Commentary Magazine


Paul Ryan’s Way Forward

In his new book, The Way Forward: Renewing the American Idea Representative Paul Ryan offers some candid assessments of his party and himself.

Read More

In his new book, The Way Forward: Renewing the American Idea Representative Paul Ryan offers some candid assessments of his party and himself.

On the former, he writes about the lead up to the government shutdown in October 2013, which he believed would be a “calamity for our party.” Mr. Ryan explains why the strategy couldn’t work, including the fact that because the Affordable Care Act is an entitlement, shutting down the government wouldn’t defund or eliminate it.

“The strategy our colleagues had been promoting was flawed from beginning to end,” he writes. “It was a suicide mission. But a lot of members were more afraid of what would happen if they didn’t jump off the cliff… We couldn’t afford to take a hit like that again [referring to the 1995 government shutdown] – not for a strategy that had no hope of advancing our core principles.”

Chairman Ryan was right, but a group of House Republicans – urged on by Senator Ted Cruz in particular – held out for a shutdown. It came. No core principles were advanced. And the reputation of the GOP dropped to new lows.

As for Ryan himself, he admits that his past use of the phrase “makers and takers” – meant to describe in shorthand people who are and aren’t receiving government benefits – was a mistake.

What was a taker? My mom, who is on Medicare? Me at eighteen years old, using the Social Security survivor’s benefits we got after my father’s death to go to college? My buddy John Ramsdell, who had been unemployed and used job-training benefits to get back on his feet?

We’re just lumping people in this category without any regard for their personal stories, I thought. It sounds like we’re saying that people who are struggling are deadbeats, as if they haven’t made it already or aren’t trying hard enough. emphasis in the original]

A political memoir and policy book that’s both candid and self-reflective, and at times even self-critical: That alone makes it rare and worth reading. Yet the book is significant for other reasons, including this one: Ryan, a political and intellectual leader of the GOP, uses The Way Forward to help Republicans and conservatives recast their approach, at least just a bit.

Chairman Ryan’s purpose in writing the book, at least as I understand it, is to describe what government can do to advance a conservative vision of the good society. This involves more than simply cutting government — though Ryan, to his credit, has offered the most comprehensive and realistic plan of any Republican to re-limit government.

He wants to reform government in fundamental, structural ways, to move us away from centralized bureaucratic planning and control toward more competition and choice, greater efficiency and innovation. This needs to be done not for ideological reasons but for eminently practical ones: to improve the lives and increase the opportunities for Americans in every social and economic stratum.

Mr. Ryan, a man of impeccable conservative credentials, wants Republicans to focus not just on the size of government but its purposes. He wants the GOP to act in ways that refute rather than reinforce certain stereotypes. He understands, too, that the Republican Party has to do more than amp up the rhetoric in ways that bring true believers to their feet. Energizing base voters is a pre-condition for a party’s political success, but Republicans also need to persuade millions of people who are not now voting for them at the presidential level to do just that. “Preaching to the choir isn’t working,” is how he puts it, “and by the way, the choir is shrinking.”

How to expand the choir and add new voices to it; that is in part what The Way Forward attempts to do, and does quite well.

The Republican Party needs to be the party of the 21st century — the party of reform and modernization; of upward mobility and educational excellence; that rewards work and opposes corporate welfare; that cares for the weak and vulnerable while speaking for middle class concerns and to middle class aspirations. It needs to have a real agenda when it comes to health care, higher education, legal and illegal immigration and the long-term unemployed.

That’s one part of the equation; but there’s another part, too.

Political parties are also defined by tone and countenance, spirit and bearing, and by whether its most public figures come across as winsome or joyless, authentic or contrived, at ease with the world or raging against it. Right now the way many people see political parties in general, but the GOP in particular, as antipathetic, rigid, and out of touch.

Paul Ryan’s book, and Paul Ryan himself, are antidotes to those impressions. His fellow Republicans would be wise to once again follow his lead.

Read Less

Can the GOP Lower the Gender Gap?

Republican National Committee chair Reince Priebus had a point when in an appearance on MSNBC’s Daily Rundown, he pushed back at the story published by Politico in which the publication spun two webs that showed the GOP continuing to trail the Democrats among female voters as proof that it was “stuck in the past.” Though Priebus is right to note that the generally negative view of the Democrats held by women is nearly as bad as that of Republicans, there’s no denying that a gender gap exists. More to the point, there’s little use denying that it’s bound to get worse in 2016.

Read More

Republican National Committee chair Reince Priebus had a point when in an appearance on MSNBC’s Daily Rundown, he pushed back at the story published by Politico in which the publication spun two webs that showed the GOP continuing to trail the Democrats among female voters as proof that it was “stuck in the past.” Though Priebus is right to note that the generally negative view of the Democrats held by women is nearly as bad as that of Republicans, there’s no denying that a gender gap exists. More to the point, there’s little use denying that it’s bound to get worse in 2016.

As Preibus noted, the internal polls conducted by two conservative PACs—Crossroads GPS and American Action Network—showed that 49 percent of women view Republicans negatively while 39 percent think the same of Democrats. That’s a clear gender gap and a big advantage for Democrats in any election. But the spin on the poll coming from Politico seemed to center on the notion that the GOP was hopelessly out of touch with most women who viewed them as insensitive to their issues. While carping about the characterization of his party, he acknowledged that the problem is serious and he also asserted that it was not insurmountable.

There are two conclusions to be drawn from this situation.

The first is that although the Democrats’ charge that Republicans are waging a “war on women” is the lowest kind of specious partisan propaganda, it has worked. Though married women still support Republicans, the problem for the GOP is that the far more numerous unmarried women have bought into the Democrats’ tactics, especially in the Middle West and Northeast.

Why? Because many young, liberal women have accepted the notion that conservative positions on economic issues and the need for smaller government hurts them. Moreover, to a generation of women who have come to believe the unfettered right to abortion and free contraception from their employers is essential to their well being, GOP arguments are bound to fall flat.

The second is that if Hillary Clinton is, as is likely, the Democratic Party’s presidential candidate, nothing Preibus and the Republicans do is likely to narrow the gender gap.

So should the GOP give up? No. But its expectations must be tempered by a knowledge that the Democratic advantage with the mainstream media and in the world of popular culture are going to make it very hard to erase their deficit until they find national candidates who can appeal to more women.

The RNC’s proposed response to the problem makes sense. It advocates seeking to “neutralize” Democratic arguments about “fairness” by pointing out that the best way to deal with inequality is to reform liberal big government programs that encourage the dependency that hurts poor families and women. It also correctly advises that the only way for a pro-life party to deal with abortion is to acknowledge the disagreement and then move on to other issues and to rely on the fact that many women have concerns about abortion and that even most supporters of it don’t view it as a litmus test issue. Yet if a GOP consultant quoted by Politico is right to say that many women view Republicans as the “old, white, right, out of touch” party, then it is necessary for the GOP to put forward younger, diverse candidates who can appeal to more voters.

That’s easier said than done, but it’s also just as obvious that what Republicans need to do is to recruit more female candidates. That’s something the party has done better in recent years and it can cite successes such as New Mexico’s Governor Susana Martinez, New Hampshire Senator Kelly Ayotte and Rep. Cathy McMorris Rogers from Washington to prove it. But, as with the need to get more visible Hispanics on the GOP line, the need for more female GOP leaders must become a priority rather than an afterthought.

For all of the negative poll numbers about women voters, Republicans need not be afraid of waging a war of ideas against a Democratic Party that has staked its future on returning to the failed liberal patent nostrums of the 1960s. But, as Preibus rightly pointed out, it is not enough to have good ideas. You’ve got to take them to the voters and articulate them in a way that can be understood and supported. Politics is, above all, a test of personalities, and until the voters start associating the GOP more with the likes of Martinez, Ayotte, and Rogers than with Mitch McConnell and John Boehner, they’re not likely to change their minds.

Which is why the impending lesson of 2016 ought to be concentrating the minds of Republicans on promoting conservative women to leadership positions in the years to come. Hillary Clinton’s presence at the top of the Democratic ticket is such a powerful symbol that it is bound to offset most of the GOP’s efforts to make headway with women. Yet that makes it all the more important for a party that already has a gender gap to ensure that Republican women aren’t tokens or outliers but equal partners in promoting conservative ideas.

Read Less

Israel’s Long War Requires Patience

Israelis are still smarting from the less than satisfactory outcome of this summer’s fighting between Israel and Hamas that left the terror group still ruling Gaza and capable of firing rockets on the Jewish state whenever they choose. The discontent about who won the war and, as Prime Minister Netanyahu pointed out yesterday, Israel’s limited ability to win any such conflict in such a way to conclude it, is to be expected. But it also misses the point about what Israel’s primary objective is in the now century-long war being waged to extinguish the Zionist project.

Read More

Israelis are still smarting from the less than satisfactory outcome of this summer’s fighting between Israel and Hamas that left the terror group still ruling Gaza and capable of firing rockets on the Jewish state whenever they choose. The discontent about who won the war and, as Prime Minister Netanyahu pointed out yesterday, Israel’s limited ability to win any such conflict in such a way to conclude it, is to be expected. But it also misses the point about what Israel’s primary objective is in the now century-long war being waged to extinguish the Zionist project.

