Commentary Magazine


Topic: free media

The Farce That Is ‘Reset’

Josh Rogin reports:

The Obama administration is ignoring, and thereby enabling, the Russian government’s gross abuse of human rights and its gutting of the country’s  democracy, according to Russia’s former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov.

“We have no democracy at all. We don’t have any future of a democratic state. Everything has been lost, everything has been taken by the people by the authorities,” Kasyanov said in a wide ranging interview with Foreign Policy. “The power has replaced all institutions … like Parliament, like independent judiciary, like free media, etc. That’s already obvious for everyone.”

What’s his complaint? Well, the Obama team has tossed democracy and human rights under the bus, as they have in the case of every despotic regime:

The former Russian head of government, who was ousted by current Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in 2004, is on a mission this week to send a two-fold message to U.S.-based Russia watchers: that the upcoming elections next year in Russia will not be free and fair, and that the “reset” policy of the Obama administration has wrongly caused the United States to abandon its role as a vocal critic of Russian democratic and human rights abuses.

“We would like our friends in the West, in Europe and the United States, those who are interested in a democratic Russia … we would like these friends just to open their mouths …”

It is hear-no-evil, see-no-evil time:

He said that U.S. diplomats at various levels of the Obama administration are ignoring negative trends in Russia in the hope of avoiding even minor confrontations with the Kremlin that might upset the warming of bilateral ties. …

Kasyanov dismissed the working group on human rights being led by the NSC’s Mike McFaul and the Kremlin’s Vladislav Surkov. McFaul explained the Obama administration’s approach to Russian human rights in October 2009, saying, “We came to a conclusion that we need a reset in this respect too and we should give up the old approach that had been troubling Russian-American partnership.”

“This Commission blah blah blah discussing human rights, that’s imitation, that is not useful operation. That shows to Russians that the U.S. government has chosen a different path, not human rights and democracy. It’s absolutely the wrong thing to do,” Kasyanov said.

Aside from the moral failing and the projection of weakness it conveys to Russia, China, Iran, and the rest, it hasn’t worked in any meaningful way. What have we gotten from Russia? Agreement on Swiss cheese sanctions that haven’t stopped the mullahs’ nuclear program. And that’s it.

It is easy to “reset” relations with an authoritarian state by appeasing and avoiding conflict. But that doesn’t further our interests, and it reveals Obama’s and Hillary’s newfound appreciation for human rights to be nothing more than spin. Unfortunately, it is almost a year until the next Nobel Peace Prize. Perhaps it can go to a Russian dissident next time, and thereafter a human rights activist from one of the many countries Obama has cowered before.

As with Iran engagement, our reset policy provides ample evidence that when you sacrifice human rights, you get precious little in return. As the world becomes less free and stable, the U.S. loses the respect of friends and foes alike.

Josh Rogin reports:

The Obama administration is ignoring, and thereby enabling, the Russian government’s gross abuse of human rights and its gutting of the country’s  democracy, according to Russia’s former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov.

“We have no democracy at all. We don’t have any future of a democratic state. Everything has been lost, everything has been taken by the people by the authorities,” Kasyanov said in a wide ranging interview with Foreign Policy. “The power has replaced all institutions … like Parliament, like independent judiciary, like free media, etc. That’s already obvious for everyone.”

What’s his complaint? Well, the Obama team has tossed democracy and human rights under the bus, as they have in the case of every despotic regime:

The former Russian head of government, who was ousted by current Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in 2004, is on a mission this week to send a two-fold message to U.S.-based Russia watchers: that the upcoming elections next year in Russia will not be free and fair, and that the “reset” policy of the Obama administration has wrongly caused the United States to abandon its role as a vocal critic of Russian democratic and human rights abuses.

“We would like our friends in the West, in Europe and the United States, those who are interested in a democratic Russia … we would like these friends just to open their mouths …”

It is hear-no-evil, see-no-evil time:

He said that U.S. diplomats at various levels of the Obama administration are ignoring negative trends in Russia in the hope of avoiding even minor confrontations with the Kremlin that might upset the warming of bilateral ties. …

Kasyanov dismissed the working group on human rights being led by the NSC’s Mike McFaul and the Kremlin’s Vladislav Surkov. McFaul explained the Obama administration’s approach to Russian human rights in October 2009, saying, “We came to a conclusion that we need a reset in this respect too and we should give up the old approach that had been troubling Russian-American partnership.”

“This Commission blah blah blah discussing human rights, that’s imitation, that is not useful operation. That shows to Russians that the U.S. government has chosen a different path, not human rights and democracy. It’s absolutely the wrong thing to do,” Kasyanov said.

Aside from the moral failing and the projection of weakness it conveys to Russia, China, Iran, and the rest, it hasn’t worked in any meaningful way. What have we gotten from Russia? Agreement on Swiss cheese sanctions that haven’t stopped the mullahs’ nuclear program. And that’s it.

