Sunday, March 18, 2012

Australia: Taliban suspend peace talks with US

The Sydney Morning Herald

Taliban suspend peace talks with US
Emma Graham-Harrison, Kabul

THE Taliban have suspended peace talks in Qatar with the US, complicating the Obama administration's plans for an orderly exit from Afghanistan.

The move leaves the west's political strategy for Afghanistan in tatters days after a US soldier's massacre of 16 civilians raised questions about the future of the military campaign.

Within minutes of the insurgents' announcement, President Hamid Karzai delivered another blow to western plans by calling for US troops to leave Afghan villages immediately. In a statement following a meeting with US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta in Kabul, Mr Karzai said he would like to see foreign efforts shift to economic assistance and reconstruction instead.
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If that request is met, it could spell the end for the current coalition military strategy of pushing out insurgents and winning over the civilian populations village by village.

The Obama administration said yesterday it was pressing on with trying to reconcile Afghanistan's government and Taliban forces willing to renounce terrorism.

''There is no likely resolution to the conflict in Afghanistan without a political resolution,'' White House press secretary Jay Carney said. ''Those who would be reconciled need to lay down their arms, renounce al-Qaeda [and] promise to abide by the Afghan constitution. And we continue to support that process.''

The Taliban's decision last year to open an office in Qatar raised hopes that, after years of false starts and dead ends, there might be a real prospect of at least coming to the negotiating table with the insurgent group.

Hope of a decisive military victory over the Taliban has long been abandoned, so negotiations are a key part of western efforts to organise a withdrawal of combat troops in 2014 without leaving Afghanistan to slide back into civil war.

The Taliban statement did not go into the precise details of the US demands that prompted the Taliban to abandon talks, but it described Washington as ''shaky, erratic and vague'' and rejected any discussion with the government in Kabul as pointless.

''They turned their backs on their promises and started initiating baseless propaganda portraying the envoys of the Islamic Emirate [the Taliban's name for their regime] as having commenced multilateral negotiations,'' the statement said.

However, it did leave open the possibility that dialogue could resume again in the future.

Lawmakers in Afghanistan, meanwhile, are outraged that the US flew the soldier suspected of gunning down 16 civilians last Sunday to Kuwait on Wednesday night. They demand the US Army staff sergeant be tried in Afghanistan.

The soldier had been drinking alcohol - a violation of military rules in combat zones - and suffering from stress related to his fourth combat tour and tensions with his wife, a senior US official revealed.

''When it all comes out, it will be a combination of stress, alcohol and domestic issues - he just snapped,'' the official said. As details emerged about possible reasons behind the shootings, a US official told The New York Times the military was preparing to move the sergeant to a US prison as early as this weekend, just a day after he was flown to the detention site in Kuwait.

The sergeant's sudden transfer to the US is the result of a behind-the-scenes diplomatic furore in Kuwait, which learnt of the sergeant's move to a US base on its territory from news reports before the US government could alert Kuwaiti authorities to the move, the official said.

''When they learnt about it, the Kuwaitis blew a gasket and wanted him out of there,'' the official said.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

UK: Is GOP primary fatigue beginning to set in?

PJ: Republicans modeled this primary season after the successful 2008 democratic primary between Clinton and Obama. Sadly for the GOP, the length of the primary is the only similarity between then and now. In the 2008 democratic primary, voters wrestled with a choice between two candidates that both inspired them. In today's republican primary, polls show that none of the candidates on the GOP ticket have that kind of draw for their party faithfuls. In fact, quite the opposite seems to be true. The longer the primary and the more exposed these candidates become the less the voters like them. Gone are the days when the candidates tried to concentrate on the economic issues that Americans are the most concerned...and here are the days that are focusing on social and religious issues like the fight against contraception for women, getting rid of pornography and reversing the nation's long standing separation of church and state. It's no wonder that Sarah Palin thinks that she still has a chance at the nomination at a brokered convention--especially when her supporters have been actively trying to stack the deck in her favour.

The Economist

The Republican nomination
Predictable and compelling
by R.M.

ROSS DOUTHAT is growing impatient with the media's coverage of the Republican race. He's tired of reporters suggesting that the race is still open, that Rick Santorum could win, or that there may be a surprise at the convention in Tampa. So risking the ire of Newt Gingrich, Mr Douthat has declared Mitt Romney the winner.

"Either Romney will clear the 1,144 delegate threshold in May or early June, or else he’ll fall 50-100 delegates short and need to play a little inside baseball to win some of the uncommitted delegates. In either scenario, Santorum is not going to be the party’s standard-bearer, and neither is Jeb Bush or Chris Christie or Sarah Palin or Mike Huckabee or anyone else besides the man who is actually winning, however slowly and grindingly and unexcitingly, the Republican nomination for president."

I agree, and contra Mr Douthat, I think most of the media have made it quite clear that Mr Romney holds an insurmountable delegate lead. His own paper has reported that Mr Santorum and Mr Gingrich "have gradually given up on the idea of surpassing [Mr Romney] and have turned to a strategy of trying to block him from reaching the delegates he needs before the convention." The Washington Post similarly acknowledged that "it is almost mathematically impossible for any of Romney’s rivals to win the 1,144 delegates it will take to clinch the nomination." And we've said much the same thing.

So what's the point of covering this thing if, like Mr Douthat, you also find it far-fetched that the Republican Party would choose the second- or third-place finisher over the first if it comes down to a brokered convention? Well, how Mr Romney wins matters. Whether he runs across the finish line in May, or crawls across in June, or successfully negotiates an open convention, will affect his campaign going forward. The story of the primaries may no longer revolve around whether Mr Romney can be beaten, but the account of his humiliations—like failing to woo his party's base—on his way to victory is just as significant. And the more states Rick Santorum wins, the closer we are to having Mr Romney's would-be coronation degraded to a moment of bitter relief. So far from being a "predictable Republican primary", as Mr Douthat claims, the race is still quite compelling, even if we know who's going to come out on top.

UK: US economic recovery is slow but "chipper"

The Economist

The American economy
Unmired at last
America’s recovery is neither robust nor dramatic. But it is real

SINCE Florida’s property market collapsed and its economy tanked, Hillsborough County has endured almost nonstop austerity. In the past five years the government of the county, halfway up the state’s Gulf coast, has eliminated a quarter of its 6,000 positions through attrition and lay-offs. It has scaled back after-school child care. Workers’ pay has been frozen for three years.

But the fiscal year that begins in October holds the prospect of relief. Property-tax revenue is declining more slowly. Tourism-related taxes have stabilised. Sales-tax revenue is actually up. There is still a deficit to be eliminated, but it is a third of the size it was a year ago; the county thinks it will need no lay-offs next year. Things aren’t getting better, says Tom Fesler, the county’s budget director. “It’s more a function of just not getting worse.”
Related topics

The dollar
Government and politics
Economic stimulus

Such faint praise is not as damning as it seems; there has been an awful lot of worse in the past few years. America’s recovery may have officially begun in mid-2009, but it has bogged down repeatedly since. That has in part been due to circumstances beyond American control, such as rising oil prices and Europe’s debt crisis. But it has also been due to the hangover of the recession: consumers have been shedding debt, lenders have been reluctant, housing markets have been moribund, and state and local governments like Mr Fesler’s have been cutting budgets in the face of prohibitions on deficits.

Some of those impediments have now gone away. Economic and financial indicators released in the past few weeks portray a surprisingly chipper economy. In the three months to the end of February employers added 734,000 jobs, which is the best result since April 2006 if you exclude from past figures workers hired temporarily for the federal census. The unemployment rate has fallen by 0.7 percentage points since September, to 8.3%. And this is not just a matter of discouraged workers giving up the hunt for work. A broader measure of unemployment that includes discouraged and underused workers has fallen even further.

For the rest of the article including graphics go to this link:

Friday, March 16, 2012

Canada: Palin plans for a win at a brokered convention

PJ: Sarah Palin has proven to be intellectually lazy but she has also proven herself to be tenacious in self promotion. Her quest for fame, fortune and power is evident in her constant pursuit of a camera and a Fox platform. She may not waste a lot of time studying issues beyond the sound bites fed to her by her advisors but she has not wasted time inserting herself into the discussion. Ann Coulter is right in her assessment that Sarah Palin is the loudest voice in the crowd in support of a brokered convention and she was not mistaken about Palin's belief that she would be the ordained winner in such case. Palin's supporters are currently working to stack the deck at the convention in support of her candidacy and Palin is not wasting words trying to discourage them. She knew that she would whither under the spotlight of a long primary season so she chose not to run. But now she seems to be banking on the possibility that she can still be annointed at a brokered convention. Then, during the shortened election season, she believes that her ability to inspire crowds (with her vitriol and demogagouery) and her ability to wrap the media around her finger by playing the victim will finally put her where God wants her to be: The White House.

Huffington Post Canada

"God's Will"?: Sarah Palin's Secret Plot to Capture the White House in 2012
By Geoffrey Dunn

Anyone who has watched Sarah Palin closely in recent months can only marvel at the "magical thinking" she embraces with respect to the potential outcome of the Republican Party primary for president. It's clear that Palin still has her sights set on the White House for 2012.

In an interview with Sean Hannity in February, she declared:

[A] brokered convention, I wouldn't be afraid of that. The electorate shouldn't be afraid of that. That's a continuation of the process, and competition that perhaps would be, in the end, very good for our party, and good for the cause of defending our republic.

