Commentary Magazine


Topic: head

Journalism That Knows No Shame

One can understand if the editors of the New York Times, Guardian, and Der Spiegel have no respect for the secrecy needed to wage war successfully — especially unpopular wars like those in Afghanistan and Iraq. These are, after all, the sorts of people who, over a few drinks, would no doubt tell you that diplomacy is far preferable to war-making. But it seems that they have no respect for the secrecy that must accompany successful diplomacy either. That, at least, is the only conclusion I can draw from their decision to once again collaborate with an accused rapist to publicize a giant batch of stolen State Department cables gathered by his disreputable organization, WikiLeaks.

I risk sounding like a stuffy, striped-pants diplomat myself if I say that the conduct of all concerned is reprehensible and beneath contempt. But that’s what it is, especially because the news value of the leaks is once again negligible. As with the previous releases of military reports, the WikiLeaks files only fill in details about what has generally already been known. Those details have the potential to cause acute embarrassment — or even end the lives of — those who have communicated with American soldiers or officials, but they do little to help the general public to understand what’s going on.

Only someone who has spent the past few years on the moon can be surprised to discover that countries such as Israel and Saudi Arabia are extremely alarmed about the Iranian nuclear program and want the U.S. to stop it, by military action if need be. Yet this is the thrust of one of the main New York Times articles about the leaks. Other non-revelations include reports by American diplomats — which are only one degree removed from newspaper articles and hardly constitute proof of anything — that corruption is widespread in Afghanistan, that North Korea may have transferred missile technology to Iran, that the Chinese Politburo authorized the hacking of Google’s website, that Syria supplies Hezbollah with weapons, or that the U.S. offered various countries a host of incentives to take Guantanamo inmates off our hands.

OK, that’s not quite fair. There are some genuine revelations in all these documents. I, for one, didn’t realize that Libya’s head kook, Muammar Qaddafi, spends a lot of his time with a “voluptuous blonde” nurse from Ukraine or that he uses Botox. Of course, just because information is new doesn’t make it consequential, and this type of information is of interest primarily to editors and readers of Gawker, the gossip site (where I ran across it).

There was a time when editors and reporters thought of themselves as citizens first and journalists second. There were damaging leaks even during World War II, but when they occurred they were generally denounced by the rest of the press. We now seem to have reached a moment when the West’s major news organizations, working hand in glove with a sleazy website, feel free to throw spitballs at those who make policy and those who execute it. This is journalism as pure vandalism. If I were responsible, I would feel shame and embarrassment. But apparently, those healthy emotions are in short supply these days.

One can understand if the editors of the New York Times, Guardian, and Der Spiegel have no respect for the secrecy needed to wage war successfully — especially unpopular wars like those in Afghanistan and Iraq. These are, after all, the sorts of people who, over a few drinks, would no doubt tell you that diplomacy is far preferable to war-making. But it seems that they have no respect for the secrecy that must accompany successful diplomacy either. That, at least, is the only conclusion I can draw from their decision to once again collaborate with an accused rapist to publicize a giant batch of stolen State Department cables gathered by his disreputable organization, WikiLeaks.

I risk sounding like a stuffy, striped-pants diplomat myself if I say that the conduct of all concerned is reprehensible and beneath contempt. But that’s what it is, especially because the news value of the leaks is once again negligible. As with the previous releases of military reports, the WikiLeaks files only fill in details about what has generally already been known. Those details have the potential to cause acute embarrassment — or even end the lives of — those who have communicated with American soldiers or officials, but they do little to help the general public to understand what’s going on.

Only someone who has spent the past few years on the moon can be surprised to discover that countries such as Israel and Saudi Arabia are extremely alarmed about the Iranian nuclear program and want the U.S. to stop it, by military action if need be. Yet this is the thrust of one of the main New York Times articles about the leaks. Other non-revelations include reports by American diplomats — which are only one degree removed from newspaper articles and hardly constitute proof of anything — that corruption is widespread in Afghanistan, that North Korea may have transferred missile technology to Iran, that the Chinese Politburo authorized the hacking of Google’s website, that Syria supplies Hezbollah with weapons, or that the U.S. offered various countries a host of incentives to take Guantanamo inmates off our hands.

OK, that’s not quite fair. There are some genuine revelations in all these documents. I, for one, didn’t realize that Libya’s head kook, Muammar Qaddafi, spends a lot of his time with a “voluptuous blonde” nurse from Ukraine or that he uses Botox. Of course, just because information is new doesn’t make it consequential, and this type of information is of interest primarily to editors and readers of Gawker, the gossip site (where I ran across it).

There was a time when editors and reporters thought of themselves as citizens first and journalists second. There were damaging leaks even during World War II, but when they occurred they were generally denounced by the rest of the press. We now seem to have reached a moment when the West’s major news organizations, working hand in glove with a sleazy website, feel free to throw spitballs at those who make policy and those who execute it. This is journalism as pure vandalism. If I were responsible, I would feel shame and embarrassment. But apparently, those healthy emotions are in short supply these days.

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An Exceptional Life

I admit to being a fan of obituaries, not only those of the most famous or infamous but also of those whose lives were not played out in daily headlines. They are tiny history lessons and morality tales. They are vivid reminders that ordinary people are capable of doing remarkable things, and they prod us to ask: what would I have done?

Today’s Wall Street Journal has a gem. We learn:

Shortly after German troops invaded Belgium in 1940, Gaston Vandermeerssche, a Belgian university student, bicycled 800 miles to the south of France and became a spy.

Mr. Vandermeerssche, who died Nov. 1 at age 89 in Milwaukee, joined the resistance and ferried microfilm documents over the Pyrenees to Spain, where intermediaries sent the information on to London.

Later in the war he helped organize the Dutch underground, which came to comprise hundreds of agents and safe houses. After his network was penetrated by the Germans, he tried to escape, but was arrested near the Spanish border. He spent 24 months being interrogated in prison, but by his own account never broke.

The details of his exploits are eye-popping. (“He became a courier, making weekly trips from Brussels to Toulouse to Barcelona. The last leg involved trudging over snowy passes in the Pyrenees by moonlight. The microfilms he carried bore information collected by members of the underground on shipyards, gun emplacements and the like.”) But it is also the details of his very unextraordinary life — the son of a furniture maker who ended life in the U.S. as an executive of Joseph Schlitz Brewing Co. — that remind us of the innate decency and capacity for greatness that ordinary people possess. Indeed, it was Vandermeerssche’s unexceptionalness that confounded his captors:

Mr. Vandermeerssche was arrested in Perpignan, France, in 1943 with a cache of microfilm stuffed into butter tubs. His German interrogators suspected his role in the Dutch underground, but couldn’t prove it.

“I was so young, the Germans did not believe that this kid was the head of that large network,” he said in the oral history. “And I told them, ‘Are you crazy? I couldn’t have done this.’ ”

Months of brutal interrogation and solitary confinement failed to break Mr. Vandermeerssche’s will. He was betrayed by another member of the underground, and was sentenced to death in a military trial. But he was freed by American troops near the end of the war.

Although shattered by his experiences in prison—he said he couldn’t eat or sleep normally for a decade—Mr. Vandermeerssche resumed his studies, earning a Ph.D. in physics.

You can understand my fondness for obits.

I admit to being a fan of obituaries, not only those of the most famous or infamous but also of those whose lives were not played out in daily headlines. They are tiny history lessons and morality tales. They are vivid reminders that ordinary people are capable of doing remarkable things, and they prod us to ask: what would I have done?

Today’s Wall Street Journal has a gem. We learn:

Shortly after German troops invaded Belgium in 1940, Gaston Vandermeerssche, a Belgian university student, bicycled 800 miles to the south of France and became a spy.

Mr. Vandermeerssche, who died Nov. 1 at age 89 in Milwaukee, joined the resistance and ferried microfilm documents over the Pyrenees to Spain, where intermediaries sent the information on to London.

Later in the war he helped organize the Dutch underground, which came to comprise hundreds of agents and safe houses. After his network was penetrated by the Germans, he tried to escape, but was arrested near the Spanish border. He spent 24 months being interrogated in prison, but by his own account never broke.

The details of his exploits are eye-popping. (“He became a courier, making weekly trips from Brussels to Toulouse to Barcelona. The last leg involved trudging over snowy passes in the Pyrenees by moonlight. The microfilms he carried bore information collected by members of the underground on shipyards, gun emplacements and the like.”) But it is also the details of his very unextraordinary life — the son of a furniture maker who ended life in the U.S. as an executive of Joseph Schlitz Brewing Co. — that remind us of the innate decency and capacity for greatness that ordinary people possess. Indeed, it was Vandermeerssche’s unexceptionalness that confounded his captors:

Mr. Vandermeerssche was arrested in Perpignan, France, in 1943 with a cache of microfilm stuffed into butter tubs. His German interrogators suspected his role in the Dutch underground, but couldn’t prove it.

“I was so young, the Germans did not believe that this kid was the head of that large network,” he said in the oral history. “And I told them, ‘Are you crazy? I couldn’t have done this.’ ”

Months of brutal interrogation and solitary confinement failed to break Mr. Vandermeerssche’s will. He was betrayed by another member of the underground, and was sentenced to death in a military trial. But he was freed by American troops near the end of the war.

Although shattered by his experiences in prison—he said he couldn’t eat or sleep normally for a decade—Mr. Vandermeerssche resumed his studies, earning a Ph.D. in physics.

You can understand my fondness for obits.

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Explaining Foreign Policy Failures

Jackson Diehl thinks Obama’s foreign policy is badly out of date. Obama is frantic to conclude an old-style nuclear arms treaty while the “threat of nuclear weapons now comes from rogue states such as North Korea, Iran and Syria, and maybe from terrorist organizations.” He’s obsessed over Israeli settlements, which leads to bizarre dealmaking efforts (“a campaign that even Palestinian and Arab leaders have watched with bafflement”), while the real threat to peace and stability in the region is the rise of the Iranian axis and a nuclear-armed, revolutionary Islamic state.

Why is Obama fixated on issues that were in vogue when he was a college student and oblivious or disinterested in the world as we find it in 2010? One can argue that this is simply a function of leftist ideology — a worldview frozen in time and sealed off from reality. In that conception, our enemies are misunderstood, America’s problems are largely of its own making, and we’d be better off re-creating the U.S. in the image of Western Europe than in pushing despotic regimes to democratize.

Then there is the rudderless-ship explanation. As Diehl observes: “this administration is notable for its lack of grand strategy — or strategists. Its top foreign-policy makers are a former senator, a Washington lawyer and a former Senate staffer. There is no Henry Kissinger, no Zbigniew Brzezinski, no Condoleezza Rice; no foreign policy scholar.” We’ve seen the same in the economic realm — there is no one who understands free markets, has experience as an entrepreneur, or questions the class warfare, anti-business stance that has characterized the first two years of Obama’s term. In short, the administration is in over its head in a very complex and dangerous world.

And then there is the possibility that there is a method, however inept, to the Obama foreign policy approach. It is the path of least resistance. We want to make progress with the Russians, so we  give them what they want. The Palestinians harp on settlements, so we become their agent. Iran isn’t amenable to sanctions or engagement, but we’d better make sure no one gets the idea that we are headed for a military confrontation. The Chinese don’t want to talk about human rights, so we don’t. It’s always easier to beat up on small allies than to stand up to intransigent bullies.

None of these explanations is entirely satisfying or mutually exclusive. Obama’s foreign policy is made all the more curious by the fact that sometimes he gets it right. Obama, however reluctantly, has followed the Bush approach in Iraq and attempted to duplicate it in Afghanistan. In these areas he’s departed from the leftist playbook and to a large extent followed the advice of the one truly expert national security guru he has: Gen. David Petraeus. So go figure.

