Commentary Magazine


Posts For: October 11, 2013

West Bank Reality: Arab, Not Jewish Hate

Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas is planning on using the United Nations to publicize what he characterizes as violations of Arab rights in Jerusalem and settler violence in the West Bank. According to Abbas, the chutzpah of some Jews to demand the right to pray on part of their faith’s holiest site — the Temple Mount — is intolerable. But aside from his push to declare all of those parts of the city that were illegally occupied by Jordan from 1949 to 1967 as exclusive Palestinian property (a stand that would include the Western Wall as well as the Temple Mount in the Palestinian state he wants to create), Abbas is trying to focus the world on what he says is a campaign of outrages by Jews living in the West Bank against their neighbors. The latest example is an incident in which a mosque was defaced and cars vandalized in an Arab village by what appears to have been settlers.

Such instances are outrageous and should be punished. But those who commit such crimes are a tiny minority of even the Jewish population in the territories. The Israeli government, settler groups as well as the overwhelming majority of the Israeli people condemn these occurrences. But as shameful as they are, to pretend, as most mainstream media outlets do, that it is Jewish violence that is the everyday occurrences in the West Bank, let alone the most serious threat to the peace, is beyond absurd. Evidence for just how wrong this assumption is can be found throughout the year as the number of instances of violent attacks, lethal stone throwing and sundry other forms of terrorism that result not just in damaged windshields but wounded and dead Jewish bodies. Just last night, infiltrators near his home in the Jordan valley killed an Israeli. Last weekend, Arab terrorists shot a nine-year-old Israeli girl in a settlement. And yet you can bet that the U.N. and its sundry agencies dedicated to delegitimizing Israel will take up Abbas’ complaints rather than investigating the wave of anti-Jewish violence or ask what role the PA media plays in inciting these attacks.

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Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas is planning on using the United Nations to publicize what he characterizes as violations of Arab rights in Jerusalem and settler violence in the West Bank. According to Abbas, the chutzpah of some Jews to demand the right to pray on part of their faith’s holiest site — the Temple Mount — is intolerable. But aside from his push to declare all of those parts of the city that were illegally occupied by Jordan from 1949 to 1967 as exclusive Palestinian property (a stand that would include the Western Wall as well as the Temple Mount in the Palestinian state he wants to create), Abbas is trying to focus the world on what he says is a campaign of outrages by Jews living in the West Bank against their neighbors. The latest example is an incident in which a mosque was defaced and cars vandalized in an Arab village by what appears to have been settlers.

Such instances are outrageous and should be punished. But those who commit such crimes are a tiny minority of even the Jewish population in the territories. The Israeli government, settler groups as well as the overwhelming majority of the Israeli people condemn these occurrences. But as shameful as they are, to pretend, as most mainstream media outlets do, that it is Jewish violence that is the everyday occurrences in the West Bank, let alone the most serious threat to the peace, is beyond absurd. Evidence for just how wrong this assumption is can be found throughout the year as the number of instances of violent attacks, lethal stone throwing and sundry other forms of terrorism that result not just in damaged windshields but wounded and dead Jewish bodies. Just last night, infiltrators near his home in the Jordan valley killed an Israeli. Last weekend, Arab terrorists shot a nine-year-old Israeli girl in a settlement. And yet you can bet that the U.N. and its sundry agencies dedicated to delegitimizing Israel will take up Abbas’ complaints rather than investigating the wave of anti-Jewish violence or ask what role the PA media plays in inciting these attacks.

The prevailing narrative of evil settlers attacking innocent Palestinians is popular precisely because it dovetails with the frame of reference through which Israel’s critics view the conflict. When they choose to notice the far more frequent instances of Arab violence against Jews, the victims are reported as being “settlers” — even when the targets are children — so as to make the point that they had it coming in some way. The settlers are seen as the possessors of stolen property, not people whose rights to live in the heart of the Jewish homeland are actually guaranteed by international law. If the media were to put settler violence in the context of the siege of attacks with which they have to live, the relatively small number of such incidents would be rightly seen as proof of the restraint and law-abiding nature of the vast majority of Jews living in the territories rather than as evidence of their incorrigible and hateful character.

More to the point, were the media to focus as they should on the drumbeat of incitement of hate against Israel and Jews that comes not from Palestinian outliers but the government that is the Jewish state’s supposed peace partner — Abbas’s PA — the notion that an accord merely requires an Israeli territorial retreat would be seen as a transparent fiction.

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Congress Won’t Spoil Iran Diplomacy

With the Western powers set to sit down in Geneva next week for another attempt at diplomacy with Iran, the foreign-policy establishment’s hopes for an end to the confrontation between Tehran and Washington are high. But those who have worked to revive the failed Obama administration policy of engagement with Iran are still worried. According to the New York Times, their main concern isn’t Iran’s long history of deceitful diplomacy whose only purpose is to buy time for their nuclear program by fooling gullible Western envoys. No, the main obstacle to the goal of stepping back from confrontation with Iran over its drive for nuclear weapons is Congress. With the Senate set to consider new sanctions on Iran in the coming weeks, the fear is that Congress will spike any chance for engagement and empower the “hawks” in Tehran to stop new Iranian President Rouhani’s supposed efforts to make peace with the West.

