Commentary Magazine


Topic: political scientist

WEB EXCLUSIVE: The Never-Ending Worst Week Ever

Barack Obama is on an open-ended run of “worsts.” The New York Post’s Michael Goodwin opened his November 7 column thus: “He took a ‘shellacking,’ a 2012 poll shows him trailing two Republicans, and losing candidates in his own party are griping about his ‘tone deaf’ leadership. And the Mad Hatter, Nancy Pelosi, refuses to exit quietly. Welcome to Barack Obama’s worst week in the Oval Office.”

Days later, on November 12, Baruch College political scientist Doug Muzzio told the Daily News: “This certainly was the worst 10 days of [Obama’s] political life.” Commenting on the president’s failed Asia trip, Muzzio noted, “He came back with bupkis,” and said, “Given that he’s not going to be able to get any domestic achievements with the Republicans in control of the House … if he doesn’t do it in foreign policy that’s a big problem for him.”

To finish reading this COMMENTARY Web Exclusive, click here.

Barack Obama is on an open-ended run of “worsts.” The New York Post’s Michael Goodwin opened his November 7 column thus: “He took a ‘shellacking,’ a 2012 poll shows him trailing two Republicans, and losing candidates in his own party are griping about his ‘tone deaf’ leadership. And the Mad Hatter, Nancy Pelosi, refuses to exit quietly. Welcome to Barack Obama’s worst week in the Oval Office.”

Days later, on November 12, Baruch College political scientist Doug Muzzio told the Daily News: “This certainly was the worst 10 days of [Obama’s] political life.” Commenting on the president’s failed Asia trip, Muzzio noted, “He came back with bupkis,” and said, “Given that he’s not going to be able to get any domestic achievements with the Republicans in control of the House … if he doesn’t do it in foreign policy that’s a big problem for him.”

To finish reading this COMMENTARY Web Exclusive, click here.

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It Isn’t Getting Any Better for the Democrats

Maybe the Democrats need an exorcist or a Feng Shui expert, or both. But they better hurry. I don’t know how much more bad news one party can bear:

The hung jury in Rod Blagojevich’s corruption trial could be seen as a win for either the prosecution or the defense. The only clear losers were Democrats, who face the prospect of another trial in the middle of a tough election season.

A second trial will continue to draw national attention to a political culture rife with back-room deals and shady characters. And Mr. Blagojevich’s conviction on a single count of lying to federal agents ensures Republicans will be able to run pictures of a felon standing next to any number of Democratic candidates the former governor has posed alongside over the years.

“It’s very bad news for the Democrats,” said Dick Simpson, a political scientist at the University of Illinois at Chicago. “From Alaska to Arkansas, the Republicans will use this to say not only are Democrats big spenders but look how corrupt they are.”

And it’s not like it’s their only ethics problem. Charlie Rangel and Maxine Waters are sure to pop up in a number of GOP ads. As will Nancy Pelosi’s “drain the swamp” remarks. (But on the other hand, “Investigate 68 percent of America!” might be one for the ages.)

What we do know at this stage, with less than 75 days before the election, is that Democrats haven’t been able to turn around the economy or the political narrative. The question remains how bad the wipeout will be and which Democrats will save themselves from the Obama curse.

Maybe the Democrats need an exorcist or a Feng Shui expert, or both. But they better hurry. I don’t know how much more bad news one party can bear:

The hung jury in Rod Blagojevich’s corruption trial could be seen as a win for either the prosecution or the defense. The only clear losers were Democrats, who face the prospect of another trial in the middle of a tough election season.

A second trial will continue to draw national attention to a political culture rife with back-room deals and shady characters. And Mr. Blagojevich’s conviction on a single count of lying to federal agents ensures Republicans will be able to run pictures of a felon standing next to any number of Democratic candidates the former governor has posed alongside over the years.

“It’s very bad news for the Democrats,” said Dick Simpson, a political scientist at the University of Illinois at Chicago. “From Alaska to Arkansas, the Republicans will use this to say not only are Democrats big spenders but look how corrupt they are.”

And it’s not like it’s their only ethics problem. Charlie Rangel and Maxine Waters are sure to pop up in a number of GOP ads. As will Nancy Pelosi’s “drain the swamp” remarks. (But on the other hand, “Investigate 68 percent of America!” might be one for the ages.)

What we do know at this stage, with less than 75 days before the election, is that Democrats haven’t been able to turn around the economy or the political narrative. The question remains how bad the wipeout will be and which Democrats will save themselves from the Obama curse.

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How About Defunding Them?

In the “has everyone gone mad?” department, we’ve been following the story of the decision by the Woodrow Wilson International Center — a taxpayer-supported institution (Why exactly? Heritage and many other think tanks aren’t on the federal dole.) — to give an award to Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu. Well, when you need to give a ridiculous explanation for an anti-Israel, anti-West, anti common-sense move and to avoid any sharp questioning, you go to Laura Rozen (who also transcribes J Street’s missives and is happy to funnel unsourced, anti-Semitic jibes against Dennis Ross), who dutifully reports the excuse:

Earlier this week, House Middle East Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-N.Y.) released a letter to Woodrow Wilson’s President former Rep. Lee Hamilton (D-Ind.) — his former chairman and colleague on the House Foreign Affairs Committee- – expressing displeasure that the think tank would honor the Turkish diplomat after Ankara has escalated tensions with Israel in the wake of the Gaza flotilla raid and voted against UN Iran sanctions.

But a Woodrow Wilson Center spokeswoman told POLITICO Thursday that as far as she knew, neither the Center nor Hamilton had received Ackerman’s letter.

“Awardees are not chosen for their political views,” Sharon McCarter, the Woodrow Wilson Center’s vice president for outreach and communications, told POLITICO in an e-mail.

“Mr. Davutoglu has had a diverse career as a scholar, a professor, a political scientist, an author, a civil servant, an international diplomat, and currently as Turkey’s Minister of Foreign Affairs — a position he assumed in May 2009,” McCarter continued. “He also fits the Wilsonian mold of being both a scholar and a policymaker. He was invited to accept the Woodrow Wilson Award for Public Service in August 2009 in recognition of his lifelong service to the Turkish public in these many professional fields, many of which are similar to Woodrow Wilson’s life.

