Commentary Magazine


Cruz’s Campaign Guided By Goldwater’s Theory

National Review’s Eliana Johnson, in writing about Texas Senator Ted Cruz, begins her article this way:

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National Review’s Eliana Johnson, in writing about Texas Senator Ted Cruz, begins her article this way:

To hell with the independents. That’s not usually the animating principle of a presidential campaign, but for Ted Cruz’s, it just might be.

His strategists aren’t planning to make a big play for so-called independent voters in the general election if Cruz wins the Republican nomination. According to several of the senator’s top advisers, Cruz sees a path to victory that relies instead on increasing conservative turnout; attracting votes from groups — including Jews, Hispanics, and Millennials — that have tended to favor Democrats; and, in the words of one Cruz strategist, “not getting killed with independents.”

Ms. Johnson went on to quote a Cruz adviser saying, “winning independents has meant not winning,” with the argument being that doing what it takes to win over independents has the effect of dampening enthusiasm among the base.

This approach has been tried before. In his masterful book The Making of the President 1964, Theodore White wrote:

One must begin with the political theory that accompanied the cause Goldwater championed. The theory held that for a generation the American people had been offered, in the two great parties, a choice between Tweedledum and Tweedledee; and that somewhere in the American electorate was hidden a great and frustrated conservative majority. Given a choice, not an echo, ran the theory, the homeless conservatives would come swarming to the polls to overwhelm the “collectivists,” the liberals, the “socialists,” and restore virtue to its rightful place in American leadership. The campaign of 1964 was to be the great testing of this theory.

The result was that Lyndon Johnson won with what at the time was the greatest vote, the greatest margin, and the greatest percentage (61 percent) that any president had ever drawn from the American people. By the time the dust settled, Democrats held 68 out of 100 Senate seats, 295 out of 435 House seats, 33 governorships, and Republicans had lost more than 500 seats in the state legislatures around the country.

The political theory that is accompanying the cause Cruz is championing sounds similar to the one that guided Goldwater’s. To be sure, there are differences between now and then, including the fact that Goldwater was running against a popular sitting president at a time when the economy was growing and LBJ was was running as the successor of a beloved president who had been assassinated only a year earlier. Still, some of us worry the results would be too similar.

A campaign in which strategists openly declare that winning independents is a trap for losers foreshadows what’s to come. It’s hard to see how it would lead to victory in a nation in which the core supporters of the GOP are shrinking with every election (since 1996, the white share of the eligible voting population has dropped about 2 percentage points every four years). Nor is it clear how Cruz would have any special appeal to traditionally non-Republican voters. Someone like Senator Marco Rubio or Governor John Kasich would have a good deal more success, I would think.

I could be wrong, of course, and if Senator Cruz gets his way, the campaign of 2016 will be the great testing of his theory.

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Mark Levin Should Leave the Republican Party  

Anyone who listens to the radio talk-show host Mark Levin knows he’s become a harsh, nightly critic of the Republican Party. To understand just how harsh, you should listen to his monologue from the other day.

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Anyone who listens to the radio talk-show host Mark Levin knows he’s become a harsh, nightly critic of the Republican Party. To understand just how harsh, you should listen to his monologue from the other day.

Mr. Levin begins by declaring he is “one inch away” from leaving the GOP. He goes on to accuse the Republican Party not simply of being wrong or misguided on this or that matter, but of being comprised of people who have told repeated lies and of being comprised of “damn liars.” He describes them as “losers” and a “bunch of children,” of being “munchkins, backbenchers, immature,” and of being “damn fools.” They are “pathetic, impotent, passive, childish, [and] self-defeating.” They are “dissembling, corrupt crony Republicans… who won’t even take a stand, who announce defeat, who announce surrender before the battle even ensues.” These “pathetic Republican sheep” do nothing more than “rubber stamp” what President Obama wants. And while he concedes the GOP won a huge midterm victory, he informs us that “this Republican Party had nothing to do with this landslide election.” (His listeners did.) In fact, the GOP is “in the throes of destroying itself.”

“What kind of party is this?” he asks. “What does this party stand for? It stands for nothing!”

In Levin’s telling, “The overwhelming majority of Republicans in the House and Senate voted for Obamacare, voted for amnesty, voted to violate the Constitution and violated their oaths of office and undermined the last election and undermined your franchise.” And then Levin adds this:

I will not participate in this scam. I will not participate in the dissolution of this Republic. I will not participate in the propaganda machine that has become the Republic Party and its mouthpieces and cheerleaders in the pseudo-conservative media. [Just the other day Levin referred to the Wall Street Journal’s superb editorial page as being “intellectually corrupt.”]

It seems to me, then, that Mr. Levin, if he believes what he’s saying–and what he’s saying is fairly representative of his nightly commentary–not only should leave the GOP; he’s morally compelled to do so. How on earth can he justify being part of what he deems to be a thoroughly corrupt, craven, unprincipled, and unconstitutional party?

He can’t. And so for his own sake, in order to uphold his own integrity, Levin should go the extra inch and publicly declare he is no longer a Republican and that he no longer speaks for Republicans. I believe in the politics of addition rather than subtraction, but in this case the differences are too deep and irreconcilable. The threats to split are becoming tiresome. He needs to find, or create, a party that represents his views, his philosophy, his style, his tone, his approach. It may help to think of Mr. Levin as being to today’s right what the political activist Howard Phillips was to the right of an earlier generation. (“In 1974, Mr. Phillips also left the GOP, fed up with its continuing failure to carry out anything resembling policies comporting with Mr. Phillips’ understanding of philosophical conservatism,” according to this story in the Washington Times.)

Mark Levin would be better (and his blood pressure would certainly be lower) if he were free of the GOP. And a few people might argue that the GOP would be better if it were free of him.

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Jihadists Using Liberalism Against Itself

While the West’s enemies become ever more unrestrained in the barbaric nature of their attacks, Islamist militants are increasingly pursuing tactics aimed at limiting what the West can do in its own defense. As a recent case in Britain has demonstrated, jihadists and their supporters are more than happy to fabricate the most outlandish allegations in an often successful attempt to hinder the fight against them. This is the kind of thing that Israel has been having to deal with for decades, and at some point other Western states need to comprehend that they are all up against the same enemy, one which is willing to employ the same underhanded tactics against all of us.

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While the West’s enemies become ever more unrestrained in the barbaric nature of their attacks, Islamist militants are increasingly pursuing tactics aimed at limiting what the West can do in its own defense. As a recent case in Britain has demonstrated, jihadists and their supporters are more than happy to fabricate the most outlandish allegations in an often successful attempt to hinder the fight against them. This is the kind of thing that Israel has been having to deal with for decades, and at some point other Western states need to comprehend that they are all up against the same enemy, one which is willing to employ the same underhanded tactics against all of us.

In May 2004, British troops became embroiled in a three-hour gun battle with insurgents of the Mahdi Army at Al Amara, Iraq. Following the battle it was alleged that British soldiers tortured, executed, and then mutilated the bodies of twenty Iraqi detainees. These accusations have dragged on for a decade now and in response the UK government commissioned the al-Sweady Inquiry, an investigation which has cost the British taxpayer almost $49 million, with the accusers having been able to claim financial assistance from the British state to fund their case against it.

And what did the tribunal discover? The al-Sweady Inquiry has stated unequivocally that the allegations made against the British soldiers are “without foundation,” and that those making these accusations had given evidence that was “unprincipled in the extreme” and “wholly without regard for the truth.”

So after years of investigation, and tens of millions in public money spent (much of it having been used to assist those bringing claims against the British army), the soldiers have at long last had their names cleared while the jihadi militants have been exposed as liars. Hardly surprising; it’s simply delusional to imagine that those who are so unprincipled as to use terrorism to achieve their aims would suddenly become upstanding and honest witnesses once stood before a war-crimes investigation. What these people are, however, is mendacious and calculating in the extreme, and regardless of what al-Sweady may have concluded, by using public money to advance these outrageous allegations the jihadists have won by hijacking the West’s liberalism and respect for the rule of law for their own advantage.

Quite apart from the tremendous financial cost that this investigation and many more like it have carried, the decade that these allegations circulated for have been an outstanding public-relations victory for the insurgents. The media–large parts of which were eager to see Western forces fail in Iraq and Afghanistan–were all too ready to believe the stories spun by the militants and to think the worst of our soldiers. By parroting these lies ad nauseam, the Western media assisted the militants in undermining public morale at home, eroding belief in the rightness of the cause we were fighting for and convincing many that intervention overseas is rarely a defensible or admirable undertaking. In Europe particularly, these tales provide the recruiting fodder that radicalizes young Muslims into believing that their host societies are evil and that they too must join the war against the West. If nothing else, the constant fear of these damaging war crimes allegations persuade Western governments and militaries to be still more restrained in the tactics that they feel able to use in the increasingly muted attempt to counter our enemies.

This of course is the war that Israel has been fighting for years, ever since its creation in fact. Most recently there have been feverish blood libels about the IDF harvesting Palestinian organs, of summary executions during the 2010 flotilla incident, and of a supposed massacre and mass graves in Jenin during the Second Intifada. With all of these accusations Israel is obliged to investigate the conduct of its military, and so it does. That was what was so outrageous about the UN’s Goldstone investigation and indeed the subsequent attempt to have a Goldstone II following the war in Gaza this summer. Such international inquiries are only supposed to be mandated where a state has failed to adequately investigate itself first–but in Israel’s case the international community simply steps in and puts on its own investigation regardless, usually with the conclusion having been written at the outset.

Israel, like Britain and America, does undertake costly and time-consuming investigations where there are allegations of war crimes. But as we have seen so many times before, within hours the international media will have beamed the most tarnishing accusations against Israel around the world several times over. Months later when investigators have established the allegations as baseless, no one is listening anymore and the damage is done.

The debacle of the al-Sweady Inquiry has naturally caused some outrage in Britain, and so one hopes that some lessons will have been learned. But if observers have been reminded that jihadists are readily prepared to use war crimes accusations as a second front in the war against the West, they should also recognize the same tactic when they see it being deployed against Israel. The problem is that while many of them may now realize that the Islamists their armies encounter are unreasonable fanatics, they are equally convinced that the Islamists Israel faces have a legitimate grievance and a just cause.

