Commentary Magazine


Topic: New Year’s Day

Politico Swallows New White House Spin on Israel

It’s a new year and a somewhat new crew running things at the White House, what with Rahm Emanuel and David Axelrod gone, so it’s to be expected that we’re now getting a new spin about the Middle East from their successors. That’s the only way to interpret Ben Smith’s somewhat puzzling article in Politico today.

In the wake of the collapse of the administration’s last incompetent effort to get the Palestinians back to the negotiating table, there’s little question about the piece’s conclusion that the peace process is dead in the water. No one should be surprised that the president’s spin masters are attempting to absolve the president and his foreign-policy team of all blame for the Middle East failures that have marked their two years in office. But it is astonishing that Smith, who has been covering them during this period, has swallowed whole their absurd rewriting of the history of this period.

The main point of the piece seems to be that the White House is fed up with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. According to Smith, after two years of trying to “give Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu the benefit of the doubt as a prospective peace partner,” they’ve had it with him. Netanyahu’s “intransigence,” Smith writes, is chiefly responsible for the collapse of American diplomacy, though he — and his highly placed sources — concedes that the feckless Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas is no better. The conclusion is that Obama is giving up on the whole thing, since the chances “of a personal alliance growing between the Israeli leader and President Barack Obama to be just about zero.”

This makes for a neat narrative designed to make Obama look good, but only rings true if you haven’t been paying the slightest attention to U.S.-Israel relations since January 2009.

Contrary to Smith, if there has been one consistent point about the administration’s attitude toward Israel during this period, it has been its hostility to Netanyahu. From the start, Obama, who prior to his election claimed to be all right with Israel but not with Netanyahu’s Likud Party, showed his dissatisfaction with the outcome of the Israeli vote in February 2009. Rather than seek a common strategy to revive a peace process that had crashed in 2008, when Abbas refused Netanyahu’s predecessor Ehud Olmert’s offer of a Palestinian state, Obama was determined to create some distance between the United States and Israel. Though the Palestinians had already conceded that most Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem would stay under Israeli control even as they rejected Israel’s offer of peace, Obama drew a new line in the sand. The president demanded that Israel freeze all building, even in areas — like Jerusalem — where everyone knew that Israel would not retreat even in the event of peace. Finding themselves outflanked, the Palestinians had to similarly dig in their heels, and the last two years of failed attempts to get them back to the negotiating table were the inevitable result. Read More

It’s a new year and a somewhat new crew running things at the White House, what with Rahm Emanuel and David Axelrod gone, so it’s to be expected that we’re now getting a new spin about the Middle East from their successors. That’s the only way to interpret Ben Smith’s somewhat puzzling article in Politico today.

In the wake of the collapse of the administration’s last incompetent effort to get the Palestinians back to the negotiating table, there’s little question about the piece’s conclusion that the peace process is dead in the water. No one should be surprised that the president’s spin masters are attempting to absolve the president and his foreign-policy team of all blame for the Middle East failures that have marked their two years in office. But it is astonishing that Smith, who has been covering them during this period, has swallowed whole their absurd rewriting of the history of this period.

The main point of the piece seems to be that the White House is fed up with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. According to Smith, after two years of trying to “give Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu the benefit of the doubt as a prospective peace partner,” they’ve had it with him. Netanyahu’s “intransigence,” Smith writes, is chiefly responsible for the collapse of American diplomacy, though he — and his highly placed sources — concedes that the feckless Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas is no better. The conclusion is that Obama is giving up on the whole thing, since the chances “of a personal alliance growing between the Israeli leader and President Barack Obama to be just about zero.”

This makes for a neat narrative designed to make Obama look good, but only rings true if you haven’t been paying the slightest attention to U.S.-Israel relations since January 2009.

Contrary to Smith, if there has been one consistent point about the administration’s attitude toward Israel during this period, it has been its hostility to Netanyahu. From the start, Obama, who prior to his election claimed to be all right with Israel but not with Netanyahu’s Likud Party, showed his dissatisfaction with the outcome of the Israeli vote in February 2009. Rather than seek a common strategy to revive a peace process that had crashed in 2008, when Abbas refused Netanyahu’s predecessor Ehud Olmert’s offer of a Palestinian state, Obama was determined to create some distance between the United States and Israel. Though the Palestinians had already conceded that most Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem would stay under Israeli control even as they rejected Israel’s offer of peace, Obama drew a new line in the sand. The president demanded that Israel freeze all building, even in areas — like Jerusalem — where everyone knew that Israel would not retreat even in the event of peace. Finding themselves outflanked, the Palestinians had to similarly dig in their heels, and the last two years of failed attempts to get them back to the negotiating table were the inevitable result.

Obama’s first attempts to outmaneuver Netanyahu seemed to be based on a foolish hope that the prime minister would be forced into a coalition with the American favorite Tzipi Livni or out of office altogether. Rather than being weakened by this, Netanyahu gained strength. In the spring of 2010, Obama tried again when he deliberately picked a fight with Israel over the construction of new homes in existing Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem. The White House and the State Department subjected Netanyahu to an unprecedented campaign of abuse, but the result was no different than their previous efforts. Soon Obama was forced to back down and resort to a charm offensive aimed at damping down criticism from American Jews.

Rather than take responsibility for their own mistakes and the president’s relentless hostility to Netanyahu — whose grip on his parliamentary majority is stronger than ever — all we’re getting from the White House is more negative spin about Israel. But in order to believe a word of it, you’ve got to be afflicted with the sort of short-term memory loss that is the premise of Ben Smith’s article.

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Morning Commentary

As Max Boot noted yesterday, the assassination of Salman Taseer highlights the rise of Islamic extremists in Pakistan, who have been gaining power in the country despite the fact that their views aren’t shared by the majority of Pakistanis: “Yet in a country where Taliban militants increasingly flex their muscles through bombings, religious hard-liners have great power to intimidate even though polls show that their views are not widely shared. Last week’s strike by Islamic organizations drew few supporters to the streets, but shops in major cities closed – and many merchants said they did so under threat.”

Politico reports that Robert Gibbs’s days as White House press secretary may be numbered. Gibbs is apparently considering stepping aside within the next few weeks to concentrate on handling media strategy for President Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign.

At the Guardian, Sohrab Ahmari’s writes an excellent takedown of Stephen Kinzer’s recent column on human rights “imperialism”: “But it is Kinzer’s extreme cultural relativism that makes his argument against the human rights community particularly troubling. For he is effectively implying that some people deserve fewer individual rights than others.”

Days after dozens of Egyptian Christians were murdered in a terrorist attack during Mass, supporters of the victims protest peacefully in Cairo: “Hundreds of supporters of Egyptian Christians protesting a New Year’s bombing that killed nearly two dozen of their members marched Tuesday night on a church in a Cairo suburb, where they were met by an equal number of security officers in riot gear.”

Say what you will about Saudi Arabia’s counterterrorism efforts — its intelligence service is top notch. While most spy agencies focus on tracking down human moles, the Saudis are concentrating on their avian counterparts.

As Max Boot noted yesterday, the assassination of Salman Taseer highlights the rise of Islamic extremists in Pakistan, who have been gaining power in the country despite the fact that their views aren’t shared by the majority of Pakistanis: “Yet in a country where Taliban militants increasingly flex their muscles through bombings, religious hard-liners have great power to intimidate even though polls show that their views are not widely shared. Last week’s strike by Islamic organizations drew few supporters to the streets, but shops in major cities closed – and many merchants said they did so under threat.”

Politico reports that Robert Gibbs’s days as White House press secretary may be numbered. Gibbs is apparently considering stepping aside within the next few weeks to concentrate on handling media strategy for President Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign.

At the Guardian, Sohrab Ahmari’s writes an excellent takedown of Stephen Kinzer’s recent column on human rights “imperialism”: “But it is Kinzer’s extreme cultural relativism that makes his argument against the human rights community particularly troubling. For he is effectively implying that some people deserve fewer individual rights than others.”

Days after dozens of Egyptian Christians were murdered in a terrorist attack during Mass, supporters of the victims protest peacefully in Cairo: “Hundreds of supporters of Egyptian Christians protesting a New Year’s bombing that killed nearly two dozen of their members marched Tuesday night on a church in a Cairo suburb, where they were met by an equal number of security officers in riot gear.”

Say what you will about Saudi Arabia’s counterterrorism efforts — its intelligence service is top notch. While most spy agencies focus on tracking down human moles, the Saudis are concentrating on their avian counterparts.

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The Persecution of Christians in the Middle East

At Saints Church in Alexandria, Egypt, 21 Coptic Christians were killed and nearly 100 wounded at a New Year’s Mass bombing. “The last thing I heard was a powerful explosion and then my ears went deaf,” Marco Boutros, 17, said from his hospital bed where he was being treated for wounds. “All I could see were body parts scattered all over, legs and bits of flesh.”

The New York Times reports:

The bombing early on Saturday morning climaxed the bloodiest year in four decades of sectarian tensions in Egypt, beginning with a Muslim gunman’s killings of nine people outside another midnight Mass, at a church in the city of Nag Hammadi on Jan. 6, the Coptic Christmas.

Analysts said the weekend bombing was in a sense the culmination of a long escalation of violence against Egypt’s Coptic Christians, who make up about 10 percent of the population. But at the same time the blast’s planning and scale – a suicide bomber evidently detonated a locally made explosive device packed with nails and other shrapnel, the authorities said Sunday – were a break with the smaller episodes of intra-communal violence that have marked Muslim-Christian relations for the past decade.

Egyptian officials believe the attacks seemed at least inspired by al-Qaeda or other terrorist groups; Egyptian President Hosni Mubarack said it was the work of “foreign fingers.” But the attack may have been executed by local Egyptians. And writing after the bombing on Ahram Online, its editor, Hani Shukrallah, penned these powerful, ominous words:

We are to join in a chorus of condemnation. Jointly, Muslims and Christians, government and opposition, Church and Mosque, clerics and laypeople — all of us are going to stand up and with a single voice declare unequivocal denunciation of al-Qaeda, Islamist militants, and Muslim fanatics of every shade, hue and color; some of us will even go the extra mile to denounce salafi Islam, Islamic fundamentalism as a whole, and the Wahabi Islam which, presumably, is a Saudi import wholly alien to our Egyptian national culture.

And once again we’re going to declare the eternal unity of “the twin elements of the nation,” and hearken back the Revolution of 1919, with its hoisted banner showing the crescent embracing the cross, and giving symbolic expression to that unbreakable bond.

Much of it will be sheer hypocrisy; a great deal of it will be variously nuanced so as keep, just below the surface, the heaps of narrow-minded prejudice, flagrant double standard and, indeed, bigotry that holds in its grip so many of the participants in the condemnations.

