Commentary Magazine


The Faltering Operation Inherent Resolve

If you want a laugh, go to the Central Command website and click on their press releases. Every day there is a new dispatch about the anti-ISIS air campaign in Iraq and Syria known incongruously as Operation Inherent Resolve. The latest release is from October 28: “U.S. military forces continued to attack ISIL terrorists in Syria Monday and today using attack and fighter aircraft to conduct four airstrikes.  Separately, U.S. and partner nation military forces conducted nine airstrikes in Iraq Monday and today using attack, fighter, and remotely piloted aircraft against ISIL terrorists.” What’s so funny here? The fact that Central Command is trumpeting a mere 13 airstrikes, which only highlights how anemic this whole air campaign remains.

Read More

If you want a laugh, go to the Central Command website and click on their press releases. Every day there is a new dispatch about the anti-ISIS air campaign in Iraq and Syria known incongruously as Operation Inherent Resolve. The latest release is from October 28: “U.S. military forces continued to attack ISIL terrorists in Syria Monday and today using attack and fighter aircraft to conduct four airstrikes.  Separately, U.S. and partner nation military forces conducted nine airstrikes in Iraq Monday and today using attack, fighter, and remotely piloted aircraft against ISIL terrorists.” What’s so funny here? The fact that Central Command is trumpeting a mere 13 airstrikes, which only highlights how anemic this whole air campaign remains.

Between October 7, 2001, and December 23, 2001—a period of seventy-five days—U.S. aircraft fighting the Taliban and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan flew 6,500 strike sorties and dropped 17,500 munitions. By contrast, between August 8, 2014, and October 23, 2014—a period of seventy-six days—the United States conducted only 632 airstrikes and dropped only 1,700 munitions in Iraq and Syria.

What’s more, the U.S. has dispatched only 1,400 personnel to Iraq and prohibited them from embedding with units conducting combat operations, which greatly limits their ability to call in air strikes or provide effective advice.

Little wonder, then, that there might be grumbling in the military about micromanagement and insufficient commitment from the White House–both complaints aired in this Daily Beast article by Josh Rogin and Eli Lake. “One senior defense official” is quoted as saying: “We are getting a lot of micromanagement from the White House. Basic decisions that should take hours are taking days sometimes.”

Among the illogical constraints imposed by the president and his advisers is that the American general in charge of building up forces in Syria must “build a new rebel army from scratch but is not permitted to work with existing brigades, meaning he must find and vet new soldiers, mostly sourcing from Syrian refugee camps in Turkey, Jordan, and Lebanon. What’s more, the size of the program will produce only 5,000 fighters a year after the training begin, most of whom who will serve as ‘local defense forces’ and not actually go after ISIS, according to two officials briefed on the plan.”

No doubt White House spinmeisters will be able to quibble with this detail or that in this article, thus deflecting the criticism. But the complaints expressed here sound entirely credible and legitimate to me. This military operation would more aptly be named Operation Infinite Confusion.

Read Less

Should Politics Be a Proxy for Character?

In his column earlier this week, David Brooks, citing a variety of studies, wrote that “people’s essential worth is being measured by a political label: whether they should be hired, married, trusted or discriminated against.”

Read More

In his column earlier this week, David Brooks, citing a variety of studies, wrote that “people’s essential worth is being measured by a political label: whether they should be hired, married, trusted or discriminated against.”

According to Brooks, as personal life is being de-moralized, political life is being “hyper-moralized” (meaning people are judgmental about policy labels); more people are building their communal and social identities around political labels; and politics is becoming a marker for basic decency. “Those who are not members of the right party are deemed to lack basic compassion, or basic loyalty to country,” he writes. Political issues have become symbols of worth and dignity.

There are of course cases when politics does reveal a corrupted character (e.g., a person who is a member of a neo-Nazi movement). But as a general matter, the points Brooks is making are quite right and, given the state of our politics, quite important. To state the obvious: We all know there are people who hold very different political views than we do who are admirable and honorable individuals, just as there are people who share our philosophy and are disreputable. In the vast majority of cases, one’s political affiliation says nothing about one’s personal character.

Beyond that, politics should have a rather limited role in our lives. To be sure, politics is important; it can create (or destroy) the conditions that allow for human flourishing. Yet for most people, most of life is–and the most important things in life are–lived outside of the arena of politics. And we shouldn’t overinflate its significance or exaggerate what it tells us about each other. Should I think less of the character of the coach of my son’s soccer team, or my daughter’s piano teacher, or the couple in my Bible Study, or the person who volunteers at a homeless shelter because of their views on climate change or the Affordable Care Act? On whether or not they want to raise or lower corporate tax rates? On whether they think illegal immigrants should be given a path to citizenship?

