Commentary Magazine


Posts For: January 23, 2013

Rand Auditions for Role of Insurgent Leader

Senator Chuck Schumer earned some chuckles among Democrats when he said today that the decision by House Republicans to suspend any limits on the national debt for three months was evidence that “The president stared down the Republicans. They blinked.” The GOP chose to remove, at least for a time, any threat of a government shutdown because they knew they were locked in an unequal struggle with the White House and the Democratic majority in the Senate. By backing down on the debt ceiling deadline, the House leadership decided they’d be better off avoiding a confrontation that would lead to them being blamed for damaging the economy while probably not getting the spending cuts and entitlement reform that they rightly know the country needs. But there is at least one Republican in the Senate who thinks Schumer is right and who hopes to gain from making clear his disagreement.

Senator Rand Paul made it clear earlier this week that he disapproves of Speaker Boehner’s embrace of Fabian tactics. Instead of trying another Alamo-like last stand such as the GOP’s ill-fated fiscal cliff tactics, Boehner is hoping the GOP will be better off retreating now and living to fight another day. But Paul isn’t the only Republican unhappy about the decision. The 33 Republicans who defected during the House vote on the debt legislation made it obvious that a substantial portion of the party is unwilling to accept anything but a policy of all-out war all the time against the president’s refusal to deal with the debt crisis. Boehner has his hands full in a fractious caucus, but the impulse to rebel against a more cautious approach to their political problem is not limited to the House. Paul’s statement makes it clear that he is auditioning for the role of the party’s insurgent leader.

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Senator Chuck Schumer earned some chuckles among Democrats when he said today that the decision by House Republicans to suspend any limits on the national debt for three months was evidence that “The president stared down the Republicans. They blinked.” The GOP chose to remove, at least for a time, any threat of a government shutdown because they knew they were locked in an unequal struggle with the White House and the Democratic majority in the Senate. By backing down on the debt ceiling deadline, the House leadership decided they’d be better off avoiding a confrontation that would lead to them being blamed for damaging the economy while probably not getting the spending cuts and entitlement reform that they rightly know the country needs. But there is at least one Republican in the Senate who thinks Schumer is right and who hopes to gain from making clear his disagreement.

Senator Rand Paul made it clear earlier this week that he disapproves of Speaker Boehner’s embrace of Fabian tactics. Instead of trying another Alamo-like last stand such as the GOP’s ill-fated fiscal cliff tactics, Boehner is hoping the GOP will be better off retreating now and living to fight another day. But Paul isn’t the only Republican unhappy about the decision. The 33 Republicans who defected during the House vote on the debt legislation made it obvious that a substantial portion of the party is unwilling to accept anything but a policy of all-out war all the time against the president’s refusal to deal with the debt crisis. Boehner has his hands full in a fractious caucus, but the impulse to rebel against a more cautious approach to their political problem is not limited to the House. Paul’s statement makes it clear that he is auditioning for the role of the party’s insurgent leader.

Paul’s desire to run for president in 2016 is not exactly a secret. In addition to assuming a far more strident public role than in his first two years in the Senate, Paul even went to Israel this month in a not terribly persuasive effort to convince the pro-Israel community that he is evolving from an isolationist foreign policy worldview. But by criticizing Boehner in this manner, Paul is setting himself up as being far more than just another frustrated Tea Party critic of the party leadership.

In doing so, he is also picking a fight with the one Republican who is most identified with the cause of entitlement reform: Representative Paul Ryan. Democrats have spent the last two years demonizing Ryan for his visionary proposals challenging the status quo on Medicare. As the intellectual leader of the party, Ryan has been doing much of the heavy lifting for the party articulating the position that unless Washington changes the way it does business, that vital program as well as other government benefits won’t survive the coming fiscal meltdown. By backing Boehner’s compromise measure, Ryan is showing once again that he’s a team player who, though determined to promote reform ideas, isn’t interested in grandstanding or showing up Boehner or Majority Leader Eric Cantor.

Yet if Ryan is, as many of his admirers hope, interested in running for president in 2016, this leaves him vulnerable to future attacks from Paul as a compromiser rather than a true Tea Party believer.

Paul’s increasing visibility makes it look as if he intends to spend the next three years auditioning for the role of leader of a far bigger faction of the party than his extremist libertarian father Ron ever had at his back. But part of that will entail a program of guerrilla warfare against Republicans like Ryan who are just as interested in stopping Obama’s liberal program but aren’t willing to throw his party’s leadership under the bus to do it. Some in the GOP may still dismiss his chances in 2016 but bashing Boehner’s decision, taking a shot at New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, and being among the most strident critics of Hillary Clinton at the Senate Benghazi hearing today are the kind of things that will win him fans among the GOP base. Paul’s isolationist foreign policy views and loner mentality still mark him as an outlier in his party, as well as someone who might have trouble winning a general election. But his bid to be the party’s leading insurgent is laying the groundwork for what may be a formidable presidential bid.

