Commentary Magazine


Rubio-Paul Debate Bigger Than Just Cuba

Few would have ever expected that relations with Cuba, of all places, would be the focus of a serious foreign policy debate within the Republican Party. But President Obama’s decision to grant diplomatic recognition to the Castro regime along with other economic benefits as part of a prisoner exchange has highlighted the rift between the libertarian faction led by Senator Rand Paul, a likely presidential candidate, and mainstream GOP and conservative opinion as few other issues have done before. While the argument about opening up to Cuba is an interesting one, the sniping between Paul and Senator Marco Rubio, another potential 2016 challenger who has emerged as his party’s leading spokesman on the issue is about more than Cuba. The question facing Republicans is not so much whether they want to end sanctions on the Communist-controlled island prison as it is whether they want to go to the people in 2016 supporting a foreign policy that bears an eerie resemblance to that of President Obama or one based on strength and assertion of American interests that their party has traditionally espoused.

Read More

Few would have ever expected that relations with Cuba, of all places, would be the focus of a serious foreign policy debate within the Republican Party. But President Obama’s decision to grant diplomatic recognition to the Castro regime along with other economic benefits as part of a prisoner exchange has highlighted the rift between the libertarian faction led by Senator Rand Paul, a likely presidential candidate, and mainstream GOP and conservative opinion as few other issues have done before. While the argument about opening up to Cuba is an interesting one, the sniping between Paul and Senator Marco Rubio, another potential 2016 challenger who has emerged as his party’s leading spokesman on the issue is about more than Cuba. The question facing Republicans is not so much whether they want to end sanctions on the Communist-controlled island prison as it is whether they want to go to the people in 2016 supporting a foreign policy that bears an eerie resemblance to that of President Obama or one based on strength and assertion of American interests that their party has traditionally espoused.

Though Paul shot to national prominence and earned tremendous applause from the conservative base last year with his filibuster attacking President Obama’s drone policies, that fracas served to paper over the fact that on many foreign policy issues, the Kentucky senator is far closer to the positions of the White House than he is to most other members of the GOP caucus. In unraveling the back-and-forth between Paul and Rubio over the past few days as each has taken pot shots at the other over Cuba, it’s important to understand that the libertarian and the president share the same basic premises about American foreign policy.

Paul likes to call himself a foreign policy “realist” cut from the mold of the first President Bush and his Secretary of State James Baker. But while there are some superficial similarities between his positions and those of the old-school realists, his real affinity is with the current administration.

In defending the president’s move on Cuba, the key word repeatedly used by Paul was “engagement.” He puts it forward in a context of free trade using language that conservatives are more comfortable with than those employed by Obama. Though he has attempted to turn the truth on its head by calling Rubio an “isolationist” because of his support for continued sanctions on the Cuban regime, the point here is that Paul shares the president’s belief that reaching out and making nice and trading with enemies should be the default position for American foreign policy. Indeed, Paul’s blind belief that some trade with Cuba might topple the Castros or change the regime is remarkably similar to that of President Obama. Neither appears to realize that giving away a major bargaining chip to a despotic regime while asking for and getting nothing in term of human rights or democracy is not only a bad bargain but also an open advertisement for U.S. weakness.

For a party that believes in the market economy, the notion that the U.S. should trade with everyone, even foes, has a certain attraction. As George Will famously wrote back in an earlier era when American big business was doing its best to prop up a failing Soviet empire, some capitalists “love commerce more than they loathe communism.”

But as Rubio has rightly pointed out, opening up trade to former enemies such as China and Vietnam may have had its uses and many have profited from it, but the net effect of these policies has to been to ensure that tyrannical governments stay in power. If the point of American foreign policy is to advance the interests of the United States and to promote freedom in places where it is brutally suppressed, Paul’s prescription for the future is one that regimes like that in Iran as well as Cuba will be very comfortable with.

Both Paul and Obama are primarily concerned in America retreating from the world stage. While they have a strong point about some on the right ignoring the danger of getting involved in wars, they consistently fail to realize that the costs of their desire to retrench — the real isolationism — is paid by those who fall under the control of terrorist groups like ISIS. The rise of that menace is directly attributable to the president’s precipitous retreat from Iraq and refusal to take action in Syria in accordance, policies that were completely in accord with Paul’s worldview.

It is true that Senator Paul has sought to distance himself somewhat from the positions of his father. Former Rep. Ron Paul’s foreign policy was based on a view of America as a malevolent force throughout the world illustrating how the far right and far left are often indistinguishable. Rand is not as openly hostile to Israel though he would cut off all aid to it and retreat from the Middle East in a fashion that would render it even more vulnerable.

Just as in 2013 when the issue wasn’t so much about drones as it was Paul’s lack of comfort with the U.S. fighting a war to defeat Islamist terrorists, the talk about Cuba is based on a frame of references that sees enemies as merely trading partners. Though Paul doesn’t share Obama’s crush on the United Nations or the glories of multilateral diplomacy, the net effect of his position would be the same as that of Obama’s policies: a weaker United States and a retreat from a position in which America championed democracy while relentlessly opposing Islamist terror.

In a period of peace in which groups like ISIS were not rightly perceived as a threat to American security and interests, it might be possible for Rand Paul to win the Republican presidential nomination with an Obama-style foreign policy. Though it is far from clear whether Rubio will run, either he or one of the other presidential contenders who share his views will have a big advantage over Paul when it comes to foreign policy.

Read Less

The World Won’t Listen to Livni If She Wins

In what has already been a topsy-turvy Israeli election campaign Hatnua Party co-leader Tzipi Livni caused an uproar when she bragged about her efforts to persuade Secretary of State John Kerry to “torpedo” the Palestinian effort to gain United Nations recognition for their independence. That led some on the Israeli right to accuse Kerry of trying to intervene in the elections because reportedly Livni told him that if the U.S. let a UN Security Council resolution pass it would help Prime Minister Netanyahu in the Knesset vote. But their outrage is to be expected. Everyone knows the Obama administration wants Netanyahu to lose and that Livni and her new partner, Labor Party leader Isaac Herzog, are looking for a little help from Washington. But what is of particular interest is that Livni actually thinks, as she said yesterday in an Israel Army Radio interview, “the world listens to me.” If she wins, she will soon find out that “the world” and even the Obama administration, doesn’t differentiate between Israeli politicians as much as she thinks.

