Commentary Magazine


IDF Fatalities Destroy Last Remaining Justification for Gaza Pullout

Has anyone noticed that the last remaining justification for Israel’s unilateral pullout from the Gaza Strip has just disappeared? Proponents’ claims that the pullout would bring peace, security, and international support have long since been disproven; what it actually brought was 16,500 rockets and mortars fired at Israel from Gaza–including 13,800 before the current war began–and unprecedented international vitriol every time Israel tried to fight back (see the current anti-Semitic pogroms in Europe or the infamous Goldstone Report). Yet disengagement supporters still had one trump card to play: “At least our soldiers aren’t dying in Gaza anymore.” And to many Israelis, that gain was worth the terrible price.

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Has anyone noticed that the last remaining justification for Israel’s unilateral pullout from the Gaza Strip has just disappeared? Proponents’ claims that the pullout would bring peace, security, and international support have long since been disproven; what it actually brought was 16,500 rockets and mortars fired at Israel from Gaza–including 13,800 before the current war began–and unprecedented international vitriol every time Israel tried to fight back (see the current anti-Semitic pogroms in Europe or the infamous Goldstone Report). Yet disengagement supporters still had one trump card to play: “At least our soldiers aren’t dying in Gaza anymore.” And to many Israelis, that gain was worth the terrible price.

But now, Israeli soldiers are once again dying in Gaza, at a rate that wipes out all the gains of the previous few years. Here are the figures, compiled from B’Tselem statistics:

Between the start of the second intifada, in September 2000, and the pullout in August 2005, 87 Israeli soldiers were killed in Gaza. Over the next eight years, it’s not true that no soldiers died in Gaza, but military fatalities did drop significantly: Altogether, 33 soldiers were killed either in Gaza or in southern Israel by fire from Gaza.

Even that “achievement” is actually an indictment of the disengagement, because in the West Bank, which Israel didn’t quit, military fatalities fell far more sharply: from 136 between September 2000 and August 2005 to just 13 in the subsequent nine years. But since Operation Protective Edge began earlier this month, even this meager gain has disappeared: 53 soldiers have so far been killed in or by attacks from Gaza, and the number will likely continue climbing as the operation progresses. In other words, Gaza has now claimed 86 military fatalities from Israel since the pullout–almost identical to the 87 it claimed during the second intifada–even as military fatalities have fallen sharply in the West Bank.

In contrast, had the Israel Defense Forces remained in Gaza, military fatalities would almost certainly have registered a decline similar to that in the West Bank, because Hamas wouldn’t have been able do either of the two things that are now costing so many soldiers their lives: smuggle in vast quantities of sophisticated weaponry or build an extensive network of attack tunnels.

The bottom line, therefore, is that the last remaining “achievement” of the Gaza pullout has proved as chimerical as all its other vaunted achievements: The pullout hasn’t saved soldiers’ lives; it has almost certainly cost them.

To be clear, I never liked the argument that saving soldiers’ lives was worth the cost of incessant rocket fire on the south; soldiers are supposed to put their lives on the line to protect civilians, not the other way around. But I understand why it was so persuasive to many Israelis: Almost every Israeli has a father, husband, brother, or son in the army, while far fewer have relatives and friends in rocket-battered southern communities; thus many Israelis felt they personally benefited from the tradeoff, even if other Israelis were paying the price.

Now, however, even that illusion is gone: By quitting Gaza, not only has Israel gotten 16,500 rockets and mortars on its country, but it hasn’t saved the life of a single soldier. In fact, it has almost certainly lost more soldiers than it would have had it stayed.

Israel may have no choice but to reoccupy Gaza someday. But whether it does or not, one thing is crystal clear: It would be insane to repeat this experiment in the West Bank.

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Gaza Fighting Proves J Street’s Irrelevance

Pity poor J Street. As Israelis seek to defend themselves against Hamas rockets and terrorist tunnels, the left-wing lobby finds itself in a tough spot. Its flagging bid for mainstream support has caused it to try and craft a low-key position of support for Israeli self-defense. But that nuanced stance is causing many of J Street’s supporters to abandon the organization for those groups that take sides against Israel.

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Pity poor J Street. As Israelis seek to defend themselves against Hamas rockets and terrorist tunnels, the left-wing lobby finds itself in a tough spot. Its flagging bid for mainstream support has caused it to try and craft a low-key position of support for Israeli self-defense. But that nuanced stance is causing many of J Street’s supporters to abandon the organization for those groups that take sides against Israel.

As the Forward noted today, J Street has tried not to repeat the mistake it made in 2008 when the group publicly opposed Israel’s efforts to suppress Hamas rocket fire during Operation Cast Lead. The position was very much in character with J Street’s ideology that sees Israel as the obstacle to peace rather than the Palestinian refusal to recognize a Jewish state no matter where its borders would be drawn. But the group that at that time harbored an ambition to replace AIPAC as the voice of the pro-Israel community learned its lesson after it was condemned for this outrageous decision by a wide spectrum of American Jews, including many liberal leaders. During subsequent crises J Street has avoided open condemnations of Israeli actions while still failing to play the sort of role in mobilizing support for an embattled Jewish state that other more mainstream groups take as a matter of course.

As Alan Dershowitz wrote in the Jerusalem Post last week, J Street refused to take part in a communal pro-Israel rally organized by the Boston Jewish federation. Nor did J Street chose to co-sponsor a similar rally in New York. He said these actions sounded the “death knell for J Street” as a group that sought to be considered as part of the pro-Israel community. But the irony is that sort of moral cowardice isn’t enough for many, if not most J Street supporters who are uncomfortable with the way the group has sought to neither condemn nor fully support Israel’s campaign in Gaza.

As the Forward reported, even as J Street avoided being seen at pro-Israel rallies, their members are playing a prominent role in organizing protests against the Jewish state. Many have joined #ifnotnow, a new ad hoc group dedicated to opposing Israel’s actions in Gaza.

Even worse for J Street is the trend that was also discussed in a separate Forward article which reported that many of the group’s adherents are leaving it to join the openly anti-Zionist Jewish Voices for Peace. That group, which serves as the Jewish front for BDS—boycott, divest, sanction—campaigns against Israel is profiting from the situation since many on the left prefer its unadulterated venom directed against the Jewish state to J Street’s more equivocal positions.

While no one should be shedding any tears about J Street’s dilemma, their troubles do illustrate a key point about the ongoing battle to defend Israel.

J Street came into existence in part as a cheering section for Obama administration pressure against Israel. But it was also a manifestation of the old left-right debate in Israel and the United States between those who supported “land for peace” as the solution to the conflict with the Palestinians and those who opposed the idea. J Street’s belief that Israel needed to take risks for peace might have made sense in 1992 before Oslo, the second intifada, and three Palestinian refusals of Israeli offers of statehood. But after 20 years during which Israel has traded land not for peace but for terror, J Street’s positions aren’t so much wrong as they are irrelevant. That’s why Israel’s political left that once dominated the country’s politics is now marginalized and rejected by an electorate that backs the Netanyahu government’s actions in Gaza by a 9-1 margin.

The real battle for Israel now isn’t the old one about where its borders should be placed or whether settlements are good or bad but whether there should be a Jewish state or if it has a right to defend itself. In that struggle, J Street’s tepid Zionism doesn’t resonate with the mainstream community and is of little interest to leftists who prefer open-Israel bashers like JVP.

J Street once thought it would become the main address for Jewish activism. But recent events have shown that J Street’s moment has passed. Those who wish to support Israel in its life and death struggle against Hamas terrorists who seek its destruction will always gravitate toward groups that don’t pull their punches when it comes to defending the Jewish state. At the same time, J Street’s base on the left is following celebrity Israel-bashers and abandoning it to join with those who are playing into Hamas’s hands by claiming it is wrong to shoot back at the terrorists. In this environment, organizations that won’t take a clear side in this fight will soon find themselves historical relics of a bygone era that will never return.

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Israel, Bipartisanship, and the Blame Game

How should pro-Israel Democrats respond to the fact that support for Israel in their party is dropping? That question has renewed relevance with the latest polls showing increasing disapproval of Israel within the Democratic Party. Last week’s Gallup poll showed that Democrats do not think Israel’s actions in Gaza are justified by a 47-31 percent tally. And this week’s Pew poll shows that, astoundingly, Democrats are about evenly divided over whether Israel or Hamas is most responsible for the current violence. (Both polls show Republicans broadly support Israel.)

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How should pro-Israel Democrats respond to the fact that support for Israel in their party is dropping? That question has renewed relevance with the latest polls showing increasing disapproval of Israel within the Democratic Party. Last week’s Gallup poll showed that Democrats do not think Israel’s actions in Gaza are justified by a 47-31 percent tally. And this week’s Pew poll shows that, astoundingly, Democrats are about evenly divided over whether Israel or Hamas is most responsible for the current violence. (Both polls show Republicans broadly support Israel.)

