Commentary Magazine


It’s Time for HRW’s Ken Roth to Go

Ken Roth has now been executive director of Human Rights Watch (HRW) for more than two decades; indeed, he has become an institution there. But if HRW is going to retain any credibility, it is time to demand Roth resign or be fired.

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Ken Roth has now been executive director of Human Rights Watch (HRW) for more than two decades; indeed, he has become an institution there. But if HRW is going to retain any credibility, it is time to demand Roth resign or be fired.

Here’s the problem: On October 22, a car driven by a known Hamas activist slammed into a light rail stop, injuring several Israelis and Americans, and killing a three-month-old girl. The driver of the car tried then to flee on foot, but was shot (and has since succumbed to his wounds). Hamas claimed responsibility for the attack. Seems pretty cut-and-dried. Not to Roth, who wasted no time casting doubt.

This is what Roth had to say on Twitter:

“Palestinian deadly crash into train stop. Israel calls it ‘terrorist attack…typical of Hamas’ http://trib.al/EIkJp01 

To call the attack in Jerusalem simply a car crash is like calling the 9/11 attacks a plane crash, or to call ISIS’s enslavement and rape of Yezidi women as mere groping. The contempt with which Roth holds Israel is legendary. Five years ago, its founding chairman even took to the New York Times to lament HRW’s bias and politicization under Roth.

Let us, for a moment, consider that maybe the cause of the crash was uncertain and that Hamas hadn’t claimed responsibility. Seth Mandel has addressed some of the shoddy press reporting of the incident. But a serious human-rights organization and its executive director should do more than regurgitate instant press headlines. Cognizant of its reputation and wanting its statements to carry moral weight, it should slowly and carefully gather evidence before speaking. It is this sense of process that Roth once may have understood but now eschews.

While Roth’s tweets and statements about Israel and the Palestinians often take a polemical if not unhinged tone, they are only the tip of the iceberg. In early September, I compared a series of Roth’s tweets to each other and to HRW’s reporting regarding a massacre in Egypt and came to the unfortunate conclusion that Roth appeared to simply make up numbers as the politics suited him. Roth’s tenure is also marked by an incident in which his employee Sarah Leah Whitson held a fundraiser in Saudi Arabia promising to use Saudi money donated to counter the influence of “pro-Israel pressure groups in the US, the European Union and the United Nations.” Take Roth’s inaction in that incident as an endorsement of her conspiratorial worldview. Under Roth, HRW also partnered with Al-Karama, a group whose founder ended up being designated an al-Qaeda financier. Rather than rescind, reinvestigate, and, if necessary, revise the reports in which Roth and HRW used the tainted information, Roth did nothing.

Directly because of Roth’s leadership, his statements, his decisions, and his tweets, HRW now is much less of a human-rights organization, and is instead a shrill and biased political advocacy group. This is a shame, because there is much human-rights work to be done. But so long as Roth tweets first and asks questions later and allows his Twitter feed to demonstrate a deep personal bias, then HRW cannot accomplish its mission. If Roth truly cares about the organization over which he has presided for 21 years, it is time for him to leave. If he does not have the grace to do so, then the onus is on HRW to let him go and start the hard work of rebuilding its reputation and instituting safeguards to ensure that never again will its employees’ political projects trump methodology and process.

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A Case Study in Media Bias: Today’s Jerusalem Terror Attack

I mentioned today’s Jerusalem terror attack in my earlier post, but I think it’s worth returning to in light of the information we now have as well as the bias-on-steroids we witnessed in the aftermath of the deadly attack. The only way to understand how major media outlets could behave so disreputably is to keep in mind a point I’ve made here before: the perseverance of the Palestinian narrative of the Arab-Israeli conflict depends entirely on the ignorance and dishonesty of the Western press.

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I mentioned today’s Jerusalem terror attack in my earlier post, but I think it’s worth returning to in light of the information we now have as well as the bias-on-steroids we witnessed in the aftermath of the deadly attack. The only way to understand how major media outlets could behave so disreputably is to keep in mind a point I’ve made here before: the perseverance of the Palestinian narrative of the Arab-Israeli conflict depends entirely on the ignorance and dishonesty of the Western press.

Here, briefly, is what happened:

A three-month-old girl was killed Wednesday afternoon and eight others were injured when a car crashed into a crowd at a light rail station in Jerusalem in what officials said was a likely terrorist attack.

A suspect, identified by an Israeli official as a member of terror group Hamas, attempted to flee the scene on foot and was shot by police, a police spokesperson said.

And here, also via the Times of Israel, is the aftermath:

Major clashes took place Wednesday evening between Palestinians and Israeli police forces in the East Jerusalem neighborhoods of Silwan and Issawiya, following a suspected terrorist attack in which a three-month-old Israeli girl was killed.

Dozens of masked Palestinians set tires and dumpsters ablaze and threw stones and Molotov cocktails at police officers in Silwan and Issawiya, police said in a statement.

If you want to understand the Arab-Israeli conflict, those two stories are a good introduction. The Israeli government built rail access to Arab neighborhoods in Jerusalem to better integrate them into Israeli society. Arab Jerusalemites have made the very instruments of Israeli outreach and integration into targets of sporadic violence. That violence resulted, today, in a member of a Palestinian terror group carrying out an attack and murdering a baby. In response, the Palestinians rioted. Welcome to Jerusalem 2014.

But that’s not the end of the lesson. The media’s reaction to the murder was stomach turning–and, unfortunately, not atypical.

The Associated Press got plenty of attention for its initial headline of the story: “Israeli police shoot man in east Jerusalem.” As CAMERA noted, “there were clearly enough details available at the time, even with the news still in the hazy ‘breaking’ stage, that the inappropriate and misleading headline should never have appeared on the story. The story opened by noting that a driver ‘slammed into a crowded train stop’ and was thought to be a ‘terror attack.’”

Indeed. CAMERA went on to note that about an hour later, the AP re-released the story with the following headline: “Car slams into east Jerusalem train station.” You’ll notice that this, too, is repellant behavior by the AP. Many others noticed as well, and said so. To say getting the truth from the AP on Israel is like pulling teeth would be an understatement. But finally, the truth appeared; the headline currently on the story is: “Palestinian kills baby at Jerusalem station.”

But the AP wasn’t alone. Scanning the BBC, I had noticed their initial headline (since changed as well): “Nine hurt as car hits pedestrians at Jerusalem station.” As the Jerusalem Post’s Seth Frantzman pointed out, the headline on the version he saw, and took a screenshot of, was “Car hits people at Jerusalem station.” Either the BBC was deliberately downplaying the story, or the editor in charge thought he was posting a story about an evil car magically becoming sentient only to lash out, like Black Sabbath’s Iron Man, at the humans around him.

Later in the day, after executives at the BBC located a shred of integrity hidden somewhere in the sofa cushions, that was changed as well. It now reads: “Jerusalem car ‘attack’ kills baby at rail station.” I say “a shred of integrity” because the BBC still saw fit to wrap “attack” in scare quotes. What are the options, here? Was it a car “love tap”? It was a terrorist attack, perpetrated by a member of a terrorist organization.

After the attack and the Jerusalem mayor’s declaration that the murdered baby was an American citizen, the bright shining star at the State Department, spokeswoman Marie Harf, apparently could only muster the following, as reported by the Times of Israel: “The Israelis are currently looking into the incident. We are in touch with them and we’ll see what more information we can get, also urge all sides to exercise restraint and maintain calm.” I suppose if the driver of the car had said something mean about John Kerry, she’d really let him have it.

In any event, all sides are not exercising restraint and maintaining calm. Only the Israeli side is. The Palestinians are agitating for more, relying on an international press to obfuscate and deploy scare quotes as needed.

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Americans’ Declining Trust in Our Public Institutions

Two days ago I wrote a piece on the anxiety of Americans in which I mentioned they are less trusting of our pubic institutions. Today in a story in the New York Times, written by the outstanding reporter Peter Baker, we’re told this:

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Two days ago I wrote a piece on the anxiety of Americans in which I mentioned they are less trusting of our pubic institutions. Today in a story in the New York Times, written by the outstanding reporter Peter Baker, we’re told this:

Polling by Gallup shows that since June 2009, in the heyday of the new Obama presidency, public confidence in virtually every major institution of American life has fallen, including organized religion, the military, the Supreme Court, public schools, newspapers, Congress, television news, the police, the presidency, the medical system, the criminal justice system and small business.

Mr. Baker goes on to point out that the only institutions that Gallup tested that showed slight improvement from June 2009 to June 2014 were banks, organized labor, big business, and health maintenance organizations–yet all four of them had the confidence of just roughly a quarter of the population or less.

The Times story discusses the incompetence of the president, which I believe is by now indisputable. But whether I am right or wrong, this decreasing confidence in our institutions is problematic. For one thing, it indicates that many of the institutions that are central to our lives are not working as well as they have in the past.

To be sure, some institutions (like the military, the police, and organized religion) maintain a fair amount of trust, while others (particularly our political institutions) do not. The public’s verdict on the institutions they deem trustworthy and those they don’t seems quite reasonable to me. There’s a crisis of confidence in some of our institutions and not in others; but a decreasing confidence in almost all of them. And this leakage of trust needs to be seen, I think, in the broader context of a nation that is increasingly anxious, isolated, and feeling vulnerable. Americans sense they’re traveling more through valleys than the uplands.

I’ve argued before that the reform and modernization of our public institutions is one of the great tasks, including one of the great political tasks, before us. This Times story and the polling data it relies on is more evidence why that’s necessary; and why, if conservatives and Republicans at every level of government find the right way to talk about and begin to address these challenges, they will be earn the esteem of their fellow citizens. And maybe their votes, too.

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Obama’s Gift to Republicans

One of the more amusing things to observe as we get closer to the midterm elections is the great push-and-pull that’s going on between Democratic candidates and the president.

