Commentary Magazine


Topic: analyst

Reading The Longest War

Normally, I like a hanging judge, and I am certainly a big fan of Michael Mukasey, the esteemed former federal judge and attorney general. He is one of the most reasonable, learned, and authoritative voices around on most matters relating to the law — and especially on the war on terror with which he has been closely connected ever since he sentenced the “blind sheikh” to life in prison in 1996. Yet I can’t help but conclude that his review of Peter Bergen’s The Longest War in the Wall Street Journal metes out a harsher verdict than the book deserves.

Having read the book myself — and having interviewed Bergen about it for an upcoming episode of C-SPAN’s Afterwords — I agree with many of Mukasey’s specific criticisms. I, too, disagree with Bergen when he makes withering criticisms of Guantanamo and the use of “enhanced” interrogation techniques on the likes of Khalid Sheikh Mohammad. I, too, disagree with Bergen when he criticizes “renditions” of terrorists and when he claims (in words not quoted by Mukasey) that “by any rational standard” Saddam Hussein’s Iraq “did not pose a real threat to the United States.” The last is a particularly puzzling statement considering that Saddam Hussein had invaded his neighbors twice, schemed to acquire weapons of mass destruction, and had already sparked one war with the United States and numerous lesser military actions.

But by focusing on these dubious assertions, Mukasey gives the impression that Bergen’s book is an anti-Bush screed along the lines of Jane Mayer’s The Dark Side. It isn’t. It’s actually a fairly balanced account of the past decade’s fight against al-Qaeda. Read More

Normally, I like a hanging judge, and I am certainly a big fan of Michael Mukasey, the esteemed former federal judge and attorney general. He is one of the most reasonable, learned, and authoritative voices around on most matters relating to the law — and especially on the war on terror with which he has been closely connected ever since he sentenced the “blind sheikh” to life in prison in 1996. Yet I can’t help but conclude that his review of Peter Bergen’s The Longest War in the Wall Street Journal metes out a harsher verdict than the book deserves.

Having read the book myself — and having interviewed Bergen about it for an upcoming episode of C-SPAN’s Afterwords — I agree with many of Mukasey’s specific criticisms. I, too, disagree with Bergen when he makes withering criticisms of Guantanamo and the use of “enhanced” interrogation techniques on the likes of Khalid Sheikh Mohammad. I, too, disagree with Bergen when he criticizes “renditions” of terrorists and when he claims (in words not quoted by Mukasey) that “by any rational standard” Saddam Hussein’s Iraq “did not pose a real threat to the United States.” The last is a particularly puzzling statement considering that Saddam Hussein had invaded his neighbors twice, schemed to acquire weapons of mass destruction, and had already sparked one war with the United States and numerous lesser military actions.

But by focusing on these dubious assertions, Mukasey gives the impression that Bergen’s book is an anti-Bush screed along the lines of Jane Mayer’s The Dark Side. It isn’t. It’s actually a fairly balanced account of the past decade’s fight against al-Qaeda.

In the first place, many of the criticisms Bergen offers are on the money — for instance, about the failure of the Bush administration to send more troops to trap Osama bin Laden at Tora Bora and about the failure to prepare for the post-invasion phase of the Iraq war. Both assertions should, by now, be fairly uncontroversial even in conservative circles. For that matter, I think Bergen is convincing in arguing that no tangible links between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda have been uncovered and that mainstream Islam has rejected al-Qaeda — both assertions that Mukasey questions.

In the second place, Bergen also offers praise for Bush that Mukasey doesn’t quote. He writes, for example, “There is little doubt that some of the measures the Bush administration and Congress took after 9/11 made Americans safer.” Among the positives he cites are the Patriot Act and other enhanced security measures.

Bergen also endorses Bush’s decision to  attack al-Qaeda with the full weight of the U.S. military — not just with law enforcement and intelligence agencies. This led the Economist to criticize Bergen’s book for dismissing “the view of some Europeans that al-Qaeda is essentially a law and order problem—more or less arguing, with odd logic, that since it declared war on America, then America must be at war.”

Unlike Michael Scheuer, the eccentric former CIA analyst whose new book about Osama bin Laden is also reviewed by Mukasey, Bergen does not think that Bush fell into a trap by sending troops into Afghanistan. Although bin Laden has talked about how he was luring America into a guerrilla war, Bergen concludes that this is largely an ex post facto justification and that the invasion of Afghanistan actually did significant damage to al-Qaeda. Moreover, unlike many of those who backed the initial decision to intervene, he strongly supports the current war effort in Afghanistan. Indeed Bergen and I teamed up at an Intelligence Squared US debate not long ago to argue that Afghanistan isn’t a lost cause.

In short, I think Mukasey is being harder on Bergen than the facts of the case warrant. But judge for yourself — read the book and watch my interview with Bergen in which I press him on some of the very points that Mukasey raises.

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The Fall of Beirut

Lebanon’s Druze leader Walid Jumblatt now says he “supports” Hezbollah and the ghastly regime in Syria that murdered his father and his friend Rafik Hariri. Hezbollah’s fan boys should not kid themselves here. Jumblatt is under duress and is only saying what he must to ensure his own survival and that of his people.

Saad Hariri remains defiant, but Michael Young — the best analyst of Lebanon’s internal politics — thinks he probably won’t return as prime minister. If that’s the case, Lebanon’s Cedar Revolution is well and truly cooked. Beirut is being cleverly reconquered by Damascus and Tehran, and is rejoining, against its will, the Iran-led Resistance Bloc.

Everybody in Lebanon needs to understand something: Israel is more likely than ever to target the entire country during the next round of conflict. Not since 1948 has Israel fought a war against the Lebanese government; its wars in Lebanon have always been waged against terrorist organizations that were beyond the control of the state.

But if Hezbollah leads the government, the government will be a legitimate target. That’s how it works. Regime-change in Lebanon would have been an insane policy with Hariri’s March 14 coalition in charge, but it won’t be if Hezbollah is calling the shots.

The next war will almost certainly be bloodier than the last.

Lebanon’s Druze leader Walid Jumblatt now says he “supports” Hezbollah and the ghastly regime in Syria that murdered his father and his friend Rafik Hariri. Hezbollah’s fan boys should not kid themselves here. Jumblatt is under duress and is only saying what he must to ensure his own survival and that of his people.

Saad Hariri remains defiant, but Michael Young — the best analyst of Lebanon’s internal politics — thinks he probably won’t return as prime minister. If that’s the case, Lebanon’s Cedar Revolution is well and truly cooked. Beirut is being cleverly reconquered by Damascus and Tehran, and is rejoining, against its will, the Iran-led Resistance Bloc.

Everybody in Lebanon needs to understand something: Israel is more likely than ever to target the entire country during the next round of conflict. Not since 1948 has Israel fought a war against the Lebanese government; its wars in Lebanon have always been waged against terrorist organizations that were beyond the control of the state.

But if Hezbollah leads the government, the government will be a legitimate target. That’s how it works. Regime-change in Lebanon would have been an insane policy with Hariri’s March 14 coalition in charge, but it won’t be if Hezbollah is calling the shots.

The next war will almost certainly be bloodier than the last.

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Morning Commentary

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) has hit the ground running as the new chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. First items on the agenda: cutting the State Department budget, forcing significant changes at the UN, and increasing pressure on “rogue states.”

Ron Paul is the only member of Congress to vote against a resolution honoring Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo. Paul has been an outspoken critic of the National Endowment of Democracy, which he claims helps stir up international conflict with taxpayer money. Much of Xiaobo’s fine work has been funded through grants from the NED.

George H.W. Bush has thrown his support behind New START, becoming the most prominent Republican figure yet to publicly back the controversial legislation.

James Fallows cautions not to put too much stock into those exceptional Shanghai test scores, noting that the students tested may not have been representative of the average Chinese student. “No doubt these results reflect something real,” wrote Fallows. “But as with just about everything concerning modern China, the results should also be viewed with some distance and possible skepticism.”

Former Army analyst Bradley Manning is facing half a century in prison for leaking secret military documents to WikiLeaks, but it seems he’s become something of a folk hero among left-wingers. The city council of Berkeley is considering a resolution honoring his “patriotism.” The Washington Examiner’s Mark Hemingway suggests: “Once they take care of this vital matter, perhaps they can get around to finally doing something about all the deranged panhandlers on Telegraph Avenue.”

New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg may protest allegations that he’s running for president, but his speech yesterday sure sounded like it. And as NBC’s Mark Murray noted, the words also sounded vaguely familiar.

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) has hit the ground running as the new chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. First items on the agenda: cutting the State Department budget, forcing significant changes at the UN, and increasing pressure on “rogue states.”

Ron Paul is the only member of Congress to vote against a resolution honoring Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo. Paul has been an outspoken critic of the National Endowment of Democracy, which he claims helps stir up international conflict with taxpayer money. Much of Xiaobo’s fine work has been funded through grants from the NED.

George H.W. Bush has thrown his support behind New START, becoming the most prominent Republican figure yet to publicly back the controversial legislation.

James Fallows cautions not to put too much stock into those exceptional Shanghai test scores, noting that the students tested may not have been representative of the average Chinese student. “No doubt these results reflect something real,” wrote Fallows. “But as with just about everything concerning modern China, the results should also be viewed with some distance and possible skepticism.”

Former Army analyst Bradley Manning is facing half a century in prison for leaking secret military documents to WikiLeaks, but it seems he’s become something of a folk hero among left-wingers. The city council of Berkeley is considering a resolution honoring his “patriotism.” The Washington Examiner’s Mark Hemingway suggests: “Once they take care of this vital matter, perhaps they can get around to finally doing something about all the deranged panhandlers on Telegraph Avenue.”

New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg may protest allegations that he’s running for president, but his speech yesterday sure sounded like it. And as NBC’s Mark Murray noted, the words also sounded vaguely familiar.

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Morning Commentary

Assange arrested in London, but extradition to Sweden “could take months,” reports the BBC. Despite the development, a WikiLeaks spokesman says the site will continue to release cables.

During nuclear talks this week, Iran showed a willingness to further discuss its program with P5+1 officials, reports the Los Angeles Times: “Though Iran’s position was a sign of progress, it was about the minimum the six powers could accept after a 14-month stalemate. Pressed by Washington, the U.N. Security Council tightened economic sanctions against Iran in June. The U.S. and European Union added their own tougher sanctions the following month. The U.S. and its allies have threatened further action if Iran does not commit to serious negotiations.”

Nineteen governments have joined a boycott of the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony that will give the award to jailed Chinese human rights activist Liu Xiaobo, indicating increased pressure from Beijing. Xiaobo is currently serving an 11-year sentence for “subversion.” China’s foreign minister claimed that Nobel officials “are orchestrating an anti-China farce by themselves. …We are not changing because of interference by a few clowns and we will not change our path.”

In the December issue of COMMENTARY (behind our pay wall), Ron Radosh dissected Walter Schneir’s attempt to backtrack from his bid to exonerate Communist spies Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. He now does the same (with co-author Steven Usdin) for another Rosenberg apologist: “Now, so many years later, when the intellectual community largely acknowledges the Rosenbergs’ guilt—a 2008 public confession by former Soviet spy Morton Sobell, who was tried along with the Rosenbergs, made continued denial impossible—[Victor] Navasky has written what is possibly the last-ditch attempt to redeem the Rosenbergs.”

The New York Times claims that a letter from lawmakers indicates “bipartisan” support for Obama’s nuclear strategy. Reality seems to disagree.

Looks like President Obama’s counter-attack against the U.S. Chamber of Conference is paying dividends. Dozens of local chapters of the Chamber have distanced themselves from or quit their associations with the national body due to its support of Republican candidates during the 2010 midterms. “Looking ahead to the 2012 elections, if more local chambers publicly declare their independence, it could undermine the power and credibility of attacks launched from the Washington office,” reports Politico.

Obama cut a deal with Republicans to extend the Bush tax cuts for two years, but has this move alienated his liberal base? New York Times analyst Peter Baker writes: “For President Obama, this is what bipartisanship looks like in the new era: messy, combustible and painful, brought on under the threat of even more unpalatable consequences and yet still deferring the ultimate resolution for another day.”

Assange arrested in London, but extradition to Sweden “could take months,” reports the BBC. Despite the development, a WikiLeaks spokesman says the site will continue to release cables.

During nuclear talks this week, Iran showed a willingness to further discuss its program with P5+1 officials, reports the Los Angeles Times: “Though Iran’s position was a sign of progress, it was about the minimum the six powers could accept after a 14-month stalemate. Pressed by Washington, the U.N. Security Council tightened economic sanctions against Iran in June. The U.S. and European Union added their own tougher sanctions the following month. The U.S. and its allies have threatened further action if Iran does not commit to serious negotiations.”

