Commentary Magazine


Topic: spokesman

Flotsam and Jetsam

“Refudiate” is the word of the year? You betcha.

Word has it they are rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic advisers at the White House. “Call it a shakeup or call it a natural turnover halfway through the term, but the White House is preparing for significant change throughout its top ranks. Much of the movement, though, will involve new posts for longtime aides to President Barack Obama.”

Words, words. You didn’t really take the State Department seriously, did you? “Mideast peace talks may not reach fruition before their initial September 2011 deadline, a U.S. State Department official said on Monday, citing recent negotiations deadlock over Israel’s refusal to extend its moratorium on settlement building as one reason for the delay. Speaking prior to September’s relaunch of direct peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, State Department spokesman P. J. Crowley said that the administration thought it could negotiate an agreement ‘within a one-year time frame.'”

“Fortunate” is not the word most of us have in mind. Donna Brazile waxes lyrical: “This week, visitors entering Washington’s Union Station are greeted by a work of art — a two-story, red open-toed lady’s dress shoe. It reminds me of Cinderella’s lost glass slipper. I thought to myself, if someone is looking for the woman big enough to fill this, they need look no further than Nancy Pelosi. The nation is fortunate, not to mention the Democratic Party and the president, that Ms. Pelosi will be re-elected Democratic leader for the next Congress, because we are surely entering one of the nation’s most difficult eras.”

Rep. Paul Ryan doesn’t mince words: “Congress should act now to prevent across-the-board tax increases from hitting nearly all Americans on Jan. 1. Sustained job creation and economic growth are urgently needed — higher tax rates are not. The failure to take decisive action on this issue further heightens the uncertainty holding our economy back.” Is there any Republican better able to explain conservative economic positions better than he? I haven’t found him/her yet.

Words of advice for Sen. Joe Lieberman. “‘He’d probably be best off running as a Republican as far as getting re-elected,’ said [John] Droney [a Lieberman ally and former chairman of the Connecticut Democratic Party], who stays in regular contact with Lieberman and encouraged him to run as an Independent in 2006. ‘I’d recommend him doing it now.”

You have to love the word choice. A “giveaway” is when people get to keep their own money. “Reps. Raúl Grijalva (Ariz.) and Lynn Woolsey (Calif.), co-chairs of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said extending the tax breaks for those earning more than $250,000 a year represents ‘a giveaway’ to wealthy Americans that would saddle the country in unnecessary debt.”

“Refudiate” is the word of the year? You betcha.

Word has it they are rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic advisers at the White House. “Call it a shakeup or call it a natural turnover halfway through the term, but the White House is preparing for significant change throughout its top ranks. Much of the movement, though, will involve new posts for longtime aides to President Barack Obama.”

Words, words. You didn’t really take the State Department seriously, did you? “Mideast peace talks may not reach fruition before their initial September 2011 deadline, a U.S. State Department official said on Monday, citing recent negotiations deadlock over Israel’s refusal to extend its moratorium on settlement building as one reason for the delay. Speaking prior to September’s relaunch of direct peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, State Department spokesman P. J. Crowley said that the administration thought it could negotiate an agreement ‘within a one-year time frame.'”

“Fortunate” is not the word most of us have in mind. Donna Brazile waxes lyrical: “This week, visitors entering Washington’s Union Station are greeted by a work of art — a two-story, red open-toed lady’s dress shoe. It reminds me of Cinderella’s lost glass slipper. I thought to myself, if someone is looking for the woman big enough to fill this, they need look no further than Nancy Pelosi. The nation is fortunate, not to mention the Democratic Party and the president, that Ms. Pelosi will be re-elected Democratic leader for the next Congress, because we are surely entering one of the nation’s most difficult eras.”

Rep. Paul Ryan doesn’t mince words: “Congress should act now to prevent across-the-board tax increases from hitting nearly all Americans on Jan. 1. Sustained job creation and economic growth are urgently needed — higher tax rates are not. The failure to take decisive action on this issue further heightens the uncertainty holding our economy back.” Is there any Republican better able to explain conservative economic positions better than he? I haven’t found him/her yet.

Words of advice for Sen. Joe Lieberman. “‘He’d probably be best off running as a Republican as far as getting re-elected,’ said [John] Droney [a Lieberman ally and former chairman of the Connecticut Democratic Party], who stays in regular contact with Lieberman and encouraged him to run as an Independent in 2006. ‘I’d recommend him doing it now.”

You have to love the word choice. A “giveaway” is when people get to keep their own money. “Reps. Raúl Grijalva (Ariz.) and Lynn Woolsey (Calif.), co-chairs of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said extending the tax breaks for those earning more than $250,000 a year represents ‘a giveaway’ to wealthy Americans that would saddle the country in unnecessary debt.”

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Karzai’s Words, and His Actions

Hamid Karzai has caused considerable consternation with his weekend interview with the Washington Post. He told Post editors and reporters: “The time has come to reduce military operations. The time has come to reduce the presence of, you know, boots in Afghanistan . . . to reduce the intrusiveness into the daily Afghan life…. It’s not desirable for the Afghan people either to have 100,000 or more foreign troops going around the country endlessly.” He also criticized “night raids”–Special Operations raids that occur at night–as he has in the past.

The Post reports that General Petraeus expressed “astonishment and disappointment” as his remarks which seem to fly in the face of NATO’s strategy. Today Karzai’s spokesman was rapidly backtracking, stressing that Karzai’s comments about the desirability of a troop pullout were “conditioned on the ability of the Afghan security forces to take responsibility.” The spokesman made clear that Karzai supports NATO’s goal to begin withdrawing in 2014.

This kerfuffle reminds me of many similar statements made over the years by Prime Minister Maliki in Iraq. As I noted in this 2008 Washington Post op-ed, Maliki, too, has had a history of calling for U.S. troop withdrawals:

In May 2006, shortly after becoming prime minister, he claimed, “Our forces are capable of taking over the security in all Iraqi provinces within a year and a half.”

In October 2006, when violence was spinning out of control, Maliki declared that it would be “only a matter of months” before his security forces could “take over the security portfolio entirely and keep some multinational forces only in a supporting role.”

President Bush wisely ignored Maliki. Instead of withdrawing U.S. troops, he sent more. The prime minister wasn’t happy. On Dec. 15, 2006, the Wall Street Journal reported, “Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has flatly told Gen. George Casey, the top American military commander in Iraq, that he doesn’t want more U.S. personnel deployed to the country, according to U.S. military officials.” When the surge went ahead anyway, Maliki gave it an endorsement described in news accounts as “lukewarm.”

I suggested in the op-ed that it was wise to judge Maliki by what he did, not what he said. For all of his public doubts about the U.S. troop presence he generally supported American actions behind-the-scenes–although often only after considerable arm-twisting from Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker.

Karzai, too, should be judged by his actions, rather than by his occasional expressions of public frustration with the coalition. He has not done anything as dramatic as Maliki, who ordered his security forces to clear Basra and Sadr City of the Sadrist militia, but he has taken some positive steps such as agreeing to the setting up of the Afghan Local Police program to augment the Afghan security forces.

Moreover, some of his criticisms of international forces are on the mark–the U.S. and its allies have done much to fuel corruption in Afghanistan, as he complains, and their employment of local security forces has often been a contributor to instability. Yet at the end of the day Afghanistan would be far more insecure without an America troop presence, and that is something I suspect Karzai, for all his misguided public statements, actually realizes.

Hamid Karzai has caused considerable consternation with his weekend interview with the Washington Post. He told Post editors and reporters: “The time has come to reduce military operations. The time has come to reduce the presence of, you know, boots in Afghanistan . . . to reduce the intrusiveness into the daily Afghan life…. It’s not desirable for the Afghan people either to have 100,000 or more foreign troops going around the country endlessly.” He also criticized “night raids”–Special Operations raids that occur at night–as he has in the past.

The Post reports that General Petraeus expressed “astonishment and disappointment” as his remarks which seem to fly in the face of NATO’s strategy. Today Karzai’s spokesman was rapidly backtracking, stressing that Karzai’s comments about the desirability of a troop pullout were “conditioned on the ability of the Afghan security forces to take responsibility.” The spokesman made clear that Karzai supports NATO’s goal to begin withdrawing in 2014.

This kerfuffle reminds me of many similar statements made over the years by Prime Minister Maliki in Iraq. As I noted in this 2008 Washington Post op-ed, Maliki, too, has had a history of calling for U.S. troop withdrawals:

In May 2006, shortly after becoming prime minister, he claimed, “Our forces are capable of taking over the security in all Iraqi provinces within a year and a half.”

In October 2006, when violence was spinning out of control, Maliki declared that it would be “only a matter of months” before his security forces could “take over the security portfolio entirely and keep some multinational forces only in a supporting role.”

President Bush wisely ignored Maliki. Instead of withdrawing U.S. troops, he sent more. The prime minister wasn’t happy. On Dec. 15, 2006, the Wall Street Journal reported, “Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has flatly told Gen. George Casey, the top American military commander in Iraq, that he doesn’t want more U.S. personnel deployed to the country, according to U.S. military officials.” When the surge went ahead anyway, Maliki gave it an endorsement described in news accounts as “lukewarm.”

I suggested in the op-ed that it was wise to judge Maliki by what he did, not what he said. For all of his public doubts about the U.S. troop presence he generally supported American actions behind-the-scenes–although often only after considerable arm-twisting from Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker.

Karzai, too, should be judged by his actions, rather than by his occasional expressions of public frustration with the coalition. He has not done anything as dramatic as Maliki, who ordered his security forces to clear Basra and Sadr City of the Sadrist militia, but he has taken some positive steps such as agreeing to the setting up of the Afghan Local Police program to augment the Afghan security forces.

Moreover, some of his criticisms of international forces are on the mark–the U.S. and its allies have done much to fuel corruption in Afghanistan, as he complains, and their employment of local security forces has often been a contributor to instability. Yet at the end of the day Afghanistan would be far more insecure without an America troop presence, and that is something I suspect Karzai, for all his misguided public statements, actually realizes.

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Round Two: Jerusalem Is Not a Settlement

Never let it be said that Obama has learned from past errors. He is not a man to divert course based on mere experience. No sir. His standoff with Israel earlier this year led to a war of words, strained relations with American Jewish groups, and a fraying of the U.S.-Israel relationship? Oh, well. Let’s try that again!

It does seem like deja vu all over again. This report bears an eerie resemblance to those from March of this year:

The US State Department on Tuesday responded immediately to claims made in a statement by the Prime Minister’s Office that east Jerusalem construction had no bearing on the peace process.

“There clearly is a link in the sense that it is incumbent upon both parties … they are responsible for creating conditions for a successful negotiation,” State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said.

“To suggest that this kind of announcement would not have an impact on the Palestinian side I think is incorrect.”

The back-and-forth of statements between the Obama administration and the Prime Minister’s Office was over Israeli plans to advance 1,345 housing units in Jewish neighborhoods of east Jerusalem.

For his part, Bibi was having none of the same old, same old from Obama:

Netanyahu, in turn, sharply defended Israel’s right to build in Jerusalem, which it claims as its eternal united capital, even as the Palestinians claim the eastern party of the city as the capital of their future state.

“Jerusalem is not a settlement. Jerusalem is the capital of Israel,” the Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement on Tuesday, adding that the government had never agreed to place any restrictions on construction in Jerusalem, which has 800,000 residents.

So now we have a test of sorts — for pro-Israel congressmen of both parties, for Jewish groups, and for the administration. The last time around, Democratic congressmen and pro-Israel groups gave Obama a wide berth to go after the Israeli government. But the world has changed since then — and Obama is no longer in a commanding position domestically. So Chuck Schumer, Howard Berman, et al. — what say you? Now’s the time to dispel the image that you place partisan toadying above principled defense of the U.S.-Israel relationship.

Never let it be said that Obama has learned from past errors. He is not a man to divert course based on mere experience. No sir. His standoff with Israel earlier this year led to a war of words, strained relations with American Jewish groups, and a fraying of the U.S.-Israel relationship? Oh, well. Let’s try that again!

It does seem like deja vu all over again. This report bears an eerie resemblance to those from March of this year:

The US State Department on Tuesday responded immediately to claims made in a statement by the Prime Minister’s Office that east Jerusalem construction had no bearing on the peace process.