It’s a trend that has been on the march for some time. For a while liberals denied there was rising disenchantment with Israel on the left, but that became impossible after the Democrats’ 2012 presidential nominating convention, when the party’s delegates loudly booed at and resoundingly voted down adding pro-Israel language to the Democratic Party platform (the language was added over their objections, though it was quite a scene). At that point, a new strategy was needed, since everyone was well aware the Democrats’ traditional support for Israel was in danger of collapsing.

The new strategy has two main elements. The first is to rule out debate on the issue. When you hear Democrats accusing Republicans of using Israel as a political football, you can be sure the left has said or done something objectionable. State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf tried that tack again today. In trying to deflect criticism of her boss, Harf said, according to the AP’s Matt Lee, that “Many members of Congress, I think, like to use Israel as a political issue to try to divide the country.” Translation: when the Democrats are in the process of damaging Israel, supporting Israel becomes an unacceptable partisan play.

The other side to this strategy is to then use this supposed partisanship (defending Israel when the Democrats refuse to do so) to justify the Democrats’ turn away from Israel. The latest example of this comes from Talking Points Memo’s Josh Marshall. He concedes the point that having an American native like Ron Dermer as Israel’s ambassador can help communicate Israel’s positions clearly and navigate American politics. But Marshall is troubled by this as well because Dermer has a Republican background:

It should go without saying that the Israel-US alliance becomes more brittle as it becomes more clearly identified with a single US political party. And perhaps more than that, as it becomes more clearly identified with the ties between Netanyahu and US Republicans.

Marshall says, correctly, that it hurts the alliance to have support for Israel as an identifiable characteristic of only one political party. What he doesn’t say is that his party is the one increasingly setting aside that alliance. He hints, instead, that by associating with Republicans Netanyahu is the one who made that choice.

In essence, this line of thinking holds that the Israeli government can only get so much support from Republicans before Democrats will walk away. Marshall is not the first to discuss the situation in such terms. On the eve of the 2012 presidential election between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg, in making his case for Obama, wrote the following:

Republicans have had a good deal of success turning Israel into a partisan issue, mainly by misrepresenting President Obama’s record (but also helped by certain Obama missteps), and if they continue to press their case, many Democrats will find supporting Israel distasteful — they will lump supporters of Israel in the same category they reserve for climate-change-denying anti-choice Obamacare haters. This would be very dangerous for Israel.

Yes, it would be very dangerous for Israel. But it’s also a profound condemnation, even if unintentional, of Goldberg’s fellow liberals. If they will find voluble support for Israel, which in this case includes criticism of Barack Obama for what they perceive to be his weakening of the alliance, to be enough to convince them not to support Israel, then they are not supporters of Israel: they are leftist partisans.

If they really do support Israel, they would be able to continue supporting Israel even though conservatives get as (or more) animated about their support for Israel as on other important conservative issues. That should go without saying, but it apparently does not. A bipartisan consensus in support of Israel is what is best for both the United States and Israel, which is why that consensus has endured for decades now. And for it to be bipartisan, Democrats will have to get over their distaste for sharing a coalition with Republicans.

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How Deep the Dome, Ms. Grimes?

The news out of the Middle East is pretty grim these days. But it is possible to find some humor even in the midst of war. For that we can thank Kentucky Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes who told the Lexington Herald-Leader that the Iron Dome missile defense system protected Israel against terrorist tunnels.

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The news out of the Middle East is pretty grim these days. But it is possible to find some humor even in the midst of war. For that we can thank Kentucky Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes who told the Lexington Herald-Leader that the Iron Dome missile defense system protected Israel against terrorist tunnels.

“Obviously, Israel is one of our strongest allies in the Middle East, and she has the right to defend herself,” Grimes said. “But the loss of life, especially the innocent civilians in Gaza, is a tragedy. The Iron Dome has been a big reason why Israel has been able to withstand the terrorists that have tried to tunnel their way in.

Grimes’s challenge of Senator Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s bid for reelection won’t be decided by either candidate’s stands on the Middle East. But Grimes, who has raised a large proportion of her campaign funds from out of state from large Democratic donors, is seeking to portray herself as being a supporter of the bipartisan consensus that supports the State of Israel. Saying you’re a backer of the Jewish state and a supporter of peace doesn’t require much background knowledge or grasp of the nuances of the conflict. But politicians with a tenuous grasp of foreign and defense policy can sometimes get themselves in trouble trying to pretend to be the equal of veteran policymakers like McConnell.

If Grimes is elected this November she probably wouldn’t be the only member of Congress who doesn’t know the difference between missile defense and tunnels, but being caught in a gaffe of this magnitude is embarrassing and leaves her open to satire. The Washington Free Beacon provided a graphic explaining Grimes’s version of Iron Dome that displayed how rockets fired above ground then enter the tunnel where they are then stopped by laser canons.

Of course, Grimes isn’t the first Democrat who didn’t understand the concept of missile defense. A whole generation of liberals that now extol Iron Dome mocked Ronald Reagan for his support of “Star Wars” technology that led to the system that has saved so many Israeli lives in the last month.

But the real lesson here is that rookie politicians make rookie mistakes especially when they don’t know what they’re talking about. If Grimes wants to raise money from pro-Israel donors by discussing the conflict in Gaza, she should take a few minutes to read up on the topic and learn the difference between up and down.

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The Iran Talks’ Gaza Connection

Lost amid the understandable focus on the fighting in Gaza was a major Middle East news story. On July 18, the U.S. and its Western allies agreed to extend the Iran nuclear talks for four months. But rather than the fighting between Hamas and Israel allowing the negotiations to continue under the radar, the events unfolding in Gaza ought to make it harder rather than easier for the Obama administration to evade its obligation to deal with this threat.

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Lost amid the understandable focus on the fighting in Gaza was a major Middle East news story. On July 18, the U.S. and its Western allies agreed to extend the Iran nuclear talks for four months. But rather than the fighting between Hamas and Israel allowing the negotiations to continue under the radar, the events unfolding in Gaza ought to make it harder rather than easier for the Obama administration to evade its obligation to deal with this threat.

The leaders of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee groused in public yesterday about the way the Iran talks are proceeding with little public accountability. Both Democratic Chair Senator Robert Menendez and ranking Republican Bob Corker expressed dismay about the way the supposedly finite period for negotiations with Iran had effortlessly transitioned into injury time with every possibility that the four-month period could be extended again in November. There was no appetite on the committee for a rerun of the bruising and losing fight Menendez waged against the administration on behalf of tougher sanctions on Iran in order to strengthen the West’s hand in the talks. Yet the frustration about the P5+1 process is clear.

While their comments didn’t get much attention, Menendez and Corker are right to be worried. More to the point, the Gaza crisis ought to be causing more concern about the Iran talks rather than allowing Secretary of State John Kerry’s negotiating team a free pass to continue to work toward an agreement that will both legalize Tehran’s nuclear program and fail to curb its support for terrorism.

It is important to understand that without Iran much of what is happening in Gaza wouldn’t be possible. Iran supplied Hamas with advanced rockets and money for years enabling it to create the infrastructure of terror that has plunged the region into conflict. Iran and Hamas had a very public spat in recent years when the Islamist terrorists chose to oppose Tehran’s ally Bashar Assad in the Syrian civil war. But the breach between the two may be over. Yesterday, Iran’s Supreme Leader Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said he supported replenishing Iran’s arsenal. If, due to international pressure and the desire of the Obama administration to halt the current fighting, Hamas is left standing and in control of Gaza, the odds are good that Khamenei will make good on his pledge.

Economic sanctions on Iran made it harder for the regime to divert money to Hamas as well as to Islamic Jihad, which has stayed in Tehran’s good graces these past few years. But if Kerry gets the deal he is looking for, the sanctions that were weakened in the interim deal concluded last November would be eviscerated. At that point, Hamas may be able to count on refinancing and resupply from Iran as well as from their ally Qatar.

What has this to do with the nuclear talks?

The assumption on the part of most foreign-policy observers is that these are two separate issues. But that belief is a mistake. Iran’s status as the leading state sponsor of international terrorism through its support of Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad, and perhaps Hamas again makes it imperative that the P5+1 process not limit itself to talks that ignore the threat that Tehran’s auxiliaries pose to the West.

Kerry signed a weak deal with Iran last fall because, as he publicly admitted, the secretary decided sticking to the West’s demands for Iran to dismantle its nuclear program was not possible. Instead, he appeased Iran and granted tacit recognition to their “right” to enrich uranium in exchange for concessions that do little to retard the Islamist regime’s nuclear ambitions. The willingness of the West to go into overtime with an Iranian negotiating partner that has clearly signaled their unwillingness to agree to measures that would make it impossible for them to build a weapon may herald another retreat by Kerry. If so, that will bring us closer to the day when Iran will not only be able to threaten the West with a nuke after a brief “breakout” period but also hasten the moment when it can extend a nuclear umbrella over its allies in Lebanon and Gaza.

While the prospect of such a dismal outcome to these negotiations raises the possibility that Israel will decide at some point to act on their own to stop the Iranians, it also raises the stakes in Gaza. The U.S. decision not to keep its word about limiting negotiations with Iran makes it even more imperative for Israel not to allow Hamas to escape the current fighting with its arsenal and control of the strip intact. Just as Iran’s nuclear dream poses an existential threat to Israel, the American willingness to kick the can down the road on the nuclear issue makes it more vital that Israel finishes off Hamas now before an end to the blockade and Western appeasement of Tehran changes the strategic equation in Gaza and the Middle East.

