November 7, 2013
Tuesday’s elections were interesting, but except for the talking heads and the paid analysts, no one should extrapolate very much out of the results. Considering the races involved, the size of the turnout, and the peculiarities of this truly off-year election, no one should be moved to draw dramatic conclusions in any direction. A rational consideration of the results should prove the point.
1. New York elected a liberal Democrat as its new Mayor. This is about as shocking as the fact that it snowed yesterday in Alaska in November. DeBlassio will have his hands full managing the City and so will New York. Life in Gotham could get interesting, but politically the results were not dramatic.
2. Chris Christie was re-elected by more than a 20% margin. If he could have, Obama would probably have voted for him. Defeating State Senator Barbara Buono, a sacrificial political lamb, the exit polls suggest that people liked the style and flamboyance of the man, but many voters profoundly disagreed with him on the issues. This also proves why Christie scheduled the Booker special Senate election to not coincide with or distract from, his own November, general re-election. What it means for the 2016 Republican nomination will depend on which Republican base will be at the Party’s core after the 2014 congressional elections.
3. Democrat Terry McAuliffe defeated the Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, who had Tea Party support but not enough Tea Party money. As Virginia continues to be a swing--leaning blue-- state, moderates like McAuliffe should win. The new Governor’s biggest problem may well be to show he can actually govern the Commonwealth without Bill and Hillary at his side.
4. Alabama’s 1st District Republican primary showed that without serious money, the Tea Party candidate, Dean Young, could not defeat the establishment Republican, Bradley Byrne, in the Republican primary. While Byrne’s margin was a narrow four points, this deep southern district should have stayed true to the faith; instead it suggested that the Tea Party wing needs better organization if it seriously intends to contend next year; or the GOP even could lose the House.
Speculation run ramped was the call, with no serious conclusions.
Wait, however, until February at which time the economic crisis at home will be clarified. A budget will or will not be in place; the debt limit fixing will or will not be set; a second Government shut-down will or will not have been avoided; and Obamacare will or will not have been fixed to operate as had been expected. If at that point the White House will have assumed control, Republicans could get even lose the House in November; if not the Senate may be up for grabs and Hillary may decide she prefers to be a stay-at home grandmother.
November 6, 2013
CNN reported on Tuesday that Syria may not be in compliance with the U.S.-Russia agreement to disclose, release, and destroy all its chemical weapons. As Seth Meyers on Saturday Night Live would say: “Really”! “Really”!
It should have been dubious from the beginning that Syria could bring itself to completely accept the demand to destroy all its chemical weapons. The graciousness and speed with which Assad acquiesced to U.N. inspection and collection of the gas stored for years throughout Syria, should have been an immediate give-away. Had Syria been moving to completely transfer its weapons it would have dragged out the negotiations and even then maybe not finally to have agreed; even with Obama threatening to attack Syria with cruise missiles? Having just gassed his own people, did everyone assume that Assad suddenly reconsidered his actions and gave up his trump?
Many have always feared that much of the more volatile chemicals might have been transferred to Iran or Hezbollah in exchange for their assistance in fighting the insurgent rebels. The inspectors were being given—or perhaps facilitating--Syria’s disposal of its older stockpiles and perhaps even its less chemically stable material, which might have required more sophisticated efforts to detoxify.
Assuming that the CNN report is corroborated by the inspection team, what are the consequences for the Russian-U.S. agreement to remove the gas stores? What will the U.N. possibly now do about Syria reneging on its promise? How long will all parties proceed to discuss what can or might be done against Syria? Is Russia any closer now on agreeing to implement sanctions? Finally, where does this leave the President and his still violated red line? The Syrians may have given Obama time to get through the Government shut-down and debt limit crisis, but how does he waffle through the holidays given Syria’s thwarting a diplomatic finesse?
If you want something else about which to worry in the region of the same or even greater magnitude, is U.S. intelligence so sure that Qaddafi really gave up all his nuclear weapons in 2003?
