Commentary Magazine


Posts For: October 24, 2012

Dems Begin the Post-Obama Blame Game

Some Democrats are apparently not waiting for Barack Obama to lose the presidential election before starting the inevitable recriminations about whose fault it was. Whether writing strictly on his own hook or as a result of conversations with campaign officials, New York Times political writer Matt Bai has fired the first shot in what may turn out to be a very nasty battle over who deserves the lion’s share of the blame for what may turn out to be a November disaster for the Democrats. That the Times would publish a piece on October 24 that takes as its starting point the very real possibility that the president will lose, and that blame for that loss needs to be allocated, is astonishing enough. But that their nominee for scapegoat is the man who is almost certainly the most popular living Democrat is the sort of thing that is not only shocking, but might be regarded as a foretaste of the coming battle to control the party in 2016.

Bai’s choice for the person who steered the president wrong this year is none other than former President Bill Clinton, who has widely been credited for having helped produce a post-convention boost for the Democrats. Clinton’s speech on behalf of Obama was viewed, with good reason, as being far more effective than anything the president or anyone else said on his behalf this year. But Bai points to Clinton as the primary advocate within high Democratic circles for changing the party’s strategy from one of bashing Mitt Romney as an inauthentic flip-flopper to one that centered on trying to assert that he was a conservative monster. Given that Romney demolished that false image in one smashing debate performance in Denver that seems to have changed the arc of the election, Clinton’s advice seems ripe for second-guessing right now. But we have to ask why Bai thinks Clinton was the one who single-handedly forced the change, and what is motivating those feeding the reporter this information?

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Some Democrats are apparently not waiting for Barack Obama to lose the presidential election before starting the inevitable recriminations about whose fault it was. Whether writing strictly on his own hook or as a result of conversations with campaign officials, New York Times political writer Matt Bai has fired the first shot in what may turn out to be a very nasty battle over who deserves the lion’s share of the blame for what may turn out to be a November disaster for the Democrats. That the Times would publish a piece on October 24 that takes as its starting point the very real possibility that the president will lose, and that blame for that loss needs to be allocated, is astonishing enough. But that their nominee for scapegoat is the man who is almost certainly the most popular living Democrat is the sort of thing that is not only shocking, but might be regarded as a foretaste of the coming battle to control the party in 2016.

Bai’s choice for the person who steered the president wrong this year is none other than former President Bill Clinton, who has widely been credited for having helped produce a post-convention boost for the Democrats. Clinton’s speech on behalf of Obama was viewed, with good reason, as being far more effective than anything the president or anyone else said on his behalf this year. But Bai points to Clinton as the primary advocate within high Democratic circles for changing the party’s strategy from one of bashing Mitt Romney as an inauthentic flip-flopper to one that centered on trying to assert that he was a conservative monster. Given that Romney demolished that false image in one smashing debate performance in Denver that seems to have changed the arc of the election, Clinton’s advice seems ripe for second-guessing right now. But we have to ask why Bai thinks Clinton was the one who single-handedly forced the change, and what is motivating those feeding the reporter this information?

Here’s the gist of Bai’s blame-Clinton thesis:

You may recall that last spring, just after Mr. Romney locked up the Republican nomination, Mr. Obama’s team abruptly switched its strategy for how to define him. Up to then, the White House had been portraying Mr. Romney much as George W. Bush had gone after John Kerry in 2004 – as inauthentic and inconstant, a soulless climber who would say anything to get the job.

But it was Mr. Clinton who forcefully argued to Mr. Obama’s aides that the campaign had it wrong. The best way to go after Mr. Romney, the former president said, was to publicly grant that he was the “severe conservative” he claimed to be, and then hang that unpopular ideology around his neck.

In other words, Mr. Clinton counseled that independent voters might forgive Mr. Romney for having said whatever he had to say to win his party’s nomination, but they would be far more reluctant to vote for him if they thought they were getting the third term of George W. Bush. Ever since, the Obama campaign has been hammering Mr. Romney as too conservative, while essentially giving him a pass for having traveled a tortured path on issues like health care reform, abortion and gay rights.

This is clearly intended to absolve the anonymous Obama aides for making a decision that they — and the president — must have signed off on before it was implemented. Bai goes to great lengths to take them off the hook, and even compares their position to a ballplayer who would reject advice from Derek Jeter. In other words Bai is saying that anyone, even really smart political operatives like those working in Obama’s Chicago headquarters, or the top guys themselves like David Axelrod or David Plouffe, had no choice but to bow to the 42nd president’s wisdom.

Bai is right on target when he notes that the strategy — regardless of whose bright idea it was — was a clunker. While there is no guarantee that calling Romney a flip-flopper would have worked better, the investment of tens if not hundreds of millions of dollars in negative ads trying to convince Americans that the Republican was a heartless plutocrat who abused dogs, outsourced jobs, killed cancer patients and hated ordinary people set the Democrats up for a fall once their target showed himself to be a likeable and reasonable person. The same tactic failed 32 years ago when it was tried by the Jimmy Carter campaign against Ronald Reagan, and right now that precedent is causing the knots in the stomachs of Obama campaign officials to tighten as they contemplate defeat.

If Clinton thought that he could apply the lessons of his own victories to President Obama’s re-election problem, he was wrong. As Bai points out, Clinton truly was a centrist, something that no one (except perhaps the president himself) thinks about Obama.

But the idea that it was only Clinton that advocated this strategy or that without his influence the geniuses running the Obama campaign would not have made this mistake is so patently self-serving on the part of his sources that it’s a wonder that a generally savvy observer like Bai doesn’t point this out.

If anything this omission, like the general thrust of his piece, points to an effort by Obama’s chief strategists to get out in front of the story of who led the president to defeat. Moreover, it is hard not to avoid the suspicion that pointing the finger at Clinton is a way of reminding him that if he thinks Obama loyalists owe him for his herculean efforts on behalf of the president he’s got another thing coming. Especially, that is, if he tries to call in IOUs from the Obama camp on behalf of another presidential run by Hillary Clinton in 2016.