Read More

In what has already been a topsy-turvy Israeli election campaign Hatnua Party co-leader Tzipi Livni caused an uproar when she bragged about her efforts to persuade Secretary of State John Kerry to “torpedo” the Palestinian effort to gain United Nations recognition for their independence. That led some on the Israeli right to accuse Kerry of trying to intervene in the elections because reportedly Livni told him that if the U.S. let a UN Security Council resolution pass it would help Prime Minister Netanyahu in the Knesset vote. But their outrage is to be expected. Everyone knows the Obama administration wants Netanyahu to lose and that Livni and her new partner, Labor Party leader Isaac Herzog, are looking for a little help from Washington. But what is of particular interest is that Livni actually thinks, as she said yesterday in an Israel Army Radio interview, “the world listens to me.” If she wins, she will soon find out that “the world” and even the Obama administration, doesn’t differentiate between Israeli politicians as much as she thinks.

Livni, who is running for the Knesset on her fourth different political party in the last decade, scored a coup when she managed to persuade Herzog not only to run a joint ticket with her party but also to “rotate” the prime ministership between the two if they won. Considering that polls showed Hatnua wouldn’t win a seat on its own, that shows she’s better at driving good bargains for her party than she was for her country during her time as foreign minister under Ehud Olmert or as lead negotiator with the Palestinians under Netanyahu the last two years.

Though her eclectic and often changing positions on the issues have placed her all over the political map, her main claim to fame in the past few years has been as the Israeli politician that American and European leaders have hoped would topple the much disliked Netanyahu. Indeed, during the first two years of the Obama administration, the White House wrongly thought Livni would soon replace him as prime minister. So it’s hardly surprising that Livni would attempt to play that card again so as to convince Israeli voters that their country’s growing diplomatic isolation is purely the result of Netanyahu’s bad judgment and that it would all change if only Livni were in power.

But whatever her chances of helping to topple the prime minister, she’s wrong if she thinks the international community will be substantially friendlier to a government that she helped run than the one she just left. The reasons for this should be obvious even to her.

Livni is, after all, a veteran Israeli politician, who served in senior positions in the governments led by Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert as well as having a dual role as Minister of Justice and chief peace negotiator with the Palestinians under Netanyahu over the past two years. Though she has often garnered more sympathetic international press coverage than the notoriously prickly Netanyahu that has never translated into any actual support for her positions from foreign governments.

The problem for Livni is that while the differences between her and Netanyahu on the peace process can appear huge in an Israeli political context, they are actually insignificant when seen from the perspective of what the Palestinians and the international community are demanding of the Jewish state. Like Netanyahu, Livni believes the Palestinians must accept Israeli security guarantees, acknowledge that Israel will retain Jewish Jerusalem and the major settlement blocs in the West Bank as well as recognize it as the nation state of the Jewish people, ending the conflict for all time.

Had Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas been willing to accept those terms he might have signed a peace treaty with Israel when Livni and her boss Olmert offered him a state in Gaza, almost all of the West Bank and a share of Jerusalem in 2008 when she was foreign minister. Indeed, had he been really willing to make peace, he would have cut a deal with Livni in the peace talks sponsored by Kerry that Abbas blew up last spring. As with every previous peace initiative, the Palestinians were unwilling to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders would be drawn. Like many another politician, Livni may believe her own public relations spin about her ability to dazzle foreign leaders. But it is hard to believe that after her own bitter experiences with Abbas, she really thinks he is a peace partner as she and Herzog claim.

This is no small point because although the defeat of Netanyahu would be greeted with relief in Washington and every European capital, Israel’s dilemma would not be materially altered. Not even Herzog and Livni could withdraw from the West Bank on terms that Abbas, worried as he is about competition from Hamas, could accept, continuing the diplomatic stalemate. That will mean the next Israeli government would be subjected to the same sort of pressure to make unilateral concessions that no Israeli coalition could ever live with. Indeed, after the failure of Sharon’s experiment with withdrawal in Gaza (something that happened while Livni was in his Cabinet), no sane Israeli wants to risk a repeat of that fiasco with a new Hamasistan in the far more strategic West Bank.

As unpopular as Netanyahu may be abroad, Israel was not particularly beloved under other leaders either. Though the meme of Israel becoming too nationalist, insular and intolerant is a popular one and is repeatedly endlessly on op-ed pages, the world’s quarrel with Israel is one that cuts across mainstream political lines in the Jewish state. Those who wish it to make unilateral concessions to Palestinians who are not interested in peace won’t like Livni’s stipulations about a potential treaty any more than they do those of Netanyahu. Especially since it was her who was negotiating on his behalf when Abbas was refusing to budge an inch, as Kerry knows all too well. The growing chorus of support boycotts of Israel will not be stifled by a Herzog/Livni led coalition. Nor will a slightly more accommodating Israeli government appease the rising tide of anti-Semitism in Europe.

As for the Obama administration, there is no question that there will be jubilation in the White House and the State Department if Netanyahu loses. It would be nice to think that Washington would then back Livni in talks with Abbas, but the Palestinians inability to make peace will inevitably frustrate the president and Kerry and lead them to behave as they have always done and blame the Israelis.

There may be reasons for Israelis to choose a new prime minister but the notion that Livni will magically erase the country’s diplomatic isolation is a delusion that rests upon her hubris and mistaken belief in the dubious magic of her personality. No rational person who has been paying attention to the way the world interacts with and judges Israel over the past 20 years of peace processing should take such a fanciful idea seriously.

Read Less

Israel’s Critics Shouldn’t Count on Hillary or the Palestinians

In today’s New York Times Magazine, we are invited to pity “liberal Zionists.” These Jews claim to love Israel but hate its government and the conflict with the Palestinians. They long for an American president to save the Jewish state from itself but are always disappointed because those pesky pro-Israel Jews who aren’t as pure of heart as the critics but seem to be better connected with Israel’s voters and American politicians. Which means as they look ahead to 2016, these hard-core Democrats who are often identified with the J Street lobby are hoping a President Hillary Clinton will do what they want and finally hammer the recalcitrant Israelis into shape. But there are two problems with this scenario. The first is that they have no idea what Hillary will do in office. The second is much more serious. It’s that the Palestinians have no intention of making peace no matter what concessions “liberal Zionists,” Washington or the Israeli government offer them.

