Commentary Magazine


Topic: reporter

Even Angry Voters Want Responsible Leaders

Democrats are, as Jennifer noted, rapidly coming to understand that the proportions of the Republican wave this fall may turn out to swamp not only incumbents in competitive districts but also those once thought safe. Voters have had enough of taxes and spending and deficits and are profoundly dissatisfied with the Obama administration. But even in the midst of what may prove to be an unprecedented midterm tsunami, there are races that will prove that no matter how angry voters may be, there are limits to what they will accept from insurgents seeking their votes.

One obvious example is the unelectable Christine O’Donnell in Delaware. But as frustrating as that lost opportunity for a Senate seat may be for the national GOP, the spectacle of their party’s New York gubernatorial nominee is even more embarrassing.

Carl Paladino won the New York GOP primary over Rick Lazio because he presented a well-funded alternative to a retread that had no pulse and no chance to tap into the vein of voter anger that has generated the Tea Party revolution. Paladino’s bull-in-the-china-shop personality seemed perfectly suited to the 2010 election. The thinking here was that if he could sustain his momentum with attacks on his liberal-establishment opponent in Andrew Cuomo, it was just possible that the real estate mogul could make this Blue State competitive. And some polls taken in September showed that this might be happening.

Yet what this races teaches is that it even angry voters are unprepared to elect a man who is not cool under fire and devoid of judgment as well as what Main Street America used to consider common decency. With the media spotlight shining on him in the aftermath of his stunning primary victory and polls showing him to be closing the gap with Cuomo, Paladino quickly came undone. Reacting to the coverage of the revelations about his fathering an out-of-wedlock child (not all of which was unsympathetic, as the candidate’s wife was trotted out to defend her husband and the notion of a blended, if unorthodox, family group), the nominee physically threatened a reporter and then began to make unsubstantiated charges about his opponent’s personal life.  While trying to pose as the victim of a prurient media, he engaged in personal slanders that made the coverage of his own life look tame. Then he used a speech before an Orthodox Jewish congregation in Brooklyn to make remarks that went beyond opposition to gay marriage and were easily construed as homophobic.

Paladino defends himself as a man who doesn’t bother with political correctness. But the pattern of his behavior in the past few weeks is more of an out-of-control blowhard who has no respect for anyone or anything. The result is that his standing in the polls has plunged, which has also damaged the already shaky chances of GOP Senate candidate Joseph DioGuardi, who is running against the vulnerable Kirsten Gillibrand.

The lesson here is that the electorate expects candidates for high office to more or less behave themselves. Rather than acting like a governor, Paladino has comported himself like the kind of guy who gets thrown out of bars for disorderly behavior. And even angry voters draw the line at electing someone like that to high office.

Democrats are, as Jennifer noted, rapidly coming to understand that the proportions of the Republican wave this fall may turn out to swamp not only incumbents in competitive districts but also those once thought safe. Voters have had enough of taxes and spending and deficits and are profoundly dissatisfied with the Obama administration. But even in the midst of what may prove to be an unprecedented midterm tsunami, there are races that will prove that no matter how angry voters may be, there are limits to what they will accept from insurgents seeking their votes.

One obvious example is the unelectable Christine O’Donnell in Delaware. But as frustrating as that lost opportunity for a Senate seat may be for the national GOP, the spectacle of their party’s New York gubernatorial nominee is even more embarrassing.

Carl Paladino won the New York GOP primary over Rick Lazio because he presented a well-funded alternative to a retread that had no pulse and no chance to tap into the vein of voter anger that has generated the Tea Party revolution. Paladino’s bull-in-the-china-shop personality seemed perfectly suited to the 2010 election. The thinking here was that if he could sustain his momentum with attacks on his liberal-establishment opponent in Andrew Cuomo, it was just possible that the real estate mogul could make this Blue State competitive. And some polls taken in September showed that this might be happening.

Yet what this races teaches is that it even angry voters are unprepared to elect a man who is not cool under fire and devoid of judgment as well as what Main Street America used to consider common decency. With the media spotlight shining on him in the aftermath of his stunning primary victory and polls showing him to be closing the gap with Cuomo, Paladino quickly came undone. Reacting to the coverage of the revelations about his fathering an out-of-wedlock child (not all of which was unsympathetic, as the candidate’s wife was trotted out to defend her husband and the notion of a blended, if unorthodox, family group), the nominee physically threatened a reporter and then began to make unsubstantiated charges about his opponent’s personal life.  While trying to pose as the victim of a prurient media, he engaged in personal slanders that made the coverage of his own life look tame. Then he used a speech before an Orthodox Jewish congregation in Brooklyn to make remarks that went beyond opposition to gay marriage and were easily construed as homophobic.

Paladino defends himself as a man who doesn’t bother with political correctness. But the pattern of his behavior in the past few weeks is more of an out-of-control blowhard who has no respect for anyone or anything. The result is that his standing in the polls has plunged, which has also damaged the already shaky chances of GOP Senate candidate Joseph DioGuardi, who is running against the vulnerable Kirsten Gillibrand.

The lesson here is that the electorate expects candidates for high office to more or less behave themselves. Rather than acting like a governor, Paladino has comported himself like the kind of guy who gets thrown out of bars for disorderly behavior. And even angry voters draw the line at electing someone like that to high office.

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Or He Could Hold His Breath Until He Faints

The Palestinian leadership in all its majesty:

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas informed U.S. envoy George Mitchell last week that the renewal of settlement construction will not only bring about the collapse of peace talks but it will also induce his resignation from the post of Palestinian Authority president.

According to Palestinian sources close to the PA leadership, Abbas told Mitchell of his plans during their last meeting together.

Abbas’s resignation means the dismantling of the Palestinian Authority, since it was agreed inside the government that no one from the leadership of Fatah will step up to replace Abbas as president, and no new elections will be held.

In a conversation he held last week in his plane with a reporter, Abbas said “this is the last time that you will fly with me while I am president of the PA.”

Goodness knows how Mitchell responded. But this sort of negotiation by temper tantrum places the entire “peace process” in perfect perspective. For 60 years the Palestinians have been playing the rejectionist, victim card. They figured they had the perfect “mark” in Obama and his hapless crew. In a sense, they were right; never have we had a president so susceptible to Palestinian bluster and so willing to heed their refrain of victimology. But those nettlesome Jews are having none of it. They’ve grown weary of the gamesmanship, have learned the futility of land for not-peace, and have figured out that Abbas not going to quit (And lose his invitations to European capitals? Perish the thought!), nor is he going to recognize the Jewish state.

So Abbas can return or not. Quit or not. I hope the Obami now fully appreciate the infantile leadership they have been coddling. And, by the way, why hasn’t George Mitchell threatened to quit?

The Palestinian leadership in all its majesty:

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas informed U.S. envoy George Mitchell last week that the renewal of settlement construction will not only bring about the collapse of peace talks but it will also induce his resignation from the post of Palestinian Authority president.

According to Palestinian sources close to the PA leadership, Abbas told Mitchell of his plans during their last meeting together.

Abbas’s resignation means the dismantling of the Palestinian Authority, since it was agreed inside the government that no one from the leadership of Fatah will step up to replace Abbas as president, and no new elections will be held.

In a conversation he held last week in his plane with a reporter, Abbas said “this is the last time that you will fly with me while I am president of the PA.”

Goodness knows how Mitchell responded. But this sort of negotiation by temper tantrum places the entire “peace process” in perfect perspective. For 60 years the Palestinians have been playing the rejectionist, victim card. They figured they had the perfect “mark” in Obama and his hapless crew. In a sense, they were right; never have we had a president so susceptible to Palestinian bluster and so willing to heed their refrain of victimology. But those nettlesome Jews are having none of it. They’ve grown weary of the gamesmanship, have learned the futility of land for not-peace, and have figured out that Abbas not going to quit (And lose his invitations to European capitals? Perish the thought!), nor is he going to recognize the Jewish state.

So Abbas can return or not. Quit or not. I hope the Obami now fully appreciate the infantile leadership they have been coddling. And, by the way, why hasn’t George Mitchell threatened to quit?

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The Nonviolent Victory That Wasn’t

The New York Times ran a paean this week to a new documentary, Budrus, that purports to show how 10 months of nonviolent protests in 2003-04 persuaded Israel to reroute its security fence near the eponymous West Bank village. The story has only two flaws: the protests weren’t nonviolent, and the victory was at least partly due to Israel’s own legal system. And those flaws reflect a problem far larger than the film itself.

Though the movie shows occasional stone-throwing, most of the protests look “utterly peaceful,” noted reporter Ethan Bronner. But even some of the protesters themselves told Bronner otherwise.

“It is obvious that the filmmaker was not there,” said one, Jonathan Pollak. “The movie represents what happened as more nonviolent that it really was.”

And Pollak is no Israeli flack He co-founded the Israeli group Anarchists Against the Wall, which regularly joins Palestinian protests against the fence; he’s been injured and arrested repeatedly during anti-fence demonstrations; and he even toured the U.S. with the film’s hero, Ayed Morrar, to fundraise for the anti-Israel International Solidarity Movement.

Indeed, even the usually pro-Palestinian Haaretz admits that most anti-fence demonstrations involve “a great deal of stone throwing” — generally with slingshots, which are lethal weapons — and “many [Israeli] soldiers and Border Police are wounded.”

The other issue ignored by both the film and Bronner is the role of Israel’s Supreme Court. The Budrus protests coincided with hearings on what became a landmark decision ordering the fence rerouted to reduce harm to Palestinian villagers. The verdict was issued only in July 2004. But the government had already begun rerouting the fence in various locales during the previous six months, because the justices’ comments during the hearings made the likely outcome clear.

The film thus turned a highly complex situation (let’s not forget that the fence was built to begin with only to stop the murderous Palestinian terror of those years) into a simplistic tale of good Palestinians versus evil Israelis.

The same is true of almost every other movie about the conflict — and for good reason, as Israeli filmmaker Noa Ben Hagai acknowledged in a stunning interview with Haaretz last month.

After Ben Hagai’s documentary about her own family’s discovery of Palestinian relatives in the West Bank was shown at Amsterdam’s International Documentary Film Festival,

[i]nternational producers asked me what my next film was going to be, and hinted that they would be glad if it were about the occupation, but from an extreme direction, from a new angle showing how terrible the reality can be. It was clear that they wanted something very extreme and bloody about the Israeli reality, if possible something about apartheid, and to mix in the Holocaust, too, if possible. I understood that … if I want to succeed in the world, then I have to keep on dealing with political subjects.

In short, if you want money, critical acclaim, and festival screenings, the storyline has to be “good Palestinians versus bad Israelis,” regardless of the truth. And that means viewers should take all such films with a large grain of salt.

The New York Times ran a paean this week to a new documentary, Budrus, that purports to show how 10 months of nonviolent protests in 2003-04 persuaded Israel to reroute its security fence near the eponymous West Bank village. The story has only two flaws: the protests weren’t nonviolent, and the victory was at least partly due to Israel’s own legal system. And those flaws reflect a problem far larger than the film itself.

Though the movie shows occasional stone-throwing, most of the protests look “utterly peaceful,” noted reporter Ethan Bronner. But even some of the protesters themselves told Bronner otherwise.

“It is obvious that the filmmaker was not there,” said one, Jonathan Pollak. “The movie represents what happened as more nonviolent that it really was.”

And Pollak is no Israeli flack He co-founded the Israeli group Anarchists Against the Wall, which regularly joins Palestinian protests against the fence; he’s been injured and arrested repeatedly during anti-fence demonstrations; and he even toured the U.S. with the film’s hero, Ayed Morrar, to fundraise for the anti-Israel International Solidarity Movement.