But no matter where the Democratic fingers are pointing, the fact that they are already starting to blame each other for an Obama loss has to send chills down the spines of Democrats who are still operating under the assumption that Romney can’t win.

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Should Mourdock Get the Akin Treatment?

As Jonathan mentioned earlier, if on November 7 the Republicans find themselves still in the minority in the Senate, they will have two people to thank: Todd Akin of Missouri and Richard Mourdock of Indiana. Both candidates, in the midst of their election campaigns, made incredibly ill-advised comments on their beliefs about exemptions for abortion in the case of rape.

Akin’s comments in late August received overwhelming condemnation–and quickly–as Republicans across the country called for his immediate withdrawal. In August I wrote about how Republicans, unlike Democrats, were quick to ask a candidate to withdraw their candidacy after ignorant and offensive comments were made. Akin remains a pariah with very little assistance either financially or otherwise from Republicans or conservative leaders, while Joe Biden (who has made something of a sport out of making offensive pronouncements) proudly maintains his position on President Obama’s ticket. 

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As Jonathan mentioned earlier, if on November 7 the Republicans find themselves still in the minority in the Senate, they will have two people to thank: Todd Akin of Missouri and Richard Mourdock of Indiana. Both candidates, in the midst of their election campaigns, made incredibly ill-advised comments on their beliefs about exemptions for abortion in the case of rape.

Akin’s comments in late August received overwhelming condemnation–and quickly–as Republicans across the country called for his immediate withdrawal. In August I wrote about how Republicans, unlike Democrats, were quick to ask a candidate to withdraw their candidacy after ignorant and offensive comments were made. Akin remains a pariah with very little assistance either financially or otherwise from Republicans or conservative leaders, while Joe Biden (who has made something of a sport out of making offensive pronouncements) proudly maintains his position on President Obama’s ticket. 

Many Republicans have already disavowed Mourdock’s comments, including Mitt Romney and Senator Scott Brown of Massachusetts. There are some high-powered Republicans that have refused to do so this time around, Texas Senator John Cornyn of the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) being one. Why have Republicans not given Richard Mourdock the Todd Akin treatment and thrown his candidacy under the bus? Why have some prominent Republicans even defended his remarks?

There is a clear difference between Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock, as candidates and as pro-lifers. Akin was already a troubled candidate with a campaign that is run, to an inappropriate degree, by inexperienced members of his family. Akin’s comments showcased a shocking degree of ignorance on how the human body and female reproductive system operates. To refresh your memory, he told a St. Louis television station, “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.” While Akin, like Mourdock, is in favor of banning abortions except to save the life of the mother, Akin seemed to believe that the issue was moot–that a woman could not get pregnant after a rape because her body, somehow, had the ability to form a distinction between a consensual and a non-consensual sexual encounter. After the comments, Akin’s candidacy appeared to be in a free-fall, as it seemed that parts of his campaign were incommunicative with others. Media appearances, like one scheduled for Larry King, were canceled at the last minute, while other interviews, like one that took place on Sean Hannity’s radio show, were absolutely painful to listen to and should have never been scheduled by his campaign without more rehersal and preparation. 

Mourdock’s comments were, in contrast, consistent with the overall position of pro-life Christians that every life, regardless of how it is created, is sacred, loved by God, and deserves protection. During the debate last night Mourdock stated, “I just struggled with it myself for a long time, but I came to realize: Life is that gift from God that I think even if life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen.” The outrage is, rightfully, centered on the second half of that comment where it seems to indicate that Mourdock believes that a rape is an event that is preordained by God. Before noon on the east coast, Mourdock held a press conference to discuss his comments and clarify his position on the theological underpinnings of his pro-life stance, stating that he believes that he in no way supports rape and that it is a violent and inexcusable act. The response from the Mourdock campaign, having the candidate immediately and publicly clarify his statements to the press, was nothing like the chaotic and unprofessional reaction of the Akin campaign. 

A candidate should never have to clarify their position on rape, nor should they have to hold a press conference to tell the world that they don’t believe that a rape is an act of God two weeks before election day. Especially after the furor that lasted for several weeks over Todd Akin’s statements, Richard Mourdock should have been expecting a “gotcha” question at some point in his candidacy, considering his position on rape and incest exemptions. While Mourdock’s comments aren’t in the same league as Akin’s, unfortunately for the GOP, that won’t stop the comparisons, however inaccurate. With two weeks to go before an election that was already a toss up, it might be too late for Mourdock or Republicans to correct the narrative in time to save the seat or their hopes of a GOP majority in the Senate.

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Administration Officials: Benghazi Emails “Not Evidence”

It’s too bad the White House press briefing was on Air Force One today, because watching Jay Carney try to spin Mark Hosenball’s Reuters scoop would have been fun. Unfortunately we’ll have to make due with just a transcript

“There was a variety of information coming in,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said Wednesday on Air Force One. “The whole point of an intelligence community and what they do is to assess strands of information and make judgements about what happened and who was responsible.”

“This is an open source, unclassified email about a posting on a Facebook site,” Carney said. “I would also note that within a few hours the organization itself claimed that it had not been responsible. Neither should be taken as fact. That is why there is an investigation.”

Hillary Clinton also dismissed the story, accusing reporters of “cherry-picking” information:

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It’s too bad the White House press briefing was on Air Force One today, because watching Jay Carney try to spin Mark Hosenball’s Reuters scoop would have been fun. Unfortunately we’ll have to make due with just a transcript

“There was a variety of information coming in,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said Wednesday on Air Force One. “The whole point of an intelligence community and what they do is to assess strands of information and make judgements about what happened and who was responsible.”