Read More

In today’s New York Times Magazine, we are invited to pity “liberal Zionists.” These Jews claim to love Israel but hate its government and the conflict with the Palestinians. They long for an American president to save the Jewish state from itself but are always disappointed because those pesky pro-Israel Jews who aren’t as pure of heart as the critics but seem to be better connected with Israel’s voters and American politicians. Which means as they look ahead to 2016, these hard-core Democrats who are often identified with the J Street lobby are hoping a President Hillary Clinton will do what they want and finally hammer the recalcitrant Israelis into shape. But there are two problems with this scenario. The first is that they have no idea what Hillary will do in office. The second is much more serious. It’s that the Palestinians have no intention of making peace no matter what concessions “liberal Zionists,” Washington or the Israeli government offer them.

The Hillary problem is one that every liberal interest group shares with the Jewish critics of Israel. The former secretary of state is a political chameleon who assumes whatever political positions are necessary to advance her agenda. Though a favorite of Wall Street types and someone who is believed to have more moderate and realistic views on foreign policy than President Obama, there are clear signs she will run to the left in the next year in order to steal some of Elizabeth Warren’s thunder and to forestall the liberal favorite from thinking about an insurgent run for the presidency. Though big money contributors will hope that her fake populism (“corporations don’t create jobs”) is just an act, and a poor one at that, they don’t know for sure what will happen if she ever wins the White House. The same is true of the J Street crowd.

As the Times Magazine article notes, Clinton has given them some reason for hope in the past. There was her famous embrace of Suha Arafat after the terrorist’s wife had just accused Israel of poisoning Palestinian children. Hillary also played a key role in some of the nastiest fights with Israel that Obama picked during his first term over issues like settlements and Jerusalem. But they also remember that Clinton ran for the Senate in 2000 as if she was a member of one of Likud’s right wing factions and stuck to that line throughout her time in Congress. And, as the Times points out, Clinton understands that there are a lot more votes to be won and cash to be raised by supporting the Jewish state than by bashing it with the J Streeters even in a Democratic Party with a growing anti-Israel faction.

Which is the true Hillary? Their guess is as good as yours. Privately, Hillary may be a J Street fan at heart. But it’s hard to imagine her or her husband/consigliere going to war with AIPAC, which despite the misleading slanders about it is peopled with a huge contingent of ardent pro-Israel Democrats as well as Republicans,

A more astute observation would be to point out that there is no real Hillary position on any issue, only momentary political advantages to be won so context-free predictions about her behavior if she is elected president are a waste of time.

But the real dilemma facing these “liberal Zionists” has nothing to do with American political calculations.

The reason why their views are so out of touch with most Israeli voters in the past few elections is that the latter have been paying attention to the decisions and actions of the Palestinians during the last 20 years of the peace process while the “liberal Zionists” have been studiously ignoring them. Israelis know they have repeatedly offered the Palestinians peace and have been turned down every time. They may not like the settlements or even Prime Minister Netanyahu but outside of the far-left, few think the Palestinians will make peace in the foreseeable future because they haven’t given up their anti-Zionist ideology in which their national identity is inextricably tied to the war on Israel’s existence.

That’s why most American politicians, Democrats as well as Republicans, are sympathetic to Israel and want no part of J Street plots to pressure it into making concessions that would endanger the Jewish state’s security while not bringing peace any closer.

Though they lament Israel’s turn to the right, their real problem is with a Palestinian political culture and a Palestinian people that won’t play the role assigned them in the liberal morality play in which the Jewish state can make peace happen by themselves. In other words, their focus on getting Obama or Clinton or somebody else to hammer Israel is pointless since even if the ticket of Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livni defeat Netanyahu in March, there’s no reason to think the Palestinians will be any more likely to make peace than with the current government.

Just as discouraging for J Street supporters is the fact that they are losing ground among Jewish leftists to less agonized critics of Israel such as Jewish Voices for Peace. JVP has little sympathy for Zionism and enamored the BDS — boycott, divest and sanction — movement that seeks to promote economic warfare against Israel. JVP scorns Israel as a colonial apartheid state. That position has more appeal to some segments of the left where Jewish identity and particularism is also viewed with hostility. Instead of supplanting AIPAC as the voice of the pro-Israel community as they hoped when Obama was elected president, J Street finds itself lacking the clout and support of the mainstream group while being squeezed from the left by open Israel-haters.

In other words, Hillary would be a fool to throw in with a group that is divorced from the political realities of the United States, Israel or the American Jewish community. Though the group and its “liberal Zionist” backers grow more out of touch with the facts on the ground in the Middle East as well as within the Democratic Party they will have to comfort themselves with sympathetic coverage in the Times.

Read Less

As Police Die, Racism Narrative Unravels

Any conversation about the murders of two New York City Police officers this weekend must start by acknowledging the ordinary heroism of law enforcement personnel that puts them in harm’s way every day. We should then acknowledge that all those who have criticized police actions in Ferguson, Missouri and New York after the controversial deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner are not responsible for the slaying of Officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos. We don’t know yet who or what may have influenced the reportedly mentally disturbed shooter, who was apparently bent on “revenge” for Brown and Garner. But we do know this. After four months of non-stop condemnations of the police and the justice system for both racism and deliberately targeting African Americans for violence, it is time for the race hucksters and their political enablers such as President Obama, Attorney General Eric Holder, and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio to stop the campaign of incitement against the police.

Read More

Any conversation about the murders of two New York City Police officers this weekend must start by acknowledging the ordinary heroism of law enforcement personnel that puts them in harm’s way every day. We should then acknowledge that all those who have criticized police actions in Ferguson, Missouri and New York after the controversial deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner are not responsible for the slaying of Officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos. We don’t know yet who or what may have influenced the reportedly mentally disturbed shooter, who was apparently bent on “revenge” for Brown and Garner. But we do know this. After four months of non-stop condemnations of the police and the justice system for both racism and deliberately targeting African Americans for violence, it is time for the race hucksters and their political enablers such as President Obama, Attorney General Eric Holder, and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio to stop the campaign of incitement against the police.

Conservatives know very well that attempts to politicize violence on the part of the mentally ill is deeply unfair. They know that liberal claims that either the Tea Party or conservatives such as Sarah Palin were somehow responsible for the 2011 shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was sheer slander. If some angry supporters of the police now try to say Obama, Holder, or de Blasio approved or countenanced the actions of Ismaaiyl Brinsley, they are just as wrong. Obama, Holder, and de Blasio have all rightly condemned the murder of the two officers.

