Commentary Magazine


Topic: Samantha Power

More on “Experts” Power and Malley

This weekend, the New York Times covered the trials and tribulations of Samantha Power and Robert Malleyformer and current Obama advisers, respectively, whose remarks on the Middle East have drawn fire. Unsurprisingly, much of this coverage trivialized their critics: a Daily News headline deriding Power as “Pretty Dumb!” was portrayed as representative, while Malley’s detractors were dismissed as “a handful of Jewish bloggers.” As I wrote last week, one need not be Jewish to observe that Malley has frequently called events in the Palestinian political sphere blatantly wrong, while Noah Pollak and Martin Kramer’s dissections of Power’s statements demonstrate that the attacks on Power have been substantive, rather than ad hominem.

Yet the real story behind Power and Malley’s poor public receptions should have little to do with their critics. After all, we were merely responding to their previous statements. Rather, the scrutiny that Power and Malley have faced should provide a cautionary tale regarding the limits that aspiring experts must obey if they value their credibility.

Let’s start with Power. Prior to achieving “top adviser” status on Barack Obama’s foreign policy staff, Power had established herself as a certifiable expert on genocide: from 1993 to 1995, she covered the Yugoslav wars as a correspondent in Bosnia, and she later traveled to Rwanda. Her first book, which won the Pulitzer Prize, drew on these experiences, exploring American responses to the genocides of the 20th century. Yet as her star kept rising, Power seemed to forget the limits of her true expertise, acting as if her study of genocide had imbued her with expertise in just about anything foreign policy-related. Downright ignorant statements on Iran, Iraq, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict followed, with critics rightfully questioning her depth as a consequence.

Malley’s story is different: although he has limited his statements to his area of expertise-the Israeli-Palestinian conflict-his writings frequently reflect the triumph of ideology over analysis. In this vein, Malley has continually furthered the myth that Palestinian national unity is an attainable prerequisite for Israeli-Palestinian peace, thereby advocating policies that have ultimately strengthened Hamas and undermined U.S. interests. For example, as I noted last month, Malley supported the inclusion of Hamas in the 2006 parliamentary elections, and later predicted that the 2007 Hamas-Fatah Mecca Accord-which ended with Hamas seizing Gaza barely four months after its signing-would likely hold. Indeed, the scrutiny that Malley has faced is not a matter of pro-Israel bloggers vocally disagreeing with a pro-Palestinian expert on key assumptions. Rather, at issue is how Malley’s gushing over Yasser Arafat has motivated bad policy analysis.

In short, two lessons can be drawn from Power and Malley’s poor public receptions. First, aspiring “experts” should stick to their areas of expertise. Second, they should avoid the interference of political sympathies with policy analysis. Sadly, neither Power-who argued that her critics were really just attacking Obama-nor Malley-who thought that revealing his Jewish identity would allay his detractors’ concerns-seems to understand this.

This weekend, the New York Times covered the trials and tribulations of Samantha Power and Robert Malleyformer and current Obama advisers, respectively, whose remarks on the Middle East have drawn fire. Unsurprisingly, much of this coverage trivialized their critics: a Daily News headline deriding Power as “Pretty Dumb!” was portrayed as representative, while Malley’s detractors were dismissed as “a handful of Jewish bloggers.” As I wrote last week, one need not be Jewish to observe that Malley has frequently called events in the Palestinian political sphere blatantly wrong, while Noah Pollak and Martin Kramer’s dissections of Power’s statements demonstrate that the attacks on Power have been substantive, rather than ad hominem.

Yet the real story behind Power and Malley’s poor public receptions should have little to do with their critics. After all, we were merely responding to their previous statements. Rather, the scrutiny that Power and Malley have faced should provide a cautionary tale regarding the limits that aspiring experts must obey if they value their credibility.

Let’s start with Power. Prior to achieving “top adviser” status on Barack Obama’s foreign policy staff, Power had established herself as a certifiable expert on genocide: from 1993 to 1995, she covered the Yugoslav wars as a correspondent in Bosnia, and she later traveled to Rwanda. Her first book, which won the Pulitzer Prize, drew on these experiences, exploring American responses to the genocides of the 20th century. Yet as her star kept rising, Power seemed to forget the limits of her true expertise, acting as if her study of genocide had imbued her with expertise in just about anything foreign policy-related. Downright ignorant statements on Iran, Iraq, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict followed, with critics rightfully questioning her depth as a consequence.

Malley’s story is different: although he has limited his statements to his area of expertise-the Israeli-Palestinian conflict-his writings frequently reflect the triumph of ideology over analysis. In this vein, Malley has continually furthered the myth that Palestinian national unity is an attainable prerequisite for Israeli-Palestinian peace, thereby advocating policies that have ultimately strengthened Hamas and undermined U.S. interests. For example, as I noted last month, Malley supported the inclusion of Hamas in the 2006 parliamentary elections, and later predicted that the 2007 Hamas-Fatah Mecca Accord-which ended with Hamas seizing Gaza barely four months after its signing-would likely hold. Indeed, the scrutiny that Malley has faced is not a matter of pro-Israel bloggers vocally disagreeing with a pro-Palestinian expert on key assumptions. Rather, at issue is how Malley’s gushing over Yasser Arafat has motivated bad policy analysis.

In short, two lessons can be drawn from Power and Malley’s poor public receptions. First, aspiring “experts” should stick to their areas of expertise. Second, they should avoid the interference of political sympathies with policy analysis. Sadly, neither Power-who argued that her critics were really just attacking Obama-nor Malley-who thought that revealing his Jewish identity would allay his detractors’ concerns-seems to understand this.

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Not An Even Match

When Barack Obama advisor Samantha Power called Hillary Clinton a “monster,” Clinton called for her head and Power was gone. (Her departure may also have been related to her suggestion that Obama was not going to stick to any silly campaign promises about getting out of Iraq.) When Clinton supporter Geraldine Ferraro says that Obama would not be where he is if he were white, the Obama camp goes ballistic and Clinton brushes it off. In fact, her campaign manager goes to far as to suggest Obama is playing racial politics.

Is it any wonder that observers suspect Obama is a wimp, playing by some outmoded set of rules against the in-it-to-win-it Clintons? One sign of whether he believes he can stay on cruise control all the way to the convention will be how he uses his time tonight and tomorrow after an expected win in Mississippi. He’s chosen to do cable news interviews rather than another speech, which is a smart move. More of the same rhetoric (“change,” “turn the page,” “I was right on Iraq” etc.) would, I think, be a missed opportunity. If he uses his free media time to pound home his counterattack talking points–Clinton isn’t actually that experienced and would take the country back to the bad old days of scandal and political venom–we will know he’s “in it to win it.”

When Barack Obama advisor Samantha Power called Hillary Clinton a “monster,” Clinton called for her head and Power was gone. (Her departure may also have been related to her suggestion that Obama was not going to stick to any silly campaign promises about getting out of Iraq.) When Clinton supporter Geraldine Ferraro says that Obama would not be where he is if he were white, the Obama camp goes ballistic and Clinton brushes it off. In fact, her campaign manager goes to far as to suggest Obama is playing racial politics.

Is it any wonder that observers suspect Obama is a wimp, playing by some outmoded set of rules against the in-it-to-win-it Clintons? One sign of whether he believes he can stay on cruise control all the way to the convention will be how he uses his time tonight and tomorrow after an expected win in Mississippi. He’s chosen to do cable news interviews rather than another speech, which is a smart move. More of the same rhetoric (“change,” “turn the page,” “I was right on Iraq” etc.) would, I think, be a missed opportunity. If he uses his free media time to pound home his counterattack talking points–Clinton isn’t actually that experienced and would take the country back to the bad old days of scandal and political venom–we will know he’s “in it to win it.”

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The Politics of Cynicism

Two revelations in the past couple of weeks have raised the question of whether Barack Obama’s “politics of hope” is transmogrifying into the politics of cynicism.

First we learned that Austan Goolsbee, Obama’s chief economic adviser, was cited in a memo by a Canadian consular official in Chicago as saying in a private meeting that Obama’s vocal opposition to NAFTA doesn’t reflect his real views. Rather, according to the memo, Obama’s arguments are based on political positioning. (Goolsbee disputes the characterization of the memo.) We then we learned that Samantha Power, at the time a key Obama foreign policy adviser (she has since resigned for calling Hillary Clinton a “monster”), said on the BBC TV show Hardtalk said that Obama’s commitment to withdraw all U.S. combat troops within 16 months is simply a “best-case scenario.”

The Hardtalk host asked, “So what the American public thinks is a commitment to get combat forces out in 16 months isn’t a commitment?”

Power went on to tell the New Statesman in an interview:

You can’t make a commitment in March 2008 about what circumstances will be like in January of 2009. He will, of course, not rely on some plan that he’s crafted as a presidential candidate or a U.S. Senator. He will rely upon a plan–an operational plan–that he pulls together in consultation with people who are on the ground to whom he doesn’t have daily access now, as a result of not being the president.

The Obama campaign reacted by saying that his commitment to withdraw combat troops within 16 months is “rock solid.”

As it happens, I hope both Goolsbee and Power are right in what they say about Senator Obama’s true views on both NAFTA and Iraq. Their positions are certainly more responsible than the positions Senator Obama has taken on the campaign trail.

At the same time, Obama is running as a candidate who will transcend the usual politics. He’s spoken out forcefully against cynicism and fashioned himself as the candidate of “hope” and “change”–someone whom we can believe in, someone whose words and commitments can be counted on. So when two top aides are essentially saying that we shouldn’t take all that seriously what Obama is saying on two key issues, it raises question marks about his authenticity and candor. As the New York Times put it on Saturday, “[the Power controversy] is the second time in two weeks that the actions of a top aide have forced Mr. Obama to defend the idea that he means what he says–hardly the ideal situation for a candidate who asks voters to trust his judgment and integrity.”

Obama is apparently making promises that he knows will be problematic to keep if he were to win the presidency. But by putting forward the belief that he is something different, and something better, than most politicians, he’s creating problems for himself. The best thing for Obama to do is to run his campaign in an honest manner, one in which he says what he believes and qualifies what deserves qualification. Among the advantages of this approach is that it wouldn’t require him to say one thing now, for public (liberal) consumption, and plan to do something different if he were elected president.

In a powerful 1991 speech the playwright Vaclav Havel, then president of Czechoslovakia, spoke about the temptations of political power. In his remarks Havel said

I am one of those people who consider their term in political office as an expression of responsibility and duty toward the whole community, and even as a sort of sacrifice. But, observing other politicians whom I know very well and who make the same claim, I feel compelled again and again to examine my own motives and ask whether I am not beginning to deceive myself . . . Those who claim that politics is a dirty business are lying to us. Politics is work of a kind that requires especially pure people, because it is especially easy to become morally tainted. So easy, in fact, that a less vigilant spirit may not notice it happening at all.

