Commentary Magazine


Topic: cable news network

Less Engagement on the Middle East, Please

It was George W. Bush’s supposed “cowboy diplomacy” — high-handed, unilateral, and dismissive of valued allies — that incurred the ire of the left. (Never mind that we had warm relations with Europe, Israel, India, and other democracies.) Yet it is Obama who is unrivaled when it comes to shunning allies. If consensus with allies was really the order of the day in the Obama era, we would not have pulled the rug out from our Eastern European allies, repeatedly snubbed the Brits, irritated the French, bullied the Hondurans, and assaulted the Israelis. Jackson Diehl observes:

Barack Obama’s foreign policy has been defined so far by his attempts to “engage” with adversaries or rivals of the United States, such as Ayatollah Ali Khamenei of Iran and Dmitry Medvedev of Russia. The results have been mixed. But now the president’s focus is visibly shifting. In the next 18 months, Obama’s record abroad will be made or broken by his ability to do business with two nominal U.S. allies: Hamid Karzai and Binyamin Netanyahu.

The Obami of late have tried to repair the frayed relationship with Karzai but have shown no indication that they desire a more hospitable relationship with Bibi. Diehl speculates that perhaps it was “hubris from health care that brought on this burst of presidential imperialism” that precipitated the public war of words with both Karzai and Bibi. But there is, I think, a fundamental  difference between the assault on each leader and the clean-up-the-mess gambit that has followed.

With Karzai, it appears that the Obami reacted out of pique and with the nastiness that surfaces whenever — be it a foreign leader, a cable-news network, or a Supreme Court justice — they are confronted with insufficiently obsequious rivals. But with regard to Karzai, the verbal fisticuffs did not imply a change of policy. The Obami are not pulling up stakes, at least not yet, in Afghanistan and seem committed, at least for the balance of Obama’s 18-month time frame, to achieving success.

Bibi is a different story. Here the deliberate and sustained assault (from the fit over Jerusalem housing to the threats of an imposed peace plan and an abstention in the UN Security  Council) suggests that more than personal ire or irritation is at play. Here Obama plainly intends — he’s told us as much — a change in American policy. The charm offensive is meant to quiet domestic Jewish opinion, not to repair or moderate its stance toward the Jewish state.

Diehl argues that a personal failing on Obama’s part is at the root of these conflicts. (“Public bullying won’t do it. Assurances of U.S. support and stroking by special envoys go only so far. What’s missing is personal chemistry and confidence, the construction of a bond between leaders that can persuade a U.S. ally to take a risk; in other words, presidential ‘engagement.’ Isn’t that what Obama promised?”) But with regard to Israel, there is something far more fundamental at issue. Despite the PR offensive, Obama’s goal is not to re-establish a more robust relationship with the Jewish state; it is merely to mask the animus that bubbled to the surface over the past two months. It is not through neglect that relations with Israel have been strained — it is by design. We therefore should not expect that increased presidential attention will result in an improved U.S.-Israel relationship. Frankly, the more Obama focuses on Israel, the more damage to the relationship is likely to occur. At this point, benign neglect would be a welcome development.

It was George W. Bush’s supposed “cowboy diplomacy” — high-handed, unilateral, and dismissive of valued allies — that incurred the ire of the left. (Never mind that we had warm relations with Europe, Israel, India, and other democracies.) Yet it is Obama who is unrivaled when it comes to shunning allies. If consensus with allies was really the order of the day in the Obama era, we would not have pulled the rug out from our Eastern European allies, repeatedly snubbed the Brits, irritated the French, bullied the Hondurans, and assaulted the Israelis. Jackson Diehl observes:

Barack Obama’s foreign policy has been defined so far by his attempts to “engage” with adversaries or rivals of the United States, such as Ayatollah Ali Khamenei of Iran and Dmitry Medvedev of Russia. The results have been mixed. But now the president’s focus is visibly shifting. In the next 18 months, Obama’s record abroad will be made or broken by his ability to do business with two nominal U.S. allies: Hamid Karzai and Binyamin Netanyahu.

The Obami of late have tried to repair the frayed relationship with Karzai but have shown no indication that they desire a more hospitable relationship with Bibi. Diehl speculates that perhaps it was “hubris from health care that brought on this burst of presidential imperialism” that precipitated the public war of words with both Karzai and Bibi. But there is, I think, a fundamental  difference between the assault on each leader and the clean-up-the-mess gambit that has followed.

