Commentary Magazine


Iron Dome and the Latest Peace Fantasy

Those who want Israel to strike a permanent peace deal with the Palestinians cannot decide if Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense is a help or a hindrance. Each time Israel fights a war with Hamas, the occasional column appears claiming that Iron Dome impedes peace because Israelis are, in effect, too safe for their own good. But there is the other side of the coin for the peace camp. And that is the belief that Israel’s missile defense will make Israeli military counteroffensives unnecessary and counterproductive.

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Those who want Israel to strike a permanent peace deal with the Palestinians cannot decide if Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense is a help or a hindrance. Each time Israel fights a war with Hamas, the occasional column appears claiming that Iron Dome impedes peace because Israelis are, in effect, too safe for their own good. But there is the other side of the coin for the peace camp. And that is the belief that Israel’s missile defense will make Israeli military counteroffensives unnecessary and counterproductive.

This argument, offered in today’s Washington Post by American University associate professor Boaz Atzili, suggests a two-track process: Israelis should negotiate in good faith with the Palestinians while hiding under their desks until peace arrives. Iron Dome, should its accuracy be maintained and eventually improved, would thus give Israelis the cover they need to hold their fire. There are serious flaws here, even under current, realistic best-case scenarios. These flaws become clear when Atzili gets around to scripting out such a defensive posture in practice:

So what might a defensive Israeli campaign look like? In response to a massive launching of rockets from the Gaza Strip, Israel would respond by mobilizing its truly defensive capabilities: People in the targeted area would remain in bomb shelters and fortified rooms, the Iron Dome would target missiles aimed at large population centers, and the IDF would augment its forces to guard the borders and try to intercept Hamas attempts to infiltrate by sea or tunnels. There could be casualties on the Israeli side, but these are likely to be fewer than in the last few rounds of war.

As opposed to these recent bouts of violence, Hamas is likely to face strong international pressure to stop launching rockets, which it would not be able to deflect as retaliation for Israel’s action. Internally, as well, Hamas would not enjoy the same support it has received from the residents of Gaza if it cannot portray its action as defensive. In all likelihood, these pressures would result in a much more speedy cessation of the firing from the Gaza Strip. And there would be no pictures of devastation on the Palestinian side. Israel, for once, would appear in the eyes of the world (and not only in its own eyes) as the just side, and would be able to reap the diplomatic rewards.

I’m sorry, have you met Hamas–or the international community?

Not to put too fine a point on it, but I think everything in that scenario is wrong. Let’s take the second part first. What “internal pressure” would Hamas face if Gazans aren’t affected by Hamas’s actions? It’s unclear how or why they would push back on Hamas if the terror group were getting free shots at the Jews next door. The obvious answer is: they wouldn’t. There is no evidence to support the assertion that Gazan Palestinians would feel bad about rocketing Israeli population centers and thus pressure their terrorist leaders to take it easy and sue for peace. It does not make any sense, it is not consistent with the history of the conflict, and it would be irresponsible for Israeli officials to put their citizens’ lives on the line while they chase this unicorn.

But it’s not just the strange faith in Palestinian sympathy toward Israel that makes this plan unfeasible. It’s also the expectation that Israel could afford–psychologically or financially–to wait out Hamas’s unchallenged rocket barrage. Six civilians were killed in this summer’s war, and there’s no reason to think the toll wouldn’t have been higher during that same time period had Hamas been given free rein and all the time in the world to set up its attacks.

And since the idea that a Hamas rocket offensive would conclude in less time without an Israeli military campaign is absurd, the civilian death toll would no doubt be higher. That would lead to greater calls for a counteroffensive, which the IDF would undertake. The alternative, to abandon civilians to live under terror, would be indefensible. And let’s remember that Israel was able to neutralize those tunnels because of the ground incursion. Without that, the tunnels survive the war.

Economically, here are the figures from Ynet on the Gaza war’s toll on Israel:

Meanwhile, nearly 3,000 claims for damage have been submitted to the Israel Tax Authority, which has so far paid some $20 million for direct damages and another $21 million for missed work days and other indirect damage. …

Israel’s Ministry of Tourism reports that tourism for July dropped by 26 percent from the same period last year. The sector, comprising about 7 percent of the Israeli economy, has lost at least $566 million, according to the figures.

Israel’s Manufacturers Association estimated the total economic impact on Israeli manufacturers for the first round of the conflict at about 1.2 billion shekels, with factories in the south accounting for 40 percent of this figure, and facilities in Haifa and the center of the country incurring half the losses.

Morally and economically, Israel cannot abandon its citizens to their enemies. Iron Dome is a major defense breakthrough and it no doubt saves lives. But it still entails Israelis running to bomb shelters when rockets are launched at or near population centers. The country can’t live underground, and it can’t live in perpetual, paralyzing fear every moment of every day. Iron Dome cannot be Israel’s only line of defense.

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Yesterday’s Real News Out of Iraq and Syria

There were three big stories yesterday out of Iraq and Syria. Question: which is the most significant?

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There were three big stories yesterday out of Iraq and Syria. Question: which is the most significant?

Story No. 1: The U.S. Navy and Air Force, in cooperation with five Arab allies (Bahrain, Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and UAE) launched a series of air strikes and cruise missile strikes on ISIS targets in and around Raqaa, Syria. Separately, the U.S. launched air strikes against the Khorasan group, another jihadist terrorist organization in Syria, closely linked with the Nusra Front, which was said to be plotting attacks against Western targets.

Story No. 2: ISIS continued to attack the Kurdish area of north-central Syria, killing large numbers of people and pushing more than 130,000 refugees over the Turkish border.

Story No. 3: ISIS attackers in Anbar Province, Iraq, reportedly killed more than 300 Iraqi soldiers after a weeklong siege of Camp Saqlawiya where some 800 soldiers had been trapped. Few if any Sunni tribal fighters did anything to prevent yet another large Iraqi army formation from suffering annihilation. The Iraqi army showed itself unable to supply its soldiers or to fight effectively.

Judging from the news coverage, story No. 1 is the most important. But in reality I’d argue that No. 2 and especially No. 3 are more significant. No one doubts that the U.S. can launch air strikes on ISIS. The question is whether those attacks will be effective in degrading and eventually destroying this terrorist group. The answer is: not until there is an effective ground force able to take advantage of the disruption created by American bombs. Until that happens, ISIS will stay on the offensive.

We know, of course, that after three years of American neglect the Free Syrian Army is in no position to attack the heart of ISIS-controlled territory in Syria. It is also disheartening to learn that after a similar three years of American neglect, the Iraqi army is in no position to effectively challenge ISIS either. Same goes for the Sunni tribes, which at the moment lack both the will and the means to fight ISIS effectively. The Kurdish peshmerga–the other proxy force we are counting on–are in only marginally better shape. They also need more equipment and training.

What this means is that, however welcome, the U.S. air strikes in Syria are of more symbolic importance than anything else. Their military significance is likely to be scant until the U.S. can do more to train and arm forces capable of mounting ground attacks on ISIS militants. Already six weeks of U.S. air strikes in Iraq have failed to dislodge ISIS from its strongholds; there is no reason to believe that six months of air strikes in isolation will work any better. As former Defense Secretaries Bob Gates and Leon Panetta have said, it will take “boots on the ground” from the United States to galvanize and train the potential anti-ISIS forces. But because President Obama is so far prohibiting U.S. troops from working alongside anti-ISIS fighters in the field, “there’s not a snowball’s chance in hell” of the current strategy succeeding–to quote the succinct summary of retired Gen. Jim Conway, former commandant of the Marine Corps.

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Last Night, While the Bombs Were Flying…

…COMMENTARY held its fifth annual Roast in New York City, with an audience of 400. So, as my colleague Seth Mandel said, this is one war they can’t blame on us. Our roastee was Charles Krauthammer, the million-copy-selling author of Things That Matter. (A million copies, I said. Big deal. I just wrote my millionth tweet.) Read More

…COMMENTARY held its fifth annual Roast in New York City, with an audience of 400. So, as my colleague Seth Mandel said, this is one war they can’t blame on us. Our roastee was Charles Krauthammer, the million-copy-selling author of Things That Matter. (A million copies, I said. Big deal. I just wrote my millionth tweet.) Bret Stephens showed a nice letter he received from a lawyer in Texas named Harriet, who also sent along the scalp Charles Krauthammer had detached from her head in 2005. Rich Lowry detailed the horror of serving as Charles’s research assistant nearly a quarter-century ago and entering a misspelling into one of Krauthammer’s columns, for which, at long last at the end of the evening, Charles forgave him. On videotape, Bret Baier and Brit Hume showed us some psychoanalytic sessions in which they confessed all manner of anxieties to the Harvard-trained psychiatrist. Bill Kristol wondered whether his old friend Charles had gotten a swelled head until, he reported, he received a phone call: “Bill, this is Dr. Krauthammer.” And Elliott Abrams described the terror he felt driving down Connecticut Avenue in D.C. in Charles’s van with Charles behind the wheel.

A great time, it would have appeared, was had by all, especially as a result of Charles’s own concluding remarks, in which he expressed wonderment at the workings of serendipity and his deep gratitude for, despite one very bad turn, an extraordinarily lucky life. One of the running gags through the evening was general bewilderment at Charles’s television stardom, given his forbidding demeanor. The answer may lie in the spirit of his concluding remarks–that underneath the biting commentary and the deadpan wit, there is a remarkably, indelibly capacious spirit.

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The Media and Anti-Semitism

This week is unfortunately a bit of a perfect storm of conditions that foster anti-Semitism. The High Holidays are approaching, Israel has just fought a war of self-defense, and new terrorist organizations are gaining a foothold in Western societies. Israel’s national Counter-Terrorism Bureau has issued its travel warning for the season, expressing concern over the usual suspects as well as Western Europe. New York hasn’t been immune to the spike in anti-Semitic incidents, and last week Police Commissioner Bill Bratton pointed a finger at the media:

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This week is unfortunately a bit of a perfect storm of conditions that foster anti-Semitism. The High Holidays are approaching, Israel has just fought a war of self-defense, and new terrorist organizations are gaining a foothold in Western societies. Israel’s national Counter-Terrorism Bureau has issued its travel warning for the season, expressing concern over the usual suspects as well as Western Europe. New York hasn’t been immune to the spike in anti-Semitic incidents, and last week Police Commissioner Bill Bratton pointed a finger at the media:

“When (the media) cover something, it tends to attract more attention,” Bratton told reporters following a security briefing for the Jewish High Holy Days at police headquarters.

“But we have seen this before, that when there’s attention paid to an issue, that it brings this about,” Bratton continued. “And when there’s continued attention — and the issue in Gaza, where it stretched over several weeks — we could see a continuing increase.”