But once we acknowledge that, we cannot ignore the fact that the discussion about race and the police in this country has gotten out of control in recent months and that these same political leaders who should have been seeking to restrain the public from drawing extreme and general conclusions about two very extraordinary cases instead kept the pot boiling for political advantage.

Even worse than that, they have empowered and legitimized racial demagogues like Al Sharpton who have sought to profit from exploiting these tragedies to promote their own agendas. In turn, Sharpton and those like him who are given prominent air time on networks like MSNBC and CNN have encouraged protesters who have not only engaged in violence but often openly called for the killing of police, a stance that has been openly endorsed by Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan and other radicals.

The act of a single possibly mad gunman does not mean that Americans must never question the actions of police or ponder broader issues about race. It is misleading to claim that those who have raised such questions have given a green light to the murder of police officers. Yet those who have sought to take two very different and quite unusual incidents in Ferguson and New York and weave them into a neat narrative of racism and anti-black violence by police have done very much the same thing. The difference between the two is that the media spent much of the last four months seeking to establish that wrongheaded narrative as a fact while they will, quite rightly, give no credence or air time to those who will blame Obama for cop killers.

The narrative of incitement against the police in recent months was based on two misnomers.

One was the unquestioning acceptance of the narrative of police wrongdoing and racism in the killing of Brown and the far more questionable death of Garner by both the media and political leaders. This involved not only the willingness of both celebrities and lawmakers to treat myths, such as the claim that Brown had his hands up when he was shot, as fact. It also involved the casual acceptance of the charge of racism on the part of ordinary cops around the nation in the absence of any real proof as well as the shouting down of those like former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani who sought to defend the role of the police in defending the black community rather than attacking it.

Just as reprehensible was the willingness to ignore the calls for violence against the police on the part of so many of those who took to the streets about Ferguson and Garner. While stray comments on the part of a handful of Tea Partiers became the foundation for conventional-wisdom dismissal of their movement as racist or violent, the anti-police chants at mass demonstrations were largely ignored, rationalized, or excused. The same is true of comments like those of Farrakhan delivered in Baltimore where the killer of the two policemen lived.

But just as the murder of two cops doesn’t necessarily excuse the actions of the police in the Garner case, neither should we forget that all too many public figures have accepted with very little evidence the assumptions about racism and violence that have done so much to besmirch the reputation of the police. Rather than working to connect the dots between the comments of the president, the attorney general, and the mayor to a murder that none of them wished for, sensible observers should instead be unraveling the even shakier narrative these figures helped create about police misbehavior and racism.

The unraveling of the false narrative of incitement against the police should not give rise to another that is also mistaken. But what happened in Ferguson, Staten Island, and the assassination of two police officers should teach us that simplistic, easily manipulated narratives that serve the interests of a few race inciters and politicians don’t deserve any more respect than conspiracy theories coming from the other end of the political spectrum. If there is any reproach today that should be laid at the feet of Obama, Holder, and de Blasio, it is that by helping to foster one false set of assumptions, they have now left themselves vulnerable to questions about their own willingness to accept and exploit calumnies against the police and the justice system.

Read Less

The Higher Education Hypocrisy Award for 2014 Goes to …

It’s a close contest, and there is a bit of 2014 left, but this year’s award for higher education hypocrisy surely must go to eight signatories of the latest anti-Israel petition to emerge from our universities. The petition itself, signed by members of the faculty of New York University, is the standard call to punish corporations that can be connected in some way to Israel’s activities in the West Bank or Gaza. What’s striking about this one is that eight of the signatories, more than ten percent of the present total, are affiliated with NYU’s satellite campus in Abu Dhabi. NYU’s Abu Dhabi outpost, “wholly bankrolled by the oil-rich Abu Dhabi government,” opened in 2010, and its permanent campus, located alongside an “idyllic resort” under development on Saadiyat Island, was completed in 2014.

Read More

It’s a close contest, and there is a bit of 2014 left, but this year’s award for higher education hypocrisy surely must go to eight signatories of the latest anti-Israel petition to emerge from our universities. The petition itself, signed by members of the faculty of New York University, is the standard call to punish corporations that can be connected in some way to Israel’s activities in the West Bank or Gaza. What’s striking about this one is that eight of the signatories, more than ten percent of the present total, are affiliated with NYU’s satellite campus in Abu Dhabi. NYU’s Abu Dhabi outpost, “wholly bankrolled by the oil-rich Abu Dhabi government,” opened in 2010, and its permanent campus, located alongside an “idyllic resort” under development on Saadiyat Island, was completed in 2014.

So I wonder when these eight faculty members, who pompously stand on NYU’s “long and proud tradition of demanding that the university live up to its professed values,” will be renouncing their affiliation with the government of the United Arab Emirates. As Freedom House observes in its 2014 report, the UAE bans political parties, and “criticism of the government, allies [and] religion” is prohibited by law.

The UAE also has a labor problem. UAE’s mostly foreign workers do not have the right to organize, bargain collectively, or strike. Expatriate workers can be banned from working in the UAE if they try to leave their employer prior to at least two years of service. NYU responded to this difficulty by issuing a statement concerning labor values they expected to be adhered to in the building of the campus. Nonetheless, some of the workers who built the campus “lived in squalor, 15 men to a room.” Almost all had to pay a recruitment fee, consisting of about a year’s wages, for the privilege of getting the job, then worked 11 to 12 hours per day. Workers with the temerity to strike were arrested, beaten, and deported. But it’s a lovely campus, and I am sure the faculty members who want NYU to live up to its values are enjoying it. Who can begrudge brave and hardworking anti-Israeli petition signers their day at the beach? Besides as the signatories of this letter—who include three of the faculty members who signed the anti-Israel position—explain, “our partners are trying to do their best.” Moreover, many of the NYUAD faculty discuss “the complexities of labor in the Gulf” with their students, which is undoubtedly a comfort to the workers, who, because they were not allowed to hold onto their passports and sometimes not even to have their own bank cards, had little hope of escaping their employers, much less bettering their conditions.

It’s nice, though, that NYU’s Abu Dhabi faculty feels able to discuss labor “complexities” since, according to Freedom House, faculties at Western universities typically “take care to not criticize the UAE government or its policies out of fear of losing funding.” There are other incentives for silence as well: “in 2012, several academics critical of UAE government policies were dismissed from their positions and either arrested or expelled from the country.”

