Commentary Magazine


Topic: Nixon

Hot Times in the Far East

It’s getting harder to pick the most noteworthy headline among geopolitical events in East Asia. For the second time in two weeks, a high-ranking South Korean defense official has abruptly resigned (this time, the army chief of staff). His departure followed intelligence disclosures suggesting that North Korea has as many as four uranium-enrichment sites in operation, a level of activity previously unsuspected by the South Korean public. But are those developments more portentous than the most recent communications from Japan? And what about the Russian patrol aircraft that interrupted the U.S.-Japan naval exercise last week?

Japan’s announcements on defense this month figure collectively as the augury of a seminal shift. It’s not all that unusual for Tokyo to announce an increase in the size of the Japan Self-Defense Force (JSDF). But the reason invoked on this occasion amounts to a crack in the foundation of the U.S.-guaranteed security regime in the Far East. Japan plans to reorient its defense policy toward the emerging threat from China — and plans, in general, to defend its interests against Chinese and North Korean threats more proactively than at any time since 1945.

The Japanese will officially abandon the Cold War–era “basic defense doctrine,” which provided for territorial defense but not for the projection of military power beyond Japan’s recognized borders. Besides adding more submarines to the fleet, they will look at a military build-up in the southern chain of Japanese islands, near the Senkaku archipelago disputed with China. And on Sunday, Prime Minister Naoto Kan startled South Koreans by telling an audience that Japan would consider changing JSDF policy to allow for the deploying of troops to South Korea to rescue Japanese citizens.

The point here is not that any such move by Japan is suspicious. The point is that Japan perceives the need for a new, more active security posture. The tacit U.S. guarantee since World War II has been a balance in the Far East: the three great powers there — Russia, China, and Japan — held in check with a network of alliances and military presence. In the past two decades, however, the U.S. has failed to effectively counter what are arguably the most important threats to stability in the region: Chinese maritime aggression and the North Korean nuclear-weapons program. Against that backdrop, the Obama administration’s determined reliance on China to deal with North Korea looks — from the Asian side of the Pacific — like ceding China too much power. If America will not broker a balanced stasis, Russia and China will arm themselves for emerging opportunities, and everyone else will follow suit. Read More

It’s getting harder to pick the most noteworthy headline among geopolitical events in East Asia. For the second time in two weeks, a high-ranking South Korean defense official has abruptly resigned (this time, the army chief of staff). His departure followed intelligence disclosures suggesting that North Korea has as many as four uranium-enrichment sites in operation, a level of activity previously unsuspected by the South Korean public. But are those developments more portentous than the most recent communications from Japan? And what about the Russian patrol aircraft that interrupted the U.S.-Japan naval exercise last week?

Japan’s announcements on defense this month figure collectively as the augury of a seminal shift. It’s not all that unusual for Tokyo to announce an increase in the size of the Japan Self-Defense Force (JSDF). But the reason invoked on this occasion amounts to a crack in the foundation of the U.S.-guaranteed security regime in the Far East. Japan plans to reorient its defense policy toward the emerging threat from China — and plans, in general, to defend its interests against Chinese and North Korean threats more proactively than at any time since 1945.

The Japanese will officially abandon the Cold War–era “basic defense doctrine,” which provided for territorial defense but not for the projection of military power beyond Japan’s recognized borders. Besides adding more submarines to the fleet, they will look at a military build-up in the southern chain of Japanese islands, near the Senkaku archipelago disputed with China. And on Sunday, Prime Minister Naoto Kan startled South Koreans by telling an audience that Japan would consider changing JSDF policy to allow for the deploying of troops to South Korea to rescue Japanese citizens.

The point here is not that any such move by Japan is suspicious. The point is that Japan perceives the need for a new, more active security posture. The tacit U.S. guarantee since World War II has been a balance in the Far East: the three great powers there — Russia, China, and Japan — held in check with a network of alliances and military presence. In the past two decades, however, the U.S. has failed to effectively counter what are arguably the most important threats to stability in the region: Chinese maritime aggression and the North Korean nuclear-weapons program. Against that backdrop, the Obama administration’s determined reliance on China to deal with North Korea looks — from the Asian side of the Pacific — like ceding China too much power. If America will not broker a balanced stasis, Russia and China will arm themselves for emerging opportunities, and everyone else will follow suit.

Meanwhile, Russia is probing and making shows of force wherever possible. The intrusion of Russian patrol aircraft in the naval exercise held by the U.S. and Japan last week was remarkable for the fact that it was an actual intrusion. Military aircraft monitor foreign exercises all the time, but usually from a distance. The Russian planes approached so closely last week that the exercise was suspended while fighters were scrambled to intercept them.

The Nixon administration concluded a 1972 agreement with Soviet Russia to avoid such provocations in air and naval activity. Indeed, it was Nixon who, during the same period, re-established relations with China, returned Okinawa to Japan, and signed landmark defense agreements with Thailand and the Philippines. He hoped that these measures, desirable in their own right, would contribute to an environment of stabilized tension in which the two Vietnams could coexist. Although the hopes for Vietnam were dashed, his larger arrangements have stood for nearly 40 years. But they will not last much longer. The older pattern that obtains in the absence of U.S. power is reasserting itself.

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Morning Commentary

Can Michael Steele actually win re-election as RNC chair? Chris Cilliza crunches the numbers and finds that the unpopular GOP official just doesn’t have the support: “In the most optimistic assessments of his current strength among the 168 members of the RNC, Steele has 40 hard supporters. That’s a little less than half of the 85 people he would need to win a second term. A look back at the voting in the 2009 chairman’s race suggests that Steele’s initial base of support simply isn’t big enough.”

Kissinger defends his controversial comments about Soviet Jewry — and his explanation is less than convincing: “The quotations ascribed to me in the transcript of the conversation with President Nixon must be viewed in the context of the time,” wrote Kissinger in an e-mail to the JTA. “We disagreed with the Jackson Amendment, which made Jewish emigration a foreign policy issue. We feared that the amendment would reduce emigration, which is exactly what happened. Jewish emigration never reached the level of 40,000 again until the Soviet Union collapsed. The conversation between Nixon and me must be seen in the context of that dispute and of our distinction between a foreign policy and a humanitarian approach.”

Byron York points out seven signs that the “No Labels” campaign leans left. Reason #7: “The sandwiches. At No Labels, there were stacks of box lunches on tables outside the auditorium. Politico’s Ben Smith noted that, ‘The vegetarian and chicken sandwiches were rapidly devoured at lunch time, leaving only a giant pile of roast beef.’ That’s a sure sign: If there had been more Republicans there, there would have been fewer leftover roast beef sandwiches.”

Richard Holbrooke’s last words — “You’ve got to stop this war in Afghanistan” — may actually have been a joke as opposed to a policy prescription. According to the Washington Post: “The aide said he could not be sure of Holbrooke’s exact words. He emphasized Tuesday that the comment was made in painful banter, rather than as a serious exhortation about policy. Holbrooke also spoke extensively about his family and friends as he awaited surgery by Farzad Najam, a thoracic surgeon of Pakistani descent.”

CounterPunch writer Israel Shamir, a Holocaust denier who claimed that Julian Assange’s rape accuser had ties to the CIA, has been revealed as an employee of WikiLeaks.

Douglas Murray discusses the growing trend of Christmas-season terrorists coming out of Britain and what it needs to do to combat the crisis of radicalization in its universities.

Can Michael Steele actually win re-election as RNC chair? Chris Cilliza crunches the numbers and finds that the unpopular GOP official just doesn’t have the support: “In the most optimistic assessments of his current strength among the 168 members of the RNC, Steele has 40 hard supporters. That’s a little less than half of the 85 people he would need to win a second term. A look back at the voting in the 2009 chairman’s race suggests that Steele’s initial base of support simply isn’t big enough.”

Kissinger defends his controversial comments about Soviet Jewry — and his explanation is less than convincing: “The quotations ascribed to me in the transcript of the conversation with President Nixon must be viewed in the context of the time,” wrote Kissinger in an e-mail to the JTA. “We disagreed with the Jackson Amendment, which made Jewish emigration a foreign policy issue. We feared that the amendment would reduce emigration, which is exactly what happened. Jewish emigration never reached the level of 40,000 again until the Soviet Union collapsed. The conversation between Nixon and me must be seen in the context of that dispute and of our distinction between a foreign policy and a humanitarian approach.”

Byron York points out seven signs that the “No Labels” campaign leans left. Reason #7: “The sandwiches. At No Labels, there were stacks of box lunches on tables outside the auditorium. Politico’s Ben Smith noted that, ‘The vegetarian and chicken sandwiches were rapidly devoured at lunch time, leaving only a giant pile of roast beef.’ That’s a sure sign: If there had been more Republicans there, there would have been fewer leftover roast beef sandwiches.”

Richard Holbrooke’s last words — “You’ve got to stop this war in Afghanistan” — may actually have been a joke as opposed to a policy prescription. According to the Washington Post: “The aide said he could not be sure of Holbrooke’s exact words. He emphasized Tuesday that the comment was made in painful banter, rather than as a serious exhortation about policy. Holbrooke also spoke extensively about his family and friends as he awaited surgery by Farzad Najam, a thoracic surgeon of Pakistani descent.”

CounterPunch writer Israel Shamir, a Holocaust denier who claimed that Julian Assange’s rape accuser had ties to the CIA, has been revealed as an employee of WikiLeaks.

Douglas Murray discusses the growing trend of Christmas-season terrorists coming out of Britain and what it needs to do to combat the crisis of radicalization in its universities.

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Evening Commentary

Secret recordings were released this week showing Nixon and Kissinger callously dismissing the plight of Soviet Jews. But Seth Lipsky argues that leaders should be judged by their actions — such as Nixon’s appointment of Jews to high-level posts in his administration and support of Israel during the Yom Kippur War — as opposed to their private prejudices: “Is it better to have a president who loves African Americans and Jews and disappoints them strategically? Or one who privately voices prejudice but defends their rights and supports them strategically?”

