The liberal bias of the mainstream media played a not inconsiderable role in helping Barack Obama skate to what turned out to be an easy victory last November. But as his longtime antagonist Benjamin Netanyahu coasts toward his own re-election, one of the interesting sidebars in the story of that vote is the way a largely left-wing media has proved unable to do much damage to the prime minister. The leftist cast of most Israeli news outlets is so widely recognized, few even on the left bother to deny it. As Akiva Eldar, the longtime columnist for Haaretz once told me in an interview, the bias of most Israeli journalists is not in doubt but since the right has won most of the elections in the last 30 years, it didn’t matter. It’s certainly true that the tilt against Netanyahu in the media won’t help the dismal chances of Israel’s left-wing parties. But the willingness of some of the leading outlets to hype the complaints of a former security official about the PM has raised the eyebrows of one of Eldar’s colleagues on the self-styled New York Times of Israel.
Anshel Pfeffer, Haaretz’s current lead political columnist, wrote today about the way the Yediot Aharonot newspaper has tried to inflate a filmed interview with former Mossad chief Yuval Diskin in which he blasts Netanyahu into a cause célèbre. That a paper whose own longstanding left-wing bias is as blatant as that of Haaretz would consider this absurd tells you a lot about how off-the-charts the prejudice of the mass market daily Yediot about Netanyahu has become. While the foreign press has picked up this narrative about Netanyahu’s alleged failings, it’s fairly obvious even to Haaretz that there’s nothing particularly noteworthy about the story.
I admire former Mayor Ed Koch’s willingness to break with his own party on issues of principle, but his comments to the Algemeiner today are mind-boggling. In between some very strong denunciations of the Chuck Hagel nomination, Koch casually let it drop that he suspected Obama would abandon his pro-Israel positions after the election. The former mayor, of course, endorsed Obama’s reelection and served as one of his surrogates to the pro-Israel community:
“Frankly, I thought that there would come a time when [Obama] would renege on what he conveyed on his support of Israel,” said Koch, adding, “it comes a little earlier than I thought it would.”
“It’s very disappointing, I believe he will ultimately regret it,” Koch said, “and it undoubtedly will reduce support for him in the Jewish community, but I don’t think he (the President) worries about that now that the election is over.” …
Koch explained to The Algemeiner why he decided to back the President’s re-election even though he says he suspected that Obama would backtrack on his pro-Israel overtures. “I did what I thought was warranted and intelligent,” he said, “He was going to win! There was no question about it. I thought it would be helpful to have a Jewish voice there, being able to communicate.”
The Mayor says he has no regrets, “it’s wouldn’t make any difference. The Jews were going to vote for him no matter what. And that’s the nature of the Jews. They are always very solicitous of everybody else except there own needs and community.”
President Obama made it clear he wasn’t going to be satisfied with the tax increase on upper income earners that he forced on Congress during the showdown over the fiscal cliff. Though in fact all wage earners suffered a loss this week as the payroll taxes surged, the president and his liberal supporters are determined to inflict even more pain on more people in any upcoming budget talks. However, one of the leading advocates for the president’s redistributionist position, the New York Times editorial page, is worried that in settling for a deal that raised taxes on those earning more than $400,000 a year, he has made it harder for the left to foist another job-killing tax increase on the country. So, to make this bitter pill easier for Americans to swallow, the Times claims that plans to confiscate more private income for government use is actually “reform.”
Leaving aside the fact that trying to squeeze more revenue for the government out of taxpayers won’t do much, if anything, to avert the budget crisis, the use of the word reform in this context is straight out of Orwell. Reform implies making the system fairer, which for some on the left is synonymous with soaking the rich. But a genuine reform of the system is one that will incentivize achievement, not penalizing it as well as making the labyrinthine code simpler and more understandable. But when liberals use this word it is merely code for policy driven by left-wing ideology and not pragmatism or the country’s economic health.
For New Jersey Republicans, one of the disappointing aspects of Chris Christie’s first term as governor has been the lack of intrastate coattails. Christie has notched several impressive policy victories for Republicans, but the state GOP has been unable to turn those victories into success at the ballot box in either house of the state legislature, let alone a Senate challenge to Bob Menendez. That makes Christie’s policy success all the more impressive: unlike in Michigan and Wisconsin, Christie’s victories over the public sector unions came without a Republican legislature.