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One of the more amusing things to observe as we get closer to the midterm elections is the great push-and-pull that’s going on between Democratic candidates and the president.

A nearly endless number of Democrats are distancing themselves from Mr. Obama, including those who have voted with him 99 percent of the time. Perhaps the most comical performance so far was by Alison Lundergan Grimes, the Democrat in Kentucky who’s challenging Mitch McConnell. Ms. Grimes has repeatedly refused to say whether she voted for Mr. Obama in 2008 and 2012, including invoking a high constitutional principle to keep her sacred little secret.

It’s now gotten to the point where even the chairwoman of the DNC, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, distanced herself from the president of her own party. And here’s what really wonderful about this: Mr. Obama won’t let Democrats run from him. He’s like their hound of heaven.

Earlier this month, in a speech to Northwestern University, the president said, “I am not on the ballot this fall. Michelle’s pretty happy about that. But make no mistake: These policies are on the ballot. Every single one of them.” And just in case that message was lost on folks, earlier this week, in an interview on Al Sharpton’s radio show, Mr. Obama said this:

some of the candidates there, you know, it is difficult for them to have me in the state because the Republicans will use that to try to fan Republican turnout. The bottom line is, though, these are all folks who vote with me — they have supported my agenda in Congress.

And this:

This isn’t about my feelings being hurt. These are folks who are strong allies and supporters of me. And I tell them, I said, you know what, you do what you need to win. I will be responsible for making sure that our voters turn up.

Now in this case, the president is absolutely right; every one of the Democratic incumbents on the ballot this November is a stalwart supporter of the Obama agenda. But they’re frantically trying to pretend they’re not; and the president, in denying them this fiction, is complicating their lives immeasurably.

Surely Mr. Obama knows all this. But the man senior aides referred to as the “black Jesus” during the 2008 campaign–a person who sees himself as a world-historical figure, healer of the planet, the symbol of the possibility of America returning to our best traditions, and all the rest–isn’t going to go gently into the good night. No siree. His vanity won’t allow it.

As a result, Mr. Obama is, for Republicans, the gift that keeps on giving. And giving. And giving.

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Europe Pretends Palestinians Don’t Exist

A recurring obstacle to peace in the Middle East is the West’s refusal to grant Palestinians agency. The desire to blame Israel or “the occupation” (a term which itself has begun colonizing Israeli land to the point of meaninglessness) for every Palestinian crime treats the Palestinians as if they have no self-control and are incapable of independent thinking. Such an attitude will necessarily prevent them from realizing statehood because it withholds the very independence their Western advocates claim to support. The latest story out of Europe is a remarkable escalation of this behavior.

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A recurring obstacle to peace in the Middle East is the West’s refusal to grant Palestinians agency. The desire to blame Israel or “the occupation” (a term which itself has begun colonizing Israeli land to the point of meaninglessness) for every Palestinian crime treats the Palestinians as if they have no self-control and are incapable of independent thinking. Such an attitude will necessarily prevent them from realizing statehood because it withholds the very independence their Western advocates claim to support. The latest story out of Europe is a remarkable escalation of this behavior.

Haaretz reports that the European Union is considering essentially removing the Palestinians from the process while also advocating religious and ethnic apartheid against Jews in Jerusalem. The paper has obtained an internal EU document that purports to suggest opening negotiations with Israel over reducing Jewish rights in the Jewish state. I wrote nearly two years ago that the emergence of the EU’s “red lines” are incompatible with Israel’s red lines, and thus the relationship between Israel and the increasingly antidemocratic EU would only continue to deteriorate. The Haaretz report is late to this notion, but confirms the prediction:

The two-page document defines several of the EU’s “red lines” regarding Israeli actions in the West Bank:

1. Construction in the Givat Hamatos neighborhood, beyond the Green Line in Jerusalem. …

2. Construction in the E1 area between Ma’aleh Adumim and Jerusalem. …

3. Further construction in the Har Homa neighborhood in Jerusalem, beyond the Green Line.

4. Israeli plans to relocate 12,000 Bedouin without their consent in a new town in the Jordan Valley, expelling them from lands in the West Bank, including E1. …

5. Harming the status-quo at the Temple Mount: The document said that attempts to challenge the status-quo have led to instability in East Jerusalem and increased tensions.

The clearest implication from this document is that according to the Europeans, the Palestinians simply don’t exist–not in any meaningful way outside of an abstract collection of non-Jews the Europeans intend to use as tools to further box in the Jews of the Middle East.

In 2011, Newt Gingrich found himself in hot water with the liberal press for saying the Palestinians were an “invented” people. His critics misunderstood the point he was trying to make, which is that Palestinian Arab nationalism as a unifying ideology is a recent phenomenon. He said as much not to disenfranchise the Palestinians but to defend the Jews of Israel from such disenfranchisement, in which the international community buys into Arab lies about Israel in order to delegitimize the Jewish state.

But Gingrich’s comments pale in comparison to the European Union’s new posture. To Gingrich, a century ago the Palestinians didn’t exist. To the Europeans, the Palestinians don’t currently exist. They do not want a true peace process, which would require good-faith negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. They want some clumsy 21st century neocolonialist glory in pretending that Brussels isn’t a global joke but rather a crusading imperial bureaucracy on the march dictating the boundaries of a changing Middle East. It isn’t enough that Europe has made its Jews feel unwelcome enough to flee the continent; they must also evict Jews thousands of miles away.

Of course, Europe’s track record of manufacturing countries and borders in the Middle East is about as good as one would expect when the goal was to divide the region against itself: the record is terrible. So now that those European-imposed or inspired borders are collapsing in a regional societal disintegration, it’s doubtful anyone is silly enough to take Europe’s advice on what the new boundaries should be once the dust settles, if it settles.

But the more pressing concern is that Europe’s latest antics will only serve to encourage and justify more violence against Jews. If Europe is going to back the Palestinian position on not rocking the boat on the Temple Mount, Brussels might want to remember that Mahmoud Abbas recently counseled violence, if necessary, to stop Jews from visiting their holy site. More terror struck Jerusalem today, and I imagine Israelis would appreciate Europe not pouring more gasoline on the fire.

It also demonstrates the absurdity of the European idea of negotiations. As I’ve mentioned in the past, Brussels seems to want a European-Israeli peace process. Europe’s peculiar take on this, however, is less like true negotiations and more like an advance warning. Wanting to “discuss” unspecified retribution against Israel if it doesn’t do as Europe says is not really a discussion at all, but a weasel-worded string of threats.

They’re also nonsensical and unreasonable. The EU’s red lines, especially on issues like E-1, contradict both the Olmert peace plan and the Clinton peace parameters. Following the EU’s advice, in other words, will make an agreement with the Palestinians virtually impossible. Which perhaps explains why the Europeans have taken the Palestinians out of the equation.

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Accountability for Military Contractors

That took long enough. Back in 2007 Blackwater contractors opened fired in Baghdad’s Nisour Square, claiming they were under attack from insurgents. But numerous eyewitnesses said the shooting, which killed 17 Iraqis, was unprovoked. Four of those involved have finally been convicted in federal court in Washington D.C.–one of murder, the other three of manslaughter.

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That took long enough. Back in 2007 Blackwater contractors opened fired in Baghdad’s Nisour Square, claiming they were under attack from insurgents. But numerous eyewitnesses said the shooting, which killed 17 Iraqis, was unprovoked. Four of those involved have finally been convicted in federal court in Washington D.C.–one of murder, the other three of manslaughter.

That is a step forward in holding contractors accountable for their conduct on the battlefield, but only a small step. After all, it took seven years to conclude this case–not that it’s concluded now since the defendants are likely to appeal. That is hardly the definition of expeditious justice. But it’s more than prosecutors have been able to accomplish in the past since only eight other individuals have been charged under statutes designed to hold contractors accountable for their battlefield conduct.

There is an imperative to do better because as the U.S. military continues its unfortunate downsizing it will have to remain reliant in the future on contractors–but their actions can detract from mission objectives if they alienate locals in the process of delivering goods or dignitaries from Point A to Point B. In the new issue of Foreign Affairs I suggest a possible reform as part of a larger look at “lessons learned” from twelve years of nonstop war:

One possible model is the way that U.S. commanders exercise authority over foreign troops. Just as the troops from contributing nations plug into a U.S.-led command structure, contractors could, too. In the future, the U.S. government should write its contracts differently. Security firms working for any branch of the U.S. government, including the State Department and USAID, and operating on a battlefield where the U.S. military is present should fall under the operational control of a senior U.S. military officer who has the power to revoke their contracts and prosecute their employees in case of misdeeds.

I am open to other ideas. But clearly something needs to be done to ensure that contractors in the future are held to the same standards as U.S. soldiers because in the places where they operate, locals do not make fine distinctions between different types of armed Americans.

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Saudi Arabia’s Strategic Rocket Force

When it comes to the Arab world, Norman Cigar, research fellow at the Marine Corps University, is one of my favorite analysts and writers. His Arabic is great, and his research often taps resources and tackles subjects other writers and academics ignore.

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When it comes to the Arab world, Norman Cigar, research fellow at the Marine Corps University, is one of my favorite analysts and writers. His Arabic is great, and his research often taps resources and tackles subjects other writers and academics ignore.

Such is the case with his latest report (.pdf), “Saudi Arabia’s Strategic Rocket Force: The Silent Service,” published last month by Middle East Studies at the Marine Corps University, but just showing up in my mailbox yesterday.

Cigar traces the birth of Saudi Arabia’s strategic rocket force in purchases three decades ago from China taken against the backdrop of the Islamic Revolution in Iran and outbreak of Iran-Iraq War. Why China? The Reagan administration, the AWACs sale notwithstanding, refused Saudi requests to purchase American missiles.

