Commentary Magazine


Topic: Jennifer

Liberal Lamentations and the Book of Job

Newsweek editor Evan Thomas reached what might have been the apotheosis of hero worship of Barack Obama when he stated on MSNBC in June 2009 that “I mean in a way Obama’s standing above the country, above — above the world, he’s sort of God.” Some 18 months later, Thomas’s affirmation of Obama as a political messiah seems more comic than anything else. But for those liberals of theological bent, explanations for the president’s repudiation by the voters in a historic midterm thumping requires more than an analysis of the unpopularity of ObamaCare. Into this breach steps Thomas’s former Newsweek colleague Jon Meacham.

In Sunday’s New York Times Book Review, Meacham writes in an essay whose supposed subject was a new translation and commentary on The Wisdom Books of the Bible by Robert Alter that the best explanation for the repudiation of Obama can be found in the Book of Job. To Meacham, Obama’s trials are as much a mystery as those of Job. Like Job, Obama was once favored by God only to be subjected to afflictions that have no discernible purpose other than to test his faith. While Meacham admits that incoming House Speaker John Boehner is not quite the same thing as a case of boils, he makes plain that the defeat of the Democrats is pretty much the moral equivalent of such torments. Snidely noting that God’s rejection of Job’s questioning of His decisions is “how Dick Cheney’s vision of unfettered executive power might sound if rendered in ancient Hebrew verse,” Meacham gives voice to a liberal sense of injustice at their recent losses.

As Jennifer noted, that this sort of nonsense is what passes for erudition at the once mighty Book Review is quite a commentary on the state of mind of our liberal elites and one that requires no translation by Robert Alter. But while Meacham’s ranting can be dismissed as a failed attempt at clever exegesis, it does speak to a lack of understanding on the part of the author (and, no doubt, many of his readers) as to the difference between an election and an act of God. The former is a judgment on the part of the voters about both policies and personalities. It can be disputed as a mistake, but it is not an inexplicable event. The latter is simply something that happens without apparent rhyme or reason. To a believer, the essence of the Almighty and His acts are ineffable, and we must imply accept them without explanation, since none will be forthcoming.

Barack Obama’s defeat in the midterms, like his victory two years before, was not an act of God. It was an act of democracy. By contrast, if we are looking for evidence of an event whose coming was as arbitrary as Job’s boils, we could do no better than to ponder the impact of Hurricane Katrina on the presidency of George W. Bush. While the government’s failures in the aftermath of that natural disaster were legion, the fact remains that it was George W. Bush’s bad luck that he happened to be president when New Orleans was hit with a once-in-a-century hurricane that would come to define his presidency. Bush might well wonder why this storm came during his time in office rather than that of Bill Clinton or Barack Obama. A storm of Katrina’s size would have knocked down the levees even if the president had been a Democrat, though it is doubtful that the media would have blamed him for the ensuing casualties and the incompetence of local authorities the way they did Bush. Bush could not be blamed for asking God why, but as a man of faith, he probably understands that there is no answer.

Job teaches us that bad things can happen to good people and that we shouldn’t expect a Divine explanation when such injustices occur. But, contrary to Meacham, however good some of us may think Barack Obama is, explaining his troubles at the ballot box does not require an act of faith.

Newsweek editor Evan Thomas reached what might have been the apotheosis of hero worship of Barack Obama when he stated on MSNBC in June 2009 that “I mean in a way Obama’s standing above the country, above — above the world, he’s sort of God.” Some 18 months later, Thomas’s affirmation of Obama as a political messiah seems more comic than anything else. But for those liberals of theological bent, explanations for the president’s repudiation by the voters in a historic midterm thumping requires more than an analysis of the unpopularity of ObamaCare. Into this breach steps Thomas’s former Newsweek colleague Jon Meacham.

In Sunday’s New York Times Book Review, Meacham writes in an essay whose supposed subject was a new translation and commentary on The Wisdom Books of the Bible by Robert Alter that the best explanation for the repudiation of Obama can be found in the Book of Job. To Meacham, Obama’s trials are as much a mystery as those of Job. Like Job, Obama was once favored by God only to be subjected to afflictions that have no discernible purpose other than to test his faith. While Meacham admits that incoming House Speaker John Boehner is not quite the same thing as a case of boils, he makes plain that the defeat of the Democrats is pretty much the moral equivalent of such torments. Snidely noting that God’s rejection of Job’s questioning of His decisions is “how Dick Cheney’s vision of unfettered executive power might sound if rendered in ancient Hebrew verse,” Meacham gives voice to a liberal sense of injustice at their recent losses.

As Jennifer noted, that this sort of nonsense is what passes for erudition at the once mighty Book Review is quite a commentary on the state of mind of our liberal elites and one that requires no translation by Robert Alter. But while Meacham’s ranting can be dismissed as a failed attempt at clever exegesis, it does speak to a lack of understanding on the part of the author (and, no doubt, many of his readers) as to the difference between an election and an act of God. The former is a judgment on the part of the voters about both policies and personalities. It can be disputed as a mistake, but it is not an inexplicable event. The latter is simply something that happens without apparent rhyme or reason. To a believer, the essence of the Almighty and His acts are ineffable, and we must imply accept them without explanation, since none will be forthcoming.

Barack Obama’s defeat in the midterms, like his victory two years before, was not an act of God. It was an act of democracy. By contrast, if we are looking for evidence of an event whose coming was as arbitrary as Job’s boils, we could do no better than to ponder the impact of Hurricane Katrina on the presidency of George W. Bush. While the government’s failures in the aftermath of that natural disaster were legion, the fact remains that it was George W. Bush’s bad luck that he happened to be president when New Orleans was hit with a once-in-a-century hurricane that would come to define his presidency. Bush might well wonder why this storm came during his time in office rather than that of Bill Clinton or Barack Obama. A storm of Katrina’s size would have knocked down the levees even if the president had been a Democrat, though it is doubtful that the media would have blamed him for the ensuing casualties and the incompetence of local authorities the way they did Bush. Bush could not be blamed for asking God why, but as a man of faith, he probably understands that there is no answer.

Job teaches us that bad things can happen to good people and that we shouldn’t expect a Divine explanation when such injustices occur. But, contrary to Meacham, however good some of us may think Barack Obama is, explaining his troubles at the ballot box does not require an act of faith.

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Add at Least One More Name to the 2012 List

In her post about potential 2012 Republican presidential candidates, Jennifer noted that “the most widely discussed contenders (Mitt Romney, Sarah Palin, Mike Huckabee, Mitch Daniels, Tim Pawlenty, Newt Gingrich, etc.) haven’t filled the base and party activists with optimism” and that fresher faces such as Chris Christie and Marco Rubio are not interested.

Even with the addition of Christie and Rubio, however, that list contains only eight names. Consider the following from Jimmy Carter’s White House Diaries, indicating that only a year and a half before being nominated, Carter ranked considerably lower than ninth:

About the time I announced my candidacy for president in December 1974, Gallup published a poll that included the question “Among Democrats, whom do you prefer as the next nominee?” There were thirty-two names on Gallup’s list of potential candidates, including George Wallace, Hubert Humphrey, Henry (Scoop) Jackson, Walter Mondale, John Glenn, and even Georgia legislator Julian Bond. My name was not mentioned.

This is not to say that Republicans should be looking for a new face simply because the usual suspects carry varying weights of baggage. Someone may seem an attractive alternative only because he lacks the baggage any person who has been in the arena will have acquired. Surely the past two years have taught us that the presidency is not the right place for someone, no matter how attractive, who does not have much on his resume under the categories of “Experience,” “Accomplishments,” and “Significant Votes Other Than Present.”

But there is at least one person who combines a relatively fresh face with substantial experience and accomplishments: Mike Pence. The current issue of Imprimis features his remarkable Hillsdale College speech, “The Presidency and the Constitution,” worth reading in its entirety. Here are excerpts from the final paragraphs, which reach a level of eloquence considerably beyond hope, change, and receding oceans:

As Americans, we inherit what Lincoln in his First Inaugural called “the mystic chords of memory stretching from every patriot grave.” They bind us to the great and the humble, the known and the unknown of Americans past—and if I hear them clearly, what they say is that although we may have strayed, we have not strayed too far to return, for we are their descendants. … We owe a debt to those who came before, who did great things, and suffered more than we suffer, and gave more than we give, and pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor for us, whom they did not know. …

Many great generations are gone, but by the character and memory of their existence they forbid us to despair of the republic. I see them crossing the prairies in the sun and wind. I see their faces looking out from steel mills and coal mines, and immigrant ships crawling into the harbors at dawn. I see them at war, at work and at peace. I see them, long departed, looking into the camera, with hopeful and sad eyes. And I see them embracing their children, who became us. …

They are silent now and forever, but from the eternal silence of every patriot grave there is yet an echo that says, “It is not too late; keep faith with us, keep faith with God, and do not, do not ever despair of the republic.”

It may be worth noting that Pence also gave a significant speech last month at the 10th Annual Friends of the Family Banquet. It was in Iowa.

In her post about potential 2012 Republican presidential candidates, Jennifer noted that “the most widely discussed contenders (Mitt Romney, Sarah Palin, Mike Huckabee, Mitch Daniels, Tim Pawlenty, Newt Gingrich, etc.) haven’t filled the base and party activists with optimism” and that fresher faces such as Chris Christie and Marco Rubio are not interested.

Even with the addition of Christie and Rubio, however, that list contains only eight names. Consider the following from Jimmy Carter’s White House Diaries, indicating that only a year and a half before being nominated, Carter ranked considerably lower than ninth:

About the time I announced my candidacy for president in December 1974, Gallup published a poll that included the question “Among Democrats, whom do you prefer as the next nominee?” There were thirty-two names on Gallup’s list of potential candidates, including George Wallace, Hubert Humphrey, Henry (Scoop) Jackson, Walter Mondale, John Glenn, and even Georgia legislator Julian Bond. My name was not mentioned.

This is not to say that Republicans should be looking for a new face simply because the usual suspects carry varying weights of baggage. Someone may seem an attractive alternative only because he lacks the baggage any person who has been in the arena will have acquired. Surely the past two years have taught us that the presidency is not the right place for someone, no matter how attractive, who does not have much on his resume under the categories of “Experience,” “Accomplishments,” and “Significant Votes Other Than Present.”

But there is at least one person who combines a relatively fresh face with substantial experience and accomplishments: Mike Pence. The current issue of Imprimis features his remarkable Hillsdale College speech, “The Presidency and the Constitution,” worth reading in its entirety. Here are excerpts from the final paragraphs, which reach a level of eloquence considerably beyond hope, change, and receding oceans:

As Americans, we inherit what Lincoln in his First Inaugural called “the mystic chords of memory stretching from every patriot grave.” They bind us to the great and the humble, the known and the unknown of Americans past—and if I hear them clearly, what they say is that although we may have strayed, we have not strayed too far to return, for we are their descendants. … We owe a debt to those who came before, who did great things, and suffered more than we suffer, and gave more than we give, and pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor for us, whom they did not know. …

Many great generations are gone, but by the character and memory of their existence they forbid us to despair of the republic. I see them crossing the prairies in the sun and wind. I see their faces looking out from steel mills and coal mines, and immigrant ships crawling into the harbors at dawn. I see them at war, at work and at peace. I see them, long departed, looking into the camera, with hopeful and sad eyes. And I see them embracing their children, who became us. …

They are silent now and forever, but from the eternal silence of every patriot grave there is yet an echo that says, “It is not too late; keep faith with us, keep faith with God, and do not, do not ever despair of the republic.”

