Commentary Magazine


Posts For: August 2, 2013

Obama Saves Congress From Itself

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act was bound to contain at least a few surprises. When one considers the size and scope of the bill, not to mention its behemoth length, it was inevitable that those voting on the bill weren’t completely aware of every provision they were signing into law. Members of Congress and their staff have been panicking for the last several months at the possibility that they too would have to experience life under the PPACA, more commonly known as ObamaCare. In the rush of amendments and political gamesmanship, Senator Charles Grassley slipped in a vaguely-worded requirement for members of Congress and their staffs to “purchase coverage through a state-based exchange, rather than use the traditional Federal Employees Health Benefits Plan (FEHBP).”

When Politico reported on this provision, which would come into effect as of January 1next year, members of Congress and their staffs alike went into panic mode. The requirement would force those working in offices on both sides of the aisle to pay thousands of dollars more in health insurance costs. Understandably, there was concern about a serious brain-drain as offices cleared out, lest they see their paychecks dwindle by up to several hundred dollars per pay period.

Just in time, President Obama came to the rescue before Congress felt the full effects of the law that they inflicted on the rest of America. Today Roll Call reported:

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The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act was bound to contain at least a few surprises. When one considers the size and scope of the bill, not to mention its behemoth length, it was inevitable that those voting on the bill weren’t completely aware of every provision they were signing into law. Members of Congress and their staff have been panicking for the last several months at the possibility that they too would have to experience life under the PPACA, more commonly known as ObamaCare. In the rush of amendments and political gamesmanship, Senator Charles Grassley slipped in a vaguely-worded requirement for members of Congress and their staffs to “purchase coverage through a state-based exchange, rather than use the traditional Federal Employees Health Benefits Plan (FEHBP).”

When Politico reported on this provision, which would come into effect as of January 1next year, members of Congress and their staffs alike went into panic mode. The requirement would force those working in offices on both sides of the aisle to pay thousands of dollars more in health insurance costs. Understandably, there was concern about a serious brain-drain as offices cleared out, lest they see their paychecks dwindle by up to several hundred dollars per pay period.

Just in time, President Obama came to the rescue before Congress felt the full effects of the law that they inflicted on the rest of America. Today Roll Call reported:

Just a day after President Barack Obama told Senate Democrats he had personally engaged in the issue of his signature health care law’s effect on lawmakers and their staff, it appears there’s a solution.

Word began circulating around Capitol Hill that the Office of Personnel Management would soon issue guidance to address the way the health care law’s exchanges affect members of Congress and those employed in their offices. Senate aides initially declined to discuss the matter, but Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid confirmed the existence of a deal to CQ Roll Call leaving the Capitol late Thursday — and a White House official confirmed details of the plan later Thursday evening.

A White House official confirmed to CQ Roll Call that OPM will issue the new regulation next week, and in turn lawmakers and aides will not be eligible for the law’s tax credits and subsidies to buy insurance. Members of both parties had asked the administration to step in and clarify that staff was still eligible for employer contributions, fearing an exodus of talent. And enacting a legislative fix would have been messy to say the least given the partisan divide over the law itself.

Despite many Republicans’ outrage at the exemption, both sides of the aisle have reason to be relieved that a solution has been reached. Politico reported today:

Obama’s involvement in solving this impasse was unusual, to say the least. But it came after serious griping from both sides of the aisle about the potential of a “brain drain.” The fear, as told by sources in both parties, was that aides would head for more lucrative jobs, spooked by the potential for spiking health premiums.

Imagine how fast finding a solution to the mess that is ObamaCare would have shot to the top of the agenda in the Senate if top aides made an exit, if those aides could not be replaced, and if those remaining on staff spent their time job-searching and taking long lunches to go on interviews. Unfortunately, we’ll never know. As with every other problematic provision discovered about ObamaCare years later, the president has stepped in, saving Congress from the mess that it created. In this instance, the hypocrisy is more glaring than usual. The next time a poll is released on how little the American people trust Congress, and how low their approval ratings have fallen, hopefully congressmen and their staffers won’t waste time wondering why.

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Like the Mississippi, the IRS Scandal Just Keeps Rolling Along

The Wall Street Journal’s Kimberley Strassel, like some of her colleagues (especially Peggy Noonan) and her paper’s incomparable editorial page, continue to cover the IRS scandal and add perspective to it.

Writing in her column today, Ms. Strassel points out that congressional investigators this week released emails suggesting that staff at the Federal Election Commission inappropriately targeted conservative groups–and they relied on the help of the IRS’s Lois Lerner.