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North Korea No Funnier Than the Nazis

One of the memes that has popped up in the last day in the wake of Sony Pictures backing down to North Korean cyber terrorism is the comparison between The Interview—the film at the heart of the present controversy—and The Great DictatorCharlie Chaplin’s 1940 satire about Adolf Hitler and the Nazis. Actor Steve Carell and countless others have brought up the precedent of Chaplin’s classic and openly wondered about the way puny North Korea has been able to do what mighty Nazi Germany could not: intimidate Hollywood. The Washington Post’s Adam Taylor is having none of it. But in taking down the analogy, he’s wrong to dismiss North Korea as merely a basket case. It may not be Nazi Germany, but its ability to perpetrate genocide via nuclear weapons or starvation of its own people should not be dismissed. More to the point, Pyongyang’s ability use cyber warfare to compliment its nuclear capacity should require us to take it very seriously indeed.

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One of the memes that has popped up in the last day in the wake of Sony Pictures backing down to North Korean cyber terrorism is the comparison between The Interview—the film at the heart of the present controversy—and The Great DictatorCharlie Chaplin’s 1940 satire about Adolf Hitler and the Nazis. Actor Steve Carell and countless others have brought up the precedent of Chaplin’s classic and openly wondered about the way puny North Korea has been able to do what mighty Nazi Germany could not: intimidate Hollywood. The Washington Post’s Adam Taylor is having none of it. But in taking down the analogy, he’s wrong to dismiss North Korea as merely a basket case. It may not be Nazi Germany, but its ability to perpetrate genocide via nuclear weapons or starvation of its own people should not be dismissed. More to the point, Pyongyang’s ability use cyber warfare to compliment its nuclear capacity should require us to take it very seriously indeed.

Any analogy with anything connected to Nazi Germany is a perilous business and Taylor is not wrong to point out the many differences between the situation in 1940 and that of today. North Korea is a small, relatively isolated nation while Hitler had already begun his conquest of most of the European continent when Chaplin’s film came out. Though it was a military superpower, Germany lacked the capability to threaten the United States in any credible manner or to influence opinion or the distribution of The Great Dictator as North Korea has done with The Interview.

He also points out something that is painfully obvious. Chaplin’s movie is a widely admired classic while Sony’s blockbuster was thought to be an awful comedy. It’s also true as he notes that while Hollywood was somewhat ambivalent about taking on Hitler prior to the entry of the United States into World War Two, it’s been open season on North Korea in American popular culture for some time.

But there is one thing that the two films have in common. Neither comes anywhere close to detailing the horror of the regimes they are satirizing.

As Taylor notes, even Chaplin came to believe that the film that he worked so hard to get made and then distributed ultimately fell short of the mark. Though it is rightly considered a great work, its depiction of a faux Nazi Germany where a Jewish barber finds himself in big trouble underestimates the depth of Hitler’s hate and the peril facing the Jews. Like most observers at the time, Chaplin could not imagine the existence of the Nazi death industry. Though delightful in many respects, its juxtaposition of traditional slapstick and anti-Semitism doesn’t adequately convey the menace of the Nazis even as it made fun of them. Though the film is rightly revered for both its artistry and courage, silly and the Holocaust are two things that really don’t mix.

The same can be said for all the lame jokes that have circulated about North Korea and its appalling first family of murder. The North Korean regime is a punch line in which buffoons such as former basketball star Dennis Rodman figure. We rarely hear about its concentration camps, regime-imposed mass starvation, and bizarre kidnappings of foreign nationals, let alone the very real possibility that its mad leaders will one day try to use their arsenal. It may be, as some have written, that the main reason why North Korea is mocked so often is that it is not a market for Western films or television and thus was thought to be a country that could be tweaked with impunity. But the deadly nature of the regime is no joke. Nor is its ruthless and successful determination to have its way.

If we want a good World War Two analogy, it’s not absurd to think of the apparent North Korea blitz of the Sony Corporation and its ability to intimidate the film industry to withdraw the film with threats as a cyber Pearl Harbor. In 1940, Germany was powerless to stop American companies from doing a thing. This week, a minor power showed that it could bring a major American industry to its knees while Washington looked on impotently.

Though the artists attacking them are not to be compared, Kim Jon-un’s North Korea is no funnier than Hitler’s Germany. And the threat to the United States from its terrorist activities as well as its nuclear capability is equally lacking in humor. Even worse, while the United States eventually mobilized its manpower and industry to defeat the Nazis, it’s far from clear that there is any will or ability on the part of the U.S. to ever do the same to the maniacal regime in Pyongyang.

Instead of pooh-poohing the danger that may come from a small Communist dictatorship, Americans need to be spreading the alarm about North Korea and pondering how best to push the government to do something about it.

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The More, the Merrier for the GOP in 2016

In the aftermath of President Obama giving the Castro regime diplomatic recognition, Senator Marco Rubio has been pretty much everywhere, including multiple television appearances and authoring this Wall Street Journal op-ed. According to Senator Rubio, “By conceding to the oppressors in the Castro regime, this president and his administration have let the Cuban people down, further weakened America’s standing in the world and endangered Americans.”

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In the aftermath of President Obama giving the Castro regime diplomatic recognition, Senator Marco Rubio has been pretty much everywhere, including multiple television appearances and authoring this Wall Street Journal op-ed. According to Senator Rubio, “By conceding to the oppressors in the Castro regime, this president and his administration have let the Cuban people down, further weakened America’s standing in the world and endangered Americans.”

Whether or not one agrees with Rubio’s position–and I’m sympathetic to it–he makes his case clearly, intelligently, and with passion. Despite some differences with him now and then–I found his advocacy for the tactics that resulted in the 2013 government shutdown to be inexplicable, for example–I find Rubio to be one of the best advocates for conservatism in American public life.

Which brings me to the 2016 presidential race. Senator Rubio has signaled that the decision by former Florida Governor Jeb Bush to actively explore a run won’t affect what he does. I for one hope that’s the case.

I say that as someone who admirers Bush, who was a marvelously successful governor and someone I’ve defended several times (including here) against the ludicrous charge that’s he’s a RINO/moderate/neo-statist. So I’m delighted he’s inclined to throw his hat into the ring. Yet I’d feel the same way about Senator Rubio and Representative Paul Ryan, who I’m particularly close to; as well as others I have a high regard for, including Governors Kasich, Walker, and Jindal.

Beyond that, I hope that even those I’ve been critical of–including Senators Ted Cruz (for his style and approach to politics) and Rand Paul (who is too libertarian for my taste)–run as well. The same goes for Rick Perry, who seems to be preparing for this run more diligently than he did in 2012; and Governor Christie, who would be formidable if he enters the race.

There are several reasons I hope all these individuals (and others, like Mike Huckabee) run, starting with the fact that it’s impossible to know with certainty how well a candidate will do in a presidential campaign. Some people might look great on paper and do quite well during interviews on, say, Fox News Sunday–but that’s very different from running for president. The scrutiny, intensity, and demands of a presidential race–the fog that often descends in the middle of a campaign–are impossible to convey to anyone who hasn’t been a part of one.

Some candidates who run the first time, like George W. Bush, do very well; others, like Governor Perry, flame out. Still other candidates, like Ronald Reagan, run several times before they win. You just never know. To borrow an aphorism from sports: That’s why they play the game. I’d like to see who does well, and who doesn’t, in the heat of an actual campaign. So should you.

Beyond that, though, I’d like the most articulate advocates to make their case on the biggest political stage we have. Let Rand Paul and Marco Rubio debate America’s role in the world. Let Ted Cruz and Jeb Bush engage one another on immigration. Let John Kasich and Paul Ryan discuss whether governors should accept Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion. Let’s find out, too, what areas of agreement there are; what each candidate’s priorities are; and whether they can move people’s hearts as well as appeal to their minds. Let’s give them the chance to elaborate on their views of the purposes of government and the nature of conservatism.

I considered the 2012 presidential field to be, with a few exceptions, a clown act. It was discouraging almost from beginning to end. This time around, I hope the very best in the ranks of the GOP run–and out of that contest the most impressive and attractive conservative emerges. That individual, after all, will probably be a slight underdog to whomever the Democratic Party nominates.

I have my favorites, of course, and I’m happy to offer my counsel to anyone who cares to hear it or read it. But generally speaking my view of the forthcoming race is as iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another. Let the sharpening proceed.

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The Palestinians’ UN Charade Collapses

In the end, there wasn’t much suspense about the Obama administration’s decision whether to support a United Nations Security Council resolution endorsing a Palestinian state. After weeks of pointless negotiations over proposed texts, including a compromise endorsed by the French and other European nations, the wording of the proposal that the Palestinians persuaded Arab nations to put forward was so outrageous that even President Obama couldn’t even think about letting it pass because it would undermine his own policies. And the rest of the international community is just as unenthusiastic about it. In a very real sense this episode is the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict in a nutshell: the world wants to do something for the Palestinians but their leaders are more interested in pointless shows than in actually negotiating peace or doing something to improve the lives of their people.

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In the end, there wasn’t much suspense about the Obama administration’s decision whether to support a United Nations Security Council resolution endorsing a Palestinian state. After weeks of pointless negotiations over proposed texts, including a compromise endorsed by the French and other European nations, the wording of the proposal that the Palestinians persuaded Arab nations to put forward was so outrageous that even President Obama couldn’t even think about letting it pass because it would undermine his own policies. And the rest of the international community is just as unenthusiastic about it. In a very real sense this episode is the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict in a nutshell: the world wants to do something for the Palestinians but their leaders are more interested in pointless shows than in actually negotiating peace or doing something to improve the lives of their people.

The resolution that was presented to the Security Council was so extreme that Jordan, the sole Arab nation that is currently a member, didn’t want anything to do with it. But, after intense lobbying by the Palestinian Authority representative, the rest of the Arab nations prevailed upon Jordan and they put it forward where it will almost certainly languish indefinitely without a vote since its fate is preordained.

The terms it put forward were of Israeli surrender and nothing more. The Jewish state would be given one year to withdraw from all of the territory it won in a defensive war of survival in 1967 where a Palestinian state would be created. That state would not be demilitarized nor would there be any guarantees of security for Israel which would not be granted mutual recognition as the nation state of the Jewish people, a clear sign that the Palestinians are not ready to give up their century-long war against Zionism even inside the pre-1967 lines.

