Commentary Magazine


McConnell: Obstructionist or a Dealmaker?

Politico made quite a stir last week when it published an interview with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in which he suggested that his main priority if Republicans win a majority this November will be to stop President Obama from governing without consent of Congress. McConnell’s talk about challenging the White House through the “funding process” struck some observers as reminiscent of Tea Party rhetoric that led to last year’s disastrous government shutdown and give the senator’s Democratic challenger a new talking point in a tough re-election race. But, as a profile of McConnell in the New York Times Magazine to be published next Sunday shows, a GOP-run Senate may actually be one where bipartisan deals are possible.

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Politico made quite a stir last week when it published an interview with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in which he suggested that his main priority if Republicans win a majority this November will be to stop President Obama from governing without consent of Congress. McConnell’s talk about challenging the White House through the “funding process” struck some observers as reminiscent of Tea Party rhetoric that led to last year’s disastrous government shutdown and give the senator’s Democratic challenger a new talking point in a tough re-election race. But, as a profile of McConnell in the New York Times Magazine to be published next Sunday shows, a GOP-run Senate may actually be one where bipartisan deals are possible.

The Politico interview brought out the fact that McConnell’s focus in his re-election race is on fighting President Obama. The only person in Kentucky who seems to have lower favorability ratings than McConnell is the president and the Minority Leader has rightly determined to run against him and concentrate on linking opponent Alison Lundergan Grimes to the White House.

However, McConnell’s plans to stymie the president’s plans to spend his last years in power trying to govern on his own via executive orders or slight of hand maneuvers like his attempt to sign a climate change treaty without bringing it to the Senate for a vote, were interpreted (not without some justice) as a not-so-veiled threat of another government shutdown. If so, that gave Grimes more ammunition to pursue her campaign strategy painting the personally unpopular McConnell as the epitome of everything voters hate about Washington.

That sounds like a winning strategy for Grimes who has been virtually tied in the polls with McConnell for most of the year. But Grimes, whose momentum seems to have slowed recently as polls show McConnell building on his slim lead, may not necessarily profit from positioning herself as Obama’s defender in future confrontations with the GOP. That’s especially true since many of the issues on which Republicans will confront Obama’s government by executive order policy will be on environmental issues.

Grimes’s biggest burden in this race, aside, that is, from McConnell’s legendary political skills and scorched earth tactics against opponents, are Obama’s anti-coal environmental policies. If, McConnell can portray his boasts of obstructionism as merely the only way to protect one of his state’s industries a huge handicap for the Democrat.

Even more interestingly, the New York Times profile seemed to undermine any notion of McConnell as a Tea Party warrior bent on confrontation. As the profile makes clear, McConnell is at his core a moderate who is more interested in governance and political tactics than in grand gestures or shutting down the government to make an ideological point. As anyone who has followed events on Capitol Hill in recent years closely, of all the party leaders in either body, McConnell is a dealmaker who enjoys striking bargains for their own sake. That’s why a real Tea Partier — Matt Bevin — thought him vulnerable to a primary challenge that eventually fizzled. McConnell’s elevation to Majority Leader next year in the event of a GOP takeover would actually probably improve the chances of bipartisanship in a Senate where relations between the parties have been at an all-time low due to Reid’s highly confrontational tactics.

As Jonathan Martin writes in the Times Magazine, McConnell’s lack of personal appeal seemingly makes him a ripe target for defeat. But so long as Grimes is linked to Obama, even talk about government shutdowns may not be enough to end McConnell’s tenure in the Senate. As Martin writes in his concluding paragraph:

In the end, however, it seemed as though McConnell had found a way to make the race about Obama rather than himself. Somehow, he had yet again become the outsider. Maybe the guy still had it.

Indeed, he does.

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Abbas Can’t Solve Gaza or Make Peace

While both Hamas and Israel’s government have been trying to assert that they both won the war that apparently concluded with a cease-fire agreement yesterday, a third party is attempting to stake his claim as the man who can win the peace. Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas anticipated the announcement of the cease-fire by vowing to go back to the United Nations on Monday to force Israel to withdraw from all of the West Bank as well as Jerusalem. And some in the U.S. and Israel think the best response to the end of the fighting is to further empower Abbas as a counterweight to Hamas. While this sounds logical, it would be a colossal error.

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While both Hamas and Israel’s government have been trying to assert that they both won the war that apparently concluded with a cease-fire agreement yesterday, a third party is attempting to stake his claim as the man who can win the peace. Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas anticipated the announcement of the cease-fire by vowing to go back to the United Nations on Monday to force Israel to withdraw from all of the West Bank as well as Jerusalem. And some in the U.S. and Israel think the best response to the end of the fighting is to further empower Abbas as a counterweight to Hamas. While this sounds logical, it would be a colossal error.

Some critics of the Netanyahu government believe it has erred in recent years by being so critical of Abbas while essentially acquiescing to continued Hamas rule in Gaza. That school of thought holds that the prime minister thinks leaving Gaza in Hamas’s hands makes it impossible for Abbas to make peace and undermines the chances of a two-state solution. There is no doubt that some in the government would prefer the status quo to a peace deal that would give Abbas the West Bank for a Palestinian state. But those who believe that sort of Machiavellian thinking is responsible for the lack of peace are ignoring some hard truths about Abbas and the political culture of the Palestinians.

A rational analysis of the Palestinian predicament would lead one to think that this is Abbas’s moment. Hamas achieved nothing with its decision to launch a war of attrition with Israel after its members kidnapped and murdered three Israeli teenagers. Nothing, that is, except the utter devastation of Gaza, the loss of two thousand dead as well as the destruction of its terror tunnels and the expenditure of much of its rocket arsenal in return for only a few dozen dead Israelis and little damage to the Jewish state. By contrast, Abbas can now stride into Gaza with his PA forces and claim to be the man who can improve conditions for Palestinians and forge a deal that might give them independence. But those assumptions about Abbas’s ability to act decisively now completely ignore the realities of Palestinian politics as well as the utter incompetence of the PA.

Even if we were to take it as a given that Abbas is as dedicated to peace as some of his American and Jewish friends claim him to be, the notion that it has been Netanyahu’s disdain for the PA leader that has prevented peace is absurd. Throughout his years in power Abbas has had two key objectives: to portray himself as a peacemaker to the West and to avoid being trapped in any negotiations with Israel that might obligate him to sign a deal that would recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state and end the conflict for all time. That’s why he fled the 2008 peace talks with Ehud Olmert even after Netanyahu’s predecessor offered virtually all of the West Bank and much of Jerusalem. It’s also why he boycotted peace talks from 2009 to 2013 and then fled them again at the first opportunity this spring when he signed a unity pact with Hamas rather than peace with Israel. And rather than ask the U.S. to drag Netanyahu back to the table now that the fighting in Gaza is over, he is running to the UN in a stunt that will discomfit the Israelis but do nothing to get Palestinians a state.

The reason he has stuck to this no-peace strategy can be discovered by asking why he has avoided elections (he’s currently serving the ninth year of a four-year term) in recent years with no sign that he is looking to take on Hamas at the ballot box even after their military failure. The unfortunate reality is that Abbas knows that even unsuccessful attempts to slaughter Jews—such as Hamas’s shooting of more than 4,000 rockets at Israeli cities or its attempt to use tunnels to pull off terrorist atrocities—boosts its credibility as the party that is doing the most to “resist” Israel. When Hamas talks about ending the “occupation” they are not referring to the West Bank (which the Palestinians could have had as long ago as 2000 when Israel made its first peace offer) but all of pre-June 1967 Israel, a stance that resonates more with the Palestinian street than Abbas’s clever equivocations. None of the positive statements he has made in recent years or the occasional help he provides Israel can override the fact that Palestinian national identity is still inextricably tied to the continuation of war on Zionism. Abbas may regret this, but he has showed time and again that he won’t do anything to change it.

As the revelations of a planned Hamas coup in the West Bank uncovered by the Shin Bet security service showed, the only thing keeping Abbas in charge in Ramallah is Israel and Palestinians know it. The notion that parachuting Abbas or his PA forces into Gaza will somehow stop Hamas from re-arming or using humanitarian aid to rebuild its bunkers and tunnels is a fantasy. So, too, is the idea that more Western or Israeli support will enable Abbas to govern either the West Bank or Gaza effectively with his corrupt and incompetent Fatah cadres.

It is an unfortunate fact that Israel’s decision to leave Hamas in place rather than seek its elimination has, despite its clear defeat in the field, bolstered the Islamist group. But Netanyahu can’t compensate for that by empowering Abbas. The PA leader hasn’t the guns or the guts to face down Hamas in its Gaza stronghold and doesn’t dare try his luck at the ballot box even in the West Bank where conditions are more favorable to him.

The vast majority of Israelis know that any withdrawals on the West Bank would probably mean the creation of a larger and more dangerous version of the mess in Gaza. That is something no rational government of any kind would countenance. So while neither Israelis or their American allies are satisfied with a reinstatement of the pre-Gaza war status quo, even the dangerous uncertainty such a decision represents is better than repeating the Jewish state’s calamitous decision to withdraw from Gaza in 2005. Boosting Abbas at the expense of Hamas sounds logical, but it is part and parcel of the same fool’s errand diplomacy that brought the Middle East to the current impasse.

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Columbia Boycotts Israel?

The Gaza war has raised up another tide of Holocaust inversion: the claim by assorted Jew-baiters that Israel has become the Nazis, and the Palestinians their Jewish victims. This was a staple of old Soviet propaganda, which then spread to the Arab world. It took a while for Arab elites, many of which had been admiring of the Nazis, to see “Nazi” as pejorative. But in time they saw the advantages, especially since Holocaust inversion also served to trivialize the Holocaust itself. In recent years, the sickness has spread throughout the Left in Europe, and even festers in dark places in the United States. In a new article over at Mosaic Magazine, I locate one of them: the faculty lounge of Columbia University. Comparisons of Gaza to Auschwitz? The Warsaw Ghetto? Columbia has it all. Read more there.