While Congress is about as popular as bubonic plague these days, this assessment of the situation which predominates in the Times account is nonsense. Just as it was only Congress that dragged President Obama, kicking and screaming, to belatedly adopt tough sanctions on Iran, it now appears that the only possible restraint on an administration that appears determined to go back down the garden path with the ayatollahs is the continued willingness of the House and the Senate to ratchet up the pressure on Tehran. While the president has posed as the adult in the room when it comes to budget talks, in this case it is the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue that is taking the realistic view. Indeed, if there is any remote chance that Iran will be prepared to give up its drive for nuclear weapons, it will only be the result of congressional action that forced the president’s hand.

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With the Western powers set to sit down in Geneva next week for another attempt at diplomacy with Iran, the foreign-policy establishment’s hopes for an end to the confrontation between Tehran and Washington are high. But those who have worked to revive the failed Obama administration policy of engagement with Iran are still worried. According to the New York Times, their main concern isn’t Iran’s long history of deceitful diplomacy whose only purpose is to buy time for their nuclear program by fooling gullible Western envoys. No, the main obstacle to the goal of stepping back from confrontation with Iran over its drive for nuclear weapons is Congress. With the Senate set to consider new sanctions on Iran in the coming weeks, the fear is that Congress will spike any chance for engagement and empower the “hawks” in Tehran to stop new Iranian President Rouhani’s supposed efforts to make peace with the West.

While Congress is about as popular as bubonic plague these days, this assessment of the situation which predominates in the Times account is nonsense. Just as it was only Congress that dragged President Obama, kicking and screaming, to belatedly adopt tough sanctions on Iran, it now appears that the only possible restraint on an administration that appears determined to go back down the garden path with the ayatollahs is the continued willingness of the House and the Senate to ratchet up the pressure on Tehran. While the president has posed as the adult in the room when it comes to budget talks, in this case it is the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue that is taking the realistic view. Indeed, if there is any remote chance that Iran will be prepared to give up its drive for nuclear weapons, it will only be the result of congressional action that forced the president’s hand.

This is a dismaying prospect for those who, like the president and Secretary of State John Kerry, have fallen hook, line, and sinker for the Rouhani charm offensive. That effort has a two-fold purpose. One is to give Western governments whose heart was never really in the effort to stop Iran an excuse to back away from the sanctions that have ruined the Islamist regime’s economy. As I wrote yesterday, the Europeans are already signaling that they wish to go in this direction and are also warning Israel that there is little chance they will stick to a position that requires the Iranians to give up all enrichment of uranium or to scrap their plutonium option.

There is little reason to trust Rouhani, a veteran of Iran’s bait-and-switch diplomacy as well as a faithful servant of a hateful, anti-Semitic terrorist-sponsoring regime. Nor is there any reason to think that he is any less interested in preserving Iran’s nuclear options than his far-less-presentable predecessor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. But those who are appalled at President Obama’s consistent rhetorical stand threatening the Iranians with force if they don’t back down and give up their nukes (a group that may include the president himself) have used Rouhani’s victory in Iran’s fake democratic election as an excuse to reboot a diplomatic process that the Iranians had seemingly finally ended earlier this year. But with the international press buying into Rouhani’s appeal, a path may have been cleared that will lead to Western recognition of Iran’s “right” to enrich uranium and putting in place safeguards that will be as easily ignored once the sanctions are scrapped as were similar efforts to stop North Korea from going nuclear.

But that’s where Congress comes in. Unlike most of the foreign-policy establishment, few there are buying into the Rouhani ruse. Indeed, one Iran appeaser lamented to the Times that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech on the Iranian threat in which he rightly labeled Rouhani a “wolf in sheep’s clothing” was “widely ridiculed in this town but it largely reflects the views of many members of Congress.”

He’s right. There is a solid bipartisan majority in both houses that understands that the only measures short of war that can impact the situation are draconian sanctions. The new sanctions will make it even more difficult for businesses to deal with Iran and for the regime to go on using the sale of oil to finance their nuclear and terrorist activities. Had it not been for the determined efforts of senators like Republican Mark Kirk or Democrat Robert Menendez, the administration might well have succeeded in spiking past sanctions bills that it now brags about having enforced.

It should also be understood that the notion that Congress will give ammunition to Iranian hardliners and hurt Rouhani’s peaceful efforts is an absurd reading of what is happening in Tehran. His boss Supreme Leader Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is using Rouhani as a human shield. But nothing has changed about Iran’s policies or its intentions, as their successful recent military efforts in Syria prove.

