Commentary Magazine


Posts For: December 20, 2012

If Plan B Failed, How is a Deal Possible?

The collapse of the House Republican leadership’s “Plan B” legislation this evening is being viewed first and foremost as a humiliating defeat for Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor. The proposal was supposed to be a clever tactic that would increase the pressure on President Obama and the Democrats since it would, at least theoretically, take the GOP off the hook for the country going over the fiscal cliff in the absence of a deal with the White House on spending and taxes. But Boehner didn’t have enough votes from his own caucus to back Plan B, even though it limited tax increases to those making over $1 million rather than the lower limits offered by the president in negotiations.

There are those who will argue that the collapse of Plan B will force Boehner back into negotiations with the president and create a situation where a grand budget deal would be possible. But the question that must be asked now is: if Boehner and Cantor could not whip up enough Republican votes for their own proposal, how is it possible that they could muster their support for an accord that would by definition be even less attractive to conservatives?

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The collapse of the House Republican leadership’s “Plan B” legislation this evening is being viewed first and foremost as a humiliating defeat for Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor. The proposal was supposed to be a clever tactic that would increase the pressure on President Obama and the Democrats since it would, at least theoretically, take the GOP off the hook for the country going over the fiscal cliff in the absence of a deal with the White House on spending and taxes. But Boehner didn’t have enough votes from his own caucus to back Plan B, even though it limited tax increases to those making over $1 million rather than the lower limits offered by the president in negotiations.

There are those who will argue that the collapse of Plan B will force Boehner back into negotiations with the president and create a situation where a grand budget deal would be possible. But the question that must be asked now is: if Boehner and Cantor could not whip up enough Republican votes for their own proposal, how is it possible that they could muster their support for an accord that would by definition be even less attractive to conservatives?

It is true that any deal struck between Boehner and Obama that would bridge the current gap between their positions on the budget would have considerable Democratic support and therefore enough votes to pass the House. But one has to ask how could Boehner’s leadership of the Republicans be sustained if on the most important piece of legislation before the Congress he relied more on Democrats than members of his own caucus?

It should be stipulated that the concerns voiced by members about Plan B are far from irrational. There is no reason to think a tax increase on anyone will boost the economy. Nor will soaking millionaires do much to cut the deficit. Nothing, other than the liberal ideology of the Democrats, would lead the country to raise taxes at a time when the economy is in such a fragile state.

But a failure to reach a deal with the White House would be a far greater catastrophe for the country than those tax hikes. Doing so would mean an across-the-board tax increase for everyone and mandate spending cuts on defense that would be ruinous.

Conservatives have a point when they say they were sent to Washington to stand up for their party’s principles, not to bow to liberal pressure. But it must also be understood that the people have spoken and, by electing a Republican House to govern alongside a Democrat Senate and president, have mandated that the two parties try to work together, no matter how much it bothers them.

Boehner seems to understand this, but the failure of his Plan B tactic demonstrates that such big picture thinking isn’t acceptable to the mindset of enough House Republicans to enable the speaker to prevail. That leaves him caught between allowing the country to go over the fiscal cliff—which would be blamed more on Republicans than the president—and a deal that most Republicans won’t buy. Either way, this is bad news for the speaker and the country’s fiscal health.

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Why Israel Has Shifted to the Right

If liberal American Jews weren’t already dismayed about the fact that Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu is a shoe-in to be re-elected in next month’s election, the latest political news out of Israel may give them conniption fits. The results of new polls show that Netanyahu’s Likud and its coalition partners are set to exceed the strong governing majority they had in the current Knesset. But the really interesting numbers are those that show that the main party to the right of the Likud—the Habeyit Hayehudi or Jewish Home Party–is on track to be the third largest in the next parliament with only Likud and Labor (set to finish a distant second) ahead of it.

This will give residents and supporters of the settlement movement an even louder voice in the next Knesset than their already healthy contingent in the current one. This will be interpreted by some on the left as a sign of Israel’s depravity or indifference to peace. But the reason for it is clear. Whereas in Israel’s past it could be asserted that the Likud represented Israel’s right-wing constituency, it has, to the shock and dismay of many in the left-wing Israeli media, become the center. That is not because more Israelis are supporters of increasing settlement throughout the West Bank. They are not. Rather it is due to the fact that the Israeli center as well as even many on what we used to call the Israeli left have given up on the Palestinians. They know that neither Fatah in the West Bank nor Hamas in Gaza will ever recognize Israel’s legitimacy no matter where its borders are drawn. So they have abandoned those parties that hold onto the illusion of peace in favor of those with a more realistic vision while those on the right are now embracing parties like Habeyit Hayehudi in order to hold Netanyahu’s feet to the fire and prevent him from making concessions that will neither entice the Palestinians to the negotiating table nor increase its popularity abroad.

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If liberal American Jews weren’t already dismayed about the fact that Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu is a shoe-in to be re-elected in next month’s election, the latest political news out of Israel may give them conniption fits. The results of new polls show that Netanyahu’s Likud and its coalition partners are set to exceed the strong governing majority they had in the current Knesset. But the really interesting numbers are those that show that the main party to the right of the Likud—the Habeyit Hayehudi or Jewish Home Party–is on track to be the third largest in the next parliament with only Likud and Labor (set to finish a distant second) ahead of it.

This will give residents and supporters of the settlement movement an even louder voice in the next Knesset than their already healthy contingent in the current one. This will be interpreted by some on the left as a sign of Israel’s depravity or indifference to peace. But the reason for it is clear. Whereas in Israel’s past it could be asserted that the Likud represented Israel’s right-wing constituency, it has, to the shock and dismay of many in the left-wing Israeli media, become the center. That is not because more Israelis are supporters of increasing settlement throughout the West Bank. They are not. Rather it is due to the fact that the Israeli center as well as even many on what we used to call the Israeli left have given up on the Palestinians. They know that neither Fatah in the West Bank nor Hamas in Gaza will ever recognize Israel’s legitimacy no matter where its borders are drawn. So they have abandoned those parties that hold onto the illusion of peace in favor of those with a more realistic vision while those on the right are now embracing parties like Habeyit Hayehudi in order to hold Netanyahu’s feet to the fire and prevent him from making concessions that will neither entice the Palestinians to the negotiating table nor increase its popularity abroad.

Habeyit Hayehudi is the beneficiary in part of the merger of the Likud with Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beitenu. Rather than polls showing Likud getting as many seats as the two parties got in the last election, it is registering a loss of several places as some nationalist voters abandon the new conglomerate for its more ideological rival to the right. Though the enlarged Likud will still gain several seats from the mark it won in the 2009 vote that brought Netanyahu back into power and make it by far the largest in the Knesset with 35, Habeyit Hayehudi is set to get 12 with another pro-settlement party getting another two. That will double the number of seats those smaller parties won four years ago. Combined with the Orthodox religious parties, that will give Netanyahu nearly 70 seats out of 120 next year even before any of the centrist members join him as some undoubtedly will do.

Habeyit Hayehudi also has the advantage of a new leader in the 40-year-old Naftali Bennett. He is the son of American immigrants who is a former chief of staff to Netanyahu and who earned great wealth through the sale of his Internet security firm. In him, Israel’s nationalist camp now has an articulate and savvy figure who can say things about the Palestinians that Netanyahu, who, as David Horovitz of the Times of Israel pointed out in an insightful analysis, cannot utter for fear of worsening relations with the United States.

Bennett’s powerful position, which will be enhanced by a Cabinet portfolio that he will demand and get, will make the next Knesset harder for Netanyahu to manage. The absence of several Likud moderates who have been replaced by more nationalist and younger figures on the party’s Knesset list will also ensure that the prime minister will not be straying far from the wishes of his voters the way some of his predecessors have done.

This won’t necessarily mean that Netanyahu will move to build throughout the West Bank the way Bennett would like. But it will strengthen his resolve to continue to do so in Jerusalem and its suburbs as well as the major settlement blocs that Israel will hold onto even in the theoretical scenario where the Palestinians finally give in and accept a two-state solution.

That will lead to much gnashing of the teeth on the part of liberal Jews who are uncomfortable with Netanyahu, let alone those to his right. But those who lament this development should understand that the Israeli people are making this choice with their eyes wide open.