For the IRS to share information with the FEC would of course be illegal–and this is yet more evidence that another one of Barack Obama’s “phony scandals” just got worse. Like the Mississippi, the IRS scandal just keeps rolling along.

A few additional thoughts on it:

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The Wall Street Journal’s Kimberley Strassel, like some of her colleagues (especially Peggy Noonan) and her paper’s incomparable editorial page, continue to cover the IRS scandal and add perspective to it.

Writing in her column today, Ms. Strassel points out that congressional investigators this week released emails suggesting that staff at the Federal Election Commission inappropriately targeted conservative groups–and they relied on the help of the IRS’s Lois Lerner.

For the IRS to share information with the FEC would of course be illegal–and this is yet more evidence that another one of Barack Obama’s “phony scandals” just got worse. Like the Mississippi, the IRS scandal just keeps rolling along.

A few additional thoughts on it:

1. The latest finding means that a scandal that originally involved simply (!) the IRS is now government-wide. And this is not just your garden-variety scandal; it involves a staggering abuse of power by one of the most powerful agencies in the entire American government.

2. The latest finding makes it clear that Lerner, who worked at the FEC for nearly a decade and demonstrated animus toward conservatives, is a key figure in untangling this story. Republicans need to put legal pressure on her and perhaps, at the right moment, offer her some level of immunity to find out what more she knows. Ms. Lerner is obviously a focal point in this whole investigation. If she begins to talk, the stone wall that has been built around this scandal may begin to crumble.

3. To their credit, Republicans are investigating this matter in a methodical and comprehensive manner. They’re not frenetic. They’ve been careful, for the most part, to keep their rhetoric restrained and tied to what we know. It’ll take time for this to story to fully unfold. Fine and well. There’s no urgency. Republicans should take their time to turn over every possible stone.

4. My guess is that when the president announced last week that Republicans were obsessed with “phony scandals,” he was revealing just how worried he is about this scandal and how explosive it might be. He has no interest in getting to the bottom of it, perhaps because he’s fearful of how widespread this whole thing is.

5. It’s worth recalling that once upon a time, in a galaxy far, far away, liberals and the elite media worried a lot about the abuse of power by government, especially using an agency as powerful as the IRS. Indeed, one of the articles of impeachment against Richard Nixon included his alleged misuse of the IRS. But this story, like so many other scandals/negative stories involving the Obama administration, seems wholly uninteresting to them (with a few honorable exceptions, like Fox News and the Journal). But the nature of this scandal may eventually make it impossible even for most of the left-leaning media to ignore.

6. The events surrounding the IRS/FEC will further accelerate what has been a collapse in confidence in the federal government. It has to, since this story involves such a large, obvious, and feared governmental agency. One of the (unintended) liberal legacies of Barack Obama may well be much greater distrust of the federal government. This is an irony that shouldn’t be lost on Mr. Obama–but probably will be.  

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If Benghazi’s No Scandal, Why a Cover-Up?

President Obama has been a broken record lately claiming over and over again that Republicans are promoting “phony scandals,” the chief of which is the effort to keep asking questions about the Benghazi terror attack that left four Americans dead last September. The White House has continued to insist that the notion that there was anything sinister about the administration’s conduct during or after attack is simply a political red herring not based in fact. Though many are still troubled by the failure to provide adequate protection for Americans in Benghazi, the decision not to send help as the attack unfolded as well as by the clearly false “talking points” that led current National Security Advisor Susan Rice to put out a false story about the incident being a case of film criticism run amok, for the most part the mainstream media has agreed with the White House’s conclusions and dropped the issue entirely.

But thanks to CNN’s Jake Tapper, there are new questions being raised about Benghazi that can’t be dismissed by presidential scorn or a catch phrase:

Sources now tell CNN dozens of people working for the CIA were on the ground that night, and that the agency is going to great lengths to make sure whatever it was doing, remains a secret.

CNN has learned the CIA is involved in what one source calls an unprecedented attempt to keep the spy agency’s Benghazi secrets from ever leaking out.

The main focus of this effort is to prevent their personnel from speaking not just to the media, but also to members of Congress. While it must be acknowledged that the spy agency is entrusted with our nation’s secrets, the all-out push described in Tapper’s report seems to speak more to a desire to silence whistle-blowers and to cover up any possible wrongdoing than anything else. If Benghazi is a “phony scandal,” Americans are entitled to ask why the government is behaving so suspiciously.