If diplomacy has any chance at all it will only be because Congress has forced Obama’s hand via enacting measures that have manufactured economic pressure on Iran. That’s as true today as it was two years ago. Just as important, the excuses that will be used to put off more sanctions once next week’s Geneva meeting proves as much a failure as past gatherings need to be discounted in advance. The whole point of the Iranian diplomatic strategy is to create delay. The Times accurately summarizes the rationale for delaying sanctions:

The problem, say former administration officials, is that this round of talks is unlikely to produce a tangible proposal. While Iran may signal a commitment to negotiate, they say, it is not expected to offer to suspend its enrichment of uranium or mothball suspect facilities.

“If people on the Hill are waiting for dramatic results on the evening of Oct. 16 to decide whether to pass sanctions, that’s wrong,” said Robert Einhorn, a former special adviser for nonproliferation in the State Department. “One shouldn’t set up a situation where unless major progress is being made, we impose new sanctions.”

Actually, that’s exactly what the U.S. should be doing. Nothing short of a total economic embargo of Iran will convince the ayatollahs that their latest effort to pull the wool over the West’s eyes won’t work. If Congress listens to the voices calling for them to pull their punches on Iran, the result won’t be a diplomatic breakthrough. What will follow will be more months and perhaps years of delay that will enhance the chances that Iran will get its bomb long before President Obama summons the will to do something about it.

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Why Ted Cruz is Now Discredited

I pointed out the other day that President Obama has unquestionably been hurt by the government shutdown, but Republicans have been hurt more.  

How bad is it for the GOP? 

The most recent Gallup poll shows the GOP is viewed favorably by 28 percent of Americans–down 10 points since September and the lowest number for either party since Gallup began asking the question in 1992. “The Republican Party is clearly taking a bigger political hit from Americans thus far in the unfolding saga,” according to the Gallup analysis.

Then there’s a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, which (as Rod Dreher helpfully summarizes) shows the following:

  • Only 24 percent of those polled have a positive view of the GOP. Fifty-three percent have a negative view–a differential of 29 percent.
  • By contrast, 39 percent have a positive view of the Democratic party. Forty percent have a negative view–a differential of one percent.
  • Twenty-one percent have a positive view of the Tea Party versus 47 percent who have a negative view. 
  • Forty-seven percent say they want to see Democrats control Congress while 39 percent want to see the GOP control Congress.
  • Fifty-three percent believe the GOP in Congress is most responsible for the shutdown; 31 percent believe President Obama is. Thirteen percent believe both sides are equally at fault. Three percent don’t know.
  • Seventy percent say that the congressional Republicans are putting their own agenda over the good of the country; 51 percent say Obama is doing the same.
  • Forty-three percent say ObamaCare is a bad idea; 38 percent say it’s a good idea.
  • Thirty-nine percent favor defunding ObamaCare entirely, while only 23 percent believe this so strongly that it’s worth shutting the government down. Fifty percent oppose defunding.

Question 8 in the NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll shows that the percentage of those surveyed who want a Congress controlled by Republicans is now less than 40 percent–a low since the fall of 2009. Read More

I pointed out the other day that President Obama has unquestionably been hurt by the government shutdown, but Republicans have been hurt more.  

How bad is it for the GOP? 

The most recent Gallup poll shows the GOP is viewed favorably by 28 percent of Americans–down 10 points since September and the lowest number for either party since Gallup began asking the question in 1992. “The Republican Party is clearly taking a bigger political hit from Americans thus far in the unfolding saga,” according to the Gallup analysis.

Then there’s a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, which (as Rod Dreher helpfully summarizes) shows the following:

  • Only 24 percent of those polled have a positive view of the GOP. Fifty-three percent have a negative view–a differential of 29 percent.
  • By contrast, 39 percent have a positive view of the Democratic party. Forty percent have a negative view–a differential of one percent.
  • Twenty-one percent have a positive view of the Tea Party versus 47 percent who have a negative view. 
  • Forty-seven percent say they want to see Democrats control Congress while 39 percent want to see the GOP control Congress.
  • Fifty-three percent believe the GOP in Congress is most responsible for the shutdown; 31 percent believe President Obama is. Thirteen percent believe both sides are equally at fault. Three percent don’t know.
  • Seventy percent say that the congressional Republicans are putting their own agenda over the good of the country; 51 percent say Obama is doing the same.
  • Forty-three percent say ObamaCare is a bad idea; 38 percent say it’s a good idea.
  • Thirty-nine percent favor defunding ObamaCare entirely, while only 23 percent believe this so strongly that it’s worth shutting the government down. Fifty percent oppose defunding.

Question 8 in the NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll shows that the percentage of those surveyed who want a Congress controlled by Republicans is now less than 40 percent–a low since the fall of 2009. As for the populist uprising against the Affordable Care Act that Senator Cruz promised? There’s evidence that support for ObamaCare has actually increased (see this analysis). 

As Jonathan (and Nate Silver) rightly point out, it’s far too early to draw definitive conclusions. Polls provide us with snapshots in time. They certainly don’t tell us everything. But they do tell us something. And the trends seem clear, and clearly worrisome, for the GOP. Which brings me to the concern many of us had with the approach taken by Senators Cruz & Co.–a group of men who, you’ll recall, demanded that Republicans shut down the federal government if the president didn’t agree to defund his signature domestic achievement, the Affordable Care Act. 

