Commentary Magazine


Topic: the Times

The Point About Earmarks

Now that Mitch McConnell has reluctantly given in to Republican insurgents and agreed that earmarks must be banned in the new Congress, wiseacres on the left are having a big laugh about how ineffectual the whole exercise will be. The New York Times pooh-poohs the measure in an editorial that dismisses the furor over earmarks as a ruse because the amount spent on all earmarks accounts for only a fraction of federal spending. In the blogosphere, at TPM, Josh Marshall dismisses the issue as “basically a crock,” because it won’t have “any real effect on the national fisc [sic].”

Both are right, in the sense that it is true that the abolition of earmarks won’t balance the budget, although it is a good start. But the Times editorialists and the lefty bloggers are as clueless about the importance of this issue as they were about the rise of the Tea Party insurgency itself. The point about earmarks is not the amount of money spent on them. It is the way they are used by members of the House and Senate, who spend much of their time in their districts and states swooping down on local institutions accompanied by aides carrying huge cardboard checks for photo ops to remind voters just who it was who paid for the new parking lot at the community center or the local hospital’s new equipment.

While defenders of the practice claim that these measures give Congress control over spending that would otherwise merely revert to the executive, what earmarks really do is they allow individual senators and congressmen to use the federal purse as a patronage machine. Though a fraction of the federal budget, earmarks are important symbols of the way the system has been crafted to shift power away from the taxpayers and into the hands of the political class. Not every earmark is a boondoggle. Many bring help to their constituents. But this is not free money from Washington. Earmarks return only a fraction of our tax dollars to us, an amount doled out with an eyedropper. Even more to the point, they serve the senders more than the recipients. Earmarks may be sold as constituent service, but they are the instruments of raw political power that make every incumbent a formidable campaign-fundraising machine. Earmarks turn everyone into members of the special-interest groups that compete for the favors of politicians who hand back a small percentage of the money government took from us in the first place. These politicians then expect votes and campaign contributions in return. Despite the furor over the abuses of lobbyists in Washington, earmarks are the true mark of Congressional corruption; they are the currency with which politicians of both parties are allowed to legally buy votes and to purchase them at cut-rate prices.

Obama’s billion-dollar “stimulus” didn’t fix the economy, but it did focus public attention on the way this budget buster was used by Congress to play the earmark game. The blow-back from that and the rest of the administration’s hyper-liberal plans to increase the power of the federal government gave new impetus to taxpayer anger. Ending earmarks won’t balance the budget or put a dent in the deficit. But that was never the point. Rather, it was the attempt to put a check on the ability of politicians to buy support with money they siphoned from the federal budget. Doing so will not fix the system by itself. But it is a start.

Now that Mitch McConnell has reluctantly given in to Republican insurgents and agreed that earmarks must be banned in the new Congress, wiseacres on the left are having a big laugh about how ineffectual the whole exercise will be. The New York Times pooh-poohs the measure in an editorial that dismisses the furor over earmarks as a ruse because the amount spent on all earmarks accounts for only a fraction of federal spending. In the blogosphere, at TPM, Josh Marshall dismisses the issue as “basically a crock,” because it won’t have “any real effect on the national fisc [sic].”

Both are right, in the sense that it is true that the abolition of earmarks won’t balance the budget, although it is a good start. But the Times editorialists and the lefty bloggers are as clueless about the importance of this issue as they were about the rise of the Tea Party insurgency itself. The point about earmarks is not the amount of money spent on them. It is the way they are used by members of the House and Senate, who spend much of their time in their districts and states swooping down on local institutions accompanied by aides carrying huge cardboard checks for photo ops to remind voters just who it was who paid for the new parking lot at the community center or the local hospital’s new equipment.

While defenders of the practice claim that these measures give Congress control over spending that would otherwise merely revert to the executive, what earmarks really do is they allow individual senators and congressmen to use the federal purse as a patronage machine. Though a fraction of the federal budget, earmarks are important symbols of the way the system has been crafted to shift power away from the taxpayers and into the hands of the political class. Not every earmark is a boondoggle. Many bring help to their constituents. But this is not free money from Washington. Earmarks return only a fraction of our tax dollars to us, an amount doled out with an eyedropper. Even more to the point, they serve the senders more than the recipients. Earmarks may be sold as constituent service, but they are the instruments of raw political power that make every incumbent a formidable campaign-fundraising machine. Earmarks turn everyone into members of the special-interest groups that compete for the favors of politicians who hand back a small percentage of the money government took from us in the first place. These politicians then expect votes and campaign contributions in return. Despite the furor over the abuses of lobbyists in Washington, earmarks are the true mark of Congressional corruption; they are the currency with which politicians of both parties are allowed to legally buy votes and to purchase them at cut-rate prices.

Obama’s billion-dollar “stimulus” didn’t fix the economy, but it did focus public attention on the way this budget buster was used by Congress to play the earmark game. The blow-back from that and the rest of the administration’s hyper-liberal plans to increase the power of the federal government gave new impetus to taxpayer anger. Ending earmarks won’t balance the budget or put a dent in the deficit. But that was never the point. Rather, it was the attempt to put a check on the ability of politicians to buy support with money they siphoned from the federal budget. Doing so will not fix the system by itself. But it is a start.

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Blasphemous Blogger Case Shows Hypocrisy of Palestinian Supporters

Amid all the constant clamor about the plight of the Palestinians, the conspicuous lack of concern on the part of both foreign and local Arab human-rights groups about the way the Palestinian Authority and Hamas treat their own people is an ongoing scandal. The imposition of a tyrannical Islamist police state in Gaza is ignored by Europeans and many American liberals, who devote their energies to demonizing Israel’s measures of self-defense aimed at keeping the terrorists based in that territory from attacking their civilians on the other side of the border. And while the leaders of the Palestinian Authority get good press abroad as “moderates” who favor peace, the truth about the way the PA runs most of the West Bank (contrary to popular misconception, Arab towns and villages are under the control of the PA’s police and various security services, not the Israel Defense Force) is far from pretty. An example of the way the Palestinian Authority rules the West Bank is on display in the case of Waleed Hasayin, whose pathetic story was told in yesterday’s New York Times.

Hasayin, a 20-something unemployed computer-science graduate who helped out in his father’s barbershop in Qalqilya, has been held incommunicado at that town’s local PA intelligence headquarters for blasphemous blogging. Husayin’s crime is that he created Facebook pages skewering Islam and promoting atheism. The Times reports that it is against the law in PA-ruled land to insult religion, though by that it is clear that they just mean Islam, since insults against Judaism are regularly broadcast on PA radio and television. He is not the first Muslim to run afoul of the repressive culture of the Arab world but what makes his case noteworthy is the hypocrisy of both the Palestinians and their foreign cheerleaders.

The most telling sentence in the Times’s story is the matter of fact one in which reporter Isabel Kershner notes that “Palestinian human rights groups in the West Bank have so far remained silent about Mr. Hasayin’s arrest.” She fails to mention that his case is also of no interest to Western supporters of the Palestinians, who believe that all Palestinians are still living under Israel “occupation,” whether in the West Bank or Gaza. This case makes it plain once again that advocates for Palestinian human rights are not actually interested in the human rights of the Palestinian people. If they were, then there would be as many, if not more, foreign protests against the way the Islamists of Hamas and the neo-Islamist thugs of the Palestinian Authority tyrannize their own people as there are protests against alleged abuses on the part of Israel.

Were Hasayin a terrorist with Jewish blood on his hands, languishing in an Israeli jail, there would be massive foreign support for his release as there is for that of killers like Fatah’s Marwan Barghouti. But since he is merely a free thinker who dared to challenge the oppressive political and religious culture of the Palestinians while blogging in an Internet cafe, he is of no interest to “friends” of the Palestinian people, who are content to let public opinion in Qalqilya — which, according to the Times, favors capital punishment or life imprisonment for his crime — determine his fate.

Amid all the constant clamor about the plight of the Palestinians, the conspicuous lack of concern on the part of both foreign and local Arab human-rights groups about the way the Palestinian Authority and Hamas treat their own people is an ongoing scandal. The imposition of a tyrannical Islamist police state in Gaza is ignored by Europeans and many American liberals, who devote their energies to demonizing Israel’s measures of self-defense aimed at keeping the terrorists based in that territory from attacking their civilians on the other side of the border. And while the leaders of the Palestinian Authority get good press abroad as “moderates” who favor peace, the truth about the way the PA runs most of the West Bank (contrary to popular misconception, Arab towns and villages are under the control of the PA’s police and various security services, not the Israel Defense Force) is far from pretty. An example of the way the Palestinian Authority rules the West Bank is on display in the case of Waleed Hasayin, whose pathetic story was told in yesterday’s New York Times.

Hasayin, a 20-something unemployed computer-science graduate who helped out in his father’s barbershop in Qalqilya, has been held incommunicado at that town’s local PA intelligence headquarters for blasphemous blogging. Husayin’s crime is that he created Facebook pages skewering Islam and promoting atheism. The Times reports that it is against the law in PA-ruled land to insult religion, though by that it is clear that they just mean Islam, since insults against Judaism are regularly broadcast on PA radio and television. He is not the first Muslim to run afoul of the repressive culture of the Arab world but what makes his case noteworthy is the hypocrisy of both the Palestinians and their foreign cheerleaders.

The most telling sentence in the Times’s story is the matter of fact one in which reporter Isabel Kershner notes that “Palestinian human rights groups in the West Bank have so far remained silent about Mr. Hasayin’s arrest.” She fails to mention that his case is also of no interest to Western supporters of the Palestinians, who believe that all Palestinians are still living under Israel “occupation,” whether in the West Bank or Gaza. This case makes it plain once again that advocates for Palestinian human rights are not actually interested in the human rights of the Palestinian people. If they were, then there would be as many, if not more, foreign protests against the way the Islamists of Hamas and the neo-Islamist thugs of the Palestinian Authority tyrannize their own people as there are protests against alleged abuses on the part of Israel.

Were Hasayin a terrorist with Jewish blood on his hands, languishing in an Israeli jail, there would be massive foreign support for his release as there is for that of killers like Fatah’s Marwan Barghouti. But since he is merely a free thinker who dared to challenge the oppressive political and religious culture of the Palestinians while blogging in an Internet cafe, he is of no interest to “friends” of the Palestinian people, who are content to let public opinion in Qalqilya — which, according to the Times, favors capital punishment or life imprisonment for his crime — determine his fate.

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Some Actual Editing at the New York Times!

This morning, Jen Rubin quoted a New York Times piece by Sheryl Gay Stolberg as follows: “For President Obama, the last-minute failure to seal a trade deal with South Korea that would expand American exports of automobiles and beef is an embarrassing setback that deprives him of a foreign policy trophy and demonstrates how the midterm elections may have weakened his position abroad.” I clicked on the link in Jen’s item to read the piece, and found the quote nowhere in it. A quick Google search indicated that the quote appeared yesterday on various blogs. Evidently someone at the New York Times decided he didn’t want those words to appear in the paper. That’s understandable; there is certainly an element of editorializing in them. Now to see the Times do the same to, oh, every other story in the front section.

