Two years ago, intellectuals went into an uproar when the state of Israel barred linguist Noam Chomsky from entering the West Bank. Leftists howled when the decision to bar the octogenarian and asked what harm he could have done the Jewish state. It was arguable that Israel did itself more harm than good by keeping the icon of anti-American and anti-Israel thought out of the country since it gave the impression that it was suppressing his ideas. That was, of course, nonsense, since free expression of all kinds, including some of the most virulent anti-Zionist agitation, is permitted throughout Israel. But whether it was wise or not, Israel was fully within its rights to keep out a foreign individual who has spent much of his career seeking the country’s destruction.
That decision was brought to mind today as the 83-year-old Chomsky returned to the Middle East, this time to visit the independent Palestinian state in all but name that exists in Gaza. Chomsky crossed from Egypt into the strip and will speak at the Islamic University there. We don’t doubt that he will get a warm welcome from the Islamists at the school as well as from the Hamas tyrants who rule the area with an iron hand. But this episode is a reminder of the double standards and hypocrisy that passes for principle on the intellectual left.
Last night while appearing on the Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show, President Obama should have considered how to phrase his feelings on the deaths of four Americans in Libya a bit more carefully. Here is the exchange in full context:
Stewart: I would say, even you would admit, it was not the optimal response, at least to the American people, as far as all of us being on the same page.
Obama: Here’s what I’ll say: If four Americans get killed, it’s not optimal.
“Not optimal” is, obviously, an understatement, when discussing the deaths of four Americans, including the first American ambassador to die in the line of duty since 1979. It’s clear from the context of the interview, however, that the president is using Stewart’s phrase to make clear that he agrees that what happened in Benghazi on September 11 of this year was unacceptable.
What this exchange showcases, however, is the lack of scrutiny Obama’s gaffes seem to elicit from the media.
In September, after the first Senate debate between Massachusetts Republican Scott Brown and his liberal challenger Elizabeth Warren, I criticized Warren’s decision to nationalize the race. In the debate, Brown—a local Bay Stater who sounds the part and speaks with fluency about local issues–repeatedly offered answers to questions that showed his moderate, bipartisan streak and his insistence on voting as he believes Massachusetts voters would want him to. Warren, on the other hand, kept referring to what the U.S. Senate would be like if Republicans won back the majority.
But Warren seems intent on proving such criticism wrong. She has now wagered the entire campaign on this gamble. As the race nears its end Warren has given up on trying to portray Brown as a Tea Partier and instead paints a picture of what has to be a dystopian future in the minds of northeastern liberals. Here is Warren’s closing argument, per her TV ad (followed by the transcript):
Are you safer now than you were four years ago? That’s the most important question that needs to be answered in Monday night’s foreign policy debate. Unfortunately for President Obama, there’s ample evidence that the answer is no. His administration killed Osama bin Laden, but the war on terror is still very much alive. And while the Benghazi attack has been getting most of the attention lately, it’s just the latest symptom of a much more systematic national security problem for this administration.
Here are some questions that are indirectly related to Benghazi that would be interesting to raise at Monday’s debate. And since it’s never a good idea to ask a question at a debate that you don’t know the answer to, the answers to all of these are already known:
Within the United States, conventional wisdom relates that Iraq is now a puppet of Iran. There is real reason for concern, and I won’t be one that will downplay Iranian attempts to influence, if not dominate, Iraq. That said, Iraqi Shi’ites are traditionally not pro-Iranian; they are pro-Iraqi. After all, during the Iran-Iraq War, the bulk of Iraqi conscripts on the front line hailed not from Saddam’s hometown of Tikrit and its Sunni environs, but rather from Baghdad and the largely Shi’ite towns and villages of Iraq’s south. They fought against the Shi’ite brethren because they saw themselves as Iraqis and Arabs first, not Persians.
That said, Iranian influence is on the increase. Iran’s true Achilles’ heel is Shi’ism. Because the supreme leader claims to be the deputy of the Messiah on earth, with ultimate political and religious authority, the theologically independent ayatollahs in Najaf, Iraq, undercut his authority whenever they contradict him. Iran will never tolerate the rise of an ayatollah to the political leadership in Iraq because that would pose a threat to the supreme leader. However, the Iranians will try to dominate Iraq to ensure that Iranian strategic interests remain paramount. Certainly, it need not have been this way: Had the United States retained a presence in Iraq, even if a limited number of forces simply kicked their heels in isolated bases, their presence would have enabled Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to better resist Iranian demands. For many Middle Eastern countries, diplomacy is about balance. Iran will ratchet up its pressure and perhaps its presence in Iraq as its grasp on Syria falters. Iraqis worry openly that they will become Iran’s new frontline.
