Commentary Magazine


Topic: Oil

WikiLeaks Debunks History for Stupid People

Gideon Rachman at the Financial Times says WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange deserves a medal rather than prison. “He and WikiLeaks have done America a massive favour,” he writes, “by inadvertently debunking decades-old conspiracy theories about its foreign policy.”

He’s right. And I suspect Rachman’s tongue is firmly planted in cheek when he says Assange should be rewarded. If the United States wanted all that information made public, the government hardly needed his help getting it out there.

Anyway, Rachman points out that many rightists in China and Russia, and leftists in Europe and Latin America, assume that whatever American foreign-policy officials say in public is a lie. I’d add that Arabs on both the “left” and the “right” do, too. Not all of them, surely, but perhaps a majority. I’ve met people in the Middle East who actually like parts of the American rationale for the war in Iraq — that the promotion of democracy in the Arab world might leech out its toxins — they just don’t believe the U.S. was actually serious.

And let’s not forget the most ridiculous theories of all. Surely somewhere in all these leaked files there’d be references to a war for oil in Iraq if the war was, in fact, about oil. Likewise, if 9/11 was an inside job — or a joint Mossad–al-Qaeda job — there should be at least some suggestive evidence in all those classified documents. If the U.S. government lied, rather than guessed wrong, about Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction, or if NATO invaded Afghanistan to install a pipeline, this information would have to be written down somewhere. The State and Defense department bureaucracies are far too vast to have no records of what they’re up to.

Conspiracy theories, though, as someone once said, are history for stupid people. Those who actually believe this stuff — whether about American foreign policy, the president’s birth certificate, or whatever — think the historical record is part of the con job, that anyone who debunks the conspiracy is either deluded or in on it.

So Assange is accused of working for the CIA.

Rachman points out other silly theories that are debunked, or at the very least unsupported, by the leaked cables. “The Americans say, in public, that they would like to build a strong relationship with China based on mutual interests,” he writes, “but that they are worried that some Chinese economic policies are damaging American workers. This turns out to be what they are saying in private, as well. In a cable predicting a more turbulent phase in US-Chinese relations, Jon Huntsman, the US ambassador, insists: ‘We need to find ways to keep the relationship positive,’ while ensuring that American workers benefit more. Many Chinese nationalists and netizens have developed elaborate theories about American plots to thwart China’s rise. There is not a hint of this in WikiLeaks.”

Julian Assange is stridently anti-American. He is not trying to boost the government’s credibility by leaking thousands of cables, and he almost certainly would refuse a medal if one were offered. He should not have done what he did for a number of reasons, and the least rational among our species won’t be persuaded of anything by this material, but that doesn’t mean the rest of us can’t still feel a little bit satisfied.

Gideon Rachman at the Financial Times says WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange deserves a medal rather than prison. “He and WikiLeaks have done America a massive favour,” he writes, “by inadvertently debunking decades-old conspiracy theories about its foreign policy.”

He’s right. And I suspect Rachman’s tongue is firmly planted in cheek when he says Assange should be rewarded. If the United States wanted all that information made public, the government hardly needed his help getting it out there.

Anyway, Rachman points out that many rightists in China and Russia, and leftists in Europe and Latin America, assume that whatever American foreign-policy officials say in public is a lie. I’d add that Arabs on both the “left” and the “right” do, too. Not all of them, surely, but perhaps a majority. I’ve met people in the Middle East who actually like parts of the American rationale for the war in Iraq — that the promotion of democracy in the Arab world might leech out its toxins — they just don’t believe the U.S. was actually serious.

And let’s not forget the most ridiculous theories of all. Surely somewhere in all these leaked files there’d be references to a war for oil in Iraq if the war was, in fact, about oil. Likewise, if 9/11 was an inside job — or a joint Mossad–al-Qaeda job — there should be at least some suggestive evidence in all those classified documents. If the U.S. government lied, rather than guessed wrong, about Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction, or if NATO invaded Afghanistan to install a pipeline, this information would have to be written down somewhere. The State and Defense department bureaucracies are far too vast to have no records of what they’re up to.

Conspiracy theories, though, as someone once said, are history for stupid people. Those who actually believe this stuff — whether about American foreign policy, the president’s birth certificate, or whatever — think the historical record is part of the con job, that anyone who debunks the conspiracy is either deluded or in on it.

So Assange is accused of working for the CIA.

Rachman points out other silly theories that are debunked, or at the very least unsupported, by the leaked cables. “The Americans say, in public, that they would like to build a strong relationship with China based on mutual interests,” he writes, “but that they are worried that some Chinese economic policies are damaging American workers. This turns out to be what they are saying in private, as well. In a cable predicting a more turbulent phase in US-Chinese relations, Jon Huntsman, the US ambassador, insists: ‘We need to find ways to keep the relationship positive,’ while ensuring that American workers benefit more. Many Chinese nationalists and netizens have developed elaborate theories about American plots to thwart China’s rise. There is not a hint of this in WikiLeaks.”

Julian Assange is stridently anti-American. He is not trying to boost the government’s credibility by leaking thousands of cables, and he almost certainly would refuse a medal if one were offered. He should not have done what he did for a number of reasons, and the least rational among our species won’t be persuaded of anything by this material, but that doesn’t mean the rest of us can’t still feel a little bit satisfied.

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Memo to Congress: Do Nothing!

Gilbert and Sullivan made fun of the British House of Lords in Iolanthe thus:

When Wellington thrashed Bonaparte,

As every child can tell,

The House of Peers, throughout the war,

Did nothing in particular,

And did it very well.

The American Congress — not itself unknown for doing nothing in particular on occasion — has an opportunity in the next couple of weeks to do nothing at all and render the country a considerable service thereby.

What it needs to do nothing about is ethanol, one of the truly epic boondoggles in American history. As the ball falls in Times Square on New Year’s Eve, both the 45-cent-a-gallon tax credit on ethanol (which goes to companies that blend ethanol and gasoline, i.e., Shell, Exxon, et al.) and the 54-cent-a-gallon tariff on foreign ethanol will expire, unless Congress acts.

The 45-cent tax credit costs the government $5-6 billion a year and is opposed by such strange bedfellows as the Sierra Club and the National Taxpayers Union. Those in favor are, no surprise, ethanol producers and the farmers who grow the corn it is made from. The 54-cent tariff, which, of course, is paid by American consumers, keeps cheaper foreign (mostly Brazilian) ethanol out of the American market.

Ethanol was supposed to be the road to American energy independence (sticking it to big oil into the bargain), while cutting down on the risk to the environment from traditional oil drilling. But even Al Gore is now against it. “One of the reasons I made that mistake [of supporting subsidies for corn ethanol],” he recently said, “is that I paid particular attention to the farmers in my home state of Tennessee, and I had a certain fondness for the farmers in the state of Iowa because I was about to run for president.”

Since federal law now mandates that motor fuel contain 10 percent ethanol, both the tax credit and the tariff favor only the few (corn farmers and ethanol producers) at the expense of the many (taxpayers and drivers).

Once a tax or a credit is in place, it is often very hard to get it repealed, because the special interests benefited fight fiercely to see that it remains on the books, while the general interest does not fight nearly as hard to get senators and congressmen to vote to repeal. Political inertia is the lobbyist’s best friend. But in this case, Congress merely has to do nothing: let the tariff and the credit get lost in the hectic final days of the lame duck session and call it a job well done.

Even members of Congress should be able to that.

Gilbert and Sullivan made fun of the British House of Lords in Iolanthe thus:

When Wellington thrashed Bonaparte,

As every child can tell,

The House of Peers, throughout the war,

Did nothing in particular,

And did it very well.

The American Congress — not itself unknown for doing nothing in particular on occasion — has an opportunity in the next couple of weeks to do nothing at all and render the country a considerable service thereby.

What it needs to do nothing about is ethanol, one of the truly epic boondoggles in American history. As the ball falls in Times Square on New Year’s Eve, both the 45-cent-a-gallon tax credit on ethanol (which goes to companies that blend ethanol and gasoline, i.e., Shell, Exxon, et al.) and the 54-cent-a-gallon tariff on foreign ethanol will expire, unless Congress acts.

The 45-cent tax credit costs the government $5-6 billion a year and is opposed by such strange bedfellows as the Sierra Club and the National Taxpayers Union. Those in favor are, no surprise, ethanol producers and the farmers who grow the corn it is made from. The 54-cent tariff, which, of course, is paid by American consumers, keeps cheaper foreign (mostly Brazilian) ethanol out of the American market.

Ethanol was supposed to be the road to American energy independence (sticking it to big oil into the bargain), while cutting down on the risk to the environment from traditional oil drilling. But even Al Gore is now against it. “One of the reasons I made that mistake [of supporting subsidies for corn ethanol],” he recently said, “is that I paid particular attention to the farmers in my home state of Tennessee, and I had a certain fondness for the farmers in the state of Iowa because I was about to run for president.”

Since federal law now mandates that motor fuel contain 10 percent ethanol, both the tax credit and the tariff favor only the few (corn farmers and ethanol producers) at the expense of the many (taxpayers and drivers).

Once a tax or a credit is in place, it is often very hard to get it repealed, because the special interests benefited fight fiercely to see that it remains on the books, while the general interest does not fight nearly as hard to get senators and congressmen to vote to repeal. Political inertia is the lobbyist’s best friend. But in this case, Congress merely has to do nothing: let the tariff and the credit get lost in the hectic final days of the lame duck session and call it a job well done.

Even members of Congress should be able to that.

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Holiday Cheer at the Times: British Author Doesn’t Get Hanukkah

After winning the prestigious Man Booker prize, British author Howard Jacobson is the toast of the literary world. What’s more, as Jonathan Foreman points out in the December issue of COMMENTARY (which is behind our pay wall), the book that won him the award properly skewers those Britons whose hatred for Israel has more to do with their own insecurities and prejudices than any genuine sins committed by the Jewish state. And while such sentiments make him a valued outlier in a Britain where anti-Semitism masquerading as anti-Zionism is all the rage among the intellectuals, it is disappointing to discover via the New York Times op-ed page that he doesn’t really understand the festival of Hanukkah that begins this evening at sundown. Admittedly, much of this piece is clearly intended as humor, but it is the sort of ironic British humor that is, as our cousins across the pond like to say, too clever by half.

Jacobson is correct to note that the Jews’ December holiday can never truly compete with Christmas. Though, contrary to his account, most American Jews replicate the gift-giving frenzy of their neighbors, Hanukkah hasn’t the songs or the marketing to match the Christian holiday. Christmas trees will beat a dreidel in terms of mass appeal any day.

His idea that Jews give their kids new cars as presents in remembrance of the oil that lasted for eight days is a lame joke that unwittingly calls to mind the appeals of leftist Jews to make Hanukkah an environmentalist festival. But Jacobson’s bizarre suggestion that the remembrance of the struggles of the Hasmoneans be replaced with yet another Jewish commemoration of past suffering, such as at the hands of the Spanish Inquisition or Russian pogroms, illustrates that even a British Jew immune to the self-hating anti-Zionism so prevalent in the UK is still incapable of taking pride in remembrance of a successful struggle for political and religious freedom. It’s as if even Jacobson can’t fathom the idea that Jews aren’t supposed to be the victims in every story.

Jacobson may think that the idea of celebrating a Jewish victory over Syrian-Greek oppressors is not “authentic,” but you have to wonder what is it about a small people’s decision to fight rather than to bow to the dictates of a foreign power intent on wiping out their national identity and faith that he finds so off-putting. Winning Jewish independence isn’t, as he says, “wish fulfillment”; it is a model of pride that is a universal source of inspiration.

Jacobson’s failed attempt at wit at the expense of this festival is more or less what we have come to expect from Jewish authors when they write on Jewish subjects on the Times op-ed page. But the point about Hanukkah is that it exemplifies the spirit of a people who refuse to genuflect before the idols of the popular culture of their day. As such, Hanukkah is an important lesson for contemporary Jews who struggle to maintain their identity as minorities in the Diaspora, as well as for the people of Israel who remain under siege. For all the understandable universal appeal of Christmas and the specific resonance of the festival for Jews, this message of Hanukkah that inspires resistance to the forces that seek to denigrate religion and the values of faith is one that should appeal to all people of goodwill. It’s a pity that this point was of no interest to Jacobson and the Times.