Nineteen governments have joined a boycott of the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony that will give the award to jailed Chinese human rights activist Liu Xiaobo, indicating increased pressure from Beijing. Xiaobo is currently serving an 11-year sentence for “subversion.” China’s foreign minister claimed that Nobel officials “are orchestrating an anti-China farce by themselves. …We are not changing because of interference by a few clowns and we will not change our path.”

In the December issue of COMMENTARY (behind our pay wall), Ron Radosh dissected Walter Schneir’s attempt to backtrack from his bid to exonerate Communist spies Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. He now does the same (with co-author Steven Usdin) for another Rosenberg apologist: “Now, so many years later, when the intellectual community largely acknowledges the Rosenbergs’ guilt—a 2008 public confession by former Soviet spy Morton Sobell, who was tried along with the Rosenbergs, made continued denial impossible—[Victor] Navasky has written what is possibly the last-ditch attempt to redeem the Rosenbergs.”

The New York Times claims that a letter from lawmakers indicates “bipartisan” support for Obama’s nuclear strategy. Reality seems to disagree.

Looks like President Obama’s counter-attack against the U.S. Chamber of Conference is paying dividends. Dozens of local chapters of the Chamber have distanced themselves from or quit their associations with the national body due to its support of Republican candidates during the 2010 midterms. “Looking ahead to the 2012 elections, if more local chambers publicly declare their independence, it could undermine the power and credibility of attacks launched from the Washington office,” reports Politico.

Obama cut a deal with Republicans to extend the Bush tax cuts for two years, but has this move alienated his liberal base? New York Times analyst Peter Baker writes: “For President Obama, this is what bipartisanship looks like in the new era: messy, combustible and painful, brought on under the threat of even more unpalatable consequences and yet still deferring the ultimate resolution for another day.”

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Could the 2012 GOP presidential primary start closer to 2012? “Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney is letting donors know it’ll be a while before he looks to 2012 — and that any presidential campaign he builds will have a much smaller staff than in 2008 … and no one is in a big hurry. Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels has said he’ll wait until after the Indiana legislative term ends in the spring before he decides, and South Dakota Sen. John Thune hasn’t laid out a timeline. Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin told The New York Times that she’s considering a bid but didn’t elaborate on timing. Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s team has alluded to an announcement in the spring.”

Could there be a better formulation of the GOP’s approach than this by Speaker-to-be John Boehner? “We think that Obamacare ruined the best healthcare in the country, we believe it will bankrupt our nation, we believe it needs to be repealed and replaced with commonsense reforms to bring down the cost of health insurance and you’ll see us move quickly enough.” The “how” is still to be determined, but the goal is crystal clear.

Could the Dems be any more tone-deaf? “House Democrats on Thursday shot down a G.O.P. attempt to roll back federal funding to NPR, a move that many Republicans have called for since the  public radio network  fired the analyst Juan Williams last month.” I guess we’ll find out when they vote — or not — on the Bush tax cuts.

Could Haley Barbour be a 2012 contender? A “formidable” one, says the Gray Lady: “Mr. Barbour’s political might was on full display at the Hilton Bayside Hotel here in San Diego this week, where Republican governors met for the first time since the elections. He strode like a popular small-town mayor through the hotel’s wide concourses, attracting a steady crush of corporate contributors, political operatives and reporters. In public sessions and private conversations, his fellow governors lavished praise on him.”

Could they have drained the swamp a little earlier? “A House ethics panel Thursday said senior Democratic Rep. Charles Rangel deserved to be censured — the most severe form of punishment short of expulsion from Congress — for nearly a dozen instances of misconduct as a lawmaker.”

Could there be any reason to give the mullahs assurance that we won’t use force? The Washington Post‘s editors don’t think so: “We agree that the administration should continue to focus for now on non-military strategies such as sanctions and support for the Iranian opposition. But that does not require publicly talking down military action. Mr. Gates’s prediction of how Iranians would react to an attack is speculative, but what we do know for sure is that the last decision Iran made to curb its nuclear program, in 2003, came when the regime feared – reasonably or not – that it could be a target of the U.S. forces that had just destroyed the Iraqi army. As for the effect of the sanctions, Tehran has not shown itself ready to begin serious bargaining about its uranium enrichment.” It is one of their more inexplicable foreign policy fetishes.

Could the Dems benefit from listening to William Galston? You betcha. He tells them that they should have dumped Pelosi: “What’s the logic of patiently rebuilding a Democratic majority—for which Pelosi deserves a considerable share of the credit—only to embark on a strategy seemingly calculated to destroy it? And why should the kinds of Democrats without whom no Democratic majority is possible expect anything better in the future? This decision was the victory of inside baseball over common sense, and no amount of spin can change that.”

Could the 2012 GOP presidential primary start closer to 2012? “Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney is letting donors know it’ll be a while before he looks to 2012 — and that any presidential campaign he builds will have a much smaller staff than in 2008 … and no one is in a big hurry. Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels has said he’ll wait until after the Indiana legislative term ends in the spring before he decides, and South Dakota Sen. John Thune hasn’t laid out a timeline. Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin told The New York Times that she’s considering a bid but didn’t elaborate on timing. Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s team has alluded to an announcement in the spring.”

Could there be a better formulation of the GOP’s approach than this by Speaker-to-be John Boehner? “We think that Obamacare ruined the best healthcare in the country, we believe it will bankrupt our nation, we believe it needs to be repealed and replaced with commonsense reforms to bring down the cost of health insurance and you’ll see us move quickly enough.” The “how” is still to be determined, but the goal is crystal clear.

Could the Dems be any more tone-deaf? “House Democrats on Thursday shot down a G.O.P. attempt to roll back federal funding to NPR, a move that many Republicans have called for since the  public radio network  fired the analyst Juan Williams last month.” I guess we’ll find out when they vote — or not — on the Bush tax cuts.

Could Haley Barbour be a 2012 contender? A “formidable” one, says the Gray Lady: “Mr. Barbour’s political might was on full display at the Hilton Bayside Hotel here in San Diego this week, where Republican governors met for the first time since the elections. He strode like a popular small-town mayor through the hotel’s wide concourses, attracting a steady crush of corporate contributors, political operatives and reporters. In public sessions and private conversations, his fellow governors lavished praise on him.”

Could they have drained the swamp a little earlier? “A House ethics panel Thursday said senior Democratic Rep. Charles Rangel deserved to be censured — the most severe form of punishment short of expulsion from Congress — for nearly a dozen instances of misconduct as a lawmaker.”

Could there be any reason to give the mullahs assurance that we won’t use force? The Washington Post‘s editors don’t think so: “We agree that the administration should continue to focus for now on non-military strategies such as sanctions and support for the Iranian opposition. But that does not require publicly talking down military action. Mr. Gates’s prediction of how Iranians would react to an attack is speculative, but what we do know for sure is that the last decision Iran made to curb its nuclear program, in 2003, came when the regime feared – reasonably or not – that it could be a target of the U.S. forces that had just destroyed the Iraqi army. As for the effect of the sanctions, Tehran has not shown itself ready to begin serious bargaining about its uranium enrichment.” It is one of their more inexplicable foreign policy fetishes.

Could the Dems benefit from listening to William Galston? You betcha. He tells them that they should have dumped Pelosi: “What’s the logic of patiently rebuilding a Democratic majority—for which Pelosi deserves a considerable share of the credit—only to embark on a strategy seemingly calculated to destroy it? And why should the kinds of Democrats without whom no Democratic majority is possible expect anything better in the future? This decision was the victory of inside baseball over common sense, and no amount of spin can change that.”

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Hooray for Newton, Massachusetts!: “Temple Beth Avodah, a Reform Jewish synagogue in Newton, has abruptly canceled an event with the president of J Street, a lobbying group that supports liberal positions on Israel, because of vociferous objections from some members of the congregation about J Street’s politics.” Bravo — why should Jews, even liberal ones, keep up the facade that the Soros-funded group is a legitimate, pro-Israel organization.

Three cheers for hope and change: “The House speaker, Nancy Pelosi of California, was re-elected on Wednesday to lead the Democrats in the next Congress, despite her party’s loss of more than 60 seats and its majority control of the House in the midterm elections. Officials said that Ms. Pelosi defeated Representative Heath Shuler of North Carolina in an internal party vote, 150 to 43.” We now know that there are 43 Dems who have sense enough to perhaps join their Republican colleagues on key votes.

Bingo! “The whole TSA procedure is hugely frustrating to travelers because not only is it needlessly invasive, but it is also a complete waste of time. Other countries facing similar threats respond in much less irritating and much more intelligent and effective ways. Israel, for example, does not do body scans and invasive pat-downs. If the Republicans want to cut government spending, a good place to start would be to abolish TSA. I say this as a very frequent traveler who regularly flies 150,000 miles per year.”

Wow-wee. Look what $1.5B in aid and Muslim Outreach got us: “Financial ties between Egypt and Iran have recently improved as a result of the Misr Iran Development Bank (MIDB), jointly owned by the two countries, according to a report by the Atlantic Monthly on Monday. According to the report, the MIDB, founded in 1975, has become a potential route for Teheran to bypass imposed economic sanctions with Egypt. The bank serves as evidence of the complex challenge faced by the US in enforcing international sanctions against Iran.”

Bravo, Just Journalism, for documenting 10 years of the London Review of Books‘s noxious anti-Israel screeds. “The LRB consistently portrayed Israel as a bloodthirsty and genocidal regime out of all proportion to reality, while sympathetic portraits abounded of groups designated as terrorist organisations by the British government such as Hamas and Hezbollah. While the Palestinian narrative was fully represented, Israel’s narrative on its legitimate security concerns, Arab rejectionism and terrorism was near absent.” Do you think they could do the New York Review of Books next?

Kudos to Lela Gilbert, who highlights this: “Recent terrorist attacks against Christians in Iraq have spotlighted their desperate circumstances in the Middle East, characterized by threats of terror and bloodshed, and culminating in a silent exodus from their ancient homelands—an exodus that mirrors that of the Jews half a century before. Murders, rapes, beatings, extortions, the burning and desecration of houses of worship and mob violence are abuses are all too familiar to surviving Jews who remember their own perilous journeys.” Where’s our Islam-Explainer-in-Chief, and why doesn’t he ever talk about this topic?

Way to go! First an earmark ban and now this: “House Republicans announced Wednesday they plan to force a floor vote on defunding NPR in response to the firing of analyst Juan Williams last month. House GOP Whip Eric Cantor (Va.) and Rep. Doug Lamborn (Colo.) said that cutting funds to the publicly subsidized news organization was the winner of the conference’s weekly ‘YouCut’ contest, in which the public votes online on spending items they want eliminated.”

Whew. No candidates like Mary Robinson for the Medal of Freedom this year. But Stan “the Man” Musial, Yo-Yo Ma, and Angela Merkel will get their awards. Also Bush 41. Bush 43 will have to wait to get his — maybe in Marco Rubio’s first term. (Yeah, yeah — Maya Angelou is an awful poet, but harmless enough.)

Better late than never. A gathering of 100 CEOs delivered the administration some long overdue pushback: “The CEOs, in a vote, said the government’s top priority should be to foster global trade and create a more business-friendly environment. But CEOs also said uncertainty about government policy on taxes and regulation remained a barrier to unlocking $2 trillion in capital sitting in the treasuries of U.S. non-financial businesses.”

Hooray for Newton, Massachusetts!: “Temple Beth Avodah, a Reform Jewish synagogue in Newton, has abruptly canceled an event with the president of J Street, a lobbying group that supports liberal positions on Israel, because of vociferous objections from some members of the congregation about J Street’s politics.” Bravo — why should Jews, even liberal ones, keep up the facade that the Soros-funded group is a legitimate, pro-Israel organization.

Three cheers for hope and change: “The House speaker, Nancy Pelosi of California, was re-elected on Wednesday to lead the Democrats in the next Congress, despite her party’s loss of more than 60 seats and its majority control of the House in the midterm elections. Officials said that Ms. Pelosi defeated Representative Heath Shuler of North Carolina in an internal party vote, 150 to 43.” We now know that there are 43 Dems who have sense enough to perhaps join their Republican colleagues on key votes.

Bingo! “The whole TSA procedure is hugely frustrating to travelers because not only is it needlessly invasive, but it is also a complete waste of time. Other countries facing similar threats respond in much less irritating and much more intelligent and effective ways. Israel, for example, does not do body scans and invasive pat-downs. If the Republicans want to cut government spending, a good place to start would be to abolish TSA. I say this as a very frequent traveler who regularly flies 150,000 miles per year.”

