John Bolton — a self-appointed supposed strong supporter of Israel — accused the Israeli government on Tuesday of lying in expressing its support for President Obama.
The Israeli Embassy in Washington, D.C. produced a video welcoming Obama on his visit this week to the Jewish state. The unusual video depicts cartoon-like versions of the president and Israeli Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu shaking hands to the tune of the “Golden Girls” theme song “Thank You For Being A Friend.”
Fox News host Greta Van Susteren wondered why then, if things were so bad between Obama and Israel, that the Israelis would make such a video. Bolton could think of only one answer: It’s propaganda:
VAN SUSTEREN: The Obama administration saying the president’s trip is mostly a fence mending mission, but it looks like [referring tot he video] the Israelis are welcoming him with open arms. Ambassador, what do you think about this?
BOLTON: I’m glad the Israeli government has enough budget surplus that they can produce propaganda like that. The president has Israel back, the bonds are strong. What could possibly go wrong?
Israeli President Shimon Peres will give Obama the Presidential Medal of Distinction during his trip to Israel this week. As Bolton would have it, that’s probably a bogus gesture as well.
But the former Bush administration U.N. ambassador is a regular in the Obama-hates-Israel circuit, the presumption being of course that Bolton is more friendly to the Jewish state than Obama is. But apparently that friendship doesn’t go too far as there’s nothing like having a good buddy who calls you a liar on national television.
Vice President Joe Biden stressed diplomacy with Iran before the 2013 AIPAC Policy Conference while defending President Obama’s resolve in confronting Iran’s nuclear program.
Referring to reported difficulties in the working relationship between President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Biden countered that all U.S. Presidents have had points of divergence with Israel’s leaders. “We’ve always disagreed on tactics,” Biden said. “But we’ve always agreed on the strategic imperative that Israel be able to defend itself.”
Turning to Iran’s nuclear program, Biden sought to make clear to the gathering President Obama’s willingness to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. “Big nations can’t bluff [about using force]. And Presidents of the United States cannot and do not bluff. President Barack Obama is not bluffing,” Biden confirmed. “We’re not looking for war,” Biden continued, before repeating an oft-delivered line, telling the crowd that “all options, including military force” remain on the table.
As Biden explained to the audience, however, despite that resolve, the United States is ready and willing to negotiate peacefully. “Our strong preference, the world’s preference is for a diplomatic solution,” Biden said. He also echoed recent comments from Secretary of State John Kerry that the window for making a deal with Iran is closing, but there is still time and space to find a solution. Biden emphasized that diplomacy had to be fully exhausted before any military option could be exercised:
BIDEN: And I want to make clear to you something. God forbid, if the need to act occurs it is critically important for the whole world to know we did everything in our power, we did everything that reasonably could have be expected to avoid any confrontation. That matters. Because, God forbid, if we have to act, its important that the rest of the world is with us. We have a united international community.
Watch Biden’s comments on diplomacy here:
As part of the bid to find a diplomatic solution, a coalition of international powers — including Russia and China — concluded a round of positive talks with Iran last week, with technical meetings set to take place in March. Multiple current and former Israeli and U.S. officials have warned of the fallout of a premature attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities, including a rupturing of the international community’s unity on the Iranian nuclear issue.
Secretary of State John Kerry on Friday said Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan’s comment that Zionism is “a crime against humanity” is “objectionable,” echoing the White House’s reaction today, saying his remarks are “offensive and wrong.”
Erdogan made the comments on Wednesday, speaking at a United Nations-sponored event meant to try to bridge the gap between Islam and the West. Instead, Erdogan managed to widen the divide:
“We should be striving to better understand the culture and beliefs of others, but instead we see that people act based on prejudice and exclude others and despise them,” Erdogan said, according to a simultaneous translation provided by the UN. “And that is why it is necessary that we must consider — just like Zionism or anti-Semitism or fascism — Islamophobia as a crime against humanity.”
“We not only disagree with it, we found it objectionable,” Kerry said during a press conference in Ankara with Turkish foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu. According to Reuters, Kerry said he personally raised the issue with Davutaglu and will do so with Erdogan.
“That said, Turkey and Israel are both vital allies of the United States and we want to see them work together in order to be able to go beyond the rhetoric and begin to take concrete steps to change this relationship,” Kerry added.
United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s office said it’s “unfortunate that such hurtful and divisive comments were uttered at a meeting being held under the theme of responsible leadership.”