In her widely reported interview with CNN on Super Tuesday, she openly stated that she would consider accepting the nomination at a brokered GOP convention:

Anything is possible. I don't close any doors that perhaps would be open out there, so, no, I wouldn't close that door. My plan is to be at that convention.

It's a line she has uttered repeatedly ever since her ill-fated candidacy as John McCain's running mate in 2008. To most casual observers of the American political process, even Republicans, this would seem to border on the delusional. Her favorability rating among the general populace is now staggeringly low. In many circles, she is a laughingstock or a punch line. She didn't even bother to enter the primaries. Even Ann Coulter has now turned against her.

But a close look at Palin's recent activities and statements -- and, most significantly, the writings of her acolytes -- reveals that she is still plotting to take the White House in 2012. Take a look at the video she released last month on her website entitled "Chords of Memory," which links Palin's image with those of Lincoln and Reagan.

Palin has been consistent about four things since she announced her decision not to enter the Republican primaries last October:

1) She has strongly and vociferously attacked GOP frontrunner Mitt Romney;

2) She has embraced the idea of an endless primary season and has encouraged all four of the remaining candidates to stay in the race -- her sole purpose being the outcome of a brokered GOP convention in Tampa;

3) She has continued with her obsessive assault on Barack Obama, positioning herself as the "anti-Obama" among the conservative Republican base;

4) And, as noted above, she has made it clear now on several occasions that she is "open" to accepting the GOP nomination in Tampa.

At least one source close to the Palin family in Wasilla, Alaska, has confirmed that Palin "still believes it is God's will" that she serve as president, if not in 2012 then perhaps in 2016. Every move she has made in recent months -- every attack on Romney and Obama, every push for an elongated primary, every speculation about an open convention -- has been issued with this political calculation in mind.

In the aftermath of the devastating portrayal of Palin in HBO's Game Change, Palin's once-close political associate in Alaska, the good-government activist Andree McLeod, told me yesterday:

People can laugh all they want, but she ain't done. She's only developed a tougher skin through all 'this' and, out of desperation, has to inflict more damage for reasons only Sarah and her constantly-changing set of patrons knows. She has become even more dangerous and desperate.

Skeptics may argue that all of this is really Palin's feeble attempt to keep the spotlight on her and to boost her brand as a talking head on Fox News and as a highly paid celebrity speaker. Perhaps. But the lengthy interview she gave CNN on Election Day was no accident and her follow-up interviews since then on Fox News were certainly calculated as well. There's now even a Facebook page entitled "Palin -- Our Brokered Convention Selection."

Most significantly, the Palin-centric website Conservatives4Palin (C4P) -- with which Palin's inner-circle still maintains direct contact -- provides considerable evidence of Palin's political intentions and long-term national strategy.

Conservatives4Palin was co-founded by Rebecca Mansour, the controversial Palin sycophant who remains on Palin's SarahPAC payroll (as Aries Petra Consulting) but has apparently been sent to the Palin penalty box for comments she made last spring mocking Bristol Palin. The site, however, remains the primary Internet locale where Palin's acolytes openly push Palin's personal and political agenda. It is the site where Palin's Republican "enemies" -- everyone from Karl Rove to Romney and, now, even the likes of Coulter and Bill O'Reilly -- are repeatedly trashed or derided. Most importantly, C4P continues to represent an accurate reflection of the Palin political outlook in advance of the 2012 elections.

When Palin, for instance, went on Fox with Greta Van Susteren, and declared, "We need to replace Barack Obama with someone who understands... energy security," the minions at Conservatives4Palin made sure that everyone understood that the candidate Palin was actually referencing was -- ta da! -- none other than Sarah Palin.

But the most openly articulated playbook for Palin's presidential aspirations was submitted in late February by C4P contributor Nancy Labonete, entitled "In the Event of a Brokered Convention, All Bets are Off." It provides a fascinating glimpse into the Palin mindset and connects all the dots in Palin's seemingly zig-zag political strategy in advance of the 2012 election.

It begins with a hyperbolic argument that Palin is the only Republican capable of beating Obama:

If Sarah Palin's most electrifying speech at the CPAC did not convince that only she can articulate Americans' concerns and vision for our nation, then Obama has just been handed his second term. The CPAC event proved that only she can rouse the unexcited base to their feet. Only she can energize and move voters to go out to the polls. Only she can unite us to defeat Barack Obama.

Labonete's polemic continues by arguing that Palin is the only candidate who can withstand the "Alinksy attacks" during the election; Palin, she argues, is the lone Republican who has "the smarts to throw the media into a convulsive tizzy and still have her message ring out loudly and win the argument." Palin is the only candidate with "the fortitude and fire in the belly to defeat Obama." Only, only, only.

What's fascinating about the Labonete posting is that it does not focus merely on the hypothetical; it urges Palin supporters to become delegates to the GOP convention in Tampa and provides a link for doing so. "Even if Governor Palin is not a candidate (yet)," Labonete argues, "let your county GOP official know that you will vote for the best candidate at that time, but in the event of a brokered convention, you will be voting for Sarah Palin."

Labonete concludes, "We must coalesce around a patriot whose message is ingrained in her conservative character."

This is precisely the type of right-wing groundswell and organizing that Palin is fostering with her recent rhetoric about "open doors" at Tampa. "Lots of prayers can make this happen," replied one commentator on the C4P blogsite. "God is listening. Let's make sure He hears us."

In recent weeks, Palin has used the unflattering portrait of her in HBO's Game Change as a way to advance herself as a victim of the "liberal media" -- (C4P posted no fewer than 40 attacks on the film.) While Game Change has likely hurt her favorability with the general populace, it has raised the ante with her conservative Republican base, who now command a significant majority in the Republican party. Palin remains the base's superstar and is the only Republican -- Romney included -- who claims a rock-star status on the hustings.

Palin never could have survived the scrutiny of a prolonged primary season and the reality-television string of debates it encumbered. In a recent appearance on "Morning Joe," former McCain senior strategist Steve Schmidt was asked by Andrea Mitchell if he thought Palin had a "future" as "a national leader" in the Republican Party.

I hope not. And the reason I say that is because if you look at, over the last four years, all of the deficiencies in knowledge, all the deficiencies in preparedness, she's done not one thing to rectify them, to correct them. She has become a person who I think is filled with grievance, filled with anger who has a divisive message for the national stage when we need leaders in both parties to have a unifying message. . . . The lack of preparedness was a bad thing and the total disinterest in being more prepared and rectifying that is something that disqualifies.

But in the bubble of the Republican Convention, those deficiencies would never even come close to the surface. Even without the Palinista's organizing efforts, GOP delegates are most heavily weighted toward the conservative base -- and Palin remains their darling. She might very well capture the emotional narrative of the convention like Romney and Santorum could only imagine.

Moreover, the Republican establishment has lost control of both the party and the process in Tampa. Establishment leaders were not able to solidify Romney's nomination during the so-called "silent primary" in the year leading up to the Iowa caucuses; the establishment will have little control over the majority of delegates in Tampa. Palin remains a formidable force with the party base. On the campaign trail, Palin would draw crowds the likes of which have never been seen before by a Republican Party candidate for president.

As the film Game Change revealed to a broad American audience, Sarah Palin is many things: vain, anger-driven, intellectually lazy, polarizing and dysfunctional. But as I also discovered in researching my book The Lies of Sarah Palin: The Untold Story Behind Her Relentless Quest for Power, she is equally ambitious, calculating, and sly as a fox. She has no intention of going gently into that political goodnight.

Pay close attention: Palin's rhetoric between now and Tampa will continue to be critical of both Romney and Obama; it will continue to push for a contested primary; and it will continue to signal Palin's willingness to accept the nomination of a brokered convention. Palin knows that Romney will never pack her star power with the base -- and that neither Rick Santorum nor Newt Gingrich will either.

In the aftermath of Santorum's sweep of Alabama and Mississippi on Tuesday, a brokered GOP convention is a very real possibility. The Republican Party has become a fractured mosaic of fringe constituencies -- from Tea Partiers to evangelical anti-abortion activists, from libertarians who support Ron Paul to white supremacists who despise the fact that there is a black man in the White House. It is an unruly lot. The days of a GOP elite framing the presidential selection process are over. Charisma trumps experience; celebrity trumps substance; and, perhaps most disturbingly, anger trumps reason. Mama grizzlies, especially those who have been wounded, don't go down easy.

UK: Vice President Rand Paul?

The Spectator

Rand Paul as Romney's Vice President?
By Freddy Gray

American hacks have been mystified by what seems to be a ‘non-aggression pact’ between Republican presidential candidates Ron Paul and Mitt Romney. The two men are in many ways opposites. Paul is the favourite of anti-establishment conservatives — principled, dismissed by the media as too radical, critical of the Grand Old Party machine and US foreign policy. Romney, on the other hand, is a typical American politician — rich, lacking clear convictions, happy to talk about bombing the enemies of freedom. And yet — as Jonathan noted a few weeks ago — Paul, though he has repeatedly attacked Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum, has been strangely mute when it comes to Mitt.

Has a deal been struck? Time's Alex Altman suggests the answer is yes:

‘Paul is understandably concerned about the future of his movement. Aides say if Paul can’t win the nomination, four legislative priorities would top the Texas Representative’s wish list: deep spending cuts that lead to a balanced budget; the restoration of civil liberties; a commitment to reclaim the legislative branch’s right to declare war, which it abdicated to the executive branch in recent decades; and reforms that shore up the U.S. monetary system, such an audit of the Federal Reserve or competing-currency legislation. The Texas Representative might also be enticed, says campaign chairman Jesse Benton, by the prospect of serving as a presidential adviser, a Cabinet position for someone in his orbit or “perhaps a vice presidency.”