I’ve had favorable things to say about Senator Obama, who has struck me as a fairly admirable, if left-leaning, figure. But it’s fair to ask now, in light of what we’re learning about Senator Obama, whether the Audacity of hope is gradually giving way to the audacity of politics.

Two revelations in the past couple of weeks have raised the question of whether Barack Obama’s “politics of hope” is transmogrifying into the politics of cynicism.

First we learned that Austan Goolsbee, Obama’s chief economic adviser, was cited in a memo by a Canadian consular official in Chicago as saying in a private meeting that Obama’s vocal opposition to NAFTA doesn’t reflect his real views. Rather, according to the memo, Obama’s arguments are based on political positioning. (Goolsbee disputes the characterization of the memo.) We then we learned that Samantha Power, at the time a key Obama foreign policy adviser (she has since resigned for calling Hillary Clinton a “monster”), said on the BBC TV show Hardtalk said that Obama’s commitment to withdraw all U.S. combat troops within 16 months is simply a “best-case scenario.”

The Hardtalk host asked, “So what the American public thinks is a commitment to get combat forces out in 16 months isn’t a commitment?”

Power went on to tell the New Statesman in an interview:

You can’t make a commitment in March 2008 about what circumstances will be like in January of 2009. He will, of course, not rely on some plan that he’s crafted as a presidential candidate or a U.S. Senator. He will rely upon a plan–an operational plan–that he pulls together in consultation with people who are on the ground to whom he doesn’t have daily access now, as a result of not being the president.

The Obama campaign reacted by saying that his commitment to withdraw combat troops within 16 months is “rock solid.”

As it happens, I hope both Goolsbee and Power are right in what they say about Senator Obama’s true views on both NAFTA and Iraq. Their positions are certainly more responsible than the positions Senator Obama has taken on the campaign trail.

At the same time, Obama is running as a candidate who will transcend the usual politics. He’s spoken out forcefully against cynicism and fashioned himself as the candidate of “hope” and “change”–someone whom we can believe in, someone whose words and commitments can be counted on. So when two top aides are essentially saying that we shouldn’t take all that seriously what Obama is saying on two key issues, it raises question marks about his authenticity and candor. As the New York Times put it on Saturday, “[the Power controversy] is the second time in two weeks that the actions of a top aide have forced Mr. Obama to defend the idea that he means what he says–hardly the ideal situation for a candidate who asks voters to trust his judgment and integrity.”

Obama is apparently making promises that he knows will be problematic to keep if he were to win the presidency. But by putting forward the belief that he is something different, and something better, than most politicians, he’s creating problems for himself. The best thing for Obama to do is to run his campaign in an honest manner, one in which he says what he believes and qualifies what deserves qualification. Among the advantages of this approach is that it wouldn’t require him to say one thing now, for public (liberal) consumption, and plan to do something different if he were elected president.

In a powerful 1991 speech the playwright Vaclav Havel, then president of Czechoslovakia, spoke about the temptations of political power. In his remarks Havel said

I am one of those people who consider their term in political office as an expression of responsibility and duty toward the whole community, and even as a sort of sacrifice. But, observing other politicians whom I know very well and who make the same claim, I feel compelled again and again to examine my own motives and ask whether I am not beginning to deceive myself . . . Those who claim that politics is a dirty business are lying to us. Politics is work of a kind that requires especially pure people, because it is especially easy to become morally tainted. So easy, in fact, that a less vigilant spirit may not notice it happening at all.

I’ve had favorable things to say about Senator Obama, who has struck me as a fairly admirable, if left-leaning, figure. But it’s fair to ask now, in light of what we’re learning about Senator Obama, whether the Audacity of hope is gradually giving way to the audacity of politics.

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“Paranoid” about Malley?

Now that Samantha Power has left Barack Obama’s presidential campaign, attention should perhaps turn to Obama foreign policy adviser Robert Malley. Perhaps best known for his gushing over Yasser Arafat and Camp David revisionism, Malley’s true danger lies in the extent to which he has called key events in the Palestinian arena–his supposed area of expertise–blatantly wrong. As I noted a few weeks ago, Malley supported allowing Hamas’ participation in the 2006 Palestinian parliamentary elections, and welcomed last year’s brief period of Hamas-Fatah “unity governance,” predicting that a “wholesale breakdown of relations between the two groups” was unlikely. In short, Malley has a consistent record of supporting policies that ultimately strengthened Hamas and undermined Israeli-Palestinian peace prospects, thus warranting the scrutiny he has received as Obama’s adviser.

But Aaron David Miller, Malley’s former peace-processing colleague during the Clinton administration, won’t have any of this. In yesterday’s LA Times, Miller ignored these substantive criticisms, attributing the backlash against Malley to Jewish paranoia. Miller argues that the charges against Malley stem from “the tendency of many American Jews active in pro-Israeli causes to worry about everything”; he continues:

I’ve lost count of the number of times Jewish activists or friends have said to me that this official or that journalist or this academic must be anti-Semitic. On other occasions, I have been told that I myself should not be so publicly critical of Israel, lest we give our enemies grist for their propaganda mills.

Yet Miller’s charge that Jewish identity politics–rather than Malley’s own faulty ideas–have informed public scrutiny of Malley is profoundly ironic. After all, insofar as Miller depicts criticisms of Malley in “us versus them” terms, he is guiltiest of playing identity politics.

Still, if Miller’s utter misrepresentation of the case against Malley in a major U.S. newspaper requires further proof of its substance, examples of Malley’s dubious policy analysis abound. So, here’s another one. While addressing the Council on Foreign Relations in the aftermath of Hamas’ Gaza coup last June, Malley argued that the United Nations had erred in not engaging Hamas:

The UN, of all entities, has made the biggest mistake, because they had no restrictions on talking to anyone-their role is to speak to everyone. To talk to Hamas and to give them more realistic things that they should be doing: imposing a ceasefire and empowering Abbas to talk to Israel.

Of course, the notion that Hamas would empower Abbas to talk to Israel is delusional. But perhaps more disturbing is Malley’s belief that the UN should talk to terrorist organizations. And, to correct Miller, one need not be Jewish or paranoid to say so.

Now that Samantha Power has left Barack Obama’s presidential campaign, attention should perhaps turn to Obama foreign policy adviser Robert Malley. Perhaps best known for his gushing over Yasser Arafat and Camp David revisionism, Malley’s true danger lies in the extent to which he has called key events in the Palestinian arena–his supposed area of expertise–blatantly wrong. As I noted a few weeks ago, Malley supported allowing Hamas’ participation in the 2006 Palestinian parliamentary elections, and welcomed last year’s brief period of Hamas-Fatah “unity governance,” predicting that a “wholesale breakdown of relations between the two groups” was unlikely. In short, Malley has a consistent record of supporting policies that ultimately strengthened Hamas and undermined Israeli-Palestinian peace prospects, thus warranting the scrutiny he has received as Obama’s adviser.

But Aaron David Miller, Malley’s former peace-processing colleague during the Clinton administration, won’t have any of this. In yesterday’s LA Times, Miller ignored these substantive criticisms, attributing the backlash against Malley to Jewish paranoia. Miller argues that the charges against Malley stem from “the tendency of many American Jews active in pro-Israeli causes to worry about everything”; he continues:

I’ve lost count of the number of times Jewish activists or friends have said to me that this official or that journalist or this academic must be anti-Semitic. On other occasions, I have been told that I myself should not be so publicly critical of Israel, lest we give our enemies grist for their propaganda mills.

Yet Miller’s charge that Jewish identity politics–rather than Malley’s own faulty ideas–have informed public scrutiny of Malley is profoundly ironic. After all, insofar as Miller depicts criticisms of Malley in “us versus them” terms, he is guiltiest of playing identity politics.

Still, if Miller’s utter misrepresentation of the case against Malley in a major U.S. newspaper requires further proof of its substance, examples of Malley’s dubious policy analysis abound. So, here’s another one. While addressing the Council on Foreign Relations in the aftermath of Hamas’ Gaza coup last June, Malley argued that the United Nations had erred in not engaging Hamas:

The UN, of all entities, has made the biggest mistake, because they had no restrictions on talking to anyone-their role is to speak to everyone. To talk to Hamas and to give them more realistic things that they should be doing: imposing a ceasefire and empowering Abbas to talk to Israel.

Of course, the notion that Hamas would empower Abbas to talk to Israel is delusional. But perhaps more disturbing is Malley’s belief that the UN should talk to terrorist organizations. And, to correct Miller, one need not be Jewish or paranoid to say so.

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More in Defense of Power

The lip-smacking glee with which the resignation of Obama adviser Samantha Power is being greeted on the right is perhaps an understandable reaction to the sanctimony (and success) of the Obama campaign. But some of the comments are simply over the top. For instance, Scott Johnson at Powerline (a blog which I regularly read and greatly respect) calls Power “self-righteous, high-minded, and utterly unserious — in short, a pompous phony.”

I can only imagine that Johnson has not read Power’s A Problem from Hell: America in the Age of Genocide, a deeply serious, exhaustively-researched, 610-page work of history that garnered just about every literary prize in the known universe. If he has read it, I am at a loss to see how he could fling so many insults at its author.

Power doesn’t deserve all this venom. She is a centrist Democrat and a passionate human-rights activist who has risked her neck to cover carnage from Bosnia to Darfur. She shares a commitment with many conservatives that America is and should be a force for good in the world, even if she disagrees with them over some specific policies. Some of the very comments that got her into such hot water are, in fact, evidence of her fundamental seriousness.

When asked, for example, whether Obama would withdrew all American troops from Iraq within 16 months, she told a British interviewer “You can’t make a commitment in March 2008 about what circumstances will be like in January of 2009. He will, of course, not rely on some plan that he’s crafted as a presidential candidate or a U.S. Senator. He will rely upon a plan–an operational plan–that he pulls together in consultation with people who are on the ground to whom he doesn’t have daily access now, as a result of not being the president.” That’s a gaffe only in the Kinsleyesque sense of the word, in which telling the truth in politics can be a faux pas.

Her downfall was not due to her having said anything intrinsically terrible; it was simply because her statements (calling Hillary Clinton a “monster”;  saying she was “confused by what’s happened to Gordon Brown”) have been subjected to the kind of minute scrutiny given to a high-level politician or administration official, rather than the kind of treatment she’s received in the past as an academic and author. No doubt Power erred in not realizing the greater weight her public words would carry given her closeness to the Democratic front-runner, but that hardly justifies the pummeling she is taking.