Apparently, she didn’t think to ask whether McCarter was serious. Would an award have been given to the foreign minister of South Africa during the apartheid? To a Soviet defense minister during the Cold War? Nor does she ask McCarter how it is remotely possible that a well-publicized letter excoriating the Center could have eluded Hamilton.

Here’s an idea: the Center sounds like it isn’t interested in furthering Western values or American interests. Fine. They can knock themselves out shoveling the same internationalist tripe that a dozen Washington think tanks do every day. The taxpayers just shouldn’t have to pay for it.( In fact why is government in the think tank business at all?) Any money spent on those with no moral compass is too much. Let ‘em fend for themselves.

In the “has everyone gone mad?” department, we’ve been following the story of the decision by the Woodrow Wilson International Center — a taxpayer-supported institution (Why exactly? Heritage and many other think tanks aren’t on the federal dole.) — to give an award to Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu. Well, when you need to give a ridiculous explanation for an anti-Israel, anti-West, anti common-sense move and to avoid any sharp questioning, you go to Laura Rozen (who also transcribes J Street’s missives and is happy to funnel unsourced, anti-Semitic jibes against Dennis Ross), who dutifully reports the excuse:

Earlier this week, House Middle East Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-N.Y.) released a letter to Woodrow Wilson’s President former Rep. Lee Hamilton (D-Ind.) — his former chairman and colleague on the House Foreign Affairs Committee- – expressing displeasure that the think tank would honor the Turkish diplomat after Ankara has escalated tensions with Israel in the wake of the Gaza flotilla raid and voted against UN Iran sanctions.

But a Woodrow Wilson Center spokeswoman told POLITICO Thursday that as far as she knew, neither the Center nor Hamilton had received Ackerman’s letter.

“Awardees are not chosen for their political views,” Sharon McCarter, the Woodrow Wilson Center’s vice president for outreach and communications, told POLITICO in an e-mail.

“Mr. Davutoglu has had a diverse career as a scholar, a professor, a political scientist, an author, a civil servant, an international diplomat, and currently as Turkey’s Minister of Foreign Affairs — a position he assumed in May 2009,” McCarter continued. “He also fits the Wilsonian mold of being both a scholar and a policymaker. He was invited to accept the Woodrow Wilson Award for Public Service in August 2009 in recognition of his lifelong service to the Turkish public in these many professional fields, many of which are similar to Woodrow Wilson’s life.

Apparently, she didn’t think to ask whether McCarter was serious. Would an award have been given to the foreign minister of South Africa during the apartheid? To a Soviet defense minister during the Cold War? Nor does she ask McCarter how it is remotely possible that a well-publicized letter excoriating the Center could have eluded Hamilton.

Here’s an idea: the Center sounds like it isn’t interested in furthering Western values or American interests. Fine. They can knock themselves out shoveling the same internationalist tripe that a dozen Washington think tanks do every day. The taxpayers just shouldn’t have to pay for it.( In fact why is government in the think tank business at all?) Any money spent on those with no moral compass is too much. Let ‘em fend for themselves.

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RE: Dems Not So Enthusiastic

Pete, you are right — these are scary numbers for the Democrats. Some perspective:

GOPers lead the generic Congressional ballot by 4 points, according to this week’s Gallup tracking poll as trends begin to suggest the minority party will take back the House. … According to a model developed by Emory Univ. political scientist Alan Abramowitz, the 4-point lead would be more than enough for the GOP to take back the seats they need to hold a majority. According to the model, if the election were held today, Dems would win just 210 seats, giving the GOP a 15-seat majority.

Meanwhile, Pres. Obama’s approval rating stands at 47%, according to the latest Gallup tracking survey (Pollster.com pegs Obama’s approval rating at 47.2%). Past trends show a president’s party loses an average of 40 seats if the incumbent’s approval rating is below 50%.

Historically, Dems hold a generic ballot advantage. Dems led the generic ballot by 23 points in ’06, when they swept back into power. GOPers have held advantages only a handful of times, including a 5-point edge in ’94, when the party won back the majority; and a similar margin in ’02, when they gained seats in  George W. Bush’s first midterm election.

Now, trends can change, but they usually change for a reason. A significant event would have to occur — a major economic comeback, for example — for this picture to change dramatically. That is not to say that poor candidate selection or overreach in its message or an off-putting tone could not retard Republicans’ gains. Goodness knows they have a track record of some of each. But at this point, the wind is at the backs of the Republicans, and the era of Obama is proving disastrous for his party.

Pete, you are right — these are scary numbers for the Democrats. Some perspective:

GOPers lead the generic Congressional ballot by 4 points, according to this week’s Gallup tracking poll as trends begin to suggest the minority party will take back the House. … According to a model developed by Emory Univ. political scientist Alan Abramowitz, the 4-point lead would be more than enough for the GOP to take back the seats they need to hold a majority. According to the model, if the election were held today, Dems would win just 210 seats, giving the GOP a 15-seat majority.

Meanwhile, Pres. Obama’s approval rating stands at 47%, according to the latest Gallup tracking survey (Pollster.com pegs Obama’s approval rating at 47.2%). Past trends show a president’s party loses an average of 40 seats if the incumbent’s approval rating is below 50%.

Historically, Dems hold a generic ballot advantage. Dems led the generic ballot by 23 points in ’06, when they swept back into power. GOPers have held advantages only a handful of times, including a 5-point edge in ’94, when the party won back the majority; and a similar margin in ’02, when they gained seats in  George W. Bush’s first midterm election.

Now, trends can change, but they usually change for a reason. A significant event would have to occur — a major economic comeback, for example — for this picture to change dramatically. That is not to say that poor candidate selection or overreach in its message or an off-putting tone could not retard Republicans’ gains. Goodness knows they have a track record of some of each. But at this point, the wind is at the backs of the Republicans, and the era of Obama is proving disastrous for his party.

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No More Islamic Terrorism!