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The Media’s Political Tendentiousness Cloaked in Moral Self-Righteousness

The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg recently wrote about a subject that has long interested me. It has to do with which issues we decide to get morally outraged about, and which we ignore. In this case, why the intense focus on the Gaza crisis but so little on what’s happening in Syria, where the death toll is so much higher (more than 170,000) and the scale of suffering so much worse? Mr. Goldberg, in sorting through this matter, writes this:

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The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg recently wrote about a subject that has long interested me. It has to do with which issues we decide to get morally outraged about, and which we ignore. In this case, why the intense focus on the Gaza crisis but so little on what’s happening in Syria, where the death toll is so much higher (more than 170,000) and the scale of suffering so much worse? Mr. Goldberg, in sorting through this matter, writes this:

The American media takes at least some of its cues on Syria from the intensity of coverage in the Arab world. The Washington bureau chief of Al-Hayat, Joyce Karam, was one of the few people to notice the weekend death toll in Syria. She tweeted, in reference to anti-Israel protests in Pakistan, “Syria is essentially Gaza x320 death toll, x30 number of refugees, but no protest in Pakistan…”

I asked her why she thought this is so. Her answer: “Only reason I can think of is Muslim killing Muslim or Arab killing Arab seems more acceptable than Israel killing Arabs.”

But why on earth should this be the case? Why is it the case that Arabs killing Arabs on a mass scale is virtually ignored while they focus so much attention on the far fewer Palestinians being killed in the conflict with Israel? Moreover, why does the Western and American media set up their coverage in a way that is meant to indict Israel, even though it’s Hamas which is using innocent Palestinians as human shields in the hopes of increasing the death toll?

The question, I think, virtually answers itself. It is rooted in part in a deep animus toward Israel. Many journalists seem to believe they are moral crusaders in applying heat to Israel. They are, at best, morally confused and, at worst, morally dissolute. It’s quite an indictment of the Western journalists that so many of them direct their outrage at Israel, which is conducting this war with an astonishing degree of humanitarian care, while they are so relatively untroubled by the war crimes and malevolence of Hamas.

We might as well name things for what they are. What’s really going on here isn’t so much compassion for the plight of innocent Arabs; it is using the death of innocent Arabs to advance a political and ideological agenda. If the death of innocent Arabs is a cause that so deeply touches their hearts, Western and American journalists would be paying far more attention to what is happening in Syria (and not just Syria) than what is happening in Gaza. They’re not. Which tells you all you need to know.

Political tendentiousness is bad enough; when it’s cloaked in moral self-righteousness, it’s even harder to take.

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If Hamas Survives, Forget About Peace … Or Quiet

As the fighting in Gaza continues with no lasting cease-fire in sight, some of the discussion about this war has shifted to whether Israel can or should seek to depose its Hamas enemies altogether. This is a debate that is long overdue.

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As the fighting in Gaza continues with no lasting cease-fire in sight, some of the discussion about this war has shifted to whether Israel can or should seek to depose its Hamas enemies altogether. This is a debate that is long overdue.

In Haaretz, Benny Morris suggests that while he doesn’t expect it to happen, sooner or later Israel must take on the unpleasant task of defeating Hamas once and for all. Our Max Boot disagrees since he believes the casualties that would inevitably result from such a long and bloody struggle would be prohibitive for Israel. More than that, he argues that in the absence of a viable alternative to Hamas to run Gaza, Israel really has no choice but to let the Islamists remain in place when the current round of fighting ends at some point.

While I think Max’s two objections to Morris’s suggestion provide a formidable rationale for a decision by Prime Minister Netanyahu to call a halt to his country’s counter-offensive, I have to come down on the other side of this argument. A long battle to take down Hamas would be costly. Nor can Israel be certain of what would follow. But a failure to end the rocket and terror tunnel threat from Gaza now would be an even costlier mistake that Netanyahu and his successors would regret.

Prior to the current outbreak and even after the rocket fire from Gaza resumed this month I was among those who thought Israel would never consider retaking control of the strip. But like most wars, this one has changed the way both sides looked at the conflict. Israelis now see that the tunnel city underneath Gaza is no minor nuisance but a strategic threat that will require a major commitment of forces to contain if Hamas is allowed to reconstruct even a portion of its terror infrastructure. Though the Iron Dome missile defense system has prevented the thousands of rockets fired at Israel from Gaza from causing many casualties, it is a misnomer to assume that it provides a complete answer to that danger. Whether or not a single rocket ever kills an Israeli, Hamas has forced two-thirds of the population of Israel to spend part of their lives in bomb shelters. With thousands of rockets still left in their possession, Israel cannot contemplate a cease-fire that would allow Hamas to resume this ordeal at any future time of their choosing. And anything short of their elimination will ensure that this is exactly what they will do.

Moreover, even much of the Israeli left now understands that there can be no compromise with Hamas. Any thoughts that the unity pact signed this spring with Fatah would moderate their positions are now seen as absurd. As Morris rightly points out, this round of fighting is not just the latest tit-for-tat in a cycle of violence but rather the natural result from an ideological commitment to shedding the blood of Israelis in a never-ending war to destroy the Jewish state. When Hamas says it is the “resistance” to the “occupation,” its spokesmen are not referring to the West Bank but pre-1967 Israel. Though both Netanyahu and the people of Israel would have preferred to offer Hamas “quiet for quiet” and to end the fighting weeks ago, the tunnels and the weeks of rocket fire leave them no alternative but to seek a conclusion to this problem. While pundits are fond of saying that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict requires a political rather than a military solution, so long as Hamas is in power that is simply not true.

If Israel is to have quiet and have any hope of peace in the long run, Hamas has to go. While they rule Gaza, not only is a two-state solution off the table; any assurance that normal life in the territories or much of Israel can be counted on is also not possible.

Max is right that the cost of taking out Hamas will be terrible. But the assumption that Israelis are not willing to pay that price may no longer be valid. Every poll of opinion in Israel now shows that up to 90 percent of the people support the war and Prime Minister Netanyahu’s handling of the conflict. More importantly, the vast majority also believe it would be a mistake to stop the fighting before the country’s security is assured.

Few would have believed that such results were possible even in a time of peace. But for Israelis to take this position after weeks of fighting during the course of which they have lost dozens of soldiers—each death being a traumatizing event for the small country where the majority of young people serve in the army—shows that there has been a major shift in opinion on the subject. Israelis from across the political spectrum are no longer willing to be held hostage to the caprices of a band of Islamist murderers bent on destroying them. While no one can be sure how long this consensus will hold, Netanyahu clearly has the support he needs to carry on with this vital mission for the foreseeable future.

Max’s suggestion that the example of America’s lack of a post-Saddam scenario in Iraq should give Israel pause is also very much to the point. There is no question that Netanyahu will have to answer objections that center on the question of what will follow Hamas in Gaza. But the possible answers to this question are not such a mystery even if none of them are attractive.

The most logical answer is the Palestinian Authority. After all, the PA ran Gaza along with most of the West Bank prior to Hamas’s bloody 2007 coup. The return of the PA would end the blockade that Israel, Egypt, and most of the international community placed on the strip after the terror group took power there. Such an outcome would also make it possible for talks about a two-state solution to resume. It is precisely the justified fear on the part of most Israelis that the West Bank would become another Hamasistan that makes territorial withdrawal there unlikely even in the unlikely event that Fatah and its leader Mahmoud Abbas recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn.

Would the PA be able to fend off an Islamist insurgency in Gaza? It might be difficult, but I think the answer is yes and the West Bank provides a precedent. Hamas could never have ousted Abbas in Gaza had not Ariel Sharon removed Israel’s army and all the settlements in 2005. Joint Israel-PA security cooperation has kept a lid, albeit a shaky one, on the West Bank as it did in Gaza prior to 2005. There is no reason to believe they would fail in Gaza now.

Benny Morris is merely echoing a developing Israeli consensus about Gaza when he says there is no alternative to finishing off Hamas. Just as there is no reason for the U.S. to compromise with al-Qaeda, neither is there any logical or ethical rationale for a continuation of Hamas’s rule in Gaza. Putting off a conclusion to this war will only lead to more suffering for both Israelis and Palestinians.

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The Democrats’ Qatar Delusion

The reason John Kerry’s cease-fire proposal was so soundly rejected is because it did two very dangerous things. The first was that it would have tied Israel’s hands with regard to destroying the Hamas tunnels, the existence of which has had a deep psychological effect on Israeli society. (A good example comes from Israel’s Yediot Achronot newspaper, via Yaacov Lozowick, here: a front-page photo of a tunnel exit opening up into a child’s bedroom, with the tagline “Monsters do Exist.”) But the second is important as well.

