Commentary Magazine


Topic: deputy national security adviser

Look Who’s Back at the White House

Who could have imagined, back in 2008, that President Obama would ask some of the most prominent neoconservatives from the Bush administration for foreign-policy advice just a few years later?

Laura Rozen is reporting that Obama has invited Brookings Institute scholar Robert Kagan and former Bush deputy national security adviser Elliott Abrams to the White House to discuss the situation in Egypt today:

Just got late word that Dunne, Kagan and others from their group including former Bush NSC Middle East hand Elliott Abrams, as well as George Washington University Middle East expert Marc Lynch, and the National Security Network’s Joel Rubin, formerly a U.S. Egypt desk officer, have been invited to the White House Monday.

Kagan and Abrams are meeting with Obama because of their involvement in the Egypt Working Group, an organization that was prophetic in predicting the current crisis in Egypt. Last November, the group was already anticipating the end of President Hosni Mubarak’s regime and called on the Obama administration to push the Egyptian leader for human-rights reforms.

The group is now advising the Obama administration to cut foreign aid to Egypt. At Robert Gibbs’s press conference last Friday, he said that Obama was open to going in that direction, and this is a good indication that the administration is seriously considering the idea.

Who could have imagined, back in 2008, that President Obama would ask some of the most prominent neoconservatives from the Bush administration for foreign-policy advice just a few years later?

Laura Rozen is reporting that Obama has invited Brookings Institute scholar Robert Kagan and former Bush deputy national security adviser Elliott Abrams to the White House to discuss the situation in Egypt today:

Just got late word that Dunne, Kagan and others from their group including former Bush NSC Middle East hand Elliott Abrams, as well as George Washington University Middle East expert Marc Lynch, and the National Security Network’s Joel Rubin, formerly a U.S. Egypt desk officer, have been invited to the White House Monday.

Kagan and Abrams are meeting with Obama because of their involvement in the Egypt Working Group, an organization that was prophetic in predicting the current crisis in Egypt. Last November, the group was already anticipating the end of President Hosni Mubarak’s regime and called on the Obama administration to push the Egyptian leader for human-rights reforms.

The group is now advising the Obama administration to cut foreign aid to Egypt. At Robert Gibbs’s press conference last Friday, he said that Obama was open to going in that direction, and this is a good indication that the administration is seriously considering the idea.

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What a New National Security Adviser Means for Foreign Policy

There has been much speculation in Washington circles about what it means that Tom Donilon has replaced James Jones as national security adviser. My hunch is: not much. I am not particularly persuaded by theories that hold that Donilon is more left-wing than Jones, and that he will clash more with senior generals. Jones, after all, was not exactly an outspoken advocate of the surge in Afghanistan (or for that matter in Iraq).

My sense is that a lot of the reason why he was appointed, even though Obama had barely met him, was so that Obama, who has no experience in military affairs, would have a high-profile retired officer on his staff who could with credibility stand up to the Pentagon. Jones made news in the summer of 2009 when he warned Gen. Stanley McChrystal that any further troop requests would be a “whisky tango foxtrot” moment for the White House. McChrystal asked for more troops anyway, because they were necessary. Most of his request wound up being granted not because of any decision made by Jones or by Donilon, who was then deputy national security adviser but widely seen as the power behind Jones’s throne. The ultimate call was made, unsurprisingly, by Barack Obama himself. That’s the way it always is and always has to be. The president is the “decider in chief.”

A good national security adviser can help marshal the information the boss needs to make good decisions and then help to implement them, but it is extremely rare for a national security adviser to be a major power in his or her own right. Henry Kissinger and Zbigniew Brzezinski are notable exceptions to this rule, but there haven’t been many others — and it has been many decades since they were in power. Usually, the national security adviser is a reflection of the president. This was certainly the case with Condi Rice, who was widely faulted for not doing a better job of getting the Bush administration to march in lockstep behind the president’s policies. That failure was ultimately not hers but George W. Bush’s. It was he, after all, who appointed her and gave her the power she had — or didn’t have. So, too, it will be with Donilon. He is certainly not a foreign policy intellectual like Kissinger or Brzezinski; he is a consummate staffer. There’s nothing wrong with that. But what it means is that we shouldn’t expect much change from his appointment.

There has been much speculation in Washington circles about what it means that Tom Donilon has replaced James Jones as national security adviser. My hunch is: not much. I am not particularly persuaded by theories that hold that Donilon is more left-wing than Jones, and that he will clash more with senior generals. Jones, after all, was not exactly an outspoken advocate of the surge in Afghanistan (or for that matter in Iraq).

My sense is that a lot of the reason why he was appointed, even though Obama had barely met him, was so that Obama, who has no experience in military affairs, would have a high-profile retired officer on his staff who could with credibility stand up to the Pentagon. Jones made news in the summer of 2009 when he warned Gen. Stanley McChrystal that any further troop requests would be a “whisky tango foxtrot” moment for the White House. McChrystal asked for more troops anyway, because they were necessary. Most of his request wound up being granted not because of any decision made by Jones or by Donilon, who was then deputy national security adviser but widely seen as the power behind Jones’s throne. The ultimate call was made, unsurprisingly, by Barack Obama himself. That’s the way it always is and always has to be. The president is the “decider in chief.”

A good national security adviser can help marshal the information the boss needs to make good decisions and then help to implement them, but it is extremely rare for a national security adviser to be a major power in his or her own right. Henry Kissinger and Zbigniew Brzezinski are notable exceptions to this rule, but there haven’t been many others — and it has been many decades since they were in power. Usually, the national security adviser is a reflection of the president. This was certainly the case with Condi Rice, who was widely faulted for not doing a better job of getting the Bush administration to march in lockstep behind the president’s policies. That failure was ultimately not hers but George W. Bush’s. It was he, after all, who appointed her and gave her the power she had — or didn’t have. So, too, it will be with Donilon. He is certainly not a foreign policy intellectual like Kissinger or Brzezinski; he is a consummate staffer. There’s nothing wrong with that. But what it means is that we shouldn’t expect much change from his appointment.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

A “primer in rotten politics”: Assemblyman Vito Lopez is captured on videotape “threatening a group of old ladies during an effort to consolidate power as Kings County kingmaker.”

A chilling thought: Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes (who gets his Iraq info from Google) tells us that the Obami will make sure Iran’s nuclear intentions are peaceful before another fruitless round of engagement. “Just when will Iran have to demonstrate the peaceful intent of its nuclear program? After they build the bomb as a check on Israeli aggression, perhaps? And anyway, Ben Rhodes is not a national security adviser, or rather, would not be in any universe that made sense. He was Obama’s top foreign-policy speechwriter and was then made a Deputy National Security adviser … for Communications. I suppose it’s possible that he’s not only writing speeches but also dictating foreign policy, in which case it’s time I take my suicide pills.”

A dopey suggestion from Bill Clinton on the Ground Zero mosque: “Much or even most of the controversy … could have been avoided, and perhaps still can be, if the people who want to build the center were to simply say, ‘We are dedicating this center to all the Muslims who were killed on 9/11.’” Because Muslims should dedicate things only to Muslims, you see.

And a noxious analysis by the ex-president of the problem with Russian immigrants in Israel. Maybe he’s competing with Jimmy Carter for the ex-president limelight.

An exercise in self-delusion: Nate Silver says the generic polls don’t really mean that a debacle is ahead for the Democrats.

Another result of “reform” Obama-style: drug companies may hike prices to offset the ObamaCare drug discount. It was supposed to fill “the doughnut hole.” Instead, it may worsen the health-care inflation problem.

A 10-point plan for reducing unemployment: “If we truly want to create jobs, it is not enough to simply berate business to create them. We must address the dynamics that keep businesses from offering jobs and that keep people from accepting jobs. We can use policy to create jobs — we just have to care enough about the jobless to make creating jobs a political priority.”

A sign of a weak president and Senate minority leader: “In the face of a promised filibuster by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Democrats could not convince a single GOP senator to cross over and provide the 60th vote needed to begin debate on a defense spending bill containing the repeal measure. The vote to open debate failed, 56-43, with Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) joining all Republicans in opposing taking up the bill.”

An undersecretary of something’s bailiwick? No, the sort of mini-issue Hillary lives for: “She told the Clinton Global Initiative forum that the public-private clean stoves plan, dubbed ‘Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves,’ would seek to install the new, 25-dollar units by 2020.”

A “primer in rotten politics”: Assemblyman Vito Lopez is captured on videotape “threatening a group of old ladies during an effort to consolidate power as Kings County kingmaker.”

A chilling thought: Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes (who gets his Iraq info from Google) tells us that the Obami will make sure Iran’s nuclear intentions are peaceful before another fruitless round of engagement. “Just when will Iran have to demonstrate the peaceful intent of its nuclear program? After they build the bomb as a check on Israeli aggression, perhaps? And anyway, Ben Rhodes is not a national security adviser, or rather, would not be in any universe that made sense. He was Obama’s top foreign-policy speechwriter and was then made a Deputy National Security adviser … for Communications. I suppose it’s possible that he’s not only writing speeches but also dictating foreign policy, in which case it’s time I take my suicide pills.”

A dopey suggestion from Bill Clinton on the Ground Zero mosque: “Much or even most of the controversy … could have been avoided, and perhaps still can be, if the people who want to build the center were to simply say, ‘We are dedicating this center to all the Muslims who were killed on 9/11.’” Because Muslims should dedicate things only to Muslims, you see.

And a noxious analysis by the ex-president of the problem with Russian immigrants in Israel. Maybe he’s competing with Jimmy Carter for the ex-president limelight.

An exercise in self-delusion: Nate Silver says the generic polls don’t really mean that a debacle is ahead for the Democrats.

Another result of “reform” Obama-style: drug companies may hike prices to offset the ObamaCare drug discount. It was supposed to fill “the doughnut hole.” Instead, it may worsen the health-care inflation problem.

A 10-point plan for reducing unemployment: “If we truly want to create jobs, it is not enough to simply berate business to create them. We must address the dynamics that keep businesses from offering jobs and that keep people from accepting jobs. We can use policy to create jobs — we just have to care enough about the jobless to make creating jobs a political priority.”

A sign of a weak president and Senate minority leader: “In the face of a promised filibuster by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Democrats could not convince a single GOP senator to cross over and provide the 60th vote needed to begin debate on a defense spending bill containing the repeal measure. The vote to open debate failed, 56-43, with Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) joining all Republicans in opposing taking up the bill.”

An undersecretary of something’s bailiwick? No, the sort of mini-issue Hillary lives for: “She told the Clinton Global Initiative forum that the public-private clean stoves plan, dubbed ‘Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves,’ would seek to install the new, 25-dollar units by 2020.”

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Obama’s Middle East Policy: Incompetence Continues

The Obami have, on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, at virtually every turn, made the wrong decision and then botched the execution of that decision. Beginning with the decision to focus on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict rather than the Iranian nuclear threat and continuing through to the public bullying of Israel and the NPT declaration (and its walk-back), all followed by the charm campaign (when all that preceded it proved a bust and domestically harmful to boot), the Obami have made matters worse not better.

Now that they have struggled to pick up where the Bush team left off two years ago — direct talks – they are making new errors. Elliott Abrams, the deputy national security adviser who helped devise and maintain productive and warm U.S.-Israeli relations for eight years, tries to help the Obami avoid more missteps. (He is too polite to mention his own handiwork, but the administration might start with recognizing and confirming the agreement that Bush and Sharon reached in 2004 on settlements.)

Abrams warns the Obami team that in direct talks between the parties, it is best not to “intrude too deeply and too often.” This is good advice even for an administration that is respected and trusted by the parties. (“The Israelis and Palestinians do not negotiate seriously when U.S. officials are in the room; instead, they take positions designed to elicit American approval.”) George Mitchell has not yet figured this out, however.

Abrams also warns (as Tony Blair did at the March AIPAC conference, in very similar language) that what really matters is what is going on in the West Bank. He explains, “A Palestinian state will be built not at Camp David or Sharm el-Sheikh but in the West Bank, which is where our greatest efforts should be focused.” Again, Mitchell has not yet grasped this essential truth.

