Posts Tagged ‘Obama’

You can thank Democrats for mishandling foreign policy — The world is now a more dangerous place

October 30, 2014


By Daniel Henninger

The Wall Street Journal

Want to know how to really scare a Democratic candidate for Congress on Halloween? Forget the Sarah Palin mask. Don’t say “Boo!” Just slip up behind them and whisper, “national security.” They’ll jump from here into next week’s election.

In New Hampshire, North Carolina, Arkansas, Iowa and Colorado, Republican challengers are spooking Democratic Senate campaigns by yelling, “Islamic State” and “Ebola.”

A Scott Brown ad in New Hampshire says Democratic incumbent Jeanne Shaheen “supports Obama ’s failed foreign policy.” Tom Cotton ’s ad in Arkansas says President Obama “underestimated” the threat in the Middle East. In their Colorado debate, Republican Cory Gardner asked Sen. Mark Udall “where were you” while Islamic State became a “growing threat?” Most horrifying of all, Thom Tillis accused North Carolina Democrat Sen. Kay Hagan of skipping an Armed Services Committee hearing to . . . raise money.

Democratic campaigns built around the war on women or the future of outdoor temperatures are looking limp.

If I were a Democrat getting beaten up by Republican appeals to national security, it would madden me that earlier this year most GOP politicians were content to minimize the world’s troubles, citing—well, hiding behind—opinion polls purporting that most Americans were “fatigued” with the U.S. role in the world.

“Fatigue” became the default argument for ending discussion in conservative and GOP circles about offering an alternative to Barack Obama’s hook-and-slice foreign policy toward Syria, Iran, Iraq, Vladimir Putin ’s spreading empire, China intimidations of its neighbors or any other metastasizing global threat.

File photo of Russia's President Vladimir Putin greeting Chinese President Xi Jinping in March.
File photo of Russia’s President Vladimir Putin greeting Chinese President Xi Jinping in March.

All of a sudden, Republicans everywhere are using a dented globe to pummel Democrats. Politics can be so unfair.

Privately, Democrats complain that their candidates are getting tagged for Barack Obama’s incompetence. Mark Udall didn’t have access to intelligence reports about Islamic State’s spread through the Middle East. Why blame Kay Hagan for letting the Ukrainians twist in the wind? What’s Arkansas got to do with any of this?

These Democrats are whistling past the graveyard if they think they can deny shared responsibility for the world on Barack Obama’s watch. The Obama worldview is their worldview—not because he happens to be president but because his is the foreign policy espoused by the Democratic Party’s leaders for a generation. One is vice president. Another is secretary of state.


Turkish Lt. Gen. Erdal Ozturk, second from left, and others listen in silent disbelief as President Obama speaks during a meeting with more than 20 foreign defense ministers Tuesday at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland. (Evan Vucci/AP)

After the Vietnam War, Democrats came to be known as the antiwar party. The real meaning of that phrase is misunderstood.

Democrats moved away from the muscular foreign-policy tradition of Roosevelt and Trumanonly partly for reasons of aversion to overseas military deployments. What they really wanted to redeploy, permanently, was the federal budget’s spending accounts: Siphon money out of the defense budget and reflow it into domestic spending. Forever.

Liberals loathed Ronald Reagan above all else because he took defense spending up to 6% of GDP. That it was 9% under John F. Kennedy has been swept under the rug of Party history. By notable contrast, Bill Clinton is revered by post-Kennedy Democrats because he reduced defense outlays eight straight years, ending at 3% of GDP. Under the Bush 9/11 presidency, defense rose above 4%. President Obama’s defense-spending plans would reduce it to 2.3% of GDP by 2024.

The bucolic view of this is that Democrats merely want to help people by spending money on unmet domestic needs. The cynical view would be that once an inexorably northern liberal Democratic Party lost the South, defense spending did nothing for them politically. Domestic spending underwrites their bases of power and incumbencies in the North.

That cynical spending calculation holds for some Republicans in Congress. The difference is that only Democrats stay away from the world as a matter of ideology, for fear any commitment legitimizes dollars for defense. 

Norwegian Air Force F-16AM Fighting Falcon (L) accompanying a Russian Air Force Tupolev Tu-95MS

Norwegian Air Force F-16AM Fighting Falcon (L) accompanying a Russian Air Force Tupolev Tu-95MS  Photo: EPA

But bargain-basement foreign policy is high risk, especially if you’re standing for election in front of the famous fan. As now.

If the Republican Party wins Senate control next Tuesday, it will be the dog that caught the bus. Then what? My guess is that much of the campaign’s national-security bravado will recede. Most Republicans will re-convince themselves that opinion-poll “fatigue” is real. Like the Obama foreign policy, that thought is delusional.

Ebola is the wake-up call. Ebola was a problem over there, and addressing it could wait. Now it’s here. Ebola shrank the world. That is a reality from which it’s impossible to hide anymore.

You can’t watch individuals infected with Ebola show up in Texas and New York from West Africa and demand that the U.S. do something, and then watch Islamic State rampage across the Middle East and say, not our problem. Internet jihadist recruitment and paint-by-numbers terrorism manuals by Islamic State and al Qaeda have shrunk the world, too.

Foreign-policy planners and national leaders in Moscow, Tehran and Beijing get up every day and do one thing: think about how they can diminish or destabilize the U.S. Our leadership got up every day for six years and thought about . . . wind farms. When the world’s political winds shifted, Senate Democrats, as is their habit, chose not to see.

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Amid Obama’s Global Foreign Policy Mess, Administration Is Calling Benjamin Netanyahu “Chickenshit” Behind Closed Doors

October 30, 2014

By Joshua Keting


Photo by JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images

The big diplomatic story of the day is an anonymous Obama administration official’s claim, in an Atlantic feature by Jeffrey Goldberg, that Benjamin Netanyahu is a “chickenshit.” Why is the Israeli prime minister a chickenshit? Because “he won’t do anything to reach an accommodation with the Palestinians or with the Sunni Arab states. The only thing he’s interested in is protecting himself from political defeat. He’s not [Yitzhak] Rabin, he’s not [Ariel] Sharon, he’s certainly no [Menachem] Begin. He’s got no guts.” In the same story, another official concurs that Netanyahu is a “chickenshit” and adds that he’s a “coward” with regards to launching a possible preemptive strike to forestall Iran’s nuclear capabilities.