CAP’s Matt Duss and Michael Werz also condemned Erdogan’s comments on Thursday. “While Prime Minister Erdogan’s outrageous comments seem intended to isolate Israel, they also threaten to further isolate Turkey,” they wrote, adding that his comments ” seemed like an attitude from a bygone era. Casting Zionism together with anti-Semitism, fascism, and Islamophobia in this way is not only deeply offensive but also quite historically inaccurate and has the potential to promote or justify violence.”
One of the least appreciated but easily-confirmed facts about the current state of the American economy is that the number of Americans employed by the government has gone down under President Obama. But apparently this is news to one the Republican Party’s most prominent tea party conservatives. During a roundtable discussion on ABC this morning over the size and adequacy of the 2009 stimulus, a flabbergasted Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) asked economist Paul Krugman if he was actually arguing that government employment had gone down under Obama:
PAUL: The thing I don’t understand is that you’re arguing that the government sector is struggling. Are you arguing that there are fewer government employees under Obama than there were under Bush?
KRUGMAN: Of course. That’s a fact. That’s a tremendous fact.
PAUL: No, the size of growth of government is enormous under President Obama.
KRUGMAN: If government employment had grown as fast under Obama as it did under Bush, we’d have a million and a half more people employed right now — directly.
PAUL: Are there less people employed or more people employed now by government?
As Krugman quickly pointed out on his blog, the answer is “less.” Now, perhaps Paul was thinking of employment by the federal government alone, which did tick up just slightly: 2.77 million at the end 2008 versus 2.8 million currently. But add in state and local government jobs, and the hard number for government employment dropped by around 600,000 after Bush left office.
As a matter of fact, the share of jobs in the economy provided by the public sector went up following the 2001 recession under George W. Bush, the 1990 recession under George H.W. Bush, and the 1981 recession under Ronald Reagan. Only after the latest recession, which hit just before Obama took office, did the share of public jobs drop.
In no small part this is due to another point Krugman made — that the stimulus, while large, was inadequate to the country’s needs. This has been particularly true in the area of state aid. Spending cuts at the state level overtook additional spending at the federal level in late 2009 and have been driving a contraction in the public sector ever since.
Rep. Paul capped off his anti-Keynesian argument with the strangely Zen-like assertion that “Roads don’t create business success. It’s the other way around. Business success allows us to build roads.” It’s unclear what this could mean. While tax revenue is dependent on economic growth, the very nature of a depression is a self-reinforcing negative spiral in the private market. Business success is sluggish, meaning employment and income is sluggish, meaning consumers are held back from buying enough goods and services, so business success remains sluggish. The whole point of Keynesian stimulus — of which government employment is one form — is to move money into the hands of consumers by the alternative route of the government and thus reverse the process.
Sen. Paul’s office released a statement — with a corresponding radio interview — responding to the debate with Krugman. It read in part:
The only logical number we could have been discussing was the number of federal workers. Since the last time I checked, Barack Obama was the President, not a mayor or governor. Under President Obama, the federal workforce has grown by 143,000 according to the Labor Department… Yet Professor Krugman added in local and state workers to inflate this number, an irrelevant point at best.
The 143,000 number excludes federal postal workers, and it’s not clear why Sen. Paul’s office would think that exclusion necessary. Including postal workers, as ThinkProgress did, the federal workforce only went up 27,000 between December of 2008 and now — an increase of around one percent. Hardly “enormous” growth.
Nor is it clear why Sen. Paul calls the state and local numbers “irrelevant.” As pointed out above, state and local budgets are deeply intertwined with federal spending, a point even the conservative American Enterprise Institute conceded. And the larger context of Sen. Paul’s disagreement with Prof. Krugman was the economic value of government employment, in which case a state or local job is as good (or as bad, depending on your view) as a federal one.
U.N. Chief Scorns Iran For Anti-Israel, Anti-Semitic Rhetoric |
United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon criticized Iran in a speech to the Nonaligned Movement summit in Tehran today for its anti-Israel rhetoric and denying the Holocaust. “I strongly reject threats by any member state to destroy another or outrageous attempts to deny historical facts such as the Holocaust,” Ban said without naming Iran directly. “Claiming that Israel does not have the right to exist or describing it in racist terms is not only wrong but undermines the very principle we all have pledged to uphold,” he added.
A new report from the Outdoor Industry Association released today shows that outdoor recreation is an enormous economic powerhouse. The report finds that 6.1 million American jobs are directly supported by the outdoor industry, as well as the fact that Americans spend $646 billion each year on activities like camping, hunting, and snow sports. This is a bigger economic impact than those of the pharmaceutical and gasoline and fuel industries.
