Tag Archives: United States

Playing the blame game

Courtesy of The New York Times.
Courtesy of The New York Times.

Much ink has been spilled over the relative blame that should be assigned to various parties in the current government shutdown / impending debt-ceiling fiasco from hell. (About that spilled ink, I’m speaking virtually, of course: no one still publishes on physical paper anymore, do they?)

Aside from the predictable litany of “both sides need to compromise” bullshit from the zombie lords of political commentary — which The Atlantic‘s James Fallows, Al Jazeera‘s Dan Froomkin, and NYU professor Jay Rosen continue to eviscerate brilliantly — perhaps most distressing still are the results of today’s Gallup poll:

Americans are now more likely to name dysfunctional government as the most important problem facing the country than to name any other specific problem. Thirty-three percent of Americans cite dissatisfaction with government and elected representatives as the nation’s top issue, the highest such percentage in Gallup’s trend dating back to 1939. Dysfunctional government now eclipses the economy (19%), unemployment (12%), the deficit (12%), and healthcare (12%) as the nation’s top problem.

This is, in its own way, tantamount to a Republican victory — and one that could have more profound long-term implications than whatever short-term turbulence the GOP has inflicted upon itself courtesy of its decreasingly fringe-y “wacko bird” fringe. Indeed, although early indications suggest that House Republicans may suffer for their intransigence in next year’s midterms, there are plenty of reasons to bet against the Democrats’ chances of retaking the lower chamber in 2014.

Meanwhile, the broader national disgust with governmental dysfunction plays directly into Republicans’ hands: in fact, it could be argued that the GOP will always have a home-field advantage of sorts over the Democrats when the two parties are at loggerheads over just about anything of consequence. When bitterly contested policy issues cause Americans to blame government generally (even if, as is the case now, one side is clearly precipitating the immediate crisis), Republican ideology wins the day. Time will tell if this triumph is more durable than the Democrats’ current advantage in generic horse-race Congressional polling.

But there is yet another component to this struggle that’s extremely apparent but is somehow not gaining the traction I’d expect, especially from left-leaning media outlets. And that is the direct line connecting President Obama’s decision to negotiate the debt-ceiling increase in the summer of 2011 with the current crisis. While there is no question that Republican lunacy is the immediate cause of the budgetary and debt-ceiling impasses, much longer-term blame rests directly on the shoulders of Barack Obama.

Today’s manufactured crisis was an entirely foreseeable outcome of Obama’s capitulation two years ago. In fact, Paul Krugman predicted exactly this sort of future as soon as the 2011 deal with Republicans was announced. In an August 1, 2011 column titled “The President Surrenders,” Krugman wrote:

For the deal itself, given the available information, is a disaster, and not just for President Obama and his party. It will damage an already depressed economy; it will probably make America’s long-run deficit problem worse, not better; and most important, by demonstrating that raw extortion works and carries no political cost, it will take America a long way down the road to banana-republic status.

Republicans will supposedly have an incentive to make concessions the next time around, because defense spending will be among the areas cut. But the G.O.P. has just demonstrated its willingness to risk financial collapse unless it gets everything its most extreme members want. Why expect it to be more reasonable in the next round?

In fact, Republicans will surely be emboldened by the way Mr. Obama keeps folding in the face of their threats. He surrendered last December, extending all the Bush tax cuts; he surrendered in the spring when they threatened to shut down the government; and he has now surrendered on a grand scale to raw extortion over the debt ceiling.

And this is exactly what ended up happening. Two days ago, Jonathan Chait explained this very phenomenon:

They see the debt-ceiling fight as being mainly about the long-term question of whether Congress will cement into place the practice of using the debt ceiling to extort concessions from the president. The price of buying off a debt-ceiling hike would surely be less than the risk of a default. But doing so would enshrine debt-ceiling extortion as a normal congressional practice. This both skews the Constitutional relationship between branches — allowing an unscrupulous Congress to demand unilateral concessions at gunpoint rather than having to compromise — and creates endless brinksmanship that would eventually lead to a default.