Saudi Arabia quickly came to appreciate the benefits of building a strategic rocket force. Drawing from Arabic sources, Cigar writes, “The Saudis have continued to view SSMs [surface-to-surface missiles] as an effective and cost-effective weapon system, with one senior officer highlighting SSMs’ speed, range, accuracy, the difficulty of defending against them, their relative lower cost compared to airpower, and ‘the ability to carry warheads with immense destructive power and great lethality, especially nuclear and chemical ones.’”

The report continues to examine Saudi operational thinking and Saudi concepts of deterrence. And while so much in Saudi Arabia is superficial or for show only, Cigar convincingly shows that this is not the case with Saudi Arabia’s Strategic Rocket Force. After all, rather than simply purchase some shiny missiles here and there to be unveiled during parades and on national days, the Saudis have built up a formidable infrastructure to support their missile program, including multiple bases as well as support and maintenance facilities.

With some of its arsenal aging, Cigar also traces reports that Saudi Arabia might have sought to finance Egyptian missile purchases from Russia with the intent of acquiring those missiles themselves, perhaps even for a strike against Iran. However, as Cigar notes, Saudi efforts to upgrade its missile arsenal also suggest a Plan B in case Iran does go nuclear: Not a strike against Iran, but rather quickly matching or exceeding Iran’s capabilities, perhaps by purchasing nuclear technology, while having the same or even better means to deliver nuclear warheads.

The whole report is worth reading. Saudi Arabia might now appear “moderate” but that has less to do with real reform inside the Kingdom than its juxtaposition with more radical groups such as ISIS and the Taliban, as well as the increasing promotion of radicalism by Qatar and Turkey. Stability is far from certain within Saudi Arabia as the monarchy—traditionally passed from brother to brother—approaches a generational change with all the attendant incumbent factional struggle. What is pro-Western today could be reactionary tomorrow. That does not mean undue pessimism is warranted: Saudi Arabia could continue to promote responsible leadership in the region and transform itself into a force for stability. Regardless, Saudi Arabia’s growing strategic rocket force, should certainly be on the radar of anyone following regional threats and balance of power. Thank you, Norman Cigar and the Marine Corps University, for ensuring this topic received a full airing.

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“It’s the Ideology, Stupid.”

Seeking to unseat President George H.W. Bush during the 1992 presidential campaign, Bill Clinton campaign strategist James Carville coined the phrase, “It’s the economy, stupid,” to remind Clinton campaign workers that they should focus on the economy as the key to defeating Bush, whose popularity in March 1991 peaked at more than 90 percent.

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Seeking to unseat President George H.W. Bush during the 1992 presidential campaign, Bill Clinton campaign strategist James Carville coined the phrase, “It’s the economy, stupid,” to remind Clinton campaign workers that they should focus on the economy as the key to defeating Bush, whose popularity in March 1991 peaked at more than 90 percent.

Well, given Secretary of State John Kerry’s recent quip that the Palestinian-Israeli conflict motivated ISIS recruits, perhaps it’s about time to revise that slogan to “It’s the Ideology, Stupid.” Now, I don’t mean to actually call John Kerry stupid. Just as someone needs to be valedictorian of the summer school class, Kerry might just as well be considered the valedictorian of the Obama administration. If his competition is Chuck Hagel or Joe Biden or possibly even President Obama himself, Kerry might as well be a shining star.

But the notion Kerry embraces that terrorism is motivated by grievance rather than ideology is politically correct nonsense. One of the biggest academic proponents of this argument has been University of Chicago political scientist Robert Pape. In recent years, he has doubled down on the argument that grievance rather than ideology (let alone religious ideology) motivates terror. The problem is that, as Martin Kramer has exposed, Pape shamelessly massaged and cherry picked his statistics to support a thesis which flies in the face of evidence. No wonder that Pape apparently worked with the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), a group which apologizes for the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas, and has been an unindicted co-conspirator in a terrorism finance trial, in order to inflate his book sales. But, then again, let’s not condemn Pape for hiding such things: His career has been built on obfuscating motives.

The simple fact is that reality flies in the face of Kerry’s assertion and Pape’s theories. First off, let’s not forget that even the United States intelligence community recognized the threat posed by Islamist radicalism in the years before the partition of Palestine and the creation of the State of Israel, nor does the radicalism of those attacking women and minorities in the suburbs of Paris, or targeting homosexuals on the streets of London, have anything to do with Israel.

Secondly, the most oft-cited grievances—poverty and lack of education—have no statistical link to terror. Suicide bombers tend not to be those with the least opportunities; rather, they tend to be those from educated, middle-class backgrounds. In the Gaza Strip, Pakistan, Turkey, and elsewhere, recruitment occurs in the schools. Nor do we see a rash of terrorists and murders arising from the ten poorest countries on earth. With tongue in cheek, if the United States were to base its counterterrorism policy solely on statistics, then its counterterrorism policy would seek to increase poverty and decrease education. At least we can be grateful, however, that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) hasn’t simply classified ISIS as perpetrators of “workplace violence.”

Thankfully, Katie Gorka through the Council on Global Security has now published a new white paper entitled, “The Flawed Science Behind America’s Counter-Terrorism Policy,” in which she provides both historical context to the cost of focusing on grievance as the motivator of terrorism and demonstrates how ignoring Islamist ideology costs lives. The whole report is worth reading. Obama and Kerry may be too set in their ways and more inclined to make excuses that question progressive doctrines, but let us hope that those who seek to take their place after the next election will read Gorka’s work. The cost of not doing so and continuing to tilt at politically correct windmills will be paid in lives.

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Abbas’s Palestine Is the Real Apartheid State

In recent weeks, critics of Israel have been crying foul over the fact that Jews have moved into some apartments in East Jerusalem neighborhoods. The fact that the homes were legally purchased and that the new residents were merely attempting to reside in the country’s as-yet-undivided capital was seen as irrelevant since the presence of Jews in Arab-majority areas is considered to be an obstacle to a potential partition of the city should a peace agreement with the Palestinians ever be signed. But even if we were to concede that such moves do infuriate Arabs, surely no one, not even Israel’s most adamant opponents, would be comfortable with laws that banned the presence of Jews in parts of Jerusalem or anywhere else. Right? Wrong.

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In recent weeks, critics of Israel have been crying foul over the fact that Jews have moved into some apartments in East Jerusalem neighborhoods. The fact that the homes were legally purchased and that the new residents were merely attempting to reside in the country’s as-yet-undivided capital was seen as irrelevant since the presence of Jews in Arab-majority areas is considered to be an obstacle to a potential partition of the city should a peace agreement with the Palestinians ever be signed. But even if we were to concede that such moves do infuriate Arabs, surely no one, not even Israel’s most adamant opponents, would be comfortable with laws that banned the presence of Jews in parts of Jerusalem or anywhere else. Right? Wrong.

Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas reacted to the fact that Jews have bought homes from Palestinians in parts of Jerusalem by vowing to toughen existing PA laws that forbid such sales. Yes, that’s right. In “Palestine”—be it the existing PA or Hamas states or the future independent Palestinian state that Europe is so eager to recognize even without it having to make peace with Israel—it is against the law to sell land or a home to a Jew.

The question of whether Jews should move into majority Arab neighborhoods or towns is a question of judgment. Let’s ignore for the moment the fact that the Palestinians have repeatedly rejected any peace deal that would give them an independent state and a share of Jerusalem since it would require them to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn. It is possible to argue that the two communities are better off living separately. But voluntary separation is one thing, legal restrictions on the right of Jews to live in some areas is something very different.

After all, in the State of Israel, which is routinely and falsely accused of being an “apartheid state,” Arabs may live where they please. When some areas have tried to restrict sales of property to Arabs, Israel’s courts have ruled that this is inconsistent with the principles enunciated in the country’s basic laws. While Israel is not a perfect society and the Arab minority faces challenges that are often rooted in the century-old war over the land, the principle of equality before the law for all citizens is upheld.

But in “Palestine,” not only are there no courts or government to prevent individuals or groups from discriminating, but there it is the government itself that both promulgates and ruthlessly enforces such bias.

As the Times of Israel reports:

According to the official Palestinian Wafa news agency, Abbas on Monday imposed a sentence of hard labor for life on “anyone diverting, renting or selling land to an enemy state or one of its subjects.”

Jordan’s penal code number 16 article 114, applicable in the Palestinian territories, previously subscribed “temporary hard labor” to perpetrators of the crime.

In practice, this means Jews may not buy, rent, or sell land. In other words, should the state of Palestine that sits in the United Nations ever become a real sovereign country it will be the apartheid state, not democratic Israel.

The purpose of such laws is to thwart the Zionist enterprise by which Jews have returned to their ancient homeland by legally purchasing land. But the motivating factor here is Jew hatred. Should Palestine ever become a reality, the neighborhoods where Jews have bought homes would be part of it. At that point these few Jews would be no threat to the Arab majority. But the Palestinian vision of statehood remains one in which Israel would be a country where Jews and Arabs live while Palestine will be a Judenrein—Jew-free—entity.

The point here is that peace is possible if both sides are prepared to compromise and recognize each other’s legitimacy. But the supposedly moderate Palestinian Authority of Abbas, that both President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry constantly praise as a true peace partner for Israel, is not only not interested in compromising. It is also promulgating and attempting to enforce laws that are based in anti-Semitic incitement. Were Israel to ban Arabs from moving into homes they owned in West Jerusalem, it would prompt an international outcry and condemnations from the United States. But instead America condemns Jews who move into Arab neighborhoods and stays silent when Abbas seeks to treat those who sell to Jews as criminals.

Instead of the Jewish home buying in Jerusalem being an obstacle to peace as Israel’s critics claim, it is the Arab attempt to criminalize selling to a Jew that best illustrates why peace is not yet possible.