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The Gaza war has raised up another tide of Holocaust inversion: the claim by assorted Jew-baiters that Israel has become the Nazis, and the Palestinians their Jewish victims. This was a staple of old Soviet propaganda, which then spread to the Arab world. It took a while for Arab elites, many of which had been admiring of the Nazis, to see “Nazi” as pejorative. But in time they saw the advantages, especially since Holocaust inversion also served to trivialize the Holocaust itself. In recent years, the sickness has spread throughout the Left in Europe, and even festers in dark places in the United States. In a new article over at Mosaic Magazine, I locate one of them: the faculty lounge of Columbia University. Comparisons of Gaza to Auschwitz? The Warsaw Ghetto? Columbia has it all. Read more there.

While I’m on Columbia, here’s another aspect worth noting. Several hundred Middle East scholars have put out a letter pledging to boycott Israeli institutions of higher education. The organized association of Middle Eastern studies has rejected boycotts in the past, and is likely to do so again if the issue even gets tabled at the next convention. So the boycott of Israel in Middle Eastern studies is being organized along the lines of a personal pledge by individual scholars.

Israeli institutions of higher education (including, presumably, the one over which I preside, Shalem College in Jerusalem), are deemed by these scholars to be “complicit in violating Palestinian rights.” The signatories thus pledge “not to collaborate on projects and events involving Israeli academic institutions, not to teach at or to attend conferences at such institutions, and not to publish in academic journals based in Israel.” The pledge will remain in effect until these institutions call on Israel to end the Gaza “siege,” evacuate all territory “occupied” in 1967, and “promote the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes.” In other words, it’s a boycott until Israel dies.

I looked down the list of signatories, and mostly saw the usual suspects. Columbia, of course, is heavily represented. The boycotters include such tenured Columbia radicals as Rashid Khalidi, Nadia Abu El-Haj, Hamid Dabashi, Gil Anidjar, Mahmood Mamdani, George Saliba, Brinkley Messick, Timothy Mitchell, and Wael Hallaq. In fact, no university has more senior faculty boycotters signed on this letter than Columbia.

But one name in particular caught my eye: Lila Abu-Lughod, professor of anthropology. I remembered that she had become director of Columbia’s Middle East Institute a few years back. Why is that significant? The Institute she directs is a Title VI U.S. Department of Education-supported National Resource Center (NRC) for the Middle East. An NRC is supposed to “maintain linkages with overseas institutions of higher education and other organizations that may contribute to the teaching and research of the Center.”

The question I now have is whether this (taxpayer-subsidized) academic unit of Columbia is boycotting Israeli academe? Or are we to believe that Professor Abu-Lughod is only boycotting Israeli institutions personally, but is prepared to cooperate with them officially? Columbia should issue a clarification, and give a public account of the overseas institutional linkages the Institute does have, so that we can see whether a de facto boycott of Israel is in place at Columbia. You can even pose the question yourself, to Columbia’s Office of Communications and Public Affairs, right here.

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In Picking Crist, Dems Look Beyond Florida

If you don’t stand for something you’ll fall for anything–or you just might become governor of Florida. Last night, Charlie Crist won the Democratic nomination for Florida’s upcoming gubernatorial election, in which he’ll face incumbent Rick Scott. In doing so, he completed something of a trifecta: he was the Republican nominee for governor the first time he ran, then was the independent candidate on the ballot in his run for Senate after the rise of Marco Rubio, and now he’s the Democratic candidate for governor. Whoever you are, whatever you believe, Charlie Crist has at one point or another pretended to agree with you.

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If you don’t stand for something you’ll fall for anything–or you just might become governor of Florida. Last night, Charlie Crist won the Democratic nomination for Florida’s upcoming gubernatorial election, in which he’ll face incumbent Rick Scott. In doing so, he completed something of a trifecta: he was the Republican nominee for governor the first time he ran, then was the independent candidate on the ballot in his run for Senate after the rise of Marco Rubio, and now he’s the Democratic candidate for governor. Whoever you are, whatever you believe, Charlie Crist has at one point or another pretended to agree with you.

It’s easy to dismiss the smarmy, oleaginous Crist as a transparent phony and a walking caricature of everything Americans profess to hate about politics. But there is a certain degree of sincerity in his insincerity: it can be argued he has finally found his place in the natural order of politics. Indeed, just glance at his career arc: Republicans saw him as an unprincipled fraud and booted him from their ranks. Democrats saw him as an unprincipled fraud and nominated him to represent their party.

Nothing about that is out of the ordinary. The Democrats have today taken on the ideology of power. Barack Obama ran two vapid campaigns driven by a personality cult and enforced groupthink. He has chosen, and his people have accepted (thus far at least), Hillary Clinton as his successor, who virtually guarantees the same type of campaign all over again. Ideas are dangerous things, and liberals tend to keep their distance from them. Hence their decision to have Crist represent them in a key state.

But what people often forget about cynical, self-serving politicians is this: they tend to stick around. If you act as a conduit for taxpayer cash and a megaphone for all and sundry personal grievances, you can get a lot of people to vote for you. How many? Well, that’s a question Crist seeks to answer not only for himself but for Democrats nationally. As Florida-based political consultant Rick Wilson writes:

You may share the kind of visceral dislike of Crist with most Republicans, but you need to know that the risk of Charlie Crist reaches far beyond Florida, and offers an insight into an emerging behavior of national Democrats. While we chase perfection, they chase election. They demonstrably don’t care about character, and Crist is a perfect example of the moral vacancy of Democratic voters.

You’re thinking, “Meh. Florida’s crazy. So what if he wins? The GOP owns the Legislature.” Don’t count on it. Florida’s GOP majorities in the House and Senate have some admirable scrappers, and some will fight Crist until the last dog dies. But there’s already a Quisling Caucus in the State Senate quietly whispering that Charlie might not be so bad.

Next, Charlie is very much a road-test for limits of reinvention of future Democratic candidates, including the Damsel of Chappaqua. He transformed himself from far-right Reagan Republican to left-of-Obama liberal in a year and a half without missing a beat. There is no lie the man won’t tell, no promise he won’t make, and no deal he won’t cut to return to power. Hillary is watching, as are other Democrats, as Crist attempts to define history down.

Wilson posits that Crist will hope not only to be a model for America’s soulless liberalism but will also seek to boost his new party’s fundraising, rejuvenate its political machine, and go to bat for the expansion of federal programs in the two years between Election Day 2014 and Election Day 2016. All that is normal state politics, but it does have national implications.

A good example of why that is comes from the Washington Post’s Aaron Blake. In a piece about the implosion of the campaign of Ed FitzGerald, the Democrats’ gubernatorial nominee in Ohio, Blake notes that what FitzGerald’s freefall exposed was the Democrats’ lack of a good farm system. Blake explains that in Ohio, Republicans improved their electoral map in the House as well as the state legislature. That means, simply, more Republicans and fewer Democrats to choose from.

But Blake goes on to say that Republicans have pressed this advantage in states beyond Ohio. And Florida is one of them. He notes that in Florida, not only do the Republicans have a numbers advantage due to redistricting but they hold far more competitive districts, which helps develop candidates. Here’s Blake:

So while 11 Florida districts lean Republican by seven or fewer points, just one Democratic-leaning district is even remotely competitive.

Want to guess which kind of district is more likely to produce a credible candidate for statewide office? Hint: It’s not the district where the incumbent only has to impress his or her heavily liberal constituents.

It is not altogether too surprising, then, that Democrats had to go looking for a hired gun like Crist. But the real aim of the national Democrats backing Crist is to staunch the statewide bleeding and then start rebuilding the roster of future candidates.

And they’re relying on Crist to get the state Democrats up off the mat so the national party can try to secure its tenuous hold on Florida in presidential elections as well. All this is a pretty far cry from where Crist was just four years ago, as a Republican about to turn independent. You can argue Crist and the Democrats are taking a cynical route to power all you want; you can’t say they don’t understand the stakes.

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Obama’s Lawless, Heartless Climate Treaty

Can President Obama force through a new international climate change treaty without a vote in the Senate, as the Constitution requires? The administration thinks it can. But while conservatives will correctly cry foul about this deceit, liberals should be just as angry about the way the terms of this lawless proposed pact hurts poor Third World nations.

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Can President Obama force through a new international climate change treaty without a vote in the Senate, as the Constitution requires? The administration thinks it can. But while conservatives will correctly cry foul about this deceit, liberals should be just as angry about the way the terms of this lawless proposed pact hurts poor Third World nations.

As the New York Times reports, the administration is so determined to forge a new deal with other countries to limit carbon emissions that it is prepared to ignore the Senate, even though the Constitution clearly states that any treaty must be approved by a two-thirds vote in the U.S. Senate. Their solution is to sign what they are calling a “politically binding” rather than “legally binding” pact whose purpose will be to strong-arm countries into curbing economic development to conform with the belief that this is harming the planet. Nations will be required to enact climate change laws while pledging to observe “voluntary” emissions cuts while also funneling money to compensate poor nations whose attempts to create economic development will be halted by the climate change craze.

Both the administration and some of its European partners in this scheme believe they can get away with this sleight of hand by concocting a document that combines a restatement of existing U.S. treaty commitments dating from 1992 with new, supposedly voluntary pledges. This will, they think, allow them to evade U.S. law and commit the U.S. to an international accord without the benefit of congressional approval.

As one advocate of the plan told the Times, this is a tactic involving “legal and political magic.” A more honest way of evaluating it would be to say that it is a barefaced attempt to circumvent the Constitution and allow the president to govern by fiat rather than benefit of law.

While Republicans have been rightly grousing about the way the president used his power to act via executive orders on domestic issues, when it comes to climate change he had the authority to do so because of court rulings that allowed the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate carbon emissions without congressional oversight. But this is something very different and far more dangerous. By seeking to negotiate and sign a treaty with foreign powers without submitting these agreements for Senate approval, President Obama is deliberately flouting the law. The talk about the “voluntary” nature of the provisions of the treaty—a dubious description due to the economic leverage that the great powers would have over small countries under this international emissions regime—is nothing more than a transparent legal evasion.

