Commentary Magazine


Topic: iPod

Obama Snubs Britain Yet Again

He just can’t help himself. President Obama has apparently dissed Britain once again by declaring that “[w]e don’t have a stronger friend and stronger ally than Nicolas Sarkozy, and the French people” during a White House appearance with the French president. And the British press has taken notice:

Barack Obama has declared that France is America’s greatest ally, undermining Britain’s Special Relationship with the U.S.

The President risked offending British troops in Afghanistan by saying that French president Nicolas Sarkozy is a ‘stronger friend’ than David Cameron.

The remarks, during a White House appearance with Mr Sarkozy, will reinforce the widely-held view in British diplomatic circles that Mr Obama has less interest in the Special Relationship than any other recent American leader.

Whether or not Obama meant any offense by the statement, he obviously should have realized that his past coldness toward Britain has made the it highly sensitive to any perceived slights from the White House. The president previously declined to meet with former prime minister Gordon Brown, removed the bust of Winston Churchill from his office, and famously gave Queen Elizabeth an iPod with photos of himself on it as a gift. His latest amateur diplomatic slip-up has sparked a bit of anti-French bad-mouthing from both British lawmakers and foreign-policy experts in Washington:

Tory MP Patrick Mercer, a former commander of the Sherwood Foresters regiment, said: “I’m getting a bit fed up with the American President using terms like ‘best ally’ so loosely.

“It’s Britain that has had more than 300 servicemen killed in Afghanistan, not France.

“That to my mind is a lot more powerful than any political gesture making.”

The remarks also angered conservatives in Washington.

Nile Gardiner, director of the Margaret Thatcher Centre For Freedom at the Heritage Foundation think-tank, said: “Quite what the French have done to merit this kind of high praise from the U.S. President is difficult to fathom.

“And if the White House means what it says this represents an extraordinary sea change in foreign policy.” Dr Gardiner, a former aide to Lady Thatcher, added: “To suggest that Paris and not London is Washington’s strongest partner is simply ludicrous.

“Such a remark is not only factually wrong but insulting to Britain, not least coming just a few years after the French knifed Washington in the back over the war in Iraq.”

And it’s not hard to see why Obama’s statement provoked such a response. As the Daily Mail notes, the UK has lost nearly seven times as many troops as France in the global war on terror. I’d say that the president should choose his words more carefully next time, but in light of his numerous diplomatic flaps with Britain, I’m not sure if he has it in him.

He just can’t help himself. President Obama has apparently dissed Britain once again by declaring that “[w]e don’t have a stronger friend and stronger ally than Nicolas Sarkozy, and the French people” during a White House appearance with the French president. And the British press has taken notice:

Barack Obama has declared that France is America’s greatest ally, undermining Britain’s Special Relationship with the U.S.

The President risked offending British troops in Afghanistan by saying that French president Nicolas Sarkozy is a ‘stronger friend’ than David Cameron.

The remarks, during a White House appearance with Mr Sarkozy, will reinforce the widely-held view in British diplomatic circles that Mr Obama has less interest in the Special Relationship than any other recent American leader.

Whether or not Obama meant any offense by the statement, he obviously should have realized that his past coldness toward Britain has made the it highly sensitive to any perceived slights from the White House. The president previously declined to meet with former prime minister Gordon Brown, removed the bust of Winston Churchill from his office, and famously gave Queen Elizabeth an iPod with photos of himself on it as a gift. His latest amateur diplomatic slip-up has sparked a bit of anti-French bad-mouthing from both British lawmakers and foreign-policy experts in Washington:

Tory MP Patrick Mercer, a former commander of the Sherwood Foresters regiment, said: “I’m getting a bit fed up with the American President using terms like ‘best ally’ so loosely.

“It’s Britain that has had more than 300 servicemen killed in Afghanistan, not France.

“That to my mind is a lot more powerful than any political gesture making.”

The remarks also angered conservatives in Washington.

Nile Gardiner, director of the Margaret Thatcher Centre For Freedom at the Heritage Foundation think-tank, said: “Quite what the French have done to merit this kind of high praise from the U.S. President is difficult to fathom.

“And if the White House means what it says this represents an extraordinary sea change in foreign policy.” Dr Gardiner, a former aide to Lady Thatcher, added: “To suggest that Paris and not London is Washington’s strongest partner is simply ludicrous.

“Such a remark is not only factually wrong but insulting to Britain, not least coming just a few years after the French knifed Washington in the back over the war in Iraq.”

And it’s not hard to see why Obama’s statement provoked such a response. As the Daily Mail notes, the UK has lost nearly seven times as many troops as France in the global war on terror. I’d say that the president should choose his words more carefully next time, but in light of his numerous diplomatic flaps with Britain, I’m not sure if he has it in him.

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Honduras, Obama, and Occam’s Razor

In the Wall Street Journal yesterday, Mary Anastasia O’Grady wrote that cables released by WikiLeaks show that the administration knew Honduran President Manuel Zelaya had threatened Honduran democracy — but supported him in order to offer President Obama a “bonding opportunity” with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and a chance to ingratiate himself with Latin America’s hard left.

O’Grady believes this helps explain why the administration went to such extremes to try to force Zelaya’s reinstatement despite the obvious remedy once the Honduran Congress and Supreme Court had upheld his removal for attempting to thwart the election of his successor — hold the already scheduled election between the already duly-chosen candidates, on the date already set, which was only a few months away.

I have a simpler explanation — not inconsistent with O’Grady’s analysis but closer to the common theme in Obama’s foreign policy in other areas. The day after Zelaya was removed, Obama pronounced it a “coup.” That snap judgment remained American policy even as more and more facts contradicting Obama’s description emerged. After months pushing a reinstatement that virtually every element of Honduran political and civil society opposed, and even though the proper and practical solution was apparent, Obama still engaged in mystifying diplomacy, cutting off aid to a poverty-stricken ally. Three months into the “crisis,” State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley made this statement about the Honduran government’s intent to hold its election:

There’s a sense that the de facto regime was thinking, if we can just get to an election, that this would absolve them of all their sins. And we’re saying, clearly, that is not the case.

