Commentary Magazine


Topic: the New Republic

The Obama Presidency Unraveling

The Denver Post endorsed Barack Obama for President in 2008. So it’s yet one more indication of the problems now buffeting the Obama presidency when its editorial features sentences such these: “Welcome to the summer of malaise. Welcome back, Carter.” They are now becoming almost too numerous to list. But let’s try: Surging deficits. A very weak economy. Persistently high unemployment (far beyond what the Obama administration predicted). The unraveling of promises made about ObamaCare. Growing unhappiness in Europe with the United States. America’s enemies emboldened and its allies uncertain. Public confidence in Obama reaching new lows. Collapsing support for Obama among independents. Deepening unhappiness among the left. A huge advantage for Republicans in voter intensity. Republicans dominating when it comes to issues voters most care about. Respected Democrats like William Galston predicting that Democrats might lose the Senate as well as the House. Self-identified conservatives outnumbering self-identified liberals by more than a two-to-one margin. Confidence in Congress reaching new lows (11 percent in the most recent Gallup poll), etc.

Still, I’m confident that very smart bloggers over at the New Republic will offer — one more time — a very smart explanation for why President Obama bears absolutely none of the blame for the problems he is encountering. After all, Obama has done much of what they have recommended.

It is somewhat amusing and somewhat poignant to witness former Journolisters offering panicked and pathetic explanations for why the political world is crumbling around them.

The Denver Post endorsed Barack Obama for President in 2008. So it’s yet one more indication of the problems now buffeting the Obama presidency when its editorial features sentences such these: “Welcome to the summer of malaise. Welcome back, Carter.” They are now becoming almost too numerous to list. But let’s try: Surging deficits. A very weak economy. Persistently high unemployment (far beyond what the Obama administration predicted). The unraveling of promises made about ObamaCare. Growing unhappiness in Europe with the United States. America’s enemies emboldened and its allies uncertain. Public confidence in Obama reaching new lows. Collapsing support for Obama among independents. Deepening unhappiness among the left. A huge advantage for Republicans in voter intensity. Republicans dominating when it comes to issues voters most care about. Respected Democrats like William Galston predicting that Democrats might lose the Senate as well as the House. Self-identified conservatives outnumbering self-identified liberals by more than a two-to-one margin. Confidence in Congress reaching new lows (11 percent in the most recent Gallup poll), etc.

Still, I’m confident that very smart bloggers over at the New Republic will offer — one more time — a very smart explanation for why President Obama bears absolutely none of the blame for the problems he is encountering. After all, Obama has done much of what they have recommended.

It is somewhat amusing and somewhat poignant to witness former Journolisters offering panicked and pathetic explanations for why the political world is crumbling around them.

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Beinart at It Again

Last month, Pete Wehner demolished Peter Beinart for his attack on Charles Krauthammer, pointing out that it was based on a date error. Pete warned Beinart: “I have some advice for liberals in general, but most especially for those who formerly edited the New Republic. First, learn to read dates on essays and columns before you attack them. Second, don’t impugn a person’s motives when your charges can so easily be shown to be false.”

Apparently, Beinart did not take it to heart. In a scrawl for the Daily Beast, Beinart attacks Bibi for “wasting” Obama’s time at the White House meeting. He begins with this:

Don’t listen to what Benjamin Netanyahu and Barack Obama said at their buddy, buddy press conference Tuesday afternoon. Listen to what they didn’t say. Netanyahu volunteered that “I very much appreciate the President’s statement that he is determined to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.” The only problem: Obama didn’t say that. He said Iran must “cease the kinds of provocative behavior that has made it a threat to its neighbors and the international community.” That’s a whole lot vaguer, and it points to the crux of the dispute between the two men. Netanyahu wants Obama to do whatever it takes to prevent an Iranian nuke, including going to war. Obama doesn’t want to box himself into that corner. But putting Obama in a box is exactly Netanyahu was trying to do.

Actually, neither of them said anything of the sort. The transcript and the quotes come from the May 18, 2009, press conference. It says it at the top. One more piece of advice: if Pete Wehner gives you advice, take it.

Last month, Pete Wehner demolished Peter Beinart for his attack on Charles Krauthammer, pointing out that it was based on a date error. Pete warned Beinart: “I have some advice for liberals in general, but most especially for those who formerly edited the New Republic. First, learn to read dates on essays and columns before you attack them. Second, don’t impugn a person’s motives when your charges can so easily be shown to be false.”

Apparently, Beinart did not take it to heart. In a scrawl for the Daily Beast, Beinart attacks Bibi for “wasting” Obama’s time at the White House meeting. He begins with this:

Don’t listen to what Benjamin Netanyahu and Barack Obama said at their buddy, buddy press conference Tuesday afternoon. Listen to what they didn’t say. Netanyahu volunteered that “I very much appreciate the President’s statement that he is determined to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.” The only problem: Obama didn’t say that. He said Iran must “cease the kinds of provocative behavior that has made it a threat to its neighbors and the international community.” That’s a whole lot vaguer, and it points to the crux of the dispute between the two men. Netanyahu wants Obama to do whatever it takes to prevent an Iranian nuke, including going to war. Obama doesn’t want to box himself into that corner. But putting Obama in a box is exactly Netanyahu was trying to do.

Actually, neither of them said anything of the sort. The transcript and the quotes come from the May 18, 2009, press conference. It says it at the top. One more piece of advice: if Pete Wehner gives you advice, take it.

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Syria Must Be Contained, Not Engaged

Nibras Kazimi suggests in the pages of the New Republic that the Middle East’s violent Islamists might go after the Syrian government after they’re finished in Iraq and Afghanistan. “On jihadist online discussion forums,” he writes, “they have been authoring what amount to policy papers calling on the jihadist leadership to take the fight to Syria.”

It would make a certain amount of sense if they did decide Syria ought to be next. Most of the country’s leadership is from the Alawite minority sect, which branched off Twelver Shia Islam in the 10th century and became something else almost entirely. Both Sunnis and Shias have long considered them heretics. When French Mandate authorities ruled the area after World War One, many, if not most, Alawites yearned for their own sovereign homeland along the coast of the Mediterranean apart from Damascus and the largely Sunni interior.

“The Alawites refuse to be annexed to Muslim Syria,” Suleiman Assad, grandfather of Syria’s President Bashar Assad, wrote in a petition to France in 1943. “In Syria, the official religion of the state is Islam, and according to Islam, the Alawites are considered infidels. … The spirit of hatred and fanaticism imbedded in the hearts of the Arab Muslims against everything that is non-Muslim has been perpetually nurtured by the Islamic religion. There is no hope that the situation will ever change. Therefore, the abolition of the mandate will expose the minorities in Syria to the dangers of death and annihilation.”

Western foreign-policy analysts rarely seem to take this into account, but the most dangerous people in the Middle East always do. “Islamists arguing for a jihad in Syria believe that they have hit the trifecta,” Kazimi writes. “In the Syrian regime, they have an enemy that is at once tyrannical, secular, and heretical.”

One of the worst massacres in the modern Middle East occurred in 1982 when the Muslim Brotherhood mounted an armed insurgency against the government of Hafez Assad, the father of Syria’s current president. Assad killed thousands in a single weekend in the city of Hama and then boasted about it. Not once since then have the Muslim Brothers declared war on the state, but they’ve been quietly nursing their grievances and patiently waiting for the chance of revenge. The only thing that keeps the Syrian government safe, aside from its demonstrated willingness to respond with the utmost brutality, is its championship of terrorist organizations in Lebanon, Gaza, and Iraq as a way to purchase street cred with its sworn Sunni enemies.

If Assad were to work with the United States by promoting stability instead of terrorism, freelance jihadists all over the region would have every reason to bump him to the top of their to-do list. A secular non-Muslim Arab government at peace with Israel and the West and an enemy of the “resistance” movements would make an obvious next stop for roaming insurgents. That’s why Assad won’t likely ever do what Washington wants unless the region as a whole changes drastically or the United States threatens his survival more than the Islamists do. All we can really do in the meantime is try to contain him.

Nibras Kazimi suggests in the pages of the New Republic that the Middle East’s violent Islamists might go after the Syrian government after they’re finished in Iraq and Afghanistan. “On jihadist online discussion forums,” he writes, “they have been authoring what amount to policy papers calling on the jihadist leadership to take the fight to Syria.”

It would make a certain amount of sense if they did decide Syria ought to be next. Most of the country’s leadership is from the Alawite minority sect, which branched off Twelver Shia Islam in the 10th century and became something else almost entirely. Both Sunnis and Shias have long considered them heretics. When French Mandate authorities ruled the area after World War One, many, if not most, Alawites yearned for their own sovereign homeland along the coast of the Mediterranean apart from Damascus and the largely Sunni interior.

“The Alawites refuse to be annexed to Muslim Syria,” Suleiman Assad, grandfather of Syria’s President Bashar Assad, wrote in a petition to France in 1943. “In Syria, the official religion of the state is Islam, and according to Islam, the Alawites are considered infidels. … The spirit of hatred and fanaticism imbedded in the hearts of the Arab Muslims against everything that is non-Muslim has been perpetually nurtured by the Islamic religion. There is no hope that the situation will ever change. Therefore, the abolition of the mandate will expose the minorities in Syria to the dangers of death and annihilation.”

Western foreign-policy analysts rarely seem to take this into account, but the most dangerous people in the Middle East always do. “Islamists arguing for a jihad in Syria believe that they have hit the trifecta,” Kazimi writes. “In the Syrian regime, they have an enemy that is at once tyrannical, secular, and heretical.”

One of the worst massacres in the modern Middle East occurred in 1982 when the Muslim Brotherhood mounted an armed insurgency against the government of Hafez Assad, the father of Syria’s current president. Assad killed thousands in a single weekend in the city of Hama and then boasted about it. Not once since then have the Muslim Brothers declared war on the state, but they’ve been quietly nursing their grievances and patiently waiting for the chance of revenge. The only thing that keeps the Syrian government safe, aside from its demonstrated willingness to respond with the utmost brutality, is its championship of terrorist organizations in Lebanon, Gaza, and Iraq as a way to purchase street cred with its sworn Sunni enemies.

If Assad were to work with the United States by promoting stability instead of terrorism, freelance jihadists all over the region would have every reason to bump him to the top of their to-do list. A secular non-Muslim Arab government at peace with Israel and the West and an enemy of the “resistance” movements would make an obvious next stop for roaming insurgents. That’s why Assad won’t likely ever do what Washington wants unless the region as a whole changes drastically or the United States threatens his survival more than the Islamists do. All we can really do in the meantime is try to contain him.

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A Former Clinton Adviser Pushes the Panic Button

William Galston, a first-rate academic mind who was a top domestic adviser to President Clinton, begins his piece in the New Republic this way:

Earth to House Democrats: It’s time to push the panic button. But don’t take my word for it; consider the evidence.

After analyzing the evidence, this is how Galston concludes:

It’s too late to enact legislation that will actually affect the economy’s performance between now and November, but it may not be too late for Democrats to better align their agenda with the public’s economic concerns. And they could get lucky: The four remaining employment reports between now and the election might show accelerating job creation in the private sector and a more rapid decline in unemployment than we have seen thus far. That would give embattled incumbents the chance to argue—more credibly than they can now—that we’re on the right track and shouldn’t turn back.

On the other hand, it’s entirely possible that none of this matters now, that the voters likely to turn out this fall have already concluded that with one-party control of the legislative and executive branches, Democrats will continue to take the country further to the left than the majority of the electorate would like. If so, Democrats should probably prepare themselves for the two words they dread the most—“Speaker Boehner.”

It will be hard for Obama acolytes in the press to dismiss this as more “the sky is falling” predictions from Republican critics, now, won’t it?

William Galston, a first-rate academic mind who was a top domestic adviser to President Clinton, begins his piece in the New Republic this way:

Earth to House Democrats: It’s time to push the panic button. But don’t take my word for it; consider the evidence.