Indeed, even the usually pro-Palestinian Haaretz admits that most anti-fence demonstrations involve “a great deal of stone throwing” — generally with slingshots, which are lethal weapons — and “many [Israeli] soldiers and Border Police are wounded.”

The other issue ignored by both the film and Bronner is the role of Israel’s Supreme Court. The Budrus protests coincided with hearings on what became a landmark decision ordering the fence rerouted to reduce harm to Palestinian villagers. The verdict was issued only in July 2004. But the government had already begun rerouting the fence in various locales during the previous six months, because the justices’ comments during the hearings made the likely outcome clear.

The film thus turned a highly complex situation (let’s not forget that the fence was built to begin with only to stop the murderous Palestinian terror of those years) into a simplistic tale of good Palestinians versus evil Israelis.

The same is true of almost every other movie about the conflict — and for good reason, as Israeli filmmaker Noa Ben Hagai acknowledged in a stunning interview with Haaretz last month.

After Ben Hagai’s documentary about her own family’s discovery of Palestinian relatives in the West Bank was shown at Amsterdam’s International Documentary Film Festival,

[i]nternational producers asked me what my next film was going to be, and hinted that they would be glad if it were about the occupation, but from an extreme direction, from a new angle showing how terrible the reality can be. It was clear that they wanted something very extreme and bloody about the Israeli reality, if possible something about apartheid, and to mix in the Holocaust, too, if possible. I understood that … if I want to succeed in the world, then I have to keep on dealing with political subjects.

In short, if you want money, critical acclaim, and festival screenings, the storyline has to be “good Palestinians versus bad Israelis,” regardless of the truth. And that means viewers should take all such films with a large grain of salt.

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Afghanistan from the Ground

The Washington Post has a great report from the frontlines in Afghanistan, its reporter having spent some time with U.S. soldiers in the Arghandab Valley outside Kandahar. Their view — that they are making steady progress — stands in stark contrast to the defeatist rhetoric so pervasive in Washington: “They arrived two months ago in what was clearly Taliban land. Today it is contested land. To them, violence is a sign of progress: Now the Taliban has someone to fight.” As signs of progress, the local company commander, Capt. Mikel Resnick, points to:

… Soldiers have killed at least a dozen insurgents and suffered zero casualties. Open stores in Sarkari Bagh have quadrupled, and in towns that emptied at the sight of a U.S. soldier two months ago, children swarm and troops sit for tea, they said.

On the day of parliamentary elections in mid-September, a daisy-chain bomb planted in an alley regularly patrolled by soldiers seriously injured a child. But overall there was less violence than Resnick expected.

“We thought our area . . . was going to explode on election day,” Resnick said. “And it didn’t.”

Granted, this is a soda-straw view of the war; these troops have little awareness of what is going on in other parts of the country. And U.S. soldiers are programmed to be optimistic; sometimes over-optimistic. Yet the view from the ground is important as a counter-balance to the conventional wisdom being formed thousands of miles away by those who have never even visited Arghandab, much less spent months fighting there.

The Washington Post has a great report from the frontlines in Afghanistan, its reporter having spent some time with U.S. soldiers in the Arghandab Valley outside Kandahar. Their view — that they are making steady progress — stands in stark contrast to the defeatist rhetoric so pervasive in Washington: “They arrived two months ago in what was clearly Taliban land. Today it is contested land. To them, violence is a sign of progress: Now the Taliban has someone to fight.” As signs of progress, the local company commander, Capt. Mikel Resnick, points to:

… Soldiers have killed at least a dozen insurgents and suffered zero casualties. Open stores in Sarkari Bagh have quadrupled, and in towns that emptied at the sight of a U.S. soldier two months ago, children swarm and troops sit for tea, they said.

On the day of parliamentary elections in mid-September, a daisy-chain bomb planted in an alley regularly patrolled by soldiers seriously injured a child. But overall there was less violence than Resnick expected.

“We thought our area . . . was going to explode on election day,” Resnick said. “And it didn’t.”

Granted, this is a soda-straw view of the war; these troops have little awareness of what is going on in other parts of the country. And U.S. soldiers are programmed to be optimistic; sometimes over-optimistic. Yet the view from the ground is important as a counter-balance to the conventional wisdom being formed thousands of miles away by those who have never even visited Arghandab, much less spent months fighting there.

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Encumbered Female Marines

The New York Times has a fascinating story on how female Marines are making a contribution in Marja, a still dangerous district in Afghanistan’s Helmand Province. They are assigned to a “female engagement team,” which is designed to interact with Afghanistan’s women; turns out, they also do a good job of interacting with Afghanistan’s men, who sometimes open up more when confronted with women Marines than with their male counterparts.

But their deployment has run into legal problems because of the anachronistic and overly restrictive Pentagon rules on employing women in combat roles. They are technically forbidden from serving in infantry, armor, or Special Forces, but are nevertheless often in the field, sometimes under the legal fiction of being “attached to” (allowed) rather than “assigned to” (forbidden) a combat unit. The rules only allow women “temporary stays” at combat bases. So, the Times reports, “To fulfill the letter but hardly the spirit of the guidelines, the female Marines now travel from their combat outposts every six weeks for an overnight stay at a big base like Camp Leatherneck, then head back out the next morning.”

The commander of the female engagement team, Capt. Emily Naslund, thinks “the legal hoops are absurd when there are no front lines — and when members of her team are taking fire almost daily on foot patrols. ‘The current policy on women in combat is outdated and does not apply to the type of war we are fighting,’ she wrote to her parents, friends and this reporter in an e-mail after the legal review in July.”

Capt. Naslund is right. These old-fashioned rules from the Department of Defense need to be adjusted to conform with the “no front-lines” reality of today’s wars.

The New York Times has a fascinating story on how female Marines are making a contribution in Marja, a still dangerous district in Afghanistan’s Helmand Province. They are assigned to a “female engagement team,” which is designed to interact with Afghanistan’s women; turns out, they also do a good job of interacting with Afghanistan’s men, who sometimes open up more when confronted with women Marines than with their male counterparts.

But their deployment has run into legal problems because of the anachronistic and overly restrictive Pentagon rules on employing women in combat roles. They are technically forbidden from serving in infantry, armor, or Special Forces, but are nevertheless often in the field, sometimes under the legal fiction of being “attached to” (allowed) rather than “assigned to” (forbidden) a combat unit. The rules only allow women “temporary stays” at combat bases. So, the Times reports, “To fulfill the letter but hardly the spirit of the guidelines, the female Marines now travel from their combat outposts every six weeks for an overnight stay at a big base like Camp Leatherneck, then head back out the next morning.”

The commander of the female engagement team, Capt. Emily Naslund, thinks “the legal hoops are absurd when there are no front lines — and when members of her team are taking fire almost daily on foot patrols. ‘The current policy on women in combat is outdated and does not apply to the type of war we are fighting,’ she wrote to her parents, friends and this reporter in an e-mail after the legal review in July.”

Capt. Naslund is right. These old-fashioned rules from the Department of Defense need to be adjusted to conform with the “no front-lines” reality of today’s wars.

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Reaction to J Street

It’s interesting to watch the left cope with the realization that not only have the J Streeters copiously lied, but that they are in league with Richard Goldstone — shepherding him around Capitol Hill and writing his defense.

The left-leaning Haaretz sounds mournful, albeit realistic:

These days, J Street, the leftist pro-Israel lobby, is trying to appear business as usual. Following their ad campaign in the newspapers showcasing their support of the peace process and urging leaders to make history, J Street met this week with Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren and with various congressional representatives, in hopes of tightening connections ahead of the November midterm elections.

But ever since the Washington Times exposed the discreet donations made by billionaire George Soros to the organization, the scandal surrounding J Street is only magnifying.

The reporter accurately details the series of lies and concludes:

J Street needs to make a clear decision — if they want to be truly inclusive, as they claim to be — they shouldn’t be afraid to be so, despite the price they may have to pay. By continuing their current modus operandi — trying to dodge controversy — they are actually creating more controversies and might lose credibility even among their left-wing supporters. If they want to become a unique voice, they should say: “We do not agree, but we listen to all voices — and not under the table.”

Not an unreasonable suggestion.

Over at Tikun Olam, Richard Silverstein goes on a rant against Eli Lake, who broke the story. But in the end, he too concedes:

All this goes to my main problem with J Street: they’re being too smart by half in trying to hide their true progressive views under a bushel.  If you want to be a Democratic version of Aipac as J Street has been over the past year, then do so and don’t take money from Soros or aid Goldstone.  Make Colette Avital happy, play in the sandbox with the moribund Labor Party, etc.  But if you want to be a truly independent progressive Jewish group why attempt to hide from anyone what you’ve done in taking Soros’ money or helping Goldstone?  Why make common cause with an unreliable figure like Avital?

The problem, might be, those bushel-hidden views are not palatable to the vast majority of American Jews.

Then there is Ron Kampeas’s column in the JTA. Kampeas has invested much credibility writing about and sourcing from the J Street crowd (and they, in spinning him); so I wasn’t all that surprised that he chose to go after the reporters who uncovered J Street’s lies. But his defense of J Street runs from odd to outrageous.

He’s not moved by the audiotape revealing Colette Avital’s false denial of her admission that Goldstone got the J Street tour around the Capitol. He acknowledges that Ben-Ami now concedes that “J Street had suggested contacts to the organizations that all sides agree did facilitate Goldstone’s Hill meetings, the Open Society Institute and the New America Foundation,” but seems not to grasp that this contradicted other Ben-Ami’s statements. He’s still giving Ben-Ami the benefit of the doubt. (“Now, it is true that Jeremy could be lying — he misled everyone about Soros’s involvement, after all, and his accounts of what was said to the Times and what was not have shifted slightly — but that doesn’t mean anything at this stage.” It doesn’t?) And on he goes, denying that there is anything here to see, nothing at all. (Even Jeffrey Goldberg figured out that this is curtains for the J Street gang.)

An official at a pro-Israel organization is aghast:

I guess it’s not enough for Ron Kampeas to be lied to, and lied to and lied to again. Maybe in that fairy land lies pass for truth, but in Washington and in the real world, lies are lies. And J Street has lied about taking money from George Soros, they lied about being an organization paid for by Americans. In fact, J Street is a sham astroturf collection of email addresses paid for by George Soros and a unknown person in Hong Kong named Connie Esdicul who covered half of their budget in the 2008-2009 year, when they were the “blocking back” for the White House policy beating up on Israel. I wonder what member of Congress will want to take their PAC money or keep signing their letters? Maybe only if Mort Halperin only if writes them, just like he did for Richard Goldstone when J Street called members of Congress to set up meetings for him so he could explain how Israel was guilty of war crimes.

And now they are lying again about their role in promoting the author of the Goldstone report — a anti-Israel document so vile that even the radical left group B’tselem condemned it. But J Street? No, they didn’t condemn it then, and they don’t now.

But here’s the outrageous part: Kampeas agrees with J Street that Goldstone got a raw deal. He’s incensed: “Why the hell shouldn’t Goldstone have met with the Congress members?” (Because he’s a vicious defamer of Israel and has presided over the multiple executions of blacks in South Africa?) He proclaims that “the original anti-Goldstone resolution that circulated was profoundly unfair to him.” Then the show stopper:

Here’s a postscript: I don’t think Goldstone is Uncle Evil any longer in Israel. His reputation morphed from Pompous Traitor to Wounded Grandpa after South African Zionists tried to muscle him out of his grandson’s Bar Mitzvah.

