Commentary Magazine


Posts For: December 4, 2012

Wintour Ambassadorial Nomination Would Not Be Vogue

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.

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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.

Dictatorships should never be chic. Judgment matters. Wintour lacks it, and if Obama nominates her for any post, he will signal to Syrian dissidents and those suffering under dictatorships the world over that the United States does not take their plight seriously.

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Netanyahu’s Message Was No Blunder

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.

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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.

The Palestinian Authority tried the UN gambit in order to avoid negotiations with Israel that might place its leader Mahmoud Abbas back in the embarrassing position of having to flee from another Israeli offer of statehood. While he has no intention of ever being put on the spot in that matter again, Abbas may be under the impression that the Israelis can be hammered into more unilateral concessions by means of foreign pressure.

This is a common thread that runs throughout the history of the conflict in which the Palestinian Arab leadership has always thought they could evade their responsibility to deal directly with Israel. It is a belief that was encouraged by President Obama’s foolish decision at the outset of his administration that peace would be brought closer by creating more daylight between Israel and the United States. The fights Obama picked with Israel only served to make it even more difficult for Abbas to come to the table even if he had wanted to.

Had the Europeans behaved in a principled manner and rebuffed the UN upgrade as a clear violation of the Oslo Accords, as they should have, it could be argued that Netanyahu’s decision would have been a mistake. But since the Europeans abandoned the peace process that they had heretofore championed, it was necessary for Israel to remind Abbas that he should realize that the vote in New York wouldn’t mean a thing on the ground in the Middle East.

As for the idea–repeated today by the editorial page of the New York Times–that E1 will make the world less willing to restrain Iran, the notion that the U.S. or Europe can hold Israel hostage on that issue is nonsensical. Iran is as much a threat to the rest of the world as it is to Israel, a point that President Obama has made time and again. Nor is there any evidence that any concessions on settlements made by Israel would make the administration any less reluctant to take action on Iran than it otherwise would be.

Despite all the huffing and puffing about E1, the move has not changed a thing between Israel and the West. But it was exactly what the Palestinians needed to hear. Had Netanyahu failed to remind Abbas he will pay a price for ditching Oslo, that would have been the real blunder.

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Conservative Civil War Brewing over Fiscal Cliff

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. 

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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. 

Conservative Senator Jim DeMint and the Heritage Foundation released a strong statement against the Boehner counteroffer. Roll Call reports,

“Speaker Boehner’s $800 billion tax hike will destroy American jobs and allow politicians in Washington to spend even more, while not reducing our $16 trillion debt by a single penny,” the South Carolina Republican said in a Tuesday release. “This isn’t rocket science. Everyone knows that when you take money out of the economy, it destroys jobs, and everyone knows that when you give politicians more money, they spend it. This is why Republicans must oppose tax increases and insist on real spending reductions that shrink the size of government and allow Americans to keep more of their hard-earned money.”

DeMint’s reaction is not the only conservative stone thrown. Hours after Boehner released the counteroffer, The Heritage Foundation declared it “a dud.”

In another piece, Roll Call described why the leadership decided to shake up the committee assignments:

According to a GOP aide familiar with the situation, Schweikert was told that he was ousted in part because his “votes were not in lockstep with leadership.”

All of the lawmakers, apart from Jones, were rebellious right-wingers. Huelskamp and Amash both voted against the budget proposed by Budget Chairman Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin in committee and on the floor, saying it did not cut spending fast enough. They also voted against the current continuing resolution that is funding the government through the end of March.

How much leverage do House Republicans have over Democrats in the looming fiscal cliff standoff? As Alana mentioned earlier, if a deal isn’t reached, a growing majority of Americans would blame the GOP for the failure. Many conservatives seem to believe that Boehner’s pragmatism is a sign of a total abandonment of conservative principles. House conservatives are under the impression that Americans have given them a mandate for solving the fiscal cliff crisis. While that is the case, Americans also voted to keep the Senate and White House under Democratic control.

If voters wanted conservatives to hold out for conservative principles, they would have voted for a Tea Party conservative in the presidential primaries and would have also elected many more of the Tea Party candidates who ran for Senate last month. The hope of House conservatives that they can get more from the House leadership (and from the Senate and White House for that matter) is a fantasy that could sink GOP popularity ratings. Boehner’s committee reshuffling today was an attempt to maintain control of the only branch of government the GOP currently holds. Boehner is fighting a war over the fiscal cliff on two fronts; today we saw him hit back at his right flank. 

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Europe and Israel: Will It Get Worse?