There was a time when Ehud Barak could have made this call. Bibi kindly points out that now is not that time.

Reports this week that 25 percent of Gitmo alums have already returned to the battlefield further highlight the necessity of keeping the detention center open: “Contrary to the Gitmo myth, innocent teenagers and wandering goat herders do not fill the base. Last May, an administration task force found that of the 240 detainees at Gitmo when Mr. Obama took office, almost all were leaders, fighters or organizers for al Qaeda, the Taliban or other jihadist groups. None was judged innocent,” write John Yoo and Robert Delahunty in the Wall Street Journal.

Mitch Daniels is known for his laser focus on the economic crisis, but values voters shouldn’t discount his solid track record on social issues, writes Mona Charen.

With Rahm Emanuel gone, Joe Biden will begin playing a much larger role in the Obama administration, reports the New York Times. (Could this translate into even more inside access for Bad Rachel?)

Even as the controversy over Juan Williams’s firing dies down, Republicans are still preparing to battle NPR over public funding next year, reports Politico.

Secret recordings were released this week showing Nixon and Kissinger callously dismissing the plight of Soviet Jews. But Seth Lipsky argues that leaders should be judged by their actions — such as Nixon’s appointment of Jews to high-level posts in his administration and support of Israel during the Yom Kippur War — as opposed to their private prejudices: “Is it better to have a president who loves African Americans and Jews and disappoints them strategically? Or one who privately voices prejudice but defends their rights and supports them strategically?”

There was a time when Ehud Barak could have made this call. Bibi kindly points out that now is not that time.

Reports this week that 25 percent of Gitmo alums have already returned to the battlefield further highlight the necessity of keeping the detention center open: “Contrary to the Gitmo myth, innocent teenagers and wandering goat herders do not fill the base. Last May, an administration task force found that of the 240 detainees at Gitmo when Mr. Obama took office, almost all were leaders, fighters or organizers for al Qaeda, the Taliban or other jihadist groups. None was judged innocent,” write John Yoo and Robert Delahunty in the Wall Street Journal.

Mitch Daniels is known for his laser focus on the economic crisis, but values voters shouldn’t discount his solid track record on social issues, writes Mona Charen.

With Rahm Emanuel gone, Joe Biden will begin playing a much larger role in the Obama administration, reports the New York Times. (Could this translate into even more inside access for Bad Rachel?)

Even as the controversy over Juan Williams’s firing dies down, Republicans are still preparing to battle NPR over public funding next year, reports Politico.

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RE: Reassessing the Bush Presidency

I am so pleased that Pete linked to the video of Dick Cheney’s remarks. If you read the mainstream news accounts, you would have the sense that all he did was take a gentle poke at Obama — declaring the presidential center to be the “only-shovel ready project” in the country. What is interesting is that most of the seven minutes of remarks focused on George W. Bush, the man — a self-effacing, decent, “stand-up guy,” as Cheney described him. It’s important and not incidental to his legacy for a few reasons.

It is, quite frankly, a model of presidential behavior that has become obscured — by Clinton’s personal scandals, by Nixon’s criminality, and by Obama’s stand-offish partisanship. We expect our presidents to rise above the fray and not return invective in kind. Bush did this, unlike his successor, and it is a standard by which we should evaluate candidates and presidents.

Moreover, it was a fundamental part of his presidency and the substantive decisions he made. Why did he make such an effort to distinguish Islamic terrorists from ordinary, loyal American Muslims? Why did he refuse to cut and run in Iraq? Why did he hold allies dear and stand up to despots? It all comes, I would suggest, from a inner decency based on his religious faith. This is not to say that nonreligious people can’t be just as honorable. That’s not the point. The issue here is to understand why Bush would, for example, refuse to give in to anti-immigration sentiment, would put so much stock in faith-based programs, and would make the freedom agenda central to his foreign policy. All of these are reflections of his core personality.

Why was he so misunderstood? It wasn’t simply that liberal critics despised his policies. It is that they never “got” or took seriously his inner motives. They preferred to concoct arm-chair-psychology fictions about his relationship with his father or to paint him as a know-nothing.

It isn’t surprising, then, that the media didn’t report on the central message of Cheney’s speech. Many of those reporters consider it a fluff or boilerplate message. But once again, they miss the most important point — the explanation for who Bush is and why he did what he did. The media has a remarkable ability to ignore the obvious.

I am so pleased that Pete linked to the video of Dick Cheney’s remarks. If you read the mainstream news accounts, you would have the sense that all he did was take a gentle poke at Obama — declaring the presidential center to be the “only-shovel ready project” in the country. What is interesting is that most of the seven minutes of remarks focused on George W. Bush, the man — a self-effacing, decent, “stand-up guy,” as Cheney described him. It’s important and not incidental to his legacy for a few reasons.

It is, quite frankly, a model of presidential behavior that has become obscured — by Clinton’s personal scandals, by Nixon’s criminality, and by Obama’s stand-offish partisanship. We expect our presidents to rise above the fray and not return invective in kind. Bush did this, unlike his successor, and it is a standard by which we should evaluate candidates and presidents.

Moreover, it was a fundamental part of his presidency and the substantive decisions he made. Why did he make such an effort to distinguish Islamic terrorists from ordinary, loyal American Muslims? Why did he refuse to cut and run in Iraq? Why did he hold allies dear and stand up to despots? It all comes, I would suggest, from a inner decency based on his religious faith. This is not to say that nonreligious people can’t be just as honorable. That’s not the point. The issue here is to understand why Bush would, for example, refuse to give in to anti-immigration sentiment, would put so much stock in faith-based programs, and would make the freedom agenda central to his foreign policy. All of these are reflections of his core personality.

Why was he so misunderstood? It wasn’t simply that liberal critics despised his policies. It is that they never “got” or took seriously his inner motives. They preferred to concoct arm-chair-psychology fictions about his relationship with his father or to paint him as a know-nothing.

It isn’t surprising, then, that the media didn’t report on the central message of Cheney’s speech. Many of those reporters consider it a fluff or boilerplate message. But once again, they miss the most important point — the explanation for who Bush is and why he did what he did. The media has a remarkable ability to ignore the obvious.

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NATO Death Watch

Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, in an interview with the New York Times this week, declined to name Iran as a missile threat to the NATO alliance. He spoke instead of “more than 30 countries in the world” having missile technology, with some of them able to hit targets in allied territory. This strange formulation implicates Britain, France, the United States, Russia, India, China, and Israel — if Rasmussen is talking about the countries that can already hit NATO targets with medium-range or longer missiles. (Pakistan can probably also hit Turkey with its newest Ghauri-class missile.)

But the Turkish press, writing up the Times interview, was clear on Rasmussen’s meaning. Undeceived by the politically absurd reference to “30 countries,” Today’s Zaman put it bluntly: “Rasmussen declines to name Iran as threat in missile shield plans.”

This isn’t really Rasmussen’s fault. According to the New York Times, it’s a NATO negotiating posture:

…President Obama and the Europeans are offering yet another round of talks to the Iranians, to get them to stop enriching uranium, and Turkey does not want the missile system to be seen as aimed at Tehran, so it is diplomatically impolite to mention Iran.

If we’re now at the point where it is “impolite” to mention one of the most significant threats NATO faces, we are in a stage of complacent denial for which I’m not sure there is even a name.

Turkey’s reluctance to see Iran identified as a threat should not silence the North Atlantic Council or the other allies — but it has. This is the clearest possible signal that political unity is over for the alliance: NATO can no longer handle the truth. Turkey’s objections, moreover, can’t govern our bargaining position without compromising it. Silence on the Iranian missile threat amounts to tacitly conceding Iran’s argument that its programs are not a threat. If Iran is right about that, then nothing the West is asking of Iran justifies sanctions or the use of force.

It was precisely by naming and objecting to the policies of the Soviet Union that U.S. presidents — Truman, Nixon, and Reagan in particular — obtained concessions from Moscow during the Cold War. The more explicit and obstinate we were, the more we got. We are apparently about to deal away any hope of such an effective posture with Iran. The upcoming NATO summit in Lisbon is not a business-as-usual gathering: Russia is being invited to the table for the first time, and NATO’s missile-defense strategy is to be the primary topic. The act of not declaring Iran’s missile (and nuclear) programs to be a threat to the allies will put the West, for the foreseeable future, at a permanent disadvantage in negotiations with Tehran.

The picture is growing clearer that NATO can’t retain its current alliance list and also operate from a common will to defend itself. To some extent, this shift has been building for a while, but the response favored by the Obama administration is the wrong one: letting an alliance that would fail a stress test be transformed against America’s interests. NATO, to which we have long provided most of the military spending, and now provide most of the forces and the political will, cannot be transformed in this manner without becoming an entangling alliance. That process has begun.

Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, in an interview with the New York Times this week, declined to name Iran as a missile threat to the NATO alliance. He spoke instead of “more than 30 countries in the world” having missile technology, with some of them able to hit targets in allied territory. This strange formulation implicates Britain, France, the United States, Russia, India, China, and Israel — if Rasmussen is talking about the countries that can already hit NATO targets with medium-range or longer missiles. (Pakistan can probably also hit Turkey with its newest Ghauri-class missile.)

But the Turkish press, writing up the Times interview, was clear on Rasmussen’s meaning. Undeceived by the politically absurd reference to “30 countries,” Today’s Zaman put it bluntly: “Rasmussen declines to name Iran as threat in missile shield plans.”

This isn’t really Rasmussen’s fault. According to the New York Times, it’s a NATO negotiating posture:

…President Obama and the Europeans are offering yet another round of talks to the Iranians, to get them to stop enriching uranium, and Turkey does not want the missile system to be seen as aimed at Tehran, so it is diplomatically impolite to mention Iran.

If we’re now at the point where it is “impolite” to mention one of the most significant threats NATO faces, we are in a stage of complacent denial for which I’m not sure there is even a name.