All of it will be to no avail. We’ve been here before; we’ve done exactly that, yet the massacres continue, each more horrible than the one before it, and the bigotry and intolerance spread deeper and wider into every nook and cranny of our society. It is not easy to empty Egypt of its Christians; they’ve been here for as long as there has been Christianity in the world. Close to a millennium and half of Muslim rule did not eradicate the nation’s Christian community, rather it maintained it sufficiently strong and sufficiently vigorous so as to play a crucial role in shaping the national, political and cultural identity of modern Egypt.

Yet now, two centuries after the birth of the modern Egyptian nation state, and as we embark on the second decade of the 21stcentury, the previously unheard of seems no longer beyond imagining: a Christian-free Egypt, one where the cross will have slipped out of the crescent’s embrace, and off the flag symbolizing our modern national identity. I hope that if and when that day comes I will have been long dead, but dead or alive, this will be an Egypt which I do not recognize and to which I have no desire to belong.

These attacks in Egypt come amid a new campaign of violence against Iraqi Christians, who are being forced to flee to northern Iraq or abroad because of growing fear that the country’s security forces are unable or unwilling to protect them. Read More

At Saints Church in Alexandria, Egypt, 21 Coptic Christians were killed and nearly 100 wounded at a New Year’s Mass bombing. “The last thing I heard was a powerful explosion and then my ears went deaf,” Marco Boutros, 17, said from his hospital bed where he was being treated for wounds. “All I could see were body parts scattered all over, legs and bits of flesh.”

The New York Times reports:

The bombing early on Saturday morning climaxed the bloodiest year in four decades of sectarian tensions in Egypt, beginning with a Muslim gunman’s killings of nine people outside another midnight Mass, at a church in the city of Nag Hammadi on Jan. 6, the Coptic Christmas.

Analysts said the weekend bombing was in a sense the culmination of a long escalation of violence against Egypt’s Coptic Christians, who make up about 10 percent of the population. But at the same time the blast’s planning and scale – a suicide bomber evidently detonated a locally made explosive device packed with nails and other shrapnel, the authorities said Sunday – were a break with the smaller episodes of intra-communal violence that have marked Muslim-Christian relations for the past decade.

Egyptian officials believe the attacks seemed at least inspired by al-Qaeda or other terrorist groups; Egyptian President Hosni Mubarack said it was the work of “foreign fingers.” But the attack may have been executed by local Egyptians. And writing after the bombing on Ahram Online, its editor, Hani Shukrallah, penned these powerful, ominous words:

We are to join in a chorus of condemnation. Jointly, Muslims and Christians, government and opposition, Church and Mosque, clerics and laypeople — all of us are going to stand up and with a single voice declare unequivocal denunciation of al-Qaeda, Islamist militants, and Muslim fanatics of every shade, hue and color; some of us will even go the extra mile to denounce salafi Islam, Islamic fundamentalism as a whole, and the Wahabi Islam which, presumably, is a Saudi import wholly alien to our Egyptian national culture.

And once again we’re going to declare the eternal unity of “the twin elements of the nation,” and hearken back the Revolution of 1919, with its hoisted banner showing the crescent embracing the cross, and giving symbolic expression to that unbreakable bond.

Much of it will be sheer hypocrisy; a great deal of it will be variously nuanced so as keep, just below the surface, the heaps of narrow-minded prejudice, flagrant double standard and, indeed, bigotry that holds in its grip so many of the participants in the condemnations.

All of it will be to no avail. We’ve been here before; we’ve done exactly that, yet the massacres continue, each more horrible than the one before it, and the bigotry and intolerance spread deeper and wider into every nook and cranny of our society. It is not easy to empty Egypt of its Christians; they’ve been here for as long as there has been Christianity in the world. Close to a millennium and half of Muslim rule did not eradicate the nation’s Christian community, rather it maintained it sufficiently strong and sufficiently vigorous so as to play a crucial role in shaping the national, political and cultural identity of modern Egypt.

Yet now, two centuries after the birth of the modern Egyptian nation state, and as we embark on the second decade of the 21stcentury, the previously unheard of seems no longer beyond imagining: a Christian-free Egypt, one where the cross will have slipped out of the crescent’s embrace, and off the flag symbolizing our modern national identity. I hope that if and when that day comes I will have been long dead, but dead or alive, this will be an Egypt which I do not recognize and to which I have no desire to belong.

These attacks in Egypt come amid a new campaign of violence against Iraqi Christians, who are being forced to flee to northern Iraq or abroad because of growing fear that the country’s security forces are unable or unwilling to protect them.

This is a deeply disquieting turn of of events. One of the challenges of Muslim societies is to show that they are able to co-exist with, and respect the rights of, Christian minorities. In many Islamic societies, like Saudi Arabia, the record is beyond dismal. And now some nations, like Egypt and Iraq, appear to be moving in the wrong direction, with persecution increasing.

This matter is complicated by the fact that in both Egypt and Iraq, the governments are speaking out against Christian persecution. But the question is whether there is sufficient will to enforce the words of empathy and outrage. It’s far from clear that it is.

On the matter of persecution, those of the Christian faith were warned by their founder, “If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.” The Cross is an offense, St. Paul wrote in the book of Corinthians. “Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you,” St. Peter, who was martyred in Rome during the reign of Nero, wrote. “But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy.”

These are comforting words for a persecuted people. And whatever exceeding joy may await those whose blood has been shed because of their faith, governments, including our own, have an obligation to take steps to protect the basic rights of their citizens — people of all faiths and people of no faith at all. Those in position of authority need to do much more than they are to protect those enduring the fiery trial. Certainly religious persecution needs to rise as a priority of American foreign policy.

As one Egyptian worshipper said on Saturday, “Why would my son or brother go to celebrate the mass by prayer, not by drinking or doing drugs or anything like that, but by praying in the church, and then this would happen to them at the church gate? What religion or law, whatever it is, would approve what happened [at Saints Church]?”

That is a question all civilized nations should grapple with as the persecution of faithful Christians intensifies the world over.

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Morning Commentary

So how’s that “reset” with Russia going? Turns out the U.S.’s light criticism of Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s six-year prison sentence last week did little to faze the Kremlin. Russian police arrested 130 protesters during a New Year’s Eve demonstration against the Khodorkovsky verdict and the country’s prohibition of free assembly.

Greece and the state of California have two things in common — spiraling debt and an unwillingness to take responsibility for it. According to Victor Davis Hanson, it’s no coincidence that both populations can’t stop railing against “them” — the others who apparently created the financial messes Greece and California now face. Writes Hanson: “Oz is over with and the Greeks are furious at ‘them.’ Furious in the sense that everyone must be blamed except themselves. So they protest and demonstrate that they do not wish to stop borrowing money to sustain a lifestyle that they have not earned—but do not wish to cut ties either with their EU beneficiaries and go it alone as in the 1970s. So they rage against reality.”

Over at the Wall Street Journal, Jamie Kirchick calls out Julian Assange for leaking information that has served only to weaken our democracy-supporting allies, such as Zimbabwe Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai: “Which leads us back to WikiLeaks and Mr. Assange, who lacks any appreciation for the subtleties of international statecraft, many of which are not at all devious. If Mr. Assange were genuinely committed to democracy, as he claims, he would reveal the minutes of Mr. Mugabe’s war cabinet, or the private musings of the Chinese Politburo that has sustained the Zimbabwean dictator for over three decades.”

Is Obama now cribbing speech tips from the National Review? Bill Kristol has the scoop on the president’s sudden appreciation for American exceptionalism.

With a new year comes a whole host of brand new state laws you may have already unwittingly broken. If you’re from California, check out Mark Hemingway’s post at the Washington Examiner — he has saved you the time of going through the Golden State’s 725 new laws by highlighting the ones that will probably irk you the most.

The incoming Republican chair of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Rep. Darrell Issa, told Ed Henry on CNN yesterday that he won’t investigate whether President Obama offered Joe Sestak a position in the administration in exchange for dropping out of the Democratic Senate primary in Pennsylvania last year: “That’s — it was wrong if it was done in the Bush administration. It’s wrong in the Obama administration. But remember, the focus of our committee has always been, and you look at all the work I’ve done over the past four years on the oversight committee; it has been consistently about looking for waste, fraud and abuse. That’s the vast majority of what we do,” Issa told Henry. Issa had previously called the Sestak incident “Obama’s Watergate” and said that the Obama administration may have committed “up to three felonies” by making the deal.

So how’s that “reset” with Russia going? Turns out the U.S.’s light criticism of Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s six-year prison sentence last week did little to faze the Kremlin. Russian police arrested 130 protesters during a New Year’s Eve demonstration against the Khodorkovsky verdict and the country’s prohibition of free assembly.

Greece and the state of California have two things in common — spiraling debt and an unwillingness to take responsibility for it. According to Victor Davis Hanson, it’s no coincidence that both populations can’t stop railing against “them” — the others who apparently created the financial messes Greece and California now face. Writes Hanson: “Oz is over with and the Greeks are furious at ‘them.’ Furious in the sense that everyone must be blamed except themselves. So they protest and demonstrate that they do not wish to stop borrowing money to sustain a lifestyle that they have not earned—but do not wish to cut ties either with their EU beneficiaries and go it alone as in the 1970s. So they rage against reality.”

Over at the Wall Street Journal, Jamie Kirchick calls out Julian Assange for leaking information that has served only to weaken our democracy-supporting allies, such as Zimbabwe Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai: “Which leads us back to WikiLeaks and Mr. Assange, who lacks any appreciation for the subtleties of international statecraft, many of which are not at all devious. If Mr. Assange were genuinely committed to democracy, as he claims, he would reveal the minutes of Mr. Mugabe’s war cabinet, or the private musings of the Chinese Politburo that has sustained the Zimbabwean dictator for over three decades.”

Is Obama now cribbing speech tips from the National Review? Bill Kristol has the scoop on the president’s sudden appreciation for American exceptionalism.

With a new year comes a whole host of brand new state laws you may have already unwittingly broken. If you’re from California, check out Mark Hemingway’s post at the Washington Examiner — he has saved you the time of going through the Golden State’s 725 new laws by highlighting the ones that will probably irk you the most.

The incoming Republican chair of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Rep. Darrell Issa, told Ed Henry on CNN yesterday that he won’t investigate whether President Obama offered Joe Sestak a position in the administration in exchange for dropping out of the Democratic Senate primary in Pennsylvania last year: “That’s — it was wrong if it was done in the Bush administration. It’s wrong in the Obama administration. But remember, the focus of our committee has always been, and you look at all the work I’ve done over the past four years on the oversight committee; it has been consistently about looking for waste, fraud and abuse. That’s the vast majority of what we do,” Issa told Henry. Issa had previously called the Sestak incident “Obama’s Watergate” and said that the Obama administration may have committed “up to three felonies” by making the deal.

