Commentary Magazine


Posts For: February 2013

Obama Deadline Raises Pressure on Bibi

Benjamin Netanyahu’s efforts to form a new coalition government have not been going smoothly. The prime minister’s attempt to break up the alliance between the two big winners of the last election—the centrist Yesh Atid Party’s Yair Lapid and the pro-settler Habayit Hayehudi’s Naftali Bennett—have flopped as the two have stuck to each other and their mutual support for a change in the military draft system that will compel for the first time the conscription of Haredim. Netanyahu knows he needs at least one of the two to form a government and if they stick together, he must not only take both but also agree to their demands about a reform that he appears reluctant to implement.

But as difficult as his position was until now, Netanyahu’s leverage in the talks just got even smaller thanks to another longtime antagonist. Israel TV is claiming that the White House has made clear to Netanyahu that President Obama’s long anticipated trip to Israel next month will be postponed if the prime minister does not have a new government in place by March 16. While some in Israel, where Obama remains unpopular, may not care much about the visit, Netanyahu is counting on it. That means the chances are that Lapid and Bennett will soon be signing coalition agreements on their own terms and that the ultra-Orthodox parties will be losing their ability to stymie reform.

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Benjamin Netanyahu’s efforts to form a new coalition government have not been going smoothly. The prime minister’s attempt to break up the alliance between the two big winners of the last election—the centrist Yesh Atid Party’s Yair Lapid and the pro-settler Habayit Hayehudi’s Naftali Bennett—have flopped as the two have stuck to each other and their mutual support for a change in the military draft system that will compel for the first time the conscription of Haredim. Netanyahu knows he needs at least one of the two to form a government and if they stick together, he must not only take both but also agree to their demands about a reform that he appears reluctant to implement.

But as difficult as his position was until now, Netanyahu’s leverage in the talks just got even smaller thanks to another longtime antagonist. Israel TV is claiming that the White House has made clear to Netanyahu that President Obama’s long anticipated trip to Israel next month will be postponed if the prime minister does not have a new government in place by March 16. While some in Israel, where Obama remains unpopular, may not care much about the visit, Netanyahu is counting on it. That means the chances are that Lapid and Bennett will soon be signing coalition agreements on their own terms and that the ultra-Orthodox parties will be losing their ability to stymie reform.

Netanyahu is eager for the Obama visit because he views it as a perfect opportunity to help reset the strained relations between the two governments. More importantly, he’s also hoping the president will use it to make a strong statement in support of Israeli security and to re-emphasize his willingness to do whatever it takes to prevent Iran from gaining nuclear capability. Losing that visit would be a blow to his prestige and undermine his efforts to have the allies present a united front on Iran and the peace process after four-plus years of Obama’s efforts to distance the U.S. from Israel. Since dragging out the talks in what would probably be a vain try to get his way on the next coalition would probably keep Obama at home, that means that the prime minister’s already faltering attempt to split up the Lapid-Bennett tag team is now officially doomed.

Netanyahu has his own reasons for fearing both Lapid and Bennett.

He’s clearly worried about Lapid’s boasts about replacing Netanyahu in the next election and dreads having to give him the key post of foreign minister as part of the price for getting Yesh Atid’s 19 seats onto the government benches. Though they are closer on ideology, he seems to have just as much antipathy for the charismatic Bennett, who once was chief of staff and broke with Netanyahu, allegedly because of the influence of the prime minister’s wife Sara.

But with Lapid and Bennett deciding that their mutual support for a more equitable system of national service outweighs any differences on other issues, Netanyahu now has no choice but to swallow hard and have both of these would-be rivals in the Cabinet.

Obama and the two party leaders may be doing Netanyahu more of a favor than he knows. Keeping both Lapid and Bennett inside the government tent is to the prime minister’s advantage. Saddling him with responsibility for government actions also lessens Lapid’s long-term appeal as a reformer even if the foreign ministry would give him the gravitas to be a credible prime minister in the future. Moreover, achieving a real breakthrough on the question of the Haredim and the draft would be a genuine achievement for Netanyahu and burnish his legacy in his third term as Israel’s leader.

It’s important to understand the big loser here isn’t the prime minister. It’s the ultra-Orthodox who have used their disproportionate influence on the country’s political system to perpetuate an unequal burden of national service as well as to funnel huge amounts of patronage and government allocations to their institutions. Keeping Shas and United Torah Judaism out of the government will create a team of rivals in the Cabinet that worries Netanyahu, but it will enable him to do something none of his predecessors ever achieved.

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Western Concessions Boost Iran Confidence

After two days of the latest round of P5+1 talks with Iran, the international coalition has already begun the process of standing down from a confrontational stance toward Tehran. After a decade of diplomatic failure, no one seriously expected this week’s sessions to create a breakthrough that might defuse the Iranian nuclear threat. But the West’s decision to make two key concessions to the Islamist regime without any reciprocal move on Iran’s part is likely to only reinforce its confidence that it can continue to stall until the Iranians reach their nuclear goal. The group comprised of the United States, Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany and which is led by European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, dropped their previous insistence that Iran must shut down its nuclear plant at Fordo and also said that it could keep some of its 20 percent enriched uranium that could be converted to use for a weapon.

With those concessions in his pocket, and without having given anything in return at the talks in Almaty, Kazakhstan, it’s no wonder the Iranian negotiator called the meeting positive and said the Western position had become “more realistic.” American and European diplomats emphasized to reporters their three conditions to the Iranians that would hinder any attempt to create a weapon, but also said agreeing to those minimal steps would lead to the end of some of the toughest economic sanctions on the country.

All this is just one more set of signals that tells the Iranians they have no need to take seriously President Obama’s threats about force still being an option in the West’s efforts to prevent Tehran from going nuclear. In its new issue, TIME magazine details the story of the administration’s evolution toward a position that specifically eschews containment of a nuclear Iran as an option and says the administration is preparing for war. But this week’s concessions, combined with the confirmation of a new U.S. secretary of defense who was a longtime advocate of containment (and who could not articulate the administration’s current position on the issue in his confirmation hearing even when given three tries to do so), can only bolster the determination of the Iranians to hang on to their program until they run out the clock on the talks and achieve their goal.

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After two days of the latest round of P5+1 talks with Iran, the international coalition has already begun the process of standing down from a confrontational stance toward Tehran. After a decade of diplomatic failure, no one seriously expected this week’s sessions to create a breakthrough that might defuse the Iranian nuclear threat. But the West’s decision to make two key concessions to the Islamist regime without any reciprocal move on Iran’s part is likely to only reinforce its confidence that it can continue to stall until the Iranians reach their nuclear goal. The group comprised of the United States, Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany and which is led by European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, dropped their previous insistence that Iran must shut down its nuclear plant at Fordo and also said that it could keep some of its 20 percent enriched uranium that could be converted to use for a weapon.

With those concessions in his pocket, and without having given anything in return at the talks in Almaty, Kazakhstan, it’s no wonder the Iranian negotiator called the meeting positive and said the Western position had become “more realistic.” American and European diplomats emphasized to reporters their three conditions to the Iranians that would hinder any attempt to create a weapon, but also said agreeing to those minimal steps would lead to the end of some of the toughest economic sanctions on the country.

All this is just one more set of signals that tells the Iranians they have no need to take seriously President Obama’s threats about force still being an option in the West’s efforts to prevent Tehran from going nuclear. In its new issue, TIME magazine details the story of the administration’s evolution toward a position that specifically eschews containment of a nuclear Iran as an option and says the administration is preparing for war. But this week’s concessions, combined with the confirmation of a new U.S. secretary of defense who was a longtime advocate of containment (and who could not articulate the administration’s current position on the issue in his confirmation hearing even when given three tries to do so), can only bolster the determination of the Iranians to hang on to their program until they run out the clock on the talks and achieve their goal.

As TIME notes, only Obama knows for sure whether he really will make good on his pledges to use every possible option, including war, to stop Iran. But the appointment of Chuck Hagel to the Pentagon was not something that was geared to make the Iranians believe the president means what he says. They are hoping to drag out the talks over time, and the promise of even more open-ended negotiations after this week could hardly have persuaded them to alter that strategy.

Indeed, the new talks repeated the patterns of past negotiations in which Western concessions were made to get a deal that would not conclusively end the nuclear threat. The current P5+1 position would leave the Iranians plenty of room to maneuver and to cheat on their promises—as the North Koreans did before they got their bomb.

The Iranians have convinced the West and even the Israelis that they have more time than they thought they had last year before it is too late to spike the nuclear program. But even if we assume that the West has until the fall or even next spring to talk the Iranians down from the nuclear ledge, nothing they have done—including tough economic sanctions—seems to have really gotten Iran to believe they have no choice but to surrender their nukes.

If President Obama wants Iran to take him seriously he needs to change his diplomatic posture, not double down on a policy of engagement that only serves to make the ayatollahs think he is a paper tiger. If he is to disabuse them of that belief, the president needs to do something in the coming months that makes clear that the U.S. is ready to strike. But with Hagel, whom Obama appears to trust, having replaced his predecessor Robert Gates as the leading proponent of containment in the administration, the odds of doing so are not good.

Even if one believes the TIME story about the president’s intentions, he needs to understand the threat of American force is only credible if the other side believes in it. After ensnaring the West in a new round of dead-end negotiations, it’s hard to blame the Iranians if they think they have nothing to worry about.  

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Preventing the Lebanonization of Syria

Earlier this week, I wrote about the Syrian rebels’ threats to boycott a proposed meeting with new Secretary of State John Kerry, who had been far too friendly with Bashar al-Assad for their tastes and from whom they were not getting enough support. The tactic worked: Kerry has pledged the first direct American aid to armed rebel factions. It is humanitarian aid, not weapons; but as the New York Times notes, it may indirectly help provide them with weapons by freeing up rebel funds for other purposes.

It is a tactical shift for the Obama administration, which had found that American officials’ previous attempts to remove Assad from power by shaking their heads in disappointment at him were going nowhere. The aid is an important acknowledgement that a state run by Assad and a state run by his opponents aren’t the only two possible outcomes of the Syrian civil war. A third, and far from unlikely, result would have the state split along sectarian lines, in slow disintegration, with strategic safe havens carved out for powerful terrorist groups or rogue state proxies–Lebanon, in other words. The Times reports:

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Earlier this week, I wrote about the Syrian rebels’ threats to boycott a proposed meeting with new Secretary of State John Kerry, who had been far too friendly with Bashar al-Assad for their tastes and from whom they were not getting enough support. The tactic worked: Kerry has pledged the first direct American aid to armed rebel factions. It is humanitarian aid, not weapons; but as the New York Times notes, it may indirectly help provide them with weapons by freeing up rebel funds for other purposes.