Wow-wee. Look what $1.5B in aid and Muslim Outreach got us: “Financial ties between Egypt and Iran have recently improved as a result of the Misr Iran Development Bank (MIDB), jointly owned by the two countries, according to a report by the Atlantic Monthly on Monday. According to the report, the MIDB, founded in 1975, has become a potential route for Teheran to bypass imposed economic sanctions with Egypt. The bank serves as evidence of the complex challenge faced by the US in enforcing international sanctions against Iran.”

Bravo, Just Journalism, for documenting 10 years of the London Review of Books‘s noxious anti-Israel screeds. “The LRB consistently portrayed Israel as a bloodthirsty and genocidal regime out of all proportion to reality, while sympathetic portraits abounded of groups designated as terrorist organisations by the British government such as Hamas and Hezbollah. While the Palestinian narrative was fully represented, Israel’s narrative on its legitimate security concerns, Arab rejectionism and terrorism was near absent.” Do you think they could do the New York Review of Books next?

Kudos to Lela Gilbert, who highlights this: “Recent terrorist attacks against Christians in Iraq have spotlighted their desperate circumstances in the Middle East, characterized by threats of terror and bloodshed, and culminating in a silent exodus from their ancient homelands—an exodus that mirrors that of the Jews half a century before. Murders, rapes, beatings, extortions, the burning and desecration of houses of worship and mob violence are abuses are all too familiar to surviving Jews who remember their own perilous journeys.” Where’s our Islam-Explainer-in-Chief, and why doesn’t he ever talk about this topic?

Way to go! First an earmark ban and now this: “House Republicans announced Wednesday they plan to force a floor vote on defunding NPR in response to the firing of analyst Juan Williams last month. House GOP Whip Eric Cantor (Va.) and Rep. Doug Lamborn (Colo.) said that cutting funds to the publicly subsidized news organization was the winner of the conference’s weekly ‘YouCut’ contest, in which the public votes online on spending items they want eliminated.”

Whew. No candidates like Mary Robinson for the Medal of Freedom this year. But Stan “the Man” Musial, Yo-Yo Ma, and Angela Merkel will get their awards. Also Bush 41. Bush 43 will have to wait to get his — maybe in Marco Rubio’s first term. (Yeah, yeah — Maya Angelou is an awful poet, but harmless enough.)

Better late than never. A gathering of 100 CEOs delivered the administration some long overdue pushback: “The CEOs, in a vote, said the government’s top priority should be to foster global trade and create a more business-friendly environment. But CEOs also said uncertainty about government policy on taxes and regulation remained a barrier to unlocking $2 trillion in capital sitting in the treasuries of U.S. non-financial businesses.”

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He’s Perfect — Why Change?

Jonathan Last’s must-read piece on Obama eschews exotic or fanciful explanations for the president’s mindset and precipitous fall to earth. It’s not anti-colonialism that motivates him, or imitation of his absent father that propelled him to the White House. He’s not a secret Muslim. He is, rather, an egomaniac, Last posits. He’s got a ton of evidence for this, mostly in the form of cringe-inducing statements from Obama’s own lips.

This raises a few critical issues. First, the vanity explanation accounts for his super-sensitivity to criticism. Nothing provokes Obama like doubts about his sincerity (the trigger for his belated outburst against Rev. Jeremiah Wright) or his wisdom. He has so many “enemies,” as he referred to Republicans — Fox News, the Chamber of Commerce, Rush Limbaugh, the news cycle, etc. — because he was so unaccustomed to criticism and so removed from rational evaluation of his abilities and positions. No wonder he is so angry at, and disdainful of, the American people. They are, unlike the sycophants who helped manufacture The Ego, no longer enamored of him. Nor is this president given to self-deprecating humor, for not even self-criticism in jest is tolerable.

Second, the colossal failure of his international endeavors, specifically his Muslim Outreach, is traceable to the faulty notion that one can construct a nation’s foreign policy based on the persona of its president. It sounds daft — why would the Israelis and Palestinian simply reach a deal because Obama has arrived on the scene? Why would the mullahs be enticed to curb their nuclear and hegemonic ambitions because he allegedly “understands” the Muslim World? The Ego has made hash out of foreign policy because he believes, as the saying goes, that the world revolves around him. He can’t imagine that rivals, foes, and allies are immune to his charms.

Most important, the vanity surplus would be less of a hindrance if he were an innovative policy wonk or a savvy analyst of the American electorate. This was the Bill Clinton model — an outsized ego and an utter lack of self-discipline, but an inventive mind able to zig-zag his way through choppy political waters. His intuitive understanding of his fellow citizens allowed him to maintain a bond with the American people. If Obama were as intellectually nimble as Clinton or as simpatico with the American people as Ronald Reagan or as steeped in common sense as Harry Truman, he wouldn’t be in such dire straits. It’s not merely the vanity that’s the problem. His undoing has been vanity that is divorced from his abilities and unaccompanied by executive skills or a well-developed knowledge of economics and international relations.

If Obama is ungracious (toward his predecessor), oblivious (to the desires of the voters), and frustrated (by the Palestinians’ and Israelis’ refusal to make a deal under his auspices), it is because he is unable to grasp that it’s not all about him. But the good news is that, as he reportedly did in the Senate, he may conclude that being president is really “so boring.” (He certainly doesn’t seem to be having fun, does he?) In that case, he might not really care all that much about trying to ingratiate himself with the voters. It very well might not be “worth it” in his mind to temper his views in order to get a second term. Freed from the burdens of the presidency he then might do what he loves best — write books and give speeches about himself. Or maybe he can give speeches about writing books about himself.

Jonathan Last’s must-read piece on Obama eschews exotic or fanciful explanations for the president’s mindset and precipitous fall to earth. It’s not anti-colonialism that motivates him, or imitation of his absent father that propelled him to the White House. He’s not a secret Muslim. He is, rather, an egomaniac, Last posits. He’s got a ton of evidence for this, mostly in the form of cringe-inducing statements from Obama’s own lips.

This raises a few critical issues. First, the vanity explanation accounts for his super-sensitivity to criticism. Nothing provokes Obama like doubts about his sincerity (the trigger for his belated outburst against Rev. Jeremiah Wright) or his wisdom. He has so many “enemies,” as he referred to Republicans — Fox News, the Chamber of Commerce, Rush Limbaugh, the news cycle, etc. — because he was so unaccustomed to criticism and so removed from rational evaluation of his abilities and positions. No wonder he is so angry at, and disdainful of, the American people. They are, unlike the sycophants who helped manufacture The Ego, no longer enamored of him. Nor is this president given to self-deprecating humor, for not even self-criticism in jest is tolerable.

Second, the colossal failure of his international endeavors, specifically his Muslim Outreach, is traceable to the faulty notion that one can construct a nation’s foreign policy based on the persona of its president. It sounds daft — why would the Israelis and Palestinian simply reach a deal because Obama has arrived on the scene? Why would the mullahs be enticed to curb their nuclear and hegemonic ambitions because he allegedly “understands” the Muslim World? The Ego has made hash out of foreign policy because he believes, as the saying goes, that the world revolves around him. He can’t imagine that rivals, foes, and allies are immune to his charms.

Most important, the vanity surplus would be less of a hindrance if he were an innovative policy wonk or a savvy analyst of the American electorate. This was the Bill Clinton model — an outsized ego and an utter lack of self-discipline, but an inventive mind able to zig-zag his way through choppy political waters. His intuitive understanding of his fellow citizens allowed him to maintain a bond with the American people. If Obama were as intellectually nimble as Clinton or as simpatico with the American people as Ronald Reagan or as steeped in common sense as Harry Truman, he wouldn’t be in such dire straits. It’s not merely the vanity that’s the problem. His undoing has been vanity that is divorced from his abilities and unaccompanied by executive skills or a well-developed knowledge of economics and international relations.

If Obama is ungracious (toward his predecessor), oblivious (to the desires of the voters), and frustrated (by the Palestinians’ and Israelis’ refusal to make a deal under his auspices), it is because he is unable to grasp that it’s not all about him. But the good news is that, as he reportedly did in the Senate, he may conclude that being president is really “so boring.” (He certainly doesn’t seem to be having fun, does he?) In that case, he might not really care all that much about trying to ingratiate himself with the voters. It very well might not be “worth it” in his mind to temper his views in order to get a second term. Freed from the burdens of the presidency he then might do what he loves best — write books and give speeches about himself. Or maybe he can give speeches about writing books about himself.

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Who Knew? A Landslide!

Remember the Democratic “comeback”? Well, forget it. Poof, things — just this weekend — took a turn for the worse, pronounces Politico:

More bad polls. More bad fundraising numbers. More dreary talk on the Sunday shows. It added up to a brutal weekend for Democrats, as the consensus among election analysts, already bearish on the party’s prospects, took a turn for the worse over the past 48 hours.

In the eyes of the experts, the House Democratic majority most likely won’t survive Nov. 2, with political handicappers expanding their predictions to envision the possibility of a Democratic wipeout.

Analyst Stu Rothenberg pegs the number of competitive seats at 100. Charlie Cook says it’s 97. Virtually all of those seats are held by Democrats.

OK, so maybe the comeback storyline was as contrived as the president’s attack on the Chamber of Commerce. It’s now time for the media to cover their bets, adjust their headlines, and make sure that they are not left with egg on their collective face when the votes pour in on Election Day.

Actually, the analysts have been steadily increasing their projections for weeks now, and the fundraising bonanza for Republican candidates has been evident for some time. But the election coverage wouldn’t be complete without the faux Democratic revival, swiftly followed by the “Oh my, it’s a landslide!” recognition.

Next thing you know, we’ll be hearing that Sarah Palin is a great judge of political talent, the electorate is fed up with big government, the Tea Party is the most effective grassroots political movement in decades, and Obama’s incapable of shouldering blame for his party’s demise. This is all terribly startling to those who’ve chosen to put their fingers in their ears and hum whenever signs appeared that the Obama era has been a debacle for the left. But election results as decisive as those expected in two weeks are hard to ignore, even for a media as Democratic-friendly as this. So now’s the time to get those final predictions in, which, wouldn’t you know it, are pretty much what conservative analysts have been saying for weeks, if not months.

Remember the Democratic “comeback”? Well, forget it. Poof, things — just this weekend — took a turn for the worse, pronounces Politico:

More bad polls. More bad fundraising numbers. More dreary talk on the Sunday shows. It added up to a brutal weekend for Democrats, as the consensus among election analysts, already bearish on the party’s prospects, took a turn for the worse over the past 48 hours.

In the eyes of the experts, the House Democratic majority most likely won’t survive Nov. 2, with political handicappers expanding their predictions to envision the possibility of a Democratic wipeout.

Analyst Stu Rothenberg pegs the number of competitive seats at 100. Charlie Cook says it’s 97. Virtually all of those seats are held by Democrats.

OK, so maybe the comeback storyline was as contrived as the president’s attack on the Chamber of Commerce. It’s now time for the media to cover their bets, adjust their headlines, and make sure that they are not left with egg on their collective face when the votes pour in on Election Day.

Actually, the analysts have been steadily increasing their projections for weeks now, and the fundraising bonanza for Republican candidates has been evident for some time. But the election coverage wouldn’t be complete without the faux Democratic revival, swiftly followed by the “Oh my, it’s a landslide!” recognition.

Next thing you know, we’ll be hearing that Sarah Palin is a great judge of political talent, the electorate is fed up with big government, the Tea Party is the most effective grassroots political movement in decades, and Obama’s incapable of shouldering blame for his party’s demise. This is all terribly startling to those who’ve chosen to put their fingers in their ears and hum whenever signs appeared that the Obama era has been a debacle for the left. But election results as decisive as those expected in two weeks are hard to ignore, even for a media as Democratic-friendly as this. So now’s the time to get those final predictions in, which, wouldn’t you know it, are pretty much what conservative analysts have been saying for weeks, if not months.

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Surge for New York GOP Portends National Disaster for Dems

If there were any doubt that politics as usual is out the window this fall, it is confirmed by the latest polls from New York, one of the most reliable Democratic strongholds in the country. New York Democrats have fielded an attractive and popular candidate for governor, Andrew Cuomo, while the state’s Republicans, who are in complete disarray, have put up a wacky though wealthy gadfly to oppose him. And of the two incumbent Democratic senators up for re-election, the one who is most vulnerable to a challenge, Kirsten Gillibrand, has drawn a lackluster opponent. But a funny thing is happening on the way to the Democrats’ November landslide. The polls are showing that the leads held by both Cuomo and Gillibrand are shrinking to the point where it is conceivable that both races could be competitive.

In the governor’s race, both Rasmussen and Quinnipiac show the gap between Cuomo and Carl Paladino to be narrowing. Quinnipiac showed Paladino trailing Cuomo by only six points among likely voters, while Rasmussen reported the Republican down by 16 points. In their previous polls tracking this matchup, the margins were respectively 30- and 29-point leads for Cuomo.