Let’s put aside for a moment the inherent irony of using an anonymous quote to call someone a coward while the Obama administration publicly issues paeans to the frank and productive partnership between Israel and U.S. Instead, I’ll note that this is the second notable anonymous scatological description of the Israeli government by an anonymous American to hit the Internet this week. Discussing the Obama administration’s snub of Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon—he was denied meetings with both Vice President Joe Biden and National Security Advisor Susan Rice during a recent trip to Washington—a “pro-Israel congressional aide” told Foreign Policy’s John Hudson, “There is a limit to how much you can shit all over the White House and expect to get every meeting you want.”

Yaalon had previously described Secretary of State John Kerry as “obsessive and messianic.” That was fairly mild compared to the anonymous Israeli officials who described one of Kerry’s peace proposals during last summer’s Gaza War as a “strategic terrorist attack” against Israel.

So, everyone seems to be in basic agreement on just how shitty relations have become between the U.S. and Israeli governments. Following Yaalon’s snub, Israel’s Finance Minister Yair Lapid fretted, “There is a crisis with the U.S. and we should treat it as a crisis.”

The question is, what are the actual implications of this crisis? The two sides may be trading insults because, politically, it’s about all they can do. Despite all the sniping, there hasn’t been much material change in the U.S.-Israel relationship. The Obama administration has continued the longstanding U.S. practice of running interference for Israel at the UN, vetoing repeated Palestinian statehood bids and, more recently, casting the sole vote against launching an inquiry into potential human rights violations during the Israeli incursion into Gaza. Unlike Great Britain and Spain, the United States—Israel’s primary military backer—announced no plans to review or suspend arms shipments to the country as a result of the war in Gaza. I wouldn’t expect this behavior to change significantly, whatever senior U.S. officials are saying behind closed doors and with the veil of anonymity.

It doesn’t matter that much to Netanyahu if American officials insult him in the media or won’t meet with his cabinet ministers as long as Israel still derives most of the benefits of its security partnership with the U.S. The tension with the Obama administration may even help the prime minister with his right-wing base, who were never huge fans of the president to begin with.

Naftali Bennett, the economics minister of the far-right Jewish Home party, is already playing up the victimhood, writing on Facebook, “If what was written [in The Atlantic] is true, then it appears the current administration plans to throw Israel under the bus. The prime minister is not a private person but the leader of the Jewish state and the whole Jewish world.” (The latter part of that statement was news to me, and I’m assuming many other members of “the whole Jewish world.”)

Netanyahu seems, for the most part, to have written off the White House, preferring to deal instead with Congress, where his support is stronger. Unfortunately for him, Congress is increasingly not where U.S. foreign policy is made on issues ranging from the negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program to the fight against ISIS. He may figure he can just run out the clock on the Obama administration until a Republican or a more amenable Democrat like Hillary Clinton gets into office.

This is a risky long-term strategy. U.S. support for Israel may be mostly secure in the short term, but there are signs of change. U.S. media coverage of the most recent war in Gaza was notably more critical than during similar incidents in the past. Young Americans are more critical of Israel than their parents, and tomorrow’s Republican leaders may not be quite as ironclad in their support of the Jewish state as today’s are. In the years to come, then, anonymous sniping could feel quaint—a reminder of when the two countries cared enough about their relationship not to insult each other openly.


President Barack Obama pauses while speaking to the media about Ebola before leaving the White House en route to Wisconsin, Tuesday, Oct. 28, 2014. (Jacquelyn Martin/AP)

U.S.-Turkey 60-year alliance shows signs of crumbling

October 30, 2014


Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks during a news conference in Riga October 23, 2014. Divergences over how to confront the Islamic State have strained the durability of a six-decade alliance. (Ints Kalnins/Reuters)

By Liz Sly
The Washington Post

The increasingly hostile divergence of views between Turkey and the United States over Syria is testing the durability of their 60-year alliance, to the point where some are starting to question whether the two countries still can be considered allies at all.

Turkey’s refusal to allow the United States to use its bases to launch attacks against the Islamic State, quarrels over how to manage the battle raging in the Syrian border town of Kobane and the harsh tone of the anti-American rhetoric used by top Turkish officials to denounce U.S. policy have served to illuminate the vast gulf that divides the two nations as they scramble to address the menace posed by the extremists.

Whether the Islamic State even is the chief threat confronting the region is disputed, with Washington and Ankara publicly airing their differences through a fog of sniping, insults and recrimination over who is to blame for the mess the Middle East has become.

At stake is a six-decade-old relationship forged during the Cold War and now endowed with a different but equally vital strategic dimension. Turkey is positioned on the front line of the war against the Islamic State, controlling a 780-mile border with Iraq and Syria. Without Turkey’s cooperation, no U.S. policy to bring stability to the region can succeed, analysts and officials on both sides say.

“If Turkey is not an ally, then we and Turkey are in trouble,” said Francis Ricciardone, who served as the U.S. ambassador to Turkey until the summer. “It is probably the most important ally.”

The airdrop by U.S. warplanes last week of weapons to a Kurdish group Turkey regards as a terrorist organization crystallized the apparent parting of ways. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has not disguised his anger at the way President Obama ordered the airdrop. The U.S. president informed him of the decision in a telephone call barely an hour after Erdogan had declared to journalists that Turkey would never allow such assistance to take place.

On a tour of the Baltic states last week, Erdogan blasted Obama at every stop. “Mr. Obama ordering three C-130s to airdrop weapons and supplies to Kobane right after our conversation cannot be approved of,” he said during a news conference in Latvia. “The U.S. did that despite Turkey,” he fumed on another leg of the journey.

U.S. officials have sought to reassure Turkey that the airdrop was a one-time action, and the two countries have agreed on a plan to reinforce the beleaguered Syrian Kurds with Iraqi peshmerga fighters, which Turkey does not object to, because it has friendly relations with Iraqi Kurds.