“This is an open source, unclassified email about a posting on a Facebook site,” Carney said. “I would also note that within a few hours the organization itself claimed that it had not been responsible. Neither should be taken as fact. That is why there is an investigation.”

Hillary Clinton also dismissed the story, accusing reporters of “cherry-picking” information:

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Wednesday a Facebook post in which an Islamic militant group claimed credit for a recent attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya did not constitute hard evidence of who was responsible.

“Posting something on Facebook is not in and of itself evidence. I think it just underscores how fluid the reporting was at the time and continued for some time to be,” Clinton said during an appearance with the Brazilian foreign minister at the State Department.

A single posting on Facebook isn’t a smoking gun. But apparently it was considered noteworthy enough for the State Department’s Operations Center to send White House, Pentagon, FBI and intelligence officials an email alert about it in the critical early hours of the attack. It’s not as if the State Department was recklessly blasting out random bits of gossip and speculation, either. According to the timeline in the Reuters piece, this appears to be the third message they sent out in a span of two hours.

There’s also the inconvenient fact that the email turned out to be correct. Ansar al-Sharia is the main group suspected behind the attack. So whether or not there was a “variety of information coming in,” as Jay Carney said, is irrelevant. Why did the administration dismiss information that correctly linked Ansar al-Sharia to the attack, and instead publicly promote inaccurate information about a “spontaneous protest”? Either they completely dropped the ball, or they were doing some cherry-picking themselves.

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Who’s Been Pressuring Israel? Both Parties

In today’s New York Times, former Mossad director Efraim Halevy writes about the history of U.S. pressure on Israel. Halevy’s ostensible purpose is to remind voters that Republican presidents have strong-armed Israeli governments in the past. On its face, this is a rather uncontroversial thesis. Who would possibly deny the fact that Republican presidents have abused Israel over the years? Indeed, Halevy’s list is incomplete, since along with Dwight Eisenhower and both the elder and the younger George Bush who were mentioned in the piece, we should not forget Richard Nixon proposed the first land-for-peace deal with the Rogers plan and then muscled the Israelis during the War of Attrition and after the Yom Kippur War. Ronald Reagan also had his moments of confrontation with Israel over arms sales to Saudi Arabia and especially over Lebanon.

The fallacy here is that Halevy cites this in order to refute Mitt Romney’s charge that President Obama has repeatedly thrown Israel “under the bus.” In doing so he chooses to ignore the many instances of pressure from Democrats. Indeed, just as every Republican occupant of the White House has some blots on his ledger with regard to Israel, the same is true of almost every Democrat dating back to Harry Truman. Yet what’s truly odd about the piece, and causes me to question the judgment not only of the Times editors that chose to publish it but those liberals circulating the article around the Internet today as if it was a damning refutation of Romney’s allegations, is that none of this stuff about past Republicans or Democrats has anything to do with Obama. Based on the tone of the last debate, the president seems quite anxious to demonstrate his pro-Israel bona fides to wavering Jewish voters in Florida and Ohio. Those who care about Israel will judge him on his record, but it mystifies me as to why anyone’s vote would be influenced by unhappy memories of Ike or the Bushes.

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In today’s New York Times, former Mossad director Efraim Halevy writes about the history of U.S. pressure on Israel. Halevy’s ostensible purpose is to remind voters that Republican presidents have strong-armed Israeli governments in the past. On its face, this is a rather uncontroversial thesis. Who would possibly deny the fact that Republican presidents have abused Israel over the years? Indeed, Halevy’s list is incomplete, since along with Dwight Eisenhower and both the elder and the younger George Bush who were mentioned in the piece, we should not forget Richard Nixon proposed the first land-for-peace deal with the Rogers plan and then muscled the Israelis during the War of Attrition and after the Yom Kippur War. Ronald Reagan also had his moments of confrontation with Israel over arms sales to Saudi Arabia and especially over Lebanon.

The fallacy here is that Halevy cites this in order to refute Mitt Romney’s charge that President Obama has repeatedly thrown Israel “under the bus.” In doing so he chooses to ignore the many instances of pressure from Democrats. Indeed, just as every Republican occupant of the White House has some blots on his ledger with regard to Israel, the same is true of almost every Democrat dating back to Harry Truman. Yet what’s truly odd about the piece, and causes me to question the judgment not only of the Times editors that chose to publish it but those liberals circulating the article around the Internet today as if it was a damning refutation of Romney’s allegations, is that none of this stuff about past Republicans or Democrats has anything to do with Obama. Based on the tone of the last debate, the president seems quite anxious to demonstrate his pro-Israel bona fides to wavering Jewish voters in Florida and Ohio. Those who care about Israel will judge him on his record, but it mystifies me as to why anyone’s vote would be influenced by unhappy memories of Ike or the Bushes.

As to pressure from Democrats, the instances are every bit as numerous as those coming from the GOP.

Truman may have ordered a vote for partition and recognized Israel on the day of its birth, actions for which he deserves and rightly gets great credit. But he offered no tangible aid to an Israeli cause that was dependent on arms acquired from the Soviet bloc. He also supported efforts to push Israel back to the 1947 partition lines and to take back all of the Palestinian refugees.

John F. Kennedy gets credit for being the first U.S. president to meet an Israeli prime minister (a private visit in a New York hotel with David Ben Gurion rather than an official meeting in the White House) and for being the first president to sell Israel arms. But it is often forgotten that in that meeting with DBG he pushed the Israeli to negotiate about territorial withdrawals (in 1962, nobody, not even a Democratic president thought the borders that would eventually be called the 1967 lines were sacrosanct) and to also consider admitting refugees.

