Rumor has it that President Obama is considering Vogue editor Anna Wintour to be his second-term nominee to be U.S. ambassador to the United Kingdom. After World War II, well-known public figures and intellectuals such as W. Averell Harriman, Walter Annenberg, and Kingman Brewster, Jr., have held the post. In recent decades, however, presidents have transformed the top slot into a plumb reward for top donors. Leading the London Embassy has become more about style than diplomacy. George W. Bush, for example, chose Robert Tuttle, who had raised more than $200,000 for the president. For his first term, Obama chose Louis Susman, a top fundraiser.
Wintour may be pushing pay-for-position rewards a bit too far. The problem isn’t her fundraising, but rather her judgment. Syria remains a top foreign policy concern for the United States and, should Bashar al-Assad’s forces use chemical weapons, it could be the source of the 3 a.m. phone call Obama fears most. As editor of Vogue, however, Wintour published the infamous and groveling profile of Asma al-Assad, Bashar’s wife. She defended the piece for months, even as Assad’s forces committed the most grizzly abuses against Syrian men, women, and children, refusing to distinguish between combatants and non-combatants. In recent months, Wintour sought to distance herself from the profile, and removed it from the Internet.
The conventional wisdom about the Israeli government’s decision to allow new building projects in Jerusalem in the E1 area between the city and the Ma’ale Adumim suburb is that it was a blunder. Critics of Prime Minister Netanyahu claim the move has worsened relations with the United States, alienated European nations and heightened the country’s diplomatic isolation. Others claim that in doing so he has “distracted” the world from concentrating on the nuclear threat from Iran. Even worse, most of his detractors are sure that the only reason he did it was to appease more extreme members of his party so as to secure their support in the upcoming Knesset election. Seen in that light, calling it a blunder would seem to be charitable.
But like most pieces of conventional wisdom, the assumption that Netanyahu has hurt his country is not accurate. Even if shovels went in the ground in the E1 area tomorrow — something that actually won’t happen for a long time, if ever — Israel would be no more or less isolated than it was the day before the announcement. Nor would relations with the Obama administration be any better. All Netanyahu has done is to remind his country’s critics that Israel isn’t willing to lie down and accept the false narrative about the West Bank and Jerusalem that was swallowed whole at the United Nations last week. As Seth wrote earlier, this won’t change Israel’s relationship with Europe. The focus on the European and American positions on settlements has obscured the fact that the primary audience for this move is in Ramallah, not Paris, London or Washington. The E1 decision sends a necessary signal to the Palestinians lest they be deceived by their triumph in the General Assembly. What Netanyahu has done is to show Israel won’t give up an inch of territory unless the Palestinians return to the negotiating table and even then, only if they agree to end the conflict for all time.
In an attempt to rein in opposition to a potential compromise with Democrats , Speaker John Boehner is eliminating potential roadblocks on some key House committees. Yesterday two congressmen, Tim Huelskamp of Kansas and Justin Amash of Michigan, were removed from the agriculture and budget committees, respectively. Today both men spoke with the press and at the Heritage Foundation’s Blogger’s Briefing to discuss their removal. At Heritage Huelskamp told the crowd,
As has often been said, no good deed goes unpunished… We were not notified about what might occur. It confirms in my mind the deepest suspicions that most Americans [have] about Washington D.C. It’s petty, vindictive, and if you have any conservative principles you will be punished for articulating them. For the freshman class of two years ago we were only asked three things. You have to first help the Republican team in terms of fundraising. Frankly, I have done that. I think the other folks who have been punished have done that as well. In exchange for that, in exchange for notifying the leadership how you would vote, you will be able to vote your conscience and your district. I have done exactly that and so have most of my colleagues. It just so happens I have a conservative conscience and a conservative district. They are very thrilled with my votes and will confirm their deepest suspicions that it’s not about principles, it’s about blind obedience.
