Commentary Magazine


Posts For: October 9, 2013

Obama Blunders Again on Egypt

With the Obama administration dithering on Syria and then embracing a new round of engagement with Iran, the turmoil in Egypt, which was the top foreign news story this past summer, has largely been out of the headlines since August. In the intervening months, the Egyptian military has been following up on the coup in which they ousted the Muslim Brotherhood government of Mohamed Morsi by suppressing the Islamist group. Though all indications point to the military retaining the support of most Egyptians—they only intervened to topple Morsi after tens of millions took to the streets to protest the Brotherhood’s push to transform the world’s most populous Arab country into an Islamist state—the situation remains fluid. In the last week alone some 900 Egyptians, including 100 police and military personnel, have been killed in violence sparked by Brotherhood protests. This latest outbreak is apparently the last straw for an Obama administration that had supported Morsi and discouraged the coup. As the New York Times reports, administration officials are saying that within days the U.S. will formally cut military aid to Egypt.

The aid cutoff will be trumpeted by the administration as a sign that it is serious about supporting democracy and upholding the rule of law. But if the goal here is to help end the violence in Egypt or bolster stability in the region, this is the worst mistake President Obama can make. U.S. influence in Egypt is already minimal, but a gesture that will be interpreted as encouraging the Brotherhood protests will be seen as evidence that, despite Washington’s denials, Obama really does favor the Islamists. After handing Russia’s Vladimir Putin and the Assad regime’s Iranian allies an unexpected and unearned victory in Syria, it appears the administration is determined to pursue its grudge against the military even if it undermines what’s left of U.S. influence in the region as well as undermining the Egypt-Israel peace treaty.

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With the Obama administration dithering on Syria and then embracing a new round of engagement with Iran, the turmoil in Egypt, which was the top foreign news story this past summer, has largely been out of the headlines since August. In the intervening months, the Egyptian military has been following up on the coup in which they ousted the Muslim Brotherhood government of Mohamed Morsi by suppressing the Islamist group. Though all indications point to the military retaining the support of most Egyptians—they only intervened to topple Morsi after tens of millions took to the streets to protest the Brotherhood’s push to transform the world’s most populous Arab country into an Islamist state—the situation remains fluid. In the last week alone some 900 Egyptians, including 100 police and military personnel, have been killed in violence sparked by Brotherhood protests. This latest outbreak is apparently the last straw for an Obama administration that had supported Morsi and discouraged the coup. As the New York Times reports, administration officials are saying that within days the U.S. will formally cut military aid to Egypt.

The aid cutoff will be trumpeted by the administration as a sign that it is serious about supporting democracy and upholding the rule of law. But if the goal here is to help end the violence in Egypt or bolster stability in the region, this is the worst mistake President Obama can make. U.S. influence in Egypt is already minimal, but a gesture that will be interpreted as encouraging the Brotherhood protests will be seen as evidence that, despite Washington’s denials, Obama really does favor the Islamists. After handing Russia’s Vladimir Putin and the Assad regime’s Iranian allies an unexpected and unearned victory in Syria, it appears the administration is determined to pursue its grudge against the military even if it undermines what’s left of U.S. influence in the region as well as undermining the Egypt-Israel peace treaty.

The bloody crackdowns on the Brotherhood are not easy to defend. But the difference between Cairo and Washington is not so much one about tactics as it is about whether a totalitarian Islamist party should have been allowed to hijack the post-Mubarak revolution and ensure that it could never be forced to give up power. While many of us may have hoped that the Arab Spring could bring democracy to Egypt, it was soon clear that this was a pipe dream. The choice in Egypt is not between democracy and the military but between an Islamist dictatorship and secular authoritarians. As such the U.S. should have little doubt about the relative attractiveness of the latter. If anything like democracy is ever to prevail in Egypt—a proposition that ought to be treated as doubtful even as a long-range hypothetical—it can only happen once the Brotherhood is eliminated as a political power.

The aid cutoff, which will reportedly not include some money aimed at bolstering counter-terrorism, won’t topple the military. But it will encourage the Brotherhood to persist in their effort to win back power. Thus rather than helping to ensure that violence is gradually eliminated, it more or less guarantees a longer struggle in which the Islamists will believe their military opponents are isolated.

The arguments in favor of cutting off aid or at least using the threat as leverage in order to force the military are based in an assumption that the Brotherhood is too strong and too numerous to be eliminated. But while the Brotherhood remains formidable, the military has already proved that the Islamists don’t have the support of the people as they had always claimed. The Obama administration has been trying to play both ends against the middle in Egypt since the fall of Hosni Mubarak and failed miserably, as both Islamists and secular Egyptians blamed the U.S. for backing their opponents.