This is a diktat, not a peace proposal, since there would be nothing for Israel to negotiate about during the 12-month period of preparation. Of course, even if the Palestinians had accepted the slightly more reasonable terms proposed by the French, that would have also been true. But that measure would have at least given the appearance of a mutual cessation of hostilities and an acceptance of the principle of coexistence. But even those concessions, let alone a renunciation of the “right of return,” was not possible for a PA that is rightly fearful of being supplanted by Hamas. So long as Palestinian nationalism remains wedded to rejection of a Jewish state, no matter where its borders might be drawn, no one should expect the PA to end the conflict or actually make peace.

Though many of us have been understandably focused on the question of how far President Obama might go to vent his spleen at Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and his government, that petty drama is, as it has always been, a sideshow distraction from the real problem at the core of the Middle East peace process: Palestinian rejectionism.

Though the administration has tirelessly praised PA leader Mahmoud Abbas as a champion of peace in order to encourage him to live up to that reputation, he had other priorities. Rather than negotiate in good faith with the Israelis, Abbas blew up the talks last year by signing a unity pact with Hamas that he never had any intention of keeping. The purpose of that stunt, like the current UN drama, isn’t to make a Palestinian state more likely or even to increase Abbas’s leverage in the talks. Rather, it is merely a delaying tactic, and a gimmick intended to waste time, avoid negotiations, and to deflect any pressure on the PA to either sign an agreement with Israel or to turn it down.

That’s not just because the Palestinians wrongly believe that time is on their side in the conflict, a dubious assumption that some on the Israeli left also believe. The reason for these tactics is that Abbas is as incapable of making peace as he is of making war.

This is not just another case of the Palestinians “never missing an opportunity to miss an opportunity,” in Abba Eban’s immortal and quite accurate summary of their actions over the years. It’s that they are so wedded to unrealistic expectations about Israel’s decline that it would be inconceivable for them to take advantage of any opening to peace. That is why they turned down Israeli offers of statehood, including control of Gaza, almost all of the West Bank, and a share of Jerusalem, three times and refused to deal seriously with a fourth such negotiation with Netanyahu last year.

And it’s why the endless quarrels between Obama and Netanyahu over the peace process are so pointless. No matter how much Obama tilts the diplomatic playing field in the Palestinians’ direction or how often he and his supporters prattle on about time running out for Israel, Abbas has no intention of signing a peace agreement. The negotiations as well as their maneuverings at the UN and elsewhere are nothing but a charade for the PA and nothing Netanyahu could do, including offering dangerous concessions, would change that. The sooner Western leaders stop playing along with their game, the better it will be for the Palestinian people who continue to be exploited by their leaders.

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Cuomo to (Upstate) New York: Drop Dead

In January 2013, the New York Times revealed that an environmental risk assessment by the state’s health department found hydraulic fracturing–known as fracking–could be done safely (as it is in many states already). But there was a twist: the Times had the report not because it was released, but because it was apparently being suppressed and the paper got the assessment “from an expert who did not believe it should be kept secret.” Governor Andrew Cuomo was playing politics. Yesterday, he formally banned fracking after getting a primary scare from the state’s increasingly extreme left-wing fringe.

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In January 2013, the New York Times revealed that an environmental risk assessment by the state’s health department found hydraulic fracturing–known as fracking–could be done safely (as it is in many states already). But there was a twist: the Times had the report not because it was released, but because it was apparently being suppressed and the paper got the assessment “from an expert who did not believe it should be kept secret.” Governor Andrew Cuomo was playing politics. Yesterday, he formally banned fracking after getting a primary scare from the state’s increasingly extreme left-wing fringe.

Cuomo banned the practice on the recommendation of his health commissioner, who fretted over “potential risks” that “are not even fully known.” One option would have been to hire a better informed Cabinet, but one suspects the reporting of this health commissioner was what Cuomo wanted to hear anyway. The health commissioner said he based his decision, according to the Times reporter’s paraphrasing of his remarks, on “a simple question: Would he want his family to live in a community where fracking was taking place?” It almost makes you wistful for the times when the Democrats were the Party of Science, and they could at least pretend to nod in the direction of rationality.

But a major problem for Cuomo now is that while his minister of health doesn’t want to live in a community that allows fracking, Cuomo’s tenure is going to be notable for solidifying a vast swath of New York State where New Yorkers don’t want to live.

As the Times notes, it was with a heavy heart that Cuomo told much of New York State to drop dead:

Fracking, as it is known, was heavily promoted as a source of economic revival for depressed communities along New York’s border with Pennsylvania, and Mr. Cuomo had once been poised to embrace it.

Instead, the move to ban fracking left him acknowledging that, despite the intense focus he has given to solving deep economic troubles afflicting large areas upstate, the riddle remained largely unsolved. “I’ve never had anyone say to me, ‘I believe fracking is great,’ ” he said. “Not a single person in those communities. What I get is, ‘I have no alternative but fracking.’ ”

In a double blow to areas that had anticipated a resurgence led by fracking, a state panel on Wednesday backed plans for three new Las Vegas-style casinos, but none along the Pennsylvania border in the Southern Tier region. The panel, whose advice Mr. Cuomo said would quite likely be heeded, backed casino proposals in the Catskills, near Albany and between Syracuse and Rochester.

But New Yorkers fated to continued economic misery can take solace in the fact that Cuomo believes he did the right thing–for his career: “For Mr. Cuomo, a Democrat, the decision on fracking — which was immediately hailed by environmental and liberal groups — seemed likely to help repair his ties to his party’s left wing. It came after a surprisingly contentious re-election campaign in which Zephyr Teachout, a primary challenger who opposed fracking, won about a third of the vote.”

And that’s really what’s important here, isn’t it? If you want to make an omelet, you have to crack a few eggs, right? So while it may seem unfair that Cuomo condemned a portion of his state to poverty, you have to balance that with the grand gesture of human progress that is a praiseful Zephyr Teachout press release.

It should be noted, however, that Cuomo isn’t the only reason fracking is banned. He’s the reason many of those economically depressed areas will remain that way, but some of them had already been stripped of any hope by local politicians:

Local bans, on top of restrictions that the state had planned, put 63 percent of the Marcellus Shale off limits to drilling, said Joseph Martens, the state environmental conservation commissioner. “The economic benefits are clearly far lower than originally forecast,” he said.

As for Cuomo’s political fortunes, appeasing the extremist job killers that make up the New York Democratic Party’s base is not necessarily the best long-term move. Cuomo won’t be term limited out of office, so he might already be thinking of his next reelection campaign. The logic would be as follows: there is no serious Republican Party in New York, and therefore Cuomo’s relationship with the Democrats is of utmost importance. He needs New York City, in which the party’s left-wing base is crucial. He has treated other areas of New York as if he doesn’t need them because he doesn’t.

But this is too clever by half. Since there’s no Republican Party to speak of, he essentially runs unopposed in the general. If he’s worried about the primary, that’s silly: Cuomo beat Teachout by nearly thirty points, with a clear majority.

On the other hand, if Cuomo still has national aspirations–a stretch after his recent political history–banning energy production and the jobs that come with it will come back to haunt him in a presidential general election. Here too he might be thinking about the primary, and it’s true that if the Democratic Party continues to veer left, he might need to shore up his grassroots credibility. But unlike at the state level, if he won his party’s nomination he’d still have a general election battle on his hands. He seems on pace to leave office, eventually, with a poor record. That’s fine–though also unnecessary–if he only wants to beat primary jobbers for the rest of his political life. It’s foolish in the extreme if he thinks he’s going to be president.

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The North Korean Horror, in Fiction

Twice in the past two years, COMMENTARY has published a work of short fiction depicting the almost unimaginable horror of North Korean life in its most distilled form: its prison system. In July of this year, we featured “The Prisoner,” about an attempted jailbreak. In “Afterbirth,” a woman works as a midwife in a prison where she is expected to kill the babies she brings into the world. They are stunning acts of imagination, and it is even more stunning to note that their author is Linda Chavez, the conservative policy intellectual, immigration expert, and civil-rights activist. Given the news over the past week, these stories are really worthy of your time.

Twice in the past two years, COMMENTARY has published a work of short fiction depicting the almost unimaginable horror of North Korean life in its most distilled form: its prison system. In July of this year, we featured “The Prisoner,” about an attempted jailbreak. In “Afterbirth,” a woman works as a midwife in a prison where she is expected to kill the babies she brings into the world. They are stunning acts of imagination, and it is even more stunning to note that their author is Linda Chavez, the conservative policy intellectual, immigration expert, and civil-rights activist. Given the news over the past week, these stories are really worthy of your time.

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A Bad Day at the Office for Nicolas Maduro

If you want evidence that the Cuban regime is the real master of Venezuela’s murky and corrupt politics, look no further than the statement issued by the beleaguered president, Nicolas Maduro, in response to the coming normalization of U.S.-Cuba ties announced yesterday.

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If you want evidence that the Cuban regime is the real master of Venezuela’s murky and corrupt politics, look no further than the statement issued by the beleaguered president, Nicolas Maduro, in response to the coming normalization of U.S.-Cuba ties announced yesterday.

“I am very happy,” Maduro gushed, according to a report from the regime’s English-language mouthpiece, Venezuelanalysis. “We must recognize the gesture of President Barack Obama, a brave and necessary gesture in history. He has taken a step, perhaps the most important one of his presidency.”

Given that as recently as March, Maduro was warning Obama that it “would be the worst mistake of your life to authorize the assassination of President Nicolas Maduro and fill Venezuela with violence,” this marks progress of sorts. In recent weeks, Maduro has even been cautiously flattering Obama, arguing that while the Eric Garner ruling demonstrates that racism in America has gotten worse under its first black president, “I respect Obama personally. But I think he’s a hostage of the real powers in the United States, and he decided not to fight. He’s tired, exhausted.”

It would, however, be a grave mistake to conclude that the U.S.-Cuba rapprochement will stabilize the chavista regime, whatever Maduro says. The Venezuelan president, who spent the years 1986 and 1987 receiving his political training at the sinisterly-named “School of Political Education” in Havana, has long been dismissed by the Venezuelan opposition as a Cuban agent controlled by the Castro brothers, and therefore forbidden from openly criticizing Cuba’s ruling Communists.

