Commentary Magazine


A Looming Disaster in Eastern Ukraine

Amid so many foreign-policy disasters–from the “chickenshit” insult to a major American ally to, in a more serious vein, the continuing gains of ISIS in Iraq–it is easy to lose sight of the disaster in Ukraine. But attention must be paid to what Vladimir Putin is getting away with.

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Amid so many foreign-policy disasters–from the “chickenshit” insult to a major American ally to, in a more serious vein, the continuing gains of ISIS in Iraq–it is easy to lose sight of the disaster in Ukraine. But attention must be paid to what Vladimir Putin is getting away with.

As the Wall Street Journal notes a new border is taking shape in eastern Ukraine with Russian-backed rebels in control of a substantial chunk of territory running from the city of Luhansk to the Black Sea. It won’t take much to link this strip of Russian-controlled territory to the newly conquered Russian province of Crimea. And there is scant chance of the Russians giving up either of their territorial gains. Indeed the pro-Russian rebels boycotted last Sunday’s Ukrainian election–which returned an overwhelming mandate for pro-Western parliamentarians–in favor of their own illegal referendum to be held this coming Sunday whose rigged results Moscow has promised to recognize.

And what consequences is Putin suffering for this blatant aggression? As another Journal article notes, Russia is suffering noticeable but far from catastrophic economic costs: “This month, the International Monetary Fund forecast growth for Russia of just 0.2% this year and halved its 2015 forecast to 0.5%. Analysts at Barclays are forecasting around zero growth for Russia in 2014 and a contraction of 0.5% in 2015.” That may be painful to ordinary Russians but it’s doubtful that Putin and his billionaire pals feel much of a pinch–and the Russian people are too drunk on nationalist moonshine at the moment to even protest their declining economy. Not that protests are allowed in Putin’s Russia.

Little wonder, then, that Russia is increasing its aggressive behavior–as yet another Journal article notes, “Russian military aircraft conducted aerial maneuvers around Europe this week on a scale seldom seen since the end of the Cold War, prompting NATO jets to scramble in another sign of how raw East-West relations have grown.”

This is setting a terrible precedent–and one that the world will live to regret long after Barack Obama has returned to private life.

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Anti-Israel Media Bias Indistinguishable from Palestinian Incitement

Yesterday Israeli-American civil-rights activist Yehuda Glick, who advocates for equal access for Jews and Muslims at the Temple Mount, was shot in an apparent assassination attempt by a Palestinian in Jerusalem. Glick’s opposition to religious apartheid in Jerusalem has always been controversial to the Palestinians, and PA President Mahmoud Abbas in recent weeks called on Palestinians to prevent Jews from even accessing their holy site, “in any way.” There is blood on Abbas’s hands, of course. But how the press reported the shooting says a lot about how Abbas’s incitement and dehumanization of Jews has seeped into a corrupt media.

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Yesterday Israeli-American civil-rights activist Yehuda Glick, who advocates for equal access for Jews and Muslims at the Temple Mount, was shot in an apparent assassination attempt by a Palestinian in Jerusalem. Glick’s opposition to religious apartheid in Jerusalem has always been controversial to the Palestinians, and PA President Mahmoud Abbas in recent weeks called on Palestinians to prevent Jews from even accessing their holy site, “in any way.” There is blood on Abbas’s hands, of course. But how the press reported the shooting says a lot about how Abbas’s incitement and dehumanization of Jews has seeped into a corrupt media.

The first news report that stood out was that of the Associated Press. Here was their lede: “A gunman on motorcycle shot a prominent hard-line Jewish activist on Wednesday, Israeli police and legislators said, seriously wounding the man and then fleeing in a suspected assassination attempt.” So that sets the tone: Jews who advocate for equal rights for Jews in the Jewish state are “hard-line.” But the media really started to lose it when the Palestinian suspect shot at Israeli police later in the evening and the police fired back, killing him. The Reuters report, by Luke Baker, was a model of crass mendacity.

We don’t get Yehuda Glick’s name in the Reuters piece until five paragraphs in, so until then he’s only known as “a far-right Jewish activist.” Not only is he painted as an extremist then, but Reuters doesn’t tell the reader just yet what kind of activism he was engaged in. But Reuters–famous for running photoshopped pictures of Israel at war–is just getting started. When we finally learn about Glick, we’re told the following:

Hejazi was suspected of shooting and wounding Yehuda Glick, a far-right religious activist who has led a campaign for Jews to be allowed to pray at the Al-Aqsa compound.

Could Baker be bothered to use the Jewish name–which obviously preceded any other name–of the Jewish holy place? Nope. It’s written that way merely to leave the impression that the Jews–again, who were there first, as everyone who isn’t an anti-Semitic propagandist knows–are interlopers and trespassers.

The next sentence tells us what happened: “Glick, a U.S.-born settler, was shot as he left a conference at the Menachem Begin Heritage Centre in Jerusalem late on Wednesday, his assailant escaping on the back of a motorcycle.” Glick was in Jerusalem, giving a speech about Jerusalem. But Reuters must tell you he’s a “settler” so they can further the storyline that hey–he probably had it coming.

Speaking of which, back in America, we have the story from CNN this morning. Here’s the headline: “Israeli police kill man suspected of shooting controversial rabbi.” CNN doesn’t want to waste any time; the reader must know the Jewish victim of an assassination attempt was up to no good. Here is CNN’s description of Glick:

Glick is an advocate of Jewish access to Muslim holy sites. After he gave a presentation in Jerusalem on Wednesday night, a man on a motorcycle shot him.

Amazing. CNN can’t even bring itself to legitimize the existence of Jewish history. The reader must be left wondering why Jews want to invade Muslim holy places. CNN does later in the story get around to mentioning Jewish claims to the site, but the damage is done.

Back to Reuters’ Luke Baker, who may not be a halakhic sage but he did stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night:

Glick and his supporters argue that Jews should have the right to pray at their holiest site, where two ancient Jewish temples once stood, even though the Israeli rabbinate says the Torah forbids it and many Jews consider it unacceptable.

Again, this is to delegitimize Glick’s actions. I would love to see this become a pattern, however. Will Reuters now defer to the Israeli rabbinate on all such issues? I wouldn’t advise holding your breath.

The question of whether the Temple Mount is forbidden by Jewish law is in dispute, because of complicated calculations based on historical references to the geography and architecture of the site. I wouldn’t expect Reuters to know that, because I wouldn’t expect Reuters to know anything about Judaism. But the throwaway line “and many Jews consider it unacceptable” might be the best part of that sentence. I’m sure the “many Jews” Luke Baker hangs out with feel that way, just as Pauline Kael knew precisely one person who voted for Nixon.

A common question people have about the media is whether the reporting on Israel is based in true ignorance or enforced ignorance. That is, do these reporters really not know the first thing about the country they cover, or is editorial rearrangement done to ensure the stories are biased? It’s often a combination, but yesterday we received a great example of the bias of editors and how it filters coverage.

After the New York Times published a completely inaccurate op-ed on supposed Israeli racism, CAMERA’s Tamar Sternthal asked Times opinion editor Matt Seaton if there would be any columns forthcoming on Palestinian bigotry against Jews, in the interest of balance. Seaton responded, in a pretty incredible admission: “Sure, soon as they have sovereign state to discriminate with.”

So the New York Times does indeed have a different standard for Israel and for the Palestinians, and apparently the policy is to withhold criticism of Palestinian bigotry until the Jews give them what they want. Seaton should be praised for his honesty, I suppose, but it’s a stunning policy nonetheless.

It’s all a window into how Israel is being covered in the mainstream media by activists, not journalists. The parade of fabrications and falsehoods that characterize these publications’ Israel coverage should also be a red flag to the reader: what else are they covering this way?

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Is Ukraine Too Pro-West for the West?

In commenting on Rand Paul’s major foreign-policy speech, “The Case for Conservative Realism,” I mentioned that his preference for George Kennan’s version of containment over Harry Truman’s was a weak point in his analysis of global power projection. It was, of course, a nod to the “realist” part of “conservative realism.” But it would require un-learning an important lesson from the Cold War about America in the world, and he repeated this mistake more explicitly in his reference to the current conflict between Russia and Ukraine. Paul said:

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In commenting on Rand Paul’s major foreign-policy speech, “The Case for Conservative Realism,” I mentioned that his preference for George Kennan’s version of containment over Harry Truman’s was a weak point in his analysis of global power projection. It was, of course, a nod to the “realist” part of “conservative realism.” But it would require un-learning an important lesson from the Cold War about America in the world, and he repeated this mistake more explicitly in his reference to the current conflict between Russia and Ukraine. Paul said:

We need to use sanctions and defense spending to achieve a diplomatic settlement that takes into account Russia’s long-standing ties with Ukraine and allows Kiev to develop its relations both with Russia and the West.

As Kissinger put it: “If Ukraine is to survive and thrive, it must not be either side’s outpost against the other — it should function as a bridge between them.”

This part of the speech was a combination of great power politics and something of a straw man. The straw man is the suggestion that we in the West are contemplating not allowing Ukraine to develop relations with Russia. On the contrary, the West’s position is that Ukraine should be free to choose its path. Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine–more than once–in order to prevent this. And the great power politics part of this section of the speech expressly contradicted the principle that Ukraine should be free to choose.

What if Ukraine doesn’t want to serve “as a bridge between” the West and Russia? What if Kiev simply wants to act as an independent nation pursuing its interests, rather than be the messenger boy between American realists and the Putin government? That’s what Ukraine appears to have done in this week’s parliamentary elections, in which pro-European parties dominated the early returns. As Simon Shuster reports:

On Sunday night, as the votes in Ukraine’s parliamentary elections were being tallied, President Petro Poroshenko went on television to congratulate his citizens on the successful ballot and, citing early results, to highlight one of the milestones the country had crossed: Ukraine’s Communist Party, a political holdover from the nation’s Soviet past that had always championed close ties with Russia, had failed to win a single parliamentary seat.

“For that I congratulate you,” the Ukrainian leader told his countrymen. “The people’s judgment, which is higher than all but the judgment of God, has issued a death sentence to the Communist Party of Ukraine.” For the first time since the Russian revolution of 1917 swept across Ukraine and turned it into a Soviet satellite, there would be no communists in the nation’s parliament.

Their defeat, though largely symbolic, epitomized the transformation of Ukraine that began with this year’s revolution and, in many respects, ended with the ballot on Sunday. If the communists and other pro-Russian parties had enormous influence in Ukraine before the uprising and a firm base of support in the eastern half of the country, they are now all but irrelevant. The pro-Western leaders of the revolution, by contrast, saw a resounding victory over the weekend for their agenda of European integration. “More than three-quarters of voters who cast their ballots showed firm and irreversible support for Ukraine’s course toward Europe,” Poroshenko said in his televised address.