Not for himself, but rather his son. Rand Paul, the junior senator from Kentucky and a Tea Party icon, is expected to launch his own White House bid in 2016. Being on the ticket now — or even being mentioned for it — would be a helpful step. Says one Paul adviser: “If you’re talking about putting Rand on the ticket, of course that would be worth delivering our people to Romney.”’

Rand Paul as Romney's Vice President? It seems incredible, but it's possible to see why the Romney campaign might be drawn to Paul junior. The Ron Paul movement's appeal to disgruntled young conservatives might help detoxify Romney's brand. Senator Rand Paul, moreover, is a slightly more malleable figure than his uncompromising father.

That said, Ron Paul's popularity has been built on his refusal to play politics. It is almost impossible to imagine his delegates entering into what they would regard as a Faustian pact with Team Romney. Talk of a Romney-Paul coalition is therefore highly speculative. Interesting, nonetheless.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Middle East:: Chuck Hagel discusses Obama, Syria and Iran

Al Monitor
The Pulse of the Middle East

Hagel Praises Obama on Syria; Chides GOP on Iran

Chuck Hagel, who co-chairs the Obama administration’s Intelligence Advisory Board, says the United States should offer Iran “face-saving ways” out of the nuclear crisis and let Arab countries to take the lead in ousting Syrian president Bashar al-Assad.

In a wide-ranging interview March 9 with Al-Monitor Washington correspondent Barbara Slavin at Georgetown University, where Hagel teaches a weekly class, the former Republican senator from Nebraska hinted that private approaches to Iran were already occurring. He praised President Barack Obama’s handling of foreign policy and said Obama could do even better in the first two years of a second term.

Excerpts from the interview follow:

Al-Monitor: Do you still consider yourself a Republican?

Hagel: I don’t know what the Republican Party is. I know why I registered a long time ago; my first vote was in the Mekong Delta absentee in 1968. But we’ll find a new center of gravity... After the American people speak in November, that gives us some new possibilities. If the president is re-elected, like most two-term presidents, your fifth and sixth years can be your most productive.

Al-Monitor: Let’s turn to foreign policy and start with Syria. There was a hearing at which Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Martin Dempsey pushed back against calls by people like Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona) to start bombing but they also said we’re looking into contingency planning. Do you sense that things are beginning to shift toward some sort of intervention and if so, what kind of intervention should that be?

Hagel: We have to recognize the landscape in the region. What’s going on in that region is about as volatile as we’ve seen…since 1967. There is no country there that’s really, really stable. .. Israel has no secure borders now at all, other than the ocean.

I don’t see how Assad hangs on. [Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip] Erdogan has said he can’t stay, the Arab League has said he can’t stay. . . The forces of reality and technology, mobilization and human rights are just too strong.

[That said] I think the president is playing this exactly right. We cannot be the tip of the spear under any circumstances. This is not Libya and even Libya was a coalition…If there is some military intervention, it has to come from the region. The Arab League… I don’t think it can be a NATO-led element.

Al-Monitor: Obama appears to have managed to tamp down calls for war with Iran at least for a while. Do you think Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would attack Iran at this time given the clear opposition of the United States or is he just trying to make sure that Iran stays front and center?

Hagel: The Israeli people are divided. The number I saw in the Wall Street Journal, which is not exactly a timid liberal rag, 19 percent of the Israeli population would not support military intervention [without U.S. involvement]... The most recent three Israel heads of intelligence all of them have said … crazy, insane to do this. There’s a real open question whether Israel has the capacity militarily to even come close to accomplishing what its military objective is…

I have not read or heard or talked to anyone privately who knows something about this who does not believe that Iran would not respond in probably a rather significant way, the asymmetric capacity Iran has to hit our vulnerabilities, other vulnerabilities… There will be a lot of killing. These things start and you can’t control. They escalate. They always do and they always will.

… I don’t think that we are necessarily locked into one of two options. And that’s the way it’s presented. We are great in this country and in our politics of responding to false choices; we love false choices.

Al-Monitor: Bomb Iran or live with Iran with a bomb?

Hagel: Exactly. We may eventually wind up with those choices. But I don’t think we’re there now. We’ve got some time, keep ratcheting up the sanctions, keep the world community with you.

…You cannot push the Iranians into a corner where they can’t get out…You’ve got to find some quiet ways – and you don’t do this in the press or by giving speeches – to give them a couple of facing saving ways out of this thing so they get something out of this, too. And recognizing internally what’s going on in Iran; things are not going particularly well. Let that play out… So you work this thing on a number of parallel tracks.

Our friend Andrew Parasiliti [board member of Al-Monitor] had this in a piece he wrote recently. He talks about Ahmadinejad laying on the table [and offering to stop producing] 20 percent [enriched uranium]. We’ve got to test all that. There’s a great Arab proverb: Trust Allah, but tie up your camel.

…You’ve got to break into some creative thinking here…don’t get caught in these damn traps. If you listen to the Republican presidential candidates, they can hardly race to say who would bomb Iran first; it’s just amazing.

Al-Monitor: Do you know if there any private approaches going on or is it all through the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany?

Hagel: I know more than I can tell you; there may be. I hope. I don’t see any other way around this. Because you can’t deal with something … as explosive as this is out in the public.

Al-Monitor: How did you get interested in Iran?

Hagel: It was clear to me early on that Iran was going to be a central factor in any outcome from the Middle East. .. [It’s a] state sponsor of terrorism, large country, educated country, sophisticated country, resources, where it was positioned, the entire east side of the Persian Gulf. It was never a question in my mind that the more I could know and learn and understand about Iran, the better positioned I would be hopefully to understand all the components and pieces of this…

The last three Iranian representatives to the U.N., I would meet them … to just listen…We Americans have this frame of reference … we see a problem, there has to be a solution... Well, the kind of complicated world we live in, I’m not sure there’s a solution to everything right now. What you have to do is manage it so it doesn’t get worse, manage it toward a higher ground of solution possibilities.

… You asked if I think it’s possible the Israelis will strike without U.S. authorization. Yes I do think it’s possible. I say possible, I didn’t say probable, I didn’t say likely…Let’s take a possible scenario… If an Israeli ambassador is assassinated, high profile somewhere, and there’s clear evidence that this was ordered by the Iranians … that’s just one scenario. What happens if an Israeli airliner is shot down? There are combustible dynamics in play that are totally out of anyone’s control right now.

…You asked me about Netanyahu… my guess is that Netanyahu is a very shrewd politician and he’s been around and he knows this country and he gets the political sense of this country as well as anybody … He’s going to use this to drive his position as far as he can drive it without actually going to war…

I do think Obama’s done a good job overall. There are a lot of things I don’t agree with him on; he knows it. I have the honor and privilege of seeing those guys a lot. [Vice President] Joe [Biden] is a good friend. Obama and I got to know each other pretty well in the Senate even though he wasn’t there very long. As you know, he asked Jack Reed (D-Rhode Island) and me to go to the Middle East with him so we spent a lot time [together]… I have the highest regard for him in every way. I think he’s one of the finest, most decent individuals I’ve ever known and one of the smartest… I try to remind my Republican friends when they hammer him that this is a guy who inherited the biggest agenda of problems in this country ever inherited by a president since Franklin Roosevelt and maybe worse. Roosevelt didn’t inherit two wars that were messes with a global financial crisis. Everywhere you look, this guy had problems to try to dig his way out of it. And I think he deserves some credit.

Maybe we aren’t as far down the road as we could be, but I don’t think we’ve gone backward. We’ve gone in the right direction. Any president … first two years of his administration he’s really dealing with the previous administration’s budgets… That’s why I said it’s the fifth and sixth years of a two-term president that give him the biggest window.

If he’s re-elected, what would you like to see him concentrate on in terms of foreign policy?

Hagel: I think he would put some real time into… a Middle East peace and I had a long talk with him and I know he wants to do that. . . He will try to put a lot of effort into that because he knows that that’s such a big part of everything.

There’s a big painting of former president Dwight Eisenhower in your office. Is he one of your heroes?

Hagel: Every year that goes by, I admire him more and more [for his] wise, steady leadership.

Al-Monitor: You’ve also praised former senators Bob Dole [R-Kansas] and the late Patrick Moynihan [D-New York].

Hagel: I was fortunate to serve with some of those people of the World War II era, [former senators] John Chafee [R-Rhode Island], John Warner [R-Virginia]… I admired [the late Massachusetts Sen.] Ted Kennedy. Men and women who are focused on a purpose in their careers; it wasn’t just about let’s enhance our party or it’s all about the election.

About Al Monitor:

Presenting Middle Eastern Perspectives to a Global Audience

From Tripoli to Jerusalem, from Ankara to Kuwait City, Al-Monitor seeks to introduce a global audience to the Middle East in its own words. Founded in the wake of Arab Spring, the site provides reporting from the diverse, independent media in the Middle East and builds on that reporting with insightful, original commentary and web video. Al-Monitor seeks to create a dialogue between the Middle East and the West via three major components which all build on each other:

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UK: Gingrich, a son of the south is bested by northerner

The Economist

The Republican race
Triumph of the carpetbagger
by J.F.

