Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Obama and the Jews

Does he really believe he understands Israel better than Israelis themselves? Even if he is sincerely pro-Israel, his overall policies bode ill for Israel

America's Jews account for a mere 2% of the U.S. population. But they have voted the Democratic ticket by margins averaging 78% over the past four election cycles, and their votes are potentially decisive in swing states like Florida and Pennsylvania. They also contribute an estimated half of all donations given to national Democratic candidates. So whatever his actual convictions, it is a matter of ordinary political prudence that Barack Obama "get right with the Jews." Since Jews tend to be about as liberal as the Illinois senator on most domestic issues, what this really means is that he get right with Israel.

And so he has. Over his campaign's port side have gone pastor Jeremiah Wright ("Every time you say 'Israel' Negroes get awfully quiet on you because they [sic] scared: Don't be scared; don't be scared"); former National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski ("I think what the Israelis are doing today [2006] for example in Lebanon is in effect - maybe not in intent - the killing of hostages"); and former Clinton administration diplomat Robert Malley (an advocate and practitioner of talks with Hamas).

The campaign has also managed to clarify, or perhaps retool, Mr. Obama's much-quoted line that "nobody is suffering more than the Palestinian people." What the senator was actually saying, he now tells us, is that "nobody has suffered more than the Palestinian people from the failure of the Palestinian leadership to recognize Israel, to renounce violence, and to get serious about negotiating peace and security for the region." Still more forthrightly, Mr. Obama recently told the Atlantic Monthly that "the idea of a secure Jewish state is a fundamentally just idea, and a necessary idea, given not only world history but the active existence of anti-Semitism, the potential vulnerability that the Jewish people could still experience."

I can think of no good reason to doubt the sincerity of Mr. Obama's comments. Nor, from the standpoint of American Jewry, is there anything to be gained from doing so: The fastest way to turn whatever dark suspicions Jews may have of Mr. Obama into a self-fulfilling prophecy is to spurn his attempts at outreach.

Yet the significant question isn't whether Mr. Obama is "pro-Israel," in the sense that his heart is in the right place and he isn't quite Jimmy Carter. What matters is whether his vision for U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East - and the broader world view that informs it - will have ancillary effects favorable to Israel's core interests. Take Hamas and Hezbollah, which pose the nearest threats to Israel's security. Mr. Obama has insisted he opposes negotiating with Hamas "until they recognize Israel, renounce terrorism and abide by previous agreements." He also calls Hezbollah a "destabilizing organization."

But if Mr. Obama's litmus test for his choice of negotiating partners is their recognition of Israel and their renunciation of terrorism, then what is the sense in negotiating without preconditions with Iran and Syria? Alternatively, if the problem with Hamas and Hezbollah is that neither holds the reins of government, what happens when they actually do? Hamas won the Palestinian parliamentary elections in January 2006; Hezbollah sits in the Lebanese cabinet. Would Mr. Obama be willing to parley if, in the course of his administration, either group should come to power?

Or take Iran, which Israelis universally see as their deadliest enemy. Yes, there are arguments to be made in favor of presidential-level negotiations between Washington and Tehran - perhaps as a last-ditch effort to avert military strikes on Iran's nuclear facilities. But does anyone seriously think Mr. Obama would authorize such strikes?

Instead, Mr. Obama says he favors "tough diplomacy," including tighter sanctions on Iran's Revolutionary Guards Corps. Last fall, however, he was one of only 22 senators to oppose a Senate resolution calling for the IRGC to be designated as a terrorist organization, a vote that made him a dove even within the Democratic Party. Mr. Obama argued at the time the amendment would give the administration a pretext to go to war with Iran. It was an odd claim for a nonbinding resolution.

Or take Iraq. Israelis are now of two minds as to the wisdom of the invasion of Iraq, mainly because they fear it has weakened America's hand vis-a-vis Iran. Maybe. But is it so clear that a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq wouldn't further strengthen Iran's hand, and consolidate the so-called Shiite crescent stretching from southern Iraq to the hills overlooking northern Israel?

