Friday, November 23, 2012

Netanyahu: Enemies more and less important

Bibi Netanyahu, quoted in today's Haaretz by Yossi Verter, explaining to those disappointed in Israel that there was no ground war in Gaza to bring down the HAMAS regime:
"I know where the public is at, but I see the big picture: we have enemies that are more important and less important. We are dealing with them in the order of their importance. We also have neighbors, and they too are important. We also have other fronts. You have to take into account the whole picture."
Now I freely admit that my speculation offered up earlier this week that the 8-day Operation Pillar of Cloud was first and foremost a cover feint to disguise the mobilization of the IAF in anticipation of an aerial strike on Iran might be wrong. With elections scheduled for January 22 it seems that domestic considerations might play a part in timing an attack on Iran.
I still feel fairly confident that operational secrecy for an Iran attack will require a camouflaged mobilization of the Air Force. Nothing that has transpired in the last 10 days contravenes my speculation. The more the local and international media remains preoccupied with Palestine, and the less and less that Israeli leaders speak about Iran, the more likely my speculation becomes probable. I still stand by my guess, fully aware that I may have the entire situation completely misread.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

RIP Pillar of Cloud

It was four days ago when I first began tweeting that there would be no Israeli ground invasion of Gaza, and that not a single Israeli ground soldier would be put in harm's way by PM Benjamin Netanyahu. Before we go on to the more fanciful part of my analysis, let's just get that one fact straight - many of us simply KNEW with a certitude equal to that shown election night by the Call Desk at FoxNews how this would all end.
Let's also stipulate another simple truth not easily digested by the pundits: this was a fabricated military incident designed, created & completely instigated by Israel. Israel was the entity that heated up the Gaza-Israel border to an intolerable boil, Israel was the perpetrator of a targeted killing at a moment and place of its choosing. The question of why Israel did this thing at this time breaks into two schools of thought, both wrong.
The first school has a micro analysis: Israel wanted to flush out the Fajr missile arsenal sooner rather than later, so it initiated an irresistible string of events in order to "mow the lawn" at minimal cost to Israeli soldiers. By every measure, Operation Pillar of Cloud (or if you like - "Defense") was a far less lethal engagement to both sides as compared to Cast Lead 4 years ago. Most of the long-range missiles were either destroyed in storage or fired with little impact. So in this way of thinking Israel started a near-war to achieve (variously) a dressing down of HAMAS; or to engage the new Egypt in regional diplomacy and have it take greater ownership of Gaza; or to cajole the Obama administration to come to Israel's aid; or similar drivel. All wrong.
The second school is more cynical, and seemingly more knowing and wise as to the intricacies of Israeli domestic politics. This school contends that Netanyahu started this particular fight in order to enhance and solidify his electoral standing in anticipation of January 22, 2013 elections. They call this an "Elections War" and would have you believe that a perpetually risk averse Netanyahu would engage in warmongering in order to do just a bit better in an election he was destined to win in any event. Also wrong.
So what just happened? Why go through this noisy exercise of calling up first 16,000 soldiers so brazenly, and then announce with greater fanfare the authorization of 31,000, and finally 75,000 troops? To make the threat of war a likely alternative to failed diplomacy, even as HAMAS spokesmen were daring the future Gilad Shalits to come on in?
No, there is another answer. I laid it out in my previous blog entry. So far, nothing in my earlier prediction has been contravened by the unfolding ceasefire. See below...

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Pillar of Cloud leads to Pillar of Fire

