Commentary Magazine


Posts For: November 2012

Re: Liberals and the Race Card

As a brief follow-up to Pete’s excellent post on liberals and race, the Daily Beast’s Kirsten Powers pushed back against the canard that GOP opposition to Susan Rice is racially motivated by calling out one of her fellow liberals, MSNBC talker Touré, on Twitter this morning. Noah Rothman at Mediaite has the full Twitter debate between the two, which ends in a fairly devastating victory for Powers.

Touré bases his case on the fact that John McCain called Susan Rice “incompetent,” which Touré decided was racial code. Powers tweeted back the following, which so far has elicited only silence from Touré:

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As a brief follow-up to Pete’s excellent post on liberals and race, the Daily Beast’s Kirsten Powers pushed back against the canard that GOP opposition to Susan Rice is racially motivated by calling out one of her fellow liberals, MSNBC talker Touré, on Twitter this morning. Noah Rothman at Mediaite has the full Twitter debate between the two, which ends in a fairly devastating victory for Powers.

Touré bases his case on the fact that John McCain called Susan Rice “incompetent,” which Touré decided was racial code. Powers tweeted back the following, which so far has elicited only silence from Touré:

(@Katrinanation is the Twitter handle of the Nation’s Katrina vanden Heuvel.) This is the problem with the left’s strategy of accusing opponents of racism for just about anything. Pete mentioned the ridiculous suggestion from Chris Matthews that referring to the Obama campaign as “Chicago” because of its location was racist code. Of course, the Romney campaign certainly didn’t coin this shorthand; the campaign merely followed the press’s habit of referring to each campaign by its headquartered city. But even more, “old white Republicans” aren’t the only people who use the word Chicago, of course.

And, as Touré discovered today, “old white Republicans” aren’t the only ones who use the word “incompetent.” That’s the trouble with the left’s “dog whistles”–when universally applied, they make everyone racist. And that, as Pete wrote earlier, strips the term of all significance. Good for Powers for holding her side to account.

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After UN Vote, Israel Plans J’lem Housing

Peace Now is calling this a “deal breaker for the two-state solution,” which is a great joke after yesterday’s UN debacle. This is Israel’s reply to the Palestinian Authority’s resolution, and why not? You’d think shredding the 17-year-old Oslo framework might merit some sort of response.

The New York Times reports:

As the United Nations General Assembly voted overwhelmingly to upgrade the Palestinians’ status Thursday night, Israel took steps toward building housing in a controversial area of East Jerusalem known as E1, where Jewish settlements have long been seen as the death knell for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

A senior Israeli official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said on Friday that the decision was made late Thursday night to move forward on “preliminary zoning and planning preparations” for housing units in E1, which would connect the large settlement of Maale Adumim to Jerusalem and therefore make it impossible to connect the Palestinian cities of Ramallah and Bethlehem to Palestinian neighborhoods of East Jerusalem. Israel also authorized the construction of 3,000 housing units in other parts of East Jerusalem and the West Bank, the official said.

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Peace Now is calling this a “deal breaker for the two-state solution,” which is a great joke after yesterday’s UN debacle. This is Israel’s reply to the Palestinian Authority’s resolution, and why not? You’d think shredding the 17-year-old Oslo framework might merit some sort of response.

The New York Times reports:

As the United Nations General Assembly voted overwhelmingly to upgrade the Palestinians’ status Thursday night, Israel took steps toward building housing in a controversial area of East Jerusalem known as E1, where Jewish settlements have long been seen as the death knell for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

A senior Israeli official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said on Friday that the decision was made late Thursday night to move forward on “preliminary zoning and planning preparations” for housing units in E1, which would connect the large settlement of Maale Adumim to Jerusalem and therefore make it impossible to connect the Palestinian cities of Ramallah and Bethlehem to Palestinian neighborhoods of East Jerusalem. Israel also authorized the construction of 3,000 housing units in other parts of East Jerusalem and the West Bank, the official said.

Whatever your thoughts on the settlements, this is hardly an eye-for-an-eye retribution. It’s not an explicit violation of any agreements by Israel. Compare that to the PA’s UN bid, which violates article XXXI, sec. 7 of the Oslo accords, which states “Neither side shall initiate or take any step that will change the status of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip pending the outcome of the permanent status negotiations.” (It’s not as if the PA was unaware of that — a member of the Fatah Central Committee said earlier this month that the day after the vote, Oslo would be null and void).

Israel made concessions under Oslo that can’t be unmade. The PA, which has been the beneficiary of these concessions, no longer wants to stand by its own obligations. And what’s Israel’s response? Not to tear up Oslo, not to try to collapse the PA, or block funds. But to resume building in East Jerusalem, something that wasn’t considered an insurmountable obstacle to talks until recently. You can argue the construction is unhelpful, but how much does that matter when the PA is openly flouting its signed agreements on one side and Hamas is shooting missiles across the border on the other?

And, in a way, maybe this actually is necessary for a future two-state agreement. How can the Israeli public be expected to agree to painful concessions if its leaders won’t even hold the Palestinians to account when past agreements are broken? The settlement construction is a way for Israel to show there are penalties for violating agreements while still staying within the boundaries of Oslo.

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Liberals and the Race Card

In response to the GOP opposition to Ambassador Susan Rice potentially being nominated to be secretary of state, liberals are doing what is by now second nature for many of them: playing the race card. Never mind that the opposition is based on the fact that Ambassador Rice misled (knowingly or not) the nation about the lethal attacks on the Benghazi consulate. Never mind that Republicans who are critical of Ambassador Rice were supporters of Condoleezza Rice when she was nominated to be secretary of state and, before her, Colin Powell. Never mind the fact that Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas is admired by many Republicans and most conservatives — and has been treated maliciously by the left.

Those facts don’t fit the libel, so they’re ignored.

The Susan Rice episode is part of a deeper malady. During the presidential campaign liberals time and again accused Republicans of being racists and of using “dog whistles.” They wanted to put African Americans “back in chains,” in the words of Vice President Biden. If a Republican criticized President Obama on his retreat on welfare work requirements, it was motivated by racism. It reached such absurd levels that some liberal commentators like Chris Matthews and John Heilemann argued that referring to Chicago was evidence of racism. (Mr. Heilemann has recently graduated to making gay jokes about Republican senators. Classy.)

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In response to the GOP opposition to Ambassador Susan Rice potentially being nominated to be secretary of state, liberals are doing what is by now second nature for many of them: playing the race card. Never mind that the opposition is based on the fact that Ambassador Rice misled (knowingly or not) the nation about the lethal attacks on the Benghazi consulate. Never mind that Republicans who are critical of Ambassador Rice were supporters of Condoleezza Rice when she was nominated to be secretary of state and, before her, Colin Powell. Never mind the fact that Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas is admired by many Republicans and most conservatives — and has been treated maliciously by the left.

Those facts don’t fit the libel, so they’re ignored.

The Susan Rice episode is part of a deeper malady. During the presidential campaign liberals time and again accused Republicans of being racists and of using “dog whistles.” They wanted to put African Americans “back in chains,” in the words of Vice President Biden. If a Republican criticized President Obama on his retreat on welfare work requirements, it was motivated by racism. It reached such absurd levels that some liberal commentators like Chris Matthews and John Heilemann argued that referring to Chicago was evidence of racism. (Mr. Heilemann has recently graduated to making gay jokes about Republican senators. Classy.)

About this I wanted to say a couple of things, the first of which is that the left in general — and MSNBC and the Congressional Black Caucus in particular — have used the charge so recklessly and promiscuously that it’s been drained of virtually any meaning. That’s terribly unfortunate, since at some point when the accusation fits, it won’t be nearly as potent as it should be. But to hear someone in politics accused of racism these days is more likely to elicit from a reasonable person a roll of the eyes than anything else. For some liberals, every Republican is George Wallace or Bull Connor. (Both men, by the way, were Democrats.)

My second observation is that I’m more inclined than in the past to believe that the left actually believes the charge. That is, in past years I felt like reflexively accusing conservatives of racism was a political weapon — a charge the left knew was false but which they thought might be politically advantageous. I’m now more of the view that those on the left actually view conservatives and Republicans as animated by malign intentions. For them, the personal is political. It’s not enough to disagree with Republicans; they cannot help but demonize those who hold views different than their own. Politics pits the Children of Light against the Children of Darkness. It is all very adolescent and very Manichean, and it is all quite harmful to politics.