After winning the prestigious Man Booker prize, British author Howard Jacobson is the toast of the literary world. What’s more, as Jonathan Foreman points out in the December issue of COMMENTARY (which is behind our pay wall), the book that won him the award properly skewers those Britons whose hatred for Israel has more to do with their own insecurities and prejudices than any genuine sins committed by the Jewish state. And while such sentiments make him a valued outlier in a Britain where anti-Semitism masquerading as anti-Zionism is all the rage among the intellectuals, it is disappointing to discover via the New York Times op-ed page that he doesn’t really understand the festival of Hanukkah that begins this evening at sundown. Admittedly, much of this piece is clearly intended as humor, but it is the sort of ironic British humor that is, as our cousins across the pond like to say, too clever by half.

Jacobson is correct to note that the Jews’ December holiday can never truly compete with Christmas. Though, contrary to his account, most American Jews replicate the gift-giving frenzy of their neighbors, Hanukkah hasn’t the songs or the marketing to match the Christian holiday. Christmas trees will beat a dreidel in terms of mass appeal any day.

His idea that Jews give their kids new cars as presents in remembrance of the oil that lasted for eight days is a lame joke that unwittingly calls to mind the appeals of leftist Jews to make Hanukkah an environmentalist festival. But Jacobson’s bizarre suggestion that the remembrance of the struggles of the Hasmoneans be replaced with yet another Jewish commemoration of past suffering, such as at the hands of the Spanish Inquisition or Russian pogroms, illustrates that even a British Jew immune to the self-hating anti-Zionism so prevalent in the UK is still incapable of taking pride in remembrance of a successful struggle for political and religious freedom. It’s as if even Jacobson can’t fathom the idea that Jews aren’t supposed to be the victims in every story.

Jacobson may think that the idea of celebrating a Jewish victory over Syrian-Greek oppressors is not “authentic,” but you have to wonder what is it about a small people’s decision to fight rather than to bow to the dictates of a foreign power intent on wiping out their national identity and faith that he finds so off-putting. Winning Jewish independence isn’t, as he says, “wish fulfillment”; it is a model of pride that is a universal source of inspiration.

Jacobson’s failed attempt at wit at the expense of this festival is more or less what we have come to expect from Jewish authors when they write on Jewish subjects on the Times op-ed page. But the point about Hanukkah is that it exemplifies the spirit of a people who refuse to genuflect before the idols of the popular culture of their day. As such, Hanukkah is an important lesson for contemporary Jews who struggle to maintain their identity as minorities in the Diaspora, as well as for the people of Israel who remain under siege. For all the understandable universal appeal of Christmas and the specific resonance of the festival for Jews, this message of Hanukkah that inspires resistance to the forces that seek to denigrate religion and the values of faith is one that should appeal to all people of goodwill. It’s a pity that this point was of no interest to Jacobson and the Times.

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Helicopter Ben Is at It Again

Ben Bernanke is nicknamed “Helicopter Ben” for his propensity to dump dollars into the economy — the equivalent of dropping greenbacks out of a helicopter. He’s at it again, in yet another attempt to add liquidity to an economy already soaked with cash. The Wall Street Journal explains:

The Federal Reserve, in a dramatic effort to rev up a “disappointingly slow” economic recovery, said it will buy $600 billion of U.S. government bonds over the next eight months to drive down interest rates and encourage more borrowing and growth.

Many outside the Fed, and some inside, see the move as a “Hail Mary” pass by Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke. He embraced highly unconventional policies during the financial crisis to ward off a financial-system collapse. But a year and a half later, he confronts an economy hobbled by high unemployment, a gridlocked political system and the threat of a Japan-like period of deflation, or a debilitating fall in consumer prices.

In other words, the Fed will print money and buy up bonds, thereby pushing up the cost of bonds (supply and demand at work) and pushing down their yield. “The Fed hopes that will result in lower interest rates for homeowners, consumers and businesses, which in turn will encourage more of them to borrow, spend and invest. The Fed figures it will also drive investors into stocks, corporate bonds and other riskier investments offering higher returns.”

Well, gosh, if it was that easy, why not print a trillion dollars or three? Well, the scheme, as you might imagine, has its risks.

The first, of course, is inflation. The Fed says not to worry, because the economy is limp. There is “so much spare capacity in the economy—including an unemployment rate at 9.6%, a real-estate landscape littered with more than 14 million unoccupied homes, and manufacturers operating with 28% of their productive capacity going unused.” Umm. But that suggests that the problem isn’t lack of liquidity (the banks are sitting on piles of cash). Moreover, the Fed will eventually, as they say, need to take the punch bowl away from the party — that is, jack up interest rates to shut off inflation as the economy gathers steam.

By the way, have you noticed commodity prices going up? Oh, yes:

An inflationary tide is beginning to ripple through America’s supermarkets and restaurants, threatening to end the tamest year of food pricing in nearly two decades.

Prices of staples including milk, beef, coffee, cocoa and sugar have risen sharply in recent months. And food makers and retailers including McDonald’s Corp., Kellogg Co. and Kroger Co. have begun to signal that they’ll try to make consumers shoulder more of the higher costs for ingredients.

The problem will get worse. As we flood the economy with dollars, we devalue our currency, making the price of imported goods, including oil — have you noticed pump prices lately? — more expensive. It has already begun, in fact. “Crude oil futures shot higher on Thursday on the back of a weaker dollar following the Federal Reserve’s decision to inject $600 billion into the U.S. economy.” That’s what happens when you drive the value of the dollar downward.

The risk of creating new speculative bubbles is real, and our trading partners are none too pleased about the Fed’s move. (“U.S. trading partners, particularly in the developing world, openly worry that the Fed’s money pumping is creating inflation in their own economies and a risk of asset-price bubbles. … In recent weeks, China, India, Australia and others have pushed their own interest rates higher to tamp down inflation forces.”)

You can understand why some regard this as a “Hail Mary.” Maybe it will work, maybe not. And maybe it will make things worse. But in the meantime, the most obvious  steps — reducing the cost of capital and labor, lessening the regulatory burden on employers, and getting our fiscal house in order — go unaddressed. On that front, the new Congress and the president should get cracking. Betting on Helicopter Ben to rescue the economy is the riskiest proposition of them all.

Ben Bernanke is nicknamed “Helicopter Ben” for his propensity to dump dollars into the economy — the equivalent of dropping greenbacks out of a helicopter. He’s at it again, in yet another attempt to add liquidity to an economy already soaked with cash. The Wall Street Journal explains:

The Federal Reserve, in a dramatic effort to rev up a “disappointingly slow” economic recovery, said it will buy $600 billion of U.S. government bonds over the next eight months to drive down interest rates and encourage more borrowing and growth.

Many outside the Fed, and some inside, see the move as a “Hail Mary” pass by Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke. He embraced highly unconventional policies during the financial crisis to ward off a financial-system collapse. But a year and a half later, he confronts an economy hobbled by high unemployment, a gridlocked political system and the threat of a Japan-like period of deflation, or a debilitating fall in consumer prices.

In other words, the Fed will print money and buy up bonds, thereby pushing up the cost of bonds (supply and demand at work) and pushing down their yield. “The Fed hopes that will result in lower interest rates for homeowners, consumers and businesses, which in turn will encourage more of them to borrow, spend and invest. The Fed figures it will also drive investors into stocks, corporate bonds and other riskier investments offering higher returns.”

Well, gosh, if it was that easy, why not print a trillion dollars or three? Well, the scheme, as you might imagine, has its risks.

The first, of course, is inflation. The Fed says not to worry, because the economy is limp. There is “so much spare capacity in the economy—including an unemployment rate at 9.6%, a real-estate landscape littered with more than 14 million unoccupied homes, and manufacturers operating with 28% of their productive capacity going unused.” Umm. But that suggests that the problem isn’t lack of liquidity (the banks are sitting on piles of cash). Moreover, the Fed will eventually, as they say, need to take the punch bowl away from the party — that is, jack up interest rates to shut off inflation as the economy gathers steam.

By the way, have you noticed commodity prices going up? Oh, yes:

An inflationary tide is beginning to ripple through America’s supermarkets and restaurants, threatening to end the tamest year of food pricing in nearly two decades.

Prices of staples including milk, beef, coffee, cocoa and sugar have risen sharply in recent months. And food makers and retailers including McDonald’s Corp., Kellogg Co. and Kroger Co. have begun to signal that they’ll try to make consumers shoulder more of the higher costs for ingredients.

The problem will get worse. As we flood the economy with dollars, we devalue our currency, making the price of imported goods, including oil — have you noticed pump prices lately? — more expensive. It has already begun, in fact. “Crude oil futures shot higher on Thursday on the back of a weaker dollar following the Federal Reserve’s decision to inject $600 billion into the U.S. economy.” That’s what happens when you drive the value of the dollar downward.

The risk of creating new speculative bubbles is real, and our trading partners are none too pleased about the Fed’s move. (“U.S. trading partners, particularly in the developing world, openly worry that the Fed’s money pumping is creating inflation in their own economies and a risk of asset-price bubbles. … In recent weeks, China, India, Australia and others have pushed their own interest rates higher to tamp down inflation forces.”)

You can understand why some regard this as a “Hail Mary.” Maybe it will work, maybe not. And maybe it will make things worse. But in the meantime, the most obvious  steps — reducing the cost of capital and labor, lessening the regulatory burden on employers, and getting our fiscal house in order — go unaddressed. On that front, the new Congress and the president should get cracking. Betting on Helicopter Ben to rescue the economy is the riskiest proposition of them all.

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Abuse of Power

It is astonishing, really.

The president of the United States has accused the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, despite its denial and without supporting evidence, of illegally funneling foreign money into U.S. campaigns. “Just this week,” Barack Obama said recently about the chamber, “we learned that one of the largest groups paying for these [political] ads regularly takes in money from foreign corporations. So groups that receive foreign money are spending huge sums to influence American elections.”

On CBS’s Face the Nation, host Bob Schieffer asked David Axelrod, senior adviser to the president, if there is any evidence to support their accusation. Axelrod responded this way: “Well, do you have any evidence that it’s not, Bob?”

Likewise, Obama’s press secretary, Robert Gibbs, wouldn’t back away from the incendiary charges yesterday. “The president will continue to make the argument that we don’t know where this money comes from and entities like the Chamber have said they get money from overseas,” Gibbs told reporters at the White House.

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It is astonishing, really.

The president of the United States has accused the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, despite its denial and without supporting evidence, of illegally funneling foreign money into U.S. campaigns. “Just this week,” Barack Obama said recently about the chamber, “we learned that one of the largest groups paying for these [political] ads regularly takes in money from foreign corporations. So groups that receive foreign money are spending huge sums to influence American elections.”

On CBS’s Face the Nation, host Bob Schieffer asked David Axelrod, senior adviser to the president, if there is any evidence to support their accusation. Axelrod responded this way: “Well, do you have any evidence that it’s not, Bob?”

Likewise, Obama’s press secretary, Robert Gibbs, wouldn’t back away from the incendiary charges yesterday. “The president will continue to make the argument that we don’t know where this money comes from and entities like the Chamber have said they get money from overseas,” Gibbs told reporters at the White House.

Set aside the hypocrisy of this whole episode. (My former White House colleague Ed Gillespie points out that no Democrats, least of all Obama, expressed concern about such outside spending in 2008, when more than $400 million was spent to help elect Barack Obama, much of it from undisclosed donors.) Set aside the fact that Mr. Axelrod concedes that the chamber is abiding by long-standing rules, that it doesn’t have to disclose its donors list, and that no other organizations are disclosing theirs. Set aside the fact that the chamber has 115 foreign-member affiliates who pay a total of less than $100,000 in membership dues to a group whose total budget is more than $200 million. And set aside the fact that various news organizations have dismissed the charges, including the New York Times, which reports, “a closer examination shows that there is little evidence that what the chamber does in collecting overseas dues is improper or even unusual, according to both liberal and conservative election-law lawyers and campaign finance documents.”

What we are witnessing is the abuse of power. We are now in a situation in which the president and his most senior advisers feel completely at liberty to throw out unsubstantiated charges and put the burden on people (and institutions) to prove their innocence. Liberals once referred to such tactics as McCarthyism. But Joseph McCarthy, for all his abuses, was “only” a United States senator, one member out of 100. The president and his advisers, on the other hand, have at their disposal far more power and the ability to inflict far more injury.