Finally, there is Israel itself. In the Atlantic interview, Mr. Obama declared that "my job in being a friend to Israel is partly to hold up a mirror and tell the truth," particularly in respect to the settlements. Yes, there are mirrors that need to be held up to those settlements, as there are to those Palestinians whose terrorism makes their dismantlement so problematic. Perhaps there is also a mirror to be held up to an American foreign-policy neophyte whose amazing conceit is that he understands Israel's dilemmas better than Israelis themselves.


Lieberman on Obama

Via Taranto

Last night found us at the annual dinner of the Commentary Fund, publisher of Commentary magazine (proud member of the OpinionJournal Federation), where Sen. Joe Lieberman delivered the Norman Podhoretz Lecture. Truth be told, it was more campaign speech than lecture. It was dramatic because Lieberman, a senior Democrat, was speaking on behalf of John McCain, the Republican presidential nominee.

Most interestingly, Lieberman was very tough on his own party's likely nominee, Barack Obama. (As far as we remember, he did not mention, or even allude to, Obama rival Hillary Clinton.) Lieberman noted that unlike McCain, and despite Obama's "unity" rhetoric, Obama has no significant record of working across party lines in the Senate.

He described Obama as McGovernlike, a comparison at least one backer of the Illinois Democrat, Rep. Fortney Hillman Stark Jr. of California, has also endorsed: "I think he has captured the imagination of the American public, I think he's responsible for bringing millions of new voters, new Democrats into the party, and I haven't seen that kind of movement among young voters since I first ran and saw McGovern do the same thing in 1972," Stark told the Oakland Tribune last week.

Lieberman cited at length a 1999 National Review article by Norman Podhoretz, in which Podhoretz credited President Clinton with saving Democrats from McGovernism. "I think the Democrats have been pretty thoroughly purged of the McGovernite spirit," Podhoretz wrote. "It pains to me [sic] to admit this, but I would estimate that there is now more isolationist sentiment in Republican than in Democratic ranks." Lieberman argued that in many ways, the 2000 ticket of which he was a part was more hawkish than its Republican counterpart.

Since then--really, since the end of 2002--the Democrats have turned hard to the left on foreign policy, with Lieberman a rare dissenting voice. The Connecticut senator praised President Bush for his Knesset speech last week, and said that Bush's criticism of those who advocate appeasement applies to Obama, whether the president meant it to or not.

In his most devastating criticism, Lieberman noted that Obama favors talks without preconditions with anti-American dictators in North Korea, Venezuela and Iran, while taking an antagonistic approach toward democratic allies in South Korea, Colombia and Iraq, opposing trade deals with the first two and threatening to withdraw U.S. military support from the last.

It's reminiscent of John Kerry, the Democrats' 2004 nominee, who traipsed about the country denouncing America's allies as a "coalition of the bribed and the coerced" while promising to subject American foreign policy to a "global test."

The Obama-Ahmedinejad Summit

"Obama is the only major candidate who supports tough, direct, presidential diplomacy with Iran without preconditions." -

[Since when was ANY diplomacy "tough". It's deeds that are tough]

Barack Obama has enshrined the principle of unconditional summitry with Iran as one of the central foreign policy planks of his campaign for President. This despite recent efforts by Obama surrogates to confuse the electorate.

The statement above is found on the campaign website of Senator Obama and reflects his view -- repeated a number of times by himself in debates and question and answer sessions -- that the thrust of his foreign policy will be personal Presidential engagement with tyrannical regimes across the globe, including Hugo Chavez in Cuba or Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Iran. But the focus clearly will be on Iran as the campaign moves along. Iran is the leading state sponsor of terror and is developing the means to construct nuclear weapons.

