Commentary Magazine


Topic: Georgia

Flotsam and Jetsam

Ho-hum. After Journolist, a report that network execs ordered news staff to go easy on Obama doesn’t seem so shocking.

Same old. Harry Reid insults another ethnic minority group. Marco Rubio reams him, but where’s La Raza and MALDEF?

Yawn. Another horrific poll for the Democrats to ignore: “Among whites with less than a college education—a group the two parties split in the most-recent midterms—the GOP has a 16-point advantage, 49% to 33%, when voters were asked which party they wanted to control Congress. Republicans, meantime, are gaining ground on a number of issues that have traditionally been advantages for Democrats. More Americans now think the GOP would do a better job on the economy—an advantage the party last held briefly in 2004 but has not enjoyed consistently since the mid-1990s. On one of the Democrats’ core issues, Social Security, just 30% now think the party would do a better job than the GOP, compared to 26% who favor the Republicans. That margin was 28 points in 2006.”

Franco is still dead. And Congress is still unpopular. “Congress’ job rating from the American people in August remains near the historical lows seen in recent months. Nineteen percent of Americans now approve of the overall job Congress is doing, while 75% disapprove.”

Predictable. Democrats are in “panic” mode, Rep. Paul Ryan explains. “‘The Left sees their agenda being rebuked by the voters this fall,’ Ryan tells us. As their electoral worries mount, he says, Democrats are scurrying to ‘nullify any notion that there is an alternative path for America. They want to delegitimize an alternative plan and win the argument by default, making the case that there is no other path for America than what progressives have mapped out for the country, and that any other talk, of any other idea, is just fanciful. That’s what’s troubling,’ Ryan says. ‘They are trying to deny the debate that must happen if we are going to get out of the mess that we’re in.’”

Par for the course. This time using schoolyard taunts to demean the left, Robert Gibbs enrages Democrats trying to survive the coming electoral tsunami: “A number of liberal TV and radio hosts continued to process Gibbs’s comments on Wednesday, questioning everything from his motives to what effect his remarks could have on Democratic turn-out in the midterm elections. And despite several efforts at levity by the embattled press secretary at Wednesday’s briefing, a number of high-profile liberal commentators warned that Gibb’s remarks could harm liberal enthusiasm in the midterms.”

More of the same. “Reset” means a license for the Russian bear to go hunting: “Russia said on Wednesday it had deployed high-precision air defense missiles in the breakaway Georgian region of Abkhazia, sending a defiant signal to Tbilisi and the West two years after a war with Georgia. The formidable S-300 missile system bolstered Moscow’s military presence in the disputed territory and drew an angry response from Georgia.”

Cat still got his tongue? Obama silent on Ground Zero mosque.

Ho-hum. After Journolist, a report that network execs ordered news staff to go easy on Obama doesn’t seem so shocking.

Same old. Harry Reid insults another ethnic minority group. Marco Rubio reams him, but where’s La Raza and MALDEF?

Yawn. Another horrific poll for the Democrats to ignore: “Among whites with less than a college education—a group the two parties split in the most-recent midterms—the GOP has a 16-point advantage, 49% to 33%, when voters were asked which party they wanted to control Congress. Republicans, meantime, are gaining ground on a number of issues that have traditionally been advantages for Democrats. More Americans now think the GOP would do a better job on the economy—an advantage the party last held briefly in 2004 but has not enjoyed consistently since the mid-1990s. On one of the Democrats’ core issues, Social Security, just 30% now think the party would do a better job than the GOP, compared to 26% who favor the Republicans. That margin was 28 points in 2006.”

Franco is still dead. And Congress is still unpopular. “Congress’ job rating from the American people in August remains near the historical lows seen in recent months. Nineteen percent of Americans now approve of the overall job Congress is doing, while 75% disapprove.”

Predictable. Democrats are in “panic” mode, Rep. Paul Ryan explains. “‘The Left sees their agenda being rebuked by the voters this fall,’ Ryan tells us. As their electoral worries mount, he says, Democrats are scurrying to ‘nullify any notion that there is an alternative path for America. They want to delegitimize an alternative plan and win the argument by default, making the case that there is no other path for America than what progressives have mapped out for the country, and that any other talk, of any other idea, is just fanciful. That’s what’s troubling,’ Ryan says. ‘They are trying to deny the debate that must happen if we are going to get out of the mess that we’re in.’”

Par for the course. This time using schoolyard taunts to demean the left, Robert Gibbs enrages Democrats trying to survive the coming electoral tsunami: “A number of liberal TV and radio hosts continued to process Gibbs’s comments on Wednesday, questioning everything from his motives to what effect his remarks could have on Democratic turn-out in the midterm elections. And despite several efforts at levity by the embattled press secretary at Wednesday’s briefing, a number of high-profile liberal commentators warned that Gibb’s remarks could harm liberal enthusiasm in the midterms.”

More of the same. “Reset” means a license for the Russian bear to go hunting: “Russia said on Wednesday it had deployed high-precision air defense missiles in the breakaway Georgian region of Abkhazia, sending a defiant signal to Tbilisi and the West two years after a war with Georgia. The formidable S-300 missile system bolstered Moscow’s military presence in the disputed territory and drew an angry response from Georgia.”

Cat still got his tongue? Obama silent on Ground Zero mosque.

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Wikileaks and the Goldstone Precedent

Robin Shepherd of the London-based Henry Jackson Society makes an important point about the classified documents on Afghanistan that Wikileaks revealed this week: the descriptions of “accidental killings by our soldiers of hundreds of innocent civilians — revellers at wedding parties, kids in school buses, ordinary people going about their daily business who tragically found themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time” — sound very much like the kinds of accidental civilian deaths for which the Goldstone Committee wants Israel charged with war crimes.

In both cases, Shepherd notes, the civilian casualties were the inevitable result of combat against a terrorist organization that “systematically hides behind the civilian population”: the Taliban in Afghanistan, Hamas in Gaza. Yet several coalition countries have been “cheerleading the passage of the Goldstone Report on Gaza through the United Nations,” not realizing that the precedent they’re setting could eventually be used against their own soldiers.

Shepherd doesn’t give the numbers, but they are shocking: of the 45 countries with troops in Afghanistan, only 12 voted against endorsing the Goldstone Report in the UN General Assembly. Twelve voted in favor, and 21 abstained.

Notable abstainers included Britain and France — which, as the second- and fourth-largest troop contributors to Afghanistan, are among the most vulnerable to Goldstone-style charges — and Georgia, which faces allegations of similar “war crimes” during its 2008 war with Russia. Turkey, which routinely kills civilians in its battles with the PKK, voted “yes.”

Granted, the Goldstone Report was commissioned by the UN Human Rights Council, which has never shown any interest in investigating any country but Israel. So coalition members probably don’t have anything to fear from that quarter. But the HRC is not the only player on this field.

An acquaintance recently reported being shocked when, at an academic conference, a guest speaker from the International Criminal Court explicitly described the court’s plan as establishing a precedent via the “easy” cases it’s tackling now (egregious human rights violators like the Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda and Sudanese officials involved in the Darfur genocide) that will grant it legitimacy to prosecute anyone for anything, worldwide, thereafter. And once it establishes this precedent, it intends to use it, the speaker added.

But that shouldn’t surprise anyone: it’s what smart courts do when trying to establish a new power (as anyone who has seen Israel’s Supreme Court in action would know). They always start with “easy” cases — ones where the public will like the outcome and will therefore ignore the dangerous procedural precedent. And Israel, due to its global unpopularity, is precisely such a case.

Then, with the precedent set, courts can proceed to “hard” cases, with potentially unpopular outcomes, without fearing serious backlash. After all, you can’t accuse a court of behaving improperly if it’s merely doing what it has done many times before without anyone objecting.

Thus if the Goldstone Report isn’t stopped, the U.S. and its allies will eventually pay the price. But since many of those allies clearly haven’t grasped this, it’s Washington’s job to drive the point home.

Robin Shepherd of the London-based Henry Jackson Society makes an important point about the classified documents on Afghanistan that Wikileaks revealed this week: the descriptions of “accidental killings by our soldiers of hundreds of innocent civilians — revellers at wedding parties, kids in school buses, ordinary people going about their daily business who tragically found themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time” — sound very much like the kinds of accidental civilian deaths for which the Goldstone Committee wants Israel charged with war crimes.

In both cases, Shepherd notes, the civilian casualties were the inevitable result of combat against a terrorist organization that “systematically hides behind the civilian population”: the Taliban in Afghanistan, Hamas in Gaza. Yet several coalition countries have been “cheerleading the passage of the Goldstone Report on Gaza through the United Nations,” not realizing that the precedent they’re setting could eventually be used against their own soldiers.

Shepherd doesn’t give the numbers, but they are shocking: of the 45 countries with troops in Afghanistan, only 12 voted against endorsing the Goldstone Report in the UN General Assembly. Twelve voted in favor, and 21 abstained.

Notable abstainers included Britain and France — which, as the second- and fourth-largest troop contributors to Afghanistan, are among the most vulnerable to Goldstone-style charges — and Georgia, which faces allegations of similar “war crimes” during its 2008 war with Russia. Turkey, which routinely kills civilians in its battles with the PKK, voted “yes.”

Granted, the Goldstone Report was commissioned by the UN Human Rights Council, which has never shown any interest in investigating any country but Israel. So coalition members probably don’t have anything to fear from that quarter. But the HRC is not the only player on this field.

An acquaintance recently reported being shocked when, at an academic conference, a guest speaker from the International Criminal Court explicitly described the court’s plan as establishing a precedent via the “easy” cases it’s tackling now (egregious human rights violators like the Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda and Sudanese officials involved in the Darfur genocide) that will grant it legitimacy to prosecute anyone for anything, worldwide, thereafter. And once it establishes this precedent, it intends to use it, the speaker added.

But that shouldn’t surprise anyone: it’s what smart courts do when trying to establish a new power (as anyone who has seen Israel’s Supreme Court in action would know). They always start with “easy” cases — ones where the public will like the outcome and will therefore ignore the dangerous procedural precedent. And Israel, due to its global unpopularity, is precisely such a case.

Then, with the precedent set, courts can proceed to “hard” cases, with potentially unpopular outcomes, without fearing serious backlash. After all, you can’t accuse a court of behaving improperly if it’s merely doing what it has done many times before without anyone objecting.

Thus if the Goldstone Report isn’t stopped, the U.S. and its allies will eventually pay the price. But since many of those allies clearly haven’t grasped this, it’s Washington’s job to drive the point home.

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Stacking the Deck, Providing Cover

Face the Nation hosted a discussion on Sunday of the New Black Panther case. It was yet another obvious instance of shilling for the administration and covering for the media’s own abysmal delinquency in reporting on the case. The only guest who was remotely critical of the administration and who made any effort to argue that the case was serious and that the administration was stonewalling was John Fund. But his time was severely limited, and all he really offered was this:

JOHN FUND (Wall Street Journal): I know we don’t have all the facts because this Justice Department is stonewalling subpoenas issued by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. They even–

BOB SCHIEFFER: Big surprise.

JOHN FUND: –transferred one of the officials to South Carolina so he’s outside the jurisdiction of the Civil Rights Commission subpoenas. Look, two African-American poll watchers testified they were intimidated by these people. And this is part of a pattern –

BOB SCHIEFFER: But– but– no voter, John.

JOHN FUND: Well, we– we– we saw– we saw testimony that the voters said that they turned around and said they would came back. We don’t know if they ever came back. We do know that this is a pattern with the Justice Department. Kinston, North Carolina is a predominantly African-American city and voted to have non-partisan elections. The Justice Department said no, you can’t do that. You have to continue to give black voters the cue of Democrat versus Republican, so they’ll know who to vote for. And you go through it. Georgia. Georgia wanted to take social security data and verify the U.S. citizenship of people who were registering to vote. Justice Department said you couldn’t do that. There is a consistent politicization of the Justice Department. We just had a report clearing the Bush administration of illegality in the U.S. attorney’s case. I think that the Justice Department is clearly stonewalling these subpoenas because they have something to hide. Do I know exactly what they’re hiding? I don’t. And I just
want to say something about Mister West’s comments. I agree we’ve made great progress in race in this country.

Even that is incomplete and misleading. Poll workers, also protected under the Voting Rights Act, were intimidated and supplied affidavits attesting to the illegal behavior of the two Black Panthers at the polling place. Apparently, the U.S. Civil Rights commissioner who insists there was no evidence of intimidation wasn’t paying attention at the hearings. Had a more informed guest been allowed on the show, he or she might have explained:

For anyone who bothers to actually look at the record, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights received direct evidence on that very issue. Those critics also miss the point that it is a crime to attempt to intimidate voters and anyone assisting voters, which would include poll watchers, and no one watching the videotape could come to any conclusion other than the New Black Panthers were trying to intimidate people at that poll in Philadelphia.