It is a tactical shift for the Obama administration, which had found that American officials’ previous attempts to remove Assad from power by shaking their heads in disappointment at him were going nowhere. The aid is an important acknowledgement that a state run by Assad and a state run by his opponents aren’t the only two possible outcomes of the Syrian civil war. A third, and far from unlikely, result would have the state split along sectarian lines, in slow disintegration, with strategic safe havens carved out for powerful terrorist groups or rogue state proxies–Lebanon, in other words. The Times reports:

One major goal of the administration is to help the opposition build up its credibility within Syria by providing traditional government services to the civilian population. Since the conflict erupted two years ago, the United States has sent $365 million in humanitarian aid to Syrians.

American officials have been increasingly worried that extremist members of the resistance against the government of President Bashar al-Assad, notably the Al Nusra Front, which the United States has asserted is affiliated with Al Qaeda, will take control of portions of Syria and cement its authority by providing public services, much as Hezbollah has done in Lebanon.

“Some folks on the ground that we don’t support and whose interests do not align with ours are delivering some of that help,” Mr. Kerry said.

To blunt the power of extremist groups, the United States wants to help the Syrian Opposition Council, the coalition of Syrian resistance leaders it backs and helped organize, deliver basic services in areas that have been wrested from the control of the Assad government.

The upside to this includes the possibility that a post-Assad Syria would be on better terms with the West. The downside is that it takes for granted the inevitability of a post-Assad Syria, and as such lacks a certain sense of urgency. It is also designed to help solve a problem that might have been avoidable with earlier intervention: the empowerment of more radical groups within the rebel movement thanks to the vacuum left by the West’s refusal to put a thumb on the scales in the other direction.

Such activity is better late than never, though that’s not how some humanitarian NGO workers feel. The Globe and Mail reports that some aid workers say picking winners now from among the rebels will divide and possibly weaken them while endangering the neutrality of outside organizations:

“Who gets credit for aid is heavily politicized and people get killed for it,” says the aid worker. He argues that determining aid recipients by their political affiliation is an impractical way to deliver aid. Should aid groups act as the tip of the spear of an American-led charge to pick favourites, they may become targets in internecine battles and cease operations.

“It is very tempting in the course of a war that aid be used for political ends, especially when diplomacy is not working and external military intervention is off the table,” says Sam Worthington, CEO of the aid umbrella group InterAction. “Our concern is that the broader UN and NGO humanitarian effort already in place will also become politicized. A limited yet very important humanitarian assistance operation happening in the country could be jeopardized if there is a perception that aid is another instrument of conflict.”

It’s a valid concern, and yet another reason intervention should have come sooner than this. But the best result from a humanitarian perspective would be to end the conflict, not simply help provide cash for an endless supply of nutrition supplements for the permanently displaced. Near-term humanitarian concerns may prioritize the neutrality of aid workers, but the long-term goal should be to end the war, pacify the battlefield, and clear the space for humanitarian aid to safely reach everyone still in need.

Further, stopping radical Islamists from taking power in post-war Syria would go a long way toward preventing future unrest and a cycle of conflict that would find aid workers right back at the Syrian border, attempting to enter the next round of humanitarian crisis. “If we want to have a new regime, we have to encourage the opposition,” the Times quotes French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius as saying. No doubt the rebels would like more than encouragement, but having watched the West wait two years to offer direct assistance, it’s doubtful they’re holding their breath.

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Cries of Racism Cloud Real Issues in Court

Liberals are jumping all over Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s comment yesterday during an oral hearing in which he asked whether continuing the special enforcement provisions of the Voting Rights Act in some states was a “perpetuation of racial entitlement.” Many, including his court colleague Justice Sonia Sotomayor, seemed to interpret it as questioning whether the right to vote is itself a “racial entitlement.” For his pains, Scalia was branded a racist. What is left of the aging remnants of the once-vital civil rights movement are hoping that outrage about that remark can galvanize public pressure not just for the continuation of the Voting Rights Act as it currently stands, but against both voter integrity laws and the system of racial majority districts.

The problem with the critique of Scalia is pretty much the same as that with the defense of the legal status quo. What is at stake in this debate and the legal case in question–Shelby County, Alabama v. Holder–is not the right to vote, which Scalia supports as much as any liberal. There is no evidence that anyone in Shelby County is trying to reinstate Jim Crow laws or prevent African Americans or other minorities from exercising their constitutionally protected right to cast a ballot. Nor is there any evidence that this is true anywhere else in the states and counties that remain under direct federal supervision as a result of the 1965 law. The entitlement in question is rather the ability of the Justice Department to act as a national elections commission in certain areas that were once strongholds of racial hatred, even though the country has changed markedly in the last half century. Instead of promoting the false charge that Scalia is a segregationist, the focus should be on who benefits from the continuation of Section Five of the Act. The answer is: a class of political elites that benefit from the creation of racial majority districts.

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Liberals are jumping all over Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s comment yesterday during an oral hearing in which he asked whether continuing the special enforcement provisions of the Voting Rights Act in some states was a “perpetuation of racial entitlement.” Many, including his court colleague Justice Sonia Sotomayor, seemed to interpret it as questioning whether the right to vote is itself a “racial entitlement.” For his pains, Scalia was branded a racist. What is left of the aging remnants of the once-vital civil rights movement are hoping that outrage about that remark can galvanize public pressure not just for the continuation of the Voting Rights Act as it currently stands, but against both voter integrity laws and the system of racial majority districts.

The problem with the critique of Scalia is pretty much the same as that with the defense of the legal status quo. What is at stake in this debate and the legal case in question–Shelby County, Alabama v. Holder–is not the right to vote, which Scalia supports as much as any liberal. There is no evidence that anyone in Shelby County is trying to reinstate Jim Crow laws or prevent African Americans or other minorities from exercising their constitutionally protected right to cast a ballot. Nor is there any evidence that this is true anywhere else in the states and counties that remain under direct federal supervision as a result of the 1965 law. The entitlement in question is rather the ability of the Justice Department to act as a national elections commission in certain areas that were once strongholds of racial hatred, even though the country has changed markedly in the last half century. Instead of promoting the false charge that Scalia is a segregationist, the focus should be on who benefits from the continuation of Section Five of the Act. The answer is: a class of political elites that benefit from the creation of racial majority districts.

As both the plaintiffs and some of the justices pointed out yesterday, the problem that that provision of the law was designed to address has been solved. Voter turnout of blacks is actually higher in the nine states covered by the Act than in the rest of the country. The continuation of Section Five–in which certain areas must prove they are not discriminating against minorities rather than forcing the government to prove that they are–does, however, hamper the ability of legislatures to redraw districts or to pass voter integrity laws that liberals falsely allege are directed against minorities.

It must be understood that once the detritus of segregation and other laws intended to prevent blacks from voting were swept away, the main point of the law has been to create a system that enshrined racial gerrymandering as the norm. Since it was assumed that whites would never vote for an African American, the courts mandated that congressional and legislative districts be drawn so as to ensure that blacks and in some cases Hispanics would be able to elect one of their own.

This led to a vast expansion of the number of blacks in Congress and in state legislatures, but ironically also hurt the party that most of them supported. The districts created by this racial gerrymander were often bizarrely drawn and had little to do with geography or history. But the main point is that they drained black Democratic voters from other districts that ensured the engineering of a few safe Democratic seats. Yet they also made the remaining districts much whiter and, ironically, far more likely to be Republican.

That was good for the few black politicians who were in possession of these safe Democratic and racially homogeneous seats, and for the Republican Party that cleaned up everywhere else. Whether that is actually good for the country or for African American voters, who have little influence on the composition of Congress and whose representatives are the products of petty one-party autocracies, is another matter entirely.

Just as crucial to understanding the impact of this case is the way the Civil Rights Act has become a weapon to use against voter integrity laws. What is left of the civil rights movement has embraced the cause of stopping voter ID laws as a way of reviving their influence. Minorities are no less capable of getting the same photo ID that is needed to conduct just about any transaction in the modern commercial world or to interact with government than anyone else. But the left attempts to argue that opposition to them is indistinguishable from that of racial justice. This is absurd, and it is opposed by what polls have consistently showed to be the vast majority of Americans—including minorities—who think laws that seek to prevent electoral cheating are inherently reasonable.

The current interpretation of the Voting Rights Act gives Attorney General Eric Holder the right to oppose these laws and to brand them as racist. As the president’s mention of the issue in his State of the Union showed, this is an attempt to play the racial card for partisan purposes. It also gives aging rights groups who have outlived their usefulness a new lease on life. But all this also undermines any notion that what is at stake in the Shelby case is anything remotely connected to the original intent of the 1965 law.

The South has transcended its tragic past and is no more nor less racist than any other part of the country. But given the inability of so many in Congress on both sides of the aisle to rise above their own self-interest on this issue, the court is the only venue that can talk sense and end a practice that now does more mischief than good. Protecting the right to vote is a sacred cause that deserves the support of all Americans. But the preservation of this outmoded system, or wrongly branding Scalia a racist, has nothing to with that.

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Is the President Still Relevant Here?

After Republicans took control of Congress in 1994, they continued to dominate debate and marginalize President Bill Clinton. That led to one of Clinton’s most memorable moments, when he declared at a 1995 press conference: “The president is still relevant here.” It was a low moment for Clinton, but he would have the last laugh—he’d recover his voice and easily win re-election. Looking back on that moment, George Stephanopoulos explained Clinton’s ill-advised remark by noting it was a “Perfect example of the stage direction coming out of the actor’s mouth, as opposed to the script.”

One wonders what kind of stage direction President Obama is currently receiving from his advisors, but it’s not unthinkable that someone has to remind him he’s relevant (but not to say so). Aside from the defense establishment, the president’s threats about the sequester’s budget cuts are receiving a collective yawn from the public. Polls show the public doesn’t know much about it, nor care to. Republicans have seemingly accepted the inevitability of the cuts, and some are even cheering them. The president’s bizarre behavior, in which he threatens to make the budget cuts hurt as much as possible and go after reporters who don’t regurgitate the White House’s ridiculous spin, is not moving the needle. And now, Ben White reports, when confronted with the sequester’s supposed impact, the business community is practically laughing in the president’s face:

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After Republicans took control of Congress in 1994, they continued to dominate debate and marginalize President Bill Clinton. That led to one of Clinton’s most memorable moments, when he declared at a 1995 press conference: “The president is still relevant here.” It was a low moment for Clinton, but he would have the last laugh—he’d recover his voice and easily win re-election. Looking back on that moment, George Stephanopoulos explained Clinton’s ill-advised remark by noting it was a “Perfect example of the stage direction coming out of the actor’s mouth, as opposed to the script.”

