It’s been a couple of weeks since the so-called Senate “gang of eight” unveiled the bipartisan immigration reform compromise proposal, but there’s little doubt about which of the eight have now inextricably tied their political fate to that of this bill. Though he may be a junior member of the gang, the legislation is now as much about Marco Rubio and his presidential hopes as it is about the issue itself. So it’s no surprise that our friends and colleagues at National Review, who were once to be counted among the Florida senator’s greatest enthusiasts, are now labeling the immigration bill as “Rubio’s Folly” in the cover story of their latest issue.
NR and a host of other conservative critics, including Rubio’s erstwhile friend, former Senator Jim DeMint, who steered the Heritage Foundation into the fight against reform, have established the meme that Rubio was “rolled” by Democrat Chuck Schumer and the other liberals on the gang. Their point is that promises about border security in the bill are either imaginary or not to be relied upon. NR’s formidable writer Stanley Kurtz adds to this indictment by claiming today that the funding for efforts to integrate immigrants into American society is similarly fraudulent. But that piece, like many other critiques of Rubio and the bill, seem to take the position that the only responsible position for conservatives to take is to oppose any further immigration at all under the current circumstances. With liberals threatening to add poison pill amendments about including rights for gay spouses into the bill, it’s little wonder that Rubio has at times sounded worried about the bill’s chances of passage in the GOP-controlled House.
This is the point in the drama where a relatively inexperienced senator who has been promoted to the political big leagues too fast might falter or, even worse, panic and lash out at his critics, leading to a meltdown that could doom his ability to ever go back to conservatives to ask for their votes for president. But so far Rubio has not only kept his cool but also maintained a balanced approach to critics of the bill that speaks well for his ability to survive the onslaught against it, which has increasingly been focused as much on him as the details of the scheme.
The Washington Post’s flattering profile of Joe Biden that was published today didn’t tell us much we didn’t already know about the vice president and the consuming ambition that has driven his long career in politics. The big question hanging over the piece is whether Biden will run for president in 2016. But the only line you really had to read in the piece was the one attributed to several of his friends. While acknowledging the long odds facing him if he chose to run for president whether or not Hillary Clinton runs, “For Biden, who has been running for office since his 20s, not running would feel unnatural.”
Unnatural or not, the Post makes clear what has been increasingly apparent: Clinton’s entry into the field would make a Biden candidacy highly unlikely. Though the memory of her “inevitable” election to the presidency in 2008 must not be forgotten, Clinton’s absence from the political fray during four years as a popular if ineffectual secretary of state has given her the kind of commanding position that hasn’t been seen in presidential politics since Dwight Eisenhower bided his time waiting for his opportunity during the Truman administration. The former first lady may not be a hero of the greatest war in history, but her potential to be the first woman president gives her the kind of politically correct status in her party that will make it all but impossible for any serious Democrat to oppose her. That’s why all the speculation about Biden is largely pointless.
As the Cold War began taking shape early in the Truman administration, famed containment advisor George Kennan argued for a middle way between the strident anti-Communism forming on the right and the strategy of appeasement advocated for by the American left. Kennan believed power and psychology, not ideology, were what motivated Soviet behavior, and this required patience from the U.S. “Since world hegemony was impossible in Kennan’s interpretation of history, so, too, was Communist hegemony after World War II,” explains Elizabeth Edwards Spalding.
Kennan had made two very significant mistakes here–mistakes that proved less costly thanks to Harry Truman’s better judgment. First, as we now know, ideology indeed played a major role in Stalin’s policymaking decisions. Second, and more seriously from a policy standpoint, allowing Communism to expand until it reached its own limits and discredited itself would have meant consigning millions of people worldwide to suffer under the experiment. We didn’t have to test Stalinism further to know whether it had to be opposed.
Although there are obviously major differences between the centralized Communist movement radiating out from an empire that covered one-sixth of the world’s land mass and today’s rising tide of Islamism, there are still relevant lessons in Kennan’s mistakes. Western leaders shouldn’t fool themselves about the political ideology of Islamism, and they shouldn’t preach patience to those living under tyranny. And the case of Egypt would be a good place to start learning and applying those lessons.