Perhaps it comes down to this: only when faced with the prospect of a massive loss of American credibility (e.g., a defeat in Afghanistan), a severe domestic backlash (American Jews’ falling out with him), or resolute opposition (from Israel on Jerusalem) does Obama do what is smart and productive for American interests. In other words, only when exhausting all other opportunities and trying every which way to force his ideologically driven preferences does he stumble upon a reasonable outcome. This, if true, contains a powerful lesson for Israel, for Obama’s domestic critics, and for our other allies: hang tough, be clear about the Obama administration’s errors, and don’t blink. Chances are, he will instead.

Jackson Diehl thinks Obama’s foreign policy is badly out of date. Obama is frantic to conclude an old-style nuclear arms treaty while the “threat of nuclear weapons now comes from rogue states such as North Korea, Iran and Syria, and maybe from terrorist organizations.” He’s obsessed over Israeli settlements, which leads to bizarre dealmaking efforts (“a campaign that even Palestinian and Arab leaders have watched with bafflement”), while the real threat to peace and stability in the region is the rise of the Iranian axis and a nuclear-armed, revolutionary Islamic state.

Why is Obama fixated on issues that were in vogue when he was a college student and oblivious or disinterested in the world as we find it in 2010? One can argue that this is simply a function of leftist ideology — a worldview frozen in time and sealed off from reality. In that conception, our enemies are misunderstood, America’s problems are largely of its own making, and we’d be better off re-creating the U.S. in the image of Western Europe than in pushing despotic regimes to democratize.

Then there is the rudderless-ship explanation. As Diehl observes: “this administration is notable for its lack of grand strategy — or strategists. Its top foreign-policy makers are a former senator, a Washington lawyer and a former Senate staffer. There is no Henry Kissinger, no Zbigniew Brzezinski, no Condoleezza Rice; no foreign policy scholar.” We’ve seen the same in the economic realm — there is no one who understands free markets, has experience as an entrepreneur, or questions the class warfare, anti-business stance that has characterized the first two years of Obama’s term. In short, the administration is in over its head in a very complex and dangerous world.

And then there is the possibility that there is a method, however inept, to the Obama foreign policy approach. It is the path of least resistance. We want to make progress with the Russians, so we  give them what they want. The Palestinians harp on settlements, so we become their agent. Iran isn’t amenable to sanctions or engagement, but we’d better make sure no one gets the idea that we are headed for a military confrontation. The Chinese don’t want to talk about human rights, so we don’t. It’s always easier to beat up on small allies than to stand up to intransigent bullies.

None of these explanations is entirely satisfying or mutually exclusive. Obama’s foreign policy is made all the more curious by the fact that sometimes he gets it right. Obama, however reluctantly, has followed the Bush approach in Iraq and attempted to duplicate it in Afghanistan. In these areas he’s departed from the leftist playbook and to a large extent followed the advice of the one truly expert national security guru he has: Gen. David Petraeus. So go figure.

Perhaps it comes down to this: only when faced with the prospect of a massive loss of American credibility (e.g., a defeat in Afghanistan), a severe domestic backlash (American Jews’ falling out with him), or resolute opposition (from Israel on Jerusalem) does Obama do what is smart and productive for American interests. In other words, only when exhausting all other opportunities and trying every which way to force his ideologically driven preferences does he stumble upon a reasonable outcome. This, if true, contains a powerful lesson for Israel, for Obama’s domestic critics, and for our other allies: hang tough, be clear about the Obama administration’s errors, and don’t blink. Chances are, he will instead.

Read Less

Economic Growth as a Way out of Debt

The New York Times today has a front-page news analysis that reports on a startling (at least at the Times) idea to cut the deficit and thus tame the rapidly rising national debt: economic growth. Who knew?

This has, of course, been tried with great success before. In 1946, the national debt stood at $269 billion. That was almost 130 percent of GDP. Fifteen years later, the debt had risen a little (to $288 billion), but that was only 56 percent of GDP, thanks to the enormous growth in the American economy in the post-war era.

As the Times article points out, economic growth was one of the major components behind eliminating the deficits in the 1990s. The growth produced a gusher of federal tax revenues, which rose from $1.031 trillion in 1990 to $2.025 trillion in 2000, a 96 percent increase. But it was spending restraint after the election of a Republican Congress in 1994 that really turned the trick. Federal outlays were $1.460 trillion in 1994 and $1.789 trillion in 2000, a mere 22 percent increase, while federal revenues rose 61 percent in those years. A similar ratio of revenue growth to spending growth would bring the deficits down to a manageable level within a very few years.

The author, New York Times columnist David Leonhardt, is discussing a new plan, released today, that has been developed by the Bipartisan Policy Center under co-chairs Alice Rivlin, a former head the OMB under President Clinton, and former Republican Senator Pete Domenici. It can be found here. I haven’t had time to read it yet, but it has some sensible suggestions about taxes and one terrible idea, a 6.5 percent “Debt Reduction Sales Tax.” As money is fungible, there is no way to dedicate a portion of federal revenues to debt reduction. It would simply be another federal tax, and a regressive one at that.

Leonhardt acknowledges that the tax code is a big part of the problem:

Today’s tax code is a thicket of deductions, credits and loopholes that force people to change their behavior and waste time trying to avoid too large of a tax bill. A tax code with fewer deductions and lower rates — which, to be clear, is not the same thing as a tax cut — would instead let businesses and households focus on being as productive as possible. The potential to make good money would drive more decisions, and the ability to qualify for a tax break would drive fewer.

If this sounds familiar, it is because this was the very heart of Reaganomics 30 years ago. It is amusing that Leonhardt takes pains to ensure Times readers, before they come down with the vapors, that not all tax-rate reductions are tax cuts.

Along with the Bowles-Simpson plan, this one is worthy of study.

The New York Times today has a front-page news analysis that reports on a startling (at least at the Times) idea to cut the deficit and thus tame the rapidly rising national debt: economic growth. Who knew?

This has, of course, been tried with great success before. In 1946, the national debt stood at $269 billion. That was almost 130 percent of GDP. Fifteen years later, the debt had risen a little (to $288 billion), but that was only 56 percent of GDP, thanks to the enormous growth in the American economy in the post-war era.

As the Times article points out, economic growth was one of the major components behind eliminating the deficits in the 1990s. The growth produced a gusher of federal tax revenues, which rose from $1.031 trillion in 1990 to $2.025 trillion in 2000, a 96 percent increase. But it was spending restraint after the election of a Republican Congress in 1994 that really turned the trick. Federal outlays were $1.460 trillion in 1994 and $1.789 trillion in 2000, a mere 22 percent increase, while federal revenues rose 61 percent in those years. A similar ratio of revenue growth to spending growth would bring the deficits down to a manageable level within a very few years.

The author, New York Times columnist David Leonhardt, is discussing a new plan, released today, that has been developed by the Bipartisan Policy Center under co-chairs Alice Rivlin, a former head the OMB under President Clinton, and former Republican Senator Pete Domenici. It can be found here. I haven’t had time to read it yet, but it has some sensible suggestions about taxes and one terrible idea, a 6.5 percent “Debt Reduction Sales Tax.” As money is fungible, there is no way to dedicate a portion of federal revenues to debt reduction. It would simply be another federal tax, and a regressive one at that.

Leonhardt acknowledges that the tax code is a big part of the problem:

Today’s tax code is a thicket of deductions, credits and loopholes that force people to change their behavior and waste time trying to avoid too large of a tax bill. A tax code with fewer deductions and lower rates — which, to be clear, is not the same thing as a tax cut — would instead let businesses and households focus on being as productive as possible. The potential to make good money would drive more decisions, and the ability to qualify for a tax break would drive fewer.

If this sounds familiar, it is because this was the very heart of Reaganomics 30 years ago. It is amusing that Leonhardt takes pains to ensure Times readers, before they come down with the vapors, that not all tax-rate reductions are tax cuts.

Along with the Bowles-Simpson plan, this one is worthy of study.

Read Less

Netanyahu Isn’t the One Playing Politics on Iran

Israeli leaders are often rightly warned to avoid the temptation to tiptoe into the muddy waters of American partisan politics. That is a lesson that current Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu learned during his first term in office during the 1990s, when he answered the antipathy of the Clinton administration by cozying up to the Republicans. Though Clinton had done everything but go door to door asking Israeli voters to back Shimon Peres and Labor instead of Netanyahu and Likud in Israel’s 1996 parliamentary election, Netanyahu’s clear preference for the GOP was a mistake that did Israel no good and Clinton little harm.

That is the sort of mistake that Netanyahu has avoided since coming back to the prime minister’s office in 2009. Though President Obama has picked fights with Israel as he sought to distance the United States from its ally in a futile bid for popularity in the Muslim world and treated Netanyahu abominably, the prime minister has wisely never voiced a single complaint and has frustrated those in the White House who foolishly thought they could unseat him. But these rope-a-dope tactics are not only frustrating for the Obami. They are driving some Israeli left-wingers crazy, too.

That’s the spirit of a piece published yesterday at Politico by Alon Pinkas, Israel’s former consul general in New York City. He accuses Netanyahu of violating the unwritten rule prohibiting prime ministers from partisan activities here. What’s his evidence? The speech Netanyahu gave to the General Assembly of North American Jewish Federations in which he called for the assertion of a threat of force to respond to the nuclear threat from Iran. Netanyahu said that while he hoped that sanctions would work to convince Iran to abandon its nuclear ambitions, a credible threat of force must be on the table. Since U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates soon responded that sanctions are working (a position that no serious person actually believes), Pinkas concludes that Netanyahu violated a tradition of non-partisanship. After that, he goes on to switch gears and then rehearse the arguments often heard from Jewish Democrats that even raising the issue of support for Israel in U.S. elections is somehow not kosher.

Such arguments are nonsense.

First, worrying about Iran has never been the sole preserve of the Republicans. For example, a certain Democratic presidential candidate named Barack Obama made a number of pledges that he would never allow Iran to go nuclear on his watch. Many Democrats as well as Republicans have sounded the alarm about Iran as Obama spent his first year in office pursuing a feckless policy of “engagement” with the ayatollahs and then watched in dismay as he spent his second year assembling a coalition that could only muster support for tepid sanctions that have made no impression on the Iranians.

But what his piece illustrates is that it is Pinkas who is playing American party politics, not Netanyahu. By decrying the claim of some Republicans that some Democrats have been unsupportive of Israel, all Pinkas is doing is demonstrating that he dislikes the GOP and sympathizes with the Democrats. There’s nothing wrong with that, but if that’s how he feels, then perhaps he should move here, become a citizen, and get a vote. (Oddly enough, a few years ago Pinkas actually made a bid to become the head of the American Jewish Congress and almost got the job, until it was learned that it was a violation of Israeli law for a diplomat to take such a position so soon after leaving his post. Eventually, even the members of that moribund organization realized that the idea of an unemployed Israeli diplomat becoming the head of an American group was ridiculous.)

Contrary to Pinkas’s assertion, accountability is the one thing all friends of Israel should welcome. If either a Democrat or a Republican takes stances that are unhelpful to Israel, he or she ought to pay a political price at the ballot box. Taking the issue of support for Israel off the table does nothing to encourage politicians of either party to make good on their campaign promises to defend the Jewish state.

By expressing the justified concerns of Israelis about the existential threat facing their country from Iran, Netanyahu was doing exactly what he should be doing. By injecting himself into party squabbles here on behalf of his friends in the Democratic Party and by attempting to undermine his prime minister’s mission with a false allegation of partisanship, Pinkas demonstrated how out of touch he is with the realities of both Israeli and American politics.

Israeli leaders are often rightly warned to avoid the temptation to tiptoe into the muddy waters of American partisan politics. That is a lesson that current Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu learned during his first term in office during the 1990s, when he answered the antipathy of the Clinton administration by cozying up to the Republicans. Though Clinton had done everything but go door to door asking Israeli voters to back Shimon Peres and Labor instead of Netanyahu and Likud in Israel’s 1996 parliamentary election, Netanyahu’s clear preference for the GOP was a mistake that did Israel no good and Clinton little harm.