Even Labor, the party that is historically associated with the peace process, has more or less abandoned the issue of reconciliation with the Palestinians in this election and instead is concentrating on economic and social justice issues. Those lists that are still devoted to the peace process, including the new party led by former foreign minister Tzipi Livni, have been thoroughly marginalized.

Unlike most Israelis, many if not most American Jews and many non-Jewish friends of Israel haven’t drawn conclusions from the last 20 years of failed peace processing. They cling instead to the fables about the Palestinians that once fueled the post-Oslo euphoria in Israel but which have now been discarded there.

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Demonizing NRA Won’t Transform America

Turn on virtually any talk show heard or viewed in the mainstream media this past week and it’s clear that most of the chattering classes are convinced that the Newtown massacre marks a turning point in the history of American culture. According to this narrative, the country’s understandable shock and horror over the slaughter of innocents at the Sandy Hook Elementary School is the equivalent of Pearl Harbor or 9/11 in that it has fundamentally altered the political correlation of forces that has prevented gun control. More to the point, they believe this sea change is so profound that it will effectively silence advocates of gun rights so as to render them incapable of stopping whatever it is that Vice President Biden’s task force comes up with.

The principal target of this effort is, of course, the National Rifle Association that sensibly stayed silent for several days after Newtown and has only just started to make its voice heard. Most liberals are assuming that the low profile the group has had since then is just the start of a new era in which its influence will be curtailed. The assumption is that anger about Newtown is so great and the impulse to try to do something to prevent another mass shooting is so widely supported that the NRA will no longer dictate to Congress. But, as the Pew poll cited earlier by Alana shows, support for gun rights may yet survive Newtown.

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Turn on virtually any talk show heard or viewed in the mainstream media this past week and it’s clear that most of the chattering classes are convinced that the Newtown massacre marks a turning point in the history of American culture. According to this narrative, the country’s understandable shock and horror over the slaughter of innocents at the Sandy Hook Elementary School is the equivalent of Pearl Harbor or 9/11 in that it has fundamentally altered the political correlation of forces that has prevented gun control. More to the point, they believe this sea change is so profound that it will effectively silence advocates of gun rights so as to render them incapable of stopping whatever it is that Vice President Biden’s task force comes up with.

The principal target of this effort is, of course, the National Rifle Association that sensibly stayed silent for several days after Newtown and has only just started to make its voice heard. Most liberals are assuming that the low profile the group has had since then is just the start of a new era in which its influence will be curtailed. The assumption is that anger about Newtown is so great and the impulse to try to do something to prevent another mass shooting is so widely supported that the NRA will no longer dictate to Congress. But, as the Pew poll cited earlier by Alana shows, support for gun rights may yet survive Newtown.

More than any other lobby or cause, the NRA is the boogeyman of the American liberal imagination. To listen to liberals talking about it is to hear a portrait of an organization that treats errant members of Congress the way heretics and Jews were handled by the Spanish Inquisition. More than that, many liberals speak as if it is primarily a profit-making entity funded by gun manufacturers that has imposed a bizarre reign of terror on an unwilling populace.

Yet even though the NRA is assuming a much lower profile these days, the idea that it and its 4 million members will simply go away or be drowned out by the chorus of outrage over the murder of 1st graders is based more on liberal ideology than hardheaded political analysis.

It is true that the chances of a reinstatement of the assault weapons ban that expired several years ago has just gone from nonexistent to quite possible. Indeed, it is more than likely that Biden will propose something that will have far wider scope than the previous bill since the rifle used by the murderer in Newtown was legal even under Connecticut’s assault weapons law.

It is entirely possible that Americans are ready for a ban on military-style weapons, especially those that fire large amounts of ammunition in a short time. Many are also ready for a stronger background check system for gun purchasers.

That these ideas are things that the NRA has previously successfully opposed is, as I have written before, evidence that the group regards any regulation, no matter how reasonable, as merely the thin edge of the wedge of a larger agenda whose goal is the effective repeal of the Second Amendment. In this sense they are like pro-abortion groups that fight furiously against even the most reasonable restrictions on the procedure such as parental consent because they also not unreasonably believe that such bills are merely a prelude to an attempt to repeal Roe v. Wade.

The effect of Newtown will be to point out to the NRA those areas where they have overreached. But the expectation that supporters of gun control can do more than that is highly unrealistic.

After all even Joe Manchin, the senator who has become the poster child for NRA members who have had second thoughts about the issue in the aftermath of Newtown, has yet to say what gun control measure he will actually support in any of his seemingly innumerable press interviews.

What liberals who think Newtown means that gun rights can be rolled back will re-learn in the coming weeks is that the NRA’s influence is not so much a matter of money as it is of votes. For all of its bad press, the NRA is the living illustration of democracy, not influence peddling. Its voice has carried weight in Congress because it speaks for 4 million members who share its concerns about the threat to gun rights. That concern is currently overshadowed by anger about Newtown and the widespread though largely mistaken conviction that there is a way to legislate such tragedies out of existence. But it won’t take long for the liberal war on guns to wake up the NRA and its members and far more numerous sympathizers.

As Pete wrote earlier today, the demonization of gun supporters by media figures such as Piers Morgan illustrates the politics of a moment of outrage, not the sort of fundamental shift in American culture that would be required for liberals to do more than enact measures on the margins of the issue, such as assault weapons. Indeed, the comparisons to Pearl Harbor and 9/11 should prove instructive to those who think the NRA is on its last legs. Though both those events did transform American politics in the short term, in the long run the effects were minimal.

Try as they might, those seeking to capitalize on Newtown can’t make America a country that no longer thinks that gun rights are the guarantee of democracy. That is a belief that is not shared by any other modern democracy, even a country like Israel, where gun ownership is widespread. But like other stubborn elements of American exceptionalism, it is not the sort of thing that will be erased even by an event as horrific as Newtown.

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The Paths of Christie and Booker Diverge

Newark Mayor Cory Booker has all but confirmed that he is planning to replace Frank Lautenberg in the Senate in 2014 rather than challenge Governor Chris Christie next year. Though many have suspected Booker would take this route all along, he seemed to be sending up a trial balloon in the last couple of months to gauge his chances against Christie. The verdict was nearly unanimous: Booker was far weaker than he thought, and Christie was far stronger than anyone had expected.

On Christie’s side, there is no question now that his embrace of President Obama during the fallout and recovery from Hurricane Sandy was a boon to his approval numbers in the state. It rankled Republicans around the country, but it rallied New Jerseyans. It also earned him plaudits from a rare corner for a conservative: the entertainment industry. Christie got a shoutout from his hero, Bruce Springsteen, and from Steven Spielberg, who called Christie his new hero. In the latest Fairleigh Dickinson poll, even a majority of registered Democrats approved of Christie. He capped off his good run with an endorsement from a private-sector union that endorsed Christie’s Democratic opponent in 2009, Jon Corzine.

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Newark Mayor Cory Booker has all but confirmed that he is planning to replace Frank Lautenberg in the Senate in 2014 rather than challenge Governor Chris Christie next year. Though many have suspected Booker would take this route all along, he seemed to be sending up a trial balloon in the last couple of months to gauge his chances against Christie. The verdict was nearly unanimous: Booker was far weaker than he thought, and Christie was far stronger than anyone had expected.

On Christie’s side, there is no question now that his embrace of President Obama during the fallout and recovery from Hurricane Sandy was a boon to his approval numbers in the state. It rankled Republicans around the country, but it rallied New Jerseyans. It also earned him plaudits from a rare corner for a conservative: the entertainment industry. Christie got a shoutout from his hero, Bruce Springsteen, and from Steven Spielberg, who called Christie his new hero. In the latest Fairleigh Dickinson poll, even a majority of registered Democrats approved of Christie. He capped off his good run with an endorsement from a private-sector union that endorsed Christie’s Democratic opponent in 2009, Jon Corzine.

Things have gone in the other direction for Booker. Last month I wrote about Booker’s addiction to Twitter and self-promotion and how it was starting diminish the seriousness of his work in Newark. Bethany followed up with a post about the silliness of Booker’s food stamp challenge, which demonstrated that Booker both did not understand the nature of the food stamp program and was allowing his competitive nature to get the better of him by daring his social media antagonists to do things he himself had proclaimed unhealthy or dangerous.

After that, other publications, including the New York Times, wrote their own (devastating) versions of the story. The upshot was that political observers believed, in the words of the Times, that Booker “is better suited to speechmaking in Washington than to governing a state.” And those were the Democrats, according to the Times.

