Commentary Magazine


Topic: James Jones

Congress Must Act Soon on Sequestration

The evidence builds about the catastrophic costs of sequestration–the automatic budget cuts, amounting to half a trillion dollars during the next decade, that will devastate the defense budget starting on Jan. 1 or actually even earlier because companies will have to start laying off workers in preparation.

The Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington has issued a new report under the authorship of former National Security Advisor General James Jones, former Chairman of the Senate Budget Committee Pete Domenici, and former Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman that finds that, if sequestration were to occur, the economy would lose more than a million jobs in 2013 and 2014. Glickman rightly described this as as a “reverse stimulus plan” and Domenici–known for being a fiscal, not a national security, hawk–called it a “fiasco.”

Read More

The evidence builds about the catastrophic costs of sequestration–the automatic budget cuts, amounting to half a trillion dollars during the next decade, that will devastate the defense budget starting on Jan. 1 or actually even earlier because companies will have to start laying off workers in preparation.

The Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington has issued a new report under the authorship of former National Security Advisor General James Jones, former Chairman of the Senate Budget Committee Pete Domenici, and former Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman that finds that, if sequestration were to occur, the economy would lose more than a million jobs in 2013 and 2014. Glickman rightly described this as as a “reverse stimulus plan” and Domenici–known for being a fiscal, not a national security, hawk–called it a “fiasco.”

Yet Harry Reid and John Boehner, the two leaders of Congress, seem to be engaged in a game of budget chicken, which makes it increasingly unlikely that the sequester will be turned off before the end of the year. The former wants tax increases; the latter doesn’t–and the two seem to be ignoring the damage their standoff is doing to the men and women in uniform. I talked to one Hill staffer last week who thought there was a 90 percent chance the sequestration would go into effect on Jan. 1; the best hope of stopping it, he argued, would be early in 2013 if President Romney is in office by then.

Whatever the prospects of turning off the sequester in a Romney administration, the reality is that if Congress doesn’t act soon, its harmful effects will be felt not only in the Department of Defense but in companies across the country that are defense contractors or sub-contractors.

Read Less

What a New National Security Adviser Means for Foreign Policy

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read Less

Can’t Anybody Here Play This White House Game?

The breaking news is that the national security adviser, General James Jones, has resigned and is being replaced by his deputy, Thomas Donilon. There had been speculation Jones could not possibly retain his job after saying uncomplimentary things about other Obama officials in Bob Woodward’s book. (Jones was evidently no great shakes in his current position, though according to Woodward, Defense Secretary Bob Gates considers Donilon a disaster.) Even so, this is astonishing. Just weeks before an election widely seen as a referendum on the past two years and the West Wing has lost its chief of staff and its national security adviser, without question the two most important jobs in the White House below the president’s. Turnover of this sort can only contribute to a general sense of disarray and disorder, which will only worsen the White House’s standing with those depressed voters it is so eager to buck up and get to the polls on November 2. This is what is known as an unforced error, a gift to the other team, exactly the sort of behavior that led Casey Stengel, managing the Mets in the first year of their existence to a 40-120 record, to cry out as if to the gods, “Can’t anybody here play this game?”

The breaking news is that the national security adviser, General James Jones, has resigned and is being replaced by his deputy, Thomas Donilon. There had been speculation Jones could not possibly retain his job after saying uncomplimentary things about other Obama officials in Bob Woodward’s book. (Jones was evidently no great shakes in his current position, though according to Woodward, Defense Secretary Bob Gates considers Donilon a disaster.) Even so, this is astonishing. Just weeks before an election widely seen as a referendum on the past two years and the West Wing has lost its chief of staff and its national security adviser, without question the two most important jobs in the White House below the president’s. Turnover of this sort can only contribute to a general sense of disarray and disorder, which will only worsen the White House’s standing with those depressed voters it is so eager to buck up and get to the polls on November 2. This is what is known as an unforced error, a gift to the other team, exactly the sort of behavior that led Casey Stengel, managing the Mets in the first year of their existence to a 40-120 record, to cry out as if to the gods, “Can’t anybody here play this game?”

Read Less

The Cocooned President

The Washington Post tells us that Obama is to be “deprived” within the next six months or so of the services of Rahm Emanuel, David Axelrod (who will go run Obama’s reelection campaign, a task indistinguishable from his current role), James Jones, and other advisers. (Before you get excited, remember who is picking their successors.) The Post tells us that the worldly and sophisticated president (the media told us he was, so how can that be wrong?) “doesn’t like new people.” Let’s hope that isn’t right. Because, to be frank, you’d expect more social adeptness and flexibility from a third grader (and I do). Unfortunately, the problem is all too real:

Recent White House hires reflect the president’s desire to surround himself with people he knows well. Elizabeth Warren, recently tapped as the government’s first consumer protection adviser, is someone Obama describes as a “dear friend.” Austan Goolsbee, brought in as the new chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, has been in the Obama orbit much longer than the woman he replaced, Christina Romer.

It seems — really, who knew? — as though the president is too insulated:

“They miscalculated where people were out in the country on jobs, on spending, on the deficit, on debt,” said a longtime Democratic strategist who works with the White House on a variety of issues. “They have not been able to get ahead of any of it. And it’s all about the insularity. Otherwise how do you explain how a group who came in with more goodwill in decades squandered it?” The strategist asked not to be identified in order to speak freely about the president and his staff.

This is not an uncommon view among Democratic political professionals, many of whom share the goals of the White House but have grown frustrated with a staff they see as unapproachable and set in their ways.

The solution? Valerie Jarrett as chief of staff!

Apparently yes men and women, unwilling to challenge Obama’s basic assumptions or deliver inconvenient truths, are in high demand. No hope and change for Obama.

This peek at the White House’s circle-the-wagons mentality suggests that Obama is not one to reassess, clean house, and chart a new course after the midterms. It might take him out of his comfort zone. That’s bad news for the country, but music to the ears of the 2012 GOP presidential contenders.

The Washington Post tells us that Obama is to be “deprived” within the next six months or so of the services of Rahm Emanuel, David Axelrod (who will go run Obama’s reelection campaign, a task indistinguishable from his current role), James Jones, and other advisers. (Before you get excited, remember who is picking their successors.) The Post tells us that the worldly and sophisticated president (the media told us he was, so how can that be wrong?) “doesn’t like new people.” Let’s hope that isn’t right. Because, to be frank, you’d expect more social adeptness and flexibility from a third grader (and I do). Unfortunately, the problem is all too real:

Recent White House hires reflect the president’s desire to surround himself with people he knows well. Elizabeth Warren, recently tapped as the government’s first consumer protection adviser, is someone Obama describes as a “dear friend.” Austan Goolsbee, brought in as the new chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, has been in the Obama orbit much longer than the woman he replaced, Christina Romer.

It seems — really, who knew? — as though the president is too insulated:

“They miscalculated where people were out in the country on jobs, on spending, on the deficit, on debt,” said a longtime Democratic strategist who works with the White House on a variety of issues. “They have not been able to get ahead of any of it. And it’s all about the insularity. Otherwise how do you explain how a group who came in with more goodwill in decades squandered it?” The strategist asked not to be identified in order to speak freely about the president and his staff.

This is not an uncommon view among Democratic political professionals, many of whom share the goals of the White House but have grown frustrated with a staff they see as unapproachable and set in their ways.

The solution? Valerie Jarrett as chief of staff!

Apparently yes men and women, unwilling to challenge Obama’s basic assumptions or deliver inconvenient truths, are in high demand. No hope and change for Obama.

This peek at the White House’s circle-the-wagons mentality suggests that Obama is not one to reassess, clean house, and chart a new course after the midterms. It might take him out of his comfort zone. That’s bad news for the country, but music to the ears of the 2012 GOP presidential contenders.

Read Less

The First Casualty in Obama’s Israel Policy

Ambassador Michael Oren gave a curious interview to the Jerusalem Post this week. In some respects, we got the unvarnished and deliciously candid analysis we have come to expect from him:

Asked about J Street’s influence on the White House or its sway in Congress, the ambassador said, “I don’t think that they have proven decisive on any major issue we’ve encountered.”

Oren said J Street was fundamentally different than the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).

“AIPAC’s mandate is to support the decisions of the democratically elected government of Israel, be it left, right or center,” he said. “J Street makes its own policy and does not necessarily, to say the least, accept the decisions of the policies of the government of Israel.”

“Listen, I represent the democratically elected government, and that government reflects the will of the people of Israel, and what they perceive as the interests of Israel,” he said, adding that J Street was an organization “taking issue with that, and that in itself is a source of disagreement.”

Ouch.

But he is also a diplomat, one trying to hold the tenuous U.S.-Israel relationship together. So he feels compelled to say things such as “the tone changed within a week” after Obama’s display of rudeness toward Bibi Netanyahu. Listen, at that time James Jones was holding meetings on an imposed peace plan and leaking it to the media. Obama more recently has not exactly been the stalwart partner for Israel during the flotilla incident. And Oren unfortunately goes well beyond the needs of diplomatic niceties when he declares:

“Bi-partisan support for Israel is a national strategic interest for us, and I’m sometimes in the difficult position of having to tell some of Israel’s most outspoken supporters to be aware of this,” Oren said.

“I’m concerned about the drift toward partisanship, and while the American people remain overwhelmingly supportive of Israel, pro-Israel, when you break it down by party you get a more nuanced picture, and for me a more troubling picture,” he said.

Oren advised Israel supporters against “ad hominem attacks on the president as if he is anti- Israel. Barack Obama is not anti-Israel, he has different policies than some of his predecessors, but he is not anti-Israel. You can debate the relative value of his policies toward us, but let’s not couch it in saying someone is pro-Israel or anti- Israel.”

Wait. Shouldn’t he be concerned not about the vocal supporters of Israel, but about the significant drop-off in Democratic support for Israel? Israel has become a partisan issue because so many on the Democratic side — the president included – have junked the bipartisan tradition of support for the Jewish state. It doesn’t seem productive to chide those who are standing resolutely with the Jewish state (and pressuring those who aren’t) to take a swing at Israel’s friends for “partisanship.”

As for Obama’s anti-Israel sentiments, I sincerely doubt whether Oren and his government think Obama is pro-Israel. Oren and others in the Bibi government are all too well aware that Obama’s policies toward Israel are “different.” For example, we haven’t had a president who condemned Israel or questioned Israel’s ability to investigate its own national-security actions. This is the burden of diplomats — to pack away one’s candor and sincerity for post-governmental revelations. One cannot but despair that Obama forces Israel’s supporters and its representatives to be so disingenuous, to praise the un-praiseworthy, and to stifle their candid assessments so as to not arouse the angry president whom they fear will lash out again.

Truth is the first casualty in war, they say. Well, honesty is the first casualty in surviving Obama’s Israel policy.

Ambassador Michael Oren gave a curious interview to the Jerusalem Post this week. In some respects, we got the unvarnished and deliciously candid analysis we have come to expect from him:

Asked about J Street’s influence on the White House or its sway in Congress, the ambassador said, “I don’t think that they have proven decisive on any major issue we’ve encountered.”

Oren said J Street was fundamentally different than the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).

“AIPAC’s mandate is to support the decisions of the democratically elected government of Israel, be it left, right or center,” he said. “J Street makes its own policy and does not necessarily, to say the least, accept the decisions of the policies of the government of Israel.”