Crowley asserted the election the Honduran legislature and judiciary sought to preserve would not “absolve” them of “all their sins.” Honduras had apparently offended some sort of god.

Obama brought to the Oval Office a self-regard probably unmatched in American history. He apologized for his country while praising it for electing him. He thought that Iran could be handled with his outstretched hand; that a foreign head of state should receive an iPod with his speeches on it; that a video of him was sufficient for the Berlin Wall anniversary; that a prime minister should be summoned to the White House after-hours without press or pictures; that a Palestinian state would be created because this time they had Him. Russia and China were treated with respect, as was Iran, even as it held a fraudulent election and blew through his successive “deadlines.” But allies such as Poland, the Czech Republic, Georgia, Israel, and Britain were treated differently.

What was visited upon Honduras last year was of a piece.

In the Wall Street Journal yesterday, Mary Anastasia O’Grady wrote that cables released by WikiLeaks show that the administration knew Honduran President Manuel Zelaya had threatened Honduran democracy — but supported him in order to offer President Obama a “bonding opportunity” with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and a chance to ingratiate himself with Latin America’s hard left.

O’Grady believes this helps explain why the administration went to such extremes to try to force Zelaya’s reinstatement despite the obvious remedy once the Honduran Congress and Supreme Court had upheld his removal for attempting to thwart the election of his successor — hold the already scheduled election between the already duly-chosen candidates, on the date already set, which was only a few months away.

I have a simpler explanation — not inconsistent with O’Grady’s analysis but closer to the common theme in Obama’s foreign policy in other areas. The day after Zelaya was removed, Obama pronounced it a “coup.” That snap judgment remained American policy even as more and more facts contradicting Obama’s description emerged. After months pushing a reinstatement that virtually every element of Honduran political and civil society opposed, and even though the proper and practical solution was apparent, Obama still engaged in mystifying diplomacy, cutting off aid to a poverty-stricken ally. Three months into the “crisis,” State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley made this statement about the Honduran government’s intent to hold its election:

There’s a sense that the de facto regime was thinking, if we can just get to an election, that this would absolve them of all their sins. And we’re saying, clearly, that is not the case.

Crowley asserted the election the Honduran legislature and judiciary sought to preserve would not “absolve” them of “all their sins.” Honduras had apparently offended some sort of god.

Obama brought to the Oval Office a self-regard probably unmatched in American history. He apologized for his country while praising it for electing him. He thought that Iran could be handled with his outstretched hand; that a foreign head of state should receive an iPod with his speeches on it; that a video of him was sufficient for the Berlin Wall anniversary; that a prime minister should be summoned to the White House after-hours without press or pictures; that a Palestinian state would be created because this time they had Him. Russia and China were treated with respect, as was Iran, even as it held a fraudulent election and blew through his successive “deadlines.” But allies such as Poland, the Czech Republic, Georgia, Israel, and Britain were treated differently.

What was visited upon Honduras last year was of a piece.

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The Worst Mistake

In a Washington Post op-ed, Mitt Romney contends that the new START agreement “could be his worst foreign policy mistake yet.” He makes a powerful case against the treaty, pointing out that its most grievous flaw is that “America must effectively get Russia’s permission for any missile-defense expansion.”

I don’t dispute his conclusion (that “it must not be ratified”), but I’m more intrigued by the debate it raises: what is Obama’s worst foreign-policy mistake? I’d posit it definitely isn’t START, because that will not be ratified. But if not START, then what?

There are the appalling episodes (e.g., condemning Israel for progress on a building permit in its capital). There are the nearly inexplicable goofs (e.g., backing Hugo Chavez’s pawn in Honduras and then having to wriggle out once it became apparent that he was a raving anti-Semite and the whole country was behind the “coup”). There are the etiquette errors – iPod for the Queen, bows for the Saudi king, no cameras for the first Bibi visit, etc. There are the cringe-inducing apologies. (Which was worse: the video valentine to the Iranians in 2009, or remorse for dropping an atomic bomb on Japan that saved over a million lives?) There are the serial assaults on our allies (e.g., Poland and the Czech Republic over missile defense, Israel over everything). There is the shameful abandonment of human rights and democracy promotion. (Some incidents fit multiple categories, like snubbing the Dalai Lama.)

But all of those pale in comparison to the failure to devise a credible plan for thwarting a nuclear-armed Iran. Really, nothing comes close. Yes, he’s appeased Russia, but we’ve recovered from presidents who came up short against the Russian bear. And almost every other gaffe, error, and oversight can be repaired over time. However, a nuclear-armed Iran likely is forever. Not only will it pose an existential threat to Israel, unleash a nuclear-arms race, and embolden all of Iran’s terrorist surrogates, but it will also mark the epic failure of American power. We said “unacceptable,” but we let it happen. How’s that going to come across?

It’s still feasible to correct even this error, provided Obama is willing to use the threat of force and, if need be, force itself. However, if you doubt that Obama is capable and willing to do that, then his Iran policy becomes not only the worst foreign-policy mistake of his presidency, but arguably ever.

In a Washington Post op-ed, Mitt Romney contends that the new START agreement “could be his worst foreign policy mistake yet.” He makes a powerful case against the treaty, pointing out that its most grievous flaw is that “America must effectively get Russia’s permission for any missile-defense expansion.”

I don’t dispute his conclusion (that “it must not be ratified”), but I’m more intrigued by the debate it raises: what is Obama’s worst foreign-policy mistake? I’d posit it definitely isn’t START, because that will not be ratified. But if not START, then what?

There are the appalling episodes (e.g., condemning Israel for progress on a building permit in its capital). There are the nearly inexplicable goofs (e.g., backing Hugo Chavez’s pawn in Honduras and then having to wriggle out once it became apparent that he was a raving anti-Semite and the whole country was behind the “coup”). There are the etiquette errors – iPod for the Queen, bows for the Saudi king, no cameras for the first Bibi visit, etc. There are the cringe-inducing apologies. (Which was worse: the video valentine to the Iranians in 2009, or remorse for dropping an atomic bomb on Japan that saved over a million lives?) There are the serial assaults on our allies (e.g., Poland and the Czech Republic over missile defense, Israel over everything). There is the shameful abandonment of human rights and democracy promotion. (Some incidents fit multiple categories, like snubbing the Dalai Lama.)