The concerns about the approach used by Senator Cruz were several-fold: (a) it was misleading (there was no chance the Affordable Care Act would be defunded); (b) it was irresponsible (Senators Cruz, Rubio and Lee accused conservatives who disagreed with the Cruz approach as being de facto supporters of the Affordable Care Act); and (c) it chose to fight the president on the weakest available ground (as unpopular as ObamaCare is, the defunding idea was never popular with the public). It also deflected attention away from the disastrous rollout of the ObamaCare exchanges and blew to pieces a far more plausible strategy, which was to focus on delaying for a year implementation of the individual mandate (which has widespread popular support).

“I think it was very possible for us to delay the implementation of ObamaCare for a year until Cruz came along and crashed and burned,” according to conservative anti-tax activist Grover Norquist.

More broadly, some of us on the right were concerned that this kind of brinksmanship approach tends to hurt, not help, the party squaring off against the president, who brings to the battle tremendous institutional advantages. And while engaging in this fight wouldn’t produce any particularly meaningful results, what it might well accomplish is erasing the political advantage Republicans had built up over many months. That, too, appears to be happening. According to Gallup, the sharp drop in support for Republicans since September “contrasts with previous Gallup findings from just before the government shutdown showing the Republican Party making up ground on a few key issues.”

Such are the bitter fruits that resulted from the Suicide Caucus. But in all of this bad news there is something hopeful to be found: Ted Cruz has become increasingly toxic and may well have discredited himself with many Republicans and conservatives. He certainly should have.

Mr. Cruz’s actions weren’t wrong because they failed. They were wrong because they were ill-considered, imprudent, selfish, and harmful to his party and the conservative cause. He didn’t achieve anything he insisted he would–and, in the process, he set back conservatism in several respects. Liberals must be thanking their lucky stars for the junior senator from Texas. 

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A Mindboggling NSA/CIA Blunder

Officials at the National Security Agency are lobbing a familiar critique at the Obama administration. Once the extent of the NSA’s sweeping surveillance was revealed and the organization became controversial, the president has declined to fully engage the public-relations battle on the NSA’s behalf. The Obama administration has a tendency to employ controversial security agencies and actions without staunchly defending their legitimacy, which is often interpreted as ambivalence.

As Shane Harris notes, officials in the security establishment see it as more than just a pride issue: “If left unchecked, it could start to erode the trusted relationships that have been at the heart of how the U.S. government handles global threats since 9/11.” But if President Obama feels the need to respond to the NSA’s most recent complaints, he should tell them the following: Help me help you.

A couple of recent news stories highlight just how difficult the NSA has made the job of defending it in the public sphere. The most recent, but also the most damaging to the NSA’s credibility, is today’s New York Times report:

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Officials at the National Security Agency are lobbing a familiar critique at the Obama administration. Once the extent of the NSA’s sweeping surveillance was revealed and the organization became controversial, the president has declined to fully engage the public-relations battle on the NSA’s behalf. The Obama administration has a tendency to employ controversial security agencies and actions without staunchly defending their legitimacy, which is often interpreted as ambivalence.

As Shane Harris notes, officials in the security establishment see it as more than just a pride issue: “If left unchecked, it could start to erode the trusted relationships that have been at the heart of how the U.S. government handles global threats since 9/11.” But if President Obama feels the need to respond to the NSA’s most recent complaints, he should tell them the following: Help me help you.

A couple of recent news stories highlight just how difficult the NSA has made the job of defending it in the public sphere. The most recent, but also the most damaging to the NSA’s credibility, is today’s New York Times report:

Just as Edward J. Snowden was preparing to leave Geneva and a job as a C.I.A. technician in 2009, his supervisor wrote a derogatory report in his personnel file, noting a distinct change in the young man’s behavior and work habits, as well as a troubling suspicion.

The C.I.A. suspected that Mr. Snowden was trying to break into classified computer files to which he was not authorized to have access, and decided to send him home, according to two senior American officials.

But the red flags went unheeded. Mr. Snowden left the C.I.A. to become a contractor for the National Security Agency, and four years later he leaked thousands of classified documents. The supervisor’s cautionary note and the C.I.A.’s suspicions apparently were not forwarded to the N.S.A. or its contractors, and surfaced only after federal investigators began scrutinizing Mr. Snowden’s record once the documents began spilling out, intelligence and law enforcement officials said.

“It slipped through the cracks,” one veteran law enforcement official said of the report.

Ahem. It slipped through the cracks? The CIA sent Snowden home because he was trying to hack into classified intelligence files and he was then hired by the National Security Agency and given clearance. The Times then adds this paraphrased admission from its sources, which deserves some kind of award for understatement: “In hindsight, officials said, the report by the C.I.A. supervisor and the agency’s suspicions might have been the first serious warnings of the disclosures to come, and the biggest missed opportunity to review Mr. Snowden’s top-secret clearance or at least put his future work at the N.S.A. under much greater scrutiny.”