One wonders what kind of stage direction President Obama is currently receiving from his advisors, but it’s not unthinkable that someone has to remind him he’s relevant (but not to say so). Aside from the defense establishment, the president’s threats about the sequester’s budget cuts are receiving a collective yawn from the public. Polls show the public doesn’t know much about it, nor care to. Republicans have seemingly accepted the inevitability of the cuts, and some are even cheering them. The president’s bizarre behavior, in which he threatens to make the budget cuts hurt as much as possible and go after reporters who don’t regurgitate the White House’s ridiculous spin, is not moving the needle. And now, Ben White reports, when confronted with the sequester’s supposed impact, the business community is practically laughing in the president’s face:

The administration has not been able to tap into the heavy pressure that comes from deep-pocketed and well-connected groups like the Chamber, the Business Roundtable, the Financial Services Forum and many others putting out statements and sending breathless letters to the Hill demanding immediate action, as they did during the cliff fight….

Corporate groups are also taking cues from financial markets, which largely have ignored threats about the sequester’s potential impact. Stocks sold off early this week, but that had much more to do with worries over the muddled outcome of elections in Italy and their possible impact on the European debt crisis than Washington and the sequester, analysts said.

“Investors have been hearing a lot of hysteria out of the politicians for the last two years over all the different end-of-the-world deadlines,” said Michael Obuchowski, portfolio manager at North Shore Asset Management. “We are human beings with vertebrate nervous systems, and there is a desensitizing effect when you hear it so many times. You eventually ignore it.”

That suggests the president has a serious credibility problem on spending and crisis management. White also quotes Michael Bloomberg’s response to the sequester threats: “come on, let’s get serious here.” White adds that the Chamber of Commerce has made it clear that, in their opinion, the Democrats’ plan to replace the sequester with tax increases “would be worse than even the sequester.”

That sums up much of the attitude, even on the Republican side, to the sequester: Obama’s own ideas about the debt and deficit are actually worse for the country than the sequester–which was also his idea–so they’ll take the lesser of two evils. In their opinion, the president goes from one bad idea to the next, and they’d like him to maybe stop talking for a while. The Washington Post carries a story today on the sequester rhetoric, and finds that experts in the relevant fields cannot confirm the White House’s dire warnings. Everyone seems pretty skeptical of the president’s rhetoric, in part, the Post reports, because the sequester’s structure is so unique:

What is not new, however, is the impulse of officials to resort to melodrama when they are faced with budget cuts. Getting people’s attention has been a challenge in the case of the sequester. In the latest Washington Post-Pew Research Center survey, only one in four said they were closely following news about the automatic spending cuts.

The ploy even has a name: the “Washington Monument” syndrome, a reference to the National Park Service’s decision to close that landmark and the Grand Canyon for two days a week after the Nixon administration cut funding in 1969.

They’ve seen this play before, and they believe life goes on. As Jonathan mentioned, the press’s reaction to this debate has been to push back a bit on the White House, first with regard to Bob Woodward and now with the Post accusing the president, and those who echo his pronouncements, of “melodrama.” And it also marks a shift on the Republican side. The GOP has often fallen into the president’s PR traps and allowed him to effectively divide their ranks, then step back and watch them point fingers at each other. There was even (overblown) talk of a mutiny against Speaker John Boehner when the new Congress took office.

But this time, the Republicans are putting up a much more unified front, and calling the president’s bluff. It’s a shift Obama ignores at his own peril. Clinton, after all, was still relevant–he was running for re-election. Obama has already put that victory behind him–and, it seems, may have squandered the momentum and political capital that came with it.

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Erdoğan: Zionism “Crime Against Humanity”

Speaking at a United Nations conference in Vienna, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan declared, “It is necessary that we must consider — just like Zionism or anti-Semitism or fascism — Islamophobia as a crime against humanity.”

Let’s put aside the fact that, when they argue for the criminalization of “Islamophobia,” Erdoğan and his fellow travelers seek to ban not discrimination against Muslims, but rather criticism of the more radical outliers of radical Islamism. Hence, pointing out that under Erdoğan, the murder rate of women in Turkey has increased 1,400 percent would be considered a hate crime. Erdoğan makes no secret of his antipathy of free speech: That is why the Turkish media has descended from relative openness to somewhere below Russia, Venezuela, Iraq, Burma, and Zimbabwe in terms of free press.

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Speaking at a United Nations conference in Vienna, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan declared, “It is necessary that we must consider — just like Zionism or anti-Semitism or fascism — Islamophobia as a crime against humanity.”

Let’s put aside the fact that, when they argue for the criminalization of “Islamophobia,” Erdoğan and his fellow travelers seek to ban not discrimination against Muslims, but rather criticism of the more radical outliers of radical Islamism. Hence, pointing out that under Erdoğan, the murder rate of women in Turkey has increased 1,400 percent would be considered a hate crime. Erdoğan makes no secret of his antipathy of free speech: That is why the Turkish media has descended from relative openness to somewhere below Russia, Venezuela, Iraq, Burma, and Zimbabwe in terms of free press.

Zionism is, simply put, a belief that the Jewish people have the right to an independent homeland in what is now Israel. One doesn’t need to like the Israeli government to be a Zionist, nor does Zionism have anything to do with supporting or opposing a two-state solution. (I am a Zionist who supports a two-state solution, for example, and I have little opinion on Israeli politicians or diplomats, as I neither study them nor interact with them). To be anti-Zionist, however, is to believe that Israel should cease to exist, to be eradicated. Declaring Israel and the Israeli people to be illegitimate is, simply put, the same as declaring that they should be expunged. This isn’t like Saddam Hussein invading Kuwait in 1990 and denying Kuwaitis an independent state because Saddam had declared Kuwait an Iraqi province, and therefore Kuwaitis to be Iraqis. He did not question their right to exist like Erdoğan does the Israelis.

Perhaps this explains Erdoğan’s embrace not of Palestinian statehood, but of Hamas—an organization dedicated to the eradication not only of Israel but also of Jews. It is why Erdoğan defended an aid who donated money to an al-Qaeda charity. It is why the new generation of Turkish diplomats who have arisen from religious seminaries, rather than the secular system which Erdoğan has tried to dismantle, have gone so far as to endorse al-Qaeda openly. Anti-Semitism runs deep in Turkey’s government and, increasingly, its diplomatic corps.

What does Erdoğan’s outburst mean for the United States? Given the UN secretary general’s silence in the face of Erdoğan’s attempts to take the United Nations back to its “Zionism is Racism” days, perhaps it’s time for President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry to question their uncritical embrace of the United Nations. Obama has also listed Erdoğan as one of his top foreign friends. Perhaps the White House would care to explain that endorsement and upon what it is based? Kerry will be in Turkey tomorrow. It will be interesting to see whether he bothers to bring up incitement to genocide with his host. Most shameful, however, is the behavior of the U.S. Congress. As Erdoğan embraces Hamas and spews anti-Semitism, and as Turkish diplomats defend al-Qaeda, where are our congressmen? At the Turkish embassy, enjoying free food and giving the Turkish government a photo-op about which Namik Tan, Turkey’s ambassador to the United States, can brag on his twitter account.

It is very important that the honorable men and women of the U.S. Congress know for what they are lending their names when they join groups like the Congressional Turkey Caucus.

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War on Woodward May Be a Tipping Point

A week ago, the White House was absolutely sure that its position on the sequester would prevail and that the Republicans would soon be surrendering on the president’s demands for even more new taxes in order to avoid the implementation of the draconian across-the-board budget cuts. Most of the press, backed by polls that showed the unpopularity of Republicans, agreed. But the discussion has shifted a bit in the last few days and the administration’s confidence in its ability to prevail in this political struggle has to be slightly shaken, even if they are not publicly admitting it. Part of the president’s problem is that the attempts of the secretaries of transportation and homeland security to scare the public about airport delays and the border if the sequester went ahead sounded fake and appeared to be politically motivated. But just as important was the intervention into the debate of an icon of liberal journalism: the Washington Post’s Bob Woodward.

Woodward’s op-ed reminded the public that the sequester was the White House’s idea and that any attempt to include a request for more taxes into the discussion of putting it off was “moving the goalposts.” While seemingly just one voice among many talking heads, the Woodward assertions touched a nerve in the White House and set off a furious back-and-forth argument that betrayed the administration’s sensitivity to criticism as well as a thuggish intolerance for anyone who would try to alter their hand-crafted narrative about the issue. Most of the attention on this spat today is focused on a senior White House official’s threat to Woodward that he would “regret” contradicting the president’s chosen spin.

This has provoked a discussion about how this administration and its predecessors have used threats about future access to intimidate journalists. This is a long and unfortunate tradition, and it often works when applied to less influential persons than the man who was portrayed by Robert Redford in the film account of his Watergate reporting that took down Richard Nixon. But there is more at work here than just a case of White House flacks picking a fight with the wrong guy. The problem here for President Obama is that the willingness of Woodward to expose the falsity of the administration’s position on the sequester, as well as their threat, could mark the beginning of the end of the administration’s magic touch with the mainstream press.

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A week ago, the White House was absolutely sure that its position on the sequester would prevail and that the Republicans would soon be surrendering on the president’s demands for even more new taxes in order to avoid the implementation of the draconian across-the-board budget cuts. Most of the press, backed by polls that showed the unpopularity of Republicans, agreed. But the discussion has shifted a bit in the last few days and the administration’s confidence in its ability to prevail in this political struggle has to be slightly shaken, even if they are not publicly admitting it. Part of the president’s problem is that the attempts of the secretaries of transportation and homeland security to scare the public about airport delays and the border if the sequester went ahead sounded fake and appeared to be politically motivated. But just as important was the intervention into the debate of an icon of liberal journalism: the Washington Post’s Bob Woodward.

Woodward’s op-ed reminded the public that the sequester was the White House’s idea and that any attempt to include a request for more taxes into the discussion of putting it off was “moving the goalposts.” While seemingly just one voice among many talking heads, the Woodward assertions touched a nerve in the White House and set off a furious back-and-forth argument that betrayed the administration’s sensitivity to criticism as well as a thuggish intolerance for anyone who would try to alter their hand-crafted narrative about the issue. Most of the attention on this spat today is focused on a senior White House official’s threat to Woodward that he would “regret” contradicting the president’s chosen spin.

This has provoked a discussion about how this administration and its predecessors have used threats about future access to intimidate journalists. This is a long and unfortunate tradition, and it often works when applied to less influential persons than the man who was portrayed by Robert Redford in the film account of his Watergate reporting that took down Richard Nixon. But there is more at work here than just a case of White House flacks picking a fight with the wrong guy. The problem here for President Obama is that the willingness of Woodward to expose the falsity of the administration’s position on the sequester, as well as their threat, could mark the beginning of the end of the administration’s magic touch with the mainstream press.