What Obama and his aides are demanding is that the Chamber of Commerce prove a negative — and in doing so, they are trying to intimidate the chamber into disclosing what is, by law, privileged information. “If the Chamber doesn’t have anything to hide about these contributions,” Mr. Axelrod says, “and I take them at their word that they don’t, then why not disclose? Why not let people see where their money is coming from?”

Let’s see if we can help Mr. Axelrod out by providing him with an explanation.

For one thing, he is employing the guilty-until-proven-innocent argument. For another, the White House’s standard is being selectively applied. And it encourages slanderous charges because it forces innocent people to disprove them. All this is troubling in any case; but it is triply pernicious when it is practiced by those with unmatched power, because they have an unparalleled capacity to intimidate American citizens.

In further answering Axelrod’s argument, consider this thought experiment. It’s the year 2021, and a partisan critic of a future president repeatedly asserts that the president is addicted to child pornography. It turns out that the critic has no proof of the charge — but when told he is asking the president to prove a negative, he responds: “I take the president at his word. But just to be sure, we’d like to examine his phone records and text messages, his computer accounts, and his credit card receipts. What we want, in other words, is full access to all the relevant information we need. After all, if he’s innocent, why not disclose this information? Why not let people see what you’re doing with your life and free time?”

It must be obvious to Messrs. Axelrod and Obama that what they are doing is irresponsible, dangerous, and deeply illiberal. It’s important to note, however, that this libel is taking place within a particular context. The attack on the Chamber of Commerce is only the most recent link in a long chain. The Obama White House has targeted Karl Rove, Ed Gillespie, and John Boehner; George W. Bush and Dick Cheney; conservative talk radio; Fox News; the state of Arizona; the Supreme Court (for its decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission); members of the Tea Party; critics of ObamaCare who attended town hall meetings; pharmaceutical, insurance, and oil companies; corporate executives, Wall Street, and the “rich.”

All this ugliness comes to us courtesy of a man who said during the 2008 campaign that “the times are too serious, the stakes are too high for this same partisan playbook”; who told us that we should “resist the temptation to fall back on the same partisanship and pettiness and immaturity that has poisoned our politics for so long”; and who assured us, on the night of his election, “I will listen to you, especially when we disagree.”

Back in October 2009, I wrote about this White House’s burning anger and resentment toward its critics and what it foreshadowed. That inferno is burning hotter than ever – and if it goes unchecked, it will eventually lead to a crisis.

In an August 16, 1971, memorandum from White House Counsel John Dean to Lawrence Higby, titled “Dealing with our Political Enemies,” Dean wrote:

This memorandum addresses the matter of how we can maximize the fact of our incumbency in dealing with persons known to be active in their opposition to our Administration; stated a bit more bluntly – how we can use the available federal machinery to screw our political enemies.

At comparable stages in their first terms, the Obama administration seems to be at least as eager as the Nixon administration to use the available federal machinery to “screw our political enemies.” We know how things turned out for the Nixon administration. President Obama cannot say he hasn’t been forewarned.

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OK, Obama Did Bollix the BP Oil Spill Response

Some on the right, joining the president’s usual defenders, were sympathetic to Obama’s handling of the BP oil spill. A president isn’t all-powerful. We can’t expect him to prevent or repair all mishaps. True, but there were well-founded criticisms (from the affected governors, for starters) about the federal government’s response. It turns out Obama did indeed mismanage things from start to finish:

The Obama administration was slow to ramp up its response to the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, then overreacted as public criticism turned the disaster into a political liability, the staff of a special commission investigating the disaster say in papers released Wednesday.

In four papers issued by the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling, commission investigators fault the administration for giving too much credence to initial estimates that just 1,000 barrels of oil a day were flowing from the ruptured BP PLC well, and for later allowing political concerns to drive decisions such as how to deploy people and material—such as oil-containing boom—to contain the spreading oil.

As howls of protest increased, the administration overreacted:

As the spill dragged on into late May, the spill commission staff wrote, the administration appears to have misdirected resources in its efforts to counter the public view that its response was inadequate. By May 27, polls showed that 60% of respondents thought the government was doing a poor job of responding to the spill, the commission staff wrote.

In late May, President Barack Obama said he would triple the federal manpower to respond to the spill. But Coast Guard personnel told the commission in interviews that they had enough equipment by the end of May.

“Tripling, or at least the arguable overreaction to the public perception of a slow response resulted in resources being thrown at the spill in general rather than being targeted in an efficient way,” the commission staff wrote.

And then there is the most egregious error — the drilling ban, which was legally suspect and economically disastrous for the region.

It is true, as in so many areas of policy, that expectations for the president are unreasonably high. For that, he has only himself and his advisers to blame, for constructing a messianic campaign and operating with an alarming degree of hubris. But the “unfair expectations” defense is a bit of a dodge. In truth, Obama and his team do not perform well in a crisis, lack management skills, and repeatedly fail to gauge public reaction. That’s not a matter of unreasonable expectations; that is a lack of competency and a failure to meet the minimum requirements of the job.

Some on the right, joining the president’s usual defenders, were sympathetic to Obama’s handling of the BP oil spill. A president isn’t all-powerful. We can’t expect him to prevent or repair all mishaps. True, but there were well-founded criticisms (from the affected governors, for starters) about the federal government’s response. It turns out Obama did indeed mismanage things from start to finish:

The Obama administration was slow to ramp up its response to the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, then overreacted as public criticism turned the disaster into a political liability, the staff of a special commission investigating the disaster say in papers released Wednesday.

In four papers issued by the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling, commission investigators fault the administration for giving too much credence to initial estimates that just 1,000 barrels of oil a day were flowing from the ruptured BP PLC well, and for later allowing political concerns to drive decisions such as how to deploy people and material—such as oil-containing boom—to contain the spreading oil.

As howls of protest increased, the administration overreacted:

As the spill dragged on into late May, the spill commission staff wrote, the administration appears to have misdirected resources in its efforts to counter the public view that its response was inadequate. By May 27, polls showed that 60% of respondents thought the government was doing a poor job of responding to the spill, the commission staff wrote.

In late May, President Barack Obama said he would triple the federal manpower to respond to the spill. But Coast Guard personnel told the commission in interviews that they had enough equipment by the end of May.

“Tripling, or at least the arguable overreaction to the public perception of a slow response resulted in resources being thrown at the spill in general rather than being targeted in an efficient way,” the commission staff wrote.

And then there is the most egregious error — the drilling ban, which was legally suspect and economically disastrous for the region.

It is true, as in so many areas of policy, that expectations for the president are unreasonably high. For that, he has only himself and his advisers to blame, for constructing a messianic campaign and operating with an alarming degree of hubris. But the “unfair expectations” defense is a bit of a dodge. In truth, Obama and his team do not perform well in a crisis, lack management skills, and repeatedly fail to gauge public reaction. That’s not a matter of unreasonable expectations; that is a lack of competency and a failure to meet the minimum requirements of the job.

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Gerson vs. Robinson

You have to give the Washington Post credit — their editors certainly offer a contrast on their op-ed pages. Today, needless to say, you have a Michael Gerson and Eugene Robinson. The difference is stark, and revealing.

From Gerson you have a measured analysis, which takes into account the series of events that have transformed Obama from a cult-like figure into a struggling and rather radioactive one. He writes:

The most destructive gap for President Obama is not the Republican lead on the generic congressional ballot or even a job disapproval that has surpassed approval — it is the gap between aspiration and reality.

The Manhattan mosque controversy showed the problem in compressed form. First came the Obama of high-toned principle (largely the right principle, in my view). Then a politically motivated recalibration. Then a scrambling staff explanation. Then an embarrassed silence, since it is difficult to clarify the clarification of a clarification. Then the president’s regretful assertion of “no regrets.”

I don’t agree with Gerson’s position on the mosque, but his rendition of the fact is exact and his list of other examples is overwhelmingly persuasive. He explains, “From the firing of Shirley Sherrod to the obsession with Fox News to lashing out at the ‘professional left,’ the Obama administration engages in a daily hypocrisy.” And then he provides still more examples to support his conclusion:

Politicians have been known to say one thing and do another. And high ideals and high rhetoric always create the potential for hypocrisy. But the disappointment with Obama is especially acute. He won office by providing new voters with intoxicating hopes. America was tipsy with idealism — resulting in a particularly difficult hangover. … All politicians fall — but not from such a height.

Then there is Eugene Robinson, who understandably must be at his wit’s end, as the politician in whom he and so many others on the left invested so much effort and so much of their own credibility to promote is now stumbling. His thesis is as bizarre as it is unsupported: “President Obama Is on a Winning Streak,” is the title of his column. Bet you’re confused, since he’s at an all-time low in the polls, his party faces an electoral wipe-out, his predictions of a summer of recovery have proven to be ludicrous, his party is so desperate as to promise to “improve” his “historic” health-care legislation, and he’s incurred the wrath of both supporters and critics of the Ground Zero mosque.

So what is Robinson’s argument based on (other than wishful thinking)? Well, there is Obama’s success in Iraq. Bet you thought that was George W. Bush’s (over the objections of Robinson and Obama), but now all praise is due to Obama because he said he’d bring the troops home. “When he took office, there were about 160,000 U.S. troops in Iraq on the heels of George W. Bush’s combat surge,” is how Robinson evades the historical record. That would be the surge, which led to an American victory and permitted Obama to bring home troops “on the heels” of a remarkable accomplishment. And he seems unaware of or chooses to ignore criticism from the right that the departure timetable is too abrupt and puts at risk the gains we have made. (“Even his scorched-earth Republican critics, by their silence, are acknowledging that the president has fulfilled his campaign promise to be ‘just as careful getting out of Iraq as we were reckless getting in.'”)  One half-truth, built on an evasion, topped off by a misrepresentation.

OK, what else does Robinson have? The GM bailout: “The company was saved, workers kept their jobs, and taxpayers are going to get their money back. That’s nice work.” Yes, but we haven’t gotten our money back. And in typical Keynesian fashion, he forgets that all the money spent on GM wasn’t used someplace else in the economy, perhaps to create more jobs in industries with a brighter future. But I will concede that it turned out better than many expected.

Then there is the BP oil spill. Robinson treats in this way the Democrats’ anger over the administration’s misrepresentation of the extent of the clean-up: “The administration’s claim that three-quarters of the oil was disposed of — by nature or by human intervention — before it could despoil the environment looks overly optimistic to some researchers. … But a few months ago, who imagined that the president and his family would so soon be able to enjoy a day on a gulf beach and a meal of gulf seafood?” And who could have imagined that he would have given a widely panned Oval Office speech, sent his poll numbers skidding, advertised the limits of overarching liberal government, and caught flack for not going to the Gulf on his first vacation? (He had to do a day of make-up later in the summer). Listen, I don’t think there’s a Democrat on the ballot willing to tout the BP oil spill as an Obama “win.”

And then, the cherry on the top of his frothy column is the Ground Zero mosque controversy. Big win for Obama. He must be joking, right? Nope.”Obama saw his duty to uphold the values of our Constitution and make clear that our fight is against the terrorists, not against Islam itself. Instead of doing what was popular, he did what was right.” And reversed himself within twenty-four hours. And incurred the ire of the left. And is giving his own party fits. Well, all that was left out.

What is missing in Robinson’s take — the economy, the poll news, the complete Mosque debacle — makes Gerson’s point. The gap between aspirations and results is now so wide that the only way to bridge it is to fudge the facts and leave out much of what has transpired over the last year. Robinson and Gerson come from opposing political perspectives. But the most noticeable difference is the degree to which they attend to the facts and are able to draw therefrom persuasive conclusions. In that department, there is no comparison.

You have to give the Washington Post credit — their editors certainly offer a contrast on their op-ed pages. Today, needless to say, you have a Michael Gerson and Eugene Robinson. The difference is stark, and revealing.

From Gerson you have a measured analysis, which takes into account the series of events that have transformed Obama from a cult-like figure into a struggling and rather radioactive one. He writes:

The most destructive gap for President Obama is not the Republican lead on the generic congressional ballot or even a job disapproval that has surpassed approval — it is the gap between aspiration and reality.

