Commentary Magazine


Posts For: December 6, 2012

Baluchistan’s First Rhodes Scholar in 40 Years

My colleague Danielle Pletka alerted me to this article, which truly is a rare good news story out of Pakistan:

Rafiullah Kakar, 23, is all set to live “a dream come true”. He is the 2013 Rhodes Scholar for Pakistan… Kakar does not belong to a feudal family. He grew up in one of the most hostile and backward regions of Pakistan and no one had gone to college in his family before him. His transformation from a boy who did not learn Urdu until the seventh grade to a Rhodes Scholar is a story of hard work, family support, perseverance and the pursuit of personal ambition.

The whole news report is worth reading. Baluchistan is one of the most backward areas of Pakistan and Iran (for history buffs, about five years ago I did a thumbnail history of Baluchistan, here), and Pakistan is a society where elite and family connections often trump talent. American politicians may quip that it takes a village, but government alone will never supplant hard work and individual aptitude, nor does progress occur when it dampens rather than promotes rewards inherent in personal ambition.

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My colleague Danielle Pletka alerted me to this article, which truly is a rare good news story out of Pakistan:

Rafiullah Kakar, 23, is all set to live “a dream come true”. He is the 2013 Rhodes Scholar for Pakistan… Kakar does not belong to a feudal family. He grew up in one of the most hostile and backward regions of Pakistan and no one had gone to college in his family before him. His transformation from a boy who did not learn Urdu until the seventh grade to a Rhodes Scholar is a story of hard work, family support, perseverance and the pursuit of personal ambition.

The whole news report is worth reading. Baluchistan is one of the most backward areas of Pakistan and Iran (for history buffs, about five years ago I did a thumbnail history of Baluchistan, here), and Pakistan is a society where elite and family connections often trump talent. American politicians may quip that it takes a village, but government alone will never supplant hard work and individual aptitude, nor does progress occur when it dampens rather than promotes rewards inherent in personal ambition.

Kakar’s story is further testament both to the importance of merit scholarships and family support. USAID and U.S.-government programs waste so much money on sublime and ridiculous programs that it sometimes is useful to remember the importance of seeking to bring the best and the brightest to study in the United States, as we did for Kakar two years ago. Alas, when we compare the good that Kakar might accomplish on a pittance with the waste the State Department now engages in by subsidizing Muslim Brotherhood misgovernment in Egypt, heads should spin.

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Barack Obama Is No Lyndon Johnson

On “Fox and Friends” this morning at 7 a.m. came the news that President Obama and Speaker Boehner had had a phone call last evening, content not disclosed.

That shouldn’t have been news—these are the leaders of each party trying to avoid a governmental disaster that could come in less than a month, and should be talking 10 times a day. But it was news, and that’s troubling to say the least.

As Daniel Henninger makes clear in today’s Wall Street Journal, “Where in his career did Barack Obama ever learn the art of the political deal? Nowhere.” He writes:

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On “Fox and Friends” this morning at 7 a.m. came the news that President Obama and Speaker Boehner had had a phone call last evening, content not disclosed.

That shouldn’t have been news—these are the leaders of each party trying to avoid a governmental disaster that could come in less than a month, and should be talking 10 times a day. But it was news, and that’s troubling to say the least.

As Daniel Henninger makes clear in today’s Wall Street Journal, “Where in his career did Barack Obama ever learn the art of the political deal? Nowhere.” He writes:

Recall the famous Blair House summit he called early in 2010 amid the legislating over Obamacare. Lamar Alexander, Tom Coburn, Paul Ryan and other Republicans talked about wonkish compromises. All of it, every single idea, blew right by the president. Naturally the legislation got zero GOP votes. A kid running for high-school president could have gotten more opposition votes than that.

Obama negotiates with Congressional Republicans the way General MacArthur negotiated with the Japanese on the deck of the USS Missouri on September 2, 1945: Here’s a pen, sign your surrender. But the Japanese were powerless at that point; the Republicans are not today–they hold the House.

Compare that with how Lyndon Johnson got Medicare through Congress in 1965. Johnson was vastly more politically potent in 1965 than is Obama today. Johnson had just carried all but six states in the presidential election and with a higher percentage of the popular vote than FDR achieved in 1936. The Senate was 68-32 Democratic (as compared with 53-47 right now), the House was 295-140 Democratic (as compared with 241-191 Republican).

But Johnson treated Congress as a part of the process, not an annoying obstruction to his will. “I am not for denouncing Congress all the time,” he told a historian that year. “I am not like . . . writers who think of congressmen as archaic buffoons with tobacco drool running down their shirts. . . . I got up at seven this morning to have breakfast with them. I don’t have contempt for them.”

As James T. Patterson explains in a new book, “LBJ spent hours on the phone with congressmen and senators, held frequent one-on-one meetings with leaders, and hosted regular Tuesday morning breakfast gatherings at the White House.” No wonder he got 13 Republican votes in the Senate and fully half the Republicans in the House to vote for Medicare. In contrast, the first time Barack Obama bothered to meet with Mitch McConnell, the minority leader in the Senate, for a one-on-one chat was in July 2010, sixteen full months into his presidency. He’d had time for dozens of rounds of golf by then.

Obama’s utter disdain for any ideas but his own is going to be the ruin of this president and that ruin might not be that long in coming. Too bad it is the country, along with his place in history, that has to suffer for his hubris.