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President Obama has been a broken record lately claiming over and over again that Republicans are promoting “phony scandals,” the chief of which is the effort to keep asking questions about the Benghazi terror attack that left four Americans dead last September. The White House has continued to insist that the notion that there was anything sinister about the administration’s conduct during or after attack is simply a political red herring not based in fact. Though many are still troubled by the failure to provide adequate protection for Americans in Benghazi, the decision not to send help as the attack unfolded as well as by the clearly false “talking points” that led current National Security Advisor Susan Rice to put out a false story about the incident being a case of film criticism run amok, for the most part the mainstream media has agreed with the White House’s conclusions and dropped the issue entirely.

But thanks to CNN’s Jake Tapper, there are new questions being raised about Benghazi that can’t be dismissed by presidential scorn or a catch phrase:

Sources now tell CNN dozens of people working for the CIA were on the ground that night, and that the agency is going to great lengths to make sure whatever it was doing, remains a secret.

CNN has learned the CIA is involved in what one source calls an unprecedented attempt to keep the spy agency’s Benghazi secrets from ever leaking out.

The main focus of this effort is to prevent their personnel from speaking not just to the media, but also to members of Congress. While it must be acknowledged that the spy agency is entrusted with our nation’s secrets, the all-out push described in Tapper’s report seems to speak more to a desire to silence whistle-blowers and to cover up any possible wrongdoing than anything else. If Benghazi is a “phony scandal,” Americans are entitled to ask why the government is behaving so suspiciously.

As Tapper writes:

Since January, some CIA operatives involved in the agency’s missions in Libya, have been subjected to frequent, even monthly polygraph examinations, according to a source with deep inside knowledge of the agency’s workings.

The goal of the questioning, according to sources, is to find out if anyone is talking to the media or Congress.

It is being described as pure intimidation, with the threat that any unauthorized CIA employee who leaks information could face the end of his or her career.

In exclusive communications obtained by CNN, one insider writes, “You don’t jeopardize yourself, you jeopardize your family as well.”

Another says, “You have no idea the amount of pressure being brought to bear on anyone with knowledge of this operation.”

We don’t need to know every aspect of the CIA’s mission in Benghazi. But given the obvious security failures and the inability of the United States to come to the aid of its besieged employees under fire, it’s worth asking what exactly were all those Americans doing that night and why were they doing it? Moreover, if there were so many witnesses available, why haven’t at least some of them been produced to answer these questions before Congress even in closed sessions? And if there were literally dozens more American personnel with knowledge of what happened there, we must again ask how the administration could have produced talking points about the incident that promoted the false narrative that it was not a terrorist attack.

Just as frustrating is the fact that just a few days earlier CNN interviewed one of the people identified by the FBI as a suspect in the Benghazi attack. That suspect has never been interviewed by the FBI or the Libyan government but was somehow tracked down by a journalist. At present, not a single one of the many terrorists who were responsible for killing Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans has been brought to justice and, to date, the American people haven’t received a serious answer as to why that should be.

At this point with so many unanswered questions about Benghazi, the administration should be facilitating the investigation of the attack rather than actually impeding it. We don’t know whether the code of omerta being imposed on CIA personnel is merely a function of bureaucratic inertia or a far more sinister attempt to prevent Congress and the public from finding out more about the failures of both the agency and the State Department. No one should make assumptions about wrongdoing, but given the unwillingness of the administration to apply its supposed belief in transparency to this question, it is, at the very least, reasonable to conclude that something is amiss here.

That these reports come as we are learning about the decision to shut down 21 U.S. embassies and consulates in the Middle East and to issue travel warnings to U.S. citizens because of a belief that al-Qaeda is plotting new terrorists attacks only adds more credence to the calls for more answers about the disaster in Benghazi. 

If there is no scandal concerning the events that led to Benghazi and its aftermath, there certainly appears to be something that resembles a cover up going on about it. The White House needs to drop the politicized refrain about “phony scandals” and start treating this issue seriously. It should direct the CIA to start answering questions from the Congress. The sooner it does, the better it will be for the president once we find out—as we inevitably will—what it is that they are trying to keep secret.

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The Jobs Report

The July jobs report came in from the Bureau of Labor Statistics this morning. There were 162,000 jobs created last month and the unemployment rate fell from 7.6 to 7.4 percent. That’s the lowest unemployment rate since December 2008, the month before Barack Obama became president. That will, undoubtedly, be tomorrow’s headline in the Obama media.

But the civilian participation rate and the employment-population ratio both went down and lag behind where they were a year ago. Unemployment among groups such as blacks (12.5 percent) and teenagers (20.3) remains dismal. The unemployment rate among black teenagers is a horrendous 41.6 percent. In other words, more than two in every five teenage blacks who want a job can’t find one.