But all of those pale in comparison to the failure to devise a credible plan for thwarting a nuclear-armed Iran. Really, nothing comes close. Yes, he’s appeased Russia, but we’ve recovered from presidents who came up short against the Russian bear. And almost every other gaffe, error, and oversight can be repaired over time. However, a nuclear-armed Iran likely is forever. Not only will it pose an existential threat to Israel, unleash a nuclear-arms race, and embolden all of Iran’s terrorist surrogates, but it will also mark the epic failure of American power. We said “unacceptable,” but we let it happen. How’s that going to come across?

It’s still feasible to correct even this error, provided Obama is willing to use the threat of force and, if need be, force itself. However, if you doubt that Obama is capable and willing to do that, then his Iran policy becomes not only the worst foreign-policy mistake of his presidency, but arguably ever.

Read Less

Annals of a 91-Year-Old Peace Process

Yesterday, the White House posted a “readout” of President Obama’s call to Palestinian “President” Mahmoud Abbas, who is beginning the 65th month of his 48-month term. Obama congratulated him on the start of the proximity talks, urged him to do “everything he can” to prevent incitement or delegitimization of Israel, and said he “looks forward to receiving President Abbas at the White House soon.”

There is an obvious disparity between the treatment of Abbas and that of the leader of Israel. Benjamin Netanyahu was kept waiting until the last moment before receiving a presidential audience; the meeting was held after business hours and with a side-door entrance and exit; he was blindsided at the meeting and left alone while Obama had dinner with his family; there was no meeting with the media before or after; and there was not even a picture. The only thing missing was a parting gift of an iPod loaded with Obama’s Cairo speech. Abbas will get the opposite treatment on every count, starting with a news release announcing that the president looks forward to meeting him.

The slight to Israel is obvious, but there is an additional reason for the ostentatious treatment of Abbas. The dirty little secret of the “peace process” is that the U.S. wants a Palestinian state more than the Palestinians do, for reasons discussed in Walter Russell Mead’s perceptive post, “The Middle East Peace Industry” — worth reading in its entirety (but only with Nadine’s important comment on it). Mead notes that the “Middle East peace process is the longest running piece of diplomatic theater on the world stage,” dating from 1919 (with a two-state solution proposed by the Jews and rejected by the Arabs), with repeated failures caused by the continuing Arab goal of one state rather than two.

The Palestinian lack of interest in the latest version of the “peace process” is palpable. A year ago, Israel announced that it wanted immediate negotiations without preconditions; formally affirmed a two-state solution as the goal of the negotiations; and took an unprecedented step to help them start. The Palestinians refused to commence negotiations intended to give them a state, still refuse to attend them in person, and are willing only to let the Obama administration negotiate for them. They have discovered that saying “no we can’t” produces not criticism of them but pressure on Israel to make more concessions, followed by congratulations to the Palestinians.

Yesterday, the White House posted a “readout” of President Obama’s call to Palestinian “President” Mahmoud Abbas, who is beginning the 65th month of his 48-month term. Obama congratulated him on the start of the proximity talks, urged him to do “everything he can” to prevent incitement or delegitimization of Israel, and said he “looks forward to receiving President Abbas at the White House soon.”

There is an obvious disparity between the treatment of Abbas and that of the leader of Israel. Benjamin Netanyahu was kept waiting until the last moment before receiving a presidential audience; the meeting was held after business hours and with a side-door entrance and exit; he was blindsided at the meeting and left alone while Obama had dinner with his family; there was no meeting with the media before or after; and there was not even a picture. The only thing missing was a parting gift of an iPod loaded with Obama’s Cairo speech. Abbas will get the opposite treatment on every count, starting with a news release announcing that the president looks forward to meeting him.

The slight to Israel is obvious, but there is an additional reason for the ostentatious treatment of Abbas. The dirty little secret of the “peace process” is that the U.S. wants a Palestinian state more than the Palestinians do, for reasons discussed in Walter Russell Mead’s perceptive post, “The Middle East Peace Industry” — worth reading in its entirety (but only with Nadine’s important comment on it). Mead notes that the “Middle East peace process is the longest running piece of diplomatic theater on the world stage,” dating from 1919 (with a two-state solution proposed by the Jews and rejected by the Arabs), with repeated failures caused by the continuing Arab goal of one state rather than two.

The Palestinian lack of interest in the latest version of the “peace process” is palpable. A year ago, Israel announced that it wanted immediate negotiations without preconditions; formally affirmed a two-state solution as the goal of the negotiations; and took an unprecedented step to help them start. The Palestinians refused to commence negotiations intended to give them a state, still refuse to attend them in person, and are willing only to let the Obama administration negotiate for them. They have discovered that saying “no we can’t” produces not criticism of them but pressure on Israel to make more concessions, followed by congratulations to the Palestinians.

Read Less

The Truth and Barack Obama

Who knew that Barack Obama’s real ambition is to be Howard Kurtz?

In his commencement address at Hampton University, the president once again decided to act as if he were America’s Media-Critic-in-Chief. In Obama’s words:

You’re coming of age in a 24/7 media environment that bombards us with all kinds of content and exposes us to all kinds of arguments, some of which don’t always rank that high on the truth meter. And with iPods and iPads; and Xboxes and PlayStations — none of which I know how to work — (laughter) — information becomes a distraction, a diversion, a form of entertainment, rather than a tool of empowerment, rather than the means of emancipation. So all of this is not only putting pressure on you; it’s putting new pressure on our country and on our democracy.