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Tom Steyer and the Right to Free Speech

Democrats have spent much of the last year trying to fuel outrage about the efforts of what they claim is nothing less than a plot by rich conservatives to purchase American democracy. At the center of that campaign is an effort to demonize the Koch brothers with a secondary role being played by Sheldon Adelson. But, as the New York Times reports today, liberal environmentalist Tom Steyer has now exceeded Adelson as the country’s largest donor to Super PACs with at least $55 million dollars donated in the last year to help defeat Republicans in the 2014 midterms. While Steyer is within his rights to spend his money as he likes, his move into first place in the Super PAC rankings effectively demonstrates not only the hypocrisy of attacks on the Kochs but the disingenuous nature of the Democrats’ claim that the GOP is buying the election.

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Democrats have spent much of the last year trying to fuel outrage about the efforts of what they claim is nothing less than a plot by rich conservatives to purchase American democracy. At the center of that campaign is an effort to demonize the Koch brothers with a secondary role being played by Sheldon Adelson. But, as the New York Times reports today, liberal environmentalist Tom Steyer has now exceeded Adelson as the country’s largest donor to Super PACs with at least $55 million dollars donated in the last year to help defeat Republicans in the 2014 midterms. While Steyer is within his rights to spend his money as he likes, his move into first place in the Super PAC rankings effectively demonstrates not only the hypocrisy of attacks on the Kochs but the disingenuous nature of the Democrats’ claim that the GOP is buying the election.

Though Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has made the libertarian Koch brothers the centerpiece of his and other Democratic efforts to portray the conservative and Tea Party pushback against the Obama administration’s big-government agenda as nothing less than an “anti-American” conspiracy to defraud the republic, Steyer’s efforts and those of many other wealthy liberals give the lie to these claims. Steyer has been pouring money into Democratic campaigns like it was water in the last few months. Steyer’s NextGen Climate Action Committee reported yesterday that it had received $15 million from the billionaire that it, in turn, is distributing to Democrats in battleground races. He also gave $15 million in August.

Democrats say Steyer’s efforts shouldn’t be lumped in with those of the Kochs because the latter are venal while he is principled (though Reid exempts Adelson from his critique so as to avoid his Nevada resident aiming his considerable fortune at his own career). But this is nothing short of slander. As they have consistently demonstrated over the years, the Kochs’ belief in libertarian principles is no less rooted in ideology than Steyer’s belief that the world is melting and must be saved from global warming. Moreover, Koch Industries are so diversified that it is almost impossible to make a coherent argument that any measures they support are likely to make more money for them than they could lose. Moreover, the list of prominent Democratic donors that made money off of crony capitalist “green” deals with the government—of which the Solyndra scam was just the most prominent—undermines any notion that one party has cleaner hands than the other with respect to fundraising.

Liberals also contend that talk about Democratic hypocrisy on campaign finance is silly because it is wrong to ask one party to unilaterally disarm in a tough fight when the other side is deploying major donors who are willing to give millions to advance their cause. They have a point. But what they miss about all this is that their constant complaints about the supposedly disastrous impact of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision is that the bipartisan billionaire competition shows the system is working as it should.

Liberals think even more restrictive campaign-finance laws that would limit the ability of Americans to express their opinions would better serve the country. But that would mean less political speech and less debate about issues and candidates. That would make the mainstream media—to which such restrictions would not apply—even more powerful. It would also help incumbents who are better placed to attract publicity in an environment where challengers would be hard placed to raise enough money to get noticed. Outsiders on both the left and the right would have trouble making their voices heard. But that wouldn’t make the system more democratic.

While many people profess to be disgusted by the importance of money in politics, these scruples ignore the fact that money has, and always will, play a role in elections. The only question is whether we will have laws that protect the right of all Americans to exercise their right to political speech or if we will create one in which a liberal establishment that dominates the media can game the system. Both liberals and conservatives have benefited from Citizens United; the only difference is that liberal big donors pretend to be disgusted by the freedom they are afforded. Steyer’s ideas have as much right to be heard as those of the Kochs or those of the New York Times editorial page. The push to shut down political speech is a thinly veiled effort to manipulate the system. And that is a lot worse than hypocrisy.

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Gay Marriage and the Myth of Progressive American Secularism

Over the last few days a story has made the rounds about the state of Idaho coercing pastors into officiating same-sex weddings or risk a fine and jail time. The story has changed a bit, but its disturbing core remains. And there’s an aspect to this scandal that shows what’s been missing from our debate over the thought police’s consistent targeting of religious believers.

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Over the last few days a story has made the rounds about the state of Idaho coercing pastors into officiating same-sex weddings or risk a fine and jail time. The story has changed a bit, but its disturbing core remains. And there’s an aspect to this scandal that shows what’s been missing from our debate over the thought police’s consistent targeting of religious believers.

On Saturday, the faith group Alliance Defending Freedom posted a press release about the Knapps, a married couple both of whom are ordained ministers. The Knapps own and run the Hitching Post Wedding Chapel in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. The state recently passed an anti-discrimination law that applies to the state’s businesses. Hitching Post is a for-profit chapel. Thus, according to state officials, the law plainly applies without exception to the Knapps.

The ADF press release was a bit ahead of itself. “Officials threaten to punish senior citizen couple – both ordained pastors – if they decline to officiate same-sex ceremonies,” it said up top. But the threat, really, was as-yet implied. The state did, however, confirm that the law applies to the Knapps, and the Knapps have since refused to perform a wedding ceremony for a same-sex couple. The clock, then, is ticking–though as of Monday the Knapps had not been charged. They are suing the state to ensure they won’t be, by asking a federal judge to bar enforcement.

Over at the Federalist, Robert Tracinski makes an astute observation:

No one ever expects the Secular Inquisition.

Except that we actually did expect it. In fact, it’s inherent in the fundamental basis of the left’s arguments for gay marriage.

Tracinski has no objection to gay marriage, and in fact considers himself “an advocate of secularism—including secular morality and a secular basis for liberty.” He therefore opposes coercing couples like the Knapps because he doesn’t want his “views similarly discredited by association with the oppressive acts of a new Secular Inquisition.” When he says “similarly discredited,” he is referring to the fact that the Spanish Inquisition “served to discredit religion by associating it with brutality.”

Perhaps. But there’s another way of thinking about this: we should operate under the assumption that there is no secular party in this drama at all.

On October 1, Mosaic Magazine republished Irving Kristol’s 1991 COMMENTARY essay on “The Future of American Jewry.” (Mosaic has just published an e-book of Kristol’s writings on Judaism.) It is a trenchant–and just as relevant today as it was then–take on American Judaism and its entanglement with secular humanism.

About the emergence of the “American creed” of toleration mixed with relegating religion in America to a more private role, Kristol wrote:

Historians call this phase of our intellectual history, now more than a century old, “secularization,” and they point to analogous developments in other lands to sustain the thesis that secularization is an integral part of modernization. It is impossible to argue with this thesis, for which the evidence is overwhelming. But it is possible and legitimate to question the explanatory power of the concept of secularization. Something important happened, that is certain. Secularization is doubtless as good a shorthand term as any to describe what happened. It is not, however, a useful concept if one wishes to explain what happened. For what we call secularization is an idea that only makes sense from a point of view that regards traditional religions as survivals that can, at best, be adapted to a nonreligious society.

Instead, he explained, in what might be the single best one-paragraph précis of left-liberalism then and now:

When we look at secularization without an ideological parti pris, we can fairly—and, I would suggest, more accurately—describe it as the victory of a new, emergent religious impulse over the traditional biblical religions that formed the framework of Western civilization. Nor is there any mystery as to the identity of this new religious impulse. It is named, fairly and accurately, secular humanism. Merely because it incorporates the word “secular” in its self-identification does not mean that it cannot be seriously viewed as a competitive religion—though its adherents resent and resist any such ascription. Such resentment and resistance are, of course, a natural consequence of seeing the human world through “secularist” spectacles. Because secular humanism has, from the very beginning, incorporated the modern scientific view of the universe, it has always felt itself—and today still feels itself—“liberated” from any kind of religious perspective. But secular humanism is more than science, because it proceeds to make all kinds of inferences about the human condition and human possibilities that are not, in any authentic sense, scientific. Those inferences are metaphysical, and in the end theological.

Kristol wrote that in 1991, but in some ways was ahead of his time. Seventeen years later the Democratic Party nominated for president a man who appealed directly to the left’s religious zealotry by painting himself as a progressive prophet and redeemer. Announcing that his looming nomination victory “was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal” is the language of a religious fanatic, which Obama is and which his followers are as well.

And this is a religious country. Obama won, after all, promising various forms of redemption to his supporters. But the Obama phenomenon was only possible because the demand for such a false prophet existed in the first place. In fact, anyone who has observed American politics and religious discourse in recent years will be aware that when it comes to evangelism, those professing to be godless or secular or progressive are the most thorough. (For a clever take on this, watch Portlandia’s hipster version of door-knocking missionaries. Example: approaching Seattle residents with the line, “We were wondering if you were interested in accepting Portland into your life.”)

Atheists have begun to bring that spirit to life. Last year, the Associated Press detailed the rise of “atheist mega-churches” around the world. (Complete with “Born Again Humanist” bumper stickers.) That movement inspired a column in (where else?) the Guardian railing against the idea of a church for nonbelievers. As the column’s author Sadhbh Walshe, a devout nonbeliever, wrote:

I would have thought the message of atheism (if there needs to be one) is that churches and ritualized worship (whatever the focus of that worship might be) are best left to the people who feel the need to have a God figure in their lives.

Ah, but Walshe is right! The trappings of religion are for “people who feel the need to have a God figure in their lives.” And that is, it appears, most people. Especially in Western countries with religious heritage but aggressive and modern nihilistic instincts. The “secular” left needs a God figure just as much as the religious right. The difference is that the religious right eschews Inquisitions, and the left is just learning how effective they can be. Just ask the Knapps.

