Commentary Magazine


Topic: spokesman

Time to Panic for Dems

That is the essence of the message from Obama’s closest political guru:

President Obama’s top political guru said Tuesday that he believes 70 House races and 15 Senate races are in play this fall. … Plouffe painted a picture of a dire electoral landscape in which, if Democrats were to lose the majority of those races, their losses would be massive.

Robert Gibbs’s admission in July that the House could be lost is now becoming conventional wisdom. The best Plouffe can do, it seems, is manage expectations.

But there is no spinning this one. There will be plenty of finger-pointing, but the Democrats who blindly followed the White House and their House and Senate leadership, pooh-poohed the Tea Party movement, ignored the polling on ObamaCare, and convinced themselves that the left’s time had come have no one to blame but themselves.

As for the White House, it will no doubt declare that, however severe the thumping in November, none of this is a reflection on Obama. It is a “tough environment” and the “economy is bad” — as if these were weather phenomena, unrelated to the president’s agenda and leadership. There may be some reshuffling of the White House team, but it remains to be seen whether there will be any self-reflection. Heck, this crew can’t even admit they got the quote on the White House rug wrong. Alas, they seem more unintelligible than usual:

President Barack Obama’s spokesman said Tuesday the White House was correct to attribute a famous quotation in the rug’s pattern to Martin Luther King Jr., even though the civil rights leader acknowledged being inspired by a 19th-century abolitionist, Thomas Parker. “It was not us that thought he said it, it was many people that believed — rightly so — that he said it,” press secretary Robert Gibbs said.

At some point the “Will Hillary run?” buzz will start. But only if she starts boosting her profile and making the case that her record is something to be proud of.

That is the essence of the message from Obama’s closest political guru:

President Obama’s top political guru said Tuesday that he believes 70 House races and 15 Senate races are in play this fall. … Plouffe painted a picture of a dire electoral landscape in which, if Democrats were to lose the majority of those races, their losses would be massive.

Robert Gibbs’s admission in July that the House could be lost is now becoming conventional wisdom. The best Plouffe can do, it seems, is manage expectations.

But there is no spinning this one. There will be plenty of finger-pointing, but the Democrats who blindly followed the White House and their House and Senate leadership, pooh-poohed the Tea Party movement, ignored the polling on ObamaCare, and convinced themselves that the left’s time had come have no one to blame but themselves.

As for the White House, it will no doubt declare that, however severe the thumping in November, none of this is a reflection on Obama. It is a “tough environment” and the “economy is bad” — as if these were weather phenomena, unrelated to the president’s agenda and leadership. There may be some reshuffling of the White House team, but it remains to be seen whether there will be any self-reflection. Heck, this crew can’t even admit they got the quote on the White House rug wrong. Alas, they seem more unintelligible than usual:

President Barack Obama’s spokesman said Tuesday the White House was correct to attribute a famous quotation in the rug’s pattern to Martin Luther King Jr., even though the civil rights leader acknowledged being inspired by a 19th-century abolitionist, Thomas Parker. “It was not us that thought he said it, it was many people that believed — rightly so — that he said it,” press secretary Robert Gibbs said.

At some point the “Will Hillary run?” buzz will start. But only if she starts boosting her profile and making the case that her record is something to be proud of.

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RE: Obama, Bush, and War

Rick, you are in good company. Ambassador (and maybe presidential contender) John C. Bolton had this to say about the “turn the page” rhetoric:

That may satisfy the left wing of the Democratic party, but it’s impossible to turn the page on Iraq given the continuing strategic interest we have there. I think it’s indicative of the isolationism that forms a big part of his philosophy. It reminded me of George McGovern’s 1972 Convention speech when he kept saying “Come home America.”

As many of us have commented today, what particularly concerns him is the Afghanistan remarks. “I think this is a decision driven by his domestic political consideration and I think we’re going to pay for it down the line. I still see him as having no strategic vision, no real understanding what the implications of these steps are, but continuing to play the playbook that he’s been following since his campaign.”

And no, he really didn’t think much of the Bush references either. (“It just shows how far we’ve come that saying a nice thing about the troops cheers people up. Even George McGovern had the wit to do that.”)

Well, that is what makes Bolton such an effective, and amusing, spokesman for a robust U.S. foreign policy. And a final note on the budget numbers:  this chart is compelling. You do wonder whether the president misunderstands the facts or simply thinks he can slip by the American public very large fibs (e.g., ObamaCare will save money, the stimulus created jobs).

If Obama really is to step up to the plate and shed his campaign persona, he would do well to be honest and accurate. He’s not going to listen to Bolton’s advice, but he can and should at least operate from the same set of facts.

Rick, you are in good company. Ambassador (and maybe presidential contender) John C. Bolton had this to say about the “turn the page” rhetoric:

That may satisfy the left wing of the Democratic party, but it’s impossible to turn the page on Iraq given the continuing strategic interest we have there. I think it’s indicative of the isolationism that forms a big part of his philosophy. It reminded me of George McGovern’s 1972 Convention speech when he kept saying “Come home America.”

As many of us have commented today, what particularly concerns him is the Afghanistan remarks. “I think this is a decision driven by his domestic political consideration and I think we’re going to pay for it down the line. I still see him as having no strategic vision, no real understanding what the implications of these steps are, but continuing to play the playbook that he’s been following since his campaign.”

And no, he really didn’t think much of the Bush references either. (“It just shows how far we’ve come that saying a nice thing about the troops cheers people up. Even George McGovern had the wit to do that.”)

Well, that is what makes Bolton such an effective, and amusing, spokesman for a robust U.S. foreign policy. And a final note on the budget numbers:  this chart is compelling. You do wonder whether the president misunderstands the facts or simply thinks he can slip by the American public very large fibs (e.g., ObamaCare will save money, the stimulus created jobs).

If Obama really is to step up to the plate and shed his campaign persona, he would do well to be honest and accurate. He’s not going to listen to Bolton’s advice, but he can and should at least operate from the same set of facts.

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What Washington’s Lame Response to Terror Says About the Peace Talks

If more reasons were needed for concluding that the current Israeli-Palestinian talks won’t produce a deal, here’s another: the designated mediator — i.e., the Obama administration — has just proved itself incapable of providing what even Israeli leftists deem an essential condition for peace.

Tuesday night, Palestinian terrorists murdered four Israeli civilians — two men and two women — by shooting them at close range. Yet as even Haaretz, normally the administration’s reliable flack, noted, “State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley didn’t seem to be in a rush to condemn the attack.” In fact, he didn’t condemn it at all: he merely declared it “a tragedy.”

“Any time one human being takes out a weapon and fires and kills other human beings, it’s a tragedy,” Crowley said. “We just don’t know the circumstances under which this occurred. … We are cognizant that there could be external events that can have an impact on the environment.”

The White House finally issued an unequivocal condemnation only hours later, once “the circumstances” had become clear: namely, that it could condemn the attack safely, because the Palestinian Authority wasn’t involved. Until then, Crowley had hedged his bets, hinting at extenuating circumstances that “we just don’t know,” “external events” that could affect “the environment” — any straw he could grasp to excuse the PA if that proved necessary.

What does this have to do with peace talks? To understand that, it’s worth reading Gershon Baskin’s column in the Jerusalem Post this week. Baskin aptly titled it “The indefatigable peacemaker’s advice,” because he is indeed an indefatigable peace activist. He is co-CEO of the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information, has been personally involved in many previous rounds of negotiations (both official and unofficial), and continues to believe that “the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is resolvable” right now — a position shared by few other Israelis.

Yet even this indefatigable optimist noted that peace will not be possible if certain conditions aren’t met. For instance, he dismissed the “borders first” idea once touted by U.S. mediator George Mitchell, correctly noting that “the agreement will be a package deal in which there are trade-offs,” and therefore, the various final-status issues “cannot be negotiated separately.” Additionally, he warned, Israel must be convinced that any deal will end with the Palestinians’ recognizing it as “the nation-state of the Jewish people” (to bridge the gap between the PA’s unwillingness to concede this upfront and Israel’s need to know it will happen eventually, he proposed having the Palestinians give such a pledge to Washington as a “deposit”).

But here’s the clincher: “All of Israel’s security concerns must be addressed by the Palestinians (and the American team) with the utmost sincerity. There will be no agreement unless Israel feels its security needs will be met.”

That, however, is precisely what team Obama has just shown itself incapable of doing. Because if you want to convince Israelis that their security concerns will be addressed, offering lame excuses for anti-Israel terror rather than forthrightly condemning it isn’t a good way to start.

If more reasons were needed for concluding that the current Israeli-Palestinian talks won’t produce a deal, here’s another: the designated mediator — i.e., the Obama administration — has just proved itself incapable of providing what even Israeli leftists deem an essential condition for peace.

Tuesday night, Palestinian terrorists murdered four Israeli civilians — two men and two women — by shooting them at close range. Yet as even Haaretz, normally the administration’s reliable flack, noted, “State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley didn’t seem to be in a rush to condemn the attack.” In fact, he didn’t condemn it at all: he merely declared it “a tragedy.”

“Any time one human being takes out a weapon and fires and kills other human beings, it’s a tragedy,” Crowley said. “We just don’t know the circumstances under which this occurred. … We are cognizant that there could be external events that can have an impact on the environment.”

The White House finally issued an unequivocal condemnation only hours later, once “the circumstances” had become clear: namely, that it could condemn the attack safely, because the Palestinian Authority wasn’t involved. Until then, Crowley had hedged his bets, hinting at extenuating circumstances that “we just don’t know,” “external events” that could affect “the environment” — any straw he could grasp to excuse the PA if that proved necessary.

What does this have to do with peace talks? To understand that, it’s worth reading Gershon Baskin’s column in the Jerusalem Post this week. Baskin aptly titled it “The indefatigable peacemaker’s advice,” because he is indeed an indefatigable peace activist. He is co-CEO of the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information, has been personally involved in many previous rounds of negotiations (both official and unofficial), and continues to believe that “the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is resolvable” right now — a position shared by few other Israelis.

Yet even this indefatigable optimist noted that peace will not be possible if certain conditions aren’t met. For instance, he dismissed the “borders first” idea once touted by U.S. mediator George Mitchell, correctly noting that “the agreement will be a package deal in which there are trade-offs,” and therefore, the various final-status issues “cannot be negotiated separately.” Additionally, he warned, Israel must be convinced that any deal will end with the Palestinians’ recognizing it as “the nation-state of the Jewish people” (to bridge the gap between the PA’s unwillingness to concede this upfront and Israel’s need to know it will happen eventually, he proposed having the Palestinians give such a pledge to Washington as a “deposit”).

But here’s the clincher: “All of Israel’s security concerns must be addressed by the Palestinians (and the American team) with the utmost sincerity. There will be no agreement unless Israel feels its security needs will be met.”

