Commentary Magazine


The Truth About Israel and Christians

After several days of furious commentary, Senator Ted Cruz’s decision to walk out of a conference on the plight of Middle East Christians continues to sizzle. As I first wrote last Thursday, friends of Israel praised him for telling those in attendance booing him off the stage that if they wouldn’t stand with Israel, he wouldn’t stand with them. But the chorus of criticism of Cruz has been getting louder with some conservatives weighing to express their outrage at what they consider a cynical gesture that prioritized the senator’s ties with the pro-Israel community over the plight of Christians.

Read More

After several days of furious commentary, Senator Ted Cruz’s decision to walk out of a conference on the plight of Middle East Christians continues to sizzle. As I first wrote last Thursday, friends of Israel praised him for telling those in attendance booing him off the stage that if they wouldn’t stand with Israel, he wouldn’t stand with them. But the chorus of criticism of Cruz has been getting louder with some conservatives weighing to express their outrage at what they consider a cynical gesture that prioritized the senator’s ties with the pro-Israel community over the plight of Christians.

In a follow-up post published here, our Seth Mandel did a great job assessing some of the day after commentary and in particular the hypocrisy of some anti-Israel pundits who have suddenly discovered that, at least on this issue, they no longer think it is wrong for people to making decisions about politicians on the basis of their stands on the Middle East. Yet I think there is still something more to be said about the way some people who ought to know better are rationalizing the indefensible behavior of the In Defense of Christians (IDC) group and criticizing Cruz for his principled behavior.

One of these that deserves some scrutiny is the New York Times’s Ross Douthat who joins in the pile-on against Cruz in his most recent column but attempts to do so without echoing the invective or the clear anti-Israel bias of those who write for, say, the American Conservative. Douthat acknowledges that the unsavory ties of some of its supporters are a problem for IDC. But he was critical of Cruz’s insistence on lecturing the group that instead of attacking Israel, they should recognize that the Jewish state is the best, and perhaps the only, friend they have in the Middle East.

For Douthat, this obvious statement of truth—in a region where Christians are universally treated as Dhimmi by Muslim regimes, Israel remains the only place where freedom of religion is guaranteed for adherents of all faiths—was a bridge too far for Cruz. More to the point, he thinks supporters of Israel are showing bad manners if not flawed strategy, by insisting that the cause of religious tolerance in the Middle East must include the Jews and their embattled state rather than merely treating the plight of Christians in isolation from the broader conflicts of the region.

Douthat writes in criticism of Cruz and his supporters:

Israel is a rich, well-defended, nuclear-armed nation-state; its supporters, and especially its American Christian supporters, can afford to allow a population that’s none of the above to organize to save itself from outright extinction without also demanding applause for Israeli policy as the price of sympathy and support.

There are two flawed assumptions to be unpacked in this sentence.

The first is that Israel is so strong and its position so unassailable that its friends can afford to be complacent about the mainstreaming of allies of terrorist groups—which is exactly what it seems that Cruz’s critics are asking.

The second is that the Islamist campaign to extinguish Christians and all other minority faiths in the Middle East can be resisted without the effort to do the same to Israel also being defeated.

It is, to put it mildly, a bit rich for a writer for the New York Times, which has through both slanted news coverage and biased editorial and op-ed pages, done its best to undermine Israel’s position, to demand that friends of the Jewish state stand down in its defense. That Douthat, who is otherwise the most thoughtful columnist in the paper, has rarely, if ever, voiced any dissent from the paper’s prevailing orthodoxy on Israel may be a function of his interests and that of the other putative conservative in the employ of the Times opinion section, neither of whom are, as a rule, all that interested in foreign policy (a stark contrast to the not so distant past when non-liberal writers at the Times such as William Safire and A.M. Rosenthal mounted repeated and spirited defenses of Israel to balance the attacks against it from fellow columnists, editorial writers, and reporters at the Grey Lady). But it is disappointing nonetheless.

But leaving aside Douthat’s chutzpah, that he should be treating Israel’s position as unassailable at this time shows that his knowledge of the Middle East really falls fall short of his normal sure footing on domestic and social issues. While I’m sure Christians in Iraq and Syria would gladly trade places with them, Israelis spent 50 days this summer dashing in and out of bomb shelters as Hamas terrorist launched rockets aimed to kill and maim civilians. Their army had to invade Gaza in order to demolish a vast network of cross-border tunnels aimed at facilitating acts of mass terror. They watched in horror as the streets of Europe were flooded with demonstrators denouncing Israelis for defending themselves against Islamist butchers in terms that recalled the worst excesses of the Nazi propaganda machine. And they also witnessed an American administration—ostensibly Israel’s sole superpower ally—doing its best to undermine Israel’s position, cutting off arms resupply and leaving the strategic alliance at its lowest point in more than 20 years.

Is this really a moment for Israel’s American supporters to put aside their scruples about making common cause with a group that is compromised by allies of those seeking to destroy Israel and to murder its population?

Just as important, the notion that the fight to save Christians can be separated from that of Israel is a pernicious myth that should be debunked. Douthat believes exposing the existence of Jew haters in the ranks of those purporting to represent Middle East Christians is a mistake because it shows no appreciation for the plight of Christians who face genocide. But by allying themselves with those who wish to perpetrate genocide on the other significant religious minority in the region, as some have repeatedly done in the last century of conflict, they have flung away their best hope for a strategic partner who could help them resist the Islamist tide. Religious persecution cannot be stopped against one minority while hatred against another is legitimized. As Seth wrote, Israel is already doing more to assist Christians than Douthat or the anti-Zionists at the American Conservative who claim to be their friends.

Today Christians are being slaughtered or forced to flee from Iraq and Syria to the point where soon once great communities may be extinguished. But while we rightly protest against this and lament such destruction, it is apt to also recall that a generation ago, some Christians and their foreign friends either assisted or stood by mutely while the same thing was happening to the once great Jewish communities in the Arab and Muslim world. American Christians of every denomination, including evangelicals and Catholics, are among the most faithful friends of Israel today. But the refusal of Middle East Christians to befriend the Zionist movement, even as it offered them the only possible counterforce in the region to a hostile Muslim majority, was a historic error. That this error is being repeated today is a tragedy for both sides.

Let me repeat, as I wrote on Thursday and many times before that, that Americans have a duty to rise up and demand that Western governments pay attention to the plight of Middle East Christians and to, if necessary, intervene on their behalf. But the notion that this struggle can be conducted in isolation from the defense of Israel against the same forces seeking to wipe out Christians is madness. That those who claim to care about these Christians believe that politicians like Ted Cruz should check their support for Israel at the door when discussing the Middle East is an indication of just how little some of them understand the region as well as their cluelessness about the rising tide of anti-Semitism sweeping the globe.

Read Less

How the Left Pushed Scotland Toward Independence

At first the Scottish referendum was regarded as a bit of a joke. It was being called, if anything, to put the matter to bed. Yet in recent days the first polls have emerged suggesting that the number of Scots preparing to vote for secession may have just surpassed those wishing to remain in the union. This has caused a sudden sense of panic in Westminster. Some have already called on Prime Minister David Cameron to resign, or at least call an election, should Scotland vote to exit the United Kingdom. Even Henry Kissinger has weighed in and voiced his opposition to Britain “getting any smaller.” But the truth is that, very suddenly, the UK looks dangerously close to splitting in two.

Read More

At first the Scottish referendum was regarded as a bit of a joke. It was being called, if anything, to put the matter to bed. Yet in recent days the first polls have emerged suggesting that the number of Scots preparing to vote for secession may have just surpassed those wishing to remain in the union. This has caused a sudden sense of panic in Westminster. Some have already called on Prime Minister David Cameron to resign, or at least call an election, should Scotland vote to exit the United Kingdom. Even Henry Kissinger has weighed in and voiced his opposition to Britain “getting any smaller.” But the truth is that, very suddenly, the UK looks dangerously close to splitting in two.

David Cameron insists that he is a staunch defender of the union. Yet, as many have pointed out, losing Scotland wouldn’t be all bad for someone of Cameron’s outlook. For one thing, no Scotland could well mean no more Labor governments for the foreseeable future. All of the close elections won by Labor would have gone to the Conservatives had the Scottish vote been discounted. Then there’s the fact that, when it comes to public services, Scotland takes out far more from the national budget than it contributes. Lastly, while Scotland is more pro-European than England, should Scotland leave, it is hard to imagine the remnants of the United Kingdom having the appetite for going it alone and leaving the EU as well, something which Cameron also opposes.

In many ways Scottish independence looks almost insane. Geographically, culturally, and politically Scotland is a big part of Britain. But in reality there are less than five and a half million people living there—the UK has far more Londoners than Scots. An independent Scotland would have to renegotiate countless international treaties, including membership of the European Union. Brussels has made clear that this would require Scotland to adopt the euro. Naturally, the Scots want no such thing. But the problem is Westminster is insisting that the continuation of fiscal union wouldn’t be an option. Economists and big business alike have warned Scotland that independence would be economically disastrous. Many corporations are threatening to move south of border. But even assuming the economy didn’t take a hit, Scotland faces a massive deficit regarding what it spends on public services and what it could realistically raise in tax revenues. Scottish nationalists claim they will plug the gap with profits from North Sea oil and gas, but it’s a fantasy to think that Scotland is going to survive as some kind of Gulf state on the North Atlantic.

Really, Scots have never had it so good. Since the end of the 1990s Scotland has been self-governing with its own parliament and government. This means that not only is England subsidizing Scottish public services, but Scots get twice as much political representation. Indeed, ever since devolution to Scotland, Scottish MPs in Westminster still vote on all British matters, but they have also been able to vote on laws only effecting England and Wales. Nor should they forget that Britain’s last prime minister, Gordon Brown, was Scottish.

Yet devolution actually appears to have exacerbated, and not calmed, the Scottish thirst for increasing autonomy. And to understand that thirst you have to go back to Tony Blair’s first government, when New Labor was in ascendancy. Because devolution, for both Scotland and Wales, was very much a policy of New Labor at its most radical. For many involved in that revolution, breaking the UK down into its component parts, paralleled with rapid integration into the EU, was supposed to achieve nothing less than the eradication of Britain as we’ve always known it. Of course, the kind of flag waving, Balkansesque micro-nationalism being encouraged in Scotland and Wales hardly looks in keeping with the progressive post-nationalism of the EU. Yet, in a sense, Scottish and Welsh nationalism was just another aspect of the identity politics championed as part of New Labor’s heady multiculturalism.

By the late 1990s, what you really didn’t want to be was British. Britain was Empire, militarism, backwardness, and bigotry. The first years of New Labor saw a wave of outlawing of traditional British customs. Fox hunting, children’s Punch and Judy puppet shows, and–in certain cities–even Christian imagery in Christmas decorations all went. On the other hand, there was nothing more coveted than having an “alternative” identity. Just as immigrant communities were encouraged to explore their heritage, so in Scotland and Wales, alongside the glistening new Parliament buildings, a cottage industry developed of books and television programs celebrating Scottish and Welsh history. Equally, there was a renewed emphasis on reviving Gaelic languages, particularly in schools.

