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Posts For: February 2, 2014

Christie’s Losing Fight for His Political Life

In the first days after the Bridgegate scandal, it appeared likely to me that New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s chance of winning the Republican presidential nomination in 2016 had been lost. But it never occurred to me that within a month he would be fighting for his political life rather than just a shot at the presidency. Yet the latest twist in this bizarre scandal has brought Christie to the point of a political death watch. On Friday, the New York Times reported that the lawyer for David Wildstein—Christie’s longtime friend,  political ally and the man he appointed to the board of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey that administers the bridge—stated in a letter that evidence exists tying the governor to the scandal.

It is true that the language in the letter was, as the Washington Examiner’s Philip Klein pointed out, “slippery.” The governor, in fact, did not deny knowledge that the lanes were closed but rather that he knew the traffic jam was the result of a political prank played on the citizens of the region in order to get even with the Democratic mayor of Fort Lee for his refusal to endorse Christie’s reelection. As such, it may well be that Wildstein’s mouthpiece is merely seeking to exonerate his client on charges that are serious enough to cause him to invoke the Fifth Amendment when he testified about the incident before the state legislature. On its own, the letter means nothing.

The willingness of the Times—and those who followed its characteristically anti-Republican lead on the story—to jump on the lawyer’s vague hints about possible evidence illustrates the widespread desire of the liberal mainstream media to destroy Christie.

But the blistering counter-attack from the governor’s office on Wildstein, his lawyer, and the Times tells us just as much about how much trouble Christie himself thinks he’s in today. By issuing a statement that dredges up every questionable incident in Wildstein’s life as proof of his lack of credibility, Christie’s office raised as many questions as it answered. After all, if Wildstein is as bad a character as Christie now claims, how is it that the governor not only wanted him as a friend but also gave him one of the most choicest patronage plums available for Christie to bestow? However justified the governor’s denunciation of Wildstein may now be, the desperate nature of this counter-attack may be a sign that Christie knows this struggle isn’t about the presidency but his ability to serve out the remainder of his term in Trenton.

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In the first days after the Bridgegate scandal, it appeared likely to me that New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s chance of winning the Republican presidential nomination in 2016 had been lost. But it never occurred to me that within a month he would be fighting for his political life rather than just a shot at the presidency. Yet the latest twist in this bizarre scandal has brought Christie to the point of a political death watch. On Friday, the New York Times reported that the lawyer for David Wildstein—Christie’s longtime friend,  political ally and the man he appointed to the board of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey that administers the bridge—stated in a letter that evidence exists tying the governor to the scandal.

It is true that the language in the letter was, as the Washington Examiner’s Philip Klein pointed out, “slippery.” The governor, in fact, did not deny knowledge that the lanes were closed but rather that he knew the traffic jam was the result of a political prank played on the citizens of the region in order to get even with the Democratic mayor of Fort Lee for his refusal to endorse Christie’s reelection. As such, it may well be that Wildstein’s mouthpiece is merely seeking to exonerate his client on charges that are serious enough to cause him to invoke the Fifth Amendment when he testified about the incident before the state legislature. On its own, the letter means nothing.

The willingness of the Times—and those who followed its characteristically anti-Republican lead on the story—to jump on the lawyer’s vague hints about possible evidence illustrates the widespread desire of the liberal mainstream media to destroy Christie.

But the blistering counter-attack from the governor’s office on Wildstein, his lawyer, and the Times tells us just as much about how much trouble Christie himself thinks he’s in today. By issuing a statement that dredges up every questionable incident in Wildstein’s life as proof of his lack of credibility, Christie’s office raised as many questions as it answered. After all, if Wildstein is as bad a character as Christie now claims, how is it that the governor not only wanted him as a friend but also gave him one of the most choicest patronage plums available for Christie to bestow? However justified the governor’s denunciation of Wildstein may now be, the desperate nature of this counter-attack may be a sign that Christie knows this struggle isn’t about the presidency but his ability to serve out the remainder of his term in Trenton.