This morning, Jen Rubin quoted a New York Times piece by Sheryl Gay Stolberg as follows: “For President Obama, the last-minute failure to seal a trade deal with South Korea that would expand American exports of automobiles and beef is an embarrassing setback that deprives him of a foreign policy trophy and demonstrates how the midterm elections may have weakened his position abroad.” I clicked on the link in Jen’s item to read the piece, and found the quote nowhere in it. A quick Google search indicated that the quote appeared yesterday on various blogs. Evidently someone at the New York Times decided he didn’t want those words to appear in the paper. That’s understandable; there is certainly an element of editorializing in them. Now to see the Times do the same to, oh, every other story in the front section.

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Who’s the Least Self-Reflective of Them All?

It is a delightful coincidence for fans of George W. Bush that his memoirs and accompanying media onslaught should come just as Obama is in full funk mode following his midterm shellacking. What is even more amusing than the return of  the Decider to the public limelight is the reaction of the media, which have greeted the book precisely as one would expect. The press continually “misunderestimated” him, and they do so again.

A case in point is the Los Angeles Times book review, which finds Bush’s tome to be an “unexpectedly engrossing memoir.” Unexpected by those who considered him a simpleton. Like so many on the left, the Times‘s reviewer, Tim Rutten, is bothered that Bush wasn’t more bothered about waterboarding terrorists to save American lives. For liberals, the decision was reprehensible, or at the very least agonizing. For Bush, it was straightforward: waterboard KSM or risk American lives. That the press can’t understand the moral imperative for the president to act as he did tells us as much about mainstream journalists as it does about Bush.

Likewise, because their caricature of Bush so colored their perceptions, the media elites are amazed to find out how respectful Bush was of opponents:

Given the contentious political use Karl Rove and other Bush aides made of abortion, readers also may be interested in the former president’s unfailingly respectful discussion of the abortion-rights advocates with whom he disagrees. …

Actually, one of the impressions that arises repeatedly in “Decision Points” is how much civility and bi-partisan cooperation matter to Bush. “The death spiral of decency during my time in office, exacerbated by the advent of 24-hour cable news and hyper-partisan political blogs, was deeply disappointing,” he writes.

Shocking to the left, I suppose. But let’s be blunt: the Bush=Hitler derangement syndrome never embittered Bush, nor did he ever imagine it was the role of the president to be the partisan in chief.

Yes, the contrast with Obama is great. Bush wasn’t “eloquent,” we were told, yet he managed to communicate with great clarity where he stood and what he stood for. Bush was “divisive,” we were instructed, yet he was respectful and exceptionally kind to aides, foes, and average Americans. Bush was “isolated” and “stubborn,” but he turned around a losing war strategy, kept his composure after the 2006 midterms, and never blamed the voters for his political misfortunes. You would think the media would now consider whether their evaluation of Bush was wrong. But no, they prefer to be “surprised” or even confounded by a book that reveals their take on Bush to be badly out of sync with the real man.

And even worse for the liberal intelligentsia, they have to concede that Obama looks remarkably bad in comparison. Howard Kurtz writes that “it felt like we were watching The Decider vs. The Agonizer.” There is the halfhearted attempt to make agonizing a virtue, but really, is Hamlet the model we want for commander in chief?

The irony is delicious. The press objects that Bush was simple-minded and not reflective. Umm, I think it’s called “projection” when one’s critique of others amounts to a spot-on self-diagnosis. The media would do well to reflect a bit more on whether their own coverage of Bush was accurate or remotely fair. But that’s not their style. They are, as Rutten would put it, “singularly unapologetic.”

It is a delightful coincidence for fans of George W. Bush that his memoirs and accompanying media onslaught should come just as Obama is in full funk mode following his midterm shellacking. What is even more amusing than the return of  the Decider to the public limelight is the reaction of the media, which have greeted the book precisely as one would expect. The press continually “misunderestimated” him, and they do so again.

A case in point is the Los Angeles Times book review, which finds Bush’s tome to be an “unexpectedly engrossing memoir.” Unexpected by those who considered him a simpleton. Like so many on the left, the Times‘s reviewer, Tim Rutten, is bothered that Bush wasn’t more bothered about waterboarding terrorists to save American lives. For liberals, the decision was reprehensible, or at the very least agonizing. For Bush, it was straightforward: waterboard KSM or risk American lives. That the press can’t understand the moral imperative for the president to act as he did tells us as much about mainstream journalists as it does about Bush.

Likewise, because their caricature of Bush so colored their perceptions, the media elites are amazed to find out how respectful Bush was of opponents:

Given the contentious political use Karl Rove and other Bush aides made of abortion, readers also may be interested in the former president’s unfailingly respectful discussion of the abortion-rights advocates with whom he disagrees. …

Actually, one of the impressions that arises repeatedly in “Decision Points” is how much civility and bi-partisan cooperation matter to Bush. “The death spiral of decency during my time in office, exacerbated by the advent of 24-hour cable news and hyper-partisan political blogs, was deeply disappointing,” he writes.

Shocking to the left, I suppose. But let’s be blunt: the Bush=Hitler derangement syndrome never embittered Bush, nor did he ever imagine it was the role of the president to be the partisan in chief.

Yes, the contrast with Obama is great. Bush wasn’t “eloquent,” we were told, yet he managed to communicate with great clarity where he stood and what he stood for. Bush was “divisive,” we were instructed, yet he was respectful and exceptionally kind to aides, foes, and average Americans. Bush was “isolated” and “stubborn,” but he turned around a losing war strategy, kept his composure after the 2006 midterms, and never blamed the voters for his political misfortunes. You would think the media would now consider whether their evaluation of Bush was wrong. But no, they prefer to be “surprised” or even confounded by a book that reveals their take on Bush to be badly out of sync with the real man.

And even worse for the liberal intelligentsia, they have to concede that Obama looks remarkably bad in comparison. Howard Kurtz writes that “it felt like we were watching The Decider vs. The Agonizer.” There is the halfhearted attempt to make agonizing a virtue, but really, is Hamlet the model we want for commander in chief?

The irony is delicious. The press objects that Bush was simple-minded and not reflective. Umm, I think it’s called “projection” when one’s critique of others amounts to a spot-on self-diagnosis. The media would do well to reflect a bit more on whether their own coverage of Bush was accurate or remotely fair. But that’s not their style. They are, as Rutten would put it, “singularly unapologetic.”

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Inflation? What Inflation?

The Gray Lady is much concerned that we do not think that gold has hit a record high under Obama:

Gold is at a record only if you fail to adjust for inflation. And you should almost always adjust for inflation. Otherwise, you end up with meaningless records — Gold reaches record high! Oil reaches record high! Lettuce reaches record high! — that depend on the fact that a dollar in 2010 does not have the same value as a dollar did in, say, 1980.

And what precisely happened in 1980? Oh yes, we had an all-time high in the misery index — a combined inflation and unemployment figure of over 21 points. So it’s probably poor form to bring up 1980 as a “worst” case since our policy choices now bear an uncanny resemblance to those that served up record stagflation. Not to fear, says the Times, because “inflation is just 1.1 percent, compared with 2.7 percent when the year began.”

Except there is this:

Strong demand for raw materials from emerging markets and a flood of money promised by the U.S. Federal Reserve are pushing commodities prices to new highs.

The broad rally has gained steam since the Fed indicated in late August it would inject money into the U.S. economy. But the gains also reflect a powerful rebound from the financial crisis in China and other fast-growing markets. These forces may send prices higher still, potentially putting pressure on poor importing nations. …

Commodity prices largely continued a march toward new multi-year records. Copper climbed 2.2% Tuesday and is just pennies from an all-time high. Gold settled at $1,409.80, a new record, and cotton is at its highest in more than 140 years (though neither is near its inflation-adjusted peak). Corn has risen 22% in less than six weeks.

Some of the rise in commodity prices is attributable to increased demand in developing nations. But the Fed is certainly a significant factor. As bond yields go down, investors scramble to buy up commodities:

Investors had a record $320 billion parked in commodities as of September, says Barclays Capital.

Treasury prices, in part, reflect the shift. The price of the 30-year Treasury bond tumbled almost 2% Tuesday, pushing its yield, which moves in the opposite direction of price, up to 4.25%, the highest since June 3.

The run-up is aided by the U.S. dollar’s sustained fall, which further boosts commodities typically priced in the greenback.

But the New York Times isn’t worried. Because, you see, it’s not actually a record high for gold. Feel better? Didn’t think so.

The Gray Lady is much concerned that we do not think that gold has hit a record high under Obama:

Gold is at a record only if you fail to adjust for inflation. And you should almost always adjust for inflation. Otherwise, you end up with meaningless records — Gold reaches record high! Oil reaches record high! Lettuce reaches record high! — that depend on the fact that a dollar in 2010 does not have the same value as a dollar did in, say, 1980.

And what precisely happened in 1980? Oh yes, we had an all-time high in the misery index — a combined inflation and unemployment figure of over 21 points. So it’s probably poor form to bring up 1980 as a “worst” case since our policy choices now bear an uncanny resemblance to those that served up record stagflation. Not to fear, says the Times, because “inflation is just 1.1 percent, compared with 2.7 percent when the year began.”

Except there is this:

Strong demand for raw materials from emerging markets and a flood of money promised by the U.S. Federal Reserve are pushing commodities prices to new highs.

The broad rally has gained steam since the Fed indicated in late August it would inject money into the U.S. economy. But the gains also reflect a powerful rebound from the financial crisis in China and other fast-growing markets. These forces may send prices higher still, potentially putting pressure on poor importing nations. …

Commodity prices largely continued a march toward new multi-year records. Copper climbed 2.2% Tuesday and is just pennies from an all-time high. Gold settled at $1,409.80, a new record, and cotton is at its highest in more than 140 years (though neither is near its inflation-adjusted peak). Corn has risen 22% in less than six weeks.

Some of the rise in commodity prices is attributable to increased demand in developing nations. But the Fed is certainly a significant factor. As bond yields go down, investors scramble to buy up commodities:

Investors had a record $320 billion parked in commodities as of September, says Barclays Capital.

Treasury prices, in part, reflect the shift. The price of the 30-year Treasury bond tumbled almost 2% Tuesday, pushing its yield, which moves in the opposite direction of price, up to 4.25%, the highest since June 3.

The run-up is aided by the U.S. dollar’s sustained fall, which further boosts commodities typically priced in the greenback.

But the New York Times isn’t worried. Because, you see, it’s not actually a record high for gold. Feel better? Didn’t think so.

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Ending Piracy: We Did It Before, We Must Do It Again

The news from the piracy front is all bad. The New York Times reports:

Last week, a band of [Somalian] pirates received what is widely believed to be a record ransom — around $10 million — for a hijacked South Korean supertanker, the Samho Dream. … Some of the bigger pirate bosses in this part of Somalia have been building mini armies from the millions they receive in ransoms, and it is widely believed that much of the money from the Samho Dream will go toward more weapons. At the same time, the Shabab, the powerful Islamist insurgent group that vows to enforce strict Islamic law across Somalia, seems to be getting more deeply involved in piracy.