No doubt there is a human need for identity and belonging. A sense of being part of something ancient enough to be beyond the merely mortal. The left in Britain has systematically eroded British identity and so it is hardly surprising that people have sought alternatives. British Muslims have become more Islamic, just as Scots have become more Scottish. Reacting with alarm, conservative writers and politicians have declared the antidote is for Britons to regain belief in the greatness of their country. The problem is they advocate this as if it is simply something that other people should believe, and more to the point, a generation has been raised to regard such attitudes as parochial and primitive.

Read Less

In Praise of the Star-Spangled-Banner

This weekend marks the 200th anniversary of the writing of the poem that eventually became our national anthem. But though the bicentennial will be marked by ceremonies at Fort McHenry with all the pomp the occasion deserves as well as spirited renditions of the “Star-Spangled Banner” at baseball and football games around the country, it is also the excuse for another round of bashing from critics who dislike the song and want it replaced with something more vanilla or easier to sing. But though there are some ironies about its origins and there is little doubt that it can be a challenge for performers, the calls for trashing the anthem are as ill conceived as the war that spawned it.

Read More

This weekend marks the 200th anniversary of the writing of the poem that eventually became our national anthem. But though the bicentennial will be marked by ceremonies at Fort McHenry with all the pomp the occasion deserves as well as spirited renditions of the “Star-Spangled Banner” at baseball and football games around the country, it is also the excuse for another round of bashing from critics who dislike the song and want it replaced with something more vanilla or easier to sing. But though there are some ironies about its origins and there is little doubt that it can be a challenge for performers, the calls for trashing the anthem are as ill conceived as the war that spawned it.

The latest attack on the “Star-Spangled Banner” comes from historian Ted Widmer who writes today in Politico Magazine to suggest that it be replaced with the more anodyne “America the Beautiful.” Widmer, better known as a speechwriter in the Clinton White House and is reportedly the ghost for Hillary Clinton’s latest memoir, also supplies a great many historical arguments against both the anthem and its author. But like all such attacks on the song, they underestimate the symbolism of the circumstances of its origin as well as the power of its words.

As every schoolchild used to know (in today’s era of left-wing influenced pedagogy in which American history is rarely taught in a straight-forward manner it is difficult to know what most kids are taught, let alone actually learn), the anthem was written by Key, an attorney who was on board a ship in the invading British fleet where he witnessed its bombardment of Fort McHenry. Fresh off their raid on Washington D.C., where they burned the Capitol and the White House, the Brits were hoping to take Baltimore and its strategic harbor. But unlike the disastrous defense of Washington which ended in rout and the U.S. government being forced to flee, the defenders of Baltimore were made of sterner stuff. The British failed to shell the Americans into submission and when Key saw the enormous (36’ x 42’) American flag that flew over McHenry still waving in defiance of the forces of perfidious Albion (and still on display at the Smithsonian Institution), it moved him to verse.

Though it had a slow start and a lot of competition from other songs associated with American national identity, by the end of the 19th century it had become universally popular before finally Congress declared it to be the anthem in 1931 in what is, as Widmer aptly notes, probably the most lasting legacy of the administration of Herbert Hoover.

The arguments against the “Banner” fall into three categories: historical, poetic, and musical.

As Widmer writes, it is no small irony that the American anthem, which was written in reaction to an incident in a war between the U.S. and Britain, is actually sung to the tune of a drinking song composed in London in the 1770s. To some, the English origin of the melody as well as its vulgar origins makes it inappropriate for the status of America’s song.

It can also be argued that any melody associated with the War of 1812 is a poor choice since that war should never have been fought (the British naval abuses that were the casus belli for the U.S. declaration of war were actually abolished by the time the war started and the hopes of American war hawks for an easy conquest of Canada were mistaken and did the young country little credit) and led to more American disasters than almost any that followed.

Even worse, as far as Widmer is concerned, is that Key, like many of the nation’s Founding Fathers, was a slave owner (a fact that allows him to argue that one of the anthem’s lyrics refers to escaped slaves supporting the British rather than a more traditional interpretation which views any followers of monarchy as “slaves”) and the brother-in-law of Roger Taney, the future chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court who wrote the disgraceful decision in the Dred Scott case.

Some also find Key’s poetry offensive. Michael Kinsley dismissed it as bombast and others prefer, as does Widmer, the lyrics of songs that simply celebrate America’s beauty rather than one that speaks of military valor.

Others complain, with some reason, about the difficulty of singing the song, whose broad range of notes and melody has defeated many of those who are asked to perform it.

But these complaints pale before the power of a song that is now, as Widmer admits, so deeply engrained in the American national consciousness that replacing it is inconceivable.

While the military narrative turns off leftists and cynics who spurn its language of heroism, the fact that the “Banner” is not merely about America’s glories but, instead, a moment when the very survival of our republic was in danger, adds to, rather than detracts from, its importance. It doesn’t matter that the War of 1812 was an absurd conflict. Outside of the battle in Baltimore Harbor and the conduct of the U.S. Navy on the high seas and the Great Lakes (the one land victory of the war at New Orleans was actually fought weeks after a peace treaty was signed in Europe), the war was something that Americans needed to forget.

Key’s lyrics recall American courage at a moment when it was in short supply. That fact is worth memorializing for every subsequent generation. But more than that, the song’s unique power stems from the fact that it ends, not in cheers for our landscape or good intentions but in a question. For 200 years, Key has challenged Americans to ask themselves if they are still living in the “land of the free and the home of the brave.” These are no unworthy questions and there is no other anthem in the world that is so pointed about the aspirations of its people. This is very much to the song’s credit.

Say what you will of the America in which he lived or the details of Key’s life and that of his relatives. Dismiss its musical origins and groan about how hard it is for some people to sing. But Americans should be proud to have an anthem that is, at its core, a test of their fidelity to the principles on which their nation was founded and their willingness to sacrifice to preserve it. If our liberty is to be preserved in the generations that follow, it will be because of our ability to answer both of Key’s queries in the affirmative. Let us hope they do and that the immortal strains of the “Star-Spangled Banner” will accompany the melody of American freedom for countless centuries to come.

And for those who need a reminder of how beautiful the anthem can be when sung properly, here’s a reminder from last year’s Super Bowl as the brilliant Renee Fleming gives us all a singing lesson.

Read Less

Beheading Shows Just How Bad U.S. Intelligence Has Become

The beheading of British aid worker David Haines is tragic and demonstrates once again just how evil ISIS and its fellow travelers are. No moral or cultural equivalence diminishes that evil. Part of the goal of any military action should be to kill—not capture and try—any Islamist participating in such acts.

Read More

The beheading of British aid worker David Haines is tragic and demonstrates once again just how evil ISIS and its fellow travelers are. No moral or cultural equivalence diminishes that evil. Part of the goal of any military action should be to kill—not capture and try—any Islamist participating in such acts.

Still, as the United States prepares military action, if President Obama is to be believed, the beheading of Haines reinforces just how bad American intelligence has become in Iraq and Syria after the 2011 U.S. withdrawal from Iraq.

The terrorist murdering Haines refers to British pledges to support the Kurdish peshmerga against ISIS as well as bombing of the Haditha dam a week ago. This suggests that Haines was not killed at the time of previous ISIS videos, but rather in the last couple days.

This suggests that neither the United States nor United Kingdom has much of an idea about where its citizens are being held hostage. Given the importance to ISIS of its propaganda campaign, this means in turn that the United States and United Kingdom likely have little to no idea about where high-value ISIS targets are. (Turkey may have some idea. When I was in Syria earlier this year, almost everyone—opposition and regime—used Turkish cell phone signals which mysteriously penetrated deep into Syria. That those are not monitored beggars belief; that Turkey would not share its intelligence with Western democracies does not.)

In effect, while air power can strike at some ISIS hardware or permanent encampments, the United States is fighting blind.

Time may resolve this. Intelligence insight increases with greater and contiguous presence. The longer the United States remains committed, the better our intelligence penetration should be.

Let us hope that future presidents learn a lesson: The United States based its withdrawal from Iraq and its coming retreat from Afghanistan on two pillars: That armies we trained could control ground and that the United States could provide “over-the-horizon” security from naval aircraft or from bases outside Iraq and Afghanistan. Both assumptions were false: The training of the Iraq army, Afghan army, and Kurdish peshmerga were a multi-billion dollar fiasco, and the United States has been able to do very little from over-the-horizon, largely because we blinded ourselves with our withdrawal.

By withdrawing completely, however, and severing so much of the military-to-military and intelligence relationships, the United States blinded ourselves to events just as surely as we had shoved a hot poker into our eyes. Our human intelligence slowed to a drip, and then dried up completely. Once hard-won capabilities are forfeited, they cannot be restored with a wave of a magic wand or presidential rhetoric.

Perhaps had we not packed up and gone home but left the residual force which the Iraqis expected, we would not have been so blind as to ISIS’s rise and the whereabouts of its assets and our captured citizens.

Read Less

World Yawns as Hamas Admits War Crimes

Perhaps it’s because the world is currently transfixed by the rise of ISIS in Iraq and Syria and isn’t paying much attention to the events in Gaza that generated such outrage from human rights groups determined to indict Israel for war crimes before any investigations are even conducted. But perhaps some of those who pooh-poohed Israel’s claims that Hamas was firing rockets at Israeli cities from civilian areas and thereby using the people of Gaza as human shields will pay a smidgeon of attention to the news that, as the Associated Press reported today, Hamas operatives admit that they did exactly what the Israelis said they did.

Read More

Perhaps it’s because the world is currently transfixed by the rise of ISIS in Iraq and Syria and isn’t paying much attention to the events in Gaza that generated such outrage from human rights groups determined to indict Israel for war crimes before any investigations are even conducted. But perhaps some of those who pooh-poohed Israel’s claims that Hamas was firing rockets at Israeli cities from civilian areas and thereby using the people of Gaza as human shields will pay a smidgeon of attention to the news that, as the Associated Press reported today, Hamas operatives admit that they did exactly what the Israelis said they did.

According to the AP, contrary to the claims of its defenders, Hamas operatives have admitted firing rockets from civilian areas in Gaza. But they say they did so at a distance from actual buildings. As the AP report noted, videos from surveillance conducted by the Israeli Air Force has produced evidence of rockets flying from residential neighborhoods, hospitals, cemeteries, mosque courtyards and other civilian areas. But Hamas officials quoted by the news service now say that when they did fire from such places, the rocket launchers were always at a “safe distance” from such structures or that the nearby buildings were deliberately kept vacant.

Given the evidence of civilian casualties from Israeli fire directed at such launchings, this is a transparent lie. More to the point, if human rights groups and the international press accept this excuse they will not only be validating an almost certainly false story but also moving the goalposts to accommodate the terrorists propaganda needs.

Let’s remember that the international press that flooded into Gaza during the war did a conspicuously poor job of covering Hamas activities in Gaza. No pictures were shot of Hamas fighters or of the thousands of missile launches during the 50 days of conflict. Instead they either knuckled under to Hamas intimidation or were actively complicit in publicizing the narrative the Islamists preferred that focused solely on Palestinian suffering instead of Hamas terror.

Hamas figures quoted by the AP contend that it was impossible for them to fire missiles without being in the vicinity of civilians because the strip is so congested. There are two answers to this argument.

One is to point out that, despite the contentions about Gaza being the most congested place on earth, that there are, plenty of vacant areas in the strip. Parts of Gaza are crowded but it is not one continuous urban jungle. If Hamas really wanted to avoid Israeli fire being brought down on areas where civilians lived they could have used such places. But, firing from beaches or open fields doesn’t provide the cover that hospitals, mosques or school courtyards give the terrorists.

