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The Battle for Syria

China’s Role in Syria: How Beijing Can Help End the Violence

November 21st 2012

Click to select Image

The Chinese Foreign Ministry recently announced a “new” four-point peace initiative to solve the crisis in Syria. During a visit to Beijing by U.N. and Arab League mediator Lakhdar Brahimi in October, China’s Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi stated that “political dialogue is the only correct way to tackle this issue,” and he added that he hoped the mediation discussions would promote “mutual understanding” and “the appropriate handling of the Syrian issue.”

The U.S. News & World Report summarized the four points of China’s proposal as follows: The Syrian government and rebel fighters should make every effort to maintain a ceasefire and work with Brahimi’s mediation efforts; Both sides should appoint interlocutors who can negotiate a political transition and maintain governmental stability; The international community should increase support for Brahimi’s efforts and other mediation initiatives, such as ‘relevant Security Council resolutions’; The international community should increase humanitarian assistance to conflict regions in Syria. Read more ..

Operation Pillar of Defense

Turkey is Playing a Dangerous Game in Gaza Conflict

November 20th 2012


There was a fiery exchange at yesterday’s State Department briefing between the department’s spokeswoman, Victoria Nuland, and AP reporter Matthew Lee, over Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s latest verbal assault upon Israel. Here’s the key part of their back-and-forth:

LEE: You’re not telling us anything about… when the Turks come out, when the leaders of Turkey come out and say that Israel is engaged in acts of terrorism and you refuse to say that you don’t agree with that… maybe you do agree with that, that’s being silent.

NULAND: Matt, we have made a decision that we need to engage in our diplomatic work diplomatically, we have been very clear on where we stand on this. Which is that we don’t practice diplomacy from the podium. We have been very clear that Israel has the right of self-defense. Very clear that rockets continue to be fired and land on Israel. We’ve been very clear that we are working to get this conflict de-escalated. We have been very clear about our concern for the civilians and innocents on both sides who are getting caught in this…

LEE: And yet you won’t stick up for your ally Israel when the Turks, another one of your allies, say that they are engaged in terrorism in Gaza. Read more ..

Healthcare on Edge

Why Obamacare Is Still No Sure Thing

November 19th 2012


Champions of Obamacare want Americans to believe that the president's re-election ended the battle over the law. It did no such thing. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act won't be fully repealed while Barack Obama is in office, but the administration is heavily dependent on the states for its implementation.

Republicans will hold 30 governorships starting in January, and at last week's meeting of the Republican Governors Association they made it clear that they remain highly critical of the health law. Some Republican governors—including incoming RGA Chairman Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, Ohio's John Kasich, Wisconsin's Scott Walker and Maine's Paul LePage—have already said they won't do the federal government's bidding. Several Democratic governors, including Missouri's Jay Nixon and West Virginia's Earl Ray Tomblin, have also expressed serious concerns. Read more ..

Operation Pillar of Defense

Breaking the Stranglehold: Defeating Hamas and Hezbollah is Vital to Israel’s Survival

November 19th 2012

Israeli tank and crew

In the current Middle East, where erstwhile Israeli allies like Egypt and Turkey display open hostility, where Sudan serves as Iran’s warehouse and Gaza and Lebanon as its forward bases, the Jewish State finds itself in the precarious center of a tightening noose. Israel has not been so under siege since the Yom Kippur War.

Reality check: Since 9/11, and especially in the wake of the so-called Arab Spring, we have been living in the “Era of Islamism”, as evidenced by the rise to power of Hamas in Gaza, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, the Islamist-leaning AK Party in Turkey, and the Ennahda Party in Tunisia. Libya has also been overrun by violent Islamists, as has the Sinai Peninsula. Should Syria fall into the wrong hands, the situation severely worsens. If the Hashemite monarchy in Jordan is also toppled, circumstances could be dire indeed. Read more ..

Edging Toward the Fiscal Cliff

Going Off the Fiscal Cliff Is Good Policy­—If You Like Unemployment

November 18th 2012

Emplyment Application

Don't even think about it! Falling off the fiscal cliff would be an economic disaster for the United States. The fall would add over $300 billion in taxes in this fiscal year, along with another $200+ billion in spending cuts and other changes, or a net change in the deficit of over half a trillion dollars in the current fiscal year (9 months of it are left).

The Congressional Budget Office says that our GDP would be reduced by 3.4 percent in fiscal year 2013, and 4.5 percent in calendar year 2013. We are suffering now with a "slow" recovery of 2 percent growth or slightly less, with unemployment still about 7.9 percent. The cliff recession would wreck our economy and make our current national pain seem pleasant. Worse, the suffering would not gain us much. Taxes would rise on all Americans, including those least able to pay, but little would have been done to reduce the entitlements which are the long-term drivers of our deficits and debt. Read more ..

Operation Pillar of Defense

Preventing an Escalation of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

November 17th 2012

Hamas rocket in Gaza
Hamas missile fired from Gaza.

The fighting between Israel and Hamas has escalated for a second day. Hamas rocket barrages are targeting the coastal cities of Ashdod and Ashkelon along with areas as far south as Dimona (seventy-five kilometers from Gaza and home to Israel's nuclear reactor). In all, 274 rockets have been fired at Israel so far, reportedly including a longer-range Fajr-5 aimed at the Tel Aviv area -- the first time since the 1991 Gulf War that the city has been targeted in this manner.

