Commentary Magazine


Posts For: November 22, 2013

JFK and Obama: Press Access Lessons

On a day when the nation is awash with memories of John F. Kennedy and the 50th anniversary of his assassination, one comparison between JFK and Barack Obama is highly instructive: their attitudes toward the press and the control of information.

Few presidents have been as secretive as President Obama. As Chuck Todd rightly pointed out yesterday during the daily brief at the White House, this administration has not merely done its best to shut down the working press and silence dissent from within the ranks of the government with an unprecedented number of investigations and prosecutions over leaks. It has also created what amounts to nothing less than a state media as the White House has excluded journalists from some events and instead distributed its own official photos and stories via official websites (which unlike the ObamaCare site, don’t crash). Doing so enables the president to control the story in a way that few of his predecessors, even before the era of the mass media, could have dreamed of doing. By contrast, President Kennedy offered reporters and photographers an equally unprecedented amount of access.

The irony here is that by treating the press as his friends and allies rather than enemies, Kennedy was able to keep secrets about his health and his disgraceful personal conduct during his presidency since none of his journalistic cronies and enablers wished to undermine their friend in the Oval Office. He smartly used press conferences to reach the American people directly where he could show off his wit and command of the issues, but in doing so he knew the press he had seduced had his back.

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On a day when the nation is awash with memories of John F. Kennedy and the 50th anniversary of his assassination, one comparison between JFK and Barack Obama is highly instructive: their attitudes toward the press and the control of information.

Few presidents have been as secretive as President Obama. As Chuck Todd rightly pointed out yesterday during the daily brief at the White House, this administration has not merely done its best to shut down the working press and silence dissent from within the ranks of the government with an unprecedented number of investigations and prosecutions over leaks. It has also created what amounts to nothing less than a state media as the White House has excluded journalists from some events and instead distributed its own official photos and stories via official websites (which unlike the ObamaCare site, don’t crash). Doing so enables the president to control the story in a way that few of his predecessors, even before the era of the mass media, could have dreamed of doing. By contrast, President Kennedy offered reporters and photographers an equally unprecedented amount of access.

The irony here is that by treating the press as his friends and allies rather than enemies, Kennedy was able to keep secrets about his health and his disgraceful personal conduct during his presidency since none of his journalistic cronies and enablers wished to undermine their friend in the Oval Office. He smartly used press conferences to reach the American people directly where he could show off his wit and command of the issues, but in doing so he knew the press he had seduced had his back.

Though most of the White House press corps is as, if not more, eager to help Obama as their predecessors were to aid Kennedy, over the course of five years of stonewalling, deceptions, and end runs, he has managed to alienate even liberals who now are justified in complaining that the White House is little different from Vladimir Putin’s authoritarian regime when it comes to control of information.

The moral of the story is not just that Obama seems a lot closer to Richard Nixon in his behavior than to that of his avowed hero Kennedy, though that is a fair conclusion. Rather, it is that what is most needed in a democracy is a vigorous and free press that is neither prevented from doing its job by a semi-official government media run publishing propaganda from the White House nor compromised by the hero worship and cronyism.

Looking back on the history of the Kennedy era, the press should never lose the sense of shame that it ought to feel about its cover ups of the truth about the president’s health and his dissolute and even reckless personal behavior (having mistresses is one thing, debauching interns and sleeping with the molls of gangsters under federal investigation is quite another). But neither should it allow itself to be intimidated by a White House press operation that appears to be the polar opposite of Kennedy’s clever decision to co-opt the press.

Is it too much to ask that journalists not go into the tank for politicians or to be allowed to do their job without being superseded by a state propaganda arm? No, it’s not. Instead, of obsessing about Kennedy’s death, our media would do better to learn the lessons of JFK and Obama’s abuse of press freedom.

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What Obama Wrought: Iran’s Normalization

The news today out of Geneva remains inconclusive. Despite the best efforts of Western negotiators, a nuclear agreement with Iran still remains elusive. Though the talks continue there’s no guarantee they will succeed as the Iranians remain resolute about defending both their “right” to go on enriching uranium and to keep constructing a plutonium nuclear plant that gives them a second path to a bomb. The breathless pursuit of a deal on the part of the Obama administration despite the fact that their offer will allow the Iranians to retain their nuclear infrastructure and to keep enriching uranium is the main story here. It will allow the Iranians a path to a nuclear breakout in the North Korean mode and once sanctions are loosened and Washington can pretend it has resolved the issue, the likelihood of a strong Western response to such a development would be nil.