In his insightful take on the just concluded round of fighting, author Yossi Klein Halevi writes in the New Republic that the Palestinian talking point that the conflict was caused by Israel’s siege of the Islamist-run enclave in Gaza has it backwards. It wasn’t the siege that caused the war between Israelis and Palestinians; it’s the war Hamas—and other Palestinian groups—have been waging to destroy Israel that caused the siege. In other words, rather than focus so much on the lack of a war-winning strategy that would finish Hamas, it is necessary for both disgruntled Israelis and those seeking to either console or to lecture them about their predicament to place these events in a historical perspective that is inevitably lacking in any debate about a specific battle.

This is difficult thing to ask of people who spent 50 days going back and forth to bomb shelters as Hamas rained down thousands of rockets on Israeli cities, towns, and villages and were threatened with murder via terror tunnels that were being prepared for future mayhem. Netanyahu was right to assert that Hamas had been defeated on the battlefield as its rocket offensive did relatively little damage and its tunnel project was destroyed. But the prime minister was also forced to admit that despite the severe losses suffered by the terrorist group and the Palestinian population it used as human shields, he could not say for certain that he had obtained the quiet along the border that was one of the country’s objectives in the conflict.

As David Horowitz writes in the Times of Israel, that disappoints the overwhelming majority of Israelis who supported the war effort. Many think Netanyahu was wrong to stop short of a full-scale invasion of Gaza that would eliminate Hamas once and for all. Though it’s not likely that the country would have tolerated the enormous losses that choice would entail for both Israel and the Palestinians or be happy about governing Gaza again, this complaint is logical. So long as Hamas is still in possession of the strip, any cease-fire will be only temporary and a two-state solution to the conflict between the two peoples is impossible.

But the point here isn’t whether Netanyahu, whose cautious conduct of the recent fighting may be better appreciated in the long run that it is today, made the right decision about pursuing what may well be an illusory chance for military victory. It’s that this particular war is merely another short chapter in a very long war for Israel’s existence whose end is nowhere in sight. Going into Gaza further might satisfy a current need but in the long term, Israel’s defense and its political position might be better served by waiting until a future round to settle with the Islamists.

That’s a bitter pill for the people of southern Israel, especially those who live in kibbutzim and towns adjacent to Gaza, to swallow. Many wonder whether it is wise for them to stay in places that are essentially battlefields. They know that the calm that prevails there today will, sooner or later, return to the perilous situation of the previous weeks. They are blaming Netanyahu for that since they had hoped that he would use the rockets and the tunnels as a reason to reverse Israel’s 2005 decision to withdraw every last soldier, settlement, and settler from Gaza. While even today most Israelis wouldn’t be happy about resuming the occupation of the strip, there’s no doubt that Ariel Sharon’s decision was a disaster of monumental proportions that has cost Israel dearly.

But what Israelis and those who care about it must acknowledge is that no matter what Netanyahu chose to do, no action, including a re-occupation of Gaza, would have ended the long war in which they are engaged for the Jewish state’s survival.

This is frequently forgotten, especially by those who accept the false premise that the “occupation” or the plight of Gaza is the reason the conflict continues. Unfortunately, as the frequent rejection of peace offers that would have given the Palestinians a state in almost all of the West Bank, Gaza, and even a share of Jerusalem has proved, the conflict remains an existential one, not one about borders or settlements. Hamas’s goal remains the elimination of the Jewish state and the eviction of its population not to change Israel’s borders to accommodate limited Palestinian ambitions. Even if the Palestinian Authority and its leader Mahmoud Abbas claim to be willing to end the conflict, it, too, has consistently balked at every opportunity to do so since such an agreement would be considered a betrayal of a Palestinian sense of identity that is inextricably tied to opposition to Zionism and little else.

As Halevi points out, the Hamas offensive was designed as much to demoralize Israelis as to kill them. For them, this round was just one more step toward weakening the Jewish state until the day when Israelis are too tired or isolated to resist them.

Yet for all the characteristic pessimism and political venom that is currently pulsing through the Israeli body politic this week, those who believe that time is on the side of the Palestinians and that the Jews must act quickly to save their country from imminent peril, either through military action or more foolish diplomatic initiatives, are wrong.

If there is anything that we should have learned from all these decades of conflict, it is that despite the constant predictions of Israel’s doom, it has only gotten stronger with each passing year both from a military and economic point of view. Though the conflict continues and will persist until the day when a sea change in Arab and Muslim opinion will allow the emergence of a Palestinian peace movement that is truly committed to two states for two peoples, Israel can afford to wait until that happens.

It is instructive to note, as Halevi does, that despite the constant talk of demoralization and of the country losing its soul, its response to the Hamas assault was remarkably strong. Neither the trauma of war nor the rising tide of international anti-Semitism in response to the insistence of the Israelis on defending themselves weakened the nation’s resolve or the readiness of its people to do what was necessary to ensure their country’s survival. Despite their grousing, they appear ready to answer the same call when it inevitably goes out again. Persisting in a war of generations rather than days and weeks isn’t easy for any democracy, as America’s recent experience in the Middle East proved. But as difficult as it is for Israelis to accept Netanyahu’s caution this week, his position may reflect the patience needed to win a long war better than his more strident critics.

Read Less

Storm Clouds and Baseball’s Humble Soul

There is a wonderful pair of scenes in the second episode of Aaron Sorkin’s criminally underappreciated TV series Sports Night, a fictionalized rendering of the production of nightly sports shows like ESPN’s SportsCenter. A young, newly hired producer, Jeremy Goodwin (played by Joshua Malina), is tasked with cutting his first highlight reel: he has to take a baseball game, fish out the best moments for that night’s show, and put them together in a reel of about thirty to forty seconds. On his first try, he hands in an eight-and-a-half minute reel. His explanation for it is one of the best expressions of what’s great about baseball, and the first riposte that comes to mind reading today’s somber knock on baseball’s future from the New Yorker’s Ben McGrath.

Read More

There is a wonderful pair of scenes in the second episode of Aaron Sorkin’s criminally underappreciated TV series Sports Night, a fictionalized rendering of the production of nightly sports shows like ESPN’s SportsCenter. A young, newly hired producer, Jeremy Goodwin (played by Joshua Malina), is tasked with cutting his first highlight reel: he has to take a baseball game, fish out the best moments for that night’s show, and put them together in a reel of about thirty to forty seconds. On his first try, he hands in an eight-and-a-half minute reel. His explanation for it is one of the best expressions of what’s great about baseball, and the first riposte that comes to mind reading today’s somber knock on baseball’s future from the New Yorker’s Ben McGrath.

More specifically, Jeremy’s defense of his highlight reel is a concise rendering of the fact that what casual fans or non-fans hate about baseball, fans love. Casey McCall, one of the program’s co-anchors, tells Jeremy he needs to cut it. “I can’t imagine what I’d cut,” Jeremy says. Casey points out that Jeremy’s reel begins with the first batter in the first inning of the game–a player who grounded out. Casey tells Jeremy that they call such plays “routine ground balls” for a reason: when putting together a highlight reel, “let the word ‘routine’ serve as a danger sign.”

They then have the following exchange:

Jeremy: There’s nothing routine about it. Casey, the guy’s hitting .327 since the All-Star break, he’s drawn 22 walks in the leadoff position and he’s a threat to steal second every time you put him on. He fouled off seven pitches.

Casey: And you show each and every one of them.

Jeremy: You bet I do.

Casey: We usually just show the pitch that puts the ball into play.

Jeremy: But then you miss the battle.

But the real gem, for lifelong baseball fans, comes a couple of scenes later. Casey is going over the tape with Jeremy, trying to help him cut it down for the broadcast. They have this exchange, which sounds crazy to anybody who isn’t a baseball fan:

Casey: Okay this section here where the batter taps dirt off his shoe and spits four times…

Jeremy: We can’t cut that!

Casey: Jeremy!

Jeremy: No, the storm clouds are gathering.

Casey: (sighs) All right just out of curiosity, what voiceover would you have me write for this?

Jeremy: What’s wrong with ‘the storm clouds are gathering?’

Casey: The storm clouds aren’t gathering, he’s cleaning his shoe!

Jeremy: He’s breaking Carrera’s pitching rhythm.

Casey: The battle?

Jeremy: The battle.

“The storm clouds are gathering” remains the line that plays in my head any time someone complains about how long the game takes, how slow the action is. The mental chess match between pitcher and batter before every single pitch is where the game can be its most dramatic.

Just as what non-fans hate about baseball can be among the most engrossing aspects of the game for fans, so too what would seem to doom baseball’s popularity can be, for its many fans, what helps make the game so watchable. McGrath begins his dirge on “The Twilight of Baseball” by asking a simple question:

If Mike Trout walked into your neighborhood bar, would you recognize him? Let me rephrase: If the baseball player who is widely considered the best in the world—a once-in-a-generation talent, the greatest outfielder since Barry Bonds, the most accomplished twenty-two-year-old that the activity formerly known as the national pastime has ever known—bent elbows over a stool and ordered an I.P.A., would anyone notice?