Under siege during the Christmas Day bomb incident, the Obami huffily insisted that they do too know we are at war and that they do too take it seriously. Their policy decisions and actions suggest otherwise. This report explains:

President Barack Obama’s advisers plan to remove terms such as “Islamic radicalism” from a document outlining national security strategy and will use the new version to emphasize that the U.S. does not view Muslim nations through the lens of terrorism, counterterrorism officials say.

The change would be a significant shift in the National Security Strategy, a document that previously outlined the Bush Doctrine of preventive war. It currently states, “The struggle against militant Islamic radicalism is the great ideological conflict of the early years of the 21st century.”

It’s all about Muslim outreach, you see. Don’t want to identify whom it is we are fighting, because their co-religionists might take offense. That these co-religionists are often the victims of Islamic radicalism is irrelevant to the Obami. That this rhetorical mush is the sort of thing that prevents us from anticipating and preventing jihadist attacks like the Fort Hood massacre is also not of any apparent concern. It’s all about getting away from the Bush administration mindset: “That shift away from terrorism has been building for a year, since Obama went to Cairo and promised a ‘new beginning’ in the relationship between the U.S. and the Muslim world. The White House believes the previous administration based that relationship entirely on fighting terrorism and winning the war of ideas.”

So let’s focus on the really important stuff: global-warming training. We don’t want to say “Islamic extremism,” but we have a new team at the NSC that “has not only helped change the vocabulary of fighting terrorism, but also has shaped the way the country invests in Muslim businesses, studies global warming, supports scientific research and combats polio.” We learn that when “officials from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration returned from Indonesia, the NSC got a rundown about research opportunities on global warming.” Nice.

All of this would be well enough if we didn’t face radical jihadists who are ideologically motivated to slaughter Americans. Nor is there the slightest evidence that this Muslim outreach is helping to solve the most urgent issues we face:

Peter Feaver, a Duke University political scientist and former Bush adviser, is skeptical of Obama’s engagement effort. It “doesn’t appear to have created much in the way of strategic benefit” in the Middle East peace process or in negotiations over Iran’s nuclear ambitions, he said.

Obama runs the political risk of seeming to adopt politically correct rhetoric abroad while appearing tone-deaf on national security issues at home, Feaver said.

It is, like so much of what Obama does, the sort of thing you’d expect a college professor plucked out an Ivy League faculty directory to do if he were suddenly elevated to the presidency. Renounce use of nuclear weapons! Free health care for all! Change the subject from terrorism to cooperation! Unfortunately, we live in the real world, and all that runs up against hard truths and unpleasant facts. It is a dangerous time for such an unserious approach to the world.

Under siege during the Christmas Day bomb incident, the Obami huffily insisted that they do too know we are at war and that they do too take it seriously. Their policy decisions and actions suggest otherwise. This report explains:

President Barack Obama’s advisers plan to remove terms such as “Islamic radicalism” from a document outlining national security strategy and will use the new version to emphasize that the U.S. does not view Muslim nations through the lens of terrorism, counterterrorism officials say.

The change would be a significant shift in the National Security Strategy, a document that previously outlined the Bush Doctrine of preventive war. It currently states, “The struggle against militant Islamic radicalism is the great ideological conflict of the early years of the 21st century.”

It’s all about Muslim outreach, you see. Don’t want to identify whom it is we are fighting, because their co-religionists might take offense. That these co-religionists are often the victims of Islamic radicalism is irrelevant to the Obami. That this rhetorical mush is the sort of thing that prevents us from anticipating and preventing jihadist attacks like the Fort Hood massacre is also not of any apparent concern. It’s all about getting away from the Bush administration mindset: “That shift away from terrorism has been building for a year, since Obama went to Cairo and promised a ‘new beginning’ in the relationship between the U.S. and the Muslim world. The White House believes the previous administration based that relationship entirely on fighting terrorism and winning the war of ideas.”

So let’s focus on the really important stuff: global-warming training. We don’t want to say “Islamic extremism,” but we have a new team at the NSC that “has not only helped change the vocabulary of fighting terrorism, but also has shaped the way the country invests in Muslim businesses, studies global warming, supports scientific research and combats polio.” We learn that when “officials from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration returned from Indonesia, the NSC got a rundown about research opportunities on global warming.” Nice.

All of this would be well enough if we didn’t face radical jihadists who are ideologically motivated to slaughter Americans. Nor is there the slightest evidence that this Muslim outreach is helping to solve the most urgent issues we face:

Peter Feaver, a Duke University political scientist and former Bush adviser, is skeptical of Obama’s engagement effort. It “doesn’t appear to have created much in the way of strategic benefit” in the Middle East peace process or in negotiations over Iran’s nuclear ambitions, he said.

Obama runs the political risk of seeming to adopt politically correct rhetoric abroad while appearing tone-deaf on national security issues at home, Feaver said.

It is, like so much of what Obama does, the sort of thing you’d expect a college professor plucked out an Ivy League faculty directory to do if he were suddenly elevated to the presidency. Renounce use of nuclear weapons! Free health care for all! Change the subject from terrorism to cooperation! Unfortunately, we live in the real world, and all that runs up against hard truths and unpleasant facts. It is a dangerous time for such an unserious approach to the world.

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The White House Grumpy Act

Never have we seen such a put-upon, grouchy White House. Rahm Emanuel has to deal with Obama — who doesn’t seem to understand that Rahm is smarter than everyone else. Obama is miffed at everyone from Fox to the Democrats who are interested in grubby matters, such as their own re-election. And now David Axelrod lumbers forward to spin his tale of woe. Now — I know this is shocking but he thinks it’s all a “communication problem.”

The Gray Lady hosts the grievance session:

The Obama White House has lost the narrative in the way that the Obama campaign never did,” said James Morone, a political scientist at Brown University. “They essentially took the president’s great strength as a messenger and failed to use it smartly.” Mr. Axelrod said he accepts some blame for what he called “communication failures,” though he acknowledges bafflement that the administration’s efforts to stimulate the economy in a crisis, overhaul health care and prosecute two wars have been so routinely framed by opponents as the handiwork of a big-government, soft-on-terrorism, politics-of-the-past ideologue.