The lip-smacking glee with which the resignation of Obama adviser Samantha Power is being greeted on the right is perhaps an understandable reaction to the sanctimony (and success) of the Obama campaign. But some of the comments are simply over the top. For instance, Scott Johnson at Powerline (a blog which I regularly read and greatly respect) calls Power “self-righteous, high-minded, and utterly unserious — in short, a pompous phony.”

I can only imagine that Johnson has not read Power’s A Problem from Hell: America in the Age of Genocide, a deeply serious, exhaustively-researched, 610-page work of history that garnered just about every literary prize in the known universe. If he has read it, I am at a loss to see how he could fling so many insults at its author.

Power doesn’t deserve all this venom. She is a centrist Democrat and a passionate human-rights activist who has risked her neck to cover carnage from Bosnia to Darfur. She shares a commitment with many conservatives that America is and should be a force for good in the world, even if she disagrees with them over some specific policies. Some of the very comments that got her into such hot water are, in fact, evidence of her fundamental seriousness.

When asked, for example, whether Obama would withdrew all American troops from Iraq within 16 months, she told a British interviewer “You can’t make a commitment in March 2008 about what circumstances will be like in January of 2009. He will, of course, not rely on some plan that he’s crafted as a presidential candidate or a U.S. Senator. He will rely upon a plan–an operational plan–that he pulls together in consultation with people who are on the ground to whom he doesn’t have daily access now, as a result of not being the president.” That’s a gaffe only in the Kinsleyesque sense of the word, in which telling the truth in politics can be a faux pas.

Her downfall was not due to her having said anything intrinsically terrible; it was simply because her statements (calling Hillary Clinton a “monster”;  saying she was “confused by what’s happened to Gordon Brown”) have been subjected to the kind of minute scrutiny given to a high-level politician or administration official, rather than the kind of treatment she’s received in the past as an academic and author. No doubt Power erred in not realizing the greater weight her public words would carry given her closeness to the Democratic front-runner, but that hardly justifies the pummeling she is taking.

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Attack, Attack, Attack

Hillary Clinton does not let her opponents up off the mat when they are down.  She is trying to make sure Samantha Power’s negative impact on Barack Obama lives on long after Power is gone from Obama’s campaign. In a campaign email blast Saturday, Clinton made the argument that Obama is prone to telling voters one thing, only to do or say something different in another context. The memo read, in part:

After months of speeches from Senator Obama promising a hard end date to the Iraq war, his top foreign policy adviser that counseled his campaign during that period is on the record saying that Senator Obama will “not rely on some plan that he’s crafted as a presidential candidate or a U.S. Senator.” Voters already have serious questions about whether Senator Obama is ready to be Commander-in-Chief. Now there are questions about whether he’s serious about the Iraq plan he’s discussed for the last year on the campaign trail. Senator Obama has made hard end dates about Iraq a centerpiece of his campaign and has repeatedly attacked Senator Clinton for not being clear about her intentions with regard to troop withdrawal. It turns out those attacks and speeches were just words. And if you can’t trust Senator Obama’s words, what’s left? This latest incident is part of a larger pattern where Senator Obama doesn’t deliver on the promises he makes on the campaign trail — whether it’s his 2004 Senate race or his 2008 White House campaign. In 2003, Senator Obama said he was for a single payer health system, but now opposes plans that cover every American. He promised to repeal the Patriot Act, but then voted to extend it. He promised to normalize relations with Cuba, but flip-flopped when he started running for president. In 2008, Senator Obama rails against NAFTA in Ohio while his top economic advisor assures the Canadians his rhetoric is just “political positioning.” He promises to opt in to public financing if the GOP nominee does, but then breaks that pledge in real time. He promises to withdraw from Iraq within 16 months, and now his top foreign policy adviser says that he’s not relying on the plan. With a short record to run on, Senator Obama’s entire campaign is based on the speeches he makes on the campaign trail. So when he and his advisers dismiss the plans he touts on the stump, it undermines his entire candidacy. Americans have heard plenty of speeches.

This, of course, is the latest twist on Clinton’s efforts to attack Obama’s rhetoric. First, she tried the “he’s all talk” tactic. Now she says “you can’t really trust the talk, so what is left?” (The corrollary point that he’s too inexperienced hardly has to be raised–once SNL does a bit like this, you know that point is sinking into the national psyche.) Hillary’s effort to attack the reliability of Obama’s rhetoric is now aided by increasingly tough media coverage on topics such as his evolving stance on Iraq.

On a broader level, all this suggests that Obama will have a difficult time getting off the defensive. Clinton will raise issue after issue of alleged inconsistency, forcing him into a tedious process of trying to rebut each alleged policy reversal. (Notice Clinton is more than happy to invoke McCain’s argument that Obama has reneged on his public financing pledge.) It reminds one of the Republican “flip flop” barrage aimed at John Kerry in 2004. Even liberal commmentators (h/t NRO)  are concerned that the impression created is “that Obama won’t fight back, that he’s easy to fluster, that he’s weak.”

What does Obama have on his side? Math. Wyoming was another comfortable win for him (although just a net gain of two delegates) and he leads in Mississippi. However, the Clinton line that Democrats should be concerned that he is not winning in must-win states for November is gaining traction. Will his delegate lead stand up after weeks of Clinton attacks (even with possible do-over elections in Florida and Michigan)? Probably. But the fact that she is still in the game and these questions are being raised indicates the “inevitable Obama” meme is likely a thing of the past. And even if he is still a dozen or so delegates ahead, but has lost Pennsylvania, Florida, and Michigan and is doing worse than Clinton in head-to-head match ups with McCain, will superdelegates care who’s marginally ahead? The answer is “no.”

Hillary Clinton does not let her opponents up off the mat when they are down.  She is trying to make sure Samantha Power’s negative impact on Barack Obama lives on long after Power is gone from Obama’s campaign. In a campaign email blast Saturday, Clinton made the argument that Obama is prone to telling voters one thing, only to do or say something different in another context. The memo read, in part:

After months of speeches from Senator Obama promising a hard end date to the Iraq war, his top foreign policy adviser that counseled his campaign during that period is on the record saying that Senator Obama will “not rely on some plan that he’s crafted as a presidential candidate or a U.S. Senator.” Voters already have serious questions about whether Senator Obama is ready to be Commander-in-Chief. Now there are questions about whether he’s serious about the Iraq plan he’s discussed for the last year on the campaign trail. Senator Obama has made hard end dates about Iraq a centerpiece of his campaign and has repeatedly attacked Senator Clinton for not being clear about her intentions with regard to troop withdrawal. It turns out those attacks and speeches were just words. And if you can’t trust Senator Obama’s words, what’s left? This latest incident is part of a larger pattern where Senator Obama doesn’t deliver on the promises he makes on the campaign trail — whether it’s his 2004 Senate race or his 2008 White House campaign. In 2003, Senator Obama said he was for a single payer health system, but now opposes plans that cover every American. He promised to repeal the Patriot Act, but then voted to extend it. He promised to normalize relations with Cuba, but flip-flopped when he started running for president. In 2008, Senator Obama rails against NAFTA in Ohio while his top economic advisor assures the Canadians his rhetoric is just “political positioning.” He promises to opt in to public financing if the GOP nominee does, but then breaks that pledge in real time. He promises to withdraw from Iraq within 16 months, and now his top foreign policy adviser says that he’s not relying on the plan. With a short record to run on, Senator Obama’s entire campaign is based on the speeches he makes on the campaign trail. So when he and his advisers dismiss the plans he touts on the stump, it undermines his entire candidacy. Americans have heard plenty of speeches.

This, of course, is the latest twist on Clinton’s efforts to attack Obama’s rhetoric. First, she tried the “he’s all talk” tactic. Now she says “you can’t really trust the talk, so what is left?” (The corrollary point that he’s too inexperienced hardly has to be raised–once SNL does a bit like this, you know that point is sinking into the national psyche.) Hillary’s effort to attack the reliability of Obama’s rhetoric is now aided by increasingly tough media coverage on topics such as his evolving stance on Iraq.

On a broader level, all this suggests that Obama will have a difficult time getting off the defensive. Clinton will raise issue after issue of alleged inconsistency, forcing him into a tedious process of trying to rebut each alleged policy reversal. (Notice Clinton is more than happy to invoke McCain’s argument that Obama has reneged on his public financing pledge.) It reminds one of the Republican “flip flop” barrage aimed at John Kerry in 2004. Even liberal commmentators (h/t NRO)  are concerned that the impression created is “that Obama won’t fight back, that he’s easy to fluster, that he’s weak.”

What does Obama have on his side? Math. Wyoming was another comfortable win for him (although just a net gain of two delegates) and he leads in Mississippi. However, the Clinton line that Democrats should be concerned that he is not winning in must-win states for November is gaining traction. Will his delegate lead stand up after weeks of Clinton attacks (even with possible do-over elections in Florida and Michigan)? Probably. But the fact that she is still in the game and these questions are being raised indicates the “inevitable Obama” meme is likely a thing of the past. And even if he is still a dozen or so delegates ahead, but has lost Pennsylvania, Florida, and Michigan and is doing worse than Clinton in head-to-head match ups with McCain, will superdelegates care who’s marginally ahead? The answer is “no.”

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Hillary Isn’t the Monster

I was at first relieved to learn that Senator Barack Obama had chosen Samantha Power as a foreign policy advisor. Her book A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide is hardly wishy-washy or leftist, and I concur with Max Boot that it could have been written by a neoconservative. It had been years, though, since I had paid her any attention. Until, that is, Noah Pollak forced me to take a fresh look. Much of what she has written and said since her book’s publication has been troubling, and she turned out to be the most controversial of Obama’s advisors. Yesterday she resigned after calling Senator Hillary Clinton a “monster” in an interview with a Scottish newspaper. I suspect an additional (though unstated) reason may have been the unwanted storm of controversy surrounding her, a storm that has had the Obama campaign on the defensive for some time now.

To her credit, Power disavowed her most controversial idea–that American troops be sent to Israel and the Palestinian territories–but troubling questions remain. If she thinks Clinton is a monster, what does she think about the dictators of Syria and Iran? She doesn’t approve of them. That’s obvious. But neither she nor Obama has ever been so “undiplomatic” as to suggest that they’re monsters.

Though not actual monsters, they are indeed monstrous.

Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad seeks nuclear weapons and has compared the state of Israel to “bacteria” after threatening to wipe it off the map. Power called Clinton deceitful, but that goes ten-fold for Syria’s Bashar Assad, the assassin of prime ministers, the armorer of Hezbollah, and the car-bomber of liberal Lebanese journalists.