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Evening Commentary

Libertarians often look to the Founding Fathers as political role models, but would the Founders have actually fit the modern definition of a libertarian? David Frum argues no — and writes that those who attribute this ideology to the Founders are simply ignoring history: “[I]f the libertarian impulse summons us to take action to contain and constrain that government, very well let us take up the task. But we can do that task without duping ourselves with a false history that denies the reality of the past and — ironically — belittles the Founders’ actual achievements by measuring them against standards they would surely have rejected, if they had ever understood them.”

A church in Egypt was bombed during New Year’s Mass, killing 21 and injuring dozens more. Authorities believe the attack was carried out by extremist Muslims who were inspired by al-Qaeda but not necessarily associated with the terror group.

Good news: A new “groundbreaking” research project has found that conservative brains are structured to be “fearful” and “reflexive,” while liberal brains are structured to be “courageous” and “optimistic.” Over at the New York Post, Kyle Smith discovers that this important study has cleared up some confusing discrepancies in his own life: “[Professor] Rees has the answer to why, in my Army career, I kept running into so many conceptual performance artists from San Francisco and Chelsea. Seldom did I do a push-up or clean my M16 without finding myself amid heated debate from the officer class about whether Walter Mondale or Eugene McCarthy was the most inspiring American political leader of our era.”

Government spending can actually help stimulate economic growth, argues George Will. But in order for progress to occur, this spending needs to fund the projects of society’s top scientific innovators and pioneers. “With populism rampant, this is not a propitious moment to defend elites, even scientific ones. Nevertheless, the nation depends on nourishing them and the institutions that sustain them,” writes Will.

Well, this was bound to happen eventually. Leftists at the Guardian are now openly opposing human rights: “[Human-rights groups] promote an absolutist view of human rights permeated by modern western ideas that westerners mistakenly call ‘universal.’ In some cases, their work, far from saving lives, actually causes more death, more repression, more brutality and an absolute weakening of human rights.” Yeah, who are we to oppress the people of Saudi Arabia and Iran with our imperialist idea that women shouldn’t be stoned for adultery?

Five members of Hamas have been charged in a plot to bomb a major Israeli stadium during a soccer game. Authorities say that the attack was meant to be in retaliation for Operation Cast Lead in 2008: “According to a statement from Israel’s security service, the Shin Bet, the two main suspects were identified as Mussa Hamada of East Jerusalem, and Bassem Omri, an Israeli citizen living in Beit Tzafafa. Both are members of Hamas and the ‘Muslim Brothers’ movement in Jerusalem, the Shin Bet said.”

Libertarians often look to the Founding Fathers as political role models, but would the Founders have actually fit the modern definition of a libertarian? David Frum argues no — and writes that those who attribute this ideology to the Founders are simply ignoring history: “[I]f the libertarian impulse summons us to take action to contain and constrain that government, very well let us take up the task. But we can do that task without duping ourselves with a false history that denies the reality of the past and — ironically — belittles the Founders’ actual achievements by measuring them against standards they would surely have rejected, if they had ever understood them.”

A church in Egypt was bombed during New Year’s Mass, killing 21 and injuring dozens more. Authorities believe the attack was carried out by extremist Muslims who were inspired by al-Qaeda but not necessarily associated with the terror group.

Good news: A new “groundbreaking” research project has found that conservative brains are structured to be “fearful” and “reflexive,” while liberal brains are structured to be “courageous” and “optimistic.” Over at the New York Post, Kyle Smith discovers that this important study has cleared up some confusing discrepancies in his own life: “[Professor] Rees has the answer to why, in my Army career, I kept running into so many conceptual performance artists from San Francisco and Chelsea. Seldom did I do a push-up or clean my M16 without finding myself amid heated debate from the officer class about whether Walter Mondale or Eugene McCarthy was the most inspiring American political leader of our era.”

Government spending can actually help stimulate economic growth, argues George Will. But in order for progress to occur, this spending needs to fund the projects of society’s top scientific innovators and pioneers. “With populism rampant, this is not a propitious moment to defend elites, even scientific ones. Nevertheless, the nation depends on nourishing them and the institutions that sustain them,” writes Will.

Well, this was bound to happen eventually. Leftists at the Guardian are now openly opposing human rights: “[Human-rights groups] promote an absolutist view of human rights permeated by modern western ideas that westerners mistakenly call ‘universal.’ In some cases, their work, far from saving lives, actually causes more death, more repression, more brutality and an absolute weakening of human rights.” Yeah, who are we to oppress the people of Saudi Arabia and Iran with our imperialist idea that women shouldn’t be stoned for adultery?

Five members of Hamas have been charged in a plot to bomb a major Israeli stadium during a soccer game. Authorities say that the attack was meant to be in retaliation for Operation Cast Lead in 2008: “According to a statement from Israel’s security service, the Shin Bet, the two main suspects were identified as Mussa Hamada of East Jerusalem, and Bassem Omri, an Israeli citizen living in Beit Tzafafa. Both are members of Hamas and the ‘Muslim Brothers’ movement in Jerusalem, the Shin Bet said.”

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Those Christian Zionists Are at It Again

So the evangelicals are planting trees in Israel to help with the Carmel-fire disaster-relief effort? Clearly this is some sort of Christian Zionist ploy to entice more Jews into making aliyah so that the End of Days comes faster and we can finally get to the part when the Jewish people are condemned to an eternity of hellfire. Or at least I imagine that’s how Tikkun would frame it.

From the Jewish National Fund’s press release:

Representatives of the Ministry of Tourism KKL-JNF USA have begun to work together to recruit leaders and heads of the U.S. Jewish and Evangelical Christian communities for the rehabilitation of the Carmel forest region. Already in the coming days, fundraising campaigns aimed at forest restoration will begin among the American Jewish and Evangelical Christian communities with a view to planting trees to rehabilitate the Carmel forest area during the New Year for Trees (Tu Bishvat) which falls on 20.1.11.

The Carmel blaze destroyed more than 5 million trees, so this is a welcome effort. Israel is fortunate to have the support of the Christian Zionists, especially when some other groups — such as the New Israel Fund, an organization that purports to be “pro-Israel” — spend much of their funds and energy supporting those trying to get Tzipi Livni arrested in Europe.

So the evangelicals are planting trees in Israel to help with the Carmel-fire disaster-relief effort? Clearly this is some sort of Christian Zionist ploy to entice more Jews into making aliyah so that the End of Days comes faster and we can finally get to the part when the Jewish people are condemned to an eternity of hellfire. Or at least I imagine that’s how Tikkun would frame it.

From the Jewish National Fund’s press release:

Representatives of the Ministry of Tourism KKL-JNF USA have begun to work together to recruit leaders and heads of the U.S. Jewish and Evangelical Christian communities for the rehabilitation of the Carmel forest region. Already in the coming days, fundraising campaigns aimed at forest restoration will begin among the American Jewish and Evangelical Christian communities with a view to planting trees to rehabilitate the Carmel forest area during the New Year for Trees (Tu Bishvat) which falls on 20.1.11.

The Carmel blaze destroyed more than 5 million trees, so this is a welcome effort. Israel is fortunate to have the support of the Christian Zionists, especially when some other groups — such as the New Israel Fund, an organization that purports to be “pro-Israel” — spend much of their funds and energy supporting those trying to get Tzipi Livni arrested in Europe.

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No Honor Among Pols

I am actually surprised it took this long. The Obama team has blamed foreign money, voter confusion, Karl Rove, George W. Bush, a dearth of “civility,” insufficient communication by the omnipresent chief executive, and just about everything other than its agenda for the midterm debacle. But it took them a few days to get around to the obvious fall guy: Rahm Emanuel. This report explains:

Some of them shake their heads in disbelief that Emanuel would bolt at precisely the juncture when the Democrats needed to shape their strategy and message during the homestretch of what everyone knew would be the toughest election cycle in years. …

Several lower-level White House aides say they’re still surprised that Emanuel would so readily follow his personal ambition instead of staying beside the many Democrats he helped elect in the foxhole in the final weeks of the campaign.

OK, now that’s funny. Can you imagine such blind ambition and blatant job-hopping?! Tut, tut. Aside from the unintended hilarity, there is some vague notion here that Emanuel led Obama astray:

“It was Rahm who always said, ‘We’ve just got to put points on the board,’ and that’s why we have a transactional presidency,” said one former colleague. “The only problem is that Obama is not a transactional politician. It was Rahm’s strategy and then he leaves a month before the election for his own personal political career. It’s extraordinary.”

I have no clue what a “transactional” president is — an effective one? Did Obama not want to pursue all this radical legislation? Well, whatever Emanuel did, it was very bad, and the president, who really can’t be held accountable for his own administration, is left holding the bag.

But not to fear – another political hack and true believer is on the way: “David Plouffe, who managed Obama’s campaign, is expected to join the White House early in the new year with an expansive brief.” Yes, what the White House is missing is someone who understands campaigning because the problem, you see, is a failure to communicate, and who better than the campaign chief to fix that?

I am actually surprised it took this long. The Obama team has blamed foreign money, voter confusion, Karl Rove, George W. Bush, a dearth of “civility,” insufficient communication by the omnipresent chief executive, and just about everything other than its agenda for the midterm debacle. But it took them a few days to get around to the obvious fall guy: Rahm Emanuel. This report explains:

Some of them shake their heads in disbelief that Emanuel would bolt at precisely the juncture when the Democrats needed to shape their strategy and message during the homestretch of what everyone knew would be the toughest election cycle in years. …

Several lower-level White House aides say they’re still surprised that Emanuel would so readily follow his personal ambition instead of staying beside the many Democrats he helped elect in the foxhole in the final weeks of the campaign.

OK, now that’s funny. Can you imagine such blind ambition and blatant job-hopping?! Tut, tut. Aside from the unintended hilarity, there is some vague notion here that Emanuel led Obama astray:

“It was Rahm who always said, ‘We’ve just got to put points on the board,’ and that’s why we have a transactional presidency,” said one former colleague. “The only problem is that Obama is not a transactional politician. It was Rahm’s strategy and then he leaves a month before the election for his own personal political career. It’s extraordinary.”

I have no clue what a “transactional” president is — an effective one? Did Obama not want to pursue all this radical legislation? Well, whatever Emanuel did, it was very bad, and the president, who really can’t be held accountable for his own administration, is left holding the bag.

But not to fear – another political hack and true believer is on the way: “David Plouffe, who managed Obama’s campaign, is expected to join the White House early in the new year with an expansive brief.” Yes, what the White House is missing is someone who understands campaigning because the problem, you see, is a failure to communicate, and who better than the campaign chief to fix that?

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Obama’s Chat with the Rabbis

Just before the Jewish New Year, Obama had a conference call with a group of rabbis. (These calls, by the way, are invariably cringe inducing, most especially last year’s, when Obama told them to go hawk ObamaCare from their bimas.) This time, Obama solemnly instructed the rabbis not to take seriously anything the Palestinians and Israelis say about the peace talks in public. Honestly, the talks are going great. We know, because the president is “stunned at how cordial and constructive the talks were.” I wonder if he’ll be stunned when they collapse. In other words, the fact that Abbas continues to vilify the Jewish state (presumably now both in English and Arabic) and threatens to walk out in no way indicates that he’s not serious about peace, you see.