Really, how in the world could the American people look at cap-and-trade, the spend-a-thon, and ObamaCare, and get the idea that Obama is interested in expanding the reach of the federal government? Dupes and fools, they must be. And as for Washington — the whole town is just insufferable:

In an interview in his office, Mr. Axelrod was often defiant, saying he did not give a “flying” expletive “about what the peanut gallery thinks” and did not live for the approval “of the political community.” He denounced the “rampant lack of responsibility” of people in Washington who refuse to solve problems, and cited the difficulty of trying to communicate through what he calls “the dirty filter” of a city suffused with the “every day is Election Day sort of mentality.”

Here’s the thing: leave if you don’t like it or can’t convince people of what a swell job you’re doing. There is no mandatory draft for the White House. In fact, some people consider it an honor and privilege to serve there. And  it dpes sound as though the excuses are mounting for an exit. “Mr. Axelrod’s friends worry about the toll of his job — citing his diet (cold-cut-enriched), his weight (20 pounds heavier than at the start of the presidential campaign), sleep deprivation (five fitful hours a night), separation from family (most back home in Chicago) and the fact that at 55, he is considerably older than many of the wunderkind workaholics of the West Wing. He wakes at 6 in his rented condominium just blocks from the White House and typically returns around 11.” Oh, my — the stress! The hours!

A friend of Axelrod confides, “I think he’s getting close to a burnout kind of thing.” Yes, failure is stressful. But whining is tiresome. If Axelrod and the rest can’t figure out how to make this all work, maybe the country would be better served by their return to the cesspool of Illinois politics. I hear Tony Rezko’s banker needs some help with his Senate campaign.

Never have we seen such a put-upon, grouchy White House. Rahm Emanuel has to deal with Obama — who doesn’t seem to understand that Rahm is smarter than everyone else. Obama is miffed at everyone from Fox to the Democrats who are interested in grubby matters, such as their own re-election. And now David Axelrod lumbers forward to spin his tale of woe. Now — I know this is shocking but he thinks it’s all a “communication problem.”

The Gray Lady hosts the grievance session:

The Obama White House has lost the narrative in the way that the Obama campaign never did,” said James Morone, a political scientist at Brown University. “They essentially took the president’s great strength as a messenger and failed to use it smartly.” Mr. Axelrod said he accepts some blame for what he called “communication failures,” though he acknowledges bafflement that the administration’s efforts to stimulate the economy in a crisis, overhaul health care and prosecute two wars have been so routinely framed by opponents as the handiwork of a big-government, soft-on-terrorism, politics-of-the-past ideologue.

Really, how in the world could the American people look at cap-and-trade, the spend-a-thon, and ObamaCare, and get the idea that Obama is interested in expanding the reach of the federal government? Dupes and fools, they must be. And as for Washington — the whole town is just insufferable:

In an interview in his office, Mr. Axelrod was often defiant, saying he did not give a “flying” expletive “about what the peanut gallery thinks” and did not live for the approval “of the political community.” He denounced the “rampant lack of responsibility” of people in Washington who refuse to solve problems, and cited the difficulty of trying to communicate through what he calls “the dirty filter” of a city suffused with the “every day is Election Day sort of mentality.”

Here’s the thing: leave if you don’t like it or can’t convince people of what a swell job you’re doing. There is no mandatory draft for the White House. In fact, some people consider it an honor and privilege to serve there. And  it dpes sound as though the excuses are mounting for an exit. “Mr. Axelrod’s friends worry about the toll of his job — citing his diet (cold-cut-enriched), his weight (20 pounds heavier than at the start of the presidential campaign), sleep deprivation (five fitful hours a night), separation from family (most back home in Chicago) and the fact that at 55, he is considerably older than many of the wunderkind workaholics of the West Wing. He wakes at 6 in his rented condominium just blocks from the White House and typically returns around 11.” Oh, my — the stress! The hours!

A friend of Axelrod confides, “I think he’s getting close to a burnout kind of thing.” Yes, failure is stressful. But whining is tiresome. If Axelrod and the rest can’t figure out how to make this all work, maybe the country would be better served by their return to the cesspool of Illinois politics. I hear Tony Rezko’s banker needs some help with his Senate campaign.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Wow: “Republicans are stepping up their efforts to persuade more House Democrats to switch parties and are zeroing in on a second-term Pennsylvanian who is not ruling out such a move.” And this is when the Democrats have a 258-seat . . . er. . . make that 257-seat  majority.

RealClearPolitics average on ObamaCare: 38.4 percent approve and 51 disapprove. So, are Democrats going to run on this in 2010 as their signature achievement? Might explain why there are potential defections.

Voters would rather their representatives be doing something else: “Voters, as they have all year, rate cutting the federal deficit in half by the end of his first term as President Obama’s number one budget priority. A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that 42% put deficit cutting in first place, followed by 22% who say health care reform is most important.”

Do we think she means it? “The Senate’s healthcare bill is fatally flawed, a senior Democrat atop a powerful committee said on Wednesday. Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.), the chairwoman of the House Rules Committee and co-chairwoman of the Congressional Pro-Choice Caucus, said that the Senate’s bill is so flawed that it’s unlikely to be resolved in conference with the bill to have passed the House.”

Well, liberal journalists seem nervous: “Yet for all the justifiable celebrations of this achievement, it’s fast becoming clear—as it should have always been—that Democrats are still a long way from home free when it comes to the final enactment of health-care reform into law. That ironing out of the differences between the House and Senate incarnations of the bill is going to be no easy thing.” And the key stumbling block may well be abortion. Can Nancy Pelosi find votes to make up for Re. Bart Stupak and pro-life Democrats unwilling to roll over as Sen. Ben Nelson did? We’ll find out.

The bill is so bad it renders Sen. Chuck Schumer mute: “Mayor Bloomberg and Gov. Paterson both slammed the Senate bill Monday, charging it would cost the city more than $500 million and rip a $1 billion-a-year hole in the state budget. Schumer, a veteran streetfighter for federal cash, has been suddenly recast as a defender of Washington—and a deal he helped cut that shafts New York. ‘He’s being uncharacteristically quiet in part because the numbers don’t look that good,’ said Baruch College political scientist Doug Muzzio. . . [Schumer] bristled at criticism that he stood by as other states won sweetheart deals.” Well, how come Nebraska got more than New York then?