Yes, the CIA employee trying to hack into classified intel files should not have been hired by the NSA and given top-secret clearance. That is, surely, one lesson no one should have needed to learn by trial and error.

Now, it looks like this colossal blunder was a team effort. The CIA should have made sure someone saw this at the NSA, if in fact this report was not forwarded to the agency. But it also calls into question the seriousness with which the NSA handles hiring, contracting, background checks, and the like. If the hiring system at the NSA is not designed to prevent people like Edward Snowden from attaining top-secret clearance, then the system needs some reform.

And this goes to the question of credibility, which is so crucial to what the NSA does. When the ObamaCare website went live this week and it turned out to have been an utter failure of design and security, as well as a waste of money, people asked a reasonable question: can this administration be trusted with the power it so consistently demands?

Because of the nature of the NSA’s mission, Americans are absolutely entitled (in fact, they should be encouraged) to ask that question of the NSA: can this super-secret spy organization be trusted with the information to which it has access? Part of that trust is earned by convincing the public that the NSA won’t misuse or abuse its powers. But an equally important part is being able to state with confidence that the wrong people–people who are inclined to abuse that power–won’t have access. That is, it’s not just about the NSA’s institutional policy. It’s also about its basic competence and personnel oversight.

The NSA’s desire for the president to show his support for the hard-working and mostly anonymous intelligence officials is legitimate–not just as a matter of principle (the president benefits politically from the NSA’s successes) but also as a matter of practicality, since the erosion of popular support for the NSA could mean the erosion of congressional support, which could endanger the NSA’s funding. But complaints such as this from the NSA’s former general counsel strike me as unfair:

“The President is uncomfortable defending this. Maybe he spends too much time reading blogs on the left,” Baker said.

Or maybe he reads the newspapers. The Snowden affair was a major headache for the president, and also something of an embarrassment. But it was not a scandal of the president’s own making. Instead, it seems to have been a result of malicious intent on Snowden’s part and staggering incompetence on the part of the CIA and NSA. If the NSA wants the president to use his pulpit to defend the broad powers of the NSA, they’re going to have to give him more that’s worth defending.

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Assessing the GOP’s Shutdown Blues

If Washington conventional wisdom is right this morning, Republicans are about to start walking away from the ledge onto which they climbed with the government shutdown. Indications are that the House Republican proposals for a short-term extension of the debt ceiling will be the starting point for talks that will end the shutdown as well as ensure that the U.S. doesn’t default. It’s far from clear what the GOP will get in exchange for giving up their leverage over budget negotiations, but no one expects it to be much. If so, President Obama’s stonewalling tactics in which he dared the Republicans to shut down the government will be vindicated. And hardly a soul is talking about the fate of ObamaCare, the defunding of which was supposed to be the whole point of the exercise.

Why is it ending now if indeed that is what is happening? Part of the reason is a sense on the part of House Speaker John Boehner that he’s played all the cards in his hand and that brushing up against the artificial debt ceiling deadline would be a political error as well as bad for the country. But the negative fallout from the shutdown can’t be ignored as an explanation for why the GOP leadership has decided to cut its losses. The NBC News/Wall Street Journal survey released yesterday had the worst results yet for Republicans, with the gap between those who blame them for the shutdown and those who blame the Democrats now at more than 20 percent. While President Obama and everyone else in Washington looks bad too, the Republican Party’s approval ratings are now at almost historic lows. Given the rapid dive in the GOP’s numbers in recent weeks, it is impossible to escape the conclusion that this is the result of the shutdown that was forced on the party by Senator Ted Cruz and other hard-line conservatives over the objections of Boehner and others.

This gives those of us who have said all along that it was a mistake to force a confrontation over defunding ObamaCare, which was never going to happen, a chance for an “I told you so” or two. But any such recriminations on the part of conservatives who were derided as RINOs by Cruz’s suicide caucus and their devoted followers are being drowned out by the near-hysterical triumphalism emanating from MSNBC and other liberal bastions over the NBC/WSJ poll. But before Democrats start making plans for what they will do when they take back control of the House next year, a moment of perspective is in order. As bad as this looks for the Republicans right now, it’s not likely that anything that happens this week will affect the composition of the next Congress.

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If Washington conventional wisdom is right this morning, Republicans are about to start walking away from the ledge onto which they climbed with the government shutdown. Indications are that the House Republican proposals for a short-term extension of the debt ceiling will be the starting point for talks that will end the shutdown as well as ensure that the U.S. doesn’t default. It’s far from clear what the GOP will get in exchange for giving up their leverage over budget negotiations, but no one expects it to be much. If so, President Obama’s stonewalling tactics in which he dared the Republicans to shut down the government will be vindicated. And hardly a soul is talking about the fate of ObamaCare, the defunding of which was supposed to be the whole point of the exercise.