This mindset exists among some on the right, to be sure, and where it does it should be confronted. But as a general matter conservatives tend to ascribe less cosmic importance to politics than do progressives. In any event, the bile that emanates from many liberal quarters is getting worse, not better. It is a consuming rage. And over time, it disfigures the heart and soul of those who are imprisoned by it.

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Abbas Wastes No Time Humiliating His Western Supporters

Going into yesterday’s UN vote on upgrading Palestinian status at the world body, the Palestinian Authority received a fair amount of support from Israeli political figures, including former prime minister Ehud Olmert and former deputy defense minister Ephraim Sneh. Western European leaders also supported Mahmoud Abbas’s UN stunt as a way to possibly break the peace process out of its slumber. And in an utterly predictable move, the Palestinians announced as soon as the vote was tallied that they plan to make their Israeli and Western supporters look foolish.

The New York Times reports on the “day after” in Abbas’s world, and explains why negotiations are at an impasse: “Negotiations for a two-state solution have been stalled with the Palestinians, who insist on a halt to settlement building. The Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, says he is ready for negotiations without preconditions and has refused to renew a temporary freeze that expired in 2010.” There’s that genius idea of President Obama’s still haunting negotiations: the curse of the “preconditions.” Now that we know precondition demands by the Palestinians are holding up negotiations, will the UN vote change that? “With the new emphasis on the territory as occupied, Palestinian officials said, the demand for a settlement freeze was unlikely to be dropped,” the Times continues. So yesterday’s vote will make it less likely the Palestinians will return to the negotiating table.

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Going into yesterday’s UN vote on upgrading Palestinian status at the world body, the Palestinian Authority received a fair amount of support from Israeli political figures, including former prime minister Ehud Olmert and former deputy defense minister Ephraim Sneh. Western European leaders also supported Mahmoud Abbas’s UN stunt as a way to possibly break the peace process out of its slumber. And in an utterly predictable move, the Palestinians announced as soon as the vote was tallied that they plan to make their Israeli and Western supporters look foolish.

The New York Times reports on the “day after” in Abbas’s world, and explains why negotiations are at an impasse: “Negotiations for a two-state solution have been stalled with the Palestinians, who insist on a halt to settlement building. The Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, says he is ready for negotiations without preconditions and has refused to renew a temporary freeze that expired in 2010.” There’s that genius idea of President Obama’s still haunting negotiations: the curse of the “preconditions.” Now that we know precondition demands by the Palestinians are holding up negotiations, will the UN vote change that? “With the new emphasis on the territory as occupied, Palestinian officials said, the demand for a settlement freeze was unlikely to be dropped,” the Times continues. So yesterday’s vote will make it less likely the Palestinians will return to the negotiating table.

Let’s not forget the full extent of the disaster brought on the peace process by Obama’s freeze precondition; as Omri Ceren pointed out here last year, it ended up weakening rather than boosting Abbas, who found that it wasn’t so easy for him to climb down from the limb on which Obama had deserted him. Abbas apparently still thinks he can’t climb down.

But it will be interesting to see now how the Western supporters of Abbas’s UN move will react to this. Abbas is threatening not to come back to the negotiating table, which would debunk these supporters’ claims that the UN move would be good for the peace process. They may be tempted to push Netanyahu to accept Abbas’s preconditions–but that is the reason for the impasse in the first place. And they shouldn’t forget the can of worms they opened when they supported preconditions last time: every time Netanyahu appeared willing to consider preconditions, Abbas added to them, because the preconditions are designed to disrupt and prevent negotiations, not enable them.

Maybe Abbas will have a change of heart. But it appears for now that Abbas took everyone for a ride, and that Olmert and his ideological allies on the Israeli and Western left miscalculated. Go figure.

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Rice Has Investments in Iranian-Linked Energy Companies

Susan Rice may have more problems than just the Benghazi talking points. The potential secretary of state nominee also holds investments in energy companies that have done business with Iran, reports the Washington Free Beacon’s Adam Kredo:

The portfolio of embattled United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice includes investments of hundreds of thousands of dollars in several energy companies known for doing business with Iran, according to financial disclosure forms.

Rice, a possible nominee to replace Secretary of State Hillary Clinton when she steps down, has come under criticism for promulgating erroneous information about the September 11, 2012, attacks in Benghazi, Libya, that killed four Americans. …

The companies in question appear to have conducted business with Tehran well after Western governments began to urge divestment from the rogue nation, which has continued to enrich uranium near levels needed to build a nuclear bomb.

Financial disclosures reveal that Rice has had $50,001-$100,000 in Royal Dutch Shell, a longtime purchaser of Iranian crude oil. Royal Dutch Shell currently owes Iran nearly $1 billion in back payments for crude oil that it purchased before Western economic sanctions crippled Tehran’s ability to process oil payments, Reuters reported.

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Susan Rice may have more problems than just the Benghazi talking points. The potential secretary of state nominee also holds investments in energy companies that have done business with Iran, reports the Washington Free Beacon’s Adam Kredo:

The portfolio of embattled United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice includes investments of hundreds of thousands of dollars in several energy companies known for doing business with Iran, according to financial disclosure forms.

Rice, a possible nominee to replace Secretary of State Hillary Clinton when she steps down, has come under criticism for promulgating erroneous information about the September 11, 2012, attacks in Benghazi, Libya, that killed four Americans. …

The companies in question appear to have conducted business with Tehran well after Western governments began to urge divestment from the rogue nation, which has continued to enrich uranium near levels needed to build a nuclear bomb.

Financial disclosures reveal that Rice has had $50,001-$100,000 in Royal Dutch Shell, a longtime purchaser of Iranian crude oil. Royal Dutch Shell currently owes Iran nearly $1 billion in back payments for crude oil that it purchased before Western economic sanctions crippled Tehran’s ability to process oil payments, Reuters reported.

Some of the companies, including Rice’s largest holding, Royal Dutch Shell, have stopped doing business with Iran but still owe debts to the country. It’s still a concern that Rice kept those investments, and I imagine she’ll have to get rid of them — or better yet, set up a blind trust — if she’s nominated.

The Washington Post reports that information about Rice’s Iran-linked investments was circulated by Republicans on the Hill, and promoted quietly by Democratic staffers, who suggested it would hold up her nomination:

On Thursday, Republicans on Capitol Hill began circulating information about Rice’s investments connected to Iran. Asked about the disclosure revelations, one senior GOP official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to discuss the topic, said, “This news adds to the list of questions about Susan Rice — not only her public statements, but now there are broader concerns about her past record.” Democratic staffers also said on condition of anonymity for the same reason that the investments would prompt questions of her if she is nominated.

Another play by John Kerry supporters? Senate Republicans have appeared to be lobbying for their colleague Kerry — another top candidate for secretary of state — over Rice for the past week. The investment story could hurt Rice with conservative hawks and Israel supporters, so it’s notable it broke the same day as Rice’s aggressive defense of Israel at the UN. She seems to be the favored candidate for mainstream Jewish and pro-Israel groups, and it will be interesting to see what impact, if any, this revelation has on that.

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The Point of an Insulting Offer

On “Special Report” last night, Charles Krauthammer explained why Republicans are right to reject Tim Geithner’s “fiscal cliff” offer (via NRO’s Eliana Johnson):

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On “Special Report” last night, Charles Krauthammer explained why Republicans are right to reject Tim Geithner’s “fiscal cliff” offer (via NRO’s Eliana Johnson):

“This is almost unheard of. I mean, what do they expect? They obviously expect the Republicans will cave on everything. I think the Republicans ought to simply walk away. The president is the president, he’s the leader. They are demanding that Republicans explain all the cuts that they want to make. We had that movie a year and a half ago, where Paul Ryan presented the budget, a serious, real budget with real cuts. Obama was supposed to give a speech at which he would respond with a counter-offer. And what did he do? He gave a speech where he had Ryan sitting in the front row. He called the Ryan proposal un-American, insulted him, offered nothing, and ran on Mediscare in the next 18 months. And they expect Republicans are going to do this again?

Republicans are going to walk on this. And I think they have leverage. Yes, for congressional Democrats, it will help them in the future if Republicans absorb the blame, because we’re going to have a recession. But Obama’s not running again, unlike congressional Democrats. He’s going to have a recession, 9 percent unemployment, 2 million more unemployed, and a second-term that’s going to be a ruin. That is not a good proposition.”

