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Posts For: October 9, 2012

Cracks Forming in Obama Campaign?

The Obama campaign has blamed the president’s poor debate performance on everything from Mitt Romney’s supposed “lies,” to Obama having an “off night.” So it’s no surprise the blame game is also taking place inside the campaign. NBC’s Chuck Todd reports on rumblings of a possible staff shakeup coming soon (h/t Ed Morrissey):

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The Obama campaign has blamed the president’s poor debate performance on everything from Mitt Romney’s supposed “lies,” to Obama having an “off night.” So it’s no surprise the blame game is also taking place inside the campaign. NBC’s Chuck Todd reports on rumblings of a possible staff shakeup coming soon (h/t Ed Morrissey):

The finger-pointing has already spilled out into the media, with sources saying the real problem was that he didn’t take the debate prep seriously. The Daily Mail’s article is the worst for the president yet, reporting that Obama didn’t realize he lost the debate until 24 hours later (which is at least better than the time he didn’t realize the 9/11/12 attack on a U.S. consulate was an act of terrorism until two weeks later):

When President Barack Obama stepped off the stage in Denver last week the 60 million Americans watching the debate against Mitt Romney already knew it had been a disaster for him.

But what nobody knew, until now, was that Obama believed he had actually won.

In an extraordinary insight into the events leading up to the 90 minute showdown which changed the face of the election, a Democrat close to the Obama campaign today reveals that the President also did not take his debate preparation seriously, ignored the advice of senior aides and ignored one-liners that had been prepared to wound Romney.

The Democrat said that Obama’s inner circle was dismayed at the ‘disaster’ and that he believed the central problem was that the President was so disdainful of Romney that he didn’t believe he needed to engage with him.

‘President Obama made it clear he wanted to be doing anything else – anything – but debate prep,’ the Democrat said. ‘He kept breaking off whenever he got the opportunity and never really focused on the event.

The article is so brutal for Obama and so sympathetic to his debate-prep staff that you wonder whether it was a pointed leak. If true, it’s difficult to imagine the president will be able to improve much between this debate and the next. As Jim Geraghty writes, “You can’t improve a debater who sees losses as wins.” Maybe Obama actually has shown more self-awareness in the last few days than the article indicates. But per Rich Lowry’s argument, if Obama actually believes his own messaging — that he lost because “Romney lied” — that won’t make his preparation for the next debate very effective.

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Big Bird, Small Campaign

The Obama campaign’s “Big Bird” attack line is being panned by the media as “goofy” and “small.” Politico’s Maggie Haberman writes:

The Obama campaign is out this morning with a goofy video of the Big Bird variety, mocking Mitt Romney, as the president has put it, as going easy on Wall Street but heavy on Sesame Street. …

And the president, as others have noted, and his team have been going fairly small at a moment when Romney is consistent in a message and pivoting toward going bigger (the foreign policy speech, more emotion on the trail, and so forth). And this video is the kind of small ball that Boston smacked over for months.

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The Obama campaign’s “Big Bird” attack line is being panned by the media as “goofy” and “small.” Politico’s Maggie Haberman writes:

The Obama campaign is out this morning with a goofy video of the Big Bird variety, mocking Mitt Romney, as the president has put it, as going easy on Wall Street but heavy on Sesame Street. …

And the president, as others have noted, and his team have been going fairly small at a moment when Romney is consistent in a message and pivoting toward going bigger (the foreign policy speech, more emotion on the trail, and so forth). And this video is the kind of small ball that Boston smacked over for months.

According to the Obama campaign, the ad is intended as a “parody” and it’s going to run during “comedy shows.” Somebody should stop the campaign staff before they embarrass themselves any further. The ad might be mildly amusing if it wasn’t such an obvious attempt to change the subject.

The Obama campaign’s normal reaction to good performances by Romney or Paul Ryan has been to attack them as liars, with help from friends in the media. That didn’t work this time around, probably because most people realize that if Romney was incessantly lying throughout the debate, Obama would have (or at least should have) called him out on it right there on stage.

The Obama campaign wasn’t able to discredit Romney as a liar, so it’s moved on to trying to discredit him as an object of ridicule. But the Big Bird meme is backfiring on Obama, making him seem focused on the trivial. As the Republican National Committee pointed out, Obama has mentioned Big Bird and Elmo 13 times on the campaign trail over the last few days. He’s mentioned the attack in Libya zero times. While the Obama campaign was joking around about Sesame Street, Romney was giving a major foreign-policy address that captured the news cycle yesterday.

