Commentary Magazine


Posts For: December 11, 2012

Reporters Still Badgering Amb. Oren About U.S. Election

Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren had lunch with reporters today in Washington. What was the most newsworthy bit? According to Buzzfeed’s write-up, it’s that Oren made the unambiguously true statement that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did not interfere in the recent American presidential election. “Prime Minister Netanyahu went to extraordinary lengths not to be dragged into the U.S. presidential elections,” Rosie Gray quotes Oren as saying.

That this is considered news is a good demonstration of how hysterical some reporters (not Gray, I should be clear) became during the election when Netanyahu didn’t spend enough time, in their minds, praising President Obama. But Oren’s words were actually chosen carefully here, it seems. Of course Netanyahu didn’t interfere in the election, and a great many members of the press embarrassed themselves by accusing him repeatedly and falsely of doing so. But Oren is right: it’s not just that Netanyahu didn’t interfere. It’s that he had to work especially hard not to get dragged into the election. And those dragging Netanyahu into the election were none other than the media personalities accusing Netanyahu of interfering.

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Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren had lunch with reporters today in Washington. What was the most newsworthy bit? According to Buzzfeed’s write-up, it’s that Oren made the unambiguously true statement that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did not interfere in the recent American presidential election. “Prime Minister Netanyahu went to extraordinary lengths not to be dragged into the U.S. presidential elections,” Rosie Gray quotes Oren as saying.

That this is considered news is a good demonstration of how hysterical some reporters (not Gray, I should be clear) became during the election when Netanyahu didn’t spend enough time, in their minds, praising President Obama. But Oren’s words were actually chosen carefully here, it seems. Of course Netanyahu didn’t interfere in the election, and a great many members of the press embarrassed themselves by accusing him repeatedly and falsely of doing so. But Oren is right: it’s not just that Netanyahu didn’t interfere. It’s that he had to work especially hard not to get dragged into the election. And those dragging Netanyahu into the election were none other than the media personalities accusing Netanyahu of interfering.

The best example of this came during a September broadcast of “Meet the Press” when host David Gregory interviewed Netanyahu, and proceeded to first criticize Netanyahu for getting involved in the election and then try to goad him into getting involved in the election–on Obama’s behalf. Gregory asked Netanyahu why he was criticizing Obama when Netanyahu talked about the need to establish red lines on Iran’s nuclear program. Netanyahu responded that he didn’t intend it as a criticism of Obama but actually that other (unnamed) world leaders had been accusing Netanyahu of being reckless, and he wanted to establish clearly that Israel has a right to defend itself. Gregory completely ignored the answer and proceeded as if he wasn’t even listening when Netanyahu spoke:

GREGORY:  Your criticism, your calling on President Obama to set this red line, comes in the middle of a heated presidential campaign.  You understand the American political system very well.  You’re very sophisticated in that regard.  In your view, would Governor Mitt Romney as President Romney make Israel safer?  Would he take a harder line against Iran than President Obama in your judgment?

PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU:  God, I’m– I’m not going to be drawn into the American election.  And– and what’s guiding my statements are– is not the American political calendar but the Iranian nuclear calendar.  They’re just– you know, if they stop spinning the centrifuges for– and took timeout for the American elections, I wouldn’t have to talk.  And I wouldn’t have to raise this issue.  But as the prime minister of Israel, knowing that this country committed to our destruction is getting closer to the goal of having weapons of mass destruction then I speak out.  And it’s got– it’s really not a partisan political issue.  And I think it’s important for anyone who is the president of the United States to be in that position of preventing Iran from having this nuclear weapons– nuclear weapons capability.  And I’m talking to the president.  I just talked to him the other day.  We are in close consultations.  We’re trying to prevent that.  It’s really not a partisan issue.  It’s a policy issue not a political issue.

GREGORY:  Well, but it may not be a partisan issue.  You have known Mitt Romney a long time.  The reality is– tell me if you disagree that Governor Romney just in an interview this week said that his position is very much the same as President Obama.  They are both committed to preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.  Not just as an impartial observer, as the prime minister of Israel, do you agree with that that both the president and his challenger have the same view with regard to preventing Iran from going nuclear?

PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU:  I have no doubt that they are equally committed to preventing that.  It’s a– it’s a vital American interest.  It’s a– it’s an existential interest on my case so, this isn’t the issue.  We are united on this across the board.

Netanyahu might have thought he was out of the woods, but after one more question Gregory returned the pressing matter of attempting to hector Netanyahu into praising Obama:

GREGORY:  Prime Minister, one more question on the American election.  You have been accused this week by pundits in this country of trying to interfere in this presidential election, siding with Governor Mitt Romney.  Now, Governor Romney for a year, and he said it in his convention speech, has said, quote, “President Obama has thrown allies like Israel under the bus.”  Do you agree or disagree with Governor Romney’s charge?  It’s a serious charge.

PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU:  Well, you’re– you’re trying to get me into the– into the American election and I’m not going to do that.  The relationship between Israel and the United States is a bond of– it’s just a very powerful bond.  It was, it is, and will be and will continue to be.  And I– I can tell you there’s no one– there’s no leader in the world who’s more appreciative than me of the strength of this alliance.  It’s very strong.  There’s no one in Israel who appreciates more than me the importance of American support for Israel.  It’s not a partisan issue.  In fact, we cherish the bipartisan support of Democrats and Republicans alike.  This is critical for us.