That, however, is precisely what team Obama has just shown itself incapable of doing. Because if you want to convince Israelis that their security concerns will be addressed, offering lame excuses for anti-Israel terror rather than forthrightly condemning it isn’t a good way to start.

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RE: Speaking of Pro-Israel

The Emergency Committee for Israel responded to the J Street gang’s inquiries late yesterday. Spokesman Michael Goldfarb went through the questions one by one (my comments in brackets):

“Always happy to guide the perplexed” [Bonus points for Maimonides reference], Goldfarb wrote, before taking on J Street. …

“Question: “ECI refuses to take a position on the two-state solution. But two-thirds of Israelis and American Jews support it. The last four prime ministers of Israel have. Will ECI stop hiding its true colors on the only possible way to achieve real peace and security for Israel as a Jewish, democratic homeland?”

Answer: ECI supports a two-state solution if Israel has defensible borders [not 1967 borders, obviously] and if the Palestinian state is stable, peace-loving [which isn’t remotely in the cards, but we all should have goals] and anti-terrorist [like Sweden]. ECI does not support a “two-state solution” if one of the states is to be a terrorist state. And, yes, ECI believes there can be peace and security for Israel without having yet achieved a two-state solution. [It would help if the U.S. president were less overtly hostile, of course.]

Question: “Does ECI support the new peace talks starting this week, built on the notion that it should be possible to achieve a negotiated resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?”

Answer: Yes. [“Notion” is a good way of putting it.]

Question: “Do they support the governments of Israel and of the United States in doing what they can to make them successful?”

Answer: Yes, if “success” means real peace and security. No, if “success” means the Obama administration [with J Street’s blessing] pressuring Israel to make concessions that would strengthen anti-Israel extremists, weaken Israel’s security, decrease the chances of real peace, and lead to a terrorist state on Israel’s borders. [In other words, why would Israel trust the Obama administration, which has been indifferent or unhelpful on all these points?]

He then asks two pointed questions: “Does J Street support a two-state solution no matter what the character and borders of both states? Does J Street support peace and security for Israel in the absence of a Palestinian state?” The first is a heads-I-win-tails-you-lose proposition, because the J Street leftists get flummoxed by the notion of a “Jewish” state — no, really, they do. But if they actually said so or hedged to keep their anti-nationalist, anti-Zionist supporters and followers from hollering at them, they’d tip their hand that they are way outside the mainstream. The next is also a gotcha — because J Street has for some time argued that the two-state solution is essential to Israel’s security, sidestepping the current needs of the Jewish state to defend itself.

Now this has the makings of a lively and healthy debate. How about a real one — you know Peter Beinart and Jeremy Ben-Ami vs. a couple of the ECI team? Oh, it’d be lots and lots of fun. The J Streeters can even bring along  Stephen Walt and  John Mearsheimer for intellectual and moral support, of course.

The Emergency Committee for Israel responded to the J Street gang’s inquiries late yesterday. Spokesman Michael Goldfarb went through the questions one by one (my comments in brackets):

“Always happy to guide the perplexed” [Bonus points for Maimonides reference], Goldfarb wrote, before taking on J Street. …

“Question: “ECI refuses to take a position on the two-state solution. But two-thirds of Israelis and American Jews support it. The last four prime ministers of Israel have. Will ECI stop hiding its true colors on the only possible way to achieve real peace and security for Israel as a Jewish, democratic homeland?”

Answer: ECI supports a two-state solution if Israel has defensible borders [not 1967 borders, obviously] and if the Palestinian state is stable, peace-loving [which isn’t remotely in the cards, but we all should have goals] and anti-terrorist [like Sweden]. ECI does not support a “two-state solution” if one of the states is to be a terrorist state. And, yes, ECI believes there can be peace and security for Israel without having yet achieved a two-state solution. [It would help if the U.S. president were less overtly hostile, of course.]

Question: “Does ECI support the new peace talks starting this week, built on the notion that it should be possible to achieve a negotiated resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?”

Answer: Yes. [“Notion” is a good way of putting it.]

Question: “Do they support the governments of Israel and of the United States in doing what they can to make them successful?”

Answer: Yes, if “success” means real peace and security. No, if “success” means the Obama administration [with J Street’s blessing] pressuring Israel to make concessions that would strengthen anti-Israel extremists, weaken Israel’s security, decrease the chances of real peace, and lead to a terrorist state on Israel’s borders. [In other words, why would Israel trust the Obama administration, which has been indifferent or unhelpful on all these points?]

He then asks two pointed questions: “Does J Street support a two-state solution no matter what the character and borders of both states? Does J Street support peace and security for Israel in the absence of a Palestinian state?” The first is a heads-I-win-tails-you-lose proposition, because the J Street leftists get flummoxed by the notion of a “Jewish” state — no, really, they do. But if they actually said so or hedged to keep their anti-nationalist, anti-Zionist supporters and followers from hollering at them, they’d tip their hand that they are way outside the mainstream. The next is also a gotcha — because J Street has for some time argued that the two-state solution is essential to Israel’s security, sidestepping the current needs of the Jewish state to defend itself.

Now this has the makings of a lively and healthy debate. How about a real one — you know Peter Beinart and Jeremy Ben-Ami vs. a couple of the ECI team? Oh, it’d be lots and lots of fun. The J Streeters can even bring along  Stephen Walt and  John Mearsheimer for intellectual and moral support, of course.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Don’t you expect Eric Holder will want to “spend more time with his family” before Republicans get a majority — and subpoena power — in the House and/or Senate? “Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri is a man with blood on his hands.A year before 9/11, the Saudi al Qaeda operative masterminded the bombing of the guided-missile destroyer USS Cole, killing 17 sailors as the vessel refueled in the Yemeni port of Aden.A Guantanamo tribunal was ready to arraign him last year, but since the Obama administration took office, it’s been a case of trial and error. No trial — plenty of error. … Attorney General Eric Holder said last year that because the Cole bombing was an attack on the military, Nashiri’s trial should proceed in a military tribunal. Did it really take nine months to figure that out?”

Don’t faint: “BBC Exonerates Israel.” When will J Street?

Don’t underestimate the cluelessness of liberal politicians: “The Muslim center planned near the site of the World Trade Center attack could qualify for tax-free financing, a spokesman for City Comptroller John Liu said on Friday, and Liu is willing to consider approving the public subsidy.The Democratic comptroller’s spokesman, Scott Sieber, said Liu supported the project. The center has sparked an intense debate over U.S. religious freedoms and the sanctity of the Trade Center site, where nearly 3,000 perished in the September 11, 2001 attack.”

Don’t think Florida Democrats should be celebrating Rick Scott’s win: “The first Rasmussen Reports post-primary survey of the Florida governor’s race finds Republican Rick Scott and Democrat Alex Sink in a close contest.Scott, the winner of Tuesday’s bruising GOP Primary, earns the support of 41% of Likely Voters in the state, while Sink picks up 36% of the vote.”

Don’t be surprised if Charlie Crist comes in third in the Senate race. A distant third.

Don’t you wonder what compelled James Fallows, after his magazine invited one of the most effective neocon pundits to join in a week-long symposium, to go out of his way to “disassociate” himself not once but twice from his guest’s views? Could be that the left-leaning readership threw a hissy fit (how dare Atlantic allow a conservative to make mincemeat of their arguments!), or maybe it’s just a dirth of graciousness. These are not mutually exclusive explanations. (To his credit, Jeffrey Goldberg — “kudos to the assorted luminaries” — did not follow his colleague’s lead.)

Don’t miss Peter Berkowitz’s latest column. A sample: “In late 2008 and early 2009, in the wake of Mr. Obama’s meteoric ascent, the idea that conservatism would enjoy any sort of revival in the summer of 2009 would have seemed to demoralized conservatives too much to hope for. To leading lights on the left, it would have appeared absolutely outlandish. … Messrs. [George] Packer, [E.J.] Dionne and [Sam] Tanenhaus underestimated what the conservative tradition rightly emphasizes, which is the high degree of unpredictability in human affairs. They also conflated the flagging fortunes of George W. Bush’s Republican Party with conservatism’s popular appeal.”

Don’t hold your breath waiting for Obama to say “victory” or “democracy” in connection with Iraq. It’s all about keeping his campaign promise. And more money spent on the VA. I had hoped he would grow into the role of commander in chief. Hasn’t happened yet.

Don’t you expect Eric Holder will want to “spend more time with his family” before Republicans get a majority — and subpoena power — in the House and/or Senate? “Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri is a man with blood on his hands.A year before 9/11, the Saudi al Qaeda operative masterminded the bombing of the guided-missile destroyer USS Cole, killing 17 sailors as the vessel refueled in the Yemeni port of Aden.A Guantanamo tribunal was ready to arraign him last year, but since the Obama administration took office, it’s been a case of trial and error. No trial — plenty of error. … Attorney General Eric Holder said last year that because the Cole bombing was an attack on the military, Nashiri’s trial should proceed in a military tribunal. Did it really take nine months to figure that out?”

Don’t faint: “BBC Exonerates Israel.” When will J Street?

Don’t underestimate the cluelessness of liberal politicians: “The Muslim center planned near the site of the World Trade Center attack could qualify for tax-free financing, a spokesman for City Comptroller John Liu said on Friday, and Liu is willing to consider approving the public subsidy.The Democratic comptroller’s spokesman, Scott Sieber, said Liu supported the project. The center has sparked an intense debate over U.S. religious freedoms and the sanctity of the Trade Center site, where nearly 3,000 perished in the September 11, 2001 attack.”

Don’t think Florida Democrats should be celebrating Rick Scott’s win: “The first Rasmussen Reports post-primary survey of the Florida governor’s race finds Republican Rick Scott and Democrat Alex Sink in a close contest.Scott, the winner of Tuesday’s bruising GOP Primary, earns the support of 41% of Likely Voters in the state, while Sink picks up 36% of the vote.”

Don’t be surprised if Charlie Crist comes in third in the Senate race. A distant third.

Don’t you wonder what compelled James Fallows, after his magazine invited one of the most effective neocon pundits to join in a week-long symposium, to go out of his way to “disassociate” himself not once but twice from his guest’s views? Could be that the left-leaning readership threw a hissy fit (how dare Atlantic allow a conservative to make mincemeat of their arguments!), or maybe it’s just a dirth of graciousness. These are not mutually exclusive explanations. (To his credit, Jeffrey Goldberg — “kudos to the assorted luminaries” — did not follow his colleague’s lead.)

Don’t miss Peter Berkowitz’s latest column. A sample: “In late 2008 and early 2009, in the wake of Mr. Obama’s meteoric ascent, the idea that conservatism would enjoy any sort of revival in the summer of 2009 would have seemed to demoralized conservatives too much to hope for. To leading lights on the left, it would have appeared absolutely outlandish. … Messrs. [George] Packer, [E.J.] Dionne and [Sam] Tanenhaus underestimated what the conservative tradition rightly emphasizes, which is the high degree of unpredictability in human affairs. They also conflated the flagging fortunes of George W. Bush’s Republican Party with conservatism’s popular appeal.”