But whether Secretary of State Kerry and his P5+1 colleagues get the Pyrrhic victory they are seeking this week or are forced to wait weeks or months more for the ayatollahs to give their assent to a piece of paper they will almost certainly obstruct, the latest round of talks has achieved something very different that seemed almost unimaginable only a few months ago. By devoting so much effort to sell the world on the notion that Iran is moderating and wants to deal, the administration hasn’t just tried to create a constituency for engagement with Iran but has, in effect, normalized a rogue, anti-Semitic, terror-supporting regime that richly deserved the opprobrium that had been directed at it in the last decade. In doing so, they have not only handed Tehran an undeserved victory without getting anything in return. They have also rendered it even less likely that the international community will be able to muster the strength to restrain an Islamist government whose violent intent is not in doubt.

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The news today out of Geneva remains inconclusive. Despite the best efforts of Western negotiators, a nuclear agreement with Iran still remains elusive. Though the talks continue there’s no guarantee they will succeed as the Iranians remain resolute about defending both their “right” to go on enriching uranium and to keep constructing a plutonium nuclear plant that gives them a second path to a bomb. The breathless pursuit of a deal on the part of the Obama administration despite the fact that their offer will allow the Iranians to retain their nuclear infrastructure and to keep enriching uranium is the main story here. It will allow the Iranians a path to a nuclear breakout in the North Korean mode and once sanctions are loosened and Washington can pretend it has resolved the issue, the likelihood of a strong Western response to such a development would be nil.

But whether Secretary of State Kerry and his P5+1 colleagues get the Pyrrhic victory they are seeking this week or are forced to wait weeks or months more for the ayatollahs to give their assent to a piece of paper they will almost certainly obstruct, the latest round of talks has achieved something very different that seemed almost unimaginable only a few months ago. By devoting so much effort to sell the world on the notion that Iran is moderating and wants to deal, the administration hasn’t just tried to create a constituency for engagement with Iran but has, in effect, normalized a rogue, anti-Semitic, terror-supporting regime that richly deserved the opprobrium that had been directed at it in the last decade. In doing so, they have not only handed Tehran an undeserved victory without getting anything in return. They have also rendered it even less likely that the international community will be able to muster the strength to restrain an Islamist government whose violent intent is not in doubt.

When Hassan Rouhani won Iran’s faux presidential election in June, what followed was an orchestrated effort on the part of the regime to sell their new front man as someone who would effect genuine change. Given his long record as a faithful servant of first Ayatollah Khomeini and then his successor Ayatollah Khamenei, as well as his role in past diplomatic deceptions of the West, this was a stretch. But it wasn’t long before it became apparent that the supreme leader had made a clever tactical decision in allowing Rouhani to run and then win the election. Those in the West, like President Obama, who were desperate for a way out of the nuclear confrontation with Iran soon became as invested in the myth of Rouhani’s moderation and, by extension, that of the regime itself, as the Iranians had been. Thus, even when the person pulling the strings in Tehran issues forth another proclamation of hate, as Khamenei did this week, the muted response from Washington to the latest broadside of anti-Semitic slander said more about the change in attitude than even their defense of the negotiations.

In order to justify their decision to appease the Iranians, it is necessary to not just attempt to launder their image but to treat their representatives as reasonable actors and their positions as merely a different point of view about a difficult subject. But in spite of the U.S. commitment to engagement, this remains the same rogue regime that rightly earned in its place in George W. Bush’s famous line about an axis of hate alongside Iraq and fellow nuclear scofflaw North Korea. It still brutally represses religious minorities and dissenters within its borders and is one of the world’s leading sources of anti-Semitic hate. It is still the leading state sponsor of terror around the world. And its hostile intent toward both Israel and moderate Arab nations like Saudi Arabia is something that neither the supreme leader nor the rest of the regime bothers to hide.