Later in the speech, Obama added this:

So, allowing you to compete in the global economy is the first way your education can prepare you. But it can also prepare you as citizens. With so many voices clamoring for attention on blogs, and on cable, on talk radio, it can be difficult, at times, to sift through it all; to know what to believe; to figure out who’s telling the truth and who’s not. Let’s face it, even some of the craziest claims can quickly gain traction. I’ve had some experience in that regard.

There are several things one can take away from the president’s remarks.

The first is that there’s a certain irony in being instructed by Obama about avoiding arguments that “don’t always rank that high on the truth meter.” This instruction, after all, comes from a man who, throughout the health-care debate, repeatedly made false and misleading arguments about the effects of ObamaCare on bending the cost curve, on the deficit and debt, on whether people will be forced to leave their employer-based policies, on whether his plan advocated Medicare cuts, on whether it would subsidize abortions, and much else.

Mr. Obama is also the person who, when he was running for the presidency, promised all health-care negotiations would be broadcast on C-SPAN (They weren’t.), that he would accept public financing for his campaign (He didn’t.), that he would put an end to “phony accounting” (He hasn’t.), that lobbyists will not work in his White House (They do.), that he would slash earmarks by more than half (He has not.), that he opposed giving Miranda rights to terrorists (He favors them.), that he was against an individual health-care mandate (He supported it.), and that he would resist the temptation “to fall back on the same partisanship and pettiness and immaturity that has poisoned our politics for so long” (He succumbed to the temptation.).

Where, I wonder, does Mr. Obama rank these statements on his cherished Truth Meter?

And what are we to make of the fact that the very paragraph from Obama’s speech where he laments the lack of truth in public statements includes — you guessed it — a false statement by Obama?

In his commencement address, Obama insists he doesn’t know how to work an iPod. But here’s an item that appeared on the Huffington Post on June 25, 2008:

WASHINGTON — Bob Dylan. Yo-Yo Ma. Sheryl Crow. Jay-Z. These aren’t musical acts in a summer concert series: They’re artists featured on Barack Obama’s iPod.

“I have pretty eclectic tastes,” the Democratic presidential contender said in an interview to be published in Friday’s issue of Rolling Stone.

Is that distant sound we hear the Truth Meter going off again?

By now Obama has spoken out against the New Media often enough to know that he both despises it and is obsessed with it. For all of his talk about his eagerness to listen to others, “especially when we disagree,” as he put it on the night of his election, Obama clearly resents being challenged. He gets especially exasperated and condescending when his challenger has made the better argument. That is, in fact, a trait of Team Obama; we see that attitude on display almost every day in the person of Robert Gibbs, the snidest and least likable press secretary in our lifetime.

The president and his aides are clearly used to being cosseted. They seem to believe the American public should treat them as reverentially as staff members of the New Yorker do.

It may seem odd for a man who presents himself as a public intellectual who cherishes open-mindedness and vigorous debate to be so relentlessly critical of the diversity of voices and viewpoints now in the public square. But remember this: Barack Obama is a man whose attitudes and sensibilities have been shaped by the academy, an institution that is the least (classically) liberal and open-minded in American life today. A stifling conformity and an unwillingness to engage arguments on the merits, combined with a reflexive tendency to attack the motives of those who hold opposing views, are hallmarks of the modern university. They are also, alas, hallmarks of America’s 44th president. But Mr. Obama is learning the hard way that America is not one big Ivy League campus. Here, differing opinions are heard, whether they are welcomed by those in power or not. The public will not bow down before any man or any office. And politicians who treat dissenting voices as if they are a Tower of Babble, to be mocked and ridiculed into silence, eventually receive their comeuppance. So shall Obama.

Who knew that Barack Obama’s real ambition is to be Howard Kurtz?

In his commencement address at Hampton University, the president once again decided to act as if he were America’s Media-Critic-in-Chief. In Obama’s words:

You’re coming of age in a 24/7 media environment that bombards us with all kinds of content and exposes us to all kinds of arguments, some of which don’t always rank that high on the truth meter. And with iPods and iPads; and Xboxes and PlayStations — none of which I know how to work — (laughter) — information becomes a distraction, a diversion, a form of entertainment, rather than a tool of empowerment, rather than the means of emancipation. So all of this is not only putting pressure on you; it’s putting new pressure on our country and on our democracy.

Later in the speech, Obama added this:

So, allowing you to compete in the global economy is the first way your education can prepare you. But it can also prepare you as citizens. With so many voices clamoring for attention on blogs, and on cable, on talk radio, it can be difficult, at times, to sift through it all; to know what to believe; to figure out who’s telling the truth and who’s not. Let’s face it, even some of the craziest claims can quickly gain traction. I’ve had some experience in that regard.

There are several things one can take away from the president’s remarks.

The first is that there’s a certain irony in being instructed by Obama about avoiding arguments that “don’t always rank that high on the truth meter.” This instruction, after all, comes from a man who, throughout the health-care debate, repeatedly made false and misleading arguments about the effects of ObamaCare on bending the cost curve, on the deficit and debt, on whether people will be forced to leave their employer-based policies, on whether his plan advocated Medicare cuts, on whether it would subsidize abortions, and much else.

Mr. Obama is also the person who, when he was running for the presidency, promised all health-care negotiations would be broadcast on C-SPAN (They weren’t.), that he would accept public financing for his campaign (He didn’t.), that he would put an end to “phony accounting” (He hasn’t.), that lobbyists will not work in his White House (They do.), that he would slash earmarks by more than half (He has not.), that he opposed giving Miranda rights to terrorists (He favors them.), that he was against an individual health-care mandate (He supported it.), and that he would resist the temptation “to fall back on the same partisanship and pettiness and immaturity that has poisoned our politics for so long” (He succumbed to the temptation.).

Where, I wonder, does Mr. Obama rank these statements on his cherished Truth Meter?

And what are we to make of the fact that the very paragraph from Obama’s speech where he laments the lack of truth in public statements includes — you guessed it — a false statement by Obama?