And in the southern Negev region, three civilians were killed today when their apartment building was hit. Meanwhile, Israel says it has struck 250 Hamas targets in Gaza, apparently knocking out many longer-range rockets and weapon storehouses. This comes after Operation Amud Anan (Pillar of Defense/Pillar of Cloud) was launched on Wednesday, when Israel killed Hamas military chief Ahmed Jabari after days of escalation. Eleven Palestinians are believed to be dead. Read more ..

The Petraeus Scandal

The Dangerous Arc of Disgraced General David Petraeus

November 17th 2012

David Petraeus

"Associate with men of good quality if you esteem your own reputation; for it is better to be alone than in bad company." George Washington

"Keep your indiscretions a hundred miles from the flagpole" ~ military aphorism

On November 9th, David H. Petraeus, the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), announced his resignation subsequent to the disclosure that he had carried on a lengthy extra-marital affair with author and U.S. Army Reserve officer Paula Broadwell.

Although Petraeus claims to have ended the affair in August 2012, it erupted into a public scandal when incriminating e-mails were made public following an investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Broadwell, who mistook Petreaus family friend Jill Kelley as a romantic rival, had written a series of threatening e-mails to Kelley, warning her to stay away from Petraeus. Kelley forwarded the messages to the FBI. Read more ..

Operation Pillar of Defense

The World's Challenge in the Current Israel-Gaza War

November 17th 2012

Hamas rocket in Gaza

Perhaps Hamas was hoping for a spectacular provocation. After Egyptian Prime Minister Hesham Kandil arrived for a visit to the Gaza Strip, November 15, Hamas launched a barrage of rockets and mortars at Israel, perhaps trying to provoke an Israeli counterattack that might shake up or even injure the Egyptian leader and get Cairo to escalate its involvement in the war.

A few sirens went off in Tel Aviv around 6:30 PM, November 15—not the whole system or the one outside my window but those a few blocks away—and didn’t stay on very long. Then there were two loud but short booms, the sound of anti-rocket missiles being fired. Rumors followed. This being the age of social media people insisted that something must have happened because somebody in California said so. Read more ..

The Petraeus Scandal

Going over the Fiscal Cliff and Crashing into the Petraeus Scandal

November 16th 2012


Robert Rubin, former secretary of the Treasury, writes in the New York Times: “Now that the election is over, Washington’s attention is consumed by the looming combination of automatic spending cuts and tax increases known as ‘the fiscal cliff.’”

“Consumed”? Excuse me, but I just checked the websites of the Times, the Washington Post, USA Today, CNN, Fox News, CBS, NBC, and ABC. Every one of them had the same lead story -- and it was not “the fiscal cliff.”

By now, of course, you know what it was. Everybody knows: THE SCANDAL WIDENS!

If Robert Rubin had written that some people in Washington are giving some attention to the “the looming ‘fiscal cliff,’” he might have been correct. In Washington they’re sort of forced to deal with such wonkish stuff, at least part of the time.

But outside Washington the “fiscal cliff’ must be so far eclipsed by THE SCANDAL that hardly anyone can see the “cliff” at all, much less see it looming ominously just ahead. Even in Washington, the news sources suggest, the “cliff” is taking a distinctly back seat to THE SCANDAL. Read more ..

The Vote Aftermath

Six Ways President Obama and Congress Can Avoid the “Fiscal Cliff”

November 16th 2012

US Capital Day

Republican congressional leaders and President Obama sharply disagree over how to deal with the impending “fiscal cliff.” Negotiations among Democratic and GOP lawmakers will be tough. But averting the cliff and putting the nation on a sustainable fiscal course shouldn’t be that hard.

A reasonable framework could be agreed to now, with the details worked out in 2013. Such a scenario includes a balance of spending cuts and new revenues, most of which are consistent with the recommendations of a variety of bipartisan groups and priorities articulated in the recent election.

Here are six ways Washington can avoid the “fiscal cliff.”

1. Extend all tax cuts except those for millionaires

President Obama and Congress must first extend all of the Bush-era tax cuts except those affecting millionaires. Individuals and small businesses with annual incomes of more than $1 million can afford to pay a little more. Read more ..

The Defense Edge

Lessons for an Army During War

November 16th 2012

Soldiers In Afghanistan

Once again, the U.S. Army is trying to learn lessons from the last war and apply them to future situations. Recent exercises at Fort Polk, La., emphasized short deployments with limited objectives: defend a consulate (!), secure the flow of energy resources and similar situations.  "My premise is that the world is going to get more complex, it's going to get more difficult," Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno told reporters. "We're going to need leaders who can be very adaptive."

The United States has had adaptive leaders since the Christmas rout of the Hessians at Trenton, but the real lessons of the past 11 years are not about the troops.

The United States has ceased to use military force as an instrument with which to enforce its will. The military has become an element of American diplomacy designed to change minds or behavior, and the door is always open, including to the Taliban and the Muslim Brotherhood. The civilian population — the sea in which non-conventional armies swim, to paraphrase Mao — is the object of intense and expensive American courtship. Read more ..