For Booker, the Senate is not a bad consolation prize. He can gain valuable experience without having to fight too hard for his seat. (Just ask Bob Menendez how difficult it is for a Democrat to be dislodged from either of those seats.) From there, Booker can run for governor at a later time if he chooses, or he can remain in the Senate. Either way, it will raise his national profile and stop him from getting caught up in the kind of political stunts he’s been engaging in lately.

For Christie, the future is a bit tougher to predict. No Republican has an easy reelection campaign in New Jersey, no matter how strong Christie’s post-Sandy poll numbers–which even he acknowledged will come back down to earth–have looked. And if he does intend to run for president in 2016, he may find Republican primary voters still interested in punishing him for his embrace of Obama–especially if there’s a crowded field of conservatives in the race. Over at the Hill, Christian Heinze notes that Christie’s favorability ratings among Republicans and Democrats are fairly close, but others, like Marco Rubio and Bobby Jindal, earn high marks from Republicans without those suspicious-looking Democratic approval numbers to go along with them:

That’s not to say there should be a huge gap for a candidate, but ever since his Obama snuggle, Christie has seen a dip in his favorable ratings with Republicans, and drifting into McCain-land, circa 2000, isn’t going to be helpful for him in a ’16 primary — no matter how the press would lionize him.

Yes, first things first — he needs to win his reelection. But at some point, he’s going to have to start rubbing Spielberg the wrong way to get the GOP base back in his pocket.

Christie would have plenty of time and plenty of ammunition with which to do so. Reining in the public-sector unions, the way Christie has, is more impressive in New Jersey than in states with GOP-majority legislatures like Wisconsin and Michigan. Christie’s a budget-balancing tax cutter, which will make budget hawks happy. And since he is a social conservative, he will not have the baggage that other northeastern Republicans, like Mitt Romney, are often saddled with in GOP primary contests.

And there’s one more argument he can make. Democrats have a voter registration advantage of over 700,000 in New Jersey, yet the Democrats’ best and brightest still don’t want to run against him. Just imagine, Christie might say, what he could do in a fair fight.

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RE: The Ugly Politics of Piers Morgan

I certainly agree with Peter’s post that Piers Morgan is a first-class jerk. His vicious, insulting tirade against Larry Pratt should, at the least, have gotten him severely reprimanded by CNN. If you invite a guest into your house, you don’t treat him that way. But Peter makes an interesting point:

Morgan embodies an attitude that we’re seeing more and more on the left. It’s a nasty combination of supreme self-righteousness and reflexive demonization. Piers Morgan can’t accept that people of good will and decency might hold views that are very different than he does on gun control. And so it’s not enough to say Pratt is wrong; he has to be portrayed by Morgan as moronic and a moral monster.

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I certainly agree with Peter’s post that Piers Morgan is a first-class jerk. His vicious, insulting tirade against Larry Pratt should, at the least, have gotten him severely reprimanded by CNN. If you invite a guest into your house, you don’t treat him that way. But Peter makes an interesting point:

Morgan embodies an attitude that we’re seeing more and more on the left. It’s a nasty combination of supreme self-righteousness and reflexive demonization. Piers Morgan can’t accept that people of good will and decency might hold views that are very different than he does on gun control. And so it’s not enough to say Pratt is wrong; he has to be portrayed by Morgan as moronic and a moral monster.

This intellectual rigidity and moral preening, of course, is characteristic of a religion in decline. Think of the Catholic Church at the beginning of the 17th century as the Scientific Revolution was just getting underway. They burned Giordano Bruno at the stake in 1600 for asserting that the sun was a star and there might be many worlds in the universe, not just one. Galileo—too famous to be burned—was forced to abjure his belief in a heliocentric universe and was under house arrest for the last years of his life. The Soviet Union could never tolerate dissent for fear that the whole Communist political cosmology might come crashing down, which, of course, it did.

If liberals could win the argument with facts and logic, they would do so. But they can’t so they have to fall back on, in Ring Lardner’s immortal phrase, “Shut up, he explained.” Today the “thought” of liberals consists almost entirely of looking in the equivalent of Mao’s little red book to find out what they’re supposed to think and vilifying anyone who disagrees. The solution to gun violence? Gun control. Global warming? It’s “settled science” (a phrase as moronic as it is oxymoronic). Federal deficit? Tax the rich.

But just as the Catholic Church was soon forced to deal with reality (the Vatican Observatory can trace its origins back to 1774) and the Soviet Union ended up on the ash heap of history, the left will have to adapt or die. It is spitting into the wind and has been for decades. It’s just too bad the spit has to land on so many people trying to express a contrary opinion.

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Pew Poll: Not Much Change in Gun Control Views

The Pew Research Center released a poll today that found Americans support gun control over gun rights, 49 percent to 42 percent. A shift in favor of gun control would be expected after last week’s horrific shooting in Newtown. But Politico is reporting on this as if it’s a major attitude change:

More Americans prioritize gun control above Second Amendment rights by the widest margin since President Barack Obama took office, according to a new poll released Thursday in wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings. 

Forty-nine percent of those polled said it’s more important to control gun ownership, compared to 42 percent who say it’s more important to protect Americans’ rights to own guns, according to a Pew Research Center Poll. 

The Pew poll showed a slight shift toward gun control that wasn’t apparent following a July shooting at an Aurora, Colo., movie theater. Following that shooting, 47 percent thought it was more important to control gun ownership and 46 percent said it was more important to protect gun rights, according to Pew, within the poll’s margin of error.

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The Pew Research Center released a poll today that found Americans support gun control over gun rights, 49 percent to 42 percent. A shift in favor of gun control would be expected after last week’s horrific shooting in Newtown. But Politico is reporting on this as if it’s a major attitude change:

More Americans prioritize gun control above Second Amendment rights by the widest margin since President Barack Obama took office, according to a new poll released Thursday in wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings. 

Forty-nine percent of those polled said it’s more important to control gun ownership, compared to 42 percent who say it’s more important to protect Americans’ rights to own guns, according to a Pew Research Center Poll. 

The Pew poll showed a slight shift toward gun control that wasn’t apparent following a July shooting at an Aurora, Colo., movie theater. Following that shooting, 47 percent thought it was more important to control gun ownership and 46 percent said it was more important to protect gun rights, according to Pew, within the poll’s margin of error.

That seven-point gap isn’t particularly significant. Support for gun rights is still much higher than its been at almost any point in the past 20 years, and support for gun control is much lower. In the same Pew poll in 2007, Americans favored gun control above gun rights by 28 points. In 2000, the gap was 37 percent, and in 1993, it was 23 percent.

According to Pew’s data, mass shootings don’t tend to impact public opinion very much, if at all. The poll found little change after the Virginia Tech massacre in 2007. The Tucson shooting in 2011 and the Aurora shooting this year had no discernible impact. After Aurora, support for gun control vs. gun rights was split, 47 percent to 46.

Maybe public opinion is still shifting, and Obama will be able to rally enough popular support to push through stricter gun control laws. But this poll certainly doesn’t show he gained a mandate on gun policy.

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The Right’s Latest Meaningless Purity Test

In a strange about-face today, FreedomWorks has decided to withdraw its support of House Speaker John Boehner’s “Plan B” a day after declaring its support for the plan. Yesterday Dean Clancy, legislative counsel for the group, wrote “Speaker Boehner: Congratulations, you are moving in the right direction. You woke up and realized you have the power to say No to the Left. Stay the course. Go all the way to the FreedomWorks plan, and you’ll have it made in the shade.” This comes as the Heritage Foundation continues to beat the drums against Boehner’s plan, calling it, “the latest unsatisfactory proposal put forward by Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) to avoid the fiscal cliff. Boehner’s plan would protect most Americans, except for millionaires, from a tax hike. But even this is a poor fix because it ignores the real problem: spending.” Heritage’s more flexible legislative arm (due to tax restraints on the non-profit Heritage Foundation), declared, “Heritage Action opposes ‘Plan B’ and will include it as a key vote on our legislative scorecard.” Club for Growth has also been forceful with its opposition to the plan, joining smaller Tea Party groups. 