Turkey’s reluctance to see Iran identified as a threat should not silence the North Atlantic Council or the other allies — but it has. This is the clearest possible signal that political unity is over for the alliance: NATO can no longer handle the truth. Turkey’s objections, moreover, can’t govern our bargaining position without compromising it. Silence on the Iranian missile threat amounts to tacitly conceding Iran’s argument that its programs are not a threat. If Iran is right about that, then nothing the West is asking of Iran justifies sanctions or the use of force.

It was precisely by naming and objecting to the policies of the Soviet Union that U.S. presidents — Truman, Nixon, and Reagan in particular — obtained concessions from Moscow during the Cold War. The more explicit and obstinate we were, the more we got. We are apparently about to deal away any hope of such an effective posture with Iran. The upcoming NATO summit in Lisbon is not a business-as-usual gathering: Russia is being invited to the table for the first time, and NATO’s missile-defense strategy is to be the primary topic. The act of not declaring Iran’s missile (and nuclear) programs to be a threat to the allies will put the West, for the foreseeable future, at a permanent disadvantage in negotiations with Tehran.

The picture is growing clearer that NATO can’t retain its current alliance list and also operate from a common will to defend itself. To some extent, this shift has been building for a while, but the response favored by the Obama administration is the wrong one: letting an alliance that would fail a stress test be transformed against America’s interests. NATO, to which we have long provided most of the military spending, and now provide most of the forces and the political will, cannot be transformed in this manner without becoming an entangling alliance. That process has begun.

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LIVE BLOG: The Pauline Kael Remark of 2010?

The famous story of the 1972 election (which originates, I have to tell you, with my mother, I believe) is the movie critic Pauline Kael greeting Nixon’s victory with: “I can’t believe he won. I don’t know anyone who voted for him.” Tonight on Twitter, the wildly successful kiddie horror writer R.L. Stine offered a 2010 version of the dreadful parochialism that afflicted Kael: “I’m so glad I live in New York City and not in the United States,” he wrote.

The famous story of the 1972 election (which originates, I have to tell you, with my mother, I believe) is the movie critic Pauline Kael greeting Nixon’s victory with: “I can’t believe he won. I don’t know anyone who voted for him.” Tonight on Twitter, the wildly successful kiddie horror writer R.L. Stine offered a 2010 version of the dreadful parochialism that afflicted Kael: “I’m so glad I live in New York City and not in the United States,” he wrote.

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How Will the GOP Be Able to Influence Foreign Policy After the Election?

With the GOP poised to take at least one house of Congress, there is already much speculation about what this portends for policy. I will leave domestic policy to colleagues who follow it more closely than I do. When it comes to foreign and defense policy, my instinct is that there isn’t much change in the works.

In the first place, national-security policy is an area of almost unbounded presidential prerogative. Most of the time Congress can exert an influence only at the margins. Only if things really get off-kilter can Congress have a major impact, as it did in the early 1970s, when antiwar lawmakers cut off South Vietnam and severely hobbled our defense and intelligence establishments. But that was after Watergate and a military defeat (or so it was perceived at the time — debate about whether we really “lost” in Vietnam continues). Such circumstances seldom recur; no chief executive has been as weak as Nixon and Ford. In the 1980s, to be sure, Congress was a significant player in trying to limit aid to the Sandinistas and some other aspects of the Reagan approach to winning the Cold War — but that was a much more ideologically polarizing period in foreign policy than the one we’re in today.

As I noted recently, there is a surprisingly large degree of bipartisan consensus on the war on terror now that Obama has essentially endorsed most of Bush’s approach. That extends to other areas, including the most controversial foreign-policy issue of the day — the Afghan War. Republicans are actually more behind the war effort than Democrats, so it will be easy for Obama to reach across the aisle and seek and win the support of Mitch McConnell, John Boehner, and other Republican leaders on the Hill. Some Tea Party isolationists (Rand Paul comes to mind) will object but they will be fringe players — unless the war goes seriously south. The most immediate impact of GOP majorities would presumably be to take the pressure off Obama to stick by his July 2011 deadline for beginning a withdrawal, but, as I’ve previously noted, I think the president has backed off the deadline as it is. Republicans may also pressure Obama to get tougher on Iran and less tough on Israel, but their leverage is going to be severely limited.

The most significant changes are likely to be not those imposed on Obama from the Hill but those he has decided to make himself based on two years of on-the-job experience. As Robert Kagan recently argued, there are some signs to indicate that Obama’s foreign policy has already entered a new phase:

If Phase One was about repairing America’s image around the world by showing a friendlier face to everyone, especially adversaries, Phase Two will be about wielding renewed American influence, even if it means challenging some and disappointing others. If Phase One was about “resetting” relations with great powers, especially Russia and China, Phase Two will be about discovering the limits of reset and taking a harder line when we disagree. If Phase One placed more emphasis on great-power cooperation and the nebulous concept of a “G-20 world,” Phase Two will be built around core U.S. alliances with democratic nations. If Phase One was focused on being Not Bush, Phase Two will be about shedding that self-imposed straitjacket and pursuing traditional American interests and principles even if George W. Bush pursued them, too.

I think that’s basically right. Obama came into office with little foreign-policy experience and lots of ideological baggage. (Remember his infamous pledge to meet during his first year in office with the leaders of “Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Cuba and North Korea”? Another campaign promise thankfully not kept.) He has been learning the hard way that his personal charm is not going to transform the world — that the mullahs, for instance, will want nuclear weapons no matter who is in the White House. He is now making some welcome course adjustments. Republicans on the Hill can support some of his initiatives and stymie others but ultimately they are not going to have a decisive impact on the course set by the commander in chief.

With the GOP poised to take at least one house of Congress, there is already much speculation about what this portends for policy. I will leave domestic policy to colleagues who follow it more closely than I do. When it comes to foreign and defense policy, my instinct is that there isn’t much change in the works.

In the first place, national-security policy is an area of almost unbounded presidential prerogative. Most of the time Congress can exert an influence only at the margins. Only if things really get off-kilter can Congress have a major impact, as it did in the early 1970s, when antiwar lawmakers cut off South Vietnam and severely hobbled our defense and intelligence establishments. But that was after Watergate and a military defeat (or so it was perceived at the time — debate about whether we really “lost” in Vietnam continues). Such circumstances seldom recur; no chief executive has been as weak as Nixon and Ford. In the 1980s, to be sure, Congress was a significant player in trying to limit aid to the Sandinistas and some other aspects of the Reagan approach to winning the Cold War — but that was a much more ideologically polarizing period in foreign policy than the one we’re in today.

As I noted recently, there is a surprisingly large degree of bipartisan consensus on the war on terror now that Obama has essentially endorsed most of Bush’s approach. That extends to other areas, including the most controversial foreign-policy issue of the day — the Afghan War. Republicans are actually more behind the war effort than Democrats, so it will be easy for Obama to reach across the aisle and seek and win the support of Mitch McConnell, John Boehner, and other Republican leaders on the Hill. Some Tea Party isolationists (Rand Paul comes to mind) will object but they will be fringe players — unless the war goes seriously south. The most immediate impact of GOP majorities would presumably be to take the pressure off Obama to stick by his July 2011 deadline for beginning a withdrawal, but, as I’ve previously noted, I think the president has backed off the deadline as it is. Republicans may also pressure Obama to get tougher on Iran and less tough on Israel, but their leverage is going to be severely limited.

The most significant changes are likely to be not those imposed on Obama from the Hill but those he has decided to make himself based on two years of on-the-job experience. As Robert Kagan recently argued, there are some signs to indicate that Obama’s foreign policy has already entered a new phase:

If Phase One was about repairing America’s image around the world by showing a friendlier face to everyone, especially adversaries, Phase Two will be about wielding renewed American influence, even if it means challenging some and disappointing others. If Phase One was about “resetting” relations with great powers, especially Russia and China, Phase Two will be about discovering the limits of reset and taking a harder line when we disagree. If Phase One placed more emphasis on great-power cooperation and the nebulous concept of a “G-20 world,” Phase Two will be built around core U.S. alliances with democratic nations. If Phase One was focused on being Not Bush, Phase Two will be about shedding that self-imposed straitjacket and pursuing traditional American interests and principles even if George W. Bush pursued them, too.

I think that’s basically right. Obama came into office with little foreign-policy experience and lots of ideological baggage. (Remember his infamous pledge to meet during his first year in office with the leaders of “Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Cuba and North Korea”? Another campaign promise thankfully not kept.) He has been learning the hard way that his personal charm is not going to transform the world — that the mullahs, for instance, will want nuclear weapons no matter who is in the White House. He is now making some welcome course adjustments. Republicans on the Hill can support some of his initiatives and stymie others but ultimately they are not going to have a decisive impact on the course set by the commander in chief.

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We Are Not Defensive!

Yesterday, in typically measured and tightly reasoned fashion, Michael Gerson made the case that the president is a snob. This is not an observation unique to Gerson. Every outlet from the New York Times to the Daily Beast to the Weekly Standard has remarked on Obama’s serial habit of denigrating fellow Americans. But Obama’s defining characteristic may not be his snobbery.

It is, as we have seen in the nonstop attacks on all but the remaining true believers, his thin-skinnedness. The White House sees dupes or rabid enemies at Fox News, Gallup, the Chamber of Commerce, and Tea Party gatherings. So David Axelrod, perhaps the president’s adviser, feels compelled to come out and declare that the president is not a snob. Yes, a bit reminiscent of Nixon’s “I am not a crook.” And equally ineffective.

It is an error that the White House has repeated throughout its first two years: elevating critics while diminishing the president’s own standing. It makes one pine for a president with a superior temperament.

Yesterday, in typically measured and tightly reasoned fashion, Michael Gerson made the case that the president is a snob. This is not an observation unique to Gerson. Every outlet from the New York Times to the Daily Beast to the Weekly Standard has remarked on Obama’s serial habit of denigrating fellow Americans. But Obama’s defining characteristic may not be his snobbery.