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The July jobs report came in from the Bureau of Labor Statistics this morning. There were 162,000 jobs created last month and the unemployment rate fell from 7.6 to 7.4 percent. That’s the lowest unemployment rate since December 2008, the month before Barack Obama became president. That will, undoubtedly, be tomorrow’s headline in the Obama media.

But the civilian participation rate and the employment-population ratio both went down and lag behind where they were a year ago. Unemployment among groups such as blacks (12.5 percent) and teenagers (20.3) remains dismal. The unemployment rate among black teenagers is a horrendous 41.6 percent. In other words, more than two in every five teenage blacks who want a job can’t find one.

People working part-time who would rather be working full-time has shrunk in the last year by a grand total of 3,000 people, from 8,104,000 to 8,101,000. This is probably an effect of the mandate in ObamaCare to insure full-time workers if they number over 50, but part-time workers working less than 30 hours a week don’t count.

In the three years and nine months after unemployment hit its peak in the 1981-82 recession, in December 1982, unemployment shrank by 35 percent. Since unemployment peaked in June 2009, it has shrunk by only 26 percent, and if you take the number of people working part-time who would rather be working full-time, it’s much worse than that.

All in all, the Obama nonrecovery proceeds apace.

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What Rush Hath Wrought

Let’s now pause to take a moment to render praise to someone who rarely fails to do the same for himself. Yesterday was the 25th anniversary of the syndication of Rush Limbaugh’s radio show. While the date passed largely without notice in much of the media, it is nonetheless a significant milestone that, regardless of whether you love Rush or hate him, deserves to be noted. Though he will never draw the sort of accolades and awards that mainstream media liberals routinely bestow on each other in pompous ceremonies, Limbaugh is without a doubt one of the most influential figures in the history of broadcasting. Though he was hardly the first or the only conservative talker on the air, Limbaugh’s unique mix of biting conservative commentary, humor, and braggadocio helped transform the political landscape of America.

I think there are three main points to be made about Rush on his silver anniversary.

The first is that Rush’s radio revolution was made possible because it filled a void in the world of broadcasting. The 1987 repeal of the so-called fairness doctrine, which hindered the ability of radio stations to run talk shows that operated from a specific point of view, cleared the way for both conservatives and liberals to take to the airwaves. The reason why conservative talk shows succeeded (in Rush’s case on a scale no one could have imagined before he did it) and left-wing hosts have generally flopped is that in a media world where liberals dominated most daily newspapers and all the broadcast television networks there was a huge audience that was dying to hear someone they agreed with. As with the subsequent development of Fox News, Rush’s success was the product of the fact that there was an underserved niche in the market that made up approximately half of the American people who thought of themselves as conservatives.

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Let’s now pause to take a moment to render praise to someone who rarely fails to do the same for himself. Yesterday was the 25th anniversary of the syndication of Rush Limbaugh’s radio show. While the date passed largely without notice in much of the media, it is nonetheless a significant milestone that, regardless of whether you love Rush or hate him, deserves to be noted. Though he will never draw the sort of accolades and awards that mainstream media liberals routinely bestow on each other in pompous ceremonies, Limbaugh is without a doubt one of the most influential figures in the history of broadcasting. Though he was hardly the first or the only conservative talker on the air, Limbaugh’s unique mix of biting conservative commentary, humor, and braggadocio helped transform the political landscape of America.

I think there are three main points to be made about Rush on his silver anniversary.

The first is that Rush’s radio revolution was made possible because it filled a void in the world of broadcasting. The 1987 repeal of the so-called fairness doctrine, which hindered the ability of radio stations to run talk shows that operated from a specific point of view, cleared the way for both conservatives and liberals to take to the airwaves. The reason why conservative talk shows succeeded (in Rush’s case on a scale no one could have imagined before he did it) and left-wing hosts have generally flopped is that in a media world where liberals dominated most daily newspapers and all the broadcast television networks there was a huge audience that was dying to hear someone they agreed with. As with the subsequent development of Fox News, Rush’s success was the product of the fact that there was an underserved niche in the market that made up approximately half of the American people who thought of themselves as conservatives.

That factor along with the fact that Rush’s show was both entertaining and always spoke to the news of the day contributed to making it an instant hit. Thinking back on this period of American political history, what is most remarkable is that it wasn’t long after it became nationally syndicated that Limbaugh assumed his current perch as perhaps the most influential radio talker in the country. By the time of the Republican landslide in the 1994 congressional elections, Rush was already an icon of the right and public enemy No. 1 to the left.

What was most disconcerting about Rush’s ascendance to his liberal antagonists was not so much the clever way he parodied objects of his derision like Bill Clinton but the fact that it was quickly apparent that there was no going back to the pre-Limbaugh status quo. Prior to his rise, impudent conservatives had no place on the national spectrum. Talk radio—as well as Fox News on TV, which came along a few years later—changed forever the American public square in which a few liberal talking heads had been the arbiters of what could and could not be said on the air.