Right-wing and populist parties too were trounced. Ukrainian voters had repudiated Moscow’s influence as well as that of revanchist agitators. And the pro-Russian rebels have, in response, pushed forward with their own upcoming elections, which Russia backs. Shuster was effusive on the voters’ clear desire to set Ukraine on a path to Europe: “That path will not be easy, as Western leaders are hardly eager to welcome Ukraine’s failing economy and its 45 million citizens into the E.U. But the national consensus behind European integration, and the lasting break with Russia that this agenda entails, is now stronger than at any point in Ukraine’s post-Soviet history.”

This is, in fact, quite historic. And it should be inspiring to the West. But the realists could take it or leave it, since they believe stability lies in bloodless great-power rivalry and a balancing that amounts to the recognition of spheres of influence. To read Paul’s speech, it is actually possible for Ukraine to be too pro-Western. To much of the conservative foreign-policy world, this is odd indeed.

And it’s also a pleasant surprise, considering the treatment of the Ukrainians during all this. The West stood by as Russia invaded, again and again, to chip away at Ukraine’s territory and create frozen conflicts in the border regions Putin wouldn’t go so far as to annex. The Obama administration yawned, and agreed to give the Ukrainians fighting for their country MREs, as if they could fling combat rations at the invading Russian forces to repel them. Europe was slow to agree to serious economic sanctions on Moscow.

All is apparently forgiven. Ukrainians seem to have made their choice. They want to join the West, not serve as a realist tool of stability, a bridge to be walked all over. How the West responds to this outstretched hand will say much about its ebbing moral authority.

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Scott Walker’s Fate and 2016

When Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker emerged triumphant from a recall election in 2012, he immediately moved to the front ranks of those Republicans considering a 2016 presidential run. But before he could think about the White House, he needed to win reelection in 2014. Many would-be presidential candidates have used such state races as vehicles to further the argument that they are political dynamos deserving of national attention. But as Politico notes today, Walker’s struggles in his fight to hold onto his job may impact his hopes for the White House even if he manages to beat Democrat Mary Burke.

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When Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker emerged triumphant from a recall election in 2012, he immediately moved to the front ranks of those Republicans considering a 2016 presidential run. But before he could think about the White House, he needed to win reelection in 2014. Many would-be presidential candidates have used such state races as vehicles to further the argument that they are political dynamos deserving of national attention. But as Politico notes today, Walker’s struggles in his fight to hold onto his job may impact his hopes for the White House even if he manages to beat Democrat Mary Burke.

Walker has had a bull’s eye on his back ever since he decided to take his 2010 campaign promises seriously and to take action to save his state from rapacious public employee unions. Walker stood up to the union thugs and obstructionist Democrats who sought to prevent the legislature from enacting legislation that would end the vicious cycle by which state employees sank Wisconsin further into debt. He then ably fended off the recall effort and assumed the status of conservative folk hero as the foremost among a class of GOP governors intent on reforming a corrupt system.

But three all-out liberal assaults on Walker in five years have taken their toll. Instead of waltzing to reelection as Chris Christie did in New Jersey, Walker has faced the fight of his political life against Burke, a wealthy businesswoman who has been able to pour her considerable personal resources into attacks on the governor in a state that remains fairly evenly divided between the two parties. Showing signs of strain at times, Walker has appeared to falter occasionally and it can be argued that his blunt style has gotten a little stale in his third go-round with the voters.

Up until this week, most polls have shown the race essentially tied or with Walker holding a razor-thin edge. However, the latest survey of Wisconsin voters form Marquette University shows him opening up a 7-point lead, the same margin by which he won the recall. It could be that Walker will benefit from the accumulation of Obama administration disasters even as the president comes to the state to back his opponent. Yet even if that poll proves to be right about the governor achieving an easy victory, 2014 wasn’t the sort of coronation for Walker that Christie achieved in New Jersey before “Bridgegate” changed his political image.

Knocking off Walker has been a top Democratic objective this year and would provide them with some consolation even if they lose the Senate. Doing so would not only effectively eliminate him for 2016 consideration but also send a cautionary message to any Republican in the country who would think to emulate Walker’s courageous stand against unions and traditional tax-and-spend policies.

It would also have some interesting consequences for the Republicans who remain standing in the presidential sweepstakes. Without Walker, other GOP governors like Christie and Indiana’s Mike Pence will get more attention. The Jeb Bush boomlet will also be helped, as Walker is one of the few Republicans who could challenge for both Tea Party support as well as the backing of establishment Republicans who share his fiscal conservatism.

But as much as it might help Christie, a Walker defeat would also create another and perhaps bigger problem for him. This is thanks in no small measure to Walker’s own complaints about insufficient support for his reelection from the Republican Governors Association run this year by Christie as well as other national GOP groups. Whether or not the charge is accurate—and Walker soon backed off on his claims—conservatives won’t forget it and you can count on them blaming the New Jersey governor for a loss. It will be one more count in an indictment charging him as a RINO that stems from his controversial embrace of President Obama days before the 2012 election.

There will be those who will argue with some justice that even a narrow Walker victory next week will undermine his 2016 argument. Critics will say that if he can’t decisively win at home how can he hope to carry the nation against Hillary Clinton. Unlike George W. Bush’s 1998 landslide or, as Christie backers will point out, the New Jersey governor’s enormous win last year in a far more Democratic state than Wisconsin, a close Walker win could be interpreted as weakness.

But even though both Democrats and rival Republicans would like to bury him, Walker’s future is still in his own hands. Though it can be argued that the 2014 campaign showed that he is mortal, if he manages to win decisively—and a 7-point win equaling the runoff margin would qualify—the speculation about his presidential ambitions will begin immediately. Surviving yet another Democratic deluge of campaign money and attack ads even if by only a few points will bolster his credentials for the White House. And it will also allow him to spend the next year preaching his gospel of reform and fiscal sanity from the bully pulpit that reelection will give him. If so, he will be a formidable candidate if he runs in 2016. But before that can happen he’s got to win next Tuesday.

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The Canadian Way of Saving

Everyone complains that the U.S. savings rate is too low. To be sure, the way it is calculated is very flawed. It’s basically income minus outgo. But that doesn’t take into account such things as the growth of capital assets such as stocks, bonds, and real estate. Nor does it count as savings the portion of a monthly mortgage payment that is building equity rather than paying interest. Toward the end of a mortgage, most of the payment is building equity. As Forbes reported last month, American household wealth is a whopping $81.5 trillion.

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Everyone complains that the U.S. savings rate is too low. To be sure, the way it is calculated is very flawed. It’s basically income minus outgo. But that doesn’t take into account such things as the growth of capital assets such as stocks, bonds, and real estate. Nor does it count as savings the portion of a monthly mortgage payment that is building equity rather than paying interest. Toward the end of a mortgage, most of the payment is building equity. As Forbes reported last month, American household wealth is a whopping $81.5 trillion.

But if the federal government would like to see a big increase in conventional savings, it should adopt a Canadian idea that has been a huge success there. The Cato Institute reports on a savings account in Canada known as a TFSA (for Tax Free Savings Account). Canadians can put up to $5,500 a year into these accounts, out of after-tax income. And, if they put in less one year, they can put in more next year. Say in 2014 you put in only $2,000. Then next year you could put in $9,000 ($3,500 plus $5,500). The account earns tax-free interest and can be tapped at any time, with no taxes due on withdrawal.

Only available since 2009, as of June 2014, there were 13.1 million TFSAs in existence, with deposits amounting to $131.5 billion. There are about 27.7 million adult Canadians, so that means that fully 47 percent of them have a TFSA account. The United States has a population ten times that of Canada. So, presumably, if we were to adopt a similar program, in five years 130 million Americans could have $1.3 trillion on deposit.

One reason for their popularity is their liquidity and flexibility. There are no complicated rules about penalties for withdrawals or paying taxes on the interest, as there are with the various IRA’s and 401(k)s.

This is a very good idea. But, alas, Washington these days is where good ideas go to die.

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The Consequences of a “Chickensh*t” Policy

No doubt the gang in the Obama administration have been congratulating themselves for planting some juicy insults aimed at Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jeffrey Goldberg’s latest column in The Atlantic. But now that the wiseacres in the West Wing and/or the State Department have done their dirty work the question remains what will be the consequences of the decision to widen as well as to embitter the breach between the two countries. While most of those writing on this subject, including Goldberg, have emphasized the real possibility that the U.S. will sandbag Israel at the United Nations and otherwise undermine the Jewish state’s diplomatic position in the last years of Obama’s term in office, that won’t be the only blowback from the administration’s “chickenshit” diplomacy. Rather than harm Netanyahu, this ploy, like previous attacks on the prime minister, will strengthen him while making mischief for the president’s party in both this year’s midterms and in 2016.

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No doubt the gang in the Obama administration have been congratulating themselves for planting some juicy insults aimed at Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jeffrey Goldberg’s latest column in The Atlantic. But now that the wiseacres in the West Wing and/or the State Department have done their dirty work the question remains what will be the consequences of the decision to widen as well as to embitter the breach between the two countries. While most of those writing on this subject, including Goldberg, have emphasized the real possibility that the U.S. will sandbag Israel at the United Nations and otherwise undermine the Jewish state’s diplomatic position in the last years of Obama’s term in office, that won’t be the only blowback from the administration’s “chickenshit” diplomacy. Rather than harm Netanyahu, this ploy, like previous attacks on the prime minister, will strengthen him while making mischief for the president’s party in both this year’s midterms and in 2016.

There is no doubt that Obama’s lame duck years will be stressful for Israel and its friends. As Seth noted earlier today, the administration’s full court press for détente with Iran is setting the table for a strategic blunder on their nuclear quest that will severely harm the balance of power in the Middle East as well as lay the groundwork for challenges to American national security for decades to come.

Nor should anyone discount the potential for severe damage to Israel’s diplomatic standing in the world should Obama decide to collude with the Palestinian Authority and to allow them to get a United Nations Security Council resolution on Palestinian statehood, borders, and Jerusalem. The Palestinians’ drive to annul Jewish rights and to bypass the peace process could, with Obama’s support, further isolate Israel and strengthen the efforts of those forces working to promote BDS—boycott, divest, sanction—campaigns that amount to an economic war on the Jewish people.

This is a dire prospect for a small, besieged country that still relieves heavily on U.S. security cooperation and defense aid. But for all the huffing and puffing on the part of Obama’s minions, the administration’s real objectives in all this plotting are not likely to be achieved. That’s because nothing published in a Goldberg column or leaked anywhere else will weaken Netanyahu’s hold on office or prompt the Palestinians to make peace or Iran to be more reasonable in the nuclear talks. The only people who will be hurt by the attacks on Israel are Obama’s fellow Democrats.

As I pointed out yesterday, Obama’s barbs aimed at Israel haven’t enticed the Palestinians to negotiate seriously in the past and won’t do so in the future. If the Palestinian Authority really wanted a state they would have accepted the one offered them in 2000, 2001, or 2008 or actually negotiated with Netanyahu in the last year after he indicated readiness to sign off on a two-state solution.