The cascade of negative stories about Christie that Bridgegate has unleashed seemed to be creating a death-by-a-thousand-cuts scenario that liberals could use to take down a political foe. By forcing the governor and his defenders to respond not only to the allegations of responsibility for the bridge lane closings but also accusations that he had wrongly withheld Hurricane Sandy aid dollars from cities with mayors who didn’t play political ball with his administration, such as Hoboken’s Dawn Zimmer, Christie’s political future would appear to be destroyed even if none of the charges turned out to be true. But the letter from Wildstein’s lawyer raises the possibility that there may be evidence that Christie lied about the bridge even after the scandal broke in January. If so, you can forget about the discussions about whether Christie can recover in time to run in 2016 or even if he should remain as head of the Republican Governor’s Association. If true, Wildstein’s bid to evade accountability for his role in this mess could end by forcing Christie’s resignation.

But even if Wildstein’s accusation comes up short on proof and Zimmer’s claim that she was blackmailed to agree to back a Hoboken project that would benefit another Christie crony also cannot be substantiated, Christie’s governorship has suffered a mortal wound.

If he is lucky, he will spend the next four years fighting a rear-guard action to fend off claims that he knew about the bridge scheme, the alleged Hoboken shakedown, and every other possible problem that will emerge as a Democratic legislature,the U.S. attorney and their cheerleaders in the press put his administration under a microscope. If he isn’t lucky, his opponents will find one or more instances of direct ties between the governor and some misdeed that he can’t talk his way out of or be dismissed as partisan smears.

In other words, whether he is guilty or not, his ability to govern New Jersey, let alone roam the country as a major political figure, may already be over.

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No, Iraq’s Al-Anbar Protests Were Not Peaceful

The Iraqi army is preparing to launch an assault on Fallujah, a town in Iraq’s al-Anbar governorate which has seen disproportionate suffering over the past decade. The issue is not simply sectarian: While a narrative of Shi’ite Baghdad persecuting Sunni al-Anbar might fit well with some journalists and diplomats, the situation in al-Anbar is more complex. Take resources: Iraq has vast oil wealth concentrated in its north where Kurds dominate, and the south, where Shi’ites hold sway. Anbar is not devoid of resources, however: It has—or had—vast subterranean water reserves which could have supported an agricultural boom. But Saudi enterprises came in, literally grew hay for animal feed which depleted the water table, trucked it back to Saudi Arabia, and claimed it was produced there to qualify for government subsidies as the Kingdom tries to bolster its own agricultural sector.

From the days predating the surge to the present, Anbar has also had to deal with the influx of Islamists and al-Qaeda adherents who run roughshod over local tribal culture. It is here that the Sunni vs. Shi’ite narrative breaks down because, whatever the faults of the government in Baghdad—and there are many—one of the biggest conflicts within al-Anbar has always been between Sunnis.

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The Iraqi army is preparing to launch an assault on Fallujah, a town in Iraq’s al-Anbar governorate which has seen disproportionate suffering over the past decade. The issue is not simply sectarian: While a narrative of Shi’ite Baghdad persecuting Sunni al-Anbar might fit well with some journalists and diplomats, the situation in al-Anbar is more complex. Take resources: Iraq has vast oil wealth concentrated in its north where Kurds dominate, and the south, where Shi’ites hold sway. Anbar is not devoid of resources, however: It has—or had—vast subterranean water reserves which could have supported an agricultural boom. But Saudi enterprises came in, literally grew hay for animal feed which depleted the water table, trucked it back to Saudi Arabia, and claimed it was produced there to qualify for government subsidies as the Kingdom tries to bolster its own agricultural sector.

From the days predating the surge to the present, Anbar has also had to deal with the influx of Islamists and al-Qaeda adherents who run roughshod over local tribal culture. It is here that the Sunni vs. Shi’ite narrative breaks down because, whatever the faults of the government in Baghdad—and there are many—one of the biggest conflicts within al-Anbar has always been between Sunnis.

There is a narrative put forward by some diplomats and military analysts that the current problems in al-Anbar are simply the result of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki provoking those in al-Anbar. For more than a year, some local residents had sat in protest camps to protest unemployment, sectarian discrimination, and voice other complaints. While that was certainly the case with some young participants, al-Qaeda elements were a presence in the camps long before Maliki sought to clear them out. Here are a few examples

  • At around 48 seconds in this YouTube video, the preacher declares fealty to al-Qaeda.
  • This video shows al-Qaeda members openly displaying their flag in Ramadi last October.
  • Here is a march from last November in which participants declared their loyalty to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), and quote Abu Masab az-Zarqawi.
  • And here is another protest from last autumn in which protesters raised the ISIS flag.