On the issue of poll watchers, one of the witnesses at the first hearing of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, Chris Hill, testified on that specific point and what happened when he got to the polling place. He was responding to a desperate phone call for help from one of the two black poll watchers who were stationed at the polling place. …

So there is witness testimony that both Black Panthers, including the one who was dismissed by the Justice Department, were physically threatening a poll watcher. And the witnesses made it clear that the two Black Panthers acted as a team, in concert, at the polling place. … Of course, no one knows if those voters ever came back – but we know for sure that they left without voting when Hill was there rather than try to get by the New Black Panthers. What is so odd about this is that Hill was then questioned about that testimony by Commissioner Abby Thernstrom, who has been one of the persons claiming there is no evidence that voters were kept from voting.

None of that was revealed on the show, and no one alluded to the multiple witnesses who claim that the Justice Department has shunned cases that don’t match the historical civil rights model (white bigots vs. minority victims). No one noted that the head of the Civil Rights Division has been accused of providing untruthful testimony on this point. Moreover, there was no discussion of Bob Schieffer’s own pathetic ignorance of the story for a year, nor any mention of how bizarre was his excuse that he missed the scandal: he was on vacation when a key witness testified.

This sort of display reinforces the impression that the media is biased and now dedicated to covering not only the Obami’s tracks but also its own.

Face the Nation hosted a discussion on Sunday of the New Black Panther case. It was yet another obvious instance of shilling for the administration and covering for the media’s own abysmal delinquency in reporting on the case. The only guest who was remotely critical of the administration and who made any effort to argue that the case was serious and that the administration was stonewalling was John Fund. But his time was severely limited, and all he really offered was this:

JOHN FUND (Wall Street Journal): I know we don’t have all the facts because this Justice Department is stonewalling subpoenas issued by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. They even–

BOB SCHIEFFER: Big surprise.

JOHN FUND: –transferred one of the officials to South Carolina so he’s outside the jurisdiction of the Civil Rights Commission subpoenas. Look, two African-American poll watchers testified they were intimidated by these people. And this is part of a pattern –

BOB SCHIEFFER: But– but– no voter, John.

JOHN FUND: Well, we– we– we saw– we saw testimony that the voters said that they turned around and said they would came back. We don’t know if they ever came back. We do know that this is a pattern with the Justice Department. Kinston, North Carolina is a predominantly African-American city and voted to have non-partisan elections. The Justice Department said no, you can’t do that. You have to continue to give black voters the cue of Democrat versus Republican, so they’ll know who to vote for. And you go through it. Georgia. Georgia wanted to take social security data and verify the U.S. citizenship of people who were registering to vote. Justice Department said you couldn’t do that. There is a consistent politicization of the Justice Department. We just had a report clearing the Bush administration of illegality in the U.S. attorney’s case. I think that the Justice Department is clearly stonewalling these subpoenas because they have something to hide. Do I know exactly what they’re hiding? I don’t. And I just
want to say something about Mister West’s comments. I agree we’ve made great progress in race in this country.

Even that is incomplete and misleading. Poll workers, also protected under the Voting Rights Act, were intimidated and supplied affidavits attesting to the illegal behavior of the two Black Panthers at the polling place. Apparently, the U.S. Civil Rights commissioner who insists there was no evidence of intimidation wasn’t paying attention at the hearings. Had a more informed guest been allowed on the show, he or she might have explained:

For anyone who bothers to actually look at the record, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights received direct evidence on that very issue. Those critics also miss the point that it is a crime to attempt to intimidate voters and anyone assisting voters, which would include poll watchers, and no one watching the videotape could come to any conclusion other than the New Black Panthers were trying to intimidate people at that poll in Philadelphia.

On the issue of poll watchers, one of the witnesses at the first hearing of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, Chris Hill, testified on that specific point and what happened when he got to the polling place. He was responding to a desperate phone call for help from one of the two black poll watchers who were stationed at the polling place. …

So there is witness testimony that both Black Panthers, including the one who was dismissed by the Justice Department, were physically threatening a poll watcher. And the witnesses made it clear that the two Black Panthers acted as a team, in concert, at the polling place. … Of course, no one knows if those voters ever came back – but we know for sure that they left without voting when Hill was there rather than try to get by the New Black Panthers. What is so odd about this is that Hill was then questioned about that testimony by Commissioner Abby Thernstrom, who has been one of the persons claiming there is no evidence that voters were kept from voting.

None of that was revealed on the show, and no one alluded to the multiple witnesses who claim that the Justice Department has shunned cases that don’t match the historical civil rights model (white bigots vs. minority victims). No one noted that the head of the Civil Rights Division has been accused of providing untruthful testimony on this point. Moreover, there was no discussion of Bob Schieffer’s own pathetic ignorance of the story for a year, nor any mention of how bizarre was his excuse that he missed the scandal: he was on vacation when a key witness testified.

This sort of display reinforces the impression that the media is biased and now dedicated to covering not only the Obami’s tracks but also its own.

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Obama’s Whiplash Diplomacy

The executive director of the Arab American Institute, James Zogby, writes that the Obama-Netanyahu press conference last week gave him “a bad case of whiplash”:

I had fair warning that this visit would be different than the last, reportedly testy, encounter between these two leaders. And so I should have been prepared for the fact that tough love would be replaced by just plain love. I just wasn’t prepared for how much love. And so I confess that I found the apparent public pass Netanyahu received on settlements, the U.S. threat to boycott a summit on Middle East non-proliferation, and all the “unwaverings” and “unbreakables” to be a bit too much to ingest.

Wait until Zogby finds out that the “testy” meeting last March (the one held after-hours, with no photos and no press, with Netanyahu leaving the White House unescorted late at night, having been ambushed by Obama) was actually a “terrific” meeting. That is the description Obama used in his interview with Israeli TV last week — the first he has given to Israeli media in the 18 months of his administration.

It is in fact all a bit whiplash-producing and somewhat reminiscent of the old saying about history in the Soviet Union — there the future was always known; it was the past that kept changing. In Obama’s new narrative, relations with Netanyahu are not only currently excellent but retroactively terrific as well.

Obama’s “unwavering commitments” are becoming the new “let me be clear.” They include his “unwavering” commitments to comprehensive immigration reform (which left Lindsey Graham unconvinced); to NASA (after he slashed its budget); to the gay community (in response to their growing impatience); and to Afghanistan (at least until next July). After canceling the U.S. commitment to build an anti-missile shield in Poland, Obama sent Joe Biden to tell the Poles: “Make no mistake about it: our commitment to Poland is unwavering.” This is the same message Biden delivered to Georgia, even as Russian troops continue their occupation while Obama’s reset proceeds apace. It is the rhetorical response of choice after Obama’s actions or inaction call into question one of his commitments.

After a year of sending signals to the international community that the U.S. commitment to Israel was wavering, it is good that it is unwavering again. But after November 2, whiplash may strike again. It would not be the first time.

The executive director of the Arab American Institute, James Zogby, writes that the Obama-Netanyahu press conference last week gave him “a bad case of whiplash”:

I had fair warning that this visit would be different than the last, reportedly testy, encounter between these two leaders. And so I should have been prepared for the fact that tough love would be replaced by just plain love. I just wasn’t prepared for how much love. And so I confess that I found the apparent public pass Netanyahu received on settlements, the U.S. threat to boycott a summit on Middle East non-proliferation, and all the “unwaverings” and “unbreakables” to be a bit too much to ingest.

Wait until Zogby finds out that the “testy” meeting last March (the one held after-hours, with no photos and no press, with Netanyahu leaving the White House unescorted late at night, having been ambushed by Obama) was actually a “terrific” meeting. That is the description Obama used in his interview with Israeli TV last week — the first he has given to Israeli media in the 18 months of his administration.

It is in fact all a bit whiplash-producing and somewhat reminiscent of the old saying about history in the Soviet Union — there the future was always known; it was the past that kept changing. In Obama’s new narrative, relations with Netanyahu are not only currently excellent but retroactively terrific as well.

Obama’s “unwavering commitments” are becoming the new “let me be clear.” They include his “unwavering” commitments to comprehensive immigration reform (which left Lindsey Graham unconvinced); to NASA (after he slashed its budget); to the gay community (in response to their growing impatience); and to Afghanistan (at least until next July). After canceling the U.S. commitment to build an anti-missile shield in Poland, Obama sent Joe Biden to tell the Poles: “Make no mistake about it: our commitment to Poland is unwavering.” This is the same message Biden delivered to Georgia, even as Russian troops continue their occupation while Obama’s reset proceeds apace. It is the rhetorical response of choice after Obama’s actions or inaction call into question one of his commitments.

After a year of sending signals to the international community that the U.S. commitment to Israel was wavering, it is good that it is unwavering again. But after November 2, whiplash may strike again. It would not be the first time.

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We Need to Reset “Reset”

The Foreign Policy Initiative provides a helpful analysis of Obama’s  attempt to “reset” relations with Russia. It seems we have given up a lot and gotten very little.

On arms control, the START agreement looks like a bad deal:

The cuts are so minute that Russia was technically in compliance with the agreement before the treaty was signed.  New START also falls short in other key respects. The treaty does not address Russia’s overwhelming advantage in tactical nuclear weapons, while arcane counting rules — where a bomber armed with multiple cruise missiles is counted as one launcher — could allow the Russians to increase the size of their deployed nuclear arsenal, should they find the resources to expand their bomber fleet. … In sum, New START places restrictions on the United States, while having only a limited impact on Russia’s nuclear force.

On Iran, we have again given up much for minimal returns:

To get Russian support for new sanctions, the Obama administration paid a steep price – removing U.S. sanctions against five Russian entities, and resubmitting a nuclear cooperation agreement that was previously frozen after Russia’s invasion of Georgia.  Despite administration denials, many observers wonder whether President Obama’s cancellation of missile defense sites in Poland and the Czech Republic in September 2009 also were part of a package deal with Moscow.

Likewise on Afghanistan, despite the puffery on new air routes afforded by the Russians for our operations, it amounts to a grand total of “only five supply flights… in the first six months of the program, an underwhelming number considering the administration’s bold projections.” Meanwhile:

Russia has also played an extensive role in undermining NATO transportation capabilities in other countries throughout the region, and in some cases has actively worked against U.S. efforts to adequately supply forces in Afghanistan.

With regard to Russia’s neighbors, we haven’t gotten Russia out of Georgia, but we have strained our own relations with the Czech Republic and Poland. On human rights:

One of the most troubling aspects of the “reset” is the fact that it has subjugated concerns about Russia’s internal situation to issues such as arms control and Iran.  The Russian political situation is marked by unfair elections and the abolition of elected governorships, control of civil society organizations through intimidation, harassment and regulation, the dominance of state controlled media and restrictions on independent media, impunity for perpetrators of violence, including murder, against regime critics and brutal abuses in the Caucasus.  Opposition parties struggle to compete in elections and to hold demonstrations.  A monthly effort to protest the lack of freedom of assembly was violently broken up by police on May 31 and more than 100 people were arrested.

We frankly did much better with the Communists during the Cold War:

Even during the Cold War, the United States was able to engage Moscow on key national security issues while simultaneously making clear where U.S. and Russian interests diverged.  The Obama administration has thus far shown itself either unable or unwilling to do the same.

The Obama team, filled with hubris, entered office determined to “get along” better than the Bush team with rivals and allies alike. The childlike approach boiled down to: hey, just give our adversaries everything they want, and they will like us! But rivals and foes soon learn there are more goodies in store despite (and maybe because of) their intransigence. So their demands increase, and their behavior both internally and externally becomes more aggressive. Meanwhile, by abusing allies, we whet our foes’ appetites even more, revealing our desperation. In the end, we’ve given up much to get little and find ourselves worse off than when we started.

As practiced by Obama, “reset” has been a failure. A more humble and introspective administration would jettison a policy as counterproductive as this one. But not this president. As with so much else, an improvement in our policy must await a new administration that can assess whether there is a “smarter” policy than just giving stuff away.

The Foreign Policy Initiative provides a helpful analysis of Obama’s  attempt to “reset” relations with Russia. It seems we have given up a lot and gotten very little.

On arms control, the START agreement looks like a bad deal:

The cuts are so minute that Russia was technically in compliance with the agreement before the treaty was signed.  New START also falls short in other key respects. The treaty does not address Russia’s overwhelming advantage in tactical nuclear weapons, while arcane counting rules — where a bomber armed with multiple cruise missiles is counted as one launcher — could allow the Russians to increase the size of their deployed nuclear arsenal, should they find the resources to expand their bomber fleet. … In sum, New START places restrictions on the United States, while having only a limited impact on Russia’s nuclear force.