The answer for some people is yes. Jonathan Chait of New York magazine argues that those who hold political views contrary to his “live in a different moral universe” than he does and he therefore believes “their political views reflect something unflattering about their character.” This attitude shapes how he and others like him approach political debate. Why should we treat those on the wrong side of, say, the minimum wage with anything except disdain and contempt? People who hold this view of politics eventually feel justified in declaring their hatred for those with whom they disagree.

It’s important to acknowledge that many of us wrestle with a less acrimonious version of this. I’ve experienced situations over the years in which political differences have caused tensions even with friends that have required repair work and resetting things. The more deeply you feel about a subject the more inclined you are to view those disagreements as rooted in differing views of justice and morality. That’s understandable. If you have strong pro-life convictions and you encounter someone who celebrates abortion as a social and moral good, it’s likely that you’ll draw conclusions about that person that reflect, at least initially and at least in part, on their character. But in terms of what we should aspire to–between trying to check the (natural) impulse to view our political opponents as enemies v. encouraging it–it’s worth considering the example of Lincoln, who governed a nation far more divided than we are today.

“This most unrelenting enemy to the project of the Confederacy was the one man who had quite purged his heart and mind from hatred or even anger towards his fellow-countrymen of the South,” Lord Charnwood wrote in his marvelous biography of Lincoln. “It was not men but slavery he hated,” is how the essayist Joseph Epstein put it. “Malice wasn’t available to Lincoln; mercy came naturally to him. His magnanimity in forgiveness was another sign of his superiority.”

One final thought. Brooks writes, “Most of the time, politics is a battle between competing interests or an attempt to balance partial truths. But in this fervent state, it turns into a Manichaean struggle of light and darkness. To compromise is to betray your very identity.”

This is among the harder things for us to come to grips with, which is that at best we see partial truths; that while we believe truth exists, our ability to fully perceive truth is limited. People who accept this tend to be relatively less dogmatic and abrasive, relatively more empirical, the ones most open to other points of view and corrections. “We need to make room for other perspectives,” a wise friend recently told me. “We need to make room for others at the table.”

That doesn’t mean that the perspectives of others are always right or even valuable. Not everyone’s opinion is worth hearing. And some personalities fit better at the table than do others. The point from the conversation, at least as I took it, is that one way to avoid “epistemic closure” is by considering, at least now and then, different angles of vision, different ways of seeing things. It means from time to time assuming the person you’re politically at odds with is a decent person and then trying to understand why he holds the views he does, even if you reject them. It requires taking into account the strongest (not the weakest) arguments against our assumptions and the self-confidence to change if needed. The goal, after all, isn’t to win a debate; it’s to more closely align our views to the truth of things.

Read Less

How Sweden Ended Up Proving Israel Right

The diplomatic fallout from Sweden’s vote to recognize the state of Palestine continues. Israel recalled its ambassador to Sweden along with an explanation from the Foreign Ministry. It followed Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s criticism of the Swedish recognition, in which he included a not-so-diplomatic dig at IKEA. Yet both responses from Israel to the Palestine recognition were not only defensible, but appropriate, especially if you follow Sweden’s own official statements about the matter.

Read More

The diplomatic fallout from Sweden’s vote to recognize the state of Palestine continues. Israel recalled its ambassador to Sweden along with an explanation from the Foreign Ministry. It followed Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s criticism of the Swedish recognition, in which he included a not-so-diplomatic dig at IKEA. Yet both responses from Israel to the Palestine recognition were not only defensible, but appropriate, especially if you follow Sweden’s own official statements about the matter.

One of the aspects of Lieberman’s rise through Israeli politics is that he drives non-Israelis, especially leftist American Jews, insane. What they don’t understand about Israeli politics could fill a bookshelf, but what they don’t understand about Lieberman is basically this: he’s among the most politically savvy figures in Israel, perhaps even topping the list. And he’s also, therefore, something of a realist. He supports the two-state solution and land swaps, and he’s used his knowledge of Eurasia (he’s Moldovan) to expand Israel’s alliances–a strategy that looks increasingly wise as the Obama administration throws temper tantrums at the Israeli leadership (and public) and downgrades the U.S.-Israel military alliance.

Here was Lieberman’s initial response to the Swedish recognition:

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman called the recognition “unfortunate” and said in a statement that it would only serve to strengthen the Palestinians’ “unrealistic demands.”

“The Swedish government needs to understand that the Middle East is more complicated than self-assembly furniture from Ikea and to act on the issue responsibly and with sensitivity,” he said, getting in a dig at the Sweden-based retail giant.

So there are two elements to this response: first, that it will essentially reward Palestinian intransigence, and second, that it oversimplifies what real peace requires. Lieberman, then, is quite obviously correct on both counts. The Swedes did not take kindly to the IKEA dig, and responded thus:

To which the Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallström replied, “I will be happy to send him a flat pack of IKEA furniture and he will also see that what you need to put it together is, first of all, a partner. And you also need to cooperate and you need a good manual and I think we have most of those elements,” the Times of Israel reported.