The second point to be made about Rush is that notwithstanding his importance in changing the way we think about media and politics, he is not the pope of the Republican Party or the conservative movement.

The left prefers its conservative villains to be as sinister as possible so it was always necessary to account for Rush’s huge audience by portraying him as either being the front man for a dark right-wing conspiracy or as the evil Svengali hypnotizing a docile audience of hayseeds and fools into supporting policies that are against their interests.

But the key to understanding Limbaugh’s perennial appeal is that he has always been a sounding board for conservative sentiment in this country, not its manufacturer. Limbaugh has thrived not by dictating to his audience but because he has followed it and appealed to the issues and stories they care about. To note this fact is not to discount or deny that he is one of the country’s opinion leaders, but it is a mistake to think that what he has done is anything other than provide a platform for the views of his listeners and to appeal to what they think is simple common sense.

Lastly, it is equally a myth to claim that Limbaugh has coarsened the tenor of America’s political debate. Though he has sometimes erred by using misleading terms like “feminazis” and memorably called free contraception advocate Sandra Fluke a “slut” in an awkward effort to skewer her position, most of what Limbaugh says is merely blunt conservatism, often presented with a satirical tone. Most liberals who denounce Limbaugh have probably never actually listened to his show and have little idea of how central humor has always been to his popularity.

What Limbaugh has done is to shoot a great many liberal sacred cows on a regular basis, and that isn’t something the left and its media gatekeepers were ever willing to accept. The notion that he is uniquely disrespectful or nasty is not only a distortion of his own record. It also reflects a stark double standard by which the mainstream media’s dismissal or even slanders of the right are treated as unexceptional while conservative denunciations of liberals are seen as beyond the pale.

Talk radio, like any medium, is a mixed bag. Some of its practitioners bring a lot to the table while some are mere windbags or even dangerous demagogues. Limbaugh is neither of those. His national popularity is a continuing testament both to his talent and to the enduring appeal of his brand. His breakthrough still disconcerts his opponents who long to tell conservatives to shut up. Thanks to Rush that will never happen. Even those Americans who don’t always agree with him should be happy about that. 

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Doomsday Diplomacy and the Middle East

What happens if the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks brokered by Secretary of State John Kerry end without a deal? This is a question hovering not so discreetly in the background of the renewed negotiations, because there are only so many times hope can triumph over experience. To peace processors, there is never a downside to negotiations. To pessimists, the current assemblage of personalities has created a perfect storm of skepticism.

Kerry, leading the process, has neither the charisma nor the depth of knowledge to inspire confidence. His envoy, Martin Indyk, was part of the Clinton team in the lead-up to Camp David, which ended in disaster and a Palestinian terror campaign against Jewish civilians. Indyk wrote a memoir of his experience that was highly readable and full of entertaining stories but riddled throughout with contradictions, hypocrisy, and partisan point-scoring to a degree uncommon for modern diplomats.

Indyk also does not hide his disdain (and Clinton’s) for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the book. When Bill Clinton got directly involved in the Israeli elections to help Netanyahu’s opponent Shimon Peres, Netanyahu complained to Indyk, who recalls Clinton’s belief that because Netanyahu had Republican allies in Congress, Netanyahu was “getting his just deserts.” (The comparison is so ridiculous on its face that the reader simply assumes neither Clinton nor Indyk actually believes it, but that they thought nothing of casually insulting the Israeli prime minister while overtly trying to oust him from office.)

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What happens if the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks brokered by Secretary of State John Kerry end without a deal? This is a question hovering not so discreetly in the background of the renewed negotiations, because there are only so many times hope can triumph over experience. To peace processors, there is never a downside to negotiations. To pessimists, the current assemblage of personalities has created a perfect storm of skepticism.

Kerry, leading the process, has neither the charisma nor the depth of knowledge to inspire confidence. His envoy, Martin Indyk, was part of the Clinton team in the lead-up to Camp David, which ended in disaster and a Palestinian terror campaign against Jewish civilians. Indyk wrote a memoir of his experience that was highly readable and full of entertaining stories but riddled throughout with contradictions, hypocrisy, and partisan point-scoring to a degree uncommon for modern diplomats.