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Israel’s Equilibrium

Because of the consistent participation in Israel’s Knesset elections of new, ill-defined, and self-styled “centrist” parties, it can be difficult to accurately apply the labels “left” and “right” until after each election. Nonetheless, yesterday’s Israeli Knesset elections clearly represent a leftward shift. How far left? That remains to be seen. The election, as Evelyn noted, was about domestic issues and not the peace process. This is beneficial for Israelis, Jewish and Arab alike.

But because the resurgent Labor Party–which performed as well as it did because it has learned to downplay Oslo in favor of bread-and-butter issues–has more to gain long-term by staying out of the next governing coalition and regrouping and recruiting some more, the leftward shift will be most clearly felt on issues of religious identity. Simply put, the ultra-Orthodox will be up against something of a secular mandate. But all this will sort itself out in the coming weeks as coalition forming and its attendant horse-trading begins. The more interesting question for now is: Could the liberal American press, which hysterically predicted that the election would create a suicidally fascistic government, have known all along how wrong they were? The answer is yes–they just needed to learn a bit of Israeli history.

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Because of the consistent participation in Israel’s Knesset elections of new, ill-defined, and self-styled “centrist” parties, it can be difficult to accurately apply the labels “left” and “right” until after each election. Nonetheless, yesterday’s Israeli Knesset elections clearly represent a leftward shift. How far left? That remains to be seen. The election, as Evelyn noted, was about domestic issues and not the peace process. This is beneficial for Israelis, Jewish and Arab alike.

But because the resurgent Labor Party–which performed as well as it did because it has learned to downplay Oslo in favor of bread-and-butter issues–has more to gain long-term by staying out of the next governing coalition and regrouping and recruiting some more, the leftward shift will be most clearly felt on issues of religious identity. Simply put, the ultra-Orthodox will be up against something of a secular mandate. But all this will sort itself out in the coming weeks as coalition forming and its attendant horse-trading begins. The more interesting question for now is: Could the liberal American press, which hysterically predicted that the election would create a suicidally fascistic government, have known all along how wrong they were? The answer is yes–they just needed to learn a bit of Israeli history.

Israeli elections often hover around what amounts to an equilibrium. Two mainstream parties–Likud and Labor, historically–usually compete to form either a center-right government or a center-left government. Floating centrist parties come and go, often within one election cycle. Kadima is the exception that proves the rule. It was created by Ariel Sharon just before he was incapacitated. Once it was out of government and led by Tzipi Livni, it remodeled itself as the peace party–its existence as such only made possible by the struggles of Labor. It is no surprise, then, that in yesterday’s election Labor’s surge back to respectability and the emergence of Yair Lapid’s new centrist party nearly wiped Kadima out completely.

The equilibrium includes an Orthodox party, Shas, and in recent years there’s been more of an effort to include specifically secular representation to make up for the fading of the Israeli left. For a couple of election cycles that has been Avigdor Lieberman’s Israel Beiteinu, which has pushed for conscription for the ultra-Orthodox, civil marriage, and the decentralization of the Rabbinate’s state authority. This is an important point because for all the media’s complaints of the electorate’s rightward shift, thanks to Lieberman the left had many of its policy preferences championed from within a supposedly right-wing government. Space for a new secular party opened up when Israel Beiteinu merged with Likud prior to this election.

And that gets at a broader problem with the “Israel’s lurch to the right” chorus. Israeli politicians have opinions on an array of issues, both foreign and domestic. The Western left elevates any politician’s opinion on the peace process above all others; Israelis are not so myopic or simplistic. A consensus has formed in Israel about Oslo, the peace process, and Jerusalem. Few politicians gain much success by being far beyond the parameters of that consensus–to the right or left. In recent years, the left has been outside those lines, clinging to the memories and legacy of Oslo and stuck in the mid-1990s. Labor has now emerged from that vacation from reality enough to offer coherent thoughts on domestic policy, and has been rewarded by the electorate for joining the country in the 21st century.

This doesn’t mean the country is anti-peace. It’s simply the hardheaded realism that sustains Israel’s electoral equilibrium. The peace process has a way of crowding out everything else–meetings, summits, negotiations, visits to and from every busybody who wants a piece of the action, and the parade of special envoys convinced they’re Kissinger abound. And that leaves no time or energy or political capital–and in Israel, everything takes political capital–to attend to domestic reforms.