Hate crimes are up, according to the city. Bratton tried to downplay recent incidents as “lone wolf” events, though New York State homeland security commissioner Jerome Hauer countered that “Anti-Semitism is rising at a rate we haven’t seen in a long, long time, and I think it will continue to grow.”

Anyone who followed Western coverage of the war in Gaza won’t be too surprised. But Bratton’s comments weren’t ill-phrased off-the-cuff remarks; they were part of a clear message from the NYPD on the role of the press in the uptick in hate crimes. Deputy Chief Michael Osgood focused a bit more on the correlation:

“On July first, the Gaza Strip becomes a major news story and stays consistent in the media through July and August, every single day, every single morning, front page of the New York Times, front page of the Wall Street Journal,” he said.

Around this time, “the group ISIS becomes a major news story and they stay consistent in the news media, [and] that creates what I call an emotional surge.”

Since that time, there has been an average of 18 anti-Semitic cases a month.

“A person who would normally not offend, now offends,” Osgood said, describing the effect of the news. “He’s moved by the emotions.”

It’s a bit refreshing to hear this from the police. The role of the media in stimulating anti-Semitism, especially when it comes to Israel, is no secret. Sometimes this takes the form of outright falsifying events in Arab-Israeli wars–Pallywood on the part of videographers and fauxtography on the part of photojournalists–which are usually the deadlier brand of propaganda. Witness, most famously, the example of the al-Dura affair.

But it’s worth pointing out here that there are very different types of war coverage. As I wrote earlier this month, the Wall Street Journal’s coverage was textured, original, investigative, and informative. The “paper of record,” the New York Times, offered just the opposite: coverage that essentially followed Hamas’s PR strategy. European media had similar coverage with even more violent results: attempted pogroms broke out in Paris and anti-Semitic protests could be found all over Western Europe.

The anti-Semitism is blamed on Israel’s actions, which the rioters see through the prism of the media. An excellent example of this vicious cycle is Human Rights Watch’s director Ken Roth. Jonathan Foreman wrote about Roth’s obsessively anti-Israel Twitter feed for the current issue of COMMENTARY. But even more noxious is the group’s role in pushing an anti-Israel narrative that supposedly comes with the credibility of a “human-rights” group.

It goes like this: HRW researchers get quoted by the New York Times accusing Israel of indiscriminate violence and targeting noncombatants–information that is crucial, in the Times’s own acknowledgement, in forming “the characterization of the conflict.” Then the Times tries to boost HRW’s flagging credibility–lest more people notice the group can’t be trusted–by crediting HRW as a key source in understanding “the Damage and Destruction in Gaza.” Along the way, HRW will be cited in a Times opinion piece on how American support for Israel is unethical.

When Jews the world over suffer at the hands of angry anti-Semites, Ken Roth will come to their aid, blaming Israel in part for violent anti-Semitism in the West. As Jeffrey Goldberg noted, Roth tweeted the following, with a link to an article about it: “Germans rally against anti-Semitism that flared in Europe in response to Israel’s conduct in Gaza war. Merkel joins.” Goldberg commented: “Roth’s framing of this issue is very odd and obtuse.” He added that “It is a universal and immutable rule that the targets of prejudice are not the cause of prejudice.” Roth defended his comments. On Twitter, he responded that, hey, he was just getting his news from the New York Times.

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President Hollande’s Colonialist Solution

During Friday’s press conference with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, France’s President Francois Hollande voiced his support for the United Nations Security Council imposing a solution on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. The very notion that warring sides can be forced into peace with one another is of course absurd. Presumably, a deal that had to be imposed from outside would, by its very nature, not have the full or equal endorsement of both sides. But which side might be on the receiving end of such an imposition? Who would need coercing? Well, the clue was standing to the right of the French president.

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During Friday’s press conference with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, France’s President Francois Hollande voiced his support for the United Nations Security Council imposing a solution on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. The very notion that warring sides can be forced into peace with one another is of course absurd. Presumably, a deal that had to be imposed from outside would, by its very nature, not have the full or equal endorsement of both sides. But which side might be on the receiving end of such an imposition? Who would need coercing? Well, the clue was standing to the right of the French president.

A beaming Mahmoud Abbas was nodding along to what is after all an endorsement of his very own plan. It is Abbas who is now pushing for a “solution” to be imposed on Israel. But what on earth is a European leader doing getting behind such an idea? Didn’t France get the message that the days when European politicians drew the borders of other people’s countries are over?

Hollande justified his position by arguing that negotiations have dragged on too long. Well, quite. But it is obscene that he should make such a statement alongside Abbas and while endorsing Abbas’s plan. It is, after all, Abbas who has acted as a serial negotiations blocker. Most of the time Abbas simply holds up efforts to even get negotiations started, usually demanding that before he can undergo the horror of sitting down to talk with Israeli officials, he must first be paid a tribute of extortionate concessions by Israel. Once negotiations finally get going, Abbas generally wastes time until the window allotted to negotiating expires, then he demands some more concessions before he will permit the talks to be resumed.

So yes, President Hollande is correct, fruitless talks have gone on too long. And yet, from the fact that he was making this announcement during a press conference with Abbas it seems reasonable to assume that the blame was not being placed at the Palestinian door. It also seems reasonable to assume that since this entire initiative originates with Abbas, the “peace plan” will be somewhat weighted in favor of the Palestinians. The Israelis, much to their cost, have repeatedly shown a readiness to surrender territory whenever they thought there was a chance of peace and security being achieved. If they were being offered a deal that genuinely guaranteed them that, then there would be no need to enlist the UN Security Council resolutions.

Yet Abbas has never found the level playing field of bilateral negotiations to his liking. For many years now he has been championing the notion of the Palestinians forcing an Israeli retreat via international diplomacy. This, of course, would allow him to push Israel back to something close to the 1949 armistice lines—which have no weight in international law as actual borders—without Israel receiving any meaningful guarantees regarding its security. And that really is why an imposed peace is so ludicrous. Even in the event that Abbas marshaled the international community for doing his bidding and imposing an Israeli withdrawal, it is doubtful that there would be any peace. In what way would Hamas, Islamic Jihad, ISIS, Hezbollah, Iran, and the rest of its proxies be beholden to this supposed solution?

If Hollande is proposing to return to the old colonial days when countries like his imposed borders on peoples and nations living overseas, then with what army does he intended to force this peace? He can have as many votes at the UN as he likes, but he would do well to remember that it is the Israeli army that is currently sheltering UN “peace keepers” in the Golan Heights. Presumably France would recommend the sanctions route that is now so beloved by Europe, bludgeoning Israel into choosing between poverty or insecurity.

Then there is also the question of why Hollande has been prepared to go along with this plan at a time when the Israeli-Palestinian dispute is the last Middle Eastern issue that a world leader ought to be expending time or energy on. Would Hollande, or any European leader, have appeared alongside Netanyahu and voiced their support for imposing a solution on the Palestinians? Of course not. This isn’t about advancing peace or fairness, this is about promoting the Palestinian cause. As a man of the European left this is a cause that Hollande no doubt sympathizes with, but there is more.

During Israel’s war with Hamas this summer, Paris saw Europe’s most violent riots as France’s North African immigrant population vented its fury over what they perceived as French support for the Jewish state. In the course of these riots the mob trapped several hundred Jews in a Paris synagogue. Yet now it is not the plight of the Jews, but rather the cause of their attackers that has been taken up by the French government in what appears to be a blatant, and no doubt ill-fated, act of appeasement.

France’s colonialist past has brought a large Arab-Muslim population to its cities. Yet that last chapter of colonialism is apparently now opening the way to a new chapter of colonialism as Hollande seeks to dictate to the Israelis what their country should look like and where their borders should lie. All with a total disregard for the mounting regional turmoil that would seek to engulf Israel at the first opportunity.

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Liberal Incivility and Gabby Giffords

When a gunman attempted to murder Rep. Gabriel Giffords in January 2011, the country was shocked by what was widely interpreted as an act that symbolized the incivility that had transformed American politics. That assumption, which was primarily aimed at undermining the Tea Party movement that had swept the midterm elections months before in the 2010 midterms, was soon debunked when we learned the shooter was an apolitical madman. But liberals have never ceased yapping about the implications of their opponents’ alleged meanness. Now it turns out the person who is doing the most to give the lie to this assertion is Ms. Giffords.

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When a gunman attempted to murder Rep. Gabriel Giffords in January 2011, the country was shocked by what was widely interpreted as an act that symbolized the incivility that had transformed American politics. That assumption, which was primarily aimed at undermining the Tea Party movement that had swept the midterm elections months before in the 2010 midterms, was soon debunked when we learned the shooter was an apolitical madman. But liberals have never ceased yapping about the implications of their opponents’ alleged meanness. Now it turns out the person who is doing the most to give the lie to this assertion is Ms. Giffords.

Giffords’s plight in the wake of the shooting engendered the support of all Americans as she struggled to recover from catastrophic wounds that forced her to abandon her political career. Like James Brady did a generation before, Giffords’s valiant recovery from a severe head wound made her the object of the nation’s sympathy and warm wishes. That wasn’t diminished by her activism on behalf of controversial gun-control laws. But as Giffords has begun to realize that empathy for her situation doesn’t translate into a willingness by the majority of Americans to embrace her positions on gun control, her intervention in political races is now taking on the aspect of a political attack dog rather than that of a sympathetic victim.

As Politico reports today in a story that runs under the headline “Gabby Giffords gets mean,” the former congresswoman has taken off the gloves in a series of political ads aimed at taking out Republicans she doesn’t like. In them, her super PAC seeks to exploit the suffering of other shooting victims but twists the narrative to make it appear that people like Martha McSally, the Republican woman running for Giffords’s old seat, were somehow involved or even complicit in violent shooting of a woman named Vicki by a stalker.

As Politico notes:

Some longtime supporters are starting to cry foul. On Friday, the Arizona Republic’s editorial page, which is typically liberal leaning, called the “Vicki” ad “base and vile.” The commercial, the newspaper said, put the murder “at McSally’s feet, as if she were responsible. A murder indictment implied. But, of course, McSally had nothing to do with” the death.

This is rough stuff by any standard but for it to be the work of a woman whose shooting elevated her to the status of secular saint is particularly shocking. Other ads that her group has produced pursue the same specious line.

All may be fair in love, war, and politics but there’s a lesson to be learned here and it’s not just that sympathetic victims can turn nasty if they don’t get their way on policy questions.

The liberal conceit that conservatives have fouled the political waters with their strident advocacy for accountability in terms of taxes and spending was always something of a stretch. While the Tea Party, like every other American political faction, has its share of rude loudmouths, despite the libels aimed at it from the liberal mainstream media it is no more a threat to democracy than its counterparts on the left. But modern liberalism has its core a deep-seated intolerance of opposition. It was never enough for them to criticize the positions of conservatives or Tea Partiers; they had to skewer them as anti-democratic or supportive of political violence, despite the lack of evidence to support such wild allegations.

