Commentary Magazine


Topic: Jennifer Rubin

Try Another Tack, Mr. Clemons

My former CONTENTIONS colleague Jennifer Rubin wrote a post referring to “the usual crowd of Israel bashers” who had sent the president a letter urging him to go along with a UN resolution condemning Israel for its settlements. The usual crowd included Steve Clemons of the New America Foundation, who was quite agitated because he was included in that company.

“I would like to know from Jennifer Rubin and from her editor — and from the Chairman of the Board of the Washington Post — what I have ever said, what I have ever written, what I have ever organized that deserves the characterization I received from Jennifer Rubin today at the Washington Post,” Clemons asks. “What does she consider makes me an Israel-basher?”

Rubin answers him chapter-and-verse here. It is a withering takedown.

Accusing Rubin of engaging in what is essentially libel (an “insidious character attack” is how Clemons puts it) when she was simply expressing an opinion, backed up by ample evidence, is both regrettable and perfectly predictable. Clemons is reacting in an affected and aggrieved manner. It is an obvious attempt not to dispute the charge but to delegitimize the person making it. And by appealing to Rubin’s editors and the chairman of the board at the Washington Post (!), there is an implicit effort to intimidate Rubin into silence.

Having worked with Jen, I have some advice for Clemons: it won’t work, and it shouldn’t be tried. And if Mr. Clemons is so eager to extinguish libel in public discourse, he might turn more of his attention to the effort on the left to link conservatives to the Tucson massacres.

Just a suggestion.

My former CONTENTIONS colleague Jennifer Rubin wrote a post referring to “the usual crowd of Israel bashers” who had sent the president a letter urging him to go along with a UN resolution condemning Israel for its settlements. The usual crowd included Steve Clemons of the New America Foundation, who was quite agitated because he was included in that company.

“I would like to know from Jennifer Rubin and from her editor — and from the Chairman of the Board of the Washington Post — what I have ever said, what I have ever written, what I have ever organized that deserves the characterization I received from Jennifer Rubin today at the Washington Post,” Clemons asks. “What does she consider makes me an Israel-basher?”

Rubin answers him chapter-and-verse here. It is a withering takedown.

Accusing Rubin of engaging in what is essentially libel (an “insidious character attack” is how Clemons puts it) when she was simply expressing an opinion, backed up by ample evidence, is both regrettable and perfectly predictable. Clemons is reacting in an affected and aggrieved manner. It is an obvious attempt not to dispute the charge but to delegitimize the person making it. And by appealing to Rubin’s editors and the chairman of the board at the Washington Post (!), there is an implicit effort to intimidate Rubin into silence.

Having worked with Jen, I have some advice for Clemons: it won’t work, and it shouldn’t be tried. And if Mr. Clemons is so eager to extinguish libel in public discourse, he might turn more of his attention to the effort on the left to link conservatives to the Tucson massacres.

Just a suggestion.

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The Definition of ‘Anti-Israel’

Last week, Steve Clemons organized a contingent of foreign-policy officials and commentators to send a letter to President Obama urging the U.S. to support the anti-settlement resolution at the UN.

It included many prominent critics of the Israel — Peter Beinart, Chas Freeman, and Andrew Sullivan, to name just a few.

Based on their well-documented eagerness to condemn Israel whenever possible, the Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin referred to the group as “Israel-bashers” – prompting an angry response from Clemons and setting off a debate about the meaning of “pro-Israel,” according to Ben Smith:

The group J Street has been waging, and mostly losing, a political fight with more hawkish allies of Israel over the meaning of the term “pro-Israel,” and today another Washington skirmish erupts on the topic. …

There are two fights underway at the moment: One is defining the politically acceptable space in Washington for debating Israel policy; the other is the push by Bill Kristol and his allies to identify support for Israel explicitly with the Republican Party. That latter effort, ironically, has some of the same goals of the former, which would like to see the Democratic Party soften its hard line.

I wholeheartedly disagree with Smith’s assessment. I highly doubt that any Israel supporters on the right want to turn support for Israel into a partisan issue, especially since pro-Israel views are widespread throughout both political parties. As we saw from the midterm elections, it’s politically suicidal for candidates to take anti-Israel stances — regardless of party affiliation — because those are positions that most of the public disagree with.

As for Clemons’s protestations at being called anti-Israel, I have several comments.

Being critical of settlement construction is not an inherently anti-Israel position. But the tone of the argument and the way it’s framed and presented is a good indicator of whether someone is a friend or foe of the Jewish state.

Calling on Israel to halt settlement construction within the framework of peace negotiations — like in a statement from the Quartet — is one thing. Overturning years of precedent by joining together with enemies of Israel, as they grandstand and demonize the Jewish state in an international public forum, is appalling and would be a disgraceful way to treat any ally. Read More

Last week, Steve Clemons organized a contingent of foreign-policy officials and commentators to send a letter to President Obama urging the U.S. to support the anti-settlement resolution at the UN.

It included many prominent critics of the Israel — Peter Beinart, Chas Freeman, and Andrew Sullivan, to name just a few.

Based on their well-documented eagerness to condemn Israel whenever possible, the Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin referred to the group as “Israel-bashers” – prompting an angry response from Clemons and setting off a debate about the meaning of “pro-Israel,” according to Ben Smith:

The group J Street has been waging, and mostly losing, a political fight with more hawkish allies of Israel over the meaning of the term “pro-Israel,” and today another Washington skirmish erupts on the topic. …

There are two fights underway at the moment: One is defining the politically acceptable space in Washington for debating Israel policy; the other is the push by Bill Kristol and his allies to identify support for Israel explicitly with the Republican Party. That latter effort, ironically, has some of the same goals of the former, which would like to see the Democratic Party soften its hard line.

I wholeheartedly disagree with Smith’s assessment. I highly doubt that any Israel supporters on the right want to turn support for Israel into a partisan issue, especially since pro-Israel views are widespread throughout both political parties. As we saw from the midterm elections, it’s politically suicidal for candidates to take anti-Israel stances — regardless of party affiliation — because those are positions that most of the public disagree with.

As for Clemons’s protestations at being called anti-Israel, I have several comments.

Being critical of settlement construction is not an inherently anti-Israel position. But the tone of the argument and the way it’s framed and presented is a good indicator of whether someone is a friend or foe of the Jewish state.

Calling on Israel to halt settlement construction within the framework of peace negotiations — like in a statement from the Quartet — is one thing. Overturning years of precedent by joining together with enemies of Israel, as they grandstand and demonize the Jewish state in an international public forum, is appalling and would be a disgraceful way to treat any ally.

That’s the entire point of the resolution before the Security Council. It’s meant to single out and scapegoat Israel for the delays in the peace process. In reality, there are many obstructions to the negotiations — the biggest ones coming from the Palestinian side — and neither Clemons’s letter nor the Security Council resolution mentions any of them.

What else can that be called except bias?

If Clemons seriously wants to see the end of settlement-building, I can’t imagine a worse way to go about it than by supporting a UN resolution. Historically, more progress has been made on curbing settlement construction when the U.S. has lobbied Israel privately (e.g., the secret agreements under Sharon and Bush). And I fail to see how humiliating one of our closest and most loyal allies in front of the world will help bring about further progress on peace negotiations.

The UN resolution demonizes Israel, unfairly scapegoats Israel and undermines peace negotiations. If that’s not anti-Israel, then what is?

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Is HSBC Doing Damage Control at State Department After Pro-Iran Ad?

It looks like HSBC may be doing a bit of damage control in Foggy Bottom after its pro-Iran ad campaign sparked criticism from the media and foreign-policy experts. The bank’s controversial advertisement was discussed at a private meeting between HSBC CEO Niall Booker and Jose Fernandez, assistant secretary for economic energy and business affairs, at the State Department on Monday, a source familiar with the conversation told me.

HSBC’s spokesperson Robert Sherman declined to comment directly on whether the recent ad flap played a part in the discussion, saying only that “We have ongoing meetings with officials, sometimes at our request. This meeting was scheduled before the Iran ad articles.”

The ad in question claimed that “Only 4% of American films are made by women. In Iran it’s 25%,” and noted that the bank finds “potential in unexpected places.” Some interpreted this to mean that HSBC was pursuing investment opportunities in Iran, but the bank denied that was the ad’s intent.

The Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin reported on Dec. 26 that the bank has recently “drawn the attention of various regulators” and is currently “being probed by the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Attorney’s Office.” Regulators at the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago also reportedly “found that the bank’s compliance program was ineffective and created ‘significant potential’ for money laundering and terrorist financing. This opened HSBC to the possibility that it was conducting transactions on behalf of sanctioned entities.”

While HSBC has already pulled the offending advertisement, it makes sense that it would want to smooth things over with the State Department. The department has been a vocal critic of the Iranian regime’s oppressive treatment of women and disregard for human rights, and it’s easy to see how the ad could have ruffled some feathers there.

