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Posts For: August 13, 2014

Obama Is Killing Dems’ Senate Hopes

Heading into the 2014 campaign, most analysts agreed that control of the U.S. Senate hinged on the survival of a few key red state Democrats and the one vulnerable Republican incumbent: Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. But the latest poll out of Kentucky provides some very bad news for Democrats for which they can blame one person: Barack Obama.

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Heading into the 2014 campaign, most analysts agreed that control of the U.S. Senate hinged on the survival of a few key red state Democrats and the one vulnerable Republican incumbent: Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. But the latest poll out of Kentucky provides some very bad news for Democrats for which they can blame one person: Barack Obama.

The Democratic-leaning Public Policy Polling issued the first survey of the contest between McConnell and his Democratic challenger Alison Lundergan Grimes published in the last month. It shows the GOP leader with a 5-point lead. That still leaves Grimes within reach of the Republican. But it also represents a gain for McConnell over previous polls issued over the summer. That’s a disappointing result for Grimes after what supporters saw as a strong launch to her campaign as anti-McConnell broadsides began to fill the airwaves in the Bluegrass State. Just at the moment when she might have been expected to eliminate the razor-thin lead McConnell has been nursing throughout the year, it appears the Democrat is starting to lose ground.

That has to be particularly frustrating for Grimes and the Democrats because the secondary polling data still shows McConnell to be extremely vulnerable. The same poll shows McConnell to have a 54-37 negative favorability rating, the kind of figures that normally spell doom for any incumbent. But though Grimes is a relatively fresh face with a good political pedigree, she isn’t particularly well liked either. Her 45-41 negative favorability isn’t as bad as McConnell’s but it shows that despite the hype about her in the liberal mainstream media, she hasn’t favorably impressed Kentuckians. Though there is still plenty of time for her to recover and overtake McConnell, skepticism is growing even on the left that this is possible.

These numbers show that even liberal prognosticators are starting to write Grimes off. Statistical guru and 2012 presidential election pundit superstar Nate Silver had already rated McConnell’s chances of winning reelection at 80 percent last week. That’s bound to go up even higher now. The New York Times Upshot blog (which replaced Silver’s “Five Thirty-Eight” when he went independent updated their prediction today about Kentucky to an 85 percent chance of a McConnell victory.

That means the Democrats’ margin for error in holding onto their Senate majority may now be so small as to make it highly unlikely that they can prevail in November. Silver rates the GOP as having a 60 percent chance of running the Senate next year. Upshot rates it at 55 percent.

The explanation for this trend isn’t hard to discern. Everyone seems to agree that unlike 2010, this year’s midterms won’t be a “wave” election in which a tidal wave of support for one party will lift all boats and create a landslide. But with the one vulnerable GOP senator looking like a likely winner and a number of red state Democrats fighting for their lives the Republicans don’t need a wave. All they do need is to remind voters in GOP-leaning states which candidates are supportive of President Obama. After all, the only person more unpopular in Kentucky than McConnell is the president. Obama has a staggering 63-32 percent negative approval rating there.

Republicans may have counted on anger about ObamaCare or some of the administration’s other scandals to lift them to a nationwide victory. That hasn’t quite materialized but general dissatisfaction with the president looks to be sufficient to drag Democrats down in red states and keep even McConnell safe. With the world in chaos and the president showing no leadership abroad and only a desire to whip up partisan anger at home, there is little reason to believe that Democrats can reverse historic trends that show the incumbent party losing big in a second term midterm. While Grimes will be blamed if she fails to take down one of the least liked (though most effective) members of the Senate, rather than focusing on her shortcomings and lack of preparation for the big stage, Democrats would do better to realize that Obama has gone from being their greatest asset to their biggest problem.

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Reagan and Israel: the Real Story

Any time tensions rise between President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu, the two leaders are treated to a two-step process: headlines proclaiming the U.S.-Israel relationship at a low ebb followed by commentators pointing out that it has been far worse in the past, and to please have some perspective. That is true, and exaggeration should always be avoided. But it’s also important to understand the U.S.-Israel relationship through the years in the proper context.