The Western press may sneer at an election that was more about the price of cottage cheese than the future of the two-state solution, but that’s because they don’t for one second put themselves in Israelis’ shoes and walk a mile or two. Israelis are not pieces on a chessboard, and yes, the price of cottage cheese makes a difference (though that was really just a stand-in for a general sense of concern over certain household economic trends).

The ability to compartmentalize the issues and leave the peace process in its box every so often is essential for Israel. Liberal journalists don’t seem to have this ability to compartmentalize and thus they cannot see past Oslo. Call it the triumph of Haaretz over experience–the leftist press lives in its own world. The irony of all this is that only by discarding liberal editorial boards’ peace process fantasies has the Israeli left been able to rebound back from relative obscurity. You can be inside the consensus sustained by Israel’s equilibrium or you can have an obsessive focus on the peace process, but not both–as yesterday’s election demonstrated once again.

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One Step Forward, Two Steps Back on Obama’s Gay Marriage “Evolution”

One of the most memorable moments for many liberal activists from Monday’s inauguration came with President Obama’s remarks on gay rights. Obama made two references to gay rights during his speech; the first mention (Stonewall) came juxtaposed with mention of Seneca Falls and Selma, locations famous for advances in women’s rights and civil rights, respectively. Obama’s second mention was far more overt:

It is now our generation’s task to carry on what those pioneers began. For our journey is not complete until our wives, our mothers, and daughters can earn a living equal to their efforts. Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law — for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well.

Quietly yesterday, however, Obama press secretary Jay Carney tempered those remarks. The Washington Examiner reports:

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One of the most memorable moments for many liberal activists from Monday’s inauguration came with President Obama’s remarks on gay rights. Obama made two references to gay rights during his speech; the first mention (Stonewall) came juxtaposed with mention of Seneca Falls and Selma, locations famous for advances in women’s rights and civil rights, respectively. Obama’s second mention was far more overt:

It is now our generation’s task to carry on what those pioneers began. For our journey is not complete until our wives, our mothers, and daughters can earn a living equal to their efforts. Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law — for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well.

Quietly yesterday, however, Obama press secretary Jay Carney tempered those remarks. The Washington Examiner reports:

The White House reaffirmed the president’s position that the issue should be decided by the states, rather than the federal government.

“The president believes that it’s an issue that should be addressed by the States,” Carney asserted at the White House Press Briefing today when asked by a reporter about the issue.

Before the election (and before Obama’s “evolution” on gay marriage became complete) I expressed doubts about the depth of Obama’s dedication to the cause off of which he has fundraised heavily. As the situation for gays across the world in Egypt, Iran, and Libya (to name a few) continues to deteriorate, President Obama’s dedication to the cause of gay rights seems to only extend to giving lip service to vague promises of “equality” in the U.S. without any tangible policy advancements or proposals attached to them. While it may cost Obama too much political capital to move gay marriage to the forefront of his agenda, if Obama were truly dedicated to the cause of gay rights, perhaps his focus, even if it’s just in the form of talk, should extend to the human rights abuses suffered by gays worldwide.

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The End of the Allen-Kelley “Scandal”

After Ray Donovan, Ronald Reagan’s secretary of labor, was cleared of corruption charges, he famously and plaintively asked, “Which office do I go to to get my reputation back?” That is a question that General John Allen might be asking himself today.

Yesterday afternoon the press office at the Pentagon issued this terse statement: “Secretary Panetta has been informed that the Department’s Office of Inspector General has concluded an investigation into a matter involving General John Allen, U.S. Marine Corps.  The Secretary was pleased to learn that allegations of professional misconduct were not substantiated by the investigation.  The Secretary has complete confidence in the continued leadership of General Allen, who is serving with distinction in Afghanistan.”

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After Ray Donovan, Ronald Reagan’s secretary of labor, was cleared of corruption charges, he famously and plaintively asked, “Which office do I go to to get my reputation back?” That is a question that General John Allen might be asking himself today.

Yesterday afternoon the press office at the Pentagon issued this terse statement: “Secretary Panetta has been informed that the Department’s Office of Inspector General has concluded an investigation into a matter involving General John Allen, U.S. Marine Corps.  The Secretary was pleased to learn that allegations of professional misconduct were not substantiated by the investigation.  The Secretary has complete confidence in the continued leadership of General Allen, who is serving with distinction in Afghanistan.”

Thus ended the “scandal” that has been the subject of so much feverish press speculation since early November involving Allen’s emails with a Tampa socialite named Jill Kelley—a relationship that was brought to light as a result of the controversy which brought down David Petraeus. There were numerous leaks insinuating there was something inappropriate going on between Allen and Kelley which, even if true, would be none of the public’s business. It is ridiculous that this whole matter was referred for official investigation in the first place and that the investigation has lasted some two months, leaving a dark cloud hanging over Allen’s future just as he had to deliver politically sensitive recommendations for future force levels in Afghanistan.