Last week, Politico’s feature on the ability of the Obama White House to manipulate the coverage they received generated a heated discussion about whether the supine attitude of mainstream journalists toward the president was the result of clever tactics and not, as they claimed, liberal bias. I agreed that the administration had broken new ground in employing smart ways to bypass and frustrate the working press, but pointed out the obvious fact that these strategies wouldn’t work half so well if the vast majority of the publications and networks that employ the journalists weren’t happy to roll over for Obama. No president has received the sort of adulation and fawning coverage from the mainstream since the halcyon days of John F. Kennedy’s Camelot White House.

While the Woodward rebellion hasn’t really altered that reality, it is a sign that his expectation that he will be treated with kid gloves for four more years may not be fulfilled. That the administration is pushing back so hard on Woodward betrays their worry that if the Watergate icon can get away with saying the emperor has no clothes, lesser mortals will soon be tempted to do it too.

As important as the sequester may be, this spat is about more than just that issue. The White House has assumed all along that its narrative about the budget cuts and the need for more taxes–even after the recent hikes enacted to avert the fiscal cliff as well as the raise in payroll deductions–would never be contradicted by what has been their active cheering section in the press corps.

As Max pointed out, there are good reasons to fear the effect of the sequester. But the idea that the president can bulldoze his way through Republican opposition to his big government agenda armed with the notion that the public and the media will unite behind him has been shaken. Today, even the still loyal New York Times admitted the public might not be panicked into pressuring the Republicans into submission. If the White House is today waging an unexpected war on Bob Woodward, it is because they fear the beginning of the end of their four-year honeymoon with the media.

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Are We Repeating the Mistakes of the “Peace Dividend?”

A lot of conservatives seem to be taking the reflexive attitude that if President Obama is warning that sequestration will be disastrous, then it must a good thing. Witness this National Review symposium, wherein various contributors bemoan “the hysteria of President Obama, liberals in Congress, and the media over very small cuts in federal spending” and argue “let’s do it” because “sequestration is the only chance we have had, and probably ever will have, to cut any federal programs under President Obama.”

Time for a reality check. It’s not just President Obama who is warning of the dire consequences of sequestration. So are our foremost admirals and generals, men and women who have devoted their entire lives to the nation’s defense and can hardly be accused of being liberal Democrats–most are in fact conservative Republicans. The Joint Chiefs of Staff continue to testify to Congress about the terrible impact of sequestration and as more and more details emerge, their case becomes even stronger.

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A lot of conservatives seem to be taking the reflexive attitude that if President Obama is warning that sequestration will be disastrous, then it must a good thing. Witness this National Review symposium, wherein various contributors bemoan “the hysteria of President Obama, liberals in Congress, and the media over very small cuts in federal spending” and argue “let’s do it” because “sequestration is the only chance we have had, and probably ever will have, to cut any federal programs under President Obama.”

Time for a reality check. It’s not just President Obama who is warning of the dire consequences of sequestration. So are our foremost admirals and generals, men and women who have devoted their entire lives to the nation’s defense and can hardly be accused of being liberal Democrats–most are in fact conservative Republicans. The Joint Chiefs of Staff continue to testify to Congress about the terrible impact of sequestration and as more and more details emerge, their case becomes even stronger.

To get the details you have to skip the MSM, which tend to report only sweeping rhetoric, and instead read the defense-industry press, which has chapter and verse. See, for example, this report in AOL Defense, which notes “the Army already knows it will cancel all full-brigade wargames except for a single brigade that will deploy to Afghanistan, a mission the service insists it cannot shortchange.” It further notes “the service has already decided to defer essentially all maintenance at its bases – which will certainly cost more in the long run and may make life distinctly uncomfortable in the meantime.”

And beyond the issue of being able to train and maintain our soldiers, there is also the issue of how many soldiers we will have. The House Armed Services Committee predicts that if sequestration goes through the Marine Corps’ active-duty strength will fall from 200,000 personnel to 145,000 and the Army will fall from 569,000 to 425,000. That amounts to the loss of a quarter of all our ground forces. It would cut the Marine Corps down to its smallest size since 1950, before the start of the Korean War, and the U.S. Army down to its smallest size since 1940, before the American entry into World War II. Those conflicts should remind us of the catastrophic consequences of military unpreparedness of the kind we are now facing.

Unfortunately, neither President Obama nor congressional Republicans are treating this crisis with the gravity it deserves. The president has made clear he will hold the military hostage to his desire for more tax hikes–he has refused to endorse Republican plans that would achieve the same amount of budgetary savings without eviscerating military preparedness. Republicans, in turn, seem to be so enamored of budget cuts and so opposed to any tax hikes–even the closing of loopholes rather than raising marginal rates–that most of them are willing to see defense sacrificed instead.

This is a tragedy: We are in danger of repeating the same mistake we made after World War II, after Vietnam and after the Gulf War–all times when we cut defense excessively and subsequently paid a stiff price. It is particularly bizarre that we are in effect spending a “peace dividend” when there is in fact no peace—U.S. troops are still fighting in Afghanistan and in the War on Terror, and they are on hair-trigger alert to fight Iran if necessary. Yet at the same time we are exempting from cuts the actual causes of our fiscal crisis–runaway entitlement spending, in particular spending on Medicare and Medicaid.

I am not one of those who has argued that partisan gridlock in Washington endangers our standing as a superpower. I have always retained a large measure of optimism about the ability of our political system to work things out and reach solutions even to the most difficult problems. But now I am starting to think that perhaps the doomsayers have a point. This is as self-inflicted a wound as it possible to imagine.

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Al-Qaeda in the United States

Yesterday, Jonathan remembered the 20th anniversary of the first attack on the World Trade Center by pointing out that, while we’ve come a long way since 9/11, we are at risk of putting the dangers of al-Qaeda and radical Islam “in our collective rear-view mirrors.” It was also 20 years ago that Senator Daniel Moynihan warned of the dangers of “defining deviancy down.” Today, our strategy against al-Qaeda is to win by defining victory down, and focusing only on the damage we do to its so-called core. That wrongly elevates drone strikes from a tool into a strategy, ignores the recruiting appeal of the Islamist ideology that is at the heart of the danger posed by al-Qaeda, and neglects the fact that we are not very good at anticipating how al-Qaeda’s franchises and allies will grow, cooperate, and spread. Last year, very few analysts worried about Islamist militants in the Maghreb; today, they control half a country.

Perhaps most troubling is the fact that, as Jonathan points out, “here in the U.S., cases of home-grown Islamist terror continue to crop up.” My colleague Jessica Zuckerman has chronicled the 54 terrorist plots against domestic targets that have been thwarted since 9/11. The latest featured a naturalized U.S. citizen born in Pakistan, Raees Alam Qazi, and his older brother. It “adds to the large number of terrorist attacks that could be considered to be homegrown.” It is hard to believe that a country which has thwarted about a plot every other month for over a decade, watched the Muslim Brotherhood take over Egypt, and seen an anniversary attack on its consulate in Benghazi could become complacent. It is even harder to ignore the political savvy of the Obama administration and the appeal of its fantasy that the war is over.

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Yesterday, Jonathan remembered the 20th anniversary of the first attack on the World Trade Center by pointing out that, while we’ve come a long way since 9/11, we are at risk of putting the dangers of al-Qaeda and radical Islam “in our collective rear-view mirrors.” It was also 20 years ago that Senator Daniel Moynihan warned of the dangers of “defining deviancy down.” Today, our strategy against al-Qaeda is to win by defining victory down, and focusing only on the damage we do to its so-called core. That wrongly elevates drone strikes from a tool into a strategy, ignores the recruiting appeal of the Islamist ideology that is at the heart of the danger posed by al-Qaeda, and neglects the fact that we are not very good at anticipating how al-Qaeda’s franchises and allies will grow, cooperate, and spread. Last year, very few analysts worried about Islamist militants in the Maghreb; today, they control half a country.

Perhaps most troubling is the fact that, as Jonathan points out, “here in the U.S., cases of home-grown Islamist terror continue to crop up.” My colleague Jessica Zuckerman has chronicled the 54 terrorist plots against domestic targets that have been thwarted since 9/11. The latest featured a naturalized U.S. citizen born in Pakistan, Raees Alam Qazi, and his older brother. It “adds to the large number of terrorist attacks that could be considered to be homegrown.” It is hard to believe that a country which has thwarted about a plot every other month for over a decade, watched the Muslim Brotherhood take over Egypt, and seen an anniversary attack on its consulate in Benghazi could become complacent. It is even harder to ignore the political savvy of the Obama administration and the appeal of its fantasy that the war is over.

Yesterday, Britain’s Henry Jackson Society entered the field with a massive publication that provides hard data on the scope of al-Qaeda’s threat to the U.S. In Al-Qaeda in the United States: A Complete Analysis of Terrorist Offenses, Robin Simcox and Emily Dyer do for the U.S. what Simcox and colleagues did in 2010 for Britain: provide a comprehensive overview of those who have carried out, or sought to carry out, terrorist attacks on the U.S. As General Michael Hayden says in his forward, it is “a remarkable work … not just for its diligence but also for its sense of a shared future between the people of the United States and Great Britain.” The analysis Simcox and Dyer provide confirms Jonathan’s fears: U.S. terrorists are young and male (which is no surprise), geographically diverse, well-educated, employed, and overwhelmingly U.S. residents. A quarter were converts to Islam, a share that rose to half of the U.S. born offenders.

It is hard, looking at this remarkable report, to find much evidence for the thesis that economic deprivation produces terrorists: 60 percent of the individuals that Simcox and Dyer profile had received a college education. Ideology matters more, though explaining why an individual gravitates to an ideology is the toughest question a biographer can ask of a subject. But what Simcox and Dyer make overwhelmingly clear is that the al-Qaeda threat–and their report is only the criminal tip of the ideological iceberg–is persistent, widespread, and highly-motivated. We have done an excellent job of playing the role of the hockey goaltender, and have blocked shot after shot. But there are many more shots to come, and sooner or later the Obama administration’s ostrich strategy is going to be exposed as a dangerous mistake.

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Donna Brazile Discovers the Personal Cost of Obamacare

This morning, liberal political strategist and CNN contributor Donna Brazile posted an update to Twitter that has had conservatives laughing for hours. She complained:

The possibility that a major reform of health care might have had something to do with Brazile’s suddenly increased premiums was outside the realm of possibility. After hours of conservative lampooning, Brazile followed up on her tweet:

This morning, liberal political strategist and CNN contributor Donna Brazile posted an update to Twitter that has had conservatives laughing for hours. She complained:

The possibility that a major reform of health care might have had something to do with Brazile’s suddenly increased premiums was outside the realm of possibility. After hours of conservative lampooning, Brazile followed up on her tweet:

Without realizing it, Brazile has further vindicated conservative critics of the president’s signature legislation with this clarification. In January Avik Roy, a healthcare expert at Forbes, explained how and why Obamacare would drive up out-of-pocket premium costs, citing the industry’s own experts:

Obamacare’s supporters frequently complain about the usage of the term “Obamacare,” arguing that the “Affordable Care Act” is a more objective, neutral way to describe our new health law. But neutral observers are finding that the President’s health law will make health insurance less affordable.

