There’s a lot about this month’s election in Israel that is yet to be decided, as the polls indicating the number of Knesset seats the parties will win have fluctuated from day to day. However, the big question as far as the rest of the world is concerned—the identity of the country’s next prime minister—is the one thing that isn’t in any doubt. Current PM Benjamin Netanyahu is certain to form the next government of Israel with his Likud party having the most seats of any in the Knesset. But, in a stroke of irony made possible by Israel’s proportional election system, that is also Netanyahu’s biggest problem. Since there is no scenario in which he will not be the next prime minister, many Israelis who might otherwise be inclined to cast their ballot for Likud will instead vote for one of the smaller parties that will probably form part of Netanyahu’s coalition.
That means that rather than his own list taking more than a third of the 120 seats in the Knesset, his total may be considerably less than the 42 that Likud and Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beitenu (which recently merged with Likud) won in the last election. That won’t stop Netanyahu from staying in office, but it could make his life miserable not only when putting together his next Cabinet but also over the course of the next few years, when he will be forced to cope with the growing strength of parties that are to his right on issues such as settlements and the theoretical terms of peace with the Palestinians.
Despite some flimsy hype that 20 Republicans were going to turn against John Boehner at the speaker vote today, nothing of the sort ended up happening. Boehner won another term, with 220 votes (considering the number of abstentions, he needed 214 votes to win a majority). But he did get some retaliation from 12 Republicans who either voted for other members or sat out the vote. Dave Weigel describes the scene:
The tiny rebellion started early in the roll call, when the chair presiding over the House called on Rep. Justin Amash. Every Republican was supposed to vote John Boehner for speaker. But the Michigan sophomore cast a vote for Rep. Raul Labrador, an Idaho sophomore who happened to be sitting stony-faced next to him. The House floor filled with awkward “Oooohs” and the occasional “Who?”
The early part of the alphabet turned out to be trouble. Rep. Paul Broun voted for Allen West—who lost his seat last year—to become speaker. John Bridenstine, a new member from Oklahoma who upset an incumbent in a 2012 primary, voted for Eric Cantor. When Cantor’s turn came, he said “John. Boehner.” with the tone of voice you’d use on a telemarketer who put you on hold for three hours.
In 1974, when Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres were locked in an internal battle for the leadership of the Labor party and the Israeli premiership, Rabin reached out for an unlikely endorsement. “A declaration of support from Arik matters more than one from anyone else,” Rabin told the journalist Uri Dan, referring to the Likud’s Ariel Sharon. Dan relayed the request to Sharon, and Sharon agreed; he got up from his meeting with Dan, went over to a phone booth in the hotel lobby, and began calling journalists to tell them.
The endorsement made headlines, and Rabin became prime minister. Though that incident took place soon after the Yom Kippur War and years before Egypt and Israel signed a peace agreement, there is a cultural aspect to this story that remains relevant in 2013. To most of the world the there isn’t much difference between a “peacemaker” and a “peacenik”; to Israelis there is a Grand Canyon between them. And although the political parties are reversed, this distinction goes a long way to explaining the seeming indispensability of Ehud Barak to the man that took over the Likud after Sharon left it: Benjamin Netanyahu.
Not much is expected to change at the State Department when John Kerry replaces Hillary Clinton. That’s especially true in terms of the Middle East, where Kerry is not expected to be any more eager to push Iran than Clinton. Nor is he likely to take a more jaundiced view of the Muslim Brotherhood government of Egypt, which was been the particular object of U.S. affection in the latter half of 2012 as Mohamed Morsi consolidated power without much in the way of protest from an administration that continues to funnel billions in aid to Cairo. Kerry appears to share the State Department consensus that Morsi and the Brotherhood are deserving of continued American largesse and regards the Islamists as a moderating force in the region rather than as the enablers of Hamas.
It remains to be seen whether his former Senate colleagues will press Kerry much on the subject. But in case anyone on the Hill is inclined to buy into the happy talk about the Brotherhood that is being sold by the State Department and mainstream media outlets eager to portray the Brotherhood as the Egyptian equivalent of the Islamist government of Turkey that President Obama is so fond of, they ought to take a look at this video uncovered by Memritv.org, the indispensable window into the Arab media. In this 2010 appearance on Lebanon’s Al Quds TV, the Brotherhood leader and future Egyptian president not only denounces any peace negotiations with Israelis, whom he called bloodsuckers, warmongers, and “the descendants of apes and pigs,” but also called for a boycott of U.S. products.
Like Lenny in James Steinbeck’s classic Of Mice and Men, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan doesn’t understand much about how the world works. He does understand, however, how to lead a slow motion social and religious revolution in Turkey and transform a once vibrant if dysfunctional democracy into a strongman dictatorship. In his first decade in power, Erdoğan’s animus has been strongest toward the press. Turkey now ranks below Russia and Zimbabwe in press freedom; Reporters Without Frontiers labels Turkey “the world’s biggest prison for journalists.” Indeed, Erdoğan strokes journalists like Lenny strokes rabbits.