New York Times blogger and statistical analyst Nate Silver did his usual thorough job yesterday explaining why he’s not taking Mitt Romney’s strong performances in the Gallup tracking poll too much to heart. His piece, “Gallup v. the World” rightly pointed out that the firm’s tracking polls, which have given Romney leads of 6, 7 and 6 points in the last three days, are the most favorable yet published for the Republican. He conceded that Gallup is the most reliable of the tracking polls in that it employs the largest samples and employs a methodology for counting cell phone owners as opposed to landlines only. But he claimed that Gallup has a history of inaccuracy in recent elections that ought to cause us to take their conclusions with a grain of salt. That’s a fair point, though it should be noted that we never heard much about Gallup’s shortcomings in recent months when its results (which showed Obama with a lead) were unquestioned while the rival Rasmussen poll (which generally gave Romney better numbers) was consistently called into question.
But as long as we’re discussing methodology, it’s worth pointing out that the only surveys keeping the president’s head above water in the national average of polls are two whose credibility are very much in doubt. I wrote earlier in the week that the Washington Post/ABC News poll published on Monday that showed President Obama with a three-point lead was called into question by the sample employed by the pollsters. That poll was based on a sample that had nine percent more Democrats than Republicans; a figure that is far more than is reasonable. The same thing can be said about a new Hartford Courant/University of Connecticut poll that also shows Obama up by three but on the basis of a sample that has eight percent more Democrats than Republicans. If you adjust both of these samples to create a more representative group of Americans, even one that showed the Democrats with an edge in affiliation, it would mean they would show Romney and not the president ahead in the race.
Both parties agreed upon the terms and rules for the presidential debates. But right now, the Obama campaign has to be kicking itself for going along with a schedule that devoted the last of the three encounters between President Obama and Mitt Romney to foreign policy. The Democrats have acted as if security and defense issues were a strength for them throughout the year, but it’s doubtful that the president thinks a foreign policy pitch is his best closing argument for the American people with only a couple of weeks left before the election.
That’s not just because the Benghazi terror attack has compromised the president’s stance as the man with an impeccable security record, but also because a debate that doesn’t allow him to deploy his class warfare and “war on women” themes is one that isn’t likely to help him pick up the votes he needs to secure re-election. Even worse, it gives Romney an opportunity to recoup his losses from the last debate in which he flubbed a question on Libya that he should have been able to use to hammer the president. While Democrats may hope the president repeats his aggressive performance from the second debate rather than his lackluster first debate, Monday night’s topic is a handicap that comes at just the moment when he needs a game changing victory to reverse Romney’s momentum.
We’re on Day Four of “bindergate,” and what started as a kind-of-funny Twitter meme has turned into a horribly long and boring lecture by feminists and the progressive-left. When you take something that’s essentially an Internet joke and try to squeeze outraged commentary out of it, you end up with self-parodies like this one from today’s Time’s “Ideas” section:
So, to help you out, here are four reasons why bindergate isn’t just a superficial “gotcha moment” …
3. In our paperless society, binders are terribly old-fashioned. They invoke a time when the only jobs women could get in offices involved secretarial duties like putting together binders for the men who would do the real work. And given that women still occupy so few upper management and CEO positions, the thought of being relegated to an old-fashioned office supply item is such a perfect symbol of so many things that irk us.
4. And, as hundreds of online commenters (male and female) have pointed out, the word binder implies, well, binding. And we’re kind of sick of being bound up unless it’s in an E.L. James novel.
Did you get that? Binders sounds like binding, which sounds like foot-binding, and women aren’t just going to sit back and let Romney drag America back to 16th century China. Moreover, binders are old-fashioned, which reminds women of other old-fashioned things like not being allowed to vote, own property, or drive. Or something.
With the presidential election just two and a half weeks away, it’s no surprise that President Obama is now solely focused on turning out his base. But it’s still somewhat jarring to read stories like today’s New York Times piece on Obama’s closing argument, and Byron York’s report on the same. From the Times:
With 19 days left before Americans go to the polls in a closely fought presidential campaign, President Obama is distilling his stump speech into the essential pitch of any political race: Vote.
No fewer than half a dozen times, Mr. Obama urged supporters at a rally here on Thursday to go to the polls. Each time he criticized Mitt Romney, drawing boos from the crowd, he repeated his call to arms: “Don’t boo — vote.” When the crowd began chanting, “Vote, vote, vote,” a satisfied-looking Mr. Obama replied, “All right, you guys are getting it.”
