his place has shown the very sense of entitlement and disregard for the wishes of the voters that elites often settle into. And Lugar’s decision not to help his state party’s Senate candidate, in a year in which any race could theoretically make the difference between a Democratic Senate and a Republican one, shows that he does not feel any obligation to help his party. It doesn’t much matter to him whether a Democrat or Republican wins in November. The “No Labels” crowd loves this sort of thing, but it proves correct the Republican voters who sensed they were becoming indistinguishable, in Lugar’s mind, from their Democratic counterparts.

Lugar’s foreign-policy experience is something the GOP, whose congressional candidates are getting ever younger and focused on fiscal issues, should not dismiss in and of itself. Indeed, both parties will always need experienced hands on deck. But the policies matter too. We’re a long way from Nunn-Lugar, and despite that policy’s success Lugar can’t expect to trade on that legacy forever. And the presence of John Kerry at the helm of the Senate’s foreign relations business shows that some lifelong senators never learn a thing, no matter how much time they spend on Capitol Hill.

Lugar may have been hailed by his peers as a model of civility in an increasingly uncivil age, but he is now establishing a second legacy—as a man of dispiriting bitterness, entitlement, and haughty elitism who simply cannot let go.

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Liberal Overconfidence Helps Romney

The 2012 election is once again proving that having most of the mainstream media in your pocket is a huge advantage for a presidential candidate. President Obama’s re-election effort has been materially aided by being largely able to set the narrative of the race as the year unfolded. Mitt Romney’s gaffes were treated as game-changers, while Obama’s misstatements and scandals, like the security leaks from the White House, were often treated like footnotes rather than major stories. Media spin helped turn his convention into a hit and the Libya disaster, combined with Romney’s “47 percent” gaffe, has seemed to produce a genuine surge for the president in the last weeks. Conservatives may dispute the accuracy of polls that may be based on samples skewed to the Democrats or based on expectations of a repeat of the “hope and change” turnout figures of 2008. But after months of the race being seen as a dead heat, there’s little doubt that Obama is ahead right now. However, the glee on the left contains within it the possibility of a reversal.

The media narrative of the election having been largely decided in the last month is so strong that, as I wrote earlier this week, prominent outlets are openly expressing shock that the GOP hasn’t already conceded the election. Some are speaking as if Romney must not just win the first debate next week but mop the floor with the president if he is to have a chance in November. But the problem with this triumphalism on the left is that it can breed a fatal overconfidence. As encouraging as the president’s current poll numbers may be, his margins are still too small and there is still too much time left before Election Day for the left to assume the thing is in the bag. Even more to the point, it can breed a backlash against the media that can energize Romney’s camp and help fuel a competing comeback narrative. The president may not only have peaked too soon, but the overkill on the part of his journalistic cheerleading squad could be just the shot in the arm Romney needed.

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The 2012 election is once again proving that having most of the mainstream media in your pocket is a huge advantage for a presidential candidate. President Obama’s re-election effort has been materially aided by being largely able to set the narrative of the race as the year unfolded. Mitt Romney’s gaffes were treated as game-changers, while Obama’s misstatements and scandals, like the security leaks from the White House, were often treated like footnotes rather than major stories. Media spin helped turn his convention into a hit and the Libya disaster, combined with Romney’s “47 percent” gaffe, has seemed to produce a genuine surge for the president in the last weeks. Conservatives may dispute the accuracy of polls that may be based on samples skewed to the Democrats or based on expectations of a repeat of the “hope and change” turnout figures of 2008. But after months of the race being seen as a dead heat, there’s little doubt that Obama is ahead right now. However, the glee on the left contains within it the possibility of a reversal.

The media narrative of the election having been largely decided in the last month is so strong that, as I wrote earlier this week, prominent outlets are openly expressing shock that the GOP hasn’t already conceded the election. Some are speaking as if Romney must not just win the first debate next week but mop the floor with the president if he is to have a chance in November. But the problem with this triumphalism on the left is that it can breed a fatal overconfidence. As encouraging as the president’s current poll numbers may be, his margins are still too small and there is still too much time left before Election Day for the left to assume the thing is in the bag. Even more to the point, it can breed a backlash against the media that can energize Romney’s camp and help fuel a competing comeback narrative. The president may not only have peaked too soon, but the overkill on the part of his journalistic cheerleading squad could be just the shot in the arm Romney needed.

It should be conceded that with 40 days to go, it is a lot better to be ahead — no matter how large or small the margin — than behind. The president’s good month has encouraged Democrat donors and depressed those of the Republicans. Such a state of affairs could, if the GOP misplays its hand in the coming weeks, theoretically snowball into a repeat of the party’s 2008 debacle.

But the notion that Romney is already so far behind that he will never be able to catch up is risible. For all of his missteps, he remains within striking distance of the president. The economy is still poor and the idea that the patent collapse of his foreign policy vision as our embassies are attacked in the Middle East will help rather than hurt him among voters is highly debatable.

Moreover, Americans hate being told that an election is over when they know it is still close. That gives Romney a clear opening to spend the remaining weeks running hard against the media as well as the president. Nobody may like a heartless plutocrat — the false image that the left has foisted on Romney — but everyone likes an underdog who is being undercut by a chattering class telling voters that all has been decided even before they vote. If Romney can tap into this sentiment, dissatisfaction with the president’s performance in office can still be the decisive factor in determining the outcome.