It should also be recalled that Iran’s strategic ambitions were further bolstered this year by the administration’s astonishing retreat in Syria that ensured that Tehran’s close ally Bashar Assad would hold onto power despite President Obama’s repeated calls for his ouster. Indeed, with Hamas now seeking to re-establish ties with Iran after breaking them off in recent years over their disagreement about Syria, the web of the regime’s auxiliaries will stretch across the Middle East posing a threat not just to Israel and Saudi Arabia, but to the United States and the rest of the West.

Yet President Obama clings to the notion that Rouhani’s election means the Islamist regime has been housetrained to the extent that it can be lived with or at least contained. Doing so sets the stage for Iran’s return to the international stage as an accepted player even if it doesn’t observe their nuclear commitments. That’s why even if Obama or his successor has a change of heart about the deal on the table this week, it will be that much harder to ever again isolate it as much as it is today. The fateful step being taken is not just the possibility of Kerry signing a bad deal. It’s the process of normalization that goes with it that represents Iran’s greatest and undeserved victory.

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JFK’s Legacy: The Charisma Fallacy

The 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s tragic death has brought forth a predictable outpouring of commentary debating his legacy. It is a sign of how the historical debate has shifted since the early days of Camelot, when court chroniclers like Arthur Schlesinger and William Manchester dominated the debate, that today’s leading JFK biographer, Robert Dallek, adopts a somewhat defensive stance in an op-ed about Kennedy’s legacy.

Dallek tries to mount a defense of Kennedy that is premised on might-have-beens–i.e. the claim that, had he lived, JFK would have done more on civil rights and less on Vietnam. Perhaps so, but the evidence for either contention is hardly conclusive, to put it mildly.

In the end Dallek, a good historian, falls back on this: “Kennedy’s greatest success was the very thing that critics often cast as a shortcoming: his charisma, his feel for the importance of inspirational leadership and his willingness to use it to great ends.”

There is little doubt that there is something here–Kennedy did inspire a generation and many felt called to public service because of his example. But the nation also paid a high cost for the youthful charisma that Kennedy brought to the presidency because its flip side was lack of know-how and experience.

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The 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s tragic death has brought forth a predictable outpouring of commentary debating his legacy. It is a sign of how the historical debate has shifted since the early days of Camelot, when court chroniclers like Arthur Schlesinger and William Manchester dominated the debate, that today’s leading JFK biographer, Robert Dallek, adopts a somewhat defensive stance in an op-ed about Kennedy’s legacy.

Dallek tries to mount a defense of Kennedy that is premised on might-have-beens–i.e. the claim that, had he lived, JFK would have done more on civil rights and less on Vietnam. Perhaps so, but the evidence for either contention is hardly conclusive, to put it mildly.

In the end Dallek, a good historian, falls back on this: “Kennedy’s greatest success was the very thing that critics often cast as a shortcoming: his charisma, his feel for the importance of inspirational leadership and his willingness to use it to great ends.”

There is little doubt that there is something here–Kennedy did inspire a generation and many felt called to public service because of his example. But the nation also paid a high cost for the youthful charisma that Kennedy brought to the presidency because its flip side was lack of know-how and experience.

Even Kennedy admirers have to admit his many early stumbles, such as the Bay of Pigs invasion (why on earth approve a hare-brained CIA scheme to restage D-Day but without air cover?), the Berlin crisis, and the Vienna summit with Khrushchev where the Soviet leader came away convinced that the new president was weak–a conclusion that led directly to the worst days of the Cold War. To be sure, Kennedy deserved high marks for his handling of the Cuban Missile Crisis when he resisted the militaristic advice of his Joint Chiefs of Staff that, if adopted, could easily have triggered World War III. (Was this the last time that the top generals were more hawkish than the top civilian policymakers?)

Undoubtedly this was a sign of his growing maturity in office, and yet this chronicle of a president growing into his job bumps up against some inconvenient facts. Namely that in the last months of his life Kennedy was guilty of one of his worst blunders in office–approving the plot to overthrow South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem when it was obvious that there was no better alternative among all the South Vietnamese generals hungry for his post. Kennedy immediately expressed contrition for Diem’s death but he did not live to see how the removal of South Vietnam’s leader embroiled that country in years of instability and fostered a sense of American ownership of the conflict.