More to the point, if the only places they shoot missiles that are deliberately aimed to cause the maximum civilian casualties for the Israelis are an urban area, and then a group that was not a pack of bloodthirsty terrorists would have held its fire. Hamas did not.

These admissions prove again, as if much more proof was needed, that what Hamas did during this war was a double war crime. They were intent on slaughtering as many Jews as possible with their rockets and tunnels and also hopeful of causing Palestinian deaths as well to increase international sympathy for their cause.

Giving Hamas a pass because they fired near civilians but not on top of them is to grade them on a curve whose purpose is to justify their war on Israel. While individual Israeli strikes might have been made in error as always happens in the fog of war, Palestinian casualties were completely the responsibility of the group that launched this war for no good reason, kept it going when cease fires would have ended it before more were killed and did everything in their power to maximize the pain to their own people.

We can expect human rights groups, the United Nations to pay little attention to these admissions as they continue to seek to bash Israel for having the temerity to defend itself. But if anyone wants the truth, Hamas has just laid it out for the world to see. Too bad, much of the press and those participating in anti-Israel demonstrations where anti-Semitism is rampant, aren’t interested in it.

Read Less

Obama’s Coalition of the Unwilling

After President Obama rallied the nation to an effort to destroy the ISIS terrorist group, Secretary of State John Kerry headed straight to the Middle East to solidify the coalition of allies that his boss had said was necessary to conduct the conflict in a manner that would not be confused for the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. But judging by the initial reactions of the nations Obama is counting on to help, the war isn’t going so well.

Read More

After President Obama rallied the nation to an effort to destroy the ISIS terrorist group, Secretary of State John Kerry headed straight to the Middle East to solidify the coalition of allies that his boss had said was necessary to conduct the conflict in a manner that would not be confused for the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. But judging by the initial reactions of the nations Obama is counting on to help, the war isn’t going so well.

Under Obama’s formulation, the fight against ISIS would not involve U.S. ground troops but would rather than be a joint effort in which the U.S. would facilitate a broad alliance of nations, to eliminate a threat to the security of the region as well as to the United States. But the joint communiqué issued by the U.S. and ten Arab nations whose representatives met with Kerry today in Jidda, Saudi Arabia produced nothing resembling the alliance Obama envisaged. While George W. Bush characterized the nations that he led to war in Iraq as a “coalition of the willing,” the one that Obama will lead against ISIS is very a “coalition of the unwilling.”

The Jidda meeting made clear that while Obama would like the Arab and Muslim worlds to take an active, if not leading role in the struggle against ISIS, they have no such intentions. Though the countries in attendance at the meeting said they would “do their share,” they clearly have a rather limited definition of that expression. None said what they would do to aid the cause and it has yet to be seen whether any of them would join the U.S. in deploying air power against ISIS. Even worse, Turkey, a key neighboring country, wouldn’t even sign the communiqué because it feared to anger ISIS, lest Turkish hostages in their hands be harmed. But, as Michael Rubin wrote here earlier, the Turks may be more worried about any arms coming in to help those fighting ISIS will eventually wind up in the hands of Syrian Kurds who are aligned with the PKK group that fights for Kurdish rights in Turkey.

The Turks are, however, just one problem. A bigger obstacle to the construction of the kind of fighting alliance that Obama spoke of is the fact that most of these nations simply do not trust the president. Egypt is clearly one such nation. The Egyptians military government has had some bad experiences with the Obama administration and is convinced that if the president had his way, the Muslim Brotherhood would still be ruling in Cairo. Others, including some Iraqi Sunnis who remain in harm’s way if ISIS isn’t stopped, simply don’t identify with the battle against the terror group in the way that Obama envisaged.

This is in part the fruit of Obama’s lead from behind strategy in the last six years. But it is also evidence that the president’s faith in multilateralism and belief that wars can be won on the cheap is a tragic mistake.

The problem here is more than Obama’s unrealistic notions of how wars can be successfully fought or one more instance of Kerry’s inept diplomacy. The most disturbing news out of the conflict isn’t just the reluctance of Arab nations to take the ISIS threat as seriously as Americans do even though the terrorist army poses a direct threat to the future of those governments. It is that ISIS is clearly perceived by many in the Arab and Muslim worlds as winning. As long as the terrorists are perceived as “the strong horse,” to use the title of Lee Smith’s valuable book about the Middle East, they are going to be able to attract recruits and more cash. The brutal murders of two American journalists horrified Westerners but were also perceived by some Muslims, both in the region and in the countries now being asked to fight ISIS, as ideal recruiting videos. Mere statements of support from Arab governments or even some Muslim clerics won’t alter that view of what ISIS considers a war, even if Kerry doesn’t.

While some writers like David Ignatius of the Washington Post and David Brooks of the New York Times, think the president’s “reluctant warrior” approach is useful, the Muslim world seems to have a different opinion. If Obama is going to do something to reverse these perceptions, it is going to take more than the halfway measures he spoke of on Wednesday or a coalition in which America is not prepared to do more than bomb from afar.

The basic problem remains a terrorist threat that Obama considers serious enough to justify a major effort by the United States but which he expects to be defeat by troops from other nations that may not be quite so eager to engage the enemy. Until the administration figures out a strategy that will make it clear that it is America that remains the strong horse in the region — something that Obama specifically seems uninterested in doing — expecting a good outcome from any of this for the United States may be wishful thinking.

Read Less

At War with the English Language

The Obama administration is far from the first to do violence to the English language, but there is something particularly galling about the way Susan Rice is describing our newest war/non-war fusion against ISIS. The president doesn’t want to go to Congress for authorization for war, and Congress doesn’t seem to want him to ask. But going to war without authorization violates a very old American document on which the president pretended to be an expert. So we’re not calling it a war. Unless you want to.

Read More

The Obama administration is far from the first to do violence to the English language, but there is something particularly galling about the way Susan Rice is describing our newest war/non-war fusion against ISIS. The president doesn’t want to go to Congress for authorization for war, and Congress doesn’t seem to want him to ask. But going to war without authorization violates a very old American document on which the president pretended to be an expert. So we’re not calling it a war. Unless you want to.

That’s the takeaway from this interview Rice did on CNN. Apparently, whether or not we call this a war is up to you, the public. The administration isn’t really sure, so they’re going to crowdsource it, Wikipedia-style. Here’s Rice telling Wolf Blitzer that what’s important is not whether you call a war a war but that you just follow your heart, man:

I don’t know whether you want to call it a war or sustained counterterrorism campaign. I think, frankly, this is a counterterrorism operation that will take time. It will be sustained. We will not have American combat forces on the ground fighting as we did in Iraq and Afghanistan which is what I think the American people think of when they think of a war. So I think this is very different from that. But nonetheless, we’ll be dealing with the significant threat to this region, to American personnel in the region and potentially also to Europe and the United States. And we’ll be doing it with partners. We’ll not be fighting ourselves on the ground but using American air power as we have been over the last several weeks as necessary.

Now, it should be noted that Rice’s opinion is consistent with some but not all such statements by current American officials, because a coherent vision has not and will not be forthcoming from the White House. Here’s John Kerry, saying it’s not a war:

The U.S. is not at war with ISIS, Secretary of State John Kerry insisted today, describing the military campaign outlined by President Obama as “a counterterrorism operation of a significant order.”

And yet at today’s White House briefing, press secretary Josh Earnest changed tune:

And the Pentagon:

How the administration sees this war is important not only for the constitutional implications, which are serious enough. It’s also because the way officials are describing it gives us an indication of their overarching strategy. There’s no question ISIS is a terrorist group, and thus the administration certainly isn’t wrong in saying that combating ISIS will require elements of counterterrorism.

But ISIS is also more than just a terrorist group. It may not be a state, as the president said in his speech. But that doesn’t mean it’s without state-like characteristics, and that matters for how the U.S. military will approach rolling it back and ultimately defeating it.

As I wrote last week, ISIS’s declarations of statehood may just be bluster, but they indicate something else: that ISIS is operating as if Iraq, Syria, and its other targets are not states either. Most of the terrorist groups the West has fought in the global war on terror were either state-like and static–think the Taliban, Hezbollah, or Hamas–or fluid and less interested in collapsing existing states and declaring their own, like the al-Qaeda groups and affiliates that try to hit American and Western targets.

With ISIS, although there is concern they could try to attack the homeland, the primary threat does not appear to be random suicide bombers or even training grounds for wannabe jihadis. (Though the number of European passport holders flocking to ISIS territory raises that threat as well.) What ISIS has done is essentially put together a kind of standing army that seeks to capture and hold strategic territory. As the terrorism scholar William McCants told the site ThinkProgress earlier this week with regard to an influential 2004 jihadist manifesto and its similarities with ISIS tactics:

“The key idea in the book is that you need to carry out attacks on a local government and sensitive infrastructure — tourism and energy in particular,” McCants said. “That causes a local government to pull in security resources to protect that infrastructure that will open up pockets where there is no government — a security vacuum.”

ISIS has operated similarly in Iraq and Syria…

There’s an actual strategy here, and it’s not just about causing mayhem and it’s not just about targeting symbols of the West. Principles of counterterrorism can be very helpful in fighting ISIS, but an army on the march demands more than that. Which is why the language from the commander in chief on down is so important.

Perhaps they’re getting it right. Today’s briefings seem to mark a shift toward admitting we’re at war. But that will also require dropping the silly word games meant to deride ISIS, as if taunting them will bring victory or minimizing the threat will attract more global support for the war. The president needs to get the terminology right, and then get the strategy right. At the moment, officials are giving off the impression that they’re not quite sure what they’ve gotten us into.

Read Less

Deep Bench? None in GOP Stand Out for ’16

Paying attention to presidential polls two years in advance can be something of a sucker’s game. We are a long way from intense campaigning, let alone voting, which means such polls tend to be more about name recognition than anything else. Yet the latest poll of Iowa Republicans about 2016 makes it hard to avoid some hard conclusions about the nature of the race and the roster of possible candidates. While Democrats still appear to be ready to coronate Hillary Clinton as their nominee, the Republican race really is wide open. For the first time in recent memory, there really will be no one who can be considered a frontrunner.

Read More

Paying attention to presidential polls two years in advance can be something of a sucker’s game. We are a long way from intense campaigning, let alone voting, which means such polls tend to be more about name recognition than anything else. Yet the latest poll of Iowa Republicans about 2016 makes it hard to avoid some hard conclusions about the nature of the race and the roster of possible candidates. While Democrats still appear to be ready to coronate Hillary Clinton as their nominee, the Republican race really is wide open. For the first time in recent memory, there really will be no one who can be considered a frontrunner.

The Iowa poll confirms the cliché about name recognition since the runaway leader in the survey of possible GOP presidential candidates is Mike Huckabee. The former Arkansas governor has been a favorite in the Hawkeye State since winning the caucus there in 2008. But it’s been several years since the talk show was active politically and there is no indication that he will run. If we eliminate him we see that the leader is Rep. Paul Ryan with only 12 percent supporting him. The rest of the field is in single digits with none of the big names, such as Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, Chris Christie, Scott Walker, Bobby Jindal, or Rick Perry making much of an impact. Nor has Rick Santorum, who won Iowa in 2012 in a huge upset after months of beating the bushes in rural counties, retained much support as he comes in as the preference of only three percent.