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:

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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:

“I don’t think there is enthusiasm around the European Union…about economic sanctions in Europe on Israel. I don’t believe there would be anywhere near a consensus nor is that our approach. We continue to try to bring both sides back to negotiations,” [British Foreign Secretary William] Hague said.

“Nevertheless, if there is no reversal of the decision that has been announced, we will want to consider what further steps European countries should take,” he said.

I don’t know what Hague would officially consider a “reversal,” and I don’t think he does either. But it’s interesting to know that the Ehud Olmert peace plan crosses the EU’s red line. As Jonathan wrote, Olmert’s peace plan also called for Israel to keep E-1 and Ma’ale Adumim (plus some area around it) and to connect Ma’ale Adumim securely to Jerusalem. But just as the EU probably doesn’t know what it means by a “reversal” of the zoning decision, perhaps it doesn’t know that every Israeli government supports Israeli sovereignty over E-1.

Does the E-1 controversy mean Israel’s red lines and Europe’s red lines are incompatible? It seems that way, and that’s a larger problem than a spat over settlements. Some clarity on the part of European leaders would probably help, rather than summoning Israeli ambassadors for a tongue lashing every time Netanyahu does something that his predecessors did too. The Guardian’s Ian Black agrees. He took to the pages of his newspaper to whack Israel over the issue and encourage European leaders to outline their own vision for peace.

What would such a plan look like? Unfortunately (or fortunately, I suppose), Black doesn’t say. He seems to hint at support for sanctions, but the result of his column is a demand for more vague threats. You’ll notice that the common denominator between Black and the eurocrats he criticizes is that they both equate “peace” with punishing Israel.

But, contra Ian Black, the EU may have offered all the clarity Israel needed here. No peace plan that would be acceptable to the Israeli people would be acceptable to the EU. That’s something for Netanyahu to keep in mind (though he probably doesn’t have to be reminded to) as he is told repeatedly by those looking to save Israel from itself to mollify the Europeans. He cannot. The question going forward is how hard he’ll try.

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Who’s the Ideologue? Obama or the GOP?

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?

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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?

There is an argument to be made that the tax code should be used primarily for the purpose of redistribution of income, as the president seems to be insisting. But it has nothing to do with balancing the budget and avoiding sending the economy into another tailspin. It is nothing but pure liberal ideology in which achievement and investment is to be taxed punitively regardless of whether such a policy would actually improve the country’s fiscal health.

The president believes his stand is popular, and perhaps he’s right. But let’s not deceive ourselves that this is about common sense or a “balanced” approach to the problem. It is ideology.

It is true that many on the other side of the aisle are opposed in principle to higher taxes whether or not such a measure might be prudent in a given situation. Though there is a good argument to be made that their position is a sound one, they are rightly labeled ideologues. But as Obama’s stubborn refusal to consider different ways to reduce the deficit makes clear, they are no more, nor less, ideological than the man in the White House. Yet the universal reaction of the liberal mainstream media is to claim that the president is playing the moderate while his opponents are right-wing partisans blinded by ideology.

We’ll soon see whether the president’s evaluation of his opponents is accurate. He is counting on the press echoing his talking points about the extremism of the Republicans and that they will be blamed for the fallout if no agreement is reached. If so, it will be more evidence of the enormous advantage he derives from a pliant media. But even if the GOP allows itself to be stampeded by this false dichotomy, no one should be fooled. What the president is doing is neither moderate nor balanced. The country has re-elected a liberal ideologue and what follows will have more to do with his extremist approach to the issue than that of the Republicans.

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Pew Poll: Majority Would Still Blame GOP for Fiscal Cliff Failure

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

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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

It’s also why Democrats feel they have an upper hand in negotiations. President Obama has rejected the GOP’s counter-offer to his first proposal, saying that tax hikes are a must and walking back his prior openness on entitlement cuts:

“I don’t think the issue right now has to do with sitting in a room,” Obama said in an interview with Bloomberg TV. “The issue right now that’s relevant is the acknowledgment that if we’re going to raise revenues that are sufficient to balance with the very tough cuts that we’ve already made and the further reforms in entitlements that I’m prepared to make, that we’re going to have to see the rates on the top 2 percent go up. And we’re not going to be able to get a deal without it.”

“It’s not me being stubborn,” Obama added. “It’s not me being partisan. It’s just a matter of math.”

In his first TV interview since winning reelection, Obama said he is open to changes to entitlement programs but wouldn’t commit to benefit cuts. It suggests a step back from his position during his 2011 debt limit negotiations with Boehner, when he agreed to raising the Medicare eligibility age, asking wealthier seniors to pay more for Medicare services and changing the inflation calculator for government programs such as Social Security.