While initiating a lawsuit to stop this treaty may be tricky because it won’t be clear who will have legal standing to challenge the deal, it is to be hoped that the courts will take a dim view of this sort of one-man rule. While the president may say he has no choice but to act on his own because of congressional opposition, this is exactly the sort of reasoning used by dictators to justify their doing away with democratic norms. Whether you agree with Obama on environmental issues or not, all Americans should be worried about an administration that believes that its belief in the urgency of an issue ought to allow it to trample the law in such a shameless manner.

The threat posed to the Constitution and the rule of law by the president’s tactics ought to be enough to generate bipartisan opposition to his power grab. But that isn’t the only reason to cry foul about this treaty. The treatment of poor Third World nations by this treaty is atrocious and its remedy for the devastating impact the emission cuts will have on these nations is as bad if not worse than the problem it claims to be solving.

On the one hand, some of the poorer nations are complaining that a treaty that is not legally binding will not force richer countries to send them aid to build dams and levees to protect against the coastal flooding that warming activists claim will happen sooner or later. But they also worry about the willingness of the wealthy West to enact international treaties that may ultimately prevent them from using carbon to develop their own economies.

Even worse is the fact that the money funneled to the Third World by Obama’s plan will be simply transferred to the nations rather than being targeted to solve particular problems with safeguards to prevent corruption. Suffice it to say that this more or less guarantees that any money that does get transferred to these poor nations will go straight into the pockets and the Swiss bank accounts of public officials there rather than helping the poor deal with the impact of climate change.

In short, this treaty combines all the evils of Obama’s international outlook in one neat package. It both violates American law and seeks to subordinate the interests and the economy of the United States while at the same time pursuing a liberal aid agenda that will worsen the problems of the Third World rather than improving them.

While some of the rhetoric from the right about Obama’s attempt to govern by executive orders may seem over the top at times, this is one instance in which the talk of monarchical instincts is not overblown. Treaties must be ratified by the Senate, not forced down the throat of the nation via “legal magic.” Anyone who sees Senator Mitch McConnell’s threats to obstruct this one-man presidency should he become majority leader next year as evidence of extremism need only consider Obama’s methods on this issue to realize how high the stakes involved in this issue may be. Those liberals who excuse this lawbreaking on grounds of necessity should ask themselves whether they could stomach a conservative president playing the same game.

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Bibi, Guerrilla Warfare, and Public Opinion

The Israeli public appears to be unhappy with the ceasefire agreement that Prime Minister Netanyahu has reached with Hamas. According to one poll, his public backing for the handling of the Gaza crisis has dropped from 82 percent at the height of the fighting to just 38 percent today. Meanwhile support for more hardline members of the cabinet such as Economy Minister Naftali Bennett has surged. The common cry of critics of the ceasefire is that Netanyahu is making a big mistake by not seeking “victory,” defined as the eradication of Hamas.

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The Israeli public appears to be unhappy with the ceasefire agreement that Prime Minister Netanyahu has reached with Hamas. According to one poll, his public backing for the handling of the Gaza crisis has dropped from 82 percent at the height of the fighting to just 38 percent today. Meanwhile support for more hardline members of the cabinet such as Economy Minister Naftali Bennett has surged. The common cry of critics of the ceasefire is that Netanyahu is making a big mistake by not seeking “victory,” defined as the eradication of Hamas.

But as Jonathan Tobin and other realists have pointed out, the cost of seeking victory is simply too high for the Israeli public to stomach. Sure, Israelis may want to wipe out Hamas; who doesn’t? But once they saw what it actually took to accomplish that objective, they would likely turn against the military operation just as they previously turned against the 1982 invasion of Lebanon which was designed to eradicate the PLO. Or as the American public turned against wars in Vietnam and Iraq and Afghanistan.

As Haviv Rettig Gur argues in the Times of Israel, part of the problem is a mismatch between general Western, including Israeli, conceptions of what war should be like and what war is actually like most of the time. Quoting the great military historian Victor Davis Hanson, Gur notes “that for 2,500 years, democracies have held to a particular view of wars as brief, decisive, winner-takes-all confrontations between like-minded opponents.” Yet the IDF has been denied such a decisive battle with a regular enemy force since the end of the Yom Kippur War. “Defeated on those decisive battlefields,” Gur notes, “Arab opponents of Israel have turned to new arenas, to the very terror, guerrilla and irregular tactics that Israelis consider immoral and cowardly.”

Yet whatever the morality of guerrilla tactics, as a practical matter they are much harder to defeat than a conventional attack–as the U.S. discovered in Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq and as Israel has learned in Lebanon, the West Bank, and Gaza Strip, and as both the governments of Iraq and Syria are now learning. While it’s easy to say that the IDF should “defeat” or “destroy ” Hamas, actually accomplishing this task would involve a painful and protracted occupation of the Gaza Strip that few Israelis want to undertake. Gur writes: “The IDF believes it could take years to ‘pacify’ such a crowded, politically hostile territory, at the cost of hundreds of IDF dead and untold thousands of Palestinian dead, massive international opprobrium, and vast drains on the IDF’s manpower and financial resources that could limit its operational flexibility on other dangerous fronts, especially Syria-Lebanon and Iran.”

As a practical matter, moreover, Israel would be hard-pressed to wage such a conflict over the opposition of President Obama who would surely try to punish Israel by denying its request for more armaments and possibly by refusing to veto anti-Israel resolutions at the United Nations.

Such a war might still be well-advised if Hamas were an existential threat, but it’s not. Despite all of the rockets it rained on Israel, Hamas thankfully managed to kill few Israelis.

Netanyahu’s judgment clearly is that a ceasefire which restores the status quo ante bellum is the best Israel can do right now, and he is surely right. That is not satisfying for those who hunger for an idyllic version of war in which the bad guys surrender after being bombed for a few days, but it is line with the complex reality of irregular war as it has been waged over the centuries.

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“This Is Now a War with Russia”

This has been the summer from hell. While President Obama has been busy teeing off, ISIS has conquered much of northern and western Iraq, while killing untold thousands including journalist James Foley, and drawing U.S. aircraft back into action; Libya has degenerated into full-blown civil war; China has staged numerous provocations against its neighbors (and on at least one occasion against an American aircraft); and, lest we forget, Russia has mounted a barely disguised invasion of Ukraine.

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This has been the summer from hell. While President Obama has been busy teeing off, ISIS has conquered much of northern and western Iraq, while killing untold thousands including journalist James Foley, and drawing U.S. aircraft back into action; Libya has degenerated into full-blown civil war; China has staged numerous provocations against its neighbors (and on at least one occasion against an American aircraft); and, lest we forget, Russia has mounted a barely disguised invasion of Ukraine.

That invasion just got a bit worse with news that Russian tanks, artillery, and infantry have been streaming across the border to open a new front against Ukrainian forces defending the southern city of Novoazovsk. According to the New York Times, “The Russian aim, one Western official said, was to open a new front that would divert Ukrainian forces from Donetsk and Lukhansk and possibly seize an outlet to the sea in the event that Russia tries to establish a separatist enclave in the eastern Ukraine.” This might even be a step toward uniting separatist enclaves in eastern Ukraine with Crimea, which Russia had earlier seized in contravention of all international norms. Whatever the case, as one Ukrainian sergeant fighting the Russian onslaught told a reporter: “This is now a war with Russia.”

Yes, it is. So what, if anything, is “The West”–the empty cliche–going to do about it? President Obama has imposed some semi-tough sanctions on a few Russian firms and individuals; the European Union has followed suit with less-than-tough sanctions. Clearly none of this has deterred Vladimir Putin, a wily predator who can smell weakness on the part of the West and is clearly looking to seize as much as he can while the going is good.

As it happens, just today Bill Perry, the Clinton secretary of defense, and George Shultz, the Reagan secretary of state, had an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal recommending a response to this Russian aggression. They call for providing military equipment and training to Ukraine, for deploying forces in the Baltic states, and for strengthening sanctions. They don’t spell out what stronger sanctions are needed but the most damaging step the U.S. could take would be to pass financial sanctions that prevent all Russian companies from access to the U.S. financial system and from doing dollar-denominated transactions. This could be coupled with secondary sanctions, as with Iran, to force foreign companies to choose between doing business with Russia and doing business with the U.S.

Of course Putin will retaliate in any way he can, but it is well past time to care about Russian retaliation. It is time to step up our response, whatever the cost, to the outrageous and illegal steps that Putin is taking to invade Ukraine before the most basic norm of the post-1945 world order–the norm against cross-border invasions and annexations of neighboring states–entirely disappears.

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Was Putin’s Syria Advice Really Trenchant?

With ISIS’s consolidation of control across broad swaths of Syria and its rapid expansion into Iraq, a number of American pundits and even policymakers quietly suggest that perhaps Russian President Vladimir Putin was right all along in his embrace of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his warning to the United States not to take action against him which could benefit the Syrian opposition, much of which is more dominated by radicals than American proponents of supporting the Free Syrian Army would like to admit.

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With ISIS’s consolidation of control across broad swaths of Syria and its rapid expansion into Iraq, a number of American pundits and even policymakers quietly suggest that perhaps Russian President Vladimir Putin was right all along in his embrace of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his warning to the United States not to take action against him which could benefit the Syrian opposition, much of which is more dominated by radicals than American proponents of supporting the Free Syrian Army would like to admit.

After forces aligned with Assad apparently used chemical weapons in a Damascus suburb, a humanitarian tragedy and a challenge to President Obama’s blunt red line, Putin scrambled to prevent any America military strikes. In a New York Times op-ed almost a year ago, Putin offered this advice:

A strike would increase violence and unleash a new wave of terrorism. It could undermine multilateral efforts to resolve the Iranian nuclear problem and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and further destabilize the Middle East and North Africa. It could throw the entire system of international law and order out of balance. Syria is not witnessing a battle for democracy, but an armed conflict between government and opposition in a multireligious country. There are few champions of democracy in Syria. But there are more than enough Qaeda fighters and extremists of all stripes battling the government.