There’s good news and bad news for Republicans in these poll figures.

The good news is that 2016 shapes up to be a competitive and interesting race. No imposing frontrunner with deep pockets will be there to scare off talented candidates who want to test the waters. The GOP has to hope that in contrast to the chaos of 2012, with a more rational debate and primary schedule this time, the party will be able to run a competitive race that will produce a presidential candidate with the political moxie to effectively challenge Hillary Clinton.

The bad news is that although Republicans have spent much of the last two years bragging about their deep political bench, the roster of GOP presidential wannabes may not be as bright as they thought. By this time, somebody in the field should have been capable of impressing early state voters and caucus-goers as a potential keeper. But so far, none seems to stand out in contrast to the others.

Each would-be candidate has had his ups and downs. Christie might have been in a very strong position by now but Bridgegate derailed his potential juggernaut. Paul remains a strong candidate but ISIS and various other global crises have made his neo-isolationism a lot less attractive to the GOP mainstream. Rubio had a bad 2013 and the conservative base may never forgive him for backing an immigration reform bill. The others haven’t broken through yet and even old familiar names like Jeb Bush don’t seem to be attracting more than token support.

While this is good news for journalists who love a close horse race, it needs to be emphasized that this is really unexplored territory for Republicans who have a historical tradition of liking front-runners, especially those who have run and lost before. You have to go back to 1940 when dark horse Wendell Wilkie edged New York District Attorney Thomas Dewey to get the right to oppose Franklin D. Roosevelt’s bid for a third term to find a GOP presidential race that was as wide open as the one we will witness in 2016. In every presidential contest since then, there has been at least one or two genuine frontrunner types or former candidates who dominate the race. That means that whoever does emerge from this battle will almost certainly at least start the 2016 general-election campaign as a heavy underdog to Clinton.

It is possible that one or two of the current bunch scrambling for attention will break through in 2015 and enter the primary season as something resembling a frontrunner. But for now, it appears to be a struggle in which none have anything that looks like a clear advantage. Since even the best of them have little experience on the national stage, questions about whether this deep bench is equal to the task of running for president are entirely legitimate.

That’s why the buzz about Mitt Romney returning to the fray seems to be about more than buyer’s remorse about President Obama’s dismal second term or guilt on the part of conservatives that trashed their 2012 nominee but now realize the former Massachusetts governor wasn’t so bad after all. In a race where none of the contenders have a real political or financial advantage, a candidate with the name recognition and the fundraising prowess of Romney might sweep the field again as he did last time.

This isn’t an argument for Romney running again. A third trip to the well might not yield any better results for him than the previous one. He’s right to say, as he continues to insist, that it’s time for some one else to step up and take their turn. But it must be conceded that in a race this open, anything can happen. Instead of celebrating the diversity of riches in their candidate roster, Republicans need to be wondering which, if any of them, can step up and show they’re ready to tangle with Clinton. Right now, the sports cliché about all prospects being suspects seems to apply to the GOP field.

Read Less

Ted Cruz, IDC, and the Politics of Solidarity

Yesterday, as the controversy over Ted Cruz getting booed off stage at an In Defense of Christians event for his focus on Israel was picking up steam, the nation’s largest Christian pro-Israel organization stepped in to defend Cruz and Israel. They did not mince words. And my initial reaction, as I tweeted last night, was: the Jews need to be in the middle of this intramural food fight like we need a hole in the head. But I’ve since reconsidered somewhat, having seen some productive things come out of this controversy.

Read More

Yesterday, as the controversy over Ted Cruz getting booed off stage at an In Defense of Christians event for his focus on Israel was picking up steam, the nation’s largest Christian pro-Israel organization stepped in to defend Cruz and Israel. They did not mince words. And my initial reaction, as I tweeted last night, was: the Jews need to be in the middle of this intramural food fight like we need a hole in the head. But I’ve since reconsidered somewhat, having seen some productive things come out of this controversy.

My instinctive response was based on the fact that Jews really don’t love being the reason Christians are angry with each other. And that remains true. But the fact that the Jewish state was in the middle of this has revealed some common ground that usually flies under the radar, and deserves more attention.

First, there is the issue of Cruz telling the crowd, which was there to support the oppressed Christians of the Middle East, that Israel was their best friend. Over at the Federalist, Mollie Hemingway takes issue with Cruz’s focus on Israel and David Harsanyi defends it, noting that Israel is the one country in the region where Christians can live safely and practice their faith, and are therefore thriving.

I would only add to Harsanyi’s point that not only is Israel a safe destination for Christians, but Israel is currently actively involved in saving Christians in the region. It is simply a fact that for the oppressed Christians of ISIS strongholds like Syria, Israel is their ally–in practice, not only in theory. It’s not particularly well known, thanks to the tangled politics of Christian Arab groups being supported by Israel. But it’s quite clear now that since this controversy broached the subject, it must be pointed out that Cruz was not merely engaging in hyperbole.

Second, while this issue has become extremely divisive, there might be a silver lining in terms of common ground between Christians and Jews. I have no desire–and more importantly, nothing approaching the knowledge level–to get involved in the intramural theological disputes here. (Though it’s clear that many of those understandably defending their fellow Christians are quite plainly unfamiliar with IDC.)

But one reason Jews have been such steadfast allies to the beleaguered Christians is that they understand exactly what Syrian, Iraqi, and other Christians are going through. And they also understand the need for interfaith help. To Jews, the concept of hakarat hatov is important; the term represents the need to display proper gratitude. And so earlier in the week, the Jerusalem Post reported on the wealthy Canadian Jewish philanthropist who has been dubbed the “Jewish Schindler.” His name is Yank Barry, and he “last week surpassed his goal of helping 1,200 Middle Eastern refugees, Muslim, Christian and Yazidi, from war-torn and oppressive countries, helping them rebuild their lives in Bulgaria.”

He took the number 1,200 from the number of Jews Oskar Schindler saved during the Holocaust. Think of this as the Jewish version of “Lafayette, we are here!” Jews don’t forget those who helped them, of whatever faith. And we have been commanded “you shall not mistreat a stranger, nor shall you oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” Don’t forget where you come from or what you’ve been through, in other words.

And there is also something encouraging in the way Christians (on the right, anyway) have responded in fellowship and solidarity with their oppressed brothers and sisters elsewhere, with Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry even calling on American Christians to rethink casting a vote for Cruz. Many of these Christian thinkers and writers are reliably pro-Israel and certainly consistent in their philosophical, political, and ideological outlook. (Gobry is a contributor to COMMENTARY.)

But for some of them this is far more interesting. One clearinghouse of pro-IDC anti-Cruz reaction has been the American Conservative magazine’s website. That’s appropriate, and it’s been quite heartening to watch the magazine’s writers call for putting Christian unity above American politics and to prioritize the fate of Christians in the Middle East.

I say it’s heartening because the magazine’s website has also been an easy place to find accusations of dual loyalty against Jews who express their displeasure with an American politician because of that politician’s perceived lack of understanding and sympathy for the plight of the Jews in the Middle East. Here is the charge leveled against Sheldon Adelson, for example, with the added bonus of saying he purchased Newt Gingrich’s candidacy to turn the Republican presidential candidate into an agent of the Israelis. Here is the site speculating about whether Eric Cantor, who is Jewish, lost his election because he was “Bibi Netanyahu’s congressman.” And of course, the magazine’s founder, Pat Buchanan, is famously of the opinion that pro-Israel Jewish Americans are an Israeli “Fifth Column” in America.

So the discovery that faithful solidarity and American loyalty are not mutually exclusive is a revelation (no pun intended) of common ground to some writers. The controversy surrounding Cruz’s speech might be divisive, but it’s also a reminder that Christian Americans and Jewish Americans are on the same side here.

Read Less

Tell Turkey: Counterterror Goes Both Ways

The Turkish government has decided that it will not allow its airbases to be used to support military action against ISIS. Turkey explained its decision, which surprised no one but perhaps Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, Secretary of State John Kerry, and President Barack Obama, in the fact that ISIS holds more than 40 Turks hostage in Mosul.

Read More

The Turkish government has decided that it will not allow its airbases to be used to support military action against ISIS. Turkey explained its decision, which surprised no one but perhaps Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, Secretary of State John Kerry, and President Barack Obama, in the fact that ISIS holds more than 40 Turks hostage in Mosul.

Some Turks may be held hostage, although if President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu were truly worried about ISIS terrorism, they likely would not have forbidden the Turkish press from reporting on it nor would they have encouraged ISIS in the first place nor would they have opened their borders to provide medical treatment for ISIS leaders.

The problem with American diplomacy today is, when it comes to important issues, there is no consequence for those who would thumb their nose at American priorities. In the wake of Hagel’s visit to Ankara, Hürriyet Daily News interviewed Derek Chollet, an assistant secretary for defense. Despite the Turkish refusal, Chollet’s talk was full of the usual platitudes:

  • “The U.S. and Turkey see very much the same threats in this region and have a shared perspective.” (Really? So we share Turkey’s views on Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood, Iran, and al-Qaeda?)
  • “Secretary Hagel wanted to come to Turkey because Turkey is an indispensable ally of the United States on many challenges we face in the world, whether it be the threat from ISIL or broader regional issues happening in the Middle East.” (Never mind that Turkey just slapped the United States down on ISIS.)
  • “One of the conversations we had was about how we can work together to help strengthen border security. That’s not a unique conversation between the U.S. and Turkey at all; it’s something we have talked about with many partners around the world.” (Yet it is a unique problem when it comes to Turkey, as the Turkish border is the main mechanism of ingress for foreign jihadis joining ISIS.)

His last one was the real whopper, however. According to the Hürriyet Daily News:

Another concern that Turkey has is that weapons to be provided to the groups fighting ISIL may end up in the wrong hands, such as the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). Chollet said this worry was also being taken seriously “because it is the last thing we want.”

Why should arms leaking to Syrian Kurdistan be “the last thing we want?” The Syrian Kurds are the only group to have defeated both the Syrian regime and ISIS. They have established a secular, autonomous region and given shelter and protection to hundreds of thousands regardless of their religion or ethnicity. When I went to “Rojava” earlier this year, girls walked to school unescorted and without fear of violence, municipalities collected trash on regular schedules, and women and men worked and shopped together in the markets. The weaponry of the YPG, the Syrian Kurdish peshmerga, did not leak to Turkey.

The United States has long supported Turkey’s fight against the PKK. Whatever one’s views regarding the PKK and whether or not they are a terrorist group (here are three views, including my own, ranging across the spectrum arguing that the PKK should be de-listed as a terrorist group), it’s long past time the United States embrace reciprocity. Fighting terrorism is never easy. It’s always inconvenient, and there can always be complications. Rightly or wrongly, America (and Israel) bent over backwards to support the Turkish fight against the PKK because Turkey was an aspiring democracy and because it took terrorism seriously. But today Turkey does not reciprocate counter-terrorism assistance; indeed, more often than not, whether with regard to Iran, Hamas, or Hezbollah, it undercuts it. There should be absolutely zero assistance to Turkey in what it perceives as its counter-terror fight until such a time that Turkey realizes that alliances go both ways.

Indeed, just as the United States should support India and Afghanistan without apology in their war against terrorism and ensure India, at least, receives a qualitative military edge over terror-sponsors like Pakistan, it would be just as wise to support actively Syrian Kurds and perhaps even the PKK so long as they continue to take their fight to ISIS. Turkey has chosen its side; let it face the consequence of its decision. Perhaps it’s time to recognize that, given Erdoğan and Davutoğlu’s actions and position, Turkey was the past and, for the United States, Kurdistan is the future.