This is ludicrous. There is no significant segment of Israeli society and not a single prominent Israeli politician who thinks Goldstone is anything but evil. Well, at least we know why Kampeas is so sympathetic to J Street — they both have a soft spot for the man who has, through deliberate misrepresentation, done more than any living soul to aid Israel’s delegitimizers.

It’s interesting to watch the left cope with the realization that not only have the J Streeters copiously lied, but that they are in league with Richard Goldstone — shepherding him around Capitol Hill and writing his defense.

The left-leaning Haaretz sounds mournful, albeit realistic:

These days, J Street, the leftist pro-Israel lobby, is trying to appear business as usual. Following their ad campaign in the newspapers showcasing their support of the peace process and urging leaders to make history, J Street met this week with Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren and with various congressional representatives, in hopes of tightening connections ahead of the November midterm elections.

But ever since the Washington Times exposed the discreet donations made by billionaire George Soros to the organization, the scandal surrounding J Street is only magnifying.

The reporter accurately details the series of lies and concludes:

J Street needs to make a clear decision — if they want to be truly inclusive, as they claim to be — they shouldn’t be afraid to be so, despite the price they may have to pay. By continuing their current modus operandi — trying to dodge controversy — they are actually creating more controversies and might lose credibility even among their left-wing supporters. If they want to become a unique voice, they should say: “We do not agree, but we listen to all voices — and not under the table.”

Not an unreasonable suggestion.

Over at Tikun Olam, Richard Silverstein goes on a rant against Eli Lake, who broke the story. But in the end, he too concedes:

All this goes to my main problem with J Street: they’re being too smart by half in trying to hide their true progressive views under a bushel.  If you want to be a Democratic version of Aipac as J Street has been over the past year, then do so and don’t take money from Soros or aid Goldstone.  Make Colette Avital happy, play in the sandbox with the moribund Labor Party, etc.  But if you want to be a truly independent progressive Jewish group why attempt to hide from anyone what you’ve done in taking Soros’ money or helping Goldstone?  Why make common cause with an unreliable figure like Avital?

The problem, might be, those bushel-hidden views are not palatable to the vast majority of American Jews.

Then there is Ron Kampeas’s column in the JTA. Kampeas has invested much credibility writing about and sourcing from the J Street crowd (and they, in spinning him); so I wasn’t all that surprised that he chose to go after the reporters who uncovered J Street’s lies. But his defense of J Street runs from odd to outrageous.

He’s not moved by the audiotape revealing Colette Avital’s false denial of her admission that Goldstone got the J Street tour around the Capitol. He acknowledges that Ben-Ami now concedes that “J Street had suggested contacts to the organizations that all sides agree did facilitate Goldstone’s Hill meetings, the Open Society Institute and the New America Foundation,” but seems not to grasp that this contradicted other Ben-Ami’s statements. He’s still giving Ben-Ami the benefit of the doubt. (“Now, it is true that Jeremy could be lying — he misled everyone about Soros’s involvement, after all, and his accounts of what was said to the Times and what was not have shifted slightly — but that doesn’t mean anything at this stage.” It doesn’t?) And on he goes, denying that there is anything here to see, nothing at all. (Even Jeffrey Goldberg figured out that this is curtains for the J Street gang.)

An official at a pro-Israel organization is aghast:

I guess it’s not enough for Ron Kampeas to be lied to, and lied to and lied to again. Maybe in that fairy land lies pass for truth, but in Washington and in the real world, lies are lies. And J Street has lied about taking money from George Soros, they lied about being an organization paid for by Americans. In fact, J Street is a sham astroturf collection of email addresses paid for by George Soros and a unknown person in Hong Kong named Connie Esdicul who covered half of their budget in the 2008-2009 year, when they were the “blocking back” for the White House policy beating up on Israel. I wonder what member of Congress will want to take their PAC money or keep signing their letters? Maybe only if Mort Halperin only if writes them, just like he did for Richard Goldstone when J Street called members of Congress to set up meetings for him so he could explain how Israel was guilty of war crimes.

And now they are lying again about their role in promoting the author of the Goldstone report — a anti-Israel document so vile that even the radical left group B’tselem condemned it. But J Street? No, they didn’t condemn it then, and they don’t now.

But here’s the outrageous part: Kampeas agrees with J Street that Goldstone got a raw deal. He’s incensed: “Why the hell shouldn’t Goldstone have met with the Congress members?” (Because he’s a vicious defamer of Israel and has presided over the multiple executions of blacks in South Africa?) He proclaims that “the original anti-Goldstone resolution that circulated was profoundly unfair to him.” Then the show stopper:

Here’s a postscript: I don’t think Goldstone is Uncle Evil any longer in Israel. His reputation morphed from Pompous Traitor to Wounded Grandpa after South African Zionists tried to muscle him out of his grandson’s Bar Mitzvah.

This is ludicrous. There is no significant segment of Israeli society and not a single prominent Israeli politician who thinks Goldstone is anything but evil. Well, at least we know why Kampeas is so sympathetic to J Street — they both have a soft spot for the man who has, through deliberate misrepresentation, done more than any living soul to aid Israel’s delegitimizers.

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Thoroughly Modern Equestrian and Plural Royal Wife

Say what you will about the liberal bias and the lowered standards of the New York Times, but the Grey Lady can’t be topped for irony, especially when its editorial agenda collides with the lifestyles of the Arab world. A prime example was yesterday’s feature in the paper’s Sunday Sports section about the current head of the International Equestrian Federation, Princess Haya bint al-Hussein. Princess Haya is the daughter of the late King Hussein of Jordan and the wife of Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai. Actually, make that, as the Times puts it, the Sheik’s “junior wife.”

The profile of the fair princess goes all out to portray her as a feminist heroine who rode in the Olympics and defied the conventions of her Islamic homeland by becoming the only woman in Jordan who is licensed to drive heavy trucks. Which is, no doubt, pretty impressive. However, in countries such as Jordan and Dubai, where the government is an extension of the monarch’s whims, the fact that the king lets his tomboy daughter drive trucks says nothing about the way the majority of women are treated.

Nevertheless, the Times was most interested in the princess’s battle for re-election as the head of the equestrian federation. Though this organization has always been led by royalty, such as the Britain’s Prince Phillip, apparently some of its members are now engaging in lèse-majesté, challenging the princess because of her support for legalizing the drugging of horses even though her husband and his son have both been suspended from equestrian competitions for drug violations.

But whatever your opinion might be about drugs and horses, the princess was perfect fodder for the Times’s politicized sports section because of her status as an Arab Muslim and a woman in charge of an international sport (whether rich people riding horses who jump over fences is really a competitive sport is another question). But though reporter Katie Thomas writes breathlessly about the princess’s couture, poise, and her common touch with all the little people she meets in her horsey world, she isn’t terribly curious about what is, to any reader not obsessed with horses or fashion, the most interesting thing about the princess: her polygamous marriage.

Though she notes that the Sheik — who, at 61, is 25 years older than the princess — has a “senior” wife who is the mother to Dubai’s Crown Prince and is “rarely seen,” the question of how you can be a thoroughly modern and seemingly emancipated woman while sharing a husband with another woman is never posed. Instead, we are just supposed to be impressed by the fact that Princess Haya uses a BlackBerry and an iPhone.

The disconnect between the princess’s emancipated life with the patriarchal nature of her marriage is, no doubt, a complicated subject. But this is the same newspaper that reports about American polygamy as a freak show fraught with abuse of both women and children. Yet when confronted with “Big Love” Arab potentates and their trophy second wives who engage in a practice that most Americans rightly consider odious, the Times is prepared to bow and scrape like any courtier.

Say what you will about the liberal bias and the lowered standards of the New York Times, but the Grey Lady can’t be topped for irony, especially when its editorial agenda collides with the lifestyles of the Arab world. A prime example was yesterday’s feature in the paper’s Sunday Sports section about the current head of the International Equestrian Federation, Princess Haya bint al-Hussein. Princess Haya is the daughter of the late King Hussein of Jordan and the wife of Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai. Actually, make that, as the Times puts it, the Sheik’s “junior wife.”

The profile of the fair princess goes all out to portray her as a feminist heroine who rode in the Olympics and defied the conventions of her Islamic homeland by becoming the only woman in Jordan who is licensed to drive heavy trucks. Which is, no doubt, pretty impressive. However, in countries such as Jordan and Dubai, where the government is an extension of the monarch’s whims, the fact that the king lets his tomboy daughter drive trucks says nothing about the way the majority of women are treated.

Nevertheless, the Times was most interested in the princess’s battle for re-election as the head of the equestrian federation. Though this organization has always been led by royalty, such as the Britain’s Prince Phillip, apparently some of its members are now engaging in lèse-majesté, challenging the princess because of her support for legalizing the drugging of horses even though her husband and his son have both been suspended from equestrian competitions for drug violations.

But whatever your opinion might be about drugs and horses, the princess was perfect fodder for the Times’s politicized sports section because of her status as an Arab Muslim and a woman in charge of an international sport (whether rich people riding horses who jump over fences is really a competitive sport is another question). But though reporter Katie Thomas writes breathlessly about the princess’s couture, poise, and her common touch with all the little people she meets in her horsey world, she isn’t terribly curious about what is, to any reader not obsessed with horses or fashion, the most interesting thing about the princess: her polygamous marriage.

Though she notes that the Sheik — who, at 61, is 25 years older than the princess — has a “senior” wife who is the mother to Dubai’s Crown Prince and is “rarely seen,” the question of how you can be a thoroughly modern and seemingly emancipated woman while sharing a husband with another woman is never posed. Instead, we are just supposed to be impressed by the fact that Princess Haya uses a BlackBerry and an iPhone.

The disconnect between the princess’s emancipated life with the patriarchal nature of her marriage is, no doubt, a complicated subject. But this is the same newspaper that reports about American polygamy as a freak show fraught with abuse of both women and children. Yet when confronted with “Big Love” Arab potentates and their trophy second wives who engage in a practice that most Americans rightly consider odious, the Times is prepared to bow and scrape like any courtier.

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Obama’s War

Ever since President Obama came to office, conservatives have been expressing concern about his level of commitment to the war in Afghanistan. The deadline he announced last fall to begin a troop drawdown in the summer of 2011 only added to doubts about his staying power. But at every decision point, he has consistently opted to double down in Afghanistan rather than pull out, as many of his supporters urge.

Now, courtesy of the Washington Post, comes further confirmation, if any were needed, that no bug-out is imminent. “Despite discouraging news from Afghanistan and growing doubts in Congress and among the American public,” writes reporter Karen DeYoung, “the Obama administration has concluded that its war strategy is sound and that a December review, once seen as a pivotal moment, is unlikely to yield any major changes.”

This comes after a New York Times report on the extent to which Obama, once skeptical of General David Petraeus, has come to rely on him. My former boss, Les Gelb, president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations, is quoted as saying: “They are joined at the hip, but the leverage lies with Petraeus. And Petraeus has made plain, publicly, that after July 2011, he doesn’t think there should be a rapid pullout.” I think that’s right, and what it means is that Petraeus will have the time necessary to try to turn around a very difficult situation.

Whether he has enough troops, notwithstanding the recent surge, remains an open question. In the new Weekly Standard, Gary Schmitt makes a strong case, based on traditional counterinsurgency metrics, for sending three more brigades. “Adding three Army combat brigades, some 10,000 troops,” he writes, “would give commanders more flexibility to act with the kind of resoluteness that marked the surge in Iraq in 2007 and that allowed it to succeed.” Petraeus himself has made no such request (as far as I know), and it is far from clear if Obama would grant such a request. But it is hardly outside the realm of possibility. Increasingly, this is being seen as “Obama’s War,” and that means that Obama had better win it — or suffer the consequences.