Nor are liberals deterred by the irony of their efforts to defame conservatives. As I wrote back in January 2012, even as she issued a call for political civility, Democratic National Committee chair Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz falsely linked the Tea Party to the Giffords shooting. So why should we be surprised that Giffords would play the same card as she seeks to demonize and defame those who would frustrate her pro-gun control efforts?

Part of the disconnect here is due to a misunderstanding about Giffords’s personality. Though she is rightly praised for her hard work in recovering from her wounds, prior to the shooting Giffords was never shy about using the most incendiary rhetoric aimed at demonizing her political foes.

The point here is not so much to debunk the stained-glass image of the plucky Giffords in the aftermath of her ordeal. Rather, it is to understand that those who seek to characterize political differences, even over issues as divisive as guns, as those between the advocates of good and those of evil are always doing a disservice to the country. Liberals and many of their cheerleaders in the media take it as a given that conservatives are mean-spirited ghouls who don’t care about the poor or are in the pay of malevolent forces. They then take great offense when some on the right pay them back in kind with similarly over-the-top allegations.

The kind of gutter politics practiced by Giffords’s advocacy group does nothing to further a productive debate about guns or any other issue. But it does bring to light the hypocrisy of liberals who believe their good intentions or inherent virtue should allow them to defame opponents in a manner they would decry as incitement to violence if it were directed at them.

The good news, however, is that voters aren’t stupid. As much as they may sympathize with Giffords, they understand that the good will she earned can be easily dissipated if it is to be put in service to sliming those who disagree with her. Just as trotting out Giffords or the families of the Newtown massacre victims won’t convince Americans to trash their Second Amendment rights, neither will the former politician’s ads enable her to get away with sliming another woman with a mind of her own. Sadly, Giffords’s hold on America’s heartstrings may be over.

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War on Terror: What’s Old Is New Again

Writers often don’t choose their own headlines, and the one over this Politico Magazine piece does not appear to reflect the author’s input. But it does highlight how an unfortunate piece of conventional wisdom has crept into mainstream publications regarding the war on terror. The piece, by former CIA analyst Aki Peritz, is headlined “Are We Too Dysfunctional for a New War on Terror?” Setting aside the potential effect of congressional deadlock on defense policy, the problematic word here is: “new.”

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Writers often don’t choose their own headlines, and the one over this Politico Magazine piece does not appear to reflect the author’s input. But it does highlight how an unfortunate piece of conventional wisdom has crept into mainstream publications regarding the war on terror. The piece, by former CIA analyst Aki Peritz, is headlined “Are We Too Dysfunctional for a New War on Terror?” Setting aside the potential effect of congressional deadlock on defense policy, the problematic word here is: “new.”

Is the “old” war on terror over? Not by any reasonable metric. Al-Qaeda is not now, and was not even after bin Laden’s death, on the run. President Obama has somewhat taken the war on terror off the front burner for many Americans through his policy of killing instead of capturing potential terrorists–not to mention the fact that he’s a Democrat, so the antiwar movement, which was mostly an anti-Bush movement, has receded from view. (Though the fringe activists of Code Pink have continued yelling at senators.)

Complicating Obama’s desire to end the war on terror is that he has only presided over its expansion, for a simple reason. Obama can choose to end America’s participation in a traditional land war by retreating from that country. It’s ignominious but yes, a war can plausibly end if one side just leaves.

But the war on terror isn’t a traditional land war. The American retrenchment over which Obama has presided has had all sorts of wholly predictable and deadly results, but those results are, in Obama’s mind, for someone else to deal with. So for example we have Russia on the march, but as far as Obama’s concerned, it’s Ukraine’s war. Terrorism is different, because when terrorists fill a vacuum, they create a safe haven, and when they do that they threaten America.

Thus we have Thursday’s Wall Street Journal report on the terrorist group known as Khorasan, which many in the West hadn’t heard of until last week:

U.S. officials say Khorasan is a growing hazard, particularly to the U.S., because its members are focused on violence toward the West and have been eyeing attacks on American airliners.

On Thursday, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said Khorasan may pose as much of a danger as Islamic State “in terms of threat to the homeland.” It was the first time a U.S. official has acknowledged the group’s existence. …

Officials wouldn’t describe in any detail the nature, location or timing of the plots. Together, Nusra Front and Khorasan are suspected to have multiple plots in the works targeting countries in Europe as well as the U.S.

Other news organizations have since followed the Journal’s lead and reported on Khorasan. Syria has become an anarchic incubator of terrorist groups, itself an obvious source of possible trouble for U.S. counterterrorism and homeland security efforts. It also magnifies the threat to regional stability, which puts U.S. interests further at risk.

How such a threat multiplies in that environment is often misunderstood. The groups don’t necessarily “team up” on an attack against the West. But it helps to connect those who want to attack the West but don’t have the means or the knowhow with those who have the means and knowhow but not the desire to attack the West. And it has eerie echoes from past collaborations. As the Council on Foreign Relations noted in a 2006 backgrounder on the Hezbollah-al-Qaeda relationship:

As former National Security Council members Daniel Benjamin and Steven Simon describe in their book, The Age of Sacred Terror, a small group of al-Qaeda members visited Hezbollah training camps in Lebanon in the mid-1990s. Shortly thereafter, according to testimony from Ali Mohammed, an Egyptian-born U.S. Army sergeant who later served as one of bin Laden’s lieutenants and pled guilty to participating in the 1998 embassy bombings in eastern Africa, Osama bin Laden and Imad Mugniyeh met in Sudan. The two men, who have both topped the FBI’s list of most-wanted terrorists, agreed Hezbollah would provide the fledgling al-Qaeda organization with explosives and training in exchange for money and manpower. Though it is unclear whether all terms of that agreement were met or the degree to which the two groups have worked together since. Douglas Farah, a journalist and consultant with the NEFA Foundation, a New York-based counterterrorism organization, says Hezbollah helped al-Qaeda traffic its assets through Africa in the form of diamonds and gold shortly after the 9/11 attacks. U.S. and European intelligence reports from that time suggest the two groups were collaborating in such activities as money laundering, gun running, and training. It’s not clear whether these past collaborations were isolated incidents or indications of a broader relationship.

Khorasan’s leader, according to the New York Times, “was so close to Bin Laden that he was among a small group of people who knew about the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks before they were launched.” And the Journal adds that the group “is also pursuing a major recruitment effort focused on fighters with Western passports, officials said.” So it’s easy to understand why American counterterrorism and intelligence officials are taking the threat seriously.

A member of bin Laden’s inner circle is leading a group planning attacks on the U.S., was recently living in Iran, and is utilizing a terrorist haven teeming with weapons and possible recruits. This is not a “new” war on terror. In many cases it’s not even a new enemy. No matter how uninterested the American president is in the global war on terror, the war on terror is still interested in him.

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Is ISIS Mainstreaming Hezbollah?

One of the side effects of the rise of ISIS has been to boost the diplomatic position of Iran, one of the terror group’s chief adversaries. But just as Iran is reaping benefits from its opposition to ISIS, so, too, may Tehran’s chief terror auxiliary: Hezbollah. Evidence of this is provided in today’s New York Times in which the Lebanese terror group seeks to boost its reputation certain of a responsive audience in the West.

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One of the side effects of the rise of ISIS has been to boost the diplomatic position of Iran, one of the terror group’s chief adversaries. But just as Iran is reaping benefits from its opposition to ISIS, so, too, may Tehran’s chief terror auxiliary: Hezbollah. Evidence of this is provided in today’s New York Times in which the Lebanese terror group seeks to boost its reputation certain of a responsive audience in the West.

Iran and Hezbollah have much in common with ISIS in terms of hostility to the West, support for terror, and Islamist ambitions. But the Shia-Sunni religious schism makes them implacable foes as well as being on opposite sides of the ongoing wars for control of Iraq and Syria. This also places them, at least in theory, on the same side as the United States as it now haltingly attempts to fight ISIS. That awkward juxtaposition has convinced the Iranians that the West is no longer serious about stopping their drive for nuclear weapons. This conclusion is well supported by the latest pathetic rumblings from the Obama administration about a “face-saving” proposal to help conclude another weak nuclear deal. The bottom line there is that Iran has good reason to believe it can now either defy the West entirely and push on to fulfillment of its nuclear goal or sign a deal that can be easily evaded to the same end.

Hezbollah’s goals are more limited. The Lebanese terror group has been badly damaged by its intervention in Syria on behalf of the Assad regime. Acting on Tehran’s orders, Hezbollah has taken heavy losses and found itself embroiled in a conflict that it can’t win as Syrians revolted against Iran’s ally. But it, too, sees belated Western intervention against ISIS as a potential turning point in the conflict. As the Times notes, even though both Iran and Hezbollah agree that there will be no coordination with the United States—a position that the administration is adamant about—the reality on the ground may be different.

The Syrian civil war is a complex conflict in which the various sides–Assad’s forces and his Hezbollah allies, moderate Syrians, more radical anti-regime forces, and ISIS–are all at war with each other. Secretary of State John Kerry noted last week that Assad is “playing footsie” with ISIS as he seeks to strengthen them at the expense of more credible domestic foes.

This awful situation is largely the result of the West’s refusal to intervene in Syria years ago when it was possible to both topple Assad and prevent the emergence of ISIS. There are only bad choices left, of which allowing ISIS to continue to expand would be the worst. But even as the U.S. chooses among those unsavory options, Hezbollah is hoping the new alignment will solidify their position in Lebanon as well as normalizing them in the eyes of the world. This is something the U.S. must resist.

The decision of Hezbollah’s PR chief to give an interview to the Times’s Beirut bureau chief is a sign the group knows the time is ripe to bolster their international standing. But the resulting article, which includes comments from other pro-Hezbollah figures, seems to make the case that there is a wide gulf separating the group from ISIS. But this PR campaign should not go unanswered.

In the article, Hezbollah official Mohammed Afif claims the group warned the West about the danger from terrorism but nobody listened until ISIS began beheading Western captives. Another pro-Hezbollah voice is Kamel Wazne, who is given the last word in the Times piece. He says Hezbollah only presents a threat to Israel, not the U.S. and Europe. But that is a lie. Hezbollah has conducted terror operations at Iran’s behest in both Europe and South America over the years. Merely being an ISIS rival in the cutthroat world of Middle East conflict ought not give Hezbollah a Western seal of approval.

By going into a war with ISIS in a halfhearted manner, President Obama does not appear to have a strategy to actually “degrade,” let alone defeat, ISIS. But one of the perhaps unintended consequences of this lead-from-behind approach will be to further empower and validate Hezbollah’s own murderous efforts that have already contributed to the death toll in Syria.