Jimmy Carter’s well-earned reputation of animus for Israel has been based more on his post-presidential behavior than what he did in the White House, but even if we concentrate only on those four years, the record isn’t that pretty. Anwar Sadat’s historic trip to Jerusalem was motivated as much by his fear of Carter’s decision to try to involve the Soviets in the peace process as anything else. Throughout the negotiations at Camp David in 1978 and those for the subsequent peace negotiations for the peace treaty between Egypt and Israel, Carter hammered Menachem Begin and the Israelis at every turn. Carter was sympathetic to the Palestinians and Yasir Arafat, but was only restrained from embracing them by the political costs of such a policy. Republicans who think their record vote in 1980 was based solely on Reagan’s virtues forget that the real reason they did so well was the massive distrust of Carter felt by the pro-Israel community.

Any Republican who denied that Bill Clinton was a friend of Israel would not be telling the truth. But any Democrat who sought to claim that he never tried to pressure the Israelis would be just as much a liar. Clinton didn’t create the Oslo process but he did push hard for the Israelis to ignore Palestinian violations of the accords throughout his two terms. Once Benjamin Netanyahu was elected prime minister in 1996, the next three years were a non-stop pressure fest as he muscled the Israelis to make further concessions to the Palestinians in the Hebron and Wye Plantation agreements.

What does all this mean as far as making a judgment about the two men currently running for president? It ought to bring to mind the psalmist’s admonition to not place one’s trust in princes since no administration can be said to have a perfect record on Israel. Though George W. Bush was widely thought of as among the best as well as the most fervent supporters of the Jewish state — something he proved repeatedly while in the White House with his ultimate stands on Palestinian terror and his refusal to deal with Yasir Arafat — Halevy is right that there were moments when he was in the wrong and wrongly pressured the Israelis. In particular, his second term seemed more like a rerun of past presidents than his first four years, something that caused me to write in December 2008 that perhaps Israel might be better off with the new President Obama (not my most accurate prediction).

Pointing out past instances of Republican presidents pressuring Israel may discomfit some GOP partisans just as a listing of Democratic bad behavior doesn’t comfort their knee-jerk supporters. But none of this serves as an argument for or against President Obama. No one can credibly claim that he has not repeatedly engaged in spats with Israel and sought to pressure it on borders and settlements. He has also hardened the U.S. position on Jerusalem to a point that goes far beyond the previous stances of both Republicans and Democrats about the city’s status.

There are arguments to be made on behalf of almost every president that I have mentioned, including Bush I and Obama. None except perhaps for Lyndon Johnson or Eisenhower can be said to be even close to being all bad or all good.

That’s why Halevy’s curious diatribe lacks intellectually rigor and is irrelevant to any discussion about the merits of Obama or Romney. Those who claim it to be a definitive statement about this election are either being dishonest or acting as blatant partisans.

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Obama Caves to Pressure, Releases DMR Interview

President Obama has released a transcript of his interview with the Des Moines Register, after the paper complained that he refused to do the interview on-the-record. From the DMR editor:

Typically, these visits are an opportunity for us to ask questions, get details on platforms and positions and to contrast each opponent’s views. These exchanges are weighed when our five-member editorial board – which also relies heavily on independent and extensive research — meets and drafts our endorsement editorial.

Romney appeared before our board Oct. 9. We literally met in a barn on a family farm owned by Jeff Koch, just west of Van Meter. …

But the audio was digitally recorded and posted on DesMoinesRegister.com.

We repeatedly — and politely — have asked Obama 2012 campaign officials in Iowa and Chicago for the same access to the president. I believe it earned serious consideration. But despite at least 28 campaign stops and 11 days in our state, we never could convince his team to carve out a few moments for our editorial board — in our office, on the trail or even in a barn somewhere in Iowa.

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President Obama has released a transcript of his interview with the Des Moines Register, after the paper complained that he refused to do the interview on-the-record. From the DMR editor:

Typically, these visits are an opportunity for us to ask questions, get details on platforms and positions and to contrast each opponent’s views. These exchanges are weighed when our five-member editorial board – which also relies heavily on independent and extensive research — meets and drafts our endorsement editorial.

Romney appeared before our board Oct. 9. We literally met in a barn on a family farm owned by Jeff Koch, just west of Van Meter. …

But the audio was digitally recorded and posted on DesMoinesRegister.com.

We repeatedly — and politely — have asked Obama 2012 campaign officials in Iowa and Chicago for the same access to the president. I believe it earned serious consideration. But despite at least 28 campaign stops and 11 days in our state, we never could convince his team to carve out a few moments for our editorial board — in our office, on the trail or even in a barn somewhere in Iowa.

The actual interview is a dull rehash of the usual campaign spin, but Obama’s media strategy is revealing. Why not go on the record for an editorial interview? It’s standard. Refusing makes it look like Obama’s worried about getting hit with a tough question, either by DMR or another newspaper. If the president stayed off-the-record for the Register’s editorial board interview, what other papers has he done the same with? Is this a general rule for the campaign?

Obama got the benefit of a one-on-one conversation with editors he wants an endorsement from, but didn’t have to take any of the risk. Agreeing to release the interview transcript after the fact (and only after DMR complained), means nothing. He knew the interview was all softballs after it was over, but obviously couldn’t have predicted that beforehand. Journalists might want to keep this is mind next time Obama touts his record of transparency or accuses his opponent of being less than upfront.

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Arab World Chooses Hamas over Fatah in Palestinian Rivalry

It’s fair to say that an underappreciated obstacle to a two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians is Hamas’s rule of Gaza. For such an agreement to take shape, Hamas would have to either consent or not be in charge of the strip. Though a Hamas-Fatah reconciliation is unlikely, even if it were to happen, it might only bring about Hamas’s conquest of the West Bank, thereby doubling, rather than solving, the problem posed by Hamas. And since Hamas won’t abide a true peace with Israel, it’s difficult to solve the conflict under current conditions.

With that in mind, those who seek to end the isolation of Hamas are strengthening the terrorist group’s hand against Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah and the Palestinian Authority’s main governing structure. In this scenario, it isn’t Israel that loses nearly as much as Abbas and Salam Fayyad, in whose corner the West claims to be. So while Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pleads with the international community to help strengthen the PA’s balance sheet, the opponents of Palestinian reconciliation are helping Hamas, at Fatah’s expense. The latest such actor is the government of Qatar.