GREGORY:  But prime minister, with respect, if I may just interrupt you…

PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU:  And– and I think it’s critical that we take…

Gregory, now agitated, interrupts again:

GREGORY:  I think this is a very important point because you say you don’t want to interfere in the election.  There are tens of millions of Americans who are watching that speech, who hear that rhetoric, who hear that charge, who may not understand the complexities of this issue.  You are the leader of the Jewish people.  You say this is not a partisan issue.  You get billions of dollars from direct foreign investment from this country, hundreds of millions of dollars from Americans, Jews and Christians alike from this country.  It seems to me for you to remain silent on whether this administration has thrown Israel under the bus is tantamount to agreeing with the sentiment.  So where do you come down on that specific charge against President Obama?

PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU:  Now, there you go again, David, you’re trying to draw me into something that– that is simply not– not the case and it’s not my position.  My position is that we– we have strong cooperation.  We’ll continue to cooperate.  We’re the best of allies.  And Israel is the one reliable ally of the United States in the Middle East…

Not good enough, says Gregory:

GREGORY:  So President Obama has not thrown Israel under the bus?

PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU:  …if that wasn’t understood until yesterday.  So it’s– it’s– there’s– there’s no bus, and we’re not going to get into that discussion, except to say one thing.  We have a strong alliance and we’re going to continue to have a strong alliance.  I think the important question is where does the– the only bus that is really important is the Iranian nuclear bus.  That’s the one that we have to– to derail.  And that’s my interest.  That’s my– my only interest.

With that, Gregory was satisfied (or almost out of time). This was only the most visible case of what Oren was talking about–though of course he was too diplomatic to get into details. Netanyahu had to work to stay out of this election, and it’s because the American media so desperately wanted his interference.

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Wintour Ambassadorship Rumors Build

As Michael Rubin wrote last week, President Obama’s potential nomination of top donor and Vogue editor Anna Wintour as ambassador to either the UK or France is problematic for a number of reasons. Jake Tapper examined one major reason–it would be the latest example of Obama’s broken 2008 promise to get rid of the political spoils system in Washington–in a video today (h/t HotAir):

Tapper writes

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As Michael Rubin wrote last week, President Obama’s potential nomination of top donor and Vogue editor Anna Wintour as ambassador to either the UK or France is problematic for a number of reasons. Jake Tapper examined one major reason–it would be the latest example of Obama’s broken 2008 promise to get rid of the political spoils system in Washington–in a video today (h/t HotAir):

Tapper writes

ABC News asked White House Press Secretary Jay Carney if it is important for a diplomat to be, well, diplomatic?

“We had one of the greatest diplomats of his generation pass away not long ago, Richard Holbrooke, and I think everyone who knew him or who sat across the table from him would agree that he was not by anyone’s traditional definition particularly diplomatic,” said Carney.

“So they come in all types and sizes and approaches.”

At the state department, a comparison of Wintour with the late Ambassador Richard Holbrooke — a Vietnam War veteran, former assistant secretary of state, UN ambassador, and chief architect of the Bosnia peace accords — raised some eye brows.

No kidding. The practice of giving ambassadorships to top donors isn’t new, but it’s a sharp deviation from Obama’s vow to choose political appointments based on merit as opposed to fundraising ability. Obama has appointed donors to these positions in the past, but giving such a high-profile position to someone who is so obviously unqualified highlights how far he’s strayed from his 2008 “change” theme.

The Daily Mail reports that the news is already ruffling feathers in the UK:

British journalist Toby Young – who satirised his five-year stint in New York with Conde Nast, the magazine company that publishes Vogue, in the book and film How To Lose Friends And Alienate People – said: ‘She presides over the fashion business with the imperial hauteur of a Prussian general and expects instant, unquestioning obedience. 

‘It’s hard to imagine a personality less suited to the world of international diplomacy. She left school at 16 and has been working in fashion ever since. Obama’s chauffeur probably knows more about international relations than her. It’s like Caligula making his horse a senator.’

‘It’s hard to imagine a personality less suited to the world of international diplomacy. She left school at 16 and has been working in fashion ever since. Obama’s chauffeur probably knows more about international relations than her. It’s like Caligula making his horse a senator.’ 

One fashion editor in London said: ‘It’s incredible the most powerful nation on Earth should even consider appointing the least diplomatic woman on Earth as an envoy. She is joyless and intimidating.’ …

State Department insiders are at pains to say that, if appointed, Ms Wintour would be expected to concentrate on using her close relationship with President Obama to influence French president Francois Hollande. Her personal style, love of Parisian haute couture and elitist views about beauty and femininity are expected to go down well.

Appointing someone like Wintour diminishes the position of an ambassador, and it’s an insult to career diplomats who put themselves in great risk, like Chris Stevens–not to mention the fact that it’s an insult to whatever country she might be appointed as ambassador to.

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Sheldon Adelson Talks Politics, Troops and Israel

Sheldon Adelson sat at the end of a sweeping boardroom table in an office in his Las Vegas hotel, the Venetian. Earlier that week, he had described himself as “basically a social liberal” in an interview with the Wall Street Journal. His comments quickly drew criticism from both the left and right; The Huffington Post called him a “low-information billionaire,” and he was blasted by the right-wing anti-immigration activists. But Adelson seemed unfazed. 