Were Maduro permitted to say what he’s really thinking, we would see a decidedly different reaction. For the last fifteen years, and with the active collusion of first Hugo Chavez, and then Maduro, Cuba has treated Venezuela as a colony. By supplying the Cubans with 100,000 barrels of oil per day, a subsidy worth on average around $7 billion annually, the chavistas rescued Fidel Castro from the vacuum created by the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, which meant that Cuba could no longer ship its sugar to the USSR at an inflated price.

Although the Venezuelans provided the Cubans with salvation economically, from the very beginning it was Havana that called the shots politically. In his biography of Chavez, Comandante, the journalist Rory Carroll recounted a conversation with a leading Chavez confidante identified only as “Andres.” “The old fox sniffed him right out,” Andres related, as he described the first meeting between Fidel and a starstruck Chavez. “He recognized Chavez’s potential straightaway. And his weaknesses.”

The oil arrangement was a clear win for the Cubans. As well as securing an oil supply without having to part with much-needed hard currency, the barter deal agreed with Caracas allowed the Cubans to send military and intelligence officers to Venezuela along with the doctors and nurses who arrived there in lieu of cash payments for the oil.

At the same time, though, Cuba’s control of Venezuela was never absolute. When Chavez was first diagnosed with the cancer he eventually succumbed to in a Cuban hospital in 2013, The Economist presciently observed that “Venezuela apart, nowhere would his departure from office be felt more strongly than in Cuba.” At that time, not only was the Venezuelan opposition finally getting its act together, but fissures within the regime were also becoming visible. The Cubans rightly feared that without Chavez, they would eventually have to look elsewhere for a lifeline.

Almost two years after Chavez’s death, the value of Venezuela to Cuba’s future has declined precipitously. Maduro now faces a real rival in the form of Diosdado Cabello, the speaker of the National Assembly, who does not share his fealty to the Cubans and is closely tied to the generals and other military officers who make their money from narcotics trafficking. And there is a third faction too: the colectivos, chavista paramilitaries based in poor urban neighborhoods, are increasingly unhappy with Maduro, who can no longer sustain the social programs launched by Chavez that won him the votes he needed to stay in power.

The economic outlook for Venezuela is as uncertain as the political one. With 96 percent of its dollar earnings coming from oil exports, the dramatic tumble in oil prices has boosted speculation that Caracas will default on its foreign debt and exposed the country’s isolation within OPEC, where the Saudis and Kuwaitis have made it plain that they are content to live with low oil prices for a while longer. What this means in concrete terms is that Venezuela loses $700 million a year for each $1 per barrel drop in oil prices.

No wonder, then, that the Cubans are now looking elsewhere–and specifically to the United States–for political and economic support. And no wonder that Maduro looks like an emperor with no clothes: after all, the Cuban subsidy was a major factor behind the shortage of basic goods and the rampant inflation within Venezuela. Maduro has precious little to justify the relationship cemented by his predecessor, especially now that the country is at its lowest point since Chavez took power. Indeed, the Venezuelan president cannot even rely on the Cubans to provide him with rhetorical support, as he attempts to combat a congressional bill that denies visas to and freezes the assets of those Venezuelan officials behind the repression of pro-democracy demonstrations earlier this year.

“It looks like Raul [Castro] is cheating on Nicolas!” joked Venezuelan opposition leader Henrique Capriles after learning of the U.S.-Cuba deal. The chavistas “were never allies of the Castros as Chavez tried to make us believe for too many years,” wrote the dissident blogger, Daniel Duquenal. “We were just a Castro colony, a pawn with an accidental wallet to pluck.” Those reactions are fairly typical of how Venezuelans perceive the new climate between the U.S. and Cuba, and how skeptical they are of Maduro’s claim that he is delighted by the warming of ties.

Yet even if Maduro’s days are numbered, that does not imply that Venezuela’s democratic future is assured. Prominent opposition figures like Leopoldo Lopez, Enzo Scarano and Daniel Ceballos remain incarcerated in jail, and the regime is determined that Maria Corina Machado, another outspoken opposition figure, will share the same fate. Obama may have pulled Cuba back from the precipice, but, as always, the Venezuelans will be left to their own devices.

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Hamas-Iran Rapprochement Bodes Ill for Israel and U.S. Interests

With many European nations clamoring for recognition of Palestine as an independent state, the Palestinian state that already exists was busy reconciling with its most important patron. Hamas, which operates as an independent state in all but name operating in Gaza, quarreled with Iran about the Syrian civil war. But after several months of efforts to patch up that spat, it appears that relations between the two are now back on track. That should worry those who hoped that Hamas would be chastened by the disastrous war with Israel it launched last summer. It should also bother those who think the Obama administration’s effort to create a new détente with Tehran won’t have an impact on the rest of the Middle East and in particular, the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. A resurgent Hamas-Iran alliance makes the region more dangerous for both the Jewish state and the United States.

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With many European nations clamoring for recognition of Palestine as an independent state, the Palestinian state that already exists was busy reconciling with its most important patron. Hamas, which operates as an independent state in all but name operating in Gaza, quarreled with Iran about the Syrian civil war. But after several months of efforts to patch up that spat, it appears that relations between the two are now back on track. That should worry those who hoped that Hamas would be chastened by the disastrous war with Israel it launched last summer. It should also bother those who think the Obama administration’s effort to create a new détente with Tehran won’t have an impact on the rest of the Middle East and in particular, the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. A resurgent Hamas-Iran alliance makes the region more dangerous for both the Jewish state and the United States.

Iran was Hamas’s patron throughout the second intifada as it shipped arms and money to the terror group that enabled it to open a southern front to compliment the one on Israel’s northern border where Tehran’s Hezbollah auxiliaries operate. Iran played a crucial role in ensuring that not only could Hamas keep firing rockets on Israeli cities, towns, and villages but that the Islamists could wield an effective veto on any moves toward peace undertaken by the supposedly more moderate Palestinian Authority.

That changed in 2011 when Iran and Hamas quarreled over Syria. Iran was fully committed to the survival of its ally, the brutal Bashar Assad regime. But Hamas, following the lead of some of its Gulf State friends as well as Turkey, backed Assad’s opponents. The decision stemmed in part from the one big difference that had always made Iran and Hamas an odd couple. As a Sunni group, Hamas felt closer to Sunni Arab states that feared the spread of Iran’s Shi’a sphere of influence. The result was that the political office of the group left Damascus and Iran turned off both the funding and the arms it had been sending Hamas.

But as the West failed to act to oust Assad, it was soon clear that Hamas had bet on the wrong side. Fortunately for them, Iran seems to be willing to forgive and forget and Tehran, which had supported Hamas’s smaller Islamic Jihad rival, may now be ready to invest heavily in Gaza once again. For all of their religious and political differences, their mutual commitment to Israel’s destruction has once again brought Hamas and Iran together.

The timing couldn’t be better for Hamas, which has been financially squeezed by the fall of its Muslim Brotherhood ally in Egypt and the consequent decision of Cairo to shut down the smuggling tunnels into Gaza that provided the terrorists with their principal source of income. It needs more money than the foolish Western nations that are contributing to the rebuilding of Gaza after last summer are willing to give. That’s because its goal isn’t to construct homes but rather to rebuild the strip’s military infrastructure (including terror tunnels along the border with Israel) and replenishing its arsenal of rockets and other munitions. While it was going to be able to divert some of the humanitarian aid donated by the West for this purpose, generous Iranian contributions will both speed up the process and ensure that Hamas will soon be in as strong a military position as it was before its foolish decision to start shooting at Israeli cities.

But the implications of the move are broader than just the already tense front along the Israel-Gaza border.

By rekindling its alliance with Hamas, Iran is demonstrating its ability to wield influence across the Middle East in a manner that is profoundly destabilizing for moderate neighboring Arab states such as Jordan and Egypt. With Hamas back in Tehran’s fold, it not only gives Supreme Leader Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei the ability to put military pressure on Israel from two directions. It also reinforces the impression that its grip on the region is growing with Assad still firmly in place in Syria and Hezbollah pulling the strings in Lebanon.

Moreover, Iran’s growing power can’t be separated from the direction of the nuclear talks it is holding with the United States and other Western allies. With the Obama administration desperate to get Iran to sign a nuclear deal no matter how weak it may be, pressure on Tehran to modify its behavior is diminishing. It’s not just that it’s obvious that an agreement will signify Western acquiescence to Iran becoming a nuclear threshold power. Any deal, accompanied as it will be by the end of sanctions, will make it easier for the Islamist regime to aid Hamas and strengthen that terror group immeasurably because other Arab states will have good reason to fear Iran’s displeasure.

The result of this series of events will not make Israel less secure. But U.S. influence will be similarly diminished and American allies will have good reason to worry about Obama’s determination to retreat from the region and embrace good relations with an Iran they rightly fear.

Europeans are moving toward legitimizing Hamas, as the recent decision from the European Union court indicated. But in doing so, they are making it less likely that the Palestinian state or states they wish to establish will have any interest in peace. And with America appeasing Iran, there seems to be no reason for Sunnis who want to back the strong horse to avoid embracing Iran.

Seen in that light, President Obama’s decision to appease Iran is even more dangerous than it seems. With a potentially nuclear Iran backing Hamas to the hilt, the prospect of peace between Israel and the Palestinians is more remote than ever.

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On Cuba, Rubio Runs Rings Around Obama

The week started off just fine for Marco Rubio, took a hit on Tuesday with the announcement that Jeb Bush is pushing forward with a presidential candidacy, and then improved vastly when the Florida senator got a gift from President Obama yesterday. Obama announced his move toward normalizing relations with the Castro regime, and though plenty of Republicans oppose this new policy, Rubio takes center stage for several reasons.

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The week started off just fine for Marco Rubio, took a hit on Tuesday with the announcement that Jeb Bush is pushing forward with a presidential candidacy, and then improved vastly when the Florida senator got a gift from President Obama yesterday. Obama announced his move toward normalizing relations with the Castro regime, and though plenty of Republicans oppose this new policy, Rubio takes center stage for several reasons.