But Abrams’s most important piece of advice is this: the decision to work on a framework agreement is wrong. He quotes Mitchell’s explanation of such an agreement: “It’s more detailed than a declaration of principles, but is less than a full-fledged treaty. Its purpose is to establish the fundamental compromises necessary to enable the parties to then flesh out and complete a comprehensive agreement that will end the conflict and establish a lasting peace.” Abrams writes:

The difficult compromises necessary for a final-status agreement that resolves all the core issues will be made at the very end. The only way Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas can defend such compromises is by delivering to Palestinians their own state; the only way Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu can do so is by saying Israel will now get peace, not only with Palestinians but with all Arab states.

All this cannot possibly happen until a final-status agreement is signed and implemented. Asking the parties to announce their “fundamental compromises” on the core issues when a final-status agreement is years away is asking them to commit political suicide.

In other words, whatever slim chance there might be for a peace deal (I personally think it’s close to zero) is reduced, once again, by an incompetent (is there any other adjective to describe him?) envoy and a flawed negotiating strategy. The most, I think, we can hope for is that the end of the talks don’t trigger another intifada, that the progress on the ground in the West Bank continues, and that sooner rather than later, a U.S. negotiating team will emerge that knows what it is doing.

The Obami have, on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, at virtually every turn, made the wrong decision and then botched the execution of that decision. Beginning with the decision to focus on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict rather than the Iranian nuclear threat and continuing through to the public bullying of Israel and the NPT declaration (and its walk-back), all followed by the charm campaign (when all that preceded it proved a bust and domestically harmful to boot), the Obami have made matters worse not better.

Now that they have struggled to pick up where the Bush team left off two years ago — direct talks – they are making new errors. Elliott Abrams, the deputy national security adviser who helped devise and maintain productive and warm U.S.-Israeli relations for eight years, tries to help the Obami avoid more missteps. (He is too polite to mention his own handiwork, but the administration might start with recognizing and confirming the agreement that Bush and Sharon reached in 2004 on settlements.)

Abrams warns the Obami team that in direct talks between the parties, it is best not to “intrude too deeply and too often.” This is good advice even for an administration that is respected and trusted by the parties. (“The Israelis and Palestinians do not negotiate seriously when U.S. officials are in the room; instead, they take positions designed to elicit American approval.”) George Mitchell has not yet figured this out, however.

Abrams also warns (as Tony Blair did at the March AIPAC conference, in very similar language) that what really matters is what is going on in the West Bank. He explains, “A Palestinian state will be built not at Camp David or Sharm el-Sheikh but in the West Bank, which is where our greatest efforts should be focused.” Again, Mitchell has not yet grasped this essential truth.

But Abrams’s most important piece of advice is this: the decision to work on a framework agreement is wrong. He quotes Mitchell’s explanation of such an agreement: “It’s more detailed than a declaration of principles, but is less than a full-fledged treaty. Its purpose is to establish the fundamental compromises necessary to enable the parties to then flesh out and complete a comprehensive agreement that will end the conflict and establish a lasting peace.” Abrams writes:

The difficult compromises necessary for a final-status agreement that resolves all the core issues will be made at the very end. The only way Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas can defend such compromises is by delivering to Palestinians their own state; the only way Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu can do so is by saying Israel will now get peace, not only with Palestinians but with all Arab states.

All this cannot possibly happen until a final-status agreement is signed and implemented. Asking the parties to announce their “fundamental compromises” on the core issues when a final-status agreement is years away is asking them to commit political suicide.

In other words, whatever slim chance there might be for a peace deal (I personally think it’s close to zero) is reduced, once again, by an incompetent (is there any other adjective to describe him?) envoy and a flawed negotiating strategy. The most, I think, we can hope for is that the end of the talks don’t trigger another intifada, that the progress on the ground in the West Bank continues, and that sooner rather than later, a U.S. negotiating team will emerge that knows what it is doing.

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Middle East Realists vs. Middle East Fabulists

There is a clear division not only between politicians but also Middle East hands on the UN sanctions. The Washington Post sets the table. On one side is the reality-based community (not to be confused with “realists,” who aren’t at all):

“It is ironic that Bush had a far better record at the U.N. than Obama, as there was a unanimous UNSC vote under Bush, and Obama has lost it,” said Elliott Abrams, a deputy national security adviser under Bush. He said the reason is not that the Iranians’ behavior has improved, because “the clock keeps ticking, and Iran gets closer and closer to a bomb.” The reason, Abrams said, “is simply that American weakness has created a vacuum, and other states are trying to step into it.”

[John] Bolton argues that the administration’s willingness to operate within the U.N. system left it at a negotiating disadvantage. “Everyone believes the Obama administration is joined at the hip to the council, which is a position of negotiating weakness,” he said. “Weakness produces today’s result.”

(In the category of “elections have consequences,” imagine if a Republican were in the White House taking advice from these two.)

And then there is the fabulist Martin Indyk:

But Martin Indyk, vice president for foreign policy studies at the Brookings Institution, said that the no votes were “a product of the shifting templates in international affairs that is in part a result of Bush’s policies that squandered American influence when it was at its height, allowing for regional powers to emerge with greater ambitions and independence.”

Indyk said that the fact that Russia and China — two of the five permanent Security Council members with veto power — have yet again joined in new sanctions “should serve to underscore the Obama administration’s considerable achievement in maintaining P5 consensus in a new era in which the United States can no longer dictate outcomes.”

I don’t know what the heck he is talking about. Obama is in office two years and has produced an incoherent and ineffective Iran policy, but the no votes from two nations (whose drift into Iran’s orbit has been accelerated by this administration) are George W. Bush’s fault. Even for Indyk this is lame. But you have to hand it to him: he simultaneously touts the loophole-ridden sanctions as a great achievement and then concedes that America is in retreat (“the United States can no longer dictate outcomes”). For those who root for Hillary Clinton’s departure, or George Mitchell’s, it is useful to remember that those who would fill the spots are going to sound like Indyk and not Abrams or Bolton.

Made obvious by Indyk’s gobbledygook, there really is no credible defense for Obama’s diplomatic malpractice. Kori Schake, writing in Foreign Policy, sums up:

he Obama administration is doing its best to put a good face on a major disappointment: After sixteen months’ effort, they have succeeded in delivering less international support than did the Bush administration for a problem everyone agrees is growing rapidly worse. … Sanctions aren’t a strategy, they’re a tool for achieving the strategic objective of preventing Iran becoming a nuclear weapons state. We’re over-reliant on sanctions to deliver that weighty objective and need to be thinking much more creatively about how to impose costs on the Iranian government — internationally and domestically — for their choices.

In the absence of anyone in the administration willing to press this point with Obama, we are headed for a nightmarish choice. We will either have a war or see a nuclear-armed Iran. Either way it will be the greatest foreign-policy disaster since, well, maybe ever. The tragedy is that we had the chance to follow a different strategy and avoid the Hobson’s choice.

There is a clear division not only between politicians but also Middle East hands on the UN sanctions. The Washington Post sets the table. On one side is the reality-based community (not to be confused with “realists,” who aren’t at all):

“It is ironic that Bush had a far better record at the U.N. than Obama, as there was a unanimous UNSC vote under Bush, and Obama has lost it,” said Elliott Abrams, a deputy national security adviser under Bush. He said the reason is not that the Iranians’ behavior has improved, because “the clock keeps ticking, and Iran gets closer and closer to a bomb.” The reason, Abrams said, “is simply that American weakness has created a vacuum, and other states are trying to step into it.”

[John] Bolton argues that the administration’s willingness to operate within the U.N. system left it at a negotiating disadvantage. “Everyone believes the Obama administration is joined at the hip to the council, which is a position of negotiating weakness,” he said. “Weakness produces today’s result.”

(In the category of “elections have consequences,” imagine if a Republican were in the White House taking advice from these two.)

And then there is the fabulist Martin Indyk:

But Martin Indyk, vice president for foreign policy studies at the Brookings Institution, said that the no votes were “a product of the shifting templates in international affairs that is in part a result of Bush’s policies that squandered American influence when it was at its height, allowing for regional powers to emerge with greater ambitions and independence.”

Indyk said that the fact that Russia and China — two of the five permanent Security Council members with veto power — have yet again joined in new sanctions “should serve to underscore the Obama administration’s considerable achievement in maintaining P5 consensus in a new era in which the United States can no longer dictate outcomes.”

I don’t know what the heck he is talking about. Obama is in office two years and has produced an incoherent and ineffective Iran policy, but the no votes from two nations (whose drift into Iran’s orbit has been accelerated by this administration) are George W. Bush’s fault. Even for Indyk this is lame. But you have to hand it to him: he simultaneously touts the loophole-ridden sanctions as a great achievement and then concedes that America is in retreat (“the United States can no longer dictate outcomes”). For those who root for Hillary Clinton’s departure, or George Mitchell’s, it is useful to remember that those who would fill the spots are going to sound like Indyk and not Abrams or Bolton.

Made obvious by Indyk’s gobbledygook, there really is no credible defense for Obama’s diplomatic malpractice. Kori Schake, writing in Foreign Policy, sums up:

he Obama administration is doing its best to put a good face on a major disappointment: After sixteen months’ effort, they have succeeded in delivering less international support than did the Bush administration for a problem everyone agrees is growing rapidly worse. … Sanctions aren’t a strategy, they’re a tool for achieving the strategic objective of preventing Iran becoming a nuclear weapons state. We’re over-reliant on sanctions to deliver that weighty objective and need to be thinking much more creatively about how to impose costs on the Iranian government — internationally and domestically — for their choices.

In the absence of anyone in the administration willing to press this point with Obama, we are headed for a nightmarish choice. We will either have a war or see a nuclear-armed Iran. Either way it will be the greatest foreign-policy disaster since, well, maybe ever. The tragedy is that we had the chance to follow a different strategy and avoid the Hobson’s choice.

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What Obama Has Done Wrong in the Middle East

In a fascinating interview, former Deputy National Security Adviser Elliott Abrams, who oversaw George W. Bush’s Israel policy (remember — when we treated our ally with affection and respect?), details Obama’s errors regarding Israel (yes, it’s a lengthy interview), gives some insight into the Bush administration, and offers some predictions and suggestions. The program should be watched in full or the transcript read, but there are certain sections that are especially noteworthy.

Topping the list of Obama’s errors, Abrams explains, is the peace-process fixation:

First, I guess, and — and — most significant. They seem to think that peace between Israel and the Palestinians comes top-down. It is created someplace at a conference table in — in Taba or Camp David or Annapolis or Geneva. And that’s wrong. Peace between Israel and the Palestinians will be created between them, on the ground, in the real world. And it will depend on essentially what happens on the West Bank, on creating the institutions of Palestinian — self-government. And the fight against terrorism, I guess — critical things on the Palestinian side. So — concentrating on diplomacy, concentrating on the settlements is just wrong. That’s not what’s critical. What’s critical is what happens in the so — in the West Bank.

This leads to a glimpse inside the Bush White House:

I thought Annapolis was a mistake because — obviously, President Bush didn’t agree with me. I thought they were not going to reach an agreement. It seemed to me that — that if you look at the terms that were out there, neither Israeli nor Palestinian leaders were ready to accept those terms. I thought we were putting the emphasis in the wrong place, again, on conferences and conference tables and flying flags and all, rather than on the pretty — undramatic but critically important work of building institutions on the ground.

(In a prior interview with the Jerusalem Post, Abrams made clear that Condoleezza Rice pushed for the peace process, failing to provide the president with a full array of options.) It is a candid admission that presidents of both parties have fallen prey to peace-process-itis – the ailment characterized by a deep aversion to candidly assessing reality. But unlike the current president, Bush, to his credit, did not make a settlement freeze the cornerstone of his policy or escalate the issue of Jerusalem:

Since 1967, Israel has been building in — the West Bank, at one point in Gaza. Of course, that’s over now. And in Jerusalem, which is under Israeli law, the capital of Israel. It’s not occupied territory. In the Bush Administration, we reached a kind of agreement with Israel, under which they would build up and in but not out in the settlements.

In other words, no more land would be taken. The idea was, let’s not disadvantage the Palestinians by taking — an olive grove or a road.  And let’s not create a new issue for final settle — status talks someday.  If you want to build for more people to live in the middle of a settlement, fine. That doesn’t hurt Palestinians. I thought the Obama administration would accept that deal.

But Bush’s successor trashed that agreement and embarked on a new tactic: bullying Israel and trying to topple Bibi. (Abrams speculates: “It’s a reasonable theory that he thought, ‘We’ll continue to escalate the tension. Sooner or later, this coalition in Israel will crack.’”)