Sounds prescient, but was it? Assad is a terror sponsor who has worked closely not only with Hezbollah and, in the past, Hamas, but also with the al-Qaeda-linked extremists he now fights, whose passage through Syria and into Iraq he enabled. Russia likewise criticized and, at times, sought to undercut American action against al-Qaeda and its fellow travelers in Afghanistan. Over at The Hill, the European Foundation for Democracy’s Anna Borshchevskaya (full disclosure, my wife, who was a refugee from Russia and also spent much time in Syria and who, alas, sometimes also considers me her Medvedev), points out how curious it is that so many of those who point to this op-ed ignore Putin’s earlier New York Times op-ed which said quite the opposite when it came to battling extremism: “No government can stand idly by when terrorism strikes. It is the solemn duty of all governments to protect their citizens from danger. Americans obviously understand this concept… But when a society’s core interests are besieged by violent elements, responsible leaders must respond.”

When it comes to the use of military power—or reticence against its role in the fight against terror—Putin may seem inconsistent. Actually, though, he is not, so long as it is understood that his advice is not meant to actually illuminate the best way to counter terror in places like Syria. Rather, he is motivated by a singular desire to pursue Russia’s interests and check those of America. As Borshchevskaya rightly concludes, “Looking back to Putin’s two op-eds, it is clear that he is not guided by genuine principle. Ultimately Putin pushes his own agenda, often aimed at criticizing and undermining the United States.”

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Why Exposing the Facts Doesn’t Change the Media’s Anti-Israel Narrative

Anybody who has worked in an actual newsroom knows that mainstream media bias–most pungently against conservative cultural mores and the State of Israel–is real and pervasive. The question that crops up time and again is: Why? Where does the bias come from, why can’t it be corrected? Yesterday Matti Friedman, in an in-depth piece on media coverage and the Arab-Israeli conflict, gave an answer, at least with regard to media bias against Israel. He’s right. And much of the pro-Israel world wishes he weren’t.

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Anybody who has worked in an actual newsroom knows that mainstream media bias–most pungently against conservative cultural mores and the State of Israel–is real and pervasive. The question that crops up time and again is: Why? Where does the bias come from, why can’t it be corrected? Yesterday Matti Friedman, in an in-depth piece on media coverage and the Arab-Israeli conflict, gave an answer, at least with regard to media bias against Israel. He’s right. And much of the pro-Israel world wishes he weren’t.

Friedman worked for the Associated Press, and saw firsthand how the Western media operates when the subject turns to Israel. It’s an experience shared by all but the most liberal reporters, who don’t notice the bias because of their cloistered worldview. In fact, Friedman considers himself “a liberal, and a critic of many of my country’s policies.” It’s just that he has an affinity for the truth and a belief in the noble role the media can and should play in disseminating the facts.

As a prelude to a rundown of examples of how the AP and other major news organizations omit much of importance in service to their blame-Israel narrative, Friedman writes:

A reporter working in the international press corps here understands quickly that what is important in the Israel-Palestinian story is Israel. If you follow mainstream coverage, you will find nearly no real analysis of Palestinian society or ideologies, profiles of armed Palestinian groups, or investigation of Palestinian government. Palestinians are not taken seriously as agents of their own fate. The West has decided that Palestinians should want a state alongside Israel, so that opinion is attributed to them as fact, though anyone who has spent time with actual Palestinians understands that things are (understandably, in my opinion) more complicated. Who they are and what they want is not important: The story mandates that they exist as passive victims of the party that matters.

After listing much of what is missing from coverage of the conflict, he gives a particularly glaring example:

The fact that Israelis quite recently elected moderate governments that sought reconciliation with the Palestinians, and which were undermined by the Palestinians, is considered unimportant and rarely mentioned. These lacunae are often not oversights but a matter of policy. In early 2009, for example, two colleagues of mine obtained information that Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert had made a significant peace offer to the Palestinian Authority several months earlier, and that the Palestinians had deemed it insufficient. This had not been reported yet and it was—or should have been—one of the biggest stories of the year. The reporters obtained confirmation from both sides and one even saw a map, but the top editors at the bureau decided that they would not publish the story.

Some staffers were furious, but it didn’t help. Our narrative was that the Palestinians were moderate and the Israelis recalcitrant and increasingly extreme. Reporting the Olmert offer—like delving too deeply into the subject of Hamas—would make that narrative look like nonsense. And so we were instructed to ignore it, and did, for more than a year and a half.

This decision taught me a lesson that should be clear to consumers of the Israel story: Many of the people deciding what you will read and see from here view their role not as explanatory but as political. Coverage is a weapon to be placed at the disposal of the side they like.

It was a big story (when it was finally revealed), and it really would have been quite a scoop. Many observers would be frankly shocked to learn about the proclivity of editors to lose out on an important scoop because the facts of the story aren’t anti-Israel enough. But that’s the reality of the international, especially Western, media.

And seemingly minor stories can also make a big difference. A good example came in late 2012 from New York Times Jerusalem bureau chief Jodi Rudoren, whose tenure thus far has been undeniably disastrous. Slanting a story is one thing, but Rudoren has taken to simply redrawing maps. She wrote a patently ridiculous story asserting that building in the E-1 corridor near Jerusalem would divide the West Bank in two. The article contained even more errors than that, and they were mistakes that could have been prevented by glancing at a map.

Does the Times have access to a map? Has anyone at the Times looked out a window while in Jerusalem? Of course. What’s happening is not a series of slip-ups–no one with any experience in the matter could possibly make Rudoren’s claims with a straight face. What’s happening is bias-as-policy, as Friedman points out.

Rudoren’s story is just one of many examples. But the point is that while defenders of the anti-Israel press tend to think Israel’s defenders read the coverage of the conflict in the hopes of finding bias wherever and whenever possible, the opposite is true. Israel and her defenders, in general, wish fervently that Friedman’s assessment is wrong.

That’s because if the unreliable reporting were simply a matter of inexperience and ignorance, it could be remedied. Israel has made far more effort in recent years to get its side of the story out. If the media were truly interested in getting the story right, this would make a difference. It isn’t, and so it hasn’t. That’s the bleak reality of the mainstream media’s coverage of Israel.

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Why We’re Still Obsessing About Romney

When Mitt Romney told radio talk-show host Hugh Hewitt that there was a “one in a million” shot that he would run again for president, the 2012 Republican nominee probably thought he was, once again, shooting down speculation about him considering a 2016 run. But by prefacing it with the words “circumstances can change,” Romney gave pundits enough to restart speculation about his intentions. Those claiming that Romney is reconsidering his plans are almost certainly wrong. But the reason why so many are talking about this tells us a lot more about the GOP’s problems than it does about Romney.

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When Mitt Romney told radio talk-show host Hugh Hewitt that there was a “one in a million” shot that he would run again for president, the 2012 Republican nominee probably thought he was, once again, shooting down speculation about him considering a 2016 run. But by prefacing it with the words “circumstances can change,” Romney gave pundits enough to restart speculation about his intentions. Those claiming that Romney is reconsidering his plans are almost certainly wrong. But the reason why so many are talking about this tells us a lot more about the GOP’s problems than it does about Romney.

That even a savvy political junkie like Chuck Todd would bite on this story and say on MSNBC’s Morning Rundown show today that Romney’s statement “opens the door a crack” to a 2016 run illustrates a few things.

The first is that once the Democratic attack machine that spent a solid year sliming Romney shut down it was possible for a lot of people to start noticing that Romney was not the cartoon villain his opponents claimed him to be. His decency, good humor, and competency look even better because of the ongoing disaster that Barack Obama’s second term has been. After a year and a half of ineptitude, scandals, and foreign-policy disasters, the national buyer’s remorse about giving Obama another four years has softened Romney’s image and given him a legitimacy that the president’s cheering section in the mainstream media denied him when he was a candidate.

But it must also be admitted that one of the reasons so many people continue to try and raise Romney’s name is that none of the likely Republican contenders for 2016 have yet eclipsed the 2012 nomine.

Bridgegate derailed New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s 2016 juggernaut. Senator Marco Rubio, who seemed the party’s savior at the end of 2012, has had some ups and downs with respect to immigration and sometimes gave the impression that he wasn’t quite ready for prime time. Jeb Bush appears unlikely to buck his mother’s advice and probably won’t run. Governor Scott Walker is in the fight of his life seeking reelection in Wisconsin. Many in the national party don’t take Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal seriously as a presidential prospect. Senator Ted Cruz is loved by the Tea Party but hated by everyone else in the Senate and viewed as likely to be a disaster in a general election.

Rick Santorum would like the GOP to continue its tradition of nominating the runner-up from the previous primary battle, but he’s finding that most Republicans are as apathetic about his candidacy now as they were before 2012.

The one candidate who has gained ground in the last two years is Senator Rand Paul, who has expanded the libertarian base of his extremist father and shown himself to be a savvy politician even if his isolationist policies are being exposed as ill suited to the times by events in the Middle East. But while it must be conceded that Paul has a plausible chance to be the nominee, mainstream Republican opposition to him remains fierce.

All of which leaves some on the right wondering if they might not be better off trying Romney again. In a more rational world, saying that there’s a one-in-a-million shot of something happening would be interpreted as proof that it won’t, but we are discussing politics, not reason. Yet leaving aside the fact that Romney has made it perfectly clear that he won’t run again, there are good reasons why he shouldn’t even if the former Massachusetts governor changes his mind.

First and foremost is the fact that, as Romney has repeatedly said, he already tried and lost. It’s been nearly 50 years since one of the parties nominated a candidate that had already lost a general election to run for president. That doesn’t mean it can’t happen, but the odds are it won’t. Were Romney to start making real noises about running, the new respect he’s earned in the media would evaporate and Democrats would restart their smear campaigns about his faith and his business experience. He may have been right about the threat from Russia and much else in 2012, but don’t expect anyone in the media to remember that if he intended to run again.