First, Rubio’s Cuban heritage–his parents fled the island–gives the senator’s objections an authenticity most others lack. This is personal for him. Second, it turns the subject back not only to foreign policy, on which Rubio is more fluent than virtually any other elected politician in the country right now, but also on a specific subject that is right in his wheelhouse. Rubio’s expertise means that while Obama is stumbling through statements filled with straw men and defensive and shallow rationalizations, Rubio can step up to the microphone with almost no notice and run circles around Obama.

Which he did. Here is the video of Rubio’s press conference after yesterday’s announcement. The confidence and the command of the issues are almost unfair to Obama: the president is just completely out of his league on this. He followed up with an op-ed in today’s Wall Street Journal, in which he points out that while there is a serious discussion to be had about the efficacy of America’s prevailing Cuba policy, that doesn’t justify what is obviously a naïve, poorly negotiated deal (an Obama specialty). Rubio writes:

The entire policy shift is based on the illusion—in fact, on the lie—that more commerce and access to money and goods will translate to political freedom for the Cuban people. Cuba already enjoys access to commerce, money and goods from other nations, and yet the Cuban people are still not free. They are not free because the regime—just as it does with every aspect of life—manipulates and controls to its own advantage all currency that flows into the island. More economic engagement with the U.S. means that the regime’s grip on power will be strengthened for decades to come—dashing the Cuban people’s hopes for freedom and democracy.

Of course, like all Americans, I am overjoyed for Alan Gross and his family after his release from captivity after five years. This American had been a hostage of the regime, and it was through his imprisonment that the Cuban regime again showed the world its cruel nature.

But the policy changes announced by President Obama will have far-reaching consequences for the American people. President Obama made it clear that if you take an American hostage and are willing to hold him long enough, you may not only get your own prisoners released from U.S. jails—as three Cuban spies were—you may actually win lasting policy concessions from the U.S. as well. This precedent places a new price on the head of every American, and it gives rogue leaders around the world more clear-cut evidence of this president’s naïveté and his willingness to abandon fundamental principles in a desperate attempt to burnish his legacy. There can be no doubt that the regime in Tehran is watching closely, and it will try to exploit President Obama’s naïveté as the Iranian leaders pursue concessions from the U.S. in their quest to establish themselves as a nuclear power.

Obama’s lack of knowledge about the world, and his refusal to take advice from anyone outside an inner circle that at this point could fit in a phone booth, is on full display in moments like this. And it also holds back his own side in these debates. As Rubio writes, there really is a debate to be had on U.S.-Cuba relations. But Obama is so clumsy and unknowledgeable that you wouldn’t know his side of this argument has merit. (It’s one reason why when Obama goes on speaking tours to promote a policy, that policy inevitably drops in popularity.)

Democrats need someone who understands foreign policy to step in at such times. Obama is just eroding whatever credibility they had.

Another reason Rubio benefits from this is that Obama needs Congress for some of the more significant parts of this policy shift. He needs the Senate, for example, to confirm an ambassador to Cuba. Rubio said he expects to be chairman of the Western Hemisphere subcommittee of the Foreign Relations Committee next session. His message to the administration: “I anticipate we’re going to have a very interesting couple of years discussing how you’re going to get an ambassador nominated and how you’ll get an embassy funded.”

Republicans should not underestimate how much this helps Rubio maintain a high profile in opposition to Obama. The president has two years left, and for those two years Rubio will be the most important figure standing between Obama and a yet another of his capitulations to foreign dictators. Even if Rubio doesn’t run for president, he will establish his power base in the Senate and put himself in line to set the GOP’s congressional tone on foreign policy. And Democrats will simply have to produce a better foreign-policy mind than Obama’s if they’re going to compete with him.

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Peter Wehner: COMMENTARY’s Essays Are Monuments to Excellence

COMMENTARY is an incandescent magazine, the best of its kind in the world. For more than a half-century it has published the finest minds writing on the most important issues facing America, Israel, and the world. COMMENTARY knows what to stand for and what to stand against–and it does so with piercing intelligence, rigorous and persuasive arguments, integrity and courage. One cannot help but be struck by the breadth and quality of the articles, which are always relevant, never trendy, monuments to excellence. There are very few genuinely indispensable magazines; COMMENTARY is one of them. It has earned your trust; it deserves your support.

Help support COMMENTARY. Please click here to donate.

COMMENTARY is an incandescent magazine, the best of its kind in the world. For more than a half-century it has published the finest minds writing on the most important issues facing America, Israel, and the world. COMMENTARY knows what to stand for and what to stand against–and it does so with piercing intelligence, rigorous and persuasive arguments, integrity and courage. One cannot help but be struck by the breadth and quality of the articles, which are always relevant, never trendy, monuments to excellence. There are very few genuinely indispensable magazines; COMMENTARY is one of them. It has earned your trust; it deserves your support.

Help support COMMENTARY. Please click here to donate.

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New Harvard Doctrine: Palestinians Matter More than Jews

Some, but by no means all, Palestinians, think that SodaStream, a company that does business in the West Bank, should be boycotted on the grounds that it profits from the “occupation.” I say some but by no means all because the boycott, divestment, sanctions movement does not represent all Palestinians. Not all Palestinians, for example, balk at the prospect of Israelis and Palestinians cooperating. But the BDS movement views such cooperation, unless it is explicitly anti-Israel, as “normalization.” An observer from Reuters describes Sodastream’s West Bank factory this way: “Inside the plant, assembly lines buzz to the mixed voices in Hebrew and Arabic of its employees — a rare example of people from the two sides working and talking together.” That’s the kind of thing BDS cannot tolerate, especially if it means that Palestinians are able to earn a higher wage than they could elsewhere.

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Some, but by no means all, Palestinians, think that SodaStream, a company that does business in the West Bank, should be boycotted on the grounds that it profits from the “occupation.” I say some but by no means all because the boycott, divestment, sanctions movement does not represent all Palestinians. Not all Palestinians, for example, balk at the prospect of Israelis and Palestinians cooperating. But the BDS movement views such cooperation, unless it is explicitly anti-Israel, as “normalization.” An observer from Reuters describes Sodastream’s West Bank factory this way: “Inside the plant, assembly lines buzz to the mixed voices in Hebrew and Arabic of its employees — a rare example of people from the two sides working and talking together.” That’s the kind of thing BDS cannot tolerate, especially if it means that Palestinians are able to earn a higher wage than they could elsewhere.

Some, but by no means all, Jews consider the BDS movement anti-Semitic because, among other reasons, it calls for an end to the only Jewish state. This group includes some Harvard University students.

Nonetheless, Harvard University has apparently chosen to stand with BDS. According to a Harvard University Dining Services spokesperson, the HDS has agreed “to remove SodaStream labels on current machines and purchase machines from other companies such as American firms EverPure and Crysalli in the future.” Although BDS has a history of claiming victories prematurely, and although HDS has not said why it is removing SodaStream labels from the machines, it is hard to imagine any justification other than the one set forth by Rachel J. Sandalow, a student leader in the pro-BDS Open Hillel movement: “These machines can be seen as a microaggression to Palestinian students and their families and like the University doesn’t care about Palestinian human rights.” The HDS action followed a meeting which included Harvard professors and administrators, and representatives of the Palestinian Solidarity Committee.

Let’s set aside whether Harvard should make policy based on perceived “microaggressions.” What’s striking here is that Harvard cares only about the “microaggressons” perceived by certain groups. One participant at the meeting apparently pointed out that wiping out SodaStream’s name may be perceived as an endorsement of anti-Israeli politics. That participant wasn’t wrong, but insofar as BDS also represents, for at least some Jewish students, anti-Semitism, it could also be perceived by them as an endorsement of anti-Jewish politics. If Harvard is serious about rooting our microaggressions, then they should take the concerns of those students seriously.

Of course, there is no action Harvard could have taken that would not have offended someone, which tells us something about the wisdom of enacting policies simply to avoid offending people. In the end, you have to choose whom you’re going to offend. Harvard shamefully judged it safest to offend the Jews.

Harvard’s president, Drew Gilpin Faust, has recognized that academic boycotts against Israel are unacceptable. She should also recognize that this mini-boycott is unacceptable and reverse the decision.

UPDATE: Harvard’s provost Alan M. Garber strongly suggests that this decision will not stand. “Harvard University’s procurement decisions should not and will not be driven by individuals’ views of highly contested matters of political controversy,” Garber wrote in an emailed statement in response to the report of the decision shortly after 11 p.m. Wednesday. “If this policy is not currently known or understood in some parts of the University, that will be rectified now.” President Faust has requested in investigation.

 

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Everybody Hates Ted? Cruz Doesn’t Care.

Yesterday at a lunch attended by members of the Senate’s Republican caucus, Ted Cruz reportedly made an unsolicited apology to his colleagues for ruining their weekend. It’s not clear whether most of his fellow GOP senators accepted the apology. As mad as some of them were for having to cancel their plans in order to stay in the Senate over the weekend, many were also furious about the way Cruz’s decision to oppose a deal that would have passed the Cromnibus on Friday led to weekend sessions that also gave Democratic leader Harry Reid the opening that he used to get some Obama administration appointees confirmed before the end of the lame duck session. But Cruz was unrepentant about forcing an up-or-down vote on immigration. Nor is he particularly upset about the way most members of the Senate seem to think about him. While we can debate the wisdom of his positions, no one should be in any doubt as to whether they are making him a stronger candidate for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016.

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Yesterday at a lunch attended by members of the Senate’s Republican caucus, Ted Cruz reportedly made an unsolicited apology to his colleagues for ruining their weekend. It’s not clear whether most of his fellow GOP senators accepted the apology. As mad as some of them were for having to cancel their plans in order to stay in the Senate over the weekend, many were also furious about the way Cruz’s decision to oppose a deal that would have passed the Cromnibus on Friday led to weekend sessions that also gave Democratic leader Harry Reid the opening that he used to get some Obama administration appointees confirmed before the end of the lame duck session. But Cruz was unrepentant about forcing an up-or-down vote on immigration. Nor is he particularly upset about the way most members of the Senate seem to think about him. While we can debate the wisdom of his positions, no one should be in any doubt as to whether they are making him a stronger candidate for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016.