Presumably Allen will now proceed to confirmation for his next job, as Supreme Allied Commander Europe. Let us hope that in that position he will have to fight only our nation’s enemies—not political snipers in Washington who engage in character assassination by innuendo.

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It’s the Cost of Living, Stupid

As Jonathan noted, Benjamin Netanyahu’s unexpectedly poor electoral showing resulted partly from his abysmal campaign. But it was also a clear vote of no-confidence in his policies. The problem, from the world’s perspective, is that what voters rejected wasn’t his foreign and defense policies. Rather, it was his domestic ones.

The Jerusalem Post’s Herb Keinon has an excellent analysis of just how dominant domestic considerations were in this election. As he noted, the parties that significantly increased their parliamentary representation–Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid, Shelly Yacimovich’s Labor and Naftali Bennett’s Jewish Home–campaigned almost exclusively on domestic issues. Even Bennett, who is unfairly caricatured overseas as representing “the extreme right,” ran mainly on domestic issues, capitalizing on his record as a successful high-tech entrepreneur. In contrast, parties that ran on diplomatic/security issues–Netanyahu’s Likud, Tzipi Livni’s Hatnuah and Shaul Mofaz’s Kadima–did poorly, aside from one exception: Meretz picked up the diehard peacenik votes Labor lost by focusing on domestic issues.

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As Jonathan noted, Benjamin Netanyahu’s unexpectedly poor electoral showing resulted partly from his abysmal campaign. But it was also a clear vote of no-confidence in his policies. The problem, from the world’s perspective, is that what voters rejected wasn’t his foreign and defense policies. Rather, it was his domestic ones.

The Jerusalem Post’s Herb Keinon has an excellent analysis of just how dominant domestic considerations were in this election. As he noted, the parties that significantly increased their parliamentary representation–Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid, Shelly Yacimovich’s Labor and Naftali Bennett’s Jewish Home–campaigned almost exclusively on domestic issues. Even Bennett, who is unfairly caricatured overseas as representing “the extreme right,” ran mainly on domestic issues, capitalizing on his record as a successful high-tech entrepreneur. In contrast, parties that ran on diplomatic/security issues–Netanyahu’s Likud, Tzipi Livni’s Hatnuah and Shaul Mofaz’s Kadima–did poorly, aside from one exception: Meretz picked up the diehard peacenik votes Labor lost by focusing on domestic issues.

The same conclusion emerged from another Post reporter’s visit to the former Likud stronghold of south Tel Aviv (the city’s poorer neighborhoods): Person after person praised Netanyahu on security issues but panned him on bread-and-butter ones, and cited that as their reason for abandoning his party.

In an article for Commentary following the socioeconomic protests of summer 2011, I detailed the many pressing domestic issues Israel faced and warned that Netanyahu would be judged on whether he exploited the protests’ momentum to address them. As it turns out, he didn’t–and especially not the one most important to Israelis, the high cost of living. That partly explains how Lapid could come from nowhere to win 19 seats by running on pledges such as “Our children will be able to buy apartments” and “We’ll pay less for gasoline and electricity.”

Equally important, however, is that Israeli voters tend to vote tactically. And with Netanyahu seemingly a shoo-in for the next prime minister, they primarily focused on trying to ensure that his next coalition would be both willing and able to carry out the needed domestic reforms.

For this, a party that could replace the ultra-Orthodox in his coalition was essential. It’s not just that the ultra-Orthodox would block any attempt to make them serve in the army–something Israelis care about, but not as top priority. Far more important is that they’d block any other reforms aimed at benefiting the middle class. When the outgoing government proposed an initiative to create affordable middle-class housing, for instance, the ultra-Orthodox parties demanded that the criteria be altered to favor ultra-Orthodox applicants. And since he had no government without them, Netanyahu capitulated.

Yacimovich, having pledged not to join the government, couldn’t fill this role–and in any case, her economic views were too different from Netanyahu’s to make a partnership likely. Livni cared only about the nonexistent peace process, and would cheerfully sacrifice domestic reforms for freedom to pursue that goal (which the ultra-Orthodox would grant). But Lapid repeatedly promised his voters two things: He would join any government if at all possible, but not a government dependent on the ultra-Orthodox and incapable of carrying out reforms.

In short, he promised exactly the tactical solution that domestic-oriented voters were seeking. And in the final days of the campaign, when it became clear there were no better options, voters flocked to his banner.