“Listen, I represent the democratically elected government, and that government reflects the will of the people of Israel, and what they perceive as the interests of Israel,” he said, adding that J Street was an organization “taking issue with that, and that in itself is a source of disagreement.”

Ouch.

But he is also a diplomat, one trying to hold the tenuous U.S.-Israel relationship together. So he feels compelled to say things such as “the tone changed within a week” after Obama’s display of rudeness toward Bibi Netanyahu. Listen, at that time James Jones was holding meetings on an imposed peace plan and leaking it to the media. Obama more recently has not exactly been the stalwart partner for Israel during the flotilla incident. And Oren unfortunately goes well beyond the needs of diplomatic niceties when he declares:

“Bi-partisan support for Israel is a national strategic interest for us, and I’m sometimes in the difficult position of having to tell some of Israel’s most outspoken supporters to be aware of this,” Oren said.

“I’m concerned about the drift toward partisanship, and while the American people remain overwhelmingly supportive of Israel, pro-Israel, when you break it down by party you get a more nuanced picture, and for me a more troubling picture,” he said.

Oren advised Israel supporters against “ad hominem attacks on the president as if he is anti- Israel. Barack Obama is not anti-Israel, he has different policies than some of his predecessors, but he is not anti-Israel. You can debate the relative value of his policies toward us, but let’s not couch it in saying someone is pro-Israel or anti- Israel.”

Wait. Shouldn’t he be concerned not about the vocal supporters of Israel, but about the significant drop-off in Democratic support for Israel? Israel has become a partisan issue because so many on the Democratic side — the president included – have junked the bipartisan tradition of support for the Jewish state. It doesn’t seem productive to chide those who are standing resolutely with the Jewish state (and pressuring those who aren’t) to take a swing at Israel’s friends for “partisanship.”

As for Obama’s anti-Israel sentiments, I sincerely doubt whether Oren and his government think Obama is pro-Israel. Oren and others in the Bibi government are all too well aware that Obama’s policies toward Israel are “different.” For example, we haven’t had a president who condemned Israel or questioned Israel’s ability to investigate its own national-security actions. This is the burden of diplomats — to pack away one’s candor and sincerity for post-governmental revelations. One cannot but despair that Obama forces Israel’s supporters and its representatives to be so disingenuous, to praise the un-praiseworthy, and to stifle their candid assessments so as to not arouse the angry president whom they fear will lash out again.

Truth is the first casualty in war, they say. Well, honesty is the first casualty in surviving Obama’s Israel policy.

Read Less

Should the General Be Called on the Carpet?

America’s top commander in the war in Afghanistan found himself in deep trouble this morning as the news spread about a profile in Rolling Stone magazine in which Gen. Stanley McChrystal and members of his staff were said to crack wise at the expense of several members of the administration and the president himself.

But having read the text of the article, which is not yet available in the magazine’s online edition, it is clear that the uproar about the general’s supposed insubordination is not justified by the text. The only direct quotes from McChrystal are hardly the sorts of things for which he deserves to be summoned, as he reportedly has been, to Washington for a dressing down by the commander in chief.

One supposedly damning quote was supposed to be a slur on Vice President Joe Biden, who opposed the surge and McChrystal’s recommendations for pursuing the war. But all it amounts to is an exchange in which an aide gives some ribald advice about how to avoid answering any questions about the vice president. The other was a quote in which the general did criticize Karl Eikenberry, America’s ambassador to Kabul. Last year Eikenberry leaked a memo criticizing McChrystal and his strategies to the press in an effort to derail Obama’s decision to send the general the reinforcements he asked for. McChrystal rightly called that act by a former military colleague a “betrayal.” Those expecting McChrystal to be sacked because of the fallout from the article should also remember that Eikenberry did not lose his job over that incident even though the president has made it clear that leaks are to be severely punished.

The rest of the article is a thinly veiled attack on the war effort and the idea that it can be won by the counterinsurgency tactics that McChrystal has championed. While the piece resurrects every unflattering incident in the general’s long career, the accounts of McChrystal’s own behavior in the field in Afghanistan portray him as a courageous soldier who cares for his men and sympathizes with their dilemmas in dealing with the highly restrictive rules of engagement he has designed, which often place them in danger so as to avoid civilian casualties.

As for the other controversial quotes, the contempt that the soldiers seem to have for National Security Adviser James Jones, special diplomatic envoy Richard Holbrooke, and Ambassador Eikenberry is justified. Their unhappiness with Vice President Biden’s influence on war policy is also understandable, as is their reaction to the president’s own uncertain grasp of military strategy. But however much one might sympathize with McChrystal’s plight today, allowing his aides to gripe about their civilian masters in the presence of a freelance writer for Rolling Stone, of all publications, is as dumb as anything Obama’s merry band of strategic incompetents might have done. In a democracy, civilian-military tensions can only be resolved in one way: in favor of the civilians, as Gen. Douglas MacArthur and Gen. George McClellan discovered to their great dismay. Right or wrong, it is not the place of a serving military commander to publicly question the wisdom of the president.

But if Obama takes the time to read the text of the article, he will see that McChrystal is not the disloyal soldier he is being painted as in the first press accounts of this story, such as in the New York Times’s account published today. Far from being evidence of McChrystal’s insubordination, the article actually says much more about the administration’s mistakes in the course of a war to which they have committed so much American blood and treasure. If there is dissension in the ranks about some of the political and diplomatic blunders of the past year and a half, it speaks more to Obama’s own failure to exert leadership than to McChrystal’s faults. While Obama may be annoyed at the publication of this piece, at a time when the outcome of the war is still very much in the balance the president’s focus now should be on how to help Stanley McChrystal win, not whether the general is sufficiently respectful of administration figures who are not helping him in that fight.

America’s top commander in the war in Afghanistan found himself in deep trouble this morning as the news spread about a profile in Rolling Stone magazine in which Gen. Stanley McChrystal and members of his staff were said to crack wise at the expense of several members of the administration and the president himself.

But having read the text of the article, which is not yet available in the magazine’s online edition, it is clear that the uproar about the general’s supposed insubordination is not justified by the text. The only direct quotes from McChrystal are hardly the sorts of things for which he deserves to be summoned, as he reportedly has been, to Washington for a dressing down by the commander in chief.

One supposedly damning quote was supposed to be a slur on Vice President Joe Biden, who opposed the surge and McChrystal’s recommendations for pursuing the war. But all it amounts to is an exchange in which an aide gives some ribald advice about how to avoid answering any questions about the vice president. The other was a quote in which the general did criticize Karl Eikenberry, America’s ambassador to Kabul. Last year Eikenberry leaked a memo criticizing McChrystal and his strategies to the press in an effort to derail Obama’s decision to send the general the reinforcements he asked for. McChrystal rightly called that act by a former military colleague a “betrayal.” Those expecting McChrystal to be sacked because of the fallout from the article should also remember that Eikenberry did not lose his job over that incident even though the president has made it clear that leaks are to be severely punished.

The rest of the article is a thinly veiled attack on the war effort and the idea that it can be won by the counterinsurgency tactics that McChrystal has championed. While the piece resurrects every unflattering incident in the general’s long career, the accounts of McChrystal’s own behavior in the field in Afghanistan portray him as a courageous soldier who cares for his men and sympathizes with their dilemmas in dealing with the highly restrictive rules of engagement he has designed, which often place them in danger so as to avoid civilian casualties.

As for the other controversial quotes, the contempt that the soldiers seem to have for National Security Adviser James Jones, special diplomatic envoy Richard Holbrooke, and Ambassador Eikenberry is justified. Their unhappiness with Vice President Biden’s influence on war policy is also understandable, as is their reaction to the president’s own uncertain grasp of military strategy. But however much one might sympathize with McChrystal’s plight today, allowing his aides to gripe about their civilian masters in the presence of a freelance writer for Rolling Stone, of all publications, is as dumb as anything Obama’s merry band of strategic incompetents might have done. In a democracy, civilian-military tensions can only be resolved in one way: in favor of the civilians, as Gen. Douglas MacArthur and Gen. George McClellan discovered to their great dismay. Right or wrong, it is not the place of a serving military commander to publicly question the wisdom of the president.

But if Obama takes the time to read the text of the article, he will see that McChrystal is not the disloyal soldier he is being painted as in the first press accounts of this story, such as in the New York Times’s account published today. Far from being evidence of McChrystal’s insubordination, the article actually says much more about the administration’s mistakes in the course of a war to which they have committed so much American blood and treasure. If there is dissension in the ranks about some of the political and diplomatic blunders of the past year and a half, it speaks more to Obama’s own failure to exert leadership than to McChrystal’s faults. While Obama may be annoyed at the publication of this piece, at a time when the outcome of the war is still very much in the balance the president’s focus now should be on how to help Stanley McChrystal win, not whether the general is sufficiently respectful of administration figures who are not helping him in that fight.

Read Less

Reporting on Flotilla Confirmed

Josh Rogin confirms much of the reporting and analysis on the flotilla investigation that has been percolating in the right-wing blogosphere for several days. As Bill Kristol reported on Friday, Rogin notes that the administration and, in particular, James Jones (who always seems to be front and center with the bully-boy scenarios — it was his leaking and meeting on an imposed peace plan that sent shivers up the spines of Israel supporters) were hard at work trying to internationalize the investigation:

The message Obama officials delivered was twofold. First, they wanted to make sure Israel appointed international members to the commission who were credible. William David Trimble from Northern Ireland and Ken Watkin, a former judge advocate general of the Canadian Armed Forces, will be on it. The other Obama message to the Israelis? Speed it up. They wanted Israel to get the commission members settled on and announced as much as a week before the Israelis were ready. The Israeli official said that the detailed and extensive consultations with the Obama people are why it took so long.

This, of course, merely reinforces the Obama line that Israel is incapable of investigating itself. The argument then boils down to which international overseers to impose on the Jewish state. (Turkey, of course, gets a free pass.)

Rogin also confirms the information I have received that Jewish groups were heavily involved and complicit in a result about which they were privately dismayed – specifically, the refusal to rule out a UN investigation:

That type of hedging is exactly what many Israel supporters, such as the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), are concerned about. “AIPAC calls on the Obama administration to act decisively at the United Nations and other international forums to block any action — including alternative investigations supported by the Secretary General — which would isolate Israel,” the group said in a statement. They also point to the White House’s statement Sunday on the commission, which they see as tepid because it included a terse warning to Israel along with word of support.

“While Israel should be afforded the time to complete its process, we expect Israel’s commission and military investigation will be carried out promptly. We also expect that, upon completion, its findings will be presented publicly and will be presented to the international community,” the statement said.

Yet AIPAC’s statement, to those not reading between the lines and with the benefit of brackets, sounded like no urgent note of alarm.

To sum it up, we have a White House unwilling to stand four-square with Israel, refusing to rebuff the efforts to delegitimize Israel’s right to manage and review its own defensive measures, and uninterested in exploring the terrorist elements and their ties to Turkey, which were responsible for the violence. And there is no effective strategy in Congress or among Jewish groups to challenge these inclinations. Can you imagine what there is in store when Israel feels compelled to use military force against Iran?