November 4, 2013
Following in the footsteps of many recent Secretaries of State, John Kerry is flying around the Middle East with regular abound making stops this time in Egypt, Israel, Palestinian Authority, Saudi Arabia, and probably Turkey and then perhaps back to Geneva. The difference between this trip and standard trips like this over the years is that Kerry is fence-mending and hand-holding everywhere he goes with little likelihood for positive results or constructive progress for the region emerging from any of the visits. It is almost like Kerry—read Obama—felt the need to get the American flag and voice, seen and heard in the region; regardless of whether there was anything useful emerging from these conversations.
U.S.-Egypt relations have suffered dramatically since the Morsi Government was overthrown by the military; democracy once again replaced by military rule, and the temporary—at least—cut-off in part of U.S. assistance to Egypt. Kerry arrived for some photo-ops and some very early discussions of how the U.S. and Egypt might be able to repair the damaged relationship. While must observers assume it will evolve over time, the Egyptian strong men now in power seem in no rush to kowtow to U.S. pique at their repudiation of the democratic elections of last year. Even though the Muslim Brotherhood and the radical Islamists have suffered significantly as a result of the coup—which is not in principle something disliked by the U.S.—the fact is that Egypt’s first democratic elections were wiped out, which deeply troubles the Obama Administration. U.S. policy towards Egypt is still in search of a clear direction, so Kerry sought to at least reassure the new leadership that the U.S. recognizes the good that the regime is accomplishing in maintaining the peace with Israel, improving the patrols in the Sinai, restricting Hamas’ activities, and enhancing the anti-fundamentalist forces in Egypt.
The Saudis are still peeved at the Obama Administration’s failure to attack Syria after Assad use of sarin gas was exposed in August. This perceived weakness demonstrated by the President—which disturbed the Israelis as well—made the Saudis believe--also like the Israelis--that the U.S. will likely be skittish to move against Iran’s nuclear facilities, if and when there be a necessity to do so in the near future. The Saudis also were not enthusiastic to see the U.S. playing ball with the Russians in supporting their initiative to deactivate the Syrian gas caches, some of which the Saudis and Israelis still fear may well end up in the hands of the Iranians or Hezbollah. The Saudis also were not pleased by U.S. reaction to the Egyptian coup, which the Saudis viewed was a constructive attack on the Islamists.
As for his hand-holding trip to Jerusalem and Ramallah, Kerry no doubt has pushed the sides to meet publically once again briefly, and to reaffirm their commitment to proceed with the negotiations, despite the fact that no one believes at this point that any progress is being achieved. The President also needed Netanyahu to tone down his questioning public rhetoric concerning Iran that is emanating from Jerusalem, and to underscore the White House’s initiative to bring American Jewish leadership to also maintain a less aggressive profile regarding the Iran talks in Geneva.
What may develop should other stops ensue in Kerry’s regional tour is not clear, but they too will only be to demonstrate that the U.S. is still very much engaged and that Kerry himself intends not to leave everything to his underlings. At present the Obama Administration has so much on its plate at home that now more than ever it does not want or need any distractions from the Middle East which could develop over any further misunderstandings. The trip is not a very exciting or positive fly-around Kerry, but he is piling up his frequent flyer miles.
October 29, 2013
As is readily apparent, Sheldon Adelson has become not only a key supporter of right wing Republican candidates, he continues to be a leading foreign policy and national security adviser to Bibi Netanyahu; to whose campaigns he previously contributed extensively. There are several aspects to these carryings-on by Adelson which need to be addressed, both from the Israeli as well as the American perspective.
First, Adelson clearly is trying to influence world-wide assessment and reaction to the Iranian- P5+1 negotiations in Geneva. Unlike Warren Buffett, another billionaire--who regularly addresses numerous serious economic issues--Adelson has no recognized expertise in international affairs beyond his own international investments.