Had the U.S. cut aid at the time of the coup the policy would have been a mistake, but it would been consistent with past efforts to back the Brotherhood and to keep the military in its place. But to do so now after the Brotherhood is on the run and seemingly beaten is neither logical nor good policy.

It is also, as many in Israel have pointed out, a blow to regional security. The months since the coup have seen Cairo and Jerusalem working together as never before. The two countries have worked together to fight the growing al-Qaeda presence in the Sinai that had filled the vacuum left by the Brotherhood government. The military government has also placed tremendous financial pressure on the Hamas regime in Gaza, a policy that is a blow to terrorism as well as bolstering, at least in theory, the Israel-Palestinian peace process. By contrast, cutting off the aid will be a blow to the Egypt-Israel peace treaty and strengthen the voices of those Egyptians who want to revise or junk it altogether.

The consequences of the cutoff cannot be fully predicted, but for the U.S. to blithely assume that Cairo has no other options for a foreign ally or military aid again demonstrates the amateurism that has largely characterized Obama’s foreign policy. The U.S. alliance with Egypt began when Anwar Sadat kicked the Soviets out in exchange for U.S. cash that was made contingent on Cairo keeping the peace with Israel. With Russia now regaining some of their lost prestige by Obama’s allowing Putin to have his way in Syria, is it really such a stretch to believe that Moscow might fill the void left by Washington? Does anyone, even in the Obama State Department, think that the causes of peace, stability, or even democracy would be advanced by another Putin foreign-policy triumph? Having already given new meaning to the term incompetence in its dealings in the Middle East, the administration may be about to make things even worse.

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The Christie-Booker Expectations Game

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie took some heat from conservatives earlier this year for his decision to schedule the special Senate election for the late Frank Lautenberg’s seat a few weeks earlier than the gubernatorial election. It was a pragmatic move for Christie: Cory Booker was going to be the Democratic Senate candidate and probably sail to victory. For Christie, having his own reelection separate from Booker’s Senate election would ensure that any extra turnout generated by Booker’s campaign would not also be casting a vote that same day (possibly) against Christie.

This put Republicans vying for Lautenberg’s seat against Booker at a disadvantage, but no one thought it would be close enough to matter either way. In contrast, because New Jersey is a solid blue state, Christie would want to take no chances. But a funny thing happened on the way to the forum. Booker’s lead in the polls has slipped enough to worry his supporters and inspire Michael Bloomberg to dump buckets of money into Booker’s campaign coffers, even while Booker’s opponent, former Bogota mayor Steve Lonegan, seemed to be left by his party to fend for himself.

The whole election season has thus been somewhat confusing for outsiders. But anyone seeking to understand why Christie has soared while Booker has tumbled–in New Jersey of all places–could do worse than watch this brief clip from last night’s gubernatorial debate between Christie and his Democratic opponent, State Senator Barbara Buono:

                

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New Jersey Governor Chris Christie took some heat from conservatives earlier this year for his decision to schedule the special Senate election for the late Frank Lautenberg’s seat a few weeks earlier than the gubernatorial election. It was a pragmatic move for Christie: Cory Booker was going to be the Democratic Senate candidate and probably sail to victory. For Christie, having his own reelection separate from Booker’s Senate election would ensure that any extra turnout generated by Booker’s campaign would not also be casting a vote that same day (possibly) against Christie.

This put Republicans vying for Lautenberg’s seat against Booker at a disadvantage, but no one thought it would be close enough to matter either way. In contrast, because New Jersey is a solid blue state, Christie would want to take no chances. But a funny thing happened on the way to the forum. Booker’s lead in the polls has slipped enough to worry his supporters and inspire Michael Bloomberg to dump buckets of money into Booker’s campaign coffers, even while Booker’s opponent, former Bogota mayor Steve Lonegan, seemed to be left by his party to fend for himself.