That is the sort of mistake that Netanyahu has avoided since coming back to the prime minister’s office in 2009. Though President Obama has picked fights with Israel as he sought to distance the United States from its ally in a futile bid for popularity in the Muslim world and treated Netanyahu abominably, the prime minister has wisely never voiced a single complaint and has frustrated those in the White House who foolishly thought they could unseat him. But these rope-a-dope tactics are not only frustrating for the Obami. They are driving some Israeli left-wingers crazy, too.

That’s the spirit of a piece published yesterday at Politico by Alon Pinkas, Israel’s former consul general in New York City. He accuses Netanyahu of violating the unwritten rule prohibiting prime ministers from partisan activities here. What’s his evidence? The speech Netanyahu gave to the General Assembly of North American Jewish Federations in which he called for the assertion of a threat of force to respond to the nuclear threat from Iran. Netanyahu said that while he hoped that sanctions would work to convince Iran to abandon its nuclear ambitions, a credible threat of force must be on the table. Since U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates soon responded that sanctions are working (a position that no serious person actually believes), Pinkas concludes that Netanyahu violated a tradition of non-partisanship. After that, he goes on to switch gears and then rehearse the arguments often heard from Jewish Democrats that even raising the issue of support for Israel in U.S. elections is somehow not kosher.

Such arguments are nonsense.

First, worrying about Iran has never been the sole preserve of the Republicans. For example, a certain Democratic presidential candidate named Barack Obama made a number of pledges that he would never allow Iran to go nuclear on his watch. Many Democrats as well as Republicans have sounded the alarm about Iran as Obama spent his first year in office pursuing a feckless policy of “engagement” with the ayatollahs and then watched in dismay as he spent his second year assembling a coalition that could only muster support for tepid sanctions that have made no impression on the Iranians.

But what his piece illustrates is that it is Pinkas who is playing American party politics, not Netanyahu. By decrying the claim of some Republicans that some Democrats have been unsupportive of Israel, all Pinkas is doing is demonstrating that he dislikes the GOP and sympathizes with the Democrats. There’s nothing wrong with that, but if that’s how he feels, then perhaps he should move here, become a citizen, and get a vote. (Oddly enough, a few years ago Pinkas actually made a bid to become the head of the American Jewish Congress and almost got the job, until it was learned that it was a violation of Israeli law for a diplomat to take such a position so soon after leaving his post. Eventually, even the members of that moribund organization realized that the idea of an unemployed Israeli diplomat becoming the head of an American group was ridiculous.)

Contrary to Pinkas’s assertion, accountability is the one thing all friends of Israel should welcome. If either a Democrat or a Republican takes stances that are unhelpful to Israel, he or she ought to pay a political price at the ballot box. Taking the issue of support for Israel off the table does nothing to encourage politicians of either party to make good on their campaign promises to defend the Jewish state.

By expressing the justified concerns of Israelis about the existential threat facing their country from Iran, Netanyahu was doing exactly what he should be doing. By injecting himself into party squabbles here on behalf of his friends in the Democratic Party and by attempting to undermine his prime minister’s mission with a false allegation of partisanship, Pinkas demonstrated how out of touch he is with the realities of both Israeli and American politics.

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Thanks, but I’d Rather Not

Not surprisingly, they aren’t lining up around the block to take the job — as head of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, that is:

There don’t appear to be any real good options to replace Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) as chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. In fact, a whole slate of potential chairmen have already said no, while not one senator has publicly expressed interest.

Joining the list of senators saying no this weekend was Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), the former two-term chairman of the DSCC who guided his party to a 13-seat gain and a (temporarily) filibuster-proof majority in 2009. Schumer’s name had been floated in the week since the 2010 election, but he told the New York Observer on Sunday that he’s not doing it.

“I have been asked by Leader Reid and many of my colleagues, and I’ve said I think I can better serve our country, our state, and our party by focusing on issues and getting us to refocus on the middle class,” Schumer said.

Schumer, of course, might still benefit personally from some more Democratic losses in 2012, which could push the Democrats into the minority and finally dislodge Harry Reid. There certainly will be opportunities, with Senate seats in West Virginia, Virginia, Florida, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, and even Wisconsin up for grabs.

That leaves such luminaries as “Sens. Patty Murray (Wash.), Michael Bennet (Colo.), Barbara Mikulski (Md.), Ron Wyden (Ore.), Kay Hagan (N.C.), Frank Lautenberg (N.J.), Mark Pryor (Ark.), Jack Reed (R.I.) and freshman Chris Coons (Del.)” available for the job. Do any of these seem formidable? Some are barely presentable as the face of the Democratic Party.

But we shouldn’t get too hung up on who gets the white elephant on this one. It wasn’t Bob Menendez who lost the Democrats six seats. It was Obama and Harry Reid — plus an unemployment rate of over 9 percent. The GOP shouldn’t be faulted for calculating that those same factors — and the luck of the draw (only 10 GOP seats are up in 2012) — give them a very good shot at winning the Senate in a couple of years. So who can blame Democratic senators for ducking the call of duty on this one?

Not surprisingly, they aren’t lining up around the block to take the job — as head of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, that is:

There don’t appear to be any real good options to replace Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) as chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. In fact, a whole slate of potential chairmen have already said no, while not one senator has publicly expressed interest.

Joining the list of senators saying no this weekend was Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), the former two-term chairman of the DSCC who guided his party to a 13-seat gain and a (temporarily) filibuster-proof majority in 2009. Schumer’s name had been floated in the week since the 2010 election, but he told the New York Observer on Sunday that he’s not doing it.

“I have been asked by Leader Reid and many of my colleagues, and I’ve said I think I can better serve our country, our state, and our party by focusing on issues and getting us to refocus on the middle class,” Schumer said.

Schumer, of course, might still benefit personally from some more Democratic losses in 2012, which could push the Democrats into the minority and finally dislodge Harry Reid. There certainly will be opportunities, with Senate seats in West Virginia, Virginia, Florida, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, and even Wisconsin up for grabs.

That leaves such luminaries as “Sens. Patty Murray (Wash.), Michael Bennet (Colo.), Barbara Mikulski (Md.), Ron Wyden (Ore.), Kay Hagan (N.C.), Frank Lautenberg (N.J.), Mark Pryor (Ark.), Jack Reed (R.I.) and freshman Chris Coons (Del.)” available for the job. Do any of these seem formidable? Some are barely presentable as the face of the Democratic Party.

But we shouldn’t get too hung up on who gets the white elephant on this one. It wasn’t Bob Menendez who lost the Democrats six seats. It was Obama and Harry Reid — plus an unemployment rate of over 9 percent. The GOP shouldn’t be faulted for calculating that those same factors — and the luck of the draw (only 10 GOP seats are up in 2012) — give them a very good shot at winning the Senate in a couple of years. So who can blame Democratic senators for ducking the call of duty on this one?

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Searching

As I noted on Friday, the GOP could use some unifiers who can fuse the Tea Party’s enthusiasm and small-government devotion with the mature street smarts of conservative stalwarts who possess bipartisan appeal. It is not an easy task. The media envision (and egg on) a competition for the soul of the GOP, and the battle for the 2012 nomination — Sarah Palin vs. everyone else. That sort of standoff may play out, but it’s not a useful paradigm if the Republicans hope to capture the White House.

The midterm results illustrate this vividly. Sarah Palin’s Tea Party favorites Joe Miller, Sharron Angle, and Christine O’Donnell all went down to defeat, as did independent Tom Tancredo, whom she backed in the Colorado gubernatorial race. Her critics cite this as evidence that while potent within the conservative movement, she lacks the appeal and political judgment required for the GOP to win in 2012. Her defenders will remind us that she also backed Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, and Nikki Haley, who all won. The argument for Rubio is not all that persuasive, of course; Rubio didn’t need Palin to win. The concern remains among conservatives: in a presidential race, you need to win not just deep Red States but also ones that are in play in competitive years.

There is another model. If Palin has reinforced doubts about her electability, Haley Barbour has some crowing to do. As head of the hugely successful Republican Governors’ Association, he can claim fundraising prowess and a role in the remarkable sweep in gubernatorial races from Maine to Florida to Wisconsin to New Mexico. The number of e-mails sent out touting his fundraising totals and electoral successes strongly suggests that he is getting his resume in order for a presidential run. But Barbour himself may not be the man to meld the two halves of the party. The image of an older, white Southern male with a successful lobbying career risks alienating the Tea Party contingent, whose enthusiasm and ideological zest led to many of those victories. Read More

As I noted on Friday, the GOP could use some unifiers who can fuse the Tea Party’s enthusiasm and small-government devotion with the mature street smarts of conservative stalwarts who possess bipartisan appeal. It is not an easy task. The media envision (and egg on) a competition for the soul of the GOP, and the battle for the 2012 nomination — Sarah Palin vs. everyone else. That sort of standoff may play out, but it’s not a useful paradigm if the Republicans hope to capture the White House.

The midterm results illustrate this vividly. Sarah Palin’s Tea Party favorites Joe Miller, Sharron Angle, and Christine O’Donnell all went down to defeat, as did independent Tom Tancredo, whom she backed in the Colorado gubernatorial race. Her critics cite this as evidence that while potent within the conservative movement, she lacks the appeal and political judgment required for the GOP to win in 2012. Her defenders will remind us that she also backed Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, and Nikki Haley, who all won. The argument for Rubio is not all that persuasive, of course; Rubio didn’t need Palin to win. The concern remains among conservatives: in a presidential race, you need to win not just deep Red States but also ones that are in play in competitive years.

There is another model. If Palin has reinforced doubts about her electability, Haley Barbour has some crowing to do. As head of the hugely successful Republican Governors’ Association, he can claim fundraising prowess and a role in the remarkable sweep in gubernatorial races from Maine to Florida to Wisconsin to New Mexico. The number of e-mails sent out touting his fundraising totals and electoral successes strongly suggests that he is getting his resume in order for a presidential run. But Barbour himself may not be the man to meld the two halves of the party. The image of an older, white Southern male with a successful lobbying career risks alienating the Tea Party contingent, whose enthusiasm and ideological zest led to many of those victories.

Meanwhile, Mitt Romney, who on paper might seem well-suited to the times (businessman, successful governor), is hobbled, maybe fatally, by his authorship of a health-care plan that bears a striking resemblance to the one which both Republican insiders and Tea Party activists are determined to obliterate. This is no small handicap.

So what’s the formula for success? Republicans supported and emerged victorious with serious-minded conservative candidates – Rob Portman in Ohio, Dan Coats in Indiana, and John Boozman in Arkansas – while finding new faces (Rubio, Ron Johnson) who avoided the hot-button rhetoric that derailed a number of the Tea Party candidates. Although ideologically not all that different from the Tea Party–preferred candidates, the GOP victors demonstrated how to meld fiscal conservatism with a more accessible brand of populism. They hardly disappointed the Tea Party crowd; but neither did they alienate independent voters.

Are there GOP hopefuls in 2012 who can fuse Tea Party populism with sober conservative governance? Many in the conservative intelligentsia pine for Gov. Chris Christie, who has become a rock star on YouTube; he won in a Blue State and now is battling against the Trenton insiders. And he’s doing it with showmanship that only Palin can top. But he joked that apparently only “suicide” would convince us that he wasn’t interested. I’m thinking he might be serious about not running.

Then there is Rep. Paul Ryan, soon to take over the chair of the Budget Committee. He excites many conservatives in and outside the Beltway. He’s brainy and articulate, with a shake-up-the-status-quo approach to entitlement and budget reform. He already matched up well against Obama, arguably winning a TKO in the health-care summit. And he will be front and center in the key legislative battles, in some ways the face of the GOP House majority, for the next two years. While he’s said he’s not interested in a 2012 run, he’s not been Christie-esque in his denials. As for the “rule” that House members can’t make viable presidential candidates, I think the rulebook was shredded in the last few years.

Of course, there is Marco Rubio, the party’s genuine superstar (with an immigrant story and deep belief in American exceptionalism), who proved to be an especially effective messenger of conservative principles. However, both he and his most fervent supporters seem to agree: it’s too soon.