After analyzing the evidence, this is how Galston concludes:

It’s too late to enact legislation that will actually affect the economy’s performance between now and November, but it may not be too late for Democrats to better align their agenda with the public’s economic concerns. And they could get lucky: The four remaining employment reports between now and the election might show accelerating job creation in the private sector and a more rapid decline in unemployment than we have seen thus far. That would give embattled incumbents the chance to argue—more credibly than they can now—that we’re on the right track and shouldn’t turn back.

On the other hand, it’s entirely possible that none of this matters now, that the voters likely to turn out this fall have already concluded that with one-party control of the legislative and executive branches, Democrats will continue to take the country further to the left than the majority of the electorate would like. If so, Democrats should probably prepare themselves for the two words they dread the most—“Speaker Boehner.”

It will be hard for Obama acolytes in the press to dismiss this as more “the sky is falling” predictions from Republican critics, now, won’t it?

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The Beinart Critique, Dismantled

In his new book, The Icarus Syndrome: A History of American Hubris, Peter Beinart, formerly editor of the New Republic and now a senior fellow at the New America Foundation, takes aim at the syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer.

“There are no normal times.” With those words, written in 1991 and aimed straight at Jeane Kirkpatrick, the younger conservative generation fired its first shot.

The marksman was columnist Charles Krauthammer, an acid-tongued ex-psychiatrist from Montreal, and a man young enough to be Kirkpatrick’s son.

Beinart spends several pages summarizing and quoting from Foreign Affairs magazine, in which Krauthammer’s essay, “The Unipolar Moment,” appeared. Krauthammer argued: “We are in for abnormal times. Our best hope for safety in such times, as in difficult times past, is in American strength and will — the strength and will to lead a unipolar world, unashamedly laying down the rules of world order and being prepared to enforce them.” Krauthammer wrote that we must “confront” and, “if necessary, disarm” nations he called “Weapon States” like Iraq under Saddam Hussein and North Korea.

Beinart didn’t like “The Unipolar Moment” and wrote this:

It was no coincidence that Krauthammer published his attack on Kirkpatrick soon after the Gulf War. As usual in the development of hubris bubbles, it was only once things that formerly looked hard — like liberating Kuwait — had been made to look easy that people set their sights higher. Had America proved militarily unable to keep Saddam from gobbling his neighbors, Krauthammer could not have seriously proposed launching a new war, inside Iraq itself, to rid him of his unconventional weapons.

That all sounds very intriguing, except for one thing. On the first page of the Krauthammer essay, in the by-line, we read this:

Charles Krauthammer is a syndicated columnist. This article is adapted from the author’s Henry M. Jackson Memorial Lecture delivered in Washington, D.C., Sept. 18, 1990.

Why does that matter? Because Krauthammer’s essay was adopted from a lecture he gave months before there could possibly have been a “hubris bubble.” Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait occurred on August 2, 1990. Krauthammer delivered his lecture on September 18. Operation Desert Storm didn’t begin until January 17, 1991. And hostilities ceased on February 28. The timeline of events, then, demolishes the Beinart critique.

The Krauthammer lecture itself, it’s worth adding, was no state secret. It was public, it was published, and it has been available as a monograph, in addition to the reference in the Foreign Affairs essay. In reading “The Unipolar Moment” — which was published months after the lecture on which it was based and which is not substantively different from the September 18 lecture — it is clear that the outcome of the war was unknown at the time it was written.

So Krauthammer didn’t set his sights higher because the liberation of Kuwait had been “made to look easy.” When he articulated his views on the “unipolar moment,” Kuwait had been invaded but it hadn’t been liberated. The U.S. was still months away from war. And, in fact, many predicted that if America went to war, it would be a difficult and bloody undertaking. (“Amid talk of body bags, honor and patriotism, the U.S. Congress yesterday began a formal debate on whether to go to war in the Persian Gulf,” the Toronto Star reported on January 11, 1991. “‘The 45,000 body bags that the Pentagon has sent to the gulf are all the evidence we need of the high cost in blood,’ said Senator Edward Kennedy. He added some military experts have estimated American casualties at the rate of 3,000 a week.”) That explains, in part, why the Senate vote on the Gulf War resolution was so close (52-47).

All of this is noteworthy not simply because of Beinart’s sloppiness (which is noteworthy enough), but because Beinart concocts an interpretative theory that is utter nonsense. It is based on a completely wrong premise. He builds a false explanation based on a false fact.

Beinart is not the first to have done so. On November 29, 2009 Andrew Sullivan, in a posting titled “The Positioning of Charles Krauthammer,” charged that while he had advocated a gasoline tax in December 2008, in Krauthammer’s “latest column” on climate change, “the gas tax idea is missing.” The reason, Sullivan informed us, was that “In the end, the conservative intelligentsia is much more invested in obstructing and thereby neutering Obama and the Democrats than in solving any actual problems in front of us. It’s a game for them, and they play it with impunity.”

There was one problem with Sullivan’s analysis: the column he refers to was published not in November 2009 but in May 2008 — when George W. Bush was still president and Barack Obama hadn’t yet won the Democratic nomination. Krauthammer proceeded to eviscerate Sullivan, who had the decency to issue an abject apology and correction. I wonder if Beinart will show the same decency, having made the same error.

I have some advice for liberals in general, but most especially for those who formerly edited the New Republic. First, learn to read dates on essays and columns before you attack them. Second, don’t impugn a person’s motives when your charges can so easily be shown to be false. And third, if you decide to target an individual and engage in a public debate, you might think about choosing someone other than Charles Krauthammer. Otherwise you will be made to look like fools.

In his new book, The Icarus Syndrome: A History of American Hubris, Peter Beinart, formerly editor of the New Republic and now a senior fellow at the New America Foundation, takes aim at the syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer.

“There are no normal times.” With those words, written in 1991 and aimed straight at Jeane Kirkpatrick, the younger conservative generation fired its first shot.

The marksman was columnist Charles Krauthammer, an acid-tongued ex-psychiatrist from Montreal, and a man young enough to be Kirkpatrick’s son.

Beinart spends several pages summarizing and quoting from Foreign Affairs magazine, in which Krauthammer’s essay, “The Unipolar Moment,” appeared. Krauthammer argued: “We are in for abnormal times. Our best hope for safety in such times, as in difficult times past, is in American strength and will — the strength and will to lead a unipolar world, unashamedly laying down the rules of world order and being prepared to enforce them.” Krauthammer wrote that we must “confront” and, “if necessary, disarm” nations he called “Weapon States” like Iraq under Saddam Hussein and North Korea.

Beinart didn’t like “The Unipolar Moment” and wrote this:

It was no coincidence that Krauthammer published his attack on Kirkpatrick soon after the Gulf War. As usual in the development of hubris bubbles, it was only once things that formerly looked hard — like liberating Kuwait — had been made to look easy that people set their sights higher. Had America proved militarily unable to keep Saddam from gobbling his neighbors, Krauthammer could not have seriously proposed launching a new war, inside Iraq itself, to rid him of his unconventional weapons.

That all sounds very intriguing, except for one thing. On the first page of the Krauthammer essay, in the by-line, we read this:

Charles Krauthammer is a syndicated columnist. This article is adapted from the author’s Henry M. Jackson Memorial Lecture delivered in Washington, D.C., Sept. 18, 1990.

Why does that matter? Because Krauthammer’s essay was adopted from a lecture he gave months before there could possibly have been a “hubris bubble.” Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait occurred on August 2, 1990. Krauthammer delivered his lecture on September 18. Operation Desert Storm didn’t begin until January 17, 1991. And hostilities ceased on February 28. The timeline of events, then, demolishes the Beinart critique.

The Krauthammer lecture itself, it’s worth adding, was no state secret. It was public, it was published, and it has been available as a monograph, in addition to the reference in the Foreign Affairs essay. In reading “The Unipolar Moment” — which was published months after the lecture on which it was based and which is not substantively different from the September 18 lecture — it is clear that the outcome of the war was unknown at the time it was written.

So Krauthammer didn’t set his sights higher because the liberation of Kuwait had been “made to look easy.” When he articulated his views on the “unipolar moment,” Kuwait had been invaded but it hadn’t been liberated. The U.S. was still months away from war. And, in fact, many predicted that if America went to war, it would be a difficult and bloody undertaking. (“Amid talk of body bags, honor and patriotism, the U.S. Congress yesterday began a formal debate on whether to go to war in the Persian Gulf,” the Toronto Star reported on January 11, 1991. “‘The 45,000 body bags that the Pentagon has sent to the gulf are all the evidence we need of the high cost in blood,’ said Senator Edward Kennedy. He added some military experts have estimated American casualties at the rate of 3,000 a week.”) That explains, in part, why the Senate vote on the Gulf War resolution was so close (52-47).

All of this is noteworthy not simply because of Beinart’s sloppiness (which is noteworthy enough), but because Beinart concocts an interpretative theory that is utter nonsense. It is based on a completely wrong premise. He builds a false explanation based on a false fact.

Beinart is not the first to have done so. On November 29, 2009 Andrew Sullivan, in a posting titled “The Positioning of Charles Krauthammer,” charged that while he had advocated a gasoline tax in December 2008, in Krauthammer’s “latest column” on climate change, “the gas tax idea is missing.” The reason, Sullivan informed us, was that “In the end, the conservative intelligentsia is much more invested in obstructing and thereby neutering Obama and the Democrats than in solving any actual problems in front of us. It’s a game for them, and they play it with impunity.”

There was one problem with Sullivan’s analysis: the column he refers to was published not in November 2009 but in May 2008 — when George W. Bush was still president and Barack Obama hadn’t yet won the Democratic nomination. Krauthammer proceeded to eviscerate Sullivan, who had the decency to issue an abject apology and correction. I wonder if Beinart will show the same decency, having made the same error.

I have some advice for liberals in general, but most especially for those who formerly edited the New Republic. First, learn to read dates on essays and columns before you attack them. Second, don’t impugn a person’s motives when your charges can so easily be shown to be false. And third, if you decide to target an individual and engage in a public debate, you might think about choosing someone other than Charles Krauthammer. Otherwise you will be made to look like fools.

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RE: U.S. Chooses International Consensus over Israel

As Jen mentioned, the United Nations passed a resolution on Friday demanding a nuclear-free Middle East and singling out Israel as the intransigent party instead of Iran. The Obama administration supports the decision, which makes about as much sense as disarming the Iraqi police right now in the name of a violence-free Baghdad. College sophomores might think these are brilliant ideas, but mature adults shouldn’t, especially not mature adults who make policy for a living and must account for the consequences.

The Israelis have had nuclear weapons longer than I’ve been alive. Never once have they even admitted to having them, let alone used them. While several Arab states say they’ll build or buy nuclear weapons to counter a Persian bomb, no Arab state has ever scrambled for nuclear weapons of its own to counter the Zionist bomb. Even they, as hysterical as they sometimes can be, know perfectly well that Israel does not threaten to nuke anybody and never intends to nuke anybody.

Marty Peretz at the New Republic is contemptuous. “Ostensibly,” he wrote, “this would de-nuclearize the Middle East. A pig’s ass, it would. Tehran wants a bomb, no matter what. And, then, the big Arab states will join the race. To be sure, Saudi Arabia will not make it. It will buy it. There’s more money in the country than brains. There will be a big bomb race in the region… and not because of Israel.”

I am just old enough to remember the Cold War during the years before perestroika and glasnost, when the possibility of nuclear war was real, and it kept me up at night during my childhood. I was worried sick about the potential imminent end of the world. It made an impression that still hasn’t left me and might not ever.

Like President Obama — and unlike Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Ali Khamenei — I wish nuclear weapons didn’t exist and that nobody had them. I also wish humans weren’t violent, that war could be dispensed with as some day cancer may be, that police officers did not need to carry guns and sometimes shoot people to keep my neighborhood safe, and that even grown-up countries like the U.S. and Israel did not need an arsenal of the world’s worst weapons to keep the world’s worst people in check, but these wishes are no more realistic than terraforming the sun.