Read Less

Iran Promotes 9/11 Conspiracy on Anniversary

A basis for President Obama’s diplomacy with Iran has been the supposed changes inside Iran that the White House and State Department interpreted as signs that Iran really was changing and was interested in diplomacy. In reality, the idea that President Hassan Rouhani’s election signifies any change in Iran is more fiction than reality. Far from being a reformer, Rouhani was the first Iranian official to call Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini “Imam.” In the aftermath of his tenure as nuclear negotiator, Rouhani bragged repeatedly that he had advanced Iran’s nuclear program by taking advantage of Western desperation to negotiate. And while Rouhani has removed many of the Revolutionary Guards veterans from the cabinet, he has replaced them not with representatives of civil society or the Iranian people, but with veterans of Iran’s notorious intelligence service.

Read More

A basis for President Obama’s diplomacy with Iran has been the supposed changes inside Iran that the White House and State Department interpreted as signs that Iran really was changing and was interested in diplomacy. In reality, the idea that President Hassan Rouhani’s election signifies any change in Iran is more fiction than reality. Far from being a reformer, Rouhani was the first Iranian official to call Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini “Imam.” In the aftermath of his tenure as nuclear negotiator, Rouhani bragged repeatedly that he had advanced Iran’s nuclear program by taking advantage of Western desperation to negotiate. And while Rouhani has removed many of the Revolutionary Guards veterans from the cabinet, he has replaced them not with representatives of civil society or the Iranian people, but with veterans of Iran’s notorious intelligence service.

Now it seems that Rouhani’s Iran is doubling down on noxious. On yesterday’s anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks—attacks that the Islamic Republic facilitated by allowing the hijackers transit to and from their Afghanistan training camps—the state-controlled, official Iranian media went full-blown conspiracy, blaming 9/11 on Jews led by former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger:

…It was on September 11th that he committed two of his most memorable outrages: The murder of Chilean President Salvador Allende and installation of the torture-loving Pinochet junta in 1973; and the explosive demolition of the World Trade Center, and massacre of nearly 3,000 people in New York and Washington in 2001…

Kissinger’s close association with the fanatically pro-Israel, anti-Iran neoconservatives since September 11th, 2001 has surprised some observers, who traditionally viewed the former National Security Advisor as a realist rather than an ideologue.

Why did Kissinger turn neocon? Some speculate that as his mind deteriorates he is rediscovering his tribal roots and experiencing a Zionist second childhood. Evidence supporting this view includes his petulant statement to the New York Post that “In ten years there will be no more Israel.” Apparently Kissinger has fallen victim to the kind of Zionist existential anguish that lies at the root of the radicalism of such neocons as Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle, Scooter Libby, Douglas Feith, Dov Zakheim, and others of that ilk.

But there may be another reason for Kissinger’s succumbing to what Gilad Atzmon calls Pre-Traumatic Stress Disorder. That reason, in a nutshell, is Kissinger’s complicity in the neoconservative coup d’état of September 11th, 2001. By helping design the 9/11 shock-and-awe psychological warfare operation, Kissinger appears to have indelibly wedded his own fate to that of the neoconservative September criminals.

How do we know Kissinger was involved in the 9/11-anthrax operation? Because President Bush, acting under orders of Dick Cheney and the 9/11 perpetrator cabal, appointed Kissinger to head the 9/11 Coverup Commission. Only a person with intimate knowledge of what needed to be covered up, as well as a strong grasp on the crumbling “19 hijackers led by a dying man in a cave” cover story, could have been entrusted to head the Commission.

Obama and Kerry may believe Iran has changed, but the Islamic Republic—increasingly cocky against the backdrop of America’s weakness—seems intent on demonstrating that it is not. Rouhani and Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei take pleasure in humiliating the United States. How ironic it is that so many proponents of outreach to Iran suggest that the Islamic Republic expressed its revulsion about the 9/11 attacks. This, of course, is nonsense. While the Iranian people mourned, Iran’s leaders gloated. Mehdi Karrubi, a reformist politician, blamed “Zionists in Israel” for the attacks, and the state-controlled press promoted wild conspiracy theories. According to Kayhan, a paper which serves as the voice of the supreme leader, “The super-terrorist had a taste of its own bitter medicine.”

When I debated Ambassador Tom Pickering, a leading proponent of striking a deal with Iran, last April at the World Affairs Council of Philadelphia, Pickering quipped in the face of so many Iranian statements suggesting past insincerity something to the effect of, “That was then, this is now.” It seems that the Iranian regime hasn’t changed its spots, however. Any government that celebrates 9/11 should never be entrusted with nuclear power, nor should any regime which 13 years after that horrendous act still promotes the most noxious conspiracy theories. Then again, why should they not seek to humiliate and insult the United States and the victims of 9/11 when Obama and Kerry project such desperation?

Read Less

Obama’s Immigration Stall Fooling No One

Back in June, President Obama promised to use executive orders to legalize millions of illegal immigrants. This blatant attempt to bypass both Congress and the Constitution put embattled red state Senate Democrats in a bind since more evidence of Obama’s attempt to rule on his own might doom his party at a time when concern over illegal immigration is rising. But to the dismay of Hispanic activists, the president punted on the moves, saying earlier this week he would keep his promise but only after the midterm elections so as to give his party a fighting chance to hold the Senate. But postponement may not be enough. If Democrats are going to keep the Senate, Obama may have to promise never to do as his left-wing base bids.

Read More

Back in June, President Obama promised to use executive orders to legalize millions of illegal immigrants. This blatant attempt to bypass both Congress and the Constitution put embattled red state Senate Democrats in a bind since more evidence of Obama’s attempt to rule on his own might doom his party at a time when concern over illegal immigration is rising. But to the dismay of Hispanic activists, the president punted on the moves, saying earlier this week he would keep his promise but only after the midterm elections so as to give his party a fighting chance to hold the Senate. But postponement may not be enough. If Democrats are going to keep the Senate, Obama may have to promise never to do as his left-wing base bids.

As Politico reports, some Democrats are demanding that the president go farther and promise not to issue any executive orders that would unilaterally transform our immigration system even after the congressional vote. In particular, North Carolina Senator Kay Hagan has asked that the president make it clear that the postponement of his plans be made permanent. Angus King of Maine, an independent that caucuses with the Democrats agrees and he isn’t even running for reelection this year.

The reason for their concerns can be seen in the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll that came out earlier this week that showed the public now trusts Republicans to deal more effectively with immigration than Democrats by a 35 to 27 percent margin. That’s a startling reverse of the numbers in the same poll on this issue from last December when Democrats had a 31-26 percent edge. The jump in the GOP numbers can be attributed to the surge of illegal immigrants across the Texas border as a result of the belief that the president would offer amnesty to illegals soon.

Last year’s bipartisan Senate immigration reform bill that sought to both offer a path to citizenship for 11 million illegal immigrants already here and to tighten security at the border may have been popular. But in the wake of this summer fiasco on the Rio Grande, conservative arguments that the border must be fixed before a solution for the illegals now makes a great deal of sense.

Even more importantly, outside of Hispanic activists who have been clamoring for Obama to use executive orders to unilaterally change the law without the consent of Congress, even Democrats are very uncomfortable with the notion of Obama running roughshod over the Constitution to deal with immigration.

Even worse, as Hagan’s public fears make clear, no one was fooled by Obama’s transparently political motives for postponing his planned moves. Merely putting off the decision until after the election hasn’t defused the issue for those who are rightly upset about the president’s power grab. Conservatives were already more energized about this election than liberals but the possibility that the president will ignore the will of Congress and try to govern without its consent is exactly the sort of issue that will drive the GOP base to the polls. By contrast, the president’s punt will likely depress his liberal base especially as Hispanics are disappointed by Obama’s broken promise after so much hype about the plan over the summer.

Even as most of her southern Democratic colleagues are losing ground in the polls, Hagan got a boost in the polls last week as a result of a strong debate performance against GOP opponent Thom Tillis. But the race is still very close and Hagan knows it might will turn on the possibility that Obama will seek to thwart the Constitution and act on his own to grant millions of illegals a path to legalization if not citizenship. It could also potentially doom any hope of getting enough Republicans to vote for an immigration reform bill at some point in the future because distrust of the president is so intense.

It may be that Obama’s desire to bypass Congress and do as he likes may be sufficiently high that he will refuse to disavow acting on his own. That would be in character for a president who acts at times as if he is allergic to cooperating with the legislative branch. But if he continues to threaten to act in this manner, his party may pay a high price.

Read Less

Palestinian Elections Postponed, Obviously

As a rule, Palestinians don’t tend to do democracy. The last time there was a proper parliamentary election was in 2006. That one had been essentially foisted upon them by the United States, but Hamas topped the polls and most people have regretted it ever since. There should have been another in 2009, but it was simply never held and few seemed greatly troubled by this fact.

Read More

As a rule, Palestinians don’t tend to do democracy. The last time there was a proper parliamentary election was in 2006. That one had been essentially foisted upon them by the United States, but Hamas topped the polls and most people have regretted it ever since. There should have been another in 2009, but it was simply never held and few seemed greatly troubled by this fact.

Similarly, the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has managed to spin his four-year term into almost a decade as the head of the Palestinian Authority. When Abbas sabotaged the peace negotiations with Israel in May and instead signed a unity deal with the terrorists of Hamas, it was announced that Palestinian elections would be held within six months. European governments applauded. They welcomed the Palestinian return to democracy. But now, quite predictably, we hear that elections have been “postponed” once again.

This time the reason given is the aftermath of Hamas’s war with Israel. The PA prime minister Rami Hamdallah has claimed that rebuilding in Gaza is more of a priority than elections right now and that the war has made voting unpractical. This of course is nonsense. If elections could be held in the most war-torn parts of Iraq and Afghanistan then there is no material reason why they couldn’t be held in Gaza and in the West Bank.

A far more practical reason for why free and fair elections can’t be held in Gaza right now has nothing to do with the fact that parts of it are in ruins, and far more to do with the fact that it is run by Hamas. Of course the terror group’s left-wing apologists never tire of telling anyone who will listen that Hamas are the democratically elected government of Gaza. The fact that once Hamas took power they then promptly executed large numbers of their political opponents never seems to register with these people. And just like Abbas in the West Bank, Hamas has failed to ever hold any elections since.

Indeed, Abbas’s own record is little better than that of Hamas’s. At one point reports of how Hamas supporters in the West Bank were being imprisoned and tortured were common. Gradually, however, Fatah’s power in much of the West Bank has weakened. More recently in cities such as Nablus, Hebron, and Jenin PA security forces have seemingly abandoned their efforts to suppress Islamist groups such as Hamas and others.

This is the real reason that it was always impossible to imagine the Palestinian Authority giving the green light for another election. Back in 2006 Abbas’s Fatah had been assured that they would win. They are not about to make the same mistake again. Indeed, in the wake of Hamas’s recent war with Israel, the Islamists are boasting the kind of approval rating that Abbas could only dream of. Recent polling has shown that even In the West Bank, some 66 percent of Palestinians would vote for Hamas if elections were held today.