It may be worth noting that Pence also gave a significant speech last month at the 10th Annual Friends of the Family Banquet. It was in Iowa.

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Even Angry Voters Want Responsible Leaders

Democrats are, as Jennifer noted, rapidly coming to understand that the proportions of the Republican wave this fall may turn out to swamp not only incumbents in competitive districts but also those once thought safe. Voters have had enough of taxes and spending and deficits and are profoundly dissatisfied with the Obama administration. But even in the midst of what may prove to be an unprecedented midterm tsunami, there are races that will prove that no matter how angry voters may be, there are limits to what they will accept from insurgents seeking their votes.

One obvious example is the unelectable Christine O’Donnell in Delaware. But as frustrating as that lost opportunity for a Senate seat may be for the national GOP, the spectacle of their party’s New York gubernatorial nominee is even more embarrassing.

Carl Paladino won the New York GOP primary over Rick Lazio because he presented a well-funded alternative to a retread that had no pulse and no chance to tap into the vein of voter anger that has generated the Tea Party revolution. Paladino’s bull-in-the-china-shop personality seemed perfectly suited to the 2010 election. The thinking here was that if he could sustain his momentum with attacks on his liberal-establishment opponent in Andrew Cuomo, it was just possible that the real estate mogul could make this Blue State competitive. And some polls taken in September showed that this might be happening.

Yet what this races teaches is that it even angry voters are unprepared to elect a man who is not cool under fire and devoid of judgment as well as what Main Street America used to consider common decency. With the media spotlight shining on him in the aftermath of his stunning primary victory and polls showing him to be closing the gap with Cuomo, Paladino quickly came undone. Reacting to the coverage of the revelations about his fathering an out-of-wedlock child (not all of which was unsympathetic, as the candidate’s wife was trotted out to defend her husband and the notion of a blended, if unorthodox, family group), the nominee physically threatened a reporter and then began to make unsubstantiated charges about his opponent’s personal life.  While trying to pose as the victim of a prurient media, he engaged in personal slanders that made the coverage of his own life look tame. Then he used a speech before an Orthodox Jewish congregation in Brooklyn to make remarks that went beyond opposition to gay marriage and were easily construed as homophobic.

Paladino defends himself as a man who doesn’t bother with political correctness. But the pattern of his behavior in the past few weeks is more of an out-of-control blowhard who has no respect for anyone or anything. The result is that his standing in the polls has plunged, which has also damaged the already shaky chances of GOP Senate candidate Joseph DioGuardi, who is running against the vulnerable Kirsten Gillibrand.

The lesson here is that the electorate expects candidates for high office to more or less behave themselves. Rather than acting like a governor, Paladino has comported himself like the kind of guy who gets thrown out of bars for disorderly behavior. And even angry voters draw the line at electing someone like that to high office.

Democrats are, as Jennifer noted, rapidly coming to understand that the proportions of the Republican wave this fall may turn out to swamp not only incumbents in competitive districts but also those once thought safe. Voters have had enough of taxes and spending and deficits and are profoundly dissatisfied with the Obama administration. But even in the midst of what may prove to be an unprecedented midterm tsunami, there are races that will prove that no matter how angry voters may be, there are limits to what they will accept from insurgents seeking their votes.

One obvious example is the unelectable Christine O’Donnell in Delaware. But as frustrating as that lost opportunity for a Senate seat may be for the national GOP, the spectacle of their party’s New York gubernatorial nominee is even more embarrassing.

Carl Paladino won the New York GOP primary over Rick Lazio because he presented a well-funded alternative to a retread that had no pulse and no chance to tap into the vein of voter anger that has generated the Tea Party revolution. Paladino’s bull-in-the-china-shop personality seemed perfectly suited to the 2010 election. The thinking here was that if he could sustain his momentum with attacks on his liberal-establishment opponent in Andrew Cuomo, it was just possible that the real estate mogul could make this Blue State competitive. And some polls taken in September showed that this might be happening.

Yet what this races teaches is that it even angry voters are unprepared to elect a man who is not cool under fire and devoid of judgment as well as what Main Street America used to consider common decency. With the media spotlight shining on him in the aftermath of his stunning primary victory and polls showing him to be closing the gap with Cuomo, Paladino quickly came undone. Reacting to the coverage of the revelations about his fathering an out-of-wedlock child (not all of which was unsympathetic, as the candidate’s wife was trotted out to defend her husband and the notion of a blended, if unorthodox, family group), the nominee physically threatened a reporter and then began to make unsubstantiated charges about his opponent’s personal life.  While trying to pose as the victim of a prurient media, he engaged in personal slanders that made the coverage of his own life look tame. Then he used a speech before an Orthodox Jewish congregation in Brooklyn to make remarks that went beyond opposition to gay marriage and were easily construed as homophobic.

Paladino defends himself as a man who doesn’t bother with political correctness. But the pattern of his behavior in the past few weeks is more of an out-of-control blowhard who has no respect for anyone or anything. The result is that his standing in the polls has plunged, which has also damaged the already shaky chances of GOP Senate candidate Joseph DioGuardi, who is running against the vulnerable Kirsten Gillibrand.

The lesson here is that the electorate expects candidates for high office to more or less behave themselves. Rather than acting like a governor, Paladino has comported himself like the kind of guy who gets thrown out of bars for disorderly behavior. And even angry voters draw the line at electing someone like that to high office.

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The Consequences of Clinton’s Expectations Game

Hillary Clinton’s happy talk about Middle East peace has become part of the soundtrack of the peace talks the administration has orchestrated. Both before and during her drop-in at Sharm el-Sheik, the secretary of state has exuded optimism about the American push for a renewal of a Jewish settlement freeze and the continuance of the negotiations between Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

The rhetoric from the Americans has been largely devoted, as Jennifer noted, to direct pressure on the Israelis to make concessions, while demands on the Palestinians remain amorphous. But this imbalance in pressure is just part of the problem. The raising of expectations about peace arriving within another year (as Obama’s envoy George Mitchell keeps telling the press) may have negative consequences that neither Obama nor Clinton is prepared to face.

Given the realities of Palestinian politics, both parties to the talks know very well that the chances of an agreement on final-status issues are slim and none. With his Hamas rivals in control of Gaza and threatening him in the West Bank (where he maintains control only with the help of Israel), Abbas is in no position to make any move to advance peace. Meanwhile Netanyahu is getting beat up by the Israeli right for being weak in the face of American pressure. He may not wish to make concessions on settlements or borders that will compromise his country’s security and be considered irretrievably ceded to the Arabs no matter the outcome of the talks if there is little likelihood that the Palestinians will declare a complete end to their 62-year-old war to destroy Israel. But he also doesn’t want to be blamed for the collapse of the talks when he knows that sooner or later Abbas will bolt.

However long Clinton and Mitchell force Abbas and Netanyahu to dance with each other, at some point the music is going to stop, and when it does, the Americans will have little to show for this latest attempt to persuade Abbas to do what he knows he cannot do. (It was, after all, Abbas who turned down a Palestinian state only two years ago, when Ehud Olmert offered him the same deal Obama is talking about now.) At that point, the pressure on PA president to initiate a campaign of terror against the Israelis in an effort to compete with Hamas for Palestinian popularity may be irresistible. By building up hopes for peace when the foundation for a lasting agreement doesn’t exist, what Obama and Clinton may be generating is a repeat of the aftermath of Camp David 2000, when Israel said yes and Yasir Arafat said no to a deal very much along the lines that the peace processors claim they want now. Anyone who thinks another intifada is out of the question need only read the statements emanating from Hamas this week. As the New York Times reported this afternoon:

The commander of the military wing of Hamas, the Palestinian Islamist group that rules Gaza, issued a harsh statement against the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, saying that Hamas remained committed to “liberating” Palestine from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River, meaning both Israel itself and the West Bank it occupies. In a letter marking the end of the month of Ramadan, the Hamas military commander, Ahmad Al-Jaabari, said the path of jihad and resistance is the only way forward “until victory or martyrdom.” He criticized the Palestinian Authority under Mr. Abbas for negotiating “with the Zionist enemy.”

While the Americans may pretend that just a few more concessions from Netanyahu will do the trick, the specter of Hamas and a renewal of Palestinian violence remains the real obstacle to peace. Clinton’s sparkling optimism about the magic of diplomacy may be setting the stage for yet more bloodshed.

Hillary Clinton’s happy talk about Middle East peace has become part of the soundtrack of the peace talks the administration has orchestrated. Both before and during her drop-in at Sharm el-Sheik, the secretary of state has exuded optimism about the American push for a renewal of a Jewish settlement freeze and the continuance of the negotiations between Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

The rhetoric from the Americans has been largely devoted, as Jennifer noted, to direct pressure on the Israelis to make concessions, while demands on the Palestinians remain amorphous. But this imbalance in pressure is just part of the problem. The raising of expectations about peace arriving within another year (as Obama’s envoy George Mitchell keeps telling the press) may have negative consequences that neither Obama nor Clinton is prepared to face.

Given the realities of Palestinian politics, both parties to the talks know very well that the chances of an agreement on final-status issues are slim and none. With his Hamas rivals in control of Gaza and threatening him in the West Bank (where he maintains control only with the help of Israel), Abbas is in no position to make any move to advance peace. Meanwhile Netanyahu is getting beat up by the Israeli right for being weak in the face of American pressure. He may not wish to make concessions on settlements or borders that will compromise his country’s security and be considered irretrievably ceded to the Arabs no matter the outcome of the talks if there is little likelihood that the Palestinians will declare a complete end to their 62-year-old war to destroy Israel. But he also doesn’t want to be blamed for the collapse of the talks when he knows that sooner or later Abbas will bolt.

However long Clinton and Mitchell force Abbas and Netanyahu to dance with each other, at some point the music is going to stop, and when it does, the Americans will have little to show for this latest attempt to persuade Abbas to do what he knows he cannot do. (It was, after all, Abbas who turned down a Palestinian state only two years ago, when Ehud Olmert offered him the same deal Obama is talking about now.) At that point, the pressure on PA president to initiate a campaign of terror against the Israelis in an effort to compete with Hamas for Palestinian popularity may be irresistible. By building up hopes for peace when the foundation for a lasting agreement doesn’t exist, what Obama and Clinton may be generating is a repeat of the aftermath of Camp David 2000, when Israel said yes and Yasir Arafat said no to a deal very much along the lines that the peace processors claim they want now. Anyone who thinks another intifada is out of the question need only read the statements emanating from Hamas this week. As the New York Times reported this afternoon:

The commander of the military wing of Hamas, the Palestinian Islamist group that rules Gaza, issued a harsh statement against the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, saying that Hamas remained committed to “liberating” Palestine from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River, meaning both Israel itself and the West Bank it occupies. In a letter marking the end of the month of Ramadan, the Hamas military commander, Ahmad Al-Jaabari, said the path of jihad and resistance is the only way forward “until victory or martyrdom.” He criticized the Palestinian Authority under Mr. Abbas for negotiating “with the Zionist enemy.”