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It’s fair to say that an underappreciated obstacle to a two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians is Hamas’s rule of Gaza. For such an agreement to take shape, Hamas would have to either consent or not be in charge of the strip. Though a Hamas-Fatah reconciliation is unlikely, even if it were to happen, it might only bring about Hamas’s conquest of the West Bank, thereby doubling, rather than solving, the problem posed by Hamas. And since Hamas won’t abide a true peace with Israel, it’s difficult to solve the conflict under current conditions.

With that in mind, those who seek to end the isolation of Hamas are strengthening the terrorist group’s hand against Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah and the Palestinian Authority’s main governing structure. In this scenario, it isn’t Israel that loses nearly as much as Abbas and Salam Fayyad, in whose corner the West claims to be. So while Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pleads with the international community to help strengthen the PA’s balance sheet, the opponents of Palestinian reconciliation are helping Hamas, at Fatah’s expense. The latest such actor is the government of Qatar.

In August, I wrote about Saudi Arabia’s $500 million investment in Gaza. Today, the New York Times reports on the emir of Qatar’s visit to Gaza and the announcement of his country’s $400 million pledged investment there:

“Today you are a big guest, great guest, declaring officially the breaking of the political and economic siege that was imposed on Gaza,” Ismail Haniya, the Hamas prime minister, told the emir and his cohort as they sat on sofas in a white shed in the southern town of Khan Yunis, where they plan to erect 1,000 apartments. “Today, we declare the victory on this siege through this blessed, historic visit.”

In the West Bank, allies of Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority, who has struggled to preserve his own legitimacy, warned that the visit set a dangerous precedent of Arab leaders’ embracing Mr. Haniya as a head of state and thus cleaving the Palestinian people and territory in two. “We call on the Qatari prince or his representative to visit the West Bank too!” blared a headline on an editorial in the leading newspaper Al Quds.

That last part is actually quite embarrassing for Abbas. Begging for a visit from the Qatari emir is really begging for a visit from the Qatari emir’s checkbook, irrespective of whether the emir himself accompanies it on the trip. If the Hamas-Fatah rivalry is a zero-sum game–and it doesn’t always have to be, but usually is–then what we are witnessing in Gaza, thanks to the supposed friends of the Palestinians, is the construction of an entity that is arguably more of a state than what currently exists in the West Bank.

I mentioned yesterday that Jimmy Carter is making no secret of his attempts to impede the establishment of a Palestinian state by sabotaging negotiations and encouraging Abbas to declare statehood at the UN. In addition to all the obvious problems with this, what would stop it from setting a precedent that Hamas could follow in Gaza? Sure, the PA would ostensibly declare their state to include Gaza, but couldn’t Hamas then secede if it wanted to?

Of course that’s unlikely to happen, in part because the PA’s bid for statehood continues to be opposed by the West. But it’s long past time for Mideast watchers to at least acknowledge that the Arab world, led by Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Egypt, are, like Carter, actively working to incentivize Palestinian radicalization rather than moderation.

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Trump’s October Surprise is … Nothing

If you bet Donald Trump’s “October Surprise revelation” would be “nothing,” then congratulations. After days of coy hints and fanfare, Trump revealed that he has no news to share, but promised to donate $5 million to Obama’s favorite charity if the president releases his college records:

Donald Trump said on Wednesday that if President Obama releases his college records and application and his passport application, the businessman will give a $5 million check to a charity of Obama’s choosing. 

Trump tweeted earlier Wednesday morning that “all predictions” regarding the bombshell he’s promised to drop about President Barack Obama are “totally incorrect.” 

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If you bet Donald Trump’s “October Surprise revelation” would be “nothing,” then congratulations. After days of coy hints and fanfare, Trump revealed that he has no news to share, but promised to donate $5 million to Obama’s favorite charity if the president releases his college records:

Donald Trump said on Wednesday that if President Obama releases his college records and application and his passport application, the businessman will give a $5 million check to a charity of Obama’s choosing. 

Trump tweeted earlier Wednesday morning that “all predictions” regarding the bombshell he’s promised to drop about President Barack Obama are “totally incorrect.” 

I’m sure the timing of this circus act had absolutely nothing to do with Trump trying to divert attention from his recent professional problems. (Okay, it probably did). But this is actually one of the least damaging scenarios Romney could have hoped for. If Trump had released Obama’s divorce records or carried on about the birth certificate again, it would have been a huge embarrassment for Republicans. But it won’t be a surprise if the Obama campaign decides to latch onto Trump’s announcement anyway. They’ve spent the last two weeks talking about Romnesia and binders, and with this morning’s Benghazi bombshell they’re probably more eager than ever to change the subject.

And there are more distractions on the way. Gloria Allred is preparing her own “October Surprise” revelation this week, which sounds like it’s about old testimony Romney gave in a divorce trial for a close friend (via Radar):

Famed civil rights attorney Gloria Allred will be in a Boston area courtroom Wednesday in an attempt to unseal the sworn testimony given by Republican Presidential hopeful Mitt Romney, in a prior court case, RadarOnline.com is exclusively reporting.

“The Boston Globe is headed to court tomorrow morning for an emergency hearing in an attempt to obtain a court order to unseal the sworn testimony given by Mitt Romney in a prior court case and to lift a gag order so that the parties can speak about Romney. Gloria Allred will be in court representing one of the parties in the case,” a source close to the situation tells RadarOnline.com.

Any day talking about Trump and Allred is a day Obama’s not talking about Libya and the economy.

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Obama Can’t Escape Share of Responsibility for Sequestration

One of the most puzzling answers that President Obama gave in the third presidential debate concerned the subject of sequestration—the process that will result in across-the-board cuts to spending of $1.2 trillion starting in January, with half that amount being cut from the defense budget. When the subject came up, Obama said, “First of all, the sequester is not something that I’ve proposed. It is something that Congress has proposed. It will not happen.”