“I got a call from a friend of mine who went to a Republican thing yesterday,” he told me. “They said, ‘Well Adelson’s got it right. He’s got it right.’ What’s wrong admitting that some of the social issues are those which Republicans should adopt?”

As for the critics, Adelson was dismissive: “What right do they have to criticize me? They don’t know me at all.”

For someone whose name and face were a regular staple of the election coverage, the public does have many misconceptions about Adelson. His liberal social views rarely received media attention during the campaign season, though he’s certainly never hidden them.

“See that paper on the wall?” he asked, gesturing toward a poster with rows of names on it. “That is a list of some of the scientists that we give a lot of money to conduct collaborative medical research, including stem cell research. What’s wrong if I help stem cell research? I’m all in favor. And if somebody wants to have an abortion, let them have an abortion,” he said.

Adelson wouldn’t be the first high-profile Republican to suggest the party should soften (or at least downplay) its position on social issues. But as the seventh richest man in America and the biggest campaign donor in political history, Adelson could have much more influence over the direction of the GOP than any of these other internal critics. According to the Wall Street Journal, he spent over $100 million on the last election, and has no compunction about spending more. “To me, it’s not a lot of money,” he said. 

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Sheldon Adelson sat at the end of a sweeping boardroom table in an office in his Las Vegas hotel, the Venetian. Earlier that week, he had described himself as “basically a social liberal” in an interview with the Wall Street Journal. His comments quickly drew criticism from both the left and right; The Huffington Post called him a “low-information billionaire,” and he was blasted by the right-wing anti-immigration activists. But Adelson seemed unfazed. 

“I got a call from a friend of mine who went to a Republican thing yesterday,” he told me. “They said, ‘Well Adelson’s got it right. He’s got it right.’ What’s wrong admitting that some of the social issues are those which Republicans should adopt?”

As for the critics, Adelson was dismissive: “What right do they have to criticize me? They don’t know me at all.”

For someone whose name and face were a regular staple of the election coverage, the public does have many misconceptions about Adelson. His liberal social views rarely received media attention during the campaign season, though he’s certainly never hidden them.

“See that paper on the wall?” he asked, gesturing toward a poster with rows of names on it. “That is a list of some of the scientists that we give a lot of money to conduct collaborative medical research, including stem cell research. What’s wrong if I help stem cell research? I’m all in favor. And if somebody wants to have an abortion, let them have an abortion,” he said.

Adelson wouldn’t be the first high-profile Republican to suggest the party should soften (or at least downplay) its position on social issues. But as the seventh richest man in America and the biggest campaign donor in political history, Adelson could have much more influence over the direction of the GOP than any of these other internal critics. According to the Wall Street Journal, he spent over $100 million on the last election, and has no compunction about spending more. “To me, it’s not a lot of money,” he said. 

Adelson has not said whether he will use his influence to try to change the GOP internally. But he does believe social issues cost the Republicans the last election.

“If we took a softer stance on those several issues, social issues, that I referred to, then I think that we would have won the most recent election,” he said. “I think people got the impression that Republicans didn’t care about certain groups of people.” 

“They talked about Mitt Romney and said that he can’t identify with poor people. I can identify with poor people because I was one of them,” he added.

Adelson also breaks with Republicans on health care and immigration. He said he opposes Obamacare, but he does “believe in a socialized medicine system” like the one in Israel.

On immigration, he supports a path to citizenship with some sort of community service requirement.

“We have to find a way for them to earn citizenship,” he said. “I think they got to pay something for it. Not in money…people have suggested serving in the military, community service.”

If Adelson does decide to take a larger role in influencing GOP policy, the upcoming immigration reform debate could be his first opportunity. As a child of immigrants, the issue appears to hold a lot of personal significance for him.

“I was a poor person. My parents were uneducated. My parents were immigrants,” Adelson said. “All of the things that are under consideration today, I was part of.” 

Adelson was born during the Great Depression in Dorchester, Massachusetts. His father had fled from Lithuania in 1912. Adelson recalled his father telling him as a child: “You just remember, Sheldon, the United States of America is the greatest country God ever created. Don’t you ever forget that.”

I asked him what he thought about accusations that he is more loyal to Israel than the U.S., an anti-Semitic smear that proliferated during the election.

“Listen, I live here. I don’t live there,” he said. “My wife is Israeli, my children carry Israeli passports, but I don’t. And what right do critics have to make any comment about who I’m loyal to?”

He continued: “Israel is also one of the greatest nations on Earth…Israel is a melting pot for Jewish people like the United States is a melting pot for people who want to leave other countries. You can’t have another country like that? That’s OK.”

Adelson and his wife are both veterans. She served in the Israeli Defense Force, and he served in the U.S. military during the Korean war. They also contribute to veterans organizations, and six years ago began sponsoring a regular Las Vegas trip for wounded soldiers through the Armed Forces Foundation (my trip to Vegas to cover the event was sponsored by this program).

Adelson said he decided to start the trip after sitting next to a wounded soldier at a veterans event in Washington. Once the gala was over, he said he wanted to find a way to thank the wounded personally.

“Last time we had people coming from the [Brooke Army Medical Center] from San Antonio, that their faces…their bodies were so badly burned it was difficult to look at them, you know? And nobody ever says thank you to them,” he  said.

“It tears your heart out. You wonder how people can carry on.”

Adelson has struggled with his own health issues. He suffers from a condition that makes walking and using his hands difficult.