It is, as we have seen in the nonstop attacks on all but the remaining true believers, his thin-skinnedness. The White House sees dupes or rabid enemies at Fox News, Gallup, the Chamber of Commerce, and Tea Party gatherings. So David Axelrod, perhaps the president’s adviser, feels compelled to come out and declare that the president is not a snob. Yes, a bit reminiscent of Nixon’s “I am not a crook.” And equally ineffective.

It is an error that the White House has repeated throughout its first two years: elevating critics while diminishing the president’s own standing. It makes one pine for a president with a superior temperament.

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Gallup Poll Results in Perspective

Yesterday I referenced the Gallup survey showing that Republicans lead by 51 percent to 41 percent among registered voters in Gallup’s weekly tracking of 2010 congressional voting preferences. The poll is getting a lot of attention, and rightfully so. Frank Newport, editor in chief of Gallup, put the results in context:

The Republican leads of 6, 7, and 10 points this month are all higher than any previous midterm Republican advantage in Gallup’s history of tracking the generic ballot, which dates to 1942. Prior to this year, the highest such gap was five points, measured in June 2002 and July 1994. Elections in both of these years resulted in significant Republican gains in House seats.

As a further reference point: in August 1994, Republicans and Democrats were tied in Gallup’s generic ballot (46/46). And in the final pre-election poll in 1994, when asked if the elections for Congress were held today which party’s candidate (Republican or Democrat) would you vote for in your congressional district, the public preferred the Democratic candidate by a two-point margin (43 v. 41).

The GOP gained 54 seats in the House.

(A caveat: the data do not appear to have Gallup’s likely-voter screen applied to them, a practice the organization now employs starting in October. Data of national adults, rather than likely voters, usually will add several points more to Democratic candidates.)

Now, the generic ballot question, though significant, is not dispositive. The problem for Democrats is that almost across the board, the polling news is awful. President Obama is witnessing a hemorrhaging of support from among independent voters. And the enthusiasm gap, which favors the GOP by 20-25 points, is also an ominous sign for Democrats.

“The intensity gap is the biggest I’ve seen in 30 years,” the Republican pollster Bill McInturff told Bloomberg News’s Al Hunt. “This is going to be a massive election like 1974, except it will happen to the Democrats this time,” according to McInturff. In 1974 Democrats, in the aftermath of the Watergate scandal (Nixon resigned in August), took 49 seats from the Republican Party and increased their majority above the two-thirds mark (from 242 to 291).

“Today,” proclaimed the Democratic strategist James Carville in the wake of 2008 Obama’s victory, “a Democratic majority is emerging, and it’s my hypothesis, one I share with a great many others, that this majority will guarantee the Democrats remain in power for the next 40 years.”

It looks like Carville’s Democratic majority may fall around 38 years short of his prediction.

Yesterday I referenced the Gallup survey showing that Republicans lead by 51 percent to 41 percent among registered voters in Gallup’s weekly tracking of 2010 congressional voting preferences. The poll is getting a lot of attention, and rightfully so. Frank Newport, editor in chief of Gallup, put the results in context:

The Republican leads of 6, 7, and 10 points this month are all higher than any previous midterm Republican advantage in Gallup’s history of tracking the generic ballot, which dates to 1942. Prior to this year, the highest such gap was five points, measured in June 2002 and July 1994. Elections in both of these years resulted in significant Republican gains in House seats.

As a further reference point: in August 1994, Republicans and Democrats were tied in Gallup’s generic ballot (46/46). And in the final pre-election poll in 1994, when asked if the elections for Congress were held today which party’s candidate (Republican or Democrat) would you vote for in your congressional district, the public preferred the Democratic candidate by a two-point margin (43 v. 41).

The GOP gained 54 seats in the House.

(A caveat: the data do not appear to have Gallup’s likely-voter screen applied to them, a practice the organization now employs starting in October. Data of national adults, rather than likely voters, usually will add several points more to Democratic candidates.)

Now, the generic ballot question, though significant, is not dispositive. The problem for Democrats is that almost across the board, the polling news is awful. President Obama is witnessing a hemorrhaging of support from among independent voters. And the enthusiasm gap, which favors the GOP by 20-25 points, is also an ominous sign for Democrats.

“The intensity gap is the biggest I’ve seen in 30 years,” the Republican pollster Bill McInturff told Bloomberg News’s Al Hunt. “This is going to be a massive election like 1974, except it will happen to the Democrats this time,” according to McInturff. In 1974 Democrats, in the aftermath of the Watergate scandal (Nixon resigned in August), took 49 seats from the Republican Party and increased their majority above the two-thirds mark (from 242 to 291).

“Today,” proclaimed the Democratic strategist James Carville in the wake of 2008 Obama’s victory, “a Democratic majority is emerging, and it’s my hypothesis, one I share with a great many others, that this majority will guarantee the Democrats remain in power for the next 40 years.”

It looks like Carville’s Democratic majority may fall around 38 years short of his prediction.

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“A Barbarous Relic”

Jennifer notes this morning that Ron Paul wants an audit of Fort Knox and the New York Federal Reserve Bank to see how much gold is stored there, if any. This is pure conspiracy theory, for one thing. Given the fact that both Fort Knox and the New York Fed have very large numbers of people who work there, with someone on-duty 24 hours a day, how could billions in gold be removed without the story getting out? As Benjamin Franklin said, “Two men can keep a secret, if one of them is dead.”

For another thing, most of the gold held in the vaults 85 feet below street level at the New York Fed on Liberty Street in lower Manhattan does not belong to the United States. It belongs to many of the world’s other countries, who store it there to facilitate transactions in gold between them. So if that gold is gone, it would not only be fraud; it would be theft, as well.

The truth of the matter is that the last link between gold and money was severed in 1971, when President Nixon ended the right of other countries to redeem dollars in gold. Individuals had lost that right in 1933. So if the gold in Fort Knox were to suddenly vanish into the bowels of the earth, as once happened to the contents of Scrooge McDuck’s money bin (don’t worry, he got it back), it wouldn’t really matter. Money today is money because people believe it to be money (i.e., “a commodity that is universally accepted in exchange for every other commodity”). If that belief were to flicker, if people were to begin to doubt the acceptability of the dollar in the market place, then it wouldn’t matter how much gold was stored in Fort Knox.

As Lord Keynes wrote in Monetary Reform, gold, as a monetary standard, “is already a barbarous relic.” That book was published in 1924, 11 years before Ron Paul was born.

Jennifer notes this morning that Ron Paul wants an audit of Fort Knox and the New York Federal Reserve Bank to see how much gold is stored there, if any. This is pure conspiracy theory, for one thing. Given the fact that both Fort Knox and the New York Fed have very large numbers of people who work there, with someone on-duty 24 hours a day, how could billions in gold be removed without the story getting out? As Benjamin Franklin said, “Two men can keep a secret, if one of them is dead.”

For another thing, most of the gold held in the vaults 85 feet below street level at the New York Fed on Liberty Street in lower Manhattan does not belong to the United States. It belongs to many of the world’s other countries, who store it there to facilitate transactions in gold between them. So if that gold is gone, it would not only be fraud; it would be theft, as well.

The truth of the matter is that the last link between gold and money was severed in 1971, when President Nixon ended the right of other countries to redeem dollars in gold. Individuals had lost that right in 1933. So if the gold in Fort Knox were to suddenly vanish into the bowels of the earth, as once happened to the contents of Scrooge McDuck’s money bin (don’t worry, he got it back), it wouldn’t really matter. Money today is money because people believe it to be money (i.e., “a commodity that is universally accepted in exchange for every other commodity”). If that belief were to flicker, if people were to begin to doubt the acceptability of the dollar in the market place, then it wouldn’t matter how much gold was stored in Fort Knox.

As Lord Keynes wrote in Monetary Reform, gold, as a monetary standard, “is already a barbarous relic.” That book was published in 1924, 11 years before Ron Paul was born.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Sounds like every pro-Israel organization and self-described pro-Israel candidate should be in agreement with Noah Pollak: “Congress funds 22 percent of the [UN Human Rights] Council’s activities. Is it right to collude in allowing a democratic ally to become an international punching bag for activists who are only prevented from treating us the same way by virtue of our greater power? And should the United States help promote the idea that one of the most important and effective national security tools we employ — targeted killings — is an act of state terrorism that must be prosecuted by international courts? … It is time that the administration abandoned the Council. And it is time that Congress stopped funding it.”

Sounds like Nixon: “The hypocrisy of the Obama Justice Department has reached staggering proportions on a host of issues stemming from the New Black Panther voter-intimidation case. Such systemic evasion of justice breeds lawlessness. The Justice Department’s latest thumb in the eye of its critics came in an Aug. 11 letter from Assistant Attorney General Thomas E. Perez to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.”

Sounds like the Big Apple is part of second America: “A majority of New Yorkers remain opposed to a mosque proposed as part of a planned Islamic cultural center near ground zero and the issue will be a factor for many voters this fall, according to a statewide poll released Wednesday. The Siena College poll showed 63 percent of New York voters surveyed oppose the project, with 27 percent supporting it.”

Sounds like the rest of California: “The city of Bell gave nearly $900,000 in loans to former City Administrator Robert Rizzo, city employees and at least two council members in the last several years, according to records reviewed by The Times. … The loans raise new questions about how officials were compensated in Bell. The Times revealed last month that top city administrators were among the highest paid in the nation, sparking outrage and investigations by both L.A. County prosecutors and the California attorney general. Rizzo’s contract for this year called for him to receive more than $1.5 million in salary and benefits. The loans appear to have come on top of that compensation.”

Sounds like Milton Friedman: “Almost every action the president has taken has deepened and lengthened the downturn. … His policies are anti-investment, anti-jobs, and anti-growth. Raising taxes — with a 15 percent hike on certain small business corporations, new taxes to pay for ObamaCare, and an increase on the dividend tax from 15 percent to nearly 40 percent — depresses new investment throughout the economy.” Worth reading in full; Mitt Romney appears ready to roll in 2012.