It is easy to “reset” relations with an authoritarian state by appeasing and avoiding conflict. But that doesn’t further our interests, and it reveals Obama’s and Hillary’s newfound appreciation for human rights to be nothing more than spin. Unfortunately, it is almost a year until the next Nobel Peace Prize. Perhaps it can go to a Russian dissident next time, and thereafter a human rights activist from one of the many countries Obama has cowered before.

As with Iran engagement, our reset policy provides ample evidence that when you sacrifice human rights, you get precious little in return. As the world becomes less free and stable, the U.S. loses the respect of friends and foes alike.

Read Less

Where Is Obama Going?

Obama is now politically toxic in many states. So where is he going on the campaign trail? The White House schedule is telling. He’s going to Delaware, where the Democrat is already running away with the race. He’s going to Massachusetts, the bluest state until the voters disregarded his advice and elected Scott Brown. He’s going to California and Nevada, but for fundraisers, not big public events. He’s going to Rhode Island (Rhode Island?), where one supposes he can do no harm.

The number of competitive races in which he is holding public events is limited to Washington (Patty Murray), Minnesota (gubernatorial candidate Mark Dayton), and Ohio (Gov. Ted Strickland). That’s it. And he better be careful in both Washington (where a large plurality think his economic policies have hurt more than they’ve helped) and Ohio (where his approval rating has plummeted). Oh, and he’s going to Oregon for the Democratic gubernatorial candidate, who had this to say:

Oregon’s Democratic candidate for governor said Tuesday that President Obama’s health care reform bill will be a “toxic” issue in 2012 unless states are given the opportunity to address the problem of rising medical costs. …

“I supported the passage of the bill but I think we need to recognize that this was really health insurance reform and not health care reform,” he said in an interview over coffee at a Portland diner. “What it’s done is provided most people in the country financial access to medical care by 2014. The problem is it didn’t deal with the underlying cost drivers, and those are embedded in the delivery system.”

Should be a fun campaign trip.

It’s tricky finding places where Obama won’t do damage to the candidates he’s supposed to be helping. The White House seems to think gubernatorial races are “safer” for Obama than the Senate contests, where all those unpopular votes on the stimulus, ObamaCare, etc., are sure to come up. But the reality of a 24/7 news environment is that wherever Obama goes, he makes the news — and Republican Senate and House candidates have the benefit of free media to remind voters across the country whose agenda they are opposed to and who has been making all those silly promises (e.g., ObamaCare will save money). Unfortunately for the Dems, you really can’t hide the president of the United States.

Obama is now politically toxic in many states. So where is he going on the campaign trail? The White House schedule is telling. He’s going to Delaware, where the Democrat is already running away with the race. He’s going to Massachusetts, the bluest state until the voters disregarded his advice and elected Scott Brown. He’s going to California and Nevada, but for fundraisers, not big public events. He’s going to Rhode Island (Rhode Island?), where one supposes he can do no harm.

The number of competitive races in which he is holding public events is limited to Washington (Patty Murray), Minnesota (gubernatorial candidate Mark Dayton), and Ohio (Gov. Ted Strickland). That’s it. And he better be careful in both Washington (where a large plurality think his economic policies have hurt more than they’ve helped) and Ohio (where his approval rating has plummeted). Oh, and he’s going to Oregon for the Democratic gubernatorial candidate, who had this to say:

Oregon’s Democratic candidate for governor said Tuesday that President Obama’s health care reform bill will be a “toxic” issue in 2012 unless states are given the opportunity to address the problem of rising medical costs. …

“I supported the passage of the bill but I think we need to recognize that this was really health insurance reform and not health care reform,” he said in an interview over coffee at a Portland diner. “What it’s done is provided most people in the country financial access to medical care by 2014. The problem is it didn’t deal with the underlying cost drivers, and those are embedded in the delivery system.”

Should be a fun campaign trip.

It’s tricky finding places where Obama won’t do damage to the candidates he’s supposed to be helping. The White House seems to think gubernatorial races are “safer” for Obama than the Senate contests, where all those unpopular votes on the stimulus, ObamaCare, etc., are sure to come up. But the reality of a 24/7 news environment is that wherever Obama goes, he makes the news — and Republican Senate and House candidates have the benefit of free media to remind voters across the country whose agenda they are opposed to and who has been making all those silly promises (e.g., ObamaCare will save money). Unfortunately for the Dems, you really can’t hide the president of the United States.