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“What Difference Does it Make?” Plenty

As Seth noted earlier, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton began her long-awaited congressional testimony about Benghazi with excuses and an attempt to misdirect the public about what the administration knew about the incident and when it knew it. But while Clinton happily listened to fawning praise from the Democratic members of the Senate committee this morning, she lost her cool when one senator pressed her closely to account for the false story that had been put out in the days following the attack.

Senator Ron Johnson pointed out that accurate information about the assault that would have easily corrected the misconception, promoted by United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice and others, that the attack was merely a protest about a film rather than a terrorist attack was available at the time. Clinton not only refused to answer that question in a straightforward matter, but snapped, “What difference does it make?” about the whole matter of the false account. She then attempted to insinuate that there was still some doubt about the matter.

The answer to her question is clear. An administration that sought, for political purposes, to give the American people the idea that al-Qaeda had been “decimated” and was effectively out of commission had a clear motive during a presidential campaign to mislead the public about Benghazi. The fact that questions are still unanswered about this crime and that Clinton and President Obama seem more interested in burying this story along with the four Americans that died is an outrage that won’t be forgotten.

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As Seth noted earlier, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton began her long-awaited congressional testimony about Benghazi with excuses and an attempt to misdirect the public about what the administration knew about the incident and when it knew it. But while Clinton happily listened to fawning praise from the Democratic members of the Senate committee this morning, she lost her cool when one senator pressed her closely to account for the false story that had been put out in the days following the attack.

Senator Ron Johnson pointed out that accurate information about the assault that would have easily corrected the misconception, promoted by United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice and others, that the attack was merely a protest about a film rather than a terrorist attack was available at the time. Clinton not only refused to answer that question in a straightforward matter, but snapped, “What difference does it make?” about the whole matter of the false account. She then attempted to insinuate that there was still some doubt about the matter.

The answer to her question is clear. An administration that sought, for political purposes, to give the American people the idea that al-Qaeda had been “decimated” and was effectively out of commission had a clear motive during a presidential campaign to mislead the public about Benghazi. The fact that questions are still unanswered about this crime and that Clinton and President Obama seem more interested in burying this story along with the four Americans that died is an outrage that won’t be forgotten.

While Clinton gave, as she has before, lip service to the idea that she took responsibility for the tragedy, throughout her testimony she demonstrated that she regarded the whole idea of accountability as a detail to be shrugged off or pigeonholed along with internal government reports about the matter. Her attitude, when not listening to paeans to her service and frequent trips abroad, seemed to betray her belief that not only were questions about Benghazi unimportant but that she knew the mainstream press would continue to give her a pass for her failures.

The problem here is not just what she considers an irrelevant question from Johnson or a mere “difference of opinion”–as she characterized Senator John McCain’s scathing attack on her record on the issue–but a belief that four dead Americans in Benghazi was really not such an earth-shaking event. Her consistent talking point seemed to be that the committee shouldn’t bother itself trying to find out what happened and why and who was responsible for the mistakes that led to the deaths, but merely to “move on”—to steal a phrase made popular during her husband’s presidency. That’s why she still won’t say who changed the public talking points about Benghazi that led to Rice’s lies and why they were altered.

That’s been the key to understanding the administration’s desire to treat its lies about Benghazi as somehow unworthy of further investigation. In Hillary’s world, lies don’t matter as long as it’s her side telling them. That’s not a standard that she and other Democrats would apply to any Republican. As McCain pointed out, the American people deserve an honest account of events that gets the facts straight.

Senator Rand Paul rightly pointed out that her failure of leadership ought to have led to her dismissal. Saying that the State Department gets lots of cables and she can’t be expected to read them all is not the sort of arrogant answer a Senator Hillary Clinton would have accepted from a Republican administration.

“What difference does it make” is an answer that ought to hang over Hillary Clinton for the rest of her public career. It is just one more indication that what happened after Benghazi in the State Department was akin to a cover up. Should Clinton run for president in 2016, this is a story that won’t go away. Nor should it. 

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No Matter What, Egyptian “Aid” Won’t End

Earlier this month, remarks from Egypt’s President Mohamed Morsi surfaced showing the president referring to Israelis as “bloodsuckers” and “the descendants of apes and pigs,” in addition to calling President Barack Obama a liar. The wide publication of Morsi’s inflammatory comments led to an uncomfortable meeting with a U.S. congressional delegation as discussion about further American aid to Egypt was addressed. During the meeting, and at a press conference afterwards, Morsi stated that the slurs were “taken out of context,” according to the New York Times. The Times neglected to report if there were any questions from members of the press present asking Morsi explain the full context of the remarks.