It looks like HSBC may be doing a bit of damage control in Foggy Bottom after its pro-Iran ad campaign sparked criticism from the media and foreign-policy experts. The bank’s controversial advertisement was discussed at a private meeting between HSBC CEO Niall Booker and Jose Fernandez, assistant secretary for economic energy and business affairs, at the State Department on Monday, a source familiar with the conversation told me.

HSBC’s spokesperson Robert Sherman declined to comment directly on whether the recent ad flap played a part in the discussion, saying only that “We have ongoing meetings with officials, sometimes at our request. This meeting was scheduled before the Iran ad articles.”

The ad in question claimed that “Only 4% of American films are made by women. In Iran it’s 25%,” and noted that the bank finds “potential in unexpected places.” Some interpreted this to mean that HSBC was pursuing investment opportunities in Iran, but the bank denied that was the ad’s intent.

The Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin reported on Dec. 26 that the bank has recently “drawn the attention of various regulators” and is currently “being probed by the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Attorney’s Office.” Regulators at the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago also reportedly “found that the bank’s compliance program was ineffective and created ‘significant potential’ for money laundering and terrorist financing. This opened HSBC to the possibility that it was conducting transactions on behalf of sanctioned entities.”

While HSBC has already pulled the offending advertisement, it makes sense that it would want to smooth things over with the State Department. The department has been a vocal critic of the Iranian regime’s oppressive treatment of women and disregard for human rights, and it’s easy to see how the ad could have ruffled some feathers there.

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What’s the Mystery?

Over at the Washington Post, Jennifer Rubin quotes Jill Lawrence’s utter befuddlement over the lack of popularity of ObamaCare. Let’s see if we can clear up the mystery for Ms. Lawrence.

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 was a horrible piece of legislation — incoherently written, damaging in its effects on our health-care system, terribly costly and inefficient, and passed through means much of the public considered either troubling or illegitimate. The more the president spoke on its behalf, the less popular it became. And right now it is, depending on which poll you consult, as unpopular as it has ever been. But it won’t end there. The more the people understand the full effects of this monstrosity, the more politically radioactive it will be.

Ms. Lawrence would learn a lot if she read, and then absorbed, Tevi Troy’s excellent essay in the January issue of COMMENTARY. But I suspect her views are too rigid to allow such a thing to happen.

Over at the Washington Post, Jennifer Rubin quotes Jill Lawrence’s utter befuddlement over the lack of popularity of ObamaCare. Let’s see if we can clear up the mystery for Ms. Lawrence.

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 was a horrible piece of legislation — incoherently written, damaging in its effects on our health-care system, terribly costly and inefficient, and passed through means much of the public considered either troubling or illegitimate. The more the president spoke on its behalf, the less popular it became. And right now it is, depending on which poll you consult, as unpopular as it has ever been. But it won’t end there. The more the people understand the full effects of this monstrosity, the more politically radioactive it will be.

Ms. Lawrence would learn a lot if she read, and then absorbed, Tevi Troy’s excellent essay in the January issue of COMMENTARY. But I suspect her views are too rigid to allow such a thing to happen.

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An Edifice Over an Abyss

Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren’s valuable interview with Jennifer Rubin (part one on Friday; part two today) contains a useful observation about the current Palestinian push for recognition of a state. Oren says there are two models of Middle East state-building:

In the first, you build from the bottom up. Then you are bestowed or declare independence. The second is that you attain independence and figure out what institutions you will have later. This was the model for Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. Israel is the first model. We had more than 60 years to build institutions. … Oslo was the classic second model, and Arafat rejected institution building. We saw how that worked out. It’s building an edifice over an abyss.

This reminds me of Ron Dermer’s presentation to AIPAC in May 2009, previewing the one Netanyahu would make days later in his first meeting with President Obama. Dermer described Netanyahu’s plan as a three-track approach: two bottom-up tracks (security and economic development) combined with a top-down one (political negotiations). The goal was not an immediate “peace-to-end-all-peace, deal of the century,” but developments on the ground necessary to make peace possible:

What happened in Annapolis is that the government almost exclusively focused on political negotiation. They invested all their energy … in reaching an elusive agreement. And I agree with Aaron [David Miller] that there is no way now on the Palestinian side to make the sorts of compromises that will be required for a deal on the core issues. Yet despite that, the previous government just decided to negotiate, and negotiate, and negotiate …

What Netanyahu will do – and you will see it in a rather dramatic fashion over the next two years … is work to change the reality on the ground, first through security [by facilitating creation of a Palestinian police force] … and [removing] bureaucratic obstacles to economic development. …

What has happened up to now is to try to build the pyramid from the top down. It doesn’t work that way. You have to … have the Palestinians have rule of law, have a decent economy … and slowly but surely you actually build lots of stakeholders.

In the last two years, security in the West Bank has improved, as has the Palestinian economy – developments for which Netanyahu has been given insufficient credit. But Palestinian society remains steeped in anti-Semitism, and the Palestinian Authority lacks the rule of law: a “president” whose term expired two years ago; an unelected “prime minister;” local elections that were cancelled; and political reform that is, in the words of a former PA minister, “a joke.” The next chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee says it is impossible to track the PA’s use of American aid (“Try looking at their budgets … you’ll never find out where that money goes”).

An undemocratic, anti-Semitic state, unwilling to recognize a Jewish one (much less one with defensible borders), is unlikely to “live side by side in peace.” The Palestinians are pushing the edifice, but the abyss is still there.

Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren’s valuable interview with Jennifer Rubin (part one on Friday; part two today) contains a useful observation about the current Palestinian push for recognition of a state. Oren says there are two models of Middle East state-building:

In the first, you build from the bottom up. Then you are bestowed or declare independence. The second is that you attain independence and figure out what institutions you will have later. This was the model for Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. Israel is the first model. We had more than 60 years to build institutions. … Oslo was the classic second model, and Arafat rejected institution building. We saw how that worked out. It’s building an edifice over an abyss.

This reminds me of Ron Dermer’s presentation to AIPAC in May 2009, previewing the one Netanyahu would make days later in his first meeting with President Obama. Dermer described Netanyahu’s plan as a three-track approach: two bottom-up tracks (security and economic development) combined with a top-down one (political negotiations). The goal was not an immediate “peace-to-end-all-peace, deal of the century,” but developments on the ground necessary to make peace possible:

What happened in Annapolis is that the government almost exclusively focused on political negotiation. They invested all their energy … in reaching an elusive agreement. And I agree with Aaron [David Miller] that there is no way now on the Palestinian side to make the sorts of compromises that will be required for a deal on the core issues. Yet despite that, the previous government just decided to negotiate, and negotiate, and negotiate …

What Netanyahu will do – and you will see it in a rather dramatic fashion over the next two years … is work to change the reality on the ground, first through security [by facilitating creation of a Palestinian police force] … and [removing] bureaucratic obstacles to economic development. …

What has happened up to now is to try to build the pyramid from the top down. It doesn’t work that way. You have to … have the Palestinians have rule of law, have a decent economy … and slowly but surely you actually build lots of stakeholders.

In the last two years, security in the West Bank has improved, as has the Palestinian economy – developments for which Netanyahu has been given insufficient credit. But Palestinian society remains steeped in anti-Semitism, and the Palestinian Authority lacks the rule of law: a “president” whose term expired two years ago; an unelected “prime minister;” local elections that were cancelled; and political reform that is, in the words of a former PA minister, “a joke.” The next chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee says it is impossible to track the PA’s use of American aid (“Try looking at their budgets … you’ll never find out where that money goes”).

An undemocratic, anti-Semitic state, unwilling to recognize a Jewish one (much less one with defensible borders), is unlikely to “live side by side in peace.” The Palestinians are pushing the edifice, but the abyss is still there.

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Lessons of the Peace Process: The Missing Reflection

The final chapter of Dennis Ross’s 800-page book on the Oslo Process (The Missing Peace) is entitled “Learning the Lessons of the Past and Applying Them to the Future.” Among his lessons was a warning that the process can become “essentially an end in itself” — self-sustaining because there is never a right time to disrupt it. He concluded that less attention should have been paid to the negotiators and more to preparing their publics for compromise. With respect to the Palestinians, it is a lesson still unlearned.

The lessons the Bush administration drew from the Clinton experience were that Arafat was an obstacle to peace; the Palestinian Authority needed new leadership and democratic institutions; and peace could be achieved only in phases, not all at once. Bush endorsed a Palestinian state in 2002; arranged the three-phase Roadmap in 2003; assured Israel in 2004 of the U.S. commitment to defensible borders; facilitated the Gaza withdrawal in 2005; began moving the parties in 2006 to final status negotiations; and sponsored the Annapolis Process in 2007-08, which produced another Israeli offer of a state and another Palestinian rejection. In the meantime, the Palestinians elected Hamas — an inconvenient fact that peace processors simply ignore.