The president acts sometimes like he’s running the country from his dorm room, and it looks increasingly likely that he will not stop until something explodes.

As Jen mentioned, the United Nations passed a resolution on Friday demanding a nuclear-free Middle East and singling out Israel as the intransigent party instead of Iran. The Obama administration supports the decision, which makes about as much sense as disarming the Iraqi police right now in the name of a violence-free Baghdad. College sophomores might think these are brilliant ideas, but mature adults shouldn’t, especially not mature adults who make policy for a living and must account for the consequences.

The Israelis have had nuclear weapons longer than I’ve been alive. Never once have they even admitted to having them, let alone used them. While several Arab states say they’ll build or buy nuclear weapons to counter a Persian bomb, no Arab state has ever scrambled for nuclear weapons of its own to counter the Zionist bomb. Even they, as hysterical as they sometimes can be, know perfectly well that Israel does not threaten to nuke anybody and never intends to nuke anybody.

Marty Peretz at the New Republic is contemptuous. “Ostensibly,” he wrote, “this would de-nuclearize the Middle East. A pig’s ass, it would. Tehran wants a bomb, no matter what. And, then, the big Arab states will join the race. To be sure, Saudi Arabia will not make it. It will buy it. There’s more money in the country than brains. There will be a big bomb race in the region… and not because of Israel.”

I am just old enough to remember the Cold War during the years before perestroika and glasnost, when the possibility of nuclear war was real, and it kept me up at night during my childhood. I was worried sick about the potential imminent end of the world. It made an impression that still hasn’t left me and might not ever.

Like President Obama — and unlike Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Ali Khamenei — I wish nuclear weapons didn’t exist and that nobody had them. I also wish humans weren’t violent, that war could be dispensed with as some day cancer may be, that police officers did not need to carry guns and sometimes shoot people to keep my neighborhood safe, and that even grown-up countries like the U.S. and Israel did not need an arsenal of the world’s worst weapons to keep the world’s worst people in check, but these wishes are no more realistic than terraforming the sun.

The president acts sometimes like he’s running the country from his dorm room, and it looks increasingly likely that he will not stop until something explodes.

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WEB EXCLUSIVE: Peter Beinart and the Destruction of Liberal Zionism

In political debates, it remains true that the messenger usually matters more than the message. I say this because Peter Beinart’s much-discussed essay in the New York Review of Books and the reaction to it has been in substance merely a procession of the kind of cliches on liberal disaffection with Israel that anyone who has been paying attention became familiar with years ago. But because Beinart is a Jewish former editor of a steadfastly pro-Israel magazine, the New Republic, his public apostasy has garnered attention in great disproportion to the quality or originality of his complaints.

The most important requirement for joining the Israel-bashers is to charge Israel with bad faith in the course of the effort to bring peace to the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean, which is the glue that holds the narrative together and makes the recriminations seem warranted. This charge has two subordinate tenets: revisionism for dealing with the past, and conspiracy theory for dealing with the present. Thus, in Beinart’s telling, large numbers of Israelis are racists and authoritarians who never really wanted peace, and their political leaders are fanatics manipulating guileless Americans and Palestinians while mainstream American Jewish organizations enable them from the sidelines.

To read the rest of this COMMENTARY Web Exclusive, click here.

In political debates, it remains true that the messenger usually matters more than the message. I say this because Peter Beinart’s much-discussed essay in the New York Review of Books and the reaction to it has been in substance merely a procession of the kind of cliches on liberal disaffection with Israel that anyone who has been paying attention became familiar with years ago. But because Beinart is a Jewish former editor of a steadfastly pro-Israel magazine, the New Republic, his public apostasy has garnered attention in great disproportion to the quality or originality of his complaints.

The most important requirement for joining the Israel-bashers is to charge Israel with bad faith in the course of the effort to bring peace to the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean, which is the glue that holds the narrative together and makes the recriminations seem warranted. This charge has two subordinate tenets: revisionism for dealing with the past, and conspiracy theory for dealing with the present. Thus, in Beinart’s telling, large numbers of Israelis are racists and authoritarians who never really wanted peace, and their political leaders are fanatics manipulating guileless Americans and Palestinians while mainstream American Jewish organizations enable them from the sidelines.

To read the rest of this COMMENTARY Web Exclusive, click here.

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Mearsheimer Makes a List

John Mearsheimer gave a speech at the Palestine Center in Washington yesterday and called Israel an apartheid state that has practiced ethnic cleansing and will likely practice it in the future. For Mearsheimer, this is standard practice. But he added a new twist: he separated American Jews into three categories: “Righteous Jews,” “New Afrikaners,” and a middle group of Jews who aren’t quite sure whether they’re righteous or ethnic cleansers. These are Mearsheimer’s Righteous Jews:

To give you a better sense of what I mean when I use the term righteous Jews, let me give you some names of people and organizations that I would put in this category. The list would include Noam Chomsky, Roger Cohen, Richard Falk, Norman Finkelstein, Tony Judt, Tony Karon, Naomi Klein, MJ Rosenberg, Sara Roy, and Philip Weiss of Mondoweiss fame, just to name a few. I would also include many of the individuals associated with J Street and everyone associated with Jewish Voice for Peace, as well as distinguished international figures such as Judge Richard Goldstone. Furthermore, I would apply the label to the many American Jews who work for different human rights organizations, such as Kenneth Roth of Human Rights Watch.

And then there are America’s Afrikaner Jews, who are not just apologists for apartheid and ethnic cleansing, but are actually a fifth column. Note that he goes beyond the normal “dual loyalty” trope and says that these American Jews are “blindly loyal” only to Israel:

These are individuals who will back Israel no matter what it does, because they have blind loyalty to the Jewish state. … I would classify most of the individuals who head the Israel lobby’s major organizations as new Afrikaners. That list would include Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League, David Harris of the American Jewish Committee, Malcolm Hoenlein of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, Ronald Lauder of the World Jewish Congress, and Morton Klein of the Zionist Organization of America, just to name some of the more prominent ones. I would also include businessmen like Sheldon Adelson, Lester Crown, and Mortimer Zuckerman as well as media personalities like Fred Hiatt and Charles Krauthammer of the Washington Post, Bret Stephens of the Wall Street Journal, and Martin Peretz of the New Republic. It would be easy to add more names to this list.

I believe Mearsheimer left out a category: “Anti-Semites and Jew-Baiters.” I will leave it to you who to add to that list.

UPDATE: David Bernstein adds his thoughts over at Volokh.

John Mearsheimer gave a speech at the Palestine Center in Washington yesterday and called Israel an apartheid state that has practiced ethnic cleansing and will likely practice it in the future. For Mearsheimer, this is standard practice. But he added a new twist: he separated American Jews into three categories: “Righteous Jews,” “New Afrikaners,” and a middle group of Jews who aren’t quite sure whether they’re righteous or ethnic cleansers. These are Mearsheimer’s Righteous Jews:

To give you a better sense of what I mean when I use the term righteous Jews, let me give you some names of people and organizations that I would put in this category. The list would include Noam Chomsky, Roger Cohen, Richard Falk, Norman Finkelstein, Tony Judt, Tony Karon, Naomi Klein, MJ Rosenberg, Sara Roy, and Philip Weiss of Mondoweiss fame, just to name a few. I would also include many of the individuals associated with J Street and everyone associated with Jewish Voice for Peace, as well as distinguished international figures such as Judge Richard Goldstone. Furthermore, I would apply the label to the many American Jews who work for different human rights organizations, such as Kenneth Roth of Human Rights Watch.

And then there are America’s Afrikaner Jews, who are not just apologists for apartheid and ethnic cleansing, but are actually a fifth column. Note that he goes beyond the normal “dual loyalty” trope and says that these American Jews are “blindly loyal” only to Israel:

These are individuals who will back Israel no matter what it does, because they have blind loyalty to the Jewish state. … I would classify most of the individuals who head the Israel lobby’s major organizations as new Afrikaners. That list would include Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League, David Harris of the American Jewish Committee, Malcolm Hoenlein of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, Ronald Lauder of the World Jewish Congress, and Morton Klein of the Zionist Organization of America, just to name some of the more prominent ones. I would also include businessmen like Sheldon Adelson, Lester Crown, and Mortimer Zuckerman as well as media personalities like Fred Hiatt and Charles Krauthammer of the Washington Post, Bret Stephens of the Wall Street Journal, and Martin Peretz of the New Republic. It would be easy to add more names to this list.

I believe Mearsheimer left out a category: “Anti-Semites and Jew-Baiters.” I will leave it to you who to add to that list.

UPDATE: David Bernstein adds his thoughts over at Volokh.

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The Sound of Silence

Normally, when Human Rights Watch is criticized, the group retaliates with harsh and aggressive attacks on its accusers. Ken Roth, the head of HRW, is famous for this. When it was disclosed last summer that HRW went to Saudi Arabia to raise money for its “fights with pro-Israel groups,” Roth told Jeffrey Goldberg that Israel’s “supporters fight back with lies and deception.” When HRW’s founder, Bob Bernstein, criticized the group in a New York Times op-ed, HRW fired back by egregiously misrepresenting Bernstein’s argument and then denouncing it in classic straw-man fashion.

A couple of days ago, a long investigative piece was published in the New Republic, which contained the most damaging revelations yet about the group’s hostility to Israel, the sloppiness of its work, and the opinions of some of the crackpots who work in its offices. I was expecting Roth and his goon squad to go nuclear, as they normally do, with wild accusations of lies and right-wing smears. Strangely, nothing of the sort has happened. HRW’s defense comes in the form of a short, passionless statement of support by a board member who seems to be the go-to person for defenses of HRW’s treatment of Israel, and who incredibly insists that HRW is “actually good for Israel.”

There is no attempt to refute the carefully documented facts contained in Birnbaum’s TNR piece; there is no smear campaign against the author; there are no fervent letters to the editor insisting on HRW’s invincible moral authority. Instead, there is silence. I think I know why: HRW has been beaten. The case against it has become too strong and too airtight, and HRW’s attempts at self-defense, as the group learned from its attempt to trash its own founder, are so implausible and desperate that they only make the situation worse.

With the TNR piece, we enter a new phase with Human Rights Watch, in which the group no longer tries to marshal a spirited defense of its conduct and reputation. This is how we know things are going the wrong way for HRW: when self-defense becomes so embarrassing that it’s better to keep quiet and hope everyone’s attention shifts to other subjects.

The problem is, that’s not going to happen. It’s time to batten down the hatches at Human Rights Watch.

Normally, when Human Rights Watch is criticized, the group retaliates with harsh and aggressive attacks on its accusers. Ken Roth, the head of HRW, is famous for this. When it was disclosed last summer that HRW went to Saudi Arabia to raise money for its “fights with pro-Israel groups,” Roth told Jeffrey Goldberg that Israel’s “supporters fight back with lies and deception.” When HRW’s founder, Bob Bernstein, criticized the group in a New York Times op-ed, HRW fired back by egregiously misrepresenting Bernstein’s argument and then denouncing it in classic straw-man fashion.

A couple of days ago, a long investigative piece was published in the New Republic, which contained the most damaging revelations yet about the group’s hostility to Israel, the sloppiness of its work, and the opinions of some of the crackpots who work in its offices. I was expecting Roth and his goon squad to go nuclear, as they normally do, with wild accusations of lies and right-wing smears. Strangely, nothing of the sort has happened. HRW’s defense comes in the form of a short, passionless statement of support by a board member who seems to be the go-to person for defenses of HRW’s treatment of Israel, and who incredibly insists that HRW is “actually good for Israel.”

There is no attempt to refute the carefully documented facts contained in Birnbaum’s TNR piece; there is no smear campaign against the author; there are no fervent letters to the editor insisting on HRW’s invincible moral authority. Instead, there is silence. I think I know why: HRW has been beaten. The case against it has become too strong and too airtight, and HRW’s attempts at self-defense, as the group learned from its attempt to trash its own founder, are so implausible and desperate that they only make the situation worse.

