Commentary Magazine


Posts For: May 22, 2013

A Terror Blacklist in Name Only?

On Monday I wrote about the argument over whether it is in the interests of the West, and specifically America, for the United Kingdom to remain a member of the European Union. The question really centers on the issue of integration; that is, whether Britain is more likely to successfully advocate for the Anglosphere from within the EU or whether it is more likely to be integrated into the EU’s value system, which is at odds with America’s.

Although recent stories suggested the latter, there are occasional indications of the former–one of which came yesterday from the Wall Street Journal. The paper reported that Britain is formally requesting that the EU add Hezbollah’s military wing to its terror blacklist. That effort received another boost today, as the Jerusalem Post reports that Germany is backing Britain’s request, making it all but certain that Hezbollah’s military wing will be blacklisted:

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On Monday I wrote about the argument over whether it is in the interests of the West, and specifically America, for the United Kingdom to remain a member of the European Union. The question really centers on the issue of integration; that is, whether Britain is more likely to successfully advocate for the Anglosphere from within the EU or whether it is more likely to be integrated into the EU’s value system, which is at odds with America’s.

Although recent stories suggested the latter, there are occasional indications of the former–one of which came yesterday from the Wall Street Journal. The paper reported that Britain is formally requesting that the EU add Hezbollah’s military wing to its terror blacklist. That effort received another boost today, as the Jerusalem Post reports that Germany is backing Britain’s request, making it all but certain that Hezbollah’s military wing will be blacklisted:

“In the light of discussions we have had with our partners following the terrorist attack in Burgas, Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle supports listing at least the military wing of Hezbollah as a terrorist organization in the EU,” the officials said.

“The German position is based on an increasingly clearer picture of the facts and on the progress achieved by Cypriot authorities in analyzing terrorist activities,” they continued. “Minister Westerwelle hopes that the necessary consultations within the EU can be concluded rapidly.”

That report focuses the change of heart on the terrorist attack carried out last summer in Bulgaria on a bus of Israeli tourists. Initial signs pointed to Iran and Hezbollah, which are partners in global terror, and that was confirmed by the subsequent investigation which determined Hezbollah’s culpability.

The mention of Cypriot authorities is a reference to the recent revelations of a Hezbollah operative in Cyprus that showed the pervasive presence of the terror group in Europe. But even after the Bulgaria attack and the Cyprus case, there seemed to be hesitation to take any steps against Hezbollah. I noted in February a sickening quote from a German magazine editor who said officials were afraid that if they took action against Hezbollah the group might target non-Jews.

Additionally, the Journal article notes the concern of some EU officials that since Hezbollah is a powerful political presence in Lebanon, blacklisting them “could undermine a fragile peace in Lebanon.” That’s unlikely, but it at least gets closer geographically to the answer, which the EU Observer points to:

Its support for the Syrian regime has further blackened its name.

Up to 6,000 Hezbollah fighters are said to be in Damascus, where they guard the Sayyidah Zaynab mosque, and in the Syrian towns of Homs and Qusayr near the Lebanese-Syrian border.

Hezbollah is currently serving as a ruthless standing army for Bashar al-Assad in his murderous quest to hang on to power in Syria. As I noted earlier Monday, that in itself will destabilize Lebanon–or, more accurately, stabilize Lebanon more firmly under Hezbollah/Syrian/Iranian control. Hezbollah’s role in the Syrian civil war has thus removed one EU excuse not to blacklist the group and added a very good reason to outlaw them.

The Journal reports that the next step will be an EU-wide closed-door meeting in early June. Britain is pairing this move with one intended to make it easier to aid the Syrian rebels. Blacklisting Hezbollah’s military wing would be a step in the right direction, though as the New York Times reports, it would almost surely be a vastly weaker step–and more difficult to enforce–than an outright ban:

Still, many experts question the strategy of simply taking aim at Hezbollah’s military wing, arguing that it is impossible to separate the part of the organization that engages in politics and social services from the group’s large armed militia. Moreover, if only the so-called military wing is blacklisted, the group might still be able raise money in Europe under the banner of politics.

The Times then quotes a foreign affairs expert casting doubt on the efficacy of just listing the military wing. The separation between the military and political wings exists on paper, but it’s unclear if it goes much farther. If it doesn’t, then the blacklist would also only exist on paper. And the consequences of not effectively confronting Hezbollah’s activities have unfortunately been made all too clear in Europe, the Middle East, and around the world.

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No Hypocrisy in Opposing Disaster Pork

Some Northeastern politicians are having a quiet chortle even while joining with the rest of the nation in mourning the tragic losses from the Oklahoma tornado disaster. A few months ago Republicans like New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and New York’s Representative Peter King were pitching a fit over the refusal of Southern and Western members of the GOP to push through a Hurricane Sandy disaster aid bill because critics said it was filled with extraneous items that amounted to nothing more than political pork. Christie made headlines for tearing into House Speaker John Boehner for the holdup. Later, King claimed GOP presidential candidates who raised campaign money in New York after voting against the Sandy bill weren’t welcome in the Empire State.