Seems like there might be some legal challenges to the Cash for Cloture deals.

Not making this up: Grover Norquist and Jane Hamsher are demanding an investigation into Rahm Emanuel’s dealings with Freddie Mac. See, Obama is bringing people together.

Wow: “Republicans are stepping up their efforts to persuade more House Democrats to switch parties and are zeroing in on a second-term Pennsylvanian who is not ruling out such a move.” And this is when the Democrats have a 258-seat . . . er. . . make that 257-seat  majority.

RealClearPolitics average on ObamaCare: 38.4 percent approve and 51 disapprove. So, are Democrats going to run on this in 2010 as their signature achievement? Might explain why there are potential defections.

Voters would rather their representatives be doing something else: “Voters, as they have all year, rate cutting the federal deficit in half by the end of his first term as President Obama’s number one budget priority. A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that 42% put deficit cutting in first place, followed by 22% who say health care reform is most important.”

Do we think she means it? “The Senate’s healthcare bill is fatally flawed, a senior Democrat atop a powerful committee said on Wednesday. Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.), the chairwoman of the House Rules Committee and co-chairwoman of the Congressional Pro-Choice Caucus, said that the Senate’s bill is so flawed that it’s unlikely to be resolved in conference with the bill to have passed the House.”

Well, liberal journalists seem nervous: “Yet for all the justifiable celebrations of this achievement, it’s fast becoming clear—as it should have always been—that Democrats are still a long way from home free when it comes to the final enactment of health-care reform into law. That ironing out of the differences between the House and Senate incarnations of the bill is going to be no easy thing.” And the key stumbling block may well be abortion. Can Nancy Pelosi find votes to make up for Re. Bart Stupak and pro-life Democrats unwilling to roll over as Sen. Ben Nelson did? We’ll find out.

The bill is so bad it renders Sen. Chuck Schumer mute: “Mayor Bloomberg and Gov. Paterson both slammed the Senate bill Monday, charging it would cost the city more than $500 million and rip a $1 billion-a-year hole in the state budget. Schumer, a veteran streetfighter for federal cash, has been suddenly recast as a defender of Washington—and a deal he helped cut that shafts New York. ‘He’s being uncharacteristically quiet in part because the numbers don’t look that good,’ said Baruch College political scientist Doug Muzzio. . . [Schumer] bristled at criticism that he stood by as other states won sweetheart deals.” Well, how come Nebraska got more than New York then?

Seems like there might be some legal challenges to the Cash for Cloture deals.

Not making this up: Grover Norquist and Jane Hamsher are demanding an investigation into Rahm Emanuel’s dealings with Freddie Mac. See, Obama is bringing people together.

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Springtime for China and Japan

Yesterday, Japan’s Yasuo Fukuda returned from his first official visit to China as prime minister. During his four-day “ringing in the spring” trip, he received a red-carpet welcome, bowed to a statue of Confucius at the philosopher’s birthplace, held “heart-to-heart” talks with senior leaders in Beijing, and spoke to students at prestigious Peking University. Fukuda agreed to transfer environmental technology to China, promised to reflect on Japan’s historical mistakes, and abjectly said what Beijing demanded on the subject of Taiwan. In the midst of his heavy schedule he even had time for a game of catch with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, each of them decked out in a baseball uniform and wearing a red cap decorated by a “C.”

Yet the trip, to borrow the words of Tokyo political scientist Takeshi Inoguchi, “was not a home run.” Other leaders come away from Beijing with economic packages or concessions of some sort. Fukuda returned to Japan with only Beijing’s momentary goodwill. Perhaps that was all that Fukuda could achieve in these circumstances.

Yet the object of diplomacy is not maintaining good relations—the object is achieving national goals. Japan, unfortunately, has been particularly unable to do so when it comes to China. The most visible open sores between the two nations are their competing territorial claims, especially the one festering over the gas fields in the East China Sea. On the East China Sea dispute, Beijing issued a stream of wonderful-sounding but essentially meaningless words during Fukuda’s visit. “We feel each other’s sincerity and determination,” Premier Wen said after their talks on the subject.

Of course, we can’t be too tough on Japan for failing to craft a sensible approach to China, because Tokyo is merely taking its cue from a feckless Washington. As Michael Auslin pointed out recently, other nations will become allies of Beijing unless the United States can come up with more resolute policies. On his recently concluded trip, Fukuda said he wanted to establish a “creative partnership” with China and hoped both countries would team up on global issues. If Washington does not want to lose its remaining friends in East Asia—and at this point it cannot afford to give up any of them to Beijing—the Bush administration will have to start exercising effective leadership. Of course the Chinese will try to drive a wedge between Washington and Tokyo. It is up to President Bush to make sure that American alliances in Asia stand firm.

Yesterday, Japan’s Yasuo Fukuda returned from his first official visit to China as prime minister. During his four-day “ringing in the spring” trip, he received a red-carpet welcome, bowed to a statue of Confucius at the philosopher’s birthplace, held “heart-to-heart” talks with senior leaders in Beijing, and spoke to students at prestigious Peking University. Fukuda agreed to transfer environmental technology to China, promised to reflect on Japan’s historical mistakes, and abjectly said what Beijing demanded on the subject of Taiwan. In the midst of his heavy schedule he even had time for a game of catch with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, each of them decked out in a baseball uniform and wearing a red cap decorated by a “C.”

Yet the trip, to borrow the words of Tokyo political scientist Takeshi Inoguchi, “was not a home run.” Other leaders come away from Beijing with economic packages or concessions of some sort. Fukuda returned to Japan with only Beijing’s momentary goodwill. Perhaps that was all that Fukuda could achieve in these circumstances.

Yet the object of diplomacy is not maintaining good relations—the object is achieving national goals. Japan, unfortunately, has been particularly unable to do so when it comes to China. The most visible open sores between the two nations are their competing territorial claims, especially the one festering over the gas fields in the East China Sea. On the East China Sea dispute, Beijing issued a stream of wonderful-sounding but essentially meaningless words during Fukuda’s visit. “We feel each other’s sincerity and determination,” Premier Wen said after their talks on the subject.