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Congress Can Stop Obama’s Iran Appeasement End Run

While most of the attention on the Iran nuclear issue has rightly been on the negotiations being conducted by the U.S. and its allies with Tehran, the Obama administration is already planning for the aftermath of what it hopes will be a new agreement. But rather than preparing for an effort to persuade Congress of the merits of its diplomatic efforts, the president is planning on an end run around the laws it passed and unilaterally suspending enforcement of the sanctions on Iran. In doing so, he will not only be continuing a path he has pursued on issues such as immigration but will go even further in violating the constitutional requirement that the legislative branch approve all treaties with foreign powers.

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While most of the attention on the Iran nuclear issue has rightly been on the negotiations being conducted by the U.S. and its allies with Tehran, the Obama administration is already planning for the aftermath of what it hopes will be a new agreement. But rather than preparing for an effort to persuade Congress of the merits of its diplomatic efforts, the president is planning on an end run around the laws it passed and unilaterally suspending enforcement of the sanctions on Iran. In doing so, he will not only be continuing a path he has pursued on issues such as immigration but will go even further in violating the constitutional requirement that the legislative branch approve all treaties with foreign powers.

The president’s problem isn’t limited to the fact that many Americans are rightly worried that the deal in the works with Iran is one that won’t do much to prevent the Islamist regime from eventually realizing its nuclear ambition. It’s that the economic sanctions that were imposed on Iran by laws enacted by Congress must be rescinded in the same manner that they were passed: by a vote. If the agreement that the U.S. is pushing hard to conclude with Iran is a good one, then the president and Secretary of State John Kerry should have no problem selling it to Congress, which could then simply vote to rescind the sanctions.

But such a vote would require hearings and a full debate on the matter. During the course of that debate, it almost certainly would become clear that what the administration is prepared to allow Iran would fall far short of the president’s campaign pledges to end Tehran’s nuclear program or to prevent it from ever getting a bomb. The administration has already publicly floated some of the terms it is offering the Iranians. While last year’s weak interim deal tacitly endorsed Iran’s “right” to enrich uranium that could be used for a weapon, the U.S. has retreated further from its initial tough position and is now prepared to allow the Iranians to have at least 1,000 centrifuges that could process the material to build nuclear fuel. Since the Iranians are insisting with their usual persistence that they be allowed to keep all of their centrifuges, most observers now assume that the U.S. will agree to a deal that will allow them to have thousands.

In order to save face, American negotiators have reportedly suggested that the pipes connecting the centrifuges be disconnected, a pathetic stance that further undermines American credibility since it is understood that they can easily be reconnected anytime the ayatollahs deem it in their interest. The same can be said of Iran’s agreement to deactivate its existing stockpile of enriched uranium since that too can be reversed with ease.

Seen in that light any agreement—assuming the Iranians are willing to agree to another weak deal rather than simply waiting until the international coalition Obama is leading unravels—will be difficult to sell to a skeptical Congress that pushed an unwilling administration into agreeing to the sanctions in the first place.

In order to evade the law, the president will have to do two things.

First, he will have to declare that any agreement will be merely an informal add-on to existing international deals rather than a treaty and so avoid a constitutionally required two-thirds ratification vote in the Senate he’d be unlikely to win. That will be a blatant lie but since the move would have to be taken to court, it’s a gamble he’d likely win.

Second, he will have to unilaterally suspend enforcement of the sanctions on Iran passed by Congress rather than have them rescinded. As even the New York Times notes in its article on the topic yesterday, that is not a stance even most Democrats would tolerate.

More to the point, the president’s prepared end run also signals the resumption of a political battle over renewed sanctions that the administration thought it had conclusively won last winter. At the time, majorities in the House and the Senate were prepared to enact even tougher restrictions on commerce with Iran that would have tightened the noose on Tehran’s oil business. But, with the able assistance of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, the president was able to stop the Senate from voting on the measure proposed by Senator Robert Menendez, the Foreign Relations Committee chair and Senator Mark Kirk. Supporters of more sanctions (which would not have gone into effect until the next phase of negotiations with Iran was pronounced a failure) were branded “warmongers” who didn’t want to give diplomacy a chance and thus effectively silenced.

But this time that strategy won’t work.

After a year of talks that have been dragged beyond the original six-month deadline and may yet be further extended as Iran continues its decade-old strategy of running out the clock on the West, it is no longer possible to argue that Obama needs to be given an opportunity to test the good will of the Iranians. Nor can the president pretend that the current terms are anything but a transparent surrender to Iranian demands and not a fulfillment of his pledges.

That’s why Menendez is prepared to try again this fall when Congress returns to Washington after the midterm elections. As the Times reports:

The chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Robert Menendez, the New Jersey Democrat, said over the weekend that, “If a potential deal does not substantially and effectively dismantle Iran’s illicit nuclear weapons program, I expect Congress will respond. An agreement cannot allow Iran to be a threshold nuclear state.” He has sponsored legislation to tighten sanctions if no agreement is reached by Nov. 24.

If that weren’t enough of a threat to force the administration to stiffen its spin in negotiations with Iran, there is also the real possibility that in January the president will not be able to rely on Reid to spike sanctions legislation. If, as they are favored to do, the Republicans take control of the Senate, it is highly likely that Obama will find himself presented with new sanctions legislation on his desk in the new year whether or not he has signed off on a deal with Iran.

This is a crucial moment in the negotiations with Iran when the outcome is not yet determined. Unfortunately, the president’s efforts to loosen sanctions have already undermined international support for isolating Iran. With the possibility of a new deal, they are on the verge of complete collapse. But renewed and even tougher sanctions on Iran will signal to Europe that their expectations of a return to business as usual with Iran were a bit premature.

While the president thinks he can evade his constitutional requirements to let Congress vote on a treaty or rescind another law he doesn’t like, members of both parties appear ready to respond appropriately to this lawless plan. Unlike environmental regulations or even immigration laws, appeasement of Iran isn’t something that can be imposed on the country by presidential whim.

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The Anti-ISIS Campaign’s Long Road Ahead

In recent days there has been some incremental progress against ISIS. Turkey has finally given agreement to allow some Iraqi Kurdish fighters to cross its territory to help the embattled town of Kobani, while the U.S. has airdropped some weapons and supplies to Kobani’s defenders. ISIS is making a major push toward Kobani but it is no longer in imminent danger of falling, which it appeared to be only a few days ago.

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In recent days there has been some incremental progress against ISIS. Turkey has finally given agreement to allow some Iraqi Kurdish fighters to cross its territory to help the embattled town of Kobani, while the U.S. has airdropped some weapons and supplies to Kobani’s defenders. ISIS is making a major push toward Kobani but it is no longer in imminent danger of falling, which it appeared to be only a few days ago.

But not all the news is good. Indeed ISIS continues to push forward in Anbar Province as well as in northern Iraq. It is on the outskirts of Baghdad and it is renewing its offensive against the Iraqi Yazidis and Kurds, while also setting off numerous car bombs and suicide bombs targeting Shiites.

And the U.S. response? It continues to be anemic as this article in Military Times points out. While the Department of Defense is authorized to put 1,600 troops into Iraq–itself an inadequate figure–only 1,400 have been deployed. Only 12 Special Forces teams have been deployed and then only at the brigade level. That means that “less than half of the 26 Iraqi brigades that Pentagon officials in September said were initially identified as ‘reliable partners’ among the Iraqi army’s roughly 50 total brigades” currently have advisers. And none of those advisers are allowed to go into combat with Iraqi units. Moreover, no Iraqi units below the brigade level have advisers and “there are no U.S. advisers with any Iraqi units in Anbar province,” where ISIS is busy consolidating its power.

The picture is no better when it comes to air strikes, which continue to occur at a low level, far below those of previous air campaigns. As two security analysts recently noted in the Wall Street Journal, the U.S. has been flying an average of seven strikes a day compared to 138 a day against Serbia in 1999 and 86 a day against the Taliban in 2001.

So it’s good to see a little progress in Kobani but don’t be fooled–the anti-ISIS campaign as a whole is a long, long way from achieving President Obama’s objectives to “degrade and ultimately destroy” this terrorist state. Unless the U.S. picks up its efforts, it is doubtful that goal will ever be achieved.

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The President Is Madder than Hell. Again.

A few days ago the New York Times published an article saying this:

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A few days ago the New York Times published an article saying this:

Beneath the calming reassurance that President Obama has repeatedly offered during the Ebola crisis, there is a deepening frustration, even anger, with how the government has handled key elements of the response.

Those frustrations spilled over when Mr. Obama convened his top aides in the Cabinet room after canceling his schedule on Wednesday. Medical officials were providing information that later turned out to be wrong. Guidance to local health teams was not adequate. It was unclear which Ebola patients belonged in which threat categories.

“It’s not tight,” a visibly angry Mr. Obama said of the response, according to people briefed on the meeting. He told aides they needed to get ahead of events and demanded a more hands-on approach, particularly from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “He was not satisfied with the response,” a senior official said.

This reminded me of this recent exchange with Steve Kroft of 60 Minutes:

Steve Kraft: I understand all the caveats about these regional groups. But this is an army of 40,000 people, according to some of the military estimates I heard the other day, very well-trained, very motivated.

President Obama: Well, part of it was that…

Steve Kroft: What? How did they end up where they are in control of so much territory? Was that a complete surprise to you?

President Obama: Well I think, our head of the intelligence community, Jim Clapper, has acknowledged that I think they underestimated what had been taking place in Syria.

Not “we,” but “they.”

What we have here is a chief executive who obsessively blames others (through planned leaks or public statements, or both) for failures that occur on his watch. In the case of our intelligence agencies, they made it crystal clear after the 60 Minutes interview that the president had been warned about ISIS but simply ignored those warnings. So the fault was his, not theirs.

