Commentary Magazine


Topic: Clinton

Sestak Defends the Gaza 54 Letter and His Keynote for CAIR

Joe Sestak made a trip to Morning Joe to discuss his Senate race. And, sure enough, the ECI ad was played again. (I imagine that the Toomey camp was pretty pleased about that.) He was with quite a sympathetic panel as the likes of Pat Buchanan (really), Bill Press (really), Mike Barnicle (really), and Norah O’Donnell tripped over each other as they rushed to assure Sestak that they too thought the ad was a “cheap shot” or really not important (although important enough to air twice on the show and get Sestak in to defend himself) because the race is all about domestic policy. The panel was so agreeable (or unprepared) that it didn’t challenge Sestak when he tried to explain the Gaza 54 letter (my comments in brackets):

Scarborough: The center of this attack ad says you signed a letter, very I thought good, dramatic lighting on the Sestak signature [but you couldn’t see those of the other 53, all Democrats who are among the worst Israel-bashers], asking for an end of the Gaza blockade, saying Israel was out of line [“collective punishment” was the operative phrase], and that the Gaza blockade needed to be ended.

Sestak: I signed a letter that said we have to ensure that Israel has $10 billion every — every year for its military assistance. [Not responsive.] I also signed a letter that said that as I went about the world, we have vital interests. Israel is one. We have important interests. We also have humane interests [which apparently don’t include the interest in seeing Israeli children aren’t subjected to rockets]. We said in a letter, I said Ms. Clinton, could you see, while not impacting Israel’s security, are we able to get cleaner water to the children there? [Has he seen the photos of the markets and the new Gaza mall?]

Scarborough: And do you support the end of the blockade?

Sestak: No. I think it’s a legal — yes, I’d like to see it end [Tricky when you are trying to recall the varied positions you have taken, isn’t it?] but not until we can ensure that there is a two-state solution. [He didn’t say that in the Gaza 54 letter — why?] I think Israel has the right to have a blockade so that arms aren’t flowing into those really causing harm in Gaza, which is Hamas.

You’re not convinced? No, I don’t suppose so.

He also talked about his CAIR appearance. No apology, no regrets. His excuse: Gov. Ed Rendell told him to go and went with him. And it’s important to talk to people with whom you disagree. But then why didn’t he enumerate the areas of disagreement instead of showering CAIR with praise when he spoke at the admission-charging event? Would he have gone to speak to an overtly anti-black or anti-Hispanic group? How about the Muslim Brotherhood?

The remainder of the interview was just plain odd. He declared his support for small business (so no expiration of the Bush tax cuts, which would hit small businesses that file under the individual tax rates?) and said he was going to Washington to stop all the fighting. But he was there. He voted for the Obama agenda, 97.8 percent of the time. I suppose he thinks voters won’t notice.

I suspect there are a lot of Democrats scratching their heads and biting their nails. In this year, the Democrats have to run very smart races to survive the GOP wave. So far, Sestak isn’t.

Joe Sestak made a trip to Morning Joe to discuss his Senate race. And, sure enough, the ECI ad was played again. (I imagine that the Toomey camp was pretty pleased about that.) He was with quite a sympathetic panel as the likes of Pat Buchanan (really), Bill Press (really), Mike Barnicle (really), and Norah O’Donnell tripped over each other as they rushed to assure Sestak that they too thought the ad was a “cheap shot” or really not important (although important enough to air twice on the show and get Sestak in to defend himself) because the race is all about domestic policy. The panel was so agreeable (or unprepared) that it didn’t challenge Sestak when he tried to explain the Gaza 54 letter (my comments in brackets):

Scarborough: The center of this attack ad says you signed a letter, very I thought good, dramatic lighting on the Sestak signature [but you couldn’t see those of the other 53, all Democrats who are among the worst Israel-bashers], asking for an end of the Gaza blockade, saying Israel was out of line [“collective punishment” was the operative phrase], and that the Gaza blockade needed to be ended.

Sestak: I signed a letter that said we have to ensure that Israel has $10 billion every — every year for its military assistance. [Not responsive.] I also signed a letter that said that as I went about the world, we have vital interests. Israel is one. We have important interests. We also have humane interests [which apparently don’t include the interest in seeing Israeli children aren’t subjected to rockets]. We said in a letter, I said Ms. Clinton, could you see, while not impacting Israel’s security, are we able to get cleaner water to the children there? [Has he seen the photos of the markets and the new Gaza mall?]

Scarborough: And do you support the end of the blockade?

Sestak: No. I think it’s a legal — yes, I’d like to see it end [Tricky when you are trying to recall the varied positions you have taken, isn’t it?] but not until we can ensure that there is a two-state solution. [He didn’t say that in the Gaza 54 letter — why?] I think Israel has the right to have a blockade so that arms aren’t flowing into those really causing harm in Gaza, which is Hamas.

You’re not convinced? No, I don’t suppose so.

He also talked about his CAIR appearance. No apology, no regrets. His excuse: Gov. Ed Rendell told him to go and went with him. And it’s important to talk to people with whom you disagree. But then why didn’t he enumerate the areas of disagreement instead of showering CAIR with praise when he spoke at the admission-charging event? Would he have gone to speak to an overtly anti-black or anti-Hispanic group? How about the Muslim Brotherhood?

The remainder of the interview was just plain odd. He declared his support for small business (so no expiration of the Bush tax cuts, which would hit small businesses that file under the individual tax rates?) and said he was going to Washington to stop all the fighting. But he was there. He voted for the Obama agenda, 97.8 percent of the time. I suppose he thinks voters won’t notice.

I suspect there are a lot of Democrats scratching their heads and biting their nails. In this year, the Democrats have to run very smart races to survive the GOP wave. So far, Sestak isn’t.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Another culture — not American — is where you should look for evil, says one of the savviest conservative observers. Back with a bang, she takes issue with Brent Bozell’s invocation of “Satan” to describe American culture: “I, too, believe in evil, and I’d say Satan’s found a far more mellifluous laughing-ground among the Muslims, who please themselves to bury women up to their heads and stone them to death for ‘adultery,’ murder their own daughters for ‘mingling,’ and practice forms of human sacrifice—selling their sons to Pashtun pedophiles, for one, or celebrating their childrens’ deaths in suicide bombings, for another. To name just a few of the ways Islam holds the Satan laugh hand at the moment. So enough with the wah, wah, wah, Brent. Bad as it may be here at culture-rotten central (or not), it’s worse out there among the practitioners of the culture and religion of peace.”

Another terrible ambassador nominated, this time for Turkey. Elliott Abrams explains: “”Especially in 2005 and 2006, Secretary Rice and the Bush administration significantly increased American pressure for greater respect for human rights and progress toward democracy in Egypt. This of course meant pushing the Mubarak regime, arguing with it in private, and sometimes criticizing it in public. In all of this we in Washington found Ambassador [Francis] Ricciardone to be without enthusiasm or energy.” And he was publicly insubordinate.  Other than that, great pick — who can wait in line behind Robert Ford to be confirmed.

Another reason not to take the UN seriously: “When the results of the international investigation into the sinking of the South Korean ship the Cheonan were released in May, the U.S. State Department was adamant that it believed North Korea was responsible — and that the country would have to face some actual punishment for killing 46 innocent South Korea sailors. … Fast forward to today, when the United Nations released a presidential statement which not only does not specify any consequences for the Kim Jong Il regime, but doesn’t even conclude that North Korea was responsible for the attack in the first place.” But the UN is certain the flotilla incident is all Israel’s fault.

Another inconvenient truth for the left: “The Obama administration would quickly send home six Algerians held at the military detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, but for one problem: The men don’t want to go. Given the choice between repatriation and incarceration, the men choose Gitmo, according to their lawyers.”

Another awkward moment for Jewish groups. Obama declares that Israelis don’t like him because of his middle name; American Jewish leaders are mute. But Rep. Peter King isn’t: “‘That’s a terrible cheap shot. … And if he wants to get cute about it, King Hussein of Jordan was one of the best allies Israel ever had.’ … But his middle name ‘has nothing to do with it,’ King said. ‘The fact is that his policies from day one have had an anti-Israel overtone. … He has no one to blame but himself. He should forget his name — that’s just a cheap game and he should knock it off.'”

Another reason to dump Michael Steele: Haley Barbour could take over and would do a boffo job.

Another “Huh?” Clinton moment: he is officiating at the wedding of New York Rep. Anthony Weiner and a Hillary aide. Is he really the guy you want to lead the recitation of your wedding vows?

Another sign of the inherent good sense of the American people: Mark Penn, on the result of a survey for the Aspen Festival of Ideas, writes: “The poll suggests that, while the public may be dissatisfied with recent administrations and the partisan political environment, they remain reasonably satisfied with the governmental framework set out in the Constitution. By 64 to 19 they endorse the system of checks and balances as necessary to prevent one branch from dominating the Government. Freedom of speech was seen as far and away the single most important right guaranteed by the Constitution, and, as a corollary, only 28 percent believe the press has too much freedom.” I guess they don’t buy the suggestion that we are “ungovernable.”

Another outburst – and a reminder that the idea of engaging Iran is ludicrous: “Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad questioned the historic dimensions of the Holocaust but rejected the label of an anti-Semite, the Fars news agency reported Friday. …  Ahmadinejad had earlier sparked international fury by calling for the eradication of Israel from the Middle East and its relocation to Europe or North America and by describing the murders of 6 million European Jews by Germany’s Nazi regime as a ‘fairy tale.’ He said Thursday that the Holocaust was an excuse for Israel and the West to take land away from millions of Palestinians and give it to Israel.” You know the last world leader to argue that the Holocaust was the rationale for creation of the Jewish state was… Barack Obama. Just saying.

Another reason to rethink lifetime Supreme Court appointments: at the Aspen Ideas Festival, “Justice Ginsburg said, ‘I am so glad that Elena is joining us.’ … Calling herself a ‘flaming feminist,’ Ginsburg said, ‘we will never go back’ to the days when abortion was illegal.” Since her mind is closed and her bias is evident, she should recuse herself from gender-discrimination and abortion cases.