Abrams also takes a look at Iran, assessing the chance of an Israeli military action at “above 50-50. I think they really mean it when they say an Iranian nuclear weapon is unacceptable. Britain, France, England, Germany, the US, China, Russia, everybody says unacceptable. I don’t think we really mean unacceptable. I think we really mean not good. I think the Israelis mean unacceptable.” The interview took place before the UN sanctions deal, and Abrams correctly predicted that we would not obtain the kind of sanctions needed to deter the mullahs from pursuing their nuclear plans.

What impact on the U.S. would result from the failure to prevent Iran from going nuclear? “[I]t is a threat to the American position in the entire Middle East and therefore in the entire world. American’s strategic credibility is deeply damaged, I think, if after all these speeches we’ve given, we let them get a nuclear weapon.”

Since Obama is plainly not getting those crippling sanctions. what would Abrams advise? In addition to an all-out effort to bolster the Green Movement, he invokes John McCain’s 2008 campaign line:

“The only thing worse than bombing Iran is an Iranian bomb.” I would favor an American or Israeli use of force to prevent that regime from getting a nuclear weapon. I would favor an American or Israeli use of force to prevent that regime from getting a nuclear weapon.

In private, many self-proclaimed defenders of the Jewish state voice the same views as those of Abrams. When will they pipe up?

In a fascinating interview, former Deputy National Security Adviser Elliott Abrams, who oversaw George W. Bush’s Israel policy (remember — when we treated our ally with affection and respect?), details Obama’s errors regarding Israel (yes, it’s a lengthy interview), gives some insight into the Bush administration, and offers some predictions and suggestions. The program should be watched in full or the transcript read, but there are certain sections that are especially noteworthy.

Topping the list of Obama’s errors, Abrams explains, is the peace-process fixation:

First, I guess, and — and — most significant. They seem to think that peace between Israel and the Palestinians comes top-down. It is created someplace at a conference table in — in Taba or Camp David or Annapolis or Geneva. And that’s wrong. Peace between Israel and the Palestinians will be created between them, on the ground, in the real world. And it will depend on essentially what happens on the West Bank, on creating the institutions of Palestinian — self-government. And the fight against terrorism, I guess — critical things on the Palestinian side. So — concentrating on diplomacy, concentrating on the settlements is just wrong. That’s not what’s critical. What’s critical is what happens in the so — in the West Bank.

This leads to a glimpse inside the Bush White House:

I thought Annapolis was a mistake because — obviously, President Bush didn’t agree with me. I thought they were not going to reach an agreement. It seemed to me that — that if you look at the terms that were out there, neither Israeli nor Palestinian leaders were ready to accept those terms. I thought we were putting the emphasis in the wrong place, again, on conferences and conference tables and flying flags and all, rather than on the pretty — undramatic but critically important work of building institutions on the ground.

(In a prior interview with the Jerusalem Post, Abrams made clear that Condoleezza Rice pushed for the peace process, failing to provide the president with a full array of options.) It is a candid admission that presidents of both parties have fallen prey to peace-process-itis – the ailment characterized by a deep aversion to candidly assessing reality. But unlike the current president, Bush, to his credit, did not make a settlement freeze the cornerstone of his policy or escalate the issue of Jerusalem:

Since 1967, Israel has been building in — the West Bank, at one point in Gaza. Of course, that’s over now. And in Jerusalem, which is under Israeli law, the capital of Israel. It’s not occupied territory. In the Bush Administration, we reached a kind of agreement with Israel, under which they would build up and in but not out in the settlements.

In other words, no more land would be taken. The idea was, let’s not disadvantage the Palestinians by taking — an olive grove or a road.  And let’s not create a new issue for final settle — status talks someday.  If you want to build for more people to live in the middle of a settlement, fine. That doesn’t hurt Palestinians. I thought the Obama administration would accept that deal.

But Bush’s successor trashed that agreement and embarked on a new tactic: bullying Israel and trying to topple Bibi. (Abrams speculates: “It’s a reasonable theory that he thought, ‘We’ll continue to escalate the tension. Sooner or later, this coalition in Israel will crack.’”)

Abrams also takes a look at Iran, assessing the chance of an Israeli military action at “above 50-50. I think they really mean it when they say an Iranian nuclear weapon is unacceptable. Britain, France, England, Germany, the US, China, Russia, everybody says unacceptable. I don’t think we really mean unacceptable. I think we really mean not good. I think the Israelis mean unacceptable.” The interview took place before the UN sanctions deal, and Abrams correctly predicted that we would not obtain the kind of sanctions needed to deter the mullahs from pursuing their nuclear plans.

What impact on the U.S. would result from the failure to prevent Iran from going nuclear? “[I]t is a threat to the American position in the entire Middle East and therefore in the entire world. American’s strategic credibility is deeply damaged, I think, if after all these speeches we’ve given, we let them get a nuclear weapon.”

Since Obama is plainly not getting those crippling sanctions. what would Abrams advise? In addition to an all-out effort to bolster the Green Movement, he invokes John McCain’s 2008 campaign line:

“The only thing worse than bombing Iran is an Iranian bomb.” I would favor an American or Israeli use of force to prevent that regime from getting a nuclear weapon. I would favor an American or Israeli use of force to prevent that regime from getting a nuclear weapon.

In private, many self-proclaimed defenders of the Jewish state voice the same views as those of Abrams. When will they pipe up?

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The Great Hezbollah Snipe Hunt

John Brennan, deputy national security adviser for homeland security, has come up with a new way to waste the foreign-policy establishment’s time  — locate the so-called “moderate elements” within Hezbollah and somehow promote them.

“There is [sic] certainly the elements of Hezbollah that are truly a concern to us what [sic] they’re doing,” he said. “And what we need to do is to [sic] find ways to diminish their influence within the organization and to try to build up the more moderate elements.”

There are no moderates within Hezbollah, at least not any who stand a chance of changing Hezbollah’s behavior. Sure, the terrorist militia has sent a handful of its members to parliament, as Brennan says, and once in a while they sound more reasonable than its secretary-general, Hassan Nasrallah, but these people are employees. They don’t make policy.

If you want to catch a glimpse of Hezbollah’s org chart, just rent a car in Beirut and drive south. You’ll see billboards and posters all over the place in the areas Hezbollah controls. Some show the portraits of “martyrs” killed in battle with Israel. Others show the mug shots of Hezbollah’s leadership, most prominently Nasrallah and his deceased military commander, truck bomber, and airplane hijacker Imad Mugniyeh. Alongside the pictures of Hezbollah’s leaders, you’ll also see Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the two “supreme guides” of the Islamic Republic regime in Iran.

It’s obvious, if you know who and what you’re looking at, that Hezbollah is still subservient to Khamenei. His face is almost as ubiquitous as that of Nasrallah and the deceased faqih Khomeini himself. Hezbollah’s state-within-a-state doesn’t even look like it’s in Lebanon. It looks like, and effectively is, an Iranian satellite. Iran’s heads of state appear everywhere down there, while Lebanon’s heads of state are personae non grata.

I’ve met those you might call moderate supporters of Hezbollah, Lebanese citizens who believe Hezbollah is there to defend Lebanon from Israel rather than to attack — which is not at all what anyone at the top thinks. Even if second-tier leaders were less belligerent, it wouldn’t matter. The organization takes its order from Tehran. Hezbollah won’t change until its masters change in Iran, and the U.S. is no more able to “build up” any imagined moderates within its ranks than it is able to replace Khamenei’s hated dictatorship with the Green Revolution.

John Brennan, deputy national security adviser for homeland security, has come up with a new way to waste the foreign-policy establishment’s time  — locate the so-called “moderate elements” within Hezbollah and somehow promote them.

“There is [sic] certainly the elements of Hezbollah that are truly a concern to us what [sic] they’re doing,” he said. “And what we need to do is to [sic] find ways to diminish their influence within the organization and to try to build up the more moderate elements.”

There are no moderates within Hezbollah, at least not any who stand a chance of changing Hezbollah’s behavior. Sure, the terrorist militia has sent a handful of its members to parliament, as Brennan says, and once in a while they sound more reasonable than its secretary-general, Hassan Nasrallah, but these people are employees. They don’t make policy.

If you want to catch a glimpse of Hezbollah’s org chart, just rent a car in Beirut and drive south. You’ll see billboards and posters all over the place in the areas Hezbollah controls. Some show the portraits of “martyrs” killed in battle with Israel. Others show the mug shots of Hezbollah’s leadership, most prominently Nasrallah and his deceased military commander, truck bomber, and airplane hijacker Imad Mugniyeh. Alongside the pictures of Hezbollah’s leaders, you’ll also see Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the two “supreme guides” of the Islamic Republic regime in Iran.

It’s obvious, if you know who and what you’re looking at, that Hezbollah is still subservient to Khamenei. His face is almost as ubiquitous as that of Nasrallah and the deceased faqih Khomeini himself. Hezbollah’s state-within-a-state doesn’t even look like it’s in Lebanon. It looks like, and effectively is, an Iranian satellite. Iran’s heads of state appear everywhere down there, while Lebanon’s heads of state are personae non grata.

I’ve met those you might call moderate supporters of Hezbollah, Lebanese citizens who believe Hezbollah is there to defend Lebanon from Israel rather than to attack — which is not at all what anyone at the top thinks. Even if second-tier leaders were less belligerent, it wouldn’t matter. The organization takes its order from Tehran. Hezbollah won’t change until its masters change in Iran, and the U.S. is no more able to “build up” any imagined moderates within its ranks than it is able to replace Khamenei’s hated dictatorship with the Green Revolution.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Will Arlen Specter get his comeuppance? Joe Sestak begins to pull away in the polls.

Will the Democrats lose in Colorado? “Republicans are now well positioned for a statewide resurgence, threatening several Democratic seats in the midterm elections and raising questions about whether the opening chapter of the Obama administration has eroded gains that Democrats had been making here for the previous six years.”

Will John Murtha’s district go Republican? “This once safely Democratic district where Murtha reigned for 35 years is now a toss-up. Longtime Murtha aide Mark Critz, 48, vows to carry on his former boss’s legacy, while Republican businessman Tim Burns, 42, tries to leverage anti-Washington passion by treating his opponent as an incumbent tied to the ‘liberal Pelosi-Obama agenda.’”

Will the Obama administration wise up? Even the Washington Post‘s editors fret that “the administration has not given more consideration to other approaches, including the possibility of designating suspects as enemy combatants to allow for lengthier interrogations, which could yield intelligence to thwart terrorist operations and future attacks. In part, this is a reflection of the administration’s mind-set. In explaining the handling of Mr. Shahzad, two administration officials told us that they believe that the law categorically bars them from holding a U.S. citizen as an enemy combatant. This is not correct.”

Sounds like there is hope. Will Eric Holder keep sounding like Andy McCarthy? Holder on This Week: “The [Miranda] system we have in place has proven to be effective,” Holder said. “I think we also want to look and determine whether we have the necessary flexibility — whether we have a system that deals with situations that agents now confront. … We’re now dealing with international terrorism. … I think we have to give serious consideration to at least modifying that public-safety exception [to the Miranda requirements]. And that’s one of the things that I think we’re going to be reaching out to Congress, to come up with a proposal that is both constitutional, but that is also relevant to our times and the threats that we now face.” Wow. The left will have a meltdown.

Will any White House adviser tell the president that this sort of thing makes them all sound crazy? “Deputy National Security Adviser John Brennan said Sunday that, despite the attempted Times Square attack orchestrated by the Pakistani Taliban in the heart of New York City, trying professed 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in Manhattan is still an option that’s on the table.”

Will Republicans learn the right lesson from the British elections? Fred Barnes: “In the British election, this was one reason Labor was able to turn out its core vote and keep Conservatives from winning a majority. The lesson for Republican, facing an unpopular Democratic Party, is obvious: don’t expect circumstances to win for you. You need to run an aggressive campaign.”

On Richard Goldstone’s apartheid record, will anyone be surprised that Matthew Yglesias is “inclined to give him a pass”? Once you’ve vilified Israel, you earn a lifetime pass from the anti-Israel left. (By the way, credit to Ron Radosh for spotting Goldstone’s apartheid record a few months back.)

Will Arlen Specter get his comeuppance? Joe Sestak begins to pull away in the polls.