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Tzipi Livni’s “Groundhog Day” Party List

In the movie “Groundhog Day,” in which Bill Murray’s character must relive the same day over and over again, he is overheard responding to someone on the telephone: “Well, what if there is no tomorrow? There wasn’t one today.” In October, I wrote about how one possible outcome of the upcoming Israeli elections (now precluded by more recent developments) would have put Tzipi Livni on the wrong end of an exact replay of the last time she tried to challenge current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Today, however, Livni held a press conference in Tel Aviv that might have yet again given Israelis the sense they were stuck in their own version of “Groundhog Day”–and not one they would like to relive. The press conference was to announce that Livni will be joined on her slate of candidates by Amir Peretz. The last time the Jewish state saw the two of them serve together was in the summer of 2006, when Israel fought what was considered a badly mismanaged war with Hezbollah in southern Lebanon. The government’s handling of the conflict was clumsy and erratic, both diplomatically and strategically. As foreign minister at the time, Livni was the country’s chief diplomat, and as defense minister, Peretz was in charge of the military prosecution of the war. Now, with missiles once again aimed at Israel from southern Lebanon, the duo is asking for another shot.

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In the movie “Groundhog Day,” in which Bill Murray’s character must relive the same day over and over again, he is overheard responding to someone on the telephone: “Well, what if there is no tomorrow? There wasn’t one today.” In October, I wrote about how one possible outcome of the upcoming Israeli elections (now precluded by more recent developments) would have put Tzipi Livni on the wrong end of an exact replay of the last time she tried to challenge current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Today, however, Livni held a press conference in Tel Aviv that might have yet again given Israelis the sense they were stuck in their own version of “Groundhog Day”–and not one they would like to relive. The press conference was to announce that Livni will be joined on her slate of candidates by Amir Peretz. The last time the Jewish state saw the two of them serve together was in the summer of 2006, when Israel fought what was considered a badly mismanaged war with Hezbollah in southern Lebanon. The government’s handling of the conflict was clumsy and erratic, both diplomatically and strategically. As foreign minister at the time, Livni was the country’s chief diplomat, and as defense minister, Peretz was in charge of the military prosecution of the war. Now, with missiles once again aimed at Israel from southern Lebanon, the duo is asking for another shot.

They will be joined on Livni’s list by Amram Mitzna–another blast from Israel’s past who was the intellectual father, in many ways, of the Gaza withdrawal that has come in for withering criticism since the recent Operation Pillar of Defense, the second such conflict since Israel left the Gaza Strip. The move by Peretz was surprising since just last week he earned a high spot on Labor’s slate in that party’s primary. The Labor party’s response? Don’t let the door hit you on the way out:

“With great relief we bid farewell to a person who tried, and failed, to sabotage the party at the height of its strength and popularity,” a statement from the party read. “His union with Tzipi Livni will not harm Labor in the slightest.”

Labor’s Isaac Herzog expressed surprise at the move, calling it “the height of political opportunism.”

Feminist activist and former columnist Merav Michaeli, who placed fifth in Labor primaries and is considered a confidante of Peretz, said the decision was not unexpected, but that she would not be joining him in Hatnua.

Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party issued a statement calling Peretz’s move the “most odious trick of all time.” The scathing comment employed the Hebrew term targil masriah, which was coined by Yitzhak Rabin in 1990 in response to Shimon Peres’s failed attempt to establish a narrow coalition — foiling a Yitzhak Shamir-led national union government — by concocting a clandestine deal with the ultra-Orthodox Shas party.

Israelis may believe Livni has done them a favor: by putting the famous purveyors of bad ideas and bad policy together on one slate, voters can easily avoid putting any of them back in power. If early polls are correct, that’s where this is heading.

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Morsi’s Defiant, Confrontational Speech

If there is anything that the current situation in Egypt teaches, it is how hard it is to create a functioning liberal democracy after decades of oppression. It is, in fact, a lot harder than simply having an election. Because after the voting, it is imperative for the winners to show respect for the losers and not simply try to consolidate all power in their own hands while trying to crush the opposition.

By that standard, Mohamed Morsi is failing as Egypt’s new president. In recent weeks he has tried to claim for himself powers that are above even judicial review, and now he is trying to ram through a new constitution, which is to be voted on mere weeks after being drafted in a secretive process declared invalid by the opposition. When Egyptians opposed to this power grab have taken to the streets they have been met by thuggish Muslim Brotherhood supporters and violence has broken out.

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If there is anything that the current situation in Egypt teaches, it is how hard it is to create a functioning liberal democracy after decades of oppression. It is, in fact, a lot harder than simply having an election. Because after the voting, it is imperative for the winners to show respect for the losers and not simply try to consolidate all power in their own hands while trying to crush the opposition.

By that standard, Mohamed Morsi is failing as Egypt’s new president. In recent weeks he has tried to claim for himself powers that are above even judicial review, and now he is trying to ram through a new constitution, which is to be voted on mere weeks after being drafted in a secretive process declared invalid by the opposition. When Egyptians opposed to this power grab have taken to the streets they have been met by thuggish Muslim Brotherhood supporters and violence has broken out.