Over at the New York Times, analyst Nate Silver had claimed that these numbers were flawed because they didn’t add Conservative Party candidate Rick Lazio to the mix. But even he admits that the Quinnipiac poll is causing him to reconsider his assumptions about this race. While a more accurate survey would have mentioned Lazio, Silver’s assumption that many New Yorkers would stick with the man who lost the Republican primary last week in a historic landslide despite the backing of almost the entire Republican state establishment is absurd. That the Conservatives, whose original purpose was to hold the state’s liberal Republican party establishment accountable for ignoring the wishes of rank-and-file Republicans, would choose to torpedo a Conservative insurgent like Paladino by sticking with the dead-in-the-water Lazio speaks volumes about their own irrelevance. Far from sabotaging Paladino, as Silver seems to think a Lazio candidacy would, all it might accomplish is to lose the Conservatives their place on the state ballot for the next four years, something that would happen if Lazio got fewer than 50,000 votes in November.

Meanwhile, just as astounding is the Rasmussen poll showing Republican Joseph DioGuardi trailing Gillibrand by only 10 points. Previous surveys had Gillibrand up by anywhere from 15 to 25 points. DioGuardi has little name recognition and even less money. But Gillibrand is so weak that even the former Westchester congressman now must be given a chance, albeit a slim one, to knock her off.

But though liberal writers like Silver are still trying to rationalize the tsunami of voter discontent that is giving a Tea Party favorite like Paladino and a fiscal conservative like DioGuardi a chance, what is happening can no longer be ignored. Both Cuomo and Gillibrand must still be considered strong favorites, but if Republicans are surging in a state like New York, this midterm election may turn out far worse than imagined for the Democrats and the liberal agenda pursued by President Obama. Demonizing the Tea Party and publicizing opposition research about a loose cannon like Paladino may seem like an effective way to stem the GOP tide, but Democrats must understand that the rules have changed. As the New York polls indicate, voter anger about spending, entitlements, and taxes have transformed 2010 from an ordinary midterm correction to what may turn out to be a Republican tidal wave.

If there were any doubt that politics as usual is out the window this fall, it is confirmed by the latest polls from New York, one of the most reliable Democratic strongholds in the country. New York Democrats have fielded an attractive and popular candidate for governor, Andrew Cuomo, while the state’s Republicans, who are in complete disarray, have put up a wacky though wealthy gadfly to oppose him. And of the two incumbent Democratic senators up for re-election, the one who is most vulnerable to a challenge, Kirsten Gillibrand, has drawn a lackluster opponent. But a funny thing is happening on the way to the Democrats’ November landslide. The polls are showing that the leads held by both Cuomo and Gillibrand are shrinking to the point where it is conceivable that both races could be competitive.

In the governor’s race, both Rasmussen and Quinnipiac show the gap between Cuomo and Carl Paladino to be narrowing. Quinnipiac showed Paladino trailing Cuomo by only six points among likely voters, while Rasmussen reported the Republican down by 16 points. In their previous polls tracking this matchup, the margins were respectively 30- and 29-point leads for Cuomo.

Over at the New York Times, analyst Nate Silver had claimed that these numbers were flawed because they didn’t add Conservative Party candidate Rick Lazio to the mix. But even he admits that the Quinnipiac poll is causing him to reconsider his assumptions about this race. While a more accurate survey would have mentioned Lazio, Silver’s assumption that many New Yorkers would stick with the man who lost the Republican primary last week in a historic landslide despite the backing of almost the entire Republican state establishment is absurd. That the Conservatives, whose original purpose was to hold the state’s liberal Republican party establishment accountable for ignoring the wishes of rank-and-file Republicans, would choose to torpedo a Conservative insurgent like Paladino by sticking with the dead-in-the-water Lazio speaks volumes about their own irrelevance. Far from sabotaging Paladino, as Silver seems to think a Lazio candidacy would, all it might accomplish is to lose the Conservatives their place on the state ballot for the next four years, something that would happen if Lazio got fewer than 50,000 votes in November.

Meanwhile, just as astounding is the Rasmussen poll showing Republican Joseph DioGuardi trailing Gillibrand by only 10 points. Previous surveys had Gillibrand up by anywhere from 15 to 25 points. DioGuardi has little name recognition and even less money. But Gillibrand is so weak that even the former Westchester congressman now must be given a chance, albeit a slim one, to knock her off.

But though liberal writers like Silver are still trying to rationalize the tsunami of voter discontent that is giving a Tea Party favorite like Paladino and a fiscal conservative like DioGuardi a chance, what is happening can no longer be ignored. Both Cuomo and Gillibrand must still be considered strong favorites, but if Republicans are surging in a state like New York, this midterm election may turn out far worse than imagined for the Democrats and the liberal agenda pursued by President Obama. Demonizing the Tea Party and publicizing opposition research about a loose cannon like Paladino may seem like an effective way to stem the GOP tide, but Democrats must understand that the rules have changed. As the New York polls indicate, voter anger about spending, entitlements, and taxes have transformed 2010 from an ordinary midterm correction to what may turn out to be a Republican tidal wave.

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Obama’s Grave 9/11 Offense

If Barack Obama were running in the November election, the sentence revealed today from the president’s interview with Woodward — “We can absorb a terrorist attack. We’ll do everything we can to prevent it, but even a 9/11, even the biggest attack ever . . . we absorbed it and we are stronger” — would guarantee his defeat and his removal from Washington in a condition of ignominy. It would go down in the annals of history as the most damaging election-eve gaffe of all time. It won’t be that, because it’s 2010, not 2012. But what does it say about the president who said it?

On the one hand, Obama is right in the narrowest sense. We will not collapse into a heap. But is it conceivable he has forgotten that Flight 93 was clearly aiming for Washington, target unknowable but conceivably intended for the Capitol or the White House? The decapitation or partial decapitation of our government we could “absorb,” if by absorb you mean suffer a national catastrophe the recovery from which would have taken decades. That actually nearly happened. Another plane hit the Pentagon, don’t forget, and had it landed 75 feet further west and smashed directly into the building’s core, it’s likely another few thousand Americans would have perished, including military personnel critical to whatever effort would have had to be made to answer the attack.

And this is to say nothing of the cavalier claim that we came out of 9/11 “stronger.” Why? Because we all sang and held hands and cried together? That was nice, and moving, and powerful. Stronger, though, it did not make us. It made us aware of our commonality as Americans, which is a good thing, but good things aren’t necessarily strengthening things, and that unity was astonishingly short-lived.

No, ask the families of the 3,000 who perished whether they are stronger, whether their “absorption” of our national wound is something they have recovered from, or will ever recover from. No nation that has suffered terrorism’s assaults is the stronger for having done so. That is why terrorism is such a nefarious weapon — because it is designed to create wounds that can never heal in the body politic in the form of a sense of defenselessness, or insecurity, or loss, or impotent rage. Israel is not stronger for the second intifada; it is stronger, perhaps, because it defeated the second intifada, but the cost of even having to fight it was nightmarishly high.

The words Obama speaks are profoundly worrying because the issue after 9/11 is not that there might be a terrorist attack like 9/11, but whether it might be followed by something much, much worse — the proverbial “nuke in a suitcase” scenario. It is to prevent such an occurrence that we have spent untold billions in public and private dollars to secure the homeland, that we strip ourselves of shoes and belt and jacket and stand in hour-long lines at airports for the privilege of boarding a plane, that we can no longer comfortably go in and out of public buildings, public facilities, ballparks, you name it. None of this makes us stronger. It makes us less free. That loss of freedom is necessary, but it is a tragedy and a crime.

One doesn’t know the specific context in which the president spoke, so it would hard to analogize his words to statements of urgency he has made about other matters he seems certain we cannot absorb — like, say, a continuation of the current health-care system, or a failure to extend unemployment benefits, or the dire necessity for his stimulus package. Once again, we are left with the impression of a leader who finds national security something from which he can stand apart and think as an analyst rather than as the man on the watch, the man whose chief job it is to ensure not that we absorb an attack but that an attack never occur while he stands guard.

If Barack Obama were running in the November election, the sentence revealed today from the president’s interview with Woodward — “We can absorb a terrorist attack. We’ll do everything we can to prevent it, but even a 9/11, even the biggest attack ever . . . we absorbed it and we are stronger” — would guarantee his defeat and his removal from Washington in a condition of ignominy. It would go down in the annals of history as the most damaging election-eve gaffe of all time. It won’t be that, because it’s 2010, not 2012. But what does it say about the president who said it?

On the one hand, Obama is right in the narrowest sense. We will not collapse into a heap. But is it conceivable he has forgotten that Flight 93 was clearly aiming for Washington, target unknowable but conceivably intended for the Capitol or the White House? The decapitation or partial decapitation of our government we could “absorb,” if by absorb you mean suffer a national catastrophe the recovery from which would have taken decades. That actually nearly happened. Another plane hit the Pentagon, don’t forget, and had it landed 75 feet further west and smashed directly into the building’s core, it’s likely another few thousand Americans would have perished, including military personnel critical to whatever effort would have had to be made to answer the attack.

And this is to say nothing of the cavalier claim that we came out of 9/11 “stronger.” Why? Because we all sang and held hands and cried together? That was nice, and moving, and powerful. Stronger, though, it did not make us. It made us aware of our commonality as Americans, which is a good thing, but good things aren’t necessarily strengthening things, and that unity was astonishingly short-lived.

No, ask the families of the 3,000 who perished whether they are stronger, whether their “absorption” of our national wound is something they have recovered from, or will ever recover from. No nation that has suffered terrorism’s assaults is the stronger for having done so. That is why terrorism is such a nefarious weapon — because it is designed to create wounds that can never heal in the body politic in the form of a sense of defenselessness, or insecurity, or loss, or impotent rage. Israel is not stronger for the second intifada; it is stronger, perhaps, because it defeated the second intifada, but the cost of even having to fight it was nightmarishly high.

The words Obama speaks are profoundly worrying because the issue after 9/11 is not that there might be a terrorist attack like 9/11, but whether it might be followed by something much, much worse — the proverbial “nuke in a suitcase” scenario. It is to prevent such an occurrence that we have spent untold billions in public and private dollars to secure the homeland, that we strip ourselves of shoes and belt and jacket and stand in hour-long lines at airports for the privilege of boarding a plane, that we can no longer comfortably go in and out of public buildings, public facilities, ballparks, you name it. None of this makes us stronger. It makes us less free. That loss of freedom is necessary, but it is a tragedy and a crime.

One doesn’t know the specific context in which the president spoke, so it would hard to analogize his words to statements of urgency he has made about other matters he seems certain we cannot absorb — like, say, a continuation of the current health-care system, or a failure to extend unemployment benefits, or the dire necessity for his stimulus package. Once again, we are left with the impression of a leader who finds national security something from which he can stand apart and think as an analyst rather than as the man on the watch, the man whose chief job it is to ensure not that we absorb an attack but that an attack never occur while he stands guard.

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Spy Talk Illustrates Unreality of Mideast Talks

The debate over how the Israeli government will deal with the expiration of its six-month settlement freeze in the West Bank got stranger yesterday when both the New York Times and Politico published stories alleging that Jerusalem had asked the United States whether it would free convicted spy Jonathan Pollard in exchange for a freeze in settlements. According to the Times’s Isabel Kershner, such a deal would help Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sell a renewal of the freeze to his coalition partners. Pollard’s fate was discussed in 1998 during the negotiations between Netanyahu and Bill Clinton over the Wye Plantation Agreement, one of the many interim agreements that stemmed from the failed Oslo peace process. At that time, the U.S. intelligence community revolted at the idea of freeing Pollard and wound up spiking the proposal.

The anonymous sources for the current reports don’t seem to be based on anything more than rumination inside the prime minister’s bureau, but Israel’s interest in springing Pollard, an American Jew who has spent the last 25 years in prison for spying for the Israelis while he served as a U.S. Navy analyst, is a longstanding issue. While Pollard was guilty of a very serious crime and deserved punishment, his sentence was extremely harsh when compared with the treatment of others who spied here on behalf of allies. Some American Jews have foolishly lionized Pollard’s espionage, which did great harm to Israel and its alliance with the United States. It’s not entirely clear whether the reason Pollard is still in jail is due to his own refusal to express contrition for his actions or the continued intransigence of the American intelligence community. Either way, Pollard’s chances for clemency have long been considered remote. Yet, despite the fact that the heavy-handed tactics of some of his supporters alienated many who might otherwise have been sympathetic to Pollard’s plight and further undermined the chances of successful appeals for his release, there is still considerable sympathy for Pollard in Israel, where he is seen as a man who was exploited and then abandoned by his handlers.