With Karzai, it appears that the Obami reacted out of pique and with the nastiness that surfaces whenever — be it a foreign leader, a cable-news network, or a Supreme Court justice — they are confronted with insufficiently obsequious rivals. But with regard to Karzai, the verbal fisticuffs did not imply a change of policy. The Obami are not pulling up stakes, at least not yet, in Afghanistan and seem committed, at least for the balance of Obama’s 18-month time frame, to achieving success.

Bibi is a different story. Here the deliberate and sustained assault (from the fit over Jerusalem housing to the threats of an imposed peace plan and an abstention in the UN Security  Council) suggests that more than personal ire or irritation is at play. Here Obama plainly intends — he’s told us as much — a change in American policy. The charm offensive is meant to quiet domestic Jewish opinion, not to repair or moderate its stance toward the Jewish state.

Diehl argues that a personal failing on Obama’s part is at the root of these conflicts. (“Public bullying won’t do it. Assurances of U.S. support and stroking by special envoys go only so far. What’s missing is personal chemistry and confidence, the construction of a bond between leaders that can persuade a U.S. ally to take a risk; in other words, presidential ‘engagement.’ Isn’t that what Obama promised?”) But with regard to Israel, there is something far more fundamental at issue. Despite the PR offensive, Obama’s goal is not to re-establish a more robust relationship with the Jewish state; it is merely to mask the animus that bubbled to the surface over the past two months. It is not through neglect that relations with Israel have been strained — it is by design. We therefore should not expect that increased presidential attention will result in an improved U.S.-Israel relationship. Frankly, the more Obama focuses on Israel, the more damage to the relationship is likely to occur. At this point, benign neglect would be a welcome development.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

The number of terrorists convicted in the criminal-justice system is 300. Or 195. Or 39, if you believe the ACLU.  Andy McCarthy writes: “It is disingenuous to low-ball the figure, as the ACLU does, in order to minimize the problem. It is equally disingenuous to exaggerate the figure, as DOJ is now doing, to create a myth of law-enforcement effectiveness (in order to discredit wartime military processes). Both of these plays are in the Left’s playbook. But guys, but when your objective is to hoodwink the public, you’re not supposed to run both plays at the same time! Can’t anybody here play this game?”

Obama is not turning out to be everything (anything?) the Left had hoped he’d be. Eli Lake reports: “President Obama is coming under pressure from Democrats and civil liberties groups for failing to fill positions on an oversight panel formed in 2004 to make sure the government does not spy improperly on U.S. citizens. … Since taking office, Mr. Obama has allowed the board to languish. He has not even spent the panel’s allocation from the fiscal 2010 budget.” Well, he hasn’t set up the High Value Interrogation group either, so the Left shouldn’t take it personally. He’s just not very good on following through.

But the key test for Democrats is not what they say in a hearing, but how they vote: “The Democratic chairman of the Senate Budget Committee said he is a skeptic of President Barack Obama’s long-term budget plan. Sen. Kent Conrad (N.D.) told White House officials Tuesday that the nation can’t accept the budget’s projected deficits at the end of this decade, which approach $1 trillion. ‘We are on an unsustainable course by any measure,’ Conrad said during his committee’s first hearing on the administration’s 2011 budget request. ‘I believe the president is taking us in the right direction over the next several years,’ he added. ‘But I must say I am very concerned about the long term.’”

More horrid polling for Blanche Lincoln: “Her GOP rivals, including Congressman John Boozman who is expected to enter the race on Saturday, all earn roughly 50% of the vote against the two-term Democrat. … Boozman, the newest entrant in the race, runs strongest among likely voters in Arkansas for now, beating Lincoln by 19 points, 54% to 35%. State Senator Gilbert Baker also leads Lincoln by 19, 52% to 33%. State Senate Minority Leader Kim Hendren posts a 51% to 35% lead over the incumbent.”

The Obami’s vendetta against Fox was a stunning success — for Fox. “Fox News had its best January in the history of the network, and was the only cable news network to grow year-to-year. FNC also had the top 13 programs on cable news in total viewers for the fifth month in a row, and the top 13 programs in the A25-54 demographic for the first time in more than five years.”