Now it seems that the Turkish government is beginning to turn its animus toward classic literature. According to Hürriyet Daily News, “The İzmir Education Directorate’s books commission is seeking to ban certain parts of John Steinbeck’s classic ‘Of Mice and Men’ for several “immoral” passages, according to daily BirGün.” This should be especially worrying because Izmir is not some provincial Anatolian town, but in the heart of the Europeanized Mediterranean.
The Wall Street Journal reports that Glenn Beck–who approached Current TV about a sale last year–was too right-wing for the network to even consider his offer. But an authoritarian-Islamist government that has criminalized homosexuality, discriminates against non-Muslims, prosecutes journalists, and has a “Not Free” rating from Freedom House? That was fine:
Before Al-Jazeera, there was Glenn Beck.
According to The Wall Street Journal, Glenn Beck’s media company, The Blaze, approached Current Media about a sale last year, but was told in the words of one source that “the legacy of who the network goes to is important to us and we are sensitive to networks not aligned with our point of view.”
The Blaze “reached out to them to buy it,” a source familiar with the talks told POLITICO. “They would have replaced Current programming with The Blaze programming, but were told on initial calls that [Current] wouldn’t sell to someone they weren’t ideologically in line with.”
In explaining the reasons for selling to Al-Jazeera, Current co-founder and CEO Joel Hyatt told the Journal that the Qatari-based broadcaster “was founded with the same goals we had for Current,” including “to give voice to those whose voices are not typically heard” and “to speak truth to power.”
Sure, Al Jazeera can “speak truth to power,” as long as the powerful are not in Qatar.
Every member of the U.S. military is familiar with the Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape (SERE) course: When required, it is one of the most memorable but least pleasant aspects of their training. SERE training teaches personnel stranded in hostile territory how to evade capture but, when the worst happens, how to survive and mitigate interrogation.
The full course is valuable for those on the front lines of America’s national defense, be it in Afghanistan, the Persian Gulf, perhaps fighting drug lords in Mexico or South America, and those stationed along the DMZ on the Korean Peninsula.
Among the big winners of the resolution of the congressional fiscal cliff debacle was Vice President Joe Biden. Rather than being relegated to funeral duty by a president who initially had little use for him, Biden’s decades of experience on the Hill have proven to be an invaluable resource in this administration. Since neither the president nor his top aides have any talent for or even interest in serious deal-making with Congress and with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid similarly sidelined by his own bull-headed manner, Biden has emerged as a key player in a time of DC gridlock.
Biden’s ability to craft a deal with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell made it clear that he, rather than the president or even Reid, has become an important Washington player in his own right. In effect, he is positioned to be the prime minister of a second Obama administration. That status will likely be reinforced by Biden’s lead role in pushing forward a new gun control initiative in the coming months. This should keep him in a spotlight that is brighter than is usual for a vice president even in an era when veeps are no longer the political equivalent of the missing persons bureau. And though 2016 is a long way off, these developments can only feed Biden’s still burning ambition to be president himself one day.
Last week, as Max Boot wrote here, Iraqi security forces took into custody guards employed by Finance Minister Rafi al-Issawi, an Iraqi Sunni Arab. Issawi was a former member of the fundamentalist Iraqi Islamic Party and subsequently formed his own party which, in the last elections, ran under the banner of Ayad Allawi’s Iraqiyya list. The arrest of Issawi’s guards touched off a series of protests in Al-Anbar and other Sunni-dominated areas. Max called the arrest of the body guard a sign of “Maliki’s Dangerous Sectarian Agenda.”
It would be wrong to give Maliki a free pass to do whatever he likes, but it is as dangerous to label legal action against prominent Sunni Arabs automatically illegitimate and driven by sectarianism. To do so would be to give some Sunni Arab Iraqi figures a free pass to conduct terror. In effect, such blind sectarian criticism of Maliki plays into al-Qaeda’s hands.
Speaker John Boehner’s since-rescinded decision to put off a vote on a bill providing disaster relief to the victims of Hurricane Sandy turned out to be another black eye for House Republicans. The televised rage of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie over the move was just one among many condemnations that were shown over and again on TV news channels. It fit right into the prevailing media narrative about congressional dysfunction as well as the idea that the House is led by extremists who don’t care about the Northeast. Given that the hurricane gave an unanticipated boost to President Obama’s re-election (though it almost certainly didn’t affect the outcome), Sandy appears to be a gift that just keeps on giving for Democrats.
Boehner had no choice but to backtrack on allowing a vote on the relief bill since to stick to his position in the face of so much opposition, including the disagreement of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, was impossible. But before we file away this episode as just another example of an unforced error on the part of the GOP, it is vital that the objections to the bill be understood outside of the context of the grandstanding on the part of Christie and others, such as Rep. Peter King. Far from being a pure relief package that hard-hearted Republicans were obstructing, the bill is a stereotypical piece of legislative pork filled with funding for projects that are unrelated to recovery from Sandy’s devastation, but which feathers the nests of supporters of various senators and members of Congress as well as federal agencies. Seen in this light, the lambasting of Boehner is just a cover for a revival of a practice the speaker and other reform-minded members thought they had already gotten ride of: earmarking.