More to the point, a Romney candidacy would throw away the one clear advantage the Republicans have going into the 2016 race. Any Republican running against Hillary Clinton is going to seem like a fresh-faced outsider in comparison to that veteran of more than 20 years of Washington political infighting. Anyone, that is, other than Romney. In spite of his ability to raise money and the trust he has earned from many on the right because of his dogged underdog fight against Obama, Romney would come across as a tired, if likeable retread. That isn’t going to be a winning formula against the person who will be touted as America’s potential first female president.

Republicans, especially conservatives, have good reason to feel some remorse about Romney. Many of them spent most of 2012 trashing him as a RINO instead of doing everything they could to help him beat Obama. That wasn’t the reason he lost. The odds against any Republican going up against the first African-American president were always almost insurmountable and once the economic tailspin in late 2011 turned into the more stable situation of 2012, Obama’s reelection was probably guaranteed. The awful reality of an Obama second term has inspired a surprising amount of nostalgia for Romney’s gallant efforts. But that’s no substitute for a competent and competitive 2016 candidate.

Republicans need to re-focus on their party’s deep bench. All of the possible GOP candidates will be underdogs against Clinton. But there are many with genuine promise and there’s plenty of time for them to hit their stride in the next two years. Romney deserves the love he’s belatedly getting from Republicans, but looking forward rather than backward is the GOP’s only path to victory in 2016.

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Russian Paratroopers Confirmed Killed in Ukraine

It is well-documented now how Russians have been living in a bubble with regard to news coverage of what has been going on in (and over) Ukraine. In the Russian narrative, the Ukrainians are all aggressive fascists and neo-Nazis seeking to victimize ethnic Russians, and while Russian humanitarian relief is heading into Ukraine, the idea that Russian forces are fighting there is nothing but nonsense.

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It is well-documented now how Russians have been living in a bubble with regard to news coverage of what has been going on in (and over) Ukraine. In the Russian narrative, the Ukrainians are all aggressive fascists and neo-Nazis seeking to victimize ethnic Russians, and while Russian humanitarian relief is heading into Ukraine, the idea that Russian forces are fighting there is nothing but nonsense.

Now, fortunately, that bubble is bursting. First there were the soldier selfies. Now journalists in the Russian city of Pskov have confirmed the deaths of Russian paratroopers inside Ukraine, tracking the names of Russians that Ukrainian officials had said were killed and then found their graves in Pskov. The broader Russian media is beginning to pick up on the story. More in English here (scroll down).

Russian President Vladimir Putin played both President Bush and the Obama administration. While they sought to believe that Putin was a reasonable, responsible partner, they never recognized that he had never shed his KGB worldview and remained dedicated all along to the dual goals of defeating America on the global stage while reconstructing the Soviet Union, in effect if not in reality. He has sacrificed the Russian economy in the process, and moved to insulate the Russian public from what he has done. In this, he has been like his Soviet predecessors who lied to the home population about what was really happening in Afghanistan and then in Chechnya. Let us hope that the Russians don’t take so long to realize their leader is playing them for fools once again. The question is how many Russians will die needlessly before Russian mothers recognize that Putin is sacrificing their sons for his own dishonest purposes.

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Obama, Kerry Ignore Law on Cemetery Desecration

Earlier this month, President Obama signed into law the “Protect Cemeteries Act” which amended the International Religious Freedom Act to include cemetery desecration as a violation of religious freedom. The full text of the bill, as signed into law by Obama, is here.

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Earlier this month, President Obama signed into law the “Protect Cemeteries Act” which amended the International Religious Freedom Act to include cemetery desecration as a violation of religious freedom. The full text of the bill, as signed into law by Obama, is here.

The Islamic Republic of Iran—a country which President Obama increasingly treats as a diplomatic partner—now presents the first challenge to the new law. From the U.S. Baha’i Office of Public Affairs:

Iran’s Revolutionary Guard has resumed its destruction of a Baha’i cemetery in the city of Shiraz, while a bill passed by Congress and signed into law by the President earlier this month – known as the “Protect Cemeteries Act” – makes this type of cemetery desecration a sanctionable religious freedom violation. The Guard began excavating the site in April 2014, but temporarily suspended its activity following an international outcry. The cemetery is the site of 950 Baha’i graves, including those of 10 Baha’i women who were hanged in 1983, the youngest of whom was 17 years old. In June, the Guard held a public celebration of its progress in clearing the site, which it plans to turn into a cultural and sports complex. Reports from Iran indicate that the Guard has now removed human remains from some 30 of the 50 graves in the cemetery and placed them into an open canal.

In my recent study of engaging rogue regimes, one of the clear costs of such diplomacy—in almost every single example—is augmented abuse of religious freedom by the targets of America’s diplomacy. Rogues know that once the White House or State Department starts a process, it is loath to criticize rogue regimes for fear that they will walk away from the negotiating table. American outreach is akin to a free pass on accountability for any domestic repression.

The Obama presidency has been marked by disdain for the checks and balances inherent in the American system. Obama may be frustrated that he cannot achieve his agenda in the face of a recalcitrant Congress or dubious court; in this he would be joined by his 43 predecessors. But while the president may feel the end justifies the means as he bypasses laws that he did not support or sign, the “Protect Cemeteries Act” is a law which the president supported and which he signed just two weeks ago. Laws should be more than simply about a photo-op at a signing ceremony; it’s time for the president and Secretary of State John Kerry to stand up and sanction Iran for its clear and blatant violation of the amended International Religious Freedom Act, and for Congress to demand the president uphold the law he signed, and use its power of the purse both to make its displeasure felt and simultaneously to stand up for religious liberty.

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Stopping BDS’s Unlawful Intimidation

As the tactics of the boycott, divestment, and sanctions campaign against Israel have steadily become ever more aggressive and unlawful, so those seeking to counter it must realize that legal action must be pursued. If the opponents of BDS thought that the struggle with the boycotters was going to be simply about winning the moral argument, they are increasingly being proven wrong. As recent events in the UK demonstrate, the boycott campaign is gradually abandoning the effort to dissuade the public from buying Israeli goods. Rather than form a mass movement, something that BDS has been failing to do, a small shock force of activists are increasingly employing the tactics of intimidation and obstruction to terrorize those businesses selling Israeli goods.

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As the tactics of the boycott, divestment, and sanctions campaign against Israel have steadily become ever more aggressive and unlawful, so those seeking to counter it must realize that legal action must be pursued. If the opponents of BDS thought that the struggle with the boycotters was going to be simply about winning the moral argument, they are increasingly being proven wrong. As recent events in the UK demonstrate, the boycott campaign is gradually abandoning the effort to dissuade the public from buying Israeli goods. Rather than form a mass movement, something that BDS has been failing to do, a small shock force of activists are increasingly employing the tactics of intimidation and obstruction to terrorize those businesses selling Israeli goods.

The shift in tactics on the part of BDS is partially a sign of desperation. Not only has this campaign failed to win any real public backing, but even in those countries where the effort has been underway for some time now—such as Britain—business with Israel has continued to increase. Not only did the first part of 2014 see a 6.5 percent increase in trade between the two countries, but the import of Israeli goods into Britain has grown even more dramatically.

Nevertheless, as the boycott campaign continues to fail in its efforts to impact Israel’s overseas trade, its tactics have become gradually more aggressive. Attempts at persuasion are giving way to a strategy of sustained intimidation. Regardless of what one thinks of their cause, or whether boycotts are really an effective method for encouraging positive political change, anyone is free to try and persuade consumers not to purchase products made by specific companies if they so wish. That kind of action may at least be more defensible than the boycotts of academics and the arts that have been a more common target of the BDS war on all things Israeli.

Yet BDSers are not limiting themselves to simply advocating the boycott of Israeli products. Rather, just as they repeatedly disrupted performances by the Habima theater group and the Israel Philharmonic orchestra, they are applying the same mob behavior to their efforts to shut down stores selling Israeli goods. And disturbingly this tactic has been proving far more effective.

One of the first casualties of this brutish strategy was the Ahava cosmetics store in London’s trendy Covent Garden neighborhood. That store was subjected to relentless picketing and regular efforts by the protesters to storm the premises. A policeman was posted on the door, but this hardly did much to draw in customers. Despite this the Ahava store closed its doors not on account of having been forced out business, but rather complaints from other local boutiques regarding the constant noisy protests persuaded the owner of the building not to renew Ahava’s tenancy. The boycott had failed, but mob rule had won in the end.

It was these same tactics that, after two years of aggressive demonstrations, caused the Brighton based store Ecostream (which sold SodaStream products) to move out this year. Similarly, the prominent British department store John Lewis pulled SodaStream products from its shelves after being subjected to multiple stormings by protesters.

Now this war of attrition is being turned against Britain’s major supermarket chains, and shockingly a member of Parliament even boasted of her role in BDS’s unlawful tactics. Speaking at a recent rowdy anti-Israel rally, Shabana Mahmood delighted her audience by regaling them with an account of how she and some other BDS bullies had taken over the Sainsbury’s supermarket in central Birmingham, managing “to close down that store for five hours at peak time on a Saturday.” Apparently fearing a dose of the same BDS activism, the Sainsbury in London’s Holborn stripped its shelves of all kosher goods. Yes you read that correctly, not all Israeli goods, but rather it was the kosher section that was cleared. And on further inspection it turned out the store’s management may not have done this as a precaution against the protestors, but rather as an act of solidarity with them. For when a customer inquired about the fate of the kosher items he was informed by a staff member, “we support Free Gaza.”

Amidst all of this there has been one ray of hope. Kedem, An Israeli cosmetics store in Manchester has been targeted by daily protests. Worse still, staff members have received death threats, while one demonstrator was filmed outside the store voicing his love for Hitler. But now the police have finally stepped in and ruled that the BDSers have “exceeded the legal threshold required under the Public Order Act” and as such will be obliged to hold their demonstrations at a greater distance from the store front.