Another culture — not American — is where you should look for evil, says one of the savviest conservative observers. Back with a bang, she takes issue with Brent Bozell’s invocation of “Satan” to describe American culture: “I, too, believe in evil, and I’d say Satan’s found a far more mellifluous laughing-ground among the Muslims, who please themselves to bury women up to their heads and stone them to death for ‘adultery,’ murder their own daughters for ‘mingling,’ and practice forms of human sacrifice—selling their sons to Pashtun pedophiles, for one, or celebrating their childrens’ deaths in suicide bombings, for another. To name just a few of the ways Islam holds the Satan laugh hand at the moment. So enough with the wah, wah, wah, Brent. Bad as it may be here at culture-rotten central (or not), it’s worse out there among the practitioners of the culture and religion of peace.”

Another terrible ambassador nominated, this time for Turkey. Elliott Abrams explains: “”Especially in 2005 and 2006, Secretary Rice and the Bush administration significantly increased American pressure for greater respect for human rights and progress toward democracy in Egypt. This of course meant pushing the Mubarak regime, arguing with it in private, and sometimes criticizing it in public. In all of this we in Washington found Ambassador [Francis] Ricciardone to be without enthusiasm or energy.” And he was publicly insubordinate.  Other than that, great pick — who can wait in line behind Robert Ford to be confirmed.

Another reason not to take the UN seriously: “When the results of the international investigation into the sinking of the South Korean ship the Cheonan were released in May, the U.S. State Department was adamant that it believed North Korea was responsible — and that the country would have to face some actual punishment for killing 46 innocent South Korea sailors. … Fast forward to today, when the United Nations released a presidential statement which not only does not specify any consequences for the Kim Jong Il regime, but doesn’t even conclude that North Korea was responsible for the attack in the first place.” But the UN is certain the flotilla incident is all Israel’s fault.

Another inconvenient truth for the left: “The Obama administration would quickly send home six Algerians held at the military detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, but for one problem: The men don’t want to go. Given the choice between repatriation and incarceration, the men choose Gitmo, according to their lawyers.”

Another awkward moment for Jewish groups. Obama declares that Israelis don’t like him because of his middle name; American Jewish leaders are mute. But Rep. Peter King isn’t: “‘That’s a terrible cheap shot. … And if he wants to get cute about it, King Hussein of Jordan was one of the best allies Israel ever had.’ … But his middle name ‘has nothing to do with it,’ King said. ‘The fact is that his policies from day one have had an anti-Israel overtone. … He has no one to blame but himself. He should forget his name — that’s just a cheap game and he should knock it off.'”

Another reason to dump Michael Steele: Haley Barbour could take over and would do a boffo job.

Another “Huh?” Clinton moment: he is officiating at the wedding of New York Rep. Anthony Weiner and a Hillary aide. Is he really the guy you want to lead the recitation of your wedding vows?

Another sign of the inherent good sense of the American people: Mark Penn, on the result of a survey for the Aspen Festival of Ideas, writes: “The poll suggests that, while the public may be dissatisfied with recent administrations and the partisan political environment, they remain reasonably satisfied with the governmental framework set out in the Constitution. By 64 to 19 they endorse the system of checks and balances as necessary to prevent one branch from dominating the Government. Freedom of speech was seen as far and away the single most important right guaranteed by the Constitution, and, as a corollary, only 28 percent believe the press has too much freedom.” I guess they don’t buy the suggestion that we are “ungovernable.”

Another outburst – and a reminder that the idea of engaging Iran is ludicrous: “Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad questioned the historic dimensions of the Holocaust but rejected the label of an anti-Semite, the Fars news agency reported Friday. …  Ahmadinejad had earlier sparked international fury by calling for the eradication of Israel from the Middle East and its relocation to Europe or North America and by describing the murders of 6 million European Jews by Germany’s Nazi regime as a ‘fairy tale.’ He said Thursday that the Holocaust was an excuse for Israel and the West to take land away from millions of Palestinians and give it to Israel.” You know the last world leader to argue that the Holocaust was the rationale for creation of the Jewish state was… Barack Obama. Just saying.

Another reason to rethink lifetime Supreme Court appointments: at the Aspen Ideas Festival, “Justice Ginsburg said, ‘I am so glad that Elena is joining us.’ … Calling herself a ‘flaming feminist,’ Ginsburg said, ‘we will never go back’ to the days when abortion was illegal.” Since her mind is closed and her bias is evident, she should recuse herself from gender-discrimination and abortion cases.

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You Can’t Fire the Star of a One-Man Show

Leslie Gelb, president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations, thinks that whoever has been responsible for the Obama administration’s Middle East policy should be fired. He runs through the possibilities — Emanuel, Axelrod, Mitchell, Clinton, Jones — but realizes the problem may go higher:

The more we find out about who makes decisions in the White House on every subject from nuclear weapons to coloring of Easter eggs, it turns out to be the man in the Oval Office himself. He’s the expert. He’s the decider. He invites everyone to state his or her piece or peace, then he tells them what to do — and seemingly without question, they do his bidding.

Gelb writes that Obama entered office with a “near-zero base of foreign-policy knowledge and no experience in the Middle East,” demanded a pre-negotiation halt to West Bank construction, to which “no Israeli leader, even a dovish one” would ever agree, adopted the “brilliant tactic” of publicly humiliating Israel’s prime minister (not even shaking his hand at the end of the prior meeting), and “only made matters worse” this week by appearing as if he were cowed by domestic politics into treating Netanyahu well. Gelb concludes that Obama needs new advisers.

That is a little like blaming the bit players for the failures of a one-man show.

The problem has been more than a staffing issue. Over the past year, Netanyahu (1) formed a coalition government with parties to both his right and left, (2) proposed immediate negotiations with no preconditions, (3) formally endorsed a two-state solution (as long as one of them is Jewish and the other is demilitarized), (4) removed scores of West Bank roadblocks and checkpoints, (5) implemented an unprecedented settlement moratorium, and (6) plans even more gestures to the perpetually confidence-impaired Palestinians to encourage them to join negotiations to give them a state.

During the same period, the Palestinians have been unwilling to commence direct negotiations unless Israel first conceded the principal issues to be negotiated, and Obama has acted as if he were the Palestinians’ attorney – not bound by U.S. commitments to Israel (the 2004 Bush letter), ignoring longstanding understandings on the meaning of a settlement freeze, manufacturing a crisis about future Jewish housing in the Jewish area of the capital of the Jewish state, voting for a UN resolution singling out Israel on its most sensitive defense issue, etc.

It is good that there was a tectonic shift in atmospherics this week. But it is remarkable that it is considered an achievement that, unlike last time, Israel’s prime minister was allowed to (1) enter the White House during business hours, (2) have a photo opportunity, (3) speak briefly at a press availability, (4) receive a meal, and (5) be treated courteously on his departure. It is an indication of how bad the script of this one-man show has been.

Leslie Gelb, president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations, thinks that whoever has been responsible for the Obama administration’s Middle East policy should be fired. He runs through the possibilities — Emanuel, Axelrod, Mitchell, Clinton, Jones — but realizes the problem may go higher:

The more we find out about who makes decisions in the White House on every subject from nuclear weapons to coloring of Easter eggs, it turns out to be the man in the Oval Office himself. He’s the expert. He’s the decider. He invites everyone to state his or her piece or peace, then he tells them what to do — and seemingly without question, they do his bidding.

Gelb writes that Obama entered office with a “near-zero base of foreign-policy knowledge and no experience in the Middle East,” demanded a pre-negotiation halt to West Bank construction, to which “no Israeli leader, even a dovish one” would ever agree, adopted the “brilliant tactic” of publicly humiliating Israel’s prime minister (not even shaking his hand at the end of the prior meeting), and “only made matters worse” this week by appearing as if he were cowed by domestic politics into treating Netanyahu well. Gelb concludes that Obama needs new advisers.

That is a little like blaming the bit players for the failures of a one-man show.

The problem has been more than a staffing issue. Over the past year, Netanyahu (1) formed a coalition government with parties to both his right and left, (2) proposed immediate negotiations with no preconditions, (3) formally endorsed a two-state solution (as long as one of them is Jewish and the other is demilitarized), (4) removed scores of West Bank roadblocks and checkpoints, (5) implemented an unprecedented settlement moratorium, and (6) plans even more gestures to the perpetually confidence-impaired Palestinians to encourage them to join negotiations to give them a state.

During the same period, the Palestinians have been unwilling to commence direct negotiations unless Israel first conceded the principal issues to be negotiated, and Obama has acted as if he were the Palestinians’ attorney – not bound by U.S. commitments to Israel (the 2004 Bush letter), ignoring longstanding understandings on the meaning of a settlement freeze, manufacturing a crisis about future Jewish housing in the Jewish area of the capital of the Jewish state, voting for a UN resolution singling out Israel on its most sensitive defense issue, etc.

It is good that there was a tectonic shift in atmospherics this week. But it is remarkable that it is considered an achievement that, unlike last time, Israel’s prime minister was allowed to (1) enter the White House during business hours, (2) have a photo opportunity, (3) speak briefly at a press availability, (4) receive a meal, and (5) be treated courteously on his departure. It is an indication of how bad the script of this one-man show has been.

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RE: McChrystal’s Future Looks Bleak

Max, John McCain has since added to his comments with a very helpful suggestion. Stephen Hayes reports:

“If the president fires McChrystal, we need a new ambassador and we need an entire new team over there. But most importantly, we need the president to say what Secretary Clinton and Secretary Gates have both said but what the president refuses to say: Our withdrawal in the middle of 2011 will be conditions based. It’s got to be conditions based and he’s got to say it.”

But McCain says that Obama is worried about the political repercussions of that kind of all-in statement.

“He won’t say this because he’s captive of his far-left base.”

McChrystal may have shot himself in the foot, but he has pulled back the curtain on the Obama team’s dysfunction, which is wreaking havoc on our war effort.

And if Obama doesn’t take the sage advice to look at his own misguided time frame for a troop withdrawal and leaves in place the obviously inept and  counterproductive team of civilian officials? Congress can’t win a war, although lawmakers can exercise oversight and demand answers to basic questions — e.g., is the timeline hampering our chances for victory? But ultimately, it is up to the president. He will have to commit himself — or not — to victory. A defeat in war cannot be blamed on a predecessor. It is his responsibility, and it will be his legacy.

