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Inside the Beltway: Picking conflicts based on politics

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Amid the saber rattling, cat calls and assorted bombast that followed President Obama's foreign policy-laced commencement speech at West Point comes a moment of practical lucidity from Rep. Michael T. McCaul, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee.

"The president proved once again that he is intent on picking his conflicts based on politics, instead of dealing with the problems at hand," says the Texas Republican. "He has elected to pull out of Afghanistan based on arbitrary timetables, as opposed to building on the progress and sacrifices of both our Armed Forces and the Afghan people, and is choosing to leave too soon. Conversely, he has chosen to engage in Syria too late."

The options for reaching out to moderate opposition forces are dwindling he says; "extremist rebels" are already heading for the front lines.

"This President must come to grips with the fact that Islamist extremism and al Qaeda linked groups are spreading, becoming more powerful and still intend to do us harm. Therefore America's leadership, not its withdrawal, is more crucial than ever," Mr. McCaul concludes.

THE POLICY AND THE PUNDITS

Journalists plot out every activity of President Obama as if they were creating an astronomical star chart. But one activity in particular has drawn the most interest this week, namely, the aforementioned commencement speech. The White House carefully released a few key, preliminary descriptors about the event, prompting news organizations to simultaneously conclude that Mr. Obama would deliver a major foreign policy speech. Did he? Headlines in the last 24 hours once again reveal that it's all in the eye of the beholder.

"Obama's West Point speech was not exciting" (Time); "Obama's cynical foreign policy speech at West Point" (Washington Post); "Obama at West Point: 'Because we have the best hammer does not mean that every problem is a nail' (National Review); "President Obama defends his foreign policy in West Point speech — but where do we go from here?" (Forbes); "Obama plays down military power, emphasizes diplomacy" (Los Angeles Times); "Obama outlines foreign policy vision of 'might and right'" (CNN); "Obama delivered a full-throated defense of his foreign policy" (Business Insider); "America must always lead, Obama tells West Point graduates" (New York Times); "Karl Rove: President Obama arguing with himself" (Politico).

BUMPER PATROL

"What would Nixon do?"

— Bumper sticker spotted by an Inside the Beltway reader "near Lake Tahoe," he advises. The lake spans California and Nevada.

FOXIFIED

"Fox News marked its 149th consecutive month as the most-watched cable news network in May, beating MSNBC and CNN combined in total viewers and ranking sixth among all ad-supported cable networks in both total day and primetime," reports Merrill Knox, senior editor for TVNewser. "The network had the top 14 shows in total viewers and the top eight shows in the demographic in all of cable news."

The ever-canny Fox News, incidentally, has hired Stacey Dash as a contributor and cultural analyst; she has been an actor of note for two decades, most famously for "Clueless," and endorsed Mitt Romney during the 2012 campaign, much to the dismay of Hollywood.

"Stacey is an engaging conversationalist whose distinctive viewpoints amongst her Hollywood peers have spawned national debates," explains Bill Shine, executive vice president of programming for the network.

SOMETHING FOR CHRISTIE TO CONSIDER

Could a Half Halloween or a Quarter Thanksgiving be next? An Iota of Election Day? It could happen. There's talk in the Garden State of expanding on holidays for economic reasons — a tricky notion for Gov. Chris Christie to ponder, and potentially every other elected official.

"Whereas, Half St. Valentine's Day encourages residents to celebrate the half way point between Valentine's Day 2014 and Valentine's Day 2015; and whereas, the summer celebration will allow residents throughout the State to enjoy the spirit of Valentine's Day without the harsh conditions of winter and will create a positive business climate and promote economic activity in New Jersey; and Whereas, it is altogether fitting and proper for this House to designate August 14, 2014 as "Half St. Valentine's Day" in the State of New Jersey."

— From a new resolution before the New Jersey State Assembly recently proposed assemblyman John McKeon, who says the idea is economically sound, representing "an effort to assist businesses to recoup losses and promote economic activity" following lousy weather in the state on Valentine's Day this year.

TAKE IT FOR GRANITE

The place was a diner in the southern part of the Granite State. The occasion: a convivial endorsement to lend public evidence that there's some unity in the New Hampshire Republican Party.

Sen. Kelly Ayotte formally endorsed Scott Brown in his quest for U.S. senator in her state in an eatery adjacent to Nashua city hall on Tuesday. Mr. Brown, a former Massachusetts senator, appears ready to return to Washington to do battle with Democratic foes, who currently hold three of the congressional seats in New Hampshire.

"She can't be down there struggling and fighting three against one every single day. I would be honored if I have the opportunity to go down there and be her right-hand person, her wingman," Mr. Brown told the crowd.

"Please send me a teammate in Scott Brown that can fight against what we're seeing in Washington. Get the federal government out of the way of our businesses, let our businesses create jobs," Mrs. Ayotte noted in reply.

Former New Hampshire Govs. Steve Merrill and Craig Benson were also on hand to lend their support.

"Scott stands for the Constitution He's not going to allow judges who want to interpret the Constitution in evolving ways. He won't allow judges to become revisionists," Mr. Merrill said.

Among others, Mr. Brown faces conservative Karen Testerman and former U.S. Sen. Bob Smith in the state's GOP primary.

"My message to Scott Brown is to stop hiding behind endorsements and accept my challenge to debate the issues in 10 counties in front of the true endorsers — the voters," Mr. Smith advises.

POLL DU JOUR

66 percent of Americans disapprove of Karl Rove raising questions about Hillary Rodham Clinton's age and health.

46 percent of Republicans, 84 percent of Democrats and 64 percent of independents agree.

26 percent overall approve of Mr. Rove's questions; 45 percent of Republicans, 11 percent of Democrats and 27 percent of independents agree.

63 percent overall have a favorable impression of Bill Clinton; 37 percent of Republicans, 87 percent of Democrats and 60 percent of independents agree.

55 percent overall would support Mrs. Clinton as a presidential candidate in 2016; 26 percent of Republicans, 83 percent of Democrats and 51 percent of independents agree.

39 percent oppose Mrs. Clinton as a candidate; 72 percent of Republicans, 13 percent of Democrats and 42 percent of independents agree.

Source: A Washington Post/ABC News poll of 1,017 U.S. adults conducted May 21-25.

Squawks and hubbub to jharper@washingtontimes.com

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