This is more than a nuisance. It is a serious threat to global commerce, yet it is not getting a commensurate response. The U.S. and various other nations have sent naval vessels to patrol off the coast of Somalia but with extremely limited authority. They can only shoot at or detain pirates who are actually caught in the act of hijacking a ship — which doesn’t happen often. They are not allowed to blast suspected pirate vessels or raid pirate havens onshore. Even when pirates are actually caught, most of them are released. There had been hope that Kenya would try them, but as the Times notes, ”On Tuesday, a Kenyan court ordered the release of nine piracy suspects, saying the country could not prosecute them for crimes committed outside its territory.”

There is no secret about how to fight pirates. As I pointed out in this Foreign Affairs article, the Royal Navy and the U.S. Navy successfully eradicated piracy in the 18th and 19th centuries with a combination of measures ranging from quick executions of captured pirates to attacks on pirate safe havens. We don’t have to string up pirates from the yardarm today, but what we should do is bring them back for trial in the U.S., since piracy is the original crime of “universal jurisdiction.” Failing that, we will continue to see the problem metastasize and combine with the Islamist insurgency in Somalia to create a strategic and commercial nightmare.

The news from the piracy front is all bad. The New York Times reports:

Last week, a band of [Somalian] pirates received what is widely believed to be a record ransom — around $10 million — for a hijacked South Korean supertanker, the Samho Dream. … Some of the bigger pirate bosses in this part of Somalia have been building mini armies from the millions they receive in ransoms, and it is widely believed that much of the money from the Samho Dream will go toward more weapons. At the same time, the Shabab, the powerful Islamist insurgent group that vows to enforce strict Islamic law across Somalia, seems to be getting more deeply involved in piracy.

This is more than a nuisance. It is a serious threat to global commerce, yet it is not getting a commensurate response. The U.S. and various other nations have sent naval vessels to patrol off the coast of Somalia but with extremely limited authority. They can only shoot at or detain pirates who are actually caught in the act of hijacking a ship — which doesn’t happen often. They are not allowed to blast suspected pirate vessels or raid pirate havens onshore. Even when pirates are actually caught, most of them are released. There had been hope that Kenya would try them, but as the Times notes, ”On Tuesday, a Kenyan court ordered the release of nine piracy suspects, saying the country could not prosecute them for crimes committed outside its territory.”

There is no secret about how to fight pirates. As I pointed out in this Foreign Affairs article, the Royal Navy and the U.S. Navy successfully eradicated piracy in the 18th and 19th centuries with a combination of measures ranging from quick executions of captured pirates to attacks on pirate safe havens. We don’t have to string up pirates from the yardarm today, but what we should do is bring them back for trial in the U.S., since piracy is the original crime of “universal jurisdiction.” Failing that, we will continue to see the problem metastasize and combine with the Islamist insurgency in Somalia to create a strategic and commercial nightmare.

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NATO Death Watch

Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, in an interview with the New York Times this week, declined to name Iran as a missile threat to the NATO alliance. He spoke instead of “more than 30 countries in the world” having missile technology, with some of them able to hit targets in allied territory. This strange formulation implicates Britain, France, the United States, Russia, India, China, and Israel — if Rasmussen is talking about the countries that can already hit NATO targets with medium-range or longer missiles. (Pakistan can probably also hit Turkey with its newest Ghauri-class missile.)

But the Turkish press, writing up the Times interview, was clear on Rasmussen’s meaning. Undeceived by the politically absurd reference to “30 countries,” Today’s Zaman put it bluntly: “Rasmussen declines to name Iran as threat in missile shield plans.”

This isn’t really Rasmussen’s fault. According to the New York Times, it’s a NATO negotiating posture:

…President Obama and the Europeans are offering yet another round of talks to the Iranians, to get them to stop enriching uranium, and Turkey does not want the missile system to be seen as aimed at Tehran, so it is diplomatically impolite to mention Iran.

If we’re now at the point where it is “impolite” to mention one of the most significant threats NATO faces, we are in a stage of complacent denial for which I’m not sure there is even a name.

Turkey’s reluctance to see Iran identified as a threat should not silence the North Atlantic Council or the other allies — but it has. This is the clearest possible signal that political unity is over for the alliance: NATO can no longer handle the truth. Turkey’s objections, moreover, can’t govern our bargaining position without compromising it. Silence on the Iranian missile threat amounts to tacitly conceding Iran’s argument that its programs are not a threat. If Iran is right about that, then nothing the West is asking of Iran justifies sanctions or the use of force.

It was precisely by naming and objecting to the policies of the Soviet Union that U.S. presidents — Truman, Nixon, and Reagan in particular — obtained concessions from Moscow during the Cold War. The more explicit and obstinate we were, the more we got. We are apparently about to deal away any hope of such an effective posture with Iran. The upcoming NATO summit in Lisbon is not a business-as-usual gathering: Russia is being invited to the table for the first time, and NATO’s missile-defense strategy is to be the primary topic. The act of not declaring Iran’s missile (and nuclear) programs to be a threat to the allies will put the West, for the foreseeable future, at a permanent disadvantage in negotiations with Tehran.

The picture is growing clearer that NATO can’t retain its current alliance list and also operate from a common will to defend itself. To some extent, this shift has been building for a while, but the response favored by the Obama administration is the wrong one: letting an alliance that would fail a stress test be transformed against America’s interests. NATO, to which we have long provided most of the military spending, and now provide most of the forces and the political will, cannot be transformed in this manner without becoming an entangling alliance. That process has begun.

Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, in an interview with the New York Times this week, declined to name Iran as a missile threat to the NATO alliance. He spoke instead of “more than 30 countries in the world” having missile technology, with some of them able to hit targets in allied territory. This strange formulation implicates Britain, France, the United States, Russia, India, China, and Israel — if Rasmussen is talking about the countries that can already hit NATO targets with medium-range or longer missiles. (Pakistan can probably also hit Turkey with its newest Ghauri-class missile.)

But the Turkish press, writing up the Times interview, was clear on Rasmussen’s meaning. Undeceived by the politically absurd reference to “30 countries,” Today’s Zaman put it bluntly: “Rasmussen declines to name Iran as threat in missile shield plans.”

This isn’t really Rasmussen’s fault. According to the New York Times, it’s a NATO negotiating posture:

…President Obama and the Europeans are offering yet another round of talks to the Iranians, to get them to stop enriching uranium, and Turkey does not want the missile system to be seen as aimed at Tehran, so it is diplomatically impolite to mention Iran.

If we’re now at the point where it is “impolite” to mention one of the most significant threats NATO faces, we are in a stage of complacent denial for which I’m not sure there is even a name.

Turkey’s reluctance to see Iran identified as a threat should not silence the North Atlantic Council or the other allies — but it has. This is the clearest possible signal that political unity is over for the alliance: NATO can no longer handle the truth. Turkey’s objections, moreover, can’t govern our bargaining position without compromising it. Silence on the Iranian missile threat amounts to tacitly conceding Iran’s argument that its programs are not a threat. If Iran is right about that, then nothing the West is asking of Iran justifies sanctions or the use of force.

It was precisely by naming and objecting to the policies of the Soviet Union that U.S. presidents — Truman, Nixon, and Reagan in particular — obtained concessions from Moscow during the Cold War. The more explicit and obstinate we were, the more we got. We are apparently about to deal away any hope of such an effective posture with Iran. The upcoming NATO summit in Lisbon is not a business-as-usual gathering: Russia is being invited to the table for the first time, and NATO’s missile-defense strategy is to be the primary topic. The act of not declaring Iran’s missile (and nuclear) programs to be a threat to the allies will put the West, for the foreseeable future, at a permanent disadvantage in negotiations with Tehran.

The picture is growing clearer that NATO can’t retain its current alliance list and also operate from a common will to defend itself. To some extent, this shift has been building for a while, but the response favored by the Obama administration is the wrong one: letting an alliance that would fail a stress test be transformed against America’s interests. NATO, to which we have long provided most of the military spending, and now provide most of the forces and the political will, cannot be transformed in this manner without becoming an entangling alliance. That process has begun.

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The Latest Trend in Delegitimizing Israel

The ongoing delegitimization campaign against Israel has recently started featuring a bizarre new argument: Israel isn’t really a democracy, because its Arab citizens lack basic civil rights. Good examples include last month’s New York Times column by Ahmad Tibi and today’s Jerusalem Post column by Ray Hanania.

Tibi urged the international community to demand that “in any political agreement, Israel would be required to grant full political and civil equality to Palestinian citizens of Israel. American mediators such as George Mitchell and Dennis Ross, rather than pushing the supremacist notion of a Jewish state, should be pressing Israel to provide equal rights and fair treatment to the Palestinian minority in its midst.” The obvious conclusion is that currently, Israeli Arabs lack civil rights.

That conclusion is somewhat marred by the final line: “Ahmad Tibi, an Arab Israeli, is deputy speaker of the Israeli Parliament.” Neither Tibi nor the Times bothers explaining how a country that denies its Arab citizens “political and civil equality” has an Arab as deputy speaker of its parliament — let alone one who uses this prestigious position mainly to slander his country.

But anyone who didn’t read this tagline, or missed its implications, would come away thinking that Israeli Arabs don’t enjoy “political and civil equality.”

Then there’s Hanania, a self-proclaimed “award-winning columnist,” peace activist, and Chicago radio talk-show host.

“Criticism is a hallmark of true democracies,” he proclaims. “The more Israel tries to silence Arab critics, the more it exposes the limits of its democracy.” Specifically, “the backlash against Arabs citizens challenging Israeli policies started with Azmi Bishara, a Knesset member who was very critical.” Now Israel is persecuting the equally critical MK Haneen Zoabi: “Jewish Knesset members have called for her to be prosecuted and stripped of the immunity that Knesset members enjoy … Zoabi symbolizes a crack that continues to grow in the wall of Israel’s claim to the ‘only democracy in the Middle East.’”

In reality, the “backlash” wasn’t against these MKs’ views but their actions. Bishara was indicted for passing information to Hezbollah during the Second Lebanon War. Zoabi’s potential indictment (should Israel’s independent prosecution decide to file one) is for trying to run her own country’s blockade of an enemy with which it’s at war. In short, both allegedly tried to aid an enemy during wartime. That’s not voicing “criticism”; it’s a crime in every democracy on the planet.

Yet Hanania implies that Zoabi’s presence on May’s Turkish-sponsored flotilla to Gaza was a mere peaceful protest, while the charges against Bishara were simply trumped up, a crude attempt to silence a critical voice. And uninformed readers might well believe him. They wouldn’t know, for instance, that Bishara himself was acquitted on unrelated charges just a year earlier — meaning he preferred flight and exile to standing trial, not because “critical” Arabs stand no chance in Israeli courts, but because this time the evidence against him was solid.

It’s hard to believe a slander as demonstrably false as that Israeli Arabs lack civil rights could gain traction. But clearly, it has. Otherwise, two such eminently mainstream newspapers wouldn’t have printed it.