“Look, I have neuropathy. And all four of my limbs are affected by neuropathy,” he said. “On the motor side my thumb and my forefinger can’t operate. I can’t tie my shoe laces.”

“There are a lot of things I can’t do,” he continued. “But I’m thanking God that’s all I got. How can these people get along without fingers, without hands? Without legs? And all because they wanted to volunteer to fight to save our freedoms.”

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What’s the Alternative to Drones?

Is “America’s Drone War Out of Control”? That is the provocative headline—minus the question mark—of Gideon Rachman’s Financial Times column. He is not alone in attacking the policy of using drone strikes against terrorist targets abroad—a policy initiated by the Bush administration and greatly expanded under President Obama. Such strikes are coming in for increasing criticism for supposedly being just as lawless as “renditions,” detentions without trial, “enhanced interrogation techniques,” warrantless wiretapping and all the other features of the war on terrorism to which civil libertarians object. One suspects that the criticism, now a mild buzz, would reach a crescendo if a Republican were in the White House: Obama’s policies are harder to criticize for the left than those of a President McCain or Romney.

It is perhaps just as well to have a more open debate about what has so far been a relatively covert policy, which has extended from the battlefields in Iraq and Afghanistan to other lands, from Pakistan to Yemen, where U.S. ground troops are not committed. Critics of drone strikes do, in fairness, make some legitimate points about what criteria are used to designate targets and how, in the absence of judicial review, we can achieve accountability for mistakes. There is also legitimate fear that by creating collateral damage such strikes may create more enemies than they eliminate and, less persuasively, that such strikes could create a precedent for authoritarian regimes to follow suit. (Do countries like Russia and Iran really need American inspiration to target their perceived enemies abroad?)

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Is “America’s Drone War Out of Control”? That is the provocative headline—minus the question mark—of Gideon Rachman’s Financial Times column. He is not alone in attacking the policy of using drone strikes against terrorist targets abroad—a policy initiated by the Bush administration and greatly expanded under President Obama. Such strikes are coming in for increasing criticism for supposedly being just as lawless as “renditions,” detentions without trial, “enhanced interrogation techniques,” warrantless wiretapping and all the other features of the war on terrorism to which civil libertarians object. One suspects that the criticism, now a mild buzz, would reach a crescendo if a Republican were in the White House: Obama’s policies are harder to criticize for the left than those of a President McCain or Romney.

It is perhaps just as well to have a more open debate about what has so far been a relatively covert policy, which has extended from the battlefields in Iraq and Afghanistan to other lands, from Pakistan to Yemen, where U.S. ground troops are not committed. Critics of drone strikes do, in fairness, make some legitimate points about what criteria are used to designate targets and how, in the absence of judicial review, we can achieve accountability for mistakes. There is also legitimate fear that by creating collateral damage such strikes may create more enemies than they eliminate and, less persuasively, that such strikes could create a precedent for authoritarian regimes to follow suit. (Do countries like Russia and Iran really need American inspiration to target their perceived enemies abroad?)

But what critics do not have is a compelling alternative to offer. Should we simply stop all drone strikes and declare that our response to terrorism will be limited to trying to arrest and extradite suspects?

Not even Rachman goes that far. At the end of raising lots of objections to the drones he offers a meek proposal that drones should “be reclaimed from the realm of covert warfare” and should instead be employed “by the military and openly scrutinized by politicians and press.” This rather ignores the reality that the segment of the U.S. military most likely to take control of drone strikes is the Joint Special Operations Command, whose operations are super-secret and hardly “scrutinized by politicians and press”—unless they have either a monumental success or screw-up.

No doubt there are more extreme drone opponents who would be willing to simply stop all such strikes. How, then, do they suggest that we deal with the threat of terrorism emanating from countries such as Pakistan and Yemen and Somalia, where it is simply not practical to send FBI agents to arrest terrorist suspects? Indeed, we are facing this very quandary today in Libya, where the administration is relying on the FBI to identify suspects in the Benghazi consulate attack—so far with no luck. Remember: the whole reason why the drone strikes started in the first place is because fighting terrorism through domestic law enforcement was tried before 9/11 and found badly wanting.

I have my own problem with drone strikes—I don’t think they are the complete answer to terrorism. They are, in fact, only part of what should be a broader counterinsurgency and state-building strategy in at-risk countries. Unfortunately, we have failed to develop such a comprehensive approach and instead rely too heavily on targeted drone strikes. The answer, however, is not to end the drone strikes. They remain our best instrument for disrupting terrorist plots that, if successful, might well force the U.S. to put large numbers of ground troops in harm’s way. The answer is to maintain the drone strikes while building up our softer instruments of suasion so as to help defeat Islamist extremists.

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Michigan Right-to-Work Law Brings Out the Worst in Union Supporters

Earlier this afternoon, lawmakers in Michigan approved right-to-work legislation for public employees 58-51, sending the bill to the Republican governor, Rick Snyder, who has been promoting the legislation and is expected to sign the bill into law. Opponents of the legislation have accused Snyder of attempting to “bust the unions.” Today on Fox News Snyder answered his critics, explaining:

If you look at unions in Michigan, they’ve done a lot of great things in our state. We’re the center of the labor movement going back in the last century. In the ’20s, ’30s, ’40s, people flocked to join the unions, because they were helping with working conditions, wages, all those things. And people chose to join a union… People used to choose to join a union. Now, I don’t believe it’s appropriate to say ‘just to keep your job, you have to pay dues and be a union member.’ So basically this creates an environment where people can say they’re choosing to join a union because the unions put a value proposition to make it worth while. And if the union’s not providing a value, someone should be forced to choose. So I view this as pro-worker legislation.