I spent a part of last week in Tikrit and Mosul, Iraqi cities with large Sunni Arab populations. Locals expressed a great deal of unease about Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and what they saw as the sectarian character of his government. Unlike some analysts outside of Iraq, though, they did not downplay or dismiss the presence of al-Qaeda in al-Anbar long before Maliki’s raid on the protest camps. They recognize that al-Qaeda poses as much a threat to Sunni Iraqis as it does to Shi’ites.

As the Iraqi army begins its operations to clear al-Qaeda from Fallujah, many Iraqi Sunnis hope that long-term Anbari residents can wear the uniform of the Iraqi army to clean house in their own home province. No one but Anbaris have ever been welcome in Anbar in a military sense, and so tribal elements hope that they rather than Shi’ite recruits from distant provinces will be the ones who do what is necessary. Here, Iraqis hope the United States will play just a supporting role, ensuring the Iraqi army has a qualitative military edge over al-Qaeda, and recognizing that al-Qaeda exists because of its ideology and its foreign sponsors; it did not simply materialize because of some political grievance, nor had it been absent from the protest camps which some outsiders describe as pure and nonviolent.

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State OCare “Glitches” May Doom Dems

The word “glitch” hasn’t been heard lately from Democrats. After months of pretending the problems with ObamaCare could be dismissed as mere glitches on an otherwise perfectly functional website, the party has lately adopted a stance in which the president’s signature health-care legislation is considered to have transcended its rough rollout. The president’s State of the Union address not only glossed over the disastrous start to the law’s implementation but also, in another now familiar Democratic meme, treated the debate about the issue as finished. But unfortunately for his party, the latest batch of ObamaCare problems may serve not only to revive the discussion about the wisdom of the law but also severely damage the electoral prospects of Democrats whose names are, unlike that of the president, on the ballot this November.

As the New York Times reports today, a new series of what it describes as “glitches” are creating difficulties not only for the implementation of a law that has already faced severe challenges but also an issue that could determine the outcome of some state races in what otherwise might be considered blue states. As the Times notes:

Republicans have seized on the failures of homegrown exchanges in states like Maryland, Minnesota and Oregon — all plagued by technological problems that have kept customers unhappy and enrollment goals unmet — and promise to use the issue against Democratic candidates for governor and legislative seats this fall.

Anger over ObamaCare and the incompetent manner with which state exchanges—which Democrats said would be the great success story of the misnamed Affordable Care Act—are failing customers in Maryland or Oregon but may not be enough to disillusion enough blue state voters to win those states for the GOP. But, as the Times concedes, the problems may be enough to help tip gubernatorial and legislative races in Minnesota into the Republican column. Though Democrats seem to be in a state of denial about public unhappiness about a law that most Americans never wanted in the first place, the issue continues to simmer on both the national and local levels.

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The word “glitch” hasn’t been heard lately from Democrats. After months of pretending the problems with ObamaCare could be dismissed as mere glitches on an otherwise perfectly functional website, the party has lately adopted a stance in which the president’s signature health-care legislation is considered to have transcended its rough rollout. The president’s State of the Union address not only glossed over the disastrous start to the law’s implementation but also, in another now familiar Democratic meme, treated the debate about the issue as finished. But unfortunately for his party, the latest batch of ObamaCare problems may serve not only to revive the discussion about the wisdom of the law but also severely damage the electoral prospects of Democrats whose names are, unlike that of the president, on the ballot this November.

As the New York Times reports today, a new series of what it describes as “glitches” are creating difficulties not only for the implementation of a law that has already faced severe challenges but also an issue that could determine the outcome of some state races in what otherwise might be considered blue states. As the Times notes:

Republicans have seized on the failures of homegrown exchanges in states like Maryland, Minnesota and Oregon — all plagued by technological problems that have kept customers unhappy and enrollment goals unmet — and promise to use the issue against Democratic candidates for governor and legislative seats this fall.

Anger over ObamaCare and the incompetent manner with which state exchanges—which Democrats said would be the great success story of the misnamed Affordable Care Act—are failing customers in Maryland or Oregon but may not be enough to disillusion enough blue state voters to win those states for the GOP. But, as the Times concedes, the problems may be enough to help tip gubernatorial and legislative races in Minnesota into the Republican column. Though Democrats seem to be in a state of denial about public unhappiness about a law that most Americans never wanted in the first place, the issue continues to simmer on both the national and local levels.