THE night before Republicans in Alabama and Mississippi voted in their primaries, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum made their final appeals at a forum in an ornate old theatre in downtown Birmingham. Mitt Romney, whom Mr Gingrich has relentlessly derided as “a moderate from Massachusetts”, did not attend, nor did the libertarian Ron Paul. Both candidates were asked how they would “lead our nation back to God”. Mr Gingrich railed against “anti-Christian bigotry” among America’s “elites”. Mr Santorum boasted that he would “talk about the importance of faith in public life”. In other words, they delivered a solid hour of conservative red meat to a ferociously carnivorous audience. A poll released earlier that day showed a majority of voters in both states believing that Barack Obama was a Muslim (he is a Christian) and doubting evolution. Eight in ten voters in both states identified themselves as evangelical Christians, the highest proportions so far.

Both candidates drew huge cheers, but Mr Gingrich needed them more. He had won only two states, South Carolina and his home state of Georgia, while Mr Santorum had seven and Mr Romney 13. Last week Mr Gingrich’s spokesman said he needed to win “everything from Spartanburg [South Carolina] all the way to Texas.” On March 13th, however, Mr Gingrich’s Southern strategy failed: Mr Santorum eked out slim victories in both Alabama and Mississippi, capturing 34.5% to Mr Gingrich’s 29.3% and Mr Romney’s 29% in the former and 32.9% to Mr Gingrich’s 31.3% and Mr Romney’s 30.3% in the latter. The wins capped a good week for Mr Santorum; he had won the Kansas caucuses three days earlier by 51.2% to Mr Romney’s 20.9%.

Mr Gingrich lost despite lavishing attention on both states. In the week leading up to election day he held 15 rallies in Alabama and Mississippi, more by far than either of his rivals. Polling consistently showed the three candidates virtually tied. The advertising war was predictably fierce, with the vast majority of ads funded by so-called Super PACs (political action committees) rather than the campaigns themselves. In that battle the efforts of Restore Our Future, the Super PAC backing Mr Romney, dwarfed those of its rivals. Still, Mr Romney’s few campaign appearances were token and awkward, and the Massachusetts moderate continues to struggle with the party’s conservative base. In Mississippi he won less than one-fourth of voters who described themselves as “very conservative”.

Most of those broke for Mr Santorum. Even so, his trifecta did little to alter the direction of the race. Mr Romney’s delegate lead remains formidable, and he has padded it during the past week by sweeping the board in Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands and the US Virgin Islands, all of which send delegates to the party conventions even though their citizens cannot vote in the general election. He also crushed Mr Santorum in Hawaii, which also voted on March 14th. Overall, in the week after Super Tuesday on March 6th, Mr Romney added as many delegates to his haul as Mr Santorum did. His total now stands at around 490, still comfortably more than all his rivals combined, though with only 24 states (plus Washington, DC) yet to vote he is still a long way off the 1,144 he needs to win the nomination outright.

Mr Gingrich will now come under heavy pressure to withdraw. On election night, however, he said that the media has declared him dead before, and that he is no closer to quitting now than he was then. In a jubilant speech in Louisiana—which holds its primary in 11 days, after Missouri, Illinois and Puerto Rico—Mr Santorum predicted he would win the nomination outright. That is mathematically virtually impossible. But his campaign and Mr Gingrich’s released memos on Tuesday detailing their similar strategies: stay in the race, deny Mr Romney a majority of delegates and then prevail in a brokered convention in August. Or, as Mr Romney himself might put it, continue dividing the conservative vote, and grease his path to the nomination.

Canada: The math looks good for Romney

The National Post

Math is in Mitt Romney’s favour, even if enthusiasm isn’t
By Sheldon Alberts

WASHINGTON — Mitt Romney’s losses in the GOP’s Deep South civil war underscored the Republican presidential front-runner’s persistent weakness with the party’s conservative base — a recurring theme that no amount of message massaging by his campaign has yet changed.

But after winning the battle of the Pacific, the former Massachusetts governor on Wednesday could at least lay claim to this success: His delegate lead over Rick Santorum is still growing.

Mr. Romney’s victories early Wednesday in Hawaii and in American Samoa — where about 70 Pacific islanders held presidential caucuses over drinks at a bar — pushed his delegate total to 495 of the 1,144 he needs to clinch the Republican nomination.

For the rest of the article:

Australia: Amid violence, US vows to stay the mission in Afghanistan

The Sydney Morning Herald

US staying strong in Afghanistan after attack on military base runway

Defence Secretary Leon Panetta, in a series of meetings with troops and Afghan leaders, says the US must never lose sight of its mission in the war, despite recent violence including what appeared to be an attempted attack near the runway of a military base where he was about to land.

It wasn't clear whether it was an attempt to attack the defence chief, whose travel to southern Afghanistan was not made public before he arrived. Panetta was informed of the incident after landing.

"We will not allow individual incidents to undermine our resolve to that mission," he told Marines at Camp Leatherneck. "We will be tested, we will be challenged, we'll be challenged by our enemy, we'll be challenged by ourselves, we'll be challenged by the hell of war itself. But none of that, none of that, must ever deter us from the mission that we must achieve."
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According to Pentagon spokesman Navy Captain John Kirby, an Afghan stole a vehicle at a British airfield and drove it onto a runway, crashing into a ditch about the same time that Panetta's aircraft was landing.

He said the pickup truck drove at high speed onto the ramp where Panetta's plane was intended to stop.

No one in Panetta's party was injured.

Panetta's trip to the warfront, which included three stops in the south, was planned months ago, long before the weekend shooting spree allegedly by a US soldier that claimed the lives of 16 villagers, including women and children.

Everywhere he went, including a meeting with provincial leaders, Panetta referred obliquely to the massacre but didn't go into it in detail. Instead, he talked about the need for the Afghan and coalition forces to keep working together to help transition security of the country to the Afghan forces.

The trip, however, has propelled Panetta into the centre of escalating anti-American anger in Afghanistan, with the shooting spree coming on the heels of the burning of Korans and other religious materials at a US base. US officials have said the Koran incident was a mistake.

Major General Mark Gurganus, the new Marine commander at Leatherneck, told reporters he has seen little backlash in his region over the shooting incident and saw only a few protests of the Quran burning.

Panetta and other US officials say the shooting spree should not derail the US and NATO strategy of a gradual withdrawal of troops by the end of 2014. But it has further soured relations with war-weary Afghans, jeopardising the US strategy of working closely with Afghan forces on the transition.

There were clear concerns about security at Camp Leatherneck.

Before Panetta came into the hall, Sergeant Major Brandon Hall told the more than 200 Marines to take their weapons outside and leave them there. Afghan troops had already been told not to bring their guns in.

For the rest of the article:

Israel: All eyes on Gingrich


Santorum won, Romney lost - but all eyes are on Gingrich
The conservatives are looking at Tuesday’s results and drooling when they do the math: without Gingrich in the race, Santorum would have wiped the floor with Romney, whose status would immediately change from inevitable to anything but.
By Chemi Shalev

Rick Santorum was the big winner in Tuesday’s primaries in Alabama and Mississippi and Mitt “the inevitable” Romney was the loser. But the man of the hour is Newt Gingrich, who was not only defeated and humiliated but suddenly seemed completely redundant in the Republican race for the presidency.

Gingrich’s losses in these two ultra-conservative Deep South states demolished the “Southern Strategy” on which he had based his continued candidacy and his pledge to “go all the way to Tampa”, where the Republican Convention will be held. Gingrich, a Georgian with established conservative credentials, was overtaken by a younger Northerner, despite his home field advantage and in contests which he himself had described until recently as “do or die”.

For many leaders of the conservative wing of the Republican Party, this will be the straw that breaks the camel’s back, and as of this morning they will be pressing Gingrich to behave like a proper southern gentleman and to clear the way for a true one-on-one duel between their darling Santorum and Romney, to whom, obviously, they refuse to warm. The conservatives are looking at Tuesday’s results and drooling when they do the math: without Gingrich in the race, Santorum would have wiped the floor with Romney, whose status would immediately change from inevitable to anything but.

U.S. commentators were already speculating last night about the reaction of Gingrich’s main funder, Sheldon Adelson, to what they described as his failed bet on the former Speaker. On the one hand, according to a recent report in the Wall Street Journal, Adelson wants to keep Gingrich in the race so that he can syphon off votes from Santorum and ensure Romney’s selection as the Republican candidate. But Adelson’s prestige might suffer, these analysts believe, if he is seen to be backing an absolute “straw candidate” whose sole purpose is to stack the deck against Santorum.

In his speech after the results came in last night, Gingrich lamely tried to stick to his claim that only he can beat President Obama in the debates before November’s elections and his insistence that he knows how to miraculously bring down the price of gas to $2.50 a gallon. But his voice was weak, his eyes were weary and his heart obviously wasn’t in it. The danger facing Gingrich now is that he won’t pull out of the race in time but conservative votes will make the decision in his stead and abandon him in the upcoming contests in Missouri, Illinois and Louisiana.

In such a scenario Gingrich, whose considerable talent is dwarfed only by his enormous self-regard, may find himself facing a punishment that would be cruel and unusual even for a politician with a standard-issue ego: his detractors will gleefully ridicule him while his supporters will turn away, with pity in their eyes.

Follow me on Twitter @ChemiShalev

UK: Obama and Cameron pledge cooperation on Afghanistan withdrawl

The Guardian

Obama and Cameron pledge not to delay Afghanistan withdrawal

US lays on lavish reception for British prime minister as Barack Obama shores up support ahead of looming Iran crisis
By Nicholas Watt

British and American forces remain on track to pull back from lead combat missions in Afghanistan next year, Barack Obama and David Cameron declared at the White House on Wednesday.

The leaders of the countries with the largest number of troops in Afghanistan said the recent violence would not derail their plans to ensure that all combat troops are withdrawn by the end of 2014.