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Any time tensions rise between President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu, the two leaders are treated to a two-step process: headlines proclaiming the U.S.-Israel relationship at a low ebb followed by commentators pointing out that it has been far worse in the past, and to please have some perspective. That is true, and exaggeration should always be avoided. But it’s also important to understand the U.S.-Israel relationship through the years in the proper context.

Because Republicans today are more supportive of Israel than Democrats, someone usually pops up to say that Obama and Bibi may not like each other very much, but even Ronald Reagan–this is meant to underscore conservatives’ supposed lack of perspective–treated his Israeli counterpart worse than this. A favorite column for these writers is Chemi Shalev’s 2011 Haaretz piece titled “If Obama treated Israel like Reagan did, he’d be impeached.”

During the current conflict in Gaza the column has been surfaced as usual, recently by Gene Healy in the Washington Examiner. Today in Haaretz, Gershom Gorenberg doesn’t cite Shalev but does take a walk down memory lane to point out many of the times the U.S.-Israel relationship has been in far worse shape, taking a shot at Reagan and his admirers along the way.

So what are all these writers overlooking? Put simply, it’s context. There’s no question Reagan had his fights with then-Prime Minister Menachem Begin. But the question isn’t whether Obama would be “impeached” for treating Israel the way Reagan did. It’s why Obama, or any modern president, gets such pushback anytime the rhetoric approaches that of decades past. It’s not because of the “Israel Lobby.” It’s largely because of the way the U.S.-Israel relationship improved under Reagan and became what it is today.

In 2011, I contributed a post to National Review Online’s “Reagan at 100” series of remembrances NR was running on its Corner blog in honor of Reagan’s centennial. I wrote about Reagan and Begin. Here is part of my post:

Israel’s counteroffensive against the PLO in South Lebanon strained the relationship. But here, too, Reagan proved he could be open-minded about Israel’s predicament. When Reagan lectured Begin on the reports of civilian casualties, Begin painstakingly explained how the media reports not only weren’t true, but could not possibly be true. In a meeting that was supposed to be a dressing-down, Reagan became convinced the Israelis were getting a bad rap in the press. He brought Begin in to meet with his cabinet and told Begin to repeat to them what he had just told the president. Begin obliged, and left feeling a bit better about the trust between the two men.

Another test came with the killings at the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in Lebanon. The Israelis were blamed for supposedly allowing the massacre of Palestinians by Lebanese Christian militias. The accusation was outrageous, but it wounded Begin. Here again, however, Reagan stood out. [Yehuda] Avner was able to report to his boss that “there are people in the [Reagan] administration who are angry, but not the president.”

The point is that the Begin premiership was a series of challenges for Israel, its allies, and the Jewish diaspora. When Likud won national elections for the first time in 1977, the Columbia Journalism Review noted in a piece two years ago, “[Abba] Eban and others would continue to lunch with their friends at the Times in New York, where they regularly predicted the imminent collapse of the Begin government.” This cohort “spoke frequently to their friends in the media, telling them that the new crowd was a disaster, ‘that Begin was an extreme nationalist, a war-monger.’”

So Begin came into office with Israeli figures already trying to convince Americans they shouldn’t get used to dealing with Begin. Then came Israel’s raid on the Iraqi reactor at Osirak, which Reagan thought he’d been excluded from by Begin when in fact Jimmy Carter had been in consultation with Israel about the threat from the reactor; it was Carter who left Reagan out of the loop. The former American president was poisoning the well of the American government against Begin and Likud.

He didn’t have a ton of poisoning to do with some of Reagan’s advisors. In discussing the Begin inner circle (of which he was a part) and its impression of Caspar Weinberger, Yehuda Avner repeats the wonderful, though likely apocryphal, anecdote that Weinberger, in explaining why he lost his bid for California attorney general, said “Because the Jews knew I wasn’t Jewish and the Gentiles thought I was.” Whatever the actual reasons for their distrust of Begin’s team, which included Ariel Sharon, the relationship between the two Cabinets was icy.

That only increased with the war in Lebanon, Sabra and Shatila, Reagan’s rejected peace plan, etc. But there was one exception: Reagan. He made sure to treat Begin with a legitimacy that was lacking in everyone else’s approach to him. By the end of Reagan’s first term, Begin grew accustomed to being treated with respect by Reagan and being given the benefit of the doubt.