Academics don’t agree about much, but the members of the Association for Asian American Studies agree, at least, that a “boycott of Israeli academic institutions” is warranted. That is what they resolved, not by a mere majority vote, but unanimously, on April 20, the last day of the Association’s national meeting.
Reportedly, only 10 percent of the members were present for the vote. So when I learned of the resolution, I assumed that we would soon hear from professors of Asian American Studies, enraged, or at least perplexed, that the AAAS had become the first U.S. academic organization to support the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement. But although one can find almost anything on the Web, you will not find even one professor of Asian American Studies who has respectfully disagreed with, let alone denounced, this move. The Asian American Studies professor who diverges publicly from the party line is that rare a beast.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average hit 15,000 this morning, the first time it has crossed that benchmark. Even if it backs off and closes below that level, this is a remarkable recovery from its Great Recession low in March 2009, when it hit 6,626. In the last four years the Dow has risen 123 percent.
How do we square such a bull market with the anemic recovery I noted earlier today and the long period of sub-par growth that Pete Wehner referred to? To be sure, the stock market is a leading indicator, recovering sooner than the economy as a whole, whereas unemployment is a lagging indicator. But it takes more than that to explain things.
Despite a stalled peace process and a recent Arab Peace Initative that has no hope of achieving its stated goal (as Jonathan and Seth discussed yesterday), there have been interesting developments in the region this week, albeit in cyberspace. The Google main search page for those searching within the West Bank and Gaza has been changed from “Palestinian Territories” to simply “Palestine.” Foreign Policy’s blog reported on the change and indicated it may have been inspired by the somewhat recent vote to upgrade the Palestinians’ status at the UN.
This isn’t the first time an online giant has become involved in the conflict. Last year it was noted by many Israelis that the location of their postings from within Israel were tagged “Palestine” and “East Jerusalem” on Facebook. One blogger for the Times of Israel noted:
When Chuck Hagel chaired the Atlantic Council, the group bent over backwards to exculpate Iran. That was a “twofer” for Hagel, because it fit not only with his ideological predilections, but also pleased donors like the Ploughshares Fund, which has dedicated itself to diminishing concern regarding Iran’s nuclear intentions.
Now that he’s at the helm of the Defense Department, he’s back at it again. Last evening, Bill Gertz reported in the Washington Free Beacon that Hagel’s Pentagon inexplicably changed previous conclusions to argue that Iran’s military doctrine was predominantly defensive in nature:
According to the jobs report released this morning, the recovery continues to dawdle along, confirming its status as the worst recovery since the Great Depression.
There were 165,000 jobs created last month, and the unemployment rate dropped another tenth of a percent, to 7.5 percent. That’s down four-tenths of a percent since January. But, again, much of the drop in unemployment has not come about through job growth but through workers dropping out of the labor force. The participation rate, the percentage of the population holding jobs, remained unchanged over last month, at 63.3 percent, but that’s down from 63.6 percent in January. It has been dropping steadily throughout the so-called recovery.
These are not good days for Barack Obama.
His second term agenda has broken down. The Democratic-controlled Senate did not pass even a single part of his gun-control agenda. His effort to use sequestration to batter Republicans has backfired. His budget was sent up to Capitol Hill two months late–and was immediately dismissed. If immigration reform passes, it will be because Democrats kept the president on the sideline, fully aware that his presence in negotiations with Republicans would only make success more unlikely.
In his press conference earlier this week, Mr. Obama was forced to plead that he is still relevant. “Rumors of my demise may be a little exaggerated at this point,” he said. (“At this point” is a curious and revealing formulation.)
Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has been a piñata for those who think he should make even more concessions than his country has already made to the Palestinians even if the other side has shown no willingness to negotiate, let alone sign an agreement. But Thursday, he was assailed on another issue relating to the peace process. During a media session with a visiting foreign minister, he made it clear that if peace ever were to be signed, he would insist on the accord being submitted to the people of Israel for a vote.