McCain’s prediction is most likely accurate. Let’s pray on this one that Obama defies expectations.

Max, John McCain has since added to his comments with a very helpful suggestion. Stephen Hayes reports:

“If the president fires McChrystal, we need a new ambassador and we need an entire new team over there. But most importantly, we need the president to say what Secretary Clinton and Secretary Gates have both said but what the president refuses to say: Our withdrawal in the middle of 2011 will be conditions based. It’s got to be conditions based and he’s got to say it.”

But McCain says that Obama is worried about the political repercussions of that kind of all-in statement.

“He won’t say this because he’s captive of his far-left base.”

McChrystal may have shot himself in the foot, but he has pulled back the curtain on the Obama team’s dysfunction, which is wreaking havoc on our war effort.

And if Obama doesn’t take the sage advice to look at his own misguided time frame for a troop withdrawal and leaves in place the obviously inept and  counterproductive team of civilian officials? Congress can’t win a war, although lawmakers can exercise oversight and demand answers to basic questions — e.g., is the timeline hampering our chances for victory? But ultimately, it is up to the president. He will have to commit himself — or not — to victory. A defeat in war cannot be blamed on a predecessor. It is his responsibility, and it will be his legacy.

McCain’s prediction is most likely accurate. Let’s pray on this one that Obama defies expectations.

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A Former Clinton Adviser Pushes the Panic Button

William Galston, a first-rate academic mind who was a top domestic adviser to President Clinton, begins his piece in the New Republic this way:

Earth to House Democrats: It’s time to push the panic button. But don’t take my word for it; consider the evidence.

After analyzing the evidence, this is how Galston concludes:

It’s too late to enact legislation that will actually affect the economy’s performance between now and November, but it may not be too late for Democrats to better align their agenda with the public’s economic concerns. And they could get lucky: The four remaining employment reports between now and the election might show accelerating job creation in the private sector and a more rapid decline in unemployment than we have seen thus far. That would give embattled incumbents the chance to argue—more credibly than they can now—that we’re on the right track and shouldn’t turn back.

On the other hand, it’s entirely possible that none of this matters now, that the voters likely to turn out this fall have already concluded that with one-party control of the legislative and executive branches, Democrats will continue to take the country further to the left than the majority of the electorate would like. If so, Democrats should probably prepare themselves for the two words they dread the most—“Speaker Boehner.”

It will be hard for Obama acolytes in the press to dismiss this as more “the sky is falling” predictions from Republican critics, now, won’t it?

William Galston, a first-rate academic mind who was a top domestic adviser to President Clinton, begins his piece in the New Republic this way:

Earth to House Democrats: It’s time to push the panic button. But don’t take my word for it; consider the evidence.

After analyzing the evidence, this is how Galston concludes:

It’s too late to enact legislation that will actually affect the economy’s performance between now and November, but it may not be too late for Democrats to better align their agenda with the public’s economic concerns. And they could get lucky: The four remaining employment reports between now and the election might show accelerating job creation in the private sector and a more rapid decline in unemployment than we have seen thus far. That would give embattled incumbents the chance to argue—more credibly than they can now—that we’re on the right track and shouldn’t turn back.

On the other hand, it’s entirely possible that none of this matters now, that the voters likely to turn out this fall have already concluded that with one-party control of the legislative and executive branches, Democrats will continue to take the country further to the left than the majority of the electorate would like. If so, Democrats should probably prepare themselves for the two words they dread the most—“Speaker Boehner.”

It will be hard for Obama acolytes in the press to dismiss this as more “the sky is falling” predictions from Republican critics, now, won’t it?

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Why Are We Making It Harder for Our Military to Win in Afghanistan?

In a clip played on Fox News Sunday, General Stanley McChrystal explained that the effort to force the Taliban out of Kandahar is slow going: “I do think that it will happen more slowly than we had originally anticipated, and so I think it will take a number of months for this to play out.  And I think it’s more important we get it right than we get it fast.”

It turns out this has much to do with our civilian officials. Bill Kristol reveals the time line that Obama imposed on our troops and that conservative critics loudly panned is, indeed, part of the problem:

KRISTOL:  I was at a dinner this week with about a dozen experts on Afghanistan, most of whom have been there for quite some time and quite recently, bipartisan group, all of them supportive of the effort, but many very close to the Obama administration, and the non- governmental organizations and the like, and I was amazed by the consensus on two things. One, the time line.  We are paying a much bigger price for the time line over there than a lot of us thought we would when Obama announced…

WALLACE:  The time when we begin pulling troops out in July of 2011.

KRISTOL:  We understand that we could pull them out very slowly, and Secretary Gates and Secretary Clinton sort of walked it back after President Obama announced it.  Over there it sounded like the U.S. is getting out, and everyone’s got to hedge and cut their deals.

I think the single best thing the president personally could do now is explicitly say, “Look, we hope to begin drawing down then, but we are here to stay.”

The next problem is that our State Department, specifically special envoy Richard Holbrooke and Ambassador Karl Eikenberry, is hindering the effort:

The second thing is diplomatically, politically, we’re not doing our job over there.  The military is doing a good job.  General McChrystal’s right to say let’s get it right rather than doing it quickly.  And I think on the whole that General McChrystal certainly knows what he’s doing.

The diplomatic effort — and this is coming from people who are sympathetic, who are on the soft power side of things, who are, you know, from liberal non-governmental organizations — is that our effort has been bad.  It’s not just that we lack a reliable partner there.

Richard Holbrooke, the senior diplomat who’s in charge of it — everyone agrees that it’s been a fiasco.  He’s not — he can’t set foot there because Karzai doesn’t get along with him.  Ambassador Eikenberry doesn’t get along with General McChrystal.  He doesn’t get along either — Eikenberry, that is — with Karzai.  All the burden has fallen on the military.

This is unconscionable. Why, if there is widespread consensus, do Holbrooke and Eikenberry remain? Is Obama’s relationship with the military so bad that he does not understand or appreciate that his own administration is undercutting the war effort?

When the time line was announced, I observed that we would have to win in Afghanistan despite our commander in chief. It is absurd that our military labors under such a handicap, made even more burdensome by incompetent and obnoxious emissaries of the president. It is time for the latter to go and for Obama to fix his errors. However, his political hacks insist on reiterating the president’s faulty and counterproductive strategy. On Meet the Press, David Axelrod had this to say:

Well, the president made it clear that we can’t make an open-ended commitment there, that the Afghan government and the Afghan people have to take responsibility themselves, and their army, their security.  And their civil institutions have to take responsibility.  We–he is committed to begin that process of withdrawal in July of, of next year, and that is–continues to be the plan, and we’re going to pursue that on that schedule.

The administration keeps this up, and Obama will bear the responsibility for losing a war he deemed critical.

In a clip played on Fox News Sunday, General Stanley McChrystal explained that the effort to force the Taliban out of Kandahar is slow going: “I do think that it will happen more slowly than we had originally anticipated, and so I think it will take a number of months for this to play out.  And I think it’s more important we get it right than we get it fast.”

It turns out this has much to do with our civilian officials. Bill Kristol reveals the time line that Obama imposed on our troops and that conservative critics loudly panned is, indeed, part of the problem:

KRISTOL:  I was at a dinner this week with about a dozen experts on Afghanistan, most of whom have been there for quite some time and quite recently, bipartisan group, all of them supportive of the effort, but many very close to the Obama administration, and the non- governmental organizations and the like, and I was amazed by the consensus on two things. One, the time line.  We are paying a much bigger price for the time line over there than a lot of us thought we would when Obama announced…

WALLACE:  The time when we begin pulling troops out in July of 2011.

KRISTOL:  We understand that we could pull them out very slowly, and Secretary Gates and Secretary Clinton sort of walked it back after President Obama announced it.  Over there it sounded like the U.S. is getting out, and everyone’s got to hedge and cut their deals.

I think the single best thing the president personally could do now is explicitly say, “Look, we hope to begin drawing down then, but we are here to stay.”

The next problem is that our State Department, specifically special envoy Richard Holbrooke and Ambassador Karl Eikenberry, is hindering the effort:

The second thing is diplomatically, politically, we’re not doing our job over there.  The military is doing a good job.  General McChrystal’s right to say let’s get it right rather than doing it quickly.  And I think on the whole that General McChrystal certainly knows what he’s doing.

The diplomatic effort — and this is coming from people who are sympathetic, who are on the soft power side of things, who are, you know, from liberal non-governmental organizations — is that our effort has been bad.  It’s not just that we lack a reliable partner there.

Richard Holbrooke, the senior diplomat who’s in charge of it — everyone agrees that it’s been a fiasco.  He’s not — he can’t set foot there because Karzai doesn’t get along with him.  Ambassador Eikenberry doesn’t get along with General McChrystal.  He doesn’t get along either — Eikenberry, that is — with Karzai.  All the burden has fallen on the military.

This is unconscionable. Why, if there is widespread consensus, do Holbrooke and Eikenberry remain? Is Obama’s relationship with the military so bad that he does not understand or appreciate that his own administration is undercutting the war effort?

When the time line was announced, I observed that we would have to win in Afghanistan despite our commander in chief. It is absurd that our military labors under such a handicap, made even more burdensome by incompetent and obnoxious emissaries of the president. It is time for the latter to go and for Obama to fix his errors. However, his political hacks insist on reiterating the president’s faulty and counterproductive strategy. On Meet the Press, David Axelrod had this to say:

Well, the president made it clear that we can’t make an open-ended commitment there, that the Afghan government and the Afghan people have to take responsibility themselves, and their army, their security.  And their civil institutions have to take responsibility.  We–he is committed to begin that process of withdrawal in July of, of next year, and that is–continues to be the plan, and we’re going to pursue that on that schedule.

The administration keeps this up, and Obama will bear the responsibility for losing a war he deemed critical.