That’s why today King is claiming the high ground in his feud with his former antagonists and saying, as Politico reports, that he won’t get even by trying to stop any bill intended to help the people of Oklahoma:

“I think there’s a lot of hypocrisy involved here, [Sen. James] Inhofe saying Sandy aid was corrupt but Oklahoma won’t be,” King (R-N.Y.) told POLITICO. “But I don’t want to hold the people of Oklahoma responsible for what elected officials are saying, for the husband and wife without a home, for the people who lost all their worldly possessions.”

King, who stressed that he wasn’t looking for a fight, emphasized that aid should be provided to Oklahoma — which sustained a deadly tornado on Monday — without the requirement of budgetary offsets.

“I’ve always believed that but certainly, going through it myself [during Sandy], seeing the devastation a national disaster brings to a district…it’s a [national issue], not a local issue, like Sandy wasn’t a New York, New Jersey issue,” he said. “It’s an American issue, we have an obligation to come forward.”

That’s big of King, but it doesn’t change the fact that the original objections to the Sandy bill were largely correct.

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Some Northeastern politicians are having a quiet chortle even while joining with the rest of the nation in mourning the tragic losses from the Oklahoma tornado disaster. A few months ago Republicans like New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and New York’s Representative Peter King were pitching a fit over the refusal of Southern and Western members of the GOP to push through a Hurricane Sandy disaster aid bill because critics said it was filled with extraneous items that amounted to nothing more than political pork. Christie made headlines for tearing into House Speaker John Boehner for the holdup. Later, King claimed GOP presidential candidates who raised campaign money in New York after voting against the Sandy bill weren’t welcome in the Empire State.

That’s why today King is claiming the high ground in his feud with his former antagonists and saying, as Politico reports, that he won’t get even by trying to stop any bill intended to help the people of Oklahoma:

“I think there’s a lot of hypocrisy involved here, [Sen. James] Inhofe saying Sandy aid was corrupt but Oklahoma won’t be,” King (R-N.Y.) told POLITICO. “But I don’t want to hold the people of Oklahoma responsible for what elected officials are saying, for the husband and wife without a home, for the people who lost all their worldly possessions.”

King, who stressed that he wasn’t looking for a fight, emphasized that aid should be provided to Oklahoma — which sustained a deadly tornado on Monday — without the requirement of budgetary offsets.

“I’ve always believed that but certainly, going through it myself [during Sandy], seeing the devastation a national disaster brings to a district…it’s a [national issue], not a local issue, like Sandy wasn’t a New York, New Jersey issue,” he said. “It’s an American issue, we have an obligation to come forward.”

That’s big of King, but it doesn’t change the fact that the original objections to the Sandy bill were largely correct.

Residents of the Northeast who suffered from Sandy should be forgiven for wishing that congressional reformers had decided to wait until they got what they needed before trying to fix the system. But the process by which Congress creates disaster relief bills is one of the last vestiges of a corrupt earmark system that ought to be consigned to Washington’s dark past.

The Sandy bill, like many of its predecessors, was stuffed with measures that had little to do with the actual needs of embattled shore dwellers—many of whom have still not recovered from the impact of the superstorm. It became a convenient tool by which members of Congress found a way to fund personal projects and crowd-pleasers for their districts. Efforts by GOP conservatives to clean up the bill forced some changes for the better before the Sandy measure was eventually passed. But that fact was lost amid the general hullabaloo about the insensitivity of members of Congress whose districts were not hit by the storm having the gall to demand it not be the usual laundry list of raids on the Treasury.

Christie and King—both of whom count themselves as opponents of this kind of congressional business as usual when their constituencies are not affected—bolstered their support at home by grandstanding about the Sandy bill. So King’s milking the issue for a little more press attention is understandable.

But the same principles that led some conservatives to raise questions about the Sandy bill should apply just as readily to anything Congress does for Oklahoma or any other place that has dealt with a natural disaster. Fiscal hawks like Oklahoma Senators Tom Coburn and James Inhofe say they will work to ensure that a tornado relief effort won’t repeat the mistakes of the past in Congress. But if they don’t succeed, then King and anyone else who isn’t napping should keep them honest.

The debate about Sandy relief was demagogued by Christie and King in such a manner as to make concerns about pork seem small-minded and cruel. But it is precisely because Americans are filled with emotion about terrible tragedies, such as the one that unfolded this week in Oklahoma, that our leaders must not allow themselves to be silenced when faced with congressional misdeeds. 

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Will the Middle Class Save Weiner’s Career?