Josh Rogin confirms much of the reporting and analysis on the flotilla investigation that has been percolating in the right-wing blogosphere for several days. As Bill Kristol reported on Friday, Rogin notes that the administration and, in particular, James Jones (who always seems to be front and center with the bully-boy scenarios — it was his leaking and meeting on an imposed peace plan that sent shivers up the spines of Israel supporters) were hard at work trying to internationalize the investigation:

The message Obama officials delivered was twofold. First, they wanted to make sure Israel appointed international members to the commission who were credible. William David Trimble from Northern Ireland and Ken Watkin, a former judge advocate general of the Canadian Armed Forces, will be on it. The other Obama message to the Israelis? Speed it up. They wanted Israel to get the commission members settled on and announced as much as a week before the Israelis were ready. The Israeli official said that the detailed and extensive consultations with the Obama people are why it took so long.

This, of course, merely reinforces the Obama line that Israel is incapable of investigating itself. The argument then boils down to which international overseers to impose on the Jewish state. (Turkey, of course, gets a free pass.)

Rogin also confirms the information I have received that Jewish groups were heavily involved and complicit in a result about which they were privately dismayed – specifically, the refusal to rule out a UN investigation:

That type of hedging is exactly what many Israel supporters, such as the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), are concerned about. “AIPAC calls on the Obama administration to act decisively at the United Nations and other international forums to block any action — including alternative investigations supported by the Secretary General — which would isolate Israel,” the group said in a statement. They also point to the White House’s statement Sunday on the commission, which they see as tepid because it included a terse warning to Israel along with word of support.

“While Israel should be afforded the time to complete its process, we expect Israel’s commission and military investigation will be carried out promptly. We also expect that, upon completion, its findings will be presented publicly and will be presented to the international community,” the statement said.

Yet AIPAC’s statement, to those not reading between the lines and with the benefit of brackets, sounded like no urgent note of alarm.

To sum it up, we have a White House unwilling to stand four-square with Israel, refusing to rebuff the efforts to delegitimize Israel’s right to manage and review its own defensive measures, and uninterested in exploring the terrorist elements and their ties to Turkey, which were responsible for the violence. And there is no effective strategy in Congress or among Jewish groups to challenge these inclinations. Can you imagine what there is in store when Israel feels compelled to use military force against Iran?

Read Less

What Is Obama Up To?

Bill Kristol reports that the administration is telling foreign governments that it will back an international panel’s investigation of Israel concerning the flotilla incident:

The White House has apparently shrugged off concerns from elsewhere in the U.S. government that a) this is an extraordinary singling out of Israel, since all kinds of much worse incidents happen around the world without spurring UN investigations; b) that the investigation will be one-sided, focusing entirely on Israeli behavior and not on Turkey or on Hamas; and c) that this sets a terrible precedent for outside investigations of incidents involving U.S. troops or intelligence operatives as we conduct our own war on terror.

While UN Ambassador Susan Rice is reported to have played an important role in pushing for U.S. support of a UN investigation, the decision is, one official stressed, of course the president’s. The government of Israel has been consulting with the U.S. government on its own Israeli investigative panel, to be led by a retired supreme court justice, that would include respected international participants, including one from the U.S. But the Obama administration is reportedly saying that such a “kosher panel” is not good enough to satisfy the international community, or the Obama White House.

In any other administration this would be unthinkable, as would the kosher-panel remark. But with this team anything is possible. Recall that this week Obama himself spoke about an international board of inquiry. And other sources confirm to me that, indeed, this was Susan Rice’s recommendation. (This may explain why the U.S. was mute when Israel was condemned by the Human Right Council.)

But this brain storm might be a bridge too far, even for timid Democrats on the Hill. So (like the leaks about an imposed peace plan from James Jones meeting with such illustrious characters as Zbigniew Brzezinski), this may be an idea that the Obama administration really, really wants to pursue but doesn’t know if it can pull off. Test the waters, make Israel nervous. Turn up the heat. Show the Arabs what good guys we are. But if the game plan is exposed and a firestorm erupts, well, then — retreat. Deny that was ever the intention and come up with a plan that is less offensive — another “compromise.”

There is another alternative, of course. Veto (if it should come to the Security Council) and/or refuse to cooperate with any UN investigation. Support an Israeli investigation. The administration can and should do both. Perhaps the revelation that Obama is playing footsie with the UN (again, and as he did with the NPT group), will cause the administration to sound the retreat (as the Obama team was forced to do regarding the trial balloon on an imposed peace plan). But Obama can never bring himself to wholeheartedly embrace Israel and say no to the international community. Let’s see if he can manage to do that this time around.

Bill Kristol reports that the administration is telling foreign governments that it will back an international panel’s investigation of Israel concerning the flotilla incident:

The White House has apparently shrugged off concerns from elsewhere in the U.S. government that a) this is an extraordinary singling out of Israel, since all kinds of much worse incidents happen around the world without spurring UN investigations; b) that the investigation will be one-sided, focusing entirely on Israeli behavior and not on Turkey or on Hamas; and c) that this sets a terrible precedent for outside investigations of incidents involving U.S. troops or intelligence operatives as we conduct our own war on terror.

While UN Ambassador Susan Rice is reported to have played an important role in pushing for U.S. support of a UN investigation, the decision is, one official stressed, of course the president’s. The government of Israel has been consulting with the U.S. government on its own Israeli investigative panel, to be led by a retired supreme court justice, that would include respected international participants, including one from the U.S. But the Obama administration is reportedly saying that such a “kosher panel” is not good enough to satisfy the international community, or the Obama White House.

In any other administration this would be unthinkable, as would the kosher-panel remark. But with this team anything is possible. Recall that this week Obama himself spoke about an international board of inquiry. And other sources confirm to me that, indeed, this was Susan Rice’s recommendation. (This may explain why the U.S. was mute when Israel was condemned by the Human Right Council.)

But this brain storm might be a bridge too far, even for timid Democrats on the Hill. So (like the leaks about an imposed peace plan from James Jones meeting with such illustrious characters as Zbigniew Brzezinski), this may be an idea that the Obama administration really, really wants to pursue but doesn’t know if it can pull off. Test the waters, make Israel nervous. Turn up the heat. Show the Arabs what good guys we are. But if the game plan is exposed and a firestorm erupts, well, then — retreat. Deny that was ever the intention and come up with a plan that is less offensive — another “compromise.”

There is another alternative, of course. Veto (if it should come to the Security Council) and/or refuse to cooperate with any UN investigation. Support an Israeli investigation. The administration can and should do both. Perhaps the revelation that Obama is playing footsie with the UN (again, and as he did with the NPT group), will cause the administration to sound the retreat (as the Obama team was forced to do regarding the trial balloon on an imposed peace plan). But Obama can never bring himself to wholeheartedly embrace Israel and say no to the international community. Let’s see if he can manage to do that this time around.

Read Less

RE: The Nasty Presidential Comic

Jake Tapper follows up on a presidential joke from the Correspondents’ Association dinner that is raising eyebrows and hackles, especially among liberals:

At the White House Correspondents’ Dinner Saturday night, President Obama noted that in the audience were the Jonas brothers.

“Sasha and Malia are huge fans,” he said, “but boys, don’t get any ideas. Two words for you: predator drones. You will never see it coming.”

The audience laughed approvingly but in the following days the joke has been met with a rising chorus of criticism — mainly from the Left.

After all, unmanned predator drone strikes have killed innocent civilians in Pakistan.

A sample of the reaction:

“Let’s be honest, fellow progressives,” the Philadelphia Daily News’ Will Bunch tweeted, “we’d be all over Bush if he made the same ‘predator drone’ joke Obama told last night.”

Wrote Salon’s Alex Pareene: “It’s funny because predator drone strikes in Pakistan have killed literally hundreds of completely innocent civilians, and now the president is evincing a casual disregard for those lives he is responsible for ending by making a lighthearted joke about killing famous young celebrities for the crime of attempting to sleep with his young daughters.”

At the very least, it does suggest two things. First, the “don’t go there!” joke warning system (recall James Jones’s Jewish-merchant joke, for which he had to apologize) is apparently not in operation at this White House. In the atmosphere of smugness and general disdain for critics that pervades this administration, there are few voices, it seems, willing to raise a red flag when officials cross the boundaries of good taste. Second, the press no longer bothers to deny the double standard applied to Obama. “Oh gosh, yes, we’re giving him a free ride again” is now the order of the day.

Obama is unlikely to be moved by critics of his humor. He’s shown that he cares and reflects very little on adverse opinion. Perhaps if he cared more about what others think, his jokes would be funnier, his agenda would be less radical, and his poll numbers would be higher.

Jake Tapper follows up on a presidential joke from the Correspondents’ Association dinner that is raising eyebrows and hackles, especially among liberals:

At the White House Correspondents’ Dinner Saturday night, President Obama noted that in the audience were the Jonas brothers.

“Sasha and Malia are huge fans,” he said, “but boys, don’t get any ideas. Two words for you: predator drones. You will never see it coming.”

The audience laughed approvingly but in the following days the joke has been met with a rising chorus of criticism — mainly from the Left.

After all, unmanned predator drone strikes have killed innocent civilians in Pakistan.

A sample of the reaction:

“Let’s be honest, fellow progressives,” the Philadelphia Daily News’ Will Bunch tweeted, “we’d be all over Bush if he made the same ‘predator drone’ joke Obama told last night.”

Wrote Salon’s Alex Pareene: “It’s funny because predator drone strikes in Pakistan have killed literally hundreds of completely innocent civilians, and now the president is evincing a casual disregard for those lives he is responsible for ending by making a lighthearted joke about killing famous young celebrities for the crime of attempting to sleep with his young daughters.”

At the very least, it does suggest two things. First, the “don’t go there!” joke warning system (recall James Jones’s Jewish-merchant joke, for which he had to apologize) is apparently not in operation at this White House. In the atmosphere of smugness and general disdain for critics that pervades this administration, there are few voices, it seems, willing to raise a red flag when officials cross the boundaries of good taste. Second, the press no longer bothers to deny the double standard applied to Obama. “Oh gosh, yes, we’re giving him a free ride again” is now the order of the day.

Obama is unlikely to be moved by critics of his humor. He’s shown that he cares and reflects very little on adverse opinion. Perhaps if he cared more about what others think, his jokes would be funnier, his agenda would be less radical, and his poll numbers would be higher.

Read Less

What Do the Obami Believe? What Should We?

Each day sees another member of the administration seeking to mollify critics of its Israel policy. The latest is Dan Shapiro. No, no, the Obama administration really doesn’t think Israel’s failure to reach a deal with the Palestinians causes the deaths of Americans. No, no, they really understand Iran is not going to care even if there is a peace deal. And sure, sure, the Obami won’t be imposing a peace deal. This report recounts the spin offensive:

“We do not believe that resolving this conflict will bring an end to all conflicts in the Middle East,” Dan Shapiro, the National Security Council’s senior director for the Middle East, told an Anti-Defamation League conference. “We do not believe it would cause Iran to end its unacceptable pursuit of nuclear weapons.”

Shapiro also emphasized, to applause from the audience, that “we do not believe that this conflict endangers the lives of US soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq.” …

Shapiro explained that the US thinks that “depriving Iran of a conflict it can exploit by arming their terrorist proxies is very much in our national interests,” and that images broadcasting Palestinian state-building rather than suffering “would do much to transform attitudes positively and deprive extremists of an evocative propaganda tool.”