Meanwhile, for a dose of reality, Charles Krauthammer explained to us why Mahmoud Abbas has zero incentive to stick it out:

You don’t need to be prescient to see that coming. Abbas has already announced that is what he’ll do. That would solve all of Abbas’s problems. It would obviate signing on to a final settlement, fend off Hamas and make Israel the fall guy. The trifecta. Why not walk out? The world, which already condemns Israel even for self-defense, will be only too eager to blame Israel for the negotiation breakdown. And there is growing pressure to create a Palestinian state even if the talks fail — i.e., even if the Palestinians make no concessions at all. So why make any?

Too bad the president and rabbis didn’t discuss that, nor presumably the real threat to Israel’s and our security — the looming possibility of a nuclear-armed Iran.

Just before the Jewish New Year, Obama had a conference call with a group of rabbis. (These calls, by the way, are invariably cringe inducing, most especially last year’s, when Obama told them to go hawk ObamaCare from their bimas.) This time, Obama solemnly instructed the rabbis not to take seriously anything the Palestinians and Israelis say about the peace talks in public. Honestly, the talks are going great. We know, because the president is “stunned at how cordial and constructive the talks were.” I wonder if he’ll be stunned when they collapse. In other words, the fact that Abbas continues to vilify the Jewish state (presumably now both in English and Arabic) and threatens to walk out in no way indicates that he’s not serious about peace, you see.

Meanwhile, for a dose of reality, Charles Krauthammer explained to us why Mahmoud Abbas has zero incentive to stick it out:

You don’t need to be prescient to see that coming. Abbas has already announced that is what he’ll do. That would solve all of Abbas’s problems. It would obviate signing on to a final settlement, fend off Hamas and make Israel the fall guy. The trifecta. Why not walk out? The world, which already condemns Israel even for self-defense, will be only too eager to blame Israel for the negotiation breakdown. And there is growing pressure to create a Palestinian state even if the talks fail — i.e., even if the Palestinians make no concessions at all. So why make any?

Too bad the president and rabbis didn’t discuss that, nor presumably the real threat to Israel’s and our security — the looming possibility of a nuclear-armed Iran.

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Holiday Note

To observe the Jewish New Year and the Sabbath immediately following, there will be no new Contentions posting until Sunday. While you wait, go back to our home page and read some of the great stuff there, like Kenneth Marcus’s eye-opening article on the way anti-Semitism is dealt with on college campuses and Daniel Gordis’s stunning evisceration of Time magazine’s anti-Semitic cover story. May you have a sweet New Year.

To observe the Jewish New Year and the Sabbath immediately following, there will be no new Contentions posting until Sunday. While you wait, go back to our home page and read some of the great stuff there, like Kenneth Marcus’s eye-opening article on the way anti-Semitism is dealt with on college campuses and Daniel Gordis’s stunning evisceration of Time magazine’s anti-Semitic cover story. May you have a sweet New Year.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

How dumb does Obama think businessmen are? “The White House has launched a coordinated campaign to push back against the perception taking hold in corporate America and on Wall Street that President Barack Obama is promoting an anti-business agenda.” Besides, wasn’t his populist, anti–Wall Street rhetoric supposed to be the key to minimizing midterm losses?

How upset do you think the White House is that the West Virginia governor has put another Senate seat at risk? “West Virginia Attorney General Darrell McGraw (D) cleared the way for Gov. Joe Manchin (D) to call a November 2010 special election for the late Sen. Robert Byrd’s (D-W.Va.) seat. The legal opinion McGraw issued Thursday did not give a specific timeline for a special election, but suggests using the already scheduled election this November.”

How slow do you think things are in Washington if the Politico forum is about whether Sarah Palin should replace Michael Steele? Yeah, like she needs, or would ever contemplate taking, that job.

How nervous do you think this Sarah Palin ad made the 2012 GOP contenders? Whatever you think of her, the ad is really good.

How much weight do you think the neo-isolationists and paleo-conservatives have in the GOP? Not much right now if Ann Coulter and Ron Paul are the only pro–Michael Steele voices. But Republicans should be wary — there is always the temptation to pull up the drawbridge.

How angry do you think Americans will be with Obama when they realize this? (More than they already are, that is): “After nearly a decade of federal tax cuts, Americans could awaken New Year’s Day with a whopper of a hangover. Breaks covering everything from child tax credits to the death tax are set to expire that day, less than six months from now, bringing higher payments for nearly every American who pays taxes. ‘We’ve never in history seen anything quite like this, where such a major portion of the tax code is set to expire on a single date and affect so many Americans all at once,’ said Scott Hodge, president of The Tax Foundation, a Washington nonprofit that tracks tax policies.”

How much trouble do you think Obama is in when Ruth Marcus sounds like John Podhoretz?

How many GOP 2012 candidates do you think will take this smart advice on immigration reform from Charles Krauthammer?It seems to me that the Republicans ought to argue enforcement first — and then a very generous, open and humane solution for those already here.” Not enough, I fear.

How dumb does Obama think businessmen are? “The White House has launched a coordinated campaign to push back against the perception taking hold in corporate America and on Wall Street that President Barack Obama is promoting an anti-business agenda.” Besides, wasn’t his populist, anti–Wall Street rhetoric supposed to be the key to minimizing midterm losses?

How upset do you think the White House is that the West Virginia governor has put another Senate seat at risk? “West Virginia Attorney General Darrell McGraw (D) cleared the way for Gov. Joe Manchin (D) to call a November 2010 special election for the late Sen. Robert Byrd’s (D-W.Va.) seat. The legal opinion McGraw issued Thursday did not give a specific timeline for a special election, but suggests using the already scheduled election this November.”

How slow do you think things are in Washington if the Politico forum is about whether Sarah Palin should replace Michael Steele? Yeah, like she needs, or would ever contemplate taking, that job.

How nervous do you think this Sarah Palin ad made the 2012 GOP contenders? Whatever you think of her, the ad is really good.

How much weight do you think the neo-isolationists and paleo-conservatives have in the GOP? Not much right now if Ann Coulter and Ron Paul are the only pro–Michael Steele voices. But Republicans should be wary — there is always the temptation to pull up the drawbridge.

How angry do you think Americans will be with Obama when they realize this? (More than they already are, that is): “After nearly a decade of federal tax cuts, Americans could awaken New Year’s Day with a whopper of a hangover. Breaks covering everything from child tax credits to the death tax are set to expire that day, less than six months from now, bringing higher payments for nearly every American who pays taxes. ‘We’ve never in history seen anything quite like this, where such a major portion of the tax code is set to expire on a single date and affect so many Americans all at once,’ said Scott Hodge, president of The Tax Foundation, a Washington nonprofit that tracks tax policies.”

How much trouble do you think Obama is in when Ruth Marcus sounds like John Podhoretz?

How many GOP 2012 candidates do you think will take this smart advice on immigration reform from Charles Krauthammer?It seems to me that the Republicans ought to argue enforcement first — and then a very generous, open and humane solution for those already here.” Not enough, I fear.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Another conservative woman drives the media elite around the bend: “Like father, like daughter, it seems. Much as Dick Cheney staked out the far right wing of the Bush administration, winning the respect and gratitude of GOP hawks despite his low popularity nationwide, Liz seems eager to make her reputation by unnerving her party’s moderates.”

Another reminder from James Capretta and Yuval Levin on the dangers of ObamaCare: “The heart of the Democratic plan is a promise to provide subsidized insurance coverage to some 35 to 40 million people. This will cost about $200 billion per year by 2019. And despite all of the talk of bending the cost curve, the Congressional Budget Office says the price will grow by 8 percent per year every year thereafter—which parallels the rapid cost growth of Medicare and Medicaid over the last four decades. In other words, the White House and congressional Democrats want to create another runaway entitlement program, piled on top of the unaffordable ones that are already slated to bankrupt the government.”

Another smart point by COMMENTARY contributor Tevi Troy: “Contrary to the conventional wisdom, health care has been a poor issue for the Democrats. A step by step approach works far better politically than attempting to redo the whole system. Given this history, Democrats interested in their political survival, not to mention the state of our health care system, should be very wary of voting yes.” And yet so many seem intent on committing political suicide.

Another way of looking at the Democratic civil war on health care, from CATO’s Michael Cannon: “The Democrats’ dogged, bloodthirsty crusade for universal coverage has been possible only because the wonks have seduced or silenced the hacks within the Democratic party. It appears the hacks may be ready to launch a rebellion.” By “hacks” he means the poor shlubs who run for office or help others to.

Another questionable Obama nominee: “Senate Republicans are preparing to challenge President Obama’s nominee for ambassador to El Salvador over her previous ties to an alleged asset of Cuban intelligence. Lawyer Mari Carmen Aponte was previously nominated to be an ambassador under President Bill Clinton, but withdrew her name from consideration after reports of her relationship with Cuban national Roberto Tamayo surfaced. … Tamayo, with whom she co-habitated for eight years starting in 1986, was an asset to the Cuban intelligence agency DGI. Former Cuban intelligence agent and defector Florentino Aspillaga also alleged Tamayo tried to recruit Aponte.” There was no other qualified nominee?

Another report suggesting that ObamaCare is a tough sell with wary Democrats: “House Democratic leaders don’t have the votes to pass healthcare reform. At least not yet. Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has expressed confidence that when push comes to shove, healthcare reform will pass Congress. But there will be plenty of pushing in the days ahead. Pelosi is clearly down in the vote count. Thirty-four House Democrats are either firm no votes or leaning no, according to The Hill’s whip list. Dozens more are undecided. Pelosi is clearly down in the vote count. Thirty-four House Democrats are either firm no votes or leaning no, according to The Hill’s whip list. Dozens more are undecided.”

Another foolish thing the Obami could do on Iran: send another New Year’s greeting to the mullahs!

Another example of what passes for “transparency” in this administration: “At Friday’s White House briefing, press secretary Robert Gibbs was asked, for the fifth time in less than three weeks, about Democratic Rep. Joe Sestak’s charge that the White House offered Sestak a high-ranking job if Sestak would drop his challenge to Democratic Sen. Arlen Specter in Pennsylvania. And for the fifth time, Gibbs refused to answer the question of whether the White House offered a bribe to protect the fortunes of a key political ally.”

Another conservative woman drives the media elite around the bend: “Like father, like daughter, it seems. Much as Dick Cheney staked out the far right wing of the Bush administration, winning the respect and gratitude of GOP hawks despite his low popularity nationwide, Liz seems eager to make her reputation by unnerving her party’s moderates.”