The administration’s “offer” — $1.6 trillion in tax increases (twice as much as the GOP suggested it would accept) and another stimulus deal and Congress gives up its power to control the debt ceiling — is insulting. Either the administration wrongly thinks starting with a laughable offer is going to end in a fantastic final deal for them, or it doesn’t want to reach a deal at all.

If the former is true, then Obama really is clueless about how to negotiate. Presenting a ridiculous first offer — especially after Republicans indicated they were willing to compromise on tax revenues — is not the way to kick off the process. It is the way to insult the recipient, create an adversarial environment, advertise your lack of seriousness, and potentially shut down any hope of reaching a deal acceptable to both sides.

And that may be the point. Krauthammer is right that Obama is going to be faced with the fallout of going over the fiscal cliff during his last term. But maybe Obama doesn’t really care about the fallout. If his goal is to crush congressional Republicans and help Democrats win back the House in 2014 — which would allow him to push through more of his legislative agenda — then going off the cliff may be exactly what he wants to do.

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Palestinians Still Embrace Spirit of 1947

The vote to upgrade the Palestinian Authority’s status at the United Nations today is being conducted on the world body’s annual Day of Solidarity with Palestinians. That is, as PA head Mahmoud Abbas helpfully pointed out in his speech to the General Assembly, the anniversary of the 1947 UN vote to partition Palestine. Along with other anti-Israel speakers during this debate, he noted that the Palestinian people have suffered during the intervening decades and that it was an injustice that they had been denied a state. Yet he and others who spoke on his behalf failed to explain that failure to create a Palestinian Arab state alongside Israel at that time was not due to the intransigence of the Jews, West Bank settlements, or obstruction from the West. It was the Palestinians themselves as well as their allies throughout the Arab and Muslim world that absolutely refused to contemplate a plan that would have created an Arab state next to the new Jewish one.

This is not merely a piece of historical trivia that is irrelevant to the farce that was played out in New York in which a corrupt, undemocratic and discredited Fatah regime was honored as if it were a legitimate sovereign. It is, in fact, crucial to understanding what happened during the last 65 years. The main truth about this conflict has always been guided by one fact: neither the Palestinians nor their backers were willing then to acknowledge the rights of the Jews. It is only now after decades of intransigence that the Arabs say they want a state. But the common thread from 1947 to today’s debate is the willingness of much of the world to delegitimize Jewish rights and to bypass negotiations. Just as the Arabs refused to deal with the Jews then, Abbas, as well as the leaders of Hamas who control the independent Palestinian state in Gaza, won’t negotiate with Israel. Though many of the nations that voted in favor of today’s resolution claimed they were hoping to speed up a two-state solution to the conflict, what they did was to enable a continuation of that same spirit of Arab intransigence of 1947 that made war inevitable.

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The vote to upgrade the Palestinian Authority’s status at the United Nations today is being conducted on the world body’s annual Day of Solidarity with Palestinians. That is, as PA head Mahmoud Abbas helpfully pointed out in his speech to the General Assembly, the anniversary of the 1947 UN vote to partition Palestine. Along with other anti-Israel speakers during this debate, he noted that the Palestinian people have suffered during the intervening decades and that it was an injustice that they had been denied a state. Yet he and others who spoke on his behalf failed to explain that failure to create a Palestinian Arab state alongside Israel at that time was not due to the intransigence of the Jews, West Bank settlements, or obstruction from the West. It was the Palestinians themselves as well as their allies throughout the Arab and Muslim world that absolutely refused to contemplate a plan that would have created an Arab state next to the new Jewish one.

This is not merely a piece of historical trivia that is irrelevant to the farce that was played out in New York in which a corrupt, undemocratic and discredited Fatah regime was honored as if it were a legitimate sovereign. It is, in fact, crucial to understanding what happened during the last 65 years. The main truth about this conflict has always been guided by one fact: neither the Palestinians nor their backers were willing then to acknowledge the rights of the Jews. It is only now after decades of intransigence that the Arabs say they want a state. But the common thread from 1947 to today’s debate is the willingness of much of the world to delegitimize Jewish rights and to bypass negotiations. Just as the Arabs refused to deal with the Jews then, Abbas, as well as the leaders of Hamas who control the independent Palestinian state in Gaza, won’t negotiate with Israel. Though many of the nations that voted in favor of today’s resolution claimed they were hoping to speed up a two-state solution to the conflict, what they did was to enable a continuation of that same spirit of Arab intransigence of 1947 that made war inevitable.

Of course, few in 1947 or even in the years after that would speak of the need for a Palestinian Arab state. Their goal then was much simpler: to deny the Jews a state no matter how tiny its area or constricted its borders might be. It was that goal that caused the Palestinians to fight their Jewish neighbors and to invite the intervention of five neighboring Arab states that invaded the territory of the former Mandate for Palestine on the day that Israel was born.

Nor was there much talk about what an injustice it was that there was no Palestinian state in the next 19 years when Egypt ruled Gaza and Jordan illegally occupied the West Bank and parts of Jerusalem. Then the only injustice mentioned was that there was a Jewish state in that area which we now refer to as “pre-1967 Israel.” Indeed, during that period pressure was put upon Israel to retreat from those borders to accommodate Arab claims and to accept the return of hundreds of thousands of Arab refugees to the country (a number that has now improbably grown to 5 million according to UN agencies) so as to swamp the new nation with no reference to the hundreds of thousands of Jews who were forced to flee Arab countries at that time. It was only after the Six-Day War that the clamor for a separate Palestinian state gained support in the Arab world, let alone the rest of the globe.

However, we are told now that the Palestinians repent their 1947 folly and only wish to exercise sovereignty in the lands Israel took from Egypt and Jordan in 1967. Leaving aside the fact that under international law, Jews have the same right to live in the West Bank and Jerusalem as Palestinians, Israel is asked to withdraw from these territories to allow the Arabs to rectify their mistake in rejecting a state.

But just like in 1947, the Palestinians won’t negotiate with the Israelis or compromise on points where both sides have competing rights. Nor are they willing to agree to respect the right of Jews to live in peace alongside them. Though Abbas paid lip service to a two-state solution today, the only rights he is interested in protecting are the rights of Palestinians to shoot rockets at Israelis.

For all of the talk about justice, the Palestinian nationalism of 2012 is remarkably similar in many ways to that of 1947. At that time, it had only been a few years since Palestinians openly sided with the Nazis in World War II. (As Caroline Glick notes, yesterday was the anniversary of the historic 1941 meeting in Berlin between Adolf Hitler and Palestinian leader Haj Amin el Husseini at which they shared their dreams for the annihilation of the Jews). The goal of the war to destroy Israel wasn’t to carve out room for yet another Arab state but to extinguish the Jewish presence in the land.

The same eliminationist spirit is to be found in the Hamas covenant as well as in the nonstop drumbeat of anti-Jewish incitement that can be found in the Palestinian media in Gaza as well as Abbas’s West Bank, Egypt and much of the rest of the Arab and Muslim world. Though Abbas makes the obligatory bow to the reality of Israel in his remarks to Western forums, the PA’s official media is as bad as that of the Islamists of Hamas when it comes to hate speech about Jews. That is echoed in the United Nations that chose the anniversary of partition not to celebrate the rights of Jews and Arabs but as the Day of Solidarity with the Palestinians. It, too, has bought into the myth of the “Nakba” in which Israel is viewed as the “disaster” which was imposed on the Middle East.

So long as Palestinian nationalism is based on the negation of Israel rather than a positive vision for themselves, peace is impossible. While the UN vote won’t change much of anything on the ground, there should be no mistake about the basic continuity between the Arab positions of 1947 and today.

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Susan Rice at UN: Resolution Can’t Create State Where None Exists

The UN resolution giving Palestinians nonmember state status passed easily 138 to nine, with 41 abstentions*, a reminder of what a sad joke the United Nations General Assembly is. During the floor speeches, both Canada and the U.S. came to Israel’s defense, with Ambassador Susan Rice vigorously objecting to the resolution.

“Progress toward a just and lasting two-state solution cannot be made by pressing a green voting button in this hall,” said Rice. “Nor does passing a resolution create a state where none exists, or change the reality on the ground. This resolution does not establish that Palestine is a state.”

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The UN resolution giving Palestinians nonmember state status passed easily 138 to nine, with 41 abstentions*, a reminder of what a sad joke the United Nations General Assembly is. During the floor speeches, both Canada and the U.S. came to Israel’s defense, with Ambassador Susan Rice vigorously objecting to the resolution.