In his commencement address, Obama insists he doesn’t know how to work an iPod. But here’s an item that appeared on the Huffington Post on June 25, 2008:

WASHINGTON — Bob Dylan. Yo-Yo Ma. Sheryl Crow. Jay-Z. These aren’t musical acts in a summer concert series: They’re artists featured on Barack Obama’s iPod.

“I have pretty eclectic tastes,” the Democratic presidential contender said in an interview to be published in Friday’s issue of Rolling Stone.

Is that distant sound we hear the Truth Meter going off again?

By now Obama has spoken out against the New Media often enough to know that he both despises it and is obsessed with it. For all of his talk about his eagerness to listen to others, “especially when we disagree,” as he put it on the night of his election, Obama clearly resents being challenged. He gets especially exasperated and condescending when his challenger has made the better argument. That is, in fact, a trait of Team Obama; we see that attitude on display almost every day in the person of Robert Gibbs, the snidest and least likable press secretary in our lifetime.

The president and his aides are clearly used to being cosseted. They seem to believe the American public should treat them as reverentially as staff members of the New Yorker do.

It may seem odd for a man who presents himself as a public intellectual who cherishes open-mindedness and vigorous debate to be so relentlessly critical of the diversity of voices and viewpoints now in the public square. But remember this: Barack Obama is a man whose attitudes and sensibilities have been shaped by the academy, an institution that is the least (classically) liberal and open-minded in American life today. A stifling conformity and an unwillingness to engage arguments on the merits, combined with a reflexive tendency to attack the motives of those who hold opposing views, are hallmarks of the modern university. They are also, alas, hallmarks of America’s 44th president. But Mr. Obama is learning the hard way that America is not one big Ivy League campus. Here, differing opinions are heard, whether they are welcomed by those in power or not. The public will not bow down before any man or any office. And politicians who treat dissenting voices as if they are a Tower of Babble, to be mocked and ridiculed into silence, eventually receive their comeuppance. So shall Obama.

Read Less

Flotsam and Jetsam

Michael Barone explains young Americans’ economic outlook in the Obama era: “The programs of the Obama administration and the Democratic congressional leadership will increase government’s share of the economy and will tend to choke off private sector economic growth. We’ve already lost 8 million private sector jobs but no public sector jobs. We’ll probably create more public sector jobs. … But a nation with an ever larger public sector and an inhibited-growth private sector is a nation with fewer openings for people who want work that will benefit others. Fewer opportunities for young people who want to choose their future, just as they choose their iPod playlists and Facebook friends. Fewer opportunities for people to choose their future.”

Bill Kristol explains the economic-growth outlook in the Obama era: “Can you have a serious recovery when your — when taxes are being raised quite a lot, interest rates are going up, and the regulatory burden’s getting heavier? Those are just facts. I mean, taxes are going up. Interest rates are going up, intermediate and long-term rates, and they’re going to keep on going up because of the deficit. And the regulatory burden is getting heavier. That — I don’t know what economic theory tells you get good growth with those things going on.”

The farce of nuclear disarmament in the Obama era: “Iran said on Sunday it will host a nuclear disarmament conference this month to be attended by China, which has been resisting new sanctions against Tehran over its atomic ambitions. ‘This is an international conference and Iran, which advocates nuclear disarmament, is calling on all nations to disarm,’ Tehran’s chief nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili told the official IRNA news agency.”

Syria-Israel relations in the Obama era (which look an awful lot like they always have): “A report submitted a few weeks ago to French President Nicolas Sarkozy by two of his top diplomats concludes that there is no chance to renew substantial negotiations between Israel and Syria in the near future, Haaretz has learned. The officials had visited the Middle East recently to investigate the possibility of French mediation between the two countries.” Agreeing to return our ambassador to Damascus apparently accomplished nothing.

Non-leadership on human rights in the Obama era: “Other nations should make clear that Burma would indeed be welcomed back — but only if it frees all political prisoners and ceases its war crimes against national minorities. … Together, these nations could exert real influence. They could tighten financial sanctions to really pinch top leaders and the entities they control; they could push the machinery of the United Nations to investigate the regime’s crimes, such as forced labor and mass rape. Now would be a good moment, in other words, to unite and use the leverage that is lying unused on the table.”

Another competitive Blue State in the Obama era: “As soon as former Maryland governor Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. announced that he was running for governor, the race was seen by national Republicans as another possible high-profile pickup, a view almost immediately shared by political prognosticators. The nonpartisan Cook Political Report adjusted its rating of the race Thursday from solidly Democratic to one short of ‘Toss Up’ — saying Ehrlich is expected to run a ‘competitive’ contest against Gov. Martin O’Malley (D).”

Another prominent Blue State Democratic governor is in trouble in the Obama era: “Few politicians are as close to Obama as the Massachusetts Democratic governor, or have deeper ties to the president and his core team of advisers. And almost no one faces a tougher re-election battle this year than [Deval] Patrick, whose disapproval ratings would be considered near-terminal if not for the three-way race that he currently finds himself in.”

Not-at-all-smart diplomacy in the Obama era: “Barack Obama is in danger of reversing all the progress his predecessors, including George W. Bush, made in forging closer U.S. ties with India. Preoccupied with China and the Middle East, the Obama administration has allotted little room on its schedule for India, and failed to get much done in the short time it did make. Hosting Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at the November state visit, the administration managed to produce cordial photo ops, but the agreements reached on education, energy cooperation, and the like dealt with trivia.”

The voice of sanity in the Obama era: “The head of the Senate Homeland Security Committee said Sunday that several domestic threats against the government are “real” but not as great as dangers posed by foreign terrorists. Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) emphasized that the government is taking seriously the arrest of militia members and threats to lawmakers and governors but cautioned that people should not ‘overstate’ them.”

Michael Barone explains young Americans’ economic outlook in the Obama era: “The programs of the Obama administration and the Democratic congressional leadership will increase government’s share of the economy and will tend to choke off private sector economic growth. We’ve already lost 8 million private sector jobs but no public sector jobs. We’ll probably create more public sector jobs. … But a nation with an ever larger public sector and an inhibited-growth private sector is a nation with fewer openings for people who want work that will benefit others. Fewer opportunities for young people who want to choose their future, just as they choose their iPod playlists and Facebook friends. Fewer opportunities for people to choose their future.”