The Manhattan mosque controversy showed the problem in compressed form. First came the Obama of high-toned principle (largely the right principle, in my view). Then a politically motivated recalibration. Then a scrambling staff explanation. Then an embarrassed silence, since it is difficult to clarify the clarification of a clarification. Then the president’s regretful assertion of “no regrets.”

I don’t agree with Gerson’s position on the mosque, but his rendition of the fact is exact and his list of other examples is overwhelmingly persuasive. He explains, “From the firing of Shirley Sherrod to the obsession with Fox News to lashing out at the ‘professional left,’ the Obama administration engages in a daily hypocrisy.” And then he provides still more examples to support his conclusion:

Politicians have been known to say one thing and do another. And high ideals and high rhetoric always create the potential for hypocrisy. But the disappointment with Obama is especially acute. He won office by providing new voters with intoxicating hopes. America was tipsy with idealism — resulting in a particularly difficult hangover. … All politicians fall — but not from such a height.

Then there is Eugene Robinson, who understandably must be at his wit’s end, as the politician in whom he and so many others on the left invested so much effort and so much of their own credibility to promote is now stumbling. His thesis is as bizarre as it is unsupported: “President Obama Is on a Winning Streak,” is the title of his column. Bet you’re confused, since he’s at an all-time low in the polls, his party faces an electoral wipe-out, his predictions of a summer of recovery have proven to be ludicrous, his party is so desperate as to promise to “improve” his “historic” health-care legislation, and he’s incurred the wrath of both supporters and critics of the Ground Zero mosque.

So what is Robinson’s argument based on (other than wishful thinking)? Well, there is Obama’s success in Iraq. Bet you thought that was George W. Bush’s (over the objections of Robinson and Obama), but now all praise is due to Obama because he said he’d bring the troops home. “When he took office, there were about 160,000 U.S. troops in Iraq on the heels of George W. Bush’s combat surge,” is how Robinson evades the historical record. That would be the surge, which led to an American victory and permitted Obama to bring home troops “on the heels” of a remarkable accomplishment. And he seems unaware of or chooses to ignore criticism from the right that the departure timetable is too abrupt and puts at risk the gains we have made. (“Even his scorched-earth Republican critics, by their silence, are acknowledging that the president has fulfilled his campaign promise to be ‘just as careful getting out of Iraq as we were reckless getting in.'”)  One half-truth, built on an evasion, topped off by a misrepresentation.

OK, what else does Robinson have? The GM bailout: “The company was saved, workers kept their jobs, and taxpayers are going to get their money back. That’s nice work.” Yes, but we haven’t gotten our money back. And in typical Keynesian fashion, he forgets that all the money spent on GM wasn’t used someplace else in the economy, perhaps to create more jobs in industries with a brighter future. But I will concede that it turned out better than many expected.

Then there is the BP oil spill. Robinson treats in this way the Democrats’ anger over the administration’s misrepresentation of the extent of the clean-up: “The administration’s claim that three-quarters of the oil was disposed of — by nature or by human intervention — before it could despoil the environment looks overly optimistic to some researchers. … But a few months ago, who imagined that the president and his family would so soon be able to enjoy a day on a gulf beach and a meal of gulf seafood?” And who could have imagined that he would have given a widely panned Oval Office speech, sent his poll numbers skidding, advertised the limits of overarching liberal government, and caught flack for not going to the Gulf on his first vacation? (He had to do a day of make-up later in the summer). Listen, I don’t think there’s a Democrat on the ballot willing to tout the BP oil spill as an Obama “win.”

And then, the cherry on the top of his frothy column is the Ground Zero mosque controversy. Big win for Obama. He must be joking, right? Nope.”Obama saw his duty to uphold the values of our Constitution and make clear that our fight is against the terrorists, not against Islam itself. Instead of doing what was popular, he did what was right.” And reversed himself within twenty-four hours. And incurred the ire of the left. And is giving his own party fits. Well, all that was left out.

What is missing in Robinson’s take — the economy, the poll news, the complete Mosque debacle — makes Gerson’s point. The gap between aspirations and results is now so wide that the only way to bridge it is to fudge the facts and leave out much of what has transpired over the last year. Robinson and Gerson come from opposing political perspectives. But the most noticeable difference is the degree to which they attend to the facts and are able to draw therefrom persuasive conclusions. In that department, there is no comparison.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Obama has managed to revive the conservative movement, drive independents into the GOP’s arms, sink his own party’s fortunes, bring Sarah Palin and Howard Dean together (on the Ground Zero mosque) — and convince more Americans he’s a Muslim. “A new survey reports a sharp increase in the number of Americans who, incorrectly, say President Obama is a Muslim. The increase has occurred over the last couple of years, and the poll was taken before the president stepped into the fray of the Ground Zero mosque controversy.” Wait until the next survey.

The State Department couldn’t manage to find a Muslim who didn’t blame the U.S. for 9/11? “American taxpayers will pay the imam behind plans for a mosque near the Manhattan site of the Sept. 11 attacks $3,000 in fees for a three-nation outreach trip to the Middle East that will cost roughly $16,000, the State Department said Wednesday.”

The GOP manages to find its party leader, and it’s not Michael Steele: “Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour is the most powerful Republican in American politics — at least for the next three months. Barbour, who runs the Republican Governors Association, has more money to spend on the 2010 elections — $40 million — than any other GOP leader around. And in private, numerous Republicans describe Barbour as the de facto chairman of the party.”

The GOP also manages to raise a ton of cash despite Steele: “With less than three months until Election Day, Democrats are becoming increasingly concerned that the independent groups they are counting on for support won’t have the money to counter what they fear will be an unprecedented advertising campaign waged by their Republican counterparts. Republicans and their allies have been working for months with single-minded focus on plans to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on ads funded by a combination of existing special interest groups and newly formed political outfits.” Maybe they don’t need an RNC chairman.

The White House manages to annoy more House Democrats: “Roughly three-quarters of the oil that spilled into the Gulf of Mexico from BP’s ruptured well is still in the environment, a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration official told a House panel Thursday. The estimate contrasts previous pronouncements by administration officials that only about a quarter of the oil remains to be addressed. … Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.), who chairs the Energy and Environment Subcommittee that held the hearing, said the administration’s initial report this month — and the trumpeting of it — gave people a ‘false sense of confidence’ about the environmental risks that remain.”

Despite the work of its enemies, Israel manages to survive and, yes, flourish. An Israeli was “awarded the 2010 Fields Medal – considered the ‘Nobel Prize’ in the field.” There is no Nobel Prize for math, but Israel has nine of those.

It would be a minor miracle if Virginia House Democrats Glenn Nye and Tom Perriello manage to get re-elected. “Nathan Gonzales, political editor of the nonpartisan Rothenberg Political Report, termed Perriello and Nye ‘extremely vulnerable’ in November. ‘It’s highly unlikely they’ll both survive a wave like the one that’s developing,’ Gonzales said.”

Chris Christie manages to become a movie star in his first year in office.

Obama has managed to revive the conservative movement, drive independents into the GOP’s arms, sink his own party’s fortunes, bring Sarah Palin and Howard Dean together (on the Ground Zero mosque) — and convince more Americans he’s a Muslim. “A new survey reports a sharp increase in the number of Americans who, incorrectly, say President Obama is a Muslim. The increase has occurred over the last couple of years, and the poll was taken before the president stepped into the fray of the Ground Zero mosque controversy.” Wait until the next survey.

The State Department couldn’t manage to find a Muslim who didn’t blame the U.S. for 9/11? “American taxpayers will pay the imam behind plans for a mosque near the Manhattan site of the Sept. 11 attacks $3,000 in fees for a three-nation outreach trip to the Middle East that will cost roughly $16,000, the State Department said Wednesday.”

The GOP manages to find its party leader, and it’s not Michael Steele: “Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour is the most powerful Republican in American politics — at least for the next three months. Barbour, who runs the Republican Governors Association, has more money to spend on the 2010 elections — $40 million — than any other GOP leader around. And in private, numerous Republicans describe Barbour as the de facto chairman of the party.”

The GOP also manages to raise a ton of cash despite Steele: “With less than three months until Election Day, Democrats are becoming increasingly concerned that the independent groups they are counting on for support won’t have the money to counter what they fear will be an unprecedented advertising campaign waged by their Republican counterparts. Republicans and their allies have been working for months with single-minded focus on plans to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on ads funded by a combination of existing special interest groups and newly formed political outfits.” Maybe they don’t need an RNC chairman.

The White House manages to annoy more House Democrats: “Roughly three-quarters of the oil that spilled into the Gulf of Mexico from BP’s ruptured well is still in the environment, a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration official told a House panel Thursday. The estimate contrasts previous pronouncements by administration officials that only about a quarter of the oil remains to be addressed. … Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.), who chairs the Energy and Environment Subcommittee that held the hearing, said the administration’s initial report this month — and the trumpeting of it — gave people a ‘false sense of confidence’ about the environmental risks that remain.”

Despite the work of its enemies, Israel manages to survive and, yes, flourish. An Israeli was “awarded the 2010 Fields Medal – considered the ‘Nobel Prize’ in the field.” There is no Nobel Prize for math, but Israel has nine of those.

It would be a minor miracle if Virginia House Democrats Glenn Nye and Tom Perriello manage to get re-elected. “Nathan Gonzales, political editor of the nonpartisan Rothenberg Political Report, termed Perriello and Nye ‘extremely vulnerable’ in November. ‘It’s highly unlikely they’ll both survive a wave like the one that’s developing,’ Gonzales said.”

Chris Christie manages to become a movie star in his first year in office.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Dorothy Rabinowitz isn’t snowed by the liberal claptrap over the Ground Zero mosque: “[H]ow is it that the planners, who have presented this effort as a grand design for the advancement of healing and interfaith understanding, have refused all consideration of the impact such a center will have near Ground Zero? Why have they insisted, despite intense resistance, on making the center an assertive presence in this place of haunted memory? It is an insistence that calls to mind the Flying Imams, whose ostentatious prayers—apparently designed to call attention to themselves on a U.S. Airways flight to Phoenix in November 2006—ended in a lawsuit. The imams sued. The airlines paid.”

Obama’s Iraq speech left Peter Feaver cold: “President Obama’s speech on Iraq was a disappointment. Not a surprise, but a disappointment. It was disappointing because it was yet another missed opportunity. He could have shown real statesmanship by acknowledging he was wrong about the surge. He could have reached across the aisle and credited Republicans who backed the policy he vigorously opposed and tried to thwart, a policy that has made it possible (but by no means certain) to hope for a responsible end to the Iraq war. … Instead of giving such a speech, Obama gave a campaign address trying to claim credit for anything that is going well in Iraq and trying to avoid blame for anything that is going poorly.”

An avalanche of bad polling for Obama: “President Obama’s job approval numbers fell to a new low Tuesday as the White House struggles to convince voters it is leading the economy out of recession. Unemployment stands at 9.5 percent but is widely expected to rise in the coming months, starting with the monthly report for July, set for release on Friday. … Such numbers are trouble for House and Senate Democrats, because low presidential approval ratings are generally disastrous for the president’s party in a midterm election.”

Marc Ambinder, however, is still shoveling White House hooey (not to mention playing the race card): “So Obama’s net effect on congressional races might just turn about to be a big ‘meh.’ As skeptical as white people are about Obama’s policy agenda, enough still want him to succeed.” If all the polling is wrong, this would be a reasonable argument.

It’s not the first time the media made a mountain out of a molehill: “The government is expected to announce on Wednesday that three-quarters of the oil from the Deepwater Horizon leak has already evaporated, dispersed, been captured or otherwise eliminated — and that much of the rest is so diluted that it does not seem to pose much additional risk of harm.”

Shouldn’t Fox give Glenn Beck the cold shoulder? He’s up to his old, noxious tricks — tossing around Holocaust comparisons again.

Bravo! Senate Republicans freeze confirmation of new DNI until the Obama administration releases threat-assessment data on Gitmo detainees.

Dorothy Rabinowitz isn’t snowed by the liberal claptrap over the Ground Zero mosque: “[H]ow is it that the planners, who have presented this effort as a grand design for the advancement of healing and interfaith understanding, have refused all consideration of the impact such a center will have near Ground Zero? Why have they insisted, despite intense resistance, on making the center an assertive presence in this place of haunted memory? It is an insistence that calls to mind the Flying Imams, whose ostentatious prayers—apparently designed to call attention to themselves on a U.S. Airways flight to Phoenix in November 2006—ended in a lawsuit. The imams sued. The airlines paid.”