Obama and Cameron's display of unity on Afghanistan came during a visit in which the US president pushed the boundaries of protocol, bestowing on Cameron a lavish state dinner at the White House and issuing his most enthusiastic endorsement yet of the "rock solid" Anglo-American special relationship.

The purpose was clear: Obama wants to work closely with Britain and other European allies as he prepares for what may be the main foreign policy crisis of his presidency – a possible Israeli attack on Iran.

After a morning of talks at the White House, Obama and Cameron appeared at a joint press conference in the Rose Garden. On Afghanistan, the US president said: "Our forces are making very real progress: dismantling al-Qaida; breaking the Taliban's momentum; and training Afghan forces so that they can take the lead and our troops can come home."

Obama, who has pledged to withdraw the remaining 23,000 "surge" troops he sent to Afghanistan by this September, said that the Nato summit in Chicago in May would agree the timetable for the transition to Afghan forces.

The president said: "At the upcoming Nato summit in my hometown of Chicago, we'll determine the next phase of transition. This includes shifting to a support role next year, in 2013, in advance of Afghans taking full responsibility for security in 2014. We're going to complete this mission, and we're going to do it responsibly."

But Obama said that Nato would not be turning its back on Afghanistan. "Nato will maintain an enduring commitment so that Afghanistan never again becomes a haven for al-Qaida to attack our countries."

The two leaders are determined to stick to the timetable agreed in outline at a Nato summit in 2010. Obama needs to go into November's presidential election saying he has ended two wars started under his predecessor, George Bush. Cameron is dealing with rising opposition to the Afghan war.

But Obama said he is under no illusions about the challenge ahead as he said there had to be a political strategy in which Afghanistan's different ethnic groups recognise that they should end 30 years of war. "We can't be naïve about the difficulties that are going to be involved in getting there," he said.

For the rest of this article:

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

UK: Let the ads begin!

PJ: Sarah Palin has grabbed every opportunity to keep herself in the spotlight but sometimes is not pleased with the way that others use her words against her. A few days ago on the conservative Hannity show (Fox), Sarah Palin had this to say about President Obama:

"He is bringing us back to days, you can hearken back to days before the Civil War, when unfortunately too many Americans mistakenly believed that not all men were created equal. And it was the Civil War that began the codification of the truth that here in America, yes we are equal, and we all have equal opportunities, not based on the color of your skin, you have equal opportunity to work hard and to succeed and to embrace God-given opportunities to develop resources and work extremely hard and as I say, to succeed. Now, it has taken all these years for many Americans to understand the gravity of that mistake that took place before the Civil War and why the Civil War had to really start changing America. What Barack Obama seems to want to do is go back to before those days when we were in different classes based on income, based on color of skin. Why are we allowing our country to move backwards instead of moving forward with that understanding that as our charters of liberty spell out for us, we are all created equally?"

Perhaps if she didn't provide so much ammunition, others wouldn't fire back.

The Guardian

Sarah Palin: Barack Obama's 'enemy of the week'

An attack ad aimed at Sarah Palin as a far-right Republican is a cheap shot, but think of it as just a warm-up routine for the fall
By Paul Harris

Let's shift away for a moment from the ongoing Hatfield-McCoy blood feud that is the Republican race and cast a glance at what Team Obama has been up to.

It is a strange time for the Democrats. On the one hand, they must be barely able to suppress a grin as they watch the GOP rivals tear strips off each other – and especially the presumed frontrunner Mitt Romney. On the other hand, as they go about the basic business of preparing for the presidential election, Democrats still do not really know who they will face. Or what sort of battered and bruised shape their eventual opponent will be in. That makes it hard to craft a message.

But there are no prizes for not trying. Hence Obama For America has whacked out this video aimed at going viral online. It is a cheap shot, as it features former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin. This ensures everyone watches and talks about it. It's like throwing a slab of red meat into a pit full of hungry bears.

It went up this week and has already got Palin herself to loudly condemn it on her Facebook page, where she says she is annoyed at being treated so unfairly:

"I'm not running for any office, but I'm more than happy to accept the dubious honor of being Barack Obama's 'enemy of the week'."


Palin-baiting is easy and effective. Democrats see the long, bitter and increasingly ultra-conservative Republican race as a major turn-off to many centrist voters: the very people whom most election pundits believe are the key demographic in any race. So – in the absence of an actual GOP opponent yet – how better to ram home the message that the whole Republican party is extreme than by reminding everyone of Sarah Palin? Perfect. It annoys the right wing, motivates the left wing and, hopefully, provokes Palin herself into a response – which will generate some free media attention. Job done, Democrats! Free publicity all around.

This is a retro ad. It begins by reminding everyone that it has been four long years since Palin first emerged into American mainstream national politics as Senator John McCain's running mate – and started spouting off about "palling around with terrorists". A message flashes on screen:

"More than four years later, Sarah Palin and the far right say President Obama will bring back racial discrimination … against white people."

Then, it jumps into a rather obviously chopped-up Fox News (surprise!) interview with Palin, in which she calls Obama a radical who wants turn America back to pre-civil war days, when people were judged by their race:

"What Barack Obama seems to want to do is go back to before those days when we were in different classes based on income, based on color of skin."

In an era when vast swathes of the Republican electorate believes Obama is a Muslim (by the way, he isn't), then this claptrap from an icon of the GOP should be no surprise, either. Palin, of course, complains she has been selectively edited. And she is right. Her words have been shortened.

But as this New York Times blog detailed, it didn't really change the meaning of her attack; it just made it more concise.

The ad goes on to ask viewers:

"These attacks are wrong and dangerous. If you're tired of it, do something."

And then, it asks straight-up for a cash campaign donation, which is a nice, direct way of trying to get people to "act" after watching it.

All in all, this is the political equivalent of shooting fish in a barrel. It's slick, well-done and an easy target that fulfils multiple objectives. It's still a long way until November, 2012 – and the result is far from guaranteed – but this ad shows Team Obama is getting the basics right, so far. But that's easy. There will be sterner tests to come. See this ad as a simple practice run.

US: The reality defies the hype

PJ: I came across this opinion piece in the Washington Monthly and felt the need to post it since it reflects what many on the outside of the US believe about President Obama's accomplishments--which is something that the US media rarely reports.

When I read about Mr. Obama in the US news, I'm often left scratching my head about how the MSM portrays the President by widely publicising what his critics say and giving very little balance to his real record of accomplishment. I'm not talking about pundits or columnist or paid political entertainers who are expected to voice their bias. I'm talking about real reporting on events, legislations and controversy. This has left me rather confused by the claims of conservatives who insist that the MSM is biased for the president. More times than not, the MSM gives a platform to any of the president's critics who are free to claim what ever they want about the president without factual backing. Rarely are those claims countered from the other side. The right wing has repeatedly claimed that Obama has raised taxes and the media rarely corrects that false assertion by juxtaposing someone from the other side who can counter that claim. The far right decries Obama as a socialist, muslim who was not born in the US and the media rarely offers the same time for others to combat those claims. When people like Sarah Palin claim that Obama wants to go back racism of the days pre-civil war, her words are reported verbatim without giving another talking head equal ink to counter the claim. Sure, the pundits and opinion writers will weigh in but rarely is someone given equal time to refute such a claim in the original report. More times than not we are told that Sarah Palin says this, or Sarah Palin wrote that, or Sarah Palin tweeted something or other and that is the end of the story. Why doesn't the MSM then interview someone who has the other side of the story to tell? For me, a balanced report is just that. But a balanced report is becoming a rarity in today's news.

Washington Monthly

The Incomplete Greatness of Barack Obama

He’s gotten more done in three years than any president in decades. Too bad the American public still thinks he hasn’t accomplished anything.
By Paul Glastris

In mid-January, pollsters for the Washington Post and ABC News asked a representative sampling of Americans the following question: “Obama has been president for about three years. Would you say he has accomplished a great deal during that time, a good amount, not very much, or little or nothing?”

When the poll’s results were released on January 18, even the most seasoned White House staffers, who know the president faces a tough battle for reelection, must have spit up their coffee: more than half the respondents—52 percent—said the president has accomplished “not very much” or “little or nothing.”

It is often said that there are no right or wrong answers in opinion polling, but in this case, there is an empirically right answer—one chosen by only 12 percent of the poll’s respondents. The answer is that Obama has accomplished “a great deal.”

Measured in sheer legislative tonnage, what Obama got done in his first two years is stunning. Health care reform. The takeover and turnaround of the auto industry. The biggest economic stimulus in history. Sweeping new regulations of Wall Street. A tough new set of consumer protections on the credit card industry. A vast expansion of national service. Net neutrality. The greatest increase in wilderness protection in fifteen years. A revolutionary reform to student aid. Signing the New START treaty with Russia. The ending of “don’t ask, don’t tell.”

Even over the past year, when he was bogged down in budget fights with the Tea Party-controlled GOP House, Obama still managed to squeeze out a few domestic policy victories, including a $1.2 trillion deficit reduction deal and the most sweeping overhaul of food safety laws in more than seventy years. More impressively, on the foreign policy front he ended the war in Iraq, began the drawdown in Afghanistan, helped to oust Gaddafi in Libya and usher out Mubarak in Egypt, orchestrated new military and commercial alliances as a hedge against China, and tightened sanctions against Iran over its nukes.

Oh, and he shifted counterterrorism strategies to target Osama bin Laden and then ordered the risky raid that killed him.