Sounds like Barney Frank is spitting mad: “President Obama, whom I greatly admire … when the economic recovery bill — we’re supposed to call it the ‘recovery bill,’ not the ‘stimulus’ bill; that’s what the focus groups tell us — he predicted or his aides predicted at the time that if it passed, unemployment would get under 8 percent. … That was a dumb thing to do.” Focus groups at the White House — how Clintonian!

Sounds like Charlie Crist is taking political lessons from Obama and Pelosi: “Crist recently refunded a $9,600 contribution from Jim Greer, the indicted former Republican Party of Florida chairman. ‘He asked for it back, so I gave it to him,’ said Crist. But Crist said that doesn’t apply to anyone who asks for a refund. Asked what was different about Greer, Crist said, ‘I think he really needed it.’” The rest of the donors will just spend it on dumb things like groceries, mortgages, family vacations, and Marco Rubio, you see.

Sounds like every pro-Israel organization and self-described pro-Israel candidate should be in agreement with Noah Pollak: “Congress funds 22 percent of the [UN Human Rights] Council’s activities. Is it right to collude in allowing a democratic ally to become an international punching bag for activists who are only prevented from treating us the same way by virtue of our greater power? And should the United States help promote the idea that one of the most important and effective national security tools we employ — targeted killings — is an act of state terrorism that must be prosecuted by international courts? … It is time that the administration abandoned the Council. And it is time that Congress stopped funding it.”

Sounds like Nixon: “The hypocrisy of the Obama Justice Department has reached staggering proportions on a host of issues stemming from the New Black Panther voter-intimidation case. Such systemic evasion of justice breeds lawlessness. The Justice Department’s latest thumb in the eye of its critics came in an Aug. 11 letter from Assistant Attorney General Thomas E. Perez to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.”

Sounds like the Big Apple is part of second America: “A majority of New Yorkers remain opposed to a mosque proposed as part of a planned Islamic cultural center near ground zero and the issue will be a factor for many voters this fall, according to a statewide poll released Wednesday. The Siena College poll showed 63 percent of New York voters surveyed oppose the project, with 27 percent supporting it.”

Sounds like the rest of California: “The city of Bell gave nearly $900,000 in loans to former City Administrator Robert Rizzo, city employees and at least two council members in the last several years, according to records reviewed by The Times. … The loans raise new questions about how officials were compensated in Bell. The Times revealed last month that top city administrators were among the highest paid in the nation, sparking outrage and investigations by both L.A. County prosecutors and the California attorney general. Rizzo’s contract for this year called for him to receive more than $1.5 million in salary and benefits. The loans appear to have come on top of that compensation.”

Sounds like Milton Friedman: “Almost every action the president has taken has deepened and lengthened the downturn. … His policies are anti-investment, anti-jobs, and anti-growth. Raising taxes — with a 15 percent hike on certain small business corporations, new taxes to pay for ObamaCare, and an increase on the dividend tax from 15 percent to nearly 40 percent — depresses new investment throughout the economy.” Worth reading in full; Mitt Romney appears ready to roll in 2012.

Sounds like Barney Frank is spitting mad: “President Obama, whom I greatly admire … when the economic recovery bill — we’re supposed to call it the ‘recovery bill,’ not the ‘stimulus’ bill; that’s what the focus groups tell us — he predicted or his aides predicted at the time that if it passed, unemployment would get under 8 percent. … That was a dumb thing to do.” Focus groups at the White House — how Clintonian!

Sounds like Charlie Crist is taking political lessons from Obama and Pelosi: “Crist recently refunded a $9,600 contribution from Jim Greer, the indicted former Republican Party of Florida chairman. ‘He asked for it back, so I gave it to him,’ said Crist. But Crist said that doesn’t apply to anyone who asks for a refund. Asked what was different about Greer, Crist said, ‘I think he really needed it.’” The rest of the donors will just spend it on dumb things like groceries, mortgages, family vacations, and Marco Rubio, you see.

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Never Leave Evidence

What is with politicians? Nixon had his tapes. Clinton had his blue dress. And the Obama crew has an e-mail to Andrew Romanoff setting out his career possibilities should he leave the Senate race. No, you won’t find the phrase ”And if you get out of the race, we have one of these lovely gifts for you” in the e-mail. But no case is that airtight.

The Obama team now has a pattern — Joe Sestak and Romanoff — of playing the Blago game at a slightly more sophisticated level. But maybe not. There is unfortunately no tape, I would think, of White House staffer Jim Messina telling Romanoff that he should realize that a Senate seat is “f***ing golden.”

What is with politicians? Nixon had his tapes. Clinton had his blue dress. And the Obama crew has an e-mail to Andrew Romanoff setting out his career possibilities should he leave the Senate race. No, you won’t find the phrase ”And if you get out of the race, we have one of these lovely gifts for you” in the e-mail. But no case is that airtight.

The Obama team now has a pattern — Joe Sestak and Romanoff — of playing the Blago game at a slightly more sophisticated level. But maybe not. There is unfortunately no tape, I would think, of White House staffer Jim Messina telling Romanoff that he should realize that a Senate seat is “f***ing golden.”

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Flotilla Incident — Constructive Criticism

When Israel is attacked — physically or rhetorically — the impulse of all friends of Israel (myself included) is to jump immediately and totally to its defense. That is a commendable impulse; certainly far preferable to the knee-jerk anti-Israel animus displayed by much of the world. But unflinching support for Israel’s right to defend itself should not preclude occasional criticism of the manner in which it exercises that right — just as being a supporter of the United States and its armed forces in general should not preclude one from criticizing specific operations, for instance the way in which the Iraq war was conducted from 2003 to 2007. Indeed, one can argue that those of us who were critical of the Bush administration’s conduct of the war ultimately helped to make possible the turnaround that occurred when President Bush jettisoned his senior war managers (Rumsfeld, Abizaid, Casey) and implemented the surge — a policy they had stubbornly and foolishly opposed.

So Israel is now going through a period of reflection and self-criticism similar to that which occurred after the troubled 2006 campaign against Hezbollah. That resulted in a more successful operation against Hamas (Operation Cast Lead in December 2008-January 2009). I hope that the constructive criticisms that I — and other pro-Israel commentators — have lodged of the manner in which the Gaza flotilla was handled will lead Israeli policymakers to be more adept in dealing with similar challenges in the future. My critique (I wrote that the operation was morally and legally justified but handed a public-relations victory to Israel’s enemies) was actually mild compared with many of those heard in Israel itself. For instance, Ari Shavit — a respected Haaretz columnist who is a hawkish liberal – wrote:

During the 2006 war in Lebanon I concluded that my 15-year-old daughter could have conducted it more wisely than the Olmert-Peretz government. We’ve progressed. Today it’s clear to me that my 6-year-old son could do much better than our current government.

As another example, there is this comment made to Atlantic blogger Jeffrey Goldberg, who is in Israel right now:

I happen to be around a lot of Israeli generals lately, and one I bumped into today said something very smart and self-aware: “Does everybody in the world think we’re bananas?” He did not let me respond before he said, “Wait, I know the answer: The whole world thinks we’re bananas.” I asked this general if this was a good thing or a bad thing. After all, Nixon seemed bananas and he achieved great things internationally. So did Menachem Begin. This is what the general said, however: “It’s one thing for people to think that you’re crazy, but it’s bad when they think you’re incompetent and crazy, and that’s the way we look.”

Unfortunately — and it pains me to say so because I want only the best for Israel — I think that unnamed general is right.

Those who continue to defend the handling of the Gaza flotilla make essentially three points: (a) there was no credible alternative; (b) Israel would get criticized no matter what it did; and (c) Israel cannot give the “international community” a veto over its right of self-defense.

Start with the first point. Knowledgeable Israeli commentators agree with me that there likely were alternative courses of action to stop the flotilla without sending a small group of naval commandos into the middle of a melee — a situation for which they were unprepared. The Jerusalem Post writes:

One question that needs to be asked is why the government approved the IDF’s plan to put troops on the ship via helicopter instead of perhaps sabotaging or diverting them. Flotilla 13, the naval commando unit that raided the ships, is expert in sabotage.

According to one former top navy officer, one option was to use tugboats to push the ships off course. Another option was to damage the ships’ propellers, prevent them from sailing into Gaza and forcing them to be towed to Ashdod.

A third option was to board the ships quietly and not by helicopter.

“There were several options that the IDF had before sending troops onto the ship,” the former senior officer explained, “It is not clear that those options were completely exhausted.”

In the Wall Street Journal today, Israeli security analyst Ronen Bergman (who, like I do, describes the operation as a “fiasco”) reminds us that such alternatives have been employed before:

In 1988, 131 members of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) who had been deported from the Palestinian Territories following the outbreak of the first intifada intended to set sail to Gaza from Limassol, Cyprus. Their boat, called Al Awda or the Ship of the Return, was accompanied by 200 journalists. ….

On Feb. 15, hours before it was due to set sail, the empty ship was blown up in Limassol harbor by a team of Mossad agents and frogmen from Flotilla 13 (the Israeli equivalent of Navy Seals). The team was led by Yoav Galant, then a young officer and today a major general in the IDF. The operation was a success. There were no casualties on either side and the PLO gave up on the idea of sailing to Gaza.

What about the argument that Israel would get criticized no matter what it did? That even if its agents sabotaged or disabled the pro-Hamas vessels without risking an open confrontation, it would still be pilloried? There is some truth to this, but there is criticism and then there is criticism. It would get a lot less blowback for such a low-profile operation than for a shoot-out on the high seas that left nine “peace activists” (actually pro-Hamas activists) dead.