While the Americans may pretend that just a few more concessions from Netanyahu will do the trick, the specter of Hamas and a renewal of Palestinian violence remains the real obstacle to peace. Clinton’s sparkling optimism about the magic of diplomacy may be setting the stage for yet more bloodshed.

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Susan Rice Is Doing Something at the UN: Targeting Israel

It turns out Susan Rice is doing something as America’s UN ambassador after all. As Jennifer noted on Friday, she isn’t attending vital negotiations on Iran’s nuclear program or protesting bizarre appointments, like Libya’s to the Human Rights Council and Iran’s to the Commission on the Status of Women.

But Haaretz reported yesterday that she has found time to do one crucial thing: lobby Barack Obama to put heavy pressure on Israel to agree to a UN probe of its May raid on a Turkish-sponsored flotilla. And today the Jerusalem Post reported that Israel has indeed capitulated: Defense Minister Ehud Barak informed UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon last week that “in principle,” it’s willing to participate in the probe he is organizing.

One can only hope the Post is wrong, because this would be an atrocious precedent. As Haaretz noted, it would be the first time Israel has ever agreed to a UN probe of an Israel Defense Forces operation. As such, it would legitimize the UN’s insane obsession with Israel.

After all, I haven’t noticed Ban suggesting UN probes of any other country’s military operations — say, Turkish operations against the Kurds, Iran’s attacks on its own citizens, coalition operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, or African Union forces in Somalia, to name just a few of the dozens of armies engaged in combat worldwide every single day. Many of these operations result in far more civilian casualties than Israel’s flotilla raid did — even if you deny the evidence provided by video footage of the raid and assume these casualties actually were civilians rather than combatants.

But aside from setting a terrible precedent, this probe clearly has one, and only one, purpose: to excoriate Israel. Ban’s proposed format is one representative each from Israel and Turkey, one from a traditional Israeli ally (the U.S.), and one from a country traditionally hostile to Israel (New Zealand), plus one UN representative. Since the UN representative will certainly be in the anti-Israel camp, Israel would be outnumbered even if the U.S. representative took its side.

But in reality, the U.S. representative will almost certainly join the anti-Israel camp — because Rice’s view, as reported by the unnamed senior diplomats Haaretz cited, is that facilitating Ban’s probe is “critical to U.S. interests at the UN.”

Granted, it’s hard to imagine what U.S. interest such a probe could possibly serve (Rice couldn’t protest Iran’s inclusion on the women’s commission without it?). But whatever this alleged interest is, if furthering it requires investigating Israel alone, of all the countries engaged in military activity worldwide, it clearly also requires the probe to conclude that Israel was guilty of some heinous crime. Any goal that requires singling Israel out as uniquely suspect clearly can’t be served by ultimately acquitting it.

This is first and foremost Israel’s problem: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu needs to develop a spine. But American supporters of Israel have a role to play as well. They must make it clear to Obama that putting Israel in the UN dock is a red line.

It turns out Susan Rice is doing something as America’s UN ambassador after all. As Jennifer noted on Friday, she isn’t attending vital negotiations on Iran’s nuclear program or protesting bizarre appointments, like Libya’s to the Human Rights Council and Iran’s to the Commission on the Status of Women.

But Haaretz reported yesterday that she has found time to do one crucial thing: lobby Barack Obama to put heavy pressure on Israel to agree to a UN probe of its May raid on a Turkish-sponsored flotilla. And today the Jerusalem Post reported that Israel has indeed capitulated: Defense Minister Ehud Barak informed UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon last week that “in principle,” it’s willing to participate in the probe he is organizing.

One can only hope the Post is wrong, because this would be an atrocious precedent. As Haaretz noted, it would be the first time Israel has ever agreed to a UN probe of an Israel Defense Forces operation. As such, it would legitimize the UN’s insane obsession with Israel.

After all, I haven’t noticed Ban suggesting UN probes of any other country’s military operations — say, Turkish operations against the Kurds, Iran’s attacks on its own citizens, coalition operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, or African Union forces in Somalia, to name just a few of the dozens of armies engaged in combat worldwide every single day. Many of these operations result in far more civilian casualties than Israel’s flotilla raid did — even if you deny the evidence provided by video footage of the raid and assume these casualties actually were civilians rather than combatants.

But aside from setting a terrible precedent, this probe clearly has one, and only one, purpose: to excoriate Israel. Ban’s proposed format is one representative each from Israel and Turkey, one from a traditional Israeli ally (the U.S.), and one from a country traditionally hostile to Israel (New Zealand), plus one UN representative. Since the UN representative will certainly be in the anti-Israel camp, Israel would be outnumbered even if the U.S. representative took its side.

But in reality, the U.S. representative will almost certainly join the anti-Israel camp — because Rice’s view, as reported by the unnamed senior diplomats Haaretz cited, is that facilitating Ban’s probe is “critical to U.S. interests at the UN.”

Granted, it’s hard to imagine what U.S. interest such a probe could possibly serve (Rice couldn’t protest Iran’s inclusion on the women’s commission without it?). But whatever this alleged interest is, if furthering it requires investigating Israel alone, of all the countries engaged in military activity worldwide, it clearly also requires the probe to conclude that Israel was guilty of some heinous crime. Any goal that requires singling Israel out as uniquely suspect clearly can’t be served by ultimately acquitting it.

This is first and foremost Israel’s problem: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu needs to develop a spine. But American supporters of Israel have a role to play as well. They must make it clear to Obama that putting Israel in the UN dock is a red line.

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Stone’s Apologies Don’t Erase Link Between the Left and Anti-Semitism

Oliver Stone added to his reputation as an incorrigible conspiracy monger this past week in an interview in the Times of London in which he claimed that America’s “obsession” with the Holocaust was caused by Jewish control of the media, sought to put Hitler “in context,” and denounced the “Jewish lobby” and Israel for controlling American foreign policy. The leftist director also defended the Jew-hating regime in Iran as well as Venezuelan strong man Hugo Chavez (who is featured in a flattering documentary produced by Stone), whose dictatorial government has terrorized that country’s Jewish community and made common cause with Tehran.

The Anti-Defamation League appropriately denounced this. But while, as Jennifer noted, Stone was not exactly deluged with criticism — the mainstream media generally ignored the controversy — he did issue two apologies within the next three days. The first backed away from his remarks about the Jews controlling the media and Hollywood, but, as the ADL rightly noted in a release, he failed to deal with his charges about Israel and the “Jewish lobby.” In response to this, Stone, obviously listening to his PR people, again apologized, saying: “I do agree that it was wrong of me to say that Israel or the pro-Israel lobby is to blame for America’s flawed foreign policy. Of course that’s not true and I apologize that my inappropriately glib remark has played into that negative stereotype.”

Feeling that this was sufficient, the ADL quickly declared victory in a statement in which its director, Abe Foxman, was quoted as saying, “I believe he now understands the issues and where he was wrong, and this puts an end to the matter.”

But does it?

Stone’s comments were hardly out of character. He had previously talked about putting Hitler “in context,” and his denunciations of Israel and defense of the anti-Semitic regimes in Iran and Venezuela are still a matter of the record. Last fall the ADL went out of its way to try to wrongly connect mainstream conservative and Republican critiques of President Obama with lunatic extremists and anti-Semites in a report. But as Stone’s comments illustrated, the lesson here is the slippery slope between the leftist conspiracy theories that Stone has championed in his films and public utterances and traditional anti-Semitic invective. This was not a mere slip of the tongue. The line between lionizing Jew-haters like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and overt anti-Semitism is razor-thin if it exists at all. While it is appropriate for the ADL director to acknowledge the speed with which Stone has tried to flee from justified accusations of anti-Semitism, he should have used this moment to make it clear that this story is bigger than just one interview. Instead, he has produced a statement that will serve to allow Stone to escape any further opprobrium. The problem with Oliver Stone is not his big mouth but the ideas that he has spent his adult life propagating. What Stone has done is to once again highlight the nexus between far-left conspiracy theories and Jew-hatred. And that is something that can’t be put to rest with a mere blessing from Mr. Foxman.

Oliver Stone added to his reputation as an incorrigible conspiracy monger this past week in an interview in the Times of London in which he claimed that America’s “obsession” with the Holocaust was caused by Jewish control of the media, sought to put Hitler “in context,” and denounced the “Jewish lobby” and Israel for controlling American foreign policy. The leftist director also defended the Jew-hating regime in Iran as well as Venezuelan strong man Hugo Chavez (who is featured in a flattering documentary produced by Stone), whose dictatorial government has terrorized that country’s Jewish community and made common cause with Tehran.

The Anti-Defamation League appropriately denounced this. But while, as Jennifer noted, Stone was not exactly deluged with criticism — the mainstream media generally ignored the controversy — he did issue two apologies within the next three days. The first backed away from his remarks about the Jews controlling the media and Hollywood, but, as the ADL rightly noted in a release, he failed to deal with his charges about Israel and the “Jewish lobby.” In response to this, Stone, obviously listening to his PR people, again apologized, saying: “I do agree that it was wrong of me to say that Israel or the pro-Israel lobby is to blame for America’s flawed foreign policy. Of course that’s not true and I apologize that my inappropriately glib remark has played into that negative stereotype.”

Feeling that this was sufficient, the ADL quickly declared victory in a statement in which its director, Abe Foxman, was quoted as saying, “I believe he now understands the issues and where he was wrong, and this puts an end to the matter.”

But does it?

Stone’s comments were hardly out of character. He had previously talked about putting Hitler “in context,” and his denunciations of Israel and defense of the anti-Semitic regimes in Iran and Venezuela are still a matter of the record. Last fall the ADL went out of its way to try to wrongly connect mainstream conservative and Republican critiques of President Obama with lunatic extremists and anti-Semites in a report. But as Stone’s comments illustrated, the lesson here is the slippery slope between the leftist conspiracy theories that Stone has championed in his films and public utterances and traditional anti-Semitic invective. This was not a mere slip of the tongue. The line between lionizing Jew-haters like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and overt anti-Semitism is razor-thin if it exists at all. While it is appropriate for the ADL director to acknowledge the speed with which Stone has tried to flee from justified accusations of anti-Semitism, he should have used this moment to make it clear that this story is bigger than just one interview. Instead, he has produced a statement that will serve to allow Stone to escape any further opprobrium. The problem with Oliver Stone is not his big mouth but the ideas that he has spent his adult life propagating. What Stone has done is to once again highlight the nexus between far-left conspiracy theories and Jew-hatred. And that is something that can’t be put to rest with a mere blessing from Mr. Foxman.