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Earlier this afternoon, lawmakers in Michigan approved right-to-work legislation for public employees 58-51, sending the bill to the Republican governor, Rick Snyder, who has been promoting the legislation and is expected to sign the bill into law. Opponents of the legislation have accused Snyder of attempting to “bust the unions.” Today on Fox News Snyder answered his critics, explaining:

If you look at unions in Michigan, they’ve done a lot of great things in our state. We’re the center of the labor movement going back in the last century. In the ’20s, ’30s, ’40s, people flocked to join the unions, because they were helping with working conditions, wages, all those things. And people chose to join a union… People used to choose to join a union. Now, I don’t believe it’s appropriate to say ‘just to keep your job, you have to pay dues and be a union member.’ So basically this creates an environment where people can say they’re choosing to join a union because the unions put a value proposition to make it worth while. And if the union’s not providing a value, someone should be forced to choose. So I view this as pro-worker legislation.

As they did in Wisconsin, teachers have decided to prioritize their union over the well-being of the children in their classrooms, deciding to “sick-out” enough to warrant the closure of entire school districts. Predictably, given the likelihood that this bill could seriously hamper unions’ ability to function, the battle in Lansing is getting nasty. On the floor of the Michigan House of Representatives, State Representative Douglas Geiss threatened “there will be blood.” The Twitter account for the Michigan Democrats tweeted the quote, and a few hours later, after actual violence started to unfold, the tweet was deleted. A screen shot is visible below: 

 

The atmosphere in Lansing is tense, as right-to-work friendly organizations like Americans for Prosperity have been targeted by groups of yelling union members, many clad in boots and hardhats, tearing down tents and reportedly punching a conservative activist. The actions of these union members and their supporters didn’t stop the Michigan House from passing the bill, nor are they likely to stop Snyder from signing it, but they may give Michiganders pause.

Will Michiganders with a long history in the labor movement decide that the government freeing workers from mandated union dues is akin to the Battle of the Overpass? In the battle, guards for the Ford Motor Company violently beat UAW leafleters attempting to organize car factories in the Detroit area. Michigan voters may not be familiar with the 1937 incident, but it’s easy to see who in the 2012 labor movement have devolved into violence out of a desire to hamper the rights of their opponents.

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Israel’s Counterterror Summit Attendance Shouldn’t Be Enough

Yesterday, Rick Richman doubled down on Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s continued acquiescence to Israel’s exclusion from the Global Counterterrorism Forum, the Obama administration’s marquee counterterrorism diplomatic program. Rick is right that the State Department is embarrassing itself, and rendering meaningless any outcome to the forum. But the willingness to exclude Israel for the mirage of success is not the exception, but rather the norm.

Consider the United Nations’s regional groupings. Logically, Israel should be part of the United Nations’s Asian Group, simply on the basis of geography. But Arab states block Israel’s membership—because, it seems, in the Middle East hatred trumps logic. That other United Nations members allow this nonsense demeans the entire body. After all, North Korea doesn’t block South Korea or vice versa, nor does India block Pakistan. While not a regional issue, the United States holds its nose and allows Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to visit New York on UN business. Israel’s exclusion from the Asian Group has encouraged the worst excesses: Prior to Mary Robinson’s anti-Semitic Durban “anti-racism” Conference, the worst excesses came out of the Asian Group’s preparatory meeting in Tehran.

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Yesterday, Rick Richman doubled down on Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s continued acquiescence to Israel’s exclusion from the Global Counterterrorism Forum, the Obama administration’s marquee counterterrorism diplomatic program. Rick is right that the State Department is embarrassing itself, and rendering meaningless any outcome to the forum. But the willingness to exclude Israel for the mirage of success is not the exception, but rather the norm.

Consider the United Nations’s regional groupings. Logically, Israel should be part of the United Nations’s Asian Group, simply on the basis of geography. But Arab states block Israel’s membership—because, it seems, in the Middle East hatred trumps logic. That other United Nations members allow this nonsense demeans the entire body. After all, North Korea doesn’t block South Korea or vice versa, nor does India block Pakistan. While not a regional issue, the United States holds its nose and allows Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to visit New York on UN business. Israel’s exclusion from the Asian Group has encouraged the worst excesses: Prior to Mary Robinson’s anti-Semitic Durban “anti-racism” Conference, the worst excesses came out of the Asian Group’s preparatory meeting in Tehran.

True, after several years, the Western European and Others Group allowed temporary membership for Israel, but with Turkey in the same group for voting purposes, expect the fiercely anti-Israel Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to raise complaints. He realizes that when he makes enough noise, the West caves.

That the United Nations demeans itself when it plays these games with Israel is well-known. That Clinton believes she should follow its example shows her true self and sets a very dangerous precedent.

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The New York Times, Leon Wieseltier, and Cartographic Literacy

Last week, the New York Times quietly made two corrections to Jodi Rudoren’s December 2, 2012 news article headlined “Dividing the West Bank, and Deepening a Rift.” In a December 7 “Correction” appended to the article, the Times acknowledged that Israeli development in the E1 area “would not divide the West Bank in two” (emphasis added); and it “would not, technically, make a contiguous Palestinian state impossible” (emphasis added). So technically–not to put too fine a point on it–the central premise of the article was flat-out wrong.