Another reminder from James Capretta and Yuval Levin on the dangers of ObamaCare: “The heart of the Democratic plan is a promise to provide subsidized insurance coverage to some 35 to 40 million people. This will cost about $200 billion per year by 2019. And despite all of the talk of bending the cost curve, the Congressional Budget Office says the price will grow by 8 percent per year every year thereafter—which parallels the rapid cost growth of Medicare and Medicaid over the last four decades. In other words, the White House and congressional Democrats want to create another runaway entitlement program, piled on top of the unaffordable ones that are already slated to bankrupt the government.”

Another smart point by COMMENTARY contributor Tevi Troy: “Contrary to the conventional wisdom, health care has been a poor issue for the Democrats. A step by step approach works far better politically than attempting to redo the whole system. Given this history, Democrats interested in their political survival, not to mention the state of our health care system, should be very wary of voting yes.” And yet so many seem intent on committing political suicide.

Another way of looking at the Democratic civil war on health care, from CATO’s Michael Cannon: “The Democrats’ dogged, bloodthirsty crusade for universal coverage has been possible only because the wonks have seduced or silenced the hacks within the Democratic party. It appears the hacks may be ready to launch a rebellion.” By “hacks” he means the poor shlubs who run for office or help others to.

Another questionable Obama nominee: “Senate Republicans are preparing to challenge President Obama’s nominee for ambassador to El Salvador over her previous ties to an alleged asset of Cuban intelligence. Lawyer Mari Carmen Aponte was previously nominated to be an ambassador under President Bill Clinton, but withdrew her name from consideration after reports of her relationship with Cuban national Roberto Tamayo surfaced. … Tamayo, with whom she co-habitated for eight years starting in 1986, was an asset to the Cuban intelligence agency DGI. Former Cuban intelligence agent and defector Florentino Aspillaga also alleged Tamayo tried to recruit Aponte.” There was no other qualified nominee?

Another report suggesting that ObamaCare is a tough sell with wary Democrats: “House Democratic leaders don’t have the votes to pass healthcare reform. At least not yet. Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has expressed confidence that when push comes to shove, healthcare reform will pass Congress. But there will be plenty of pushing in the days ahead. Pelosi is clearly down in the vote count. Thirty-four House Democrats are either firm no votes or leaning no, according to The Hill’s whip list. Dozens more are undecided. Pelosi is clearly down in the vote count. Thirty-four House Democrats are either firm no votes or leaning no, according to The Hill’s whip list. Dozens more are undecided.”

Another foolish thing the Obami could do on Iran: send another New Year’s greeting to the mullahs!

Another example of what passes for “transparency” in this administration: “At Friday’s White House briefing, press secretary Robert Gibbs was asked, for the fifth time in less than three weeks, about Democratic Rep. Joe Sestak’s charge that the White House offered Sestak a high-ranking job if Sestak would drop his challenge to Democratic Sen. Arlen Specter in Pennsylvania. And for the fifth time, Gibbs refused to answer the question of whether the White House offered a bribe to protect the fortunes of a key political ally.”

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Obama’s Iran Deadline Gets Thrown Down the Memory Hole

For those optimists who still think the magic of Barack Obama’s diplomacy will create an international coalition that will force Iran to come to its senses and cease its development of nuclear weapons, January 1st was supposed to be an important date. The new year was the deadline for Iran to respond to a year’s worth of diplomatic overtures and begin backing down from the nuclear ledge onto which the Islamist regime had crawled.

Of course, the start of 2010 was not the first deadline Obama had given the Iranians. Back in July, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates promised the Israelis that the United States had given Iran until the meeting of the United Nations General Assembly in September to respond to American overtures, a sentiment that was echoed by the G-8 countries that month. That deadline came and went without Iranian action. But it was followed by statements from President Obama, according to which he was now giving Tehran until the end of December to begin serious nuclear talks or face the threat of crippling sanctions to be imposed by a broad international coalition, including the governments of Russia and China. Thus, the turn of the calendar page would, Obama apologists told us, mark a turning point that would demonstrate that the administration really understood the dangers a nuclear Iran would pose to the West and to Israel.

But a full week has gone by since they dropped the ball in Times Square and nothing has  happened that ought to give the mullahs in Tehran any reason to worry. In fact, the first few days of January have brought some good news to Khamenei and Ahmadinejad and great discouragement to those who rightly worry about the threat their rogue regime represents.

First, the administration’s  hope that China would supply the diplomatic leverage for tough sanctions on Iran in 2010 was dealt another body blow. On Jan. 5, Ambassador Zhang Yesui, Beijing’s UN ambassador, plainly stated his nation’s lack of interest in such sanctions. After Obama’s disastrous trip to China in November, the administration had bragged that China’s support for sanctions was in the bag. It was clear then that they were lying but the latest Chinese pronouncement on the issue removes any doubt about the failure of Obama’s overtures. Thus, the president’s refusal to meet with the Dalai Llama and the downgrading of American support for the cause of human rights in China and Tibet achieved nothing much, just as Obama’s betrayal of America’s missile-defense promises to Poland and the Czech Republic did not persuade Russia to support the U.S. position on Iran. Obama’s appeasement campaign managed to undermine important American interests without doing anything to put more pressure on Iran.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton acknowledged this failure earlier this week when she admitted that the administration’s efforts to “engage” Iran had not succeeded. As for the deadline her boss had given before sanctions she herself had said would be “crippling,” well, that’s another thing. Much like the administration’s reaction to the war being waged on the West by Islamist terrorists, which consists of a policy of trying to avoid using the word “terror” while never mentioning the connection between such terrorists and Islam, Clinton now appears to want to throw the word “deadline” down the memory hole. “Now, we’ve avoided using the term ‘deadline’ ourselves,” said Secretary Clinton. “That’s not a term that we have used, because we want to keep the door to dialogue open.”

In other words, the Iranians have called Obama’s bluff and discovered, to no one’s particular surprise, that he won’t back up his tough rhetoric with any real action. We are no closer to the sort of tough sanctions that would bring Iran’s economy to its knees and its leaders to heel than we were a year ago before Obama’s international charm and apology offensive began. And there is no reason to believe that either Obama or Clinton have a clue about how to alter this disturbing situation. Their feckless devotion to diplomacy for its own sake has resulted in a stronger position for Iran’s extremist leaders, who must be now congratulating themselves on their ability to defy America with impunity. The clock continues to tick down to the moment when an Iranian bomb becomes a reality and the only thing the Obama administration seems capable of doing in response to this frightening development is to continue to spin their failures and redefine a new era of Western appeasement.

For those optimists who still think the magic of Barack Obama’s diplomacy will create an international coalition that will force Iran to come to its senses and cease its development of nuclear weapons, January 1st was supposed to be an important date. The new year was the deadline for Iran to respond to a year’s worth of diplomatic overtures and begin backing down from the nuclear ledge onto which the Islamist regime had crawled.

Of course, the start of 2010 was not the first deadline Obama had given the Iranians. Back in July, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates promised the Israelis that the United States had given Iran until the meeting of the United Nations General Assembly in September to respond to American overtures, a sentiment that was echoed by the G-8 countries that month. That deadline came and went without Iranian action. But it was followed by statements from President Obama, according to which he was now giving Tehran until the end of December to begin serious nuclear talks or face the threat of crippling sanctions to be imposed by a broad international coalition, including the governments of Russia and China. Thus, the turn of the calendar page would, Obama apologists told us, mark a turning point that would demonstrate that the administration really understood the dangers a nuclear Iran would pose to the West and to Israel.

But a full week has gone by since they dropped the ball in Times Square and nothing has  happened that ought to give the mullahs in Tehran any reason to worry. In fact, the first few days of January have brought some good news to Khamenei and Ahmadinejad and great discouragement to those who rightly worry about the threat their rogue regime represents.

First, the administration’s  hope that China would supply the diplomatic leverage for tough sanctions on Iran in 2010 was dealt another body blow. On Jan. 5, Ambassador Zhang Yesui, Beijing’s UN ambassador, plainly stated his nation’s lack of interest in such sanctions. After Obama’s disastrous trip to China in November, the administration had bragged that China’s support for sanctions was in the bag. It was clear then that they were lying but the latest Chinese pronouncement on the issue removes any doubt about the failure of Obama’s overtures. Thus, the president’s refusal to meet with the Dalai Llama and the downgrading of American support for the cause of human rights in China and Tibet achieved nothing much, just as Obama’s betrayal of America’s missile-defense promises to Poland and the Czech Republic did not persuade Russia to support the U.S. position on Iran. Obama’s appeasement campaign managed to undermine important American interests without doing anything to put more pressure on Iran.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton acknowledged this failure earlier this week when she admitted that the administration’s efforts to “engage” Iran had not succeeded. As for the deadline her boss had given before sanctions she herself had said would be “crippling,” well, that’s another thing. Much like the administration’s reaction to the war being waged on the West by Islamist terrorists, which consists of a policy of trying to avoid using the word “terror” while never mentioning the connection between such terrorists and Islam, Clinton now appears to want to throw the word “deadline” down the memory hole. “Now, we’ve avoided using the term ‘deadline’ ourselves,” said Secretary Clinton. “That’s not a term that we have used, because we want to keep the door to dialogue open.”

In other words, the Iranians have called Obama’s bluff and discovered, to no one’s particular surprise, that he won’t back up his tough rhetoric with any real action. We are no closer to the sort of tough sanctions that would bring Iran’s economy to its knees and its leaders to heel than we were a year ago before Obama’s international charm and apology offensive began. And there is no reason to believe that either Obama or Clinton have a clue about how to alter this disturbing situation. Their feckless devotion to diplomacy for its own sake has resulted in a stronger position for Iran’s extremist leaders, who must be now congratulating themselves on their ability to defy America with impunity. The clock continues to tick down to the moment when an Iranian bomb becomes a reality and the only thing the Obama administration seems capable of doing in response to this frightening development is to continue to spin their failures and redefine a new era of Western appeasement.

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The Frustration of Reality

Bob Herbert gives us a peek into the mindset I think permeates the Left and the Obama administration in particular:

I’m starting the new year with the sinking feeling that important opportunities are slipping from the nation’s grasp. Our collective consciousness tends to obsess indiscriminately over one or two issues — the would-be bomber on the flight into Detroit, the Tiger Woods saga — while enormous problems that should be engaged get short shrift.

A celebrity scandal. A terrorist-bombing attack (the third on the homeland last year). All the same. Such a distraction. So many overheated conservatives. Can’t we just move along? You can feel his desperation and the frustration that precious time, energy, and resources are being diverted from the ultraliberal agenda:

Voters were primed at the beginning of the Obama administration for fundamental changes that would have altered the trajectory of American life for the better. Politicians of all stripes, many of them catering to the nation’s moneyed interests, fouled that up to a fare-thee-well. Now we’re escalating in Afghanistan, falling back into panic mode over an attempted act of terror and squandering a golden opportunity to build a better society.