This was intended as a rebuttal; instead, however, it proved Lieberman’s point better than even Lieberman could. Wallström says to put together the furniture you need a partner. Lieberman would agree, and the lack of a true Palestinian partner (Mahmoud Abbas sparked what may turn into the third intifada in Jerusalem this week) is a good reason why Swedish recognition now was a terrible idea and also explains why the lack of a two-state solution thus far is not Israel’s fault.

Wallström then says you need cooperation. This is correct, and demonstrates the foolishness of recognizing Palestine, since unilateral moves have long been considered obstacles to negotiations. In this case, Sweden has supported unilateral moves in direct contravention of the concept of cooperation.

Wallström concludes by saying “you need a good manual.” Perhaps. The Israeli-Palestinian peace process has now produced two such manuals, though it’s arguable how “good” they are: the Oslo Accords and the Roadmap. Both of these manuals impose certain requirements on each side, but the central theme is that a peace agreement will come about through negotiations and that intransigence and violence should not be rewarded by each side being encouraged to go its own way and do what it pleases. Sweden’s recognition of Palestine violates this as well.

Wallström might have been better off researching what we in the West refer to as a “sense of humor,” and not responded so seriously to an obvious joke. Not only does Wallström look humorless, but her response perfectly illustrated why Sweden was wrong–according to Sweden! (Or at least according to its Foreign Ministry.)

Western liberals are probably getting accustomed to being outsmarted by Avigdor Lieberman, though I don’t imagine it reduces the sting all that much. As for recalling the Israeli ambassador to Sweden, that too is at least understandable. Israel is facing a bit of a European fad of late to recognize Palestine, though it’s usually symbolic. Israel can be expected to try to prevent the spread of this gesture by showing that it at least is not without repercussions.

Additionally, Israel is currently facing down the possibility of another intifada. Even if it doesn’t arrive–Jerusalem’s stability seems to thankfully be holding for the moment, which is a very good sign–there has been a spate of violence in Jerusalem against Jewish civilians and continued threats from Iranian Palestinian proxies. To reward Palestinian behavior such as this, and at this precise time, is to signal to the Palestinians that violence against Jews is the way to impress the international community and get what they want. Such behavior will be the death of peace, no matter how many states European politicians feel like recognizing.

Read Less

Christie Shouldn’t Bother Apologizing

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has never apologized for doing it before this and he isn’t starting now. When Christie told a Democratic heckler at an event commemorating the second anniversary of Hurricane Sandy to “sit down and shut up,” it was more or less business as usual for the abrasive Republican who has said pretty much the same thing to opponents for years to the applause of his many fans. Yet with Christie giving indications that he is going ahead with a 2016 presidential run, the run-in with a noisy critic got the kind of negative attention that usually spells trouble for a national candidate. The dustup raises the question of whether it is time for him to start toning down the tough guy act. The answer here is that he shouldn’t bother trying.

Read More

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has never apologized for doing it before this and he isn’t starting now. When Christie told a Democratic heckler at an event commemorating the second anniversary of Hurricane Sandy to “sit down and shut up,” it was more or less business as usual for the abrasive Republican who has said pretty much the same thing to opponents for years to the applause of his many fans. Yet with Christie giving indications that he is going ahead with a 2016 presidential run, the run-in with a noisy critic got the kind of negative attention that usually spells trouble for a national candidate. The dustup raises the question of whether it is time for him to start toning down the tough guy act. The answer here is that he shouldn’t bother trying.

In discussing this incident it should be acknowledged that videos of similar Christie smack downs are not hard to find. They are what made him a YouTube star with a national following. Even many GOP conservatives who now despise him for his supposed moderation and who will never forgive Christie for his embrace of President Obama days before the 2012 presidential election used to cheer every time they saw the governor bulldoze anyone who had the temerity to ask a question he didn’t like. If we haven’t seen as much of this from him lately it is because the post-Bridgegate version of Christie has been a lot more subdued than previous incarnations. Getting back to yelling at critics, be they Democrats, teachers, union leaders, or ordinary citizens who didn’t fawn all over him shows that Christie is feeling more like himself these days now that he has been proven to have had no role in the bizarre scheme to cause a traffic jam on the George Washington Bridge last year.