Cruz came into the Senate in January 2013 determined to oppose a business-as-usual attitude. But unlike most brash freshmen that eventually calm down and realize that the advantages that come from playing by the rules of one of the world’s most exclusive clubs generally outweigh the thrill of being a Capitol Hill bomb-thrower, Cruz hasn’t changed his tune. His is, as the invaluable Charles Krauthammer said on Fox News this week, a conservatism that revolves around making statements rather than “getting things done.” Most Republicans are rightly concerned about using their new majorities in Congress to show they can govern effectively. Thus, “statements” such as Cruz’s demand that every senator put themselves on record as opposing the president’s extralegal executive orders on immigration came at too high a price since it would have meant the possibility of another damaging government shutdown.

Most senators understand the shutdown Cruz helped engineer in 2013 was a bad mistake and want no part of a repeat performance. Even more to the point, they are outraged that Cruz has never acknowledged that his tactics were mistaken and furious about his belief that another attempt would be a good idea. After two years in his company, they like him even less than they did when he arrived, a sentiment shared by many pundits and party establishment figures. All of which seems to have made no impression on Cruz whatsoever. If everyone in Washington (except for a few fellow insurgents like Senator Mike Lee), hates him, that’s fine with Cruz.

Why doesn’t he care? The answer has less to do with his obviously thick skin than it does with his ambition and vision for his party. The whole point of his Senate career is to oppose getting things done in a system that he believes is set up to perpetuate liberal big-spending and taxing government. Cruz’s goal is to overturn all of that.

More to the point, his tactics are designed to establish him as the pre-eminent leader of the Tea Party movement and the conservative base. Standing on principle on every conceivable issue is a politics of statements rather than accomplishments, but it is potential electoral gold in terms of GOP presidential primary voters. Many Republicans believe with good reason that the key to winning in 2016 is in bringing in fresh voices and faces from outside of Washington, especially the party’s deep bench of successful Republican governors. But Cruz is running against the capitol from the inside and with more publicity than any of the governors has managed.

Indeed, the more hated he is by his Senate colleagues and the more opprobrium heaped upon him by party establishment figures or even wise pundits like Krauthammer, the better it may be for his potential presidential campaign. In a wide field of potential challengers, Cruz is still not taken seriously by many observers because they think him too inexperienced and, most of all, too extreme to win a general election.

Both assumptions may be true. Electing yet another freshman senator without executive experience (i.e. Barack Obama) may strike many people as an absurd idea, especially for Republicans who have spent the last six years lamenting Obama’s incompetence. But ideological purity is the sort of thing that will always play in a primary especially when someone as clever and relentless as Cruz articulates it. If Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, and perhaps Mitt Romney are competing in a hidden establishment primary, Cruz is running to win the Tea Party/base primary. For those who hadn’t noticed, Cruz is winning that primary hands down right now. With every hate bomb tossed in his direction from offended fellow senators, his lead grows and his once laughable hope to win the nomination becomes a realistic if not necessarily likely scenario. Count on him spending 2015 reinforcing that image. Which means that fellow senators need to fasten their seatbelts and hang on for what should be an even bumpier ride over the course of the next 12 months.

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How a Fugitive Family Bought the Obama W.H., Hillary, and Menendez

President Obama and Democratic Senator Bob Menendez may be on opposing sides of the issue getting the most media attention today–the president’s moves toward normalizing relations with the brutal Castro regime–but they’d surely rather be fighting about Cuba than locked in a co-defense against the other big story of the day. The New York Times reports on a blatant case of political corruption and influence-buying conducted by Obama, Menendez, and Hillary Clinton that is unfortunately being buried by other news. But it is a case study in the greasy, repellent politics Obama promised to do away with.

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President Obama and Democratic Senator Bob Menendez may be on opposing sides of the issue getting the most media attention today–the president’s moves toward normalizing relations with the brutal Castro regime–but they’d surely rather be fighting about Cuba than locked in a co-defense against the other big story of the day. The New York Times reports on a blatant case of political corruption and influence-buying conducted by Obama, Menendez, and Hillary Clinton that is unfortunately being buried by other news. But it is a case study in the greasy, repellent politics Obama promised to do away with.

The crux of the story is fairly simple. As the Times report begins:

The Obama administration overturned a ban preventing a wealthy, politically connected Ecuadorean woman from entering the United States after her family gave tens of thousands of dollars to Democratic campaigns, according to finance records and government officials.

The woman, Estefanía Isaías, had been barred from coming to the United States after being caught fraudulently obtaining visas for her maids. But the ban was lifted at the request of the State Department under former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton so that Ms. Isaías could work for an Obama fund-raiser with close ties to the administration.

It was one of several favorable decisions the Obama administration made in recent years involving the Isaías family, which the government of Ecuador accuses of buying protection from Washington and living comfortably in Miami off the profits of a looted bank in Ecuador.

The family, which has been investigated by federal law enforcement agencies on suspicion of money laundering and immigration fraud, has made hundreds of thousands of dollars in contributions to American political campaigns in recent years. During that time, it has repeatedly received favorable treatment from the highest levels of the American government, including from New Jersey’s senior senator and the State Department.

The Times notes that there are essentially two dimensions to this family story. There are the family’s “patriarchs,” Roberto and William Isaías. They ran an Ecuadorian bank until, according to Ecuadorian authorities, they ran it into the ground. They stood accused of falsifying balance sheets in order to obtain access to bailout funds. The Ecuadorian government says this fraud cost the state $400 million. They were convicted and sentenced in 2012 to eight years in prison.

But they are not in prison. They are in Miami. (Yes, there is a difference.) They were sentenced in absentia and won’t be extradited.

Then there is Estefanía Isaías, whose case adds to the intrigue.

Estefanía was working as a television executive. She was also engaged in what American consular officials called “alien smuggling.” She was bringing people into the country under false pretenses so they could work as maids. For that, she was barred from entering the U.S.–and from a job with a major Obama campaign bundler–until recently when her ban was overturned by the Obama administration.

So how are they all free to live in the United States? The answer is as old as time: follow the money. Here’s what the Obama campaign got:

The Obama administration then reversed its decision and gave Ms. Isaías the waiver she needed to come to the United States — just as tens of thousands of dollars in donations from the family poured into Mr. Obama’s campaign coffers.

An email from Mr. Menendez’s office sharing the good news was dated May 15, 2012, one day after, campaign finance records show, Ms. Isaías’s mother gave $40,000 to the Obama Victory Fund, which provided donations to the president and other Democrats. …

In 2012, the Isaías family donated about $100,000 to the Obama Victory Fund. Campaign finance records show that their most generous donations came just before a request to the administration.

And Menendez:

Ms. Isaías’s mother, María Mercedes, had recently donated $30,000 to the Senate campaign committee that Mr. Menendez led when she turned to him for help in her daughter’s case. At least two members of Mr. Menendez’s staff worked with Ms. Isaías and her father, as well as lawyers and other congressional offices, to argue that she had been unfairly denied entry into the United States.

Over the course of the next year, as various members of the Isaías family donated to Mr. Menendez’s re-election campaign, the senator and his staff repeatedly made calls, sent emails and wrote letters about Ms. Isaías’s case to Mrs. Clinton, Ms. Mills, the consulate in Ecuador, and the departments of State and Homeland Security.

After months of resistance from State Department offices in Ecuador and Washington, the senator lobbied Ms. Mills himself, and the ban against Ms. Isaías was eventually overturned.

And Hillary Clinton:

But the case involving Estefanía could prove awkward for Mrs. Clinton, who was in charge of the State Department at the time high-ranking officials overruled the agency’s ban on Ms. Isaías for immigration fraud, and whose office made calls on the matter.

Alfredo J. Balsera, the Obama fund-raiser whose firm, Balsera Communications, sponsored Ms. Isaías’s visa, was featured recently in USA Today as a prominent Latino fund-raiser backing Mrs. Clinton for president in 2016.

It doesn’t get much more straightforward than that.

In declaring his candidacy for president in 2007, Obama took aim at special interests “who’ve turned our government into a game only they can afford to play.” He continued: “They write the checks and you get stuck with the bills, they get the access while you get to write a letter, they think they own this government, but we’re here today to take it back. The time for that kind of politics is over.”

Obama has not only not changed the culture of Washington, but arguably made it more insular and susceptible to influence-buying, essentially turning the White House into eBay for ambassadorships, for example. If you’ve got your checkbook with you, Obama and Hillary and Menendez are all about constituent services. Obama’s Washington has never been for anyone other than elites and donors. And it’s never been clearer than it is today.

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Winning Establishment Primary Guarantees Jeb Nothing in 2016

The reasoning behind Jeb Bush’s decision to announce that he would “actively explore” a run for the presidency isn’t hard to figure out. With rumors flying that Mitt Romney was considering making a third try for the presidency as major Republican donors waited to see whether to throw their support to Bush, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, or wait for the 2012 nominee to decide on his plans, Jeb needed to act quickly. By announcing so early, he not only dispelled doubts about his own willingness to run but gained a significant advantage in the hidden primary contest that will decide who represents the party’s establishment in 2016. But as much as this was a coup for Bush, the obstacles to victory for him in his party’s nominating contest are far greater than his fans seem to think.

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The reasoning behind Jeb Bush’s decision to announce that he would “actively explore” a run for the presidency isn’t hard to figure out. With rumors flying that Mitt Romney was considering making a third try for the presidency as major Republican donors waited to see whether to throw their support to Bush, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, or wait for the 2012 nominee to decide on his plans, Jeb needed to act quickly. By announcing so early, he not only dispelled doubts about his own willingness to run but gained a significant advantage in the hidden primary contest that will decide who represents the party’s establishment in 2016. But as much as this was a coup for Bush, the obstacles to victory for him in his party’s nominating contest are far greater than his fans seem to think.

Last week’s stories about Romney changing his mind had to unsettle the Bush camp largely because they hinged on Mitt’s doubts about both Jeb and Christie’s ability to win the nomination. The prospect of a Romney re-entry into the fray froze many establishment donors in place but the Bush announcement will lead some to join his camp rather than to be left outside once the bandwagon starts rolling. Indeed, by doing so now at a point when Romney is probably nowhere near ready to decide and Christie’s effort has yet to move into action, Bush may have already won the establishment primary even before it began.