So the search goes on. The good news for the GOP is that they have a slew of new governors (e.g., John Kasich) and senators and some retiring ones (Tim Pawlenty, Mitch Daniels) who understand how to forge the center-right coalition needed to get elected. A few faces familiar to political junkies (Mike Pence, John Thune) are also considering a run, which will test whether a Washington insider can nevertheless take on the mantle of reformer/outsider. Can any from this group of Republicans — who frankly lack magnetic personalities — also engage Tea Partiers? We will see.

So conservatives keep looking and trying to persuade the reluctant pols to throw their hats into the ring. Those who imagine they can win back the White House without full engagement of the 2010 winning formula (Tea Partiers plus traditionalists) should think again. A plan by half of the Republican alliance to overpower the other half is a formula for a second Obama term.

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Dems and GOP Both Have Their Issues

Democrats and Republicans each have their problems. On the Democratic side, the head of the party cannot fathom that there is a link between his statist agenda (and the red ink and anemic growth that accompanies it) and the voters’ insistence on dumping those responsible for the agenda’s passage. As the Washington Post‘s editors delicately put it:

[W]e would have preferred to see more in the way of a presidential acknowledgement that voters’ reaction might be more than simple misperception on their part or failure to communicate adequately on his. Certainly, Mr. Obama’s description of his new administration coping with a flurry of emergencies does not extend to his decision to launch an ambitious health-reform agenda in the midst of the maelstrom. Mr. Obama said voters were understandably disappointed that the change in atmosphere he had promised had failed to materialize. But the examples he cited — the “ugly mess” of getting health reform passed, or the fact that he, “in the rush to get things done, had to sign a bunch of bills that had earmarks in them” — involved hard-headed decisions on the part of administration strategists to do what it took to achieve their ends.

Or, if you prefer the bluntness of Charles Krauthammer:

The Republicans won by default. And their prize is nothing more than a two-year lease on the House. The building was available because the previous occupant had been evicted for arrogant misbehavior and, by rule, alas, the House cannot be left vacant.

The president, however, remains clueless. In his next-day news conference, he had the right demeanor — subdued, his closest approximation of humility — but was uncomprehending about what just happened. The “folks” are apparently just “frustrated” that “progress” is just too slow. Asked three times whether popular rejection of his policy agenda might have had something to do with the shellacking he took, he looked as if he’d been asked whether the sun had risen in the West. Why, no, he said.

In short, the Democrats are in denial, the worst culprits responsible for the leftist jag remain in the House (the lucky possessors of the Bluest districts one could gerrymander), and the country is in no mood to see them defend the Obama agenda that voters just rejected en masse. Read More

Democrats and Republicans each have their problems. On the Democratic side, the head of the party cannot fathom that there is a link between his statist agenda (and the red ink and anemic growth that accompanies it) and the voters’ insistence on dumping those responsible for the agenda’s passage. As the Washington Post‘s editors delicately put it:

[W]e would have preferred to see more in the way of a presidential acknowledgement that voters’ reaction might be more than simple misperception on their part or failure to communicate adequately on his. Certainly, Mr. Obama’s description of his new administration coping with a flurry of emergencies does not extend to his decision to launch an ambitious health-reform agenda in the midst of the maelstrom. Mr. Obama said voters were understandably disappointed that the change in atmosphere he had promised had failed to materialize. But the examples he cited — the “ugly mess” of getting health reform passed, or the fact that he, “in the rush to get things done, had to sign a bunch of bills that had earmarks in them” — involved hard-headed decisions on the part of administration strategists to do what it took to achieve their ends.

Or, if you prefer the bluntness of Charles Krauthammer:

The Republicans won by default. And their prize is nothing more than a two-year lease on the House. The building was available because the previous occupant had been evicted for arrogant misbehavior and, by rule, alas, the House cannot be left vacant.

The president, however, remains clueless. In his next-day news conference, he had the right demeanor — subdued, his closest approximation of humility — but was uncomprehending about what just happened. The “folks” are apparently just “frustrated” that “progress” is just too slow. Asked three times whether popular rejection of his policy agenda might have had something to do with the shellacking he took, he looked as if he’d been asked whether the sun had risen in the West. Why, no, he said.

In short, the Democrats are in denial, the worst culprits responsible for the leftist jag remain in the House (the lucky possessors of the Bluest districts one could gerrymander), and the country is in no mood to see them defend the Obama agenda that voters just rejected en masse.

As for the Republicans, their problem is in recognizing that two component parts of the GOP — the Tea Partiers and the establishment (i.e., professional pols) — are dependent on one another. It might satisfy some would-be leaders of the Tea Party contingent to attack Karl Rove or Ed Gillespie, but is that what building a governing majority is all about? The Tea Party brought energy, ideological firmness, and grassroots organization to a moribund Republican Party. But the Republican Party provided many of the most electable, sober conservatives (e.g., Rob Portman, Dan Coats, John Boozman) who can translate the Tea Party agenda into legislation. If the party had run only Sharron Angles and Christine O’Donnells, there would have been no “shellacking”; without the Tea Party, there would have been no unifying theme and no electoral wave to put those seasoned conservatives into office.

The GOP, therefore, could use some unifiers — namely those who understand that the name of the game is not to spend time poking their fingers in the eye of half of the conservative coalition. The challenge now is to devise a strategy that first stops the Obama onslaught and then offers a thoughtful conservative alternative. The GOP is badly in need of such unifying figures — both to navigate the next two years and to lead the party in 2012. Those who find it personally satisfying to bicker with their allies do damage to their cause — and ultimately their own career objectives.

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Sad and Infuriating News from New York State

In the end, Jimmy McMillan, the viral Internet sensation as the head of the Rent Is Too Damn High Party, scored fewer than 40,000 votes; had it hit 50,000, it would have automatically been on the ballot in the next election. The troubling news from New York state is that the Republican gubernatorial candidate, Carl Paladino, went out with a concession speech for which the word “psychotic” would seem to be an understatement. He was more than a disaster; Paladino was an enormous drag at the top of the ticket, losing by nearly 28 points and in doing so, embarrassing himself and his party so much that good GOP candidates like Randy Altschuler in Suffolk County went down to defeat when they really ought to have won.

In the end, Jimmy McMillan, the viral Internet sensation as the head of the Rent Is Too Damn High Party, scored fewer than 40,000 votes; had it hit 50,000, it would have automatically been on the ballot in the next election. The troubling news from New York state is that the Republican gubernatorial candidate, Carl Paladino, went out with a concession speech for which the word “psychotic” would seem to be an understatement. He was more than a disaster; Paladino was an enormous drag at the top of the ticket, losing by nearly 28 points and in doing so, embarrassing himself and his party so much that good GOP candidates like Randy Altschuler in Suffolk County went down to defeat when they really ought to have won.

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Freaking Out J Street

Washington Jewish Week reports that the Emergency Committee for Israel is making quite a splash:

In the past few months, ECI has made a name for itself by assaulting Democrats in hotly contested congressional races over their support for Israel — or lack thereof, as ECI sees it. …

“There is some reason for Democrats to be concerned,” said one Democratic political strategist who would speak only on background. ECI is “going about this in an intelligent way and it’s likely to have an impact.”

“In a marginal and close race” in a niche market, the source added, “they could certainly move the needle.”

The ads, which [executive director Noah]Pollak said will air “hundreds” of times on several networks, target Pennsylvania Senate hopeful, Rep. Joe Sestak (D) — whom ECI pegged as anti-Israel in a spot that ran during the National League Championship Series between the Phillies and Giants — as well as Reps. Rush Holt (D-N.J.) and John Tierney (D-Mass.).

The notion that, as an ECI spokesman put it, the “free ride is over” and candidates will actually be held accountable for their views, associations, and votes on Israel has left Democrats whimpering. Ira Forman, the former head of the  National Jewish Democratic Council, (who could never muster a single bad word about Obama’s assault on Israel) asserts: “Either [ECI] knows very little about what will drive Jewish votes… or they’re just cynical and this is a good opportunity for them to build their own political operation.” I actually don’t know what that means — the ECI operation obviously is designed to hold lawmakers accountable for their voting records on Israel. But Forman has a point that the left has so downgraded Israel as a priority that exposing a lawmaker’s anti-Israel voting record might not shake its followers free of the “sick addiction” to the Democratic party. But then again, the rest of American voters, including a fair number of Jews, are quite pro-Israel, so it does make a difference. Odd, isn’t it, however, that Forman assumes that ECI is only going after Jewish voters?

But the whine-a-thon really revs up when J Street’s policy director, Hadar Susskind, (I guess the credibility-challenged Jeremy Ben-Ami is at an undisclosed location these days) insists that “ECI’s primary function as not to defend Israel or sway voters, but to ‘scare legislators.'” Well, I imagine many of the J Street endorsees, including Joe Sestak, are scared because their votes and actions don’t match their pro-Israel labeling. Then Susskind comes up with this howler:

“I could list out two dozen Republicans in Congress who take a much more nuanced view on” the peace process, but can’t express it “because the majority of campaign support they get is from folks who are on the far-right, neo-conservative, Israel-right-or-wrong crowd,” Susskind said.

To adopt that view, he explained, would mean sacrificing already scant Jewish support. ECI’s “game is really to keep Republicans in line.”

These alleged GOP lawmakers can’t express that they are secretly “more nuanced”? (So how do we know they are?) Who are these people, tailgunner Susskind? Perhaps there is a list to wave before the cameras. And by the way, in case the J Street kids hadn’t noticed, J Street’s game is to hold all lawmakers accountable — including Democrats Sestak, Holt, and Tierney.

Washington Jewish Week reports that the Emergency Committee for Israel is making quite a splash:

In the past few months, ECI has made a name for itself by assaulting Democrats in hotly contested congressional races over their support for Israel — or lack thereof, as ECI sees it. …

“There is some reason for Democrats to be concerned,” said one Democratic political strategist who would speak only on background. ECI is “going about this in an intelligent way and it’s likely to have an impact.”

“In a marginal and close race” in a niche market, the source added, “they could certainly move the needle.”

The ads, which [executive director Noah]Pollak said will air “hundreds” of times on several networks, target Pennsylvania Senate hopeful, Rep. Joe Sestak (D) — whom ECI pegged as anti-Israel in a spot that ran during the National League Championship Series between the Phillies and Giants — as well as Reps. Rush Holt (D-N.J.) and John Tierney (D-Mass.).

The notion that, as an ECI spokesman put it, the “free ride is over” and candidates will actually be held accountable for their views, associations, and votes on Israel has left Democrats whimpering. Ira Forman, the former head of the  National Jewish Democratic Council, (who could never muster a single bad word about Obama’s assault on Israel) asserts: “Either [ECI] knows very little about what will drive Jewish votes… or they’re just cynical and this is a good opportunity for them to build their own political operation.” I actually don’t know what that means — the ECI operation obviously is designed to hold lawmakers accountable for their voting records on Israel. But Forman has a point that the left has so downgraded Israel as a priority that exposing a lawmaker’s anti-Israel voting record might not shake its followers free of the “sick addiction” to the Democratic party. But then again, the rest of American voters, including a fair number of Jews, are quite pro-Israel, so it does make a difference. Odd, isn’t it, however, that Forman assumes that ECI is only going after Jewish voters?

But the whine-a-thon really revs up when J Street’s policy director, Hadar Susskind, (I guess the credibility-challenged Jeremy Ben-Ami is at an undisclosed location these days) insists that “ECI’s primary function as not to defend Israel or sway voters, but to ‘scare legislators.'” Well, I imagine many of the J Street endorsees, including Joe Sestak, are scared because their votes and actions don’t match their pro-Israel labeling. Then Susskind comes up with this howler:

“I could list out two dozen Republicans in Congress who take a much more nuanced view on” the peace process, but can’t express it “because the majority of campaign support they get is from folks who are on the far-right, neo-conservative, Israel-right-or-wrong crowd,” Susskind said.