The whole election season has thus been somewhat confusing for outsiders. But anyone seeking to understand why Christie has soared while Booker has tumbled–in New Jersey of all places–could do worse than watch this brief clip from last night’s gubernatorial debate between Christie and his Democratic opponent, State Senator Barbara Buono:

                

Christie has natural political skills, sharpened by being a conservative in a blue state. Though Booker is personable, he is struggling to make his case to a sympathetic electorate, as the New York Times explained in its story about Bloomberg’s rescue mission:

But the Senate campaign Mr. Booker, a Democrat, is running in New Jersey — at times sputtering, unfocused and entangled in seemingly frivolous skirmishes over Twitter messages involving a stripper — has unnerved his supporters, who thought that a robust and unblemished victory over his Republican opponent, Steve Lonegan, would catapult him onto the national stage. …

Mr. Booker’s bumpy campaign and shrinking lead in the polls are all the more unsettling to Democratic Party officials because Mr. Lonegan is a political anomaly in the blue-hued state: a Tea Party conservative who describes himself as a “radical,” opposes abortion even in cases of rape and incest, cheers the current shutdown of the federal government and has relied on polarizing right-wing figures like Sarah Palin and Rick Perry as campaign surrogates.

Mr. Lonegan, despite his ideological alignment, appears to have tapped into lingering doubts about whether Mr. Booker can translate his outsize, self-promotional persona, so popular with the Democratic base, into the rigors of a highly disciplined campaign.

This is familiar territory; the press last year began wondering aloud whether Booker had enough substance for the national stage, and they apparently never got a satisfactory answer. It should be noted that Booker is still likely to win, and by a healthy margin: a double-digit victory is no nail-biter. But he’s losing the expectations game. “This should be a 20-point lead and not anything less than that,” Monmouth University pollster Patrick Murray told the Times.

Democrats were unhappy when Booker decided not to challenge Christie and instead run for Senate, thereby leaving the Democrats without a formidable gubernatorial candidate and with a glut of candidates for a Senate seat any of them would win. He also ended the Senate hopes (for now) of Representative Frank Pallone, who was Lautenberg’s chosen successor (not that that entitles him to the seat).

But those same Democrats might be more understanding now. Were Booker to stumble and lose to Christie, his career would be in trouble and New Jersey Democrats would lose a popular voice on chummy Sunday morning roundtables. Instead, he will join New Jersey’s senior senator, Bob Menendez, on those roundtables. The two will make quite a pair for New Jersey’s Democratic representation in the media; Booker is charismatic while Menendez is bland, but Menendez possesses actual influence (he is the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee) while Booker will give the affectation of such, which to Beltway media is basically the same thing.

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Janet Yellen

President Obama is nominating Janet Yellen for the post of chairman of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve, perhaps the world’s most powerful financial position.

The media, with its obsession with firsts for minorities, will doubtless make a big deal of her being the first female chairman (women actually make up a majority of Americans, but never mind that).

More to the point, she is spectacularly well-qualified for the job. She graduated, summa cum laude, from Brown with a degree in economics and got her Ph.D. in the subject from Yale four years later. She has been an economics professor at both Harvard and Berkeley, worked as an economist in the division of international finance at the Fed, served as chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisors under President Clinton (and at the same time was chairman of the Economic Policy Committee of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development), been a Federal Reserve governor, served as president of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, and been vice chairman of the Fed for the last three years. Oh, one more thing, her husband, George Akerlof, won the Nobel Prize in economics in 2001.

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President Obama is nominating Janet Yellen for the post of chairman of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve, perhaps the world’s most powerful financial position.

The media, with its obsession with firsts for minorities, will doubtless make a big deal of her being the first female chairman (women actually make up a majority of Americans, but never mind that).

More to the point, she is spectacularly well-qualified for the job. She graduated, summa cum laude, from Brown with a degree in economics and got her Ph.D. in the subject from Yale four years later. She has been an economics professor at both Harvard and Berkeley, worked as an economist in the division of international finance at the Fed, served as chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisors under President Clinton (and at the same time was chairman of the Economic Policy Committee of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development), been a Federal Reserve governor, served as president of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, and been vice chairman of the Fed for the last three years. Oh, one more thing, her husband, George Akerlof, won the Nobel Prize in economics in 2001.

But, of course, résumés aren’t everything. The Federal Reserve’s most important job is to maintain the value of the dollar while keeping unemployment low. Those are often contradictory goals and the political pressures from sound-money advocates on one side and easy-money advocates on the other can be intense. Janet Yellen has a reputation for favoring soft-money policies and low interest rates. Rates have been very low in recent years to spur recovery from the recession, but at some point the Fed will have to begin to tighten or inflation will explode. It will also have to begin pulling back in some of the trillions of dollars it has created in recent years. It has recently been buying $45 billion in federal bonds and mortgage-backed securities a month, paying for them with newly-minted dollars.