McGrath goes on to paint a picture of a league of fading stars. League attendance appears to be doing fine, he says, but delve deeper into the numbers and you see a few teams carrying the revenue stream for the league. But that’s not really an accurate picture. Kansas City’s team has a winning record this year and attendance is up. Same is true of Seattle and Oakland. Houston’s having a terrible season and their attendance is up anyway. Additionally, revenue sharing means the success of some big-market teams benefits others, and so does their spending. Their success means mammoth television contracts and playoff revenue. The worst baseball teams as far as attendance still draw more fans per game than the majority of basketball teams despite playing twice as many games. Yes, that has to do with larger stadiums. But they have larger stadiums for a reason. And the popularity of minor league baseball is unlike that of any other sport, showing the game thrives away from the big cities and markets.

McGrath is a fan of baseball but also of hockey, so he is somewhat inured, he says, to the taunts of those who disdain a sport he loves. And yet, the pessimism presses on:

But the Trout conundrum strikes me as a significant milestone in baseball doomsaying—more problematic, say, than the demise of corporate slow-pitch leagues, which the Wall Street Journal recently foretold. When was the last time baseball’s reigning king was a cultural nonentity, someone you can’t even name-drop without a non-fan giving you a patronizing smile?

McGrath isn’t condemning baseball himself here; he’s a fan. But I am tempted to see this particular sign of decline as actually something to brag about–something, in fact, that is in baseball’s DNA. It’s true that the best players in a sport, especially of Trout’s quality, tend to be famous. They are superstars. But in baseball, that just strikes me as out of place.

Of the major sports, baseball is the one where a great player can thrive on a consistently mediocre team and it won’t seem out of place. You just can’t carry a team as an individual. There are nine batters, and nine fielders. One man can only do so much.

In basketball, one man can dominate; there are only five guys on the court on each side at a time. In hockey, a goalie can make all the difference. In football, everything revolves around the quarterback.

But baseball is the ultimate team game. Sure, a dominating pitcher can shut down the opposing team–but that’s only once every five games. The rest of the season he’s not even on the field.

And there’s another aspect to Trout’s ability to blend in at the bar that speaks to baseball’s uniqueness. Hockey players have a look: the toothless grin under the long hair on a hulking frame (though toothlessness has dropped somewhat since the advent of the face mask). Basketball players tend to be a head taller than the rest of the population–easily recognizable. As for football, we say someone is “built like a linebacker” for a reason.

But baseball players are so … normal. At least in comparison to the other sports. No one “looks like a baseball player.” That’s not really true for the other major sports.

I won’t turn this into a rambling ode to What’s Great About Baseball (though I suspect it might be too late). But I thought it worthwhile to point out that Mike Trout’s relative anonymity speaks to the normalcy and humility that characterizes baseball more than any other major sport. It may not sell jerseys or even enough tickets for the league’s bottom line, but it’s a reason to love baseball and an indication not of the sport’s identity crisis but of its potential.

Is baseball in trouble? Perhaps the storm clouds are gathering. But that’s the best part.

Read Less

Will the GOP Repeat Their Shutdown Error?

In a year in which Republicans were already favored to take control of the Senate, President Obama’s plans to announce executive orders to effectively legalize millions of illegal immigrants may be the last straw for a number of embattled red state Democratic incumbents and challengers. But there is an alternate theory to explain the president’s puzzling decision to trample on the Constitution just weeks before the midterms. It could be that the White House believes this is just the thing to tempt conservatives to overplay their hand and raise the specter of another government shutdown or impeachment.

Read More

In a year in which Republicans were already favored to take control of the Senate, President Obama’s plans to announce executive orders to effectively legalize millions of illegal immigrants may be the last straw for a number of embattled red state Democratic incumbents and challengers. But there is an alternate theory to explain the president’s puzzling decision to trample on the Constitution just weeks before the midterms. It could be that the White House believes this is just the thing to tempt conservatives to overplay their hand and raise the specter of another government shutdown or impeachment.

Let’s specify that Republican anger about what looks to be an end run around the Constitution would be completely justified. The idea that a president can arrogate to himself the power to annul some laws by ordering that they not be enforced or to effectively promulgate new laws without benefit of congressional action is outrageous. That’s exactly what he would be doing if, as virtually everyone in Washington anticipates he will, the president signs executive orders in September that would halt deportations for illegals and grant green cards for all those who had children after entering the country without permission.

As I wrote earlier, these moves seem to indicate that President Obama is writing off Democratic chances of holding onto the Senate since they would hurt embattled red state Democrats. But it is entirely possible that the president is hoping for an entirely different scenario to play out. If, rather than just using the president’s unconstitutional actions to bury Democrats this fall, Republicans choose to try and use a vote on the budget to defund the president’s efforts, it will almost certainly set in motion a series of events that would lead to a government shutdown in the middle of the fall campaign. Though conservatives would be right to blame Obama and the Democrats for sending the government to the brink, they should know by now that they will be the losers in any such standoff.

Senator Marco Rubio, an ardent proponent of immigration reform, has warned the White House that he and other Republicans will act to remove funding for any presidential actions that would attempt to bypass Congress. Some will call him a flip-flopper because of his own role in pushing for the bipartisan compromise immigration bill that passed the Senate before dying in the House. But Rubio is not merely responding to pushback against his vote from conservatives. He’s also realized that the fiasco at the border this year in which a wave of illegal immigrants has overwhelmed federal resources is largely the fault of statements from the president and congressional moves that gave many would-be illegal immigrants the impression that they would be allowed to stay if they made it across the border. This led him to the correct conclusion that those who believed border enforcement must precede any move toward dealing with the illegals already here were right.

The president is not only determined to ignore the will of Congress, he also has learned that particular lesson. But if Rubio and his colleagues initiate a game of chicken over the budget on this issue it will show that they, too, have already forgotten recent political history. The 2013 government shutdown was also justified in the sense that it was generated by an attempt on the part of Republicans to stop the funding of ObamaCare because of a refusal by the president to compromise on its implementation. Given the disastrous nature of that rollout the president would have done well to heed their advice, but the shutdown was an unmitigated disaster for Republicans that Democrats are eager to repeat. Though it was largely unfair, thanks to clever maneuvers by the president and the assistance of the liberal media, the public blamed the GOP for the shutdown. Inevitably, the Republicans had to give in without getting much in the way of concessions from the president or stopping ObamaCare. Anyone who thinks there will be a different outcome if this is tried over immigration wasn’t paying attention. Any cutoff in government funding now, even on constitutional grounds, will give the Democrats the opportunity to brand their opponents as destructive obstructionists and fanatics rather than principled supporters of the Constitution.

Throw in threats about impeachment proceedings that are already being mooted by Tea Party firebrands like Rep. Steve King of Iowa and you’ve got a formula for a Democratic revival that could enable some of their weaker incumbents to survive.

The president’s intention to throw the Constitution under the bus when it comes to immigration and other issues isn’t in doubt. But what is yet to be determined is on which ground will the battle over this issue be fought. If Republicans take the president’s bait and put a shutdown in motion, the debate will shift from the president’s illegal behavior to one about Republican extremism. If, however, they refrain from such destructive tactics, there is every chance they can return to Washington next January with a majority that will be far better able to stop the president’s actions than anything they can do now.

As with the ObamaCare shutdown, Republican passion is causing them lose sight of the fact that the country will be with them against unconstitutional behavior. Listening to the counsels of despair—which imagined that the shutdown was the last chance to stop ObamaCare—was the mistake in 2013. If they repeat that error this fall it will be a dream come true for the Democrats.

Read Less

Is Obama Conceding the Senate to the GOP?

For some advocates of more liberal immigration laws, the next month may be the most crucial in recent history. As Rep. Luis Gutierrez told the Washington Post, President Obama “is going to determine his legacy with the immigrant community in the next 30 days.” But while most members of the president’s party are ready to cheer executive orders bypassing Congress that will effectively legalize millions of illegal immigrants, those Democrats facing tough reelection fights know such moves will effectively decide the 2014 midterms.

Read More

For some advocates of more liberal immigration laws, the next month may be the most crucial in recent history. As Rep. Luis Gutierrez told the Washington Post, President Obama “is going to determine his legacy with the immigrant community in the next 30 days.” But while most members of the president’s party are ready to cheer executive orders bypassing Congress that will effectively legalize millions of illegal immigrants, those Democrats facing tough reelection fights know such moves will effectively decide the 2014 midterms.

The president signaled back in June that he would use Congress’s failure to pass a comprehensive reform bill as an excuse to act on his own to address the problems in the immigration system. No details of the planned moves have yet been released but, as the Post reports, many on both the left and the right anticipate that the executive orders will indefinitely delay deportation for millions of illegal immigrants already in the United States and to provide green cards for relatives of U.S. citizens. That means that those illegals who have had children since arriving in the United States would effectively be granted legal status, raising the total of those granted a form of amnesty by these measures to encompass the vast majority of those here without permission.

While opponents of immigration reform blanched at any measure that would grant illegals the right to stay in the country, let alone a path to citizenship that a green card would give them, these unilateral moves are far worse than anything contained in the bipartisan bill that was passed by the Senate but blocked in the House. That bill put heavy penalties on the illegals and forced them to the back of the line for citizenship while also heavily reinforcing security at the border. But Obama’s unilateral plans really would be a form of amnesty without any real penalty or action to prevent another wave of illegal immigration.

This is terrible policy since, as this year’s crisis at the border demonstrated, even the president’s past statements about letting illegals stay has generated a massive influx of new migrants who believe that once they get across the border by any means they won’t be sent home even if they are caught. Enacting such a measure unilaterally at the whim of the president rather than through congressional action would further undermine the situation at the border as well as undermine the rule of law.