Will the Democrats lose in Colorado? “Republicans are now well positioned for a statewide resurgence, threatening several Democratic seats in the midterm elections and raising questions about whether the opening chapter of the Obama administration has eroded gains that Democrats had been making here for the previous six years.”

Will John Murtha’s district go Republican? “This once safely Democratic district where Murtha reigned for 35 years is now a toss-up. Longtime Murtha aide Mark Critz, 48, vows to carry on his former boss’s legacy, while Republican businessman Tim Burns, 42, tries to leverage anti-Washington passion by treating his opponent as an incumbent tied to the ‘liberal Pelosi-Obama agenda.’”

Will the Obama administration wise up? Even the Washington Post‘s editors fret that “the administration has not given more consideration to other approaches, including the possibility of designating suspects as enemy combatants to allow for lengthier interrogations, which could yield intelligence to thwart terrorist operations and future attacks. In part, this is a reflection of the administration’s mind-set. In explaining the handling of Mr. Shahzad, two administration officials told us that they believe that the law categorically bars them from holding a U.S. citizen as an enemy combatant. This is not correct.”

Sounds like there is hope. Will Eric Holder keep sounding like Andy McCarthy? Holder on This Week: “The [Miranda] system we have in place has proven to be effective,” Holder said. “I think we also want to look and determine whether we have the necessary flexibility — whether we have a system that deals with situations that agents now confront. … We’re now dealing with international terrorism. … I think we have to give serious consideration to at least modifying that public-safety exception [to the Miranda requirements]. And that’s one of the things that I think we’re going to be reaching out to Congress, to come up with a proposal that is both constitutional, but that is also relevant to our times and the threats that we now face.” Wow. The left will have a meltdown.

Will any White House adviser tell the president that this sort of thing makes them all sound crazy? “Deputy National Security Adviser John Brennan said Sunday that, despite the attempted Times Square attack orchestrated by the Pakistani Taliban in the heart of New York City, trying professed 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in Manhattan is still an option that’s on the table.”

Will Republicans learn the right lesson from the British elections? Fred Barnes: “In the British election, this was one reason Labor was able to turn out its core vote and keep Conservatives from winning a majority. The lesson for Republican, facing an unpopular Democratic Party, is obvious: don’t expect circumstances to win for you. You need to run an aggressive campaign.”

On Richard Goldstone’s apartheid record, will anyone be surprised that Matthew Yglesias is “inclined to give him a pass”? Once you’ve vilified Israel, you earn a lifetime pass from the anti-Israel left. (By the way, credit to Ron Radosh for spotting Goldstone’s apartheid record a few months back.)

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Obama’s Iran Policy: A Dead End

Elliott Abrams, former deputy national security adviser, Danielle Pletka of AEI, and Ray Takeyh of the Council on Foreign Relations held a lively discussion, moderated by Bob Kagan of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and Foreign Policy Initiative, at the FPI’s Iran program. It was, to say the least, a sobering discussion.

Takeyh led off by explaining that the Obama team has not yet given up on negotiations and sees sanctions now as means of getting the Iranians back to the bargaining table. However, Takeyh, like the other panelists, thinks that there is “no sanctions solution” to the problem of Iranian nuclear ambitions. And even if Iran returns to the table, at best we will have an inconclusive result. The ability of economic sanctions, especially of the modest type currently being contemplated, he contends, will not affect the calculation of the regime’s self-interest. Pletka concurred, “At this point sanctions are not going to deliver.”

She pointed out that rather than preparing for the Iranians’ inevitable rejection of our negotiating efforts, we seemingly frittered away the time. We are now “gobsmacked” that the Iranians have said no to our bargaining offers, and we are only now trying to cobble together a sanctions effort. Abrams pointed out that a sanctions approach might have made sense last Labor Day — our original deadline, when Obama was still fresh on the scene. But now the “U.S. position has been diminished,” and our relations with Britain, France, and India are worse, making a cohesive effort harder. As for unilateral sanctions, Pletka reports that the administration is putting pressure on “skeptics” in Congress to slow down the reconciliation process between the House and Senate sanctions bills. She doubts Congress is “willing to take on the administration,” which is adverse to a unilateral effort. The U.N. is where the action is for the administration.

The consensus of the group was that the watered-down sanctions, for which we are struggling to obtain Russian and Chinese agreement, will have no effect on the Iranians’ nuclear plans. Would a ban on importation of Iranian oil and on export to Iran of refined gasoline? Takeyh says yes, but the “international community won’t do it.”

Likewise, the panelists agreed that containment is a nonstarter. Abrams pointed out that the difference between deterrence before Iran gets the bomb and containment after is critical. (“Containment doesn’t guarantee anything, ” he noted.) After five years of saying a nuclear Iran was unacceptable, any containment policy, which would by necessity require use of force or threat of force to deter aggressive Iranian action, Abrams explained, would certainly lack credibility. Kagan summed up: “If they don’t want to use [military force] now, why would they use it when Iran has the bomb?”

Pletka argued that the acquisition of a nuclear weapon would enhance the regime’s staying power and deter efforts to undermine the regime. As for the Green Movement, Abrams noted allowing the regime to get the bomb would have a huge impact on morale. “The world would have been defeated,” he explains, and the regime would have achieved a great victory.

Abrams made several key points. First, he notes Israel desperately would prefer not to launch a military strike, but only if “there is another way to keep Iran from getting the bomb.” He notes that the Israelis are amazed at “how stupid” the U.S. has been in taking the military option off the table. “What leverage do you have?” he asked. “Even if you don’t believe it [that force would be used], why isn’t he saying” a military option would be no big deal? He imagines that some in the administration do not want to see the entire Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty system break down and would be willing to employ force, but this is not a view shared by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates or the U.S. military.

Second, he notes that by inaction both under the Bush and Obama administrations, we have conveyed to Iran that there “is no price to be paid for killing Americans.” He said that despite Iranians killing Americans directly and indirectly in Iraq, “there was absolute insistence by the U.S. military” not to act against Iran, presumably on the theory that “there was already too much on the table.” The lesson learned by the Iranians, therefore, was that they can impose a price on the U.S. without brining any suffering on themselves.

Finally, he argues that we should be making an “all-fronts” effort to contest Iranian behavior in all international bodies — whether on the mullahs’ arming of Hezbollah, human rights atrocities, or violation of nuclear agreements. We should urge European parliaments to denounce the regime. “Put the regime on the defensive everywhere. Make it a pariah state,” he argues, noting ruefully that instead, Israel has become the pariah nation.

The conclusion one draws from the panel is not an optimistic one. The Obama team wasted a year on engagement, only serving to undermine the Green Movement’s effort to delegitimize the regime. The sanctions currently contemplated are too puny and too late. The administration has disclaimed use of force. So while the administration is not officially stating that its policy is to accept the “unacceptable,” the inevitable result of its policy decision is precisely that. We now face what was thought to be unimaginable: a nuclear-armed revolutionary Islamic state. That will be the legacy of the Obama administration — a world infinitely more dangerous and unstable.

Elliott Abrams, former deputy national security adviser, Danielle Pletka of AEI, and Ray Takeyh of the Council on Foreign Relations held a lively discussion, moderated by Bob Kagan of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and Foreign Policy Initiative, at the FPI’s Iran program. It was, to say the least, a sobering discussion.

Takeyh led off by explaining that the Obama team has not yet given up on negotiations and sees sanctions now as means of getting the Iranians back to the bargaining table. However, Takeyh, like the other panelists, thinks that there is “no sanctions solution” to the problem of Iranian nuclear ambitions. And even if Iran returns to the table, at best we will have an inconclusive result. The ability of economic sanctions, especially of the modest type currently being contemplated, he contends, will not affect the calculation of the regime’s self-interest. Pletka concurred, “At this point sanctions are not going to deliver.”

She pointed out that rather than preparing for the Iranians’ inevitable rejection of our negotiating efforts, we seemingly frittered away the time. We are now “gobsmacked” that the Iranians have said no to our bargaining offers, and we are only now trying to cobble together a sanctions effort. Abrams pointed out that a sanctions approach might have made sense last Labor Day — our original deadline, when Obama was still fresh on the scene. But now the “U.S. position has been diminished,” and our relations with Britain, France, and India are worse, making a cohesive effort harder. As for unilateral sanctions, Pletka reports that the administration is putting pressure on “skeptics” in Congress to slow down the reconciliation process between the House and Senate sanctions bills. She doubts Congress is “willing to take on the administration,” which is adverse to a unilateral effort. The U.N. is where the action is for the administration.

The consensus of the group was that the watered-down sanctions, for which we are struggling to obtain Russian and Chinese agreement, will have no effect on the Iranians’ nuclear plans. Would a ban on importation of Iranian oil and on export to Iran of refined gasoline? Takeyh says yes, but the “international community won’t do it.”

Likewise, the panelists agreed that containment is a nonstarter. Abrams pointed out that the difference between deterrence before Iran gets the bomb and containment after is critical. (“Containment doesn’t guarantee anything, ” he noted.) After five years of saying a nuclear Iran was unacceptable, any containment policy, which would by necessity require use of force or threat of force to deter aggressive Iranian action, Abrams explained, would certainly lack credibility. Kagan summed up: “If they don’t want to use [military force] now, why would they use it when Iran has the bomb?”

Pletka argued that the acquisition of a nuclear weapon would enhance the regime’s staying power and deter efforts to undermine the regime. As for the Green Movement, Abrams noted allowing the regime to get the bomb would have a huge impact on morale. “The world would have been defeated,” he explains, and the regime would have achieved a great victory.

Abrams made several key points. First, he notes Israel desperately would prefer not to launch a military strike, but only if “there is another way to keep Iran from getting the bomb.” He notes that the Israelis are amazed at “how stupid” the U.S. has been in taking the military option off the table. “What leverage do you have?” he asked. “Even if you don’t believe it [that force would be used], why isn’t he saying” a military option would be no big deal? He imagines that some in the administration do not want to see the entire Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty system break down and would be willing to employ force, but this is not a view shared by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates or the U.S. military.

Second, he notes that by inaction both under the Bush and Obama administrations, we have conveyed to Iran that there “is no price to be paid for killing Americans.” He said that despite Iranians killing Americans directly and indirectly in Iraq, “there was absolute insistence by the U.S. military” not to act against Iran, presumably on the theory that “there was already too much on the table.” The lesson learned by the Iranians, therefore, was that they can impose a price on the U.S. without brining any suffering on themselves.

Finally, he argues that we should be making an “all-fronts” effort to contest Iranian behavior in all international bodies — whether on the mullahs’ arming of Hezbollah, human rights atrocities, or violation of nuclear agreements. We should urge European parliaments to denounce the regime. “Put the regime on the defensive everywhere. Make it a pariah state,” he argues, noting ruefully that instead, Israel has become the pariah nation.

The conclusion one draws from the panel is not an optimistic one. The Obama team wasted a year on engagement, only serving to undermine the Green Movement’s effort to delegitimize the regime. The sanctions currently contemplated are too puny and too late. The administration has disclaimed use of force. So while the administration is not officially stating that its policy is to accept the “unacceptable,” the inevitable result of its policy decision is precisely that. We now face what was thought to be unimaginable: a nuclear-armed revolutionary Islamic state. That will be the legacy of the Obama administration — a world infinitely more dangerous and unstable.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Not what the Obami were spinning to AIPAC: “Well the Obama administration’s leverage is beginning to sound like ‘hard power’ — brutal even — to get Israel to toe the line. I have no doubt that in President Obama’s eyes, this is the way to promote U.S. interests. As non-objective as I am, I have the impression that it is not only a mistaken policy, but one that isn’t advancing the peace process. In effect, it is making it almost impossible for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to come to the negotiating table, because he has to insist he has no choice but to wait until the conditions that the U.S. is setting are met by Israel before he does,” says Moshe Arens, former Knesset member, defense minister, foreign minister, and ambassador to the United States. (Read the rest of the revealing interview.)

Not what any clear-eyed pro-Israel activist is going to buy from the Obami’s furious spin on their assault on Israel : “‘No crisis. Media reports are wrong. More agreement than disagreement’ inside the administration, regarding how to advance the Middle East peace process. [The administration’s] ‘hand was forced [with regard to] Jerusalem by circumstances during Biden’s trip,’ the source said, referring to the Israeli government’s announcement last month during Vice President Joe Biden’s good-will trip to Israel that it had approved construction of another 1,600 homes to be built in the Ramat Shlomo neighborhood.” This is simply pathetic.