The ongoing delegitimization campaign against Israel has recently started featuring a bizarre new argument: Israel isn’t really a democracy, because its Arab citizens lack basic civil rights. Good examples include last month’s New York Times column by Ahmad Tibi and today’s Jerusalem Post column by Ray Hanania.

Tibi urged the international community to demand that “in any political agreement, Israel would be required to grant full political and civil equality to Palestinian citizens of Israel. American mediators such as George Mitchell and Dennis Ross, rather than pushing the supremacist notion of a Jewish state, should be pressing Israel to provide equal rights and fair treatment to the Palestinian minority in its midst.” The obvious conclusion is that currently, Israeli Arabs lack civil rights.

That conclusion is somewhat marred by the final line: “Ahmad Tibi, an Arab Israeli, is deputy speaker of the Israeli Parliament.” Neither Tibi nor the Times bothers explaining how a country that denies its Arab citizens “political and civil equality” has an Arab as deputy speaker of its parliament — let alone one who uses this prestigious position mainly to slander his country.

But anyone who didn’t read this tagline, or missed its implications, would come away thinking that Israeli Arabs don’t enjoy “political and civil equality.”

Then there’s Hanania, a self-proclaimed “award-winning columnist,” peace activist, and Chicago radio talk-show host.

“Criticism is a hallmark of true democracies,” he proclaims. “The more Israel tries to silence Arab critics, the more it exposes the limits of its democracy.” Specifically, “the backlash against Arabs citizens challenging Israeli policies started with Azmi Bishara, a Knesset member who was very critical.” Now Israel is persecuting the equally critical MK Haneen Zoabi: “Jewish Knesset members have called for her to be prosecuted and stripped of the immunity that Knesset members enjoy … Zoabi symbolizes a crack that continues to grow in the wall of Israel’s claim to the ‘only democracy in the Middle East.’”

In reality, the “backlash” wasn’t against these MKs’ views but their actions. Bishara was indicted for passing information to Hezbollah during the Second Lebanon War. Zoabi’s potential indictment (should Israel’s independent prosecution decide to file one) is for trying to run her own country’s blockade of an enemy with which it’s at war. In short, both allegedly tried to aid an enemy during wartime. That’s not voicing “criticism”; it’s a crime in every democracy on the planet.

Yet Hanania implies that Zoabi’s presence on May’s Turkish-sponsored flotilla to Gaza was a mere peaceful protest, while the charges against Bishara were simply trumped up, a crude attempt to silence a critical voice. And uninformed readers might well believe him. They wouldn’t know, for instance, that Bishara himself was acquitted on unrelated charges just a year earlier — meaning he preferred flight and exile to standing trial, not because “critical” Arabs stand no chance in Israeli courts, but because this time the evidence against him was solid.

It’s hard to believe a slander as demonstrably false as that Israeli Arabs lack civil rights could gain traction. But clearly, it has. Otherwise, two such eminently mainstream newspapers wouldn’t have printed it.

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The Obama Coalition Crack-Up

The Obama coalition is breaking up, the New York Times tells us:

Republicans have wiped out the advantage held by Democrats in recent election cycles among women, Catholics, less affluent Americans and independents; all of those groups broke for Mr. Obama in 2008 and for congressional Democrats when they grabbed both chambers from the Republicans four years ago, according to exit polls.

The poll found that a greater proportion of women would choose Republicans over Democrats in House races than at any time since exit polls began tracking the breakdown in 1982.

And for the Times poll, which a savvy Democratic pundit confided to me does indeed historically “tip Democratic,” the numbers are horrible for the Democrats. Obama’s approval is at 43 percent. And then there is the speaker: “The Democratic House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi, has clearly emerged as a political liability for her party in the latest Times/CBS poll. Overall, 43 percent of all respondents had an unfavorable opinion of Ms. Pelosi; 15 percent had a favorable opinion, and 40 percent said they had no opinion.” Yowser. No wonder she’s in so many GOP ads.

Other figures evidence the electorate’s rightward shift. Women, who have of late tilted Democratic, are now evenly split between support for Democrats and Republicans. By a margin of 55 to 36 percent, respondents favored smaller government with fewer services over bigger government with more services. Fifty-three percent think Obama does not have a clear plan for creating jobs. Respondents think Republicans are more likely than Democrats to create jobs and reduce the deficit (by a 43 to 32 percent margin).

And oh, by the way, the polling sample — 38 percent Democrat and 27 percent Republican — is more dramatically skewed toward the Democrats than just about any other poll (OK, there’s Newsweek, but not even James Carville takes that seriously).

Obama has managed to lose his own standing, take his party down with him, and convince core Democratic constituencies to vote Republican. And it took him only two years.

The Obama coalition is breaking up, the New York Times tells us:

Republicans have wiped out the advantage held by Democrats in recent election cycles among women, Catholics, less affluent Americans and independents; all of those groups broke for Mr. Obama in 2008 and for congressional Democrats when they grabbed both chambers from the Republicans four years ago, according to exit polls.

The poll found that a greater proportion of women would choose Republicans over Democrats in House races than at any time since exit polls began tracking the breakdown in 1982.

And for the Times poll, which a savvy Democratic pundit confided to me does indeed historically “tip Democratic,” the numbers are horrible for the Democrats. Obama’s approval is at 43 percent. And then there is the speaker: “The Democratic House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi, has clearly emerged as a political liability for her party in the latest Times/CBS poll. Overall, 43 percent of all respondents had an unfavorable opinion of Ms. Pelosi; 15 percent had a favorable opinion, and 40 percent said they had no opinion.” Yowser. No wonder she’s in so many GOP ads.

Other figures evidence the electorate’s rightward shift. Women, who have of late tilted Democratic, are now evenly split between support for Democrats and Republicans. By a margin of 55 to 36 percent, respondents favored smaller government with fewer services over bigger government with more services. Fifty-three percent think Obama does not have a clear plan for creating jobs. Respondents think Republicans are more likely than Democrats to create jobs and reduce the deficit (by a 43 to 32 percent margin).

And oh, by the way, the polling sample — 38 percent Democrat and 27 percent Republican — is more dramatically skewed toward the Democrats than just about any other poll (OK, there’s Newsweek, but not even James Carville takes that seriously).

Obama has managed to lose his own standing, take his party down with him, and convince core Democratic constituencies to vote Republican. And it took him only two years.

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The Times‘s Great War Correspondents

I often take issue with articles and columns in the New York Times, but it remains a great newspaper with many first-rate, fearless news-gatherers. One of them was severely wounded Saturday while accompanying U.S. troops in the Arghandab Valley near Kandahar. Photographer Joao Silva stepped on a mine while on patrol. Thankfully, he survived. Medics administered immediate assistance, and he was evacuated by helicopter. Typical of his professionalism and dedication, he continued snapping pictures even after being hit. He will undergo his long-term recovery at Walter Reed hospital in Washington. (The story is here.)

Silva is hardly the only Times journalist who has placed himself in harm’s way in search of a story. Reporter Stephen Farrell was kidnapped by the Taliban last year and freed in a raid which killed his interpreter. Farrell only had to spend four days with his captors; his colleague David Rohde spent seven months in Taliban captivity before escaping.

Their self-sacrifice has not been in vain. For all the many problems of the Times, its war reporting has been outstanding, thanks to the efforts not only of the individuals mentioned above but also many others such as Michael Gordon, Dexter Filkins, C.J. Chivers, John Burns, Alissa Rubin, and Carlotta Gall. They have been fearless truth-gatherers and have generally described the wars they have covered fairly and accurately. Certainly in Iraq, they provided a better picture of what was happening than the hopelessly rosy-eyed descriptions generated by U.S. military commanders from 2003 to 2006. In Afghanistan, I have also found their reporting generally to be on the money.

I wish Silva a speedy recovery and hope his colleagues remain safe when they are on the front lines — as they often are.

I often take issue with articles and columns in the New York Times, but it remains a great newspaper with many first-rate, fearless news-gatherers. One of them was severely wounded Saturday while accompanying U.S. troops in the Arghandab Valley near Kandahar. Photographer Joao Silva stepped on a mine while on patrol. Thankfully, he survived. Medics administered immediate assistance, and he was evacuated by helicopter. Typical of his professionalism and dedication, he continued snapping pictures even after being hit. He will undergo his long-term recovery at Walter Reed hospital in Washington. (The story is here.)

Silva is hardly the only Times journalist who has placed himself in harm’s way in search of a story. Reporter Stephen Farrell was kidnapped by the Taliban last year and freed in a raid which killed his interpreter. Farrell only had to spend four days with his captors; his colleague David Rohde spent seven months in Taliban captivity before escaping.

Their self-sacrifice has not been in vain. For all the many problems of the Times, its war reporting has been outstanding, thanks to the efforts not only of the individuals mentioned above but also many others such as Michael Gordon, Dexter Filkins, C.J. Chivers, John Burns, Alissa Rubin, and Carlotta Gall. They have been fearless truth-gatherers and have generally described the wars they have covered fairly and accurately. Certainly in Iraq, they provided a better picture of what was happening than the hopelessly rosy-eyed descriptions generated by U.S. military commanders from 2003 to 2006. In Afghanistan, I have also found their reporting generally to be on the money.

I wish Silva a speedy recovery and hope his colleagues remain safe when they are on the front lines — as they often are.

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Obama Is No FDR

Jen references Michael Gerson’s devastating Washington Post column in which he calls President Obama an intellectual snob. Equally interesting, I think, is a front-page article in today’s New York Times, with its simply astonishing opening sentence: “It took President Obama 18 months to invite the Senate Republican leader, Mitch McConnell, to the White House for a one-on-one chat.” Who was it who ran for president as a “post-partisan,” and who was going to bring a new way of doing things to Washington?

The Times notes that, “Mr. Obama came to office vowing to reach across the aisle and change the tone in Washington, a goal he quickly abandoned when Republicans stood in lockstep against his stimulus bill.” The Republicans, of course, “stood in lockstep” against the stimulus bill because they were completely frozen out of any role in shaping it. (By the way, my inner copy editor shudders at the metaphor “stood in lockstep.” “Lockstep” is a mode of marching, not standing, but…) It was needless, counterproductive, and, alas, typical behavior on Obama’s part.

As Gershon points out, Franklin Roosevelt was an aristocrat to his fingertips, complete with Mayflower ancestors, a mansion overlooking the Hudson, a large trust fund, the right schools, the right clubs, and a “Park Avenue Oxford” accent. But he “was able to convince millions of average Americans that he was firmly on their side.” Obama has convinced millions of Americans that he regards them as fools, too scared to think straight.

The constitutional scholar in the White House might want to take a look at the Constitution’s preamble and refresh his memory as to who it was who ordained and established the government he heads. They’re going to be heard a week from tomorrow, and I don’t think President Obama is going to like what they have to say.

Jen references Michael Gerson’s devastating Washington Post column in which he calls President Obama an intellectual snob. Equally interesting, I think, is a front-page article in today’s New York Times, with its simply astonishing opening sentence: “It took President Obama 18 months to invite the Senate Republican leader, Mitch McConnell, to the White House for a one-on-one chat.” Who was it who ran for president as a “post-partisan,” and who was going to bring a new way of doing things to Washington?