With the TNR piece, we enter a new phase with Human Rights Watch, in which the group no longer tries to marshal a spirited defense of its conduct and reputation. This is how we know things are going the wrong way for HRW: when self-defense becomes so embarrassing that it’s better to keep quiet and hope everyone’s attention shifts to other subjects.

The problem is, that’s not going to happen. It’s time to batten down the hatches at Human Rights Watch.

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Beware of This, Republicans

My former White House colleague Michael Gerson has a very good column in the Washington Post today on civility and public discourse. It makes a very important (and too often overlooked) point:

The most basic test of democracy is not what people do when they win; it is what people do when they lose. Citizens bring their deepest passions to a public debate — convictions they regard as morally self-evident. Yet a war goes on. Abortion remains legal. A feared health-reform law passes. Democracy means the possibility of failure. While no democratic judgment is final — and citizens should continue to work to advance their ideals — respecting the temporary outcome of a democratic process is the definition of political maturity.

The opposite — questioning the legitimacy of a democratic outcome; abusing, demeaning and attempting to silence one’s opponents — is a sign of democratic decline. From the late Roman republic to Weimar Germany, these attitudes have been the prelude to thuggery. Thugs can come with clubs, with bullhorns, with Internet access.

Spirited, passionate debate is fine, and even good at times, for the country. The opposition party should offer sharp, even piercing, criticisms when appropriate. After all, politics ain’t beanbags, as Mr. Dooley said. And it’s not the place for those with delicate sensibilities. But nor should it be an arena for invective or hate. And conservatives should not repeat the tactics used by some Democrats and liberals during the Bush years. (Gerson documents several of them, including the temper tantrum thrown by the New Republic writer Jonathan Chait.)

These are not people or temperaments we want to emulate. It’s not appropriate – and it is ultimately politically counterproductive. Ronald Reagan, himself, a large-spirited and civilized man, looked quite good compared to the vitriolic attacks directed against him at the time.

Thankfully, anger and hate don’t usually sell in American politics. Richard Nixon, in the aftermath of Watergate, understood that. “Never be petty; always remember, others may hate you, but those who hate you don’t win unless you hate them, and then you destroy yourself,” Nixon said during his haunting remarks to the White House staff after his resignation in 1974. That was a lesson Nixon learned only after he was destroyed. It is a cautionary tale.

My former White House colleague Michael Gerson has a very good column in the Washington Post today on civility and public discourse. It makes a very important (and too often overlooked) point:

The most basic test of democracy is not what people do when they win; it is what people do when they lose. Citizens bring their deepest passions to a public debate — convictions they regard as morally self-evident. Yet a war goes on. Abortion remains legal. A feared health-reform law passes. Democracy means the possibility of failure. While no democratic judgment is final — and citizens should continue to work to advance their ideals — respecting the temporary outcome of a democratic process is the definition of political maturity.

The opposite — questioning the legitimacy of a democratic outcome; abusing, demeaning and attempting to silence one’s opponents — is a sign of democratic decline. From the late Roman republic to Weimar Germany, these attitudes have been the prelude to thuggery. Thugs can come with clubs, with bullhorns, with Internet access.

Spirited, passionate debate is fine, and even good at times, for the country. The opposition party should offer sharp, even piercing, criticisms when appropriate. After all, politics ain’t beanbags, as Mr. Dooley said. And it’s not the place for those with delicate sensibilities. But nor should it be an arena for invective or hate. And conservatives should not repeat the tactics used by some Democrats and liberals during the Bush years. (Gerson documents several of them, including the temper tantrum thrown by the New Republic writer Jonathan Chait.)

These are not people or temperaments we want to emulate. It’s not appropriate – and it is ultimately politically counterproductive. Ronald Reagan, himself, a large-spirited and civilized man, looked quite good compared to the vitriolic attacks directed against him at the time.

Thankfully, anger and hate don’t usually sell in American politics. Richard Nixon, in the aftermath of Watergate, understood that. “Never be petty; always remember, others may hate you, but those who hate you don’t win unless you hate them, and then you destroy yourself,” Nixon said during his haunting remarks to the White House staff after his resignation in 1974. That was a lesson Nixon learned only after he was destroyed. It is a cautionary tale.

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Journalism’s Worst Crime

“There’s no worse crime in journalism these days than simply deciding something’s a story because Drudge links to it,” according to NBC’s chief White House correspondent, Chuck Todd. Really? No worse crime? Not Dan Rather’s use of forged documents in a one-sided 60 Minutes hit piece intended to cost President Bush re-election? Not the plagiarism and fabrications of former New York Times reporter Jayson Blair and the New Republic’s Stephen Glass?

There are, in fact, an endless number of “crimes” in journalism that are worse than deciding something is a story because Matt Drudge links to it.

And while we’re on this topic: exactly who should decide what qualifies as a news story? Chuck Todd believes Chuck Todd should. Mr. Todd, of course, works for NBC and MSNBC – the latter being the most partisan and reckless cable news network in America, home to such magisterial journalists as Keith Olbermann, Ed Schultz, Chris Matthews, and Rachel Maddow. So why should we trust Todd’s judgment over Matt Drudge’s? Because Todd is part of the “old” media, of course. Because he’s an “objective journalist” who is able to sort through all the news of the day and determine what merits attention and what does not.

Mr. Todd’s comments embody a particular mindset – one deeply resentful that the MSM is no longer the gatekeeper of the news, that there are now hundreds of outlets and blogs that influence the news and allow the American people a choice in what they are able to watch. The old guard hates the competition – and they hate the end of their monopoly. That’s understandable; every person who has been a part of a monopoly has resented its end, even if it advances the public interest.

Chuck Todd and his colleagues can continue to howl into the wind. They can continue to complain and plead their case. It doesn’t much matter. Events have moved way beyond them. The genie is out of the bottle, and there’s no turning back.

“There’s no worse crime in journalism these days than simply deciding something’s a story because Drudge links to it,” according to NBC’s chief White House correspondent, Chuck Todd. Really? No worse crime? Not Dan Rather’s use of forged documents in a one-sided 60 Minutes hit piece intended to cost President Bush re-election? Not the plagiarism and fabrications of former New York Times reporter Jayson Blair and the New Republic’s Stephen Glass?

There are, in fact, an endless number of “crimes” in journalism that are worse than deciding something is a story because Matt Drudge links to it.

And while we’re on this topic: exactly who should decide what qualifies as a news story? Chuck Todd believes Chuck Todd should. Mr. Todd, of course, works for NBC and MSNBC – the latter being the most partisan and reckless cable news network in America, home to such magisterial journalists as Keith Olbermann, Ed Schultz, Chris Matthews, and Rachel Maddow. So why should we trust Todd’s judgment over Matt Drudge’s? Because Todd is part of the “old” media, of course. Because he’s an “objective journalist” who is able to sort through all the news of the day and determine what merits attention and what does not.

Mr. Todd’s comments embody a particular mindset – one deeply resentful that the MSM is no longer the gatekeeper of the news, that there are now hundreds of outlets and blogs that influence the news and allow the American people a choice in what they are able to watch. The old guard hates the competition – and they hate the end of their monopoly. That’s understandable; every person who has been a part of a monopoly has resented its end, even if it advances the public interest.

Chuck Todd and his colleagues can continue to howl into the wind. They can continue to complain and plead their case. It doesn’t much matter. Events have moved way beyond them. The genie is out of the bottle, and there’s no turning back.

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Answering William Galston

Unlike a number of the bloggers at the New Republic, William Galston is a serious, mature, and insightful writer and thinker. He is an accomplished academic who was also a high-ranking figure in the Clinton White House. I worked with him on some projects in the 1990s, which only increased my admiration for him. So his recent blog post caught my attention.

“With the passage of time,” former Bush administration official Pete Wehner writes today, “President Bush’s decision to champion a new counterinsurgency strategy, including sending 30,000 additional troops to Iraq when most Americans were bone-weary of the war, will be seen as one of the most impressive and important acts of political courage in our lifetime.” Wehner may turn out to be right. And his argument has broader implications that deserve our attention.

Wehner tacitly defines political courage as the willingness to go against public opinion in pursuit of what a leader believes to be the public interest. Fair enough. And unless one believes—against all evidence—that democracies can do without courage, so defined, it follows that there’s nothing necessarily undemocratic about defying public opinion when the stakes are high. After all, the people will soon have the opportunity to pass judgment on the leader’s decision. And they will be able to judge that decision, not by the claims of its supporters or detractors, but by its results.

Galston goes on to write this:

Note that to accept this argument, as I do, is to deny that President Obama and the Democrats are acting high-handedly—let alone anti-democratically—in moving forward with comprehensive health insurance reform. They genuinely believe that the public interest demands it­—and that the people themselves will eventually agree. And they know that the people will have the last word.

This approach has the firmest possible roots in our constitutional traditions. The Framers deliberately established a republican form of government that is representative rather than plebiscitary. And Alexander Hamilton explained why in Federalist #71: “[T]he people commonly intend the PUBLIC GOOD. … But their good sense would despise the adulator who should pretend that they always reason right about the means of promoting it.” In a republic, the people are always the ultimate source of legitimacy. They are not always the proximate source of wisdom.

Many conservatives don’t seem to understand this distinction…. So today’s conservatives have a choice: They can contest health reform and the rest of the Democratic agenda on its merits, or they can go down the populist road that Sarah Palin and her followers represent. But let’s call that populism by its rightful name—namely, shameless flattery of the people and the manipulation of public fears and prejudices for short-term political advantage. Honorable conservatives such as Wehner know better. We’re about to find out how many of them there are.

As it happens, two days before the piece that Galston cites appeared, I wrote a post for CONTENTIONS in which I said this:

The Speaker [Nancy Pelosi] touched on one of the important debates in American political history, which is what the role of legislators is. Is it to reflect the views of their constituents, rather like a seismograph? Or, as Edmund Burke put it when speaking about constituents, “Their wishes ought to have great weight with him; their opinions high respect; their business unremitted attention.” But in the end, a legislator owes them something more: his “judgment.” He should not be guided by merely “local purposes” or “local prejudices.” Parliament, Burke insisted, was a “deliberative assembly.”…

I place myself in the latter camp, more now than ever — in part based on my own experience in the White House, when President Bush was advocating a new counterinsurgency strategy in Iraq that was unpopular with the political class, with Congress, and with the American public. He proceeded anyway; and the results were stunningly successful. If the surge had failed — if Bush had pulled back, or listened to key Republicans, or decided that his job was to mirror public sentiment — America would have been dealt a terrible geopolitical and moral defeat. What George W. Bush did was right — and it was also politically courageous.

I went on to add this:

The acid test on these matters is always the wisdom of the act itself. Insisting on political courage from Members of Congress on behalf of a legislative monstrosity would be unwise, whereas insisting on political courage from Members of Congress on behalf of a piece of legislation that advances the common good would be commendable. Since I consider ObamaCare to fit in the former category, I naturally believe what Nancy Pelosi is asking her caucus to do is politically insane. Why issue political death warrants to your allies in behalf of a terrible idea? But her broader point, which is that self-perpetuation in Congress should not be the lawmaker’s primary concern, strikes me as quite right — and since she believes that nationalization of health care is in the public interest, her argument is understandable.

I don’t believe, and have never believed, vox populi, vox Dei.

As for Sarah Palin: I’ve made my concerns about her — and people like Glenn Beck and Tom Tancredo — known in several different forums. And while I wouldn’t go as far as Galston in my criticism of populism, I have expressed concerns about the dangers of it, as well as about what I consider to be reckless attacks on government. For example, I recently wrote this:

And [the GOP] can be responsible by taking the public’s scorn for government and channeling it in a constructive manner, in a way that translates into an actual governing and reform agenda. It is not enough to simply pour kerosene onto the bonfire. Republicans need public figures (like Gov. Mitch Daniels, former Gov. Jeb Bush and Rep. Paul Ryan) who can articulate an alternative view of government in a way that isn’t simplistic, that isn’t angry, or that doesn’t appeal (as I worry Sarah Palin sometimes does) to cultural resentments.

