Bibi Squeezes Barack With Jewish Donors; Syria Responds to Speech with Slaughter; Obama CIA Visit Comes Amid Holder Probe; Mashing Mitt in South Carolina; Huntsman Deflation Begins; First Lady Hits the Stump for Hubby
Netanyahu Repays Obama for Political Ploys
“[Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu] expects to hear a reaffirmation from President Obama of U.S. commitments made to Israel in 2004, which were overwhelmingly supported by both houses of Congress.”
-- Statement from the Israeli prime minister ahead of his meeting today with Obama.
The good news for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu: President Obama’s surprising embrace of the Palestinian demand that Israel return to its borders prior to the 1967 Six-Day War gives Netanyahu additional political security at home. With Obama siding with the Palestinians on this key point, Netanyahu’s hard-line stance will be vindicated.
The bad news for Netanyahu: Obama has deprived him of a key bargaining chip as world pressure mounts for him to restart negotiations with the re-radicalized Palestinians.
Obama and his political aides (particularly Rahm Emanuel) have somewhat openly worked to dislodge the hawkish Netanyahu from power, preferring to install more moderate leadership for Israel in an effort to jump-start talks with the Arabs and end Israeli construction projects in areas claimed by the Palestinians.
But faced with shrinking their borders and splitting the holy city of Jerusalem, Israelis stuck with Netanyahu and his popularity has grown as unrest has spread across the Arab world, now with increasing menace toward Israel.
Obama’s decision to lay down a new U.S. policy on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict ahead of his meeting with Netanyahu was a provocative move, to say the least. The meeting will likely be a chilly one and heavy on diplomatic decorum and pre-programmed statements.
But, now it is Netanyahu’s turn to cause Obama some political heartache. The more distraught Netanyahu and his Likud Party are about Obama’s call for Israeli concessions, the more likely key Jewish donors will be to withhold the contributions Obama is now in a desperate dash to raise.
Obama will head to the American-Israel Political Action Committee’s annual convention on Sunday to restate his pitch and appeal again to Jewish donors, but his decision to try to push Netanyahu will mean a pretty hostile reception for the president.
Assad to Obama: Get Right back to You on That Democracy Thing
"We heard shelling throughout the night and can still hear gunfire every now and then.”
-- A resident of Talkalakh, Syria talking to the Associated Press about the latest strikes by government forces.
In his Middle East policy speech President Obama expressed his unhappiness about Syrian strongman Bashar Assad, but also extended an invitation to the despot to become part of the process of democratization.
Assad responded by stepping up his attacks on the rebels among his nation’s Sunni majority.
Assad knows that not only has Syria long been a preferred partner for diplomats from the Democratic Party, but that with Obama’s involvement in the Libyan civil war causing considerable political problems at home, military U.S. military involvement is far out of the question.
Under the war powers resolution, today is the deadline for Obama to obtain congressional authorization for U.S. involvement in the war, but so far the president has made no response to demands from the Hill that he further explain his goals in the conflict.
Assad knows that he has time to kill. Casualties are already estimated at 850 on the rebel side and will surely climb as the Iranian-backed Assad seeks to crush the rebellion once and for all.
Obama Thanks, Investigates CIA
"Disclosure of classified information to anyone not cleared for it -- reporters, friends, colleagues in the private sector or other agencies, former agency officers -- does tremendous damage to our work. At worst, leaks endanger lives."
-- Agency-wide memo from CIA Director Leon Panetta warning employees against sharing details of the raid that killed Usama bin Laden. Defense officials, meanwhile, have suggested leaks originated from within the White House.
President Obama’s extended victory lap after the killing of Usama bin Laden today takes him to the CIA headquarters in Northern Virginia where he will congratulate the agency for its help in rubbing out the terror kingpin.
But as Obama hits Langley, the question remains: Will Attorney General Eric Holder prosecute the agents involved in the harsh interrogation of terrorists. Holder has vowed to press on with the criminal probe even as calls have grown for the agents involved to be exonerated.
In order for Holder to get to the ultimate targets of his inquest – the Bush administration officials who authorized the use of “enhanced” interrogation techniques like simulated drowning, sleep deprivation, etc. – he must go through the agents who carried out the measures.
It is still a matter of intense debate whether the harsh interrogations yielded the intelligence that would, a decade later, lead to the killing of bin Laden. Many terrorism hardliners say yes, making the idea of prosecuting the agents who engaged in the activities even more unpalatable. Others say it’s impossible to know whether the information could have been collected another way, and discount the argument that says killing bin Laden vindicates the practices.
But there is broad agreement that the existence of a criminal probe will have a chilling effect on the agents charged with collecting new information. If agents face professional ruin and prison time for following administration orders, they are unlikely to be enthusiastic about getting rough with the baddies.
Team Obama Tries to Jam Up Romney
“Newt Gingrich says the Republican plan that would essentially end Medicare is too ‘radical.’ Governor Haley thinks the plan is courageous, and Gingrich shouldn't be cutting conservatives off at the knees. Mitt Romney says he's ‘on the same page’ as Paul Ryan, who wrote the plan to essentially end Medicare. But with Mitt Romney, you have to wonder...which page is he on today?”