Christie’s one-man conservative show in New Jersey, along with Christie’s high approval rating, is sowing more internal discord within the state’s Democratic Party–and at the highest level yet. Christie’s popularity after his handling of the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy was enough to convince rising star Cory Booker not to challenge Christie for the governor’s office later this year. But that means that Booker, whose social-media heavy act in Newark is beginning to wear thin, needs something else to do. So he announced that he’s exploring a run for the Senate seat currently occupied by Frank Lautenberg. The latter’s term is up in 2014, and Lautenberg is thought to be leaning toward retirement. But he hasn’t announced that yet, and doesn’t seem to be at all pleased by Booker’s decision to try and push him out the door. And there’s another problem: if Lautenberg were to step down, it was widely expected that his chosen successor would be Frank Pallone, a congressman from central New Jersey who has been laying the groundwork for a Senate run.
Gerard Depardieu is a great actor. He is also, like many showbiz types, a political naif.
He had earned a fair amount of sympathy–and caused considerable embarrassment for France’s Socialist President Francois Hollande–when he announced that he would move to Belgium to avoid a punitive, 75 percent tax rate that Hollande was attempting to impose on income over a million euros. (The tax hike has been stopped, for the time being, by a court.) Now he has forfeited all sympathy–and made himself into a laughing stock–by embracing Vladimir Putin. Quite literally.
The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg homed in on an interesting aspect of the fight over President Obama’s nomination of Chuck Hagel to be secretary of defense this morning when he noted how the issue put AIPAC in a tough position. There’s little question that the pro-Israel lobby is alarmed by the prospect of having a man running the Pentagon who thinks the U.S. ought to be tough on Israel and soft on Iran rather than the other way around. But, as Goldberg rightly pointed out, AIPAC is in the business of working with Congress and the White House, not fighting them tooth and nail.
Goldberg correctly notes that it would be bad judgment for a group that applauded Obama’s promises on Iran to attempt to thwart him on his choice to head the Defense Department. While Obama’s support for positions on Iran and Israel in the past year and a half have often seemed grudging, AIPAC is eager to maintain decent relations with the White House. That would, as Goldberg seems to imply, argue for the lobby to stand aside during the upcoming donnybrook over Hagel. But the problem with this reasoning is that it ignores what is fairly obvious to both friends and foes of the nominee: his appointment signals that the administration’s election year Jewish charm offensive during which the president stopped picking fights with Israel and pledged not to contain Iran, but to stop the Islamic Republic, is very much over.
The last thing AIPAC wants to do is to fight a losing battle over Hagel in which it would get the worst of both worlds—a bad appointment and a White House that will be interested in payback for being thwarted. But the stakes are sufficiently high that it ought not be too difficult a decision. If there is any chance that the nomination can be defeated—and if reports about pro-Israel Democrats being willing to jump ship on this issue are true, he can be —then those who wish to send the administration a message that the country will not tolerate Obama breaking his promises on Iran must do whatever they can to accomplish this goal.
President Obama’s choices of John Kerry, Chuck Hagel, and John Brennan to lead respectively the State Department, Pentagon, and Central Intelligence Agency confirm that Obama wishes to position his legacy somewhat to the left even of Jimmy Carter. There has been a lot of attention to Chuck Hagel’s record over the last couple of weeks, but John Brennan has benefited from flying under the radar, if only because of the controversy surrounding Hagel.
It’s worth recalling, however, Brennan’s comments in 2010 upon returning from a visit to Lebanon. From a Reuters report at the time:
The Obama administration is looking for ways to build up “moderate elements” within the Lebanese Hezbollah guerrilla movement and to diminish the influence of hard-liners, a top White House official said on Tuesday. John Brennan, assistant to the president for homeland security and counterterrorism, met with Lebanese leaders during a recent visit. “Hezbollah is a very interesting organization,” Brennan told a Washington conference, citing its evolution from “purely a terrorist organization” to a militia to an organization that now has members within the parliament and the cabinet. “There is certainly the elements of Hezbollah that are truly a concern to us what they’re doing. And what we need to do is to find ways to diminish their influence within the organization and to try to build up the more moderate elements,” Brennan said.