Also, she will have to convince the other members of the Fed’s Open Market Committee to follow her lead. The Open Market Committee consists of the seven members of the Board of Governors plus the presidents of five of the 12 regional Federal Reserve banks. One seat is reserved for the president of the New York Fed, the other four rotate among the 11 other banks. It is the main decision-making body at the Fed. The chairman must get its agreement to act.

Barring some unexpected development, she will win Senate confirmation, probably losing only a few Republican votes. Then the tough part begins. I do not envy her.

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Shutdown Won’t Stop Park Ranger Meeting

According to its mission statement, the Association of National Park Rangers is:

…an organization created to communicate for, about and with National Park Service employees of all disciplines; to promote and enhance the professions, spirit and mission of National Park Service employees; to support management and the perpetuation of the National Park Service and the National Park System; and to provide a forum for professional enrichment.

Whether through their own design or the interpretations of White House lawyers, national park rangers have found themselves at the forefront of the theatrics over the government shutdown, as they have expended money and engendered public ire to shut down monuments which, when the government is fully open, are not staffed, and as they have tried to shutter private businesses which during past government shutdowns were not shut down.

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According to its mission statement, the Association of National Park Rangers is:

…an organization created to communicate for, about and with National Park Service employees of all disciplines; to promote and enhance the professions, spirit and mission of National Park Service employees; to support management and the perpetuation of the National Park Service and the National Park System; and to provide a forum for professional enrichment.

Whether through their own design or the interpretations of White House lawyers, national park rangers have found themselves at the forefront of the theatrics over the government shutdown, as they have expended money and engendered public ire to shut down monuments which, when the government is fully open, are not staffed, and as they have tried to shutter private businesses which during past government shutdowns were not shut down.

Well, no one can accuse the national park service of caring too much about optics. At their home page, they proudly announce “RANGER RENDEZVOUS IN ST. LOUIS is scheduled as usual despite the current federal government shutdown — Join us Oct. 27-31 for the annual gathering.” The event promises “the familiar with the cutting edge” and features Peggy O’Dell, NPS deputy director for operations and Gary Machlis, NPS science adviser.

Alas, it’s not inconvenience that most annoys Americans about their government and some federal workers, but rather the hypocrisy. As I blogged here on Monday, the government is throwing septuagenarians and octogenarians out of their homes on federal land, but allowing President Obama’s mother-in-law to reside in a federal building during the shutdown. It is funding Sesame Street, but delaying cancer research. And it temporarily closed down the Amber Alert main page, while letting Michelle Obama’s pet project remain up and running. The problem Americans face—and the reason why leading figures from both Democrats and Republicans are seeing their poll numbers plummet—is simply because the government seems increasingly hostile to the notion of equal application of the law.

Most park rangers are good people, and many probably dislike the policies which the National Park Service chooses to enforce. But, it is hard to claim to be an essential employee and then jet off to St. Louis for a conference. I am not sure the National Park Service fully recognizes the damage it does to its reputation and image with such hypocrisy will last beyond the shutdown.

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Is Obama Winning the Shutdown?

It’s difficult to argue with those claiming the government shutdown is an ongoing disaster for Republicans. As our John Podhoretz noted today in the New York Post, the idea that the GOP could somehow buffalo red-state Senate Democrats into abandoning the president and defunding ObamaCare was divorced from reality. It was never going to happen and now they’re stuck in a standoff with the White House that Obama thinks he’s winning. Though, as I predicted last week, those who claimed the Republicans would have to fold quickly underestimated their staying power, they’re still stuck with a plan without a path to victory or a viable exit strategy.

But even if we concede that fact, as we should, the assumption that President Obama is winning the shutdown seems to be just as farcical as Senator Ted Cruz’s assurances that the Democrats would blink in the face of conservative threats. As everyone predicted, Republicans are getting more of the blame for the government shutdown. As the latest Associated Press/GFK Poll published today illustrates, 63 percent think Republicans in Congress are not doing enough to end the shutdown while 52 percent say the same of President Obama. That’s a statistical win for the Democrats, but not exactly a vote of confidence. When it is combined with the same poll’s stunningly low 37 percent approval rating for the president, it’s time to also concede that the idea that a shutdown might be a turning point that could revive President Obama’s dismal second term is unfounded. Tea Party and Cruz critics were right to think this is a fight that the GOP should have avoided. But those who think this it is making Obama look like a hero or can help his party win the 2014 midterms are also wrong.