The boasts about having maneuvered Netanyahu into a position where he may not have a viable military option against Iran (actually, Israel may never have had much of an option since it can be argued that only U.S. possesses the forces required to conclusively knock out Iran’s nuclear facilities) is also nothing for the U.S. to be happy about since it will only strengthen the Iranians’ conviction that they have nothing to fear from Israel or a U.S. president that they think is too weak to stand up to them.

But Obama should have also already learned that challenging Netanyahu and insulting the Jewish state in this manner has one definite side effect: strengthening the prime minister’s political position at home. The same thing happened after Obama’s attacks on the status of Jerusalem in his first term. The administration thought it could topple Netanyahu soon after his election in February 2009 and failed, but even after his election to another term in 2013 as well as the absence of any viable alternative to him, they are still clinging to the delusion that the Israeli people will reject his policies. But that isn’t likely to happen for one reason. The overwhelming majority of Israelis may not love the prime minister but they share his belief that there is no Palestinian peace partner and that turning the West Bank into a sovereign state that could be controlled by Hamas and other terrorists just like Gaza would be madness. They also oppose efforts to divide their capital or to prohibit Jews from the right to live in some parts of the city.

Netanyahu won’t back down. In the wake of the summer war with Hamas that further undermined an Israeli left that was already in ruins after 20 years of failed peace processing, Netanyahu was clearly heading to early elections that would further strengthen the Likud. Obama’s attacks will only make that strategy more attractive to the prime minister. But whether he is reelected in 2015, 2016, or 2017, few believe Netanyahu won’t be returned to office by the voters for his third consecutive and fourth overall term as Israel’s leader. Though a lot of damage can be done to Israel in the next two years, that means Netanyahu is almost certain to be able to outlast Obama in office and to enjoy what will almost certainly be better relations with his successor whether it is a Democrat or a Republican. Waiting out Obama isn’t a good strategy for Israel but it may be the only one it has available to it and will likely be rewarded with a honeymoon with the next president.

But Netanyahu isn’t the only person who will profit politically from this astonishingly crude assault on the Jewish state’s democratically elected leader.

Foreign policy is rarely a decisive factor in U.S. elections but at a time when Democrats are suffering the ill effects of Obama’s inept response to the threat from ISIS, it won’t do the president’s party any good for the administration to pick a fight with it’s sole democratic ally in the Middle East. Americans have a right to ask why an administration that was slow to react to ISIS and is intent on appeasing a murderous Islamist regime in Iran is so intent on fighting with Israel. That won’t help embattled Democrats seeking reelection in red states where evangelicals regard backing for Israel as a key issue.

Nor will it help Democrats as they head toward 2016. Though Hillary Clinton will likely run away from Obama on his attacks on Netanyahu as she has done on other foreign-policy issues, running for what will in effect be Obama’s third term will still burden her with the need to either actively oppose the president’s anti-Israel actions in the UN or détente with Iran or accept the negative political fallout of silence. Any Republican, with the exception of an isolationist like Rand Paul, will be able to exploit this issue to their advantage.

Those who worry about the damage to Israel from a lame-duck Obama administration that is seething with hatred for Netanyahu and thinks it has nothing to lose are not wrong. But Democrats will be hurt politically by a crisis that was created by Obama, not Netanyahu. They won’t be grateful to the president for having put them in this fix while Netanyahu will probably emerge from this trial strengthened at home and in a good position to repair relations with Obama’s successor.

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Frat-House Statecraft and U.S.-Iran Détente

The silliness of President Mom Jeans calling an Israeli special forces veteran “chickens–t” was what first dominated the reactions of the Obama administration’s frat-house taunts directed at Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu. But the larger strategic impact of the insult, as passed through what Matthew Continetti has termed the “secretarial” press, this time via Jeffrey Goldberg, soon became apparent. And it has now been confirmed by a major story in the Wall Street Journal.

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The silliness of President Mom Jeans calling an Israeli special forces veteran “chickens–t” was what first dominated the reactions of the Obama administration’s frat-house taunts directed at Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu. But the larger strategic impact of the insult, as passed through what Matthew Continetti has termed the “secretarial” press, this time via Jeffrey Goldberg, soon became apparent. And it has now been confirmed by a major story in the Wall Street Journal.

It was easy at first to miss anything but the string of insults directed from Obama to Netanyahu, including the casual accusation of autism. (It’s arguable whether this represented a new low for the president, who has a habit of demonstrating his grade school playground vocabulary.) But once the initial shock at the further degrading of American statecraft under Obama wore off, it was easy to see the real purpose of the story. The Obama administration wanted to brag through its stenographer that the president had protected the Iranian nuclear program from Israel:

I ran this notion by another senior official who deals with the Israel file regularly. This official agreed that Netanyahu is a “chickenshit” on matters related to the comatose peace process, but added that he’s also a “coward” on the issue of Iran’s nuclear threat. The official said the Obama administration no longer believes that Netanyahu would launch a preemptive strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities in order to keep the regime in Tehran from building an atomic arsenal. “It’s too late for him to do anything. Two, three years ago, this was a possibility. But ultimately he couldn’t bring himself to pull the trigger. It was a combination of our pressure and his own unwillingness to do anything dramatic. Now it’s too late.”

If Iran goes nuclear, those words will be the perfect description of the Obama administration’s fecklessness: “Now it’s too late.” Too late, that is, for our allies like Israel and the Gulf states to protect themselves from the consequences of the Obama administration’s Mideast policies–which principally affect Israel and the Gulf states. But “fecklessness” may not be the right word. The Wall Street Journal reports today that the president has been effective after all:

The Obama administration and Iran, engaged in direct nuclear negotiations and facing a common threat from Islamic State militants, have moved into an effective state of détente over the past year, according to senior U.S. and Arab officials.

The shift could drastically alter the balance of power in the region, and risks alienating key U.S. allies such as Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates who are central to the coalition fighting Islamic State. Sunni Arab leaders view the threat posed by Shiite Iran as equal to or greater than that posed by the Sunni radical group Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL.

Israel contends the U.S. has weakened the terms of its negotiations with Iran and played down Tehran’s destabilizing role in the region.

The Obama administration, then, has been carrying out its preferred policy: aligning with Iran in the Middle East. Now, this isn’t exactly surprising, since the administration has more or less telegraphed its pitches. Obama has also long been a doormat for the world’s tyrants, so adding Iran to the list that already includes states like Russia and Turkey adds a certain cohesiveness to White House policy.

Obama’s infamous and towering ignorance of world affairs, especially in the Middle East, has always made this latest faceplant somewhat predictable. The Looney-Tunes outburst at Netanyahu was not, but it teaches us two important things about Obama.

First, those who wanted to support Obama but had no real case for him in 2008 went with the idea that he had a “presidential temperament.” Those folks now look quite foolish–though that’s nothing new. Obama has a temperament ill suited for any activity not readily found on frat row.

The second lesson is that the president’s foreign policy is not abandonment of allies–that would be an improvement. It is, instead, full of tactics and strategies that, often unintentionally but no less destructively, put a thumb on the scale against them. For example, from the Journal piece:

The Obama administration also has markedly softened its confrontational stance toward Iran’s most important nonstate allies, the Palestinian militant group Hamas and the Lebanese militant and political organization, Hezbollah. American diplomats, including Secretary of State John Kerry, negotiated with Hamas leaders through Turkish and Qatari intermediaries during cease-fire talks in July that were aimed at ending the Palestinian group’s rocket attacks on Israel, according to senior U.S. officials.

The Iranian proxy terrorist groups on Israel’s border will have a freer hand. It helps explain why the administration served up a ceasefire proposal crafted by Hamas’s patrons, which outraged not only Israel but also Egypt. Protecting Hezbollah will further enable that group to make life hell for Israel’s north (and perhaps not only Israel’s north) when they next feel like it.

But strengthening Hezbollah will not only imperil Israel’s security. It will also put Europe in greater danger and U.S. interests as well. It’s a dim-witted policy, in other words, no matter what you think of Israel. And the general détente with Iran is, as the Journal points out, an insult to our Gulf allies as well as damaging to the fight against ISIS. The president’s policies put our allies at the mercy of their enemies. That he’s taunting them too only makes it clear that the policies are being instituted precisely how he envisioned them.

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Arab World’s Paradigm on Israel Has Shifted, but Obama’s Hasn’t

The inaugural session of the Abu Dhabi Strategic Debate took place last week, with scholars coming from around the world to participate in two days of discussion on a plethora of topics. Hisham Melhem, the Washington bureau chief for Al Arabiya News, subsequently published a lengthy summary of the proceedings on Al Arabiya’s website, and reading it, I was struck by the absence of certain topics one might expect to feature prominently. Egypt, Iran, oil, ISIS, Turkey, Russia, the U.S., and Islamic extremism were all there. But in 1,700 words, the Palestinians weren’t mentioned once, while Israel appeared only in the very last paragraph–which deserves to be read in full:

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The inaugural session of the Abu Dhabi Strategic Debate took place last week, with scholars coming from around the world to participate in two days of discussion on a plethora of topics. Hisham Melhem, the Washington bureau chief for Al Arabiya News, subsequently published a lengthy summary of the proceedings on Al Arabiya’s website, and reading it, I was struck by the absence of certain topics one might expect to feature prominently. Egypt, Iran, oil, ISIS, Turkey, Russia, the U.S., and Islamic extremism were all there. But in 1,700 words, the Palestinians weren’t mentioned once, while Israel appeared only in the very last paragraph–which deserves to be read in full:

Finally, it was fascinating to attend a two day conference about the Middle East in times of upheaval in which Israel was mostly ignored, with the only frontal criticism of her policies delivered by an American diplomat.

And this explains a lot about the current U.S.-Israel spat. President Barack Obama entered office with the firm belief that the best way to improve America’s relations with the Muslim world was to create “daylight” between the U.S. and Israel, and for six years now, he and his staff have worked diligently to do exactly that. Nor was this an inherently unreasonable idea: Even a decade ago, Arab capitals might have cheered the sight of U.S. officials hurling childish insults at their Israeli counterparts.

The problem is that the Arab world has changed greatly in recent years, while the Obama administration–like most of Europe–remains stuck in its old paradigm. Granted, Arabs still don’t like Israel, but they have discovered that Israel and the Palestinians are very far down on their list of urgent concerns. The collapse of entire states that were formerly lynchpins of the Arab world, like Syria, Iraq, and Libya; the fear that other vital states like Egypt and Jordan could follow suit; the rise of Islamic extremist movements that threaten all the existing Arab states; the destabilizing flood of millions of refugees; the fear of U.S. disengagement from the region; the “predicament of living in the shadows of what they see as a belligerent Iran and an assertive Turkey” (to quote Melhem)–all these are far more pressing concerns.

