Commentary Magazine


Topic: party leader

A Whole Lot Harder

I share Karl Rove’s pessimism that the prospects for a GOP takeover of the Delaware Senate seat are now remote. He reels off a long list of Christine O’Donnell’s personal failings and credibility issues that are certain to come up in the general election She is, to put it mildly, a terribly flawed candidate. Rove correctly points out, “It does conservatives little good to support candidates who at the end of the day, while they may be conservative in their public statements, do not evince the characteristics of rectitude and truthfulness and sincerity and character that the voters are looking for.” He adds, “There is a lot of nutty things she has been saying. … This is not a race we’ll be able to win.”

If a couple of Senate seats are lost — and especially if the GOP falls just a seat or two short of the majority in the Senate — there will and should be some soul-searching in the Tea Party movement. There will also, I suspect, be valid concerns about those who encouraged and endorsed unelectable candidates. If you want to be a party leader, and not simply a prominent conservative, the expectation is that you will use your influence judiciously.

The Tea Party has injected enthusiasm and provided a unifying conservative economic message, but a movement and a political party are not the same. The latter must concern itself with elections and building a governing majority. And the former, if unchecked by judgment and maturity, can unintentionally do great damage to its own cause.

One final note: outsiderness in and of itself is not a decisive factor in electability. What matters is whether the candidate is plausible and can articulate an anti-Beltway message that taps into both conservatives and independents’ disgust with the governing class. It is highly questionable whether O’Donnell can do that. On the other hand, as Ben Smith points out, conservatives dumped a dreadful establishment candidate in the New York gubernatorial primary and pushed back on a state party that has shown zero adeptness of late:

The results in New York tonight cut at Cuomo in two ways, though he wasn’t on the ballot. The first and most obvious is an energized conservative base, which chose a real outsider — Buffalo developer Carl Paladino — as a more plausible, if extremely longshot, vessel for a “mad as hell” anti-Establishment campaign against the “status Cuomo” than would have been the Establishment Republican, a former bank lobbyist.

“This is the candidate that the base of the party wanted,” conceded State Republican Party Chairman Ed Cox, putting a good face on a terrible night that also included a third-place finish for his son in a congressional race on Long Island.

In sum: the lesson is to choose wisely. This is the big leagues.

I share Karl Rove’s pessimism that the prospects for a GOP takeover of the Delaware Senate seat are now remote. He reels off a long list of Christine O’Donnell’s personal failings and credibility issues that are certain to come up in the general election She is, to put it mildly, a terribly flawed candidate. Rove correctly points out, “It does conservatives little good to support candidates who at the end of the day, while they may be conservative in their public statements, do not evince the characteristics of rectitude and truthfulness and sincerity and character that the voters are looking for.” He adds, “There is a lot of nutty things she has been saying. … This is not a race we’ll be able to win.”

If a couple of Senate seats are lost — and especially if the GOP falls just a seat or two short of the majority in the Senate — there will and should be some soul-searching in the Tea Party movement. There will also, I suspect, be valid concerns about those who encouraged and endorsed unelectable candidates. If you want to be a party leader, and not simply a prominent conservative, the expectation is that you will use your influence judiciously.

The Tea Party has injected enthusiasm and provided a unifying conservative economic message, but a movement and a political party are not the same. The latter must concern itself with elections and building a governing majority. And the former, if unchecked by judgment and maturity, can unintentionally do great damage to its own cause.

One final note: outsiderness in and of itself is not a decisive factor in electability. What matters is whether the candidate is plausible and can articulate an anti-Beltway message that taps into both conservatives and independents’ disgust with the governing class. It is highly questionable whether O’Donnell can do that. On the other hand, as Ben Smith points out, conservatives dumped a dreadful establishment candidate in the New York gubernatorial primary and pushed back on a state party that has shown zero adeptness of late:

The results in New York tonight cut at Cuomo in two ways, though he wasn’t on the ballot. The first and most obvious is an energized conservative base, which chose a real outsider — Buffalo developer Carl Paladino — as a more plausible, if extremely longshot, vessel for a “mad as hell” anti-Establishment campaign against the “status Cuomo” than would have been the Establishment Republican, a former bank lobbyist.

“This is the candidate that the base of the party wanted,” conceded State Republican Party Chairman Ed Cox, putting a good face on a terrible night that also included a third-place finish for his son in a congressional race on Long Island.