There were multiple lessons to be drawn from the successive failures of Clinton and Bush, but Obama did not pause to consider them. He appointed George Mitchell on his second day in office and sent him immediately to the Middle East on the first of an endless series of trips. He sought a total Israeli construction freeze and reciprocal Arab concessions — getting nothing from the Arabs but obtaining a one-time Israeli moratorium, which produced nothing. The administration has tried “proximity talks,” followed by “direct talks,” and now “parallel talks.”

The process has produced an endless supply of names for unproductive procedures, but not much else. It has become essentially an end in itself, and it is time, once again, to learn the lessons of the past so we can apply them to the future. Aaron David Miller and Jennifer Rubin have produced about seven between them.

But the most relevant lesson may be the one Obama disregarded when he rushed into his own peace process. In a December 2008 article, Obama’s erstwhile adviser Robert Malley urged him to slow down and reflect on “the reasons for recurring failures, the effectiveness of U.S. mediation, the wisdom and realism of seeking a comprehensive, across-the-board settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, or even the centrality of that conflict to US interests.”

The Palestinian goal seems less to obtain a state (they have repeatedly rejected one) than to reverse history: a return to the 1967 lines would reverse the 1967 war; a “right of return” would reverse the 1948 one; and controlling the Old City (aka East Jerusalem) would reverse the history before that. At the end of his book, Ross describes the Oval Office meeting where Arafat rejected the Clinton Parameters, with Arafat denying that the Temple ever existed in Jerusalem. Ten years later, the PA denies any Jewish connection to the Western Wall. Not only has the PA taken no steps to prepare its public for peace; its maps and media presume Israel does not exist.

In thinking about the recurring failures of the peace process, it is time to reflect on that.

The final chapter of Dennis Ross’s 800-page book on the Oslo Process (The Missing Peace) is entitled “Learning the Lessons of the Past and Applying Them to the Future.” Among his lessons was a warning that the process can become “essentially an end in itself” — self-sustaining because there is never a right time to disrupt it. He concluded that less attention should have been paid to the negotiators and more to preparing their publics for compromise. With respect to the Palestinians, it is a lesson still unlearned.

The lessons the Bush administration drew from the Clinton experience were that Arafat was an obstacle to peace; the Palestinian Authority needed new leadership and democratic institutions; and peace could be achieved only in phases, not all at once. Bush endorsed a Palestinian state in 2002; arranged the three-phase Roadmap in 2003; assured Israel in 2004 of the U.S. commitment to defensible borders; facilitated the Gaza withdrawal in 2005; began moving the parties in 2006 to final status negotiations; and sponsored the Annapolis Process in 2007-08, which produced another Israeli offer of a state and another Palestinian rejection. In the meantime, the Palestinians elected Hamas — an inconvenient fact that peace processors simply ignore.

There were multiple lessons to be drawn from the successive failures of Clinton and Bush, but Obama did not pause to consider them. He appointed George Mitchell on his second day in office and sent him immediately to the Middle East on the first of an endless series of trips. He sought a total Israeli construction freeze and reciprocal Arab concessions — getting nothing from the Arabs but obtaining a one-time Israeli moratorium, which produced nothing. The administration has tried “proximity talks,” followed by “direct talks,” and now “parallel talks.”

The process has produced an endless supply of names for unproductive procedures, but not much else. It has become essentially an end in itself, and it is time, once again, to learn the lessons of the past so we can apply them to the future. Aaron David Miller and Jennifer Rubin have produced about seven between them.

But the most relevant lesson may be the one Obama disregarded when he rushed into his own peace process. In a December 2008 article, Obama’s erstwhile adviser Robert Malley urged him to slow down and reflect on “the reasons for recurring failures, the effectiveness of U.S. mediation, the wisdom and realism of seeking a comprehensive, across-the-board settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, or even the centrality of that conflict to US interests.”

The Palestinian goal seems less to obtain a state (they have repeatedly rejected one) than to reverse history: a return to the 1967 lines would reverse the 1967 war; a “right of return” would reverse the 1948 one; and controlling the Old City (aka East Jerusalem) would reverse the history before that. At the end of his book, Ross describes the Oval Office meeting where Arafat rejected the Clinton Parameters, with Arafat denying that the Temple ever existed in Jerusalem. Ten years later, the PA denies any Jewish connection to the Western Wall. Not only has the PA taken no steps to prepare its public for peace; its maps and media presume Israel does not exist.

In thinking about the recurring failures of the peace process, it is time to reflect on that.

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Reich and the Worldview the Tax-Cut Deal Reveals

The liberal Robert Reich understands why, on an intellectual level, the Obama embrace of tax cuts is so significant:

Apart from its extraordinary cost and regressive tilt, the tax deal negotiated between the president and the Republicans has another fatal flaw. It confirms the Republican worldview. … By agreeing to another round of massive tax cuts for the wealthy, the president confirms the Republican story. Cutting taxes on the rich while freezing discretionary spending (which he’s also agreed to do) affirms that the underlying problem is big government, and the solution is to shrink government and expect the extra wealth at the top to trickle down to everyone else.

Obama’s new tax compromise is not only bad economics; it’s also disastrous from the standpoint of educating the public about what has happened and what needs to happen in the future. It reinforces the Republican story and makes mincemeat out of the truthful one Democrats should be telling.

Reich is wrong on substance, but he is, as Jennifer Rubin points out, right on narrative. And politics is about narratives as well as policies.

There are several things that explain the current liberal rage at Obama; kicking the intellectual props out from liberalism — arguing that tax cuts are critical to economic growth — is among them.

The liberal Robert Reich understands why, on an intellectual level, the Obama embrace of tax cuts is so significant:

Apart from its extraordinary cost and regressive tilt, the tax deal negotiated between the president and the Republicans has another fatal flaw. It confirms the Republican worldview. … By agreeing to another round of massive tax cuts for the wealthy, the president confirms the Republican story. Cutting taxes on the rich while freezing discretionary spending (which he’s also agreed to do) affirms that the underlying problem is big government, and the solution is to shrink government and expect the extra wealth at the top to trickle down to everyone else.

Obama’s new tax compromise is not only bad economics; it’s also disastrous from the standpoint of educating the public about what has happened and what needs to happen in the future. It reinforces the Republican story and makes mincemeat out of the truthful one Democrats should be telling.

Reich is wrong on substance, but he is, as Jennifer Rubin points out, right on narrative. And politics is about narratives as well as policies.

There are several things that explain the current liberal rage at Obama; kicking the intellectual props out from liberalism — arguing that tax cuts are critical to economic growth — is among them.

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The Obama Primary Challenger Issue and Why It’s Misunderstood

With angry leftists starting to discuss the possibility of a primary challenge to Barack Obama, the general reaction from serious and clever political observers has been that the idea is a preposterous one. Ed Kilgore on the New Republic‘s website (trans-ideological congratulations, by the way, to TNR’s new editor, Richard Just), my former colleague Jennifer Rubin on the WaPo site, Dave Weigel in Slate, and many others have sensibly pointed out that such a challenge would be doomed. Obama’s approval ratings among Democrats is in the 80s and not much lower among liberals (despite the outrage this week about the tax-cut deal).

The fact that Obama can surely depend on nearly universal support from black Democrats makes a primary challenge even more unlikely, they say. And not only unlikely, but pointless. Rather than achieving the near-win Eugene McCarthy scored in the 1968 Democratic primary in New Hampshire against sitting president LBJ or Pat Buchanan’s getting 38 percent against Bush the Elder in 1992, Weigel suggests that the outcome would be more like the foolish bid by Ohio Republican Rep. John Ashbrook against Richard Nixon in 1972 from the right, when Ashbrook got 9 percent there.

All worth considering. But in Kilgore’s case, the wish is father to the thought; he doesn’t want a challenge and is offering an analysis intended to talk interested Democrats and leftists out of attempting one. Weigel is giving voice to the “Oh, come on” school oft affected by those who spend most of their time thinking about politics and can’t imagine why anybody would make a political move that seems fruitless.

But here’s the thing. An Obama primary challenger wouldn’t be getting in the race to win. Pat Buchanan didn’t think he’d win, and I don’t think Eugene McCarthy thought so either. The question is whether a collection of factors next year — continued weakness in the economy and the fact that we haven’t pulled out of Afghanistan — creates the conditions under which a primary challenge will be staged. The point, which I make in my COMMENTARY article this month, is that one would arise in that instance because, in effect, the dynamic of the American political system would demand it. Read More

With angry leftists starting to discuss the possibility of a primary challenge to Barack Obama, the general reaction from serious and clever political observers has been that the idea is a preposterous one. Ed Kilgore on the New Republic‘s website (trans-ideological congratulations, by the way, to TNR’s new editor, Richard Just), my former colleague Jennifer Rubin on the WaPo site, Dave Weigel in Slate, and many others have sensibly pointed out that such a challenge would be doomed. Obama’s approval ratings among Democrats is in the 80s and not much lower among liberals (despite the outrage this week about the tax-cut deal).