Shapiro is himself returning to the region this week as the sides are set to begin proximity talks.

He noted that the US sees direct talks as the only effective means of ultimately resolving the conflict.

“A solution cannot be imposed on the parties from the outside. Peace can only come from direct talks,” he said.

Do we believe him — or more precisely, believe he represents the president’s views? Shapiro’s spiel certainly is what the Jewish audiences want to hear, but it bears little resemblance to what the administration has been saying and doing (and leaking) since March. And in fact, Shapiro hints that there is a certain amount of wordplay at work when it comes to what it means to “impose” a deal: “There could be times and contexts in which US ideas can be useful, and when appropriate we are prepared to share them.”

Hmm. What does that mean? One supposes it means this:

Mitchell has made clear that he has no intention of merely shuttling between Jerusalem and Ramallah carrying messages, but that he intends to put forward American bridging proposals wherever they might be helpful. He  also has indicated to both sides that if the talks falter, the Obama administration will not be slow to blame the party it holds responsible. Indeed, Palestinian officials say Mitchell told them that the United States would take significant diplomatic steps against any side it believed was holding back progress.

In other words, it’s time to strong-arm the Jewish state with the threat of “blame” — and perhaps some abstentions at the UN — if the Obami’s latest threat is to be believed. The Palestinians need not come to the table, because Mitchell will do their work for them. It is noteworthy that even if done without the intention of exerting extreme pressure on the Jewish state, excessive American intervention in the talks is likely counterproductive. For this reason, the Bush administration eschewed bridging proposals. As a knowledgeable source says, “We truly believed they must negotiate themselves. All our presence did and does is slow things down because both sides play to us rather than seriously addressing each other.”

And if proximity talks fail to bring about a deal, we hear:

Zbigniew Brzezinski, a former U.S. national security adviser, is proposing that Obama put a new set of peace parameters on the table and urge the parties to negotiate a final peace deal within the U.S.-initiated framework. Should either side refuse, Brzezinski says the United States should get U.N. endorsement of the plan, putting unbearable international pressure on the recalcitrant party.

Brzezinski reportedly outlined this position to Obama in a meeting of former national security advisers convened in late March by Gen. James Jones, the current incumbent.

This is precisely the type of scenario Israeli analysts are predicting for September, especially if the proximity talks fail to make progress: binding American peace parameters serving as new terms of reference for an international peace conference and subsequent Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking.

So what then to make of Shapiro’s fine words to the ADL? A healthy dose of skepticism is in order. And if we have learned anything, it is to ignore what the Obami say (a nuclear-armed Iran is “unacceptable”) and watch what they do (delay and work for carve-outs for Russia and China in congressional petroleum sanctions).

Each day sees another member of the administration seeking to mollify critics of its Israel policy. The latest is Dan Shapiro. No, no, the Obama administration really doesn’t think Israel’s failure to reach a deal with the Palestinians causes the deaths of Americans. No, no, they really understand Iran is not going to care even if there is a peace deal. And sure, sure, the Obami won’t be imposing a peace deal. This report recounts the spin offensive:

“We do not believe that resolving this conflict will bring an end to all conflicts in the Middle East,” Dan Shapiro, the National Security Council’s senior director for the Middle East, told an Anti-Defamation League conference. “We do not believe it would cause Iran to end its unacceptable pursuit of nuclear weapons.”

Shapiro also emphasized, to applause from the audience, that “we do not believe that this conflict endangers the lives of US soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq.” …

Shapiro explained that the US thinks that “depriving Iran of a conflict it can exploit by arming their terrorist proxies is very much in our national interests,” and that images broadcasting Palestinian state-building rather than suffering “would do much to transform attitudes positively and deprive extremists of an evocative propaganda tool.”

Shapiro is himself returning to the region this week as the sides are set to begin proximity talks.

He noted that the US sees direct talks as the only effective means of ultimately resolving the conflict.

“A solution cannot be imposed on the parties from the outside. Peace can only come from direct talks,” he said.

Do we believe him — or more precisely, believe he represents the president’s views? Shapiro’s spiel certainly is what the Jewish audiences want to hear, but it bears little resemblance to what the administration has been saying and doing (and leaking) since March. And in fact, Shapiro hints that there is a certain amount of wordplay at work when it comes to what it means to “impose” a deal: “There could be times and contexts in which US ideas can be useful, and when appropriate we are prepared to share them.”

Hmm. What does that mean? One supposes it means this:

Mitchell has made clear that he has no intention of merely shuttling between Jerusalem and Ramallah carrying messages, but that he intends to put forward American bridging proposals wherever they might be helpful. He  also has indicated to both sides that if the talks falter, the Obama administration will not be slow to blame the party it holds responsible. Indeed, Palestinian officials say Mitchell told them that the United States would take significant diplomatic steps against any side it believed was holding back progress.

In other words, it’s time to strong-arm the Jewish state with the threat of “blame” — and perhaps some abstentions at the UN — if the Obami’s latest threat is to be believed. The Palestinians need not come to the table, because Mitchell will do their work for them. It is noteworthy that even if done without the intention of exerting extreme pressure on the Jewish state, excessive American intervention in the talks is likely counterproductive. For this reason, the Bush administration eschewed bridging proposals. As a knowledgeable source says, “We truly believed they must negotiate themselves. All our presence did and does is slow things down because both sides play to us rather than seriously addressing each other.”

And if proximity talks fail to bring about a deal, we hear:

Zbigniew Brzezinski, a former U.S. national security adviser, is proposing that Obama put a new set of peace parameters on the table and urge the parties to negotiate a final peace deal within the U.S.-initiated framework. Should either side refuse, Brzezinski says the United States should get U.N. endorsement of the plan, putting unbearable international pressure on the recalcitrant party.

Brzezinski reportedly outlined this position to Obama in a meeting of former national security advisers convened in late March by Gen. James Jones, the current incumbent.

This is precisely the type of scenario Israeli analysts are predicting for September, especially if the proximity talks fail to make progress: binding American peace parameters serving as new terms of reference for an international peace conference and subsequent Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking.

So what then to make of Shapiro’s fine words to the ADL? A healthy dose of skepticism is in order. And if we have learned anything, it is to ignore what the Obami say (a nuclear-armed Iran is “unacceptable”) and watch what they do (delay and work for carve-outs for Russia and China in congressional petroleum sanctions).

Read Less

RE: James Jones Apologizes for Jewish Joke

I’m afraid that I have to disagree with my colleagues Jennifer Rubin, J.E. Dyer, and John Steele Gordon on the hot topic of James Jones’s Jewish joke. When I first read about what I supposed was a derogatory ethnic stereotype, I assumed it was offensive. But while I’m not exactly known for having much of a sense of humor, when I watched it online — like many of those supporters of the Washington Institute for Near East Affairs in attendance at the event whose guffaws can be heard on the soundtrack — I laughed.

I know, I know. It’s a tactical error for anyone who is not a member of the ethnic/religious group featured in the joke to tell one. So we can all agree that General Jones was a dope for telling the joke. As if the policies he has pursued as President Obama’s national security adviser weren’t enough evidence of his lack of saykhel (common sense).

But the outrage from some administration critics strikes me as, well, a bit overblown. The Jewish merchant in the joke who tries to sell a tie rather than water to a lost and thirsty member of the Taliban who wanders into his stall in the middle of nowhere somewhere in Afghanistan does not strike me as the usual greedy or money-hungry protagonist of anti-Semitic stereotypes. He doesn’t try to cheat the Taliban fighter. He is, instead, the victim of the latter’s anti-Semitic abuse. The conclusion of the joke in which the merchant gets his revenge on the Taliban illustrates the man’s savvy, not his avarice.

For some of us who worry about the alarming spread of anti-Semitic stereotypes, any reference to a Jewish merchant is a potential source of abuse. And many of us may think — not without justification — that the preferred way for a Jew to get even with the monsters of the Taliban and other Islamist terrorists is with an Uzi or a well-placed bomb from a pilotless drone, not a dress code at a restaurant. But this was a joke, not a tactical air strike or a revenge fantasy. It may strike you as funny or leave you cold. But either way, it’s not as if Jones’s attempt at humor is going to be repeated by Jew-haters around the world.

Even more to the point, Jones and his boss have given us more than enough material for criticism without having to spend any time on their comedy choices. This administration’s animus toward Israel is a matter of record. It has gone far beyond even the most hostile of its predecessors on the subject of Jerusalem, making an issue of the building of Jewish homes in existing Jewish neighborhoods and giving every indication that it intends to promulgate a “peace” plan that might attempt to force even more Jews out of their homes than even previous schemes have tried to do. Even worse, through its feckless “engagement” of Iran and inept diplomacy aimed at stopping that Islamist regime’s nuclear project, it has demonstrated that it is prepared to live with an Iranian bomb that presents an existential threat to Israel as well as endangering the rest of the world.

Compared to that record, one ill-considered though (in my opinion) funny joke is not worth carping about.

I’m afraid that I have to disagree with my colleagues Jennifer Rubin, J.E. Dyer, and John Steele Gordon on the hot topic of James Jones’s Jewish joke. When I first read about what I supposed was a derogatory ethnic stereotype, I assumed it was offensive. But while I’m not exactly known for having much of a sense of humor, when I watched it online — like many of those supporters of the Washington Institute for Near East Affairs in attendance at the event whose guffaws can be heard on the soundtrack — I laughed.

I know, I know. It’s a tactical error for anyone who is not a member of the ethnic/religious group featured in the joke to tell one. So we can all agree that General Jones was a dope for telling the joke. As if the policies he has pursued as President Obama’s national security adviser weren’t enough evidence of his lack of saykhel (common sense).

But the outrage from some administration critics strikes me as, well, a bit overblown. The Jewish merchant in the joke who tries to sell a tie rather than water to a lost and thirsty member of the Taliban who wanders into his stall in the middle of nowhere somewhere in Afghanistan does not strike me as the usual greedy or money-hungry protagonist of anti-Semitic stereotypes. He doesn’t try to cheat the Taliban fighter. He is, instead, the victim of the latter’s anti-Semitic abuse. The conclusion of the joke in which the merchant gets his revenge on the Taliban illustrates the man’s savvy, not his avarice.

For some of us who worry about the alarming spread of anti-Semitic stereotypes, any reference to a Jewish merchant is a potential source of abuse. And many of us may think — not without justification — that the preferred way for a Jew to get even with the monsters of the Taliban and other Islamist terrorists is with an Uzi or a well-placed bomb from a pilotless drone, not a dress code at a restaurant. But this was a joke, not a tactical air strike or a revenge fantasy. It may strike you as funny or leave you cold. But either way, it’s not as if Jones’s attempt at humor is going to be repeated by Jew-haters around the world.

Even more to the point, Jones and his boss have given us more than enough material for criticism without having to spend any time on their comedy choices. This administration’s animus toward Israel is a matter of record. It has gone far beyond even the most hostile of its predecessors on the subject of Jerusalem, making an issue of the building of Jewish homes in existing Jewish neighborhoods and giving every indication that it intends to promulgate a “peace” plan that might attempt to force even more Jews out of their homes than even previous schemes have tried to do. Even worse, through its feckless “engagement” of Iran and inept diplomacy aimed at stopping that Islamist regime’s nuclear project, it has demonstrated that it is prepared to live with an Iranian bomb that presents an existential threat to Israel as well as endangering the rest of the world.