What would be the consequences of such a Presidential meeting between President Obama and President Ahmadinejad? Michael Gerson has written eloquently about the moral stain that will color the mere act of meeting with a Holocaust denier who boasts of his yearning to repeat the effort to exterminate the Jews. Obama, a man who on the campaign trail has declared that "nobody has spoken out more fiercely on the issue of anti-Semitism than I have," will be extending the honor of a Presidential meeting to the most dangerous anti-Semite of all. For what benefit? As Gerson wrote,
"having made Iranian talks without precondition: his major foreign policy goal, Obama is left with little leverage to extract concessions, and little choice to move forward"

There will inevitably be pressure to offer concessions to Ahmadinejad to help ensure a successful summit. To paraphrase John F. Kennedy, who will bear the burden? Who will pay the price?

Ahmadinejad has been crystal clear about his goals. He is fanatic towards Jews and toward Israel -- a type of obsession the world has witnessed before. Israel will certainly be on the agenda of any presidential meeting.* Obama would meet and perhaps even shake hands with a man who has repeatedly condemned Israel, has called it "filthy bacteria" and will hear the ritual denunciations of Israel. Perhaps, he has become inured to such bombast. He has heard it all before.

When a summit meeting occurs, there is considerable pressure to "accomplish" something, to come to an agreement. What exactly would a President Obama be willing to give to Iran in order to get back something that could be touted as an achievement of his summitry? The boost a summit (even one that led to no agreements) would give to the image of Ahmadinejad would embolden him within Iran (he faces internal pressures that directly blame him for Iran's diplomatic problems) and without. Furthermore, reformers throughout the region will be demoralized and our relations with Sunni nations,including Saudi Arabia, will be damaged as these Sunni regimes also seek to accommodate Iran.

More significant will be the impact on the one group in the region that has warm feelings toward America: the Iranian people themselves. There is a huge Baby Boom generation that is restive and angry towards the regime. As a consequence of pro-natalist policies formulated in the wake of the Iran-Iraq War, there was a surge in births in Iran. Two-thirds of Iranians are now estimated to be under the age of 30; and, significantly, only 40 percent of them are ethnically Persian. They resent the regime.

Iranians are also heirs to a culture that was historically very cosmopolitan and proud of its sophistication and openness to the outside world. Already many Iranians complain of Ahmadinejad's policies that have led to global isolation In a poll taken by the regime itself, one half (and this is probably understated because the regime was running the poll) affirmed that Washington's attitude towards Iran are "to some extent" correct. As much as they abhor the regime, they also have the most positive feelings towards America of any population in the region.

There is an old Middle Eastern aphorism: the enemy of my enemy is my friend. If Obama meets with Ahmadinejad, it will be a sign to Iranians that the world is willing to accept and to respect their regime. The reservoir of goodwill -- the hope for the future as this bulge of youth moves forward -- will be drained. They will feel the sting of defeat -- a betrayal they can lay at the feet of President Obama and America.

But what will be the reaction of the rest of the world? The consequences have already been presaged by the world's reaction to the release of the deeply flawed National Intelligence Estimate late last year. When the NIE was released, it infamously stated, "in the fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program". The report was immediately criticized across the political spectrum in America and by foreign leaders among our allies in Europe. Notably, Barack Obama endorsed the conclusions of the NIE and has continued to do so despite its revision a few months later. Paul Mirengoff of Powerline noted the irony of his accepting the validity of the earlier intelligence findings because they conform to his political plans and rejecting later revisions because they would challenge his views and plans. Nevertheless, the mere release of the report, with its imprimatur of government approval, had a disastrous effect on efforts to restrain Iran.

Over the last few years America, working with our allies and with the United Nations, assiduously (if all too slowly) has worked to impose a sanctions regime against Iran. While the breadth and strength of the sanctions have not been what many would have wanted -- and their enforcement has been spotty -- the release of the NIE all but squashed any efforts to move forward with a tougher set of sanctions. Nations rushed with an unseemly alacrity to reach deals with Iran. Russia resumed nuclear cooperation on the Busher nuclear reactor in Iran. China stepped up its opposition to further sanctions. And European nations slid back toward apathy to Iran's threat. The sanctions regime had lost its rationale and has all but collapsed.