Strangely enough, Democrats didn’t seem too concerned about the Osama bin Laden raid movie “Zero Dark Thirty” back when Republicans were raising alarms about the potentially classified access the Obama administration granted the film team. But now that the movie has portrayed enhanced interrogation techniques in a favorable light, Senate Democrats are suddenly eager to launch an investigation:
After the Senate Intelligence Committee’s chairwoman expressed outrage over scenes that imply “enhanced interrogations” of CIA detainees produced a breakthrough in the hunt for Osama bin Laden, the panel has begun a review of contacts between the makers of the film “Zero Dark Thirty” and CIA officials.
Investigators will examine whether the spy agency gave the filmmakers “inappropriate” access to secret material, said a person familiar with the matter. They will also probe whether CIA personnel are responsible for the portrayal of harsh interrogation practices, and in particular the suggestion that they were effective, the person said. …
But the film has also produced a series of awkward political headaches for President Barack Obama. Early on, Obama’s Republican critics suggested it was a gimmick to boost his re-election campaign. But now, some of Obama’s liberal supporters are attacking the film and officials who cooperated with its creators for allegedly promoting the effectiveness of torture.
Last season, as the Knicks approached their return to the NBA playoffs, they faced a strange dilemma: If they kept winning, they would improve their playoff seed but draw a far tougher opponent in the first round: the eventual champion Miami Heat. In the end, they drew the Heat and lost in the first round. In sports, you generally cannot choose your opponent.
But every so often, in politics you can. And that is what may be tempting Scott Brown to pass on running in the upcoming Massachusetts Senate election to replace John Kerry in favor of running for Massachusetts governor instead. Massachusetts Democrats, according to the Boston Herald, fear Brown is considering doing what the Knicks could not: picking which opponent he’d rather run against. Joe Battenfeld encourages him to do exactly that:
One of the many unanswered questions of the Benghazi attack is why it took so long for CIA backup forces to get from Tripoli to Benghazi. According to a new Senate report, this may have been an intentional delay by the Libyan government. Eli Lake reports:
The biggest recent development—which was overshadowed by the fiscal cliff negotiations—came on New Year’s Eve, when the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee released a report that raised the question of whether Libyan officials assisted the Benghazi terrorists. The report found that a team of CIA contractors dispatched from Tripoli to Benghazi on the night of the attacks waited at least three hours after arriving at the Benghazi airport before departing to the scene because of negotiations with Libyan government officials. According to the report, members of Congress still don’t know the exact reason for the delay. “Was it simply the result of a difficult Libyan bureaucracy and a chaotic environment or was it part of a plot to keep American help from reaching the Americans under siege in Benghazi?” the report asks.
If this New York Times leak is accurate, Gen. John Allen has presented his three options for force levels in Afghanistan post-2014. Low risk option: 20,000. Medium risk: 10,000. High-risk: 6,000.
My own view is that 20,000 is actually the medium-risk option–the low-risk option (or, more accurately, lower risk option) is 25,000 to 35,000 troops as argued in this policy paper from retired Gen. David Barno, a former commander in Afghanistan. (He subsequently argued in an op-ed that 10,000 troops would be adequate but gave no reason why his earlier analysis did not hold.)
The Al Jazeera television network has become a dominant force in Middle East communications as well as an expanding influence elsewhere, but up until now it has had trouble breaking through in the United States with a little watched English channel that is not widely available. No longer. With the sale of Al Gore’s Current TV cable network to Al Jazeera, the Qatar-government financed news giant will have a chance to reach an estimated 40 million American homes. Current TV has been a colossal flop in terms of viewership and quality, but its sale will make yet another fortune for the former vice president who has become wealthy through investments in so-called “green” companies.
In yet another example of the hypocrisy of wealthy left-wingers, Gore, who will receive an estimated $100 million of the reported half-billion-dollar sale price, made sure the transaction took place by the end of 2012 so as to avoid the higher taxes that went into effect as part of President Obama’s soak-the-rich fiscal cliff ultimatum. But there’s more to this story than the way the former Democratic Party standard-bearer parlayed a vanity project into a financial windfall. Rather, it is the way he will assist the plan of Al Jazeera, which has long been rightly dismissed by the American public as a platform for Islamist and anti-American and anti-Israel propaganda, to elbow its way into the U.S. media market and compete with cable news giants like CNN and MSNBC, if not the more popular Fox News. Though, as the New York Times noted, there is little evidence that there is any real demand among mainstream viewers for an English language version of the favorite network of Al Qaeda and other Islamists, the acquisition of Current and the creation of a new Al Jazeera English channel will mean the network’s biased outlook on the Middle East and the United States will be far more widely available here than ever before.