And not only has Israel fallen off the list of pressing problems, but it has come to be viewed as capable of contributing, however modestly, to dealing with some of the new pressing problems. Last month, Robert Satloff of the Washington Institute published his impressions from a tour of the Mideast, including of Israel’s deepening strategic relationships with Egypt and Jordan. “Indeed, one of the most unusual moments of my trip was to hear certain Arab security officials effectively compete with one another for who has the better relationship with Israel,” he wrote. “In this regard, times have certainly changed.”

In fact, in this new Middle East, a U.S.-Israel spat probably generates more worry than glee in Arab capitals. Once, it was an Arab article of faith that America cared little about Arabs but greatly about Israel. Thus to the degree that Arab and Israeli concerns overlapped, as they do now on issues ranging from Iran to ISIS, America could be trusted to deal with the threat. Now, the Obama administration still appears to care little for Arab concerns; it seems hell-bent on striking a grand bargain with Iran and withdrawing from the Mideast. But the Arab world’s former ace in the hole to prevent such developments–Israel’s influence in Washington–suddenly looks more like deuce.

Yet all these shifting winds seem to have blown right by the Obama administration: It still acts as if America’s position in the Muslim world depends on showing that it hates Israel, too. And thus you reach the farce of a two-day conference in Abu Dhabi where “the only frontal criticism” of Israel’s policies was “delivered by an American diplomat.”

When it comes to Israel, the Arab world has moved on. But the Obama administration remains stuck in the last century.

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Peace-Processing, Web-Scrubbing, and the Supreme Court

Next Monday, the Supreme Court will hear oral argument again in Zivotofsky v. Kerry, on the constitutionality of the law allowing Jerusalem-born Americans to have “Israel” as their place of birth in their passports, if they so request. The administration argues the Constitution’s “Reception Clause” (which provides the president “shall receive Ambassadors and other public Ministers”) gives the president sole authority over whether Americans born in the city that has been Israel’s capital since 1950 can have “Israel” in their passports. Kerry’s brief–in its opening paragraph–asserts that any action that “would signal, symbolically or concretely,” that the U.S. recognizes Jerusalem as within Israel would “critically compromise” the American ability to “further the peace process.” It would, apparently, make the process go “poof.”

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Next Monday, the Supreme Court will hear oral argument again in Zivotofsky v. Kerry, on the constitutionality of the law allowing Jerusalem-born Americans to have “Israel” as their place of birth in their passports, if they so request. The administration argues the Constitution’s “Reception Clause” (which provides the president “shall receive Ambassadors and other public Ministers”) gives the president sole authority over whether Americans born in the city that has been Israel’s capital since 1950 can have “Israel” in their passports. Kerry’s brief–in its opening paragraph–asserts that any action that “would signal, symbolically or concretely,” that the U.S. recognizes Jerusalem as within Israel would “critically compromise” the American ability to “further the peace process.” It would, apparently, make the process go “poof.”

It is the same argument Hillary Clinton made in her own Supreme Court brief, back when the case was titled Zivotofsky v. Clinton. But if this is a serious argument, an urgent message needs to be dispatched to the White House Web-Scrubbers. Again.

Those familiar with this case–now in its 11th year–will recall that when it first came before the Court in 2011, the White House website, inconveniently for the administration’s central argument, featured pictures of Vice President Biden’s 2010 visit to–as each caption read–“Jerusalem, Israel.” The New York Sun first reported this anomaly in an August 4, 2011 article entitled, “Jerusalem Case at Supreme Court May Pit White House Web Site Against the President.” Three business days later–and two hours after the Weekly Standard published a screenshot of one of the pictures–the White House removed the word “Israel” from every caption. Then the administration scrubbed references to “Jerusalem, Israel” on other federal websites, and even went so far as to alter documents prepared by the Bush administration.

Now that the case is back before the Court, I checked again and found that as recently as three months ago, the White House issued a press release referring to “Jerusalem, Israel.” Entitled “President Obama Announces More Key Administration Posts,” it listed nominees the president said would bring “a wealth of experience” to his administration–including one whose experience, the press release stated, included work in … “Jerusalem, Israel.” The amicus brief of the Zionist Organization of America points to numerous other references to “Jerusalem, Israel” currently on the websites of the Defense Department, Treasury Department, Department of Homeland Security, and other federal agencies.

If the administration genuinely believes that printing “Israel” in the U.S. passport of an American born in western Jerusalem jeopardizes a peace process currently deader than Generalissimo Franco, perhaps the president should appoint a Web-Scrubbing Czar–someone who can coordinate web-scrubbing throughout his administration. It would avoid the spectacle of an administration repeatedly making an argument repeatedly contradicted by its own websites.

And once again I ask: why is President Obama making a federal case out of this? He could do what President Clinton did when Congress passed a law giving Americans born in Taiwan the right to put “Taiwan,” rather than “China,” on their passports. Clinton implemented the law while issuing a statement that it did not change American policy that the United States recognizes only one China. Why not allow Zivotofsky to have “Israel” in his passport while announcing it does not change American policy that Jerusalem is a final status issue to be negotiated by the parties?

Such a resolution would conclude the case without a constitutional clash with Congress, and without a change in the administration’s foreign policy; it would avoid the necessity of a Supreme Court decision on an issue of first impression; it would terminate a decade of increasingly pointless refusals to implement a duly enacted law; and it will not–I think I can assure the administration on this–compromise the U.S. ability to advance the peace process. Indeed what has plagued that process for the past six years has been a U.S. administration so focused on one-sided demands on Israel that it fights all the way to the Supreme Court to avoid putting “Israel” in a Jerusalem-born American’s passport, scrubbing federal websites and altering official documents in its attempt to prevail.

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Sinai Terror Shows the Danger of Ungoverned Places

Egypt has given residents living along the Gaza border 48 hours’ warning before their homes will be demolished to make way for a 500-meter-wide buffer zone that will segregate the strip from the Sinai Peninsula. This move comes in the wake of last week’s terror attack in which over 30 Egyptian soldiers were killed by Islamist militants. Despite protestations from Hamas, Egyptian officials have stated that they believe the attack was carried out with the assistance of Palestinian operatives. As such, Egypt plans to create a buffer zone that will destroy some 680 homes—one can scarcely imagine the international reaction if Israel undertook such a security measure. However, it is a sign of how the Sisi government is becoming increasingly serious about ending the lawlessness that has plagued the Sinai in recent years.

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Egypt has given residents living along the Gaza border 48 hours’ warning before their homes will be demolished to make way for a 500-meter-wide buffer zone that will segregate the strip from the Sinai Peninsula. This move comes in the wake of last week’s terror attack in which over 30 Egyptian soldiers were killed by Islamist militants. Despite protestations from Hamas, Egyptian officials have stated that they believe the attack was carried out with the assistance of Palestinian operatives. As such, Egypt plans to create a buffer zone that will destroy some 680 homes—one can scarcely imagine the international reaction if Israel undertook such a security measure. However, it is a sign of how the Sisi government is becoming increasingly serious about ending the lawlessness that has plagued the Sinai in recent years.

When Israel withdrew from the Sinai as part of the peace agreement signed with Egypt in 1979, it had good reason to believe that the territory was being transferred to a nation state that was at least relatively stable and that could secure the border. But what we have witnessed across the region more recently is that it is in those geographic areas where states have failed or have become weak to the point of absence that terrorist groups have best been able to flourish. The story has been played out repeatedly from Afghanistan to Yemen, Libya to Somalia, and from southern Lebanon to Syria and northern Iraq. And today large parts of the Sinai have become just such an ungoverned vacuum where al-Qaeda and Muslim Brotherhood-linked groups have dug themselves in and established strongholds. There, jihadist groups have carried out a spate of attacks against Egyptian police and military personnel, and have repeatedly targeted the Arab Gas Pipeline, disrupting the supply between al-Arish, Jordan, Syria, and the wider region.

The problems in the Sinai have been dramatically compounded by the peninsula’s proximity to another area of unstable statelessness: Gaza. When Israel withdrew in 2005, Gaza was theoretically handed into the care of the Palestinian Authority, but as some on Israel’s right had already predicted, it did not take long before the power vacuum created by the absence of the IDF was replaced by the militiamen of Hamas. The same, of course, had already happened after the Israeli withdrawal from southern Lebanon, as the non-state actor Hezbollah entrenched its position in the area, turning it into a kind of Iranian backed fiefdom.

Militant groups in the Sinai, and the relative weakness of the Egyptian state in this large sparsely populated area, would ultimately prove to be of huge strategic significance for Hamas, with smuggling along the Sinai-Gaza border providing Gaza’s Islamist rulers with their primary source of weaponry, which otherwise would have been kept out by the Israeli blockade. At the same time jihadist groups in Gaza provided training and assistance to militants in the Sinai, while they in turn would periodically fire missiles toward Eilat and Israel’s Negev border communities.

The Sisi government, however, with its fierce crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood, finds itself squarely at odds with the Brotherhood’s Palestinian offshoot Hamas. Since the overthrow of President Morsi, the Egyptians have pursued a sustained and serious policy of eradicating the hundreds of smuggling tunnels around Rafah, and during this summer’s war in Gaza Egypt intensified its operations against militants operating close to that border. Indeed, it would appear that under Sisi there has been a concerted effort to reassert the power of the Egyptian state throughout the peninsula. Now, with the Egyptians convinced of the Gaza connection to this latest deadly attack on their troops, the authorities have closed the Rafah border crossing and advanced plans for the construction of deep water-filled trenches to block any restoration of terror tunnels.

Most importantly, the Gaza-Sinai experience must be instructive for both Israel and the wider region. Israelis already look to the turmoil in Syria and consider their good fortune given the failure of both Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert in their misguided efforts to hand over Israel’s Golan Heights buffer to Assad. Similarly, as the wider region becomes more tumultuous and not less, Israelis must be all the more wary of gambling their national security on further territorial withdrawals in the West Bank, not least at a time when the PA has already proved so ineffective at maintaining order in the few localities it is currently entrusted with. And given the weak position of the Hashemite Kingdom in Jordan, it would not be difficult to imagine ISIS rapidly spreading from northern Iraq to the West Bank hilltops overlooking Tel Aviv.

Desperate to appear as if it has any clout on the world stage, the EU will continue to push for Israeli concessions in the West Bank. Equally desperate to distract from its multiple failings throughout the region, the Obama administration will also increase its pressure on Israel to give ground. But as the Gaza-Sinai experience shows, creating another area of ungoverned lawlessness and instability on their doorstep is not an option Israelis can afford.