But injecting Pollard into the delicate negotiations with the Obama administration and the Palestinian Authority is a tactic of questionable utility for Netanyahu. Though the idea that Pollard appears to be destined to rot in jail forever while those who spied here for hostile nations receive light sentences or are exchanged after virtually no time in prison strikes many Israelis as unjust, buying his freedom with a costly policy concession cannot be considered wise statecraft. Nor is it clear that Pollard’s release would do much to comfort Israeli right-wingers who are upset about a settlement freeze.

If anything, the floating of Pollard’s name in connection with the peace talks illustrates the lack of seriousness of these negotiations. The reality of Palestinian politics and the strength of Hamas mean there is no chance that the Palestinian Authority will sign any peace agreement, and both Abbas and Netanyahu are merely trying to act in such a manner as to evade blame for the eventual failure of the talks. So instead of serious give and take about final-status issues, we are hearing about tangential topics such as Pollard or Palestinian threats to walk out over the failure of Israeli to concede its position in the territories even before the talks begin. Whether or not the spy-exchange proposal is genuine, the discussion of such an eventuality says a lot more about the futility of President Obama’s ill-considered push for talks at a time when progress is virtually impossible than it does about Pollard’s fate.

The debate over how the Israeli government will deal with the expiration of its six-month settlement freeze in the West Bank got stranger yesterday when both the New York Times and Politico published stories alleging that Jerusalem had asked the United States whether it would free convicted spy Jonathan Pollard in exchange for a freeze in settlements. According to the Times’s Isabel Kershner, such a deal would help Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sell a renewal of the freeze to his coalition partners. Pollard’s fate was discussed in 1998 during the negotiations between Netanyahu and Bill Clinton over the Wye Plantation Agreement, one of the many interim agreements that stemmed from the failed Oslo peace process. At that time, the U.S. intelligence community revolted at the idea of freeing Pollard and wound up spiking the proposal.

The anonymous sources for the current reports don’t seem to be based on anything more than rumination inside the prime minister’s bureau, but Israel’s interest in springing Pollard, an American Jew who has spent the last 25 years in prison for spying for the Israelis while he served as a U.S. Navy analyst, is a longstanding issue. While Pollard was guilty of a very serious crime and deserved punishment, his sentence was extremely harsh when compared with the treatment of others who spied here on behalf of allies. Some American Jews have foolishly lionized Pollard’s espionage, which did great harm to Israel and its alliance with the United States. It’s not entirely clear whether the reason Pollard is still in jail is due to his own refusal to express contrition for his actions or the continued intransigence of the American intelligence community. Either way, Pollard’s chances for clemency have long been considered remote. Yet, despite the fact that the heavy-handed tactics of some of his supporters alienated many who might otherwise have been sympathetic to Pollard’s plight and further undermined the chances of successful appeals for his release, there is still considerable sympathy for Pollard in Israel, where he is seen as a man who was exploited and then abandoned by his handlers.

But injecting Pollard into the delicate negotiations with the Obama administration and the Palestinian Authority is a tactic of questionable utility for Netanyahu. Though the idea that Pollard appears to be destined to rot in jail forever while those who spied here for hostile nations receive light sentences or are exchanged after virtually no time in prison strikes many Israelis as unjust, buying his freedom with a costly policy concession cannot be considered wise statecraft. Nor is it clear that Pollard’s release would do much to comfort Israeli right-wingers who are upset about a settlement freeze.

If anything, the floating of Pollard’s name in connection with the peace talks illustrates the lack of seriousness of these negotiations. The reality of Palestinian politics and the strength of Hamas mean there is no chance that the Palestinian Authority will sign any peace agreement, and both Abbas and Netanyahu are merely trying to act in such a manner as to evade blame for the eventual failure of the talks. So instead of serious give and take about final-status issues, we are hearing about tangential topics such as Pollard or Palestinian threats to walk out over the failure of Israeli to concede its position in the territories even before the talks begin. Whether or not the spy-exchange proposal is genuine, the discussion of such an eventuality says a lot more about the futility of President Obama’s ill-considered push for talks at a time when progress is virtually impossible than it does about Pollard’s fate.

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The Other Haley

Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour, head of the Republican Governors Association and making his way onto the list of 2012 presidential contenders, touts the Tea Party–GOP big tent:

On the issues foremost in voters’ minds—the economy, jobs, spending, taxes, debt and deficits—the overwhelming majority of tea party voters and Republican voters are in strong agreement.

That is why it was tremendously important for Republican prospects in the 2010 elections that tea partiers did not run as independents or third-party candidates. To do so would have split the votes of those who know the Obama-Pelosi-Reid policies don’t work and are hurting our economy.

Every Republican should be pleased that these tea party candidates chose to run in our primaries. In the vast majority of cases, their participation was welcomed, even cultivated, by GOP leaders—and rightly so.

In other words, there may be differences in tone and style, and not all Tea Party candidates are ready for prime time, but the Republican Party has sidestepped the fissure that the chattering class promised was coming. Barbour is also canny enough to tell Beltway Republicans to butt out of primaries — and Lisa Murkowski not to let the door hit her on the way out of the Senate leadership team. (“We have no right whatsoever to substitute our will or judgment for that of the voters. Sen. Lisa Murkowski lost the GOP primary in Alaska to Joe Miller. Now she’s launched a write-in campaign to get re-elected. There is no excuse for this campaign, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell was right to demand her resignation from the GOP leadership.”)

Barbour is not so subtly making the point that it is not in the interests of either establishment GOP figures or the Tea Parties (or members of the former seeking to ingratiate themselves with the latter) to play up the media-created antagonism between the two groups. In fact, the two groups are overlapping — many Tea Partiers are Republicans, the movement’s darling was the VP nominee in 2008, and its greatest salesmen are well-known conservative politicians and media figures.

Barbour has been an uber-competent governor, a successful leader of the RGA, and a savvy analyst of the GOP’s travails and resurgence. Whether he finally decides to run for president and can prove successful remains to be seen. But he’s not doing himself any harm with commonsense calls for unity and a firm restatement of conservatives’ agenda (“creating jobs instead of more massive government, controlling spending and not raising taxes, and delaying and then repealing ObamaCare”).

Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour, head of the Republican Governors Association and making his way onto the list of 2012 presidential contenders, touts the Tea Party–GOP big tent:

On the issues foremost in voters’ minds—the economy, jobs, spending, taxes, debt and deficits—the overwhelming majority of tea party voters and Republican voters are in strong agreement.

That is why it was tremendously important for Republican prospects in the 2010 elections that tea partiers did not run as independents or third-party candidates. To do so would have split the votes of those who know the Obama-Pelosi-Reid policies don’t work and are hurting our economy.

Every Republican should be pleased that these tea party candidates chose to run in our primaries. In the vast majority of cases, their participation was welcomed, even cultivated, by GOP leaders—and rightly so.

In other words, there may be differences in tone and style, and not all Tea Party candidates are ready for prime time, but the Republican Party has sidestepped the fissure that the chattering class promised was coming. Barbour is also canny enough to tell Beltway Republicans to butt out of primaries — and Lisa Murkowski not to let the door hit her on the way out of the Senate leadership team. (“We have no right whatsoever to substitute our will or judgment for that of the voters. Sen. Lisa Murkowski lost the GOP primary in Alaska to Joe Miller. Now she’s launched a write-in campaign to get re-elected. There is no excuse for this campaign, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell was right to demand her resignation from the GOP leadership.”)

Barbour is not so subtly making the point that it is not in the interests of either establishment GOP figures or the Tea Parties (or members of the former seeking to ingratiate themselves with the latter) to play up the media-created antagonism between the two groups. In fact, the two groups are overlapping — many Tea Partiers are Republicans, the movement’s darling was the VP nominee in 2008, and its greatest salesmen are well-known conservative politicians and media figures.

Barbour has been an uber-competent governor, a successful leader of the RGA, and a savvy analyst of the GOP’s travails and resurgence. Whether he finally decides to run for president and can prove successful remains to be seen. But he’s not doing himself any harm with commonsense calls for unity and a firm restatement of conservatives’ agenda (“creating jobs instead of more massive government, controlling spending and not raising taxes, and delaying and then repealing ObamaCare”).

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Pat Caddell’s Devastating Critique

In a fascinating interview with Robert Costa, Democratic pollster and analyst Pat Caddell zeroes in on the Democrats’ impending doom (“the general outcome is baked”) and on Obama’s failure to live up to expectations (“The killer in American politics is disappointment. When you are elected on expectations, and you fail to meet them, your decline steepens”). But his most cogent analysis focuses on Obama’s base. He writes:

The people who own the party — George Soros, the Center for American Progress, the public-employee union bosses, rich folks flying private jets to “ideas festivals” in Aspen — they’re Obama’s base.

Yowser. He omitted only the liberal media, but I suppose they too — along with young people, old people, Hispanics, working- and middle-class whites, and even 42 percent of Jews — have grown disillusioned as well.

It is debatable whether the puny base is the result of Obama’s extreme agenda or the reason it is so extreme. If you believe the former, Obama has traveled so far left that he’s lost virtually everyone else in the Democratic coalition and turned off independents as well. But if you follow Caddell’s implication (that this is the group that “owns” the party), Obama takes these steps because that’s what his core constituency wants. Why persist in supporting the repeal of the Bush tax cuts? These groups wouldn’t accept anything less. Why install controversial figures by recess appointment (e.g. Craig Becker, Donald Berwick)? Well, these are the sorts of appointees that give his “base” reassurance. Why continue to push climate change regulation and anti-business legislation in the midst of a recession? You got it — give the base what it wants.

Both phenomena are likely at work. Obama is inclined to go left. He thereby withers his base, increasing the clout of these slivers of the electorate. And he feels compelled to keep them happy, given that his political standing is so fragile.

Obama now is truly in a tough spot, one of his own making, I will grant you. Does he reposition to try to recapture his lost supporters, or stick with the grab bag of interest groups that encourage his most destructive inclinations? Hard to say. At this point, I would wager that not even Obama or his closest advisers have figured out what to do.

In a fascinating interview with Robert Costa, Democratic pollster and analyst Pat Caddell zeroes in on the Democrats’ impending doom (“the general outcome is baked”) and on Obama’s failure to live up to expectations (“The killer in American politics is disappointment. When you are elected on expectations, and you fail to meet them, your decline steepens”). But his most cogent analysis focuses on Obama’s base. He writes:

The people who own the party — George Soros, the Center for American Progress, the public-employee union bosses, rich folks flying private jets to “ideas festivals” in Aspen — they’re Obama’s base.

Yowser. He omitted only the liberal media, but I suppose they too — along with young people, old people, Hispanics, working- and middle-class whites, and even 42 percent of Jews — have grown disillusioned as well.

It is debatable whether the puny base is the result of Obama’s extreme agenda or the reason it is so extreme. If you believe the former, Obama has traveled so far left that he’s lost virtually everyone else in the Democratic coalition and turned off independents as well. But if you follow Caddell’s implication (that this is the group that “owns” the party), Obama takes these steps because that’s what his core constituency wants. Why persist in supporting the repeal of the Bush tax cuts? These groups wouldn’t accept anything less. Why install controversial figures by recess appointment (e.g. Craig Becker, Donald Berwick)? Well, these are the sorts of appointees that give his “base” reassurance. Why continue to push climate change regulation and anti-business legislation in the midst of a recession? You got it — give the base what it wants.

Both phenomena are likely at work. Obama is inclined to go left. He thereby withers his base, increasing the clout of these slivers of the electorate. And he feels compelled to keep them happy, given that his political standing is so fragile.

Obama now is truly in a tough spot, one of his own making, I will grant you. Does he reposition to try to recapture his lost supporters, or stick with the grab bag of interest groups that encourage his most destructive inclinations? Hard to say. At this point, I would wager that not even Obama or his closest advisers have figured out what to do.

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Pack It Up, Inspector Javert

Not only witty conservative bloggers are calling for Patrick Fitzgerald to hang it up. In the wake of Blago’s largely hung jury, it has dawned on many more that the prosecutor is more persecutor and a menace to the justice system. The Wall Street Journal reminds us of Fitzgerald’s presser two years ago:

Then, the U.S. Attorney spoke of “what we can only describe as a political corruption crime spree” and accused Blagojevich of “the most appalling conduct” that would have “Lincoln roll over in his grave.” It was “a truly new low,” Mr. Fitzgerald told the world. … As the former Justice Department lawyer Victoria Toensing noted in these pages at the time, Mr. Fitzgerald violated prosecutorial ethics by speaking “beyond the four corners of the complaint,” to use the criminal law vernacular for the facts at issue, thus possibly tainting the jury pool.