Obama’s Iraq speech left Peter Feaver cold: “President Obama’s speech on Iraq was a disappointment. Not a surprise, but a disappointment. It was disappointing because it was yet another missed opportunity. He could have shown real statesmanship by acknowledging he was wrong about the surge. He could have reached across the aisle and credited Republicans who backed the policy he vigorously opposed and tried to thwart, a policy that has made it possible (but by no means certain) to hope for a responsible end to the Iraq war. … Instead of giving such a speech, Obama gave a campaign address trying to claim credit for anything that is going well in Iraq and trying to avoid blame for anything that is going poorly.”

An avalanche of bad polling for Obama: “President Obama’s job approval numbers fell to a new low Tuesday as the White House struggles to convince voters it is leading the economy out of recession. Unemployment stands at 9.5 percent but is widely expected to rise in the coming months, starting with the monthly report for July, set for release on Friday. … Such numbers are trouble for House and Senate Democrats, because low presidential approval ratings are generally disastrous for the president’s party in a midterm election.”

Marc Ambinder, however, is still shoveling White House hooey (not to mention playing the race card): “So Obama’s net effect on congressional races might just turn about to be a big ‘meh.’ As skeptical as white people are about Obama’s policy agenda, enough still want him to succeed.” If all the polling is wrong, this would be a reasonable argument.

It’s not the first time the media made a mountain out of a molehill: “The government is expected to announce on Wednesday that three-quarters of the oil from the Deepwater Horizon leak has already evaporated, dispersed, been captured or otherwise eliminated — and that much of the rest is so diluted that it does not seem to pose much additional risk of harm.”

Shouldn’t Fox give Glenn Beck the cold shoulder? He’s up to his old, noxious tricks — tossing around Holocaust comparisons again.

Bravo! Senate Republicans freeze confirmation of new DNI until the Obama administration releases threat-assessment data on Gitmo detainees.

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More Constructive than George Mitchell and J Street

Yes, that’s a low bar to hop over when it comes to the Middle East. But if the constructive force is none other than Libya, specifically  the son of  Muammar and president of the Gaddafi Foundation, that is reason to take note.

We learn that he’s urging that the Palestinians and their violence-inciting allies cut out the blockade-running and off-load humanitarian aid through approved crossings. Gaddafi the Younger’s advice includes such pearls of wisdom as this: “There are conflicts between them taking place at the expense of ordinary Palestinians; everybody wants to see a show or spectacle or confrontation, rather than help … they all want to kill the vineyard guard at the expense of getting the grapes.”

Isn’t this the craziest thing? I mean, he’s more constructive than J Street, which wants Jewish charitable donors investigated ( they might be supporting settlements on the West Bank) and Israel bashed. His advice is certainly more helpful than another round of useless proximity talks. And it’s hard to quibble with the following:

Interesting point that, about the exploitation by “Palestinian” parties of the suffering of their own people to serve their own political agendas. Of course one has heard such stuff before, most notably and often from members of the great neocon-Zionist conspiracy—but from the lips of an Arab actually in a position to do something to help? In public? Rarely, if ever at all. As for help, $50 million is a nice little tip—Mr. Gaddafi says it’s just a start—out of the abundant Muammarian coffers, but what of the riyals and dinars and dirhams in the hoards of the oil-drenched Saudi “king,” the gassy al-Thanis of Qatar, and the rest of the members of the Arab League who routinely shed crocodile tears over the fate of those same suffering people?

Maybe the Obami could take a break from the fruitless peace process and figure out how to spread Gaddafi’s message throughout the “Muslim World.” For all his “engagement” efforts, Obama has spent precious little time saying anything as insightful as Gaddafi. He seems rather to be fixated on telling his Muslim audience what they want to hear.

And if the Obama team breaks free of the peace-process vortex, it might discuss the most important national security issue of our time with Israel’s neighbors — and it’s not the faux Gaza humanitarian issue (take a look here at the newest Gaza mall). It’s allowing an Islamic fundamentalist state to get the bomb.

Yes, that’s a low bar to hop over when it comes to the Middle East. But if the constructive force is none other than Libya, specifically  the son of  Muammar and president of the Gaddafi Foundation, that is reason to take note.

We learn that he’s urging that the Palestinians and their violence-inciting allies cut out the blockade-running and off-load humanitarian aid through approved crossings. Gaddafi the Younger’s advice includes such pearls of wisdom as this: “There are conflicts between them taking place at the expense of ordinary Palestinians; everybody wants to see a show or spectacle or confrontation, rather than help … they all want to kill the vineyard guard at the expense of getting the grapes.”

Isn’t this the craziest thing? I mean, he’s more constructive than J Street, which wants Jewish charitable donors investigated ( they might be supporting settlements on the West Bank) and Israel bashed. His advice is certainly more helpful than another round of useless proximity talks. And it’s hard to quibble with the following:

Interesting point that, about the exploitation by “Palestinian” parties of the suffering of their own people to serve their own political agendas. Of course one has heard such stuff before, most notably and often from members of the great neocon-Zionist conspiracy—but from the lips of an Arab actually in a position to do something to help? In public? Rarely, if ever at all. As for help, $50 million is a nice little tip—Mr. Gaddafi says it’s just a start—out of the abundant Muammarian coffers, but what of the riyals and dinars and dirhams in the hoards of the oil-drenched Saudi “king,” the gassy al-Thanis of Qatar, and the rest of the members of the Arab League who routinely shed crocodile tears over the fate of those same suffering people?

Maybe the Obami could take a break from the fruitless peace process and figure out how to spread Gaddafi’s message throughout the “Muslim World.” For all his “engagement” efforts, Obama has spent precious little time saying anything as insightful as Gaddafi. He seems rather to be fixated on telling his Muslim audience what they want to hear.

And if the Obama team breaks free of the peace-process vortex, it might discuss the most important national security issue of our time with Israel’s neighbors — and it’s not the faux Gaza humanitarian issue (take a look here at the newest Gaza mall). It’s allowing an Islamic fundamentalist state to get the bomb.

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The Worst Ecological Disaster Ever?

David Axelrod on Fox News Sunday this morning said that the Gulf oil spill is the “worst ecological disaster ever” — or words to that effect (the transcript is not yet available). This, of course, is historical nonsense. Except in terms of the volume of oil released into the environment, it is not even the worst oil spill in American history. The Gulf well is 50 miles out to sea in the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico, while the Exxon Valdez spill was in the confined and much colder waters of Prince William Sound. The warmth causes the volatiles in the oil to evaporate fairly quickly. And while tar balls are unsightly at best, their coming ashore is nowhere near as ecologically damaging or as hard to remediate as crude oil doing so. Crude is very nasty stuff.

If Mr. Axelrod wants some really catastrophic ecological disasters, how about the Aral Sea, where the Soviets diverted for agricultural use all the water that had flowed into it, destroying what had been the fourth largest lake in the world (26,000 square miles), as well as the vast ecosystem (and fishing industry) it had nurtured?

Or how about the London killer smog of 1952 that is thought to have killed upwards of 12,000 people, more than a thousand times as many people as have died in the Gulf Oil spill?

In this country, the worst man-made ecological disaster was, by order of magnitude, the Dust Bowl of the 1930s. Drought and poor farming practices in an area that should never have been farmed at all destroyed 100,000,000 acres. One dust storm that started on the high plains on May 9, 1934, dumped an estimated 6,000 tons of dust on the city of Chicago alone — four pounds per person. New York had to turn on the streetlights in broad daylight the next day. Two and half million people fled the area over the decade. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, died of dust pneumonia. Many more, especially children, died of malnutrition. Others were blinded when dust got under their eyelids.

Mr. Axelrod, perhaps, should read John Steinbeck’s masterpiece The Grapes of Wrath to get a sense of the vast human and ecological tragedy that was the dust bowl. Or just watch this four minutes of History Channel film.

To compare the Gulf oil spill to the Dust Bowl is to compare a summer shower to a hurricane.

David Axelrod on Fox News Sunday this morning said that the Gulf oil spill is the “worst ecological disaster ever” — or words to that effect (the transcript is not yet available). This, of course, is historical nonsense. Except in terms of the volume of oil released into the environment, it is not even the worst oil spill in American history. The Gulf well is 50 miles out to sea in the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico, while the Exxon Valdez spill was in the confined and much colder waters of Prince William Sound. The warmth causes the volatiles in the oil to evaporate fairly quickly. And while tar balls are unsightly at best, their coming ashore is nowhere near as ecologically damaging or as hard to remediate as crude oil doing so. Crude is very nasty stuff.

If Mr. Axelrod wants some really catastrophic ecological disasters, how about the Aral Sea, where the Soviets diverted for agricultural use all the water that had flowed into it, destroying what had been the fourth largest lake in the world (26,000 square miles), as well as the vast ecosystem (and fishing industry) it had nurtured?

Or how about the London killer smog of 1952 that is thought to have killed upwards of 12,000 people, more than a thousand times as many people as have died in the Gulf Oil spill?

In this country, the worst man-made ecological disaster was, by order of magnitude, the Dust Bowl of the 1930s. Drought and poor farming practices in an area that should never have been farmed at all destroyed 100,000,000 acres. One dust storm that started on the high plains on May 9, 1934, dumped an estimated 6,000 tons of dust on the city of Chicago alone — four pounds per person. New York had to turn on the streetlights in broad daylight the next day. Two and half million people fled the area over the decade. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, died of dust pneumonia. Many more, especially children, died of malnutrition. Others were blinded when dust got under their eyelids.

Mr. Axelrod, perhaps, should read John Steinbeck’s masterpiece The Grapes of Wrath to get a sense of the vast human and ecological tragedy that was the dust bowl. Or just watch this four minutes of History Channel film.

To compare the Gulf oil spill to the Dust Bowl is to compare a summer shower to a hurricane.

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What’s More Important, the Environment or the Environmentalists?

To the Obama administration, it seems that it’s the latter. According to Canada’s Financial Post (h/t Instapundit), the administration turned down an offer from the Dutch to send skimmer boats that are far better and more capable than the ones we have because the water they discharge back into the ocean doesn’t meet the regulatory requirement that it be 99.9985 percent pure. Skimmer boats in a disastrous oil spill, in other words, are subject to a rule intended for bilge pumps.

Why does neither the U.S. government nor the U.S. energy companies have on hand the cleanup technology available in Europe? Ironically, the superior European technology runs afoul of U.S. environmental rules. The voracious Dutch vessels, for example, continuously suck up vast quantities of oily water, extract most of the oil, and then spit overboard vast quantities of nearly oil-free water. Nearly oil-free isn’t good enough for the U.S. regulators, who have a standard of 15 parts per million — if water isn’t at least 99.9985 percent pure, it may not be returned to the Gulf of Mexico.

So thanks to a regulation that could have been waived in a second, rather than skim up most of the oil, the Obami chose to leave it all in the ocean. It gets worse:

The Americans, overwhelmed by the catastrophic consequences of the BP spill, finally relented and took the Dutch up on their offer — but only partly. Because the U.S. didn’t want Dutch ships working the Gulf, the U.S. airlifted the Dutch equipment to the Gulf and then retrofitted it to U.S. vessels. And rather than have experienced Dutch crews immediately operate the oil-skimming equipment, to appease labour unions, the U.S. postponed the clean-up operation to allow U.S. crews to be trained.

So rather than clean up the spilling oil, the Obami chose to put the interests of organized labor first.

The Dutch are the world’s foremost experts on protecting the margin between the sea and the land. It’s not hard to see why: one-third of the Netherlands is on that margin, below sea level. But the Obama administration preferred to play politics instead of getting all the help it could get as soon as it could get it.

The evidence is piling up that the Obama administration, through a combination of hubris, incompetence, and special-interest butt-kissing, has greatly worsened a very serious situation. I wonder when the American mainstream media is going to start reporting it.

To the Obama administration, it seems that it’s the latter. According to Canada’s Financial Post (h/t Instapundit), the administration turned down an offer from the Dutch to send skimmer boats that are far better and more capable than the ones we have because the water they discharge back into the ocean doesn’t meet the regulatory requirement that it be 99.9985 percent pure. Skimmer boats in a disastrous oil spill, in other words, are subject to a rule intended for bilge pumps.