The United States will have to do more than merely say it won’t cooperate with Iran and Hezbollah against ISIS. It must actively aid the efforts of those forces that are fighting against these outside meddlers who are in many respects similar to ISIS. The U.S. appears to be now heading toward a situation where it will not only fail to eradicate ISIS but will also strengthen those terrorists who are looking forward to operating in the future under the cover of an Iranian nuclear umbrella. That is a formula for more chaos. For an administration that considers “don’t do stupid stuff” to be its guiding principle, that’s pretty stupid.

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Defense Policy on Autopilot

President Obama has just sent 3,000 troops to Liberia to fight Ebola and 1,500–and counting–to Iraq to fight ISIS and hundreds, possibly thousands, more to Eastern Europe to deter Russia. Earlier he sent more than 150 troops to Africa to fight Joseph Kony and he keeps sending troops to carry out various Special Operations missions from Libya to Somalia. Oh, and he has committed to keep at least 10,000 troops in Afghanistan after this year.

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President Obama has just sent 3,000 troops to Liberia to fight Ebola and 1,500–and counting–to Iraq to fight ISIS and hundreds, possibly thousands, more to Eastern Europe to deter Russia. Earlier he sent more than 150 troops to Africa to fight Joseph Kony and he keeps sending troops to carry out various Special Operations missions from Libya to Somalia. Oh, and he has committed to keep at least 10,000 troops in Afghanistan after this year.

Everett Dirksen famously said: “A billion here, a billion there, and pretty soon you’re talking about real money.” This line might be adapted to troop deployments: A thousand here, a thousand there, and pretty soon you’re talking about real commitments. While the absolute numbers committed in recent months are not great–and not as significant as they should be to accomplish their missions especially in Iraq/Syria and Afghanistan–they are indicative of the continuing demand for U.S. military personnel around the world.

Yet what almost no one seems to be noticing is that even as the administration continues to deploy the military at a breakneck pace, funding for the armed forces is in precipitous decline. A series of budget cuts culminating in sequestration threaten to slice a trillion dollars in projected defense spending over the next decade, necessitating severe cutbacks in military strength–cutbacks which have already begun.

As Michele Flournoy and Eric Edelman–senior former defense officials under President Obama and President George W. Bush, respectively–wrote just a few days ago: “The provisions of the Budget Control Act and sequestration have already precipitated a readiness crisis within our armed forces, with only a handful of Army brigades ready for crisis response, Air Force pilots unable to fly sufficient hours to keep up their skills and Navy ships unable to provide critical U.S. security presence in key regions. Although last year’s congressional budget deal has granted some temporary relief, the return to sequestration in fiscal 2015 and beyond would result in a hollow force reminiscent of the late 1970s.”

The Army is particularly threatened by these cuts which are likely to shrink the active duty force from 510,000 soldiers today down to 420,000 by the end of the decade. The Army chief, Gen. Ray Odierno, has warned that going below 450,000 active duty personnel will result in an Army unable to meet even its most minimal commitments. “We have to look when enough is enough, and it is time to have that debate,” he said last week.

Yet what is striking is that we are not having that debate. Even as the danger around the world grows, Washington seems to be on budget-cutting autopilot. Democrats are more concerned about protecting entitlement spending, Republicans about avoiding tax increases. Neither party seems particularly worried about the potentially cataclysmic erosion of our military strength. If the current crises from Ukraine to Iraq are not sufficient to wake us up to the need to maintain a strong military, it is hard to know what it will take.

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Barack’s World

President Obama has declared his strategy is to “degrade and defeat” ISIS. Yet he’s hoping to do so by relying on a plan that is ludicrously insufficient. It’s worth noting that the criticism of his approach isn’t being led by Republicans as much as by U.S. military leaders (as this Washington Post story makes clear), by retired generals, and by former Obama defense secretaries like Leon Panetta and Robert Gates.

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President Obama has declared his strategy is to “degrade and defeat” ISIS. Yet he’s hoping to do so by relying on a plan that is ludicrously insufficient. It’s worth noting that the criticism of his approach isn’t being led by Republicans as much as by U.S. military leaders (as this Washington Post story makes clear), by retired generals, and by former Obama defense secretaries like Leon Panetta and Robert Gates.

Secretary Panetta told CBS News that ISIS emerged as a threat because the United States pulled out of Iraq too soon and became involved in Syria too late, while Secretary Gates said this:

The reality is, they’re not going to be able to be successful against ISIS strictly from the air or strictly depending on the Iraqi forces or the Peshmerga or the Sunni tribes acting on their own. So there will be boots on the ground if there’s to be any hope of success in the strategy. And I think that by continuing to repeat that [there won't be troops on the ground], the president in effect traps himself.

Yet the president, when he spoke at MacDill Air Force Base in Florida last week, once again declared that American troops will not undertake a combat mission in Iraq. “I want to be clear,” Mr. Obama said. “The American forces that have been deployed to Iraq do not and will not have a combat mission.”

The president doesn’t understand that to will the end you also have to will the means to the end. Mr. Obama would like the richest, best armed, and most formidable terrorist group ever–one that now controls large portions of two nations–to be defeated. Yet he can’t succeed simply by relying on air strikes and Iraqi and Kurdish forces and the Syrian opposition. (Just a month ago the president said the notion that arming Syrian rebels would have made a difference has “always been a fantasy” and mocked the opposition as being “made up of former doctors, farmers, pharmacists and so forth.”) That’s clear to just about every person who has seriously examined this matter. (I commend to you this report by the Institute for the Study of War, which lays out just how formidable our task is if we hope to defeat ISIS.) Yet Mr. Obama persists in living in a world of make believe.

We can see what’s occurring. The president has a theological-like devotion to not using American combat missions to fight ISIS. This makes his commitment to defeat ISIS impossible to achieve. Yet rather than admit that to us or to himself, the president has invented assumptions that affirm what he wants to believe. This requires him to operate in a realm free of facts. To step through the looking glass. To live in Barack’s World.

Barack’s World is a place this president retreats to when the world becomes too complicated and unaccommodating. Where the wish is father to the thought. Where he can disassociate from reality. Where, when reality collides with ideology, reality loses.

While the president increasingly finds refuge in Barack’s World, the rest of us have to deal with the shattered pieces that are being left in his wake. Barack Obama is a careless man, to paraphrase a passage from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. He has smashed up things and retreats back into his own world, letting other people clean up the mess he has made. And what a mess it is.

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Real Estate, Jewelry, and the Israeli-Palestinian Dispute

Today’s publication of Defining Neighbors: Religion, Race, and the Early Zionist-Arab Encounter (Princeton University Press) by Jonathan Marc Gribetz, an assistant professor of Near Eastern studies and Judaic studies at Princeton, marks a minor miracle: it may well be the only book ever published with dust-jacket endorsements by both Ruth R. Wisse (a “brilliant study” and “an indispensable work”) and Rashid Khalidi (“prodigious research”). The publisher calls it a “landmark book,” one that “fundamentally recasts our understanding of the modern Jewish-Arab encounter.”

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Today’s publication of Defining Neighbors: Religion, Race, and the Early Zionist-Arab Encounter (Princeton University Press) by Jonathan Marc Gribetz, an assistant professor of Near Eastern studies and Judaic studies at Princeton, marks a minor miracle: it may well be the only book ever published with dust-jacket endorsements by both Ruth R. Wisse (a “brilliant study” and “an indispensable work”) and Rashid Khalidi (“prodigious research”). The publisher calls it a “landmark book,” one that “fundamentally recasts our understanding of the modern Jewish-Arab encounter.”

This post is not intended as a review, but rather a reflection on one of Professor Gribetz’s central insights. To call the Israeli-Palestinian conflict a “dispute over real estate,” he writes, is like calling a fight over a family inheritance a “dispute over jewelry and china”: in both cases, the description misses the crux of the matter. In his book, Professor Gribetz demonstrates that, from the beginning, the Jewish-Arab conflict was a “struggle over history and identity”–played out over land, but involving fundamental issues that have always transcended the apparent subject of the dispute.

In the early years, there were frequent expressions of commonality between Jews and Arabs, epitomized by the 1919 agreement between Chaim Weizmann, the head of the Zionist Organization, and Faisal Hussein, the leader of the Arabs. The agreement cited “the racial kinship and ancient bonds existing between the Arabs and the Jewish people” and declared Arab support for the 1917 Balfour Declaration and Jewish support for an Arab state adjacent to Palestine. Faisal thereafter wrote to Felix Frankfurter (then also a Zionist leader) that “we Arabs, especially the educated among us, look with the deepest sympathy on the Zionist movement,” and “will wish the Jews a most hearty welcome home.” That obviously did not last long.

Professor Gribetz ends his book by noting that while relations between Jews and Arabs worsened after 1919, his study itself shows that perceptions between peoples are not immutable; so it “stands to reason that they can improve as well.” He does not address what might lead to such an improvement, but perhaps we can determine what will be necessary by viewing his central insight in light of the peace proposals in the decades following the period he covers.

The 1919 Weizmann-Faisal agreement was never implemented, but in 1921 Great Britain divided Palestine and gave half to Transjordan. In later years, there were numerous two-state solutions proposed for the remaining half of Palestine, all of which ended exactly as did the 1919 pact:

(1) In 1937, the Jews accepted the two-state solution proposed by the British Peel Commission; the Arabs rejected it;

(2) In 1947, the Jews accepted the UN’s two-state solution; the Arabs rejected it;

(3) In 1967, Israel wanted to trade land for recognition and peace; the Arabs issued their three adamant “no’s”;

(4) In 1978, Israel agreed to Palestinian autonomy as part of the peace agreement with Egypt; the Palestinians rejected it;

(5) In July 2000, at Camp David, Israel offered the Palestinians a state; they walked away;

(6) In December 2000, Israel formally accepted the Clinton Parameters for a two-state solution; in January 2001, the Palestinians rejected them;

(7) In 2005, Israel removed every soldier, settler, and settlement from Gaza and turned the entire territory over to the Palestinian Authority; so far there have been three rocket wars on Israel from the land Israel gave the Palestinians to build a state;

(8) In 2008, the Israeli prime minister begged the Palestinian president to accept a two-state solution in which the Palestinians would get land equal to 100 percent (after swaps) of the West Bank and Gaza; the Palestinians walked away again;

(9) In 2009, the new Israeli prime minister formally endorsed a Palestinian state, implemented an unprecedented settlement construction freeze, and met a stone wall.