Obama’s closing argument is to rest his case. But what exactly is that case? York writes that it essentially amounts to an admission that he’s got nothing left in the tank:
There is something that I don’t get about opponents of greater American action in Syria, such as the freelance reporter Benjamin Hall, who was recently in Aleppo. He points out, as other observers have, that the rebels are disorganized and that various factions are often at odds with one another. They don’t have a central, unified leadership. Moreover, the rebel ranks include ”Salafi jihadists” who “talk of slaying the minority Alawites, and [who] call for both the immediate support of America, and its immediate demise. These extremist groups are getting weapons from Saudi Arabia and Qatar already; they are not groups that the West would choose to arm. Compared with them, it is not clear that Mr. Assad is the bigger foe.” Therefore, Hall recommends not arming the rebels–although he is open to the imposition of a no-fly zone.
Here’s where I don’t follow the logic: Granted, everything he is saying is true–but that is what is happening now, while the U.S. is not arming the rebels and is not imposing a no-fly zone or helping to set up buffer zones for refugees. What makes Hall think that, given the current situation, there is any option of allowing Assad to remain in power and re-impose control? That seems extremely unlikely. What seems more likely, if we continue on the current path, is that the war will continue taking a deadly toll, jihadists will continue to play an ever-bigger role, and chaos will continue to spread across Syria.
Mitt Romney was hilarious at the Al Smith Dinner in New York last night, unexpectedly (so I think), as he doesn’t have a reputation for great comic delivery. My favorite line was a dig at the press, describing how the headlines would report the $2500-a-plate dinner: “Obama Embraced by Catholics; Romney Dines with Rich People.”
Gallup yesterday had Romney up 52-45, with a plus- or minus-2 percent margin of error. Bob Beckel, a dyed-in-the-wool Democrat (he managed Walter Mondale’s 1984 campaign), said that, “. . . if those numbers are correct, it is over. It is over. So I mean, you’re not going to bring Romney back under 50% from 52%, not a challenging candidate . . .”
Just when the situation in Libya couldn’t get much more embarrassing for the Obama administration, now comes the news that Ahmed Abu Khattala, a leader of the jihadist group Ansar al Shariah who was seen by witnesses directing the attack on the American consulate, is living openly and defiantly in Benghazi. He is lounging around a seaside hotel and breathing defiance in an interview with a New York Times reporter, bragging that Libya’s nascent army is too “chicken” to come after him. He says he has no plans to go into hiding.
Although he denied being part of the attack, he admitted being on the scene and refused to condemn the murder of the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans. “From a religious point of view, it is hard to say whether it is good or bad,” he said, no doubt disingenuously.
Last month, liberal outlets touted a report aimed at stifling calls for action on Iran. “Weighing the Benefits and Costs of Military Action Against Iran” was seen as the definitive answer to those calling for the establishment of red lines about Iran’s nuclear program. The report, sponsored by The Iran Project, was signed and endorsed by an all-star cast of foreign policy establishment figures (including some who have a record of hostility toward Israel) who were eager to support a study that purported to prove that an attack on Iran’s facilities would not be worth the effort in the event that the United States were to decide that all other options had been exhausted in the effort to prevent Tehran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. That report’s one-sided arguments were all that was needed for those who aren’t particularly enthusiastic about American action on Iran to claim that the military option ought not be considered. But the biggest problem with the study was the question it did not ask: What are the costs of doing nothing about Iran?
That more pressing question is answered by a new study that has just been published by the Foreign Policy Project of the Bipartisan Policy Center, “The Costs of Inaction: Analysis of Energy and Economic Effects of a Nuclear Iran.” The report acknowledges that taking action entails courting severe risks for the United States, the West and Israel. But it makes clear that these not inconsiderable dangers pale beside the consequences of a policy rooted in a foolish belief that Iran can be talked out of its nuclear ambitions. The result will be the creation of an Islamist nuclear power led not by rational military figures such as in Pakistan but by a theocracy whose extremist leaders may well seek to use such weapons as well as to employ them to back up their terrorist auxiliaries. But less understood is the way a nuclear Iran would have a significant impact on the cost and supply of oil. While Americans are understandably war weary after a decade of conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan, they need to know that listening to the counsels of those who wish to accommodate or ignore the Iranian threat will lead not just to a more unstable Middle East but bring with it a rise in the price of oil that could lead to them paying as much as an extra $1.40 per gallon of gas at the pump.