The Way We Are

At Thanksgiving, Embracing the Winds of Change and Increasing Our Faith

November 16th 2012


The chilly winds of change blowing across the global economic landscape this fall have tested our threadbare garments to the point of fraying. Many of our fellow travelers find themselves losing hope that things will ever get any better. Many are disillusioned that President Obama was re-elected and yet the majority which truly matters in presidential elections are elated that the President will be given a second term to complete his mission.  While I was in that minority that didn't support the re-election of our president, I couldn't be prouder of who we are as American's and that our freedom of choice is our most precious and sacred gift. Some of us may feel at times as if there is no choice but to stop in our tracks and forsake ourselves to the fate of the dry and dusty bones littering the ground all around us. However, despite facing a bleak economic and jobless landscape at present, the human spirit always has a choice. Instead of giving up the ghost, we can choose to reaffirm our faith. Surviving these trying times demands of us that we give thanks and praise.

Consider if you will that the improbable and unfathomably precious gift of our lives takes shape in a crucible of struggle. A single sperm cell, swimming along a foreign and hostile canal, pushes past the strewn corpses of millions of its fellow sojourners, to finally arrive at the ultimate prize; an unfertilized egg. Upon meeting the egg, a miraculous process ensues. The two cells combine and become instantly productive. They divide and multiply, and, in a matter of mere months, grow out of that singular union a complex and living being composed of hundreds of millions of cells. At length, we come to term. Again, a stark struggle occurs. Our mothers, in travail upon travail, bear the pain of ultimate sacrifice, approaching the very precipice of death to bring us forth, wailing and crying, into this world. Most of us have no memory of the shock and loss we experienced when we were evicted from the warm comfort of the womb to face the glaring sun for the first time. But out of such shock and awe emerges springs life, and for that miracle alone we must give thanks and praise. Read more ..

The Petraeus Scandal

Petraeus: Lessons Learned

November 15th 2012


America has been at war for 10 years in two of the cruelest theaters of combat in modern warfare. Troops face unprecedented tours of duty and extended deployments beyond human endurance and sound military practice.

They battle an enemy whose goal is to kill millions of Americans by destroying cities through nuclear terrorism. They serve a nation in which 1 percent of our people bear 100 percent of the sacrifice.

During the height of the Iraq war, the Marine Corps pathologist suggested that up to 70 percent of American casualties were preventable. In those days, while lobbyists fought valiantly for tax cuts for the highest incomes, our troops fighting valiantly to defend us were not given adequate body armor and Humvees. Official Washington did not know, did not care or did not believe we could afford them. Read more ..

Operation Pillar of Defense

The Gaza Strip Erupts: Cast Lead Redux?

November 15th 2012

Israeli Jet

Earlier today [November 14] Israeli aircraft killed Ahmad Jabari, the commander of the military wing of Hamas, the Islamist Palestinian organization that controls the Gaza Strip. Jabari was a well known figure to Palestinians and Israelis alike; he was a leader of Hamas's violent campaign to take control of the Gaza Strip and decimate the presence of its secular rival Fatah in the Strip. Jabari was also the central figure behind the kidnapping of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit in 2006. His assassination marks a major escalation of an ongoing rocket-and-airstrike exchange in recent weeks.

The escalation of the conflict, though dramatic, was not unexpected. In recent weeks Hamas engaged in a series of large-scale rocket attacks against towns in southern Israel. This was something of a departure from precedent in recent years, when smaller Palestinian organizations such as the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and not Hamas, carried out most of the rocket tacks. Though these attacks receive little coverage abroad, they naturally dominate the news in Israel, where hundreds of thousands of people -- in a country of less than eight million -- are under the threat of rockets and their daily lives are disrupted. The question now is what form this new round of fighting will take, and whether it can produce a longer-term quiet or lead to a far worse situation in both Gaza and southern Israel. Read more ..

After the Election

Trust Methodologies, Not Pollsters

November 14th 2012

Rahm Emanuel and Barry

Congratulations to President Obama and winning senators and representatives. Victorious incumbents like Obama accomplished a historic feat, overcoming the miserable economy and wrong-track sentiment. Kudos are also in order for the “winning” pollsters, those research organizations that came closest to “predicting” the election outcomes. Several lists of the most accurate firms are out there — and I am troubled by the storylines that often accompany these lists. 

The media coverage of poll accuracy typically glorifies firms and individual pollsters, not their methodologies. This is so dangerous. Just compare the 2008 accuracy lists with those from 2012 and you’ll see what I mean. Several of the most accurate pollsters in 2008 (like Gallup and Rasmussen) have tumbled down the rankings. Did they suddenly get dumb? I doubt it. In all likelihood, their methodologies changed or real-world circumstances transcended the efficacy of their methods. For example, Rasmussen’s focus on landline phones, acceptable in 2008, simply didn’t work when so many voters have switched to cells. It is also possible, a statistician would acknowledge, that the differences between 2008 and 2012 for a fallen pollster could simply be the result of a one-chance-in-20 that a poll has a larger margin of error than normal. Probability theory assures us that it works only 95 percent of the time, even with consistent methodology. Read more ..