Like President Obama, Minnesota’s Democratic Governor Mark Dayton believes he can overcome the outrage caused by the failures of the state ObamaCare exchange he has championed. But the MNsure program is plagued by software defects and is still dysfunctional, making it unlikely that enough people will be enrolled in Minnesota to make the plan fiscally sound. Just as Obama did when the federal Heatlhcare.gov website wasn’t working, Dayton is taking “responsibility” for the problem while also try to deflect blame for the fiasco on everyone else. Though he entered this election cycle as a big favorite to win reelection, the state exchange problem has handed Republicans an issue that could change the dynamic of the race as well as affecting state legislative contests.

In response, Dayton has been reading from the president’s playbook, citing those who are being helped by ObamaCare while not acknowledging the large pool of citizens who have lost the policies they were told they could keep and are facing higher premiums and coverage that doesn’t suit their needs. His assumption is that referring to the mess at the exchange as a “glitch” will be enough to get a pass on an issue that, like the president, he would like to ignore in 2014.

But Dayton and Obama—and Congressional Democrats who are saddled with the problem of running this year—all seem to be ignoring the fact that the problem with the health-care law transcends computer glitches. In Minnesota, as well as elsewhere, ObamaCare has benefitted those with pre-existing conditions and the poor who are now getting insurance they might not have obtained without it. But it has also created a new interest group that may turn out to be just as large, if not larger, than the ObamaCare winners: the ObamaCare losers. These are the people who are losing their policies, being forced to change doctors, and facing higher costs for coverage that—contrary to the Democratic talking point about ObamaCare canceling only “junk” insurance—isn’t as good as what they had before. As more Americans, including those whose employer-based plans are being affected by the altered insurance environment created by ObamaCare, face similar problems, the number in the “loser” group is increasing. That creates an unhealthy political climate for Democrats at every level who bet their careers on the law but who now wish only to change the subject to a discussion about income inequality or anything they hope will divert the public from ObamaCare.

Moving on from discussing ObamaCare makes sense to a Democratic Party that understands it is saddled with sole responsibility for a measure that is causing economic pain that may well offset any good it has done. But the problematic state exchanges are just one more reason they won’t be able to duck, hide and change the subject.

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Netanyahu Still Betting on Palestinian “No”

Last night, Israel’s Channel Two reported that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is set to give his approval for continuing negotiations with the Palestinians along the lines of a framework presented by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. That framework reportedly will call for the creation of a Palestinian state based on the pre-June 1967 borders with land swaps that will enable 75-80 percent of Jews currently living in the West Bank to remain within the state of Israel. It will specifically call for the Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state while denying the “right of return” for the descendants of the Palestinian refuges of 1948 and providing international security guarantees for Israel. The future of Jerusalem is left undecided.

Israel does get some of what it has long sought in this framework. But the idea of placing most of the West Bank in the hands of a Palestinian Authority that remains bent on fomenting hatred of Israel and Jews, as well as so weak and corrupt that it is likely to be unable to create a stable, let alone peaceful neighbor for Israel seems a dangerous gamble for Netanyahu to take, both from the perspectives of his nation’s security and the ability of his center-right coalition to survive.

Why would Netanyahu agree to this framework?

There are two reasons. One is that its non-binding nature commits him only to more talks and not to its implementation, a point that should help him to persuade worried coalition partners like the Jewish Home Party’s Naftali Bennett to stay in the Cabinet. But the other reason explains more about Netanyahu’s strategy in dealing with Kerry’s obsessive pursuit of an agreement with the Palestinians: he believes that sooner or later the Palestinians will say no. In what has become the diplomatic version of playing chicken, the prime minister appears to be convinced that the PA will blink and abandon the talks long before Israel is forced to live with the real-life drawbacks of Kerry’s vision. And based on what the Palestinians are saying and what they have done in the past, there’s every reason to believe he’s right.

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Last night, Israel’s Channel Two reported that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is set to give his approval for continuing negotiations with the Palestinians along the lines of a framework presented by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. That framework reportedly will call for the creation of a Palestinian state based on the pre-June 1967 borders with land swaps that will enable 75-80 percent of Jews currently living in the West Bank to remain within the state of Israel. It will specifically call for the Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state while denying the “right of return” for the descendants of the Palestinian refuges of 1948 and providing international security guarantees for Israel. The future of Jerusalem is left undecided.