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House Democratic Memo Is Another Blow to J Street

Last week,  Jennifer noted the Democrats’ panic, which led to the release of the Howard Berman e-mail extolling the Obama administration’s supposedly pro-Israel record. The memo seemed to be a reaction to the beating that Democratic Senate candidate Joe Sestak is taking in Pennsylvania in ads from the Emergency Coalition for Israel.

But there’s more to discuss here than just the fact that Sestak has been wrong-footed on the issue and forced to play defense. The Berman memo is yet more proof that J Street’s assertion that the Democrats have embraced its idea — that criticism of Israel is the highest form of love for the Jewish state — is bunk.

The memo is yet another aspect of the charm offensive that has been conducted by the administration since its disastrous decision to pick a fight over building in existing Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem. Ever since the supposed insult to Vice President Joe Biden was answered with unprecedented discourtesy to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the administration has been backtracking furiously from its desire to distance itself from Israel. Rather than follow along with the J Street program of putting pressure on Jerusalem to acquiesce to Palestinian demands, the Obama team has been going out of its way to cozy up to Netanyahu since the spring. Given the instincts of those running things in both the White House and the State Department, this has been an awkward and at times inconsistent change of heart. But as much as Obama’s critics are still right to question both his sincerity and his long-term intentions, in the last few months the heretofore rapidly expanding amount of daylight between the positions of Washington and Jerusalem has been shrinking.

Ever since November 2008, leftists have been trying to assert that the Jewish vote for Obama was proof that J Street and not AIPAC or other mainstream pro-Israel groups truly represented Jewish opinion. But if that were so, why would Obama be trying so hard to convince everyone that his administration was as reliable a supporter of Israel as any of its predecessors? Perhaps the answer is that Obama and his advisers know that many, if not most, of the Jewish votes he received came from people who were convinced by his 2008 campaign statements that attempted to show that he was an AIPAC-style friend of Israel rather than a J Street critic. And with the Democrats heading for a midterm disaster this November and putting their Congressional majorities in jeopardy, it’s no wonder that their caucus is producing memos drawing attention to the common ground between the administration and Israel rather than harping on settlement policy and the need for more concessions to the Palestinians, as J Street preaches.

It is true that most Jews are not single-issue voters who care only about Israel. But as shown by the administration’s recent behavior as well as by the House Democrats’ memo, liberals know that a candidate, party, or president who is seen as a critic rather than a friend of Israel will lose Jewish votes and campaign contributions. It is deeply ironic that it turns out that the most cogent skewering of J Street’s basic premise about public opinion has come from their idol in the White House and the political party they support, not their Jewish critics.

Last week,  Jennifer noted the Democrats’ panic, which led to the release of the Howard Berman e-mail extolling the Obama administration’s supposedly pro-Israel record. The memo seemed to be a reaction to the beating that Democratic Senate candidate Joe Sestak is taking in Pennsylvania in ads from the Emergency Coalition for Israel.

But there’s more to discuss here than just the fact that Sestak has been wrong-footed on the issue and forced to play defense. The Berman memo is yet more proof that J Street’s assertion that the Democrats have embraced its idea — that criticism of Israel is the highest form of love for the Jewish state — is bunk.

The memo is yet another aspect of the charm offensive that has been conducted by the administration since its disastrous decision to pick a fight over building in existing Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem. Ever since the supposed insult to Vice President Joe Biden was answered with unprecedented discourtesy to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the administration has been backtracking furiously from its desire to distance itself from Israel. Rather than follow along with the J Street program of putting pressure on Jerusalem to acquiesce to Palestinian demands, the Obama team has been going out of its way to cozy up to Netanyahu since the spring. Given the instincts of those running things in both the White House and the State Department, this has been an awkward and at times inconsistent change of heart. But as much as Obama’s critics are still right to question both his sincerity and his long-term intentions, in the last few months the heretofore rapidly expanding amount of daylight between the positions of Washington and Jerusalem has been shrinking.

Ever since November 2008, leftists have been trying to assert that the Jewish vote for Obama was proof that J Street and not AIPAC or other mainstream pro-Israel groups truly represented Jewish opinion. But if that were so, why would Obama be trying so hard to convince everyone that his administration was as reliable a supporter of Israel as any of its predecessors? Perhaps the answer is that Obama and his advisers know that many, if not most, of the Jewish votes he received came from people who were convinced by his 2008 campaign statements that attempted to show that he was an AIPAC-style friend of Israel rather than a J Street critic. And with the Democrats heading for a midterm disaster this November and putting their Congressional majorities in jeopardy, it’s no wonder that their caucus is producing memos drawing attention to the common ground between the administration and Israel rather than harping on settlement policy and the need for more concessions to the Palestinians, as J Street preaches.

It is true that most Jews are not single-issue voters who care only about Israel. But as shown by the administration’s recent behavior as well as by the House Democrats’ memo, liberals know that a candidate, party, or president who is seen as a critic rather than a friend of Israel will lose Jewish votes and campaign contributions. It is deeply ironic that it turns out that the most cogent skewering of J Street’s basic premise about public opinion has come from their idol in the White House and the political party they support, not their Jewish critics.

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RE: RE: Sometimes the Sky Really Is Falling

I certainly agree with Pete and Jennifer that things are looking really bleak for the Democrats right now, with the House majority in grave danger, the large Senate majority likely to become, at best, a very small Senate majority, many governorships likely to flip from D. to R. and many state legislatures likely to add members to Republican ranks, just in time for the decennial gerrymandering following the census.

There is nothing so fatal to success in a political campaign as the certainty of winning. President Truman was widely reviled (“To err is Truman”). The Democrats had fractured, with Henry Wallace walking out with the far left and Strom Thurmond walking out with the Dixicrats. Truman was political toast.

But Dewey, sublimely confident, talked in generalities and avoided controversial topics. Alice Roosevelt Longworth’s catty — and all too accurate — remark that he looked like “the groom on a wedding cake,” began to penetrate the national consciousness. Truman went after the “do-nothing 87th Congress” (which, in fact, had done a lot) and “gave ‘em hell.” He carried 28 states and took 303 electoral votes (to 189 for Dewey and 39 for Thurmond). And the Democrats took back both houses of Congress.

“When you’re ten points ahead, run like you’re ten points behind” is excellent political advice. So is having a coherent program for the future and giving the other side hell. At the moment, I only see the last as being part of the Republican battle plan.

I certainly agree with Pete and Jennifer that things are looking really bleak for the Democrats right now, with the House majority in grave danger, the large Senate majority likely to become, at best, a very small Senate majority, many governorships likely to flip from D. to R. and many state legislatures likely to add members to Republican ranks, just in time for the decennial gerrymandering following the census.

There is nothing so fatal to success in a political campaign as the certainty of winning. President Truman was widely reviled (“To err is Truman”). The Democrats had fractured, with Henry Wallace walking out with the far left and Strom Thurmond walking out with the Dixicrats. Truman was political toast.

But Dewey, sublimely confident, talked in generalities and avoided controversial topics. Alice Roosevelt Longworth’s catty — and all too accurate — remark that he looked like “the groom on a wedding cake,” began to penetrate the national consciousness. Truman went after the “do-nothing 87th Congress” (which, in fact, had done a lot) and “gave ‘em hell.” He carried 28 states and took 303 electoral votes (to 189 for Dewey and 39 for Thurmond). And the Democrats took back both houses of Congress.

“When you’re ten points ahead, run like you’re ten points behind” is excellent political advice. So is having a coherent program for the future and giving the other side hell. At the moment, I only see the last as being part of the Republican battle plan.

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Riyadh Votes No-Confidence in Iran Sanctions

The report that Saudi Arabia has agreed to let Israeli jets transit its airspace to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities indeed shows, as Jennifer noted, that progress in the “peace process” is not necessary to secure Israeli-Arab cooperation on a grave mutual threat. But it also constitutes a vote of no-confidence — by both Saudi Arabia and at least someone in the U.S. administration — in the anti-Iran sanctions that the UN Security Council approved last week.

At a time when the Muslim world is still seething over Israel’s botched raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla, nothing could be more embarrassing for Saudi Arabia than a report that it is cooperating with the hated Zionist entity in planning an attack on another Muslim country. Under these circumstances, only one thing could motivate a Saudi official to actually confirm this cooperation to the London Times: sheer terror.

And the report’s timing — just days after U.S. President Barack Obama proclaimed the new round of toothless sanctions a great achievement, even as he openly acknowledged that they will not stop Iran’s nuclear program — makes the source of this terror clear: Saudi Arabia is now convinced that the West, in general, and Americans, in particular, will do nothing substantive to stop Iran’s nuclear program. Saudi Arabia has thus concluded that the only hope of making Tehran rethink the program’s wisdom is a credible threat of force. By agreeing to let Israeli jets transit its airspace, thus shortening the distance they would have to fly, Riyadh has greatly increased the credibility of this threat by making an Israeli strike more feasible.

The same logic applies to the U.S. The Obama administration has repeatedly and publicly trumpeted its efforts to thwart an Israeli strike; indeed, the Times reported that Washington still refuses to let Israeli jets transit Iraqi airspace, which the U.S. controls. Moreover, Obama continues to invest great efforts in outreach to the Muslim world. That a U.S. “defense source” confirmed this story to the Times and even asserted that the deal was concocted “with the agreement of the [U.S.] State Department” is deeply embarrassing to the administration, depicting it as downright hypocritical: publicly voicing full-throated opposition to an Israeli raid even as it secretly brokers a deal with Riyadh to facilitate such a raid.

And here, too, the motive is clear: at least someone in the administration has concluded that truly painful sanctions — the kind that might actually affect Tehran’s behavior — are never going to be enacted, so the only hope is a credible threat of military force.

It is, of course, encouraging to learn that both Riyadh and at least some parts of Washington still have a grasp of reality. Yet given the almost unanimous agreement among Western leaders that a military strike on Iran would be disastrous, it is deeply discouraging that they nevertheless remain incapable of mustering the will to enact the kind of sanctions that are the only alternative to such a strike — other than a nuclear Iran.

The report that Saudi Arabia has agreed to let Israeli jets transit its airspace to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities indeed shows, as Jennifer noted, that progress in the “peace process” is not necessary to secure Israeli-Arab cooperation on a grave mutual threat. But it also constitutes a vote of no-confidence — by both Saudi Arabia and at least someone in the U.S. administration — in the anti-Iran sanctions that the UN Security Council approved last week.

At a time when the Muslim world is still seething over Israel’s botched raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla, nothing could be more embarrassing for Saudi Arabia than a report that it is cooperating with the hated Zionist entity in planning an attack on another Muslim country. Under these circumstances, only one thing could motivate a Saudi official to actually confirm this cooperation to the London Times: sheer terror.