The fact that Obama can surely depend on nearly universal support from black Democrats makes a primary challenge even more unlikely, they say. And not only unlikely, but pointless. Rather than achieving the near-win Eugene McCarthy scored in the 1968 Democratic primary in New Hampshire against sitting president LBJ or Pat Buchanan’s getting 38 percent against Bush the Elder in 1992, Weigel suggests that the outcome would be more like the foolish bid by Ohio Republican Rep. John Ashbrook against Richard Nixon in 1972 from the right, when Ashbrook got 9 percent there.

All worth considering. But in Kilgore’s case, the wish is father to the thought; he doesn’t want a challenge and is offering an analysis intended to talk interested Democrats and leftists out of attempting one. Weigel is giving voice to the “Oh, come on” school oft affected by those who spend most of their time thinking about politics and can’t imagine why anybody would make a political move that seems fruitless.

But here’s the thing. An Obama primary challenger wouldn’t be getting in the race to win. Pat Buchanan didn’t think he’d win, and I don’t think Eugene McCarthy thought so either. The question is whether a collection of factors next year — continued weakness in the economy and the fact that we haven’t pulled out of Afghanistan — creates the conditions under which a primary challenge will be staged. The point, which I make in my COMMENTARY article this month, is that one would arise in that instance because, in effect, the dynamic of the American political system would demand it.

First, presume that, if the status quo remains largely unchanged, Obama’s support will decline somewhat among Democrats and liberals. They won’t like the state of things; he’ll start to smell like a loser and people tend to desert losers; and many will be genuinely angry that his ideological concessions on taxes and war have not improved matters from their perspective. Someone would do it at that point because (and this sounds sentimental, but isn’t) he actually does hear the leftist body politic crying out for someone to represent its views. Protest candidacies are not about victory, which is why Hillary Clinton won’t stage one; they’re about protest.

Also remember that the cost of entry for a protest candidate is far lower than people realize. One would get in to make a showing in New Hampshire, which is not expensive to run in — and a protest candidacy that gets any kind of purchase will, in any case, be able to raise money very fast. (If Christine O’Donnell can raise a few million dollars in three days, so can Russ Feingold under the right circumstances, like the Huffington Post’s pushing his campaign.) The question then would be what kind of showing such a person could make in that one state. As it happens, it might well be built to help a leftist protest candidate.

For one thing, African Americans make up less than 2 percent of the population of New Hampshire. (Remember: Hillary Clinton won here in 2008.) For another, independents can vote in the New Hampshire Democratic primary, which could allow some genuinely angry people to cast protest votes just to send Obama a message, even though such people would probably end up voting Republican in November 2012.

I have no idea whether there will be such a candidate, because I have no idea what things will look like next fall. I do know that if a candidate turns out to be less like Ashbrook and more like Buchanan, Obama will be in serious trouble. (Read my piece to find out more.) Right now, it is as foolish to presume there won’t be one, or to argue that such a candidate would be unable to make a bid damaging to Obama, as it would be to presume one will definitely rise up to challenge him.

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To Jennifer Rubin, The Fondest of Farewells

For the past three years, Jennifer Rubin has set this blog and this website afire with her breadth of knowledge, her love of the intricacies of politics, her passion for ideas and policy, and her commitment to principle. The living embodiment of the word “indefatigable,” Jen has labored daily from her home in suburban Virginia, writing early in the morning and late at night, on computer and Blackberry, all the while getting her two boys to school and back, and to Hebrew school and back, never missing a news story, never missing an op-ed column, reading everything and digesting everything and commenting on everything. She is a phenomenon, especially considering that for the first two decades of her working life, she was not a writer or a journalist but a lawyer specializing in labor issues who worked for Hollywood studios primarily.

On December 1, Jen will be leaving COMMENTARY, where she has also served as our contributing editor for the past year, to take up blogger’s residence at the Washington Post. It is a brilliant hire for them and a terrific loss for us. A noteworthy fact about Jen’s versatility is that, even considering the thousands of blog items (literally) she has written for us over the past three years, the best-read of all her COMMENTARY contributions was her recent long article, “California, There It Went,” a unique and powerful combination of memoir and elegy for the state she left to take up residence in her new East Coast home and begin her second career as a writer.

We’ll miss her, but we’ll keep reading her, as I expect you will too.

For the past three years, Jennifer Rubin has set this blog and this website afire with her breadth of knowledge, her love of the intricacies of politics, her passion for ideas and policy, and her commitment to principle. The living embodiment of the word “indefatigable,” Jen has labored daily from her home in suburban Virginia, writing early in the morning and late at night, on computer and Blackberry, all the while getting her two boys to school and back, and to Hebrew school and back, never missing a news story, never missing an op-ed column, reading everything and digesting everything and commenting on everything. She is a phenomenon, especially considering that for the first two decades of her working life, she was not a writer or a journalist but a lawyer specializing in labor issues who worked for Hollywood studios primarily.

On December 1, Jen will be leaving COMMENTARY, where she has also served as our contributing editor for the past year, to take up blogger’s residence at the Washington Post. It is a brilliant hire for them and a terrific loss for us. A noteworthy fact about Jen’s versatility is that, even considering the thousands of blog items (literally) she has written for us over the past three years, the best-read of all her COMMENTARY contributions was her recent long article, “California, There It Went,” a unique and powerful combination of memoir and elegy for the state she left to take up residence in her new East Coast home and begin her second career as a writer.

We’ll miss her, but we’ll keep reading her, as I expect you will too.

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Netanyahu Chooses the Lesser of Two Evils

The debate over Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s decision to renew a settlement-building freeze in the West Bank has been rightly characterized by my colleagues Jennifer Rubin, Evelyn Gordon, and J.E. Dyer as a measure that will not advance the basic interests of the United States or Israel and that will undermine the slim chances for a genuine peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. Others are also correct when they point out that this decision, like virtually every other concession made by Israel since the start of the Oslo process in 1993, strengthens the incorrect perception that the Palestinians are the only lawful owners of all of the West Bank.

But as much as Oslo has been completely discredited by the Palestinians’ refusal to make peace, Netanyahu cannot afford to act as if the desire of the United States to pursue another round of peace talks is irrelevant. President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton may be among the last people on Planet Earth to fail to understand that Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas has neither the will nor the interest in signing a peace accord, no matter where Israel’s borders are drawn. Their decision — to hound Netanyahu to renew the freeze for 90 days even after a 10-month freeze was ignored by the Palestinians — is an absurd policy that mires the administration in a dead-end process that can win them no laurels and few thanks from a Muslim world that Obama is still clearly interested in appeasing.

Yet would it have been prudent of Netanyahu to simply say no indefinitely? Another three months of a freeze won’t do more to undermine Israel’s rights or security than the previous 17 years of fruitless negotiations have done, whereas another spat with the White House that could have been blamed on Israel would worsen the country’s position.

It is true, as Evelyn Gordon has written, that Israel will get no credit from an international community that is hostile to the existence of the Jewish state. But it is also true that actions that highlight the true obstacle to peace — Palestinian irredentism — are essential to maintaining the bipartisan, across-the-board support for Israel here in the United States. As much as Netanyahu would have been justified in bluntly and publicly telling Obama and Clinton that their demand for another freeze was wrong, that would have meant putting his country in the position to be accused of saying “no” to peace. Such a charge would be a lie, but it would have strengthened the hand of those in the Obama administration who want to distance the United States from Israel, and it would also have been exactly what Abbas wanted because it would allow him to avoid being the one to say “no” to more talks or ultimately to an agreement. In the game of chicken being played by Israel and the Palestinians, all the settlement freeze has done is to put more pressure on Abbas to jump out of the talks, illustrating once again that peace is something that will only be achieved by a change in the political culture of the Palestinians.

Netanyahu must live with a situation where his only ally-state is led by a man who is still uncomfortable with Israel and unwilling to abandon his hubristic belief that he can succeed in making peace where all who have gone before him have failed. Obama has another two years left in his current term and 12 months or so before the requirements of his quest for re-election may serve to deter him from further putting the screws to Israel. During this period, Netanyahu may face a decision about whether Israel will strike at Iran’s nuclear project. Another war with Hezbollah in Lebanon or Hamas in Gaza may also be forced upon the Jewish state during this time frame.

There are no guarantees that this concession, like all those made by Israel before this, will strengthen Israel’s hand in gaining support for its right of self-defense, but doing so will surely make it easier for Israel to make its case before the American people, especially at a time when the White House must be considered essentially unfriendly to Jerusalem. Under the circumstances, Netanyahu cannot be blamed for deciding that giving in on the freeze — when it is obvious that the Palestinians will not take advantage of the opening — is the lesser of two evils.

The debate over Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s decision to renew a settlement-building freeze in the West Bank has been rightly characterized by my colleagues Jennifer Rubin, Evelyn Gordon, and J.E. Dyer as a measure that will not advance the basic interests of the United States or Israel and that will undermine the slim chances for a genuine peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. Others are also correct when they point out that this decision, like virtually every other concession made by Israel since the start of the Oslo process in 1993, strengthens the incorrect perception that the Palestinians are the only lawful owners of all of the West Bank.

