Bush and Walker start to sharpen their messages
It is no secret that I have found Jeb Bush’s pronouncements on foreign policy fine but not as strong as other candidates’. While the flap over James Baker was a relatively minor issue in the grand scheme of things, sometimes issues have symbolic value, so there was some rumbling in the base about what Bush believes and how strongly he believes it. In an interview today, he certainly made the effort to strengthen his foreign policy rhetoric.
He reiterated his general support for engagement. (“This policy of pulling back, disengaging is not the right approach. If our friends don’t count on us or trust us, and there are many examples of that, and our enemies don’t fear us, it creates challenges that we are now seeing — particularly in the Middle East, but across the board.”) And he directly slammed the president for his treatment of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu: “It turns out he didn’t quite say that. That was how the narrative was built here in the United States. What he said was as long as the Palestinians don’t recognize Israel, their right to have secure borders as a Jewish state, that a two-state solution is not possible. Look, Israeli politics is rough and tumble, maybe more so than here. And so, he apologized for what he said about Arab Israelis, and we should take him at his word. We shouldn’t be continuing to disparage him.” He came out against closing Gitmo. He took another step away from Baker: “I did not believe it was appropriate to go speak to J Street, a group that basically has anti-Israeli sentiments, but I have a vast array of people advising me and I’m honored that Jim Baker is doing so. The fact that I have people that I might not agree with on every subject advising me shows leadership, frankly. I don’t think we need monolithic thinking here.” (He could have done away with the “honored” part, but it was at least an acknowledgment that Baker’s views on Israel are an anathema to most of the extremely pro-Israel GOP.)
As for the Taliban trade for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, he said, “My first reaction is to the people who lost their lives trying to get him back and their families that didn’t get the same attention from this administration and this president. It’s heartbreaking to think about people, the blood and treasure of our country, being lost in any circumstance. But to try to bring back someone who turns out to have been a deserter is just heartbreaking.”
Bush certainly has topics he is passionate about, especially education. But with negotiators about to give away the store to Iran, the U.S. president bashing Israel, key votes on the defense budget and the war against the Islamic State, he will need to bring foreign policy front and center, be more definitive (for example, is he going to abide by a bad Iran deal?), and be more declarative about what he would do (as opposed to describing the mess President Obama has made). Perhaps this is a matter of getting better staff to beef up written statements or to sharpen his views (rival Scott Walker, the governor of Wisconsin, revealed in an interview with Hugh Hewitt that he makes time for a foreign policy briefing every day, and other reports suggest he reads extensively on national security issues).
Now as to Walker, a piece in the Wall Street Journal asserted he had “changed” positions and was touting behind closed doors a path to citizenship. After some social media hyper-ventilation, his spokeswoman put out a statement essentially denying the account: “We strongly dispute this account. Governor Walker has been very clear that he does not support amnesty and believes that border security must be established and the rule of law must be followed. His position has not changed, he does not support citizenship for illegal immigrants, and this story line is false.”
There are three aspects to this flap. First, Walker would do well to spell out what he is for, not simply what he is against. He said that this president’s conduct changed his mind on the issue. How it changed and what he now believes are topics he should address forthrightly. Second, he should be wary of chasing voters drawn to Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) who inveigh against immigration and toss around economically suspect claims. Walker remains a figure who can unify the party and appeal to non-Republicans in a general election. There is no need to marginalize himself as Mitt Romney did went he introduced “self-deportation” to the 2012 presidential race. Third, for all the huffing and puffing about Bush, immigration reform critics ignore the similarities among the views of Bush, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), former Texas governor Rick Perry and others who emphasize border security first. None of them favor “open borders” or “amnesty.” Rubio, for example, favors border security and measures to counter visa overstay and then an arduous road to citizenship for those here illegally (with fines, payment of back taxes, etc.) and repair of our legal immigration system. It’s not going to please the talk radio show anti-immigration crowd, but let’s remember that they are not representative of the GOP electorate as a whole. Whatever route Walker chooses, he should be clear and unapologetic.
These developments are a reminder that it is far better to be definitive and express your views to voters even if they disagree with you. Ultimately, candidates will be selected not only for their views but also for their tenacity and forthrightness.
On an Iran deal, reports of concessions galore
News reports over the past few days have featured a string of once unimaginable concessions from the P5+1 in the Iran nuclear talks. (One can imagine the French are feeding the media a steady diet of leaks. It is the French who have expressed the most concern about the bonanza of concessions, so leaks and ensuing public outrage is an understandable strategy if one is trying to stop a bad deal.)