The administration’s stance, then, is that submitting to ransom now creates the certainty of default eventually.

The primary quibble I have with Chait’s explanation — as I do with most analyses I’ve read of the situation thus far — is that the time to establish this stance was two years ago, not now. Of course, now is better than never, but the risk of actual default does appear to be greater now than it was back in 2011, and this is primarily due to Republicans’ increased confidence — based on very recent history — that the White House and Congressional Democrats would simply capitulate once again. And this very expectation, paradoxically enough, made it more dangerous for the Democrats to actually stand firm and demand that the Republicans raise the debt limit without preconditions — precisely because the overly-confident Republicans had virtually locked themselves into a rhetorical corner over raising the debt ceiling.

So what’s the point? Aside from the fact that President Obama is quite clearly a disastrous negotiator, the primary point is that — contrary to “centrist” notions of endless compromise that are entirely unmoored from the empirical reality of each party’s ideological flexibility — giving away the bank to a party steered by radicals absolutely does not guarantee healthy compromises or even engender good-faith efforts in the future. To the contrary, when confronted head-on with the awesome incoherence of Tea Party rage, the worst possible weapon is the one President Obama wielded back in 2011: procrastination.

Our national irrationality

Adam Gopnik examines his native country (the United States) and three adopted ones (Canada, Britain, and France), and attempts to locate their core irrationalities:

Let me start with my own country – don’t worry, your turn is coming. The core irrationality of American life is its insularity, which can be captured in three words: The World Series.

This is, of course, the annual championship of the American-invented game of baseball, a championship played almost exclusively in American cities and, until recently, entirely by American players – yet still referred to, without a hint of irony, as the global championship.

In all my years in the US, not once have I ever heard any American who found this name mildly ironic, or even strange. It is not even a rueful national joke. It’s just a fact of life, and when you point out its absurdity, you get a puzzled look.

It isn’t just baseball. The winners of the Superbowl in our US version of football cry out “We’re world champs!” as the gun sounds – and they do the same at the end of the American championship of the world sport of basketball.

When Americans play other Americans in American cities for an American audience, the world championship of whatever sport they are playing is thereby decided.

The real irony is that there is an actual world championship in baseball – and Americans do very badly at it. No one cares. It is broadcast on an obscure cable channel and no one pays any attention as the Dominicans or the Japanese triumph.

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On Canada’s (non)existence

Crooked Timber delivers a Christmas sermon on the reality, or otherwise, of our northern neighbor. As one might surmise, that’s not really the main point:

As far as I can tell, the concept of “Canada” dates back to the early 1950s. A confident new postwar generation of Americans were beginning to enjoy the privileges of mass market air travel. However, to their dismay, some of them began to discover that they weren’t universally welcome in the damaged postwar states of Europe, particularly in the more bohemian quarters where socialism was beginning to take hold. The Coronation of Queen Elizabeth had just happened, pushing the British Crown into the public eye, and so a sort of urban myth was constructed about a part of America that was also ruled part of the Commonwealth.

Over time, all sorts of supporting myths and rationalizations grew up to support the “Canadian” faith. Apparently they fought a war against America in 1812, although not one with any noticeable or measurable political consequences. They don’t have a football team because they play “hockey on ice” (really!), a sport at which they are world champions (naturally, because it is a fictitious sport). They have all the nice characteristics of America, but have a healthcare system rather suspiciously similar to the British one, and so forth, and so on.

As anyone can see, this isn’t a country – it’s far too perfect to be convincing. It’s a fantasy roleplaying character invented by a kid who goes to mock United Nations camps instead of playing Dungeons & Dragons. Occasionally this is recognized in little cultural hints – a “girlfriend in Canada” is American slang for “an imaginary girlfriend”. But in general, people humour them – these days, if you want to make it in Hollywood, you’ve got to be either a Canadian or a Scientologist. Then the concept was discovered by that sizeable contingent of French people who always want to pretend to be Americans, and the Canadian faith had to pick up yet another massive and glaring inconsistency in the shape of a massive linguistic minority who lived in a state of peace and friendship with the rest of the country. Do I have to mention that they struck oil and invented the Blackberry?