Israel should be willing to risk international opprobrium when it faces a true existential threat. It needs, for example, to retaliate for Hamas rocket strikes, as it did with Operation Cast Lead. No state can allow its territory to be attacked with impunity. Israel also needs to seriously consider the possibility of bombing Iranian nuclear facilities no matter the denunciations that such an operation would inevitably bring; the potential payoff is worth the public-relations cost. But the Mavi Marmara was not an existential threat; it was not loaded with missiles or other weapons. It was a provocation, an act of political theater — and Israel should have been smart enough to avoid playing the part scripted by its enemies. Even letting the ship dock in Gaza would have done less damage to Israel than the manner in which it was stopped.

The justification for the boarding was that Israel couldn’t allow the Gaza blockade to be broken. I’m sympathetic to the need to maintain the blockade (which Israel has every right to do), but as Ronen Bergman points out, Israel has let other ships breach the blockade before without catastrophic consequences:

In August 2006 two ships carrying peace activists and food aid set out to Gaza, again from Cyprus. Under instructions from then Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, the vessels were boarded at sea without resistance. After a search uncovered no weapons, the ships were permitted to continue on toward the Strip. The Israeli naval forces went home, Hamas declared victory, and that was that.

The ultimate irony here is that the Israeli boarding was meant to prevent a recurrence of such Hamas aid convoys. Yet the shooting aboard the Mavi Marama has had the opposite effect — by handing an unearned propaganda victory to Israel’s enemies, it is encouraging them to repeat the same tactics. Three more ships are being readied for another Gaza flotilla. If and when they do sail, I trust that the Israeli government will learn from experience and not walk into another trap set by its enemies.

When Israel is attacked — physically or rhetorically — the impulse of all friends of Israel (myself included) is to jump immediately and totally to its defense. That is a commendable impulse; certainly far preferable to the knee-jerk anti-Israel animus displayed by much of the world. But unflinching support for Israel’s right to defend itself should not preclude occasional criticism of the manner in which it exercises that right — just as being a supporter of the United States and its armed forces in general should not preclude one from criticizing specific operations, for instance the way in which the Iraq war was conducted from 2003 to 2007. Indeed, one can argue that those of us who were critical of the Bush administration’s conduct of the war ultimately helped to make possible the turnaround that occurred when President Bush jettisoned his senior war managers (Rumsfeld, Abizaid, Casey) and implemented the surge — a policy they had stubbornly and foolishly opposed.

So Israel is now going through a period of reflection and self-criticism similar to that which occurred after the troubled 2006 campaign against Hezbollah. That resulted in a more successful operation against Hamas (Operation Cast Lead in December 2008-January 2009). I hope that the constructive criticisms that I — and other pro-Israel commentators — have lodged of the manner in which the Gaza flotilla was handled will lead Israeli policymakers to be more adept in dealing with similar challenges in the future. My critique (I wrote that the operation was morally and legally justified but handed a public-relations victory to Israel’s enemies) was actually mild compared with many of those heard in Israel itself. For instance, Ari Shavit — a respected Haaretz columnist who is a hawkish liberal – wrote:

During the 2006 war in Lebanon I concluded that my 15-year-old daughter could have conducted it more wisely than the Olmert-Peretz government. We’ve progressed. Today it’s clear to me that my 6-year-old son could do much better than our current government.

As another example, there is this comment made to Atlantic blogger Jeffrey Goldberg, who is in Israel right now:

I happen to be around a lot of Israeli generals lately, and one I bumped into today said something very smart and self-aware: “Does everybody in the world think we’re bananas?” He did not let me respond before he said, “Wait, I know the answer: The whole world thinks we’re bananas.” I asked this general if this was a good thing or a bad thing. After all, Nixon seemed bananas and he achieved great things internationally. So did Menachem Begin. This is what the general said, however: “It’s one thing for people to think that you’re crazy, but it’s bad when they think you’re incompetent and crazy, and that’s the way we look.”

Unfortunately — and it pains me to say so because I want only the best for Israel — I think that unnamed general is right.

Those who continue to defend the handling of the Gaza flotilla make essentially three points: (a) there was no credible alternative; (b) Israel would get criticized no matter what it did; and (c) Israel cannot give the “international community” a veto over its right of self-defense.

Start with the first point. Knowledgeable Israeli commentators agree with me that there likely were alternative courses of action to stop the flotilla without sending a small group of naval commandos into the middle of a melee — a situation for which they were unprepared. The Jerusalem Post writes:

One question that needs to be asked is why the government approved the IDF’s plan to put troops on the ship via helicopter instead of perhaps sabotaging or diverting them. Flotilla 13, the naval commando unit that raided the ships, is expert in sabotage.

According to one former top navy officer, one option was to use tugboats to push the ships off course. Another option was to damage the ships’ propellers, prevent them from sailing into Gaza and forcing them to be towed to Ashdod.

A third option was to board the ships quietly and not by helicopter.

“There were several options that the IDF had before sending troops onto the ship,” the former senior officer explained, “It is not clear that those options were completely exhausted.”

In the Wall Street Journal today, Israeli security analyst Ronen Bergman (who, like I do, describes the operation as a “fiasco”) reminds us that such alternatives have been employed before:

In 1988, 131 members of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) who had been deported from the Palestinian Territories following the outbreak of the first intifada intended to set sail to Gaza from Limassol, Cyprus. Their boat, called Al Awda or the Ship of the Return, was accompanied by 200 journalists. ….

On Feb. 15, hours before it was due to set sail, the empty ship was blown up in Limassol harbor by a team of Mossad agents and frogmen from Flotilla 13 (the Israeli equivalent of Navy Seals). The team was led by Yoav Galant, then a young officer and today a major general in the IDF. The operation was a success. There were no casualties on either side and the PLO gave up on the idea of sailing to Gaza.

What about the argument that Israel would get criticized no matter what it did? That even if its agents sabotaged or disabled the pro-Hamas vessels without risking an open confrontation, it would still be pilloried? There is some truth to this, but there is criticism and then there is criticism. It would get a lot less blowback for such a low-profile operation than for a shoot-out on the high seas that left nine “peace activists” (actually pro-Hamas activists) dead.

Israel should be willing to risk international opprobrium when it faces a true existential threat. It needs, for example, to retaliate for Hamas rocket strikes, as it did with Operation Cast Lead. No state can allow its territory to be attacked with impunity. Israel also needs to seriously consider the possibility of bombing Iranian nuclear facilities no matter the denunciations that such an operation would inevitably bring; the potential payoff is worth the public-relations cost. But the Mavi Marmara was not an existential threat; it was not loaded with missiles or other weapons. It was a provocation, an act of political theater — and Israel should have been smart enough to avoid playing the part scripted by its enemies. Even letting the ship dock in Gaza would have done less damage to Israel than the manner in which it was stopped.

The justification for the boarding was that Israel couldn’t allow the Gaza blockade to be broken. I’m sympathetic to the need to maintain the blockade (which Israel has every right to do), but as Ronen Bergman points out, Israel has let other ships breach the blockade before without catastrophic consequences:

In August 2006 two ships carrying peace activists and food aid set out to Gaza, again from Cyprus. Under instructions from then Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, the vessels were boarded at sea without resistance. After a search uncovered no weapons, the ships were permitted to continue on toward the Strip. The Israeli naval forces went home, Hamas declared victory, and that was that.

The ultimate irony here is that the Israeli boarding was meant to prevent a recurrence of such Hamas aid convoys. Yet the shooting aboard the Mavi Marama has had the opposite effect — by handing an unearned propaganda victory to Israel’s enemies, it is encouraging them to repeat the same tactics. Three more ships are being readied for another Gaza flotilla. If and when they do sail, I trust that the Israeli government will learn from experience and not walk into another trap set by its enemies.

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NPT Mischief-Making

Eli Lake details the three-ring circus that is about to open at the nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty conference this week. He explains that while the Obmai are marshaling support for their anemic sanctions, Iran — with help from Egypt — is trying to make Israel the focus of the “international community”:

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will attend the conference as the head of his country’s delegation. He is expected to raise the issue of Israel’s nuclear weapons to deflect attention from Iran’s enrichment of uranium. Iran could have an ally in traditional rival Egypt, whose delegation will be pushing for a resolution that would have the effect of singling out Israel, one of the three countries in the world that has never signed the NPT.

It seems for all our suck-uppery to the Muslim World, Egypt — who Obama has largely accommodated by his reticence on its political thuggery and human-rights abuses — is at the center of the trouble-making:

For 40 years, the United States has been a partner in Israel’s nuclear opacity as well. In a deal fashioned in 1969 between President Nixon and Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir, the United States does not pressure Israel to join the treaty, which would require the Jewish state to give up its nuclear weapons. Israel, in turn, does not acknowledge it has the weapons.

The Egyptian working paper of March 2010 on the nuclear-free Middle East threatens to upset this secret understanding. Specifically, it would require member states of the NPT to “disclose in their national reports on the implementation of the resolution on the Middle East all information available to them on the nature and scope of Israeli nuclear facilities and activities, including information pertaining to previous nuclear transfers to Israel.”

This aptly illustrates the many deficiencies with Obama’s Middle East policy and nuclear-proliferation approach. By elevating the non-proliferation gambit, he has given a forum to distract and complicate reasonable measures focused on the only nuclear threat that matters right now — Iran. By ingratiating himself with Arab states and savaging Israel, he has only encouraged the former to do the same. And by taking the nuclear-free Middle East pipe dream seriously, we only encourage further mischief. A case in point:

David Albright, president of the Institute for Science and International Security, said a deal with the Egyptians is within reach.

“The key is for the U.S. administration to quietly let the Egyptians know that at the presidential and vice-presidential level, the United States takes the issue of a WMD-free zone in the Middle East seriously.”

That’s exactly wrong. We should be signaling that we take this not seriously at all and want to focus solely on the Iranian threat. But then the Obami are willing players in the game of misdirection and stalling when it comes to confronting the mullahs, so don’t expect them to take a firm hand with Egypt.

Eli Lake details the three-ring circus that is about to open at the nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty conference this week. He explains that while the Obmai are marshaling support for their anemic sanctions, Iran — with help from Egypt — is trying to make Israel the focus of the “international community”:

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will attend the conference as the head of his country’s delegation. He is expected to raise the issue of Israel’s nuclear weapons to deflect attention from Iran’s enrichment of uranium. Iran could have an ally in traditional rival Egypt, whose delegation will be pushing for a resolution that would have the effect of singling out Israel, one of the three countries in the world that has never signed the NPT.