It has been said before that conservatives rely too much on military force and that liberals rely too much on diplomacy. Perhaps that’s true. In any case, I suspect the liberal yearning for dialogue with the likes of Ahmadinejad and Assad might be less troublesome if advocates of diplomacy gave some sign that they consider the tyrants and terrorist regimes of the Middle East to be more of a threat than election opponents.

We have met the enemy. And it isn’t us.

I was at first relieved to learn that Senator Barack Obama had chosen Samantha Power as a foreign policy advisor. Her book A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide is hardly wishy-washy or leftist, and I concur with Max Boot that it could have been written by a neoconservative. It had been years, though, since I had paid her any attention. Until, that is, Noah Pollak forced me to take a fresh look. Much of what she has written and said since her book’s publication has been troubling, and she turned out to be the most controversial of Obama’s advisors. Yesterday she resigned after calling Senator Hillary Clinton a “monster” in an interview with a Scottish newspaper. I suspect an additional (though unstated) reason may have been the unwanted storm of controversy surrounding her, a storm that has had the Obama campaign on the defensive for some time now.

To her credit, Power disavowed her most controversial idea–that American troops be sent to Israel and the Palestinian territories–but troubling questions remain. If she thinks Clinton is a monster, what does she think about the dictators of Syria and Iran? She doesn’t approve of them. That’s obvious. But neither she nor Obama has ever been so “undiplomatic” as to suggest that they’re monsters.

Though not actual monsters, they are indeed monstrous.

Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad seeks nuclear weapons and has compared the state of Israel to “bacteria” after threatening to wipe it off the map. Power called Clinton deceitful, but that goes ten-fold for Syria’s Bashar Assad, the assassin of prime ministers, the armorer of Hezbollah, and the car-bomber of liberal Lebanese journalists.

It has been said before that conservatives rely too much on military force and that liberals rely too much on diplomacy. Perhaps that’s true. In any case, I suspect the liberal yearning for dialogue with the likes of Ahmadinejad and Assad might be less troublesome if advocates of diplomacy gave some sign that they consider the tyrants and terrorist regimes of the Middle East to be more of a threat than election opponents.

We have met the enemy. And it isn’t us.

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Oh, Ye Obama Worshippers Of Little Faith

Look, chances are Hillary Clinton’s revival this week is only a pothole the Obama steamroller will have to fill in on its way to the nomination. He’s still ahead in delegates and in the popular vote. The math is against her. He’ll win the next few contests. She’ll win a few later. In a month’s time, his dominant standing will seem so obvious that the superdelegates will naturally gravitate to him and away from Hillary and effectively hand him the nomination. This is the likeliest scenario at the present moment. What will stop him, perhaps the only thing to stop him, is real trouble that the Clintons will have nothing to do with: Revelations at the Rezko trial, or a series of missteps of the sort that have afflicted his campaign in the past week (Susan Rice saying he’s not ready for that 3 am call; Samantha Power saying, well, just about anything).

If anything, Hillary is doing Obama a favor. She’s giving him a flavor of what he will get later on, and is toughening him up a bit and giving him room to develop stronger and more credible responses to the “he’s got no experience” charge that is McCain’s strongest card to play against him.

So why is Andrew Sullivan — the ultimate Obamamaniac on the web — having a hysterical, screaming, over-the-top fit about all this? I can’t link to a single item; you’d have to read two days’ worth of postings at andrewsullivan.theatlantic.com to get the full flavor of the rhetorical tantrum he’s pitching at Hillary Clinton’s refusal to stand aside and let America move on with its coronation of the Man Who Will Change Everything.

It’s not as though Hillary Clinton has no claim on the Democratic nomination. She’s not Ross Perot, who, in the end, ran for president solely to deny George H.W. Bush a second term in part out of a paranoid delusion about Bush disrupting Perot’s daughter’s wedding. She’s a hundred delegates back. She’s won a bunch of primaries, including in the nation’s largest states.

There is nothing illegitimate going on here. It’s an electoral contest. Hillary won Ohio and Texas fair and square. The very fact that the Obama fanciers like Sullivan and the entire cast of characters at the Huffington Post are so shaken by her unwillingness to lie down and die suggests to me that they are terrified Obama can’t handle the stress test she is forcing him to undergo. And if he can’t, then they shouldn’t want him to be the nominee, because he’ll collapse by Election Day.

Look, chances are Hillary Clinton’s revival this week is only a pothole the Obama steamroller will have to fill in on its way to the nomination. He’s still ahead in delegates and in the popular vote. The math is against her. He’ll win the next few contests. She’ll win a few later. In a month’s time, his dominant standing will seem so obvious that the superdelegates will naturally gravitate to him and away from Hillary and effectively hand him the nomination. This is the likeliest scenario at the present moment. What will stop him, perhaps the only thing to stop him, is real trouble that the Clintons will have nothing to do with: Revelations at the Rezko trial, or a series of missteps of the sort that have afflicted his campaign in the past week (Susan Rice saying he’s not ready for that 3 am call; Samantha Power saying, well, just about anything).

If anything, Hillary is doing Obama a favor. She’s giving him a flavor of what he will get later on, and is toughening him up a bit and giving him room to develop stronger and more credible responses to the “he’s got no experience” charge that is McCain’s strongest card to play against him.

So why is Andrew Sullivan — the ultimate Obamamaniac on the web — having a hysterical, screaming, over-the-top fit about all this? I can’t link to a single item; you’d have to read two days’ worth of postings at andrewsullivan.theatlantic.com to get the full flavor of the rhetorical tantrum he’s pitching at Hillary Clinton’s refusal to stand aside and let America move on with its coronation of the Man Who Will Change Everything.

It’s not as though Hillary Clinton has no claim on the Democratic nomination. She’s not Ross Perot, who, in the end, ran for president solely to deny George H.W. Bush a second term in part out of a paranoid delusion about Bush disrupting Perot’s daughter’s wedding. She’s a hundred delegates back. She’s won a bunch of primaries, including in the nation’s largest states.

There is nothing illegitimate going on here. It’s an electoral contest. Hillary won Ohio and Texas fair and square. The very fact that the Obama fanciers like Sullivan and the entire cast of characters at the Huffington Post are so shaken by her unwillingness to lie down and die suggests to me that they are terrified Obama can’t handle the stress test she is forcing him to undergo. And if he can’t, then they shouldn’t want him to be the nominee, because he’ll collapse by Election Day.

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Re: No Great Shakes Either

Samantha Power has resigned, but not before she was caught telling the BBC “never mind” about Obama’s promise to pull out of Iraq in 16 months. It appears to be a full time job for Barack Obama’s advisers, like Power and Austan Goolsbee, to tell people around the world that their candidate does not mean what he says.

On one hand, this could be good news: Obama might not really favor ripping up NAFTA and may not really mean to yank American troops out of Iraq immediately and without regard to the conditions on the ground. However, I suspect the Obama team will quickly come rushing forward to say, “No! No! We really do believe in economic and military retreat as an article of American foreign policy.” John McCain must be rubbing that lucky penny he keeps in his pocket. Political gifts like this don’t come along every day.

Samantha Power has resigned, but not before she was caught telling the BBC “never mind” about Obama’s promise to pull out of Iraq in 16 months. It appears to be a full time job for Barack Obama’s advisers, like Power and Austan Goolsbee, to tell people around the world that their candidate does not mean what he says.

On one hand, this could be good news: Obama might not really favor ripping up NAFTA and may not really mean to yank American troops out of Iraq immediately and without regard to the conditions on the ground. However, I suspect the Obama team will quickly come rushing forward to say, “No! No! We really do believe in economic and military retreat as an article of American foreign policy.” John McCain must be rubbing that lucky penny he keeps in his pocket. Political gifts like this don’t come along every day.

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Samantha Power…

…has just resigned from the Obama campaign.

…has just resigned from the Obama campaign.

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Obama the Uniter?

It’s getting mighty ugly mighty fast in the Democratic race between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.

Yesterday Howard Wolfson, in response to the Obama campaign pushing for the release of Clinton’s tax returns, said, “I for one do not believe that imitating Ken Starr is the way to win a Democratic primary election for President.” For those who inhabit HillaryLand, to be compared to Ken Starr is slightly worse than to be compared to Charles Manson or Lucifer.

Returning serve, yesterday we learned that Samantha Power, one of Obama’s senior foreign policy advisers, apologized for describing Hillary Clinton as a “monster” during an interview with a Scottish newspaper. She added this: “You just look at her and think: ergh . . . The amount of deceit she has put forward is really unattractive.”

Welcome to a race against the Clintons, where the politics of hope quickly gives way to top aides calling her a “monster” and of being deceitful.

One might have some sympathy for Obama. After all, he is by all accounts a decent man who is running against a ruthless political operation. Obama’s problem, though, is that he has portrayed himself as a figure who will unify America, who will “turn the page” on the ugliness of the last decade, and who will not use negative attacks against his opponents. That is an admirable sentiment, and it has an appeal. But what do you do if your opponent has promised, publicly, to “throw the kitchen sink” at you? How long can you ignore the attacks? At what point do you shift from simply taking punches to throwing them? And when do you make the character of an opponent like Hillary Clinton an issue?

The young Illinois senator is learning what every major political figure eventually does: politics is a contact sport, not a garden party, and it has been since the founding of this Republic. Consider, for example, the first real political campaign in American history, between Thomas Jefferson and John Adams in 1800. It is regarded by scholars as among the nastiest campaigns in American history. According to one expert, “it reached a level of personal animosity that almost tore apart the young republic, and has rarely been equaled in two hundred years of presidential politics.” One pro-Adams newspaper predicted that if Jefferson were elected, “murder, robbery, rape, adultery, and incest will be openly taught and practiced, the air will be rent with the cries of the distressed, the soil will be soaked with blood, and the nation black with crimes.”

These words shouldn’t be held up as a model for political discourse. Politics, after all, should be at its core a debate about issues and political ideology and the future of the country. Politicians should be judged by the manner in which they, and their aides, conduct themselves. There are tough things that are appropriate to say–and lines you should not cross over.

At the same time, it’s not surprising that in a fiercely contested race which might well decide who will become leader of the most important nation on earth, passions get stoked, harsh words get thrown about, and nasty things are said. High-mindedness can easily give way to a hyper-aggressive effort to set the record straight. And simply to assume, as Obama apparently did, that he would swoop in and magically do away with the “old politics” and the old divisions was both arrogant and naïve.