Not what the Democrats were selling us for over a year (from Howard Fineman): “A Democratic senator I can’t name, who reluctantly voted for the health-care bill out of loyalty to his party and his admiration for Barack Obama, privately complained to me that the measure was political folly, in part because of the way it goes into effect: some taxes first, most benefits later, and rate hikes by insurance companies in between.”

Not what the Obami had in mind when they took their victory lap: “President Obama’s overall job approval rating has fallen to an alltime low of 44%, down five points from late March, just before the bill’s passage in the House of Representatives. It is down 24 points since his all-time high last April. 41% now disapprove. . . . When it comes to health care, the President’s approval rating is even lower – and is also a new all-time low. Only 34% approve, while a majority of 55% disapprove.”

Not what you’d expect from the “most transparent administration in history” (unless you didn’t buy the label in the first place): “Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), the ranking member of the House Homeland Security Committee, is accusing Deputy National Security Adviser John Brennan of interfering with Congress’s oversight on key intelligence matters. King’s latest frustration came Friday morning when he read news accounts about the new Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) aviation security measures before being briefed on the program from anyone in the administration.”

Not what “bringing us all together” was supposed to mean: “The perplexing irony of Barack Obama’s presidency is that even as conservatives attack him as a crazed socialist, many on the left are frustrated with what they see as the president’s accommodationist backtracking from campaign promises.”

Not what is going to help the Democrats retain control over the Senate: “The family bank of Democratic Senate candidate Alexi Giannoulias loaned a pair of Chicago crime figures about $20 million during a 14-month period when Giannoulias was a senior loan officer, according to a Tribune examination that provides new details about the bank’s relationship with the convicted felons.”

Not what the Obami and their elite media handmaidens want us to hear (especially from Juan Williams): “There is danger for Democrats in recent attempts to dismiss the tea party movement as violent racists deserving of contempt. Demonizing these folks may energize the Democrats’ left-wing base. But it is a big turnoff to voters who have problems with the Democratic agenda that have nothing to do with racism.”

Not what the Obami were spinning to AIPAC: “Well the Obama administration’s leverage is beginning to sound like ‘hard power’ — brutal even — to get Israel to toe the line. I have no doubt that in President Obama’s eyes, this is the way to promote U.S. interests. As non-objective as I am, I have the impression that it is not only a mistaken policy, but one that isn’t advancing the peace process. In effect, it is making it almost impossible for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to come to the negotiating table, because he has to insist he has no choice but to wait until the conditions that the U.S. is setting are met by Israel before he does,” says Moshe Arens, former Knesset member, defense minister, foreign minister, and ambassador to the United States. (Read the rest of the revealing interview.)

Not what any clear-eyed pro-Israel activist is going to buy from the Obami’s furious spin on their assault on Israel : “‘No crisis. Media reports are wrong. More agreement than disagreement’ inside the administration, regarding how to advance the Middle East peace process. [The administration’s] ‘hand was forced [with regard to] Jerusalem by circumstances during Biden’s trip,’ the source said, referring to the Israeli government’s announcement last month during Vice President Joe Biden’s good-will trip to Israel that it had approved construction of another 1,600 homes to be built in the Ramat Shlomo neighborhood.” This is simply pathetic.

Not what the Democrats were selling us for over a year (from Howard Fineman): “A Democratic senator I can’t name, who reluctantly voted for the health-care bill out of loyalty to his party and his admiration for Barack Obama, privately complained to me that the measure was political folly, in part because of the way it goes into effect: some taxes first, most benefits later, and rate hikes by insurance companies in between.”

Not what the Obami had in mind when they took their victory lap: “President Obama’s overall job approval rating has fallen to an alltime low of 44%, down five points from late March, just before the bill’s passage in the House of Representatives. It is down 24 points since his all-time high last April. 41% now disapprove. . . . When it comes to health care, the President’s approval rating is even lower – and is also a new all-time low. Only 34% approve, while a majority of 55% disapprove.”

Not what you’d expect from the “most transparent administration in history” (unless you didn’t buy the label in the first place): “Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), the ranking member of the House Homeland Security Committee, is accusing Deputy National Security Adviser John Brennan of interfering with Congress’s oversight on key intelligence matters. King’s latest frustration came Friday morning when he read news accounts about the new Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) aviation security measures before being briefed on the program from anyone in the administration.”

Not what “bringing us all together” was supposed to mean: “The perplexing irony of Barack Obama’s presidency is that even as conservatives attack him as a crazed socialist, many on the left are frustrated with what they see as the president’s accommodationist backtracking from campaign promises.”

Not what is going to help the Democrats retain control over the Senate: “The family bank of Democratic Senate candidate Alexi Giannoulias loaned a pair of Chicago crime figures about $20 million during a 14-month period when Giannoulias was a senior loan officer, according to a Tribune examination that provides new details about the bank’s relationship with the convicted felons.”

Not what the Obami and their elite media handmaidens want us to hear (especially from Juan Williams): “There is danger for Democrats in recent attempts to dismiss the tea party movement as violent racists deserving of contempt. Demonizing these folks may energize the Democrats’ left-wing base. But it is a big turnoff to voters who have problems with the Democratic agenda that have nothing to do with racism.”

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Weathering the Storm

As we dig deeper into the flap over Jerusalem housing activity, it is worth revisiting a central question: who blindsided whom here?

Hillel Halkin argues that four months ago, the U.S. and Israel had a deal: “Israel reluctantly agreed to suspend all new construction in the West Bank for nearly a year, and the U.S. reluctantly accepted Israel’s refusal to do the same in Jerusalem. … On that basis, the Netanyahu government declared a West Bank freeze and began to enforce it, despite the anger this caused on the pro-settlement Israeli Right from which many of Mr. Netanyahu’s voters come. Now, America has reneged on its word. Using the Ramat Shlomo incident as a pretext, it is demanding once again, as if an agreement had never been reached, that Israel cease all construction in ‘Arab’ Jerusalem.”

Elliott Abrams, deputy national security adviser under George W. Bush, concurs:

The United States and Israel have long had different views of the settlements, but the issue has been managed without a crisis for decades. In the Bush administration, a deal was struck whereby the United States would not protest construction inside existing settlements so long as they did not expand outward. The current crisis, ostensibly about construction in Jerusalem, was manufactured by the Obama administration–and as it is about Jerusalem, isn’t even about activity in the settlements.

Every Israeli government since 1967, of left or right, has asserted that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital and has allowed Israeli Jews to build there. … To escalate that announcement into a crisis in bilateral relations and “condemn” it–using a verb we apply to acts of murder and terror, not acts of housing construction–was a decision by the U.S. government, not a natural or inevitable occurrence.

And Dan Senor adds this:

[T]he Obama administration’s decision to “condemn” this mistake was a much larger blunder. The problem is not this particular flap, which will pass, but the underlying misunderstanding that our government’s outburst reflects. Vice President Biden himself said in Israel that the peace process is best served when there is no “daylight” between the United States and Israel. He was right, but he broke his own rule. The word “condemn”–which has only been used by the United States against Iran, North Korea, and egregious human rights violations–created precisely such daylight. The result was predictable: The Arab League immediately announced that it was reconsidering its support for Israeli-Palestinian proximity talks.

So to return to the query: was it the administration that was blindsided — insulted, even! — by a midlevel bureaucratic snafu, or was the Israeli government blindsided by the screeching from the administration, which had no basis to believe there had been any commitment to halt housing development in Jerusalem?  It seems the latter is more likely.

And then there remains the issue of “perspective” — which the nervy Obami implored us all to find as their handiwork was met with a firestorm of protest. We should consider perspective in two ways: how big a deal the housing announcement is and what the incident tells us about the Obami’s own perspective on the Middle East. As for the former, the Obami’s indignation was grossly disproportionate to the matter at hand and was trumpeted most likely for the express purpose of ingratiating Obama with the Palestinians and “preserving” the “peace process.” (Didn’t work out that way, as Senor pointed out.) But the Obami’s perspective — and lack of foresight — is the more troubling of the two sorts of perspective. It should tell Israel and its supporters precisely the challenge they face: how can the U.S.-Israeli relationship weather the Obama administration? We can only hope that the justified outrage that members of Congress and the American Jewish community demonstrated — waking from its slumber — will serve to temper the Obami’s conduct, and in turn help preserve the U.S.-Israeli relationship until cooler heads and warmer hearts occupy the White House.

As we dig deeper into the flap over Jerusalem housing activity, it is worth revisiting a central question: who blindsided whom here?

Hillel Halkin argues that four months ago, the U.S. and Israel had a deal: “Israel reluctantly agreed to suspend all new construction in the West Bank for nearly a year, and the U.S. reluctantly accepted Israel’s refusal to do the same in Jerusalem. … On that basis, the Netanyahu government declared a West Bank freeze and began to enforce it, despite the anger this caused on the pro-settlement Israeli Right from which many of Mr. Netanyahu’s voters come. Now, America has reneged on its word. Using the Ramat Shlomo incident as a pretext, it is demanding once again, as if an agreement had never been reached, that Israel cease all construction in ‘Arab’ Jerusalem.”

Elliott Abrams, deputy national security adviser under George W. Bush, concurs:

The United States and Israel have long had different views of the settlements, but the issue has been managed without a crisis for decades. In the Bush administration, a deal was struck whereby the United States would not protest construction inside existing settlements so long as they did not expand outward. The current crisis, ostensibly about construction in Jerusalem, was manufactured by the Obama administration–and as it is about Jerusalem, isn’t even about activity in the settlements.

Every Israeli government since 1967, of left or right, has asserted that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital and has allowed Israeli Jews to build there. … To escalate that announcement into a crisis in bilateral relations and “condemn” it–using a verb we apply to acts of murder and terror, not acts of housing construction–was a decision by the U.S. government, not a natural or inevitable occurrence.

And Dan Senor adds this:

[T]he Obama administration’s decision to “condemn” this mistake was a much larger blunder. The problem is not this particular flap, which will pass, but the underlying misunderstanding that our government’s outburst reflects. Vice President Biden himself said in Israel that the peace process is best served when there is no “daylight” between the United States and Israel. He was right, but he broke his own rule. The word “condemn”–which has only been used by the United States against Iran, North Korea, and egregious human rights violations–created precisely such daylight. The result was predictable: The Arab League immediately announced that it was reconsidering its support for Israeli-Palestinian proximity talks.

So to return to the query: was it the administration that was blindsided — insulted, even! — by a midlevel bureaucratic snafu, or was the Israeli government blindsided by the screeching from the administration, which had no basis to believe there had been any commitment to halt housing development in Jerusalem?  It seems the latter is more likely.

And then there remains the issue of “perspective” — which the nervy Obami implored us all to find as their handiwork was met with a firestorm of protest. We should consider perspective in two ways: how big a deal the housing announcement is and what the incident tells us about the Obami’s own perspective on the Middle East. As for the former, the Obami’s indignation was grossly disproportionate to the matter at hand and was trumpeted most likely for the express purpose of ingratiating Obama with the Palestinians and “preserving” the “peace process.” (Didn’t work out that way, as Senor pointed out.) But the Obami’s perspective — and lack of foresight — is the more troubling of the two sorts of perspective. It should tell Israel and its supporters precisely the challenge they face: how can the U.S.-Israeli relationship weather the Obama administration? We can only hope that the justified outrage that members of Congress and the American Jewish community demonstrated — waking from its slumber — will serve to temper the Obami’s conduct, and in turn help preserve the U.S.-Israeli relationship until cooler heads and warmer hearts occupy the White House.

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A New Low

It is hard to imagine that U.S.-Israeli relations could have reached this point. But they have. The Washington Post aptly described where we stand: “Ties Plunge To A New Low.” In short, “relations with Israel have been strained almost since the start of the Obama administration. Now they have plunged to their lowest ebb since the administration of George H.W. Bush.” And there is no improvement in sight. After the public and private scolding by the vice president over the building of housing units in Jerusalem, Hillary Clinton continued the hollering, this time in a conversation with Bibi Netanyahu that was eagerly relayed to the media:

State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley described the nearly 45-minute phone conversation in unusually undiplomatic terms, signaling that the close allies are facing their deepest crisis in two decades after the embarrassment suffered by Vice President Biden this week when Israel announced during his visit that it plans to build 1,600 housing units in a disputed area of Jerusalem.