Compared to that record, one ill-considered though (in my opinion) funny joke is not worth carping about.

Read Less

RE: Jackie Mason He’s Not

I agree with J.E. Dyer that James Jones’s Jewish merchant joke was not funny in more than one way. It was dumb in more than one way too.

I also agree that one should not tell ethnic jokes in public — and for politicians that goes double — except about one’s own ethnic group.

Since I’m a WASP — my last immigrant ancestor arrived in 1812 (under arrest, but that’s another story) — that means I can tell only WASP jokes. Unfortunately, there aren’t very many of them. Indeed, the only one I can think of is, How do you tell the bride at a WASP wedding? She’s the one kissing the golden retriever. Not likely to land me a contract with Comedy Central.

If anyone knows any good ethnic jokes I can tell, please let me know.

I agree with J.E. Dyer that James Jones’s Jewish merchant joke was not funny in more than one way. It was dumb in more than one way too.

I also agree that one should not tell ethnic jokes in public — and for politicians that goes double — except about one’s own ethnic group.

Since I’m a WASP — my last immigrant ancestor arrived in 1812 (under arrest, but that’s another story) — that means I can tell only WASP jokes. Unfortunately, there aren’t very many of them. Indeed, the only one I can think of is, How do you tell the bride at a WASP wedding? She’s the one kissing the golden retriever. Not likely to land me a contract with Comedy Central.

If anyone knows any good ethnic jokes I can tell, please let me know.

Read Less

James Jones Apologizes for Jewish Joke

As I noted in this morning’s Flotsam and Jetsam, James Jones made a tasteless Jewish joke last week at the 25th anniversary of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Fox News reports: “Interestingly, it was not included in the official White House-provided transcript of the speech.” Indeed.

There has been some additional reaction — New York Magazine has a roundup of those who have commented on it. Now, sensing the brewing storm, Jones has apologized. Politico provides Jones’s statement today:

I wish that I had not made this off the cuff joke at the top of my remarks, and I apologize to anyone who was offended by it. It also distracted from the larger message I carried that day: that the United States commitment to Israel’s security is sacrosanct.

Ben Smith also reports, “White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said Monday that the White House had ‘no intention to deceive’ in leaving the remarks off a transcript off the event, which he said were in fact the prepared text. He said the White House hadn’t asked for Jones’ apology which ‘rightly speaks for itself.’”

Let’s unpack this. First of all, I don’t believe the joke was made up on the spur of the moment. That’s not how these things work. As a reader pointed out to me, it’s quite likely that not only Jones but also a speechwriter or two thought there was nothing much wrong with this. Second, for an administration under criticism for insensitivity or outright animus in relation to Israel, why play with fire? If nothing else, this confirms the criticism of Jones — he’s a bit of a buffoon.

And finally, why didn’t the president demand an apology? Was he not alarmed that his national security adviser is cracking Jewish-merchant jokes?

It’s another reminder that what is said and done in this White House with regard to Israel would not be said or done in virtually any other administration.

As I noted in this morning’s Flotsam and Jetsam, James Jones made a tasteless Jewish joke last week at the 25th anniversary of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Fox News reports: “Interestingly, it was not included in the official White House-provided transcript of the speech.” Indeed.

There has been some additional reaction — New York Magazine has a roundup of those who have commented on it. Now, sensing the brewing storm, Jones has apologized. Politico provides Jones’s statement today:

I wish that I had not made this off the cuff joke at the top of my remarks, and I apologize to anyone who was offended by it. It also distracted from the larger message I carried that day: that the United States commitment to Israel’s security is sacrosanct.

Ben Smith also reports, “White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said Monday that the White House had ‘no intention to deceive’ in leaving the remarks off a transcript off the event, which he said were in fact the prepared text. He said the White House hadn’t asked for Jones’ apology which ‘rightly speaks for itself.’”

Let’s unpack this. First of all, I don’t believe the joke was made up on the spur of the moment. That’s not how these things work. As a reader pointed out to me, it’s quite likely that not only Jones but also a speechwriter or two thought there was nothing much wrong with this. Second, for an administration under criticism for insensitivity or outright animus in relation to Israel, why play with fire? If nothing else, this confirms the criticism of Jones — he’s a bit of a buffoon.

And finally, why didn’t the president demand an apology? Was he not alarmed that his national security adviser is cracking Jewish-merchant jokes?

It’s another reminder that what is said and done in this White House with regard to Israel would not be said or done in virtually any other administration.

Read Less

Flotsam and Jetsam

There’s something to cheer about: “The plan to unveil a bipartisan climate bill in the Senate on Monday collapsed over the weekend as Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), one of the bill’s three authors, declared he couldn’t support it if Democrats decided to prioritize immigration reform.”

Or is there? It seems Graham is just waiting for the Democrats’ immigration-reform ploy to blow over: “[Joe] Lieberman said [Harry] Reid pledged to bring the energy bill to the full Senate as soon as possible this year. In a separate conversation, according to Lieberman, Graham reiterated his support for the energy bill once it’s no longer tangled up with immigration legislation. ‘Now I’m encouraged,’ Lieberman said. Asked when the energy bill might advance, he said, ‘Sometime soon, as soon as we can get Lindsey on board.’”

Do we really think Obama is going to pick a non-judge to go toe-to-toe with Justices Alito, Scalia, and Roberts? “Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm (D) says she’s once again on President Obama’s short list for appointment to the Supreme Court. In an interview with CNN, the term-limited governor says she has talked with people in the Obama administration about the upcoming nomination to replace retiring Justice John Paul Stevens.” Well, it would nail down that all-important Canadian-American vote.

Delusions of grandeur time: “Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is talking up the healthcare reform law in a big way on the campaign trail. Reid, who led efforts to shepherd the $940 billion legislation through the Senate, is facing a tough reelection battle this fall. He spoke at several Democratic county conventions in northern Nevada on Saturday. ‘The most important thing we’ve done for the country and the world is health care’ he said.”

The GOP is expanding the playing field: “Representative David R. Obey has won 21 straight races, easily prevailing through wars and economic crises that have spanned presidencies from Nixon’s to Obama’s. Yet the discontent with Washington surging through politics is now threatening not only his seat but also Democratic control of Congress. Mr. Obey is one of nearly a dozen well-established House Democrats who are bracing for something they rarely face: serious competition. Their predicament is the latest sign of distress for their party and underlines why Republicans are confident of making big gains in November and perhaps even winning back the House.”

James Jones is now making Jewish jokes. The Forward, via Haaretz, notes that some were not amused: “After all, making jokes about greedy Jewish merchants can be seen at times as insensitive.”

An unnamed Obama official confesses: “We do not understand Syrian intentions. No one does, and until we get to that question we can never get to the root of the problem. … Until then it’s all damage control.” No one? Could it be that Assad is pushing the U.S. and Israel as far as they will go and cozying up to the Iranians, whom he sees as the rising power in the region? The Obami, however, are stumped.

On Friday, Charlie Crist has to decide whether to run for the Senate as an independent. Stories like this in the Miami Herald don’t help: “Charlie Crist, once Florida’s spectacularly popular governor, now in danger of seeing his political career washed up? ‘I honestly don’t know,’ Crist said Friday. ‘But I certainly think the economy played a role.” In hindsight, the warning signs were too numerous: Marco Rubio winning local ‘straw poll’; U.S. Senate elections that Crist brushed off as meaningless; prominent GOP allies publicly scolding him for endorsing President Barack Obama’s stimulus package; veteran party leaders beseeching him to remove or at least rein in his hand-picked Florida GOP chairman, Jim Greer.”

There’s something to cheer about: “The plan to unveil a bipartisan climate bill in the Senate on Monday collapsed over the weekend as Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), one of the bill’s three authors, declared he couldn’t support it if Democrats decided to prioritize immigration reform.”

Or is there? It seems Graham is just waiting for the Democrats’ immigration-reform ploy to blow over: “[Joe] Lieberman said [Harry] Reid pledged to bring the energy bill to the full Senate as soon as possible this year. In a separate conversation, according to Lieberman, Graham reiterated his support for the energy bill once it’s no longer tangled up with immigration legislation. ‘Now I’m encouraged,’ Lieberman said. Asked when the energy bill might advance, he said, ‘Sometime soon, as soon as we can get Lindsey on board.’”

Do we really think Obama is going to pick a non-judge to go toe-to-toe with Justices Alito, Scalia, and Roberts? “Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm (D) says she’s once again on President Obama’s short list for appointment to the Supreme Court. In an interview with CNN, the term-limited governor says she has talked with people in the Obama administration about the upcoming nomination to replace retiring Justice John Paul Stevens.” Well, it would nail down that all-important Canadian-American vote.

Delusions of grandeur time: “Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is talking up the healthcare reform law in a big way on the campaign trail. Reid, who led efforts to shepherd the $940 billion legislation through the Senate, is facing a tough reelection battle this fall. He spoke at several Democratic county conventions in northern Nevada on Saturday. ‘The most important thing we’ve done for the country and the world is health care’ he said.”

The GOP is expanding the playing field: “Representative David R. Obey has won 21 straight races, easily prevailing through wars and economic crises that have spanned presidencies from Nixon’s to Obama’s. Yet the discontent with Washington surging through politics is now threatening not only his seat but also Democratic control of Congress. Mr. Obey is one of nearly a dozen well-established House Democrats who are bracing for something they rarely face: serious competition. Their predicament is the latest sign of distress for their party and underlines why Republicans are confident of making big gains in November and perhaps even winning back the House.”

James Jones is now making Jewish jokes. The Forward, via Haaretz, notes that some were not amused: “After all, making jokes about greedy Jewish merchants can be seen at times as insensitive.”

An unnamed Obama official confesses: “We do not understand Syrian intentions. No one does, and until we get to that question we can never get to the root of the problem. … Until then it’s all damage control.” No one? Could it be that Assad is pushing the U.S. and Israel as far as they will go and cozying up to the Iranians, whom he sees as the rising power in the region? The Obami, however, are stumped.

On Friday, Charlie Crist has to decide whether to run for the Senate as an independent. Stories like this in the Miami Herald don’t help: “Charlie Crist, once Florida’s spectacularly popular governor, now in danger of seeing his political career washed up? ‘I honestly don’t know,’ Crist said Friday. ‘But I certainly think the economy played a role.” In hindsight, the warning signs were too numerous: Marco Rubio winning local ‘straw poll’; U.S. Senate elections that Crist brushed off as meaningless; prominent GOP allies publicly scolding him for endorsing President Barack Obama’s stimulus package; veteran party leaders beseeching him to remove or at least rein in his hand-picked Florida GOP chairman, Jim Greer.”

Read Less

Israel Prepares for the Enemy It Faces

In contrast with the Obama administration, which perpetually talks down the potential for a military strike, Israeli officials are beginning to talk openly about such action. The Wall Street Journal reports:

The Israeli security establishment is divided over whether it needs Washington’s blessing if Israel decides to attack Iran, Israeli officials say, as the U.S. campaign for sanctions drags on and Tehran steadily develops greater nuclear capability.