But the Kobane dispute masked more fundamental differences over a range of issues, some of which have been brewing for years and others that have been brought to light by the urgency of the U.S.-led air campaign, analysts say.

“The Syria crisis is exposing long-unspoken, unpleasant truths about the relationship that were put to one side,” said Bulent Aliriza, a Turkish analyst with the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies. “We have this kabuki dance where Washington and Ankara say they agree, but they don’t.”

The tensions are not unprecedented, nor are the doubts about an alliance born in a different era, when fears of Soviet expansionism brought Muslim Turkey under NATO’S umbrella and extended the Western bloc’s reach into Asia.

The United State imposed an arms embargo on Turkey after Turkish troops invaded Cyprus in 1974. In 2003, there was fury in Washington when Turkey’s parliament refused to allow American troops to use Turkish soil as a staging ground for the invasion of Iraq, triggering a deep chill that took years to overcome.

The 2003 rupture may, however, have foreshadowed the beginning of a more fundamental shift in the relationship, with Erdogan embarking on a decade of transformation in Turkey that has perhaps forever changed his country, analysts say. Turkey has grown and prospered under his rule, but it has also begun to tilt toward a more authoritarian, Islamist brand of politics that is increasingly at odds with the model of secularism and pluralism that the United States has held up as a key component of Turkey’s importance to the alliance.

In 2003, as now, Turkey made it plain it did not want to be used as a launching pad for attacks against fellow Muslims in the Middle East, a sentiment Erdogan has repeatedly expressed in his many recent comments critical of U.S. policy. He has accused the United States of being more interested in oil than in helping the people of the region and has made it clear that he does not regard the Islamic State as a greater threat than the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, the organization affiliated with the Kurdish Syrians the United States has been helping in Kobane.

“There are growing doubts over whether the U.S. and Turkey share the same priorities and even whether they share the same goals,” Aliriza said. “Even when it comes to defining the enemy — there is no common enemy.”

Turkish officials bristle at suggestions that Turkey is in any way sympathetic to the Islamic State. It is Turkey that has to live with the jihadist group on its borders, not the United States, and Turkey that is most at risk of being targeted by the Islamic State in retaliation for waging war against it, the officials say.

Turks also do not mask their irritation with what they regard as a shortsighted and potentially dangerous U.S. strategy that they believe will not work and could backfire. Turkey believes Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is the root cause of the instability that gave rise to the Islamic State and that leaving him in place will serve only to prolong the war, a senior Turkish official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to discuss policy on the record.

Turkey is hosting more than 1.5 million refugees, a huge social and financial burden that will continue to grow if the conflict in Syria is not resolved, the official said.

“They are across the Atlantic,” he said, referring to the United States. “We are a neighbor of Syria’s. We know that if Assad stays, the problem will continue for decades. The Americans have the luxury of cherry-picking the problems, but we need to see them as an entirety.”

Obama and other top U.S. officials have repeatedly said that Assad cannot be part of any long-term solution to the Syria problem. But, another Turkish official said, “saying it is one thing, and doing it is another.”

“Much, much more needs to be done,” the second official said, also speaking on the condition of anonymity. “To fix this region, we have to think big. We have to think long-term and have a holistic strategy underpinned by values that don’t change according to the season.”

U.S. officials acknowledge that Washington policymakers do not always sufficiently take into account the concerns of allies. They also point to areas where Turkey is expanding its cooperation, including restricting the flow of foreign fighters across its borders and identifying the networks in Turkey that support them.

“We’ve seen some steps recently where they are more engaged on both of those issues,” said a senior administration official in Washington, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive diplomacy. “We’re definitely encouraged there.”

 And in some ways, the Syria crisis has brought Turkey and the United States closer after a year of building tensions, officials on both sides say. Obama and Erdogan had not spoken since January until they met in Wales in September to discuss the formation of the anti-Islamic State coalition. Lower-level officials have since been talking multiple times a day, Turkish and U.S. officials say. Vice President Biden has announced plans to visit Turkey in November in an effort to smooth over the ruckus over comments he made suggesting that Turkey is responsible for the rise of the Islamic State.It is hard, however, to avoid the impression that Turkey and the United States are moving on separate tracks — “parallel tracks that don’t converge,” said Gokhan Bacik, a dean at Ipek University in Ankara.

“From now on, this is only a relationship of necessity,” he said. “There is nothing ideologically that the United States and Turkey share. Turkey has changed.”

Karen DeYoung in Washington contributed to this report.

Liz Sly is the Post’s Beirut bureau chief. She has spent more than 15 years covering the Middle East, including the Iraq war. Other postings include Africa, China and Afghanistan.


Conservatives are finally right: Obama is not a dictator. He’s a bystander.

October 30, 2014


“A sense of disorder is growing.”

President Barack Obama pauses while speaking to the media about Ebola before leaving the White House en route to Wisconsin, Tuesday, Oct. 28, 2014. (Jacquelyn Martin/AP)

Conservatives are finally right: Obama is not a dictator. He’s a bystander.

By Dana Milbank
The Washington Post

In July, when House Republicans voted to sue the president, they spoke of the urgent need to stop “tyranny” at the other end of Pennsylvania Ave. “Our freedom is in peril,” warned Rep. Tom Rice (R-S.C.), the man behind the lawsuit. “We cannot stand by and watch the president shred our Constitution.”

Well, it turns out they can stand by. Three months later, no lawsuit has been filed. Politico’s Josh Gerstein, citing “lawyers close to the process,” reported that they don’t expect any legal action before the election.

Apparently, the Obama dictatorship is not such a threat, after all. Conservatives have, in recent weeks, done a 180 in their attack on the president. They have, for the most part, dropped their accusations that he is an out-of-control, overreaching autocrat. Instead, they are calling him a weak and passive leader, nothing more than a bystander.