“Progress toward a just and lasting two-state solution cannot be made by pressing a green voting button in this hall,” said Rice. “Nor does passing a resolution create a state where none exists, or change the reality on the ground. This resolution does not establish that Palestine is a state.”

Rice emphasized that the resolution would only set back the chances of reaching a two-state solution. “Today’s grand pronouncements will soon fade and the Palestinian people will wake up tomorrow and find that little about their lives have changed,” she said.

The ambassador added that the only way forward was through direct negotiation between both parties.

“There simply are no short cuts,” said Rice. “Long after the votes are cast, long after the speeches have been forgotten, it is the Palestinians and Israelis that still must talk to each other and listen to each other and find a way to live together side by side in the land they share.”

Rice’s remarks were notably strong, and could help her win points with Republicans and conservative pro-Israel groups ahead of her potential nomination for secretary of state.

*Fixed from earlier when I wrote it passed 138 to 41. Final tally was 138 to 9, with 41 abstentions.

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The UN’s Freudian Tweet

Today the official account for the United Nations made a hilarious and telling error in advance of the UN General Assembly vote on granting Palestinians non-member state observer status. The account, which has over a million followers, tweeted at 11 a.m.:

UN Tweet

The tweet stayed online for more than 30 minutes, followed by a correction stressing a two-state solution. The social media manager for the UN, Nancy Groves, explained to Twitter users, “Sorry all — terrible typo on my part and then went into a telephone conference call before catching it.” And: “Wish I had caught it sooner.” 

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Today the official account for the United Nations made a hilarious and telling error in advance of the UN General Assembly vote on granting Palestinians non-member state observer status. The account, which has over a million followers, tweeted at 11 a.m.:

UN Tweet

The tweet stayed online for more than 30 minutes, followed by a correction stressing a two-state solution. The social media manager for the UN, Nancy Groves, explained to Twitter users, “Sorry all — terrible typo on my part and then went into a telephone conference call before catching it.” And: “Wish I had caught it sooner.” 

The Blaze called it the typo that has the “Palestinians furious.” Given the overwhelming vote in the UNGA today for Palestinian statehood (138 for, 9 against and 41 abstentions), if any group should be certain about being the one state left standing, it’s the Palestinians, not the Israelis.

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A Fine Mess at Foggy Bottom

Lost in all the speculation about the next secretary of state is the degree to which Foggy Bottom will need someone who can put the pieces back together. While Hillary Clinton coasted for much of her term on the good press that comes with being a Clinton, until the last couple of months she was having a decidedly average run as secretary of state. But the Benghazi debacle–which was in large part the result of Clinton’s incompetence and lack of attention–followed by the expected defection of most of our European allies at the UN vote on the Palestinians today, reveals a State Department marked by ineptitude and surprising irrelevance.

To be sure, as the New York Times has thoroughly documented, diplomacy has always been one of President Obama’s more glaring weaknesses. But the well funded, high-profile State Department’s mission is to be the public face of American diplomacy, and should at least be able to keep the support of our allies. But the reported decision by Germany, France, Italy, and Britain to abandon the U.S., Canada, and Israel at the UN today left Israeli diplomats proclaiming: “We lost Europe”–to say nothing of Washington’s inability to prevent Mahmoud Abbas from going forward with this stunt in the first place:

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Lost in all the speculation about the next secretary of state is the degree to which Foggy Bottom will need someone who can put the pieces back together. While Hillary Clinton coasted for much of her term on the good press that comes with being a Clinton, until the last couple of months she was having a decidedly average run as secretary of state. But the Benghazi debacle–which was in large part the result of Clinton’s incompetence and lack of attention–followed by the expected defection of most of our European allies at the UN vote on the Palestinians today, reveals a State Department marked by ineptitude and surprising irrelevance.

To be sure, as the New York Times has thoroughly documented, diplomacy has always been one of President Obama’s more glaring weaknesses. But the well funded, high-profile State Department’s mission is to be the public face of American diplomacy, and should at least be able to keep the support of our allies. But the reported decision by Germany, France, Italy, and Britain to abandon the U.S., Canada, and Israel at the UN today left Israeli diplomats proclaiming: “We lost Europe”–to say nothing of Washington’s inability to prevent Mahmoud Abbas from going forward with this stunt in the first place:

The United States, Israel’s closest ally, mounted an aggressive campaign to head off the General Assembly vote.

In a last-ditch move Wednesday, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State William Burns made a personal appeal to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas promising that President Barack Obama would re-engage as a mediator in 2013 if Abbas abandoned the effort to seek statehood. The Palestinian leader refused, said Abbas aide Saeb Erekat….

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned Wednesday that the U.N. vote will not fulfill the goal of independent Palestinian and Israeli states living side by side in peace, which the U.S. strongly supports because that requires direct negotiations.

“We need an environment conducive to that,” she told reporters in Washington. “And we’ve urged both parties to refrain from actions that might in any way make a return to meaningful negotiations that focus on getting to a resolution more difficult.”

I’m not sure who the fact that Clinton’s State Department is falling to pieces benefits, Susan Rice or John Kerry. On the one hand, Rice’s inexperience and tendency to clash with those around her would seem to argue against her being the best choice to fix things at Foggy Bottom. On the other hand, inflicting John Kerry upon the world doesn’t seem likely to win us back any of the goodwill we’re looking for.

Additionally, either one would have the challenge of serving under Obama; it’s notable that when Burns begged Abbas not to do this, and offered a re-engaged Obama in return, Abbas found nothing remotely enticing about the offer.

One more bit of irony about all this: the one political figure in this episode who followed Obama’s recommendations was Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Netanyahu agreed–wisely–not to punish the Palestinian Authority for its UN gambit. And Netanyahu has been offering to negotiate with the Palestinians face to face with no preconditions for some time now, so if and when the rest of the world decides to work with Obama again, Netanyahu will be ready and waiting.

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Despite UN Charade, Hamas Cashing In

Today is Mahmoud Abbas’s big day at the United Nations, as the Palestinian Authority’s Third World allies and Western sympathizers are uniting to throw the Fatah leader a bone in the form of an upgrade in the group’s status at the world body. The symbolism of this move, especially since it is timed to occur on the 65th anniversary of the 1947 UN vote to partition Palestine, is not without some value to those that think the recognition of the PA’s rights in the territory the Jewish state conquered in 1967 is a step toward forcing more Israeli withdrawals. But the talk about the PA being the government of an independent Palestinian state, even on that only exists in theory, is an escape from reality, not a look into the future. That’s because the people that already run an independent Palestinian state have their eyes on Abbas’s rotten borough in the West Bank and are planning to put it under different management.

While Abbas is taking a bow at the charade in New York where he will behave as the head of a virtual state, one of the leaders of the rival Hamas movement was talking about a merger with Fatah that would put the Islamists on course to run the West Bank. As the New York Times reports, Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal spoke from his new headquarters in Doha, Qatar today and declared his intention to step up efforts to finally forge a unity agreement with Fatah. Though the two groups have been dancing around an accord for more than a year, the decision by Hamas to re-launch the effort in the wake of its missile offensive against Israel is no coincidence. Having gained ground in terms of popularity among Palestinians in the only way one can in their political culture — via violence — Hamas is about to cash in its chips and seek to win control of the West Bank by more peaceful means.

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Today is Mahmoud Abbas’s big day at the United Nations, as the Palestinian Authority’s Third World allies and Western sympathizers are uniting to throw the Fatah leader a bone in the form of an upgrade in the group’s status at the world body. The symbolism of this move, especially since it is timed to occur on the 65th anniversary of the 1947 UN vote to partition Palestine, is not without some value to those that think the recognition of the PA’s rights in the territory the Jewish state conquered in 1967 is a step toward forcing more Israeli withdrawals. But the talk about the PA being the government of an independent Palestinian state, even on that only exists in theory, is an escape from reality, not a look into the future. That’s because the people that already run an independent Palestinian state have their eyes on Abbas’s rotten borough in the West Bank and are planning to put it under different management.

While Abbas is taking a bow at the charade in New York where he will behave as the head of a virtual state, one of the leaders of the rival Hamas movement was talking about a merger with Fatah that would put the Islamists on course to run the West Bank. As the New York Times reports, Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal spoke from his new headquarters in Doha, Qatar today and declared his intention to step up efforts to finally forge a unity agreement with Fatah. Though the two groups have been dancing around an accord for more than a year, the decision by Hamas to re-launch the effort in the wake of its missile offensive against Israel is no coincidence. Having gained ground in terms of popularity among Palestinians in the only way one can in their political culture — via violence — Hamas is about to cash in its chips and seek to win control of the West Bank by more peaceful means.

