Can U.S.-Israeli relations get any worse?

Who would have thought, just a few years ago, that relations between the United States and Israel would hit such an historic rock bottom?

Whether it’s from the assorted tantrums, slights or outright “in-your-facemoments, the clear and present danger of the United States and Israel at odds with one another is troublesome. With the March 17 re-election of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu behind them and the establishment of a possible Palestinian state thrown into doubt, as well as Netanyahu’s legitimate opposition to the nuclear deal that the Obama administration is negotiating with Iran, now is the time for both the President and the Prime Minister to act less like playground bullies with each other and more like the leaders we need them to be.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t take much to get a sense of the impact the tensions between these two men is having on the rest of us.

Support for Mr. Netanyahu’s speech before the Congress hit a brick wall with most Democrats.  Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi summed it up this way: “as one who values the U.S.-Israel relationship, and loves Israel, I was near tears throughout the Prime Minister’s speech – saddened by the insult to the intelligence of the United States as part of the P5 +1 nations, and saddened by the condescension toward our knowledge of the threat posed by Iran and our broader commitment to preventing nuclear proliferation.”

Similarly strong views emerged regarding the administration after Mr. Netanyahu’s successful re-election: “Mr. Obama’s clumsy and malicious handling of relations with Israel… is but one brick in a wall of failure and infamy. The fact that …Netanyahu emerged victorious in his (election) confrontation with Obama – a confrontation that can be traced to Obama’s hostility not just to Netanyahu but to  Israel- is a heartening development in a world  that is increasingly chaotic and violent,” writes Peter Wehner in Commentary.

Where does our alliance with Israel find accommodation andcooperation in such rhetoric?

“The Speech”, Netanyahu’s re-election, along with the prime minister’s last-minute campaign declaration that he would oppose a two-state Israeli-Palestinian peace process (not to mention his overt last minute race-baiting voter turnout tactics), undoubtedly sets the tone for relations between our two countries until the end of the president’s term. As CNN Chief Washington Correspondent Jake Tapper aptly noted during a recent symposium at the Center for Strategic Studies, “Yes, the defense cooperation, the intelligence cooperation… continues. There is this undergirding of the two countries being allied. But the idea that it’s irrelevant, which is something that you hear sometimes from Obama’s supporters, that it doesn’t really matter that these two don’t get along; of course it matters that these two don’t get along. I think it had very bad consequences.”

By all accounts, Mr. Obama desperately wants to revive talks toward a two-state solution – it is his “legacy,” some say. To that end, the administration mustered a bit of its own bluster by calling Mr. Netanyahu’s bluff in making it clear the United States may reconsider protecting Israel from United Nations resolutions “critical” of Israel or backing a two-state solution.

After the post-election pushback from the White House, the Israeli leader clarified that “I haven’t changed my policy. What has changed is the reality. I don’t want a one-state solution; I want a sustainable, peaceful two-state solution, but for that, circumstances have to change. I was talking about what is achievable and what is not achievable. To make it achievable, then you have to have real negotiations with people who are committed to peace.”

The president, however, isn’t mollified.

Quite frankly, President Obama will never be happy withMr. Netanyahu’s or any Congressional input on its negotiations with Iran. In fact, the administration raising concerns that it may stand with the United Nations has two goals: to teach Netanyahu a lesson and to do an end run around Congress regarding the Palestinian question. The problem, however, is that Israel’s security is ensured not only by our military and intelligence support but also by our diplomatic support in international forums. What happens if that goes away?

Former U.S. Middle East diplomat Dennis Ross chillingly wrote in his 2004 book The Missing Peace, “Would the Arab world even believe it had to accommodate itself to Israel’s existence, if it had reason to question the staying power of the U.S. commitment to Israel?” Despite the Obama administration’s assurances that a U.S. security commitment will always be there, if Iran and other radical Islamic players in the Mideast see the U.S. publicly turn its back on Israel in the United Nations, then they will have good reason to question America’s long-term commitment to the Jewish state. And act accordingly.

Further looming over the deterioration of U.S.-Israeli relations is the specter of the radical Iranian ayatollahs poised to develop nuclear weapons.