To adopt that view, he explained, would mean sacrificing already scant Jewish support. ECI’s “game is really to keep Republicans in line.”

These alleged GOP lawmakers can’t express that they are secretly “more nuanced”? (So how do we know they are?) Who are these people, tailgunner Susskind? Perhaps there is a list to wave before the cameras. And by the way, in case the J Street kids hadn’t noticed, J Street’s game is to hold all lawmakers accountable — including Democrats Sestak, Holt, and Tierney.

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Turkey Co-opts NATO Missile-Defense System to Hurt Israel and Help Iran

That Turkey has grown unrelentingly hostile to Israel, and cozy with Iran, is no longer news. But it is news, of the most disturbing kind, that Washington has chosen to actively collaborate in both the hostility and the coziness. Yet that’s what emerges from today’s Haaretz report on NATO’s planned missile-defense system: the U.S., it says, has agreed to Turkey’s demand that no information gathered by the system — whose primary goal is countering threats from Iran — be shared with Israel.

President George W. Bush, who conceived the system, had planned to station it in Eastern Europe. But due to Russia’s vehement opposition, President Barack Obama decided to relocate it to Turkey.

Ankara, reluctant to damage its burgeoning romance with Tehran, said it would agree only if four conditions were met. One, Turkish sources told Haaretz, was that “information gathered by the system not be given to any non-NATO member, and especially not to Israel.”

Moreover, the sources said, Washington has agreed to this demand. In other words, Washington has agreed that potentially vital information about Israel’s greatest enemy, gathered by a NATO facility that America conceived and will doubtless largely finance, won’t be shared with Israel.

Nor does the official excuse cited for this capitulation hold water: it’s true that Israel has information-gathering systems of its own devoted to Iran, but that doesn’t mean it has no need for NATO information. The new facility may well have capabilities Israel lacks.

The real reason, as the Turkish sources noted, is most likely that Washington had little choice: without Turkey’s consent, the project couldn’t go forward, and Ankara threatened a veto if its conditions weren’t met. Yet it was Obama’s own choice to relocate the project from two staunch American allies, Poland and the Czech Republic, to an increasingly hostile Turkey that left him vulnerable to this blackmail.

But Ankara posed another condition that may be even more worrying, given its coziness with Tehran: “direct Turkish access to any information gathered by the system.”

In May, Hakan Fidan became the new head of Turkish intelligence. Fidan, Haaretz reported at the time, “played a central role in tightening Turkish ties with Iran, especially on the nuclear issue.” He defended Iran’s nuclear program to the International Atomic Energy Agency and was one of the architects of the uranium-transfer deal that Turkey and Brazil concocted with Iran in May in an effort to avert a planned UN Security Council vote on new sanctions against Tehran.

Thus Turkey wants its intelligence service, whose chief’s main goal has been to tighten ties with Iran, to have direct access to a system whose main goal is to gather information about Iran. Does NATO really want to gamble that Fidan will not pass this information on to Tehran, thereby letting it know exactly what NATO knows about its capabilities?

Under these circumstances, the system could end up doing more harm then good. At the very least, Congress should be asking some tough questions about it — and, even more important, about the utility of continuing the pretense that Turkey is still a Western ally.

That Turkey has grown unrelentingly hostile to Israel, and cozy with Iran, is no longer news. But it is news, of the most disturbing kind, that Washington has chosen to actively collaborate in both the hostility and the coziness. Yet that’s what emerges from today’s Haaretz report on NATO’s planned missile-defense system: the U.S., it says, has agreed to Turkey’s demand that no information gathered by the system — whose primary goal is countering threats from Iran — be shared with Israel.

President George W. Bush, who conceived the system, had planned to station it in Eastern Europe. But due to Russia’s vehement opposition, President Barack Obama decided to relocate it to Turkey.

Ankara, reluctant to damage its burgeoning romance with Tehran, said it would agree only if four conditions were met. One, Turkish sources told Haaretz, was that “information gathered by the system not be given to any non-NATO member, and especially not to Israel.”

Moreover, the sources said, Washington has agreed to this demand. In other words, Washington has agreed that potentially vital information about Israel’s greatest enemy, gathered by a NATO facility that America conceived and will doubtless largely finance, won’t be shared with Israel.

Nor does the official excuse cited for this capitulation hold water: it’s true that Israel has information-gathering systems of its own devoted to Iran, but that doesn’t mean it has no need for NATO information. The new facility may well have capabilities Israel lacks.

The real reason, as the Turkish sources noted, is most likely that Washington had little choice: without Turkey’s consent, the project couldn’t go forward, and Ankara threatened a veto if its conditions weren’t met. Yet it was Obama’s own choice to relocate the project from two staunch American allies, Poland and the Czech Republic, to an increasingly hostile Turkey that left him vulnerable to this blackmail.

But Ankara posed another condition that may be even more worrying, given its coziness with Tehran: “direct Turkish access to any information gathered by the system.”

In May, Hakan Fidan became the new head of Turkish intelligence. Fidan, Haaretz reported at the time, “played a central role in tightening Turkish ties with Iran, especially on the nuclear issue.” He defended Iran’s nuclear program to the International Atomic Energy Agency and was one of the architects of the uranium-transfer deal that Turkey and Brazil concocted with Iran in May in an effort to avert a planned UN Security Council vote on new sanctions against Tehran.

Thus Turkey wants its intelligence service, whose chief’s main goal has been to tighten ties with Iran, to have direct access to a system whose main goal is to gather information about Iran. Does NATO really want to gamble that Fidan will not pass this information on to Tehran, thereby letting it know exactly what NATO knows about its capabilities?

Under these circumstances, the system could end up doing more harm then good. At the very least, Congress should be asking some tough questions about it — and, even more important, about the utility of continuing the pretense that Turkey is still a Western ally.

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Weeding Out Extremism from the Tea Party

Matt Drudge links to a story in which, according to the Dallas Morning News, Republican congressional candidate Stephen Broden, a first-time candidate who is supported by the Tea Party Express and is challenging Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson in Texas’s 30th Congressional District, said he would not rule out a violent overthrow of the government if elections did not produce a change in leadership.

According to the report, in an exchange during a TV interview, Broden, a South Dallas pastor, was asked if violence would be an option in 2010, if the composition of the government remained unchanged by the elections. “The option is on the table,” Broden said. “I don’t think that we should remove anything from the table as it relates to our liberties and our freedoms. However, it is not the first option.”

Now, like almost every other person in America, I have never before heard of Stephen Broden. But you can bet that MSNBC, other media outlets, and the Democratic Party are going to do everything they can to turn Mr. Broden into a household name, to make him a symbol of the Tea Party movement.

Jonathan Neerman, head of the Dallas County Republican Party, said he’s never heard Broden advocate violence against the government.

“It is a disappointing, isolated incident,” Neerman said. He said he plans to discuss the matter with Broden’s campaign. And Ken Emanuelson, a Broden supporter and leading Tea Party organizer in Dallas, said he did not disagree with the “philosophical point” that people had the right to resist a tyrannical government. But, he said, “Do I see our government today anywhere close to that point? No, I don’t.”

I have news for Messrs. Neerman and Emanuelson: what Broden said is far worse than “disappointing” — and in this context, conceding him a “philosophical point” is quite unwise.

To say that a violent uprising is “on the table” is reckless. These remarks deserve to be condemned on their own terms. And it’s also important not to play into the caricature of the Tea Party movement created by its opponents — that the movement, at its core, is fringy, irresponsible, and has some latent sympathy with calls to revolution and political violence.

It doesn’t help, of course, that Nevada’s GOP Senate candidate (and Tea Party choice) Sharron Angle has said this:

Our Founding Fathers, they put that Second Amendment in there for a good reason, and that was for the people to protect themselves against a tyrannical government. In fact, Thomas Jefferson said it’s good for a country to have a revolution every 20 years. I hope that’s not where we’re going, but you know, if this Congress keeps going the way it is, people are really looking toward those Second Amendment remedies.

The Tea Party movement is a powerful, energetic, spontaneous, and widespread civic response to Obamaism. It will be seen, I believe, as a positive force in American politics, one that can help to limit the size, scope, and reach of government in our lives – and, more specifically, one that can help us deal with our entitlement crisis. But movements like these almost inevitably draw in supporters and candidates who take a justifiable impulse and channel it in exactly the wrong direction. That can’t always be helped. But what leaders and allies of the Tea Party movement can do is make it clear that incendiary rhetoric and misplaced historical analogies don’t have a place or a part in a responsible political movement.

The ballot is stronger than the bullet, Lincoln said, and we may thank heaven that, for Americans, this choice has long since been made. Those who wish to revisit this choice are temerarious and possibly pernicious. Those who care for and about the Tea Party movement might consider saying so.

Matt Drudge links to a story in which, according to the Dallas Morning News, Republican congressional candidate Stephen Broden, a first-time candidate who is supported by the Tea Party Express and is challenging Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson in Texas’s 30th Congressional District, said he would not rule out a violent overthrow of the government if elections did not produce a change in leadership.

According to the report, in an exchange during a TV interview, Broden, a South Dallas pastor, was asked if violence would be an option in 2010, if the composition of the government remained unchanged by the elections. “The option is on the table,” Broden said. “I don’t think that we should remove anything from the table as it relates to our liberties and our freedoms. However, it is not the first option.”

Now, like almost every other person in America, I have never before heard of Stephen Broden. But you can bet that MSNBC, other media outlets, and the Democratic Party are going to do everything they can to turn Mr. Broden into a household name, to make him a symbol of the Tea Party movement.

Jonathan Neerman, head of the Dallas County Republican Party, said he’s never heard Broden advocate violence against the government.

“It is a disappointing, isolated incident,” Neerman said. He said he plans to discuss the matter with Broden’s campaign. And Ken Emanuelson, a Broden supporter and leading Tea Party organizer in Dallas, said he did not disagree with the “philosophical point” that people had the right to resist a tyrannical government. But, he said, “Do I see our government today anywhere close to that point? No, I don’t.”

I have news for Messrs. Neerman and Emanuelson: what Broden said is far worse than “disappointing” — and in this context, conceding him a “philosophical point” is quite unwise.

To say that a violent uprising is “on the table” is reckless. These remarks deserve to be condemned on their own terms. And it’s also important not to play into the caricature of the Tea Party movement created by its opponents — that the movement, at its core, is fringy, irresponsible, and has some latent sympathy with calls to revolution and political violence.

It doesn’t help, of course, that Nevada’s GOP Senate candidate (and Tea Party choice) Sharron Angle has said this:

Our Founding Fathers, they put that Second Amendment in there for a good reason, and that was for the people to protect themselves against a tyrannical government. In fact, Thomas Jefferson said it’s good for a country to have a revolution every 20 years. I hope that’s not where we’re going, but you know, if this Congress keeps going the way it is, people are really looking toward those Second Amendment remedies.

The Tea Party movement is a powerful, energetic, spontaneous, and widespread civic response to Obamaism. It will be seen, I believe, as a positive force in American politics, one that can help to limit the size, scope, and reach of government in our lives – and, more specifically, one that can help us deal with our entitlement crisis. But movements like these almost inevitably draw in supporters and candidates who take a justifiable impulse and channel it in exactly the wrong direction. That can’t always be helped. But what leaders and allies of the Tea Party movement can do is make it clear that incendiary rhetoric and misplaced historical analogies don’t have a place or a part in a responsible political movement.

The ballot is stronger than the bullet, Lincoln said, and we may thank heaven that, for Americans, this choice has long since been made. Those who wish to revisit this choice are temerarious and possibly pernicious. Those who care for and about the Tea Party movement might consider saying so.

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Forget the Chamber, Look at AFSCME

The president has been telling tall tales about the Chamber of Commerce and nefarious foreign money. But the chamber and every other independent source of campaign funding are puny compared with the Democrats’ piggybank:

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees is now the biggest outside spender of the 2010 elections, thanks to an 11th-hour effort to boost Democrats that has vaulted the public-sector union ahead of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the AFL-CIO and a flock of new Republican groups in campaign spending.