Turkey on Edge

Turkey's Sectarian Agenda

November 14th 2012


It has now been more than 10 years since Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) came to power in Turkey.  Despite receiving just 34 percent of the vote, a quirk of Turkish election law enabled Erdoğan’s party to grab two-thirds of the seats in parliament and therefore to dominate government.

Turks and non-Turks alike worried that Erdoğan’s victory would herald a religious transformation of Turkey’s traditionally liberal society. While mayor of Turkey’s largest city, Erdoğan described himself as the "the imam of Istanbul" and as “servant of the Shari'a." In September 1994, he promised, “We will turn all our schools into İmam Hatips," as Turkey calls its madrasas. An early conviction for religious incitement initially left Erdoğan disqualified for higher office and so he could not immediately become prime minister. Fortunately for Erdoğan, the AKP was able to use its super-majority to change the law so he could become prime minister. Read more ..

Wall Street on Edge

The SEC vs. J.P. Morgan

November 14th 2012

Financial reform now protest

J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. announced last week that it had agreed to settle a multiyear probe by the Securities and Exchange Commission. The probe alleges that Bear Stearns (which J.P. Morgan acquired in early 2008) failed to disclose key information about the mortgage-backed securities it sold—such as the low quality of the mortgages underlying them. Under the proposed settlement, J.P. Morgan will pay an undisclosed amount, but no individuals will be charged.

The agreement punishes the wrong people. Instead of fining J.P. Morgan—which acquired a failing firm at the behest of the federal government—the SEC should take action against the individual executives who committed the alleged wrongdoing.

Typically, a corporation that buys another assumes all of its financial obligations, including its legal liabilities. The logic here is that the buyer will look into these obligations—perform "due diligence"—and adjust its offer price to account for any potential legal liabilities of the company that it wants to buy. This logic holds, for instance, in the case of the federal government's billion-dollar lawsuit against Bank of America regarding alleged wrongdoings by Countrywide Financial before the merger of those two companies. Read more ..

After the Election

Obama Fiddles While Planet Earth Burns

November 13th 2012

Obama oil spill

In the fall of 1948, Harry Truman barnstormed the country by train, repeatedly bashing a “do-nothing Congress,” and so snatched victory from the jaws of defeat in that year’s presidential campaign. This year, neither presidential candidate focused on blasting a do-nothing Congress or, in Obama’s case, “Republican obstructionism,” demanding that the voters give them a legislative body that would mean an actual mandate for change.

We now know the results of such a campaign and, after all the tumult and the nation’s first $6 billion election, they couldn’t be more familiar. Only days later, you can watch a remarkably recognizable cast of characters from the reelected president and Speaker of the House John Boehner to the massed pundits of the mainstream media picking up the pages of a well-thumbed script.

Will it be bipartisanship or the fiscal cliff? Are we going to raise new revenues via tax reform or raise tax rates for the wealthiest Americans? Will the president make up with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu or not? Will it be war or something less with Iran? And so on and so forth. It’s the moment the phrase déjà vu all over again was made for. Read more ..

The Vote Aftermath

Obama's 'Moneyball' Campaign

November 13th 2012

Obama victory

How on earth did Barack Obama, the community organizer, harness the power of data in the 2012 election like a Bain Capital numbers-cruncher, while Mitt Romney’s data-mining effort crashed and burned like, well, Solyndra?

While Romney was relying on false signs of Republican “enthusiasm” and “momentum,” Obama was playing a game of political “Moneyball” — using an analytical, metrics-based approach to assemble a winning campaign, the way Billy Beane’s Oakland A’s used rigorous statistical analysis to assemble a winning baseball team.

According to Time magazine, the Obama campaign undertook an unprecedented data-mining effort that helped the president “raise $1 billion, remade the process of targeting TV ads and created detailed models of swing-state voters that could be used to increase the effectiveness of everything from phone calls and door knocks to direct mailings and social media.” Read more ..

America on Edge

New Ethnic and Religious Groups in Contention for Next Presidential Election

November 13th 2012

Muslim vote

The elections are over, and the finger-pointing is in. Most factors that contributed to Obama’s advantage and conversely Romney’s weakness have been thoroughly rehashed in the media.

Obama’s more “human” personality, natural appeal for African-Americans, Asian-Americans (the Hawaii connection) and Latinos (immigration), stronger than expected national security and foreign policy record (except the Benghazi embassy tragedy, Bin Laden was killed on his watch – and that’s all that matters to most voters), record-breaking fundraising (being able to out raise businessman Romney is no small thing) and superior “ground-game” operations. Read more ..

Broken Government

The Election is Over, Now the Real Battle Begins

November 12th 2012

Obama with baseball bat

The election is over. That signals the temporary end of the season's political warfare and the other indignities the campaigns have laid upon us. The country, and the facts, have been spun and misdirected enough. It's time to get to work on repairs to the nation's battered fiscal condition.

The people have spoken. Unsurprisingly, they have given us another sharply divided government much like the last one. The polarized electorate has produced another polarized Congress. Both parties, both houses and the President can claim, and have claimed, mandates.

A Fractured Government
Our policymakers are fresh off the nastiest campaign trail in memory. They are now expected to transform themselves, suddenly and magically, from warriors into statesmen. Their core constituencies are urging them to make neither peace nor comprise, but rather to continue the war. As usual, the election did not solve our political problems. Read more ..