As former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton noted “Whether diplomacy and sanctions would ever have worked against the hard-liners running Iran is unlikely. But abandoning the red line on weapons-grade fuel drawn originally by the Europeans in 2003, and by the United Nations Security Council in several resolutions, has alarmed the Middle East and effectively handed a permit to Iran’s nuclear weapons establishment.”

The domino effect of Mr. Obama’s Iran nuclear policy is profound. Ambassador Bolton states that “[n]eighboring countries are moving forward, driven by fears that Mr. Obama’s diplomacy is fostering a nuclear Iran. Extensive progress in uranium enrichment and plutonium reprocessing reveal its ambitions. Saudi, Egyptian and Turkish interests are complex and conflicting, but faced with Iran’s threat, all have concluded that nuclear weapons are essential.”

Consider, too, the factor of U.S. domestic politics. Whatever Secretary of State John Kerry comes back with for a final Iranian deal (even now talks are starting to break down) is going to be under immediate attack by Republicans and some influential Democrats in Congress. There are more Democrats in Congress than one might think who have serious concerns about any deal by which Iran gets to enrich uranium and manufacture plutonium for long-range missiles.

Indeed, a growing question for Democrats is whether they will continue to silently support the president’s open contempt for Netanyahu and for the security concerns of the Jewish state or will they join in applying pressure on the president and his administration to back off of policies that are not advancing either peace or stability in the region; or the long-term national security interests of the United States and Israel.

Winning Without A Message

It’s all over but the voting. To hear pundits, prognosticators, politicians and pollsters tell it,  Tuesday is either going to be a “wave“, a “nightmare” or just plain “chaos“. I rather lean towards the chaos because it ultimately speaks to how the American people view the political leadership in Washington, but more importantly, their own genuine uncertainty about what to do about it. The fact remains, that regardless of the polls showing overall dissatisfaction with the current elected representatives in Washington, close to 90% of them will be reelected regardless of party.

But out of this potential chaos can come a real opportunity for the GOP to govern-should they take control of the Senate.

In his recent Wall Street Journal op-ed Republican strategist Karl Rove analyzed GOP chances for winning U.S. Senate control. The piece largely focused on the fundraising advantages and disadvantages of the two national parties and their candidates. Yet in discussing the role of money in elections-which, granted, is very important — Rove misses the main point concerning Republican election chances and their readiness to govern.

It wasn’t until his concluding paragraphs that Rove barely touched on what should have been the main focus of all Republican candidates, their donors and supporters: namely, how Republicans will lead and ultimately govern should they control both houses of Congress during the last two years of Barack Obama’s presidency.

Rove says some pundits expecting a GOP “election wave” next week may not fully materialize because Democrats are outraising and outspending Republicans in most Senate races. He notes that the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee outraised the National Republican Senatorial Committee by $1.6 million in August and, as of August 31, was sitting on a $5 million larger war chest. He also points to an American Crossroads study which notes that so far Democrat political entities had run or placed some $109 million in campaign TV ads, while their Republican counterparts had only run or placed $85 million.

Republican candidates, though, have often been on the short end of this fundraising stick. Yet they still have won seats when effectively emphasizing national and local policies and issues, as well as demonstrating or even establishing a link directly with what voters need.

Let’s remember that Obama’s approval rating hovers around an anemic 39 to 43 percent for a reason-it’s what happens when you break that link with voters. This has certainly become a millstone around the necks of Senate Democrat candidates as well, especially those running in “Red States”. For Republicans, needing to gain six Senate seats to retake the majority (it appears that the GOP will pick up half that number from Montana, South Dakota and West Virginia), there are eight seats in play-Louisiana, Alaska, Arkansas, North Carolina, Colorado, Iowa, New Hampshire and Michigan-from which Republicans will be able to build their majority. But, will their objective be met because they have more cash on hand or is there something else of more value to voters the GOP should be concerned about in order to become a true governing majority?

Scott McKay, writing for The American Spectator, says money is not the main challenge for the party. “The Republican Party, in part thanks to Rove’s actions, lacks credibility and trust with voters and activists – both of which it must have.”