That Obama has done all this while also steering the country out of what might have been a second Great Depression would seem to have made him already, just three years into his first term, a serious candidate for greatness. (See Obama’s Top 50 Accomplishments.)

And yet a solid majority of Americans nevertheless thinks the president has not accomplished much. Why? There are plenty of possible explanations. The most obvious is the economy. People are measuring Obama’s actions against the actual conditions of their lives and livelihoods, which, over the past three years, have not gotten materially better. He failed miserably at his grandiose promise to change the culture of Washington (see “Clinton’s Third Term”). His highest-profile legislative accomplishments were object lessons in the ugly side of compromise. In negotiations, he came off to Democrats as naïvely trusting, and to Republicans as obstinately partisan, leaving the impression that he could have achieved more if only he had been less conciliatory—or more so, depending on your point of view. And for such an obviously gifted orator, he has been surprisingly inept at explaining to average Americans what he’s fighting for or trumpeting what he’s achieved.

In short, when judging Obama’s record so far, conservatives measure him against their fears, liberals against their hopes, and the rest of us against our pocketbooks. But if you measure Obama against other presidents—arguably the more relevant yardstick—a couple of things come to light. Speaking again in terms of sheer tonnage, Obama has gotten more done than any president since LBJ. But the effects of some of those achievements have yet to be felt by most Americans, often by design. Here, too, Obama is in good historical company.

The greatest achievements of some of our most admired presidents were often unrecognized during their years in office, and in many cases could only be appreciated with the passing of time. When FDR created Social Security in 1935, the program offered meager benefits that were delayed for years, excluded domestic workers and other heavily black professions (a necessary compromise to win southern votes), and was widely panned by liberals as a watered-down sellout. Only in subsequent decades, as benefits were raised and expanded, did Social Security become the country’s most beloved government program. Roosevelt’s first proposal for a GI Bill for returning World War II veterans was also relatively stingy, and while its benefits grew as it moved through Congress, its aim remained focused on keeping returning veterans from flooding the labor market. Only later was it apparent that the program was fueling the growth of America’s first mass middle class. When Harry Truman took office at the dawn of the Cold War, he chose the policy of containment over a more aggressive “rollback” of communism, and then he built the institutions to carry it out. He left office with a 32 percent public approval rating. Only decades later would it become clear that he made the right choice.

Of course, much could happen that might tarnish Obama’s record in the eyes of history. The economy is still extremely weak, and could stay that way or relapse into recession; Afghanistan could go south in a big way; or Obama could simply fail to win reelection, and then watch as his legacy gets systematically dismantled at a time when most ordinary Americans still don’t know its worth. This would be the most crushing blow, because a number of Obama’s biggest accomplishments function, like FDR’s, with a built-in delay. Some are structured to have modest effects now but major ones later. Others emerged in a crimped and compromised form that, if history is a guide, may well be filled out and strengthened down the road. Still others are quite impressive now but create potential for even greater change in the future. At this point, it’s hard to get a sense of these possibilities without lifting the hood and looking deeply into the actual policies and programs. Hence, there’s no reason to think that today’s voters would be aware of them, but every reason to think historians will.

Let’s begin with the policies that have prompted the most disappointment from the left and anger from the right: Obama’s big moves on the economy. The most visible aspect of Obama’s agenda in this arena was the American Recovery Act, better known as the stimulus. Almost no one has a good word to say about it these days. Voters have soured on it. Obama made no mention of it in his State of the Union address. Liberals complain that it was too heavily weighted with not-very-stimulatory tax cuts meant to lure GOP votes (which it didn’t), that it should have been even bigger (true, though it was bigger than the one the Democratic-controlled House proposed), and that a significantly bigger one could have passed Congress (dubious). Conservatives claim it didn’t increase jobs or help the economy at all.

For the rest of the posting:

Israel: Politics and religious extremism in the US

PJ: Are Taliban-styled politics possible in the US? To use the catch phrase of a leader of the far right, you betcha!


The religious-conservative insanity of the American right
Liberal Jews in the U.S. are doubly fearful - of the messianic insanity now spreading in American politics, of its Israeli version and, most of all, of the link between the two.
By Avirama Golan

It's nothing new, but the approaching elections are bringing into sharper focus the fact that the United States is two opposite, contradictory and mutually hostile sides of the same experience. The first Afro-American leader in the history of the nation is sitting in the White House and introducing, together with his wife, a revolutionary policy of which the government health insurance law is only the beginning, but the forces operating against him are dark and powerful.

In the state of Pennsylvania an amendment to the abortion law could soon be enacted, which would require gynecologists to perform a vaginal ultrasound on every woman who requests an abortion. The woman, for her part, would be forced to look at the image of the fetus, hear its heartbeat and listen to a detailed explanation of its condition.

The proposal, initiated by Republican State Rep. Kathy Rapp who is running for reelection, has been called "state-sanctioned rape," but Republican congressmen are competing among themselves to have it adopted.

That is only the tip of the iceberg of the religious-conservative insanity that is erupting like a volcano on the American right. From the start, the Republicans have made unfounded accusations against President Barack Obama - he's a Muslim, he's not a U.S. citizen, he is raising taxes (a day after he had lowered taxes for the middle class ) and hates the Church and religion. They claim he is leading the government into blatant intrusion in the life of the individual (but they don't consider a vaginal ultrasound to be an intrusion into a person's life ).

Who said the government has to take care of the weak? Republican candidate Rick Santorum asked Obama this week. After all, that task is reserved for only one entity - God! There is no question that God has a central role in these elections. And so does the devil. In 2008 Santorum (in whose Catholic opinion even Protestants are not sufficiently Christian ) maintained that the devil had infiltrated the U.S. administration and was destroying the country.

U.S. Democrats are now experiencing a profound fear that the important principle mandating separation of religion and state in the United States is being eroded with horrifying speed. And how unsurprising that this Democratic public includes many Jews - far more than what seems to be the case when Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reaps loud applause at an AIPAC convention. These Jews are now doubly fearful - because of the messianic insanity now spreading in American politics, and because of its Israeli version and, most of all, because of the link between the two.

A huge community of secular, traditional, Reform, Conservative and Modern Orthodox Jews is witnessing two political systems that have broken the rules and are working with what looks to them like a worrying lack of restraint. They believe that the connection between the evangelical extremists and the settler extremists, which is being forged over the heads of the American public (and behind the backs of the Israeli public ), has long since passed the bounds of legitimacy - in the huge budgets being invested in it and the brainwashing that is following in its wake.

The way in which Netanyahu is speaking directly to the American right - in what is proving to be a cynical bypassing of the fragile dialogue between Jerusalem and Washington - is arousing frustration here. Human rights organizations, liberal communities, academics and public figures are all expressing dissatisfaction and despair in light of the Haredi-religious-ultra-nationalist extremism in Israel, and the strengthening of the connection between it and ultra-nationalist, white Christianity and extreme right-wing and extreme ultra-Orthodox Jewry in the United States. Only recently have many of them discovered that the same Sheldon Adelson who is pouring a fortune into Newt Gingrich's campaign for the GOP primaries is also the publisher of the Israel Hayom freebie newspaper that supports Netanyahu. When they found out they raised not one but both eyebrows.

In that case, they are saying, maybe the time has come for Israelis on the left and in the center - who for years have told that same silent and loyal public not to interfere - to join hands with millions of American Jews who are afraid, like them, for the future and fate of Israel. Truly, the time has come to demonstrate to the Israeli government the power of a public that can not only donate generously, but can also demand a change in policy, a reining in of extremism and renewed thinking about the nature and identity of the Jewish state.

Middle East: Santorum wins deep south

Al Jazeera

Santorum picks up southern primary wins
Victories in Alabama and Mississippi boost conservative candidate's campaign for Republican US presidential nomination.

Rick Santorum has picked up victories in the southern states of Mississippi and Alabama to consolidate his status as the leading conservative candidate for the Republican US presidential nomination.

The former Pennsylvania senator, who is challenging long-time frontrunner Mitt Romney for the right to take on Barack Obama in November's election, claimed 33 per cent of the votes in the Mississippi primary, with 96 per cent of ballots counted.

"We're on our way to victory tonight; we're on our way to victory in this election,'' Santorum exulted before cheering supporters in Lafayette, Louisiana, which holds its primary March 24. He said it was time for conservatives to unite in an effort to defeat Romney.

Newt Gingrich, the former House speaker who has been eclipsed by Santorum's rise as the preferred candidate in the Republicans' conservative heartlands, finished second on 31 per cent, followed closely by Romney at 30 per cent.

Santorum earlier won the Republican primary in Alabama with 35 per cent of the vote. Gingrich had 30 per cent and Romney 28 per cent.

Gingrich has been hoping to shore up his flagging campaign with a win in the south by drawing on his southern ties, and the results if confirmed could increase the pressure on him to withdraw from the race.
In-depth coverage of the US presidential election

Although Gingrich and Santorum have urged each other to get out of the race, Gingrich indicated in a radio interview on Tuesday that the pair could form a united front against Romney.

Gingrich, however does not seem ready to stand aside.

"I've stayed in this race for two reasons," he said. "I do not believe the two other candidates can beat President Obama."

Romney has opened a big lead in delegates in the Republican race to pick a challenge Obama in the November 6 election, but he has been unable to capture the hearts of conservatives who distrust him for some of the moderate stances he took as governor of liberal Massachusetts.

Romney, however, rejected the notion his inability to put away his conservative rivals would mean none of the candidates would have the 1,144 delegates needed to clinch the nomination before the convention in August.

He said Santorum was reaching the "desperate end of his campaign" and faced a steep climb to catch up in the race for delegates.

