Israel can exhale. Yes, the Biden Administration does consider the Jewish state an American “ally,” the White House said Tuesday.
If that sounds like restating the obvious, you haven’t been watching the tortured briefings by press secretary Jen Psaki. Last week, she couldn’t bring herself to answer the ally question directly, instead veering into mumbo jumbo about an “interagency process” and a nonspecific “relationship” between Israel and the United States.
Finally, Tuesday, she got to yes, but only after a reporter reminded her that she had declined to say the magic word last week.
“Israel is of course an ally. Israel is a country where we have an important strategic security relationship, and our team is fully engaged,” Psaki said.
Whew, glad that’s settled. So all is well, right? Not quite.
There’s still the issue of why President Biden, in office nearly a month, hasn’t talked to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He’s talked to at least a dozen other heads of state since taking office, including those in Canada, Mexico, China, Russia, and Germany. So Putin and Xi yes, but Netanyahu no.
Psaki insisted the failure to speak to Netanyahu was not “an intentional diss.” So it was an unintentional diss?
Asked about the absence of a call again Tuesday, she said Biden’s “first call with a leader in the region” would be with Netanyahu and it will be “soon.”
Psaki, of course, can’t say clearly what she means because diplomacy forbids straight talk. But make no mistake, her point is that Netanyahu was too close to Trump and so the new administration is sending an unmistakable signal that the Israeli is no longer on the friends’ list. It’s business only and he’ll get his call when Biden feels like making it.
The dance resembles high school cliques, but it’s American foreign policy, Biden-style, where the main thrust is reversing what Trump did and turning back the clock to the Obama-Biden administration, which many Americans and Israelis don’t remember as the good old days. In Israel, Obama at one point registered single-digit poll approval.
Still, the old approach is new again, or as Psaki put it, “I can assure you that this president is not looking to the last presidency as the model for his foreign policy moving forward.”
In fact, in the mideast, Biden definitely should look to Trump as a model because the former president fixed what was long broken. Trump’s policy of fully embracing Israel, moving our embassy to Jerusalem, standing up to Iran’s aggressions and refusing to give into the obstructionist Palestinians created historic alliances between Israel and Arab states.
When Trump took office, two Muslim nations, Egypt and Jordan, recognized Israel and had diplomatic relations, a situation that hadn’t changed since 1994.
When he left office, that number stood at six, with the addition of the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan. This was a monumental achievement, yet Biden resents it rather than embracing and expanding it.
Indeed, Saudi Arabia, which quietly developed a large security cooperation with Israel against Iran and regional terrorists, was flirting with the idea of taking its relationship with the Jewish state public.
Jared Kushner, who did much of the actual negotiating, told me in December, there was a chance the Saudis would have joined the Abraham Accords in months if Trump had won a second term.
Yet for some inexplicable reason, Biden isn’t interested in pursing that dramatic breakthrough. Instead, he is determined to push the Saudis away, having already announced that he would remove the terrorist designation from the Houthis, an Iranian proxy that has been attacking Saudi oilfields and other facilities from Yemen. Biden also ended American cooperation with any Saudi military offenses in Yemen.
Lest there be any doubt that the Saudis are getting punished, Psaki told reporters: “We’ve made it clear from the beginning that we are going to recalibrate our relationship with Saudi Arabia.”
Asked whether Biden would speak to the crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, who has been running the country and who met often with Kushner, Psaki drew another red line, saying Biden is returning to “counterpart to counterpart” engagement, adding:
“The president’s counterpart is King Salman and I expect at an appropriate time he will have a conversation with him.”
Again, she went out of her way to stress that there is a new team in Washington, suggesting it will be more forceful in airing disagreements and concerns with Saudi Arabia, calling that “a shift from the prior administration.”
It certainly is a shift, but the pertinent test is whether it’s a wise shift. There’s no obvious advantage to be gained by America or Israel in stiff-arming the Saudis.
Ah, but that approach would be an advantage to one country–Iran. Recall that Obama made wooing the mad mullahs his prime foreign policy objective, and was so desperate that he signed the ridiculously one-sided nuclear pact.
The pact actually paved the way for Iranian nukes, and some of the billions of dollars Iran got in the deal ended up financing its regional terror alliances, which, in addition to the Houthis, include Hezbollah and Hamas.
Is that Biden’s playbook, to make the same mistake again? If it is, no wonder he doesn’t want to talk to Netanyahu or the Saudi crown prince. Neither will hesitate to tell him he’s a fool.
Love affair with Cuomo over
Reader Mike Hanly has had it with Gov. Cuomo, writing: “I’m disgusted with what he has done. And I’m further sickened when he goes on TV shows like Ellen Degeneres’ and they coin the term “Cuomosexual” for women who luv the gov.
“I have a more appropriate term. People who died in New York’s nursing homes because of his order died of 1st degree “Cuomocide.”