Beyond that, though, it doesn’t seem to have dawned on Mr. Obama that he’s the chief executive, that agencies and individuals answer to him and to his White House. And that when these failures occur, it’s actually his responsibility. It’s part of the job description of being president. But Mr. Obama doesn’t seem to get it. When things go wrong, he reverts to a most peculiar habit, in which he speaks almost as if he’s an outside observer of his own administration. He complains about things going wrong as if he has no capacity to correct them. He seems to defer to others rather than exercise control over them, and then he seethes when things aren’t done right. As a result, Mr. Obama has spent much of his presidency madder than hell. See for yourself.

In this respect, Mr. Obama is the antithesis of President Kennedy. After the Bay of Pigs fiasco, Kennedy didn’t publicly blame his intelligence agencies (although there were arguably some grounds for him to do so). Nor did he refer to those intelligence agencies as “they.” Rather, JFK declared “I’m the responsible officer of the government.” He didn’t point fingers at others. And he learned from his error in judgment.

How much different, and how much worse, this Democratic president is from the one who governed a half-century ago.

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Muslims Fight for ISIS But Not Palestine

For anyone who thinks the lack of a Palestinian state is a primary cause of Muslim grievance, the flood of foreign fighters into Syria and Iraq in recent years poses a real problem. After all, none of the jihadi groups in those countries are fighting against Israel or for the Palestinians; indeed, as journalist Khaled Abu Toameh pointed out yesterday, ISIS ranks “liberating Jerusalem” way down on its list of goals and “did not even bother to comment” on this summer’s war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza. Yet while ISIS and its ilk have attracted thousands of foreign fighters to Syria and Iraq, the number of foreigners who have joined the Palestinian fight against Israel is near zero.

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For anyone who thinks the lack of a Palestinian state is a primary cause of Muslim grievance, the flood of foreign fighters into Syria and Iraq in recent years poses a real problem. After all, none of the jihadi groups in those countries are fighting against Israel or for the Palestinians; indeed, as journalist Khaled Abu Toameh pointed out yesterday, ISIS ranks “liberating Jerusalem” way down on its list of goals and “did not even bother to comment” on this summer’s war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza. Yet while ISIS and its ilk have attracted thousands of foreign fighters to Syria and Iraq, the number of foreigners who have joined the Palestinian fight against Israel is near zero.

This certainly isn’t a problem of access. The thousands of Western Muslims now fighting in Iraq and Syria could easily and legally have reached the West Bank via either Israel or Jordan; so could those from Turkey, Jordan and Egypt. They simply never cared enough to do so.

And until last year, when Egypt cracked down on the cross-border smuggling tunnels, Gaza was accessible even to nationals of Muslim countries that lack diplomatic relations with Israel: They could enter Egypt legally and cross to Gaza via the tunnels. Hamas would surely have welcomed reinforcements, but they never cared enough to come.

In short, no matter how often Westerners like Secretary of State John Kerry say the Palestinian issue is a major source of the “street anger and agitation … humiliation and denial and absence of dignity” that helps jihadi groups recruit foreign Muslims, Muslims themselves are saying the opposite with their feet: There are causes they are willing to travel across the world to fight and die for, including the dream of an Islamic caliphate and the sectarian Sunni fight against Shi’ite- and Alawite-dominated governments in Iraq and Syria. But “Palestine” isn’t one of them.

The foreign fighters flocking to Iraq and Syria also undermine another common canard: that Israel is a “racist” or “apartheid” state. After all, a “racist, apartheid state” by definition subjects its minorities to far more “humiliation and denial and absence of dignity” than non-racist, non-apartheid Europe does, so if Israel were really such a state, one would expect its Arab citizens to head the pack of foreign recruits to ISIS and company.

Yet in fact, as journalist Yossi Melman noted yesterday, only about 30 of Israel’s 1.7 million Arab citizens have gone to fight for ISIS, a “much, much smaller” percentage than the “hundreds of French or British Muslims” who have done so. Based on his figures, a mere 0.002% of Israel’s Arab population is fighting abroad. Exact numbers for either the size of European countries’ Muslim populations or the number of fighters they have in Iraq and Syria are hard to find, but based on estimates gleaned from various press reports, my own rough calculation is that the proportion of British and French Muslims fighting abroad is at least three or four times higher.

And this isn’t because Israeli Arabs are flocking to the Palestinian fight instead: Few Israeli Arabs get involved in Palestinian terror, either.

This data reinforces a point I’ve made many times before: While Jewish-Arab relations in Israel aren’t perfect, overall, Israeli Arabs are reasonably well integrated and steadily becoming more so. Thus few have any desire to go off and join a glorious jihad.

The John Kerrys of the world rarely let facts disturb their theories. But for anyone who does care about facts, the foreign fighters flocking to Iraq and Syria offer a good clue as to what issues really inflame the Muslim world. And neither Israel nor the Palestinians are high on the list.

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North Korea Agreed Framework Turns 20

Today marks the 20th anniversary of the Clinton administration’s signing of the Agreed Framework with North Korea. The lead up to the agreement and its aftermath should be a “teachable moment” for all those in the Obama administration intent on reaching a nuclear deal whatever the costs. After all, just as in 1994, the White House has committed itself to reach a deal with a rogue state with nuclear ambitions, regardless of the cost. White House actions suggest a belief that a bad deal would be better than no deal. Indeed, when researching my book on the history of American diplomacy with rogue regimes—research that took me to Korea—what became clear was that the Clinton negotiating team knew they had a bad deal but didn’t care. Communist regimes were collapsing around the globe, and so negotiators confided in private that they needn’t worry about the details, because just how long could the North Korean dictatorship last? In hindsight, the diplomatic process with North Korea was a disaster. After all, it has been against the backdrop of engagement and negotiated agreements with North Korea that the communist state has developed nuclear bombs and ballistic missiles capable of reaching the United States. Far from ending the threat from North Korea, it has been against the backdrop of often-desperate diplomacy that the threat became worse.

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Today marks the 20th anniversary of the Clinton administration’s signing of the Agreed Framework with North Korea. The lead up to the agreement and its aftermath should be a “teachable moment” for all those in the Obama administration intent on reaching a nuclear deal whatever the costs. After all, just as in 1994, the White House has committed itself to reach a deal with a rogue state with nuclear ambitions, regardless of the cost. White House actions suggest a belief that a bad deal would be better than no deal. Indeed, when researching my book on the history of American diplomacy with rogue regimes—research that took me to Korea—what became clear was that the Clinton negotiating team knew they had a bad deal but didn’t care. Communist regimes were collapsing around the globe, and so negotiators confided in private that they needn’t worry about the details, because just how long could the North Korean dictatorship last? In hindsight, the diplomatic process with North Korea was a disaster. After all, it has been against the backdrop of engagement and negotiated agreements with North Korea that the communist state has developed nuclear bombs and ballistic missiles capable of reaching the United States. Far from ending the threat from North Korea, it has been against the backdrop of often-desperate diplomacy that the threat became worse.

What happened? Bill Clinton had been president barely a month when the North Korean regime decided to test the new president. It refused to allow IAEA inspections, and soon after announced that it would withdraw from the NPT in three months’ time. Kim Il Sung expected Washington to flinch, and he was right. The State Department aimed to keep North Korea within the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty at almost any price. Robert (“Bob”) Gallucci and his colleagues later explained, “If North Korea could walk away from the treaty’s obligations with impunity at the very moment its nuclear program appeared poised for weapons production, it would have dealt a devastating blow from which the treaty might never recover.” Preserving the Treaty – even if that meant covering up the fiction of its effectiveness – trumped all else. This reaction played into Pyongyang’s hands. The scramble to preserve the NPT distracted the United States from North Korea’s greater interest: preventing inspectors from accessing sites that would demonstrate weaponization work.

Clinton’s team, unwilling to take any path that could lead to military action, sought to talk Pyongyang down from its nuclear defiance. Talking meant legitimizing brinkmanship. Sparking and riding crises became Pyongyang’s interest. Clinton’s willingness, meanwhile, to negotiate North Korea’s nuclear compliance was a concession, albeit one to which Clinton was oblivious. The 1953 armistice agreement demanded that Pyongyang reveal all military facilities and, in case of dispute, enable the Military Armistice Commission to determine the purpose of suspect facilities. By making weaker nonproliferation frameworks the new baseline, Clinton let North Korea off the hook before talks even began. Indeed, two decades later, Obama has done much the same thing with Iran: The United Nations Security Council resolutions were clear with respect to Iran’s obligations, but for the sake of compromise, Obama allowed Iran wiggle room to which it wasn’t entitled. Iran responded predictably: Given an inch, it took a mile.

Back to North Korea: As the clock ticked down on North Korea’s threat to leave the NPT, Pyongyang’s bluster and defiance increased, but Galluci’s team saw progress simply because talks continued. North Korea’s team played their American counterparts like a fiddle. Once talks began, Pyongyang recognized that the State Department’s goal always changed from protecting national security to simply keeping talks alive. If process trumped peace, then why make the final step to resolve the core conflict?

It was against the backdrop of North Korea’s refusal to allow International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspections that talk turned to providing the communist kingdom with supposed proliferation-proof light-water reactors. Galluci agreed to “support” their construction, a concession that came absent any North Korean movement to allow IAEA inspection of suspect sites. To American diplomats, this became a “step forward.”

Just as with Iran now, the IAEA held firmer to the demands for North Korean compliance than did American negotiators who feared too strict a verification and inspection regimen might undercut the possibility of a deal. When Clinton’s national security team met to discuss North Korea against the backdrop of the president’s unease with North Korea’s continued bluster, they concluded that unease or not, diplomacy was the only real choice. Clinton began almost immediately to mollify Pyongyang. Just as Obama has moved to “de-conflict the Persian Gulf,” Clinton canceled the joint U.S.–South Korea military exercise for 1994, out of deference to North Korea. When North Korean officials balked at intrusive inspections, the Clinton team agreed to negotiate what had once been North Korean commitments. And just as the Obama team bashes Israel and America’s moderate Arab allies for raising concern about Iran, twenty years ago, the Clinton team focused its ire on South Korea for raising concerns about how far American negotiators were prepared to go, and the loop holes they were prepared to tolerate.