But as much as Oslo has been completely discredited by the Palestinians’ refusal to make peace, Netanyahu cannot afford to act as if the desire of the United States to pursue another round of peace talks is irrelevant. President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton may be among the last people on Planet Earth to fail to understand that Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas has neither the will nor the interest in signing a peace accord, no matter where Israel’s borders are drawn. Their decision — to hound Netanyahu to renew the freeze for 90 days even after a 10-month freeze was ignored by the Palestinians — is an absurd policy that mires the administration in a dead-end process that can win them no laurels and few thanks from a Muslim world that Obama is still clearly interested in appeasing.

Yet would it have been prudent of Netanyahu to simply say no indefinitely? Another three months of a freeze won’t do more to undermine Israel’s rights or security than the previous 17 years of fruitless negotiations have done, whereas another spat with the White House that could have been blamed on Israel would worsen the country’s position.

It is true, as Evelyn Gordon has written, that Israel will get no credit from an international community that is hostile to the existence of the Jewish state. But it is also true that actions that highlight the true obstacle to peace — Palestinian irredentism — are essential to maintaining the bipartisan, across-the-board support for Israel here in the United States. As much as Netanyahu would have been justified in bluntly and publicly telling Obama and Clinton that their demand for another freeze was wrong, that would have meant putting his country in the position to be accused of saying “no” to peace. Such a charge would be a lie, but it would have strengthened the hand of those in the Obama administration who want to distance the United States from Israel, and it would also have been exactly what Abbas wanted because it would allow him to avoid being the one to say “no” to more talks or ultimately to an agreement. In the game of chicken being played by Israel and the Palestinians, all the settlement freeze has done is to put more pressure on Abbas to jump out of the talks, illustrating once again that peace is something that will only be achieved by a change in the political culture of the Palestinians.

Netanyahu must live with a situation where his only ally-state is led by a man who is still uncomfortable with Israel and unwilling to abandon his hubristic belief that he can succeed in making peace where all who have gone before him have failed. Obama has another two years left in his current term and 12 months or so before the requirements of his quest for re-election may serve to deter him from further putting the screws to Israel. During this period, Netanyahu may face a decision about whether Israel will strike at Iran’s nuclear project. Another war with Hezbollah in Lebanon or Hamas in Gaza may also be forced upon the Jewish state during this time frame.

There are no guarantees that this concession, like all those made by Israel before this, will strengthen Israel’s hand in gaining support for its right of self-defense, but doing so will surely make it easier for Israel to make its case before the American people, especially at a time when the White House must be considered essentially unfriendly to Jerusalem. Under the circumstances, Netanyahu cannot be blamed for deciding that giving in on the freeze — when it is obvious that the Palestinians will not take advantage of the opening — is the lesser of two evils.

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Tonight on CONTENTIONS

Join me, Jennifer Rubin, Abe Greenwald, and other guest stars tonight; we’ll be live-blogging throughout.

Join me, Jennifer Rubin, Abe Greenwald, and other guest stars tonight; we’ll be live-blogging throughout.

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The Speech: About As Good As We Could Expect

I see some disagreement on the right about Obama’s Iraq speech, with Peter Robinson and Jennifer Rubin condemning it and Bill Kristol and John Podhoretz praising it. For what it’s worth, I’m with Bill and John on this one. I thought that this speech was about as good as we could expect from an opponent of the Iraq war — and better than Obama has done in the past. He even (for the first time?) held out an olive branch to his predecessor:

This afternoon, I spoke to former President George W. Bush.  It’s well known that he and I disagreed about the war from its outset.  Yet no one can doubt President Bush’s support for our troops, or his love of country and commitment to our security.

OK, he didn’t say, “Bush’s surge won the war, and I regret opposing it,” which is what many of my conservative compatriots are waiting to hear. But nor did he say, “I believe that Bush lied us into a war we shouldn’t have fought,” which is what his liberal base longs to hear. Considering how strongly he opposed Bush and the decision to go to war, this was a nice grace note.

On a more substantive issue, I was cheered to hear him say, “Our combat mission is ending, but our commitment to Iraq’s future is not.” He also said, however, “Consistent with our agreement with the Iraqi government, all U.S. troops will leave by the end of next year.” While it’s a good message to send that the U.S. will keep its commitments, he might have added that we will leave by the end of next year “unless an agreement is reached with the government of Iraq to extend our presence.” Such an agreement will be vital to safeguarding Iraq’s future, and I would hope that Obama recognizes that. Even if he does, there is a case to be made for not lobbying publicly for such an agreement, because it will encourage Iraqi obstinacy in the negotiations, which is what happened during the run-up to the existing U.S.-Iraq accord.

There was only a brief mention of Afghanistan, but what he said was pretty good. He did not speak of a troop-withdrawal deadline. Instead he said that “next August, we will begin a transition to Afghan responsibility. The pace of our troop reductions will be determined by conditions on the ground, and our support for Afghanistan will endure.” That the drawdown will be “conditions based” rather than adhere to an artificial timeline means that our troops will have a fighting chance to get the job done.

Finally, like Bill Kristol, I liked the ending of the speech, in which he linked today’s soldiers “with an unbroken line of heroes that stretches from Lexington to Gettysburg; from Iwo Jima to Inchon; from Khe Sanh to Kandahar.” It wasn’t exactly Ronald Reagan’s 1984 “Boys of Pointe du Hoc” speech — a masterpiece of giving thanks to the men and women in uniform — but it was a nice conclusion to a nice speech.

However good the words, the hard part is still ahead of us in Iraq, where no government has yet been formed and everyone is nervous about the American troop withdrawal. Obama will have to get more involved in managing Iraq’s future than he has been to date.

I see some disagreement on the right about Obama’s Iraq speech, with Peter Robinson and Jennifer Rubin condemning it and Bill Kristol and John Podhoretz praising it. For what it’s worth, I’m with Bill and John on this one. I thought that this speech was about as good as we could expect from an opponent of the Iraq war — and better than Obama has done in the past. He even (for the first time?) held out an olive branch to his predecessor:

This afternoon, I spoke to former President George W. Bush.  It’s well known that he and I disagreed about the war from its outset.  Yet no one can doubt President Bush’s support for our troops, or his love of country and commitment to our security.

OK, he didn’t say, “Bush’s surge won the war, and I regret opposing it,” which is what many of my conservative compatriots are waiting to hear. But nor did he say, “I believe that Bush lied us into a war we shouldn’t have fought,” which is what his liberal base longs to hear. Considering how strongly he opposed Bush and the decision to go to war, this was a nice grace note.

On a more substantive issue, I was cheered to hear him say, “Our combat mission is ending, but our commitment to Iraq’s future is not.” He also said, however, “Consistent with our agreement with the Iraqi government, all U.S. troops will leave by the end of next year.” While it’s a good message to send that the U.S. will keep its commitments, he might have added that we will leave by the end of next year “unless an agreement is reached with the government of Iraq to extend our presence.” Such an agreement will be vital to safeguarding Iraq’s future, and I would hope that Obama recognizes that. Even if he does, there is a case to be made for not lobbying publicly for such an agreement, because it will encourage Iraqi obstinacy in the negotiations, which is what happened during the run-up to the existing U.S.-Iraq accord.

There was only a brief mention of Afghanistan, but what he said was pretty good. He did not speak of a troop-withdrawal deadline. Instead he said that “next August, we will begin a transition to Afghan responsibility. The pace of our troop reductions will be determined by conditions on the ground, and our support for Afghanistan will endure.” That the drawdown will be “conditions based” rather than adhere to an artificial timeline means that our troops will have a fighting chance to get the job done.

Finally, like Bill Kristol, I liked the ending of the speech, in which he linked today’s soldiers “with an unbroken line of heroes that stretches from Lexington to Gettysburg; from Iwo Jima to Inchon; from Khe Sanh to Kandahar.” It wasn’t exactly Ronald Reagan’s 1984 “Boys of Pointe du Hoc” speech — a masterpiece of giving thanks to the men and women in uniform — but it was a nice conclusion to a nice speech.

However good the words, the hard part is still ahead of us in Iraq, where no government has yet been formed and everyone is nervous about the American troop withdrawal. Obama will have to get more involved in managing Iraq’s future than he has been to date.

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Obama: ‘I Do Not Want to Screw This Up’

I’ve finally gotten around to reading Peter Baker’s massive front-page story in the Sunday New York Times about Obama as commander in chief. I share some of the disquiet expressed by Jennifer Rubin about the president’s lack of knowledge and interest in defense affairs, but that’s hardly unusual for a chief executive. With his focus on domestic policy and his view that foreign crises are an unwelcome “distraction,” Obama echoes most recent presidents, including both Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. Bush, of course, shed that outlook after 9/11, whereas Obama hasn’t — yet. I predict he will before long because he will realize what most presidents realize: that they have the greatest impact in foreign affairs and national-security policy, whereas on domestic issues, they have to beg for help from a recalcitrant Congress. So far, Obama has managed to push most of his agenda through the Hill, but that is likely to change after the November elections bring big gains for Republicans; after that he will probably find foreign affairs a relief rather than a burden.