Had Carter still been in office, any one of those challenges might have seriously derailed the relationship at a time (the first Lebanon war) when Israel’s international isolation seemed assured. Reagan may have offered tough love, but it was love nonetheless. And the U.S.-Israel special relationship never looked back. For all the Reagan-Begin disagreements, the U.S.-Israel relationship came out stronger than it was when their respective terms in office began. That’s a tougher standard to meet, which is why the current president’s defenders resort to hyperbole and cherry-picked history that obscure the full picture.

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Don’t Count on Abbas to Save Gaza

After months in eclipse, Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas’s stock is on the rise. Which is to say that if Abbas’s future depends solely on the international media, talking heads on American television, and some of his supporters within the Israeli government, he’s in very good shape. But though a lot of people are counting on Abbas to be the linchpin of a long-term cease-fire between Israel and Hamas, the notion that he is strong enough to take advantage of the opening he is being offered is based on blind hope, not reality.

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After months in eclipse, Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas’s stock is on the rise. Which is to say that if Abbas’s future depends solely on the international media, talking heads on American television, and some of his supporters within the Israeli government, he’s in very good shape. But though a lot of people are counting on Abbas to be the linchpin of a long-term cease-fire between Israel and Hamas, the notion that he is strong enough to take advantage of the opening he is being offered is based on blind hope, not reality.

The case for Abbas was laid out in today’s New York Times in an article in which the PA’s role in the peace talks that have been going on in Cairo is discussed. The widely held assumption is that Abbas and his Fatah Party can be dropped into Gaza and monitor the border crossings so as to ensure that the aid that pours into the strip will be used for humanitarian work and reconstruction of civilian infrastructure and homes, not for helping Hamas prepare for the next round of fighting with Israel.

It’s a nice idea. Ideally, the West and the Israelis would ultimately like Abbas to take back the control of Gaza from Hamas that it lost in a 2007 coup. But that’s thinking big. For starters, they want the PA’s presence in Gaza to be the method by which Israel and Egypt can be persuaded to re-open the borders and to loosen, if not end, the blockade of the Islamist-run strip.

If the idea worked, it would not only make it harder for Hamas to start another war; it would also be the method by which Fatah could start the process of regaining the support of Gaza Palestinians. Investing in Abbas and Fatah would, according to this theory, help Israel out of a dilemma in which any concessions to the Palestinians are seen as endangering the Jewish state’s security. The newly empowered PA would then be in a stronger position to edge out Hamas but to also make peace with Israel.

With the PA in charge in Gaza, it would no longer be plausible for Israelis to worry about handing over most of the West Bank to Abbas. Nor would it be necessary for it to continue the blockade of Gaza.

It all sounds logical and a surefire path to peace. The only problem is that it almost certainly won’t work.

Let’s start with the first step of the plan: parachuting a small force of Palestinians loyal to Abbas into Gaza to deal with the border.

The first problem is that the notion of trusting Fatah security forces to keep weapons out of Gaza or to make sure that building materials are directed to humanitarian rather than “military” projects is a joke. The history of the PA police and other forces supposedly loyal to Abbas tells us that these forces are highly unlikely to be reliable monitors of the security situation. Fatah’s people are even more corrupt than Hamas’s despots and therefore highly susceptible to pressures and blandishments that will make it impossible for the group to do its job. Nor are most of its personnel dedicated to the peaceful mission outlined for it in the cease-fire deal drafts. To the contrary, Fatah’s members are just as dedicated to Israel’s destruction as Hamas, though they prefer the job to be done more gradually.

The idea that PA officials or security people will be an effective barrier to the re-militarization of Gaza—as opposed to the goal of demilitarization that Israel wants and which is a prerequisite for peace—is farcical. Even if the PA were parachuted into Gaza, the chances that they would stop Hamas from doing what it likes are minimal. Putting them in there might enable Israel to claim that they had degraded Hamas militarily as well as politically, but it is highly likely that this would merely be a fig leaf on an already bad situation as it reverted to the pre-Operation Protective Edge reality in which Hamas was actively preparing for the next war.

But, for the sake of argument, let’s assume that Abbas and his forces are sincere about wanting peace. The problem with the plan to use Abbas to police the Gaza border is that it places him in the position in which he has never been particularly comfortable as well as one in which he can easily be portrayed as Israel’s puppet, indeed its policeman, rather than an independent leader.

