Commentary Magazine


Posts For: October 28, 2013

New Benghazi Information, Same Story of Clinton’s Incompetence

Conservatives are basically of two minds regarding the report on the attack on the American mission in Benghazi aired by CBS’s 60 Minutes last night. On the one hand, it always was a legitimate story and it’s encouraging for any mainstream network to emerge even temporarily from the president’s tank and acknowledge reality. Indeed, CBS reporter Sharyl Attkisson put up with plenty of nonsense for her willingness to do great reporting on the attack.

On the other hand, it is impossible not to notice the timing. The media became collectively unmoored from the pretense of balanced journalism during the 2012 presidential election when Mitt Romney dared criticize President Obama’s incompetent handling of the event and the administration’s dishonesty thereafter. Who can forget CNN’s Candy Crowley diving into a debate she was “moderating” to shield Obama from criticism despite having her facts wrong? (Then again, who can blame members of the Obama administration’s farm team from playing for the name on the front of their jerseys?)

But while it may seem too late for the media to try and earn some of its credibility back on Benghazi, it’s worth pointing out that the straight reporting offered by CBS is still somewhat gutsy. After all, the tick-tock of the tragedy paints then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as staggeringly incompetent and irresponsible with power. And Clintonworld has already been working overtime to chill coverage of her ahead of her expected 2016 presidential candidacy.

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Conservatives are basically of two minds regarding the report on the attack on the American mission in Benghazi aired by CBS’s 60 Minutes last night. On the one hand, it always was a legitimate story and it’s encouraging for any mainstream network to emerge even temporarily from the president’s tank and acknowledge reality. Indeed, CBS reporter Sharyl Attkisson put up with plenty of nonsense for her willingness to do great reporting on the attack.

On the other hand, it is impossible not to notice the timing. The media became collectively unmoored from the pretense of balanced journalism during the 2012 presidential election when Mitt Romney dared criticize President Obama’s incompetent handling of the event and the administration’s dishonesty thereafter. Who can forget CNN’s Candy Crowley diving into a debate she was “moderating” to shield Obama from criticism despite having her facts wrong? (Then again, who can blame members of the Obama administration’s farm team from playing for the name on the front of their jerseys?)

But while it may seem too late for the media to try and earn some of its credibility back on Benghazi, it’s worth pointing out that the straight reporting offered by CBS is still somewhat gutsy. After all, the tick-tock of the tragedy paints then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as staggeringly incompetent and irresponsible with power. And Clintonworld has already been working overtime to chill coverage of her ahead of her expected 2016 presidential candidacy.

The Benghazi reporting has followed a pattern conservatives recognize a mile away. The press first does its best to ignore or downplay a story damaging to vulnerable Democrats. When the conservative media are able to drive the story into the open, the conservatives themselves become the story. (How dare conservative politicians politicize politics! Etc.) If a member of the mainstream media breaks ranks and eventually files a story on it after the initial storm has passed, the response from the left is that there’s really nothing new here anyway, so it’s not a game changer.

Now it’s true, of course, that last night’s report isn’t a game changer. But that should not be confused with something that is unimportant. CBS correspondent Lara Logan spoke with a security official in Benghazi now using the pseudonym Morgan Jones (he appeared on camera, as you can see at the initial link). Jones arrived in Benghazi several months before the attack and immediately noticed that “black flags of al-Qaeda” were flying over buildings in the city. He then arrived at the American compound to see a woefully inadequate band of security guards. His warnings went ignored, and then proved prophetic.

Logan also spoke with others who had previously testified on Benghazi, like Gregory Hicks. That all the increased reporting and testimony confirms, rather than upends, what we know about Benghazi should not be helpful to Clinton. The picture that emerged last year and has been confirmed time and again was that there were patterns that suggested the mission was in danger and then warnings that made the threat more explicit. Al-Qaeda-linked terrorists threatened various targets, including the American mission, and then followed through, and all the while Washington ignored the warnings they received on the ground and the intelligence that predicted the attack.

It is not uncommon for both left and right to look at the same set of facts and come to radically different conclusions as to their implications. But if CBS’s reporting, along with a slightly less defensive posture from the media, is any indication, Obama may be mostly in the clear–but Clinton cannot expect to join him there quite yet.

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Late-Term Abortion Still the Issue in Texas

Abortion-rights activists are celebrating this afternoon in the wake of the news that a federal court has struck down a provision of a controversial Texas law. This seems like sweet revenge for the many liberals (especially those in the media) who applauded State Senator Wendy Davis’s filibuster of the first attempt by Republicans to get a controversial bill through the Texas legislature. Unlike fellow Texan Ted Cruz, whose anti-ObamaCare filibuster was widely reviled in the mainstream media, Davis’s attempt to obstruct the bill imposing new regulations on abortion clinics and restrictions on late-term abortion made her a national star and a likely Democratic candidate for governor. Any chipping away at the legislation, which was eventually passed when the legislature reconvened in Austin, is going to be treated as a victory for the pro-choice side of the abortion debate.

But those cheering this development should take a deep breath. Federal District Court Judge Lee Yeakel ruled the bill’s provision demanding that all doctors performing abortions in Texas have admitting privileges at hospitals was an unreasonable restriction of abortion rights. But the main parts of the legislation remain in place. Texas abortion clinics are still required to meet the health standards required of all ambulatory surgery centers. More importantly, the ban on abortions after 20 weeks—the point where modern medical science has largely rendered fetuses viable outside the womb—is also unchallenged. As such, the key issues involved in the debate about the Texas law are still on the table.

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Abortion-rights activists are celebrating this afternoon in the wake of the news that a federal court has struck down a provision of a controversial Texas law. This seems like sweet revenge for the many liberals (especially those in the media) who applauded State Senator Wendy Davis’s filibuster of the first attempt by Republicans to get a controversial bill through the Texas legislature. Unlike fellow Texan Ted Cruz, whose anti-ObamaCare filibuster was widely reviled in the mainstream media, Davis’s attempt to obstruct the bill imposing new regulations on abortion clinics and restrictions on late-term abortion made her a national star and a likely Democratic candidate for governor. Any chipping away at the legislation, which was eventually passed when the legislature reconvened in Austin, is going to be treated as a victory for the pro-choice side of the abortion debate.