“There clearly is a link in the sense that it is incumbent upon both parties … they are responsible for creating conditions for a successful negotiation,” State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said.

“To suggest that this kind of announcement would not have an impact on the Palestinian side I think is incorrect.”

The back-and-forth of statements between the Obama administration and the Prime Minister’s Office was over Israeli plans to advance 1,345 housing units in Jewish neighborhoods of east Jerusalem.

For his part, Bibi was having none of the same old, same old from Obama:

Netanyahu, in turn, sharply defended Israel’s right to build in Jerusalem, which it claims as its eternal united capital, even as the Palestinians claim the eastern party of the city as the capital of their future state.

“Jerusalem is not a settlement. Jerusalem is the capital of Israel,” the Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement on Tuesday, adding that the government had never agreed to place any restrictions on construction in Jerusalem, which has 800,000 residents.

So now we have a test of sorts — for pro-Israel congressmen of both parties, for Jewish groups, and for the administration. The last time around, Democratic congressmen and pro-Israel groups gave Obama a wide berth to go after the Israeli government. But the world has changed since then — and Obama is no longer in a commanding position domestically. So Chuck Schumer, Howard Berman, et al. — what say you? Now’s the time to dispel the image that you place partisan toadying above principled defense of the U.S.-Israel relationship.

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Charm Offensive Ends as Obama Panders to Muslim World

One week after a midterm election in which his party suffered a historic defeat, it is still unclear whether President Obama will adjust his policies to deal with the voters’ unease over his administration’s record. But one change is already apparent. After several months of pursuing a charm offensive with American Jews and supporters of Israel, Obama has reverted to a stance that caused many Jewish Democrats such unease earlier this year: bashing Israel for asserting the right of Jews to live in Jerusalem.

Obama chose to use his visit to his former home in Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim nation, as the venue for comments directly criticizing Israel for approving the building of 1,000 new housing units in the Har Homa section of Jerusalem. The State Department spokesman had previously criticized the plan, but this is clearly an attempt to escalate the dispute with Israel from a pro forma disagreement — the United States has never recognized the city’s unification in 1967 — into a major battle with the Jewish state.

Back in the spring, Obama had seized upon an innocuous announcement of housing starts in an established Jewish neighborhood in a part of Jerusalem that had been occupied by Jordan from 1949 to 1967 that was issued during a visit to Israel by Vice President Biden, claiming it was an “insult” to the United States. The ensuing argument and attempts at the public humiliation of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did nothing to advance the peace process. Even if the Palestinians were to reverse their repeated refusals to make peace and accept a state in the West Bank, Gaza, and a portion of Jerusalem (an offer that Israel has made more than once in the past decade), there is no possibility that those areas where Jewish neighborhoods now exist (and where over 250,000 Jews live) would be turned over to the Palestinians. His dispute with Netanyahu had the effect of forcing the Palestinian Authority to harden its stance on Jerusalem, thus making an accord even more unlikely.

Obama’s stance on Jerusalem was unprecedented in U.S.-Israel relations: although the United States had never recognized Israel’s annexation of the eastern part of the city in 1967, it had also never treated the building of Jewish neighborhoods there as a point of dispute between the two countries in this manner. However, Obama soon understood that not only had he not undermined Netanyahu (whose defense of Jewish rights was popular among Israelis), but he was also alienating part of his own political base: American Jews. While some in the administration had initially listened to the siren song of J Street, which falsely claimed that most American Jews would applaud a policy of pressure on Israel, it soon became clear that Obama’s stance was hurting the Democratic Party. The result of this realization was a furious effort to charm American Jews and supporters of Israel. The attacks on Netanyahu ceased, and the administration was soon issuing statements that noted the obvious about the stalled talks: the Palestinians were the ones who weren’t serious about peace. Read More

One week after a midterm election in which his party suffered a historic defeat, it is still unclear whether President Obama will adjust his policies to deal with the voters’ unease over his administration’s record. But one change is already apparent. After several months of pursuing a charm offensive with American Jews and supporters of Israel, Obama has reverted to a stance that caused many Jewish Democrats such unease earlier this year: bashing Israel for asserting the right of Jews to live in Jerusalem.

Obama chose to use his visit to his former home in Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim nation, as the venue for comments directly criticizing Israel for approving the building of 1,000 new housing units in the Har Homa section of Jerusalem. The State Department spokesman had previously criticized the plan, but this is clearly an attempt to escalate the dispute with Israel from a pro forma disagreement — the United States has never recognized the city’s unification in 1967 — into a major battle with the Jewish state.

Back in the spring, Obama had seized upon an innocuous announcement of housing starts in an established Jewish neighborhood in a part of Jerusalem that had been occupied by Jordan from 1949 to 1967 that was issued during a visit to Israel by Vice President Biden, claiming it was an “insult” to the United States. The ensuing argument and attempts at the public humiliation of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did nothing to advance the peace process. Even if the Palestinians were to reverse their repeated refusals to make peace and accept a state in the West Bank, Gaza, and a portion of Jerusalem (an offer that Israel has made more than once in the past decade), there is no possibility that those areas where Jewish neighborhoods now exist (and where over 250,000 Jews live) would be turned over to the Palestinians. His dispute with Netanyahu had the effect of forcing the Palestinian Authority to harden its stance on Jerusalem, thus making an accord even more unlikely.

Obama’s stance on Jerusalem was unprecedented in U.S.-Israel relations: although the United States had never recognized Israel’s annexation of the eastern part of the city in 1967, it had also never treated the building of Jewish neighborhoods there as a point of dispute between the two countries in this manner. However, Obama soon understood that not only had he not undermined Netanyahu (whose defense of Jewish rights was popular among Israelis), but he was also alienating part of his own political base: American Jews. While some in the administration had initially listened to the siren song of J Street, which falsely claimed that most American Jews would applaud a policy of pressure on Israel, it soon became clear that Obama’s stance was hurting the Democratic Party. The result of this realization was a furious effort to charm American Jews and supporters of Israel. The attacks on Netanyahu ceased, and the administration was soon issuing statements that noted the obvious about the stalled talks: the Palestinians were the ones who weren’t serious about peace.

But now that the election is over, Obama is back to his old tricks, seizing upon an announcement that can have no impact on any theoretical peace deal in order to pander to a Muslim world that seeks Israel’s destruction. By making a statement about Jerusalem while in Indonesia, Obama is signaling that the United States regards Jewish Jerusalem as being no different from the most remote settlement in the West Bank: an illegal outpost that must be destroyed and its inhabitants removed. Such a statement helps fuel the Arab irredentism that has been the primary obstacle to peace since Israel’s birth in 1948.

Obama’s pandering to the Muslim world is also a signal to Jewish Democrats that their party’s leader is once again throwing Israel under the bus in pursuit of popularity in the Third World. While the majority of Jews stayed loyal to the Democrats this fall even in the midst of a Republican wave, the president’s speedy post-election reversion to Israel-bashing should remind them that this administration is still bent on distancing itself from the Jewish state. Just as Obama’s statements about Israel during the 2008 presidential campaign proved to be mere rhetoric, now that the charm offensive is officially over, Jewish Democrats need to acknowledge that they were hoodwinked again.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Indignant are the elite opinion makers. “The editor of Vanity Fair is in dudgeon over last week’s election. … They heard this wave of Dem/lib defeats was coming, but it’s just possible they didn’t really believe it: How, after all, could it happen? Eight years of suffering—war, torture, lies, and oh, that mangled language—ended with the advent of Obamunism. Now they have to relinquish their antibiotic-free ranging and go back to huddle in their Robert Couturier-decorated pens? And all because of an enraged, pitchfork-bearing, brimstone mob of Tea Partiers?” Read the whole hilarious thing.

Exonerated. “The chief counsel for the president’s oil spill commission said Monday that concerns about money didn’t drive key decisions made on the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig before the April 20 blowout that caused a massive oil spill and killed 11 people. The conclusion is good news for BP, which has been widely criticized for letting concerns about the roughly $1.5 million a day cost of the drilling rig affect choices that might have prevented the blowout.”

Useless (or worse). “Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, held meetings in Lebanon Monday before traveling to Damascus for meetings with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.”

Rejectionist — as always. “Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas was quoted on Monday as saying that if Israel wants the Palestinians to return to the negotiating table it must cease all construction in the settlements. Meanwhile, top PLO official Yasser Abed Rabo said it was ‘impossible’ for the Palestinians to return to the peace talks as long as the present government is in power in Israel.”

Ambitious? He sure sounds like he’s running for something: “Texas Gov. Rick Perry insists that he’s not running for president, but he didn’t mind offering an unvarnished view Monday about the signature policy accomplishment of one Republican who almost certainly is in the race. ‘The health care plan out of Massachusetts, I would suggest to you, is too much the like the health care plan passed out of Washington,’ Perry said, succinctly voicing one of the chief difficulties former Bay State Gov. Mitt Romney faces in the upcoming GOP primary.”

Shrinking. “Democratic allies are not optimistic about their legislative priorities getting done in the lame-duck session after Democratic candidates got pummeled on Election Day. Senate Democrats had discussed as many as 20 bills up for consideration during the lame-duck session, the period between the Nov. 2 election and Christmas. In the wake of a midterm election that President Obama called a ‘shellacking’ of his party, Democratic insiders question if anything more than a stopgap spending measure and temporary extension of Bush-era tax cuts can pass.”

Hopeless. All the Obama “smart” diplomats can do is repeat the fundamental error in their approach to peace talks. “The United States is ‘deeply disappointed’ that Israel has advanced plans to build 1,345 new homes in ‘sensitive areas’ of east Jerusalem, a State Department spokesman said Monday. State Department spokesman PJ Crowley told reporters that the United States sees the announcement as ‘counter-productive to our efforts to resume direct negotiations between the parties.’ ‘We have long urged both parties to avoid actions that could undermine trust including in Jerusalem and we will continue to work to resume negotiations,’ Crowley said.” Are all the Democratic pro-Israel Jews “deeply disappointed” in Obama yet? Hardly. Sigh.

Indignant are the elite opinion makers. “The editor of Vanity Fair is in dudgeon over last week’s election. … They heard this wave of Dem/lib defeats was coming, but it’s just possible they didn’t really believe it: How, after all, could it happen? Eight years of suffering—war, torture, lies, and oh, that mangled language—ended with the advent of Obamunism. Now they have to relinquish their antibiotic-free ranging and go back to huddle in their Robert Couturier-decorated pens? And all because of an enraged, pitchfork-bearing, brimstone mob of Tea Partiers?” Read the whole hilarious thing.

Exonerated. “The chief counsel for the president’s oil spill commission said Monday that concerns about money didn’t drive key decisions made on the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig before the April 20 blowout that caused a massive oil spill and killed 11 people. The conclusion is good news for BP, which has been widely criticized for letting concerns about the roughly $1.5 million a day cost of the drilling rig affect choices that might have prevented the blowout.”

Useless (or worse). “Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, held meetings in Lebanon Monday before traveling to Damascus for meetings with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.”

Rejectionist — as always. “Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas was quoted on Monday as saying that if Israel wants the Palestinians to return to the negotiating table it must cease all construction in the settlements. Meanwhile, top PLO official Yasser Abed Rabo said it was ‘impossible’ for the Palestinians to return to the peace talks as long as the present government is in power in Israel.”

Ambitious? He sure sounds like he’s running for something: “Texas Gov. Rick Perry insists that he’s not running for president, but he didn’t mind offering an unvarnished view Monday about the signature policy accomplishment of one Republican who almost certainly is in the race. ‘The health care plan out of Massachusetts, I would suggest to you, is too much the like the health care plan passed out of Washington,’ Perry said, succinctly voicing one of the chief difficulties former Bay State Gov. Mitt Romney faces in the upcoming GOP primary.”

Shrinking. “Democratic allies are not optimistic about their legislative priorities getting done in the lame-duck session after Democratic candidates got pummeled on Election Day. Senate Democrats had discussed as many as 20 bills up for consideration during the lame-duck session, the period between the Nov. 2 election and Christmas. In the wake of a midterm election that President Obama called a ‘shellacking’ of his party, Democratic insiders question if anything more than a stopgap spending measure and temporary extension of Bush-era tax cuts can pass.”