Today, speaking from an office ringed by tanks, Morsi sounded a lot like his predecessor, Hosni Mubarak. In fact the only difference between the two appeared to be the backdrop they used for their televised addresses—red for Morsi, blue for Mubarak. Morsi was positively Mubarak-like in blaming the protests on “infiltrators” funded by unnamed third parties—it must be counted as considerable restraint on his part not to come right out and blame the perfidious Zionists. When he vowed that those guilty of violence “will not escape punishment” it sounded like a veiled threat against the opposition; certainly it is hard to imagine him jailing Muslim Brothers who have attacked secular opposition activists or Coptic Christians.

Indeed the menacing tone of his remarks did much to undermine the message of unity that was contained in his call for a dialogue with the opposition. For such talks to be fruitful, Morsi will have to acknowledge that the opposition is not motivated by a desire to undermine Egypt or bring back the old regime—but rather that the opposition is as concerned about the country’s welfare as he is. That, however, would require a monumental intellectual and moral leap that only a few heroes, such as Nelson Mandela and Vaclav Havel and Aung San Suu Kyi, have been able to make. Most of those who have spent long periods of time in underground organizations plotting against the state emerge bitter and ruthless and determined not to allow anyone else to oust them from power as they ousted the previous incumbent. Josef Stalin and Mao Zedong are the ultimate 20th-century examples. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in Iraq is a much lesser and less malign example: he is not a mass murderer but he has a conspiratorial, winner-take-all outlook which leads him to persecute political opponents such as the Sunni Vice President Tariq al Hashemi. Unfortunately for Egypt’s future, Morsi, alas, fits more closely into the Maliki mindset than in the Mandela-Havel-Suu Kyi mold.

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Jim DeMint and the Heritage Identity

John reflected earlier on the possibility that as the next president of the Heritage Foundation, Jim DeMint might “stress the institution’s role in opposition, which is his stock in trade as a senator, and to downgrade its policy role.” Heritage’s decision to tap DeMint is less a sign that the pathbreaking think tank is setting off in a new direction than a sign it is pleased with the direction it has been taking the last couple of years.

In recent years, and especially over the last several months, Heritage has supplemented its traditional role as a major research institution by getting more involved in day-to-day political battles on Capitol Hill. Heritage Action for America was founded in 2010 by the Heritage Foundation’s board, and serves as a vehicle for Heritage to advance its policy message in a more directly political manner. Heritage, as a 501(c)(3), is unable to participate in direct lobbying; Heritage Action, a 501(c)(4), has fewer legal limitations.

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John reflected earlier on the possibility that as the next president of the Heritage Foundation, Jim DeMint might “stress the institution’s role in opposition, which is his stock in trade as a senator, and to downgrade its policy role.” Heritage’s decision to tap DeMint is less a sign that the pathbreaking think tank is setting off in a new direction than a sign it is pleased with the direction it has been taking the last couple of years.

In recent years, and especially over the last several months, Heritage has supplemented its traditional role as a major research institution by getting more involved in day-to-day political battles on Capitol Hill. Heritage Action for America was founded in 2010 by the Heritage Foundation’s board, and serves as a vehicle for Heritage to advance its policy message in a more directly political manner. Heritage, as a 501(c)(3), is unable to participate in direct lobbying; Heritage Action, a 501(c)(4), has fewer legal limitations.

There is a great deal of overlap between Heritage and Heritage Action, both in terms of staff (eight of its 14 D.C. staffers are Heritage alumni, including its CEO and COO) and messaging. Heritage Action’s offices are actually within Heritage’s main office on Massachusetts Avenue and there is frequent staff interaction between the two (full disclosure: I’m a Heritage Foundation alumna). Heritage Action has become increasingly vocal over the past two years, calling out congressional leaders seen as insufficiently opposed to the legislative agenda of the Obama White House and congressional Democrats. Heritage Action produces a scorecard to rate members of Congress on their voting records. While they do not endorse candidates, there has been an increasing amount of coordination between Heritage Action and the more conservative members of Congress in an attempt to promote legislation.

In the current fiscal cliff debate, the Heritage Foundation and Jim DeMint took a joint stand against House Speaker John Boehner’s counteroffer. In retrospect, the coordination just two days ago between Heritage and DeMint on Boehner could indicate just how much a DeMint-run Heritage Foundation will participate in day-to-day D.C. politics. RedState’s Erick Erickson has already alluded to the fact that Heritage Action is expected to take an even larger role under a DeMint-run Heritage Foundation.

DeMint will be retiring from the Senate in order to assume his role at Heritage, four years earlier than previously announced. A major component of outgoing president Ed Feulner’s job–fundraising–was going to be a difficult challenge for almost any successor, as Heritage’s 700,000 active “members” (donors who have contributed in the last 24 months) are accustomed to seeing Feulner’s signature on their fundraising appeals. DeMint, an expert fundraiser for the Senate Conservatives Fund, is no fundraising lightweight, which may have contributed to his appeal as a successor to Feulner. While Heritage will most likely be able to maintain its membership base after a DeMint succession, DeMint’s strategy for balancing politics and policy will be under the microscope from day one.

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The Case of the Disappearing PLO Mission Amendment

Earlier this week, I wrote a post wondering whether J Street has increased its influence on the Hill after the November election. A good test, I said, was whether J Street was able to rally enough objections to legislation responding to the UN vote. 

One of these amendments — which would have shuttered the PLO mission in D.C. — was dropped from the defense authorization bill that passed the Senate earlier this week. According to Open Zion’s Ali Gharib, this proves that J Street has gained clout in Washington:

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Earlier this week, I wrote a post wondering whether J Street has increased its influence on the Hill after the November election. A good test, I said, was whether J Street was able to rally enough objections to legislation responding to the UN vote. 