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Democrats Heap Scorn on Obama

Fareed Zakaria has become an all-purpose apologist for Obama. First it was on the flotilla.  A colleague passes on the latest one. It seems he’s now shilling for Obama on his response to the oil spill. Last time, Zakaria was dismantled by Elliott Abrams. This time it was James Carville:

Zakaria, a Newsweek editor but also host of Fareed Zakaria GPS, recently wrote a defense of Pres. Obama’s response (actually he criticized the President for his overreaction).  … King read from Zakaria’s recent column, which said “what worries me is that we have gotten to the point where we expect the president to somehow magically solve every problem in the world, appear to be doing it and to reflect our anger and emotion. This is a kind of bizarre trivializing of the presidency into some kind of national psychiatrist-in-chief.”

Carville, smiling – but only at first – responded strongly:

“Yes, he talked about an offensive linebacker. And when I read that I wanted to hit him with a football bat, okay? This guy, there’s some kind of a breakdown here, because this is a very smart man. And I don’t think that he understands exactly what is going on down here. I don’t think he understands that an entire culture is at risk, an entire way of life that there is an invasion going here and he is whining about the fact that the president had to cancel a trip to Indonesia to do something about what’s going on in Louisiana. . … If that thing was in the Long Island Sound, I guarantee you Fareed Zakaria and all his friends would be going nuts out there.”

This tells us a few things. First, we should be wary of “experts” who peddle their foreign-policy lines while reflexively defending the administration across the board. Second, Obama no longer can command respect or discretion, let alone affection, from Democrats. Granted this is Carville, whose Clinton loyalty is well known and who has likely not let bygones be bygones. But if you turn on MSNBC, you will hear plenty of Democrats heaping criticism on Obama.

Again, as I and many others have pointed out, accidents — including big and awful ones — are not necessarily the president’s fault. But neither was 9/11 Rudy Giuliani’s.  But he grabbed the crisis by the throat. He was candid, informed, and informative. He did not whine or complain. He did not treat it as a PR problem but as a civic emergency. It is the failure of leadership and of executive competence that has exposed Obama. The closet analogy is not Jimmy Carter but the emperor who had no clothes. And now everyone notices.

Fareed Zakaria has become an all-purpose apologist for Obama. First it was on the flotilla.  A colleague passes on the latest one. It seems he’s now shilling for Obama on his response to the oil spill. Last time, Zakaria was dismantled by Elliott Abrams. This time it was James Carville:

Zakaria, a Newsweek editor but also host of Fareed Zakaria GPS, recently wrote a defense of Pres. Obama’s response (actually he criticized the President for his overreaction).  … King read from Zakaria’s recent column, which said “what worries me is that we have gotten to the point where we expect the president to somehow magically solve every problem in the world, appear to be doing it and to reflect our anger and emotion. This is a kind of bizarre trivializing of the presidency into some kind of national psychiatrist-in-chief.”

Carville, smiling – but only at first – responded strongly:

“Yes, he talked about an offensive linebacker. And when I read that I wanted to hit him with a football bat, okay? This guy, there’s some kind of a breakdown here, because this is a very smart man. And I don’t think that he understands exactly what is going on down here. I don’t think he understands that an entire culture is at risk, an entire way of life that there is an invasion going here and he is whining about the fact that the president had to cancel a trip to Indonesia to do something about what’s going on in Louisiana. . … If that thing was in the Long Island Sound, I guarantee you Fareed Zakaria and all his friends would be going nuts out there.”

This tells us a few things. First, we should be wary of “experts” who peddle their foreign-policy lines while reflexively defending the administration across the board. Second, Obama no longer can command respect or discretion, let alone affection, from Democrats. Granted this is Carville, whose Clinton loyalty is well known and who has likely not let bygones be bygones. But if you turn on MSNBC, you will hear plenty of Democrats heaping criticism on Obama.

Again, as I and many others have pointed out, accidents — including big and awful ones — are not necessarily the president’s fault. But neither was 9/11 Rudy Giuliani’s.  But he grabbed the crisis by the throat. He was candid, informed, and informative. He did not whine or complain. He did not treat it as a PR problem but as a civic emergency. It is the failure of leadership and of executive competence that has exposed Obama. The closet analogy is not Jimmy Carter but the emperor who had no clothes. And now everyone notices.

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Who Would Bid on a Flop?

Howard Kurtz looks at the bidders for Newsweek:

One is Newsmax, a conservative Web site and monthly favored by Sarah Palin and founded by Christopher Ruddy, who once investigated conspiracy theories that Clinton administration officials Vince Foster and Ron Brown were murdered. Another is Thane Ritchie, an Illinois hedge-fund manager and Ross Perot fan who is angling to start a new political party. The third is OpenGate Capital, a private equity firm that two years ago bought TV Guide for $1. It’s hard to imagine any of them supporting Newsweek as a vibrant weekly that could compete with Time.

Ummm, it’s really not vibrant, and it apparently isn’t competitive with Time now, so what could these or any new owner do? But Newsweek says it has lots of other bidders. Tons, I am sure. Nevertheless, it seems there is anger among the staffers, who are aggrieved that “Editor Jon Meacham erred badly by transforming the newsweekly into an upscale, left-leaning opinion magazine.” But Meacham kept telling us it was news! Oh my, quite startling to learn this was all a flim-flam, and a grossly unsuccessful one at that.

Kurtz then opines:

On one level, the situation is a paradox. Here you have a magazine loaded with talent — from the Pulitzer-winning Meacham (who is pursuing his own bid to buy the magazine) to such media stars as Jonathan Alter, Howard Fineman, Mike Isikoff, Evan Thomas, Fareed Zakaria and Robert Samuelson — and few seem willing to bet on its financial future. That amounts to a no-confidence vote not just on the category of newsweeklies, which have long been squeezed between daily papers and in-depth monthlies, but on print journalism itself. The lucrative properties these days are digital, and Newsweek’s Web site has long been a flop, both creatively and commercially.

Oh, puleez. With the exception of Samuelson, these are predictable liberals parroting the anti-Israel, pro-Obama, anti-conservative line. It isn’t a vote of no confidence in the concept of a weekly — it’s a vote of no confidence in this product and those people. Whoever buys it, if anyone does, would do well to scrap the dreary liberal perspective, fire most of the current crew, and figure out something a lot of people actually want to read. I can tell you it’s not “a sort of a God” Thomas or Zakaria’s noxious views on Israel.

Howard Kurtz looks at the bidders for Newsweek:

One is Newsmax, a conservative Web site and monthly favored by Sarah Palin and founded by Christopher Ruddy, who once investigated conspiracy theories that Clinton administration officials Vince Foster and Ron Brown were murdered. Another is Thane Ritchie, an Illinois hedge-fund manager and Ross Perot fan who is angling to start a new political party. The third is OpenGate Capital, a private equity firm that two years ago bought TV Guide for $1. It’s hard to imagine any of them supporting Newsweek as a vibrant weekly that could compete with Time.

Ummm, it’s really not vibrant, and it apparently isn’t competitive with Time now, so what could these or any new owner do? But Newsweek says it has lots of other bidders. Tons, I am sure. Nevertheless, it seems there is anger among the staffers, who are aggrieved that “Editor Jon Meacham erred badly by transforming the newsweekly into an upscale, left-leaning opinion magazine.” But Meacham kept telling us it was news! Oh my, quite startling to learn this was all a flim-flam, and a grossly unsuccessful one at that.

Kurtz then opines:

On one level, the situation is a paradox. Here you have a magazine loaded with talent — from the Pulitzer-winning Meacham (who is pursuing his own bid to buy the magazine) to such media stars as Jonathan Alter, Howard Fineman, Mike Isikoff, Evan Thomas, Fareed Zakaria and Robert Samuelson — and few seem willing to bet on its financial future. That amounts to a no-confidence vote not just on the category of newsweeklies, which have long been squeezed between daily papers and in-depth monthlies, but on print journalism itself. The lucrative properties these days are digital, and Newsweek’s Web site has long been a flop, both creatively and commercially.

Oh, puleez. With the exception of Samuelson, these are predictable liberals parroting the anti-Israel, pro-Obama, anti-conservative line. It isn’t a vote of no confidence in the concept of a weekly — it’s a vote of no confidence in this product and those people. Whoever buys it, if anyone does, would do well to scrap the dreary liberal perspective, fire most of the current crew, and figure out something a lot of people actually want to read. I can tell you it’s not “a sort of a God” Thomas or Zakaria’s noxious views on Israel.

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Never Leave Evidence

What is with politicians? Nixon had his tapes. Clinton had his blue dress. And the Obama crew has an e-mail to Andrew Romanoff setting out his career possibilities should he leave the Senate race. No, you won’t find the phrase “And if you get out of the race, we have one of these lovely gifts for you” in the e-mail. But no case is that airtight.

The Obama team now has a pattern — Joe Sestak and Romanoff — of playing the Blago game at a slightly more sophisticated level. But maybe not. There is unfortunately no tape, I would think, of White House staffer Jim Messina telling Romanoff that he should realize that a Senate seat is “f***ing golden.”

What is with politicians? Nixon had his tapes. Clinton had his blue dress. And the Obama crew has an e-mail to Andrew Romanoff setting out his career possibilities should he leave the Senate race. No, you won’t find the phrase “And if you get out of the race, we have one of these lovely gifts for you” in the e-mail. But no case is that airtight.

The Obama team now has a pattern — Joe Sestak and Romanoff — of playing the Blago game at a slightly more sophisticated level. But maybe not. There is unfortunately no tape, I would think, of White House staffer Jim Messina telling Romanoff that he should realize that a Senate seat is “f***ing golden.”

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What Were You Thinking, Dean Kagan?

Sen. Jeff Sessions took to the floor of the Senate to ask a wonderfully phrased question of Elena Kagan: “What were you thinking when you punished our men and women in uniform because you didn’t like what Congress and your president, President Clinton, did with regard to their policies on  gays in the military?”

This and Kagan’s lack of judicial experience (and only minimal litigation experience) will and should be the focus of the confirmation hearings. Unless those concerns are put to rest, many senators will (and in my view should) vote against her nomination.

The filibuster is a different story, however. That involves a political calculation: will the alternative be any better? I suppose that depends in part on whether the new nomination and confirmation vote happens before or after November, when certainly there will be more Republicans on their way to the Senate. In any event, conservative senators may assess the other possible nominees, who may be more ideologically rigid and more capable, size up Kagan’s novice standing, and review the cases she will be recused from — and conclude she’s the worst alternative, except for all the others. In that event, a no vote and no filibuster would be the most prudent course of action.