Some senior Israeli officials say in interviews that they see signs Washington may be willing to live with a nuclear-armed Iran, an eventuality that Israel says it won’t accept. Compounding Israeli concerns were U.S. statements this past weekend that underscored U.S. resistance to a military option. Defense Secretary Robert Gates on Sunday discussed a memo to National Security Adviser James Jones warning that the U.S. needed new strategies, including how to contain a nuclear Iran—suggesting that Iran could reach nuclear capability without any foreign military force trying to stop it.

Until now Bibi has played along both with the Obama engagement gambit and the sanctions effort, but we now hear that “Israeli officials have increasingly voiced frustration over the slow pace of diplomatic efforts to get sanctions in place.” We are, after all, running out of time. The concern for the Israelis tells us much about the state of U.S.-Israel relations and the real weak link in going after Iranian nuclear capabilities:

Many Israeli military experts say Israel can easily cope with any military retaliation by Iran in response to a strike. Iran’s medium-range rockets would cause damage and casualties in Israel, but they aren’t very accurate, and Israel’s sophisticated missile-defense system would likely knock many out midflight. Israel has similarly proved it can handle attacks against Israel by Hezbollah and Hamas. Israel also hosts a contingent of U.S. troops attached to a radar system to help give early warning against incoming rocket attacks.

More worrying to Israeli strategic planners examining possible attack scenarios is the possibility that Iran would respond to an Israeli attack by ramping up support to groups battling U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to recently retired officials familiar with the military’s thinking on Iran. If American soldiers start dying in greater numbers as a result of an Israeli unilateral attack, Americans could turn against Israel.

The debate and planning go on within Israel, which, unlike the U.S. president, does not have the luxury of procrastination or the ability to wish away the looming threat it faces.

Meanwhile, a newly released unclassified report on Iran’s military and terrorist activities is worth a read, especially the description of its foreign policy goals and tools — “diplomacy, economic leverage, soft power, and active sponsorship of terrorist and paramilitary groups are the tools Iran uses to drive its aggressive foreign policy.” Left unsaid is the lunacy of expecting that such a regime would voluntarily — unless its survival were threatened — give up the most powerful tools it could acquire: nuclear weapons. Also of note is the section on the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Qod Forces, which are “well established in the Middle East and North Africa, and recent years have witnessed an increased presence in Latin America, particularly Venezuela.” The report also details “Iranian Support to Terrorists and Regional Military Groups” — the very sorts of groups Obama said he is most concerned might acquire a nuclear weapon.

So the gap between the Israelis’ planning and ours is vast, as is the mismatch between the nature of the Iranian regime and our chosen strategy for thwarting its nuclear ambitions. Whatever the merits and risks of a military strike, at least Israel is focused on the real world that confronts it and an enemy determined to use every weapon to undermine and destroy the Jewish state. As for the United States, our meandering, slow walk through engagement and toward itty-bitty sanctions seems spectacularly unsuited to blocking the ambitions of the regime described in the report.

In contrast with the Obama administration, which perpetually talks down the potential for a military strike, Israeli officials are beginning to talk openly about such action. The Wall Street Journal reports:

The Israeli security establishment is divided over whether it needs Washington’s blessing if Israel decides to attack Iran, Israeli officials say, as the U.S. campaign for sanctions drags on and Tehran steadily develops greater nuclear capability.

Some senior Israeli officials say in interviews that they see signs Washington may be willing to live with a nuclear-armed Iran, an eventuality that Israel says it won’t accept. Compounding Israeli concerns were U.S. statements this past weekend that underscored U.S. resistance to a military option. Defense Secretary Robert Gates on Sunday discussed a memo to National Security Adviser James Jones warning that the U.S. needed new strategies, including how to contain a nuclear Iran—suggesting that Iran could reach nuclear capability without any foreign military force trying to stop it.

Until now Bibi has played along both with the Obama engagement gambit and the sanctions effort, but we now hear that “Israeli officials have increasingly voiced frustration over the slow pace of diplomatic efforts to get sanctions in place.” We are, after all, running out of time. The concern for the Israelis tells us much about the state of U.S.-Israel relations and the real weak link in going after Iranian nuclear capabilities:

Many Israeli military experts say Israel can easily cope with any military retaliation by Iran in response to a strike. Iran’s medium-range rockets would cause damage and casualties in Israel, but they aren’t very accurate, and Israel’s sophisticated missile-defense system would likely knock many out midflight. Israel has similarly proved it can handle attacks against Israel by Hezbollah and Hamas. Israel also hosts a contingent of U.S. troops attached to a radar system to help give early warning against incoming rocket attacks.

More worrying to Israeli strategic planners examining possible attack scenarios is the possibility that Iran would respond to an Israeli attack by ramping up support to groups battling U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to recently retired officials familiar with the military’s thinking on Iran. If American soldiers start dying in greater numbers as a result of an Israeli unilateral attack, Americans could turn against Israel.

The debate and planning go on within Israel, which, unlike the U.S. president, does not have the luxury of procrastination or the ability to wish away the looming threat it faces.

Meanwhile, a newly released unclassified report on Iran’s military and terrorist activities is worth a read, especially the description of its foreign policy goals and tools — “diplomacy, economic leverage, soft power, and active sponsorship of terrorist and paramilitary groups are the tools Iran uses to drive its aggressive foreign policy.” Left unsaid is the lunacy of expecting that such a regime would voluntarily — unless its survival were threatened — give up the most powerful tools it could acquire: nuclear weapons. Also of note is the section on the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Qod Forces, which are “well established in the Middle East and North Africa, and recent years have witnessed an increased presence in Latin America, particularly Venezuela.” The report also details “Iranian Support to Terrorists and Regional Military Groups” — the very sorts of groups Obama said he is most concerned might acquire a nuclear weapon.

So the gap between the Israelis’ planning and ours is vast, as is the mismatch between the nature of the Iranian regime and our chosen strategy for thwarting its nuclear ambitions. Whatever the merits and risks of a military strike, at least Israel is focused on the real world that confronts it and an enemy determined to use every weapon to undermine and destroy the Jewish state. As for the United States, our meandering, slow walk through engagement and toward itty-bitty sanctions seems spectacularly unsuited to blocking the ambitions of the regime described in the report.

Read Less

Obami’s Latest Israel Gambit Flops

Once again, the Obami’s bullying has come to naught. Bibi Netanyahu and his government are not amused nor persuaded by the Obami onslaught over Jerusalem housing permits or the suggestion that an imposed peace deal might be in the offing. The Wall Street Journal reports:

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government said it would reject any moves by the Obama administration to set its own timeline and benchmarks for Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, potentially establishing a new fault line between the U.S. and Israel. … Senior White House officials, such as National Security Adviser James Jones, have also discussed recently the prospects of Washington proposing its own Mideast plan, though U.S. diplomats stressed this past week that such a move wasn’t imminent or agreed upon.

These developments have rankled Mr. Netanyahu’s government, which is already at odds with Mr. Obama over the issue of Jewish building in disputed East Jerusalem.

“I don’t believe this will be accepted by the administration because it will be a grave mistake. … The solution has to be homegrown,” Israel’s Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal late Sunday. …

“The longstanding Israeli position, not of this government only, but of successive Israeli governments, is that the Israelis and the Palestinians have to live together in peace and that an agreement has to be negotiated between them directly,” said a senior Netanyahu administration official.

Of course this was entirely foreseeable. So once again one must ask of the Obami Israel policy: what is the point? Rather than absorb the lessons of 2009 — that the Israeli government cannot be strong-armed and that Bibi’s government can’t be toppled by the likes of Rahm Emanuel, David Axelrod, and Obama — the Obami have repeated and intensified their efforts to squeeze our ally. Yes, maybe this time we can use Jerusalem to pry them loose! Ah, the threat of an imposed peace — that’ll do it! But alas, all we’ve done, apparently is create a wedge between the U.S. and our ally, communicated to the Palestinians that they should just hold firm, and telegraphed to Israel’s neighbors that we are flaky friends.

The Obami now have two options. First, as they did with the settlement gambit, they can simply fold up their tents and go back to endless, fruitless rounds of shuttle diplomacy. Alternatively, they can try out their latest, already rejected brainstorm and see if maybe, just maybe, the Israelis will finally cave. In all of this, the Obami have set themselves apart from every prior administration, both in the degree to which they would willingly damage the U.S.-Israel relationship and in the inanity of their diplomatic efforts. It is proof positive that dramatic, even “historic” change can be a very dangerous thing.

Once again, the Obami’s bullying has come to naught. Bibi Netanyahu and his government are not amused nor persuaded by the Obami onslaught over Jerusalem housing permits or the suggestion that an imposed peace deal might be in the offing. The Wall Street Journal reports:

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government said it would reject any moves by the Obama administration to set its own timeline and benchmarks for Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, potentially establishing a new fault line between the U.S. and Israel. … Senior White House officials, such as National Security Adviser James Jones, have also discussed recently the prospects of Washington proposing its own Mideast plan, though U.S. diplomats stressed this past week that such a move wasn’t imminent or agreed upon.

These developments have rankled Mr. Netanyahu’s government, which is already at odds with Mr. Obama over the issue of Jewish building in disputed East Jerusalem.

“I don’t believe this will be accepted by the administration because it will be a grave mistake. … The solution has to be homegrown,” Israel’s Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal late Sunday. …

“The longstanding Israeli position, not of this government only, but of successive Israeli governments, is that the Israelis and the Palestinians have to live together in peace and that an agreement has to be negotiated between them directly,” said a senior Netanyahu administration official.

Of course this was entirely foreseeable. So once again one must ask of the Obami Israel policy: what is the point? Rather than absorb the lessons of 2009 — that the Israeli government cannot be strong-armed and that Bibi’s government can’t be toppled by the likes of Rahm Emanuel, David Axelrod, and Obama — the Obami have repeated and intensified their efforts to squeeze our ally. Yes, maybe this time we can use Jerusalem to pry them loose! Ah, the threat of an imposed peace — that’ll do it! But alas, all we’ve done, apparently is create a wedge between the U.S. and our ally, communicated to the Palestinians that they should just hold firm, and telegraphed to Israel’s neighbors that we are flaky friends.

The Obami now have two options. First, as they did with the settlement gambit, they can simply fold up their tents and go back to endless, fruitless rounds of shuttle diplomacy. Alternatively, they can try out their latest, already rejected brainstorm and see if maybe, just maybe, the Israelis will finally cave. In all of this, the Obami have set themselves apart from every prior administration, both in the degree to which they would willingly damage the U.S.-Israel relationship and in the inanity of their diplomatic efforts. It is proof positive that dramatic, even “historic” change can be a very dangerous thing.

Read Less

Obami Spin: Bibi Needs to Be “Pragmatic”

Oh, this is rich (via Politico, which dutifully conveys the Obami’s spin):

If U.S. officials were bothered by the latest turn in their constantly evolving relations with Benjamin Netanyahu — the Israeli prime minister’s abrupt decision to cancel a planned trip to Washington this week for a nuclear summit meeting — they did their best to disguise it.