Despite Brazile’s denials that the cost increase had anything to do with Obamacare, the mere fact that there was an increase at all shows the flawed planning and execution of the bill called the “Affordable Care Act” which she, just hours earlier, praised as a cause she was proud to have fought for. For Brazile, providing access to all was important. However, as inconvenient as it might be, Brazile’s higher premiums are the price to pay for this flawed legislation, which has priced an untold number of Americans out of the market. Not that Brazile or any other liberals will come to the realization, but this is what happens when a company is forced to provide products like breast pumps and birth control for free. There’s no such thing as a free lunch, and today Donna Brazile got a look at the bill.

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Hagel Supporters Suddenly Singing Different Tune

On New Year’s Eve, with Republicans and Democrats negotiating an eleventh-hour deal to avert the so-called fiscal cliff, President Obama did something strange. He called a press conference, styled as a campaign event, to mock and taunt the Republicans whose votes were still needed on the legislation. Conservatives weren’t happy, and noted that this behavior would not exactly encourage the GOP to vote for the bill. But liberals in the press openly sneered at this concept. Would Republicans really act against their better judgment because Obama was mean to them?

No, they would not. Yet strangely liberals in the press are now taking the other side of that argument. Joshua Hersh reports today that, in retaliation for criticizing Chuck Hagel on Israel and Iran, the new defense secretary may hold a grudge and seek revenge on Israel and those opposed to the Iranian nuclear weapons program:

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On New Year’s Eve, with Republicans and Democrats negotiating an eleventh-hour deal to avert the so-called fiscal cliff, President Obama did something strange. He called a press conference, styled as a campaign event, to mock and taunt the Republicans whose votes were still needed on the legislation. Conservatives weren’t happy, and noted that this behavior would not exactly encourage the GOP to vote for the bill. But liberals in the press openly sneered at this concept. Would Republicans really act against their better judgment because Obama was mean to them?

No, they would not. Yet strangely liberals in the press are now taking the other side of that argument. Joshua Hersh reports today that, in retaliation for criticizing Chuck Hagel on Israel and Iran, the new defense secretary may hold a grudge and seek revenge on Israel and those opposed to the Iranian nuclear weapons program:

Indeed, in the days following his confirmation, Hagel has to return to Capitol Hill to help hash out a deal on a budget sequester that would impose massive cuts across the board to the Pentagon. Then he will negotiate with lawmakers over a more restrained budget trim that could affect military spending and jobs in states represented by his chief opponents on the Hill.

All the while, the issues that were elevated above all others by his chief antagonists — the ones that drove the most vociferous and inventive opposition to his confirmation — will sit firmly in the forefront of his docket: the military’s relationship with Israel, and America’s belligerence toward Iran….

An alternative view is that the fight only diluted the hardline pro-Israel position on military aid and Iran by making it partisan, and that Hagel, having won, now feels empowered by the hardliners’ failure to stop him.

This, of course, turns the argument in Hagel’s favor on its head. Those backing Hagel couldn’t seriously argue that he is competent or well-versed in the facts–after all, Hagel himself admitted he wasn’t knowledgeable and pledged to try his best not to let his stunning incompetence get in the way of those actually making policy. The best they could do was argue Hagel’s views wouldn’t matter.

That, however, was nothing compared to J Street’s response, expressed by Dylan Williams to Hersh. The J Street position is that pro-Israel voices should quiet down and realize just how… uncool it is to be pro-Israel:

“Celebrating this as a wedge issue is about the worst possible outcome from the point of view of the vast majority of the pro-Israel community,” said Dylan Williams, the director of government affairs for J Street, a liberal pro-Israel group that supported Hagel’s nomination. “When you have SNL, the Daily Show, Colbert mocking the extent to which conservative members of Congress were falling over themselves to demonstrate the most hawkish positions on Israel, that’s something that the true pro-Israel community does not appreciate, and which we have every reason to believe the government of Israel itself does not appreciate.”

I’m sure Williams is right that the government of Israel doesn’t appreciate being mocked by America’s liberal popular culture. But is Jon Stewart really the best barometer on this? Here’s Stewart interviewing David Gregory in 2009, and objecting to the fact that Gregory brings no one on his show to defend Hamas:

Stewart: This always surprises me. Why can’t any American politician criticize Israel in any way for their behavior? I’m watching these shows, and there’s not one person going “Jeez, it’s kind of complex. Yeah, Hamas is a bad actor, they shouldn’t be throwing missiles, but gosh, you know, the treatment of the Palestinian people for the past 50 years, not so nice either.” (Wild applause.) It just seems like it’s a more complicated situation than is portrayed.

Gregory: Well, but it’s complicated in terms of the whole situation, remains complicated. In this particular instance, there’s very little love for Hamas–not in America, not in Arab capitals, Abu Mazen, who leads Fatah on the West Bank, has criticized Hamas. There isn’t a lot of admiration for Hamas’s tactics, or even their strategic vision.

And we can all be happy for that, I think, since Hamas’s tactics are terroristic and their strategic vision is genocide. Does Williams really think that the government of Israel watches programs like that and thinks for a second that pro-Israel Republicans are the problem? Is the lack of moral equivalence between Israel and Hamas a bad thing? Because in Jon Stewart’s opinion, it is.

What’s really going on here? It can’t really be that Williams longs for the day when Hamas gets equal American airtime. And the left can’t really believe that Hagel is a true friend of Israel but will seek to punish the Jewish state as defense secretary because he didn’t like the way Ted Cruz spoke to him one time. The more likely answer is that liberals are suddenly worried that Hagel’s critics were right all along.

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Iranian Flotilla to Head to China

It was inevitable that in an era when John Kerry is the secretary of state and the State Department basically runs the Pentagon, America’s adversaries would begin to test U.S. resolve. Hence, the latest news out of Iran should not surprise:

Navy Commander Rear Admiral Habibollah Sayyari said Tuesday that Iranian flotilla of warships entered the Pacific Ocean after passing through the Malaga region, one of the most important waterways around the world. On the sidelines of a national ceremony, Sayyari told IRNA that the Iranian flotilla is to be berthed at a Chinese port with the objective of strengthening friendly relations between Tehran and Beijing.

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It was inevitable that in an era when John Kerry is the secretary of state and the State Department basically runs the Pentagon, America’s adversaries would begin to test U.S. resolve. Hence, the latest news out of Iran should not surprise:

Navy Commander Rear Admiral Habibollah Sayyari said Tuesday that Iranian flotilla of warships entered the Pacific Ocean after passing through the Malaga region, one of the most important waterways around the world. On the sidelines of a national ceremony, Sayyari told IRNA that the Iranian flotilla is to be berthed at a Chinese port with the objective of strengthening friendly relations between Tehran and Beijing.

Admiral James Lyons, commander of U.S. Pacific Command during the Carter administration, has noted wryly that he had more ships under his command in the Pacific Ocean at the time than we now do in the entire U.S. Navy. It’s hard to take seriously the American willingness to project power when President Obama, as veteran reporter Bob Woodward suggests, appears to lack seriousness about U.S. national security. Alas, when he spoke of a pivot toward Asia, Obama appears not to have been talking about the United States. But, just as with the China-North Korea axis, American interests will pay a high price.

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The European Union’s Misplaced Priorities

In December, I wrote that despite all the misunderstanding and misinformation in the press about Israel’s construction plans for the area around Jerusalem, specifically the E-1 corridor, there was one very illuminating aspect to the controversy. The reaction by Western European leaders and diplomats to the Israeli government’s restatement of the official policy of every Israeli government–right, left, and center–exposed a fault line in EU-Israel relations. The Israeli consensus crosses the EU’s “red line,” and therefore the two are unlikely to find common ground in the peace process.

So it wasn’t much of a surprise to read in the Times of Israel that a new EU report recommends the European Union more actively boycott and sanction Israeli products and companies on the other side of the Green Line. Europe’s growing hostility to Israel and its vast ignorance of Mideast geopolitics are frustrating all by themselves, but a thorough report in the Washington Post today on Hezbollah’s operations in Europe put the EU’s manifest lack of seriousness in stark relief. First, the Times of Israel reports:

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In December, I wrote that despite all the misunderstanding and misinformation in the press about Israel’s construction plans for the area around Jerusalem, specifically the E-1 corridor, there was one very illuminating aspect to the controversy. The reaction by Western European leaders and diplomats to the Israeli government’s restatement of the official policy of every Israeli government–right, left, and center–exposed a fault line in EU-Israel relations. The Israeli consensus crosses the EU’s “red line,” and therefore the two are unlikely to find common ground in the peace process.

So it wasn’t much of a surprise to read in the Times of Israel that a new EU report recommends the European Union more actively boycott and sanction Israeli products and companies on the other side of the Green Line. Europe’s growing hostility to Israel and its vast ignorance of Mideast geopolitics are frustrating all by themselves, but a thorough report in the Washington Post today on Hezbollah’s operations in Europe put the EU’s manifest lack of seriousness in stark relief. First, the Times of Israel reports:

In a new report sent to Brussels and foreign ministries in 27 member states, the consuls general representing the EU in the Palestinian territories call on the EU to “prevent, discourage and raise awareness about problematic implications of financial transactions including foreign direct investments, from within the EU in support of settlement activities, infrastructure and services,” Haaretz reported Wednesday.

The EU’s office in Israel declined to directly comment on the leaked document, but diplomats representing EU member states told The Times of Israel on Wednesday that while the report’s language seemed strong, suggesting a call for active EU divestment from the settlements, it signified no actual change in the union’s policy. The 2012 Heads of Mission report, which will be discussed by policymakers in Brussels but is nonbinding, merely calls for stricter implementation of already existing EU legislation, according to a European diplomat.

Contrast the vigilance EU diplomats recommend be employed against Israeli companies with the EU’s continued, exasperating, and fundamentally indefensible reluctance to designate Hezbollah as a terrorist organization. The issue was brought to light again this month as Hezbollah was connected by authorities to last year’s terrorist attack in Bulgaria. Hezbollah has long been among the world’s most resilient and dangerous terrorist organizations, and declaring it as such–as the U.S. and Israel have–would greatly advance security efforts on the continent and would enable increased diligence in tracking and preventing Hezbollah’s funding and communications.