The conclusions of the report have been all but repudiated and certainly have been superseded by Iran's success in enriching uranium and developing ballistic missiles. Yet all forward momentum toward further sanctions against Iran has halted. The NIE gave all parties who opposed the sanctions -- business interests, Russian oligarchs in charge of their nuclear export program, Chinese leaders eager to extend their influence -- a reason to oppose further efforts to halt Iran's nuclear program.

But the world's powers until now have diplomatically isolated the regime. Other world leaders have refrained from meeting with a leader who has continually issued a string of odious statements such as "Israel will be wiped off the map" and "Israel is a stinking corpse" and who denies the Holocaust.

A meeting between President Obama and President Ahmadinejad would trigger a parade of other foreign leaders to Tehran. They are merely waiting for a pretext, an excuse, that would absolve them from the shame of meeting with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Our strongest allies in Europe, Angela Merkel in Germany, Nicolas Sarkozy in France, Gordon Brown in England, face internal pressures to engage in Iran from commercial interests and political and diplomatic figures within their nations. Until now they have courageously resisted this pressure. No leader wants to bear the burden, the odium, the shame, of being the first Western leader to grant respectability to Ahmadinejad. Diplomatic pressure from America has provided them with another reason to deny such a bestowal of prestige upon Ahmadinejad. President Obama would radically change these policies.

When other high profile political leaders will come a calling, they may not bear the bowler of Neville Chamberlain, but they will bring hats in hand, newly ready and able to strengthen diplomatic (and hence all) ties to the mullahcracy. Under the cover of diplomatic outreach, sanction-busting deals will naturally follow. European nations are eager for energy deals that will provide the wherewithal for Iran to step up its nuclear weapons program.

Indeed, just this past week, OMV, an Austrian energy company with a multibillion dollar deal with the tyrants of Tehran, gave us a glimpse into the future. The chief executive officer of the company has openly declared that a political change in America -- one that he apparently believes in and hopes for -- will make it far easier to transact deals with Iran. Most assuredly he is not referring to John McCain.

If President Obama believes in the value of such meetings, perhaps he will be bold enough to meet with Iranian dissidents and reformers, to use the prestige of his office and that of America (remember Iranians admire America) to help them and not their oppressors. President Reagan -- whom Barack Obama professes to admire -- offered such support to Soviet dissidents. So far, Barack Obama has not shown any signs that he is willing to do so.


On giving Obama the benefit of the doubt

Senator Barack Obama's repudiation of Reverend Jeremiah Wright has inspired the praise of some and the denunciation of others. This broad spectrum of opinion reflects the strange opacity of Obama's character and motivation.

We know all too well what makes Hillary tick and McCain seems to be an open book. But Obama is a man of mystery; someone has called him "a man in a fog". And he himself admits that voters ask "what do we know about him?" To date, we are still not sure whether he is mendacious or confused, open or deceitful, an idealist or a shamelessly glib opportunist.

Therefore, since we conservatives pride ourselves on our objectivity, I propose that we follow the legal dictum of "innocent until proven guilty" and give him the benefit of the doubt, just as he says he did with Rev. Wright. Let us, at least provisionally, try to construe all of his actions in the most favorable possible light.

Let us first concede his strengths. He has an excellent stage presence and is a gifted and persuasive speaker. Admittedly, most voters over thirty do not necessarily consider these to be virtues; they tend to associate such qualities with con men and used car salesmen. But one can be winning and eloquent and still be honest; think of Ronald Reagan.

Let us accept Obama's claim that, throughout twenty years of close association, he never noticed that Wright was a cesspool of anti-white hatred. Let us assume that, like many of us in church, he slept through the reverend's sermons and never heard Wright call on God to damn America or describe AIDS as a government plot against blacks. Let us further accept his reluctance to repudiate Wright as a noble loyalty to an old friend and mentor.

Let us also accept the innocence of his associations with questionable characters like Tony Rezko, Emil Jones, Robert Blackwell, Hatem El-Hady, and William Ayers. Let's attribute these and other unfortunate liaisons to an inability to judge people, or perhaps to a naive nature, so high minded and forgiving that it only sees the good in others. This view would be in keeping with the idealistic character of the speeches that have made him famous.