This suggestion, made in the course of a discussion with Swiss Foreign Minister Didier Burkhalter, whose nation is well known for its use of referendums, prompted some on the Israeli left as well as other Netanyahu critics to cry foul. Indeed, as the New York Times noted, even a member of his own government doesn’t like the idea:
Left-leaning Israeli supporters of a peace deal have long argued that a referendum could impede the leadership’s ability to seal a treaty with Palestinians.
[Tzipi] Livni, a former foreign minister and chief negotiator with the Palestinians under the government led by Ehud Olmert, Mr. Netanyahu’s predecessor, has publicly opposed the idea of a referendum. Ms. Livni now leads her own party, which is considered dovish on peace issues. She told Israel’s Army Radio a few days ago, “At the moment, a referendum is a way to forestall decisions approved by the Parliament and the cabinet.”
But rather than impeding peace, Netanyahu’s support for a referendum on any agreement with the Palestinians is the only way it can be implemented with the full support of the vast majority of Israelis.
The video of a relative of a victim of the Newtown massacre confronting Senator Kelly Ayotte at a New Hampshire town hall meeting has been all over the cable news channels, as the effort to shame those who opposed efforts to expand background checks for gun purchases escalated this week. Other objects of the increasingly aggressive gun-control lobby like Arizona Senator Jeff Flake have also been subjected to attempts by gun violence victims’ relatives to embarrass him for voting against the Manchin-Toomey amendment. But if these supporters of gun-control bills are really interested in getting something passed, they should listen to one of the measure’s co-sponsors.
Senator Pat Toomey made headlines for saying yesterday that he believed Republicans shied away from his legislation in large part because they were disinclined to support anything that President Obama wanted. This is being interpreted as proof that a) Republicans are obstructionists who are the main reason why Congress is dysfunctional and b) the gun bill was stopped out of sheer malice rather than on the merits.
But if you read what he actually said to his hometown paper, the Allentown Call-Chronicle, you’ll find he said something very different from the spin that has been put on his comments by liberals looking to exploit the gun issue:
Toomey asserted that the passionate minority who railed against the measure simply didn’t trust putting more authority over guns in the hands of the Obama administration.
“I would suggest the administration brought this on themselves. I think the president ran his re-election campaign in a divisive way. He divided Americans. He was using resentment of some Americans toward others to generate support for himself. That was very divisive, that has consequences, that lingers,” Toomey said over breakfast in the Senate member’s only dining room.
“I understand why people have some apprehension about this administration. I don’t agree with the conclusion as it applies to my [background checks] amendment, but I understand where the emotion comes from.”
Toomey is right about what happened among Republicans. Advocates of more gun control can cite the huge majorities polls show backing background checks, but the more they rely on demagogic attempts to smear their opponents as being somehow responsible for tragedies like Newtown, the less likely they will be to persuade many Republicans to join their ranks.
Secretary of State John Kerry was encouraged yesterday by the idea of a revived and improved Arab Peace Initiative being floated by an Arab League delegation. But the Palestinian Authority wasted no time in pouring cold water on the idea that even this baby step means a thing. Palestinian Authority negotiators dismissed the significance of the statement issued by the foreign minister of Qatar that the 2002 proposal would be modified to recognize the idea of “minor” territorial swaps that would modify the 1967 lines. As far as Erekat is concerned, the Palestinians won’t even bother to return to the talks so long as Israel is unwilling to concede the outcome in advance.
“Netanyahu has to say 1967,” Erekat told Nazareth-based Radio Ashams. “If he doesn’t say that, there’s nothing to talk about. For us, what the Arab League delegation presented in Washington is no different from the official Palestinian position.”
Erekat noted that the Palestinian Authority had negotiated in the past based on the 1967 borders and had been willing to adjust 5 percent to 7 percent of the border.
“We don’t see that as recognition of the settlement blocs, as some commentators on both sides try to interpret it. For us, every stone in the settlements constitutes a violation of international law, so it’s impossible to talk about Palestinian consent regarding the settlements,” he said.