Actions such as this may now be the only way to confront a campaign group that has all but abandoned the legitimate channels of persuasion and is instead resorting to unlawful intimidation. Indeed, when MP Shabana Mahmood was assisting with the storming of a supermarket, did she not stop to question the legitimacy of a cause compelled to adopt such brute tactics for achieving its goals?

Supporters of Israel must realize that they can no longer beat BDS by the power of argument alone. The boycotters have stopped playing by the rules and the full force of the law must be brought down against them.

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Kurds Unwilling to Risk Pro-American Alignment

There’s a false narrative out there that Iraqi Shi‘ites are pro-Iranian while Iraqi Kurds are pro-American. The truth for both is actually far more nuanced. Sometimes, it seems, the false narrative is simply the result of who speaks English better and so can interact more easily with American journalists, diplomats, and visiting politicians. English-bias in coverage is well-documented, most brutally from Southeast Asia back in the 1960s and 1970s.

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There’s a false narrative out there that Iraqi Shi‘ites are pro-Iranian while Iraqi Kurds are pro-American. The truth for both is actually far more nuanced. Sometimes, it seems, the false narrative is simply the result of who speaks English better and so can interact more easily with American journalists, diplomats, and visiting politicians. English-bias in coverage is well-documented, most brutally from Southeast Asia back in the 1960s and 1970s.

Culturally, Iraqi Kurds—especially in the Sulaymaniyah region—are close to Iran. That doesn’t mean they are anti-Western. Iranian culture is rich. Many Kurds would like to take their place among the peoples of the West, just as many Iranians would, if the West would stop throwing life rafts to Iran’s repressive regime.

That said, Kurds are realists: They see America waffling on major issues relating to global leadership and they are careful not to put all their eggs in one basket. Some see close ties between Iraqi Kurdistan and Turkey, cemented over oil trading, as a sign that Kurds are pro-Western but the Kurds have quietly and consistently also pursued their trade through Iran, even at the cost of busting sanctions.

The Pentagon is now giving the Iraqi Kurds weapons. That may be wise in the short-term to blunt ISIS’s advance, but the Iraqi Kurds should still answer some tough questions about why they chose not to purchase weapons before hand. After all, they have made billions of dollars, built palatial mansions (or bought them in Washington D.C.) and have had money to spend on exorbitant salaries—President Masud Barzani, for example, makes more per month than the president of the United States makes in a year. But the Pentagon should not assume that the Kurds’ willingness to receive weapons from the United States cements ties or reflects a stable partnership. Iraqi Kurdish President Masud Barzani, for example, acknowledged also receiving weaponry from the Iranian government.

Ordinary Kurds might want to be pro-American. But if the United States absents itself from leadership on the global stage, Kurdish leaders will make their accommodation with Iran. The simple fact is that Iranian consistency coupled with American unreliability now leads natural allies to place their bets on an Iranian future rather than risk substantive alignment with the United States.

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Obama and Burger King Demagoguery

Who are the biggest villains in the United States today? As much as Americans may rightly fear the rise of ISIS Islamist terrorists, to listen to some commentators, the owners of the Burger King fast-food chain aren’t just the epitome of corporate greed. They’re also being depicted as 21st century Benedict Arnolds for planning to move their corporate headquarters to Canada to evade high U.S. tax bills. But instead of joining in a cost-free demagogue fest that both left and right-wingers can enjoy, rational citizens should be blaming the tax code and a president who could reform the system if he was willing to work with Republicans rather than use them as rhetorical punching bags.

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Who are the biggest villains in the United States today? As much as Americans may rightly fear the rise of ISIS Islamist terrorists, to listen to some commentators, the owners of the Burger King fast-food chain aren’t just the epitome of corporate greed. They’re also being depicted as 21st century Benedict Arnolds for planning to move their corporate headquarters to Canada to evade high U.S. tax bills. But instead of joining in a cost-free demagogue fest that both left and right-wingers can enjoy, rational citizens should be blaming the tax code and a president who could reform the system if he was willing to work with Republicans rather than use them as rhetorical punching bags.

The manner by which Burger King is heading to the great white north is called corporate inversion and is being facilitated by the fast-food franchise purchase of Tim Horton’s, the Canadian donut chain named after an otherwise obscure hockey player. Once they own Horton’s, BK can shift its corporate operations to Canada where they will pay lower taxes than they do now. This is an eminently sensible business decision, but to listen to the likes of MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough, it’s tantamount to treason; the onetime congressman says he won’t eat there any more is encouraging others to do the same. Left-wing lawmakers like Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown agrees and also supports a boycott which would aid both White Castle and Wendy’s that are currently based in his state.

President Obama isn’t calling for a boycott. Instead he issued a call for Congress to pass corporate tax reform that would eliminate the need for American companies to flee the country over their tax bill. But he also said that the need to immediately pass a bill prohibiting such corporate moves shouldn’t have to wait until a solution to the years-long standoff about taxes that helped fuel numerous confrontations between the White House and congressional Republicans is found. Which is to say, he wants companies like Burger King compelled to stay without actually offering them tax relief.

Nobody need hold a benefit for Burger King but the hypocrisy and foolishness that form the foundation for all the demagoguery being aimed at that company seems at least equal to the venality of the fast food franchise.

First, the talk about patriotism and hamburgers is pure baloney. In the global economy trying to tie down a company that does business around the world in this fashion is silly. Americans haven’t owned Burger King since 2010 when SG Capital, a Brazilian private equity firm, purchased it when its previous proprietors dumped it because of its declining value. Expecting these stockholders who purchased a flagging company in the hope of increasing its worth and not to do their part in funding America’s out-of-control government spending is absurd. Global capitalism may not appeal to our sentimentality but it is a reality, and for supposedly smart people who are otherwise happy to profit from it to bash BK in this manner is hypocrisy on an Olympic scale.

Second, the president’s umbrage should be tempered by the fact that the person enabling this transaction is none other than his good buddy Warren Buffett. In 2012, Buffett was a major asset to Obama’s reelection because the billionaire’s support for higher taxes was seen as a definitive answer to conservatives who rightly believed Obama’s budget plans were bad for the economy and economic growth. But though he claimed to be personally in favor of higher taxes for himself, apparently Buffett doesn’t think the same principle applies to companies and it is his Berkshire Hathaway firm that is financing Burger King’s purchase of Horton’s. Hopefully, his secretary, whose higher personal tax rate than her boss (a disingenuous argument if ever there was one) became a staple of Democratic campaign rhetoric, will get a cut of the profits from the deal.

But more important than either of those facets of the story is the fact that if President Obama really wanted to reform our tax code, he could have done so years ago. While joining in the gang tackle of Burger King, Obama lamented Congress’s failure to pass reforms that would have made such moves unnecessary. Yet he torpedoed every opportunity to do so by demanding that a fairer revenue code be tied to tax increases. Rather than make cuts in the entitlements and government boondoggles he wishes to preserve, Obama preferred a continued stalemate because it enabled him to blame this failure on his congressional antagonists. That’s good politics but bad economics.

Liberals have given a lot of praise to Canada in recent years because of its government health-care program, but instead of trying to work toward the creation of a medical system that is a bad fit for Americans, they should have been studying our northern neighbor’s tax codes. Rather than jumping on the bandwagon of those wanting to boycott Burger King, the president and his supporters should stop the demagoguery and begin negotiating in good faith with Republicans in order to create a tax system that doesn’t punish success or reward failure. Kicking Burger King is easy. Protecting both citizens and corporations from the greed of the government and its permanent bureaucracy is hard.

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Unsatisfactory Cease-Fire Won’t Doom Bibi

Even before his acceptance of cease-fire terms that brought down criticism him on his head from across Israel’s political spectrum, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s popularity had dropped precipitately from the across-the-board backing he received at the height of the fighting in Gaza. But those thinking that dissatisfaction with his acceptance of what amounts to a draw with Hamas will hasten the end of the current government or cut short his time in office are mistaken. The choices facing Netanyahu’s critics are as constrained as those that were facing the prime minister when he swallowed hard and allowed Hamas to issue bogus boasts of victory today.

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Even before his acceptance of cease-fire terms that brought down criticism him on his head from across Israel’s political spectrum, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s popularity had dropped precipitately from the across-the-board backing he received at the height of the fighting in Gaza. But those thinking that dissatisfaction with his acceptance of what amounts to a draw with Hamas will hasten the end of the current government or cut short his time in office are mistaken. The choices facing Netanyahu’s critics are as constrained as those that were facing the prime minister when he swallowed hard and allowed Hamas to issue bogus boasts of victory today.

The big drop in Netanyahu’s popularity in a poll published yesterday indicated unhappiness with the reality that Israel faced in Gaza. Netanyahu’s decision to scale back offensive operations against Hamas weeks ago after the Israel Defense Forces destroyed the tunnels it had found was not rewarded with an end to the fighting. The massive missile barrage from Hamas in the last week that caused two civilian deaths was seen as a setback for Netanyahu’s policy of restraint.

Though international public opinion blasted Israel for hitting Hamas targets hard and causing civilian casualties in Gaza, Netanyahu’s public understood that his attempts to avoid a massive escalation in the fighting until he was dragged into it by Hamas attacks was the result of his trademark cautious behavior. But taking out the tunnels didn’t end the rocket attacks or undermine Hamas’s hold on Gaza. With his right-wing coalition allies calling for a re-occupation of Gaza in order to enforce the demilitarization of the strip that Israel needs to really ensure calm, Netanyahu finds himself branded as a right-winger abroad but also denounced as a centrist temporizer at home by many of his erstwhile allies.

The unhappy truth about the conflict is that nothing short of an all-out war to eliminate Hamas will guarantee that Israel won’t face another round of fighting anytime the Islamists choose to up the ante in the conflict. It’s also true that so long as Hamas is still left in charge there, any talk of a two-state solution in the West Bank is also effectively shelved. Despite his threats of going back to the United Nations to force Israel to withdraw from the West Bank without a peace treaty, the fighting demonstrated anew the irrelevance of Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas. Even if Israelis were willing to believe Abbas is a credible peace partner—a dubious assumption even in the best of times—no Israeli government of any political stripe would ever give up that more strategic territory so long as there was a chance that it would mean another, larger and more dangerous Hamasistan on the country’s doorstep.