Nearly 100 years after the first two-state solution was endorsed by the Zionists, the current Palestinian president repeatedly states he will “never” recognize a Jewish state; refuses to endorse “two states for two peoples” as the goal of the peace process; and will not give a Bir Zeit speech to match the Israeli prime minister’s 2009 Bar-Ilan address that endorsed a Palestinian state. He demands more of the remaining jewelry and china, while maintaining a “right to recover” the rest and repeatedly “reconciling” with those dedicated to killing the other side of the family.

The problem in that scenario is not the jewelry and china. Those who read Professor Gribetz’s book will likewise learn that the real estate was not the heart of the initial Jewish-Arab encounter. Middle East peace will not arrive simply by drawing a line on a map, because the crux of this dispute has never been the real estate.

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Gaza Residents: Hamas Kept Us from Fleeing Israeli Attacks

Mudar Zahran, a Palestinian-Jordanian now living in Britain, has collected and published some truly shocking testimony from Gaza residents about Hamas’s behavior during this summer’s war with Israel. All his interviewees insisted on remaining anonymous, and it’s easy to understand why: They accuse Hamas of deliberately creating hundreds of civilian casualties by forcing civilians to stay in places Israel had warned it was going to bomb.

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Mudar Zahran, a Palestinian-Jordanian now living in Britain, has collected and published some truly shocking testimony from Gaza residents about Hamas’s behavior during this summer’s war with Israel. All his interviewees insisted on remaining anonymous, and it’s easy to understand why: They accuse Hamas of deliberately creating hundreds of civilian casualties by forcing civilians to stay in places Israel had warned it was going to bomb.

Here, for instance, is the testimony of S., a medical worker:

The Israeli army sends warnings to people [Gazans] to evacuate buildings before an attack. The Israelis either call or send a text message. Sometimes they call several times to make sure everyone has been evacuated. Hamas’s strict policy, though, was not to allow us to evacuate. Many people got killed, locked inside their homes by Hamas militants. Hamas’s official Al-Quds TV regularly issued warnings to Gazans not to evacuate their homes. Hamas militants would block the exits to the places residents were asked to evacuate. In the Shijaiya area, people received warnings from the Israelis and tried to evacuate the area, but Hamas militants blocked the exits and ordered people to return to their homes. Some of the people had no choice but to run towards the Israelis and ask for protection for their families. Hamas shot some of those people as they were running; the rest were forced to return to their homes and get bombed. This is how the Shijaiya massacre happened. More than 100 people were killed.

And here’s K., a graduate student at an Egyptian university who was visiting his family in Gaza this summer: “When people stopped listening to Hamas orders not to evacuate and began leaving their homes anyway, Hamas imposed a curfew: anyone walking out in the street was shot without being asked any questions. That way Hamas made sure people had to stay in their homes even if they were about to get bombed.”

And H., who lost his leg in an Israeli bombing: “My father received a text-message from the Israeli army warning him that our area was going to be bombed, and Hamas prevented us from leaving. They said there was a curfew. A curfew, can you believe that?”

T., a former (and evidently disenchanted) Hamas government official, explained the policy’s rationale:

Some people say Hamas wants civilians killed in order to gain global sympathy, but I believe this is not the main reason. I think the reason is that if all the people were allowed to evacuate their homes, they all would have ended up in a certain area in Gaza. If that happened, it would have made the rest of Gaza empty of civilians, and the Israelis would have been able to hit Hamas without worrying about civilians in all those empty areas. Hamas wanted civilians all over the place to confuse the Israelis and make their operations more difficult.

Nor is this the only crime of which Zahran’s interviewees accused Hamas. For instance, three different people–two aid workers and an imam–said Hamas stole humanitarian aid and either kept it for its own people or sold it to ordinary Gazans for exorbitant prices.

Altogether, Zahran interviewed more than 20 Gazans, all of whom had shocking things to say. That doesn’t guarantee that their stories are true. Palestinians frequently fabricate atrocity tales about Israel (see, for instance, the Jenin massacre that wasn’t, or the perennial favorite about Israel trying to turn Palestinians into drug addicts), so there’s no reason to think anti-Hamas Palestinians aren’t equally capable of fabricating atrocity tales about Hamas.

Moreover, the interviewees were clearly terrified of Hamas, so it wouldn’t be easy to get them to talk to the international media (which generally relies on either Hamas-approved fixers or local stringers), UN workers (many of whom are openly affiliated with Hamas), or human-rights organizations (which, like the media, generally rely on local investigators). Still, given how many crocodile tears the media, the UN, and human-rights groups have shed over alleged Israeli “war crimes” in Gaza, one would think they could spare some time and effort to investigate alleged Hamas war crimes against its own people.

That they haven’t merely confirms, once again, two basic truths: First, these self-proclaimed moral arbiters care very little about human rights unless Israel can be blamed. And second, they’re fundamentally lazy: They’ll always prefer the easy route of collecting “testimony” against Israel, which Gaza residents can give without fear of consequences, to the hard work of digging for information about the abuses of a terrorist government that tortures and kills anyone who dares speak against it.

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The ‘Klinghoffer’ Opera and the Mainstreaming of Jew Hatred

The Metropolitan Opera celebrates its annual opening night on Monday but most of the discussion about the 2014-15 season centers on a performance that won’t happen for another month. The debut of its production of John Adams’s The Death of Klinghoffer will not occur until Oct. 20, but the year-long debate about the Met’s questionable judgment in staging an opera that treats the victim and the perpetrators in a terrorist murder as morally equivalent is heating up with predicable and utterly unpersuasive arguments arrayed in favor of the decision to ignore critics and move ahead with the performance.

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The Metropolitan Opera celebrates its annual opening night on Monday but most of the discussion about the 2014-15 season centers on a performance that won’t happen for another month. The debut of its production of John Adams’s The Death of Klinghoffer will not occur until Oct. 20, but the year-long debate about the Met’s questionable judgment in staging an opera that treats the victim and the perpetrators in a terrorist murder as morally equivalent is heating up with predicable and utterly unpersuasive arguments arrayed in favor of the decision to ignore critics and move ahead with the performance.

It should be recalled that back in June, the Met attempted to compromise with those outraged by its plan to run Klinghoffer by cancelling the HD broadcast of the opera around the world in theaters and on radio. But it refused to back down on producing the opera. At the time, the New York Times criticized the Met for implicitly acknowledging that a broadcast of an opera that depicts and rationalizes both anti-Semitism and murder of Jews would be problematic at a time when Jew hatred is on the rise around the globe. But in an editorial published Friday, the paper expressed its satisfaction at the Met’s decision to keep the performances of Klinghoffer on its schedule. The fact that, if anything, the plague of anti-Semitism has grown even worse over the summer as Israel-haters bashed the Jewish state for defending itself against Islamist terrorists with similar attitudes toward Jews as the ones in Klinghoffer means nothing to the Times; it praised Met general manager Peter Gelb for being “true to its artistic mission.”

The Times dismisses concerns about the opera’s content and its potential role in fomenting more hate with facile arguments defending artistic freedom against political pressures that don’t stand up to scrutiny. No one is saying that the Met doesn’t have the right to put on Klinghoffer. What its critics are pointing out is that by putting on a piece that treats terrorism and hate for Jews, the Met is coming down on the wrong side of a moral question.

A more nuanced defense of the opera comes from Opera News, the most widely read publication about the art form in North America that also happens to be the Met’s house organ (although it is allowed to critically review Met performances much to Gelb’s ongoing dismay). In the September issue of the magazine, Phillip Kennicott, the Washington Post’s chief arts critic, attempts to take up the cudgels for Klinghoffer but in doing so without the sort of cant and generalizations that the Times has indulged in, he unwittingly helps make the case for the opera’s detractors.

Rather than merely attempt to pretend that the opera doesn’t justify the motivations and the actions of the murderers of Leon Klinghoffer during the 1985 hijacking of the Achille Lauro cruise ship, Kennicott acknowledges that there is a clear imbalance in the way Palestinians and Jews are depicted by composer John Adams. In discussing the two opening choruses of members of the two groups, Kennicott admits that there is a clear difference in both the text and the musical language deployed by the artist:

There is a powerful musical difference between the choruses, and that difference helps trace the moral trajectory of the opera. The Palestinian chorus begins in a dream-like phantasmagoria, but as the memory of grievance becomes more powerful, it ends in a paroxysm of rage: “Our faith will take the stones he broke / and break his teeth.”

The Jewish chorus, by contrast, remains vague and undirected, full of the detail of memory, but without the clear trajectory of anger that preceded it in the Palestinian song.

He then acknowledges the crux of the matter:

How you interpret these choruses becomes key to how you interpret the opera. Many of the work’s critics found the mix of lyricism and anger in the Palestinian music (including long parlando passages from the four terrorists later in the work) to be too seductive, essentially a humanizing musical language that romanticized or in some way justified their violence. And they found the Jewish characters (including a scene that was later dropped from the opera that depicted a family at home in America chatting, sometimes ironically, about travel) antiheroic, scattered and pallid representations bogged down in the material world.

In other words, the Palestinians are real people with justifiable grievances while the Jews are shown in a distinctly unfavorable light. Kennicott is then forced to perform linguistic back flips in order to try to argue that the unflattering portrayal of the Jews is somehow indicative of the “real world” in which the Jews live and therefore a more compelling and complex narrative than the palpable anger of the Palestinians that the music keeps telling us is more attractive and more deserving of support. It’s a nice try but it doesn’t work.

More to the point, Kennicott claims the point of the opera is to criticize the whole idea of “forward-driven narratives of heroism and anger” and to choose instead more “wandering narratives” that leave us with no satisfying conclusions about events. That’s just a rather complicated way of saying that Adams views one of the most callous acts of international terrorism as one that no one should view as a simple matter of murder driven by hatred of Jews. Which is to say that he is doing exactly what his critics allege when they say the whole point of the piece is moral relativism. Indeed, as Kennicott admits, Adams’s goal is to “posit a continuity of humanity between the terrorists and their victims.”

In defense of this position, Kennicott argues, “A continuity of humanity is the only hope for peace.” That’s true. But while both sides in the Achille Lauro hijacking are, of course, human beings, a piece whose purpose is to put the terrorist and their victims on the same plane is one that is not merely depicting hate, as the opera’s defenders claim, but implicitly endorsing it as being no more objectionable than the position of those who are the objects of hatred.

The critic defends the piece because he thinks it is a good thing that we have discussions about serious issues in the opera house, a position that few would dispute. Yet in making that argument, Kennicott and the Met itself are being more than a little disingenuous. There are, after all, a lot of issues that no one wants debated in the public square, let alone in the opera house or concert hall. No one, or at least no one who had any hope of getting their work produced at the Met or any other respected arts institution, would seek to make similar comparisons between say, African-American victims of lynchings and the Ku Klux Klan or between blacks subjugated by apartheid and white South Africans. That is true despite the fact that a composer could give us choruses depicting the suffering of Confederates during and after the Civil War or the wrongs done to Afrikaners in the past, much like that of the Palestinians who are meant to humanize the terrorists who shoot the old Jew Klinghoffer and throw his body overboard. Nor did John Adams choose to use his much praised choral work commemorating the 9/11 attacks, On the Transmigration of Souls, to explain the reasons why Islamists think they have a bone to pick with the West.