Indyk also does not hide his disdain (and Clinton’s) for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the book. When Bill Clinton got directly involved in the Israeli elections to help Netanyahu’s opponent Shimon Peres, Netanyahu complained to Indyk, who recalls Clinton’s belief that because Netanyahu had Republican allies in Congress, Netanyahu was “getting his just deserts.” (The comparison is so ridiculous on its face that the reader simply assumes neither Clinton nor Indyk actually believes it, but that they thought nothing of casually insulting the Israeli prime minister while overtly trying to oust him from office.)

The Palestinians are led by Mahmoud Abbas, who resolutely refused to consider negotiating until Israel released terrorists and child murderers that Abbas could fete as heroes while the rest of the world tried to pretend this wasn’t as grotesque and barbaric as it quite obviously was. Israel is led again by Netanyahu, who thanks to the prisoner release will have even less political space at home to make the one-sided concessions usually required in the post-Oslo era, and probably doesn’t forget that in the past, Indyk’s presence in Israel often signaled that the White House’s attempts to remove Netanyahu from office were underway.

But Indyk’s role as a harbinger of doom is actually quite appropriate to the current negotiations, because that is exactly how Kerry’s team seems to approach this task. The Washington Post’s David Ignatius described it this way earlier this week:

What Kerry has done, in effect, is get the two sides to grab hold of a stick of dynamite. If they can’t defuse it within nine months through an agreement, it’s going to blow up: The moderate Palestinian government in the West Bank would collapse; militant Palestinians would take statehood to the United Nations, probably this time with broad European support; an angry Arab League would withdraw its peace initiative. It would be a big mess for everyone.

That prompted Peter Feaver, a former Bush administration official and current writer at Foreign Policy’s website, to respond yesterday by correctly pointing out that Kerry’s peace process logic is uncomfortably close to the argument for the budget sequester:

The pill proved bitter, but apparently not as bitter as a genuine compromise on fiscal matters. The Budget Control Act dynamite blew up and, even worse, is scheduled to blow up again. And this time, few seem to expect the blowup to be averted.

I suppose one could argue at a stretch that Israelis and Palestinians are more inclined to compromise under explosive threats than Democrats and Republicans since failure would result not just in loss of programs but perhaps immediate loss of life. Yet both Democrats and Republicans have claimed that real lives are at risk in the sequester. And as bad as partisanship is these days, there is a far-richer record of two-sided compromise in the U.S. Congress than in Israel-Palestine.

That is correct. But Feaver probably doesn’t go far enough. History tells us not only to keep expectations modest in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations but that the prospect of the peace talks’ violent collapse is certainly no deterrent to the Palestinian leadership’s inclination to walk away. Indyk knows this from his own personal experience. The argument that Indyk’s supporters seem to be making, that his record’s conspicuous lack of success has given him the necessary experience to get it right this time, is less than convincing. Where’s the indication he has learned his lesson?

For all these reasons, there has been an assumption that there must be a Plan B. But the virtue of a Plan B only holds if the two sides don’t know about it, otherwise they will have no reason not to wait and see what else is on offer. And the existence of a Plan B completely undermines Kerry’s sequester approach. It also explains why some Israelis are understandably wary of the whole process: if talks fail, Israelis aren’t going to be the ones to launch a terror campaign; they’ll be the targets. And finally, the very fact there might be a credible Plan B raises the question: if there are modest but helpful steps that can be taken without descending into eschatological chaos, wouldn’t it be more responsible to try those first?

Perhaps Martin Indyk will succeed where Martin Indyk has failed, and maybe John Kerry has a Plan B because he doesn’t trust John Kerry. But that’s not a sales pitch that will convince the doubters.

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The Wages of Irresolution

Barack Obama came into the presidency promising to improve America’s standing in the world. He seems to have forgotten it is just as important for a superpower to be feared–or better yet respected–as to be loved. In point of fact, as polls attest, Obama has not made the United States loved in the Muslim world and other key areas– just 14 percent of Egyptians have a favorable view of the U.S. Nor has Obama made the U.S. respected.

That much is obvious from Russia’s decision to grant accused traitor Edward Snowden political asylum. Vladimir Putin fully heard out the administration’s pleas that Snowden be sent back home to face trial for his crimes–and he consciously decided to aggravate the United States instead of accommodating it. It’s not as if the fate of Edward Snowden was so important to Putin. The young NSA turncoat matters only for his symbolic value: By granting asylum to Snowden, Putin is humiliating Obama.

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Barack Obama came into the presidency promising to improve America’s standing in the world. He seems to have forgotten it is just as important for a superpower to be feared–or better yet respected–as to be loved. In point of fact, as polls attest, Obama has not made the United States loved in the Muslim world and other key areas– just 14 percent of Egyptians have a favorable view of the U.S. Nor has Obama made the U.S. respected.