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The reason John Kerry’s cease-fire proposal was so soundly rejected is because it did two very dangerous things. The first was that it would have tied Israel’s hands with regard to destroying the Hamas tunnels, the existence of which has had a deep psychological effect on Israeli society. (A good example comes from Israel’s Yediot Achronot newspaper, via Yaacov Lozowick, here: a front-page photo of a tunnel exit opening up into a child’s bedroom, with the tagline “Monsters do Exist.”) But the second is important as well.

Kerry had signaled that he was prepared to replace traditional interlocutors in the region–chiefly Egypt, though Cairo tends to speak for others who prefer to stay behind the scenes–with Qatar. This would be a monumental strategic error, one of the worst (of the many) the Obama administration has committed so far. The strange aspect of this indefensible mistake is that Qatar–a prime supporter of terrorists and of the region’s bad actors who subvert American interests at every chance–has nobody fooled except the Obama administration and its Democratic congressional allies.

Making the rounds the last couple of days has been this clip of Democratic House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who said the following about Qatar and Hamas:

“[T]his has to be something where we try to have the two-state solution, that we have to support…(Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud) Abbas and his role as a leader there. We have to support Iron Dome to protect the Israelis from the missiles. We have to support the Palestinians and what they need. And we have to confer with the Qataris, who have told me over and over again that Hamas is a humanitarian organization, maybe they could use their influence to–”

Crowley interrupted her to ask: “The U.S. thinks they’re a terrorist organization though, correct? Do you?”

Pelosi responded: “Mmm hmm.”

Here’s a clue for Pelosi: when you start a thought with “the Qataris … have told me” what follows is likely to make you look extraordinarily silly. Is Hamas a terrorist organization? Of course it is. Pelosi doesn’t seem too sure about that, so she’s asked the Qataris and they vouch for them as a humanitarian organization. Now, it’s true that Pelosi isn’t setting American foreign policy, something for which the universe can be eternally grateful. But the fact that Pelosi even went on CNN to repeat what Hamas’s patrons told her about Hamas’s humanitarianism shows the extent to which the current Democratic leadership–and virtually no one else–has been fooled by Qatar.

It’s tempting to dismiss Pelosi because, well, she’s Nancy Pelosi. But here’s a terrifying thought: if Nancy Pelosi were running America’s Mideast policy, it would look a lot like the pyromania-in-a-dry-forest we’re seeing now from Kerry. And at the center of that diplomatic arson is Qatar.

It’s unclear why the Obama administration and its congressional Democratic allies have fallen for Qatar’s act when no one else has. Criticism of Qatar over its promotion of extremism in the region is not exactly limited to the hawkish right. Here is Foreign Policy chief David Rothkopf this morning: “Expecting Qatar to help solve Gaza crisis is like expecting a tobacco company to help you stop smoking.” He was reacting to a CNN op-ed by Sultan al-Qassemi, who wrote:

The truth is that Qatar’s overall strategy with the Muslim Brotherhood has failed miserably: It resulted in the alienation of the Brotherhood in Egypt — so much so that the group was ousted from power in a popularly-backed military coup, and meant that many Egyptians were indifferent to the bloody massacre of the group’s members that followed.

Qatari support for Muslim Brotherhood affiliates elsewhere in the region, such as Libya, Jordan, and Tunisia, has also backfired resulting in them being sidelined from power. All of this adds to quite an unfortunate year for the Gulf emirate.

Qatar’s continuous financial and media support for the Muslim Brotherhood through the once-popular Al Jazeera Arabic, the 24-hour, Egypt-centric Mubasher Misr, which largely reflects a Muslim Brotherhood perspective, and a slew of new Qatari-backed Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated news websites based in London, have further poisoned relations between Qatar and Egypt.

Israeli leaders can understand the American president’s desire for an immediate cessation of hostilities, even if they don’t agree with it. But the idea that Washington has decided to run Western policy through Qatar has left anyone who understands the Middle East completely puzzled. It would mark a significant shift and would signal to those in the region who rely on America that they’ll need to start, if they haven’t already, making backup plans.

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Gaza’s Future

The Israeli historian Benny Morris has a tough-minded article in Haaretz that is worth pondering.

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The Israeli historian Benny Morris has a tough-minded article in Haaretz that is worth pondering.

He notes that before long Israel will end its military operations in the Gaza Strip and Hamas will start rebuilding. “In a few months, the tunnels leading into Israeli territory will resume operation and the missile stockpiles will be replenished, perhaps with new and improved homemade models (or even smuggled ones). Therefore, the next war will surely come.”

Morris is surely right. Hamas remains dedicated to Israel’s destruction and it remains intent on keeping its grip on Gaza. What can or should Israel do about it?

He suggests, correctly I think, that truly defeating Hamas would “require months of combat, during which the Strip will be cleansed, neighborhood by neighborhood, of Hamas and Islamic Jihad operatives and armaments.” He concedes that such operations “will exact a serious price in lives from both Israel Defense Forces soldiers and Palestinian civilians,” but he argues that Israel has no other choice and he bemoans the unwillingness of Israeli society to pay the toll in blood required to win this war. He writes:

In recent decades, Israeli governments and the Israeli people have turned into carbon copies of the West: All they want is peace and to hide their heads in the sand; there’s no willingness to sacrifice soldiers (and no willingness to exact a heavy price in blood from the enemy’s civilians), even if it’s clear that the price today – in terms of both our soldiers and their civilians – would be lower than it will be in the future.

There is something to this analysis–a lot, actually–but it is incomplete. It is true that Israel, like the U.S., is casualty-conscious (reluctant not only to lose its own citizens but even to inflict heavy losses on the other side) and that our enemies exploit this mindset. But even if Israel were willing to engage in the hard and bloody task of defeating Hamas, the inevitable question comes: What next? What entity will next rule the Gaza Strip? To this Morris does not have a convincing answer: “After gaining control of Gaza, it must be hoped that some moderate Arab power, perhaps the Palestinian Authority, will take over the reins of government.”

“Some moderate Arab power”? It’s hard to imagine any power wanting to occupy Gaza. Certainly Egypt, which once ruled it, wants no part of it today. The only realistic alternative is the Palestinian Authority, but it has already lost a power struggle with Hamas in the Gaza Strip and there is little reason to think it would be strong enough to suppress Hamas even after an Israeli invasion.

The “post Hamas, what?” question is one that I think is a major deterrent to the kind of action that Morris advocates, probably an even bigger deterrent than fear of casualties in clearing operations. Actually, support for the war in Israel has soared even as IDF casualties have mounted. But Israelis remember how easily they got into Lebanon in 1982 and how hard it was to get out. They don’t want to repeat that experience. The U.S. invasion of Iraq provides a similar cautionary lesson; the U.S. had no firm idea who would replace Saddam Hussein and wound up getting sucked into a costly war.

Unless someone in Israel can figure out what comes after Hamas, the Israeli government will, for better or worse, leave Hamas in place after the current round of fighting.

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Why the Kidnapping Business Is Booming

If you’re afraid of raising your blood pressure, you probably shouldn’t read two articles out today, in both the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, about how Europeans are subsidizing al-Qaeda with millions of dollars in ransom paid for the release of their hostages.

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If you’re afraid of raising your blood pressure, you probably shouldn’t read two articles out today, in both the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, about how Europeans are subsidizing al-Qaeda with millions of dollars in ransom paid for the release of their hostages.

The Times account by reporter Rukmini Callimachi is particularly detailed and especially enraging. It reports that al-Qaeda and its affiliates have earned $125 million to $165 million since 2008 in kidnapping ransoms. “These payments were made almost exclusively by European governments, who funneled the money through a network of proxies, sometimes masking it as development aid.”

This has now become the major source of funding for three al-Qaeda affiliates in particular: al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (North Africa), al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (Yemen), and Shabab (Somalia). “Put more bluntly,” Callimachi writes, “Europe has become an inadvertent underwriter of Al Qaeda.”

These al-Qaeda affiliates have stopped routinely killing Western hostages as al-Qaeda in Iraq used to do, because it is so much more lucrative to keep them alive. In fact these al-Qaeda groups coordinate their hostage-taking procedures, often helped by al-Qaeda central in Pakistan, with the actual pick-up of hostages contracted out to criminal gangs and with everyone along the way (including hostage negotiators) receiving a cut of the profits. This is big business, “and business is booming: While in 2003 the kidnappers received around $200,000 per hostage, now they are netting up to $10 million, money that the second in command of Al Qaeda’s central leadership recently described as accounting for as much as half of his operating revenue.”

Only the U.S. and Britain, it seems, are refusing to play along. While President Obama released Taliban prisoners in exchange for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the U.S. is not willing to pay money for hostages. Thus U.S. and British captives can expect to be killed or held indefinitely. But their principled stance has no impact in discouraging hostage-taking because the kidnappers know that the European states are such easy marks.

It’s hard to better the summary provided by a former U.S. ambassador to Mali, Vicki Huddleston. “The Europeans have a lot to answer for,” she told the Times. “It’s a completely two-faced policy. They pay ransoms and then deny any was paid.” She added, “The danger of this is not just that it grows the terrorist movement, but it makes all of our citizens vulnerable.”

And just when I thought I could not get any more disgusted with European policy–it’s bad enough that they subsidize Vladimir Putin, subsidizing al-Qaeda is even worse.