My colleague Charles Krauthammer captured the revised consensus when he wrote on Friday that with “a sense of disorder growing — the summer border crisis, Ferguson, the rise of the Islamic State, Ebola — the nation expects from the White House not miracles but competence. At a minimum, mere presence. An observer presidency with its bewildered-bystander pose only adds to the unease.”

I don’t get to say this very often, so let me seize the opportunity: I agree entirely with Krauthammer. And I welcome conservatives to their new and more accurate critique of Obama. The real problem with Obama is not overreach but his tendency to be hands-off.

Since the second year of Obama’s presidency, I have been lamenting the lack of strong leadership coming from the White House, describing Obama in June, 2010, as a “hapless bystander . . . as the crises cancel his agenda and weaken his presidency.” I’ve since described him over the years as “oddly like a spectator ” and as “President Passerby.”

Krauthammer, like other conservatives, has frequently bemoaned this “imperial president” and Obama’s “executive overreach,” but he has also occasionally recognized Obama’s standoffishness. “The paradox of this presidency is that this most passive bystander president is at the same time the most ideologically ambitious in decades,” he wrote in December.

But it isn’t really a paradox. Obama’s ambitious agenda was shut down after Republicans took control of the House in 2010. The executive actions he has taken since then that infuriate conservatives are actually a reflection of weakness. The orders are limited in their reach (they don’t have the force of statute) and duration (they will only continue beyond Obama’s presidency if his successor opts to continue them.)

In the past, conservatives harmonized the contradictory criticism of Obama by saying he’s a tyrant at home but a weakling abroad. Ebola has caused the distinction to vanish.

Mitt Romney, the 2012 GOP presidential nominee, calls Obama unfocused on Ebola because the administration “couldn’t run the IRS right and apparently isn’t running the CDC right. And you ask yourself: What is it going to take to have a president who really focuses?”

Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), a sober voice in the party, voiced his hope on CNN that the administration “would take this more seriously . . . Unfortunately, this is another example where the administration was not as engaged early on as they should have been.”

A less sober voice, Sarah Palin, told Fox News that the “administration’s incompetency is really shining bright in this one.” She added that “there is a void of leadership here.”

Obama the unfocused tyrant! The disengaged dictator! The man who shreds the Constitution with . . . a void of leadership.

Dozens of Republican lawmakers, and a few Democrats, complaining about too little action from Obama, have called for travel bans to fight Ebola, while various governors, trying to placate a panicky public, have set up quarantines that the federal government has resisted.

Obama, as usual, remains dispassionate, cool, detached. “He responds in a very rational way, trying to gather facts, rely on the best expert advice, and mobilize the necessary resources,” Obama confidant David Axelrod told BusinessWeek’s Josh Green, who likened Obama’s crisis management to a graduate seminar. “There’s no doubt that there’s a theatrical nature to the presidency that he resists,” Axelrod said.

That’s very similar to the criticism recently offered by former Pentagon and CIA chief for Obama, Leon Panetta: “Too often in my view the president relies on the logic of the law professor rather than the passion of a leader.”

Ebola is doing many horrible things to humanity, but at least it has caused conservatives to join this consensus. Obama’s flaw is not that he abuses his power, but that he uses it too little.

Twitter: @Milbank

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Michael Gerson: No time to lead from behind


Team Obama In Disarray — To Save His Legacy, He Needs To Act Fast

October 30, 2014

By David Francis

Foreign Policy

President Obama objected to state quarantines while trying to get control of the fractured response to the Ebola virus, which is becoming increasingly political and disconnected from sound science. Speaking on the White House lawn Tuesday afternoon, President Obama attempted to provide some structure to the Ebola response. Yet it’s clear that concerns about his management of the response disease will follow Democrats to the polls next week. Meanwhile, additional DOD service members have been quarantined in Europe, a reminder that Americans are putting their lives on the line to stop its spread in West Africa.

From FP’s Francis: “Speaking on the White House lawn, Obama reminded the American public that only two people — Dallas health-care workers who treated a Liberian man who later died of the disease — have been infected on U.S. soil. He said that the key to stopping the virus is attacking it in its West African epicenters of Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Liberia…Obama suggested that some lawmakers are playing politics with the issue, telling reporters that his administration’s response is based in ‘science, not fear.'” More here.

Obama’s comments did little to quell the political tide rising against the president and his Ebola response. Within hours of Obama’s comments, I received an unsolicited reminder that Congressman Doug Lamborn (R-Co.), who is up for reelection next week, will be holding an Ebola information meeting in Colorado Springs. This reminder came despite the fact that, according to scientists, there is an extraordinarily slim chance that the Ebola virus would affect Coloradans. This event shows that Republicans aren’t likely to let Ebola drop before Nov. 4.

 From Bloomberg’s Margaret Talev: Campaign “ads invoking Ebola ran 734 times between Oct. 21-25, compared with a total of 484 tracked … in months prior.” More here.

Meanwhile, from the BBC: Kaci Hickox, the nurse quarantined in New Jersey, plans to challenge her confinement in federal courts. Via The New York Times, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is unapologetic.

In New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo has eased quarantine restrictions. More from The New York Times, here.

Gregg Gonslaves, writing in FP, argues that politics need to be removed from the Ebola response immediately. “Despite the fact that the size of the West African Ebola epidemic made it virtually certain a few cases would emerge in the United States, the infections in Dallas and now in New York City have unleashed a panic unprecedented in recent American history. Even the AIDS epidemic didn’t send so many Americans into paroxysms of fear the way Ebola has over the past few weeks… In times of crisis, people need sound guidance about what to do, how to react. U.S. public health and medical institutions, with their deep expertise and experience, are the agencies that must take the lead in disease outbreaks of this kind. Namely, it is critical to rely on the CDC and the National Institutes of Health… Yet there is currently a fracturing of national consensus on public health that goes beyond the usual Capitol Hill second-guessing and political posturing, and that may endure for a long time to come.” More here.

In West Africa, there are signs that the outbreak could be slowing down. From Josh Keating in Slate, here.

However, Jina Moore, reporting from Liberia for Buzzfeed, notes that it’s difficult to determine whether the tide has turned against the disease because there is no accurate figure on how many cases there were to start. More here.