On Iran, we have again given up much for minimal returns:

To get Russian support for new sanctions, the Obama administration paid a steep price – removing U.S. sanctions against five Russian entities, and resubmitting a nuclear cooperation agreement that was previously frozen after Russia’s invasion of Georgia.  Despite administration denials, many observers wonder whether President Obama’s cancellation of missile defense sites in Poland and the Czech Republic in September 2009 also were part of a package deal with Moscow.

Likewise on Afghanistan, despite the puffery on new air routes afforded by the Russians for our operations, it amounts to a grand total of “only five supply flights… in the first six months of the program, an underwhelming number considering the administration’s bold projections.” Meanwhile:

Russia has also played an extensive role in undermining NATO transportation capabilities in other countries throughout the region, and in some cases has actively worked against U.S. efforts to adequately supply forces in Afghanistan.

With regard to Russia’s neighbors, we haven’t gotten Russia out of Georgia, but we have strained our own relations with the Czech Republic and Poland. On human rights:

One of the most troubling aspects of the “reset” is the fact that it has subjugated concerns about Russia’s internal situation to issues such as arms control and Iran.  The Russian political situation is marked by unfair elections and the abolition of elected governorships, control of civil society organizations through intimidation, harassment and regulation, the dominance of state controlled media and restrictions on independent media, impunity for perpetrators of violence, including murder, against regime critics and brutal abuses in the Caucasus.  Opposition parties struggle to compete in elections and to hold demonstrations.  A monthly effort to protest the lack of freedom of assembly was violently broken up by police on May 31 and more than 100 people were arrested.

We frankly did much better with the Communists during the Cold War:

Even during the Cold War, the United States was able to engage Moscow on key national security issues while simultaneously making clear where U.S. and Russian interests diverged.  The Obama administration has thus far shown itself either unable or unwilling to do the same.

The Obama team, filled with hubris, entered office determined to “get along” better than the Bush team with rivals and allies alike. The childlike approach boiled down to: hey, just give our adversaries everything they want, and they will like us! But rivals and foes soon learn there are more goodies in store despite (and maybe because of) their intransigence. So their demands increase, and their behavior both internally and externally becomes more aggressive. Meanwhile, by abusing allies, we whet our foes’ appetites even more, revealing our desperation. In the end, we’ve given up much to get little and find ourselves worse off than when we started.

As practiced by Obama, “reset” has been a failure. A more humble and introspective administration would jettison a policy as counterproductive as this one. But not this president. As with so much else, an improvement in our policy must await a new administration that can assess whether there is a “smarter” policy than just giving stuff away.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Obama is finally meeting expectations: “That the WH would hold discussions with candidates about running for office, as they did with ex-CO House Speaker Andrew Romanoff (D) and Rep. Joe Sestak (D), is no surprise to most; 65% of voters — including 56% of GOPers — say it is business as usual for a WH to encourage candidates not to run for office. But a clear majority also believes the practice is either unethical or downright illegal. Four in 10 voters say the Obama admin had done something unethical, but not illegal; 12% said they believe the WH’s actions in approaching both Romanoff and Sestak about other jobs was illegal. Just 30% said the WH hadn’t done anything wrong.”

With technology at everyone’s fingertips, the public is finally getting a look at how too many politicians behave. But Rep. Etheridge apologized, so everything is OK, right? (Ben Smith dryly observes, “It’s pretty hard to think of a context in which Etheridge’s assault on the videographer would be acceptable.”)

Obama finally will address the country from the Oval Office. Not war, or bombings, or economic crisis, but rather a crisis in his own standing seems to have done it: “That the president has chosen this moment to give his first address from the Oval Office indicates not only the severity of the environmental and economic disaster caused by the BP oil spill, but also the perils the crisis poses for his presidency. With almost seven in ten Americans rating the federal response to the spill as negative — a worse rating than that for the government’s performance after Hurricane Katrina — the president’s political capital and his agenda are at risk.”

Iraqis finally get the knack of American democracy: “Iraq Parliament Opens, Then Recesses.”

Will American Jews finally wake up? “Asked if he sees Obama losing Jewish support, [Democrat Rep. Ron] Klein said, ‘I think there are a lot of people that are questioning. I’ve heard some people, a lot of conversations.’” I’ll believe it when I see the 2012 exit polls.

We finally have a perfect distillation of Obama’s foreign policy. The topic is Georgia, but Michael McFaul’s words could be applied to any issue: “Is it a foreign policy objective of the Obama administration to help end Russia’s occupation of Georgia in a peaceful manner and restore Georgia’s territorial integrity? Absolutely yes. … Have we made progress on the central objective? My answer is no. We haven’t. That’s the truth.”

The media finally have a beautiful, religious, conservative female candidate other than Sarah Palin to go after. She was endorsed by Palin, however. How long before there are demands for her OB-GYN files? Really, how certain are we that those adorable children are really hers?

Jonathan Chait finally discovers that the Beagle Blogger swings wildly from one position to another, mischaracterizing his opponents’ position.

Obama is finally meeting expectations: “That the WH would hold discussions with candidates about running for office, as they did with ex-CO House Speaker Andrew Romanoff (D) and Rep. Joe Sestak (D), is no surprise to most; 65% of voters — including 56% of GOPers — say it is business as usual for a WH to encourage candidates not to run for office. But a clear majority also believes the practice is either unethical or downright illegal. Four in 10 voters say the Obama admin had done something unethical, but not illegal; 12% said they believe the WH’s actions in approaching both Romanoff and Sestak about other jobs was illegal. Just 30% said the WH hadn’t done anything wrong.”

With technology at everyone’s fingertips, the public is finally getting a look at how too many politicians behave. But Rep. Etheridge apologized, so everything is OK, right? (Ben Smith dryly observes, “It’s pretty hard to think of a context in which Etheridge’s assault on the videographer would be acceptable.”)

Obama finally will address the country from the Oval Office. Not war, or bombings, or economic crisis, but rather a crisis in his own standing seems to have done it: “That the president has chosen this moment to give his first address from the Oval Office indicates not only the severity of the environmental and economic disaster caused by the BP oil spill, but also the perils the crisis poses for his presidency. With almost seven in ten Americans rating the federal response to the spill as negative — a worse rating than that for the government’s performance after Hurricane Katrina — the president’s political capital and his agenda are at risk.”

Iraqis finally get the knack of American democracy: “Iraq Parliament Opens, Then Recesses.”

Will American Jews finally wake up? “Asked if he sees Obama losing Jewish support, [Democrat Rep. Ron] Klein said, ‘I think there are a lot of people that are questioning. I’ve heard some people, a lot of conversations.’” I’ll believe it when I see the 2012 exit polls.

We finally have a perfect distillation of Obama’s foreign policy. The topic is Georgia, but Michael McFaul’s words could be applied to any issue: “Is it a foreign policy objective of the Obama administration to help end Russia’s occupation of Georgia in a peaceful manner and restore Georgia’s territorial integrity? Absolutely yes. … Have we made progress on the central objective? My answer is no. We haven’t. That’s the truth.”

The media finally have a beautiful, religious, conservative female candidate other than Sarah Palin to go after. She was endorsed by Palin, however. How long before there are demands for her OB-GYN files? Really, how certain are we that those adorable children are really hers?

Jonathan Chait finally discovers that the Beagle Blogger swings wildly from one position to another, mischaracterizing his opponents’ position.

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The Symbol Fetish

At the New Republic, Leon Wieseltier writes that Israel has lost “the all-important war for symbols and meanings, to Hamas.” Somehow, among all the wars and skirmishes and ambushes that define Israeli existence and threaten to erase the Jewish state, I find it hard to swallow Wieseltier’s post-modern competition “for symbols and meanings” as “the all important war.”

Ethan Bronner writes, in the New York Times, “the world powers have grown increasingly disillusioned with the blockade, saying that it has created far too much suffering in Gaza and serves as a symbol not only of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians but of how the West is seen in relation to the Palestinians.”

You know what else the blockade serves as? A blockade. It separates Israel’s sworn enemies from those who would help them arm and kill Israelis. Oh, and by the way, as a blockade – and not a symbol – the blockade works. So, too, do the fences, check points, and walls that separate Israel from would-be terrorists in the Palestinian territories.

Oops, did I say walls? This comes from a Reuters story that ran last year: “Pope Benedict stood by the wall Israel is building round the West Bank on Wednesday and called it a symbol of “stalemate” between Israel and the Palestinians, urging both sides to break a ‘spiral of violence.’”

What kind of Freudian limbo do Israelis now supposedly inhabit where everything they do and create is just another telling symbol of chauvinism, paranoia, and frustration. Friends of Israel often decry the absurd standards to which “world powers” try to hold the Jewish state. But this isn’t even about selective standards; it’s a category distinction. Here are the rules: Russia, which has been illegally occupying Georgia for almost two years, and facilitating Iran’s nuclear and anti-aircraft programs for even longer, is a state. North Korea, which recently sank a South Korean navy boat full of 46 sailors (not in oh-so-precious international waters, but in South Korean waters), starves its own population, and threatens to destroy Seoul, is a state. Pakistan — the creation of which led to a million deaths and millions more displaced, in order to give a single religious group its own area– is a terrorist Disneyland; it is also a state, achieving independence in 1947. Israel, on the other hand, is the world’s Hitchcock dream sequence. And it better not forget it.

That’s what all this criticism of the flotilla operation amounts to. How dare Israel act in service of its existence as a country when it’s so valuable as a symbol. In this way, those who wag their fingers at Israel for insufficiently weighing optics and PR and world opinion have put an insidious twist on the denial of Israel’s right to exist. For if it is forbidden to act on its own behalf as a state then there is an implicit denial of its right to be one. After all, when a state prevents a fleet of armed enemies from breaking its blockade with no casualties on their side it’s called a smashing success. When it’s done by Israel it’s just another sinister emblem of increasingly violent suicidal tendencies.

At the New Republic, Leon Wieseltier writes that Israel has lost “the all-important war for symbols and meanings, to Hamas.” Somehow, among all the wars and skirmishes and ambushes that define Israeli existence and threaten to erase the Jewish state, I find it hard to swallow Wieseltier’s post-modern competition “for symbols and meanings” as “the all important war.”

Ethan Bronner writes, in the New York Times, “the world powers have grown increasingly disillusioned with the blockade, saying that it has created far too much suffering in Gaza and serves as a symbol not only of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians but of how the West is seen in relation to the Palestinians.”

You know what else the blockade serves as? A blockade. It separates Israel’s sworn enemies from those who would help them arm and kill Israelis. Oh, and by the way, as a blockade – and not a symbol – the blockade works. So, too, do the fences, check points, and walls that separate Israel from would-be terrorists in the Palestinian territories.

Oops, did I say walls? This comes from a Reuters story that ran last year: “Pope Benedict stood by the wall Israel is building round the West Bank on Wednesday and called it a symbol of “stalemate” between Israel and the Palestinians, urging both sides to break a ‘spiral of violence.’”

What kind of Freudian limbo do Israelis now supposedly inhabit where everything they do and create is just another telling symbol of chauvinism, paranoia, and frustration. Friends of Israel often decry the absurd standards to which “world powers” try to hold the Jewish state. But this isn’t even about selective standards; it’s a category distinction. Here are the rules: Russia, which has been illegally occupying Georgia for almost two years, and facilitating Iran’s nuclear and anti-aircraft programs for even longer, is a state. North Korea, which recently sank a South Korean navy boat full of 46 sailors (not in oh-so-precious international waters, but in South Korean waters), starves its own population, and threatens to destroy Seoul, is a state. Pakistan — the creation of which led to a million deaths and millions more displaced, in order to give a single religious group its own area– is a terrorist Disneyland; it is also a state, achieving independence in 1947. Israel, on the other hand, is the world’s Hitchcock dream sequence. And it better not forget it.

That’s what all this criticism of the flotilla operation amounts to. How dare Israel act in service of its existence as a country when it’s so valuable as a symbol. In this way, those who wag their fingers at Israel for insufficiently weighing optics and PR and world opinion have put an insidious twist on the denial of Israel’s right to exist. For if it is forbidden to act on its own behalf as a state then there is an implicit denial of its right to be one. After all, when a state prevents a fleet of armed enemies from breaking its blockade with no casualties on their side it’s called a smashing success. When it’s done by Israel it’s just another sinister emblem of increasingly violent suicidal tendencies.

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Appeasing Russia

“Reset” in our relations with Russia has proved an abject failure. Robert Kagan makes a key point in his must-read column: relations with Russia are no better than during the Bush administration, arguably worse, and we’ve paid handsomely for this:

Given that history, few accomplishments have been more oversold than the Obama administration’s “success” in getting Russia to agree, for the fourth time in five years, to another vacuous U.N. Security Council resolution. It is being trumpeted as a triumph of the administration’s “reset” of the U.S.-Russian relationship, the main point of which was to get the Russians on board regarding Iran. All we’ve heard in recent months is how the Russians finally want to work with us on Iran and genuinely see the Iranian bomb as a threat — all because Obama has repaired relations with Russia that were allegedly destroyed by Bush.