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John Kerry’s Ostentatiously Hurt Feelings

My column for the New York Post is on the continuing spectacle of John Kerry getting offended by what Israelis say about him and making a public show of it—and how speaking in his defense has become a strange habit for the administration of a nation vastly more powerful and important than the one that keeps hurting his feelings. Read More

My column for the New York Post is on the continuing spectacle of John Kerry getting offended by what Israelis say about him and making a public show of it—and how speaking in his defense has become a strange habit for the administration of a nation vastly more powerful and important than the one that keeps hurting his feelings.

Excerpt:

He’s a big boy. But there are those who seem to feel otherwise, that Kerry is a fragile and tender reed in need of delicate care — people who work for and with him. Not to mention Kerry himself.

Over the course of the past year, on several occasions, Kerry and other staffers have taken to whining — not sure there’s a nicer word — over how unfairly he’s being written and talked about in Israel.

In January, after Israel’s defense minister was twice quoted speaking disparagingly about Kerry’s peace-process efforts and his nuclear diplomacy with Iran, Kerry actually called Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to complain.

The rest is here.

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Immigration and the Humanitarian Snare

Momentum seems to be building for granting asylum to the tens of thousands of unaccompanied minors who have illegally crossed into the United States from Central America. But lost amid the rush to brand opposition to asylum as uncaring, if not racist, is a serious discussion about whether the U.S. is really obligated to take in every illegal immigrant child who fled violence at home.

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Momentum seems to be building for granting asylum to the tens of thousands of unaccompanied minors who have illegally crossed into the United States from Central America. But lost amid the rush to brand opposition to asylum as uncaring, if not racist, is a serious discussion about whether the U.S. is really obligated to take in every illegal immigrant child who fled violence at home.

With the mainstream media seeking to stoke sympathy for these kids, it is hardly surprising that a new poll shows that 69 percent of Americans believe the children should be allowed to stay if it wasn’t safe for them to be sent home. Figures as diverse as Hillary Clinton and conservative icon George Will have also endorsed treating the kids as refugees.

While it is no surprise that Clinton would seek to play the sympathy card for the illegals, Will’s statement dismissing concerns about the children is a significant victory for immigration advocates:

My view is that we ought to say to these children, welcome to America. You’re going to go to school and get a job and become Americans. We have 3,141 counties in this country. That would be 20 per county. The idea that we can’t assimilate these 8-year-old criminals with their teddy bears is preposterous.

Will is right that these children are not in and of themselves a threat to the country. Immigration strengthens the country. These children may well make impressive contributions to the country if allowed to study and grow up here. Moreover, so long as the discussion about this topic centers on the plight of these kids and the awful conditions in places like Honduras, Guatemala, or El Salvador, it is hard to argue that children who have already suffered terribly during their dangerous treks to the U.S. should be sent back to a situation where their lives could be in danger.

But there is more at stake in this debate about their future than a test of the country’s ability to empathize with the downtrodden. A decision to allow these children to stay will end the issue but will not end this crisis. Instead, as we should have already learned, anything other than a strong signal that the illegals won’t be allowed to stay will ensure that the border will continue to be a magnet for an unending stream of illegals including children for the foreseeable future.

I sympathize with these children and their families who look to the United States as a haven from the awful conditions in much of Central America. Nor do I share the fear of immigrants or the belief that their presence damages the nation. Our broken immigration system should be fixed and, in the long run, some solution must be found for the 12 million illegals already here since talk of their deportation is merely empty rhetoric.

But any country, even the United States, is entitled to control its borders and to see its laws enforced. A failure to send the kids home will send a loud message to the region that will encourage more to try to cross the border, a dangerous process that hurts the children and winds up saddling the U.S. with more illegal aliens.

Moreover, the proposition that America has no choice but to allow the kids to stay as refugees is unsupported by law or common sense. The traditional definition of a refugee is a person who has been forced to flee their homes by war, persecution, or a natural disaster. As bad as conditions are in Central America where drug gangs have made the life of many hell, the idea that crime or poverty in the absence of those other factors can make someone a refugee with a legal right to stay here is virtually unprecedented.

Even more to the point, the notion that it is the job of the United States to not only aid neighbors in distress but to take as many of them into our borders without them obtaining permission is to create an open-ended definition of America’s obligations that has no end in sight. After all, those three nations are not the only ones where kids are in danger.

You don’t have to be an opponent of immigration or oppose reform to understand that the loose talk from the White House about allowing young illegals to stay helped set off the current crisis. To compound this mistake by failing to send these children home will be to send a message that America’s immigration laws are meaningless and that the border is no barrier to those who wish to take advantage of the country’s bounty regardless of legal rights.

The question here isn’t whether we can, as Will stated, assimilate these children. Of course we can. It’s whether an overly broad definition of refugee status will be manipulated by the administration in order to begin the process by which all illegals will be granted permission to stay, perhaps by executive orders in order to boycott Congress.

What is happening at the border is a humanitarian crisis, albeit a man-made one. But it cannot be used as an excuse to justify a lawless approach to governance that will make it impossible for genuine reforms to ever gain majority support. If the president wishes to help aid the people of Central America, he will, no doubt, have the majority of Americans behind him. But America cannot solve the problems of Central America by importing its children. Rolling out the welcome mat for these illegals is a humanitarian snare that will merely ensure that they will be just the first wave of an endless tide of undocumented migrants.

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Russia’s Treaty Violation Is Old News; Only Obama’s Interest Is New

Western reaction to Vladimir Putin’s continued provocations in Ukraine and general contempt for basic human rights has toughened in recent weeks, and took another step forward today. But they also have the effect of highlighting just how far Western leaders went to appease Putin and cover for his thuggish behavior.

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Western reaction to Vladimir Putin’s continued provocations in Ukraine and general contempt for basic human rights has toughened in recent weeks, and took another step forward today. But they also have the effect of highlighting just how far Western leaders went to appease Putin and cover for his thuggish behavior.

The efforts to punish Putin have been both rhetorical and financial. On the latter, sanctions have been instituted and more were added today, with the EU and U.S. willing to get more serious about confronting the Russian leader and President Obama making an afternoon statement today to accompany the announcement of sanctions. With regard to the rhetoric, however, the West’s record is a bit mixed.

I talked about one aspect of this last week: British Prime Minister David Cameron’s decision to allow a full investigation into the assassination of Putin critic (and British citizen) Alexander Litvinenko in London in 2006. The British government had claimed in part that it wasn’t comfortable with a full inquest because of the state secrets that would have to be exposed to the investigators for an honest accounting to be taken. But the fact that Britain is apparently no longer concerned about that suggests Cameron’s initial hesitation was more about not angering Putin and upsetting UK-Russia relations.

Few will ask “why now?” when the result is what they think is just. Better late than never has been the prevailing reaction. But in truth countries that so baldly offered misdirection on such matters when the truth was inconvenient should at least have to answer for it.

The same is true with regard to the other American escalation of Putin’s reprimand. The New York Times reports:

The United States has concluded that Russia violated a landmark arms control treaty by testing a prohibited ground-launched cruise missile, according to senior American officials, a finding that was conveyed by President Obama to President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia in a letter on Monday.

It is the most serious allegation of an arms control treaty violation that the Obama administration has leveled against Russia and adds another dispute to a relationship already burdened by tensions over the Kremlin’s support for separatists in Ukraine and its decision to grant asylum to Edward J. Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor.

But is this new? No, not really:

Russia first began testing the cruise missiles as early as 2008, according to American officials, and the Obama administration concluded by the end of 2011 that they were a compliance concern. In May 2013, Rose Gottemoeller, the State Department’s senior arms control official, first raised the possibility of a violation with Russian officials.

The New York Times reported in January that American officials had informed the NATO allies that Russia had tested a ground-launched cruise missile, raising serious concerns about Russia’s compliance with the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty, or I.N.F. Treaty as it is commonly called. The State Department said at the time that the issue was under review and that the Obama administration was not yet ready to formally declare it to be a treaty violation.

So what happened? The Obama administration decided to care:

In recent months, however, the issue has been taken up by top-level officials, including a meeting early this month of the Principals’ Committee, a cabinet-level body that includes Mr. Obama’s national security adviser, the defense secretary, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the secretary of state and the director of the Central Intelligence Agency. Senior officials said the president’s most senior advisers unanimously agreed that the test was a serious violation, and the allegation will be made public soon in the State Department’s annual report on international compliance with arms control agreements.

You would think it would be important enough to look into earlier. But the president has not, until Putin humiliated him one too many times on the world stage, been interested in seeing Putin for what he is. In today’s press conference, Obama was asked if this is a new Cold War. His response: “This is not a new Cold War.” Instead, it is “a very specific issue related to Russia’s unwillingness to recognize that Ukraine can chart its own path.”

Well, it’s one specific issue. But it’s part of a larger picture. And the violation of the missile treaty is another “specific issue.” When you start to piece together all the “specific issues” the West has with Putin’s Russia, they really add up. New Cold War or not, there’s obviously a serious and deteriorating and adversarial relationship between the U.S. and Russia, and the public could be forgiven for wondering why the president appears to have been the last to know.