One of these amendments — which would have shuttered the PLO mission in D.C. — was dropped from the defense authorization bill that passed the Senate earlier this week. According to Open Zion’s Ali Gharib, this proves that J Street has gained clout in Washington:

It’s indeed a juicy indicator: immediately after the recent U.N. vote on upgrading Palestine’s status, AIPAC called for a “full review” of U.S. relations with the Palestinians, including closing the PLO’s office, and backed a measure that would do just that. A J Street campaign, on the other hand, marshaled 15,000 e-mails and phone calls to Congress opposing the amendment booting the PLO from D.C.

So, who won? J Street: the amendment, somewhat mysteriously, disappeared from the bill it was attached to. JTA‘s Ron Kampeas called it “a rare fail of the pro-Israel mainstream”—but that AIPAC no longer has the monopoly on the “pro-Israel mainstream” is precisely the lesson, by the lights of Alana Goodman, that we should take from this episode. The liberal group is gaining some real clout in Washington, and Goodman, having posited that the bill to punish Palestinians was a test, should pony up and acknowledge that, by even the metric she chose to introduce, J Street indeed can claim credit for some D.C. victories. Over to you, Alana.

Did the amendment “mysteriously” disappear, as Ali writes? No — well, at least not to anybody who bothered to pick up a phone and ask. The amendment was dropped from the bill because of a technicality in Senate procedure, according to Senator Lindsey Graham’s office, which sponsored it.

“Once cloture was invoked, the amendment was not eligible for a vote because it was not technically germane to the legislation,” said Graham spokesperson Kevin Bishop.

Bishop added that Graham “will continue to explore opportunities for passing the legislation.”

More than 400 amendments were filed on the defense authorization bill and debated for days. More than half of them were dropped, either because they were considered technically non-germane (like the amendment to close the PLO mission) or overly contentious (the Obama administration threatened to veto the bill if certain provisions were included). Typically, there is a lot of conflict over the defense authorization bill, but this year it passed easily through unanimous consent, largely because amendments that may have raised objections were taken out. Senators were eager to rush this thing out the door and focus on the fiscal cliff debate.

Was this because of J Street? I’m sure that’s what J Street would like people to believe. In fact, the amendment was one of hundreds that disappeared because of a procedural technicality or administration objection. “Mystery” solved.

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U.S. Should Stand with Egypt’s Democrats

With tanks deployed in the streets of Cairo, following clashes that have left at least half a dozen people dead, it is obvious that the political turmoil which forced Hosni Mubarak out of office has returned. Mohamed Morsi, Mubarak’s successor, has no one to blame but himself for these street clashes. They are a direct response to what is widely seen as his extra-constitutional grab for power and his tendency to demonize his opponents in inflammatory language by claiming they are former regime stooges.

Morsi’s process of consolidating authority is set to continue in just nine days’ time if the referendum he has scheduled on a hastily cobbled together new constitution is still held. The constitution, based on the existing one that justified decades of dictatorial rule, is full of amorphous language that secularists and Coptic Christians fear could inaugurate a new tyranny by the Muslim Brotherhood. It certainly does nothing to change the military’s unaccountable position, outside of political control—something that can be good or bad depending on whether the military sees its role as shepherding in secular democracy (as in Turkey) or serving as enforcers for the Islamists in power (as in Iran).

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With tanks deployed in the streets of Cairo, following clashes that have left at least half a dozen people dead, it is obvious that the political turmoil which forced Hosni Mubarak out of office has returned. Mohamed Morsi, Mubarak’s successor, has no one to blame but himself for these street clashes. They are a direct response to what is widely seen as his extra-constitutional grab for power and his tendency to demonize his opponents in inflammatory language by claiming they are former regime stooges.

Morsi’s process of consolidating authority is set to continue in just nine days’ time if the referendum he has scheduled on a hastily cobbled together new constitution is still held. The constitution, based on the existing one that justified decades of dictatorial rule, is full of amorphous language that secularists and Coptic Christians fear could inaugurate a new tyranny by the Muslim Brotherhood. It certainly does nothing to change the military’s unaccountable position, outside of political control—something that can be good or bad depending on whether the military sees its role as shepherding in secular democracy (as in Turkey) or serving as enforcers for the Islamists in power (as in Iran).

The encouraging news of recent days is that the political opposition is not going quietly—it is protesting not only in the streets but with some newspapers suspending publication temporarily, judges speaking out, and even some of Morsi’s own aides resigning in protest. It is far from clear where these clashes are heading: are we seeing another Egyptian revolution or (more likely) protests that will be put down?

Whatever the case, the U.S. position is clear–or ought to be: We must stand with the democrats in Egypt by insisting on checks and balances in the political system and more moderate rule from Morsi. So far President Obama has been extremely cautious in making his views clear. This is not necessarily wrong—speaking out in public can make it harder to apply private pressure to Morsi. But whatever tactics he chooses to employ, Obama cannot simply sit by and allow the Egyptian revolution to be undermined. With our billions of dollars of military and economic aid to Egypt, the U.S. has an important say in what happens. Doing nothing isn’t an option—that signals support for the status quo. Obama must use what leverage he has to press Morsi to create a more liberal government, not a new dictatorship.