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Obama, Not Bibi, Created U.S.-Israel Crisis

Since Barack Obama became president, The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg has been a reliable indicator of administration opinion about foreign-policy issues. Like some other journalists who can be counted on to support the president, he has been the recipient of some juicy leaks, especially when the White House wants to trash Israel’s government. But Goldberg and his “senior administration sources” reached a new low today when he published a piece in which those anonymous figures labeled Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu a “chickenshit” and a “coward.” The remarks are clearly not so much a warning to the Israelis to stop complaining about the U.S. push for appeasement of a nuclear Iran and the administration’s clueless approach to the conflict with the Palestinians. Rather the story is, as Goldberg rightly characterizes it, a genuine crisis in the relationship. That much is plain but where Goldberg and the talkative administration members are wrong is their belief that this is all Netanyahu’s fault. Their attacks on him are not only plainly false but are motivated by a desire to find an excuse that will be used to justify a drastic turn in U.S. foreign policy against Israel.

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Since Barack Obama became president, The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg has been a reliable indicator of administration opinion about foreign-policy issues. Like some other journalists who can be counted on to support the president, he has been the recipient of some juicy leaks, especially when the White House wants to trash Israel’s government. But Goldberg and his “senior administration sources” reached a new low today when he published a piece in which those anonymous figures labeled Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu a “chickenshit” and a “coward.” The remarks are clearly not so much a warning to the Israelis to stop complaining about the U.S. push for appeasement of a nuclear Iran and the administration’s clueless approach to the conflict with the Palestinians. Rather the story is, as Goldberg rightly characterizes it, a genuine crisis in the relationship. That much is plain but where Goldberg and the talkative administration members are wrong is their belief that this is all Netanyahu’s fault. Their attacks on him are not only plainly false but are motivated by a desire to find an excuse that will be used to justify a drastic turn in U.S. foreign policy against Israel.

The administration critique of Netanyahu as a coward stems from its disgust with his failure to make peace with the Palestinians as well as their impatience with his criticisms of their zeal for a deal with Iran even if it means allowing the Islamist regime to become a threshold nuclear power. But this is about more than policy. The prickly Netanyahu is well known to be a tough guy to like personally even if you are one of his allies. But President Obama and his foreign-policy team aren’t just annoyed by the prime minister. They’ve come to view him as public enemy No. 1, using language about him and giving assessments of his policies that are far harsher than they have ever used against even avowed enemies of the United States, let alone one of its closest allies.

So rather than merely chide him for caution they call him a coward and taunt him for being reluctant to make war on Hamas and even to launch a strike on Iran. They don’t merely castigate him as a small-time politician without vision; they accuse him of putting his political survival above the interests of his nation.

It’s quite an indictment but once you get beyond the personal dislike of the individual on the part of the president, Secretary of State Kerry, and any other “senior officials” that speak without attribution on the subject of Israel’s prime minister, all you have is a thin veil of invective covering up six years of Obama administration failures in the Middle East that have the region more dangerous for both Israel and the United States. For all of his personal failings, it is not Netanyahu—a man who actually served as a combat soldier under fire in his country’s most elite commando unit—who is a coward or a small-minded failure. It is Obama and Kerry who have fecklessly sabotaged a special relationship, an act whose consequences have already led to disaster and bloodshed and may yet bring worse in their final two years of power.

It was, after all, Obama (and in the last two years, Kerry) who has spent his time in office picking pointless fights with Israel over issues like settlements and Jerusalem. They were pointless not because there aren’t genuine disagreements between the two countries on the ideal terms for peace. But rather because the Palestinians have never, despite the administration’s best efforts to tilt the diplomatic playing field in their favor, seized the chance for peace. No matter how much Obama praises Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas and slights Netanyahu, the former has never been willing to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders would be drawn. They also chose to launch a peace process in spite of the fact that the Palestinians remain divided between Abbas’s Fatah and Hamas-ruled Gaza, a situation that makes it impossible for the PA to make peace even if it wanted to do so. The result of their heedless push for negotiations that were bound to fail was another round of violence this summer and the possibility of another terrorist intifada in the West Bank.

On Iran, it has not been Netanyahu’s bluffing about a strike that is the problem but Obama’s policies. Despite good rhetoric about stopping Tehran’s push for a nuke, the president has pursued a policy of appeasement that caused it to discard its significant military and economic leverage and accept a weak interim deal that began the process of unraveling the international sanctions that represented the best chance for a solution without the use of force.

Even faithful Obama supporter Goldberg understands that it would be madness for Israel to withdraw from more territory and replicate the Gaza terror experiment in the West Bank. He also worries that the administration is making a “weak” Iran deal even though he may be the only person on the planet who actually thinks Obama would use force to prevent an Iranian nuclear weapon.

So why is the administration so angry with Netanyahu? It can’t be because Netanyahu is preventing peace with the Palestinians. After the failure of Kerry’s fool’s errand negotiations and the Hamas missile war on Israel, not even Obama can think peace is at hand. Nor does he really think Netanyahu can stop him from appeasing Iran if Tehran is willing to sign even a weak deal.

The real reason to target Netanyahu is that it is easier to scapegoat the Israelis than to own up to the administration’s mistakes. Rather than usher in a new era of good feelings with the Arab world in keeping with his 2009 Cairo speech, Obama has been the author of policies that have left an already messy Middle East far more dangerous. Rather than ending wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, his decision to withdraw U.S. troops and to dither over the crisis in Syria led to more conflict and the rise of ISIS. Instead of ending the Iranian nuclear threat, Obama is on the road to enabling it. And rather than manage an Israeli-Palestinian standoff that no serious person thought was on the verge of resolution, Obama made things worse with his and Kerry’s hubristic initiatives and constant bickering with Israel.

Despite the administration’s insults, it is not Netanyahu who is weak. He has shown great courage and good judgment in defending his country’s interests even as Obama has encouraged the Palestinians to believe they can hold out for even more unrealistic terms while denying Israel the ammunition it needed to fight Hamas terrorists. While we don’t know whether, as Goldberg believes, it is too late for Israel to strike Iran’s nuclear facilities, it is Obama that Iran considers weak as it plays U.S. negotiators for suckers in the firm belief that the U.S. is a paper tiger that is not to be feared any longer.

If there is a crisis, it is one that was created by Obama’s failures and inability to grasp that his ideological prejudices were out of touch with Middle East realities.

The next two years may well see, as Goldberg ominously predicts, even more actions by the administration to downgrade the alliance with Israel. But the blame for this will belong to a president who has never been comfortable with Israel and who has, at every conceivable opportunity, sought conflict with it even though doing so did not advance U.S. interests or the cause of peace. No insult directed at Netanyahu, no matter how crude or pointless, can cover up the president’s record of failure.

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Palestinian Opinion and the Apartheid Libel

The latest poll of Palestinian opinion provides another sobering dose of reality to those who think that Israeli actions are the sole obstacle to peace. Following on the heels of previous surveys taken in the aftermath of this past summer’s war, the poll from the Jerusalem Media and Communications Center again shows that most Palestinians think Hamas won the conflict. More importantly, support for the Islamist terror group and the idea of continuing a military struggle against Israel continues to go up while backing for the supposedly more moderate Fatah declines. This is important in understanding not just how remote the chances of convincing those Fatah moderates to negotiate even a favorable peace deal with Israel are, but also why Israeli attitudes toward Palestinians have changed.

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The latest poll of Palestinian opinion provides another sobering dose of reality to those who think that Israeli actions are the sole obstacle to peace. Following on the heels of previous surveys taken in the aftermath of this past summer’s war, the poll from the Jerusalem Media and Communications Center again shows that most Palestinians think Hamas won the conflict. More importantly, support for the Islamist terror group and the idea of continuing a military struggle against Israel continues to go up while backing for the supposedly more moderate Fatah declines. This is important in understanding not just how remote the chances of convincing those Fatah moderates to negotiate even a favorable peace deal with Israel are, but also why Israeli attitudes toward Palestinians have changed.

The polls tell us that the same people who were being used as human shields by Hamas in Gaza as well as other Palestinians in the West Bank are still unwilling to rethink their backing for the group’s efforts to wage war and ultimately destroy Israel. This is puzzling to those in the West who bother to look at the numbers, since it makes no sense. Hamas’s campaign of “resistance” against Israeli “occupation”—the phrase by which they refer to pre-1967 Israel and not just the West Bank—has no prospect of success. All it brings the Palestinians is more devastation, suffering, and bloodshed.

And yet the majority of Palestinians remain so hostile to Israel’s existence and the Jewish presence on even the land it held before June 1967 that the struggle remains popular. From its beginnings in the early 20th century, Palestinian nationalism has always been inextricably linked with the war on Zionism. Reinforced by a constant drumbeat of incitement from both the official media of the Palestinian Authority and its leadership, the political culture of the Palestinians remains implacably hostile to Israel even if one takes Hamas out of the equation. That culture of denial of Israel’s legitimacy feeds the terrorism of Hamas in the form of missiles and terror tunnels, but also the Arab violence in the streets of Jerusalem against Israeli citizens that has created a steady toll of casualties in recent months.

It is also in that context that we should read the latest diatribe against Israel in the New York Times. An op-ed published today by Israeli Arab journalist Rula Jebreal is a compendium of charges all aimed to depict the country as fitting into the “apartheid state” libel. In her telling, every aspect of the country’s laws is geared toward discrimination against the Arab minority population. Israel is, like any democracy, imperfect and it would not be true to claim that Israeli Arabs have no cause for complaint. Some of what she writes about is true and some are distortions. But one doesn’t have to read too far between the lines to see that the purpose of her indictment is not redress of specific wrongs but the end of the Zionist project. The rights of national minorities should be protected in any society but the existence of that minority does not give them the right to thwart the basic purpose of the state.

For 66 years since it won its independence, Israel has attempted to be both a Jewish state and a democracy where minority rights are guaranteed. As it has proved, doing so is difficult but not impossible. It has been the haven for oppressed and homeless Jews from around the world while also maintaining equality of the law for Arabs whose democratic rights and ability to obtain redress through the courts has been stoutly defended. It is understandable that this compromise hasn’t satisfied those who would wish to see the one Jewish state on the planet replaced with yet another Arab state. The same rejectionist Palestinian culture referenced earlier also makes it hard for Arabs to accept being a minority in a majority Jewish country. But even if Israeli Arabs are unhappy about this, they are also generally quick to acknowledge that they have better lives and more democratic rights than virtually any other Arab population in the Middle East.

But what is really missing from Jebreal’s account of Israeli Arab life is the fact that Israeli Jewish opinion of Arabs has been deeply influenced by the events of the last 20 years. After the Oslo Accords in 1993, most Israelis were convinced that peace was just around the corner. But the campaigns of terrorism and the rejections of peace offers changed their minds. The overwhelming majority believes that in both the Oslo Accords and the 2005 withdrawal from Gaza, they traded land for terror, not peace. But rather than distancing themselves from the Palestinians in the territories, the majority of Israeli Arabs sympathize with many of the terror groups. Most now call themselves “Palestinians” rather than Israelis as they did before Oslo.