It is little wonder that in succeeding decades, as the luster of Camelot has faded, historians have been elevating Eisenhower and demoting Kennedy among the ranks of presidents–the former getting newfound respect for his steadiness, experience and deft handling of the international scene, all qualities that Kennedy lacked at least at first.

Yet we never seem to learn–we keep choosing charisma over experience. That helps to explain how Clinton beat Bush Sr., how Bush Jr. beat Gore, and how Obama beat McCain. It is remarkable that few would fly in a plane piloted by an inexperienced pilot or consent to surgery from an inexperienced surgeon–yet we regularly turn over the highest and hardest office in the land to newcomers, especially newcomers to the field of international relations which happens to be what the bulk of the presidency is concerned with. The predictable result is more early stumbles, such as Clinton’s failed health-care initiative, the Black Hawk Down disaster, and the failure to intervene early in Bosnia; Bush Jr.’s failure to boost the size of the armed forces, pay attention to the Al Qaeda threat before 9/11, and to do more to prepare for nation-building in Iraq and Afghanistan; Obama’s ignoring of the Green Revolution in Iran, his heavy-handed insistence on an Israeli settlement freeze, and other missteps too numerous to mention.

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Can Washington Get Worse? You Bet it Will.

The main justification put forward by Democrats defending their decision to blow up the Senate rules and end filibusters on Cabinet and judicial nominations is that things are so bad now, they can’t get worse. That’s the spin President Obama put on the situation yesterday as he took a rare turn in the White House press room to spike the football after Majority Leader Harry Reid pushed through the measure he hopes will allow him to pack the federal courts with liberals. This idea is integral to the president’s argument that Republican obstructionism has made it impossible for him to govern. Even on topics where Republican input has been nil such as the ObamaCare rollout, Democrats have stuck to this theme blaming Republicans for stirring up dissent against their unpopular dysfunctional legislation even as most Americans have focused on the president’s broken promises and a dysfunctional website.

There’s no denying that partisanship is nastier in Congress than it once was. But if President Obama and Reid think it can’t get worse, they’re kidding themselves. For all of the bitter combat that has been carried on in just the last year over the budget, ObamaCare, the shutdown, and the various administration scandals, the business of government has largely proceeded unhindered. Many nominations have been approved, bipartisan legislation passed, and the unanimous consent to keep the upper body functioning has almost always been there. But now that Reed has pushed the plunger on the so-called nuclear option, all bets are off. The 45 Senate Republicans may no longer have the power to block the president’s appointments on their own, but Senate procedures still give them plenty of latitude to put holds on legislation. Not only will Reed find it even harder to do his job now that he has broken faith with his opponents and sought to squelch dissent, he and the president may also discover that the benefits of their decision will not be as great as they think.

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The main justification put forward by Democrats defending their decision to blow up the Senate rules and end filibusters on Cabinet and judicial nominations is that things are so bad now, they can’t get worse. That’s the spin President Obama put on the situation yesterday as he took a rare turn in the White House press room to spike the football after Majority Leader Harry Reid pushed through the measure he hopes will allow him to pack the federal courts with liberals. This idea is integral to the president’s argument that Republican obstructionism has made it impossible for him to govern. Even on topics where Republican input has been nil such as the ObamaCare rollout, Democrats have stuck to this theme blaming Republicans for stirring up dissent against their unpopular dysfunctional legislation even as most Americans have focused on the president’s broken promises and a dysfunctional website.

There’s no denying that partisanship is nastier in Congress than it once was. But if President Obama and Reid think it can’t get worse, they’re kidding themselves. For all of the bitter combat that has been carried on in just the last year over the budget, ObamaCare, the shutdown, and the various administration scandals, the business of government has largely proceeded unhindered. Many nominations have been approved, bipartisan legislation passed, and the unanimous consent to keep the upper body functioning has almost always been there. But now that Reed has pushed the plunger on the so-called nuclear option, all bets are off. The 45 Senate Republicans may no longer have the power to block the president’s appointments on their own, but Senate procedures still give them plenty of latitude to put holds on legislation. Not only will Reed find it even harder to do his job now that he has broken faith with his opponents and sought to squelch dissent, he and the president may also discover that the benefits of their decision will not be as great as they think.