Don’t hold your breath waiting for Obama to say “victory” or “democracy” in connection with Iraq. It’s all about keeping his campaign promise. And more money spent on the VA. I had hoped he would grow into the role of commander in chief. Hasn’t happened yet.

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Flacking for the Ground Zero Mosque Imam

The State Department should stop digging. The decision to send Imam Rauf abroad at the American taxpayers’ expense is bad enough. But now the striped-pants guys are flacking for him, pushing the victimology meme:

The State Department’s top spokesman cautioned reporters Tuesday not to take snippets of edited remarks on the Internet by the “Ground Zero mosque” imam and use them to brand him a radical, lest they repeat the mistakes made by the media in calling former USDA official Shirley Sherrod a racist based on edited clips of her promoted on conservative websites. …

P.J. Crowley, the assistant secretary of state for public affairs, told reporters Tuesday that they shouldn’t be quick to take those remarks out of context.

“I would just caution any of you that choose to write on this, that once again you have a case where a blogger has pulled out one passage from a very lengthy speech. If you read the entire speech, you will discover exactly why we think he is rightly participating in this national speaking tour.”

The additional excerpts from the speech include many frothy generalizations about reconciliation and peace, but is the State Department really not able to find a Muslim who says those sorts of lovely things and who can manage to refrain from blaming the U.S. for 9/11? Is the administration so badly advised that it has no access to a Muslim spokesperson who specifically condemns Hamas as a terrorist group?

The episode is among the more embarrassing ones for Hillary Clinton’s  State Department. That may explain, frankly, why she’s been mum on the subject. But if she hopes to salvage what splinters are left of her credibility, she might suggest that her spokesman stop flacking for the imam who thinks her country is as bad as al-Qaeda. There simply is no “context” that justifies or ameliorates such malice.

The State Department should stop digging. The decision to send Imam Rauf abroad at the American taxpayers’ expense is bad enough. But now the striped-pants guys are flacking for him, pushing the victimology meme:

The State Department’s top spokesman cautioned reporters Tuesday not to take snippets of edited remarks on the Internet by the “Ground Zero mosque” imam and use them to brand him a radical, lest they repeat the mistakes made by the media in calling former USDA official Shirley Sherrod a racist based on edited clips of her promoted on conservative websites. …

P.J. Crowley, the assistant secretary of state for public affairs, told reporters Tuesday that they shouldn’t be quick to take those remarks out of context.

“I would just caution any of you that choose to write on this, that once again you have a case where a blogger has pulled out one passage from a very lengthy speech. If you read the entire speech, you will discover exactly why we think he is rightly participating in this national speaking tour.”

The additional excerpts from the speech include many frothy generalizations about reconciliation and peace, but is the State Department really not able to find a Muslim who says those sorts of lovely things and who can manage to refrain from blaming the U.S. for 9/11? Is the administration so badly advised that it has no access to a Muslim spokesperson who specifically condemns Hamas as a terrorist group?

The episode is among the more embarrassing ones for Hillary Clinton’s  State Department. That may explain, frankly, why she’s been mum on the subject. But if she hopes to salvage what splinters are left of her credibility, she might suggest that her spokesman stop flacking for the imam who thinks her country is as bad as al-Qaeda. There simply is no “context” that justifies or ameliorates such malice.

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Jobs Take Second Place, Again

The Obama team, we are told, can’t figure out how to stem unemployment. But actually, it seems they simply place job creation and preservation below other priorities. This report explains:

Senior Obama administration officials concluded the federal moratorium on deepwater oil drilling would cost roughly 23,000 jobs, but went ahead with the ban because they didn’t trust the industry’s safety equipment and the government’s own inspection process, according to previously undisclosed documents.

Critics of the moratorium, including Gulf Coast political figures and oil-industry leaders, have said it is crippling the region’s economy, and some have called on the administration to make public its economic analysis. A federal judge who in June threw out an earlier six-month moratorium faulted the administration for playing down the economic effects.

The Obama administration, the least transparent in history, however, has been actively misleading the court: “The administration has said in court filings that the economic effect of suspended drilling wasn’t as severe as the industry asserted.” The administration turns out to have less credibility than Big Oil. (“An American Petroleum Institute spokesman said the documents show ‘the government itself understood there would be significant impacts felt throughout the region.'”) And, in fact, the administration simply ignored those who raised the warning flag:

In another document, William Hauser, chief of the regulations and standards branch of what was formerly called the Minerals Management Service, outlined the risks of various drilling activities in an email to colleagues and then wrote: “The more I write this stuff the more I believe we can/should/could regulate/stop activities through a prudent management process versus a moratoria scheme.”

This shouldn’t surprise us. The administration’s proclivity to make grand gestures, finger point, bash private industry, and satisfy the left’s pent-up demand has meant that time and time again, the Obama team gave job creation and preservation short shrift. Extend the Bush tax cuts; we can “weather it.” Pass ObamaCare; business will absorb the costs.

It’s no wonder voters think Obama and the Democratic Congress have failed to focus on jobs. They are about to find out the perils of ignoring the voters’ concerns.

The Obama team, we are told, can’t figure out how to stem unemployment. But actually, it seems they simply place job creation and preservation below other priorities. This report explains:

Senior Obama administration officials concluded the federal moratorium on deepwater oil drilling would cost roughly 23,000 jobs, but went ahead with the ban because they didn’t trust the industry’s safety equipment and the government’s own inspection process, according to previously undisclosed documents.

Critics of the moratorium, including Gulf Coast political figures and oil-industry leaders, have said it is crippling the region’s economy, and some have called on the administration to make public its economic analysis. A federal judge who in June threw out an earlier six-month moratorium faulted the administration for playing down the economic effects.

The Obama administration, the least transparent in history, however, has been actively misleading the court: “The administration has said in court filings that the economic effect of suspended drilling wasn’t as severe as the industry asserted.” The administration turns out to have less credibility than Big Oil. (“An American Petroleum Institute spokesman said the documents show ‘the government itself understood there would be significant impacts felt throughout the region.'”) And, in fact, the administration simply ignored those who raised the warning flag:

In another document, William Hauser, chief of the regulations and standards branch of what was formerly called the Minerals Management Service, outlined the risks of various drilling activities in an email to colleagues and then wrote: “The more I write this stuff the more I believe we can/should/could regulate/stop activities through a prudent management process versus a moratoria scheme.”

This shouldn’t surprise us. The administration’s proclivity to make grand gestures, finger point, bash private industry, and satisfy the left’s pent-up demand has meant that time and time again, the Obama team gave job creation and preservation short shrift. Extend the Bush tax cuts; we can “weather it.” Pass ObamaCare; business will absorb the costs.

It’s no wonder voters think Obama and the Democratic Congress have failed to focus on jobs. They are about to find out the perils of ignoring the voters’ concerns.

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It Could Be Worse: The Mullahs’ Ground Zero Mosque

Here is the mosque-building crowd that the leftist punditocracy is defending:

The developers behind the Islamic center planned for a site near Ground Zero won’t rule out accepting financing from the Mideast — including from Saudi Arabia and Iran — as they begin searching for $100 million needed to build the project. The religious organization and the development company behind the center declined to say how much of the $100 million needed to build the facility has already been raised. …

“We’ll look at all available options within the United States to start. We’re hoping to fund this predominately from domestic donors. That can be everything from institutions all the way down to personal [contributors],” said [spokesman Oz] Sultan.

When asked if they would then turn to foreign donors, Sultan replied, “I can’t comment on that.”

Pressed on whether the developers were willlng to rule out accepting donations from the governments of Saudi Arabia or Iran, he repeated, “I can’t comment on that.”

It is hard to see how the mosque builders could be promoters of religious reconciliation if they’d take money from Saudi Wahhabists or the despots of Iran. Maybe they are, you know, trying to make a different sort of statement, pitching to potential donors that they, too, can have a piece of the edifice at Ground Zero. Would they sell naming rights? (The Ahmadinejad Social Hall. The Anwar al-Awlaki Courtyard.) The possibilities are endless.

And none of the chest-beaters preening over their devotion to “tolerance” — not Obama, Bloomberg, Pelosi, and certainly not the left blogosphere — thought to inquire about the very issue that concerned so many of the  mosque opponents. Now we face the prospect that a mosque will be built on Ground Zero by those who sponsor jihadist attacks:

Fifteen of the 19 [9-11] terrorists were Saudi Arabian and funding from that country could further anger those already opposed to the mosque. Many mosques in the U.S. have been funded in part with Saudi money. Iran has been designated a sponsor of terrorism by the U.S. government.

Maybe David Axelrod and crew “missed” the issue, or maybe no one can raise concerns about exactly which Muslims the president is fawning over at the moment. He’s not one for inconvenient news, so after a while it would be human nature for staff to avoid raising issues, however basic and obvious, with a president insistent on making grand gestures, the facts be damned.

The controversy is indeed beginning to worsen the president’s already diminished standing with the voters. Wait until the voters hear that Iran and Saudi Arabia may be paying for the Ground Zero mosque.

Here is the mosque-building crowd that the leftist punditocracy is defending:

The developers behind the Islamic center planned for a site near Ground Zero won’t rule out accepting financing from the Mideast — including from Saudi Arabia and Iran — as they begin searching for $100 million needed to build the project. The religious organization and the development company behind the center declined to say how much of the $100 million needed to build the facility has already been raised. …

“We’ll look at all available options within the United States to start. We’re hoping to fund this predominately from domestic donors. That can be everything from institutions all the way down to personal [contributors],” said [spokesman Oz] Sultan.

When asked if they would then turn to foreign donors, Sultan replied, “I can’t comment on that.”

Pressed on whether the developers were willlng to rule out accepting donations from the governments of Saudi Arabia or Iran, he repeated, “I can’t comment on that.”

It is hard to see how the mosque builders could be promoters of religious reconciliation if they’d take money from Saudi Wahhabists or the despots of Iran. Maybe they are, you know, trying to make a different sort of statement, pitching to potential donors that they, too, can have a piece of the edifice at Ground Zero. Would they sell naming rights? (The Ahmadinejad Social Hall. The Anwar al-Awlaki Courtyard.) The possibilities are endless.

And none of the chest-beaters preening over their devotion to “tolerance” — not Obama, Bloomberg, Pelosi, and certainly not the left blogosphere — thought to inquire about the very issue that concerned so many of the  mosque opponents. Now we face the prospect that a mosque will be built on Ground Zero by those who sponsor jihadist attacks:

Fifteen of the 19 [9-11] terrorists were Saudi Arabian and funding from that country could further anger those already opposed to the mosque. Many mosques in the U.S. have been funded in part with Saudi money. Iran has been designated a sponsor of terrorism by the U.S. government.

