Obama and Gaza

As the Gaza situation enters its 11th day, Barack Obama finally says something — sort of:

“Obviously, international affairs are of deep concern. With the situation in Gaza, I’ve been getting briefed every day. I’ve had consistentconversations with members of the current administration about what’s taking place. That will continue. I will continue to insist that when it comes to foreign affairs, it is particularly important to adhere to the principle of one president at a time, because there are delicate negotiations taking place right now and we can’t have two voices coming out of the United States when you have so much at stake.”

How difficult would it be for Obama to reiterate his proclaimed support for Israel’s right to defend itself and place the blame for the crisis on Hamas, as President Bush has? How would that affect delicate negotiations at all? This is an early indication that perhaps he doesn’t really believe his campaign’s overtures to the pro-Israel community.

Minnesota Madness Update

The latest is that Al Franken has been declared the winner by 225 votes, but he will not be able to receive an actual certificate of election until all legal challenges are resolved. The main remaining issues concern the Coleman campaign’s contention that hundreds of rejected absentee ballots from Coleman-friendly areas should have been counted just as the ballots from Franken-friendly areas were, and the dispute over whether some ballots were double-counted.

Coleman recount attorney Tony Trimble released a statement on the matter, and here’s an excerpt:

The actions today by the Canvassing Board are but the first step in what, unfortunately, will now have to be a longer process. This process isn’t at the end; it is now just at the beginning. We will contest the results of the Canvassing Board — otherwise, literally millions of Minnesotans will be disenfranchised.

While we appreciate the effort of this board to do the work, the reality is that any certification of vote totals at this point is only preliminary. As this Canvassing Board has recognized, there still exist serious problems with inconsistencies in the administrative recount, and therefore in the validity and reliability of the numbers certified today. There can be no count that is accurate or valid when 654 potentially valid absentee votes remain disenfranchised and when some votes are counted twice – leading to a violation of one of the most sacred principles of our constitution – “One person, One vote.”

And, there can be no justification to report out a total when 133 votes were included in a count where there are not ballots to support them. Or when a batch of votes were not counted on Election Night, but were miraculously “found” during the recount and included.

If the Canvassing Board had resolved all these issues, then the process might be completed. But the Board has deferred the resolution of those issues for the contest phase provided for in Minnesota law. Since the process is far from complete, there can be no confidence in the current results of the United States Senate Recount, and we will file a contest within the next 24 hours to promptly correct those problems and inaccuracies. The Supreme Court ruling today also emphasizes that that’s what we must do to provide an accurate count for this election.

Roll Call is reporting that Harry Reid will try to seat Franken without a certificate of election, even though he has cited a lack of a certificate of election in Illinois as the reason why he won’t seat Roland Burris.

Panetta as CIA Director

The knock on President Bush is that he made selections based on personal loyalty rather than qualifications, and Barack Obama has earned praise for moving away from this practice. However, it’s hard to reconcile that narrative of Obama’s appointments with his naming of Leon Panetta — a key political ally with no relevant experience — as director of the CIA during a time of war.  Even Dianne Feinstein was caught off guard by the bizzare pick, according to the NY Times: “‘My position has consistently been that I believe the agency is best-served by having an intelligence professional in charge at this time,’ said Senator Dianne Feinstein who, as chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, would be in charge of Mr. Panetta’s confirmation.”

RNC Rumble

Earlier this afternoon, I attended the RNC chairmanship debate sponsored by Americans for Tax Reform. As I noted in an earlier post, it’s difficult to determine from this sort of event who would make a good RNC chair given that so much of that role happens behind the scenes. During the debate — which was more like a forum since there wasn’t much arguing going on — there was broad agreement that the party needed to stick to Republican principles, make better use of technology, help Republicans become competitive in all fifty states, and do a better job of reaching out to young and minority voters.