In sum: the lesson is to choose wisely. This is the big leagues.

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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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How Can Obama Boost Abbas While Appeasing Hamas on the Blockade?

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas trooped to the White House for his promised photo op and received presidential promise of a new $400 million aid package for the West Bank and Gaza that will, the White House hopes, go to pay for improving the Palestinians’ health and infrastructure needs.

The point of the visit is clearly to give a boost to Abbas, whom both Israel and the United States consider their preferred Palestinian negotiating partner. Washington touts Abbas’s credentials as a potential peacemaker but, like his predecessor and longtime boss, arch-terrorist Yasir Arafat, the PA president has repeatedly turned down Israeli offers of statehood and peace. But because the alternative is Hamas, the radical Islamist terrorist group that controls Gaza, Abbas must be propped up as much as possible.

But by joining those pushing to have Israel weaken its blockade of Abbas’s Hamas rivals, it’s not clear that Obama is doing much to help the Fatah party leader. As the Washington Post reported, with Abbas beside him, Obama declared, “The situation in Gaza is unsustainable.” While stopping short of expressing U.S. support for lifting the blockade, Obama said that arms should be kept out while food and building materials are let in. Of course, food is already let in, and Hamas’s desire for more construction materials has more to do with a desire to rebuild and strengthen its fortifications and tunnel networks than the needs of ordinary Gazans. And Obama said nothing about how the aid he promised the Palestinians or the goods he’d like to see pass through the weakened Israeli blockade will be delivered to the people there without Hamas taking what it likes.

Though the bulk of the administration’s focus on the peace process has been on pressuring Israel, to his credit President Obama did mention that he wanted more progress from the Palestinians on both security and incitement issues. The latter is a reference to the fact that the official Palestinian media, which is under Abbas’s control, continue to incite hatred against Israel and Jews.

In reply, Abbas made the usual pleasant noises in English about peace, coexistence, and a denial that his government and media have “anything to do with that,” referring to the incitement. However, a visit to the website of Palestine Media Watch quickly illustrates the mendacity of Abbas’s White House statement.

Abbas feels he must speak out about the blockade because his constituency demands that he do so. But he knows that any substantial lifting of the sanctions on Gaza will be seen as a huge victory for Hamas. Abbas’s term as PA president expired more than a year ago, an inconvenient fact that is never mentioned by either American or Israeli officials. But there is a reason why he doesn’t dare call a new election. If he did, Hamas might soon be in control of both the West Bank and Gaza. While Washington knows this, by paying lip service to the Palestinian propaganda campaign that has sought to demonize Israel’s legal and justifiable efforts to isolate Hamas in Gaza, the president may be doing more to help Hamas than to help Abbas.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas trooped to the White House for his promised photo op and received presidential promise of a new $400 million aid package for the West Bank and Gaza that will, the White House hopes, go to pay for improving the Palestinians’ health and infrastructure needs.

The point of the visit is clearly to give a boost to Abbas, whom both Israel and the United States consider their preferred Palestinian negotiating partner. Washington touts Abbas’s credentials as a potential peacemaker but, like his predecessor and longtime boss, arch-terrorist Yasir Arafat, the PA president has repeatedly turned down Israeli offers of statehood and peace. But because the alternative is Hamas, the radical Islamist terrorist group that controls Gaza, Abbas must be propped up as much as possible.

But by joining those pushing to have Israel weaken its blockade of Abbas’s Hamas rivals, it’s not clear that Obama is doing much to help the Fatah party leader. As the Washington Post reported, with Abbas beside him, Obama declared, “The situation in Gaza is unsustainable.” While stopping short of expressing U.S. support for lifting the blockade, Obama said that arms should be kept out while food and building materials are let in. Of course, food is already let in, and Hamas’s desire for more construction materials has more to do with a desire to rebuild and strengthen its fortifications and tunnel networks than the needs of ordinary Gazans. And Obama said nothing about how the aid he promised the Palestinians or the goods he’d like to see pass through the weakened Israeli blockade will be delivered to the people there without Hamas taking what it likes.

Though the bulk of the administration’s focus on the peace process has been on pressuring Israel, to his credit President Obama did mention that he wanted more progress from the Palestinians on both security and incitement issues. The latter is a reference to the fact that the official Palestinian media, which is under Abbas’s control, continue to incite hatred against Israel and Jews.