Broken Government

California Leading the Way to a More Functional Congress

November 12th 2012

Juan Williams 02

The dark and dysfunctional 112th Congress, now drawing to its close, will go down in history as one in which the bad behavior of lawmakers led to a downgrade of the nation’s credit rating and the creation of the impending fiscal cliff. The Gallup approval rating for this Congress, at one point, reached a historic low of 12 percent.

This Congress passed the fewest bills of any Congress since the end of the Second World War. Now, there will be a lame-duck session and negotiations to put in place a temporary bridge to get past the fiscal cliff. But the 112th Congress is still not likely to surpass the low number of bills approved by the Congress of 1947 — the one President Truman famously dubbed the “do-nothing Congress.”

Polarization and gridlock have paralyzed Congress. But now, a bright ray of hope for ending those twin curses is emerging from election results in California. The optimism begins with changes in the system for electing lawmakers in the Golden State, home to the largest congressional biggest delegation.

In 2010, a diverse group of the state’s biggest political stakeholders — including the California Chamber of Commerce, the AARP and then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger — united to support a ballot proposition creating a bipartisan commission that redrew the geographic lines for California’s congressional districts. The proposition also changed the rules for the general election.

The old system pitted the winners of the party’s primaries against each other. The new system provides for the two candidates with the most votes in an open congressional primary to move on to the general election — even if they belong to the same party. Read more ..

The UAE on Edge

Blacklist the United Arab Emirates

November 11th 2012

International Currency 3

The security of many countries is being endangered by the United Arab Emirates, a confederation of seven small states located in the Arabian Peninsula. Usually considered a Western ally, this false friend also serves as a regional financial hub for mob figures, arms dealers, drug traffickers, jihadis and rogue regimes. The White House and the Financial Action Task Force—set up by the G7 to combat money laundering and terrorism financing (ML/TF) —have so far failed to take action to stop this emerging threat.

The UAE possesses an advanced, regulated, but lightly enforced financial services sector. It is a cash-based society and a heavy trader of precious metals, especially gold and diamonds. This, combined with the widespread use of hawala, an informal banking system often abused by rogue actors, makes the Emirates a cesspool of illicit activity. The country is also home to several banks blacklisted by the United States and UN for aiding terrorism and the spread of weapons of mass destruction. Rogue actors exploit these traits to move their money around the world, virtually without obstacles.

While gold and diamond smuggling has been somewhat curbed in certain regions of the world, it is still rampant in the Emirates. Dubai, the emirate that was the world's fifth-largest diamond center in 2007, maintains a reputation as a diamond and gold smuggling center. Its trade zones and tax-free status make it a convenient center for diamond dealers to launder profits and avoid taxes in their home markets. Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

Where Would Hezbollah Be Without the EU?

November 11th 2012

Hezbollah Nazi Salute

The EU has been here before. During the same period they came up with their false wall-of-separation within Hezbollah, they they did the same thing with Hamas. The fiction disappeared in Europe because it was no longer possible to allow a group to operate which blew up buses full of civilians.

However bad many Americans think that the Obama administration is on security matters, at least one thing can be said in their favor: they are not Europeans.

An advisor to President Obama last week condemned the European Union's weakness on security issues, and one, in particular, namely its disgraceful and pusillanimous behaviour on what should be an open-and-shut case. Speaking in Dublin last Saturday, the chief counter-terrorism adviser to President Obama, John Brennan, criticized the European Union for its complete failure to stand up to the terrorist group Hezbollah. Read more ..

After the Election

Obama's Sins of Omission: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow

November 11th 2012

Click to select Image
President Obama greets King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia.

Over and over again I’ve written about what President Barack Obama should do. Now the voters have given him a new chance. He could take it and change his policy. I don’t believe he will do that, but let me lay out both what he’s been wrong about and what he should do, just in case Obama is seeking a different approach.

What he did in the first term and will do in the second term: fostered revolutionary Islamism in Egypt, the Gaza Strip, Syria, Tunisia, and Turkey.

What he should have done and should do now: what Franklin Rooosevelt did in 1941, Harry Truman did in 1947, and George Bush in 1990 — led an international coalition that will systematically fight against a totalitarian enemy.

Today, that means revolutionary Islamism. The loose coalition should include Europe, anti-Islamist Arab regimes (Morocco, Algeria, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and the Gulf Arab states), and pro-democratic opposition movements (Turkey, Lebanon, Iran, and Syria). Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

United National Refugee Agency Keeps Mum about Syria

November 11th 2012

Palstinian refugee camp

When two employees of UNRWA, the United Nations organization for Palestinians, were killed in Syria, one by a sniper and the other in a crossfire, the organization responded by deploring "the tragic loss of life." It was even more subdued when Syrian artillery shells slammed into a United Nations school for Palestinians in a Damascus suburb, as it called for "all sides to refrain from conducting the conflict in civilian areas and to comply with their obligations under international law."

These mild responses were utterly unlike the cries of condemnation and calls for war-crimes investigations that came forth when an Israeli shell struck outside an UNRWA school during the 2009 Gaza. But double standards are sometimes revealing. The responses point to a new predicament for UNRWA and Palestinians. Simply put, they are no longer the Middle East's premier refugees. Some three hundred thousand Syrian refugees are now registered with the UN in neighboring countries, with estimates of up to seven hundred thousand refugees by year's end. Read more ..