Read Less

Reading the Palin Tea Leaves

Reading the Palin tea leaves is about to become a daily obsession. Each visit and speech elicits a new round of speculation. She went to Iowa — she’s running! But she “spent little of her time with them. She did not appear at a rally, impromptu campaign stop or closed-door one-on-one meetings with party activists” — she’s not running! She’s making inroads with activists. (“‘She sure has a way of rallying the troops by pointing out that we need to get back to our roots, get out there and fight,’ said one.”) Nah, she’s not that electrifying. (“She did not carry the crowd with her through the entire 33-minute speech. When she talked about the beauty of the Tea Party movement, the party activists in the room barely responded.”) She’s hungry to run. (She says, “I want to get back to Iowa soon.”) Or, she’s decided she doesn’t need to. (“I know that you can make a big difference in America without even having a title.”)

It is both in her interest and the media’s to keep the suspense going. If she runs, the buildup and anticipation is invaluable; if she doesn’t, it still keeps her “brand” hot. The media loves a “How will it turn out?” story, and the left punditocracy is fixated on her. It is in no one’s interest to resolve the question quickly.

And her tea leaves are harder to read than most. If a traditional candidate is going to run, he’s going to do traditional things — meet with those activists, assemble a professional staff, and put together an Iowa or New Hampshire ground game (or revive ones from 2008). But Palin isn’t that sort of politician. It’s not clear she will, until the last possible moment (and maybe not even then), play the nitty-gritty insiders’ game. She, after all has 100 percent name identification and can command free media to an extent no other figure can. This doesn’t mean she can win with such an approach. But we’ve never seen a phenomenon like Palin. Maybe you can win the presidency without the rubber-chicken circuit and without organizing every straw poll in sight. We’ll find out. Or maybe not.

Reading the Palin tea leaves is about to become a daily obsession. Each visit and speech elicits a new round of speculation. She went to Iowa — she’s running! But she “spent little of her time with them. She did not appear at a rally, impromptu campaign stop or closed-door one-on-one meetings with party activists” — she’s not running! She’s making inroads with activists. (“‘She sure has a way of rallying the troops by pointing out that we need to get back to our roots, get out there and fight,’ said one.”) Nah, she’s not that electrifying. (“She did not carry the crowd with her through the entire 33-minute speech. When she talked about the beauty of the Tea Party movement, the party activists in the room barely responded.”) She’s hungry to run. (She says, “I want to get back to Iowa soon.”) Or, she’s decided she doesn’t need to. (“I know that you can make a big difference in America without even having a title.”)

It is both in her interest and the media’s to keep the suspense going. If she runs, the buildup and anticipation is invaluable; if she doesn’t, it still keeps her “brand” hot. The media loves a “How will it turn out?” story, and the left punditocracy is fixated on her. It is in no one’s interest to resolve the question quickly.

And her tea leaves are harder to read than most. If a traditional candidate is going to run, he’s going to do traditional things — meet with those activists, assemble a professional staff, and put together an Iowa or New Hampshire ground game (or revive ones from 2008). But Palin isn’t that sort of politician. It’s not clear she will, until the last possible moment (and maybe not even then), play the nitty-gritty insiders’ game. She, after all has 100 percent name identification and can command free media to an extent no other figure can. This doesn’t mean she can win with such an approach. But we’ve never seen a phenomenon like Palin. Maybe you can win the presidency without the rubber-chicken circuit and without organizing every straw poll in sight. We’ll find out. Or maybe not.

Read Less

Give Back the Money, Joe

That’s what Rep. Joe Sestak, who’s spent nearly all his time since the primary on the defensive, is hearing. It seems that many Democrats have given back money generated by the very ethically challenged Charlie Rangel, but not Sestak:

Republican Senate candidate Pat Toomey and at least two House challengers have made Rangel contributions an issue, calling on Democrats to return the money.

“Throughout the campaign, Congressman [Joe] Sestak has spoken about accountability and putting principle over politics, but it is now becoming clear that his pledges and lofty promises are just hollow words from another Washington insider,” Toomey campaign spokeswoman Nachama Soloveichik said about contributions Sestak has received from Rangel’s political action committees.

Even Sestak’s most extreme left-wing colleagues are dumping the Rangel cash. But not Sestak — maybe his idea is to let the issue build and build, let free media help his opponent, and then cave. That seems to be pretty much his campaign strategy so far.

And if that were not enough, he’s now fending off attacks about his earmarks:

Rep. Joe Sestak, Pennsylvania’s Democratic nominee for Senate, has reaped at least $119,650 in campaign contributions from employees of companies to which he has steered federal earmarks since 2008, according to public records. There’s nothing illegal — or unusual — on Capitol Hill about the practice of fund-raising from recipients of federal appropriations, but Sestak, a former three-star Navy admiral, has held himself to a higher standard.