And the report’s timing — just days after U.S. President Barack Obama proclaimed the new round of toothless sanctions a great achievement, even as he openly acknowledged that they will not stop Iran’s nuclear program — makes the source of this terror clear: Saudi Arabia is now convinced that the West, in general, and Americans, in particular, will do nothing substantive to stop Iran’s nuclear program. Saudi Arabia has thus concluded that the only hope of making Tehran rethink the program’s wisdom is a credible threat of force. By agreeing to let Israeli jets transit its airspace, thus shortening the distance they would have to fly, Riyadh has greatly increased the credibility of this threat by making an Israeli strike more feasible.

The same logic applies to the U.S. The Obama administration has repeatedly and publicly trumpeted its efforts to thwart an Israeli strike; indeed, the Times reported that Washington still refuses to let Israeli jets transit Iraqi airspace, which the U.S. controls. Moreover, Obama continues to invest great efforts in outreach to the Muslim world. That a U.S. “defense source” confirmed this story to the Times and even asserted that the deal was concocted “with the agreement of the [U.S.] State Department” is deeply embarrassing to the administration, depicting it as downright hypocritical: publicly voicing full-throated opposition to an Israeli raid even as it secretly brokers a deal with Riyadh to facilitate such a raid.

And here, too, the motive is clear: at least someone in the administration has concluded that truly painful sanctions — the kind that might actually affect Tehran’s behavior — are never going to be enacted, so the only hope is a credible threat of military force.

It is, of course, encouraging to learn that both Riyadh and at least some parts of Washington still have a grasp of reality. Yet given the almost unanimous agreement among Western leaders that a military strike on Iran would be disastrous, it is deeply discouraging that they nevertheless remain incapable of mustering the will to enact the kind of sanctions that are the only alternative to such a strike — other than a nuclear Iran.

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Turning the Tables on the Turks

As Jennifer noted, some Israelis are thinking of getting even with Turkey this week with a “flotilla” that would bring some symbolic aid to the embattled Kurdish minority in that country. Though most of the media coverage of the Gaza flotilla controversy has wrongly blamed Israel for messing up the relationship with Turkey, most Israelis view Turkey’s decision to back the Islamist terrorists of Hamas against the Jewish state as a terrible betrayal.

While Israel has certainly benefited from the alliance with Turkey in the past, this was not a one-sided friendship. The Turks were happy to use the specter of a friendly Israel to help maintain a favorable balance of power in the region at the expense of hostile states such as Syria, Iraq, and Iran.

The Turks also benefited greatly from having Israel’s supporters in the United States largely at their disposal, even on issues where Jews felt they were being asked to balance Israel’s strategic interests against questions of human rights and genocide. Thus, American Jewish groups repeatedly have weighed in, often to the dismay of their rank-and-file members, against resolutions recognizing the historical truth of the Turkish genocide against Armenians during World War One. As Anti-Defamation League head Abe Foxman learned to his sorrow, trying to keep American Jews out of that fight — when their own historical experience of genocide impelled them to side with the Armenians — for the sake of maintaining good relations with a country that was supposedly friendly to Israel was a thankless task.

But with the actions of Turkey’s Islamic government undermining any hopes for meaningful sanctions on Iran and choosing to side with Tehran’s terrorists allies in Gaza, perhaps it is high time for American Jews to show the Turks that it is not just Israel that will pay a price for the flotilla controversy. The idea of treating a country that oppresses its Kurdish minority and that has illegally occupied a portion of Cyprus since 1974 — a violation of international law that ought to silence any Turkish criticism of the presence of Jews in Jerusalem or the West Bank — and that continues to pretend that the mass murder of Armenians is a myth as a valued friend and ally is much harder sell for Americans than it was a couple of weeks ago. Even more to the point, recent events should effectively end the debatable practice of American Jewish organizations carrying water on Capitol Hill for Turkish interests.

As Jennifer noted, some Israelis are thinking of getting even with Turkey this week with a “flotilla” that would bring some symbolic aid to the embattled Kurdish minority in that country. Though most of the media coverage of the Gaza flotilla controversy has wrongly blamed Israel for messing up the relationship with Turkey, most Israelis view Turkey’s decision to back the Islamist terrorists of Hamas against the Jewish state as a terrible betrayal.

While Israel has certainly benefited from the alliance with Turkey in the past, this was not a one-sided friendship. The Turks were happy to use the specter of a friendly Israel to help maintain a favorable balance of power in the region at the expense of hostile states such as Syria, Iraq, and Iran.

The Turks also benefited greatly from having Israel’s supporters in the United States largely at their disposal, even on issues where Jews felt they were being asked to balance Israel’s strategic interests against questions of human rights and genocide. Thus, American Jewish groups repeatedly have weighed in, often to the dismay of their rank-and-file members, against resolutions recognizing the historical truth of the Turkish genocide against Armenians during World War One. As Anti-Defamation League head Abe Foxman learned to his sorrow, trying to keep American Jews out of that fight — when their own historical experience of genocide impelled them to side with the Armenians — for the sake of maintaining good relations with a country that was supposedly friendly to Israel was a thankless task.

But with the actions of Turkey’s Islamic government undermining any hopes for meaningful sanctions on Iran and choosing to side with Tehran’s terrorists allies in Gaza, perhaps it is high time for American Jews to show the Turks that it is not just Israel that will pay a price for the flotilla controversy. The idea of treating a country that oppresses its Kurdish minority and that has illegally occupied a portion of Cyprus since 1974 — a violation of international law that ought to silence any Turkish criticism of the presence of Jews in Jerusalem or the West Bank — and that continues to pretend that the mass murder of Armenians is a myth as a valued friend and ally is much harder sell for Americans than it was a couple of weeks ago. Even more to the point, recent events should effectively end the debatable practice of American Jewish organizations carrying water on Capitol Hill for Turkish interests.

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Who’s out of Touch with Reality? Israelis or “Liberal Zionists”?

A consistent theme — not only of the post-Gaza-flotilla criticism of Israel but also of the entire thrust of the Obama administration’s attempt to “reset” the Middle East — has been the notion that Israel is out of touch with the rest of the world. In this formulation, a reactionary, right-wing Israeli government is driving crazy the rest of the world and a basically sympathetic American ally by pursuing self-destructive policies. This thesis was sounded anew by Peter Beinart at the Daily Beast yesterday by means of a piece in which he attacked Elliott Abrams for accurately describing the pack of jackals who are attacking Israel’s right of self-defense as a “lynch mob.” Beinart considered that politically incorrect because it links an administration led by an African-American and a multi-cultural institution like the United Nations with a phrase that conjures up “black men hanging from trees.” For Beinart, talking about the siege of Israel in terms of life and death is apparently beyond his comprehension. In his worldview, the Hamas terrorists who control Gaza — and who would like to kill all the Jews of Israel — or the more moderate Palestinians who refuse to make peace because they are afraid of Hamas, don’t really count in a discussion of Israeli actions. Nor does he understand that the vicious global attacks on Israel can only be properly understood in the context of the rise of a new wave of anti-Semitism around the world.

Beinart goes on to knock the Netanyahu government and its American supporters as out of touch with America because Obama, as well as Hispanics and African-Americans, are less inclined to support the Jewish state than the rest of the country, which remains solidly pro-Israel. Sounding like James Carville in January 2009, Beinart assumes that Obama and the Democrats will rule in Washington forever, dismissing the overwhelming current pro-Israel majority in Congress as well as the near certainty that it will be even more pro-Israel next January because Obama’s party is likely to face heavy losses to the Republicans in November. Nor does he take into account that, as Jennifer noted earlier, a new Rasmussen poll shows most Americans side with Israel rather than the Palestinians on the Gaza flotilla, as they have on virtually every issue over the years. But because J Street and “liberal Zionist” critiques of Israel have little to do with the nonexistent chances of peace with the Palestinians and everything to do with attempting to replace a bipartisan pro-Israel American consensus with an Obama-like moral equivalence about the Middle East, it’s hard to take Beinart’s analysis seriously, despite the attention he has been getting lately.

But even as Beinart and J Street continue to trumpet their anger at Israel’s government, you have to ask what they make of the fact that the majority of his people support Netanyahu’s policies or that his coalition remains so stable. As it happens, writer Ethan Perlson weighed in with an explanation in the same Daily Beast that is now Beinart’s regular perch. Perlson reports that Israeli liberals and left-wingers — the people Beinart supposes he is speaking up for — are fed up with criticisms of their country and are rallying against the hypocritical Israel-bashers and in support of their government’s determination to continue trying to isolate Hamas. Even the opposition Kadima Party, led by supposed Obama favorite Tzipi Livni, which miserably failed to get a no-confidence motion passed by the Knesset this week, supported the government’s policy on the blockade.

The point is, even most of the Israeli left and those in the center, who are actually prepared to make painful territorial concessions if peace were a real possibility, understand that the failure to attain peace is the fault of the Palestinians, not of Netanyahu. They know that Israel withdrew from Gaza hoping that the Palestinians would use their freedom to work for peace and instead saw the area fall under the sway of the most violent and extreme Islamist factions, who used it as a launching pad for terror. They know that lifting the blockade of Hamas would give it — and its patron, Iran — a victory that would make the region even more dangerous.

Though they claim that Israelis are out of touch with America, given the continuing support for Israel by most Americans, it may be Beinart and his friends in the mainstream media who are out of sync with public opinion. And instead of chiding Israelis to adopt policies that they know make no sense, perhaps “liberal Zionists,” like Beinart and other Americans who purport to be friends of the Jewish state while incessantly bashing it, should start listening to the Israeli people.

A consistent theme — not only of the post-Gaza-flotilla criticism of Israel but also of the entire thrust of the Obama administration’s attempt to “reset” the Middle East — has been the notion that Israel is out of touch with the rest of the world. In this formulation, a reactionary, right-wing Israeli government is driving crazy the rest of the world and a basically sympathetic American ally by pursuing self-destructive policies. This thesis was sounded anew by Peter Beinart at the Daily Beast yesterday by means of a piece in which he attacked Elliott Abrams for accurately describing the pack of jackals who are attacking Israel’s right of self-defense as a “lynch mob.” Beinart considered that politically incorrect because it links an administration led by an African-American and a multi-cultural institution like the United Nations with a phrase that conjures up “black men hanging from trees.” For Beinart, talking about the siege of Israel in terms of life and death is apparently beyond his comprehension. In his worldview, the Hamas terrorists who control Gaza — and who would like to kill all the Jews of Israel — or the more moderate Palestinians who refuse to make peace because they are afraid of Hamas, don’t really count in a discussion of Israeli actions. Nor does he understand that the vicious global attacks on Israel can only be properly understood in the context of the rise of a new wave of anti-Semitism around the world.