But it is commendable that these faculty members, busy enjoying a campus built by indentured servants, and the hospitality of a government that honors neither academic nor political freedom, have found time away from kayaking in Saadiyat Island’s lovely mangrove lagoons, to demand that NYU break with Israel and live up to its values. Some would call this breathtaking hypocrisy. I call it the quintessence of the academic anti-Israel movement.

Read Less

Israel’s Critics Say Nothing as Hamas Rebuilds Tunnels With International Aid

Five months ago Hamas rained down rockets on Israeli cities and attempted to use a tunnel network to infiltrate into the Jewish state and kidnap and kill as many Jews as they could. But predictably most of the world’s attention was focused on Israeli counter-attacks to suppress the missile fire and take out the tunnels and it came under severe criticism, even from its American ally, for the toll of civilian deaths that were caused by Hamas using the population of Gaza as human shields. But those who deplored the 50-day war as a tragedy for the Palestinian people now need to ask themselves whether they are really interested in watching another such round of fighting in the future. The same international community that blasted Israel for having the temerity to defend itself now needs to address the fact that the aid that is pouring into the strip for the purpose of rebuilding homes destroyed in the fighting, is actually being used to rebuild the terror tunnels. If they don’t, they’ll have no right to criticize Israel when it is once again forced to act to defend itself.

Read More

Five months ago Hamas rained down rockets on Israeli cities and attempted to use a tunnel network to infiltrate into the Jewish state and kidnap and kill as many Jews as they could. But predictably most of the world’s attention was focused on Israeli counter-attacks to suppress the missile fire and take out the tunnels and it came under severe criticism, even from its American ally, for the toll of civilian deaths that were caused by Hamas using the population of Gaza as human shields. But those who deplored the 50-day war as a tragedy for the Palestinian people now need to ask themselves whether they are really interested in watching another such round of fighting in the future. The same international community that blasted Israel for having the temerity to defend itself now needs to address the fact that the aid that is pouring into the strip for the purpose of rebuilding homes destroyed in the fighting, is actually being used to rebuild the terror tunnels. If they don’t, they’ll have no right to criticize Israel when it is once again forced to act to defend itself.

As the Times of Israel writes, the Israel media is reporting that:

Some of the cement and other materials being delivered to the coastal Palestinian territory, as part of an international rebuilding effort, has been diverted to the tunnels.

The story goes on to detail some things that can’t come as a surprise. Even as it rebuilds its terror tunnels, Hamas is replenishing its supply of missiles and rockets. Given that the group has just kissed and made up with Iran, the flow of money and munitions into the strip by one means or another is bound to increase.

Though expected, this does increase Hamas’s leverage over the Palestinian Authority, which isn’t interested in making peace with Israel but will certainly never do so while it remains under threat from its erstwhile unity partner. Though many in Israel and elsewhere assumed Hamas would emerge weakened from a war in which Gaza was flattened and little material damage was done to the Jewish state, it is more popular than ever (especially in the West Bank which did not suffer much from the terror group’s murderous policies) and may soon be as much of a threat to Israel as it was before the fighting started. Indeed, if, as reports indicate, Hamas is working on ways to defeat Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system succeed, the danger will be far worse the next time the terrorists decide they wish to try their luck.

That is a daunting prospect for Israelis and poses difficult questions for Prime Minister Netanyahu who is now criticized for his handling of the war even if most of his critics would not have supported a bloody campaign to evict Hamas from Gaza and thus eliminate the threat for the future.

But it should also pose serious questions for those countries like the United States and its European allies that were so quick to bash Israel for its efforts to silence the missile fire and demolish the tunnels.

This week, both American and European diplomats wasted their time negotiating over the text of a United Nations Security Council resolution that would recognize Palestinian independence proposed by the PA. The proposal was a non-starter that in the end even the Obama administration had to oppose, but the talk about Palestinian independence ignored the fact that there is already an independent Palestinian state in all but name in Gaza that is using its autonomy to continue its never-ending war to destroy Israel.

By acquiescing to a situation in which a criminal terrorist group not only continues to rule over a captive population and threaten war against a neighboring sovereign state but also standing by silently as Hamas creates the conditions for another terror war, the West is demonstrating its moral bankruptcy on the Middle East. Those who talk about helping the Palestinians cannot ignore the fact that what Hamas is doing is preparing to set in motion a chain of events that will lead to more bloodshed and suffering. By their silence and, even worse, refusal to halt the flow of material that is being used by Hamas to prepare for another war, they are morally responsible for every drop of Arab or Israeli blood that will be shed.

Read Less

Obama’s Still In Charge But Also Still Failing

President Obama used the opening statement for his end of year press conference to boast of his achievements even if many of the questions revolved around his lackluster response to the North Korean cyber terror attack on Sony. But the main theme of most of the coverage of the president today centered on the theme that he has responded to his party’s landslide defeat in the midterm elections by seeking to revive his presidency with unilateral actions. These initiatives, such as his opening to Cuba and executive orders on immigration show he’s still in charge and capable of using his power and establishing his legacy despite the opposition of Congress and even the majority of Americans. But while the mainstream media is applauding the signs of life out of White House that appeared dead in the water last month, this recent surge of activity should not be mistaken for policy success. Though any president has the ability to act whenever he wants, the same failures that have dogged him during his first six years in office haven’t disappeared.

Read More

President Obama used the opening statement for his end of year press conference to boast of his achievements even if many of the questions revolved around his lackluster response to the North Korean cyber terror attack on Sony. But the main theme of most of the coverage of the president today centered on the theme that he has responded to his party’s landslide defeat in the midterm elections by seeking to revive his presidency with unilateral actions. These initiatives, such as his opening to Cuba and executive orders on immigration show he’s still in charge and capable of using his power and establishing his legacy despite the opposition of Congress and even the majority of Americans. But while the mainstream media is applauding the signs of life out of White House that appeared dead in the water last month, this recent surge of activity should not be mistaken for policy success. Though any president has the ability to act whenever he wants, the same failures that have dogged him during his first six years in office haven’t disappeared.

There’s no doubt that those who were completely writing off the president’s ability to influence events after the beating Democrats took were exaggerating. Though his policies, which he said were on the ballot, were repudiated, Congress in the hands of Republicans and his personal favorability ratings continuing to head south, the president remains the most powerful man in the world. With the vast power of the federal government at his disposal and no limits on his ability to act, save those specifically charted out by the Constitution and Congress, any president can dominate any news cycle or make a wide variety of decisions that can not easily be reversed by either the legislature or the judiciary.