The 1.6 million-member AFSCME is spending a total of $87.5 million on the elections after tapping into a $16 million emergency account to help fortify the Democrats’ hold on Congress. Last week, AFSCME dug deeper, taking out a $2 million loan to fund its push. The group is spending money on television advertisements, phone calls, campaign mailings and other political efforts, helped by a Supreme Court decision that loosened restrictions on campaign spending.

“We’re the big dog,” said Larry Scanlon, the head of AFSCME’s political operations. “But we don’t like to brag.”

Yes, all the talk of “corporate” money and the subversion of our democratic system by Wall Street is rather amusing considering the iron grip Big Labor has on the Democratic Party. We learn that “AFSCME’s campaign push accounts for an estimated 30% of what pro-Democratic groups, including unions, plan to spend on independent campaigns to elect Democrats.” But why so little focus on that source of campaign loot? Some would say, “Unions have mostly escaped attention in that debate, in part because they traditionally have spent much of their cash on other kinds of political activities, including get-out-the-vote efforts.”

Hmm. I don’t think that’s quite it. It might just be that in the mainstream media and White House PR machine, independent-groups-giving-to-Republicans = bad, while independent-groups-giving-to-Democrats = vibrant democracy. Aside from the hypocrisy factor, there is one overriding issue that makes unions’ giving so noxious:

Previously, most labor-sponsored campaign ads had to be funded by volunteer donations. Now, however, AFSCME can pay for ads using annual dues from members, which amount to about $390 per person. AFSCME said it will tap membership dues to pay for $17 million of ads backing Democrats this election.

The idea that working people can be forced to give up their earnings to fund campaigns that they may not personally support (or that, frankly, come much lower on their priority list than other household expenditures) is about as un-democratic as you can get.

The president has been telling tall tales about the Chamber of Commerce and nefarious foreign money. But the chamber and every other independent source of campaign funding are puny compared with the Democrats’ piggybank:

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees is now the biggest outside spender of the 2010 elections, thanks to an 11th-hour effort to boost Democrats that has vaulted the public-sector union ahead of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the AFL-CIO and a flock of new Republican groups in campaign spending.

The 1.6 million-member AFSCME is spending a total of $87.5 million on the elections after tapping into a $16 million emergency account to help fortify the Democrats’ hold on Congress. Last week, AFSCME dug deeper, taking out a $2 million loan to fund its push. The group is spending money on television advertisements, phone calls, campaign mailings and other political efforts, helped by a Supreme Court decision that loosened restrictions on campaign spending.

“We’re the big dog,” said Larry Scanlon, the head of AFSCME’s political operations. “But we don’t like to brag.”

Yes, all the talk of “corporate” money and the subversion of our democratic system by Wall Street is rather amusing considering the iron grip Big Labor has on the Democratic Party. We learn that “AFSCME’s campaign push accounts for an estimated 30% of what pro-Democratic groups, including unions, plan to spend on independent campaigns to elect Democrats.” But why so little focus on that source of campaign loot? Some would say, “Unions have mostly escaped attention in that debate, in part because they traditionally have spent much of their cash on other kinds of political activities, including get-out-the-vote efforts.”

Hmm. I don’t think that’s quite it. It might just be that in the mainstream media and White House PR machine, independent-groups-giving-to-Republicans = bad, while independent-groups-giving-to-Democrats = vibrant democracy. Aside from the hypocrisy factor, there is one overriding issue that makes unions’ giving so noxious:

Previously, most labor-sponsored campaign ads had to be funded by volunteer donations. Now, however, AFSCME can pay for ads using annual dues from members, which amount to about $390 per person. AFSCME said it will tap membership dues to pay for $17 million of ads backing Democrats this election.

The idea that working people can be forced to give up their earnings to fund campaigns that they may not personally support (or that, frankly, come much lower on their priority list than other household expenditures) is about as un-democratic as you can get.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Is Harry Reid down for the count? “Angle took full advantage of Reid’s position as a political insider, taunting him for his support of Democratic policies, from the stimulus to the health care bill. At one point, Angle told Reid to ‘man up’ – and later questioned how he became so wealthy as a public servant. By debate’s end, Reid had failed to land any significant blows on Angle. He looked unprepared for Angle’s barbs. With just one day until early voting becomes available to Nevada residents, Reid’s performance didn’t improve his precarious political standing.”

Angle also pummeled Reid in fundraising: $14.3 million vs. $2.8 million in the third quarter.

Angle wasn’t the only Republican woman who won on points in her debate. “Democrat Richard Blumenthal now leads Republican Linda McMahon by just five points in Connecticut’s race for the U.S. Senate in a survey conducted two nights after their third and final head-to-head debate.”

Nancy Pelosi is going to take the fall, bemoans Jonathan Cohn: “It’s not Pelosi’s fault Congress didn’t produce more liberal legislation. But she, not Harry Reid or Barack Obama, is the one most likely to lose her job because of that failure.” Unintentionally funny, but correct.

A low blow: “Obama in 2010 on the path of John McCain 2008?”

If you expected liberal feminists to smack down Jerry’s Brown’s camp, you aren’t cynical enough. “The president of the National Organization for Women may have said it’s wrong for anyone to call a woman a ‘whore,’ but the head of the California NOW affiliate says Republican gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman is one. California NOW President Parry Bellasalma told the TPM blog on Thursday that the description of the Republican candidate for governor of California is accurate. ‘Meg Whitman could be described as ‘a political whore.’ Yes, that’s an accurate statement,’ Bellasalma said after a TPM blogger called to ask her about a story that appeared on the Daily Caller website.”

Failing Democrats are dealt a knockout punch – by their own party. “The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which is tasked with keeping the party in the House majority after Nov. 2, began to make those unkindest of cuts last week, walking away, financially and figuratively, from more than half a dozen Democratic candidates. Call them ‘the Expendables,’ the first but certainly not last group to receive political pink slips from their party leaders. Among their ranks: Reps. Suzanne Kosmas (Fla.), Kathy Dahlkemper (Pa.) and Steve Driehaus (Ohio), as well as open-seat candidates in Tennessee, Indiana and Kansas.”

The conservative base is simply not going to go to the mat for a candidate already talking about raising taxes. Sometimes, when someone says he doesn’t want to be president, it’s wise to take him at his word.

Mort Zuckerman explains why the Middle East talks and Obama’s own credibility are on the ropes. “So why should the settlements have become the one issue to kill the talks? The key reason is that from the very beginning of his presidency, Obama put the construction in the settlements at the center of his Middle East strategy. It was the original sin that has hamstrung the possibility of successful talks. Public advocacy of the freeze not only put Israel in a bind, but it also put the Palestinians in an even tighter bind, giving both little room to maneuver. When Obama spoke repeatedly for a construction freeze in the West Bank as a public condition for the renewal of talks, it turned the settlement freeze from a dignified wish into a threshold demand that needed to be met in full. It also set a bar that made it impossible for the Palestinians to compromise. Abbas cannot be less Palestinian than the U.S. president.”

Is Harry Reid down for the count? “Angle took full advantage of Reid’s position as a political insider, taunting him for his support of Democratic policies, from the stimulus to the health care bill. At one point, Angle told Reid to ‘man up’ – and later questioned how he became so wealthy as a public servant. By debate’s end, Reid had failed to land any significant blows on Angle. He looked unprepared for Angle’s barbs. With just one day until early voting becomes available to Nevada residents, Reid’s performance didn’t improve his precarious political standing.”

Angle also pummeled Reid in fundraising: $14.3 million vs. $2.8 million in the third quarter.

Angle wasn’t the only Republican woman who won on points in her debate. “Democrat Richard Blumenthal now leads Republican Linda McMahon by just five points in Connecticut’s race for the U.S. Senate in a survey conducted two nights after their third and final head-to-head debate.”

Nancy Pelosi is going to take the fall, bemoans Jonathan Cohn: “It’s not Pelosi’s fault Congress didn’t produce more liberal legislation. But she, not Harry Reid or Barack Obama, is the one most likely to lose her job because of that failure.” Unintentionally funny, but correct.

A low blow: “Obama in 2010 on the path of John McCain 2008?”

If you expected liberal feminists to smack down Jerry’s Brown’s camp, you aren’t cynical enough. “The president of the National Organization for Women may have said it’s wrong for anyone to call a woman a ‘whore,’ but the head of the California NOW affiliate says Republican gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman is one. California NOW President Parry Bellasalma told the TPM blog on Thursday that the description of the Republican candidate for governor of California is accurate. ‘Meg Whitman could be described as ‘a political whore.’ Yes, that’s an accurate statement,’ Bellasalma said after a TPM blogger called to ask her about a story that appeared on the Daily Caller website.”

Failing Democrats are dealt a knockout punch – by their own party. “The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which is tasked with keeping the party in the House majority after Nov. 2, began to make those unkindest of cuts last week, walking away, financially and figuratively, from more than half a dozen Democratic candidates. Call them ‘the Expendables,’ the first but certainly not last group to receive political pink slips from their party leaders. Among their ranks: Reps. Suzanne Kosmas (Fla.), Kathy Dahlkemper (Pa.) and Steve Driehaus (Ohio), as well as open-seat candidates in Tennessee, Indiana and Kansas.”

The conservative base is simply not going to go to the mat for a candidate already talking about raising taxes. Sometimes, when someone says he doesn’t want to be president, it’s wise to take him at his word.

Mort Zuckerman explains why the Middle East talks and Obama’s own credibility are on the ropes. “So why should the settlements have become the one issue to kill the talks? The key reason is that from the very beginning of his presidency, Obama put the construction in the settlements at the center of his Middle East strategy. It was the original sin that has hamstrung the possibility of successful talks. Public advocacy of the freeze not only put Israel in a bind, but it also put the Palestinians in an even tighter bind, giving both little room to maneuver. When Obama spoke repeatedly for a construction freeze in the West Bank as a public condition for the renewal of talks, it turned the settlement freeze from a dignified wish into a threshold demand that needed to be met in full. It also set a bar that made it impossible for the Palestinians to compromise. Abbas cannot be less Palestinian than the U.S. president.”

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Caddell Isn’t Waiting for Election Day

Pat Caddell is one mad Democrat:

Veteran Democratic operative Pat Caddell is unloading on the White House, saying he’s had enough with the president whose “hypocrisy” on campaign finance “is just mind-blowing.” …

“My problem with Obama started the day he blew up public financing of presidential campaigns,” Caddell said in an interview with The Daily Caller. “He’s the man whose done the most to destroy whatever integrity there was in campaign financing.”

He’s none too enamored with the Chamber of Commerce gambit, either:

The administration’s attacks, Caddell said, on groups like the Chamber of Commerce and donors like the conservative Koch brothers reek of McCarthyism. “I was the youngest person on Richard Nixon’s enemies list. I take this stuff seriously. What they’re doing is Nixonian – it’s McCarthyite,” he said.

Caddell, who has worked for a number of presidential campaigns, including Joe Biden’s in 1988, said making outside money an election issue is a risky strategy for the Democrats. “You’re 21 days out from an election and this is what you’ve got? That’s it? Nothing about jobs or the economy?”

Yeah, that’s all they’ve got. Caddell’s assessment of the Obama staff is accurate as far as it goes:

These are naive idiots who’ve come out of academia and have never done anything real in their lives, and they are actually in power,” he said. “These are the people we never let in the room when we had serious business to do. Now they’re running the country.”

Actually, the biggest problem is not the staff. The one who came out of academia and who had not done much that was “real” (other than write books about himself and get elected) before coming to the White House is Obama. That’s who has been leading the McCarthy-like attacks. That’s who’s got nothing to offer on the economy and jobs. Granted, Obama is surrounded by political hacks who lack real-world experience, but he put them there, and he’s shown himself to be sorely lacking in know-how and judgment when it comes to everything from the Middle East to “shovel-ready” jobs.