And so elections won’t be held today, or any time soon for that matter. Supposedly they are being put off until sometime next year. Of course, by then there will be a new reason not to hold elections. But the important thing for Abbas is that he is maintaining the veneer of democracy. It’s an act that only fools those who wish to be fooled by it. But for those in the Obama administration and the European Union who insist that Abbas is legitimate and that Israel and the world must treat him as such, these pretentions toward democracy are very convenient. In reality, however, Abbas is a despot.

Read Less

Defining Islam and the Islamophobia Myth

President Obama was going down a well-worn path last night when in his speech about stopping ISIS, he claimed the terrorist group was “not Islamic.” Like his predecessor George W. Bush, the president feels impelled to define America’s Islamist terrorist foes as somehow unrelated to the Muslim religion. The motives for this effort are utilitarian as well as idealistic but it comes with a cost, both in terms of our ability to wage an effective war against this enemy and the way these statements help fuel myths about American attitudes toward Muslims.

Read More

President Obama was going down a well-worn path last night when in his speech about stopping ISIS, he claimed the terrorist group was “not Islamic.” Like his predecessor George W. Bush, the president feels impelled to define America’s Islamist terrorist foes as somehow unrelated to the Muslim religion. The motives for this effort are utilitarian as well as idealistic but it comes with a cost, both in terms of our ability to wage an effective war against this enemy and the way these statements help fuel myths about American attitudes toward Muslims.

As our Michael Rubin noted earlier today, it is not any president’s job to define who is and who is not affiliated with a particular religion. ISIS may practice a form of Islam that we find repellent but to pretend that it has nothing to do with the Muslim religion or that its roots are not very much part of the Islamic tradition isn’t a serious statement. Islam, like Christianity and Judaism, has many variations. But unfortunately, the violent and intolerant brand of Islamism that is championed by ISIS is not only not as much of an outlier as many Americans would like to pretend; in some ways its views are not dissimilar to other more mainstream sects such as the Wahhabi sect that dominates America’s Saudi Arabian ally. The difference between the two lies mainly in Wahhabi clerics’ loyalty to the House of Saud and the radicals’ belief in overthrowing most Muslim regimes, not in any innate contrasts between their views of the non-Muslim world.

In order to understand the strength of ISIS and its ability to rally the support or at least the sympathy of so many Muslims, it is necessary to understand its ability to appeal to those who believe Islam should dominate the world, just as it tried to in its heyday when Christian Europe was holding on for its life against a resurgent Muslim military tide. The intolerance it foments has its origins in a worldview that holds that the world must bow to Muslim sensibilities, even to the point of censoring Western expression about their faith. If it is to be defeated, it will have to be understood in the context of the history of the region and not by treating it as an alien outburst.

Nevertheless, it is necessary for American leaders to be at pains to demonstrate that the U.S. has never and will never be at war with Islam, a faith that commands the allegiance of a billion people, most of whom are not interested in war with the West. It is also important for Americans not to consider the millions of loyal American Muslims as being somehow responsible for the behavior of ISIS, al-Qaeda, or any other Islamist terror group.

But though both Bush and Obama have bent over backwards to avoid portraying the war against Islamist terror as having anything fundamental to do with Islam, their willingness to do so has given credence to those who have claimed that the opposite is true. The notion of a post-9/11 backlash against Muslims in America is a myth that has been repeatedly debunked, yet it continues to thrive and grow.

For example, in today’s Daily Beast, Dean Obeidallah claims “13 years after 9/11, anti-Muslim bigotry is worse than ever.” What proof does he offer for this? Not much. There is a poll sponsored by the Arab-American Institute that shows that less than half of those surveyed have positive views of American Muslims and 42 percent support the use of profiling by law-enforcement agencies that would focus on Arabs and Muslims.

These numbers may seem troubling. But the disconnect here is between what the poll rightly diagnoses as worries about homegrown terrorism committed by Muslims and in some cases supported by radical clerics and any actual evidence of discrimination or hate directed at Arabs or adherents of Islam.

As I have repeatedly noted here, FBI hate-crime statistics for every year since 9/11 have repeatedly demonstrated the emptiness of claims of a backlash against Muslims. In each of the last 12 years, hate crimes against Jews have outnumbered those directed at Muslims. And despite the poll Obeidallah cites, there has never been a single credible study that was able to establish a consistent pattern of discrimination or systematic violence against Muslims.

Even more incredibly, Obeidallah claims American popular culture has furthered the worst image of Muslims and refused to portray them positively. As anyone who has watched television or the movies in the last 13 years can attest, this is nonsense. Hollywood has gone out of its way in much the same way Bush and Obama have done to avoid stereotyping Arabs and Muslims. To the contrary, although some Muslims have been at war against the United States during these years, popular films that portray Arabs and Muslims as typical enemies are few and far between. This avoidance is virtually unprecedented in the history of warfare and culture.

Nor, despite Obeidallah’s attempt to portray a few stray politicians who are worried about the spread of sharia law as mainstream, has there ever been any attempt by the U.S. government to harass Muslims. Though in an era during which al-Qaeda and now ISIS are doing their best to strike Western targets it is simply common sense to pay more attention to Muslims of Middle Eastern origin, police departments around the country have eschewed profiling. The same is true of the Transportation Security Agency, whose airport personnel go out of their way to scrutinize elderly grandmothers so as to avoid the impression that they are keeping an eye on the same group that produced the 9/11 hijackers. In the same spirit, law enforcement personnel have often been more interested in establishing good relations with radical clerics than in monitoring their activities.

Discrimination against Muslims and Arabs is wrong. But those seeking to keep the myth of a backlash against them after 9/11 alive are pursuing an agenda that is not so much anti-bias as it is anti-awareness of the dangers of radical Islam.

Pretending ISIS isn’t Muslim won’t help us defeat them. But by acting as if Americans are barbarians who would resort to violence if they knew the truth about ISIS, the president is playing along with the same false narrative that seeks to establish American Muslims as the true victims of 9/11. That sort of thinking is not only offensive; it breeds a mindset that has often undermined our ability to act decisively against those advocating violent Islam and led some young American Muslims to join ISIS and other terror groups. So long as we keep ourselves in ignorance about both ISIS and its sympathizers we will not only never defeat them, we will also be fomenting a terrible lie about American society.

Read Less

Cuomo Agonistes

Just a few days before Andrew Cuomo’s victory over Zephyr Teachout in New York’s gubernatorial primary, a video of Cuomo at the Labor Day parade made the rounds. It neatly summed up the New York populist left’s relationship with Cuomo: he doesn’t acknowledge they exist.

Read More

Just a few days before Andrew Cuomo’s victory over Zephyr Teachout in New York’s gubernatorial primary, a video of Cuomo at the Labor Day parade made the rounds. It neatly summed up the New York populist left’s relationship with Cuomo: he doesn’t acknowledge they exist.

Here’s the video, originally posted on the New York True website:

Teachout attempts for about a minute to get Cuomo’s attention to say hello to him. She is repeatedly boxed out by Cuomo’s handlers and he doesn’t appear to even notice her, despite her proximity. Eventually, she is crowded out when someone Cuomo does recognize, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, approaches. Although it’s doubtful Cuomo saw and ignored Teachout (unless I missed it), the forced smile pasted on his face and the complete lack of awareness of Teachout made for a pretty accurate description of how Cuomo feels about the Occupy left.

Cuomo won the primary by nearly thirty percent, but Teachout got 34 percent herself, the best primary challenge to a sitting New York governor on record. That left commentators with a kind of strange story to tell: a primary that wasn’t close but was closer than it should have been. It wasn’t a near-upset, but the publicity and support generated by the Teachout campaign (the New York Times even declined to endorse in the primary) were indicative of something not quite significant but not easily ignored either.

In a smart column for the Washington Post, Harold Meyerson tries to tease out the conflict:

Cuomo’s estrangement of Democratic liberals wasn’t due to any social conservatism on his part. In his first term as governor, Cuomo pushed through a same-sex marriage bill and tighter gun-control legislation. But his resistance to some key economic imperatives, allowing New York City to set a minimum-wage rate higher than the state’s and keeping a heightened tax rate on the income of the state’s wealthiest residents (that is, Wall Street bankers), and his unwillingness to campaign for Democratic control of the state Senate, which would boost the prospects for such legislation, angered many of his fellow Democrats. They believed Cuomo was cultivating Wall Street support for a possible presidential bid, an ambition that stood athwart their efforts to mitigate New York’s skyscraper-high inequality.

Cuomo’s vulnerability on economic issues was compounded by his vulnerability on ethical ones. Confronted with the spectacle of a steady stream of legislators moving from Albany to prison after convictions for corrupt practices, Cuomo convened an ethics commission to investigate and reform New York’s business of politics. Earlier this year, however, he disbanded it with its mission unaccomplished — a decision that prompted a federal prosecutor to announce that he was looking into Cuomo’s abrupt change of heart.

This strikes me as exactly right. So it’s worth playing this scenario out a bit. Meyerson compares the liberal angst bubbling up into Teachout’s campaign to that of Elizabeth Warren. The comparison is imperfect, but apt in one way: Warren would only run for president, presumably, if Hillary Clinton isn’t in the race. Clinton is running as a Wall Street Democrat through and through, and there does not appear to be real appetite on the left to take her on.

That’s because at the national level, Democrats are far more interested in winning. The only real friction between Clinton and the left so far, as Ben Domenech points out in this month’s COMMENTARY, concerned Clinton’s career-long opposition to gay marriage, until the polls shifted enough for her to flip flop. At the national level, social issues, and culture-war issues more broadly, get top billing from Democrats.

As Meyerson notes, that’s not true at the state level in New York. Democrats there care about social issues, but in a deep blue state those issues are not nearly so controversial. It’s how Cuomo could tell pro-life New Yorkers that they “have no place in the state of New York because that’s not who New Yorkers are” and still expect to win reelection. Liberals may appreciate Cuomo’s social liberalism (and his mildly totalitarian anger-management issues), but he’s not exactly going out on a limb.

And that’s why Cuomo would essentially have to decide between being a true-blue Democratic governor of New York or being a viable national figure. Since Cuomo has hopes of at least keeping the door to a presidential run open, he’s chosen to be a national Democrat. This has the advantage of not requiring him to have principles, and it’s also not much of a threat to his career as governor: if the best the left can do is keep him at two-thirds of the vote, he’s going to continue pretending they don’t exist.

And yet it may still come back to haunt him. Cuomo’s ethics shenanigans mean the possibility of indictment is unlikely but not nonexistent. If he makes it without legal trouble, people will wonder just how he did so. And if he alienates the left enough–Zephyr Teachout’s campaign had no trouble attracting headlines even outside New York, and she raised money outside the state as well–he’ll have no grassroots bandwagon for a national campaign. (Good luck in Iowa!)

Cuomo knows that it’s difficult to be a New York liberal in a national campaign. Now he’s learning that it’s not so easy not to be a New York liberal in New York. He wanted an uneventful governorship and a shot at the presidency. Both are looking increasingly out of reach.

Read Less

Jeers for Cruz and the Reality of Jew Hatred

Yesterday, our former colleague Alana Goodman reported in the Washington Free Beacon that a roster of speakers with ties to Hezbollah, Iran, and anti-Israel extremists tainted a Washington conference that was supposed to promote awareness of persecution of Christians. But it turns out the speakers weren’t the only problem at the In Defense of Christians event. Senator Ted Cruz was booed off the stage at the conference last night when he expressed support for Israel. While some are unfairly speculating whether Cruz’s courageous stand was a calculated gesture, what happened highlights the insidious growth of anti-Semitism even in places where one might not have expected it.