As Joby Warrick writes in the Post, the case of a Hezbollah operative in Cyprus has enabled officials and the public to widen the scope of the terrorist group’s surveillance operations in Europe. And officials are well aware of the implications:

Now, seven months after that attack, new details emerging in Yaakoub’s case are providing chilling insights into what investigators describe as a far broader effort by the Lebanon-based militant group to lay the groundwork for killing Israeli citizens and perhaps others in multiple countries.

Some details have come from Yaakoub himself, who made his first public appearance last week during his trial in Cyprus. But a much fuller account comes from legal documents summarizing the Swedish man’s statements to police during weeks of questioning last summer and obtained by The Washington Post.

The evidence echoes discoveries by investigators in Bulgaria and prosecutors in Thailand, India, Azerbaijan, Kenya and other countries hit by a wave of attempted assassinations and bombings linked to Hezbollah or its chief sponsor, Iran. U.S. officials characterize the plots as part of a shadow war directed by Iran in part to retaliate for Western efforts to derail Iran’s nuclear program. Evidence uncovered by investigators portrays a professional, well-funded effort by Hezbollah to recruit, train and position European-based operatives for what U.S. analysts describe as preparations for future terrorist operations.

It’s important to put the revelations about Hezbollah–which, we can imagine, are not revelations to EU law enforcement and intelligence officials–in the larger context of Hezbollah’s patron, Iran. As Warrick notes, American officials are getting impatient with their European counterparts’ unwillingness to take necessary action against Hezbollah because time is of the essence. The U.S. is working to prevent the Iranians from acquiring nuclear capability, and one element of that has been the stepped-up shadow war between Iran and the West.

In the world of asymmetric warfare, eliminating terrorist safe havens is crucial–as we attempted to do in Afghanistan. But it’s even more important to do so in Europe, both because it’s easier to target Americans and Jews–Iran’s favorite victims–in Europe, where both are far more numerous than in, say, Central Asia or North Africa, and because giving them a safe haven in the West makes it easier to target other Western states. Thus, the EU’s incredibly dangerous actions don’t exist in a vacuum. It’s time for European leaders to stop pretending otherwise.

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Will Democrats Have Their Own Tea Party?

With the help of a massive campaign contribution by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, gun control advocate Robin Kelly won the Democratic nomination in the race to succeed Jesse Jackson Jr. The result is reason for Bloomberg to crow, but any attempt to interpret the victory of a liberal candidate in an Illinois Democratic congressional primary as a harbinger of a shift in American politics is obviously a stretch. The infusion of more than $2 million into a contest to win what amounts to an urban rotten borough was simply a matter of cash and carry. The fact that Kelly’s opponent once got an “A” rating from the National Rifle Association was motivation enough for Bloomberg to get involved–but even if he hadn’t stepped in, no one who hopes to represent that district was going to be anything but liberal.

As Seth wrote yesterday, figuring out exactly what Bloomberg is up to with his donations is no easy task. But whatever direction the mayor takes, the example of his decisive intervention in a primary battle could turn out to be more influential than it might seem on the surface. Just as conservatives and Tea Party activists have helped shift the Republican Party to the right with threats of primaries funded by outside activists with deep pockets, what Bloomberg has done is to illustrate that liberals can play the same game with similarly problematic consequences for the Democratic Party.

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With the help of a massive campaign contribution by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, gun control advocate Robin Kelly won the Democratic nomination in the race to succeed Jesse Jackson Jr. The result is reason for Bloomberg to crow, but any attempt to interpret the victory of a liberal candidate in an Illinois Democratic congressional primary as a harbinger of a shift in American politics is obviously a stretch. The infusion of more than $2 million into a contest to win what amounts to an urban rotten borough was simply a matter of cash and carry. The fact that Kelly’s opponent once got an “A” rating from the National Rifle Association was motivation enough for Bloomberg to get involved–but even if he hadn’t stepped in, no one who hopes to represent that district was going to be anything but liberal.

As Seth wrote yesterday, figuring out exactly what Bloomberg is up to with his donations is no easy task. But whatever direction the mayor takes, the example of his decisive intervention in a primary battle could turn out to be more influential than it might seem on the surface. Just as conservatives and Tea Party activists have helped shift the Republican Party to the right with threats of primaries funded by outside activists with deep pockets, what Bloomberg has done is to illustrate that liberals can play the same game with similarly problematic consequences for the Democratic Party.

We’ve spent much of the months since November listening to an endless loop of pundits telling the public that the problem with the Republican Party is that conservatives hijacked it. Republicans who worry about Democrats permanently capturing the center, as well as liberals who don’t wish the party well, have joined in lamenting the influence of conservative donors and activist groups who have financed primary challenges to moderate GOP incumbents. The result is that several winnable seats have been lost by Republicans because of the primary victories of people like Christine O’Donnell and Todd Akin. Tea Partiers can answer, with justice, that establishment Republicans were beaten just as soundly as the right-wingers. But it is hard to argue with those who point out that at times the activists have prioritized ideology over electoral sense.

Democrats have looked on at this growing civil war on the right with smug satisfaction. The more the Club for Growth and other conservatives seek to target moderates while Karl Rove and his crowd counterattack, the better they like it. The prospect of the GOP being torn apart by the two factions is fueling Democratic optimism about the 2014 midterms. However, Bloomberg’s decision to turn the Jackson seat into a primary on gun legislation is a sign that Democrats are just as vulnerable to being led down the path of internecine combat as Republicans.

In the past few election cycles, the Democrats have shown greater unity than at perhaps at time in their recent history. They won back control of Congress in 2006 specifically by recruiting moderates to run in the South and the West where traditional liberals would have no chance. That’s left them with seats to defend next year in red states in which their priority must be to hew to the political center rather than to pander to their party’s base.

But if liberal activists are going to really prioritize their campaign for gun control, the result may well be that red-state Democrats who have voted with the NRA are going to be facing some well-funded primary challenges.

The reason why the president’s gun control legislation, including an assault weapons ban, has no chance even in the Democrat-controlled Senate is that many in the majority don’t wish to vote on any bill that will put them out of step with their state’s voters. That means that any trend toward primary challenges to pro-gun Democrats will not just divide their party, but hurt their chances of holding onto the seats that have enabled them to be in charge of the upper body and to gain ground in the House.

An obsession with political purity is not the sole preserve of the right. Should other liberal donors follow Bloomberg’s example and start investing in efforts to purge pro-gun Democrats, they may well be as successful in determining their party’s nominees as he was in Chicago. But when that experiment is applied to seats in competitive districts, the result will be just as disastrous for Democrats as some of the Tea Party’s victories have been for Republicans. Far from welcoming Bloomberg’s deep pockets and obsession with gun control, liberals should realize that he is showing the way toward a more Republican future.

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Obama Demagoguery Supplemented by a Touch of Cruelty

In the Great Sequestration Debate, here’s what we know: (a) The president has paternity of an idea he now characterizes as a brutal and senseless assault on America. (b) The president and his then-chief of staff, Jack Lew, misled the public about their role in giving birth to the sequester idea. (c) House Republicans have twice passed legislation to avoid the sequester cuts with carefully targeted ones, but Senate Democrats refused to act. (d) Mr. Obama has brushed off a Republican plan to give him flexibility to allocate the $85 billion in spending cuts, which makes no sense if the president wants to replace reckless cuts with responsible ones. 

Whatever one thinks about the merits of cutting $85 billion out of an almost $3.6 trillion budget, the effort to portray the cuts as ushering in days of tribulation, distress and anguish, of trouble and ruin, of darkness and gloom is–how to put this?–insane.

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In the Great Sequestration Debate, here’s what we know: (a) The president has paternity of an idea he now characterizes as a brutal and senseless assault on America. (b) The president and his then-chief of staff, Jack Lew, misled the public about their role in giving birth to the sequester idea. (c) House Republicans have twice passed legislation to avoid the sequester cuts with carefully targeted ones, but Senate Democrats refused to act. (d) Mr. Obama has brushed off a Republican plan to give him flexibility to allocate the $85 billion in spending cuts, which makes no sense if the president wants to replace reckless cuts with responsible ones. 

Whatever one thinks about the merits of cutting $85 billion out of an almost $3.6 trillion budget, the effort to portray the cuts as ushering in days of tribulation, distress and anguish, of trouble and ruin, of darkness and gloom is–how to put this?–insane.

If the sequester cuts go into effect, domestic agencies would have to cut 5 percent from their budgets after having received a 17-percent increase during the president’s first term (not counting the more than a quarter-of-a-trillion stimulus bonus). And our budget this fiscal year would still be larger (by some $15 billion) than it was in the last fiscal year.

But what makes this particular episode somewhat different than past ones is that Mr. Obama has supplemented his demagoguery with a touch of cruelty. That is, he has made it clear that he wants to inflict as much harm as possible on Americans in order to make the cuts live up to the hype. The president’s greatest fear is that the sequester cuts will kick in and life will go on. So he’s threatening to pass over wasteful programs in order to target more essential ones. 

Emily Holubowich–a Washington health-care lobbyist who leads a coalition of 3,000 nonprofit groups fighting the cuts–gave away the game in her comments to the Washington Post. “The good news is, the world doesn’t end March 2. The bad news is, the world doesn’t end March 2,” Ms. Holubowich said. “The worst-case scenario for us is the sequester hits and nothing bad really happens. And Republicans say: See, that wasn’t so bad” (h/t Charles Krauthammer).

So we have the president determined to administer as much pain as he can on Americans even as he excoriates Republicans for their “meat-cleaver approach” that will “eviscerate” key programs.

It is really quite remarkable, this concoction of willful deceptions, hyperbole, demagoguery, mismanagement, and deliberate harm. And to think that a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, Barack Obama promised to put an end to cynicism. Instead he has added massively to it. The harm he is doing to our political culture is very nearly incalculable.

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GOP Shouldn’t Fear Standing Up to Obama

With the sequester all but certain to go into effect at the end of the month, the only suspense associated with the topic is whether the Democratic expectation that the public will blame it all on the Republicans will be vindicated in the coming weeks. So far, polls show them to be largely correct, and should the administration’s predictions of post-sequester doom and gloom come true it may not be possible for the GOP to resist the pressure to give in to the president’s demands for more tax increases.

This belief in Republican defeat on the sequester is based in part on the experience of the fiscal cliff and the debt ceiling deadlines, when the House majority believed it had no choice but to fold or face the wrath of an outraged nation. It may be that sequester-related chaos at the airports and the border–to cite two particular departments whose secretaries took to the airwaves in recent days to play Chicken Little–will be enough to stamped the GOP again. Of course, many Republicans are also rightly worried about the impact of the draconian across-the-board cuts on national defense. But integral to the idea that the party give in is the thesis that this confrontation will lead inevitably to victory for the Democrats in the 2014 midterms. But as Stu Rothenberg points out in Roll Call, this is a rather weak argument for those urging Republican sequester surrender.