Hopeless. All the Obama “smart” diplomats can do is repeat the fundamental error in their approach to peace talks. “The United States is ‘deeply disappointed’ that Israel has advanced plans to build 1,345 new homes in ‘sensitive areas’ of east Jerusalem, a State Department spokesman said Monday. State Department spokesman PJ Crowley told reporters that the United States sees the announcement as ‘counter-productive to our efforts to resume direct negotiations between the parties.’ ‘We have long urged both parties to avoid actions that could undermine trust including in Jerusalem and we will continue to work to resume negotiations,’ Crowley said.” Are all the Democratic pro-Israel Jews “deeply disappointed” in Obama yet? Hardly. Sigh.

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RE: How Did the Jewish Groups Do?

Josh Block, a long-time Democratic, pro-Israel activist and former AIPAC spokesman, e-mails: “Of 25 competitive races in which Jstreet endorsed, their candidates lost in 14 races, including in all three Senate races.” And then he unloads:

Being associated with a group that helped [Richard] Goldstone slander Israel on the Hill, that refuses to condemn his report and accusation that the leadership of Israel PURPOSEFULLY targeted civilians in Gaza,  that says there’s no difference between Israel defending itself and Hamas terrorism, that lies about their secret money from anti-Israel George Soros, and derives half their budget from Hong Kong — not from American Jews as they claim — and that lies again and again, even twisting the arm of a former Israeli MK to lie for them after she is on tape exposing their ties to Goldstone, is HAZARDOUS for one’s pro-Israel reputation. … The question candidates in competitive races will be asking themselves is this: Is it worth it to lie down with dogs if all you get is flees!? The answer, I predict, will increasingly be no, it’s not worth it. Unless of course, you’re not pro-Israel.

Block, mind you, is a partisan Democrat. His advice should serve as a warning to lawmakers on both sides of the aisle — vote however you like and associate yourself with whomever you wish, but be prepared to be confronted on your record.

Josh Block, a long-time Democratic, pro-Israel activist and former AIPAC spokesman, e-mails: “Of 25 competitive races in which Jstreet endorsed, their candidates lost in 14 races, including in all three Senate races.” And then he unloads:

Being associated with a group that helped [Richard] Goldstone slander Israel on the Hill, that refuses to condemn his report and accusation that the leadership of Israel PURPOSEFULLY targeted civilians in Gaza,  that says there’s no difference between Israel defending itself and Hamas terrorism, that lies about their secret money from anti-Israel George Soros, and derives half their budget from Hong Kong — not from American Jews as they claim — and that lies again and again, even twisting the arm of a former Israeli MK to lie for them after she is on tape exposing their ties to Goldstone, is HAZARDOUS for one’s pro-Israel reputation. … The question candidates in competitive races will be asking themselves is this: Is it worth it to lie down with dogs if all you get is flees!? The answer, I predict, will increasingly be no, it’s not worth it. Unless of course, you’re not pro-Israel.

Block, mind you, is a partisan Democrat. His advice should serve as a warning to lawmakers on both sides of the aisle — vote however you like and associate yourself with whomever you wish, but be prepared to be confronted on your record.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

The last time I read such slobbery praise was in Laurence Tribe’s letter to Obama. The Washington Post on Ted Sorensen: “Amply endowed with the qualities required for an intimate adviser at the highest levels, Mr. Sorensen was regarded as a man of ideas and ideals, keen intellect and a passion for public service.” That reminds me, come January, there won’t be a single Kennedy in office for the first time since 1947 (thanks to my guru on all things Kennedy), when JFK came along with Richard Nixon. And no, an ex-husband — Andrew Cuomo — doesn’t count.

The last union defection like this was in 1976. “Union households back the Democratic candidate in their district over the GOP by a 54 to 42 percent margin, lower than the 64 to 34 percent split in 2006 and the worst performance for Democrats among labor union households in exit polling dating back to 1976. Since 1976, labor union households have backed Democratic Congressional candidates by an average margin of 62 to 35 percent.”

The last excuse: losing is good for us! “Large gains by Republicans on Election Day Tuesday could actually improve President Obama’s chances of reelection in 2012, a centrist senator said Monday. Retiring Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.) said that if Republicans take control of the House and make the Senate close, as expected, it could open an opportunity for both parties to work together, an environment that would help the president politically.” Take it from me, winning is always better than losing.

The last round of Fox News Senate polls: Sharron Angle, Ken Buck, and Mark Kirk all lead. Washington is “down to the wire.”

The last of 20 reasons for the Democratic meltdown is the most important (the other 19 are dead on as well). “America is a center-right, aspirational nation. Democrats thought the financial crisis and near-landslide 2008 election meant it somehow wasn’t anymore. So they attempted to graft an essentially artificial, elitist (especially cap-and-trade) agenda onto the body politic. It didn’t take and is in the process of being rejected.”

The last act in Harry Reid’s political career? “If Harry Reid loses this election, it will be a crushing end to a storied political career. The majority leader of the United States Senate will have been defeated after four terms by an opponent he doesn’t respect or even take seriously. He will be the victim, in his view, of an electorate gone mad, taken down in his prime after rising higher than anyone from his state ever has.” His contempt for us has no bounds.

The last thing GOP presidential contenders want to do is seem like they are in cahoots with the mainstream media in trying to chase Sarah Palin out of the race. “Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R) said Monday it would be ‘great’ for former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R) to run for president in 2012. … A spokesman for Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, another possible 2012 GOP presidential candidate, said Palin deserves credit and thanks for her work for the Republican Party. ‘We’re all on the same team, and anonymously sourced stories that try and divide us exemplify one reason why Americans outside the beltway hold D.C. in such contempt,’ said Alex Conant, the Pawlenty spokesman.”

The last time I read such slobbery praise was in Laurence Tribe’s letter to Obama. The Washington Post on Ted Sorensen: “Amply endowed with the qualities required for an intimate adviser at the highest levels, Mr. Sorensen was regarded as a man of ideas and ideals, keen intellect and a passion for public service.” That reminds me, come January, there won’t be a single Kennedy in office for the first time since 1947 (thanks to my guru on all things Kennedy), when JFK came along with Richard Nixon. And no, an ex-husband — Andrew Cuomo — doesn’t count.

The last union defection like this was in 1976. “Union households back the Democratic candidate in their district over the GOP by a 54 to 42 percent margin, lower than the 64 to 34 percent split in 2006 and the worst performance for Democrats among labor union households in exit polling dating back to 1976. Since 1976, labor union households have backed Democratic Congressional candidates by an average margin of 62 to 35 percent.”

The last excuse: losing is good for us! “Large gains by Republicans on Election Day Tuesday could actually improve President Obama’s chances of reelection in 2012, a centrist senator said Monday. Retiring Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.) said that if Republicans take control of the House and make the Senate close, as expected, it could open an opportunity for both parties to work together, an environment that would help the president politically.” Take it from me, winning is always better than losing.

The last round of Fox News Senate polls: Sharron Angle, Ken Buck, and Mark Kirk all lead. Washington is “down to the wire.”

The last of 20 reasons for the Democratic meltdown is the most important (the other 19 are dead on as well). “America is a center-right, aspirational nation. Democrats thought the financial crisis and near-landslide 2008 election meant it somehow wasn’t anymore. So they attempted to graft an essentially artificial, elitist (especially cap-and-trade) agenda onto the body politic. It didn’t take and is in the process of being rejected.”

The last act in Harry Reid’s political career? “If Harry Reid loses this election, it will be a crushing end to a storied political career. The majority leader of the United States Senate will have been defeated after four terms by an opponent he doesn’t respect or even take seriously. He will be the victim, in his view, of an electorate gone mad, taken down in his prime after rising higher than anyone from his state ever has.” His contempt for us has no bounds.

The last thing GOP presidential contenders want to do is seem like they are in cahoots with the mainstream media in trying to chase Sarah Palin out of the race. “Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R) said Monday it would be ‘great’ for former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R) to run for president in 2012. … A spokesman for Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, another possible 2012 GOP presidential candidate, said Palin deserves credit and thanks for her work for the Republican Party. ‘We’re all on the same team, and anonymously sourced stories that try and divide us exemplify one reason why Americans outside the beltway hold D.C. in such contempt,’ said Alex Conant, the Pawlenty spokesman.”

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Freaking Out J Street

Washington Jewish Week reports that the Emergency Committee for Israel is making quite a splash:

In the past few months, ECI has made a name for itself by assaulting Democrats in hotly contested congressional races over their support for Israel — or lack thereof, as ECI sees it. …

“There is some reason for Democrats to be concerned,” said one Democratic political strategist who would speak only on background. ECI is “going about this in an intelligent way and it’s likely to have an impact.”

“In a marginal and close race” in a niche market, the source added, “they could certainly move the needle.”

The ads, which [executive director Noah]Pollak said will air “hundreds” of times on several networks, target Pennsylvania Senate hopeful, Rep. Joe Sestak (D) — whom ECI pegged as anti-Israel in a spot that ran during the National League Championship Series between the Phillies and Giants — as well as Reps. Rush Holt (D-N.J.) and John Tierney (D-Mass.).

The notion that, as an ECI spokesman put it, the “free ride is over” and candidates will actually be held accountable for their views, associations, and votes on Israel has left Democrats whimpering. Ira Forman, the former head of the  National Jewish Democratic Council, (who could never muster a single bad word about Obama’s assault on Israel) asserts: “Either [ECI] knows very little about what will drive Jewish votes… or they’re just cynical and this is a good opportunity for them to build their own political operation.” I actually don’t know what that means — the ECI operation obviously is designed to hold lawmakers accountable for their voting records on Israel. But Forman has a point that the left has so downgraded Israel as a priority that exposing a lawmaker’s anti-Israel voting record might not shake its followers free of the “sick addiction” to the Democratic party. But then again, the rest of American voters, including a fair number of Jews, are quite pro-Israel, so it does make a difference. Odd, isn’t it, however, that Forman assumes that ECI is only going after Jewish voters?

But the whine-a-thon really revs up when J Street’s policy director, Hadar Susskind, (I guess the credibility-challenged Jeremy Ben-Ami is at an undisclosed location these days) insists that “ECI’s primary function as not to defend Israel or sway voters, but to ‘scare legislators.'” Well, I imagine many of the J Street endorsees, including Joe Sestak, are scared because their votes and actions don’t match their pro-Israel labeling. Then Susskind comes up with this howler:

“I could list out two dozen Republicans in Congress who take a much more nuanced view on” the peace process, but can’t express it “because the majority of campaign support they get is from folks who are on the far-right, neo-conservative, Israel-right-or-wrong crowd,” Susskind said.

To adopt that view, he explained, would mean sacrificing already scant Jewish support. ECI’s “game is really to keep Republicans in line.”

These alleged GOP lawmakers can’t express that they are secretly “more nuanced”? (So how do we know they are?) Who are these people, tailgunner Susskind? Perhaps there is a list to wave before the cameras. And by the way, in case the J Street kids hadn’t noticed, J Street’s game is to hold all lawmakers accountable — including Democrats Sestak, Holt, and Tierney.

Washington Jewish Week reports that the Emergency Committee for Israel is making quite a splash:

In the past few months, ECI has made a name for itself by assaulting Democrats in hotly contested congressional races over their support for Israel — or lack thereof, as ECI sees it. …

“There is some reason for Democrats to be concerned,” said one Democratic political strategist who would speak only on background. ECI is “going about this in an intelligent way and it’s likely to have an impact.”

“In a marginal and close race” in a niche market, the source added, “they could certainly move the needle.”

The ads, which [executive director Noah]Pollak said will air “hundreds” of times on several networks, target Pennsylvania Senate hopeful, Rep. Joe Sestak (D) — whom ECI pegged as anti-Israel in a spot that ran during the National League Championship Series between the Phillies and Giants — as well as Reps. Rush Holt (D-N.J.) and John Tierney (D-Mass.).