Why does neither the U.S. government nor the U.S. energy companies have on hand the cleanup technology available in Europe? Ironically, the superior European technology runs afoul of U.S. environmental rules. The voracious Dutch vessels, for example, continuously suck up vast quantities of oily water, extract most of the oil, and then spit overboard vast quantities of nearly oil-free water. Nearly oil-free isn’t good enough for the U.S. regulators, who have a standard of 15 parts per million — if water isn’t at least 99.9985 percent pure, it may not be returned to the Gulf of Mexico.

So thanks to a regulation that could have been waived in a second, rather than skim up most of the oil, the Obami chose to leave it all in the ocean. It gets worse:

The Americans, overwhelmed by the catastrophic consequences of the BP spill, finally relented and took the Dutch up on their offer — but only partly. Because the U.S. didn’t want Dutch ships working the Gulf, the U.S. airlifted the Dutch equipment to the Gulf and then retrofitted it to U.S. vessels. And rather than have experienced Dutch crews immediately operate the oil-skimming equipment, to appease labour unions, the U.S. postponed the clean-up operation to allow U.S. crews to be trained.

So rather than clean up the spilling oil, the Obami chose to put the interests of organized labor first.

The Dutch are the world’s foremost experts on protecting the margin between the sea and the land. It’s not hard to see why: one-third of the Netherlands is on that margin, below sea level. But the Obama administration preferred to play politics instead of getting all the help it could get as soon as it could get it.

The evidence is piling up that the Obama administration, through a combination of hubris, incompetence, and special-interest butt-kissing, has greatly worsened a very serious situation. I wonder when the American mainstream media is going to start reporting it.

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Changing the Default Reaction to Obama

Paul Rubin (no relation) writes that, with regard to Katrina:

President George W. Bush and the federal government were limited in what they could do. For example, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff wanted to take command of disaster relief on the day before landfall, but Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco refused. Federal response was hindered because the law gave first authority to state and local authorities.

State and local efforts—particularly in New Orleans, and Louisiana more broadly—interfered with what actions the federal government could actually take. New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin was late in ordering an evacuation and did not allow the use of school buses for evacuation, which could have saved hundreds of lives.

In contrast, Rubin notes: “The Deepwater Horizon oil spill is on federal offshore territory. The federal government has primary responsibility for handling the situation, while state and local governments remain limited in what they can do.” He explains, however, that local authorities “believe that the federal government is undermining their efforts.” Obama and his team have refused to waive the Jones Act and has hassled Gov. Jindal about deploying barges to skim oil.

While the Obama team’s response has been arguably worse that the Bush response to Katrina, Rubin points out, the press criticism of Obama is only now intensifying:

Now Mr. Obama has much more power than did Mr. Bush, but the federal response is ineffective and often stands in the way of those in the best position to know what to do. It is only in the last week or two that the mainstream press has voiced any criticism of Mr. Obama.

This is because the media’s default position for Mr. Bush was “Bush is wrong,” and it sought stories aimed at justifying this belief. For Mr. Obama the media’s default is “Obama is right,” and it takes a powerful set of facts to move it away from this assumption.

The danger for Obama is that the default is changing. It may not be “Obama is wrong” quite yet. But it’s getting there. At the very least, it is “Obama is under siege because the public thinks he’s wrong.” That’s progress, considering the mainstream media’s investment in Obama’s success.

Paul Rubin (no relation) writes that, with regard to Katrina:

President George W. Bush and the federal government were limited in what they could do. For example, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff wanted to take command of disaster relief on the day before landfall, but Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco refused. Federal response was hindered because the law gave first authority to state and local authorities.

State and local efforts—particularly in New Orleans, and Louisiana more broadly—interfered with what actions the federal government could actually take. New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin was late in ordering an evacuation and did not allow the use of school buses for evacuation, which could have saved hundreds of lives.

In contrast, Rubin notes: “The Deepwater Horizon oil spill is on federal offshore territory. The federal government has primary responsibility for handling the situation, while state and local governments remain limited in what they can do.” He explains, however, that local authorities “believe that the federal government is undermining their efforts.” Obama and his team have refused to waive the Jones Act and has hassled Gov. Jindal about deploying barges to skim oil.

While the Obama team’s response has been arguably worse that the Bush response to Katrina, Rubin points out, the press criticism of Obama is only now intensifying:

Now Mr. Obama has much more power than did Mr. Bush, but the federal response is ineffective and often stands in the way of those in the best position to know what to do. It is only in the last week or two that the mainstream press has voiced any criticism of Mr. Obama.

This is because the media’s default position for Mr. Bush was “Bush is wrong,” and it sought stories aimed at justifying this belief. For Mr. Obama the media’s default is “Obama is right,” and it takes a powerful set of facts to move it away from this assumption.

The danger for Obama is that the default is changing. It may not be “Obama is wrong” quite yet. But it’s getting there. At the very least, it is “Obama is under siege because the public thinks he’s wrong.” That’s progress, considering the mainstream media’s investment in Obama’s success.

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Unmasked in Plain Sight

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Liberal Tipping Point Away from Obama

Jen and Pete, you both point out the grave disappointment expressed last night about Barack Obama’s speech on the part of MSNBC’s Chris Matthews, Keith Olbermann, and Howard Fineman. This is a significant development, because it indicates this is a liberal tipping point — both tactical and emotional — away from Barack Obama.

The bad polling news for Democrats and Obama, the apparent refusal of the economy to turn itself around dramatically enough to stave off a reckoning in the November elections, the worrisome headlines from Afghanistan, and the increasing public confusion about the response to the oil spill are now taking their toll on the finger-in-the-wind brigade. I’m referring to that breed of media and political professionals whose enthusiasm for the politicians they support and admire is conditioned in part on how the politicians are doing. The finger-in-the-wind brigade is made up of fair-weather friends. When they feel the political breezes shifting, they shift as well — from passionate support to analytical distance, then to careful criticism, then confused dismay, and eventually to outright contempt. This happened to George W. Bush in 2005 among the finger-in-the-wind brigade on the conservative side, and it’s now happening in 2010 on the liberal side.

In their various expressions of dismay and worry and even contempt, the members of the fair-weather brigade are holding Obama to a peculiar standard. They seem to want him to transmute the oil spill into a huge moral drama with BP or capitalism or deregulation or the carbon-based economy itself as the villain and Obama himself as the crusading muckraker who will take the bad guys down. Obama himself would like to do nothing more. That’s why, in just three days’ time, he (a) likened the oil spill to 9/11, (b) compared the cleanup to the American response to World War II, and (c) said that if we could put a man on the moon, we could fix the whole oil problem. He wants to figure out how to make this a “game changer” for him and for his left-liberal agenda.

The problem is, it can’t be. The accident was an accident, and the cleanup after the accident is one of those godawful, uninspiring, unthrilling, and highly confusing tasks that inevitably follow any accident. Nobody seems quite to have known what to do and when, and there were and are conflicting crosscurrents involving the potential environmental damage from the cleanup itself that cannot be wished or willed away through strong “leadership.” What’s happening is a catastrophe, but it’s the result of something very, very big that cannot be turned into a cause Obama can fight —  decades’ worth of policy decisions based on the desire to extract billions of gallons of oil invisibly, without public complaint, so that no one would have to see a rig or smell the work the way everybody in the New York metropolitan used to have to roll up his windows and put on the air conditioner going past exit 12 on the New Jersey Turnpike when Standard Oil refineries were still active there. The temptation to believe in semi-magical oil extraction proved so great that Obama himself found it irresistible this year.

But if the standard to which they are holding Obama is impossible, that’s because it’s hoist-by-his-own-petard time for Obama, as brought to you by Euripides. Anyone who greets a primary victory as Obama did in 2008 by saying that history would record that “this was the moment when the oceans began to recede” is just asking for it. And “it” may be upon him.

Jen and Pete, you both point out the grave disappointment expressed last night about Barack Obama’s speech on the part of MSNBC’s Chris Matthews, Keith Olbermann, and Howard Fineman. This is a significant development, because it indicates this is a liberal tipping point — both tactical and emotional — away from Barack Obama.

The bad polling news for Democrats and Obama, the apparent refusal of the economy to turn itself around dramatically enough to stave off a reckoning in the November elections, the worrisome headlines from Afghanistan, and the increasing public confusion about the response to the oil spill are now taking their toll on the finger-in-the-wind brigade. I’m referring to that breed of media and political professionals whose enthusiasm for the politicians they support and admire is conditioned in part on how the politicians are doing. The finger-in-the-wind brigade is made up of fair-weather friends. When they feel the political breezes shifting, they shift as well — from passionate support to analytical distance, then to careful criticism, then confused dismay, and eventually to outright contempt. This happened to George W. Bush in 2005 among the finger-in-the-wind brigade on the conservative side, and it’s now happening in 2010 on the liberal side.

In their various expressions of dismay and worry and even contempt, the members of the fair-weather brigade are holding Obama to a peculiar standard. They seem to want him to transmute the oil spill into a huge moral drama with BP or capitalism or deregulation or the carbon-based economy itself as the villain and Obama himself as the crusading muckraker who will take the bad guys down. Obama himself would like to do nothing more. That’s why, in just three days’ time, he (a) likened the oil spill to 9/11, (b) compared the cleanup to the American response to World War II, and (c) said that if we could put a man on the moon, we could fix the whole oil problem. He wants to figure out how to make this a “game changer” for him and for his left-liberal agenda.

The problem is, it can’t be. The accident was an accident, and the cleanup after the accident is one of those godawful, uninspiring, unthrilling, and highly confusing tasks that inevitably follow any accident. Nobody seems quite to have known what to do and when, and there were and are conflicting crosscurrents involving the potential environmental damage from the cleanup itself that cannot be wished or willed away through strong “leadership.” What’s happening is a catastrophe, but it’s the result of something very, very big that cannot be turned into a cause Obama can fight —  decades’ worth of policy decisions based on the desire to extract billions of gallons of oil invisibly, without public complaint, so that no one would have to see a rig or smell the work the way everybody in the New York metropolitan used to have to roll up his windows and put on the air conditioner going past exit 12 on the New Jersey Turnpike when Standard Oil refineries were still active there. The temptation to believe in semi-magical oil extraction proved so great that Obama himself found it irresistible this year.

But if the standard to which they are holding Obama is impossible, that’s because it’s hoist-by-his-own-petard time for Obama, as brought to you by Euripides. Anyone who greets a primary victory as Obama did in 2008 by saying that history would record that “this was the moment when the oceans began to recede” is just asking for it. And “it” may be upon him.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

With help from Saturday Night Live‘s Seth and Amy, Cliff May takes apart Jamie Rubin (no relation, thankfully).

With help from the IDF, we have a concise and thorough account of the flotilla incident.

With help from the increasingly unpopular president, “Republican candidates now hold a 10-point lead over Democrats on the Generic Congressional Ballot for the week ending Sunday, June 13. That ties the GOP’s largest ever lead, first reached in April, since it first edged ahead of the Democrats a year ago.”

With help from the upcoming elections: “There aren’t enough votes to include climate change rules in a Senate energy bill, a top Democrat said Tuesday. Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.), a senior member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, dismissed any hopes his colleagues might have of including regulations to clamp down on emissions as part of a comprehensive energy bill this summer.”

With help from J Street (the Hamas lobby?), Israel’s enemies always have friends on Capitol Hill: “In the most open conflict in months between the left-leaning Israel group J Street and the traditional pro-Israel powerhouse AIPAC, the liberal group is asking members of Congress not to sign a letter backed by AIPAC that supports the Israeli side of the Gaza flotilla incident.”

With help from the NRA, House Democrats are in hot water again: “House Democrats are facing a backlash from some liberal and government reform advocacy groups over an exemption for the NRA. House Democrats are facing a backlash from some liberal and government reform advocacy groups over an exemption for the National Rifle Association that was added to a campaign finance bill.”