In reply, Abbas made the usual pleasant noises in English about peace, coexistence, and a denial that his government and media have “anything to do with that,” referring to the incitement. However, a visit to the website of Palestine Media Watch quickly illustrates the mendacity of Abbas’s White House statement.

Abbas feels he must speak out about the blockade because his constituency demands that he do so. But he knows that any substantial lifting of the sanctions on Gaza will be seen as a huge victory for Hamas. Abbas’s term as PA president expired more than a year ago, an inconvenient fact that is never mentioned by either American or Israeli officials. But there is a reason why he doesn’t dare call a new election. If he did, Hamas might soon be in control of both the West Bank and Gaza. While Washington knows this, by paying lip service to the Palestinian propaganda campaign that has sought to demonize Israel’s legal and justifiable efforts to isolate Hamas in Gaza, the president may be doing more to help Hamas than to help Abbas.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

A disappointment to leftist civil rights groups? “The issue of race is one reason some liberals fear Kagan’s confirmation would actually tug the court to the right, particularly on voting rights, immigration and racial profiling cases that could come before the justices.”

A coward on the issue of Islamic fundamentalism? “Holder, who last year called America ‘a nation of cowards’ for refusing to talk frankly about race, plainly didn’t want to say what is plain to everyone else, that Faisal Shahzad, back from five months in Waziristan, launched his terror attack because of his Islamist beliefs.”

A sign of the administration’s obliviousness? “[T]he State Department’s showcasing of the Dar al-Hijra Islamic Center in a film about Muslim life in America — despite the mosque’s longstanding ties to the Muslim Brotherhood, its virulent Islamist ideology, its support for the murderous Hamas organization, its notorious Islamist imams and elders (including al Qaeda recruiter Anwar al-Awlaki), and the ties of some of its worshippers to the 9/11 attacks and the Fort Hood massacre. Then, we learned that the federal government has struck a deal to pay Dar al-Hijra a whopping $582K just for this year (i.e., about one-tenth what it cost the Saudis to build the place), purportedly because the Census Bureau needs work space — y’know, because there are like no federal facilities anywhere near Falls Church, Virginia.”

A preview of what is to come? “A British chemicals firm is involved in a secret MI5 inquiry into the illegal export to Iran of material that could make a radioactive “dirty bomb”. HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) raided the Essex home of the firm’s former sales manager after a tip that potentially lethal chemicals, including cobalt, were sold to Iran last summer.”

A reminder that Richard Goldstone had the choice not to facilitate evil? “Frederik van Zyl Slabbert, 70, who helped South Africa chart a peaceful way out of apartheid by leading fellow whites into talks with exiled black leaders, died May 14 at his home in Johannesburg after being treated for a liver-related complication, Reuters reported. … As a political figure, he symbolized the emergence of a new breed of Afrikaner: urbane, articulate and committed to racial equality. … Mr. Slabbert tried to lead, leaving behind an early career as a sociologist in academia to enter politics. He represented the Progressive Federal Party, a precursor to the current opposition Democratic Alliance, in parliament during the apartheid years. He resigned as party leader and left parliament in 1985, during a crackdown on black activists, saying the whites-only legislature was no longer relevant.”

A nail biter in the Democratic Pennsylvania primary? The last tracking poll had Joe Sestak and Arlen Specter tied at 44 percent each.

A character witness he (and the rest of us) could do without?: “Woody Allen has restated his support for fellow filmmaker Roman Polanski, who is in house arrest in connection with a 33-year-old sex scandal. Allen said Polanski ‘was embarrassed by the whole thing,’ ”has suffered’ and ‘has paid his dues.’ He said Polanski is ‘an artist and is a nice person’ who ‘did something wrong and he paid for it.’” I must have missed the jail time Polanski served for raping a 13-year-old.

A disappointment to leftist civil rights groups? “The issue of race is one reason some liberals fear Kagan’s confirmation would actually tug the court to the right, particularly on voting rights, immigration and racial profiling cases that could come before the justices.”

A coward on the issue of Islamic fundamentalism? “Holder, who last year called America ‘a nation of cowards’ for refusing to talk frankly about race, plainly didn’t want to say what is plain to everyone else, that Faisal Shahzad, back from five months in Waziristan, launched his terror attack because of his Islamist beliefs.”