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Re: Clinton Excludes Israel Again from Counterterror Summit?

Michael Rubin’s incisive post on the apparent exclusion of Israel from another meeting of the Global Counterterrorism Forum (GCTF) identifies a significant effect of U.S. acquiescence in the exclusion: an implicit U.S. endorsement of the drive to delegitimize Israel, by signaling that even on the issue of counterterrorism (on which Israel has obvious knowledge and expertise); even in the case of a prominent international forum on that subject (co-founded and co-chaired by the United States); and even though the U.S. has repeatedly announced its “commitment” to the inclusion of Israel, the U.S. will continue to permit Israel’s exclusion.

There is another unfortunate effect, highlighted by the way the issue was treated at yesterday’s State Department press conference, where the deputy spokesman announced that Secretary Clinton would participate in the December 14 ministerial meeting of the GCTF. The following colloquy occurred:  

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Michael Rubin’s incisive post on the apparent exclusion of Israel from another meeting of the Global Counterterrorism Forum (GCTF) identifies a significant effect of U.S. acquiescence in the exclusion: an implicit U.S. endorsement of the drive to delegitimize Israel, by signaling that even on the issue of counterterrorism (on which Israel has obvious knowledge and expertise); even in the case of a prominent international forum on that subject (co-founded and co-chaired by the United States); and even though the U.S. has repeatedly announced its “commitment” to the inclusion of Israel, the U.S. will continue to permit Israel’s exclusion.

There is another unfortunate effect, highlighted by the way the issue was treated at yesterday’s State Department press conference, where the deputy spokesman announced that Secretary Clinton would participate in the December 14 ministerial meeting of the GCTF. The following colloquy occurred:  

QUESTION: You announced that the Secretary is going to be attending the Global Counterterrorism Conference –

MR. TONER: Yes, I did.

QUESTION: — in Abu Dhabi, which opens the can of worms about whether Israel has been invited to participate in any capacity at all. Do you know if they have or if there are plans to get them involved, if not at a ministerial level, at a lower level?

MR. TONER: You know where we stand on this, which is that we’ve discussed with our partners in the Global Counterterrorism Forum ways to involve Israel. We said this before. We’re committed to doing so. We’ll raise it again in this venue.

QUESTION: But not this time?

MR. TONER: I don’t know if they are going to be invited. I’ll try to get more information on that.

Back in June, asked whether the U.S. had sought to get Israel involved in the GCTF, the State Department said the issue had been discussed and that the U.S. was “committed to making this happen.” In July, when Israel was not invited to the 29-nation GCTF conference, the spokesman did not know whether anything had been done by the U.S. regarding its commitment, but confirmed that the U.S. was “committed to making it happen.” Every time the issue is raised, the State Department spokesman repeats the commitment, but has trouble explaining what has been done about it.

Now Israel has apparently been excluded again, and in announcing the meeting the State Department spokesperson did not think it necessary to inform himself on the issue before meeting the press. The unfortunate effect is to call into question the meaning and effect of the U.S. “commitment,” sending a signal to Turkey (the other GCTF co-chair) and other nations that perhaps the word doesn’t mean what they think it means.  

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Report: Hagel on Short List for SecDef

The rumors that President Obama might nominate Chuck Hagel for secretary of defense have been swirling for a while, but this Reuters story is the first time I’ve seen them sourced to senior administration officials:

President Barack Obama is expected to announce his nominees for secretaries of state and defense in the next two weeks, with former Republican Senator Chuck Hagel on the short list of potential choices to head the Pentagon, senior administration officials said on Tuesday.

Hagel, whose appointment would give Obama’s reshuffled second-term Cabinet a bipartisan cast, met the Democratic president at the White House this week to discuss a post on his national security team. But there was no sign that Obama had decided on any of the key nominations he will put forth. 

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The rumors that President Obama might nominate Chuck Hagel for secretary of defense have been swirling for a while, but this Reuters story is the first time I’ve seen them sourced to senior administration officials:

President Barack Obama is expected to announce his nominees for secretaries of state and defense in the next two weeks, with former Republican Senator Chuck Hagel on the short list of potential choices to head the Pentagon, senior administration officials said on Tuesday.

Hagel, whose appointment would give Obama’s reshuffled second-term Cabinet a bipartisan cast, met the Democratic president at the White House this week to discuss a post on his national security team. But there was no sign that Obama had decided on any of the key nominations he will put forth. 

Could Hagel’s appointment even get through the Senate? He served there for over a decade, but he’s alienated fellow Republicans over the last few years by publicly criticizing the party and joining Obama’s intelligence advisory board. That’s strike one, but strikes two and three against him are that he’s a vocal opponent of Israel and soft on Iran. If he’s nominated, it would basically mean the administration has come to terms with Iran getting the bomb. Adam Kredo reports that pro-Israel groups are raising alarms:

The White House’s 2010 effort to enlist Hagel drew outrage from Jewish leaders critical of Hagel’s stand on Israel. His current status as the frontrunner is no less controversial.

“It would be a very unwise and disastrous choice for U.S. policies and activities regarding the Middle East,” said Morris Amitay, a former executive director of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).

“You could probably consider him last in the class,” Amitay said when asked to rate Hagel’s views on Israel. “He’s probably the worst.”

Hagel’s efforts to open up direct negotiations with Iran and its terrorist proxy Hamas have placed him at odds with the pro-Israel community and the majority of Congress.