Maybe David Axelrod and crew “missed” the issue, or maybe no one can raise concerns about exactly which Muslims the president is fawning over at the moment. He’s not one for inconvenient news, so after a while it would be human nature for staff to avoid raising issues, however basic and obvious, with a president insistent on making grand gestures, the facts be damned.

The controversy is indeed beginning to worsen the president’s already diminished standing with the voters. Wait until the voters hear that Iran and Saudi Arabia may be paying for the Ground Zero mosque.

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Ummm … Let’s Say It’s a Conservative Dilemma Too!

Politico pronounces: “The debate over the proposed mosque near ground zero, which has tied Democrats in knots, turns out to be just as tricky for their adversaries on the right—particularly those in the tea party.” This is simply nonsense. In a lengthy article, little support is offered for the assertion that the Tea Party movement is tied up in knots, and absolutely none to demonstrate that it is “just as tricky” for Tea Partiers as it is for Democrats (who are engaged in what the media would refer to as a “civil war” if it were the GOP’s problem).

It seems some Tea Partiers think the Ground Zero mosque is not a Tea Party issue (since the movement generally focuses on economic issues). And some don’t. But where’s the evidence that the percentage of opponents is any lower than the voters at large (68 percent) or that a single Tea Party–backed candidate is out of step with the voters? The best the report can do is this on Rand Paul:

On Monday, a spokesman for the Kentucky Senate campaign of Rand Paul, a tea party standard bearer, issued a statement seeming to beg off the issue by invoking states’ rights. “We don’t want New York intervening in our local Kentucky issues,” read the statement from Gary Howard to a Kentucky political blog, “and we don’t look to interfere with New York’s local issues.”

But asked to clarify Paul’s stance, Howard on Tuesday sent POLITICO a statement emphasizing Paul’s personal opposition.

“While this is a local matter that should be decided by the people of New York, Dr. Paul does not support a mosque being built two blocks from ground zero,” Howard said in the statement. “In Dr. Paul’s opinion, the Muslim community would better serve the healing process by making a donation to the memorial fund for the victims of Sept. 11.”

Well, compared with the White House, this is political sophistication of the highest order. And it sure sounds like Paul is handling it better than Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, who seem to have gone into a witness protection program to avoid responding to an issue of deep concern to their electorate.

This sort of moral-equivalence reporting is nothing new for the media. Whenever the Democrats are on the rocks, their media fan club strains to concoct the argument that, oh yes, the Democrats’ great misfortune is not the Democrats’ misfortune alone. It’s the same syndrome we see at work when the media insist that the anti-Democratic sentiment sweeping the country is really anti-incumbent sentiment. If you ignore the historic lead for the GOP in congressional generic polling, Obama’s plummeting approval numbers, the enthusiasm gap between Democrats and Republicans, and the rise in support for conservative positions, it almost makes sense.

The “conservatives are in trouble too!” reporting is one of the more transparent gambits the media engage in, and the kind of “journalism” that gives false comfort to the objects of their affection. And in the context of the Ground Zero mosque, I’d wager even the Journolist gang would recommend against it.

Politico pronounces: “The debate over the proposed mosque near ground zero, which has tied Democrats in knots, turns out to be just as tricky for their adversaries on the right—particularly those in the tea party.” This is simply nonsense. In a lengthy article, little support is offered for the assertion that the Tea Party movement is tied up in knots, and absolutely none to demonstrate that it is “just as tricky” for Tea Partiers as it is for Democrats (who are engaged in what the media would refer to as a “civil war” if it were the GOP’s problem).

It seems some Tea Partiers think the Ground Zero mosque is not a Tea Party issue (since the movement generally focuses on economic issues). And some don’t. But where’s the evidence that the percentage of opponents is any lower than the voters at large (68 percent) or that a single Tea Party–backed candidate is out of step with the voters? The best the report can do is this on Rand Paul:

On Monday, a spokesman for the Kentucky Senate campaign of Rand Paul, a tea party standard bearer, issued a statement seeming to beg off the issue by invoking states’ rights. “We don’t want New York intervening in our local Kentucky issues,” read the statement from Gary Howard to a Kentucky political blog, “and we don’t look to interfere with New York’s local issues.”

But asked to clarify Paul’s stance, Howard on Tuesday sent POLITICO a statement emphasizing Paul’s personal opposition.

“While this is a local matter that should be decided by the people of New York, Dr. Paul does not support a mosque being built two blocks from ground zero,” Howard said in the statement. “In Dr. Paul’s opinion, the Muslim community would better serve the healing process by making a donation to the memorial fund for the victims of Sept. 11.”

Well, compared with the White House, this is political sophistication of the highest order. And it sure sounds like Paul is handling it better than Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, who seem to have gone into a witness protection program to avoid responding to an issue of deep concern to their electorate.

This sort of moral-equivalence reporting is nothing new for the media. Whenever the Democrats are on the rocks, their media fan club strains to concoct the argument that, oh yes, the Democrats’ great misfortune is not the Democrats’ misfortune alone. It’s the same syndrome we see at work when the media insist that the anti-Democratic sentiment sweeping the country is really anti-incumbent sentiment. If you ignore the historic lead for the GOP in congressional generic polling, Obama’s plummeting approval numbers, the enthusiasm gap between Democrats and Republicans, and the rise in support for conservative positions, it almost makes sense.

The “conservatives are in trouble too!” reporting is one of the more transparent gambits the media engage in, and the kind of “journalism” that gives false comfort to the objects of their affection. And in the context of the Ground Zero mosque, I’d wager even the Journolist gang would recommend against it.

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Obama’s Muslim Problem

Ben Smith relates an interesting Tweet from Tim Pawlenty: “To improve USA’s relations with peaceful Muslims, Obama should tout our relief efforts in Pakistan floods; not defend Ground Zero mosque.” Well, that would be nice, but highly unlikely.

Pawlenty got me thinking about why it is that Obama does not conceive of Muslim outreach as an opportunity to inject some much needed accuracy and balance into societies saturated with anti-Israel and anti-American propaganda and which lack a free press. Why did he not, for example, in his first video valentine to the mullahs and the Iranian people, explain the blood and treasure we have expended to defend Muslims? Why does he prefer to commiserate with Muslim leaders (who all too often wallow in victimology) rather than champion the cause of Muslim human-rights activists and democracy promoters? Why didn’t he confront Palestinian rejectionism in his Cairo speech?

There are a couple of possible explanations. First, he is, we re-learn every day, a garden-variety leftist. The narrative of Third World victimhood and Western oppression is one he finds comfortable, notwithstanding its inapplicability to a variety of settings. (In his Cairo speech Palestinians were transformed into enslaved African American slaves, who, of course, were not repeatedly offered their own state.)

The other, suggested by a reader, may also be true: he learned about the “Muslim World” not from his childhood in Indonesia but from extremists, like former PLO-spokesman Rashid Khalidi, who have “educated” Obama for years about the Palestinians’ plight, attributed to American indifference and Israeli “oppression” rather than their own refusal to renounce violence and to the cynical manipulation of Arab states. Obama himself acknowledged the deep influence on his thinking:

His many talks with the Khalidis, Obama said, had been “consistent reminders to me of my own blind spots and my own biases. … It’s for that reason that I’m hoping that, for many years to come, we continue that conversation — a conversation that is necessary not just around Mona and Rashid’s dinner table,” but around “this entire world.”

Now, these are not mutually exclusive explanations. Whatever the root causes or motivations, over the last 18 months we’ve seen that Obama has been spectacularly unwilling to confront radical Islamists (even to call them that) and all too anxious to promote sentiments in the Muslim community which are counterproductive both for those trying to battle against the forces of radicalism and for the U.S. For someone who fancies himself as the Explainer in Chief with regard to Islam, he certainly could use some fresh thinking.

Ben Smith relates an interesting Tweet from Tim Pawlenty: “To improve USA’s relations with peaceful Muslims, Obama should tout our relief efforts in Pakistan floods; not defend Ground Zero mosque.” Well, that would be nice, but highly unlikely.

Pawlenty got me thinking about why it is that Obama does not conceive of Muslim outreach as an opportunity to inject some much needed accuracy and balance into societies saturated with anti-Israel and anti-American propaganda and which lack a free press. Why did he not, for example, in his first video valentine to the mullahs and the Iranian people, explain the blood and treasure we have expended to defend Muslims? Why does he prefer to commiserate with Muslim leaders (who all too often wallow in victimology) rather than champion the cause of Muslim human-rights activists and democracy promoters? Why didn’t he confront Palestinian rejectionism in his Cairo speech?

There are a couple of possible explanations. First, he is, we re-learn every day, a garden-variety leftist. The narrative of Third World victimhood and Western oppression is one he finds comfortable, notwithstanding its inapplicability to a variety of settings. (In his Cairo speech Palestinians were transformed into enslaved African American slaves, who, of course, were not repeatedly offered their own state.)

The other, suggested by a reader, may also be true: he learned about the “Muslim World” not from his childhood in Indonesia but from extremists, like former PLO-spokesman Rashid Khalidi, who have “educated” Obama for years about the Palestinians’ plight, attributed to American indifference and Israeli “oppression” rather than their own refusal to renounce violence and to the cynical manipulation of Arab states. Obama himself acknowledged the deep influence on his thinking:

His many talks with the Khalidis, Obama said, had been “consistent reminders to me of my own blind spots and my own biases. … It’s for that reason that I’m hoping that, for many years to come, we continue that conversation — a conversation that is necessary not just around Mona and Rashid’s dinner table,” but around “this entire world.”

Now, these are not mutually exclusive explanations. Whatever the root causes or motivations, over the last 18 months we’ve seen that Obama has been spectacularly unwilling to confront radical Islamists (even to call them that) and all too anxious to promote sentiments in the Muslim community which are counterproductive both for those trying to battle against the forces of radicalism and for the U.S. For someone who fancies himself as the Explainer in Chief with regard to Islam, he certainly could use some fresh thinking.

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Another Liberal with Radical Ties (Part One)

In 2008, Obama’s supporters and campaign flacks assured us that his association with a grab bag of radical leftists (e.g. Bill Ayers), a racist and anti-Semitic preacher (Rev. Wright), and a PLO spokesman (Rashid Khalidi), and a Senate voting record that rated him more liberal than Ted Kennedy were irrelevant to his candidacy. It turns out that all that was more revealing of his values and political inclinations than his campaign platitudes. If it weren’t for Obama, Rep. Joe Sestak’s associations (CAIR, J Street) and voting record (97.8 percent agreement with Nancy Pelosi) might not be of concern to Pennsylvania voters. But frankly, they and voters around the country now should sense what is truly enlightening and what is not about a candidate’s associations and allies.