In an interview with FP’s Drennan, Blackwater founder Erik Prince has some radical ideas about how private contractors could take part in efforts in West Africa. “Prince thinks that by using a large supply vessel floating off the coast of Ebola-ravaged West Africa, private contractors could quickly deliver crucial medical assistance to where it’s needed — an old idea of his in a new context. ‘We could carry 250 vehicles, couple of helicopters, couple of landing craft, and everything else — so that’s all your mobility equipment,” he told Foreign Policy… “Everything else was containerized: food, medicine, field hospitals, tents, water purification, generators, fuel — everything you’d need for a humanitarian disaster.'” More here.

Jim Yong Kim, the president of the World Bank, is worried about a lack of volunteers willing to go to West Africa: “Right now, I’m very much worried about where we will find those health-care workers. With the fear factor going out of control in so many places, I hope health-care professionals will understand that when they took their oath to become a health-care worker it was precisely for moments like this.” More from FP’s Francis here.

Kim added that 5,000 additional medial workers are needed. More from the Associated Press, here.

And finally on Ebola, a reminder that American lives are on the line: CNN reports that 30 additional soldiers returning from their mission in West Africa are now in quarantine. More from CNN here.

In the Middle East, the seesaw battle for Kobani continues. Despite U.S. air support, the Islamic State’s siege of the Turkish border town continued Tuesday. Now, Iraqi Peshmerga fighters are on their way to the city, which has become a bellwether of the success of the fight against the Islamic State.

From Isabel Coles and Dasha Afanasieva for Reuters: “The Islamic State (IS) has threatened to massacre Kobani’s defenders in an assault which has sent almost 200,000 Syrian Kurds fleeing to Turkey, and triggered a call to arms from Kurds across the region.” More here.

From the Telegraph, Colin Freeman on Turkey setting conditions for helping the West in Kobani crisis in Syria. Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said that Turkey would help only if Syrian rebel groups were armed, not Kurdish fighters belonging to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party. More here.

Germany’s Deutsche Welle reports Lebanese Prime Minister Tammam Salam asked the German government for more financial assistance to deal with 619,000 Syrian refugees. Germany has committed half a billion euros to Syrian refugee relief. German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier wouldn’t commit to spending more without proof that the money was being spent “effectively and more sustainably.” More here.

Also from Germany, this time from der Spiegel: An interview with an Islamic State recruiter. “We are following Allah’s word. We believe that humanity’s only duty is to honor Allah and his prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him. We are implementing what is written in the Koran.” More here.

Yesterday, I referred to the Iraqi Yazidi population as Christian. I apologize for this mischaracterization; their religion combines elements of Christianity along with many other sets of beliefs. Thanks for keeping me honest, and please keep the feedback coming.

As the November 24 deadline for a nuclear deal between Iran and the West looms, numerous factors are conspiring to put pressure on Tehran. Tanking oil prices and the economic sanctions are hurting Iran’s economy, upping the pressure on Iranian President Hassan Rouhani to make a deal. Obama administration officials are hinting that a deal could be close, but any deal could sink relations between the United States and Israel even lower while infuriating Congress. 

From The New York Times’ Thomas Erdbrink, in Tehran: “Iranian officials will never admit that either sanctions or low oil prices have any effect on their bargaining position in the nuclear talks. Yet, for a country that by some estimates needs an oil price of more than $140 a barrel to balance its budget, the roughly 25 percent drop in oil prices to around $80 a barrel since last summer has to be deeply concerning.” More here.

However, according to the Fars News Agency, Iran isn’t ready to budge. “We frankly announce that the world should not think that we have closed our eyes waiting for the negotiations to bear results, we have planned and prepared ourselves for more difficult conditions,” said Iranian First Vice-President Eshaq Jahangiri yesterday. More here.

Complicating any deal is the American Congress and U.S. ties with Israel. Obama is already angling to avoid Congress, which would have to act to remove economic sanctions against Iran.

From Seth Lipsky, writing in Haaretz: “Obama clash with Republican Senate over Iran would be epic.” More here.

Over at The Atlantic, Jeffrey Goldberg argues that we’ve arrived at a make-or-break moment for Israel and the United State. “By next year, the Obama administration may actually withdraw diplomatic cover for Israel at the United Nations, but even before that, both sides are expecting a showdown over Iran, should an agreement be reached about the future of its nuclear program.” More here.


Obama Could Replace Aides Bruised by a Cascade of Crises

WASHINGTON — One day this month, as the nation shuddered with fears of an Ebola outbreak and American warplanes pounded Sunni militants in Syria, President Obama’s national security adviser, Susan E. Rice, invited a group of foreign policy experts to the White House to hear their views of how the administration was performing.

She was peppered with critiques of the president’s Syria and China policies, as well as the White House’s delays in releasing a national security strategy, a congressionally mandated document that sets out foreign policy goals. On that last point, Ms. Rice had a sardonic reply.

“If we had put it out in February or April or July,” she said, according to two people who were in the room, “it would have been overtaken by events two weeks later, in any one of those months.”

At a time when the Obama administration is lurching from crisis to crisis — a looming Cold War in Europe, a brutal Islamic caliphate in the Middle East and a deadly epidemic in West Africa — it is not surprising that long-term strategy would take a back seat. But it raises inevitable questions about the ability of the president and his hard-pressed national security team to manage and somehow get ahead of the daily onslaught of events.

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Israeli leader responds to harsh US criticism

October 29, 2014


JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel’s prime minister says personal attacks on him from the United States are merely because he is “defending Israel.”

Benjamin Netanyahu’s remarks to parliament on Wednesday were followed a report in The Atlantic this week in which unidentified U.S. officials lambasted the Israeli premier for his settlement policies.

Netanyahu says those who attack him don’t have Israel’s best interests in mind and do so “only because I defend Israel.”

He vowed to carry on with his policies despite the pressure.

There are concerns of a new crisis in Israeli-U.S. relations after U.S. officials said the Obama administration last week refused Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon’s requests to meet several top national security aides. The rejection followed negative comments Yaalon made about Secretary of State John Kerry.