The reason why the Met doesn’t produce operas rationalizing Jim Crow or apartheid and the classical music world doesn’t celebrate al-Qaeda is not because the arts world doesn’t embrace works that stir up emotions or are controversial. Kennicott is right when he says there is a consensus about that being the business of artists. We don’t hear such pieces because there is also also a consensus that racism is beyond the pale of such discussions and may not be justified even in the guise of high art. What Klinghoffer’s critics have noticed and its defenders seek to ignore is that the opera’s embrace by arts and media Mandarins illustrates that they consider Jew hatred to fall under the rubric of those expressions that may be debated rather than one that should be merely condemned by members of decent society as they would racism.

It is an unfortunate fact that in recent years forms of anti-Semitism have crept in from the margins of society and been mainstreamed. That is exactly what an opera that rationalizes the murder of an old man merely because he was a Jew does. This is not an issue on which intellectuals should think themselves free to agree to disagree. That is why those who are angry about the Met’s decision are right and the arts community and anyone else who embraces this deplorable decision are not merely wrong but opening the door to a new era of anti-Semitism.

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With Pipe Proposal U.S. Waves White Flag on Iran Nukes

The Obama administration thinks it may have found a way to solve the nuclear standoff with Iran. But the leak of this proposal, which was clearly intended to give the impression that its foreign policy isn’t as clueless as it seems, isn’t likely to improve its public-relations problem or reduce the chances of the Iranians building a nuclear weapon. Instead, by placing a proposal which called for dismantling the pipes connecting Iran’s nuclear centrifuges while leaving their nuclear infrastructure intact, Washington is demonstrating just how desperate its position has become. That Iran isn’t biting on even this abject attempt at outreach by the administration illustrates how strong it has been allowed to become by Obama.

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The Obama administration thinks it may have found a way to solve the nuclear standoff with Iran. But the leak of this proposal, which was clearly intended to give the impression that its foreign policy isn’t as clueless as it seems, isn’t likely to improve its public-relations problem or reduce the chances of the Iranians building a nuclear weapon. Instead, by placing a proposal which called for dismantling the pipes connecting Iran’s nuclear centrifuges while leaving their nuclear infrastructure intact, Washington is demonstrating just how desperate its position has become. That Iran isn’t biting on even this abject attempt at outreach by the administration illustrates how strong it has been allowed to become by Obama.

There are two issues raised by yesterday’s New York Times story in which the idea of pipe removal was mooted as a “glimmer of hope” coming out of the negotiations that the U.S. and Iran have been holding in New York this past week during the prelude to the opening of the General Assembly of the United Nations. One is the way the Obama administration’s zeal for a deal has, piece by piece, dismantled its previous positions on stopping Iran to the point where there is almost nothing left of President Obama’s campaign promises about the Iranian nuclear threat. The second is the way this proposal demonstrates the strength of the Iranian position in which Tehran feels it doesn’t need to give an inch in talks with the West.

It should first be stated that the leak of the proposal to the New York Times, and in particular its chief Washington correspondent David Sanger, was utterly predictable. For the past six years, the Times has been the beneficiary of numerous leaks from administration sources as the White House and its leading press cheerleader were always ready to help each other out. But the practice has escalated since John Kerry became secretary of state and stories under Sanger’s byline became the place to go for scoops intended to bolster the image of President Obama’s foreign-policy team. But this latest example of how the information pipeline between Foggy Bottom and the Grey Lady works isn’t likely to do much to solve the administration’s public-relations problems.

The proposal is, on its face, a devastating indictment of how far the administration has retreated from President Obama’s avowal during his foreign-policy debate with Mitt Romney in 2012 that he wouldn’t settle for anything less than the elimination of Iran’s nuclear program. Last November, Kerry signed an interim agreement with Iran that weakened sanctions in exchange for both a tacit Western recognition of the Islamist regime’s “right” to refine uranium and a moratorium on weapons-level refinement that could be easily reversed. Since then negotiations on a final accord have stalled because the Iranians have stood their ground and refused to dismantle their nuclear infrastructure while also stonewalling United Nations inspectors eager to learn how far their advanced efforts into military application of their nuclear technology have gone.

But rather than stick to a principled insistence on ensuring that Iran could not retain the capability to build a bomb, the U.S. has been on a path of constant retreat. If the leak to the Times is accurate, this means that Obama and Kerry have abandoned even the pretense of trying to stop Iran. If Kerry’s interim deal that left Iran the option of reconstituting its stockpile of nuclear fuel at the whim of the ayatollahs was weak, this idea of merely disconnecting pipes is a joke.

The conceit of the proposal is that if the pipes were removed, that would mean a reconstruction of the connections would take so long that it would allow the West sufficient time to respond if there were signs that Iran was violating such an agreement. The possibility that disconnecting the pipes could be even more easily reversed than other ideas for delaying an Iranian “breakout” to a bomb is fairly obvious. But even if we assume this would be a serious obstacle, without a rigorous inspection system that isn’t on the table the notion that the West would really know what was going on in Iran’s nuclear plants isn’t credible. Nor is there any assurance that an Obama administration and its allies—who are even less enthusiastic about tough sanctions on Iran—would do anything after it had supposedly “solved” the problem. While the Times claimed the point of the proposal was to allow Iran to save face under Western pressure, it is far more likely to be aimed at saving Obama’s face as he abandons his pledge against stopping Iran.

But the mere airing of such a preposterous proposal illustrates above all the weakness of the Obama administration’s position vis-à-vis Iran. As even the Times story reports, the Iranians are on the offensive in New York, hyping their opposition to ISIS as bait to further entice Obama to, as Reuters reported today, exchange their support for a campaign against the terrorist group for Western acquiescence to their nuclear ambitions.

This is an astonishing reversal of fortune from a year ago when the Obama administration could boast, with some justice, of constructing a system of international sanctions that were beginning to hurt Iran. But Obama and Kerry discarded the enormous economic and military leverage they had over Tehran in last year’s interim agreement. Now, their dubious pursuit of détente with Iran is looking even more likely after the president’s dithering on Syria and abandonment of Iraq led to the rise of ISIS.

But as much as the West needs to clean up the mess Obama helped create in Iraq and Syria with his inaction, it cannot give Iran a pass to create an even more deadly nuclear threat. An Iranian bomb is, as the president has often said, a foreign-policy “game changer” that will, at best, undermine the same Arab regimes opposed by ISIS, threaten Israel with destruction and pose a genuine danger to the West.

The ridiculous pipe proposal is one more sign that the administration is in retreat mode on Iran. But an even more worrisome sign of Iran’s strength is the contempt with which it is treating this evidence of Western appeasement.

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Iran Has Obama Cornered on Nuclear Issue

They good news out of the White House is that President Obama has no plans at present to meet with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani next week at the meeting of the United Nations General Assembly. If such a meeting were being touted, it might signal an impeding agreement between the two nations that would likely do little to avert the Iranian nuclear threat. The bad news is that Iran’s open display of defiance heading into the talks that began this week in New York is a sign that American economic and military leverage over the Islamist regime is now so slight that the most likely outcome of this latest round of diplomatic futility is for the negotiations to continue to be strung out indefinitely, something that will lead inevitably to the Iranian bomb Obama has vowed to stop.

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They good news out of the White House is that President Obama has no plans at present to meet with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani next week at the meeting of the United Nations General Assembly. If such a meeting were being touted, it might signal an impeding agreement between the two nations that would likely do little to avert the Iranian nuclear threat. The bad news is that Iran’s open display of defiance heading into the talks that began this week in New York is a sign that American economic and military leverage over the Islamist regime is now so slight that the most likely outcome of this latest round of diplomatic futility is for the negotiations to continue to be strung out indefinitely, something that will lead inevitably to the Iranian bomb Obama has vowed to stop.

As I wrote earlier this week, the European Union has already signaled that it is preparing for yet another extension of the talks past November by appointing current foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton to continue to represent the EU in negotiations with Tehran. These are, of course, the talks that were supposed to have a six-month time limit so as to prevent Iran from continuing its delaying tactics that have worked so well over the past decade. But that time limit — an integral part of the interim nuclear accord signed last November by the United States and its allies with Iran — was already extended once over the summer.

That ought to mean the current talks being held in New York ought to be make or break time for an administration that spiked Congress’s attempt to strengthen economic sanctions on Iran last winter by promising that diplomacy could work without the extra leverage tougher restrictions on doing business with Tehran would give it. But in the last year the administration’s diplomatic efforts have gone nowhere on the nuclear issue. The loosening of the sanctions in the interim accord removed the West’s ace in the hole against the ayatollahs and signaled the world that Iran would soon be open for business again.

Combined with the tension between Russia and the West after the invasion of Ukraine that provided Iran with a crucial friend and you have a formula that left Tehran feeling strong enough to resist President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry’s entreaties to make a deal and inaugurate a new era of U.S.-Iran détente. Throw in the fact that the U.S. and Iran are allegedly now on the same side in the struggle against ISIS in Iraq and Syria (where Tehran’s ally Bashar Assad has survived and also, as Kerry said, “played footsie with ISIS”) and Iran has zero incentive to give an inch on nuclear issues.

With little hope of progress this week, Rouhani can go to New York and thumb his nose on the nuclear issue at the U.S. with impunity. That leaves President Obama’s promises about stopping Iran and letting diplomacy work without Congressional interference look hollow if not mendacious. The Iranians feel they have Obama right where they want him, knowing he has even less appetite for a confrontation with them than he does with ISIS. The terrorist group presents a clear and present danger to the nation that the administration is right to begin to address. But by neglecting the even more deadly peril from an Iranian nuke and allowing Tehran to think they have nothing to lose by stiffing the West in the talks, Obama is endangering U.S. security and setting himself up for a legacy of foreign policy catastrophe.

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Will Bridgegate Vindication Revive Christie’s 2016 Hopes?

The leak of the news that the Justice Department probe in to Bridgegate has found that New Jersey Governor Chris Christie had no role in the scandal is very good news for those who want him to run for president in 2016. But even if this is truly the end of efforts to lay responsibility for that mess on the governor—and there is no guarantee that this is so given Justice’s refusal to formally announce their findings in the investigation—nothing said now can take us back to the moment at the end of 2013 when Christie seemed to have a leg up for the Republican nomination.