As expected, disgraced former Congressman Anthony Weiner declared his candidacy for mayor of New York City today. The announcement came in a video that acknowledges his “mistakes” along with a testimonial from his wife Huma Abedin who has chosen to play the loyal spouse who stands by her man. But Weiner isn’t relying on the willingness of New Yorkers to buy a redemption tour a la South Carolina’s Mark Sanford. Instead, he’s posing as the defender of the middle class. The question this raises is not whether Weiner will continue to be a punch line for late-night comedians and pundits. That is a given. It’s whether the man who was assumed to be the frontrunner for the 2013 mayor’s race prior to his 2011 Twitter meltdown can recapture his political mojo. And the jury is out on that one.

Let’s understand a few facts about the Weiner candidacy.

First, the reason for his decision to run is based in part on personal compulsion. He’s never really held an honest job in his life. Without politics, he has nothing. But it’s also because Weiner knows the race was his to lose prior to his career meltdown. There’s no one in the current roster of Democratic candidates who even remotely can be said to represent the views or the interests of the outer boroughs. That’s why Weiner—who had an impressive second place showing by running as the candidate of the middle class in the 2005 Democratic primary—was widely believed to be the frontrunner for 2013 before his career crashed and burned. With a formidable campaign war chest and the knowledge that this could be the last time the mayor’s chair is open for at least eight years, Weiner may have thought it was now or never, and that now gives him the best chance to win.

However, the polling that exists on this race should not engender much optimism in the Weiner camp.

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As expected, disgraced former Congressman Anthony Weiner declared his candidacy for mayor of New York City today. The announcement came in a video that acknowledges his “mistakes” along with a testimonial from his wife Huma Abedin who has chosen to play the loyal spouse who stands by her man. But Weiner isn’t relying on the willingness of New Yorkers to buy a redemption tour a la South Carolina’s Mark Sanford. Instead, he’s posing as the defender of the middle class. The question this raises is not whether Weiner will continue to be a punch line for late-night comedians and pundits. That is a given. It’s whether the man who was assumed to be the frontrunner for the 2013 mayor’s race prior to his 2011 Twitter meltdown can recapture his political mojo. And the jury is out on that one.

Let’s understand a few facts about the Weiner candidacy.

First, the reason for his decision to run is based in part on personal compulsion. He’s never really held an honest job in his life. Without politics, he has nothing. But it’s also because Weiner knows the race was his to lose prior to his career meltdown. There’s no one in the current roster of Democratic candidates who even remotely can be said to represent the views or the interests of the outer boroughs. That’s why Weiner—who had an impressive second place showing by running as the candidate of the middle class in the 2005 Democratic primary—was widely believed to be the frontrunner for 2013 before his career crashed and burned. With a formidable campaign war chest and the knowledge that this could be the last time the mayor’s chair is open for at least eight years, Weiner may have thought it was now or never, and that now gives him the best chance to win.

However, the polling that exists on this race should not engender much optimism in the Weiner camp.

The latest Quinnipiac poll does show him not all that far behind the frontrunner, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn. The poll shows Quinn in first with 25 percent and Weiner in second at 15 percent, with 27 percent saying they don’t know and the rest scattered among a crowded field. Theoretically, that means that there is plenty of room for Weiner’s share of support to grow and give him a chance to win.

But the poll also specifically asked New Yorkers whether they thought Weiner should run. Nearly half said no. Only 38 percent thought he ought to be in the race. When you consider that he already has what must be almost 100-percent name recognition, that means about half the voters won’t even consider voting for him. That will make it nearly impossible for him to win a runoff, which is mandatory if no candidate gets 40 percent of the vote.

The bottom line is that Quinn is vulnerable, but the consensus is that while Weiner may qualify for a runoff that seems inevitable in a crowded race, he’s probably fated to lose it to any of his likely opponents.

These dismal poll results force us to ask the inevitable question about whether New York’s voters are prepared to accept Weiner’s plea for a second chance or hold his past behavior against him.

There may be some who think the scandal is not as much of factor as the national press thinks, but I think those who think Weiner can rise above his past don’t understand the city as well as they think. Anyone who thinks we’ve heard the last of his bizarre scandal is dreaming. Weiner has already said that there may be more embarrassing photos out there that he sent to women he didn’t know. That means such photos exist, and that it’s a given that sooner or later the press—especially the tabloids that consider the Weiner candidacy a gift from God—will find them.

Many people around the country may think the less religious nature of the average New York voter—especially in comparison to South Carolina—will mean they are more likely to be forgiving of his personal foibles. That assumption may be wrong. There’s good reason to think cynical New Yorkers will find Weiner’s plea for forgiveness to be baloney and actually be less vulnerable to a faith-based appeal for redemption that worked to some extent for Sanford. Weiner and his wife may want to move on from scandal, but it’s far from clear that New York will let him.