The Democrats’ finger-pointing and recriminations are only getting started. (Reminds me of the McCain campaign, which started blaming Sarah Palin before the election.) There will be plenty of blame to go around. But ultimately, Obama is head of his party as well as president. The upcoming electoral debacle will be his.

Pat Caddell is one mad Democrat:

Veteran Democratic operative Pat Caddell is unloading on the White House, saying he’s had enough with the president whose “hypocrisy” on campaign finance “is just mind-blowing.” …

“My problem with Obama started the day he blew up public financing of presidential campaigns,” Caddell said in an interview with The Daily Caller. “He’s the man whose done the most to destroy whatever integrity there was in campaign financing.”

He’s none too enamored with the Chamber of Commerce gambit, either:

The administration’s attacks, Caddell said, on groups like the Chamber of Commerce and donors like the conservative Koch brothers reek of McCarthyism. “I was the youngest person on Richard Nixon’s enemies list. I take this stuff seriously. What they’re doing is Nixonian – it’s McCarthyite,” he said.

Caddell, who has worked for a number of presidential campaigns, including Joe Biden’s in 1988, said making outside money an election issue is a risky strategy for the Democrats. “You’re 21 days out from an election and this is what you’ve got? That’s it? Nothing about jobs or the economy?”

Yeah, that’s all they’ve got. Caddell’s assessment of the Obama staff is accurate as far as it goes:

These are naive idiots who’ve come out of academia and have never done anything real in their lives, and they are actually in power,” he said. “These are the people we never let in the room when we had serious business to do. Now they’re running the country.”

Actually, the biggest problem is not the staff. The one who came out of academia and who had not done much that was “real” (other than write books about himself and get elected) before coming to the White House is Obama. That’s who has been leading the McCarthy-like attacks. That’s who’s got nothing to offer on the economy and jobs. Granted, Obama is surrounded by political hacks who lack real-world experience, but he put them there, and he’s shown himself to be sorely lacking in know-how and judgment when it comes to everything from the Middle East to “shovel-ready” jobs.

The Democrats’ finger-pointing and recriminations are only getting started. (Reminds me of the McCain campaign, which started blaming Sarah Palin before the election.) There will be plenty of blame to go around. But ultimately, Obama is head of his party as well as president. The upcoming electoral debacle will be his.

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Mario Vargas Llosa, Nobel Laureate

The Nobel Prize for Literature, given to as many horrible writers as worthy ones, is now of value only for two reasons: It makes its recipient rich (now up to $1.5 million), and it causes people to take account of the careers of some notable authors. Such is the case with this year’s Laureate, Mario Vargas Llosa. He achieved a broad international reputation in the 1980s and 1990s–indeed, for a time, he was probably one of the world’s best-known writers–but that has faded somewhat over the past decade. He is, quite simply, wonderful–a novelist and essayist of great wit, range, sagacity, playfulness, and high seriousness.

He first came to prominence in the United States with the late-1970s translation of his hilarious, joyful, and wildly original blend of novel and memoir, Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter, a study of the unique circumstances that led to his first marriage to a much older distant cousin; he draws a comic parallel between his life and the crazed plots devised by Peru’s leading soap-opera writer, a monastic lunatic who seems nonetheless to embody the creative process itself. The next work of his to appear in English was extraordinarily different and extraordinary in every sense of the word: The War for the End of the World, a highly realistic historical novel about a millenarian cult in fin-de-siecle Brazil. It offered a portrait, unparalleled in our time, of the way in which radical ideas can seize hold of ordinary people and drive them to suicidal madness.

This was the first of his novels to reveal Vargas Llosa’s mature world view: Almost alone among Latin American intellectuals of his time, he had become a liberal in the classic sense of the word, a believer in and advocate for Western-style free speech, free markets, and free inquiry. This was the result of an ideological journey not unlike the one taken by neoconservatives in the United States, except that in Vargas Llosa’s case it was even more remarkable given the lack of any kind of liberal culture in South America and especially in the world of Latin novelists, who were, to a man, radical Leftists either aligned with or entirely joined at the hip with Marxist-Leninist-Castroist activism. He made his decisive spiritual break with the Left plain with a short novel called The Real Life of Alejandro Meyta, which specifically linked radical Leftist thinking to the impulse to terrorism.

The same year he published that book, he became head of a commission in Peru examining the devastation wrought by a terrorist group called the Shining Path. He wrote one of the great essays of our time for the New York Times Magazine on the matter, called “Inquest in the Andes.” Alas, it appears to be unavailable on the Times website, suggesting Vargas Llosa withheld rights to its electronic distribution. That is a shame, but you can read the astounding essay he wrote for the same magazine entitled “My Son the Rastafarian,” about grappling with his teenager’s rebellion and the horror of being a judge at the Cannes Film Festival. (That son, Alvaro Vargas Llosa, became the editorial-page editor of the Spanish language edition of the Miami Herald and an even greater rarity among South Americans, a libertarian.)

It is important to note that Vargas Llosa really is a liberal, not a conservative in any sense of the word. His work is often frankly libertine, as his powerful erotic novel In Praise of the Stepmother demonstrates. He doesn’t have a populist bone in him, and suffered from his inability to connect with ordinary people when he ran for president of Peru — offering sensible austerity measures that caused him to lose to a dangerous populist named Alberto Fujimori who drove the country into chaos and then fled to Japan ahead of corruption charges. Imagine Saul Bellow as president of the United States and you get some sense of what it might have meant for Vargas Llosa actually to have won his race. He wrote a remarkable book about that too, called A Fish in the Water.

He is one of the most interesting men of our time and I’m glad he got the Nobel money. Doesn’t wash the Nobel clean by any means, but at least the proceeds will be spent by someone who deserves it. Vargas Llosa wrote a visionary essay for COMMENTARY in 1992 called “The Miami Model,” which we’re making available from our archives today. Sample:

This profession of faith—hatred for the United States disguised as anti-imperialism—nowadays is actually a rather subtle form of neocolonialism. By adopting it, the Latin American intellectual does and says what the cultural establishment of the United States (and by extension, elsewhere in the West) expects of him. His proclamations, condemnations, and manifestoes, with all their grace notes and glissandos, serve to confirm all the stereotypes of the Latin American universe cherished by much of the North American cultural community.

It’s an honor to have published it, and a pleasure to congratulate our contributor on his award.

The Nobel Prize for Literature, given to as many horrible writers as worthy ones, is now of value only for two reasons: It makes its recipient rich (now up to $1.5 million), and it causes people to take account of the careers of some notable authors. Such is the case with this year’s Laureate, Mario Vargas Llosa. He achieved a broad international reputation in the 1980s and 1990s–indeed, for a time, he was probably one of the world’s best-known writers–but that has faded somewhat over the past decade. He is, quite simply, wonderful–a novelist and essayist of great wit, range, sagacity, playfulness, and high seriousness.

He first came to prominence in the United States with the late-1970s translation of his hilarious, joyful, and wildly original blend of novel and memoir, Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter, a study of the unique circumstances that led to his first marriage to a much older distant cousin; he draws a comic parallel between his life and the crazed plots devised by Peru’s leading soap-opera writer, a monastic lunatic who seems nonetheless to embody the creative process itself. The next work of his to appear in English was extraordinarily different and extraordinary in every sense of the word: The War for the End of the World, a highly realistic historical novel about a millenarian cult in fin-de-siecle Brazil. It offered a portrait, unparalleled in our time, of the way in which radical ideas can seize hold of ordinary people and drive them to suicidal madness.

This was the first of his novels to reveal Vargas Llosa’s mature world view: Almost alone among Latin American intellectuals of his time, he had become a liberal in the classic sense of the word, a believer in and advocate for Western-style free speech, free markets, and free inquiry. This was the result of an ideological journey not unlike the one taken by neoconservatives in the United States, except that in Vargas Llosa’s case it was even more remarkable given the lack of any kind of liberal culture in South America and especially in the world of Latin novelists, who were, to a man, radical Leftists either aligned with or entirely joined at the hip with Marxist-Leninist-Castroist activism. He made his decisive spiritual break with the Left plain with a short novel called The Real Life of Alejandro Meyta, which specifically linked radical Leftist thinking to the impulse to terrorism.

The same year he published that book, he became head of a commission in Peru examining the devastation wrought by a terrorist group called the Shining Path. He wrote one of the great essays of our time for the New York Times Magazine on the matter, called “Inquest in the Andes.” Alas, it appears to be unavailable on the Times website, suggesting Vargas Llosa withheld rights to its electronic distribution. That is a shame, but you can read the astounding essay he wrote for the same magazine entitled “My Son the Rastafarian,” about grappling with his teenager’s rebellion and the horror of being a judge at the Cannes Film Festival. (That son, Alvaro Vargas Llosa, became the editorial-page editor of the Spanish language edition of the Miami Herald and an even greater rarity among South Americans, a libertarian.)

It is important to note that Vargas Llosa really is a liberal, not a conservative in any sense of the word. His work is often frankly libertine, as his powerful erotic novel In Praise of the Stepmother demonstrates. He doesn’t have a populist bone in him, and suffered from his inability to connect with ordinary people when he ran for president of Peru — offering sensible austerity measures that caused him to lose to a dangerous populist named Alberto Fujimori who drove the country into chaos and then fled to Japan ahead of corruption charges. Imagine Saul Bellow as president of the United States and you get some sense of what it might have meant for Vargas Llosa actually to have won his race. He wrote a remarkable book about that too, called A Fish in the Water.

He is one of the most interesting men of our time and I’m glad he got the Nobel money. Doesn’t wash the Nobel clean by any means, but at least the proceeds will be spent by someone who deserves it. Vargas Llosa wrote a visionary essay for COMMENTARY in 1992 called “The Miami Model,” which we’re making available from our archives today. Sample:

This profession of faith—hatred for the United States disguised as anti-imperialism—nowadays is actually a rather subtle form of neocolonialism. By adopting it, the Latin American intellectual does and says what the cultural establishment of the United States (and by extension, elsewhere in the West) expects of him. His proclamations, condemnations, and manifestoes, with all their grace notes and glissandos, serve to confirm all the stereotypes of the Latin American universe cherished by much of the North American cultural community.

It’s an honor to have published it, and a pleasure to congratulate our contributor on his award.

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The Biden-Hillary Switch: Don’t Scoff

Bob Woodward made news this week by asserting there is talk inside the Obama administration about saying goodbye to Joe Biden in 2012 and nominating Hillary Clinton in his stead as vice president for the Obama reelection bid. This revelation has been greeted with extreme skepticism by Obama-watchers like the Atlantic’s Marc Ambinder and others, who say it is not under consideration; Clinton and Robert Gibbs have issued flat denials. The skeptics say it’s been decades since anything like it was done. Gerald Ford swapped out Nelson Rockefeller for Bob Dole in 1976, but then neither Ford nor Rockefeller had actually been elected; Ford was brought in as veep after Spiro Agnew had to resign; only Franklin Roosevelt traded in vice presidents regularly, inadvertently blessing the country by doing so with Harry Truman in 1944, a decision that not only led to one of the most important and tough-minded presidencies in U.S. history but also saved  the nation from a President Henry Wallace, who proved himself, literally, a Communist stooge when he challenged Truman from the Left in 1948.

Fine, but that something hasn’t been done recently isn’t an argument. If one can say anything about Obama, it’s that he doesn’t follow precedent. And what this says to me is that he will almost certaintly consider something like it if he has reason to believe his reelection is in jeopardy in 2012. He was convinced to pick Joe Biden on the grounds that it would help him with working-class swing voters and because he couldn’t bring himself to pick Hillary in 2008. Biden has not been an asset; he hasn’t proved to be the national comic relief Dan Quayle was for George Bush the Elder, but that’s because the mainstream media are protective of the Obama administration. Biden could supply inadvertent daily hilarity, as he did yesterday by saying he would “strangle” a Republican if that imaginary Republican talked to him about closing the deficit. That he is not a national embarrassment is one mark of the way in which having a friendly media is a help to Obama.