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The leak of the news that the Justice Department probe in to Bridgegate has found that New Jersey Governor Chris Christie had no role in the scandal is very good news for those who want him to run for president in 2016. But even if this is truly the end of efforts to lay responsibility for that mess on the governor—and there is no guarantee that this is so given Justice’s refusal to formally announce their findings in the investigation—nothing said now can take us back to the moment at the end of 2013 when Christie seemed to have a leg up for the Republican nomination.

As I wrote earlier today, the fact that we had to learn about this crucial piece of information from a leak raises serious questions about whether the Justice Department is slow-walking the investigation in order to damage the GOP star or if it is seeking to gin up an indictment of someone in his administration on some wholly unrelated charge. But even if they publicly vindicate him sometime soon or had done so months ago, Bridgegate forever altered his image. That can’t be undone. And given that Christie was always going to have trouble with major elements of the GOP base, any optimism about 2016 in his camp ought to be tempered with the realization that it will be, at best, a hard slog that will have to depend on a lot of good luck for him to win.

As frustrating as this may be for Christie, that moment in history when he was the darling of the Republican establishment as well as of much of the mainstream media was over the moment the story about his staff orchestrating days of traffic jams on the George Washington Bridge broke. For a few weeks, Bridgegate became the No. 1 news story and gave the liberal media a golden opportunity to destroy the governor’s carefully crafted image of a blunt, truth-telling, can-do politician. They made the most of it with coverage that dwarfed the attention given to Obama administration scandals concerning the Veterans Administration, the IRS, Benghazi, as well as Justice Department spying on the press. As Seth wrote earlier today, it gave Republicans a clear idea of the obstacles they face going forward toward 2016 when the Democrats’ press allies can play a crucial role in undermining their candidates while essentially defending both President Obama and Hillary Clinton.

But there is more to the question of Christie’s 2016 viability than media bias or what is motivating the delay of the announcement of the federal probers’ findings. Christie’s problem is, in a way, much more serious than the one Texas Governor Rick Perry faces over his indictment on a bizarre charge involving the use of his veto power. Perry’s predicament is legal but not political because everyone, including the denizens of the far left who continue to try to justify the indictment, knows it is a phony, politically inspired charge. If it is allowed by the courts to proceed it will be a huge distraction and an obstacle to his presidential hopes. But no one thinks it says anything about his character or qualifications for the presidency.

By contrast, the really damaging aspect of Bridgegate was not the false charges laid at his feet but the distinct impression that the affair reflected something unpleasant about the character of his administration that even his defenders couldn’t credibly deny. Christie, after all, rose to national prominence with performances (captured on YouTube) where he rode roughshod over opponents and even citizens with the temerity to question his views or decisions. The attractive side of all this straight talking was that he came across as the opposite of a political phony. But when looked at another way, he could also be seen as a bully who brooked no opposition and was always focused on crushing and humiliating his opponents.

Thus while he was riding high nine months ago after a uniquely successful first term in office during which he had defied the unions and then won a landslide reelection as a moderate conservative Republican in an extremely blue state, the seeds of future problems had already been sowed. It was never clear whether his abrasive character would play as well on the national stage as it did in New Jersey. Nor was there any way of knowing whether this remarkably thin-skinned politician could hold up under the scrutiny the national press gives presidential candidates in the heat of the campaign.

But Bridgegate short-circuited that inevitable vetting process and illustrated exactly what Christie’s detractors and even some friends had always known would be his weakness. Though the governor had nothing to do with an insane and profoundly stupid plot by some on his staff to punish the mayor of Fort Lee, New Jersey for not endorsing Christie, it was not a reach to claim that this sort of behavior reflected the dark side of a very hardnosed and unforgiving politician. It might have taken months on the campaign trail for some gaffe by the governor to raise these issues or it might never have happened. But now that it has, there’s no going back.

It is true that the public has the attention span of a toddler and that we have no idea what issues will be at the top of the national agenda when the nomination fight begins in earnest. The unfair treatment of Christie will also endear him to Republican primary voters who despise the media in much the same way that Perry’s troubles at the hands of his liberal tormentors have made him a hero to many on the right.

But Christie can’t wish away the damage that has already been done to him. Moreover, the problem with his candidacy is that even before Bridgegate, the notion that he had a straight path to the nomination was already a myth. Christie is, by New Jersey standards, a conservative Republican. But he forfeited the affection of many on the right when he embraced President Obama in the last days of the 2012 presidential campaign after Hurricane Sandy hit his state. Despite his pro-life views and attempt to edge further to the right, such as his refusal to involve New Jersey in a regional cap-and-trade emissions program, he was never going to be able to compete for the votes of evangelicals or Tea Partiers in the primaries. His hopes for the nomination rested on a plan that would repeat Mitt Romney’s trick in hanging around and letting all his more conservative opponents knock each other off. It might have worked, but Christie will be facing a much stronger field than Romney. And now that the glow is off his image after Bridgegate that scenario, while not impossible, is more unlikely than could have been imagined a year ago.

The end of Bridgegate, if that is what has happened, will help Christie, whose interest in the presidency never flagged even at the height of the scandal. But if he was a frontrunner nine months ago, today he must considered as, at best, a very long shot to win the nomination.

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Why Did We Learn About Christie’s Innocence From a Leak?

The news that the federal investigation of Bridgegate will absolve New Jersey Governor Chris Christie of any involvement in the bizarre scandal is the most important development in a story that has lingered since the beginning of 2014. But the fact that we learned about it from a leak, rather than a formal announcement of some sort, should raise some eyebrows and raises as many questions as it provides answers to those interested in the story.

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The news that the federal investigation of Bridgegate will absolve New Jersey Governor Chris Christie of any involvement in the bizarre scandal is the most important development in a story that has lingered since the beginning of 2014. But the fact that we learned about it from a leak, rather than a formal announcement of some sort, should raise some eyebrows and raises as many questions as it provides answers to those interested in the story.

If, after nine months of digging into a scandal that, as far as we know, involves no dead bodies, stolen money, or bribery, the Justice Department is still puttering around the affairs of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, it’s worth asking what’s taking so long and what are the motives of those sitting on the findings that are apparently conclusive.

But it should also be remembered that what is being investigated here isn’t all that mysterious. With the vast resources of the government at their disposal, it’s hard to imagine exactly what it is about the traffic jam that is taking so long to figure out.

Even WNBC’s sources, which are, we are assured, government officials and not connected to the Christie camp in any way, say the federal probe of Bridgegate is not concluded. This is an interesting fact in and of itself since it shows that, as is their practice in all too many of their cases, having found that the intended object of their investigation is innocent, the Justice Department investigators are desperately searching for a way to indict someone for something, even if it has nothing to do with the bridge.

In other words, the effort to find out who it was that decided to close lanes on the bridge and set off days of traffic jams that inconvenienced many thousands of citizens has probably turned into a fishing expedition in which the FBI may be looking for something that can be called a crime even if the original scandal is not one.

That prospect is bad enough because it demonstrates again the power of the feds to nail anyone who gets in their cross hairs, even if they have to invent a new crime to justify their waste of time and money on an investigation that had run into a dead-end. But the length of the investigation and the refusal of the Justice Department to wind up a matter that is not, as far as anyone knows, actually about anything more serious than a wacky revenge plot involving a local New Jersey political feud between the governor’s office in Trenton and the mayor of Fort Lee is curious.

Yet the decision of some on the inside of the probe to leak the principal findings of their work is even more curious. Why did they do it?

The first reason that comes to mind is the possibility that higher-ups in the Justice Department are deliberately slow-walking the investigation or stalling the release of its findings. The most likely motive for such shenanigans is obvious. The longer the investigation continues, the more damage is done to Christie, a Republican that many in the administration rightly fear as a dangerous opponent for the Democrats in 2016.

Is that an unreasonable suspicion? No doubt Attorney General Eric Holder’s defenders will insist that it is outrageous to even suspect him of doing anything like that. But the highly political way Holder has conducted the affairs of the Justice Department, including its involvement in voter ID cases in which it has taken up the partisan talking points of the Democratic Party, makes it clear that politics is always at the top of the agenda at Justice these days. A slow-walking of the probe also allows Democrats in the New Jersey State Legislature to continue their own lengthy and predictably pointless and inconclusive dive into the Bridgegate mess whose only purpose is to embarrass and/or damage the governor.

That may not be true. But there is also no reason for the Department to be sitting on the main results of any Bridgegate investigation. If the leaks are correct and Christie has been found to be innocent in the scandal then that needs to be formally announced and not kept under wraps for a moment longer. If investigators are now trying to lay some other crime, real or imagined, at the feet of someone else in his administration, that needs to be put on the table immediately as well.

The unnecessary traffic jams caused by some political mischief makers was an outrageous abuse of power but no matter who did it, it has never been exactly clear that it was a crime as opposed to something that is merely outrageous rather than illegal. It shouldn’t take this long to answer that question or the one about the authors of the bridge decision. The longer the Justice Department continues their part in this farce, the more it is becoming clear that in this affair, it may be that the investigation is a bigger scandal than the traffic jams.

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Obama’s Not a Closer

The headline in today’s Washington Post says it all: “Rift widens between Obama, U.S. military over strategy to fight Islamic State.” Here’s the problem. The military wants to fight ISIS and Barack Obama wants to fight George W. Bush; and you can’t do both. Defeating the former demands action, defeating the latter demands inaction. Crushing ISIS means countenancing “boots on the ground,” but if Obama considers boots on the ground in Iraq his case against his warmongering predecessor falls apart. Or so he thinks. So we’re stuck in another contradictory Obama shadow show of bold proclamations, pussyfooting disclaimers, and substance-free press briefings.

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The headline in today’s Washington Post says it all: “Rift widens between Obama, U.S. military over strategy to fight Islamic State.” Here’s the problem. The military wants to fight ISIS and Barack Obama wants to fight George W. Bush; and you can’t do both. Defeating the former demands action, defeating the latter demands inaction. Crushing ISIS means countenancing “boots on the ground,” but if Obama considers boots on the ground in Iraq his case against his warmongering predecessor falls apart. Or so he thinks. So we’re stuck in another contradictory Obama shadow show of bold proclamations, pussyfooting disclaimers, and substance-free press briefings.

This is the way with our president. Always, there is the real-world task at hand (be it halting Iranian nuclear aspirations, stopping a revanchist Russia, or destroying an advancing army of jihadists) and then there is his eternal ideological challenge—how to institute the anti-Bush paradigm of non-aggression and national humility. Invariably, ideology wins out and the world is the worse for it.

Not only is our military wise to the pattern, but the rest of the planet knows the score as well.  No one quite understands who our partners are in the fight against ISIS or what these partners would actually do. The Hill reports: “[Secretary of Defense Chuck] Hagel listed a number of countries with which U.S. officials have held discussions, and said that some have pledged military support, but most of the contributors and what the contributions could be have not yet been made clear.”