Ken Blackwell used examples of his record of as an activist and politician and showed flashes of humor to make the case that Republicans needed to reinvigorate the base by returning to conservative principles on small government and individual liberty; RNC chairman Mike Duncan emphasized that in a tough year for Republicans, under his leadership the RNC still did a good job raising a lot of money and recruiting volunteers; Michael Steele tried to deliver an optimistic message, dismissing as “bunk” the idea that the Republican Party is at “death’s door” and he discussed providing adequate resources at the state and local level; Saul Anuzis cited his experience in the blue state of Michigan as an asset in expanding the map; Chip Saltsman boasted that his leadership as state party chairman helped defeat Al Gore in his home state of Tennessee in 2000, which made the difference in electing Bush; Katon Dawson described how he turned around a South Carolina Republican Party that was in disarray when he took over in 2002.

Moderator Grover Norquist asked the candidates who was their favorite Republican president (you can guess who each of them named), and then Norquist followed up by asking who was their least favorite president. Four candidates declined to take the bait, while Duncan named Warren Harding, and Blackwell named Hoover, for setting the stage for massive government intervention before the New Deal, just as President Bush set the stage for Barack Obama to pursue big government economic policies.

While, as I said, there wasn’t much of an actual “debate,” to the extent that there was some back and fourth, it seemed to be between Blackwell and Dawson — which may or may not be an indicator of anything. In his opening remarks, Blackwell noted that he’s won more elections than anybody else on the stage except perhaps Dawson, joking, “we all know how difficult it is to win races in the swing state of South Carolina.” Dawson later responded that there was difficulty in winning those elections, and told me after that Blackwell benefitted from the Republican Party infrastructure when elected to public office, but Dawson was the one who was getting other people elected, which is more in tune with the role of the RNC chair.

Dawson has been hurt by his longtime membership in an all-white country club, an issue which he not-too subtly tried to address in his opening remarks, when he asked Ron Thomas — a black Army veteran who he hired as his political director when he took over the SC GOP — to stand up to be seen by the hundreds of people in attendance. When I asked Dawson about the controversy after the event, he said it was a “political ploy” and that it had been answered by his recruitment of and hiring of qualified minorities, as demonstrated by Thomas.

One thing to keep in mind is that, as Dawson told me, the audience isn’t Americans for Tax Reform or anybody else, but the RNC members who will actually be voting for the new chairman. So that’s why it’s hard to say who “won” the debate in the traditional sense.

RNC Candidates Ready to Rumble

I’ll be heading over to the National Press Club soon to see six candidates for the RNC chairmanship debate (Mike Duncan, Saul Anuzis, Ken Blackwell, Katon Dawson, Chip Saltsman, and Michael Steele). The event is being organized by Americans for Tax Reform and they’ve set up a website where you can submit questions and watch live starting at 1 pm. I have to say that in all honesty, I’m not really sure what makes a good RNC chair in the first place, let alone how I could gauge something like that from a debate. Much of what an RNC chair does is behind the scenes, making phone calls, attending meetings, and raising money. There’s an argument to be made that the RNC chairman needs to be a dynamic spokesperson for the party, but also an argument that a relatively boring leader who is a great fundraiser is a better choice. How relevant are the chair’s individual policy positions to whether that person can competently run the RNC? Does having a more conservative RNC chair mean the party is going to become more conservative? I’m not sure I really know, so it’s hard for me to get as passionate about this race as a lot of other people here in DC. But I’m curious to learn more about the candidates today and hear what they have to say. I’ll report back in the afternoon with some impressions.

Did You Hear the One About When Harry Reid Won the Iraq War?

A reader passes along this shameless exchange from “Meet the Press”:

MR. GREGORY: Let me ask you about the war in Iraq.  In April of 2007, this is what you said: “I believe myself that … this war is lost and the surge is not accomplishing anything.” Were you wrong?

SEN. REID: David, I first met General David Petraeus in Iraq.  He was training the Iraqi forces at that time.  At that time, he knew it wasn’t working.  After he became the commander in Iraq, he and I sat down and talked. He said to me, and he said within the sound of everyone’s voice, “The war cannot be won militarily.” I said it differently than he did.  But it needed a change in direction.  Petraeus brought that about.  He brought it about–the surge helped, of course it helped.  But in addition to that, the urging of me and other people in Congress and the country dictated a change, and that took place.  So…

MR. GREGORY: But you said the surge was not accomplishing anything.  Even Barack Obama said last fall that it exceeded everyone’s expectations and succeeded beyond our wildest dreams.