Moreover, unlike some of his predecessors, Obama’s personality is such that he views checks on his actions, whether in the form of Congressional action or the verdict of the ballot box, as challenges to be met rather than judgments that must be respected. Just as this is a top-down administration in which the Cabinet acts as a body of sycophants and middlemen rather than advisors, this is not a president who listens to advice or criticism that doesn’t conform to his original ideas. It should therefore come as no surprise that now that he is faced with a Congress controlled by his opponents, Obama should come to the conclusion that Constitutional boundaries should be ignored in his zeal to do, as he likes.

But his ability to act on his own should not be mistaken for actual policy successes.

On immigration, the president has finally done what some of his supporters wanted in terms of granting amnesty to more than 5 million illegal aliens and there is very little that is effective that his critics can do about it.

On Cuba, the new Congress can block funding for a new embassy in Havana, refuse to lift the embargo or confirm a new ambassador. But much of the new opening to the despotic regime will go one no matter what Congress says.

Looking ahead to other possible presidential actions, if he makes enough concessions and the Iranians are feeling generous, Obama may get a nuclear deal with the Islamist state. That, too, will be interpreted as a sign of life in what would otherwise be considered a lame duck presidency.

But none of this will change the fact that Obama’s ideological fixation with outreach to tyrants has not made the world better or increased America’s security or influence. To the contrary, with ISIS on the rise in the Middle East, Iran successfully challenging for regional hegemony via its successes in Syria, its alliance with Hamas and its intimidation of moderate Arab nations, and likely to gain U.S. acquiescence to it becoming a nuclear threshold state, Obama is leaving the world a more dangerous place than when he entered the White House. Nor will his Cuban gambit make the island a more democratic or free place.

On domestic policy, his admirers cite his immigration executive orders as a sign that he can govern despite the opposition of Congress. But by acting in this extralegal fashion, Obama has actually doomed for the foreseeable future any chance of working out a compromise with Republicans to pass some kind of immigration reform. Flexing his muscles in this fashion and showing his contempt for the law has convinced even many moderate Republicans that he can’t be trusted to enforce any legislation that he doesn’t like or benefit from. Nor will the problems that he postponed in the implementation of ObamaCare but which will begin to be felt in 2015 do much to bolster confidence in his judgment or the wisdom of his efforts.

So while the last month has been full of presidential sound and fury, these actions only mask a deeper malaise that won’t be fixed by Obama’s characteristic hubris about his actions. The failures of his first six years still hang over this presidency and are why he remains deeply unpopular. He will retain the ability to impact the country until the moment his successor takes the oath of office. But no one should mistake this flurry of activity for presidential success. As the months wind down in what he termed today the fourth quarter of his time in the White House, Obama will be relevant but his failures will continue to haunt the nation and cloud his legacy.

Read Less

Can Obama Learn to Punish Tyrants Instead of Rewarding Them?

By publicly fingering North Korea as the culprit behind the Sony hack attack, the FBI has put President Obama in a quandary: What to do about this cyber-attack which has caused grave damage to the American subsidiary of a prominent Japanese company?

Read More

By publicly fingering North Korea as the culprit behind the Sony hack attack, the FBI has put President Obama in a quandary: What to do about this cyber-attack which has caused grave damage to the American subsidiary of a prominent Japanese company?

Leaks out of the White House are that the “principals committee” composed of senior Cabinet-level officials has been meeting to formulate a response. Given the track record of this administration, that means a decision could be forthcoming in a few months, or maybe not at all. All that we’ve seen so far is President Obama’s bland statement today that Sony made a “mistake” in pulling “The Interview” from theaters, which is hardly a suitable response to a humiliating retreat in the face of North Korean aggression.

I know it’s probably expecting too much from this president, but it would be nice if just once he would act decisively instead of talking a good game and setting red lines that can be crossed with impunity. What would constitute decisive action in this case? The obvious proportional response–attack North Korea’s computer networks–isn’t very satisfying for a couple of reasons. First North Korea simply doesn’t have a lot of computer networks; it is one of the most disconnected countries on earth. Second, as someone in the government has (unwisely) leaked to the Wall Street Journal, what few networks it has are monitored for intelligence by the US.

So what does that leave? More sanctions. In 2007, recall, the North Korean regime went bonkers when the Treasury Department issued sanctions against the Banco Delta Asia, a small bank in Macao where some $25 million in North Korean assets was held. Pyongyang demanded that those sanctions be lifted and that North Korea be taken off the list of State Sponsors of Terrorism before it would continue talks over its nuclear program. Under the unwise guidance of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and her chief North Korean negotiator, Chris Hill, President George W. Bush lifted the sanctions on Bando Delta Asia and took North Korea off the list of state sponsors of terrorism.

With its attack on Sony, North Korea has shown for the umpteenth time why it deserves to be placed on the list of State Sponsors of Terrorism, a unilateral move that President Obama could take right now. Congress should also pass and Obama vow to sign legislation introduced by Rep. Ed Royce that would tighten general financial sanctions on the North Korean regime. There is a general perception that there isn’t much more to be done on the sanctions front, but that’s not true–North Korea still has money in foreign banks and it still relies on some dealings with the international financial system to stay afloat. Those lifelines need to be snipped pronto.

North Korea needs to understand there will be a cost for its cyber-aggression, just as Russia needs to understand there will be a cost for its physical aggression in Ukraine. That is not something this administration has been very good at–it is better at outreach to despotic regimes such as Iran and Cuba than it is to punishing them for misbehavior–but that’s a failing that Obama still has time to change if he wants to correct the general perception of foreign policy weakness that dogs his administration.

Read Less

What About Responding to the Iranian Cyberattack?

The New York Times reports that the Obama administration is “considering a ‘proportional response’ against those who hacked into Sony Pictures computers.” Okay. Sony Pictures Entertainment is an American subsidiary of a Japanese corporation, and lunatic dictatorships like the one in Pyongyang shouldn’t be allowed to attack private corporations with impunity. Responding would be advisable. What, then, is the American response to the suspected rogue-regime cyberattack on an American corporation earlier this year?