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Why No One Cares About the Christians of Mosul

No one cares about the Christians of Mosul–or perhaps we should say the Christians formerly of Mosul. The reports in recent days suggest that the last Christians have now fled that city, forced out by Islamist militants who implemented a “convert or die” policy for Iraq’s ancient Christian community. The most assistance they have received thus far is an offer of asylum from France. If they can make it there, that is, since they have faced robbery, torture, and murder as they’ve made their exodus.

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No one cares about the Christians of Mosul–or perhaps we should say the Christians formerly of Mosul. The reports in recent days suggest that the last Christians have now fled that city, forced out by Islamist militants who implemented a “convert or die” policy for Iraq’s ancient Christian community. The most assistance they have received thus far is an offer of asylum from France. If they can make it there, that is, since they have faced robbery, torture, and murder as they’ve made their exodus.

None of this has gone entirely unreported. These events have been allotted some headlines and the kind of procedural news coverage that the persecution of Christians usually elicits. But if the last remnants of Iraq’s beleaguered Christian population were hoping for any real outrage or anguish from the West, then they were setting themselves up for disappointment. Not only has it long been apparent that no one was ever going to take any action on behalf of these people, but as we have seen, Western publics weren’t even going to trouble themselves to get too worked up about these atrocities.

Given the huge demonstrations, United Nations Security Council resolutions, and endless hours of reporting on events in Gaza, one is tempted to say that Iraq’s Christians had the misfortune of not being Palestinian. However, that suggestion would be unfair. The world has also neglected the suffering of thousands of Palestinians murdered and starved by the Assad regime in Syria. It is not being Palestinian that wins the world’s attention; it is the accusation that culpability rests with Israel that really provokes some strength of feeling. If only the Christians fleeing Mosul could somehow frame the Israelis for their plight, then they might stand a chance of seeing their cause championed by a host of tweeting celebrities, UN delegates, far-left radicals, and perhaps even the West’s Muslim immigrant populations who have turned out in huge numbers to passionately demonstrate on behalf of Gaza like they never did for their coreligionists in Syria or Libya.

With reports of how the doors of Christian homes were ominously marked by Islamists so as to streamline this campaign of ethnic cleansing, with incidents of Christians having been crucified–yes, crucified–you might have thought that some of those avid humanitarian activists attending the recent anti-Israel rallies could have at least organized a sub-contingent to highlight the terrible fate of the Iraqi Christians, but no, that might have risked detracting in some way from the anti-Israel political objectives of these protests.

There is always something distasteful about playing the numbers game with such situations. It is, however, the favorite pastime of Israel’s detractors. The body count in Gaza is endlessly wheeled out to justify the preeminent importance that so many attribute to this cause. You can almost feel the most hardline anti-Israel activists willing it upwards so as to better serve their campaign. Undoubtedly that is Hamas’s calculation. Yet if the liberal college kids and left-leaning journalists who refer to these figures as justification for their obsessive focus on the subject were being remotely honest with themselves, then they would have to find some way of explaining the utter disinterest that they have shown events in Iraq and Syria, where the death toll has been surpassing that in Gaza on almost a weekly basis.

The long-suffering Christians of Mosul are perhaps considered by the anti-Israel campaigners with the same suspicion with which they viewed the victims of MH17. When news of that attack broke, the first reaction of prominent British news anchor Jon Snow was to unguardedly tweet out: “Awful danger that the shooting down of flight MH17 will provide cover for an intensification of Israel’s ground war in Gaza.” Those attending demonstrations against Israel’s actions in Gaza essentially made the same complaint, that that incident was being awarded too much media attention. The only reason that they weren’t expressing the same accusation regarding the Iraqi Christians is because those atrocities have only been allotted the most token coverage.

The contrast between the world’s non-reaction to the decimation of Mosul’s once 60,000-strong Christian community and the hysterical hate-fueled frenzy being directed against Israel over the casualties in Gaza reminds us that in the liberal imagination, all human suffering is not considered equal. The determining factor here is not the identity of the victims, but rather who can be framed for the crimes. No one has protested Hamas’s execution of Gazan “collaborators” or the reports of the many Palestinian children killed during the construction of Hamas’s terror tunnels. Every misfiring rocket that kills Gazans is attributed to Israel if at all possible. The only Palestinian casualties that anyone has claimed to be concerned with are those that can be used as ammunition in the war to delegitimize Israel and its right to self-defense.

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Is There Something Worse Than Hamas?

Critics of the Pentagon, and indeed of all defense establishments, have often quipped that the term “military intelligence” is an oxymoron. As a general rule, that sort of comment is as inaccurate as it is unfair. But Lt. General Michael Flynn, the outgoing head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, bolstered this assumption by declaring that the destruction of the Hamas terrorist government of Gaza would lead to something worse.

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Critics of the Pentagon, and indeed of all defense establishments, have often quipped that the term “military intelligence” is an oxymoron. As a general rule, that sort of comment is as inaccurate as it is unfair. But Lt. General Michael Flynn, the outgoing head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, bolstered this assumption by declaring that the destruction of the Hamas terrorist government of Gaza would lead to something worse.

General Flynn warned that if Israel is seeking to either decapitate Hamas, remove it from power, or to eliminate it altogether, that might not be a smart move. He asserted that Hamas would be replaced by something far more radical and, by definition, more dangerous to both Israel and the rest of the world.

As Reuters reports:

“If Hamas were destroyed and gone, we would probably end up with something much worse. The region would end up with something much worse,” Flynn said at the Aspen Security Forum in Colorado.

“A worse threat that would come into the sort of ecosystem there … something like ISIS,” he added, referring to the Islamic State, which last month declared an “Islamic caliphate” in territory it controls in Iraq and Syria.

Is he right?

It is a reliable rule of existence on this planet than whenever you think things can’t get worse, they often do become even more unbearable. But that piece of general life wisdom aside, the argument that behind Hamas lurks more dangerous groups is not only unsubstantiated; to believe it you have to ignore everything we already know about Hamas.

As far as the possibility of more radical Islamists replacing Hamas, there is no question that the prospect of al-Qaeda-related groups becoming the address for Palestinian “resistance” to Israel’s existence would be scary for the West. Perhaps this fear is based on an assumption that they would not be content with slaughtering Jews as Hamas and Islamic Jihad attempt to do but would instead concentrate on killing Americans. But does anyone in the U.S.—even the spooks in the Pentagon—really believe that al-Qaeda types in the Middle East are not already doing their best to attack America right now?

Any group that replaced Hamas as the Islamist rival to the more secular Fatah would be competing in the same Palestinian political universe that grants credibility to groups that attack Israel, not Western targets. Whatever followed Hamas would not be a freelance Islamist terror group such as those in the Arabian Peninsula or North Africa but a Palestinian entity that would seek to escalate the fight against the Jewish presence in the country, not a scattered campaign against the West elsewhere.

But leaving that issue aside, the problem with Flynn’s thinking is that the more one looks at Hamas’s behavior, the harder it is to argue that there could be something that would be qualitatively worse in terms of conflict escalation or human rights.

For example, it was reported today that Hamas executed 20 Palestinians who had the temerity to launch an anti-war protest in Gaza. The protesters were branded as traitors. Would a successor group seek to repress dissent or govern Gaza with more brutality than Hamas?

Hamas has funneled much of the humanitarian aid sent to Gaza into its “military” infrastructure, constructing an underground city of shelters and tunnels for its armaments and fighters and to facilitate terror attacks on Israelis. As Tablet magazine reported, 160 Palestinian children employed as laborers were killed during the course of the building of these tunnels. Would an ISIS-clone do anything worse than that?

Hamas’s purpose, as detailed in their charter and regularly reaffirmed by both their military and political leaders, is to destroy Israel and to ethnically cleanse it of its Jewish population. Would ISIS or al-Qaeda favor a more gentle form of genocide?

To study Hamas’s actual behavior and its beliefs undermines any notion that its elimination would result in the radicalization of Palestinians and their supporters. Hamas is already so radical in terms of its intransigence against peace and Israel’s existence that any more extreme shift under a successor would be purely cosmetic and result in no tangible increase in the threat level to the region.

More to the point, anyone who truly desires a two-state solution to the conflict must understand that the only hope for that outcome—and, admittedly, it is a slim hope—is for Hamas to be eliminated, giving a chance for the supposedly more moderate Palestinian Authority to govern Gaza and to make peace with Israel.

Given the difficulty and the cost of a campaign that would completely eliminate Hamas or to replace it as the government of Gaza it may well be that Flynn’s nightmare will never be realized. Hamas thinks it is in no danger and statements such as that of the general and the willingness of the U.S. to embrace cease-fire proposals that would grant it an undeserved victory only strengthen their conviction that they can continue to fight with impunity. But using this argument to bolster Hamas’s hold on power is a terrible error. The only way to end the conflict is to demilitarize Gaza. The only way to do that is to eliminate Hamas.

