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from The Great Debate:

Why Israel doesn’t care what Obama thinks, or even what officials call Netanyahu

bibichick

When a senior U.S. official calls Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “chickens--t,” you know the Israeli-American relationship has reached a new low point. The putdown was reported in The Atlantic just days after the Israeli defense minister’s request to meet with U.S. national security officials was rebuffed. Adding insult to injury, the rebuff was leaked to the press. While the White House distanced itself somewhat from the mudslinging, it did not retract any of the more substantive claims about U.S. discontent with Netanyahu’s policies.

Still, however embarrassing this spat is, it will barely make a dent in the U.S.-Israeli “special relationship.”

It is an open secret that the Obama administration is exasperated with the Israeli prime minister, especially with his disinterest both in making a peace deal with the Palestinians and normalizing relations with Sunni Arab states. Senior aides are also understandably riled by the Israeli government’s confrontational approach toward the administration. Earlier this year, Secretary of State John Kerry was labeled “obsessive and messianic” by the Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, and Netanyahu accused the White House of being “un-American.” As if that weren’t enough, Israel continues to aggressively expand its settlements in the West Bank, despite persistent criticism from the United States.

Like any populist leader of a representative democracy, Netanyahu values constituents over allies — the latter, after all, don’t vote. To the disappointment of some U.S. policy wonks, most Israelis do not consider the two-state solution, or improving relations with their neighbors, a high priority. It therefore makes little sense for Netanyahu to pursue either goal, especially because he has always been openly hostile to both.

from MacroScope:

Common cause for Washington and Tehran in Iraq?

Iraq is going up in flames and there appears to be no question of the West putting boots back on the ground in contrast to 2003 when the United States and Britain invaded to topple Saddam Hussein and set in train a decade of chaos that has now exploded again.

Iraq's most senior Shi'ite Muslim cleric has urged his followers to take up arms against a full-blown Sunni militant insurgency to topple Shi'ite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki. The chances of ISIL militants taking heavily armed Baghdad are slim but that doesn’t mean conflict will not continue and, with Iraqi Kurdish forces seizing control the oil hub of Kirkuk just outside their autonomous enclave in the north, the prospect of the country splitting along sectarian lines is real.

from Breakingviews:

Obama student loan fix spares rod, spoils borrower

By Daniel Indiviglio

The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.

President Barack Obama’s latest tweak to the U.S. student loan program spares the rod and spoils the borrower. Extending repayment caps and debt forgiveness to older graduates gives too many high earners a break. Making everyone pay a flat percentage of income would be simpler, fairer – and cheaper for taxpayers. It could also deliver a valuable lesson in financial responsibility.

from Breakingviews:

Smartest U.S. export to China could be Max Baucus

By John Foley
The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.

Uncle Sam's new man in China arrives just as his employer seems to have lost interest in its biggest trading partner. Max Baucus, who starts as ambassador to Beijing this month, has little experience of China and even less of diplomacy. Yet used wisely by his bosses, Baucus may be well placed to prize open new trade agreements that would leave both sides better off.

from Full Focus:

Best photos of the year 2013

WARNING: SOME IMAGES CONTAIN GRAPHIC CONTENT OR NUDITY In this showcase of some of Reuters' most memorable photos, the photographers offer a behind the scenes account of the images that helped define the year.

from Ian Bremmer:

An optimist’s view of the White House

What will the White House screw up next? Democrats have watched as one calamity after another has befallen what was once the most promising Democratic administration since John F. Kennedy’s. Obamacare, the NSA, Syria, heck, even the administration’s campaign foibles are back in the news with the publication of the new tell-all book Double Down.

Yet all is not lost. The Obama administration has not exactly bungled its way through five years of power. Until this year, in fact, Republicans were complaining that the press had been too kind towards Obama. With all the dour news, it is worthwhile to take stock of all the good things for which Obama can take credit. Bear in mind, some of these successes may not have been Obama’s ideal objective -- but the end results are victories regardless. These are the top eight achievements that not even Edward Snowden can take away, in descending order of importance.

from Breakingviews:

Lael Brainard isn’t the only Fed no-brainer

By Rob Cox
The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.

Lael Brainard isn’t the only Federal Reserve no-brainer. As Undersecretary of the Treasury for International Affairs, she has acquitted herself nobly helping the world understand Washington’s profligate and quixotic ways. The Senate would be as daft to block her potential nomination to the Fed board of governors as it would Janet Yellen’s to the chairmanship. Filling other central banking vacancies quickly is the president’s other obvious task.

from Breakingviews:

GOP’s best bargaining tactic: raise debt ceiling

By Daniel Indiviglio
The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.

Congressional Republicans might want to consider a new bargaining tactic: raising the debt ceiling. Using the prospect of imminent default to force the White House to a compromise on the government shutdown isn’t working. Removing it from the table would show that the GOP can be reasonable – and allow the funding debate to rage without roiling global financial markets.

from Anatole Kaletsky:

Game theory and America’s budget battle

So far, the battle of the budget in Washington is playing out roughly as expected. While a government shutdown has theoretically been ordered, nothing much has really happened, all the functions of government deemed essential have continued and financial markets have simply yawned. The only real difference between the tragicomedy now unfolding on Capitol Hill and the scenario outlined here last week has been in timing. I had suggested that the House Republicans would give way almost immediately on the budget, if only to keep some of their powder dry for a second, though equally hopeless, battle over the Treasury debt limit. Instead, it now looks like President Obama may succeed in rolling the two issues into one and forcing the Republicans to capitulate on both simultaneously.

The ultimate outcome of these battles is now clearer than ever. As explained here last week, the Tea Party’s campaign either to defund Obamacare or to sabotage the U.S. economy was doomed by the transformation in political dynamics that resulted from November’s election -- above all by the fact that the president never again has to face the voters, while nearly every member of Congress must. This shift in the balance of power made the Republicans' decision to mount a last stand on Obamacare, instead of attacking the White House on genuine budgetary issues, politically suicidal as well as quixotic. But while the outcome now looks inevitable, the timing of the decisive battle is important. Financial markets and businesses have responded with a tolerance bordering on complacency to the shenanigans in Washington, but this attitude could change abruptly if the House Republicans’ capitulation is delayed too long. As they say in the theater, the only difference between comedy and tragedy is timing.

from The Edgy Optimist:

Obama, Syria, and the decline of the imperial presidency

In 1973, Arthur Schlesinger wrote about the tendency in American history for the president to assume sweeping powers in times of war and crisis. The balance of power established by the Constitution gets upended; Congress and the courts take a back seat; and the executive makes decisions about life and death largely unchecked. He called this “the imperial presidency.” Today, with President Obama turning to Congress to endorse a military strike on Syria, the imperial presidency is beginning to wane.

It’s about time. The 1990s seemed to presage a return to a more balanced government, with Cold War defense spending slashed and “the peace dividend” contributing to a more balanced budget. But then 9/11 happened; America launched a war on terror; and the rest, as they say, is history.

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