On the surface, it would seem that the president now has carte blanche to do what he has longed to accomplish since moving into the White House: fundamentally alter the balance of the federal courts by packing federal district and appeals courts with the kind of hard-core ideological liberals that were being blocked by filibusters. He may well attempt to do that in the coming 12 months before the midterm elections give the GOP an opportunity to win back the Senate. But those who assume this will now become as easy as pie have forgotten about what will be uppermost on the minds of the several red-state Democrats who face uphill reelection fights next year.

As Josh Gerstein points out in Politico, the roster of potential liberal judges is filled by the ranks of left-wing jurists and lawyers that had little chance of getting the 60 votes they needed under the old rules. But getting to 51 votes may not be so easy for these liberals when you consider that many of the Democrats the president is counting on won’t want to hand their Republican opponents new talking points by rubber-stamping ideological judges. While some may get through, any controversial nominee will find themselves being thrown under the bus by moderate Democrats who can no longer count on the GOP or the filibuster rules to save them from a vote they’d rather not take.

But that’s just the most obvious fallout from Reed’s move. Just as important is the way the rules change will now make it impossible for bipartisan coalitions to be assembled. The Senate has become more like the House in recent years as firebrand newcomers on both sides of the aisle have replaced old warhorses. But as we saw with immigration reform this year, for all the bitterness in D.C., enough conservatives and liberals were still able to work together to get a bill passed in the Senate. But after the president’s scorched-earth approach to the shutdown and the nuclear option being employed, you can forget about anything like that happening again in the foreseeable future. This will alter the nature of the Senate far more than anything we have seen before. The Tea Party had made it tough for Republicans to work with Democrats in the last three years. But the president has now ensured that even those inclined to ignore them will also refuse to play ball.

The Democrats’ mindset is based on an assumption that when the Republicans got control of the Senate again, whether in 2015 or at some later date, they would have employed the nuclear option as they threatened to do first in 2005 when Democrats were defending the filibuster. At this point, there’s no longer any way of knowing whether that would have happened even if the Democrats hadn’t struck first. Up until this point, it’s doubtful that we’ve ever had a Senate majority leader so incapable of working with the minority as Reid has shown himself to be. Perhaps Mitch McConnell or his successor would have wound up doing the same, but since the Republicans always backed away from pushing the button on the filibuster that question is now in the realm of counter-factual fiction, not serious analysis. But what we do know now is that it is highly unlikely that the GOP will refrain from playing just as rough in the future when it is their turn to control the Senate.

That’s why Democrats do well to avoid celebrations of their move. The benefits from it to President Obama will be minimal. But the costs in terms of dysfunction and the certainty of even worse political warfare to come are considerable. 

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Turkey Gives Seized Media to Erdoğan Ally

Last spring, as President Obama stood beside his good friend Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in the White House Rose Garden, Turkish officials were raiding the media assets of the Çukurova Group, one of the last business conglomerates whose media outlets maintained an independent rather than hagiographic take on Turkey’s prime minister. Obama, of course, was silent. Not only did Obama not speak up in defense of media freedom, but he chose Sabah, a once-independent paper seized by Erdoğan’s administration and transferred to Erdoğan’s son-in-law for an op-ed about Obama’s love for Turkey.

Alas, principles of freedom and liberty appear to count little when he picks friends and foes. Now, word comes from Turkey that the newspapers and television stations seized have been transferred to businessman Ethem Sancak:

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Last spring, as President Obama stood beside his good friend Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in the White House Rose Garden, Turkish officials were raiding the media assets of the Çukurova Group, one of the last business conglomerates whose media outlets maintained an independent rather than hagiographic take on Turkey’s prime minister. Obama, of course, was silent. Not only did Obama not speak up in defense of media freedom, but he chose Sabah, a once-independent paper seized by Erdoğan’s administration and transferred to Erdoğan’s son-in-law for an op-ed about Obama’s love for Turkey.