The notion that, as an ECI spokesman put it, the “free ride is over” and candidates will actually be held accountable for their views, associations, and votes on Israel has left Democrats whimpering. Ira Forman, the former head of the  National Jewish Democratic Council, (who could never muster a single bad word about Obama’s assault on Israel) asserts: “Either [ECI] knows very little about what will drive Jewish votes… or they’re just cynical and this is a good opportunity for them to build their own political operation.” I actually don’t know what that means — the ECI operation obviously is designed to hold lawmakers accountable for their voting records on Israel. But Forman has a point that the left has so downgraded Israel as a priority that exposing a lawmaker’s anti-Israel voting record might not shake its followers free of the “sick addiction” to the Democratic party. But then again, the rest of American voters, including a fair number of Jews, are quite pro-Israel, so it does make a difference. Odd, isn’t it, however, that Forman assumes that ECI is only going after Jewish voters?

But the whine-a-thon really revs up when J Street’s policy director, Hadar Susskind, (I guess the credibility-challenged Jeremy Ben-Ami is at an undisclosed location these days) insists that “ECI’s primary function as not to defend Israel or sway voters, but to ‘scare legislators.'” Well, I imagine many of the J Street endorsees, including Joe Sestak, are scared because their votes and actions don’t match their pro-Israel labeling. Then Susskind comes up with this howler:

“I could list out two dozen Republicans in Congress who take a much more nuanced view on” the peace process, but can’t express it “because the majority of campaign support they get is from folks who are on the far-right, neo-conservative, Israel-right-or-wrong crowd,” Susskind said.

To adopt that view, he explained, would mean sacrificing already scant Jewish support. ECI’s “game is really to keep Republicans in line.”

These alleged GOP lawmakers can’t express that they are secretly “more nuanced”? (So how do we know they are?) Who are these people, tailgunner Susskind? Perhaps there is a list to wave before the cameras. And by the way, in case the J Street kids hadn’t noticed, J Street’s game is to hold all lawmakers accountable — including Democrats Sestak, Holt, and Tierney.

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Middle East Chaos

It is not simply that Iran is moving steadily toward membership in the nuclear powers’ club. It is not only that the UN is plotting to carve up Israel. No, these are symptoms of an underlying problem: the U.S.’s retreat from the Middle East and the decline of American influence. There are other signs as well.

The administration has been demonstrating abject weakness with Syria. It mounted no meaningful response to violations of UN Resolution 1701. It has attempted to confirm and redeploy an ambassador to Damascus. Back in March, Elliott Abrams reeled off the list of “engagement” moves that bore an uncanny resemblance to appeasement:

* High level envoys have been sent to Damascus: Under Secretary of State William Burns visited Syria in mid-February, the highest ranking U.S. official to set foot there in more than five years, and Middle East envoy George Mitchell has visited three times. High-ranking Central Command officers have been sent to Damascus to discuss cooperation against terrorism.

* President Obama has now nominated an ambassador to Damascus, the first since Margaret Scobey was withdrawn in 2005 after the murder of former prime minister Rafik al-Hariri in Lebanon (which was widely blamed on the Assad regime).

* The president has also removed the American block to Syria’s attempt to join the World Trade Organization.

* The United States has eased some export licenses for Syria, mostly in the area of aircraft.

* Syria’s deputy foreign minister was invited to Washington in October, the first such visit in several years.

So how’s that working out? As we’ve seen, Bashar al-Assad has moved ever closer to Iran (the opposite reaction intended by the Obama team), even as he displays his contempt for the U.S.:

Syria’s president has accused the United States of sowing chaos overseas, snubbing Washington’s efforts to improve ties with Damascus. Syrian President Bashar Assad told Al-Hayat newspaper in an interview published Tuesday that the US “created chaos in every place it entered.” “Is Afghanistan stable? Is Somalia stable? Did they bring stability to Lebanon in 1983?” Assad asked, referring to US intervention in Lebanon’s 15-year civil war that ended in 1990.

To this, the U.S. replied, “Are not.” In diplomatic terms: “Spokesman P.J. Crowley charged that Syria is destabilizing Lebanon by supplying arms to militants and issuing arrest warrants for Lebanese officials. ‘These activities by Syria directly undermine Lebanon’s sovereignty and directly undermine Syria’s stated commitments to Lebanon’s sovereignty and independence,’ Crowley said. ‘We believe we’re playing a constructive role in the region, and we believe that Syria is not.”’ This “tough retort,” according to the press account, is what passes for the administration’s Syria policy.

And speaking of Lebanon:

The Obama administration, already struggling to stave off a collapse of Middle East peace talks, is increasingly alarmed by unrest in Lebanon, whose own fragile peace is being threatened by militant opponents of a politically charged investigation into the killing in 2005 of a former Lebanese leader.

With an international tribunal expected to hand down indictments in the assassination of the former prime minister, Rafik Hariri, in the coming months, the Hezbollah militia is maneuvering furiously to halt the investigation, or failing that, to unseat Lebanon’s government, which backs it.

The New York Times helpfully offers that the Obama team has, contrary to appearances, really (honestly!) not been obsessed with the failed Palestinian-Israeli non-peace talks. It has instead been focused on this looming crisis:

The administration’s worries go beyond Lebanon itself, and help explain why it, and not the stalled Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, has been the major preoccupation of American foreign policy officials for the last few weeks. The diplomatic activity follows a splashy tour of Lebanon by Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who got an ecstatic reception from members of Hezbollah, the Shiite movement financed and equipped by Iran. American officials were particularly struck by Mr. Ahmadinejad’s trip to a small town a few miles north of the Israeli border, where he called for the “Zionists to be wiped out.”

With unintended comedic effect, the dispatched U.S. envoy, Jeffrey D. Feltman, proclaims: “You don’t want the perception of a vacuum. … You don’t want the perception that Ahmadinejad is the only game in town.” Umm, it’s a little late for that realization, isn’t it? And if that’s the problem, then throwing ourselves at the mullahs’ feet in order to restart the charade of nuclear talks is hardly going to improve matters.

It is not simply that Iran is moving steadily toward membership in the nuclear powers’ club. It is not only that the UN is plotting to carve up Israel. No, these are symptoms of an underlying problem: the U.S.’s retreat from the Middle East and the decline of American influence. There are other signs as well.

The administration has been demonstrating abject weakness with Syria. It mounted no meaningful response to violations of UN Resolution 1701. It has attempted to confirm and redeploy an ambassador to Damascus. Back in March, Elliott Abrams reeled off the list of “engagement” moves that bore an uncanny resemblance to appeasement:

* High level envoys have been sent to Damascus: Under Secretary of State William Burns visited Syria in mid-February, the highest ranking U.S. official to set foot there in more than five years, and Middle East envoy George Mitchell has visited three times. High-ranking Central Command officers have been sent to Damascus to discuss cooperation against terrorism.

* President Obama has now nominated an ambassador to Damascus, the first since Margaret Scobey was withdrawn in 2005 after the murder of former prime minister Rafik al-Hariri in Lebanon (which was widely blamed on the Assad regime).

* The president has also removed the American block to Syria’s attempt to join the World Trade Organization.

* The United States has eased some export licenses for Syria, mostly in the area of aircraft.

* Syria’s deputy foreign minister was invited to Washington in October, the first such visit in several years.

So how’s that working out? As we’ve seen, Bashar al-Assad has moved ever closer to Iran (the opposite reaction intended by the Obama team), even as he displays his contempt for the U.S.:

Syria’s president has accused the United States of sowing chaos overseas, snubbing Washington’s efforts to improve ties with Damascus. Syrian President Bashar Assad told Al-Hayat newspaper in an interview published Tuesday that the US “created chaos in every place it entered.” “Is Afghanistan stable? Is Somalia stable? Did they bring stability to Lebanon in 1983?” Assad asked, referring to US intervention in Lebanon’s 15-year civil war that ended in 1990.

To this, the U.S. replied, “Are not.” In diplomatic terms: “Spokesman P.J. Crowley charged that Syria is destabilizing Lebanon by supplying arms to militants and issuing arrest warrants for Lebanese officials. ‘These activities by Syria directly undermine Lebanon’s sovereignty and directly undermine Syria’s stated commitments to Lebanon’s sovereignty and independence,’ Crowley said. ‘We believe we’re playing a constructive role in the region, and we believe that Syria is not.”’ This “tough retort,” according to the press account, is what passes for the administration’s Syria policy.

And speaking of Lebanon:

The Obama administration, already struggling to stave off a collapse of Middle East peace talks, is increasingly alarmed by unrest in Lebanon, whose own fragile peace is being threatened by militant opponents of a politically charged investigation into the killing in 2005 of a former Lebanese leader.

With an international tribunal expected to hand down indictments in the assassination of the former prime minister, Rafik Hariri, in the coming months, the Hezbollah militia is maneuvering furiously to halt the investigation, or failing that, to unseat Lebanon’s government, which backs it.

The New York Times helpfully offers that the Obama team has, contrary to appearances, really (honestly!) not been obsessed with the failed Palestinian-Israeli non-peace talks. It has instead been focused on this looming crisis:

The administration’s worries go beyond Lebanon itself, and help explain why it, and not the stalled Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, has been the major preoccupation of American foreign policy officials for the last few weeks. The diplomatic activity follows a splashy tour of Lebanon by Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who got an ecstatic reception from members of Hezbollah, the Shiite movement financed and equipped by Iran. American officials were particularly struck by Mr. Ahmadinejad’s trip to a small town a few miles north of the Israeli border, where he called for the “Zionists to be wiped out.”

With unintended comedic effect, the dispatched U.S. envoy, Jeffrey D. Feltman, proclaims: “You don’t want the perception of a vacuum. … You don’t want the perception that Ahmadinejad is the only game in town.” Umm, it’s a little late for that realization, isn’t it? And if that’s the problem, then throwing ourselves at the mullahs’ feet in order to restart the charade of nuclear talks is hardly going to improve matters.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Terrible news: Carly Fiorina is hospitalized.

Rotten outlook for the Dems from Charlie Cook: “The Cook Political Report’s pre-election House outlook is a Democratic net loss of 48 to 60 seats, with higher losses possible. A turnover of just 39 seats would tip majority status into Republican hands. The midterm maelstrom pulling House Democrats under shows no signs of abating, if anything it has intensified.”

Dismal outlook for Virginia Democrats: Dick Boucher may be denied his 16th term.

Noxious moral equivalence from the UN: “‘Israeli officials slammed UN special envoy Robert Serry’s comments Tuesday equating alleged settler vandalism against olive trees to terrorism, saying such an equation was “absurd” and “reprehensible.” As for the use of the word “terror,” does he want to make believe that there are Israeli suicide bombers attacking Palestinians buses?’ [Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor] said.  ‘One cannot understand this absurd equation. The Israeli government has acted with determination against violence directed against Palestinians, with a number of offenders brought to trial and an unambiguous approach by the Israeli justice system to this problem.'”

On the good-news front, many sharp GOP foreign policy gurus will have new prominence in Congress. Josh Rogin has the rundown.

Fabulous entertainment value ahead: “Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) will likely represent himself at his mid-November ethics trial, setting up a potential spectacle less than two weeks after what’s expected to be a disappointing — if not devastating — election for Democrats.”

A positive development for conservative Hoosiers: “House Republican Conference Chairman Mike Pence  of Indiana is considering stepping down from his post in the GOP leadership in preparation for a possible bid for president or governor in 2012. Pence, a darling of the conservative movement, would leave the leadership job with a blunt explanation to colleagues that he can’t commit to a two-year term in House leadership, a source familiar with his deliberations told POLITICO Tuesday.”

Terrible news: Carly Fiorina is hospitalized.

Rotten outlook for the Dems from Charlie Cook: “The Cook Political Report’s pre-election House outlook is a Democratic net loss of 48 to 60 seats, with higher losses possible. A turnover of just 39 seats would tip majority status into Republican hands. The midterm maelstrom pulling House Democrats under shows no signs of abating, if anything it has intensified.”

Dismal outlook for Virginia Democrats: Dick Boucher may be denied his 16th term.

Noxious moral equivalence from the UN: “‘Israeli officials slammed UN special envoy Robert Serry’s comments Tuesday equating alleged settler vandalism against olive trees to terrorism, saying such an equation was “absurd” and “reprehensible.” As for the use of the word “terror,” does he want to make believe that there are Israeli suicide bombers attacking Palestinians buses?’ [Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor] said.  ‘One cannot understand this absurd equation. The Israeli government has acted with determination against violence directed against Palestinians, with a number of offenders brought to trial and an unambiguous approach by the Israeli justice system to this problem.'”