Bothered by the “latest turn”? It is as if they were bystanders rather than those steering the car that went off the road and into a ditch. We are led to believe that after weeks of Bibi-bashing and leaks of a potential imposed peace plan, what the Obami really seek is a “pragmatic Bibi.” Graph after graph passes in this otherworldly discussion of the state of U.S.-Israeli relations until Elliott Abrams supplies some much needed reality:

Only a president who appears friendly and concerned about Israeli security can evoke pragmatism in any Israeli politician,” Abrams said. “But Netanyahu has not seen the ‘pragmatic Obama,’ only the ‘ideological Obama.’ The Administration has taken a hostile stance toward Netanyahu not since he took office — but even before he took office; and it has pressed policies that show a deep lack of understanding of Israeli politics.

Indeed, it was Bibi who agreed to yet another West Bank building freeze. It was Bibi who agreed to proximity talks. Only if one defines “pragmatic” as capitulation to Obama’s hard-ball tactics could one see Bibi in all this as inflexible.

And then we are back to the spin. A former Clinton official is trotted out to declare that “The ultimate catalyst in all this is going to be Iran. . . . This is the one issue, where the interests of the U.S. and of Israel are very closely aligned and in which both countries have to work together.” Well, that’s increasingly dubious these days. Obama is in his give-it-the-college-try-but-no-promises mode; Bibi has made it very clear that a nuclear armed Iran isn’t going to be permitted on his watch. James Jones can pronounce that the two countries’ interests on Iran “are very closely linked,” but it is becoming apparent — because Obama is making it so — that the U.S. and Israel don’t see eye to eye on the end game.

The Obami’s spin is revealing, confirming that no reason exists to alter the course. The problem is Bibi, you see. If not for a prime minister who refused to depart from 40 years of government policy on Jerusalem, who objected to an endless stream of unilateral concessions, and who wouldn’t pipe down about a military option, everything would be swell.

Oh, this is rich (via Politico, which dutifully conveys the Obami’s spin):

If U.S. officials were bothered by the latest turn in their constantly evolving relations with Benjamin Netanyahu — the Israeli prime minister’s abrupt decision to cancel a planned trip to Washington this week for a nuclear summit meeting — they did their best to disguise it.

Bothered by the “latest turn”? It is as if they were bystanders rather than those steering the car that went off the road and into a ditch. We are led to believe that after weeks of Bibi-bashing and leaks of a potential imposed peace plan, what the Obami really seek is a “pragmatic Bibi.” Graph after graph passes in this otherworldly discussion of the state of U.S.-Israeli relations until Elliott Abrams supplies some much needed reality:

Only a president who appears friendly and concerned about Israeli security can evoke pragmatism in any Israeli politician,” Abrams said. “But Netanyahu has not seen the ‘pragmatic Obama,’ only the ‘ideological Obama.’ The Administration has taken a hostile stance toward Netanyahu not since he took office — but even before he took office; and it has pressed policies that show a deep lack of understanding of Israeli politics.

Indeed, it was Bibi who agreed to yet another West Bank building freeze. It was Bibi who agreed to proximity talks. Only if one defines “pragmatic” as capitulation to Obama’s hard-ball tactics could one see Bibi in all this as inflexible.

And then we are back to the spin. A former Clinton official is trotted out to declare that “The ultimate catalyst in all this is going to be Iran. . . . This is the one issue, where the interests of the U.S. and of Israel are very closely aligned and in which both countries have to work together.” Well, that’s increasingly dubious these days. Obama is in his give-it-the-college-try-but-no-promises mode; Bibi has made it very clear that a nuclear armed Iran isn’t going to be permitted on his watch. James Jones can pronounce that the two countries’ interests on Iran “are very closely linked,” but it is becoming apparent — because Obama is making it so — that the U.S. and Israel don’t see eye to eye on the end game.

The Obami’s spin is revealing, confirming that no reason exists to alter the course. The problem is Bibi, you see. If not for a prime minister who refused to depart from 40 years of government policy on Jerusalem, who objected to an endless stream of unilateral concessions, and who wouldn’t pipe down about a military option, everything would be swell.

Read Less

Flotsam and Jetsam

Rep. Bart Stupak’s seat is now a “toss up.” The ObamaCare vote may turn out to be historic after all. Nate Silver proclaims: “Generic Ballot Points Toward Possible 50+ Seat Loss For Democrats.”

Charlie Cook: “As we head toward November’s mid-term elections, the outlook remains dire for Democrats. For the trajectory of this campaign season to change in their favor, two things need to happen — unemployment must drop significantly, and the public’s attitude toward the new health care reform law must become much more positive. Neither seems likely, though. Increasingly, it appears that for Democrats to turn things around, Republicans would have to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, or a ‘black swan’ — an extraordinarily unexpected event that causes a tremendous change — would have to swim to the rescue of the president’s party.”

James Jones‘s underwhelming description of the state of U.S.-Israeli relations: “ongoing and fine and continuous.” Continuous? Well, good to know we’re not ending the relationship — and at least we’re past the point where the Obami can say “rock solid” with a straight face. Meanwhile, the White House denies that there has been any change in its policy toward the Dimona nuclear reactor. It’s hard to know what to believe at this point, which itself is evidence of the shabby state of the U.S.-Israel relationship.

The best thing about the Obami’s Israel policy? The lack of consensus and total disorganization. “Although the public fireworks between top U.S. and Israeli officials may have died down in recent days, a fully fledged debate has erupted inside the Obama administration over how to best bring Middle East peace talks to fruition, let alone a successful conclusion.” Thank goodness.

Sarah Palin declares that “this administration alienates our friends. They treated Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai poorly  and acted surprised when he reacted in kind. And they escalated a minor zoning decision into a major breach with Israel, our closest ally in the Middle East.  Folks, someone needs to remind the President: Jerusalem is not a settlement. Israel is our friend. And the critical nuclear concerns of our time are North Korea, who has nuclear weapons, and Iran, who wants them. So, ‘yes we can’ kowtow to our enemies and publicly criticize our allies.Yes, we can. But someone ought to tell the President and the Left that just because we can doesn’t mean we should.”

How’s that “imposed peace deal” going to work again? “Officials say Gaza’s only power plant has stopped operating because of a lack of fuel caused by the ongoing dispute between Palestinian political rivals. Gaza’s Islamic militant Hamas rulers and their Western-backed West Bank rivals have argued over who should pay for the fuel for the plant.”

Jamie Fly and John Noonan on nuclear nonproliferation: “Our unwillingness to penalize countries such as Iran, North Korea, and Syria for their illicit activities only empowers them. It sends the message to other states potentially seeking nuclear weapons that the path to a weapon can be pursued with few repercussions. If President Obama were truly concerned about the future of the international nonproliferation regime, he would follow his recent disarmament ‘accomplishments’ with some serious action to ensure that rogue regimes realize that there is a price to be paid by those who choose to pursue nuclear weapons.”

John Yoo‘s prediction on Obama’s Supreme Court pick: “The president’s low approval ratings and the resurgence of Republican electoral victories in New Jersey, Virginia, and, most importantly, Massachusetts, means that Obama will not pick an ideological warrior who will spark a fight in the Senate. No Dawn Johnsen’s or Larry Tribe’s here. Appointing someone on the extreme left of the Democratic party would be a political gift to the Republicans — it would only continue the drive to the left that is promising big gains for the Republicans in the November election and would frustrate Obama’s other priorities.”

Meanwhile, Obama withdraws the nomination of Dawn Johnsen, who had been tapped to head the Office of Legal Counsel. Could it be that the Democrats don’t want any knock-down-drag-out-fights over left-wing  ideologues?

Could a Republican win the special House election in Hawaii? “This is a three-way race featuring two Democrats, former Rep. Ed Case and Hawaii State Senate President Colleen Hanabusa, squaring off against Republican Charles Djou. It is a winner-take-all contest between the three candidates, competing to replace Neil Abercrombie, who left Congress to run for governor. . .Right now, the race is close: according to a Democratic source, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has conducted an internal poll showing Case at 32%, Djou at 32%, Hanabusa at 27%, and 9% undecided.” Well, like they say, as goes Massachusetts so goes Hawaii. Not really, but this year it might be true.

Rep. Bart Stupak’s seat is now a “toss up.” The ObamaCare vote may turn out to be historic after all. Nate Silver proclaims: “Generic Ballot Points Toward Possible 50+ Seat Loss For Democrats.”

Charlie Cook: “As we head toward November’s mid-term elections, the outlook remains dire for Democrats. For the trajectory of this campaign season to change in their favor, two things need to happen — unemployment must drop significantly, and the public’s attitude toward the new health care reform law must become much more positive. Neither seems likely, though. Increasingly, it appears that for Democrats to turn things around, Republicans would have to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, or a ‘black swan’ — an extraordinarily unexpected event that causes a tremendous change — would have to swim to the rescue of the president’s party.”

James Jones‘s underwhelming description of the state of U.S.-Israeli relations: “ongoing and fine and continuous.” Continuous? Well, good to know we’re not ending the relationship — and at least we’re past the point where the Obami can say “rock solid” with a straight face. Meanwhile, the White House denies that there has been any change in its policy toward the Dimona nuclear reactor. It’s hard to know what to believe at this point, which itself is evidence of the shabby state of the U.S.-Israel relationship.

The best thing about the Obami’s Israel policy? The lack of consensus and total disorganization. “Although the public fireworks between top U.S. and Israeli officials may have died down in recent days, a fully fledged debate has erupted inside the Obama administration over how to best bring Middle East peace talks to fruition, let alone a successful conclusion.” Thank goodness.

Sarah Palin declares that “this administration alienates our friends. They treated Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai poorly  and acted surprised when he reacted in kind. And they escalated a minor zoning decision into a major breach with Israel, our closest ally in the Middle East.  Folks, someone needs to remind the President: Jerusalem is not a settlement. Israel is our friend. And the critical nuclear concerns of our time are North Korea, who has nuclear weapons, and Iran, who wants them. So, ‘yes we can’ kowtow to our enemies and publicly criticize our allies.Yes, we can. But someone ought to tell the President and the Left that just because we can doesn’t mean we should.”

How’s that “imposed peace deal” going to work again? “Officials say Gaza’s only power plant has stopped operating because of a lack of fuel caused by the ongoing dispute between Palestinian political rivals. Gaza’s Islamic militant Hamas rulers and their Western-backed West Bank rivals have argued over who should pay for the fuel for the plant.”

Jamie Fly and John Noonan on nuclear nonproliferation: “Our unwillingness to penalize countries such as Iran, North Korea, and Syria for their illicit activities only empowers them. It sends the message to other states potentially seeking nuclear weapons that the path to a weapon can be pursued with few repercussions. If President Obama were truly concerned about the future of the international nonproliferation regime, he would follow his recent disarmament ‘accomplishments’ with some serious action to ensure that rogue regimes realize that there is a price to be paid by those who choose to pursue nuclear weapons.”

John Yoo‘s prediction on Obama’s Supreme Court pick: “The president’s low approval ratings and the resurgence of Republican electoral victories in New Jersey, Virginia, and, most importantly, Massachusetts, means that Obama will not pick an ideological warrior who will spark a fight in the Senate. No Dawn Johnsen’s or Larry Tribe’s here. Appointing someone on the extreme left of the Democratic party would be a political gift to the Republicans — it would only continue the drive to the left that is promising big gains for the Republicans in the November election and would frustrate Obama’s other priorities.”