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It’s difficult to argue with those claiming the government shutdown is an ongoing disaster for Republicans. As our John Podhoretz noted today in the New York Post, the idea that the GOP could somehow buffalo red-state Senate Democrats into abandoning the president and defunding ObamaCare was divorced from reality. It was never going to happen and now they’re stuck in a standoff with the White House that Obama thinks he’s winning. Though, as I predicted last week, those who claimed the Republicans would have to fold quickly underestimated their staying power, they’re still stuck with a plan without a path to victory or a viable exit strategy.

But even if we concede that fact, as we should, the assumption that President Obama is winning the shutdown seems to be just as farcical as Senator Ted Cruz’s assurances that the Democrats would blink in the face of conservative threats. As everyone predicted, Republicans are getting more of the blame for the government shutdown. As the latest Associated Press/GFK Poll published today illustrates, 63 percent think Republicans in Congress are not doing enough to end the shutdown while 52 percent say the same of President Obama. That’s a statistical win for the Democrats, but not exactly a vote of confidence. When it is combined with the same poll’s stunningly low 37 percent approval rating for the president, it’s time to also concede that the idea that a shutdown might be a turning point that could revive President Obama’s dismal second term is unfounded. Tea Party and Cruz critics were right to think this is a fight that the GOP should have avoided. But those who think this it is making Obama look like a hero or can help his party win the 2014 midterms are also wrong.

Watching the president’s press conference yesterday, it was clear that this intelligence hasn’t penetrated his consciousness. The president’s hard line vowing not to negotiate over the shutdown or the debt ceiling (though offering the prospect of talks over the budget after the Republicans give up their leverage by surrendering on both the shutdown and the debt) is based on his belief that this is an argument he will always win and that his opponents will eventually see they have no choice but to give up.

For two years, Obama has been daring the Republicans to make his day with a shutdown, secure in his belief that doing so would ensure a repeat of the 1995 fight that helped rescue the Clinton presidency. But while at the urging of the Tea Party House Speaker John Boehner has finally succumbed to the temptation to don the Newt Gingrich clown suit, Obama has proved once again he is no Bill Clinton.

Pointing out Obama’s low poll figures does not exonerate the Republicans or make them look any smarter. But the media’s gang tackle of the GOP, Boehner, Cruz, and the Tea Party has missed an important element of the story that must be taken into account in any analysis of the political impact of the shutdown. As much of a blow to the Republican brand as the shutdown may be, it is far from clear that it will diminish their chances of holding onto the House next year or taking back the Senate.

Democrats may crow about the Republicans’ difficulties, but so long as the public face of their party is a president who endlessly repeats that he won’t negotiate with his foes or Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, they are not likely to gain much ground with the public. Nor is there any indication that Obama’s tantrums are the sort of thing that will give his second term the boost of energy or popularity he so desperately needs.

For all the hyperventilating about the long-term damage the shutdown will do, it’s more than probable that this episode will have little or no impact on the 2014 elections. The fate of the next Congress will largely be determined by the events of the coming year that we cannot predict and by the identity of the candidates in individual swing races (which is a reminder of how much damage Tea Party extremists can really do to the GOP, as they have in the last two election cycles). Both parties will emerge bloodied and bruised from this mess. That doesn’t vindicate Cruz, but it also won’t save Obama.

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Does Either Party Have a Strategy?

Although the modern conservative movement has always been a coalitional project–realists and idealists, neoconservatives and paleoconservatives, religious conservatives and libertarians, etc.–the current round of GOP “civil war” stories obscures a key characteristic of the right’s latest fight. It has as much to do with a disagreement over tactics and strategy as it does ideology.

This has helped insulate the right from what might have otherwise been a more one-sided reaction from the public to the government shutdown. Republicans broadly agree on ObamaCare, the ostensible reason for the shutdown. The public joins Republicans in their distaste for the health-care reform effort, which is currently sputtering out of the gate in a way that demonstrates the incompetence and unpreparedness that has plagued the Obama administration from day one.

That has been one advantage for Republicans so far: they are clearly right on policy, even if wrong on strategy. And it is that state of affairs that leaves me a bit puzzled by Paul Ryan’s proposal to end the shutdown today in the Wall Street Journal, which risks squandering both the ideological unity and the policy advantage in the public consciousness. “To break the deadlock,” Ryan writes, “both sides should agree to common-sense reforms of the country’s entitlement programs and tax code.” On entitlements, this might mean:

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Although the modern conservative movement has always been a coalitional project–realists and idealists, neoconservatives and paleoconservatives, religious conservatives and libertarians, etc.–the current round of GOP “civil war” stories obscures a key characteristic of the right’s latest fight. It has as much to do with a disagreement over tactics and strategy as it does ideology.