Liberals have spent the last several weeks telling themselves that they can’t lose. But this sort of talk can breed resentment. It remains to be seen whether Romney is able to take advantage of this opening but if he does, Democrats will regret the way their media amen corner attempted to declare the game over when there was still so much time left on the clock.

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Military Needs Accountability at the Top

Military prosecutors have filed a battery of charges, including forcible sodomy and engaging in inappropriate relationships with subordinates, against Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Sinclair, the former deputy commander of the famed 82nd Airborne Division. The case is newsworthy primarily because it is so rare for a general officer to face court-martial proceedings. Usually when a general or admiral does something wrong he or she is quietly retired–not hauled into court.

One of the few recent precedents was the case of Maj. Gen. Dave R.E. Hale who was hauled out of retirement in 1998 so he could be court-martialed. Not surprisingly his case also involved sex charges–in his case accusations that he had slept with the wives of several subordinates. Hale’s punishment was a reduction in rank to colonel.

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Military prosecutors have filed a battery of charges, including forcible sodomy and engaging in inappropriate relationships with subordinates, against Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Sinclair, the former deputy commander of the famed 82nd Airborne Division. The case is newsworthy primarily because it is so rare for a general officer to face court-martial proceedings. Usually when a general or admiral does something wrong he or she is quietly retired–not hauled into court.

One of the few recent precedents was the case of Maj. Gen. Dave R.E. Hale who was hauled out of retirement in 1998 so he could be court-martialed. Not surprisingly his case also involved sex charges–in his case accusations that he had slept with the wives of several subordinates. Hale’s punishment was a reduction in rank to colonel.

There is nothing wrong with these prosecutions even though such conduct would not be considered criminal in the civilian world; military personnel are proud to be held to a higher standard. But what is jarring is that generals are so seldom held to account for non-sexual misconduct–whether it is outright scandals such as those at Abu Ghraib or Walter Reed Army Center, or merely losing wars as in Iraq from 2003 to 2006. As then-Lt. Col. Paul Yingling wrote in 2007, “As matters stand now, a private who loses a rifle suffers far greater consequences than a general who loses a war.”

This is an issue that Tom Ricks discusses at greater length in his forthcoming book The Generals: American Military Command from World War II to Today–and it is an issue that the military leadership should be asking themselves about. Accountability is imperative if the military is to continue to perform at a high level, but there is a widespread perception that accountability is lacking for those who wear stars on their shoulders.

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Will Obama’s “Bumps in the Road” Hurt?

The Romney campaign spent Tuesday criticizing Obama for referring to the riots and embassy attacks across the Muslim world as “bumps in the road.” But now the mother of one of the former Navy SEALs killing in Libya said she agrees with the road-bump characterization, and is sad to see the incident politicized, according to the Boston Herald:

The mother of a former Navy SEAL from Winchester killed in Libya said it is “very sad” that her son’s death was being used as political theater yesterday — and she agreed with President Obama’s controversial assessment that the latest round of deadly troubles in the region constitute “bumps in the road.”

She said every day, men like her son are making a difference for those who live in that region.

“Those people, not only there, but other places, are under horrid dictatorships,” Barbara Doherty told the Herald yesterday. “They’re very angry. They’re poor. It is a little bump in the road. They are making progress. You can’t expect it to happen in one night. Progress is slow.”

That will probably settle it for the media, which, as John wrote in his New York Post column, was already trying to ignore Obama’s indelicate comment anyway. How long do you think it will take for the press to turn this into a Romney-gaffe story? Maybe we can look forward to another round of breathless “did Romney jump the gun?” headlines.

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The Romney campaign spent Tuesday criticizing Obama for referring to the riots and embassy attacks across the Muslim world as “bumps in the road.” But now the mother of one of the former Navy SEALs killing in Libya said she agrees with the road-bump characterization, and is sad to see the incident politicized, according to the Boston Herald:

The mother of a former Navy SEAL from Winchester killed in Libya said it is “very sad” that her son’s death was being used as political theater yesterday — and she agreed with President Obama’s controversial assessment that the latest round of deadly troubles in the region constitute “bumps in the road.”

She said every day, men like her son are making a difference for those who live in that region.

“Those people, not only there, but other places, are under horrid dictatorships,” Barbara Doherty told the Herald yesterday. “They’re very angry. They’re poor. It is a little bump in the road. They are making progress. You can’t expect it to happen in one night. Progress is slow.”

That will probably settle it for the media, which, as John wrote in his New York Post column, was already trying to ignore Obama’s indelicate comment anyway. How long do you think it will take for the press to turn this into a Romney-gaffe story? Maybe we can look forward to another round of breathless “did Romney jump the gun?” headlines.

Nobody is arguing that the attack in Benghazi is an insurmountable setback in the country or the region. But when the Commander-in-Chief describes it as “a bump in the road,” he’s suggesting that it was minor, unavoidable and inconsequential. That’s not what we’ve seen so far. This was the first assassination of a U.S. ambassador in over thirty years. For most Americans, that’s not a minor concern. There is evidence that we lost a massive amount of intelligence in the raid — again, not impossible to overcome, but something that will have consequences in the region. As for whether the attack could have been avoided, there are serious concerns about why the State Department failed to secure the consulate and the ambassador.

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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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