Netanyahu’s free ride

Gershom Gorenberg urges the United States to take a harsher stance towards Israel’s settlement expansion:

American opposition to settlement would matter only if an Israeli government felt that it was paying a direct cost in support from Washington, or an indirect cost in political support at home. Only rarely, though, has settlement caused enough tension between Washington and Jerusalem to become politically significant in Israel. The clearest example was when the first President Bush linked loan guarantees to a settlement freeze and turned relations with the U.S. into a major campaign issue in Israel’s 1992 election.

As measured by actions, American policy has otherwise been acquiescence. The lesson to Israelis—politicians and voters—is that American objections are not to be taken very seriously…

Whatever administration officials actually intend, this is the way Israeli voters are hearing them: Bibi is still king in Washington, and pays no price for intransigence. Less than two months before the Israeli election, this is indeed counterproductive.

Meanwhile, A.B. Yehoshua argues against labeling Hamas a “terrorist” group:

The time has come to stop calling Hamas a terrorist organization and define it as an enemy. The inflationary use of the term “terror,” of which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is particularly fond, impedes Israel’s ability to reach a long-term agreement with this bitter enemy. Today Hamas controls the territory; it has an army, governmental institutions and broadcasting stations. It is even recognized by many states in the world. An organization that has a state is an enemy, not a terror organization.

Is this just semantics? No, because with an enemy one can talk and reach agreements, whereas with a “terror organization” talking is meaningless and there is no hope for reaching accord. It is therefore urgent to legitimize, in principle, the effort to reach some sort of direct agreement with Hamas. That’s because the Palestinians are our neighbors and will be forever. They are our close neighbors, and if we don’t reach a reasonable separation agreement with them, we will inevitably lead ourselves down the path to a bi-national state, which will be worse and more dangerous for both sides. That’s why an agreement with Hamas is important not only for the sake of bringing quiet to the border with Gaza, but also in order to create the basis for establishing a Palestinian state alongside Israel.

The French think strategically…

…while the United States continues to think anachronistically:

France will vote in favor of the Palestinians’ request to heighten their profile at the United Nations, the French foreign minister told Parliament on Tuesday, embracing a move that Israel and the United States oppose.

The support of France, a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, is the most significant boost to date for the Palestinians’ hopes to be granted nonmember observer status and thus greater international recognition. Russia and China, two other permanent members, have also thrown their support behind the Palestinian bid.

The French support appeared calculated to strengthen the position of the Palestinian Authority’s president, Mahmoud Abbas, whose Fatah party governs the West Bank, after fighting with Israel in the Gaza Strip this month that left Hamas, the Islamic militant organization that oversees Gaza, ascendant.

For too many years, the American approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been incoherent. We want democratic elections, but then we decry the results and call the winners a terrorist organization. We want fewer terror attacks, but then support Israel in policies that only strengthen the hand of those same people we call terrorists. What do we want, exactly?

An apology tour…for France

The New Republic‘s David A. Bell contrasts France’s approach to its checkered past with that of the United States:

Is your president a socialist who has repeatedly apologized for his country? If you are an American, the answer to this question is no, despite apoplectic Republican claims to the contrary. If you are French, however, it is most certainly yes. Not only is President François Hollande a proud Socialist; this year he has made two high-profile apologies for France. This summer, on the seventieth anniversary of the notorious “vel d’Hiv” roundup of Jews in Paris. he gave a speech acknowledging the country’s guilt in the deportation of Jews to Nazi death camps, And this past week, he ended official denials that the Parisian police had carried out a massacre of Algerian protestors in 1961, and paid homage to the victims. The two statements say a great deal about French public life today, about the country’s relation to its history, and about its widening differences from the United States.