America’s federal public lands and waters are a critical part of creating this economic boom. As the report explains:
From seashores and local parks to the wild backcountry, America’s public lands and waters are the very foundation of the national outdoor recreation system. Outdoor recreation can grow jobs and drive the economy if we manage and invest in parks, waters and trails as a system designed to sustain economic dividends for America.
Additionally, the study found that direct jobs in the outdoor recreation industry outnumber those in the oil and gas industry nearly three to one. While outdoor recreation supports 6.1 million direct jobs like manufacturing equipment, inventory managers, and retail, the oil and gas industry supports just 2.1 million direct jobs.
This contrast is interesting in light of the fact that tomorrow, the U.S. House of Representatives will be voting yet again on bills that would open more taxpayer lands to drilling, roll back public health protections, and punish citizens for raising concerns with the impacts of oil and gas leases on recreation and wildlife habitat. A separate report released this week found that this House has voted 109 times to enrich the oil and gas industry.
On the other hand, only a handful of bills to protect public lands and places to recreate outdoors have been approved by Congress, despite the fact that a number of such bills have been introduced by Republicans
This failure to protect locally-supported places may in part be explained by some conservatives’ ideological opposition to the very idea of public lands. For example, Utah Governor Gary Herbert (R) recently signed a law that demands Congress turn 30 million acres of federal lands over to the state by 2015 or it will sue, which could eventually result in them being mined or drilled.
And some members of Congress like Rep. Rob Bishop (R-UT) have continued to downplay the importance of protecting public lands to local economies. For example, Bishop stated last year that:
Contrary to claims by the administration and others, the designation of national monuments and wilderness are not a boon to local economies, but rather a detriment in most scenarios.
The Outdoor Industry Association’s report released today adds to the mounting evidence that land conservation is good for the economy. Other recent reports have shown that home values are higher closer to national wildlife refuges and that jobs in rural western counties with more than a third protected public lands have more than tripled over last 40 years.
Jessica is the Manager of Research and Outreach for the Public Lands Project at the Center for American Progress Action Fund.
View of the Bushehr nuclear reactor site in southern Iran
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and U.S. defense and intelligence officials have said that they believe that Iran has not made a decision on whether to acquire nuclear weapons. The New York Times reported on Sunday the difficulties that intelligence officials encounter when coming to that conclusion but that officials are still confident that Iran’s leaders have not given the go-ahead:
Publicly and privately, American intelligence officials express confidence in the spy agencies’ assertions. Still, some acknowledge significant intelligence gaps in understanding the intentions of Iran’s leaders and whether they would approve the crucial steps toward engineering a bomb. [...]
American intelligence analysts still believe that the Iranians have not gotten the go-ahead from Ayatollah Khamenei to revive the program.
“That assessment,” said one American official, “holds up really well.”
The Israeli daily newspaper Haaretz reported in January that Israeli intelligence (Mossad) concurs with this assessment, and the Times quoted an American official confirming that report:
“Their people ask very hard questions, but Mossad does not disagree with the U.S. on the weapons program,” said one former senior American intelligence official, who, like others for this article, would speak only on the condition of anonymity about classified information. “There is not a lot of dispute between the U.S. and Israeli intelligence communities on the facts.”
And the AP reports today that Israeli intelligence and defense officials have also confirmed this view:
Several senior Israeli officials who spoke in recent days to The Associated Press said Israel has come around to the U.S. view that no final decision to build a bomb has been made by Iran. The officials, who are privy to intelligence and to the discussion about the Iranian program, said this is the prevailing view in the intelligence community, but there are also questions about whether Tehran might be hiding specific bomb making operations.
Yet, Israelis also agree with U.S. intelligence and the IAEA that Iran is moving toward a nuclear weapons capability. The Israeli officials’ concern, the AP reports, “is about allowing the Iranian program to reach the point where there is enough enriched weapons grade material that a bomb could quickly be assembled, within a year.”
President Obama shares these concerns as well. In a recent speech, Obama ruled out a policy of containing a nuclear-armed Iran, warning that an Iranian bomb posed a threat to the U.S. and its allies, as well as the international non-proliferation regime. But at this point the Obama administration believes that a diplomatic end to the crisis is “best and most permanent way” to end the standoff.
Newt Gingrich addresses the audience at AIPAC's annual conference
Speaking before the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) conference this morning, GOP presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich promised that if elected president “we would not keep talking while the Iranians keep building.” Gingrich laid out his “red lines” — the term frequently used to describe the U.S. and/or Israel’s conditions for going to war with Iran — and indicated that Iran had already crossed the lines he would enforce as president.