Bill Kristol explains the economic-growth outlook in the Obama era: “Can you have a serious recovery when your — when taxes are being raised quite a lot, interest rates are going up, and the regulatory burden’s getting heavier? Those are just facts. I mean, taxes are going up. Interest rates are going up, intermediate and long-term rates, and they’re going to keep on going up because of the deficit. And the regulatory burden is getting heavier. That — I don’t know what economic theory tells you get good growth with those things going on.”

The farce of nuclear disarmament in the Obama era: “Iran said on Sunday it will host a nuclear disarmament conference this month to be attended by China, which has been resisting new sanctions against Tehran over its atomic ambitions. ‘This is an international conference and Iran, which advocates nuclear disarmament, is calling on all nations to disarm,’ Tehran’s chief nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili told the official IRNA news agency.”

Syria-Israel relations in the Obama era (which look an awful lot like they always have): “A report submitted a few weeks ago to French President Nicolas Sarkozy by two of his top diplomats concludes that there is no chance to renew substantial negotiations between Israel and Syria in the near future, Haaretz has learned. The officials had visited the Middle East recently to investigate the possibility of French mediation between the two countries.” Agreeing to return our ambassador to Damascus apparently accomplished nothing.

Non-leadership on human rights in the Obama era: “Other nations should make clear that Burma would indeed be welcomed back — but only if it frees all political prisoners and ceases its war crimes against national minorities. … Together, these nations could exert real influence. They could tighten financial sanctions to really pinch top leaders and the entities they control; they could push the machinery of the United Nations to investigate the regime’s crimes, such as forced labor and mass rape. Now would be a good moment, in other words, to unite and use the leverage that is lying unused on the table.”

Another competitive Blue State in the Obama era: “As soon as former Maryland governor Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. announced that he was running for governor, the race was seen by national Republicans as another possible high-profile pickup, a view almost immediately shared by political prognosticators. The nonpartisan Cook Political Report adjusted its rating of the race Thursday from solidly Democratic to one short of ‘Toss Up’ — saying Ehrlich is expected to run a ‘competitive’ contest against Gov. Martin O’Malley (D).”

Another prominent Blue State Democratic governor is in trouble in the Obama era: “Few politicians are as close to Obama as the Massachusetts Democratic governor, or have deeper ties to the president and his core team of advisers. And almost no one faces a tougher re-election battle this year than [Deval] Patrick, whose disapproval ratings would be considered near-terminal if not for the three-way race that he currently finds himself in.”

Not-at-all-smart diplomacy in the Obama era: “Barack Obama is in danger of reversing all the progress his predecessors, including George W. Bush, made in forging closer U.S. ties with India. Preoccupied with China and the Middle East, the Obama administration has allotted little room on its schedule for India, and failed to get much done in the short time it did make. Hosting Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at the November state visit, the administration managed to produce cordial photo ops, but the agreements reached on education, energy cooperation, and the like dealt with trivia.”

The voice of sanity in the Obama era: “The head of the Senate Homeland Security Committee said Sunday that several domestic threats against the government are “real” but not as great as dangers posed by foreign terrorists. Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) emphasized that the government is taking seriously the arrest of militia members and threats to lawmakers and governors but cautioned that people should not ‘overstate’ them.”

Read Less

Profile Me if You Must

I don’t want to be profiled at the airport. It has happened before, and I hate it. Volunteering for more isn’t what I feel like doing right now, but our airport security system is so half-baked and dysfunctional it may as well not even exist, and flying is about to become more miserable anyway. So rather than doubling down on grandma and micromanaging everyone on the plane, we might want to pay as much attention to people as to their luggage, especially military-aged males who make unusual and suspicious-looking travel arrangements. That’s what the Israelis do, and that’s why security agents take me into a room and interrogate me every time I pass through Ben-Gurion International Airport.

Israeli airport security is the most thorough and strict in the world, as one might expect in one of the most terrorized countries. No plane leaving Ben-Gurion has ever been hijacked or otherwise attacked by a terrorist. The system works, yet you don’t have to take off your shoes in the security line, no one cares if you pack perfume from the duty-free in your carry-on, you can listen to your iPod 55 minutes before landing, and you don’t have to stand in front of invasive and expensive body-scanning machines.

The Israelis look for weapons, of course. You aren’t at all likely to sneak one on board. Just as important, though, the Israelis are on the look-out for terrorists. Who would you rather sit next to? A woman carrying shampoo and tweezers, or 9/11 hijacker Mohammad Atta, even if he’s not carrying anything?

Israeli security agents interview everyone, and they subject travelers who fit certain profiles to additional scrutiny. I don’t know exactly what their criteria are, but I do know they aren’t just taking Arabs and Muslims aside. They take me aside, too, partly because of my gender and age but mostly because a huge percentage of my passport stamps are from countries with serious terrorist problems.

“Does anyone in Lebanon know you’re here?” they usually ask me. They’ve also asked if I’ve ever met with anyone in Hezbollah. I am not going to lie during an airport security interview, especially not when the answer can be easily found using Google. They know I’ve met with Hezbollah. That’s why my luggage gets hand-searched one sock at a time while elderly tourists from Florida skate through. I can’t say I enjoy this procedure, but I don’t take it personally, and it makes a lot more sense than letting me skate through while grandma’s luggage is hand-searched instead.

The United States need not and should not import the Israeli system. It’s labor intensive, slow, and at times incredibly aggravating. Americans wouldn’t put up with it, and it wouldn’t scale well. The one thing we can and should learn from the Israelis, though, is that we need to pay as much attention to who gets on airplanes as to what they’re bringing on board.

I don’t like being profiled, but the Israelis aren’t wrong for looking more closely at me than at, say, an 80-year-old black woman from Kansas or a 12-year-old kid from Japan. When I get on a plane in the United States, though, I often breeze past women decades older than me while they’re being frisked. Almost every single person in line knows it’s ridiculous. We don’t say anything, partly because we don’t want to get in trouble, and partly because it feels vaguely “fair.”