People wondering why Obama’s debate performance was so dismal should look at the last few days. Has his post-debate defense been any better? When you have no good arguments, the only defense is ad hominen attacks; calling someone a liar, or an idiot, or a joke. Notice that’s all the Obama campaign has been doing since the debate.

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Philippines Will Regret Terrorist Treaty

After almost four decades of battling the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, an Islamist insurgent group best known in the West for beheading captives, the government of the Philippines has reached a peace accord which will grant the Muslim and ethnic Bangsamoro people an autonomous Islamic entity on Mindanao Island in the southern Philippines.

While diplomats and academics will always applaud deals purporting to end bloodshed, this agreement both legitimizes the terrorists’ often bloody tactics and signals to Islamists in other states that they should not accept living as a minority but rather should always push to succeed. Manila’s concession strikes a blow at the notion of multi-confessional democracy in Asia. Should Islamist insurgents in southern Thailand now get their own autonomous state? Should Burmese Muslims secede? Is there space for a healthy Muslim minority in India?

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After almost four decades of battling the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, an Islamist insurgent group best known in the West for beheading captives, the government of the Philippines has reached a peace accord which will grant the Muslim and ethnic Bangsamoro people an autonomous Islamic entity on Mindanao Island in the southern Philippines.

While diplomats and academics will always applaud deals purporting to end bloodshed, this agreement both legitimizes the terrorists’ often bloody tactics and signals to Islamists in other states that they should not accept living as a minority but rather should always push to succeed. Manila’s concession strikes a blow at the notion of multi-confessional democracy in Asia. Should Islamist insurgents in southern Thailand now get their own autonomous state? Should Burmese Muslims secede? Is there space for a healthy Muslim minority in India?

Nor will the deal bring peace to the Philippines. Not only is the Abu Sayyaf Group (a related Islamist organization) not party to the agreement, but precedent also shows that Islamist terrorists will simply interpret treaties as truces during which they can regroup or expand their ambitions. The Moro partisans can pursue politics on one hand, while using Abu Sayyaf terrorism to pressure for greater concessions.

When the Pakistani government famously signed the Malakand Accords, the result was a doubling of the Taliban in nearby Swat and a renewed Islamist offensive deep into Pakistani territory, catching Islamabad off guard. Diplomats can applaud today, but they are condemning not only Philippine citizens, but others around the world to renewed insurgency and terrorism down the road.

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When Will Obama Respond to Benghazi Attack?

Libya’s prime minister-elect Mustafa Abushagur — who was voted in on Sept. 12 — was removed in a no-confidence vote on Sunday. As the Washington Post reports, this could mean further delays for the FBI investigation into the Benghazi attack:

The decision by Libya’s legislature means that the government may remain without permanent, democratically-elected leadership for many weeks. But without a government in place, the investigation into the attacks that killed U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans may be a low priority for Libyans. The extent to which the U.S. part of the investigation can operate freely in Libya also may be hampered by the domestic political chaos.

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Libya’s prime minister-elect Mustafa Abushagur — who was voted in on Sept. 12 — was removed in a no-confidence vote on Sunday. As the Washington Post reports, this could mean further delays for the FBI investigation into the Benghazi attack:

The decision by Libya’s legislature means that the government may remain without permanent, democratically-elected leadership for many weeks. But without a government in place, the investigation into the attacks that killed U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans may be a low priority for Libyans. The extent to which the U.S. part of the investigation can operate freely in Libya also may be hampered by the domestic political chaos.

Some Libyan officials have raised sovereignty concerns about extensive FBI operations in Benghazi, the eastern coastal city where the Americans were killed at two U.S. government outposts. Safety concerns also have kept the FBI away from the city,although it visited Thursday for an extensive sweep of the U.S. mission there.

This may actually be welcome news to the State Department, which didn’t seem particularly interested in helping the investigation along in the first place. But we’re now almost a month out from the attack, and the Obama administration still hasn’t said whether it will deal with the terrorists behind it. Will it treat it as a criminal act or a military incident? The ouster of the Libyan PM makes both options more difficult.

If they go the criminal route, with the FBI working with the Libyan government to capture and prosecute the perpetrators, they could run across multiple problems. As WaPo points out, this may not be a priority for the Libyan government at the moment. There’s also the question of where to prosecute the terrorists — can the U.S. risk allowing them to go to trial in Libya? Or trust the prison system in a country that’s still undergoing a tumultuous transition? Trying the terrorists in the U.S. brings its own batch of problems. Even if the FBI is able to build a strong case from its late investigation, there will be controversy over giving terrorists a court platform, and debates over where to put them if they are convicted.