Read More

Yesterday, our former colleague Alana Goodman reported in the Washington Free Beacon that a roster of speakers with ties to Hezbollah, Iran, and anti-Israel extremists tainted a Washington conference that was supposed to promote awareness of persecution of Christians. But it turns out the speakers weren’t the only problem at the In Defense of Christians event. Senator Ted Cruz was booed off the stage at the conference last night when he expressed support for Israel. While some are unfairly speculating whether Cruz’s courageous stand was a calculated gesture, what happened highlights the insidious growth of anti-Semitism even in places where one might not have expected it.

For the Cruz haters, the significant factor here is his presidential ambitions rather than the hate he faced. Over at Slate, Dave Weigel seems to imply that once Cruz figured out that he was attending an event that was sponsored by some fairly fishy characters, the Tea Party firebrand made a decision to distance himself from the group and dared them to boo him by making a strong pro-Israel statement. It was, the liberal pundit claimed, a “Pro-Israel Sister Souljah Moment” that will insulate the Texas senator against any claims that he made common cause with extremists.

If so, it was an extremely clever move by Cruz and his defiance of the crowd jeering him will long be remembered in the pro-Israel community:

Those who hate Israel hate America. Those who hate Jews hate Christians. If those in this room will not recognize that, then my heart weeps. If you hate the Jewish people you are not reflecting the teachings of Christ. And the very same people who persecute and murder Christians right now, who crucify Christians, who behead children, are the very same people who target Jews for their faith, for the same reason. … If you will not stand with Israel and the Jews. Then I will not stand with you. Good night, and God bless.

But the idea that Cruz was worried about his pro-Israel credentials doesn’t wash. Cruz has made a lot of enemies on Capitol Hill with his take-no-prisoners approach to policy and an abrasive manner that has alienated colleagues on both sides of the aisle. But he’s also taken every possible opportunity to articulate strong support for Israel, often taking the administration to task for its predilection for picking fights with the Netanyahu government. While he certainly did himself some good by standing up to these haters, his statement was not out of character for a man who has often uttered these sentiments in other contexts.

It’s also not clear that this will give Cruz any material advantage in 2016. Other than Rand Paul, whose isolationist tendencies make him extremely problematic for supporters of the Jewish state or a strong U.S. foreign policy, all of the major and most of the minor GOP contenders have strong pro-Israel records. This is not an issue on which any of those contending for the nomination will be able to distance themselves from the pack.

But instead of speculating, as Weigel did, on the questionable notion that this was a political stunt by Cruz, the real issue here is the effort to mainstream anti-Semitism while operating under the banner of defense of persecuted Christians.

The issue of the oppression of Christians in the Middle East is an important one that has for too long flown under the radar. The rise of violent Islamist groups like ISIS and Boko Haram have brought this issue more attention in recent months. But the willingness of some Middle East Christians to make common cause with Muslims when it comes to Israel undermines their cause. Jews and Christians have always suffered under Muslim rule as Dhimmi, persecuted minorities that are nonetheless protected from murder so long as they accede to their second-class citizen status. In the 20th century, some Christians sought to prove themselves by affirming their loyalty to a pan-Arab identity that placed them in the forefront of the war against Zionism and the Jews. But the idea that their opposition to Israel could protect them against Muslim extremism was a tragic mistake.

Today, Christians find themselves under tremendous pressure in a region where true freedom of religion only really exists in Israel. Yet some who claim to represent Christians are once again outspoken in their hate for Israel and even absurdly blaming the Jews for their plight at the hands of hostile Palestinian Islamists. Instead of making common cause with Jews who are also targeted because of their faith, some Christian groups have become among the most outspoken advocates of hate against Israel.

This unfortunate trend must seen in the same context as the rising tide of anti-Semitism in Europe that is now beginning to be exported to American college campuses. As with others who oppose Israel’s existence and its right to self-defense, these Christian groups—whether mainline denominations such as the Presbyterian Church USA or organizations with their roots in the Middle East as is the case with In Defense of Christians—are spreading hatred of Jews and must be called out for their hypocrisy as well as the libelous nature of the propaganda they spread.

Americans need to speak up now against the persecution of Christians in the Middle East. But groups that wish to divert Western anger from Islamist killers to besieged Israel should not fool them. No matter his possible future plans, Cruz deserves credit for denouncing a hate group masquerading as victims. Rather than snipe at him, decent people on all parts of the political spectrum should be joining him in standing up to anti-Semites, not ignoring them.

Read Less

The Constitution and the War on ISIS

When President Obama announced last night that the United States was now committed to the destruction of the ISIS terrorist group operating in Iraq and Syria, there was one conspicuous omission from the speech. He will not ask Congress for a vote authorizing the campaign. That suits most members of the House and Senate—who are not eager to cast a vote for or against war on the eve of the midterm elections—just fine. But it begs the question of whether his decision is constitutional or wise.

Read More

When President Obama announced last night that the United States was now committed to the destruction of the ISIS terrorist group operating in Iraq and Syria, there was one conspicuous omission from the speech. He will not ask Congress for a vote authorizing the campaign. That suits most members of the House and Senate—who are not eager to cast a vote for or against war on the eve of the midterm elections—just fine. But it begs the question of whether his decision is constitutional or wise.

In his speech, the president brushed over the question of a congressional vote when he said:

I have the authority to address the threat from ISIL, but I believe we are strongest as a nation when the president and Congress work together. So I welcome congressional support for this effort in order to show the world that Americans are united in confronting this danger.

While he’s right about the majority of Congress supporting action at this moment, many in the House and Senate believe they must be formally consulted. While agreeing with the president’s dubious assertion that the terrorists were not Islamic, Senator Rand Paul believes Congress needs to authorize any military action against the group. The libertarian called for “an up or down vote” on the use of force and said authorizing strikes without one was “unconstitutional.”

Is he right? The president’s position on this is precarious but it is not completely illogical.

Last year when the president flirted with taking action in Syria against the Bashar Assad regime after it crossed the “red line” he had enunciated on its use of chemical weapons, he deferred to Congress saying he could not take action on his own. Now he claims he has the authority to order the use of force that he didn’t have last year. The difference is that the administration believes a conflict with ISIS falls under the rubric of the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force voted by Congress in the wake of the 9/11 attacks by al-Qaeda whereas a fight with Assad would not.

That makes some sense but ironies abound.

The first is that, as the Daily Beast’s Eli Lake writes today, fighting ISIS on the basis of a resolution against al-Qaeda makes no sense. The two groups are not the same thing and are actually in conflict with each other so how can a congressional resolution against one allow the president to fight the other?

Even more embarrassing for Obama is the recollection that, as Lake recalls, Obama specifically eschewed the right of the president to act in this manner in the absence of “an actual or imminent threat to the nation.” Though the president can assert, with some justice, that ISIS potentially does pose such a threat, given that he repeated his boasts about defeating al-Qaeda and killing Osama bin Laden in his speech, using the resolution from a war he has pretended to have won to fight a new one against a different group is absurd if not illegal, as Lake asserts.

The fact that in May 2013 the president also asked Congress to repeal this very same resolution and vowed never to sign laws to extend that mandate only adds another layer of hypocrisy to the discussion.

Yet even if we were to assume that the president is right that the 2001 law applies to the new conflict, his decision not to ask Congress for a vote is a mistake.

The reasons for his choice are obvious.

First of all, the president was burned last year when it was clear that he didn’t have support for a Syria resolution even though his initial inclination to strike Assad was correct. The president has always been uncomfortable working with Congress and after nearly six years in office has more or less given up on the idea. Even though the odds would be in his favor after the universal revulsion felt by Americans about ISIS atrocities, Obama simply hasn’t the patience or the ability to cajole the House and the Senate to back him.

Moreover, though many members of Congress are unsettled by this usurpation of authority, they are more than happy not to be asked to cast a difficult vote sending the nation to war in the weeks before the midterm elections. Outside of critical voices like Paul, few in either the House or the Senate are upset about being given a pass by the White House.

But both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue are wrong.

The president would be immeasurably strengthened by a new vote, especially when you consider that he would be almost certain to win it. Having called the nation to take part in war, albeit on the cheap without ground troops, choosing to avoid a vote while weakly welcoming the legislative branch’s support smacks of the same cavalier attitude toward the Constitution that animates his stands on immigration and the environment. Avoiding the controversies that have embroiled the administration on those issues would lift this conflict out of the partisan squabbles that characterize virtually everything that happens in Washington these days.

Even more important is that such a vote would make it clear that the nation was united and ready to pay the price, be in treasure or blood, to defeat ISIS. Arming himself with that support would be what a true wartime president—one that was able not only to articulate the reasons for fighting but also prepared to stick out a long hard fight—would do.

But this risk-averse president who has been dragged kicking and screaming into this fight by an American people who are outraged and fearful about ISIS rather than his own judgment isn’t willing to do it. A call for a vote would be a sign of respect for the separation of powers in the Constitution as well as a unifying gesture as the U.S. embarks on a new chapter of a war on terror that began 13 years ago today on 9/11. But Obama appears as indifferent to the former as he is uninterested in the latter. While it is to be hoped that his half-hearted approach to this conflict will be successful, this is not a good start to a war that may prove more difficult than he thinks.

Read Less

Israel’s Predetermined Guilt and the Irrelevant Left

If you’ve been around Israeli politics long enough, you pick up on the one thing that bothers leftist “human-rights” groups more than anything: their irrelevance. At times, their frustration boils over into quite humorous attempts to coopt credit for Israel’s democratic achievements when in fact, as usual, they’ve had nothing to do with it. Today’s New York Times marks yet another such instance.

Read More

If you’ve been around Israeli politics long enough, you pick up on the one thing that bothers leftist “human-rights” groups more than anything: their irrelevance. At times, their frustration boils over into quite humorous attempts to coopt credit for Israel’s democratic achievements when in fact, as usual, they’ve had nothing to do with it. Today’s New York Times marks yet another such instance.

The Times story is on official Israeli investigations into possible wrongdoing on its part during its recent war in Gaza. This is exactly what Israel does after wars, and what it has done for decades. Not only does Israel tend to investigate individual strikes, but it puts the IDF’s strategic command under the microscope, and sometimes, as with the 2006 Lebanon war, takes the investigation right up to the Israeli prime minister himself.

Because human-rights groups are thus irrelevant to the process of Israel defending human rights, they seek to convince credulous reporters (or reporters who know better but prefer to keep up the propaganda war against the Israeli government) that when Israel does something right, it’s because of them. It may sound laughable to those who know the basics of Israeli life and politics, but these activist groups have a trump card: the New York Times will publish their self-congratulatory blathering.

Today that’s precisely what the Times does. It starts out with the headline: “Israel, Facing Criticism, to Investigate Possible Military Misconduct in Gaza.” If you didn’t know better, you might read that headline and think the beginning and the end of the headline are related. They are not. It’s true that Israel is facing criticism. It is also true that Israel will investigate possible military misconduct. It is not true, however, that Israel is investigating possible misconduct because fringe activists are lobbing spitballs at the IDF.

