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.
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):
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.
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?)
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.
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.
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 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.
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:
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:
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.
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.