Kagan allows that this resolution might be marginally more productive than the last three but at a steep price. (“The latest draft resolution tightens sanctions in some areas around the margins, but the administration was forced to cave to some Russian and Chinese demands.”) In sum, Russia’s behavior is no different than it has been, and the “only thing that has changed is the price the United States has been willing to pay.” We’ve sold out Poland and the Czech Republic, undermined our own sanctions effort, and in essence thrown in the towel on opposing the Russian occupation of Georgian territory (“Obama has officially declared that Russia’s continued illegal military occupation of Georgia is no ‘obstacle’ to U.S.-Russian civilian nuclear cooperation”).

No wonder Europe is jittery, Russia has inked a deal for a naval base in the Ukraine (suggesting that’s the next former Soviet state to fall back under Russian domination), and the mullahs “are laughing up their sleeves — along with the men in Moscow.” And remarkably, there’s been very little fuss — from Congress or from mainstream Jewish groups. But we are in an election season, and Republicans would be wise to raise the issue of the Obama Russian appeasement. Opposition to Obama’s failing Iran policy, failing Israel policy, failing China policy, and failing Russia policy (yes, there is a pattern here) is good policy and good politics. And those who make it an issue in 2010 and 2012 will have a mandate to do something about it.

Obama officials must assume that no one will bother to check the record (as, so far, none of the journalists covering the story has). The fact is, the Russians have not said or done anything in the past few months that they didn’t do or say during the Bush years. In fact, they sometimes used to say and do more.

“Reset” in our relations with Russia has proved an abject failure. Robert Kagan makes a key point in his must-read column: relations with Russia are no better than during the Bush administration, arguably worse, and we’ve paid handsomely for this:

Given that history, few accomplishments have been more oversold than the Obama administration’s “success” in getting Russia to agree, for the fourth time in five years, to another vacuous U.N. Security Council resolution. It is being trumpeted as a triumph of the administration’s “reset” of the U.S.-Russian relationship, the main point of which was to get the Russians on board regarding Iran. All we’ve heard in recent months is how the Russians finally want to work with us on Iran and genuinely see the Iranian bomb as a threat — all because Obama has repaired relations with Russia that were allegedly destroyed by Bush.

Kagan allows that this resolution might be marginally more productive than the last three but at a steep price. (“The latest draft resolution tightens sanctions in some areas around the margins, but the administration was forced to cave to some Russian and Chinese demands.”) In sum, Russia’s behavior is no different than it has been, and the “only thing that has changed is the price the United States has been willing to pay.” We’ve sold out Poland and the Czech Republic, undermined our own sanctions effort, and in essence thrown in the towel on opposing the Russian occupation of Georgian territory (“Obama has officially declared that Russia’s continued illegal military occupation of Georgia is no ‘obstacle’ to U.S.-Russian civilian nuclear cooperation”).

No wonder Europe is jittery, Russia has inked a deal for a naval base in the Ukraine (suggesting that’s the next former Soviet state to fall back under Russian domination), and the mullahs “are laughing up their sleeves — along with the men in Moscow.” And remarkably, there’s been very little fuss — from Congress or from mainstream Jewish groups. But we are in an election season, and Republicans would be wise to raise the issue of the Obama Russian appeasement. Opposition to Obama’s failing Iran policy, failing Israel policy, failing China policy, and failing Russia policy (yes, there is a pattern here) is good policy and good politics. And those who make it an issue in 2010 and 2012 will have a mandate to do something about it.

Obama officials must assume that no one will bother to check the record (as, so far, none of the journalists covering the story has). The fact is, the Russians have not said or done anything in the past few months that they didn’t do or say during the Bush years. In fact, they sometimes used to say and do more.

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What Georgia Can Teach Israel About Iran

One thing pretty much all Israeli commentators agree on is that Western acceptance of the Iran-Brazil-Turkey nuclear deal would be a disaster for Israel.

Unlike the original deal on which it is modeled, and which Iran rejected last fall, this deal makes no pretense even of delaying Iran’s nuclear program. The original deal sought to buy time by transferring most of Iran’s enriched uranium outside the country, leaving it without enough to build a bomb until it enriched more. This deal would transfer a much smaller percentage of Iran’s uranium overseas, and would thus still leave it with enough to build a bomb.

Yet Western acceptance of it would not only kill any chance for tougher sanctions on Iran (no great loss, since the sanctions effort wasn’t going anyplace anyway); it would also make it much harder for Israel to take military action against Iran: Israel would then be portrayed as the warmonger ruining the world’s chances for peace in our time.

As Israel’s government contemplates this grim scenario, it might do well to read a new book on the Russian-Georgian war of 2008 — or at least Prof. Shlomo Avineri’s review of it in Haaretz.

In A Little War That Shook the World, former State Department official Ronald Asmus chronicles the events leading up to the war and its disastrous consequences for Georgia: it lost its last remaining foothold in the separatist regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, saw hundreds of its citizens killed and tens of thousands turned into refugees, and effectively destroyed its chances of joining either NATO or the European Union.

Yet Asmus thinks a Georgian failure to respond to Russia’s provocations would have had even worse consequences, Avineri notes: President Mikheil Saakashvili’s government “would have been toppled and there may well have been a coup d’etat in Tbilisi, which could have resulted in a particular well-known pro-Russian politician taking Georgia’s helm. In effect, Georgia could have lost its independence and become a Russian satellite once again” — for the third time in two centuries.

Avineri finds Asmus’s conclusion persuasive. But even if one doesn’t, it is hard to argue with Avineri’s conclusion. “There is something of a moral here for small countries,” the dovish professor writes. “Sometimes, being unwilling to give in is strategically the right move, even if it exacts a high price.”

An Israeli strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities would exact a very high price: military counterstrikes by Iran, Hezbollah, Hamas and perhaps Syria; international opprobrium; a schism with Washington; and perhaps even international sanctions. And that would be true even if the West ultimately rejects the Brazil-Turkey deal and returns to the Obama administration’s plan A: declaring the problem “solved” by passing another watered-down sanctions resolution that, like its predecessors, will do nothing to halt Iran’s nuclear program.

Nevertheless, the consequences to Israel of a nuclear Iran could well be even worse. And if so, Israel’s government might have to decide that the price of military action is worth paying.

One thing pretty much all Israeli commentators agree on is that Western acceptance of the Iran-Brazil-Turkey nuclear deal would be a disaster for Israel.

Unlike the original deal on which it is modeled, and which Iran rejected last fall, this deal makes no pretense even of delaying Iran’s nuclear program. The original deal sought to buy time by transferring most of Iran’s enriched uranium outside the country, leaving it without enough to build a bomb until it enriched more. This deal would transfer a much smaller percentage of Iran’s uranium overseas, and would thus still leave it with enough to build a bomb.

Yet Western acceptance of it would not only kill any chance for tougher sanctions on Iran (no great loss, since the sanctions effort wasn’t going anyplace anyway); it would also make it much harder for Israel to take military action against Iran: Israel would then be portrayed as the warmonger ruining the world’s chances for peace in our time.

As Israel’s government contemplates this grim scenario, it might do well to read a new book on the Russian-Georgian war of 2008 — or at least Prof. Shlomo Avineri’s review of it in Haaretz.

In A Little War That Shook the World, former State Department official Ronald Asmus chronicles the events leading up to the war and its disastrous consequences for Georgia: it lost its last remaining foothold in the separatist regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, saw hundreds of its citizens killed and tens of thousands turned into refugees, and effectively destroyed its chances of joining either NATO or the European Union.

Yet Asmus thinks a Georgian failure to respond to Russia’s provocations would have had even worse consequences, Avineri notes: President Mikheil Saakashvili’s government “would have been toppled and there may well have been a coup d’etat in Tbilisi, which could have resulted in a particular well-known pro-Russian politician taking Georgia’s helm. In effect, Georgia could have lost its independence and become a Russian satellite once again” — for the third time in two centuries.

Avineri finds Asmus’s conclusion persuasive. But even if one doesn’t, it is hard to argue with Avineri’s conclusion. “There is something of a moral here for small countries,” the dovish professor writes. “Sometimes, being unwilling to give in is strategically the right move, even if it exacts a high price.”

An Israeli strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities would exact a very high price: military counterstrikes by Iran, Hezbollah, Hamas and perhaps Syria; international opprobrium; a schism with Washington; and perhaps even international sanctions. And that would be true even if the West ultimately rejects the Brazil-Turkey deal and returns to the Obama administration’s plan A: declaring the problem “solved” by passing another watered-down sanctions resolution that, like its predecessors, will do nothing to halt Iran’s nuclear program.

Nevertheless, the consequences to Israel of a nuclear Iran could well be even worse. And if so, Israel’s government might have to decide that the price of military action is worth paying.

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Nonproliferation We Can Believe In

Each day seems to bring news of another ill-advised policy move by the Obama administration. Today’s comes from a May 6 New York Times article quoting administration officials on a civil nuclear cooperation agreement with Russia, which George W. Bush shelved in the wake of the August 2008 invasion of Georgia. Obama wants to revive it.

According to the Times, “Reviving the agreement has been a top priority for Russia since Mr. Obama took office.” The issue brief on the agreement from the Nuclear Threat Initiative website outlines these provisions:

If concluded, the agreement would allow cooperation on a wide range of issues, including the development of advanced reactor technologies, production of mixed-oxide (MOX, a mix of plutonium and uranium oxides) fuel, and storage and possible reprocessing of U.S.-origin spent nuclear fuel in Russia.

There are sound arguments against moving irresponsibly on any of these provisions, but sending spent uranium of U.S. origin to Russia for storage and reprocessing tops the list. Most of the instances of nuclear smuggling since the end of the Cold War trace back to Russia. The latest incident in which the collusion of Russians is probable occurred in Georgia in March 2010 (though Russian officials deny it). Russian nationals have been involved in all aspects of Iran’s nuclear-weapons program, from warhead design to the procurement of prohibited technology and materials. Russia also, of course, has an official role in Iran’s civil nuclear-power program, which only complicates the assessment of Moscow’s true overall involvement.

It’s worth noting, moreover, that the agreement could include the shipment of uranium of U.S. origin to Russia from the other nations whose reactor complexes use our uranium under contract. This would, in and of itself, introduce an additional window of vulnerability into the lifetime security of reactor fuel.

The Times article cites a concern from the deal’s critics that Obama wouldn’t be getting enough from Russia in exchange for reviving the nuclear cooperation agreement. But a more basic criticism is that the agreement would conflict directly with Obama’s own policy emphasis on securing nuclear materials around the globe. The progress of his nonproliferation effort to date looks like a vignette from Monty Python: on the one hand, getting good citizens Chile and Mexico to shuffle some uranium around and accept U.S. help in upgrading their reactors; on the other, hoping to ship U.S. uranium to Russia, the nation with the highest rate of unauthorized uranium leakage. Maybe Obama’s proliferation-security advisers should try Hillary Clinton’s checklist method for a while. Whatever they’re doing now isn’t producing a coherent policy.

Each day seems to bring news of another ill-advised policy move by the Obama administration. Today’s comes from a May 6 New York Times article quoting administration officials on a civil nuclear cooperation agreement with Russia, which George W. Bush shelved in the wake of the August 2008 invasion of Georgia. Obama wants to revive it.

According to the Times, “Reviving the agreement has been a top priority for Russia since Mr. Obama took office.” The issue brief on the agreement from the Nuclear Threat Initiative website outlines these provisions:

If concluded, the agreement would allow cooperation on a wide range of issues, including the development of advanced reactor technologies, production of mixed-oxide (MOX, a mix of plutonium and uranium oxides) fuel, and storage and possible reprocessing of U.S.-origin spent nuclear fuel in Russia.

There are sound arguments against moving irresponsibly on any of these provisions, but sending spent uranium of U.S. origin to Russia for storage and reprocessing tops the list. Most of the instances of nuclear smuggling since the end of the Cold War trace back to Russia. The latest incident in which the collusion of Russians is probable occurred in Georgia in March 2010 (though Russian officials deny it). Russian nationals have been involved in all aspects of Iran’s nuclear-weapons program, from warhead design to the procurement of prohibited technology and materials. Russia also, of course, has an official role in Iran’s civil nuclear-power program, which only complicates the assessment of Moscow’s true overall involvement.

It’s worth noting, moreover, that the agreement could include the shipment of uranium of U.S. origin to Russia from the other nations whose reactor complexes use our uranium under contract. This would, in and of itself, introduce an additional window of vulnerability into the lifetime security of reactor fuel.