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With the sequester all but certain to go into effect at the end of the month, the only suspense associated with the topic is whether the Democratic expectation that the public will blame it all on the Republicans will be vindicated in the coming weeks. So far, polls show them to be largely correct, and should the administration’s predictions of post-sequester doom and gloom come true it may not be possible for the GOP to resist the pressure to give in to the president’s demands for more tax increases.

This belief in Republican defeat on the sequester is based in part on the experience of the fiscal cliff and the debt ceiling deadlines, when the House majority believed it had no choice but to fold or face the wrath of an outraged nation. It may be that sequester-related chaos at the airports and the border–to cite two particular departments whose secretaries took to the airwaves in recent days to play Chicken Little–will be enough to stamped the GOP again. Of course, many Republicans are also rightly worried about the impact of the draconian across-the-board cuts on national defense. But integral to the idea that the party give in is the thesis that this confrontation will lead inevitably to victory for the Democrats in the 2014 midterms. But as Stu Rothenberg points out in Roll Call, this is a rather weak argument for those urging Republican sequester surrender.

Let’s concede that the sequester is a terrible idea (thank you Obama White House) and the consequences will be awful. The GOP, like the Democrats, was wrong to agree to it in order to get out of the 2011 debt ceiling impasse and they are paying a price for that mistake. But Republicans are right not to allow themselves to be bullied into submission only weeks after being bludgeoned into voting for tax increases with the idea that future deals would be about budget cuts, not more revenue being fed to the federal leviathan. Since President Obama has no credibility when it comes to promises about the entitlement reform that the country so desperately needs, or about making tough choices to reduce expenditures, GOP resistance to his pressure is justified.

But even if this means some bad poll numbers and public pressure, there is no reason to believe that this guarantees anything close to a Democratic takeover of the House next year.

First of all, whatever happens in the coming weeks isn’t likely to seriously impact what happens in November 2014. Twenty months is a lifetime in politics, and there’s no assurance that what seems like a matter of life and death today will motivate voters or even affect turnout then.

Like Rothenberg, I don’t think the GOP can count on historical trends, which almost always show the party that controls the White House losing seats in the midterms, bailing out House Speaker John Boehner and company, but there is also no clear path for the Democrats to give back the gavel to Nancy Pelosi. Partly, this is because there just aren’t many swing seats that present a reasonable hope for the Democrats. Having won almost every seat that was within reach last year, it’s hard to see how they better that showing by 17 seats in the next go-round.

Democrats are arguing that last year’s presidential election decided the question of which party was right on taxes and spending. But House Republicans can claim with justice that they were re-elected too, and their voters aren’t any more interested in increasing the size of government via more taxes and the president’s laundry list of new entitlements and programs to fund than they were a year ago.

The coming weeks may be rough sledding for Republicans, but any talk of the impact of the sequester on 2014 is, at best, premature. If they are inclined to stand their ground, as I think they should, the midterms ought not influence that decision. 

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Anti-Semitism Is Still Not a Joking Matter

Viewers of this year’s Oscars ceremony who were unfamiliar with the work of Seth MacFarlane were probably shocked or even offended by some of the host’s irreverent and off-color attempts at humor. In particular, many Jews were outraged by the scripted comedy routine in which the animated teddy bear “Ted” (whose voice is spoken by MacFarlane) told actor Mark Wahlberg that “if you want to work in this town” you had to be Jewish. The bear went on to say that his claim of Jewish identity and contributions to Israel might earn him a private plane after the next “secret synagogue” meeting. These lines earned MacFarlane a stiff rebuke from the Anti-Defamation League, which inveighed against the use of age-old anti-Jewish stereotypes even if the intent was purely humorous.

But the problem with any such complaint, even one as measured as that of the ADL, is that in contemporary American popular culture ethnic and religious slurs, such as those that are spewed on MacFarlane’s long-running animated show “Family Guy,” are par for the course. Anyone who watches that show knows that its author will make fun of any individual or group in pursuit of a cheap or even clever jibe. The whole point of “Family Guy” is to push beyond every conceivable boundary in an effort to lay all our foibles, prejudices and even sacred beliefs bare in order to laugh at them. Any outrage directed at him, no matter how egregious his jokes might be, merely serves his purpose. Remonstrating with MacFarlane about his insensitivity and bad taste just makes the complainer sound like a whiny fool whose feathers ought to be ruffled.

Thus, the ADL will probably garner more brickbats than applause for criticizing the routine. But the ADL nevertheless had a point about the audience for the show that goes to the heart of the problem.

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Viewers of this year’s Oscars ceremony who were unfamiliar with the work of Seth MacFarlane were probably shocked or even offended by some of the host’s irreverent and off-color attempts at humor. In particular, many Jews were outraged by the scripted comedy routine in which the animated teddy bear “Ted” (whose voice is spoken by MacFarlane) told actor Mark Wahlberg that “if you want to work in this town” you had to be Jewish. The bear went on to say that his claim of Jewish identity and contributions to Israel might earn him a private plane after the next “secret synagogue” meeting. These lines earned MacFarlane a stiff rebuke from the Anti-Defamation League, which inveighed against the use of age-old anti-Jewish stereotypes even if the intent was purely humorous.

But the problem with any such complaint, even one as measured as that of the ADL, is that in contemporary American popular culture ethnic and religious slurs, such as those that are spewed on MacFarlane’s long-running animated show “Family Guy,” are par for the course. Anyone who watches that show knows that its author will make fun of any individual or group in pursuit of a cheap or even clever jibe. The whole point of “Family Guy” is to push beyond every conceivable boundary in an effort to lay all our foibles, prejudices and even sacred beliefs bare in order to laugh at them. Any outrage directed at him, no matter how egregious his jokes might be, merely serves his purpose. Remonstrating with MacFarlane about his insensitivity and bad taste just makes the complainer sound like a whiny fool whose feathers ought to be ruffled.

Thus, the ADL will probably garner more brickbats than applause for criticizing the routine. But the ADL nevertheless had a point about the audience for the show that goes to the heart of the problem.

The group acknowledged that “insiders at the Oscars” knew the joke “should not be taken seriously.” Many viewers would point out that the definition of “insiders” should be expanded to mean anyone in the television audience who was familiar with the popular comedian’s work. That means most Americans got the joke and realized it was not to be taken any more seriously than his song about which actresses had exposed their breasts in their movies.

It may be hard for us to accept the idea that nasty stereotypes such as those uttered by “Ted” are just jokes. In fact, they aren’t–and can help spread the lethal virus of anti-Semitism. However, in the context of an America in which the barriers to Jewish achievement that were once both widespread and impenetrable are gone, it might be possible to treat the old “Jews control Hollywood” meme as merely humor when performed in such a manner as to lampoon hate.

But the problem here is that the Oscars show is viewed by more than a billion people around the world. While the abuse hurled at Jews and other groups in a “Family Guy” episode isn’t worth complaining about, the same thing must be understood differently when placed in the context of international opinion.

As the U.S. State Department noted last year in its annual report, anti-Semitism is on the rise around the globe. Crude and hateful traditional stereotypes about Jews mixed with anti-Israel propaganda are gaining more of an audience throughout the globe. Jew-hatred has become a principle export of the Arab and Muslim world, and Europe is seeing a revival of anti-Semitism that has not been seen on such a scale since the Nazi era. Just as they were once singled out for dissenting from the views of the majority about religion, now the Jewish people are once again marked for hatred and violence because of the belief that Israel has no right to exist or to defend itself.

To date, these offensive views are confined to the fever swamps of the far right and the far left in America, though they are gaining a foothold on college campuses with the BDS movement that seeks the destruction of Israel.

But for those inclined to tell the ADL to get a life, it’s important to remember that one of the most-watched television mini-series broadcast in the Muslim world in recent years was based on the premise that The Protocols of the Elders of Zion was real and not an anti-Semitic forgery, and that anticipation is keen for another such show in production that will celebrate a seventh-century genocide of Jews.

That is why MacFarlane’s equal opportunity offender defense of his use of anti-Semitic stereotypes falls flat. Perhaps in a more perfect world, in which such hatreds were just heard on the margins of society, there might really be nothing wrong with poking at these old wounds with the comedian’s sharp stick. But in one where Jew-hatred is the engine driving an international movement whose goal is the elimination of the one Jewish state in the world and the slaughter of its people, the joke doesn’t seem quite so funny.

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Bloomberg’s Balancing Act

Yesterday, Jonathan mentioned the money-in-politics hypocrisy of President Obama and his supporters on the left, as the president announced ramped-up efforts to sell access to the White House. The other side of the left’s hypocrisy on the evils of buying political influence concerns the spending of “outside money” on congressional and gubernatorial elections. Yet while the Koch brothers are subjected to all manner of threats and verbal abuse for taking part in the political process, the same cannot be said of New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s decision to spend millions on individual races to support anti-gun rights politicians, such as in the Democratic primary being held today to replace Jesse Jackson Jr.

As expected, Bloomberg’s target, Debbie Halvorson, isn’t happy about the mayor’s money tour and Bloomberg’s attempts to make an example of her today. After Bloomberg’s check-signing spree occasioned some changes in the composition of the race, Halvorson accused Bloomberg of trying to buy the election. Perish the thought, responded Bloomberg: “I’m part of the public. I happen to have some money, and that’s what I’m going to do with my money — try to get us some sensible gun laws.” Bloomberg is, of course, absolutely right that he’s doing nothing wrong by involving himself in the political process on behalf of candidates and causes he supports. But the most interesting aspect of this story may be that Bloomberg is less dedicated to being a single-issue one-man super-PAC than he seems at first blush.

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Yesterday, Jonathan mentioned the money-in-politics hypocrisy of President Obama and his supporters on the left, as the president announced ramped-up efforts to sell access to the White House. The other side of the left’s hypocrisy on the evils of buying political influence concerns the spending of “outside money” on congressional and gubernatorial elections. Yet while the Koch brothers are subjected to all manner of threats and verbal abuse for taking part in the political process, the same cannot be said of New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s decision to spend millions on individual races to support anti-gun rights politicians, such as in the Democratic primary being held today to replace Jesse Jackson Jr.

As expected, Bloomberg’s target, Debbie Halvorson, isn’t happy about the mayor’s money tour and Bloomberg’s attempts to make an example of her today. After Bloomberg’s check-signing spree occasioned some changes in the composition of the race, Halvorson accused Bloomberg of trying to buy the election. Perish the thought, responded Bloomberg: “I’m part of the public. I happen to have some money, and that’s what I’m going to do with my money — try to get us some sensible gun laws.” Bloomberg is, of course, absolutely right that he’s doing nothing wrong by involving himself in the political process on behalf of candidates and causes he supports. But the most interesting aspect of this story may be that Bloomberg is less dedicated to being a single-issue one-man super-PAC than he seems at first blush.