That’s the conundrum on which many previous peace efforts have also failed. Israel has always wanted the PA to neutralize Palestinian Islamist radicals without the same interference, as the late Yitzhak Rabin often put it, from a Supreme Court and the checks and balances that come with the Jewish state’s democratic legal system. But neither Yasir Arafat nor his successor Abbas ever embraced that role wholeheartedly no matter how great their antipathy for their Hamas rivals. Both understood that fighting Hamas or even acting as a restraint on the Islamists undermined their credibility with Palestinian public opinion.

Much though Israel and the West would like to change it, the perverse dynamic of the political culture of Palestinian society has always rewarded those groups that shed blood or demonstrate belligerence against Israel while punishing those who support peace or at least a cessation of hostilities. That’s why Abbas, who is currently serving the 10th year of a four-year term as president, has avoided new elections.

Moreover, even if PA forces were serious about stopping Hamas, the small border force currently envisaged would, as was the case in 2007, be no match for the Islamists if they choose to resist them.

No matter how you slice it, there simply is no scenario in which the PA really can wrench control of Gaza away from Hamas while the latter is still fully armed and in control of the strip’s government. Building a port in Gaza or anything else intended to make it easier to import materials and arms into the strip without first eliminating Hamas is asking for trouble. Nor is it reasonable to expect Abbas to recognize Israel’s legitimacy as a Jewish state and begin the process of ending the conflict while he is put in such an untenable situation.

Much as many in Israel and the United States would like to imagine that Abbas can somehow supplant Hamas, that just isn’t in the cards short of an all-out Israeli invasion of Gaza. More sensible Israelis know that the results of their nation’s withdrawal from Gaza in 2005 makes it obvious that any further territorial surrenders in the West Bank won’t enhance the chances of peace but will, instead, create new terror strongholds that will be even more dangerous and harder to wipe out. Though the Cairo talks have raised his profile from the near-anonymity that was forced upon him during the fighting, Abbas is just as irrelevant to the solution to the problem of Gaza as he ever was.

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Obama’s Foreign Policy Indicted by His Own Team

One sign of the disrepair of Obama’s foreign policy is the admissions and/or criticism being leveled at it not from Republicans but from those who have served in the highest ranks of the Obama administration.

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One sign of the disrepair of Obama’s foreign policy is the admissions and/or criticism being leveled at it not from Republicans but from those who have served in the highest ranks of the Obama administration.

Take President Obama’s current secretary of defense, Chuck Hagel, who admitted yesterday that “the world is exploding all over.” Those comments shouldn’t be confused with the ones made by Mr. Obama’s former defense secretary, Robert Gates, who earlier this year said this: “With all the talk of coming home, of nation building at home, the perception has grown increasingly around the world that the U.S. is pulling back from the global responsibilities that it has shouldered for many decades. I believe Russia and China, among others, see that void and are moving to see what advantage they can take of it.” Secretary Gates’s comments, in turn, shouldn’t be confused with those made by the president’s former secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, who a few days ago, in criticizing the president’s self-described “We don’t do stupid sh*t” doctrine, said this: “Great nations need organizing principles, and ‘Don’t do stupid stuff’ is not an organizing principle.”

The problem for Mr. Obama is that these statements are virtually self-evident. The president can be angry that three of his current and former Cabinet secretaries publicly said what they did. But it’s impossible to deny the merits of their critiques. Only someone living in a world of make-believe would say, for example, that “the tide of war is receding” or that “there have been a number of situations in which you’ve seen this administration intervene in a meaningful way that has . . . substantially improved the — you know, the tranquility of the — of the global community.”  It’s little wonder, then, that the president’s approval rating on foreign policy is now approaching sub-freezing temperatures (33 percent in the most recent McClatchy-Marist poll).

The foreign-policy failures of Mr. Obama are obvious and everywhere. We’re rapidly approaching the point where only the most slavish and obsequious Obama supporters–the Valerie Jarretts, the David Axelrods, and the David Plouffes of the world–can deny what is unfolding before our eyes. In doing so, they prove not their loyalty to Mr. Obama, but their blindness to reality. They aren’t serving the president; they’re disfiguring the truth.