The Wall Street Journal reported: “Talks over Iran’s nuclear program have hit a stumbling block a week before a key deadline because Tehran has failed to cooperate with a United Nations probe into whether it tried to build atomic weapons in the past, say people close to the negotiations. In response, these people say, the U.S. and its diplomatic partners are revising their demands on Iran to address these concerns before they agree to finalize a nuclear deal, which would repeal U.N. sanctions against the country.” Translation: Iran said no, so the administration is caving. This is no small matter. David Albright, founder and president of the Institute for Science and International Security, explained to the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee last year:
A prerequisite for any comprehensive agreement is for the IAEA to know when Iran sought nuclear weapons, how far it got, what types it sought to develop, and how and where it did this work. Was this weapons capability just put on the shelf, waiting to be quickly restarted? The IAEA needs a good baseline of Iran’s military nuclear activities, including the manufacturing of equipment for the program and any weaponization related studies, equipment, and locations. The IAEA needs this information to design a verification regime . . . Iran’s lack of clarity on alleged nuclear weaponization and its noncooperation with the IAEA, if accepted as part of a nuclear agreement, would create a large vulnerability in any future verification regime. How large? Iran would have clear precedents to deny inspectors access to key facilities and individuals. There would be essentially no-go zones across the country for inspectors.
Then today we learn, “The United States is considering letting Tehran run hundreds of centrifuges at a once-secret, fortified underground bunker in exchange for limits on centrifuge work and research and development at other sites, officials have told The Associated Press. The trade-off would allow Iran to run several hundred of the devices at its Fordo facility, although the Iranians would not be allowed to do work that could lead to an atomic bomb and the site would be subject to international inspections, according to Western officials familiar with details of negotiations now underway. In return, Iran would be required to scale back the number of centrifuges it runs at its Natanz facility and accept other restrictions on nuclear-related work.”
No, seriously. The administration started with the premise that there was no right to enrich and that Iran’s pathway to a bomb had to be cut off, including dismantling of the facilities at Fordow and Arak. Now we are talking about letting Iran enrich, underground. But the inspectors! Inspectors can be tossed out, and, in any event, by then sanctions will have been lifted and a sprint to a nuclear bomb could easily reach the finish line before anything could be reimposed. As the Israel Project explained in an e-mail, “Allowing the Iranians to enrich at Fordow means they could kick out inspectors at any time and have a fully-functioning enrichment facility hardened against military intervention. Since sanctions will be unraveled by design at the beginning of a deal, that means the West would have literally zero options to stop a breakout.”
What we see here on every major issue, from revealing past activities to allowing retention of centrifuges to preventing snap inspection, the West has folded. We understand that in the give and take of negotiations we might allow Iran, say, to keep some centrifuges. But that has to be balanced with extra-tight inspections, full disclosure of past activities and a very slow rollback in sanctions. Instead, we are giving up on all of these. And to boot we hear they are not at the stage of reducing this to writing. (To make it simple, someone could scrawl on a napkin: Iran can do whatever it pleases in 10 years, and most of that before.) As former Obama adviser on Iran Dennis Ross and former ambassador Eric Edelman put it in a recent report, since “the Administration has set such a tight breakout [one year] timeframe as its baseline, it therefore needs to demonstrate how even these expanded safeguards would guarantee the IAEA’s ability to reliably detect any number of a wide range of potential violations, and to report them in a timely and definitive manner. The burden of proof is on the Administration to explain how the prospective final deal it is negotiating does not warrant even stricter safeguards, including: real-time video monitoring of nuclear facilities, unannounced inspections at declared and undeclared sites, including military and IRGC sites suspected of involvement in nuclear Questions for a Final Deal with Iran 11 activities, and mandatory access to any facilities, documentation and personnel requested by the IAEA.” However, on this and other issues Iran is getting more, not less in the deal.
Arab allies in the region are already up in arms over our neglect and denial about Yemen. As Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) put it in a Fox News interview, we see that “they’ve been wrong so often about the true threat of ISIS, about the status of Al Qaeda, about the holding up Yemen as an example of counterterrorism excellence. How can we now trust that they’re going to do — for example, a deal with Iran that’s going make sense for the world and keep us safer? This is an administration that has a history of being wrong, and they’re going to be wrong again when it comes to Iran.” A deal this bad will only confirm our Arab and Israeli allies that the U.S. is indifferent to Iran’s hegemonic ambitions and all too willing to sell their interests down the drain.