In the meantime, however, I was not wholly depressed by Baker’s article. There were, I believe, some positives in it, including the revelation that it was Obama’s personal brainstorm to replace General McChrystal with David Petraeus in Afghanistan (Bob Gates evidently wanted to keep McChrystal on with a reprimand). That was surely a brilliant stroke and speaks well to his creativity and his ability to be decisive. More than that, I was cheered by this line:

When he held a videoconference on Iraq on his first full day in office, officials recalled, he said: “Guys, before you start, there’s one thing I want to say to you and that is I do not want to screw this up.”

That sentiment — “I do not want to screw this up” — explains a lot. It explains why Obama has gone more slowly on the Iraq withdrawal than the left would have liked and why he has bucked his liberal base to build up U.S. forces in Afghanistan. For all his obsession with domestic issues, he evidently realizes that losing wars is bad for a president’s reputation. That’s good for those of us who believe that it’s vitally important for the country’s interests to win the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. However reluctantly, Obama apparently has come to share that belief.

I’ve finally gotten around to reading Peter Baker’s massive front-page story in the Sunday New York Times about Obama as commander in chief. I share some of the disquiet expressed by Jennifer Rubin about the president’s lack of knowledge and interest in defense affairs, but that’s hardly unusual for a chief executive. With his focus on domestic policy and his view that foreign crises are an unwelcome “distraction,” Obama echoes most recent presidents, including both Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. Bush, of course, shed that outlook after 9/11, whereas Obama hasn’t — yet. I predict he will before long because he will realize what most presidents realize: that they have the greatest impact in foreign affairs and national-security policy, whereas on domestic issues, they have to beg for help from a recalcitrant Congress. So far, Obama has managed to push most of his agenda through the Hill, but that is likely to change after the November elections bring big gains for Republicans; after that he will probably find foreign affairs a relief rather than a burden.

In the meantime, however, I was not wholly depressed by Baker’s article. There were, I believe, some positives in it, including the revelation that it was Obama’s personal brainstorm to replace General McChrystal with David Petraeus in Afghanistan (Bob Gates evidently wanted to keep McChrystal on with a reprimand). That was surely a brilliant stroke and speaks well to his creativity and his ability to be decisive. More than that, I was cheered by this line:

When he held a videoconference on Iraq on his first full day in office, officials recalled, he said: “Guys, before you start, there’s one thing I want to say to you and that is I do not want to screw this up.”

That sentiment — “I do not want to screw this up” — explains a lot. It explains why Obama has gone more slowly on the Iraq withdrawal than the left would have liked and why he has bucked his liberal base to build up U.S. forces in Afghanistan. For all his obsession with domestic issues, he evidently realizes that losing wars is bad for a president’s reputation. That’s good for those of us who believe that it’s vitally important for the country’s interests to win the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. However reluctantly, Obama apparently has come to share that belief.

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Unmasked in Plain Sight

Peter Wehner and Jennifer Rubin have thoroughly dissected the lameness of Obama’s speech last night on the oil spill. I agree with their takes, but was also struck by the reaction of the people in the Frank Luntz citizen panel featured by Sean Hannity in his Fox show after the speech. I expected them to find the speech weak, but I was surprised to hear so many argue that Obama’s rhetoric had focused on getting cap-and-trade legislation passed rather than on responding pragmatically to the oil spill.

This surprised me because Obama was actually oblique and nonspecific in his agenda-related references. Bill O’Reilly, in his discussions with Sarah Palin and Monica Crowley right after the speech, pointed out to them that Obama did not, in fact, press for the cap-and-trade legislation. He merely adduced the oil spill as a catalyst for reducing America’s dependence on oil and developing a sustainable energy policy. I suspect this absence of explicit policy references is what’s so particularly trying to the president’s supporters on the left. When Keith Olbermann, Howard Fineman, and Chris Matthews speak of Obama’s failing to project leadership, they mean Obama is allowing this crisis to go to waste.

But Frank Luntz’s panelists saw it differently. As far as most of them were concerned, Obama is not letting the crisis go to waste at all. Regardless of what he said, what they heard was that the president is more focused on passing cap-and-trade than on controlling the consequences of the oil spill.

If Luntz’s panelists are truly representative, as he labors to ensure they are, then there seems to be a decisive loss for Obama of the benefit of public doubt. The MSNBC pundits, for their part, were hoping to see Obama masterfully unite rhetoric, storytelling, and leadership to justify the carbon-tax program — justify it so thoroughly and inspirationally that its opponents would be confounded. It disappointed them not to get such a performance, but the absence of it was meaningless to the perceptions of the Luntz panelists. They held themselves undeceived: whatever he says, Obama is pushing for cap-and-trade.

This is a case in which the prosaic public mind is probably more acute than the perceptions of many in the punditry. Obama never achieved a soaring persuasiveness or any appearance of moral leadership in wrangling Congress to pass ObamaCare either. The American public spent painful months watching his detached, scheming Oval Office issue perfunctory sound bites by day while bribing and arm-twisting by night. It was a “Chicago machine” performance, devoid of even the superficial romance of true believers’ passion.

There is nothing today that justifies interpreting the president’s vagueness last night as a sign of moderation or judicious jury’s-still-out indecision. Frank Luntz’s panelists probably have Obama pegged. He’s pushing cap-and-trade. He may simply have seen no reason to provoke a backlash by making a more overt case on Tuesday evening. Doing so could well have been a tactical error, one that would have interfered later with ramming cap-and-trade through by holding congressmen at political gunpoint.

Peter Wehner and Jennifer Rubin have thoroughly dissected the lameness of Obama’s speech last night on the oil spill. I agree with their takes, but was also struck by the reaction of the people in the Frank Luntz citizen panel featured by Sean Hannity in his Fox show after the speech. I expected them to find the speech weak, but I was surprised to hear so many argue that Obama’s rhetoric had focused on getting cap-and-trade legislation passed rather than on responding pragmatically to the oil spill.

This surprised me because Obama was actually oblique and nonspecific in his agenda-related references. Bill O’Reilly, in his discussions with Sarah Palin and Monica Crowley right after the speech, pointed out to them that Obama did not, in fact, press for the cap-and-trade legislation. He merely adduced the oil spill as a catalyst for reducing America’s dependence on oil and developing a sustainable energy policy. I suspect this absence of explicit policy references is what’s so particularly trying to the president’s supporters on the left. When Keith Olbermann, Howard Fineman, and Chris Matthews speak of Obama’s failing to project leadership, they mean Obama is allowing this crisis to go to waste.

But Frank Luntz’s panelists saw it differently. As far as most of them were concerned, Obama is not letting the crisis go to waste at all. Regardless of what he said, what they heard was that the president is more focused on passing cap-and-trade than on controlling the consequences of the oil spill.

If Luntz’s panelists are truly representative, as he labors to ensure they are, then there seems to be a decisive loss for Obama of the benefit of public doubt. The MSNBC pundits, for their part, were hoping to see Obama masterfully unite rhetoric, storytelling, and leadership to justify the carbon-tax program — justify it so thoroughly and inspirationally that its opponents would be confounded. It disappointed them not to get such a performance, but the absence of it was meaningless to the perceptions of the Luntz panelists. They held themselves undeceived: whatever he says, Obama is pushing for cap-and-trade.

This is a case in which the prosaic public mind is probably more acute than the perceptions of many in the punditry. Obama never achieved a soaring persuasiveness or any appearance of moral leadership in wrangling Congress to pass ObamaCare either. The American public spent painful months watching his detached, scheming Oval Office issue perfunctory sound bites by day while bribing and arm-twisting by night. It was a “Chicago machine” performance, devoid of even the superficial romance of true believers’ passion.

There is nothing today that justifies interpreting the president’s vagueness last night as a sign of moderation or judicious jury’s-still-out indecision. Frank Luntz’s panelists probably have Obama pegged. He’s pushing cap-and-trade. He may simply have seen no reason to provoke a backlash by making a more overt case on Tuesday evening. Doing so could well have been a tactical error, one that would have interfered later with ramming cap-and-trade through by holding congressmen at political gunpoint.

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RE: What Would Reagan Have Thought?

Jennifer Rubin draws attention to the elephant in the room — that is, the GOP’s unfortunate posturing toward immigration, of which John McCain has lately become the embodiment.

It should be of some consolation that before he could find someone to cast in the nativist role he sought, McCain had to do quite a bit of fruitless searching and, in the end, resort to “synthesizing” his ad from the scenery of a border town and the commentary of a sheriff from a different county. Indeed, the sheriff who enthusiastically confirms McCain’s bona fides as “one of us” — whatever that means — hails from Pinal county, not even on the border, while the ad is shot in Nogales, a border town in the county of Santa Cruz, whose sheriff, Antonio Estrada, has blasted the Arizona immigration bill in no uncertain terms:

“Local law enforcement has a great relationship with the Hispanic community, and something like this is really going to scare these people,” said [Sheriff] Estrada. “They’re going to look at us as immigration officers every time they see us.”