So I believe Professor Galston and I are making somewhat similar points. Which is reassuring to me, given my regard for him.

Unlike a number of the bloggers at the New Republic, William Galston is a serious, mature, and insightful writer and thinker. He is an accomplished academic who was also a high-ranking figure in the Clinton White House. I worked with him on some projects in the 1990s, which only increased my admiration for him. So his recent blog post caught my attention.

“With the passage of time,” former Bush administration official Pete Wehner writes today, “President Bush’s decision to champion a new counterinsurgency strategy, including sending 30,000 additional troops to Iraq when most Americans were bone-weary of the war, will be seen as one of the most impressive and important acts of political courage in our lifetime.” Wehner may turn out to be right. And his argument has broader implications that deserve our attention.

Wehner tacitly defines political courage as the willingness to go against public opinion in pursuit of what a leader believes to be the public interest. Fair enough. And unless one believes—against all evidence—that democracies can do without courage, so defined, it follows that there’s nothing necessarily undemocratic about defying public opinion when the stakes are high. After all, the people will soon have the opportunity to pass judgment on the leader’s decision. And they will be able to judge that decision, not by the claims of its supporters or detractors, but by its results.

Galston goes on to write this:

Note that to accept this argument, as I do, is to deny that President Obama and the Democrats are acting high-handedly—let alone anti-democratically—in moving forward with comprehensive health insurance reform. They genuinely believe that the public interest demands it­—and that the people themselves will eventually agree. And they know that the people will have the last word.

This approach has the firmest possible roots in our constitutional traditions. The Framers deliberately established a republican form of government that is representative rather than plebiscitary. And Alexander Hamilton explained why in Federalist #71: “[T]he people commonly intend the PUBLIC GOOD. … But their good sense would despise the adulator who should pretend that they always reason right about the means of promoting it.” In a republic, the people are always the ultimate source of legitimacy. They are not always the proximate source of wisdom.

Many conservatives don’t seem to understand this distinction…. So today’s conservatives have a choice: They can contest health reform and the rest of the Democratic agenda on its merits, or they can go down the populist road that Sarah Palin and her followers represent. But let’s call that populism by its rightful name—namely, shameless flattery of the people and the manipulation of public fears and prejudices for short-term political advantage. Honorable conservatives such as Wehner know better. We’re about to find out how many of them there are.

As it happens, two days before the piece that Galston cites appeared, I wrote a post for CONTENTIONS in which I said this:

The Speaker [Nancy Pelosi] touched on one of the important debates in American political history, which is what the role of legislators is. Is it to reflect the views of their constituents, rather like a seismograph? Or, as Edmund Burke put it when speaking about constituents, “Their wishes ought to have great weight with him; their opinions high respect; their business unremitted attention.” But in the end, a legislator owes them something more: his “judgment.” He should not be guided by merely “local purposes” or “local prejudices.” Parliament, Burke insisted, was a “deliberative assembly.”…

I place myself in the latter camp, more now than ever — in part based on my own experience in the White House, when President Bush was advocating a new counterinsurgency strategy in Iraq that was unpopular with the political class, with Congress, and with the American public. He proceeded anyway; and the results were stunningly successful. If the surge had failed — if Bush had pulled back, or listened to key Republicans, or decided that his job was to mirror public sentiment — America would have been dealt a terrible geopolitical and moral defeat. What George W. Bush did was right — and it was also politically courageous.

I went on to add this:

The acid test on these matters is always the wisdom of the act itself. Insisting on political courage from Members of Congress on behalf of a legislative monstrosity would be unwise, whereas insisting on political courage from Members of Congress on behalf of a piece of legislation that advances the common good would be commendable. Since I consider ObamaCare to fit in the former category, I naturally believe what Nancy Pelosi is asking her caucus to do is politically insane. Why issue political death warrants to your allies in behalf of a terrible idea? But her broader point, which is that self-perpetuation in Congress should not be the lawmaker’s primary concern, strikes me as quite right — and since she believes that nationalization of health care is in the public interest, her argument is understandable.

I don’t believe, and have never believed, vox populi, vox Dei.

As for Sarah Palin: I’ve made my concerns about her — and people like Glenn Beck and Tom Tancredo — known in several different forums. And while I wouldn’t go as far as Galston in my criticism of populism, I have expressed concerns about the dangers of it, as well as about what I consider to be reckless attacks on government. For example, I recently wrote this:

And [the GOP] can be responsible by taking the public’s scorn for government and channeling it in a constructive manner, in a way that translates into an actual governing and reform agenda. It is not enough to simply pour kerosene onto the bonfire. Republicans need public figures (like Gov. Mitch Daniels, former Gov. Jeb Bush and Rep. Paul Ryan) who can articulate an alternative view of government in a way that isn’t simplistic, that isn’t angry, or that doesn’t appeal (as I worry Sarah Palin sometimes does) to cultural resentments.

So I believe Professor Galston and I are making somewhat similar points. Which is reassuring to me, given my regard for him.

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LIVE BLOG: More on Obama’s Performance

I wrote earlier about differences in perception owing to ideology by citing Jonathan Chait of the New Republic. Now Yuval Levin, who has written about health care for COMMENTARY and is the editor of the wonderful National Affairs, offers his view at the Corner:

An important part of the Democrats’ problem is that Obama himself is their only star, and this format is not working for him. He certainly seems engaged and well informed (even given a few misstatements of fact, at least one of which John Kyl made very clear.) But he doesn’t seem like the President of the United States—more like a slightly cranky committee chairman or a patronizing professor who thinks that saying something is “a legitimate argument” is a way to avoid having an argument. He is diminished by the circumstances, he’s cranky and prickly when challenged, and he’s got no one to help him.

Yuval and I are in agreement about Obama’s professorial mien, which he calls “patronizing” and I called “condescending.” But I still think Obama comes across well on balance. And yet, thinking a little more about the peculiarity of Democrats talking so sweetly about how little difference there is between them and the Republicans, I am beginning to think Yuval has it right that “it is hard to see how the Democrats are doing themselves anything but harm with the health-care summit.”

This whole thing was a terrific blunder, probably, because with their own proposals’s support sinking and their own case for those proposals being made so haphazardly and disingenuously, Democrats are strengthening rather than weakening the Republican argument that the whole thing needs to be thrown out — because if Republicans disagree with them, and Republicans have more credibility on this right now, their judgment will more closely track with the public’s. And therefore, should Democrats decide to muscle their legislation through, they will all but ensure a voter uprising.

I wrote earlier about differences in perception owing to ideology by citing Jonathan Chait of the New Republic. Now Yuval Levin, who has written about health care for COMMENTARY and is the editor of the wonderful National Affairs, offers his view at the Corner:

An important part of the Democrats’ problem is that Obama himself is their only star, and this format is not working for him. He certainly seems engaged and well informed (even given a few misstatements of fact, at least one of which John Kyl made very clear.) But he doesn’t seem like the President of the United States—more like a slightly cranky committee chairman or a patronizing professor who thinks that saying something is “a legitimate argument” is a way to avoid having an argument. He is diminished by the circumstances, he’s cranky and prickly when challenged, and he’s got no one to help him.

Yuval and I are in agreement about Obama’s professorial mien, which he calls “patronizing” and I called “condescending.” But I still think Obama comes across well on balance. And yet, thinking a little more about the peculiarity of Democrats talking so sweetly about how little difference there is between them and the Republicans, I am beginning to think Yuval has it right that “it is hard to see how the Democrats are doing themselves anything but harm with the health-care summit.”

This whole thing was a terrific blunder, probably, because with their own proposals’s support sinking and their own case for those proposals being made so haphazardly and disingenuously, Democrats are strengthening rather than weakening the Republican argument that the whole thing needs to be thrown out — because if Republicans disagree with them, and Republicans have more credibility on this right now, their judgment will more closely track with the public’s. And therefore, should Democrats decide to muscle their legislation through, they will all but ensure a voter uprising.

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LIVE BLOG: The Two Different Universes Problem

My sense of this summit is that President Obama is exactly as he always is — extremely intelligent, knowledgeable about policy details, so certain of the rightness of his views that he has no compunction about declaring the views of his antagonists to be merely politically convenient rather than substantive, startlingly condescending at moments, and even more startlingly long-winded when he gets going. As a result, he both looks good and bad in these settings — good because he’s serious and doesn’t appear to be a fanatic, and bad because of the condescension.

Then I turn to the New Republic‘s Jonathan Chait and I read this:

Most [of] the time, this is like watching Lebron James play basketball with a bunch of kids who got cut from the 7th grade basketball team. He’s treating them really nice, letting his teammates take shots and allowing the other team to try to score. Nice try on that layup, Timmy, you almost got it on. But after a couple minutes I want him to just grab the ball and dunk on these clowns already.

So here we have a sterling example of how ideological predilections, his and mine, might color our opinions here. Except for one thing: You can only think Obama is Lebron James playing 7th graders if you are already certain his opinions are right, because the best you can say about this summit so far for him is that it’s a draw, and it’s probably worse than that. And given that only 25 percent of the public wants ObamaCare, he needs to be Lebron James. And Pete Maravich. And Oscar Robertson. And Kareem. All at the same time.

My sense of this summit is that President Obama is exactly as he always is — extremely intelligent, knowledgeable about policy details, so certain of the rightness of his views that he has no compunction about declaring the views of his antagonists to be merely politically convenient rather than substantive, startlingly condescending at moments, and even more startlingly long-winded when he gets going. As a result, he both looks good and bad in these settings — good because he’s serious and doesn’t appear to be a fanatic, and bad because of the condescension.

Then I turn to the New Republic‘s Jonathan Chait and I read this:

Most [of] the time, this is like watching Lebron James play basketball with a bunch of kids who got cut from the 7th grade basketball team. He’s treating them really nice, letting his teammates take shots and allowing the other team to try to score. Nice try on that layup, Timmy, you almost got it on. But after a couple minutes I want him to just grab the ball and dunk on these clowns already.

So here we have a sterling example of how ideological predilections, his and mine, might color our opinions here. Except for one thing: You can only think Obama is Lebron James playing 7th graders if you are already certain his opinions are right, because the best you can say about this summit so far for him is that it’s a draw, and it’s probably worse than that. And given that only 25 percent of the public wants ObamaCare, he needs to be Lebron James. And Pete Maravich. And Oscar Robertson. And Kareem. All at the same time.

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Another Plagiarist at the New York Times

What could be worse for the Gray Lady than yet another plagiarist? They have had their cheating problems, of course. Jayson Blair fabricated stories. Maureen Dowd fabricated excuses. And now they have another. To make matters worse, their archrival, the irritatingly successful Wall Street Journal (owned by the dark prince of conservative media, Rupert Murdoch), ratted out the New York Times phony:

On Friday, Feb. 12, Robert Thomson, the editor-in-chief of The Wall Street Journal wrote Times executive editor Bill Keller to inform him of “apparent plagiarism in The New York Times.”

In the letter, Mr. Thomson cites six examples of material where he believes Times reporter Zachery Kouwe plagiarized Journal reporter Amir Efrati from a story that was published on Feb. 5.

The Times fessed up, but avoided the “P” word:

In a number of business articles in The Times over the past year, and in posts on the DealBook blog on NYTimes.com, a Times reporter appears to have improperly appropriated wording and passages published by other news organizations.

The reporter, Zachery Kouwe, reused language from The Wall Street Journal, Reuters and other sources without attribution or acknowledgment.

The Times concedes that this is a serious matter and says cryptically that it “remains under investigation.” But why should anything happen to the literary kleptomaniac, Kouwe? Nothing happened to Dowd. She came up with a silly excuse that not even Clark Hoyt would buy. She’s still there, churning out (up?) bile twice a week. And then there is the ongoing question as to how such august publications as the Times, the Washington Post, and the New Republic attract the likes of Blair, Janet Cooke, Stephen Glass, and their ilk. It seems as though between the fakes and the “avoiding the news that’s bad for the Left” problem, these outfits have a bit of a quality-control issue.