He can’t afford to lose national security Republicans and GOP leadership and pro-Israel Democrats and still get confirmed. Either Obama is so intent on nominating Hagel that he’s not thinking clearly, or these stories are just meant to be a consolation for Hagel when he gets passed over for the position.

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Obama’s Tax Policy Aims for the Rich but Hits the Poor

Although the Occupy Wall Street protest movement often shunned both organization and the formation of a coherent set of principles and demands, its antipathy to Wall Street–hence the name of the movement–was central to its cause and its grievances, real or imagined. Punishing Wall Street was a given to the protesters, because in their minds the city’s kings of finance were greedy oligarchs hoarding their wealth. But occasionally the OWS protesters accidentally stumbled upon some cold hard facts that undercut their complaints, such as when New York City Councilman Daniel Halloran approached the crowd and told them:

I think there needs to be Wall Street reform, but we also have to remember that one-third of the city’s revenue comes from Wall Street right now, OK? One-third of the city’s revenue stream already comes from Wall Street.

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Although the Occupy Wall Street protest movement often shunned both organization and the formation of a coherent set of principles and demands, its antipathy to Wall Street–hence the name of the movement–was central to its cause and its grievances, real or imagined. Punishing Wall Street was a given to the protesters, because in their minds the city’s kings of finance were greedy oligarchs hoarding their wealth. But occasionally the OWS protesters accidentally stumbled upon some cold hard facts that undercut their complaints, such as when New York City Councilman Daniel Halloran approached the crowd and told them:

I think there needs to be Wall Street reform, but we also have to remember that one-third of the city’s revenue comes from Wall Street right now, OK? One-third of the city’s revenue stream already comes from Wall Street.

Halloran’s tone was patient, but he stressed the word already, as if to say: How much more of other people’s money do you want to take (a dangerous question when asked to liberals) and what do you think will happen to the poor if we punish the wealth creators on Wall Street who are already funding a third of the city’s revenue stream? That question was implied, not asked; but Joel Kotkin more or less asks and answers it over at Forbes:

With their enthusiastic backing of President Obama and the Democratic Party on Election Day, the bluest parts of America may have embraced a program utterly at odds with their economic self-interest. The almost uniform support of blue states’ congressional representatives for the administration’s campaign for tax “fairness” represents a kind of bizarre economic suicide pact.

Any move to raise taxes on the rich — defined as households making over $250,000 annually — strikes directly at the economies of these states, which depend heavily on the earnings of high-income professionals, entrepreneurs and technical workers. In fact, when you examine which states, and metropolitan areas, have the highest concentrations of such people, it turns out they are overwhelmingly located in the bluest states and regions.

As Thomas Frank might say, What’s the matter with Connecticut (or Maryland, or New York, or California, etc.)? But there’s actually a larger problem here than liberal voters voting against their self-interest. As Kotkin shows, he’s clearly anticipated the “fairness” argument, and demonstrates that the result of Obama’s policy could very well be more inequality, less socioeconomic mobility, and sustained levels of unemployment:

What would a big tax increase on the “rich” mean to the poor and working classes in these areas? To be sure, they may gain via taxpayer-funded transfer payments, but it’s doubtful that higher taxes will make their prospects for escaping poverty much brighter. For the most part, the economies of the key blue regions are very dependent on the earnings of the mass affluent class, and their spending is critical to overall growth. Singling out the affluent may also reduce the discretionary spending that drives employment in the personal services sector, retail and in such key fields as construction.

This prospect is troubling since many of these areas are already among the most unequal in America. In the expensive blue areas, the lower-income middle class population that would benefit from the Administration’s plan of keeping the Bush rates for them is proportionally smaller, although the numbers of the poor, who already pay little or nothing in income taxes, generally greater. Indeed, according to a recent Census analysis, the two places with the highest proportions of poor people are Washington, D.C., and California. By far the highest level of inequality among the country’s 25 most populous counties is in Manhattan.

Kotkin also mentions that, by the way, the tax policy probably wouldn’t help the fiscal condition of these blue states either. But looking at California, it’s hard to argue there’s much desire on the part of Democratic policymakers there to do anything other than revel in the wreckage of their failing state and hope for a federal bailout of some sort.

Should it bother liberals that their national tax policy reflects the logic of the youthful pseudoanarchist flash in the pan that left garbage, and only garbage, in its wake? I suppose it should. By the looks of this “fiscal cliff” debate, it doesn’t.

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DeMint Takes Over the Heritage Foundation

The big news in conservative circles today is that Jim DeMint will be leaving the Senate to run the Heritage Foundation, built from scratch by its innovative founder, Ed Feulner, into a colossus that redefined the way public-policy ideas could be integrated into the ongoing political process on Capitol Hill. Before Heritage was created in 1974, Capitol Hill was a vast wasteland intellectually and ideologically, especially on the Republican side; most policy was generated by the bureaucrats in the executive branch and then refined into legislative form by permanent staff on the Hill. Heritage began examining specific pieces of legislation and offering criticisms of them and proposals for their refinement, as well as producing short and coherent documents on a range of issues to educate congressmen and their staffs about the effects their votes could and would produce. This is now standard practice across the ideological camps in D.C., but it was entirely new and enormously influential.