It turns out being a unifying figure in American politics isn’t as easy as Obama thought. Right now he can’t even unify his own party. And just think: the pounding has only begun. It’s five weeks until the Pennsylvania primary and five months until the Democratic convention. At this pace, Obama and Clinton may match Jefferson and Adams in their level of civility and good manners.

Somewhere, John McCain must be smiling.

It’s getting mighty ugly mighty fast in the Democratic race between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.

Yesterday Howard Wolfson, in response to the Obama campaign pushing for the release of Clinton’s tax returns, said, “I for one do not believe that imitating Ken Starr is the way to win a Democratic primary election for President.” For those who inhabit HillaryLand, to be compared to Ken Starr is slightly worse than to be compared to Charles Manson or Lucifer.

Returning serve, yesterday we learned that Samantha Power, one of Obama’s senior foreign policy advisers, apologized for describing Hillary Clinton as a “monster” during an interview with a Scottish newspaper. She added this: “You just look at her and think: ergh . . . The amount of deceit she has put forward is really unattractive.”

Welcome to a race against the Clintons, where the politics of hope quickly gives way to top aides calling her a “monster” and of being deceitful.

One might have some sympathy for Obama. After all, he is by all accounts a decent man who is running against a ruthless political operation. Obama’s problem, though, is that he has portrayed himself as a figure who will unify America, who will “turn the page” on the ugliness of the last decade, and who will not use negative attacks against his opponents. That is an admirable sentiment, and it has an appeal. But what do you do if your opponent has promised, publicly, to “throw the kitchen sink” at you? How long can you ignore the attacks? At what point do you shift from simply taking punches to throwing them? And when do you make the character of an opponent like Hillary Clinton an issue?

The young Illinois senator is learning what every major political figure eventually does: politics is a contact sport, not a garden party, and it has been since the founding of this Republic. Consider, for example, the first real political campaign in American history, between Thomas Jefferson and John Adams in 1800. It is regarded by scholars as among the nastiest campaigns in American history. According to one expert, “it reached a level of personal animosity that almost tore apart the young republic, and has rarely been equaled in two hundred years of presidential politics.” One pro-Adams newspaper predicted that if Jefferson were elected, “murder, robbery, rape, adultery, and incest will be openly taught and practiced, the air will be rent with the cries of the distressed, the soil will be soaked with blood, and the nation black with crimes.”

These words shouldn’t be held up as a model for political discourse. Politics, after all, should be at its core a debate about issues and political ideology and the future of the country. Politicians should be judged by the manner in which they, and their aides, conduct themselves. There are tough things that are appropriate to say–and lines you should not cross over.

At the same time, it’s not surprising that in a fiercely contested race which might well decide who will become leader of the most important nation on earth, passions get stoked, harsh words get thrown about, and nasty things are said. High-mindedness can easily give way to a hyper-aggressive effort to set the record straight. And simply to assume, as Obama apparently did, that he would swoop in and magically do away with the “old politics” and the old divisions was both arrogant and naïve.

It turns out being a unifying figure in American politics isn’t as easy as Obama thought. Right now he can’t even unify his own party. And just think: the pounding has only begun. It’s five weeks until the Pennsylvania primary and five months until the Democratic convention. At this pace, Obama and Clinton may match Jefferson and Adams in their level of civility and good manners.

Somewhere, John McCain must be smiling.

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Eric Alterman, Hack

I suppose that one of the benefits of having an easily-misspelled last name is that it provides an opportunity to see which of my detractors have actually read my work, and which are so lazy that they simply parrot the lines of other hacks.

Here is Eric Alterman in the latest issue of The Nation, on the Samantha Power controversy:

These attacks, as blogger Matthew Yglesias notes, have largely amounted to the following: “First Obama was an anti-Semite because Zbigniew Brzezinski is an anti-Semite. Then Obama was an anti-Semite because Robert Malley is an anti-Semite. And now according to [Commentary's Noah] Pollack it’s Samantha Power who’s tainted by Jew-hatred.”

Throughout the rest of the piece he commits the same mistake, which leads me to wonder: Has Alterman read a single word I’ve written? I suspect not. Do the editors of The Nation fact-check their articles? Same answer.

One might be able to take these accusations seriously if the people advancing them fulfilled basic journalistic requirements, such as spelling a person’s name correctly. And so I offer the same challenge to Alterman that I did to the fabulist originators of the Pollack-says-Power-is-a-Jew-hater myth: Quote me.

I suppose that one of the benefits of having an easily-misspelled last name is that it provides an opportunity to see which of my detractors have actually read my work, and which are so lazy that they simply parrot the lines of other hacks.

Here is Eric Alterman in the latest issue of The Nation, on the Samantha Power controversy:

These attacks, as blogger Matthew Yglesias notes, have largely amounted to the following: “First Obama was an anti-Semite because Zbigniew Brzezinski is an anti-Semite. Then Obama was an anti-Semite because Robert Malley is an anti-Semite. And now according to [Commentary's Noah] Pollack it’s Samantha Power who’s tainted by Jew-hatred.”

Throughout the rest of the piece he commits the same mistake, which leads me to wonder: Has Alterman read a single word I’ve written? I suspect not. Do the editors of The Nation fact-check their articles? Same answer.

One might be able to take these accusations seriously if the people advancing them fulfilled basic journalistic requirements, such as spelling a person’s name correctly. And so I offer the same challenge to Alterman that I did to the fabulist originators of the Pollack-says-Power-is-a-Jew-hater myth: Quote me.

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Defending Samantha Power, Again

I see that neither Noah Pollak at CONTENTIONS nor Paul Mirengoff at Powerline is convinced by my defense of Samantha Power. I don’t want to belabor the point, but I would like to clarify my argument.

I don’t disagree with them on the merits of Power’s views on Israel and the Middle East. As they know, I am hardly a fan of the “peace process” or of détente with Tehran (although I have suggested in the past that it would make sense to offer to normalize relations with Iran in return for a cessation of its nuclear program and support of terrorism).

What I really objected to is the argument made by Pollak and some other critics that Power is part of a “disturbing number of foreign policy advisers to the Obama campaign who harbor hostile views of Israel.” That is a serious charge that needs to be handled with great care and hauled out only in the most dire circumstances because accusing someone of harboring “hostile views of Israel” is only a step or two removed from accusing them of harboring hostile views of Jews.

That conclusion is one that I think can be justifiably drawn about some people, such as John Mearsheimer, Stephen Walt, and Jimmy Carter. Their vociferous, over-the-top criticism of Israel and the “Israel Lobby” borders on paranoia and displays not just sloppy reasoning and factual mistakes but also active animus toward Israel, and perhaps toward Jews in general. (See Eliot Cohen’s article on Mearsheimer/Walt, and Kenneth Stein’s piece on Carter.)

On the other hand, there are many, many advocates of the “peace process” such as Dennis Ross and Bill Clinton (to say nothing of Shimon Peres and other Israelis) who have never displayed the slightest animus toward Israel. I think we can take it as given that their advocacy is driven by a desire to help, not hurt, the Jewish state. Their policy advice can and should be criticized, but their motives should not be questioned.

Into which category does Samantha Power fall? The first fact to note about her is how little she has had to say on the subject of the Middle East in general and Israel in particular. She is not an expert on the Middle East and does not pretend to be one. The criticisms of her are based on a handful of comments mainly made in response to questions from interviewers. That in itself is significant, because those who are driven by a real animus toward Israel tend to be outspoken and vociferous on the subject.

I don’t find any of the comments made by Power and cited by critics as being anywhere remotely close to anything that Mearsheimer/Walt or Carter have said. To take just one example, the attempts to twist a very ambiguous response to a question in this interview into evidence that, in Powerline’s words, “Power has blamed deference to Israel and the ‘special interests’ that support Israel for the U.S. intervention in Iraq” leaves me unconvinced to say the least. Read the whole answer in context for yourself and see what you think.

Apparently Pollak agrees with me that Power is not “animated by ‘anti-Israel’ sentiment, whatever that might entail.” I’m happy to hear it. That’s really all I was driving at: Let’s debate on the merits without questioning the other side’s motives except in extreme cases, of which this is not one.

I see that neither Noah Pollak at CONTENTIONS nor Paul Mirengoff at Powerline is convinced by my defense of Samantha Power. I don’t want to belabor the point, but I would like to clarify my argument.

I don’t disagree with them on the merits of Power’s views on Israel and the Middle East. As they know, I am hardly a fan of the “peace process” or of détente with Tehran (although I have suggested in the past that it would make sense to offer to normalize relations with Iran in return for a cessation of its nuclear program and support of terrorism).

What I really objected to is the argument made by Pollak and some other critics that Power is part of a “disturbing number of foreign policy advisers to the Obama campaign who harbor hostile views of Israel.” That is a serious charge that needs to be handled with great care and hauled out only in the most dire circumstances because accusing someone of harboring “hostile views of Israel” is only a step or two removed from accusing them of harboring hostile views of Jews.

That conclusion is one that I think can be justifiably drawn about some people, such as John Mearsheimer, Stephen Walt, and Jimmy Carter. Their vociferous, over-the-top criticism of Israel and the “Israel Lobby” borders on paranoia and displays not just sloppy reasoning and factual mistakes but also active animus toward Israel, and perhaps toward Jews in general. (See Eliot Cohen’s article on Mearsheimer/Walt, and Kenneth Stein’s piece on Carter.)

On the other hand, there are many, many advocates of the “peace process” such as Dennis Ross and Bill Clinton (to say nothing of Shimon Peres and other Israelis) who have never displayed the slightest animus toward Israel. I think we can take it as given that their advocacy is driven by a desire to help, not hurt, the Jewish state. Their policy advice can and should be criticized, but their motives should not be questioned.

Into which category does Samantha Power fall? The first fact to note about her is how little she has had to say on the subject of the Middle East in general and Israel in particular. She is not an expert on the Middle East and does not pretend to be one. The criticisms of her are based on a handful of comments mainly made in response to questions from interviewers. That in itself is significant, because those who are driven by a real animus toward Israel tend to be outspoken and vociferous on the subject.

I don’t find any of the comments made by Power and cited by critics as being anywhere remotely close to anything that Mearsheimer/Walt or Carter have said. To take just one example, the attempts to twist a very ambiguous response to a question in this interview into evidence that, in Powerline’s words, “Power has blamed deference to Israel and the ‘special interests’ that support Israel for the U.S. intervention in Iraq” leaves me unconvinced to say the least. Read the whole answer in context for yourself and see what you think.

Apparently Pollak agrees with me that Power is not “animated by ‘anti-Israel’ sentiment, whatever that might entail.” I’m happy to hear it. That’s really all I was driving at: Let’s debate on the merits without questioning the other side’s motives except in extreme cases, of which this is not one.