Abbas survives in the West Bank solely due to Israeli security protections for him. The notion that the PA can parachute into Gaza and ensure that construction materials aren’t used to build Hamas tunnels or to prevent it from bringing in more arms is ludicrous. Notwithstanding the promises of the United States and other sponsors of the cease-fire, the only thing it guarantees is that Israel will soon be facing another conflict with Hamas under perhaps less favorable circumstances than those that exist today.

But those who are blasting Netanyahu for his cowardice today must also realize that a decision to deal with Hamas once and for a while would incur a higher price than most Israelis are currently willing to pay, including many of those grumbling today about the prime minister’s choice. Taking down the Islamists would certainly cost the IDF hundreds of lives and result in thousands more Palestinian casualties, not to mention increasing Israel’s diplomatic isolation and worsening the already tense relations with the Obama administration. And that’s not even considering the cost of being forced to reassume the administration of Gaza and dealing with what would almost certainly be an ongoing terror campaign by Hamas and other Islamist groups.

Would it have been worth it? It’s easy to answer that question in the abstract since answering yes provides the only logical path to a better chance of calm as well as to a two-state solution. But Netanyahu can hardly be blamed for hesitating to pay such an egregious price in blood and treasure.

Nor should anyone imagine that this dismal result will — poll numbers withstanding — result in the collapse of Netanyahu’s government or a new election in the short term that might produce a new prime minister. There is no reason to believe that Netanyahu’s rivals on the right will be so foolish as to leave the Cabinet since that will leave the path open for the prime minister to assemble a new, more centrist government. Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and Economics Minister Naftali Bennett will continue sniping at Netanyahu and will score points with their own followers as well as Likud voters who are disappointed that the prime minister won’t follow his own arguments about Hamas to their logical conclusion. But beyond venting their spleen at him, the PM’s right-wing critics have few options.

Just as important, nothing that has happened this summer altered the basic equation of Israeli politics of the last few years. For all of the grousing thrown in his direction, which is in part the function of dissatisfaction with the choices facing the country and the prime minister’s personal unpopularity, Netanyahu’s positions represent a clear consensus of Israeli public opinion. As much as most Israelis would be happy to be rid of most of the West Bank, few believe it makes sense to leave it in the absence of a Palestinian decision to end the conflict that Hamas’s survival makes impossible.

Even more to the point, no one either in the government or outside it emerged this summer as a credible alternative to Netanyahu. He remains the only possible choice for prime minister even if few people like him and even fewer are happy with the alternatives he must choose between.

Those who would like Israel to have easy answers to an ongoing security threat—whether by accepting more concessions or by taking out Hamas—are dissatisfied with Netanyahu. That’s a group that includes most Israelis. But at the same time most Israelis also understand that his answers are probably the lesser of a number of possible evils.

Even if Hamas really does observe this cease-fire, the coming months will be rough for the prime minister. But talk about re-occupying Gaza or a bold stroke that will make peace possible is just that: talk. The reality of the Middle East is such that Netanyahu’s unsavory choices are the only viable ones for a nation whose only real option remains doing what it must to ensure its survival until the day when its enemies are prepared to make peace. As such, the unheroic and cautious Netanyahu is still the only realistic choice to go on leading Israel for the foreseeable future.

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A Draw Can’t Be Called a Hamas Defeat

Viewed objectively, the celebratory gunfire and ritualistic declarations of victory emanating from Hamas today after it accepted a cease-fire with Israel are pure bunk. Hamas’s decision to launch a new round of fighting in Gaza turned out to be a disaster from a military perspective as well as from the point of view of the suffering Palestinians who paid the price for this folly in blood and destruction of their homes. But their boasts are not entirely foolish.

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Viewed objectively, the celebratory gunfire and ritualistic declarations of victory emanating from Hamas today after it accepted a cease-fire with Israel are pure bunk. Hamas’s decision to launch a new round of fighting in Gaza turned out to be a disaster from a military perspective as well as from the point of view of the suffering Palestinians who paid the price for this folly in blood and destruction of their homes. But their boasts are not entirely foolish.

Though Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu may have had little real choice but to go along with the formal end of hostilities, by emerging from 50 days of battle with its hold on Gaza intact, Hamas has ensured that its misrule over the strip and permanent block of any hopes of peace will continue.

Netanyahu’s decision to accept the cease-fire will be bitterly debated in Israel, but even his angriest critics will have to admit that the concessions given Hamas are minimal. The terms, which allow a slight increase in humanitarian aid and material into Gaza and an expansion of the zone allowed Gaza fishermen from three to six miles are more or less a rehash of the 2012 agreement that ended a previous round of fighting. The blockade of Gaza has not been lifted. Nor has Israel promised to allow the Palestinians to build an airport or seaport. Those requests will be discussed in negotiations that are supposed to take place next month in Cairo and will be placed alongside the Israeli demand for the demilitarization of Gaza. That means neither side will get what it wants, making the war, for all of Israel’s military achievements and the catastrophic impact on Gaza’s population, largely a draw.

That’s nothing for Hamas to brag about. It started the hostilities when its members kidnapped and murdered three Israeli teenagers and then fired over 4,000 missiles at Israel during the past 50 days with little to show for the expenditure of much of its carefully assembled arsenal. While much of Israel’s population had to spend much of the last few weeks scurrying back and forth to shelters, Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system effectively neutralized the rocket threat. Hamas also lost the complex network of tunnels along the border on which it had expended so much of the money that poured into the strip from foreign donors. Instead of being able to use the tunnels to pull off a mass atrocity inside Israel as they had hoped, they wound up being destroyed when Israeli forces invaded the strip.

But any Israeli claims of victory are just as hollow as those of Hamas.

Even a slight loosening of the blockade will inevitably mean that Hamas will be able to replenish some if not all of its supply of rockets and other armaments. Nor can anyone in the international community, let alone in Israel, have the slightest confidence that any safeguards put in place will prevent the construction materials that will be allowed into Gaza for rebuilding homes, schools, and other civilian structures won’t instead be used to restore Hamas’s military infrastructure, including command center bunkers, rocket storage facilities, and the infamous tunnels.

All of which means that the next time Hamas decides that the time is right for more fighting, Israel will be right back where it was two months ago. Even if the Israel Defense Forces improves its ability to detect tunnels and Hamas doesn’t figure out a way to defeat the Iron Dome, that is hardly an encouraging prospect for an Israeli people drained from a summer of conflict. A draw isn’t a victory for either side, but any result that leaves Hamas standing and ready to start fighting again when it chooses can hardly be called a defeat for the terrorists.

In my next post, I’ll discuss the implications of this result for both Netanyahu and the future of the conflict.

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Will IRS’s Strategy of Destroying Evidence Pay Off?

If the latest revelations about the IRS are correct, then its officials have approached the abuse-of-power scandal with a clear strategy, pretty much from the beginning. They have been betting that, since their illegal targeting campaign against those who disagree with President Obama has had the backing of Democrats in Congress, they needed only a media strategy, not a political one. And that media strategy appears to have been: conceal or destroy potential (and actual) evidence, and assume that this activity will be less damaging than whatever is in the files they’ve worked to hide.

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If the latest revelations about the IRS are correct, then its officials have approached the abuse-of-power scandal with a clear strategy, pretty much from the beginning. They have been betting that, since their illegal targeting campaign against those who disagree with President Obama has had the backing of Democrats in Congress, they needed only a media strategy, not a political one. And that media strategy appears to have been: conceal or destroy potential (and actual) evidence, and assume that this activity will be less damaging than whatever is in the files they’ve worked to hide.

It’s a direct challenge to the media, in other words.

There are two aspects to the latest news. The first is that, according to Judicial Watch, the Justice Department believes Lerner’s records are backed up, but don’t want to put in the effort to find them:

Department of Justice attorneys for the Internal Revenue Service told Judicial Watch on Friday that Lois Lerner’s emails, indeed all government computer records, are backed up by the federal government in case of a government-wide catastrophe.  The Obama administration attorneys said that this back-up system would be too onerous to search.  The DOJ attorneys also acknowledged that the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) is investigating this back-up system.

We obviously disagree that disclosing the emails as required would be onerous, and plan to raise this new development with Judge Sullivan.

This is a jaw-dropping revelation.  The Obama administration had been lying to the American people about Lois Lerner’s missing emails. There are no “missing” Lois Lerner emails – nor missing emails of any of the other top IRS or other government officials whose emails seem to be disappearing at increasingly alarming rate. All the focus on missing hard drives has been a diversion. The Obama administration has known all along where the email records could be – but dishonestly withheld this information. You can bet we are going to ask the court for immediate assistance in cutting through this massive obstruction of justice.

The second piece of news is pointed out by the New York Observer:

In two elusive and nebulous sworn declarations, we can glean that Ms. Lerner had two Blackberries. One was issued to her on November 12, 2009. According to a sworn declaration, this is the Blackberry that contained all the emails (both sent and received) that would have been in her “Outlook” and drafts that never were sent from her Blackberry during the relevant time.

With incredible disregard for the law and the Congressional inquiry, the IRS admits that this Blackberry “was removed or wiped clean of any sensitive or proprietary information and removed as scrap for disposal in June 2012.” This is a year after her hard drive “crash” and months after the Congressional inquiry began.

So the IRS attempted to destroy evidence of the emails after the investigation began, and those emails might still exist somewhere beyond the reach of the government officials in charge of destroying the evidence. Again, this is a direct challenge to the media: the IRS is expecting either a pass or scandal fatigue to play to their advantage. That is, they are hoping to set a precedent that the government can get away with heavyhanded abuse of its power so long as it destroys enough of the evidence once an investigation commences.