The Vote Aftermath

What Voters Want: A Prez Who Cares

November 10th 2012

Barack Obama

Conservatives and Republicans should have two takeaways from Tuesday's election. First, they may comprise the single largest faction in American politics, but they do not comprise a clear majority. Second, if they want to gain a majority, they need to listen to people who rejected them to find out why.

The conservative and Republican challenge can be summed up in one question from the exit polls. The pollsters asked voters which of four characteristics they most wanted to see in their president. Mitt Romney won among voters who chose three of those characteristics: shares my values, is a strong leader and has a vision for the future. What's more, he carried them heavily, by between nine and 23 points. In all, 79 percent of voters selected one of these characteristics.

Romney lost because he lost among those who chose the remaining characteristic - by 63 points, 81-18. That characteristic? Cares about people like me. The entire Obama campaign was designed to tell swing voters that Romney and the Republicans did not care about them. You're a single woman? They oppose your use of contraception - they don't care about you. Hispanic voter? They oppose immigration reform and even oppose the DREAM Act - they don't care about you.

In 2010, the Canadian Conservative party destroyed the Liberal Party, which had dominated politics for 80 years, by tarring its leader as out of touch. That man, Michael Ignatieff, was a famous academic who returned to Canada to run for office. Tory ads ended brutally and succinctly: He didn't come back for you. Democrats ran an equally brutal and succinct campaign against Romney and the Republicans: They aren't running for you. Read more ..

The Vote Aftermath

Reid Soars, Warren Shines

November 10th 2012

Harry Reid

At the moment of his greatest political triumph, which will rank among the finest in the history of the United States Senate, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) reaches out in the tradition of Henry Clay to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio). I join most Americans hoping they reach back in word and deed.

Congratulations are in order for President Obama, Vice President Biden and all members of the House and Senate from both parties who were reelected on Tuesday. This column is about four senators who will have extraordinary roles to play in the coming hours and years, and what they tell us about the state of the union as 2012 comes to a close.

Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) led the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee with the brilliant insight that the best politics for Democrats is to find the best candidates for America. The list of Democratic candidates for Senate seats that Murray did so much to assemble is among the most able and talented, as a group, of my lifetime and yours. She has earned the megastar status that now arrives for her. Read more ..

America and Israel

Friends with Benefits: Why the U.S.-Israeli Alliance Is Good for America

November 9th 2012

Click to select Image

At the final presidential debate of the 2012 campaign season, President Barack Obama and Governor Mitt Romney mentioned Israel some 30 times, more than any other country except Iran. Both candidates called the Jewish state "a true friend," pledging to stand with it through thick and thin. Some political commentators criticized these effusive declarations of support as pandering, suggesting that the candidates were simply going after Jewish and pro-Israel votes.

But if support for Israel is indeed such a political winner, then it's at least in part because the voters know best. The U.S.-Israeli alliance now contributes more than ever to American security, as bilateral cooperation to deal with both military and nonmilitary challenges has grown in recent years. The relationship may not be symmetrical; the United States has provided Israel with indispensable diplomatic, economic, and military support totaling more than $115 billion since 1949. But it is a two-way partnership whose benefits to the United States have been substantial. The other, less tangible costs of the U.S.-Israeli alliance -- mainly, damage to Washington's reputation in Arab and Muslim countries, a problem also caused by American interventions and decades of U.S. support for autocratic leaders in the Middle East -- pale in comparison with the economic, military, and political gains it affords Washington. Read more ..

The Defense Edge

Military Stats Reveal Epicenter of U.S. Drone War

November 9th 2012

MQ-1 Predator Drone

Forget Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, and all the other secret little warzones. The real center of the U.S. drone campaign is in plain sight — on the hot and open battlefield of Afghanistan.

The American military has launched 333 drone strikes this year in Afghanistan. That’s not only the highest total ever, according to U.S. Air Force statistics. It’s essentially the same number of robotic attacks in Pakistan since the CIA-led campaign there began nearly eight years ago. In the last 30 days, there have been three reported strikes in Yemen. In Afghanistan, that’s just an average day’s worth of remotely piloted attacks. And the increased strikes come as the rest of the war in Afghanistan is slowing down.

The secret drone campaigns have drawn the most scrutiny because of the legal, geopolitical, and ethical questions they raise. But it’s worth remembering that the rise of the flying robots is largely occurring in the open, on an acknowledged battlefield where the targets are largely unquestioned and the attending issues aren’t nearly as fraught. Read more ..

Yemen on Edge

Why Yemen is the Scariest Challenge Facing Obama Abroad

November 9th 2012

Yemeni terrorists

Obama will have to face the growing menace of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and the failing state in Yemen that it thrives on. The response must be nimble and careful because AQAP’s real goal is to drag America into another bleeding war in the Muslim world, this time hoping it will spread into the oil rich deserts of Saudi Arabia. Luckily, Gregory Johnson has written the best new book on al Qaeda in 2012 and the best book on Yemen in years.