Of course, we can’t be too tough on Japan for failing to craft a sensible approach to China, because Tokyo is merely taking its cue from a feckless Washington. As Michael Auslin pointed out recently, other nations will become allies of Beijing unless the United States can come up with more resolute policies. On his recently concluded trip, Fukuda said he wanted to establish a “creative partnership” with China and hoped both countries would team up on global issues. If Washington does not want to lose its remaining friends in East Asia—and at this point it cannot afford to give up any of them to Beijing—the Bush administration will have to start exercising effective leadership. Of course the Chinese will try to drive a wedge between Washington and Tokyo. It is up to President Bush to make sure that American alliances in Asia stand firm.

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Joining the Jackals

Peter Feaver, a political scientist who until recently worked at the National Security Council, suggests, in this Boston Globe article, that MoveOn.org’s outrageous attack on General David Petraeus—they call our senior military commander in Iraq, a man who has spent three out of the last four years on the frontlines of the war, “General Betray Us”—may be the antiwar movement’s “McCarthy moment,” when its vile personal slanders lead to widespread revulsion among the general public.

That may or may not happen, but at the very least this ad will further undermine the conceit of the antiwar crowd that they speak on behalf of soldiers, and it will no doubt hinder efforts by Democrats to get back into the good graces of our military. Especially when so few Democrats—so far only Joe Lieberman and Joe Biden—have been willing to condemn MoveOn.org.

Such vitriolic outpourings against any senior American officer would provoke a strong backlash within the armed forces. This is all the more true when it comes to someone as respected as David Petraeus. No one who has ever met him can doubt his devotion to “duty, honor, country”—the credo of his alma mater, the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. There is not, of course, a scintilla of evidence that he is “cooking the books,” as MoveOn.org alleges. Such charges will only further cement the impression in the minds of many soldiers, whether rightly or wrongly, that the leftist base of the Democratic Party is “anti-military.”

Peter Feaver, a political scientist who until recently worked at the National Security Council, suggests, in this Boston Globe article, that MoveOn.org’s outrageous attack on General David Petraeus—they call our senior military commander in Iraq, a man who has spent three out of the last four years on the frontlines of the war, “General Betray Us”—may be the antiwar movement’s “McCarthy moment,” when its vile personal slanders lead to widespread revulsion among the general public.

That may or may not happen, but at the very least this ad will further undermine the conceit of the antiwar crowd that they speak on behalf of soldiers, and it will no doubt hinder efforts by Democrats to get back into the good graces of our military. Especially when so few Democrats—so far only Joe Lieberman and Joe Biden—have been willing to condemn MoveOn.org.

Such vitriolic outpourings against any senior American officer would provoke a strong backlash within the armed forces. This is all the more true when it comes to someone as respected as David Petraeus. No one who has ever met him can doubt his devotion to “duty, honor, country”—the credo of his alma mater, the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. There is not, of course, a scintilla of evidence that he is “cooking the books,” as MoveOn.org alleges. Such charges will only further cement the impression in the minds of many soldiers, whether rightly or wrongly, that the leftist base of the Democratic Party is “anti-military.”

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Charm Offensive, by Joshua Kurlantzick

Joshua Kurlantzick
Charm Offensive: How China’s Soft Power Is Transforming the World
Yale. 320 pp. $26.00.

Across the globe, China’s diplomatic presence is growing with astounding speed. In Maputo, Mozambique, the ministry of foreign affairs—built with Chinese money—sports an elaborate pagoda roof. In Songhkla, Thailand, the building formerly housing the American consulate now houses political and economic emissaries from Beijing—a disturbing image of China’s influence waxing as America’s recedes. And in dozens of other nations, China’s power is expanding equally quickly. In Charm Offensive: How China’s Soft Power Is Transforming the World, Joshua Kurlantzick explains how the Chinese are increasing their reach and, in the process, helping rogue leaders, causing environmental degradation, and undermining the United States.

Readers of COMMENTARY will be familiar with this narrative. Kurlantzick, a special correspondent for The New Republic, outlined elements of this thesis in COMMENTARY’s October 2006 issue. It is, however, an important story and well worth telling in book form.

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Joshua Kurlantzick
Charm Offensive: How China’s Soft Power Is Transforming the World
Yale. 320 pp. $26.00.

Across the globe, China’s diplomatic presence is growing with astounding speed. In Maputo, Mozambique, the ministry of foreign affairs—built with Chinese money—sports an elaborate pagoda roof. In Songhkla, Thailand, the building formerly housing the American consulate now houses political and economic emissaries from Beijing—a disturbing image of China’s influence waxing as America’s recedes. And in dozens of other nations, China’s power is expanding equally quickly. In Charm Offensive: How China’s Soft Power Is Transforming the World, Joshua Kurlantzick explains how the Chinese are increasing their reach and, in the process, helping rogue leaders, causing environmental degradation, and undermining the United States.

Readers of COMMENTARY will be familiar with this narrative. Kurlantzick, a special correspondent for The New Republic, outlined elements of this thesis in COMMENTARY’s October 2006 issue. It is, however, an important story and well worth telling in book form.

Kurlantzick begins his analysis, appropriately enough, with Mao Zedong. The first leader of the People’s Republic wanted to export the Chinese revolution around the world. His attempted insurgencies, however, generally failed, poisoning relations with many nations for a generation. Even when Mao backed a winner—such as the murderous Khmer Rouge in Cambodia—the result was disastrous for Beijing’s reputation.

Deng Xiaoping, Mao’s successor, ended many of these counterproductive foreign policies. But he still relied overmuch on the use of force, launching a failed war with Vietnam in 1979, and retained Mao’s deep suspicion of multilateral institutions and treaties. Even after Deng passed from the political scene in 1994, Beijing had trouble making friends due to its constant threats against Taiwan, its seizure of reefs to enforce its ludicrous territorial claims to the entire South China Sea, and other hostile acts.