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Hillary’s Gracious Words About Bush

Hillary Clinton has done what Barack Obama rarely does: Show class, especially toward Mr. Obama’s predecessor. According to Secretary Clinton:

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Hillary Clinton has done what Barack Obama rarely does: Show class, especially toward Mr. Obama’s predecessor. According to Secretary Clinton:

let’s not forget the trend lines. George W. Bush is very popular in Sub-Saharan Africa. Why? Because of the president’s emergency program for AIDS relief. Whether you agree or disagree with a lot of what else he did — and I disagree with a lot of it — I am proud to be an American when I go to Sub-Saharan Africa and people say, “I want to thank President Bush and the United States for helping us fight HIV/AIDS.”

I understand that this kind of thing doesn’t foreshadow a new, irenic and unified moment in American politics. But in a nation where the partisan divisions are growing, where nearly 70 percent of those surveyed believe America is more divided than it was four years ago, it’s a nice gesture. The kind of thing, come to think of it, that Barack Obama promised to do when he said he’d put an end to the type of politics that “breeds division and conflict and cynicism.”

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Kerry’s Folly: Friends Can Say No to Friends

The Israeli government is doing its best to patch things up with the Obama administration after Secretary of State John Kerry was blasted by a broad consensus of opinion in the Jewish state as well as many respected American journalists for his bungled efforts to broker a cease-fire in Gaza that would have helped Hamas. But after all the umbrage from Washington and the apologies from Jerusalem, the real question we should be asking is not about Kerry’s hurt feelings but whether Israel has the right to tell its sole superpower ally “no.”

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The Israeli government is doing its best to patch things up with the Obama administration after Secretary of State John Kerry was blasted by a broad consensus of opinion in the Jewish state as well as many respected American journalists for his bungled efforts to broker a cease-fire in Gaza that would have helped Hamas. But after all the umbrage from Washington and the apologies from Jerusalem, the real question we should be asking is not about Kerry’s hurt feelings but whether Israel has the right to tell its sole superpower ally “no.”

Today’s cease-fire fiasco in which an initiative for a halt to the fighting from Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas demonstrated anew how irrelevant the man lauded by the United States as a peace partner has become in the current conflict. But the main focus of discussion in the last few days has been Kerry’s foolish decision to adopt the positions of Hamas’s Turkish and Qatari allies in putting forward a cease-fire proposal that effectively cut both Abbas and Egypt out of the process. Israel’s government was shocked at Kerry’s betrayal that would have granted Hamas terrorists an undeserved political victory.

But rather than be held accountable for Kerry’s blunder as well as his miscalculations during the course of his sponsorship of peace talks whose collapse led directly to the current round of violence, what we are hearing are complaints about Israel’s chutzpah in calling out the secretary for his mistakes. Some today are pointing out what they consider to be Israel’s foolishness in creating friction with its sole friend. Indeed, at a time when the safety of the Jewish state is directly related to the continued use of the Iron Dome system that was financed in large measure by the United States, and for which Israel will need more funding to keep it shooting down Hamas rockets, there is a sense that uppity Israelis are biting the hand that is feeding them.

There is a superficial logic to such criticism of the Israelis and anytime a foreign government and its press attack any American official. Yet to frame this issue as one of ingratitude on the part of Israelis—both for U.S. assistance and for Kerry’s efforts to broker peace—is to misperceive the problem. Israelis should treat U.S. officials with courtesy and to listen to their advice. Yet expecting them to compromise their security for the sake of good feelings isn’t merely unrealistic. It’s an act of hostility that undermines an alliance that is as much in America’s interest as it is Israel’s.

Such tension between these two close friends is nothing new. U.S. leaders have been pressuring Israel to make territorial withdrawals or “risks” for peace since the inception of the state. That pressure intensified after the Six-Day War when the U.S. switched from an interested onlooker in the conflict (few remember that the Israelis fought all of their wars up until the Yom Kippur War without U.S. arms or significant assistance) to an ally of the Jewish state. Arguments such as those of Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan with Menachem Begin, George H.W. Bush and his Secretary of State James Baker with Yitzhak Shamir, and Bill Clinton and now Barack Obama with Benjamin Netanyahu all raised the same hackles about Israel’s refusal to consistently knuckle under to American demands.

But all these debates revolve around a basic principle that, like it or not, American leaders have had to learn to respect: Israel is a sovereign nation and cannot be asked to sacrifice the lives of its citizens in order to gratify the demands or the ego of American presidents and secretaries of state. In the current case, that means seeking to prematurely force Israel to cease operations against Hamas rocket fire and terror infiltration tunnels or to grant the terrorists concessions is simply unacceptable.

Moreover, as Kerry’s about-face after the weekend in which he agreed that demilitarization of Gaza should be the goal of any negotiations illustrated, even the Obama administration understands that the American people do not support a policy of pressure on Israel. Indeed, anyone thinking that Obama and Kerry might try to squeeze Netanyahu to make concessions by holding up more funding for Iron Dome got a dose of reality in the past few days when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell were competing with each other over who would give the Israelis the most additional Iron Dome money.

It can be argued that friends shouldn’t be rude to friends, although the disgust and anger that Kerry generated across the entire Israeli political spectrum, including many fierce critics of Netanyahu, renders the administration’s hurt feelings somewhat ridiculous. But friends have a right to tell a friend—even a generous one that supplies essential aid—that their requests are neither reasonable nor helpful. Israel is not a banana republic and has said no to the United States before this and will again. More to the point, so long as the requests coming from the administration remain as unreasonable and out of touch with the reality of the conflict as those adopted by Obama and Kerry have been, Netanyahu should be able to resist them in the full knowledge that most Americans both understand and support his position.

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Hamas Knows It Is Losing

Is Hamas on the ropes? The terrorist group certainly seems to think so. That’s one takeaway from the tragic news that Hamas terrorists infiltrated the Israeli kibbutz of Nahal Oz, fired an anti-tank missile, and killed five Israeli soldiers. According to Haaretz, it marks the fourth such infiltration by Hamas fighters via cross-border tunnels. Such events–especially the deadly assault at Nahal Oz–might appear to fall into one of two categories: a successful attack on Israel (Nahal Oz) or a disquieting signal of Hamas’s plans to invade undetected (the attacks that failed). But I think there’s a third explanation.

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Is Hamas on the ropes? The terrorist group certainly seems to think so. That’s one takeaway from the tragic news that Hamas terrorists infiltrated the Israeli kibbutz of Nahal Oz, fired an anti-tank missile, and killed five Israeli soldiers. According to Haaretz, it marks the fourth such infiltration by Hamas fighters via cross-border tunnels. Such events–especially the deadly assault at Nahal Oz–might appear to fall into one of two categories: a successful attack on Israel (Nahal Oz) or a disquieting signal of Hamas’s plans to invade undetected (the attacks that failed). But I think there’s a third explanation.

The network of tunnels Hamas has built underground has been at the center of the conflict’s escalation. The discovery of the planned Rosh Hashanah mass terror attack utilizing those tunnels has only reinforced to Israel’s leaders that the tunnels must be destroyed or rendered inoperative. Israel has also shown its determination to get a full picture of those tunnels, and has resisted efforts to let Hamas cover its tracks. The rockets are certainly a threat against which Israel has the right to self-defense. But because of Iron Dome, the rockets pale in comparison to the tunnels in terms of sophistication and the danger to Israel’s civilians. So why would Hamas fighters use the tunnels now?

According to what we’ve learned about the tunnels during Operation Protective Edge, they were a grand accomplishment–a city under the sand in the 21st century. They were also to be used for the kind of concerted terror attack that would, to Hamas and its backers, make them worth the investment. The Rosh Hashanah attack certainly would appear to fit that bill. It’s unclear whether the goal would be to take entire kibbutzim hostage, to kill everyone in range and all at once, or to kidnap large numbers of Israelis from all over the country and take them back to Gaza. It could, I suppose, have been a combination of the three.

But there are no indications the tunnels were constructed for desperate jihadis to lure Israel into playing whack-a-mole. It certainly doesn’t make much sense to do so now, anyway. Israel and Hamas are currently at war. Israel is taking this fight very seriously–too seriously for the chuckleheads in Turtle Bay and Foggy Bottom, in fact. The nation is at high alert, the reserves have been called up, and the IDF knows the tunnels are there and are intended to be used for an attack on Israeli territory.

This is, then, easily the worst time for Hamas to start using those tunnels in relatively ad-hoc attacks. Doing so now puts them at a distinct disadvantage, with the IDF ready for them to pop out of the ground. It risks exposing the existence of tunnels the IDF may not have found, and thus expanding the mental map the IDF is piecing together of this underground city.

It reduces if not completely erases the element of surprise, and it ensures the IDF is staffed up enough to respond immediately and forcefully to any breach of its territory. One isolated attack may or may not be considered a casus belli–Hamas is surely aware of just how hesitant Benjamin Netanyahu was in committing ground troops at all–but an attack during a war guarantees a response.

There is always some risk in trying to explain the behavior of a barbaric terrorist organization with logic and reasoning. So maybe Hamas looks like it doesn’t know what it’s doing because it doesn’t know what it’s doing. But even if that’s the case, Hamas’s recent behavior is a tell. Hamas believes Israel means it this time. The Israeli leadership is united, as is much of the Israeli public, and they have resisted pressure from the U.S. to let Hamas off the ropes. Hamas, then, is in “use it or lose it” mode with the tunnels. They expect Israel to leave them no avenue of cross-border attack, so they’re utilizing them while they can.