The Toomey campaign is mocking Sestak for denying the pledge on his own website that vowed to give back contributions from “an individual or organization [that] has made a request for an appropriations project.” It seems — wow, just like when he denied the language about Israel’s imposing “collective punishment” on Gazans in his own Gaza letter — that Sestak didn’t mean what he said:

Data from the websites Legistorm and Opensecrets, which track earmarks and donations, respectively, shows Sestak kept about $62,000 in donations from senior officials at companies receiving his earmarks. Sestak said he has returned thousands of dollars in similar contributions, but some slipped past. He noted that no rules prevent him from keeping contributions from people who receive federal money. “I guess the lesson is it’s hard to take that extra step,” he said. Sestak said he never intended to publicize his donation-return policy, which appears in his campaign website’s Ethics section. “I just wanted a quiet sense of accountability.”

I imagine Democrats are experiencing a “quiet sense” of panic as they realize they’ve nominated someone who not only has an Israel problem and a Pelosi problem (97.8 percent support, but not “all the time,” mind you) but also an honesty problem. In a year when voters are sick of politicians shirking responsibility and coming up with ludicrous spin, this is potentially a very big problem.

That’s what Rep. Joe Sestak, who’s spent nearly all his time since the primary on the defensive, is hearing. It seems that many Democrats have given back money generated by the very ethically challenged Charlie Rangel, but not Sestak:

Republican Senate candidate Pat Toomey and at least two House challengers have made Rangel contributions an issue, calling on Democrats to return the money.

“Throughout the campaign, Congressman [Joe] Sestak has spoken about accountability and putting principle over politics, but it is now becoming clear that his pledges and lofty promises are just hollow words from another Washington insider,” Toomey campaign spokeswoman Nachama Soloveichik said about contributions Sestak has received from Rangel’s political action committees.

Even Sestak’s most extreme left-wing colleagues are dumping the Rangel cash. But not Sestak — maybe his idea is to let the issue build and build, let free media help his opponent, and then cave. That seems to be pretty much his campaign strategy so far.

And if that were not enough, he’s now fending off attacks about his earmarks:

Rep. Joe Sestak, Pennsylvania’s Democratic nominee for Senate, has reaped at least $119,650 in campaign contributions from employees of companies to which he has steered federal earmarks since 2008, according to public records. There’s nothing illegal — or unusual — on Capitol Hill about the practice of fund-raising from recipients of federal appropriations, but Sestak, a former three-star Navy admiral, has held himself to a higher standard.

The Toomey campaign is mocking Sestak for denying the pledge on his own website that vowed to give back contributions from “an individual or organization [that] has made a request for an appropriations project.” It seems — wow, just like when he denied the language about Israel’s imposing “collective punishment” on Gazans in his own Gaza letter — that Sestak didn’t mean what he said:

Data from the websites Legistorm and Opensecrets, which track earmarks and donations, respectively, shows Sestak kept about $62,000 in donations from senior officials at companies receiving his earmarks. Sestak said he has returned thousands of dollars in similar contributions, but some slipped past. He noted that no rules prevent him from keeping contributions from people who receive federal money. “I guess the lesson is it’s hard to take that extra step,” he said. Sestak said he never intended to publicize his donation-return policy, which appears in his campaign website’s Ethics section. “I just wanted a quiet sense of accountability.”

I imagine Democrats are experiencing a “quiet sense” of panic as they realize they’ve nominated someone who not only has an Israel problem and a Pelosi problem (97.8 percent support, but not “all the time,” mind you) but also an honesty problem. In a year when voters are sick of politicians shirking responsibility and coming up with ludicrous spin, this is potentially a very big problem.

Read Less

Colombia: Another Obama Victim

Both the Washington Post‘s and the Wall Street Journal‘s editors rightly praise the outcome of the election in Colombia and implore the Obama administration not to treat this president as poorly as it treated the last one. The Post explains:

Juan Manuel Santos has demonstrated that pro-American, pro-free-market politicians still have life in Latin America. Mr. Santos, who romped to victory in Colombia’s presidential runoff on Sunday, has no interest in courting Iran, unlike Brazil’s Luiz Ignácio Lula da Silva. He has rejected the authoritarian socialism of Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez. A former journalist with degrees from the University of Kansas and Harvard, he values free media and independent courts. His biggest priority may be ratifying and implementing a free-trade agreement between Colombia and the United States. So the question raised by Mr. Santos’s election is whether the Obama administration and Democratic congressional leaders will greet this strong and needed U.S. ally with open arms — or with the arms-length disdain and protectionist stonewalling to which they subjected his predecessor, Álvaro Uribe. … The Obama administration, which has courted Mr. Lula and sought to improve relations with Venezuela and Cuba, has been cool to Colombia, recommending another 11 percent reduction in aid for next year and keeping the trade agreement on ice.

The Journal writes:

On Sunday 13 police and soldiers were killed by guerrillas trying to disrupt the vote. Mr. Santos has also challenged neighboring countries that provide a haven to the FARC. This triumph also ought to echo in Washington, where Democrats in Congress and the White House continue to deny a vote on the U.S.-Colombia free trade agreement. One liberal Democratic excuse has been concerns about Mr. Uribe’s security policies, but Colombia’s people have now spoken.