It seems for all our suck-uppery to the Muslim World, Egypt — who Obama has largely accommodated by his reticence on its political thuggery and human-rights abuses — is at the center of the trouble-making:

For 40 years, the United States has been a partner in Israel’s nuclear opacity as well. In a deal fashioned in 1969 between President Nixon and Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir, the United States does not pressure Israel to join the treaty, which would require the Jewish state to give up its nuclear weapons. Israel, in turn, does not acknowledge it has the weapons.

The Egyptian working paper of March 2010 on the nuclear-free Middle East threatens to upset this secret understanding. Specifically, it would require member states of the NPT to “disclose in their national reports on the implementation of the resolution on the Middle East all information available to them on the nature and scope of Israeli nuclear facilities and activities, including information pertaining to previous nuclear transfers to Israel.”

This aptly illustrates the many deficiencies with Obama’s Middle East policy and nuclear-proliferation approach. By elevating the non-proliferation gambit, he has given a forum to distract and complicate reasonable measures focused on the only nuclear threat that matters right now — Iran. By ingratiating himself with Arab states and savaging Israel, he has only encouraged the former to do the same. And by taking the nuclear-free Middle East pipe dream seriously, we only encourage further mischief. A case in point:

David Albright, president of the Institute for Science and International Security, said a deal with the Egyptians is within reach.

“The key is for the U.S. administration to quietly let the Egyptians know that at the presidential and vice-presidential level, the United States takes the issue of a WMD-free zone in the Middle East seriously.”

That’s exactly wrong. We should be signaling that we take this not seriously at all and want to focus solely on the Iranian threat. But then the Obami are willing players in the game of misdirection and stalling when it comes to confronting the mullahs, so don’t expect them to take a firm hand with Egypt.

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A Bully Pulpit … or Just a Bully?

Dennis Kneale, CNBC media and technology editor, has a column in which he refers to President Obama as “a bully.” Kneale makes his case and  concludes this way:

I can’t remember of any other President in my memory having done this. Nixon maybe? An unfortunate comparison, indeed. … And the worst part is, we’re barely calling out Obama the Bully on this behavior at all. We are becoming entirely too accustomed to it, failing to see it for what it really is: a striking lack of civility, and an overflow of divisiveness, from a President who had promised to give us precisely the opposite.

The bottom line? The man who promised to elevate American politics is degrading it.

Dennis Kneale, CNBC media and technology editor, has a column in which he refers to President Obama as “a bully.” Kneale makes his case and  concludes this way:

I can’t remember of any other President in my memory having done this. Nixon maybe? An unfortunate comparison, indeed. … And the worst part is, we’re barely calling out Obama the Bully on this behavior at all. We are becoming entirely too accustomed to it, failing to see it for what it really is: a striking lack of civility, and an overflow of divisiveness, from a President who had promised to give us precisely the opposite.

The bottom line? The man who promised to elevate American politics is degrading it.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Still Vouching for Obama and Trashing Bibi

Back in 2008, when Barack Obama was doing his best to reassure Jewish voters and contributors that despite a flimsy record and troubling associations with anti-Israel extremists like his pastor, he could be trusted to be a friend to Israel, Chicago Jews who were looking to get in on the ground floor of the candidate’s presidential boomlet were quick to come forward with testimonials. Two years later, after President Obama has demonstrated, again, his desire to distance himself from Israel, such tributes ring false. Yet despite the absurdity of using these statements as proof of Obama’s goodwill toward the Jewish state, they have been resurrected in, all of places, the New Yorker, a magazine that once prided itself on being on the cutting edge of thought, not the recycler of discarded political talking points. But that’s exactly what David Remnick does in a piece in which he joins the administration’s mugging of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The conceit of the article is that the fight Obama picked earlier this month over the timing of the announcement of a Jerusalem housing project was all the fault of Netanyahu and his bumbling, bigoted government. But Remnick, who likes to put himself forward as being knowledgeable about Israel, betrays his own lack of sophistication. He claims that Netanyahu’s coalition suffers “from a troubling degree of instability.” But as anyone who’s actually been paying attention to Israel knows, that isn’t true. Bibi’s cabinet is as stable as any multi-party coalition can hope to be. It has its outliers, such as Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, but the parties that came together to form the government have good reasons to hang together, and there has been no serious threat to break it up. Indeed, far from being hostage to the far Right, there was hardly a peep from Netanyahu’s pro-settler allies when he agreed to a building freeze in the West Bank last fall, something that was especially surprising — and disappointing — to the Obama White House, since it has been trying to knock the Israeli leader out of office ever since he was elected a few weeks after Obama was sworn in as president.

But in an attempt to pretend that the blatant change in atmosphere toward Israel isn’t happening, all Remnick can do is recycle the same lame propaganda that the Democrats shoveled to the press in 2008: Obama’s Jewish neighbors — and contributors — all thought he was great, with one even gushing that Obama would be “the first Jewish president.”

Remnick’s misreading of the spirit of the current White House, which he insists against all evidence is still a stalwart friend of Israel, is matched by his lack of understanding of both the Israelis and the Palestinians. He claims the question now is whether Netanyahu is “the arrogant rejectionist that he was in the nineteen-nineties.” The characterization of Netanyahu’s first term as prime minster as “rejectionist” is absurd. In his three years in office, he signed both the Hebron pact and the Wye Plantation Agreement, which both mandated Israeli territorial withdrawals in exchange for the usual (unfulfilled) Palestinian promises. And since coming back to power, Netanyahu has already formally accepted a two-state solution and agreed to freeze building in the West Bank. Just as absurd is Remnick’s claim that the Palestinian Authority leadership is “moderate and constructive.” Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad may mean well, but these two are the same Palestinians who adamantly rejected an offer of a state in the West Bank and Gaza and part of Jerusalem less than two years ago. Indeed, they would not even discuss such a plan and today won’t sit down and negotiate directly with Israel. They and their Hamas rivals who rule Gaza are the rejectionists, not Netanyahu.

Remnick says that an Israeli devotion to the status quo will eventually sour a friendly Obama on Israel. But the truth is that the status quo cannot be altered unilaterally by Israel without a sea change in Palestinian thinking. Far from Netanyahu needing to do a “Nixon goes to China” transformation, it is still the Palestinians who must learn to take “yes” for an answer. The obsession with forcing Israel to make concessions to revive a peace process that the Palestinians don’t care about speaks volumes about Obama and his supporters.

Back in 2008, when Barack Obama was doing his best to reassure Jewish voters and contributors that despite a flimsy record and troubling associations with anti-Israel extremists like his pastor, he could be trusted to be a friend to Israel, Chicago Jews who were looking to get in on the ground floor of the candidate’s presidential boomlet were quick to come forward with testimonials. Two years later, after President Obama has demonstrated, again, his desire to distance himself from Israel, such tributes ring false. Yet despite the absurdity of using these statements as proof of Obama’s goodwill toward the Jewish state, they have been resurrected in, all of places, the New Yorker, a magazine that once prided itself on being on the cutting edge of thought, not the recycler of discarded political talking points. But that’s exactly what David Remnick does in a piece in which he joins the administration’s mugging of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The conceit of the article is that the fight Obama picked earlier this month over the timing of the announcement of a Jerusalem housing project was all the fault of Netanyahu and his bumbling, bigoted government. But Remnick, who likes to put himself forward as being knowledgeable about Israel, betrays his own lack of sophistication. He claims that Netanyahu’s coalition suffers “from a troubling degree of instability.” But as anyone who’s actually been paying attention to Israel knows, that isn’t true. Bibi’s cabinet is as stable as any multi-party coalition can hope to be. It has its outliers, such as Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, but the parties that came together to form the government have good reasons to hang together, and there has been no serious threat to break it up. Indeed, far from being hostage to the far Right, there was hardly a peep from Netanyahu’s pro-settler allies when he agreed to a building freeze in the West Bank last fall, something that was especially surprising — and disappointing — to the Obama White House, since it has been trying to knock the Israeli leader out of office ever since he was elected a few weeks after Obama was sworn in as president.

But in an attempt to pretend that the blatant change in atmosphere toward Israel isn’t happening, all Remnick can do is recycle the same lame propaganda that the Democrats shoveled to the press in 2008: Obama’s Jewish neighbors — and contributors — all thought he was great, with one even gushing that Obama would be “the first Jewish president.”

Remnick’s misreading of the spirit of the current White House, which he insists against all evidence is still a stalwart friend of Israel, is matched by his lack of understanding of both the Israelis and the Palestinians. He claims the question now is whether Netanyahu is “the arrogant rejectionist that he was in the nineteen-nineties.” The characterization of Netanyahu’s first term as prime minster as “rejectionist” is absurd. In his three years in office, he signed both the Hebron pact and the Wye Plantation Agreement, which both mandated Israeli territorial withdrawals in exchange for the usual (unfulfilled) Palestinian promises. And since coming back to power, Netanyahu has already formally accepted a two-state solution and agreed to freeze building in the West Bank. Just as absurd is Remnick’s claim that the Palestinian Authority leadership is “moderate and constructive.” Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad may mean well, but these two are the same Palestinians who adamantly rejected an offer of a state in the West Bank and Gaza and part of Jerusalem less than two years ago. Indeed, they would not even discuss such a plan and today won’t sit down and negotiate directly with Israel. They and their Hamas rivals who rule Gaza are the rejectionists, not Netanyahu.

Remnick says that an Israeli devotion to the status quo will eventually sour a friendly Obama on Israel. But the truth is that the status quo cannot be altered unilaterally by Israel without a sea change in Palestinian thinking. Far from Netanyahu needing to do a “Nixon goes to China” transformation, it is still the Palestinians who must learn to take “yes” for an answer. The obsession with forcing Israel to make concessions to revive a peace process that the Palestinians don’t care about speaks volumes about Obama and his supporters.