In any case, Mr. Kouwe, I think, has a handy argument in his favor should he be fired: why is Dowd still there if plagiarism is such a big deal at the Times?

What could be worse for the Gray Lady than yet another plagiarist? They have had their cheating problems, of course. Jayson Blair fabricated stories. Maureen Dowd fabricated excuses. And now they have another. To make matters worse, their archrival, the irritatingly successful Wall Street Journal (owned by the dark prince of conservative media, Rupert Murdoch), ratted out the New York Times phony:

On Friday, Feb. 12, Robert Thomson, the editor-in-chief of The Wall Street Journal wrote Times executive editor Bill Keller to inform him of “apparent plagiarism in The New York Times.”

In the letter, Mr. Thomson cites six examples of material where he believes Times reporter Zachery Kouwe plagiarized Journal reporter Amir Efrati from a story that was published on Feb. 5.

The Times fessed up, but avoided the “P” word:

In a number of business articles in The Times over the past year, and in posts on the DealBook blog on NYTimes.com, a Times reporter appears to have improperly appropriated wording and passages published by other news organizations.

The reporter, Zachery Kouwe, reused language from The Wall Street Journal, Reuters and other sources without attribution or acknowledgment.

The Times concedes that this is a serious matter and says cryptically that it “remains under investigation.” But why should anything happen to the literary kleptomaniac, Kouwe? Nothing happened to Dowd. She came up with a silly excuse that not even Clark Hoyt would buy. She’s still there, churning out (up?) bile twice a week. And then there is the ongoing question as to how such august publications as the Times, the Washington Post, and the New Republic attract the likes of Blair, Janet Cooke, Stephen Glass, and their ilk. It seems as though between the fakes and the “avoiding the news that’s bad for the Left” problem, these outfits have a bit of a quality-control issue.

In any case, Mr. Kouwe, I think, has a handy argument in his favor should he be fired: why is Dowd still there if plagiarism is such a big deal at the Times?

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The President, the New Republic, and Dramatic Decline

In the afterglow of Barack Obama’s election, liberals were peddling a lot of bad ideas. Among them was the New Republic’s Jonathan Chait, who in December 2008 wrote this:

The practical import of the Obama mandate debate has fallen on the question of whether he should pursue his goal of comprehensive health care reform, which numerous pundits and even some Democrats have tagged as dangerously ambitious. But this is one area where undiluted liberalism enjoys overwhelming public support. The public, by a roughly two-to-one margin, thinks the government has a responsibility to make sure that every American has adequate health care. Congressional Democrats fear a repeat of 1994–when, as they see it, Bill Clinton over-interpreted his mandate and therefore failed to pass health care reform. This reading has it backward. Clinton’s health care plan failed because Congress decided he didn’t have a mandate and refused to pass it. If the Democrats fail this time, it will probably be because they psyched themselves out once again.

Thirteen months later, Chait’s “undiluted liberalism” enjoys something less than overwhelming public support.

In fact, the United States has become more, not less, conservative during the Obama presidency (by a margin of 2-to-1, Americans describe themselves as conservative rather than liberal). And Obama and the Democrats, having followed Chait’s counsel, find themselves in a terrible political ditch. After a year in office, Mr. Obama has become, by a wide margin, our most polarizing president. He has the highest disapproval ratings ever recorded for an elected president beginning his second year. No other president has seen his Gallup job-approval rating drop as far as Obama’s has (21 points) in his first year. And the public overwhelmingly opposes Obama’s signature domestic initiative, health care (the approve-disapprove spread ranges from 15 to 20 points).

In addition, Democrats have suffered crushing losses in gubernatorial races in New Jersey and Virginia — and last week they suffered a particularly devastating loss in the Massachusetts Senate race. Independents are voting for Republicans by a 2-to-1 (or better) margin. Republicans are now polling better than Democrats on most issues. They are ahead on most generic congressional vote polls. The GOP’s recruiting efforts are going gangbusters, while Democrats are either withdrawing from midterm races in November or not throwing their hat into the ring at all. “I have not seen a party’s fortunes collapse so suddenly since Richard Nixon got caught up in the Watergate scandal and a president who carried 49 states was threatened with impeachment and removal from office,” according to the political analyst Michael Barone.

Democrats, rightly sensing what awaits them in November, are nearly panic-stricken.

In light of what has come to pass, Mr. Chait’s writings look comical. After a disastrous August for ObamaCare, Chait declared, against all evidence, “August moved the ball pretty far down the field.” He was issuing ominous warnings about a GOP overreach on health care in September. And in October he wrote, “We’ve had months of sturm and drang, and massive attention focused on the question, Whither health care reform? It’s just quietly turned into a fait accompli.”

Au contraire. ObamaCare, while not yet dead, is in critical and perhaps terminal condition. And the damaging effects it has had on the president and the Democratic party is beyond serious dispute. Charlie Cook of National Journal put it this way:

Honorable and intelligent people can disagree over the substance and details of what President Obama and congressional Democrats are trying to do on health care reform and climate change. But nearly a year after Obama’s inauguration, judging by where the Democrats stand today, it’s clear that they have made a colossal miscalculation.

Clear, that is, to everyone but Jonathan Chait. He is in the uncomfortable position of having to explain how the Obama presidency and liberalism have gone off the rails in the past year, a year devoted to trying to pass massively unpopular health-care legislation championed by people like Chait. Rather than coming to grips with reality, though, Chait has opted for self-delusion. In his January 19 column, for example, Jonathan was reduced to writing things like this:

The perception has formed, perhaps indelibly, that the reason Democrats will get hammered in the 2010 elections is that the party moved too far left in general and tried to reform health care in particular. This perception owes itself, above all, to the habit that political analysts in the media and other outposts of mainstream thought have of ignoring structural factors.

So Obama and the Democrats find themselves on the precipice, not because of health care, but because of “structural factors.” Of course. Scott Brown famously won his Massachusetts Senate race by promising to be the 41st vote against “structural factors.”

It is all rather pathetic.

The New Republic was once one of the nation’s leading journals of opinion. It was the home of first-rate thinkers and first-rate writers. Today it is the home of Jonathan Chait.

It has been a long and dramatic decline.

In the afterglow of Barack Obama’s election, liberals were peddling a lot of bad ideas. Among them was the New Republic’s Jonathan Chait, who in December 2008 wrote this:

The practical import of the Obama mandate debate has fallen on the question of whether he should pursue his goal of comprehensive health care reform, which numerous pundits and even some Democrats have tagged as dangerously ambitious. But this is one area where undiluted liberalism enjoys overwhelming public support. The public, by a roughly two-to-one margin, thinks the government has a responsibility to make sure that every American has adequate health care. Congressional Democrats fear a repeat of 1994–when, as they see it, Bill Clinton over-interpreted his mandate and therefore failed to pass health care reform. This reading has it backward. Clinton’s health care plan failed because Congress decided he didn’t have a mandate and refused to pass it. If the Democrats fail this time, it will probably be because they psyched themselves out once again.

Thirteen months later, Chait’s “undiluted liberalism” enjoys something less than overwhelming public support.

In fact, the United States has become more, not less, conservative during the Obama presidency (by a margin of 2-to-1, Americans describe themselves as conservative rather than liberal). And Obama and the Democrats, having followed Chait’s counsel, find themselves in a terrible political ditch. After a year in office, Mr. Obama has become, by a wide margin, our most polarizing president. He has the highest disapproval ratings ever recorded for an elected president beginning his second year. No other president has seen his Gallup job-approval rating drop as far as Obama’s has (21 points) in his first year. And the public overwhelmingly opposes Obama’s signature domestic initiative, health care (the approve-disapprove spread ranges from 15 to 20 points).

In addition, Democrats have suffered crushing losses in gubernatorial races in New Jersey and Virginia — and last week they suffered a particularly devastating loss in the Massachusetts Senate race. Independents are voting for Republicans by a 2-to-1 (or better) margin. Republicans are now polling better than Democrats on most issues. They are ahead on most generic congressional vote polls. The GOP’s recruiting efforts are going gangbusters, while Democrats are either withdrawing from midterm races in November or not throwing their hat into the ring at all. “I have not seen a party’s fortunes collapse so suddenly since Richard Nixon got caught up in the Watergate scandal and a president who carried 49 states was threatened with impeachment and removal from office,” according to the political analyst Michael Barone.

Democrats, rightly sensing what awaits them in November, are nearly panic-stricken.

In light of what has come to pass, Mr. Chait’s writings look comical. After a disastrous August for ObamaCare, Chait declared, against all evidence, “August moved the ball pretty far down the field.” He was issuing ominous warnings about a GOP overreach on health care in September. And in October he wrote, “We’ve had months of sturm and drang, and massive attention focused on the question, Whither health care reform? It’s just quietly turned into a fait accompli.”

Au contraire. ObamaCare, while not yet dead, is in critical and perhaps terminal condition. And the damaging effects it has had on the president and the Democratic party is beyond serious dispute. Charlie Cook of National Journal put it this way:

Honorable and intelligent people can disagree over the substance and details of what President Obama and congressional Democrats are trying to do on health care reform and climate change. But nearly a year after Obama’s inauguration, judging by where the Democrats stand today, it’s clear that they have made a colossal miscalculation.

Clear, that is, to everyone but Jonathan Chait. He is in the uncomfortable position of having to explain how the Obama presidency and liberalism have gone off the rails in the past year, a year devoted to trying to pass massively unpopular health-care legislation championed by people like Chait. Rather than coming to grips with reality, though, Chait has opted for self-delusion. In his January 19 column, for example, Jonathan was reduced to writing things like this:

The perception has formed, perhaps indelibly, that the reason Democrats will get hammered in the 2010 elections is that the party moved too far left in general and tried to reform health care in particular. This perception owes itself, above all, to the habit that political analysts in the media and other outposts of mainstream thought have of ignoring structural factors.

So Obama and the Democrats find themselves on the precipice, not because of health care, but because of “structural factors.” Of course. Scott Brown famously won his Massachusetts Senate race by promising to be the 41st vote against “structural factors.”

It is all rather pathetic.

The New Republic was once one of the nation’s leading journals of opinion. It was the home of first-rate thinkers and first-rate writers. Today it is the home of Jonathan Chait.

It has been a long and dramatic decline.

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In Big Trouble

John Judis at the New Republic doesn’t mince words:

Bill Clinton didn’t know he was in big trouble until the very eve of the November 1994 election. Barack Obama knows now, barely a year into his presidency. While the party loyalists can blame Martha Coakley’s defeat on her ignorance of Red Sox baseball, it was clearly a message to the president and his party. Yes, a less inept candidate might have beaten Scott Brown, but if Obama and his program had been more popular in Massachusetts, even Coakley could have won–and by ten points or more.

He makes a smart observation that most liberals refuse to recognize: it’s the substance of the health-care bill and the backroom dealings that have driven the enthusiasm gap on the other side and dispirited Obama’s own base:

Obama’s health care plan has provoked a combination of right-wing and left-wing populism. The middle class and senior citizens see it as a program that taxes and takes benefits away from them in order to help those without insurance–the out groups–and to enrich the insurance companies themselves. They didn’t invent this perception out of thin air: It derived in part from the plan to tax “Cadillac” health care plans (which are sometimes held by unionized middle class workers), penalize workers who don’t buy insurance, and cut future Medicare spending, while providing new subscribers and profits for the insurance companies. Undoubtedly, the prior perception of Obama’s financial policies reinforced these suspicions about his health care plan, which is now as unpopular as the bank bailout.

Oblivious White House spinners and equally dense lefty bloggers keep insisting that the answer is “More of the same!” But there’s a price to be paid for rushing through behind closed doors a bill so atrocious that it has brought together Jane Hamsher and Bill Kristol, the Nation and National Review, and other political odd couples.