Nor can he count on his wife’s patrons—Bill and Hillary Clinton—to help overcome the public’s queasiness about him since they think his behavior only reminds people of their own problems. 

There will be those who watch Weiner’s campaign video which emphasizes public safety and reducing the burden of regulation on business and see him as a commonsense alternative to the big government visions of a hardcore liberal like Quinn, as well as the nanny state attitude of the departing Michael Bloomberg.

But no one should be deceived into thinking Weiner is morphing into a centrist. He wasn’t just one of the most openly obnoxious liberal partisans during his years in Congress. He was also one of the most liberal members on Capitol Hill. His campaign rhetoric is a cynical hodgepodge of all sorts of ideas geared to blur his former image, but anyone who wants to know what kind of a politician Weiner really is can only think back to the week in the spring of 2011 when he went off the rails. His lies and the desperate attempts to smear his critics (he still owes the late Andrew Breitbart for his slanderous claim that his Twitter photos of his private parts was a fabrication invented by the pundit) make Mark Sanford’s Appalachian Trail routine look good by comparison.

The next few months are going to be a lot more entertaining for journalists with Weiner in the mayor’s race. And given his combativeness and innate political talent, no one should write him off. But what is about to unfold may turn out to teach the country something about New York that most out-of-towners don’t suspect: New Yorkers tend to like straight shooters even if they don’t agree with them about everything and tend to despise liars and phonies no matter how loud they are. Weiner may get the lion’s share of the attention in this election, but the assumption that he will be as successful as Sanford is probably wrong.

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Liberals Are Now Shocked, Shocked at Obama’s Culture of Intimidation

Now that the Obama administration has conducted an unprecedented intrusion into newsgathering activities, it’s dawning on liberals–four years and four months into the Obama presidency–that something is slightly amiss.

For example, the New York Times, Dana Milbank and Eugene Robinson of the Washington Post have all expressed concerns about the Obama administration tactics. They have done so, of course, with a fraction of the umbrage they would be showing if this had occurred under a Republican administration. But at least it’s progress.

It’s late in coming, however, and let’s be honest: it would have been helpful if liberals had expressed some alarm years ago when top Obama White House aides like David Axelrod and Anita Dunn were targeting Fox News in an effort to de-legitimize it. Some of us warned at the time that “The White House’s effort to target a news organization like Fox is vaguely Nixonian.” Yet very few members of the elite media shared those concerns. In fact, they seemed to be sympathetic to what the White House was attempting to do. 

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Now that the Obama administration has conducted an unprecedented intrusion into newsgathering activities, it’s dawning on liberals–four years and four months into the Obama presidency–that something is slightly amiss.

For example, the New York Times, Dana Milbank and Eugene Robinson of the Washington Post have all expressed concerns about the Obama administration tactics. They have done so, of course, with a fraction of the umbrage they would be showing if this had occurred under a Republican administration. But at least it’s progress.

It’s late in coming, however, and let’s be honest: it would have been helpful if liberals had expressed some alarm years ago when top Obama White House aides like David Axelrod and Anita Dunn were targeting Fox News in an effort to de-legitimize it. Some of us warned at the time that “The White House’s effort to target a news organization like Fox is vaguely Nixonian.” Yet very few members of the elite media shared those concerns. In fact, they seemed to be sympathetic to what the White House was attempting to do. 

But what the White House was attempting to do was quite problematic. On this site back on October 23, 2009, we read this

We have seen from this White House Nixonian tendencies and, it would appear, a burning anger and resentment toward its critics. Whether it’s Fox News, the Chamber of Commerce, or companies that sponsor reports that take issue with the administration’s assessments, there seems to be a cast of mind that views critics as enemies, as individuals and institutions that need to be ridiculed, delegitimized, or ruined… there are lines that ought not to be crossed, temptations that need to be resisted, and people in the White House who need to say “no” to tactics that begin to drag an administration, and a country, down.

And then came this warning:

The Obama White House is showing a fondness for intimidation tactics that might work well in the wards of Chicago but that don’t have a place in the most important and revered political institution in America. To see these impulses manifest themselves so early in Obama’s presidency, and given all that he has said to the contrary, is rather startling. The danger is that as the pressures mount and the battles accrue and the political heat intensifies, these impulses will grow stronger, the constraints on them will grow weaker, and the voices of caution and reason will continue to be ignored. If that should come to pass — if what we are seeing now is only a preview of coming attractions — then the Obama administration, and this nation, will pay a very high price. Mark my words.

Like Captain Renault, liberals are now shocked, shocked to discover Obama & Co. have been using intimidating tactics (including punishing whistle blowers and slandering Romney campaign donors). But these tactics were obvious long ago to those who were not blinded by ideology. 