Up until recently Bush was the one playing Hamlet about running, with many people believing he would ultimately pass on an attempt to be the third member of his family elected to the White House. But now that he’s all but in it, the pressure will grow on Romney to get in or get out. Christie’s hand is also forced since Bush will hope to win the backing of many of the same financial big shots that are key to the New Jersey governor’s chances of launching a credible campaign. Now that everyone is convinced that Bush is running, the longer Christie, who has still never completely recovered from the blow to his reputation that Bridgegate dealt him, waits to make the same sort of announcement, the harder it will be for him to compete for large donors.

But even if we were to concede that Bush is in excellent position to outmaneuver both Romney and Christie, the assumption on the part of the party’s establishment that they will designate the nominee is mistaken.

The experience of both 2008 and 2012 when relative moderates won the Republican nomination has convinced some that no matter what the party’s grassroots say about establishment choices, sooner or later they will have to accept them. That may have been true when both John McCain and Romney turned aside challengers in those years, but the candidates that Bush will have to beat in 2016 are both more diverse and far more formidable. Moreover, as I noted earlier this month, the real problem for Bush isn’t so much his stands on immigration and education as it is his apparent determination to run against the base.

That a man with a longstanding and well-earned reputation as a principled conservative should find himself at odds with the Republican base is a matter of irony as well as concerning to the Bush camp. But having thrown down the gauntlet to the Tea Party and other elements of the base on the Common Core education program and a path to citizenship for illegal aliens, Bush hasn’t left himself much room to maneuver. McCain sought to appease the base on immigration when he ran in 2008 and Romney survived his vulnerability on health care by tacking hard to the right on immigration. If Bush sticks to his current positions on those two key points, he will be hardpressed to win Republican primaries where conservatives will dominate.

It is true that a wide-open race with a large field may favor the one man in it with the most name recognition and money. But if Bush thinks establishment donors represent the critical mass of the GOP, he has lost touch with reality. As much as establishment candidates seemed to beat most Tea Party challengers in 2014, the Republican electorate has gotten more conservative, not less, in the last four years. Moreover, governors like Scott Walker, John Kasich, or Mike Pence may have more appeal to moderate voters than a bigger name who must also labor, as John Podhoretz noted in today’s New York Post, under the burden of being the third Bush and yet another son of privilege at a time when the GOP must concentrate on appealing to middle- and working-class voters. Nor can he count on keeping fellow Floridian Senator Marco Rubio out of the race.

Perhaps Bush’s intelligence, grasp of the issues, temperament, and ability to appeal to the center will prevail in the end. But everything we’ve heard from him lately gives the impression that he has lost touch with his party’s grassroots and isn’t particularly interested in reconnecting with it on any terms except as a conqueror. That isn’t a formula for a primary victory or even one in the general election for any candidate. For good or for ill, six years of Barack Obama in the White House has driven the center of the GOP to the right. Even if he keeps Romney out of the race and leaves Christie in the dust, unless Jeb Bush shows us that he knows that, he’ll never win his party’s nomination.

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This Is Cyberwar, Not Tabloid Fodder

The Sony hacking story has largely been treated as a juicy showbiz gossip scandal. We’re probably going to regret that. Read More

The Sony hacking story has largely been treated as a juicy showbiz gossip scandal. We’re probably going to regret that.

If North Korea is behind the computer hacks and threats to terrorize theaters showing The Interview, it confirms a new era of rogue-state terrorism, one for which there’s no counterterrorism blueprint. According to the New York Times, Landmark’s Sunshine Cinema has killed its scheduled New York premier of the anti-Kim Jong-un comedy. The Hollywood Reporter says that the country’s top five theater chains have pulled out of showing the film. Time says the movie’s stars, James Franco and Seth Rogen, have called off their publicity tour. A spate of film executives are backpedaling for their lives as their emails are picked through and published to viral derision. The Times’s Michael Cieply and Brooks Barnes write that the theater threat “opens a new range of worry for Hollywood.”

But the danger is larger and graver than that.

In February, hackers laid digital waste to Sheldon Adelson’s Sands casino, forcing the Sands to temporarily disconnect from the Internet. It was a massive undertaking that wiped out or compromised millions of files. Bloomberg reports that “recovering data and building new systems could cost the company $40 million or more” (a figure coincidently close to the $44 million Sony sunk into The Interview). Why did hackers target Adelson? The cyberterrorists who hit him call themselves the “Anti-WMD Team.” They are based in Iran, and claim retaliation for Adelson’s hawkish remarks about the Islamic Republic. Here’s the rub, via Bloomberg:

The security team couldn’t determine if Iran’s government played a role, but it’s unlikely that any hackers inside the country could pull off an attack of that scope without its knowledge, given the close scrutiny of Internet use within its borders. “This isn’t the kind of business you can get into in Iran without the government knowing,” says James Lewis, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

So, if the evidence is pointing in the right direction, dictatorships are tanking our enterprise, holding us hostage, and essentially turning us into their offshore subjects.

This isn’t a gossip story or an industry problem. It’s war. Moreover, it’s a war we don’t know how to fight. In 2011, the U.S. military declared cyberattacks tantamount to acts of war and therefore liable to military response. But that statement concerned cyberattacks on our government or infastructure. We now have rogue regimes going after American citizens and corporations. There’s nothing on the books for that. There’s been talk of “hacking back” among corporate victims, but that’s a reckless and probably illegal option. There needs to be fresh strategic thinking about this, and fast. We’re catching up to a challenge that’s already out of control.

In his worthwhile 2008 book, Terror and Consent, Philip Bobbitt noted the paradox of increased technological interconnectivity. As digital networks grow and grow, larger numbers of people become vulnerable to a simple malicious flick of the switch. Today, we live and breathe online. Our money, our secrets, our stray thoughts are now potential weapons to be used against us. What’s most interesting about the attacks on Sony and the Sands is that they weren’t the grand cyberthefts we’d been warned about for years (and which are already happening regularly). The hackers weren’t interested in stealing money. Their aims were anarchic, seeking to disrupt operations and to blackmail with information.

The hackers behind the Sony attack have invoked comparisons to 9/11. They are right in at least one respect. Look where they attacked: The American film industry carries as much symbolic weight as did the World Trade Center. Culturally, perhaps more so. Hollywood movies are a monolithic U.S. export that have served to plant American notions of freedom and unbridled possibility in the minds of untold millions. From now on, filmmakers will think twice before crossing the next paranoid despot. That’s tragic.

But as for all that goofy Dear Leader humor—good riddance. A psychopathic dictator imprisons and starves 25 million people and we make fun of his haircut. That’s a shabby response from history’s greatest defender of human liberty. It’s no wonder that Hollywood laughed at Kim’s fragile ego right up until it found itself cowering before it. Political satire is only effective when it dissuades those who would otherwise aid or support the target of the joke. On this point Kim humor is doubly useless. No citizen of North Korea sees these gags, and, even if they did, their opinion is irrelevant to the whims of the regime.

Perhaps such jokes make us feel better about our own inaction. North Korea propagates an evil too great to countenance. Its very enormity has become its defense. “The wicked know that if the ill they do be of sufficient horror that men will not speak against it,” said one of Cormac McCarthy’s characters in his novel The Crossing. “That men have just enough stomach for small evils and only these will they oppose.” So while North Korea goes on the attack Americans denounce the perceived racial insensitivities of a film executive’s email correspondence.

With the United States now taking big commercial hits, inaction may no longer be an option. But before we can figure out how to fight back, we need to be clear about the difference between show-business inanities and enemy attacks.

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Exonerating Hamas and Europe’s Moral Bankruptcy

Considering the amount of time that European Union politicians and diplomats channel into obsessing about Israel, one would assume that Europe has no problems of its own. After all, today, in addition to the European Parliament voting in favor of Palestinian statehood there have been reports that the Europeans and Palestinians have now agreed upon a joint resolution to take to the UN Security Council. But perhaps the most glaringly reprehensible decision to have come out of the EU today is the ruling by the union’s General Court that Hamas must be struck from Brussels’s terror blacklist.

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Considering the amount of time that European Union politicians and diplomats channel into obsessing about Israel, one would assume that Europe has no problems of its own. After all, today, in addition to the European Parliament voting in favor of Palestinian statehood there have been reports that the Europeans and Palestinians have now agreed upon a joint resolution to take to the UN Security Council. But perhaps the most glaringly reprehensible decision to have come out of the EU today is the ruling by the union’s General Court that Hamas must be struck from Brussels’s terror blacklist.

The EU’s foreign ministry has reportedly asked the Israeli government not to cause a storm over this ruling and at the moment the official line from Brussels is that they will be appealing the court’s decision. And yet given that at the time of the signing of the short-lived Hamas-Fatah unity deal the EU’s foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton welcomed the move, or the huge amount of funding that the EU channels into Hamas-controlled Gaza, one wonders where exactly EU officials really stand on condemning Hamas. After all, during Israel’s war with the terror group this summer, the EU was particularly vocal in its support for imposing a ceasefire that would leave Hamas in control of Gaza and grant many of Hamas’s key demands in return for more paper promises about ending the rocket fire.

The timing of this ruling also seems more than a little coincidental. Not only is there the expectation of an imminent Palestinian UN statehood bid, but it also coincides with today’s Geneva Convention conference, which among other things is expected to cover issues of international law and alleged war crimes in Gaza. Removing Hamas from the terror list at this time only gives added weight to the arguments of those looking to exonerate Gaza’s Islamist rulers while wishing to have Israel indicted as the key aggressor. And of course, Hamas and its supporters worldwide are hailing the decision as a great breakthrough and victory.

But if there is no politics at work here then it is still far from clear why this ruling came about now, or indeed at all. After all, Europe’s classification of Hamas as a terrorist organization has been good since to 2001. Apparently, the change in designation only comes after a petition to the European Court of Human Rights regarding the designation of Sri Lanka’s Tamil Tigers as terrorists. It seems that the case of the Tamil militants has then been used to springboard this subsequent ruling on Hamas. Indeed, the court’s reasons for annulling the Council of the European Union’s 2001 decision appears incredibly feeble. The court’s grounds for suddenly ruling that the initial classification was invalid simply rests on the claim that the earlier decision was based on evidence that had come from “the press and Internet” and as such must now be deemed insufficient.