Both of the incidents for which Hollande apologized, in the name of the French Republic, were long hidden from sight. After the liberation of France in 1944, a battered and demoralized population consoled itself with the myth that all but a few traitors and criminals had resisted the Nazi occupation. The deportation of some 76,000 Jews to the death camps was blamed on the Germans. Only slowly, and in large part thanks to the effort of North American historians (especially Robert Paxton of Columbia) did the full sordid story emerge in the 1970s and 1980s. Most of the French had in fact supported the collaborationist government of Marshal Philippe Pétain for several years. Many had applauded, enthusiastically, anti-Semitic policies modeled on those of the Nazis. And while it was the Germans who demanded the deportation of Jews from France, the job of identifying, arresting and transporting these Jews was carried out entirely by French authorities, including the horrific, days-long incarceration of 13,000 Jews in the “Vel d’Hiv”—an indoor bicycle racetrack—without adequate food, water or ventilation…

In the United States, sentiments of this sort, apropos of the darker episodes in American history, are anything but uncommon in university classrooms. In politics, however, they have become virtually taboo. In the civil rights era, American politicians could speak frankly and eloquently about the ways that slavery and institutionalized racism stained the American past. In the 1980’s, Congress could pass legislation acknowledging the wrong of Japanese-American interment during World War II, and granting compensation to its victims. But in the past quarter-century, conservatives have successfully cast any attempt to discuss the country’s historical record impartially in the political realm as a species of heresy—“blaming America first,” as Jeanne Kirkpatrick put it as far back as 1984. A turning point of sorts came in 1994, when the Smithsonian Institution planned an exhibit of the aircraft that dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima, accompanied by material that highlighted the human toll of the bombing,  inviting debate on its morality.  The outcry from conservatives and veterans groups was deafening, and few politicians dared to defend the Smithsonian, which eventually canceled the exhibit.

A short blast through today’s Internetz

There are way too many funny and crazy things to see on the Internet today, so I suppose I’ll just have to link to them all. Here goes.

First off, Rush Limbaugh is launching a “Rush Babes” campaign to counterattack the National Organization for Women’s attempts to get advertisers to boycott his program:

Rush Limbaugh is fighting back against the National Organization for Women, the progressive women’s group that has been targeting local advertisers and affiliates in an effort to get the conservative talk show host off the air.

On his program today, Limbaugh announced a new National Organizaion for Rush Babes”dedicated to the millions of conservative women who know what they believe in: family, American Values, and not being told by Faux Feminist Groups how to think.”

Beyond the immediate laughter such a mental image provokes — what is a Rush babe, after all? an overweight, pale, white Midwesterner who hates Mexicans and loves Cheetos and Jim Carrey? — the comments section below the article is absolutely hilarious. See how quickly it devolves into complete insanity from its original starting point of…well, it was basically already insane when it started. I love Internet commenters.

Then, it turns out that, as soon as Michele Bachmann was out of the political limelight, she took stock of “birtherism” and decided, hell, being something other than American isn’t so bad after all. Therefore, she is now Swiss. I smell a double standard here:

Rep. Michele Bachmann is now officially a Swiss miss.

Bachmann (R-Minn.) recently became a citizen of Switzerland, making her eligible to run for office in the tiny European nation, according to a Swiss TV report Tuesday.

Best part is when they asked her if she’d consider running for Swiss public office: “Bachmann joked that the competition ‘would be very stiff because they are very good.'” And by that she means that they make more sense in English than she does.

A lot happened yesterday at the voting booth. Republican senator Dick Lugar of Indiana lost to Tea Party favorite Richard Mourdock in the Republican primaries, signaling the further polarization of the Senate. (Of course, there is really only one “pole” here, and it is the fanatical right wing, but I digress.) Meanwhile, Wisconsin Democrats chose their candidate, Tom Barrett, to challenge Republican governor Scott Walker in the special recall election next month. But in the biggest piece of news, North Carolinians chose bigotry and homophobia over normality: yes, Amendment One passed overwhelmingly, which inscribes a prohibition of gay marriage and even civil unions into the state constitution.