Maybe it is, but it’s no way to catch terrorists. And it’s not as if the only alternative is a separate policy for Arabs and Muslims. Racial and religious profiling won’t even work. Shoe bomber Richard Reid wouldn’t have been caught that way, and it’s probably safe to let a 90 year-old woman from Dubai through with minimal hassle.

Right now there appears to be no effort whatsoever to discriminate among passengers using any criteria, let alone racist criteria. “Pants bomber” Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab did not have a passport, did not have any luggage, and bought a one-way ticket with cash. His name is in a database of possible terrorists. Any Christians, Buddhists, Hindus, Jews, or all-American white boys from Iowa who fit that description should be stopped. Abdulmutallab wasn’t stopped. In 2004, though, Senator Ted Kennedy found himself with his name on the no-fly list.

The TSA’s whole mindset is wrong. Its agents confiscate things, even harmless things, and they apply additional scrutiny to things carried by people selected at random. If they were also tasked with looking for dangerous people, they would rightly ease up on grandmothers and senators, and they’d have a competently compiled list in the computer of those who are known to be dangerous. And if some kind of broad profiling means I’ll have to suffer the indignity of being frisked while the nun in line behind me does not, it’s no worse, really, than the embarrassment and contempt I’ll feel if the nun gets frisked instead.

Security agents will never find everything or everyone. It’s impossible. Abdulmutallab sewed a bomb into his underwear. Not even the most draconian new rules imaginable will allow agents to search inside anyone’s underwear. Patting down grandpa below the mid-thigh won’t do any good. Patting down Abdulmutallab below the mid-thigh wouldn’t have done any good either — all the more reason to start paying as much attention to people as to what they carry.

I don’t want to be profiled at the airport. It has happened before, and I hate it. Volunteering for more isn’t what I feel like doing right now, but our airport security system is so half-baked and dysfunctional it may as well not even exist, and flying is about to become more miserable anyway. So rather than doubling down on grandma and micromanaging everyone on the plane, we might want to pay as much attention to people as to their luggage, especially military-aged males who make unusual and suspicious-looking travel arrangements. That’s what the Israelis do, and that’s why security agents take me into a room and interrogate me every time I pass through Ben-Gurion International Airport.

Israeli airport security is the most thorough and strict in the world, as one might expect in one of the most terrorized countries. No plane leaving Ben-Gurion has ever been hijacked or otherwise attacked by a terrorist. The system works, yet you don’t have to take off your shoes in the security line, no one cares if you pack perfume from the duty-free in your carry-on, you can listen to your iPod 55 minutes before landing, and you don’t have to stand in front of invasive and expensive body-scanning machines.

The Israelis look for weapons, of course. You aren’t at all likely to sneak one on board. Just as important, though, the Israelis are on the look-out for terrorists. Who would you rather sit next to? A woman carrying shampoo and tweezers, or 9/11 hijacker Mohammad Atta, even if he’s not carrying anything?

Israeli security agents interview everyone, and they subject travelers who fit certain profiles to additional scrutiny. I don’t know exactly what their criteria are, but I do know they aren’t just taking Arabs and Muslims aside. They take me aside, too, partly because of my gender and age but mostly because a huge percentage of my passport stamps are from countries with serious terrorist problems.

“Does anyone in Lebanon know you’re here?” they usually ask me. They’ve also asked if I’ve ever met with anyone in Hezbollah. I am not going to lie during an airport security interview, especially not when the answer can be easily found using Google. They know I’ve met with Hezbollah. That’s why my luggage gets hand-searched one sock at a time while elderly tourists from Florida skate through. I can’t say I enjoy this procedure, but I don’t take it personally, and it makes a lot more sense than letting me skate through while grandma’s luggage is hand-searched instead.

The United States need not and should not import the Israeli system. It’s labor intensive, slow, and at times incredibly aggravating. Americans wouldn’t put up with it, and it wouldn’t scale well. The one thing we can and should learn from the Israelis, though, is that we need to pay as much attention to who gets on airplanes as to what they’re bringing on board.

I don’t like being profiled, but the Israelis aren’t wrong for looking more closely at me than at, say, an 80-year-old black woman from Kansas or a 12-year-old kid from Japan. When I get on a plane in the United States, though, I often breeze past women decades older than me while they’re being frisked. Almost every single person in line knows it’s ridiculous. We don’t say anything, partly because we don’t want to get in trouble, and partly because it feels vaguely “fair.”

Maybe it is, but it’s no way to catch terrorists. And it’s not as if the only alternative is a separate policy for Arabs and Muslims. Racial and religious profiling won’t even work. Shoe bomber Richard Reid wouldn’t have been caught that way, and it’s probably safe to let a 90 year-old woman from Dubai through with minimal hassle.

Right now there appears to be no effort whatsoever to discriminate among passengers using any criteria, let alone racist criteria. “Pants bomber” Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab did not have a passport, did not have any luggage, and bought a one-way ticket with cash. His name is in a database of possible terrorists. Any Christians, Buddhists, Hindus, Jews, or all-American white boys from Iowa who fit that description should be stopped. Abdulmutallab wasn’t stopped. In 2004, though, Senator Ted Kennedy found himself with his name on the no-fly list.

The TSA’s whole mindset is wrong. Its agents confiscate things, even harmless things, and they apply additional scrutiny to things carried by people selected at random. If they were also tasked with looking for dangerous people, they would rightly ease up on grandmothers and senators, and they’d have a competently compiled list in the computer of those who are known to be dangerous. And if some kind of broad profiling means I’ll have to suffer the indignity of being frisked while the nun in line behind me does not, it’s no worse, really, than the embarrassment and contempt I’ll feel if the nun gets frisked instead.

Security agents will never find everything or everyone. It’s impossible. Abdulmutallab sewed a bomb into his underwear. Not even the most draconian new rules imaginable will allow agents to search inside anyone’s underwear. Patting down grandpa below the mid-thigh won’t do any good. Patting down Abdulmutallab below the mid-thigh wouldn’t have done any good either — all the more reason to start paying as much attention to people as to what they carry.