How does the administration expect a deal as bad as this to fly with Congress and the American people? Perhaps they simply want Congress to take responsibility for nixing a deal. If so, Congress should oblige. In a foolhardy and weak-kneed effort to accommodate the White House, Senate Democrats insisted on pushing back votes to require a congressional up-or-down vote (Corker-Graham-Menendez) and if no deal is struck, new sanctions (Menendez-Kirk). Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-Ky.) spokesman confirms that the votes will come in April after Congress is back from recess. It is increasingly obvious (most recently evidenced by the complete collapse of Yemen to Iran-backed troops and the indictment of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl for desertion) that the administration’s collective judgment is awful. Congress needs to wrest the handling of the Iran nuclear threat from the sole province of the White House (which has kept the terms of the deal secret, for very good reason if we now see what a travesty it would be).
If there is a deal is as bad as we fear, the Senate should vote it down, impose additional sanctions and set forth the terms of an acceptable deal. Iran will leave in a huff, but the U.S. sanctions will remain in place. Through the power of the purse, Congress should also make clear that any attempt to undermine existing U.N. sanctions with a weaker deal will imperil U.N. funding and will not be matched by congressional action.
It will be interesting to see if Democrats finally revolt and oppose the president’s cockeyed scheme of appeasement. Moreover, you wonder if Hillary Clinton is going to run defending this deal. If so, we may well see a House, Senate and White House stocked with Republicans willing and able to do what Obama should have: Force Iran to choose between survival of the regime and its nuclear program.
Are Democrats sure about Hillary Clinton?
The latest poll from CBS News has plenty of bad news for Hillary Clinton:
26 percent of Americans now have a favorable view of Hillary Clinton, while 37 percent view her unfavorably; another third are undecided or don’t have an opinion of her. As Clinton weighs a presidential bid, her favorable views are 12 points lower than they were in the fall of 2013, just months after leaving her position as secretary of state. . . . Negative views of Clinton have risen among Republicans. Seventy-two percent hold an unfavorable view of her today, compared to 60 percent almost two years ago. Also, the percentage of independents who view Clinton favorably is now half of what it was in the fall of 2013. Many independents now say they are undecided or don’t know enough about Clinton to have an opinion. Most Democrats (55 percent) continue to hold favorable views of Clinton but that percentage has dropped eight points since November 2013. . . . Fewer than half — 42 percent- say she is honest and trustworthy, while more — 47 percent — don’t think she is.
What is extraordinary is that Clinton has essentially done this to herself. There is no GOP nominee yet; only Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) is actually a declared candidate. The limited exposure and tightly controlled interaction with the media she has gotten have been enough to damage her significantly with the voters.
The e-mail escapade surely did not help matters. (“More than six in 10 Americans do not think it was appropriate for Hillary Clinton to use a personal email address and server for work-related matters as secretary of state. Democrats divide on whether it was appropriate for Clinton to do this, but majorities of 80 percent of Republicans and 64 percent independents do not think her actions were appropriate.”) But what is really going on here, I think, is confirmation of what we already knew: The idea of Hillary Clinton running for president is always better than Hillary Clinton actually running for president.
It’s not the e-mail or the overpaid speeches or the foundation’s money from foreign governments or her insistence the Clintons were so “broke” they could not pay their multiple mortgages. It is all those things, plus, I would suggest, a lack of countervailing qualities that are winning and ideas that are interesting. Virtually everyone who likes her is going to like her later; these are devoted fans and loyal Democrats for whom further evidence of her bad character make no difference. But how is she going to win everyone else over?
If you start with the assumption that both parties can muster 45 percent to 48 percent of the vote in a presidential race, the balance of the race is about boosting turnout and getting to 50.1 (or 270 electoral voters, more specifically) by convincing the persuadable voters to pick your side. Democrats are making a risky bet (on which Republicans are delighted to take the other side) that the base will be a lot more excited about her after a primary with no real opposition and she will be a lot less polarizing over a year from now than she is currently. It is a bit of a mystery how they think this is going to come about.
Republicans have several things going for them in 2016 — natural fatigue with the party in the White House, a vulnerable opponent and a quality field with an exciting and unpredictable primary. They still might screw it up (by nominating a weak candidate, for example), but with Clinton they certainly get a candidate that many Americans don’t like all that much. In the race to 270 that’s a nice head start.