The Times notes that, “Mr. Obama came to office vowing to reach across the aisle and change the tone in Washington, a goal he quickly abandoned when Republicans stood in lockstep against his stimulus bill.” The Republicans, of course, “stood in lockstep” against the stimulus bill because they were completely frozen out of any role in shaping it. (By the way, my inner copy editor shudders at the metaphor “stood in lockstep.” “Lockstep” is a mode of marching, not standing, but…) It was needless, counterproductive, and, alas, typical behavior on Obama’s part.

As Gershon points out, Franklin Roosevelt was an aristocrat to his fingertips, complete with Mayflower ancestors, a mansion overlooking the Hudson, a large trust fund, the right schools, the right clubs, and a “Park Avenue Oxford” accent. But he “was able to convince millions of average Americans that he was firmly on their side.” Obama has convinced millions of Americans that he regards them as fools, too scared to think straight.

The constitutional scholar in the White House might want to take a look at the Constitution’s preamble and refresh his memory as to who it was who ordained and established the government he heads. They’re going to be heard a week from tomorrow, and I don’t think President Obama is going to like what they have to say.

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Weak Leaks

When the first batch of WikiLeaks’s prize field reports was posted in July, I was underwhelmed by the strategic import of the content. This unauthorized disclosure was nothing like the “Pentagon Papers,” which revealed a marked difference between the Johnson administration’s public protestations about our policy in Vietnam and the policy it was actually pursuing. The significance of the Pentagon Papers leak lay in what it revealed — directly and explicitly — about the American executive.

The WikiLeaks document dumps this year have done no such thing. The leaked field reports contain no direct information about policy in Washington. The first batch of reports tended mainly to confirm that the American understanding of what was going on in the field, in Iraq and Afghanistan, was pretty accurate. The second batch of reports, which was provided to selected news outlets last week, appears to be going beyond that to vindicate key claims of the Bush administration and debunk one of the principal talking points of its critics.

The New York Times, given advance access to the new batch of documents, reported on Friday that they are full of references to Iranian involvement in the Shia insurgency in Iraq. As the Times observes, the Bush administration was strongly criticized for charging Iran with this interference, but the field reports indicate that Bush’s allegations comported with what he was hearing from the field. (h/t: Legal Insurrection)

Wired’s Danger Room notes that the reports are also full of references to the discovery and identification in Iraq of chemical weapons, weapons-making laboratories, and chemical-weapons experts among Iraq’s insurgents and terrorists. (h/t: Ed Morrissey at Hot Air) Many of the facts surrounding these discoveries have been public for years, but as several bloggers have pointed out, this documentary validation isn’t propaganda: it comes from field reports that were never intended to reach or persuade the public. Ironically, for a leak made with its particular political motives, this one validates precisely the concern with which George W. Bush went into Iraq — i.e., that the WMD components acquired by terrorism sponsors could fall into the hands of terrorists.

But there’s more irony in those leaked documents. They contain civilian casualty summaries that give the lie to the wild estimates from the 2006 Lancet study of 655,000 “excess deaths” in Iraq because of the war. The casualty total reflected in the documents is 109,032 through 2009. From a humanitarian perspective, any civilian casualties are assuredly “too many.” But the disingenuousness of urging the public to indignation over a particular number is thrown into strong relief when the number is revealed to have been a ridiculous and irresponsible exaggeration. As the Melbourne Herald Sun blogger observes, the Iraqi total from the WikiLeaks documents makes the civilian fatality rate from combat there lower than the murder rate in South Africa.

Glenn Reynolds points out at Instapundit that the timing of this fresh document dump is beneficial mainly to the impending release of George W. Bush’s presidential memoir. That’s probably an unintended consequence, too.

When the first batch of WikiLeaks’s prize field reports was posted in July, I was underwhelmed by the strategic import of the content. This unauthorized disclosure was nothing like the “Pentagon Papers,” which revealed a marked difference between the Johnson administration’s public protestations about our policy in Vietnam and the policy it was actually pursuing. The significance of the Pentagon Papers leak lay in what it revealed — directly and explicitly — about the American executive.

The WikiLeaks document dumps this year have done no such thing. The leaked field reports contain no direct information about policy in Washington. The first batch of reports tended mainly to confirm that the American understanding of what was going on in the field, in Iraq and Afghanistan, was pretty accurate. The second batch of reports, which was provided to selected news outlets last week, appears to be going beyond that to vindicate key claims of the Bush administration and debunk one of the principal talking points of its critics.

The New York Times, given advance access to the new batch of documents, reported on Friday that they are full of references to Iranian involvement in the Shia insurgency in Iraq. As the Times observes, the Bush administration was strongly criticized for charging Iran with this interference, but the field reports indicate that Bush’s allegations comported with what he was hearing from the field. (h/t: Legal Insurrection)

Wired’s Danger Room notes that the reports are also full of references to the discovery and identification in Iraq of chemical weapons, weapons-making laboratories, and chemical-weapons experts among Iraq’s insurgents and terrorists. (h/t: Ed Morrissey at Hot Air) Many of the facts surrounding these discoveries have been public for years, but as several bloggers have pointed out, this documentary validation isn’t propaganda: it comes from field reports that were never intended to reach or persuade the public. Ironically, for a leak made with its particular political motives, this one validates precisely the concern with which George W. Bush went into Iraq — i.e., that the WMD components acquired by terrorism sponsors could fall into the hands of terrorists.

But there’s more irony in those leaked documents. They contain civilian casualty summaries that give the lie to the wild estimates from the 2006 Lancet study of 655,000 “excess deaths” in Iraq because of the war. The casualty total reflected in the documents is 109,032 through 2009. From a humanitarian perspective, any civilian casualties are assuredly “too many.” But the disingenuousness of urging the public to indignation over a particular number is thrown into strong relief when the number is revealed to have been a ridiculous and irresponsible exaggeration. As the Melbourne Herald Sun blogger observes, the Iraqi total from the WikiLeaks documents makes the civilian fatality rate from combat there lower than the murder rate in South Africa.

Glenn Reynolds points out at Instapundit that the timing of this fresh document dump is beneficial mainly to the impending release of George W. Bush’s presidential memoir. That’s probably an unintended consequence, too.

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The New York Times Hearts WikiLeaks, Again

Once again the New York Times and other mainstream-media organs are lending their credibility and circulation — what they have left of it, anyway — to the massively irresponsible publication of secret U.S. military documents by an organization run by Julian Assange — an accused rapist, convicted hacker, and (by the Times‘s own account) all-around creep.

As with the previous data dump relating to the Afghan War, the documents about the Iraq War don’t tell us much that we didn’t already know in broad outline. While they may well compromise “sources and methods,” to use the intelligence terminology, they are hardly a revelation to anyone who has been paying attention.

Today’s headlines, for example, are about the deaths of Iraqi civilians caused mainly by other Iraqis but also, in some instances, by U.S. forces. Civilians dying in war: hardly a shocker. One of the few things that made me raise an eyebrow while reading the voluminous accounts this morning was this off-hand observation offered by Times reporters Sabrina Tavernise and Andrew Lehren in their first-page story:

The documents also reveal many previously unreported instances in which American soldiers killed civilians — at checkpoints, from helicopters, in operations. Such killings are a central reason Iraqis turned against the American presence in their country, a situation that is now being repeated in Afghanistan.

How many bogus premises can you pack into a sentence? Start with the claim that killings of civilians were “a central reason Iraqis turned against the American presence in their country.” What evidence do Tavernise and Lehren have for this assertion, I wonder? My analysis, as someone who has been traveling to Iraq since 2003 and has followed the war closely, is that Iraqis turned against the American presence — to the extent that they did — primarily because U.S. troops did not do a better job of imposing law and order. The mainly accidental deaths caused by U.S. forces were, at most, a small contributing factor both to the tide of violence enveloping Iraq and to the disenchantment of the Iraqi people with the state of their country after Saddam Hussein’s downfall. The overwhelming majority of civilian deaths were caused by Sunni and Shiite terrorists, as most Iraqis know perfectly well. The U.S. failure to check their excesses led to a souring of Iraqi opinion regarding the American troop presence but as soon as the U.S. reestablished order during the 2007-2008 “surge,” confidence in the U.S. military has soared. Ordinary Iraqis now trust U.S. forces more than their own — and for good reason, given some of the gruesome behavior attributed to Iraqi forces in the leaked documents.

Now we come to the second part of that sentence: the claim that this situation (which, as I pointed out, didn’t actually exist in Iraq) “is now being repeated in Afghanistan.” Have Tavernise and Lehren missed entirely the past year and a half of reporting out of Afghanistan by their own newspaper and many others? If they had been paying attention, they would know that Gen. Stanley McChrystal put a high priority on limiting civilian casualties caused by U.S. forces — even at the cost of sometimes exposing U.S. troops to greater risk. He succeeded in reducing civilian deaths precisely in order to not alienate the population. His directives on the careful use of force have largely been continued by Gen. Petraeus, who has been able to ramp up kinetic operations without causing a big spike in civilian casualties.

It’s rather ironic that in chronicling documents that are supposed to expand our knowledge about the Iraq War, Tavernise and Lehren actually detract from any public understanding of this vital subject.

Once again the New York Times and other mainstream-media organs are lending their credibility and circulation — what they have left of it, anyway — to the massively irresponsible publication of secret U.S. military documents by an organization run by Julian Assange — an accused rapist, convicted hacker, and (by the Times‘s own account) all-around creep.

As with the previous data dump relating to the Afghan War, the documents about the Iraq War don’t tell us much that we didn’t already know in broad outline. While they may well compromise “sources and methods,” to use the intelligence terminology, they are hardly a revelation to anyone who has been paying attention.

Today’s headlines, for example, are about the deaths of Iraqi civilians caused mainly by other Iraqis but also, in some instances, by U.S. forces. Civilians dying in war: hardly a shocker. One of the few things that made me raise an eyebrow while reading the voluminous accounts this morning was this off-hand observation offered by Times reporters Sabrina Tavernise and Andrew Lehren in their first-page story:

The documents also reveal many previously unreported instances in which American soldiers killed civilians — at checkpoints, from helicopters, in operations. Such killings are a central reason Iraqis turned against the American presence in their country, a situation that is now being repeated in Afghanistan.

How many bogus premises can you pack into a sentence? Start with the claim that killings of civilians were “a central reason Iraqis turned against the American presence in their country.” What evidence do Tavernise and Lehren have for this assertion, I wonder? My analysis, as someone who has been traveling to Iraq since 2003 and has followed the war closely, is that Iraqis turned against the American presence — to the extent that they did — primarily because U.S. troops did not do a better job of imposing law and order. The mainly accidental deaths caused by U.S. forces were, at most, a small contributing factor both to the tide of violence enveloping Iraq and to the disenchantment of the Iraqi people with the state of their country after Saddam Hussein’s downfall. The overwhelming majority of civilian deaths were caused by Sunni and Shiite terrorists, as most Iraqis know perfectly well. The U.S. failure to check their excesses led to a souring of Iraqi opinion regarding the American troop presence but as soon as the U.S. reestablished order during the 2007-2008 “surge,” confidence in the U.S. military has soared. Ordinary Iraqis now trust U.S. forces more than their own — and for good reason, given some of the gruesome behavior attributed to Iraqi forces in the leaked documents.