On the good-news front, many sharp GOP foreign policy gurus will have new prominence in Congress. Josh Rogin has the rundown.

Fabulous entertainment value ahead: “Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) will likely represent himself at his mid-November ethics trial, setting up a potential spectacle less than two weeks after what’s expected to be a disappointing — if not devastating — election for Democrats.”

A positive development for conservative Hoosiers: “House Republican Conference Chairman Mike Pence  of Indiana is considering stepping down from his post in the GOP leadership in preparation for a possible bid for president or governor in 2012. Pence, a darling of the conservative movement, would leave the leadership job with a blunt explanation to colleagues that he can’t commit to a two-year term in House leadership, a source familiar with his deliberations told POLITICO Tuesday.”

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Flotsam and Jetsam

There’s an understatement: “Juan Williams said Friday morning that NPR fired him this week because the radio network had become ‘vindictive’ over his appearances on Fox News.” Exhibit A: “NPR CEO Vivian Schiller on Thursday said that Williams should have kept his comments between himself and ‘his psychiatrist or his publicist.’ Schiller later apologized for the comment.” As a recovering labor lawyer, I can tell you that’s a plaintiff’s dream come true.

There’s a signal here: “The average of these states show that early voting has shifted from a D+16.6 partisan split to a D+1.7 partisan split for a Republican gain of +14.9% since 2008.” So many voters operating with the lizard brain, aren’t there?

There’s another reason to repeal ObamaCare. “Congressional Budget Office director Doug Elmendorf said Friday that ObamaCare includes work disincentives likely to shrink the amount of labor used in the economy.”

There’s no indication as to how they feel about Juan Williams. “Al-Qaeda Troubled by Helen Thomas’s Firing.”

There’s no indication that Jews agree with the tut-tutters that Israel is too “divisive” a campaign issue. JTA reports: “The National Jewish Democratic Council is running a ‘Day of Action,’ a get out the vote effort, nationwide on Sunday. The Republican Jewish Coalition is  chockablock with events in the coming days, including an appearance by former Bush administration spokesman Ari Fleischer in Chicago, where a lot of RJC attention has been focused, backing candidates Rep. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) for the Senate and Joel Pollak and Bob Dold for the House. The RJC is running TV ads in the Philadelphia area targeting Rep. Joe Sestak (D-Pa.), the candidate for the state’s open U.S. Senate seat — not for J Street deviations from dogma, as in the past, but for backing civilian trials for terrorists.”

There’s not a single one predicting the Democrats will hold the House (number of predicted losses are in parenthesis): Larry Sabato (47), RCP (“up to 57″), Charlie Cook (52), Jay Cost (61), and Nate Silver (51).

There’s a headline for Peter Sellers’s fans: “Not Even Clouseau Could Make Panthers Disappear.” Quin Hillyer cites the Washington Post front-page story from yesterday and explains, “[Eric] Holder’s stonewalling can’t work. The truth will out. The truth appears to involve a pattern of race-based enforcement decisions at DOJ. Such a policy is unlawful. Period.” Actually, “Exclamation point!”

There’s no hotter Republican than Chris Christie. “He quickly has positioned himself as a politician in tune with an angry and impatient electorate, and he’s already mentioned as a 2012 presidential candidate. He’s well aware that the fate of his fight with the teachers union could determine his own. ‘If I wanted to be sure I’d be re-elected, I’d cozy up with the teachers union. … But I want far-reaching, not incremental, change.'”

There’s a lot of hype in the reporting on the WikiLeaks documents, says Tom Joscelyn. But, he explains, the documents do confirm “that Iran was, and remains, a principal sponsor of Shia extremist groups in Iraq. These same groups helped bring Iraq to the brink of chaos — along with al-Qaeda, which was also happy to fuel the sectarian violence. … They killed far more civilians than the American-led coalition ever did.”

There’s probably been a more counterproductive ad than Jack Conway’s attack on Rand Paul’s religion. But I just can’t think of one.

There’s an understatement: “Juan Williams said Friday morning that NPR fired him this week because the radio network had become ‘vindictive’ over his appearances on Fox News.” Exhibit A: “NPR CEO Vivian Schiller on Thursday said that Williams should have kept his comments between himself and ‘his psychiatrist or his publicist.’ Schiller later apologized for the comment.” As a recovering labor lawyer, I can tell you that’s a plaintiff’s dream come true.

There’s a signal here: “The average of these states show that early voting has shifted from a D+16.6 partisan split to a D+1.7 partisan split for a Republican gain of +14.9% since 2008.” So many voters operating with the lizard brain, aren’t there?

There’s another reason to repeal ObamaCare. “Congressional Budget Office director Doug Elmendorf said Friday that ObamaCare includes work disincentives likely to shrink the amount of labor used in the economy.”

There’s no indication as to how they feel about Juan Williams. “Al-Qaeda Troubled by Helen Thomas’s Firing.”

There’s no indication that Jews agree with the tut-tutters that Israel is too “divisive” a campaign issue. JTA reports: “The National Jewish Democratic Council is running a ‘Day of Action,’ a get out the vote effort, nationwide on Sunday. The Republican Jewish Coalition is  chockablock with events in the coming days, including an appearance by former Bush administration spokesman Ari Fleischer in Chicago, where a lot of RJC attention has been focused, backing candidates Rep. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) for the Senate and Joel Pollak and Bob Dold for the House. The RJC is running TV ads in the Philadelphia area targeting Rep. Joe Sestak (D-Pa.), the candidate for the state’s open U.S. Senate seat — not for J Street deviations from dogma, as in the past, but for backing civilian trials for terrorists.”

There’s not a single one predicting the Democrats will hold the House (number of predicted losses are in parenthesis): Larry Sabato (47), RCP (“up to 57″), Charlie Cook (52), Jay Cost (61), and Nate Silver (51).

There’s a headline for Peter Sellers’s fans: “Not Even Clouseau Could Make Panthers Disappear.” Quin Hillyer cites the Washington Post front-page story from yesterday and explains, “[Eric] Holder’s stonewalling can’t work. The truth will out. The truth appears to involve a pattern of race-based enforcement decisions at DOJ. Such a policy is unlawful. Period.” Actually, “Exclamation point!”

There’s no hotter Republican than Chris Christie. “He quickly has positioned himself as a politician in tune with an angry and impatient electorate, and he’s already mentioned as a 2012 presidential candidate. He’s well aware that the fate of his fight with the teachers union could determine his own. ‘If I wanted to be sure I’d be re-elected, I’d cozy up with the teachers union. … But I want far-reaching, not incremental, change.'”

There’s a lot of hype in the reporting on the WikiLeaks documents, says Tom Joscelyn. But, he explains, the documents do confirm “that Iran was, and remains, a principal sponsor of Shia extremist groups in Iraq. These same groups helped bring Iraq to the brink of chaos — along with al-Qaeda, which was also happy to fuel the sectarian violence. … They killed far more civilians than the American-led coalition ever did.”

There’s probably been a more counterproductive ad than Jack Conway’s attack on Rand Paul’s religion. But I just can’t think of one.

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The Muslim Brotherhood Takes Off Its Mask

Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood was never a “moderate” organization. I briefly interviewed their spokesman many years ago, and it could not have been more obvious that I was dealing with a dissembler. I know moderate Muslims when I see them, and these guys aren’t even in the same time zone.

Recently, though, for reasons I’m not quite sure about yet, they decided to stop playing the game, and we can thank Barry Rubin for paying particularly close attention to this development.

In calling for jihad against America, the West and Israel in terms virtually identical with Osama bin Laden’s rhetoric, the leader of Egypt’s powerful Muslim Brotherhood uttered one sentence that explains the contemporary Middle East.

Here it is: “The improvement and change that the [Muslim] nation seeks can only be attained through jihad and sacrifice and by raising a jihadi generation that pursues death just as its enemies pursue life.”

The Muslim Brotherhood is not a militia. It can’t seize the capital, and it can’t take on the army. It doesn’t control a state within a state, as Hamas and Hezbollah do. It can’t start a war with another country or draw in foreign powers. It can’t win an election, because Hosni Mubarak’s regime rigs the system. It does, however, have an enormous amount of clout on the streets.

I’ve been to more than a dozen Muslim countries and seen for myself how extraordinarily diverse they are. Some are as secular and irreligious as the nations of Western Europe. Egypt, though, is by far the most politically Islamicized place I’ve ever seen. And by that I don’t mean that Egyptians are more likely to pray and go to the mosque than people in other countries. The Kurds of Iraq are by and large conservative Muslims, but political Islamism barely registers there and is held in contempt by the majority.

In Egypt, it’s different, and you can see it and feel it in Cairo. The liberal and moderate Egyptians I spoke to were keenly aware that they’re part of a small minority that has no political future right now.

One reason for this is that Egypt’s current secular government — which is a less-ideological continuation of the Arab Nationalist regime founded by Gamal Abdel Nasser and his Free Officer’s Movement — has failed Egypt spectacularly in almost every possible way. Egypt’s experience with secular modernity has been a miserable one, and the Muslim Brotherhood’s slogan, “Islam is the solution,” sounds plausible to millions of people.

That isn’t the only reason, of course. Albanians fared far worse under the secular Communist regime of Enver Hoxha — which was similar in a lot ways to Kim Il-Sung’s in North Korea — yet Islamism never caught on there. No single explanation will suffice in Egypt or anywhere else.

Still, Mubarak’s ideology and government is rejected by a huge number of Egyptians for many of the same reasons the Shah’s regime in Iran was in the late 1970s. The Muslim Brotherhood will be a likely replacement if Mubarak’s government implodes or is overthrown. Given that the Brotherhood is becoming more extreme rather than less, the West may want to brace itself.

Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood was never a “moderate” organization. I briefly interviewed their spokesman many years ago, and it could not have been more obvious that I was dealing with a dissembler. I know moderate Muslims when I see them, and these guys aren’t even in the same time zone.

Recently, though, for reasons I’m not quite sure about yet, they decided to stop playing the game, and we can thank Barry Rubin for paying particularly close attention to this development.

In calling for jihad against America, the West and Israel in terms virtually identical with Osama bin Laden’s rhetoric, the leader of Egypt’s powerful Muslim Brotherhood uttered one sentence that explains the contemporary Middle East.

Here it is: “The improvement and change that the [Muslim] nation seeks can only be attained through jihad and sacrifice and by raising a jihadi generation that pursues death just as its enemies pursue life.”

The Muslim Brotherhood is not a militia. It can’t seize the capital, and it can’t take on the army. It doesn’t control a state within a state, as Hamas and Hezbollah do. It can’t start a war with another country or draw in foreign powers. It can’t win an election, because Hosni Mubarak’s regime rigs the system. It does, however, have an enormous amount of clout on the streets.

I’ve been to more than a dozen Muslim countries and seen for myself how extraordinarily diverse they are. Some are as secular and irreligious as the nations of Western Europe. Egypt, though, is by far the most politically Islamicized place I’ve ever seen. And by that I don’t mean that Egyptians are more likely to pray and go to the mosque than people in other countries. The Kurds of Iraq are by and large conservative Muslims, but political Islamism barely registers there and is held in contempt by the majority.

In Egypt, it’s different, and you can see it and feel it in Cairo. The liberal and moderate Egyptians I spoke to were keenly aware that they’re part of a small minority that has no political future right now.

One reason for this is that Egypt’s current secular government — which is a less-ideological continuation of the Arab Nationalist regime founded by Gamal Abdel Nasser and his Free Officer’s Movement — has failed Egypt spectacularly in almost every possible way. Egypt’s experience with secular modernity has been a miserable one, and the Muslim Brotherhood’s slogan, “Islam is the solution,” sounds plausible to millions of people.

That isn’t the only reason, of course. Albanians fared far worse under the secular Communist regime of Enver Hoxha — which was similar in a lot ways to Kim Il-Sung’s in North Korea — yet Islamism never caught on there. No single explanation will suffice in Egypt or anywhere else.