Why is it ending now if indeed that is what is happening? Part of the reason is a sense on the part of House Speaker John Boehner that he’s played all the cards in his hand and that brushing up against the artificial debt ceiling deadline would be a political error as well as bad for the country. But the negative fallout from the shutdown can’t be ignored as an explanation for why the GOP leadership has decided to cut its losses. The NBC News/Wall Street Journal survey released yesterday had the worst results yet for Republicans, with the gap between those who blame them for the shutdown and those who blame the Democrats now at more than 20 percent. While President Obama and everyone else in Washington looks bad too, the Republican Party’s approval ratings are now at almost historic lows. Given the rapid dive in the GOP’s numbers in recent weeks, it is impossible to escape the conclusion that this is the result of the shutdown that was forced on the party by Senator Ted Cruz and other hard-line conservatives over the objections of Boehner and others.

This gives those of us who have said all along that it was a mistake to force a confrontation over defunding ObamaCare, which was never going to happen, a chance for an “I told you so” or two. But any such recriminations on the part of conservatives who were derided as RINOs by Cruz’s suicide caucus and their devoted followers are being drowned out by the near-hysterical triumphalism emanating from MSNBC and other liberal bastions over the NBC/WSJ poll. But before Democrats start making plans for what they will do when they take back control of the House next year, a moment of perspective is in order. As bad as this looks for the Republicans right now, it’s not likely that anything that happens this week will affect the composition of the next Congress.

For a sober analysis of just how much the Democrats have gained from this episode, it’s instructive to turn to a liberal voice that has been silent for much of the last year: Nate Silver. Silver, the liberal statistician who rocketed to fame as the New York Times’s peerless blogger/prognosticator left the Grey Lady for what will presumably be further fame and fortune at ESPN (he started out as a baseball analyst before he began handicapping elections). But until his new sports site goes up, he’s resurrected his FiveThirtyEight.com blog and weighed in on the shutdown impasse yesterday with some insightful comments about recent events that should give liberals proclaiming victory some food for thought.

His half-dozen bullet points about the partisan confrontation may be debated, but I think they are largely right.

First, is his belief that the media is overhyping the impact of the shutdown. In a 24/7 news cycle, every big story seems like World War Three but, as Silver points out, other huge stories have already come and gone in the past several months like Syria, the IRS Scandal, Benghazi, or even last winter’s fiscal cliff showdown, and if you watch cable news or read the leading dailies, it’s almost as if they never happened. The notion that anything that happens this week or next, short of a real U.S. default (which is not going to happen no matter how the negotiations go) will have much of an impact on November 2014 is simply unfounded.

Just as interesting is his pointing out that the inspiration for President Obama’s decision to dare the GOP to shut down the government shouldn’t give Democrats much comfort. The 1995 government shutdown is widely believed to have badly damaged the Republicans and strengthened President Clinton. As Silver correctly notes, the GOP was not really hurt by the shutdown, as they held onto Congress the next year. There may be some who think it was a major factor in re-electing Bill Clinton in 1996 but count me among those who, like Silver, believe Bob Dole never had a prayer of being elected president, shutdown or no shutdown.

Third, Silver reminds us that the chances of the Democrats winning the midterm elections next year are very low. Given the paucity of competitive House seats (the Senate is very much in play with Democrats standing to lose seats) it would take a wave election for President Obama’s allies to succeed. But such a victory would be virtually unprecedented since it is virtually impossible for an incumbent president’s party to gain seats in the middle of his second term.

Silver also debunks the notion that this is purely the result of Republican gerrymandering since the allocation of seats is more the function of the way the two major parties have split along geographical lines as much ideological ones. For an excellent analysis about why blaming political extremism on gerrymandering is a myth read Sean Trende’s piece in RealClearPolitics.com today. As Trende notes, gerrymandering is an effect, not a cause, of partisanship. But the bottom line is that no matter how much bad press Republicans are getting today, the impact next year is likely to be minimal if not overwhelmed by subsequent events that may not be as favorable to Democrats.

Last, it is way too soon to understand what the result of this latest showdown will be and looking to ephemeral poll numbers (especially since they also have bad results for Obama and the Democrats) is a fool’s errand.

Republicans would do well to ponder how little was accomplished in the last two weeks as well as the responsibility of Cruz and others who are now in the process of walking away from the train wreck that Boehner will have to clean up. But while Obama and the liberals may be getting the better of the tussle today, there is no reason to believe any of it will help them unseat House Republicans.

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Heading for the Exits in Afghanistan

For months, U.S. military leaders have been quietly leaking word that the “zero option” was off the table and that the U.S. would keep thousands of troops in Afghanistan after 2014. That may be their view of what’s needed; it may even reflect what they’ve heard from their political masters. But it’s clearly not what the White House is thinking. If you want to know what President Obama and his aides are up to, read this Washington Post article:

During a testy video conference in June, President Obama drew a line in the sand for Afghan President Hamid Karzai. If there was no agreement by Oct. 31 on the terms for keeping a residual U.S. military presence in Afghanistan, Obama warned him, the United States would withdraw all of its troops at the end of 2014.