Sestak has made much of his service in the U.S. Navy, which certainly is worthy of respect (although he’s refused to release records that would shed light on the reasons for his resignation). But that service should not obscure his very radical foreign policy associates. Much has already been written about his views on the Middle East and Israel, but practically unnoticed is his association with a group that goes by the name Citizens for Global Solutions (CGS), until recently known by the Orwellian name “the World Federalist Association.” Who are they, and why have they endorsed Sestak and raised $5,700 for him this year and $4,000 in previous years? (The numbers are not extraordinarily large, but Sestak is far and away the top beneficiaries of the group’s largess.) Read More

In 2008, Obama’s supporters and campaign flacks assured us that his association with a grab bag of radical leftists (e.g. Bill Ayers), a racist and anti-Semitic preacher (Rev. Wright), and a PLO spokesman (Rashid Khalidi), and a Senate voting record that rated him more liberal than Ted Kennedy were irrelevant to his candidacy. It turns out that all that was more revealing of his values and political inclinations than his campaign platitudes. If it weren’t for Obama, Rep. Joe Sestak’s associations (CAIR, J Street) and voting record (97.8 percent agreement with Nancy Pelosi) might not be of concern to Pennsylvania voters. But frankly, they and voters around the country now should sense what is truly enlightening and what is not about a candidate’s associations and allies.

Sestak has made much of his service in the U.S. Navy, which certainly is worthy of respect (although he’s refused to release records that would shed light on the reasons for his resignation). But that service should not obscure his very radical foreign policy associates. Much has already been written about his views on the Middle East and Israel, but practically unnoticed is his association with a group that goes by the name Citizens for Global Solutions (CGS), until recently known by the Orwellian name “the World Federalist Association.” Who are they, and why have they endorsed Sestak and raised $5,700 for him this year and $4,000 in previous years? (The numbers are not extraordinarily large, but Sestak is far and away the top beneficiaries of the group’s largess.)

CGS has some very radical ideas, which make Obama seem like a raging nationalist. Its history as a champion of world government, multinational institutions and treaties (which subsume the laws of nation-states), and devotion to the international redistribution of wealth is no secret:

Seeking to create a world in which nations work together to abolish war, protect our rights and freedoms, and solve the problems facing humanity that no nation can solve alone, Citizens for Global Solutions has a long, proud tradition of activism. Tracing its earliest roots back to the years prior to World War II, United World Federalists (later the World Federalist Association) was created in 1947 as a partnership between a number of like-minded organizations that united to achieve their commons goals.

CGS and its predecessor group, the World Federalist Association (WFA), haven’t been shy about their views. They have decried the “myth” of national sovereignty, supported expansion of international entities like the UN Human Rights Council, the International Criminal Court, and even a standing UN army, all to be funded by the U.S. and new global taxes. (“The United States would benefit from an increased involvement in United Nations peacekeeping missions,” the group explains.) In 1999 in the Washington Times, the issues director for the WFA wrote in an op-ed: “This could bring into favor a global e-commerce tax that could be redistributed back to local, state, and national governments.” He explained the organization’s focus:

The crisis-filled future we face is primarily a result of policy-makers holding onto the myth of independence or national sovereignty and a reliance primarily on unilateral action for dealing with global problems. If Congress continues cutting foreign aid and undermining the vital work of the United Nations, we will have to give up either our personal freedoms or our security.

Under its new name (World Federalist Association probably creeped out too many people), CGS has kept up the internationalist drumbeat and the preference for a slew of agreements that diminish U.S. sovereignty, from the Law of the Seas Treaty to global warming accords to the enhancement of the UN authority. The group thinks the UN Human Rights Council is swell:

Currently, the HRC is the primary global intergovernmental body able to address human rights issues and this is the first time the U.S. has been an active participant. Membership will help generate goodwill toward the U.S. and prove the United States’ commitment to multilateral diplomacy. The HRC is direct, resultant, and demands accountability in human rights from its members and the world. Through HRC actions, a strong basis in international action is created so countries can collectively come to the aid of any human rights crisis.

(Of course, it should also get an A+ in Israel-bashing.) Unsurprisingly, this isn’t the only instance in which CGS has demonstrated a marked anti-Israel bias. Its deputy director of government relations, Drew Asson, went after Israel in the Lebanon war, bellowing from his website: “When will this senseless onslaught by Israeli hawks end? When will the UN Security Council step up to the plate and condemn this vicious obviously disproportionate response by Israel?”

You get the picture. This isn’t the first time a politician’s association with CGS has landed him in hot water. In his 2006 Senate run (the same year CGS started giving Sestak money), Bob Casey was pressured to return campaign donations from the group.

Sestak’s relationship with CGS is indicative of a pattern — he solicits support and receives backing from groups whose agenda is at the far left of the political spectrum. (As such, his supporters and donors have a decidedly anti-Israel cast.) So there is reason for the voters to ask what he sees in these groups’ agendas and, more important, what do they see in him?

The answer may lie in his answers on the CGS questionnaire. It’s an eye-opener, to be discussed in Part Two.

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RE: Pulling Back the Curtain on the NGO Scam

A spokesman for NGO Monitor e-mails me today with news that the Knesset’s Constitution, Law and Justice Committee “approved a draft bill requiring transparency in foreign government funding of Israeli non-governmental organizations (NGOs).” The legislation next will move to a series of three readings and votes. NGO Monitor further explains in a press release:

At today’s hearing, Prof. Gerald Steinberg, president of NGO Monitor, provided background information and analysis on the role played by the European Union (EU) and member states in secretly funding Palestinian, Israeli, and other NGOs and “civil society” organizations.

“Government funding using taxpayer revenues for political NGOs, and allocated in secret, cannot be compared to donations made by private individuals and charitable funds,” Steinberg said to the Committee. “Governments are supposed to operate with greater transparency and democracies are supposed to respect other democracies.  They should not provide secret funds in order to manipulate the policy making processes. But for Europe, Israel is an exception and is seen as a political playground in which the norms are irrelevant. European Union funding for highly political NGOs, for which there is no accountability, has a very damaging influence. Many recipients are among the leaders of the demonization campaigns targeting Israel in the UN, the media, and elsewhere.  When Israeli officials are threatened with war crimes trials, the European funded NGOs are usually involved.”

In his testimony before the Knesset, Steinberg also related his experience in providing testimony on NGOs before the European Parliament Subcommittee on Human Rights in June:

“This session was part of the campaign led by Israeli NGOs to maintain the secrecy of their foreign funding by claiming that transparency is somehow anti-democratic. Similarly, Dr. Ishai Menuchin, leader of the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel (PCATI), and Jafar Farah, head of Mossawa – both EU funded groups – attempted to prevent me from speaking, claiming I was part of the Israeli government. In reality, I represented the only NGO present at the session that was not funded by a government.”

With all this fuss, you can imagine that it must be very important for the front groups … er, NGOs … to protect their patrons’ identities. If the bill becomes law, Israel-bashing in the name of “humanitarian” relief might become harder to pull off and the true aims of these groups might be revealed. It’s not sufficient, but it would be a positive development in counteracting the assault on Israel’s legitimacy.

A spokesman for NGO Monitor e-mails me today with news that the Knesset’s Constitution, Law and Justice Committee “approved a draft bill requiring transparency in foreign government funding of Israeli non-governmental organizations (NGOs).” The legislation next will move to a series of three readings and votes. NGO Monitor further explains in a press release:

At today’s hearing, Prof. Gerald Steinberg, president of NGO Monitor, provided background information and analysis on the role played by the European Union (EU) and member states in secretly funding Palestinian, Israeli, and other NGOs and “civil society” organizations.

“Government funding using taxpayer revenues for political NGOs, and allocated in secret, cannot be compared to donations made by private individuals and charitable funds,” Steinberg said to the Committee. “Governments are supposed to operate with greater transparency and democracies are supposed to respect other democracies.  They should not provide secret funds in order to manipulate the policy making processes. But for Europe, Israel is an exception and is seen as a political playground in which the norms are irrelevant. European Union funding for highly political NGOs, for which there is no accountability, has a very damaging influence. Many recipients are among the leaders of the demonization campaigns targeting Israel in the UN, the media, and elsewhere.  When Israeli officials are threatened with war crimes trials, the European funded NGOs are usually involved.”

In his testimony before the Knesset, Steinberg also related his experience in providing testimony on NGOs before the European Parliament Subcommittee on Human Rights in June:

“This session was part of the campaign led by Israeli NGOs to maintain the secrecy of their foreign funding by claiming that transparency is somehow anti-democratic. Similarly, Dr. Ishai Menuchin, leader of the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel (PCATI), and Jafar Farah, head of Mossawa – both EU funded groups – attempted to prevent me from speaking, claiming I was part of the Israeli government. In reality, I represented the only NGO present at the session that was not funded by a government.”

With all this fuss, you can imagine that it must be very important for the front groups … er, NGOs … to protect their patrons’ identities. If the bill becomes law, Israel-bashing in the name of “humanitarian” relief might become harder to pull off and the true aims of these groups might be revealed. It’s not sufficient, but it would be a positive development in counteracting the assault on Israel’s legitimacy.

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RE: Exporting the Imam’s Message

I was curious about the State Department’s invocation of Abe Foxman in defending its decision to send the imam of the planned Ground Zero mosque overseas. The spokesman declared, “I have heard in media reports, where, Abe Foxman of the ADL, has vouched for his religious views.” That seemed a bit odd, in part because the ADL — to the chagrin of the left — had released a statement urging the mosque be relocated and asserting:

In recommending that a different location be found for the Islamic Center, we are mindful that some legitimate questions have been raised about who is providing the funding to build it, and what connections, if any, its leaders might have with groups whose ideologies stand in contradiction to our shared values.  These questions deserve a response, and we hope those backing the project will be transparent and forthcoming.

I contacted the ADL, which had this response:

P.J. Crowley, State Department spokesman on FoxNews this morning mischaracterized what Abraham H. Foxman has said regarding Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, when he stated,

“…I have heard in media reports, where, Abe Foxman of the ADL, has vouched for his religious views…”

Mr. Foxman, who has known and had contact with the Imam on several occasions, has repeatedly said, “To the best of my knowledge he is a moderate and I have agreed to defend him against charges of his being a terrorist or extremist.”

Well, that is a helpful clarification, but frankly, it’s rather weak, given what we know about Rauf’s views on, for example, 9/11. In another era and with another ADL leader, I imagine a more robust response would have been forthcoming. An official of another Jewish organization remarked to me, “If the standard for ‘moderate’ includes embracing Hamas and implicating the United States in connection with 9/11, there is obviously a fundamental problem.” Indeed.