As it happens, neither part of that short statement is strictly factual. Regarding the president’s claim that he did not propose sequestration—on this score he is flatly contradicted by Bob Woodward who wrote in his recent book, The Price of Politics, that sequestration originated in the White House and was sold to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid by budget director Jack Lew and legislative director Rob Nabors. Woodward now says: “What the president said is not correct. He’s mistaken. And it’s refuted by the people who work for him.”

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One of the most puzzling answers that President Obama gave in the third presidential debate concerned the subject of sequestration—the process that will result in across-the-board cuts to spending of $1.2 trillion starting in January, with half that amount being cut from the defense budget. When the subject came up, Obama said, “First of all, the sequester is not something that I’ve proposed. It is something that Congress has proposed. It will not happen.”

As it happens, neither part of that short statement is strictly factual. Regarding the president’s claim that he did not propose sequestration—on this score he is flatly contradicted by Bob Woodward who wrote in his recent book, The Price of Politics, that sequestration originated in the White House and was sold to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid by budget director Jack Lew and legislative director Rob Nabors. Woodward now says: “What the president said is not correct. He’s mistaken. And it’s refuted by the people who work for him.”

As for the second part of Obama’s statement—that sequestration will not happen—this claim was greeted with befuddlement on Capitol Hill since lawmakers are nowhere close to a deal to stop sequestration and time is running out. The White House, it should be noted, has been entirely AWOL in this effort. What does Obama know that everyone else in Washington doesn’t? Nothing, it turns out. For immediately after the debate White House aides rushed to walk back the president’s remarks, saying, as David Plouffe did, that “everyone in Washington agrees that sequester ‘should not happen.’” From “will not” to “should not” is a big change—and one that confirms that there is a very real danger that sequestration will  happen.

If that were to happen, Congress, including Republicans who voted for the budget deal last summer, will certainly be complicit in the outcome, but Obama will not be able to escape his share of the blame for cuts that his own defense secretary has said would be “devastating.”

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WH Knew Militant Group Took Credit for Attack Within 2 Hours

The White House was informed that Libyan militant group Ansar al-Sharia took credit for the Benghazi attack just two hours after it happened, according to emails obtained by Reuters. Yet the Obama administration maintained it was a spontaneous reaction to the Muhammad video, and downplayed the role of any militant groups for two weeks after the attack. As of today, the administration has never even told us Ansar al-Sharia claimed credit. We had to find out from the investigative press:

A third email, also marked SBU and sent at 6:07 p.m. Washington time, carried the subject line: “Update 2: Ansar al-Sharia Claims Responsibility for Benghazi Attack.”

The message reported: “Embassy Tripoli reports the group claimed responsibility on Facebook and Twitter and has called for an attack on Embassy Tripoli.”

While some information identifying recipients of this message was redacted from copies of the messages obtained by Reuters, a government source said that one of the addresses to which the message was sent was the White House Situation Room, the president’s secure command post.

Other addressees included intelligence and military units as well as one used by the FBI command center, the source said.

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The White House was informed that Libyan militant group Ansar al-Sharia took credit for the Benghazi attack just two hours after it happened, according to emails obtained by Reuters. Yet the Obama administration maintained it was a spontaneous reaction to the Muhammad video, and downplayed the role of any militant groups for two weeks after the attack. As of today, the administration has never even told us Ansar al-Sharia claimed credit. We had to find out from the investigative press:

A third email, also marked SBU and sent at 6:07 p.m. Washington time, carried the subject line: “Update 2: Ansar al-Sharia Claims Responsibility for Benghazi Attack.”

The message reported: “Embassy Tripoli reports the group claimed responsibility on Facebook and Twitter and has called for an attack on Embassy Tripoli.”

While some information identifying recipients of this message was redacted from copies of the messages obtained by Reuters, a government source said that one of the addresses to which the message was sent was the White House Situation Room, the president’s secure command post.

Other addressees included intelligence and military units as well as one used by the FBI command center, the source said.

Even as the administration kept these details from the public, White House spokesman Jay Carney insisted the “spontaneous protest” narrative was based on “our initial information, and that includes all information”:

I’m saying that based on information that we — our initial information, and that includes all information — we saw no evidence to back up claims by others that this was a preplanned or premeditated attack; that we saw evidence that it was sparked by the reaction to this video.  And that is what we know thus far based on the evidence, concrete evidence — not supposition — concrete evidence that we have thus far.

Jim Geraghty has a great timeline of UN ambassador Susan Rice’s now-discredited claims as well.

As I’ve written before, Ansar al-Sharia is suspected of close ties to al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. The Library of Congress issued a report just this summer that heavily indicated Ansar al-Sharia was Libya’s al-Qaeda affiliate:

Ansar al-Sharia, led by Sufian Ben Qhumu, a former Guantanamo detainee, has increasingly embodied al-Qaeda’s presence in Libya, as indicated by its active social-media propaganda, extremist discourse, and hatred of the West, especially the United States. 

The name Ansar al-Sharia is also being used by al-Qaeda in the Lands of the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) in so-called liberated areas of Yemen and by Salafist groups in Tunisia. The Facebook sites of Ansar al-Sharia in Libya and the group in Tunisia appear similar in design and content and also share contacts, suggesting coordination between the groups.

No wonder the White House didn’t want to acknowledge Ansar al-Sharia took credit. A successful attack by an AQ-linked group on the 9/11 anniversary two months before the election is politically disastrous for the White House; but perhaps not as disastrous as the bombshell that they kept this information from the public at the time.

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Obama Getting More Bad Advice

Glenn Thrush’s piece on President Obama’s reelection strategy shift is full of campaign pollsters and consultants expressing their exasperation that the president waited until this point to release a second-term agenda. But it’s easy to see how these same strategists may have led the president astray throughout this election season.