Ever since President Obama came to office, conservatives have been expressing concern about his level of commitment to the war in Afghanistan. The deadline he announced last fall to begin a troop drawdown in the summer of 2011 only added to doubts about his staying power. But at every decision point, he has consistently opted to double down in Afghanistan rather than pull out, as many of his supporters urge.

Now, courtesy of the Washington Post, comes further confirmation, if any were needed, that no bug-out is imminent. “Despite discouraging news from Afghanistan and growing doubts in Congress and among the American public,” writes reporter Karen DeYoung, “the Obama administration has concluded that its war strategy is sound and that a December review, once seen as a pivotal moment, is unlikely to yield any major changes.”

This comes after a New York Times report on the extent to which Obama, once skeptical of General David Petraeus, has come to rely on him. My former boss, Les Gelb, president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations, is quoted as saying: “They are joined at the hip, but the leverage lies with Petraeus. And Petraeus has made plain, publicly, that after July 2011, he doesn’t think there should be a rapid pullout.” I think that’s right, and what it means is that Petraeus will have the time necessary to try to turn around a very difficult situation.

Whether he has enough troops, notwithstanding the recent surge, remains an open question. In the new Weekly Standard, Gary Schmitt makes a strong case, based on traditional counterinsurgency metrics, for sending three more brigades. “Adding three Army combat brigades, some 10,000 troops,” he writes, “would give commanders more flexibility to act with the kind of resoluteness that marked the surge in Iraq in 2007 and that allowed it to succeed.” Petraeus himself has made no such request (as far as I know), and it is far from clear if Obama would grant such a request. But it is hardly outside the realm of possibility. Increasingly, this is being seen as “Obama’s War,” and that means that Obama had better win it — or suffer the consequences.

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Washington’s West Bank Pyromania

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made a stunning admission last week that has garnered far too little attention. After a de rigueur assertion that the Israeli-Palestinian “status quo is unsustainable,” she added, “That doesn’t mean it can’t be sustained for a year, or a decade, or two or three.”

But if so, why the rush to solve the conflict now, when all signs indicate that a deal is unachievable and another round of failed talks could greatly worsen the situation?

One could simply say she’s wrong; the status quo is intolerable for suffering Palestinians. But the facts are on her side.

First, the territories are experiencing unprecedented economic growth. The World Bank reported last week that the West Bank economy grew 9 percent in the first half of this year, while Gaza (you remember — that giant Israeli prison locked in hopeless poverty and misery?) grew an incredible 16 percent. For the West Bank, this represents a second year of strong growth; last year’s was 8.5 percent.

The World Bank hastened to declare that we should never mind the facts; growth under occupation is unsustainable. And growth in Gaza (which isn’t occupied) might well be: it was artificially boosted by reconstruction after last year’s war and the abrupt easing of Israel’s blockade in May. But the West Bank’s two-year surge shows that economic reforms like those instituted by Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, coupled with a sharp drop in terror that has let Israel greatly ease its restrictions on Palestinian movement, make long-term growth quite feasible.

Second, West Bankers have evidently learned a lesson from the second intifada: support for terror there is very low, making a resurgence that would upset the current calm unlikely. Indeed, during a visit this month to the Balata refugee camp, once “a hotbed of extremism,” a Haaretz reporter “was hard-pressed to find any passersby who were willing to express support for it.” As resident Imad Hassan explained, “What good did this [terror] do us?”

By contrast, the current calm is doing West Bankers a lot of good, and they’re clearly savoring it. As Haaretz reported following a Ramadan visit to Ramallah last month:

The one phrase not on the lips of local shoppers in their conversations with this Israeli reporter on Wednesday was “the occupation” — unlike during prior visits, when the occupation and the conflict with the Jews were regularly raised. These days, the hot topic is business. Peace negotiations, and even the Gaza Strip, are irrelevant.

In short, West Bankers, too, consider the status quo tolerable; they’re more concerned with business than “the occupation.”

One thing, however, could yet disrupt this status quo: as several CONTENTIONS contributors have noted, negotiations that collapse amid mutual recriminations have triggered violent explosions in the past, and could well do so again.

So to try to achieve an agreement that overwhelming majorities of both Israelis and Palestinians believe is currently unachievable, the Obama administration is risking the violent implosion of a status quo that it admits is sustainable for decades. That isn’t “smart diplomacy”; it’s the irresponsibility of a pyromaniac near a barrel of gunpowder.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made a stunning admission last week that has garnered far too little attention. After a de rigueur assertion that the Israeli-Palestinian “status quo is unsustainable,” she added, “That doesn’t mean it can’t be sustained for a year, or a decade, or two or three.”

But if so, why the rush to solve the conflict now, when all signs indicate that a deal is unachievable and another round of failed talks could greatly worsen the situation?

One could simply say she’s wrong; the status quo is intolerable for suffering Palestinians. But the facts are on her side.

First, the territories are experiencing unprecedented economic growth. The World Bank reported last week that the West Bank economy grew 9 percent in the first half of this year, while Gaza (you remember — that giant Israeli prison locked in hopeless poverty and misery?) grew an incredible 16 percent. For the West Bank, this represents a second year of strong growth; last year’s was 8.5 percent.

The World Bank hastened to declare that we should never mind the facts; growth under occupation is unsustainable. And growth in Gaza (which isn’t occupied) might well be: it was artificially boosted by reconstruction after last year’s war and the abrupt easing of Israel’s blockade in May. But the West Bank’s two-year surge shows that economic reforms like those instituted by Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, coupled with a sharp drop in terror that has let Israel greatly ease its restrictions on Palestinian movement, make long-term growth quite feasible.

Second, West Bankers have evidently learned a lesson from the second intifada: support for terror there is very low, making a resurgence that would upset the current calm unlikely. Indeed, during a visit this month to the Balata refugee camp, once “a hotbed of extremism,” a Haaretz reporter “was hard-pressed to find any passersby who were willing to express support for it.” As resident Imad Hassan explained, “What good did this [terror] do us?”

By contrast, the current calm is doing West Bankers a lot of good, and they’re clearly savoring it. As Haaretz reported following a Ramadan visit to Ramallah last month:

The one phrase not on the lips of local shoppers in their conversations with this Israeli reporter on Wednesday was “the occupation” — unlike during prior visits, when the occupation and the conflict with the Jews were regularly raised. These days, the hot topic is business. Peace negotiations, and even the Gaza Strip, are irrelevant.

In short, West Bankers, too, consider the status quo tolerable; they’re more concerned with business than “the occupation.”

One thing, however, could yet disrupt this status quo: as several CONTENTIONS contributors have noted, negotiations that collapse amid mutual recriminations have triggered violent explosions in the past, and could well do so again.

So to try to achieve an agreement that overwhelming majorities of both Israelis and Palestinians believe is currently unachievable, the Obama administration is risking the violent implosion of a status quo that it admits is sustainable for decades. That isn’t “smart diplomacy”; it’s the irresponsibility of a pyromaniac near a barrel of gunpowder.

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J Street Unmasked

The Washington Jewish Week reveals just how far off the path J Street has wandered from its ostensible purpose:

J Street — the self-professed “pro-Israel, pro-peace” group — appears to have waded further into domestic waters in recent weeks with the launch of a website assailing “neoconservatives and far-right evangelical Christians” for purporting to speak on behalf of the Jewish community. …

J Street’s website, www.theydontspeakforus.com, purports to expose Bauer and Kristol as far-right extremists who are out of sync with the majority of American Jews by outlining the pair’s views on a range of foreign and domestic policy issues.

Among other topics — such as the Gaza Strip and Iraq war — the site highlights the pair’s stances on gay marriage, a woman’s right to choose, Sarah Palin, the Tea Party movement and the separation of church and state.

What does all that have to do with Israel? Not much — and it has confused even the Democrats:

“This [J Street] website confuses me,” said Ira Forman, an independent consultant who recently stepped down as the CEO of the National Jewish Democratic Council. “To me, if you are trying to push a pro-Israel, pro-peace message, you want to be non-ideological and nonpartisan. … But when you use these terms [such as gay marriage and others], it’s making Israel a partisan wedge issue. I don’t understand how that helps the central mission of J Street.” (Forman made it clear that he was speaking on his own behalf, and not the NJDC’s.) Added another pro-Israel Democratic operative, who was not authorized by his employer to speak on the record: The website “takes away from some of J Street’s legitimacy as a foreign policy voice when they buttress their arguments with domestic issues.”

“What J Street is saying is people who don’t support gay marriage and who are pro-life are out of the mainstream Jewish community. That is a fact, but it has nothing to do with their support for Israel,” the source said. “Is J Street saying you can’t have an individual who’s pro-life, anti-gay” also be “supportive of the state of Israel?”

OK, so let’s all be clear here. J Street is a leftist group, not a pro-Israel one. And for leftist Jews the mantra is: global warming is killing the planet, abortion on demand must be protected, and Israel is wrong on [fill in the blank]. Once you have that straight, its website and ongoing Israel-bashing make perfect sense. Meanwhile, is it relevant? The reporter seems skeptical:

But if the group is to increase its political clout, it needs to demonstrate that it’s not simply an Obama administration tool, said an official with a pro-Israel organization who agreed to speak only on background. “There is a sense in the pro-Israel community — and there have been complaints — that J Street has not [made] a fair effort to show bipartisanship.”

So far in the 2010 election cycle, JStreetPAC, the group’s political action committee, has distributed nearly $1 million to 60 Democratic candidates and one Republican.

Yeah, not too bipartisan. (And that one Republican? Why, it’s the longtime Israel critic Charles Boustany.) Meanwhile, it’s not clear J Street is even a tool of the Obami. Since the later went on the charm offensive and dropped the settlement freeze as a precondition for talks, J Street hasn’t even been in sync with the administration. So I’m still stumped: whom does J Street speak for?

The Washington Jewish Week reveals just how far off the path J Street has wandered from its ostensible purpose:

J Street — the self-professed “pro-Israel, pro-peace” group — appears to have waded further into domestic waters in recent weeks with the launch of a website assailing “neoconservatives and far-right evangelical Christians” for purporting to speak on behalf of the Jewish community. …

J Street’s website, www.theydontspeakforus.com, purports to expose Bauer and Kristol as far-right extremists who are out of sync with the majority of American Jews by outlining the pair’s views on a range of foreign and domestic policy issues.

Among other topics — such as the Gaza Strip and Iraq war — the site highlights the pair’s stances on gay marriage, a woman’s right to choose, Sarah Palin, the Tea Party movement and the separation of church and state.

What does all that have to do with Israel? Not much — and it has confused even the Democrats:

“This [J Street] website confuses me,” said Ira Forman, an independent consultant who recently stepped down as the CEO of the National Jewish Democratic Council. “To me, if you are trying to push a pro-Israel, pro-peace message, you want to be non-ideological and nonpartisan. … But when you use these terms [such as gay marriage and others], it’s making Israel a partisan wedge issue. I don’t understand how that helps the central mission of J Street.” (Forman made it clear that he was speaking on his own behalf, and not the NJDC’s.) Added another pro-Israel Democratic operative, who was not authorized by his employer to speak on the record: The website “takes away from some of J Street’s legitimacy as a foreign policy voice when they buttress their arguments with domestic issues.”