Sen. Jeff Sessions took to the floor of the Senate to ask a wonderfully phrased question of Elena Kagan: “What were you thinking when you punished our men and women in uniform because you didn’t like what Congress and your president, President Clinton, did with regard to their policies on  gays in the military?”

This and Kagan’s lack of judicial experience (and only minimal litigation experience) will and should be the focus of the confirmation hearings. Unless those concerns are put to rest, many senators will (and in my view should) vote against her nomination.

The filibuster is a different story, however. That involves a political calculation: will the alternative be any better? I suppose that depends in part on whether the new nomination and confirmation vote happens before or after November, when certainly there will be more Republicans on their way to the Senate. In any event, conservative senators may assess the other possible nominees, who may be more ideologically rigid and more capable, size up Kagan’s novice standing, and review the cases she will be recused from — and conclude she’s the worst alternative, except for all the others. In that event, a no vote and no filibuster would be the most prudent course of action.

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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: Mullahs Outfox Obama — Again

The Iranian deal to ship some of its nuclear fuel to Turkey is another diplomatic defeat for the Obama administration. The notion that this will somehow allay the justified fears of the West about Iran’s nuclear ambitions is, as Jen writes, “preposterous” but not much more absurd than the deal that the Obama administration was prepared to sign on to last fall before Tehran pulled the proverbial rug out from under the president.

The interesting question today is not whether this latest development means that Iran is genuinely interested in compromise or prepared to abandon its quest for a nuclear weapon. No one but a fool would believe such a thing. Rather, the real question is how an administration that presents itself as having learned from its first year in office will react to this end run around their admittedly lackluster effort to put together an international coalition on behalf of sanctions against Iran.

For the past few months, we’ve heard a great deal about how the Obami have drawn conclusions about the way the Iranians reacted to Washington’s yearlong quest for “engagement.” We’ve been given to understand that the administration wasn’t going to be fooled any longer and was preparing to get tough with the Iranians. Yet the suspicion that the co-sponsorship of this latest Iranian effort to evade sanctions by Turkey and Brazil will deter a stiff American response hangs over all speculation about the next step.

As Michael Slackman writes in the New York Times:

Mr. Obama now faces a vexing choice. If he walks away from this deal, it will look like he is rejecting an agreement similar to one he was willing to sign eight months ago. But if he accepts it, many of the urgent issues he has said will have to be resolved with Iran in coming months — mostly over suspected weapons work — will be put on hold for a year or more. Many American officials believe that is Iran’s most pressing goal.

That’s the bottom line for Iran. If the United States accepts this deal, it will mean giving Iran another year’s grace to work toward its goal of nuclear capability. That will be added to the full year Iran gained from Obama’s feckless engagement and the months wasted dithering about sanctions. After this next year we will have given them, we can expect only another attempt at dissimulation to gain Iran’s program as much time as it needs. In other words, despite the avowed determination by both President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton that they will not allow Iran to obtain a nuclear weapon, this process they have helped create will lead inevitably to just that result.

That’s why if Washington really is serious about stopping Iran’s nuclear program, the only possible response to this deal is all-out opposition by the United States and its allies. If not, then the president will be acquiescing to a process by which Iran has the ability to indefinitely stall an international response. That is to say that America’s policy will be, like it or not, to simply give Iran a pass and move on to other concerns. And from there it is a very short step to acknowledging that the United States is prepared to live with the Islamist regime in Tehran having a nuclear bomb. That will mean that the only possible hope for a check on Tehran will be the possibility of an Israeli military strike to stave off the existential threat to the Jewish state. That’s a scenario that we know the administration is desperate to avoid. But if they are prepared to meekly accept the Turkish agreement, what arguments can they possibly muster to persuade the Israelis to refrain from defending themselves?

The Iranian deal to ship some of its nuclear fuel to Turkey is another diplomatic defeat for the Obama administration. The notion that this will somehow allay the justified fears of the West about Iran’s nuclear ambitions is, as Jen writes, “preposterous” but not much more absurd than the deal that the Obama administration was prepared to sign on to last fall before Tehran pulled the proverbial rug out from under the president.

The interesting question today is not whether this latest development means that Iran is genuinely interested in compromise or prepared to abandon its quest for a nuclear weapon. No one but a fool would believe such a thing. Rather, the real question is how an administration that presents itself as having learned from its first year in office will react to this end run around their admittedly lackluster effort to put together an international coalition on behalf of sanctions against Iran.

For the past few months, we’ve heard a great deal about how the Obami have drawn conclusions about the way the Iranians reacted to Washington’s yearlong quest for “engagement.” We’ve been given to understand that the administration wasn’t going to be fooled any longer and was preparing to get tough with the Iranians. Yet the suspicion that the co-sponsorship of this latest Iranian effort to evade sanctions by Turkey and Brazil will deter a stiff American response hangs over all speculation about the next step.

As Michael Slackman writes in the New York Times:

Mr. Obama now faces a vexing choice. If he walks away from this deal, it will look like he is rejecting an agreement similar to one he was willing to sign eight months ago. But if he accepts it, many of the urgent issues he has said will have to be resolved with Iran in coming months — mostly over suspected weapons work — will be put on hold for a year or more. Many American officials believe that is Iran’s most pressing goal.

That’s the bottom line for Iran. If the United States accepts this deal, it will mean giving Iran another year’s grace to work toward its goal of nuclear capability. That will be added to the full year Iran gained from Obama’s feckless engagement and the months wasted dithering about sanctions. After this next year we will have given them, we can expect only another attempt at dissimulation to gain Iran’s program as much time as it needs. In other words, despite the avowed determination by both President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton that they will not allow Iran to obtain a nuclear weapon, this process they have helped create will lead inevitably to just that result.

That’s why if Washington really is serious about stopping Iran’s nuclear program, the only possible response to this deal is all-out opposition by the United States and its allies. If not, then the president will be acquiescing to a process by which Iran has the ability to indefinitely stall an international response. That is to say that America’s policy will be, like it or not, to simply give Iran a pass and move on to other concerns. And from there it is a very short step to acknowledging that the United States is prepared to live with the Islamist regime in Tehran having a nuclear bomb. That will mean that the only possible hope for a check on Tehran will be the possibility of an Israeli military strike to stave off the existential threat to the Jewish state. That’s a scenario that we know the administration is desperate to avoid. But if they are prepared to meekly accept the Turkish agreement, what arguments can they possibly muster to persuade the Israelis to refrain from defending themselves?

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Kagan and the Military Recruiters

Ramesh Ponnuru makes an excellent point:

Elena Kagan helped to keep military recruiters from having equal access to the Harvard campus — based on what she called “the military’s policy” on don’t ask, don’t tell. When Congress voted to deny Defense Department funds to universities that discriminate against the military, she joined an effort to fight the law (called the Solomon amendment) in court. In effect, she was arguing that the school had a constitutional right to get government funding while discriminating against military recruiters. The Supreme Court ruled unanimously against the universities.

So on this issue it is hard to argue that Kagan was within the judicial mainstream. Her position is, additionally, hard to defend.

But that may not be the worst of it. The exclusion of openly gay men and lesbians — which I agree should be repealed — is not the military’s policy. It is a law that was enacted by Congress and signed by President Clinton. That didn’t stop Kagan from serving in Clinton’s White House. Nor did her opposition to what she considered the deep injustice of the policy move her to support continuing to discriminate against the recruiters when that would have required turning down some federal money.

So the military alone was supposed to pay a price for her principles — not politicians, and not the university.

Kurt Andersen also makes an interesting point on Facebook: It will, or should, be problematic for any Republican Senator who was in the Senate in 1999 to attack Elena Kagan’s appointment on the grounds that she has limited experience, since her experience is limited due in some measure to the Republican Senate in 1999. That year,  her nomination to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals was tabled by the Republican-dominated Senate, as were all upper-court appointments by the Clinton administration, since there was an election looming and Clinton was a lame duck. This was a  nakedly partisan ideological decision undertaken in part because the same had been done to Republican administrations by Democratic-dominated Senates in 1987-8 and 1991-2.

Ramesh Ponnuru makes an excellent point:

Elena Kagan helped to keep military recruiters from having equal access to the Harvard campus — based on what she called “the military’s policy” on don’t ask, don’t tell. When Congress voted to deny Defense Department funds to universities that discriminate against the military, she joined an effort to fight the law (called the Solomon amendment) in court. In effect, she was arguing that the school had a constitutional right to get government funding while discriminating against military recruiters. The Supreme Court ruled unanimously against the universities.

So on this issue it is hard to argue that Kagan was within the judicial mainstream. Her position is, additionally, hard to defend.

But that may not be the worst of it. The exclusion of openly gay men and lesbians — which I agree should be repealed — is not the military’s policy. It is a law that was enacted by Congress and signed by President Clinton. That didn’t stop Kagan from serving in Clinton’s White House. Nor did her opposition to what she considered the deep injustice of the policy move her to support continuing to discriminate against the recruiters when that would have required turning down some federal money.

So the military alone was supposed to pay a price for her principles — not politicians, and not the university.

Kurt Andersen also makes an interesting point on Facebook: It will, or should, be problematic for any Republican Senator who was in the Senate in 1999 to attack Elena Kagan’s appointment on the grounds that she has limited experience, since her experience is limited due in some measure to the Republican Senate in 1999. That year,  her nomination to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals was tabled by the Republican-dominated Senate, as were all upper-court appointments by the Clinton administration, since there was an election looming and Clinton was a lame duck. This was a  nakedly partisan ideological decision undertaken in part because the same had been done to Republican administrations by Democratic-dominated Senates in 1987-8 and 1991-2.

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Should Conservatives Go to War over Kagan?

Tomorrow Obama is expected to nominate Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court. The question for conservatives is whether they should oppose such a nomination, and, if so, how hard. Chris Good writes:

I asked Carrie Severino, chief counsel and policy director of the Judicial Crisis Network (a conservative group focused on judicial nominees) what conservatives are going to say about Kagan, and what Kagan’s “wise Latina” moment, if there is one, will prove to be.

