U.S. keeps pressure on Israel under Obama's new even handed policy. (See 1 below.)
Geert Wilders says what I have been saying for months. (See 2 below.)
Benhorin writes that Netanyahu has given Obama what he sought. (See 3 below.)
Meanwhile large existing settlements will not be frozen but there surely is a tacit understanding their expansion will not be at the previous pace and illegal settlements activity will cease. It is important that Netanyahu be perceived yielding to American pressure but he also must be given room so as not to be seen as totally caving.
I suspect what Obama is doing is partly staged because he has to demonstrate he is placing pressure on Israel in order to placate the Palestinians. Obama is no fool and understands too much pressure would jeapordize Netanyahu but without some it also sends the wrong message to the Palestinians. The public drama regarding settlements is real but probably not to the extent it has been reported in the press and portrayed in the media.
On the other hand, Obama's policy towards Israel is certainly not as accepting as GW's and therefore it is also possible Obama might make more progress. However, the Palestinians could mistakenly interpret Obama's 'changed approach' and overreach, thereby, blowing another opportunity for having part of a loaf.
Obama will surely fail should he press Netanyahu to sacrifice Israel's legitimate security needs. Neither can Netayahu make demands that produce riskless consequences because there will always be an element within Palestinian society that has antipathy towards Israel. Movement towards a semblance of success necessitates walking a fine line. It will be interesting to see whether Obama and his team can thread the needle.
Based on Peter Wehner and my own view of Obama, I believe Obama's actions all too often belie his words and that remains my principal concern. (See 4 below.)
The new cold war according to Daniel Pipes. (See 5 below.)
Wehner continues trying to decode Obama. (See 6 below.)
Judith Miller analyzes Obama's moves regarding Iran she understands them but concludes they may be overly cautious. Kondracke writes: Obama may find himself painted into an Iranian nuclear corner. (See 7 below.)
Health care reform could clog the nation's viens with lard according to Henninger. (See 8 below.)
1) U.S. ups pressure on Israel to end Gaza siege
By Barak Ravid
The United States has stepped up pressure on Israel regarding the Gaza Strip: Three weeks ago it sent Jerusalem a diplomatic note officially protesting Gaza policy and demanding a more liberal opening of the border crossings to facilitate reconstruction.
U.S. and Israeli sources say the note was followed by a verbal communication clarifying that the Obama administration thinks Israel's linkage of the case of abducted soldier Gilad Shalit and the opening of the crossings was not constructive.
The note was delivered to Israel after a decision by senior U.S. officials including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and special Mideast envoy George Mitchell. The latter discussed the contents of the note during his visit to Israel last week.
America's demands on Israel's Gaza policy were also raised Wednesday during talks between Clinton and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who is on an official visit to Washington.
The note focused on a number of issues that have troubled the U.S. administration regarding Israeli policy toward the Gaza Strip.
The note's central message was that if Israel believes that the Palestinian Authority should be strengthened vis-a-vis Hamas, it must take the necessary steps regarding the Strip.
The first task is to allow food and medicine into the territory. A senior political source in Jerusalem said the Americans have noticed some improvement here, but there has been no consistency or transparency on the types of foods permitted in.
Another issue is the transfer of cash to banks in the Strip. U.S. officials have asked that Israel continue to allow the transfer of funds from Ramallah-based banks to Gaza banks to avoid damaging the enclave's banking and financial system.
A third issue in the note was the expansion of the system for opening the border crossings, and permission to import a variety of goods that would enable imports and exports and encourage economic growth.
The note also focused on construction materials such as cement and iron, which would be used to rebuild the damage caused by Israel's three-week Gaza offensive last winter.
The U.S. administration emphasized that in parallel with its demands of Israel, it was willing to assist in establishing an international supervisory mechanism under UN auspices to ensure that the building materials were used for civilian purposes and not Hamas' fortifications.
The diplomatic note was delivered to the Defense Ministry, the Foreign Ministry and the Prime Minister's Office.
Verbally, the Americans relayed a message on Israel's linkage of the Shalit case with a more extensive opening of the border crossings. Israel is particularly insistent that unless there is progress in the negotiations for Shalit's release and a new sign of life is received, there will be no concessions on the crossings.
The United States made clear that it is dissatisfied with this Israeli policy and wants Jerusalem to reevaluate its stance. "Until you change this, it will be impossible to progress," a source quoted the American officials as saying.
"This policy has not led to progress on the Shalit case and we do not think that it is contributing to anything," the U.S. officials were quoted as saying.