As the WSJ editors point out, this is not an isolated occurrence. There is a pattern at work here — smear and intimidate, throw whatever charges you can at the vilified defendant, and see what the jury will buy:

At a 2005 press conference, Mr. Fitzgerald implied that Mr. Libby had obstructed his investigation into who leaked the former CIA analyst’s name, even though he knew from the start that the real “leaker” was Richard Armitage.

Then there was the railroading of Conrad Black, the conservative newspaper baron who was convicted in 2007 using the infinitely malleable “honest services” fraud law. The Supreme Court junked much of that law earlier this year, leading to Mr. Black’s release from prison. The jury had earlier dismissed nine of the 13 charges Mr. Fitzgerald filed.

Fitzgerald is lacking in the very qualities we must demand of prosecutors: discretion and restraint. The Washington Post editors recognize this in their well-taken objection to Blago’s retrial:

Mr. Fitzgerald is entitled under the law to drag the ex-governor back into court. He has the resources to do so and the motivation: The Blagojevich brand of politics is repugnant, beyond any doubt. It perverts democracy and puts moneyed interests over the common good. But the prosecutor took his shot and lost. He should stand down before crossing another fine line — the one that separates prosecution from persecution.

Because Fitzgerald can’t or won’t recognize the difference between the two, it’s time for him to pack it in, albeit much too late for Scooter Libby and Conrad Black. One final thought: had the extent of Fitzgerald’s abuse of power been clear at the time, would President Bush have withheld a full pardon from Libby? We don’t know, but all this is further evidence of the need to rethink the notion of “special prosecutors,” who by definition are freed from the restraints that prevent ordinary prosecutors from running amok and abusing their power.

Not only witty conservative bloggers are calling for Patrick Fitzgerald to hang it up. In the wake of Blago’s largely hung jury, it has dawned on many more that the prosecutor is more persecutor and a menace to the justice system. The Wall Street Journal reminds us of Fitzgerald’s presser two years ago:

Then, the U.S. Attorney spoke of “what we can only describe as a political corruption crime spree” and accused Blagojevich of “the most appalling conduct” that would have “Lincoln roll over in his grave.” It was “a truly new low,” Mr. Fitzgerald told the world. … As the former Justice Department lawyer Victoria Toensing noted in these pages at the time, Mr. Fitzgerald violated prosecutorial ethics by speaking “beyond the four corners of the complaint,” to use the criminal law vernacular for the facts at issue, thus possibly tainting the jury pool.

As the WSJ editors point out, this is not an isolated occurrence. There is a pattern at work here — smear and intimidate, throw whatever charges you can at the vilified defendant, and see what the jury will buy:

At a 2005 press conference, Mr. Fitzgerald implied that Mr. Libby had obstructed his investigation into who leaked the former CIA analyst’s name, even though he knew from the start that the real “leaker” was Richard Armitage.

Then there was the railroading of Conrad Black, the conservative newspaper baron who was convicted in 2007 using the infinitely malleable “honest services” fraud law. The Supreme Court junked much of that law earlier this year, leading to Mr. Black’s release from prison. The jury had earlier dismissed nine of the 13 charges Mr. Fitzgerald filed.

Fitzgerald is lacking in the very qualities we must demand of prosecutors: discretion and restraint. The Washington Post editors recognize this in their well-taken objection to Blago’s retrial:

Mr. Fitzgerald is entitled under the law to drag the ex-governor back into court. He has the resources to do so and the motivation: The Blagojevich brand of politics is repugnant, beyond any doubt. It perverts democracy and puts moneyed interests over the common good. But the prosecutor took his shot and lost. He should stand down before crossing another fine line — the one that separates prosecution from persecution.

Because Fitzgerald can’t or won’t recognize the difference between the two, it’s time for him to pack it in, albeit much too late for Scooter Libby and Conrad Black. One final thought: had the extent of Fitzgerald’s abuse of power been clear at the time, would President Bush have withheld a full pardon from Libby? We don’t know, but all this is further evidence of the need to rethink the notion of “special prosecutors,” who by definition are freed from the restraints that prevent ordinary prosecutors from running amok and abusing their power.

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Public Gets an “A” in Economics

As Pete pointed out, a large majority of Americans think the economy is getting worse. They aren’t simply being intransigent in refusing to buy the administration’s assurances that the recovery is in full swing. It turns out they have a pretty good sense of where the economy is headed. This report explains:

The number of U.S. workers filing new claims for jobless benefits unexpectedly rose last week to the highest level in close to six months, the latest evidence the economy’s recovery is faltering.  Thursday’s data came two days after the Federal Reserve spooked investors by downgrading its assessment of the economy. The increase in jobless claims added to worries in the stock market, which has failed to make any gains this year.

The number of new claims for state unemployment insurance rose by 2,000 to 484,000 in the week ended August 7, the second straight increase, the Labor Department said. Economists had expected claims to edge down to 469,000.

“This is not a good number,” said John Brady, an analyst at MF Global in Chicago. “Claims are going the wrong way. That has the market concerned.”

U.S. stocks closed down for a third straight day, pressured by the data and a disappointing revenue forecast from tech bellwether Cisco Systems Inc.

Obama’s happy talk about the recovery flies in the face of both Americans’ personal experience and widely available economic information. (“Data for the United States has been decidedly weak over the past couple of months, with private-sector job growth lagging expectations and the unemployment rate stuck at 9.5 percent. That has fed concerns the economy could be at risk of a renewed recession or face a debilitating bout of deflation as the bleak jobs market pressures incomes and prices.”) As the economy sags and public confidence does as well, the president’s insistence that things are looking up further erodes his credibility.

He keeps saying things that simply aren’t so. The public is no longer willing to extend him the benefit of the doubt and will take its wrath out on the president’s party in less than three months. Perhaps then the administration will acknowledge Obamanomics has failed and try a different approach to restoring growth and job creation.

As Pete pointed out, a large majority of Americans think the economy is getting worse. They aren’t simply being intransigent in refusing to buy the administration’s assurances that the recovery is in full swing. It turns out they have a pretty good sense of where the economy is headed. This report explains:

The number of U.S. workers filing new claims for jobless benefits unexpectedly rose last week to the highest level in close to six months, the latest evidence the economy’s recovery is faltering.  Thursday’s data came two days after the Federal Reserve spooked investors by downgrading its assessment of the economy. The increase in jobless claims added to worries in the stock market, which has failed to make any gains this year.

The number of new claims for state unemployment insurance rose by 2,000 to 484,000 in the week ended August 7, the second straight increase, the Labor Department said. Economists had expected claims to edge down to 469,000.

“This is not a good number,” said John Brady, an analyst at MF Global in Chicago. “Claims are going the wrong way. That has the market concerned.”

U.S. stocks closed down for a third straight day, pressured by the data and a disappointing revenue forecast from tech bellwether Cisco Systems Inc.

Obama’s happy talk about the recovery flies in the face of both Americans’ personal experience and widely available economic information. (“Data for the United States has been decidedly weak over the past couple of months, with private-sector job growth lagging expectations and the unemployment rate stuck at 9.5 percent. That has fed concerns the economy could be at risk of a renewed recession or face a debilitating bout of deflation as the bleak jobs market pressures incomes and prices.”) As the economy sags and public confidence does as well, the president’s insistence that things are looking up further erodes his credibility.

He keeps saying things that simply aren’t so. The public is no longer willing to extend him the benefit of the doubt and will take its wrath out on the president’s party in less than three months. Perhaps then the administration will acknowledge Obamanomics has failed and try a different approach to restoring growth and job creation.

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Re: Palestinian Democracy Requires Palestinian Democrats

Jonathan, you are undoubtedly correct that the current culture of Palestinian politics makes a peaceful Palestinian state highly unlikely. In the last 10 years, the peace-partner Palestinians have rejected three formal offers of a state – each of them on all of Gaza and substantially all of the West Bank, with a capital in Jerusalem. Call them the “Three Noes” – and it is not clear what part of them remains to be understood. A society without a single leader ready to endorse a two-state solution, if it requires recognition of a Jewish state with defensible borders, is not ready to live side by side in peace.

You are correct that more than elections are required for a democratic state, but the inability of the Palestinian Authority to fulfill even the most elementary requirement of such a state is nevertheless noteworthy. The PA has managed only one presidential election in the last 14 years – in 2005, two months after Yasser Arafat’s death, in which the winner (Arafat’s second-in-command) ran essentially unopposed. The 2006 legislative election was won by Hamas — the terrorist group the PA committed in 2003 to dismantle immediately as part of the Roadmap. In 2009, the PA postponed the scheduled presidential election for a year – and then called it off altogether. This month’s local elections, already boycotted by Hamas, were called off because Fatah said it needed first to resolve which party members would run; in other words, before they could hold an election, they first needed to decide who would win it.

Reuters reported yesterday that the nominal Palestinian president, about to begin the 68th month of his 48-month term, criticized the latest electoral cancellation:

“If what happened is allowed to pass, I tell you that this movement must say goodbye,” [an official who attended the Fatah meeting] quoted Abbas as saying, in remarks which were omitted from a broadcast version of the speech. …

“Even with competition, we managed to fail,” said Abbas, who had been on an official visit to Washington at the time of the cancellation. He expressed anger at being woken up early so he could order his cabinet in Ramallah to postpone the vote.

It is a nearly perfect picture of the peace process: the unelected Palestinian president, at the White House to discuss a peace agreement he has no power to implement (even assuming there is one he would actually sign), cranky at being woken up early to cancel elections once again.

A recent poll shows increasing popularity of Hamas in the West Bank, and a Palestinian analyst reports that it “will be difficult if not impossible to hold any other legislative or presidential elections in the foreseeable future.”  When you cannot even schedule an election, you are not ready for a state.

Jonathan, you are undoubtedly correct that the current culture of Palestinian politics makes a peaceful Palestinian state highly unlikely. In the last 10 years, the peace-partner Palestinians have rejected three formal offers of a state – each of them on all of Gaza and substantially all of the West Bank, with a capital in Jerusalem. Call them the “Three Noes” – and it is not clear what part of them remains to be understood. A society without a single leader ready to endorse a two-state solution, if it requires recognition of a Jewish state with defensible borders, is not ready to live side by side in peace.

You are correct that more than elections are required for a democratic state, but the inability of the Palestinian Authority to fulfill even the most elementary requirement of such a state is nevertheless noteworthy. The PA has managed only one presidential election in the last 14 years – in 2005, two months after Yasser Arafat’s death, in which the winner (Arafat’s second-in-command) ran essentially unopposed. The 2006 legislative election was won by Hamas — the terrorist group the PA committed in 2003 to dismantle immediately as part of the Roadmap. In 2009, the PA postponed the scheduled presidential election for a year – and then called it off altogether. This month’s local elections, already boycotted by Hamas, were called off because Fatah said it needed first to resolve which party members would run; in other words, before they could hold an election, they first needed to decide who would win it.

Reuters reported yesterday that the nominal Palestinian president, about to begin the 68th month of his 48-month term, criticized the latest electoral cancellation:

“If what happened is allowed to pass, I tell you that this movement must say goodbye,” [an official who attended the Fatah meeting] quoted Abbas as saying, in remarks which were omitted from a broadcast version of the speech. …

“Even with competition, we managed to fail,” said Abbas, who had been on an official visit to Washington at the time of the cancellation. He expressed anger at being woken up early so he could order his cabinet in Ramallah to postpone the vote.

It is a nearly perfect picture of the peace process: the unelected Palestinian president, at the White House to discuss a peace agreement he has no power to implement (even assuming there is one he would actually sign), cranky at being woken up early to cancel elections once again.

A recent poll shows increasing popularity of Hamas in the West Bank, and a Palestinian analyst reports that it “will be difficult if not impossible to hold any other legislative or presidential elections in the foreseeable future.”  When you cannot even schedule an election, you are not ready for a state.

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Religious Intolerance in the Middle East: Where Should We Focus?

In the Washington Post‘s On Faith blog, Menachem Rosensaft looks at Morocco’s expulsion of  Christian missionaries who were accused of proselytizing at a Moroccan orphanage earlier this year. As Rosensaft explains:

A group of Republican members of Congress have taken up the cause of the expelled Christian missionaries, which is, of course, their right. Reps. Frank Wolf (R-Va.), Joseph Pitts (R-Pa.), Chris Smith (R-N.J.), Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) and Anh Cao (R-La.) recently convened a [briefing] at which they urged Morocco to allow the deportees to return.

At the [briefing], some of the rhetoric turned ugly. Rep. Wolf called for the suspension of U.S. foreign aid to Morocco and compared the Moroccan government to the repressive Ceaucescu regime in Romania during the 1980′s. Rep. Pitts went further and likened the measures taken by the Moroccan authorities to “some of the tactics used by the Nazis.”