“What J Street is saying is people who don’t support gay marriage and who are pro-life are out of the mainstream Jewish community. That is a fact, but it has nothing to do with their support for Israel,” the source said. “Is J Street saying you can’t have an individual who’s pro-life, anti-gay” also be “supportive of the state of Israel?”

OK, so let’s all be clear here. J Street is a leftist group, not a pro-Israel one. And for leftist Jews the mantra is: global warming is killing the planet, abortion on demand must be protected, and Israel is wrong on [fill in the blank]. Once you have that straight, its website and ongoing Israel-bashing make perfect sense. Meanwhile, is it relevant? The reporter seems skeptical:

But if the group is to increase its political clout, it needs to demonstrate that it’s not simply an Obama administration tool, said an official with a pro-Israel organization who agreed to speak only on background. “There is a sense in the pro-Israel community — and there have been complaints — that J Street has not [made] a fair effort to show bipartisanship.”

So far in the 2010 election cycle, JStreetPAC, the group’s political action committee, has distributed nearly $1 million to 60 Democratic candidates and one Republican.

Yeah, not too bipartisan. (And that one Republican? Why, it’s the longtime Israel critic Charles Boustany.) Meanwhile, it’s not clear J Street is even a tool of the Obami. Since the later went on the charm offensive and dropped the settlement freeze as a precondition for talks, J Street hasn’t even been in sync with the administration. So I’m still stumped: whom does J Street speak for?

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This Is Why the Democrats Will Get Trounced

Politico reports on Obama’s comments following the jobs report:

“We are confident that we are moving in the right direction, but we want to keep this recovery moving stronger and accelerate the job growth that’s needed so desperately all across the country,” he told reporters outside the White House after calling the Labor Department’s jobs report “positive news.”

Obama dismissed a reporter who asked if he regrets calling the past months the “summer of recovery.” “I don’t regret the notion that we are moving forward because of the steps that we’ve taken,” he said. “We are moving in the right direction. We just have to speed it up.”

He must be joking. The comments are so at odds with public perception, and the suggestion that 54,000 lost jobs is somehow “encouraging” is so daft, that one wonders what is going on inside the White House. I suspect those remarks are going to appear in many GOP ads this fall. Obama, who was thought to be a genius at campaigning, has lost his touch and now is something of a one-man wrecking crew for the Democratic Party.

Politico reports on Obama’s comments following the jobs report:

“We are confident that we are moving in the right direction, but we want to keep this recovery moving stronger and accelerate the job growth that’s needed so desperately all across the country,” he told reporters outside the White House after calling the Labor Department’s jobs report “positive news.”

Obama dismissed a reporter who asked if he regrets calling the past months the “summer of recovery.” “I don’t regret the notion that we are moving forward because of the steps that we’ve taken,” he said. “We are moving in the right direction. We just have to speed it up.”

He must be joking. The comments are so at odds with public perception, and the suggestion that 54,000 lost jobs is somehow “encouraging” is so daft, that one wonders what is going on inside the White House. I suspect those remarks are going to appear in many GOP ads this fall. Obama, who was thought to be a genius at campaigning, has lost his touch and now is something of a one-man wrecking crew for the Democratic Party.

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Yet Another Ominous Sign for Democrats

This one comes to us courtesy of the Associated Press. According to reporter Alan Fram:

Americans with the strongest opinions about the country’s most divisive issues are largely unhappy with how President Barack Obama is handling them, an ominous sign for Democrats hoping to retain control of Congress in the fall elections.

In nine of 15 issues examined in an Associated Press-GfK Poll this month, more Americans who expressed intense interest in a problem voiced strong opposition to Obama’s work on it, including the economy, unemployment, federal deficits and terrorism. They were about evenly split over the president’s efforts on five issues and strongly approved of his direction on just one: U.S. relationships with other countries.

In another danger sign for Democrats, most Americans extremely concerned about 10 of the issues say they will vote for the Republican candidate in their local House race. Only those highly interested in the environment lean toward the Democrats.

This one comes to us courtesy of the Associated Press. According to reporter Alan Fram:

Americans with the strongest opinions about the country’s most divisive issues are largely unhappy with how President Barack Obama is handling them, an ominous sign for Democrats hoping to retain control of Congress in the fall elections.

In nine of 15 issues examined in an Associated Press-GfK Poll this month, more Americans who expressed intense interest in a problem voiced strong opposition to Obama’s work on it, including the economy, unemployment, federal deficits and terrorism. They were about evenly split over the president’s efforts on five issues and strongly approved of his direction on just one: U.S. relationships with other countries.

In another danger sign for Democrats, most Americans extremely concerned about 10 of the issues say they will vote for the Republican candidate in their local House race. Only those highly interested in the environment lean toward the Democrats.

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He Really Doesn’t Want to Be Commander In Chief

It is not that we didn’t know this before, but reading the New York Times surely designed to be as favorable toward Obama as the reporter could possibly manage — one is left slack-jawed. Obama doesn’t like being commander in chief, isn’t good at it, and has relied on one tutor, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, who is leaving next year. The report should be read in full. But a few low-lights:

A year and a half into his presidency, Mr. Obama appears to be a reluctant warrior. Even as he draws down troops in Iraq, he has been abundantly willing to use force to advance national interests, tripling forces in Afghanistan, authorizing secret operations in Yemen and Somalia, and escalating drone strikes in Pakistan. But advisers said he did not see himself as a war president in the way his predecessor did. His speech on Tuesday is notable because he talks in public about the wars only sporadically, determined not to let them define his presidency.

A former adviser to the president, who like others insisted on anonymity in order to discuss the situation candidly, said that Mr. Obama’s relationship with the military was ‘troubled’ and that he ‘doesn’t have a handle on it.’ …

Reliant on Mr. Gates, Mr. Obama has made limited efforts to know his service chiefs or top commanders, and has visited the Pentagon only once, not counting a Sept. 11 commemoration. He ended Mr. Bush’s practice of weekly videoconferences with commanders, preferring to work through the chain of command and wary, aides said, of being drawn into managing the wars. …

Last December, the president gave the military 30,000 more troops, but also a ticking clock. … “He didn’t understand or grasp the military culture,” said Lawrence J. Korb, a former Pentagon official at the liberal Center for American Progress. “He got over that particular quandary and put them back in the box by saying, ‘O.K., I’m giving you 18 months.’ ”

As we all suspected, he compromised our Afghanistan war strategy for the sake of domestic politics:

One adviser at the time said Mr. Obama calculated that an open-ended commitment would undermine the rest of his agenda. “Our Afghan policy was focused as much as anything on domestic politics,” the adviser said. “He would not risk losing the moderate to centrist Democrats in the middle of health insurance reform and he viewed that legislation as the make-or-break legislation for his administration.”

He simply doesn’t want to do the things that are expected of the commander in chief, and the military’s ire is profound:

The schisms among his team, though, are born in part out of uncertainty about his true commitment. His reticence to talk much publicly about the wars may owe to the political costs of alienating his base as well as the demands of other issues. Senior Pentagon and military officials said they understood that he presided over a troubled economy, but noted that he was not losing 30 American soldiers a month on Wall Street. …

“From an image point of view, he doesn’t seem to embrace it, almost like you have to drag him into doing it,” said Peter D. Feaver, a Bush adviser with military contacts. “There’s deep uncertainty and perhaps doubt in the military about his commitment to see the wars through to a successful conclusion.”

This was a man not only unprepared to be president but disposed to shirk the most important aspect of the job. It is a measure of his hubris and stubbornness that he has refused to, as Feaver succinctly puts it, “embrace” the role, that is, to commit in word and deed his full attention and effort to leading the country in war. He doesn’t want to be a wartime president? Well, sorry — he is.

The only comfort one can draw from this appalling portrait is that perhaps, just perhaps, after November, when his dream of transforming America is crushed by an electoral blow-back, he will belatedly do his job.

It is not that we didn’t know this before, but reading the New York Times surely designed to be as favorable toward Obama as the reporter could possibly manage — one is left slack-jawed. Obama doesn’t like being commander in chief, isn’t good at it, and has relied on one tutor, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, who is leaving next year. The report should be read in full. But a few low-lights:

A year and a half into his presidency, Mr. Obama appears to be a reluctant warrior. Even as he draws down troops in Iraq, he has been abundantly willing to use force to advance national interests, tripling forces in Afghanistan, authorizing secret operations in Yemen and Somalia, and escalating drone strikes in Pakistan. But advisers said he did not see himself as a war president in the way his predecessor did. His speech on Tuesday is notable because he talks in public about the wars only sporadically, determined not to let them define his presidency.

A former adviser to the president, who like others insisted on anonymity in order to discuss the situation candidly, said that Mr. Obama’s relationship with the military was ‘troubled’ and that he ‘doesn’t have a handle on it.’ …

Reliant on Mr. Gates, Mr. Obama has made limited efforts to know his service chiefs or top commanders, and has visited the Pentagon only once, not counting a Sept. 11 commemoration. He ended Mr. Bush’s practice of weekly videoconferences with commanders, preferring to work through the chain of command and wary, aides said, of being drawn into managing the wars. …

Last December, the president gave the military 30,000 more troops, but also a ticking clock. … “He didn’t understand or grasp the military culture,” said Lawrence J. Korb, a former Pentagon official at the liberal Center for American Progress. “He got over that particular quandary and put them back in the box by saying, ‘O.K., I’m giving you 18 months.’ ”

As we all suspected, he compromised our Afghanistan war strategy for the sake of domestic politics:

One adviser at the time said Mr. Obama calculated that an open-ended commitment would undermine the rest of his agenda. “Our Afghan policy was focused as much as anything on domestic politics,” the adviser said. “He would not risk losing the moderate to centrist Democrats in the middle of health insurance reform and he viewed that legislation as the make-or-break legislation for his administration.”

He simply doesn’t want to do the things that are expected of the commander in chief, and the military’s ire is profound:

The schisms among his team, though, are born in part out of uncertainty about his true commitment. His reticence to talk much publicly about the wars may owe to the political costs of alienating his base as well as the demands of other issues. Senior Pentagon and military officials said they understood that he presided over a troubled economy, but noted that he was not losing 30 American soldiers a month on Wall Street. …

“From an image point of view, he doesn’t seem to embrace it, almost like you have to drag him into doing it,” said Peter D. Feaver, a Bush adviser with military contacts. “There’s deep uncertainty and perhaps doubt in the military about his commitment to see the wars through to a successful conclusion.”

This was a man not only unprepared to be president but disposed to shirk the most important aspect of the job. It is a measure of his hubris and stubbornness that he has refused to, as Feaver succinctly puts it, “embrace” the role, that is, to commit in word and deed his full attention and effort to leading the country in war. He doesn’t want to be a wartime president? Well, sorry — he is.

The only comfort one can draw from this appalling portrait is that perhaps, just perhaps, after November, when his dream of transforming America is crushed by an electoral blow-back, he will belatedly do his job.

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For Secretary of Defense? (Updated)

Chuck Hagel made news by endorsing Joe Sestak, but quite apart from Sestak there is reason to examine Hagel’s record. The administration, it seems, is seriously considering him for secretary of defense when Robert Gates retires. Yes, Hagel – the Republican opposed to the Iraq war and who’s compiled an anti-Israel record that brought appropriate condemnation from Jewish Democrats — is in the mix, according to news reports.

Ben Smith reports that Hagel is being championed by National Security Adviser Jim Jones (often the originator of silly ideas and ill-advised statements). Smith explains:

He opposed the war in Iraq, has spoken of the need to leave Afghanistan, and — though this is hazier territory — has infuriated supporters of Israel for a refusal to sign on to the many statements of support on the Hill for the Jewish State, and by suggesting the more dispassionate approach to that conflict that — on some days — Obama seems to prefer.