Obama seems more interested in breaking the GOP than reaching a balanced agreement that deals with the entitlement crisis. And it’s not exactly a surprise. He’s always been primarily focused on eking out these little political victories — that’s how he governed during his first term, and that’s how he ran his campaigns. Why would he change now?

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Missing John Howard

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:

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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:

If we are to achieve what we all want – peace based upon a two-State solution… If we are to achieve that, we will not achieve it by constantly providing incentives to the Palestinians to walk away from the negotiating table and that is basically what is involved in this current proposition before the General Assembly of the United Nations. The only way in which lasting peace can be achieved and I know it is the heartfelt of the people of Israel and the heartfelt desire of the Jewish community in Australia and I am sure it is the heartfelt desire of millions of Palestinians as well, is by total acceptance on both sides of the right of others to exist to secure and internationally respected boundaries and until those on the Palestinian side fully accept and understand that peace cannot be achieved unless they unconditionally accept Israel’s right to exist, we are not really going to have any hope of achieving that peace.

In my opinion this resolution before the General Assembly of United Nations will make it less likely that that acceptance from groups such as Hamas and others will come rather than walk away and I fail to understand the logic of the arguments that have been advanced by some who claim that this will make peace more likely and make it more likely that meaningful negotiations can be begin in the interim…

He continued to recount his experience into the negotiations which occurred during his terms as prime minister:

The offer that was made by Barak approximated to well over 90% of what the Palestinians had been arguing that they wanted but that did not come about because in the end Arafat was unwilling, unable or whatever combination of the two to finally agree with President Clinton at Camp David in the dying days of President Clinton’s presidency… With that experience vividly in my mind I have always greeted with extraordinary skepticism the criticisms that have been made of the alleged intransigence of the people of Israel and the governments of Israel on this issue. I know this is a difficult issue and I guess everybody, no matter what opinion you take, despairs of this ever achieving an outcome but it will eventually if people of goodwill continue to pursue it but if they pursue it from a position of strength and in the case of Israel that of course includes her continuing right to effectively respond in a retaliatory fashion against rocket attacks and incursions on her sovereignty and threats to the life and safety and liberty of her people.

Australia lost a great deal of its prestige and diplomatic muscle when John Howard stepped down, and most Australians—even those who were Howard’s detractors at the time—recognize it. America is fortunate that we still do have clear-sighted allies in Canadian Premier Stephen Harper and Czech President Václav Klaus. A sound strategy would reward such leaders, rather than take them for granted.

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The GOP Doesn’t Need a Purge

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.

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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.

Welch is right when he says Republicans would do well to keep Bill Buckley’s rule that they should support “the most right, viable candidate who could win.” Had they done so, the GOP caucus in the U.S. Senate would be a lot bigger these days since Tea Party insurgents like Sharon Angle and Christine O’Donnell turned likely Republican victories into Democratic triumphs. There is an argument to be made on behalf of what he calls “adult supervision” being applied to the party, especially when it comes to picking candidates.

I would also concede that although I take a dim view of those urging Republicans to cave in to President Obama’s demands on taxes, conservative ideology need not dictate every decision the House leadership makes as it negotiates a budget deal with the president to prevent the country heading over the fiscal cliff.

But these are tactical decisions, not questions about the nature of the party or the state of modern conservatism. That is why Welch’s cri de coeur on behalf of a revived Republican establishment and moderates like Chris Christie is not only wrong-headed, but an insidious attempt to further the efforts of liberals to smear all contemporary conservatives as extremists.

The John Birch Society that Buckley consigned to the margins from his bully pulpit at National Review had nothing in common with the Tea Party. The Birchers were a relatively small, though loud group percolating on the fever swamps of the body politic. They were dominated by racist and anti-Semitic elements and deeply immersed in conspiracy theories about Communist infiltration of every segment of American society. They were dangerous to conservatism not because they were numerous but because their presence in conservative ranks stood to compromise the entire movement. Buckley had little trouble routing them because they were genuine outliers with little support among Republican activists or voters.

By contrast, The Tea Party sprung up in 2009 and 2010 in response to President Obama’s stimulus boondoggle and the passage of ObamaCare. Despite liberal canards about it being the creation of rich Republican donors, it was a textbook example of a grassroots movement that grew up in spite of the wishes of many party leaders. Though, as is natural for any broad-based surge, its support has gone down since its 2010 heyday, it prospered because it spoke to the basic instincts of many Americans about the danger of out-of-control spending and taxing by the government. Far from espousing extreme ideology, its point of view was very much to the point about the concerns that the president’s unchecked liberalism in his first two years in office had provoked.

