Well, this may be a slight exaggeration, as I'm not really sure what "normal" is here in Israel. What I mean, of course, is that the last of the haggim (holidays) is over for this season here in Israel -- with the end coming outside of Israel at dark tonight. And so I'm back to tracking events and writing...
The happy news of last week is the stunning success of Romney in the first presidential campaign debate -- this one on domestic issues. Almost to a person, commentators agreed that Romney won the day with his grasp of the facts and his dynamic style of presentation. His message was simple: Mr. President, you have not delivered on what you promised. In fact, things are worse than they were when you took office. A new approach is needed, and I am prepared to offer policies and programs that will truly make things better.
If you have not yet seen the full debate, you can access it here:
I recommend a careful watching because, totally aside from style of delivery, Romney clearly enunciates the major philosophical differences between the two candidates.
From the Wall Street Journal we have an article, "Honey, I Shrunk the President," in which James Taranto begins by citing the reactions of others:
"... wailed Chris Matthews, 'He had his head down, he was enduring the debate rather than fighting it'...
"Even better was Andrew Sullivan: 'Look: you know how much I love the guy. . . . But this was a disaster for the president for the key people he needs to reach, and his effete, wonkish lectures may have jolted a lot of independents into giving Romney a second look. Obama looked tired, even bored; he kept looking down; he had no crisp statements of passion or argument; he wasn't there.'
"We could spend hours quoting disparaging reviews of Obama's performances from journalists who were never as head-over-heels as Matthews and Sullivan, but...we'll just take one representative example...from the Daily Beast, where our friend Tunku Varadarajan writes, 'My God, in the four years that we've seen him in the White House, I don't think we've ever seen the president so flaccid, so dull-brained, so jejune, so shifty, so downcast.'
"This columnist has to disagree. Obama's lame performance last night seemed typical to us...
"But these qualities -- or, to put it another way, this lack of quality -- was harder than usual to miss last night because of the contrast with the highly effectual Romney. One reason it came as such a shock to Obama is that it was the first time in his career that he shared a debate stage with a serious opponent.
"But the journalists who are pointing the finger at Obama have three fingers pointed back at themselves. Instead of challenging the president, the press corps--with a few honorable exceptions...--have spent the past four-plus years puffing him up and making excuses for him."
Taranto then cited Jeffrey Lord (who was citing Taranto, actually), thus:
"...the liberal media so coddles liberal politicians that they have no idea how to cope outside that liberal media bubble...
"Barack Obama has been so totally coddled by the liberal media that he looked absolutely shell-shocked in this debate...
"Outside the liberal bubble--forced to be alone on a stage with a very serious, very prepared candidate--Barack Obama was in trouble. Big Trouble."
The polls now show Obama and Romney in a dead heat. Romney, rallying from what was, pre-debate, an Obama lead, now is 4% ahead in most polls, which makes a statistical tie.
But enough on this debate; we eagerly await the next one.
The news is full of reports on what the US may soon do with regard to Iran, and what Iran may be contemplating. The vast majority of these are just a tad more reliable than hearsay -- with many, I will add, contradicting each other -- and I do not intend to cite any of them here.
What does bear mention, however, is the matter of the enormous current instability of Iranian currency. This is being touted as the direct result of tough sanctions, with expectations advanced that the fiscal situation -- which is promoting considerable unrest in the streets -- will so weaken the government that it will fall and that will be the end of that. Sanctions victorious.
Not so fast! is my message here.
Ilan Berman says that the current situation is likely to provoke more repression from the government ( i.e., not a successful overturn of the government). And, "whatever the trajectory of the Islamic Republic's current economic disorder, its pursuit of the bomb isn't likely to waver. Nor will the challenge that it poses to the international community." (Emphasis added)
In a similar vein, Michael Singh, writing for Foreign Policy, says:
"Sanctions are only partly to blame for Iran's economic travails. The regime's maladroit domestic response to the sanctions and its loose monetary and fiscal policies have made matters far worse. This is arguably the result of years of economic mismanagement in Iran, particularly under Ahmadinejad.