This is the context for the fierce attacks on Joe Sestak, incidentally, for accepting Hagel’s endorsement: It’s a warning signal that whatever the other merits, confirmation would hardly be a cakewalk. He’s taken fire from Democrats as well as Republican for his Middle East politics, and with both that process and Iran on the front burner, his appointment would likely concentrate debate on those issues.

Indeed, it is unclear, with a nuclear-armed Iran looming and a more Republican Senate in the offing, whether Hagel would be confirmable. His national security record would be hard to defend, even by Democrats wishing to support the faltering president.

For example, in 2006, when Hezbollah’s attacks provoked Israeli retaliation and the war in Lebanon, Hagel screeched for the president to demand an immediate cease-fire, arguing it was essential in order to “enhance America’s image and give us the trust and credibility to lead a lasting and sustained peace effort in the Middle East.” Our credibility, in his eyes, depends on the United States’s preventing Israel from defending itself.

Last year, Hagel signed a letter urging Obama to open direct negotiations with Hamas, a position so extreme that Obama hasn’t (yet) embraced it.

On Iran, Hagel was one of two senators in 2004 to vote against renewal of the Libya-Iran sanctions act. (“Messrs. Hagel and Lugar … want a weaker stance than most other senators against the terrorists in Iran and Syria and the West Bank and Gaza and against those who help the terrorists. They are more concerned than most other senators about upsetting our erstwhile allies in Europe — the French and Germans — who do business with the terrorists.”)

Hagel seems to be a member in good standing of the Flynt and Hillary Mann Leverett school of Iran suck-uppery. In 2007 Hagel wanted to open direct, unconditional talks with Iran. (“It could create a historic new dynamic in US-Iran relations, in part forcing the Iranians to react to the possibility of better relations with the West.”) In 2007 he voted against designating the Iranian Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organization. In 2008 he voted against Iran sanctions.

His views on Syria are equally misguided:

On November 11, 2003, when the Senate, by a vote of 89 to 4, passed the Syria Accountability Act authorizing sanctions on Syria for its support of terrorism and its occupation of Lebanon. Mr. Hagel — along with Mr. Kerry — didn’t vote. Mr. Hagel met in Damascus in 1998 with the terror-sponsoring dictator, Hafez Al-Assad, and returned to tell a reporter about the meeting, “Peace comes through dealing with people. Peace doesn’t come at the end of a bayonet or the end of a gun.”

If Obama’s pick for ambassador to Syria couldn’t get through the Senate, how would Hagel?

Finally, Hagel is a nominee who would thrill the Walt-Mearsheimer Lobby:

In an interview quoted in Aaron David Miller’s book on the peace process called The Much Too Promised Land, Hagel said: “The political reality is that … the Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people up here.”

Hagel then described a meeting he had in New York with a group of supporters of Israel, one of whom suggested Hagel wasn’t supportive enough of Israel. Hagel said he responded: “Let me clear something up here if there’s any doubt in your mind. I’m a United States Senator. I’m not an Israeli senator. I’m a United States Senator. I support Israel. But my first interest is, I take an oath of office to the constitution of the United States. Not to a president, not to a party, not to Israel.”

A Democratic, pro-Israel activist alarmed by the possibility of a Hagel appointment told me:

In 2006, after Hezbollah attacked Israel and instigated a war, Hagel took to the Senate floor and called on President Bush to demand an immediate Israeli cease-fire and accused Israel of “the systematic destruction of an American friend, Lebanon” and of “slaughter.” Given that Hezbollah has killed more Americans than any terrorist group except al-Qaeda — including 241 brave young Marines and some of our finest CIA officers — and Israel is one of our closest allies in the world, these kinds of statements not only call into question Hagel’s views but his fitness to serve as secretary of defense or in any other national security capacity.

Given his long, questionable record and the clear problems his nomination would cause — not to mention the volumes of criticism by other Democrats for his rank hostility to Israel — it is hard to believe that the White House would want to make such a risky choice at precisely the time we are asking the Israelis to “trust us” on Iran and the Arab-Israeli conflict. I wonder if his career-long effort to derail sanctions to stop Iran’s nuclear program will comfort the Israelis or our Arab and European allies at this critical juncture. Then again, given President’s Obama’s record in this area, this is a matter of serious, ongoing concern.

A Hagel nomination would be a political nightmare for Senate Democrats — another “walk the plank” request from the White House that would paint them as weak on defense and on the Iranian nuclear threat. Maybe this is a trial balloon. If it’s more than that, it will go over like a lead one.

UPDATE: A reader emails that “Hagel didn’t just vote no on sanctions in 2008; he killed the bill.” The reader is correct: “In early October, he prevented action on a bill, which had passed in the House, proposing economic sanctions against Iran. Hagel has long criticized unilateral sanctions as ineffective and counterproductive.”

Chuck Hagel made news by endorsing Joe Sestak, but quite apart from Sestak there is reason to examine Hagel’s record. The administration, it seems, is seriously considering him for secretary of defense when Robert Gates retires. Yes, Hagel – the Republican opposed to the Iraq war and who’s compiled an anti-Israel record that brought appropriate condemnation from Jewish Democrats — is in the mix, according to news reports.

Ben Smith reports that Hagel is being championed by National Security Adviser Jim Jones (often the originator of silly ideas and ill-advised statements). Smith explains:

He opposed the war in Iraq, has spoken of the need to leave Afghanistan, and — though this is hazier territory — has infuriated supporters of Israel for a refusal to sign on to the many statements of support on the Hill for the Jewish State, and by suggesting the more dispassionate approach to that conflict that — on some days — Obama seems to prefer.

This is the context for the fierce attacks on Joe Sestak, incidentally, for accepting Hagel’s endorsement: It’s a warning signal that whatever the other merits, confirmation would hardly be a cakewalk. He’s taken fire from Democrats as well as Republican for his Middle East politics, and with both that process and Iran on the front burner, his appointment would likely concentrate debate on those issues.

Indeed, it is unclear, with a nuclear-armed Iran looming and a more Republican Senate in the offing, whether Hagel would be confirmable. His national security record would be hard to defend, even by Democrats wishing to support the faltering president.

For example, in 2006, when Hezbollah’s attacks provoked Israeli retaliation and the war in Lebanon, Hagel screeched for the president to demand an immediate cease-fire, arguing it was essential in order to “enhance America’s image and give us the trust and credibility to lead a lasting and sustained peace effort in the Middle East.” Our credibility, in his eyes, depends on the United States’s preventing Israel from defending itself.

Last year, Hagel signed a letter urging Obama to open direct negotiations with Hamas, a position so extreme that Obama hasn’t (yet) embraced it.

On Iran, Hagel was one of two senators in 2004 to vote against renewal of the Libya-Iran sanctions act. (“Messrs. Hagel and Lugar … want a weaker stance than most other senators against the terrorists in Iran and Syria and the West Bank and Gaza and against those who help the terrorists. They are more concerned than most other senators about upsetting our erstwhile allies in Europe — the French and Germans — who do business with the terrorists.”)

Hagel seems to be a member in good standing of the Flynt and Hillary Mann Leverett school of Iran suck-uppery. In 2007 Hagel wanted to open direct, unconditional talks with Iran. (“It could create a historic new dynamic in US-Iran relations, in part forcing the Iranians to react to the possibility of better relations with the West.”) In 2007 he voted against designating the Iranian Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organization. In 2008 he voted against Iran sanctions.

His views on Syria are equally misguided:

On November 11, 2003, when the Senate, by a vote of 89 to 4, passed the Syria Accountability Act authorizing sanctions on Syria for its support of terrorism and its occupation of Lebanon. Mr. Hagel — along with Mr. Kerry — didn’t vote. Mr. Hagel met in Damascus in 1998 with the terror-sponsoring dictator, Hafez Al-Assad, and returned to tell a reporter about the meeting, “Peace comes through dealing with people. Peace doesn’t come at the end of a bayonet or the end of a gun.”

If Obama’s pick for ambassador to Syria couldn’t get through the Senate, how would Hagel?

Finally, Hagel is a nominee who would thrill the Walt-Mearsheimer Lobby:

In an interview quoted in Aaron David Miller’s book on the peace process called The Much Too Promised Land, Hagel said: “The political reality is that … the Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people up here.”

Hagel then described a meeting he had in New York with a group of supporters of Israel, one of whom suggested Hagel wasn’t supportive enough of Israel. Hagel said he responded: “Let me clear something up here if there’s any doubt in your mind. I’m a United States Senator. I’m not an Israeli senator. I’m a United States Senator. I support Israel. But my first interest is, I take an oath of office to the constitution of the United States. Not to a president, not to a party, not to Israel.”

A Democratic, pro-Israel activist alarmed by the possibility of a Hagel appointment told me:

In 2006, after Hezbollah attacked Israel and instigated a war, Hagel took to the Senate floor and called on President Bush to demand an immediate Israeli cease-fire and accused Israel of “the systematic destruction of an American friend, Lebanon” and of “slaughter.” Given that Hezbollah has killed more Americans than any terrorist group except al-Qaeda — including 241 brave young Marines and some of our finest CIA officers — and Israel is one of our closest allies in the world, these kinds of statements not only call into question Hagel’s views but his fitness to serve as secretary of defense or in any other national security capacity.

Given his long, questionable record and the clear problems his nomination would cause — not to mention the volumes of criticism by other Democrats for his rank hostility to Israel — it is hard to believe that the White House would want to make such a risky choice at precisely the time we are asking the Israelis to “trust us” on Iran and the Arab-Israeli conflict. I wonder if his career-long effort to derail sanctions to stop Iran’s nuclear program will comfort the Israelis or our Arab and European allies at this critical juncture. Then again, given President’s Obama’s record in this area, this is a matter of serious, ongoing concern.

A Hagel nomination would be a political nightmare for Senate Democrats — another “walk the plank” request from the White House that would paint them as weak on defense and on the Iranian nuclear threat. Maybe this is a trial balloon. If it’s more than that, it will go over like a lead one.

UPDATE: A reader emails that “Hagel didn’t just vote no on sanctions in 2008; he killed the bill.” The reader is correct: “In early October, he prevented action on a bill, which had passed in the House, proposing economic sanctions against Iran. Hagel has long criticized unilateral sanctions as ineffective and counterproductive.”

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A Primary Victory Boosts…WHAT?

I’ve read some cracked political analysis in my time, but a story on the New York Times website this afternoon called “A Primary Victory Boosts White House, for Now”

may be the San Andreas Fault of cracked political analyses. It seems, according to the reporter Jeff Zeleny, that the White House is rejoicing today in the primary victory of Colorado Senate candidate (and sitting Senator by appointment) Michael Bennet over an insurgent Democrat named Andrew Romanoff:

President Obama and his White House on Wednesday were savoring one of their sweetest victories of the midterm election season, as Senator Michael Bennet’s triumph in the Colorado Democratic primary on Tuesday interrupted the political storyline that all incumbents are doomed by voter discontent.

The story goes on to say that Obama had invested his political capital in Bennet, that if Bennet had gone down it would have demonstrated his weakness, and so on.

I don’t know if the fault is the White House’s or Zeleny’s, but this is, quite simply, insane. The race in question was in a Democratic primary. The results tell us very little about the mood of the overall electorate in November, especially the mood among independent voters. And what little information there is to be gleaned from the results should actually be very worrying to Democrats, because in this contested primary, far fewer votes were cast for the two Democrats than for the two Republicans who went at it yesterday.