Moreover the attention paid to the screaming match shows that he is still a major political star even if his name is nowhere on the ballot this November. The fact that Democrats and liberal groups were doing everything they could to treat the incident as proof that he isn’t fit to be president shows that they fear him as a general-election opponent. Moreover, at this stage of the 2016 election cycle where name recognition and keeping yourself in the public eye is vital it’s fair to say that no publicity is bad publicity as long as it doesn’t involve a scandal. And for all of the huffing and puffing about the awfulness of the confrontation, yelling at someone who is behaving as rudely as Christie’s heckler was doesn’t count as a scandal. Had he apologized as if it was some grievous offense, it would have been more damaging to him than his defiance since it would have shown that he knew that he was out of line and made things even worse the next time it happened, something that is about as certain as the sun rising in the east tomorrow morning.

But even if this wasn’t the worst thing that could have happened to Christie, the real reason why he shouldn’t bother apologizing isn’t such good news for the governor: No matter how good or bad his behavior will be over the course of the next two years, he isn’t going to be elected president either way.

His periodic screaming fits caused by his well known thin skin and intolerance of critics would be a major problem for anyone who wants to be president. As we’ve noted in this space before, the public may well tolerate and even like a candidate or an officeholder who doesn’t fit into the usual mold or who acts out every now then. But what will fly when you’re a Northeast governor won’t necessarily work when you’re asking the people to give you control of nuclear weapons instead of just a battalion of state troopers. If Christie were ever to compete seriously as a first-tier candidate in Republican primaries or in a general election, his lack of what is generally considered to be a presidential temperament would be a huge problem. The pressures of a presidential campaign and the certainty of hecklers and critics at every stop would force the thin-skinned governor to either alter his style in a manner that would cause him to lose much of his appeal or lead to daily blowups that would be entertaining but not have a good outcome.

To imagine that a candidate who has done so much to embitter the base of his party would ever win its presidential nomination is to engage in science fiction, not political science. While there is a path to that nomination for someone who isn’t a Tea Partier or dyed-in-the-wool social conservative, Christie has gone too far for that person to be him. Though he may run and can raise the kind of money to put on a credible campaign, it is hard to conjure up a scenario by which the truculent governor winds up outlasting the deep and talented field of Republican presidential contenders.

So Christie should just go on being himself, yelling at anyone he likes. Doing so will be easier on his digestion, good for journalists who cover him, and won’t stop the governor from winning an office to which he will never win election anyway.

Read Less

Haaretz’s 9/11 Truther Gift to Anti-Semites

The fact that the Israeli newspaper Haaretz is a major source of incitement and often misinformation about the Jewish state and the Middle East is not news. Some of its columnists are fervent anti-Zionists and, as COMMENTARY noted in a magazine feature by Joshua Muravchik last year, provide a steady source of material for Israel-bashers. Israel is a free country and if a formerly Zionist newspaper wants to play this role that is its right. But sometimes, even Haaretz goes too far and not only feeds the anti-Israel propaganda machine but steps over the line into material that aids and abets anti-Semitism. That is the only way to characterize the bizarre decision to publish an editorial cartoon depicting Prime Minister Netanyahu flying a plane with Israeli markings into the World Trade Center Towers.

Read More

The fact that the Israeli newspaper Haaretz is a major source of incitement and often misinformation about the Jewish state and the Middle East is not news. Some of its columnists are fervent anti-Zionists and, as COMMENTARY noted in a magazine feature by Joshua Muravchik last year, provide a steady source of material for Israel-bashers. Israel is a free country and if a formerly Zionist newspaper wants to play this role that is its right. But sometimes, even Haaretz goes too far and not only feeds the anti-Israel propaganda machine but steps over the line into material that aids and abets anti-Semitism. That is the only way to characterize the bizarre decision to publish an editorial cartoon depicting Prime Minister Netanyahu flying a plane with Israeli markings into the World Trade Center Towers.

Cartoonist Amos Biderman defends his creation as just another barb thrown at Israel’s leader from a newspaper that despises him. He meant it, he said, as a comment on what he believes is Netanyahu’s bad judgment in needlessly destroying good relations between Israel and the United States. We’ll leave aside the obvious injustice of a cartoon that promoted that point of view. At a time when it is the Obama administration that is lobbing vulgar insults at the prime minister to cover up for their own cluelessness about the realities of the region and the disastrous moves that have made the Middle East more dangerous and even driven moderate Arab states into Israel’s corner on issues like Iran and Hamas, Biderman’s views are as obtuse as they are misinformed. But that is mere politics. By straying into the realm of 9/11 truthers, Biderman has sent a gift to Jew haters around the world.

This is not a question of, as Biderman says, his not understanding the delicate sensibilities of Americans about 9/11. While we know that Haaretz often reads as if its staff lives in a different Middle East than other more sensible Israelis, Biderman’s cartoon seems to come from a different planet from the rest of us. On Planet Earth, it is well known that one of the cornerstones of contemporary anti-Semitism is the canard that Israel blew up the Twin Towers on 9/11, not al-Qaeda and that Jews didn’t show up to work in their offices in buildings that day. This is an obvious, astonishing lie that seemingly would be believed only by the insane, but the willingness of large numbers of Muslims to buy into it is proof of the strength of Jew-hatred in the Arab world.