-- Text of a new ad from a pro-Obama soft money group running in South Carolina ahead of Mitt Romney’s weekend visit.
Former White House spokesman Bill Burton and other Obama alumni have launched a soft-money group Priorities USA, designed to use a legal loophole to raise unlimited cash to support the president’s re-election bid.
It is telling that the group’s first media expenditure is on an ad aimed at weakening GOP frontrunner Mitt Romney’s already tenuous status with South Carolina voters.
Romney, who skipped the May 5 presidential debate hosted by the state GOP and FOX News, is making his first visit of the cycle this weekend. He will arrive amid ads that aim to trap Romney into supporting Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget blueprint, which includes turning Medicare into a system of individual subsidies to be used for buying private insurance.
If Romney says he backs the plan, he lays himself open to a damaging series of attacks by Obama if Romney gets the nomination. But if Romney hedges in his support – even if he avoids the kind of scathing attack that has crippled Newt Gingrich’s presidential aspirations – Republican concerns of Romney as a political shape shifter will be reinforced. Ryan’s plan has become part of the party orthodoxy and primary voters will not tolerate waffling on it.
The Obama alums are hitting all the notes in their ad, particularly Republican skepticism about Romney’s conservative bona fides. Romney was always going to have a hard time in South Carolina, the most conservative early primary state, and the ad won’t help a bit.
As becomes increasingly clear, the president’s team does not want to face the more moderate Romney this fall, hoping instead to draw a fire-breather whom they could more easily caricature. If that fails, Team Obama will try to push Romney into deeper conservatism as he seeks the nomination.
Reality Intrudes on Huntsman Hype
“We can no longer focus on that debate as aggressively as we did in years past. But that debate will continue because people care about the environment.”
-- Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman on “Good Morning America” discussing his support for fees to be imposed on businesses for emitting gasses believed by environmentalists to cause global warming.
As much fun as Democrats were having with the idea of billionaire former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman crashing into the Republican primary field, even they are joining in the process of puncturing his trial balloon.
In a devastating post at liberal Web site ThinkProgress.org on Thursday entitled “Jon Huntsman’s Secret Life As A Progressive,” the group highlights Huntsman’s past liberal positions: arguing that the Obama stimulus should have been $1 trillion instead of $787 billion, supporting conditional amnesty for illegal immigrants, believing in man-made global warming, and, of course, proposing that government create an alternative to marriage for gay couples.
Any one of these could be a disqualifier for a Republican presidential hopeful, but precisely because Huntsman is the kind of centrist much beloved by the media establishment, few in the mainstream press have done much in the way of highlighting his conservative apostasies. Other than free food and party invitations, there isn’t much the Washington press corps loves more than a Republican who goes to work for a Democrat.
But as Huntsman gets closer to actually announcing his candidacy and starts rejiggering his stances to a closer approximation of the party line, reality is starting to intrude. As John McCain found out, the media crush fades quickly at the scent of red meat.
Huntsman gave his first interview since stepping down as ambassador to China to ABC’s morning chat show and found some sharp elbows flying, even in that gentle environment.
Pressed on whether he would have voted for Paul Ryan’s budget plan, Huntsman said yes, but depicted it as a lesser evil than indebtedness. Huntsman did say that Obama had erred by entering the now-stalemated Libyan civil war, but generally avoided the kinds of Obama-bashing requisite for a GOP contender.
Huntsman has spent a lot of money hiring up top-tier talent, but as his campaign extends from the press pool and into the realm of Republican voters, it’s going to be a rough run.
First Lady Launches 2012 Campaign
"Thanks to the tireless work of our intelligence and counter terrorism communities and the heroic efforts of our troops, the man behind the 9/11 attacks has finally been brought to justice.”
-- First lady Michelle Obama at the Women's Leadership Forum National Issues Conference.
In her second campaign appearance of the 2012 cycle, first lady Michelle Obama stepped up the rhetoric a bit – touting the mission to kill Usama bin Laden and using stump speech lines about being “fired up” and “ready to go.”
The first lady had a soft debut on the campaign trail last week with a fundraiser in Atlanta ahead of a commencement speech at Spelman College – a small event aimed at helping her husband meet his unprecedented spending goals.
But Thursday’s event at the Democratic National Committee’s Women's Leadership Forum was more in the mold of a typical campaign event.
So the question for the Obama campaign is: how to maximize the use of the first lady without jeopardizing her carefully crafted political makeover as an non-political, organic-gardening, fat-fighting mama bear that has made her so popular?
And Now, A Word From Charles
“What Obama did [Thursday] is something that no American president has ever done, which is to endorse the return to the 1967 lines, which as you said, would reduce the Israel to country with a width eight miles wide. Now, the reason this is odd is because you would expect it would be at least in return for something. But the Palestinians in the two-and-a-half years of this administration have not offered anything in concession to Israelis.”