2) Dutch anti-Islamic MP: 'Israel is West's first line of defense'
By Cnaan Liphshiz
Israel will be a major part of Geert Wilders' next film on Islam, the rightist Dutch legislator said last week in an interview for Haaretz. He praised Avigdor Lieberman, observing "similarities" between Yisrael Beiteinu and the Party for Freedom ? a small movement which has grown to become Holland's second most popular.
Wilders, a controversial anti-immigration politician, rose to international fame last year when he released a 14-minute film entitled Fitna, which attempts to portray what he considers as Islam?s "violent nature." The film, which has been viewed by millions online, provoked mass protests throughout the Muslim world.
In April Wilders announced he was working on a sequel. Just as Fitna focused on genocidal anti-Semitism in the Muslim world, Wilders said that the sequel ? which focuses on "Islamization in the West" - will show "how the forces of Islamization are specifically targeting Israel in a fight against all free societies."
He added: "The film will demonstrate that the fight against Israel is not territorial, and hence Israel is only the first line of defense for the West. Now it's Israel but we are next. That's why beyond solidarity, it is in Europe's interest to stand by Israel."
Wilders is facing criminal charges for allegedly inciting hate by comparing the Koran to Adolf Hitler's Mein Kampf in the original Fitna film. His party's dark horse achievement in the European Parliament elections earlier this month, he said, is connected to the judicial system's decision to prosecute him.
The Party for Freedom ? which has only nine seats in Dutch parliament - won five seats in the June 4 European elections, making it the second largest of all Dutch parties in Brussels. A recent poll shows that if elections were held now, the Party would become the country's largest or second largest.
"The appeals court's decision in January to prosecute me angered many people, as did the decision by the government of the U.K. not to let me enter Britain," Wilders told Haaretz. He added some of the anger manifested itself in the European Parliament election.
According to Wilders, his party's rise in popularity is reminiscent of how Lieberman's party grew to become Israel's third largest. "Our parties may not be identical, but there are certainly more similarities than dissimilarities, and I am proud of that," Wilders said about Yisrael Beiteinu.
"I've met Liebrman and called to congratulate him after the Israeli elections," said Wilders, who visits Israel frequently to meet with leading Israeli politicians, defense officials and opinion-shapers. "Lieberman's an intelligent, strong and clever politician and I understand why his party grew in popularity."
Israel under Benjamin Netanyahu is, according to Wilders, safer because it doesn't automatically accept the two-state solution. But he added: "I am more concerned now about Israel's situation because of the positions of U.S. President Barack Obama."
The president's speech in Cairo "shocked" Wilders, he says. "Until now Israel could rely on the U.S. for support even when the Europeans failed to offer it. Now Israel will have a tougher time," he added.
"The two-state solution is an internal Israeli matter and I hesitate to interfere. But my personal belief is that there is a two state solution for the Palestinians. One of those states is called Jordan," he added.
Wilders also said that Obama's preference for dialogue with Iran despite its ongoing drive to obtain nuclear weapons ? according to Western intelligence reports ? is "intolerable."
The Party for Freedom will not join any bloc at the European Parliament, Wilders said. "We will not join an rightist party with anti-Semitic or xenophobic inclinations," he explained. "The attempts to classify us as such are the result of our rivals' panic."
Wilders' party believes in halting immigration to the Netherlands, and banning the construction of mosques in that country. While defending gay rights and supporting animal welfare bills, the Party holds a hardliner assimilations stance on the integration of existing immigrants into Dutch society, and is consistently Eurosceptic.
"Our achievement in the European Parliament owed partly to a protest vote by people who do not accept that their tax monies are funding highways in Portugal and subsidizing Polish farmers. They want their money back ? approximately five billion euros."
Described by some as "fascist" and "ultra-nationalist," other Dutch parties have shunned the Party for Freedom, treating it as a pariah movement. However, as its political power climbs, leading centrist politicians are advocating an alliance with Wilders, touching off a heated debate in their parties' ranks.
"We have no power but a lot of influence, and are now a serious force which cannot be ignored," Wilders said. "I think the stale political establishment of the Netherlands doesn't quite know how to close the window that let in our party, like a cool draft of wind."
3)Obama got what he wanted: Netanyahu's speech delivered the goods as far as US is concerned
By Yitzhak Benhorin
Out of the myriad of commentary uttered and written in the wake of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Bar-Ilan speech, only one interpretation truly mattered to him – the one that originated at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington.