Read More

The New York Times reports that the Obama administration is “considering a ‘proportional response’ against those who hacked into Sony Pictures computers.” Okay. Sony Pictures Entertainment is an American subsidiary of a Japanese corporation, and lunatic dictatorships like the one in Pyongyang shouldn’t be allowed to attack private corporations with impunity. Responding would be advisable. What, then, is the American response to the suspected rogue-regime cyberattack on an American corporation earlier this year?

As I noted on Wednesday, Iranian hackers launched a massive attack on Sheldon Adelson’s Sands Corporation in February. They inflicted perhaps more than $40 million in damage. That’s on par with the $44 million Sony spent making The Interview. And as Bloomberg noted, “it’s unlikely that any hackers inside the country could pull off an attack of that scope without [the government’s] knowledge, given the close scrutiny of Internet use within its borders.” That point is sharpened when you consider that the hackers claimed they were responding to Adelson’s hawkish remarks on Iran. And, just as with the Sony hack, there were threats: They defaced the Sands’s website, posting “a photograph of Adelson chumming around with Netanyahu, as well as images of flames on a map of Sands’ U.S. casinos….The hackers left messages for Adelson himself. One read, ‘Damn A, Don’t let your tongue cut your throat.’”

Maybe President Obama draws a bright red line when it comes to Angelina Jolie, but forgetting the movie stars and the nasty emails, the Sands attack is every bit as serious as the Sony job. Arguably, more so. After all, we’re not currently involved in extended nuclear negotiations with North Korea. If our current negotiating partners in Tehran are (at least) complicit in attacking American corporations it might say something important about their sincerity in negotiations.

That, of course, is Obama’s problem. He’s staked his foreign-policy legacy on the decency of America’s enemies. He can’t upset our pitiful Iranian diplomacy, so Adelson will just have to take one for the team.

Which means we’ll all take one for the team. If the United States is not going to respond decisively to acts of cyberwar on its citizens, it’s only a matter of time until the next attack, and the next, and so on. If you’re lucky, celebrities will be involved in the one that hits you. Whatever retaliation the administration is mulling, it isn’t about comprehensive national-security policy. It’s PR whack-a-mole in response to a hot news story. Obama doesn’t do wake-up calls.

Read Less

Castros Ensure That Rubio Isn’t Gambling

Playing its usual role as the purveyor of liberal conventional wisdom of the day, the New York Times heaped scorn on Senator Marco Rubio for his outspoken opposition to the restoration of diplomatic relations with Cuba in an article headlined, “In Political Gamble, Marco Rubio Sticks to His Hard Line on Cuba.” But the oft-repeated assumption that any opponent of the latest of President Obama’s initiatives is on, as the article says, the wrong side of history says more about the desire of American liberals to throw out anything that reminds them of the cold war than anything that is likely to happen on the island.

Read More

Playing its usual role as the purveyor of liberal conventional wisdom of the day, the New York Times heaped scorn on Senator Marco Rubio for his outspoken opposition to the restoration of diplomatic relations with Cuba in an article headlined, “In Political Gamble, Marco Rubio Sticks to His Hard Line on Cuba.” But the oft-repeated assumption that any opponent of the latest of President Obama’s initiatives is on, as the article says, the wrong side of history says more about the desire of American liberals to throw out anything that reminds them of the cold war than anything that is likely to happen on the island.

The conceit of the piece is pretty much a repetition of President Obama’s talking points about his reasons for granting the Communist regime diplomatic recognition and other economic benefits. The old policies that revolve around isolating Cuba and forcing it to change have failed. The only hope for improving life there is to embrace the regime and to stop treating it as a pariah. The assumption is not only that Cuba will change enough to justify the move. It’s also based on the idea that most Americans want no part of what is seen as a vestige of cold war rivalries.

That’s certainly true of the core readership of the Times but, as has also been repeated endlessly in the last few days, younger Cuban-Americans are no longer as wedded to hostility to the Castro regime as their parents and grandparents. The point the president and his media cheering section is trying to make is that Rubio’s hawkish position is not only outdated but that it also doesn’t have much of a constituency even in the Republican Party, as evidence by the silence of some leading Republicans on the issue such as New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and the applause for Obama’s move on the part of libertarians like Senator Rand Paul.

Liberals think that although Rubio is getting a lot of attention by staking out a “hard-line” position on Cuba, the Florida senator is actually making it clear that his views are outdated and about to be eclipsed by events that will soon lead to normal relations with Havana. In this manner, they think he will alienate his core Cuban constituency that will enjoy and exploit the new reality as well as a business community that is always willing to exploit any new markets in search of profits.

But the problem with all these assumptions is that there is very little sign that Cuba will evolve in the direction President Obama thinks it will or that Cuban-Americans or Republican voters will reject Rubio’s message.

First of all, the objective of the Cuban regime is not to prepare the way for a transition to democracy or even to open up its economy to foreign investors. Raul Castro does want some infusion of Western cash to keep his failed state afloat now that the Soviet Union is dead and Venezuela is bankrupt. But he isn’t any more interested in the post-Cold War model of China than he is that of Russia.

As Walter Russell Mead, a supporter of the deal with Cuba, noted earlier this week in the American Interest, the regime is well aware that a Republican Congress will never lift the embargo on their country. That’s fine with the Castros, who want to keep strict limits on the influx of foreign business and investment. Unlike Russia, which scrapped both its political and economic systems and China, which embraced capitalism for its economy while maintaining a Communist dictatorship, the Cuban leaders want to keep both their tyranny and their bankrupt socialist system. All they want from the United States is just enough investment to keep them going without actually generating any sort of reform.

Rubio’s position is no gamble because the Castro brothers have no intention of letting Cuba become Russia or China. They want, and with the help of President Obama, may well get, a third option that enables them to preserve their regime and do nothing to advance the standard of living in Cuba.

What Rubio has done is to draw attention to the fact that in exchange for giving something of great value to a brutal and dictatorial regime, President Obama has gotten nothing in return. The president’s blind ideological faith in engagement with foes of the United States has been demonstrated time and again with nations like Russia and Iran. But considering how little he has gained for these appeasement campaigns, the notion that history will judge Obama kindly for these moves is more of a leap of liberal faith than a sober assessment of reality.

Far from a gamble, Rubio’s bold stand presents no risk at all for him. The chances that the regime in Havana will allow anything that could be mistaken for liberal reform are virtually non-existent. Nor is it likely that the base of the Republican Party, which feels such disgust at the president’s weakness and willingness to sell out American values in order to gain a meaningless diplomatic triumph, will punish Rubio for pointing this out.