“She has been much more careful than Justice Sotomayor. She never would have said something like that even if she thinks it. She’s been so careful for so long that no one seems to know exactly what she does think,” Severino said.

Severino attended Harvard Law School, where Kagan served as dean. She asked fellow Harvard people about Kagan’s tenure as dean. “Everyone came back with the same perspective, which was she was careful to never say anything on the record, or off the record, to anyone about her own opinions, so I think she’s been carefully shepherding her image for a long time, possibly ever since her DC circuit nomination by President Clinton, so that’s a long time to effectively live on the short list.”

This is not to say that Kagan would take an originalist view of the Constitution or that her support for law schools’ position on military recruiters doesn’t betray a willingness to conflate liberal policy goals with Constitutional interpretation. But is she as objectionable as a judge, for example, who went to great lengths to support racial quotas and delivered the “wise Latina” speech? Well, one can bemoan her lack of judicial experience and scant writing record but should her nomination be opposed with a full court press?

At this point — and more might be revealed in hearings and upon the examination of her written work — I would think not. She frankly has not proven herself to be as adept a legal scholar as someone like Diane Wood, who would wow and sway the other justices. (It is intellectual argumentation rather than social charm that makes the difference on the Court.) So there could be worse — that is, more “dangerous” picks from a conservative perspective. Kagan has not made her life’s work the promotion of minority victimology. She isn’t without academic qualifications. So, while she’s not a judge conservatives would nominate, it’s hard to conceive of a reason for rigorously blocking her nomination.

This is the price of losing elections: the other side gets to govern and thus help shape the direction of the courts. It’s a reminder to find adept presidential nominees who can win and who will nominate judges at all levels who appreciate the proper role of the courts in our democratic system.

Tomorrow Obama is expected to nominate Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court. The question for conservatives is whether they should oppose such a nomination, and, if so, how hard. Chris Good writes:

I asked Carrie Severino, chief counsel and policy director of the Judicial Crisis Network (a conservative group focused on judicial nominees) what conservatives are going to say about Kagan, and what Kagan’s “wise Latina” moment, if there is one, will prove to be.

“She has been much more careful than Justice Sotomayor. She never would have said something like that even if she thinks it. She’s been so careful for so long that no one seems to know exactly what she does think,” Severino said.

Severino attended Harvard Law School, where Kagan served as dean. She asked fellow Harvard people about Kagan’s tenure as dean. “Everyone came back with the same perspective, which was she was careful to never say anything on the record, or off the record, to anyone about her own opinions, so I think she’s been carefully shepherding her image for a long time, possibly ever since her DC circuit nomination by President Clinton, so that’s a long time to effectively live on the short list.”

This is not to say that Kagan would take an originalist view of the Constitution or that her support for law schools’ position on military recruiters doesn’t betray a willingness to conflate liberal policy goals with Constitutional interpretation. But is she as objectionable as a judge, for example, who went to great lengths to support racial quotas and delivered the “wise Latina” speech? Well, one can bemoan her lack of judicial experience and scant writing record but should her nomination be opposed with a full court press?

At this point — and more might be revealed in hearings and upon the examination of her written work — I would think not. She frankly has not proven herself to be as adept a legal scholar as someone like Diane Wood, who would wow and sway the other justices. (It is intellectual argumentation rather than social charm that makes the difference on the Court.) So there could be worse — that is, more “dangerous” picks from a conservative perspective. Kagan has not made her life’s work the promotion of minority victimology. She isn’t without academic qualifications. So, while she’s not a judge conservatives would nominate, it’s hard to conceive of a reason for rigorously blocking her nomination.

This is the price of losing elections: the other side gets to govern and thus help shape the direction of the courts. It’s a reminder to find adept presidential nominees who can win and who will nominate judges at all levels who appreciate the proper role of the courts in our democratic system.

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Peace Process “Starts”?

This report tells you just how unserious — and unrelated to “peace” — is the process that supposedly started today: “United States special envoy George Mitchell met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday, as Israelis and Palestinians readied themselves for the start of long-awaited indirect peace negotiations.” Yes, after 15 months George Mitchell has gotten the Palestinians and the Israelis to do exactly what they have been doing — talking to him and not each other. Yes, they came up with a fancy name — “proximity talks” — but that’s not exactly truth in advertising. There is no talking between the parties, in contrast to what happened during the Bush and Clinton administrations, which at least got the two sides in the same room. It’s not even clear what authority the PA has to negotiate:

Despite media reports that Mitchell’s meetings with Netanyahu would kick off the talks, the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization has still to convene to give the go-ahead to Palestinian participation in the negotiations. The Arab League gave its backing to the talks on Saturday.

It is unclear when the Committee will meet. Abbas, the PLO head, was in Cairo and Amman on Wednesday for talks with President Hosni Mubarak and King Abdullah II, and was not expected to return to Ramallah before Friday.

But just as the title of the talks signals that nothing much is going on, so does the pablum put out to the media after the first session: “A spokesman for the Prime Minister’s Office said that the two met for three hours and described the atmosphere as good. Mitchell and Netanyahu are scheduled to meet again on Thursday. In Washington, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said the meeting was good and productive but did not give details.” Presumably this meant that no one left in a huff, but “productive” — well, that’s open to debate, not only for today’s session but for the entire exercise.

Both sides have said they don’t expect the talks to “succeed” and both want to maneuver not to be blamed. You thought the Iranian nuclear talks were the pinnacle of gamesmanship? Prepare to see both sides talk and talk and talk some more. So how does this end? In a third Intifada? With the administration announcing that they have “no choice” but to propose an American plan and a deadline for its implementation? The best we can hope for — and it would be a stretch at this point — is that the talks would quietly fizzle and the Palestinians will return to the business of creating the preconditions for real peace — that is, the formulation of institutions and the development of a new mindset that eschews victimology and violence. But the Obama crew has made that all the more difficult.

This report tells you just how unserious — and unrelated to “peace” — is the process that supposedly started today: “United States special envoy George Mitchell met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday, as Israelis and Palestinians readied themselves for the start of long-awaited indirect peace negotiations.” Yes, after 15 months George Mitchell has gotten the Palestinians and the Israelis to do exactly what they have been doing — talking to him and not each other. Yes, they came up with a fancy name — “proximity talks” — but that’s not exactly truth in advertising. There is no talking between the parties, in contrast to what happened during the Bush and Clinton administrations, which at least got the two sides in the same room. It’s not even clear what authority the PA has to negotiate:

Despite media reports that Mitchell’s meetings with Netanyahu would kick off the talks, the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization has still to convene to give the go-ahead to Palestinian participation in the negotiations. The Arab League gave its backing to the talks on Saturday.

It is unclear when the Committee will meet. Abbas, the PLO head, was in Cairo and Amman on Wednesday for talks with President Hosni Mubarak and King Abdullah II, and was not expected to return to Ramallah before Friday.

But just as the title of the talks signals that nothing much is going on, so does the pablum put out to the media after the first session: “A spokesman for the Prime Minister’s Office said that the two met for three hours and described the atmosphere as good. Mitchell and Netanyahu are scheduled to meet again on Thursday. In Washington, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said the meeting was good and productive but did not give details.” Presumably this meant that no one left in a huff, but “productive” — well, that’s open to debate, not only for today’s session but for the entire exercise.

Both sides have said they don’t expect the talks to “succeed” and both want to maneuver not to be blamed. You thought the Iranian nuclear talks were the pinnacle of gamesmanship? Prepare to see both sides talk and talk and talk some more. So how does this end? In a third Intifada? With the administration announcing that they have “no choice” but to propose an American plan and a deadline for its implementation? The best we can hope for — and it would be a stretch at this point — is that the talks would quietly fizzle and the Palestinians will return to the business of creating the preconditions for real peace — that is, the formulation of institutions and the development of a new mindset that eschews victimology and violence. But the Obama crew has made that all the more difficult.

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Nuclear Equivalence

Talk about pointless gestures. The administration has disclosed the number of nuclear warheads in our arsenal — 5,113, if you were wondering. That’s down from a high of 31,255 nukes in 1967. Like other big figures, such as the size of the intelligence budget, that were once classified, the release of this information does nothing to endanger our national security, as far as I can tell. But what point is it supposed to serve? Here is what Secretary of State Clinton had to say:

“We think it is in our national security interest to be as transparent as we can about the nuclear program of the United States,” she told reporters at a high-level nuclear conference in New York, where she announced the change in policy. “We think that builds confidence.”

I don’t want to make too big a deal of what is a relatively small point in and of itself, but this seems to demonstrate an odd belief that U.S. military capacity is part of the problem, not the solution, to the world’s problems. Implicit in Madam Secretary’s statement is a sort of moral equivalence, which suggests that our nukes are, at some level, just as problematic as those of, say, North Korea, and that if we show the right path toward transparency and arms control, rogue states will follow our lead.

In reality, American nukes are as different from those being built by Iran or North Korea as a cop’s handgun is from a gun wielded by a serial killer. What counts is not killing capacity but in whose hands it resides. No one worries about British or French or American nukes. Nor should anyone worry about Israeli nukes — as long as Israel doesn’t face annihilation, they will never be used.

That’s because countries like the U.S. and Israel have democratic systems with checks and safeguards against capricious use of the ultimate weapons. The problem with Iran is that it has no such safeguards. If it were to acquire nukes, its weapons would be in the hands of millenarian religious fanatics who jail or kill anyone who criticizes them. Seeing America downsize its nuclear arsenal or disclose its size won’t make the mullahs follow suit; if anything, it will embolden them to be more aggressive because they will see the latest gestures by the administration (correctly) as an indication of our lack of resolve to stop them.

Talk about pointless gestures. The administration has disclosed the number of nuclear warheads in our arsenal — 5,113, if you were wondering. That’s down from a high of 31,255 nukes in 1967. Like other big figures, such as the size of the intelligence budget, that were once classified, the release of this information does nothing to endanger our national security, as far as I can tell. But what point is it supposed to serve? Here is what Secretary of State Clinton had to say:

“We think it is in our national security interest to be as transparent as we can about the nuclear program of the United States,” she told reporters at a high-level nuclear conference in New York, where she announced the change in policy. “We think that builds confidence.”