On Sunday, when the PM spoke at the Begin-Sadat Center, Barack Obama and his friends were golfing in the US capital. It was a day off, and the US Administration does not rush to respond to matters that don't merit an immediate response. It waits for Monday, and conveys the message via White House spokespersons and the State Department.
However, the American president appreciated the great effort and risk assumed by Netanyahu by recognizing the two-state solution. Obama quickly issued a statement, via his spokesman, lauding Netanyahu's speech. However, Bibi has been unable to clear the last hurdle yet, as the president clarified: The settlement freeze issue is still pending.
Obama needed something in order to get the diplomatic process underway. Netanyahu gave him what he wanted. Washington is not overly bothered by the reservations he presented – demilitarization is an issue to be discussed in final-status talks. All the former prime ministers who were engaged in contacts with the Palestinians brought up the demilitarization of the West Bank as a condition for a deal. Obama himself pledged allegiance to Israel's security. He often speaks of Israel being the Jewish state, and this issue can also be handled through behind-the-scenes pressure as part of the talks.
One way or another, Netanyahu's endorsement of a Palestinian state, which he more easily repeated in interviews to US networks, achieved its purpose. NBC and CBS are not Bar-Ilan University. Therefore, it appears that the American pressure on Israel – at least the extent expressed in public – will be significantly lower in the coming weeks. Obama has good reasons for this: His Cairo speech is part of history by now, and on the other hand the White House is facing the counter-pressure of Democratic congress members who are not comfortable with the open disagreements between Washington and Jerusalem.
Mitchell believes he can succeed
Yet behind the scenes it's a different story altogether. The disagreements continue in full force. George Mitchell keeps on pushing ceaselessly. The former senator, who in two months will be celebrating his 76th birthday, was not seeking extra retirement income when he agreed to take up the unappreciated post of special envoy to the Middle East. He believes in his ability to succeed. Time is precious. He wants to see results, and quickly.
Two weeks ago, he met with Ehud Barak for more than three hours in New York. He also completed his fourth trip to the Middle East, and he is slated to meet Netanyahu in Paris next week. The PM hopes to reach an understanding there on how to resolve the disagreements over the issue of "natural growth" by jointly agreeing on vital the construction needs of West Bank residents.
Obama left little room for maneuver on the question of what a "cessation of settlements" means exactly. "There is a tendency to try to parse exactly what this means, but I think the parties on the ground understand that if you have a continuation of settlements that, in past agreements, have been categorized as illegal, that's going to be an impediment to progress," Obama said in his meeting with Italian Prime Minister Berlusconi.
It is also worthwhile to pay attention to the signals Obama has been conveying to Hamas. The Road Map's first phase requires Israel to freeze settlement constructions while the Palestinians are required to dismantle the terror infrastructure. In the past, the Americans addressed only the Palestinian Authority; yet the current president knows that the PA cannot put an end to terror. "On the Palestinian side, whether it's the Palestinian Authority or other groups like Hamas," Obama said, mentioning in the same breath the Quartet's demands for Hamas and the demand for the PA to put an end to violence and incitement against Israel. By doing so, for the first time he referred to the Palestinian side – the PA and Hamas – as one entity.
4) Lieberman tells Clinton settlements won't be frozen
By Yitzhak Benhorin
Meeting between foreign minister, US secretary of state manifests deep disagreement between Obama administration, Netanyahu's government. Clinton demands stop to settlements, Lieberman says Israel reached understandings with Bush administration
"People are born and people die in Judea and Samaria, and the settlements cannot be completely frozen," Lieberman said during a meeting with Clinton in Washington.
"Our stance is clear. We have understandings with the previous administration on their matter," he added.
Clinton reiterated the stance voiced by President Barack Obama, saying that the United States wanted to see a stop to settlements.
The secretary of state stressed in response to Lieberman's claims that there was no written or oral agreement from President Bush's era approved by any American participant. She implied, however, that a compromise could be reached between Israel and the US.
Clinton noted that the process being conducted by special Mideast envoy George Mitchell had only just begun.
"There are a number of critical concerns, many of which overlap in their impact and significance, that will be explored in the coming weeks as Senator Mitchell engages more deeply into the specifics as to where the Israelis and the Palestinians are willing to go together," she said.
Deputy Foreign Minister Daniel Ayalon said earlier Wednesday that "the Americans also want to find a practical and acceptable solution. This debate will take place mostly during the prime minister's meeting with George Mitchell in Paris next week."