Rosensaft provides some much-needed perspective on the incident. Morocco, as he observes, is the least of our concerns when it comes to suppression of religious freedom in the Middle East:

The Kingdom of Morocco is a Muslim nation where Jews and Christian are able to practice their religions openly. Synagogues and churches stand alongside mosques, and the Moroccan government is a rare beacon of tolerance in an otherwise mostly religiously xenophobic Muslim world. Both King Muhammed VI and his late father, King Hassan, have publicly placed the Moroccan Jewish community under royal protection. As Rabbi Marc Schneier, vice president of the World Jewish Congress, reminds us, “during World War II, when Morocco was ruled by the anti-Semitic Vichy government, King Muhammed V prevented the deportation of Jews from Morocco .” Moroccan law simultaneously guarantees freedom of religion and criminalizes proselytization. Morocco has also been a stalwart ally of the United States and the West.

Rosensaft notes that an anti-proselytizing law, common throughout the Middle East, is what is at issue and what was the basis for the missionaries’ expulsion. Rosensaft concludes:

Non-Muslims enjoy far greater freedom of religion in Morocco than in most other Muslim countries, and Americans who go there are fully aware that proselytizing is prohibited. There are no allegations that the Americans involved were tortured or physically mistreated. They were simply expelled from Morocco for refusing to abide by its laws.

Rosensaft is not alone in raising a cautionary flag. The World Jewish Congress last week wrote to the House Foreign Affairs Committee members and co-chairman of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, Reps. Wolf and James McGovern. The letter included this:

As Chairman of the World Jewish Congress United States, I have met with Moroccan leaders on several occasions to discuss our shared commitment in building ties of communication, reconciliation and cooperation between the Muslim and Jewish communities. I am aware first hand that the Kingdom of Morocco is determined to strengthen interfaith relations. As has historically been the case, Morocco’s leaders continue to promote dialogue based on tolerant speech, good intention and honored objectives.

Morocco in the Middle East is a paradigm of religious freedom and tolerance. The Jewish community of present-day Morocco dates back more than 2,000 years. During World War II, when France was ruled by the anti-Semitic Vichy government, King Muhammed V prevented the deportation of Jews from Morocco. There are centuries old synagogues, old-age homes, and kosher restaurants throughout Morocco that are well kept by Muslims. And, there are close ties between Morocco and the State of Israel.

Raphael Benchimol, the rabbi of the Manhattan Sephardic Congregation, also wrote to Wolf this month, urging him to consider Morocco’s record on religious tolerance. He included this account of a synagogue trip this February:

We visited the sites of Moroccan synagogues, places of historic and religious importance to the Moroccan Jewish community, and the final resting places of many of the righteous Moroccan rabbis and sages who have rested in Morocco, in harmony, for thousands of years. Never once during our stay did I see any lack of religious tolerance or freedom. Never once did I sense the “precarious” situation you describe vis-à-vis our religion. To the contrary, I always felt safe and secure to pray and visit any of the Jewish sites without any fear whatsoever. The Muslim citizens of each of the cities we visited were polite, courteous and respectful of our religious tour. Indeed, I observed how many of the locals have a deep reverence for our holy sites. …

To give you an idea of how important the Jewish “minority religion” is to the King and to the Moroccan government, this past May we hosted a special event at our synagogue where several representatives of the Moroccan government, including Ambassador Mekouar, were present. Serge Berdugo, a Jewish Ambassador of the King of Morocco, beautifully presented to our congregants “His Majesty’s gracious and holy plan to identify, refurbish and protect all the Jewish cemeteries and mausoleums in Morocco.” The Ambassador also proudly announced that “as Commander of the faithful, His Majesty safeguards the sacred values of His subjects, Jew and Muslims alike.” This positive message as well as the gracious offer of the King was received with deep gratitude and sheer excitement by the entire congregation.

There is a disturbing pattern of religious oppression and intolerance in Muslim countries – but not in Morocco. The unfortunate situation at the Christian orphanage (how many of those exist in Muslim countries?) should not obscure this. As a savvy analyst explains, “They should never have let evangelicals run orphanages; that was the mistake. When a kid has no home to return to, the religious influence of those acting in loco parentis is inevitable.” But that is a discrete issue, and resolvable by the Moroccan government. It would seem that the best use of the time and focus of Congress — which is at least making a good effort to pick up the slack from an administration utterly indifferent to the issue of religious freedom — would be to focus on the worst actors in the Muslim World, not the best.

In the Washington Post‘s On Faith blog, Menachem Rosensaft looks at Morocco’s expulsion of  Christian missionaries who were accused of proselytizing at a Moroccan orphanage earlier this year. As Rosensaft explains:

A group of Republican members of Congress have taken up the cause of the expelled Christian missionaries, which is, of course, their right. Reps. Frank Wolf (R-Va.), Joseph Pitts (R-Pa.), Chris Smith (R-N.J.), Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) and Anh Cao (R-La.) recently convened a [briefing] at which they urged Morocco to allow the deportees to return.

At the [briefing], some of the rhetoric turned ugly. Rep. Wolf called for the suspension of U.S. foreign aid to Morocco and compared the Moroccan government to the repressive Ceaucescu regime in Romania during the 1980′s. Rep. Pitts went further and likened the measures taken by the Moroccan authorities to “some of the tactics used by the Nazis.”

Rosensaft provides some much-needed perspective on the incident. Morocco, as he observes, is the least of our concerns when it comes to suppression of religious freedom in the Middle East:

The Kingdom of Morocco is a Muslim nation where Jews and Christian are able to practice their religions openly. Synagogues and churches stand alongside mosques, and the Moroccan government is a rare beacon of tolerance in an otherwise mostly religiously xenophobic Muslim world. Both King Muhammed VI and his late father, King Hassan, have publicly placed the Moroccan Jewish community under royal protection. As Rabbi Marc Schneier, vice president of the World Jewish Congress, reminds us, “during World War II, when Morocco was ruled by the anti-Semitic Vichy government, King Muhammed V prevented the deportation of Jews from Morocco .” Moroccan law simultaneously guarantees freedom of religion and criminalizes proselytization. Morocco has also been a stalwart ally of the United States and the West.

Rosensaft notes that an anti-proselytizing law, common throughout the Middle East, is what is at issue and what was the basis for the missionaries’ expulsion. Rosensaft concludes:

Non-Muslims enjoy far greater freedom of religion in Morocco than in most other Muslim countries, and Americans who go there are fully aware that proselytizing is prohibited. There are no allegations that the Americans involved were tortured or physically mistreated. They were simply expelled from Morocco for refusing to abide by its laws.

Rosensaft is not alone in raising a cautionary flag. The World Jewish Congress last week wrote to the House Foreign Affairs Committee members and co-chairman of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, Reps. Wolf and James McGovern. The letter included this:

As Chairman of the World Jewish Congress United States, I have met with Moroccan leaders on several occasions to discuss our shared commitment in building ties of communication, reconciliation and cooperation between the Muslim and Jewish communities. I am aware first hand that the Kingdom of Morocco is determined to strengthen interfaith relations. As has historically been the case, Morocco’s leaders continue to promote dialogue based on tolerant speech, good intention and honored objectives.

Morocco in the Middle East is a paradigm of religious freedom and tolerance. The Jewish community of present-day Morocco dates back more than 2,000 years. During World War II, when France was ruled by the anti-Semitic Vichy government, King Muhammed V prevented the deportation of Jews from Morocco. There are centuries old synagogues, old-age homes, and kosher restaurants throughout Morocco that are well kept by Muslims. And, there are close ties between Morocco and the State of Israel.

Raphael Benchimol, the rabbi of the Manhattan Sephardic Congregation, also wrote to Wolf this month, urging him to consider Morocco’s record on religious tolerance. He included this account of a synagogue trip this February:

We visited the sites of Moroccan synagogues, places of historic and religious importance to the Moroccan Jewish community, and the final resting places of many of the righteous Moroccan rabbis and sages who have rested in Morocco, in harmony, for thousands of years. Never once during our stay did I see any lack of religious tolerance or freedom. Never once did I sense the “precarious” situation you describe vis-à-vis our religion. To the contrary, I always felt safe and secure to pray and visit any of the Jewish sites without any fear whatsoever. The Muslim citizens of each of the cities we visited were polite, courteous and respectful of our religious tour. Indeed, I observed how many of the locals have a deep reverence for our holy sites. …

To give you an idea of how important the Jewish “minority religion” is to the King and to the Moroccan government, this past May we hosted a special event at our synagogue where several representatives of the Moroccan government, including Ambassador Mekouar, were present. Serge Berdugo, a Jewish Ambassador of the King of Morocco, beautifully presented to our congregants “His Majesty’s gracious and holy plan to identify, refurbish and protect all the Jewish cemeteries and mausoleums in Morocco.” The Ambassador also proudly announced that “as Commander of the faithful, His Majesty safeguards the sacred values of His subjects, Jew and Muslims alike.” This positive message as well as the gracious offer of the King was received with deep gratitude and sheer excitement by the entire congregation.

There is a disturbing pattern of religious oppression and intolerance in Muslim countries – but not in Morocco. The unfortunate situation at the Christian orphanage (how many of those exist in Muslim countries?) should not obscure this. As a savvy analyst explains, “They should never have let evangelicals run orphanages; that was the mistake. When a kid has no home to return to, the religious influence of those acting in loco parentis is inevitable.” But that is a discrete issue, and resolvable by the Moroccan government. It would seem that the best use of the time and focus of Congress — which is at least making a good effort to pick up the slack from an administration utterly indifferent to the issue of religious freedom — would be to focus on the worst actors in the Muslim World, not the best.

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Aaron David Miller: Obama Is the Biggest Concern in the Middle East

In an interview with JTA, Aaron David Miller recaps and puts an exclamation point on his important piece calling for an end to the “religion” of the peace process — that is, the reality-free belief in the centrality of the Palestinian conflict to all Middle East issues and the equally fantastical conviction that an agreement is possible in the first place. He says:

“What I find difficult to reconcile is how you’re going to get to a conflict-ending agreement which addresses the four core issues that have driven the Israelis and the Palestinians and brought each issue to a finality of claims. … I just do not see how to do that given the gaps that exist and the inherent constraints on the leaders in the absence also of a real sense of urgency.”

He reminds us that the Oslo paradigm is now badly outdated:

Miller describes how the situation has worsened since the last major effort at a resolution, the Camp David-Taba talks of 2000-01: The status of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has been wounded profoundly by the ouster of his moderate party, Fatah, from Gaza at the gunpoint of Hamas; Netanyahu is bound by a right-wing coalition (of his choosing) that is not ready to countenance a full-fledged settlement freeze, never mind compromise on Jerusalem; and Obama has had 15 months, distracted by the economy and health care, to match Clinton’s six full years focused on the issue.

Then there’s the region: “Hezbollah and Hamas,” Miller says referring to the terrorist groups in Lebanon and Gaza, respectively. “You have two non-state actors, two non-state environments who are not proxies of Iran and or Syria but who clearly reflect their capacity to want to influence events — and then you have Iran” and its potential nuclear threat.

What concerns him most? Not another failed round of peace-processing. Not the continued Palestinian radicalization. No, it’s Obama that has him most nervous:

The prospect that Miller says unnerves him most is that the Obama administration says it will step in with a conflict-ending agreement if the current proximity talks between the Israelis and the Palestinians go nowhere.

“I’m very uneasy because at the end of the day, I don’t see what the game is, I don’t see what the strategy is,” he said. “Even if it’s an initiative, what’s the objective, what’s the strategy?”

Interestingly and predictably, Jeremy Ben-Ami lets it be know that he doesn’t care much for reality: “We don’t have the luxury of time; the tensions on the ground are too high. … That’s the difference between being an analyst and actually trying to assess outcomes.” What? Even for him, that’s incoherent.

But it’s a helpful reminder that the people who favor Obama’s obsession with the peace process are the same who demand that Israel make all sorts of unilateral concessions, oppose sanctions against Iran, and are content to carve up the Jewish state into a shrunken carcass of its former self. They couldn’t be happier with Obama — enabled by the no-longer-reality-based Dennis Ross — who’s just the one to jam a deal, or try to, down Israel’s throat.

In an interview with JTA, Aaron David Miller recaps and puts an exclamation point on his important piece calling for an end to the “religion” of the peace process — that is, the reality-free belief in the centrality of the Palestinian conflict to all Middle East issues and the equally fantastical conviction that an agreement is possible in the first place. He says:

“What I find difficult to reconcile is how you’re going to get to a conflict-ending agreement which addresses the four core issues that have driven the Israelis and the Palestinians and brought each issue to a finality of claims. … I just do not see how to do that given the gaps that exist and the inherent constraints on the leaders in the absence also of a real sense of urgency.”