Clinton called Netanyahu “to make clear the United States considered the announcement a deeply negative signal about Israel’s approach to the bilateral relationship and counter to the spirit of the vice president’s trip,” Crowley said. Clinton, he said, emphasized that “this action had undermined trust and confidence in the peace process and in America’s interests.”

As the Post points out, the relationship has been rocky from the get-go. (“From the start of his tenure, President Obama identified a Middle East peace deal as critical to U.S. national security, but his efforts have been hampered by the administration’s missteps and the deep mistrust between the Israelis and the Palestinians.”) Actually, it is the mistrust between Israel and the U.S. that is at the nub of the problem. We hear that the Obami intend to use this incident to pressure Israel to “something that could restore confidence in the process and to restore confidence in the relationship with the United States.” And it is hard to escape the conclusion that the Obami are escalating the fight — making relations more tense and strained — to achieve their misguided objective, namely to extract some sort of unilateral concessions they imagine would pick the lock on the moribund “peace process.”

It’s mind boggling, really, that after this public bullying, the Obami expect the Israelis to cough up more concessions and show their faith in the American negotiators. And if by some miracle they did, what would that change? Where is the Palestinian willingness or ability to make a meaningful peace agreement?

In the midst of the administration’s temper tantrum, we find yet another reason for George W. Bush nostalgia: we used to get along so much better with Israel. Bush’s deputy national security adviser Elliott Abrams (who had the curious notion that a relationship of mutual respect and affection could encourage Israel to take risks for peace) writes:

The current friction in U.S.-Israel relations has one source: the mishandling of those relations by the Obama administration. Poll data show that Israel is as popular as ever among Americans. Strategically we face the same enemies — such as terrorism and the Iranian regime — a fact that is not lost on Americans who know we have one single reliable, democratic ally in the Middle East. … the Obama administration continues to drift away from traditional U.S. support for Israel. But time and elections will correct that problem; Israel has a higher approval rating these days than does President Obama.

Very true, but alas, both American voters and the Israelis must endure at least another few years of this. When the Obami talked of restoring our standing in the world and repairing frayed relations with allies, they plainly didn’t have Israel in mind. They have, through petulance and complete misunderstanding of the real barrier to peace, made hash out of the U.S.-Israeli relationship. Those who imagined we’d be getting smart diplomacy must now be chagrined to know how ham-handedly one can conduct foreign policy.

It is hard to imagine that U.S.-Israeli relations could have reached this point. But they have. The Washington Post aptly described where we stand: “Ties Plunge To A New Low.” In short, “relations with Israel have been strained almost since the start of the Obama administration. Now they have plunged to their lowest ebb since the administration of George H.W. Bush.” And there is no improvement in sight. After the public and private scolding by the vice president over the building of housing units in Jerusalem, Hillary Clinton continued the hollering, this time in a conversation with Bibi Netanyahu that was eagerly relayed to the media:

State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley described the nearly 45-minute phone conversation in unusually undiplomatic terms, signaling that the close allies are facing their deepest crisis in two decades after the embarrassment suffered by Vice President Biden this week when Israel announced during his visit that it plans to build 1,600 housing units in a disputed area of Jerusalem.

Clinton called Netanyahu “to make clear the United States considered the announcement a deeply negative signal about Israel’s approach to the bilateral relationship and counter to the spirit of the vice president’s trip,” Crowley said. Clinton, he said, emphasized that “this action had undermined trust and confidence in the peace process and in America’s interests.”

As the Post points out, the relationship has been rocky from the get-go. (“From the start of his tenure, President Obama identified a Middle East peace deal as critical to U.S. national security, but his efforts have been hampered by the administration’s missteps and the deep mistrust between the Israelis and the Palestinians.”) Actually, it is the mistrust between Israel and the U.S. that is at the nub of the problem. We hear that the Obami intend to use this incident to pressure Israel to “something that could restore confidence in the process and to restore confidence in the relationship with the United States.” And it is hard to escape the conclusion that the Obami are escalating the fight — making relations more tense and strained — to achieve their misguided objective, namely to extract some sort of unilateral concessions they imagine would pick the lock on the moribund “peace process.”

It’s mind boggling, really, that after this public bullying, the Obami expect the Israelis to cough up more concessions and show their faith in the American negotiators. And if by some miracle they did, what would that change? Where is the Palestinian willingness or ability to make a meaningful peace agreement?

In the midst of the administration’s temper tantrum, we find yet another reason for George W. Bush nostalgia: we used to get along so much better with Israel. Bush’s deputy national security adviser Elliott Abrams (who had the curious notion that a relationship of mutual respect and affection could encourage Israel to take risks for peace) writes:

The current friction in U.S.-Israel relations has one source: the mishandling of those relations by the Obama administration. Poll data show that Israel is as popular as ever among Americans. Strategically we face the same enemies — such as terrorism and the Iranian regime — a fact that is not lost on Americans who know we have one single reliable, democratic ally in the Middle East. … the Obama administration continues to drift away from traditional U.S. support for Israel. But time and elections will correct that problem; Israel has a higher approval rating these days than does President Obama.

Very true, but alas, both American voters and the Israelis must endure at least another few years of this. When the Obami talked of restoring our standing in the world and repairing frayed relations with allies, they plainly didn’t have Israel in mind. They have, through petulance and complete misunderstanding of the real barrier to peace, made hash out of the U.S.-Israeli relationship. Those who imagined we’d be getting smart diplomacy must now be chagrined to know how ham-handedly one can conduct foreign policy.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Former deputy national security adviser Elliott Abrams on the selective indignation over Liz Cheney’s criticism of Justice Department lawyers who previously worked for al-Qaeda clients: “Where were all these principled folk when [John] Yoo and [Jay] Bybee were being attacked for giving a legal opinion? As Ted Olson said, why is it fine to protect a terrorist client but not the client called the USA? I refused to join those who want to push half the argument- and then excommunicate those on the other half. That’s left-right politics, not a principled argument.” And it’s perfectly legitimate to explore whether those lawyers have a conflict of interest because of past representation.

Scott Johnson lays out the tick-tock on Sami al-Arian and concludes that “Tom Campbell flunks the al-Arian test.”

The Ohio Senate seat looks safe for the Republicans: “None of the top contenders for the U.S. Senate in Ohio are gaining ground at this point, with Republican Rob Portman still holding a modest lead. The latest Rasmussen Reports telephone survey of likely voters in the state finds Portman leading Lieutenant Governor Lee Fisher 44% to 39%.”

The president obsessed with campaigning rails against the Washington scene, which is “obsessed with the sport of politics.”

Because you can never have too many foolish blabbermouths: “Biden Brings Chris Matthews to Israel.”

Roger Clegg on the Obami’s idea of “civil rights” in education policy: searching for evidence of disparate impact in school discipline policies. “The disparate-impact approach will also pressure school systems who are not engaged in actual discrimination to get their numbers right, so they won’t be investigated. And how will they do that? There are two ways: Either they will start to discipline, say, Asian students who are not really deserving of such discipline, or they will forego disciplining, say, black students who really ought to be disciplined. The former is merely unfair; the latter, which is the more likely outcome, will be disastrous for all children in the school system, of whatever color.”

Chris Buckley supports Warren Buffett on health care (scrap it!): “I, for one, would sleep very soundly if Warren Buffett were president of the United States, or speaker of the House, or Senate majority leader, or chairman of the Joint Chiefs, yeah.” Alas, he told everyone to vote for Obama, whose monstrous health-care plan Buffett wants to dump.

Two more pro-life Democrats say “no” to ObamaCare without the Stupak anti-abortion-subsidy language.

The buzzards are circling the Charlie Crist campaign: “National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) Chairman John Cornyn said Monday that his endorsement of Gov. Charlie Crist in Florida’s GOP Senate primary was ‘selfish’ and that the committee will not stand in Marco Rubio’s way. Cornyn (R-Texas) said he stuck by the endorsement, but he also began minimizing it, now that it looks like Crist may well lose the primary. Recent polls have shown Rubio stealing virtually all the momentum in the race and opening a lead over Crist.”

More buzzards, via Ben Smith: “Alexi Giannoulias — an old Obama ally, but not his preferred candidate — will be by the White House for Greek Independence Day tomorrow. … I’m told he’s likely to stop in and chat with political aides like Axelrod and Patrick Gaspard, part of a running effort to convince national Democrats not to write the race off.” Or look for a replacement.

Former deputy national security adviser Elliott Abrams on the selective indignation over Liz Cheney’s criticism of Justice Department lawyers who previously worked for al-Qaeda clients: “Where were all these principled folk when [John] Yoo and [Jay] Bybee were being attacked for giving a legal opinion? As Ted Olson said, why is it fine to protect a terrorist client but not the client called the USA? I refused to join those who want to push half the argument- and then excommunicate those on the other half. That’s left-right politics, not a principled argument.” And it’s perfectly legitimate to explore whether those lawyers have a conflict of interest because of past representation.

Scott Johnson lays out the tick-tock on Sami al-Arian and concludes that “Tom Campbell flunks the al-Arian test.”

The Ohio Senate seat looks safe for the Republicans: “None of the top contenders for the U.S. Senate in Ohio are gaining ground at this point, with Republican Rob Portman still holding a modest lead. The latest Rasmussen Reports telephone survey of likely voters in the state finds Portman leading Lieutenant Governor Lee Fisher 44% to 39%.”

The president obsessed with campaigning rails against the Washington scene, which is “obsessed with the sport of politics.”

Because you can never have too many foolish blabbermouths: “Biden Brings Chris Matthews to Israel.”

Roger Clegg on the Obami’s idea of “civil rights” in education policy: searching for evidence of disparate impact in school discipline policies. “The disparate-impact approach will also pressure school systems who are not engaged in actual discrimination to get their numbers right, so they won’t be investigated. And how will they do that? There are two ways: Either they will start to discipline, say, Asian students who are not really deserving of such discipline, or they will forego disciplining, say, black students who really ought to be disciplined. The former is merely unfair; the latter, which is the more likely outcome, will be disastrous for all children in the school system, of whatever color.”

Chris Buckley supports Warren Buffett on health care (scrap it!): “I, for one, would sleep very soundly if Warren Buffett were president of the United States, or speaker of the House, or Senate majority leader, or chairman of the Joint Chiefs, yeah.” Alas, he told everyone to vote for Obama, whose monstrous health-care plan Buffett wants to dump.

Two more pro-life Democrats say “no” to ObamaCare without the Stupak anti-abortion-subsidy language.

The buzzards are circling the Charlie Crist campaign: “National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) Chairman John Cornyn said Monday that his endorsement of Gov. Charlie Crist in Florida’s GOP Senate primary was ‘selfish’ and that the committee will not stand in Marco Rubio’s way. Cornyn (R-Texas) said he stuck by the endorsement, but he also began minimizing it, now that it looks like Crist may well lose the primary. Recent polls have shown Rubio stealing virtually all the momentum in the race and opening a lead over Crist.”

More buzzards, via Ben Smith: “Alexi Giannoulias — an old Obama ally, but not his preferred candidate — will be by the White House for Greek Independence Day tomorrow. … I’m told he’s likely to stop in and chat with political aides like Axelrod and Patrick Gaspard, part of a running effort to convince national Democrats not to write the race off.” Or look for a replacement.

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Syria Engagement, or How America Loses Its Soul

As I remarked earlier this week, the Obami’s Syrian engagement policy aligns with their overall approach to foreign policy: fruitless ingratiation with despots, disregard for human rights, and predictable (horrible) results. Elliott Abrams, former Deputy National Security Adviser, recounts the series of unilateral gestures and offerings that the Obami have served up to Syria – from sending high-level envoys to appointing a new ambassador to removing U.S. objections to Syria joining the WTO. On and on it has gone as the Obama administration has tried to wean Bashar al-Assad from the embrace of the Iranian regime. But this was doomed to fail:

“Engagement” constitutes “appeasement” if it fails to change Syrian conduct, and the failure to change is overlooked while the “engagement” continues and accelerates. This would not just be fooling ourselves but condoning, rewarding, and thereby inducing even more bad conduct by the Assad regime. Which is precisely what has happened during this year of American engagement.