Like Mr. Uribe, Mr. Santos wants the free trade deal to force his country to face the discipline of global competition and turn Colombia into the next Chile or Taiwan. Such progress would further reduce the FARC’s appeal, and it is certainly in the U.S. national interest. This one shouldn’t even be controversial.

Obama’s stance toward Colombia is another in a series of “picking the wrong side” errors he perpetually makes (e.g., the Hugo Chavez–backed Manual Zelaya instead of the broad-based coalition that ousted him, the Russians over our Czech and Polish allies, the Iranian regime over the Green movement). He rather consistently backs those who are hostile to the U.S., even at the expense of ignoring evidence (Zelaya’s power grab) or the long-term strategic interests of the U.S. (empowering the UN to pronounce on Israel’s anti-terror tactics).

Obama’s supporters would say he’s trying to “engage” or reduce conflict with our foes, although this hardly explains the gratuitous swipes at allies. His critics contend he either puts domestic priorities above national security (e.g., siding with Big Labor on free-trade deals) or has a fetish for strongmen. Whatever the rationale, it’s getting easy to spot the “good guys” in regional disputes. They’re the ones Obama is treating the worst.

Both the Washington Post‘s and the Wall Street Journal‘s editors rightly praise the outcome of the election in Colombia and implore the Obama administration not to treat this president as poorly as it treated the last one. The Post explains:

Juan Manuel Santos has demonstrated that pro-American, pro-free-market politicians still have life in Latin America. Mr. Santos, who romped to victory in Colombia’s presidential runoff on Sunday, has no interest in courting Iran, unlike Brazil’s Luiz Ignácio Lula da Silva. He has rejected the authoritarian socialism of Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez. A former journalist with degrees from the University of Kansas and Harvard, he values free media and independent courts. His biggest priority may be ratifying and implementing a free-trade agreement between Colombia and the United States. So the question raised by Mr. Santos’s election is whether the Obama administration and Democratic congressional leaders will greet this strong and needed U.S. ally with open arms — or with the arms-length disdain and protectionist stonewalling to which they subjected his predecessor, Álvaro Uribe. … The Obama administration, which has courted Mr. Lula and sought to improve relations with Venezuela and Cuba, has been cool to Colombia, recommending another 11 percent reduction in aid for next year and keeping the trade agreement on ice.

The Journal writes:

On Sunday 13 police and soldiers were killed by guerrillas trying to disrupt the vote. Mr. Santos has also challenged neighboring countries that provide a haven to the FARC. This triumph also ought to echo in Washington, where Democrats in Congress and the White House continue to deny a vote on the U.S.-Colombia free trade agreement. One liberal Democratic excuse has been concerns about Mr. Uribe’s security policies, but Colombia’s people have now spoken.

Like Mr. Uribe, Mr. Santos wants the free trade deal to force his country to face the discipline of global competition and turn Colombia into the next Chile or Taiwan. Such progress would further reduce the FARC’s appeal, and it is certainly in the U.S. national interest. This one shouldn’t even be controversial.

Obama’s stance toward Colombia is another in a series of “picking the wrong side” errors he perpetually makes (e.g., the Hugo Chavez–backed Manual Zelaya instead of the broad-based coalition that ousted him, the Russians over our Czech and Polish allies, the Iranian regime over the Green movement). He rather consistently backs those who are hostile to the U.S., even at the expense of ignoring evidence (Zelaya’s power grab) or the long-term strategic interests of the U.S. (empowering the UN to pronounce on Israel’s anti-terror tactics).

Obama’s supporters would say he’s trying to “engage” or reduce conflict with our foes, although this hardly explains the gratuitous swipes at allies. His critics contend he either puts domestic priorities above national security (e.g., siding with Big Labor on free-trade deals) or has a fetish for strongmen. Whatever the rationale, it’s getting easy to spot the “good guys” in regional disputes. They’re the ones Obama is treating the worst.

Read Less

Encouraging the Mullahs, Not Iranian Democracy Activists

Roxana Saberi, who was locked up in Evin prison for 100 days, writes — pleads, really — for the West to take human rights seriously. She explains that on Sunday, five Kurdish political activists were executed. You might have missed it (I did) because, as usual, our government is mute. She argues:

If the international community fails to condemn such atrocities, Iran’s regime will continue to trample on the basic rights of individuals, many of whom have been detained simply for peacefully standing up for universal human rights. It is common for Tehran’s prisoners — including journalists, bloggers, women’s rights campaigners, student activists and adherents of the minority Baha’i faith — to be held in prolonged solitary confinement without access to an attorney as they try to defend themselves against fabricated charges such as espionage and “propaganda against Islam” or the regime.