Meshaal is seeking to seal a unity deal by having Hamas included in new elections for the Palestine Liberation Organization, the alliance of terrorist groups headed by Yasir Arafat that signed the Oslo Accords with Israel. The Times reports that Meshaal will be given a senior post in the PLO via appointment by Abbas or a vote by its governing council. That will set in motion a train of events that could leave Hamas gaining control of the West Bank by winning an election just as its victory in the Palestinian legislative elections preceded the violent coup by which it seized the Gaza in 2006.

That puts Hamas in the awkward position of attempting to run the Palestinian Authority even though it was created as a result of the peace accord with Israel. But that seeming contradiction doesn’t worry Meshaal or anybody else in Hamas. They are committed to “resistance” against Israel and have no plans of recognizing it or working toward peace. But it does put them in position to establish its dominance via the ballot box.

The reason why Abbas is currently serving the eighth year of a four-year term as president of the PA is that he has always rightly feared defeat if Hamas was given a chance to unseat him. But he knows that dissatisfaction with his rule is growing and that it might be smarter to deal with Hamas now while he still has some leverage over them rather than later on when he might have none. Though consummation of the unity deal is a long way off, the Islamist group knows that if it plays its cards right, sooner or later it could be running things in Ramallah the way it currently does in Gaza.

The bottom line here is that those who think today’s vote will give Abbas the strength he needs to hold off Hamas are not paying attention to what is going on in the region. Though Fatah’s friends in Europe think they can keep him afloat, Hamas’s backing from Egypt and Turkey and the financial and military support they get from Iran have changed the balance of forces in Palestinian politics. A symbolic vote isn’t convincing anyone that Fatah rather than Hamas is the face of Palestinian nationalism. Though Abbas is having a good day in New York, it is Meshaal and the rest of Hamas that is about to reap the benefits of the Arab–or should we say, Islamist–Spring that is threatening to plunge the Middle East into more darkness.

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Fairness and Demagogy

The Wall Street Journal has a lead editorial today describing how companies are rushing to send out dividends in 2012 to avoid what will almost certainly be much higher taxes on dividends next year. Right now dividends are taxed at 15 percent. If the Bush tax cuts simply expire on January 1, then dividends will be taxed as ordinary income, up to 39.6 percent. For someone earning over $250,000, the tax rate on “unearned income”—a phrase that is pure, undiluted demagogy—will be 43.4 percent, as those people will be slapped with a 3.8-percent surcharge on dividends and capital gains to help pay for Obamacare.

This rush to pay dividends early is about as predictable as the sun rising in the east. Just consider: Costco is issuing a special dividend of $7 a share. If it is paid on December 31, the owner of 1,000 shares (worth $102,580 as of yesterday’s close) would owe taxes amounting to $1,050 on the $7,000 in dividend income. Paid on January 1, however, someone in the top bracket would owe $3,038 in taxes on that dividend.

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The Wall Street Journal has a lead editorial today describing how companies are rushing to send out dividends in 2012 to avoid what will almost certainly be much higher taxes on dividends next year. Right now dividends are taxed at 15 percent. If the Bush tax cuts simply expire on January 1, then dividends will be taxed as ordinary income, up to 39.6 percent. For someone earning over $250,000, the tax rate on “unearned income”—a phrase that is pure, undiluted demagogy—will be 43.4 percent, as those people will be slapped with a 3.8-percent surcharge on dividends and capital gains to help pay for Obamacare.

This rush to pay dividends early is about as predictable as the sun rising in the east. Just consider: Costco is issuing a special dividend of $7 a share. If it is paid on December 31, the owner of 1,000 shares (worth $102,580 as of yesterday’s close) would owe taxes amounting to $1,050 on the $7,000 in dividend income. Paid on January 1, however, someone in the top bracket would owe $3,038 in taxes on that dividend.

Also as predictable as the sun will be a large fall-off in dividends next year. Quite possibly federal revenues from taxes on dividends in 2013 will be lower than they will be for 2012, despite the higher rates. President Obama has already said that that’s OK, in the interest of “fairness.” Fairness—or the liberal version thereof—is more important than actually doing something about the oncoming fiscal crisis.

But, of course, there’s nothing fair about it. Dividends are paid out of after-tax corporate income. That’s why the British—not exactly famous for coddling the rich when it comes to taxes—give people a 28-percent credit on dividend income, equal to the British corporate tax rate. (Ours is 35 percent, the highest in the world.) So if you count the corporate rate plus the personal rate, dividends will be taxed at up to 63.21 percent. So why bother to issue them at all, when they will be effectively confiscated?

Giving a tax credit like the British would be one way to make the taxation on dividends really fair. Another way would be to make dividends a deductible expense for the corporation, just as the interest paid on corporate bonds is deductible. Then tax that income at the personal level as ordinary income, just as the interest in bonds is so taxed. This would not only be fair, it would eliminate the bias in favor of raising capital through debt rather than equity that is the inevitable result of higher taxes on dividends than on interest payments.

Of course, it would also eliminate an opportunity for liberals—who care as much about fairness as a pig cares about Mozart—to demagogue an issue while the fiscal house burns.

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Lawmakers Call for Cuts to UN, PA

The UN General Assembly meets for the vote to upgrade the Palestinians’ status at 3 p.m. today, which will almost certainly pass. But both the UN and the Palestinians have little to gain from a successful vote, and a lot to lose. Senator Orrin Hatch has already filed an amendment to the upcoming defense bill that would abolish UN funding if the status change is approved: 

Ahead of the vote, Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch filed an amendment to a defense bill that would eliminate funding for the United Nations if the General Assembly changes Palestine’s status.

“Increasing the Palestinians’ role in the United Nations is absolutely the wrong approach, especially in light of recent military developments in the Middle East,” he said in a statement. “Israel is one of America’s closest allies, and any movement to strengthen one of its fiercest enemies must not be tolerated.”

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The UN General Assembly meets for the vote to upgrade the Palestinians’ status at 3 p.m. today, which will almost certainly pass. But both the UN and the Palestinians have little to gain from a successful vote, and a lot to lose. Senator Orrin Hatch has already filed an amendment to the upcoming defense bill that would abolish UN funding if the status change is approved: 

Ahead of the vote, Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch filed an amendment to a defense bill that would eliminate funding for the United Nations if the General Assembly changes Palestine’s status.

“Increasing the Palestinians’ role in the United Nations is absolutely the wrong approach, especially in light of recent military developments in the Middle East,” he said in a statement. “Israel is one of America’s closest allies, and any movement to strengthen one of its fiercest enemies must not be tolerated.”

Senator John Barrasso has submitted a different amendment to the defense bill, which would slash U.S. aid to the Palestinian Authority by 50 percent, and U.S. aid to any UN member country that votes for the status change by 20 percent. Barrasso writes at NRO:

Yesterday, I introduced an amendment to the Senate defense bill that makes it clear that undermining the peace process comes at a cost. My amendment will specifically cut 50 percent of the total U.S. funds to the Palestinian Authority and also to any U.N. entity that grants the Palestinians a status change. It also reduces by 20 percent all U.S. foreign assistance to any country voting for the status change.

The Palestinians have a history of trying to use outside groups like the U.N. to skirt the peace process. In 2011, the Palestinians sought membership in UNESCO, and got it. This automatically triggered legal restrictions on U.S. financial support, and the Obama administration was forced to cut aid to UNESCO.

At the beginning of this year, the Obama administration irresponsibly changed course and said that it would try to waive these restrictions. It signaled that the United Nations can continue to undermine that peace process with impunity and raised questions about President Obama’s support for Israel. Today’s U.N. vote is a direct consequence of the administration’s record of mixed signals about the peace process.

And that’s just from the Senate. If the vote goes through, we’ll likely see similar proposals from House Republicans, who hardly need another reason to object to UN funding or foreign aid to the PA.

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Palestinian UN Bid Not About Peace

With the Palestinian Authority all but certain to have its status at the United Nations upgraded this evening to nonmember observer state, some who call themselves friends of Israel as well as some prominent Israelis are applauding the initiative. In particular, former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has said he does not oppose the move by his former negotiating partner, PA head Mahmoud Abbas. Olmert says the vote will promote a two-state solution and help Palestinian moderates in their quest to make peace with Israel. But Olmert, whose attempt to give Abbas pretty much everything he had asked for in 2008 resulted in the Palestinian fleeing the U.S.-sponsored talks without even responding to the offer of a state, seems more interested in vainly seeking to undermine his successor Benjamin Netanyahu than drawing conclusions from his own experience.