Now we come to the second part of that sentence: the claim that this situation (which, as I pointed out, didn’t actually exist in Iraq) “is now being repeated in Afghanistan.” Have Tavernise and Lehren missed entirely the past year and a half of reporting out of Afghanistan by their own newspaper and many others? If they had been paying attention, they would know that Gen. Stanley McChrystal put a high priority on limiting civilian casualties caused by U.S. forces — even at the cost of sometimes exposing U.S. troops to greater risk. He succeeded in reducing civilian deaths precisely in order to not alienate the population. His directives on the careful use of force have largely been continued by Gen. Petraeus, who has been able to ramp up kinetic operations without causing a big spike in civilian casualties.

It’s rather ironic that in chronicling documents that are supposed to expand our knowledge about the Iraq War, Tavernise and Lehren actually detract from any public understanding of this vital subject.

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NPR: Shut Up and Get Out, Juan

Juan Williams was canned by NPR for uttering inconvenient truths:

Juan was appearing on Bill O’Reilly’s show Monday night, when O’Reilly asserted, “The cold truth is that in the world today jihad, aided and abetted by some Muslim nations, is the biggest threat on the planet.” Juan didn’t disagree with this claim. …

Juan cited the words of the Times Square bomber: “He said the war with Muslims, America’s war is just beginning, first drop of blood. I don’t think there’s any way to get away from these facts.” …

Juan also commented, “I mean, look, Bill, I’m not a bigot. You know the kind of books I’ve written about the civil rights movement in this country. But when I get on the plane, I’ve got to tell you, if I see people who are in Muslim garb and I think, you know, they are identifying themselves first and foremost as Muslims, I get worried. I get nervous.”

This is a travesty, and yet another reason to defund NPR. His comments were honest, accurate, and shared by millions of Americans. But NPR is having none of it. Aside from the impact on Juan Williams (who will now be a rock star on the right, with no shortage of fine outlets at which to work), the episode is noteworthy for two reasons.

First, it eliminates any pretense that NPR is providing some public service. We already have left-leaning news outlets giving voice to the liberals’ party line. There is no reason for the taxpayers to support NPR, especially when it does not abide by reasonable journalistic standards. And frankly, with George Soros now funding the operation, NPR can fend for itself and take whatever leftist editorial line it wishes, which obviously is in tune with its donor’s views.

Second, this is — writ large — the result of the mentality that sees Islamophobia running rampant and regards criticism of Islamic individuals, countries, and organizations as akin to racism. NPR’s actions signify a message to the rest of its staff — and to others in the mainstream media — that certain views won’t be tolerated and the result will be ostracism.

You don’t have to agree with Juan Williams’s opinions to understand how noxious NPR’s actions are. Let’s see if liberals join with conservatives in expressing outrage. It might dispel the notion that the left is not interested in vigorous debate or intellectual freedom.

Juan Williams was canned by NPR for uttering inconvenient truths:

Juan was appearing on Bill O’Reilly’s show Monday night, when O’Reilly asserted, “The cold truth is that in the world today jihad, aided and abetted by some Muslim nations, is the biggest threat on the planet.” Juan didn’t disagree with this claim. …

Juan cited the words of the Times Square bomber: “He said the war with Muslims, America’s war is just beginning, first drop of blood. I don’t think there’s any way to get away from these facts.” …

Juan also commented, “I mean, look, Bill, I’m not a bigot. You know the kind of books I’ve written about the civil rights movement in this country. But when I get on the plane, I’ve got to tell you, if I see people who are in Muslim garb and I think, you know, they are identifying themselves first and foremost as Muslims, I get worried. I get nervous.”

This is a travesty, and yet another reason to defund NPR. His comments were honest, accurate, and shared by millions of Americans. But NPR is having none of it. Aside from the impact on Juan Williams (who will now be a rock star on the right, with no shortage of fine outlets at which to work), the episode is noteworthy for two reasons.

First, it eliminates any pretense that NPR is providing some public service. We already have left-leaning news outlets giving voice to the liberals’ party line. There is no reason for the taxpayers to support NPR, especially when it does not abide by reasonable journalistic standards. And frankly, with George Soros now funding the operation, NPR can fend for itself and take whatever leftist editorial line it wishes, which obviously is in tune with its donor’s views.

Second, this is — writ large — the result of the mentality that sees Islamophobia running rampant and regards criticism of Islamic individuals, countries, and organizations as akin to racism. NPR’s actions signify a message to the rest of its staff — and to others in the mainstream media — that certain views won’t be tolerated and the result will be ostracism.

You don’t have to agree with Juan Williams’s opinions to understand how noxious NPR’s actions are. Let’s see if liberals join with conservatives in expressing outrage. It might dispel the notion that the left is not interested in vigorous debate or intellectual freedom.

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Tea Leaves and the Taliban

In the New York Times report that NATO has escorted Taliban leaders to talks in Kabul, there is a slight but eye-catching overemphasis on the importance of withholding the names of the Taliban. The Times cites a request from U.S. and Afghan officials that the names be withheld for fear of retaliation against the Taliban delegates by Pakistani intelligence or other Taliban. But a moment’s reflection informs us that the Taliban leaders’ associates know exactly who they are — and there are plenty of cell phones in Afghanistan and Pakistan. It cannot be a secret for long who went to Kabul.

Strictly necessary or not, the security warning to the Times appears oddly pointed, fingering the Pakistani intelligence agency with an uncharacteristic lack of dissimulation about Pakistan’s quality as an antiterrorism ally. It is attributed to an Afghan official, but it comes across as representative of general concerns held also by the U.S. There seems to have been no attempt by Obama’s officials to leave a different impression. Intentionally or by default, the security warning serves as the rhetorical cutting of a tether: the end of a politically unifying narrative about the Afghan conflict and the beginning of something else. What that something else will be is not clear, but the central role of the Taliban in this strategic hinge point is informative.

The Times and others have picked up on the fact that the “discussions [in Kabul] appear to be unfolding without the approval of Pakistan’s leaders … The Afghan government seems to be trying to seek a reconciliation agreement that does not directly involve Pakistan.” If the U.S. is backing this play — and our concern about secrecy for the Taliban negotiators suggests we are – that’s a major development in our policy. Revealing such developments obliquely through oracles and signs is becoming a tiresome pattern with the Obama administration. It certainly doesn’t burnish our image of integrity as a global power. And as the Times points out, with masterly understatement, this particular policy shift “could backfire by provoking the Pakistanis.”

I agree with Max Boot that the military situation in Afghanistan is not such as to force the Taliban to negotiate. But the apparent import of the outreach to the Taliban is divorced from that consideration. This looks like evidence of an emerging policy initiative to exclude Pakistani influence from the reconciliation talks, independent of security conditions in Afghanistan.

If that is a misperception, it’s an awfully big and significant one to leave uncorrected. The U.S. headlines have been full of Pakistani perfidy for weeks now; my impression from the Obama administration’s effective silence has been that it has no interest in counteracting the animus that naturally arises in the American public in the face of such themes. In a rare editorial last week, Ryan Crocker, former ambassador to Pakistan and Iraq, was moved to defend the difficult situation of the Pakistani government, urging the U.S. administration not to turn its back on partnership with the struggling democracy. He appears to be swimming against the tide of headlines and administration policy.

Something that requires no divination to understand is the goal of the Taliban. Long War Journal’s Threat Matrix blog reports that the Taliban website, Voice of Jihad, has posted a demand that the U.S. guarantee in writing to withdraw its troops on a specified timeline (i.e., July 2011), as a good-faith gesture toward reconciliation talks. It’s hard to ignore the uncanny similarity of this demand to Hezbollah’s demand for the same guarantee from a prospective Maliki government in Iraq. Maliki’s Hezbollah-backed coalition with the radical Shia cleric al-Sadr is emerging as a fait accompli in Baghdad, in spite of U.S. opposition; the Taliban cannot be pessimistic about their own chances with reconciliation talks and a withdrawal timeline.

In the New York Times report that NATO has escorted Taliban leaders to talks in Kabul, there is a slight but eye-catching overemphasis on the importance of withholding the names of the Taliban. The Times cites a request from U.S. and Afghan officials that the names be withheld for fear of retaliation against the Taliban delegates by Pakistani intelligence or other Taliban. But a moment’s reflection informs us that the Taliban leaders’ associates know exactly who they are — and there are plenty of cell phones in Afghanistan and Pakistan. It cannot be a secret for long who went to Kabul.

Strictly necessary or not, the security warning to the Times appears oddly pointed, fingering the Pakistani intelligence agency with an uncharacteristic lack of dissimulation about Pakistan’s quality as an antiterrorism ally. It is attributed to an Afghan official, but it comes across as representative of general concerns held also by the U.S. There seems to have been no attempt by Obama’s officials to leave a different impression. Intentionally or by default, the security warning serves as the rhetorical cutting of a tether: the end of a politically unifying narrative about the Afghan conflict and the beginning of something else. What that something else will be is not clear, but the central role of the Taliban in this strategic hinge point is informative.

The Times and others have picked up on the fact that the “discussions [in Kabul] appear to be unfolding without the approval of Pakistan’s leaders … The Afghan government seems to be trying to seek a reconciliation agreement that does not directly involve Pakistan.” If the U.S. is backing this play — and our concern about secrecy for the Taliban negotiators suggests we are – that’s a major development in our policy. Revealing such developments obliquely through oracles and signs is becoming a tiresome pattern with the Obama administration. It certainly doesn’t burnish our image of integrity as a global power. And as the Times points out, with masterly understatement, this particular policy shift “could backfire by provoking the Pakistanis.”

I agree with Max Boot that the military situation in Afghanistan is not such as to force the Taliban to negotiate. But the apparent import of the outreach to the Taliban is divorced from that consideration. This looks like evidence of an emerging policy initiative to exclude Pakistani influence from the reconciliation talks, independent of security conditions in Afghanistan.

If that is a misperception, it’s an awfully big and significant one to leave uncorrected. The U.S. headlines have been full of Pakistani perfidy for weeks now; my impression from the Obama administration’s effective silence has been that it has no interest in counteracting the animus that naturally arises in the American public in the face of such themes. In a rare editorial last week, Ryan Crocker, former ambassador to Pakistan and Iraq, was moved to defend the difficult situation of the Pakistani government, urging the U.S. administration not to turn its back on partnership with the struggling democracy. He appears to be swimming against the tide of headlines and administration policy.