Responding with military force is clearly the better option, but the removal of the PM also makes it more complicated. The leadership vacuum could provide bad actors with an opening to demagogue U.S. intervention in the region. WaPo reports that Libyan officials have already criticized the FBI investigation as an infringement on Libyan sovereignty, and military operations could exacerbate that. The Obama administration has touted the U.S. relationship with Libya as one of its Arab Spring successes, and may be concerned about putting the U.S. at odds with the new government. In terms of U.S. politics, a drone strike or other military operation could also anger Obama’s left-wing base before the election.

None of these options are without risk. But the riskiest one of all would be to do nothing. The Obama administration may want to wait until after the election to respond, but each day of inaction makes him look weaker to the American public and our allies and enemies abroad. Thursday, the day Vice President Biden debates Paul Ryan, will mark one month since the consulate attack. Obama won’t be able to put off a response — or at least an explanation for the delay — for much longer.

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Is It Time to Reconsider the PKK?

The United States has long designated the Kurdistan Workers Party (better known by its Kurdish acronym, the PKK) a terrorist group. The PKK certainly has a long and bloody history, one in which it targeted not only the Turkish army but also many local Kurds who refused to submit to its leaders’ will.

The PKK has always enjoyed popularity in Syria. While the Turks were fighting the PKK in the 1990s, the Syrian government hosted the group’s headquarters. Almost 15 years ago, the Middle East Quarterly actually interviewed PKK founder Abdullah Öcalan inside Syria. While Öcalan has since been captured and imprisoned, the legacy of his long residence in Syria reverberates with Syrian Kurds who overwhelmingly favor the PKK (and its local political offshoot, the Democratic Union Party, PYD) over Masud Barzani’s autocratic Kurdistan Democratic Party in neighboring Iraqi Kurdistan.

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The United States has long designated the Kurdistan Workers Party (better known by its Kurdish acronym, the PKK) a terrorist group. The PKK certainly has a long and bloody history, one in which it targeted not only the Turkish army but also many local Kurds who refused to submit to its leaders’ will.

The PKK has always enjoyed popularity in Syria. While the Turks were fighting the PKK in the 1990s, the Syrian government hosted the group’s headquarters. Almost 15 years ago, the Middle East Quarterly actually interviewed PKK founder Abdullah Öcalan inside Syria. While Öcalan has since been captured and imprisoned, the legacy of his long residence in Syria reverberates with Syrian Kurds who overwhelmingly favor the PKK (and its local political offshoot, the Democratic Union Party, PYD) over Masud Barzani’s autocratic Kurdistan Democratic Party in neighboring Iraqi Kurdistan.

While the United States considers the PKK a terrorist group, the PYD now controls significant territory in eastern Syria including the city of Qamishli. There, early indications suggest its new administration has been both professional and benign. Alas, the PKK designation still gets in the way of U.S. interaction, if not directly than out of a diplomatic desire to avoid offending Turkey.

Herein lies the irony: The Turkish government talks to the PKK, even as it insists others should not. And, under the current prime minister, the Turkish government has suggested that national liberation movements are legitimate partners. Turkey embraces Hamas, Hezbollah, and the prime minister has even defended donating money to Al Qaeda financiers. If Turkey refuses to accept American sensitivities about terrorism, then the United States should have no responsibility to carry water for the Turks, especially if doing so may go against American interests.

The State Department has now de-listed the Mujahedin al-Khalq (MKO), a terrorist group which has killed Americans and, to this day, refuses to apologize. Designation or not, the MKO is a terrorist group and remains undeserving of any U.S. support. Perhaps it is time, however, for the United States to reconsider its PKK designation. This need not mean reversing the designation, but it should spell out what it finds objectionable about the PKK. Has the PKK targeted U.S. citizens? If so, when? Is the PKK simply waging an insurgency against Turkish soldiers, or is it continuing to target Turkish civilians? What actions, if any, should the PKK take to achieve a new status under American law? Hopefully, it won’t go the distasteful MKO route of simply bribing officials with inflated speaking fees, but will really and sincerely reform. Even if the State Department determines that the PKK in Turkey still deserves its terrorism designation, it might ask whether this should preclude better and more productive relations with the PYD, a strengthening secular movement now controlling territory in Eastern Syria. Certainly, they are better than the Al Qaeda alternative now rearing its ugly head among the Syrian opposition.

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Pew Poll: Romney Leads by 4 Percent

The latest Pew poll is rather remarkable. Barack Obama led by eight percent among likely voters in this very survey last month. Romney now leads by four percent, a 12-point shift since the debate:

In turn, Romney has drawn even with Obama in the presidential race among registered voters (46% to 46%) after trailing by nine points (42% to 51%) in September. Among likely voters, Romney holds a slight 49% to 45% edge over Obama. He trailed by eight points among likely voters last month.