“Our position is clear: As long as Netanyahu does not say the number 1967, there’s nothing to talk about. Maybe he needs to undergo psychological therapy to utter that number.”
But if the Palestinians are really interested in peace, it’s they who need the therapy. By issuing demands in this manner, Erekat is not just directly defying President Obama’s call for them to come back to the peace table without preconditions. Nor is his attempt to justify a continued refusal to talk just about borders. It’s part of a strategy the Palestinians have been pursuing for more than four years. Since the PA knows it has neither the will nor the ability to sign a peace agreement recognizing the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn, their goal is to avoid any diplomatic setting at which they might be forced to admit this, as they did when they turned down peace offers in 2000, 2001 and 2008.
In March 2011, Avik Roy wrote about something that constituted, in his opinion, “simply put, the greatest scandal in America. Bigger than Madoff, bigger than the Wall Street bailout, bigger even than the plight of the uninsured.” The scandal was a study demonstrating that “despite the fact that we will soon spend more than $500 billion a year on Medicaid, Medicaid beneficiaries, on average, fared worse than those with no insurance at all.” (Emphasis in the original.)
Indeed, Medicaid does not tend to fare well when tested. But yesterday’s news was among the worst that proponents of expanded Medicaid and its larger ObamaCare policy disaster could have received. The New England Journal of Medicine reported the results of a study conducted by major health-policy scholars–including ObamaCare advisor Jonathan Gruber–further showing that Medicaid is an expensive bust. The conclusion from the study authors:
Prolific blogger and commentator Jeffrey Goldberg tweeted an apt reminder yesterday that not everything in the Middle East revolves around the Israel-Palestinian conflict, even if U.S. policymakers often see it that way. Writes Goldberg:
Syria and Iraq are melting down, and the State Dept. and the Arab League are focused on…. the West Bank. The peace process is vital but there are more urgent matters than the peace process that are not linked to Israel-Palestine, that demand more attention.
Goldberg is right, but he doesn’t ask why. Perhaps this is one more example of the failure of Middle Eastern studies. The Middle East Studies Association (MESA) has a membership database that lets users sort by discipline. For example, the MESA faculty database finds 151 students and professors who specialize in Iraq; and 223 who specialize in Syria. In contrast, 290 specialize in Palestine, and additional 33 who specialize in the West Bank specifically; and 20 in Gaza. Israel studies is growing, with 171 members. Almost as many focus on refugees and Diaspora studies.
We’re far enough away from 2016 that rumors about possible presidential candidacies are all equally true and untrue. Anybody can talk about running and anyone can talk/write about those thinking about running. But the rumors being floated about Ted Cruz have struck a nerve in a way that, say, the scenarios about similar long shots such as Scott Walker or Kirsten Gillibrand do not. Cruz has made himself an usually large number of enemies for a man who has spent only 100 days in the Senate along with the outsized publicity he has garnered for his bare knuckles-style of political fisticuffs that he has displayed in this period.
But although I think Seth makes some excellent points about how a Senate where all the major players have an eye on the White House is doomed to dysfunction, I think it is a mistake to view Cruz as a conventional politician on the make. If there is anything we’ve learned about him, it is that although his Texas-sized ego and ambitions are very much in evidence, he is working off a slightly different playbook than that of potential GOP rivals Senators Rand Paul and Marco Rubio.
The U.S. military runs five service academies and a number of graduate institutions, for example the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis; West Point; the Army War College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania; the Navy War College in Newport, Rhode Island; the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California (full disclosure: where I am affiliated); and the U.S. Marine Corps University in Quantico, Virginia, among others.
These universities provide educations as good as, if not better than, top-notch private colleges and universities. To do so, they rely on a combination of faculty drawn from both the military and civilian world. Enter sequestration: The Defense Department will soon order its civilian personnel to take a 14-day furlough, effectively taking one day off a week without pay for three months. This applies not only to the often idle administrative staff at the Pentagon where, admittedly, a lot of fat exists, but also among teaching faculty at the universities. (Full disclosure: I’m not full-time at the Naval Postgraduate School, “furlough days” will not impact me, and so this is not self-serving).