You don’t have to oppose immigration reform to recognize the problem here. All recent presidents have used executive orders and, in fairness to Obama, his predecessor George W. Bush used the tactic extensively when it suited him. But there is a difference between chipping away at the margins where presidential authority is already established and the White House simply governing on its own as if congressional approval of legislation is a mere technicality that can be waived if the president is really sure that justice is on his side.

The notion that the president has the right or even the duty to act on his own in this fashion because the House refused to pass an immigration bill turns the Constitution on its head. Acting in this manner would trash the checks and balances of the American system and establish an essentially anti-democratic precedent in which any president could flout the will of Congress and the Constitution if he didn’t get his way.

But the danger here is not just to the Constitution. If the president decides to push ahead with these measures in the months before the midterms, he may be effectively writing off the already diminishing odds of his party holding onto the Senate. For beleaguered red state Democratic incumbents like Mark Prior in Arkansas, Mary Landrieu in Louisiana, Kay Hagen in North Carolina, or even a purple state senator like New Hampshire’s Jeanne Shaheen, executive orders on immigration will feel like a stab in the back from the White House.

Concerns over illegal immigration were already a potent issue for Republicans in states where Hispanic voters—who are more sympathetic to undocumented immigrants—aren’t a major factor. But if the president does an end run around the Constitution in order to enforce his will on immigration it will be a disaster for endangered Democrats. Candidates like the aforementioned incumbents as well as Alison Grimes, who is providing the president’s party with one of its few shots at knocking off a Republican senator, are already trying to run away from Obama. Republicans are already favored to take control of the Senate. But with a few strokes of his pen, the president could ensure a far larger GOP majority next year than most pundits are now envisioning.

If Republicans play this right, they could ride Obama’s extra-constitutional behavior to a repeat of their 2010 landslide. But there’s also the chance that conservatives could play into the president’s hands and sabotage their chance to emerge in November with control of both Houses of Congress. In my next post, I’ll discuss the possibility that the president’s decision is actually a cynical effort to entice the GOP to try another futile government shutdown or impeachment.

Read Less

Congress’s Cynical Syria Game

The New York Times headline on the debate over taking action against ISIS today is: “Lawmakers Want Congress to Decide on Military Action Against ISIS.” The headline, while accurate, overpromises a bit. The story that follows explains that it’s only three lawmakers, none of whom has demonstrated much influence on the broader contours of American foreign policy. When the story gets to someone who does have that influence–Rep. Adam Smith of Washington State, the ranking Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee–we get the answer: “it’s just not going to happen.”

Read More

The New York Times headline on the debate over taking action against ISIS today is: “Lawmakers Want Congress to Decide on Military Action Against ISIS.” The headline, while accurate, overpromises a bit. The story that follows explains that it’s only three lawmakers, none of whom has demonstrated much influence on the broader contours of American foreign policy. When the story gets to someone who does have that influence–Rep. Adam Smith of Washington State, the ranking Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee–we get the answer: “it’s just not going to happen.”

Conservatives have repeatedly accused President Obama of plotting to go around Congress and abusing executive authority. They are usually correct, most recently with the astoundingly amoral and economically illiterate plan to ignore the Senate on an international climate agreement, pay off authoritarians to keep their suffering citizens mired in poverty, and singlehandedly incentivize a whole new market in global corruption. But on the issue of the use of force in Syria, conservatives should hold their fire: if Obama goes around Congress on this, it’s because Congress wants him to.

There are three factors working against a full congressional vote on the authorization for the use of force against ISIS in Syria (it’s doubtful one would be needed either way in Iraq, since there is an extant authorization there). The first is that President Obama doesn’t want one, because he doesn’t want to lose such a vote.

If it were clear he’d get the authorization he wants, the president would probably go ahead with it. It’s not at all clear such authorization would even pass. Usually, this president is happy to find any reason not to go to war. But in the case of Syria, his credibility, already at a low ebb, would take an irreparable hit if he did a second one-eighty on attacking the country in as many years. He’s already authorized surveillance overflights and there are reports his administration is sharing intel with Bashar al-Assad’s regime–a fact not widely confirmed but not shocking either, considering Obama’s desire for pinpoint operations.

If he lost an authorization vote now, he would probably have to stand down, since asking for the authorization would publicly acknowledge he believes he needs it to proceed. He would like a consensus and bipartisan ownership of a new front in the war on terror. But he might not get it, and thus is unlikely to ask for it.

On why Congress doesn’t want to vote no matter the result–the second factor working against authorization–the Times hits the nail on the head:

Members of both parties have long been reluctant to cast votes on matters of war, and most showed little appetite this month to do so on the airstrikes in Iraq, with midterm elections just months away and Mr. Obama promising the mission would be limited.

Congress doesn’t want to toss a war vote into the chaos of the midterms. Congressional leaders tend to protect their caucus from taking risky votes, and there are few if any votes tougher than authorizing war.

Another issue is that it wouldn’t be easy for this divided Congress to even come to an agreement on what the authorization should say:

“It would be wise for Congress to come together and draft a grant of some authority for the president to confront that challenge,” said Congressman Adam Smith of Washington, the senior Democrat on the Armed Services Committee. At the same time, he said he could not imagine “in a million years” that would happen.

“There is simply no way on earth that members of Congress are going to come together and agree on what the language for an authorization for the use of force in Syria is — it’s just not going to happen,” Mr. Smith said.

And the third factor working against a full vote is that members of Congress want to have their cake and eat it too. The Times hints at this, but I think jumps to the wrong conclusion:

But some lawmakers have grown increasingly uncomfortable with that hands-off approach, especially after ISIS beheaded the American journalist James Foley and released a video showing the execution. The White House announced last week that United States forces had tried and failed to rescue Mr. Foley and other hostages this summer.

In other words, they want the U.S. to strike ISIS. The Times seems to suggest this would help momentum toward a full vote on authorization. I would imagine the opposite is true.

If the approval would be far from assured (and it’s possible it might even be a long shot, depending on who you ask), and that Congress would bicker endlessly over just what it is they were trying to authorize, what would a lawmaker who supports the use of force want to happen? They would prefer the president strike without Congress.

This is practical, because time is of the essence. But it is also cynical, because it enables them to get their way while someone else takes responsibility for it. That’s true for Democrats who want to press a left-wing challenger in 2016 and would love an issue that has more traction than inequality or global warming, and it’s certainly true above all else for Republicans, who can get a policy they support while a president of the other party takes the flak for it.

None of this is to argue against the authorization or to dismiss the importance of an honest public debate and full accountability for a decision as serious as the use of force. It’s just to note that an Obama strike without that authorization would hardly be an example of an imperial presidency. It would be carrying out the wishes, however opportunistic, of both parties’ congressional delegations.

Read Less

Obama’s Irrational Animus for Israel

According to the Jerusalem Post,

Read More

According to the Jerusalem Post,

Speaking extensively on US relations with Jerusalem since the end of the latest round of peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians last April, and throughout Operation Protective Edge, a candid [former US special envoy for Israeli-Palestinian Negotiations Martin] Indyk said at times US President Barack Obama has become “enraged” at the Israeli government, both for its actions and for its treatment of his chief diplomat, US Secretary of State John Kerry… Gaza has had “very negative impact” on US-Israel relations, he continued. “The personal relationship between the president and the prime minister has been fraught for some time and it’s become more complicated by recent events.”

Think about this for a moment. In a neighborhood featuring Hamas, ISIS, Hezbollah, Syria, and Iran, just to name a few of the actors, President Obama was “enraged” at … Israel. That’s right, Israel–our stalwart ally, a lighthouse of liberty, lawfulness, and human rights in a region characterized by despotism, and a nation filled with people who long for peace and have done so much for so long to sacrifice for it (including repeatedly returning and offering to return its land in exchange for peace).

Yet Mr. Obama–a man renowned for his lack of strong feelings, his emotional equanimity, his disengagement and distance from events, who New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd refers to as “Spock” for his Vulcan-like detachment–is not just upset but “enraged” at Israel.

Add to this the fact that the conflict with Hamas in Gaza–a conflict started and escalated by Hamas, and in which Hamas used innocent Palestinians as human shields–had a very negative impact on America’s relationship with Israel. To show you just how absurd this has become, other Arab nations were siding with Israel in its conflict with Hamas. But not America under Obama. He was constantly applying pressure on Israel. Apparently if you’re a nation defending yourself and, in doing so, you wage a war with exquisite care in order to prevent civilian death, it is reason to earn the fury of Mr. Obama.

It’s clear to me, and by now it should be to others, that there is something sinister in Barack Obama’s constant anger aimed at Israel. No previous American president has carried in his heart this degree of hostility for Israel. We can only hope that no future president ever does again. It is a shameful thing to watch this ugliness and irrationality play itself out.

Read Less

Israeli Liberals’ Advice to Diaspora Jewish Counterparts: Grow Up

Carlo Strenger, an Israeli psychology professor, regular Haaretz columnist, and dedicated leftist, offered some useful advice yesterday to all the Diaspora Jewish liberals now bemoaning the end of their love affair with Israel: Grow up. Or as he put it, “only adolescents demand ideal objects for their loves.”