With the help of Rep. Peter King, we’re sniffing out who the real friends of Israel are: “Congressional Democrats say they want to defend Israel — but without taking on Israel’s enemies. Bizarre choice — so bizarre as to make their professed support for Israel practically meaningless. At issue is a resolution proposed by Rep. Pete King (R-Long Island) that calls on Washington to quit the US Human Rights Council — which two weeks ago voted 32-3 to condemn Israel’s raid on the Gaza-bound flotilla. Incredibly, not a single House Democrat — not even from the New York delegation — is willing to co-sponsor King’s resolution ‘unless we take out the language about the UN,’ he says. Why? No Democrat wants to go on record disagreeing with President Obama’s decision to end the Bush-era boycott of the anti-Israel council — whose members include such human-rights champions as Iran and Libya.”

With help from an inept White House and BP, Bobby Jindal is beginning to look like a leader: “Eight weeks into the oil spill disaster in the Gulf of the Mexico, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal has told the National Guard that there’s no time left to wait for BP, so they’re taking matters into their own hands. In Fort Jackson, La., Jindal has ordered the Guard to start building barrier walls right in the middle of the ocean. The barriers, built nine miles off shore, are intended to keep the oil from reaching the coast by filling the gaps between barrier islands.”

With help from Saturday Night Live‘s Seth and Amy, Cliff May takes apart Jamie Rubin (no relation, thankfully).

With help from the IDF, we have a concise and thorough account of the flotilla incident.

With help from the increasingly unpopular president, “Republican candidates now hold a 10-point lead over Democrats on the Generic Congressional Ballot for the week ending Sunday, June 13. That ties the GOP’s largest ever lead, first reached in April, since it first edged ahead of the Democrats a year ago.”

With help from the upcoming elections: “There aren’t enough votes to include climate change rules in a Senate energy bill, a top Democrat said Tuesday. Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.), a senior member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, dismissed any hopes his colleagues might have of including regulations to clamp down on emissions as part of a comprehensive energy bill this summer.”

With help from J Street (the Hamas lobby?), Israel’s enemies always have friends on Capitol Hill: “In the most open conflict in months between the left-leaning Israel group J Street and the traditional pro-Israel powerhouse AIPAC, the liberal group is asking members of Congress not to sign a letter backed by AIPAC that supports the Israeli side of the Gaza flotilla incident.”

With help from the NRA, House Democrats are in hot water again: “House Democrats are facing a backlash from some liberal and government reform advocacy groups over an exemption for the NRA. House Democrats are facing a backlash from some liberal and government reform advocacy groups over an exemption for the National Rifle Association that was added to a campaign finance bill.”

With the help of Rep. Peter King, we’re sniffing out who the real friends of Israel are: “Congressional Democrats say they want to defend Israel — but without taking on Israel’s enemies. Bizarre choice — so bizarre as to make their professed support for Israel practically meaningless. At issue is a resolution proposed by Rep. Pete King (R-Long Island) that calls on Washington to quit the US Human Rights Council — which two weeks ago voted 32-3 to condemn Israel’s raid on the Gaza-bound flotilla. Incredibly, not a single House Democrat — not even from the New York delegation — is willing to co-sponsor King’s resolution ‘unless we take out the language about the UN,’ he says. Why? No Democrat wants to go on record disagreeing with President Obama’s decision to end the Bush-era boycott of the anti-Israel council — whose members include such human-rights champions as Iran and Libya.”

With help from an inept White House and BP, Bobby Jindal is beginning to look like a leader: “Eight weeks into the oil spill disaster in the Gulf of the Mexico, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal has told the National Guard that there’s no time left to wait for BP, so they’re taking matters into their own hands. In Fort Jackson, La., Jindal has ordered the Guard to start building barrier walls right in the middle of the ocean. The barriers, built nine miles off shore, are intended to keep the oil from reaching the coast by filling the gaps between barrier islands.”

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Obama’s Boring Speech

Frankly, Obama was a crashing bore. He’s been that way for a while, but at moments like this, when you know what he is going to say (“Bad BP!” “Pass cap-and-trade!”), he is especially so.

And he can never pass up the chance to pass the buck. He describes the difficulties with the Minerals Management Services as if someone else had been president for over a year and as if this is the fault of “deregulators” rather than a massive bureaucracy without accountability:

One place we have already begun to take action is at the agency in charge of regulating drilling and issuing permits, known as the Minerals Management Service.  Over the last decade, this agency has become emblematic of a failed philosophy that views all regulation with hostility – a philosophy that says corporations should be allowed to play by their own rules and police themselves.  At this agency, industry insiders were put in charge of industry oversight.  Oil companies showered regulators with gifts and favors, and were essentially allowed to conduct their own safety inspections and write their own regulations.

But didn’t his administration miss the extent of the problems? Well, he lets on: “When Ken Salazar became my Secretary of the Interior, one of his very first acts was to clean up the worst of the corruption at this agency. But it’s now clear that the problems there ran much deeper, and the pace of reform was just too slow.”

And naturally, the long-term solution is his climate-change proposal, which many in his own party won’t support. It is, of course, a massive new tax, which he tries to sneak by with this description: “Now, there are costs associated with this transition.” Costs — or taxes imposed on consumers and businesses while the economy is struggling to its feet? But Obama thinks we can certainly pay for this: “And some believe we can’t afford those costs right now.  I say we can’t afford not to change how we produce and use energy — because the long-term costs to our economy, our national security, and our environment are far greater.”

In other words, government in league with big business contributed to the nation’s worst environmental disaster, and now we want to let government run the entire energy industry. Got that?

Finally, a word on tone. Obama spoke about “shrimpers and fishermen” and “empty restaurants,” but neither his voice nor demeanor betrayed any sense of emotion. He remains cool and distant — cataloging suffering but reflecting none of it.

Will this help push through cap-and-trade? Not in the least. Will this reverse the downward skid in his presidency? Unlikely — no speech on health care ever convinced the public to embrace that.

Frankly, Obama was a crashing bore. He’s been that way for a while, but at moments like this, when you know what he is going to say (“Bad BP!” “Pass cap-and-trade!”), he is especially so.

And he can never pass up the chance to pass the buck. He describes the difficulties with the Minerals Management Services as if someone else had been president for over a year and as if this is the fault of “deregulators” rather than a massive bureaucracy without accountability:

One place we have already begun to take action is at the agency in charge of regulating drilling and issuing permits, known as the Minerals Management Service.  Over the last decade, this agency has become emblematic of a failed philosophy that views all regulation with hostility – a philosophy that says corporations should be allowed to play by their own rules and police themselves.  At this agency, industry insiders were put in charge of industry oversight.  Oil companies showered regulators with gifts and favors, and were essentially allowed to conduct their own safety inspections and write their own regulations.

But didn’t his administration miss the extent of the problems? Well, he lets on: “When Ken Salazar became my Secretary of the Interior, one of his very first acts was to clean up the worst of the corruption at this agency. But it’s now clear that the problems there ran much deeper, and the pace of reform was just too slow.”

And naturally, the long-term solution is his climate-change proposal, which many in his own party won’t support. It is, of course, a massive new tax, which he tries to sneak by with this description: “Now, there are costs associated with this transition.” Costs — or taxes imposed on consumers and businesses while the economy is struggling to its feet? But Obama thinks we can certainly pay for this: “And some believe we can’t afford those costs right now.  I say we can’t afford not to change how we produce and use energy — because the long-term costs to our economy, our national security, and our environment are far greater.”

In other words, government in league with big business contributed to the nation’s worst environmental disaster, and now we want to let government run the entire energy industry. Got that?

Finally, a word on tone. Obama spoke about “shrimpers and fishermen” and “empty restaurants,” but neither his voice nor demeanor betrayed any sense of emotion. He remains cool and distant — cataloging suffering but reflecting none of it.

Will this help push through cap-and-trade? Not in the least. Will this reverse the downward skid in his presidency? Unlikely — no speech on health care ever convinced the public to embrace that.

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Is the Afghan Gold Rush Good News for Obama or Afghanistan?

Over the past few years, some left-wing critics of the Bush administration may have wondered whether Washington would have prioritized the war in Afghanistan over the one in Iraq if, instead of being a mountainous wasteland, Afghanistan had been sitting on vast oil deposits. While the idea that the war in Iraq was fought for oil was a cherished leftist myth, there seemed little reason to fight in Afghanistan from a Marxist economic perspective.

But with the news today that the United States has newly discovered nearly $1 trillion in mineral deposits in Afghanistan, paranoid left-wing fantasy-spinners won’t be the only ones rushing to reevaluate the conflict there. According to U.S. officials quoted in the New York Times:

The previously unknown deposits — including huge veins of iron, copper, cobalt, gold and critical industrial metals like lithium — are so big and include so many minerals that are essential to modern industry that Afghanistan could eventually be transformed into one of the most important mining centers in the world, the United States officials believe. An internal Pentagon memo, for example, states that Afghanistan could become the “Saudi Arabia of lithium,” a key raw material in the manufacture of batteries for laptops and BlackBerrys.

While these discoveries may represent a great hope for the future of Afghanistan – and a way for its people to shake off the notion that the only viable careers involve bloodshed or opium-growing — the chances that it could also create even more mischief, mayhem, and misery for that country are all too apparent.

The national government of President Hamid Karzai and local warlords will bitterly fight for control of the new mining opportunities. And don’t think the Taliban won’t be prepared to contest the areas where riches are under the ground.

And the potential for trouble from foreigners storming into the region to exploit these resources is also considerable. Except in this case, it won’t so much be a Yukon-style gold rush with wily prospectors straight out of a Jack London novel but, as the Times noted, a neighboring Chinese government looking to expand its sphere of influence.

Though the discoveries made by a team of Pentagon officials and American geologists – working from new maps charted by the United States Geological Survey – have produced results rightly considered both “amazing” and “promising,” the article goes on to state the difficulties of developing resources in a country with no heavy industry or mining infrastructure. A bloody war won’t make it any easier. But the really troubling aspect of this announcement is why the administration chose to leak the story — especially when even the preparations for mining for these minerals are clearly in the distant future, and when the Afghanistan government is far from ready to make such preparations.

The answer may come within the story itself: “The Obama administration is hungry for some positive news to come out of Afghanistan,” even though the announcement may complicate both the war and Washington’s delicate relations with the Karzai government. While the story was bound to come out sooner or later, it could be that this administration, which is such a ferocious foe of leaks to the media from government sources, let this particularly strategic piece of information slip to bolster its sagging poll numbers and to gain new support for the war.

Over the past few years, some left-wing critics of the Bush administration may have wondered whether Washington would have prioritized the war in Afghanistan over the one in Iraq if, instead of being a mountainous wasteland, Afghanistan had been sitting on vast oil deposits. While the idea that the war in Iraq was fought for oil was a cherished leftist myth, there seemed little reason to fight in Afghanistan from a Marxist economic perspective.

But with the news today that the United States has newly discovered nearly $1 trillion in mineral deposits in Afghanistan, paranoid left-wing fantasy-spinners won’t be the only ones rushing to reevaluate the conflict there. According to U.S. officials quoted in the New York Times:

The previously unknown deposits — including huge veins of iron, copper, cobalt, gold and critical industrial metals like lithium — are so big and include so many minerals that are essential to modern industry that Afghanistan could eventually be transformed into one of the most important mining centers in the world, the United States officials believe. An internal Pentagon memo, for example, states that Afghanistan could become the “Saudi Arabia of lithium,” a key raw material in the manufacture of batteries for laptops and BlackBerrys.

While these discoveries may represent a great hope for the future of Afghanistan – and a way for its people to shake off the notion that the only viable careers involve bloodshed or opium-growing — the chances that it could also create even more mischief, mayhem, and misery for that country are all too apparent.

The national government of President Hamid Karzai and local warlords will bitterly fight for control of the new mining opportunities. And don’t think the Taliban won’t be prepared to contest the areas where riches are under the ground.

And the potential for trouble from foreigners storming into the region to exploit these resources is also considerable. Except in this case, it won’t so much be a Yukon-style gold rush with wily prospectors straight out of a Jack London novel but, as the Times noted, a neighboring Chinese government looking to expand its sphere of influence.

Though the discoveries made by a team of Pentagon officials and American geologists – working from new maps charted by the United States Geological Survey – have produced results rightly considered both “amazing” and “promising,” the article goes on to state the difficulties of developing resources in a country with no heavy industry or mining infrastructure. A bloody war won’t make it any easier. But the really troubling aspect of this announcement is why the administration chose to leak the story — especially when even the preparations for mining for these minerals are clearly in the distant future, and when the Afghanistan government is far from ready to make such preparations.