The Last Refuge: Yemen, Al Qaeda and America’s War in Arabia is a detailed narrative account of the development of AQAP.  It is also a great read; Johnson is a very good storyteller.  The story is fascinating, this is a group that was virtually destroyed in 2004 by drone attacks and effective counter terrorism operations, and then it recovered, helped immensely by the Arab world’s anger over the American invasion of Iraq. In 2009 it rebranded itself with new leadership composed of Saudis and Yemenis, several of whom had been prisoners in Guantanamo Bay. It’s number two, Saeed al Shihri, spent five years America’s Cuban prison before being released to Saudi Arabia in 2007 where he fled into Yemen. A drone had allegedly killed him last month, then he reappeared alive in a message threatening more attacks on America. Read more ..

The Iranian Threat

Make-or-Break for the U.S. and Iran

November 8th 2012

Iranian Revolutionary Guard

It is an accident of fate that the quadrennial American exercise in selecting a president happens to coincide almost precisely with the anniversary of the 1979 seizure of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran. That episode unraveled the Carter Administration and left a legacy of U.S.-Iranian animosity that has confounded every subsequent America president. And so it was last week, on the eve of Barack Obama's historic reelection victory, that thousands of Iranians joined in the Islamic Republic's commemoration of the hostage ordeal, which has become an annual jubilee of anti-Americanism, with demonstrators showcasing effigies of Obama and shouting 'death to America.'

Such scenes, together with the bombastic rhetoric of Iranian leaders who used the anniversary to vilify Washington as "the most criminal regime on earth," might suggest that little has changed between the two old adversaries and that the prospects of any progress in resolving the crisis over Iran's nuclear ambitions remain as distant as ever. Read more ..

America on Edge

On Election Day, A New American Mainstream

November 8th 2012

Multiracial kids

Tuesday’s election might someday be seen as a historic turning point in American politics: the last time a major party candidate could hope to win the presidency with a campaign aimed directly at the nation’s “mainstream” white population. If that was Mitt Romney’s strategy, he succeeded wildly, gaining a nearly unprecedented Republican vote advantage over Democrats among whites, 59 percent to 39 percent.

In the end though, he lost largely by ignoring the rising clout of the country’s minority population, including blacks, Asian Americans and especially Hispanics.   

The failure to reach out more to these groups went a long way toward costing him the presidency, leading to losses in rapidly growing swing states like Nevada, Colorado, Virginia, Florida, and almost North Carolina—states that that once stood squarely within the GOP’s Sun Belt wheelhouse. In each of these states, through enthusiastic turnout or stronger support, Hispanics made bigger contributions to Obama’s election than in 2008. Read more ..

The Vote Aftermath

Four More Years of Gridlock Coming

November 8th 2012


To put it mildly, many in the GOP were not pleased with the outcome of Tuesday night’s elections. This represents a national repudiation of reality: we have tossed out the doctor because we don’t like his prognosis. The spending addict does not want an intervention; he wants more spending, no matter what.

​The Democrats banked on their 2008 coalition, and won big, bigger than big. This wasn’t just a narrow survival by a weak incumbent President, it was a nationwide wave, a sweep at every level, from the president down to ballot initiatives like redefining marriage and legalizing marijuana. You can’t blame Hurricane Sandy for that. The unfortunate fact is that the Millennial generation is the most secular generation in American history, the most socially liberal. They will be shifting every election to the Left from now on.

​The Obama campaign—Axelrod, Plouffe, Cutter—look even smarter than they did four years ago, when they got a freshman Senator elected President by seven points over an experienced war hero. This time, they got President Benghazi, President Obamacare, President Contraception Mandate re-elected after a historic midterm loss. And they did it all without actually revealing a second term agenda, or any evidence that their policies had done any good.

The Democrats have a mandate to govern, and Republicans are now in an uncomfortable position everywhere. The policies of the last four years have been not only affirmed but, with these ballot initiatives, shown to be now mainstream. Our nation’s culture has shifted to the Left, validating that self-fulfilling epithet of “Republican extremism.” It is apparently extreme now to balance a budget, to stay out of people’s lives, and respect tradition. Obama almost ran the table with swing states: it was a landslide. Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

The Enemy of My Enemy in Damascus

November 7th 2012

Riot Gear Police

A reminder to the administration: the enemy of my enemy is not necessarily my friend.  The friend of my friend is not necessarily my friend.  And the friend of my enemy is not necessarily my enemy, but he may be not by my friend, either. Friends, in fact, are hard to come by in the Middle East.

Bashar Assad, for example, is Iran's puppet, Hezb'allah's patron, Israel's nemesis, Hamas's erstwhile landlord, and his people's tyrant.  He is the enemy of the Muslim Brotherhood -- our (former?) enemy.  And he has a mixed relationship with al-Qaeda, permitting it to infiltrate Iraq to kill Americans, Shiites, and non-compliant Sunnis, but now finding it joining the jihadis against him.