The Times article cites a concern from the deal’s critics that Obama wouldn’t be getting enough from Russia in exchange for reviving the nuclear cooperation agreement. But a more basic criticism is that the agreement would conflict directly with Obama’s own policy emphasis on securing nuclear materials around the globe. The progress of his nonproliferation effort to date looks like a vignette from Monty Python: on the one hand, getting good citizens Chile and Mexico to shuffle some uranium around and accept U.S. help in upgrading their reactors; on the other, hoping to ship U.S. uranium to Russia, the nation with the highest rate of unauthorized uranium leakage. Maybe Obama’s proliferation-security advisers should try Hillary Clinton’s checklist method for a while. Whatever they’re doing now isn’t producing a coherent policy.

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Linkage Threat: Will Israel Pay the Price for Obama’s Nuclear Delusions?

While the world watches and waits to see what, if anything, Washington will do to stop Iran’s nuclear program, the greatest obstacle to action may not be just the president’s indifference to the existential threat to Israel or the possibility such a development would pose to regional stability. Instead, as it is rapidly becoming evident, one of the fundamental problems here may be something else: the Obama administration’s obsession with pursuing the left’s Cold War agenda against nuclear arms.

As the New York Times‘s report (mentioned earlier today by Jennifer) shows, President Obama plans to revive a civilian nuclear agreement with Russia, one that had been spiked by the Bush administration after Moscow’s invasion of Georgia in 2008. When it comes to nuclear issues, the administration’s priority remains the futile pursuit of agreements that will diminish America’s nuclear edge rather than an all-out effort to stop the spread of such weapons. As was the case with last year’s decision to betray past promises to the Czech Republic and Poland on missile defense to appease Russia, Obama’s main concern seems to be conciliating America’s antagonists rather than solidarity with allies. Rather than wait to see if Russia will make good on the vague pledges it has made about supporting the United States on Iran, Obama has gone ahead and handed the Medvedev/Putin regime a major victory in exchange for nothing.

Yet as troubling as this foolish determination to please Russia’s new autocrats may be, it is merely part of a larger agenda in which the administration’s interest in nuclear issues has created a situation that, rather than isolating the rogue regime in Tehran, may serve to harm Israel. As the United Nations’s month-long nuclear nonproliferation conference that began last week has shown, Washington’s push on the issue has been derailed. The president’s much-heralded deference to international opinion and his clear interest in appeasing Russia and China have contributed to a situation where the main topic of conversation is becoming not how to stop Iran but rather how to disarm its intended victim Israel. The fact that Israel’s possession of nukes is purely defensive — after all, it is the only nation marked for extinction by many of its neighbors as well as by the Iranian regime — is more easily forgotten amid the new emphasis given to banning nukes started by Obama. This is reinforced by a statement earlier this week from the head of the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency, Yukiya Amano, who is asking for international input on an Arab-led push to have Israel join the Nonproliferation Treaty, in a move that increases pressure on Jerusalem to disclose more information about its own nuclear weapons.

A great deal of attention has been paid to the dangerous position articulated by some in the administration of calling for linkage between American efforts to stop Iran and “progress” in peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians. This is a dead end for Israel, not only because the two issues are not related, but also because the Palestinians’ lack of interest in a peace agreement would, under such an arrangement, ensure that nothing is done about Iran.

But perhaps even more dangerous is the growing international sentiment in favor of linking Iran’s nuclear program with Israel’s, and such moral equivalence between a potential aggressor and a potential victim is strengthened by the administration’s desire to revive the left’s old “ban all the nukes” spirit. Like America’s nuclear deterrent that kept the peace in Europe for 40 years after World War II and ultimately ensured that the fall of the Soviet Empire would be peaceful rather than bloody, Israel’s nuclear deterrent is not a threat to its neighbors but a guarantee that all-out war won’t happen. If, as it is becoming rapidly apparent, international nonproliferation diplomacy becomes more a matter of hammering Israel than of isolating Iran, we will have President Obama’s foolish nuclear obsession to thank for it.

While the world watches and waits to see what, if anything, Washington will do to stop Iran’s nuclear program, the greatest obstacle to action may not be just the president’s indifference to the existential threat to Israel or the possibility such a development would pose to regional stability. Instead, as it is rapidly becoming evident, one of the fundamental problems here may be something else: the Obama administration’s obsession with pursuing the left’s Cold War agenda against nuclear arms.

As the New York Times‘s report (mentioned earlier today by Jennifer) shows, President Obama plans to revive a civilian nuclear agreement with Russia, one that had been spiked by the Bush administration after Moscow’s invasion of Georgia in 2008. When it comes to nuclear issues, the administration’s priority remains the futile pursuit of agreements that will diminish America’s nuclear edge rather than an all-out effort to stop the spread of such weapons. As was the case with last year’s decision to betray past promises to the Czech Republic and Poland on missile defense to appease Russia, Obama’s main concern seems to be conciliating America’s antagonists rather than solidarity with allies. Rather than wait to see if Russia will make good on the vague pledges it has made about supporting the United States on Iran, Obama has gone ahead and handed the Medvedev/Putin regime a major victory in exchange for nothing.

Yet as troubling as this foolish determination to please Russia’s new autocrats may be, it is merely part of a larger agenda in which the administration’s interest in nuclear issues has created a situation that, rather than isolating the rogue regime in Tehran, may serve to harm Israel. As the United Nations’s month-long nuclear nonproliferation conference that began last week has shown, Washington’s push on the issue has been derailed. The president’s much-heralded deference to international opinion and his clear interest in appeasing Russia and China have contributed to a situation where the main topic of conversation is becoming not how to stop Iran but rather how to disarm its intended victim Israel. The fact that Israel’s possession of nukes is purely defensive — after all, it is the only nation marked for extinction by many of its neighbors as well as by the Iranian regime — is more easily forgotten amid the new emphasis given to banning nukes started by Obama. This is reinforced by a statement earlier this week from the head of the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency, Yukiya Amano, who is asking for international input on an Arab-led push to have Israel join the Nonproliferation Treaty, in a move that increases pressure on Jerusalem to disclose more information about its own nuclear weapons.

A great deal of attention has been paid to the dangerous position articulated by some in the administration of calling for linkage between American efforts to stop Iran and “progress” in peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians. This is a dead end for Israel, not only because the two issues are not related, but also because the Palestinians’ lack of interest in a peace agreement would, under such an arrangement, ensure that nothing is done about Iran.

But perhaps even more dangerous is the growing international sentiment in favor of linking Iran’s nuclear program with Israel’s, and such moral equivalence between a potential aggressor and a potential victim is strengthened by the administration’s desire to revive the left’s old “ban all the nukes” spirit. Like America’s nuclear deterrent that kept the peace in Europe for 40 years after World War II and ultimately ensured that the fall of the Soviet Empire would be peaceful rather than bloody, Israel’s nuclear deterrent is not a threat to its neighbors but a guarantee that all-out war won’t happen. If, as it is becoming rapidly apparent, international nonproliferation diplomacy becomes more a matter of hammering Israel than of isolating Iran, we will have President Obama’s foolish nuclear obsession to thank for it.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

“Recovery” means something other than a steady, predictable improvement in the economy: “The Dow Jones industrial average plunged nearly 1,000 points in afternoon trading before recovering significantly Thursday — but it was enough to sow chaos on Wall Street as traders blamed everything from a technical glitch to chaos in the Greek economy. In Washington, the sudden drop — the biggest within a single trading day in Dow history — underscored just how fragile the nascent recovery could be, as the White House tries to convince the public that signs of growth mean the economy has begun to turn the corner.”

“Transparent” means you have to be taken to court to disclose documents to congressional investigators: “Senate Homeland Security Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and ranking Republican Susan Collins (Maine) on Thursday said they are poised to press their subpoena fight with the Obama administration into court. Lieberman and Collins, speaking separately, both said the Justice and Defense departments have been uncooperative with their efforts to obtain more information about the November 2009 shootings at Fort Hood, Texas, that killed 13 people.”

Reset” means all is forgiven: “President Obama is preparing to revive a civilian nuclear cooperation agreement with Moscow that his predecessor shelved two years ago in protest of Russia’s war on its tiny neighbor, Georgia, administration officials said Thursday. Renewing the agreement would be the latest step in Mr. Obama’s drive to repair relations between the two powers, at a time when he is seeking Moscow’s support for tough new sanctions against Iran. But word of the move has generated consternation in Congress, where some lawmakers were already skeptical of the agreement and now worry that Mr. Obama is giving Russia too much.”

“Awareness of the potential political consequences of the actions” means holy cow — the Democrats are going to get wiped out! Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland: “I think we need to proceed with some awareness of the potential political consequences of the actions that are undertaken here in Washington.”

Civility” means his critics should shut up. “Less than a week after promoting the need to treat others ‘with courtesy and respect,’ the unhappy warrior was at it again yesterday with a misleading attack on the motives of an opponent. Responding to an amendment offered by Senator Richard Shelby to limit the scope of the proposed Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Mr. Obama said, ‘I will not allow amendments like this one written by Wall Street’s lobbyists to pass for reform.’ Mr. Civility was insulting the gentleman from Alabama, but even if delivered in dignified language, the attack was false.”

ObamaCare” means you’re not going to keep your health-care plan. Yuval Levin explains that “it turns out that several major corporations are drawing up plans to end their employee health benefits once Obamacare gets up and running. They’ve done the math and figured out that the penalty they would have to pay for dropping their workers would be much lower than the costs of continuing to insure them, and now there will be a new taxpayer-subsidized option for those workers to turn to in state exchanges, so why not cut them off?”

For the New York Times,a pragmatist” means a law-school dean (Elena Kagan) who signs an amicus brief arguing that military recruiters can be banned from campuses despite a contrary federal law. “She repeatedly criticized ‘don’t ask, don’t tell,’ the policy that bars gay men and lesbians from openly serving in the military. At one point she called it ‘a moral injustice of the first order.’  She also joined a legal brief urging the Supreme Court to overturn the law that denied federal funds to colleges and universities that barred military recruiters.”

“Recovery” means something other than a steady, predictable improvement in the economy: “The Dow Jones industrial average plunged nearly 1,000 points in afternoon trading before recovering significantly Thursday — but it was enough to sow chaos on Wall Street as traders blamed everything from a technical glitch to chaos in the Greek economy. In Washington, the sudden drop — the biggest within a single trading day in Dow history — underscored just how fragile the nascent recovery could be, as the White House tries to convince the public that signs of growth mean the economy has begun to turn the corner.”

“Transparent” means you have to be taken to court to disclose documents to congressional investigators: “Senate Homeland Security Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and ranking Republican Susan Collins (Maine) on Thursday said they are poised to press their subpoena fight with the Obama administration into court. Lieberman and Collins, speaking separately, both said the Justice and Defense departments have been uncooperative with their efforts to obtain more information about the November 2009 shootings at Fort Hood, Texas, that killed 13 people.”

Reset” means all is forgiven: “President Obama is preparing to revive a civilian nuclear cooperation agreement with Moscow that his predecessor shelved two years ago in protest of Russia’s war on its tiny neighbor, Georgia, administration officials said Thursday. Renewing the agreement would be the latest step in Mr. Obama’s drive to repair relations between the two powers, at a time when he is seeking Moscow’s support for tough new sanctions against Iran. But word of the move has generated consternation in Congress, where some lawmakers were already skeptical of the agreement and now worry that Mr. Obama is giving Russia too much.”

“Awareness of the potential political consequences of the actions” means holy cow — the Democrats are going to get wiped out! Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland: “I think we need to proceed with some awareness of the potential political consequences of the actions that are undertaken here in Washington.”

Civility” means his critics should shut up. “Less than a week after promoting the need to treat others ‘with courtesy and respect,’ the unhappy warrior was at it again yesterday with a misleading attack on the motives of an opponent. Responding to an amendment offered by Senator Richard Shelby to limit the scope of the proposed Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Mr. Obama said, ‘I will not allow amendments like this one written by Wall Street’s lobbyists to pass for reform.’ Mr. Civility was insulting the gentleman from Alabama, but even if delivered in dignified language, the attack was false.”

ObamaCare” means you’re not going to keep your health-care plan. Yuval Levin explains that “it turns out that several major corporations are drawing up plans to end their employee health benefits once Obamacare gets up and running. They’ve done the math and figured out that the penalty they would have to pay for dropping their workers would be much lower than the costs of continuing to insure them, and now there will be a new taxpayer-subsidized option for those workers to turn to in state exchanges, so why not cut them off?”