Admittedly, the Israelis—and for that matter the Saudis as well—appear to be very afraid that the U.S. and the West will make too many and give-in too fast to any Iranian concessions in the Geneva talks. They believe that only tighter and persistent sanctions might produce positive diplomatic and strategic results. Whether the Israelis analysis is correct or not, Adelson’s suggestion that the U.S. drop a nuclear bomb on Iran to demonstrate to the Iranians that America is serious about controlling Iranian development of a nuclear weapons is embarrassingly ludicrous. It also should be appalling to his Israeli friends and sycophants. It is extremely puzzling to watch as Adelson blabbers on, that Netanyahu can tolerate having Adelson shooting off ideas; unless Bibi actually wants this voice heard. While Adelson does own an Israeli paper which is his mouthpiece, no responsible head of state should be directly associated with this type of flamboyance.
Adelson and his billions may permit him to buy time and finance political campaigns in the U.S. and in Israel, but negotiating with Iran is not a political campaign. The U.S. and Israel presumably are trying to consider serious policy options and make genuine security assessments. It would seem that for Israel’s own good, Netanyahu ought to reign in this type of associate, even though he has no official policy role. Similarly, what possessed Yeshiva University—where he spoke on a panel with serious national security analysts--to include a man like Adelson whose only credentials to participate in such a discussion would be the size of the checks that he can write.
October 27, 2013
The Obama Administration has clearly gotten itself into a heap of trouble with its friends and allies since the disclosure that the NSA even was spying on the cell phones of the leaders of America’s closest allies. What was in all likelihood a mutual operation--our allies probably have also been conducting a similar operation for years--became a political and diplomatic embarrassment for the President with the public disclosure of the wiretaps in WikiLeaks. Everyone has been blinking about this for years--no doubt--and now the U.S. is eating humble pie because it was caught.
In truth this disclosure is about as shocking as Captain Renault (Claude Rains) expressing his shock to Rick (Humphrey Bogart) that there is gambling being conducted in Rick’s Café in Casablanca !
October 21, 2013
The latest blow-up between Turkey and Israel concerning the Turkish exposure of an Israel espionage ring operating against Iran out of Turkey may well signal the true end of a remarkable relationship between the two countries over the past 50 years. As reported first by David Ignatius in the Washington Post, the Government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan was clearly making a statement when it was reported and then of course denied that Turkey had outed this major spy ring which the Turks had aided and abetted for years. This spy ring apparently benefitted not only the Israelis but the Turks as well as they both sought to maintain a secure position against the erratic regime in Teheran, as well as its other not so hospitable neighbors. Turkey gave Israel the necessary cover and presumably Israel shared much of the intelligence it developed with the Government on Ankara. Now that Endogen appears to be moving more and more into the Islamic world, his exposing of the Israeli operation only adds to the credibility of the commitment to separate itself from Israel and perhaps much of the West as well. (One need only consider the implications of the continuing stories about Turkey’s pursuit of Chinese weapons systems rather than American or even Israel options and alternatives.)
Another dimension of the latest strange geo-political moves in the Middle East was the decision by Saudi Arabia to reject a seat on the U.N. Security Council to which it had become entitled. The fascinating part of this decision—beyond the obvious affront to the international body and the five permanent Council members—was that part of the rationale presented by the Saudis was that the U.N. had failed to adequately comprehend the regional and global threat being posed by a potential nuclear Iran. Regardless of the accuracy or immediacy of the threat, the Saudis are frustrated by the unwillingness of the U.N. to adequately sustain sanctions against Iran so as to insure that a genuine nuclear threat abates.
In both of these situations, Israel is a critical player. Have lost or is rapidly losing its cuddly relationship with Turkey, Israel now seems to have a new found comrade in arms (hardly a friend) in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States. While the Saudis have both historical and religious conflicts with the Iranians, nevertheless Israel and the Saudis continue to be on the same page as Israel with respect to a nuclear Iran. It was reported some time ago that the Saudis had cleared over flights by the IAF if it were engaged in a bombing run to Iran. If the Saudis maintain this strong vigorous attack on the weakness of the West’s negotiations with Iran, it is quite conceivable that the Saudis will have even greater influence on U.S. negotiating positions than will the Netanyahu Government.