The shift with women voters is unbelievable. Last month, Obama had an 18-point lead among women in the Pew poll. Now Obama and Romney are tied, at 47 percent. The war-on-women-themed convention, the Sandra Fluke speeches, the HHS mandate that antagonized Catholics — all the gains from those may have been erased by just one debate:

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The latest Pew poll is rather remarkable. Barack Obama led by eight percent among likely voters in this very survey last month. Romney now leads by four percent, a 12-point shift since the debate:

In turn, Romney has drawn even with Obama in the presidential race among registered voters (46% to 46%) after trailing by nine points (42% to 51%) in September. Among likely voters, Romney holds a slight 49% to 45% edge over Obama. He trailed by eight points among likely voters last month.

The shift with women voters is unbelievable. Last month, Obama had an 18-point lead among women in the Pew poll. Now Obama and Romney are tied, at 47 percent. The war-on-women-themed convention, the Sandra Fluke speeches, the HHS mandate that antagonized Catholics — all the gains from those may have been erased by just one debate:

In the presidential horserace, Romney has made sizable gains over the past month among women voters, white non-Hispanics and those younger than 50. Currently, women are evenly divided (47% Obama, 47% Romney). Last month, Obama led Romney by 18 points (56% to 38%) among women likely voters.

Another interesting stat from Pew: Romney now leads Obama, 47 percent to 40 percent, on the question of which candidate has new ideas. In other words, the Obama campaign’s attempt to portray Romney as Bush redux hasn’t stuck, at least not after his debate performance.

But as Jon Cohen notes at The Fix, the shift is based a lot on changes in voter identification in the polling samples — i.e. there is more enthusiasm from Republicans, and more people are identifying with the party, so the sample is weighted more toward the GOP than it was last month. That’s still good news for the Romney campaign, but not as good as if there had been major movement among independent voters — particularly since voter identification stats in these polls have been very much in flux throughout the campaign. There are also other events that could suddenly change the momentum of the race: a successful drone strike on the terrorists behind the Benghazi attack, a poor performance by Paul Ryan in the next debate, etc. So while this is a stunning comeback for the Romney campaign, maintaining it until the election may not be easy.

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Saudi Columnist: Is Israel Really the Enemy?

The indefatigable Tom Gross flagged my attention to this column in Saudi Arabia’s English-language newspaper, the Arab News:

On the anniversary of the 1973 War between the Arab and the Israelis, many people in the Arab world are beginning to ask many questions about the past, present and the future with regard to the Arab-Israeli conflict. The questions now are: What was the real cost of these wars to the Arab world and its people. And the harder question that no Arab national wants to ask is: What was the real cost for not recognizing Israel in 1948 and why didn’t the Arab states spend their assets on education, health care and the infrastructures instead of wars? But, the hardest question that no Arab national wants to hear is whether Israel is the real enemy of the Arab world and the Arab people…

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The indefatigable Tom Gross flagged my attention to this column in Saudi Arabia’s English-language newspaper, the Arab News:

On the anniversary of the 1973 War between the Arab and the Israelis, many people in the Arab world are beginning to ask many questions about the past, present and the future with regard to the Arab-Israeli conflict. The questions now are: What was the real cost of these wars to the Arab world and its people. And the harder question that no Arab national wants to ask is: What was the real cost for not recognizing Israel in 1948 and why didn’t the Arab states spend their assets on education, health care and the infrastructures instead of wars? But, the hardest question that no Arab national wants to hear is whether Israel is the real enemy of the Arab world and the Arab people…

The piece continues:

I decided to write this article after I saw photos and reports about a starving child in Yemen, a burned ancient Aleppo souk in Syria, the under developed Sinai in Egypt, car bombs in Iraq and the destroyed buildings in Libya.

The column provides a much-needed reality check, and a glimmer of hope that decades of incitement and eradicationist rhetoric might eventually wear thin. It reminded me of Salemeh Nematt’s November 25, 2004 column in the pan-Arabic daily Al-Hayat when he observed with considerable boldness: “It is outrageous and amazing that the first free and general elections in the history of the Arab nation are to take place in January: in Iraq, under the auspices of American occupation, and in Palestine, under the auspices of the Israeli occupation,” before asking what that said about U.S. and Israeli intentions, and what it revealed about Arab political culture.

Perhaps it would behoove some in the political class in Washington to recognize what those in the Middle East are beginning to see: The fault is not always Israel’s.

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