I was curious about the State Department’s invocation of Abe Foxman in defending its decision to send the imam of the planned Ground Zero mosque overseas. The spokesman declared, “I have heard in media reports, where, Abe Foxman of the ADL, has vouched for his religious views.” That seemed a bit odd, in part because the ADL — to the chagrin of the left — had released a statement urging the mosque be relocated and asserting:

In recommending that a different location be found for the Islamic Center, we are mindful that some legitimate questions have been raised about who is providing the funding to build it, and what connections, if any, its leaders might have with groups whose ideologies stand in contradiction to our shared values.  These questions deserve a response, and we hope those backing the project will be transparent and forthcoming.

I contacted the ADL, which had this response:

P.J. Crowley, State Department spokesman on FoxNews this morning mischaracterized what Abraham H. Foxman has said regarding Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, when he stated,

“…I have heard in media reports, where, Abe Foxman of the ADL, has vouched for his religious views…”

Mr. Foxman, who has known and had contact with the Imam on several occasions, has repeatedly said, “To the best of my knowledge he is a moderate and I have agreed to defend him against charges of his being a terrorist or extremist.”

Well, that is a helpful clarification, but frankly, it’s rather weak, given what we know about Rauf’s views on, for example, 9/11. In another era and with another ADL leader, I imagine a more robust response would have been forthcoming. An official of another Jewish organization remarked to me, “If the standard for ‘moderate’ includes embracing Hamas and implicating the United States in connection with 9/11, there is obviously a fundamental problem.” Indeed.

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Afghanistan: Snapshots from the Morning Papers

This morning’s newspapers bring a slew of important and interesting articles about Afghanistan.

The Wall Street Journal reports on the ongoing probe of the New Ansari Exchange, a leading “hawala” money-transfer company that has been linked to the Taliban, the drug trade, and corrupt Afghan officials. The article notes that an Afghan anti-corruption task force raided New Ansari’s Kabul office in January and seized all sorts of incriminating documents. President Karzai, whose friends and relatives are deeply implicated in these activities, is — of course — eager to quash the probe; but he hasn’t succeeded so far. One of the intriguing aspects of this issue is the vast number of links between the New Ansari Exchange and the Afghan United Bank — one of the country’s leading financial institutions. Haji Muhammad Jan is not only a founder of New Ansari but also the chairman of Afghan United Bank. The larger issue here is the rotten state of Afghanistan’s financial institutions. That is something that needs to be addressed by the coalition because, at the moment, hawalas and banks are important middlemen for corruption, narco-trafficking, and the insurgency. If the financial system can be cleaned up, that will go a long way toward defunding some of the most nefarious activities.

–The New York Times reports that the prospects of holding clean and fair parliamentary elections, currently scheduled for Sept. 18, are poor. Many of the same problems with ballot stuffing that marred the presidential election last year are expected to recur next month. As the Times notes, “already Western diplomats and observers are lowering expectations for the election, while Afghans are increasingly disillusioned and fatalistic about the prospects for democracy.” It’s still not too late to postpone the balloting, which will only further discredit the Afghan government.

–Another New York Times article claims: “American military officials are building a case to minimize the planned withdrawal of some troops from Afghanistan starting next summer, in an effort to counter growing pressure on President Obama from inside his own party to begin winding the war down quickly.” The article, in fact, suggests that it won’t be a hard case to make. It reports that President Obama has adopted a “two-year rule” — meaning that he will give U.S. troops in any particular location two years to execute a counterinsurgency strategy. The Times account continues:

The two-year clock, officials say, started in June 2009 when the first additional forces, more than 20,000 troops long requested by American commanders, arrived in Afghanistan. Those troops will have been in place for two years by next summer, the deadline for the beginning of the withdrawal under Mr. Obama’s plan.

In areas where operations began this year — like Marja, where results have been disappointing, and Kandahar, where American Special Operations forces are now conducting night raids to diminish the middle ranks of the Taliban — the two-year clock started later, and the work there could continue well into 2012.

This suggests that concerns on the right that our troops won’t have sufficient time to conduct counterinsurgency operations are unwarranted — two years should be enough time to stabilize most locations, provided that sufficient troops and resources be dedicated to the problem.

–Finally, the Wall Street Journal reports that German forces based in northern Afghanistan are planning an offensive to drive back the Taliban, who have made inroads in the past two years. That’s good news, although it would be even better news if Berlin were to relax onerous restrictions on their troops. The Journal writes: “A German spokesman in Mazar-e-Sharif says that, until now, when German forces have cleared a village, they have typically entered in the morning and left before nightfall, allowing the Taliban to return at their leisure. The new battalions hope there will be adequate Afghan police to stay behind to protect against the insurgents’ return, German officials say.” I wouldn’t bet on the prospects of stability in newly cleared areas unless German troops are willing to stay behind with Afghan security forces.

These are all, to be sure, snapshots of a war in progress. They don’t add up to a complete picture. Indeed, it’s far too early to draw any broad conclusions. What these articles do show, however, is that, while Afghanistan faces serious problems, coalition forces are for the first time making a serious effort to address them and that, in all likelihood, they will have the time needed to make real progress.

This morning’s newspapers bring a slew of important and interesting articles about Afghanistan.

The Wall Street Journal reports on the ongoing probe of the New Ansari Exchange, a leading “hawala” money-transfer company that has been linked to the Taliban, the drug trade, and corrupt Afghan officials. The article notes that an Afghan anti-corruption task force raided New Ansari’s Kabul office in January and seized all sorts of incriminating documents. President Karzai, whose friends and relatives are deeply implicated in these activities, is — of course — eager to quash the probe; but he hasn’t succeeded so far. One of the intriguing aspects of this issue is the vast number of links between the New Ansari Exchange and the Afghan United Bank — one of the country’s leading financial institutions. Haji Muhammad Jan is not only a founder of New Ansari but also the chairman of Afghan United Bank. The larger issue here is the rotten state of Afghanistan’s financial institutions. That is something that needs to be addressed by the coalition because, at the moment, hawalas and banks are important middlemen for corruption, narco-trafficking, and the insurgency. If the financial system can be cleaned up, that will go a long way toward defunding some of the most nefarious activities.

–The New York Times reports that the prospects of holding clean and fair parliamentary elections, currently scheduled for Sept. 18, are poor. Many of the same problems with ballot stuffing that marred the presidential election last year are expected to recur next month. As the Times notes, “already Western diplomats and observers are lowering expectations for the election, while Afghans are increasingly disillusioned and fatalistic about the prospects for democracy.” It’s still not too late to postpone the balloting, which will only further discredit the Afghan government.

–Another New York Times article claims: “American military officials are building a case to minimize the planned withdrawal of some troops from Afghanistan starting next summer, in an effort to counter growing pressure on President Obama from inside his own party to begin winding the war down quickly.” The article, in fact, suggests that it won’t be a hard case to make. It reports that President Obama has adopted a “two-year rule” — meaning that he will give U.S. troops in any particular location two years to execute a counterinsurgency strategy. The Times account continues:

The two-year clock, officials say, started in June 2009 when the first additional forces, more than 20,000 troops long requested by American commanders, arrived in Afghanistan. Those troops will have been in place for two years by next summer, the deadline for the beginning of the withdrawal under Mr. Obama’s plan.

In areas where operations began this year — like Marja, where results have been disappointing, and Kandahar, where American Special Operations forces are now conducting night raids to diminish the middle ranks of the Taliban — the two-year clock started later, and the work there could continue well into 2012.

This suggests that concerns on the right that our troops won’t have sufficient time to conduct counterinsurgency operations are unwarranted — two years should be enough time to stabilize most locations, provided that sufficient troops and resources be dedicated to the problem.

–Finally, the Wall Street Journal reports that German forces based in northern Afghanistan are planning an offensive to drive back the Taliban, who have made inroads in the past two years. That’s good news, although it would be even better news if Berlin were to relax onerous restrictions on their troops. The Journal writes: “A German spokesman in Mazar-e-Sharif says that, until now, when German forces have cleared a village, they have typically entered in the morning and left before nightfall, allowing the Taliban to return at their leisure. The new battalions hope there will be adequate Afghan police to stay behind to protect against the insurgents’ return, German officials say.” I wouldn’t bet on the prospects of stability in newly cleared areas unless German troops are willing to stay behind with Afghan security forces.

These are all, to be sure, snapshots of a war in progress. They don’t add up to a complete picture. Indeed, it’s far too early to draw any broad conclusions. What these articles do show, however, is that, while Afghanistan faces serious problems, coalition forces are for the first time making a serious effort to address them and that, in all likelihood, they will have the time needed to make real progress.

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UN Acknowledges Lebanon’s Culpability in Border Clash

Miracles will never cease. The United Nations, of all organizations, is actually backing Israel’s account of the border clash with Lebanese troops:

The United Nations peacekeeping force in South Lebanon, Unifil, said on Wednesday it had concluded that Israeli forces were cutting trees that lay within their own territory before a lethal exchange of fire with Lebanese Army troops on Tuesday, largely vindicating Israel’s account of how the fighting started.

A Lebanese Army spokesman had said on Tuesday that the skirmishes started after Israeli soldiers crossed into Lebanese territory to cut down a tree. Israel said that its forces were clearing brush, as part of routine maintenance work, in a gap between the so-called Blue Line, the internationally recognized border, and its security fence, and that it had coordinated its actions in advance with Unifil.

That should settle the issue of culpability, but it still leaves open the question of why this happened — why did the Lebanese army open fire? I hesitate to contribute to the incessant conspiracy-theorizing in the Middle East, but it does strike me that this incident has happened just as Hezbollah has raised fears that some of its members might be indicted by a UN prosecutor investigating the murder of Lebanese leader Rafik Hariri in 2005. The Lebanese army is amply infiltrated by Hezbollah.

One wonders if this provocation isn’t designed to distract attention from what Hezbollah fears will be a real legal problem.

Miracles will never cease. The United Nations, of all organizations, is actually backing Israel’s account of the border clash with Lebanese troops:

The United Nations peacekeeping force in South Lebanon, Unifil, said on Wednesday it had concluded that Israeli forces were cutting trees that lay within their own territory before a lethal exchange of fire with Lebanese Army troops on Tuesday, largely vindicating Israel’s account of how the fighting started.

A Lebanese Army spokesman had said on Tuesday that the skirmishes started after Israeli soldiers crossed into Lebanese territory to cut down a tree. Israel said that its forces were clearing brush, as part of routine maintenance work, in a gap between the so-called Blue Line, the internationally recognized border, and its security fence, and that it had coordinated its actions in advance with Unifil.

That should settle the issue of culpability, but it still leaves open the question of why this happened — why did the Lebanese army open fire? I hesitate to contribute to the incessant conspiracy-theorizing in the Middle East, but it does strike me that this incident has happened just as Hezbollah has raised fears that some of its members might be indicted by a UN prosecutor investigating the murder of Lebanese leader Rafik Hariri in 2005. The Lebanese army is amply infiltrated by Hezbollah.