Read Less

That Must Have Been One Fun Car Ride for the Daughter

Hanna Rosin, writing on Slate’s XX Factor blog (yes, it’s Politics for Women Only) yesterday, after Obama’s victories in Maryland and Virginia and Hillary Clinton’s “I’m-not-listening-la-la-la” campaign rally in Texas:

Last night, despite the hoarse, bordering-on-Howard-Dean-breakdown speech, I felt a wave of gratitude toward Hillary. …And this morning I found myself giving my daughter a spontaneous what-we-owe-Hillary speech on the way to school.

What we owe Hillary?

Never, perhaps, have the invention of the IPod and the headphone seemed quite so sensible.

Hanna Rosin, writing on Slate’s XX Factor blog (yes, it’s Politics for Women Only) yesterday, after Obama’s victories in Maryland and Virginia and Hillary Clinton’s “I’m-not-listening-la-la-la” campaign rally in Texas:

Last night, despite the hoarse, bordering-on-Howard-Dean-breakdown speech, I felt a wave of gratitude toward Hillary. …And this morning I found myself giving my daughter a spontaneous what-we-owe-Hillary speech on the way to school.

What we owe Hillary?

Never, perhaps, have the invention of the IPod and the headphone seemed quite so sensible.

Read Less

Light the Fire

So much in our hectic, 21st century lives takes place onscreen, why not literature?

Jeff Bezos and his company Amazon have treaded where all other such attempts have failed: into the land of e-book readers. Bezos’s device is called the “Kindle” and features a six-inch screen and a $400 price tag. Mediabistro’s GalleyCat blog today displays the headline, “Two Weeks In, Kindle Still ‘Fugly’ & Expensive.”

It seems the Kindle could become a kind of iPod for books, where content can be catalogued and shared. Personally, I find it difficult to read at length onscreen. But if the device were comfortable to use, I would do so. And let’s face it, books are dirty and take up space. Why not get rid of them?

According to an opinion column in last week’s Wall Street Journal, reading is on the way out. Do electronics like the Kindle have what it takes to save reading?

So much in our hectic, 21st century lives takes place onscreen, why not literature?

Jeff Bezos and his company Amazon have treaded where all other such attempts have failed: into the land of e-book readers. Bezos’s device is called the “Kindle” and features a six-inch screen and a $400 price tag. Mediabistro’s GalleyCat blog today displays the headline, “Two Weeks In, Kindle Still ‘Fugly’ & Expensive.”

It seems the Kindle could become a kind of iPod for books, where content can be catalogued and shared. Personally, I find it difficult to read at length onscreen. But if the device were comfortable to use, I would do so. And let’s face it, books are dirty and take up space. Why not get rid of them?

According to an opinion column in last week’s Wall Street Journal, reading is on the way out. Do electronics like the Kindle have what it takes to save reading?

Read Less

Due Diligence

A report in the Italian daily L’opinione states that all the gallows used by the Iranian government to conduct public hangings are “made in Italy.” This is not the first time Italy’s companies have been embarrassed publicly by their business connections to Iran. A recent piece of investigative reporting in the newsweekly L’espresso, about which I’ve blogged, exposed more embarrassing deals—among which was listed Iran’s purchase of ultrafast patrol boats originally designed for Italian police patrol boats fighting sea smugglers. Iran reportedly bought the boats, and the plans to build them, in 1998 for its revolutionary guards. It’s not beyond the realm of possibility that, when Iran seized fifteen British sailors (and one iPod) in March 2007, it was using Italian-made boats. These exposures are sure to complicate Italy’s ambitions to join the EU-3—France, Germany and Great Britain—as Iran’s interlocutors on its nuclear dossier.

In truth, though, the embarrassment should not be Italy’s alone. European companies routinely supply Iran with seemingly harmless products, which Tehran diverts to less than transparent purposes. That’s the reason why, on October 11, the Financial Action Task Force—a 34-member intergovernmental body more widely known as the Egmont Group—issued a warning about Iran:

FATF members are advising their financial institutions to take the risk arising from the deficiencies in Iran’s AML/CFT regime into account for enhanced due diligence.

Italy is one of the 34 members of the Egmont Group. Given all the evidence of how its business ties with Iran strengthen the country’s repressive regime, isn’t it time that Italy follow FATF’s advice and show “enhanced due diligence” in its business with Iran—preferably by conducting none at all?

A report in the Italian daily L’opinione states that all the gallows used by the Iranian government to conduct public hangings are “made in Italy.” This is not the first time Italy’s companies have been embarrassed publicly by their business connections to Iran. A recent piece of investigative reporting in the newsweekly L’espresso, about which I’ve blogged, exposed more embarrassing deals—among which was listed Iran’s purchase of ultrafast patrol boats originally designed for Italian police patrol boats fighting sea smugglers. Iran reportedly bought the boats, and the plans to build them, in 1998 for its revolutionary guards. It’s not beyond the realm of possibility that, when Iran seized fifteen British sailors (and one iPod) in March 2007, it was using Italian-made boats. These exposures are sure to complicate Italy’s ambitions to join the EU-3—France, Germany and Great Britain—as Iran’s interlocutors on its nuclear dossier.

In truth, though, the embarrassment should not be Italy’s alone. European companies routinely supply Iran with seemingly harmless products, which Tehran diverts to less than transparent purposes. That’s the reason why, on October 11, the Financial Action Task Force—a 34-member intergovernmental body more widely known as the Egmont Group—issued a warning about Iran:

FATF members are advising their financial institutions to take the risk arising from the deficiencies in Iran’s AML/CFT regime into account for enhanced due diligence.

Italy is one of the 34 members of the Egmont Group. Given all the evidence of how its business ties with Iran strengthen the country’s repressive regime, isn’t it time that Italy follow FATF’s advice and show “enhanced due diligence” in its business with Iran—preferably by conducting none at all?

Read Less




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