That much is obvious from Russia’s decision to grant accused traitor Edward Snowden political asylum. Vladimir Putin fully heard out the administration’s pleas that Snowden be sent back home to face trial for his crimes–and he consciously decided to aggravate the United States instead of accommodating it. It’s not as if the fate of Edward Snowden was so important to Putin. The young NSA turncoat matters only for his symbolic value: By granting asylum to Snowden, Putin is humiliating Obama.

The fact that Putin would send such a signal over such an inconsequential issue is a sign of how little he cares about potential American retaliation. And why should he? Obama has done precious little during his time in office to convey the impression that he will back up his threats–except of course against Osama bin Laden. But precious few other issues can be resolved neatly and expeditiously with a Special Operations raid or a drone strike.

Case in point: His agonized hesitancy over Syria where he first drew a “red line,” then hesitated to acknowledge that it had been crossed, and even when he did concede that, yes, Assad had used chemical weapons, his reaction was as minimal as possible–agreeing to send some infantry weapons to the Syrian opposition which have not yet been delivered. Obama understandably doesn’t want to get stuck in the Syrian morass. But he should understand that when the president of the United States makes threats and then fails to make good on them, that has consequences for America’s dealings with the rest of the world. It sends a message of irresolution that cunning predators like Putin can smell from half a world away. The result: Snowden will have an opportunity to upgrade his tastes from pizza and fried chicken to caviar and blinis.

At the very least Obama must register his displeasure by cancelling a planned summit with Putin on the sidelines of the G20 meeting in St. Petersburg in September. That seems likely to happen, but indications are that Obama is still planning to attend the G20. He shouldn’t, notwithstanding the temporary flap it will cause; otherwise he will only convey to Putin and his ilk the impression that he is a pushover in the harsh and unforgiving realm of international politics.

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Iran’s Fake Moderate Shows His True Colors

The constant refrain in the last two months from the foreign policy establishment has been to hail new Iranian President Hassan Rouhani as a moderate. The winner of that country’s faux democratic election has been depicted in fawning profiles in venues like the New York Times as a pragmatist the West can do business with and someone who should be trusted to cut a deal that would end the standoff over Iran’s nuclear weapons program. Though a close look at his biography betrays little that would lead one to believe that he is anything but an ardent believer in the Islamist ideology of the regime’s founder Ayatollah Khomeini, it has become an article of faith among so-called “realists” that his election was a setback for the hard-liners in Iran that should serve as an opening for more negotiations with the West.

Since his election in a field in which he was supposedly the least fanatic, Rouhani has done nothing to disillusion his legions of Western fans, but while attending a solidarity event with Palestinians he dropped his façade of moderation just long enough to give us a glimpse of his real ideas. What he said was enough to show that the alleged distance between his view and his old friend Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei or outgoing President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was not very great after all. The New York Times wrote this earlier today in a story that was taken down from their Website later:

Ahead of his inauguration, Iran’s new president on Friday called Israel an “old wound” that should be removed, while tens of thousands of Iranians marched in support of Muslim claims to the holy city of Jerusalem. Hassan Rouhani’s remarks about Israel — his country’s archenemy — echoed longstanding views of other Iranian leaders.

“The Zionist regime has been a wound on the body of the Islamic world for years and the wound should be removed,” Rouhani was quoted as saying by the semi-official ISNA news agency.

ISNA claimed later that they (and not Western editors) had mistranslated Rouhani’s quote and then issued corrections claiming he had merely called Israel a “sore” and had not said it should be removed–though one wonders what he thinks should be done with sores if they are not to be removed. The original Times story was then replaced with a tamer piece. But the argument that the alleged mistranslation should not be used to debunk Rouhani’s reputation as a moderate was undermined by the fact that, as even the revised Times story said, he had denounced Israel “in several books.” The entire affair demonstrates the classic definition of a gaffe: when someone tells the truth about themselves.

Like all the non-moderates whose views we were told he opposes, Rouhani is a purveyor of hatred of Israel. Considering that he is also a supporter of the country’s drive for nuclear weapons, you don’t have to be a hawk or a neocon or even the prime minister of Israel to connect the dots between his beliefs and the threat that a nuclear Iran poses to understand that the conviction that he offers a way out of the nuclear impasse is naive.

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The constant refrain in the last two months from the foreign policy establishment has been to hail new Iranian President Hassan Rouhani as a moderate. The winner of that country’s faux democratic election has been depicted in fawning profiles in venues like the New York Times as a pragmatist the West can do business with and someone who should be trusted to cut a deal that would end the standoff over Iran’s nuclear weapons program. Though a close look at his biography betrays little that would lead one to believe that he is anything but an ardent believer in the Islamist ideology of the regime’s founder Ayatollah Khomeini, it has become an article of faith among so-called “realists” that his election was a setback for the hard-liners in Iran that should serve as an opening for more negotiations with the West.