She makes a key point: Tehran cares what is said about it in the free media and struggles to keep negative accounts from its own citizens. In other words, our quietude only aids in the regime’s repression. See, the West doesn’t care. How bad can things be if the Obama administration still wants to talk to us? Our silence both emboldens the oppressor and disheartens the oppressed.

Saberi makes an excellent suggestion:

As the international community focuses on Iran’s nuclear program, it should also make human rights a first-tier issue. When the U.N. Human Rights Council meets in Geneva next month, Washington and the European Union should lead calls for a resolution setting up a mechanism to investigate human rights atrocities in Iran during the past year. A bigger push should be made to send a U.N. special envoy on human rights to Iran and to aid Iranians, including the many journalists forced to flee their country out of fear of persecution.

But perhaps even more important than government efforts is the outcry of ordinary people worldwide. When everyday citizens speak out against Iran’s human rights violations, Tehran has a tougher time asserting that their calls have been masterminded by foreign governments.

But what are the chances that is going to happen? This administration let Iran into the Commission on the Status of Women with nary a peep. We continue to explain that sanctions are only a means to get the regime back to the bargaining table. The notion that we should undermine the mullahs or attempt to make the regime a pariah in the international community appears not to be under consideration. So rather than empower Iranian political dissidents and encourage journalists and activists, we encourage the mullahs to continue their reign of brutality. After all, if the West isn’t going to object, why not?

Roxana Saberi, who was locked up in Evin prison for 100 days, writes — pleads, really — for the West to take human rights seriously. She explains that on Sunday, five Kurdish political activists were executed. You might have missed it (I did) because, as usual, our government is mute. She argues:

If the international community fails to condemn such atrocities, Iran’s regime will continue to trample on the basic rights of individuals, many of whom have been detained simply for peacefully standing up for universal human rights. It is common for Tehran’s prisoners — including journalists, bloggers, women’s rights campaigners, student activists and adherents of the minority Baha’i faith — to be held in prolonged solitary confinement without access to an attorney as they try to defend themselves against fabricated charges such as espionage and “propaganda against Islam” or the regime.

She makes a key point: Tehran cares what is said about it in the free media and struggles to keep negative accounts from its own citizens. In other words, our quietude only aids in the regime’s repression. See, the West doesn’t care. How bad can things be if the Obama administration still wants to talk to us? Our silence both emboldens the oppressor and disheartens the oppressed.

Saberi makes an excellent suggestion:

As the international community focuses on Iran’s nuclear program, it should also make human rights a first-tier issue. When the U.N. Human Rights Council meets in Geneva next month, Washington and the European Union should lead calls for a resolution setting up a mechanism to investigate human rights atrocities in Iran during the past year. A bigger push should be made to send a U.N. special envoy on human rights to Iran and to aid Iranians, including the many journalists forced to flee their country out of fear of persecution.

But perhaps even more important than government efforts is the outcry of ordinary people worldwide. When everyday citizens speak out against Iran’s human rights violations, Tehran has a tougher time asserting that their calls have been masterminded by foreign governments.

But what are the chances that is going to happen? This administration let Iran into the Commission on the Status of Women with nary a peep. We continue to explain that sanctions are only a means to get the regime back to the bargaining table. The notion that we should undermine the mullahs or attempt to make the regime a pariah in the international community appears not to be under consideration. So rather than empower Iranian political dissidents and encourage journalists and activists, we encourage the mullahs to continue their reign of brutality. After all, if the West isn’t going to object, why not?

Read Less

A New Ballgame, Perhaps

If one looks at the recent polling for senate and gubernatorial races in 2010, it looks like the flip side of 2008. Then it was a sea of blue; now there is a lot of red. In swing states like Ohio, John Kasich is ahead of incumbent Gov. Ted Strickland and Rob Portman has made up ground against potential Democratic opponents in the senate contest. In Connecticut, Sen. Chris Dodd is in trouble, and in Pennsylvania Pat Toomey is running strongly against both Democratic contenders. There are two noteworthy aspects to these and other races (e.g., Nevada and New Hampshire senate contests): the Republicans’ new found appeal in diverse regions and the burden of incumbency, which is currently weighing down veteran Democrats.

The worry for Republicans after the 2008 wipe out was that their base was shrinking to white, religious males from the South. Independents, women, and minorities were falling away. But the victories of Bob McDonnell in Virginia and Chris Christie in New Jersey, as well as the strong standing of 2010 Republican candidates in the Northeast, Midwest, and Mountain West (e.g., the Colorado and Nevada senate races), suggest that voters around the country haven’t permanently shifted loyalties. In 2008 they were miffed at the Republicans, wary of the economic collapse, and willing to give the other party a chance to get it right. If the other party is demonstrating that they can’t get it right either on jobs, spending, entitlements, and the rest, then voters are more than willing to throw them out. Democrats won’t have George W. Bush to kick around or a frantic, crotchety presidential campaign to run circles around. They will have to defend an agenda that is, at least for now, exceptionally unpopular — and an economic record that is utterly undistinguished. Republicans will seek to take their message nationally to voters who in 2008 were not willing to listen to anyone with an “R” by their name.