But those cheering this development should take a deep breath. Federal District Court Judge Lee Yeakel ruled the bill’s provision demanding that all doctors performing abortions in Texas have admitting privileges at hospitals was an unreasonable restriction of abortion rights. But the main parts of the legislation remain in place. Texas abortion clinics are still required to meet the health standards required of all ambulatory surgery centers. More importantly, the ban on abortions after 20 weeks—the point where modern medical science has largely rendered fetuses viable outside the womb—is also unchallenged. As such, the key issues involved in the debate about the Texas law are still on the table.

Critics of the Texas law are not off base when they claim that it is an attempt to make abortions more difficult to obtain. Rather than trying to overturn the Roe v. Wade case that legalized abortion nationwide, pro-lifers have cleverly refocused their efforts in recent years on issues where they can count on the support of most Americans. While support for first-term abortion is still a mainstream political reality, groups like NARAL and Planned Parenthood that have become the political engines of the pro-choice side have been slow to realize that late-term abortions are a very different thing in the eyes of most Americans. Once a healthy fetus is old enough to survive on its own, abortion becomes less a matter of a “choice” than infanticide. Moreover, the Gosnell case and other similar instances of abortion clinic horrors have brought into focus the way that industry clearly requires the sort of regulation that will bring it into line with the standards hospitals and other health-care providers are expected to meet.

The Texas law’s hospital admission provision may well have been excessive since qualified doctors practicing medicine could well do so without being affiliated with a hospital. But the key issues here are stopping late-term abortions and making the people who own abortion clinics—generally a highly profitable business—assure the public that they are not harboring more Gosnells. Nothing in the Texas decision changes that. That means that while Wendy Davis’s fans may be encouraged today, they need to remember that the important aspects of the Texas law they have tried so hard to trash remains in place. More than that, they should comprehend that the growing understanding of the barbarity of late-term abortion means they are on the wrong side of history as well as morality.

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Nothing Legitimate About Anti-Semitic Slur

Former British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw is pleading innocent. Called out for comments made during a Round Table Global Diplomatic Forum held at the House of Commons last week, Straw insists that there’s nothing anti-Semitic about raising points that he says are merely matters of genuine concern. As the Times of Israel reports, former Labor Party Knesset member Einat Wilf, who took part in the debate, described Straw’s presentation in the following manner:

Wilf participated in the debate and posted some of what she said were Straw’s comments on her Facebook page, saying she nearly fell off her chair when she heard them: “Listing the greatest obstacles to peace, he said ‘unlimited’ funds available to Jewish organizations and AIPAC in the US are used to control and divert American policy in the region and that Germany’s ‘obsession’ with defending Israel were the problem. I guess he neglected to mention Jewish control of the media….”

The British politician is right when he says criticizing Israel’s policies is not anti-Semitic. But, like many others who want to bash Israel without being branded as Jew-haters, he crossed a very important line when he injected traditional anti-Semitic stereotypes about Jewish money and insidious attempts to control the policy discussion into the question of how best to advance the cause of peace. That’s why someone like Wilf, who opposes the Netanyahu government, was so outraged. In doing so, he not only demonstrated ignorance of how American politics works as well as insensitivity to Israel’s position, but also showed the way disagreements with the Jewish state quickly morph into conspiracy theories that are thinly veiled new versions of traditional myths about Jews. While Straw is neither the first nor the last member of Parliament or prominent Briton to play this game, the fact that someone who was a former foreign minister would not only feel free to vent this nasty stuff, but also think there’s nothing wrong with it, tells you all you need to know about the rising tide of anti-Semitism in Europe.

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Former British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw is pleading innocent. Called out for comments made during a Round Table Global Diplomatic Forum held at the House of Commons last week, Straw insists that there’s nothing anti-Semitic about raising points that he says are merely matters of genuine concern. As the Times of Israel reports, former Labor Party Knesset member Einat Wilf, who took part in the debate, described Straw’s presentation in the following manner:

Wilf participated in the debate and posted some of what she said were Straw’s comments on her Facebook page, saying she nearly fell off her chair when she heard them: “Listing the greatest obstacles to peace, he said ‘unlimited’ funds available to Jewish organizations and AIPAC in the US are used to control and divert American policy in the region and that Germany’s ‘obsession’ with defending Israel were the problem. I guess he neglected to mention Jewish control of the media….”

The British politician is right when he says criticizing Israel’s policies is not anti-Semitic. But, like many others who want to bash Israel without being branded as Jew-haters, he crossed a very important line when he injected traditional anti-Semitic stereotypes about Jewish money and insidious attempts to control the policy discussion into the question of how best to advance the cause of peace. That’s why someone like Wilf, who opposes the Netanyahu government, was so outraged. In doing so, he not only demonstrated ignorance of how American politics works as well as insensitivity to Israel’s position, but also showed the way disagreements with the Jewish state quickly morph into conspiracy theories that are thinly veiled new versions of traditional myths about Jews. While Straw is neither the first nor the last member of Parliament or prominent Briton to play this game, the fact that someone who was a former foreign minister would not only feel free to vent this nasty stuff, but also think there’s nothing wrong with it, tells you all you need to know about the rising tide of anti-Semitism in Europe.

As for Straw’s charges, they are easily dismissed. Contrary to the Walt-Mearsheimer “Israel Lobby” conspiracy theory thesis, the vast, wall-to-wall bipartisan coalition that supports the Jewish state is a function of American public opinion, not Jewish money. As frustrating as it may be for Israel’s critics, support for Zionism is baked into the DNA of American politics and is primarily the function of religious attitudes as well as the shared values of democracy that unite the U.S. and Israel. Other lobbies (such as the one that promotes the oil interests or pharmaceuticals) have far more money. Hard as it is for some people to accept, the reason why American politicians back Israel’s democratically elected government is because opposing them is bad politics as well as bad policy.

Making such accusations is offensive rather than just wrong because, as Straw knows very well, talking about Jewish money buying government policy is straight out of the anti-Semitic playbook of the The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. The purpose of such claims is not to argue that Israel’s supporters are misguided so much as that they are illegitimate.

That Straw is similarly frustrated with German refusals to try and hammer the Israelis is equally appalling. While Germany’s government has, contrary to Straw’s comment, often been highly critical of Israel, if Berlin has some sensitivity to Israel’s position as a small, besieged nation, it is because they understand that the underlying factor that drives hostility to Zionism is the same anti-Semitism that drove the Holocaust.