This has helped insulate the right from what might have otherwise been a more one-sided reaction from the public to the government shutdown. Republicans broadly agree on ObamaCare, the ostensible reason for the shutdown. The public joins Republicans in their distaste for the health-care reform effort, which is currently sputtering out of the gate in a way that demonstrates the incompetence and unpreparedness that has plagued the Obama administration from day one.

That has been one advantage for Republicans so far: they are clearly right on policy, even if wrong on strategy. And it is that state of affairs that leaves me a bit puzzled by Paul Ryan’s proposal to end the shutdown today in the Wall Street Journal, which risks squandering both the ideological unity and the policy advantage in the public consciousness. “To break the deadlock,” Ryan writes, “both sides should agree to common-sense reforms of the country’s entitlement programs and tax code.” On entitlements, this might mean:

We could ask the better off to pay higher premiums for Medicare. We could reform Medigap plans to encourage efficiency and reduce costs. And we could ask federal employees to contribute more to their own retirement.

The president has embraced these ideas in budget proposals he has submitted to Congress. And in earlier talks with congressional Republicans, he has discussed combining Medicare’s Part A and Part B, so the program will be less confusing for seniors. These ideas have the support of nonpartisan groups like the Bipartisan Policy Center and the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, and they would strengthen these critical programs. And all of them would help pay down the debt.

And on taxes:

Rep. Dave Camp (R., Mich.) and Sen. Max Baucus (D., Mont.) have been working for more than a year now on a bipartisan plan to reform the tax code. They agree on the fundamental principles: Broaden the base, lower the rates and simplify the code. The president himself has argued for just such an approach to corporate taxes. So we should discuss how Congress can take up the Camp–Baucus plan when it’s ready.

Ryan’s policy ideas might stand on their own as sensible suggestions, but presenting them this way makes two critical mistakes. First, if conservatives can at least agree on the major policy focus, they can avoid further factional splintering as the shutdown continues. They have mostly done this so far, concentrating on ObamaCare. Second, moving the goalposts plays right into Democrats’ habit of accusing Republicans of hostage-taking. If the right has a specific, timely, and relevant piece of policy it wants to fight over, the public can at least see a degree of rationality to the gambit. If conservatives just start throwing all manner of comprehensive reform at the president as varying demands to reopen the government, they will look erratic and undisciplined to those in the public who thought at least there was a clear point to all this.

Meanwhile, if Republicans are in danger of squandering more of the public’s approval than they can afford, so are the Democrats. Bill Moyers’s accusation that this government shutdown amounts to “Secession by another means” is irrationality on steroids and indicates that liberal pundits and journalists are so upset by the standoff that they have taken leave of their senses.

And Jonathan Last offers in the Weekly Standard a concise rundown of the National Park Service’s “partisan assault on the citizenry” on behalf of the Obama White House’s intent to harass war veterans and senior citizens in anger and frustration at the current gridlock in Washington. Last writes: “It’s one thing for politicians to play shutdown theater. It’s another thing entirely for a civil bureaucracy entrusted with the privilege of caring for our national heritage to wage war against the citizenry on behalf of a political party.”

Indeed it is. And the political party on whose behalf this abuse is being carried out, the Democratic Party, cannot possibly make a credible case to being either rational or a responsible steward of the federal government. And so the public declares a pox on both houses–though still a slightly more concentrated pox on the GOP. Despite conservatives’ strident opposition to the federal bureaucracy, it appears Democrats are still far more adept at portraying big government as a spiteful bully.

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The Obama Backfire

Public opinion polls show Republicans are paying a higher price for the government shutdown than is the president. But Mr. Obama–whose approval rating has dropped to 37 percent in the most recent Associate Press-GfK Survey–is making some damaging errors that are haunting him as well.

There are a couple in particular that are worth highlighting. The first is his decision to elevate to an Inviolate Principle his insistence that he will not, under any circumstances, negotiate with Republicans over the government shutdown and raising the debt ceiling. Dealing with Iran and Russia is one thing; dealing with the evil John Boehner is entirely another.

Two problems: This no-negotiating position is at odds with the record of past presidents; and his insistence that not raising the debt ceiling can only be driven by nihilistic impulses is at odds with Obama himself, who as a U.S. senator voted against raising the debt ceiling. Mr. Obama has simply decided that he wants what he wants when he wants it, and that’s that. My way or the highway.