Democrats assumed that a Republican Party dominated by the Tea Party was dooming itself to defeat, but the election results of November 2010 proved them wrong. Though the willingness of some Tea Partiers to dump moderate Republicans cost the party some seats they could have won, the GOP’s landslide win that year would not have been possible without the fervor of the Tea Party and the fact that their beliefs resonated with a broad cross-section of voters including many who would never call themselves conservatives.

Though liberal newspapers like the Times have been working hard to brand the Tea Party as extremists, the idea that there is any link or even an analogy between a group focused on reducing the size of government and one steeped in hate like the Birchers is deeply offensive.

It is understandable that some would-be establishment Republicans such as Welch don’t like their party being held accountable for betrayal of conservative principles. And in some limited circumstances they may even be right to claim that Tea Partiers have exercised poor judgment in terms of the candidates they’ve imposed on the GOP as well as the policy decisions they would like to see implemented. But that has nothing to do with what Bill Buckley accomplished.

While one should hesitate to speak in the name of the deceased, I’m sure I’m not alone among conservatives in thinking WFB would have smelled a rat when reading Welch’s piece. Buckley sought to purge extremists from conservative ranks in order to preserve the movement’s principles. Welch wants to purge Tea Partiers specifically in order to dump conservative principles and replace them with the sort of watered-down liberalism that Buckley rightly despised. Buckley spent far more of his career seeking to oust the Nelson Rockefeller wing of the party from the GOP than he did the Birchers.

What the GOP needs today is for grassroots Tea Partiers and more establishment types to work together to build a coherent opposition to the liberal agenda that the president and the Times wish to foist on the country. Any Republican who wants to purge the Tea Party is merely doing the dirty work of those who want to destroy conservatism. Nothing could be more dishonorable or less in keeping with the legacy of Bill Buckley.

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Big Names Still Passing on NYC Mayor’s Race

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:

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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:

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg has long struggled to imagine a successor with the combination of star power, experience and grit to fill his shoes.

But not long ago, he was struck by an inspiration: Hillary Rodham Clinton, the retiring secretary of state.

In a phone call confirmed by three people, Mr. Bloomberg encouraged Mrs. Clinton to consider entering the 2013 mayor’s race, trading international diplomacy for municipal management on the grandest scale. She would, he suggested, be a perfect fit.

Much about the call, which occurred some months ago, remains shrouded in mystery. But Mr. Bloomberg’s overture to the former first lady highlights the level of his anxiety about the current crop of candidates, his eagerness to recruit a replacement who can rival his stature and his determination to become a kingmaker in the political arena he will soon exit.

Bloomberg was famously unwilling to “soon exit” when his term-limited time in office drew to a close, so he had the rules changed to allow him to stay in office. The people needed him, and no one had yet banned large sodas. And it is something of a testament to this unwillingness to let go that Bloomberg wants to choose his successor. But it is also a reasonable concern: the current crop of candidates is surprisingly underwhelming on the Democratic side, and almost literally empty on the Republican side.

New York City Republicans have apparently failed to convince Police Commissioner Ray Kelly–the city’s most popular major figure, and for good reason–to run on the GOP ticket (or run at all). The old Nixon aide Roger Stone used the opening to push conservative commentator and Daily News columnist S.E. Cupp to run. Cupp, like Hillary on the Democratic side, politely but firmly declined. Another GOP possibility is Joe Lhota, who served under Rudy Giuliani and is currently head of the city’s transportation authority, though he lags in early polls to the Democrats, as does former Bronx borough president Adolfo Carrion, a former Democrat who served in the Obama administration who is working to make the party switch to run on the GOP ticket.

Hillary Clinton seems to be laying the groundwork early for a 2016 presidential run, which would preclude her from simultaneously running New York City–a mayoralty that is more akin to running a state with a dash of national security frontline policymaking. The job is a tall order, and Clinton seems to have her heart set on the White House for now. But Bloomberg’s choice of Clinton is revealing; though perhaps Hillary would make a good mayor, Bloomberg chose her for all the wrong reasons. The Times continues: “In Mrs. Clinton, it seems, a mayor known for his sometimes unsparing critiques of those in public life sees a globe-trotting problem solver like himself.”