Alas, principles of freedom and liberty appear to count little when he picks friends and foes. Now, word comes from Turkey that the newspapers and television stations seized have been transferred to businessman Ethem Sancak:

“Negotiations between Çukurova Holding and businessman Ethem Sancak, an experienced individual who has achieved success in the media sector, have been finalized with a deal,” the Turkmedya group, which operates the 11 sold assets, announced on Nov. 21 in a statement. The 11 Turkmedya assets, including  daily newspapers Akşam and Güneş, digital pay-TV operator Digiturk and news broadcaster SkyTurk 360, were initially agreed to be sold to companies Cengiz, Kolin and Limak, all of which operate mostly in the construction sector. However, the three companies, who recently successfully made a joint tender bid for Istanbul’s third airport, had decided to withdraw their offer.

What the article does not report is that Sancak is a close Erdoğan ally. So once again the Turkish government seizes independent newspapers and television and transfers it for a fire sale price to a staunch government supporter. The best that can be said about the deal is that at least Erdoğan is not simply giving away Turkey’s once independent media outlets to family members, but branching out to unrelated supporters as well. Simply put, independent voices—whether students at Gezi Park, politicians within his own party, or journalists—are no longer welcome in the new Turkey.

Given how Obama once expressed his love for Erdoğan, perhaps it’s time for a journalist to ask, “Mr. President, what do you see in this man?”

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Democrats’ “Nuclear Option” Logic: Formalizing Thoughtlessness

President Obama’s public statement yesterday about the Democrats eliminating the filibuster for their agenda items so as to further purge minority input was, as usual, deceptively revealing. It’s not that the president said anything intelligent or edifying in itself; his grasp on the details of policy isn’t strong enough to educate the public. Additionally, this particular episode is really quite simple.

When the Democrats were in the minority, they broke the accepted norms of the Senate to block a circuit court nominee they didn’t like. Recently, Republicans employed that same tactic on President Obama, so Harry Reid escalated the fight by breaking even more important norms of the Senate. This has been the pattern throughout Reid’s time as Democratic Senate leader: introduce an innovation designed to undermine the Senate’s rules and integrity, and then when Republicans return the favor simply find some other way to erode any check on his power.

And that, in turn, is at the center of this: power. When Barack Obama was in the Senate and the Republican majority threatened to employ this “nuclear option,” then-senator, now-hypocrite Obama said this:

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President Obama’s public statement yesterday about the Democrats eliminating the filibuster for their agenda items so as to further purge minority input was, as usual, deceptively revealing. It’s not that the president said anything intelligent or edifying in itself; his grasp on the details of policy isn’t strong enough to educate the public. Additionally, this particular episode is really quite simple.

When the Democrats were in the minority, they broke the accepted norms of the Senate to block a circuit court nominee they didn’t like. Recently, Republicans employed that same tactic on President Obama, so Harry Reid escalated the fight by breaking even more important norms of the Senate. This has been the pattern throughout Reid’s time as Democratic Senate leader: introduce an innovation designed to undermine the Senate’s rules and integrity, and then when Republicans return the favor simply find some other way to erode any check on his power.

And that, in turn, is at the center of this: power. When Barack Obama was in the Senate and the Republican majority threatened to employ this “nuclear option,” then-senator, now-hypocrite Obama said this:

What [Americans] don’t expect is for one party – be it Republican or Democrat – to change the rules in the middle of the game so that they can make all the decisions while the other party is told to sit down and keep quiet. … I sense that talk of the nuclear option is more about power than about fairness. I believe some of my colleagues propose this rules change because they can get away with it rather than because they know it’s good for our democracy.

Obama’s support for the nuclear option now is understandable: his legacy, after all, will be what he did as president, not senator. Reid, on the other hand, will have left behind an institution barely recognizable as the one he joined a quarter-century ago. Obama was part of that institution for about five minutes before he geared up to run for president, so he has no intellectual or emotional attachment to the Senate.