Haaretz’s decision to give this vicious myth tangible support is more than an astonishing lapse of judgment. It is a sign that the newspaper is so obsessed with its futile crusade against Netanyahu (who looks to be a lock for a third term the next time Israel goes to the polls) that they have lost sight of the fact that even Haaretz-style left-wing Israelis are hated just as much by 9/11 truthers as supporters of the Likud.

In free countries, newspapers must have the right to publish all sorts of opinions, including those that are offensive. But that freedom must be tempered by an understanding that over-the-top political commentary can trespass into the realm of hate speech or abetting anti-Semitism. That is what happened with this vile cartoon. Haaretz should stop playing the victim in this controversy, apologize, and take it down from its website.

Read Less

Best Boycott Ever

Many readers will know that the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign recently rescinded a job offer it had made to anti-Israel professor Steven Salaita, after Salaita, among other things, condoned the kidnapping of Israeli teens. This episode, which has left both Salaita and his spouse out of a job, is sad, but the aftermath has not been without its share of comic relief.

Read More

Many readers will know that the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign recently rescinded a job offer it had made to anti-Israel professor Steven Salaita, after Salaita, among other things, condoned the kidnapping of Israeli teens. This episode, which has left both Salaita and his spouse out of a job, is sad, but the aftermath has not been without its share of comic relief.

Predictably, Salaita and his allies claim that his case is just one of many examples in which “external pressure” is used to “silence faculty and students on campuses across the country for speaking in support of Palestinian human rights.” Salaita has not only written of his silencing in the Chicago Tribune but also spoken of it at, among other places, the University of Chicago, Northwestern, De Paul, the University of Rochester, and Syracuse University. In November, he has eight gigs at California universities, including UC-Berkeley and UCLA. Memo to all-powerful Israel Lobby: I am available for silencing.

But the award for inadvertent comedy goes to the graduate student planning committee for the UIUC History Department’s annual Women and Gender History Symposium. In solidarity with other academics who have pledged to boycott the University of Illinois until it hires Professor Salaita, the committee has canceled the 2015 symposium. The symposium was to be organized “around the theme of Dissent and Empire as a means to critique our university’s historical investment in empire, particularly in its refusal to eradicate ‘Chief Illiniwek’ from this campus.” The university parted ways with its mascot in 2007, but the university has failed to suppress students and alumni who want to keep the chief’s image alive. This failure, along with the Salaita affair, proves the “university’s stake in the project of settler colonialism.”

So the planning committee is punishing UIUC by refusing to hold a conference condemning it. They cannot “in good faith hold an event which would endorse, tacitly or otherwise, our university’s position.” Moreover, they “cannot and will not contribute to the university’s profits, which the trustees have proven is for them paramount above all things.” Not just paramount, mind, but paramount above all things. No doubt the trustees are feverishly trying to figure out what new cash cow they can turn to, now that the Women and Gender History Symposium, that Bruce Springsteen concert of academic symposiums, has been denied them.

In fairness, the graduate students on the planning committee are merely following in the footsteps of their elders, like Columbia professor Bruce Robbins, who refused to bring his anti-Israel road show to the University of Illinois, to strike a blow against the University’s alleged caving in to pro-Israel donors.

Vive le boycott.

Read Less

The Temple Mount Fight and Peace

Israel was back in the cross-hairs of both the international media and the Arab and Muslim worlds today after violence led to a temporary shutdown of access to Jerusalem’s Temple Mount and its mosques. Condemnations of the Jewish state came in hot and heavy from various Islamic sources and even Jordan, a country that has a peace treaty with Israel and is dependent on it for security cooperation. Few bothered to mention, let alone condemn, the attempted murder of a Jewish activist that led to the closure or the drumbeat of incitement from Palestinian leaders that helped create the trouble. But while, as our Seth Mandel pointed out, the shooting generated biased media coverage that drew on the same themes as those inciting the violence, there is more to unwrap here than that. The obsessive focus on keeping Jews out of Judaism’s most sacred site and indeed, out of much of Jerusalem tells us all we need to know about why peace is nowhere in sight.

Read More

Israel was back in the cross-hairs of both the international media and the Arab and Muslim worlds today after violence led to a temporary shutdown of access to Jerusalem’s Temple Mount and its mosques. Condemnations of the Jewish state came in hot and heavy from various Islamic sources and even Jordan, a country that has a peace treaty with Israel and is dependent on it for security cooperation. Few bothered to mention, let alone condemn, the attempted murder of a Jewish activist that led to the closure or the drumbeat of incitement from Palestinian leaders that helped create the trouble. But while, as our Seth Mandel pointed out, the shooting generated biased media coverage that drew on the same themes as those inciting the violence, there is more to unwrap here than that. The obsessive focus on keeping Jews out of Judaism’s most sacred site and indeed, out of much of Jerusalem tells us all we need to know about why peace is nowhere in sight.