Beinart goes on to knock the Netanyahu government and its American supporters as out of touch with America because Obama, as well as Hispanics and African-Americans, are less inclined to support the Jewish state than the rest of the country, which remains solidly pro-Israel. Sounding like James Carville in January 2009, Beinart assumes that Obama and the Democrats will rule in Washington forever, dismissing the overwhelming current pro-Israel majority in Congress as well as the near certainty that it will be even more pro-Israel next January because Obama’s party is likely to face heavy losses to the Republicans in November. Nor does he take into account that, as Jennifer noted earlier, a new Rasmussen poll shows most Americans side with Israel rather than the Palestinians on the Gaza flotilla, as they have on virtually every issue over the years. But because J Street and “liberal Zionist” critiques of Israel have little to do with the nonexistent chances of peace with the Palestinians and everything to do with attempting to replace a bipartisan pro-Israel American consensus with an Obama-like moral equivalence about the Middle East, it’s hard to take Beinart’s analysis seriously, despite the attention he has been getting lately.

But even as Beinart and J Street continue to trumpet their anger at Israel’s government, you have to ask what they make of the fact that the majority of his people support Netanyahu’s policies or that his coalition remains so stable. As it happens, writer Ethan Perlson weighed in with an explanation in the same Daily Beast that is now Beinart’s regular perch. Perlson reports that Israeli liberals and left-wingers — the people Beinart supposes he is speaking up for — are fed up with criticisms of their country and are rallying against the hypocritical Israel-bashers and in support of their government’s determination to continue trying to isolate Hamas. Even the opposition Kadima Party, led by supposed Obama favorite Tzipi Livni, which miserably failed to get a no-confidence motion passed by the Knesset this week, supported the government’s policy on the blockade.

The point is, even most of the Israeli left and those in the center, who are actually prepared to make painful territorial concessions if peace were a real possibility, understand that the failure to attain peace is the fault of the Palestinians, not of Netanyahu. They know that Israel withdrew from Gaza hoping that the Palestinians would use their freedom to work for peace and instead saw the area fall under the sway of the most violent and extreme Islamist factions, who used it as a launching pad for terror. They know that lifting the blockade of Hamas would give it — and its patron, Iran — a victory that would make the region even more dangerous.

Though they claim that Israelis are out of touch with America, given the continuing support for Israel by most Americans, it may be Beinart and his friends in the mainstream media who are out of sync with public opinion. And instead of chiding Israelis to adopt policies that they know make no sense, perhaps “liberal Zionists,” like Beinart and other Americans who purport to be friends of the Jewish state while incessantly bashing it, should start listening to the Israeli people.

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Iran’s Game of Negotiations

One unanswered question about the nuclear-swap deal: who provides the 120 kilograms of 20 percent enriched uranium fuel rods to Iran? Because that is what swapping means — Iran gives Turkey 1,200 kilograms; the 1,200 kilograms sit in Turkey under IAEA, Iranian, and Turkish supervision for a month and then either they are swapped or they return home. Under the original agreement, there was no swapping — Iran would transfer 1,200 kilograms, Russia and France would reprocess them, and the resulting product (20 percent enriched fuel rods) would then return to Iran.

By negotiating a swap with Turkey, Iran adds a step to the process — 1,200 kilograms go to Turkey. They are swapped with 120 kilograms of 20 percent enriched uranium fuel rods; the 1,200 kilograms go to Russia and France to be reprocessed and then they return to Iran.

You can see this as a bazaar trick to get a discount — for the same price, now Iran gets 240 kilograms of fuel rods instead of 120. Or you can see it as an exchange of hostages — you take our fuel, we take yours.

Still, the question remains unanswered — who supplies 120 kilograms to Iran within a month of delivery?

Turkey? Brazil? The original Vienna group of France, Russia, and the United States?

And while we are at it: who ensures the safety of the nuclear material once it reaches Turkish territory? Turkey is not known to have the facilities to do so.

So let me make a guess. The deal goes nowhere. It falls through. But for a good six to eight weeks, the Iranians are the good guys, the ball is in the West’s court, the sanctions’ effort in New York loses steam, Turkey and Brazil vote against any sanctions’ resolution, and Moscow urges France and the United States to consider the swap deal as a good bridging proposal to “build upon.”

That’s the beauty of the deal negotiated by Turkey and Brazil. It puts the West into a corner for two reasons: first, because it allows Iran to break its isolation — with Turkey and Brazil now having negotiated a deal independently of the U.S., the Security Council, the IAEA, or the P5+1, it’s the U.S. and the EU that look isolated.

And second, because now President Obama, President Sarkozy, and President Medvedev (or Prime Minister Putin, who knows?) — the original promoters of the transfer deal from last October — will have to say whether they are prepared to go the extra mile and do what Iran demands in exchange for transferring its uranium to Turkey — something they were not prepared to do back in October. My guess is that Russia will go one way, France and the U.S. the opposite way. So here’s the master stroke: in one fell swoop, Iran managed to create a rift inside the UN Security Council and the Vienna Group at the same time.

Give Iran credit then, as Jennifer and Jonathan note — it has just gained another few months.

One unanswered question about the nuclear-swap deal: who provides the 120 kilograms of 20 percent enriched uranium fuel rods to Iran? Because that is what swapping means — Iran gives Turkey 1,200 kilograms; the 1,200 kilograms sit in Turkey under IAEA, Iranian, and Turkish supervision for a month and then either they are swapped or they return home. Under the original agreement, there was no swapping — Iran would transfer 1,200 kilograms, Russia and France would reprocess them, and the resulting product (20 percent enriched fuel rods) would then return to Iran.

By negotiating a swap with Turkey, Iran adds a step to the process — 1,200 kilograms go to Turkey. They are swapped with 120 kilograms of 20 percent enriched uranium fuel rods; the 1,200 kilograms go to Russia and France to be reprocessed and then they return to Iran.

You can see this as a bazaar trick to get a discount — for the same price, now Iran gets 240 kilograms of fuel rods instead of 120. Or you can see it as an exchange of hostages — you take our fuel, we take yours.

Still, the question remains unanswered — who supplies 120 kilograms to Iran within a month of delivery?

Turkey? Brazil? The original Vienna group of France, Russia, and the United States?

And while we are at it: who ensures the safety of the nuclear material once it reaches Turkish territory? Turkey is not known to have the facilities to do so.

So let me make a guess. The deal goes nowhere. It falls through. But for a good six to eight weeks, the Iranians are the good guys, the ball is in the West’s court, the sanctions’ effort in New York loses steam, Turkey and Brazil vote against any sanctions’ resolution, and Moscow urges France and the United States to consider the swap deal as a good bridging proposal to “build upon.”

That’s the beauty of the deal negotiated by Turkey and Brazil. It puts the West into a corner for two reasons: first, because it allows Iran to break its isolation — with Turkey and Brazil now having negotiated a deal independently of the U.S., the Security Council, the IAEA, or the P5+1, it’s the U.S. and the EU that look isolated.

And second, because now President Obama, President Sarkozy, and President Medvedev (or Prime Minister Putin, who knows?) — the original promoters of the transfer deal from last October — will have to say whether they are prepared to go the extra mile and do what Iran demands in exchange for transferring its uranium to Turkey — something they were not prepared to do back in October. My guess is that Russia will go one way, France and the U.S. the opposite way. So here’s the master stroke: in one fell swoop, Iran managed to create a rift inside the UN Security Council and the Vienna Group at the same time.

Give Iran credit then, as Jennifer and Jonathan note — it has just gained another few months.

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Not Exactly a Breakthrough for White House on China Backing for Iran Sanctions

As Jennifer noted earlier, the Obama administration was trumpeting the equivocal statements coaxed out of the Chinese yesterday about “working with” the United States on Iran sanctions as proof of a major diplomatic victory. At last, we were told, the president’s magic touch had convinced Beijing to come along with the community of nations and stop acting as the Iranian regime’s protector at the United Nations.

Indeed, the front page of Tuesday’s New York Times proclaimed “China Supports Iran Sanctions; Meeting Yields Results for the White House.” However, even the lede of that article undermined the headline:

President Obama secured a promise from President Hu Jintao of China on Monday to join negotiations on a new package of sanctions against Iran, administration officials said, but Mr. Hu made no specific commitment to backing measures that the United States considers severe enough to force a change in direction in Iran’s nuclear program.

But Obama’s cheering section wasn’t even able to enjoy that misleading headline for more than a few hours as an updated report published on the Times website Tuesday morning quickly put the “breakthrough” in perspective:

American officials portrayed the Chinese response as the most encouraging sign yet that Beijing would support an international effort to ratchet up the pressure on Iran and as a sign of “international unity” on stopping Iran’s nuclear program before the country can develop a working nuclear weapon. On Tuesday, though, Chinese officials in Beijing seem to strike a more cautious note. “We believe that the Security Council’s relevant actions should be conducive to easing the situation and conducive to promoting a fitting solution to the Iranian nuclear issue through dialogue and negotiations,” Jiang Yu, a foreign ministry official, said at a regular news briefing in Beijing. “China supports a dual-track strategy and has always believed that dialogue and negotiations are the optimal channels for resolving the Iranian nuclear issue. Sanctions and pressure cannot fundamentally resolve the issues.”

So far, the only “breakthrough” Obama has gotten from the Chinese is another lesson in foreign-policy jujitsu. They are not committed to serious sanctions on Iran, and despite the president’s charm offensive, there is little hope that another round of protracted negotiations will produce anything that might actually stop the Iranians. The Chinese and the Russians, who are also adamant about opposing serious sanctions, have played the president like a piano and have bought Tehran even more time (after the year Obama has already given them with his feckless “engagement” policy) to make progress toward their nuclear goal.

The administration’s much-touted nuclear conference has been a good photo op for the president, but as far as the most important foreign-policy issue facing Obama, it is proving to be a colossal flop.

As Jennifer noted earlier, the Obama administration was trumpeting the equivocal statements coaxed out of the Chinese yesterday about “working with” the United States on Iran sanctions as proof of a major diplomatic victory. At last, we were told, the president’s magic touch had convinced Beijing to come along with the community of nations and stop acting as the Iranian regime’s protector at the United Nations.

Indeed, the front page of Tuesday’s New York Times proclaimed “China Supports Iran Sanctions; Meeting Yields Results for the White House.” However, even the lede of that article undermined the headline:

President Obama secured a promise from President Hu Jintao of China on Monday to join negotiations on a new package of sanctions against Iran, administration officials said, but Mr. Hu made no specific commitment to backing measures that the United States considers severe enough to force a change in direction in Iran’s nuclear program.

But Obama’s cheering section wasn’t even able to enjoy that misleading headline for more than a few hours as an updated report published on the Times website Tuesday morning quickly put the “breakthrough” in perspective:

American officials portrayed the Chinese response as the most encouraging sign yet that Beijing would support an international effort to ratchet up the pressure on Iran and as a sign of “international unity” on stopping Iran’s nuclear program before the country can develop a working nuclear weapon. On Tuesday, though, Chinese officials in Beijing seem to strike a more cautious note. “We believe that the Security Council’s relevant actions should be conducive to easing the situation and conducive to promoting a fitting solution to the Iranian nuclear issue through dialogue and negotiations,” Jiang Yu, a foreign ministry official, said at a regular news briefing in Beijing. “China supports a dual-track strategy and has always believed that dialogue and negotiations are the optimal channels for resolving the Iranian nuclear issue. Sanctions and pressure cannot fundamentally resolve the issues.”