While conservatives are eating their own over the plan, Senate Democrats have announced that they have no plans to vote on Boehner’s “Plan B,” even if it passes a House vote, as many are promising it will. The bill will therefore be dead on arrival, despite the fact that Senate Democrats voted for a similar plan almost exactly two years ago. There are no other plans under discussion from congressional Republicans, who are spending as much time fighting with conservative groups as they are with their Democratic counterparts. 

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In a strange about-face today, FreedomWorks has decided to withdraw its support of House Speaker John Boehner’s “Plan B” a day after declaring its support for the plan. Yesterday Dean Clancy, legislative counsel for the group, wrote “Speaker Boehner: Congratulations, you are moving in the right direction. You woke up and realized you have the power to say No to the Left. Stay the course. Go all the way to the FreedomWorks plan, and you’ll have it made in the shade.” This comes as the Heritage Foundation continues to beat the drums against Boehner’s plan, calling it, “the latest unsatisfactory proposal put forward by Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) to avoid the fiscal cliff. Boehner’s plan would protect most Americans, except for millionaires, from a tax hike. But even this is a poor fix because it ignores the real problem: spending.” Heritage’s more flexible legislative arm (due to tax restraints on the non-profit Heritage Foundation), declared, “Heritage Action opposes ‘Plan B’ and will include it as a key vote on our legislative scorecard.” Club for Growth has also been forceful with its opposition to the plan, joining smaller Tea Party groups. 

While conservatives are eating their own over the plan, Senate Democrats have announced that they have no plans to vote on Boehner’s “Plan B,” even if it passes a House vote, as many are promising it will. The bill will therefore be dead on arrival, despite the fact that Senate Democrats voted for a similar plan almost exactly two years ago. There are no other plans under discussion from congressional Republicans, who are spending as much time fighting with conservative groups as they are with their Democratic counterparts. 

Could there possibly be a bigger waste of time than what is currently taking place? Conservatives are at each other’s throats fighting over a plan that has no chance thanks to a Democratically controlled Senate and White House. Once upon a time, conservatives understood that the only chance at passing conservative legislation was by holding those branches of government, as Philip Klein pointed this out today in the Washington Examiner,

If all it takes to enact a conservative agenda is to hold one chamber of Congress, then why did conservative activists work so hard for Republicans to win control of the Senate? Why did they spill so much sweat in an effort to defeat Obama, even though it meant supporting Mitt Romney?

Klein goes on to say “Conservatives should acknowledge that some sort of compromise is inevitable. But that doesn’t mean they have to swallow anything that Boehner cooks up.” While these groups don’t have to go along with Boehner’s plan, if they plan to spend their precious political capital fighting “Plan B” they need to at least have an alternative that House Republicans can work with. While many of these groups have their own proposals, none stands a chance at passage through a Democratically controlled Senate, nor will Obama sign them.

During the primary season when opposition to Mitt Romney was at its peak, a group of conservatives started a group called the Not Mitt Romney coalition. The group spent its time fighting the eventual choice of Romney as the Republican nominee. From early on, it became clear that Romney was the most viable of all possible picks in a slim Republican field of candidates, and despite this, conservatives continued to fight his nomination instead of trying to find and recruit an alternative who would be more acceptable to their base (with the exception of the Weekly Standard‘s editor Bill Kristol, who famously spent months trying to draft reluctant Republicans into running). By the time Romney secured the nomination, a great deal of his campaign’s energy, money and political capital was spent battling his eventual nomination with fellow Republicans instead of building his case against Barack Obama. In campaign post-mortems, many of Romney’s top staff attributed their loss in part to this lengthy and nasty primary battle. 

If conservatives have learned anything from that primary experience, it’s that along with principled stands against objectionable legislation or politicians, they need to provide acceptable alternatives. It’s easy to declare that something or someone fails the conservative litmus test, but in order for Republicans to move past the label as the “Party of No” (which inevitably leads to plummeting approval ratings), they need to start offering reasonable solutions. 

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Heading Over the Cliff With Plan B?

With the House Republican leadership sticking to its plans to push through a Plan B tax and spending bill today, it’s an open question as to whether House Speaker John Boehner is really bluffing about his proposal as the party’s final answer to the White House in the fiscal cliff negotiations. Considering that there is no chance that the Democrats will allow the GOP plan to pass in the Senate and that reportedly even the staffs of the two sides are not talking, right now it is entirely possible that the standoff will result in there being no deal in place prior to the Christmas holiday next week. Or is it?

There are many observers in Washington and around the nation who are convinced that Plan B is merely an elaborate bluff designed to smoke more concessions out of an administration that for all of the president’s bluster is as desperate to avoid the ruinous tax increases and spending cuts that a failure to make a deal will bring as any Republican. But considering the enormous difficulty that Boehner is having in lining up the 218 votes from his own caucus that he will need to pass his legislation, imagining him going back to Republicans in the next couple of weeks to ask for their support for what is certain to be an even more unpalatable compromise deal seems a stretch. That means that it is entirely possible that Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor mean what they say about putting off any further efforts to resolve the crisis until January. In other words, like it or not, both parties may actually be heading over the fiscal cliff with Plan B.

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With the House Republican leadership sticking to its plans to push through a Plan B tax and spending bill today, it’s an open question as to whether House Speaker John Boehner is really bluffing about his proposal as the party’s final answer to the White House in the fiscal cliff negotiations. Considering that there is no chance that the Democrats will allow the GOP plan to pass in the Senate and that reportedly even the staffs of the two sides are not talking, right now it is entirely possible that the standoff will result in there being no deal in place prior to the Christmas holiday next week. Or is it?

There are many observers in Washington and around the nation who are convinced that Plan B is merely an elaborate bluff designed to smoke more concessions out of an administration that for all of the president’s bluster is as desperate to avoid the ruinous tax increases and spending cuts that a failure to make a deal will bring as any Republican. But considering the enormous difficulty that Boehner is having in lining up the 218 votes from his own caucus that he will need to pass his legislation, imagining him going back to Republicans in the next couple of weeks to ask for their support for what is certain to be an even more unpalatable compromise deal seems a stretch. That means that it is entirely possible that Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor mean what they say about putting off any further efforts to resolve the crisis until January. In other words, like it or not, both parties may actually be heading over the fiscal cliff with Plan B.

All along it has been President Obama rather than Boehner who has sounded like the side most ready to go to the brink. With polls showing the public blaming Republicans for the impasse and a second term already won, the president appeared to believe that he had the whip hand in any negotiation. Indeed, up until the last week when he offered to raise taxes only on those making more than $400,000 rather than $250,000, Obama had showed no sign of being willing to budge. After that, most pundits assumed that there would be further movement from both sides that would create a deal that would be somewhere between $400,000 and the $1 million income mark that Boehner has offered. But if the speaker had come to believe that there would be no more concessions from a president who thought he could bludgeon his opponents by further grandstanding and delegitimization of their position, then perhaps he came to the conclusion that it was time for him to shut down the talks and make the White House sweat.

Republicans are aware that they will be blamed in the short term for allowing an across-the-board tax increase and the impact this will have on the economy. But they also understand that any hopes for a successful second term for the president hinge on a deal that might boost the chances of a genuine recovery for the nation rather than the anemic revival it has experienced under Obama. This may be emboldening Boehner to think that it is he, and not the man who was just re-elected president, who is in control of the talks.

In doing so, Boehner may have put the ball back into the Democrats’ court. But it’s not easy to see how the GOP leadership team will sell a deal in which the president came closer to their position if they’re having such a hard time putting across Plan B.

If the end result of all this maneuvering is that no deal will be reached, it must be said that this is a disaster for the country. Allowing taxes to rise for all taxpayers is not just wrong (indeed, Republican hardliners are right when they say that any increase on anyone, no matter how rich, isn’t going to help the economy or do much to balance the budget), it will harm the nation’s economic health. The defense cuts that will result from such a failure will also be ruinous for national security. But Boehner may be counting on President Obama being more fearful of this than a Republican Party that may think it has nothing left to lose after their November defeat. Unless the president jumps first in the next couple of days in this game of chicken the two are playing, the fiscal cliff doomsday scenario may come to pass.

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Benghazi Warnings May Have Reached Clinton’s Office

The Senate hearing on the Benghazi report went on without Hillary Clinton today, and one State Department official acknowledged that upper levels of the department were aware of security concerns at the diplomatic mission before the attack occurred:

A top State Department official acknowledged Thursday that cables warning of serious security concerns at the U.S. compound in Benghazi went to department headquarters – and possibly to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s office – in the months leading up to the deadly Sept. 11 attack. 