Read More

Carlo Strenger, an Israeli psychology professor, regular Haaretz columnist, and dedicated leftist, offered some useful advice yesterday to all the Diaspora Jewish liberals now bemoaning the end of their love affair with Israel: Grow up. Or as he put it, “only adolescents demand ideal objects for their loves.”

“Jewish liberals … need to realize that the time has come to stop mourning Israel’s idealized image,” Strenger wrote. “Israel is an impressive achievement in many ways, but it was never an ideal society.” Rather, it’s a real country with real problems, just like any other country, and deserves to be treated that way.

American Jewish liberals, for instance, didn’t stop loving America because they loathed George Bush, Dick Cheney, Sarah Palin, and Rush Limbaugh, “So how come we Jews have such problems with the fact that in Israel we have our own Limbaughs, Palins and Cheneys?” Nor did they stop loving America because it has yet to achieve perfect racial harmony (as witness the recent police shooting of an unarmed black man in Ferguson, Missouri), so “How come we cannot accept that Israel is a multiethnic society that still hasn’t worked out a modus vivendi” among its numerous religious and ethnic subgroups?

In short, if you care about a country, you can obviously criticize its shortcomings and work to ameliorate them. But you don’t wash your hands of it just because it fails to meet the “completely unrealistic” expectation that “our state must be a beacon of light unto the nations”–an expectation, he noted wryly, that exists in the first place because liberal Diaspora Jews “never quite got rid of” what most would publicly dismiss as a highly illiberal notion: “that Jews are chosen.”

Diaspora Jewish liberals’ expectations are all the more unrealistic, Strenger noted, because they completely disregard the real-world problems Israel faces:

The Arab world’s initial rejection of Israel’s existence, and the scars of war and the constant security threats from groups like Hamas, have left an indelible mark on Israel’s mentality, one that will take many decades to mitigate. The profound rifts between its ethnicities, its religious conflicts, its inability to integrate its Arab citizens, have shaped Israel’s political culture, and are unlikely to disappear anytime soon.

Moreover, in their disappointment at Israel’s failure to live up to their ideal, they are ignoring the fact that “there is much to love and admire about Israel for Jewish liberals, even if we profoundly dislike, and sometimes hate, other aspects of it.”

While Strenger didn’t elaborate, another Israeli professor and dedicated leftist, Michael Gross, did exactly that in a guest column for Haaretz two days earlier. Rhetorically asking what standard Diaspora Jewish liberals use to evaluate Israel’s liberalism or lack thereof, he continued, “Do they mean a well-functioning public health care system, expansive reproductive rights, gun control, a ban on the death penalty or inexpensive higher education?”

Gross obviously knows the big issue for most liberal Diaspora Jews is “the occupation.” His point is that like any real country, Israel is multi-faceted. And if you examine the real Israel in all its complexity, rather than treating it as a cartoon character with no existence beyond the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, then on many trademark issues to which liberal Jews accord great weight in their own countries, Israel is actually closer to the liberal ideal than America is.

Essentially, both men were making the same argument: If liberal Diaspora Jews would look at Israel as a real country, rather than as a projection of their fantasies, they would see it was neither as perfectly good as they once imagined it nor as irredeemably evil as they imagine it today. Like any other country, it has real problems, and like any other country, it deals with some problems better than others, but its positive qualities are no less real than its flaws.

And if Diaspora Jewish liberals are incapable of seeing the real Israel through the cloud of their adolescent fantasies, then that isn’t Israel’s fault. It’s their own.

Read Less

Alonzo Cushing

On July 3, 1863, Brevet Major Alonzo H. Cushing commanded an artillery battery on Cemetery Ridge outside the town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. The fate of the Union hung in the balance as Pickett’s charge, ordered by Robert E. Lee, swept across the field in front of the battery. The line of which Cushing was a part had to hold or the Confederacy would win the day and, perhaps, the war itself.

Read More

On July 3, 1863, Brevet Major Alonzo H. Cushing commanded an artillery battery on Cemetery Ridge outside the town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. The fate of the Union hung in the balance as Pickett’s charge, ordered by Robert E. Lee, swept across the field in front of the battery. The line of which Cushing was a part had to hold or the Confederacy would win the day and, perhaps, the war itself.

In the midst of the fury, a shell fragment tore through Cushing’s shoulder but he continued in command, barking orders. A second shell fragment hit him in the abdomen but, holding his intestines in with one hand, he continued to fight. Ordered to the rear, he refused to go. “I’ll stay and fight it out, or die in the attempt,” he said. Now unable to be heard over the din of battle his 1st sergeant held him up and repeated his orders to his men. Finally, a bullet hit him in the mouth and exited through his spine, killing him instantly. At the cost of Cushing’s and many other lives, the line held. The Confederates were forced to fall back, taking heavy casualties. The Army of Northern Virginia never really recovered from the disaster of Pickett’s charge, militarily or, crucially, psychologically, and would never again be on the offensive. The Union would live.

Alonzo Cushing was 22 years old. He lies today in the cemetery at West Point, from where he had graduated in 1861, beneath a tombstone that reads at the request of his mother, “Faithful unto Death.” Although he was posthumously given the rank of brevet lieutenant colonel, he received no other honors.

Now, finally, he is getting his due. Congress authorized the Medal of Honor in the last defense appropriation bill and President Obama announced on Tuesday that he would award Cushing the nation’s highest honor 151 years after he gave his life for that nation.

It’s about time.

Read Less

Congress Last Holdout to Break Turkey Embrace

Kudos to President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry. Obama entered office blind to the anti-democratic agenda that Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdoğan sought to impose on Turkey, even going so far as describing the Turkish strongman as among his most trusted friends. Never mind that under Erdoğan, the murder rate of women skyrocketed. During a recent trip to Turkey, a female member of parliament waved off suggestions that the increased murder rate was simply because more people were reporting crimes; rather, she suggested, it was because Erdoğan’s constituents understood they could impose their savage notions of honor with impunity.

Read More

Kudos to President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry. Obama entered office blind to the anti-democratic agenda that Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdoğan sought to impose on Turkey, even going so far as describing the Turkish strongman as among his most trusted friends. Never mind that under Erdoğan, the murder rate of women skyrocketed. During a recent trip to Turkey, a female member of parliament waved off suggestions that the increased murder rate was simply because more people were reporting crimes; rather, she suggested, it was because Erdoğan’s constituents understood they could impose their savage notions of honor with impunity.

Turkish journalists and even former budget officials privately acknowledged and detailed how Erdoğan used Islamist backers in Qatar and Saudi Arabia to amass political slush funds, a practice I detailed here, and which history has proven correct. Erdoğan also reoriented Turkish foreign policy and society away from Europe and the West and into the Islamist world, a mission of which he placed Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, in charge. It’s no coincidence that he appointed Davutoğlu to be his Medvedev now that Erdoğan is moving onto the presidency. At any rate, I’ve detailed Turkey’s change repeatedly in the pages of COMMENTARY, but I summarize most of them in this lecture delivered at the Chautauqua Institution last year.

Obama might be forgiven for not being aware of just how corrosive Erdoğan has been to Turkey’s democratic development and rule of law. After all, a succession of U.S. ambassadors to Turkey—Eric Edelman being a notable exception—had long carried water for Erdoğan. Had they acknowledged that Erdoğan wasn’t as progressive as they claimed, they might have condemned what they believed to be an enlightened notion of just what “moderate Islamism” could become. In recent months, many of these former ambassadors have gone silent, and some have even noticeably and publicly switched sides, for example by signing this letter. If they had previously defended Erdoğan publicly, their counsel to Obama and his aides was even more dismissive of the notion that Erdoğan was up to no good.

Well, that’s all past, it seems. As Erdoğan gears up for his presidential inauguration, the Turkish press notes the foreign dignitaries who will be attending:

Fifteen countries are to be represented at the level [of] president or heads of state, 6 countries at the level of parliament speaker, 12 countries at the level of prime ministers, 3 countries at level of vice presidents, 7 countries at the level of deputy prime ministers and around 40 countries at the level of ministers.

The highest American official? The chargé d’affaires at the embassy, a clear sign that the United States is not supportive of how Erdoğan acts and what his true agenda is.

Too bad that so many congressmen have not gotten the message, and still lend their names through their membership in the “Caucus on US Turkey Relations & Turkish Americans” (more often called simply the “Congressional Turkey Caucus”) to endorse a regime that supports Hamas, engages in anti-Semitic propaganda, allows international jihadists and perhaps even arms to cross unmolested into Syria, makes Russian President Vladimir Putin’s attitude to the press look positively enlightened, and even lends assistance to Iranian sanctions-busting. Perhaps such positions could be expected of folks like Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), a former member of the Nation of Islam and a cheerleader for more radical causes, or Gerry Connelly (D-Va.), who has flirted with groups like the Council on American Islamic Relations. But dozens of other congressmen should know better, and not allow themselves to be used by the Turkish government for its own propaganda purposes.

Congress so often takes the lead to seek to defend religious freedom, to ensure that the White House doesn’t subvert American national security in its rush to cement deals with regimes like Iran’s and Russia’s, and to try to prevent the State Department from allowing U.S. money to be used by terror-sponsoring groups. And yet when it comes to Turkey, it now trails behind even Obama and the State Department in recognizing just how destructive Turkey has become. It’s time to quit the Congressional Turkey Caucus; Istanbul is a lovely city, but the junkets membership allows do not enhance American security, diplomacy, and interests and are simply are not worth the price.