But what of the power of incumbency? Certainly incumbent governors and senators have the advantage of name recognition, plenty of free media, and the power to sprinkle goodies in key districts. A community center here and a bike path there, they figure, will endear voters to the bearer of the pork. But just as 2006 and 2008 were “throw the bums out” elections, 2010 may be yet another year in which incumbency is a burden, not an asset. If it’s not corruption issues (Chris Dodd) or high unemployment (Ted Strickland), it is the burden of identification with the ultra-liberal president and Congress which candidates like Sens. Mary Landrieu and Blanche Lincoln will have to manage.

But Republicans would be foolish to think that they have a lock on 2010. Just as Democrats over-estimated the staying power of their 2008 gains, Republicans may not solidify the gains they have made or hold their position in the polls. The White House and Congress may shift gears and get off the lefty legislation binge. Unemployment may drift downward. The Democrats fumbled the ball this year by overestimating the public’s tolerance for big-government power grabs. But there is another year before the votes are cast. Republicans should know better than anyone how quickly the political landscape can change.

If one looks at the recent polling for senate and gubernatorial races in 2010, it looks like the flip side of 2008. Then it was a sea of blue; now there is a lot of red. In swing states like Ohio, John Kasich is ahead of incumbent Gov. Ted Strickland and Rob Portman has made up ground against potential Democratic opponents in the senate contest. In Connecticut, Sen. Chris Dodd is in trouble, and in Pennsylvania Pat Toomey is running strongly against both Democratic contenders. There are two noteworthy aspects to these and other races (e.g., Nevada and New Hampshire senate contests): the Republicans’ new found appeal in diverse regions and the burden of incumbency, which is currently weighing down veteran Democrats.

The worry for Republicans after the 2008 wipe out was that their base was shrinking to white, religious males from the South. Independents, women, and minorities were falling away. But the victories of Bob McDonnell in Virginia and Chris Christie in New Jersey, as well as the strong standing of 2010 Republican candidates in the Northeast, Midwest, and Mountain West (e.g., the Colorado and Nevada senate races), suggest that voters around the country haven’t permanently shifted loyalties. In 2008 they were miffed at the Republicans, wary of the economic collapse, and willing to give the other party a chance to get it right. If the other party is demonstrating that they can’t get it right either on jobs, spending, entitlements, and the rest, then voters are more than willing to throw them out. Democrats won’t have George W. Bush to kick around or a frantic, crotchety presidential campaign to run circles around. They will have to defend an agenda that is, at least for now, exceptionally unpopular — and an economic record that is utterly undistinguished. Republicans will seek to take their message nationally to voters who in 2008 were not willing to listen to anyone with an “R” by their name.

But what of the power of incumbency? Certainly incumbent governors and senators have the advantage of name recognition, plenty of free media, and the power to sprinkle goodies in key districts. A community center here and a bike path there, they figure, will endear voters to the bearer of the pork. But just as 2006 and 2008 were “throw the bums out” elections, 2010 may be yet another year in which incumbency is a burden, not an asset. If it’s not corruption issues (Chris Dodd) or high unemployment (Ted Strickland), it is the burden of identification with the ultra-liberal president and Congress which candidates like Sens. Mary Landrieu and Blanche Lincoln will have to manage.

But Republicans would be foolish to think that they have a lock on 2010. Just as Democrats over-estimated the staying power of their 2008 gains, Republicans may not solidify the gains they have made or hold their position in the polls. The White House and Congress may shift gears and get off the lefty legislation binge. Unemployment may drift downward. The Democrats fumbled the ball this year by overestimating the public’s tolerance for big-government power grabs. But there is another year before the votes are cast. Republicans should know better than anyone how quickly the political landscape can change.

Read Less

Not An Even Match

When Barack Obama advisor Samantha Power called Hillary Clinton a “monster,” Clinton called for her head and Power was gone. (Her departure may also have been related to her suggestion that Obama was not going to stick to any silly campaign promises about getting out of Iraq.) When Clinton supporter Geraldine Ferraro says that Obama would not be where he is if he were white, the Obama camp goes ballistic and Clinton brushes it off. In fact, her campaign manager goes to far as to suggest Obama is playing racial politics.

Is it any wonder that observers suspect Obama is a wimp, playing by some outmoded set of rules against the in-it-to-win-it Clintons? One sign of whether he believes he can stay on cruise control all the way to the convention will be how he uses his time tonight and tomorrow after an expected win in Mississippi. He’s chosen to do cable news interviews rather than another speech, which is a smart move. More of the same rhetoric (“change,” “turn the page,” “I was right on Iraq” etc.) would, I think, be a missed opportunity. If he uses his free media time to pound home his counterattack talking points–Clinton isn’t actually that experienced and would take the country back to the bad old days of scandal and political venom–we will know he’s “in it to win it.”