Meanwhile, Obama withdraws the nomination of Dawn Johnsen, who had been tapped to head the Office of Legal Counsel. Could it be that the Democrats don’t want any knock-down-drag-out-fights over left-wing  ideologues?

Could a Republican win the special House election in Hawaii? “This is a three-way race featuring two Democrats, former Rep. Ed Case and Hawaii State Senate President Colleen Hanabusa, squaring off against Republican Charles Djou. It is a winner-take-all contest between the three candidates, competing to replace Neil Abercrombie, who left Congress to run for governor. . .Right now, the race is close: according to a Democratic source, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has conducted an internal poll showing Case at 32%, Djou at 32%, Hanabusa at 27%, and 9% undecided.” Well, like they say, as goes Massachusetts so goes Hawaii. Not really, but this year it might be true.

Read Less

Leslie Gelb: We Need Better Advisers Because Obama Is Failing

Leslie Gelb has plainly had it with Obama. He observes: “The negative, even dismissive, talk about the Obama White House has reached a critical point. The president must change key personnel now. Unless he speedily sets up a new team, he will be reduced to a speechmaker.” We can quibble with the tense of that sentence, but he has a point.

Indeed, Gelb provides a list of particulars. On Afghanistan:

It’s even hard to follow his latest Afghan policy. He calls Afghanistan a “war of necessity” and orders more than 30,000 new troops there, coupled with an announcement that he’ll begin withdrawing some of them in a year plus, only to see some of his advisers say he will start withdrawals and some say he won’t.

On the Middle East, Gelb writes:

Obama doesn’t know what’s really going on. Regarding the Middle East, he recently said that “I think it is absolutely true that what we did this year didn’t produce the kind of breakthrough that we wanted, and if we had anticipated some of these political problems on both sides earlier, we might not have raised expectations as high.” He had to be totally out of it not to realize that the Palestinians and Israelis were nowhere close to sitting down with each other and dealing.

Well, yes. And George Mitchell, Hillary Clinton, and everyone else on Obama’s team has enabled this fantasy.

But the strength of the indictment only undermines Gelb’s proposed remedy, which is to move Rahm Emanuel and David Axelrod to other positions, fire a bunch of other aides (including Robert Gibbs and James Jones), and get new advisers. I agree that Emanuel and Axelrod have been front and center in many of these debacles and have a hyper-partisan outlook that has proved unhelpful to Obama. I concur that Jones, to put it mildly, “has not emerged as a strategist—perhaps the key requirement of this key position.”

But do we really think a president whose thinking is as muddled as this one’s is going to be set straight by a new crew of aides? Indeed, Gelb concedes that Obama hasn’t proved he’s up for the job:

To lead America and the world, Obama has to grow far beyond his present propensity to treat problems as intellectual puzzles—to collect facts and hear the arguments. The great tasks of governing demand proven intuition in sensing what’s achievable, which buttons to push when, how to buy the time for power to take hold, how to make adjustments without flagrantly foolish rhetoric, how to avoid failures that only diminish power, and how to succeed in small as well as large ways.

Gelb’s argument boils down to the hope that better aides can substitute for a competent president. But we know that’s not how it works. There is one president who must decide between often conflicting advice. There is one president who can connect — or not — with Middle America and roll up his sleeves to make deals with opponents. And only the president can give up the pipe dream of engaging despots. (Then there’s this problem: would any smart people want a job in the Obama administration right now?)

In the end, if the American people chose unwisely in November 2008, there is only one remedy: vote for the opposition party to check the president’s worst instincts. And if that doesn’t work, replace the president, too. If Obama can’t get up to speed and dramatically shift course, I suspect that is exactly what will happen.

Leslie Gelb has plainly had it with Obama. He observes: “The negative, even dismissive, talk about the Obama White House has reached a critical point. The president must change key personnel now. Unless he speedily sets up a new team, he will be reduced to a speechmaker.” We can quibble with the tense of that sentence, but he has a point.

Indeed, Gelb provides a list of particulars. On Afghanistan:

It’s even hard to follow his latest Afghan policy. He calls Afghanistan a “war of necessity” and orders more than 30,000 new troops there, coupled with an announcement that he’ll begin withdrawing some of them in a year plus, only to see some of his advisers say he will start withdrawals and some say he won’t.

On the Middle East, Gelb writes:

Obama doesn’t know what’s really going on. Regarding the Middle East, he recently said that “I think it is absolutely true that what we did this year didn’t produce the kind of breakthrough that we wanted, and if we had anticipated some of these political problems on both sides earlier, we might not have raised expectations as high.” He had to be totally out of it not to realize that the Palestinians and Israelis were nowhere close to sitting down with each other and dealing.

Well, yes. And George Mitchell, Hillary Clinton, and everyone else on Obama’s team has enabled this fantasy.

But the strength of the indictment only undermines Gelb’s proposed remedy, which is to move Rahm Emanuel and David Axelrod to other positions, fire a bunch of other aides (including Robert Gibbs and James Jones), and get new advisers. I agree that Emanuel and Axelrod have been front and center in many of these debacles and have a hyper-partisan outlook that has proved unhelpful to Obama. I concur that Jones, to put it mildly, “has not emerged as a strategist—perhaps the key requirement of this key position.”

But do we really think a president whose thinking is as muddled as this one’s is going to be set straight by a new crew of aides? Indeed, Gelb concedes that Obama hasn’t proved he’s up for the job:

To lead America and the world, Obama has to grow far beyond his present propensity to treat problems as intellectual puzzles—to collect facts and hear the arguments. The great tasks of governing demand proven intuition in sensing what’s achievable, which buttons to push when, how to buy the time for power to take hold, how to make adjustments without flagrantly foolish rhetoric, how to avoid failures that only diminish power, and how to succeed in small as well as large ways.

Gelb’s argument boils down to the hope that better aides can substitute for a competent president. But we know that’s not how it works. There is one president who must decide between often conflicting advice. There is one president who can connect — or not — with Middle America and roll up his sleeves to make deals with opponents. And only the president can give up the pipe dream of engaging despots. (Then there’s this problem: would any smart people want a job in the Obama administration right now?)

In the end, if the American people chose unwisely in November 2008, there is only one remedy: vote for the opposition party to check the president’s worst instincts. And if that doesn’t work, replace the president, too. If Obama can’t get up to speed and dramatically shift course, I suspect that is exactly what will happen.

Read Less

Does Anyone in the Administration Get It?

Bill Burck and Dana Perino have become invaluable analysts in deconstructing the Obama spin. (Let’s be frank here, “lies” is more accurate with regard to much of what has come out of the White House these days.) They spot John Brennan saying foolish things again:

After his disastrous television appearances, Brennan was relegated this weekend to giving a speech at the Islamic Center at New York University. Even there, however, he again said something profoundly misguided. Discussing the rate of recidivism of detainees released from Guantanamo, which some have put as high as 20 percent, Brennan said: “People sometimes use that figure, 20 percent, [and] say, ‘Oh my goodness, one out of five detainees returned to some type of extremist activity.’ You know, the American penal system, the recidivism rate is up to something about 50 percent or so, as far as return to crime. Twenty percent isn’t that bad.”

We’re not making this quote up. The president’s top counterterrorism adviser actually said that a 20 percent terrorist recidivism rate was good enough for government work. About 800 people have been detained at Guantanamo and about 600 have been released or turned over to the custody of other governments. Twenty percent means Brennan thinks it’s not a bad day’s work if 120 or so returned to terrorism. If that’s his definition of success, we would hate to see what failure looks like. Sen. Lindsey Graham, for one, doesn’t care to know and has joined in calls for Brennan’s resignation. Senator Graham’s views matter to the White House because he’s their best hope for a bipartisan solution to Guantanamo.

This is, as Burck and Perino point out, the criminal-justice model run wild. Generally, planes don’t get blown from the sky or buildings leveled when a common criminal is released unwisely. Not so with terrorists. And not a great argument to make to those Americans killed on the battlefield by a former Guantanamo detainee.

There is much speculation about “sides” in the Obama administration. Burck and Perino spot the Emanuel/Jones team vs. the Holder/Brennan team. Neither seems like a winning combination, I know. But the premise may not be valid. We, of course, have only one president, and he has been squarely on the side of the criminal-justice model and on the not-Bush anti-terrorism approach. The latter was his ticket into the White House, and the frequency with which he recites the “lost our way” mantra in reference to interrogation and detention policies suggests that he means it.

So the question, I think, is not which team should we root for (I, for one, would be pleased to see the entire quartet depart and would not want to bank on the wisdom of James Jones on anything other than the best D.C. biking trails), but whether the president has woken up to the realities of fighting Islamic fascists. I think the first indication that he has changed his thinking will be when he starts using the phrase “Islamic fundamentalists” or “Islamic jihadists.” No, I don’t think it will be anytime soon.

Bill Burck and Dana Perino have become invaluable analysts in deconstructing the Obama spin. (Let’s be frank here, “lies” is more accurate with regard to much of what has come out of the White House these days.) They spot John Brennan saying foolish things again:

After his disastrous television appearances, Brennan was relegated this weekend to giving a speech at the Islamic Center at New York University. Even there, however, he again said something profoundly misguided. Discussing the rate of recidivism of detainees released from Guantanamo, which some have put as high as 20 percent, Brennan said: “People sometimes use that figure, 20 percent, [and] say, ‘Oh my goodness, one out of five detainees returned to some type of extremist activity.’ You know, the American penal system, the recidivism rate is up to something about 50 percent or so, as far as return to crime. Twenty percent isn’t that bad.”

We’re not making this quote up. The president’s top counterterrorism adviser actually said that a 20 percent terrorist recidivism rate was good enough for government work. About 800 people have been detained at Guantanamo and about 600 have been released or turned over to the custody of other governments. Twenty percent means Brennan thinks it’s not a bad day’s work if 120 or so returned to terrorism. If that’s his definition of success, we would hate to see what failure looks like. Sen. Lindsey Graham, for one, doesn’t care to know and has joined in calls for Brennan’s resignation. Senator Graham’s views matter to the White House because he’s their best hope for a bipartisan solution to Guantanamo.

This is, as Burck and Perino point out, the criminal-justice model run wild. Generally, planes don’t get blown from the sky or buildings leveled when a common criminal is released unwisely. Not so with terrorists. And not a great argument to make to those Americans killed on the battlefield by a former Guantanamo detainee.

There is much speculation about “sides” in the Obama administration. Burck and Perino spot the Emanuel/Jones team vs. the Holder/Brennan team. Neither seems like a winning combination, I know. But the premise may not be valid. We, of course, have only one president, and he has been squarely on the side of the criminal-justice model and on the not-Bush anti-terrorism approach. The latter was his ticket into the White House, and the frequency with which he recites the “lost our way” mantra in reference to interrogation and detention policies suggests that he means it.

So the question, I think, is not which team should we root for (I, for one, would be pleased to see the entire quartet depart and would not want to bank on the wisdom of James Jones on anything other than the best D.C. biking trails), but whether the president has woken up to the realities of fighting Islamic fascists. I think the first indication that he has changed his thinking will be when he starts using the phrase “Islamic fundamentalists” or “Islamic jihadists.” No, I don’t think it will be anytime soon.

Read Less




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

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

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

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

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