But the main point to be gleaned from this story is the way Straw has illustrated just how mainstream anti-Semitic attitudes have become in contemporary Britain. It is entirely possible that Straw thinks himself free from prejudice. But that is only possible because in the intellectual and political circles in which he and other members of the European elite move, these ideas have gone mainstream rather than being kept on the margins as they are in the United States. The ease with which Western European politicians invoke these tired clichés about Jewish power and money is a reflection of the way attitudes have changed in the last generation as the memory of the Holocaust fades and people feel empowered to revive old hate. Chalk it up to the prejudices of intellectuals, especially on the left, as well as to the growing influence of Muslim immigrants who have brought the Jew-hatred of their home countries with them.

Straw may not be alone in not liking the Netanyahu government, but he can’t get out off the hook for the anti-Semitic rationale for his views that he put forward. The pity is, he’s speaking for all too many Europeans when he speaks in this manner.

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How to Cut Medical Costs 101

Give consumers an incentive to care about the cost of medical care and the cost of medical care will decline. That’s economics 101 (a course Barack Obama obviously didn’t take), straight out of Adam Smith.

A beautiful illustration of that is reported in today’s Wall Street Journal regarding a new concept called “reference pricing.” With traditional health insurance (which ObamaCare mandates) patients needing a procedure pay a deductible and then the insurance covers the rest of the cost, whatever that might be. This is, of course, an open invitation for care providers to jack up the prices, which they have been doing far in excess of inflation for decades. With reference pricing, the insurance company pays a certain amount and anything above that is the patient’s responsibility, concentrating their minds wonderfully.

Calpers, the giant California state retirement system, handles health insurance for its hundred of thousands of public employees, dependents and retirees and noticed that knee and hip replacements cost anywhere from $20,000 to $120,000 depending on the institution where they were performed but with no difference in outcomes:

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Give consumers an incentive to care about the cost of medical care and the cost of medical care will decline. That’s economics 101 (a course Barack Obama obviously didn’t take), straight out of Adam Smith.

A beautiful illustration of that is reported in today’s Wall Street Journal regarding a new concept called “reference pricing.” With traditional health insurance (which ObamaCare mandates) patients needing a procedure pay a deductible and then the insurance covers the rest of the cost, whatever that might be. This is, of course, an open invitation for care providers to jack up the prices, which they have been doing far in excess of inflation for decades. With reference pricing, the insurance company pays a certain amount and anything above that is the patient’s responsibility, concentrating their minds wonderfully.

Calpers, the giant California state retirement system, handles health insurance for its hundred of thousands of public employees, dependents and retirees and noticed that knee and hip replacements cost anywhere from $20,000 to $120,000 depending on the institution where they were performed but with no difference in outcomes:

In January 2010, the retirement organization established a $30,000 reference-price limit on what it would pay, and the administrators identified 41 hospitals that charged less than the limit while scoring well on quality criteria. Calpers launched an outreach program informing employees that they had their usual coverage at these “value-based” facilities but would have to pay the extra money charged elsewhere.

Well, guess what:

The percentage of Calpers patients selecting low-price hospitals increased to 63% in the year after reference pricing was introduced, from 48% in the year before, and the trend continued into the second year after the introduction.

Even more striking was the effect on pricing strategies. Half of the high-price hospitals cut their rates, many by a considerable amount. (Guess which number they were trying to hit.) Across all hospitals, prices charged to Calpers for joint-replacement surgery declined by 26% in the first year and by even more in the second. The combination of changes in market share and cuts in prices reduced Calpers’ expenditures over two years by $6 million, . . .

The fact is, 315 million consumers of health care saying, “How much is this going to cost” will rein in healthcare expenditures far more effectively than 315,000 government bureaucrats meddling in the marketplace.

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Make ObamaCare’s Failure the Story

Former Bush press secretary and current Fox News host Dana Perino has some good advice for House Republicans planning on questioning beleaguered Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius this week: don’t be jerks. That’s the short version of a piece she ran on the Fox News website today and members of the Energy and Commerce Committee should take her five tips to heart when Sebelius comes before them on Wednesday. But the hearing is more than just an opportunity for the much-reviled House GOP to prove they can appear in public without making fools of themselves. After Saturday Night Live’s deft satire of Sebelius this past weekend, the secretary has already been elevated from an obscure former Kansas governor to a national laughing-stock. What Republicans need to do now is not only, as Perino points out, avoid making her look sympathetic but to start focusing on how this happened as well as the major ObamaCare problems that go far beyond a dysfunctional website.

As John Steele Gordon previously noted, the Daily Caller’s story published last week about the identity of the company that was given the contract to build Healthcare.gov raises tantalizing questions about whether this was just another sweetheart deal to an Obama contributor, not to mention the possible ties of one of its chief officers to the first lady. Congress should not ignore these leads, but neither should they be overplayed in a high-handed manner. As Perino writes, the committee members should act like they know what they’re talking about instead of just spouting and wind up making viewers feel sorry for Sebelius; they should come armed with facts, “bottle the fake outrage,” channel the frustration of conservatives about this boondoggle, and be able to say what they’re for as well as what they’re against.

But we also need to move beyond the website problem to the dire consequences for many Americans of what happens once this legislation is put into action. The president promised the country no one would lose the plans they already had or have their costs go up. We already know that isn’t true. Policies are being cancelled because they don’t meet ObamaCare’s specifications, forcing many Americans to buy new plans with theoretically better coverage but also at much higher prices. Indeed, at this point, it may well be that more people have lost their existing coverage than have signed up for ObamaCare.

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Former Bush press secretary and current Fox News host Dana Perino has some good advice for House Republicans planning on questioning beleaguered Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius this week: don’t be jerks. That’s the short version of a piece she ran on the Fox News website today and members of the Energy and Commerce Committee should take her five tips to heart when Sebelius comes before them on Wednesday. But the hearing is more than just an opportunity for the much-reviled House GOP to prove they can appear in public without making fools of themselves. After Saturday Night Live’s deft satire of Sebelius this past weekend, the secretary has already been elevated from an obscure former Kansas governor to a national laughing-stock. What Republicans need to do now is not only, as Perino points out, avoid making her look sympathetic but to start focusing on how this happened as well as the major ObamaCare problems that go far beyond a dysfunctional website.

As John Steele Gordon previously noted, the Daily Caller’s story published last week about the identity of the company that was given the contract to build Healthcare.gov raises tantalizing questions about whether this was just another sweetheart deal to an Obama contributor, not to mention the possible ties of one of its chief officers to the first lady. Congress should not ignore these leads, but neither should they be overplayed in a high-handed manner. As Perino writes, the committee members should act like they know what they’re talking about instead of just spouting and wind up making viewers feel sorry for Sebelius; they should come armed with facts, “bottle the fake outrage,” channel the frustration of conservatives about this boondoggle, and be able to say what they’re for as well as what they’re against.