So far, the only “breakthrough” Obama has gotten from the Chinese is another lesson in foreign-policy jujitsu. They are not committed to serious sanctions on Iran, and despite the president’s charm offensive, there is little hope that another round of protracted negotiations will produce anything that might actually stop the Iranians. The Chinese and the Russians, who are also adamant about opposing serious sanctions, have played the president like a piano and have bought Tehran even more time (after the year Obama has already given them with his feckless “engagement” policy) to make progress toward their nuclear goal.

The administration’s much-touted nuclear conference has been a good photo op for the president, but as far as the most important foreign-policy issue facing Obama, it is proving to be a colossal flop.

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First, Do No Harm

After Israeli media reported yesterday that White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel had threatened to curtail U.S. involvement in Israeli-Palestinian talks, the White House rushed to deny it. That’s a pity — because curtailing U.S. involvement would be far more helpful than what special envoy George Mitchell is actually doing.

Interviewed by PBS yesterday, Mitchell (as Jennifer noted) declared: “We think that the negotiation should last no more than two years … Personally I think it can be done in a shorter period of time.”

That, frankly, is ridiculous. In 16 years of talks, the parties have yet to resolve a single final-status issue. Just 15 months ago, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas rejected an Israeli offer of 94 percent of the West Bank, territorial exchanges for the remainder, and international Muslim control over the Temple Mount. Current Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will certainly offer no more, and probably not as much. So what does Mitchell think will happen in the next two years to suddenly make Abbas abandon positions he has stuck to for the last 16 — or else make Israel agree to suicide by, for instance, accepting Abbas’ demand that it absorb 4.7 million Palestinian “refugees”?

Nor need one be “anti-peace” to recognize this. Here’s the first sentence of a column published in the left-wing Israeli paper Haaretz yesterday by its leftist, pro-peace diplomatic correspondent, Aluf Benn: “Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman is right: During the next two years Israel will not reach a permanent status agreement with the Palestinians.”

While arguing that Israel must make concessions anyway to placate world opinion, Benn articulates an important truth: “The establishment of new states arouses multigenerational conflicts” that rarely end quickly. The India-Pakistan and Cyprus conflicts, which also date back to the British Empire’s mid-20th century breakup, are still unresolved, he notes, and the Israeli-Arab conflict is no less intractable.

But were Mitchell just spouting nonsense, nobody would care. The problem is that such nonsense does active harm by raising expectations that cannot be met — then provoking a backlash of disappointment.

First, Palestinians and other Arabs routinely interpret such statements by U.S. officials as pledges to make Israel kowtow to Palestinian demands. When that doesn’t happen, it increases anti-American sentiment, entrenches disbelief in the possibility of peace (thus strengthening extremists like Hamas), and can even spark renewed anti-Israel terror, as the Camp David summit in 2000 showed.

Second, it further entrenches Israeli skepticism about peace.

Third, it will almost certainly increase anti-Israel hysteria in Europe. Unlike Israelis and Palestinians, Europeans largely share Mitchell’s conviction that peace is imminently achievable. Hence every time it fails to materialize, they seek a scapegoat. And so far, that scapegoat has always been Israel: while demanding ever more Israeli concessions, the EU has yet to publicly demand any Palestinian concessions.

There are things America could do to further peace — like finally telling the Palestinians that they, too, must compromise. But doing nothing would be better than doing active harm. And that’s what Washington is doing now.

After Israeli media reported yesterday that White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel had threatened to curtail U.S. involvement in Israeli-Palestinian talks, the White House rushed to deny it. That’s a pity — because curtailing U.S. involvement would be far more helpful than what special envoy George Mitchell is actually doing.

Interviewed by PBS yesterday, Mitchell (as Jennifer noted) declared: “We think that the negotiation should last no more than two years … Personally I think it can be done in a shorter period of time.”

That, frankly, is ridiculous. In 16 years of talks, the parties have yet to resolve a single final-status issue. Just 15 months ago, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas rejected an Israeli offer of 94 percent of the West Bank, territorial exchanges for the remainder, and international Muslim control over the Temple Mount. Current Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will certainly offer no more, and probably not as much. So what does Mitchell think will happen in the next two years to suddenly make Abbas abandon positions he has stuck to for the last 16 — or else make Israel agree to suicide by, for instance, accepting Abbas’ demand that it absorb 4.7 million Palestinian “refugees”?

Nor need one be “anti-peace” to recognize this. Here’s the first sentence of a column published in the left-wing Israeli paper Haaretz yesterday by its leftist, pro-peace diplomatic correspondent, Aluf Benn: “Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman is right: During the next two years Israel will not reach a permanent status agreement with the Palestinians.”

While arguing that Israel must make concessions anyway to placate world opinion, Benn articulates an important truth: “The establishment of new states arouses multigenerational conflicts” that rarely end quickly. The India-Pakistan and Cyprus conflicts, which also date back to the British Empire’s mid-20th century breakup, are still unresolved, he notes, and the Israeli-Arab conflict is no less intractable.

But were Mitchell just spouting nonsense, nobody would care. The problem is that such nonsense does active harm by raising expectations that cannot be met — then provoking a backlash of disappointment.

First, Palestinians and other Arabs routinely interpret such statements by U.S. officials as pledges to make Israel kowtow to Palestinian demands. When that doesn’t happen, it increases anti-American sentiment, entrenches disbelief in the possibility of peace (thus strengthening extremists like Hamas), and can even spark renewed anti-Israel terror, as the Camp David summit in 2000 showed.

Second, it further entrenches Israeli skepticism about peace.

Third, it will almost certainly increase anti-Israel hysteria in Europe. Unlike Israelis and Palestinians, Europeans largely share Mitchell’s conviction that peace is imminently achievable. Hence every time it fails to materialize, they seek a scapegoat. And so far, that scapegoat has always been Israel: while demanding ever more Israeli concessions, the EU has yet to publicly demand any Palestinian concessions.

There are things America could do to further peace — like finally telling the Palestinians that they, too, must compromise. But doing nothing would be better than doing active harm. And that’s what Washington is doing now.

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A Letter from President Obama to Kim Jong-il

As Jennifer noted, President Obama has written a letter to North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il. The exact contents of the letter are unknown, so I decided to just make it all up.

Dear Supreme Leader,

How are you? I am fine. Mrs. Obama is also fine. Our two children are also fine. The Vice President and his wife, too, are fine. Many members of the Cabinet are fine. We’re all fine here. Thank you for asking. Even if it wasn’t out loud but just in your mind.

It’s been some time since we last chatted, although I’m informed that was never. Nevertheless, I can’t help but think I know you somehow, although it may just be that I watched that puppet movie by the South Park guys one too many times.

Word on the street is that your country is different from ours. You have universal health care, for example (but if I’m not mistaken, no one is allowed to take ill in your nation without express written permission). Here, people can get sick whenever they want. For example, a lot of people are getting sick of me. (Just kidding.)

Anyhoo, I hear you guys don’t have a lot in the way of strip malls and basic human rights. I’d like to address that strip-mall business. Wouldn’t a nice Office Depot/Dunkin Donuts/Staples combo look just great in downtown Pyongyang? (Pyongyang does have a downtown, doesn’t it? Or did you have it shot? Kidding again. We laugh a lot in Washington. Sometimes for no apparent reason. Then we take our pills and we’re fine.) Read More

As Jennifer noted, President Obama has written a letter to North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il. The exact contents of the letter are unknown, so I decided to just make it all up.

Dear Supreme Leader,

How are you? I am fine. Mrs. Obama is also fine. Our two children are also fine. The Vice President and his wife, too, are fine. Many members of the Cabinet are fine. We’re all fine here. Thank you for asking. Even if it wasn’t out loud but just in your mind.

It’s been some time since we last chatted, although I’m informed that was never. Nevertheless, I can’t help but think I know you somehow, although it may just be that I watched that puppet movie by the South Park guys one too many times.

Word on the street is that your country is different from ours. You have universal health care, for example (but if I’m not mistaken, no one is allowed to take ill in your nation without express written permission). Here, people can get sick whenever they want. For example, a lot of people are getting sick of me. (Just kidding.)

Anyhoo, I hear you guys don’t have a lot in the way of strip malls and basic human rights. I’d like to address that strip-mall business. Wouldn’t a nice Office Depot/Dunkin Donuts/Staples combo look just great in downtown Pyongyang? (Pyongyang does have a downtown, doesn’t it? Or did you have it shot? Kidding again. We laugh a lot in Washington. Sometimes for no apparent reason. Then we take our pills and we’re fine.)

I’m looking at your country right now, in that picture the CIA World FactBook supplies. Did you know you’re right next to China? (I don’t know how much information gets to you guys from the outside. Do you Twitter? In the United States, most schoolchildren are taught that we’re next to Canada so an escape route can be drawn early in the event of a draft.)

The United States is on very friendly terms with China. In fact, we owe China lots and lots of money. Wouldn’t you like us to owe you money, too? Isn’t it better when people owe people money than when people threaten people? How does that Barbra Streisand song go? “People-e-e-e-e … people who owe people-e-e-e-e … are the luckiest people-e-e-e-e in the world-d-d-d-d.” Then there’s that one with Donna Summer: “If you’ve had enough, don’t put up with his stuff, don’t you do it-t-t-t. Now, if you’ve had your fill, get the check, pay the bill, you can do it-t-t-t!” Great stuff.

I see that your climate is “temperate with rainfall concentrated in summer.” Temperate. Let’s think about that word for a minute. Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary defines it as “existing as a prophage in infected cells and rarely causing lysis <temperate bacteriophages>.” Not very helpful, I must admit. Perhaps it means something else in North Korean. I do know what intemperate means, as when you threatened to wipe us off the map. If this were an Instant Message, I would insert a frowny-face emoticon right here. (Do you IM? Do you have emoticons? Are you allowed to express emotion in your land? Please write back soon and let me know.)

I guess I should get to my point. In November, when meeting with Mr. Lee, I urged you to just please stop doing whatever it is you’re doing. Have you gotten around to that yet? Have you stopped? Why don’t you stop? Please stop. Did you stop? Should I stop asking you to stop? Will you stop then? Please don’t stop stopping. OK, I’m going to stop now. See, I stopped. Did you? Did you stop? Please stop.

Well I have to go now. I have six TV interviews, two cover shoots, a single I’m cutting with Lady GaGa and Cornel West, and a supermarket opening to get to today. As I’m sure you understand, being a messianic figure to your people is a grind and a half. Work work work.

I know you’re an atheist Marxist dictatorship and all and don’t celebrate Christmas. We’re trying to cut back here, too. I wish there were just one generic holiday we could all enjoy and that didn’t mean anything so no one would get offended. Because when you mean things, then that only means that things are meaningful. And where does that get you? Someone has to interpret what the meaning means — and then someone disagrees with that interpretation. And then you’re offering graduate degrees in the meaning of meaning and racking up huge student-loan bills that you can only pay off by acting as a drug mule for a South American drug kingpin. And all you wanted was for someone to get you Season Two of The Big Bang Theory and leave it under the tree. Life is strange.