Liberals in the press have been enablers of this president. Now that Mr. Obama has turned out to be a rather minacious chief executive, overseeing an out-of-control executive branch, I wonder if the president’s press courtiers are having second thoughts.

I doubt it.

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For Putin, Paranoia Trumps Legitimacy

Not much about Vladimir Putin’s recent behavior has been wholly surprising. Repressive, compulsively controlling autocrats don’t usually stop amassing power and quashing dissent and individual rights on their own volition. Though Putin’s support for Bashar al-Assad’s regime has lost him the benefit of the doubt of many in the West, that is more a result of the self-delusion of Westerners than any sudden dark turn by the man whose political nemeses have ended up dead, exiled, or in Siberian prisons for a decade.

But the closest thing to a surprise has been Putin’s bungling of his once-masterful image management. By now everyone knows the ready availability of cheesy propaganda photos of Putin–shirtless, discovering ancient artifacts, subduing wild animals, feeding baby animals, perfectly executing a judo strike, etc. Want a slideshow? You’ve got your pick of news organizations happy to oblige. Putin has crafted his image from the very beginning; his biographer Richard Sakwa has noted that Putin self-consciously mimicked the concept of “third way” politics from Tony Blair and Bill Clinton, and fashioned himself a leader in their mold.

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Not much about Vladimir Putin’s recent behavior has been wholly surprising. Repressive, compulsively controlling autocrats don’t usually stop amassing power and quashing dissent and individual rights on their own volition. Though Putin’s support for Bashar al-Assad’s regime has lost him the benefit of the doubt of many in the West, that is more a result of the self-delusion of Westerners than any sudden dark turn by the man whose political nemeses have ended up dead, exiled, or in Siberian prisons for a decade.

But the closest thing to a surprise has been Putin’s bungling of his once-masterful image management. By now everyone knows the ready availability of cheesy propaganda photos of Putin–shirtless, discovering ancient artifacts, subduing wild animals, feeding baby animals, perfectly executing a judo strike, etc. Want a slideshow? You’ve got your pick of news organizations happy to oblige. Putin has crafted his image from the very beginning; his biographer Richard Sakwa has noted that Putin self-consciously mimicked the concept of “third way” politics from Tony Blair and Bill Clinton, and fashioned himself a leader in their mold.

According to Sakwa: “Putin was one of the new breed of politicians of that time, such as Bill Clinton in America and Tony Blair in Britain, for whom news management often acted as the substitute for policy, and where policy development remains shrouded in a dense fog of spin and show,” and whose popularity “is nurtured and tended like a delicate plant, with focus groups, private polling and the manipulation of information.” Suffice it to say that Clinton and Blair were freely elected leaders of free countries, and Putin is out of his mind if he thinks he’s entitled to compare himself to them. But nonetheless, the point is that he has always taken great care to manage his image and has done so with success–too much success for comfort, in fact.

But those days appear to be behind us. It’s not just that by staying in power for so long Putin is earning comparisons to Leonid Brezhnev. It’s that he’s making mistakes he didn’t used to. Perhaps he can’t help himself, since he’s a power-mad authoritarian, but the illusion of the benevolent dictator is gone, and probably for good. His decision to retaliate against perceived diplomatic slight from the U.S. by outlawing American adoptions of Russian children, and thereby consigning poor, disabled, and malnourished Russian children to the outrageously ill-stocked Russian orphanages, was the very definition of gratuitous cruelty.

His jailing of a self-styled “punk rock” trio for stomping around a Moscow church was silly and heavy-handed, and will only further damage the Russian Orthodox Church’s credibility by tying the church to Putin’s repression. It also brought down the wrath of the denizens of pop culture by angering famous musicians who are happy to pretend to care about human rights if it offers them the chance to publicly bask in their own evanescent relevance.

And now he has taken action that will surely diminish his own authority. Putin has always fallen back on opinion polls showing his high approval ratings to prove he has the consent of the governed. Because there are no other political figures permitted to enter the fray in any real way, and because state media tars any would-be challengers before they can make their own name, those polls are often accurate. Putin has been the indispensable man, and a combination of nationalist pride and economic stability has kept his poll numbers afloat.

Yet now Putin’s latest affront to civil society, forcing NGOs beyond his reach to register as “foreign agents,” puts in danger the survival of the one high-profile independent polling institute in Russia. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reports:

Prosecutors this week officially warned the polling agency that it is in breach of legislation requiring politically engaged NGOs that receive foreign funding to register as “foreign agents.” The center acknowledges that a small portion of its budget comes from foreign sources. Prosecutors allege that its research constitutes “political activity.”

The warning comes shortly after the Levada Center released polls showing President Vladimir Putin’s popularity falling, sparking allegations that the prosecutor’s move was politically motivated.