Read Less

McConnell: Obstructionist or a Dealmaker?

Politico made quite a stir last week when it published an interview with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in which he suggested that his main priority if Republicans win a majority this November will be to stop President Obama from governing without consent of Congress. McConnell’s talk about challenging the White House through the “funding process” struck some observers as reminiscent of Tea Party rhetoric that led to last year’s disastrous government shutdown and give the senator’s Democratic challenger a new talking point in a tough reelection race. But, as a profile of McConnell in the New York Times Magazine to be published next Sunday shows, a GOP-run Senate may actually be one where bipartisan deals are possible.

Read More

Politico made quite a stir last week when it published an interview with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in which he suggested that his main priority if Republicans win a majority this November will be to stop President Obama from governing without consent of Congress. McConnell’s talk about challenging the White House through the “funding process” struck some observers as reminiscent of Tea Party rhetoric that led to last year’s disastrous government shutdown and give the senator’s Democratic challenger a new talking point in a tough reelection race. But, as a profile of McConnell in the New York Times Magazine to be published next Sunday shows, a GOP-run Senate may actually be one where bipartisan deals are possible.

The Politico interview brought out the fact that McConnell’s focus in his reelection race is on fighting President Obama. The only person in Kentucky who seems to have lower favorability ratings than McConnell is the president and the minority leader has rightly determined to run against him and concentrate on linking opponent Alison Lundergan Grimes to the White House.

However, McConnell’s plans to stymie the president’s plans to spend his last years in power trying to govern on his own via executive orders or sleight of hand maneuvers, like his attempt to sign a climate change treaty without bringing it to the Senate for a vote, were interpreted (not without some justice) as a not-so-veiled threat of another government shutdown. If so, that gave Grimes more ammunition to pursue her campaign strategy painting the personally unpopular McConnell as the epitome of everything voters hate about Washington.

That sounds like a winning strategy for Grimes who has been virtually tied in the polls with McConnell for most of the year. But Grimes, whose momentum seems to have slowed recently as polls show McConnell building on his slim lead, may not necessarily profit from positioning herself as Obama’s defender in future confrontations with the GOP. That’s especially true since many of the issues on which Republicans will confront Obama’s government by executive order policy will be on environmental issues.

Grimes’s biggest burden in this race, aside, that is, from McConnell’s legendary political skills and scorched earth tactics against opponents, are Obama’s anti-coal environmental policies. If McConnell can portray his boasts of obstructionism as merely the only way to protect one of his state’s industries, that would be a huge handicap for the Democrat.

Even more interestingly, the New York Times profile seemed to undermine any notion of McConnell as a Tea Party warrior bent on confrontation. As the profile makes clear, McConnell is at his core a moderate who is more interested in governance and political tactics than in grand gestures or shutting down the government to make an ideological point. As anyone who has followed events on Capitol Hill in recent years closely knows, of all the party leaders in either body, McConnell is a dealmaker who enjoys striking bargains for their own sake. That’s why a real Tea Partier—Matt Bevin—thought him vulnerable to a primary challenge that eventually fizzled. McConnell’s elevation to majority leader next year in the event of a GOP takeover would actually probably improve the chances of bipartisanship in a Senate where relations between the parties have been at an all-time low due to Reid’s highly confrontational tactics.

As Jonathan Martin writes in the Times Magazine, McConnell’s lack of personal appeal seemingly makes him a ripe target for defeat. But so long as Grimes is linked to Obama, even talk about government shutdowns may not be enough to end McConnell’s tenure in the Senate. As Martin writes in his concluding paragraph:

In the end, however, it seemed as though McConnell had found a way to make the race about Obama rather than himself. Somehow, he had yet again become the outsider. Maybe the guy still had it.

Indeed, he does.

Read Less

Abbas Can’t Solve Gaza or Make Peace

While both Hamas and Israel’s government have been trying to assert that they both won the war that apparently concluded with a cease-fire agreement yesterday, a third party is attempting to stake his claim as the man who can win the peace. Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas anticipated the announcement of the cease-fire by vowing to go back to the United Nations on Monday to force Israel to withdraw from all of the West Bank as well as Jerusalem. And some in the U.S. and Israel think the best response to the end of the fighting is to further empower Abbas as a counterweight to Hamas. While this sounds logical, it would be a colossal error.

Read More

While both Hamas and Israel’s government have been trying to assert that they both won the war that apparently concluded with a cease-fire agreement yesterday, a third party is attempting to stake his claim as the man who can win the peace. Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas anticipated the announcement of the cease-fire by vowing to go back to the United Nations on Monday to force Israel to withdraw from all of the West Bank as well as Jerusalem. And some in the U.S. and Israel think the best response to the end of the fighting is to further empower Abbas as a counterweight to Hamas. While this sounds logical, it would be a colossal error.

Some critics of the Netanyahu government believe it has erred in recent years by being so critical of Abbas while essentially acquiescing to continued Hamas rule in Gaza. That school of thought holds that the prime minister thinks leaving Gaza in Hamas’s hands makes it impossible for Abbas to make peace and undermines the chances of a two-state solution. There is no doubt that some in the government would prefer the status quo to a peace deal that would give Abbas the West Bank for a Palestinian state. But those who believe that sort of Machiavellian thinking is responsible for the lack of peace are ignoring some hard truths about Abbas and the political culture of the Palestinians.

A rational analysis of the Palestinian predicament would lead one to think that this is Abbas’s moment. Hamas achieved nothing with its decision to launch a war of attrition with Israel after its members kidnapped and murdered three Israeli teenagers. Nothing, that is, except the utter devastation of Gaza, the loss of two thousand dead as well as the destruction of its terror tunnels and the expenditure of much of its rocket arsenal in return for only a few dozen dead Israelis and little damage to the Jewish state. By contrast, Abbas can now stride into Gaza with his PA forces and claim to be the man who can improve conditions for Palestinians and forge a deal that might give them independence. But those assumptions about Abbas’s ability to act decisively now completely ignore the realities of Palestinian politics as well as the utter incompetence of the PA.

Even if we were to take it as a given that Abbas is as dedicated to peace as some of his American and Jewish friends claim him to be, the notion that it has been Netanyahu’s disdain for the PA leader that has prevented peace is absurd. Throughout his years in power Abbas has had two key objectives: to portray himself as a peacemaker to the West and to avoid being trapped in any negotiations with Israel that might obligate him to sign a deal that would recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state and end the conflict for all time. That’s why he fled the 2008 peace talks with Ehud Olmert even after Netanyahu’s predecessor offered virtually all of the West Bank and much of Jerusalem. It’s also why he boycotted peace talks from 2009 to 2013 and then fled them again at the first opportunity this spring when he signed a unity pact with Hamas rather than peace with Israel. And rather than ask the U.S. to drag Netanyahu back to the table now that the fighting in Gaza is over, he is running to the UN in a stunt that will discomfit the Israelis but do nothing to get Palestinians a state.

The reason he has stuck to this no-peace strategy can be discovered by asking why he has avoided elections (he’s currently serving the ninth year of a four-year term) in recent years with no sign that he is looking to take on Hamas at the ballot box even after their military failure. The unfortunate reality is that Abbas knows that even unsuccessful attempts to slaughter Jews—such as Hamas’s shooting of more than 4,000 rockets at Israeli cities or its attempt to use tunnels to pull off terrorist atrocities—boosts its credibility as the party that is doing the most to “resist” Israel. When Hamas talks about ending the “occupation” they are not referring to the West Bank (which the Palestinians could have had as long ago as 2000 when Israel made its first peace offer) but all of pre-June 1967 Israel, a stance that resonates more with the Palestinian street than Abbas’s clever equivocations. None of the positive statements he has made in recent years or the occasional help he provides Israel can override the fact that Palestinian national identity is still inextricably tied to the continuation of war on Zionism. Abbas may regret this, but he has showed time and again that he won’t do anything to change it.

As the revelations of a planned Hamas coup in the West Bank uncovered by the Shin Bet security service showed, the only thing keeping Abbas in charge in Ramallah is Israel and Palestinians know it. The notion that parachuting Abbas or his PA forces into Gaza will somehow stop Hamas from re-arming or using humanitarian aid to rebuild its bunkers and tunnels is a fantasy. So, too, is the idea that more Western or Israeli support will enable Abbas to govern either the West Bank or Gaza effectively with his corrupt and incompetent Fatah cadres.

It is an unfortunate fact that Israel’s decision to leave Hamas in place rather than seek its elimination has, despite its clear defeat in the field, bolstered the Islamist group. But Netanyahu can’t compensate for that by empowering Abbas. The PA leader hasn’t the guns or the guts to face down Hamas in its Gaza stronghold and doesn’t dare try his luck at the ballot box even in the West Bank where conditions are more favorable to him.

The vast majority of Israelis know that any withdrawals on the West Bank would probably mean the creation of a larger and more dangerous version of the mess in Gaza. That is something no rational government of any kind would countenance. So while neither Israelis or their American allies are satisfied with a reinstatement of the pre-Gaza war status quo, even the dangerous uncertainty such a decision represents is better than repeating the Jewish state’s calamitous decision to withdraw from Gaza in 2005. Boosting Abbas at the expense of Hamas sounds logical, but it is part and parcel of the same fool’s errand diplomacy that brought the Middle East to the current impasse.