It is especially a challenge to the press if it’s true that the emails still exist but the government doesn’t want to go through the hassle of finding them. It’s actually more brazen, in some ways, than even trying to destroy them. It’s the sign of a government with nothing but pure contempt for the people. As Walter Russell Mead argues:

But if Fitton’s claim is true, then the IRS scandal really has arrived, and it is difficult not to conclude that we are dealing with a genuine constitutional crime. This wouldn’t be a matter of bribes or personal blackmail or sexual misconduct or any of the ordinary forms of corruption that are unfortunately far too common. Rather, it’s about the deliberate use of the power of the federal government to go after political opponents, and then a desperate attempt by others to cover it up. We’re still hoping that this story is exposed to a lot more light (and perhaps less heat), but the more we see, the worse and worse it looks.

Indeed, it would go beyond the sadly all-too-routinized forms of corruption, which are bad enough. The newest round of revelations describe a government agency (and its elected allies) not only thoroughly corrupted but also insistent on its entitlement to stand above accountability. The allegations warrant front-page headlines from the country’s major newspapers, surely. So where are they?

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Has Rand Paul’s Moment Passed?

This should be the moment when Senator Rand Paul’s rise to the top of the list of 2016 Republican presidential hopefuls should be halted. With foreign terror threats like ISIS that have grown precisely because of an American attempt to disengage from the Middle East, Paul’s neo-isolationist approach has been exposed as hopelessly shortsighted. But the Kentucky senator’s featured appearance on Meet the Press on Sunday revealed him to be, if anything, more confident than ever about his 2016 chances. Is he right?

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This should be the moment when Senator Rand Paul’s rise to the top of the list of 2016 Republican presidential hopefuls should be halted. With foreign terror threats like ISIS that have grown precisely because of an American attempt to disengage from the Middle East, Paul’s neo-isolationist approach has been exposed as hopelessly shortsighted. But the Kentucky senator’s featured appearance on Meet the Press on Sunday revealed him to be, if anything, more confident than ever about his 2016 chances. Is he right?

Paul scored a public relations coup by getting NBC to send a camera crew and reporter to Guatemala to observe him performing free eye surgeries. This kind of publicity is priceless as was the opportunity to draw attention to the senator’s grandstanding on the border crisis while in Central America. He also got the chance to lambaste the government’s sending of heavy weaponry to local police departments that was highlighted by events in Ferguson, Missouri. But the headline of the segment was his boast that the American public now agrees more with him about foreign policy than mainstream Republicans or even Democrats like Hillary Clinton who rightly say that what’s happening in Iraq is the result of the Obama administration’s failure to act in Syria before groups like ISIS had the chance to get going:

I think the American public is coming more and more to where I am, and that those– people, like Hillary Clinton, who, she fought her own war, Hillary’s War, you know, people are gonna find that, and I think that’s what scares the Democrats the most, is that in a general election, were I to run, there’s gonna be a lot of independents and even some Democrats who say, “You know what, we are tired of war. We’re worried that Hillary Clinton will get us involved in another Middle Eastern war, because she’s so gung-ho.”

If you wanna see a transformational election in our country, let the Democrats put forward a war hawk like Hillary Clinton, and you’ll see a transformation like you’ve never seen.

In other words, Paul believes that Americans are so war weary from the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan that they are incapable of drawing conclusions from recent events. He’s not alone in thinking that. As Chris Cillizza noted in the Washington Post, a raft of polls taken earlier in the year all support the notion that Americans want a less aggressive foreign policy and are opposed to any further involvement in Middle East conflicts, like the potential wars that a “hawk” like Clinton might get the U.S. into.

Cillizza notes that these attitudes are far less popular among Democrats than Republicans, who, on the whole, remain faithful to their party’s traditional posture that deplores a more “narrow role in world affairs.” But, as Cillizza says, just because the GOP has been the standard bearer for a strong America in the recent past and Democrats the party of retreat, doesn’t mean that will always be the case.

But, as we have noted here before, Paul’s problem is that the Obama administration’s disastrous mistakes abroad have made it far less safe to assume that fears about terrorism and the decline of U.S. influence will no longer dictate attitudes about foreign affairs. While Clinton will, at least in theory, stand to benefit from being seen as someone who can implement a rational course correction from Obama’s path (so long as, that is, voters forget that she was his secretary of state for four years), Paul is actually offering an even more extreme version of Obama’s foreign-policy vision that has left the world a chaotic mess.

The crises in the Middle East in which Obama’s follies have played a not insignificant role in exacerbating conflicts in Gaza and Iraq and with the Russian assault on Ukraine proceeding may be just the start. Barring an unlikely complete transformation of the Obama administration over the course of the next two years, the odds are that America’s foreign-policy woes will grow rather than recede. That will make it harder to sell Republican primary voters, let alone the rest of the country, on Paul’s brand of isolationism. The unique moment in history in which an opening for a Republican who was actually to the left of Obama on foreign affairs may have already come to an end.

Nor, as I wrote here last week when discussing Paul’s efforts to present himself as a friend of Israel despite opposing aid to the embattled Jewish state, do polls give Republicans much reason to believe that there will be, as the senator says, a surge of young Democratic voters coming over to their side if Paul is the GOP candidate.

But mainstream Republicans who have observed the way the murder of James Foley and the general feeling of crisis have affected the public mood should not be too confident about Paul’s inability to win the nomination in 2016. As his clever stage management of the trip to Guatemala as well as past coups such as his drone filibuster in 2013 proved, the Kentucky senator is a formidable politician. His willingness to reach out to groups that have little reason to back him such as blacks, Hispanics, and supporters of Israel does more than show his ambition to expand the base of extremist libertarians. It illustrates a political vision that seeks to establish him as a genuine front-runner and plausible option for president.

It is far too early to project how this will play out in 2016. But the point here is that Paul’s ability to generate positive press from even the liberal mainstream media just at the moment when his views about the world are being discredited by events ought to scare his potential opponents. The follies of the Obama presidency may make it safe for conservatives to espouse their traditional support for a strong foreign policy in 2016 in a way that was harder to do in 2012. Yet anyone in the GOP who underestimates Rand Paul’s sheer political talent will be making a big mistake.

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Assad’s American Reinforcements and Obama’s Plunging Credibility

The underappreciated casualty of the Obama administration’s one-eighty on bombing the Assad regime last year was the president’s credibility on such strikes. Obama had carefully cultivated a reputation as a man who will not order military action until it’s too late. And so when he told the country there was no choice but to bomb Syria last summer, he staked his credibility on it: we’ve tried everything, he said, and the only option remaining was, regrettably, blowing stuff up.

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The underappreciated casualty of the Obama administration’s one-eighty on bombing the Assad regime last year was the president’s credibility on such strikes. Obama had carefully cultivated a reputation as a man who will not order military action until it’s too late. And so when he told the country there was no choice but to bomb Syria last summer, he staked his credibility on it: we’ve tried everything, he said, and the only option remaining was, regrettably, blowing stuff up.

And then John Kerry stumbled into revealing that, from the administration’s perspective, the “last resort” argument was false. Obama accepted the proposal to get rid of certain types of chemical weapons instead. Administration officials had gone, in a matter of minutes, from telling the American people why we must bomb Assad to telling the American people why we must partner with Assad. It became clear that when it came to matters of war and peace, Obama was winging it, overwhelmed by the complexity of the world.

And yet, partnering with Assad to get rid of certain chemical weapons, while an obvious scam that still snared the naïve American president, is conceptually quite different from what we’re about to do–and, according to AFP, what we’re already doing: partnering with Assad and acting as his air force. That’s a somewhat crude description, of course; we’re not allying ourselves with Assad’s Syria in the way we are allied with numerous non-monsters of the world. But we’re cooperating out of convenience:

The United States has begun reconnaissance flights over Syria and is sharing intelligence about jihadist deployments with Damascus through Iraqi and Russian channels, sources told AFP on Tuesday.

“The cooperation has already begun and the United States is giving Damascus information via Baghdad and Moscow,” one source close to the issue said on condition of anonymity.

The comments came a day after Foreign Minister Walid Muallem said Syria was willing to work with the international community against the jihadist Islamic State group, and US officials said they were poised to carry out surveillance flights over Syria.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said foreign drones had been seen over the eastern province of Deir Ezzor on Monday.

Though it hasn’t been widely confirmed, it wouldn’t be the first such report of the U.S. sharing intel with Assad to appear in recent days. And of course, several news organizations reported in January that European intelligence officials were meeting with representatives of the Syrian regime to share information on Islamist groups:

Mekdad’s remarks followed a report in The Wall Street Journal claiming that European intelligence agencies have met covertly with Assad delegates to share information on European jihadists operating in Syria, in the first such meeting since withdrawing their ambassadors when the crisis began.

The report indicated that a retired official from the British MI6 made a trip to Damascus over the summer, and that the French, German and Spanish intelligence agencies followed suit, making contact with regime officials in November and traveling to Syria from Lebanon to carry out their meeting.

President Obama appears to grasp just how silly this all sounds, but is prepared to match it with other silliness. In the New York Times’s report on Obama’s approval of surveillance drones over Syria, which seems to be a precursor to American strikes against ISIS targets there, the story mentions early on the fact that if the U.S. is to have any real effect on ISIS, it would also change the strategic equation in Syria.

In other words, it would benefit Assad. The Times explains that Obama has yet to accept that reality: “a mounting concern for the White House is how to target the Sunni extremists without helping President Bashar al-Assad.” How could the U.S. help Assad win the war without helping Assad win the war? That’s a tough one.

Meanwhile, Obama’s credibility continues to plummet. The argument for staying out of Syria was that, well, we should stay out of Syria. Advocates of involvement in the Syrian war, especially early on when there appeared to be a window of opportunity, argued that staying neutral at the time might very well mean getting involved anyway at a later date, on someone else’s terms, with America’s strategic position weakened.

The idea that the U.S. could get dragged kicking and screaming into Syria was generally dismissed as warmongering. Yet now the conflict-averse president is doing just that. A year ago Obama began the preliminary process of building up to a strike on Syria. Now he is doing the same. The difference is that a year ago Assad was the target. Now he’s the beneficiary.

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