The show at the UN is about a number of things, but advancing the chances for peace between Israel and the Palestinians isn’t one of them.

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With the Palestinian Authority all but certain to have its status at the United Nations upgraded this evening to nonmember observer state, some who call themselves friends of Israel as well as some prominent Israelis are applauding the initiative. In particular, former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has said he does not oppose the move by his former negotiating partner, PA head Mahmoud Abbas. Olmert says the vote will promote a two-state solution and help Palestinian moderates in their quest to make peace with Israel. But Olmert, whose attempt to give Abbas pretty much everything he had asked for in 2008 resulted in the Palestinian fleeing the U.S.-sponsored talks without even responding to the offer of a state, seems more interested in vainly seeking to undermine his successor Benjamin Netanyahu than drawing conclusions from his own experience.

The show at the UN is about a number of things, but advancing the chances for peace between Israel and the Palestinians isn’t one of them.

The decision of most European countries to line up behind the PA seems to be based on the same reasoning put forward by Olmert. They think that after Hamas’s attention-getting terrorist missile offensive against Israel it is necessary for those who would prefer the PA to lead the Palestinians rather than the Islamists to give Abbas a shot in the arm. The win today in New York will give him that, but the vote shouldn’t be mistaken for anything that will advance peace. In fact, the whole point of the exercise is to help Abbas avoid being cornered into a negotiation like the one he abandoned with Olmert.

Understanding this requires observers to stop their myopic obsession with Israel and to focus on the real obstacle to a two-state solution: the inability of the PA to ever sign an accord that will accept the legitimacy of a Jewish state alongside a Palestinian state no matter where its borders are drawn.

Netanyahu’s critics consistently decry his lack of a long-term strategy for dealing with the Palestinians and achieving peace. In a sense they’re right, since the prime minister and most Israelis don’t believe peace is possible in the immediate or perhaps even the foreseeable future because of the PA’s refusal to negotiate or to contemplate the sort of compromises needed for an agreement.

But the PA can justly be accused of the same thing. Abbas has no long-term strategy, since he won’t or can’t make peace with even an Israeli leader like Olmert who was willing to make drastic concessions, and doesn’t want to return to fighting the Israelis as his predecessor Yasir Arafat did during the second intifada and as Hamas continues to do.

All Abbas can do is to hang on in the West Bank. His strategy is to avoid elections that he might lose to the increasingly popular Hamas while also evading peace talks with the Israelis while also seeking to maintain a security relationship with the Jewish state that keeps his corrupt and discredited regime in place.

The show at the UN is perfect for Abbas since it does nothing to hinder those objects, especially since the Israelis have wisely decided not to retaliate for his stunt.

The problem for the PA will come next year as a re-elected President Obama will likely attempt to revive a peace process that Abbas has spent the last four years dodging. By then, the UN vote will be just one more propaganda move that will heighten Israel’s diplomatic isolation but achieve nothing tangible for Palestinians. Meanwhile, Hamas continues to rule a real independent Palestinian state in all but name that makes Abbas’s Ramallah outfit look like Israeli puppets.

Those expecting today’s vote will do anything to advance the moribund talks are dreaming, and not just because the upgrade will make mischief for Israel in international forums. Peace talks are the last thing Abbas wants.

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Why Is Gen. Allen Still Under Investigation?

General John Allen is now back in Kabul, directing a major military campaign involving 68,000 U.S. troops and 37,000 allied troops. But he would have to be superhuman to keep his focus entirely on the war effort, for he is still under fire from the home front. According to the New York Times, “some 15 investigators” are “working seven days a week in the Pentagon inspector general’s office,” poring over emails exchanged between Allen and Tampa socialite Jill Kelley, who struck up friendships with many senior military officers.

The question is: Why? Is there some credible evidence that Allen somehow compromised our national security by his interactions with Kelley? Is Kelley suspected of being an al-Qaeda mole? Is Allen suspected of being another Benedict Arnold? Not that I’m aware of. To judge by the numerous leaks that have accompanied this puzzling investigation, an outgrowth of the same investigation that already forced David Petraeus’s resignation as CIA director, the worst that could have occurred is that Allen and Kelley might have exchanged a few emails judged to be flirtatious or even salacious. Is this really a matter that should be occupying the full-time attention of 15 investigators—and diverting the attention of a general in command of a war zone?

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General John Allen is now back in Kabul, directing a major military campaign involving 68,000 U.S. troops and 37,000 allied troops. But he would have to be superhuman to keep his focus entirely on the war effort, for he is still under fire from the home front. According to the New York Times, “some 15 investigators” are “working seven days a week in the Pentagon inspector general’s office,” poring over emails exchanged between Allen and Tampa socialite Jill Kelley, who struck up friendships with many senior military officers.

The question is: Why? Is there some credible evidence that Allen somehow compromised our national security by his interactions with Kelley? Is Kelley suspected of being an al-Qaeda mole? Is Allen suspected of being another Benedict Arnold? Not that I’m aware of. To judge by the numerous leaks that have accompanied this puzzling investigation, an outgrowth of the same investigation that already forced David Petraeus’s resignation as CIA director, the worst that could have occurred is that Allen and Kelley might have exchanged a few emails judged to be flirtatious or even salacious. Is this really a matter that should be occupying the full-time attention of 15 investigators—and diverting the attention of a general in command of a war zone?

Unless there is some bombshell here waiting to explode, the answer is a definitive no. So why did Attorney General Eric Holder and FBI Director Robert Mueller permit the FBI to waste time on this investigation—and why is Defense Secretary Leon Panetta wasting time on it now? I can’t answer those questions, but Congress should ask for itself and demand answers.

The biggest scandal in the whole Petraeus-Allen affair is that we are wasting taxpayer resources hounding two great generals who have dedicated their lives to defending our country over purely personal matters of no concern to their public duties.

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Oren: Media Bias Helps Terrorists

In response to the Washington Post ombudsman’s comparison of Hamas missiles to “bee stings” the other day, Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren took the media to task in WaPo’s opinion section this morning. Oren doesn’t single out ombud Patrick Pexton directly, but it’s clearly implied

Media naturally gravitate toward dramatic and highly visual stories. Reports of 5.5 million Israelis gathered nightly in bomb shelters scarcely compete with the Palestinian father interviewed after losing his son. Both are, of course, newsworthy, but the first tells a more complete story while the second stirs emotions.

This is precisely what Hamas wants. It seeks to instill a visceral disgust for any Israeli act of self-defense, even one taken after years of unprovoked aggression.

Hamas strives to replace the tens of thousands of phone calls and text messages Israel sent to Palestinian civilians, warning them to leave combat zones, with lurid images of Palestinian suffering. If Hamas cannot win the war, it wants to win the story of the war. …

Like Americans, we cherish a free press, but unlike the terrorists, we are not looking for headlines. Our hope is that media resist the temptation to give them what they want.

As Oren writes, this is exactly the kind of coverage that benefits Hamas, and the frustrating part is many journalists don’t seem to have a problem with it. Israel has the right to use force to defend its own people from attacks, but media figures like Pexton act as if any response is out-of-bounds simply because Israel has a strong military.

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In response to the Washington Post ombudsman’s comparison of Hamas missiles to “bee stings” the other day, Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren took the media to task in WaPo’s opinion section this morning. Oren doesn’t single out ombud Patrick Pexton directly, but it’s clearly implied

Media naturally gravitate toward dramatic and highly visual stories. Reports of 5.5 million Israelis gathered nightly in bomb shelters scarcely compete with the Palestinian father interviewed after losing his son. Both are, of course, newsworthy, but the first tells a more complete story while the second stirs emotions.

This is precisely what Hamas wants. It seeks to instill a visceral disgust for any Israeli act of self-defense, even one taken after years of unprovoked aggression.

Hamas strives to replace the tens of thousands of phone calls and text messages Israel sent to Palestinian civilians, warning them to leave combat zones, with lurid images of Palestinian suffering. If Hamas cannot win the war, it wants to win the story of the war. …

Like Americans, we cherish a free press, but unlike the terrorists, we are not looking for headlines. Our hope is that media resist the temptation to give them what they want.