He reminds us that the Oslo paradigm is now badly outdated:

Miller describes how the situation has worsened since the last major effort at a resolution, the Camp David-Taba talks of 2000-01: The status of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has been wounded profoundly by the ouster of his moderate party, Fatah, from Gaza at the gunpoint of Hamas; Netanyahu is bound by a right-wing coalition (of his choosing) that is not ready to countenance a full-fledged settlement freeze, never mind compromise on Jerusalem; and Obama has had 15 months, distracted by the economy and health care, to match Clinton’s six full years focused on the issue.

Then there’s the region: “Hezbollah and Hamas,” Miller says referring to the terrorist groups in Lebanon and Gaza, respectively. “You have two non-state actors, two non-state environments who are not proxies of Iran and or Syria but who clearly reflect their capacity to want to influence events — and then you have Iran” and its potential nuclear threat.

What concerns him most? Not another failed round of peace-processing. Not the continued Palestinian radicalization. No, it’s Obama that has him most nervous:

The prospect that Miller says unnerves him most is that the Obama administration says it will step in with a conflict-ending agreement if the current proximity talks between the Israelis and the Palestinians go nowhere.

“I’m very uneasy because at the end of the day, I don’t see what the game is, I don’t see what the strategy is,” he said. “Even if it’s an initiative, what’s the objective, what’s the strategy?”

Interestingly and predictably, Jeremy Ben-Ami lets it be know that he doesn’t care much for reality: “We don’t have the luxury of time; the tensions on the ground are too high. … That’s the difference between being an analyst and actually trying to assess outcomes.” What? Even for him, that’s incoherent.

But it’s a helpful reminder that the people who favor Obama’s obsession with the peace process are the same who demand that Israel make all sorts of unilateral concessions, oppose sanctions against Iran, and are content to carve up the Jewish state into a shrunken carcass of its former self. They couldn’t be happier with Obama — enabled by the no-longer-reality-based Dennis Ross — who’s just the one to jam a deal, or try to, down Israel’s throat.

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RE: RE: ObamaCare Hits Home

This report begins to tally up the immediate hit on American employers from ObamaCare:

In the wake of Washington’s health-care overhaul, some companies are taking big one-time charges for anticipated costs, fanning tension with the administration over the legislation’s impact on corporate America.

Three companies that were among vocal opponents of the legislation have warned they would see an immediate impact on their earnings as a result of the loss of deductions on tax-free subsidies they receive for providing retiree prescription-drug benefits.

On Thursday, Deere & Co. said it would take a $150 million one-time charge in the current quarter related to the loss of deductions. Earlier in the week, Caterillar Inc. reported a $100 million charge and AK Steel recorded a $31 million charge.

Beginning in 2006, companies have received a 28% federal subsidy, up to $1,330 per retiree, tax-free, to help pay for prescription-drug coverage. Until now, companies could deduct the subsidy from their taxes, essentially getting a second benefit from the money. Under the new law, companies will no longer be able to deduct the subsidy, but it remains tax-free.

Although the changes don’t go into effect until 2013, companies say they have to take the charge to earnings now, to reflect the loss of the future tax deductions. In all, the S&P 500 companies will take a combined hit of $4.5 billion to first-quarter earnings, estimates David Zion, an analyst with Credit Suisse. [emphasis added]

That is right — $5.4 billion from a single tax change, money that can’t be invested in new plants or used to hire new workers. The administration’s reaction? Commerce Secretary Gary Locke says, “It is simply not responsible to suggest that the new health-care law is bad for business.” These companies have a legal obligation to accurately assess earnings, so what would Locke have them do — conceal the hit and risk lawsuits from shareholders and prosecution by his colleagues at the SEC? It’s absurd to suggest that businesses that will suffer from the mandates, fines, and taxes imposed should essentially shut up about the adverse consequences of the legislation.

Robert Gibbs adds to the air of dismissiveness, saying, “Companies not only get the subsidy tax-free, but they then deduct the amount. Our bill simply closes the loophole.” Yes, by White House standards, raising taxes by $5.4B is no more than a loophole. If you have the sense that no one in the White House has much sympathy for or understands private industry, you are right. If they did, we would not now be facing a gargantuan tax hike — and more to follow with the expiration of the Bush tax cuts.

This report begins to tally up the immediate hit on American employers from ObamaCare:

In the wake of Washington’s health-care overhaul, some companies are taking big one-time charges for anticipated costs, fanning tension with the administration over the legislation’s impact on corporate America.

Three companies that were among vocal opponents of the legislation have warned they would see an immediate impact on their earnings as a result of the loss of deductions on tax-free subsidies they receive for providing retiree prescription-drug benefits.

On Thursday, Deere & Co. said it would take a $150 million one-time charge in the current quarter related to the loss of deductions. Earlier in the week, Caterillar Inc. reported a $100 million charge and AK Steel recorded a $31 million charge.

Beginning in 2006, companies have received a 28% federal subsidy, up to $1,330 per retiree, tax-free, to help pay for prescription-drug coverage. Until now, companies could deduct the subsidy from their taxes, essentially getting a second benefit from the money. Under the new law, companies will no longer be able to deduct the subsidy, but it remains tax-free.

Although the changes don’t go into effect until 2013, companies say they have to take the charge to earnings now, to reflect the loss of the future tax deductions. In all, the S&P 500 companies will take a combined hit of $4.5 billion to first-quarter earnings, estimates David Zion, an analyst with Credit Suisse. [emphasis added]

That is right — $5.4 billion from a single tax change, money that can’t be invested in new plants or used to hire new workers. The administration’s reaction? Commerce Secretary Gary Locke says, “It is simply not responsible to suggest that the new health-care law is bad for business.” These companies have a legal obligation to accurately assess earnings, so what would Locke have them do — conceal the hit and risk lawsuits from shareholders and prosecution by his colleagues at the SEC? It’s absurd to suggest that businesses that will suffer from the mandates, fines, and taxes imposed should essentially shut up about the adverse consequences of the legislation.

Robert Gibbs adds to the air of dismissiveness, saying, “Companies not only get the subsidy tax-free, but they then deduct the amount. Our bill simply closes the loophole.” Yes, by White House standards, raising taxes by $5.4B is no more than a loophole. If you have the sense that no one in the White House has much sympathy for or understands private industry, you are right. If they did, we would not now be facing a gargantuan tax hike — and more to follow with the expiration of the Bush tax cuts.

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How an Internet Myth Is Born

Further to my post from yesterday casting more than a little doubt on the veracity of the report about an imminent attack on Iran (J.E. Dyer backed me up  here with some hard facts), I’ve done a little more digging about the three sources quoted in the Scottish Herald article. Of Dr. Daniel Plesch of the University of London and his recurrent predictions of an imminent American attack on Iran, I have already written extensively here. The other two sources also deserve some scrutiny. Ian Davis heads a think tank called NATO WATCH. He also has his own “consultancy,” which seems to amount to a webpage with his own writings. His think tank does not seem to be too crowded with experts — Ian Davis appears to be the only guy, though there is a long list of associates and a history of cooperation with outfits that curiously stand for nuclear disarmament.

NATO WATCH’s address is also more than a little odd — Strath 17, by the Gairloch Loch, in the Scottish Highlands. Pretty place it must be, but you’d think that a think tank dedicated to being the watchdog of NATO might be closer to the alliance’s headquarters, no? Then again, the website says that NATO WATCH is a virtual think tank, so who am I to find it a bit more than suspicious that, to produce an unsubstantiated accusation that America is about to go to war against Iran, a Scottish paper turns to NATO WATCH for reasons other than it happens to be in the neighborhood. Funny also is the fact that two of the quoted experts/sources are also in Scotland (aside from Ian Davis, there is the CND local guy, Ales MacKinnon). And all three of them happen to have campaigned for or written in favor of nuclear disarmament, are on the record as hostile to American policies in the Middle East, and in the past expressed some degree of support for Iran’s claims.

All this, of course, is speculation. But I hereby propose a theory. A Scottish paper with an anti-nuclear editorial line (and all the baggage that comes with it) chooses to spin a news item to accuse America of warmongering — again. To back it up, the paper calls three ideological fellow travelers who supply the backup for the story – not the facts, but the backup, by which I mean the spin and the gravitas that goes with their titles. The paper publishes the story. And the global media, going into a frenzy, reprints it without basic fact-checking. You can examples of this rush to judgment, devoid any effort to question the veracity of the story, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here just to start.

Even Rick Moran, at the American Thinker’s blog, having read the story in reputable media sources, took it for granted that the information was plausible. Having quoted the Times of India’s verbatim reproduction of the Herald story, Moran goes on to say that “along with other signs of increased activity, one analyst who has been tracking US preparations believes that at the very least, President Obama will have the option of striking Iran” — and then quotes Dan Plesch. Moran then goes on to offer his take.

What’s my point? Aside from thinking that this is some high jinks by three pranksters and a complicit journalist backed by a complacent editor, my point is that the global media did not do its homework. Nobody fact-checked a story that had not been fact-checked to begin with, because they did not want to hold off reprinting disseminating it — either due to time pressures (the Internet is SO fast!) or other constraints.

Curiously enough, one news outlet seems to have gotten it at least half right — or to have let the truth slip out, at any rate. It’s — believe it or not — Russia Today, which titles their piece “Disarmament activist warns of new war.” It then proceeds to quote extensively Alex MacKinnon from CND Scotland (yep, same guy as above) and to interview Paul Ingram, from BASIC — NATO WATCH’s partner! It seems all pretty well coordinated to me.

And so it goes – this is how Internet myths are born.

Further to my post from yesterday casting more than a little doubt on the veracity of the report about an imminent attack on Iran (J.E. Dyer backed me up  here with some hard facts), I’ve done a little more digging about the three sources quoted in the Scottish Herald article. Of Dr. Daniel Plesch of the University of London and his recurrent predictions of an imminent American attack on Iran, I have already written extensively here. The other two sources also deserve some scrutiny. Ian Davis heads a think tank called NATO WATCH. He also has his own “consultancy,” which seems to amount to a webpage with his own writings. His think tank does not seem to be too crowded with experts — Ian Davis appears to be the only guy, though there is a long list of associates and a history of cooperation with outfits that curiously stand for nuclear disarmament.

NATO WATCH’s address is also more than a little odd — Strath 17, by the Gairloch Loch, in the Scottish Highlands. Pretty place it must be, but you’d think that a think tank dedicated to being the watchdog of NATO might be closer to the alliance’s headquarters, no? Then again, the website says that NATO WATCH is a virtual think tank, so who am I to find it a bit more than suspicious that, to produce an unsubstantiated accusation that America is about to go to war against Iran, a Scottish paper turns to NATO WATCH for reasons other than it happens to be in the neighborhood. Funny also is the fact that two of the quoted experts/sources are also in Scotland (aside from Ian Davis, there is the CND local guy, Ales MacKinnon). And all three of them happen to have campaigned for or written in favor of nuclear disarmament, are on the record as hostile to American policies in the Middle East, and in the past expressed some degree of support for Iran’s claims.

All this, of course, is speculation. But I hereby propose a theory. A Scottish paper with an anti-nuclear editorial line (and all the baggage that comes with it) chooses to spin a news item to accuse America of warmongering — again. To back it up, the paper calls three ideological fellow travelers who supply the backup for the story – not the facts, but the backup, by which I mean the spin and the gravitas that goes with their titles. The paper publishes the story. And the global media, going into a frenzy, reprints it without basic fact-checking. You can examples of this rush to judgment, devoid any effort to question the veracity of the story, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here just to start.

Even Rick Moran, at the American Thinker’s blog, having read the story in reputable media sources, took it for granted that the information was plausible. Having quoted the Times of India’s verbatim reproduction of the Herald story, Moran goes on to say that “along with other signs of increased activity, one analyst who has been tracking US preparations believes that at the very least, President Obama will have the option of striking Iran” — and then quotes Dan Plesch. Moran then goes on to offer his take.

What’s my point? Aside from thinking that this is some high jinks by three pranksters and a complicit journalist backed by a complacent editor, my point is that the global media did not do its homework. Nobody fact-checked a story that had not been fact-checked to begin with, because they did not want to hold off reprinting disseminating it — either due to time pressures (the Internet is SO fast!) or other constraints.

Curiously enough, one news outlet seems to have gotten it at least half right — or to have let the truth slip out, at any rate. It’s — believe it or not — Russia Today, which titles their piece “Disarmament activist warns of new war.” It then proceeds to quote extensively Alex MacKinnon from CND Scotland (yep, same guy as above) and to interview Paul Ingram, from BASIC — NATO WATCH’s partner! It seems all pretty well coordinated to me.

And so it goes – this is how Internet myths are born.

Read Less




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