Heritage is commonly called a “think tank,” but it’s something far more complex than that—it is one of the largest grass-roots organizations in the world, with an astonishing 700,000-plus donors and supporters and a budget of $75 million. And like most of the right, it has found itself see-sawing between trying to offer constructive policy advice advancing innovative legislation and standing in potent opposition to liberal innovations.

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The big news in conservative circles today is that Jim DeMint will be leaving the Senate to run the Heritage Foundation, built from scratch by its innovative founder, Ed Feulner, into a colossus that redefined the way public-policy ideas could be integrated into the ongoing political process on Capitol Hill. Before Heritage was created in 1974, Capitol Hill was a vast wasteland intellectually and ideologically, especially on the Republican side; most policy was generated by the bureaucrats in the executive branch and then refined into legislative form by permanent staff on the Hill. Heritage began examining specific pieces of legislation and offering criticisms of them and proposals for their refinement, as well as producing short and coherent documents on a range of issues to educate congressmen and their staffs about the effects their votes could and would produce. This is now standard practice across the ideological camps in D.C., but it was entirely new and enormously influential.

Heritage is commonly called a “think tank,” but it’s something far more complex than that—it is one of the largest grass-roots organizations in the world, with an astonishing 700,000-plus donors and supporters and a budget of $75 million. And like most of the right, it has found itself see-sawing between trying to offer constructive policy advice advancing innovative legislation and standing in potent opposition to liberal innovations.

The temptation for DeMint will be to stress the institution’s role in opposition, which is his stock in trade as a senator, and to downgrade its policy role, which has had its major “up”s (welfare reform) and its blind-spot “down”s (advocating a health-care mandate in 1994). But if ideas do not play the central role, Heritage will hollow itself out, and that would be a great shame. Ed Feulner stands as one of the great public-policy innovators of the 20th century; it would be thrilling if the same could be said of Jim DeMint when he passes on the mantle to his successor.

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The Recalibration of Conservatism

I heard from a couple of prominent conservatives yesterday who mentioned to me the pessimism, and even depression, they sense among conservatives throughout the land. That’s understandable, given the results of the 2012 election. Because unlike 2008, this is an election Barack Obama should have lost and that the right fully expected him to lose.

Still, there have been worse wilderness years than what we’re experiencing now. (Retaining control of the House will prove to be an important check on Mr. Obama’s second-term ambitions.) In addition, the loss Republicans experienced can be leveraged to conservatives’ advantage, if we take away the right lessons from the 2012 defeat.

Two individuals who are doing just that are Representative Paul Ryan and Senator Marco Rubio. They spoke earlier this week at the annual dinner of the Jack Kemp Foundation. Both speeches (which can be found here and here) are well worth reading.

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I heard from a couple of prominent conservatives yesterday who mentioned to me the pessimism, and even depression, they sense among conservatives throughout the land. That’s understandable, given the results of the 2012 election. Because unlike 2008, this is an election Barack Obama should have lost and that the right fully expected him to lose.

Still, there have been worse wilderness years than what we’re experiencing now. (Retaining control of the House will prove to be an important check on Mr. Obama’s second-term ambitions.) In addition, the loss Republicans experienced can be leveraged to conservatives’ advantage, if we take away the right lessons from the 2012 defeat.

Two individuals who are doing just that are Representative Paul Ryan and Senator Marco Rubio. They spoke earlier this week at the annual dinner of the Jack Kemp Foundation. Both speeches (which can be found here and here) are well worth reading.

The speeches focused on the plight of the poor, the challenges facing the middle class, upward mobility and opportunity, and (especially in the case of Senator Rubio) education. Messrs. Ryan and Rubio offered intelligent defenses of limited government while also acknowledging the important role of government. And they used terms like “compassion,” “the common good,” “civil society,” and “social infrastructure.” Their tone was inclusive, humane, aspirational, and captured the true, and full, spirit of conservatism.

What Ryan and Rubio are doing is widening the aperture of the Republican Party and the conservative movement, which in recent years either ignored (in the case of civil society and education) or took aim at (in the case of compassion) issues and concepts that are morally important and politically potent. It isn’t so much that what was being said was wrong, though in some cases (like on immigration) it was; it’s that the vision being offered was constricted. 

The task facing conservatives today is somewhat akin to what Ronald Reagan faced in 1977 with the GOP, Bill Clinton faced in 1992 with the Democratic Party, and Tony Blair faced in 1994 with the Labour Party. In this instance, the Republican Party and conservatism have to remain powerful defenders of liberty and limited government. But they also have to establish themselves in the public imagination as advocates for reform and modernization, of the middle class and social mobility, and of a generous, inclusive vision. There is much more work to be done, and the speeches by Ryan and Rubio were encouraging first steps.

The necessary recalibration of conservatism is under way, and that is something that ought to lift the spirits of conservatives.

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Is Armenia a Weak Link in Iran Sanctions?

Yesterday, I testified before the House Foreign Affairs Committee’s Europe and Eurasian Subcommittee, which was investigating Iranian strategy, influence, and interests in the Caucasus. As always, there’s good news and bad news from the region. Azerbaijan remains a stalwart U.S. ally intolerant of Iranian approaches. Georgia is as well, but after its October election remains very much in play. Turkey’s efforts to subvert sanctions are well known. The greater problem today is Armenia:

  • According to a State Department cable released by Wikileaks, in 2008, U.S. diplomats concluded that Armenia shipped Iran weaponry, which Iran then used to kill Americans.
  • Bank Mellat, a sanctioned Iranian bank, operates in Yerevan, and Iranian businesses dot the city.
  • In October 2011, a member of Armenia’s Nuclear Energy Organization told the Iranian press that Tehran had enticed several Armenian nuclear scientists to work in Iran’s nuclear program.