Sen. John Kerry: “We need a constitutional amendment to make it clear once and for all that corporations do not have the same free speech rights as individuals.” It may be a daft idea to amend the Constitution so as to restrict speech, but at least he’s more honest than the president. You can’t overrule a First Amendment decision by statute.

Sen. Judd Gregg will be missed when he retires. “Office of Management and Budget Director Peter Orszag faced the wrath of Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., Tuesday during the Senate Budget Committee hearing on the Obama administration’s budget proposal for 2011. Gregg was irked about President Obama’s plan to unveil a new proposal to use $30 billion from Troubled Asset Relief Program funds to help community banks lend to small businesses at an event Tuesday afternoon in Nashua, NH — Gregg’s home state. ‘This proposal violates the law,’ Gregg said. ‘The whole concept of the TARP was as we recouped the money, we would use it to pay down the debt. Now that’s not going to happen. It’s become a piggy bank. A piggy bank which adds to our deficit.’”

Yes, Richard Reid was Mirandized. So what? John McCormack: “But the fact remains that it was a mistake to mirandize Abdulmutallab — just as it was a mistake to mirandize Reid. At what point will Democrats realize that the Bush administration’s mistakes are not an excuse for the Obama administration’s failures?” The answer is never. They ran against Bush, they won being against Bush, they crafted not-Bush national-security policies, and now they are convinced they can govern being not Bush (except when they repeat an error of the Bush administration). This is what comes from Bush Derangement Syndrome, I suppose.

The number of terrorists convicted in the criminal-justice system is 300. Or 195. Or 39, if you believe the ACLU.  Andy McCarthy writes: “It is disingenuous to low-ball the figure, as the ACLU does, in order to minimize the problem. It is equally disingenuous to exaggerate the figure, as DOJ is now doing, to create a myth of law-enforcement effectiveness (in order to discredit wartime military processes). Both of these plays are in the Left’s playbook. But guys, but when your objective is to hoodwink the public, you’re not supposed to run both plays at the same time! Can’t anybody here play this game?”

Obama is not turning out to be everything (anything?) the Left had hoped he’d be. Eli Lake reports: “President Obama is coming under pressure from Democrats and civil liberties groups for failing to fill positions on an oversight panel formed in 2004 to make sure the government does not spy improperly on U.S. citizens. … Since taking office, Mr. Obama has allowed the board to languish. He has not even spent the panel’s allocation from the fiscal 2010 budget.” Well, he hasn’t set up the High Value Interrogation group either, so the Left shouldn’t take it personally. He’s just not very good on following through.

But the key test for Democrats is not what they say in a hearing, but how they vote: “The Democratic chairman of the Senate Budget Committee said he is a skeptic of President Barack Obama’s long-term budget plan. Sen. Kent Conrad (N.D.) told White House officials Tuesday that the nation can’t accept the budget’s projected deficits at the end of this decade, which approach $1 trillion. ‘We are on an unsustainable course by any measure,’ Conrad said during his committee’s first hearing on the administration’s 2011 budget request. ‘I believe the president is taking us in the right direction over the next several years,’ he added. ‘But I must say I am very concerned about the long term.’”

More horrid polling for Blanche Lincoln: “Her GOP rivals, including Congressman John Boozman who is expected to enter the race on Saturday, all earn roughly 50% of the vote against the two-term Democrat. … Boozman, the newest entrant in the race, runs strongest among likely voters in Arkansas for now, beating Lincoln by 19 points, 54% to 35%. State Senator Gilbert Baker also leads Lincoln by 19, 52% to 33%. State Senate Minority Leader Kim Hendren posts a 51% to 35% lead over the incumbent.”

The Obami’s vendetta against Fox was a stunning success — for Fox. “Fox News had its best January in the history of the network, and was the only cable news network to grow year-to-year. FNC also had the top 13 programs on cable news in total viewers for the fifth month in a row, and the top 13 programs in the A25-54 demographic for the first time in more than five years.”

Sen. John Kerry: “We need a constitutional amendment to make it clear once and for all that corporations do not have the same free speech rights as individuals.” It may be a daft idea to amend the Constitution so as to restrict speech, but at least he’s more honest than the president. You can’t overrule a First Amendment decision by statute.

