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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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 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:
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.
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.”
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.
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.