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Yesterday, I testified before the House Foreign Affairs Committee’s Europe and Eurasian Subcommittee, which was investigating Iranian strategy, influence, and interests in the Caucasus. As always, there’s good news and bad news from the region. Azerbaijan remains a stalwart U.S. ally intolerant of Iranian approaches. Georgia is as well, but after its October election remains very much in play. Turkey’s efforts to subvert sanctions are well known. The greater problem today is Armenia:

  • According to a State Department cable released by Wikileaks, in 2008, U.S. diplomats concluded that Armenia shipped Iran weaponry, which Iran then used to kill Americans.
  • Bank Mellat, a sanctioned Iranian bank, operates in Yerevan, and Iranian businesses dot the city.
  • In October 2011, a member of Armenia’s Nuclear Energy Organization told the Iranian press that Tehran had enticed several Armenian nuclear scientists to work in Iran’s nuclear program.

The Armenian community in the United States is fortunate to be both vibrant and organized. It is unfortunate that organizations representing the Armenian Diaspora in the United States and the congressmen who partner with them do not do more to encourage change in the Armenian government’s geopolitical behavior. Certainly, Armenia is between a rock and a hard place. Russia looms large, both culturally and politically, and Armenians are loathe to unravel that relationship in an age when no one believes U.S. guarantees of continued commitment.

Cultural links are also strong to Iran; when I first studied in the Islamic Republic in the mid-1990s, my apartment was in Julfa, Isfahan’s chief Armenian neighborhood. The Armenian community need not drop its advocacy for recognition of the Armenian genocide, but by ignoring Armenia’s pro-Iranian orientation, the Armenian-American community squanders an opportunity to build a true strategic partnership between Washington and Yerevan, a partnership which would certainly be to both countries’ benefit.

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Clinton Excludes Israel Again from Counterterror Summit?

Last year, the Obama administration and State Department promoted the Global Counterterrorism Forum, but acquiesced to Turkey’s demand that Israel be excluded from the forum. Apparently, as seen by his repeated endorsements of Hamas, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan believes that terrorism is always bad, unless directed at Israelis.

Last July, Rick Richman and Jonathan Tobin noted that long after Secretary Clinton had promised to do what was necessary to win Israel’s inclusion, forum meetings were going ahead without the Jewish state’s presence. Well, it’s happened again.

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Last year, the Obama administration and State Department promoted the Global Counterterrorism Forum, but acquiesced to Turkey’s demand that Israel be excluded from the forum. Apparently, as seen by his repeated endorsements of Hamas, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan believes that terrorism is always bad, unless directed at Israelis.

Last July, Rick Richman and Jonathan Tobin noted that long after Secretary Clinton had promised to do what was necessary to win Israel’s inclusion, forum meetings were going ahead without the Jewish state’s presence. Well, it’s happened again.

According to CNS’s Patrick Goodenough, the State Department has acquiesced to the forum again excluding Israel. Goodenough reports, “Six months after the Obama administration said it was ‘committed’ to involving Israel in its flagship international counter-terrorism initiative, there has evidently been little progress….”

The issue is not simply Israel’s exclusion, or the State Department’s belief that more intolerant states like Lebanon and Turkey might stay away if Israelis were at the same forum. Rather, the problem is that these radicals believe that U.S. acquiescence to their refusal to allow Israel’s inclusion is an implicit U.S. endorsement of their drive to delegitimize Israel completely. Clinton’s refusal to pull the carpet out from under the meeting by putting U.S. participation on the line not only undercuts global counter-terrorism by signaling that terrorism against Israel needn’t be on the table, but also convinces the Erdoğans of the world that momentum is on their side.

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Echoes of Afghanistan in Syria?

As if to buttress my earlier item on the dangers of outsourcing support for Syrian rebels to the Qataris and other Gulf Arabs, the New York Times carries this report on the worrisome consequences of earlier outsourcing the support of Libyan rebels to Qatar.

The newspaper reports: “The weapons and money from Qatar strengthened militant groups in Libya, allowing them to become a destabilizing force since the fall of the Qaddafi government.”

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As if to buttress my earlier item on the dangers of outsourcing support for Syrian rebels to the Qataris and other Gulf Arabs, the New York Times carries this report on the worrisome consequences of earlier outsourcing the support of Libyan rebels to Qatar.

The newspaper reports: “The weapons and money from Qatar strengthened militant groups in Libya, allowing them to become a destabilizing force since the fall of the Qaddafi government.”

And it is not only in Libya that those arms have been a destabilizing influence: “Some of the arms since have been moved from Libya to militants with ties to Al Qaeda in Mali, where radical jihadi factions have imposed Shariah law in the northern part of the country, the former Defense Department official said. Others have gone to Syria, according to several American and foreign officials and arms traders.”

The dangers of allowing Gulf states to act as our proxies should have been clear from the experience of Afghanistan in the 1980s where the Saudis empowered the most radical mujahideen groups, some of which are now fighting U.S. troops. Libya reinforces that lesson. Yet, bizarrely, we are making precisely the same mistake today in Syria.

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