Judis connects the health-care debacle to a more fundamental failing of Obama: his inability to speak to and connect with Middle America. Really, how could a Democratic president push for a bill in which middle-class Americans are required under threat of prosecution to buy expensive health-care policies they don’t want from Big Insurance? We got there because Obama never put forth a coherent plan for what he wanted, and the bill that emerged was the remnants, the lowest common denominator, of what remained after the Senate had discounted the views of Republicans and given up on the pipe dream of the Left (i.e., the public option). The White House convinced itself that middle-class voters were dupes and fools who would celebrate this awful legislation.

Instead, Obama’s sloth (or was it lack of skill and know-how?) in ceding his key policy initiative to the Congress and his contempt for the intelligence of voters — who were expected to be “sold” on a bill so bad that it required closed-door bribery to pass — has cost him dearly. Judis is right: Obama is in big trouble, as are his Democratic allies in Congress. (How long before Harry Reid announces his retirement?) Martha Coakley was a victim, not the cause, of the debacle last night. Had Obama not mishandled a once-in-a-lifetime political opportunity, she’d be heading to the Senate.

John Judis at the New Republic doesn’t mince words:

Bill Clinton didn’t know he was in big trouble until the very eve of the November 1994 election. Barack Obama knows now, barely a year into his presidency. While the party loyalists can blame Martha Coakley’s defeat on her ignorance of Red Sox baseball, it was clearly a message to the president and his party. Yes, a less inept candidate might have beaten Scott Brown, but if Obama and his program had been more popular in Massachusetts, even Coakley could have won–and by ten points or more.

He makes a smart observation that most liberals refuse to recognize: it’s the substance of the health-care bill and the backroom dealings that have driven the enthusiasm gap on the other side and dispirited Obama’s own base:

Obama’s health care plan has provoked a combination of right-wing and left-wing populism. The middle class and senior citizens see it as a program that taxes and takes benefits away from them in order to help those without insurance–the out groups–and to enrich the insurance companies themselves. They didn’t invent this perception out of thin air: It derived in part from the plan to tax “Cadillac” health care plans (which are sometimes held by unionized middle class workers), penalize workers who don’t buy insurance, and cut future Medicare spending, while providing new subscribers and profits for the insurance companies. Undoubtedly, the prior perception of Obama’s financial policies reinforced these suspicions about his health care plan, which is now as unpopular as the bank bailout.

Oblivious White House spinners and equally dense lefty bloggers keep insisting that the answer is “More of the same!” But there’s a price to be paid for rushing through behind closed doors a bill so atrocious that it has brought together Jane Hamsher and Bill Kristol, the Nation and National Review, and other political odd couples.

Judis connects the health-care debacle to a more fundamental failing of Obama: his inability to speak to and connect with Middle America. Really, how could a Democratic president push for a bill in which middle-class Americans are required under threat of prosecution to buy expensive health-care policies they don’t want from Big Insurance? We got there because Obama never put forth a coherent plan for what he wanted, and the bill that emerged was the remnants, the lowest common denominator, of what remained after the Senate had discounted the views of Republicans and given up on the pipe dream of the Left (i.e., the public option). The White House convinced itself that middle-class voters were dupes and fools who would celebrate this awful legislation.

Instead, Obama’s sloth (or was it lack of skill and know-how?) in ceding his key policy initiative to the Congress and his contempt for the intelligence of voters — who were expected to be “sold” on a bill so bad that it required closed-door bribery to pass — has cost him dearly. Judis is right: Obama is in big trouble, as are his Democratic allies in Congress. (How long before Harry Reid announces his retirement?) Martha Coakley was a victim, not the cause, of the debacle last night. Had Obama not mishandled a once-in-a-lifetime political opportunity, she’d be heading to the Senate.

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The Meaning of Palestinian Politics

Over at the New Republic, Steven A. Cook of the Council on Foreign Relations speaks a few truths about Palestinian politics that aren’t often mentioned. His “The Third Intifada” discusses the likelihood of the current diplomatic standoff between Israel and the Palestinians resulting in a new round of violence. But rather than going the route of conventional wisdom and blaming it all on the hard-hearted Israelis, who won’t make enough concessions to appease their antagonists, Cook goes straight to the heart of Palestinian political culture when he notes that, as in the not-so-distant past, their leaders will resort to bloodshed as a way out of the corner into which they have painted themselves and as a means to bolster their credibility with constituencies that seem only to respect violence.

Another intifada makes no sense for the Palestinians. Another campaign of attacks on Israeli targets has little chance of success and it would, without doubt, cost far more Palestinian than Israeli lives. It would also ruin, as the first and second intifadas did, the economic progress Palestinians have made in recent years and inflict a new round of misery on them. But, as Cook points out, none of that will matter because “if history is any guide, the Palestinian leadership of the West Bank — whether it includes Mahmoud Abbas or not — may again look to a violence to improve its sagging domestic popularity. Throughout contemporary Palestinian history, spilling Israeli blood has often been the best way for competing political factions to burnish their nationalist credentials.”

In an important point often overlooked by apologists for Abbas, Cook also believes that “faith” in the ability or willingness of the new Palestinian Authority security forces to stop anti-Israel terror in the future “seems misguided.” Those forces have been the subject of much positive comment from both Jerusalem and Washington, but Cook understands that in order to maintain their credibility among Palestinians these units will have to turn their guns on their erstwhile Israeli partners if push comes to shove. Since this is exactly what happened in 2000 when the second intifada broke out — when Palestinian policeman who had also received U.S. training joined mobs attacking Israeli positions rather than try to restrain them — why should anyone doubt that another intifada will produce the same result?

But lest anyone conclude that the only alternative to another intifada is a more forthcoming Israeli negotiating position, it is important to remember a few points that go unmentioned in Cook’s article. Far from a lack of diplomatic progress providing a spur to Palestinian violence, it is the Palestinian leadership’s unwillingness to make peace that is the root cause of the problem. Having rejected a state in the West Bank and Gaza in exchange for recognizing Israel’s legitimacy both in 2000 and 2008, it is more than obvious that their real fear doesn’t stem from the unlikelihood of peace but rather from the certainty of a deal if they should actually seriously pursue one. Though Barack Obama gave them a new excuse for dragging their feet this year by trying to make a settlement freeze a precondition for talks, Abbas must follow Arafat’s precedent and choose war over peace because anything less would result in his destruction.

Whether or not Israelis build new homes in their own capital, a point that Cook wrongly acknowledges as a seeming justification for Palestinian unhappiness, rejection of Israel’s existence and belief in the inherent legitimacy of anti-Israel violence is still the core of Palestinian political identity. Unless and until that changes, all we can expect is an endless stream of intifadas undertaken not out of frustration but as a way to avoid making peace.

Over at the New Republic, Steven A. Cook of the Council on Foreign Relations speaks a few truths about Palestinian politics that aren’t often mentioned. His “The Third Intifada” discusses the likelihood of the current diplomatic standoff between Israel and the Palestinians resulting in a new round of violence. But rather than going the route of conventional wisdom and blaming it all on the hard-hearted Israelis, who won’t make enough concessions to appease their antagonists, Cook goes straight to the heart of Palestinian political culture when he notes that, as in the not-so-distant past, their leaders will resort to bloodshed as a way out of the corner into which they have painted themselves and as a means to bolster their credibility with constituencies that seem only to respect violence.

Another intifada makes no sense for the Palestinians. Another campaign of attacks on Israeli targets has little chance of success and it would, without doubt, cost far more Palestinian than Israeli lives. It would also ruin, as the first and second intifadas did, the economic progress Palestinians have made in recent years and inflict a new round of misery on them. But, as Cook points out, none of that will matter because “if history is any guide, the Palestinian leadership of the West Bank — whether it includes Mahmoud Abbas or not — may again look to a violence to improve its sagging domestic popularity. Throughout contemporary Palestinian history, spilling Israeli blood has often been the best way for competing political factions to burnish their nationalist credentials.”

In an important point often overlooked by apologists for Abbas, Cook also believes that “faith” in the ability or willingness of the new Palestinian Authority security forces to stop anti-Israel terror in the future “seems misguided.” Those forces have been the subject of much positive comment from both Jerusalem and Washington, but Cook understands that in order to maintain their credibility among Palestinians these units will have to turn their guns on their erstwhile Israeli partners if push comes to shove. Since this is exactly what happened in 2000 when the second intifada broke out — when Palestinian policeman who had also received U.S. training joined mobs attacking Israeli positions rather than try to restrain them — why should anyone doubt that another intifada will produce the same result?

But lest anyone conclude that the only alternative to another intifada is a more forthcoming Israeli negotiating position, it is important to remember a few points that go unmentioned in Cook’s article. Far from a lack of diplomatic progress providing a spur to Palestinian violence, it is the Palestinian leadership’s unwillingness to make peace that is the root cause of the problem. Having rejected a state in the West Bank and Gaza in exchange for recognizing Israel’s legitimacy both in 2000 and 2008, it is more than obvious that their real fear doesn’t stem from the unlikelihood of peace but rather from the certainty of a deal if they should actually seriously pursue one. Though Barack Obama gave them a new excuse for dragging their feet this year by trying to make a settlement freeze a precondition for talks, Abbas must follow Arafat’s precedent and choose war over peace because anything less would result in his destruction.

Whether or not Israelis build new homes in their own capital, a point that Cook wrongly acknowledges as a seeming justification for Palestinian unhappiness, rejection of Israel’s existence and belief in the inherent legitimacy of anti-Israel violence is still the core of Palestinian political identity. Unless and until that changes, all we can expect is an endless stream of intifadas undertaken not out of frustration but as a way to avoid making peace.

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Welcome to A Rip-Roaring Edition of “Guess What Op-Ed Leon Is Talking About”!

Leon Wieseltier takes to the back page of the New Republic with 1,143 words on the importance of silence, of not delivering an opinion. “I am empty,” he begins, and then continues on for another 1,140 more words. (When Wittgenstein reached the conclusion that “whereof we cannot speak, thereof we must be silent,” he ended the book he was writing.) In the course of this disquisition on emptiness, he offers this tantalizing remark:

Last week I was in Jerusalem for a few days, and I am brimming with impressions and ideas. Obama and Clinton and McCain continue to inspire thoughts, and of course witticisms. A few days ago a friend of mine published a miserable piece on a matter about which I care deeply, and I am of a mind to be withering about it. The decline of The New York Times remains worthy of comment, as does the poverty of imagination in American theater and film. But for now I am refusing to play. I am in the mood not to be smart….[T]he call of brilliant argument would have to wait, and yield to more fundamental reveries in which brilliance has no place. And so my confused friend, the one who perpetrated that op-ed piece, got away. He knows who he is.

Well, perhaps he knows who he is, but we sure don’t! Anyone have a guess? You can leave your supposition in a comment below. (Clearly, it isn’t Maureen Dowd, since she isn’t a he.) Or you can simply remain silent. Because, in Wieseltier’s words, “compared to the mad rush of fine minds to satisfy the appetites of the world, to rise in the world by interpreting it, there is nothing at all parochial about the confinements of interiority.”

Leon Wieseltier takes to the back page of the New Republic with 1,143 words on the importance of silence, of not delivering an opinion. “I am empty,” he begins, and then continues on for another 1,140 more words. (When Wittgenstein reached the conclusion that “whereof we cannot speak, thereof we must be silent,” he ended the book he was writing.) In the course of this disquisition on emptiness, he offers this tantalizing remark:

Last week I was in Jerusalem for a few days, and I am brimming with impressions and ideas. Obama and Clinton and McCain continue to inspire thoughts, and of course witticisms. A few days ago a friend of mine published a miserable piece on a matter about which I care deeply, and I am of a mind to be withering about it. The decline of The New York Times remains worthy of comment, as does the poverty of imagination in American theater and film. But for now I am refusing to play. I am in the mood not to be smart….[T]he call of brilliant argument would have to wait, and yield to more fundamental reveries in which brilliance has no place. And so my confused friend, the one who perpetrated that op-ed piece, got away. He knows who he is.

Well, perhaps he knows who he is, but we sure don’t! Anyone have a guess? You can leave your supposition in a comment below. (Clearly, it isn’t Maureen Dowd, since she isn’t a he.) Or you can simply remain silent. Because, in Wieseltier’s words, “compared to the mad rush of fine minds to satisfy the appetites of the world, to rise in the world by interpreting it, there is nothing at all parochial about the confinements of interiority.”