With that deadline less than three weeks away and deep rifts persisting, the White House appears increasingly willing to abandon plans for a long-term, costly partnership with Afghanistan. Despite the Pentagon’s pleas for patience, much of the rest of the administration is fed up with Karzai and sees Afghanistan as a fading priority amid far more ominous threats elsewhere in the world.

Later on the article quotes a former deputy assistant defense secretary, David Sedney, who until May oversaw Afghanistan policy at the Department of Defense, saying, “It appears our attention to Afghanistan is drifting, and if we don’t do something soon, it may drift too far to recover.” The article ends with this:

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For months, U.S. military leaders have been quietly leaking word that the “zero option” was off the table and that the U.S. would keep thousands of troops in Afghanistan after 2014. That may be their view of what’s needed; it may even reflect what they’ve heard from their political masters. But it’s clearly not what the White House is thinking. If you want to know what President Obama and his aides are up to, read this Washington Post article:

During a testy video conference in June, President Obama drew a line in the sand for Afghan President Hamid Karzai. If there was no agreement by Oct. 31 on the terms for keeping a residual U.S. military presence in Afghanistan, Obama warned him, the United States would withdraw all of its troops at the end of 2014.

With that deadline less than three weeks away and deep rifts persisting, the White House appears increasingly willing to abandon plans for a long-term, costly partnership with Afghanistan. Despite the Pentagon’s pleas for patience, much of the rest of the administration is fed up with Karzai and sees Afghanistan as a fading priority amid far more ominous threats elsewhere in the world.

Later on the article quotes a former deputy assistant defense secretary, David Sedney, who until May oversaw Afghanistan policy at the Department of Defense, saying, “It appears our attention to Afghanistan is drifting, and if we don’t do something soon, it may drift too far to recover.” The article ends with this:

One official noted that both Obama and Rice appear only marginally interested as attention has shifted to Syria and a growing al-Qaeda presence in Africa.

“If you look at the threat matrix,” this official said, “Afghanistan isn’t blinking the brightest. Why invest more billions and more lives?”

This lack of interest on the American side is at the crux of the current impasse, although Hamid Karzai has contributed his share to the current woes with statements blasting the U.S. and the West in intemperate terms. But, according to press reports, Karzai actually agreed to grant U.S. troops immunity under Afghan laws–the issue that scuppered an agreement with Iraq.

Apparently, if the reporting is to be believed, the big issue at the moment is his demand that the U.S. conclude a mutual-defense treaty with Afghanistan similar to those with major non-NATO allies. The Obama administration disingenuously claims this would mandate U.S. troops crossing into Pakistan. More plausibly, this would simply demand a long-term U.S. commitment to Afghanistan’s defense, within Afghanistan, which the administration doesn’t want to grant.

There is also disagreement over how much room for unilateral operations in Afghanistan U.S. Special Operations forces will retain in hunting down al-Qaeda and its ilk. Karzai wants the mission turned over to Afghan forces, which the U.S. is resisting, even though his demand could be finessed by putting Afghans in the lead with U.S. troops along as “advisers,” a practice becoming increasingly common today anyway.

It is possible these issues will be resolved by Secretary of State John Kerry during his visit to Kabul. But I am not terribly optimistic because I think significant elements of the administration, starting at the top, are looking for a way out of Afghanistan and they are using disputes with Karzai as an excuse. The president who once called Afghanistan the necessary war appears to be motivated now primarily by the necessity of disengagement, at least as he sees it.

The results for U.S. interests and for Afghanistan are likely to be dire, because if U.S. troops leave, so will our NATO allies. And the U.S. and its allies will be unlikely to continue pouring in the billions of dollars necessary to keep the Afghan security forces and the Afghan government functioning. That makes a collapse, of the kind that occurred after the Soviet withdrawal, much more likely–and with it a return of the Taliban and Haqqanis and their al-Qaeda allies.

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Public Revulsion at Our Political Institutions

The American Enterprise Institute’s Karlyn Bowman and Andrew Rugg, in examining the trends of recent polls, find trust and confidence in government to handle domestic and international problems at their lowest level in 40 years. Two-thirds of the public say they are dissatisfied with the way the nation is being governed. Anger is rising, and the number of people who say government is too powerful is at an all-time high.

One recent poll found President Obama’s approval rating down to 38 percent, the lowest of his presidency. A survey by the Gallup organization shows the GOP is viewed favorably by just 28 percent of Americans, the lowest number for either party since Gallup began asking the question in 1992. The approval rating of Congress is 11 percent. And only 18 percent of Americans are satisfied with the way the nation is being governed, the lowest government satisfaction rating in Gallup’s history of asking the question dating back to 1971.

“What is stunning about these results is just how hard and how quickly public attitudes have landed on the shutdown,” according to Peter Hart, a Democratic pollster. He said the poll showed “a broad disgust for the political system.”

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The American Enterprise Institute’s Karlyn Bowman and Andrew Rugg, in examining the trends of recent polls, find trust and confidence in government to handle domestic and international problems at their lowest level in 40 years. Two-thirds of the public say they are dissatisfied with the way the nation is being governed. Anger is rising, and the number of people who say government is too powerful is at an all-time high.