Operation Pillar of Cloud, which now seems to be winding down, is based on a biblical allusion from Exodus 13:21, which reports that during the day God led the Israelites in the Sinai wilderness as a pillar of cloud, and at night as a pillar of fire. The 2 are inseparable.
Operation Pillar of Fire is what I name the real purpose of this entire exercise, and it began early morning in Jerusalem, Nov. 7, just as back on the East Coast of the United States on the night of Nov. 6, the major networks were calling Ohio for Barack Obama and Karl Rove experienced uncontrollable dizziness.
The shock and pain was palpable in the Boston Romney HQ that night, but 6000 miles away there was another equally stunned group of election watchers - the fearsome threesome of Benjamin Netanyahu, Ehud Barak, and Avigdor Lieberman. Their best laid plans for the next 12 months to be in league - finally, thankfully - with a sympathetic White House lay crumpled on the floor.
There would now be no time to prepare an attack on Iran in tandem with a President Romney and Dan Senor. Instead, a countdown clock was triggered: a month or two, maybe 3 at most, before Hilary Clinton leaves State and someone else - maybe the perennially hostile Susan Rice - joins the Obama inner foreign policy circle. Ironically, an Obama reelection actually moved up the deadline for an Israeli go-it-alone strike on Iran.
There are many difficult problems associated with a strike on Iran. One of the first problems is achieving operational surprise, at least for the first sorties of the air campaign. How does Israel, an open society saturated with journalists and social media, call up its Air Force reserves without tipping its hand to Iran?
There is only one way I can imagine Israel can bring its IAF to full operational capacity without setting off a dozen warning flares: induce a situation in Gaza that would plausibly necessitate a massive call up of a sizable reserve force. The timeline beginning with Nov. 8’s Israel-Gaza border skirmishes, instigated by Israel, culminating in Ahmed al-Ja'abari's targeted killing, provided the contrived event. The entire world has suddenly forgotten Israel's supposedly existential nuclear nightmare and has become obsessively preoccupied with Gaza and the Iron Dome.
After you create the "crisis," you then resolve it diplomatically well before throwing your forces into a universally unwanted ground war. Then demobilize your reservists - EXCEPT your Air Force reserves. Take whatever time you need, within reason. (I assume that at least a certain number of these IAF reservists' absence from society & the workforce would eventually be noticed, so time isn't unlimited.)
Thus, I have convinced myself, and seek to convince you dear reader, that Pillar of Cloud is merely a feint, a ruse, and a necessary prelude to a much more dangerous and eventful and insane Pillar of Fire.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Wrong, Wrong, & Right

Well, for the second time in my history of blogging I got a US presidential election all wrong.
On the one hand, I was correct in stating that re-elected President Barack Obama would underperform his 2008 numbers. But it didn't take a rocket scientist to see that was coming. Instead of winning 52.9-45.7 in the raw vote, Obama won by 50.3-48.2. Instead of winning 365 electoral votes, Obama looks like he will win 333-206. This was the outcome I said would be amazing - the best outcome Obama might have expected - losing only 2 states (Indiana & North Carolina). Even in my most charitable prognostication, I had it at Obama 283-255, but I was actually betting on a Romney win.
So wrong & wrong. But not nearly as wrong as all the Republican pollsters and pundits, from Michael Barone to Trinity alum George Will to Dick Morris (and the list goes on) who had Romney winning with +300 electoral votes. The only truly riveting election coverage last night was over on FoxNews as "poor" Karl Rove had a tantrum on camera after Ohio was called. Imagine if Rove had a meltdown on camera how "poor" Sheldon Adelson must have felt.
I did venture a guess on the US Jewish vote, which constituted a mere 2% of the national electorate. I guessed there would be a slight down tick from Obama's 2008 performance of - depending who you ask - 76-78% of the Jewish vote, which was historically quite high. I predicted for 2012 72%. The national exit poll has it at 69-70%. This is a relatively low number, on par with Carter-Ford in 1976 (yes, there once was a time that Jews loved Jimmy Carter), and slightly better than Mondale-Reagan in 1984 (67-31). The Romney strategy of calling into question Obama's pro-Israel credibility had some effect. More on that later...
Already, one of my far-away whiskey betting buddies has magnanimously offered to exchange his bottle for a donation to a worthy cause of his choosing. The banter of the bet was fun, and I am happy to make the donation.
I hope Obama can be a better President his second term.