The E1 area, which connects Ma’ale Adumim to Jerusalem in a stretch of desert less than two miles long, is retained by Israel in the “Everyone Knows” peace plan–as everyone knows who has bothered to look at a map of the Clinton parameters, or maps of various similar plans. But in a December 6 post at the New Republic, Leon Wieseltier called the plan for Jewish housing in E1 “an outrageous proposal …. which would scuttle any cartographically meaningful state for the Palestinians.” Since the proposal would not divide the West Bank, nor prevent a contiguous Palestinian state, nor preclude it on about 95 percent of the West Bank, Wieseltier appears to be cartographically challenged. Either that, or he relies on the New York Times.

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Last week, the New York Times quietly made two corrections to Jodi Rudoren’s December 2, 2012 news article headlined “Dividing the West Bank, and Deepening a Rift.” In a December 7 “Correction” appended to the article, the Times acknowledged that Israeli development in the E1 area “would not divide the West Bank in two” (emphasis added); and it “would not, technically, make a contiguous Palestinian state impossible” (emphasis added). So technically–not to put too fine a point on it–the central premise of the article was flat-out wrong.

The E1 area, which connects Ma’ale Adumim to Jerusalem in a stretch of desert less than two miles long, is retained by Israel in the “Everyone Knows” peace plan–as everyone knows who has bothered to look at a map of the Clinton parameters, or maps of various similar plans. But in a December 6 post at the New Republic, Leon Wieseltier called the plan for Jewish housing in E1 “an outrageous proposal …. which would scuttle any cartographically meaningful state for the Palestinians.” Since the proposal would not divide the West Bank, nor prevent a contiguous Palestinian state, nor preclude it on about 95 percent of the West Bank, Wieseltier appears to be cartographically challenged. Either that, or he relies on the New York Times.

The executive summary of a new monograph from the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA), reflecting a six-month study of the Times’s coverage of Israel in 2011, documents “a disproportionate, continuous, embedded indictment of Israel that dominates both news and commentary sections.” CAMERA notes that Arthur Brisbane, in his final column this year as the Times’s public editor, described a worldview at the paper reflecting (in his words) “political and cultural progressivism” that “virtually bleeds through the fabric of The Times,” treating certain developments “more like causes than news subjects,” making “thousands of errors” every year. Rudoren’s article was another one.

In contrast to his ill-informed opinion regarding E1, Wieseltier was relatively restrained in describing Mahmoud Abbas’s UN speech, which accused Israel of “one of the most dreadful campaigns of ethnic cleansing and dispossession in modern history;” of unprovoked “aggression” in Gaza; and of “an apartheid system of colonial occupation, which institutionalizes the plague of racism.” Wieseltier thought the speech was “mean and small.”

Since the occasion for Abbas’s slander was the Palestinian rejection of the fundamental commitment of the “peace process” (not to take “any step” to change the legal status of the West Bank outside negotiations), a better informed, more morally precise description of the speech would have used the word “outrageous.”

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Designating the Al Nusra Front: Bad Timing

The Obama administration’s policy on Syria continues to lurch forward incoherently, the latest development being the designation of the Al Nusra Front, one of the rebel groups fighting Bashar Assad, as a terrorist organization. On the merits the designation is clearly warranted, given the close links between Al Nusra and Al Qaeda in Iraq. But the administration has dragged its feet for years in designating other terrorist groups such as the Haqqani Network even while they were actually killing Americans. The Taliban still hasn’t been so designated. So why rush to designate the Al Nusra Front?

Presumably because the administration is planning to confer diplomatic recognition on the Syrian opposition and wants to make clear its disapproval of the jihadist element of the opposition. But the U.S. has so far provided no meaningful assistance to the Syrian opposition—certainly not arms. The Al Nusra Front has been growing increasingly prominent precisely because it is getting more outside support than other groups—in its case not only from Al Qaeda in Iraq but also from Gulf states.

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The Obama administration’s policy on Syria continues to lurch forward incoherently, the latest development being the designation of the Al Nusra Front, one of the rebel groups fighting Bashar Assad, as a terrorist organization. On the merits the designation is clearly warranted, given the close links between Al Nusra and Al Qaeda in Iraq. But the administration has dragged its feet for years in designating other terrorist groups such as the Haqqani Network even while they were actually killing Americans. The Taliban still hasn’t been so designated. So why rush to designate the Al Nusra Front?

Presumably because the administration is planning to confer diplomatic recognition on the Syrian opposition and wants to make clear its disapproval of the jihadist element of the opposition. But the U.S. has so far provided no meaningful assistance to the Syrian opposition—certainly not arms. The Al Nusra Front has been growing increasingly prominent precisely because it is getting more outside support than other groups—in its case not only from Al Qaeda in Iraq but also from Gulf states.

This has caused considerable consternation among the more secular rebels. They can’t understand why Washington won’t help them. And now, instead of providing aid to the rebels, the U.S. seems bent on declaring war on one of the most militarily successful rebel factions. However justifiable morally, the designation of the Al Nusra Front makes little tactical sense at this moment. From the rebels’ perspective it is simply playing into Assad’s hands without doing anything concrete to bolster the non-jihadist opposition.