Read Less

Columbia Boycotts Israel?

The Gaza war has raised up another tide of Holocaust inversion: the claim by assorted Jew-baiters that Israel has become the Nazis, and the Palestinians their Jewish victims. This was a staple of old Soviet propaganda, which then spread to the Arab world. It took a while for Arab elites, many of which had been admiring of the Nazis, to see “Nazi” as pejorative. But in time they saw the advantages, especially since Holocaust inversion also served to trivialize the Holocaust itself. In recent years, the sickness has spread throughout the Left in Europe, and even festers in dark places in the United States. In a new article over at Mosaic Magazine, I locate one of them: the faculty lounge of Columbia University. Comparisons of Gaza to Auschwitz? The Warsaw Ghetto? Columbia has it all. Read more there.

Read More

The Gaza war has raised up another tide of Holocaust inversion: the claim by assorted Jew-baiters that Israel has become the Nazis, and the Palestinians their Jewish victims. This was a staple of old Soviet propaganda, which then spread to the Arab world. It took a while for Arab elites, many of which had been admiring of the Nazis, to see “Nazi” as pejorative. But in time they saw the advantages, especially since Holocaust inversion also served to trivialize the Holocaust itself. In recent years, the sickness has spread throughout the Left in Europe, and even festers in dark places in the United States. In a new article over at Mosaic Magazine, I locate one of them: the faculty lounge of Columbia University. Comparisons of Gaza to Auschwitz? The Warsaw Ghetto? Columbia has it all. Read more there.

While I’m on Columbia, here’s another aspect worth noting. Several hundred Middle East scholars have put out a letter pledging to boycott Israeli institutions of higher education. The organized association of Middle Eastern studies has rejected boycotts in the past, and is likely to do so again if the issue even gets tabled at the next convention. So the boycott of Israel in Middle Eastern studies is being organized along the lines of a personal pledge by individual scholars.

Israeli institutions of higher education (including, presumably, the one over which I preside, Shalem College in Jerusalem), are deemed by these scholars to be “complicit in violating Palestinian rights.” The signatories thus pledge “not to collaborate on projects and events involving Israeli academic institutions, not to teach at or to attend conferences at such institutions, and not to publish in academic journals based in Israel.” The pledge will remain in effect until these institutions call on Israel to end the Gaza “siege,” evacuate all territory “occupied” in 1967, and “promote the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes.” In other words, it’s a boycott until Israel dies.

I looked down the list of signatories, and mostly saw the usual suspects. Columbia, of course, is heavily represented. The boycotters include such tenured Columbia radicals as Rashid Khalidi, Nadia Abu El-Haj, Hamid Dabashi, Gil Anidjar, Mahmood Mamdani, George Saliba, Brinkley Messick, Timothy Mitchell, and Wael Hallaq. In fact, no university has more senior faculty boycotters signed on this letter than Columbia.

But one name in particular caught my eye: Lila Abu-Lughod, professor of anthropology. I remembered that she had become director of Columbia’s Middle East Institute a few years back. Why is that significant? The Institute she directs is a Title VI U.S. Department of Education-supported National Resource Center (NRC) for the Middle East. An NRC is supposed to “maintain linkages with overseas institutions of higher education and other organizations that may contribute to the teaching and research of the Center.”

The question I now have is whether this (taxpayer-subsidized) academic unit of Columbia is boycotting Israeli academe? Or are we to believe that Professor Abu-Lughod is only boycotting Israeli institutions personally, but is prepared to cooperate with them officially? Columbia should issue a clarification, and give a public account of the overseas institutional linkages the Institute does have, so that we can see whether a de facto boycott of Israel is in place at Columbia. You can even pose the question yourself, to Columbia’s Office of Communications and Public Affairs, right here.

Read Less

In Picking Crist, Dems Look Beyond Florida

If you don’t stand for something you’ll fall for anything–or you just might become governor of Florida. Last night, Charlie Crist won the Democratic nomination for Florida’s upcoming gubernatorial election, in which he’ll face incumbent Rick Scott. In doing so, he completed something of a trifecta: he was the Republican nominee for governor the first time he ran, then was the independent candidate on the ballot in his run for Senate after the rise of Marco Rubio, and now he’s the Democratic candidate for governor. Whoever you are, whatever you believe, Charlie Crist has at one point or another pretended to agree with you.

Read More

If you don’t stand for something you’ll fall for anything–or you just might become governor of Florida. Last night, Charlie Crist won the Democratic nomination for Florida’s upcoming gubernatorial election, in which he’ll face incumbent Rick Scott. In doing so, he completed something of a trifecta: he was the Republican nominee for governor the first time he ran, then was the independent candidate on the ballot in his run for Senate after the rise of Marco Rubio, and now he’s the Democratic candidate for governor. Whoever you are, whatever you believe, Charlie Crist has at one point or another pretended to agree with you.

It’s easy to dismiss the smarmy, oleaginous Crist as a transparent phony and a walking caricature of everything Americans profess to hate about politics. But there is a certain degree of sincerity in his insincerity: it can be argued he has finally found his place in the natural order of politics. Indeed, just glance at his career arc: Republicans saw him as an unprincipled fraud and booted him from their ranks. Democrats saw him as an unprincipled fraud and nominated him to represent their party.

Nothing about that is out of the ordinary. The Democrats have today taken on the ideology of power. Barack Obama ran two vapid campaigns driven by a personality cult and enforced groupthink. He has chosen, and his people have accepted (thus far at least), Hillary Clinton as his successor, who virtually guarantees the same type of campaign all over again. Ideas are dangerous things, and liberals tend to keep their distance from them. Hence their decision to have Crist represent them in a key state.

But what people often forget about cynical, self-serving politicians is this: they tend to stick around. If you act as a conduit for taxpayer cash and a megaphone for all and sundry personal grievances, you can get a lot of people to vote for you. How many? Well, that’s a question Crist seeks to answer not only for himself but for Democrats nationally. As Florida-based political consultant Rick Wilson writes:

You may share the kind of visceral dislike of Crist with most Republicans, but you need to know that the risk of Charlie Crist reaches far beyond Florida, and offers an insight into an emerging behavior of national Democrats. While we chase perfection, they chase election. They demonstrably don’t care about character, and Crist is a perfect example of the moral vacancy of Democratic voters.

You’re thinking, “Meh. Florida’s crazy. So what if he wins? The GOP owns the Legislature.” Don’t count on it. Florida’s GOP majorities in the House and Senate have some admirable scrappers, and some will fight Crist until the last dog dies. But there’s already a Quisling Caucus in the State Senate quietly whispering that Charlie might not be so bad.

Next, Charlie is very much a road-test for limits of reinvention of future Democratic candidates, including the Damsel of Chappaqua. He transformed himself from far-right Reagan Republican to left-of-Obama liberal in a year and a half without missing a beat. There is no lie the man won’t tell, no promise he won’t make, and no deal he won’t cut to return to power. Hillary is watching, as are other Democrats, as Crist attempts to define history down.

Wilson posits that Crist will hope not only to be a model for America’s soulless liberalism but will also seek to boost his new party’s fundraising, rejuvenate its political machine, and go to bat for the expansion of federal programs in the two years between Election Day 2014 and Election Day 2016. All that is normal state politics, but it does have national implications.

A good example of why that is comes from the Washington Post’s Aaron Blake. In a piece about the implosion of the campaign of Ed FitzGerald, the Democrats’ gubernatorial nominee in Ohio, Blake notes that what FitzGerald’s freefall exposed was the Democrats’ lack of a good farm system. Blake explains that in Ohio, Republicans improved their electoral map in the House as well as the state legislature. That means, simply, more Republicans and fewer Democrats to choose from.

But Blake goes on to say that Republicans have pressed this advantage in states beyond Ohio. And Florida is one of them. He notes that in Florida, not only do the Republicans have a numbers advantage due to redistricting but they hold far more competitive districts, which helps develop candidates. Here’s Blake:

So while 11 Florida districts lean Republican by seven or fewer points, just one Democratic-leaning district is even remotely competitive.

Want to guess which kind of district is more likely to produce a credible candidate for statewide office? Hint: It’s not the district where the incumbent only has to impress his or her heavily liberal constituents.

It is not altogether too surprising, then, that Democrats had to go looking for a hired gun like Crist. But the real aim of the national Democrats backing Crist is to staunch the statewide bleeding and then start rebuilding the roster of future candidates.

And they’re relying on Crist to get the state Democrats up off the mat so the national party can try to secure its tenuous hold on Florida in presidential elections as well. All this is a pretty far cry from where Crist was just four years ago, as a Republican about to turn independent. You can argue Crist and the Democrats are taking a cynical route to power all you want; you can’t say they don’t understand the stakes.

Read Less

Obama’s Lawless, Heartless Climate Treaty

Can President Obama force through a new international climate change treaty without a vote in the Senate, as the Constitution requires? The administration thinks it can. But while conservatives will correctly cry foul about this deceit, liberals should be just as angry about the way the terms of this lawless proposed pact hurts poor Third World nations.

Read More

Can President Obama force through a new international climate change treaty without a vote in the Senate, as the Constitution requires? The administration thinks it can. But while conservatives will correctly cry foul about this deceit, liberals should be just as angry about the way the terms of this lawless proposed pact hurts poor Third World nations.