New Yorkers would no doubt cringe at that sentence. When Bloomberg considers himself a globe-trotting problem solver, what he means is someone who spends a lot of time talking about problems that need solving. In fact, Bloomberg’s biggest weakness as a mayor is that he is not a problem solver. As I wrote in the days after superstorm Sandy, Bloomberg had been warning that inclement weather would cause near-unprecedented storm surges. Yet instead of securing the city’s infrastructure or pushing plans to build storm surge barriers, Bloomberg was content to just be a prophet of doom.

The city of New York thrives when in the hands of real problem solvers–like Giuliani, or Ray Kelly at the NYPD. Giuliani was the embodiment of hardheaded practicality, a seeming contradiction but one that explains what it takes to be mayor of New York. Bloomberg’s legacy is already shaky; the last thing he should be doing is trying to find a Davos schmoozer to fill his shoes.

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Bob Costas, America’s Latest Philosopher/Sports Commentator

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.”

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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.”

America’s philosopher-sports commentator then pointed us to the fountain of wisdom on the murder-suicide—the Kansas City-based writer Jason Whitlock. Costas, in quoting portions of Whitlock’s column, said this:

Our current gun culture ensures that more and more domestic disputes will end in the ultimate tragedy and that more convenience-store confrontations over loud music coming from a car will leave more teenage boys bloodied and dead. Handguns do not enhance our safety. They exacerbate our flaws, tempt us to escalate arguments, and bait us into embracing confrontation rather than avoiding it. In the coming days, Jovan Belcher’s actions, and their possible connection to football will be analyzed. Who knows? But here is what I believe. If Jovan Belcher didn’t possess a gun, he and Kasandra Perkins would both be alive today.

Mr. Whitlock, of course, has no idea if that’s true or not. Jovan Belcher could have killed Ms. Perkins some other way—and arguably if she had a gun, Perkins could have preserved her own life and her daughter would not now be an orphan. To the degree that we heard mindless clichés, then, it was when Costas quoted Whitlock.

But my point here isn’t to debate the merits of gun control (an issue on which I don’t have particularly strong feelings). It’s to point out a couple of other things.

The first is that both Costas and Whitlock, in commenting on the murder-suicide, focused on handguns rather than on the man who ruthlessly killed the mother of his daughter before killing himself. It tells you a very great deal when the moral outrage is directed not at the killer but at the weapon.

Beyond that, though, is that Costas seems to be suffering from the early stages of Cosell-ism—the belief that Americans are longing for Costas to use his perch as a sports commentator to offer social commentary. In fact, we’re not. There are plenty of other places we can turn to if we want to hear supercilious and shallow critiques on public policy matters. Most of us don’t believe the host of a sporting event has any particular wisdom to offer us on social policy in the wake of a brutal murder-suicide. And Sunday night, Bob Costas proved that beyond a shadow of a doubt. If he wants to play Bill Moyers, then Costas should host his own program on PBS rather than hijack an NFL halftime show.

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Would John Kerry Be a Suitable Secretary of Anything?

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.

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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.

Instincts also matter. Kerry’s public posture toward Syria has been embarrassing enough; his judgment with regard to Syria has come at a far higher cost than Susan Rice’s poor judgment in the aftermath of Benghazi has. And on the peace process, he has already dug himself a deep hole by frequently telling his interlocutors what they want to hear, regardless of the entanglements that leaves behind. The problem is not only his public policy, but also his private: Staffers describe their collective cringe when, after a motorcycle ride with Bashar al-Assad, he returned to Washington referring to Bashar as “my dear friend.” Bashar may be a lot of things, but “my dear friend”—an address Kerry used only with a select few, such as the late Ted Kennedy—should not have been one.

Arrogance may also get the best of Kerry. Should he carry such attitudes to the Defense Department, he may be lampooned worse than this and this. But senior Afghan ministers also lambaste the Massachusetts senator. During a trip to Afghanistan, one related over breakfast how Kerry arrived in Afghanistan, was shuttled from high-level meeting to high-level meeting, struggling to keep awake. Only in his last meeting before departure did he ask the Afghan minister, “Who’s this Marshal Fahim everyone keeps talking about?” Fahim, of course, is one of the most powerful warlords in the country and, since 2009, a vice president as well. It seems Kerry had not read—or had not understood—his background briefings and then was too proud to ask any of his entourage.

Some men and women thrive as senators, and some work best as mayors and governors. Being in charge of an agency is not as easy as simply casting votes and opining on the Sunday talk shows. It is doubtful that anyone will tell the Massachusetts senator that the emperor has no clothes. That is too bad, because the damage an indecisive and arrogant executive can do to the policy and practice of U.S. foreign policy is immense.

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