GOP voters aren’t quitting Trump
Headline No. 1: Three out of four Republicans want to see former President Trump play a big role in the GOP going forward.
Headline No. 2: Former President Trump released a scathing statement targeting Senate Minority leader Mitch McConnell, calling him a “dour, sullen, and unsmiling political hack.”
Is that what the GOP rank and file had in mind?
De Blasio hurts the NYPD
After a federal appeals court ruling that allows the city to release police disciplinary records, Mayor de Blasio acted as if he’d found the Holy Grail.
“For the past seven years, we’ve fundamentally changed how we police our city, strengthening the bonds between communities and the officers who serve them,” he said in a statement. “Now, we can go even further to restore accountability and trust to the disciplinary process.”
There’s no question his tenure has “fundamentally changed” policing — for the worse. The crime spikes are no longer spikes, they are the new normal. And now he celebrates that “we can go even further.”
Heaven help New York.
‘Fiscally conservative’ war hawks are trying to defraud GOP voters — again
With the Republican loss in the 2020 election, there is a great deal of debate on where the party and the wider conservative movement are headed. According to betting markets, the 2024 field is wide open. The odds-on favorite is former President Donald Trump, but even he only has around a 20 percent chance as of this writing. In second place is Nikki Haley.
The former South Carolina governor and UN ambassador is an object of Beltway fascination, as can be seen in a recent feature profile in Politico. But what would a candidate or President Haley stand for? Would her views jibe with those of the working-class voters who propelled her ex-boss’ unlikely journey to the Oval Office?
If her new organization, Stand for America, is any indication, the answer is no. Instead, it looks Haley will offer the old and tired combination that GOP primary voters decisively rejected in 2016: fiscal conservatism married with a hawkish foreign policy. Whether or not this fusion has a chance politically, basic arithmetic shows that what are likely to be the two pillars of the Haley 2024 campaign are in contradiction.
Not long ago, Haley complained about Democrats wanting to bring back earmarks, highlighting a $50 million project for an indoor rainforest in Iowa. But Americans who believe that Washington should live within its means must see through what is a transparent fraud: Haley frets about a $50 million indoor rainforest — while supporting a foreign policy that costs trillions.
Fact is, pork-barrel projects are a drop in the feds’ sea of red ink. In 2019, the US government spent $4.4 trillion. While tens of millions of dollars may seem like a lot of money, projects in that range shouldn’t be the focus of true budget hawks.
Where does most of the budget go? About half to entitlements, which are politically untouchable. The next category, however, is the military, which amounted to 3.4 percent of gross domestic product in 2019. At the height of the War on Terror, the numbers were higher; in 2010, the armed forces consumed 4.5 percent of GDP, and we could easily return to such numbers under the budgets preferred by many Republicans.
To see how meaningless pork-barrel projects are in the grand scheme of things, we should return to the indoor rainforest that so upset Haley. According to the Costs of War Project at Brown University, as of 2019, the post-9/11 wars had a long-term cost to the United States of around $6.4 trillion. About $2 trillion of that was wasted on Afghanistan alone, with the Taliban now controlling more land than it did in the years immediately after the 2001 invasion.
If the price of an indoor rainforest is $50 million, then the Afghan War has cost taxpayers 40,000 times as much. No, that isn’t a typo: For the price of being in Afghanistan, the federal government could have built an indoor rainforest every 80 square miles across the entire continental United States, or, if it preferred, 13 in each US county.
Perhaps that wouldn’t be the best use of government money. But the point is this: It’s undeniable that foreign wars have been a massive drain on the nation’s resources. Trumpian Populists and progressives would like to see the government invest money at home. But even those who think budgetary restraint is important shouldn’t be manipulated by mathematically ignorant arguments made by those who seek power.
War hawks can’t honestly claim the mantle of fiscal conservatism while only attacking relatively minuscule pork-barrel projects. If American dollars are better spent in places like Afghanistan and the South China Sea than at home, fine. But politicians should make that case directly to the American voter, not try to burnish their fiscal reputations by attacking puny projects while leaving untouched far heftier expenditures.
Republican strategists and activists beware: The combination of opposition to indoor rainforests and support for more pointless war isn’t the path to either electoral success or fiscal responsibility.
Richard Hanania is president of the Center for the Study of Partisanship and Ideology and a research fellow at Defense Priorities.
NY parents desperate for more school choice: Lift the charter cap!
Parents fed up with the city Department of Education’s disastrous performance this last year are desperate for better choices. Better-off families can pay for alternatives such as private and parochial schools. To give low-income New Yorkers the same opportunity, state lawmakers have a clear duty to lift the cap on public charter schools.
In the city, charter-school enrollment was 138,000 across 267 schools in the 2019-2020 school year. Expansion of existing schools will let that grow some, but not enough.
The DOE’s timidity in reopening schools, its open-close-and-repeat approach to those that aren’t shuttered and its utter failure to make remote learning more than a sad joke frustrate parents across the city. A major exodus from public schools is inevitable — unless the state allows for more high-quality, well-managed charters.