SEN. REID: Listen, at that–the time that statement was made, the surge–they weren’t talking about the surge.  Petraeus added to the surge some very, very interesting things that changed things.  He said a lot–just simply numbers of troops is not going to do the deal.  What we need to do is work with the Iraqi people, which we haven’t done before.  That’s where the Awakening Councils came about, as a result of David Petraeus’ genius.  He’s done–he will be written about in the history books for years to come.  My original statement was in keeping what David Petraeus said; that is, the war cannot be won militarily.

With the possible exception of the sentence, “I first met General David Petraeus in Iraq,” everything that Reid says is contradicted by history.

When Petraeus said the war couldn’t be won militarily, he meant that the war couldn’t be won with military action alone, but only with a more comprehensive counterinsurgency strategy that involved working with local tribal leaders as well as using diplomacy to improve the political situation. When Reid said the war was lost, he meant the war was lost … and that we should withdraw troops from Iraq. Reid and the Democrats did want a change in direction, but that change in direction was supposed to be withdrawal, not the surge, which they referred to as an “escalation” and fiercely opposed.

Yesterday Reid said that, “at that–the time that statement was made, the surge–they weren’t talking about the surge” — but the surge was proposed in January of 2007, and was already underway when Reid made his statement in April of 2007. In fact, Reid’s statement was, “I believe … that this war is lost, and this surge is not accomplishing anything, as is shown by the extreme violence in Iraq this week.”

And Reid is right that simply adding more troops wasn’t sufficient to do the job, but they were still necessary to implement the overall strategy.

New Poll Shows Netanyahu Still Ahead in Israel

With Israeli elections set for next month, a new Jerusalem Post poll finds that all totaled, right-wing parties have a strong eight-seat advantage over left parties, suggesting that if the election were held today Likud’s Benjamin Netanyahu would return to power as Israel’s next prime minister. Most polls have shown that the Gaza operation has benefited Labor (led by Defense Minister Ehud Barak) but has either not helped or hurt the prospects for Kadima, led by Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni.

As for this one:

The survey found that the Likud had risen from 27 seats to 29, Labor had gone up from 14 to 15, and Kadima had fallen from 27 to 23 since the previous Post poll was published on October 31. Likud and Kadima, which were tied then, are now six seats apart, and the Right bloc’s advantage over the Left remains a hefty eight mandates, 64 to 56.

The Knesset has 120 members, meaning that the party that wins the most seats needs to put together a coalition with other parties totalling 61 seats to form a government.

Obama’s Selective Silence

Barack Obama’s transition team has hidden behind the “there’s only one president at a time” line when it comes to making a statement on the situation in Gaza, but has no problem pushing for an economic stimulus package. “I think it is more difficult for him to engage very much on foreign policy” before the inauguration, Democratic strategist, Steve McMahon, argued on CBS. “It’s very important for our country to speak with only one voice. He’s respecting that tradition.” Then how about he speak with one voice and say that the Bush administration is correct to blame Hamas rocket fire for the situation and that he supports Israel’s right to defend itself?

Protecting Civilians

In an article on another Israeli bombing of more homes of Hamas terrorist leaders, the Jerusalem Post notes:

Palestinians and Israeli defense officials said that prior to the air strikes, the IDF either warned nearby residents by phone or fired a warning missile to reduce civilian casualties. IAF aircraft also dropped leaflets east of Gaza giving a confidential phone number and e-mail address for people to report locations of rocket squads. Residents appeared to ignore the leaflets, stepping over them as they passed by.

How many countries would fight a war against a bitter enemy that is targeting its civilians and go to such lengths to prevent civilian deaths?

Israel is in a difficult position — as a civilized society always is when fighting a terrorist group. Hamas purposely launches and stores its rockets and hides its leaders in areas where they are surrounded by civilians so as to give pause to Israelis who they know would not indiscriminately carpet bomb Gaza. If Hamas were that concerned with the death of Palestinian civilians, they could make efforts to evacuate civilians to safe areas and separate  themselves from the civilian populations. They could also stop firing rockets into Israel, which only prolongs the bombardment of Gaza. But they won’t, and that’s why the blood of any Palestinian civilians is on their hands.