One recent poll found President Obama’s approval rating down to 38 percent, the lowest of his presidency. A survey by the Gallup organization shows the GOP is viewed favorably by just 28 percent of Americans, the lowest number for either party since Gallup began asking the question in 1992. The approval rating of Congress is 11 percent. And only 18 percent of Americans are satisfied with the way the nation is being governed, the lowest government satisfaction rating in Gallup’s history of asking the question dating back to 1971.

“What is stunning about these results is just how hard and how quickly public attitudes have landed on the shutdown,” according to Peter Hart, a Democratic pollster. He said the poll showed “a broad disgust for the political system.”

That’s certainly understandable, given the governing fiasco that we find ourselves in. And as a conservative, I have sympathy with those who are worried about the size, scope, and power of the federal government. 

At the same time, anyone who believes politics matters and, at its best, involves the (imperfect) pursuit of justice and the common good has to find this present moment discouraging and disquieting. However we got here and whoever is to blame–and we all have our opinions about the hierarchy of responsibility–the effects are badly damaging the case of those who believe, with the founders, that “the safety and happiness of society are the objects at which all political institutions aim.” Right now our political institutions are held in contempt. That is not a good place to be for a self-governing republic.

Now it needs to be said that the public has some complicity in all this, since our political institutions largely reflect their competing–and in some instances, contradictory–passions and desires. They are the ones who elect Louie Gohmert and Nancy Pelosi, Barbara Boxer and Rand Paul, a conservative GOP House and a liberal Democratic president, and expect them to find common ground. It’s easier said than done. We’re dealing with public officials who represent constituents who don’t simply hold different policy views; they hold fundamentally different worldviews. Still, it is the job of our elected representatives, and especially the president, to reconcile these things; to use reason and judgment to temper passions. Because a lot is at stake. 

Government is, in the words of the 19th century economist Alfred Marshall, “the most precious of human institutions, and no care can be too great to be spent on enabling it to do its work in the best way.” A precious human institution is being degraded and debased by those to whom we have entrusted its care. To say so is an entirely reasonable judgment. And a damning one, too.

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Barack Obama, Our Dogmatic Amateur

Like the Mississippi, the Affordable Care Act just keeps rolling along. And as it does, the problems continue to pile up, one on top of the other.

The most recent one, of course, is the disastrous rollout of the ObamaCare exchanges. It’s not simply that it’s failed; it’s that the failure has been so complete, so total, and it has occurred despite the Obama administration having had so much time to prepare for this moment.

It isn’t helpful to the president, of course, that even the elite media is covering the story with some candor, skeptically rather than worshipfully. Take CBS News. Reporter Jan Crawford’s report is worth watching. It does a nice job showing why the rollout has been “nothing short of disastrous.”

This report comes after Comedy Central’s Jon Stewart asked some fairly pointed questions of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius on the “level of incompetence that’s larger than what it should be.” When a liberal Democratic president begins to lose CBS News and Jon Stewart, you know things aren’t going well. Read More

Like the Mississippi, the Affordable Care Act just keeps rolling along. And as it does, the problems continue to pile up, one on top of the other.

The most recent one, of course, is the disastrous rollout of the ObamaCare exchanges. It’s not simply that it’s failed; it’s that the failure has been so complete, so total, and it has occurred despite the Obama administration having had so much time to prepare for this moment.

It isn’t helpful to the president, of course, that even the elite media is covering the story with some candor, skeptically rather than worshipfully. Take CBS News. Reporter Jan Crawford’s report is worth watching. It does a nice job showing why the rollout has been “nothing short of disastrous.”

This report comes after Comedy Central’s Jon Stewart asked some fairly pointed questions of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius on the “level of incompetence that’s larger than what it should be.” When a liberal Democratic president begins to lose CBS News and Jon Stewart, you know things aren’t going well.

But the loss in confidence is understandable. After all, the president’s health-care plan has amassed a remarkably dismal record, from the ineptness of the rollout of the exchanges and data systems that are not secure and leave citizens vulnerable to fraud and identity theft to higher premiums, exploding costs, people being forced to leave their preferred coverage, a plan whose “universal coverage” leaves more than 30 million people uninsured, postponing the employer mandate and more. No wonder the Democratic chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, Max Baucus, earlier this year stated that the implementation of the bill was shaping up to be a “huge train wreck.” It appears Senator Baucus was understating things a bit.

Here’s what’s important to realize. We can now judge the president’s promises against his results, what he said he would do versus what he has actually done. The president is being assessed not by his rhetoric but by his performance. And his performance is, in almost every respect, simply dreadful. He combines two problematic qualities: dogmatism and ineptitude.

As for the Affordable Care Act: It is, in conception and execution, emblematic of modern liberalism. This is what progressives wanted. It was what they fought for. And now they own it. It’s beginning to dawn on a few of them that it may well haunt them for years to come.

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