Deputy Secretary of State Williams Burns, testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said the cables “would have been reviewed up through the assistant secretary level, and it may be that some of my colleagues on the seventh floor saw them as well.” The seventh floor refers to Clinton’s office. 

Further, Burns confirmed “there were certainly memos” that came to Clinton’s office describing some of the dozens of security incidents in the region before the attack that claimed four American lives.

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The Senate hearing on the Benghazi report went on without Hillary Clinton today, and one State Department official acknowledged that upper levels of the department were aware of security concerns at the diplomatic mission before the attack occurred:

A top State Department official acknowledged Thursday that cables warning of serious security concerns at the U.S. compound in Benghazi went to department headquarters – and possibly to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s office – in the months leading up to the deadly Sept. 11 attack. 

Deputy Secretary of State Williams Burns, testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said the cables “would have been reviewed up through the assistant secretary level, and it may be that some of my colleagues on the seventh floor saw them as well.” The seventh floor refers to Clinton’s office. 

Further, Burns confirmed “there were certainly memos” that came to Clinton’s office describing some of the dozens of security incidents in the region before the attack that claimed four American lives.

Clinton had great timing with that head injury. All we know from today’s hearing is that her office “may” have been aware of the red flags, but that’s still not a confirmation. Had Clinton been there, she would have had no good answer: if she wasn’t aware of the security problems, that doesn’t say much about her competence. If she was aware and did nothing, well, that’s much worse.

Four State Department officials have reportedly resigned due to the report, including diplomatic security head Eric Boswell, and deputy assistant for embassy security Charlene Lamb. But both Lamb and Boswell should have stepped down a long time ago, based on Lamb’s completely incriminating testimony a few months ago. It’s as if they were only kept around so that the State Department could have some people ready to axe as soon as the report came out. But it doesn’t look like any serious heads are going to roll. Clinton will have to deal with this if she chooses to run for president in 2016, and by that time the details of the controversy will be a distant memory.

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Ambassadors Like Hagel; Do Generals?

Over at the Atlantic, James Fallows publishes a statement signed by 9 former ambassadors saying they have worked with former Senator Chuck Hagel, and he “has been opposed to those who would undermine or threaten Israel’s security.” Frankly, Fallows and others pushing for Hagel seek to caricature all opposition to him as motivated by his positions on Israel. That may be the case for some but, as with Chas Freeman—who was equally atrocious on China—it has far more to do with his broader foreign policy vision and gut instincts. Let’s look at the ambassadors endorsing Hagel:

Edward Djerejian: Djerejian has spent his retirement promoting rapprochement with Bashar al-Assad, and an end to the Syrian dictator’s isolation in Syria. His insertions regarding unrelated Israel issues in the Iraq Study Group report were, at best, bizarre.

Thomas Pickering: Pickering is an adviser to the National Iranian American Council (NIAC), a group that lobbies against sanctions on the Islamic Republic and seeks to bring American foreign policy into greater conformity with Iran’s positions on controversial issues. They recently lost a defamation case against a journalist which called them out on their lobbying activities. Pickering was the group’s adviser when they sought to subpoena a decade’s worth of emails from me, anything that mentioned “Iran.” The subpoena was successfully fought, but the fact that Pickering would seek to compel release of even classified emails written when I was a Pentagon employee (which I didn’t have copies of at any rate) to hand to a pro-regime lobby group has forever made me question his judgment.

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Over at the Atlantic, James Fallows publishes a statement signed by 9 former ambassadors saying they have worked with former Senator Chuck Hagel, and he “has been opposed to those who would undermine or threaten Israel’s security.” Frankly, Fallows and others pushing for Hagel seek to caricature all opposition to him as motivated by his positions on Israel. That may be the case for some but, as with Chas Freeman—who was equally atrocious on China—it has far more to do with his broader foreign policy vision and gut instincts. Let’s look at the ambassadors endorsing Hagel:

Edward Djerejian: Djerejian has spent his retirement promoting rapprochement with Bashar al-Assad, and an end to the Syrian dictator’s isolation in Syria. His insertions regarding unrelated Israel issues in the Iraq Study Group report were, at best, bizarre.

Thomas Pickering: Pickering is an adviser to the National Iranian American Council (NIAC), a group that lobbies against sanctions on the Islamic Republic and seeks to bring American foreign policy into greater conformity with Iran’s positions on controversial issues. They recently lost a defamation case against a journalist which called them out on their lobbying activities. Pickering was the group’s adviser when they sought to subpoena a decade’s worth of emails from me, anything that mentioned “Iran.” The subpoena was successfully fought, but the fact that Pickering would seek to compel release of even classified emails written when I was a Pentagon employee (which I didn’t have copies of at any rate) to hand to a pro-regime lobby group has forever made me question his judgment.

Ryan Crocker: I have great respect for Ambassador Crocker, but his June 8, 2010 testimony before the Senate regarding Hezbollah continues to trouble me. “We should talk to Hezbollah,” Crocker said. “One thing I learned in Iraq is engagement can be extremely valuable in ending an insurgency.” Does Crocker really believe that he could turn Hezbollah by talking to them? Perhaps. Certainly Hagel does and that, itself, is problematic as it plays into Tehran’s strategy of attacking by proxy while maintaining plausible deniability.

William Luers: While never an ambassador to Israel, as Fallows suggested, Luers is a frequent contributor to the op-ed pages. In a 2009 piece for The New York Review of Books, Luers urged unconditional talks and even greater incentives for Iran. That didn’t turn out so well but in Hagel, Luers has found one of the few figures who is willing to overlook evidence and make the same mistakes repeatedly.

Nicholas Burns: Throughout his career in the State Department hierarchy, Burn has always pushed the line that diplomacy has no cost. Speaking before the Senate on May 6, 2009, he declared, “We will be no worse off if we try diplomacy and fail.” Alas, if the adversary seeks to use diplomacy as a mechanism for delay rather than as a process to resolve conflict, the cost of diplomacy can be very great indeed.

Samuel Lewis: Lewis’s blind support for Hagel should not surprise. Lewis was also a vocal defender of Chas Freeman, Jr., who withdrew from consideration to head the National Intelligence Council after his views, analysis, and biases embarrassed President Obama.

William Harrop: Has, since his retirement from the Foreign Service, appeared increasingly taken in by fringe views of “the Israel Lobby.” He certainly is entitled to them, but his endorsement may do more harm than good.

All of these former ambassadors should be applauded for endorsing Chuck Hagel. They believe he is an honorable man whose views conform to their own and it is to their credit that they will come out directly and say so. They appear to like Hagel because, when it comes to engaging Hezbollah, talks without end with Iran and, for a few among them, the nefarious power of pro-Israel advocates, his views conform to their own. Many, like Pickering, Djerejian, Luers, and perhaps Lewis, appear frequent participants on the post-retirement letter-signing circuit.

What I take from their endorsement is that Hagel would fit in well at Foggy Bottom, but will have a hard time at the Pentagon winning the respect of men whose buddies have been murdered by the very regimes and groups upon which Hagel wants to bestow legitimacy. It will be interesting to see if Hagel and his supporters can find an equal number of prominent former Pentagon officials (Frank Wisner, who is already listed, aside), to endorse him.

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Democrats Would Be Damaged by Hagel

It sounds like President Obama isn’t blinking on his potential Chuck Hagel nomination. Mike Allen reports that the administration is actually quietly coming to Hagel’s defense, an unusual move that suggests its commitment on this:

In an unusual move designed to deflate another public strafing like the one that wounded Susan Rice, the Obama administration is coming to the defense of a potential nominee who has not yet been chosen: former Sen. Chuck Hagel, a Republican who is the leading candidate to succeed Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.

Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, did not get a swift defense from a network of supporters around Washington when she came under fire for her initial comments about the attack in Benghazi. Hagel allies, however, are jumping to his defense at a time when critics, especially strong supporters of Israel, are attacking him on the Hill, in the press and — beginning today — in ads on cable-news stations. …

An official with a Jewish organization emails: “When the [Anti-Defamation League], the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the American Jewish Committee come together on something, it is remarkable and rare. … [A]ll three have raised serious alarms based on long standing interactions with Hagel, not over an isolated vote … Why make Democratic senators … walk the plank on this, when by finding a qualified Democrat, we can please the base?” …

William S. Cohen, who was defense secretary under President Bill Clinton, and a senator and House member from Maine, said in a phone interview that Hagel is “enormously qualified,” and praised him for being a moderate Republican, a diminishing breed on the Hill. …

Cohen added that if the opposition builds, and then Obama makes another choice, “It makes it look like he’s getting rolled a second time. It’ll look like critics on the Hill are determining who his team is going to be.”

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It sounds like President Obama isn’t blinking on his potential Chuck Hagel nomination. Mike Allen reports that the administration is actually quietly coming to Hagel’s defense, an unusual move that suggests its commitment on this:

In an unusual move designed to deflate another public strafing like the one that wounded Susan Rice, the Obama administration is coming to the defense of a potential nominee who has not yet been chosen: former Sen. Chuck Hagel, a Republican who is the leading candidate to succeed Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.

Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, did not get a swift defense from a network of supporters around Washington when she came under fire for her initial comments about the attack in Benghazi. Hagel allies, however, are jumping to his defense at a time when critics, especially strong supporters of Israel, are attacking him on the Hill, in the press and — beginning today — in ads on cable-news stations. …

An official with a Jewish organization emails: “When the [Anti-Defamation League], the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the American Jewish Committee come together on something, it is remarkable and rare. … [A]ll three have raised serious alarms based on long standing interactions with Hagel, not over an isolated vote … Why make Democratic senators … walk the plank on this, when by finding a qualified Democrat, we can please the base?” …

William S. Cohen, who was defense secretary under President Bill Clinton, and a senator and House member from Maine, said in a phone interview that Hagel is “enormously qualified,” and praised him for being a moderate Republican, a diminishing breed on the Hill. …

Cohen added that if the opposition builds, and then Obama makes another choice, “It makes it look like he’s getting rolled a second time. It’ll look like critics on the Hill are determining who his team is going to be.”

The most popular argument from Hagel supporters is that his positions don’t matter, since he would have to answer to Obama anyway. That’s deluded. Of course Obama has the final word on policy, but if he just wanted somebody to mindlessly carry it out without giving any input, he could pick a far less polarizing figure than Hagel. You choose someone like Hagel because a.) you agree with his views, and b.) you want to let the world know that.

If Obama is unserious about preventing a nuclear Iran, he’ll be unserious about it no matter who his defense secretary is. But if he chooses someone like Michele Flournoy (who isn’t great either), pro-Israel Democrats can still pretend Obama means what he says in his AIPAC speeches. If he chooses Hagel, that’s basically like coming out and saying he supports containment.

“Why make Democratic senators … walk the plank on this, when by finding a qualified Democrat, we can please the base?” a Jewish organization official told Mike Allen in the story above. Walking the plank is a good way to put it.

If Hagel is nominated, he will most likely get through, but it will be brutal for Democrats. Not just the confirmation process–though it will be embarrassing and damaging for Obama to have to defend some of the statements and positions Hagel’s critics will drag out. The real damage would come later–think of how the left demonized Donald Rumsfeld. Every move Hagel makes would be scrutinized and politicized. Anything controversial would be hung around the necks of the Democratic Party. For the most part, Republicans have gone easy on Obama’s defense secretaries, but that would change.

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New Missiles for Iran Impact Hagel Debate

The Iranian nuclear threat has been put on the back burner both in the United States and Israel in recent weeks, but the latest news out of Syria has the potential to alter the discussion about the West’s leverage over Tehran. According to a report broadcast this morning on Fox News, diplomatic sources are saying that a Russian air defense system sold to Syria is now being transferred to Iran. The move can be interpreted as yet another sign that the Assad regime is faltering and transferring its assets out of the country. But the transaction is more probably merely a matter of Damascus paying for the constant flow of Iranian arms that has kept Assad’s forces from running out of guns and ammunition after nearly two years of constant fighting.

But no matter what it means for Syria, the arrival of the missiles in Iran will make a big difference for Western and Israeli military forces contemplating air strikes on the Islamist regime’s nuclear sites. Iran’s air defenses would be immeasurably strengthened were it able to deploy enough of the mobile phased radar array weapons. That would raise the potential costs and casualties of any U.S. strike on their nuclear facilities and might call into question the effectiveness of one made by the Israeli Air Force. An Iran with the S-300 system in its arsenal would be better able to defy international sanctions and more confident that it could deter any attack from the West. With President Obama still relying on failed diplomacy and sanctions to convince Iran to give up its nuclear ambitions, this boost to Iran’s defense capabilities could change the way he approaches the issue in his second term. A hardened Iranian target might tip the balance within the administration to those, like possible secretary of defense nominee Chuck Hagel, who will oppose an attack and favor a policy of containment that the president has previously rejected.

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The Iranian nuclear threat has been put on the back burner both in the United States and Israel in recent weeks, but the latest news out of Syria has the potential to alter the discussion about the West’s leverage over Tehran. According to a report broadcast this morning on Fox News, diplomatic sources are saying that a Russian air defense system sold to Syria is now being transferred to Iran. The move can be interpreted as yet another sign that the Assad regime is faltering and transferring its assets out of the country. But the transaction is more probably merely a matter of Damascus paying for the constant flow of Iranian arms that has kept Assad’s forces from running out of guns and ammunition after nearly two years of constant fighting.

But no matter what it means for Syria, the arrival of the missiles in Iran will make a big difference for Western and Israeli military forces contemplating air strikes on the Islamist regime’s nuclear sites. Iran’s air defenses would be immeasurably strengthened were it able to deploy enough of the mobile phased radar array weapons. That would raise the potential costs and casualties of any U.S. strike on their nuclear facilities and might call into question the effectiveness of one made by the Israeli Air Force. An Iran with the S-300 system in its arsenal would be better able to defy international sanctions and more confident that it could deter any attack from the West. With President Obama still relying on failed diplomacy and sanctions to convince Iran to give up its nuclear ambitions, this boost to Iran’s defense capabilities could change the way he approaches the issue in his second term. A hardened Iranian target might tip the balance within the administration to those, like possible secretary of defense nominee Chuck Hagel, who will oppose an attack and favor a policy of containment that the president has previously rejected.

It should be remembered that that the Russians agreed to prohibit further sale of Russian weapons to Iran after the United Nations imposed sanctions on the country in 2010. The S-300s were specifically mentioned at the time as the most important element of that ban. The Russians made some noises last summer about deciding to give the missiles to Iran should Assad fall, but it appears that their faltering Syrian ally has already made that decision for him. With the rebels gaining strength, Assad is desperate to keep the Iranian resupply operation in place and is apparently ready to pay for it with some of his most precious assets either with or without the permission of his allies in Moscow.

Those contemplating an easy victory for any Israeli or American air attack in Iran have perhaps always been underestimating the challenges of a strike on such a vast target. In particular, since the Iranians have already moved most of the centrifuges enriching uranium for a bomb to the underground mountain site at Fordow, it is by no means clear that it will be possible for any air offensive to conclusively end the Iranian nuclear threat. But with mobile Russian missiles that are harder to take out than fixed batteries and which have the ability to track up to 100 targets while engaging 12, the Iranians could at the very least up the price either the U.S. or Israel would have to pay in any attack.

This is crucial to the already dim chances that either diplomacy or sanctions could persuade Iran to give up its nuclear program because it would mean the ayatollahs would be even less likely to be intimidated by Western ultimatums or threats. If the Islamist regime was already acting as if it could indefinitely defy President Obama’s warnings before this, they will be even less likely to do so once the Russian missiles are in place around their nuclear plants.

This places the argument about Hagel’s potential nomination into an even more important context. Those asserting that having a Pentagon chief who opposed a tough line on Iran is meaningless because he would have to follow the president’s policy line are ignoring the fact that a newly strengthened Iran will also stiffen Hagel’s resistance to Obama’s ideas. This makes it all the more imperative that whoever is leading America’s military is someone with a greater determination to end the Iranian nuclear threat than a potential appeaser such as Hagel.

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New York GOP: Victim of its Own Success?