October 20, 2013
As the noise settled from the absurdity of the past several weeks, two observations are worth considering. Obamacare is undergoing more than a few problems as it tries to make healthcare opportunities available to approximately 35 million who had none. Ironically, if the Republican Party had been looking for a way to attack the President and the Affordable Health Care Act, the bureaucratic and technological nightmare which many Americans have endured as they have tried to register would have been a natural one; never mind that the mess is occurring primarily in states governed by Republicans which opted to let the federal government handle the web site for their enrollees. This would have been the traditional way that the party out of power would have gone to the voters in 2014.
This sign-up nightmare glitch will eventually be corrected but it should never have happened. All major and many minor bills are modified and corrected as the legislation is rolled out. Laws are quickly modified as the regulation and implementation phases evolve. Here again, Congress and the Government is not functioning in a traditional mode. The eventual winner here will be the Democrats because again there is an unwillingness by the Republican conservative hardliners to accept how the political system works.
The second clear picture to emerge from this battle is what a donnybrook the Republicans might well have in the run-up to the 2016 Presidential nomination. This fight produced a clear sense that both Senators Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio will vie for the right wing vote of their Republican Party in 2016. Rubio’s views appear not to be far distant from Cruz’s but his style suggests a more reasoned approach. Given that neither of them should have funding problems this side of the debate should be able to contend for quite a while. At the same time, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie surely observed the shenanigans in Washington and is more determined than ever to face-off against them. He too is hardly a shrinking violet. The more moderate parts of the GOP may well wish they had a strong candidate to send into battle, but even with all the Wall Street money in the world supporting them, the rank and file Republican primary voters are not likely to opt for anyone more moderate than Christie. From the observer’s perspective it is not clear if one will enjoy more watching and listening to Curz’s neo-fascist demagoguery or Christie’s “Joe six-pack” earthiness. We may look back on the 2012 debating season as mere child’s play compared to the next one.
October 15, 2013
Historians some day will study the events of the past few weeks and will they will never be able to make sense of the iincompetence that overcame the Republican leadership. Speaker Boehner is basically a nice man who understands American politics. He has been around the block enough to know that the entire operating premise of the Tea Partyers in both chambers could never work. Historians will ask why Boehner permitted it to happen. Why did he not have the courage to tell his Party that the destruction they are doing to the Republican Party is far greater than what they are doing to his speakership and his leadership? It truly seems like every time he came close to saving his party, the caucus blew up in his face; and Boehner stuck around to be slapped around again.
If in the next 24 hours Boehner actually gets a bill passed and it is signed, he still will lose in January 2015; not only the speakership but leadership of the GOP. The Republicans could well now lose the House—although admittedly the gerrymandered districts will still make it a stretch. On the other hand, if he fails to get a bill passed he will have made the effort, lost, and could well lose the speakership now. The question to which no one actually has an answer is why a serious political animal did not have the courage to stand-up weeks ago and tell his party, that it was them or the country. He could have moved the question to the floor and forced his Party to take its licks. Instead, he and the Party will be recognized as fossils by the students of Congress. Meanwhile the United States has successful made a fool of its political system and could well set back the world-wide economic recovery.
There is one other curious political question that also bears watching and needs to be answered. If Senator Ted Cruz does not fight a Reid-McConnell bill on the floor with all types of procedural machinations, why did he control himself--now? Considering his high class education, he has made some of the Senators from not too long ago, who had barely graduated high school, look like political geniuses. What did Cruz get to calm down? What was he promised in the next Congress or was Ted Cruz basically told that during his next year or over the next four years he would be totally marginalized for what he did to a Party which had been close to perhaps re-taking the Senate in 2014?
October 11, 2013
Both sides in the stand-off over the past 10 days knew that they would end up exactly where they are today. The Republicans ended up with enormous ill-will heaped upon them as a result of the government shut-down; so much so that they are almost crawling into the White House to negotiate with the President. Obamacare will remain whole although taxes on medical devices may be delayed; the debt ceiling will be kicked down the road until a week before Thanksgiving (a very bad idea and hitting the holiday season); and the Government will be back in business at some time next week with budget discussions to proceed with dispatch; whatever that will mean.