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A Clash of Mandates

All throughout the debate over Obamacare, polls showed the public opposed to the bill. That did nothing to stop Democrats from pushing the legislation through Congress, of course, and voters responded by staying true to their word: they voted out congressional Democrats in historic numbers in the next election. Democrats and the national media generally ignore inconveniences like voters when the opportunity arises to pass far-reaching legislation, but that instinct has kicked in on other matters as well.

For example, the New York Times has discovered that the current “fiscal cliff” negotiations pose something of a problem for democratically elected representatives whose constituents don’t want them to raise taxes. It turns out that Democrats are right when they say “elections matter”–though not only the presidential election. Now that the push for some tax increases as part of a final deal is gaining momentum, Republicans elected by voters who oppose such tax hikes are caught between representing the will of their electors and what liberal editorial boards tell them is the good of the country:

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All throughout the debate over Obamacare, polls showed the public opposed to the bill. That did nothing to stop Democrats from pushing the legislation through Congress, of course, and voters responded by staying true to their word: they voted out congressional Democrats in historic numbers in the next election. Democrats and the national media generally ignore inconveniences like voters when the opportunity arises to pass far-reaching legislation, but that instinct has kicked in on other matters as well.

For example, the New York Times has discovered that the current “fiscal cliff” negotiations pose something of a problem for democratically elected representatives whose constituents don’t want them to raise taxes. It turns out that Democrats are right when they say “elections matter”–though not only the presidential election. Now that the push for some tax increases as part of a final deal is gaining momentum, Republicans elected by voters who oppose such tax hikes are caught between representing the will of their electors and what liberal editorial boards tell them is the good of the country:

“We ran aggressively talking about taxes and growth and spending, as did the president,” said Representative Sean P. Duffy, a first-term Republican from Wisconsin, who despite being a top target of Democrats easily won re-election by 12 percentage points. “The president keeps talking about his mandate. Well, he doesn’t have a mandate in the Seventh District.”…

“My constituents want me to stand firm on cutting spending. I campaigned on that issue. That’s why they elected me,” said Representative Ted Poe, Republican of Texas, who won re-election with 65 percent of the vote. “I don’t see any scenario where raising tax rates, in any combination of compromise, will solve our problem.”

Of the 234 House Republicans who will sit in the 113th Congress, 85 percent won re-election with 55 percent of the vote; more than half of next year’s House Republican Conference won more than 60 percent. And virtually every one of them ran on holding the line against tax increases and the Obama agenda.

This is not a simple problem for the lawmakers; polls do indeed show national support for some tax hikes. In Duffy’s case, Obama did win his state running on a platform of soaking “the rich.” Duffy can honestly respond that he won his district by promising to be a check on Obama’s agenda, and that his district is what matters to him, since he doesn’t represent the whole state.

I’m betting you can guess what the Times wants him to do:

Given the electoral dynamics, the lawmakers who are broaching the possibility of raising tax rates as a way to strike a deal and prevent the possibility of a recession are beginning to appeal to House members with a term not heard often in the House — the national interest.

It’s the “national interest” vs. those pesky voters. The article does offer some clarity, though. This, combined with the Politico/George Washington University poll released yesterday, proves the utter silliness of the Democrats’ argument that Republicans are simply doing the bidding of anti-tax activist Grover Norquist. Sure, Republicans have signed a pledge not to raise taxes, but their voters haven’t–and they still don’t want the tax hikes. In fact, not only did they not sign a pledge to Norquist, they generally don’t even know who he is. From the Post’s Chris Cillizza:

For all the focus in Washington on Americans for Tax Reform’s Grover Norquist, he remains an almost entirely unknown figure nationally.  More than six in 10 (61 percent) of those tested had never heard of Norquist while another 15 percent had no opinion of him.  Among those who did have an opinion, eight percent regarded him favorably while 18 percent viewed him in an unfavorable light.  The idea that the fiscal cliff fight is a proxy war over Norquist then seems far-fetched.

Well, yes. It does more than seem farfetched. It was ever thus. But you didn’t need a poll to tell you that. Just listen to Norquist himself. When he was criticized by Senator Tom Coburn over the pledge, Norquist said: “He took the pledge — not to me, to the voters.” And as Ezra Klein reported here, the pledge helps Republicans get elected–and keeping the pledge helps them stay elected. If opposing tax increases were a losing issue with voters the pledge simply wouldn’t have that effect.

This is not an argument on behalf of taking the pledge. But when discussions of the pledge and of Republicans (especially in the House) who are reluctant to raise taxes exclude the voters, they miss the point. It may or may not be the right thing to do to raise taxes as part of the effort to stave off the fiscal cliff. But as even the Times has come to realize, Obama is not the only one with a mandate.

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Iran: Israel Is Our Target

The capacity of national security experts for self-delusion in the name of supposed sophistication has always been amazing. Some diplomats and self-professed experts suggest that Hamas is now moderate, regardless of what Khaled Meshaal says. Likewise, diplomats embraced Recep Tayyip Erdoğan as deep-thinker, not a coarse, anti-American and anti-Semitic zealot, as his early rants indicate.

Apologists like Juan Cole argue that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad doesn’t truly incite genocide, because the threat to wipe Israel off the map was simply a mistranslation. No matter that’s how the Iranian government translated it, and the speech Cole disputes is only one among several dozens. Well, hopefully this will put a stop to the self-delusion regarding Iran’s intentions:

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The capacity of national security experts for self-delusion in the name of supposed sophistication has always been amazing. Some diplomats and self-professed experts suggest that Hamas is now moderate, regardless of what Khaled Meshaal says. Likewise, diplomats embraced Recep Tayyip Erdoğan as deep-thinker, not a coarse, anti-American and anti-Semitic zealot, as his early rants indicate.