A letter to Harvey Weinstein
We were taken aback by this, from a Hollywood Reporter piece: “‘We better stand up and kick these guys in the ass,’ movie mogul Harvey Weinstein said about present-day anti-Semites as he accepted the Humanitarian Award at the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s National Tribute Dinner on Tuesday night at the Beverly Hilton. ‘We’re gonna have to get as organized as the mafia,’ he continued. ‘We just can’t take it anymore [from] these crazy bastards.’” At first I thought this was sarcastic, for certainly he and his Hollywood friends are among the most politically active and richest Americans. They give millions and millions to political causes so surely they have as much political heft as anyone. But perhaps Weinstein is genuinely confused. So on the premise he is actually clueless and not a pompous hypocrite making an empty display of concern, I offer the following:
Your concern about anti-Semitism is touching. However, as with any serious issue, one must make it a priority in your political activism for it to rise above the level of an applause line. It seems that the issue simply does not register high on the list of causes with you and your colleagues. Recall the Golden Globes award show, where speeches and ovations were given in tribute to the murdered journalists killed by Islamic fundamentalists at Charlie Hebdo. No mention — not a word — was made of the Jews targeted in the kosher market. Here was the most obvious instance of anti-Semitism, murdering Jews for being Jews, and yet “the Industry” was silent.
When President Obama declared the murders to be “random,” I don’t recall any outcry from you or your friends. Surely he would have taken seriously the rebuke from staunch Democratic supporters who have given millions to his and other Democrats’ campaigns and causes. Indeed, rampant anti-Semitism has been evident in Europe for a long time now. Certainly, individuals as politically connected and influential as Hollywood Democrats could have held rallies, taken out ads, demanded the administration and Congress speak out on the subject and demand European governments take action. I don’t recall this happening.
Europe is bad, but of course the Middle East is worse, ranging from the scurrilous Egyptian press to Hamas, whose charter calls for genocide. In a war to stop rockets designed to kill Jews, Israel was forced to conduct the Gaza campaign last year. Yet when the FAA arbitrarily cut off flights to Ben Gurion airport, it was a Republican, former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg who flew there in protest and solidarity. When the administration condemned Israel for civilian casualties caused by Hamas using women and children as human shields, there could have been a strong and united voice from Hollywood decrying the “blame the victim” mentality and extending full support for Israel in the war against genocidal terrorists. I may have missed it, but I don’t believe there was.
The great Natan Sharansky wrote the leading tract on anti-Semitism and Israel, which includes the following:
Moreover, the so-called “new anti-Semitism” poses a unique challenge. Whereas classical anti-Semitism is aimed at the Jewish people or the Jewish religion, “new anti-Semitism” is aimed at the Jewish state. Since this anti-Semitism can hide behind the veneer of legitimate criticism of Israel, it is more difficult to expose. Making the task even harder is that this hatred is advanced in the name of values most of us would consider unimpeachable, such as human rights.
If that makes sense to you, then you must hold politicians accountable who demonize or tolerate those who demonize Israel, who hold it to a double standard and who aim to or tolerate delegitimization of Israel. It would behoove you to look at the actions and language of politicians you support and those you don’t to see whether consciously or not they are practitioners of the new anti-Semitism. But, alas, that seems never to be an issue for Hollywood liberals in considering which candidates to back. They are emphatic about a candidate’s stance on climate change, abortion and gay marriage, but there is virtually no discussion of the candidate’s’ views on the sorts of issues I have noted above. Frankly, Hollywood Democrats have become what I call a “cheap date” — avoiding any pressure on candidates to spell out their views and to advance policies that take these issues seriously.
It is noteworthy that just this week the administration hinted it might reconsider its use of the veto to block U.N. resolutions aimed at the Jewish state. You know, I am sure, the United Nations is second to none in its persecution of the Jewish state, its singling out of Israel and its toleration of virulent anti-Semitism. The notion that we would no long stand up to block anti-Israel measures should be shocking to those concerned about anti-Semitism. Perhaps Hollywood liberals could speak out about that.
Finally, there is no more egregious display of anti-Semitism than the BDS movement and the boycotting of Israeli intellectuals. At campuses around the United States the BDS movement, whose aim is to single out Israel for unique punishment (ignoring repeated offers of a state to the Palestinians), and naked displays of anti-Semitism are rampant. As donors to all sorts of institutions, Hollywood could make clear that any college or university that institutionalizes anti-Semitism by adoption of BDS resolutions will get no support from Hollywood. No buildings with your names on it, no honorary degrees.
You see, it is all a matter of will and of priorities. Hollywood Democrats probably are more organized than the mafia; they certainly have more money. So I look forward to your carrying through on some of the actions I have described above. When you shun, boycott and vilify anti-Semites or those who are passive in the face of anti-Semitism to the same degree you would climate change deniers, opponents of gay marriage and anti-abortion activists we may really get somewhere. After all, if I may quote a conservative philosopher, the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.