For the New York Times,a pragmatist” means a law-school dean (Elena Kagan) who signs an amicus brief arguing that military recruiters can be banned from campuses despite a contrary federal law. “She repeatedly criticized ‘don’t ask, don’t tell,’ the policy that bars gay men and lesbians from openly serving in the military. At one point she called it ‘a moral injustice of the first order.’  She also joined a legal brief urging the Supreme Court to overturn the law that denied federal funds to colleges and universities that barred military recruiters.”

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Yet Another Step Backward

Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Michele Flournoy said yesterday that military action against Iran is “off the table in the near term,” effectively walking back President Obama’s position that “all options are on the table.” She prefaced her statement with the banal assertion that “military force is an option of last resort,” which of course everyone knows and which implies by itself that force is off the table for now. But the United States nevertheless just softened its position again on Iran’s nuclear weapons program. If the president doesn’t return force to the table, it is going to stay off.

It seems as though the U.S. is trying to look irresolute and nonthreatening lately, but whether it’s on purpose or not, that’s what it looks like, and it isn’t helpful. A credible threat — simple deterrence — can make war somewhat less likely, just as police officers on the street make crime somewhat less likely. The Iranian government won’t cooperate with irresolute and nonthreatening enemies; it will steamroll irresolute and nonthreatening enemies.

Attacking Iran wouldn’t be my next step either. I’m entirely sympathetic to the administration’s aversion to it, and not only on behalf of American servicemen who may be injured or killed. I know lots of Iranians. All are decent people. Not a single one supports Tehran’s deranged government. All have friends and family back home, and it has been obvious for some time now that a very large percentage of their fellow citizens left inside the country feel the same way. I don’t want to see any of these people get killed, especially if they’re killed by us. The very idea fills me with horror.

And that’s before factoring in the Israelis and Lebanese who would also be killed if the war spreads to the Levant — a likely event. I spend enough time in the Middle East that I could even end up in a bomb shelter myself.

We have to be realistic, though. There is only the smallest of chances that the Iranian government will mothball its nuclear weapons program if it does not feel some serious heat. Some people can only be disarmed at gunpoint, and that’s true of nearly all belligerent people.

Yet “off the table” has become the new normal. It will remain the new normal until further notice. The United States looks like it’s in retreat. Hardly anyone in the world believed President Obama would ever order a strike even before this most recent of climb-downs.

The administration seems to forget that threatening military action doesn’t necessarily mean we have to go through with it, that we want to go through with it, that we yearn to go through with it, or that we’re warmongers. Look at Taiwan. It exists independently of China only because the United States has made it clear that an invasion of Taiwan would be punished severely. Chinese leaders find the threat credible and have therefore backed off to let Taiwan live. The U.S. doesn’t have to pull the trigger. It’s enough just to say don’t even think about it.

Former Communist countries in Eastern Europe were similarly placed under Western military protection after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Moscow understands perfectly well that its liberated subjects are to be left alone — or else. Saying “hands off Lithuania” by bringing the country into NATO wasn’t cowboy behavior. It was prudent and wise, and it keeps the peace. Russia didn’t like it and still doesn’t like it, but it hasn’t gotten anyone killed.

Deterrence prevents armed conflict by making it clear to the other side that a war would be too costly and shouldn’t be tried. The reverse is true, too. Under certain conditions, war becomes more likely if it looks like there won’t be serious consequences.

Russia invaded Georgia a few years ago, but there is almost no chance that would have happened if Georgia had been a member of NATO. Russia would not have even considered it. The retaliation would have been devastating.

Deterrence might not work with Iran, but it’s even less likely to work if it’s downgraded, put on hold, or smells like a bluff. It’s all but certain to fail once the regime has nuclear weapons and can, short of incinerating cities with weapons of genocide, pretty much do whatever it wants.

Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Michele Flournoy said yesterday that military action against Iran is “off the table in the near term,” effectively walking back President Obama’s position that “all options are on the table.” She prefaced her statement with the banal assertion that “military force is an option of last resort,” which of course everyone knows and which implies by itself that force is off the table for now. But the United States nevertheless just softened its position again on Iran’s nuclear weapons program. If the president doesn’t return force to the table, it is going to stay off.

It seems as though the U.S. is trying to look irresolute and nonthreatening lately, but whether it’s on purpose or not, that’s what it looks like, and it isn’t helpful. A credible threat — simple deterrence — can make war somewhat less likely, just as police officers on the street make crime somewhat less likely. The Iranian government won’t cooperate with irresolute and nonthreatening enemies; it will steamroll irresolute and nonthreatening enemies.

Attacking Iran wouldn’t be my next step either. I’m entirely sympathetic to the administration’s aversion to it, and not only on behalf of American servicemen who may be injured or killed. I know lots of Iranians. All are decent people. Not a single one supports Tehran’s deranged government. All have friends and family back home, and it has been obvious for some time now that a very large percentage of their fellow citizens left inside the country feel the same way. I don’t want to see any of these people get killed, especially if they’re killed by us. The very idea fills me with horror.

And that’s before factoring in the Israelis and Lebanese who would also be killed if the war spreads to the Levant — a likely event. I spend enough time in the Middle East that I could even end up in a bomb shelter myself.

We have to be realistic, though. There is only the smallest of chances that the Iranian government will mothball its nuclear weapons program if it does not feel some serious heat. Some people can only be disarmed at gunpoint, and that’s true of nearly all belligerent people.

Yet “off the table” has become the new normal. It will remain the new normal until further notice. The United States looks like it’s in retreat. Hardly anyone in the world believed President Obama would ever order a strike even before this most recent of climb-downs.

The administration seems to forget that threatening military action doesn’t necessarily mean we have to go through with it, that we want to go through with it, that we yearn to go through with it, or that we’re warmongers. Look at Taiwan. It exists independently of China only because the United States has made it clear that an invasion of Taiwan would be punished severely. Chinese leaders find the threat credible and have therefore backed off to let Taiwan live. The U.S. doesn’t have to pull the trigger. It’s enough just to say don’t even think about it.

Former Communist countries in Eastern Europe were similarly placed under Western military protection after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Moscow understands perfectly well that its liberated subjects are to be left alone — or else. Saying “hands off Lithuania” by bringing the country into NATO wasn’t cowboy behavior. It was prudent and wise, and it keeps the peace. Russia didn’t like it and still doesn’t like it, but it hasn’t gotten anyone killed.

Deterrence prevents armed conflict by making it clear to the other side that a war would be too costly and shouldn’t be tried. The reverse is true, too. Under certain conditions, war becomes more likely if it looks like there won’t be serious consequences.

Russia invaded Georgia a few years ago, but there is almost no chance that would have happened if Georgia had been a member of NATO. Russia would not have even considered it. The retaliation would have been devastating.

Deterrence might not work with Iran, but it’s even less likely to work if it’s downgraded, put on hold, or smells like a bluff. It’s all but certain to fail once the regime has nuclear weapons and can, short of incinerating cities with weapons of genocide, pretty much do whatever it wants.

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NFL Action: Goodell on Roethlisberger

According to ESPN:

Ben Roethlisberger was suspended for six games on Wednesday for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy, the NFL announced. The Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback also was ordered to undergo a comprehensive behavioral evaluation. Commissioner Roger Goodell will evaluate Roethlisberger’s progress before the season and might consider reducing the suspension to four games. However, a failure to comply with the NFL’s ruling might lead to a longer suspension.

In his letter to Roethlisberger, Goodell said:

I recognize that the allegations [of sexual assault] in Georgia were disputed and that they did not result in criminal charges being filed against you. My decision today is not based on a finding that you violated Georgia law, or on a conclusion that differs from that of the local prosecutor. That said, you are held to a higher standard as an NFL player, and there is nothing about your conduct in Milledgeville that can remotely be described as admirable, responsible, or consistent with either the values of the league or the expectations of our fans.

Your conduct raises sufficient concerns that I believe effective intervention now is the best step for your personal and professional welfare.

I believe it is essential that you take full advantage of the resources available to you. My ultimate disposition in this matter will be influenced by the extent to which you do so, what you learn as a result, and a demonstrated commitment to making positive change in your life.

In your six years in the NFL, you have first thrilled and now disappointed a great many people. I urge you to take full advantage of this opportunity to get your life and career back on track.

Good for Roger Goodell — and good for the Steeler organization and the city of Pittsburgh, which is not standing behind Roethlisberger. The disappointment and anger directed at Roethlisberger, who has found himself in trouble before, is hard to overstate. In fact, ESPN reports that the Steelers are entertaining trade offers from other clubs (such a trade would surprise me).

Goodell has made it clear in the past, and with this latest action, that he takes the phrase “integrity of the game” seriously. He understands that athletes, whether they want to or not, are role models, and they should be held to some minimal standards of conduct. And he knows that as commissioner, he has a “brand” — the best in sports — to protect.

I have no idea whether Roethlisberger is going to finally get his life under control, but what Goodell has done will increase the possibility that he will.

What Goodell did was impressive. Ben Roethlisberger is down to his last chance. He can’t say he hasn’t been warned.

According to ESPN:

Ben Roethlisberger was suspended for six games on Wednesday for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy, the NFL announced. The Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback also was ordered to undergo a comprehensive behavioral evaluation. Commissioner Roger Goodell will evaluate Roethlisberger’s progress before the season and might consider reducing the suspension to four games. However, a failure to comply with the NFL’s ruling might lead to a longer suspension.

In his letter to Roethlisberger, Goodell said:

I recognize that the allegations [of sexual assault] in Georgia were disputed and that they did not result in criminal charges being filed against you. My decision today is not based on a finding that you violated Georgia law, or on a conclusion that differs from that of the local prosecutor. That said, you are held to a higher standard as an NFL player, and there is nothing about your conduct in Milledgeville that can remotely be described as admirable, responsible, or consistent with either the values of the league or the expectations of our fans.

Your conduct raises sufficient concerns that I believe effective intervention now is the best step for your personal and professional welfare.

I believe it is essential that you take full advantage of the resources available to you. My ultimate disposition in this matter will be influenced by the extent to which you do so, what you learn as a result, and a demonstrated commitment to making positive change in your life.

In your six years in the NFL, you have first thrilled and now disappointed a great many people. I urge you to take full advantage of this opportunity to get your life and career back on track.

Good for Roger Goodell — and good for the Steeler organization and the city of Pittsburgh, which is not standing behind Roethlisberger. The disappointment and anger directed at Roethlisberger, who has found himself in trouble before, is hard to overstate. In fact, ESPN reports that the Steelers are entertaining trade offers from other clubs (such a trade would surprise me).

Goodell has made it clear in the past, and with this latest action, that he takes the phrase “integrity of the game” seriously. He understands that athletes, whether they want to or not, are role models, and they should be held to some minimal standards of conduct. And he knows that as commissioner, he has a “brand” — the best in sports — to protect.

I have no idea whether Roethlisberger is going to finally get his life under control, but what Goodell has done will increase the possibility that he will.

What Goodell did was impressive. Ben Roethlisberger is down to his last chance. He can’t say he hasn’t been warned.

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The Left Is Grouchy

Reuters reports:

Five million first-time voters turned out in 2008, many drawn by Obama’s promise of hope and overwhelmingly voting for Democrats. Now disappointed, or at least apathetic, they may not go to the polls this year. Obama’s support has dropped below 50 percent from nearly 70 percent after 15 months in office, Gallup opinion polls show. Gay rights supporters, anti-abortion activists, environmentalists and backers of immigration reform all have seen their agendas stalled, with watered-down healthcare the main accomplishment of Obama’s once-ambitious agenda.

At Monday’s rally in Los Angeles, protesters shouted at Obama to repeal the “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” military policy that allows gays to serve if they keep quiet about their sexual preference. Gays believe that makes them second-class citizens, and Obama has vowed to repeal the policy.

“Hey hold on a second. We are going to do that,” he said. “I don’t know why you’re hollering,” he added.

Supporters shouted “Yes we can,” his slogan from the 2008 election, and “Be quiet,” but the discontent lingers.

But didn’t health-care reform boost the Left’s spirits? Not really: “Many on the left who want more are fighting the president and one another. Others are abandoning politics. Both trends bode poorly for Democrats, who have controlled both houses of Congress in addition to the White House since January 2009.” Health-care reform seems to have aggravated as many as it pleased. (“A fight over whether federal funds could be used to pay for abortion tied up the bill and split the party, which has been a strong supporter of abortion rights but now has a significant wing opposed to abortion.”) And without the public option, many on the Left are as angry as those on the Right that Big Insurance now gets enriched as a result of a liberal president’s signature issue. Other liberal wish-list items — climate control, card check, repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, and the closing Guantanamo – are not going anywhere.