That’s the mindset, of course, that caused the president to slough off the Christmas Day bombing. That’s the predisposition that led to the imposition of an 18-month deadline in Afghanistan — at the price of sending a mixed message about our intentions and unsettling our allies there and in Pakistan. The Democrats’ window of opportunity to remake American society is closing faster than they ever imagined. And now all anyone wants to talk about is national security, terrorism, connecting dots, and the president’s refusal to use the words “Islamic fundamentalism.” The liberals are beside themselves. This was not to be. After all, they told us, it was the Bushies who exaggerated the dangers and put us on a needlessly alarmist path. The Obami were there to put all of that aside and get back to the pent up domestic demands of the Left.

Obama plainly shares Herbert’s sense that a moment is passing us by. His policies and demeanor have been designed to replace the war against jihadists with an inward looking, government-centric agenda as the nation’s primary focus. This is the moment — so long as supermajorities in Congress remain — to get it done, they plead. But wait. Doesn’t this historic moment also include a critical juncture for Iran, where a totalitarian revolutionary Islamic state might be overthrown by a popular revolt? Doesn’t the “golden opportunity” also include the potential that freedom and democracy will triumph over the death cult of the jihadists?

Sadly, it doesn’t seem so for the Obami. Not only do the administration and its restive supporters on the Left not see those international commitments as vital and “glorious” (as the president put it in deriding the conduct of the war against Islamic fascism), but they seem to imagine that the great era of prosperity and social progress is possible if we husband our resources (e.g., starve the Defense Department), limit America’s commitments (no open-ended ones, thank you), and stop raising the alarm when America is attacked. Yes, it’s as if 9/11 never occurred. Too bad reality keeps knocking at our door.

Bob Herbert gives us a peek into the mindset I think permeates the Left and the Obama administration in particular:

I’m starting the new year with the sinking feeling that important opportunities are slipping from the nation’s grasp. Our collective consciousness tends to obsess indiscriminately over one or two issues — the would-be bomber on the flight into Detroit, the Tiger Woods saga — while enormous problems that should be engaged get short shrift.

A celebrity scandal. A terrorist-bombing attack (the third on the homeland last year). All the same. Such a distraction. So many overheated conservatives. Can’t we just move along? You can feel his desperation and the frustration that precious time, energy, and resources are being diverted from the ultraliberal agenda:

Voters were primed at the beginning of the Obama administration for fundamental changes that would have altered the trajectory of American life for the better. Politicians of all stripes, many of them catering to the nation’s moneyed interests, fouled that up to a fare-thee-well. Now we’re escalating in Afghanistan, falling back into panic mode over an attempted act of terror and squandering a golden opportunity to build a better society.

That’s the mindset, of course, that caused the president to slough off the Christmas Day bombing. That’s the predisposition that led to the imposition of an 18-month deadline in Afghanistan — at the price of sending a mixed message about our intentions and unsettling our allies there and in Pakistan. The Democrats’ window of opportunity to remake American society is closing faster than they ever imagined. And now all anyone wants to talk about is national security, terrorism, connecting dots, and the president’s refusal to use the words “Islamic fundamentalism.” The liberals are beside themselves. This was not to be. After all, they told us, it was the Bushies who exaggerated the dangers and put us on a needlessly alarmist path. The Obami were there to put all of that aside and get back to the pent up domestic demands of the Left.

Obama plainly shares Herbert’s sense that a moment is passing us by. His policies and demeanor have been designed to replace the war against jihadists with an inward looking, government-centric agenda as the nation’s primary focus. This is the moment — so long as supermajorities in Congress remain — to get it done, they plead. But wait. Doesn’t this historic moment also include a critical juncture for Iran, where a totalitarian revolutionary Islamic state might be overthrown by a popular revolt? Doesn’t the “golden opportunity” also include the potential that freedom and democracy will triumph over the death cult of the jihadists?

Sadly, it doesn’t seem so for the Obami. Not only do the administration and its restive supporters on the Left not see those international commitments as vital and “glorious” (as the president put it in deriding the conduct of the war against Islamic fascism), but they seem to imagine that the great era of prosperity and social progress is possible if we husband our resources (e.g., starve the Defense Department), limit America’s commitments (no open-ended ones, thank you), and stop raising the alarm when America is attacked. Yes, it’s as if 9/11 never occurred. Too bad reality keeps knocking at our door.

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Hillary Clinton Delivers New Year’s Assurances for the Mullahs

Hillary Clinton emerges from her long absence to deliver this blather on Iran:

Now, we’ve avoided using the term “deadline” ourselves. That’s not a term that we have used because we want to keep the door to dialogue open. But we’ve also made it clear we can’t continue to wait and we cannot continue to stand by when the Iranians themselves talk about increasing their production of high-enriched uranium and additional facilities for nuclear power that very likely can be put to dual use.

So we have already begun discussions with our partners and with likeminded nations about pressure and sanctions. I can’t appropriately comment on the details of those discussions now, except to say that our goal is to pressure the Iranian Government, particularly the Revolutionary Guard elements, without contributing to the suffering of the ordinary Iraqis who deserve better than what they currently are receiving.

Iran is going through a very turbulent period in its history. There are many troubling signs of the actions that they are taking. And we want to reiterate that we stand with those Iranians who are peacefully demonstrating. We mourn the loss of innocent life. We condemn the detention and imprisonment, the torture and abuse of people, which seems to be accelerating. And we hope that there will be an opportunity for Iran to reverse course, to begin engaging in a positive way with the international community, respecting the rights of their own citizens. But we’re going to continue on our dual-track approach.

No, the Obami haven’t given up on engagement, nor do those “crippling sanctions” seem to be in the cards. Regime change? You must be joking! All she can muster is the “hope” that Iran will reverse course. Not that we would do much to aid in that effort. We are simply taking notes — isn’t that what “bearing witness” is all about? — as Iranian citizens disappear or are tortured or killed. Now she does express “concerns” and is “disturbed” –  “deeply” disturbed, as her boss expressed, begrudgingly, after the June 12 election was stolen: “So yes, we have concerns about their behavior, we have concerns about their intentions, and we are deeply disturbed by the mounting signs of ruthless repression that they are exercising against those who assemble and express viewpoints that are at variance with what the leadership of Iran wants to hear.” That level of concern and “disturbance” does not rise, however, to warning the mullahs of the consequences of their behavior. No, there are none of those in sight. And how genteel is her description that the Iranian people express “viewpoints that are at variance with what the leadership of Iran wants to hear.” Yes, the Iranian people would like not to be snatched from their homes or have their children tortured; the regime takes the contrary view. All so polite. All so very Foggy Bottom-ish.

Can you imagine how delighted the Iranian regime must be to hear this unintelligible mush from the Obama team? Clinton has told them that there isn’t really any “deadline” and that they can proceed without fear of any serious consequences for their behavior. For the mullahs, that’s a delightful start for 2010. For the people of Iran? Not so much.

Hillary Clinton emerges from her long absence to deliver this blather on Iran:

Now, we’ve avoided using the term “deadline” ourselves. That’s not a term that we have used because we want to keep the door to dialogue open. But we’ve also made it clear we can’t continue to wait and we cannot continue to stand by when the Iranians themselves talk about increasing their production of high-enriched uranium and additional facilities for nuclear power that very likely can be put to dual use.

So we have already begun discussions with our partners and with likeminded nations about pressure and sanctions. I can’t appropriately comment on the details of those discussions now, except to say that our goal is to pressure the Iranian Government, particularly the Revolutionary Guard elements, without contributing to the suffering of the ordinary Iraqis who deserve better than what they currently are receiving.

Iran is going through a very turbulent period in its history. There are many troubling signs of the actions that they are taking. And we want to reiterate that we stand with those Iranians who are peacefully demonstrating. We mourn the loss of innocent life. We condemn the detention and imprisonment, the torture and abuse of people, which seems to be accelerating. And we hope that there will be an opportunity for Iran to reverse course, to begin engaging in a positive way with the international community, respecting the rights of their own citizens. But we’re going to continue on our dual-track approach.

No, the Obami haven’t given up on engagement, nor do those “crippling sanctions” seem to be in the cards. Regime change? You must be joking! All she can muster is the “hope” that Iran will reverse course. Not that we would do much to aid in that effort. We are simply taking notes — isn’t that what “bearing witness” is all about? — as Iranian citizens disappear or are tortured or killed. Now she does express “concerns” and is “disturbed” –  “deeply” disturbed, as her boss expressed, begrudgingly, after the June 12 election was stolen: “So yes, we have concerns about their behavior, we have concerns about their intentions, and we are deeply disturbed by the mounting signs of ruthless repression that they are exercising against those who assemble and express viewpoints that are at variance with what the leadership of Iran wants to hear.” That level of concern and “disturbance” does not rise, however, to warning the mullahs of the consequences of their behavior. No, there are none of those in sight. And how genteel is her description that the Iranian people express “viewpoints that are at variance with what the leadership of Iran wants to hear.” Yes, the Iranian people would like not to be snatched from their homes or have their children tortured; the regime takes the contrary view. All so polite. All so very Foggy Bottom-ish.

Can you imagine how delighted the Iranian regime must be to hear this unintelligible mush from the Obama team? Clinton has told them that there isn’t really any “deadline” and that they can proceed without fear of any serious consequences for their behavior. For the mullahs, that’s a delightful start for 2010. For the people of Iran? Not so much.

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Re: Is Reconciliation “Soft”?

Max, the decision to release a large batch of Iranian backed terrorists, especially now, is, quite frankly, bizarre, when viewed from the perspective of our Iran policy, assuming we have one. Your recent observation on Afghanistan is apt in this context as well: “Unfortunately, I’m not sure Obama himself knows which is the strategy and which is the head fake. He seems fundamentally ambivalent about the war in Afghanistan — as he is about the war on terror and most other military endeavors — and that ambivalence is reflected in the form of policy incoherence.” As ambivalent and incoherent as Obama is on Afghanistan, the administration’s herky-jerky moves on Iran (e.g., hints one day of a John Kerry visit, tough talk from Obama on human rights the next day, and not very crippling sanctions suggested on another) are downright schizophrenic. Given all that, the release of Iranian-backed terrorists hardly helps the matter. It comes at the very same time that Obama is trying to convince domestic critics, allies, and, most importantly, Iran itself that he is going to get tougher with the mullahs. So how does the release of over 100 Iranian-backed terrorists look in that context?

Perhaps there are reasons why battlefield commanders in Iraq would like to proceed in this fashion. (Nevertheless, as Bill Roggio points out: “Qais Qazli wasn’t just some run of the mill Shia thug; his group is backed by Iran. Qazali’s men were trained by Iranian Qods Force to infiltrate and assault the Provincial Joint Coordination Center in Karbala in January 2007. Five US soldiers were killed during the kidnapping attempt. The US soldiers were executed after US and Iraqi security forces closed in on the assault team.”) Time will tell whether this is about “reconciliation” or whether it mounts up to just a distasteful and exceptionally lopsided “prisoner swap,” as one military intelligence source put it.