The Washington Post has a story up today gently knocking Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for being less than enthusiastic about the resurgence of the Arab Peace Initiative. The Arab plan is slightly improved from its past iterations, but to understand why Netanyahu is so cautious about embracing the plan as an outline for negotiations, the Post story should be read in tandem with Jeffrey Goldberg’s incisive and spot-on portrait of the Qatari government in his latest Bloomberg column.
The setting for the column is a Brookings Institution event to honor Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber Al Thani. Brookings is, along with Hamas and other sordid outfits in whose company Brookings does not belong, funded by the Qatari government. Goldberg makes plain his discomfort with this. As I wrote in January, Qatar has been playing every side of the Middle East’s various conflicts, most often as a nuisance to American objectives. Goldberg’s whole column is worth reading, but this particular gem sticks out with regard to the Arab peace plan:
The energy news just keeps getting better.
On Tuesday, the United States Geological Survey announced that it had doubled its estimate of the amount of oil that can be recovered from the Bakken formation in North Dakota and Eastern Montana and from the Three Forks formation immediately beneath it, to an awesome 7.4 billion barrels.
I am not an optimist when it comes to Afghanistan. The United States lost the Afghan war the second President Obama issued a public timeline for withdrawal and when diplomats offered to negotiate with the Taliban. Officials endorsing such timelines—too often out of political perspicacity rather than military wisdom—are culpable in setting the stage for defeat. Momentum matters in Afghanistan more than spin, as Afghans have never lost a war: they simply defect to the winning side.
The White House may believe its spin, but no one in Afghanistan does. Whereas the Taliban once embraced the narrative of the First Anglo-Afghan War, describing Mullah Omar as Dost Muhammad and Hamid Karzai as Shah Shujah, with the implication that ISAF forces would play the role of the British heading into a disastrous retreat, the historical allusions have changed in recent months as Afghans filter events through the living memory of the Soviet withdrawal. Hence, Hamid Karzai has become Najibullah in the current Afghan narrative. Najibullah, of course, was the last Communist leader of Afghanistan. True, Najibullah managed to hold onto power for three years following the Soviet withdrawal, but he fell as soon as the rubles—about $3 billion per year—dried up. Afghans recognize that most of the money promised in the past years’ series of international donor conferences will never get delivered.
Further, when the World Bank estimates the foreign assistance that Afghanistan will require to stay afloat, they too often assume that the Afghan mining industry will be far more advanced than reality will dictate. In the past year, real estate prices have dropped 20 percent in Afghanistan as Afghans recognize that the long-term prospects for rule of law are dim.
Last year, May Day was a cause for celebration for members of the group Occupy Wall Street. Even though they had been evicted from their home in Zuccotti Park several months prior, the movement that was created there had spread nationwide. Liberals hoped that OWS would become their version of the Tea Party. They were willing to look over the squalid conditions at OWS camps in New York and nationwide, the rampant vandalism, and most troubling, the rapes and sexual assaults that took place there while fellow liberals were simultaneously fear mongering over Republicans’ imagined “war on women.” On the second May Day since its formation, the movement, which portrayed itself as the voice of support for the bottom 99 percent of Americans, has fractured over some members’ desire to translate that vague declaration of support into disaster assistance for those affected by Hurricane Sandy.
The aftermath of Sandy left unprecedented destruction in the New York area, and to its credit, the Occupy movement stepped in to provide much-needed coordination and relief with the formation of Occupy Sandy. In November I spoke to a local rabbi who had been coordinating relief for elderly residents trapped inside a high-rise apartment complex that wouldn’t end up meeting someone in a FEMA jacket for a full ten days after the storm. The response from government officials was shockingly meager and private organizations like Occupy Sandy were left trying to provide food, water and medical attention to those hardest hit by the storm.