Since his election in a field in which he was supposedly the least fanatic, Rouhani has done nothing to disillusion his legions of Western fans, but while attending a solidarity event with Palestinians he dropped his façade of moderation just long enough to give us a glimpse of his real ideas. What he said was enough to show that the alleged distance between his view and his old friend Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei or outgoing President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was not very great after all. The New York Times wrote this earlier today in a story that was taken down from their Website later:

Ahead of his inauguration, Iran’s new president on Friday called Israel an “old wound” that should be removed, while tens of thousands of Iranians marched in support of Muslim claims to the holy city of Jerusalem. Hassan Rouhani’s remarks about Israel — his country’s archenemy — echoed longstanding views of other Iranian leaders.

“The Zionist regime has been a wound on the body of the Islamic world for years and the wound should be removed,” Rouhani was quoted as saying by the semi-official ISNA news agency.

ISNA claimed later that they (and not Western editors) had mistranslated Rouhani’s quote and then issued corrections claiming he had merely called Israel a “sore” and had not said it should be removed–though one wonders what he thinks should be done with sores if they are not to be removed. The original Times story was then replaced with a tamer piece. But the argument that the alleged mistranslation should not be used to debunk Rouhani’s reputation as a moderate was undermined by the fact that, as even the revised Times story said, he had denounced Israel “in several books.” The entire affair demonstrates the classic definition of a gaffe: when someone tells the truth about themselves.

Like all the non-moderates whose views we were told he opposes, Rouhani is a purveyor of hatred of Israel. Considering that he is also a supporter of the country’s drive for nuclear weapons, you don’t have to be a hawk or a neocon or even the prime minister of Israel to connect the dots between his beliefs and the threat that a nuclear Iran poses to understand that the conviction that he offers a way out of the nuclear impasse is naive.

Rouhani’s discussion of remove Israel is pertinent to the question of his country being allowed to possess nuclear weapons in that the existence of the Jewish state is a national obsession in Iran. As the Times notes:

Rouhani spoke at an annual pro-Palestinian rally marking “Al-Quds Day” — the Arabic word for Jerusalem.

Iran does not recognize Israel and has since the 1979 Islamic Revolution observed the last Friday of the Islamic month of Ramadan as “Al-Quds Day.” Tehran says the occasion is meant to express support for Palestinians and emphasize the importance of Jerusalem for Muslims. …

Anti-Israeli rallies were held in cities and towns across Iran. In the capital, Tehran, tens of thousands took to the streets, chanting “Down with America” and “Death to Israel.” Some protesters also burned American and Israeli flags.

Outgoing President Ahmadinejad — who was known for vitriolic anti-Israeli rhetoric while in office, including calls that Israel be destroyed — spoke to the crowds after Friday prayers at the Tehran University campus in his last public speech before his term ends.

“You Zionists planted a wind but you will harvest a storm,” said Ahmadinejad. “A destructive storm is on the way and it will destroy Zionism.”

The later version of the Times story eliminated mention of Ahmadinejad. But their original piece made it clear just how central hatred for Israel and Jews is to the Islamist government’s agenda. It also illustrates the fact that for all of the public relations pabulum we’ve been fed about Rouhani, there is actually very little that separates him from a figure like Ahmadinejad, who is rightly viewed in the West as a fanatic. Though Rouhani might have been the least fanatic member of a hand-picked field of regime supporters who were allowed to run for president, on key issues like Israel and nukes, that is a distinction without a difference.

Though the post Rouhani is inheriting from Ahmadinejad has no real power over foreign policy or the nuclear program, Iran’s small cheering section here, as well as those who just don’t want the West to take action on the nuclear threat, have been inflating his election into a game-changing event. It wasn’t anything of the sort.

The Obama administration has been acting lately as if it is desperate for any excuse to keep talking with Iran even though it knows such negotiations are merely ruses designed to stall the West in order to give the regime’s nuclear program more time to get closer to a bomb. The president has repeatedly promised that he won’t let Iran go nuclear on his watch and many in Washington have hoped that Rouhani offered an opportunity for the president to avoid the necessity of taking action to redeem his pledge. But his verbal attack on Israel demonstrates that his pose of moderation won’t wash.

The Rouhani ruse has already been exploded as a lie. Rather than wasting another year on pointless talks that will achieve nothing, its time for President Obama to draw the only possible conclusion from this incident and tell the Iranians that he means business on the nuclear issue.

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