It was one of the great ironies of the 1992 presidential election that talk of a “peace dividend” contributed to Bill Clinton’s victory over George H.W. Bush by portraying Bush not as a failure, but as a success. As vice president and then as president, Bush presided over the American victory in the Cold War and the disintegration of the Soviet Union and its peaceful passage of power from Gorbachev to Yeltsin. Americans could attempt to fully turn their attention away from foreign policy, and thus away from the need to reelect Bush.

Along those lines, Charles Lane at the Washington Post had a very perceptive column last month arguing that when it came to crime, Republicans were victims of their own success. Lane wrote:

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It was one of the great ironies of the 1992 presidential election that talk of a “peace dividend” contributed to Bill Clinton’s victory over George H.W. Bush by portraying Bush not as a failure, but as a success. As vice president and then as president, Bush presided over the American victory in the Cold War and the disintegration of the Soviet Union and its peaceful passage of power from Gorbachev to Yeltsin. Americans could attempt to fully turn their attention away from foreign policy, and thus away from the need to reelect Bush.

Along those lines, Charles Lane at the Washington Post had a very perceptive column last month arguing that when it came to crime, Republicans were victims of their own success. Lane wrote:

It is a GOP triumph, because the enormous decline in crime over the past two decades coincided with the widespread adoption of such conservative ideas as “broken windows” policing and mandatory minimum sentences….

We’ll never know whether 2012 would have played out the same way if crime had staged a comeback during the recession, as many expected. Certainly in the past, crime was as important to the Republican brand as abortion and gay rights, if not more important.

Safer streets, though, have blunted what was once a sharp wedge issue, and, perhaps, freed the electorate to consider social and moral issues in a different light.

In fact, in recent times no place has been more important to the GOP’s image as successful crime fighters than New York City, where many of those policies were tested and proved their worth. Lane wrote that Democrats cannot afford politically to stray far from the GOP’s stance on crime because voters believe it is the GOP’s approach that reduced crime.

This, too, is an ongoing phenomenon in New York. And both factors may very well influence New York’s next mayoral race the way Lane believes they influenced the 2012 presidential election. With no prominent Republican in the mayoral race, Joe Lhota, the city’s transportation authority chief, stepped down to explore a run for mayor. Lhota is a well respected alumnus of Rudy Giuliani’s administration, and as the New York Times reports, Giuliani’s success has changed the city’s self-perception in ways that may hinder Lhota’s run:

One of Mr. Lhota’s earliest challenges could be determining how to characterize his ties to Mr. Giuliani, a polarizing figure who was an influential mayor.

Kathryn S. Wylde, the president of the Partnership for New York City, the city’s premier business association, said in an interview that a Lhota campaign would provide an opportunity to “remind us of what New York City was like 25 years ago” — before Republican administrations seized control of Gracie Mansion.

“So many current residents don’t remember,” she said. “It will be a good education for many young or new New Yorkers, who take for granted that New York has always been as vibrant and safe and livable a city as it is today.”

Lhota, essentially, may have too good a record to run on. To be sure, there are other marks against Lhota, the primary one being a fare hike Lhota helped bring about. Others include starting off with relatively weak poll numbers and the usual low Republican voter registration. But the fare hike is another irony: voters may concentrate on having to pay more for a subway ride, but may gloss over the speed with which Lhota’s MTA got the city’s transportation system back up and running after Hurricane Sandy.

New Yorkers may take their subways for granted. I don’t remember fully appreciating the New York transportation system until experiencing the Washington, D.C. metro–known for its constant delays, derailing trains, ever-broken escalators, doors that open when the train is in motion but not when they trap an infant without its mother, train schedules that will get you to a Nationals baseball game but may not be running trains when the game is over, and of course the occasional bird of prey joining morning commuters or even, on special occasions, getting its own train.

So Lhota has his work cut out for him. But the New York GOP can take some solace in the fact that if Democrats take the mayor’s office for the first time in two decades, they won’t have done it without 20 years of Republican success in the interim.

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Do Americans Really Oppose Syria Intervention?

Ed Morrissey at HotAir flags an interesting Washington Post/ABC poll finds that Americans are overwhelmingly opposed to a U.S. intervention in Syria–unless Syria loses control of its chemical weapons. Or attacks neighboring U.S. allies. Or Bashar al-Assad uses chemical weapons against his people. Or if the intervention is a no-fly zone that doesn’t involve ground troops. In those cases, the vast majority of the public supports it:

In general, 73 percent say the U.S. military should not get involved in the conflict. But almost exactly as many say they’d support U.S. military involvement if Syria were to lose control of its chemical weapons, as do 63 percent if the Assad regime used these banned weapons against its own people – an action that Barack Obama has warned would “cross a red line.”

Similarly, if Syrian forces were to attack nearby U.S. allies, 69 percent say they’d support U.S. military involvement. And regardless of any such specific provocation, 62 percent say they’d favor creation of a no-fly zone, provided no ground troops were used. (That may reflect the success of the no-fly zone over Libya, general preference for air vs. ground combat, or some combination of both.)

Even among those who initially oppose U.S. military intervention, more than half change their position given the specific circumstances proposed, including 69 percent who, despite initial hesitancy, support U.S. involvement if Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile became insecure. 

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Ed Morrissey at HotAir flags an interesting Washington Post/ABC poll finds that Americans are overwhelmingly opposed to a U.S. intervention in Syria–unless Syria loses control of its chemical weapons. Or attacks neighboring U.S. allies. Or Bashar al-Assad uses chemical weapons against his people. Or if the intervention is a no-fly zone that doesn’t involve ground troops. In those cases, the vast majority of the public supports it:

In general, 73 percent say the U.S. military should not get involved in the conflict. But almost exactly as many say they’d support U.S. military involvement if Syria were to lose control of its chemical weapons, as do 63 percent if the Assad regime used these banned weapons against its own people – an action that Barack Obama has warned would “cross a red line.”

Similarly, if Syrian forces were to attack nearby U.S. allies, 69 percent say they’d support U.S. military involvement. And regardless of any such specific provocation, 62 percent say they’d favor creation of a no-fly zone, provided no ground troops were used. (That may reflect the success of the no-fly zone over Libya, general preference for air vs. ground combat, or some combination of both.)

Even among those who initially oppose U.S. military intervention, more than half change their position given the specific circumstances proposed, including 69 percent who, despite initial hesitancy, support U.S. involvement if Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile became insecure. 

Those scenarios aren’t that far off. But this finding is interesting for another reason. There’s a lot of talk about how the public is war weary, but Americans have not shown an interest in turning to isolationism. As Seth pointed out recently, a growing percentage of Americans say the U.S. should use military force if need be to prevent a nuclear Iran. The public largely believes that the U.S. has a global responsibility to intervene under certain circumstances, even without a direct, imminent threat to our country. Defending our allies and stopping dictators from massacring their own people with chemical weapons is reason enough for most Americans.

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Europe, Israel and the Nation-State

In what is becoming a standard trope for Israeli leftists, Haaretz columnist Ari Shavit today decries the “savagery” of Israel’s “rising political forces,” who are “alien to the new West’s values.” To which my response is, “thank God”–because the “new West’s values” are antithetical to the very existence of a Jewish state. And if that sounds far-fetched, just consider European Commission President Manuel Barroso’s speech last week when he accepted the Nobel Peace Prize on the European Union’s behalf.

Quoting the commission’s first president, Walter Hallstein, Barroso declared that 20th-century history showed “The system of sovereign nation-states has failed,” because “through two world wars it has proved itself unable to preserve peace.” Therefore, Barroso said, “nations needed to think beyond the nation-state” and create “supranational institutions.” Later, he reiterated this point by quoting one of the EU’s founding fathers, Jean Monnet: “The sovereign nations of the past can no longer solve the problems of the present,” Monnet said, and even the EU itself “is only a stage on the way to the organized world of the future.”

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In what is becoming a standard trope for Israeli leftists, Haaretz columnist Ari Shavit today decries the “savagery” of Israel’s “rising political forces,” who are “alien to the new West’s values.” To which my response is, “thank God”–because the “new West’s values” are antithetical to the very existence of a Jewish state. And if that sounds far-fetched, just consider European Commission President Manuel Barroso’s speech last week when he accepted the Nobel Peace Prize on the European Union’s behalf.