The Left’s grumpiness is not simply a problem for presidential appearances. It was the new, younger, and largely liberal Democratic electorate that boosted Obama over Hillary Clinton and then John McCain and delivered huge majorities to the Democrats in the House and Senate. When that electorate doesn’t show up supportive in November, many Democrats are at risk: “Four of the 10 Senate races where Democrats may lose, including Majority Leader Harry Reid’s re-election bid in Nevada, are in states that had above-average increases in turnout between 2006 and 2008, Professor Tom Schaller of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, calculated. … Battles for governor that could be affected by the new 2008 voters include California, Texas, Florida, Nevada, Georgia and Illinois, he calculated, noting that new governors will oversee redrawing federal voting districts after the 2010 census.”

It’s a rare president who doesn’t disappoint some starry-eyed supporters. But Obama’s problem is more acute, in large part because expectations were so high, and he consciously played into the cult of personality that worshipped him as the savior of the Left. He’s lost the Center, enraged the Right, and bummed out the Left. Not every president can do all that.

Reuters reports:

Five million first-time voters turned out in 2008, many drawn by Obama’s promise of hope and overwhelmingly voting for Democrats. Now disappointed, or at least apathetic, they may not go to the polls this year. Obama’s support has dropped below 50 percent from nearly 70 percent after 15 months in office, Gallup opinion polls show. Gay rights supporters, anti-abortion activists, environmentalists and backers of immigration reform all have seen their agendas stalled, with watered-down healthcare the main accomplishment of Obama’s once-ambitious agenda.

At Monday’s rally in Los Angeles, protesters shouted at Obama to repeal the “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” military policy that allows gays to serve if they keep quiet about their sexual preference. Gays believe that makes them second-class citizens, and Obama has vowed to repeal the policy.

“Hey hold on a second. We are going to do that,” he said. “I don’t know why you’re hollering,” he added.

Supporters shouted “Yes we can,” his slogan from the 2008 election, and “Be quiet,” but the discontent lingers.

But didn’t health-care reform boost the Left’s spirits? Not really: “Many on the left who want more are fighting the president and one another. Others are abandoning politics. Both trends bode poorly for Democrats, who have controlled both houses of Congress in addition to the White House since January 2009.” Health-care reform seems to have aggravated as many as it pleased. (“A fight over whether federal funds could be used to pay for abortion tied up the bill and split the party, which has been a strong supporter of abortion rights but now has a significant wing opposed to abortion.”) And without the public option, many on the Left are as angry as those on the Right that Big Insurance now gets enriched as a result of a liberal president’s signature issue. Other liberal wish-list items — climate control, card check, repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, and the closing Guantanamo – are not going anywhere.

The Left’s grumpiness is not simply a problem for presidential appearances. It was the new, younger, and largely liberal Democratic electorate that boosted Obama over Hillary Clinton and then John McCain and delivered huge majorities to the Democrats in the House and Senate. When that electorate doesn’t show up supportive in November, many Democrats are at risk: “Four of the 10 Senate races where Democrats may lose, including Majority Leader Harry Reid’s re-election bid in Nevada, are in states that had above-average increases in turnout between 2006 and 2008, Professor Tom Schaller of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, calculated. … Battles for governor that could be affected by the new 2008 voters include California, Texas, Florida, Nevada, Georgia and Illinois, he calculated, noting that new governors will oversee redrawing federal voting districts after the 2010 census.”

It’s a rare president who doesn’t disappoint some starry-eyed supporters. But Obama’s problem is more acute, in large part because expectations were so high, and he consciously played into the cult of personality that worshipped him as the savior of the Left. He’s lost the Center, enraged the Right, and bummed out the Left. Not every president can do all that.

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Democrats Freak Over ObamaCare Opposition

The Obami spinners can’t quite decide whether to exaggerate or ignore the backlash to ObamaCare. On one hand, they seize upon random lunatics (well, not so much with regard to the Democratic donor who went after Eric Cantor, spouting anti-Semitic venom: “Remember Eric … our judgment time, the final Yom Kippur has been given. You are a liar, you’re a Lucifer, you’re a pig, a greedy f—— pig, you’re an abomination, you receive my bullets”) in order to paint an atmosphere of violence perpetrated by unhinged extremists who dare demean the wonders of ObamaCare. But then again, they don’t want to make such a big deal of the opposition because, well, the legislation is historic! As to the latter reaction, Daniel Henninger comments:

In his “Today Show” interview this week, Mr. Obama with his characteristic empathy acknowledged there are “folks who have legitimate concerns … that the federal government may be taking on too much.”

My reading of the American public is that they have moved past “concerns.” Somewhere inside the programmatic details of ObamaCare and the methods that the president, Speaker Pelosi and Sen. Reid used to pass it, something went terribly wrong. Just as something has gone terribly wrong inside the governments of states like California, New York, New Jersey, Michigan and Massachusetts.

The 10th Amendment tumult does not mean anyone is going to secede. It doesn’t mean “nullification” is coming back. We are not going to refight the Civil War or the Voting Rights Act. Richard Russell isn’t rising from his Georgia grave.

But we are witnessing a populist movement and a potential wave election, both of which are legitimate and heartfelt expressions of disgust and horror directed at the liberal elites. So the Democrats are in a bind — excoriate the opposition or win them over? Prepare the troops for a drubbing or pretend as if everything is going according to plan? If they seem a bit schizophrenic these days — alternately alarmist and oblivious — it is the outward manifestation of the contradiction at the heart of their agenda. They defied the will of the public, reveling in their political “courage.” But, alas, they have not quite come to terms with the consequences of that decision, namely that they face a thumping at the polls and a repudiation of their handiwork. There is, after all, a price to be paid for brazen contempt for the will of the voters.

The Obami spinners can’t quite decide whether to exaggerate or ignore the backlash to ObamaCare. On one hand, they seize upon random lunatics (well, not so much with regard to the Democratic donor who went after Eric Cantor, spouting anti-Semitic venom: “Remember Eric … our judgment time, the final Yom Kippur has been given. You are a liar, you’re a Lucifer, you’re a pig, a greedy f—— pig, you’re an abomination, you receive my bullets”) in order to paint an atmosphere of violence perpetrated by unhinged extremists who dare demean the wonders of ObamaCare. But then again, they don’t want to make such a big deal of the opposition because, well, the legislation is historic! As to the latter reaction, Daniel Henninger comments:

In his “Today Show” interview this week, Mr. Obama with his characteristic empathy acknowledged there are “folks who have legitimate concerns … that the federal government may be taking on too much.”

My reading of the American public is that they have moved past “concerns.” Somewhere inside the programmatic details of ObamaCare and the methods that the president, Speaker Pelosi and Sen. Reid used to pass it, something went terribly wrong. Just as something has gone terribly wrong inside the governments of states like California, New York, New Jersey, Michigan and Massachusetts.

The 10th Amendment tumult does not mean anyone is going to secede. It doesn’t mean “nullification” is coming back. We are not going to refight the Civil War or the Voting Rights Act. Richard Russell isn’t rising from his Georgia grave.

But we are witnessing a populist movement and a potential wave election, both of which are legitimate and heartfelt expressions of disgust and horror directed at the liberal elites. So the Democrats are in a bind — excoriate the opposition or win them over? Prepare the troops for a drubbing or pretend as if everything is going according to plan? If they seem a bit schizophrenic these days — alternately alarmist and oblivious — it is the outward manifestation of the contradiction at the heart of their agenda. They defied the will of the public, reveling in their political “courage.” But, alas, they have not quite come to terms with the consequences of that decision, namely that they face a thumping at the polls and a repudiation of their handiwork. There is, after all, a price to be paid for brazen contempt for the will of the voters.

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And When Is the Pivot to Jobs Coming?

As we are looking for the hidden deals and minefields left in the wake of ObamaCare, it is worth remembering that unemployment – the issue voters care most about — remains at record levels. This report explains:

Unemployment increased in 27 U.S. states in February and dropped in seven, a sign the labor market needs to pick up across more regions to spur consumer spending and sustain the economic recovery.

Mississippi showed the biggest jump in joblessness with a 0.4 percentage point rise to 11.4 percent, according to figures issued today by the Labor Department in Washington. Nationally, unemployment held at 9.7 percent in February for a second month and employers cut fewer jobs than anticipated, figures from the Labor Department showed on March 5.

Today’s report indicates broad-based hiring is yet to develop following the loss of 8.4 million jobs since the recession began in December 2007. Florida, Nevada, Georgia, and North Carolina set record levels of joblessness last month.

“Until we see improvement in employment in a fair number of U.S. states, it’s not going to do a heck of a lot for the recovery,” said Jennifer Lee, senior economist at BMO Capital Markets in Toronto. “The worst seems to be over, but there’s a huge amount of work to be done to create jobs. It’s going to be a long, winding road.”

This, after all, was to be the focus of Obama’s term. After the Scott Brown upset, Obama again promised a pivot to jobs. But he’s never delivered. Instead, he has championed a stimulus plan that didn’t save or create millions of jobs and a health-care plan that is already sucking billions of dollars out of employers’ coffers. Will employers — with health-care costs now to swell up and tax hikes due in 2011 — really be expanding payrolls? Unlikely.

It’s not hard to see the campaigns this fall, asking why it was that Obama and the Democratic Congress were busy placing new mandates, taxes, and fines on business while the job picture was still bleak. It will be hard for incumbents to convince voters who have yet to see any benefit from Obama’s big-government liberal agenda and a good deal of pain (e.g., seniors facing Medicare cuts, small businesses looking at tax bites, unemployed workers) that what we need is more of the same.

As we are looking for the hidden deals and minefields left in the wake of ObamaCare, it is worth remembering that unemployment – the issue voters care most about — remains at record levels. This report explains:

Unemployment increased in 27 U.S. states in February and dropped in seven, a sign the labor market needs to pick up across more regions to spur consumer spending and sustain the economic recovery.

Mississippi showed the biggest jump in joblessness with a 0.4 percentage point rise to 11.4 percent, according to figures issued today by the Labor Department in Washington. Nationally, unemployment held at 9.7 percent in February for a second month and employers cut fewer jobs than anticipated, figures from the Labor Department showed on March 5.

Today’s report indicates broad-based hiring is yet to develop following the loss of 8.4 million jobs since the recession began in December 2007. Florida, Nevada, Georgia, and North Carolina set record levels of joblessness last month.

“Until we see improvement in employment in a fair number of U.S. states, it’s not going to do a heck of a lot for the recovery,” said Jennifer Lee, senior economist at BMO Capital Markets in Toronto. “The worst seems to be over, but there’s a huge amount of work to be done to create jobs. It’s going to be a long, winding road.”

This, after all, was to be the focus of Obama’s term. After the Scott Brown upset, Obama again promised a pivot to jobs. But he’s never delivered. Instead, he has championed a stimulus plan that didn’t save or create millions of jobs and a health-care plan that is already sucking billions of dollars out of employers’ coffers. Will employers — with health-care costs now to swell up and tax hikes due in 2011 — really be expanding payrolls? Unlikely.

It’s not hard to see the campaigns this fall, asking why it was that Obama and the Democratic Congress were busy placing new mandates, taxes, and fines on business while the job picture was still bleak. It will be hard for incumbents to convince voters who have yet to see any benefit from Obama’s big-government liberal agenda and a good deal of pain (e.g., seniors facing Medicare cuts, small businesses looking at tax bites, unemployed workers) that what we need is more of the same.

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A Rhetorical Commitment from the Words-Matter Administration

Hillary Clinton’s AIPAC speech ended with a rhetorical flourish, reaching back to David Ben-Gurion to list the Israeli leaders who made “difficult but clear-eyed choices to pursue peace” by giving up land. Her final paragraph was an exhortation to continue this “tradition”:

[F]or the state to flourish, this generation of Israelis must also take up the tradition and do what seems too dangerous, too hard, and too risky. And of this they can be absolutely sure: the United States and the American people will stand with you. We will share the risks and we will shoulder the burdens, as we face the future together.

It is extraordinary for a nation to advise another to do what seems “too dangerous, too hard, and too risky” — in reliance upon a promise of the first nation to “stand with” it and “share the risks” from far away.

Sometimes what seems too dangerous, too hard, and too risky is in fact too dangerous, hard, and risky. And sometimes you cannot be absolutely sure the United States will stand with you — ask Poland, Georgia, and the Czech Republic.

Or ask Ariel Sharon (if you could) about the Gaza disengagement, in which Israel turned over half the putative Palestinian state in one of those difficult but clear-eyed choices to pursue peace. As Bret Stephens notes in his column, the disengagement was done in exchange for a letter, signed by the president of the United States, containing explicit assurances (described in the letter as the “steadfast commitment” of the United States) about the positions the U.S. would take on (a) defensible borders and (b) the major Israeli settlements necessary to defend them. The commitment given in exchange for Israel’s dangerous, hard, and risky action proved inoperative (or “unenforceable,” as Hillary might say). This is not a tradition that any nation would want to repeat.