Meanwhile, Democrats are worried about campaign dollars and where they’ll be going. The New York Times has more interesting backstory to the Chen Guangcheng saga. And the Underwear Bomber 2.0? Turns out he was a double agent working for the CIA. Nice work, but also a good reminder that the next terrorist attack is undoubtedly a matter of when, not if.

And lastly, because this is just too weird, I was looking through the Atlantic‘s stellar collection of Hindenburg photographs (it crashed 75 years ago last Sunday) and was actually viscerally shocked to see so much Nazi imagery in connection with the United States. It’s easy to forget that the Nazi Party existed before World War II began, and that they were fully recognized and welcomed abroad in many places, including in the United States. Anyway, worth checking out.

Benedict Obama? The increasingly confusing story of Chen Guangcheng

For the non-living-under-a-rock population, here’s what happened in the Chen Guangcheng saga. The question now is whether the United States deliberately hung Chen out to try or if they instead just badly mismanaged the entire negotiating process with Chinese officials. Either way, things are not looking good now:

Chen Guangcheng, the blind dissident lawyer at the heart of a diplomatic crisis between China and the United States, telephoned in to a Congressional hearing on Thursday to plead for help in leaving his country.

Via a cellphone held up to a microphone at the hearing, Mr. Chen, speaking in Chinese, said: “I want to come to the U.S. to rest. I have not had a rest in 10 years. I’m concerned most right now with the safety of my mother and brothers. I really want to know what’s going on with them.”

Mr. Chen, according to the English translation of his comments, also asked to meet with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who was in Beijing. “I hope I can get more help from her,” he said. “Also, I want to thank her face-to-face.”

The call, apparently made from Mr. Chen’s Beijing hospital room from which American officials have been barred, was another dramatic turn in a case that had for a short time looked like a deft achievement to secure Mr. Chen’s safety by American diplomats. That achievement has unraveled, leaving the Obama administration open to attacks from rights activists and Republicans that it had failed to adequately protect Mr. Chen after he left the sanctuary of the United States Embassy here on Wednesday.

There are many weird aspects to this case. First of all, American officials have been barred from the hospital, and yet Chen remains free to converse with as many media and political figures as he likes. Perhaps the Communist Party higher-ups are just biding their time until the media circus blows over, but this is still a slightly odd circumstance. Secondly, was the U.S. actually shocked by Chen’s quick reversal (first he wanted to stay in China, and now he wants to leave for the States with his family), or did American officials simply not care what happened after he left the embassy? Also, what was the point of arranging such an elaborate pickup of the dissident far from the embassy’s entrance, even going so far as to protect him from a Chinese security contingent, if they were just going to release him back to the authorities soon afterwards anyway? (Or was the entire “car chase” sequence part of an American image repair campaign after the Chen affair went terribly wrong?)

It seems impossible that President Obama and Hillary Clinton could have so badly miscalculated the resolve of the Chinese Communist Party to regain physical control of Chen, and yet it looks like that’s exactly what they did. I tend to agree with Robert Wright over at the Atlantic, who writes:

The Obama folks may be cynical, but they’re smart enough to have known that if Chen walked into a bait-and-switch, that would be a big problem not just for him but for them. It doesn’t make sense, even in Machiavellian terms, that they’d have wanted to seriously mislead him.

James Fallows, meanwhile, suggests remaining cautious:

Quite a lot about this situation is confusing and contradictory, to put it mildly. But I would caution readers against drawing an inference, from headlines like the ones above on US-based analyses rather than on-scene reports, that (a) it is clear that U.S. officials so clearly mis-handled, or coldly handled, this case, or (b) there was something much more clearly successful or satisfying that they could have done. It’s possible that both those things will prove to be true, and the Obama Administration and its representatives in Beijing will deserve criticism. But that is far from clear now — and I worry that a pileup of headlines of this sort can give an initial shape to the story that is hard to change, and that the complicated facts don’t support.