Then, in 1997, the year of Deng’s death, Beijing began a strategic volte-face. By choosing not to devalue their currency, the Chinese prevented a round of potentially catastrophic competitive devaluations during the Asian financial crisis of the late 90’s. “For the first time in decades,” Kurlantzick writes, “China had taken a stance on a major international issue and had banked credit as a benign force in global affairs.” Shortly thereafter, Beijing officials began to re-conceive of their country as a da guo—a great power. By the beginning of this decade, China, under the stewardship of Jiang Zemin, had turned on the charm and begun to employ “soft power” as its main diplomatic tool.

The Harvard political scientist Joseph Nye, who coined the term “soft power,” defined it narrowly as the passive attractive force of a nation’s culture, values, and norms. But Kurlantzick notes that Beijing has expanded the concept to include almost any non-military effort at accumulating power. Charm Offensive, accordingly, looks at soft power through China’s enlarged understanding of the phrase.

Today, Chinese diplomats and officials have dropped their old, aggressive posture. They now talk about “win-win” relations, “Peaceful Rise,” and the “Early Harvest Package.” Beijing maintains publicly that it never interferes in other nations’ internal affairs and seeks prosperity for all. It provides aid for less developed nations and joins any regional and multilateral organization it can find (and, if none exists, creates them). International agreements? Beijing signs treaties, compacts, and covenants by the dozen. China, in short, wants to be everyone’s friend. (How do you say “Kumbaya” in Mandarin?)

Yet, as Kurlantzick notes, “Beijing offers the charm of a lion, not of a mouse.” It still acts high-handedly when it thinks it can get away with it (as when it dams the upstream waters of the Mekong River) and aggressively opposes those against whom it bears a grudge (constantly blocking, for instance, Japan’s attempts to build stronger ties in Asia). Neighbors are not its only targets: all over Asia, China uses its newfound strength to exclude the United States from regional economic and political affiliations (successfully convincing the Uzbeks to end American basing rights in their country, among other policy victories).

Is this behavior, however regrettable, merely the normal rough and tumble of great-power diplomacy? Perhaps. But Kurlantzick raises a far more pertinent question: can an authoritarian state work within the existing framework of a liberal international system? Charm Offensive is loaded with evidence that suggests a potentially disturbing answer.

Kurlantzick observes correctly that China courts and champions authoritarian leaders in the arena of global politics. It sustains hostile and unstable states—like Iran and North Korea—that threaten world order. It directly intervened to keep the contemptible Robert Mugabe in power in Zimbabwe, and it is stands behind the regime in Sudan that sponsors the genocidal janjaweed militia. Name any anti-democratic government in the world today, and you will find a connection to Beijing. China’s support of the world’s autocrats is so pervasive as to be creating, in Kurlantzick’s words, an “alternative pole” to the Western democracies.

Worse, China challenges one of the principles that define the West—free markets—with visible success. By producing spectacular economic growth for almost three decades, China shows that nations do not have to follow the free-market Washington Consensus in order to advance economically. Today, dictators and strongmen of all stripes take comfort in how the Beijing Consensus permits the maintenance of anti-democratic governance in a modernizing world.

Kurlantzick ends his fine book by making suggestions as to how Washington can compete with charmingly offensive China. His prescriptions range from the tactical—stationing at least one China watcher in every American embassy—to the strategic—reconsidering our opposition to multilateral institutions. But this second, broader piece of advice presents a problem. China is now a major player in nearly every regional and international organization, and it has garnered enough power in the international community to be able to block Western initiatives and everything but lowest-common-denominator solutions. Does this not suggest that multilateralism, for the U.S., is by now a dead end, at least where China is concerned?

Kurlantzick, at several points in Charm Offensive, scolds the United States for abandoning strategic interest in the world after the end of the cold war. His book reminds us that this is no time for America to forgo its leadership position or to accept consensus management, especially when that means empowering authoritarian states—like newly, charmingly offensive China.

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“Europeanization, Not Islamization”

In the long chain of provocative essays on Europe and Islam hosted at Sign and Sight, perhaps the most contrarian to date has appeared. Bassam Tibi, a political scientist at the University of Göttingen and visiting professor at Cornell—and a man who rejects Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Timothy Garton Ash, Ian Buruma, and Tariq Ramadan as self-seeking sensationalists—proposes a third way. He advocates neither the total victory of the values of the Enlightenment nor the gradual appropriation of Western Europe by dar al-Islam, but the development of an explicitly political “Euro-Islam”:

We are left with the following imperative: those who seek to come to Europe must also strive to become part of its community, adopting the democratic consensus expressed in its value system. They must want to become European and to participate in the European identity, rather than seeking to alter it. In a word: Europeanization, not Islamization. If this idea becomes a political concept of the EU, together with the political will to push it through, the Islamic enclaves of the parallel societies in city districts where the Turkish or other clearly non-European flags are brandished will no longer be tolerated. The alternative to this cultural segregation is inclusive Europeanization, not exclusion. This also goes for Islamic Turkey, which aspires to join the EU. . . .

In closing, I would like to refer to a concept developed by the last major Islamic philosopher Ibn Khaldun, who died 600 years ago. He coined the term asabiyya (esprit de corps, or collective comradeship), to measure the strengths and weaknesses of a civilization. How strong is European asabiyya? Only when Europeanization succeeds as a democratic answer to the Islamic challenge can one speak of a strong European asabiyya in Ibn Khaldun’s sense. The crucial thing is to integrate Europe as a civilizational entity in a pluralistic world. This entity must have its own asabiyya and a clear idea of its make-up, while remaining open to others and incorporating them through Europeanization. Europe is more than an economic or business community, and it is well worth preserving it as a “beautiful idea.” This can be achieved with Islamic participation, provided the vision of Euro-Islam becomes a political concept. The task of preserving Europe with Islamic participation is a peace project for the 21st century.

It’s not as implausible an idea as it may sound. The Muslim world once possessed more sophisticated and stable political structures than Europe; “Islamized” Iberia long served as a model of religious toleration and pluralism. A “Europeanized” Muslim community (which in Tibi’s mind seems to mean one that is habituated to Western political mores more than to Western cultural mores) seems not so far-fetched in light of this history. Tibi’s essay deserves attention; read the whole thing here.