From the frame of reference of those critical of Israelis in the quarrel over both their capital and the Temple Mount, the notion of Jews moving to parts of the city or visiting or even praying on the plateau above the Western Wall is deeply provocative. Arab sensibilities are inflamed by the presence of Jews in either majority-Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem or those that are predominantly Arab. They are especially outraged by the spectacle of Jews walking around the Temple Mount in the vicinity of the mosques or, as is currently forbidden, praying there.

Most of the West accepts this way of looking at events as inherently reasonable and those, like the Jew who was shot yesterday, that advocate Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount or Israeli leaders who believe that Jews have every right to live in any part of their ancient capital that they want are termed extremist disturbers of the peace. Indeed, Jordanian King Abdullah, who finds himself compelled to verbally attack Israel because most of his subjects are opposed to the peace treaty and are unimpressed by the fact that it is the Jewish state that is the real guarantor of their ability to hold off ISIS and other Islamists, said that both Jewish and Islamic extremism was to blame for the problem.

But the thing to understand about this frame of reference is that it is based on a notion of communal peace that requires official segregation that would place parts of the city and a central Jewish holy place off-limits to Jews. That may sound reasonable to those who view the Jewish return to their historic homeland as something to be reversed rather than accepted. That not only begs the question as to whether Jews should accept such an abrogation of their rights. It also requires us to ask how such attitudes could possibly be compatible with any vision of peace.

Though branded as outrageous provocations by both Arabs and the U.S. State Department, the idea of allowing Jews to live throughout the city would not prevent a peace treaty if the Palestinians were ever to accept one. After all, Israel has already offered them independence and statehood in almost all of the West Bank, Gaza, and a share of Jerusalem and was rejected in 2000, 2001, and 2008. They also refused to negotiate seriously about a two-state solution last year when that was on the table with Israel’s current government. Any peace treaty would have to guarantee that the city would remain open to both sides and especially the holy places. But if, as the recent violence seems to indicate, the Palestinians’ primary aim is to ensure that Jews are kept out of as many places as possible, including religious sites, what kind of peace would that be?

The willingness of Palestinian leaders hype the myth that Jews plan to blow up the Al-Aksa Mosque and other Muslim shrines has helped them inflame religious hatred and foment violence for nearly a century. It is rooted in a conviction that Jews have no right to be anywhere in the country. When Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas tells his people to use any means possible to keep Jews out of the Temple Mount or parts of Jerusalem he isn’t just stating an opinion about a specific issue but sending a signal that the end of the Palestinian war on Zionism isn’t in sight.

Leaders on both sides should be doing all they can to keep Jerusalem calm, but peace can’t be bought by agreeing to a segregated apartheid-like ban on Jews visiting or living in some places. Rather than acquiescing to such dangerous attitudes, the U.S. should be sending a sharp message to Muslims that they must learn to live with their Jewish neighbors and share the city. But so long as Washington is shooting insults at Israel you can be sure that more violence and incitement is likely to follow.

Read Less

Free Advice for Liberals: Stop Complaining About Skewed Polls

With less than a week left before Election Day, liberal pundits have been reading the polls in battleground states and don’t like what they see. Though many races are still falling inside the margin of error, Republicans are being given the edge in most of the tossup states. Despite the endless talk about there being no “wave” or this being a “Seinfeld election,” a GOP-controlled Senate next January is likely and their gains in both houses of Congress may well exceed what most observers thought was likely. In response, Democrats are doing what a lot of people do when they don’t like the way things are going: they’re crying foul and claiming the polls are skewed against their party. While there’s a chance they may be proved right, the odds are they’re whistling in the wind. And conservatives should be very familiar with the sensation.

Read More

With less than a week left before Election Day, liberal pundits have been reading the polls in battleground states and don’t like what they see. Though many races are still falling inside the margin of error, Republicans are being given the edge in most of the tossup states. Despite the endless talk about there being no “wave” or this being a “Seinfeld election,” a GOP-controlled Senate next January is likely and their gains in both houses of Congress may well exceed what most observers thought was likely. In response, Democrats are doing what a lot of people do when they don’t like the way things are going: they’re crying foul and claiming the polls are skewed against their party. While there’s a chance they may be proved right, the odds are they’re whistling in the wind. And conservatives should be very familiar with the sensation.