A sign of the administration’s obliviousness? “[T]he State Department’s showcasing of the Dar al-Hijra Islamic Center in a film about Muslim life in America — despite the mosque’s longstanding ties to the Muslim Brotherhood, its virulent Islamist ideology, its support for the murderous Hamas organization, its notorious Islamist imams and elders (including al Qaeda recruiter Anwar al-Awlaki), and the ties of some of its worshippers to the 9/11 attacks and the Fort Hood massacre. Then, we learned that the federal government has struck a deal to pay Dar al-Hijra a whopping $582K just for this year (i.e., about one-tenth what it cost the Saudis to build the place), purportedly because the Census Bureau needs work space — y’know, because there are like no federal facilities anywhere near Falls Church, Virginia.”

A preview of what is to come? “A British chemicals firm is involved in a secret MI5 inquiry into the illegal export to Iran of material that could make a radioactive “dirty bomb”. HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) raided the Essex home of the firm’s former sales manager after a tip that potentially lethal chemicals, including cobalt, were sold to Iran last summer.”

A reminder that Richard Goldstone had the choice not to facilitate evil? “Frederik van Zyl Slabbert, 70, who helped South Africa chart a peaceful way out of apartheid by leading fellow whites into talks with exiled black leaders, died May 14 at his home in Johannesburg after being treated for a liver-related complication, Reuters reported. … As a political figure, he symbolized the emergence of a new breed of Afrikaner: urbane, articulate and committed to racial equality. … Mr. Slabbert tried to lead, leaving behind an early career as a sociologist in academia to enter politics. He represented the Progressive Federal Party, a precursor to the current opposition Democratic Alliance, in parliament during the apartheid years. He resigned as party leader and left parliament in 1985, during a crackdown on black activists, saying the whites-only legislature was no longer relevant.”

A nail biter in the Democratic Pennsylvania primary? The last tracking poll had Joe Sestak and Arlen Specter tied at 44 percent each.

A character witness he (and the rest of us) could do without?: “Woody Allen has restated his support for fellow filmmaker Roman Polanski, who is in house arrest in connection with a 33-year-old sex scandal. Allen said Polanski ‘was embarrassed by the whole thing,’ ”has suffered’ and ‘has paid his dues.’ He said Polanski is ‘an artist and is a nice person’ who ‘did something wrong and he paid for it.’” I must have missed the jail time Polanski served for raping a 13-year-old.

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Can Americans Count on the New Brit Coalition?

While one of the hallmarks of Barack Obama’s foreign policy has been the trashing of the formerly “special” relationship between the United States and Britain, it is interesting to speculate what would happen in the event that Washington really needed London’s help. While Gordon Brown’s Labour government could be relied upon as America’s pal in a pinch even if Obama treated the dour Scot like a dog, what would be the reaction from the coalition duo of David Cameron and Nick Clegg to a call for assistance from Obama, especially in the not-altogether-unlikely event of a crisis in the Middle East, involving Iran’s nuclear ambitions?

That’s the question Daniella Peled asks in today’s Guardian. Her answer is that it is far from certain how the new British coalition will respond. The problem lies in the competing agendas of the two parties as well as in their differing attitudes toward the United States.

On the one hand, Prime Minister Cameron has already demonstrated how desperate he is to buddy up with Obama, and the president, who clearly didn’t think much of Brown, isn’t averse to a warmer friendship with the new UK leader. But that doesn’t mean that Cameron is eager to become the junior partner on foreign-policy initiatives to the Americans that Tony Blair was, even if the current resident of the White House is Barack Obama rather than George W. Bush. As for the Conservative Party itself, Peled quotes one party leader as saying “we’re just not that interested” in the Middle East one way or another.

Their Liberal Democrat coalition partners, however, have a very different attitude toward foreign policy in general and the Middle East in particular. The Lib-Dems want to distance the United Kingdom from America even more than Obama wants to distance the United States from Israel. Not only are they unhappy about continuing to fight the war against the Taliban and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan; they are also virulently anti-Israel. All of which means that the Lib-Dems are unlikely to support any measures intended to seriously pressure Iran on the nuclear issue. As Peled states, this means there is a huge potential for conflict within the new government on key foreign-policy issues.

However, the notion that the new UK coalition will crack up over a 3 a.m. request from Obama to assist a strike on Iran is more fantasy than anything else. The Obama administration is more likely to learn to live with a nuclear Iran than to fight to remove the existential threat against Israel and the destabilization of the region. And for all of his desire to cozy up to Obama, Cameron’s desire to hold on to his place at No. 10 Downing Street probably outweighs anything else.