But what was revealing about what Obama said yesterday was not the hypocrisy–something that has been a hallmark of his political career and especially his presidency. It was when he said this:

Now, I want to be clear, the Senate has actually done some good bipartisan work this year.  Bipartisan majorities have passed common-sense legislation to fix our broken immigration system and upgrade our courts — our ports.  It’s passed a farm bill that helps rural communities and vulnerable Americans.  It’s passed legislation that would protect Americans from being fired based on their sexual orientation.  So we know that there are folks there, Republican and Democrat, who want to get things done.  And, frankly, privately they’ve expressed to me their recognition that the system in the Senate had broken down, and what used to be a sporadic exercise of the filibuster had gotten completely out of hand.

In other words, the Senate is basically working and the president knows it. Its role as a deliberative body has not stopped it from passing major bipartisan legislation on even complicated and divisive issues, as the president admits. The president took no questions after his statement yesterday because his position is frankly indefensible, which he seems to recognize. (And possibly his disastrous press conference on ObamaCare last week has convinced him that when he goes off-script he swiftly loses all coherence.) But had he taken a question, he might have been asked about the most obvious refutation of his new support for a less thoughtful Senate: his signature “achievement.”

Indeed it is appropriate that the two coincide. We are currently dealing with the latest major wave of disastrous effects on the country’s economy and health care inflicted by ObamaCare. What happens when the “world’s greatest deliberative body” is turned into a partisan weapon? We get bills like ObamaCare. Politico now reports:

Veteran House Democratic aides are sick over the insurance prices they’ll pay under Obamacare, and they’re scrambling to find a cure.

“In a shock to the system, the older staff in my office (folks over 59) have now found out their personal health insurance costs (even with the government contribution) have gone up 3-4 times what they were paying before,” Minh Ta, chief of staff to Rep. Gwen Moore (D-Wis.), wrote to fellow Democratic chiefs of staff in an email message obtained by POLITICO. “Simply unacceptable.”

That would be the Gwen Moore who voted for ObamaCare. Moore serves in the House, but it’s much the same in the Senate. This is a symptom of the broader problem with ObamaCare. Democrats are claiming they didn’t know the bill does what it does–witness the frantic Democratic response to the evaporation of all the major promises used to pass the bill. Now, they’re either lying when they say they didn’t know what was in the bill they voted for, or they’re admitting that they have no idea what they’re doing when they cast votes, and are just following orders from the White House and Harry Reid.

Here’s Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu announcing her bill earlier this month that if you like your plan, you can keep it–to fix Obama’s false promise. Yet ObamaCare was plainly crafted to ensure that people would lose their insurance. And Landrieu voted for it. Then in September 2010 Landrieu helped the Democrats kill a GOP resolution that would have prevented many of those cancellations. Did she not read ObamaCare? Did she not read the 2010 resolution?

If there’s anything wrong with the Senate in the age of Obama and Reid, it’s that Democrats are desperately in need of rules that would slow debate and encourage deliberation, now more than ever. Instead, they’re moving in the opposite direction, because, as the president himself said, that’s where the power is.

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Learning from Iran’s Past Enrichment Suspensions

A pause in Iranian uranium enrichment seems to be the chief point upon which Secretary of State John Kerry will claim victory should Iranian and international diplomats hammer out an agreement. Celebration of any such agreement would be premature at best, not only because the American and Western goal was simply to entice Tehran to a second round of talks whose outcome would be far from certain, but also because Kerry’s triumph would be Pyrrhic at best given Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s history.

As Iran’s nuclear negotiator a decade ago, Rouhani also temporarily suspended uranium enrichment, a move for which he received hardline anger. In an interview with the state-run news website Aftab, he defended himself. His goal was “to counter global consensus against Iran,” he said, adding, “We did not accept suspension in construction of centrifuges and continued the effort. … We needed a greater number.” As I explained in a Wall Street Journal op-ed at the time, what American and European diplomats considered progress, the Iranian government understood to be an opportunity to expand their program.

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A pause in Iranian uranium enrichment seems to be the chief point upon which Secretary of State John Kerry will claim victory should Iranian and international diplomats hammer out an agreement. Celebration of any such agreement would be premature at best, not only because the American and Western goal was simply to entice Tehran to a second round of talks whose outcome would be far from certain, but also because Kerry’s triumph would be Pyrrhic at best given Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s history.