The results show the Republican Party lost. Any way you wish to slice it the Republican Party is being blamed for the shut-down—which is the piece most visible to the public. The Wall Street Journal/NBC poll shows just how bad the numbers are for a Party that might well have had a chance to gain control of the Senate in 2014. The most interesting election and first public indication of the effect of the shut-down will be in the gubernatorial election results in Virginia between the State’s Attorney General Ken Cuccunelli and businessman and former Clinton best friend fund-raiser Terry McAuliffe on November 5.
Perhaps the GOP could have avoided the fight and maybe have moved forward if the Speaker had confronted his right-wing directly and early. He also might have been able to save his speakership for another day. Having opted not to fight, Boehner was left to defend the strategy of trying to kill Obamacare, which he knew was an absolute legislative impossibility. Now with plenty of egg on his face, Boehner will also face an embarrassing time until the next House election of its new leaders in January 2015 where he may well fail to get support from his left as well as the right.
There was a thought going around that Wall Street and the financial community were going to really try to put the Republicans back on track from the Tea Partyers by threatening to seriously dry up support for their campaigns in 2014. This was before they recognized that the pockets of some of the right wing supporters for the Tea Party dwarf Wall Street’s potential campaign coffers; thus making the Democrats potential winners of Wall Street’s largesse.
October 10, 2013
Something fascinating and extremely alarming may be developing in Syria. It appears that so far the Syrians are actively complying with the U.N.’s requests and have permitted the U.N. team rapid entrée to and presumably the capacity to proceed with the destruction of at least some of the gas stockpile; certainly a positive move. The Assad Government is gaining praise from many circles for these steps; however, the question is what is really going on in Syria. It is clear that this tactic has permitted the Syrian Government to continue its efforts to degrade and destroy at least some of the rebel forces, while the international community focuses on gas destruction. The unknown and very scary question, certainly for Israel, is how much of the gas not being destroyed may have been transferred to Syria’s favorite allies—Iran and Hezbollah.
Libya and the U.S
Wednesday's news reported that Libya was shocked at the blatant U.S. invasion of its national sovereignty in pursuit of the major Al Qaeda terrorist leader, Nazih Abdul-Hamed al-Ruqai (known as Abu Anas al-Libi) as well as Ahmed Abu Khattala, who has been reported to have orchestrated the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi on 9/11/12. Few people question the U.S. assertion that it indeed did inform the Libyan authorities at some point prior to U.S. Special Forces’ incursion into Libya and the successful extraction Ahmed Abu Khattala. The question is why the second operation was aborted or needed to be cancelled given the apparent pre-clearance by the U.S. of the moves; except, of course, if U.S. intelligence concluded that this effort had been compromised by Libyan contacts who had undermined the planned operation. (This type of support from the Libyan authorities makes it extremely clear why the U.S. did not give Pakistan prior notice of their intention to extract Osama bin Laden from his hiding place in Abbottabad.)
Rabbi Ovadia Yosef’s Shiva
When Prime Minister Netanyahu sat shiva for his father 18 months ago, Shaul Mofaz and Bibi were on the verge of making an agreement to join political forces in the Knesset. Out of respect to the death of Netanyahu's father, thery refrained from public discussion of this entire issue during the seven day mourning period being observed by the Netanyahu family after his father’s passing. It now appears that in the course of the Prime Minister’s condolence visit to the family of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, following the passing of one of this leading and most revered Torah scholar, one Rabbi Yosef ‘s sons, Rabbi David Yosef, told the Prime Minister that his Government’s proposal to draft haredi Yeshiva students into the army had been more painful to the late Rabbi Yosef than the death of his son from cancer earlier this year and did more damage as well to his ailing heart.
Politics is always about catching your opponent when he/she least expects it. Score one for the Shas Party exploiting the shiva of their spiritual leader. Even Netanyahu, a secular Jew, had avoided doing so following the passing of his father.
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