The Levada Center’s director, Lev Gudkov, told RFE/RL’s Russian Service that the move threatens the pollster’s continued existence.

Levada split from a government pollster in 2003 to maintain its independence. Practically speaking, the attack on Levada is illogical. Putin’s popularity remains well above 50 percent even in Levada’s recent poll. No one is allowed to run against Putin, so opinions polls don’t matter much to elections. And those elections aren’t free and fair, but are manipulated to whatever extent is necessary to keep Putin and his party in office. Meanwhile, he can always point to Levada’s independent polling to claim political legitimacy.

Levada’s polling was the one strand of authenticity to Putin’s hold on power. If Levada goes under, all Putin will have left is his own propaganda. Putin may be a thug, but he’s always been a clever thug. His paranoia has finally got the best of him, and the Russian people will get the worst of it.

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Senate Steps Up Effort to Aid Syrian Rebels

Congress seems to be stepping into the vacuum left by the administration’s non-policy on Syria. At least it appears that way from the bipartisan vote yesterday in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which voted 15-3 to approve a bill co-sponsored by chairman Robert Menendez and ranking minority member Bob Corker that calls for providing lethal aid to vetted rebel groups.

Committee members beat back objections from their colleague, Senator Rand Paul, who claimed that they were “rushing” to get involved in Syria–as if the U.S. hasn’t sat on the sidelines for more than two years.

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Congress seems to be stepping into the vacuum left by the administration’s non-policy on Syria. At least it appears that way from the bipartisan vote yesterday in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which voted 15-3 to approve a bill co-sponsored by chairman Robert Menendez and ranking minority member Bob Corker that calls for providing lethal aid to vetted rebel groups.

Committee members beat back objections from their colleague, Senator Rand Paul, who claimed that they were “rushing” to get involved in Syria–as if the U.S. hasn’t sat on the sidelines for more than two years.

What was most striking was the extent to which the Democrats on the panel criticized a Democratic president. The Daily Beast quotes Senator Bob Casey of Pennsylvania: “I have to say I think we all share this, at least the last year if not longer, we’ve all been frustrated that our country hasn’t done enough to be responsive. I think it’s in our national security interests to address this.”

The question now is whether Sen. Harry Reid will allow this legislation to come to a floor vote and what, if anything, the House will do. The White House is no doubt lobbying to prevent passage.

Even if this bill passes, it will not necessarily change the balance of power on the ground. At this late date, it may be necessary for the U.S. and our allies to enforce a no-fly zone and mount air strikes to prevent Bashar Assad from scoring more significant gains–arms to the rebels may no longer be enough. But at the very least this congressional action should push the Obama administration to do more than it has done to date–which isn’t much.

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Re: Doesn’t Know Math But Can Count to Five

I need to add to what I wrote last night about Internal Revenue Service official Lois Lerner when I noted the irony of her decision to plead her Fifth Amendment right to avoid self-incrimination when she testified before Congress today. Lerner made good on her promise to refuse to testify today, though she prefaced that with an assertion that she “did nothing wrong” and had broken no law. It’s an interesting legal question as to whether that claim constituted a waiving of her rights to avoid incriminating herself but, like House Oversight Committee Chair Darrell Issa suggested, we’ll leave that for the lawyers to sort out.

Issa let Lerner leave the hearing without being made to repeat her refusal to testify in a sign that he wants to avoid having the committee being criticized for partisanship or grandstanding. But it’s certain that we haven’t heard the last of Lerner, nor is it likely that she will escape further scrutiny. But I should have noted in my previous post some background about her career that was provided by our colleagues at the Weekly Standard on Monday afternoon. Mark Hemingway’s piece gives the background about Lerner’s role in the political vendetta against the Christian Coalition that was pursued by the Federal Elections Commission during her time working at that agency. This is further evidence not only of the liberal bias of many of the civil servants at the IRS and other government agencies but of a possible political motivation for the targeting of Tea Party groups.

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I need to add to what I wrote last night about Internal Revenue Service official Lois Lerner when I noted the irony of her decision to plead her Fifth Amendment right to avoid self-incrimination when she testified before Congress today. Lerner made good on her promise to refuse to testify today, though she prefaced that with an assertion that she “did nothing wrong” and had broken no law. It’s an interesting legal question as to whether that claim constituted a waiving of her rights to avoid incriminating herself but, like House Oversight Committee Chair Darrell Issa suggested, we’ll leave that for the lawyers to sort out.

Issa let Lerner leave the hearing without being made to repeat her refusal to testify in a sign that he wants to avoid having the committee being criticized for partisanship or grandstanding. But it’s certain that we haven’t heard the last of Lerner, nor is it likely that she will escape further scrutiny. But I should have noted in my previous post some background about her career that was provided by our colleagues at the Weekly Standard on Monday afternoon. Mark Hemingway’s piece gives the background about Lerner’s role in the political vendetta against the Christian Coalition that was pursued by the Federal Elections Commission during her time working at that agency. This is further evidence not only of the liberal bias of many of the civil servants at the IRS and other government agencies but of a possible political motivation for the targeting of Tea Party groups.