In a perceptive and fascinating piece in Capital New York, Reid Pillifant tells the story of Rep. Elizabeth Esty, “a pro-gun control Democrat who represents Newtown, Conn. She’s a member of the Congressional Gun Violence Prevention Task Force, and a proud advocate for tougher gun control laws, including a robust new version of the federal assault weapons ban.” Despite all that, Bloomberg spent more than $1 million to help defeat her.

That’s because, as Pillifant shows, Bloomberg is caught between his sense of mission on two causes that often conflict: his “no labels” self-styled centrism and his anti-gun agenda. Though Bloomberg’s strategy is still in its early stages, he appears to favor his Save the Moderates campaign if and when he is forced to choose:

Case in point, in a district that was to take on enormous symbolic importance on the gun issue because of Sandy Hook: Bloomberg’s Independence USA PAC spent $1.1 million to back Republican Andrew Roraback against Esty, with television ads touting Roraback as a “rare moderate” based on non-gun issues including abortion rights, campaign finance reform, and environmental protections.

The ad’s only mention of guns was a quote from newspaper story saying Roraback supports “better enforcement of existing gun laws,” but the narrator skipped over the word “existing.” And the ad didn’t cite the next line from the same story, when Roraback told the Record-Journal, shortly after the movie theater shooting in Aurora, Colorado: “I don’t think that more gun control is the answer.”

Around the same time, the mayor hosted a fund-raiser for Senator Scott Brown of Massachusetts, even though Brown was the more gun-friendly candidate in his race against Elizabeth Warren.

And, in Illinois, Bloomberg backed Robert Dold, a moderate Republican who touted his work with Bloomberg to close the gun-show loophole, against a Democratic opponent who was more comprehensively for gun control.

This will be interesting to watch because it’s a tacit admission that Bloomberg’s political passions aren’t really all that moderate. Whether it’s gun control, global warming, comically obsessive regulation or nanny-state, paternalistic experiments in social engineering, Bloomberg gets quite animated over causes that don’t quite win over the center–and often force him to either abandon those causes or run against the centrist candidates. (Just how animated does Bloomberg get over these issues? Last year, he suggested that the NYPD should perhaps go on strike and give the city a taste of punitive anarchism until politicians elsewhere pass gun control legislation to the mayor’s liking.)

As Politico reported in January, the perceived centrism is actually very important to the massive lobbying campaign he has begun. He explained to Politico that he uses his perch as mayor of New York to do the things that really interest him, and his willingness to back politicians of both parties gives him credibility with a wide swathe of the American body politic:

“The mayor of the city of New York gets great visibility,” Bloomberg said. “Being sort of nonpartisan gives you an access to both sides. Being willing to do fundraisers and give money is not without its benefits. I can’t tell you that they all jump when I call, but they do take the call. And you can go and give them a presentation and make your case. And then some I support because I respect them as human beings even though I don’t agree with them at all.”

That “sort of” modifying his description of himself as “nonpartisan” is crucial to understanding the dynamic at play in the Illinois race today, and hints at the challenges Bloomberg will face in supporting moderate politicians but not moderate policies.

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CPAC Adds Christie to Its “No” List

CPAC, the Conservative Political Action Conference, has been making news with its proposed agenda and sponsors list for its upcoming conference next month. Unfortunately for the American Conservative Union (ACU), the group that organizes CPAC, the news has been all about who isn’t invited to the conference–namely the gay conservative group GOProud and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. In both instances it appears that the group is trying to set the parameters for which groups and individuals are welcome in the conservative movement, and which should be excluded.

The GOProud ban is nothing new for CPAC, as this is the second straight year that the group has been prohibited from participating in the conference as sponsors. In 2010 and 2011 GOProud were co-sponsors, but after a dust-up between ACU and other groups with more high level sponsorships, GOProud was dropped from any and all official CPAC events. National Review‘s Dan Foster has a great post arguing the group should be welcomed to the conference and, more broadly, into the movement. While Foster’s points are all well argued and valid, I would argue they are somewhat unnecessary. One conference’s decision has no bearing on GOProud’s membership in the conservative movement on the whole. GOProud’s exclusion from CPAC has given it an incredible amount of exposure and free publicity, raising its profile throughout the movement. 

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CPAC, the Conservative Political Action Conference, has been making news with its proposed agenda and sponsors list for its upcoming conference next month. Unfortunately for the American Conservative Union (ACU), the group that organizes CPAC, the news has been all about who isn’t invited to the conference–namely the gay conservative group GOProud and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. In both instances it appears that the group is trying to set the parameters for which groups and individuals are welcome in the conservative movement, and which should be excluded.

The GOProud ban is nothing new for CPAC, as this is the second straight year that the group has been prohibited from participating in the conference as sponsors. In 2010 and 2011 GOProud were co-sponsors, but after a dust-up between ACU and other groups with more high level sponsorships, GOProud was dropped from any and all official CPAC events. National Review‘s Dan Foster has a great post arguing the group should be welcomed to the conference and, more broadly, into the movement. While Foster’s points are all well argued and valid, I would argue they are somewhat unnecessary. One conference’s decision has no bearing on GOProud’s membership in the conservative movement on the whole. GOProud’s exclusion from CPAC has given it an incredible amount of exposure and free publicity, raising its profile throughout the movement. 

The decision not to invite Christie, especially in light of his headlining CPAC Chicago as recently as last summer, seems to be a purposeful statement on what the ACU sees as Christie’s role in the movement after the governor’s high-profile work with President Obama following Superstorm Sandy. Conservatives have been wincing every time the governor has spoken lately, whether by comparing himself to his Democratic New York counterpart Andrew Cuomo, or buckling on the Obamacare Medicaid expansion. Conservatives have legitimate concerns with the governor, but there are also valuable contributions that a Republican governor of a state as blue as New Jersey could make–for example, with regard to his work on school choice and education reform, which have both been instrumental in his record high approval ratings. 

A year like this, in which the conservative movement debates its future in light of a stinging electoral loss, isn’t an appropriate time to  dismiss popular figures and shrink an already defeated movement. It is not up to the ACU or any other group to determine who can maintain their conservative credentials. While the ACU may be trying to marginalize Christie and GOProud, they may be marginalizing themselves instead. Conservative commentator S.E. Cupp announced today that she would not be attending CPAC this year over the GOProud flap after liberal MSNBC anchor Chris Hayes did the same, which some conservatives, including NRO’s Foster, begrudgingly cheered. Many other conservatives, while perhaps still attending and speaking, are coming to the conclusion that the ongoing conversation on conservatism’s future may not be taking place at CPAC this year. If that’s the case, the ACU only has itself to blame.

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Palestinian “Moderates” Rely on Violence

The firing of a single rocket from Gaza today is easy to dismiss as just an isolated incident unworthy of much notice. The rocket was fired at the city of Ashkelon, but fortunately landed in an open field and did not lead to the activation of the Iron Dome defense system. But the attack, which was the first missile launched from Gaza since the cease-fire that ended Operation Pillar of Defense last November, may tell us more about the violent intentions of the so-called moderates of the Palestinians than it does about the Hamas rulers of the strip.

As I noted on Sunday, the Palestinian Authority’s plans to launch a new intifada prior to President Obama’s visit to Israel isn’t exactly a secret. The recent outbreak of violent demonstrations in the West Bank isn’t so much a natural response to anything Israel has done as it is an orchestrated attempt to get the world to focus on Palestinian complaints. Thus it is not exactly a surprise to note that the group that claimed responsibility for today’s rocket wasn’t Hamas or any of its Islamist rivals but the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, which is part of PA leader Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah party.

The Al Aqsa group’s rocket launch is a reminder to foreign observers that their assumptions about the peaceful intent of Abbas and Fatah is based on willful ignorance and forgetfulness about the last time the PA decided to play the intifada game.

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The firing of a single rocket from Gaza today is easy to dismiss as just an isolated incident unworthy of much notice. The rocket was fired at the city of Ashkelon, but fortunately landed in an open field and did not lead to the activation of the Iron Dome defense system. But the attack, which was the first missile launched from Gaza since the cease-fire that ended Operation Pillar of Defense last November, may tell us more about the violent intentions of the so-called moderates of the Palestinians than it does about the Hamas rulers of the strip.

As I noted on Sunday, the Palestinian Authority’s plans to launch a new intifada prior to President Obama’s visit to Israel isn’t exactly a secret. The recent outbreak of violent demonstrations in the West Bank isn’t so much a natural response to anything Israel has done as it is an orchestrated attempt to get the world to focus on Palestinian complaints. Thus it is not exactly a surprise to note that the group that claimed responsibility for today’s rocket wasn’t Hamas or any of its Islamist rivals but the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, which is part of PA leader Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah party.

The Al Aqsa group’s rocket launch is a reminder to foreign observers that their assumptions about the peaceful intent of Abbas and Fatah is based on willful ignorance and forgetfulness about the last time the PA decided to play the intifada game.

The Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, after all, was created by Abbas’s predecessor, Yasir Arafat, in order to compete with Hamas. In the upside-down world of Palestinian politics, a group or a leader’s credibility is based on how many Jews it kills, not how much it can do to help the plight of their people. That’s why genuine moderates like PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, who is so well liked in the West, have virtually no constituency.

What may be happening now is, however, a reversal of roles as the PA attempts to bolster its support with violence while Hamas stands pat. Instead of Hamas using terrorism to upstage Fatah in the West Bank, what may be unfolding is a series of events in which it will be the alleged moderates–to whom Israel is being told to make concessions–looking to draw the Islamist rulers of Gaza into a new cycle of violence. The rocket firing was supposedly in retaliation for the death of a Palestinian demonstrator and must be seen in the context of an effort to provoke retaliation that will, they hope, galvanize international condemnation of Israel.

With the West Bank security fence making another campaign of Fatah-funded suicide bombings extremely difficult, and the Iron Dome system making missile attacks on Israel less of a threat, the Palestinians lack effective military options. But they do hope to create enough of a disturbance in order to make President Obama push Israel to do something to appease them. Yet since nothing–not even a settlement freeze–was enough to push Abbas to return to peace talks, there is very little reason for Obama to waste any of his political capital on a spat with Israel that he knows won’t advance the cause of peace.

The last intifada also started with what we were told was a spontaneous outbreak of popular protests, but which were actually instigated by Arafat and followed up with a murderous offensive sponsored by the PA. Fatah may think their interests are best served by heightening tensions with Israel and spilling some blood in order to gain attention. But if they were truly interested in peace or even independence, all they have to do is accept Prime Minister Netanyahu’s offer of peace talks. Until that happens, even an administration as friendly to their cause as that of President Obama is not likely to reward them for inciting violence.

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