Two years ago as we headed for the presidential vote, most of the polls were telling us that Barack Obama would win a clear if narrow victory in his bid for reelection. Battleground states that Republican nominee Mitt Romney badly needed to build an Electoral College majority were all in play but survey after survey showed him trailing. The response from some conservative pundits was to take a close look at the polls, drill down into the data, and see if the sample was kosher. Most of the major polls were built on a statistical model that seemed to overestimate the number of affiliated Democrats being asked their opinion. The samples invariably showed Democrats turning out in the same numbers as they had in 2008 when Obama swept to the White House on a cloud of hope and change charisma and messianic expectations. It seemed impossible that after four years of an indifferent presidency that Obama could perform the same magic trick again when it came to inspiring the Democratic base and huge numbers of minorities, young voters, and unmarried women to come to the polls. Seen in that light, the pollsters were skewing the sample to favor Obama and the Democrats and shortchanging Romney who might well be even with the president once the totals were adjusted to account for who would really show up and vote.

Unlike many other conservative writers who spent the year convinced there was no way as bad a president as Obama could get reelected, I felt he was more likely to win than not. His historic status as our first African-American president made him a unique political figure and his charms, though lost on me and most other conservatives, kept him popular even after a dismal record in office. But after spending enough time parsing electoral survey samples, I became convinced that wildly inflated estimates for the number of Democrats who would vote had created an exaggerated poll-driven picture of the likely outcome that was boosting Obama’s chances and hurting Romney. Along with others who had worked out the same math, I thought the likely Obama victory predicted by New York Times statistical guru Nate Silver seemed to be based on inaccurate data.

My logic was impeccable and my arguments sound. But there was one problem. I was wrong.

It turned out the pollsters were right to think that the Democratic base would turn out for Obama in 2012 the same way they had in 2008. Silver had rightly understood that the pollsters had accounted for possible changes in the electorate. More minorities and young Democrats would turn out than four years earlier or in the 2010 midterms. The result was that Obama did sweep almost every battleground state, although some were by slender margins. Silver was acclaimed as a genius and those of us who had questioned his figures and those of the pollsters he cited had to admit we were mistaken.

I retell this story not out of nostalgia for a result I still consider unfortunate for the nation but as a cautionary tale for liberals who are spending this week digging the same kind of hole I dug for myself prior to the 2012 vote. Listen to MSNBC at any time of day or read some of the people who now write for The Upshot, the section that replaced Silver’s FiveThirtyEight blog that he pulled from the Times and now operates as his own independent franchise, and you’ll see, hear, or read similar refrains to the ones I was sounding just two years ago. We are told that the sample sizes being used by the polls showing Republicans winning are underestimating Hispanics, women, or Democrats. Adjust the polls for what they think are the real totals and you’ll find that races are tied or with Democrats rather than Republicans leading.

My advice is to Rachel Maddow and Co. is simple: stop digging. Save your breath and start preparing for the worst rather than creating embarrassing sound bites that will come back to haunt you in a week.

As the redoubtable Silver notes today on his site, errors on the scale that conservatives thought possible in 2012 or liberals are alleging today are always possible but not terribly likely. Talk about skewed polls is the last refuge of those in denial about an electoral trend. That was true two years ago and it’s happening today. The temptation to try and “unskew” the polls is obvious and it’s what readers in our bifurcated media want to see. But, as Silver writes, “Usually this doesn’t end well for the unskewers.”

With so many polls out there showing much the same thing about a Republican advantage, the chances that they are all wrong about who will vote (or have already cast ballots in early voting states) are slim. Unskewing seems like it makes sense but it is invariably based more on wishful thinking than sober analysis. Just as conservatives had to eventually accept that pre-election poll estimates of Democratic turnout were right, so, too, will liberals likely have to own up to the fact that today’s expectations about their base’s voting patterns are similarly accurate. Indeed, as Silver writes, it may be that pollsters are underestimating the number of Republicans this year just as they did the same to some degree for Democrats in 2012.

This should not cause us to lose all skepticism about polls. They should be closely examined and probed for possible errors. But such analyses tend to be based on the idea that the candidates you prefer are being shortchanged more than a real suspicion of error. Assuming that the errors will all go one way or that your candidate will  catch the breaks is a guarantee that you’ll soon be eating your hat, humble pie, crow, or whatever metaphor you prefer. Ms. Maddow and her friends will soon find that it doesn’t taste any better in their mouths than it did in mine.

Read Less

Warren Is Hillary’s Unwitting Collaborator

There is a fair amount of irony buried throughout Maggie Haberman’s entertaining story on how Elizabeth Warren is “vexing” Hillary Clinton and her nascent presidential campaign even without running herself. The story is a good reminder of one reason Warren isn’t likely to run: she doesn’t have to. Left unsaid is the corollary: Warren is a populist on the campaign trail but a heavyhanded wielder of power and a surprising policy lightweight in the Senate. Most of Warren’s appeal is what leftists pretend she could be, not what she really is.