So what exactly is this story about? It’s about a liberal fantasy. The liberal fantasy is that the insurgent mood abroad in the land is generic. It’s “anti-incumbent.” It’s not anti-Obama, or anti-Democrat, or anti-liberal. It’s a “throw the bums out” thing, and does not represent a rejection of the policies of the past two years but a frustration with the continuing lethargy of the economy.

It’s understandable why people who generally support the actions over the past two years would wish to believe this — and why they would think that a challenge from Obama’s Left (which is effectively what his rival’s candidacy was) stems from the same root as the challenges from the anti-Democrat right. It’s just about dissatisfaction if that’s all true, and dissatisfaction can be replaced by satisfaction if the right things happen and the right words are used.

If, however, what is happening is a rejection of the ideas Obama has championed and the policies that emerged from those ideas, then there’s really nothing he can do other than repudiate them or make a sharp turn away from them. This is something the people who populate the White House — and the New York Times — are unwilling to contemplate. And so they are left taking comfort in phantom victories — phantom victories that presage catastrophic losses.

I’ve read some cracked political analysis in my time, but a story on the New York Times website this afternoon called “A Primary Victory Boosts White House, for Now”

may be the San Andreas Fault of cracked political analyses. It seems, according to the reporter Jeff Zeleny, that the White House is rejoicing today in the primary victory of Colorado Senate candidate (and sitting Senator by appointment) Michael Bennet over an insurgent Democrat named Andrew Romanoff:

President Obama and his White House on Wednesday were savoring one of their sweetest victories of the midterm election season, as Senator Michael Bennet’s triumph in the Colorado Democratic primary on Tuesday interrupted the political storyline that all incumbents are doomed by voter discontent.

The story goes on to say that Obama had invested his political capital in Bennet, that if Bennet had gone down it would have demonstrated his weakness, and so on.

I don’t know if the fault is the White House’s or Zeleny’s, but this is, quite simply, insane. The race in question was in a Democratic primary. The results tell us very little about the mood of the overall electorate in November, especially the mood among independent voters. And what little information there is to be gleaned from the results should actually be very worrying to Democrats, because in this contested primary, far fewer votes were cast for the two Democrats than for the two Republicans who went at it yesterday.

So what exactly is this story about? It’s about a liberal fantasy. The liberal fantasy is that the insurgent mood abroad in the land is generic. It’s “anti-incumbent.” It’s not anti-Obama, or anti-Democrat, or anti-liberal. It’s a “throw the bums out” thing, and does not represent a rejection of the policies of the past two years but a frustration with the continuing lethargy of the economy.

It’s understandable why people who generally support the actions over the past two years would wish to believe this — and why they would think that a challenge from Obama’s Left (which is effectively what his rival’s candidacy was) stems from the same root as the challenges from the anti-Democrat right. It’s just about dissatisfaction if that’s all true, and dissatisfaction can be replaced by satisfaction if the right things happen and the right words are used.

If, however, what is happening is a rejection of the ideas Obama has championed and the policies that emerged from those ideas, then there’s really nothing he can do other than repudiate them or make a sharp turn away from them. This is something the people who populate the White House — and the New York Times — are unwilling to contemplate. And so they are left taking comfort in phantom victories — phantom victories that presage catastrophic losses.

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Asymmetry in Lebanon

Reports have been emerging that the August 2 attack by Lebanese forces on Israeli soldiers in Israel was ordered in advance by the Lebanese army chain of command. An article in today’s Sydney Morning Herald describes the admission from a Lebanese official, who met with the IDF after the incident, that the attack was planned by Lebanon’s military. The Herald’s information is sourced to the Lebanese newspaper As Safir; meanwhile, the NOW Lebanon news website cites al-Manar TV in its report, according to which “the order to open fire in Tuesday’s border skirmish [came] ‘directly from the [army] command.’” And Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren, in a Washington Post editorial today, mentions that Hezbollah’s Hassan Nasrallah “sent a television crew to film the ambush” — a preparation picked up on earlier by Italian media, Ronen Bergman at the Wall Street Journal, and several bloggers, who noted that the Lebanese reporter killed in the exchange worked for Hezbollah outlet Al Akhbar. (H/t: Israel Matzav, Emet m’Tsiyon, Pajamas)

Among the obvious points to make about this incident, there’s one that may not be quite so obvious. Monday’s dangerous and irresponsible action involved a national army attacking the territory of another nation. It could be considered an act of war. And if it was indeed planned by elements of the Lebanese army acting as agents for Hezbollah, then it appears as though the Lebanese were counting on Israeli restraint and professionalism to keep the event a photo-op and not let it spiral out of control. They counted on Israel, in other words, to treat the attack as it does Hezbollah’s terror attacks.

I’m reminded of something I heard almost 20 years ago from a Navy admiral, a submariner who had been involved in discussions with his counterparts in the Soviet submarine force in the early 1990s. After the 1992 collision of USS Baton Rouge with a Russian submarine, the admiral recounted an informal disclosure from a senior Soviet submariner about undersea safety. The Soviet officer acknowledged that the Soviets’ expertise and equipment were inferior to ours. A Soviet submarine – even a nuclear-powered submarine carrying nuclear missiles – operated more blindly than one of ours and with less of the submariner’s special brand of seamanship. “That,” said the Soviet officer, “is why we rely on you to prevent collisions.”

Clashes of arms magnify asymmetries as nothing else does. But the asymmetry in each of the cases here – the U.S. and Soviet submarine forces and the Israeli and Lebanese armies – is more profound than a mere difference in the quality of weapons and training. The essential recklessness of inviting peril that must be held in check by a reliable enemy is foreign to the consensual-democratic mind. Although Israel has faced such recklessness from terrorists for years, we must not miss the lesson that national armies can be wielded in the same manner. The analogies invited by this glimpse of Lebanese reality are, to say the least, disturbing.

Reports have been emerging that the August 2 attack by Lebanese forces on Israeli soldiers in Israel was ordered in advance by the Lebanese army chain of command. An article in today’s Sydney Morning Herald describes the admission from a Lebanese official, who met with the IDF after the incident, that the attack was planned by Lebanon’s military. The Herald’s information is sourced to the Lebanese newspaper As Safir; meanwhile, the NOW Lebanon news website cites al-Manar TV in its report, according to which “the order to open fire in Tuesday’s border skirmish [came] ‘directly from the [army] command.’” And Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren, in a Washington Post editorial today, mentions that Hezbollah’s Hassan Nasrallah “sent a television crew to film the ambush” — a preparation picked up on earlier by Italian media, Ronen Bergman at the Wall Street Journal, and several bloggers, who noted that the Lebanese reporter killed in the exchange worked for Hezbollah outlet Al Akhbar. (H/t: Israel Matzav, Emet m’Tsiyon, Pajamas)

Among the obvious points to make about this incident, there’s one that may not be quite so obvious. Monday’s dangerous and irresponsible action involved a national army attacking the territory of another nation. It could be considered an act of war. And if it was indeed planned by elements of the Lebanese army acting as agents for Hezbollah, then it appears as though the Lebanese were counting on Israeli restraint and professionalism to keep the event a photo-op and not let it spiral out of control. They counted on Israel, in other words, to treat the attack as it does Hezbollah’s terror attacks.

I’m reminded of something I heard almost 20 years ago from a Navy admiral, a submariner who had been involved in discussions with his counterparts in the Soviet submarine force in the early 1990s. After the 1992 collision of USS Baton Rouge with a Russian submarine, the admiral recounted an informal disclosure from a senior Soviet submariner about undersea safety. The Soviet officer acknowledged that the Soviets’ expertise and equipment were inferior to ours. A Soviet submarine – even a nuclear-powered submarine carrying nuclear missiles – operated more blindly than one of ours and with less of the submariner’s special brand of seamanship. “That,” said the Soviet officer, “is why we rely on you to prevent collisions.”

Clashes of arms magnify asymmetries as nothing else does. But the asymmetry in each of the cases here – the U.S. and Soviet submarine forces and the Israeli and Lebanese armies – is more profound than a mere difference in the quality of weapons and training. The essential recklessness of inviting peril that must be held in check by a reliable enemy is foreign to the consensual-democratic mind. Although Israel has faced such recklessness from terrorists for years, we must not miss the lesson that national armies can be wielded in the same manner. The analogies invited by this glimpse of Lebanese reality are, to say the least, disturbing.

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Using Sherrod to Undermine the New Black Panther Case

While Andrew Breitbart’s release of a misleading edited version of the now-famous Shirley Sherrod speech on race has led him to rightly note that he has become “public enemy number one,” the left is using the controversy he engendered to knock down a wide array of right-wing targets. Not surprising, they hope to drown the outrage over the New Black Panther Party case along with Breitbart.

That’s the not-so-subtle message of a New York Times feature published yesterday, which claims, as its headline insists, “When Race Is the Issue, Misleading Coverage Sets Off an Uproar.” Though the piece leads with Breitbart’s on-target charge that the left is seeking to brand everyone on the right as racist no matter what the facts of the case might be, the subject quickly changes to one the paper is more comfortable with: the idea that accusations of reverse racism (as the Sherrod speech was initially and wrongly thought to be) are all false. As reporter Brian Stelter puts it: “It is an open question whether conservative media outlets risk damage to their credibility when obscure or misleading stories are blown out of proportion.”

And what, other than the Breitbart/Sherrod fiasco, can the Times produce to prove this thesis? None other than the New Black Panther case, in which an African-American hate group engaged in voter intimidation at the polls on Election Day in 2008. The fact that Fox News pursued the story of this crime, which went unpunished by local Philadelphia authorities and which the Justice Department has been reluctant to take up as a violation of civil rights, is presented by the Times as proof that Fox and its news anchor Megyn Kelly engaged in racist coverage.

As Jennifer has written, the mainstream media has been painfully slow to cover this story, which, as many others have said, would have been front-page news if, say, the equally small remnants of the Ku Klux Klan had stood outside of voting places threatening poll watchers and voters with sticks. But despite the fact that the Times itself did eventually get around to printing a story about the case and the allegations that a reluctance to prosecute a black group for offenses that were once solely the avocation of white racists is the reason why the crime is still unpunished, Stelter merely repeats without demurral the dismissal of the entire topic by liberal ideologues like Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean. Whatever one may think about whether the Justice Department has grounds to take on the New Black Panthers and those who have protected them from prosecution, there is nothing “obscure and misleading” about the uproar over what appears to be an outrageous miscarriage of justice.

While Breitbart is still taking a drubbing for his role in the Sherrod story, with Stelter’s piece, the Times more or less proves his point — that the liberal media’s goal is not truth or responsible journalism but rather the advancement of their own brand of partisan smear mongering.

While Andrew Breitbart’s release of a misleading edited version of the now-famous Shirley Sherrod speech on race has led him to rightly note that he has become “public enemy number one,” the left is using the controversy he engendered to knock down a wide array of right-wing targets. Not surprising, they hope to drown the outrage over the New Black Panther Party case along with Breitbart.

That’s the not-so-subtle message of a New York Times feature published yesterday, which claims, as its headline insists, “When Race Is the Issue, Misleading Coverage Sets Off an Uproar.” Though the piece leads with Breitbart’s on-target charge that the left is seeking to brand everyone on the right as racist no matter what the facts of the case might be, the subject quickly changes to one the paper is more comfortable with: the idea that accusations of reverse racism (as the Sherrod speech was initially and wrongly thought to be) are all false. As reporter Brian Stelter puts it: “It is an open question whether conservative media outlets risk damage to their credibility when obscure or misleading stories are blown out of proportion.”