Quoting the commission’s first president, Walter Hallstein, Barroso declared that 20th-century history showed “The system of sovereign nation-states has failed,” because “through two world wars it has proved itself unable to preserve peace.” Therefore, Barroso said, “nations needed to think beyond the nation-state” and create “supranational institutions.” Later, he reiterated this point by quoting one of the EU’s founding fathers, Jean Monnet: “The sovereign nations of the past can no longer solve the problems of the present,” Monnet said, and even the EU itself “is only a stage on the way to the organized world of the future.”

Nor is Barroso alone. Norwegian Nobel Committee chairman Thorbjorn Jagland echoed this idea in his presentation speech. “After the two world wars in the last century, the world had to turn away from nationalism,” he declared. And though Europe is currently experiencing a crisis, “the solution now as then is not for the countries to act on their own at the expense of others.”

Barroso and Jagland obviously don’t speak for every European, but they do represent the dominant worldview of the European elite. And a worldview that believes “The system of sovereign nation-states has failed” clearly has no use for a country that defiantly proclaims itself a Jewish nation-state and insists on pursuing vital interests–like protecting its citizens from rocket fire–even “at the expense of” the Palestinians who are launching the rockets. Nor, incidentally, does this worldview have much use for an America that similarly insists on preserving its sovereignty and refuses to sacrifices its interests to the global collective’s whims. The Barroso-Jagland worldview thus goes a long way toward explaining European hostility to both Israel and America.

Nor does the growing popularity of European separatist movements contradict this worldview. Even in Scotland and Catalonia, where pro-independence parties recently won clear majorities, most voters’ support for “independence” is conditional on their new country receiving automatic EU membership. In other words, they want “independence” only on condition that they not actually have to exist for even a day as a fully independent country. The unavoidable conclusion is that even among ordinary Europeans, this worldview remains alive and well.

Hence for the foreseeable future, understanding it will remain vital for understanding Europe. To that end, I recommend two important essays published by Yoram Hazony in 2010. The first, drawing on Thomas Kuhn’s book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, explains the paradigm shift that created this worldview and its implications for Israel. The second uses Immanuel Kant’s philosophy to explain why this view doesn’t contradict Europe’s ardent support for, say, a Palestinian nation-state (here’s the two-sentence, vastly dumbed-down version: European post-nationalists view the nation-state as a stage primitive peoples must go through en route to enlightened supra-nationalism, so for tribal Arab societies, becoming nation-states would be a step forward. But it’s unconscionable for Israel, having achieved this stage, to want to stay there instead of moving on to the next).

The bottom line, however, is clear: Israel’s survival as a Jewish state depends on its very willingness to reject “the new West’s values.” And European antipathy is the unavoidable price it will have to pay for that choice.

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The Ugly Politics of Piers Morgan

On Tuesday night, CNN’s Piers Morgan interviewed Larry Pratt, the executive director of Gun Owners of America. Anyone who has watched Morgan knows he has an obsessive dislike for America’s gun culture. He’s a fierce advocate for gun control, so it didn’t take a genius to predict the interview would be confrontational. But it turned out to be much more, and much uglier, than that.

Mr. Morgan was furious, insulting, and childish during the interview. He called Pratt “an unbelievably stupid man,” “dangerous,” accused Pratt of being a liar, said, “You shame your country,” and for good measure added, “You don’t give a damn, do you, about the gun murder rate in America.”

On Morgan v. Pratt, I have three observations to make. The first is that you would think that if Mr. Pratt was as stupid as Morgan said, Morgan could easily best him in a debate. But he didn’t. And I say that as someone who has disagreements with Pratt on gun control.

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On Tuesday night, CNN’s Piers Morgan interviewed Larry Pratt, the executive director of Gun Owners of America. Anyone who has watched Morgan knows he has an obsessive dislike for America’s gun culture. He’s a fierce advocate for gun control, so it didn’t take a genius to predict the interview would be confrontational. But it turned out to be much more, and much uglier, than that.

Mr. Morgan was furious, insulting, and childish during the interview. He called Pratt “an unbelievably stupid man,” “dangerous,” accused Pratt of being a liar, said, “You shame your country,” and for good measure added, “You don’t give a damn, do you, about the gun murder rate in America.”

On Morgan v. Pratt, I have three observations to make. The first is that you would think that if Mr. Pratt was as stupid as Morgan said, Morgan could easily best him in a debate. But he didn’t. And I say that as someone who has disagreements with Pratt on gun control.

Second, Morgan embodies an attitude that we’re seeing more and more on the left. It’s a nasty combination of supreme self-righteousness and reflexive demonization. Piers Morgan can’t accept that people of good will and decency might hold views that are very different than he does on gun control. And so it’s not enough to say Pratt is wrong; he has to be portrayed by Morgan as moronic and a moral monster. This act is lovely coming from those who from time to time, and when it’s convenient, lecture the rest of us on the importance of civility in public discourse.

Point three is that Morgan and his CNN colleagues Don Lemon and Soledad O’Brien have become vocal and emotional (but not particularly well-informed) advocates for gun control since the Newtown massacre. There is not the slightest pretense of objectivity. They and their network have a story to tell, a cause to advance, an ideology to champion. And they will use their posts as journalists, including (in the case of Lemon and O’Brien) as anchors, to make their case.

Now the liberalism of these three individuals–and CNN more broadly–is hardly a state secret. Their bias is evident to anyone who watches them. That’s true of someone like Anderson Cooper, whose show I generally like. But since the killings at Sandy Hook Elementary School, CNN’s cast of characters (Cooper excluded) has begun to resemble the prime-time line-up at MSNBC. And for all of MSNBC’s problems–and they are very nearly endless–at least there is no play acting. They are left and they are proud of it. Which is better in some respects than CNN, which is liberal but pretends not to be.

Piers Morgan made a fool of himself and embarrassed his network on Tuesday night. And while I don’t share Larry Pratt’s views on guns, he did the country a bit of a service in revealing the ugly politics of Piers Morgan.

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Turkish Intelligence Monitoring Jews

Writing in Al-Monitor, Tulin Daloğlu—an experienced Turkish journalist and easily that online publication’s best writer—highlights an unfortunate development from Turkey. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s government is apparently using Turkey’s intelligence service to monitor Turkey’s Jews. She explains:

The deteriorating relationship between Turkey and Israel has generated unprecedented and disquieting accusations against Turkey’s Jews. There is a growing tendency in this country — encouraged by the ruling Islamist government — that demonizes Jews and triggers anti-Semitism, consciously or not… Turkish papers reported that the prosecutor’s office in Istanbul that tried the Israeli soldiers involved in the Mavi Marmara incident asked the Turkish National Intelligence Service (MIT) for a listing of Turkish Jews who traveled to Israel two weeks before and after the Mavi Marmara incident. These were put under surveillance.

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Writing in Al-Monitor, Tulin Daloğlu—an experienced Turkish journalist and easily that online publication’s best writer—highlights an unfortunate development from Turkey. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s government is apparently using Turkey’s intelligence service to monitor Turkey’s Jews. She explains:

The deteriorating relationship between Turkey and Israel has generated unprecedented and disquieting accusations against Turkey’s Jews. There is a growing tendency in this country — encouraged by the ruling Islamist government — that demonizes Jews and triggers anti-Semitism, consciously or not… Turkish papers reported that the prosecutor’s office in Istanbul that tried the Israeli soldiers involved in the Mavi Marmara incident asked the Turkish National Intelligence Service (MIT) for a listing of Turkish Jews who traveled to Israel two weeks before and after the Mavi Marmara incident. These were put under surveillance.

Hakan Fidan, the head of Turkey’s MIT, has come to the notice of COMMENTARY before. Separately, many years ago—probably around 2004 or 2005—a senior member of Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) wanted to get in touch with me about something I had written. Rather than call the American Enterprise Institute where I work or ask the Turkish embassy to do so, he instead called a random Turkish Jew in Washington, D.C., asking if she could pass a message to me. She tried, but I responded that if the Turkish figure wanted to contact to me, he could do so properly, and reach out to me as an American policy analyst, not as a Jew.

That episode was one of several similar incidents that drilled into me the recognition that the AKP saw almost everything and everyone through the prism of religion. Indeed, with Erdoğan at the helm, such behavior should not surprise. On the few incidents that I met Turkish Jews on trips to Istanbul, several quietly spoke about how bad the situation was getting. Let us hope that Turkey does not go the route of Iran and arrest random members of the Jewish community in order to send a message and intimidate the rest.

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