I don’t want to make too big a deal of what is a relatively small point in and of itself, but this seems to demonstrate an odd belief that U.S. military capacity is part of the problem, not the solution, to the world’s problems. Implicit in Madam Secretary’s statement is a sort of moral equivalence, which suggests that our nukes are, at some level, just as problematic as those of, say, North Korea, and that if we show the right path toward transparency and arms control, rogue states will follow our lead.

In reality, American nukes are as different from those being built by Iran or North Korea as a cop’s handgun is from a gun wielded by a serial killer. What counts is not killing capacity but in whose hands it resides. No one worries about British or French or American nukes. Nor should anyone worry about Israeli nukes — as long as Israel doesn’t face annihilation, they will never be used.

That’s because countries like the U.S. and Israel have democratic systems with checks and safeguards against capricious use of the ultimate weapons. The problem with Iran is that it has no such safeguards. If it were to acquire nukes, its weapons would be in the hands of millenarian religious fanatics who jail or kill anyone who criticizes them. Seeing America downsize its nuclear arsenal or disclose its size won’t make the mullahs follow suit; if anything, it will embolden them to be more aggressive because they will see the latest gestures by the administration (correctly) as an indication of our lack of resolve to stop them.

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Too Busy to Enforce Sanctions

Howard Berman (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, delivered revealing remarks yesterday during the first meeting of the Iran sanctions conference committee.

Berman noted that there have been five UN Security Council resolutions since 2006 demanding that Iran suspend its uranium enrichment and end its nuclear-weapons-related programs; that Iran has continued its march toward nuclear weapons and may already have enough low-enriched uranium for a bomb; and that “it remains to be seen when and whether a [UN] resolution will emerge.”

Then he gave a description of enforcement by the U.S. of prior sanctions legislation, indicating that it has had no effect whatsoever:

And let me address one more critical issue. In the years since the Iran-Libya Sanctions Act was first passed in 1996, there has been only one instance in which the President determined that a sanctionable investment had taken place. That was in 1998, and the purpose of President Clinton’s determination was to waive the sanction. Since then, there has never been a determination of sanctionable activity, notwithstanding the fact that recent GAO and CRS reports – and, for a time, even the Department of Energy website – have cited at least two dozen investments in Iran’s energy sector of sanctionable levels.

Berman argues that the pending bill needs to require the President to investigate all reasonable reports of sanctionable activity, determine whether the reported activity is sanctionable, and, “if it is, to go ahead and either impose sanctions or, if he chooses, waive sanctions.” But Berman knows that the Obama administration opposes even that:

I know the Administration officials don’t want our bill to require the Executive Branch to investigate each report of sanctionable activity. They especially don’t want the bill to require them to make the determination as to whether or not to actually impose sanctions. They want to be authorized to impose sanctions, if they so choose, but they don’t want to be required to impose them. They cite a number of legitimate reasons for their position: workload concerns, constitutional concerns, and foreign policy concerns.

Workload concerns.

Perhaps the administration could free up some people now reviewing housing permits in Jerusalem to work on this.

Howard Berman (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, delivered revealing remarks yesterday during the first meeting of the Iran sanctions conference committee.

Berman noted that there have been five UN Security Council resolutions since 2006 demanding that Iran suspend its uranium enrichment and end its nuclear-weapons-related programs; that Iran has continued its march toward nuclear weapons and may already have enough low-enriched uranium for a bomb; and that “it remains to be seen when and whether a [UN] resolution will emerge.”

Then he gave a description of enforcement by the U.S. of prior sanctions legislation, indicating that it has had no effect whatsoever:

And let me address one more critical issue. In the years since the Iran-Libya Sanctions Act was first passed in 1996, there has been only one instance in which the President determined that a sanctionable investment had taken place. That was in 1998, and the purpose of President Clinton’s determination was to waive the sanction. Since then, there has never been a determination of sanctionable activity, notwithstanding the fact that recent GAO and CRS reports – and, for a time, even the Department of Energy website – have cited at least two dozen investments in Iran’s energy sector of sanctionable levels.

Berman argues that the pending bill needs to require the President to investigate all reasonable reports of sanctionable activity, determine whether the reported activity is sanctionable, and, “if it is, to go ahead and either impose sanctions or, if he chooses, waive sanctions.” But Berman knows that the Obama administration opposes even that:

I know the Administration officials don’t want our bill to require the Executive Branch to investigate each report of sanctionable activity. They especially don’t want the bill to require them to make the determination as to whether or not to actually impose sanctions. They want to be authorized to impose sanctions, if they so choose, but they don’t want to be required to impose them. They cite a number of legitimate reasons for their position: workload concerns, constitutional concerns, and foreign policy concerns.

Workload concerns.

Perhaps the administration could free up some people now reviewing housing permits in Jerusalem to work on this.

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Unheeded Advice from William Galston

William Galston, a top aide of President Clinton, writes that while that public is concerned about the economy and jobs, “the [Democratic] leadership is moving toward, or backing into, months dominated by some combination of immigration and climate change — and of course there will also be a Supreme Court confirmation battle to fight. It is hard to believe that the people will respond favorably.” Galston goes on to write:

My skepticism about the Democrats’ emerging strategy has nothing to do with the substance of these issues…  I disagree, rather, with the political calculation that seems to be driving this strategy. Here’s why: 90 percent of the electorate is not Hispanic, and 85 percent is not young. Relatively modest shifts in voter sentiment outside these two groups could easily swamp increased turnout within them and turn all-but-certain Democratic losses into a rout of historic proportions. While the temptation to adopt a strategy of targeted micro-politics is understandable, Democrats should instead espouse a strategy of macro-politics focused on broad-based public concerns. If that means that Senate Democrats will have to choose a new majority leader next January, so be it. At least they’ll still have a majority.

When responsible Democrats like Professor Galston are concerned about a “rout of historic proportions,” you know how ominous things are becoming for Democrats. President Obama and the Democratic leadership would have been wise to follow Galston’s advice from the outset of the presidency (he warned a against a massive expansion of the federal government in a period when trust in the federal government was low). I rather doubt they will listen to him now. And they will pay quite a high price, perhaps historically high, for their extraordinary missteps.

William Galston, a top aide of President Clinton, writes that while that public is concerned about the economy and jobs, “the [Democratic] leadership is moving toward, or backing into, months dominated by some combination of immigration and climate change — and of course there will also be a Supreme Court confirmation battle to fight. It is hard to believe that the people will respond favorably.” Galston goes on to write:

My skepticism about the Democrats’ emerging strategy has nothing to do with the substance of these issues…  I disagree, rather, with the political calculation that seems to be driving this strategy. Here’s why: 90 percent of the electorate is not Hispanic, and 85 percent is not young. Relatively modest shifts in voter sentiment outside these two groups could easily swamp increased turnout within them and turn all-but-certain Democratic losses into a rout of historic proportions. While the temptation to adopt a strategy of targeted micro-politics is understandable, Democrats should instead espouse a strategy of macro-politics focused on broad-based public concerns. If that means that Senate Democrats will have to choose a new majority leader next January, so be it. At least they’ll still have a majority.

When responsible Democrats like Professor Galston are concerned about a “rout of historic proportions,” you know how ominous things are becoming for Democrats. President Obama and the Democratic leadership would have been wise to follow Galston’s advice from the outset of the presidency (he warned a against a massive expansion of the federal government in a period when trust in the federal government was low). I rather doubt they will listen to him now. And they will pay quite a high price, perhaps historically high, for their extraordinary missteps.

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Cohen Flacks for George Mitchell

A reader calls my attention to the latest noxious column by Roger Cohen. On full display is the mutual suck-uppery between the Gray Lady’s incessant Israel basher and the administration’s hapless peace processor, George Mitchell. Cohen writes of Mitchell:

He was asked about Netanyahu during his visit and, according to notes I saw, responded: “I believe Netanyahu is serious, capable and interested in reaching an agreement. What I cannot say is if he is willing to agree to what is needed to secure an agreement.”

That meeting concluded with Mitchell saying: “You asked if I think Netanyahu is serious. They ask the same question. You are an expert on Palestinian and Israeli politics. They are the same. But no one in the world knows American politics better than me, and this I will say. There has never been in the White House a president that is so committed on this issue, including Clinton who is a personal friend, and there will never be, at least not in the lifetime of anyone in this room.”

Let’s examine that a bit. Is the PA serious about peace? Is there any indication that the Palestinians are “serious, capable, and interested” in reaching an agreement? Cohen doesn’t bother to ask, for the answer would either strain even the most deluded peace-process fan’s credulity or reveal that, of course, the Palestinians aren’t serious — that’s why they must be lured, bribed, and cajoled to meet not-even-face-to-face with the Israelis.

Next. Mitchell — no doubt speaking slowly so Cohen can record every word of praise — tells his scribe what an “expert” on the Middle East he is. Hmm. Does that include Cohen’s quasi recantation of his views on Iran? But then Mitchell isn’t done — because no one, not a soul knows American politics like George Mitchell. Apparently, he’s working on that little problem which is that two-thirds of the public disapprove of his Middle East policy. (And, really, Mitchell is wasted in the Middle East. With Obama in the 40s in approval polls, shouldn’t Mitchell be chief of staff? You know, have a real job where his skills won’t be wasted in 16 months of fruitless Middle East shuttling.) And then he delivers the final masterstroke of ingratiation and puffery — Hillary, close your ears — “There has never been in the White House a president that is so committed on this issue, including Clinton who is a personal friend, and there will never be, at least not in the lifetime of anyone in this room.” Not Clinton. Not anyone. And Obama is so committed that he’s accomplished what, exactly? Ah, strained Israeli relations to the breaking point, encouraged Palestinian intransigence, induced moderate Arabs to up the ante against Israel, and driven his own poll ratings in Israel into the low single digits. But it’s his intentions that matter, you see.

Really, even for Cohen — and for Mitchell — this is embarrassing stuff. But it does reveal how tone-deaf both are, and how they imagine that grandiose intentions replace results, and that self-definition supersedes reality. You can understand why Obama’s Middle East policy is such a mess.