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Public opinion polls show Republicans are paying a higher price for the government shutdown than is the president. But Mr. Obama–whose approval rating has dropped to 37 percent in the most recent Associate Press-GfK Survey–is making some damaging errors that are haunting him as well.

There are a couple in particular that are worth highlighting. The first is his decision to elevate to an Inviolate Principle his insistence that he will not, under any circumstances, negotiate with Republicans over the government shutdown and raising the debt ceiling. Dealing with Iran and Russia is one thing; dealing with the evil John Boehner is entirely another.

Two problems: This no-negotiating position is at odds with the record of past presidents; and his insistence that not raising the debt ceiling can only be driven by nihilistic impulses is at odds with Obama himself, who as a U.S. senator voted against raising the debt ceiling. Mr. Obama has simply decided that he wants what he wants when he wants it, and that’s that. My way or the highway.

The vulnerability of this mindset is that the president appears (because he is) obstinate, intransigent, and unyielding. He seems to believe that his uncompromising stance will be viewed by the public as a virtue. In fact, he’s very much on the wrong side of the vast majority of Americans who want the parties involved–and especially the president–to reach a compromise in order to end this governing fiasco. It doesn’t help matters that Mr. Obama, when he gets in a jam, often seems unable to contain his petulance. He seems to revel in demonstrating mocking disdain of Congress. His small-mindedness is radiating in every direction–and as a result, the president is shrinking before our eyes.

The other mistake by Mr. Obama is his transparent effort to inflict maximum pain on Americans in the hope that he can convince the public that the GOP is the offending party. Just one example: The effort to erect barricades to keep wheelchair-bound World War II veterans away from the World War II Memorial–an open-air public monument that has always been open 24 hours a day–was vindictive and mean. For the Obama administration to pull this kind of a stunt–which is so transparently partisan, unnecessary, ungenerous, and unappreciative of our veterans–surprises me a bit. Not because I didn’t think Mr. Obama was capable of such things. (We learned long ago that Mr. Obama will say or do just about anything to advance what he believes is in his political interests.) It’s that he was arrogant enough to think he could get away with it.

Which leads me to a final point. The president, always a distant, somewhat withdrawn, and imperious figure, now seems encased in a world all his own. One senses that Mr. Obama has surrounded himself with courtiers whose jobs are to affirm his greatness and his glory. He and they live in a bubble. The president is acting as if America is comprised solely of people who host, appear on, or watch MSNBC. Disagree with Republicans? Don’t engage with them and by all means don’t negotiate with them. Instead drop rhetorical acid on their heads. Describe them as jihadists, terrorists, anarchists, arsonists, gun-to-the-head hostage takers, and (to quote White House aide Dan Pfeiffer) “people with a bomb strapped to their chest.” And all of America will cheer. 

But it turns out that Americans don’t precisely align their views with Chris Matthews, Lawrence O’Donnell, and Rachel Maddow. And they don’t much like their president acting as if he is the deputy communications director of the DNC. 

Who knew? 

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Will Hamas Relocate to Turkey?

Hamas is a terrorist group in search of a home. Uprooted by the Syrian civil war, and shaken by the Egyptian coup, the Hamas leadership has taken temporary shelter in Qatar, but that tiny emirate is showing every sign that they want the Islamist radicals to move on. So where would a radical Islamist terrorist group dedicated to the eradication of the State of Israel and whose charter endorses the crudest anti-Semitism turn? Perhaps to Turkey, America’s NATO ally and a country whose leader President Obama identified as one of his top personal foreign friends. According to Hürriyet Daily News:

The prime ministry in Ankara was the venue for a meeting between the head of Hamas’ political bureau, Khaled Mashaal, and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan today. The meeting, which started at 7 p.m. and lasted for three hours, was closed to the press. Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, National Intelligence Agency (MİT) chief Hakan Fidan, Deputy Undersecretary for the Prime Minister’s Office İbrahim Kalın and advisor Sefer Turan were also present at the meeting, Anadolu Agency reported. The meeting between Mashaal and Erdoğan came around four months after their latest meeting. It came at a time when rumors suggest that Mashaal, currently in exile in Qatar, is searching for another place to live.