What is more laughable: Morsi claiming that he was somehow taken out of context or the media’s quiet acceptance of his claims? Those present instead decided to brush off the remarks, with further aid promised to the Muslim Brotherhood government. The New York Times reported:

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Earlier this month, remarks from Egypt’s President Mohamed Morsi surfaced showing the president referring to Israelis as “bloodsuckers” and “the descendants of apes and pigs,” in addition to calling President Barack Obama a liar. The wide publication of Morsi’s inflammatory comments led to an uncomfortable meeting with a U.S. congressional delegation as discussion about further American aid to Egypt was addressed. During the meeting, and at a press conference afterwards, Morsi stated that the slurs were “taken out of context,” according to the New York Times. The Times neglected to report if there were any questions from members of the press present asking Morsi explain the full context of the remarks.

What is more laughable: Morsi claiming that he was somehow taken out of context or the media’s quiet acceptance of his claims? Those present instead decided to brush off the remarks, with further aid promised to the Muslim Brotherhood government. The New York Times reported:

At a news conference after the meeting, the senators declined to characterize Mr. Morsi’s response. But they appeared to feel he had addressed the issue. The senators emphasized their support for Egypt’s transition to democracy. They also said they would press Congress to provide badly needed financial aid and urge American businesses to invest in Egypt, although they also said that Mr. Morsi’s inflammatory statements in 2010 made both requests tougher to sell.

 Yesterday the Washington Free Beacon broke the news that this “aid” includes military aircraft, including F-16 fighter jets:

The State Department has refused to cancel or delay the delivery of several American-made F-16 fighter jets to Egypt, claiming that the arms deal serves America’s “regional security interests,” according to an official State Department document obtained by the Free Beacon.

The news that the Obama administration would uphold an aid package to Egypt that included the military hardware prompted concern on Capitol Hill from lawmakers who said the deal was not prudent given the political situation in Egypt, where Muslim Brotherhood-backed President Mohammed Morsi has clashed with democratic protestors.

“Delaying or cancelling deliveries of the F-16 aircraft would undermine our efforts to address our regional security interests through a more capable Egyptian military and send a damaging and lasting signal to Egypt’s civilian and military leadership as we work toward a democratic transition in the key Middle Eastern State,” the State Department said.

If these remarks, in addition to recent worrisome news about a family jailed for converting to Christianity, aren’t enough to make the Obama administration, Republican senators and the State Department rethink military aid to Egypt, one has to wonder where the line is and if anyone is willing to cross it.

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Clinton Opens Benghazi Hearing with Excuses, Misdirections

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is testifying today on the attack on the American mission in Benghazi in September and the administration’s response. In her opening statement, Clinton said she takes responsibility, though her statement instead makes excuses for what happened and her State Department’s myriad mistakes.

Clinton’s statement focuses on the post-attack response as well–a convenient way to attempt to distract from the pre-attack failures. For example, she says after the attack happened she saw firsthand what the accountability review board “called ‘timely’ and ‘exceptional’ coordination.” But the exceptional coordination was in removing the U.S. mission’s survivors 12 hours after the attack, according to the review board. The problem with the performance of Clinton’s State Department was that coordination prior to the attack was far from “exceptional.” Here is what the review board had to say about that:

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Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is testifying today on the attack on the American mission in Benghazi in September and the administration’s response. In her opening statement, Clinton said she takes responsibility, though her statement instead makes excuses for what happened and her State Department’s myriad mistakes.

Clinton’s statement focuses on the post-attack response as well–a convenient way to attempt to distract from the pre-attack failures. For example, she says after the attack happened she saw firsthand what the accountability review board “called ‘timely’ and ‘exceptional’ coordination.” But the exceptional coordination was in removing the U.S. mission’s survivors 12 hours after the attack, according to the review board. The problem with the performance of Clinton’s State Department was that coordination prior to the attack was far from “exceptional.” Here is what the review board had to say about that:

Communication, cooperation, and coordination among Washington, Tripoli, and Benghazi functioned collegially at the working-level but were constrained by a lack of transparency, responsiveness, and leadership at the senior levels. Among various Department bureaus and personnel in the field, there appeared to be very real confusion over who, ultimately, was responsible and empowered to make decisions based on both policy and security considerations.

Clinton also sought to downplay the perceived rarity of such a tragedy by repeating a list of attacks on American diplomatic and security missions over the last several decades, attempting to establish a pattern that makes her failures of management and judgment seem almost incidental. In her statement, she said:

Any clear-eyed examination of this matter must begin with this sobering fact: Since 1988, there have been 19 Accountability Review Boards investigating attacks on American diplomats and their facilities. Benghazi joins a long list of tragedies, for our Department and for other agencies: hostages taken in Tehran in 1979, our embassy and Marine barracks bombed in Beirut in 1983, Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia in 1996, our embassies in East Africa in 1998, consulate staff murdered in Jeddah in 2004, the Khost attack in 2009, and too many others.