A reader calls my attention to the latest noxious column by Roger Cohen. On full display is the mutual suck-uppery between the Gray Lady’s incessant Israel basher and the administration’s hapless peace processor, George Mitchell. Cohen writes of Mitchell:

He was asked about Netanyahu during his visit and, according to notes I saw, responded: “I believe Netanyahu is serious, capable and interested in reaching an agreement. What I cannot say is if he is willing to agree to what is needed to secure an agreement.”

That meeting concluded with Mitchell saying: “You asked if I think Netanyahu is serious. They ask the same question. You are an expert on Palestinian and Israeli politics. They are the same. But no one in the world knows American politics better than me, and this I will say. There has never been in the White House a president that is so committed on this issue, including Clinton who is a personal friend, and there will never be, at least not in the lifetime of anyone in this room.”

Let’s examine that a bit. Is the PA serious about peace? Is there any indication that the Palestinians are “serious, capable, and interested” in reaching an agreement? Cohen doesn’t bother to ask, for the answer would either strain even the most deluded peace-process fan’s credulity or reveal that, of course, the Palestinians aren’t serious — that’s why they must be lured, bribed, and cajoled to meet not-even-face-to-face with the Israelis.

Next. Mitchell — no doubt speaking slowly so Cohen can record every word of praise — tells his scribe what an “expert” on the Middle East he is. Hmm. Does that include Cohen’s quasi recantation of his views on Iran? But then Mitchell isn’t done — because no one, not a soul knows American politics like George Mitchell. Apparently, he’s working on that little problem which is that two-thirds of the public disapprove of his Middle East policy. (And, really, Mitchell is wasted in the Middle East. With Obama in the 40s in approval polls, shouldn’t Mitchell be chief of staff? You know, have a real job where his skills won’t be wasted in 16 months of fruitless Middle East shuttling.) And then he delivers the final masterstroke of ingratiation and puffery — Hillary, close your ears — “There has never been in the White House a president that is so committed on this issue, including Clinton who is a personal friend, and there will never be, at least not in the lifetime of anyone in this room.” Not Clinton. Not anyone. And Obama is so committed that he’s accomplished what, exactly? Ah, strained Israeli relations to the breaking point, encouraged Palestinian intransigence, induced moderate Arabs to up the ante against Israel, and driven his own poll ratings in Israel into the low single digits. But it’s his intentions that matter, you see.

Really, even for Cohen — and for Mitchell — this is embarrassing stuff. But it does reveal how tone-deaf both are, and how they imagine that grandiose intentions replace results, and that self-definition supersedes reality. You can understand why Obama’s Middle East policy is such a mess.

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Lauder Takes On Obama

Ronald Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress, has taken out ads in the Washington Post and Wall Street Journal to lambast the president’s Israel policy. It reads, in part:

Jews around the world are concerned today.  We are concerned about the nuclear ambitions of an Iranian regime that brags about its genocidal intentions against Israel.  We are concerned that the Jewish state is being isolated and delegitimized.

Mr. President, we are concerned about the dramatic deterioration of diplomatic relations between the United States and Israel.

The Israeli housing bureaucracy made a poorly timed announcement and your Administration branded it an “insult.”  This diplomatic faux pas was over the fourth stage of a seven stage planning permission process – a plan to build homes years from now in a Jewish area of Jerusalem that under any peace agreement would remain an integral part of Israel.

Our concern grows to alarm as we consider some disturbing questions.  Why does the thrust of this Administration’s Middle East rhetoric seem to blame Israel for the lack of movement on peace talks? After all, it is the Palestinians, not Israel, who refuse to negotiate.

Israel has made unprecedented concessions.  It has enacted the most far reaching West Bank settlement moratorium in Israeli history.

Israel has publicly declared support for a two-state solution.  Conversely, many Palestinians continue their refusal to even acknowledge Israel’s right to exist.

The conflict’s root cause has always been the Palestinian refusal to accept Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people.  Every American President who has tried to broker a peace agreement has collided with that Palestinian intransigence, sooner or later.  Recall President Clinton’s anguish when his peace proposals were bluntly rejected by the Palestinians in 2000.  Settlements were not the key issue then.

They are not the key issue now.

Another important question is this:  what is the Administration’s position on Israel’s borders in any final status agreement?  Ambiguity on this matter has provoked a wave of rumors and anxiety.  Can it be true that America is no longer committed to a final status agreement that provides defensible borders for Israel? Is a new course being charted that would leave Israel with the indefensible borders that invited invasion prior to 1967?

There are significant moves from the Palestinian side to use those indefensible borders as the basis for a future unilateral declaration of independence.  How would the United States respond to such a reckless course of action?

And what are America’s strategic ambitions in the broader Middle East?  The Administration’s desire to improve relations with the Muslim world is well known.  But is friction with Israel part of this new strategy?  Is it assumed worsening relations with Israel can improve relations with Muslims?  History is clear on the matter:  appeasement does not work.  It can achieve the opposite of what is intended.

And what about the most dangerous player in the region?  Shouldn’t the United States remain focused on the single biggest threat that confronts the world today? That threat is a nuclear armed Iran.  Israel is not only America’s closest ally in the Middle East, it is the one most committed to this Administration’s declared aim of ensuring Iran does not get nuclear weapons.

He closes by asking Obama to take into “consideration the concerns expressed above.” As others have observed, Lauder revealed to the New York Times that he discussed the letter with Bibi and received support before running the ad.

There are several noteworthy points here. First, this is by far the most detailed and pointed objection from a prominent Jewish leader to the series of moves by the president to shift from the U.S.-Israel alliance, which has remained dominant in the Middle East, to something different. Unlike Democratic lawmakers who tend to skate by with generalities, Lauder makes his case with some detail. Second, I suspect this may unleash similarly candid responses. The sentiments Lauder expresses are not uncommon among Jewish activists, who may wonder why it is that their own organizations are being less forthright than Lauder’s. In other words, Lauder may well open up the floodgates for a new, frankly less genial relationship between the official Jewish community and the administration.

And finally, it remains to be seen what impact — if any — this has on the administration (which cares little for public opinion in general) and on Jewish support, be it electorally or financially, for Obama and his party. Given that Democrats are scrambling to distance themselves from Obama both on the Palestinian-Israel conflict and on Iran, it may be that there is little impact in the near-run. But 2012 is another story. Obama’s ability to maintain the facade that he is a great friend of Israel and of the American Jewish community may be coming to an end. If he is to pursue this course of action, he may well have to do it over increasing opposition from those who have been among his most loyal supporters.

Ronald Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress, has taken out ads in the Washington Post and Wall Street Journal to lambast the president’s Israel policy. It reads, in part:

Jews around the world are concerned today.  We are concerned about the nuclear ambitions of an Iranian regime that brags about its genocidal intentions against Israel.  We are concerned that the Jewish state is being isolated and delegitimized.

Mr. President, we are concerned about the dramatic deterioration of diplomatic relations between the United States and Israel.

The Israeli housing bureaucracy made a poorly timed announcement and your Administration branded it an “insult.”  This diplomatic faux pas was over the fourth stage of a seven stage planning permission process – a plan to build homes years from now in a Jewish area of Jerusalem that under any peace agreement would remain an integral part of Israel.

Our concern grows to alarm as we consider some disturbing questions.  Why does the thrust of this Administration’s Middle East rhetoric seem to blame Israel for the lack of movement on peace talks? After all, it is the Palestinians, not Israel, who refuse to negotiate.

Israel has made unprecedented concessions.  It has enacted the most far reaching West Bank settlement moratorium in Israeli history.

Israel has publicly declared support for a two-state solution.  Conversely, many Palestinians continue their refusal to even acknowledge Israel’s right to exist.

The conflict’s root cause has always been the Palestinian refusal to accept Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people.  Every American President who has tried to broker a peace agreement has collided with that Palestinian intransigence, sooner or later.  Recall President Clinton’s anguish when his peace proposals were bluntly rejected by the Palestinians in 2000.  Settlements were not the key issue then.

They are not the key issue now.

Another important question is this:  what is the Administration’s position on Israel’s borders in any final status agreement?  Ambiguity on this matter has provoked a wave of rumors and anxiety.  Can it be true that America is no longer committed to a final status agreement that provides defensible borders for Israel? Is a new course being charted that would leave Israel with the indefensible borders that invited invasion prior to 1967?

There are significant moves from the Palestinian side to use those indefensible borders as the basis for a future unilateral declaration of independence.  How would the United States respond to such a reckless course of action?

And what are America’s strategic ambitions in the broader Middle East?  The Administration’s desire to improve relations with the Muslim world is well known.  But is friction with Israel part of this new strategy?  Is it assumed worsening relations with Israel can improve relations with Muslims?  History is clear on the matter:  appeasement does not work.  It can achieve the opposite of what is intended.

And what about the most dangerous player in the region?  Shouldn’t the United States remain focused on the single biggest threat that confronts the world today? That threat is a nuclear armed Iran.  Israel is not only America’s closest ally in the Middle East, it is the one most committed to this Administration’s declared aim of ensuring Iran does not get nuclear weapons.

He closes by asking Obama to take into “consideration the concerns expressed above.” As others have observed, Lauder revealed to the New York Times that he discussed the letter with Bibi and received support before running the ad.

There are several noteworthy points here. First, this is by far the most detailed and pointed objection from a prominent Jewish leader to the series of moves by the president to shift from the U.S.-Israel alliance, which has remained dominant in the Middle East, to something different. Unlike Democratic lawmakers who tend to skate by with generalities, Lauder makes his case with some detail. Second, I suspect this may unleash similarly candid responses. The sentiments Lauder expresses are not uncommon among Jewish activists, who may wonder why it is that their own organizations are being less forthright than Lauder’s. In other words, Lauder may well open up the floodgates for a new, frankly less genial relationship between the official Jewish community and the administration.

And finally, it remains to be seen what impact — if any — this has on the administration (which cares little for public opinion in general) and on Jewish support, be it electorally or financially, for Obama and his party. Given that Democrats are scrambling to distance themselves from Obama both on the Palestinian-Israel conflict and on Iran, it may be that there is little impact in the near-run. But 2012 is another story. Obama’s ability to maintain the facade that he is a great friend of Israel and of the American Jewish community may be coming to an end. If he is to pursue this course of action, he may well have to do it over increasing opposition from those who have been among his most loyal supporters.

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