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Snowden Can’t Be Trusted–Just Ask Him

Edward Snowden’s practice of granting the occasional interview to worshipful admirers of his has continued with the new Wired magazine profile. The interviews tend be very long, generally insufferable press releases. When Snowden’s feeling lonely, it seems, he talks to an apostle so he can see his messianic significance proclaimed by press agents masquerading as inquisitive journalists. And yet, the Wired interview, like the others, can be surprisingly revealing–not because the interviewers dig for information but because Snowden’s own story is so self-contradicting.

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Edward Snowden’s practice of granting the occasional interview to worshipful admirers of his has continued with the new Wired magazine profile. The interviews tend be very long, generally insufferable press releases. When Snowden’s feeling lonely, it seems, he talks to an apostle so he can see his messianic significance proclaimed by press agents masquerading as inquisitive journalists. And yet, the Wired interview, like the others, can be surprisingly revealing–not because the interviewers dig for information but because Snowden’s own story is so self-contradicting.

In the past, this has generally meant Snowden claiming to be interested in protecting Americans’ constitutional rights and then demonstrating how some of his most serious revelations have almost nothing to do with Americans at all. Or it can take the form of Snowden trumpeting the values of freedom and democracy and then openly propagandizing on behalf of authoritarian thugs. Snowden is not a man who has thought deeply and clearly on the great issues of our day. He is a child who likes the sound of his own voice.

In the Wired interview, Snowden wears his hypocrisy on his sleeve. Speaking about recent NSA leaks that raised the prospect of another leaker who isn’t working with Snowden, the defector makes the following, fairly reasonable point:

If other leakers exist within the NSA, it would be more than another nightmare for the agency—it would underscore its inability to control its own information and might indicate that Snowden’s rogue protest of government overreach has inspired others within the intelligence community. “They still haven’t fixed their problems,” Snowden says. “They still have negligent auditing, they still have things going for a walk, and they have no idea where they’re coming from and they have no idea where they’re going. And if that’s the case, how can we as the public trust the NSA with all of our information, with all of our private records, the permanent record of our lives?”

It is, of course, a fair question to ask if the NSA can be trusted with so much private information, considering how they’ve handled it. Snowden is evidence of this: the agency clearly botched his background check, since he was flagged early on. Yet they still gave a delusional troublemaker with a messiah complex access to all that information.

But Snowden himself undercut his own logic a few paragraphs earlier in the profile. Snowden mentions that he tried to leave something of a trail for the NSA to figure out what he took and what he merely looked at, but their accusations against him, he says, indicate they didn’t follow the trail:

Snowden speculates that the government fears that the documents contain material that’s deeply damaging—secrets the custodians have yet to find. “I think they think there’s a smoking gun in there that would be the death of them all politically,” Snowden says. “The fact that the government’s investigation failed—that they don’t know what was taken and that they keep throwing out these ridiculous huge numbers—implies to me that somewhere in their damage assessment they must have seen something that was like, ‘Holy shit.’ And they think it’s still out there.”

Yet it is very likely that no one knows precisely what is in the mammoth haul of documents—not the NSA, not the custodians, not even Snowden himself. He would not say exactly how he gathered them, but others in the intelligence community have speculated that he simply used a web crawler, a program that can search for and copy all documents containing particular keywords or combinations of keywords. This could account for many of the documents that simply list highly technical and nearly unintelligible signal parameters and other statistics.

That gives the reader an idea of the complexity involved, but the key sentence there is: “Yet it is very likely that no one knows precisely what is in the mammoth haul of documents—not the NSA, not the custodians, not even Snowden himself.” Why doesn’t he go ahead and check–you know, just to be sure of the precise magnitude of his irresponsibility? Oh right:

Meanwhile, Snowden will continue to haunt the US, the unpredictable impact of his actions resonating at home and around the world. The documents themselves, however, are out of his control. Snowden no longer has access to them; he says he didn’t bring them with him to Russia. Copies are now in the hands of three groups: First Look Media, set up by journalist Glenn Greenwald and American documentary filmmaker Laura Poitras, the two original recipients of the documents; The Guardian newspaper, which also received copies before the British government pressured it into transferring physical custody (but not ownership) to The New York Times; and Barton Gellman, a writer for The Washington Post. It’s highly unlikely that the current custodians will ever return the documents to the NSA.