McKay makes the point that Rove’s hands are not clean in the party establishment’s war against the Tea Party earlier this year. “A major effort was made to decry the practices of Tea Party groups using populist messaging as a fundraising tool for selfish profit rather than to move the electoral needle — and that criticism is valid,” he writes. “It’s true that many of the D.C.-based Tea Party outfits are running a racket on conservative activists and donors. But while the argument holds water, Rove and other Beltway GOP gurus like him are the wrong people to point fingers, because that’s precisely what they’ve been doing to their own donors.” Bravo.

But what gets lost in elections like this (I know this from 2010) is the realization that it’s not just about the money.  It’s about people, and a message that speaks to their needs at a time when government seems to turn a deaf ear to taxpayers and voters.

At some point you must convey to voters some sense that you understand their needs and desires;  you are prepared to address their concerns, and ultimately you will lead wisely with the power they give you at the ballot box.

Because that has not been this campaign, more than in any previous election, what the GOP says to America once this electoral dust has settled will matter greatly.

Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy in recent interviews made clear his belief that “you have one chance to make a first impression. From the very first day after the election, we should be laying out to the American public what the expectations are.” I applaud the Majority Leader, but I would add to that declaration a strong statement that “we hear you…we understand you…we agree we can no longer do what we have been doing”.

Going into Tuesday’s elections the lack of trust, both by the voters as a whole and by the conservative base, is what Republicans must be apprehensive about. Polling is tight and reflects not only frustration with the state of affairs at home and abroad, but with a political process that has grown old and stale.

For Republicans it’s not enough to run on the unpopularity of the president (although as one operative noted to me, “it helps”). At some point, those successful GOP candidates along with the House and Senate leadership must support legislative initiatives that speak directly to the needs of a people who have been mired in recession and underemployment for far too long.  At the most fundamental level, this agenda must  1) restore our national confidence in our borders and immigration system; 2) boost private sector job creation by reducing federal overregulation on businesses and individuals; 3) restore the Voting Rights Act; 4) recommit to a bipartisan (Simpson-Bowles?) approach to reducing the national debt (since 42 cents of every dollar we spend is borrowed); 5) achieve energy independence, especially through approval of the Keystone XL oil pipeline which many Democrats and unions support; 6) begin a serious conversation about the minimum wage; and 7) simplify and streamline the tax code to incentivize businesses to repatriate profits held offshore and to lessen the burden on middle class taxpayers.

Rove and others can beat the fundraising drums whether on the pages of The Wall Street Journal or in a crowded hotel ballroom with major donors, but a true governing GOP majority will ultimately be established by candidates and elected representatives articulating a vision that comes from a new understanding of public need, demonstrating fearless leadership and proving they can govern by their actions.

Michael Steele on shutdown: ‘We have elected a bunch of children to run our government’

Look ma, no federal government!

At some point the entire BS that is the government shutdown sinks in and we have to deal with reality: We have elected a bunch of children to run our government.

One reality that must not change about America and the free enterprise economy is that the root of America’s success has always sprung out of the hard labor of its entrepreneurs: the men and women who risk it all on a dream. Government doesn’t do that; government can’t do that. When a job is created by a small business owner they Continue reading

Michael Steele: Supreme Court ‘gut’ the Voting Rights Act

“The Right of Citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States by any State on account of race, color or previous condition of servitude and that the Congress shall have the power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.”

At the dawning of the 21st Century, the words of the 15th Amendment to our Nation’s Constitution remind us of one of the most precious gifts of liberty: to freely exercise your right to vote.

And yet, even the 15th Amendment—on its face—did not guarantee that the “right of citizens of the United States” to vote would not be denied as America emerged from the fog of civil war and into the new reality that those individuals once enslaved under the constitution were now entitled to exercise their rights as citizens under that same constitution.

It would not be long, however, before certain of the states, particularly in the south, responded to the demand of the 15th Amendment by devising a variety of tools to disenfranchise African American voters for reasons of “eligibility”.  From literacy tests to pole taxes, from property ownership to oral and written examinations, States began to enact laws that ultimately “denied and abridged” African Americans their right to vote.

Moreover, when intimidation at the ballot box failed to curb the thirst for full access to the rights guaranteed by the Framers of the Constitution, more insidious and violent means such as lynchings, fire bombs and murder were used to “remind the Negro of his place” in American society.