So Syria continues to fund terrorists, to assist Iran in rearming Hezbollah, and to brutalize its own people. Moreover, as we saw this week, Syria delights in hugging the Iranian regime even tighter and whacking the U.S. ever harder — just in case we had any doubt about the Syrians’ contempt for our approach. It seems the Obami misread Assad, not recognizing that he is “a vicious dictator dependent on Iran’s regime for political, financial, and military support” and fantasizing that there is a peace deal with Israel in the offing.

Enough already, Abrams suggests. Stop the engagement, speak out on human rights, and bring to the UN Syria’s violations of Security Council resolutions on Lebanon’s sovereignty and the arming of Hezbollah. That’s frankly wise advice for how we should reorient our entire foreign policy — on the Middle East, Cuba, Russia, China, North Korea, and the rest. The suck-uppery to despots hasn’t worked. Unilateral moves beget bad behavior, not reciprocity. Selling out human-rights advocates erodes our moral standing. And the Middle East in particular grows more unstable as tyrants get the notion that the U.S. can be played. So we should insist on reciprocity in our diplomatic moves, stand up for democracy and human rights, take seriously despots’ violations of international agreements, and refuse to explain away or excuse the misbehavior of bad actors.

We were supposed to get smart diplomacy with the Obami, and instead we got diplomacy that is both amoral and counterproductive. As with so much else that has gone wrong in this administration, the collision of hubris and extreme ideology has been painful to watch.

As I remarked earlier this week, the Obami’s Syrian engagement policy aligns with their overall approach to foreign policy: fruitless ingratiation with despots, disregard for human rights, and predictable (horrible) results. Elliott Abrams, former Deputy National Security Adviser, recounts the series of unilateral gestures and offerings that the Obami have served up to Syria – from sending high-level envoys to appointing a new ambassador to removing U.S. objections to Syria joining the WTO. On and on it has gone as the Obama administration has tried to wean Bashar al-Assad from the embrace of the Iranian regime. But this was doomed to fail:

“Engagement” constitutes “appeasement” if it fails to change Syrian conduct, and the failure to change is overlooked while the “engagement” continues and accelerates. This would not just be fooling ourselves but condoning, rewarding, and thereby inducing even more bad conduct by the Assad regime. Which is precisely what has happened during this year of American engagement.

So Syria continues to fund terrorists, to assist Iran in rearming Hezbollah, and to brutalize its own people. Moreover, as we saw this week, Syria delights in hugging the Iranian regime even tighter and whacking the U.S. ever harder — just in case we had any doubt about the Syrians’ contempt for our approach. It seems the Obami misread Assad, not recognizing that he is “a vicious dictator dependent on Iran’s regime for political, financial, and military support” and fantasizing that there is a peace deal with Israel in the offing.

Enough already, Abrams suggests. Stop the engagement, speak out on human rights, and bring to the UN Syria’s violations of Security Council resolutions on Lebanon’s sovereignty and the arming of Hezbollah. That’s frankly wise advice for how we should reorient our entire foreign policy — on the Middle East, Cuba, Russia, China, North Korea, and the rest. The suck-uppery to despots hasn’t worked. Unilateral moves beget bad behavior, not reciprocity. Selling out human-rights advocates erodes our moral standing. And the Middle East in particular grows more unstable as tyrants get the notion that the U.S. can be played. So we should insist on reciprocity in our diplomatic moves, stand up for democracy and human rights, take seriously despots’ violations of international agreements, and refuse to explain away or excuse the misbehavior of bad actors.

We were supposed to get smart diplomacy with the Obami, and instead we got diplomacy that is both amoral and counterproductive. As with so much else that has gone wrong in this administration, the collision of hubris and extreme ideology has been painful to watch.

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One of Theirs Doesn’t Pan Out

Maureen Dowd is a woman scorned, it seems. Candidate Dreamy has become Captain Obvious. She hisses:

“We must do better,” Captain Obvious said Thursday at the White House, “in keeping dangerous people off airplanes while still facilitating air travel.” John Brennan, the deputy national security adviser, was equally illuminating. “The intelligence,” he informed us, “fell through the cracks.” He also offered this: “Al-Qaeda is just determined to carry out attacks here against the homeland.” That rings a bell. The president and his intelligence officials stressed that these were not the same mistakes made before 9/11. “Rather than a failure to collect or share intelligence,” President Obama said, “this was a failure to connect and understand the intelligence that we already had.” Wow. That makes me feel that all those billions spent on upgrading the intelligence system were well spent.

And like many a conservative pundit, she’s had quite enough of the “President Cool” routine and of the insistence “on staying aloof and setting his own deliberate pace for responding.” She fumes: “He’s so sure of himself and his actions that he fails to see that he misses the moment to be president — to be the strong father who protects the home from invaders, who reassures and instructs the public at traumatic moments.”

Not even the grande dame of the Gray Lady can avoid the conclusion that Obama hasn’t panned out. The fellow whom she and the entire liberal media swooned over during the campaign and those very qualities the Left punditocracy touted as praiseworthy (e.g., intellecutalism, emotional reserve) have proven ill-suited to the job. Obama is neither leading nor seeming to understand state craft.

How could they have gotten it so wrong? Well, they were plainly in love with the “historic” opportunity to elect an African American. And they saw in Obama one of them — elite educated, scornful of gun clinging and Bible thumping Americans, contemptuous of American exceptionalism, skeptical of “hard power,” and infatuated with the public sector. It turns out that this was a recipe for disaster when it comes the the presidency.

And Obama’s background has proved, if anything, to be a hindrance. Obama’s oversight of the Harvard Law Review didn’t prepare him for the Oval Office. To the contrary, his preference for government by seminar made for an excruciating war-planning process. His cool persona doesn’t instill confidence in voters. It frightens them that their president is disengaged (emotionally and otherwise).

Dowd and her colleagues complain now — but he was their kind of guy. Perhaps we shouldn’t put in the White House someone better suited to edit a liberal publication.

Maureen Dowd is a woman scorned, it seems. Candidate Dreamy has become Captain Obvious. She hisses:

“We must do better,” Captain Obvious said Thursday at the White House, “in keeping dangerous people off airplanes while still facilitating air travel.” John Brennan, the deputy national security adviser, was equally illuminating. “The intelligence,” he informed us, “fell through the cracks.” He also offered this: “Al-Qaeda is just determined to carry out attacks here against the homeland.” That rings a bell. The president and his intelligence officials stressed that these were not the same mistakes made before 9/11. “Rather than a failure to collect or share intelligence,” President Obama said, “this was a failure to connect and understand the intelligence that we already had.” Wow. That makes me feel that all those billions spent on upgrading the intelligence system were well spent.

And like many a conservative pundit, she’s had quite enough of the “President Cool” routine and of the insistence “on staying aloof and setting his own deliberate pace for responding.” She fumes: “He’s so sure of himself and his actions that he fails to see that he misses the moment to be president — to be the strong father who protects the home from invaders, who reassures and instructs the public at traumatic moments.”

Not even the grande dame of the Gray Lady can avoid the conclusion that Obama hasn’t panned out. The fellow whom she and the entire liberal media swooned over during the campaign and those very qualities the Left punditocracy touted as praiseworthy (e.g., intellecutalism, emotional reserve) have proven ill-suited to the job. Obama is neither leading nor seeming to understand state craft.

How could they have gotten it so wrong? Well, they were plainly in love with the “historic” opportunity to elect an African American. And they saw in Obama one of them — elite educated, scornful of gun clinging and Bible thumping Americans, contemptuous of American exceptionalism, skeptical of “hard power,” and infatuated with the public sector. It turns out that this was a recipe for disaster when it comes the the presidency.

And Obama’s background has proved, if anything, to be a hindrance. Obama’s oversight of the Harvard Law Review didn’t prepare him for the Oval Office. To the contrary, his preference for government by seminar made for an excruciating war-planning process. His cool persona doesn’t instill confidence in voters. It frightens them that their president is disengaged (emotionally and otherwise).

Dowd and her colleagues complain now — but he was their kind of guy. Perhaps we shouldn’t put in the White House someone better suited to edit a liberal publication.

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When Did He Know?

When did the president learn that the Christmas Day plot was not an “isolated extremist?” On Monday, he told us that it was. Now we hear the excuse that the president only learned Monday night of “some linkage” between the bomber and al-Qaeda. The Washington Post gets this report on background (you wouldn’t want your name used either):

The official said the president and his top advisers are “increasingly confident” that Al Qaeda was involved in the attempted attacker’s plans.

Obama, in his remarks to reporters earlier in the day, said that if intelligence about the suspect had been handled differently he would have been blocked from boarding a plane for the United States. Senior officials said that was among the new details that the president learned in a conference call with top national security officials – National Security Adviser Jim Jones, his top counterterrorism expert John Brennan, and deputy National Security adviser Tom Donilon – on Tuesday morning.

So we are supposed to believe that the president went in front of the nation, that he declared something that the public (after paying attention to a plethora of news reports) was beginning to believe was not true (i.e. this was a lone wolf), and that he only learned of the al-Qaeda connection four days after the incident? I’m not sure which is worse — the possibility that the president was misinformed or uninformed for a number of  days, or that he knew better and for reasons not entirely clear decided to play down the al-Qaeda connection until it could no longer be ignored. This is, of course, a second scandal — the primary one being that we did not act on “information that was in possession of the government… that spoke to both where the suspect had been, what some of his thinking and plans were, what some of the plans of Al Qaeda were.”

As the Washington Post editors fume: “Now we want to shine a light on the stunning breakdown in communication among the State Department, the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) and the British government that allowed Mr. Abdulmutallab to buy a ticket in the first place.” And then we can find out why the president went before the public with incomplete and inaccurate information on Monday.

We seem to have an intelligence apparatus that cannot communicate effectively before a terror attack, and an administration that cannot communicate forthrightly and accurately with the public after one. Unlike those who coped with 9/11, the Obama administration had the experience of a massive domestic terror attack to guide and inform it. And yet this is the best that the Obama administration can do.

When did the president learn that the Christmas Day plot was not an “isolated extremist?” On Monday, he told us that it was. Now we hear the excuse that the president only learned Monday night of “some linkage” between the bomber and al-Qaeda. The Washington Post gets this report on background (you wouldn’t want your name used either):

The official said the president and his top advisers are “increasingly confident” that Al Qaeda was involved in the attempted attacker’s plans.

Obama, in his remarks to reporters earlier in the day, said that if intelligence about the suspect had been handled differently he would have been blocked from boarding a plane for the United States. Senior officials said that was among the new details that the president learned in a conference call with top national security officials – National Security Adviser Jim Jones, his top counterterrorism expert John Brennan, and deputy National Security adviser Tom Donilon – on Tuesday morning.

So we are supposed to believe that the president went in front of the nation, that he declared something that the public (after paying attention to a plethora of news reports) was beginning to believe was not true (i.e. this was a lone wolf), and that he only learned of the al-Qaeda connection four days after the incident? I’m not sure which is worse — the possibility that the president was misinformed or uninformed for a number of  days, or that he knew better and for reasons not entirely clear decided to play down the al-Qaeda connection until it could no longer be ignored. This is, of course, a second scandal — the primary one being that we did not act on “information that was in possession of the government… that spoke to both where the suspect had been, what some of his thinking and plans were, what some of the plans of Al Qaeda were.”

As the Washington Post editors fume: “Now we want to shine a light on the stunning breakdown in communication among the State Department, the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) and the British government that allowed Mr. Abdulmutallab to buy a ticket in the first place.” And then we can find out why the president went before the public with incomplete and inaccurate information on Monday.

We seem to have an intelligence apparatus that cannot communicate effectively before a terror attack, and an administration that cannot communicate forthrightly and accurately with the public after one. Unlike those who coped with 9/11, the Obama administration had the experience of a massive domestic terror attack to guide and inform it. And yet this is the best that the Obama administration can do.

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A Debtor’s Strategy?

Although the results — or more accurately, the lack of results — from Obama’s China visit suggest the opposite, the $800 billion the U.S. owes to Beijing “had no impact on [Obama’s agenda in China] whatsoever,” claimed Deputy National Security Adviser Mike Froman.

“The $800 billion never came up in conversation, and the President dealt with every issue on his agenda in a very direct way and pulled no punches,” Froman said at a news conference yesterday in Beijing.