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Sorry, Max…

… but I’m going to return fire.

I did not write declaratively that Power “will advise” Obama to “repudiate Israel” — I asked a rhetorical question: “Does anyone think that if the time comes that Power has President Obama’s ear, she will advise him to do anything other than repudiate America’s greatest ally in the Middle East in favor of appeasing its greatest enemy?” I stand by the question.

Max writes: “Pollak also quotes her as somehow being in favor of imposing a settlement on the parties.” Somehow? In 2002, she explicitly used the word “impose,” and added, for good measure, that the conflict “does require external intervention.” There doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of ambiguity here, much less cause for skepticism.

Also, where have I written that I believe Power is “anti-Israel”? If Max had read my posts carefully he would have noticed that not once did I use such a crude and muddled construction. The reason is that I do not believe that Power is animated by “anti-Israel” sentiment, whatever that might entail. What I do believe about her is exactly what I have written about her: That she appears to hold a set of naive and mischievous opinions on the Middle East. Her interview with Shmuel Rosner in Haaretz yesterday reinforced that assessment, with her repeatedly explaining Rosner that she’s no expert on things like the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Well, whatever; there are plenty of links to what I wrote in Max’s post, and I invite readers to click on them to see whether I was judicious in characterizing the things Samantha Power has said, as opposed to the level of care that has been taken right here on CONTENTIONS in characterizing my commentary on Power’s commentary, as it were.

… but I’m going to return fire.

I did not write declaratively that Power “will advise” Obama to “repudiate Israel” — I asked a rhetorical question: “Does anyone think that if the time comes that Power has President Obama’s ear, she will advise him to do anything other than repudiate America’s greatest ally in the Middle East in favor of appeasing its greatest enemy?” I stand by the question.

Max writes: “Pollak also quotes her as somehow being in favor of imposing a settlement on the parties.” Somehow? In 2002, she explicitly used the word “impose,” and added, for good measure, that the conflict “does require external intervention.” There doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of ambiguity here, much less cause for skepticism.

Also, where have I written that I believe Power is “anti-Israel”? If Max had read my posts carefully he would have noticed that not once did I use such a crude and muddled construction. The reason is that I do not believe that Power is animated by “anti-Israel” sentiment, whatever that might entail. What I do believe about her is exactly what I have written about her: That she appears to hold a set of naive and mischievous opinions on the Middle East. Her interview with Shmuel Rosner in Haaretz yesterday reinforced that assessment, with her repeatedly explaining Rosner that she’s no expert on things like the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Well, whatever; there are plenty of links to what I wrote in Max’s post, and I invite readers to click on them to see whether I was judicious in characterizing the things Samantha Power has said, as opposed to the level of care that has been taken right here on CONTENTIONS in characterizing my commentary on Power’s commentary, as it were.

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In Defense of Samantha Power

I have no idea what Barack Obama thinks about Israel and the Middle East. I’m not sure he does either. It’s not something he would have given much thought to during the course of a career focused primarily on constitutional law and Chicago city politics. As Ralph Nader noted on “Meet the Press,” he seems to have been “pro-Palestinian” before he was pro-Israeli. But to label him anti-Israeli at heart based on the views of his foreign policy adviser Samantha Power is wrong.

My fellow CONTENTIONS blogger Noah Pollak claims Power “will advise” Obama to “repudiate America’s greatest ally in the Middle East” (i.e. Israel) while “appeasing its greatest enemy” (i.e. the Palestinians). I have read through all the evidence he has collected here, and I remain unconvinced.

Power can explain her views better than I can, but it seems to me that all Pollak has are some statements from her supporting an Israeli-Palestinian peace process and a dialogue with Iran. I am skeptical about the prospects of either initiative succeeding, but to be in favor of such policies hardly involves repudiating Israel.

Pollack also quotes her as somehow being in favor of imposing a settlement on the parties, presumably with an outside peacekeeping force. I think is a pipe dream because no outside nation will put its troops on the line to stop Palestinian terrorism, but again it’s hardly an anti-Israeli position. In fact ,many Israelis would favor the deployment of, say, a NATO force as part of a final settlement with the Palestinians.

I’ve known Power for six years and have never heard her say anything that I would construe as anti-Israel. In fact, at a December 2006 forum at Harvard’s Kennedy School at which we were both panelists, she rather forcefully dismissed a claim by a Jewish anti-Zionist in the audience who tried to equate Israeli policy with South African apartheid—a favorite trope of the hard left.

I don’t agree with Power on everything. In particular, I am astounded that someone who has campaigned so eloquently and rightly to stop genocide would advocate a troop pullout from Iraq that could very well result in a genocide. But I’ve also found Power to be one of the more reasonable, sane, and centrist foreign policy thinkers on the Democratic side. Her award-winning book A Problem from Hell: America in the Age of Genocide could have been written by a neocon.

I have no idea what Barack Obama thinks about Israel and the Middle East. I’m not sure he does either. It’s not something he would have given much thought to during the course of a career focused primarily on constitutional law and Chicago city politics. As Ralph Nader noted on “Meet the Press,” he seems to have been “pro-Palestinian” before he was pro-Israeli. But to label him anti-Israeli at heart based on the views of his foreign policy adviser Samantha Power is wrong.

My fellow CONTENTIONS blogger Noah Pollak claims Power “will advise” Obama to “repudiate America’s greatest ally in the Middle East” (i.e. Israel) while “appeasing its greatest enemy” (i.e. the Palestinians). I have read through all the evidence he has collected here, and I remain unconvinced.

Power can explain her views better than I can, but it seems to me that all Pollak has are some statements from her supporting an Israeli-Palestinian peace process and a dialogue with Iran. I am skeptical about the prospects of either initiative succeeding, but to be in favor of such policies hardly involves repudiating Israel.

Pollack also quotes her as somehow being in favor of imposing a settlement on the parties, presumably with an outside peacekeeping force. I think is a pipe dream because no outside nation will put its troops on the line to stop Palestinian terrorism, but again it’s hardly an anti-Israeli position. In fact ,many Israelis would favor the deployment of, say, a NATO force as part of a final settlement with the Palestinians.

I’ve known Power for six years and have never heard her say anything that I would construe as anti-Israel. In fact, at a December 2006 forum at Harvard’s Kennedy School at which we were both panelists, she rather forcefully dismissed a claim by a Jewish anti-Zionist in the audience who tried to equate Israeli policy with South African apartheid—a favorite trope of the hard left.

I don’t agree with Power on everything. In particular, I am astounded that someone who has campaigned so eloquently and rightly to stop genocide would advocate a troop pullout from Iraq that could very well result in a genocide. But I’ve also found Power to be one of the more reasonable, sane, and centrist foreign policy thinkers on the Democratic side. Her award-winning book A Problem from Hell: America in the Age of Genocide could have been written by a neocon.

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Nader Raises Obama’s Israel Issue

Ralph Nader finagled airtime on Meet the Press to announce he is mounting another presidential run, which certainly will garner even less attention than last time. He also contributed this analysis of Barack Obama:

But his better instincts and his knowledge have been censored by himself. And I give you the example, the Palestinian-Israeli issue, which is a real off the table issue for the candidates. So don’t touch that, even though it’s central to our security and to, to the situation in the Middle East. He was pro-Palestinian when he was in Illinois before he ran for the state Senate, during he ran–during the state Senate. Now he’s, he’s supporting the Israeli destruction of the tiny section called Gaza with a million and a half people. He doesn’t have any sympathy for a civilian death ratio of about 300-to-1; 300 Palestinians to one Israeli. He’s not taking a leadership position in supporting the Israeli peace movement, which represents former Cabinet ministers, people in the Knesset, former generals, former security officials, in addition to mayors and leading intellectuals. One would think he would at least say, “Let’s have a hearing for the Israeli peace movement in the Congress,” so we don’t just have a monotone support of the Israeli government’s attitude toward the Palestinians and their illegal occupation of Palestine.
The Republican Jewish Coalition responded with a press release which read, in part:
“People should be very skeptical of Barack Obama’s shaky Middle East policies. When a long-time political activist like Ralph Nader, with a well-documented, anti-Israel bias, claims that Senator Obama shares this anti-Israel bias, that is alarming,” said RJC Executive Director Matt Brooks. “If Senator Obama supports Ralph Nader’s policies, which consistently condemn Israel’s right to defend itself against terrorism, and if Sen. Obama has only reversed his positions to run for president, it once again raises serious questions about his grasp of the geo-political realities of the Middle East and puts into doubt his commitment to the safety and security of Israel. These are important questions we in the Jewish community will be asking.”
Now Ralph Nader is not exactly a keen or accurate political observer, but the problematic issue of Obama’s views and advisors on Israel, explored at length here, here and here, is not something the Obama camp can ignore. He recently had this to say in Cleveland:
“Well here’s my starting orientation is A – Israel’s security is sacrosanct, is non negotiable. That’s point number one. Point number two is that the status quo I believe is unsustainable over time. So we’re going to have to make a shift from the current deadlock that we’re in. Number three that Israel has to remain a Jewish state and what I believe that means is that any negotiated peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians is going to have to involve the Palestinians relinquishing the right of return as it has been understood in the past. And that doesn’t mean that there may not be conversations about compensation issues. It also means the Israelis will have to figure out how do we work with a legitimate Palestinian government to create a Palestinian state that is sustainable. It’s going to have to be contiguous, its going to have to work its going to have to function in some way. That’s in Israel’s interest by the way. If you have a balkanized unsustainable state, it will break down and we will be back in the same boat. So those are the starting points of my orientation. My goal then would be to solicit as many practical opinions as possible in terms of how we’re going to move forward on a improvement of relations and a sustainable peace.”
He also sought to distance himself from association with Zbigniew Brzezinski:

“I do not share his views with respect to Israel. I have said so clearly and unequivocally,” Obama said. “He’s not one of my key advisers. I’ve had lunch with him once. I’ve exchanged e-mails with him maybe three times. He came to Iowa to introduce . . . for a speech on Iraq.”

No word as yet on whether he is having second thoughts about advice from Samantha Power or whether his “talking to our enemies” mantra includes Hamas and Hezbollah. This certainly will be a general election issue. It remains to be seen whether Hillary Clinton will raise this as an example of the risk of getting an “unknown quantity” with an Obama presidency (perhaps it would be a more effective argument for her than desperation moves like this).