But even if we take such an apocalyptic scenario out of the discussion, there is no question that even a White House as devoted to multilateralism and engagement as that of Obama must understand that the new British government cannot be considered as reliable an ally as its predecessor. Neither the Tories nor the Lib-Dems aren’t interested in being portrayed as Obama’s poodles. Nor do they care much about Iran, Hezbollah, or Hamas. For all of his disdain for Gordon Brown, there may come a day when Barack Obama will wish the special relationship he helped destroy could be brought back to life.

While one of the hallmarks of Barack Obama’s foreign policy has been the trashing of the formerly “special” relationship between the United States and Britain, it is interesting to speculate what would happen in the event that Washington really needed London’s help. While Gordon Brown’s Labour government could be relied upon as America’s pal in a pinch even if Obama treated the dour Scot like a dog, what would be the reaction from the coalition duo of David Cameron and Nick Clegg to a call for assistance from Obama, especially in the not-altogether-unlikely event of a crisis in the Middle East, involving Iran’s nuclear ambitions?

That’s the question Daniella Peled asks in today’s Guardian. Her answer is that it is far from certain how the new British coalition will respond. The problem lies in the competing agendas of the two parties as well as in their differing attitudes toward the United States.

On the one hand, Prime Minister Cameron has already demonstrated how desperate he is to buddy up with Obama, and the president, who clearly didn’t think much of Brown, isn’t averse to a warmer friendship with the new UK leader. But that doesn’t mean that Cameron is eager to become the junior partner on foreign-policy initiatives to the Americans that Tony Blair was, even if the current resident of the White House is Barack Obama rather than George W. Bush. As for the Conservative Party itself, Peled quotes one party leader as saying “we’re just not that interested” in the Middle East one way or another.

Their Liberal Democrat coalition partners, however, have a very different attitude toward foreign policy in general and the Middle East in particular. The Lib-Dems want to distance the United Kingdom from America even more than Obama wants to distance the United States from Israel. Not only are they unhappy about continuing to fight the war against the Taliban and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan; they are also virulently anti-Israel. All of which means that the Lib-Dems are unlikely to support any measures intended to seriously pressure Iran on the nuclear issue. As Peled states, this means there is a huge potential for conflict within the new government on key foreign-policy issues.

However, the notion that the new UK coalition will crack up over a 3 a.m. request from Obama to assist a strike on Iran is more fantasy than anything else. The Obama administration is more likely to learn to live with a nuclear Iran than to fight to remove the existential threat against Israel and the destabilization of the region. And for all of his desire to cozy up to Obama, Cameron’s desire to hold on to his place at No. 10 Downing Street probably outweighs anything else.

But even if we take such an apocalyptic scenario out of the discussion, there is no question that even a White House as devoted to multilateralism and engagement as that of Obama must understand that the new British government cannot be considered as reliable an ally as its predecessor. Neither the Tories nor the Lib-Dems aren’t interested in being portrayed as Obama’s poodles. Nor do they care much about Iran, Hezbollah, or Hamas. For all of his disdain for Gordon Brown, there may come a day when Barack Obama will wish the special relationship he helped destroy could be brought back to life.

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The Perils of Freelance Diplomacy

Shaul Mofaz has spent the past two weeks hawking his peace plan overseas. He has met with Obama administration officials Dennis Ross, Dan Shapiro, and Jeffrey Feltman; U.S. congressmen; UN officials; and the American, Turkish, Russian, Egyptian, and Jordanian ambassadors to Israel. But unless you follow Israeli politics closely, you’re probably wondering, “Who?”

And that’s the point: Mofaz isn’t a member of Israel’s government or even a party leader; he’s the No. 2 man in the largest opposition party, Kadima — which has yet to even discuss his plan. In other words, the plan he’s marketing abroad is one he hasn’t yet managed to sell even to his own party, much less to the Israeli public; moreover, he occupies no post that would enable him to implement it.

Nor is this unprecedented: other freelance Israeli diplomats have received equal or greater attention overseas. Yossi Beilin, for instance, met with high-ranking officials worldwide about his Geneva Initiative (a proposed Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement) in 2003, though he held no public office at the time. And when he did run for the Knesset three years later, the party he headed won five seats in the 120-seat Knesset. Not exactly a resounding vote of confidence from Israel’s public.