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Hamas is a terrorist group in search of a home. Uprooted by the Syrian civil war, and shaken by the Egyptian coup, the Hamas leadership has taken temporary shelter in Qatar, but that tiny emirate is showing every sign that they want the Islamist radicals to move on. So where would a radical Islamist terrorist group dedicated to the eradication of the State of Israel and whose charter endorses the crudest anti-Semitism turn? Perhaps to Turkey, America’s NATO ally and a country whose leader President Obama identified as one of his top personal foreign friends. According to Hürriyet Daily News:

The prime ministry in Ankara was the venue for a meeting between the head of Hamas’ political bureau, Khaled Mashaal, and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan today. The meeting, which started at 7 p.m. and lasted for three hours, was closed to the press. Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, National Intelligence Agency (MİT) chief Hakan Fidan, Deputy Undersecretary for the Prime Minister’s Office İbrahim Kalın and advisor Sefer Turan were also present at the meeting, Anadolu Agency reported. The meeting between Mashaal and Erdoğan came around four months after their latest meeting. It came at a time when rumors suggest that Mashaal, currently in exile in Qatar, is searching for another place to live.

It will be interesting to see how many members of the “Caucus on U.S.-Turkey Relations” in the U.S. Congress may realize they will soon be shilling for a terror sponsor in all but formal designation.

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Destabilizing the Last Stable Area in the Middle East

Speaking to J Street’s annual conference last week, Vice President Joe Biden said he is often asked why his government has made Israeli-Palestinian peace a priority at a time when that conflict is relatively calm, while the rest of the Middle East is exploding. His response was that it offers the best chance of introducing stability into the region.

Even disregarding the absurd assumption that Israeli-Palestinian peace would do anything to ease the bloodletting in, say, Syria or Egypt, this statement is fatuous. Because the evidence shows that far from engendering stability, the administration’s peace push has been rapidly destabilizing what had hitherto been the Mideast’s quietest region.

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Speaking to J Street’s annual conference last week, Vice President Joe Biden said he is often asked why his government has made Israeli-Palestinian peace a priority at a time when that conflict is relatively calm, while the rest of the Middle East is exploding. His response was that it offers the best chance of introducing stability into the region.

Even disregarding the absurd assumption that Israeli-Palestinian peace would do anything to ease the bloodletting in, say, Syria or Egypt, this statement is fatuous. Because the evidence shows that far from engendering stability, the administration’s peace push has been rapidly destabilizing what had hitherto been the Mideast’s quietest region.

Since the talks resumed in late July, the deterioration has been swift. According to the Shin Bet security service, the number of actual and attempted Palestinian terror attacks almost doubled over the space of just one month, from 68 in August to 133 in September. September’s attacks also resulted in two Israeli fatalities–a low number by historical standards, but still double the total for the entire preceding eight months. And October opened grimly, with terrorists shooting a 9-year-old Israeli girl in the chest as she stood on her balcony.

But if a new poll is accurate, worse is yet to come: According to a survey published by the Palestinian Center for Public Opinion last week, 58 percent of Palestinians expect a third intifada to erupt if the current negotiations fail to produce an agreement. Given that 70 percent of Palestinians and 80 percent of Israelis expect the talks to fail, the chances of a new intifada are looking good.

This is especially true because, under the U.S.-brokered deal that restarted the negotiations, Israel must release 104 veteran Palestinian terrorists over the course of the talks, all of whom are serving lengthy jail terms for involvement in deadly attacks. History shows that large-scale terrorist releases are an excellent predictor of future violence: The 1,150 terrorists Israel released in a 1985 prisoner exchange, for instance, played a major role in starting the first intifada two years later, while the thousands of terrorists released under the 1993 Oslo Accord played a major role in launching the second intifada in 2000. Thus these new releases, coming on top of the 1,027 terrorists Israel released in a 2011 swap for kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit, will provide Palestinians with plenty of experienced leadership to organize a new wave of deadly terror.

Former Labor MK Einat Wilf–not exactly a hawk–wrote in August that she dreaded the resumed talks, because “For more than 20 years, peace talks meant more terrorism and more death,” whereas “During the last few years without negotiations, the number of Israelis and Palestinians killed as a result of violent conflict between them has been the lowest in decades.” If a final-status agreement were actually achievable, the risk would be justified. But it’s irresponsible to endanger this fragile state of non-war by launching talks that almost nobody on either side thinks will succeed, she argued, because on this issue, trying and failing is much worse than not trying at all.

Many people on both sides told U.S. officials the same thing. But the Obama administration, in its hubris, was determined to end a conflict that it claimed had been “a major source of instability for far too long.” And it has thereby destabilized the Middle East’s last oasis of stability with its own two hands.

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