But Assad is also the friend of Russia, the object of the Obama administration's ardent courtship.  And Russia's enemies are Sunni jihadists, including Chechens and the Muslim Brotherhood.  One (admittedly unlikely) calculation of American interests might have had us join the Russians in stopping the rebels and then working with the Russians to effect political change in Syria.  It couldn't have worked any worse for the Syrian people or the U.S.-Russian relationship than Mrs. Clinton hectoring Putin but failing to change his deeply rooted interest in maintaining its port in Syria and hitting back at the jihadists. Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

Republicans: In Victory or Defeat

November 7th 2012

Mitt Romney

Regardless of the results of today's election, the Republican establishment will argue the party must move rightward and reinforce its most conservative values. True partisans will push for identical responses whether Governor Romney enters the White House or retirement. This reaction will not strengthen the GOP but hinder its future viability.

A Romney Win
If Governor Romney beats President Obama, Republicans will frame the result as a transcendent defeat of conservatism over New Deal-style liberalism. Policymakers, donors, and party activists will urge the swift replacement of existing fiscal, social, and regulatory policies. They will claim that Romney’s win—no matter the margin—signals a nation heartily embracing the most extreme of Republican values. The reaction will be to conflate a win and a mandate.

Four years ago, President Obama confused the two. He won the White House by a substantial margin. He grabbed a larger percentage of the popular vote than any candidate in 20 years and grew his party’s Senate majority to be filibuster-proof. The perceived mandate to pass legislation such as the Affordable Care Act overestimated support and underestimated backlash. The irony is that Republicans should learn from Obama in designing a legislative strategy. Yet, they won’t. They will repeat many of the same mistakes and likely in grander fashion. Read more ..

Broken Government

The Fiscal Cliff: Predictable, Reprehensible, But Still Avoidable

November 7th 2012

US Capital Day

As most Americans realize by now, after the election Congress and the president will face a so-called "fiscal cliff." The cliff is a series of tax and spending provisions that will either expire or start right after January 1. All the provisions have the effect of decreasing the deficit by either increasing taxes or reducing spending. If Congress fails to prevent these provisions from being implemented, the simultaneous increase in tax rates and the reductions in government spending, which would total nearly $8 trillion over 10 years according to the Congressional Budget Office, will cause the nation to fall back into recession. To avoid this outcome, Congress can continue its past behavior and kick the can down the road by delaying implementation of the provisions.

Although no one planned for all these provisions to come into play at one time, there can be no doubt that Congress and the president have failed to deal with every element of the cliff until now. Moreover, anyone with a calendar should have known for a year now that these revenue and spending elements of the cliff were going to hit simultaneously shortly after New Year's Eve. Further, there have been any number of opportunities in the last several years to extricate the nation from the geological fault that caused the cliff - the nation's expanding debt. Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

Barack Obama Does Not Deserve Another Four Years in Office

November 6th 2012


For four years now–yes, I started before he was actually inaugurated–I have been chronicling the disastrous policies of President Barack Obama on the Middle East. I may have written as many as 1000 articles that deal with aspects of this issue. In the tradition of Scheherazade, perhaps the greatest of Middle Eastern story-tellers, that makes this my 1001th story.
And now the day has come when it will be decided if he will have the same period of time once again to do more damage, to help destroy more lives, create tens of thousands of refugees, and lay the basis for new wars.

I have written about how this administration has supported the bad guys–with guns and diplomatic help–in Syria, those who want to turn the country into an anti-American Islamic republic. Of how the nation’s leaders believe that helping just about every Islamist group except al-Qaida is a great idea because they will be moderate and good friends of America.

Then there’s the disgraceful Benghazi incident where, whatever the precise details, the White House stood by as Americans were murdered and then rationalized the motive of the terrorists by blaming the United States. Benghazi is the perfect symbol for Obama Middle East policy. Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

The Next President and the Supreme Court

November 6th 2012

Supreme Court at the 2010 SOTU

Every vote counts. And this year, it could count double. One vote could decide both the immediate election and the course of constitutional law for decades to come.

Just ask the senior federal officials responsible for our security immediately after 9/11 who were sued years later by Javaid Iqbal. During the investigation into the attacks, FBI officials identified Iqbal as a suspect of high interest and detained him in New York. He sued alleging that high government officials, including Attorney General John Ashcroft, personally ordered that he be discriminated against on the basis of religion, race, or national origin.

Iqbal provided no facts in support of his conspiracy theory. When his case finally reached the Supreme Court, five justices properly, but narrowly, rejected his speculative claims that would have cleared the way for plaintiffs’ lawyers to embark on fishing expeditions in hopes of winning windfall damages from current and former federal officials. Read more ..

America and India

India Helpful as U.S. Join Asian Maritime Grouping

November 6th 2012

Cargo Ship

Last week, India assisted the U.S. in securing dialogue-partner status in the Indian Ocean Rim Association for Regional Cooperation (IOR-ARC), a 20-member grouping of littoral nations of the Indian Ocean. India and the U.S.—as well as other Indo-Pacific nations such as Australia, Japan, Singapore, and Malaysia—share an interest in maintaining free and open trade routes in the Indian Ocean region. While the grouping has so far done little in terms of concrete solutions for improving maritime security, it is still important for the U.S. to take an active part in dialogue on these issues. The rise of China and its economic, military, and diplomatic heft are increasingly felt in the region. The U.S. joined as the sixth dialogue partner along with China, Japan, the United Kingdom, France, and Egypt. Iran had objected to Washington’s taking part in the group, and thus India (the group’s current chair) stepped in to defend U.S. membership.


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