Lieberman and Clinton met face-to-face for about half an hour, and were then joined by the Israeli and American delegations for another half-hour meeting defined by both sides as "very good".
The secretary of state noted that Israel had several prime ministers – including Ehud Olmert and Ariel Sharon – who changed their views over the years. The State Department was later expected to announce the renewal of the strategic dialogue between Israel and the US.
'Iranians deserve to have their voice heard'
Clinton also referred to the developments in Iran, saying that it was up to the Iranians to determine how they resolve the internal protest over their disputed election.
She clarified that the US would work to resume the dialogue with the new Iranian government as soon as the doubts surrounding the presidential elections are resolved.
Clinton added that a dialogue with the Iranians was an American interest, as well as the interest of "our friends", including Israel.
In response to the Iranian accusation that the US was interfering in internal Iranian affair, the secretary of state said that "the people of Iran reserve the right to have their voices heard and their votes counted.
"The outcome of any election should reflect the will of the people and it is for the Iranians to determine how they resolve this internal protest concerning the outcome of the recent election."
5) The Middle Eastern Cold War
By Daniel Pipes
A cold war is "the key to understanding the Middle East in the 21st century." So argue Yigal Carmon and three of his colleagues at the Middle East Media and Research Institute (MEMRI) in a recent study, "An Escalating Regional Cold War."
A cold war, according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, is "a conflict over ideological differences carried on by methods short of sustained overt military action and usually without breaking off diplomatic relations." Note the three elements in this definition: ideological differences, no actual fighting, and not breaking off diplomatic relations.
The classic instance of a cold war, of course, involved the United States and the Soviet Union between 1945 and 1991, a long lasting and global standoff. The "Arab cold war" of 1958-70, shorter and more localized, offers a second notable instance. In that case, Gamal Abdel Nasser, an Egyptian revolutionary, tried to upend the region while the Saudis led the effort to maintain the status quo. Their conflict culminated in the Yemen War of 1962-70, a vicious conflict that ended only with the death of Abdel Nasser.
A new ideological division now splits the region, what I call the Middle Eastern cold war. Its dynamics help explain an increasingly hostile confrontation between two blocs.
The revolutionary bloc and its allies: Iran leads Syria, Qatar, Oman, and two organizations, Hezbollah and Hamas. Turkey serves as a very important auxiliary. Iraq sits in the wings. Paradoxically, several of these countries are themselves distinctly non-revolutionary.
The status-quo bloc: Saudi Arabia (again) leads, with Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, and most Arabic-speaking states following, along with Fatah. Israel serves as a semi-auxiliary. Note that Egypt, which once led its own bloc, now co-leads one with Saudi Arabia, reflecting Cairo's diminished influence over the last half century.
Some states, such as Libya, sit on the sidelines.
The present cold war goes back to 1979, when Ayatollah Khomeini seized power in Tehran and harbored grand ambitions to destabilize other states in the region to impose his brand of revolutionary Islam. Those ambitions waned after Khomeini's death in 1989 but roared back to life with Ahmadinejad's presidency in 2005 along with the building of weapons of mass destruction, widespread terrorism, engagement in Iraq, and the claim to Bahrain.
The Middle Eastern cold war has many significant manifestations; here are four of them.
(1) In 2006, when Hezbollah fought the Israel Defense Forces, several Arab states publicly condemned Hezbollah for its "unexpected, inappropriate and irresponsible acts." An Iranian newspaper editorial responded with an "eternal curse on the muftis of the Saudi court and of the pharaoh of Egypt."
(2) The Moroccan government in March 2009 announced that it had broken off diplomatic relations with Tehran on the grounds of "intolerable interference in the internal affairs of the kingdom," meaning Iranian efforts to convert Sunnis to the Shiite version of Islam.
(3) The Egyptian government arrested 49 Hezbollah agents in April, accusing them of destabilizing Egypt; Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah then confirmed that the group's leader worked for him.
(4) Close Turkish-Israeli ties have floundered as Ankara's increasingly overt Islamist leadership opposes Israeli government policies, deploys hostile language against the Jewish state, invites its enemies to Ankara, transfers Iranian arms to Hezbollah, and uses anti-Zionism to isolate the Turkish military.
By diverting passions away from the seemingly interminable Arab-Israeli conflict, the Middle Eastern cold war may appear to help reduce tensions. That, however, is not the case. However venomous relations between Fatah and Hamas may be, with each killing the other's operatives, they will in the end always join forces against Israel. Likewise, Washington will not find significant support in Saudi Arabia or any other members of its bloc vis-à-vis Iran. In the end, Muslim states shy from joining with non-Muslims against fellow Muslims.