The appropriate comparison here is, ironically, with the attacks on our embassies in East Africa, which occurred during her husband’s administration and were also partially the result of negligence. What unfolded in Benghazi was similar because Clinton’s State Department also ignored warnings and didn’t take seriously enough the danger to the Benghazi mission or the credible threats to foreign diplomatic personnel there. As the review board noted:

It is worth noting that the events above took place against a general backdrop of political violence, assassinations targeting former regime officials, lawlessness, and an overarching absence of central government authority in eastern Libya. While the June 6 IED at the SMC and the May ICRC attack were claimed by the same group, none of the remaining attacks were viewed in Tripoli and Benghazi as linked or having common perpetrators, which were not viewed as linked or having common perpetrators. This also tempered reactions in Washington. Furthermore, the Board believes that the longer a post is exposed to continuing high levels of violence the more it comes to consider security incidents which might otherwise provoke a reaction as normal, thus raising the threshold for an incident to cause a reassessment of risk and mission continuation. This was true for both people on the ground serving in Libya and in Washington.

It is unlikely Clinton will be able to distract those questioning her today with her talk of implementing “29 recommendations” and “64 specific action items.” Nor should they be fooled by Clinton’s attempt to “take responsibility” while maintaining nothing could be done and lauding her State Department’s performance.

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Netanyahu Rebuked But Still on Top

The consensus of most pundits in the aftermath of yesterday’s Israeli election is that the voters rebuked Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Given that polls showed him winning re-election in a landslide last summer, the gradual slide from that high point to a vote in which his current coalition got just half of the seats in the Knesset is a comedown. It reflects several mistakes that he made during this period and led to his Likud getting just 31 seats. That was the largest total won by any party, but far short of expectations. Thus, while Netanyahu is still the only possible person to fill the post of prime minister, he is faced with a tricky problem putting together a new coalition.

Netanyahu’s critics will make a meal out of this, and to some extent they are justified in doing so. His campaign was inept and fraught with misjudgments. But while the result does reflect a lack of affection for the prime minister, those attempting to argue that it reflects a vote of no confidence in his foreign policy are misinterpreting the vote. The big winner in yesterday’s vote was the centrist Yesh Atid led by Yair Lapid. But Lapid’s positions on the peace process were virtually indistinguishable from those of Netanyahu since while he favors peace negotiations with the Palestinians, he wants to retain the major settlement blocs and opposes the division of Jerusalem. Nor are his positions on domestic issues, including lowering taxes and a more equitable draft system that would lead to the conscription of the ultra-Orthodox, incompatible with those of the prime minister. What follows now will be a difficult set of negotiations to create a new government. But there’s no doubt that when the dust settles, Netanyahu will still be on top and he will have a cabinet that may enable him to carry on the same policies that he implemented in the last four years. As defeats go, it isn’t too bad a result.

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The consensus of most pundits in the aftermath of yesterday’s Israeli election is that the voters rebuked Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Given that polls showed him winning re-election in a landslide last summer, the gradual slide from that high point to a vote in which his current coalition got just half of the seats in the Knesset is a comedown. It reflects several mistakes that he made during this period and led to his Likud getting just 31 seats. That was the largest total won by any party, but far short of expectations. Thus, while Netanyahu is still the only possible person to fill the post of prime minister, he is faced with a tricky problem putting together a new coalition.

Netanyahu’s critics will make a meal out of this, and to some extent they are justified in doing so. His campaign was inept and fraught with misjudgments. But while the result does reflect a lack of affection for the prime minister, those attempting to argue that it reflects a vote of no confidence in his foreign policy are misinterpreting the vote. The big winner in yesterday’s vote was the centrist Yesh Atid led by Yair Lapid. But Lapid’s positions on the peace process were virtually indistinguishable from those of Netanyahu since while he favors peace negotiations with the Palestinians, he wants to retain the major settlement blocs and opposes the division of Jerusalem. Nor are his positions on domestic issues, including lowering taxes and a more equitable draft system that would lead to the conscription of the ultra-Orthodox, incompatible with those of the prime minister. What follows now will be a difficult set of negotiations to create a new government. But there’s no doubt that when the dust settles, Netanyahu will still be on top and he will have a cabinet that may enable him to carry on the same policies that he implemented in the last four years. As defeats go, it isn’t too bad a result.

The list of Netanyahu’s campaign mistakes begins with his on-again, off-again alliance with the Kadima party last summer. A merger followed that with Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu that would end up being a tactical mistake since it left many Russian-born voters searching for another secular party to back. Many chose Lapid, helping him to a stunning total of 19 seats. A swing to the right by Likud primary voters gave him a more extreme parliamentary list to run with and caused some more bleeding to the center. Yet ironically, many on the right abandoned Netanyahu to embrace Naftali Bennett’s Jewish Home Party that also made big gains.