Gingrich told the audience:
In a Gingrich administration we would not keep talking while the Iranians keep building. We would indicate clearly that their failure to stop their program is in fact crossing a red line. The red line is not the morning a bomb goes off. The red line is not the morning our intelligence community tells us they have failed once again. The red line is now because the Iranians now are deepening their fortifications, deepening their underground laboratories, deepening their commitment to nuclear weapons while we talk.
The former House speaker’s “red lines” suggest he is in favor of immediate military action and that the time for diplomacy has passed. But his characterization of Iran “deepening their commitment to nuclear weapons” completely disregards the intelligence reports from the IAEA and U.S. intelligence leadership.
In January, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and CIA Director David Petraeus both endorsed the view that Iran has not yet decided whether to pursue a nuclear weapon. The IAEA has expressed concerns about possible military dimensions but has not concluded that Iran has restarted its nuclear weapons program.
While Gingrich’s scare statements like “the red line is now” serve as a political prop as he attempts to set himself apart in the GOP primary field as the most hawkish candidate, his words may undermine U.S. efforts to deter Iran from pursuing a nuclear weapon. President Obama told an AIPAC audience on Sunday that “already there is too much loose talk of war” and warned “such talk has only benefited the Iranian government, by driving up the price of oil, which they depend on to fund their nuclear program.”
Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney went on the offense at last night’s Republican Presidential Debate, attacking the White House’s treatment of Israel and charging that the Obama administration has “time and time again shown distance from Israel.” That distance, said Romney, has resulted in a “greater sense of aggression” from the Palestinians.
But Romney’s attacks are based on wholesale fabrications of President Barack Obama’s track record as a close ally of Israel for the past three years. Romney charged:
This president went before the United Nations and castigated Israel for building settlements. He said nothing about thousands of rockets being rained in on Israel from the Gaza Strip.
The smear may have garnered applause from the debate audience but a National Jewish Democratic Council fact check found that Obama’s September 21, 2011 U.N. speech had explicitly addressed the issue of rockets fired into Israel. Obama said:
Let us be honest with ourselves: Israel is surrounded by neighbors that have waged repeated wars against it. Israel’s citizens have been killed by rockets fired at their houses and suicide bombs on their buses.
Romney went on to charge the White House with “[throwing] Israel under the bus” by “defining ’67 borders as a starting point for negotiations” — a position also held by the George W. Bush and Clinton administrations — and accused Obama of “[disrespecting] Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — Bibi Netanyahu.”
Following Obama’s U.N. speech in September, Netanyahu said to President Obama:
I think that standing your ground, taking this position of principle… I think this is a badge of honor and I want to thank you for wearing that badge of honor.
Israel and discussion of U.S Middle East policy is one of the few foreign policy topics to emerge as a wedge issue for the GOP presidential candidates. Indeed, in the previous GOP debate three days ago, Newt Gingrich also made false claims about Obama’s policy toward Israel. But Obama’s track record of close cooperation with Israel requires critics like Romney and Gingrich to resort to outright fabrications to smear Obama as a weak ally to the Jewish state.
A Politico article yesterday on CAP’s Middle East posture cited Josh Block, who described CAP’s bloggers as writing “borderline anti-Semitic stuff.” In a leaked email to a right-wing listserv, Block, now senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute, disclosed he had compiled thousands of words of opposition research on CAP and Media Matters bloggers, while urging neoconservative journalists to “amplify” the Politico article.
Block’s message as reported by Politico was made even more strongly in his email sent out to the right-wing journalist listserv. He wrote, “These are the words of anti-Semites, not Democratic political players,” adding, “This kind of anti-Israel sentiment is so fringe it’s support by CAP is outrageous.” Ironically, Block’s own personal business and political interests find him frequently on the fringes of the Democratic party and mainstream political dialogue in Washington.
Last year, upon his departure from AIPAC as a spokesperson for the organization, Block told Ben Smith: “There is an important debate taking place inside the Democratic Party and the progressive movement, and I’m relishing my return to the political, as well as the policy, conversation, politics with Israel-centric policies.” But when not pushing a hard-line on U.S.-Israel policy within the Democratic party, Block partners with Lanny Davis — who represented business interests backing the 2009 coup in Honduras — in a joint lobbying practice.
Block’s firm’s willingness to represent unpopular interests in Washington, for the right price, is further exemplified by their status as registered lobbyists for Agility DGS, a company suspended from government contracts after it was accused of defrauding the U.S. government as a contractor in Iraq.
Block’s business acumen and pursuit of the next payday raises the question of whose account Block was working on when he compiled the opposition research document on CAP and Media Matters bloggers.