European foreign ministries are still reacting furiously to the Israeli government’s preliminary zoning steps in what is known as the E-1 corridor around Jerusalem. It is unlikely that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was planning to move the project, initiated by Yitzhak Rabin, any closer than that to actually putting a shovel in the ground. In all likelihood, Netanyahu was simply sending a signal in the ongoing tussle over symbolic declarations of sovereignty.
European governments profoundly misunderstand the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the Mideast in general, and they may have misinterpreted a signal for a plan of action. But their overreaction was followed by even more overreaction, and threats of more to come. Haaretz reports:
The budget standoff between the White House and House Republicans appears to be getting worse. President Obama has now flatly rejected the GOP proposal for revenue increases and spending cuts. His reason: any revenue increase that does not include a tax increase for the wealthy is unacceptable. The president believes the purpose of the tax code and, indeed, the only reason to prolong the fiscal crisis, is to punish the rich even though doing so does little to balance the budget. Moreover, he clings to this position even though the GOP has offered alternative methods for raising revenue. The thought of not raising taxes is so abhorrent to him that he will not even negotiate the point, preferring to continue to grandstand on the issue, confident that the same class warfare rhetoric that helped him get re-elected will panic enough Republicans to force the House leadership to fold.
As the New York Times reported:
“We’re going to have to see the rates on the top 2 percent go up,” Mr. Obama told Bloomberg Television in his first television interview since his re-election last month, “and we’re not going to be able to get a deal without it.”
Fair enough. All this is easily understood and leaves us perilously close to going over the fiscal cliff that he has warned would harm the economy. But it does leave us with one question: why is the GOP compromise proposal being labeled as evidence of the influence of extremists while the president’s hard-line refusal to consider an alternative to his soak-the-rich scheme is not being spoken of as proof that he is no moderate?
That recent CNN poll showing a majority of Americans would blame the GOP if the country goes over the fiscal cliff apparently wasn’t an outlier. A new Washington Post-Pew Research Center poll found similar results, The Fix reports:
While 53 percent of those surveyed say the GOP would (and should) lose the fiscal cliff blame game, just 27 percent say President Obama would be deserving of more of the blame. Roughly one in 10 (12 percent) volunteer that both sides would be equally to blame.
Those numbers are largely unchanged from a Post-Pew survey conducted three weeks ago and suggest that for all of the back and forth in Washington on the fiscal cliff, there has been little movement in public perception. The numbers also explain why Republicans privately fret about the political dangers of going over the cliff, while Democrats are more sanguine about such a prospect.
The United Nations General Assembly vote to recognize Palestine as a non-member observer state was a defeat for Obama administration diplomacy. The problem for Obama and Secretary of State Clinton was not their opposition to Palestinian statehood: Obama is certainly sympathetic to the Palestinian cause, as are most within the State Department. In this, as the press often forgets, they also join most Israelis who desire a two-state solution, albeit it one that will guarantee peace and security. The problem with the UN vote—and the reason for the U.S. vote against—was its unilateralism: The Palestinians had committed at Oslo to negotiate with Israel as a condition of the Palestinian Authority’s existence, and for the last four years, this they have refused to do, choosing instead to cast aside their earlier commitments just the same as Hamas has refused to abide by commitments made by their predecessors in the Palestinian parliament.
Regardless, why did so many countries break from precedent and their promises and vote against the U.S. position? Seth Mandel tackled this last week. From Melbourne, Australia, however, AIJAC director Colin Rubenstein flags a speech by former Australian Prime Minister John Howard, who stepped down five years ago yesterday, in which he addressed the UN vote:
It isn’t exactly a secret that the best if not the only way for a conservative or Republican to get published in the New York Times is to attack their own party (the same formula applies to Jews who know the surest path to a byline on the op-ed page is to condemn Israel). So it is hardly surprising that David Welch, a former Republican National Committee research director and campaign adviser to John McCain, got his moment in the sun today by echoing the newspaper’s liberal editorial line about the sheer awfulness of the Tea Party. Of course, Welch tried to write the piece from the perspective of a conservative, but in doing so he reverted to another standard from the liberal playbook: using dead conservatives to criticize the current ones.