Clarence Dupnik, the sheriff of Pima — another county in Southern Arizona, which shares with Mexico the longest border in the state — has called the bill “disgusting,” “racist,” and “unnecessary.”

The ad merely reveals McCain to be a politician, evidently less principled than his supporters took him for in 2008. His presidential ambitions now thwarted, in order to at least not lose his Senate seat, he has gone to great lengths — as far as to endorse the anti-immigration bill of Arizona after having supported the pro-immigration bill of President Bush. But no matter that a politician should flip-flop. Most troubling is the fact that McCain judged this ad expedient because it can find a sympathetic audience among the GOP base.

Incendiary as some of them might be, it is hard to dismiss the complaints against the Arizona immigration bill, for it

makes it a state misdemeanor crime for an alien to be in Arizona without carrying registration documents required by federal law, and obligates police to make an attempt, when practicable during a “lawful stop, detention or arrest made by a law enforcement official,” to determine a person’s immigration status if there is reasonable suspicion that the person is an illegal alien. Police may arrest a person if there is probable cause that the person is an alien not in possession of required registration documents.

Therefore, the law relies for its execution on the discretion of law-enforcement agents, known to misfire even before the bill invested in them so much authority. Take, for example, the detention of a U.S. citizen of Hispanic descent in Phoenix a few months back:

Abdon was told he did not have enough paperwork on him when he pulled into a weigh station to have his commercial truck checked. He provided his commercial driver’s license and a social security number but ended up handcuffed.

An agent called his wife and she had to leave work to drive home and grab other documents like his birth certificate. …

Both were born in the United States and say they are now both infuriated that keeping important documents safely at home is no longer an option.

Jackie says, “It doesn’t feel like it’s a good way of life, to live with fear, even though we are okay, we are legal … still have to carry documents around.”

Disgraceful incidents such as this cannot but multiply now in Arizona. And it would be sad to see the fetish for birth certificates spread from the small lunatic band of “birthers,” who refuse to believe that President Obama is a natural-born U.S. citizen, into the broader base of the GOP, which seems to support the Arizona bill.

As a legal alien, I would shudder if such a bill as this came to pass in New York, where I live — though, on second thought, I’d have little to fear, since I am and look European. Indeed, does anyone think that racial profiling will not guide the application of this law? On what other grounds can one be reasonably suspected of being an illegal alien? It is easy for those Arizonans who can boast a porcelain complexion and a flawless accent to support the bill, for by virtue of such qualifications alone they will never be subjected to any inconvenience from it. Of course, it would be another thing entirely if the bill required that at a lawful stop, detention, or arrest anyone must be extensively probed for documentation. In that case, I’d love to hear the opinion of those who now support the bill and scoff indignantly at the charges of discrimination leveled against it.

Let’s not kid ourselves. Independently, even, of this disastrous bill, the GOP’s position on immigration needs serious rethinking. At its heart lies the nativist meme Jen mentioned, that of foreigners stealing American jobs — perhaps the only talking point many on the right share with the unionists on the left. Not only is it distasteful and wrongheaded, not only does it repulse immigrants, legal ones too, but it also undermines the right’s reputation for economic literacy. True, an immigrant gainfully employed takes a job. But he or she also patronizes other businesses while living in the country, thus creating other jobs — for Americans. A bigger population means greater economic activity and more jobs. Indeed, blaming immigrants for putting Americans out of work is as sound as blaming the young, in a population reproducing above replacement rate, of stealing their elders’ jobs. Ironically, the nativists who complain thus about immigrants are often the very same ones (think John Derbyshire, think Peter Brimelow) who, in so many words, lament the impending collapse of Western Civilization due to the white man’s failure to breed as diligently as they think he should.

Republicans had better not concede their position on immigration to the few Buchananite elements in their midst.

Jennifer Rubin draws attention to the elephant in the room — that is, the GOP’s unfortunate posturing toward immigration, of which John McCain has lately become the embodiment.

It should be of some consolation that before he could find someone to cast in the nativist role he sought, McCain had to do quite a bit of fruitless searching and, in the end, resort to “synthesizing” his ad from the scenery of a border town and the commentary of a sheriff from a different county. Indeed, the sheriff who enthusiastically confirms McCain’s bona fides as “one of us” — whatever that means — hails from Pinal county, not even on the border, while the ad is shot in Nogales, a border town in the county of Santa Cruz, whose sheriff, Antonio Estrada, has blasted the Arizona immigration bill in no uncertain terms:

“Local law enforcement has a great relationship with the Hispanic community, and something like this is really going to scare these people,” said [Sheriff] Estrada. “They’re going to look at us as immigration officers every time they see us.”

Clarence Dupnik, the sheriff of Pima — another county in Southern Arizona, which shares with Mexico the longest border in the state — has called the bill “disgusting,” “racist,” and “unnecessary.”

The ad merely reveals McCain to be a politician, evidently less principled than his supporters took him for in 2008. His presidential ambitions now thwarted, in order to at least not lose his Senate seat, he has gone to great lengths — as far as to endorse the anti-immigration bill of Arizona after having supported the pro-immigration bill of President Bush. But no matter that a politician should flip-flop. Most troubling is the fact that McCain judged this ad expedient because it can find a sympathetic audience among the GOP base.

Incendiary as some of them might be, it is hard to dismiss the complaints against the Arizona immigration bill, for it

makes it a state misdemeanor crime for an alien to be in Arizona without carrying registration documents required by federal law, and obligates police to make an attempt, when practicable during a “lawful stop, detention or arrest made by a law enforcement official,” to determine a person’s immigration status if there is reasonable suspicion that the person is an illegal alien. Police may arrest a person if there is probable cause that the person is an alien not in possession of required registration documents.

Therefore, the law relies for its execution on the discretion of law-enforcement agents, known to misfire even before the bill invested in them so much authority. Take, for example, the detention of a U.S. citizen of Hispanic descent in Phoenix a few months back:

Abdon was told he did not have enough paperwork on him when he pulled into a weigh station to have his commercial truck checked. He provided his commercial driver’s license and a social security number but ended up handcuffed.

An agent called his wife and she had to leave work to drive home and grab other documents like his birth certificate. …

Both were born in the United States and say they are now both infuriated that keeping important documents safely at home is no longer an option.

Jackie says, “It doesn’t feel like it’s a good way of life, to live with fear, even though we are okay, we are legal … still have to carry documents around.”

Disgraceful incidents such as this cannot but multiply now in Arizona. And it would be sad to see the fetish for birth certificates spread from the small lunatic band of “birthers,” who refuse to believe that President Obama is a natural-born U.S. citizen, into the broader base of the GOP, which seems to support the Arizona bill.

As a legal alien, I would shudder if such a bill as this came to pass in New York, where I live — though, on second thought, I’d have little to fear, since I am and look European. Indeed, does anyone think that racial profiling will not guide the application of this law? On what other grounds can one be reasonably suspected of being an illegal alien? It is easy for those Arizonans who can boast a porcelain complexion and a flawless accent to support the bill, for by virtue of such qualifications alone they will never be subjected to any inconvenience from it. Of course, it would be another thing entirely if the bill required that at a lawful stop, detention, or arrest anyone must be extensively probed for documentation. In that case, I’d love to hear the opinion of those who now support the bill and scoff indignantly at the charges of discrimination leveled against it.

Let’s not kid ourselves. Independently, even, of this disastrous bill, the GOP’s position on immigration needs serious rethinking. At its heart lies the nativist meme Jen mentioned, that of foreigners stealing American jobs — perhaps the only talking point many on the right share with the unionists on the left. Not only is it distasteful and wrongheaded, not only does it repulse immigrants, legal ones too, but it also undermines the right’s reputation for economic literacy. True, an immigrant gainfully employed takes a job. But he or she also patronizes other businesses while living in the country, thus creating other jobs — for Americans. A bigger population means greater economic activity and more jobs. Indeed, blaming immigrants for putting Americans out of work is as sound as blaming the young, in a population reproducing above replacement rate, of stealing their elders’ jobs. Ironically, the nativists who complain thus about immigrants are often the very same ones (think John Derbyshire, think Peter Brimelow) who, in so many words, lament the impending collapse of Western Civilization due to the white man’s failure to breed as diligently as they think he should.

Republicans had better not concede their position on immigration to the few Buchananite elements in their midst.

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Where Does Goldstone Fit in Mearsheimer’s List?