Let us accept his habit of abstaining from voting, even in critical issues such as abortion and the budget, and his refusal to respond to Votesmart's 2008 Political Courage Test to a conscientious man's reluctance to make decisions hastily. This would also explain the vague, ill advised, or even inane statements that he has made about many important issues. Similarly, his inaccuracies of statement and occasional deviations from fact might be ascribed to honest human fallibility.

Let us also assume that the vagueries of his political philosophy, such as his failure to define "change" and his apparent flirtations with Marxism, black liberation theology, and the Black Muslim movement, are not attempts to deceive the public but merely reflect the vagueness of his innermost thoughts.

But if all this is true, then however much we may admire Obama's character, we must dismiss his candidacy on the grounds that he is utterly unfit to be President. The President of the United States should have an attractive image and be an imposing and persuasive speaker. Obama, in his own boyish way, does have these qualities. But unfortunately, they are not enough.

The President of the United States must be a shrewd judge of competence and character as he selects associates and advisors for his administration. If any of his appointees fall short of his expectations, he must be quick to dismiss and replace them with a pragmatic disregard for old friendships. Unfortunately, as we have concluded above, Obama is much too trusting and loyal to make such choices wisely and much too slow in disaffiliating himself from untrustworthy associates. He might become another Warren Harding.

The President of the United States must be quick and decisive in dealing with sudden crises. Obama has shown, by his indecisive voting record and slowness in severing unsavory associations, that he is too dilatory and hesitant to make such decisions in a timely manner. He is simply not the right person for the three a.m. phone call.

The President of the United States must express himself precisely so as to avoid any unintentional ambiguities. If Obama is as open and honest as he claims to be, then his frequent gaffes must be attributed to a mental or verbal fuzziness that might endanger the country by causing him to "misspeak" in critical situations.

The President of the United States must protect the interests of the people from a world full of hostile and devious schemers. He must be wary and tough in his international dealings. If Obama is as naive and gullible as we have charitably assumed him to be, and as other Democrats accuse him of being, then he would be no match for the belligerent heads of state in Islamic and Marxist countries. The very thought of such a child (as Maureen Dowd has described him) negotiating with deceptive and shrewd bargainers like Putin and Ahmadinejad is horrifying. Moreover, he has been accused of frequent timidity when confronting evil. Hitherto, we have often been tempted to liken Obama to Jimmy Carter. But if our assessment of his naive and pussilanimous nature is correct, then he might well be another Neville Chamberlain.

Of course our assumption of Obama's probity might be wrong. Perhaps he is the unscrupulously devious poseur that his critics see him to be and that his words-versus-deeds gap seem to indicate. His questionable political maneuverings and his dealings with lobbyists and favor seekers lend credence to such a view of him. This cynical assessment would absolve him from some of the shortcomings cited above. But some of us believe that such hypocrisy should of itself be an absolute disqualification for public office.

Either way, Senator Obama is utterly unfit to be President of the United States. But he would make a dandy White House press secretary.


Bush was right about appeasement

And it does apply to Obama as far as we can see so far

By Victor Davis Hanson

Some seem to believe we should negotiate with terrorists and radicals, as if some ingenious argument will persuade them they have been wrong all along. We have heard this foolish delusion before. As Nazi tanks crossed into Poland in 1939, an American senator declared: `Lord, if only I could have talked to Hitler, all of this might have been avoided.' We have an obligation to call this what it is - the false comfort of appeasement, which has been repeatedly discredited by history.

So spoke President's Bush to the Israeli Knesset on the 60th anniversary of the birth of the Jewish state last week. Ostensibly the president's historical references made perfect sense for a variety of reasons. First, the state of Israel is inextricably a result of the Holocaust - a genocide that was in itself the logical consequence of an ascendant Nazi state, whose industry of death might could been circumvented by concerted action earlier in the late 1930s by the then stronger liberal democracies.