Most of all, Netanyahu’s problem was due to the fact that voters knew they didn’t have to vote for the Likud in order to be assured that he would remain prime minister. The lack of any credible alternative to him meant that many of those who would have pulled the lever for him personally felt that what they were voting for in Israel’s single party vote system was a choice of which party would be his major coalition partner. Though many in the foreign press are claiming that Lapid’s showing is a slap at Netanyahu or even a rejection of his policies, it is more likely that most were just saying that they wanted a Likud-Yesh Atid government, not a different prime minister.

The twists and turns of the coalition negotiations can’t be predicted with any accuracy, but the most likely scenario remains one in which Netanyahu forms a government with Lapid and some other smaller parties with the ultra-Orthodox parties on the sidelines. That will allow a long sought-after change in the draft laws that will be immensely popular. And it will also mean no real change in the country’s position on talks with the Palestinians. Since the Palestinian Authority isn’t likely to return to peace talks no matter who is running Israel, anyone who asserts that the election changes anything on this score is simply wrong.

The bottom line for Netanyahu is that even though the election didn’t go as well for him as he would have liked, the repercussions from the vote don’t really impact his ability to stay in office or continue the policies that are most important to him. No matter which of the possible combinations of parties that will make up the new government wind up in the cabinet, Netanyahu will not be impeded from prioritizing the Iranian nuclear threat or in sticking to his position on the peace process. Nor should he, since nothing in the vote indicates that these policies aren’t popular. That’s something that many of Netanyahu’s critics, including President Obama, should keep in mind as they seek to pressure him to change them.

Though he is battered, that still leaves Netanyahu a winner as he contemplates his third term as prime minister.

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Obama’s Two Dangerous Sentences

Bill Kristol considers the most dangerous sentence in President Obama’s second inaugural address to be the one endorsing the “lesson” that we are heirs to “those who won the peace and not just the war, who turned sworn enemies into the surest of friends …” (emphasis added):

Surely President Obama should have said this: “we are also heirs to those who won the peace as well as the war…” But he didn’t say that. The formulation Obama chose—”and not just the war”—suggests that Obama believes that it’s no big deal to win a war, and the greater achievement is winning the peace. With respect to World War II, this view is ludicrous. With respect to today’s world, this view is dangerous.

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Bill Kristol considers the most dangerous sentence in President Obama’s second inaugural address to be the one endorsing the “lesson” that we are heirs to “those who won the peace and not just the war, who turned sworn enemies into the surest of friends …” (emphasis added):

Surely President Obama should have said this: “we are also heirs to those who won the peace as well as the war…” But he didn’t say that. The formulation Obama chose—”and not just the war”—suggests that Obama believes that it’s no big deal to win a war, and the greater achievement is winning the peace. With respect to World War II, this view is ludicrous. With respect to today’s world, this view is dangerous.

We used to end wars responsibly by winning them, and we won the subsequent peace not so much by offering friendship as by occupying defeated foes and transforming their system of government. That is the way those in World War II, to whom we are heirs, did it. But these days we don’t win wars; we leave them behind and announce our pursuit of “peace in our time” by other means. A few sentences after the one cited by Kristol, Obama used what Mannie Sherberg at Boker tov, Boulder! calls “the most infamous, the most ignominious, the most shameful four-word phrase in all of modern history,” in the following paragraph in the inaugural address:

“America will remain the anchor of strong alliances in every corner of the globe. And we will renew those institutions that extend our capacity to manage crisis abroad … We will support democracy … And we must be a source of hope to the poor, the sick, the marginalized, the victims of prejudice … because peace in our time requires the constant advance of those principles that our common creed describes: tolerance and opportunity, human dignity and justice.” [Emphasis added]. 

Sherberg also notes Obama’s “utter failure to mention the cardinal fact of our time: that America is at war with a worldwide totalitarian ideology … and that we must therefore, before anything else, make sure we win that war.” Perhaps that is too much to ask from an administration that officially removed the word “jihad” from its vocabulary and changed “terrorism” to “man-caused disasters,” but one wonders what Iran and Israel make of Obama’s use of the phrase “peace in our time” and his failure to state — in his paragraph covering America’s role in the world–that America is prepared to use force, if necessary, against “unacceptable” threats.

It reminds one of Obama’s unfortunate definition in 2009 of the phrase “never again,” which for him has only an aspirational rather than an operational significance–rendering it in his 2009 speech simply a kind of hope for an idyllic time in the future, like “peace in our time.” 

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