There’s something about North Korea that gives liberal idealists amnesia. They’re quick to believe that change is afoot, too willing to overlook the evidence that plainly shows that the regime is evil, beyond a shadow of a doubt. In the last week, there have been two instances of this amnesia, and unfortunately for those suffering under the regime, there’s no sign they will be the last.
After North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un gave his New Year’s address a week ago today, Western outlets described his remarks as an “olive branch to the South.” The New York Times said, “The most significant feature of Kim Jong-un’s speech was its marked departure of tone regarding South Korea.” I spoke with the Heritage Foundation’s senior research fellow for Northeast Asia Bruce Klingner on Friday about the address and his response was less than enthusiastic about this supposed “about face.”
The Hill reports that the defense industry is anxious the fiscal cliff tax deal may increase the likelihood of Pentagon cuts:
The defense industry is worried last week’s budget deal on taxes could damage its negotiating position for the next “fiscal cliff” deadline two months from now, when across-the-board spending cuts would take effect.
The deficit debate is shifting from taxes toward spending cuts and the debt limit, where there will be more of a focus on new cuts to the Pentagon.
While the first fiscal cliff fight over taxes included the threat of massive across-the-board spending cuts, the sequel is going to be nearly all about where to cut spending. The Pentagon is the largest target outside of entitlements. …
Some defense analysts say that the shift in the Republican Party away from national security, with the rise of the Tea Party, was highlighted during the fiscal-cliff negotiations, where taxes trumped defense in importance. …
“Other issues have overtaken national security as being more important,” said Mackenzie Eaglen, a defense analyst at the conservative-leaning American Enterprise Institute.
“I think it does show how the Republican Party is no longer the party of national security, no longer a big-tent party of Reagan Republicans where a strong defense was a central tenet of conservatism.”
The protests which erupted in the Al-Anbar governorate after the December 21 arrest of 10 of Finance Minister Rafi al-Issawi’s bodyguards on terrorism allegations have spread to Tikrit, Mosul, parts of Baghdad and other predominantly Sunni areas. Max Boot has written about the arrests here, and I have offered a different take, here.
Since we last commented on the issue, radical Islamists—their confidence bolstered by the success of their fellow-travelers in Syria—have thrown in their support for the Al Anbar protestors as has radical Shi’ite firebrand Muqtada al-Sadr. So, too, has Izzat Ibrahim ad-Douri, vice chairman of Saddam Hussein’s Revolutionary Command Council and the highest ranking member of Saddam’s regime to remain a fugitive. Demonstrating how Baathism and al-Qaeda interests sometimes inter-connect, Izzat Ibrahim declared, “What is happening in Iraq today, especially in its intelligence operations, and the government of puppets and its institutions, is the Persian-Safawi project in all its depth and comprehensiveness implemented by the Safawi coalition led by the Dawa Party and its leader Maliki.” The al-Qaeda affiliate Islamic State of Iraq, meanwhile, SITE Monitoring reported, released a statement on January 5 castigating “Those [who] are the true enemies of the Sunni people, and they didn’t mobilize themselves except when the fire of the Safavid hatred reached them….”
The Safawi (in Arabic) or Safavids (as often transcribed into English from Persian) were the 16th century dynasty which converted Iran to Shi’ism. Reference to the Iraqi Shi’ites as Safavids is common practice among those who want to castigate all Shi’ites as Iranian fifth columnists. Topping off recent events, former interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, an ex-Baathist himself, has called for early elections in Iraq.
Much of the controversy over the nomination of Chuck Hagel has focused on his views on Israel and Iran. I’m more worried, at least in the short term, about his views on Afghanistan.
When it comes to making policy vis-à-vis Israel and Iran, Hagel will be only one voice among many in the administration’s top-level “principals” meetings. Those are not primarily defense issues. But the war in Afghanistan is a matter where the secretary of defense has a disproportionate voice.