In the long chain of provocative essays on Europe and Islam hosted at Sign and Sight, perhaps the most contrarian to date has appeared. Bassam Tibi, a political scientist at the University of Göttingen and visiting professor at Cornell—and a man who rejects Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Timothy Garton Ash, Ian Buruma, and Tariq Ramadan as self-seeking sensationalists—proposes a third way. He advocates neither the total victory of the values of the Enlightenment nor the gradual appropriation of Western Europe by dar al-Islam, but the development of an explicitly political “Euro-Islam”:

We are left with the following imperative: those who seek to come to Europe must also strive to become part of its community, adopting the democratic consensus expressed in its value system. They must want to become European and to participate in the European identity, rather than seeking to alter it. In a word: Europeanization, not Islamization. If this idea becomes a political concept of the EU, together with the political will to push it through, the Islamic enclaves of the parallel societies in city districts where the Turkish or other clearly non-European flags are brandished will no longer be tolerated. The alternative to this cultural segregation is inclusive Europeanization, not exclusion. This also goes for Islamic Turkey, which aspires to join the EU. . . .

In closing, I would like to refer to a concept developed by the last major Islamic philosopher Ibn Khaldun, who died 600 years ago. He coined the term asabiyya (esprit de corps, or collective comradeship), to measure the strengths and weaknesses of a civilization. How strong is European asabiyya? Only when Europeanization succeeds as a democratic answer to the Islamic challenge can one speak of a strong European asabiyya in Ibn Khaldun’s sense. The crucial thing is to integrate Europe as a civilizational entity in a pluralistic world. This entity must have its own asabiyya and a clear idea of its make-up, while remaining open to others and incorporating them through Europeanization. Europe is more than an economic or business community, and it is well worth preserving it as a “beautiful idea.” This can be achieved with Islamic participation, provided the vision of Euro-Islam becomes a political concept. The task of preserving Europe with Islamic participation is a peace project for the 21st century.

It’s not as implausible an idea as it may sound. The Muslim world once possessed more sophisticated and stable political structures than Europe; “Islamized” Iberia long served as a model of religious toleration and pluralism. A “Europeanized” Muslim community (which in Tibi’s mind seems to mean one that is habituated to Western political mores more than to Western cultural mores) seems not so far-fetched in light of this history. Tibi’s essay deserves attention; read the whole thing here.

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The Closing of the European Mind

The Times of London reports today on yet another episode in the closing of the European mind—in this instance, a shocking case of academic censorship.

Matthias Küntzel, a German political scientist from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, was invited by the German department at Leeds University for three days of lectures and seminars this week. His lecture on “Hitler’s Legacy: Islamic Anti-Semitism in the Middle East” was expected to draw a large audience. Then the university’s student Islamic society complained about the lecture’s “provocative” title. Last Tuesday, at the behest of university authorities, the words “Hitler” and “Islamic” were excised and the title was amended to read: “The Nazi Legacy: The Export of Anti-Semitism to the Middle East.” But when Küntzel arrived at Leeds this Wednesday, he was informed that his lecture and the rest of his program had been cancelled “on security grounds.” Küntzel was understandably indignant: “I value the integrity of academic debate, and I feel that it really is in danger here.”

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The Times of London reports today on yet another episode in the closing of the European mind—in this instance, a shocking case of academic censorship.

Matthias Küntzel, a German political scientist from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, was invited by the German department at Leeds University for three days of lectures and seminars this week. His lecture on “Hitler’s Legacy: Islamic Anti-Semitism in the Middle East” was expected to draw a large audience. Then the university’s student Islamic society complained about the lecture’s “provocative” title. Last Tuesday, at the behest of university authorities, the words “Hitler” and “Islamic” were excised and the title was amended to read: “The Nazi Legacy: The Export of Anti-Semitism to the Middle East.” But when Küntzel arrived at Leeds this Wednesday, he was informed that his lecture and the rest of his program had been cancelled “on security grounds.” Küntzel was understandably indignant: “I value the integrity of academic debate, and I feel that it really is in danger here.”

What had happened? Stuart Taberner, the head of the German department, says he was summoned to a last-minute meeting with staff from the office of Michael Arthur, the university’s vice-chancellor, and the head of security, after which he was obliged to cancel Küntzel’s lectures and seminars. The university claimed that proper arrangements for stewarding the lecture on anti-Semitism had not been made, and that it had been cancelled for purely bureaucratic reasons. “The decision to cancel the meeting has nothing to do with academic freedom, freedom of speech, anti-Semitism, or Islamophobia,” a Leeds spokeswoman said. (She added insult to injury by accusing “those claiming that is the case”—including Küntzel—of “making mischief.”) The spokeswoman did not explain why the university had not offered to provide additional security during the visit, nor whether the police had been involved.

Was there a threat to security? The president of the Islamic society, Ahmed Sawalem, denied responsibility for the affair: “We just sent a complaint, we did not ask for the talk to be cancelled.” Küntzel was shown two e-mails, one of which—apparently written by an Arab Muslim student—is quoted in the Times. The writer claims that the lecture is an “open racist attack” but makes no explicit threats.

The Küntzel case shows that Muslims do not even need to resort to the threat of violence in order to close down academic debate on subjects they dislike. Anthony Glees of Brunel University has been warning for years of the danger posed by Islamists on campus—a danger to which university authorities are notoriously weak in responding. Before his death last year, I spoke to Zaki Badawi, the leading Muslim opponent of Islamism in Britain, about this problem, which he saw as one of appeasement. This case, however, goes beyond appeasement. Leeds has set a new precedent: the pre-emptive cringe. Islamists everywhere will take heart from the spectacle of a reputable university setting a lower value on academic freedom than on the possibility that Muslim students might take offense.

It will be fascinating to see whether any other British university tries to efface this shameful episode by inviting Küntzel to give the lecture cancelled by Leeds. Perhaps Oxford will follow the example of Yale and many others by offering Küntzel a platform to explain how the Nazis supported the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem. After all, Oxford is proud to provide just such a platform for that scion of the Muslim Brotherhood, Tariq Ramadan.

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