Ralph Nader finagled airtime on Meet the Press to announce he is mounting another presidential run, which certainly will garner even less attention than last time. He also contributed this analysis of Barack Obama:

But his better instincts and his knowledge have been censored by himself. And I give you the example, the Palestinian-Israeli issue, which is a real off the table issue for the candidates. So don’t touch that, even though it’s central to our security and to, to the situation in the Middle East. He was pro-Palestinian when he was in Illinois before he ran for the state Senate, during he ran–during the state Senate. Now he’s, he’s supporting the Israeli destruction of the tiny section called Gaza with a million and a half people. He doesn’t have any sympathy for a civilian death ratio of about 300-to-1; 300 Palestinians to one Israeli. He’s not taking a leadership position in supporting the Israeli peace movement, which represents former Cabinet ministers, people in the Knesset, former generals, former security officials, in addition to mayors and leading intellectuals. One would think he would at least say, “Let’s have a hearing for the Israeli peace movement in the Congress,” so we don’t just have a monotone support of the Israeli government’s attitude toward the Palestinians and their illegal occupation of Palestine.
The Republican Jewish Coalition responded with a press release which read, in part:
“People should be very skeptical of Barack Obama’s shaky Middle East policies. When a long-time political activist like Ralph Nader, with a well-documented, anti-Israel bias, claims that Senator Obama shares this anti-Israel bias, that is alarming,” said RJC Executive Director Matt Brooks. “If Senator Obama supports Ralph Nader’s policies, which consistently condemn Israel’s right to defend itself against terrorism, and if Sen. Obama has only reversed his positions to run for president, it once again raises serious questions about his grasp of the geo-political realities of the Middle East and puts into doubt his commitment to the safety and security of Israel. These are important questions we in the Jewish community will be asking.”
Now Ralph Nader is not exactly a keen or accurate political observer, but the problematic issue of Obama’s views and advisors on Israel, explored at length here, here and here, is not something the Obama camp can ignore. He recently had this to say in Cleveland:
“Well here’s my starting orientation is A – Israel’s security is sacrosanct, is non negotiable. That’s point number one. Point number two is that the status quo I believe is unsustainable over time. So we’re going to have to make a shift from the current deadlock that we’re in. Number three that Israel has to remain a Jewish state and what I believe that means is that any negotiated peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians is going to have to involve the Palestinians relinquishing the right of return as it has been understood in the past. And that doesn’t mean that there may not be conversations about compensation issues. It also means the Israelis will have to figure out how do we work with a legitimate Palestinian government to create a Palestinian state that is sustainable. It’s going to have to be contiguous, its going to have to work its going to have to function in some way. That’s in Israel’s interest by the way. If you have a balkanized unsustainable state, it will break down and we will be back in the same boat. So those are the starting points of my orientation. My goal then would be to solicit as many practical opinions as possible in terms of how we’re going to move forward on a improvement of relations and a sustainable peace.”
He also sought to distance himself from association with Zbigniew Brzezinski:

“I do not share his views with respect to Israel. I have said so clearly and unequivocally,” Obama said. “He’s not one of my key advisers. I’ve had lunch with him once. I’ve exchanged e-mails with him maybe three times. He came to Iowa to introduce . . . for a speech on Iraq.”

No word as yet on whether he is having second thoughts about advice from Samantha Power or whether his “talking to our enemies” mantra includes Hamas and Hezbollah. This certainly will be a general election issue. It remains to be seen whether Hillary Clinton will raise this as an example of the risk of getting an “unknown quantity” with an Obama presidency (perhaps it would be a more effective argument for her than desperation moves like this).

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Obama’s Power Ranger

Today Iraqpundit weighs in on Samantha Power’s Salon interview, and her declaration that the problems of the Middle East revolve around the Israeli-Arab conflict:

Ah, that “Arab-Israeli situation.” Power is demonstrably in harmony with the Arab world, especially its long line of dictators. Her words reminded me of the unceasing echo we heard growing up under Arab dictatorship. To wit, Palestine comes first; everything else is to be sacrificed for the cause. Solve the Palestinian problem and everything else (especially our own freedom) will fall into place. That’s exactly what we were told, and it’s what the Egyptians were told, and what Arabs all over the Middle East and North Africa were told. Nobody in Iraq would dare comment on the shortages of food and ordinary supplies, but we could all comment on the injustice being done to Palestinians.

His conclusion:

I have a suggestion for people who support Barack Obama: They should make their support contingent on Obama finding a new foreign-policy adviser.

Today Iraqpundit weighs in on Samantha Power’s Salon interview, and her declaration that the problems of the Middle East revolve around the Israeli-Arab conflict:

Ah, that “Arab-Israeli situation.” Power is demonstrably in harmony with the Arab world, especially its long line of dictators. Her words reminded me of the unceasing echo we heard growing up under Arab dictatorship. To wit, Palestine comes first; everything else is to be sacrificed for the cause. Solve the Palestinian problem and everything else (especially our own freedom) will fall into place. That’s exactly what we were told, and it’s what the Egyptians were told, and what Arabs all over the Middle East and North Africa were told. Nobody in Iraq would dare comment on the shortages of food and ordinary supplies, but we could all comment on the injustice being done to Palestinians.

His conclusion:

I have a suggestion for people who support Barack Obama: They should make their support contingent on Obama finding a new foreign-policy adviser.

Read Less

Samantha Power: the Salon Interview

It might be time that I downgraded my opinion of Samantha Power from someone who I believe holds naive and mischievous opinions on the Middle East to someone who for the most part simply doesn’t know what she’s talking about. She gave a must-read interview yesterday to Salon.com.

What is the biggest foreign policy challenge for the next president?

The next president is really going to have to walk and chew gum at the same time, because no long-term peace in the Middle East is possible until we get some kind of modus vivendi in the Arab-Israeli situation.

Remarkable. Neither the Iraq war, nor the Iranian nuclear program, nor North Korean nuclear proliferation, nor the situation in Pakistan, nor the ascendant Iran-Syria-Hezbollah-Hamas axis, in Power’s assessment, is comparable to “the Arab-Israeli situation.” This is, of course, the view of the world one gets from watching too many Christiane Amanpour specials on CNN; but it is also one that has virtually no currency among serious people.

You recently wrote in Time magazine that the U.S. needs to “rethink Iran.” What did you mean?

…To neutralize the support Ahmadinejad has domestically, we need to stop threatening and to get in a room with him — if only to convey grave displeasure about his tactics regionally and internationally — and then try to build international support for measures to prevent him from supporting terrorism and pursuing a nuclear program. If we’re ever going to actually put in place multilateral measures to contain Iran, the only way we’re going to do that is if we do it in a more united way with our allies.

To this, one can only reply: “Donny, you’re out of your element.” For starters, Ahmadinejad essentially has no domestic popularity in Iran. He is aggressively detested by everyone in the country with a reformist cast of mind, and he is widely blamed for crippling the Iranian economy through his imposition of some of the most half-baked centralized planning that exists in the world today. This Washington Post piece delves into Ahamadinejad’s domestic unpopularity; this piece from the Asia Times discusses his abysmal poll ratings. If Power thinks that we’re going to get anywhere with Iran by undermining Ahmadinejad’s “domestic support,” let me be the first to inform her: he doesn’t have any domestic support to begin with.

But that’s just a nitpick. The real swindle here is Power’s implication that the U.S. has yet to pursue a multilateral strategy for dealing with the Iranian nuclear program, a fascinating rewriting of history. Between 2002 and 2006, the Bush administration delegated Iran diplomacy to the EU-3 (France, Germany, and the UK), specifically in pursuit of the cultivation of an international consensus against Iran’s nuclear program. The EU-3, working extensively through the IAEA — another of those international bodies that Power believes has been sidelined by the Bush administration — demonstrated nothing more than the ease with which it could be repeatedly manipulated and thwarted.

By the summer of 2006, the matter was handed over to the UN Security Council, another multilateral lever. The Security Council has since then produced a series of wrist-slaps on Iran. Power’s complaint — that the U.S. hasn’t acted multilaterally — is a fantasy. The real problem with the past six years of Iran diplomacy is that the multilateral channels through which our diplomacy has found expression have proven themselves utterly incapable of dealing with the problem. But I suppose it’s much easier to give interviews to credulous Salon reporters and pretend that we never tried, rather than confront the much thornier problem — that we have been trying, and failing.

Samantha Power believes that people like me, who raise perfectly legitimate questions about her judgment and knowledge of the Middle East, are trafficking in “fabrications” and a “smear campaign” against her and the Obama campaign. In everything I’ve written about her, including this post, I have always linked to what Power herself has said, so that readers could judge for themselves whether I’ve treated her fairly. Is it a smear to accuse someone of a smear, when none has been committed?

UPDATE: Michael Young weighs in here: “the egghead smells a foreign policy post.

It might be time that I downgraded my opinion of Samantha Power from someone who I believe holds naive and mischievous opinions on the Middle East to someone who for the most part simply doesn’t know what she’s talking about. She gave a must-read interview yesterday to Salon.com.

What is the biggest foreign policy challenge for the next president?

The next president is really going to have to walk and chew gum at the same time, because no long-term peace in the Middle East is possible until we get some kind of modus vivendi in the Arab-Israeli situation.

Remarkable. Neither the Iraq war, nor the Iranian nuclear program, nor North Korean nuclear proliferation, nor the situation in Pakistan, nor the ascendant Iran-Syria-Hezbollah-Hamas axis, in Power’s assessment, is comparable to “the Arab-Israeli situation.” This is, of course, the view of the world one gets from watching too many Christiane Amanpour specials on CNN; but it is also one that has virtually no currency among serious people.

You recently wrote in Time magazine that the U.S. needs to “rethink Iran.” What did you mean?

…To neutralize the support Ahmadinejad has domestically, we need to stop threatening and to get in a room with him — if only to convey grave displeasure about his tactics regionally and internationally — and then try to build international support for measures to prevent him from supporting terrorism and pursuing a nuclear program. If we’re ever going to actually put in place multilateral measures to contain Iran, the only way we’re going to do that is if we do it in a more united way with our allies.

To this, one can only reply: “Donny, you’re out of your element.” For starters, Ahmadinejad essentially has no domestic popularity in Iran. He is aggressively detested by everyone in the country with a reformist cast of mind, and he is widely blamed for crippling the Iranian economy through his imposition of some of the most half-baked centralized planning that exists in the world today. This Washington Post piece delves into Ahamadinejad’s domestic unpopularity; this piece from the Asia Times discusses his abysmal poll ratings. If Power thinks that we’re going to get anywhere with Iran by undermining Ahmadinejad’s “domestic support,” let me be the first to inform her: he doesn’t have any domestic support to begin with.