But we also need to move beyond the website problem to the dire consequences for many Americans of what happens once this legislation is put into action. The president promised the country no one would lose the plans they already had or have their costs go up. We already know that isn’t true. Policies are being cancelled because they don’t meet ObamaCare’s specifications, forcing many Americans to buy new plans with theoretically better coverage but also at much higher prices. Indeed, at this point, it may well be that more people have lost their existing coverage than have signed up for ObamaCare.

For the past few months, the main story in American politics was what seemed to be the obsessive determination on the part of Republicans to obstruct ObamaCare. Now, thanks to a website that demonstrated anew the incapacity of Democrats and the government they worship to run a complicated sector of the economy, the GOP is getting a second chance to show the country what they were up in arms about. But if the confrontation with Sebelius turns into a circus that will allow the media to claim the Republicans are playing games, it will allow the architects of this disaster to slither out of peril.

The best indicator of the administration’s vulnerability is that for the first time it looks like Democrats may be abandoning the president’s sinking ship. Whereas congressional Democrats have heretofore loyally stuck with the health-care legislation in the past, the fact that ten Senate Democrats signed onto New Hampshire Senator Jeanne Shaheen’s letter calling for a delay in the deadline for open enrollment demonstrates that we may be almost at the tipping point for this issue. While we can expect many congressional Democrats to stick to their “fix it, don’t nix it” mantra, the GOP has to leave some room for some fair-minded members of Obama’s party to chime in on the outrage over incompetence and possible corruption. But if Republicans flub their bout with Sebelius, that chance may be wasted.

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A President Who Only Cares About Politics

As Seth points out this morning, the development of the ObamaCare website had no one in over-all charge. As the Wall Street Journal today explains, there was one group in Bethesda, Maryland, drawing up specifications for the insurance marketplace, computer experts—who answered to different bosses—at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid in Baltimore building the software and hardware components, and political operatives in the White House often stalling important decisions until after the 2012 election.

Meanwhile, the president whose name is on the whole program was blissfully unaware that anything was amiss until he read press reports that a debacle was underway after it launched October 1. It’s a good thing the president reads the newspapers for otherwise he’d not have a clue about anything the United States government, of which he is the chief executive, was doing.

You don’t need an MBA (which, by the way, George W. Bush had earned at Harvard) to know that someone has to be in charge of the development of a large, complex project if disaster is to be avoided. Armies need generals, and “unity of command,” to win battles.

But it gets worse. The main company hired (with a no-bid contract) to design the software is Canadian. Does the country that contains Silicon Valley not have a firm that could handle this project?

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As Seth points out this morning, the development of the ObamaCare website had no one in over-all charge. As the Wall Street Journal today explains, there was one group in Bethesda, Maryland, drawing up specifications for the insurance marketplace, computer experts—who answered to different bosses—at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid in Baltimore building the software and hardware components, and political operatives in the White House often stalling important decisions until after the 2012 election.

Meanwhile, the president whose name is on the whole program was blissfully unaware that anything was amiss until he read press reports that a debacle was underway after it launched October 1. It’s a good thing the president reads the newspapers for otherwise he’d not have a clue about anything the United States government, of which he is the chief executive, was doing.

You don’t need an MBA (which, by the way, George W. Bush had earned at Harvard) to know that someone has to be in charge of the development of a large, complex project if disaster is to be avoided. Armies need generals, and “unity of command,” to win battles.

But it gets worse. The main company hired (with a no-bid contract) to design the software is Canadian. Does the country that contains Silicon Valley not have a firm that could handle this project?

According to Mark Steyn, the company, CGI, has a bit of a track record:

CGI is not a creative free spirit from Jersey City with an impressive mastery of Twitter, but a Canadian corporate behemoth. Indeed, CGI is so Canadian their name is French: Conseillers en Gestion et Informatique [Consultants in Management and Information processing]. Their most famous government project was for the Canadian Firearms Registry. The registry was estimated to cost in total $119 million, which would be offset by $117 million in fees. That’s a net cost of $2 million. Instead, by 2004 the CBC (Canada’s PBS) was reporting costs of some $2 billion — or a thousand times more expensive. . . .

But it proved impossible to “improve” CFIS (the Canadian Firearms Information System). So CGI was hired to create an entirely new CFIS II, which would operate alongside CFIS I until the old system could be scrapped. CFIS II was supposed to go operational on January 9, 2003, but the January date got postponed to June, and 2003 to 2004, and $81 million was thrown at it before a new Conservative government scrapped the fiasco in 2007. Last year, the government of Ontario canceled another CGI registry that never saw the light of day — just for one disease, diabetes, and costing a mere $46 million.

Why would even the most managerially incompetent administration in history hire a firm with that sort of track record to handle its signature project? Well, call me cynical, but the Daily Caller has noted that the senior vice president of the company was a classmate of Michelle Obama at Princeton, and spent “Christmas with the Obamas” at the White House seven months after she got her job at CGI.

The administration is taking a beating to be sure. The Economist is calling them incompetent and even Ted Rall, the loony-left cartoonist, is calling “Obama and his gang of golfing buddies,” “idiots.” But the problem is, at its heart, that President Obama cares only about politics, rewarding his buddies, and the perks of power. The rest of the presidency just bores him.

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Israel and Evangelical Christians

Robert W. Nicholson has written a fascinating essay for Mosaic magazine titled “Evangelicals and Israel: What American Jews Don’t Want to Know (but Need to).” That essay, in turn, has generated commentaries by Wilfred McClay, Elliott Abrams, Gertrude Himmelfarb, and James Nuechterlein. Each of them has a somewhat different take on what Nicholson wrote; all are worth reading.

The Nicholson essay explores the explanation for Christian Zionism, locating it in eschatology for some Christians while in God’s eternal covenant with Israel for others. Mr. Nicholson argues that many evangelicals feel not only a strong sense of protectiveness toward the State of Israel but a deep cultural affinity with the Jewish people. But he also highlights the growing strength among evangelicals of what he calls a “new anti-Israeli and pro-Palestinian movement.” 