One wonders if this provocation isn’t designed to distract attention from what Hezbollah fears will be a real legal problem.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Bleak: the generic congressional polling numbers for the Democrats.

Appalling: “Two multinational corporations that have earned millions of dollars in U.S. government contracts are conducting business with Iran in violation of the recently signed sanctions law, according to an Iran watchdog group that has provided its research to FoxNews.com. United Against Nuclear Iran, a non-profit devoted to monitoring the rogue nation, claims that the Danish shipping giant Maersk and Komatsu, a Japanese firm that specializes in construction equipment manufacturing, are flouting U.S. law by continuing to do business in Iran.”

Shaky: “The U.S. economy continued to grow during the second quarter, the government reported Friday. But the pace slowed more than economists were expecting, raising concern about growth — or even another recession — in the months ahead. Gross domestic product, the broadest measure of the nation’s economic activity, rose at a 2.4% annual rate during the three months ended June 30, the Commerce Department said. The sluggish pace was down from the upwardly revised 3.7% growth rate in the first quarter, and missed economists’ forecast for a 2.5% increase.”

Duh: “The problem with Mr. [Oliver] Stone’s ‘Secret History’ goes far beyond the issue of his anti-Semitic screed. The real issue is why a major television network would ask Oliver Stone — a man well known for his belief in preposterous conspiracy theories — to direct a nonfiction film about history.” Well, we all know that lefty Hollywood execs just can’t resist “one more narrative about America’s villainous role in the world and our enemy’s righteous responses.”

Vacuous: The State Department spokesman says something or other about North Korea’s nuclear proliferation, “We don’t see the transparency in that relationship that we’d like to see. North Korea is a serial proliferator. North Korea is engaged in significant illicit activity. Burma, like other countries around the world, has obligations, and we expect Burma to live up to those obligations.” Think that has them shaking in their jackboots?

Huffy: “African-American lawmakers are irate that the Obama administration has promised Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) $1.5 billion in farm aid while claiming it can’t pay a landmark legal settlement with black farmers.” Besides, isn’t it throwing good money after bad to try to rescue Lincoln from her constituents?

Swell: “Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) has chosen to go through an ethics trial, like the one lined up for New York Rep. Charles Rangel, rather than accepting charges made by an ethics subcommittee, a source familiar with the process tells POLITICO. … Waters’s case revolves around allegations that she improperly intervened with federal regulators to help a bank that her husband owned stock in and on whose board he once served.”

Bleak: the generic congressional polling numbers for the Democrats.

Appalling: “Two multinational corporations that have earned millions of dollars in U.S. government contracts are conducting business with Iran in violation of the recently signed sanctions law, according to an Iran watchdog group that has provided its research to FoxNews.com. United Against Nuclear Iran, a non-profit devoted to monitoring the rogue nation, claims that the Danish shipping giant Maersk and Komatsu, a Japanese firm that specializes in construction equipment manufacturing, are flouting U.S. law by continuing to do business in Iran.”

Shaky: “The U.S. economy continued to grow during the second quarter, the government reported Friday. But the pace slowed more than economists were expecting, raising concern about growth — or even another recession — in the months ahead. Gross domestic product, the broadest measure of the nation’s economic activity, rose at a 2.4% annual rate during the three months ended June 30, the Commerce Department said. The sluggish pace was down from the upwardly revised 3.7% growth rate in the first quarter, and missed economists’ forecast for a 2.5% increase.”

Duh: “The problem with Mr. [Oliver] Stone’s ‘Secret History’ goes far beyond the issue of his anti-Semitic screed. The real issue is why a major television network would ask Oliver Stone — a man well known for his belief in preposterous conspiracy theories — to direct a nonfiction film about history.” Well, we all know that lefty Hollywood execs just can’t resist “one more narrative about America’s villainous role in the world and our enemy’s righteous responses.”

Vacuous: The State Department spokesman says something or other about North Korea’s nuclear proliferation, “We don’t see the transparency in that relationship that we’d like to see. North Korea is a serial proliferator. North Korea is engaged in significant illicit activity. Burma, like other countries around the world, has obligations, and we expect Burma to live up to those obligations.” Think that has them shaking in their jackboots?

Huffy: “African-American lawmakers are irate that the Obama administration has promised Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) $1.5 billion in farm aid while claiming it can’t pay a landmark legal settlement with black farmers.” Besides, isn’t it throwing good money after bad to try to rescue Lincoln from her constituents?

Swell: “Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) has chosen to go through an ethics trial, like the one lined up for New York Rep. Charles Rangel, rather than accepting charges made by an ethics subcommittee, a source familiar with the process tells POLITICO. … Waters’s case revolves around allegations that she improperly intervened with federal regulators to help a bank that her husband owned stock in and on whose board he once served.”

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Shut Up, They Instructed

As I noted yesterday, the totalitarian impulse on the left is all too apparent these days. Their frenzy to silence opposition voices increases in direct proportion to their growing unpopularity and panic over the coming electoral wipeout. They seem to have lost the ability to engage in not only civil debate but in any debate. A case in point:

A private university in Chicago that refuses to host former senior Bush adviser Karl Rove, arguing that welcoming a “political” speaker ahead of the midterm elections could threaten its tax-exempt status, has added an Obama administration appointee to address the student body.

Loyola University Chicago is hosting Eboo Patel, an Obama appointee to the White House interfaith council, next month, calling into question the school’s rationale for rejecting Rove’s appearance.

“The news that Eboo Patel, an appointee of the Obama administration, will be allowed to speak at Loyola University Chicago, while Karl Rove was essentially barred, is further proof that the (university) administration either has zero understanding of tax law or is unabashedly biased,” said Evan Gassman, a spokesman for Young America’s Foundation, a conservative outreach group that was sponsoring the Rove speech.

The university’s rationale is patently contrived, given its past conduct. (“In September 2004, the school hosted Howard Dean, who ran for president that year. A couple of weeks after his speech, political activist Ralph Nader, who also ran for president that year, spoke on campus — a speech that was advertised as a campaign event in which donations were solicited.”) Their speaker-selection “rules” are a facade. The university is quite obviously trying to shield its students from one half of the political discussion.

Now, as a legal matter, a private university can invite whomever it pleases. But the example it is setting for students and faculty alike is about as far from the ideal of a university education as you can get. Academic freedom? A free exchange of ideas? Puhleez.

This incident does, however, perfectly embody the modus operandi of the left these days — disingenuous explanations for shutting down opponents and classification of critics as “political” (in contrast to their own side, which is, they tell us, high-minded and apolitical). It is not the behavior of a self-confident movement anxious to engage and best their intellectual rivals.

As I noted yesterday, the totalitarian impulse on the left is all too apparent these days. Their frenzy to silence opposition voices increases in direct proportion to their growing unpopularity and panic over the coming electoral wipeout. They seem to have lost the ability to engage in not only civil debate but in any debate. A case in point:

A private university in Chicago that refuses to host former senior Bush adviser Karl Rove, arguing that welcoming a “political” speaker ahead of the midterm elections could threaten its tax-exempt status, has added an Obama administration appointee to address the student body.

Loyola University Chicago is hosting Eboo Patel, an Obama appointee to the White House interfaith council, next month, calling into question the school’s rationale for rejecting Rove’s appearance.

“The news that Eboo Patel, an appointee of the Obama administration, will be allowed to speak at Loyola University Chicago, while Karl Rove was essentially barred, is further proof that the (university) administration either has zero understanding of tax law or is unabashedly biased,” said Evan Gassman, a spokesman for Young America’s Foundation, a conservative outreach group that was sponsoring the Rove speech.

The university’s rationale is patently contrived, given its past conduct. (“In September 2004, the school hosted Howard Dean, who ran for president that year. A couple of weeks after his speech, political activist Ralph Nader, who also ran for president that year, spoke on campus — a speech that was advertised as a campaign event in which donations were solicited.”) Their speaker-selection “rules” are a facade. The university is quite obviously trying to shield its students from one half of the political discussion.

Now, as a legal matter, a private university can invite whomever it pleases. But the example it is setting for students and faculty alike is about as far from the ideal of a university education as you can get. Academic freedom? A free exchange of ideas? Puhleez.

This incident does, however, perfectly embody the modus operandi of the left these days — disingenuous explanations for shutting down opponents and classification of critics as “political” (in contrast to their own side, which is, they tell us, high-minded and apolitical). It is not the behavior of a self-confident movement anxious to engage and best their intellectual rivals.

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Rewriting the Rules of International Diplomacy

Palestinian preconditions for negotiations with Israel have been changing so rapidly that it’s hard to keep up. Yet they all have one thing in common: all seek to rewrite the accepted rules of international diplomacy.

The latest, unveiled this week, is that the Palestinians refuse to begin direct talks unless the U.S. guarantees that the final-status border will be based on the 1949 armistice lines, including in Jerusalem, and that an international force will replace Israel’s army completely, leaving Israel with no security presence on the West Bank.

In other words, the Palestinians won’t “negotiate” unless there’s nothing left to negotiate about, because the U.S. has already guaranteed that all their demands will be met. That would completely gut the usual principle of negotiations, which is that both sides make concessions to forge a mutually acceptable compromise.

It would also leave Israel with no reason even to begin the talks. Not only are these demands unacceptable to Jerusalem in themselves (as I’ve explained here, here, and here, for instance), but with the entirety of the territory and its military presence having already been conceded in advance, Israel would have no bargaining chips left with which to secure Palestinian concessions on other issues of importance to it, such as the refugees or recognition as a Jewish state.

Indeed, if this were to become the accepted model for diplomatic negotiations — one in which everything is decided in one party’s favor in advance — it would spell the death of international diplomacy, because the other party would always have the strongest possible incentive to avoid talks.

The same was true of the Palestinians’ last attempt to pose preconditions: their insistence that the starting point for talks be the proposals made by former Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert, which they themselves rejected. If leaders knew that any proposal they made would be binding on them and their successors — but not their interlocutors — even if the other side rejected it, they would be reluctant to offer any proposals at all. That would effectively kill off any possibility of negotiations.

Washington, to its credit, rejected that precondition and is so far standing publicly firm on the demand for guarantees as well. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas complained to Fatah’s Revolutionary Council on Tuesday that President Barack Obama had been “vague” on the issues of borders and security, while State Department spokesman Philip Crowley told reporters yesterday that “fundamental issues in the process, including borders … can only be resolved within the context of direct negotiations.”

Nevertheless, there has apparently been some waffling in private: an Israeli source told Haaretz this week that “Washington is giving serious consideration to issuing these guarantees in order to encourage the Palestinians to agree to direct talks.”

If the U.S. actually wants talks to occur, it must continue standing firm — not only for the sake of a time-honored principle of international diplomacy, but also because there is no chance of any deal emerging until the Palestinians are made to understand that they, too, will have to make concessions to achieve it.