However, there is a larger, looming problem: how to deal with the increasingly belligerent Iranian regime, which has ample reason already to doubt the resolve of the Obama administration. The symbolism of the release of a key terrorist (along with his many comrades) directly responsible for the deaths of Americans is awful. It was so bad, in fact, that it was done on New Year’s Eve in an effort, no doubt, to clamp down on domestic criticism. After the New Year’s revelry dies down, however, I expect that the release will be touted by Qazali’s Iranian backers, who will interpret this as not a cagey deal by U.S. commanders in Iraq but rather as another sign of squishiness by Obama. The mullahs and their henchmen will, doubtless, remain entirely unimpressed with the Obama administration’s promise to get “tough” with the worst of the worst within the Iranian regime.

Max, the decision to release a large batch of Iranian backed terrorists, especially now, is, quite frankly, bizarre, when viewed from the perspective of our Iran policy, assuming we have one. Your recent observation on Afghanistan is apt in this context as well: “Unfortunately, I’m not sure Obama himself knows which is the strategy and which is the head fake. He seems fundamentally ambivalent about the war in Afghanistan — as he is about the war on terror and most other military endeavors — and that ambivalence is reflected in the form of policy incoherence.” As ambivalent and incoherent as Obama is on Afghanistan, the administration’s herky-jerky moves on Iran (e.g., hints one day of a John Kerry visit, tough talk from Obama on human rights the next day, and not very crippling sanctions suggested on another) are downright schizophrenic. Given all that, the release of Iranian-backed terrorists hardly helps the matter. It comes at the very same time that Obama is trying to convince domestic critics, allies, and, most importantly, Iran itself that he is going to get tougher with the mullahs. So how does the release of over 100 Iranian-backed terrorists look in that context?

Perhaps there are reasons why battlefield commanders in Iraq would like to proceed in this fashion. (Nevertheless, as Bill Roggio points out: “Qais Qazli wasn’t just some run of the mill Shia thug; his group is backed by Iran. Qazali’s men were trained by Iranian Qods Force to infiltrate and assault the Provincial Joint Coordination Center in Karbala in January 2007. Five US soldiers were killed during the kidnapping attempt. The US soldiers were executed after US and Iraqi security forces closed in on the assault team.”) Time will tell whether this is about “reconciliation” or whether it mounts up to just a distasteful and exceptionally lopsided “prisoner swap,” as one military intelligence source put it.

However, there is a larger, looming problem: how to deal with the increasingly belligerent Iranian regime, which has ample reason already to doubt the resolve of the Obama administration. The symbolism of the release of a key terrorist (along with his many comrades) directly responsible for the deaths of Americans is awful. It was so bad, in fact, that it was done on New Year’s Eve in an effort, no doubt, to clamp down on domestic criticism. After the New Year’s revelry dies down, however, I expect that the release will be touted by Qazali’s Iranian backers, who will interpret this as not a cagey deal by U.S. commanders in Iraq but rather as another sign of squishiness by Obama. The mullahs and their henchmen will, doubtless, remain entirely unimpressed with the Obama administration’s promise to get “tough” with the worst of the worst within the Iranian regime.

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A Good Way to Start the New Year

If the recent rallies in Iran have been noteworthy for their large turnout, another rally this week was noteworthy for its lack of turnout: A mere 3,000 Gaza residents turned out in Jabalya on Sunday for a Hamas rally marking the first anniversary of its war with Israel.

What makes this so surprising is that just two weeks earlier, Hamas succeeded in getting 100,000 Gazans into the streets for a rally marking the 22nd anniversary of its founding. Hence Sunday’s low turnout was not a protest against Hamas in general; it was a protest aimed specifically at Hamas’s claim that “Gaza was victorious” in the war. Gaza residents know better.

And so do the Israelis across the border. In the year since the war — a year of global recession, rising unemployment, and falling salaries — housing prices in communities within rocket range of Gaza have risen an incredible 40 to 50 percent due to surging demand. A year ago, apartments in towns like Sderot went begging. Today, there is scarcely an empty apartment to be had, and Gaza-area communities are frantically building new housing to accommodate the demand.

What makes this housing boom particularly remarkable is that everyone in Israel knows last year’s victory was only temporary. Hamas’s grip on Gaza has only grown stronger since the war. And not only has Hamas rapidly replenished its arsenal, but according to Israeli intelligence, it now has more sophisticated weaponry, including longer-range rockets, than it did a year ago. Hence the next round is only a matter of time.

But the war nevertheless accomplished something more than a mere hiatus in the rocket fire: It convinced southern Israelis that their government was both willing and able to defend them. That belief had vanished over the previous three years, as Hamas rained almost 6,000 rockets and mortars on southern Israel with impunity, and the inevitable result was an exodus from the south. Now, with restored faith in their government’s willingness and ability to protect them, they are willing to risk round two.

And that, ultimately, may be the war’s greatest accomplishment. Deterrence is important, and Sunday’s rally shows that the war in fact achieved it: By staying away en masse, Gaza residents made it clear that they know they lost, and are anything but eager for a repeat. And since Hamas is not immune to public opinion, that means it will probably be some time before it tries again.

But nothing is more important to a country’s long-term health than its citizens’ faith in the willingness and ability of their government to fulfill its most basic obligation: to protect them from attack. In the three years preceding the war, that faith was badly eroded. The war, as the south’s housing boom shows, has restored it.

Thus Israel will begin the new year with renewed deterrence abroad and renewed faith in government at home. For all the problems it still faces, that’s a big improvement over where it stood this time last year.

If the recent rallies in Iran have been noteworthy for their large turnout, another rally this week was noteworthy for its lack of turnout: A mere 3,000 Gaza residents turned out in Jabalya on Sunday for a Hamas rally marking the first anniversary of its war with Israel.

What makes this so surprising is that just two weeks earlier, Hamas succeeded in getting 100,000 Gazans into the streets for a rally marking the 22nd anniversary of its founding. Hence Sunday’s low turnout was not a protest against Hamas in general; it was a protest aimed specifically at Hamas’s claim that “Gaza was victorious” in the war. Gaza residents know better.

And so do the Israelis across the border. In the year since the war — a year of global recession, rising unemployment, and falling salaries — housing prices in communities within rocket range of Gaza have risen an incredible 40 to 50 percent due to surging demand. A year ago, apartments in towns like Sderot went begging. Today, there is scarcely an empty apartment to be had, and Gaza-area communities are frantically building new housing to accommodate the demand.

What makes this housing boom particularly remarkable is that everyone in Israel knows last year’s victory was only temporary. Hamas’s grip on Gaza has only grown stronger since the war. And not only has Hamas rapidly replenished its arsenal, but according to Israeli intelligence, it now has more sophisticated weaponry, including longer-range rockets, than it did a year ago. Hence the next round is only a matter of time.

But the war nevertheless accomplished something more than a mere hiatus in the rocket fire: It convinced southern Israelis that their government was both willing and able to defend them. That belief had vanished over the previous three years, as Hamas rained almost 6,000 rockets and mortars on southern Israel with impunity, and the inevitable result was an exodus from the south. Now, with restored faith in their government’s willingness and ability to protect them, they are willing to risk round two.

And that, ultimately, may be the war’s greatest accomplishment. Deterrence is important, and Sunday’s rally shows that the war in fact achieved it: By staying away en masse, Gaza residents made it clear that they know they lost, and are anything but eager for a repeat. And since Hamas is not immune to public opinion, that means it will probably be some time before it tries again.

But nothing is more important to a country’s long-term health than its citizens’ faith in the willingness and ability of their government to fulfill its most basic obligation: to protect them from attack. In the three years preceding the war, that faith was badly eroded. The war, as the south’s housing boom shows, has restored it.

Thus Israel will begin the new year with renewed deterrence abroad and renewed faith in government at home. For all the problems it still faces, that’s a big improvement over where it stood this time last year.

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Iranian Dissidents Show Courage—Can Obama Do the Same?

The unstable situation in Iran is clearly escalating, as the Islamist regime has not been able to intimidate anti-government protesters, who keep returning to the streets despite the state-sponsored violence intended to keep them quiet. Yesterday, 10 dissidents were reportedly killed, including the nephew of opposition presidential candidate Mir Hussein Moussavi, who was reportedly assassinated outside his home. Yet, despite the attempts to repress dissent, demonstrations and clashes with government forces have apparently spread from Tehran to Isfahan, Mashhad, Shiraz, Arak, Tabriz, Najafabad, Babol, Ardebil, and Orumieh.

Yet while the people of Iran are taking to the streets to show they want to oust the Khamenei/Ahmadinejad despotism, we must ask where is the voice of the leader of the free world? President Barack Obama is a noted orator but, as has been the case throughout his first year in office, his rhetorical talents have not been put to use when it comes to Iran. Obsessed with the notion that engagement with Iran’s tyrants can resolve our concerns over their drive for nuclear weapons as well as Tehran’s support for terrorist groups elsewhere in the region, Obama has consistently downplayed America’s concerns about the need for change in Iran.

Yes, the White House did issue a statement about events in Iran and rightly condemned the “unjust oppression” being conducted there. But if the administration thinks a mere quote attributed to National Security Council spokesman Mike Hammer is enough, they clearly don’t understand the seriousness of the situation.

What then can the West do? Last week the editorial page of the Jerusalem Post suggested that “to signal support for the Iranian opposition, countries which value liberty should opt to indefinitely extend the vacations of their ambassadors now on home-leave for the Christmas and New Year holidays.” It’s a modest suggestion that unfortunately was not taken up by any nation, not even the United States.

Even better would be a personal statement of outrage that came directly from the mouth of Barack Obama,  followed by an announcement that on January 1, the West will begin to enact the “crippling” sanctions they have occasionally threatened throughout the year. Unfortunately the various deadlines for Iran to respond to Western entreaties to play nice on nukes have been ignored and there is little reason to believe that the administration takes this most recent date to be a signal for action. The administration’s passion for “engagement”—despite the fact that the Iranians have shown they have no interest in diplomacy other than as an effective delaying tactic—and the growing conviction among some elites that we can live with an Iranian bomb have resulted in the current stalemate that works well for Tehran.

Defenders of appeasement of Iran have told us that a strong stand will only hurt the dissidents and spur the regime to greater violence. But as recent events illustrate, Khamenei and Ahmadinejad have no compunction about unleashing their thugs on their own people. With so many willing to risk death to oppose the Islamist tyranny, now is the time for Barack Obama to find both his courage and his voice. If instead he continues the current path of engagement, it will inevitably mean a delay of tough sanctions and a sign that the world doesn’t care about the blood shed in the streets of Iran. Such a double betrayal would be an especially inauspicious way to begin his second year in office.