The U.S. even stepped aside this week to let the UN take a swing at Israel. According to Foreign Policy’s Column Lynch, one expert, the Council on Foreign Relations’ Robert Danin, even “suggested that the United States may be seeking to leverage its position by playing on Israeli fears of being left to fend for itself at a United Nations that appears to be universally opposed to the current offensive.”

Israel is at war, and the American president wants to send a message by playing on Israel’s fears of being abandoned. How nice. And yet, Israel still insists on protecting its civilians instead of begging forgiveness for insulting the magnificent stupidity of the American secretary of state’s attempt to force Israel to appease the terrorists currently popping out of the ground in Israeli territory firing anti-tank shells.

Hamas was expecting the Jews to tie themselves to the tracks and save them the work. When that failed, they expected John Kerry to take care of it, preferably with sturdy Qatari rope. But they are now realizing that Israel intends to win, and that it is well on its way to doing so. And they are acting with evident recklessness, because it might be all they have left.

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Laying Off the Army in a Dangerous World

Is the world becoming a more dangerous place? To answer that question all you have to do is mention a few places where wars are currently raging: Ukraine, Libya, Gaza, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Islamic Caliphate. You might do a double-take on the last one since it isn’t an internationally recognized country, but in recent months the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria has transformed itself into a “caliphate” whose border stretches across the now-outdated border separating Iraq from Syria.

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Is the world becoming a more dangerous place? To answer that question all you have to do is mention a few places where wars are currently raging: Ukraine, Libya, Gaza, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Islamic Caliphate. You might do a double-take on the last one since it isn’t an internationally recognized country, but in recent months the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria has transformed itself into a “caliphate” whose border stretches across the now-outdated border separating Iraq from Syria.

That’s right: a new terrorist state has been established in the heart of the Middle East but it’s not getting the media attention it deserves because there are so many other conflicts going on at the moment. And that’s not even to mention the potential conflicts all around China’s borders where it is pushing aggressively to expand its boundaries.

And what should the policy be of the United States when the world is becoming more dangerous? The tried and true answer is to keep our powder dry and prepare for trouble. But that’s not what we’re doing at the moment. Instead we are in the process of a willy-nilly downsizing of our military capabilities driven by the inability of lawmakers and the White House to turn off the sequestration process which will result, along with other budget cuts, in a roughly 30 percent cut in the size of our military—and an even larger cut in military capability since an increasing share of the budget is devoted to health care, pensions, and other personnel costs.

It is a sign of the times that the army is sending “pink slips” to 1,100 captains, some while they are actually deployed in combat zones. These are men and women who have devoted the last decade of their lives to defending America from the threats we face. Many have deployed multiple times to combat zones. These are front-line leaders; many of them former platoon leaders, now in many cases company commanders.

Now they are headed for unemployment and an uncertain future. The social contract they thought they had—they would deploy in harm’s way, move their families multiple times, accept multiple risks and discomforts, in return for the security of a 20-year career and a safe retirement—has been unilaterally breached. From the front line to the unemployment line: not an edifying spectacle.

The army is arguing it has no choice and in some sense that’s true. Mindless budget cuts are forcing the army to reduce from a wartime peak of 570,000 active duty personnel (itself insufficient to fight two wars at the same time) to a low, if sequestration remains in effect, of perhaps 420,000. The cuts could have been better handled–the army could have waited for captains to get back from deployments to tell them they were being “separated.” But the larger problem is not with the army. It’s with the mindset in Washington that insists on foolish budget cuts that will eviscerate our military capability to deal with an increasingly dangerous and uncertain world.

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Romney Beats Obama and 2016

Republicans are chortling this week over a new CNN poll that shows that if a new presidential election were to be held today, Mitt Romney would beat Barack Obama by a 53 to 44 percent margin. Democrats dismiss this as merely the normal second-term blues while the GOP sees it as buyer’s remorse that bodes well for the midterms. Both may be right, but either party would be foolish to mortgage their futures on these results.

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Republicans are chortling this week over a new CNN poll that shows that if a new presidential election were to be held today, Mitt Romney would beat Barack Obama by a 53 to 44 percent margin. Democrats dismiss this as merely the normal second-term blues while the GOP sees it as buyer’s remorse that bodes well for the midterms. Both may be right, but either party would be foolish to mortgage their futures on these results.

This is not the first poll to show a reversal of the last presidential election. In November 2013, an ABC News/Washington Post poll reported that Romney was favored by a 49-45 percent margin. The further decline of the president’s popularity in the new poll demonstrates just how far we’ve come from November 2012 when Obama won by a clear 51-47 margin that, thanks to a series of close victories in almost every swing state, translated into a 332-206 Electoral College landslide.

Obama thought he could be the exception to the iron rule of the presidency that dictates that virtually every occupant of the Oval Office will rue the day he won reelection. But neither his historic status as our first African-American president nor his decision to swing hard to the left on policy issues and to distract the public by harping on income inequality and the minimum wage helped him avoid an inevitable slide into lame duck status.

Try as they might to minimize the shift in the polls, Democrats can’t pretend that this is anything other than a decisive negative verdict from the public about the course of Obama’s second term. Over the course of the last 19 months, a rash of scandals (IRS, Benghazi, spying on the press and the VA) have undermined the credibility of the government. The ObamaCare rollout illustrated the incompetence of the president’s team and, despite the White House’s touchdown dances, set the stage for even more trouble in the future once the unpopular individual and employer mandates begin to be enforced. The crisis at our southern border was in no small measure the result of Obama’s miscalculated attempts to promote immigration reform. A host of foreign-policy disasters involving Russia, Syria, Iran, Iraq, and Hamas terrorists in Gaza was exacerbated by the ineptitude of the president’s new foreign/defense policy team of John Kerry and Chuck Hagel. All these have undermined America’s prestige abroad and sapped confidence in Obama’s ability to govern or effectively promote America’s values and interests.

The president also believed that he could survive scandals and setbacks because of the unpopularity of his congressional opponents. But not even a disastrous government shutdown orchestrated by Tea Party stalwarts or the fumbling of golden opportunities to break open the scandal stories by overly partisan grandstanding House committees was enough to preserve the popularity of a president who is now widely seen as having run out of steam and ideas.

All this bodes ill for a Democratic Party that already had the odds stacked against it in the 2014 midterm elections. While it doesn’t appear that Republicans are able to leverage any single issue into the focus for a genuine wave election in the way that anger about ObamaCare lifted the GOP in 2010, the only truly national issue in 2014 appears to be discontent with Obama. Indeed, without the ability to claim their opponents will do the president’s will, the Republicans’ increasingly good chances of winning control of the Senate would be diminished.

But anyone on the right who thinks buyer’s remorse about Obama, which is perhaps also enhanced by a rethinking of the way the Democrats smeared Romney—a flawed politician who is also one of the finest men in contemporary American public life—means the Republicans have the edge heading into 2016 are not thinking straight. And that’s not just because the same CNN poll shows Romney trailing Hillary Clinton, the likely 2016 Democratic nominee, by an even greater margin (55-42) than his 2012 loss to Obama.

In the 21 months since the last presidential election, Republicans have exploited Obama’s failures but they have yet to address the chronic demographic problems that undermined them in 2012. It should be remembered that most conservatives spent that year serenely confident that Obama was certain to be defeated. But the ability of Democrats to mobilize minorities and unmarried women to turn out in unprecedented numbers doomed Romney even though the president failed to make a good case for reelection. Part of that is rightly attributed to Obama’s personal popularity and his historic status. Indeed, the best thing the GOP has going for it in 2016 is that Obama won’t be on the ballot again. But none of that helps Republicans win all the battleground states they lost in 2012 if they are unable to get a greater share of those demographic groups that shunned them the last time around.

There are no simple answers to that problem. Merely passing an immigration reform bill that gives illegal immigrants a path to citizenship won’t do it, especially since the debacle on the Rio Grande shows the perils of attempting to legislate that without first securing the border. Nor can Republicans win single women by abandoning their principles on social issues. Similarly, the GOP needs to be wary of advice from liberal pundits calling for them to disassociate from their own conservative and Tea Party base even if some of their ideas—like Sarah Palin’s talk about impeaching Obama—should be ignored.

The solution to the problem does involve going back to some of the issues raised in COMMENTARY by Peter Wehner and Michael Gerson in March 2013 when they spoke of “saving” the party with new thinking that understood that merely channeling the politics of the 1980s would not work. It also involves listening more to people like Romney running mate Paul Ryan who continues to chart a reformist course that embraces a message of economic growth and a recognition that the GOP must reach out to working class Americans, not just Wall Street.

The recognition by a majority of Americans that two terms of Obama was a dreadful mistake is a good start for Republicans. But in and of itself it won’t help any Republican beat Hillary Clinton in 2016 unless the party does the hard work of rebuilding that all parties must do after they’ve been out of power.

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