Bush was assuring the Israelis that the United States would not, in contrast to liberal democracies of the past, appease states and organizations intent on killing Jews by the millions.

Second, Bush's warning came in a climate of fear and weariness in the West, in which calls to meet without preconditions with both Iran and Hamas - the former state whose president has forecast the impending destruction of Israel, the latter terrorist organization whose charter hinges on the end of the Jewish state - have been voiced by several public figures, most prominently in recent days by former President Carter.

Third, the warning about appeasement comes not just after, and in implied defense, of military action in both Afghanistan and Iraq, but in the case of the United States, also after the September 11 catastrophe, which itself followed a decade of bipartisan inability to confront and respond to a number of al-Qaeda serial provocations.

The speech caused outrage among Democrats who insisted that it was "appalling" and a "smear" on Barack Obama, who has advocated talks, without preconditions, with Iran, and who had been informally endorsed by a Hamas official, and who had recently fired a Middle Eastern adviser, Robert Malley, for meeting with Hamas leaders. Obama fired off the following reply:
It is sad that President Bush would use a speech to the Knesset on the 60th anniversary of Israel's independence to launch a false political attack...It is time to turn the page on eight years of policies that have strengthened Iran and failed to secure America or our ally Israel.George Bush knows that I have never supported engagement with terrorists, and the president's extraordinary politicization of foreign policy and the politics of fear do nothing to secure the American people or our stalwart ally Israel.

Three questions are raised by this controversy. First: What constitutes appeasement in the 21st-century age of globalization? Second: If President Bush had wished to imply a connection with the unnamed Barack Obama, how fair would such a charge have been? Third: Has President Bush himself followed his own advice and shunned the appeasement of "with terrorists and radicals"?

Most define appeasement not by the mere willingness on occasion to negotiate with enemies (i.e., the heads of nation states rather than criminal terrorist cliques). Rather, appeasement is an overriding desire to avoid war or confrontation to such a degree so as to engage in a serial pattern of behavior that results in an accommodation of an enemy's demands - and ultimately the inadvertent enhancement of its agendas. Key here is the caveat that there must muscular alternatives to appeasement, as was true with a rather weak 1936 Nazi Germany or a non-nuclear theocratic Iran.

Talking with an Iranian theocrat like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad per se might not necessarily constitute appeasement. But continuing such talks without preconditions that made no progress in curbing Iranian nuclear agendas, or support for Hezbollah terrorists and Shiite militias in Iraq would not only be futile, but encourage further Iranian adventurism - by the assurance that negotiations were infinite and there would be few lines in the sand and little chance of military opposition to follow. In our era, the locus classicus of appeasement is the near decade of negotiations, empty threats, and drawnout diplomacy with Slobodan Milosevic, in which with virtual impunity he butchered thousands of Croats, Kosovars, and Bosnians - until a belated bombing war forced him to capitulate.

Bush in his Knesset address may have acknowledged that expansive notion of appeasement when he elaborated on his "negotiate with terrorists and radicals" line, with the proviso of futility - namely that such talking assumed an "ingenious argument will persuade them they have been wrong all along." In addition, Bush's example - that when "Nazi tanks crossed into Poland in 1939, an American senator declared: "Lord, if only I could have talked to Hitler, all of this might have been avoided" - suggests that his reference to appeasement meant not just one-time talking, but delusional and persistent engagement that is oblivious to facts on the ground.

If the president also meant to include Obama among those who would engage in such appeasement, would there be any evidence for such a view? Obama himself has never been in a position of exercising executive judgments, so we have only his campaign statements from which to surmise. In this regard, we certainly know that Obama is willing to meet any and all our enemies without preconditions. During a televised debate he was asked directly whether he would agree "to meet separately, without precondition . . . with the leaders of Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Cuba, and North Korea," Obama replied: "I would."