Biden is not even as useful to Obama as Quayle was; Quayle did in fact do Bush some good by shoring up his boss’s support on the social-conservative Right when that could have melted down. Even so, recall that there was serious talk in 1992 of ditching Quayle for somebody else. Given that Bush scored 38 percent in November 1992, that Hail Mary play might have been of marginal utility to Bush, at least in the sense that it would have convinced voters he had a pulse, or wanted to do what it took to win, or wanted to change course, or something.

The problem with anointing Hillary would be the same as in 2008, I suppose; could Bill Clinton be kept from doing mischief? The answer would seem to be yes, since he is now the husband of the secretary of state and doesn’t seem to get much ink or be getting himself in too much trouble.

Anyway, if Obama needs to throw a change-up, and right now it’s looking like that’s a plausible thing, Hillary-for-Biden is as good a change-up as anything else one can think of. Biden could become a senior counselor or head of the DNC; he couldn’t become secretary of state, because that would be too cute. But then, who cares what Biden would be? Would Biden make trouble on his way out? That’s not his style. He would say it was his idea. He could go write a book, make television commercials, get nice and rich. A fine post-VP life.

Bob Woodward made news this week by asserting there is talk inside the Obama administration about saying goodbye to Joe Biden in 2012 and nominating Hillary Clinton in his stead as vice president for the Obama reelection bid. This revelation has been greeted with extreme skepticism by Obama-watchers like the Atlantic’s Marc Ambinder and others, who say it is not under consideration; Clinton and Robert Gibbs have issued flat denials. The skeptics say it’s been decades since anything like it was done. Gerald Ford swapped out Nelson Rockefeller for Bob Dole in 1976, but then neither Ford nor Rockefeller had actually been elected; Ford was brought in as veep after Spiro Agnew had to resign; only Franklin Roosevelt traded in vice presidents regularly, inadvertently blessing the country by doing so with Harry Truman in 1944, a decision that not only led to one of the most important and tough-minded presidencies in U.S. history but also saved  the nation from a President Henry Wallace, who proved himself, literally, a Communist stooge when he challenged Truman from the Left in 1948.

Fine, but that something hasn’t been done recently isn’t an argument. If one can say anything about Obama, it’s that he doesn’t follow precedent. And what this says to me is that he will almost certaintly consider something like it if he has reason to believe his reelection is in jeopardy in 2012. He was convinced to pick Joe Biden on the grounds that it would help him with working-class swing voters and because he couldn’t bring himself to pick Hillary in 2008. Biden has not been an asset; he hasn’t proved to be the national comic relief Dan Quayle was for George Bush the Elder, but that’s because the mainstream media are protective of the Obama administration. Biden could supply inadvertent daily hilarity, as he did yesterday by saying he would “strangle” a Republican if that imaginary Republican talked to him about closing the deficit. That he is not a national embarrassment is one mark of the way in which having a friendly media is a help to Obama.

Biden is not even as useful to Obama as Quayle was; Quayle did in fact do Bush some good by shoring up his boss’s support on the social-conservative Right when that could have melted down. Even so, recall that there was serious talk in 1992 of ditching Quayle for somebody else. Given that Bush scored 38 percent in November 1992, that Hail Mary play might have been of marginal utility to Bush, at least in the sense that it would have convinced voters he had a pulse, or wanted to do what it took to win, or wanted to change course, or something.

The problem with anointing Hillary would be the same as in 2008, I suppose; could Bill Clinton be kept from doing mischief? The answer would seem to be yes, since he is now the husband of the secretary of state and doesn’t seem to get much ink or be getting himself in too much trouble.

Anyway, if Obama needs to throw a change-up, and right now it’s looking like that’s a plausible thing, Hillary-for-Biden is as good a change-up as anything else one can think of. Biden could become a senior counselor or head of the DNC; he couldn’t become secretary of state, because that would be too cute. But then, who cares what Biden would be? Would Biden make trouble on his way out? That’s not his style. He would say it was his idea. He could go write a book, make television commercials, get nice and rich. A fine post-VP life.

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You Can’t Get Much More Anti-Israel Than This

From the inception of J Street, I and other conservatives have argued that its “pro-Israel” label was false. Both in actions and in words it has revealed itself to be in league with Israel’s foes. It has fanned the flames of delegitimization efforts. It has incorporated Hamas’s talking points as its own. It has supported candidates most hostile to Israel and to a robust U.S.-Israel relationship.

In case you had any doubt (but really, who but Ron Kampeas does?), this report should clear things up. “J Street co-founder, advisory board member, and international socialite Daniel Levy” helped escort Richard Goldstone around Capitol Hill, and it was his ” New America Foundation that hosted a high-caliber lunch for Goldstone.”

According to the report, Levy was on an all-star panel of Israel-haters last May (“with Abdel al-Bari Atwan, the editor in chief of al-Quds al-Arabi, NAF Strategic Program Director Steve Clemons, surreal Hamas apologist and one-stater Allister Sparks, and accused terrorist Basheer Nafi”) when he shared this:

One can be a utilitarian two-stater, in other words think that the practical pragmatic way forward is two states. This is my understanding of the current Hamas position. One can be an ideological two-stater, someone who believes in exclusively the Palestinian self-determination and in Zionism; I don’t believe that it’s impossible to have a progressive Zionism. Or one can be a one-stater. But in either of those outcomes we’re going to live next door to each other or in a one state disposition. And that means wrapping one’s head around the humanity of both sides. I believe the way Jewish history was in 1948 excused — for me, it was good enough for me — an act that was wrong. I don’t expect Palestinians to think that. I have no reason — there’s no reason a Palestinian should think there was justice in the creation of Israel.

His remarks also apparently included the assertion that it was “‘natural’ for Gazans to want to attack Israelis.” I await the denial by Soros Street, the production of the complete transcript, and then the emergence of the pro-J Street spin squad to explain that Levy didn’t really mean what he said. Or J Street doesn’t believe this. Or whatever. But I think those who have given money to J Street or accepted endorsements or cash from it under the pretense that it was a pro-Israel group were defrauded. And I think J Street is kaput.

From the inception of J Street, I and other conservatives have argued that its “pro-Israel” label was false. Both in actions and in words it has revealed itself to be in league with Israel’s foes. It has fanned the flames of delegitimization efforts. It has incorporated Hamas’s talking points as its own. It has supported candidates most hostile to Israel and to a robust U.S.-Israel relationship.

In case you had any doubt (but really, who but Ron Kampeas does?), this report should clear things up. “J Street co-founder, advisory board member, and international socialite Daniel Levy” helped escort Richard Goldstone around Capitol Hill, and it was his ” New America Foundation that hosted a high-caliber lunch for Goldstone.”

According to the report, Levy was on an all-star panel of Israel-haters last May (“with Abdel al-Bari Atwan, the editor in chief of al-Quds al-Arabi, NAF Strategic Program Director Steve Clemons, surreal Hamas apologist and one-stater Allister Sparks, and accused terrorist Basheer Nafi”) when he shared this:

One can be a utilitarian two-stater, in other words think that the practical pragmatic way forward is two states. This is my understanding of the current Hamas position. One can be an ideological two-stater, someone who believes in exclusively the Palestinian self-determination and in Zionism; I don’t believe that it’s impossible to have a progressive Zionism. Or one can be a one-stater. But in either of those outcomes we’re going to live next door to each other or in a one state disposition. And that means wrapping one’s head around the humanity of both sides. I believe the way Jewish history was in 1948 excused — for me, it was good enough for me — an act that was wrong. I don’t expect Palestinians to think that. I have no reason — there’s no reason a Palestinian should think there was justice in the creation of Israel.

His remarks also apparently included the assertion that it was “‘natural’ for Gazans to want to attack Israelis.” I await the denial by Soros Street, the production of the complete transcript, and then the emergence of the pro-J Street spin squad to explain that Levy didn’t really mean what he said. Or J Street doesn’t believe this. Or whatever. But I think those who have given money to J Street or accepted endorsements or cash from it under the pretense that it was a pro-Israel group were defrauded. And I think J Street is kaput.

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Parker-Spitzer — You Gotta Be Kidding

I haven’t been motivated to watch CNN’s new talking-heads show hosted by Eliot Spitzer and Kathleen Parker. Howard Kurtz’s column reviewing his own network’s show and the work of his colleague at the Post’s — why is this remotely acceptable, even with a disclaimer? — doesn’t entice me to reconsider. Kurtz pulls his punches a bit and explains that the show’s problem may be the insufficient amount of conflict. Parker is so darn nice. And she and Spitzer talk past one another without engaging in much debate.

If Kurtz were less conflicted (interest-wise) and less timid, he’d come out and say it: Parker isn’t an impressive representative of the right. She is the sort of conservative whom liberals love — scornful of Sarah Palin, uncreative, and ineffective. In other words, she isn’t going to advance the conservative agenda, so it’s fine to have her on. Meanwhile, Spitzer isn’t a representative of anything other than the debasement of “news.” He resigned in disgrace, spied on his enemies, and is regarded as entirely lacking in judgment (political and personal). So exactly what expertise does he bring to the show? Why should we accept the premise that he has some viable analysis to offer? Put aside whether he deserves public rehabilitation. He is utterly unqualified for the role he is assuming — political guru.

Jon Klein, the former head of CNN, came up with this show. He’s since been booted. Let’s hope this embarrassing excuse for a serious political program will as well.

I haven’t been motivated to watch CNN’s new talking-heads show hosted by Eliot Spitzer and Kathleen Parker. Howard Kurtz’s column reviewing his own network’s show and the work of his colleague at the Post’s — why is this remotely acceptable, even with a disclaimer? — doesn’t entice me to reconsider. Kurtz pulls his punches a bit and explains that the show’s problem may be the insufficient amount of conflict. Parker is so darn nice. And she and Spitzer talk past one another without engaging in much debate.

If Kurtz were less conflicted (interest-wise) and less timid, he’d come out and say it: Parker isn’t an impressive representative of the right. She is the sort of conservative whom liberals love — scornful of Sarah Palin, uncreative, and ineffective. In other words, she isn’t going to advance the conservative agenda, so it’s fine to have her on. Meanwhile, Spitzer isn’t a representative of anything other than the debasement of “news.” He resigned in disgrace, spied on his enemies, and is regarded as entirely lacking in judgment (political and personal). So exactly what expertise does he bring to the show? Why should we accept the premise that he has some viable analysis to offer? Put aside whether he deserves public rehabilitation. He is utterly unqualified for the role he is assuming — political guru.

Jon Klein, the former head of CNN, came up with this show. He’s since been booted. Let’s hope this embarrassing excuse for a serious political program will as well.

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Obama’s Impact on the Democratic Party

Obama’s presence in the Oval Office has contributed to the most vibrant grassroots conservative movement in a generation. His party is about to get thumped at the polls and lose its majority in one or both houses of Congress. The number of self-identifying conservatives is on the upswing. And now this:

In September, 34.6% of American Adults identified themselves as Democrats. That’s down nearly half a percentage point from a month ago, a full percentage point from two months ago, and is the smallest percentage of Democrats ever recorded in nearly eight years of monthly tracking.

It would have taken decades for conservatives to have accomplished all this without Obama. Americans are getting a look at what it means to be a “Democrat” these days, for the president is the head of his party as well as the chief executive. And more and more voters are saying, “Well if that’s a Democrat, I’m not.”

Obama’s presence in the Oval Office has contributed to the most vibrant grassroots conservative movement in a generation. His party is about to get thumped at the polls and lose its majority in one or both houses of Congress. The number of self-identifying conservatives is on the upswing. And now this:

In September, 34.6% of American Adults identified themselves as Democrats. That’s down nearly half a percentage point from a month ago, a full percentage point from two months ago, and is the smallest percentage of Democrats ever recorded in nearly eight years of monthly tracking.

It would have taken decades for conservatives to have accomplished all this without Obama. Americans are getting a look at what it means to be a “Democrat” these days, for the president is the head of his party as well as the chief executive. And more and more voters are saying, “Well if that’s a Democrat, I’m not.”

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