The Obama campaign’s decision to rely almost completely on the politics of personal destruction, and attack Mitt Romney viciously and unrelentingly throughout the summer, didn’t end up sealing Obama’s reelection. That’s not a surprise, since the public is understandably put off by a president running as if he’s the challenger who hasn’t been in charge of the economy for four years. But even those who tell the president to adjust his strategy largely miss the point. Here’s a good example, from Thrush’s story:

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Glenn Thrush’s piece on President Obama’s reelection strategy shift is full of campaign pollsters and consultants expressing their exasperation that the president waited until this point to release a second-term agenda. But it’s easy to see how these same strategists may have led the president astray throughout this election season.

The Obama campaign’s decision to rely almost completely on the politics of personal destruction, and attack Mitt Romney viciously and unrelentingly throughout the summer, didn’t end up sealing Obama’s reelection. That’s not a surprise, since the public is understandably put off by a president running as if he’s the challenger who hasn’t been in charge of the economy for four years. But even those who tell the president to adjust his strategy largely miss the point. Here’s a good example, from Thrush’s story:

“The Obama organization did the single best job of destroying a candidate I have ever seen in my career, from May to September,” said pollster Peter Brown, who conducts the Quinnipiac University poll of battleground states.

“But that all went out the window when Romney showed people that the caricature of him as a clown was false. … Now he’s got to make the case for himself. If he was ahead now, my guess is he wouldn’t have taken the chance of putting all of this out now.”

“Destroying” Romney? I do not think it means what they think it means. If Romney could dispel all the personal caricatures contained in the Obama ad blitz by simply showing up, he wasn’t “destroyed.” And that’s because Romney is so obviously not who Obama said he was. The Obama campaign’s attacks were so inaccurate that Romney’s performance in the first debate probably also drained Obama of some of the credibility he previously had with the electorate. And that has left its mark on the campaign, whether Obama pivots or not.

Later on in the article, we get more indication of where Obama’s been getting his terrible advice:

Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt said the president’s standard whistle-stop speech contained more detail than Romney’s written proposals. “Every voter has in hand what the president’s outlined on the stump throughout the campaign,” LaBolt said.

That may be true, but Democrats, led by Carville and his friend, the pollster Stan Greenberg, have been churning out polling data for weeks showing that Obama was in danger of making the same mistake Romney did — allowing the opposition to define him as a candidate.

How, exactly, do you define a sitting president just finishing up a full term before he defines himself? The problem for Obama is that he’s been running as if Romney is the incumbent, but Romney isn’t returning the favor. Romney isn’t trying to portray Obama as the challenger without a record—just the opposite. Romney has been telling anyone who will listen all about Obama’s first term.

It just so happens that the state of the economy Obama has been presiding over isn’t favorable to the president. Romney isn’t “defining” Obama by pointing out steady 8-percent unemployment. And Obama’s first-term accomplishments aren’t very popular. Obamacare has polled badly from the beginning; the auto bailout was broadly unpopular and only began returning better poll numbers in the Rust Belt; and the stimulus was an ineffectual liberal wish list that failed on the president’s own terms.

Romney isn’t seeking to define the president at all. He’s just trying to help the president take credit for the last four years.

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Not Propaganda? Obama’s the Star of New Cable Film on Bin Laden

The decision of the National Geographic Channel to air a film about the successful hunt for Osama bin Laden just two days before Election Day had already generated controversy. But the promotional materials released to the press this week confirm the suspicion that it is what even the New York Times was prepared to call a “political stunt.” The movie, “Seal Team Six: The Raid on Osama bin Laden,” is being promoted by Harvey Weinstein, a Hollywood mogul as well as a major bundler for President Obama. That and the release date was enough for many to think the film was an unpaid campaign ad, but as the Times reports:

Promotional materials and a copy of the movie provided to The New York Times this week also show that the film has been recut, using news and documentary footage to strengthen Mr. Obama’s role and provide a window into decision-making in the White House. … Some of the Obama moments were added at the suggestion of Mr. Weinstein, they said, using material gathered by Meghan O’Hara, a producer who worked closely with the documentarian Michael Moore on politically charged projects like “Fahrenheit 9/11” and “Sicko.”

While the normally low-rated National Geographic will likely get a lot of extra viewers for the broadcast, it has also opened itself up to charges of political motivation. The channel will try and use the movie to promote their other shows, but there’s no question that the main beneficiary is the president. Given the timing, the movie appears to be nothing more than an effort to aid the Democrat’s extended touchdown dance about the bin Laden killing and boost his faltering chances for re-election.

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The decision of the National Geographic Channel to air a film about the successful hunt for Osama bin Laden just two days before Election Day had already generated controversy. But the promotional materials released to the press this week confirm the suspicion that it is what even the New York Times was prepared to call a “political stunt.” The movie, “Seal Team Six: The Raid on Osama bin Laden,” is being promoted by Harvey Weinstein, a Hollywood mogul as well as a major bundler for President Obama. That and the release date was enough for many to think the film was an unpaid campaign ad, but as the Times reports:

Promotional materials and a copy of the movie provided to The New York Times this week also show that the film has been recut, using news and documentary footage to strengthen Mr. Obama’s role and provide a window into decision-making in the White House. … Some of the Obama moments were added at the suggestion of Mr. Weinstein, they said, using material gathered by Meghan O’Hara, a producer who worked closely with the documentarian Michael Moore on politically charged projects like “Fahrenheit 9/11” and “Sicko.”

While the normally low-rated National Geographic will likely get a lot of extra viewers for the broadcast, it has also opened itself up to charges of political motivation. The channel will try and use the movie to promote their other shows, but there’s no question that the main beneficiary is the president. Given the timing, the movie appears to be nothing more than an effort to aid the Democrat’s extended touchdown dance about the bin Laden killing and boost his faltering chances for re-election.