The latter is something I can testify to first-hand. Several years ago my wife and I left a Washington D.C. church we were members of over what I came to discover was a deep, though previously hidden-from-view, hostility to Israel. The more I probed the matter, the more disturbing it was, to the point that I didn’t feel we could continue to worship there in good conscience. So we left, despite two of our children having been baptized there and despite having developed strong attachments to the church and many of its congregants over the years.

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Robert W. Nicholson has written a fascinating essay for Mosaic magazine titled “Evangelicals and Israel: What American Jews Don’t Want to Know (but Need to).” That essay, in turn, has generated commentaries by Wilfred McClay, Elliott Abrams, Gertrude Himmelfarb, and James Nuechterlein. Each of them has a somewhat different take on what Nicholson wrote; all are worth reading.

The Nicholson essay explores the explanation for Christian Zionism, locating it in eschatology for some Christians while in God’s eternal covenant with Israel for others. Mr. Nicholson argues that many evangelicals feel not only a strong sense of protectiveness toward the State of Israel but a deep cultural affinity with the Jewish people. But he also highlights the growing strength among evangelicals of what he calls a “new anti-Israeli and pro-Palestinian movement.” 

The latter is something I can testify to first-hand. Several years ago my wife and I left a Washington D.C. church we were members of over what I came to discover was a deep, though previously hidden-from-view, hostility to Israel. The more I probed the matter, the more disturbing it was, to the point that I didn’t feel we could continue to worship there in good conscience. So we left, despite two of our children having been baptized there and despite having developed strong attachments to the church and many of its congregants over the years.

Mr. Nicholson does an excellent job explaining the rise of pro-Palestinian sentiment among some segments of American evangelicalism. The basis for this movement rests in part on the belief that Israel is a nation whose very founding in 1947 was illegitimate and immoral; since then, it is said, Israel has become an enemy of justice and peace. Authentic Christianity therefore requires one to embrace the pro-Palestinian narrative, or so this line of argument goes. “The bottom line is simply this,” writes Nicholson. “More and more evangelicals are being educated to accept the pro-Palestinian narrative – on the basis of their Christian faith.”

As for my own attitudes toward the Jewish state, I find myself closely aligned to the view of Nuechterlein. “In the present instance,” he writes, “one need not depend on biblical prophecy or covenantal theology to find reasons to support the state of Israel.”

Israel has the only truly democratic political culture in the Middle East. It is a friend of the West in politics and political economy, and, more important, a consistent and unswerving ally of the United States. It is a regional bulwark against the radical Islamists who are its and America’s sworn enemies. The more I see of the populist Arab spring, the stronger is my commitment to Israel. I support Israel not because I am a Christian—though nothing in my Christian beliefs would preclude that support—but because that support coincides with the requirements of justice and the defense of the American national interest. 

That strikes me as quite right. In a region filled with despots and massive violations of human rights, Israel is the great, shining exception. Indeed, based on the evidence all around us, it is clear that Israel, more than any nation on earth, is held not simply to a double standard but to an impossible standard. Its own sacrifices for peace, which exceed those of any other country, are constantly overlooked even as the brutal acts of its enemies are excused. (I offer a very brief historical account of things here.)

Israel is far from perfect—but it is, in the totality of its acts, among the most estimable and impressive nations in human history. Its achievements and moral accomplishments are staggering—which is why, in my judgment, evangelical Christians should keep faith with the Jewish state. Set aside for now one’s view about the end times and God’s covenantal relationship with Israel. Israel warrants support based on the here and now; on what it stands for and what it stands against and what its enemies stand for and against; and for reasons of simple justice. What is required to counteract the anti-Israel narrative and propaganda campaign is a large-scale effort at education, not simply with dry facts but in a manner that tells a remarkable and moving story. That captures the moral imagination of evangelicals, most especially young evangelicals.

I’m sure some evangelical Christians would appreciate it if more American Jews showed more gratitude toward them for their support of Israel over the years. But frankly that matters very little to me, and here’s why: What ought to decide where one falls in this debate on Israel are not the shadows but the sunlight. On seeing history for what it is rather than committing a gross disfigurement of it. And on aligning one’s views, as best as one can, with truth and facts, starting with this one: The problem isn’t with Israel’s unwillingness to negotiate or even any dispute over territory (Israel has repeatedly proved it is willing to part with land for real peace); it is with the Palestinians’ unwillingness to make their own inner peace with the existence of a Jewish state.

The suffering the Palestinian people (including Palestinian Christians) are enduring is real and ought to move one’s heart. Many Palestinians suffer from circumstances they didn’t create. And so sympathy for their plight is natural. But these circumstances they suffer under are fundamentally a creation not of Israel but of failed Palestinian leadership, which has so often been characterized by corruption and malevolence. Checkpoints and walls exist for a reason, as a response to Palestinian aggressions. Nor has anyone yet emerged among the Palestinian leadership who is either willing or able to alter a civic culture that foments an abhorrence of Jews and longs for the eradication of Israel. That is the sine qua non for progress. 

To my coreligionists I would simply point out an unpleasant truth: hatred for Israel is a burning fire throughout the world. Those of the Christian faith ought to be working to douse the flames rather than to intensify them.

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Cruz’s Critics Aren’t Just GOP Establishment

Senator Ted Cruz is the darling of the Republican base these days. Though most observers on both sides of the aisle consider the government shutdown he helped engineer to have been a disaster for his party, many conservatives love the fact that he was willing to fight the president and the Democrats to the last ditch on ObamaCare. Some even believe his claim that had everyone in the GOP drunk the Kool-Aid he was handing out in the Capitol, the tactic would have succeeded even if there is no rational reason to think so. More importantly, many think that any Republican who warned that the shutdown was a dumb tactic without a chance of success is a RINO traitor and part of the problem in Washington to which the Texas freshman is the only solution.

This Cruz-inspired schism seems to be the main topic for discussion about the Republican Party these days, and made the Texan’s visit to Iowa this past weekend to give a speech a matter of more than passing political interest. His appearance in the first-in-the-nation caucus state highlighted the traction he has gained among Tea Partiers, and Cruz continued to milk it with barbed comments that were aimed just as much at less militant Republicans than they were at Obama and the Democrats. But when Rick Santorum called out Cruz on Meet the Press for hurting the party more than he helped it with the shutdown, it’s time to admit there is more going on in the GOP right now than a simple split between the Tea Party and the so-called party establishment.