He doesn’t have them. (So he says.) Just to be clear, Snowden himself is claiming that a) he doesn’t know what exactly he has leaked to the media, and b) he no longer has the documents. This is important, because it makes crystal clear that Snowden’s entire story is complete rubbish.

He claims to have been acting out of regard for data collection that could be harmful to the American people, yet he doesn’t know what he took. And he claims to be interested in the honest, capable management and handling of private citizens’ personal information, yet he has released his files to the media without being sure exactly what’s in them, and he has no control over them.

The lesson, from Snowden’s own mouth, could not be clearer: do not believe a word he says.

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Hug it Out? Hillary Shows Weakness

If Hillary Clinton runs for president—as she almost certainly will—the former secretary of state is the overwhelming favorite for the Democratic nomination in 2016. But the sense of inevitability about her candidacy took a hit yesterday when she sought to back away from the quarrel she picked over the weekend with President Obama.

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If Hillary Clinton runs for president—as she almost certainly will—the former secretary of state is the overwhelming favorite for the Democratic nomination in 2016. But the sense of inevitability about her candidacy took a hit yesterday when she sought to back away from the quarrel she picked over the weekend with President Obama.

As I wrote on Monday, Clinton threw down the gauntlet to the president on foreign policy in an interview with Jeffrey Goldberg in the Atlantic. No one doubted that she would at some point revert to the more centrist views on the world that contrasted with those of Obama during their 2008 primary battle. But Clinton’s willingness to judge the president’s decisions harshly seemed to mark a turning point in their complicated relationship. When she rightly damned Obama’s Syria policy as a “failure” that led directly to the current ISIS catastrophe in Iraq, that demonstrated her belief that she needed to distance herself from an increasingly unpopular incumbent heading into 2016.

Given the chaos that has erupted across the globe on the president’s watch, more distance from him would make sense for a Democrat who may not want the voters to think they are casting a ballot for a third term for Obama in 2016. But once the White House starting to push back strongly against her criticism and some in the liberal base of the party began to seethe about her flipping back to a “neoconservative” line about Iraq and in support of Israel, Clinton blinked.

Rather than stick to her guns and dare the left to try and oppose her, Clinton was quick to try and patch up the quarrel with the White House, calling the president and reportedly suggesting that the pair “hug it out” when they each other at a Martha’s Vineyard soiree they are both attending this week.

Maintaining some kind of détente with a sitting president who is the unchallenged leader of the Democrats and the idol of its base makes sense. But there was something craven in the unseemly speed with which Clinton sought to diffuse the controversy. Try as her team of media spinners might, there’s no disguising the fact that her attempt to cut straight to general-election campaign tactics without first having to curtsy the left-wing base of the Democrats isn’t going over very well.

There may be no credible Democratic alternatives currently willing to put their names up in opposition to Clinton right now. Whether they love the Clintons or not, most Democrats have bought into her compelling narrative about being the first female president as the best way to hold onto the White House. The Clintons’ ability to raise money and play hardball politics has also intimidated potential candidates into staying out of the race. But, as I also noted yesterday, that won’t stop liberal outliers like Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders from mounting symbolic ideological protest candidacies that could prove troublesome even if no one on the left thinks he should be president.

But the Hillary broadside, followed by her quick retreat, has reminded many in her party that she may not be the political colossus that her admirers in the mainstream press insist she has become.

Like her 2008 candidacy, Clinton’s 2016 “inevitability” is based on the idea that she is so strong that no one other than a marginal figure like Sanders would dare oppose her. But liberals are starting to recall that while Barack Obama’s personal political magic was the main cause of her downfall in 2008, it was only made possible by the fact that most Democrats disliked her centrist foreign policy views.

While we shouldn’t expect this to be the last time Clinton seeks to create more daylight between herself and the man who was her boss for four years, her decision to once again play the person with adult foreign-policy views is bound to foment anger on the left. That means that it might be a mistake to think that Sanders is the only Democrat who believes a leftist challenge to Clinton makes sense. The more people that think about that, the more likely it will be that someone may step forward who could hurt her more than an avowed socialist. Clinton hopes this kerfuffle will only be a blip on the radar in her inevitable long march to the Democratic nomination and the presidency. But it might also be the moment when the 2008 dynamic that sunk her starts to kick in again even without an Obama to take the former first lady down.