Still, Mubarak’s ideology and government is rejected by a huge number of Egyptians for many of the same reasons the Shah’s regime in Iran was in the late 1970s. The Muslim Brotherhood will be a likely replacement if Mubarak’s government implodes or is overthrown. Given that the Brotherhood is becoming more extreme rather than less, the West may want to brace itself.

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Not Charming, Are They?

For those who imagine that the Obama team is finally “getting it” with regard to the Middle East or that it has taken to heart the complaints of Jewish supporters, it will be a surprise when the president and his crack diplomatic crew repeat precisely the same error and employ the identical tactics that have been their modus operandi for nearly two years.

Israel resumes building in its capital, in a “Jewish neighborhood.” (The term is objectionable, of course, because it implies Jews can’t live where they please.) This is not some remote “settlement.” This is the sort of building in Jerusalem that has gone on under multiple prime ministers. But the Obami are frustrated and embarrassed, so they double down, reiterating their insistence that Israel cough up more concessions (a building freeze) while the Palestinians freely announce they won’t be recognizing a “Jewish state.” This report explains:

“We were disappointed by the announcement of new tenders in east Jerusalem yesterday. It is contrary to our efforts to resume direct negotiations between the parties,” said State Department spokesman Philip Crowley to assembled reporters at a weekly briefing.

However, Israel has already announced it won’t be reimposing a settlement freeze, certainly not in Jerusalem. The Obami are mute on whether the walk-out by Abbas is “contrary to [their] efforts” as well.

Now no nation can be less peeved than the U.S., so Jordan chirps up:

Jordan’s State Minister for Media Affairs and Communications Ali Ayed issued a statement condemning building plans, and calling on the international community to “stop Israeli provocations” and do whatever possible to resume and see through successful negotiations.

But things have changed here in the U.S. since the Obama team “condemned” such building last March. Obama now is politically toxic, the American Jewish community has had it with the bully-boy-ism, and liberal elected officials have discovered that there really is no there there on J Street (i.e., no alternative pro-Israel faction — other than Soros and the Hong Kong mystery gal — that approves of Obama’s approach).

Don’t take my word for it. A J Street endorsee and liberal Democrat Gary Ackerman blasts away in a statement:

“Jerusalem is the capital of Israel. It is not a settlement. As such, the resumption of construction in Jerusalem is not a justification for a crisis, a showdown, a meltdown or even a hissy fit. Ramot and Pisgat Zeev are going to be part of Israel in any conceivable final status deal and to pretend otherwise is pointless.

As I have said, those who earlier complained about the inadequacy of Israel’s unilateral and uncompensated settlement freeze, who chose to waste those ten months instead of diving aggressively into direct talks on peace, cannot reasonably now turn around and complain that the end of the freeze and the resumption of Israeli construction in Jerusalem—Israel’s capital, and the singular geographic center of the hopes and aspirations of the Jewish people for three millennia—is either a shock or an insurmountable obstacle to  peace.

Israeli construction in Jerusalem, in two already well-established neighborhoods is neither a show of bad faith, nor a justification for avoiding negotiations aimed at achieving a final status agreement. The legitimate aspirations of the Palestinians are not going to be achieved by violence and they’re not going to be achieved by the equivalent of holding their breath until their lips turn blue. Direct negotiations are sole pathway to their goal and the sooner they recognize this fact, the better.”

I don’t think Soros is getting his money’s worth from Ackerman. He sounds like he’s echoing the position of the Emergency Committee for Israel.

As belated as Ackerman’s outspokenness may be, it is still welcomed. And it is, I would suggest, the silver lining in the Obama era. There is now the opportunity for Democrats to correct course and demonstrate that their pro-Israel bona fides are just as sound as their Republican colleagues. In the new Congress, perhaps Ackerman and other prominent Democrats (Chuck Schumer, Howard Berman, etc.) will cease carrying water for the Obama administration’s flawed Israel policy. The Congress has the power of the purse, the duty of oversight, and the ability to use resolutions and public statements to push back on the administration. All of that is long overdue. Let’s hope Ackerman’s reaction is the beginning of a trend and not simply pre-election political expediency.

For those who imagine that the Obama team is finally “getting it” with regard to the Middle East or that it has taken to heart the complaints of Jewish supporters, it will be a surprise when the president and his crack diplomatic crew repeat precisely the same error and employ the identical tactics that have been their modus operandi for nearly two years.

Israel resumes building in its capital, in a “Jewish neighborhood.” (The term is objectionable, of course, because it implies Jews can’t live where they please.) This is not some remote “settlement.” This is the sort of building in Jerusalem that has gone on under multiple prime ministers. But the Obami are frustrated and embarrassed, so they double down, reiterating their insistence that Israel cough up more concessions (a building freeze) while the Palestinians freely announce they won’t be recognizing a “Jewish state.” This report explains:

“We were disappointed by the announcement of new tenders in east Jerusalem yesterday. It is contrary to our efforts to resume direct negotiations between the parties,” said State Department spokesman Philip Crowley to assembled reporters at a weekly briefing.

However, Israel has already announced it won’t be reimposing a settlement freeze, certainly not in Jerusalem. The Obami are mute on whether the walk-out by Abbas is “contrary to [their] efforts” as well.

Now no nation can be less peeved than the U.S., so Jordan chirps up:

Jordan’s State Minister for Media Affairs and Communications Ali Ayed issued a statement condemning building plans, and calling on the international community to “stop Israeli provocations” and do whatever possible to resume and see through successful negotiations.

But things have changed here in the U.S. since the Obama team “condemned” such building last March. Obama now is politically toxic, the American Jewish community has had it with the bully-boy-ism, and liberal elected officials have discovered that there really is no there there on J Street (i.e., no alternative pro-Israel faction — other than Soros and the Hong Kong mystery gal — that approves of Obama’s approach).

Don’t take my word for it. A J Street endorsee and liberal Democrat Gary Ackerman blasts away in a statement:

“Jerusalem is the capital of Israel. It is not a settlement. As such, the resumption of construction in Jerusalem is not a justification for a crisis, a showdown, a meltdown or even a hissy fit. Ramot and Pisgat Zeev are going to be part of Israel in any conceivable final status deal and to pretend otherwise is pointless.

As I have said, those who earlier complained about the inadequacy of Israel’s unilateral and uncompensated settlement freeze, who chose to waste those ten months instead of diving aggressively into direct talks on peace, cannot reasonably now turn around and complain that the end of the freeze and the resumption of Israeli construction in Jerusalem—Israel’s capital, and the singular geographic center of the hopes and aspirations of the Jewish people for three millennia—is either a shock or an insurmountable obstacle to  peace.

Israeli construction in Jerusalem, in two already well-established neighborhoods is neither a show of bad faith, nor a justification for avoiding negotiations aimed at achieving a final status agreement. The legitimate aspirations of the Palestinians are not going to be achieved by violence and they’re not going to be achieved by the equivalent of holding their breath until their lips turn blue. Direct negotiations are sole pathway to their goal and the sooner they recognize this fact, the better.”

I don’t think Soros is getting his money’s worth from Ackerman. He sounds like he’s echoing the position of the Emergency Committee for Israel.

As belated as Ackerman’s outspokenness may be, it is still welcomed. And it is, I would suggest, the silver lining in the Obama era. There is now the opportunity for Democrats to correct course and demonstrate that their pro-Israel bona fides are just as sound as their Republican colleagues. In the new Congress, perhaps Ackerman and other prominent Democrats (Chuck Schumer, Howard Berman, etc.) will cease carrying water for the Obama administration’s flawed Israel policy. The Congress has the power of the purse, the duty of oversight, and the ability to use resolutions and public statements to push back on the administration. All of that is long overdue. Let’s hope Ackerman’s reaction is the beginning of a trend and not simply pre-election political expediency.

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Pulling Teeth at the State Department

Having kept a running count of the number of times the Obama administration has refused to answer if it is bound by the 2004 Bush letter (22 times so far), it is a pleasure to report that it took only six attempts yesterday to get the State Department spokesman, P.J. Crowley, to answer whether the U.S. recognizes Israel as a Jewish state.

Crowley’s first response tried to throw reporters off the track with the tantalizing suggestion that George Mitchell just might go — it would be logical — back to the region at some point. Asked a second time, Crowley responded that we “recognize [Israel’s] aspiration.” On the reporters’ third through fifth tries, Crowley proved hard of hearing. On the sixth attempt, after a 14-word preface, he finally responded: “yes.”

QUESTION: P.J., do you recognize Israel as a Jewish state and will you try to convince the Palestinians to recognize it?

MR. CROWLEY: We will continue our discussions with the parties. I would expect, following up on the Arab League meetings of late last week that George Mitchell will go to the region at some point. I’m not announcing anything, but I — it would be logical for us to follow up directly with the parties, see where they are. [Blah, blah, blah.] Read More

Having kept a running count of the number of times the Obama administration has refused to answer if it is bound by the 2004 Bush letter (22 times so far), it is a pleasure to report that it took only six attempts yesterday to get the State Department spokesman, P.J. Crowley, to answer whether the U.S. recognizes Israel as a Jewish state.

Crowley’s first response tried to throw reporters off the track with the tantalizing suggestion that George Mitchell just might go — it would be logical — back to the region at some point. Asked a second time, Crowley responded that we “recognize [Israel’s] aspiration.” On the reporters’ third through fifth tries, Crowley proved hard of hearing. On the sixth attempt, after a 14-word preface, he finally responded: “yes.”

QUESTION: P.J., do you recognize Israel as a Jewish state and will you try to convince the Palestinians to recognize it?

MR. CROWLEY: We will continue our discussions with the parties. I would expect, following up on the Arab League meetings of late last week that George Mitchell will go to the region at some point. I’m not announcing anything, but I — it would be logical for us to follow up directly with the parties, see where they are. [Blah, blah, blah.]

QUESTION: And do you recognize Israel as a Jewish state?

MR. CROWLEY: We recognize the aspiration of the people of Israel. It has — it’s a democracy. In that democracy, there’s a guarantee of freedom and liberties to all of its citizens. But as the Secretary has said, we understand that — the special character of the state of Israel.

QUESTION: Is that a yes or no?

QUESTION: P.J., it’s — do you want to answer his question or —

QUESTION: Did you say yes or no to that question from Michel?

MR. CROWLEY: Hmm?

QUESTION: Michel’s question was a yes or no sort of question. I was wondering whether that was a yes or no.

MR. CROWLEY: We recognize that Israel is a – as it says itself, is a Jewish state, yes.

The original question had a second part to it: “ … and will you try to convince the Palestinians to recognize it?” After a reporter repeated the question, it took Crowley 162 halting words to respond:

QUESTION: … Does the U.S. want the Palestinians to recognize Israel as a Jewish state?

MR. CROWLEY: Look, I will be happy to go back over and offer some — I’m trying — I’m not making any news here. We have recognized the special nature of the Israeli state. It is a state for the Jewish people. It is a state for other citizens of other faiths as well. But this is the aspiration of the — what Prime Minister Netanyahu said yesterday is, in essence, the — a core demand of the Israeli Government, which we support, is a recognition that Israel is a part of the region, acceptance by the region of the existence of the state of Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people and that is what they want to see through this negotiation. We understand this aspiration and the prime minister was talking yesterday about the fact that just as they aspire to a state for the Jewish people in the Middle East, they understand the aspirations of the Palestinian people for a state of their own.

Why is it so hard to get the Obama administration to reiterate basic commitments the U.S. has made — in writing — to Israel? The Bush letter stated that the U.S. is “strongly committed to … [Israel] as a Jewish state.” This administration has to be prodded six times to answer whether it recognizes Israel as a Jewish state and — after an affirmative response is extracted — cannot give a one-word answer on whether it wants the Palestinians to recognize one as well.

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Empty Promises to Bibi

Josh Rogin reports on the non-progress in restoring the non-peace talks:

Special Envoy George Mitchell is back in the U.S. after a tour through the Middle East that included stop in Qatar, Egypt and Jordan. No progress reported on saving the peace talks and the key meeting of the Arab League where Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas will speak has been postponed until Friday. Clinton phoned Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over the weekend.

[State Department spokesman P.J.] Crowley couldn’t and therefore didn’t answer persistent questions coming from one press corps member seeking to know when was the last time the U.S. failed to back up Israel at the U.N. The questioner was ostensibly referencing reports that the administration was trying to convince the Israelis to extend the settlement freeze by promising to veto any future attacks on Israel in international fora. “I’m not sure that is a question that can possibly be answered,” Crowley said.