Muslims cry racism when some in the West accurately trace the roots of ISIS and Hamas to a form of radical Islam that has significant support among Muslims. But Jebreal simply puts down all Israelis who are religious as racist without a shred of proof. Indeed, she decries the greater integration of Orthodox Jews into the Israeli Army as proof of Israel’s perfidy rather than its democratic values.

She claims Israeli education promotes discrimination against Palestinians when, in fact, peace education has been a hallmark of the system since Oslo even as the Palestinian Authority schools continue to promote hate against Jews.

For her, Israel is merely a discriminatory state driven by hatred against Arabs. This is false. But how can she be surprised that Israelis are bitter about what the Palestinians have done? With most of the country spending the summer scurrying back and forth to bomb shelters as Hamas rained down missiles on their heads, did she think they would be happy about the fact that most Palestinians, and even many Israeli Arabs, applaud Hamas?

Israel has its flaws but it remains a democracy where Arabs may vote and serve in virtually any government post. What it needs is peace with its neighbors. But with those neighbors continuing to refuse to make peace, and with the Arab minority increasingly hostile to the state and sympathetic to those who desire its destruction, it is hardly remarkable that inter-communal relations have suffered as they would in any country that remains in a state of war. Indeed, in the history of the world there is probably no other example of one party to such a conflict protecting the rights of members of their society who identify with the enemy in the way that Israel has done for its Arab population.

If she were honest, she’d admit that the Palestinian drive to exclude all Jews from their territory is the real apartheid, not a Jewish state that guarantees the rights of Arabs. If Jebreal wants Israel to become a place where Arab-Jewish hostility is lessened, then she should address her complaints to her fellow Arabs who support Hamas and whose hostility ensures the seemingly indefinite perpetuation of the conflict. But by invoking the apartheid libel about Israel and not the settlements in the territories she is giving away her real intent. Not even a total withdrawal from the lands won in 1967 would satisfy her any more than it would Hamas. What she wants is an end to the Jewish state, not a civil-rights movement as she disingenuously claims. So long as this is what passes for informed Arab opinion, no one should be surprised that Israelis have given up on peace for the foreseeable future.

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The Coming Recriminations

According to Reuters, “President Barack Obama is fighting his last campaign mostly at staid Democratic fund-raising events in hotel ballrooms and the private homes of donors, a far cry from the huge crowds who turned out in droves during his White House runs and helped elect him twice.”

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According to Reuters, “President Barack Obama is fighting his last campaign mostly at staid Democratic fund-raising events in hotel ballrooms and the private homes of donors, a far cry from the huge crowds who turned out in droves during his White House runs and helped elect him twice.”

The Hill newspaper, in its story, reports, “Candidates in battleground states are paddling furiously to put as much clear blue water as possible between themselves and the man in the White House.”

This is embarrassing. And a week from tomorrow, after the midterm elections are done and the votes are counted, it’ll be ugly. The knives, already sharpened, are in the process of being unsheathed.

The recriminations among Democrats is going to be quite something to behold. For my part I’m betting that, if only because of force of habit, Mr. Obama will blame his predecessor.

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The Worst Part of the IRS Asset-Seizure Abuse: Expect It to Continue

There are many outrageous details in the New York Times’s revelations about a law that lets the IRS seize the assets of Americans whose bank-deposit patterns the agency finds suspicious even if a crime wasn’t committed. There is the fact that “Law enforcement agencies get to keep a share of whatever is forfeited.” There is the fact that “The government can take the money without ever filing a criminal complaint,” and the related issue that “the owners are left to prove they are innocent. Many give up.” There is the fact that in some cases, the banks (or their financial advisors) recommend that supposedly suspicious deposit pattern (less than $10,000 at a time, repeatedly). But the most disturbing part of a very disturbing story might just be this:

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There are many outrageous details in the New York Times’s revelations about a law that lets the IRS seize the assets of Americans whose bank-deposit patterns the agency finds suspicious even if a crime wasn’t committed. There is the fact that “Law enforcement agencies get to keep a share of whatever is forfeited.” There is the fact that “The government can take the money without ever filing a criminal complaint,” and the related issue that “the owners are left to prove they are innocent. Many give up.” There is the fact that in some cases, the banks (or their financial advisors) recommend that supposedly suspicious deposit pattern (less than $10,000 at a time, repeatedly). But the most disturbing part of a very disturbing story might just be this:

On Thursday, in response to questions from The New York Times, the I.R.S. announced that it would curtail the practice, focusing instead on cases where the money is believed to have been acquired illegally or seizure is deemed justified by “exceptional circumstances.”

Richard Weber, the chief of Criminal Investigation at the I.R.S., said in a written statement, “This policy update will ensure that C.I. continues to focus our limited investigative resources on identifying and investigating violations within our jurisdiction that closely align with C.I.’s mission and key priorities.” He added that making deposits under $10,000 to evade reporting requirements, called structuring, is still a crime whether the money is from legal or illegal sources. The new policy will not apply to past seizures.

Not nearly enough about the policy will change, nor will the law allowing it. And there won’t be consequences for those clearly abusing this authority. The IRS simply promises to use better discretion in deciding whose bank accounts they will–literally!–raid.

If you want a description of what happens when a federal agency operates with impunity and is incentivized to go trolling for cash, this is it. And the head of the relevant IRS department, after being exposed as the chief pillager, declares that you can trust him to pillage more responsibly. Any government that condones this is fundamentally at odds with the basic pillars of liberty, including presumption of innocence, due process, and private property protections. At least The Sopranos could be funny.

As the IRS goes blundering and plundering through America’s piggy banks, it’s important to revisit how we got here. Here is the explanation of the law in the Times piece:

The practice has swept up dairy farmers in Maryland, an Army sergeant in Virginia saving for his children’s college education and Ms. Hinders, 67, who has borrowed money, strained her credit cards and taken out a second mortgage to keep her restaurant going.

Their money was seized under an increasingly controversial area of law known as civil asset forfeiture, which allows law enforcement agents to take property they suspect of being tied to crime even if no criminal charges are filed. Law enforcement agencies get to keep a share of whatever is forfeited.

Critics say this incentive has led to the creation of a law enforcement dragnet, with more than 100 multiagency task forces combing through bank reports, looking for accounts to seize. Under the Bank Secrecy Act, banks and other financial institutions must report cash deposits greater than $10,000. But since many criminals are aware of that requirement, banks also are supposed to report any suspicious transactions, including deposit patterns below $10,000. Last year, banks filed more than 700,000 suspicious activity reports. Owners who are caught up in structuring cases often cannot afford to fight. The median amount seized by the I.R.S. was $34,000, according to the Institute for Justice analysis, while legal costs can easily mount to $20,000 or more.

Aside from the abuse of power–a pattern with the IRS, isn’t it?–this is a story about unintended consequences as well. The government put a regulation in place to catch depositors’ ill-gotten gains. Since criminals pay close attention to the laws they don’t follow, they started easily avoiding the paperwork. So the government simply cast a wider net, creating an air of suspicion around anyone who deposited less than $10,000. If that sounds like a lot of people to you, well, you’d be right, wouldn’t you?

One major objection to the sheer amount of regulation–especially that which is aimed at the financial industries–is that it virtually guarantees that anyone without a lobbyist and a D.C. lawyer on retainer will break the law fairly regularly. This is in part because so many of those laws are convoluted, nonsensical, or unconstitutional, and also because power corrupts and federal agencies have all the power.

This is your federal government in 2014: everyone’s a suspect. Madison is turning in his grave.

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Leadership Vacuums and Ebola Quarantines

Governors Chris Christie and Andrew Cuomo have taken quite a beating in the last couple of days from both the White House and the liberal mainstream media. The governors of New Jersey and New York became the objects of the scorn of the mainstream media for having, in the words of the New York Times editorial page, “fed panic” by seeking to impose mandatory quarantines on health-care workers returning from West African missions to treat Ebola patients. This was, we were told, a “dangerous” politically motivated overreaction. But amid the rush to pooh-pooh the threat to public health from the deadly virus, the governors’ critics are missing the point. In the absence of a strong and clearly competent response to the problem from Washington, local leaders are obliged to take steps that will definitively assure the public that government is doing what it can to keep them safe. Under the circumstances, it’s little wonder that the intense focus on the disease has influenced both public opinion and hurt President Obama’s party in the midterm elections.

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Governors Chris Christie and Andrew Cuomo have taken quite a beating in the last couple of days from both the White House and the liberal mainstream media. The governors of New Jersey and New York became the objects of the scorn of the mainstream media for having, in the words of the New York Times editorial page, “fed panic” by seeking to impose mandatory quarantines on health-care workers returning from West African missions to treat Ebola patients. This was, we were told, a “dangerous” politically motivated overreaction. But amid the rush to pooh-pooh the threat to public health from the deadly virus, the governors’ critics are missing the point. In the absence of a strong and clearly competent response to the problem from Washington, local leaders are obliged to take steps that will definitively assure the public that government is doing what it can to keep them safe. Under the circumstances, it’s little wonder that the intense focus on the disease has influenced both public opinion and hurt President Obama’s party in the midterm elections.

Let me confess that my initial reaction to the first inklings of a threat to Americans from Ebola over the summer was about as complacent as the Times is now, even after the number of cases diagnosed has increased. I assumed the Centers for Disease Control would do its job and that the federal government would do its job without too much fuss and that any alarm about the situation was foolish. But you don’t have to be tinfoil hat wearing conspiracy theorist to have noticed that, like most of what passes for governance from the Obama administration, the response from the to this crisis did not exactly inspire much confidence that they knew what they were doing or had spent much time preparing for various Ebola scenarios.

So it is little wonder that when the first case popped up in the Greater New York area both governors felt that merely sitting back and waiting for the CDC to do the right thing and trusting in the federal government apparatus would be imprudent. Nor, one imagines, was that what most of their constituents wanted them to do.

It may well be true that keeping those who may have been exposed to the virus in quarantine for weeks is unnecessary. It may also be true that scientists believe that the infection can’t spread until the victims start displaying symptoms. But these are the same people that told us that no one was in danger and that it wouldn’t spread. Moreover, the angry response from the CDC to the attempt to create a more comprehensive quarantine seems to be primarily motivated by a desire to squelch criticism rather than a reasoned approach to a problem about which they have already seemed uncertain at times.

While I am normally very sensitive to the imposition of government power with such dispatch or depriving anyone of their liberty, it should be remembered that the primary purpose of government is to defend the lives of its citizens. In this sense, Christie and Cuomo seemed to be acting with sound instincts and not as hysterical spreaders of panic as their critics claimed.

Even more to the point, if anyone has been playing politics with Ebola it has been the administration and its cheering section in the press which, as is the case with the Times, seem more worried about the public’s perception of government incompetence than they are about the problem. Stopping panic is a good idea. Suppressing reasonable criticism of a government that was slow to act is not, and that’s what seems to be behind most of the criticisms of the governors.