In any event, may the new year (do you have new years in North Korea? Or does the same year just go on and on until you just want to kill yourself?) bring our two great nations closer together, even though China keeps getting in the way.

Very best regards,

Supreme Leader Barack Obama

P.S. Under separate cover, I’m sending you a little gift. It’s a collection of great American movies on DVD. (Do you have movies over there? I believe you do, and that you’re a big fan. I read somewhere that you have 20,000 in your collection. No food but plenty of movies. Sounds like college!) I hope you don’t have these films. Meet Me in St. Louis is a wowser — tell me that isn’t a brilliant use of Technicolor. Did you know that Judy Garland almost didn’t do the film because she thought Margaret O’Brien would steal the picture? I’m also including Midway. That damn Joe Lieberman made me throw it in. What a nudge!

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Obama’s Extraordinary Irresponsibility

I wanted to follow up on the comments by Jennifer and Max regarding President Obama’s seeming inability to make a decision on General McChrystal’s request for more troops in Afghanistan. To put things in context: the McChrystal report was sent to the Obama administration at the end of August. McChrystal was emphatic in his 66-page request: “Failure to gain the initiative and reverse insurgent momentum in the near-term (next 12 months) — while Afghan security capacity matures — risks an outcome where defeating the insurgency is no longer possible.”

According to our commanding general in Afghanistan, then, we have a window of 12 months to regain the initiative or we risk losing the war. We are now approaching the middle of November — two and a half months after McChrystal’s request — and based on media reports, President Obama does not plan to accept any of the Afghanistan war options presented by his national-security team. If true — and I know from my time in the White House that what is reported sometimes reflects, rather than the thinking of the president,  the views of aides trying to influence a decision via public leaks  — this is both stunning and reckless. As one person pointed out to me, the same president who wants to ram through health-care legislation, despite the fact that we don’t face a health-care emergency, seems unable to settle on a hugely consequential, time-sensitive decision in the midst of a war.

I have not begrudged President Obama the time to carefully think through a decision on Afghanistan — but this is ridiculous. This issue should have been front and center for the administration the moment it was clear Obama won the presidency. He has already presented (in March) his “new” strategy for Afghanistan. The fact that he wants to revisit his decision may be understandable, except for the fact that his foot-dragging is now harming us. Sometimes presidents are forced to make decisions based on external events and pressing outside needs. “The public life of every political figure is a continual struggle to rescue an element of choice from the pressure of circumstance,” Henry Kissinger wrote in the first volume of his memoirs, White House Years. Governing the nation does not afford you the luxuries you have when conducting a college seminar.

President Obama not only needs to make a decision soon; once he does, assuming he does, we face the logistical challenges of getting the troops in place. Precious time has already been lost. If after all the time that’s been lost, Obama is now jettisoning all the options he has been presented with, including the McChrystal option, then what we are witnessing is extraordinarily irresponsible. Sometimes you can lose a war by not choosing. And that is the path we may well be on right now, if media reports are correct.

President Obama needs to get a grip on this process soon. Decisions need to be made and a war needs to be won.

I wanted to follow up on the comments by Jennifer and Max regarding President Obama’s seeming inability to make a decision on General McChrystal’s request for more troops in Afghanistan. To put things in context: the McChrystal report was sent to the Obama administration at the end of August. McChrystal was emphatic in his 66-page request: “Failure to gain the initiative and reverse insurgent momentum in the near-term (next 12 months) — while Afghan security capacity matures — risks an outcome where defeating the insurgency is no longer possible.”

According to our commanding general in Afghanistan, then, we have a window of 12 months to regain the initiative or we risk losing the war. We are now approaching the middle of November — two and a half months after McChrystal’s request — and based on media reports, President Obama does not plan to accept any of the Afghanistan war options presented by his national-security team. If true — and I know from my time in the White House that what is reported sometimes reflects, rather than the thinking of the president,  the views of aides trying to influence a decision via public leaks  — this is both stunning and reckless. As one person pointed out to me, the same president who wants to ram through health-care legislation, despite the fact that we don’t face a health-care emergency, seems unable to settle on a hugely consequential, time-sensitive decision in the midst of a war.

I have not begrudged President Obama the time to carefully think through a decision on Afghanistan — but this is ridiculous. This issue should have been front and center for the administration the moment it was clear Obama won the presidency. He has already presented (in March) his “new” strategy for Afghanistan. The fact that he wants to revisit his decision may be understandable, except for the fact that his foot-dragging is now harming us. Sometimes presidents are forced to make decisions based on external events and pressing outside needs. “The public life of every political figure is a continual struggle to rescue an element of choice from the pressure of circumstance,” Henry Kissinger wrote in the first volume of his memoirs, White House Years. Governing the nation does not afford you the luxuries you have when conducting a college seminar.

President Obama not only needs to make a decision soon; once he does, assuming he does, we face the logistical challenges of getting the troops in place. Precious time has already been lost. If after all the time that’s been lost, Obama is now jettisoning all the options he has been presented with, including the McChrystal option, then what we are witnessing is extraordinarily irresponsible. Sometimes you can lose a war by not choosing. And that is the path we may well be on right now, if media reports are correct.

President Obama needs to get a grip on this process soon. Decisions need to be made and a war needs to be won.

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In Defense of Hillary

Yesterday (as Jennifer noted) Sen. Hillary Clinton spoke for the first time about the association between the Rev. Jeremiah Wright and Sen. Barack Obama, saying “getting up and moving” would have been the right response to hearing Wright’s sermons. According to the Washington Post:

Wright “would not have been my pastor,” Clinton said during an interview with the conservative editorial board of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review… “You don’t choose your family, but you choose what church you want to attend,” she said. Obama refused to disavow Wright even as he said he disagreed with some of his sermons…. Clinton, speaking in Pittsburgh, cited her earlier condemnation of radio host Don Imus, after he insulted the Rutgers‘ women’s basketball team, as an example of how Obama should have reacted to his pastor’s words. “You know, I spoke out against Don Imus, saying that hate speech was unacceptable in any setting, and I believe that,” the paper quoted Clinton as saying. “I think you have to speak out against that. You certainly have to do that, if not explicitly, then implicitly by getting up and moving.”

In response Bill Burton, an Obama spokesman, said this:

After originally refusing to play politics with this issue, it’s disappointing to see Hillary Clinton’s campaign sink to this low in a transparent effort to distract attention away from the story she made up about dodging sniper fire in Bosnia. The truth is, Barack Obama has already spoken out against his pastor’s offensive comments and addressed the issue of race in America with a deeply personal and uncommonly honest speech. The American people deserve better than tired political games that do nothing to solve the larger challenges facing this country.

Actually, what Senator Clinton said is perfectly reasonable. You don’t choose your family but you do choose your church–and it’s reasonable to ask why Senator Obama chose to attend Trinity United Church of Christ. It’s even more reasonable to ask why Obama, once he was exposed to the worldview of Reverend Wright, never confronted him over his anti-American views and never left the church. That was the obvious and right thing to do. For Obama not to have done so was, in part, a failure of courage and judgment on his part.

Nor do we know what “fierce” and “controversial” things Wright said from the pulpit that Obama now admits to having heard and with which he strongly disagreed. What did Reverend Wright say, and when did he say it? Those questions are certainly legitimate and answerable.

There is nothing “low” in what Mrs. Clinton said. What is unfolding is a transparent attempt by the Obama campaign, in conjunction with some in the media, to declare the Wright matter off-limits–to argue that (a) Obama’s Philadelphia speech put the matter to rest; (b) Obama is the victim of a smear campaign; (c) he should be left alone so he can lead our desperately important national conversation on race; and (d) those who continue to press the Wright matter are attempting to swiftboat Obama.

These complaints are not logically sustainable. Try as they might, Obama’s defenders in the campaign and the media will not succeed in putting an end to this matter. If it can be done, only Obama himself can do it. And so far, he’s failed. His long, close association with the hate-spewing Jeremiah Wright remains, and rightly so, a stain on Barack Obama.

Yesterday (as Jennifer noted) Sen. Hillary Clinton spoke for the first time about the association between the Rev. Jeremiah Wright and Sen. Barack Obama, saying “getting up and moving” would have been the right response to hearing Wright’s sermons. According to the Washington Post:

Wright “would not have been my pastor,” Clinton said during an interview with the conservative editorial board of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review… “You don’t choose your family, but you choose what church you want to attend,” she said. Obama refused to disavow Wright even as he said he disagreed with some of his sermons…. Clinton, speaking in Pittsburgh, cited her earlier condemnation of radio host Don Imus, after he insulted the Rutgers‘ women’s basketball team, as an example of how Obama should have reacted to his pastor’s words. “You know, I spoke out against Don Imus, saying that hate speech was unacceptable in any setting, and I believe that,” the paper quoted Clinton as saying. “I think you have to speak out against that. You certainly have to do that, if not explicitly, then implicitly by getting up and moving.”

In response Bill Burton, an Obama spokesman, said this:

After originally refusing to play politics with this issue, it’s disappointing to see Hillary Clinton’s campaign sink to this low in a transparent effort to distract attention away from the story she made up about dodging sniper fire in Bosnia. The truth is, Barack Obama has already spoken out against his pastor’s offensive comments and addressed the issue of race in America with a deeply personal and uncommonly honest speech. The American people deserve better than tired political games that do nothing to solve the larger challenges facing this country.

Actually, what Senator Clinton said is perfectly reasonable. You don’t choose your family but you do choose your church–and it’s reasonable to ask why Senator Obama chose to attend Trinity United Church of Christ. It’s even more reasonable to ask why Obama, once he was exposed to the worldview of Reverend Wright, never confronted him over his anti-American views and never left the church. That was the obvious and right thing to do. For Obama not to have done so was, in part, a failure of courage and judgment on his part.

Nor do we know what “fierce” and “controversial” things Wright said from the pulpit that Obama now admits to having heard and with which he strongly disagreed. What did Reverend Wright say, and when did he say it? Those questions are certainly legitimate and answerable.

There is nothing “low” in what Mrs. Clinton said. What is unfolding is a transparent attempt by the Obama campaign, in conjunction with some in the media, to declare the Wright matter off-limits–to argue that (a) Obama’s Philadelphia speech put the matter to rest; (b) Obama is the victim of a smear campaign; (c) he should be left alone so he can lead our desperately important national conversation on race; and (d) those who continue to press the Wright matter are attempting to swiftboat Obama.

These complaints are not logically sustainable. Try as they might, Obama’s defenders in the campaign and the media will not succeed in putting an end to this matter. If it can be done, only Obama himself can do it. And so far, he’s failed. His long, close association with the hate-spewing Jeremiah Wright remains, and rightly so, a stain on Barack Obama.

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