Actually, reports during the Obami’s temper tantrum over housing permits in Jerusalem suggested that the administration was threatening not to veto such resolutions in the future. So we actually did have such a situation in March. But the Obami said they were “confused” and couldn’t  manage to veto a statement singling out Israel that surely would have been vetoed under the Bush and Clinton administrations.

So to put this in context, the administration is trying to lure Bibi into extending a freeze with the promise not to do (refrain from anti-Israel vetoes) what previously would never have been done — and therefore would never have been considered a bargaining chip. You can understand why Bibi is not jumping at the offer.

Josh Rogin reports on the non-progress in restoring the non-peace talks:

Special Envoy George Mitchell is back in the U.S. after a tour through the Middle East that included stop in Qatar, Egypt and Jordan. No progress reported on saving the peace talks and the key meeting of the Arab League where Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas will speak has been postponed until Friday. Clinton phoned Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over the weekend.

[State Department spokesman P.J.] Crowley couldn’t and therefore didn’t answer persistent questions coming from one press corps member seeking to know when was the last time the U.S. failed to back up Israel at the U.N. The questioner was ostensibly referencing reports that the administration was trying to convince the Israelis to extend the settlement freeze by promising to veto any future attacks on Israel in international fora. “I’m not sure that is a question that can possibly be answered,” Crowley said.

Actually, reports during the Obami’s temper tantrum over housing permits in Jerusalem suggested that the administration was threatening not to veto such resolutions in the future. So we actually did have such a situation in March. But the Obami said they were “confused” and couldn’t  manage to veto a statement singling out Israel that surely would have been vetoed under the Bush and Clinton administrations.

So to put this in context, the administration is trying to lure Bibi into extending a freeze with the promise not to do (refrain from anti-Israel vetoes) what previously would never have been done — and therefore would never have been considered a bargaining chip. You can understand why Bibi is not jumping at the offer.

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A Really Big Whopper

Joe Sestak’s campaign is going down the tubes. The Senate Democratic Campaign Committee may decide to stop pouring money down the drain. So what does he do? He panics and tries to regain Jewish voters turned off by his anti-Israel positions. He makes a big error though: he drags AIPAC into it. Ben Smith writes:

The pro-Israel group AIPAC says a campaign ad from Rep. Joe Sestak that claims that, “According to AIPAC, Joe Sestak has a 100% pro-Israel voting record” is inaccurate. … “Joe Sestak does not have a 100% voting record on Israel issues according to AIPAC. I couldn’t be true, we don’t rate or endorse candidates,” said AIPAC spokesman Josh Block of the ad, which ran in the Philadelphia Jewish Exponent.

Sestak has faced repeated attacks over his stand on Israel since signing a January letter aimed at easing Israel’s blockade of Gaza, though critics point more to letters and to sponsorship than to any votes that break with Congressional Democrats’ generally pro-Israel party line. (There haven’t been many actual difficult votes on the issue, one way or the other). And Sestak has sought in the past to associate himself with AIPAC.

No, AIPAC generally doesn’t appreciate candidates who keynote for CAIR or sign Soros Street’s Gaza 54 letter. And they really aren’t fond of those who tout the UN Human Rights Council. But they don’t do electioneering. Still, there is no doubt what the mainstream Jewish community thinks of him:

“There are serious concerns about Joe Sestak’s record related to Israel throughout the pro-Israel community,” said an official with a major pro-Israel organization in Washington. “Not only has he said that Chuck Hagel is the Senator he admires most, which is unusual enough, but when comes to actual decisions that have affected Israel and our relationship with them, he has gone the wrong way several times. It’s the height of chutzpah for him to suggest he has a good record, let alone a 100 percent one, on these issues.”

And by the way, is he going to give Soros’s money back?

Joe Sestak’s campaign is going down the tubes. The Senate Democratic Campaign Committee may decide to stop pouring money down the drain. So what does he do? He panics and tries to regain Jewish voters turned off by his anti-Israel positions. He makes a big error though: he drags AIPAC into it. Ben Smith writes:

The pro-Israel group AIPAC says a campaign ad from Rep. Joe Sestak that claims that, “According to AIPAC, Joe Sestak has a 100% pro-Israel voting record” is inaccurate. … “Joe Sestak does not have a 100% voting record on Israel issues according to AIPAC. I couldn’t be true, we don’t rate or endorse candidates,” said AIPAC spokesman Josh Block of the ad, which ran in the Philadelphia Jewish Exponent.

Sestak has faced repeated attacks over his stand on Israel since signing a January letter aimed at easing Israel’s blockade of Gaza, though critics point more to letters and to sponsorship than to any votes that break with Congressional Democrats’ generally pro-Israel party line. (There haven’t been many actual difficult votes on the issue, one way or the other). And Sestak has sought in the past to associate himself with AIPAC.

No, AIPAC generally doesn’t appreciate candidates who keynote for CAIR or sign Soros Street’s Gaza 54 letter. And they really aren’t fond of those who tout the UN Human Rights Council. But they don’t do electioneering. Still, there is no doubt what the mainstream Jewish community thinks of him:

“There are serious concerns about Joe Sestak’s record related to Israel throughout the pro-Israel community,” said an official with a major pro-Israel organization in Washington. “Not only has he said that Chuck Hagel is the Senator he admires most, which is unusual enough, but when comes to actual decisions that have affected Israel and our relationship with them, he has gone the wrong way several times. It’s the height of chutzpah for him to suggest he has a good record, let alone a 100 percent one, on these issues.”

And by the way, is he going to give Soros’s money back?

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The Wrongdoing, the Cover-Up, and Executive Privilege

Like any administration snared in a Beltway scandal, the Obama team has two problems in the New Black Panther Party scandal: the wrongdoing and the cover-up.

The wrongdoing is not merely that the Obama administration dismissed a blatant case of voter intimidation. It is not merely that an NAACP attorney pressured the Obama team to dump the case. It is not merely that the Obama Justice Department explicitly told attorneys not to enforce Section 8 of the Voting Rights Act, which helps prevent voter fraud. It is that the Obama team believes that the civil rights laws run only one way and offer protection only to certain racial or ethnic groups. That’s not the law (or the Equal Protection Clause has no meaning), and it runs afoul of Americans’ basic sense of fairness. That is why the Obama administration denies that it holds such a view. They may be radicals, but they aren’t dumb.

The cover-up takes two forms. There are the false statements put out by the Justice Department and made under oath by the assistant attorney general for civil rights, Thomas Perez, first, denying that political appointees were involved in the case and, second, disclaiming the existence of hostility toward race-neutral enforcement of voting laws. But there is also the Nixonian abuse of executive privilege to prevent scrutiny of the Justice Department. It is this latter issue that has gotten too little attention.

The administration has refused to produce witnesses and documents, employing a spurious claim of “deliberative process” privilege. Case law and Justice Department memoranda make clear that this is an offshoot of the executive privilege that is applicable only when invoked by the president (or, some would say, a Cabinet-level official). But Obama hasn’t done this. After all, “executive privilege” sounds bad. It reeks of “cover-up.” But without a formal invocation of the privilege, it is lawlessness, pure and simple, to withhold documents and witnesses in response to lawful subpoenas, FOIA requests, and a federal statute (which obligates the DOJ to cooperate with the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights).

It was both inaccurate and nervy for the Justice Department’s spokesman to claim that Chris Coates’s testimony was short on facts. To begin with, Coates cited example after example to support the conclusion that the Obama team considers only racial, ethnic, and language minorities to be protected by civil rights laws. But more to the point, he was prevented from disclosing even more details because of the administration’s privilege claim. Again and again, Coates explained that he couldn’t answer questions out of respect for the DOJ’s position. Similarly, the log obtained by Judicial Watch lists dozens of e-mails and documents transmitted between political appointees and the voting section that would substantiate testimony by Coates. All that information remains hidden from view because the Justice Department is concealing it.

The mainstream media have just woken up to the extent and importance of the scandal, so perhaps they will get around to this aspect of the case. Yet I get the feeling that if it had been the Bush administration telling whistleblowers not to testify and withholding, absent any legal basis, key documents that could implicate high-ranking officials, the media would have already been all over this.

Like any administration snared in a Beltway scandal, the Obama team has two problems in the New Black Panther Party scandal: the wrongdoing and the cover-up.

The wrongdoing is not merely that the Obama administration dismissed a blatant case of voter intimidation. It is not merely that an NAACP attorney pressured the Obama team to dump the case. It is not merely that the Obama Justice Department explicitly told attorneys not to enforce Section 8 of the Voting Rights Act, which helps prevent voter fraud. It is that the Obama team believes that the civil rights laws run only one way and offer protection only to certain racial or ethnic groups. That’s not the law (or the Equal Protection Clause has no meaning), and it runs afoul of Americans’ basic sense of fairness. That is why the Obama administration denies that it holds such a view. They may be radicals, but they aren’t dumb.

The cover-up takes two forms. There are the false statements put out by the Justice Department and made under oath by the assistant attorney general for civil rights, Thomas Perez, first, denying that political appointees were involved in the case and, second, disclaiming the existence of hostility toward race-neutral enforcement of voting laws. But there is also the Nixonian abuse of executive privilege to prevent scrutiny of the Justice Department. It is this latter issue that has gotten too little attention.

The administration has refused to produce witnesses and documents, employing a spurious claim of “deliberative process” privilege. Case law and Justice Department memoranda make clear that this is an offshoot of the executive privilege that is applicable only when invoked by the president (or, some would say, a Cabinet-level official). But Obama hasn’t done this. After all, “executive privilege” sounds bad. It reeks of “cover-up.” But without a formal invocation of the privilege, it is lawlessness, pure and simple, to withhold documents and witnesses in response to lawful subpoenas, FOIA requests, and a federal statute (which obligates the DOJ to cooperate with the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights).

It was both inaccurate and nervy for the Justice Department’s spokesman to claim that Chris Coates’s testimony was short on facts. To begin with, Coates cited example after example to support the conclusion that the Obama team considers only racial, ethnic, and language minorities to be protected by civil rights laws. But more to the point, he was prevented from disclosing even more details because of the administration’s privilege claim. Again and again, Coates explained that he couldn’t answer questions out of respect for the DOJ’s position. Similarly, the log obtained by Judicial Watch lists dozens of e-mails and documents transmitted between political appointees and the voting section that would substantiate testimony by Coates. All that information remains hidden from view because the Justice Department is concealing it.

The mainstream media have just woken up to the extent and importance of the scandal, so perhaps they will get around to this aspect of the case. Yet I get the feeling that if it had been the Bush administration telling whistleblowers not to testify and withholding, absent any legal basis, key documents that could implicate high-ranking officials, the media would have already been all over this.

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Obama Justice Department Rocked

The former head of the Justice Department’s New Black Panther trial team, Chris Coates, testified Friday before the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. See here and here and here (subscription required). Before Coates broke his silence, the commission’s critics, a minority of the commissioners, and the mainstream media insisted that the dismissal of a slam-dunk voter-intimidation case had no significance beyond the single incident on Election Day 2008. However, Coates’s account of the administration’s hostility to race-neutral enforcement of voting laws and refusal to enforce Section 8 of the Voting Rights Act (requiring that states clean up their voting rolls to prevent voter fraud) blew that assertion to smithereens.

I was in the hearing room on Friday. Nearly as riveting as Coates’s testimony was the frantic performance of the administration’s chief lackey, Commissioner Michael Yaki. He asked Coates about the civil rights division’s memo-writing procedures, Bush-era cases, and Coates’s friendship with a former department attorney but never asked any questions about the specific allegations that Obama appointees opposed equal enforcement of the voting laws. An audience member wisecracked, “When all else fails, blame George Bush.” Read More

The former head of the Justice Department’s New Black Panther trial team, Chris Coates, testified Friday before the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. See here and here and here (subscription required). Before Coates broke his silence, the commission’s critics, a minority of the commissioners, and the mainstream media insisted that the dismissal of a slam-dunk voter-intimidation case had no significance beyond the single incident on Election Day 2008. However, Coates’s account of the administration’s hostility to race-neutral enforcement of voting laws and refusal to enforce Section 8 of the Voting Rights Act (requiring that states clean up their voting rolls to prevent voter fraud) blew that assertion to smithereens.