As Oren writes, this is exactly the kind of coverage that benefits Hamas, and the frustrating part is many journalists don’t seem to have a problem with it. Israel has the right to use force to defend its own people from attacks, but media figures like Pexton act as if any response is out-of-bounds simply because Israel has a strong military.

To give an analogy, there are no reliable estimates of Taliban and insurgent casualties in Afghanistan, but the numbers are obviously much larger than the number of fallen NATO forces. Add in the number of Afghan civilian casualties (the majority of them killed by the Taliban and its allies) and that would greatly outweigh the number of NATO fatalities. The Taliban also fights with unsophisticated weapons, improvised explosive devices and Soviet-era rifles, and limited training. Often the Taliban blows up its own fighters while setting up IEDs; in some cases they fail to go off or are detected. Meanwhile, the U.S. has the greatest military the world has ever seen. Not only do NATO troops have access to far superior weapons and training, but billions are spent on counter-IED efforts and protective gear.

Yet serious journalists don’t contrast the number of NATO fatalities with the number of insurgency fatalities (or lump in Afghan civilian deaths with Taliban deaths) without putting it in proper context. They don’t compare the Taliban’s IEDs and small-arms attacks — which have caused horrific NATO casualties — to “bee stings on a bear’s behind.” They don’t describe U.S. defense against insurgency attacks as “disproportionate,” or set it up as a David v. Goliath scenario. 

Hamas is as much a terrorist group as the Taliban, but they are not treated that way by a large portion of the media. As Oren argues, this type of coverage will only encourage more violence from Hamas, not less.

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Obama’s Libya Policy Is a Disaster–and Not Just in Benghazi

Part of the reason Senate foreign policy leaders–such as John McCain, Lindsey Graham, and newcomer Kelly Ayotte, among others–have focused so much attention on Susan Rice in the last few weeks is that it is the first time they have been able to keep the press focused on the story and get answers to the many outstanding questions about the Benghazi attack and its aftermath. On that note, the New York Times has a welcome story today widening the scope. The talking points that Rice is getting grilled over are only part of a larger story that needs telling. But moving this discussion away from the talking points probably won’t make it any easier on the White House.

The death of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three others in Benghazi was a symptom of a larger problem with the administration’s attitude toward the intervention. “Leading from behind” in Libya succeeded in killing Muammar Gaddafi, but the rush to the exits left a lawless country behind. And that condition persists to this day, and shines a light on the myth vs. the reality of President Obama’s strategy in the North African nation. In the third and final presidential debate with Mitt Romney, Obama touted Libya as a success because he seemed to believe that cutting off the head of the snake—Gaddafi—would subdue the unrest in Gaddafi’s wake. When asked about the Benghazi debacle and his larger Libya policy, the president said:

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Part of the reason Senate foreign policy leaders–such as John McCain, Lindsey Graham, and newcomer Kelly Ayotte, among others–have focused so much attention on Susan Rice in the last few weeks is that it is the first time they have been able to keep the press focused on the story and get answers to the many outstanding questions about the Benghazi attack and its aftermath. On that note, the New York Times has a welcome story today widening the scope. The talking points that Rice is getting grilled over are only part of a larger story that needs telling. But moving this discussion away from the talking points probably won’t make it any easier on the White House.

The death of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three others in Benghazi was a symptom of a larger problem with the administration’s attitude toward the intervention. “Leading from behind” in Libya succeeded in killing Muammar Gaddafi, but the rush to the exits left a lawless country behind. And that condition persists to this day, and shines a light on the myth vs. the reality of President Obama’s strategy in the North African nation. In the third and final presidential debate with Mitt Romney, Obama touted Libya as a success because he seemed to believe that cutting off the head of the snake—Gaddafi—would subdue the unrest in Gaddafi’s wake. When asked about the Benghazi debacle and his larger Libya policy, the president said:

But I think it’s important to step back and think about what happened in Libya. Now, keep in mind that I and Americans took leadership in organizing an international coalition that made sure that we were able to — without putting troops on the ground, at the cost of less than what we spent in two weeks in Iraq — liberate a country that had been under the yoke of dictatorship for 40 years, got rid of a despot who had killed Americans.

And as a consequence, despite this tragedy, you had tens of thousands of Libyans after the events in Benghazi marching and saying, America’s our friend. We stand with them. Now that represents the opportunity we have to take advantage of.

Later on in the debate, the discussion turned to Syria, and Romney used the subject as an opportunity to criticize Obama’s lack of leadership on the world stage. Obama changed the subject back to Libya, and gave a very revealing answer:

But you know, going back to Libya, because this is an example of — of how we make choices, you know, when we went into Libya and we were able to immediately stop the massacre there because of the unique circumstances and the coalition that we had helped to organize, we also had to make sure that Moammar Gadhafi didn’t stay there. And to the governor’s credit, you supported us going into Libya and the coalition that we organized. But when it came time to making sure that Gadhafi did not stay in power, that he was captured, Governor, your suggestion was that this was mission creep, that this was mission muddle.

Imagine if we had pulled out at that point. That — Moammar Gadhafi had more American blood on his hands than any individual other than Osama bin Laden. And so we were going to make sure that we finished the job.

To Obama, “finishing the job” meant getting rid of Gaddafi. That was, no doubt, part of the job, but to Obama that was it. Once we got rid of Gaddafi, the mission was over. This is in full concert with the president’s hearty embrace of targeted assassination; it is a definable mission that requires no follow-up.

But picking off terrorists in Yemen or Pakistan or Afghanistan is much different than taking out a head of state. And we are seeing the full consequence of this approach today. Elsewhere in today’s paper, the Times reports that Libya seems frozen in anarchist chaos:

“It is impossible for members of a brigade to arrest another,” said Wanis al-Sharif, the top Interior Ministry official in eastern Libya. “And it would be impossible that I give the order to arrest someone in a militia. Impossible.”

The violence was thrown into sharp relief after the September attack on the United States intelligence and diplomatic villas. Libyan and American officials accused militants associated with Libya’s ubiquitous militias, and specifically, members of Ansar al-Shariah.

“The killing of the ambassador brought back the true reality of this insecure state,” said Ali Tarhouni, a former Libyan finance minister who leads a new political party. “It was a major setback, to this city and its psyche.”

Justice itself is a dangerous notion here and throughout Libya, where a feeble government lacks the power to protect citizens or to confront criminal suspects. It barely has the means to arm its police force, let alone rein in or integrate the militias or confront former rebel fighters suspected of killings.

It seems to me this is a discussion McCain and the others would like to have. As for the administration, widening the discussion may take the heat off of Rice, but it’s doubtful it would make the issue any more comfortable for the White House.

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Will Ryan Lead GOP Resistance to Deal?

As negotiations over a deal on the federal deficit continue, President Obama pressed his advantage with his House Republican antagonists yesterday with his latest speech harping on the need to raise taxes. Though he calls his plan a “balanced approach,” as the New York Times notes today, “the high-profile public campaign he has been waging in recent days has focused almost entirely on the tax side of the equation, with scant talk about his priorities when it comes to curbing spending.” That doesn’t mean that some spending cuts won’t eventually be included in any deal. But with more signs of GOP panic about being blamed for the standoff, the expectation is that the president will get a lot more than he will give in the negotiations with House Speaker John Boehner.

As Politico reports today, the outline of a deal is already in place and few in Washington believe the Republicans will stand their ground when it comes to opposing the raising of rates on wealthier Americans, even if those hikes won’t do much to solve the deficit. Even worse is the possibility that rather than just closing loopholes and eliminating deductions instead of raising rates, what will happen is that the GOP will wind up doing both while failing to extract an agreement on reforming the tax code or an end to out-of-control spending on entitlements.

But if the assumption that Boehner and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor will decide that discretion is the better part of valor and fold in order to avoid the fiscal cliff is correct, that leaves us with the not unimportant question of who it will be that will lead the resistance to such a deal. The answer to that question will tell us a lot about the future of the Republican Party as well as the 2016 presidential race.

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As negotiations over a deal on the federal deficit continue, President Obama pressed his advantage with his House Republican antagonists yesterday with his latest speech harping on the need to raise taxes. Though he calls his plan a “balanced approach,” as the New York Times notes today, “the high-profile public campaign he has been waging in recent days has focused almost entirely on the tax side of the equation, with scant talk about his priorities when it comes to curbing spending.” That doesn’t mean that some spending cuts won’t eventually be included in any deal. But with more signs of GOP panic about being blamed for the standoff, the expectation is that the president will get a lot more than he will give in the negotiations with House Speaker John Boehner.