As for the health workers themselves, the world owes them a debt of gratitude for being willing to put their lives on the line in West Africa to help the sick. And it is possible that stricter quarantines may discourage some from joining in the effort. But taking actions to assure the public that there is no danger from them on their return from the infected zone is not a political stunt. It is the best kind of public policy. Rather than working overtime to try to convince us that there’s nothing wrong, President Obama and the rest of the federal government should be acting as if they understand that the American people aren’t stupid and can’t be hushed into silence when they know something bad is afoot. The public senses a leadership vacuum and though the governors’ moves were not above criticism, they deserve credit for trying. Which is more than you can say about the president and his minions.

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What Should Midterm Elections Be About?

You can tell Republicans are having a pretty good election season when the leftist press and commentators–who relentlessly pushed a presidential election to be about Big Bird and birth control–complain that they don’t like the arguments over which these elections are being fought. Translation: they’re losing those arguments.

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You can tell Republicans are having a pretty good election season when the leftist press and commentators–who relentlessly pushed a presidential election to be about Big Bird and birth control–complain that they don’t like the arguments over which these elections are being fought. Translation: they’re losing those arguments.

Some of the attempts to dismiss the campaign are laughable. Today the New Republic headlines its midterms piece “It’s Not Just You. The Midterms Are Boring.” As Noah Rothman tweeted in response: “9+ razor tight races which determines control of Congress in final years of a presidency? #yawn.” Indeed, the “boring” tag is ridiculous to anyone with an interest in American politics. But there’s a more interesting charge leveled against the midterms, and it’s worth delving into.

One critique gaining steam in the left-media is that the midterms are “the Seinfeld elections”–they’re about nothing. In the Weekly Standard, Stephen Hayes pushes back, but first shows just how prevalent the accusation has become:

The Washington Post may have been first in declaring the coming midterms “kind of—and apologies to Seinfeld here—an election about nothing.” But the Daily Beast chimed in: “America seems resigned to a Seinfeld election in 2014—a campaign about nothing.” And New York magazine noted (and embraced) the cliché: The midterm election “has managed to earn a nickname from the political press: the ‘Seinfeld Election,’ an election about nothing.”

Soon enough this description was popping up everywhere—the New Republic, the Los Angeles Times, the Christian Science Monitor, Bloomberg, Politico, and many others. The 2014 Midterms, the Seinfeld Election.

It shouldn’t be too surprising that the liberal echo chamber lives up to its name. Hayes goes into detail on what this election really is about–and it’s not about nothing. His response does demonstrate why the left wants people to think the midterms are about nothing: because they’re actually a referendum on many of the issues on which Democrats have failed the country miserably.

A more substantive critique of Republicans by conservatives is that they’re not running on a clear, coherent agenda. This argument holds that Republicans have a real opportunity in these midterms to offer not just criticism of the president and his party but an alternative governing agenda.

I am sympathetic to the conservatives’ call for an agenda. But overall, it strikes me as a bit odd that we’re having this conversation at all.

The 2014 midterms are obviously not boring, and they’re not “about nothing.” But neither are they “about” a specific policy fight or one cohesive overarching governing agenda. Because they shouldn’t be.

The midterms are, in fact, a collection of congressional races in which voters will choose politicians to represent their district or their state, and concentrating only on national issues at the expense of local concerns is a strange way to run elections in a republic. The man who best understood this in the modern era was Howard Dean. Here is how Matt Bai, then writing for the New York Times Magazine, described Dean’s relationship in 2006 with the Democratic Party establishment as Dean, the DNC chair, was instituting his “50-state strategy”:

This conflict between the party’s chairman and its elected leaders (who tried mightily to keep local activists from giving him the job in the first place) might be viewed as a petty disagreement. But in fact, it represents the deepening of a rift that has its roots in the 2004 presidential campaign — a rift that raises the fundamental issue of what role, if any, a political party should play in 21st-century American life. Dean ran for president, and then for chairman, as an outsider who would seize power from the party’s interest-group-based establishment and return it to the grass roots. And while he has gamely tried to play down his differences with elected Democrats since becoming chairman, it seems increasingly obvious that Dean is pursuing his own agenda for the party — an agenda that picks up, in many ways, where his renegade presidential campaign left off. Now, at power lunches and private meetings, perplexed Washington Democrats, the kind of people who have lorded over the party apparatus for decades, find themselves pondering the same bewildering questions. What on earth can Howard Dean be thinking? Does he really care about winning in November, or is he after something else?

And how did it turn out? Dean’s strategy was a smashing success, and helped tremendously in 2008 as Barack Obama turned red states blue, won more than 50 percent of the vote in both 2008 and 2012, and heralded an era of endless stories on whether the emerging Democratic electorate will lock the GOP out of the White House for the foreseeable future. But the post-Dean Democrats started abandoning that strategy, and it is costing them.

The Obama-manufactured “war on women” is floundering in states like Colorado while being openly ridiculed in a House race in New York. And Jeanne Shaheen, the Democratic incumbent facing a challenge from Scott Brown, was booed and jeered for robotically declaring “Koch brothers!” during a debate in New Hampshire. Democrats are not talking to the voters; they are merely relitigating past presidential elections. And the voters aren’t amused. Republicans shouldn’t make the same mistake.

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Democracy in Tunisia

This was a busy weekend for elections–a presidential race in Brazil (which saw the reelection of Dilma Rousseff) and parliamentary elections in Ukraine (which saw a victory for pro-European candidates) and in Tunisia (a victory for secularists over Islamists). From the American perspective it is tempting to see this as generally good news–Rousseff may be a leftist who has presided over a slide in the Brazilian economy but she is no threat to the U.S. The victory of pro-European parliamentarians is a welcome rebuke to Vladimir Putin’s attempts to fragment Ukraine.

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This was a busy weekend for elections–a presidential race in Brazil (which saw the reelection of Dilma Rousseff) and parliamentary elections in Ukraine (which saw a victory for pro-European candidates) and in Tunisia (a victory for secularists over Islamists). From the American perspective it is tempting to see this as generally good news–Rousseff may be a leftist who has presided over a slide in the Brazilian economy but she is no threat to the U.S. The victory of pro-European parliamentarians is a welcome rebuke to Vladimir Putin’s attempts to fragment Ukraine.

And what of Tunisia? That’s where I spent the last few days serving as an election observer for the International Republican Institute, a foundation supported by the U.S. government (along with the National Democratic Institute and others) to promote democracy. I was heartened to see how free and fair Tunisia’s election was–the second held by that country since longtime dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali fled the country in 2011.

It was actually his overthrow which triggered what became the Arab Spring and which elsewhere has turned into the winter of our discontent. Tunisia, along among the states in the region, has continued to make democratic progress even though it faces big problems from a stagnant economy and a worrisome security situation–a Salafist terrorist group known as Ansar al-Sharia has been held responsible for storming the U.S. Embassy in Tunis in 2012 and assassinating a couple of leftist politicians in 2013.

From what I could tell, as I visited polling places in the northwest of the country, Tunisia’s voting was transparent and honest. The problem is that voting is only one stage toward the blooming of liberal democracy. You also need a free press, freedom of assembly, free speech, an independent judiciary, an active opposition, and a general climate of peaceful resolution of differences. Tunisia has made some progress toward the independent press, free speech, and freedom of assembly–it is now possible to vent one’s public views without fear of a visit from the secret police. But much of the old corrupt bureaucracy which once served Ben Ali remains on the job, serving as a bar to further progress and stifling economic development with its heavy-handed, French-style socialism and cronyism.

Interestingly enough, the Islamist party, known as Ennahda, is more committed to free-market reforms than the big secular bloc known as Nidaa Tounes (Call of Tunisia), which bested it in Sunday’s voting. Ennahda shares this characteristic with the Turkish AKP party which, while Islamist, has also been more free-market oriented than most of its secular predecessors. And indeed Ennahda is trying to position itself as the “moderate” face of Islam, claiming it is committed both to Islam and to pluralistic democracy.

It tried to prove its bona fides by avoiding the kind of power grab that characterized Mohamed Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. After winning power in the first post-Ben Ali election in 2011, Ennahda governed in cooperation with secular parties and gave up power altogether when it was criticized for not doing more to crack down on Salafist terrorists. But most secularists are not convinced–they think Ennahda is pursuing a policy of dissimulation and that, if granted power, it would try to create an Islamist dictatorship.

Now Ennahda won’t take power except possible as part of a ruling coalition and it will be up to Nidaa Tounes to reform a moribund bureaucracy and get the economy moving again. There is little reason to expect that Nidaa Tounes will be up to the task; its leaders appear to be united by little more than their opposition to Ennahda. Many of them have backgrounds in the Ben Ali administration, which they tout as evidence of their managerial experience–but keep in mind that it was the very stagnation of the country in those years that led to the revolution that toppled Ben Ali.

I came away from Tunisia cheered that democracy is functioning and happy that it is not leading automatically in an Islamist direction, but I also came away skeptical about the ability of Tunisia’s political class to address its deep-seated malaise. It tells you something that hope for change rests with the frontrunner for president in next month’s elections, the leader of Nidaa Tounes, Beji Caid Essebsi, who happens to be 87 years old. Can an octogenarian really shake a country out of its lethargy? We are about to find out.

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Connections Between Turkey’s AKP and ISIS?

When the Turkish parliament voted to authorize the use of force in Syria and Iraq, American and, indeed, most foreign media misconstrued the content of the resolution to suggest that Turkey would target the Islamic State (ISIS). In reality, if President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan could rank his desired targets, President Bashar al-Assad’s regime would be at the top of the list, followed by the Syrian Kurds such as those who live in Kobane, and ISIS would be a distant third. Indeed, there is much reason to doubt Turkish commitment to counter ISIS.

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When the Turkish parliament voted to authorize the use of force in Syria and Iraq, American and, indeed, most foreign media misconstrued the content of the resolution to suggest that Turkey would target the Islamic State (ISIS). In reality, if President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan could rank his desired targets, President Bashar al-Assad’s regime would be at the top of the list, followed by the Syrian Kurds such as those who live in Kobane, and ISIS would be a distant third. Indeed, there is much reason to doubt Turkish commitment to counter ISIS.

Alas, if recent reports out of Turkey are true, then the relationship between Erdoğan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and ISIS are closer than previously known. There is a Turkish website called “Takva Haber” which Turks say serves as the mouthpiece for ISIS. It has been crucial in pushing out ISIS propaganda, and it has also helped ISIS recruit Turks to the degree that Turkey will be facing blowback from the radicals it has spawned long after Erdoğan is dead or in prison.

According to Turkish interlocutors, it now appears that the website is published from “Ilim Yayma Vakfı” or “Foundation for the Spread of Science [i.e. Islamic Theology].” For years, this foundation simply spread Islamist propaganda. What’s interesting, however, are its founders, among whose names can be found Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, his son Bilal, and Ahmet Davutoğlu, who serves as Erdoğan’s Medvedev.