The National Jewish Democratic Council has been notably quiet on the defense secretary nomination debate so far. Now that it’s clear Chuck Hagel’s the choice, the group finally issued this quasi-endorsement today:
“President Barack Obama’s unprecedented pro-Israel credentials are unquestionable, and setting policy starts and stops with the President. While we have expressed concerns in the past, we trust that when confirmed, former Senator Chuck Hagel will follow the President’s lead of providing unrivaled support for Israel—on strategic cooperation, missile defense programs, and leading the world against Iran’s nuclear program.”
The NJDC is in an awkward position, considering Hagel’s anti-Israel history, which was adeptly summarized in an opposition research document published by one Democratic group in 2007:
Pro-Israel Democrats are in a difficult spot this morning as President Obama prepares to nominate one of the least friendly members of the United States Senate in the last generation to the post of secretary of defense. Hagel’s comments about his antagonism toward the “Jewish lobby,” his votes against sanctions on Iran and Syria and his refusal to condemn anti-Semitism are a matter of record and make difficult reading for those who spent the last year working hard to persuade pro-Israel and Jewish voters that President Obama could be relied upon to maintain the alliance with Israel and to take action on the Iranian nuclear threat. At the very least, Hagel’s nomination complicates the narrative in which administration supporters claimed the president was prepared to go to the mat to stop Iran.
That’s why many Democrats as well as Republicans are casting doubt on the ability of the White House to ensure his confirmation. But some resourceful souls have been floating a counter-intuitive argument in order to smooth the way for what looks to be brutal fight in the Senate. According to this scenario, appointing Hagel actually is a signal that Obama is serious about taking on Iran. Choosing an open opponent of not only the use of force against Iran but also sanctions would, we are told, give the president cover when he is ready to go to war on Iran and silence any criticism from the left while also showing the world that America is united behind the president’s policies.
While those attempting to put forward such an idea deserve credit for both chutzpah and creativity, this is utter nonsense. It flies against not only logic but also everything we know about how the president operates. Far from providing a warning to Iran that America is prepared to take action against them, it is a neon sign proclaiming that, at best, the cabinet will be divided on what to do after the next round of no-hope negotiations fail. At worst, it will make it obvious what many have already long suspected: that President Obama has no intention of keeping his promise to stop Iran and to not consider containment as a viable option.
Scott Shane of the New York Times has written a long and somewhat awkward article about the indictment, plea bargain, and federal prison sentencing of former CIA officer John Kiriakou. Long, because the story is complicated, and Shane must recount about a decade’s worth of national security history and policy to get us from A to Z. Awkward, because Shane is a prominent element in the federal indictment against Kiriakou.
At the heart of this case is information Kiriakou provided to Shane for a story, and to another reporter for a second story. We often see such stories play out through a drama in which reporters protect their sources and risk jail time to do so. But in this case, Shane could not protect Kiriakou, nor was it at all clear that Kiriakou would have needed such protection. Kiriakou became a minor media star in 2007 when he spoke out about the agency’s use of enhanced interrogation techniques, such as waterboarding. Kiriakou defended the decision to waterboard in 2002 (“I think the second-guessing of 2002 decisions is unfair,” he told Shane) but was against the practice going forward. Shane asked Kiriakou about another CIA officer. Kiriakou said he knew the officer, and that the two had worked together in pursuit of Abu Zubaydah. The officer never agreed to talk to Shane, and had never been undercover. But Kiriakou’s email to Shane turned up in the indictment against him for revealing the identity of an agent.
Many of Senator Chuck Hagel’s most vocal advocates like to compare Hagel to President Dwight D. Eisenhower. Like Eisenhower, Hagel views Israel through a realist prism and believes it would be in America’s interest to cultivate much closer ties to Arab states and the broader Muslim Middle East. There are 22 states in the Arab League (including Palestine and Syria, even if the latter is suspended), and that doesn’t include Turkey, Iran, Pakistan, and the many non-Arab Muslim states who dislike Israel’s existence.