Looking more broadly, the Middle Eastern cold war internationalizes once-local issues – such as the religious affiliation of Moroccans – imbuing them with Middle-East wide repercussions. Thus does this cold war add new flashpoints and greater volatility to what was already the world's most unstable region.
This article derives from a talk delivered earlier this month at an EMET-Heritage Foundation conference
6) Still Decoding Obama
By Peter Wehner
I recently devoted a piece to trying to decode President Obama. In reading more of his comments, I’ve noticed a tendency that now almost qualifies as a reflex: the more strongly the president denies something — and especially, the more he mocks his critics and feigns amusement at what they say — the greater the odds are that he will do what he denies.
In an interview yesterday, the president said, “I think the irony … is that I actually would like to see a relatively light touch when it comes to the government.”
Of course; examples of his “light touch” abound during the first five months of his presidency.
During his press conference discussing his first 100 days in office, Obama said, “And that’s why I’m always amused when I hear these, you know, criticisms of, ‘Oh, you know, Obama wants to grow government.’ No. I would love a nice, lean portfolio to deal with, but that’s not the hand that’s been dealt us.”
Why would anyone think Obama wants to “grow government”? Isn’t it clear by now he wants to limit it?
While speaking at a town hall forum in New Mexico last month, Obama insisted that the “long-term deficit and debt that we have accumulated is unsustainable.”
They are, and they certainly seem to be a primary concern of the president, who is clearly doing everything humanly possible to reduce the deficit and the debt.
At a June 1 White House Press event, Obama asserted, “What I have no interest in doing is running GM.”
Why would he even need to say that? Why would anyone think he wants to run GM?
During a health care event in Green Bay, Obama said: “And the reason [he supports his so-called “public insurance option”] is not because we want a government takeover of health care — I’ve already said if you’ve got a private plan that works for you, that’s great.” And speaking to the AMA, Obama said, “Health-care reform is the single most important thing we can do for America’s long-term fiscal health.”
It is; and we all know Obama is doing everything he can to oppose a government takeover of health care.
During his presidential campaign, Obama ridiculed those who said he was interested in reading Miranda rights to terrorists. During a “60 Minutes” interview with Steve Kroft, Obama was emphatic: “Now, do these folks deserve Miranda rights? Do they deserve to be treated like a shoplifter down the block? Of course not.”
No-sir-ee; such a thing would never happen on his watch.
Here’s the thing, though: in every one of these instances Obama is not only doing something different than what he said, he’s doing very nearly the opposite of what he says. Obama’s “light touch” is turning out to be as intrusive a set of actions by the federal government as we have seen. He is “growing government” in record-shattering ways. Facing a staggering deficit and debt, Obama has decided to hit the accelerator rather than pump the brakes when it comes to federal spending. Facing a deficit and debt he calls unsustainable, Obama is adding trillions to them. He actually is running GM. He really is trying to engineer a government takeover of health care. His health-care plan may be the single worst thing he could do for America’s long-term fiscal health. And his Justice Department has acknowledged that FBI agents have read terrorist suspects their Miranda rights.
Let’s stipulate that most politicians use words in an elastic and imprecise manner, that often their account muddles rather than clarifies things, and that what they say doesn’t always correspond to what is. Even with all of that, President Obama seems to be carving out some fairly exclusive rhetorical real estate for himself.
No one doubts Obama speaks exceedingly well; he uses soothing words that come across as reassuring and reasonable. The problem comes when you examine what he says versus what he does. And by that standard, Mr. Obama is turning out to be almost promiscuously misleading. He is not yet Bill Clinton, who belongs in a category all his own — but Obama is taking up residence in the same zip code, which is troubling enough. And for those of us who thought Obama, whatever his political ideology, would bring intellectual integrity to his words and his tenure, it is disappointing. It is hardly the change we were promised. But I imagine that it will catch up with him sooner or later — and when it does, the man who promised to be the antidote to cynicism will only deepen it.
7) Unrest In Iran — Why Obama Is Proceeding With Caution: Partially Right But Off Key
By Judith Miller
On the third day of what is arguably the most serious crisis in the history of the 30-year-old Iranian revolution, President Obama finally weighed in with a three-part message.