It remains to be seen whether this issue will be enough to propel Rubio into a viable 2016 presidential bid. But it does solidify his reputation as one of the leading spokesmen, if not the most important spokesman for his party on foreign-policy issues. With Americans rightly re-focused on the threat of Islamist terrorism and worries about a nuclear Iran being exacerbated by Obama’s determination to secure a nuclear deal at any cost, the president’s Cuban gambit not only helps keep foreign policy a major issue for 2016 but also highlights Rubio’s greatest strength and one on which he is far closer to the views of most Republicans than someone like Paul.

But whether or not he runs for president, the facts on the ground in Cuba are bound to make Rubio look smart. Just as President Obama’s mockery of Mitt Romney for embracing the politics of the 1980s on Russia now looks pretty embarrassing, it’s likely that the same will be said of those who think Rubio is on the wrong side of history on Cuba.

Read Less

Governing Solo? Two Can Play That Game

President Obama is making no secret of his intentions to go it alone in the last two years of his presidency. After insisting his policies were on the ballot in the midterms, he and his presidency received a monumental drubbing. Obama asked the people to vote based on his agenda, and the people complied, unambiguously rejecting it. But neither the voters nor the system of checks and balances–to say nothing of constitutional precedent–have played much of a role in his actions, and they won’t start now. There is a difference, however, in how Congress can push back.

Read More

President Obama is making no secret of his intentions to go it alone in the last two years of his presidency. After insisting his policies were on the ballot in the midterms, he and his presidency received a monumental drubbing. Obama asked the people to vote based on his agenda, and the people complied, unambiguously rejecting it. But neither the voters nor the system of checks and balances–to say nothing of constitutional precedent–have played much of a role in his actions, and they won’t start now. There is a difference, however, in how Congress can push back.

In Bob Gates’s first (and, frankly, more enlightening) memoir of his service at the CIA and National Security Council during the Cold War, he writes of the battles between the Nixon administration and Congress after the Watergate scandal broke. Gates describes it as a last straw for Congress’s patience with the increasing power of the presidency, but in the process makes a key observation about the separation of powers:

Our system of “checks and balances” by which each of the three branches of government keeps the other two from becoming too powerful works wonderfully, but it is neither a gentle nor a subtle process. Nor does it function normally as a routine, frequent series of minor adjustments. It is more comparable to the swings of a pendulum than a balancing scale—and one branch (or the mood of the country as a whole) reacts usually only when another branch has acted so stupidly or so egregiously to expand its power as to compel a response. Vietnam and the way Lyndon Johnson escalated and fought the war provoked the congressional attack on the powers of the Presidency. Dislike of Nixon, the way in which he and Kissinger negotiated secretly and deviously, and finally Watergate and Nixon’s cover-up greatly magnified the intensity of the attack.

In this period of presidential weakness, Congress sought to capture for itself and from the President a coequal (and, at times, dominant) role in foreign affairs that it had not had since before World War II and America’s emergence as a superpower.

Gates’s description of the “pendulum” is accurate. Presidents accumulate power incrementally, sometimes setting new precedents and sometimes merely expanding on previous encroachments. Especially in wartime, Congress tends to give the president a fair amount of latitude. Additionally, there isn’t all that much Congress can do, since most of Congress rarely wants to be seen as undercutting the war effort or not supporting the troops. Eventually, however, it becomes clear that too many lines have been crossed.

And his assertion that Congress was seeking not merely to punish Nixon but also to reclaim its own proper place in the American system of government is highly relevant to the looming battle between a Republican-controlled Congress and President Obama, especially with a restive conservative flank that believes the troubling expansion of presidential power predates Obama and thus has a long list of objections.

When the Republicans were a minority in the Senate and only controlled the House, their attempts to rein in the president were legalistic. They could sue the president, as Speaker John Boehner announced they would over delays in ObamaCare implementation. They can challenge the president in the courts, where judges have found various Obama power grabs to be unconstitutional. And they can hold oversight hearings, as they have with the IRS corruption scandal, Benghazi, and others.

All this enables the minority party to make its voice heard. The hearings play on the fact that the president’s bully pulpit makes it easier for him to get through to the American people than it is for Republicans in Congress, who have the additional obstacle of a media seeking to protect the president. And judicial challenges can be effective too in undoing policy.

But there hasn’t been much room for Congress to reassert its authority because Democrats held the majority in the Senate. This meant that Harry Reid, who was happy to cede Congress’s authority to the president, relied on gridlock and parliamentary schemes to enable Obama. Republicans couldn’t get bills to the floor for a vote, and they weren’t allowed amendments on bills that Reid would bring to the floor.

But now they’re in the majority. And as the Wall Street Journal hints in a story about Obama’s solo act, that changes the calculus:

Mr. Obama’s actions have signaled a lack of concern about damaging congressional relations, [Ari Fleischer] said. And the next Congress could respond by taking actions the White House opposes, such as approving sanctions on Iran over the objections of the president.

“If the president disregards Congress, then Congress can disregard the president,” Mr. Fleischer said.

Indeed it can. That’s not to say it can simply legislate whatever it wants. It’ll need Democratic votes in some cases, especially if the GOP puts the filibuster back in its place after Reid removed it. And Obama can always veto such bills.

But the reason Reid wouldn’t allow a vote on so many of the Republicans’ ideas is that they are popular enough to pass and to put pressure on the president to sign. Either way, by actually passing legislation, the Republicans will be doing what Reid and the Democrats refused to: protect the system of checks and balances and reclaim some of Congress’s territory that has been annexed by Obama.

Read Less

Cruz’s Campaign Guided By Goldwater’s Theory

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

Read More

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read Less

For His Own Sake, Mark Levin Should Leave the GOP

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

Read More

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read Less

Jihadists Using Liberalism Against Itself

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

Read More

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read Less

North Korea No Funnier Than the Nazis

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

Read More

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read Less

The More, the Merrier for the GOP in 2016

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

Read More

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read Less

The Palestinians’ UN Charade Collapses

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

Read More

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read Less

Cuomo to (Upstate) New York: Drop Dead

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

Read More

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read Less

The North Korean Horror, in Fiction

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

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

Read Less

A Bad Day at the Office for Nicolas Maduro

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

Read More

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read Less




Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.