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Al-Qaeda and The Turning Tide

CIA Director Michael Hayden gave a noteworthy interview to the Washington Post this week. According to the Post:

Less than a year after his agency warned of new threats from a resurgent al-Qaeda, CIA Director Michael V. Hayden now portrays the terrorist movement as essentially defeated in Iraq and Saudi Arabia and on the defensive throughout much of the rest of the world, including in its presumed haven along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. In a strikingly upbeat assessment, the CIA chief cited major gains against al-Qaeda’s allies in the Middle East and an increasingly successful campaign to destabilize the group’s core leadership. While cautioning that al-Qaeda remains a serious threat, Hayden said Osama bin Laden is losing the battle for hearts and minds in the Islamic world and has largely forfeited his ability to exploit the Iraq war to recruit adherents. Two years ago, a CIA study concluded that the U.S.-led war had become a propaganda and marketing bonanza for al-Qaeda, generating cash donations and legions of volunteers. All that has changed, Hayden said in an interview with the Washington Post this week that coincided with the start of his third year at the helm of the CIA. “On balance, we are doing pretty well,” he said, ticking down a list of accomplishments: “Near strategic defeat of al-Qaeda in Iraq. Near strategic defeat for al-Qaeda in Saudi Arabia. Significant setbacks for al-Qaeda globally — and here I’m going to use the word ‘ideologically’ — as a lot of the Islamic world pushes back on their form of Islam,” he said.

The sense of shifting tides in the terrorism fight is shared by a number of terrorism experts, though some caution that it is too early to tell whether the gains are permanent. Some credit Hayden and other U.S. intelligence leaders for going on the offensive against al-Qaeda in the area along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, where the tempo of Predator strikes has dramatically increased from previous years. But analysts say the United States has caught some breaks in the past year, benefiting from improved conditions in Iraq, as well as strategic blunders by al-Qaeda that have cut into its support base.[...]

On Iraq, he said he is encouraged not only by U.S. success against al-Qaeda’s affiliates there, but also by what he described as the steadily rising competence of the Iraqi military and a growing popular antipathy toward jihadism. “Despite this ’cause célebrè’ phenomenon, fundamentally no one really liked al-Qaeda’s vision of the future,” Hayden said. As a result, the insurgency is viewed locally as “more and more a war of al-Qaeda against Iraqis,” he said. Hayden specifically cited the recent writings of prominent Sunni clerics — including some who used to support al-Qaeda — criticizing the group for its indiscriminant killing of Muslim civilians. While al-Qaeda misplayed its hand with gruesome attacks on Iraqi civilians, Hayden said, U.S. military commanders and intelligence officials deserve some of the credit for the shift, because they “created the circumstances” for it by building strategic alliances with Sunni and Shiite factions, he said.

Hayden’s assessment comes on the heels of important essays by Lawrence Wright in The New Yorker and Peter Bergen and Paul Cruickshank in The New Republic arguing that the tide within the Islamic world is turning strongly against al Qaeda and jihadism. The causes for this shift include an organic uprising within the Arab and Islamic world against the barbaric tactics of al Qaeda, as well as the success of the Petraeus-led strategy in Iraq, which has been indispensable in aiding the “Anbar Awakening” and which has also dealt devastating military blows to al Qaeda.

We need to be very cautious. Progress, like setbacks, can be reversed. Georgetown University terrorism expert Bruce Hoffman is surely right when he says “Al-Qaeda’s obituary has been written far too often in the past few years for anyone to declare victory. I agree that there has been progress. But we’re indisputably up against a very resilient and implacable enemy.” And Hayden’s right to warn us that progress in Iraq is being undermined by increasing interference by Iran, which he accused of supplying weapons, training, and financial assistance to anti-U.S. insurgents. According to the Post:

While declining to endorse any particular strategy for dealing with Iran, he described the threat in stark terms. “It is the policy of the Iranian government, approved at the highest levels of that government, to facilitate the killing of American and other coalition forces in Iraq. Period,” he said.

It’s worth recalling how widely the pendulum has swung in just the last two years. In 2005 and 2006, Iraq, it was said in many quarters, was lost; we either had to beat a hasty retreat or, as Joe Biden and Les Gelb counseled, we needed to separate Iraq into three largely autonomous regions (Shia, Sunni, and Kurd). For a time the Biden-Gelb plan was the “hot” one among commentators — the “third way” between leaving Iraq precipitously and foolishly attempting to repair a hopelessly broken and divided society. In fact, we are now seeing precisely the reconciliation and progress that many analysts believed was impossible to achieve.

It was also said by many analysts that as a result of the President’s misguided policies, al Qaeda was growing more popular, terrorist recruitment was up, al Qaeda had been handed great gifts by the Bush administration, and that America was less safe than prior to 9/11. The conventional wisdom was that the “Bush legacy” would be that al Qaeda was much stronger and America was much weaker than before the Iraq war.

Today the pendulum is swinging very much the other way. The reality is that things are much better now then they were at the mid-point of this decade. The cautionary tale in all this may be that we need to resist the temptation to take a snapshot in time and assuming that those things will stay as they are. Two years ago there were reasons for deep concern — but there were not reasons, it turns out, for despair or hopelessness. Events are fluid and can be shaped by human action and human will. While commentators were busy writing obituaries on Iraq, Bush, in the face of gale-force political winds, changed strategies –and Petraeus and company took on the hard task of redeeming Iraq.

Recent events are reminders, too, that equanimity and the capacity for some degree of detachment are important qualities to possess–qualities which are often lacking among those of us who inhabit the world of politics and government and comment on events on a daily or weekly basis.

It seems clear that among the worst thing we could do right now, in the wake of the significant, indisputable but reversible progress we’ve made, is to turn away from what works. It’s certainly true that the United States is limited in its capacity to shape the intra-Islamic struggle that is unfolding. But we do have the capacity to influence things in some arenas–and Iraq is, right now, a central battlefield in the war against jihadists. To undo what we have put in place would be unwise, reckless, and–given events of the last year–indefensible as well.

CIA Director Michael Hayden gave a noteworthy interview to the Washington Post this week. According to the Post:

Less than a year after his agency warned of new threats from a resurgent al-Qaeda, CIA Director Michael V. Hayden now portrays the terrorist movement as essentially defeated in Iraq and Saudi Arabia and on the defensive throughout much of the rest of the world, including in its presumed haven along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. In a strikingly upbeat assessment, the CIA chief cited major gains against al-Qaeda’s allies in the Middle East and an increasingly successful campaign to destabilize the group’s core leadership. While cautioning that al-Qaeda remains a serious threat, Hayden said Osama bin Laden is losing the battle for hearts and minds in the Islamic world and has largely forfeited his ability to exploit the Iraq war to recruit adherents. Two years ago, a CIA study concluded that the U.S.-led war had become a propaganda and marketing bonanza for al-Qaeda, generating cash donations and legions of volunteers. All that has changed, Hayden said in an interview with the Washington Post this week that coincided with the start of his third year at the helm of the CIA. “On balance, we are doing pretty well,” he said, ticking down a list of accomplishments: “Near strategic defeat of al-Qaeda in Iraq. Near strategic defeat for al-Qaeda in Saudi Arabia. Significant setbacks for al-Qaeda globally — and here I’m going to use the word ‘ideologically’ — as a lot of the Islamic world pushes back on their form of Islam,” he said.

The sense of shifting tides in the terrorism fight is shared by a number of terrorism experts, though some caution that it is too early to tell whether the gains are permanent. Some credit Hayden and other U.S. intelligence leaders for going on the offensive against al-Qaeda in the area along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, where the tempo of Predator strikes has dramatically increased from previous years. But analysts say the United States has caught some breaks in the past year, benefiting from improved conditions in Iraq, as well as strategic blunders by al-Qaeda that have cut into its support base.[...]

On Iraq, he said he is encouraged not only by U.S. success against al-Qaeda’s affiliates there, but also by what he described as the steadily rising competence of the Iraqi military and a growing popular antipathy toward jihadism. “Despite this ’cause célebrè’ phenomenon, fundamentally no one really liked al-Qaeda’s vision of the future,” Hayden said. As a result, the insurgency is viewed locally as “more and more a war of al-Qaeda against Iraqis,” he said. Hayden specifically cited the recent writings of prominent Sunni clerics — including some who used to support al-Qaeda — criticizing the group for its indiscriminant killing of Muslim civilians. While al-Qaeda misplayed its hand with gruesome attacks on Iraqi civilians, Hayden said, U.S. military commanders and intelligence officials deserve some of the credit for the shift, because they “created the circumstances” for it by building strategic alliances with Sunni and Shiite factions, he said.

Hayden’s assessment comes on the heels of important essays by Lawrence Wright in The New Yorker and Peter Bergen and Paul Cruickshank in The New Republic arguing that the tide within the Islamic world is turning strongly against al Qaeda and jihadism. The causes for this shift include an organic uprising within the Arab and Islamic world against the barbaric tactics of al Qaeda, as well as the success of the Petraeus-led strategy in Iraq, which has been indispensable in aiding the “Anbar Awakening” and which has also dealt devastating military blows to al Qaeda.

We need to be very cautious. Progress, like setbacks, can be reversed. Georgetown University terrorism expert Bruce Hoffman is surely right when he says “Al-Qaeda’s obituary has been written far too often in the past few years for anyone to declare victory. I agree that there has been progress. But we’re indisputably up against a very resilient and implacable enemy.” And Hayden’s right to warn us that progress in Iraq is being undermined by increasing interference by Iran, which he accused of supplying weapons, training, and financial assistance to anti-U.S. insurgents. According to the Post:

While declining to endorse any particular strategy for dealing with Iran, he described the threat in stark terms. “It is the policy of the Iranian government, approved at the highest levels of that government, to facilitate the killing of American and other coalition forces in Iraq. Period,” he said.

It’s worth recalling how widely the pendulum has swung in just the last two years. In 2005 and 2006, Iraq, it was said in many quarters, was lost; we either had to beat a hasty retreat or, as Joe Biden and Les Gelb counseled, we needed to separate Iraq into three largely autonomous regions (Shia, Sunni, and Kurd). For a time the Biden-Gelb plan was the “hot” one among commentators — the “third way” between leaving Iraq precipitously and foolishly attempting to repair a hopelessly broken and divided society. In fact, we are now seeing precisely the reconciliation and progress that many analysts believed was impossible to achieve.

It was also said by many analysts that as a result of the President’s misguided policies, al Qaeda was growing more popular, terrorist recruitment was up, al Qaeda had been handed great gifts by the Bush administration, and that America was less safe than prior to 9/11. The conventional wisdom was that the “Bush legacy” would be that al Qaeda was much stronger and America was much weaker than before the Iraq war.

Today the pendulum is swinging very much the other way. The reality is that things are much better now then they were at the mid-point of this decade. The cautionary tale in all this may be that we need to resist the temptation to take a snapshot in time and assuming that those things will stay as they are. Two years ago there were reasons for deep concern — but there were not reasons, it turns out, for despair or hopelessness. Events are fluid and can be shaped by human action and human will. While commentators were busy writing obituaries on Iraq, Bush, in the face of gale-force political winds, changed strategies –and Petraeus and company took on the hard task of redeeming Iraq.

Recent events are reminders, too, that equanimity and the capacity for some degree of detachment are important qualities to possess–qualities which are often lacking among those of us who inhabit the world of politics and government and comment on events on a daily or weekly basis.

It seems clear that among the worst thing we could do right now, in the wake of the significant, indisputable but reversible progress we’ve made, is to turn away from what works. It’s certainly true that the United States is limited in its capacity to shape the intra-Islamic struggle that is unfolding. But we do have the capacity to influence things in some arenas–and Iraq is, right now, a central battlefield in the war against jihadists. To undo what we have put in place would be unwise, reckless, and–given events of the last year–indefensible as well.

Read Less




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