While the president deserves credit for ordering the raid, the idea that he would be transformed into the star of a film about a hunt that began before his presidency is a politically-motivated insult to the intelligence professionals and Navy SEALs who pulled off the operation. The head of National Geographic Channel has tried to alibi his way out of responsibility for this travesty, but in doing so he only proved that his insistence that the film wasn’t “propaganda” was untrue:

Howard T. Owens, the chief executive of the National Geographic Channel, who joined the call, said his company had insisted on removing a scene that showed Mitt Romney appearing to oppose the raid.

That National Geographic would have to do that shows just how skewed the film must be. Just like putting the president at the center of the film, mentioning Romney at all illustrates the film’s political intent. Owens’ claim in the film’s promotional material that the president made a “terrible political decision” in ordering the action is as absurd as Obama’s own statement in the last presidential debate that seemed to indicate that he thought doing so might have been unpopular. In fact, nothing could have been more popular or more likely to have the support of the entire American people. The idea that the president showed “courage” in going ahead and doing something for which he receive unanimous applause is nothing more than politically inspired hogwash.

Ironically, the White House has been on the hot seat for aiding a different bin Laden film. The movie on the subject being produced by the same people who came up with “The Hurt Locker” — Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal — was allegedly given access to classified information by the administration in what was another attempt to bolster the president’s reputation. But the Weinstein film, though a cable TV release rather than one that will be shown in theaters, will have the advantage of being the first one to gain a national audience.

Nothing that airs on National Geographic will change the outcome of the election. Yet the willingness of the entertainment industry to bolster the Obama campaign in this manner does make their bias crystal clear. The notion that the president did something heroic in authorizing the mission is nothing more than a political myth that no amount of Hollywood puffery will make true. But it is unfortunate that the desire to make Obama the star will inevitably mean less credit is given to the SEALs who put their lives on the line.

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Did Mourdock Just Lose the Senate?

Republican hopes for taking back the Senate this year have absorbed a variety of blows in the past several months. Olympia Snowe’s retirement and Todd Akin’s comments about pregnancy and rape dramatically reduced the chances of a GOP takeover. But Richard Mourdock’s saying that a pregnancy caused by rape is something that God intended to happen may have been the coup de grace. Here’s the quote from an answer to a question about his opposition to even the rape exception on abortion:

I’ve struggled with it myself for a long time, but I came to realize that life is that gift from God. And even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen.

Mourdock, who toppled longtime moderate GOP incumbent Richard Lugar in a Republican primary, was locked in an unexpectedly tight race with Democrat Joe Donnelly even before last night. Donnelly has benefited from Lugar’s petulant refusal to endorse Mourdock, something that fed the perception that the Republican was a Tea Party extremist. But saying something that could be interpreted as meaning that he believed God intended rape to happen could tip the balance in the election. The loss of the Indiana seat would make it almost impossible for the Republicans to get to 50 or 51 even if they were able to pull off upsets in Ohio and Connecticut and hold onto Scott Brown’s endangered Massachusetts seat.

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Republican hopes for taking back the Senate this year have absorbed a variety of blows in the past several months. Olympia Snowe’s retirement and Todd Akin’s comments about pregnancy and rape dramatically reduced the chances of a GOP takeover. But Richard Mourdock’s saying that a pregnancy caused by rape is something that God intended to happen may have been the coup de grace. Here’s the quote from an answer to a question about his opposition to even the rape exception on abortion:

I’ve struggled with it myself for a long time, but I came to realize that life is that gift from God. And even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen.

Mourdock, who toppled longtime moderate GOP incumbent Richard Lugar in a Republican primary, was locked in an unexpectedly tight race with Democrat Joe Donnelly even before last night. Donnelly has benefited from Lugar’s petulant refusal to endorse Mourdock, something that fed the perception that the Republican was a Tea Party extremist. But saying something that could be interpreted as meaning that he believed God intended rape to happen could tip the balance in the election. The loss of the Indiana seat would make it almost impossible for the Republicans to get to 50 or 51 even if they were able to pull off upsets in Ohio and Connecticut and hold onto Scott Brown’s endangered Massachusetts seat.

At the debate, Mourdock immediately understood that he had blundered and tried to explain that he didn’t mean that God wanted women to be raped:

God creates life, and that was my point. God does not want rape, and by no means was I suggesting that he does.

But that may have been too late. While his comment is really not in the same category as Todd Akin’s mind-boggling stupidity about women’s bodies shutting down during “legitimate rape,” it will be easily compared to it. No amount of explanation will prevent the Democrats from coupling him with Akin as a pair of Neanderthal Republicans who hate women and want them to suffer pregnancy as a result of rape.

In his defense, Mourdock’s position is based in a moral imperative that sees the life of a child conceived by rape as being no less important than that of one conceived by consensual sex. If you believe life begins at conception, then life is life–regardless of the circumstances. That is not a position even most of those who are morally opposed to abortion can stomach, but it is one that is based in logic. Nor is it the product of misogynist superstition such as Akin’s foolishness.

But by bringing God’s will into the equation, Mourdock opened himself up to an entirely different line of attack that could be just as damaging. If he had held a large lead over Donnelly, such as the one Akin had over unpopular incumbent Senator Claire McCaskill in Missouri, he might have survived this kerfuffle, let the Democrats make what they could of it. But since the race was already a tossup, it’s hard to see how Donnelly can avoid pulling ahead in the coming days.

That creates a situation where even Mitt Romney’s coattails — assuming he has any — won’t be enough to win the Republicans the four seats they need to become a majority in the Senate. This means that even if Romney is elected and the Republicans hold the House of Representatives, the repeal of ObamaCare is going to need some Democratic support in the Senate. If the repeal effort fails, the two seats the GOP appears to be losing as a result of the issue of rape and pregnancy will loom large in the history of this chapter of political history.

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