Apologists like Juan Cole argue that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad doesn’t truly incite genocide, because the threat to wipe Israel off the map was simply a mistranslation. No matter that’s how the Iranian government translated it, and the speech Cole disputes is only one among several dozens. Well, hopefully this will put a stop to the self-delusion regarding Iran’s intentions:

Commander Names Israel as Iran’s Long-Range Target

TEHRAN (FNA)- A senior Iranian commander said the distance between Iran and Israel is the maximum range that Tehran wants for its missiles, saying that Iran does not need missiles with a longer range.

“We don’t need missiles with over 2,000 km but we have the technology to build them,” Commander of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) Aerospace Force Brigadier General Amir Ali Hajizadeh told reporters today.

“Israel is our longest-range target,” the commander underscored.

Lest anyway believe Hajizadeh’s comments are just defensive in nature, remember the interview with the wife of the former head of Iran’s missile corps. After his death, she commented that he had always wanted his epitaph to read, “This is the grave of someone who wanted to destroy Israel.”

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Gallup: Americans Want Fiscal Cliff Compromise

The latest Gallup poll has two interesting, and seemingly contradictory, findings:

President Barack Obama and Speaker of the House John Boehner met at the White House on Sunday, but there has yet been no announcement of a negotiated agreement to avoid the mandated sequestration of government funds for defense and other federal spending, and the increase in tax rates for most taxpayers.

Seventy-three percent of Democrats want their leaders to compromise, little changed from 71% last week. But Republicans and independents express more widespread interest in compromise than they did last week — with Republicans moving from 55% to 67% in favor of compromise, while independents moved from 61% to 70%.

So Americans seem to want compromise — in theory. In reality, President Obama is still getting much higher approval ratings than Republican leaders in congress in the same Gallup poll (48 percent compared to 26 percent), even though he has been the party most unwilling to compromise. 

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The latest Gallup poll has two interesting, and seemingly contradictory, findings:

President Barack Obama and Speaker of the House John Boehner met at the White House on Sunday, but there has yet been no announcement of a negotiated agreement to avoid the mandated sequestration of government funds for defense and other federal spending, and the increase in tax rates for most taxpayers.

Seventy-three percent of Democrats want their leaders to compromise, little changed from 71% last week. But Republicans and independents express more widespread interest in compromise than they did last week — with Republicans moving from 55% to 67% in favor of compromise, while independents moved from 61% to 70%.

So Americans seem to want compromise — in theory. In reality, President Obama is still getting much higher approval ratings than Republican leaders in congress in the same Gallup poll (48 percent compared to 26 percent), even though he has been the party most unwilling to compromise. 

It shows you what the GOP is up against here. Even though House Republican leadership has been open to concessions on tax revenue, it still can’t shake the “obstructionist” label. And even though President Obama has refused to take any step toward the GOP position, he’s still viewed as more willing to compromise. Republicans are dealing with more than just a political problem — they’re dealing with a deep-seated image problem, created largely by the media. Before they can persuade the public that they’re right about taxes, they’re going to have to tackle their public image issues.

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Will Iran Build a Base on the Red Sea?

Speculation is growing in both Iran and Sudan that Tehran and Khartoum are negotiating—or have negotiated—an agreement to provide Iran a base on the Red Sea. The move comes after Iranian warships have twice made port calls at the Sudanese Red Sea city of Port Sudan in recent weeks, and comes after the Iranian supreme leader—on Iran’s November 27 “Navy Day”—again declared that the Iranian navy would no longer be confined to the Persian Gulf. So much for containment.

Iranian leaders are full of bluster. In recent years, the Iranians have spoken about deploying ships into the Atlantic Ocean (they have no logistical capability to supply such ships); building aircraft carriers (they lack the technical capability); and developing their own nuclear submarines (simply declaring their desire to do this would justify uranium enrichment up to 96 percent, more than enough—not by coincidence—to build a nuclear bomb). Sometimes, however, their declarations are not bluster. Iran sees itself in a chess match with the United States and Israel. They are now making their move. Let us hope that President Obama’s response is not simply to draw down the Navy and pivot to Asia.

Speculation is growing in both Iran and Sudan that Tehran and Khartoum are negotiating—or have negotiated—an agreement to provide Iran a base on the Red Sea. The move comes after Iranian warships have twice made port calls at the Sudanese Red Sea city of Port Sudan in recent weeks, and comes after the Iranian supreme leader—on Iran’s November 27 “Navy Day”—again declared that the Iranian navy would no longer be confined to the Persian Gulf. So much for containment.

Iranian leaders are full of bluster. In recent years, the Iranians have spoken about deploying ships into the Atlantic Ocean (they have no logistical capability to supply such ships); building aircraft carriers (they lack the technical capability); and developing their own nuclear submarines (simply declaring their desire to do this would justify uranium enrichment up to 96 percent, more than enough—not by coincidence—to build a nuclear bomb). Sometimes, however, their declarations are not bluster. Iran sees itself in a chess match with the United States and Israel. They are now making their move. Let us hope that President Obama’s response is not simply to draw down the Navy and pivot to Asia.

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