First, our coolly cerebral leader said, he was “deeply troubled” by the apparent irregularities in Iran’s presidential election and the violence in the Tehran streets. But second, it was “up to the Iranian people” to decide who should govern them. The U.S., he added, would continue to respect Iran’s sovereignty. And third, he remained ready to engage in “hard-headed diplomacy” on Iran’s nuclear program, its support for terrorism, and issues of national security concern to the United States no matter how the current crisis was resolved.
Pressed today by reporters for a tougher response to news of the death of at least seven Iranians protesters and the beating of hundreds of others in peaceful protests, Mr. Obama stuck to his carefully calibrated response: “That is not how government should interact with the people,” he said.
Obama’s statements yesterday and today, of course, were far better than those the White House issued this weekend saying that the administration was “monitoring” the situation and was “heartened” by the enthusiasm Iranians were showing for their election.
Nevertheless, Obama’s response was immediately attacked, particularly by conservative critics. “How bold! How manly. How inspiring,” commentator Ralph Peters wrote in Tuesday’s New York Post. Each cracking of a Basiji baton on a demonstrator’s skull was a “clenched fist shoved in Obama’s face,” he argued. The mullahs of Teheran saw Obama’s tone not as conciliatory, but as weakness that was emboldening hardliners. The elections, Senator John McCain told FOX News, were “a sham.” He hoped President Obama would “act.” Precisely how he did not say.
Our president is clearly in a tough spot. And one part of his triple message seems spot on. Obama should not give Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and his ally, incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, any political ammunition in what seems to be the fiercest power struggle within Iran’s ruling elite since the 30-year old revolution. “Should the president side with the opposition,” Salameh Nematt, The Daily Beast’s international editor wrote today, “he would risk damaging their cause, especially as Ahmadinejad will most certainly accuse the opposition of treason by allying itself with the imperialist ‘Great Satan.’ ” A worsening of relations with the Iranian regime, Nematt added, assuming it survives, could also “doom the proposed dialogue between Washington and Tehran.” So on both counts, Obama is right to resist pleas from well-intended, and some non-benevolent activists that he “deplore” the outcome of the election, or accuse the hardliners of stealing it. Despite myriad suspicious signs of tampering and rigging, we still do not know for certain whether the election was stolen or whether Ahmadinejad will emerge as the eventual victor.
But the other two parts of Obama’s cautious response seem off-key and destined to send ambiguous signals at best to Tehran. Plus, they come across to many here and abroad as indifference to both the regime’s ruthless crackdown and to the hopes of hundreds of thousands of demonstrators for more than the Facebook freedom the mullahs bestow when it suits them. Could the president not have deplored the violence against Iran’s peaceful protestors more emphatically? Was “deeply troubled” the most eloquent defense of the cynical violation of their human and civil rights that our usually eloquent president could muster?
President Obama is also wrong to appear too eager to rush into diplomatic engagement. Of course talking to America’s enemies is not a favor one does them if it helps secure vital American interests. If Ahmadinejad and his hard-line clique triumph, Washington will have to deal with them despite what Obama called the incumbent president’s “odious” views. But if the violence does not subside, diplomatic engagement will at very least have to be deferred. Michael O’Hanlon, a senior fellow at Brookings who does not disagree fundamentally with Obama’s stance, argues nonetheless that emphasizing engagement risks creating the impression that Obama believes the struggle is virtually over, rather than possibly just beginning. “Stressing engagement now is tantamount to declaring the rapid end of this fight a foregone conclusion,” O’Hanlon told me.
While the election of Ahmadinejad or his rival and more pragmatic fellow insider, Mir Hossein Mousavi, may ultimately have no effect on Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons or its support for terrorism, the outcome is likely to dramatically affect how Iranians live and conduct their internal affairs. That should be of great concern to Mr. Obama. Does it not risk undermining American values and the determination of Iranian protestors to keep battling for freedom to pretend otherwise?
7a)Iran Elections Make Nuclear Talks Harder
By Mort Kondracke
President Barack Obama went easy on Iran in his big June 4 speech in Cairo so as not to become an issue in last weekend's elections.
Some good it did. The ruling powers in Iran - rigidly hostile to the United States and determined to develop nuclear weapons - rigged the vote to restore radical Islamist President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to power.
And, Obama's mild statements of "concern" at violence directed against opposition protesters is not likely to win him any points, either, if and when the Iranian regime decides to accept his offer of "unconditional negotiations."
Still, Obama's tactics are understandable. He's betting that the regime headed by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei will prevail and that he will have to deal with it.
