Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Obama freezes out extremists and hysterics

In the last year, it seems Obama has learned when not to negotiate, and how to back adversaries into a corner when he has public (or world) opinion on his side. Two apparent instances struck my eye within 30 seconds a few minutes ago.

First, this:
House Republicans have dropped their demands to cut spending on domestic programs, for the time being, and instead unveiled bipartisan legislation to keep the government funded through the end of the year at previously-agreed-upon levels.
The legislation, introduced this week by House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-KY), represents a shift in the GOP’s posture since taking over the House in January 2011. They have routinely used must-pass bills as a vehicle to advance budgetary goals, risking multiple government shutdowns and even a U.S. default.

But with the election less than two months away, Republicans recognize that touching off another showdown would be too politically dangerous. Senate Democrats have insisted for months that Republicans honor funding levels they agreed to in last year’s debt limit deal and have made clear they won’t budge from those numbers.

Those "agreed-upon levels" were negotiated in the Budget Control Act last August . The House GOP reneged this spring and threatened to shut down the government unless Senate Democrats and Obama agreed to further cuts. No dice.

Then, this:

(Reuters) - The White House has rejected a request by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to meet President Barack Obama in the United States this month, an Israeli official said on Tuesday, after a row erupted between the allies over Iran's nuclear programme.

An Israeli official told Reuters on condition of anonymity that Netanyahu's aides had asked for a meeting when he visits the United Nations this month, and "the White House has got back to us and said it appears a meeting is not possible. It said that the president's schedule will not permit that".
Netanyahu has met with Obama on all the Israeli leader's U.S. trips since 2009.
Background from Goldblog:
...if press reports out of Israel are accurate, he's boiling over with frustration at President Obama:
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ramped up on Tuesday threats to attack Iran, saying if world powers refused to set a red line for Tehran's nuclear program, they could not demand that Israel hold its fire.

"The world tells Israel 'wait, there's still time'. And I say, 'Wait for what? Wait until when?' Those in the international community who refuse to put red lines before Iran don't have a moral right to place a red light before Israel," Netanyahu, speaking in English, told reporters in a press conference with Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov. [snip]
My guess is that he's saying what he's saying because he knows he can't attack, especially before the U.S. election, barring a yellow light from Obama, which he's not getting. Sheer frustration at what he sees as Obama's obtuseness is causing these undiplomatic outbursts.
Talk to the hand, Bibi.*

Obama got the hang of implacability in the wake of last August's debt ceiling debacle, when he challenged the GOP to pass his jobs package and bludgeoned them into passing one large piece of it, the payroll tax cut and unemployment benefits extension. He took a similar hard line on student loan interest rates and won there too. Post-placation Obama found new expression in his nomination acceptance speech, which was built on cold contrasts of policy and eschewed all but the briefest reference to bipartisan compromise on tax and spending policy.

To me, this approach bodes well for the fiscal cliff negotiations, should Obama win reelection. He will have the whip hand on taxes, thanks to the expiration of the Bush tax cuts, and on spending, thanks to Republicans' new-found horror over the sequestered defense cuts they signed off on.  He also has the moral capital to take a hard line, since he long since has convinced Americans that he is far more open to compromise than the Republicans. The end of Norquist's chokehold is in sight -- if Obama wins.

*Update - since writing this, I've been thinking that this apparent snub could either end in tears or be walked back.  I hope it's a sign that Bibi is boxed in thoroughly enough that Obama knows he won't attack Iran solo. But I really have no idea. And I sure hope it doesn't turn into another God-and-Jerusalem-in-the-platform moment.

Update 2: Kevin Drum close-reads the Reuters story on the Netanyahu non-meeting:
But I think the main reason for Obama's reticence is hidden in plain sight: the source for this story is an "Israeli official." In other words, it comes from Netanyahu himself (via an aide), trying once again to create an incident at Obama's expense. Basically, Obama knows perfectly well that a meeting with Netanyahu is a no-win situation. Netanyahu almost certainly won't get everything he wants, and Obama can't trust him not to immediately begin leaking the most damaging possible version of the meeting to his pals in Congress. For all practical purposes, he knows perfectly well that he has to treat Netanyahu as an arm of the Republican Party whose main goal is to prevent his reelection.

Given that, it's much better to simply pretend that scheduling conflicts make a meeting impossible. Netanyahu can complain, but unless he's willing to flatly call the president a liar, he can't make anything stick. It's just a scheduling conflict. Bill Kristol will write an aggrieved op-ed about it in the Weekly Standard, but that's about as far as it will go.
 I hope Kevin's right about that last point. I can hear the GOP chorus-screaming "threw Israel under the bus" for the next month.

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