Israel does get some of what it has long sought in this framework. But the idea of placing most of the West Bank in the hands of a Palestinian Authority that remains bent on fomenting hatred of Israel and Jews, as well as so weak and corrupt that it is likely to be unable to create a stable, let alone peaceful neighbor for Israel seems a dangerous gamble for Netanyahu to take, both from the perspectives of his nation’s security and the ability of his center-right coalition to survive.

Why would Netanyahu agree to this framework?

There are two reasons. One is that its non-binding nature commits him only to more talks and not to its implementation, a point that should help him to persuade worried coalition partners like the Jewish Home Party’s Naftali Bennett to stay in the Cabinet. But the other reason explains more about Netanyahu’s strategy in dealing with Kerry’s obsessive pursuit of an agreement with the Palestinians: he believes that sooner or later the Palestinians will say no. In what has become the diplomatic version of playing chicken, the prime minister appears to be convinced that the PA will blink and abandon the talks long before Israel is forced to live with the real-life drawbacks of Kerry’s vision. And based on what the Palestinians are saying and what they have done in the past, there’s every reason to believe he’s right.

Like Netanyahu, the Palestinians also appear to be willing to agree to Kerry’s framework. That’s because the chief concern for both sides appears to avoid blame for the failure of Kerry’s diplomatic gambit. Since Kerry knows that there is no possibility of Israel and the Palestinians actually agreeing on a final-status treaty within the original nine-month time frame for the talks, the purpose of the framework is to extend the negotiations for at least another year. That gives both parties the ability to dodge the bullet of blame while enabling Kerry to keep shuttling to the Middle East and to pretend that he is about to cut the Gordian Knot of peace.

But even as the PA has agreed to continue talking, they again signaled that one of the key elements of the framework—recognition of the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn—is something they’ll never accept in a treaty. PA chief negotiator Saeb Erekat told the Munich Security Conference that Israel’s longstanding demand to be recognized as a Jewish state that had been incorporated by Kerry into the framework would require the Palestinian representative to “change my narrative” in which Jewish history is erased. Since Palestinian national identity is inextricably linked to the denial of the rights of Jews to any part of the country, they regard any peace as merely a truce rather than a conclusion to the conflict.

Why then would the Palestinians also accept the framework? Part of the reason stems from the dynamic that was on display in Munich at which Kerry openly speculated that if he failed, Israel would be subjected to economic boycotts. While the State Department later tried to rationalize if not walk back these comments by saying the secretary was merely commenting on a trend with which he didn’t agree rather than threatening the Jewish state, the Palestinians and their enablers in the European Union well understand that all the pressure in the talks is being directed at the Israelis, and not at them.

The history of the last 20 years of negotiations since the Oslo Accords were signed justifies that conclusion. No matter how much land the Jewish state has conceded since 1993, the onus has always been placed on Israel to sacrifice even more no matter what the Palestinians do or say to demonstrate their unwillingness to make peace or live by the terms of the agreements they’ve signed. But no matter how far Kerry tilts the diplomatic playing field against Israel, Netanyahu appears to be counting on the Palestinians inability to agree to Israel’s demand for recognition at the conclusion of Kerry’s talks.

Considering that Abbas’s predecessor Yasir Arafat turned down two such offers of statehood in 2000 and 2001 and the PA leader fled talks with the Israelis in 2008 so as to avoid being forced to do the same thing, Netanyahu has reason to think this negotiation will end in the same way. With Hamas still in control of Gaza and Abbas only holding onto power in the West Bank with the help of the Israelis, there’s no sign of a sea change in Palestinian public opinion that would enable him to survive signing a peace deal with Israel that would renounce the “right of return” and recognize Israel as a Jewish state.

Netanyahu understands that additional negotiations based on Kerry’s framework will mean another year of intense U.S. pressure that will add to the increased European efforts to isolate Israel. Agreeing to the framework is a dangerous game that leaves him little room to maneuver to defend his country’s rights or its security, since he knows the arrangements for guaranteeing Israel’s safety in the document won’t be worth the paper they’re printed on once a deal is in place. But he appears confident that the political culture of the Palestinians will once again determine the outcome of these talks in the same manner that it has sealed the doom of every other negotiation dating back to the 1930s. Judging by the tone and the content of the non-stop incitement to hatred being conducted by the PA, it’s difficult to argue with his conclusion.

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