When Barack Obama advisor Samantha Power called Hillary Clinton a “monster,” Clinton called for her head and Power was gone. (Her departure may also have been related to her suggestion that Obama was not going to stick to any silly campaign promises about getting out of Iraq.) When Clinton supporter Geraldine Ferraro says that Obama would not be where he is if he were white, the Obama camp goes ballistic and Clinton brushes it off. In fact, her campaign manager goes to far as to suggest Obama is playing racial politics.

Is it any wonder that observers suspect Obama is a wimp, playing by some outmoded set of rules against the in-it-to-win-it Clintons? One sign of whether he believes he can stay on cruise control all the way to the convention will be how he uses his time tonight and tomorrow after an expected win in Mississippi. He’s chosen to do cable news interviews rather than another speech, which is a smart move. More of the same rhetoric (“change,” “turn the page,” “I was right on Iraq” etc.) would, I think, be a missed opportunity. If he uses his free media time to pound home his counterattack talking points–Clinton isn’t actually that experienced and would take the country back to the bad old days of scandal and political venom–we will know he’s “in it to win it.”

Read Less

What Happens Wednesday?

Beginning Wednesday, we will be in the midst of a phenomenon we have never experienced: a national primary. On the Republican side, we have twenty-one states, including California (173 delegates) and winner-take-all contests in big delegate states like New York (101), New Jersey (52), Missouri (58), and Arizona (53). John McCain is ahead by solid, but not insurmountable margins, in New York, New Jersey and California. Huckabee is competitive in Missouri and is well positioned in deep Red states like Georgia and Alabama. So far, Romney has the edge in Utah, Massachusetts, and Colorado.Should McCain’s post-Crist endorsement momentum result in a Florida win, there is every reason to believe he will hold his leads in the big three February 5 states of New York, New Jersey, and California (a total of 153 winner-take-all delegates and 173 proportionally awarded California delegates) and do quite well in the remainder. Retail politicking is out, obviously; what remains is paid and free media. Part of that is the national media coverage of the “frontrunner” in national polling, which will create something of a bandwagon effect for McCain. An added factor in his favor: even if Rudy remains in the race, he is not likely to hold his share of the voters in February 5 states, which may benefit McCain in Missouri, Delaware, Connecticut, Illinois and Minnesota.What if Mitt Romney pulls out a win? I think we have a wild coast-to-coast fight. McCain will still hold the advantage in the states in which he currently leads, but Romney, with fresh momentum and lots and lots of money for paid ads, will have a very good shot at consolidating conservative support. In short, all bets are off at that point.

As for Huckabee, his role is not unlike that of John Edwards: potentially a spoiler and holder of some cards if we get to a brokered convention. However, it is difficult to imagine him even playing the Edwards role should McCain win in Florida.

Bottom line: I don’t see how McCain can be stopped if he wins tomorrow.

Beginning Wednesday, we will be in the midst of a phenomenon we have never experienced: a national primary. On the Republican side, we have twenty-one states, including California (173 delegates) and winner-take-all contests in big delegate states like New York (101), New Jersey (52), Missouri (58), and Arizona (53). John McCain is ahead by solid, but not insurmountable margins, in New York, New Jersey and California. Huckabee is competitive in Missouri and is well positioned in deep Red states like Georgia and Alabama. So far, Romney has the edge in Utah, Massachusetts, and Colorado.Should McCain’s post-Crist endorsement momentum result in a Florida win, there is every reason to believe he will hold his leads in the big three February 5 states of New York, New Jersey, and California (a total of 153 winner-take-all delegates and 173 proportionally awarded California delegates) and do quite well in the remainder. Retail politicking is out, obviously; what remains is paid and free media. Part of that is the national media coverage of the “frontrunner” in national polling, which will create something of a bandwagon effect for McCain. An added factor in his favor: even if Rudy remains in the race, he is not likely to hold his share of the voters in February 5 states, which may benefit McCain in Missouri, Delaware, Connecticut, Illinois and Minnesota.What if Mitt Romney pulls out a win? I think we have a wild coast-to-coast fight. McCain will still hold the advantage in the states in which he currently leads, but Romney, with fresh momentum and lots and lots of money for paid ads, will have a very good shot at consolidating conservative support. In short, all bets are off at that point.

As for Huckabee, his role is not unlike that of John Edwards: potentially a spoiler and holder of some cards if we get to a brokered convention. However, it is difficult to imagine him even playing the Edwards role should McCain win in Florida.

Bottom line: I don’t see how McCain can be stopped if he wins tomorrow.

Read Less




Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.