As Hemingway writes:

Lerner was appointed head of the FEC’s enforcement division in 1986 and stayed in that position until 2001. In the late 1990s, the FEC launched an onerous investigation of the Christian Coalition, ultimately costing the organization hundreds of thousands of dollars and countless hours in lost work. The investigation was notable because the FEC alleged that the Christian Coalition was coordinating issue advocacy expenditures with a number of candidates for office. Aside from lacking proof this was happening, it was an open question whether the FEC had the authority to bring these charges. 

In one respect, that case had frightening parallels to the Tea Party targeting:

One of the most shocking things about the current IRS scandal is the revelation that the agency asked one religious pro-life group to detail the content of their prayers and asked clearly inappropriate questions about private religious activity. But under Lerner’s watch, inappropriate religious inquiries were a hallmark of the FEC’s interrogation of the Christian Coalition.

No one reading about that case can be surprised that some of the same shenanigans Lerner and her mates pulled at the FEC were repeated at the IRS. It also makes it difficult for anyone to claim that political prejudices were not part of the motivation for what happened at the IRS. Let’s hope Congress or a special prosecutor eventually gets to the bottom of it.

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Mullahs and Mulligans

In the New York Review of Books, Roger Cohen reviews Flynt and Hillary Mann Leverett’s book, Going to Tehran: Why the United States Must Come to Terms with the Islamic Republic of Iran. He didn’t like it: the “eerie effort to whitewash the Islamic Republic in Going to Tehran is so extreme that it would be comical if it did not stray close to obscenity.” The Leveretts “have drunk the Islamic Republic’s Kool-Aid to the last drop.” They are “across-the-board apologists” whose book is “buried in heavy doses of one-sided drivel,” written in a “customary egregious style,” envisaging an “utterly fanciful” grand bargain. The book is “a disservice to the truth.”

On that last point, Cohen writes with knowledge the Leveretts lack, since he witnessed the Iranian uprising on June 12, 2009. His recollection in his review is worth reading, for reasons that extend beyond his critique of the Leveretts’ book:

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In the New York Review of Books, Roger Cohen reviews Flynt and Hillary Mann Leverett’s book, Going to Tehran: Why the United States Must Come to Terms with the Islamic Republic of Iran. He didn’t like it: the “eerie effort to whitewash the Islamic Republic in Going to Tehran is so extreme that it would be comical if it did not stray close to obscenity.” The Leveretts “have drunk the Islamic Republic’s Kool-Aid to the last drop.” They are “across-the-board apologists” whose book is “buried in heavy doses of one-sided drivel,” written in a “customary egregious style,” envisaging an “utterly fanciful” grand bargain. The book is “a disservice to the truth.”

On that last point, Cohen writes with knowledge the Leveretts lack, since he witnessed the Iranian uprising on June 12, 2009. His recollection in his review is worth reading, for reasons that extend beyond his critique of the Leveretts’ book:

The revolt began when, within hours of polling stations closing, Ahmadinejad was pronounced the first-round winner of the presidential election with 62.63 percent of the vote, a result that—as Mir Hussein Moussavi’s Green Movement surged—gave the incumbent almost 20 million more votes than in the first round in 2005. How, Iranians asked, could this be?

I was there that day, and for the twelve days following, and will never forget the courage of millions of Iranians protesting what they saw as their stolen votes in the face of the regime’s thuggery throughout the city … Ahmadinejad and the regime set out from June 13 to smash Moussavi and his supporters, burning his headquarters that morning, beating countless women in the streets, closing down the Interior Ministry where votes were being counted, expelling the foreign correspondents they could lay their hands on, ranting about Western conspiracies, and creating an atmosphere of terror in Tehran and other major cities … “Ahmadinejad Won. Get Over It.” This was the headline of an Op-Ed by the Leveretts in Politico on June 15, 2009. At the time they had never gone to Tehran. But they knew.

Roger Cohen is himself a notorious apologist for the Iranian regime, so the Leveretts may find his criticism stinging, in the way it hurts to have one’s appearance criticized by a frog. But this intramural dispute between Walter Duranty wannabes should not obscure a larger point. President Obama voted “present” in June 2009, as the regime staged a fraudulent election and then cut down protesters. At the time, Roger Cohen reported Iranians were asking “Where is Obama?” Perhaps they hadn’t read his Inaugural address, which intoned: “Those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history; but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.” It was a graceless signal that America’s freedom agenda from the Bush years would not be a problem for the mullahs.