Conceivably, the mass demonstrations being conducted by supporters of opposition candidate Mir Hussein Moussavi could cascade into a revolution such as that which ousted the Shah of Iran in 1979.
More likely, Khamenei would use his military, Republican Guards and Islamic militias to re-enact the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown in China if the regime appeared threatened.
Khamenei obviously is hoping to mollify the protesters by promising a review of the election results. The outcome is a foregone conclusion, but the regime clearly aims to have the demonstrations fizzle.
So, the likely result is what Obama anticipated in his outreach address to the Islamic world: that he'd be negotiating with a government run by Khamenei regardless of whether Moussavi or Ahmadinejad were elected president.
In that speech, 6,000 words long, Obama devoted just two paragraphs to Iran, in one of which he acknowledged that the United States "played a role" in the 1953 overthrow of the country's elected government.
He's obviously conscious of that history - and the anti-American uses the regime constantly makes of it - which is why he went out of his way Tuesday to say "it's not productive for a United States president to be seen meddling" in Iran's internal affairs.
I'd hope that if he thought there were a chance of really toppling the regime, he would speak out to support the opposition and that he's being restrained out of calculation.
In Cairo, he merely observed that Iran "has played a role" in "acts of hostage-taking and violence against U.S. troops and civilians," going easy on the activities that led to Iran being designated by the State Department as the world's "most active state sponsor of terrorism."
He also passed up mentioning that, in April, Egyptian authorities arrested 49 Hezbollah terrorists bent on carrying out attacks, along with a handler allegedly trained by Iran's Revolutionary Guard.
And, he went easy on the long record of international findings that Iran has been enriching uranium and evading inspections, surely for the purpose - though the regime denies it - of producing nuclear weapons.
On the very day Obama reached out to Muslims and spoke of "moving forward without preconditions" toward Iran, Khamenei declared that "the nations of the region hate the United States from the bottom of their hearts."
And, he said, "the new U.S. government seeks to transform its image. I say firmly that this will not be achieved by talking, speech and slogans."
For sure, it makes sense for the United States to at least try "engagement" - or "tough" diplomacy, as Obama described it this week. President George W. Bush did so, too, after failing to get anywhere by shunning the regime.
But the difficulties, especially in getting Iran off the nuclear track, are even more abundantly clear after what amounts to a clerical-military putsch in Iran.
Both Ahmadinejad and Khamenei are closely tied to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, a fascist- or Communist-like organization that polices internal security, conducts foreign intelligence and terrorist activities, operates businesses - and promotes the nuclear weapons program.
Last weekend's voting was barely over when Khamenei declared Ahmadinejad's re-election a "divine miracle."
Ahmadinejad may actually have won a majority, but a 63 percent victory is hard to credit, as is Moussavi's loss among his fellow ethnic Azeris and in his own home village. Those results were meant to humiliate the opposition.
Ahmadinejad, at a victory rally Sunday, vowed to crack down on his political rivals ("dismantle the network of corruption") and never negotiate about Iran's nuclear program with any foreign government.
"That file is shut, forever," he said.
In an interview, Obama's national security adviser, Gen. James Jones, told me that the United States is in a "wait and see posture" on Obama's proposal for dialogue.
Jones underscored Obama's May 19 statement in the presence of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that Obama is giving Iran until the end of the year to see if it is interested in negotiating in good faith.
"The process can't be an open-ended thing that goes on forever. If, unfortunately, we see no change in [the agenda] we want to talk about, sanctions are always on the table," he said.
Actually, more than sanctions are in play. In his own speech on Sunday, Netanyahu called Iran's nuclear program "the greatest threat facing Israel, the Middle East, the entire world and the human race."
Israel's record in destroying Iraq's Osirak nuclear reactor in 1991 and Syria's North Korea-supplied reactor last February practically guaranteed that Netanyahu will order a strike on Iran if diplomacy fails to stop the nuclear program and he thinks he can retard the weapons threat.
Americans close to Netanyahu say the chances of a strike are "100 percent." Another Mideast expert I regularly test on this question told me, "I used to say 50-50. The Iranian election pushes it to two-to-one."
That's the limiting factor on Obama. He has a year, maybe two, to try direct negotiations with Iran, then sanctions, then perhaps really tough sanctions if he can get other countries to cut off gasoline supplies to Iran to force an end to the nuclear program.
It's worth a try and it's understandable that Obama would want to be "diplomatic" in approaching Iran. But the election shows that Iran's nuclear faction is dug in. Israel is not going to wait until it develops the instruments of another Holocaust.