As the pandemic raged, Mayor de Blasio and outgoing Chancellor Richard Carranza took no break from their war on charters. Recently, a state judge ordered the DOE to include charters in the same weekly COVID-19 testing program used at regular schools — and the city is appealing the decision.
Some charters, such as Success Academy, were forced to go all-remote because the DOE wouldn’t let them reopen classes in spaces shared with traditional public schools — lest they make those schools look bad. Yet Success and others at least made remote classes work. KIPP Infinity in Harlem recorded 98 percent attendance because every kid received devices and those with connectivity issues got hotspots.
The flexibility enjoyed by charters allows for out-of-the-box thinking not just in responding to challenges like a pandemic, but also in providing a quality public education for mostly low-income, minority student bodies. They’ve proved to be the laboratories of innovation and achievement that then-Gov. George Pataki envisioned when he pushed charter-school legislation through the Legislature over two decades ago.
In that time, a total of 397 charters have been issued statewide, with 325 schools now serving students, plus 26 approved but not yet open. The 2015 law that raised the state charter cap to 460 allowed only a few dozen more for the city — all which have now been used.
There remain about 25 so-called “zombie” charters — ones that were revoked or approved but never opened. Those licenses should be re-assigned, but it still wouldn’t be enough to satisfy the huge demand for charter seats, grades K-12.
Families need new legislation to lift or eliminate the cap. The progressive lawmakers who now dominate the Legislature should ignore the teachers unions, which despise charters, and do right by inner-city kids. It’s a matter of fundamental fairness to give low-income children the same chance to escape bad schools that the wealthy enjoy.
A million city kids have essentially lost over a year of education. Public charters can lead the way in bringing thousands back up to speed via a quality, rigorous instruction.
Save public education and increase basic equity: Raise the cap!
Alzheimer’s took my mom, but her dignity and love shone to the end
There are a hundred things I could tell you about my late mother that are more important than the disease that caught her in its grip the last few years of her life.
I could tell you about her relationship with my older bother, who has autism, and her deep, lifelong friendship with him.
I could tell you how she took her experience fighting the schools to educate and treat my brother decently and went into social work as a career, helping countless other disabled and mentally ill people.
I could tell you about her accomplished painting, her love of cats or her civic involvement.
After losing her last week, though, I want to share something about the worst, about the end, about the Alzheimer’s disease that took this vibrant woman, who made friends and plans wherever she went, and confined her to a wheelchair and rendered her nearly mute and inert.
Because I’ve come to believe that this crushing disease doesn’t, during almost all its progression, achieve as complete a victory as it might seem. It takes away so much. The ability to live independently. The ability to talk. And in the end, the ability, or will, to eat. There are no heartening stories of Alzheimer’s survivors.
But our personhood is so strong that the disease, even in its late stages, can’t fully extinguish the human personality. No, the spark is still there, flickering, very difficult to detect at times, but there.
I acknowledge that some families have worse experiences than mine, wrenching though it was, and Alzheimer’s forces you constantly to ratchet your expectations downward. First, you’re glad of conversation, even if it doesn’t make much sense. Then, you’re glad of any words. Finally, you are glad of, well, anything.
Still, there are little gems of surprises. Once, I was wheeling my mom from the cafeteria area in her nursing home, hoping to get her from Point A to Point B without incident, when she reached out and got a death grip on the chair of another resident.
This other resident was a notably stately woman. “Hello, gorgeous!” said my Mom. Where did that come from?
Toward the end, when things were bleakest, my Mom would still shine through the shroud of the disease. If she talked, it was always incoherently, but I could see her making points the way she always had. She might chuckle softly at a mention of my brother. Even when I couldn’t get anything else out of her, she’d hum, to patriotic songs, to hymns, to “Ode to Joy.”
No matter how bad it got, you’d see grace notes in the incredible love showered on her and others by the staff of the facility caring for her. Or another resident would do something amusing or touching.
I remember an otherwise despairing visit, when another lady sat down randomly besides us. I said I liked the stuffed dog she had in a basket on her walker. She said he was a good boy, began to pet him and then kissed him a couple times lovingly on the snout. It was so sweet, I was moved to tears.
The last time I visited my Mom, days before she took to her death bed, I badgered her, as I often did, to try to get a reaction out of her: “Do you love me? Do you love me? Do you love me?”
Sometimes she wouldn’t say anything. Sometimes you might notice her trying to reply. This time, she got out an unmistakable, “Yep.”
I played the “1812 Overture” on my phone, loud. Again, to get a reaction, I swung my arms in exaggerated, mock conductor movements, especially toward the finale, with Tchaikovsky’s chimes ringing and the cannons firing in a crashing crescendo of victory and resolve.
And right at the end, my Mom briefly raised and twisted her hand in a conductor motion of her own.
Take that, you merciless, godawful disease.
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