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Senator Ted Cruz is the darling of the Republican base these days. Though most observers on both sides of the aisle consider the government shutdown he helped engineer to have been a disaster for his party, many conservatives love the fact that he was willing to fight the president and the Democrats to the last ditch on ObamaCare. Some even believe his claim that had everyone in the GOP drunk the Kool-Aid he was handing out in the Capitol, the tactic would have succeeded even if there is no rational reason to think so. More importantly, many think that any Republican who warned that the shutdown was a dumb tactic without a chance of success is a RINO traitor and part of the problem in Washington to which the Texas freshman is the only solution.

This Cruz-inspired schism seems to be the main topic for discussion about the Republican Party these days, and made the Texan’s visit to Iowa this past weekend to give a speech a matter of more than passing political interest. His appearance in the first-in-the-nation caucus state highlighted the traction he has gained among Tea Partiers, and Cruz continued to milk it with barbed comments that were aimed just as much at less militant Republicans than they were at Obama and the Democrats. But when Rick Santorum called out Cruz on Meet the Press for hurting the party more than he helped it with the shutdown, it’s time to admit there is more going on in the GOP right now than a simple split between the Tea Party and the so-called party establishment.

Just a year and a half ago Santorum was leading the opposition to the establishment in the Republican presidential primaries. Though he failed to stop the Mitt Romney juggernaut, the long-shot candidate won Iowa and several other primaries and caucuses on his way to being the runner-up in the GOP race. Santorum clearly hopes to try again in 2016 and that explains, at least in part, his willingness to criticize a potential opponent like Cruz.

But in doing so, he illustrated that there are more than just two factions within the GOP. Cruz may be the leading spokesman for the Tea Party critique of Washington Republicans’ inability to defeat ObamaCare and the rest of the liberal project. But Santorum’s ability to tap into working-class resentments of a party that seems at times to be dominated by big business as well as his ability to speak for social conservatives should remind us that there are elements in the party outside of Capitol Hill or K Street that are not solely motivated by Cruz’s concerns about small government.

Of course, there is a great deal of overlap between Santorum’s core constituency and those who are attracted to Cruz. The same can also be said of many of the Republicans who supposedly fall into the category of establishment supporters because of their disdain for the shutdown strategy. Almost all Republicans these days want smaller government and oppose ObamaCare. But it needs to be understood that many of those who were appalled at the party’s embrace of a big-business establishment-type figure like Romney are not necessarily going to jump on Cruz’s bandwagon or accept his single-minded tactics that brand anyone who isn’t ready to follow him into every fight, no matter how quixotic, as a closet liberal.

Santorum’s dogged social conservatism seems the antithesis of the belief of a RINO, but even he understood that the gap between what he conceded was Cruz’s “laudable” goal of eliminating ObamaCare and a coherent plan to accomplish it was huge.

Moreover, Santorum reminded Republicans that the notion that Cruz is the face of the Republican Party today is laughable.

Unlike the Democratic Party, which has the president, there isn’t a leader in the Republican Party right now. That’s part of the reason for the mess and the confusion in the party. But that’s always the way it is with a party out of power. You have lots of different faces and those faces, as we’ve seen, they come and they go.

Santorum is hoping that his time as a leading Republican isn’t in the past tense, but we won’t know that for sure until we see whether his brand of religious conservatism can hold its own against that of Cruz, Rand Paul, or even Marco Rubio or Chris Christie. But while the latter may be the stand-in for Romney for GOP voters, the others will be battling each other for a share of the conservative vote.

The point here is not that Santorum or any of the other potential candidates can beat Cruz. Rather, the point to be gleaned from this exchange is that for all of Cruz’s recent notoriety, he is just one man in a party full of potential presidents with a variety of conservative constituencies rather than a mere standoff between Cruz’s rebels and the establishment. Those who think the only real story about the Republicans in the coming years is whether Cruz will lead a successful purge of all who opposed him are missing that.

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Just Don’t Tell the President

When Harry Truman was getting settled in the White House and catching up on all the information FDR kept from his vice president, his aide Harry Vaughan brought him a sampling of the FBI wiretaps in which Roosevelt indulged. FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover had opened something of a Pandora’s box with the wiretapping capability, which FDR utilized to spy on everyone he could–including the wife of a White House advisor, as Vaughan showed Truman.

“Tell them I don’t authorize any such thing,” David McCullough quotes Truman as responding. Truman was offended by the casual eavesdropping and the blackmail that resulted from the activity. In his diary, he compared the FBI to the Gestapo, and he determined to significantly scale back Hoover’s activities. Here’s what Truman didn’t do: he didn’t wait until the snooping was discovered and made public and then pretend he had no idea what was going on. Barack Obama would do well to read up on his Truman. Obama, as the Wall Street Journal reports, is responding to the latest NSA revelations, which allege that the U.S. listened in on the phone calls of world leaders like Germany’s Angela Merkel, the same way he responds to every scandal: he claims to have no idea what is taking place within his administration. From the Journal:

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When Harry Truman was getting settled in the White House and catching up on all the information FDR kept from his vice president, his aide Harry Vaughan brought him a sampling of the FBI wiretaps in which Roosevelt indulged. FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover had opened something of a Pandora’s box with the wiretapping capability, which FDR utilized to spy on everyone he could–including the wife of a White House advisor, as Vaughan showed Truman.

“Tell them I don’t authorize any such thing,” David McCullough quotes Truman as responding. Truman was offended by the casual eavesdropping and the blackmail that resulted from the activity. In his diary, he compared the FBI to the Gestapo, and he determined to significantly scale back Hoover’s activities. Here’s what Truman didn’t do: he didn’t wait until the snooping was discovered and made public and then pretend he had no idea what was going on. Barack Obama would do well to read up on his Truman. Obama, as the Wall Street Journal reports, is responding to the latest NSA revelations, which allege that the U.S. listened in on the phone calls of world leaders like Germany’s Angela Merkel, the same way he responds to every scandal: he claims to have no idea what is taking place within his administration. From the Journal:

Officials said the internal review turned up NSA monitoring of some 35 world leaders, in the U.S. government’s first public acknowledgment that it tapped the phones of world leaders. European leaders have joined international outrage over revelations of U.S. surveillance of Ms. Merkel’s phone and of NSA’s monitoring of telephone call data in France.

The White House cut off some monitoring programs after learning of them, including the one tracking Ms. Merkel and some other world leaders, a senior U.S. official said. Other programs have been slated for termination but haven’t been phased out completely yet, officials said.