So here’s a question for John Mearsheimer. As Noah Pollak pointed out not so long ago, John Mearsheimer classified Jews into three categories — new Afrikaner Jews, righteous Jews, and the “great ambivalent in the middle.” In his useful lists, he included one Judge Richard Goldstone among the noble ones. And so, in light of the revelations about Judge Goldstone to which Jennifer Rubin referred earlier on today, one is left to wonder. Where would Mearsheimer now put Goldstone — among the “New Afrikaner” or the “Righteous”? Maybe we should create a separate category — Old Afrikaner but Righteous? Good Ol’ Afrikaner?

Is he a Righteous Afrikaner because he bashes Israel after having hung a few Africans — the bashing makes him righteous, the hanging makes him Afrikaner?

If so, is his righteousness diminished by his little flirt with the white supremacist apartheid? Or is his very practical complicity with it something that his later anti-Zionist righteousness washes away?

Will Mearsheimer continue to be his fan now that he knows what skeletons Mr. Goldstone had in the closet? Won’t he mind? Will anyone mind?

After all, what’s sending a few Africans to the gallows, between us, after you’ve authored a UN-sponsored indictment of Israel and peppered it with a healthy dose of self-righteousness about your Jewish conscience?

So here’s a question for John Mearsheimer. As Noah Pollak pointed out not so long ago, John Mearsheimer classified Jews into three categories — new Afrikaner Jews, righteous Jews, and the “great ambivalent in the middle.” In his useful lists, he included one Judge Richard Goldstone among the noble ones. And so, in light of the revelations about Judge Goldstone to which Jennifer Rubin referred earlier on today, one is left to wonder. Where would Mearsheimer now put Goldstone — among the “New Afrikaner” or the “Righteous”? Maybe we should create a separate category — Old Afrikaner but Righteous? Good Ol’ Afrikaner?

Is he a Righteous Afrikaner because he bashes Israel after having hung a few Africans — the bashing makes him righteous, the hanging makes him Afrikaner?

If so, is his righteousness diminished by his little flirt with the white supremacist apartheid? Or is his very practical complicity with it something that his later anti-Zionist righteousness washes away?

Will Mearsheimer continue to be his fan now that he knows what skeletons Mr. Goldstone had in the closet? Won’t he mind? Will anyone mind?

After all, what’s sending a few Africans to the gallows, between us, after you’ve authored a UN-sponsored indictment of Israel and peppered it with a healthy dose of self-righteousness about your Jewish conscience?

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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.

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A Libel

A Canadian journalist named Jeet Heer has called out our Jennifer Rubin out today over an item she wrote yesterday quoting an elderly attendee at AIPAC who said she heard echoes in the present moment of the nightmarish Jewish past:

An elderly couple from Florida were agitated by recent events. The wife explained she that had fled Nazi Germany as a child for Shanghai. “There are parallels,” she said. “This is depressing. It’s scary.” She said that she had argued with her liberal friends during the campaign about Obama’s associations with anti-Israel figures. “My mother always said where there is smoke, there is fire,” she explained, then added wearily, “They didn’t listen.”

Heer’s accusation is that Obama is here being compared to Hitler, that the idea being expressed is that “there are ‘parallels’ between the Führer and Obama.” That characterization of Jennifer Rubin’s item is preposterous, offensive, and a patently deliberate misreading. The fear being expressed these days is toward Iran as the potential second coming of Jewish genocide, not toward Obama. The parallel being drawn here is to the Western powers at Munich and their refusal to look clearly at the evidence of Hitler’s intentions, not to Hitler. Obama’s past association with anti-Israel figures like Rashid Khalidi and Jeremiah Wright heralded the lack of sympathy toward Israel that he has shown as president, and the way his lack of sympathy provides him with a convenient emotional way of refusing to confront the Iranian nuclear threat as it should be confronted — just as the Western powers seemed in the years before the outbreak of the Second World War to have a deficit of concern about the increasingly perilous position in which the Jews of Germany and Austria were finding themselves.

It is especially galling to see Jeet Heer, a foul anti-Israel polemicist of uncommonly repellent vintage, going on about this when, in his own writings, time and again, he expresses the sorts of thoughts designed to fog the minds of policymakers who should be grappling every moment with the overwhelming nature of the existential threat to Israel and the Jewish people, not to mention to the wider Middle East and the planet as a whole.

A Canadian journalist named Jeet Heer has called out our Jennifer Rubin out today over an item she wrote yesterday quoting an elderly attendee at AIPAC who said she heard echoes in the present moment of the nightmarish Jewish past:

An elderly couple from Florida were agitated by recent events. The wife explained she that had fled Nazi Germany as a child for Shanghai. “There are parallels,” she said. “This is depressing. It’s scary.” She said that she had argued with her liberal friends during the campaign about Obama’s associations with anti-Israel figures. “My mother always said where there is smoke, there is fire,” she explained, then added wearily, “They didn’t listen.”

Heer’s accusation is that Obama is here being compared to Hitler, that the idea being expressed is that “there are ‘parallels’ between the Führer and Obama.” That characterization of Jennifer Rubin’s item is preposterous, offensive, and a patently deliberate misreading. The fear being expressed these days is toward Iran as the potential second coming of Jewish genocide, not toward Obama. The parallel being drawn here is to the Western powers at Munich and their refusal to look clearly at the evidence of Hitler’s intentions, not to Hitler. Obama’s past association with anti-Israel figures like Rashid Khalidi and Jeremiah Wright heralded the lack of sympathy toward Israel that he has shown as president, and the way his lack of sympathy provides him with a convenient emotional way of refusing to confront the Iranian nuclear threat as it should be confronted — just as the Western powers seemed in the years before the outbreak of the Second World War to have a deficit of concern about the increasingly perilous position in which the Jews of Germany and Austria were finding themselves.

It is especially galling to see Jeet Heer, a foul anti-Israel polemicist of uncommonly repellent vintage, going on about this when, in his own writings, time and again, he expresses the sorts of thoughts designed to fog the minds of policymakers who should be grappling every moment with the overwhelming nature of the existential threat to Israel and the Jewish people, not to mention to the wider Middle East and the planet as a whole.

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Sen. Graham’s Bargain

Following up on Jennifer Rubin’s post regarding the legislation that Sens. McCain and Lieberman have introduced to deal with detained terrorists, I note also this report that Senator Lindsey Graham — a close friend of Lieberman and McCain — has offered a grand bargain to the Obama administration:

In exchange for some Republican support for closing the military prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, Mr. Graham is pushing the administration to prosecute those accused of plotting the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks before a military commission, rather than in civilian court as the Justice Department intended.

Beyond that one case, though, Mr. Graham and others familiar with his proposals said he was seeking Mr. Obama’s support for comprehensive legislation setting detailed guidelines for handling all detainees. Such legislation would allow investigators to delay reading suspects their Miranda rights, send most top-level Qaeda figures to military rather than civilian courts and explicitly authorize the government to imprison some terrorism suspects without trials — not just Guantánamo inmates, but detainees who may be captured years in the future.

Graham’s grand bargain seems like a good one to me. He recognizes that the key issue is not the future of Gitmo — one holding facility — but the overall method by which detainees will be processed, held, and if necessary, tried. We need binding rules, and the best way to achieve them is through bipartisan consensus — assuming the Supreme Court would go along. If I had my druthers, I would suggest the deal include special National Security Courts within the federal judicial system, rather than military commissions, to try detainees, but that’s a small matter compared to the importance of denying high-level terrorist suspects the normal protections of the criminal-justice system.

Following up on Jennifer Rubin’s post regarding the legislation that Sens. McCain and Lieberman have introduced to deal with detained terrorists, I note also this report that Senator Lindsey Graham — a close friend of Lieberman and McCain — has offered a grand bargain to the Obama administration:

In exchange for some Republican support for closing the military prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, Mr. Graham is pushing the administration to prosecute those accused of plotting the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks before a military commission, rather than in civilian court as the Justice Department intended.

Beyond that one case, though, Mr. Graham and others familiar with his proposals said he was seeking Mr. Obama’s support for comprehensive legislation setting detailed guidelines for handling all detainees. Such legislation would allow investigators to delay reading suspects their Miranda rights, send most top-level Qaeda figures to military rather than civilian courts and explicitly authorize the government to imprison some terrorism suspects without trials — not just Guantánamo inmates, but detainees who may be captured years in the future.

Graham’s grand bargain seems like a good one to me. He recognizes that the key issue is not the future of Gitmo — one holding facility — but the overall method by which detainees will be processed, held, and if necessary, tried. We need binding rules, and the best way to achieve them is through bipartisan consensus — assuming the Supreme Court would go along. If I had my druthers, I would suggest the deal include special National Security Courts within the federal judicial system, rather than military commissions, to try detainees, but that’s a small matter compared to the importance of denying high-level terrorist suspects the normal protections of the criminal-justice system.

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Live Blogging Tonight Here

Jennifer Rubin and I will be live-blogging the State of the Union, beginning at 9 pm Eastern time. Join us, won’t you?

Jennifer Rubin and I will be live-blogging the State of the Union, beginning at 9 pm Eastern time. Join us, won’t you?

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