"However, the Iranian regime is relatively sheltered from the present crisis. Oil exports remain high at 1.2 to 1.5 million barrels per day, meaning that the regime's foreign exchange income is considerable. And in any event its oil income is dollar-denominated, protecting it from exchange rate risk. As a result, Iran's economic crisis is unlikely to directly cause the regime to change its nuclear calculus." (Emphasis added)
Jonathan Tobin, writing in Commentary, says:
"The latest clashes in Tehran must not be interpreted as a sign that the fall of the Iranian regime is imminent. It is an iron rule of history that tyrants fall only when they lose their will to shed blood...
"If Washington continues to soft pedal its Iran policy and places its hopes on domestic unrest producing a change in policy, the only result will be to perpetuate the current stalemate. Like Assad, the ayatollahs have no plans to give up power."
All of this is valuable in assessing Obama's position, and his claim to be making headway with regard to Iran.
But I want to look in some detail at one more article, "Team Obama and crunch time on Tehran," this by political commentator Michael Widlansky, in the JPost today:
In assessing the likelihood (which he considers scant indeed) that Obama will use force against Iran, Widlansky first looks at presidential precedents, and then considers "the team Obama has assembled to deal with issues of terror, use of force and Iran. They reflect Obama's views."
What Widlansky then shares touches on a great deal more than Obama's position on Iran and should be considered very carefully indeed by anyone who is thinking of voting for him. (All emphasis is added.)
"Wendy Sherman, under secretary of state, leads talks with the Iranians. Sherman has been as successful there as she was a decade ago heading Bill Clinton's efforts to stop Korea's atomic bombs. David Ignatius of the Washington Post has said her talks 'have produced little beyond an exchange of paper.' Sherman's background in social work and a stint running the Fannie Mae Foundation clearly impressed both Iran and the Koreans.
"Attorney General Eric Holder often seems like he wants to make America a safer place for terrorists.
"Whether it is trying to close down the Guantanamo base in Cuba and bringing terrorists to trial in downtown NY, or moving strongly to investigate CIA agents who interrogated terrorists, Holder often makes observers wonder whether he forgot on which side of the terror problem he was supposed to be working.
"When he was in the Clinton Justice Department, Holder toiled to get pardons for convicted Puerto Rican terrorists -- pardons opposed by the rest of the Justice Department. Holder often acts as if he were still serving as a partner at the far-left law firm of Covington-Burling, which does pro-bono work for terrorist inmates at Guantanamo.
Holder led Obama's efforts to give terrorists more legal redress than drug smugglers facing police in NY or Texas..."
Forget everything else for the moment. Stop here, and ask yourselves whether you would want the man who selected Holder as attorney general to be president for four more years.
Widlanski then mentions Tom Donilon, "national security adviser...a career political activist and lobbyist"...also with connections to Fannie Mae. "Obama has sent him a few times to tell the Israelis not to bomb Iran."
Continues Widlanski, "Valerie Jarrett, Obama's top adviser is the inner-voice of Obama. It is nice to know that as Obama wonders what to do or -- more likely, not to do about Iran -- he can call on someone who was born and has lived there. Jarrett has also served as Obama's emissary to the US Muslims, including wealthy donors from the Iranian community. Jarrett has strong views on national security, and she did not like General James Jones, the first Obama national security adviser, reportedly pushing him aside for Tom Donilon.
"On the day after Iran and Hezbollah engineered an attack on Israeli tourists in Bulgaria, Jarrett hosted a gather of Iranian activists (some not US citizens) at the White House."
Concludes Widlanski: "...expecting [military help] from the Obama White House is outright fantasy.
"The Obama administration is floating stories that Iran has been so hard-hit by sanctions that its hungry population will rise up in anger and overthrow the bomb-making ayatolah. Don't bet on it.
"Tens of thousands of North Koreans actually died of famine, but North Korea still got its bomb and then used it as a bargaining chip to get the West to give them food aid."
Enough to mull over for one day, with more to follow soon.
Let's end on a light note. A rare tapir -- an endangered species -- has been born in the safari park at Ramat Gan (outside of Tel Aviv). The baby, a boy, will lose his stripes as he grows.
© Arlene Kushner. This material is produced by Arlene Kushner, functioning as an independent journalist. Permission is granted for it to be reproduced only with proper attribution.