The account suggests President Barack Obama went nearly five years without knowing his own spies were bugging the phones of world leaders. Officials said the NSA has so many eavesdropping operations under way that it wouldn’t have been practical to brief him on all of them.

If the administration thinks this is “plausible deniability,” the Obama team has lost touch with reality. Was the president briefed on national security for five years without knowing that these intelligence briefings were the result of, you know, intelligence collected by his intelligence agencies? Is the argument that the most sensitive and potentially embarrassing intelligence procedures do not require his approval? At what point does Obama think it becomes necessary for him to admit that, yes, he’s the president?

The more troubling question, however, is: Why does the president think this is an appropriate response to every controversy? The president took some criticism last week for the administration’s claim that Obama didn’t know the degree to which his signature achievement, which bears his name, was at great risk of melting down immediately upon launch.

Yet as the Journal also reported last night, the president actually does have plausible deniability on ObamaCare because no one knew who was in charge:

As it becomes clear that no single leader oversaw implementation of the health law’s signature online marketplace—a complex software project that would have been difficult under the best circumstances—the accounts of more than a dozen current and former officials show how a disjointed bureaucracy led to the site’s disastrous Oct. 1 launch.

It would be easy to blame bureaucracy again and leave it at that. But the problem is more endemic to modern liberalism’s governing philosophy. Another way of saying “plausible deniability,” after all, is “lack of accountability.” Bureaucracies are so often incompatible with healthy democracy precisely because they provide plausible deniability, which in turn incentivizes government ineptitude.

The pursuit of deniability makes bureaucracy an inviting refuge for an aspiring government official determined to shift the blame for anything that happens on his watch. It’s especially attractive to someone, like Barack Obama, who always wants to appear to be an outsider taking on the establishment. Yet that same “deep state” structure he claims to be appalled by is where he takes shelter every time there’s a controversy to disown.

Sometimes the deniability the president claims is believable, sometimes it isn’t. But it’s a poor excuse because it reveals his desperate avoidance of accountability. That the president is out of the loop is one thing; that he’s there by choice is quite another.

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Venezuela’s Ministry of Happiness

“Orwellian” is an oft-misused term, mainly because those who employ it forget that it properly applies to closed societies, rather than open ones. For that same reason, “Orwellian” is the most appropriate adjective to describe Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s announcement that he has created a new “Ministry of Supreme Social Happiness,” a body that could quite easily feature in one of 1984 narrator Winston Smith’s surreptitious diary entries.

The ministry’s creation rather underlines the fact that, after enduring fourteen years of chavismo, Venezuela is a supremely unhappy society. Despite sitting atop the world’s largest reserves of oil, the country that could have been Latin America’s powerhouse is instead a basket case. Oil revenues are either squandered, for example through the annual provision of around $12 billion of heavily-subsidized oil to communist Cuba, or used to settle foreign debts, as in the case of China, which has lent $42.5 billion to Venezuela over the last six years, and which now receives close to 600,000 barrels of oil per day as repayment. Ironically, only the much-maligned United States, which receives about 800,000 barrels of Venezuelan oil per day, pays for its imports in cash.

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“Orwellian” is an oft-misused term, mainly because those who employ it forget that it properly applies to closed societies, rather than open ones. For that same reason, “Orwellian” is the most appropriate adjective to describe Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s announcement that he has created a new “Ministry of Supreme Social Happiness,” a body that could quite easily feature in one of 1984 narrator Winston Smith’s surreptitious diary entries.

The ministry’s creation rather underlines the fact that, after enduring fourteen years of chavismo, Venezuela is a supremely unhappy society. Despite sitting atop the world’s largest reserves of oil, the country that could have been Latin America’s powerhouse is instead a basket case. Oil revenues are either squandered, for example through the annual provision of around $12 billion of heavily-subsidized oil to communist Cuba, or used to settle foreign debts, as in the case of China, which has lent $42.5 billion to Venezuela over the last six years, and which now receives close to 600,000 barrels of oil per day as repayment. Ironically, only the much-maligned United States, which receives about 800,000 barrels of Venezuelan oil per day, pays for its imports in cash.

The rot eating away at Venezuela’s oil sector–run, for the last decade, by regime loyalists after the professional bureaucrats who administered the national oil company, PDVSA, were ruthlessly purged by the late Hugo Chavez–has spread to the rest of the country in dramatic fashion. Back in September, a power outage plunged 70 percent of the country, including the capital, Caracas, into darkness. Industry analysts blamed poor management practices for the interruption of the electricity supply, while the regime pointed its finger at the CIA and at the leader of the opposition MUD coalition, Henrique Capriles. Exactly the same response is offered when it comes to explaining the other woes, like shortages of basic foodstuffs and household items like toilet paper, that are plaguing the country.

The Happiness Ministry is, therefore, Maduro’s way of acknowledging that support for the Chavez model of revolution is being eroded among precisely those whom it is meant to benefit. Chavez’s program of creating “social missions” among the poorest demographics was, from the beginning, funded by a combination of external debt and misuse of oil revenues. In exchange, it guaranteed him the political loyalties and votes that Maduro is now desperate to shore up, which is why the new ministry will be in charge of coordinating the 33 missions, which cover a range of areas from improving literacy to building cheap public housing.

The opposition has countered that Maduro’s strategy is all about politics, since there is little, if any, economic logic here. Accusing anyone who stands up to him of “sabotage” conveniently masks the obvious point that these social missions cannot be indefinitely sustained. And that is why, after the September power outage, the regime’s immediate response was to deploy agents of the SEBIN secret police “across the nation to protect the population.”

With the December 8 municipal elections on the horizon, Maduro is anxious to deny the opposition the opportunity of turning the vote into a national referendum on his rule. Mindful of the widespread allegations of fraud that marked Maduro’s victory in the April presidential election, the opposition parliamentarian Maria Corina Machado–who was brutally assaulted in the National Assembly after she accused Maduro of rigging the vote–has warned that “suspending the vote or scheming up an outright fraud should not be excluded from the options of the National Electoral Council (CNE).”

Intimidating voters is another tactic which the regime has used to its advantage in the recent past. Just before he announced the creation of the Happiness Ministry, Maduro declared that the elections on December 8 would be trumped by something much more important: “a day of loyalty and love for Hugo Chavez,” as he put it, as well as a reminder that the “only enemies of the country are the ‘evil trilogy’”–Henrique Capriles, Leopoldo Lopez, and Maria Corina Machado–“who have been commissioned to sabotage electricity, food and unleash an economic war.” Anyone arriving at the voting stations on December 8 can expect to be greeted by red-shirted chavistas brandishing pictures of Chavez, exactly as happened during the April vote, when these same operatives were filmed ushering voters into the polling booths to “assist” them with their electronic ballots.