Something that requires no divination to understand is the goal of the Taliban. Long War Journal’s Threat Matrix blog reports that the Taliban website, Voice of Jihad, has posted a demand that the U.S. guarantee in writing to withdraw its troops on a specified timeline (i.e., July 2011), as a good-faith gesture toward reconciliation talks. It’s hard to ignore the uncanny similarity of this demand to Hezbollah’s demand for the same guarantee from a prospective Maliki government in Iraq. Maliki’s Hezbollah-backed coalition with the radical Shia cleric al-Sadr is emerging as a fait accompli in Baghdad, in spite of U.S. opposition; the Taliban cannot be pessimistic about their own chances with reconciliation talks and a withdrawal timeline.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Without Obama, the GOP could never have gotten this far, this fast: “Two weeks before Election Day, Democrats fear their grip on the House may be gone, and Republicans are poised to celebrate big gains in the Senate and governors’ mansions as well. Analysts in both parties say all major indicators tilt toward the Republicans. President Barack Obama‘s policies are widely unpopular. Congress, run by the Democrats, rates even lower. Fear and anger over unemployment and deep deficits are energizing conservative voters; liberals are demoralized.”

The White House’s assault on the Chamber of Commerce is without evidence and without shame: “Democratic leaders in the House and Senate criticizing GOP groups for allegedly funneling foreign money into campaign ads have seen their party raise more than $1 million from political action committees affiliated with foreign companies.”

The White House truly is without friends. A New York Times reporter debunks the White House’s claim that it is all a communication problem; she says it’s really a policy problem. Yeah, the Times.

Without social and economic conservatives, it’s hard to win the GOP presidential nomination: “Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels has now managed to alienate prominent social and fiscal conservatives. The potential presidential candidate’s already rocky path to the Republican nomination became more treacherous this weekend after the country’s most powerful anti-tax activist and one of the House’s most respected fiscal conservatives disparaged Daniels’ openness to considering a controversial value added tax as part of a larger tax system overhaul.”

Without a doubt, Daniels would have been wise to consult with Gary Bauer before setting out on his pre-campaign tours: “I would say to Governor Mitch Daniels you know, it’s — it’s not our side that has declared war on social issues. I would love to be able to call a truce on it. The reason the social issues are in such play so many years is that others have declared war. There’s a major movement going on in this country to change the definition of marriage. Now, if — if Mitch Daniels thinks he can call a truce on that, that would be great, but as long as people are pushing to change the definition of marriage, there are going to be millions of Americans that say no; we want marriage to stay between one man and one woman.”

Without peer as the least-credible White House press secretary in recent memory: “Though Republicans across the country are hammering Democratic opponents by linking them to President Obama’s policies, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs asserted Sunday that 2010 is a ‘local’ election.”

Without independents and strong support from their base, the Dems are heading for a wipeout: “Nearly two years after putting Obama in the White House, one-quarter of those who voted for the Democrat are defecting to the GOP or considering voting against the party in power this fall. Just half of them say they definitely will show up Nov. 2, according to an Associated Press-Knowledge Networks poll released two weeks before Obama’s first midterm elections.”

Without any self-awareness, Valerie Jarrett is still in messiah-mode: “‘He doesn’t have the shtick, you know, the way a lot of politicians do. He’s completely sincere and true and I think people are not used to seeing that in their politicians. So it’s taking people a while to realize that he’s actually a real person and he’s not just trying to pretend and fool them and trick them into thinking he’s something else.’ … Jarrett also blamed some of the president’s perceived problems on ‘the fact that there’s a kind of toxicity in the language.’ She said the president ‘always keeps an even tone and … he always looks for the better angels in people.’”

Without Obama, the GOP could never have gotten this far, this fast: “Two weeks before Election Day, Democrats fear their grip on the House may be gone, and Republicans are poised to celebrate big gains in the Senate and governors’ mansions as well. Analysts in both parties say all major indicators tilt toward the Republicans. President Barack Obama‘s policies are widely unpopular. Congress, run by the Democrats, rates even lower. Fear and anger over unemployment and deep deficits are energizing conservative voters; liberals are demoralized.”

The White House’s assault on the Chamber of Commerce is without evidence and without shame: “Democratic leaders in the House and Senate criticizing GOP groups for allegedly funneling foreign money into campaign ads have seen their party raise more than $1 million from political action committees affiliated with foreign companies.”

The White House truly is without friends. A New York Times reporter debunks the White House’s claim that it is all a communication problem; she says it’s really a policy problem. Yeah, the Times.

Without social and economic conservatives, it’s hard to win the GOP presidential nomination: “Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels has now managed to alienate prominent social and fiscal conservatives. The potential presidential candidate’s already rocky path to the Republican nomination became more treacherous this weekend after the country’s most powerful anti-tax activist and one of the House’s most respected fiscal conservatives disparaged Daniels’ openness to considering a controversial value added tax as part of a larger tax system overhaul.”

Without a doubt, Daniels would have been wise to consult with Gary Bauer before setting out on his pre-campaign tours: “I would say to Governor Mitch Daniels you know, it’s — it’s not our side that has declared war on social issues. I would love to be able to call a truce on it. The reason the social issues are in such play so many years is that others have declared war. There’s a major movement going on in this country to change the definition of marriage. Now, if — if Mitch Daniels thinks he can call a truce on that, that would be great, but as long as people are pushing to change the definition of marriage, there are going to be millions of Americans that say no; we want marriage to stay between one man and one woman.”

Without peer as the least-credible White House press secretary in recent memory: “Though Republicans across the country are hammering Democratic opponents by linking them to President Obama’s policies, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs asserted Sunday that 2010 is a ‘local’ election.”

Without independents and strong support from their base, the Dems are heading for a wipeout: “Nearly two years after putting Obama in the White House, one-quarter of those who voted for the Democrat are defecting to the GOP or considering voting against the party in power this fall. Just half of them say they definitely will show up Nov. 2, according to an Associated Press-Knowledge Networks poll released two weeks before Obama’s first midterm elections.”

Without any self-awareness, Valerie Jarrett is still in messiah-mode: “‘He doesn’t have the shtick, you know, the way a lot of politicians do. He’s completely sincere and true and I think people are not used to seeing that in their politicians. So it’s taking people a while to realize that he’s actually a real person and he’s not just trying to pretend and fool them and trick them into thinking he’s something else.’ … Jarrett also blamed some of the president’s perceived problems on ‘the fact that there’s a kind of toxicity in the language.’ She said the president ‘always keeps an even tone and … he always looks for the better angels in people.’”

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Surprise: The Tea Party Is Important!

From ridiculed and ignored to influential. The Tea Party has made it above-the-fold in the New York Times, which accords grudging respect to those it once decried as racists and extremists:

Enough Tea Party-supported candidates are running strongly in competitive and Republican-leaning Congressional races that the movement stands a good chance of establishing a sizeable caucus to push its agenda in the House and the Senate, according to a New York Times analysis.

With a little more than two weeks till Election Day, 33 Tea Party-backed candidates are in tossup races or running in House districts that are solidly or leaning Republican, and 8 stand a good or better chance of winning Senate seats.

While the numbers are relatively small, they could exert outsize influence, putting pressure on Republican leaders to carry out promises to significantly cut spending and taxes, to repeal health care legislation and financial regulations passed this year, and to phase out Social Security and Medicare in favor of personal savings accounts.

And the Tea Party candidates have performed “better than expected” — umm, better than the Gray Lady expected — the report tells us. Yes, there is Christine O’Donnell, but the Times has figured out that there are many more viable Tea Party–backed candidates (e.g., Ron Johnson and Ken Buck). And it must have slipped the reporter’s mind, but that Marco Rubio looks pretty good, too.

This is yet another instance — the surge in Iraq was one of the more egregious examples — in which the media ignored or derided a conservative effort and then discovered that, by gosh (who could have expected it?), it’s pretty darn successful! If the media weren’t so busy telling liberals what they wanted to hear and ignoring conservative politics, they’d be surprised less.

From ridiculed and ignored to influential. The Tea Party has made it above-the-fold in the New York Times, which accords grudging respect to those it once decried as racists and extremists:

Enough Tea Party-supported candidates are running strongly in competitive and Republican-leaning Congressional races that the movement stands a good chance of establishing a sizeable caucus to push its agenda in the House and the Senate, according to a New York Times analysis.

With a little more than two weeks till Election Day, 33 Tea Party-backed candidates are in tossup races or running in House districts that are solidly or leaning Republican, and 8 stand a good or better chance of winning Senate seats.

While the numbers are relatively small, they could exert outsize influence, putting pressure on Republican leaders to carry out promises to significantly cut spending and taxes, to repeal health care legislation and financial regulations passed this year, and to phase out Social Security and Medicare in favor of personal savings accounts.

And the Tea Party candidates have performed “better than expected” — umm, better than the Gray Lady expected — the report tells us. Yes, there is Christine O’Donnell, but the Times has figured out that there are many more viable Tea Party–backed candidates (e.g., Ron Johnson and Ken Buck). And it must have slipped the reporter’s mind, but that Marco Rubio looks pretty good, too.

This is yet another instance — the surge in Iraq was one of the more egregious examples — in which the media ignored or derided a conservative effort and then discovered that, by gosh (who could have expected it?), it’s pretty darn successful! If the media weren’t so busy telling liberals what they wanted to hear and ignoring conservative politics, they’d be surprised less.

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Americans’ Own Experiences vs. Obama’s Rhetoric

The Obama recovery bears an uncanny resemblance to a recession. That’s the New York Times‘s take:

Less than a month before November elections, the United States is mired in a grim New Normal that could last for years. . . Call it recession or recovery, for tens of millions of Americans, there’s little difference.

Born of a record financial collapse, this recession has been more severe than any since the Great Depression and has left an enormous oversupply of houses and office buildings and crippling debt. The decision last week by leading mortgage lenders to freeze foreclosures, and calls for a national moratorium, could cast a long shadow of uncertainty over banks and the housing market. Put simply, the national economy has fallen so far that it could take years to climb back.

Or put differently, Obama’s economic policies have been entirely ineffective in addressing historically high unemployment and underemployment. The Times notes:

At the current rate of job creation, the nation would need nine more years to recapture the jobs lost during the recession. And that doesn’t even account for five million or six million jobs needed in that time to keep pace with an expanding population. Even top Obama officials concede the unemployment rate could climb higher still.

But Obama insists on a massive tax increase on the “rich” and a bevy of new regulations and mandates on employers. Certainly, nine more years of Obama-like policies aren’t going to bring unemployment down. As the Times examines the dreary economic conditions across the country, one is struck by the disconnect between the White House’s rhetoric and the economic predicament faced by Americans, as well as the equally vast disconnect between the administration’s anti-growth, anti-business policies and the economic challenges these people are facing.

In this economic climate, Obama’s hyper-partisan, desperate rhetoric seems particularly jarring. He’s talking about phony foreign donors to the Chamber of Commerce; in suburban Arizona, “subdivisions sit in the desert, some half-built and some dreamy wisps, like the emerald green putting green sitting amid acres of scrub and cacti. Signs offer discounts, distress sales and rent with the first and second month free. Discounts do not help if your income is cut in half.” Obama rails at Wall Street; in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, meanwhile, “home prices have fallen by 16 percent since 2006, and houses now take twice as long to sell as they did five years ago. That’s enough to inflict pain on homeowners who need to sell because of a job loss or drop in income. Some are being forced to get rid of their houses in short sales, asking less than they owe on a mortgage. As of last week, 10 percent of all listings in this well-tended suburb were being offered as short sales.” Obama is obsessed with George Bush and Citizens United; in Atlanta, “small banks are a particular disaster, 43 having gone under in Georgia since 2008. (Federal regulators closed 129 nationally this year, up from 25 last year.) Real estate was the beginning, the middle and the end of the troubles.”