And lastly, the New York Review of Books (in an article to which Fallows links) proffers the idea that, in the end, it’s not up to the United States to change China’s pattern of human rights violations. In any case, here’s hoping the media spotlight stays bright for awhile until some sort of agreement can be hashed out.

“Assassination” is just a scary word for “due process” – links of the day

At least, that’s what Attorney General Eric Holder would have you believe, in defending the Obama administration’s policy of targeted assassination(s) of American citizens:

Some have argued that the President is required to get permission from a federal court before taking action against a United States citizen who is a senior operational leader of al Qaeda or associated forces.   This is simply not accurate.   “Due process” and “judicial process” are not one and the same, particularly when it comes to national security.   The Constitution guarantees due process, not judicial process.

Charles P. Pierce, responding in Esquire, was rightly outraged:

Attorney General Eric Holder’s appearance at Northwestern on Monday, during which he explained the exact circumstances under which the president can order the killing of just about anyone the president wants to kill, was not promising. The criteria for when a president can unilaterally decide to kill somebody is completely full of holes, regardless of what the government’s pet lawyers say. And this…

“This is an indicator of our times,” Holder said, “not a departure from our laws and our values.”

…is a monumental pile of crap that should embarrass every Democrat who ever said an unkind word about John Yoo. This policy is a vast departure from our laws and an interplanetary probe away from our values. The president should not have this power because the Constitution, which was written by smarter people than, say, Benjamin Wittes, knew full and goddamn well why the president shouldn’t have this power. If you give the president the power to kill without due process, or without demonstrable probable cause, he inevitably will do so. And, as a lot of us asked during the Bush years, if you give this power to President George Bush, will you also give it to President Hillary Clinton and, if you give this power to President Barack Obama, will you also give it to President Rick Santorum?

Shockingly — at least to me, since I didn’t expect to see this coming from the New York Times — Andrew Rosenthal, writing in the section titled “The Loyal Opposition,” defended Holder’s speech, utterly ignoring the most insidious part, about the assassination policy. Even stranger still, Rosenthal neglected to mention, in his praise of Holder’s insistence on terrorists being tried in civilian courts, that his own government has killed a citizen without any trial or even any charges.

That said, Attorney General Eric Holder and Jeh Charles Johnson, the general counsel of the Defense Department, both delivered strong speeches on terrorism recently. The contrast between their remarks and the bad old days of the Bush era was striking.

Some of what they said troubled me. They both seemed to reject any role for the courts in deciding when to kill American citizens suspected of terrorism. And I am not as enamored of military tribunals as Mr. Holder and Mr. Johnson are…

At Northwestern University yesterday, Mr. Holder made a powerful case for the need to prosecute terrorists in the federal courts. “Simply put, since 9/11 hundreds of individuals have been convicted of terrorism or terrorism-related offences in Article 3 courts and are now serving long sentences in federal prison,” Mr. Holder said. “Not one has ever escaped custody. No judicial district has suffered any kind of retaliatory attack.”

Glenn Greenwald, fortunately, made a persuasive case against Holder’s remarks, based on contradictory statements made by Holder and Barack Obama just a few years ago:

Throughout the Bush years, then-Sen. Obama often spoke out so very eloquently about the Vital Importance of Due Process even for accused Terrorists. As but one example, he stood up on the Senate floor and denounced Bush’s Guantanamo detentions on the ground that a “perfectly innocent individual could be held and could not rebut the Government’s case and has no way of proving his innocence.” He spoke of “the terror I would feel if one of my family members were rounded up in the middle of the night and sent to Guantanamo without even getting one chance to ask why they were being held and being able to prove their innocence.” He mocked the right-wing claim “that judicial inquiry is an antique, trivial and dispensable luxury.” He acknowledged that the Government will unavoidably sometimes make mistakes in accusing innocent people of being Terrorists, but then provided the obvious solution: “what is avoidable is refusing to ever allow our legal system to correct these mistakes.”How moving is all that? What a stirring tribute to the urgency of allowing accused Terrorists a day in court before punishing them.