The unstable situation in Iran is clearly escalating, as the Islamist regime has not been able to intimidate anti-government protesters, who keep returning to the streets despite the state-sponsored violence intended to keep them quiet. Yesterday, 10 dissidents were reportedly killed, including the nephew of opposition presidential candidate Mir Hussein Moussavi, who was reportedly assassinated outside his home. Yet, despite the attempts to repress dissent, demonstrations and clashes with government forces have apparently spread from Tehran to Isfahan, Mashhad, Shiraz, Arak, Tabriz, Najafabad, Babol, Ardebil, and Orumieh.

Yet while the people of Iran are taking to the streets to show they want to oust the Khamenei/Ahmadinejad despotism, we must ask where is the voice of the leader of the free world? President Barack Obama is a noted orator but, as has been the case throughout his first year in office, his rhetorical talents have not been put to use when it comes to Iran. Obsessed with the notion that engagement with Iran’s tyrants can resolve our concerns over their drive for nuclear weapons as well as Tehran’s support for terrorist groups elsewhere in the region, Obama has consistently downplayed America’s concerns about the need for change in Iran.

Yes, the White House did issue a statement about events in Iran and rightly condemned the “unjust oppression” being conducted there. But if the administration thinks a mere quote attributed to National Security Council spokesman Mike Hammer is enough, they clearly don’t understand the seriousness of the situation.

What then can the West do? Last week the editorial page of the Jerusalem Post suggested that “to signal support for the Iranian opposition, countries which value liberty should opt to indefinitely extend the vacations of their ambassadors now on home-leave for the Christmas and New Year holidays.” It’s a modest suggestion that unfortunately was not taken up by any nation, not even the United States.

Even better would be a personal statement of outrage that came directly from the mouth of Barack Obama,  followed by an announcement that on January 1, the West will begin to enact the “crippling” sanctions they have occasionally threatened throughout the year. Unfortunately the various deadlines for Iran to respond to Western entreaties to play nice on nukes have been ignored and there is little reason to believe that the administration takes this most recent date to be a signal for action. The administration’s passion for “engagement”—despite the fact that the Iranians have shown they have no interest in diplomacy other than as an effective delaying tactic—and the growing conviction among some elites that we can live with an Iranian bomb have resulted in the current stalemate that works well for Tehran.

Defenders of appeasement of Iran have told us that a strong stand will only hurt the dissidents and spur the regime to greater violence. But as recent events illustrate, Khamenei and Ahmadinejad have no compunction about unleashing their thugs on their own people. With so many willing to risk death to oppose the Islamist tyranny, now is the time for Barack Obama to find both his courage and his voice. If instead he continues the current path of engagement, it will inevitably mean a delay of tough sanctions and a sign that the world doesn’t care about the blood shed in the streets of Iran. Such a double betrayal would be an especially inauspicious way to begin his second year in office.

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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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The End of the Beginning

No, Democrats would not vote to humiliate their own leadership and to kill health-care reform in its crib. By a 60-39 vote, the senate agreed last night to start the health-care debate. Byron York has it right, observing:

The extraordinary thing about the dramatic events surrounding the health care bill in the Senate is that there is any drama in it at all. Lawmakers are simply voting to begin debate on their version of health care reform. Just begin debate — not end it, and not move on to a final vote.

If Democrats, with a 60-vote majority in the Senate, were not able to begin debate on the top Democratic policy priority in a generation — well, that would be a devastating turn of events, both for the party and for President Obama. And yet just starting debate has proved difficult, and only today did the 60th Democratic vote fall in place in favor of beginning the process.

The debate begins after senators go home for the Thanksgiving recess and get another earful from their constituents. Those, like Arkansas senator Blanche Lincoln, who cast a “Yes, but I really don’t like it” vote to start the debate may come away with a new-found appreciation for just how angry voters can be when lawmakers seem bent on doing what they don’t want done. Republicans on this one are giving Democrats no cover, banking on voters rewarding those who stood firm against higher taxes, Medicare cuts, and a big-government power grab.

As Politico noted, the party-line vote and the apparent determination of a handful of moderate Democrats not to go along with the public option in a final vote “exposed significant divides in the party that make it all but impossible to complete work on a plan by year’s end, and could possibly even sink the bill altogether.” And abortion subsidies once again loom large. On this one, time is not on the Democrats’ side. It seems as though they may well be at this into the new year. (“That timetable has always been worrisome to the White House because it would push the delicate final passage of the legislation into an election year, with Democrats skittish about voter backlash for a plan that draws decidedly mixed reviews in the polls.”)

We will know soon enough whether on a strict party-line vote the senate will pass a hugely controversial bill, which most voters (including the most politically active among them) don’t want and which likely will be used in a furious election campaign to punish those who foisted the bill on the voters. Odder things have happened, but passing this bill would be one of the oddest in recent memory.

No, Democrats would not vote to humiliate their own leadership and to kill health-care reform in its crib. By a 60-39 vote, the senate agreed last night to start the health-care debate. Byron York has it right, observing:

The extraordinary thing about the dramatic events surrounding the health care bill in the Senate is that there is any drama in it at all. Lawmakers are simply voting to begin debate on their version of health care reform. Just begin debate — not end it, and not move on to a final vote.

If Democrats, with a 60-vote majority in the Senate, were not able to begin debate on the top Democratic policy priority in a generation — well, that would be a devastating turn of events, both for the party and for President Obama. And yet just starting debate has proved difficult, and only today did the 60th Democratic vote fall in place in favor of beginning the process.

The debate begins after senators go home for the Thanksgiving recess and get another earful from their constituents. Those, like Arkansas senator Blanche Lincoln, who cast a “Yes, but I really don’t like it” vote to start the debate may come away with a new-found appreciation for just how angry voters can be when lawmakers seem bent on doing what they don’t want done. Republicans on this one are giving Democrats no cover, banking on voters rewarding those who stood firm against higher taxes, Medicare cuts, and a big-government power grab.

As Politico noted, the party-line vote and the apparent determination of a handful of moderate Democrats not to go along with the public option in a final vote “exposed significant divides in the party that make it all but impossible to complete work on a plan by year’s end, and could possibly even sink the bill altogether.” And abortion subsidies once again loom large. On this one, time is not on the Democrats’ side. It seems as though they may well be at this into the new year. (“That timetable has always been worrisome to the White House because it would push the delicate final passage of the legislation into an election year, with Democrats skittish about voter backlash for a plan that draws decidedly mixed reviews in the polls.”)

We will know soon enough whether on a strict party-line vote the senate will pass a hugely controversial bill, which most voters (including the most politically active among them) don’t want and which likely will be used in a furious election campaign to punish those who foisted the bill on the voters. Odder things have happened, but passing this bill would be one of the oddest in recent memory.

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Lessons Unlearned on North Korea

The latest collapse of nuclear negotiations with North Korea provides some clear lessons, but we are not learning them.

The New Year began with the flat refusal by Pyongyang to provide the inventory of her programs that she had promised. For good measure, North Korean state media editorialized on January 4th that “Our republic will continue to harden its war deterrent further in response to the US stepping up its nuclear war moves.”

Today’s Washington Post indicates we still do not grasp the situation. It quotes envoy Christopher Hill: “We understand that this [preparation of an inventory] is always a difficult process, one that is rarely completed on time. So I think we have to have a little sense of patience and perseverance.” Such self-deception is inexcusable: we’ve been through this cycle of negotiation-to-a-dead-end twice now.

When North Korea’s nuclear program became known in 1993, President Bill Clinton talked tough. Speaking to Meet The Press from the Oval Office on November 7, 1993 he declared “North Korea cannot be allowed to develop a nuclear weapon. We must be very firm about it,” and spoke of possible “conflict.” Clinton changed course, reportedly after a briefing on military options that terrified him. The first cycle of negotiations ensued, with a never-fulfilled agreement in 1994 to dismantle in return for U.S. aid.

George W. Bush took up this refrain again, pledging that “I will not stand by, as peril draws closer and closer. The United States of America will not permit the world’s most dangerous regimes to threaten us with the world’s most destructive weapons”. But in 2003 the Six Party Talks marked a return to the diplomatic track.

In the fifteen years wasted by these negotiations, North Korea has presumably perfected her nuclear capability. Our close allies the Japanese have, meanwhile, been angered by the American willingness to sacrifice Japanese concerns–about their citizens who have been abducted by Pyongyang—in order not to upset imaginary progress being made in the talks. What are the lessons? First, you cannot negotiate away nuclear capabilities. Second, military options do not really exist. Finally, and most worryingly, the very process of negotiation gives us a stake in the survival of the regime with which we are engaging. We’re becoming ever more committed to the survival of the regime that we originally identified as the problem.

Soon I expect we will be hearing calls for the U.S. to help stabilize North Korea after Kim Jong Il, even in the absence of that country’s abandonment of nuclear weapons.

The latest collapse of nuclear negotiations with North Korea provides some clear lessons, but we are not learning them.

The New Year began with the flat refusal by Pyongyang to provide the inventory of her programs that she had promised. For good measure, North Korean state media editorialized on January 4th that “Our republic will continue to harden its war deterrent further in response to the US stepping up its nuclear war moves.”

Today’s Washington Post indicates we still do not grasp the situation. It quotes envoy Christopher Hill: “We understand that this [preparation of an inventory] is always a difficult process, one that is rarely completed on time. So I think we have to have a little sense of patience and perseverance.” Such self-deception is inexcusable: we’ve been through this cycle of negotiation-to-a-dead-end twice now.

When North Korea’s nuclear program became known in 1993, President Bill Clinton talked tough. Speaking to Meet The Press from the Oval Office on November 7, 1993 he declared “North Korea cannot be allowed to develop a nuclear weapon. We must be very firm about it,” and spoke of possible “conflict.” Clinton changed course, reportedly after a briefing on military options that terrified him. The first cycle of negotiations ensued, with a never-fulfilled agreement in 1994 to dismantle in return for U.S. aid.

George W. Bush took up this refrain again, pledging that “I will not stand by, as peril draws closer and closer. The United States of America will not permit the world’s most dangerous regimes to threaten us with the world’s most destructive weapons”. But in 2003 the Six Party Talks marked a return to the diplomatic track.

In the fifteen years wasted by these negotiations, North Korea has presumably perfected her nuclear capability. Our close allies the Japanese have, meanwhile, been angered by the American willingness to sacrifice Japanese concerns–about their citizens who have been abducted by Pyongyang—in order not to upset imaginary progress being made in the talks. What are the lessons? First, you cannot negotiate away nuclear capabilities. Second, military options do not really exist. Finally, and most worryingly, the very process of negotiation gives us a stake in the survival of the regime with which we are engaging. We’re becoming ever more committed to the survival of the regime that we originally identified as the problem.

Soon I expect we will be hearing calls for the U.S. to help stabilize North Korea after Kim Jong Il, even in the absence of that country’s abandonment of nuclear weapons.

Read Less




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