Sunday, November 04, 2012

US Election Predictions

Forget my bet - I'll either be the winner of 3 bottles of whisky or this election is going to cost me a run to Massachusetts for a few choice bottles to hand over to my betting comrades.
By way of preface: I have absolutely no track record for making correct predictions - I was way off in 2008
I am looking at the numbers and I want to now hazard a series of election eve observations.
Here is what I know:
1. Obama is going to underperform his 2008 victory of 52.9-45.7 in the raw vote, and 365-173 in the electoral college.
2. Obama is not going to pick up any new states over his 2008 victory. He will lose some.
3. The Senate and Congress, having tilted either a bit or sharply Republican in 2010, will produce a pickup or two in the Senate for Republicans (indicating not a particularly strong improvement, given that more Dems are up this cycle), and an essentially steady situation in the Congress as compared to 2010.
4. The electorate is a bit less white than it was in 2008 (works in Obama's favor).
5. Both candidates suffer from an enthusiasm problem with their base. Hard to know if the enthusiasm gap is bigger for one or the other.
6. Only rarely and with no consistency has any candidate hit 50% in any national poll in the last 30 days.
7. There are 4 things we did not know after both national conventions which we now know - if you will, the 4 surprises (in chronological order):
  • the 47% tape (bad for Romney)
  • the Benghazi attack of 9/11 (bad for Obama)
  • the Oct. 3 debate performance of Obama (bad for Obama; good for Romney)
  • Hurricane Sandy (the October Surprise, if you will - good for Obama)
Next, there are things I do not know, which are hotly contested by the two camps:
1. The electorate will either be composed of Dems, Repubs, and Independents in a mix that resembles past election trends - or it won't.
2. Independents are breaking significantly away from Obama to Romney - or they aren't.
3. One side has already learned it will lose - or it hasn't.
Given all that, I can foresee - if everything breaks Romney's way (the poll models are wrong, independents defect from Obama in a big way) - a possible maximum victory in the electoral college of 304-234 - but in order to accomplish this, it would mean Obama loses 10 states he carried in 2008: Florida, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Virginia, North Carolina, Indiana, Wisconsin. Colorado, Iowa, & New Hampshire. That would be amazing.
Much more likely is a scenario where only some of those 10 states will switch. Let's look at the best result Obama can expect in 2012 - only 2 states switch: North Carolina & Indiana (and the one electoral vote from Nebraska). Then Obama wins 332-206. That would be amazing.
Between these two extremes, the problem is figuring out which of the other 8 states Obama will lose from his 2008 victory.
Let's subtract from Obama & add to Romney the 2 likeliest states, based on current polling: Florida and Colorado. In this scenario, Obama loses 4 states he carried in 2008. Then it is Obama 294-244. Maybe.
In order for Romney to win, he'll then have to pick off one more "big state" - Pennsylvania or Ohio & then one or two other, or else run the table with all the littler states. That latter scenario is unlikely. But this is the scenario in which Obama retains Ohio & Pennsylvania, loses every other of the remaining, and loses in a squeaker: Romney 273-Obama 265. Doubt it.
So, it looks like I may be buying whisky for my betting buddies. Obama has more paths to electoral victory than Romney. And it will mean that Obama will have pulled off a modern election miracle unheralded in 20th century American politics: with unemployment above 7.2%; consumer confidence at a low point (but slightly up), and with anemic GDP, a sitting incumbent gets reelected. Never happened before. Something on the order of an African-American junior Senator with less than 2 years experience in the Senate winning the presidency.
What I'll be looking for in the earlier part of the evening (for glimmers of hope for my bet):

On the East Coast:
Bucks County, PA
Northern VA
South FL (Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach counties)
Southern NH

In the Midwest:
Cuyahoga county, OH
Milwaukee & Madison, WI (Dane, Waukesha, & Milwaukee counties)
Polk County, IA
Hennepin & Ramsey counties, MN

Basically, a significant Obama underperform in these places might mean a larger shift of states away from Obama than the "smart money" currently has it.
I don't think Obama will lose 4 states, and I don't think he will lose 10. Instead, it will be somewhere in the middle. One or two more states. But which ones?
Everyone is zeroed in on Ohio (which has gone with the winner every time since at least 1972), and rightly so. I am looking at Wisconsin (a typically Blue state) & Virginia (a Red state that went Blue once in 2008).

I don't have any confidence in the prediction I am going to make (and I admit this is only to make my bet work out - and it only works if the polling models are wrong, and if independents are abandoning Obama in droves):
Romney wins the raw vote 49.7-49.1 (meaning the winning margin is going to be less than a million votes); Romney wins electoral college: 285-253. Maybe. (Update: I just learned this prediction agrees with one put up by Glenn Beck on his radio show last week. I am quite ill.)(Even later update, Nov. 5: Karl Rove has come up with a slightly different map, same number. Now I am really nauseous.)
Obama loses 6 states (in order of certainty): Indiana, North Carolina, Florida, Colorado, Virginia, Ohio, Wisconsin.
Take out only Wisconsin, Romney still wins the electoral college. Take out only Ohio, and Obama wins the electoral college.
Hopefully, the networks won't fuck this up with mistaken calls. Could be a long night.
But far more likely, I'll be running to Massachusetts this week. The range I am seeing for Obama is anywhere between 234-332; Romney between 206-304. Looking at it that way, the middle would be a win for Obama: 283-255.

PS: my prediction for the national Jewish vote: Obama 72%-Romney 28% (underperforming 2008, but just by a bit)