Four years of wrong-sided history later, the regime is nearing completion of its nuclear program, unresponsive to Obama’s endlessly extended hand, unfazed by his rhetorical red lines and non-crippling sanctions, ready to hold another fraudulent election. Yesterday it effectively barred opposition candidates–an act the New York Times reports “shocked Iranians,” and that would “put the last major state institution under [the Mullahs’ and Revolutionary Guard] control—the first time since the 1979 revolution that all state institutions were under the firm control of one faction.”

A leader looking for a choice between war and appeasement ought to consider a full-throated defense of the Iranian people’s right to vote out an oppressive and illegitimate regime, and take this opportunity to lead the world in delegitimizing it. Perhaps this time Obama will find his voice, but more likely he will remain silent, still hoping (like Roger Cohen) for a bargain, once the Iranian “election” is over and he can use his own post-election flexibility. 

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What the White House Really Thinks

Much has been written and said about the astoundingly tone deaf performance of White House spokesman Jay Carney during this past month of scandals. The former journalist has lost the confidence of the people who were once his colleagues due to his unwillingness to tell the truth about his own deceptive statements (never mind those he represents in front of the press) about the Benghazi talking points or even to acknowledge that he has changed his story. The same applies to the shifting story he has told about the Internal Revenue Service scandal and when the White House learned about it.

The latest iteration of Carney’s story contradicts earlier ones that claimed they knew nothing about the investigation. Now it appears that the White House chief of staff and other officials learned of the situation over a month ago and actually consulted with the Treasury Department about how to soften the blow when it finally went public. Like everyone else following this story, I look forward to finding out who was the genius who decided that IRS official Lois Lerner should be the one to let drop the news with an apology and also saying she didn’t know math.

But anyone looking for an explanation for his unashamed stonewalling and obfuscation got an answer yesterday during an exchange with CBS News’s Major Garrett in which he compared questions about the White House’s conduct about Benghazi and the IRS to those who pursue the birther myth. In other words, anyone who has had the temerity to notice the lies and the trimming is cordially invited to shut up.

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Much has been written and said about the astoundingly tone deaf performance of White House spokesman Jay Carney during this past month of scandals. The former journalist has lost the confidence of the people who were once his colleagues due to his unwillingness to tell the truth about his own deceptive statements (never mind those he represents in front of the press) about the Benghazi talking points or even to acknowledge that he has changed his story. The same applies to the shifting story he has told about the Internal Revenue Service scandal and when the White House learned about it.

The latest iteration of Carney’s story contradicts earlier ones that claimed they knew nothing about the investigation. Now it appears that the White House chief of staff and other officials learned of the situation over a month ago and actually consulted with the Treasury Department about how to soften the blow when it finally went public. Like everyone else following this story, I look forward to finding out who was the genius who decided that IRS official Lois Lerner should be the one to let drop the news with an apology and also saying she didn’t know math.

But anyone looking for an explanation for his unashamed stonewalling and obfuscation got an answer yesterday during an exchange with CBS News’s Major Garrett in which he compared questions about the White House’s conduct about Benghazi and the IRS to those who pursue the birther myth. In other words, anyone who has had the temerity to notice the lies and the trimming is cordially invited to shut up.

What can you say about an administration that considers leaking stories to the New York Times that make the president look like a national security hero kosher but seeks to criminalize journalism that points out his mistakes?

What can you say about a White House that doesn’t think it is obligated to acknowledge that it has changed its story about these scandals so often that even its chief flack can’t keep them straight?

Jay Carney’s crack about birthers told us all we need to know about any of this.

To talk about birthers when the whole country knows Carney has been slipping and sliding through the lies that have been told about Benghazi and other topics show us the crew that currently works at 1600 Pennsylvania think they are above criticism. They believe their political opponents are not only wrong; they are illegitimate and not worthy of a hearing.

While journalists are disgusted with Carney and even his masters in the West Wing may be scratching their heads about his recent performances, he really isn’t the problem. His contempt for the truth and for those who question his “Emperor’s new clothes” approach to transparency is symptomatic of the kind of second term arrogance that many of us suspected would undo the “hope and change” crowd once the president was re-elected.

Obama’s win last November has convinced Carney and other White House loyalists that they can afford to thumb their noses at decency and even honesty since their still-popular boss can no longer be held accountable by the voters. But what they forget is that even re-elected presidents can’t behave like monarchs.

It is never a good sign for a president to behave as if it is beneath him to acknowledge problems. It’s even worse when those paid to spin him start to act in the same manner.

Jay Carney’s arrogant contempt for the truth stems from the president’s attitude that was on display last week when he had a public temper tantrum about Benghazi questions. An administration that doesn’t believe it should be held accountable is one that is capable of just about anything. But that’s something our colleagues at the AP and Fox News have already discovered.

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