The answer may come within the story itself: “The Obama administration is hungry for some positive news to come out of Afghanistan,” even though the announcement may complicate both the war and Washington’s delicate relations with the Karzai government. While the story was bound to come out sooner or later, it could be that this administration, which is such a ferocious foe of leaks to the media from government sources, let this particularly strategic piece of information slip to bolster its sagging poll numbers and to gain new support for the war.

Read Less

Is Obama Trying to Force BP Into Bankruptcy?

Yesterday, I wondered whether Obama and the Democrats — by bullying BP into cancelling its dividend — were trying to sink BP’s stock. Well, if so, they have upped the ante and are succeeding This report  tells us:

The Obama Administration ratcheted up its demands on Wednesday that BP PLC cover all costs stemming from the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, including millions of dollars in salaries of oil-industry workers laid off because of the federal moratorium on deep-water drilling. The sudden increase in BP’s potential liabilities — along with growing evidence that even more oil than expected is gushing from BP’s crippled well — helped send BP’s shares plummeting almost 16% in New York, to $29.20. The stock has lost close to half its value, more than $82 billion, in the seven weeks since the spill started.

Whoa, the Obama team wants BP to pay for the administration’s dopey idea to halt deep-water drilling? Yup. Is this legal? No:

Several legal experts said they couldn’t think of any law or precedent that would allow the U.S. to try to recover damages from BP on behalf of rig workers thrown out of work by a government moratorium on deep offshore drilling. “I’m not aware of anything out there that would allow (President Obama) to latch onto a legal remedy on behalf of the out-of-work workers,” said Benjamin A. Escobar Jr., a Houston-based labor and employment attorney for Beirne Maynard & Parsons. “I think he’s in for a real court fight on these issues.”

Keep in mind that it is the government’s heavy hand that is primarily responsible for sinking BP’s stock — and potentially the livelihood of employees and shareholders:

“There is no objective justification for this share price movement. BP faces this situation as a strong company,” said BP chief executive Tony Hayward in an interview at the company’s Houston crisis center. “We have significant capacity and flexibility in dealing with the cost of responding to the incident, the environmental remediation and the payment of legitimate claims.”

Aside from the complete absence of legal authority, it’s rather nervy — even for this president — to ask BP to pay for his mistakes. What’s next — fining employers for laying off workers despite his non-stimulus plan? While he lectures students about not passing the buck, he has no peer when it comes to buck passing. He should take some of the advice he doled out to high-school graduates:

Don’t make excuses. Take responsibility not just for your successes, but for your failures as well. … It’s the easiest thing in the world to start looking around for someone to blame.

As for the bullying of business, this is simply the natural extension of the administration’s abject lawlessness — stomping on the rights of car-company bond holders, snatching bonuses away from AIG executives, pushing for mortgage cram-downs — which views contracts and statutes as mere annoyances. This is what comes from electing people with no private-sector experience and no understanding that the rule of law is central to our economic prosperity.

Yesterday, I wondered whether Obama and the Democrats — by bullying BP into cancelling its dividend — were trying to sink BP’s stock. Well, if so, they have upped the ante and are succeeding This report  tells us:

The Obama Administration ratcheted up its demands on Wednesday that BP PLC cover all costs stemming from the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, including millions of dollars in salaries of oil-industry workers laid off because of the federal moratorium on deep-water drilling. The sudden increase in BP’s potential liabilities — along with growing evidence that even more oil than expected is gushing from BP’s crippled well — helped send BP’s shares plummeting almost 16% in New York, to $29.20. The stock has lost close to half its value, more than $82 billion, in the seven weeks since the spill started.

Whoa, the Obama team wants BP to pay for the administration’s dopey idea to halt deep-water drilling? Yup. Is this legal? No:

Several legal experts said they couldn’t think of any law or precedent that would allow the U.S. to try to recover damages from BP on behalf of rig workers thrown out of work by a government moratorium on deep offshore drilling. “I’m not aware of anything out there that would allow (President Obama) to latch onto a legal remedy on behalf of the out-of-work workers,” said Benjamin A. Escobar Jr., a Houston-based labor and employment attorney for Beirne Maynard & Parsons. “I think he’s in for a real court fight on these issues.”

Keep in mind that it is the government’s heavy hand that is primarily responsible for sinking BP’s stock — and potentially the livelihood of employees and shareholders:

“There is no objective justification for this share price movement. BP faces this situation as a strong company,” said BP chief executive Tony Hayward in an interview at the company’s Houston crisis center. “We have significant capacity and flexibility in dealing with the cost of responding to the incident, the environmental remediation and the payment of legitimate claims.”

Aside from the complete absence of legal authority, it’s rather nervy — even for this president — to ask BP to pay for his mistakes. What’s next — fining employers for laying off workers despite his non-stimulus plan? While he lectures students about not passing the buck, he has no peer when it comes to buck passing. He should take some of the advice he doled out to high-school graduates:

Don’t make excuses. Take responsibility not just for your successes, but for your failures as well. … It’s the easiest thing in the world to start looking around for someone to blame.

As for the bullying of business, this is simply the natural extension of the administration’s abject lawlessness — stomping on the rights of car-company bond holders, snatching bonuses away from AIG executives, pushing for mortgage cram-downs — which views contracts and statutes as mere annoyances. This is what comes from electing people with no private-sector experience and no understanding that the rule of law is central to our economic prosperity.

Read Less

New Sanctions Give Iran Nothing to Worry About

Now that the United Nations Security Council has passed a new round of sanctions against Iran, we can expect a degree of self-congratulation from the Obama administration, which has been working toward this goal for many months. But it is no secret that the package passed by a vote of 12-to-2 with one abstention (Brazil and Turkey voted no while Lebanon abstained) and does little to make life more difficult for Iran or to hamper its ongoing quest for nuclear capability.

The sanctions make life a bit more difficult for 40 Iranians involved in the nuclear program, who had been mentioned in previous resolutions, by freezing their assets and banning their travel. Only one name was added to the list, Javad Rahiqi, the head of the Isfahan Nuclear Technology Center. There is also language about requiring countries to inspect ships or planes headed to or from Iran if they suspect that banned cargo is aboard, but there is no authorization to board ships by force at sea. Iran is now also not allowed to invest in nuclear-enrichment plants, uranium mines, and related technology. The sale of heavy weapons to Iran is also now banned.

But as a result of many months of haggling with Russia and China, who gave only reluctant backing to these sanctions, Iran’s oil, financial, and insurance industries — which are all highly vulnerable to international pressure — were left untouched. As the New York Times noted today, the European Union — America’s supposed ally in the campaign to restrain Tehran’s nuclear plans — alone does more than $35 billion in business with Iran. The amount of trade between Iran and China — whose vote in favor of the mild measure just passed was bought by American concessions that watered down the same sanctions — exceeds that amount. China gets 11 percent of its oil from the Islamist regime. And as the Times reported in a feature last week, Iran’s ability to evade sanctions with shell companies and by having their ships registered under foreign flags has made a mockery of the world body’s previous attempts to sanction it.

So, like the three previous rounds of UN sanctions on Iran, we can expect this latest one to have no impact on either Iran’s willingness to buck global displeasure over the nuclear issue or its ability to proceed with its plans.

All of which leaves us asking the Obama administration, what now?

In theory, the new UN sanctions could prompt the United States and other Western powers to unilaterally impose far harsher sanctions by themselves. But that move will take even more months of negotiations and would almost certainly not include Russia and China, countries that have played a major role in enabling the Iranians to avoid paying the price for their nuclear ambitions. With force off the table and little hope of a truly crippling round of international sanctions, what does Iran have to worry about?

Though the administration is busily spinning recent developments as proof that the year they wasted trying to engage Iran helped build support for sanctions, the fact remains that Iran is not only a year closer to its nuclear goal but also in a stronger political and diplomatic position today than it was 12 months ago. Having completely suppressed domestic opponents in the wake of their stolen presidential election, the Khamenei/Ahmadinejad regime can also now point to the acquisition of two important foreign allies: Brazil and Turkey, both of whom are now firmly in Iran’s camp. And those two countries can say that the mischief they are making on Iran’s behalf is no different from what President Obama tried to do himself during his long unsuccessful attempt to appease Tehran.

Just as bad is the fact that over the past year, Obama has allowed the Iranians and their friends to establish a false moral equivalence between their nuclear program and that of the State of Israel, a country whose very existence requires a nuclear deterrent that Iran’s does not. The United States’s vote last week in favor of a resolution at the UN nonproliferation conference, which called on Israel to open up its nuclear facilities, is a clear signal that the Obama administration’s faltering resolve on Iran is matched by its ambivalence about the Jewish state and its security needs.

The bottom line is that far from today’s UN vote being a cause for celebration or even satisfaction over the fact that the world is finally paying attention to the threat of a nuclear Iran, it may well be a better indication of the West’s slide toward ultimate acquiescence to Iran’s goals.

Now that the United Nations Security Council has passed a new round of sanctions against Iran, we can expect a degree of self-congratulation from the Obama administration, which has been working toward this goal for many months. But it is no secret that the package passed by a vote of 12-to-2 with one abstention (Brazil and Turkey voted no while Lebanon abstained) and does little to make life more difficult for Iran or to hamper its ongoing quest for nuclear capability.

The sanctions make life a bit more difficult for 40 Iranians involved in the nuclear program, who had been mentioned in previous resolutions, by freezing their assets and banning their travel. Only one name was added to the list, Javad Rahiqi, the head of the Isfahan Nuclear Technology Center. There is also language about requiring countries to inspect ships or planes headed to or from Iran if they suspect that banned cargo is aboard, but there is no authorization to board ships by force at sea. Iran is now also not allowed to invest in nuclear-enrichment plants, uranium mines, and related technology. The sale of heavy weapons to Iran is also now banned.

But as a result of many months of haggling with Russia and China, who gave only reluctant backing to these sanctions, Iran’s oil, financial, and insurance industries — which are all highly vulnerable to international pressure — were left untouched. As the New York Times noted today, the European Union — America’s supposed ally in the campaign to restrain Tehran’s nuclear plans — alone does more than $35 billion in business with Iran. The amount of trade between Iran and China — whose vote in favor of the mild measure just passed was bought by American concessions that watered down the same sanctions — exceeds that amount. China gets 11 percent of its oil from the Islamist regime. And as the Times reported in a feature last week, Iran’s ability to evade sanctions with shell companies and by having their ships registered under foreign flags has made a mockery of the world body’s previous attempts to sanction it.

So, like the three previous rounds of UN sanctions on Iran, we can expect this latest one to have no impact on either Iran’s willingness to buck global displeasure over the nuclear issue or its ability to proceed with its plans.

All of which leaves us asking the Obama administration, what now?

In theory, the new UN sanctions could prompt the United States and other Western powers to unilaterally impose far harsher sanctions by themselves. But that move will take even more months of negotiations and would almost certainly not include Russia and China, countries that have played a major role in enabling the Iranians to avoid paying the price for their nuclear ambitions. With force off the table and little hope of a truly crippling round of international sanctions, what does Iran have to worry about?

Though the administration is busily spinning recent developments as proof that the year they wasted trying to engage Iran helped build support for sanctions, the fact remains that Iran is not only a year closer to its nuclear goal but also in a stronger political and diplomatic position today than it was 12 months ago. Having completely suppressed domestic opponents in the wake of their stolen presidential election, the Khamenei/Ahmadinejad regime can also now point to the acquisition of two important foreign allies: Brazil and Turkey, both of whom are now firmly in Iran’s camp. And those two countries can say that the mischief they are making on Iran’s behalf is no different from what President Obama tried to do himself during his long unsuccessful attempt to appease Tehran.

Just as bad is the fact that over the past year, Obama has allowed the Iranians and their friends to establish a false moral equivalence between their nuclear program and that of the State of Israel, a country whose very existence requires a nuclear deterrent that Iran’s does not. The United States’s vote last week in favor of a resolution at the UN nonproliferation conference, which called on Israel to open up its nuclear facilities, is a clear signal that the Obama administration’s faltering resolve on Iran is matched by its ambivalence about the Jewish state and its security needs.

The bottom line is that far from today’s UN vote being a cause for celebration or even satisfaction over the fact that the world is finally paying attention to the threat of a nuclear Iran, it may well be a better indication of the West’s slide toward ultimate acquiescence to Iran’s goals.

Read Less




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