Romney currently has about 454 delegates; Santorum 217 and Gingrich 107.

Al Jazeera's Alan Fisher reporting from Washington "This was a good night for Rick Santorum, but for Mick Romney, he may have the delegates but there is a concern."

Fifty delegates are at stake in Alabama and 40 in Mississippi. There also will be caucuses in Hawaii, where 17 delegates are at stake. In each of the states, candidates are awarded delegates proportionally based on their vote totals.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

US: Breitbart's much ado about nothing?

Charleston Daily Mail

Attacking Obama as a radical doesn’t work
March 10, 2012 by Don Surber

Before his death, Andrew Breitbart announced at CPAC that he had these videos of Barack Obama from college that would reveal what a anti-American radical the 44th president was. This past week, the first of these tapes debuted on Sean Hannity’s Fox News show — Hannity. The review from John Hinderacker was headlined, “Was Breitbart’s video a dud?”

If you have to ask, you know the answer.

And we do.

Hinderacker’s reaction was that from the buildup, he expected more. The video showed Barack Obama giving a speech and later embracing Derrick Bell, a Harvard Law professor.


From John Hinderacker:

I actually knew Derrick Bell. He was my criminal law professor as a first-year law student. This was one of his first years at Harvard. He was obviously more liberal than most professors there – the law school was not a left-wing institution at that time – and I think it was some years later when he came out as, in my characterization, a racist neo-Marxist. He was a nice guy and a reasonably good teacher. His ideas, as he later developed them, were reprehensible. But one of the sad and twisted aspects of our public culture is that bright young African-Americans like Barack Obama and Michelle Robinson are expected to align themselves with such poisonous creeds. Our establishment rewards them for doing so, and tends to punish them if they don’t. (Think Thomas Sowell and Clarence Thomas.)

So, will many voters consider the fact that Obama delivered a warm endorsement of Derrick Bell a bombshell? I doubt it.

One truism from the Internet is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results is the definition of crazy. Unfortunately, many conservatives are driving themselves crazy over Barack Obama’s past. This did not work in 2008 and it will not in 2012.

In 2008, there was more and better ammo against Barack Obama. If his association with the Weather Underground and Jeremiah Wright could not sell him as a radical how can a video that shows him hugging a college professor prove that he is some sort of Manchurian Candidate for the Black Panthers now that he is in the fourth year of his presidency?

This won’t work. Derrick Bell did not throw bombs, not even verbal ones. He was a college professor with wild ideas. Einstein was a college professor with wild ideas, too. Shouldn’t colleges teem with college professor with wild ideas? The purpose of college is to expose young people to ideas — and the crazy people who have them.

For the rest of the post:

UK: The tragedy of the game

The Economist

"Game Change"
Unsympathetic characters

Mar 12th 2012, 19:06 by E.G. | AUSTIN

TRAGEDY typically has an element of inevitability: because this character is the way he is, or because things are what they are, events led inexorably to this outcome. I had that in mind when watching "Game Change", HBO's new movie about the 2008 presidential campaign, based on Mark Halperin and John Heileman's book of the same name. The movie focuses on the McCain campaign's decision to tap Sarah Palin, then the little-known governor of Alaska, as Mr McCain's running-mate in an effort to generate the kind of game-changing moment that the flailing campaign desperately needed. As we know, they succeeded, but as with many unorthodox experiments, they lost control of the ultimate outcome. Should they have been more careful?

On the evidence, yes. Some early reviews have suggested that the movie offers a sympathetic portrayal of Sarah Palin. Considering that she's portrayed as stupid, self-absorbed, shallow, stubborn, volatile, delusional, hysterical, and mentally unstable, "sympathetic" is probably a stretch. What we can say is that she looks somewhat less unsympathetic in the context of a dysfunctional campaign. The most perplexing character here is Steve Schmidt, Mr McCain's former strategist, who has praised the movie as "very accurate". To some extent, the movie flatters him. When the film opens, he's tossing a frisbee to his dog, advising Mr McCain to campaign from the heart and put "country first", and demurring over an invitation to join up because he promised his wife he wouldn't. Once Mrs Palin joins the ticket, the character is the ambassador for the audience—explaining to the governor what the Fed is, suggesting that she abandon her low-carb diet, clutching a mug of tea. On election night, he confronts Mrs Palin over her stated desire to give a concession speech. Luminous with barely suppressed rage, he explains to her that a campaign concession speech is a solemn occasion, the event that legitimates the victor as the commander-in-chief of America's military forces—a particularly sacred moment given that America is at war and has just elected the first black president in the history of the country. Therefore she, Sarah Palin, is not going to elbow in on John McCain's moment.

Setting aside the validity of Mr Schmidt's argument here—it's the election that legitimates the next president, not the losing candidate's concession speech—it's a little jarring that he's suddenly flying the flag for solemnity. The film also portrays him as the guy who encouraged Mr McCain to get risky in the first place. He gets excited about getting a woman, any woman, on the ticket; he doesn't bother to ask her any policy questions before she joins; and he argues to Mr McCain that it's better to lose by ten points after trying to win than to settle for a dignified defeat.

That is in contrast to, for example, Nicolle Wallace, also a former McCain advisor who has described the film as accurate. Although she doesn't play a role in the VP selection or vetting, she's sceptical of the pick, and although she tries to make the best of things, she does accuse Mr Schmidt, apparently fairly, of having failed to scrutinise Mrs Palin because he didn't want to know about her limitations. There are moments when the McCain staffers suggest that they didn't have much room to manoeuvre by the summer of 2008; Mr McCain himself is portrayed as taking that view of things. "So what—I just fuck off and die?" he asks at one point, looking at some grim polls. (Mr McCain has said that the book is biased, and that he doesn't swear so much.) The suggestion here is that if the campaign wanted a chance of winning, they had to do something bold. The deterministic strength of that "had to" is where intuitions will vary. Most voters don't see presidential elections as a game, and even the people who fall into political realism, like Mr Schmidt, seem to realise that in more reflective moments. It's as if they're torn between their instincts as political operatives and their interests as citizens. I can see how these internal conflicts arise, but I'd like to think they're not inevitable.

Canada: "the descent of American politics"

The Ottawa Citizen

Palin didn't know her history, but she made it
By Andrew Cohen, Citizen Special

There is a moment in Game Change, the engaging film about the 2008 presidential campaign playing on HBO, when the prospect of Sarah Palin as vicepresident of the United States becomes too much to contemplate even for her acolytes.

On election night, a tearful Nicolle Wallace, who had quit as Palin's senior adviser, admits that she cannot abide an incompetent successor ("she didn't know why North and South Korea were different countries," Wallace reports) to a septuagenarian president. "I didn't vote," she says.

So Wallace abandons Palin. This happens to disciples in elections. Having travelled with fellow Democrat Adlai Stevenson in the presidential campaign of 1956, a disillusioned Robert Kennedy quietly voted for Dwight Eisenhower.

How did Senator John McCain pick an unknown, untested governor of Alaska as his running mate in 2008? Why did he make the most foolish choice in modern American political history?

McCain, who emerges in the film somewhere between saint and Solomon, was persuaded that he had to do something dramatic to beat a surging Barack Obama. He needed a game changer.

Instead of a deity, he finds a diva. Behold, Sarah Palin - untutored, incurious, vainglorious, and about as filling as M&Ms. But as much as she's scary here, she is pitiable: a hopeless if aggressive naïf flying on a wing and prayer.

While McCain and his strategists know that she's a risk, no one could fathom her talent for self-immolation. Fundamentally, she knows nothing and hasn't the humility to acknowledge it. When she does learn, among other things, that there were two World Wars in the 20th century and that Germany had something to do with both of them, she exclaims: "That's flipping awesome!"

Our Sarah is not only ahistorical, she is atonal. She inhabits her own dominion of self-delusion. A little success is dangerous for her; puffed up and jumped up, she goes rogue on McCain.

Here Game Change reminds us of the ignoramus she is. It makes you wonder, once again, what the saga of Sarah Palin says about the process that produced her.

For the rest of this piece, please go to this link:

Monday, March 12, 2012

US: Lessons learned from the 2008 campaign

PJ: This column highlights one man's honesty in American politics that is rarely seen. Steve Schmidt, who ran the McCain campaign in 2008, is brutally honest about the dangerous mistakes he made during that campaign. He also tries to convey the lessons that he learned in the hope that others will learn them. His hope is that politics and winning elections is done for the right reason with the right candidates and not simply because candidates can deliver votes. He had a lot to lose by being honest, his reputation and livelyhood for instance. But he should be commended for stepping forward as few have done.

The Washington Post

Steve Schmidt’s brutally honest assessment of Sarah Palin
By Jonathan Capehart

Rare is it that a political operative owns up to mistakes. But Steve Schmidt did just that a few hours ago on “Morning Joe.” The chief strategist for Sen. John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign is a plain-spoken and direct man. And he was ever thus when asked for his thoughts on HBO’s movie “Game Change.”

Schmidt’s blunt and unblinking honesty in talking about the selection of Sarah Palin as McCain’s vice presidential nominee and his role in that decision is to be commended. Others who would follow in his footsteps must learn from the mistakes he willingly admits he made.

Please go to this link for the video and the rest of the post:

UK: The US war on sex

The Guardian

Passion vs puritanism as America is gripped by a war over sexuality

US politics is overshadowed by bitter debates over sexual politics, from abortion to contraception and personal morality. But it is not just rightwingers who fear the increasing sexualisation of society
By Paul Harris

Dr Marty Klein pulled no punches when it came to what he thought of the ferocious debate in America over contraception. As the nation's political classes veer between condemning government funding for birth control and defending it as a basic women's right, the California sex therapist and author of America's War on Sex bluntly said his country was on a perilous path.