If anyone remains unconvinced that Maduro is using Chavez’s legacy to set up a full-fledged dictatorship, look no further than his proposed Enabling Law, ostensibly designed to fight corruption and economic decline. As the dissident blogger Daniel Duquenal points out, when the chavistas came to power, one dollar was exchanged for 50 Bolivars: fourteen years later, it’s 50,000 Bolivars and rising. In analyzing how the passage of the law would enable Maduro to exercise complete control over the economy, Duquenal asks, “does anyone still think we are not in a dictatorship?” Actually, it’s impossible to think anything else.

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Is Iraq’s Present Afghanistan’s Future?

Back in 2011, President Obama tried briefly and not very hard to attain a Status of Forces Agreement that would have allowed U.S. forces to remain in Iraq past 2011. That effort failed, as we know, with disastrous consequences–the civil war that was all but extinguished by the surge in 2007-2008 has reignited with a vengeance as al-Qaeda in Iraq has come roaring back from the grave. As the Washington Post notes, recent violence in Iraq “has virtually erased the security gains made in the past five years. More than 5,300 Iraqis have been killed this year.”

There are many reasons why the U.S.-Iraq accord failed to be completed. One of the less noticed but more important was Obama’s unwillingness to send more than a few thousand U.S. troops to Iraq in spite of U.S. commanders’ recommendations that he send at least 15,000 to 20,000. Many Iraqi politicians figured that a commitment of fewer than 5,000 U.S. troops would be mainly symbolic and ineffectual and would not be worth the resulting political controversy.

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Back in 2011, President Obama tried briefly and not very hard to attain a Status of Forces Agreement that would have allowed U.S. forces to remain in Iraq past 2011. That effort failed, as we know, with disastrous consequences–the civil war that was all but extinguished by the surge in 2007-2008 has reignited with a vengeance as al-Qaeda in Iraq has come roaring back from the grave. As the Washington Post notes, recent violence in Iraq “has virtually erased the security gains made in the past five years. More than 5,300 Iraqis have been killed this year.”

There are many reasons why the U.S.-Iraq accord failed to be completed. One of the less noticed but more important was Obama’s unwillingness to send more than a few thousand U.S. troops to Iraq in spite of U.S. commanders’ recommendations that he send at least 15,000 to 20,000. Many Iraqi politicians figured that a commitment of fewer than 5,000 U.S. troops would be mainly symbolic and ineffectual and would not be worth the resulting political controversy.

Is history repeating itself in Afghanistan? It’s too soon to say, but there is cause for concern when one reads articles like this one in the New York Times today reporting that “NATO has endorsed an enduring presence of 8,000 to 12,000 troops, with two-thirds expected to be American.” That translates into 5,300 to 8,000 U.S. troops, considerably below the 13,600 that Gen. Jim Mattis, former commander of Central Command, estimated to be necessary–and that itself was a low-ball estimate in the judgment of many military experts.

At some point there is a real risk of Afghan politicos, like their Iraqi counterparts, deciding there is no point in having their sovereignty violated and being exposed to anti-American criticism in return for a token force that can accomplish little. If that were to happen, the future of Afghanistan isn’t hard to imagine. Just look at Iraq today–only Afghanistan will probably be worse off because it faces a more malignant insurgency with more entrenched cross-border bases and its government and security forces are weaker than their Iraqi counterparts.

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Barack Obama, Unilateralist

Barack Obama and his crew came into office criticizing George W. Bush and his crew for being too unilateralist. Quelle surprise. Turns out that Obama is, if anything, more unilateralist. That, at least, is one conclusion you can draw from Susan Rice’s interview with the New York Times, which Jonathan has already commented on.

The article details a policy review at the NSC that Rice supervised this summer whose results were unveiled in President Obama’s speech at the UN in September. To wit: “The United States, he declared, would focus on negotiating a nuclear deal with Iran, brokering peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians and mitigating the strife in Syria. Everything else would take a back seat.”

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Barack Obama and his crew came into office criticizing George W. Bush and his crew for being too unilateralist. Quelle surprise. Turns out that Obama is, if anything, more unilateralist. That, at least, is one conclusion you can draw from Susan Rice’s interview with the New York Times, which Jonathan has already commented on.

The article details a policy review at the NSC that Rice supervised this summer whose results were unveiled in President Obama’s speech at the UN in September. To wit: “The United States, he declared, would focus on negotiating a nuclear deal with Iran, brokering peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians and mitigating the strife in Syria. Everything else would take a back seat.”

This is billed by Rice as “a more modest approach — one that prizes diplomacy, puts limits on engagement and raises doubts about whether Mr. Obama would ever again use military force in a region convulsed by conflict.” In fact it’s a more high-handed and unilateralist approach. How so? Because it rests on the assumption that the administration can choose to get involved only in the issues it has pre-determined beforehand are of interest, and that it can pursue a predetermined approach to those issues even if it flies in the face of reality and what our allies advocate.

This is a natural continuation of the president’s conceit that he can “end” wars by pulling U.S. troops out; in fact in Iraq he has re-started a war by pulling U.S. troops out. But it is part and parcel of Obama’s overweening self-regard that he imagines that his actions, and his actions alone, will determine what happens in far-off regions.

It hardly works that way. The struggle for democracy in Egypt or indeed across the Middle East–to take but one example–will not disappear simply because the administration chooses to ignore it. Nor will the Israelis and Palestinians reach a peace deal simply because the administration wills it to happen.

If President Obama were actually listening to what U.S. allies in the Middle East want, he would be focusing on toppling Bashar Assad and doing whatever it takes to stop the Iranian nuclear program rather than engaging with the Iranian regime. Nor would he be loudly proclaiming his desire to disengage from the Middle East and never again to use force. Like his ill-considered timeline in Afghanistan, those are signals that encourage aggressors and discourage our friends. Which may be why both the Saudis and Israelis, different as they are, both are signaling their disenchantment with the administration’s policies.

Meanwhile Obama has been alienating France, Germany, Brazil, and other countries over alleged NSA spying. The U.S. may have a strong case for what it is doing, but even those of us who defend NSA actions have to admit they’re–yup–unilateralist. So who’s the unilateralist now, President Obama?

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