In our society, all rights are ultimately protected by the ballot box, not the sword.

By virtue of the efforts to “legally” circumvent the dictates of the 15th Amendment as well as the escalation in violence against African Americans in Philadelphia, Mississippi, Selma and Montgomery Alabama the promise of the Constitution for African Americans and many other minorities—full and equal political rights—was like a munificent bequest from a pauper’s estate until the passage of the single most important piece of civil rights legislation in American history: the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Read Full Story at The Grio

Being Black and Republican

Alex Witt sits down with MSNBC analyst and card-carrying member of the GOP, Michael Steele. They discuss how his mother, Mae Bell, influenced his life and how she embodies the American Dream. Michael explains the challenges of being an African-American in the Republican Party and what he was thinking when he became the first African-American elected to statewide office in Maryland.

One Scandal Too Many?

It’s only been a week, but what a week it’s been. In the span of a few days three major scandals have engulfed President Barack Obama, his White House and key members of his Administration. We all remember well his promise to “change” Washington and the way it does business, but alleged cover ups of truth, targeting of political opponents and the fostering of a culture of intimidation is certainly not what Americans had in mind.

First came the sensational Benghazi congressional hearing where Mark Thompson, acting deputy assistant secretary for counterterrorism; Gregory Hicks, the former deputy of mission in Libya; and Eric Nordstrom, a former regional security officer in Libya exposed the administration’s bungling and fictional public talking points regarding the attack on the U.S. Embassy facility and the murder of the U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans by Islamic terrorists.

Another bombshell soon exploded. The Internal Revenue Service admitted targeting Tea Party and other conservative groups for audits and delaying their applications for tax-exempt status. The Cincinnati IRS office even slipped nine pending confidential non-profit applications of conservative groups to ProPublica a well-known left-wing investigative journalism group. An  FBI criminal investigation should reveal the extent of the scandal and whether direct orders came from the White House.

And if that weren’t enough, the president received a withering blast from the usually friendly mainstream media when it was reported that the Department of Justice, in an unprecedented move, seized private phone records of Associated Press journalists. The outrage from virtually every media outlet no doubt made many journalists realize they are not immune from the long arm of Obama’s government.

But what has been the most puzzling is the sloth-like response of the Administration. As someone who has had to put out a few fires over the years, you make every attempt to get in front of the crisis with your narrative of the facts. But President Obama and Administration officials have offered us a public relations primer on how not to handle a crisis, let alone three! The White House has been woefully behind the narrative and inexplicably measured with getting the facts out with what can only be described as incompetent responses since the Sept. 11 Benghazi attack.

Case in point: when the President was asked “when did you first learn about the IRS targeting conservative political groups” his response was nothing short of stunning: “I first learned about it from the same news reports that I think most people learned about this. I think it was on Friday.” You Think?! Not only did this response raise eyebrows in light of his press secretary’s answer to a similar question but we are supposed to believe the president learned that officials within the Internal Revenue Service had been targeting conservative groups for close to two years from news reports–reported by those very same reporters his Department of Justice was wiretapping? The problem for the president is this is the same response he gave in the “Fast and Furious” gunrunning scandal and the Air Force One flyover Manhattan in 2009. At some point responses like this strain credulity for the American people as The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart recently noted “I wouldn’t be surprised if President Obama learned Osama bin Laden had been killed when he saw himself announcing it on television.”

Moreover, and perhaps more damaging is the lack of presidential accountability, as well as an apparent culture of intimidation that has been allowed to fester inside this administration, have rightfully triggered bipartisan condemnation and as some on Capitol Hill have already begun to speculate could undercut if not outright derail the president’s efforts on the budget, immigration and other issues on his second term agenda.

For Republicans salivating over the president’s plight, they must temper their reactions. Premature elation is never a good thing and running TV ads against Secretary Hillary Clinton (on the handling of Benghazi), for example, has the potential of further politicizing what many already believe to be nothing more than the GOP’s version of chicken little. Whether on Benghazi or the IRS, the truth speaks for itself as more facts become known, so Republicans should be careful not to exaggerate, speculate or otherwise overplay their hand lest the American people cut it off in 2014.