And what, other than the Breitbart/Sherrod fiasco, can the Times produce to prove this thesis? None other than the New Black Panther case, in which an African-American hate group engaged in voter intimidation at the polls on Election Day in 2008. The fact that Fox News pursued the story of this crime, which went unpunished by local Philadelphia authorities and which the Justice Department has been reluctant to take up as a violation of civil rights, is presented by the Times as proof that Fox and its news anchor Megyn Kelly engaged in racist coverage.

As Jennifer has written, the mainstream media has been painfully slow to cover this story, which, as many others have said, would have been front-page news if, say, the equally small remnants of the Ku Klux Klan had stood outside of voting places threatening poll watchers and voters with sticks. But despite the fact that the Times itself did eventually get around to printing a story about the case and the allegations that a reluctance to prosecute a black group for offenses that were once solely the avocation of white racists is the reason why the crime is still unpunished, Stelter merely repeats without demurral the dismissal of the entire topic by liberal ideologues like Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean. Whatever one may think about whether the Justice Department has grounds to take on the New Black Panthers and those who have protected them from prosecution, there is nothing “obscure and misleading” about the uproar over what appears to be an outrageous miscarriage of justice.

While Breitbart is still taking a drubbing for his role in the Sherrod story, with Stelter’s piece, the Times more or less proves his point — that the liberal media’s goal is not truth or responsible journalism but rather the advancement of their own brand of partisan smear mongering.

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Democrats Panic over Israel

Former Journolist participant, now Politico reporter Laura Rozen was deployed to send around talking points for House Democrats defending themselves against — shocker! — the accusation that they and Obama have been less-than-stalwart-friends of Israel. (Have you noticed that she gets documents, blind quotes, etc. only from the left? Nothing to do with her Journolist background, mind you. Nothing to see. Move along.)

It is clear that this clumsy attempt at damage control is a matter of domestic politics, not foreign policy. (Ben Smith might well have had a jaundiced take on it, so he’s not the ideal reporter to give the lead if you need an uncritical release of your talking points.) Rozen’s comrades on the left are in a knot over the appearance of the Emergency Committee for Israel (my comments in brackets):

“I think you will find it useful to make the case that House Democrats and the president are as good if not better than any Congress or Administration that has come before,” [Howard] Berman wrote. [Not a good case, but a case. Really, didn't the administration have to launch a charm offensive to abate the anger in the ranks of American Jewry?]

Among the points the memo highlights, Obama has “repeatedly talked about the importance of the Palestinians recognizing the quote ‘Jewish’ state of Israel,” as well as the U.S. leading the international effort to pressure Iran about its nuclear weapons program. [If all he can proffer as evidence for Obama's Israel bona fides is that the president talked about the need for Palestinians to recognize Israel, you get the idea how weak the case really is.] …

The memo comes after a new conservative pro-Israel group has formed and criticized Pennsylvania Senate Democratic candidate Joe Sestak and associated him with Obama’s Middle East policy. [The ECI folks are no doubt high-fiving each other. She doesn't mention that J Street's ad also did a bang-up job of tying Sestak to Obama.]

Well, panic is the highest form of political flattery. And getting arguably the top House Democrat on the issue to take on the ECI suggests hysteria. At any rate, it’s plain that Democrats feel vulnerable after shilling for Obama’s Israel policy. They should have thought about that before they put partisan loyalty above principle. That’s water under the bridge, but now they really do need better talking points.

Former Journolist participant, now Politico reporter Laura Rozen was deployed to send around talking points for House Democrats defending themselves against — shocker! — the accusation that they and Obama have been less-than-stalwart-friends of Israel. (Have you noticed that she gets documents, blind quotes, etc. only from the left? Nothing to do with her Journolist background, mind you. Nothing to see. Move along.)

It is clear that this clumsy attempt at damage control is a matter of domestic politics, not foreign policy. (Ben Smith might well have had a jaundiced take on it, so he’s not the ideal reporter to give the lead if you need an uncritical release of your talking points.) Rozen’s comrades on the left are in a knot over the appearance of the Emergency Committee for Israel (my comments in brackets):

“I think you will find it useful to make the case that House Democrats and the president are as good if not better than any Congress or Administration that has come before,” [Howard] Berman wrote. [Not a good case, but a case. Really, didn't the administration have to launch a charm offensive to abate the anger in the ranks of American Jewry?]

Among the points the memo highlights, Obama has “repeatedly talked about the importance of the Palestinians recognizing the quote ‘Jewish’ state of Israel,” as well as the U.S. leading the international effort to pressure Iran about its nuclear weapons program. [If all he can proffer as evidence for Obama's Israel bona fides is that the president talked about the need for Palestinians to recognize Israel, you get the idea how weak the case really is.] …

The memo comes after a new conservative pro-Israel group has formed and criticized Pennsylvania Senate Democratic candidate Joe Sestak and associated him with Obama’s Middle East policy. [The ECI folks are no doubt high-fiving each other. She doesn't mention that J Street's ad also did a bang-up job of tying Sestak to Obama.]

Well, panic is the highest form of political flattery. And getting arguably the top House Democrat on the issue to take on the ECI suggests hysteria. At any rate, it’s plain that Democrats feel vulnerable after shilling for Obama’s Israel policy. They should have thought about that before they put partisan loyalty above principle. That’s water under the bridge, but now they really do need better talking points.

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Better for the Patient to Suffer than to Be Treated by Israelis?

Anyone who thinks the primary concern of human rights organizations is the welfare of the people they are trying to help should consider this report on Israel’s medical mission to Congo.

Last week, four Israeli burn specialists arrived in Congo to treat survivors of the fuel truck explosion that killed 235 people on July 2 — a mission organized and funded by Israel’s Foreign Ministry. They were not the first foreign doctors on the scene, but they were the first burn specialists, and the first to come with specialized equipment for treating burns. As such, they were enthusiastically welcomed by the Congolese; President Joseph Kabila even phoned to thank them personally.

One might have expected them to be equally welcomed by the doctors already on the scene, a team from Medicins Sans Frontieres. After all, the MSF doctors had traveled all the way to the remote town of Sange to help the victims; surely they would be glad to see specialists with specialized equipment, who could help their patients in ways they themselves could not.

So when Haaretz’s reporter heard from the Israeli team that the MSF doctors — whose organization has repeatedly accused Israel of “war crimes” against the Palestinians — “treated them coolly and suspiciously at first,” with a Belgian doctor even telling them “there are obvious political sensitivities” about working together, he naturally sought confirmation from the source. The Israelis could easily have been misinterpreting a naturally restrained European style as a cold shoulder or overreacting to a remark not intended to offend.

But when he tried to ask the MSF doctors, they informed him that they were forbidden to speak with him without permission from their head office. And when he then tried to contact the head office, it never responded to his request.

In other words, neither the MSF doctors on the scene nor the MSF head-office staff could bring themselves to say something as banal as “Yes, we’re glad to see our Congolese patients getting proper specialist care regardless of who the caregivers are.”

A social activist from that region of Congo, Jean-Michel Bolima, had no such problems. “Israel is always first to offer aid, and this is admirable,” he declared.

But MSF, it seems, would rather see its patients continue to suffer than deal with the cognitive dissonance of discovering that, far from fitting neatly into its designated pigeonhole as the world’s pariah, Israel, by the very standards MSF claims to uphold, can often be downright “admirable.”

Anyone who thinks the primary concern of human rights organizations is the welfare of the people they are trying to help should consider this report on Israel’s medical mission to Congo.

Last week, four Israeli burn specialists arrived in Congo to treat survivors of the fuel truck explosion that killed 235 people on July 2 — a mission organized and funded by Israel’s Foreign Ministry. They were not the first foreign doctors on the scene, but they were the first burn specialists, and the first to come with specialized equipment for treating burns. As such, they were enthusiastically welcomed by the Congolese; President Joseph Kabila even phoned to thank them personally.

One might have expected them to be equally welcomed by the doctors already on the scene, a team from Medicins Sans Frontieres. After all, the MSF doctors had traveled all the way to the remote town of Sange to help the victims; surely they would be glad to see specialists with specialized equipment, who could help their patients in ways they themselves could not.

So when Haaretz’s reporter heard from the Israeli team that the MSF doctors — whose organization has repeatedly accused Israel of “war crimes” against the Palestinians — “treated them coolly and suspiciously at first,” with a Belgian doctor even telling them “there are obvious political sensitivities” about working together, he naturally sought confirmation from the source. The Israelis could easily have been misinterpreting a naturally restrained European style as a cold shoulder or overreacting to a remark not intended to offend.

But when he tried to ask the MSF doctors, they informed him that they were forbidden to speak with him without permission from their head office. And when he then tried to contact the head office, it never responded to his request.

In other words, neither the MSF doctors on the scene nor the MSF head-office staff could bring themselves to say something as banal as “Yes, we’re glad to see our Congolese patients getting proper specialist care regardless of who the caregivers are.”

A social activist from that region of Congo, Jean-Michel Bolima, had no such problems. “Israel is always first to offer aid, and this is admirable,” he declared.

But MSF, it seems, would rather see its patients continue to suffer than deal with the cognitive dissonance of discovering that, far from fitting neatly into its designated pigeonhole as the world’s pariah, Israel, by the very standards MSF claims to uphold, can often be downright “admirable.”

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Are Democrats Dumping the Not-Bush National Security Policy?

In Washington D.C. parlance, “That’s not a priority” means “You think we’re dumb enough to push that?” Well, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer is saying as much about what was a top Obama priority – closing Guantanamo:

In response to a question from a reporter about where shutting down Gitmo stands, Hoyer said, “I think that’s not an item, as you point out, of real current discussion. There’s some very big issues confronting us — dealing with growing the economy and Iraq and Afghanistan.” Hoyer added, “I think you’re not going to see it discussed very broadly in the near term.”

This is one more sign, although less dramatic than the Pelosi-Gibbs food fight, that congressional Democrats have had enough, thank you, of carrying Obama’s political water at their own expense. The practical problems and national security issues associated with closing Gitmo have never been resolved, but in the end it’s politics — the complete unacceptability of the undertaking — that have killed Obama’s PR gambit.

Democrats should extract from this episode the right lesson: much of Obama’s national security policy is dangerous to the country and to their political future. There is no need to support a civilian trial for KSM or senseless cuts in the Defense Department budget or the START treaty. In pursuing enlightened self-interest, to borrow a phrase, Democrats may be inching toward a bipartisan, sensible national security policy.

In Washington D.C. parlance, “That’s not a priority” means “You think we’re dumb enough to push that?” Well, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer is saying as much about what was a top Obama priority – closing Guantanamo:

In response to a question from a reporter about where shutting down Gitmo stands, Hoyer said, “I think that’s not an item, as you point out, of real current discussion. There’s some very big issues confronting us — dealing with growing the economy and Iraq and Afghanistan.” Hoyer added, “I think you’re not going to see it discussed very broadly in the near term.”

This is one more sign, although less dramatic than the Pelosi-Gibbs food fight, that congressional Democrats have had enough, thank you, of carrying Obama’s political water at their own expense. The practical problems and national security issues associated with closing Gitmo have never been resolved, but in the end it’s politics — the complete unacceptability of the undertaking — that have killed Obama’s PR gambit.

Democrats should extract from this episode the right lesson: much of Obama’s national security policy is dangerous to the country and to their political future. There is no need to support a civilian trial for KSM or senseless cuts in the Defense Department budget or the START treaty. In pursuing enlightened self-interest, to borrow a phrase, Democrats may be inching toward a bipartisan, sensible national security policy.

Read Less




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