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Bumps (and Potholes) in the Road

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of
This is the week of Yom Kippur, when Jews reflect on the year just past and look forward to the new one, in hopes of being entered in the Book of Life. The shofar, or ram's horn, is a plaintive cry from the heart, marking natural events of birth, death and renewal. The Jewish new year is a holiday celebrated with solemnity, of repentance for the past and a step into the future and its fresh possibilities.

The cry of the shofar is often described as a wake-up call to remind us that we bear responsibility for what we do and for what we do not do. How we react to adversity and threats, personally and collectively, is important. In my children's book of famous Jews from Moses to Einstein, the emphasis is on the way triumph can be seized from difficulties. The Jews were enslaved in Egypt before they were freed to take that long journey through the desert to the Promised Land, and Moses, who led them there, was not allowed by God to enter. That was left to others.

The Promised Land is the same land that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad scorned this week as having "no roots" in the Middle East. At last, Israel has arrived at a "dead end," he told the United Nations, and it will be "eliminated" soon. Once more, Israel must struggle for survival, this time as Iran accelerates its attempt to make the nuclear weapon that could indeed "eliminate" the Jews (and everyone else) in Israel.

President Barack Obama told the United Nations General Assembly that Israel and Palestine must coexist peacefully and promised that "America will walk alongside all who are prepared to make that journey."

Ay, there's the rub. Israel lies surrounded by enemies who are prepared neither to make that journey nor to abandon development of the nuclear weapon that will make the elimination of Israel a reality. Iran scoffs at the sanctions that Obama regards as his super-weapon and works on its super-rockets, which put all of Israel within range.

"Iran's rate of production of enriched uranium has nearly tripled since Obama took office," Joby Warrick reports in The Washington Post, "while hopes that the president can deliver a solution to the crisis have faded, even among his former admirers in Iran."

Speakers at the Democratic National Convention dwelled on the ways in which Obama had made the nation safer through his foreign policy efforts in the Middle East, but events of the past fortnight expose a weakness hidden behind empty rhetoric. He told the United Nations that in the wake of the murder of Ambassador Chris Stevens in Libya, "we must speak honestly about the deeper causes of this crisis." He should listen to his teleprompter. He continues to heap blame on "the crude and disgusting anti-Muslim" video, which almost nobody has actually seen, while speaking softly of the terrorism of radical Islamists.

John Bolton, the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, correctly called the president's U.N. speech a "warm, fuzzy rhetorical blanket." The president sent his secretary of state to do the heavy lifting with world leaders while he basked in the love of the sorority of ladies on "The View," joking about being their token "eye candy."

Amid the banter of the ladies, he conceded that the attack on the consulate in Benghazi "wasn't just a mob attack"; the president and his surrogates insisted for days afterward that it was. There was a determined reluctance to call it what it was, assassinations by terrorists armed with heavy weapons.

Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan pointed out the danger in the president's warm, fuzzy rhetorical blanket when he campaigned with Mitt Romney this week in Ohio. "It projects weakness," he said. When the president eviscerates the defense budget and equivocates over whom to blame for the attacks against us, "our enemies have more incentive to attack us, and our allies are less willing to trust us."

Reliance on sanctions that haven't worked -- while refusing to draw the bright red line that, if crossed, would invite the retaliation of American might -- is a clear signal to Iran that it can keep stockpiling enriched uranium for a nuclear bomb. The president's prose is pretty enough, but after four years of diplomatic dithering and delay, what he does is so loud no one can hear what he says.

"Make no mistake," he told the U.N.; "a nuclear-armed Iran is not a challenge that can be contained. It would threaten the elimination of Israel, the security of Gulf nations and the stability of the global economy." He talks the talk but won't walk the walk. The events of the past two weeks, which should alarm everybody, are mere "bumps in the road" to him. With bumps like those, a blast from the shofar shouldn't be necessary to get a president's attention.

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