Mort Kondracke is the Executive Editor of Roll Call, the newspaper of Capitol Hill since 1955.
8)'Public Option': Son of Medicaid: Lard atop lard that only a politician or bureaucrat could love.
By DANIEL HENNINGER
In his speech on health care to the American Medical Association, President Obama explained why the U.S. has "failed" (yet again) to provide comprehensive reform that "covers everyone." He had a list of the failing people, who "simply couldn't agree" on reform: doctors, insurance companies, businesses, workers, others. And "if we're honest," he said (ergo, disagreeing with this is dishonest) we must add to the list "some interest groups and lobbyists" who have used "fear tactics."
It seems to me, if we're honest, that one other contributor to the health-care morass should have been on the president's list: Congress. Indeed a close reading of Mr. Obama's speech suggests he holds the political class innocent insofar as he blames everyone else but them. Can this be true?
Back before recorded history, in 1965, Congress erected the nation's first two monuments to health-care "reform," Medicaid and Medicare. Medicaid was described at the time as a modest solution to the problem of health care for the poor. It would be run by the states and "monitored" by the federal government.
The reform known as Medicaid is worth our attention now because Mr. Obama is more or less demanding that the nation accept another reform, his "optional" federalized health insurance program. He suggested several times before the AMA that opposition to it will consist of "scare tactics" and "fear mongering."
Whatever Medicaid's merits, this federal health-care program more than any other factor has put California and New York on the brink of fiscal catastrophe. I'd even call it scary.
Spending on health and welfare, largely under Medicaid, makes up one-third of California's budget of some $100 billion. In New York Gov. David Paterson's budget message, he notes that "New York spends more per capital ($2,283) on Medicaid than any other state in the country."
After 45 years, the health-care reform called Medicaid has crushed state budgets. A study by the National Governors Association said a decade ago that because of "new requirements" imposed by federal law -- meaning Congress -- "Medicaid has evolved into a program whose size, cost and significance are far beyond the original vision of its creators."
In his speeches, Mr. Obama makes the original vision of his "public option" insurance plan sound about as simple as driving through toll booths with an electronic pass on your windshield. It's going to be all about "best practices" with patients "reimbursed in a thoughtful way," as if the federal government is about to become just another big Google.
Medicaid is a morass. Since the program's inception, Congress has loaded it up every few years with more notions of what to cover, shifting about 43% of the ever-upward cost onto someone else's tab, mainly the states. A 1988 congressional mandate requires local schools to pay for schooling and related services for disabled children, but because Congress underfunds its mandates, the states pay the rest through Medicaid.
The list of add-ons is endless, and there's little about it that is thoughtful. Why shouldn't one think that, as with Medicare and Medicaid, the Obama Public Option in time will become an impossible fog for patients to navigate? But unto eternity the program's administrative complexity will provide work for bureaucrats, Members of Congress, their staffs, lobbyist spouses and the "health-care" establishment of foundations and economists.
Oh, and the courts. The fact that this is a public program ensures not just congressional meddling but also makes it vulnerable to litigation. Over time, the Sotomayors of the federal bench will make it bigger. One piece of California's incredible budget mess flows from a federal judge's 2006 decision to seize control of the state's prison-health system and make the state pay billions for new health spending imagined by his appointed federal overseer.
Medicaid alone didn't put California and New York on the brink. Add in spending on public education and you've accounted for about 60% of their budgets. This drives the deficits and gets all the ink, but not least among the casualties of bigness is the idea of governance.
The elected legislatures of California, which holds 36.7 million American citizens, and New York, with 20 million, are essentially falling apart as governing bodies. The whole country has witnessed the spectacle of the comic "coup" in New York's Senate in Albany the past two weeks.
With collapse comes a truth: The bigger the government, the smaller the politicians. As mandated entitlements grow, the spending "crowds out" the need or obligation to think or to govern. Legislators with nothing very real to do become lazy, slack and corrupt. They become Albany. Or Sacramento. Or Trenton.
Mr. Obama's plan is intended to "guarantee" health insurance for all. Whatever the truth of that, its outlays -- larded atop Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security -- guarantee that Congress will become more like the states' clown shows. But they are expensive clowns.
In his speech, Mr. Obama said the cost of the Public Option won't add to the deficit: "I've set down a rule for my staff, for my team -- and I've said this to Congress -- health-care reform must be, and will be, deficit-neutral in the next decade." If we're honest, that means tax increases are inevitable. Sounds scary to me.