Read More

There is a fair amount of irony buried throughout Maggie Haberman’s entertaining story on how Elizabeth Warren is “vexing” Hillary Clinton and her nascent presidential campaign even without running herself. The story is a good reminder of one reason Warren isn’t likely to run: she doesn’t have to. Left unsaid is the corollary: Warren is a populist on the campaign trail but a heavyhanded wielder of power and a surprising policy lightweight in the Senate. Most of Warren’s appeal is what leftists pretend she could be, not what she really is.

So Warren not only doesn’t have to run to impact the party’s political future; she’s probably better off not running. Her actual policies range from nonsensical to intellectually bankrupt, but her shallow applause lines are perfectly calibrated to what the economic illiterates of the leftist fringe want to hear. Warren can be a hero without ruining the economy, because she won’t have the power to ruin the economy. Put her in the Oval Office and the calculus changes. She would also be exposed further as a suffocating regulator with an academic’s flimsy and theoretical understanding of complicated economics.

Hillary Clinton doesn’t have such an obstacle holding her back, because her fan base doesn’t care about serious policy. The cult of Hillary is powered by pure identity politics, and Clinton is a mainstream figure in Democratic Party governance. That is to say, she intends to be the figurehead of a self-perpetuating bureaucracy, much like Obama has been. Obama’s one major policy “accomplishment,” after all, was a launching pad for newly created regulatory behemoths to make policy that fell outside the intent or oversight of Congress.

When it comes to Hillary, it’s about what (and who) she represents. As an executive, all indications are that she’s a terrible manager, as her time at Foggy Bottom proved. And she’s interested in symbolic politics, not nuts-and-bolts governance–again, her time as secretary of state showed her to be risk-averse and image hyperconscious.

Ideologically, the contrast is interesting. Hillary doesn’t actually believe in anything, so she’s running as a representative of her Wall Street funders who appear to be even writing her “populist” talking points for her. This is one reason Warren won’t go away and wants to at least keep Hillary on her toes. For Clinton, it’s all a game. Nothing has any real significance for how she’d govern. Clinton is coopting Warren’s populist rhetoric for the express purpose of empowering precisely those economic actors Warren is railing against.

So how to handle the contradiction? Warren’s supporters liked the idea of Clinton having to look over her shoulder and see Warren because they knew it meant pushing Clinton to the left. But it really meant pushing Clinton’s rhetoric to the left. In actuality, it allows Clinton to crowd out any space there might be for Warren by mimicking her and then forgetting she and her supporters even exist.

That’s why Clinton’s populist rhetoric is so strained and clumsy. The most recent example was when she made the ridiculous statement that businesses don’t create jobs. It’s not that Clinton actually believes instead that the Job Fairy leaves jobs under the pillows of good liberals. It’s that Clinton has no idea how to play the populist because she doesn’t think along those lines economically and she very clearly doesn’t like interacting with the populace at all.

Haberman is exceedingly generous, calling the gaffe “a misdelivered line about businesses not creating jobs.” That kind of life-raft spin from the media to cover for Hillary will crop up throughout the campaign. But it didn’t cause a bigger splash because the expectations for Hillary’s discussion of policy are so low. Haberman also includes Hillary’s own pushback:

Clinton allies are quick to point out that the woman who was synonymous with the government-led “Hillarycare” effort has a claim on economic populism. She gave a speech discussing the anger people feel in the current economy earlier this year. Her speeches for other candidates this fall have hit the core issues of the new Democratic populism, and she has woven in a message similar to her husband’s from 1992 about raising the middle class.

But she is not yet a candidate delivering her own pitch, and she has shown she is still figuring out the notes to strike.

And that last line gives it away. What jumps out about Hillary’s campaign is the soullessness of it all. She’s still “figuring out the notes to strike” because she doesn’t write her own songs. She’s a cover artist, down at the local pub mangling Mr. Jones and waiting for the next request.

Warren might actually be enjoying all this–though temperamentally, she does not appear to be a person who enjoys anything, ever, and doesn’t want you too either. That’s something she and Clinton have in common. But humorlessness is just another box to check to win the favor of the American left, and Hillary fulfills that requirement. Warren may think she’s influencing Hillary or the campaign, when in reality she’s merely an ornament. The corporatists in her party, who hold the real power, are happy to keep up the charade.

Read Less

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.

Read More

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.

Read Less

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.

Read More

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?

Read Less

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:

Read More

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.

Read Less

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.

Read More

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.

Read Less

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.

Read More

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.

Read Less

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.

Read More

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.

Read Less

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.

Read More

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.

Read Less

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:

Read More

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.

Read Less

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.”

Read More

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.

Read Less

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.

Read More

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.

Read Less

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.

Read More

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.

Read Less




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

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

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

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

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