Sen. Judd Gregg will be missed when he retires. “Office of Management and Budget Director Peter Orszag faced the wrath of Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., Tuesday during the Senate Budget Committee hearing on the Obama administration’s budget proposal for 2011. Gregg was irked about President Obama’s plan to unveil a new proposal to use $30 billion from Troubled Asset Relief Program funds to help community banks lend to small businesses at an event Tuesday afternoon in Nashua, NH — Gregg’s home state. ‘This proposal violates the law,’ Gregg said. ‘The whole concept of the TARP was as we recouped the money, we would use it to pay down the debt. Now that’s not going to happen. It’s become a piggy bank. A piggy bank which adds to our deficit.’”

Yes, Richard Reid was Mirandized. So what? John McCormack: “But the fact remains that it was a mistake to mirandize Abdulmutallab — just as it was a mistake to mirandize Reid. At what point will Democrats realize that the Bush administration’s mistakes are not an excuse for the Obama administration’s failures?” The answer is never. They ran against Bush, they won being against Bush, they crafted not-Bush national-security policies, and now they are convinced they can govern being not Bush (except when they repeat an error of the Bush administration). This is what comes from Bush Derangement Syndrome, I suppose.

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When Everything Is Bleak, Attack Fox News

The Obami are nothing if not persistent. Fox News may be the fastest-growing cable news network. The White House vendetta against those so stiff-necked as to refuse to view the world through the White House’s news prism may have backfired, making the Obami look paranoid and thin-skinned. But why change? After all, the White House is riding high and has the pulse of the electorate, right? Oh well, not at all. But Fox is still to be vilified and marginalized. The Hill reports:

Leadership of the White House’s communication shop may have changed, but its new chief made clear on Monday he shares his predecessor’s concerns about Fox News. The network is “not a traditional news organization,” director Dan Pfeiffer stressed, adding he agreed with former Director Anita Dunn’s take on the network. … “We don’t feel the obligation to treat them like we would treat a CNN, or an ABC, or an NBC, or a traditional news organization, but there are times when we believe it makes sense to communicate with them,” he added, noting the White House’s decision to dispatch counter-terrorism chief John Brennan to Fox News Sunday after the Flight 253 attack was one example of that.

I suppose when you have your communications strategy wired, when every election in the past few months has gone your way, and when you have a firm grip on the independent voters who watch Fox in huge numbers, you can afford to be arrogant. But when none of those things is true and the White House has spent days scrambling to undo the damage from an embarrassingly lackluster presidential response to terrorism, the administration might want to think about reaching out beyond their spin-cocoon. They might want to try to erase the image of their being incapable of interacting with those who fail to provide reverential coverage. After all, three years is a long time to continue their current downward trajectory, which is the result of this sort of arrogance and of their insistence on ignoring those who refuse to nod approvingly, parrot the line of the day, and avoid asking impertinent questions.

The Obami are nothing if not persistent. Fox News may be the fastest-growing cable news network. The White House vendetta against those so stiff-necked as to refuse to view the world through the White House’s news prism may have backfired, making the Obami look paranoid and thin-skinned. But why change? After all, the White House is riding high and has the pulse of the electorate, right? Oh well, not at all. But Fox is still to be vilified and marginalized. The Hill reports:

Leadership of the White House’s communication shop may have changed, but its new chief made clear on Monday he shares his predecessor’s concerns about Fox News. The network is “not a traditional news organization,” director Dan Pfeiffer stressed, adding he agreed with former Director Anita Dunn’s take on the network. … “We don’t feel the obligation to treat them like we would treat a CNN, or an ABC, or an NBC, or a traditional news organization, but there are times when we believe it makes sense to communicate with them,” he added, noting the White House’s decision to dispatch counter-terrorism chief John Brennan to Fox News Sunday after the Flight 253 attack was one example of that.

I suppose when you have your communications strategy wired, when every election in the past few months has gone your way, and when you have a firm grip on the independent voters who watch Fox in huge numbers, you can afford to be arrogant. But when none of those things is true and the White House has spent days scrambling to undo the damage from an embarrassingly lackluster presidential response to terrorism, the administration might want to think about reaching out beyond their spin-cocoon. They might want to try to erase the image of their being incapable of interacting with those who fail to provide reverential coverage. After all, three years is a long time to continue their current downward trajectory, which is the result of this sort of arrogance and of their insistence on ignoring those who refuse to nod approvingly, parrot the line of the day, and avoid asking impertinent questions.

Read Less