I was in the hearing room on Friday. Nearly as riveting as Coates’s testimony was the frantic performance of the administration’s chief lackey, Commissioner Michael Yaki. He asked Coates about the civil rights division’s memo-writing procedures, Bush-era cases, and Coates’s friendship with a former department attorney but never asked any questions about the specific allegations that Obama appointees opposed equal enforcement of the voting laws. An audience member wisecracked, “When all else fails, blame George Bush.”

Try as Democrats might to ignore the blockbuster evidence, Coates’s testimony was a game changer. Granted, the testimony contained information already revealed in conservative outlets and by former DOJ attorney J. Christian Adams. But Coates confirmed these facts and added a wealth of new details. An African American attorney and his mother (who also works for DOJ) were harassed for working on a voting case brought against an African American defendant. Obama’s deputy assistant general for civil rights, Julie Fernandez, repeatedly told attorneys not to enforce Section 8 or bring cases against minority defendants. Coates’s supervisor, who directly ordered the case’s dismissal, told him to stop asking applicants if they could enforce laws in a race-neutral fashion. Coates briefed civil rights chief Thomas Perez on the hostility toward race-neutral enforcement of voting laws — before Perez feigned ignorance of such sentiments in sworn testimony. In sum, Coates’s appearance was the scandal’s tipping point.

Conservative outlets have reported on the case for over a year; mainstream reporters have averted their eyes. After Coates’s performance, the Washington Post’s page-one story proclaimed that the case is “ratcheting up.” Politico had pooh-poohed the story; it now acknowledges that conservatives had it correct all along. (“Coates’ highly-charged testimony before the Civil Rights Commission echoed [conservatives’] allegations, as well as the testimony of J. Christian Adams.”) The testimony was so stunning that the New York Times might have to cover it.

Meanwhile, the DOJ’s spokesman bristled that Coates wasn’t “authorized” to testify and wasn’t an “appropriate” witness. In a transparent coordination with Yaki, DOJ’s spokesman blamed the Bush administration for politicizing the department. But it will be impossible to shrug off or smear Coates. As the Post conceded, Coates’s testimony will “carry greater weight because he worked decades ago as an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, has won awards from civil rights groups and lacks the partisan GOP resume of the department’s harshest opponents.”

Moreover, Coates testimony was all the more compelling because he was so circumspect, refusing to testify about internal discussions that the department considers privileged. (He readily agreed to provide more details if the DOJ waived its privilege claim.) He declined to draw inferences unsupported by his own observations. Asked whether Obama appointees’ directive not to enforce Section 8’s anti-fraud provisions was racially motivated, he answered with a litigator’s precision: it might have not been the intent, but the result was to allow bloated voting rolls in heavily minority districts that were Democratic strongholds.

No wonder the administration tried to muzzle Coates. Nevertheless, the department’s stonewalling has failed, and those parroting the administration’s line (“much ado about nothing”) look foolish. Inevitably, more Justice Department witnesses and documents will surface. (Judicial Watch has sued the DOJ, demanding documents evidencing the involvement of the department’s No. 3 man.)

Moreover, after November, Republicans almost certainly will assume chairmanships of key congressional committees. (Staff members from the offices of Reps. Lamar Smith and Frank Wolf, who have doggedly pursued the case, listened attentively in the front row on Friday.) A spokesman for Smith released this statement:

A founding principle of this nation is equality under the law. That means it is unacceptable for the Justice Department to determine whether to enforce a law based upon the race of a defendant or victim. And yet, according to testimony by the former chief voting rights attorney for the Department, that is precisely what the Justice Department is doing. … The Judiciary Committee should immediately open an investigation into allegations of improper practices within the Civil Rights Division and Justice Department officials should be subpoenaed to testify before Congress. There is no excuse for racial discrimination anywhere, but within the halls of the U.S. Department of Justice, it is the height of hypocrisy.

If Obama appointees refuse to testify voluntarily, the new chairmen will issue subpoenas.

It will be interesting to hear Obama officials explain why they failed to investigate accusations of wrongdoing and instead insisted that voting-rights laws be enforced only on behalf of minorities. It will be must-see TV when Perez is grilled on his inaccurate testimony claiming ignorance of hostility to the colorblind enforcement of voting laws. Will attorneys be referred to their state bar for professional misconduct?

This has become another headache for the Obama administration, especially for Eric Holder. Maybe he will want to “spend more time with his family” before Republican chairmen grab their gavels.

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Maybe the Peace Processors Just Don’t Have a Clue

Leslie Gelb fervently hopes that “the Obama administration did not shove Palestinians and Israelis into direct talks, for the first time in over two years, just to get them talking to each other.” Umm … but there really isn’t any evidence to the contrary, is there? No, sighs Gelb, there isn’t:

Many officials tell me that neither Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel nor President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority came close to giving Mr. Obama any specific indications of compromise in their White House meetings two weeks ago. In other words, neither offered any concrete basis for accommodation. They spoke only of being serious and bargaining in good faith, the usual stuff. Nor did either leader push Mr. Obama into these talks; Mr. Obama pushed them. Netanyahu wasn’t eager for talks at all, and Abbas favored them only with good and prior indications of success.

In fact, a PA official told the Jerusalem Post that “he had ‘no explanation’ for why some US government officials were sounding optimistic about the direct talks.” That may be the most honest statement ever uttered by a Palestinian spokesman in the past 60 years. Read More

Leslie Gelb fervently hopes that “the Obama administration did not shove Palestinians and Israelis into direct talks, for the first time in over two years, just to get them talking to each other.” Umm … but there really isn’t any evidence to the contrary, is there? No, sighs Gelb, there isn’t:

Many officials tell me that neither Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel nor President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority came close to giving Mr. Obama any specific indications of compromise in their White House meetings two weeks ago. In other words, neither offered any concrete basis for accommodation. They spoke only of being serious and bargaining in good faith, the usual stuff. Nor did either leader push Mr. Obama into these talks; Mr. Obama pushed them. Netanyahu wasn’t eager for talks at all, and Abbas favored them only with good and prior indications of success.

In fact, a PA official told the Jerusalem Post that “he had ‘no explanation’ for why some US government officials were sounding optimistic about the direct talks.” That may be the most honest statement ever uttered by a Palestinian spokesman in the past 60 years.

As many of us predicted, Obama, a peace-process worshiper of the first order, and his envoy, who is convinced that if he solved the Northern Ireland crisis he can bring peace to the Middle East, are now facing the collapse of their 18-month venture into Middle East policymaking. (By the way, given Mitchell’s performance in the Middle East, do you get the feeling that the settlement of the Northern Ireland conflict was coincidental to, not a result of, his presence?) Gelb, as many of us on the right have argued, explains why peace talks can be quite dangerous if you really don’t know what you’re doing:

The real danger between these two star-crossed inhabitants of the same Holy Land is not failure to negotiate; it’s the failure of the negotiations. Flashpoints in the Holy Land tend to burst after they sit down at the negotiating table, give their speeches, fail to agree, and watch the process collapse. That is when the explosions begin. That is when Palestinian terrorism reignites in Israel. People tend to resort to violence when their hopes and expectations are dashed formally and frontally, not when they are merely hoping.

Actually, in this case, “people” don’t — the Palestinians do. (There’s no Jewish intifada.) And the Palestinians also resorted to violence in anticipation of the talks. Really, any excuse will do.

The collapse of the talks would not merely raise the specter of another intifada; it would threaten to decimate what is left of the president’s prestige and credibility. Hence, Gelb sees reason for Bibi to spare Obama that humiliation:

The Israeli hawk understands full well, though he doesn’t like it, that he must burnish and safekeep ties with America. For the time being, that requires good ties with Mr. Obama, whom Netanyahu and his fellow hawks don’t like very much. To them, Mr. Obama sounded too pro-Arab in his first years in office, and they don’t have much trust in him. So, they have to get along with him well enough for at least another year – or until the American presidential election season erupts. At that point, these particular Israelis will pray for rain and a Republican president.

But, of course, both sides must stay in the room, and so far it seems that Abbas is itching to get out.

This brings us back to Gelb’s concern: maybe the Obami had not a clue what they were doing and now have a mess they are not equipped to clean up. And gosh, maybe the same is true of Iran. Perhaps they were silly to assume that engagement and Swiss-cheese sanctions were going to work to disarm the mullahs and now have no idea what to do. To be blunt, the president’s supporters and even some critics have both assumed that there is at work here a level of foreign policy competence and clearheadedness that may not, in fact, exist. Gelb hints that what we are dealing with are rank and arrogant amateurs. Yes, it’s scary.

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Mutiny in the House

That’s what it amounts to — a full revolt against the Democratic leadership and the president:

In the House, 31 Democrats rebuffed their leadership on the expiring Bush-era tax cuts, signing a letter calling for temporary extension of all the breaks and signaling a possible impasse in Washington’s bid to deal with the thorny political problem.

The letter provided the most dramatic sign yet of Democrat jitters over voting for the Obama administration’s plan to extend current tax levels for middle-class earners—families making less than $250,000—while allowing taxes to rise for higher earners starting January.

House Democratic leaders had hoped to use the tax cuts as a rallying cry in the run-up to the election, casting Republicans who favor extending all the breaks as obstructionists and allies of the rich. Instead, the party now faces long odds in passing its tax plan before the November elections. The 31 Democrats, plus House Republicans, come close to forming a majority in that chamber.

It’s remarkable when you think of it — each of Obama’s election gambits, be it immigration reform or class warfare, has backfired spectacularly.

As you can imagine, Minority Leader John Boehner is now greatly relieved after suggesting he might have to strike a deal if a partial extension of the Bush tax cuts was his “only option.” Presto: he’s got another option. (Boehner should be grateful indeed that House Democrats have helped rescue him from a mess of his own making.) And sure enough, his spokesman rushed forth to declare: “A growing bipartisan chorus is listening to the American people, who know the last thing we need in a struggling economy is a tax hike on small business.” Or a feckless compromise with an increasingly unpopular president. So now the minority leader is on board, demanding an up or down vote on the full extension of the Bush tax cuts.

This, or course, is a preview of what is to come after November: an invigorated Republican majority will be joined by Democrats who are no longer willing to carry water for the White House. The result may be a broad-based coalition capable of doing productive things, including repealing ObamaCare, restraining spending, and maybe even reforming entitlements.

That’s what it amounts to — a full revolt against the Democratic leadership and the president:

In the House, 31 Democrats rebuffed their leadership on the expiring Bush-era tax cuts, signing a letter calling for temporary extension of all the breaks and signaling a possible impasse in Washington’s bid to deal with the thorny political problem.

The letter provided the most dramatic sign yet of Democrat jitters over voting for the Obama administration’s plan to extend current tax levels for middle-class earners—families making less than $250,000—while allowing taxes to rise for higher earners starting January.

House Democratic leaders had hoped to use the tax cuts as a rallying cry in the run-up to the election, casting Republicans who favor extending all the breaks as obstructionists and allies of the rich. Instead, the party now faces long odds in passing its tax plan before the November elections. The 31 Democrats, plus House Republicans, come close to forming a majority in that chamber.

It’s remarkable when you think of it — each of Obama’s election gambits, be it immigration reform or class warfare, has backfired spectacularly.

As you can imagine, Minority Leader John Boehner is now greatly relieved after suggesting he might have to strike a deal if a partial extension of the Bush tax cuts was his “only option.” Presto: he’s got another option. (Boehner should be grateful indeed that House Democrats have helped rescue him from a mess of his own making.) And sure enough, his spokesman rushed forth to declare: “A growing bipartisan chorus is listening to the American people, who know the last thing we need in a struggling economy is a tax hike on small business.” Or a feckless compromise with an increasingly unpopular president. So now the minority leader is on board, demanding an up or down vote on the full extension of the Bush tax cuts.

This, or course, is a preview of what is to come after November: an invigorated Republican majority will be joined by Democrats who are no longer willing to carry water for the White House. The result may be a broad-based coalition capable of doing productive things, including repealing ObamaCare, restraining spending, and maybe even reforming entitlements.

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