No wonder Obama’s ratings are diving. He is talking about things that bear no relation to voters’ concerns. He insists his policies have worked, but voters’ own experiences tell them otherwise. Obama’s rhetoric against a growing list of political adversaries only reinforces the impression that he is focused on the wrong things. The analogy is not Jimmy Carter. It is Herbert Hoover by way of Richard Nixon.

The Obama recovery bears an uncanny resemblance to a recession. That’s the New York Times‘s take:

Less than a month before November elections, the United States is mired in a grim New Normal that could last for years. . . Call it recession or recovery, for tens of millions of Americans, there’s little difference.

Born of a record financial collapse, this recession has been more severe than any since the Great Depression and has left an enormous oversupply of houses and office buildings and crippling debt. The decision last week by leading mortgage lenders to freeze foreclosures, and calls for a national moratorium, could cast a long shadow of uncertainty over banks and the housing market. Put simply, the national economy has fallen so far that it could take years to climb back.

Or put differently, Obama’s economic policies have been entirely ineffective in addressing historically high unemployment and underemployment. The Times notes:

At the current rate of job creation, the nation would need nine more years to recapture the jobs lost during the recession. And that doesn’t even account for five million or six million jobs needed in that time to keep pace with an expanding population. Even top Obama officials concede the unemployment rate could climb higher still.

But Obama insists on a massive tax increase on the “rich” and a bevy of new regulations and mandates on employers. Certainly, nine more years of Obama-like policies aren’t going to bring unemployment down. As the Times examines the dreary economic conditions across the country, one is struck by the disconnect between the White House’s rhetoric and the economic predicament faced by Americans, as well as the equally vast disconnect between the administration’s anti-growth, anti-business policies and the economic challenges these people are facing.

In this economic climate, Obama’s hyper-partisan, desperate rhetoric seems particularly jarring. He’s talking about phony foreign donors to the Chamber of Commerce; in suburban Arizona, “subdivisions sit in the desert, some half-built and some dreamy wisps, like the emerald green putting green sitting amid acres of scrub and cacti. Signs offer discounts, distress sales and rent with the first and second month free. Discounts do not help if your income is cut in half.” Obama rails at Wall Street; in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, meanwhile, “home prices have fallen by 16 percent since 2006, and houses now take twice as long to sell as they did five years ago. That’s enough to inflict pain on homeowners who need to sell because of a job loss or drop in income. Some are being forced to get rid of their houses in short sales, asking less than they owe on a mortgage. As of last week, 10 percent of all listings in this well-tended suburb were being offered as short sales.” Obama is obsessed with George Bush and Citizens United; in Atlanta, “small banks are a particular disaster, 43 having gone under in Georgia since 2008. (Federal regulators closed 129 nationally this year, up from 25 last year.) Real estate was the beginning, the middle and the end of the troubles.”

No wonder Obama’s ratings are diving. He is talking about things that bear no relation to voters’ concerns. He insists his policies have worked, but voters’ own experiences tell them otherwise. Obama’s rhetoric against a growing list of political adversaries only reinforces the impression that he is focused on the wrong things. The analogy is not Jimmy Carter. It is Herbert Hoover by way of Richard Nixon.

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What the India-Pakistan Conflict Should Teach the West About the Middle East

A New York Times analysis yesterday discussed how the 63-year-old India-Pakistan conflict is undermining a vital American interest, one to which Washington has committed almost 100,000 soldiers: stabilizing Afghanistan so that it won’t revert to being a base for anti-American attacks. Pakistan’s fear of India, the report explained, spurs Islamabad to support the Taliban — the very people America is fighting in Afghanistan — as a bulwark against Indian influence in Kabul.

In short, resolving the India-Pakistan conflict could be vital to achieving America’s aims in Afghanistan. So why is Washington making no effort whatsoever to do so? Because, the Times explained, the conflict is not currently resolvable:

“It’s unfixable,” said C. Christine Fair, assistant professor at the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University. “That’s why we’ll be working on this for the next 50 years. …

“If there was an easy way out of this, someone would have figured it out,” Professor Fair said. “But I don’t think it’s possible to untie this Gordian knot.”

It’s not that outside experts haven’t proposed various solutions, from formally dividing the disputed province of Kashmir (which is already divided de facto) to letting Kashmiris decide their own fate via a referendum. It’s just that none of the proposed solutions has ever proved acceptable to the parties that actually have to sign the deal: India and Pakistan.

The parallels to another conflict of almost identical duration, the Israeli-Arab one, are obvious. Here, too, outside experts have proposed various solutions, but none has yet proved acceptable to the parties that must actually sign the deals: Israel, the Palestinians, and Syria. That’s why, despite years of intensive negotiations and massive international involvement — both far exceeding anything ever tried with India-Pakistan — no agreement has yet been signed.

But there’s one huge difference between the two conflicts. In India-Pakistan, the West has recognized its inability to effect a solution and is therefore not wasting any time, money, or prestige on fruitless efforts. In the Israeli-Arab conflict, the delusion persists that it’s easily resolvable; indeed, “everyone knows the solution.” That this “solution” has repeatedly proved unacceptable to the parties themselves is somehow dismissed as unimportant. Therefore, massive amounts of Western time, money, and prestige continue to be spent on it to no avail.

Ironically, the one party spending almost no time, money, or prestige on this conflict is the Arab world — that same Arab world that, according to Western pundits, deems the Israeli-Palestinian conflict its No. 1 priority. That’s because Arab countries, unlike the West, are willing to acknowledge the facts: that the conflict is currently unsolvable, and that despite all the rhetoric about its importance, it actually matters little to the real regional problems.

Thus far, the peace-process fixation has caused nothing but harm: thousands of Israeli and Palestinian casualties, and for Palestinians, an economic tailspin from which they have yet to fully recover. But the price has also been paid by millions of other people worldwide — all those to whom the time, money, and prestige the West has squandered on this conflict might actually make a difference.

A New York Times analysis yesterday discussed how the 63-year-old India-Pakistan conflict is undermining a vital American interest, one to which Washington has committed almost 100,000 soldiers: stabilizing Afghanistan so that it won’t revert to being a base for anti-American attacks. Pakistan’s fear of India, the report explained, spurs Islamabad to support the Taliban — the very people America is fighting in Afghanistan — as a bulwark against Indian influence in Kabul.

In short, resolving the India-Pakistan conflict could be vital to achieving America’s aims in Afghanistan. So why is Washington making no effort whatsoever to do so? Because, the Times explained, the conflict is not currently resolvable:

“It’s unfixable,” said C. Christine Fair, assistant professor at the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University. “That’s why we’ll be working on this for the next 50 years. …

“If there was an easy way out of this, someone would have figured it out,” Professor Fair said. “But I don’t think it’s possible to untie this Gordian knot.”

It’s not that outside experts haven’t proposed various solutions, from formally dividing the disputed province of Kashmir (which is already divided de facto) to letting Kashmiris decide their own fate via a referendum. It’s just that none of the proposed solutions has ever proved acceptable to the parties that actually have to sign the deal: India and Pakistan.

The parallels to another conflict of almost identical duration, the Israeli-Arab one, are obvious. Here, too, outside experts have proposed various solutions, but none has yet proved acceptable to the parties that must actually sign the deals: Israel, the Palestinians, and Syria. That’s why, despite years of intensive negotiations and massive international involvement — both far exceeding anything ever tried with India-Pakistan — no agreement has yet been signed.

But there’s one huge difference between the two conflicts. In India-Pakistan, the West has recognized its inability to effect a solution and is therefore not wasting any time, money, or prestige on fruitless efforts. In the Israeli-Arab conflict, the delusion persists that it’s easily resolvable; indeed, “everyone knows the solution.” That this “solution” has repeatedly proved unacceptable to the parties themselves is somehow dismissed as unimportant. Therefore, massive amounts of Western time, money, and prestige continue to be spent on it to no avail.

Ironically, the one party spending almost no time, money, or prestige on this conflict is the Arab world — that same Arab world that, according to Western pundits, deems the Israeli-Palestinian conflict its No. 1 priority. That’s because Arab countries, unlike the West, are willing to acknowledge the facts: that the conflict is currently unsolvable, and that despite all the rhetoric about its importance, it actually matters little to the real regional problems.

Thus far, the peace-process fixation has caused nothing but harm: thousands of Israeli and Palestinian casualties, and for Palestinians, an economic tailspin from which they have yet to fully recover. But the price has also been paid by millions of other people worldwide — all those to whom the time, money, and prestige the West has squandered on this conflict might actually make a difference.

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Bad News for Dems: Soros Only Bets on Winners

The New York Times politics blog reports that at an appearance last week sponsored by the Bretton Woods Committee, left-wing billionaire George Soros conceded the midterm elections to the GOP. Soros was a major backer of liberal Democratic candidates in the past three election cycles but said that he has backed off in 2010:

Asked if the prospect of Republican control of one or both houses of Congress concerned him, he said: “It does, because I think they are pushing the wrong policies, but I’m not in a position to stop it. I don’t believe in standing in the way of an avalanche.”

Soros may be wrong about almost everything in terms of policy in his financing of left-wing politicians and groups that seek to undermine the defense of American interests against Islamist terror and the U.S. alliance with Israel (J Street). But he didn’t get filthy rich by betting on losers. In other words, that rumbling sound you’ve been hearing the past few months, and which liberal writers at the Times and elsewhere have been interpreting as the upsurge of an extremist conservative Tea Party faction that will soon recede, is actually the sound of a genuine and broad-based electoral landslide that is about to bury the congressional Democratic majority that Soros worked so hard to create.

The New York Times politics blog reports that at an appearance last week sponsored by the Bretton Woods Committee, left-wing billionaire George Soros conceded the midterm elections to the GOP. Soros was a major backer of liberal Democratic candidates in the past three election cycles but said that he has backed off in 2010:

Asked if the prospect of Republican control of one or both houses of Congress concerned him, he said: “It does, because I think they are pushing the wrong policies, but I’m not in a position to stop it. I don’t believe in standing in the way of an avalanche.”

Soros may be wrong about almost everything in terms of policy in his financing of left-wing politicians and groups that seek to undermine the defense of American interests against Islamist terror and the U.S. alliance with Israel (J Street). But he didn’t get filthy rich by betting on losers. In other words, that rumbling sound you’ve been hearing the past few months, and which liberal writers at the Times and elsewhere have been interpreting as the upsurge of an extremist conservative Tea Party faction that will soon recede, is actually the sound of a genuine and broad-based electoral landslide that is about to bury the congressional Democratic majority that Soros worked so hard to create.

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