As Benjamin Netanyahu noted last night in his AIPAC speech, the strategic position of Israel is now comparable to that of New Jersey facing thousands of rockets both from its north and south (and its back to the sea), with more demands to give up land for “peace.” Hillary Clinton might have used her speech at least to endorse the two minimal conditions for the “peace process” that Netanyahu has put forth: Palestinian recognition of a Jewish state, and demilitarization of any Palestinian one. Instead she chose a meaningless rhetorical commitment — one that would be relied upon only by a nation without a tradition of learning from history.

Hillary Clinton’s AIPAC speech ended with a rhetorical flourish, reaching back to David Ben-Gurion to list the Israeli leaders who made “difficult but clear-eyed choices to pursue peace” by giving up land. Her final paragraph was an exhortation to continue this “tradition”:

[F]or the state to flourish, this generation of Israelis must also take up the tradition and do what seems too dangerous, too hard, and too risky. And of this they can be absolutely sure: the United States and the American people will stand with you. We will share the risks and we will shoulder the burdens, as we face the future together.

It is extraordinary for a nation to advise another to do what seems “too dangerous, too hard, and too risky” — in reliance upon a promise of the first nation to “stand with” it and “share the risks” from far away.

Sometimes what seems too dangerous, too hard, and too risky is in fact too dangerous, hard, and risky. And sometimes you cannot be absolutely sure the United States will stand with you — ask Poland, Georgia, and the Czech Republic.

Or ask Ariel Sharon (if you could) about the Gaza disengagement, in which Israel turned over half the putative Palestinian state in one of those difficult but clear-eyed choices to pursue peace. As Bret Stephens notes in his column, the disengagement was done in exchange for a letter, signed by the president of the United States, containing explicit assurances (described in the letter as the “steadfast commitment” of the United States) about the positions the U.S. would take on (a) defensible borders and (b) the major Israeli settlements necessary to defend them. The commitment given in exchange for Israel’s dangerous, hard, and risky action proved inoperative (or “unenforceable,” as Hillary might say). This is not a tradition that any nation would want to repeat.

As Benjamin Netanyahu noted last night in his AIPAC speech, the strategic position of Israel is now comparable to that of New Jersey facing thousands of rockets both from its north and south (and its back to the sea), with more demands to give up land for “peace.” Hillary Clinton might have used her speech at least to endorse the two minimal conditions for the “peace process” that Netanyahu has put forth: Palestinian recognition of a Jewish state, and demilitarization of any Palestinian one. Instead she chose a meaningless rhetorical commitment — one that would be relied upon only by a nation without a tradition of learning from history.

Read Less

Flotsam and Jetsam

JTA makes a fine suggestion to the Beagle Blogger after yet another factual error in his Israel ranting: “Get an editor, dude.”

Congress is telling the Obami to knock off the Israel-bashing: “Two prominent US senators call on the US administration to resolve differences with Israel ‘amicably and in a manner that befits longstanding strategic allies’ in the preamble to a letter thousands of American Israel Public Affairs Committee activists will be urging lawmakers to sign this week. The letter, written by Barbara Boxer (D-California) and Johnny Isakson (R-Georgia) and addressed to US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, along with its House companion will be centerpieces of Israel advocates’ lobbying as part of the AIPAC annual conference.”

Ben Smith explains the AIPAC agenda: “The group is throwing its weight behind ‘crippling sanctions’ against Iran — with or without U.N. action — according to the talking points, and behind a letter from legislators to Secretary of State Clinton calling on the U.S. to climb down from public confrontation with Benjamin Netanyahu. … Those causes do seem to be gathering steam on the Hill.” Now what about the not-so-public strong-arming and bullying of Israel?

Obama says ObamaCare is just like the 1964 Civil Rights Act. As Bill Kristol points out, all that’s missing is the huge bipartisan majority (not to mention the civil rights part). “This is what allows historic legislation to become historic — it achieves broad support, is passed without parliamentary tricks, and becomes the broadly accepted law of the land.”

And speaking of civil rights, ObamaCare has some pernicious racial preferences in it.

ObamaCare takes its toll on the president’s approval, according to Rasmussen: “Overall, 43% of voters say they at least somewhat approve of the President’s performance. That also matches the lowest level yet recorded for this President. Fifty-six percent (56%) disapprove.”

Matthew Continetti: “One cannot judge the full consequences of health care reform. What can be judged is the manner by which Democrats have governed over the last year. They have been partisan and ideological, derisive and dismissive. They try to legislate massive changes to American society and the American economy by the tiniest of margins and the most arcane of methods. The process has taken on a substance all its own. And it’s repellent.”

If you had any doubt, this was  Rep. Alcee Hastings, D-Fla., in the House Rules Committee on Saturday: “There ain’t no rules here, we’re trying to accomplish something. … All this talk about rules… when the deal goes down… We make ‘em up as we go along.” No legislative rules (or grammatical ones, for that matter). This is the talk of tyranny.

JTA makes a fine suggestion to the Beagle Blogger after yet another factual error in his Israel ranting: “Get an editor, dude.”

Congress is telling the Obami to knock off the Israel-bashing: “Two prominent US senators call on the US administration to resolve differences with Israel ‘amicably and in a manner that befits longstanding strategic allies’ in the preamble to a letter thousands of American Israel Public Affairs Committee activists will be urging lawmakers to sign this week. The letter, written by Barbara Boxer (D-California) and Johnny Isakson (R-Georgia) and addressed to US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, along with its House companion will be centerpieces of Israel advocates’ lobbying as part of the AIPAC annual conference.”

Ben Smith explains the AIPAC agenda: “The group is throwing its weight behind ‘crippling sanctions’ against Iran — with or without U.N. action — according to the talking points, and behind a letter from legislators to Secretary of State Clinton calling on the U.S. to climb down from public confrontation with Benjamin Netanyahu. … Those causes do seem to be gathering steam on the Hill.” Now what about the not-so-public strong-arming and bullying of Israel?

Obama says ObamaCare is just like the 1964 Civil Rights Act. As Bill Kristol points out, all that’s missing is the huge bipartisan majority (not to mention the civil rights part). “This is what allows historic legislation to become historic — it achieves broad support, is passed without parliamentary tricks, and becomes the broadly accepted law of the land.”

And speaking of civil rights, ObamaCare has some pernicious racial preferences in it.

ObamaCare takes its toll on the president’s approval, according to Rasmussen: “Overall, 43% of voters say they at least somewhat approve of the President’s performance. That also matches the lowest level yet recorded for this President. Fifty-six percent (56%) disapprove.”

Matthew Continetti: “One cannot judge the full consequences of health care reform. What can be judged is the manner by which Democrats have governed over the last year. They have been partisan and ideological, derisive and dismissive. They try to legislate massive changes to American society and the American economy by the tiniest of margins and the most arcane of methods. The process has taken on a substance all its own. And it’s repellent.”

If you had any doubt, this was  Rep. Alcee Hastings, D-Fla., in the House Rules Committee on Saturday: “There ain’t no rules here, we’re trying to accomplish something. … All this talk about rules… when the deal goes down… We make ‘em up as we go along.” No legislative rules (or grammatical ones, for that matter). This is the talk of tyranny.

Read Less

Flunking Foreign Policy 101

A Los Angeles Times news article notes that Obama’s blowup with Israel followed rebuffs in Lebanon, Syria, Iran, China, Saudi Arabia, and Brazil — and that the harsh treatment of Netanyahu was intended to send a broader message:

Arab diplomats say the United States has also not been seen as forceful in dealings with Lebanon, which has seen an increase in Syrian influence, or with Iran. The United States and Western allies have been pressuring Iran to halt its nuclear program, but they continue struggling to impose tough international sanctions. …

President Obama made little progress with the Chinese during his visit to Beijing in November. When Obama visited Saudi Arabia in June to raise money for the Palestinians, he was given a polite but firm no.

When Clinton visited Brazil this month to try to win support for tough new sanctions on Iran, Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorim announced in a public appearance with her that his country simply would not go along.

One senior U.S. official acknowledged that the tough U.S. position is not just about Israel and the settlements issue, but about “sending a message more broadly about what we’re willing to put up with. … This couldn’t continue.” [emphasis added]

Here’s a thought experiment, a kind of one-question foreign-policy exam: Assume you’re a superpower worried about not being seen as forceful in dealing with Lebanon, Syria, Iran, China, Saudi Arabia, and Brazil. Which of the following strategies might change that impression?

(a) Become more forceful in dealing with Lebanon, Syria, Iran, China, Saudi Arabia, and Brazil; or

(b) Land hard on Israel — to show Lebanon, Syria, Iran, China, Saudi Arabia, and Brazil how forceful you can be.

Obama chose “b.”

Lee Smith’s perceptive article describes one of the strategic consequences of that choice: he notes that the Obama administration has “all but announced that it has resigned itself to an Iranian nuclear program” and is moving toward a policy of “containment and deterrence” — and that such a policy will be undermined by Obama’s decision to land hard on Israel:

Of course, really effective deterrence would require us to make sure that our Israeli allies were perceived as highly volatile and unpredictable actors who might just take matters into their own hands and bomb Iran’s nuclear sites. That scenario would have a better chance of cornering Iran and its allies, compelling them to seek relief from us, the rational senior partner. Instead, we’ve just pulled off the strategic equivalent of beating our pit bull on a street corner to show the neighborhood tough guys that we mean business.

Substitute “ally” for “pit bull” in Smith’s last sentence and you have a pretty good summary of Obama’s foreign policy over the past year: if you were an ally, you were snubbed (the UK and Germany); your aid was cut off and your visas revoked (Honduras); your strategic defense was traded for magic reset beans (Poland, Georgia, and the Czech Republic); your free-trade agreement was withheld (Colombia); and your long-standing understandings and written commitments became “unenforceable” (Israel).

If you were an adversary (Iran, Syria, North Korea), you got an outstretched hand — with no deadline for shaking it and no serious consequences if you didn’t. It was only if you were an ally that you had to worry about Obama’s being forceful.

A Los Angeles Times news article notes that Obama’s blowup with Israel followed rebuffs in Lebanon, Syria, Iran, China, Saudi Arabia, and Brazil — and that the harsh treatment of Netanyahu was intended to send a broader message:

Arab diplomats say the United States has also not been seen as forceful in dealings with Lebanon, which has seen an increase in Syrian influence, or with Iran. The United States and Western allies have been pressuring Iran to halt its nuclear program, but they continue struggling to impose tough international sanctions. …

President Obama made little progress with the Chinese during his visit to Beijing in November. When Obama visited Saudi Arabia in June to raise money for the Palestinians, he was given a polite but firm no.

When Clinton visited Brazil this month to try to win support for tough new sanctions on Iran, Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorim announced in a public appearance with her that his country simply would not go along.

One senior U.S. official acknowledged that the tough U.S. position is not just about Israel and the settlements issue, but about “sending a message more broadly about what we’re willing to put up with. … This couldn’t continue.” [emphasis added]

Here’s a thought experiment, a kind of one-question foreign-policy exam: Assume you’re a superpower worried about not being seen as forceful in dealing with Lebanon, Syria, Iran, China, Saudi Arabia, and Brazil. Which of the following strategies might change that impression?

(a) Become more forceful in dealing with Lebanon, Syria, Iran, China, Saudi Arabia, and Brazil; or

(b) Land hard on Israel — to show Lebanon, Syria, Iran, China, Saudi Arabia, and Brazil how forceful you can be.

Obama chose “b.”

Lee Smith’s perceptive article describes one of the strategic consequences of that choice: he notes that the Obama administration has “all but announced that it has resigned itself to an Iranian nuclear program” and is moving toward a policy of “containment and deterrence” — and that such a policy will be undermined by Obama’s decision to land hard on Israel:

Of course, really effective deterrence would require us to make sure that our Israeli allies were perceived as highly volatile and unpredictable actors who might just take matters into their own hands and bomb Iran’s nuclear sites. That scenario would have a better chance of cornering Iran and its allies, compelling them to seek relief from us, the rational senior partner. Instead, we’ve just pulled off the strategic equivalent of beating our pit bull on a street corner to show the neighborhood tough guys that we mean business.

Substitute “ally” for “pit bull” in Smith’s last sentence and you have a pretty good summary of Obama’s foreign policy over the past year: if you were an ally, you were snubbed (the UK and Germany); your aid was cut off and your visas revoked (Honduras); your strategic defense was traded for magic reset beans (Poland, Georgia, and the Czech Republic); your free-trade agreement was withheld (Colombia); and your long-standing understandings and written commitments became “unenforceable” (Israel).

If you were an adversary (Iran, Syria, North Korea), you got an outstretched hand — with no deadline for shaking it and no serious consequences if you didn’t. It was only if you were an ally that you had to worry about Obama’s being forceful.

Read Less




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