Senior Obama Administration Official Calls Israel’s Netanyahu “Chickenshit”

October 29, 2014


Quotes from senior Obama administration figures damn Israeli prime minister over stance on settlements and Palestinian peace

The Guardian

Binyamin Netanyahu is condemned by Obama administration officials in an interview for the Atlantic.

Binyamin Netanyahu is condemned by Obama administration officials in an interview for the Atlantic. Photograph: Amir Cohen/Reuters

US relations with Israel have plunged to new depths of bitterness and hostility as senior officials in the Obama administration decried Binyamin Netanyahu as a “chickenshit prime minister”, “coward” and a man more interested in his own political survival than peace.

The furious assessment delivered in anonymous but no-holds barred comments in an interview with the American journalist Jeffrey Goldberg in the Atlantic underline a state of anger with Netanyahu that is characterised as “red hot”.

The remarks are particularly telling in having been made to Goldberg, a Washington insider who has interviewed both Obama and Netanyahu, and who warned US-Israeli relations were in a “full-blown crisis” that could only get worse after the midterm elections.

Speaking to the Israeli parliament – the Knesset – a few hours after the comments were revealed, Netanyahu angrily insisted he was “under attack simply for defending Israel”, adding that he “cherished” Israel’s relationship with the US.

“When there are pressures on Israel to concede its security, the easiest thing to do is to concede,” he said. “You get a round of applause, ceremonies on grassy knolls, and then come the missiles and the tunnels.”

The Obama officials’ comments underline the dismal state of relations between the Obama administration and the Netanyahu after a series of damaging announcements by Israel – including again this week – regarding its determination to push ahead with settlement building in occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

The temperature of relations plunged again last week when Israel’s defence minister, Moshe Yaalon, was pointedly snubbed by senior administration officials during a visit last week to Washington, which itself followed a public warning from the White House that Israel risked alienating its “closest allies”.

Despite the deepening frustration in Washington, Netanyahu continued to hit back over the latest settlement announcement, saying US criticism was “detached from reality”, even on the eve of the publication of the latest remarks.

“The thing about Bibi is, he’s a chickenshit,” said one official quoted in the Atlantic. “The good thing about Netanyahu is that he’s scared to launch wars. The bad thing about him is that he won’t do anything to reach an accommodation with the Palestinians or with the Sunni Arab states.

“The only thing he’s interested in is protecting himself from political defeat. He’s not [Yitzhak] Rabin, he’s not [Ariel] Sharon, he’s certainly no [Menachem] Begin. He’s got no guts.”

In a more diplomatic and public statement on the recent settlement announcements, the US National Security Council spokesman Alistair Baskey insisted the US would continue to criticise Israel.

“There are times when we disagree with actions of the Israeli government and we must raise our concerns, such as our concerns about Israel’s settlement policy,” he said. “We raise these concerns as a partner who is deeply concerned about Israel’s future and wants to see Israel living side by side in peace and security with its neighbours.”

In comments designed to further sting Netanyahu, who has expended huge diplomatic effort on attempting to derail any deal with Iran over its nuclear programme, another official suggested the White House no longer believed Netanyahu would launch a pre-emptive strike on Iran to prevent it obtaining nuclear weapons.

“It’s too late for him to do anything,” the official said. “Two, three years ago, this was a possibility. But ultimately he couldn’t bring himself to pull the trigger. It was a combination of our pressure and his own unwillingness to do anything dramatic. Now it’s too late.”

The comments are the latest in a series of high-profile spats between Washington and Netanyahu’s government. Relations began their sharp decline when defence minister Yaalon accused the US secretary of state, John Kerry, of being “obsessive and messianic” in his pursuit of a peace deal between Israelis and Palestinians. Later, in off-the-record remarks, Kerry warned that Israeli risked becoming “an apartheid state”.

On Friday Netanyahu told the Knesset: “I am not prepared to make concessions that will endanger our state. Understand, our national interests, topped by security and the unity of Jerusalem, are not what top the interests of those anonymous forces attacking us, and me personally. I am under attack simply because I am defending the State of Israel. If I didn’t stand firm on our national interests, I would not be under attack.

“I respect and cherish the deep connection with the United States. Since the establishment of the state, we’ve had our arguments and then some. We have seen time after time, year and year, support rising among the American public. The strategic alliance between the stances is continuing and will continue.”

Responding to the remarks in the Atlantic late on Tuesday night, Israel’s far-right economics minister, Naftali Bennett, used his Facebook page to call for Washington to renounce the comments: “If what was written [in The Atlantic] is true, then it appears the current administration plans to throw Israel under the bus.

“The prime minister is not a private person but the leader of the Jewish state and the whole Jewish world. Such severe insults towards the prime minister of Israel are hurtful to millions of Israeli citizens and Jews all over the world.

“Instead of attacking Israel and forcing it to accept suicidal terms, it should be strengthened. I call on the US administration to renounce these coarse comments and to reject them outright.”

Obama and the curse on the U.S. economy — the numbers prove it

October 29, 2014


Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen last week described the “stagnant living standards for the majority.”

The ripple effect of the president’s tax hikes is swamping take-home pay

By Jon Kyl and Stephen Moore
The Wall Street Journal

The curse of the U.S. economy today is the downward trend in “take-home pay.” This is the most crucial economic indicator for most Americans, but when President Obama said in a recent speech at Northwestern that nearly every economic measure shows improvement from five years ago, he conspicuously left this one out.

Most workers’ pay has not kept up with inflation for at least six years. Even as hiring picked up over the past year, wages and salaries have inched up by 2%, barely ahead of inflation. This probably explains why half of Americans say the recession never ended. They are experiencing what Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen last week described as “stagnant living standards for the majority.”

Why aren’t wages rising? There are several reasons, including that many jobs today don’t pay as well as the ones lost during the recession. ObamaCare has made health insurance more expensive for businesses—as the nation’s biggest employer, Wal-Mart , recently reported—and that takes a bite out of take-home pay. Yet one factor is often overlooked: the tax increase on “the rich” at the beginning of 2013.