When Eisenhower entered office, he sought to rectify the damage—at least as he saw it—caused by President Harry S. Truman’s recognition of Israel. He immediately moved to cast his lot with Israel’s Arab opponents. In 1956, when France, the United Kingdom, and Israel responded militarily to Egyptian strongman Gamal Abdul Nasser’s nationalization of the Suez Canal, Eisenhower sided with Nasser and forced France, the United Kingdom, and Israel to terminate hostility and withdraw. Nasser’s “victory” in the Suez Crisis—the successful consolidation of Egyptian control over the Suez Canal—was the greatest victory Arab nationalists won. Nasser became a household name throughout the region. Arab nationalists got a burst of adrenalin, which they used to bring down the Iraqi monarchy, the Yemeni imamate, and the Libyan monarchy, replacing each with radical states. That might be all well and good to realists, so long as these Arab nationalist states paid heed to U.S. national security interests. Alas, that was not to be. Even though Eisenhower courted Nasser and gave him the greatest gift of his career, Nasser and his fellow-travelers turned their backs almost immediately on the United States. As David Verbeteen, then a doctoral candidate at King’s College, London, explains:
In 2008, William Wunderle and Andre Briere, political military planners in the Joint Strategic Plans and Policy (J-5) Directorate of the Joint Staff, penned a piece for the Middle East Quarterly looking at the notion of Israel’s qualitative military edge (QME). Every president since Lyndon Johnson has noted the importance of maintaining Israel’s QME. The logic was simple: Israel would be outnumbered in both men in uniform and hardware by its neighbors: The Arab League contains moire than 400 million people; Israel tops out at less than 8 million. The 2012 Democratic Party Platform paid lip service to the QME, noting, “The administration has also worked to ensure Israel’s qualitative military edge in the region. And we have deepened defense cooperation—including funding the Iron Dome system—to help Israel address its most pressing threats, including the growing danger posed by rockets and missiles emanating from the Gaza Strip, Lebanon, Syria, and Iran.”
In their article, Wunderle and Briere describe how the Pentagon calculates the QME and they make a persuasive case that, from time to time, the United States must recalibrate and readjust the notion of QME to take events into account. This will certainly be the case with the next QME. No longer can Israel (and American policymakers) assume the vitality of the Camp David Accords or that a Muslim Brotherhood-dominated Egypt would not pose a military threat to Israel. Jordan’s stability can no longer be taken for granted. This year could very well be the year the Arab Spring strikes down its first Arab monarch. Likewise, the QME cannot simply be an Arab-vs.-Israel calculation because when it comes to Iran, Israel finds itself on the same side as Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates.
If there were any lingering doubts about how Obama really feels about Israel “in his kishkes,” the coming nomination of Chuck Hagel for defense secretary has sufficiently put them to rest.
But that doesn’t mean we’ll hear apologies from all the pro-Israel Democrats who vouched for him before reelection. The most entrenched Jewish Obama defenders, the ones who sunk too much of their credibility into him to turn back, will now set to work trying to justify Hagel.
In an elegant and erudite speech (see here and here) at Washington University on December 4, 2012, the conservative columnist George Will, in speaking about America’s political philosophy, said this:
And these [natural] rights are the foundation of limited government – government defined by the limited goal of securing those rights so that individuals may flourish in their free and responsible exercise of those rights.
A government thus limited is not in the business of imposing its opinions about what happiness or excellence the citizens should choose to pursue. Having such opinions is the business of other institutions – private and voluntary ones, especially religious ones – that supply the conditions for liberty.
Will went on to postulate this:
A nation such as ours, steeped in and shaped by Biblical religion, cannot comfortably accommodate a politics that takes its bearings from the proposition that human nature is a malleable product of social forces, and that improving human nature, perhaps unto perfection, is a proper purpose of politics… Biblical religion should be wary of the consequences of government untethered from the limiting purpose of securing natural rights.
A conservative, equally elegant and erudite, offered quite a different understanding of things:
A purpose of politics is to facilitate, as much as is prudent, the existence of worthy passions and the achievement of worthy aims. It is to help persons want what they ought to want. Politics should share one purpose with religion: the steady emancipation of the individual through the education of his passion.