While the scope of these events is appalling, it hopefully means more Americans will appreciate the importance of preserving the constitutional separation of powers, fighting the expansion of an aggressive and opportunistic government and knowing that transparency is not just a word.

Founding patriot Patrick Henry once declared: “For my part, whatever the anguish of spirit it may cost, I am willing to know the whole truth; to know the worst, and to provide for it.”

Wise advice for the Obama Administration. And the rest of us.

2012: A Year of Highs & Lows, Fear & Hope

I don’t know about you, but that was a close one! All these weeks and months we have heard about “The Cliff”, but to get that close to it — on New Year’s Eve no less — only to find out that, heck, we can put off this whole “going over The Cliff” stuff for another 2 months. Wow, what a way to ruin a New Year.

And that’s the point. As 2012 wound its way into history, 315 million Americans found themselves standing on the precipice of a new year realizing that in many ways the so-called fiscal cliff was the least of our nation’s problems.

Think about the big triumphs and tragedies of 2012.  The London Summer Olympic Games were a great boost to America’s pride and morale. Who could forget American swimmer (Marylander) Michael Phelps becoming the most decorated Olympian of all time?

Contrast that with a terrible low, the murder of the innocents in Newton, Connecticut and the ensuing “debate” about gun laws, the Constitution and the NRA. And yet, while, 2012 recorded the lowest murder rate in modern history (something promising and positive), by year’s end, the death toll by gun violence hit new highs in the city of Chicago striking a new low and another discordant chord in our nation’s psyche.

Another painful and equally troubling moment came with the death of our U.S. ambassador to Libya and three other Americans at the hands of Islamic terrorists. Despite the continuing questions about the Obama administration’s “knowledge” of the security lapses and the failure to bring any of the killers to justice, the families of the victims along with the American people would be treated to more political carping, finger waging at U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice and ultimately silence.

There was, of course, the 2012 presidential campaign. But that wasn’t just about Barack Obama winning re-election or Mitt Romney losing. It wasn’t just about what the defeated GOP candidate “should have” done to change the result. And it wasn’t just about Republicans losing votes among white blue collar voters or Hispanic Americans.

The election highlighted the clash between two views of America. One view champions the philosophy of limited constitutional government and fiscal responsibility that fuels a thriving private enterprise system which fosters job creation. The other promotesa philosophy of greater expansion of government programs and the agencies necessary to run them, higher taxes and spending policies that grow government and debt while overregulating the private sector.

Another important aspect of this clash is cultural, underscored by emerging and still changing views on same-sex marriage, abortion, immigration, right to work, collective bargaining and a host of issues that will ultimately transform the very character of the nation.

Americans are also witnessing an historical nationalization of their healthcare system. Last summera 5-to-4 U.S. Supreme Court majority to the surprise of many (especially conservatives) ruled that President Obama’s Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) law was constitutional, and the president’s re-election sealed any chance the law would be repealed.

Nonetheless, transitioning from a system based on the doctor-patient relationship, patient choices, pricing freedom and private sector competition to an expensive, government-controlled structure — many components of which have yet to be implemented or even created — will shake the foundation of the republic. Trust me.

Government control of doctors, hospitals and medical care providers will tighten, while the operations of private insurance companies will be restricted. Healthcare rationing, especially for seniors, will occur while the bipartisan work required to save and protect the solvency of Medicare and Social Security for future generations will largely remain undone.

A new Washington Post/ABC News poll says just 40 percent of Americans describe themselves as hopeful about the course of events in 2013, while 56 percent describe themselves as fearful. Because our leaders so far refuse to address what truly ails our nation, we could fall off a real cliff. There ought to be very real fear over the collapse of effective long-term public policymaking in Washington and in our State capitols, due to the ongoing clash between the “Red and Blue States”, the Right and the Left; Progressives and Conservatives.

In the midst of our journey to the Cliff, we’ve forgotten how to be Americans.

My hope for 2013 is that our leaders realize that and through their leadership, set our feet on firmer ground.

Are We There Yet, GOP?

I am certain at some point during the past 18 months you found yourself feeling like that kid riding in the backseat of the family car on what is supposed to be the “great adventure” to “someplace special.” But the only thing you can muster after about 15 minutes is, “Are we there yet?”