Sincerely, the Right Turn
Rick Perry and Scott Walker get more impressive with time
Candidates over the course of a campaign, or multiple campaigns, can either stagnate — recycling talking points, never reflecting on or refining their own views — or grow. The liberal media like to define “grow” as becoming more liberal, but we have seen two candidates become much better versions of themselves, able to communicate what they feel and who they are while showing mastery of subject matter.
No one has done this more than former Texas governor Rick Perry. In a brief interview with Mark Halperin, which most accurately captures the Perry I have met and interviewed, we see a more relaxed, engaging person and one certainly evidencing more sophistication about issues.
His ability to push back on a question assuming that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had flip-flopped on the two-state solution was evidence he is now thoroughly familiar with and comfortable talking about foreign policy, which may be the most critical issue in 2016. And his reference to his Air Force service — in particular, his understanding of the experience of military families and his own experience with hollowing out the military — effectively conveys his personal affection for and comfort with the military, something no other candidate can claim.
Needless to say, we saw none of this in 2012. Now Perry makes an effective case: This is a conservative who has done a lot and is prepared to be commander in chief.
A month or so ago, there were legitimate questions as to whether Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker was up to speed on foreign policy and could project the gravitas we expect of presidential nominees. In an interview with Hugh Hewitt, he seemed a far cry from the candidate at CPAC. His answer on the Taliban trade and news of Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl’s desertion charge was solid. (“When I think about this desertion charge, the thing that gets me the most frustrated is this administration gave up five Taliban, five Taliban for this guy, and I can’t, I mean, logic tells you all this information that they’re bringing against the sergeant now isn’t something that just happened since then. This is stuff they knew about when they put American soldiers’ lives at risk to try and rescue him. And they gave up five Taliban leaders in return for a guy who now is going to be charged.”) Likewise, he explained why he prefers the term “safety” and gave an apt overview of what is happening in the Middle East:
Safety is something you feel inside your chest, you feel in your heart. And I think increasingly, Americans feel a sense of concern that particularly if they have family members or loved ones that ever want to travel again, they see France, they see Canada, they see other places around the world, not just the Middle East, and it’s a safety issue. And they, and then I would just add to this, as they look at this more closely, they see a president who’s drawn a line in the sand and crossed it, who called ISIS just a year ago the jayvee squad, who called Yemen last fall a success story, who calls Iran now a place where we can do business. Think about how screwed up that is. I remember the movie in the ’80s, “Trading Places” . . . you know, with Dan Aykroyd and Eddie Murphy, it’s like Iran and Israel are trading places in the sequel. In the eyes of this president, our ally is supposed to be Israel. Our adversary has been historically Iran. And yet this administration completely does it the other way around. We need to call radical Islamic terrorism for what it is, and a commander-in-chief who’s willing to act.
His has no trouble saying he would “absolutely” walk away from a faulty Iran deal.
And on the military, he seemed to have a level of detail we’ve not seen before: “Not only do we need to make sure that we invest in the Ohio Class submarines, nuclear, that gives us, that’s you know, one part of our nuclear triad, and it’s probably the most important part. We’ve got bombers that are getting old, we’ve got intercontinental ballistic missiles. But in the larger context, we’ve got a Navy that’s about, headed towards about half the size as it was under Reagan. We need to reinvest in that. And that’s why I push and support going forward the Gates level funding as a minimum, and we need to make sure that instead of heading down to 250 vessels, we probably need to be at 325 to maybe 340, 346 at some point in the future, under a new commander-in-chief.”
He, too, made a persuasive argument as to why his background prepares him for the presidency: “When you’re a governor, you’re a mayor, you’re a county executive wherever you’re at, and when you have a cabinet and you have to act on behalf of not just the people who elected you, but the whole group, the whole constituency as we talked about a little bit at lunch. You’ve got to lead, and you’ve got to listen to people who hopefully are smart or smarter than you are on any given topic. You ultimately have to make the decision. This president, unfortunately, having been a senator, a state Senate, and community organizer, never led anything. And so he’s never been in a position to make those sorts of judgments. And so we’ve seen time and time again, they’re just faulty decisions, which would be one thing if it was something off on the side. But this is affecting not only American policy and American lives, but people around the world.”
So there you have two candidates, different in age and life experience but serious men, thoughtful on foreign policy and credible as the next chief executive and commander in chief. They did not emerge as presidential-ready candidates overnight, but they are showing respect for the office and the voters and displaying self-discipline and tenacity in making sure they are ready to serve. The GOP could do a lot worse than these two. Other candidates should see how they are impressing voters and making the argument for mature, proven leaders.