The Times continues down this road, in the process offering an illuminating portrait of just what Israeli human-rights groups do:

Some said the timing of the inquiries appeared to be an attempt by the Israeli government to pre-empt the impact of international investigations into allegations of possible Israeli war crimes committed in Gaza. They also pointed out that the cases, opened by Israel’s Military Advocate General Corps, included obvious episodes that had already drawn condemnation.

One prominent Israeli human rights group, B’Tselem, refused to participate in the investigations and said history showed that the Israeli military could not possibly conduct a credible prosecution of itself.

“Based on past experience, we can only regretfully say that Israeli law enforcement authorities are unable and unwilling to investigate allegations of breaches of international humanitarian law committed during fighting in Gaza,” the organization said in a statement. “Should the existing whitewashing mechanism be replaced with an independent investigative body, we would gladly cooperate with it.”

So Israel will investigate without being prompted by B’Tselem. Also, B’Tselem won’t get involved in the investigation. What will they be doing? Whatever it is, it has no bearing on justice and truth and morality in war. (This 2011 COMMENTARY essay by Noah Pollak remains the indispensable profile of the group.)

Earlier in the piece, however, the Times delivered a truly telling message:

The announcement, conveyed at a briefing by the Israeli military, came only two weeks after a cease-fire in the conflict, an unusually speedy response. But critics, including human rights advocates in Israel, said it remained to be seen whether the investigations would yield significant criminal indictments and punishments.

Think about that second sentence. It “remained to be seen” if there would be indictments from the investigation that just began. You would be hard-pressed to think of a more superfluous sentence to appear in a major newspaper. But the key is who the Times is supposedly paraphrasing: “critics, including human rights advocates.”

That’s right: the human-rights groups are upset that Israel isn’t considered–or considers itself–guilty until proved innocent. In fact, they don’t even care if those under investigation are proved innocent. They want “significant criminal indictments and punishments.” Not just punishments: significant punishments.

Punishments for what? Well, nobody knows that yet because Israel–which is far more trustworthy in such investigations than outside organizations like the UN, which the Goldstone affair compellingly demonstrated–hasn’t completed its investigation. And “human-rights” groups like B’Tselem don’t know either, and won’t know, because they refuse to participate in the investigation.

What Israel’s critics want is not justice. They want show trials. Israel has long been more than willing to be its own toughest critic and to discipline anyone who earns it, in the military or in its political establishment. But Israel’s critics there and in the international community, including so-called human-rights groups, want Israelis punished for defending themselves lawfully and morally. For surviving and thriving in the face of their genocidal enemies.

To Israel’s critics in the “human-rights” NGO community, Israel’s guilt is simply taken for granted. The irrelevance of those groups is a testament to Israel’s collective judgment.

Read Less

Obama Repudiates His Own Past Strategy and Statements

My sense is that last night’s primetime address by President Obama was primarily a political damage-control operation. During the last month the president has been all over the lot on the issue of ISIS, and so the White House viewed this speech as a do-over. Forget what Mr. Obama has said in the past, the White House seemed to be saying; what the president laid out yesterday is really and truly what he believes.

Read More

My sense is that last night’s primetime address by President Obama was primarily a political damage-control operation. During the last month the president has been all over the lot on the issue of ISIS, and so the White House viewed this speech as a do-over. Forget what Mr. Obama has said in the past, the White House seemed to be saying; what the president laid out yesterday is really and truly what he believes.

Here’s one problem with that. Last night the president said, “This strategy of taking out terrorists who threaten us, while supporting partners on the front lines, is one that we have successfully pursued in Yemen and Somalia for years.” If Yemen and Somalia are the models, then we’re not going to defeat ISIS. The situations are quite different in important respects, with ISIS a far more formidable, well-armed foe than what we see in either Yemen and Somalia; and, in any event, al-Qaeda on the Arabian Peninsula remains a lethal threat. Our strategy in Yemen and Somalia hasn’t altered the facts on the ground in either country.

Beyond that, though, is that I can’t shake the fact that even yesterday, Mr. Obama appeared to be a reluctant commander in chief. His strategy is filled with qualifiers, including his chronic and peculiar habit of declaring in advance all the things he won’t do. One can just sense that he hates being pulled into this conflict–and that having been forced to engage because of events, and now by American public opinion, the effort will be mostly restricted to air power. Air power can help, but it can’t get the job done.

One other thought: Last night’s speech was a thorough repudiation of President Obama’s previous approach and statements, from calling ISIS a “jayvee team” to ridiculing the Syrian opposition as being “made up of former doctors, farmers, pharmacists and so forth” to having to send troops back to Iraq after the president so proudly hailed the fact that he had withdrawn every last American from Iraq. This is not what a receding tide of war is supposed to look like. Even the Washington Post today, in a front-page story, said this:

Senior advisers have repeatedly said that the unexpected course of the Arab Spring greatly limited their ability to shape events in countries such as Syria. But whatever the source of unrest, it is clear that Obama was either naive to promise a new chapter in post-9/11 foreign policy, or simply failed to deliver on that vision.

President Obama’s entire approach to this point has been misguided, fraught with one mistake in judgment after another. Last night’s speech more or less conceded as much, even as the president himself pretended otherwise.

My fear is that Mr. Obama hasn’t had a change in heart; that he still doesn’t understand on a fundamental level what he got wrong and what needs to be done to succeed. He’s still lost in a fog, and we’re once again learning that community organizers don’t make very good commanders in chief.

Read Less

Obama Has the Right Goal on ISIS; Does He Have the Strategy to Attain It?

President Obama laid out the right objective in his address to the nation on the eve of the 9/11 anniversary: “to degrade and ultimately destroy the terrorist group known as ISIL.” He deserves credit for owning up to the threat posed by a group he had dismissed earlier this year as a “JV team.” He deserves credit, too, for removing the artificial limits which had allowed U.S. warplanes to bomb the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS or ISIL) in Iraq but not in Syria. Members of Congress of both parties should not hesitate to support the commander in chief as he undertakes a campaign against what has been called the strongest terrorist group in the world. But that support need not be uncritical.

Read More

President Obama laid out the right objective in his address to the nation on the eve of the 9/11 anniversary: “to degrade and ultimately destroy the terrorist group known as ISIL.” He deserves credit for owning up to the threat posed by a group he had dismissed earlier this year as a “JV team.” He deserves credit, too, for removing the artificial limits which had allowed U.S. warplanes to bomb the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS or ISIL) in Iraq but not in Syria. Members of Congress of both parties should not hesitate to support the commander in chief as he undertakes a campaign against what has been called the strongest terrorist group in the world. But that support need not be uncritical.

There are ample grounds for concern that, however good the president is at describing the threat, his actions are not sufficient to overcome it. Listening to the president’s remarks, in particular, I wonder if the president’s strategy will only be sufficient to degrade–not to destroy–ISIS.

There is, for example, the salient fact that Obama stressed over and over–that his strategy “will not involve American combat troops fighting on foreign soil.” It is a mystery why the president would want to telegraph at the opening of a military campaign what the U.S. will not do, which can only raise doubts among friends and foes alike of our resolve in this struggle. Although no one is seriously suggesting sending large ground-combat formations to Iraq or Syria, there is a pressing need for a substantial force of trainers, air controllers, intelligence experts, and Special Operations Forces to direct air strikes and augment the very limited capabilities of our local allies–namely the Kurdish pesh merga, the Sunni tribes, the Free Syrian Army, and vetted units of the Iraqi Security Forces. I and various other commentators have suggested something on the order of 10,000 to 15,000 personnel will be required, but Obama said he was only sending 475 more personnel to Iraq, bringing our troop total to around 1,500. That’s better than zero but it’s probably not where we need to be if we are to actually assist in the destruction of ISIS.

There is no indication, in particular, that Obama will allow the Joint Special Operations Command to do the kind of highly precise network-targeting that, in combination with a larger counterinsurgency strategy, did so much damage in the past to al-Qaeda in Iraq, ISIS’s predecessor. This would require sending small numbers of Americans into combat, albeit on highly favorable terms. Simply deploying JSOC to bases in and around Iraq and Syria would require a deployment of probably 2,000 personnel–far more than Obama has so far ordered.

The president’s analogy to Somalia and Yemen is not an encouraging one. Obama may be one of the few people around who thinks that the U.S. has achieved so much success in those countries that it is a model worth emulating. Al Shabaab, the al-Qaeda affiliate in Somalia, has withstood offensives by Kenyan, Ethiopian, and African Union troops. As Obama’s own National Counterterrorism Center notes, although “degraded,” Al Shabaab “has continued its violent insurgency in southern and central Somalia. The group has exerted temporary and, at times, sustained control over strategic locations in those areas by recruiting, sometimes forcibly, regional sub-clans and their militias, using guerrilla warfare and terrorist tactics.”

Al Shabaab also has shown distressing ability to mount terrorist strikes outside Somalia, for example the attack on a Nairobi mall in 2013. And it is doubtful that the recent American air strike, which killed its leader Ahmed Abdi Godane, will defeat the group any more than did a previous airstrike in 2008 which killed the previous leader, Aden Hashi Ayro.

As for al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the al-Qaeda affiliate based in Yemen, it too has shown a lot of staying power notwithstanding American air strikes that have killed leaders such as Anwar al-Awlaki. It may have been overshadowed by grimmer news on the ISIS front, but on August 8, AQAP murdered 14 captured Yemeni soldiers. A memo from the AEI Critical Threats Project warned that this “may presage the emergence of a renewed threat from al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) that the U.S and Yemen are ill-prepared to handle.”

At best, U.S. air strikes in Yemen and Somalia have disrupted these terrorist groups without defeating them. The only case that I am aware of where air strikes, without effective ground action, have had a more substantial impact on a terrorist group is in Pakistan where continued U.S. drone attacks over the course of more than a decade have done serious damage to core al-Qaeda, albeit without destroying it. But that’s only possible because core al-Qaeda is such a small organization with a few dozen operatives. ISIS is much, much larger with more than 10,000 fighters and control of a territory larger than the United Kingdom. It is in fact more than a terrorist group–it is also a guerrilla group that is trying to create a conventional army. And in terms of money and weaponry it has access to resources that far exceed those of Al Shabaab, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, or core al-Qaeda.

It is not, in short, a threat that will be eradicated by a few dozen or even a few hundred American air strikes. What is required is a comprehensive counterinsurgency campaign enabled by a substantial force of advisers and Special Operators that would be able to dramatically increase the capabilities of our local allies. If we don’t put at least some “boots on the ground,” we risk bombing blind which could have the opposite of the intended effect. It could, in fact, drive more Sunnis into ISIS’s camp and wind up inadvertently helping extremist Shiite militias, which are present in large numbers, under the direction of Iran’s Quds Force, in both Iraq and Syria.

I have said it before and will say it again: If we’re going to do this, let’s do it right. As Napoleon said, “If you set out to take Vienna, take Vienna.” Don’t take a few villages outside Vienna.

I very much doubt that most Americans care whether we have 1,500 or 15,000 troops in Iraq. They are mad about ISIS and worried about its threat and they want it to be destroyed. Obama should commit the resources to achieve that objective rather than trying to send the smallest force possible so that he can say he is not repeating George W. Bush’s mistakes in Iraq. In reality, alas, there are eerie parallels between Bush’s failure to adequately resource the Iraq mission between 2003 and 2007 and Obama’s failure to do so today. Perhaps we can defeat ISIS on the cheap, but I doubt it.

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.