On Nov. 15, the New York Times described Obama as a “profligate spender coming to pay his respects to his banker” and predicted before the trip’s beginning that “Mr. Obama will be spending less time exhorting Beijing and more time reassuring it.” It was a prediction that Froman’s statement contradicts.

And a savvy prediction, indeed, as it turned out. Obama offered vague statements on human rights—admittedly, an improvement on previous silence. Both sides reaffirmed their cooperation on environmental issues, nuclear nonproliferation and security – agreements likely less solid in reality than in rhetoric. Both promised increasing student exchanges. But all these stated commonalities are mild. If anything, the U.S. lost ground, minimizing India as a first-rate Asian power and making concessions on Taiwan, as Foreign Policy’s Daniel Blumenthal noted.

So the question is one of correlation or causation: whether Obama’s conciliatory approach can be blamed on the debt alone, or whether it is instead indicative of a larger China-policy outlook.

True, as Froman said, there was no documented mention of the $800-billion debt on the White House website. (But, given its status as a quite rotund elephant, perhaps it was a topic that should have been broached at least once.)

But if Obama intends to shift U.S.-China policy altogether, expect bigger foreign policy problems soon, a dilemma articulately described by Robert Kagan and Dan Blumenthal, who wrote for the Washington Post before Obama’s visit.

Previously, the American strategy has been to simultaneously engage and balance China, Kagan and Blumenthal write. But this time, throughout the visit, Obama repeated that “we do not seek to contain China’s rise,” words that must be musical to a country historically accustomed to regional dominance and hegemony.

Blumenthal and Kagan suggest a tension between reality and a policy of strategic reassurance: The U.S. doesn’t want to diminish its Asia presence or power, but China demands parity at bare minimum. “So it will quickly become obvious,” they write, “that no one on either side feels reassured. Unfortunately, the only result will be to make American allies nervous.” As if Obama’s recent treaty forfeitures in the Czech Republic and Poland were not enough.

Either way, the tone of the visit belied a less confident America—but whether that’s by dollar or decision, we have yet to see.

Although the results — or more accurately, the lack of results — from Obama’s China visit suggest the opposite, the $800 billion the U.S. owes to Beijing “had no impact on [Obama’s agenda in China] whatsoever,” claimed Deputy National Security Adviser Mike Froman.

“The $800 billion never came up in conversation, and the President dealt with every issue on his agenda in a very direct way and pulled no punches,” Froman said at a news conference yesterday in Beijing.

On Nov. 15, the New York Times described Obama as a “profligate spender coming to pay his respects to his banker” and predicted before the trip’s beginning that “Mr. Obama will be spending less time exhorting Beijing and more time reassuring it.” It was a prediction that Froman’s statement contradicts.

And a savvy prediction, indeed, as it turned out. Obama offered vague statements on human rights—admittedly, an improvement on previous silence. Both sides reaffirmed their cooperation on environmental issues, nuclear nonproliferation and security – agreements likely less solid in reality than in rhetoric. Both promised increasing student exchanges. But all these stated commonalities are mild. If anything, the U.S. lost ground, minimizing India as a first-rate Asian power and making concessions on Taiwan, as Foreign Policy’s Daniel Blumenthal noted.

So the question is one of correlation or causation: whether Obama’s conciliatory approach can be blamed on the debt alone, or whether it is instead indicative of a larger China-policy outlook.

True, as Froman said, there was no documented mention of the $800-billion debt on the White House website. (But, given its status as a quite rotund elephant, perhaps it was a topic that should have been broached at least once.)

But if Obama intends to shift U.S.-China policy altogether, expect bigger foreign policy problems soon, a dilemma articulately described by Robert Kagan and Dan Blumenthal, who wrote for the Washington Post before Obama’s visit.

Previously, the American strategy has been to simultaneously engage and balance China, Kagan and Blumenthal write. But this time, throughout the visit, Obama repeated that “we do not seek to contain China’s rise,” words that must be musical to a country historically accustomed to regional dominance and hegemony.

Blumenthal and Kagan suggest a tension between reality and a policy of strategic reassurance: The U.S. doesn’t want to diminish its Asia presence or power, but China demands parity at bare minimum. “So it will quickly become obvious,” they write, “that no one on either side feels reassured. Unfortunately, the only result will be to make American allies nervous.” As if Obama’s recent treaty forfeitures in the Czech Republic and Poland were not enough.

Either way, the tone of the visit belied a less confident America—but whether that’s by dollar or decision, we have yet to see.

Read Less

In a Tizzy Again

The Jerusalem Post reports:

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is willing to show “restraint” in construction in the West Bank, but will not accept any restriction on building in Jerusalem, senior government sources said Tuesday night. Their comments followed the Jerusalem Municipal Planning Committee’s approval of a plan to build some 900 new units in the southeastern Jerusalem neighborhood of Gilo and the ensuing international objections.

The administration is unhinged again (isn’t it always?) over Jerusalem settlements:

“We are dismayed at the Jerusalem Planning Committee’s decision to move forward on the approval process for the expansion of Gilo in Jerusalem,” [Robert] Gibbs said in a statement. ” At a time when we are working to re-launch negotiations, these actions make it more difficult for our efforts to succeed. Neither party should engage in efforts or take actions that could unilaterally pre-empt, or appear to pre-empt, negotiations. The U.S. also objects to other Israeli practices in Jerusalem related to housing, including the continuing pattern of evictions and demolitions of Palestinian homes.”

“Our position is clear,” Gibbs continued. “The status of Jerusalem is a permanent status issue that must be resolved through negotiations between the parties.”

It’s probably poor form to cite “permanent status” issues since the administration has been on a mission to force Israel to cough up concessions on settlements up front, not as a final-status issue, as has been envisioned on the “road map.”

But this is evidence, certainly, if any more were needed, that the Obama administration has been spectacularly unsuccessful at getting either side in the inert “peace process” to do anything. The Bush administration, you will recall — criticized for being “too close” to Israel — was able to get the Israeli government to withdraw from Gaza, dismantle settlements, slow the growth of new ones and address the issue of checkpoints — not by threatening Israel but by building rapport and demonstrating that we consider Israel an ally, not an impediment to peace. Back in August, former Bush deputy national security adviser Elliott Abrams, who was instrumental in that approach, wrote :

The Obama administration has managed to win the mistrust of most Israelis, not just conservative politicians. Despite his great popularity in many parts of the world, in Israel Obama is now seen as no ally. A June poll found that just 6% of Israelis called him “pro-Israel,” when 88% had seen President George W. Bush that way. So the troubles between the U.S. and Israel are not fundamentally found in the personal relations among policy makers.

The deeper problem—and the more complex explanation of bilateral tensions—is that the Obama administration, while claiming to separate itself from the “ideologues” of the Bush administration in favor of a more balanced and realistic Middle East policy, is in fact following a highly ideological policy path. Its ability to cope with, indeed even to see clearly, the realities of life in Israel and the West Bank and the challenge of Iran to the region is compromised by the prism through which it analyzes events.

And then came months of more of the same ineffective haranguing from the Obami, topped off by the egregious rudeness shown the Israeli Prime Minister on his recent visit. The Obama team now sees the results of its own failed policy.

The Jerusalem Post reports:

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is willing to show “restraint” in construction in the West Bank, but will not accept any restriction on building in Jerusalem, senior government sources said Tuesday night. Their comments followed the Jerusalem Municipal Planning Committee’s approval of a plan to build some 900 new units in the southeastern Jerusalem neighborhood of Gilo and the ensuing international objections.

The administration is unhinged again (isn’t it always?) over Jerusalem settlements:

“We are dismayed at the Jerusalem Planning Committee’s decision to move forward on the approval process for the expansion of Gilo in Jerusalem,” [Robert] Gibbs said in a statement. ” At a time when we are working to re-launch negotiations, these actions make it more difficult for our efforts to succeed. Neither party should engage in efforts or take actions that could unilaterally pre-empt, or appear to pre-empt, negotiations. The U.S. also objects to other Israeli practices in Jerusalem related to housing, including the continuing pattern of evictions and demolitions of Palestinian homes.”

“Our position is clear,” Gibbs continued. “The status of Jerusalem is a permanent status issue that must be resolved through negotiations between the parties.”

It’s probably poor form to cite “permanent status” issues since the administration has been on a mission to force Israel to cough up concessions on settlements up front, not as a final-status issue, as has been envisioned on the “road map.”

But this is evidence, certainly, if any more were needed, that the Obama administration has been spectacularly unsuccessful at getting either side in the inert “peace process” to do anything. The Bush administration, you will recall — criticized for being “too close” to Israel — was able to get the Israeli government to withdraw from Gaza, dismantle settlements, slow the growth of new ones and address the issue of checkpoints — not by threatening Israel but by building rapport and demonstrating that we consider Israel an ally, not an impediment to peace. Back in August, former Bush deputy national security adviser Elliott Abrams, who was instrumental in that approach, wrote :

The Obama administration has managed to win the mistrust of most Israelis, not just conservative politicians. Despite his great popularity in many parts of the world, in Israel Obama is now seen as no ally. A June poll found that just 6% of Israelis called him “pro-Israel,” when 88% had seen President George W. Bush that way. So the troubles between the U.S. and Israel are not fundamentally found in the personal relations among policy makers.

The deeper problem—and the more complex explanation of bilateral tensions—is that the Obama administration, while claiming to separate itself from the “ideologues” of the Bush administration in favor of a more balanced and realistic Middle East policy, is in fact following a highly ideological policy path. Its ability to cope with, indeed even to see clearly, the realities of life in Israel and the West Bank and the challenge of Iran to the region is compromised by the prism through which it analyzes events.

And then came months of more of the same ineffective haranguing from the Obami, topped off by the egregious rudeness shown the Israeli Prime Minister on his recent visit. The Obama team now sees the results of its own failed policy.

Read Less

Bush’s Games

Yesterday, President Bush announced that he had accepted an invitation from Hu Jintao to attend the 2008 Olympics, which will be held next August in Beijing. The two of them met in a private session in Sydney before the start of a regional summit of Pacific Rim leaders. “I was anxious to accept,” Bush told reporters.

“For the Chinese, that’s a public vote of confidence,” said Michael Green, who worked in the National Security Council until late 2005. But it’s more than just a vote, Mr. Green: it’s legitimization. Activists have announced multiple boycotts of the Games for various reasons, from China’s tacit support of the murderous Janjaweed militia in Darfur to its repression of Tibetans and the liquidation of their culture. Beijing has become increasingly worried in recent months about the controversy swirling around the upcoming sporting extravaganza, its coming-out party.

It seems that everyone knows the significance of President Bush’s acceptance except for the White House. Jim Jeffrey, Deputy National Security Adviser, said the President “was going to the Olympics for the sports and not for any political statement.”

This trip will be more than just a vacation, and Jeffrey’s stated reason for the acceptance is disingenuous. We can only hope that the Fan-in-Chief (who didn’t, by the way, go to the Athens Games in 2004), will somehow find the inner strength either to snub the world’s leading autocrat next August or to admit that he intends to support the Chinese regime.

Yesterday, President Bush announced that he had accepted an invitation from Hu Jintao to attend the 2008 Olympics, which will be held next August in Beijing. The two of them met in a private session in Sydney before the start of a regional summit of Pacific Rim leaders. “I was anxious to accept,” Bush told reporters.

“For the Chinese, that’s a public vote of confidence,” said Michael Green, who worked in the National Security Council until late 2005. But it’s more than just a vote, Mr. Green: it’s legitimization. Activists have announced multiple boycotts of the Games for various reasons, from China’s tacit support of the murderous Janjaweed militia in Darfur to its repression of Tibetans and the liquidation of their culture. Beijing has become increasingly worried in recent months about the controversy swirling around the upcoming sporting extravaganza, its coming-out party.

It seems that everyone knows the significance of President Bush’s acceptance except for the White House. Jim Jeffrey, Deputy National Security Adviser, said the President “was going to the Olympics for the sports and not for any political statement.”

This trip will be more than just a vacation, and Jeffrey’s stated reason for the acceptance is disingenuous. We can only hope that the Fan-in-Chief (who didn’t, by the way, go to the Athens Games in 2004), will somehow find the inner strength either to snub the world’s leading autocrat next August or to admit that he intends to support the Chinese regime.

Read Less




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