As Politico reports today, the outline of a deal is already in place and few in Washington believe the Republicans will stand their ground when it comes to opposing the raising of rates on wealthier Americans, even if those hikes won’t do much to solve the deficit. Even worse is the possibility that rather than just closing loopholes and eliminating deductions instead of raising rates, what will happen is that the GOP will wind up doing both while failing to extract an agreement on reforming the tax code or an end to out-of-control spending on entitlements.

But if the assumption that Boehner and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor will decide that discretion is the better part of valor and fold in order to avoid the fiscal cliff is correct, that leaves us with the not unimportant question of who it will be that will lead the resistance to such a deal. The answer to that question will tell us a lot about the future of the Republican Party as well as the 2016 presidential race.

As Politico notes, the wild card in the GOP leadership is Rep. Paul Ryan, who is now back on the Hill in his role as House Budget Committee chair after his stint as Mitt Romney’s vice presidential nominee. Reportedly, Ryan is the sole member of the top House GOP leadership who is still opposed to conceding the argument about raising taxes that his colleagues consider to be inevitable.

If Ryan came out openly against the agreement, it would take the already fractious debate about the direction of the Republican Party to a new level of contentiousness. A full-scale revolt would pit the Tea Party core of the GOP against its more pragmatic leaders with consequences that can’t be entirely predicted. That would be catnip for a liberal media that loves to depict the GOP as extremists. It could also set the stage for a difficult vote in which liberal Democrats might choose to join with conservatives in opposing an Obama-Boehner deal in the hope that sending the country over the cliff would be blamed solely on the Republicans. However, a Ryan-led opposition to a deal would be no pushover, and even the possibility of such a party split might cause Boehner to pull back from a deal that could sunder his caucus and achieve the same results.

A Ryan revolt or even a situation in which he was seen as the one member who kept the GOP true to its principles might also be the first blow in what is sure to be a protracted four-year lead-up to the 2016 presidential contest. By taking a stand now, Ryan would further establish himself as the hero of conservatives and the Tea Party even as he alienated the party’s House leadership. But it is the former rather than the latter that helps picks party nominees.

However, should Ryan decide to go along with Boehner, that won’t mean there won’t be any opposition to a pact with Obama. There will, and it will be angry and loud. But if it falls to someone like Michele Bachmann or a similar Tea Party rabble-rouser, the effect won’t be the same as if Ryan were the standard-bearer. In that case, Boehner would probably prevail. Seen in that light, Ryan’s decision may well decide the fate of any fiscal deal.

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Collins, Corker Not Sold on Susan Rice

Susan Rice is still lobbying hard for that secretary of state post, but she struck out again with Senate Republicans yesterday. After meeting with Rice, Senators Susan Collins and Bob Corker said they still had concerns about her potential nomination:

Corker, who will be the ranking Republican member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in the new congressional term, implied that he considered Rice too much of a partisan and urged Obama to pick a more “independent” person as chief diplomat.

“All of us here hold the secretary of State to a different standard than most Cabinet members,” he said. “We want somebody of independence.”

He implied that Rice, who is close to the president, was, instead, a “loyal soldier.” Corker also seemed to contrast Rice and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, with whom he said he has had a positive and “transparent” relationship “from day one.”

Collins said that after a 75-minute session with Rice she still had many unanswered questions and remains “troubled” that on the Benghazi issue Rice played “a political role at the height of a contentious presidential election campaign.”

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Susan Rice is still lobbying hard for that secretary of state post, but she struck out again with Senate Republicans yesterday. After meeting with Rice, Senators Susan Collins and Bob Corker said they still had concerns about her potential nomination:

Corker, who will be the ranking Republican member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in the new congressional term, implied that he considered Rice too much of a partisan and urged Obama to pick a more “independent” person as chief diplomat.

“All of us here hold the secretary of State to a different standard than most Cabinet members,” he said. “We want somebody of independence.”

He implied that Rice, who is close to the president, was, instead, a “loyal soldier.” Corker also seemed to contrast Rice and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, with whom he said he has had a positive and “transparent” relationship “from day one.”

Collins said that after a 75-minute session with Rice she still had many unanswered questions and remains “troubled” that on the Benghazi issue Rice played “a political role at the height of a contentious presidential election campaign.”

And here’s some more evidence for Jonathan’s argument that Rice’s Senate Republican critics are really trying to boost their friend John Kerry, the other top contender for secretary of state: 

Collins was less hesitant about how Sen. John Kerry, another potential secretary of state pick, might fare in the nomination process, however.

“I think John Kerry would be an excellent appointment and would be easily confirmed by his colleagues,” she said.

Collins has not been the first Republican Senator to pump Kerry up for the appointment: Republican Senator John Barrasso, of Wyoming, said Kerry would “sail through” the Senate and that Mr. Obama should nominate him if he wants an easy nominating process.

There is not enough aspirin in the world to treat the headache Secretary of State John Kerry would become for Obama. At least Susan Rice is a loyal foot soldier who won’t stray far from the White House. Kerry sees himself as some sort of elder statesman/grand strategist. Can you imagine him jumping to orders from President Obama?

It’s doubtful Senate Republicans actually think Kerry would be any better than Rice in the position, but maybe they figure they would have more access in the State Department with him in office. While Rice would probably do less damage in the position than Kerry, she would also be much closer with the White House.

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U.S. Ready to Step into Syria Conflict?

Better late than never. With President Obama having run and won reelection in part on a boast of having ended the war in Iraq and being in the process of ending the one in Afghanistan, his administration is now sending out signals that it might contemplate greater intervention in the war that has been raging in Syria. A front-page New York Times article reports that various steps are under consideration, from providing Patriot-3 batteries to Turkey to providing arms directly to the rebels and even sending intelligence officers into Syria to coordinate with the opposition. Such steps are long overdue, but now that they are on the table, the administration deserves Republican support for a bipartisan effort to try to bring the killing to an end and to hasten Bashar Assad’s downfall.

Assad’s regime has already lost control of much of the north, including the territory between Aleppo and the Turkish border. It has also lost at least temporary control of various air bases right up to the outskirts of Damascus itself. It will not take much more for the rebels to establish liberated territory which they can administer, and where they can set up bases to train rebel fighters for an eventual push onto Damascus. The major obstacle standing in the way right now is Assad’s air force. Even when Assad loses control of territory, he can strike back effectively by sending out his aircraft to bomb and strafe.

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Better late than never. With President Obama having run and won reelection in part on a boast of having ended the war in Iraq and being in the process of ending the one in Afghanistan, his administration is now sending out signals that it might contemplate greater intervention in the war that has been raging in Syria. A front-page New York Times article reports that various steps are under consideration, from providing Patriot-3 batteries to Turkey to providing arms directly to the rebels and even sending intelligence officers into Syria to coordinate with the opposition. Such steps are long overdue, but now that they are on the table, the administration deserves Republican support for a bipartisan effort to try to bring the killing to an end and to hasten Bashar Assad’s downfall.

Assad’s regime has already lost control of much of the north, including the territory between Aleppo and the Turkish border. It has also lost at least temporary control of various air bases right up to the outskirts of Damascus itself. It will not take much more for the rebels to establish liberated territory which they can administer, and where they can set up bases to train rebel fighters for an eventual push onto Damascus. The major obstacle standing in the way right now is Assad’s air force. Even when Assad loses control of territory, he can strike back effectively by sending out his aircraft to bomb and strafe.

The most effective way to stop him would be for the U.S. and its allies to declare a no-fly zone over Syria. Failing that, PAC-3 batteries installed in Turkey and Jordan could police the skies over northern and southern Syria. The administration has said that if Patriot batteries are provided to Turkey they would be used only for self-defense, but far more effective would be to use them to defend zones of Turkish territory along the border where civilians and rebel fighters could find refuge from Assad’s blood-thirsty minions.

Training camps set up in these areas could provide badly needed cohesion to the rebels. If Washington were to provide arms directly, rather than working through the Saudis and Qataris as is presently the case, our representatives could be sure to funnel that support to the most moderate factions, as opposed to the hard-line jihadists favored by the Gulf states.

That the administration is even contemplating such steps is a positive development. Greater U.S. involvement in Syria carries certain risks, of which we should be cognizant, but the risk of inaction is even greater–as we have already seen, with the war claiming more than 40,000 lives, and expanding outward to lap at Turkey and Israel, while inside Syria jihadists are becoming increasingly prominent.

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