"America has entered a new dark age where people are proud of their ignorance," he told the Observer. "The US is careering towards a society that is reshaping women's reproductive rights. It used to be abortion. Now it's contraception. How can contraception be a battleground? It is crazy."

That might be so, but the spat is white hot and part of a much larger argument. Only last week protests broke out in Texas, Arizona, Utah, Georgia and Alabama that all involved some aspects of sex and sexuality. In Utah, it was over the passing of a law that means the only sex education children will get in school will be about abstinence. In Texas, it was about cuts to health insurance that covers birth control. In Georgia, eight of the nine women in the state senate walked out over a bill that attacked abortion rights.

Barely a day has gone by in recent weeks without some fresh fight breaking out over sexual politics. The most fierce was over radio shock jock Rush Limbaugh's comments on Georgetown University law student Sandra Fluke, who had testified in Congress on the importance of government mandated funding for birth control. Limbaugh told millions of conservative listeners that this made Fluke a "slut" and "prostitute".

He said: "If we are going to pay for your contraceptives and thus pay for you to have sex, we want something. We want you to post the videos online so we can all watch." The comments sparked outrage, triggered an advertiser boycott of Limbaugh's show and dragged in all the Republican nomination candidates and Barack Obama.

Limbaugh apologised, but many liberals saw it as a sign of the powerful forces on the right determined to undo decades of advancement in sex and women's rights. Few people symbolise that more than former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum, who is now the main challenger to Mitt Romney for the Republican presidential nomination.

A devout Catholic and hardened culture warrior, Santorum is a hero to conservatives for his hardline views on abortion and contraception. For Nancy Cohen, author of the current hit book Delirium: How the Sexual Counter-Revolution is Polarising America, Santorum's rise is the inevitable result of decades of backlash against 1960s sexual liberation. "It is insanity to be having this conversation in our politics when you are a world power. The rest of the world is watching with their jaws agape," she said.

But the image of America gripped by a fervent new puritanism is not the full picture. Any survey of the wider cultural landscape reveals sex has never been more prevalent in American life. On television and in movies sex is everywhere.

Reality shows like The Jersey Shore show their cast members coupling with each other and random strangers. Stars such as Paris Hilton and Kim Kardashian, built lucrative businesses on the back of sex tapes. Gossip websites debate the sex lives of celebrities with a prurient detail that would shock even the most infamous of scandal rags from Hollywood in the 1930s, and they do it for an audience online of millions.

Sex sells like never before, even for the most tangential of products. In sport there is even a Lingerie Football League, whose female players done skimpy outfits and teams have names like the Los Angeles Temptation.

The American sex industry is said to be worth more than $12bn a year. Recent regulations in California aimed at ensuring all porn actors have to use condoms saw protests that such a law would see the industry relocate, with a resultant loss of jobs and taxes. At the same time porn actor James Deen has been cast as the lead in a new Hollywood film The Canyons. Deen has now become such a popular porn star – especially with young women – that he was the subject of a segment on ABC's headline news show Nightline.

In fact, sexual freedom in America has gone so far that conservatives are not the only ones wringing their hands. The sexualisation of young girls – such as Bratz dolls with their bee-stung lips and short skirts – has outraged liberals and feminists, as has the growth of a casual "hook up" culture on American college campuses. Even Klein admits that – sexually speaking – Americans have never been so inventive. "The range of things that people do in their bedrooms is without doubt getting broader and the entertainment options around sex are also broader," he said. But how to explain such vibrant sexual freedoms alongside such a widespread backlash? "Two words: mental illness!" joked Klein. "When people ask me is America getting more progressive sexually or is it getting more conservative, I just answer: 'Yes'."

Cohen has a thesis. In her book she describes a "shadow movement" that has aggressively campaigned to set back women's rights, focused on issues around sex and birth control. It is, she says, largely motivated by religion. That gives it a powerful motivation and it has developed sophisticated techniques to influence mainstream politics, especially via the social-conservative wing of the Republican party. Klein believes it gives the movement power far beyond its numbers and a louder voice than a more silent majority. "These people are brilliant political organisers. They are ideologues and crusaders. They believe if they lose, civilisation hangs in the balance," he said.

Unique factors in American history also help to explain the situation. Religion continues to play a big role in public life, which stands in stark contrast to many European countries. About 43% of Americans regularly go to church and it is hard to have a political career in the US without professing a deep faith. The power of religion provides a ready-made vehicle for campaigning on sexual mores. It also means sex is the one part of life where the normal rules of the free market are given a willful pass. "The only place in life in America where more freedom of choice is seen as bad is sex," said Klein.

Many commentators say the hardline Protestantism of 17th-century settlers casts a long shadow over modern sexuality, leading to a distrust of sexual behaviour as pleasure and seeing it as a religious duty for reproduction. Certainly Santorum's pronouncements on the evil of contraception fit this narrative. Despite his Catholicism, Santorum is a huge hit with the evangelicals. But others say the Puritans have been misjudged by history.

"There is evidence they understood and celebrated sex within certain confines, like marriage," said Professor Thomas Foster, a cultural history expert at the Catholic DePaul University in Chicago. "Puritans talk about the clitoris. My classes are always amazed when they hear about that," he added.

Another theory is that American ideas about public and private morality are rooted in the nations' founding fathers. Whereas in France and Italy, there is little link seen between a politician's private life and political behaviour, in America the reverse is true. "There was a sense with the founding fathers that the person who is virtuous in their private life is able to be virtuous in their public life," Foster said. Thus Bill Clinton's affair with a White House intern nearly destroyed his presidency.

A final theory holds that, because America was founded as a revolutionary experiment against the autocracies of Europe, it has a very different sense of "modernism". While European countries have organically evolved social mores over centuries, America has always been in turmoil at the previous generation's social behaviour because such fights are locked into the nation's sense of self-invention. In this view, the current battle over contraception is simply yet another part of the American experience.

"These debates are old. They are as old as the first colonies," said Foster. Or to put it another way, the only thing more American than having sex is arguing about it.

For more on the battle of reproductive rights go to the link:

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Israel: US won't save Israel from itself


U.S. won't save Israel from hanging itself
The 'peace camp' has melted like ice after relying for years on strange mantras such as 'the Americans are opposed to the settlements,' 'the administration will initiate a peace plan,' and of course, 'the Israeli right is irritating our greatest friend in the West.'
By Yitzhak Laor

The two representatives of the region's vassal made a pilgrimage to the American capital to give President Barack Obama the two ends of the rope we're supposed to hang ourselves with - not all of us, not right away, not only us. First President Shimon Peres arrived as the representative of the "peace camp," and was followed immediately by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The "peace camp" has melted like ice after relying for years on strange mantras such as "the Americans are opposed to the settlements," "the administration will initiate a peace plan," and of course, "the Israeli right is irritating our greatest friend in the West." That was a baseless platform that eventually led to the peace camp's demise. You can't spend night and day making vain prophesies and recruiting supporters to the struggle. Peace Now, Meretz and the Labor Party relied on the best-quality hashish of "the Americans will not allow it." But the Americans gave, and how they gave! Dollars and burial stones.

Wars broke out, despite the strongest convictions of their opponents, as if the Americans were opposed, while the Israel Defense Forces, which is not an American army, heaven forbid, tried to be clever and outsmart the Americans. People believed that in the end, after the mass killings (in Lebanon and the Gaza Strip ), there would be a happy end and "the Americans would force a peace agreement on the sides" - because the Americans are a policeman on behalf of Western justice.

Now that the "peace camp" has waned and the people need the simple faith that we're the ones who decide on the agenda, Netanyahu's prestige is rising. According to the new folklore, the prime minister "dictated the Americans' agenda," as if Israel's strength weren't built by the Americans precisely for this necessity - the carrot and the stick of control in the Middle East. The stick is a direct Israeli threat, like the one against Iran. The carrot is "an Israeli withdrawal," "a comprehensive settlement" or "the United States will restrain Israel." The neighborhood thug will not attack because the U.S. will not allow him to.

This is a structure in which different forces act. The United States is a coalition of interests, sometimes even opposing interests, of those who support and those who oppose terrible wars - in the administration, in the economy and in politics. But the U.S. continues to act as it always has acted. Hans Morgenthau's doctrine dictates that they rely on the existing balance of power in regional conflicts.

There's no doubt that the United States has never been interested in the sources of the conflict with the Palestinians, but rather tries to benefit by nurturing it, fanning its flames, paying for it and "conducting negotiations" via the strong side to gain control in the region. There's no better example than the scuttling of the agreed-on solution by the two superpowers after the Yom Kippur War, in favor of a partial agreement that ensured control over the Palestinians and the extension of the settlements.

Within this structure, Israel's permanent role is to fix "an agenda," and the Americans' role is to say that "Israel has the right to defend itself" - and also to say the exact opposite.

Of course, within this structure there's great value in the "moderate camp" because the United States chooses the "moderate camp" from the strong side. That's why the visit by Peres - the statue of the "peace camp" - took place a day before Netanyahu's.

This is the rope Israel is gradually hanging itself with. Those celebrating the victory of Iran Now over Palestine Now know well that this Now - via the destructive power that the U.S. finances and which nurtures the settlements and the army - is designed to turn us into a country where it may be interesting to live but where it's also very bad to live.