How strange it is that the organization which these AKP luminaries—and dozens of others founded—now seems to be working unabashedly for ISIS. Perhaps this explains why Erdoğan has been so reticent to call ISIS a terrorist organization in his various speeches.

Then, of course, there is this photo which appeared yesterday in the Sozcu newspaper and which purports to show prominent AKP figure Suat Kılıç having dinner with ISIS supporters in Germany. A witness to the gathering said they jointly handed out Korans before beginning dinner.

Given the trajectory of Turkey—a state which has now reportedly fired more than 1,800 journalists for insufficient political loyalty to Erdoğan—and the willingness of Erdoğan to use security forces and vigilante gangs against those who provoke his ire, perhaps the time is not long coming before Erdoğan decides to unleash his ISIS supporters in Turkey in a deadly show of force to demonstrate what happens when the sultan is disobeyed.

When it comes to Turkey in 2014, nothing can any more surprise—other than, perhaps, that so many congressmen, among them otherwise responsible and serious Democrats and Republicans—would lend their names to the regime Erdoğan dominates and the agenda he pushes.

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Hillary’s Fake Populism and Her Fatal Flaw

It didn’t take long for Hillary Clinton’s handlers to start walking back the putative 2016 Democratic presidential nominee’s latest whopper. While campaigning alongside Senator Elizabeth Warren — the Democrat most members of her party’s base really like — Clinton tried to play can you top this with the popular left-winger by telling her audience, “Don’t let anybody tell you that corporations and businesses create jobs.” It’s hard to imagine a more mind-boggling confession of her ignorance of basic economics. But even after her staff tried to explain it as merely opposition to certain tax breaks or “trickle down economics,” it’s hard to explain what she was thinking.

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It didn’t take long for Hillary Clinton’s handlers to start walking back the putative 2016 Democratic presidential nominee’s latest whopper. While campaigning alongside Senator Elizabeth Warren — the Democrat most members of her party’s base really like — Clinton tried to play can you top this with the popular left-winger by telling her audience, “Don’t let anybody tell you that corporations and businesses create jobs.” It’s hard to imagine a more mind-boggling confession of her ignorance of basic economics. But even after her staff tried to explain it as merely opposition to certain tax breaks or “trickle down economics,” it’s hard to explain what she was thinking.

Granted, in a week in which Democratic National Committee Chair Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz actually said that she agreed with the idea that Republicans are more dangerous than Ebola or ISIS, it must be acknowledged that Clinton’s wacky attack on capitalism isn’t even the most outrageous thing said by a Democrat. But it nevertheless offers us a fascinating insight into her character and inherent weakness as a candidate.

Clinton understands that although Warren has wisely decided to decline to attempt to challenge her for her party’s presidential nomination, her left-wing populism makes her the darling of Democrats. Though she can’t be too worried about a gadfly like Senator Bernie Sanders providing competition in the 2016 primaries, Clinton needs the enthusiasm as well as the support of her party’s liberal core. So when placed alongside Warren, her instincts tell her to not merely echo the Massachusetts senator’s attack on the market economy but to go even further down the ideological road to a place that must surely baffle the Clinton enterprise’s big money Wall Street donors.

This is, of course, the same Hillary who likes to pretend to be the adult in the room on economic as well as foreign policy issues. But as she proved during her time as secretary of state, Clinton is a political chameleon with no core beliefs other than her own personal ambition. Just as she gladly went along with President Obama’s decision to cut and run from Iraq and ultimately from Afghanistan and stay out of Syria even though she supposedly disagreed with much of this, when placed in Warren’s orbit in front of an audience of rabid liberals, Clinton is ready to stake out a position that seems to assert that only government is responsible for job creation.

Rather than a misstatement or a gaffe or even a late life avowal of neo-socialist claptrap her nonsense about corporations not creating jobs is testimony to her inauthentic nature.

In another context, we’d just put her down as an unprincipled flip-flopper but with Clinton it is more than that. After more than 20 years in our national political life, Hillary Clinton has amassed an impressive resume and can count on her party and the mainstream media to treat her quest to be the first female president as being a national crusade deserving of slavish and unquestioned support. But even after all this time in the spotlight, she’s still trying to figure out who she is and what she wants us to think she believes. And she’s ready to say anything, whether tilting to the right or the left to fit the circumstances.

Just as important, all that time spent at the side of our country’s most gifted politician since Ronald Reagan has taught her nothing about how to speak or behave while under scrutiny. Coming after her awful book tour in which she committed gaffe after gaffe (including her memorable claim about being broke after leaving the White House that left out the fact that she had received a multi-million dollar book advance), this attack on the corporations that she hopes will donate money to her presidential bid is just the latest proof that she is a terrible candidate who isn’t improving with age and experience.

Democrats are laboring under the delusion that Clinton is a political colossus who will follow in Barack Obama’s footsteps and sweep aside any GOP opposition in another historic campaign. But this misstep is a reminder that she has never (as Obama knows all too well) beaten a tough opponent in an election and is capable of blowing elections that seem impossible to lose. Even if this doesn’t tempt Warren to try and steal the party out from under Clinton’s nose, it should encourage Republicans who may believe that changing demographics and other problems doom their party to inevitable defeat. Americans can smell a phony from a mile away and this week Hillary proved again that this is her glaring and perhaps fatal weakness.

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Why Does the State Department Endorse Palestinian Fight to Exclude Jews?

Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu made headlines around the world again today with his assertion in the Knesset that he will defend the right of Jews to live in any part of his country’s capital. The statement and the expedited plans to build 1,000 new apartments in Jerusalem is drawing the usual condemnations from the international community as both an unnecessary provocation and a new obstacle to Middle East peace. But what Israel’s critics are missing is that the threats and actual violence coming from Palestinians about Jewish homes, is the best indicator that the sort of mutual coexistence that is essential to peace is currently not in the cards.

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Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu made headlines around the world again today with his assertion in the Knesset that he will defend the right of Jews to live in any part of his country’s capital. The statement and the expedited plans to build 1,000 new apartments in Jerusalem is drawing the usual condemnations from the international community as both an unnecessary provocation and a new obstacle to Middle East peace. But what Israel’s critics are missing is that the threats and actual violence coming from Palestinians about Jewish homes, is the best indicator that the sort of mutual coexistence that is essential to peace is currently not in the cards.

As the New York Times reports:

“If Israel wants to live in a peaceful society, they need to take steps that will reduce tensions,” Jen Psaki, the State Department spokeswoman, told reporters in a briefing. “Moving forward with this sort of action would be incompatible with the pursuit of peace.”

The Israeli move is being blasted as yet another example of Netanyahu worsening the already tense relationship between Israel and the United States. But Psaki’s willingness to jump on Netanyahu after repeatedly refusing in the last week to condemn statements from Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas in which he openly incited violence against Israelis, the State Department stand could easily be interpreted as an implicit approval of the PA position.

If so, then it should be understood that what the United States is doing here is saying that Palestinians are in the right when they demand that Jews be kept out of certain parts of Jerusalem. But far from disturbing the peace, the idea of building new apartments in existing Jewish neighborhoods in the city or moving into mixed or Arab majority areas not only repudiates the formula of territorial swaps that President Obama has repeatedly endorsed but also reinforces the notion that the Palestinian state that the State Department envisions will be one in which no Jew is allowed to live. That means the U.S. is backing a vision of a Palestinian apartheid state that is itself incompatible with any notion of peace and rationalizing the recent wave of Arab violence against Jewish targets in Jerusalem.

Just this last week, another terrorist incident in Jerusalem took the lives of two persons including an infant. Others were injured in incidents in which Palestinians threw Molotov cocktails — gasoline firebombs — at soldiers and police seeking to restore order after violent protests about Jews moving into the Silwan section of the city. One such bomb thrower — a 14-year-old Palestinian who was born in New Orleans — was killed by Israeli troops while in the process of trying to incinerate them or motorists on a highway. But the State Department didn’t acknowledge that the deceased was killed while committing what would be considered an act of terrorism were the target Americans. Instead, it merely extended condolences to the family of the teenager and to demand explanations from Israel about his death. In doing so, it seems insensible to the fact that by continuing to back up Abbas’ complaints, it is helping to incite the violence that is taking lives on both sides and making the prospects of peace even more remote.

From the point of the view of Netanyahu’s detractors, today’s announcement and the refusal of Israeli authorities to stop Jews from moving into properties that they have legally purchased in East Jerusalem is upsetting the status quo in the city. This is not just a function of the ongoing U.S. refusal to recognize that it is neither possible nor desirable to return to the status quo on June 4, 1967 when half of the city was under illegal Jordanian occupation. The U.S. position also seems to accept the idea that Palestinians have a right to be angry over Jews moving into both Jewish majority neighborhoods and Arab majority neighborhoods in parts of Jerusalem. But both positions are problematic.

On the one hand, the U.S treating more apartments going up in areas that, dating back to the Clinton administration, the U.S. has acknowledged would be retained by Israel in the event of a peace agreement, as either provocative or an obstacle to peace makes no sense. Why should the Palestinians be encouraged to make an issue out of Jews living in places that no one thinks will ever part of a Palestinian state? In doing so, Washington is inciting Abbas to use the existence of places where hundreds of thousands of Jews currently live as an excuse not to negotiate with Israel or even to countenance more acts of terror.

Just as mistaken is the idea that Jews moving into Arab neighborhoods is a good reason for Palestinians to get riled up. If Abbas had accepted any of the peace deals that Israel has previously offered, those places would even now be part of the Palestinian state that he professes to want but refuses to do anything to make it a reality. Had he done so then or even if he were willing to do so now as part of a deal in which the Palestinians agreed to end the conflict for all time and recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state alongside them no matter where its borders are drawn, then it wouldn’t matter if there were a few Jews living in Silwan or anywhere else. Since Arabs are currently allowed to live in West Jerusalem as equal citizens under Israeli law why shouldn’t the Palestinians extend the same offer to the so-called settlers who have moved into apartments in the shadow of the Old City walls?

The reason is that their goal is to create a Jew free state whose purpose will be to perpetuate the conflict against Israel, not end it. The state they envision will be, as I wrote last week, the true apartheid state in the Middle East in which parts of Jerusalem will become legal no go zones for Jews in much the same way, white South Africans made it illegal for blacks to live in parts of their own country. It is exactly for this perverted vision that Palestinians are taking to the streets to lob lethal weapons at Jews while the State Department treats the perpetrators as innocent victims and the actual victims as aggressors.

That is the racism that the U.S. is endorsing by making an issue of Jews building in Jerusalem. Peace doesn’t have a chance until the Palestinians stop being offended by Jews living in the holy city or thinking they are justified in fighting for an apartheid vision in which they are excluded.

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