To that end, Welch dragged William F. Buckley from his grave in order to cite the National Review editor’s purge of the John Birch Society from the conservative movement in the 1960s as a precedent that Republicans should now apply to the Tea Party. One can debate whether the Tea Partiers have too much influence in the GOP or whether some of the candidates they have foisted on the party were ill-advised choices, but Welch’s “Where Have You Gone, Bill Buckley?” couldn’t be more off target. The Tea Party has its cranks, but the notion that it is in any way comparable to a hate group like the Birchers isn’t merely a figment of the liberal imagination; it’s sheer slander. That he would make such an outrageous analogy says a lot more about the liberal agenda to brand most Republicans as extremists than it does about the smart way to oppose President Obama’s agenda.
In a 2009 story about the succession of the Dalai Lama, the New York Times reported that the “search for the present Dalai Lama commenced in earnest in 1935 when the embalmed head of his deceased predecessor is said to have wheeled around and pointed toward northeastern Tibet.” The Times continued: “Then, the story goes, a giant, star-shaped fungus grew overnight on the east side of the tomb. An auspicious cloud bank formed and a regent saw a vision of letters floating in a mystical lake, one of which — Ah — he took to refer to the northeast province of Amdo,” where a young child was found and determined to be the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama.
Though not quite so fanciful and dramatic, the search for the next mayor of New York City, after two very high-profile mayors who became national figures, sometimes attracts a disproportionate amount of intrigue and suspense. Mayor Michael Bloomberg is alive and well, but he, too, turned his head in an attempt to guide his people to their next leader–and apparently fixed his gaze on Foggy Bottom. The Times reports today:
Howard Cosell was a legendary sports announcer—but anyone familiar with his career knows that he always felt limited by covering sports. Mr. Cosell viewed himself as a Voice of Social Conscience. He believed athletics was generally too trivial for his attention. His ambition was to become the anchor of ABC’s “World News Tonight”—and he contemplated a run for the Senate. By the end of his life, Cosell turned on sports and became a bitter man.
I thought about Cosell after listening to NBC’s Bob Costas deliver his anti-handgun commentary at halftime of Sunday night’s Eagles-Cowboys game.
Mr. Costas could have set aside a moment of silence during the broadcast to remember those who died (as Costas did during the London Olympics, as a way to honor the Israeli coaches and athletes who were killed in the Munich Olympics 40 years ago). Instead Mr. Costas, in addressing the apparent murder-suicide by the Kansas City Chief’s Jovan Belcher (Belcher killed the mother of his young daughter before killing himself), blasted those who used “that most mindless of sports clichés … Something like this really puts it all in perspective.” Costas went on to say that “those who need tragedies to continually recalibrate their sense of proportion about sports would seem to have little hope of ever truly achieving perspective.”
Senator John McCain’s quip yesterday pushed his colleague Senator John Kerry’s ambitions back in the limelight. If President Barack Obama nominates Kerry to be secretary of state or defense, chances are his nomination would sail through the senate. The Senate is a club, and many members would consider it professional courtesy to give one of their own a pass. Ignore his positions and his track record for a moment: personality matters, and Kerry is perhaps the one senator least suited for any executive position.
The problem is, according to some of Kerry’s former staffers, that he is serially indecisive. Simple decisions regarding which of two candidates should receive a promotion on his staff could take six months. The problem was not Kerry’s busy schedule or his frequent travels, or that the memo got lost on his desk. Rather, it was that Kerry simply could not determine which candidate should get his blessing. In the end, he split the difference and announced co-directors. The result was predictable: turf wars and confusion as each sought to negate the other. Running a bureaucracy is not like attending a Quaker meeting; sometimes consensus is not the least-bad option. The example his own staffers gave was the rule, not the exception. They complained they would be waiting for Kerry’s decisions long after others on both side of the aisle had made up their minds.