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Speaking of Retirements . . .

With more and more senators and congressmen heading for the exits, it’s a good question how this will affect two other possible retirements from the Washington stage: those of Justices John Paul Stevens and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Stevens will soon be 90 and has not hired his usual quota of clerks for next year — traditionally a sign of impending retirement. Justice Ginsburg (who will be 77 next month) has not been in good health in recent years, having had two bouts with cancer.

But if they retire at the close of the current term, in late June, will President Obama be able to get his nominees to replace them through the Senate before the election in November? If present trends continue (they usually don’t, of course), that’s unlikely.  The more probable a Republican landslide in  November comes to seem, the more probable is a Republican filibuster to prevent liberal replacements for these liberal justices.

In 1968, lame duck Lyndon Johnson tried to get his buddy Justice Abe Fortas raised to the chief justiceship upon Earl Warren’s retirement. Although Republicans were in the minority, they and their Dixiecrat allies were able to block Fortas. And Warren stayed on as chief justice, as it appeared that, with a likely impending Republican victory in November, no Johnson nominee could be confirmed. The following year, President Nixon nominated the lackluster Warren Burger to replace Warren as chief justice and, when Fortas had to resign in a scandal, ended up nominating Harold Blackmun (author of Roe v. Wade) as his replacement after two failed attempts to nominate Southerners.

If there is a Republican Senate majority next year, President Obama would have no choice but to nominate moderates in order to get them confirmed. Wouldn’t it be a delicious irony if President Obama’s picks had the effect of moving the Court to the right, however incrementally?

With more and more senators and congressmen heading for the exits, it’s a good question how this will affect two other possible retirements from the Washington stage: those of Justices John Paul Stevens and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Stevens will soon be 90 and has not hired his usual quota of clerks for next year — traditionally a sign of impending retirement. Justice Ginsburg (who will be 77 next month) has not been in good health in recent years, having had two bouts with cancer.

But if they retire at the close of the current term, in late June, will President Obama be able to get his nominees to replace them through the Senate before the election in November? If present trends continue (they usually don’t, of course), that’s unlikely.  The more probable a Republican landslide in  November comes to seem, the more probable is a Republican filibuster to prevent liberal replacements for these liberal justices.

In 1968, lame duck Lyndon Johnson tried to get his buddy Justice Abe Fortas raised to the chief justiceship upon Earl Warren’s retirement. Although Republicans were in the minority, they and their Dixiecrat allies were able to block Fortas. And Warren stayed on as chief justice, as it appeared that, with a likely impending Republican victory in November, no Johnson nominee could be confirmed. The following year, President Nixon nominated the lackluster Warren Burger to replace Warren as chief justice and, when Fortas had to resign in a scandal, ended up nominating Harold Blackmun (author of Roe v. Wade) as his replacement after two failed attempts to nominate Southerners.

If there is a Republican Senate majority next year, President Obama would have no choice but to nominate moderates in order to get them confirmed. Wouldn’t it be a delicious irony if President Obama’s picks had the effect of moving the Court to the right, however incrementally?

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Oops, They Forgot to Include Siberia

First it was the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia playing fast and loose with scientific data, manipulating it to produce desired results while discarding much of the raw data. Now, according to a report in Britain’s Telegraph newspaper, the Hadley Center for Climate Change, part of the government’s British Meteorological Office, did some data-cooking as well, leaving out temperature records for about 40 percent of the Russian landmass in calculating recent temperature trends.

Since Russia constitutes 12.5 percent of the world’s landmass, much of that a byword for brutal winters, that is no small omission. And the data from weather stations that were omitted do not show substantial global warming in recent decades.

Climategate is beginning to seem more and more like its namesake, Watergate. Those around in those days remember how, day after day after day, new revelations came out and ever more desperate attempts to minimize their significance or to explain them away were made. (One of my all-time favorite Herblock cartoons, from June 1973, as Watergate was just beginning to expand, shows a press conference in the East Room. In the background is a very large, very dead whale labeled “Nixon Scandals,” inadequately hidden beneath a small rug. The spokesman holding the press conference says, “I am authorized to say, ‘What whale?’ “)

The constant water drip of revelations and Nixon’s attempts to explain them and prevent further ones from leaking slowly but surely destroyed the Nixon presidency. The chronology of Watergate as it evolved over a year and a half is a fascinating window into the greatest scandal in American history as it slowly reached critical mass.

Climategate bids fair to be equally interesting, and it seems that we are getting nearer and nearer to that critical mass. I suspect that Al Gore, flying around in his private jet telling everyone else to walk, is not too happy right now.

First it was the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia playing fast and loose with scientific data, manipulating it to produce desired results while discarding much of the raw data. Now, according to a report in Britain’s Telegraph newspaper, the Hadley Center for Climate Change, part of the government’s British Meteorological Office, did some data-cooking as well, leaving out temperature records for about 40 percent of the Russian landmass in calculating recent temperature trends.

Since Russia constitutes 12.5 percent of the world’s landmass, much of that a byword for brutal winters, that is no small omission. And the data from weather stations that were omitted do not show substantial global warming in recent decades.

Climategate is beginning to seem more and more like its namesake, Watergate. Those around in those days remember how, day after day after day, new revelations came out and ever more desperate attempts to minimize their significance or to explain them away were made. (One of my all-time favorite Herblock cartoons, from June 1973, as Watergate was just beginning to expand, shows a press conference in the East Room. In the background is a very large, very dead whale labeled “Nixon Scandals,” inadequately hidden beneath a small rug. The spokesman holding the press conference says, “I am authorized to say, ‘What whale?’ “)

The constant water drip of revelations and Nixon’s attempts to explain them and prevent further ones from leaking slowly but surely destroyed the Nixon presidency. The chronology of Watergate as it evolved over a year and a half is a fascinating window into the greatest scandal in American history as it slowly reached critical mass.

Climategate bids fair to be equally interesting, and it seems that we are getting nearer and nearer to that critical mass. I suspect that Al Gore, flying around in his private jet telling everyone else to walk, is not too happy right now.

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Bizarro World

Geraldine Ferraro sounds like Ward Connerly:

As for Reagan Democrats, how Clinton was treated is not their issue. They are more concerned with how they have been treated. Since March, when I was accused of being racist for a statement I made about the influence of blacks on Obama’s historic campaign, people have been stopping me to express a common sentiment: If you’re white you can’t open your mouth without being accused of being racist. They see Obama’s playing the race card throughout the campaign and no one calling him for it as frightening. They’re not upset with Obama because he’s black; they’re upset because they don’t expect to be treated fairly because they’re white. It’s not racism that is driving them, it’s racial resentment. And that is enforced because they don’t believe he understands them and their problems. That when he said in South Carolina after his victory “Our Time Has Come” they believe he is telling them that their time has passed.

Terry McAuliffe sounds like Rich Lowry (or Bob Dole) on Scott McClellan:

I never like it when someone works for someone and then comes out and writes a book trashing them. . . . I don’t care if it is politics or life. If he was that upset about everything, he should have quit. Remember, Gerald Ford’s press secretary quit when he disagreed with pardoning, Ford pardoning Nixon. If you don’t agree, then get out. And I just, I find it abhorrent the way these people come out and write books about their boss. It made ‘em money, it made ‘em prestige, it gave them all this power, and then they turn around and slap ‘em. I just, I gotta tell you, I just uh, I don’t care who it is — Democrat, Republican — it’s wrong.

And Bill Clinton sounds like Brent Bozell on the Leftwing media conspiracy.

Next thing you know we will find out that “Obama, a University of Chicago intellectual, is in the unlikely position of seeming to have a closed, uninquisitive mind when it comes to Iraq.” In all seriousness, when the Democratic party lurches so far to the left (with the assistance and urging of much of the mainstream media), the political landscape may be so scrambled that the Clintons, Terry McAuliffe and Geraldine Ferraro–exemplars of the Democratic establishment with a political memory longer than a week–start sounding sane in comparison.

Geraldine Ferraro sounds like Ward Connerly:

As for Reagan Democrats, how Clinton was treated is not their issue. They are more concerned with how they have been treated. Since March, when I was accused of being racist for a statement I made about the influence of blacks on Obama’s historic campaign, people have been stopping me to express a common sentiment: If you’re white you can’t open your mouth without being accused of being racist. They see Obama’s playing the race card throughout the campaign and no one calling him for it as frightening. They’re not upset with Obama because he’s black; they’re upset because they don’t expect to be treated fairly because they’re white. It’s not racism that is driving them, it’s racial resentment. And that is enforced because they don’t believe he understands them and their problems. That when he said in South Carolina after his victory “Our Time Has Come” they believe he is telling them that their time has passed.

Terry McAuliffe sounds like Rich Lowry (or Bob Dole) on Scott McClellan:

I never like it when someone works for someone and then comes out and writes a book trashing them. . . . I don’t care if it is politics or life. If he was that upset about everything, he should have quit. Remember, Gerald Ford’s press secretary quit when he disagreed with pardoning, Ford pardoning Nixon. If you don’t agree, then get out. And I just, I find it abhorrent the way these people come out and write books about their boss. It made ‘em money, it made ‘em prestige, it gave them all this power, and then they turn around and slap ‘em. I just, I gotta tell you, I just uh, I don’t care who it is — Democrat, Republican — it’s wrong.

And Bill Clinton sounds like Brent Bozell on the Leftwing media conspiracy.

Next thing you know we will find out that “Obama, a University of Chicago intellectual, is in the unlikely position of seeming to have a closed, uninquisitive mind when it comes to Iraq.” In all seriousness, when the Democratic party lurches so far to the left (with the assistance and urging of much of the mainstream media), the political landscape may be so scrambled that the Clintons, Terry McAuliffe and Geraldine Ferraro–exemplars of the Democratic establishment with a political memory longer than a week–start sounding sane in comparison.

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