Were these foreign officials merely wasting their time, nobody would care. But this behavior has two pernicious effects.

First, it feeds the illusion among overseas governments that they don’t have to contend seriously with the positions of actual Israeli governments elected by actual Israeli voters; they can just sit and wait until the inconvenient incumbents are replaced by their pet opposition politician. Barack Obama’s failure to realize that treating Israel’s capital as a “settlement” would bolster Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rather than weaken him, since Netanyahu’s positions on Jerusalem in fact reflect those of Israel’s majority, is a classic example of the pitfalls of such illusions.

In reality, people freelance precisely because they are unable to convince their own public to put them in power. Beilin, for instance, went freelance after failing to make it into the Knesset in 2003; Mofaz is freelancing now because he lost Kadima’s leadership contest last fall. And there is no reason to believe such freelancers will be more electable in the future.

Second, international backing for freelancers can panic Israeli governments into moves that undermine the world’s stated goals. Global enthusiasm for the Geneva Initiative, for instance, helped push Ariel Sharon to unilaterally quit Gaza: he considered Geneva disastrous and wanted to distract attention from it. Yet the disengagement, which Palestinians considered a victory for terror, led to Hamas’s electoral victory in 2006 and its subsequent takeover of Gaza in 2007, both of which complicated peacemaking efforts.

Thus the proper response to freelance diplomats should be “first, convince your own public; then we’ll talk.” Granted, that would force world leaders to deal with actual Israeli positions rather than unelectable fantasies. But since Israel must ultimately approve any deal, a plan that can’t command an Israeli majority isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on anyway.

Shaul Mofaz has spent the past two weeks hawking his peace plan overseas. He has met with Obama administration officials Dennis Ross, Dan Shapiro, and Jeffrey Feltman; U.S. congressmen; UN officials; and the American, Turkish, Russian, Egyptian, and Jordanian ambassadors to Israel. But unless you follow Israeli politics closely, you’re probably wondering, “Who?”

And that’s the point: Mofaz isn’t a member of Israel’s government or even a party leader; he’s the No. 2 man in the largest opposition party, Kadima — which has yet to even discuss his plan. In other words, the plan he’s marketing abroad is one he hasn’t yet managed to sell even to his own party, much less to the Israeli public; moreover, he occupies no post that would enable him to implement it.

Nor is this unprecedented: other freelance Israeli diplomats have received equal or greater attention overseas. Yossi Beilin, for instance, met with high-ranking officials worldwide about his Geneva Initiative (a proposed Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement) in 2003, though he held no public office at the time. And when he did run for the Knesset three years later, the party he headed won five seats in the 120-seat Knesset. Not exactly a resounding vote of confidence from Israel’s public.

Were these foreign officials merely wasting their time, nobody would care. But this behavior has two pernicious effects.

First, it feeds the illusion among overseas governments that they don’t have to contend seriously with the positions of actual Israeli governments elected by actual Israeli voters; they can just sit and wait until the inconvenient incumbents are replaced by their pet opposition politician. Barack Obama’s failure to realize that treating Israel’s capital as a “settlement” would bolster Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rather than weaken him, since Netanyahu’s positions on Jerusalem in fact reflect those of Israel’s majority, is a classic example of the pitfalls of such illusions.

In reality, people freelance precisely because they are unable to convince their own public to put them in power. Beilin, for instance, went freelance after failing to make it into the Knesset in 2003; Mofaz is freelancing now because he lost Kadima’s leadership contest last fall. And there is no reason to believe such freelancers will be more electable in the future.

Second, international backing for freelancers can panic Israeli governments into moves that undermine the world’s stated goals. Global enthusiasm for the Geneva Initiative, for instance, helped push Ariel Sharon to unilaterally quit Gaza: he considered Geneva disastrous and wanted to distract attention from it. Yet the disengagement, which Palestinians considered a victory for terror, led to Hamas’s electoral victory in 2006 and its subsequent takeover of Gaza in 2007, both of which complicated peacemaking efforts.

Thus the proper response to freelance diplomats should be “first, convince your own public; then we’ll talk.” Granted, that would force world leaders to deal with actual Israeli positions rather than unelectable fantasies. But since Israel must ultimately approve any deal, a plan that can’t command an Israeli majority isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on anyway.

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