When talks resumed, North Korea abandoned any pretense of flexibility on inspections, so the State Department doubled down on conciliation. Its no wonder Iranian negotiators have upheld North Korea as a model to emulate rather than a state to condemn.

Meanwhile, North Korean bluster increased in the face of American conciliation. Pyongyang, for example, threatened to turn Seoul into a “sea of fire.” North Korea also announced that it would remove irradiated fuel rods from Yongbyon, a process that would both eliminate evidence about Pyongyang’s intentions and enable North Korea to separate plutonium. Iran has, in this too, followed suit—eliminating evidence at Parchin knowing full well that the State Department would lose interest in order to keep diplomacy alive.

Clinton wasn’t initially as much of a pushover as his diplomats. But as the president lost patience, Kim Il Sung simply took a step back and promised renewed diplomacy to well meaning but naïve interlocutors. Today with Iran, Thomas Pickering and William Miller simply fulfill the role Jimmy Carter played twenty years ago.

Diplomacy began again, albeit with a new partner. On July 8, 1994, a heart attack felled the immortal North Korean leader, and Kim Jong-il, eldest son and mastermind of past terrorist attacks, assumed command. Negotiations progressed quickly. North Korea wanted compensation for shuttering its reactors and energy assistance until the light-water reactors would come on line. Gallucci and his team agreed. The North Korean team agreed to submit to inspections of suspect plutonium sites, but only after most light-water reactor components had shipped. Only under concerted press questioning did Clinton acknowledge that this might mean North Korea would be inspection-free for five years. What had begun as an illicit North Korean nuclear program had netted the rogue communist regime billions of dollars in aid.

Clinton’s high-stakes engagement had a cost beyond the price tag. On October 7, 1994, President Kim Young Sam of South Korea blasted Clinton’s deal with the North, saying, “If the United States wants to settle with a half-baked compromise and the media wants to describe it as a good agreement, they can. But I think it would bring more danger and peril.” There was nothing wrong with trying to resolve the problem through dialogue, he acknowledged, but the South Koreans knew very well how the North operated. “We have spoken with North Korea more than 400 times. It didn’t get us anywhere. They are not sincere,” Kim said, urging the United States not to “be led on by the manipulations of North Korea.” While Kim Young Sam was right to doubt Pyongyang’s sincerity, his outburst drew Clinton’s ire. The administration did not want any complications to derail a deal, and Clinton was willing to ignore evidence that might undercut the initiative. Two weeks later, Gallucci and Kang signed the Agreed Framework.

That Gallucci’s team believed they had salvaged North Korea’s membership in the Non-Proliferation Treaty was self-delusion. Pyongyang was never been sincere in its membership. North Korean diplomats confided that they had joined only to receive a Soviet reactor, but the Soviet Union collapsed before the Kremlin made good on the deal. Gallucci had been had.

Shortly after oil shipments to North Korea began, Pyongyang began to divert oil to its steel industry in violation of the Agreed Framework. Diplomats chose to see virtue in the regime’s cheating. Although Gallucci and his team acknowledged that North Korea “was willing to look for ways to stretch the limits of or evade the terms of agreements,” they rationalized that the regime’s oil diversion “also demonstrated the North’s ability to turn on a dime and to take surprising steps to resolve potential problems that might undercut its broader interests.” Like Wendy Sherman or Jake Sullivan today with Iran, Gallucci had become so invested in the Agreed Framework’s success that he and his team, behind the scenes, blamed other American officials for pointing out or questioning non-compliance.

Albert Einstein quipped that insanity was conducting the same action repeatedly but expecting different results each time. Twenty years ago today, American negotiators signed an agreement with North Korea in order to constrain that rogue’s nuclear ambitions. The result was an unmitigated failure. And yet, twenty years later the Obama administration is working to replicate the diplomatic disaster with another agreement, no more solid. Just as North Korea destabilizes East Asia twenty years later, so too will Obama’s diplomatic path lead to a nuclear Iran.

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To Fix Iraq: Administrative Federalism, not Tripartite Division

Max Boot picks up on former Council on Foreign Relations boss Les Gelb’s revival of Gelb’s previous proposal to divide Iraq along ethnic and sectarian lines. Let there be no confusion: Gelb’s idea is as bad an idea now as it was then. The problem isn’t Gelb’s embrace of federalism; rather, the problem is the idea that such federalism needs to be based on ethnicity or religion.

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Max Boot picks up on former Council on Foreign Relations boss Les Gelb’s revival of Gelb’s previous proposal to divide Iraq along ethnic and sectarian lines. Let there be no confusion: Gelb’s idea is as bad an idea now as it was then. The problem isn’t Gelb’s embrace of federalism; rather, the problem is the idea that such federalism needs to be based on ethnicity or religion.

True, there are three main communities in Iraq: Arab Sunnis, Arab Shiites, and Kurdish Sunnis. However, there are many smaller communities as well: The Faylis (Kurdish Shiites); both Sunni and Shiite Turkmen, Christians of different denominations; Shaykhis; and Yezidis. The geographical dividing lines between the communities can be blurrier than an Obama red line: Sunnis live in Basra; Baghdad, despite the civil war, remains a mixed city. Kirkuk is a mélange of almost every community that lives in Iraq.

Nor are those areas which are more homogeneous in ethnic or sectarian terms prone to agree with each other politically. The Kurds, after all, fought a civil war between 1994 and 1997, and despite efforts to bury the hatchet in public, events are still too fresh for three major political parties to come clean with regard to the disappeared. Shiite parties are often at odds with each other; Basra, for example, has long been the focal point of a struggle between Da’wa on one hand and a coalition of Sadrists and Ammar al-Hakim’s Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq on the other. Nor would a Sunni canton address the fundamental problem of ISIS. The primary problem Sunni Arabs face is not poor governance in Baghdad; it is the lack of Sunni Arab leadership within their own community.

I’m fortunate enough to visit three or four times a year, heading to different regions on each trip. In January, for example, I visited Kirkuk, Tikrit, Mosul, and Kurdistan. In March, I visited Baghdad. And my next trip will take me to southern Iraq. And, in July, I was able to sit down with former officials from Saddam Hussein’s regime in Jordan. None of my trips are sponsored by or coordinated with the embassy or U.S. military, and therefore I’m not subject to the security bubble or limited in my meetings only to U.S. military and embassy interlocutors. What is most interesting when talking to Iraqis is not simply the complaints of various groups or communities toward each other or the central government, but rather the subject on which many Iraqis agree: Decentralization.

Concentrating power locally is not the same as communal federalism. Iraq has 18 governorates. Rather than treat some governorates as Shiite, others as Sunni, and the remainder as Kurdish, any federalism should be based on administrative boundaries: Rather than have Baghdad (try to) control the country, the Iraqi central government should focus on defense and foreign affairs and divide Iraq’s substantial oil revenue according to estimated proportion of the population in each governorate. Administrative federalism would be healthier for Iraq than playing into the ethnic and sectarian morass.

Les Gelb cites his 2003 New York Times op-ed; let me dredge up my 2002 New York Times piece that I wrote after having spent nine months in Iraqi Kurdistan, and which discussed the nuance of federalism. Much of the piece holds true today. True, Kurdish leaders oppose administrative federalism out of fear that direct infusions of cash to Kurdish governorates might undercut their own rule, but there is nothing that prevents governorates to act in concert with each other of they so choose, as Iraqi Kurds likely would.

Nor must administrative federalism be based simply on provinces, as I had related twelve years ago. Sunni leaders suggest devolving political power even further, to districts or sub-districts bringing government closer to the people.

The reason for Iraq’s postwar over-centralization has less to do with democracy or Iraq’s long-term stability and more to do with American shortsightedness. When the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) was putting together Iraq’s Fiscal Year 2004 budget, there was a brief debate about getting provinces to build a proposed budget to pass to Baghdad which would then mediate and determine a national budget. Patrick Kennedy, then Bremer’s chief of staff, vetoed the idea: The CPA leadership was fixated on donor conferences and so needed a budget done more quickly; that required concentrating the process in Baghdad. It was the triumph of narrow, bureaucratic considerations over the big picture, and one for which Iraqis continue to pay a price. Perhaps, a decade later, it is time to reconsider, and encourage Iraq to prioritize local governance over Baghdad’s dysfunctional bureaucracy.

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Has Obama Realized the PKK Can Be Allies?

Difficulties in the Turkish government’s relationship with Turkey’s Kurdish population continue to overshadow efforts to implement a coherent and comprehensive strategy to address the problem of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

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Difficulties in the Turkish government’s relationship with Turkey’s Kurdish population continue to overshadow efforts to implement a coherent and comprehensive strategy to address the problem of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

The problem is this: While to most American audiences the Kurds might simply be the Kurds, they are divided politically, linguistically, and culturally. In short, the United States now works closely with Iraqi Kurds, but labels the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) as a terrorist group. Herein lies the problem: Masud Barzani, the leader of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the president of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in Iraq, may depict himself and may be considered by some American officials to be a Kurdish nationalist leader, but his popularity is largely limited to two Iraqi provinces: Duhok and Erbil. And even in Erbil, his popularity is tenuous.

The imprisoned PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan remains the most popular figure among Turkey’s Kurds, enjoying the support of perhaps 90 percent of Syrian Kurds, whereas Barzani barely musters 10 percent popularity there. Whereas Turkey long sought to declare Öcalan irrelevant, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan reconfirmed Öcalan as the paramount Kurdish leader in Turkey when he had his administration negotiate a ceasefire with the imprisoned Kurdish leader. This may not have been Erdoğan’s intention, but it was the result. The irony here for Turkish nationalists is that Erdoğan was likely never sincere about achieving peace with the Kurds, or at least with those Kurds who continued to embrace ethnicity rather than Sunni Islam as their predominant identity. After all, every Erdoğan outreach to the Kurds occurred in the months before elections, and was abandoned in the weeks following them, when Erdoğan no longer needed Kurdish electoral support.