But that’s just a nitpick. The real swindle here is Power’s implication that the U.S. has yet to pursue a multilateral strategy for dealing with the Iranian nuclear program, a fascinating rewriting of history. Between 2002 and 2006, the Bush administration delegated Iran diplomacy to the EU-3 (France, Germany, and the UK), specifically in pursuit of the cultivation of an international consensus against Iran’s nuclear program. The EU-3, working extensively through the IAEA — another of those international bodies that Power believes has been sidelined by the Bush administration — demonstrated nothing more than the ease with which it could be repeatedly manipulated and thwarted.

By the summer of 2006, the matter was handed over to the UN Security Council, another multilateral lever. The Security Council has since then produced a series of wrist-slaps on Iran. Power’s complaint — that the U.S. hasn’t acted multilaterally — is a fantasy. The real problem with the past six years of Iran diplomacy is that the multilateral channels through which our diplomacy has found expression have proven themselves utterly incapable of dealing with the problem. But I suppose it’s much easier to give interviews to credulous Salon reporters and pretend that we never tried, rather than confront the much thornier problem — that we have been trying, and failing.

Samantha Power believes that people like me, who raise perfectly legitimate questions about her judgment and knowledge of the Middle East, are trafficking in “fabrications” and a “smear campaign” against her and the Obama campaign. In everything I’ve written about her, including this post, I have always linked to what Power herself has said, so that readers could judge for themselves whether I’ve treated her fairly. Is it a smear to accuse someone of a smear, when none has been committed?

UPDATE: Michael Young weighs in here: “the egghead smells a foreign policy post.

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More Samantha Power

Martin Kramer points us to an interesting quote from the 2003 book Ethnic Violence and Justice, in which Samantha Power, one of Barack Obama’s foreign policy advisers, asks a question of David Rohde, a reporter who covered the intifada for the New York Times. The quote is as follows:

Samantha Power: I have a question for David about working for the New York Times. I was struck by a headline that accompanied a news story on the publication of the Human Rights Watch report. The headline was, I believe: “Human Rights Report Finds Massacre Did Not Occur in Jenin.” The second paragraph said, “Oh, but lots of war crimes did.” Why wouldn’t they make the war crimes the headline and the non-massacre the second paragraph?

(The article to which Power refers is here, and its headline is: “MIDEAST TURMOIL: INQUIRY; Rights Group Doubts Mass Deaths in Jenin, but Sees Signs of War Crimes.” Obviously, Power has misremembered the headline.)

Here we have another window into the thinking of Power: Israel is accused in sensational press reports of a massacre in Jenin, and is subjected to severe international condemnation; HRW finally gets out a report and says there was no massacre; the NYT reports this as its headline; and Power thinks the headline still should have been: Israel guilty of war crimes!

Martin Kramer points us to an interesting quote from the 2003 book Ethnic Violence and Justice, in which Samantha Power, one of Barack Obama’s foreign policy advisers, asks a question of David Rohde, a reporter who covered the intifada for the New York Times. The quote is as follows:

Samantha Power: I have a question for David about working for the New York Times. I was struck by a headline that accompanied a news story on the publication of the Human Rights Watch report. The headline was, I believe: “Human Rights Report Finds Massacre Did Not Occur in Jenin.” The second paragraph said, “Oh, but lots of war crimes did.” Why wouldn’t they make the war crimes the headline and the non-massacre the second paragraph?

(The article to which Power refers is here, and its headline is: “MIDEAST TURMOIL: INQUIRY; Rights Group Doubts Mass Deaths in Jenin, but Sees Signs of War Crimes.” Obviously, Power has misremembered the headline.)

Here we have another window into the thinking of Power: Israel is accused in sensational press reports of a massacre in Jenin, and is subjected to severe international condemnation; HRW finally gets out a report and says there was no massacre; the NYT reports this as its headline; and Power thinks the headline still should have been: Israel guilty of war crimes!

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Obama’s Real Israel Problem

Last week, the blogosphere hotly debated Barack Obama’s stance on Israel. Here at contentions, Noah Pollak argued that Obama’s advisory staff suggests an unfavorable disposition towards Jerusalem, while I noted that Obama’s strongly pro-Israel statements on the campaign trail contrasted with his previous call for an “even-handed approach” to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Over at The American Prospect, however, Matthew Duss intimated that these concerns were petty—“Good heavens, ‘an even-handed approach’? What’s next, wearing a keffiyeh?” The Atlantic’s Matthew Yglesias agreed.

Unfortunately, Duss and Yglesias declined to address criticisms of Obama’s apparent Israeli-Palestinian flip-flopping—which was first exposed by a prominent pro-Palestinian activist—substantively. But, with the Patriots-Giants Super Bowl affording downtrodden Jets fans ample time to mull, I’ve decided that Duss and Yglesias are right: our focus on the various forces shaping Obama’s outlook and statements on Israel is petty, though not for their condescending reasons.

Consider the following: over the next four-to-eight years, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is likely to be the least dynamic feature of Middle Eastern politics and, by extension, U.S. policy in the Middle East. Firmly in control of Gaza, Hamas is bound to remain an actively destabilizing force in Palestinian politics for years to come. Fatah—the U.S.’s great hope for Palestinian moderation post-Arafat—remains weak and unpopular, and its decline will accelerate once Abbas leaves office in 2009. Meanwhile, Israel’s leadership still sees no contradiction between pursuing peace and expanding settlements, further lacking the vision to transform short-term military successes against terrorism into long-term political solutions.

Indeed, the Israeli-Palestinian sphere will remain unambiguously hopeless for years to come. It is thus hard to imagine Obama adopting Samantha Power’s advice that pumping billions of dollars into a nascent Palestinian state is a panacea. Indeed, focusing on Obama’s Israel outlook merely distracts from his potential approach to far more dynamic—and therefore critical—areas of Middle Eastern politics.

For example, consider U.S. public diplomacy—the area in which Obama has the greatest potential to truly affect change. As LinkTV reports, “many Arabs believe that Obama’s ethnicity and background give him a kinder understanding of Third World countries.” I can vouch for these sentiments: when Obama announced his candidacy early last year, his childhood years in Indonesia and Islamic middle name enthused my classmates at the American University in Cairo, who were otherwise strictly critical of American politics and policy. These students represent the foremost demographic that U.S. public diplomacy must attract if it is to succeed: they are well educated, fluent in English, exposed to American culture, and relatively liberal in their social outlooks.

Yet Obama’s policy proposals would immediately undermine his biographical advantages with this key Arab constituency. After all, Obama has repeatedly called for dialogue with Iran and a conference with the leaders of Islamic states—initiatives that would sacrifice these young moderates to the region’s most illiberal forces. In Iran, Obama’s overture would inflict double damage: it would represent official U.S. acceptance of the hostage-taking Revolutionary regime, while debunking public sentiment that views Iran’s isolation as too steep a price for Ahmadinejad’s vitriolic rhetoric. Ultimately, the U.S. would be more in bed with Middle Eastern authoritarians than ever before, acquiescing to Iranian ascendancy in the process.

In short, if Barack Obama truly views himself as an “agent of change,” then scrutinizing his views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict—the least dynamic of all Middle Eastern policy areas—is wasteful. Rather, it is his approach on Iran, Arab democracy, and U.S. public diplomacy—fluctuating issues that will demand Obama’s immediate attention should he assume office—that require the deepest evaluation.

Last week, the blogosphere hotly debated Barack Obama’s stance on Israel. Here at contentions, Noah Pollak argued that Obama’s advisory staff suggests an unfavorable disposition towards Jerusalem, while I noted that Obama’s strongly pro-Israel statements on the campaign trail contrasted with his previous call for an “even-handed approach” to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Over at The American Prospect, however, Matthew Duss intimated that these concerns were petty—“Good heavens, ‘an even-handed approach’? What’s next, wearing a keffiyeh?” The Atlantic’s Matthew Yglesias agreed.

Unfortunately, Duss and Yglesias declined to address criticisms of Obama’s apparent Israeli-Palestinian flip-flopping—which was first exposed by a prominent pro-Palestinian activist—substantively. But, with the Patriots-Giants Super Bowl affording downtrodden Jets fans ample time to mull, I’ve decided that Duss and Yglesias are right: our focus on the various forces shaping Obama’s outlook and statements on Israel is petty, though not for their condescending reasons.

Consider the following: over the next four-to-eight years, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is likely to be the least dynamic feature of Middle Eastern politics and, by extension, U.S. policy in the Middle East. Firmly in control of Gaza, Hamas is bound to remain an actively destabilizing force in Palestinian politics for years to come. Fatah—the U.S.’s great hope for Palestinian moderation post-Arafat—remains weak and unpopular, and its decline will accelerate once Abbas leaves office in 2009. Meanwhile, Israel’s leadership still sees no contradiction between pursuing peace and expanding settlements, further lacking the vision to transform short-term military successes against terrorism into long-term political solutions.

Indeed, the Israeli-Palestinian sphere will remain unambiguously hopeless for years to come. It is thus hard to imagine Obama adopting Samantha Power’s advice that pumping billions of dollars into a nascent Palestinian state is a panacea. Indeed, focusing on Obama’s Israel outlook merely distracts from his potential approach to far more dynamic—and therefore critical—areas of Middle Eastern politics.

For example, consider U.S. public diplomacy—the area in which Obama has the greatest potential to truly affect change. As LinkTV reports, “many Arabs believe that Obama’s ethnicity and background give him a kinder understanding of Third World countries.” I can vouch for these sentiments: when Obama announced his candidacy early last year, his childhood years in Indonesia and Islamic middle name enthused my classmates at the American University in Cairo, who were otherwise strictly critical of American politics and policy. These students represent the foremost demographic that U.S. public diplomacy must attract if it is to succeed: they are well educated, fluent in English, exposed to American culture, and relatively liberal in their social outlooks.

Yet Obama’s policy proposals would immediately undermine his biographical advantages with this key Arab constituency. After all, Obama has repeatedly called for dialogue with Iran and a conference with the leaders of Islamic states—initiatives that would sacrifice these young moderates to the region’s most illiberal forces. In Iran, Obama’s overture would inflict double damage: it would represent official U.S. acceptance of the hostage-taking Revolutionary regime, while debunking public sentiment that views Iran’s isolation as too steep a price for Ahmadinejad’s vitriolic rhetoric. Ultimately, the U.S. would be more in bed with Middle Eastern authoritarians than ever before, acquiescing to Iranian ascendancy in the process.

In short, if Barack Obama truly views himself as an “agent of change,” then scrutinizing his views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict—the least dynamic of all Middle Eastern policy areas—is wasteful. Rather, it is his approach on Iran, Arab democracy, and U.S. public diplomacy—fluctuating issues that will demand Obama’s immediate attention should he assume office—that require the deepest evaluation.

Read Less




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