As Iran’s nuclear negotiator a decade ago, Rouhani also temporarily suspended uranium enrichment, a move for which he received hardline anger. In an interview with the state-run news website Aftab, he defended himself. His goal was “to counter global consensus against Iran,” he said, adding, “We did not accept suspension in construction of centrifuges and continued the effort. … We needed a greater number.” As I explained in a Wall Street Journal op-ed at the time, what American and European diplomats considered progress, the Iranian government understood to be an opportunity to expand their program.

It was a strategy about which other Iranian officials also bragged: Talk softly, lull the West into complacency, and then import everything needed for a technological leap to the next nuclear level. Rouhani, himself, outlined a doctrine of surprise in a February 9, 2005 speech to Iranian leaders. What is the key reason Iran is successful against the West, Rouhani asks, before he answers:

Even after the victory of the revolution – in all phases – the plots and plans they had designed against the revolution or against the development of the regime and the nation were defeated.  Why?  Again it was because they were taken by surprise.  The actions of the regime took the world by surprise and they were usually unpredictable. 

Rather than aim for suspension of enrichment—or at least some levels of enrichment–during an interim period, an issue which should be a no-brainer given the fact that six unanimous or near-unanimous UN Security Council resolutions call for just that, Rouhani’s history suggest that anything short of a freeze on all work, equipment installation, and construction in every facility would be counterproductive. Celebrating a pause which the Iranian regime uses to modernize, reconfigure, and install equipment to increase the effectiveness of their enrichment program would be strategic malpractice. Unfortunately, it seems, we live in a world where diplomats believe any deal, no matter how bad, trumps utilizing economic leverage to achieve a far better solution.

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More Double-Speak from Iran’s Nuke Chief

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani may be the warm and fuzzy face of Iranian diplomatic outreach to the West, but inside Iran, the face of the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program is Ali Akbar Salehi, a former foreign minister who now serves as the head of the Iran Atomic Energy Organization. After some anonymous Iranian figures encouraged speculation that Iran might be willing to negotiate about the once-covert nuclear plant at Fordo, near Qom—speculation which the New York Times dutifully reported—it was Salehi who (even before the New York Times went to press) declared in no uncertain terms that the Iranian government would under no circumstances shutter the underground facility.

Now, Salehi is at it again and, as usual, Western journalists ignore his inconvenient statements because they do not appear to fit with the narrative of Iranian flexibility and diplomatic sincerity that so many Western officials and writers appear so desperate to believe. On November 19, Mehr News Agency published a report regarding a visit by Salehi to over 1,000 Tehran University students who volunteered as human shields and formed a human chain around Fordo. According to an unclassified U.S. government summary of his speech, he declared, “All actions are taken within a framework which is agreed upon by all officials. All our rights are safe. […] God willing, the outlook before us will be the beginning of the end of the fabricated nuclear dossier.”

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Iranian President Hassan Rouhani may be the warm and fuzzy face of Iranian diplomatic outreach to the West, but inside Iran, the face of the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program is Ali Akbar Salehi, a former foreign minister who now serves as the head of the Iran Atomic Energy Organization. After some anonymous Iranian figures encouraged speculation that Iran might be willing to negotiate about the once-covert nuclear plant at Fordo, near Qom—speculation which the New York Times dutifully reported—it was Salehi who (even before the New York Times went to press) declared in no uncertain terms that the Iranian government would under no circumstances shutter the underground facility.

Now, Salehi is at it again and, as usual, Western journalists ignore his inconvenient statements because they do not appear to fit with the narrative of Iranian flexibility and diplomatic sincerity that so many Western officials and writers appear so desperate to believe. On November 19, Mehr News Agency published a report regarding a visit by Salehi to over 1,000 Tehran University students who volunteered as human shields and formed a human chain around Fordo. According to an unclassified U.S. government summary of his speech, he declared, “All actions are taken within a framework which is agreed upon by all officials. All our rights are safe. […] God willing, the outlook before us will be the beginning of the end of the fabricated nuclear dossier.”

Generally speaking, any regime that believes it needs to utilize human shields is not one that should be trusted, nor is it a regime to which the United States or any progressive country should ever want to throw a life line.

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