Then we have Eric Holder, who in 2008 gave a speech to the American Constitution Society denouncing Bush’s executive power radicalism and calling for a “public reckoning.” He specifically addressed the right-wing claim that Presidents should be allowed to eavesdrop on accused Terrorists without judicial review in order to Keep Us Safe. In light of what the Attorney General said and justified yesterday, just marvel at what he said back then, a mere three years ago:

To those in the Executive branch who say “just trust us” when it comes to secret and warrantless surveillance of domestic communications I say remember your history. In my lifetime, federal government officials wiretapped, harassed and blackmailed Martin Luther King and other civil rights leader in the name of national security. One of America’s greatest heroes whom today we honor with a national holiday, countless streets, schools and soon a monument in his name, was treated like a criminal by those in our federal government possessed of too much discretion and a warped sense of patriotism. Watergate revealed similar abuses during the Nixon administration.

To recap Barack Obama’s view: it is a form of “terror” for someone to be detained “without even getting one chance to prove their innocence,” but it is good and noble for them to be executed under the same circumstances. To recap Eric Holder’s view: we must not accept when the Bush administration says “just trust us” when it comes to spying on the communications of accused Terrorists, but we must accept when the Obama administration says “just trust us” when it comes to targeting our fellow citizens for execution. As it turns out, it’s not 9/11/01 that Changed Everything. It’s 1/20/09.

Finally, as is so often the case, Stephen Colbert got it exactly right.

The Obama administration warns Israel via a media proxy?

More interesting developments in the whole will-they-or-won’t-they saga, a romantic comedy starring Israel, bunker-busters, and Iranian nuclear sites. Or as the Greeks might argue, more of a tragedy, really. I suppose this debate is moot until we find out what happens in the end.

And speaking of endgames, I am (slightly, incrementally) heartened by the noises emanating from the American camp. Yesterday, an article appeared on the New York Times web site titled, “U.S. Agencies See No Move by Iran to Build a Bomb.” The article begins thusly:

Even as the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog said in a new report Friday that Iran had accelerated its uranium enrichment program, American intelligence analysts continue to believe that there is no hard evidence that Iran has decided to build a nuclear bomb.

Recent assessments by American spy agencies are broadly consistent with a 2007 intelligence finding that concluded that Iran had abandoned its nuclear weapons program years earlier, according to current and former American officials. The officials said that assessment was largely reaffirmed in a 2010 National Intelligence Estimate, and that it remains the consensus view of America’s 16 intelligence agencies.

This is strikingly different rhetoric than we’ve been hearing in most quarters recently regarding Iran. My take is that the Obama White House is preemptively trying to distance itself from any decision Israel may take on its own. A similar story took place several days earlier, when American General Martin Dempsey told Fareed Zakaria in an interview that an Israeli strike against Iran would not be “prudent.” This interview aired on the very same day that the Telegraph reported similar comments from British foreign secretary William Hague: an Israeli attack “would not be wise,” he said.

The subtext in the similarity of both the language and the timing of the two interviews was unmistakable: the U.S. and Great Britain are clearly acting in concert to warn the Israeli government, led by the fairly maniacal Benjamin Netanyahu, that they should not expect much support from either the U.S. or the U.K. in planning to attack Iran.

I believe, however, that this latest salvo — fired via the New York Times — is not only a stronger statement than the earlier ones, but may actually be indicative of a point of no return for the United States’ position on Iran. If Israel were to attack Iran, it would be very difficult for the Obama administration to rationally justify supporting or becoming involved in Israel’s military venture, since its own American security and intelligence agencies are making it very clear that they don’t believe the Iranian threat to be as serious as it is often described. I would imagine that Netanyahu is cognizant of this meaning, and I’m betting he’s seething right now. Could we actually be witnessing a 1956 Suez Canal moment, and during an American presidential election year no less?