How could higher taxes on the top 2% or 3% hurt the middle class? Part of the answer is that when upper-income Americans spend their money on vacations or cars, they are taxed only once, after they earn it. But if they put their money to work by, for example, building out a family business, they got socked a second time by higher investment taxes. And this discourages the investments that grow the economy.


Although the Obama administration argues otherwise, these tax hikes were not minor. The tax rate on capital gains for high-income earners shot up to 23.8%—20% plus the 3.8% ObamaCare investment surtax. Ditto for the tax on dividends. So taxes on business investment rose by nearly 60% in 2013 and are nearly 20% higher than in the Clinton years.

For estates more than $5.3 million in value, the estate tax in 2013 rose to 40% from 35% in 2012. This tax is a confiscatory double tax on a lifetime of savings, and the money reinvested in stocks or a family business.

The overall effect of the 2013 tax hike was not minor. The highest income-tax rate on small business income has risen to almost 42% from 35%. That’s a 20% spike in the small business tax for successful companies. When the government takes more, there is less to plow back into the business or invest elsewhere.

This may help explain the paradox that even as American businesses today are generally efficient and highly profitable, they aren’t reinvesting in new plants, equipment and technology or hiring more workers at the pace they normally would. Business investment was up last quarter—a hopeful sign—but over the recovery the trend has been sluggish.

A comparison with the Reagan years when investment taxes were cut tells the story. From 1983 to 1988, private investment averaged 12% of GDP, one-third faster than the 9% since 2009 under Obama. In the aftermath of the Kennedy, Clinton and George W. Bush capital-gains tax cuts (1998-2006), the investment rate rose sharply and immediately.

What does investment have to do with stagnant wages? Everything. As Paul Samuelson, the premiere Keynesian economist who sold more economics textbooks than anyone in history, once explained: “What happens to the wage rate when each person works with more capital goods? Because each worker has more capital to work with, his or her marginal product [or productivity] rises. Therefore, the competitive real wage rises as workers become worth more to capitalists and meet with spirited bidding up of their market wage rates.”

History bears this out. Workers did very well in jobs and rising incomes in the 1960s, 1980s and late 1990s when capital gains and dividend taxes fell.

The high corporate tax rate is also holding the economy back. Twenty years ago the U.S. rate was about at the international average, but now we are about 15 percentage points above the rate of most of our competitors and nearly three times higher than countries like Ireland. The American Enterprise Institute has found that “a 1% increase in corporate tax rates is associated with nearly a 1% drop in wage rates” because when corporations invest less here at home, worker productivity suffers.

Mr. Obama’s investment tax hike was designed to soak the rich. But it is the middle class who have taken a bath. Republicans should be telling American wage-earners that the best way to increase their take-home pay is to repeal Mr. Obama’s tax hikes and chop the corporate tax rate to the international average, so more and better jobs are created on these shores, not abroad.

Mr. Kyl, former Republican senator from Arizona, is a visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and senior counsel at Covington & Burling LLP. Mr. Moore is chief economist at the Heritage Foundation.


Life under Obama sucks. And these numbers prove it

By Tim Stanley
The Daily Telegraph

America is so over Obama. In 2008, the media and a majority of the voters were head-over-heels in love with the man who told them that “yes, we can” overcome war and recession.

By 2012, the amour had cooled but they were willing to give four more years to the guy who was – if nothing else – way hotter than Mitt Romney.

But now it’s 2014 and the passion is totally gone. Obama is the withholding boyfriend who knows that he’s probably on the way out and is just sending the odd friendly text message from the golf course. If this relationship-breakdown metaphor seems a little strained consider this: Barack Obama is close to having played more rounds of golf since 2009 than Tiger Woods.

America would happily kick him to the curb, but he can’t run again in 2016 – so these midterm elections are the chance to send a message of complaint.

The Republicans won’t get a landslide (for reasons I’ll touch upon later), but if they do perform well then it’s worth noting that voters aren’t just being petty and spiteful to the President and his party. They have sound reasons to be angry about the Democrat record.

It’s true that unemployment has fallen to its lowest point since Obama took office, but that’s actually coincided with a collapse in his approval ratings: joblessness has dipped below 6 per cent, but 53 per cent of Americans think Obama is doing a bad job with the economy.

The reason? Quality of life is poor. Starting at the very bottom, poverty levels point to stagnation. In January 2009 the poverty rate stood at 14.3 per cent. It rose to around 15 per cent and then fell back down in 2013 to 14.5 per cent (but the actual number of those in poverty remained the same from 2012). Things are worse for black Americans, whose poverty rate has risen in that same period from 25.8 per cent to 27.2 per cent.

Read the rest:

Vietnam Embraces “American-Style” Capitalism, even as it seems in decline in the U.S.

October 28, 2014


By Glenn Harlan Reynolds
USA Today

So I guess we won that war after all. According to the Pew Global Poll, 95% of people in Vietnam agree that most people are better off under capitalism, even if there is inequality.

By contrast, only 70% of Americans believe the same thing. (America is out-performed by such other less developed countries as Nigeria, China, Turkey, Malaysia, the Philippines and India). Maybe, quipped an Internet commenter, the Vietnamese should send us some advisers.

But there are some lessons to be learned here, one of which is that history plays out slowly. (Though it’s probably a myth, Chinese premier Zhou Enlai supposedly once said about the French Revolution, it’s “too early to say” how it has turned out.) Had you asked people in 1974 about support for capitalism in Vietnam 40 years later, few would have predicted that 95% of Vietnamese would support capitalism today. The lower level of support in America might have surprised some folks, too, though maybe not.

But the Vietnamese view of capitalism is based on their experience, while the American view, sadly, may be based on our own. The Vietnamese have their recent experience with the lies and deprivation that always accompany communism to contrast with the growth and opportunity that a newly opened free market has provided. Many Americans, on the other hand, look at our free market and see that it’s not all that free sometimes, and that a lot of what passes for capitalism is really what Jason Mattera calls Crapitalism, a politicized crony-capitalism in which insider connections and government subsidies and compulsion play a bigger role than they should.