Even as Erdoğan now acquiesces to some support for the besieged Kurds of Kobane, he seeks to limit the provision of that support to his allies among Barzani’s peshmerga, never mind that KDP peshmerga would be out of place in Syria and do not have the skill or dedication that the PKK’s Syrian peshmerga, the YPG, have exhibited. If Erdoğan thinks Barzani’s peshmerga can save him, he is kidding himself: As soon as those Kurdish fighters enter Syria, they will subordinate themselves to the YPG which know the ground and are, at this point, better motivated and more skilled.

Erdoğan continues to insist that there is no difference in his mind between the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) and the PKK: To the Turkish President, they’re all terrorists. Evidently, however, the American position is shifting. Obama has insisted that he approve every military operation in Syria. This is why the recent airdrop of supplies to Kobane is so important: That airdrop directly assists the PYD, YPG, and the PKK. In effect, Obama is now aiding a group that his State Department still designates a terrorist group.

In reality, that designation is probably long overdue for a review if not elimination. The PYD governs Syrian Kurdistan better than any other group which holds territory runs its government. Nowhere else in Syria can girls walk to school without escort (let alone attend school) or is there regularly scheduled municipal trash pick up. And the YPG, meanwhile, has been the most effective force fighting ISIS and the Nusra Front. Given a choice between ISIS and the PKK, the United States should choose the PKK. The group may not be perfect—it retains too much of a personality cult around Öcalan and internally could become more transparent and democratic—but in this, it is no different than Barzani’s KDP. Indeed, the only difference between the two is that the PKK has not indulged in the same sort of corruption that has transformed Barzani and his sons into billionaires.

The most interesting aspect of the U.S. airdrop to the Kurds of Kobane is how muted the reaction has been. Turkey might like to think the nearly 150 members of the Congressional Turkey Caucus would hold water for Ankara and object to the provision of arms and aid to a group Turkey’s president considers to be a terrorist entity, but its members recognize that most American officials now consider the Hamas-loving Erdoğan to be more of a threat to peace than the PKK. Indeed, perhaps with this airdrop, the change so long denied by diplomats is now apparent: The Emperor Erdoğan has no clothes. It is too early to suggest that Öcalan trumps Erdoğan in the American mind but thanks to more than a decade of Erdoğan’s rule, when deciding between Turkey and the PKK, American officials no longer will automatically side with Turkey.

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Do Early 2016 Polls Matter? For Democrats, Not Republicans

There’s a strange asymmetry to the 2016 presidential primary polls. For the Democrats, the polls actually matter, or at least tell us something important. Hillary Clinton’s dominance over her rivals has led to some recalling the “inevitability” narrative in 2008 that was, of course, shattered by Barack Obama. But the polls that showed Clinton ahead in those days weren’t as lopsided, and the path wasn’t quite so clear. It’s true that there’s no such thing as a sure thing, but Clinton’s chances of cruising to the nomination are much better this time around.

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There’s a strange asymmetry to the 2016 presidential primary polls. For the Democrats, the polls actually matter, or at least tell us something important. Hillary Clinton’s dominance over her rivals has led to some recalling the “inevitability” narrative in 2008 that was, of course, shattered by Barack Obama. But the polls that showed Clinton ahead in those days weren’t as lopsided, and the path wasn’t quite so clear. It’s true that there’s no such thing as a sure thing, but Clinton’s chances of cruising to the nomination are much better this time around.

Additionally, the polls tell us something else: Democratic voters are not interested in nominating Joe Biden. That’s significant this time if only because he’s the sitting vice president, and therefore has some claim to be next in line. It also means he has high name recognition, which is the key to leading such early polls. (Although it’s worth pointing out that if this Jimmy Kimmel man-on-the-street experiment is any indication, Biden has lower name recognition than you might otherwise think.)

Name recognition, in fact, is basically both the question and answer to deciphering such early polls. So while it’s the reason polls showing Clinton in the lead are worth paying attention to, it’s simultaneously the reason polls of the Republican side of the equation are meaningless. The latest ABC News/Washington Post poll makes this point pretty clearly:

Hillary Clinton continues to hold a commanding lead in the potential Democratic field for president in 2016, while the GOP frontrunner in the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll is a familiar figure – but one not favored by eight in 10 potential Republican voters.

That would be Mitt Romney, supported for the GOP nomination by 21 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents. That’s double the support of his closest potential rival, but it also leaves 79 percent who prefer one of 13 other possible candidates tested, or none of them.

But what happens when you remove Romney’s name from contention and ask his supporters the same question? This:

When Romney is excluded from the race, his supporters scatter, adding no clarity to the GOP free-for-all. In that scenario former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul have 12 or 13 percent support from leaned Republicans who are registered to vote. All others have support in the single digits.

As I wrote last month on Republicans and name recognition:

Take this summer poll from Gallup on the public’s familiarity with 2016 candidates. The only two Republicans to crack 60 percent were Chris Christie and Jeb Bush. … If he wins reelection in Wisconsin, Scott Walker would be considered among the GOP’s strongest candidates (on paper at least, which is all we have so far for the newbies). … Yet Gallup found Walker with the lowest familiarity of any of the GOP candidates, at just 34 percent.

Similarly, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal–the human résumé–was at just 38 percent. Huckabee was at 54 percent, higher than previous candidate Rick Santorum (but lower than Rick Perry) as well as all the non-previous candidates except Christie, Jeb Bush, and Rand Paul, who was at 55 percent. Huckabee also tied Christie for the highest favorability rating in that poll.

Now look at the new ABC/WaPo poll. There’s Huckabee, along with Jeb Bush and Rand Paul plus Romney at the top. Name recognition still roughly determines the outline of the race.

And that brings up another reason these polls aren’t much help: the actual makeup of the field when the primaries get under way. It’s doubtful Romney will run again. Huckabee is far from a sure thing to run again. Jeb Bush is probably more likely than not to pass as well, considering the fact that Christie still appears to be running and so does Bush’s fellow Floridian Marco Rubio.

Yet according to the ABC/WaPo poll, the top three vote getters on the GOP side are … Romney, Bush, and Huckabee. The pollsters took Romney out of the lineup to get a better sense of where Romney’s support was coming from (leaving Bush and Huckabee still in the top three), but they might have done better taking all three out of an additional question and seeing where the field would be without them. Rand Paul is the top voter-getter among those who either haven’t previously run for president or whose last name isn’t Bush.

After that, it gets more interesting–but not by much. Paul Ryan is a popular choice, but that’s name recognition as well since he ran on the 2012 national ticket. He also doesn’t seem all that enthusiastic about a run for president. If he doesn’t run, that means there’s a good chance three of the top four vote getters in the Romney-free version of the poll aren’t running, leaving Romney’s supporters without any of their favored candidates except Rand Paul.

Here’s another such poll, this one of Iowa voters from last week. The top two choices are Romney and Ben Carson, followed by Paul, Huckabee, and Ryan. Perhaps Romney really is running and Carson is a strong sleeper pick. But I doubt it on both counts. I also doubt Romney would win Iowa even if he ran, no matter what the Des Moines Register/Bloomberg poll says.

This is an indication of how wide-open the race is on the GOP side. But not much else. And the polls should be treated that way.

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What Federalism Will and Won’t Do in Iraq

My old boss Les Gelb makes a good case for breaking up Iraq, more or less, into three autonomous areas: Sunni, Kurdish, and Shiite. I used to be skeptical that this was either practical or desirable and I still don’t think it can stand alone as the solution to Iraq’s deep problems. But I am increasingly drawn to the conclusion that such a proposal should be part of the ultimate solution.

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My old boss Les Gelb makes a good case for breaking up Iraq, more or less, into three autonomous areas: Sunni, Kurdish, and Shiite. I used to be skeptical that this was either practical or desirable and I still don’t think it can stand alone as the solution to Iraq’s deep problems. But I am increasingly drawn to the conclusion that such a proposal should be part of the ultimate solution.

This does not mean creating three new states. That won’t work for many reasons including the fact that cities like Baghdad and Mosul contain a mixed population, that the Sunni areas of Iraq lack much oil revenue, and Sunnis have an emotional attachment to Baghdad and the Iraqi state. But it is looking increasingly unlikely that Iraq can be put together as a strongly centralized state without a larger commitment of U.S. troops than is likely in the future.

The Kurdish region is already de facto autonomous; in fact it’s almost an independent country but one that still has representation in Baghdad and gets a share of the country’s oil revenues. We need to think strongly about whether opposing de jure Kurdish independence is even in our interest anymore–would it be so bad if the Kurds realized their age-old dream to have their own state? In theory a new Kurdistan could emerge as America’s second-strongest ally in the region (after Israel with which the Kurds would likely establish ties), one that would be happy to host U.S. troops and aircraft.

Whatever happens with the Kurds, I think that it now makes sense to offer Sunnis an autonomous region of their own in return for fighting against ISIS. Indeed it may be the only way to get them to take up arms since they have no desire to be subordinate to Shiite sectarians in Baghdad who still control the government even if Nouri al-Maliki is no longer prime minister. (The appointment of a member of the Badr Corps, an Iranian-backed militia, as interior minister is evidence of that.)

But while important, federalism is not by itself the solution to Iraq’s woes. Whether the Sunnis have autonomy or not, they will still need to be trained and armed and motivated to fight against ISIS–and that won’t be easy to do no matter what political arrangements are promised since they have felt betrayed in the past by the U.S. and the Baghdad government. So the onus is still on the Obama administration to ramp up its anti-ISIS efforts which, despite some recent gains in Kobani, seem on the whole to be rather anemic. But the incentive of federalism can be one of the carrots dangled before Sunnis to get them to participate in a larger counterinsurgency campaign should one ever develop.

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