Palestinian preconditions for negotiations with Israel have been changing so rapidly that it’s hard to keep up. Yet they all have one thing in common: all seek to rewrite the accepted rules of international diplomacy.

The latest, unveiled this week, is that the Palestinians refuse to begin direct talks unless the U.S. guarantees that the final-status border will be based on the 1949 armistice lines, including in Jerusalem, and that an international force will replace Israel’s army completely, leaving Israel with no security presence on the West Bank.

In other words, the Palestinians won’t “negotiate” unless there’s nothing left to negotiate about, because the U.S. has already guaranteed that all their demands will be met. That would completely gut the usual principle of negotiations, which is that both sides make concessions to forge a mutually acceptable compromise.

It would also leave Israel with no reason even to begin the talks. Not only are these demands unacceptable to Jerusalem in themselves (as I’ve explained here, here, and here, for instance), but with the entirety of the territory and its military presence having already been conceded in advance, Israel would have no bargaining chips left with which to secure Palestinian concessions on other issues of importance to it, such as the refugees or recognition as a Jewish state.

Indeed, if this were to become the accepted model for diplomatic negotiations — one in which everything is decided in one party’s favor in advance — it would spell the death of international diplomacy, because the other party would always have the strongest possible incentive to avoid talks.

The same was true of the Palestinians’ last attempt to pose preconditions: their insistence that the starting point for talks be the proposals made by former Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert, which they themselves rejected. If leaders knew that any proposal they made would be binding on them and their successors — but not their interlocutors — even if the other side rejected it, they would be reluctant to offer any proposals at all. That would effectively kill off any possibility of negotiations.

Washington, to its credit, rejected that precondition and is so far standing publicly firm on the demand for guarantees as well. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas complained to Fatah’s Revolutionary Council on Tuesday that President Barack Obama had been “vague” on the issues of borders and security, while State Department spokesman Philip Crowley told reporters yesterday that “fundamental issues in the process, including borders … can only be resolved within the context of direct negotiations.”

Nevertheless, there has apparently been some waffling in private: an Israeli source told Haaretz this week that “Washington is giving serious consideration to issuing these guarantees in order to encourage the Palestinians to agree to direct talks.”

If the U.S. actually wants talks to occur, it must continue standing firm — not only for the sake of a time-honored principle of international diplomacy, but also because there is no chance of any deal emerging until the Palestinians are made to understand that they, too, will have to make concessions to achieve it.

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Democrats Balk at Raising Taxes in a Recession

It might have something to do with Obama’s falling poll numbers. Maybe they simply can’t bring themselves to defend the lunacy of raising taxes when the prospect of a double-dip recession is looming. But at least a few Senate Democrats are talking sense:

Two more Senate Democrats called for extending tax cuts for all earners—including those with the highest incomes—in what appears to be a breakdown of the party’s consensus on the how to handle the expiration of Bush-era tax cuts.

Sen. Kent Conrad (D., N.D.) said in an interview Wednesday that Congress shouldn’t allow taxes on the wealthy to rise until the economy is on a sounder footing.

Sen. Ben Nelson (D., Neb.) said through a spokesman that he also supported extending all the expiring tax cuts for now, adding that he wanted to offset the impact on federal deficits as much as possible. … “As a general rule, you don’t want to be cutting spending or raising taxes in the midst of a downturn,” Mr. Conrad said. “We know that very soon we’ve got to pivot and focus on the deficit. But it probably is too soon to cut spending or raise taxes.”

Yeah, as a general rule you probably don’t want to pass a massive health-care bill with oodles of new taxes and mandates “in the midst of a downturn” either. Nevertheless, these two plus Sen. Evan Bayh are “a departure from what appeared to be an emerging unified Democratic stance.” Maybe not so unified after all.

Remember Rep. Joe Sestak bemoaning the plight of small businesses the other day? Hmm, maybe he could join the reality-based Democrats. After all, those small businesses are the ones that will be hit if the top rate rises to 39.6%. (“Republicans and many business groups favor extending all the breaks, contending that increasing tax rates will hit small businesses hard.”) But I haven’t heard any of that from him. And really, is a guy who voted with Nancy Pelosi 97.8 percent of the time the lawmaker who is going to break with liberal orthodoxy? Not likely.

It might have something to do with Obama’s falling poll numbers. Maybe they simply can’t bring themselves to defend the lunacy of raising taxes when the prospect of a double-dip recession is looming. But at least a few Senate Democrats are talking sense:

Two more Senate Democrats called for extending tax cuts for all earners—including those with the highest incomes—in what appears to be a breakdown of the party’s consensus on the how to handle the expiration of Bush-era tax cuts.

Sen. Kent Conrad (D., N.D.) said in an interview Wednesday that Congress shouldn’t allow taxes on the wealthy to rise until the economy is on a sounder footing.

Sen. Ben Nelson (D., Neb.) said through a spokesman that he also supported extending all the expiring tax cuts for now, adding that he wanted to offset the impact on federal deficits as much as possible. … “As a general rule, you don’t want to be cutting spending or raising taxes in the midst of a downturn,” Mr. Conrad said. “We know that very soon we’ve got to pivot and focus on the deficit. But it probably is too soon to cut spending or raise taxes.”

Yeah, as a general rule you probably don’t want to pass a massive health-care bill with oodles of new taxes and mandates “in the midst of a downturn” either. Nevertheless, these two plus Sen. Evan Bayh are “a departure from what appeared to be an emerging unified Democratic stance.” Maybe not so unified after all.

Remember Rep. Joe Sestak bemoaning the plight of small businesses the other day? Hmm, maybe he could join the reality-based Democrats. After all, those small businesses are the ones that will be hit if the top rate rises to 39.6%. (“Republicans and many business groups favor extending all the breaks, contending that increasing tax rates will hit small businesses hard.”) But I haven’t heard any of that from him. And really, is a guy who voted with Nancy Pelosi 97.8 percent of the time the lawmaker who is going to break with liberal orthodoxy? Not likely.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

It’s not like the Constitution says “informed advice and consent.” The Senate Judiciary Committee voted to confirm Elena Kagan, even though many (Lindsey Graham for one) complained they didn’t know much about her.

It’s not like Ohio is an important bellwether state, or anything. “The latest Rasmussen Reports telephone survey of Likely Voters in Ohio finds Republican candidate Rob Portman with 45% of the vote while Democrat Lee Fisher earns 39% support this month. Five percent (5%) prefer some other candidate in the race, and 11% more are undecided.”

It’s not like the administration listens to Israelis about Israel or businessmen about business, but still, even they should find this (from Jackson Diehl) compelling: “Those who argue that Western democracies should lift sanctions on Cuba often claim that even the island’s dissidents favor the move. So it was interesting to see the statement issued Monday by ten of the 11 political prisoners who were deported to Spain by the Castro dictatorship last week. Noting the ‘manifest willingness of some European countries’ to liberalize E.U. strictures on relations with Cuba, the dissidents said they opposed ‘an approval of this measure,’ because ‘the Cuban government has not taken steps that evidence a clear decision to advance toward the democratization of the country.'”

It’s not like a Democratic polling outfit wants to pour gasoline on the fire: Public Policy Polling’s Tom Jensen writes: “With Barack Obama’s polling numbers hitting the worst levels of his Presidency recently there have been a lot of calls, mostly from conservatives, for us to poll Hillary against Obama for the 2012 nomination. We’re not going to do that but even if we did I wouldn’t expect it to be very interesting.”

It’s not like we’re really going to talk to North Korea. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley explained (well, not explained, but said): “We’re always prepared to talk. But there are some definite steps that we have to see from North Korea before that becomes possible. So I think we agree fully with the South Korean foreign minister that, you know, there are conditions and obligations that North Korea has to demonstrate a willingness to tackle before we’ll consider having a follow-on conversation.”

It’s not like Obama has been great for Democrats in Virginia: “A new survey of Virginia’s 5th district race paints a tough reelection picture for freshman Rep. Tom Perriello (D). Sen. Robert Hurt (R) is leading the incumbent, 58 percent to 35 percent, according to the survey, conducted by SurveyUSA for WDBJ News in Roanoke.”

It’s not like this is a bad thing for Democrats — or for the country: “Senate climate legislation appeared to be on life support Tuesday after two key advocates said they were skeptical of reaching a quick deal on a controversial bill that includes a cap on greenhouse gases from power plants.”

It’s not like the Constitution says “informed advice and consent.” The Senate Judiciary Committee voted to confirm Elena Kagan, even though many (Lindsey Graham for one) complained they didn’t know much about her.

It’s not like Ohio is an important bellwether state, or anything. “The latest Rasmussen Reports telephone survey of Likely Voters in Ohio finds Republican candidate Rob Portman with 45% of the vote while Democrat Lee Fisher earns 39% support this month. Five percent (5%) prefer some other candidate in the race, and 11% more are undecided.”

It’s not like the administration listens to Israelis about Israel or businessmen about business, but still, even they should find this (from Jackson Diehl) compelling: “Those who argue that Western democracies should lift sanctions on Cuba often claim that even the island’s dissidents favor the move. So it was interesting to see the statement issued Monday by ten of the 11 political prisoners who were deported to Spain by the Castro dictatorship last week. Noting the ‘manifest willingness of some European countries’ to liberalize E.U. strictures on relations with Cuba, the dissidents said they opposed ‘an approval of this measure,’ because ‘the Cuban government has not taken steps that evidence a clear decision to advance toward the democratization of the country.'”

It’s not like a Democratic polling outfit wants to pour gasoline on the fire: Public Policy Polling’s Tom Jensen writes: “With Barack Obama’s polling numbers hitting the worst levels of his Presidency recently there have been a lot of calls, mostly from conservatives, for us to poll Hillary against Obama for the 2012 nomination. We’re not going to do that but even if we did I wouldn’t expect it to be very interesting.”

It’s not like we’re really going to talk to North Korea. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley explained (well, not explained, but said): “We’re always prepared to talk. But there are some definite steps that we have to see from North Korea before that becomes possible. So I think we agree fully with the South Korean foreign minister that, you know, there are conditions and obligations that North Korea has to demonstrate a willingness to tackle before we’ll consider having a follow-on conversation.”

It’s not like Obama has been great for Democrats in Virginia: “A new survey of Virginia’s 5th district race paints a tough reelection picture for freshman Rep. Tom Perriello (D). Sen. Robert Hurt (R) is leading the incumbent, 58 percent to 35 percent, according to the survey, conducted by SurveyUSA for WDBJ News in Roanoke.”

It’s not like this is a bad thing for Democrats — or for the country: “Senate climate legislation appeared to be on life support Tuesday after two key advocates said they were skeptical of reaching a quick deal on a controversial bill that includes a cap on greenhouse gases from power plants.”

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