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Why Wasn’t Obama Better Informed?

That was an extraordinary interview that President Obama gave to Tom Friedman last week, and it bears some more analysis on top of what Jonathan has already said.

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That was an extraordinary interview that President Obama gave to Tom Friedman last week, and it bears some more analysis on top of what Jonathan has already said.

The big thing that struck me was the president’s habit of blaming others for the world’s problems instead of taking personal responsibility. “Our politics are dysfunctional,” he said, and he blamed “the rise of the Republican far fight,” “gerrymandering, the Balkanization of the news media and uncontrolled money in politics.” These are all real factors but it’s striking the extent to which Obama won’t take any responsibility for aggravating the partisan divide and for not doing more to reach out to Republicans.

Next he blamed Iraqis for the problems the country has faced since the withdrawal of U.S. troops in 2011. “The fact is, said the president, in Iraq a residual U.S. troop presence would never have been needed had the Shiite majority there not ‘squandered an opportunity’ to share power with Sunnis and Kurds.” True, but this disaster was entirely foreseeable; in fact it was foreseen by many of us who warned that absent U.S. troops, Iraq would not be able to function. Of course Iraqis deserve primary responsibility for their own woes, but it is striking the extent to which Obama won’t acknowledge how his mistake (in not trying harder to keep U.S. troops there) contributed to the current disaster.

He took a similar line regarding Syria, disparaging the Free Syrian Army which he has refused to help: “With ‘respect to Syria,’ said the president, the notion that arming the rebels would have made a difference has ‘always been a fantasy. This idea that we could provide some light arms or even more sophisticated arms to what was essentially an opposition made up of former doctors, farmers, pharmacists and so forth, and that they were going to be able to battle not only a well-armed state but also a well-armed state backed by Russia, backed by Iran, a battle-hardened Hezbollah, that was never in the cards.’ ”

Someone in the 18th century could well have described America’s own independence fighters as “former doctors, farmers, pharmacists and so forth” and pooh-poohed the idea that they could stand against the “well-armed” British state. Yet they manage to defeat the British Empire with copious French arms, French training, and French naval power. In Syria we don’t know what the Free Syrian Army could have done if we had offered robust support from the beginning of the rebellion, as Hillary Clinton says she advocated, but it’s pretty disingenuous for Obama to blame these fighters for not having “as much capacity as you would hope” when we have failed to give them the capacity they desire.

The only personal responsibility Obama seemed to take was for the mess in Libya, although even here he insisted on sharing blame with our European allies: “I think,” he said, “we [and] our European partners underestimated the need to come in full force if you’re going to do this,” meaning if you’re going to topple Gaddafi. Yet curiously enough Obama never explained why he made this elementary mistake, which should have been obvious after the early failures in Iraq and Afghanistan.

It’s not as if there was any secret about the possibility of post-Gaddafi disintegration in Libya or the need to send trainers and peacekeeping forces to avert such a disaster. I, for one, wrote regularly on this theme in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and Los Angeles Times not to mention in COMMENTARY. And I wasn’t alone. My boss at the Council on Foreign Relations, Richard Haass, issued a similar warning in the Financial Times. You might think the president might have noticed one of these articles. Even if he hadn’t, his own advisers and intelligence experts should have been issuing similar warnings to him–if they didn’t, then they were guilty of gross negligence.

So why, one wonders, did Obama disregard these warnings not only in 2011 but in subsequent years even as Libya’s problems grew more and more severe? It’s nice that in one case at least the president is taking some ownership for a colossal error, but what’s amazing is that he’s still not fixing it. Instead he’s talking like a dispassionate analyst rather than as the commander in chief who has the capabilities of the world’s most powerful country at his command.

It is the president’s curious passivity, I believe, which accounts for the rapid disintegration of public confidence in his presidency and in particular in his foreign policy. Americans may not want to be entangled in foreign wars, but they want a strong, decisive president. That is certainly not the image Obama is projecting.

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