His website amplifies that answer with the boast that "Obama is the only major candidate who supports tough, direct presidential diplomacy with Iran without preconditions." The problem here would not be in theory talking with an Iran or Syria - Sec. of Defense Gates on numerous occasions has advocated negotiations with Teheran - but in a priori signaling to tyrants such an eagerness to elevate their grievances to head-of-state diplomacy. Under what conditions, how long, and to what degree Obama would be willing to exercise non-diplomatic options when talks proved futile would adjudicate whether his preference for unconditional talks devolved from diplomacy to appeasement.

If a President Obama were to enter into multiple negotiations with Iran, and if Iran were to continue to subvert the Lebanese government and threaten Israel through its surrogate Hezbollah, and continue to develop a nuclear arsenal while promising the destruction of Israel, at what point would he be willing not merely to cease talking, but to accept that his negotiations had done more harm than good and thus required a radical change of course - and would it be in time?

Given President Bush's admonitions about appeasement, does the president practice what he preaches?

That depends on a variety of factors such as whether enemies are nuclear or not, whom exactly we define as adversaries - Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, the Sudan, Libya? - and to what degree our existing negotiations are proving not only futile, but emboldening our enemies by the assurance that we will neither cease diplomacy nor threaten the use of force.

Both the president and Obama, in arguing abstractly over appeasement, do not factor in such realist concerns of leverage that govern decisions to negotiate, such as exporting ten million barrels a day of scarce oil (Saudi Arabia), the possession of nuclear weapons in the hands of an unstable government (Pakistan and North Korea), or the unwillingness of American public opinion to support an armed intervention (Darfur).

In that regard, Barack Obama shows his own inexperience when he evokes past summits that a John Kennedy or Ronald Reagan conducted with the nuclear Soviets - contemporary rivalries in which escalation to nuclear annihilation was a real worry, and at the time Soviet combatants (as is true in Iraq) were not killing our own soldiers.

In short, nothing in the president's speech was inaccurate, inflammatory, or hypocritical. Whether Barack Obama believes he was a target of the president's rhetoric, or whether he would engage in appeasement, hinges on whether his overeagerness to talk without preconditions to the world's thugs and rogues would persist in the face of unpleasant facts - and so make the likelihood of eventual military action more, rather than less, likely.


What a charming and gracious First Lady Mrs Obama would make!

Given Obama's recent angry demand to stop mentioning his wife, I thought that we should in fact look a little more at her

Michelle Obama, wife of presidential candidate Barack Obama, known for saying what's on her mind - candidly, spontaneously and frequently - has exposed this trait yet again in a profile in the London Guardian. Asked how she feels about Bill Clinton's use of the phrase "fairytale" to describe her husband's characterization of his position on the Iraq war, she first responded: "No." But, after a few seconds of contemplation, and gesturing with her fingernails, she told the reporter: "I want to rip his eyes out!"

Noticing an aide giving her a nervous look, she added: "Kidding! See, this is what gets me into trouble." It was the latest of a series of gaffes by the potential first lady - the first of which set off a chain of events that led to her husband's fall from grace as the clear front-runner in the Democratic presidential primary campaign.

In February, Obama set off a national firestorm with comments she made at a Milwaukee rally: "What we have learned over the past year is that hope is making a comeback. And let me tell you something - for the first time in my adult lifetime, I am really proud of my country. And not just because Barack has done well, but because I think people are hungry for change. And I have been desperate to see our country moving in that direction and just not feeling so alone in my frustration and disappointment."

Many commentators were offended by the idea that a successful woman of privilege would say she had never been proud of her country until her husband's presidential campaign. That remark was followed up with reports of a stump speech she delivered throughout South Carolina in which she characterized America as "just downright mean." She said the country is divided, life is not good, the people are "guided by fear" and cynicism. "We have become a nation of struggling folks who are barely making it every day," she told churchgoers in that primary state. "Folks are just jammed up, and it's gotten worse over my lifetime."

It may have been Michelle Obama's off-the-cuff and seemingly unpatriotic remarks that led to further examination of the sermons of the couple's pastor of 20 years, Jeremiah Wright. Reports on Wright's explosively controversial views prompted a public break between the candidate and his spiritual mentor and new questions about the viability of Obama as a presidential candidate and potential leader of the country.



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