Given everything that happened this summer, Hamas’s terrorist credentials should hardly be in doubt. Indeed, both the court and the EU foreign ministry have insisted that the decision was technical and not political. But as anyone who knows how the EU elites function will attest, this is a world in which the technical is consistently manipulated to suit the political. As Daniel Hannan describes in his excellent book How We Invented Freedom, unlike in the English speaking democracies (and indeed the Jewish tradition), within the EU the rule of law is routinely subordinated in favor of political whims and interests. As Hannan points out, the recent economic bailouts of several European states were illegal under the EU’s own laws, but those inconvenient laws were then simply dismissed when they started getting in the way of the greater quest for European federalism. And when the British press noted this hypocrisy the eurocrats mocked what they saw as “Anglo-Saxon literal-mindedness.”

The reality is that European lawmakers are notorious for manipulating the procedures and language of legality to suit political ends. It is simply not conceivable that those who made this ruling were not to some degree swayed by their own slanted view of Hamas, a group which all too many Europeans regard as oppressed freedom fighters. The EU now has just three months to appeal the court ruling, and if it fails to put together a successful case in that time then presumably the existing legislation that prohibits the funding of Hamas and Hamas activities within Europe will become null and void. Although the UK has at least confirmed that it will unilaterally keep Hamas blacklisted anyway.

And so on the same day that the European Parliament voted in favor of Palestinian statehood and Switzerland convened the signatories of the Geneva Convention to pass judgment on Israel’s activities in Gaza, the West Bank, and Jerusalem, let it also be remembered that the General Court of the European Union ruled that Hamas should be removed from the union’s terror list. Europe’s moral bankruptcy has never been clearer.

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Yes, It’s Time to Lift the Cuban Embargo

Better Cuba than Iran. That’s my reaction to the news that after months of secret negotiations the U.S. has agreed to restore diplomatic relations with Cuba after more than half a century.

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Better Cuba than Iran. That’s my reaction to the news that after months of secret negotiations the U.S. has agreed to restore diplomatic relations with Cuba after more than half a century.

This is part of a broader effort by President Obama to reorder American diplomacy during the last two years of his presidency in keeping with his 2008 campaign pledge to talk to any dictator anytime without any preconditions. The centerpiece of his push is an effort to restore relations with Iran in return for a deal to limit Iran’s nuclear program. That is a very bad idea because (a) Iran is certain to cheat on any such deal, (b) such a deal would not address Iran’s attempts to dominate the Middle East through the use of its terrorist proxies, and (c) such a deal would likely cause Sunni states such as Saudi Arabia to launch their own nuclear weapons. More broadly, Iran is an expansionist power that threatens core American interests in a vital region of the world; it is also supporting the slaughter of more than 200,000 people in Syria. We should be trying to contain Iran rather than cuddling up to it.

Cuba is different. I recall going to Cuba a few years ago and finding a sad, decrepit relic state–a place where old American clunkers from the 1950s somehow stayed on the road, the buildings were falling down, and people lined up for hours to buy eggs. Its biggest ideological export these days seems to be doctors, not bombs. It’s hard to see this broken-down Communist has-been, ruled by a pair of geriatric brothers, as a major threat to American interests.

Once an exporter of revolution to Africa and Latin America, a trend made famous by Che Guevara, Cuba is now but a shadow of its old subversive self. It still remains a sponsor of terrorism but just barely. According to the State Department, Cuba remains on the State Sponsors of Terrorism list because of its links to the Colombian FARC and ETA groups but those are largely beaten and not much of a threat anymore; indeed Cuba is now facilitating peace talks between FARC and the Colombian government. Certainly the groups sponsored by Cuba are not remotely as dangerous as Hezbollah, the Houthis, Asaib Ahl ah-Haq, and other Iranian proxies.

Cuba also remains a notorious human rights violator but its record is not as bad as Iran and it’s cheering to see that as part of the deal to restore relations with the U.S. it is releasing 53 political prisoners, in addition to two Americans who are being swapped for three Cuban spies held in the U.S. Certainly Cuba’s human-rights record is no worse than Vietnam, another Communist state with which the U.S. restored diplomatic relations. Indeed over the years the U.S. has had diplomatic relations with many more noxious regimes including the Soviet Union–so why not Cuba?

The restoration of diplomatic relations will, in any case, deliver some benefits to the U.S. by allowing us to beef up the staff of the American interests section in Havana, thus increasing our ability to (at least in theory) subvert the regime through the promotion of human rights. Moreover the U.S. embargo on Cuba stays in effect, although President Obama is urging Congress to lift it.

After more than 50 years, it seems hard to argue that the embargo is doing much to undermine the rule of the Castro brothers. It’s time, at long last, to lift the embargo and see if it’s possible to do more to promote a post-Communist future for Cuba with openness than we have been able to accomplish with a standoffish attitude over the past half century.

This is one diplomatic initiative on Obama’s part that I can applaud. I just hope it will sate his appetite for diplomatic achievements before he makes ruinous concessions to the Iranians.

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Cuba and the Price of Normalization

Then news this morning that the Cuban government is finally freeing Alan Gross, an American unjustly imprisoned there for the last five years, is cause for celebration. The release of Gross, a Jewish aid worker who was trying to help the Cuban people, not to spy on their government, was long overdue and the seemingly lackluster efforts to free him by the Obama administration were discouraging. But the administration and the Cuban government obviously was interested in achieving something more than a prisoner exchange as they engaged in negotiations. The result of a reported 18 months of talks was not merely the end of Gross’s ordeal but the restoration of full diplomatic relations with Cuba’s Communist government after more than a half century of conflict. This is something about which Americans should feel less than enthusiastic.

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Then news this morning that the Cuban government is finally freeing Alan Gross, an American unjustly imprisoned there for the last five years, is cause for celebration. The release of Gross, a Jewish aid worker who was trying to help the Cuban people, not to spy on their government, was long overdue and the seemingly lackluster efforts to free him by the Obama administration were discouraging. But the administration and the Cuban government obviously was interested in achieving something more than a prisoner exchange as they engaged in negotiations. The result of a reported 18 months of talks was not merely the end of Gross’s ordeal but the restoration of full diplomatic relations with Cuba’s Communist government after more than a half century of conflict. This is something about which Americans should feel less than enthusiastic.

We are told that Gross’s freedom, along with that of 53 human-rights prisoners, is for humanitarian reasons and not part of a prisoner exchange in which Havana released another person (dubbed a U.S. “intelligence asset”) for three Cuban spies. But the real focus of American policy here was on President Obama’s goal of engagement with America’s foes. As with his outreach to Iran, the president’s belief that diplomacy can smooth out if not entirely erase our differences with dangerous regimes has become the engine of American foreign policy during his administration. Whether it is the failed attempts at resets of relations with the Putin regime in Russia or the long-running effort to appease the Islamist regime in Tehran, the point of American efforts is not so much the achievement of tangible goals or the enhancement of U.S. security as it is on the promotion of good will with nations that have little or no regard for U.S. values or interests.

In pursuit of this amorphous goal, the administration has made bargains, like the interim nuclear accord signed with Iran last year, that do little to promote U.S. goals but allow the president to keep talking with hostile nations. It is in this context that we must view any effort to normalize relations with a tyrannical Cuban government.

It should be conceded that the American embargo on Cuba, which can only be lifted by Congress and not by presidential fiat, has not been effective in isolating that country or in promoting change there. But even if we recognize that this is true, neither should the U.S. be blamed for the endemic poverty in Cuba. After all, many American businesses have obtained exemptions for conducting commerce there and virtually every other nation on the planet does have trade with Cuba. Poverty in Cuba is caused by Communism and the repression that is inherent in the system that the aging Castro brothers have imposed on this tortured island prison.

The arguments for opening U.S. trade with Cuba revolve around the idea that engagement will undermine the Communist system and the regime. It should also be noted that when you consider that America has intense economic relations with China, the world’s largest tyranny, the insistence on isolating a far smaller one in Cuba doesn’t seem to make sense. Seen from that perspective, President Obama’s decision to end 51 years of diplomatic estrangement and to open up trade with it will probably do little harm and perhaps lead to some good.

But there are two underlying dynamics to the decision that are deeply troubling.

The first is that this rapprochement has been achieved by blackmail by a vicious totalitarian state rather than an honest and open diplomatic process. Though we are supposed to believe that Gross’s freedom was incidental to the agreement, it’s clear that his unjust imprisonment raised the price of the payoff Obama was preparing to hand the Castros in order to achieve what he is claiming as a foreign-policy triumph. This is a clear signal to other tyrannies that Washington can be fleeced if a U.S. hostage can be held for ransom.

Second, while America’s efforts had not led to freedom for Cuba, it’s far from clear that what will follow the president’s decision will actually end the Cuban people’s long Communist ordeal. Here, the China precedent is both instructive and chilling. By cooperating in this manner the U.S. is going from a position of futile hostility against Communism to one in which it will be directly complicit in the efforts of this brutal regime to survive. Just as American economic ties helped the communists in Beijing to succeed where those in Moscow failed at the end of the Cold War, so, too, is it likely that all that will be accomplished here is an infusion of American cash and legitimacy that will give a failed, bankrupt yet vicious government a new lease on life.

Though he paid lip service to the cause of promoting freedom when he spoke today, as with so many of his foreign-policy initiatives, the president’s focus is more on repudiating longstanding American policies than on actually helping anyone in Cuba. Nor has he extracted a fair price for granting the Castros what they have been demanding for decades. At a time when Cuba’s main allies, especially Venezuela, are in extremis due to the fall in oil prices, this was the moment for the U.S. to get more than just the freedom of Gross. But, as he has done with the even more dangerous regime in Iran, Obama paid a lot and got nothing for the Cuban people.

We can hope that Cubans will benefit to some extent from this decision but it is doubtful that they will be freer or that their prospects for liberty have been improved. Though the end of the break with Cuba is not nearly as significant as it might have been during the Cold War, it does send a message to every other American foe that the U.S. can be bought off cheaply. That’s an ominous precedent for the nuclear talks with Iran and every other dangerous situation faced by the U.S. while Obama is in the White House.

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