Vietnam has a flat tax that makes life easy for small businesses; America has a convoluted code that requires professional help to understand — and that is administered by a politicized IRS that people don’t trust anymore. The Vietnamese see small businesses as essential to the country’s future; the American government is made up of politicians who meet objections to their policies by saying things like “I can’t be responsible for every undercapitalized entrepreneur in America.”

But the Vietnamese advantage may boil down to this: Free markets are new there, whereas America has had them for a long time. Scientist Thomas Ray once said that every successful system accumulates parasites, and the free market in America has been successful for a very long time. Established businesses get tied down with regulations that keep out new innovations — like Michigan’s GM-backed anti-Tesla law that bars car makers from selling directly to the public — while politicians line up to line their pockets with taxes and fees and campaign contributions.

This phenomenon probably explains why most of the growth and innovation in the U.S. economy has been in the Internet or Internet-enabled sectors where regulation has been light, though even there the politicians are cracking down. Ultimately, the political system doesn’t like anything to go on unless it has control — and a chance for politicians to wet their beaks and look after their own.

In his book, The Rise and Decline of Nations, economist Mancur Olson argues that established economies develop a web of special interests that gradually chokes off economic growth. Vietnam’s advantage is that its own parasites haven’t had a chance to start spinning much of a web yet. Ours, on the other hand, have been at it for decades.

Olson wrote that — as with the German and Japanese booms after World War II — it takes a major calamity, such as a war or a revolution, to cut through that web and allow economic growth to take off again. I’ve argued in the past that massive democratic change — a “wave” election — might accomplish the same end.

Since I don’t want a war or a revolution, I hope I was right about that. Perhaps we’ll find out, next week.

Glenn Harlan Reynolds, a University of Tennessee law professor, is the author of The New School: How the Information Age Will Save American Education from Itself.

In addition to its own editorials, USA TODAY publishes diverse opinions from outside writers, including our Board of Contributors. To read more columns like this, go to the opinion front page or follow us on twitter @USATopinion or Facebook.

US-Israel relations in ‘crisis’ after Moshe Ya’alon snubbed

October 27, 2014

U.S. and Israel: Israel’s defence minister experienced humiliating knock-backs when he asked to meet senior American officials on a visit to Washington

US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel (left) greets the Minister of Defense of Israel Moshe Ya'alon at the Pentagon

US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel (left) greets the Minister of Defense of Israel Moshe Ya’alon at the Pentagon Photo: PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP

Israel’s relations with its key ally, the United States, have hit a new low after the Obama administration snubbed Moshe Ya’alon, the hard-line Israeli defence minister, on a visit to Washington as punishment for past criticisms of White House policy.

Mr Ya’alon met with an embarrassing rebuff after requesting meetings with Joe Biden, the US vice-president, John Kerry, the secretary of state, and Susan Rice, the national security adviser.

While such high-level meetings are normally standard for a visiting Israeli defence minister, all three cited “scheduling difficulties” in declining to see Mr Ya’alon during last week’s trip – a highly irregular stance in light of intimate US-Israeli security ties.

US officials then compounded the humiliation by waiting until the minister returned to Israel last Friday before leaking news of it to an Israeli newspaper and the Associated Press. Mr Ya’alon was permitted to meet Chuck Hagel, his American counterpart, and Samantha Power, the US ambassador to the United Nations. The latter meeting went ahead only because the White House learned of it too late to order it cancelled.

The unprecedented treatment prompted Yair Lapid, the Israeli finance minister to warn that US-Israel relations were in “crisis”.

Israel’s Finance Minister Yair Lapid and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon

Mr Ya’alon was forced to apologise in January after calling Mr Kerry “obsessive and messianic” for pursuing a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. There was a further angry reaction in March when he accused American foreign policy of projecting “weakness” throughout the world and played down the importance of US military aid to Israel.

“Given some of his comments in the recent past, it should come as no surprise that he was denied some meetings,” Haaretz quoted an unnamed “senior” US official as saying.

More alarming from an Israeli perspective was the suspicion that the administration was using Mr Ya’alon’s visit to express general dissatisfaction over Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister, who himself has been frequently disdainful towards President Barack Obama.

“Yaalon’s harsh criticism of American policy this past year was actually only a symptom of the insulting and irresponsible stance that Prime Minister Netanyahu has adopted towards the Obama administration,” wrote Shimon Shiffer in Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper.

“The White House has an open score with the Israeli prime minister: they are convinced that he tried to tarnish the president’s public image and haven’t forgotten how he stirred the pot behind the scenes on behalf of Obama’s Republican adversary, Mitt Romney.”

Ron Dermer, Israel’s ambassador to Washington and a close ally of Mr Netanyahu, is said to be “persona non grata” in the White House while the prime minister provoked anger this month when he described US criticism of Israeli settlement-building as “against American values”.

Mr Ya’alon, meanwhile, drew further criticism on Sunday after it emerged that he had issued an order banning Palestinians from travelling to work in Israel for the West Bank on the same buses as Jewish settlers following pressure from settlers’ groups.

B’Tselem, an Israeli human rights group, condemned the decision as “pandering to the demand for racial segregation on buses”.

The move appeared to clash with the spirit of a visit by Reuven Rivlin, the Israeli president, to a ceremony marking the 58th anniversary of the massacre of 48 Arab villagers – including nine women and 17 children – in the village of Kfar Qasim by Israeli border police in 1956.

Mr Rivlin – who called the 1956 killings “a terrible crime” – pleaded for greater understanding between Jews and Arabs against a backdrop of recent disturbances in East Jerusalem, which continued on Sunday four days after a three-month-old baby girl was killed by a Palestinian driver who crashed – apparently deliberately – into a crowded tram station.

“Many Israeli Arabs, forming part of the Palestinian people, feel the hurt and suffering of their brothers on the other side of the Green Line [dividing Israel from the occupied West Bank],” he said.

“Many experience not uncommon manifestations of racism and arrogance on the part of Jews.

“We must state plainly – the Israeli Arab population has suffered for years from discrimination in budget allocation, education, infrastructure, and industrial and trade areas.”



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