Obama forms coalitions the same way he fights wars, ends wars, draws red lines, and seals deals. He pretends. He pretended that Libya was a brilliant example of the international community working in concert. Then anarchy bloomed, Americans were killed, and U.S. diplomats left altogether. He pretended that we staged a responsible exit from Iraq—before we were replaced by the greatest threat to the civilized world. He pretended that Bashar al-Assad would be punished for violating international norms and committing mass atrocities. The pretend punishment: guaranteed extension of Assad’s rule via a Russian-led WMD removal deal. He pretends there’s progress in nuclear negotiations with Iran, while Ali Khamenei boasts that the West has come to heel before the Islamic Republic. If anyone bothered to ask Obama about closing Guantanamo Bay today he’d undoubtedly talk about the progress he’s making toward that goal too.

Obama’s not a closer. He’s a prolonger. In press conferences and on talk shows everything is forever moving steadily ahead, but in the unscripted realms beyond his dwindling support network things are palpably collapsing. And yet, Obama’s two-front war, against real threats and against George W. Bush, continues apace. In Foreign Policy, David Rothkopf writes, “Obama seems steadfast in his resistance both to learning from his past errors and to managing his team so that future errors are prevented. It is hard to think of a recent president who has grown so little in office.”

The damage that’s been done is not only broad, but also deep. This week Senator Marco Rubio gave an important speech on the future of American power and, in criticizing Obama, got to something vital: “Worst of all,” he said, “the president’s foreign policy has let down the American people. It has done more than leave them vulnerable – it has dented their faith in the promise and power of the American ideal. The pride they once took in our global leadership has withered into uncertainty.”

He’s right. Our national uncertainty is Barack Obama’s fundamental ambivalence writ large. America needs a closer.

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Bridgegate, the Media, and Lessons for 2016

The apparent exoneration by federal investigators of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie in the scandal over the lane closures on a bridge last year may be good news for Christie, but other prospective 2016 GOP candidates should take notice. The media’s unhinged obsession with hyping and trumping up the story in an effort to take down a presidential candidate was just a warm-up act. Far from chastened, the media is almost certainly just getting started.

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The apparent exoneration by federal investigators of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie in the scandal over the lane closures on a bridge last year may be good news for Christie, but other prospective 2016 GOP candidates should take notice. The media’s unhinged obsession with hyping and trumping up the story in an effort to take down a presidential candidate was just a warm-up act. Far from chastened, the media is almost certainly just getting started.

That means that if Christie really is exonerated–which he has been insisting he would be for months–conservatives should expect the leftist press to choose a new target. Although the coverage of this scandal leaves the mainstream press looking utterly humiliated, they won’t be humbled. A good precedent is when the New York Times concocted false accusations against John McCain in 2008 intended to destroy not just his campaign but his family; after the story was called out for the unethical hit job it was, especially on the right, then-Times editor Bill Keller responded: “My first tendency when they do that is to find the toughest McCain story we’ve got and put it on the front page.”

Getting called out for bias only makes the media more likely to give in to its vindictive instincts. This is the press version of an in-kind contribution, and those contributions don’t go to Republican campaigns.

In January conservative media watchers were passing around the statistics that showed the lopsided coverage the media was giving “Bridgegate” vs. the IRS scandal. One of the charts, which showed dedicated coverage over a fixed period of time, bothered reporters. In one of the unconvincing “defenses” of his fellow journalists, the Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza objected:

The comparison made in this chart in terms of coverage is not an apples to apples one.  The IRS story broke on May 10. That’s a full 52 days before the Media Research Center began counting the minutes of news coverage devoted to it. The Christie story, on the other hand, broke in the Bergen Record on Jan. 8, the same day that MRC began tracking its mentions in the media.

What Cillizza actually demonstrated, unintentionally, was a far worse aspect of the coverage that was tougher to quantify but jumps off the screen from Cillizza’s post. And that is the general lack of interest on the part of reporters in digging into the government’s shocking misconduct–you know, practicing journalism. The lack of curiosity has been astounding.

As our Pete Wehner wrote the other day, forget basic reporting: the press ignored a genuine piece of Benghazi-related news when it fell in their laps. That’s how the IRS developments happened too. The initial story was announced in the IRS’s attempt to get out in front of a report that had discovered the abuse of power and was going to detail its findings. The IRS decided to try to spin the news in advance to take control of the story.

And the recent revelations of the IRS’s ongoing strategy of destroying evidence during the investigation were brought to the public’s attention by the group Judicial Watch, which has been filing Freedom of Information Act requests for documents. The latest piece of news, that Attorney General Eric Holder’s office tried to coordinate a strategy with House Democrats to blunt the impact of future revelations about the IRS’s illegal targeting scheme, came to light because Holder’s office accidentally called Darrell Issa’s office instead of Democrat Elijah Cummings.

The difference in media coverage was only part of the story, then. The more serious part was that the media is just not doing their jobs when the target of the investigation is the Obama administration. That doesn’t mean all reporters, of course, or that they’re ignoring all stories. But the pattern is pretty clear: when we learn something about Obama administration misbehavior, it’s generally not from reporters, many of whom eventually get hired by the Obama administration.

The other aspect of the coverage gap is the type of story. Surely Cillizza thinks a staffer closing lanes on a bridge, however indefensible, is a different caliber of story than the IRS, at the encouragement of high-ranking Democrats, undertaking a targeting scheme to silence Obama’s critics in the lead-up to his reelection. Cillizza was right, in other words: conservatives weren’t comparing apples to apples. But he was wrong in thinking that stacked the deck in favor of conservatives’ conclusion; the opposite was the case.

We’ve already seen this with other prospective GOP 2016 candidates. When Wisconsin prosecutors initiated a wide-ranging “John Doe” investigation intended to silence conservative groups and voters in Wisconsin and level false allegations against Scott Walker, the media ran with the story. It turned out that the investigation was so unethical that those prosecutors now stand accused broad civil-rights violations. But the point of the coverage is to echo the false allegations against Walker, not to get the story right. So the media moved on.

And they moved on to Rick Perry, who was the target of an indictment so demented that only the most extreme liberals defended it. The point of the case, though, was to get headlines announcing Perry’s indictment. This one may have backfired because it was so insane that, aside from former Obama advisor Jim Messina, Rachel Maddow, and a couple writers for liberal magazines, the left tried to distance themselves from it. But the fact remains: Rick Perry is under indictment.

The criminalization of politics is part of the left’s broader lawfare strategy. This is the sort of thing repellent to democratic values and certainly should draw critical attention from the press. Instead, they’ve chosen to enable it.

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The UK Holds Together, but at What Cost?

Britain has averted further Balkanization. After a fraught referendum on Scottish independence, the preservation of the United Kingdom is undoubtedly a welcomed outcome, yet it is far from a happy one. Even with Scotland voting to remain in the union, the longer-term impact of this vote remains uncertain. There is no escaping the bad feelings and old ghosts that this referendum has roused. Nor has the way been cleared for a strengthening of the union. In what appeared to many like a fit of panic and desperation, Britain’s prime minister promised Scots that even in the event of a “no” vote he would still transfer yet more powers from Westminster to Hollyrood. The campaign against independence championed the slogan “better together,” but in reality Scots and everyone else in the United Kingdom look set to get still further apart.

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Britain has averted further Balkanization. After a fraught referendum on Scottish independence, the preservation of the United Kingdom is undoubtedly a welcomed outcome, yet it is far from a happy one. Even with Scotland voting to remain in the union, the longer-term impact of this vote remains uncertain. There is no escaping the bad feelings and old ghosts that this referendum has roused. Nor has the way been cleared for a strengthening of the union. In what appeared to many like a fit of panic and desperation, Britain’s prime minister promised Scots that even in the event of a “no” vote he would still transfer yet more powers from Westminster to Hollyrood. The campaign against independence championed the slogan “better together,” but in reality Scots and everyone else in the United Kingdom look set to get still further apart.

The vote was always anticipated to be close. As it was 55 percent voted to stay and 45 percent chose secession. Whatever the outcome, there was either going to be a newly independent Scotland that was deeply divided against itself or, as is now the case, the preservation of a nation that many people in Scotland have made clear they don’t wish to be part of. That can’t go unnoticed, not least among the English. They perhaps can be forgiven for feeling somewhat disgruntled that considerable numbers of their compatriots wanted out; many with a passion. Accordingly, there were even signs of a contrarian splinter movement emerging—mostly among conservative pundits—who claimed to welcome a Scotland-free UK. They insisted that parting with so many Labor voters and economically depressed areas would only be cause for celebration.

The referendum also reminded the vast majority of citizens that they get a raw deal out of devolution, and that it’s only going to get rawer. Not only do Scots get their own separate government and parliament, but the representatives they send to Westminster are permitted to vote on laws even when they only pertain to England. And in addition to this double representation, Brits living elsewhere in the union must envy that their taxes go toward subsidizing free university education for all Scots, higher pensions, and higher levels of healthcare spending that they themselves don’t get to enjoy south of the border.

While a small clique of conservatives wanted to see the Scots go, far more will be furious that Cameron has promised to devolve yet more powers to Scotland in what looked like a rather unbecoming act of bribery. One can’t help but wonder if this whole problem might be eased by having a little less devolution, not more. After all, had devolution never been instituted at the end of the 1990s, it is hard to imagine that the appetite for independence ever would have grown nearly as strong as it is today.

There is no getting around the fact that having devolution to some parts of the United Kingdom but not others creates a rather topsy-turvy, and indeed unjust, constitutional reality. And although the British may claim to be proud of their uncodified and ever-evolving constitution, the current arrangement can hardly be regarded as satisfactory. In all probability devolution won’t be undone. Not only would many in Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland resent handing back powers, but devolution necessitated the formation of several new political classes serving in the additional parliaments and civil services. And third rate as these regional elites no doubt are, they are in no rush to abdicate those well salaried positions. Indeed, during the recent push for independence, you could see them eying the prospect of ambassadorships the world over.

Perhaps eventually the English will demand a parliament of their own too and the UK will formerly embrace federalism. Some have speculated that Englishness has experienced a boost from the rampant petty nationalisms flourishing in Scotland and Wales. On the other hand, the British may just learn to live with this constitutional dissonance. They already have plenty; a farcically overcrowded House of Commons, a still unelected but now essentially powerless House of Lords, and a Monarch who presides over—and yet has no say over—a national church that most citizens don’t belong to or believe in. One wonders if even James Madison could untangle this little lot. But if Scotland is going to stay, then some solutions will need to be found, because right now there’s plenty of bad feeling, and few obvious ways in which to manage any of it.

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