As the New York Times reports, the administration is so determined to forge a new deal with other countries to limit carbon emissions that it is prepared to ignore the Senate, even though the Constitution clearly states that any treaty must be approved by a two-thirds vote in the U.S. Senate. Their solution is to sign what they are calling a “politically binding” rather than “legally binding” pact whose purpose will be to strong-arm countries into curbing economic development to conform with the belief that this is harming the planet. Nations will be required to enact climate change laws while pledging to observe “voluntary” emissions cuts while also funneling money to compensate poor nations whose attempts to create economic development will be halted by the climate change craze.

Both the administration and some of its European partners in this scheme believe they can get away with this sleight of hand by concocting a document that combines a restatement of existing U.S. treaty commitments dating from 1992 with new, supposedly voluntary pledges. This will, they think, allow them to evade U.S. law and commit the U.S. to an international accord without the benefit of congressional approval.

As one advocate of the plan told the Times, this is a tactic involving “legal and political magic.” A more honest way of evaluating it would be to say that it is a barefaced attempt to circumvent the Constitution and allow the president to govern by fiat rather than benefit of law.

While Republicans have been rightly grousing about the way the president used his power to act via executive orders on domestic issues, when it comes to climate change he had the authority to do so because of court rulings that allowed the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate carbon emissions without congressional oversight. But this is something very different and far more dangerous. By seeking to negotiate and sign a treaty with foreign powers without submitting these agreements for Senate approval, President Obama is deliberately flouting the law. The talk about the “voluntary” nature of the provisions of the treaty—a dubious description due to the economic leverage that the great powers would have over small countries under this international emissions regime—is nothing more than a transparent legal evasion.

While initiating a lawsuit to stop this treaty may be tricky because it won’t be clear who will have legal standing to challenge the deal, it is to be hoped that the courts will take a dim view of this sort of one-man rule. While the president may say he has no choice but to act on his own because of congressional opposition, this is exactly the sort of reasoning used by dictators to justify their doing away with democratic norms. Whether you agree with Obama on environmental issues or not, all Americans should be worried about an administration that believes that its belief in the urgency of an issue ought to allow it to trample the law in such a shameless manner.

The threat posed to the Constitution and the rule of law by the president’s tactics ought to be enough to generate bipartisan opposition to his power grab. But that isn’t the only reason to cry foul about this treaty. The treatment of poor Third World nations by this treaty is atrocious and its remedy for the devastating impact the emission cuts will have on these nations is as bad if not worse than the problem it claims to be solving.

On the one hand, some of the poorer nations are complaining that a treaty that is not legally binding will not force richer countries to send them aid to build dams and levees to protect against the coastal flooding that warming activists claim will happen sooner or later. But they also worry about the willingness of the wealthy West to enact international treaties that may ultimately prevent them from using carbon to develop their own economies.

Even worse is the fact that the money funneled to the Third World by Obama’s plan will be simply transferred to the nations rather than being targeted to solve particular problems with safeguards to prevent corruption. Suffice it to say that this more or less guarantees that any money that does get transferred to these poor nations will go straight into the pockets and the Swiss bank accounts of public officials there rather than helping the poor deal with the impact of climate change.

In short, this treaty combines all the evils of Obama’s international outlook in one neat package. It both violates American law and seeks to subordinate the interests and the economy of the United States while at the same time pursuing a liberal aid agenda that will worsen the problems of the Third World rather than improving them.

While some of the rhetoric from the right about Obama’s attempt to govern by executive orders may seem over the top at times, this is one instance in which the talk of monarchical instincts is not overblown. Treaties must be ratified by the Senate, not forced down the throat of the nation via “legal magic.” Anyone who sees Senator Mitch McConnell’s threats to obstruct this one-man presidency should he become majority leader next year as evidence of extremism need only consider Obama’s methods on this issue to realize how high the stakes involved in this issue may be. Those liberals who excuse this lawbreaking on grounds of necessity should ask themselves whether they could stomach a conservative president playing the same game.

Read Less

Bibi, Guerrilla Warfare, and Public Opinion

The Israeli public appears to be unhappy with the ceasefire agreement that Prime Minister Netanyahu has reached with Hamas. According to one poll, his public backing for the handling of the Gaza crisis has dropped from 82 percent at the height of the fighting to just 38 percent today. Meanwhile support for more hardline members of the cabinet such as Economy Minister Naftali Bennett has surged. The common cry of critics of the ceasefire is that Netanyahu is making a big mistake by not seeking “victory,” defined as the eradication of Hamas.

Read More

The Israeli public appears to be unhappy with the ceasefire agreement that Prime Minister Netanyahu has reached with Hamas. According to one poll, his public backing for the handling of the Gaza crisis has dropped from 82 percent at the height of the fighting to just 38 percent today. Meanwhile support for more hardline members of the cabinet such as Economy Minister Naftali Bennett has surged. The common cry of critics of the ceasefire is that Netanyahu is making a big mistake by not seeking “victory,” defined as the eradication of Hamas.

But as Jonathan Tobin and other realists have pointed out, the cost of seeking victory is simply too high for the Israeli public to stomach. Sure, Israelis may want to wipe out Hamas; who doesn’t? But once they saw what it actually took to accomplish that objective, they would likely turn against the military operation just as they previously turned against the 1982 invasion of Lebanon which was designed to eradicate the PLO. Or as the American public turned against wars in Vietnam and Iraq and Afghanistan.

As Haviv Rettig Gur argues in the Times of Israel, part of the problem is a mismatch between general Western, including Israeli, conceptions of what war should be like and what war is actually like most of the time. Quoting the great military historian Victor Davis Hanson, Gur notes “that for 2,500 years, democracies have held to a particular view of wars as brief, decisive, winner-takes-all confrontations between like-minded opponents.” Yet the IDF has been denied such a decisive battle with a regular enemy force since the end of the Yom Kippur War. “Defeated on those decisive battlefields,” Gur notes, “Arab opponents of Israel have turned to new arenas, to the very terror, guerrilla and irregular tactics that Israelis consider immoral and cowardly.”

Yet whatever the morality of guerrilla tactics, as a practical matter they are much harder to defeat than a conventional attack–as the U.S. discovered in Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq and as Israel has learned in Lebanon, the West Bank, and Gaza Strip, and as both the governments of Iraq and Syria are now learning. While it’s easy to say that the IDF should “defeat” or “destroy ” Hamas, actually accomplishing this task would involve a painful and protracted occupation of the Gaza Strip that few Israelis want to undertake. Gur writes: “The IDF believes it could take years to ‘pacify’ such a crowded, politically hostile territory, at the cost of hundreds of IDF dead and untold thousands of Palestinian dead, massive international opprobrium, and vast drains on the IDF’s manpower and financial resources that could limit its operational flexibility on other dangerous fronts, especially Syria-Lebanon and Iran.”

As a practical matter, moreover, Israel would be hard-pressed to wage such a conflict over the opposition of President Obama who would surely try to punish Israel by denying its request for more armaments and possibly by refusing to veto anti-Israel resolutions at the United Nations.

Such a war might still be well-advised if Hamas were an existential threat, but it’s not. Despite all of the rockets it rained on Israel, Hamas thankfully managed to kill few Israelis.

Netanyahu’s judgment clearly is that a ceasefire which restores the status quo ante bellum is the best Israel can do right now, and he is surely right. That is not satisfying for those who hunger for an idyllic version of war in which the bad guys surrender after being bombed for a few days, but it is line with the complex reality of irregular war as it has been waged over the centuries.

Read Less

“This Is Now a War with Russia”

This has been the summer from hell. While President Obama has been busy teeing off, ISIS has conquered much of northern and western Iraq, while killing untold thousands including journalist James Foley, and drawing U.S. aircraft back into action; Libya has degenerated into full-blown civil war; China has staged numerous provocations against its neighbors (and on at least one occasion against an American aircraft); and, lest we forget, Russia has mounted a barely disguised invasion of Ukraine.

Read More

This has been the summer from hell. While President Obama has been busy teeing off, ISIS has conquered much of northern and western Iraq, while killing untold thousands including journalist James Foley, and drawing U.S. aircraft back into action; Libya has degenerated into full-blown civil war; China has staged numerous provocations against its neighbors (and on at least one occasion against an American aircraft); and, lest we forget, Russia has mounted a barely disguised invasion of Ukraine.

That invasion just got a bit worse with news that Russian tanks, artillery, and infantry have been streaming across the border to open a new front against Ukrainian forces defending the southern city of Novoazovsk. According to the New York Times, “The Russian aim, one Western official said, was to open a new front that would divert Ukrainian forces from Donetsk and Lukhansk and possibly seize an outlet to the sea in the event that Russia tries to establish a separatist enclave in the eastern Ukraine.” This might even be a step toward uniting separatist enclaves in eastern Ukraine with Crimea, which Russia had earlier seized in contravention of all international norms. Whatever the case, as one Ukrainian sergeant fighting the Russian onslaught told a reporter: “This is now a war with Russia.”

Yes, it is. So what, if anything, is “The West”–the empty cliche–going to do about it? President Obama has imposed some semi-tough sanctions on a few Russian firms and individuals; the European Union has followed suit with less-than-tough sanctions. Clearly none of this has deterred Vladimir Putin, a wily predator who can smell weakness on the part of the West and is clearly looking to seize as much as he can while the going is good.

As it happens, just today Bill Perry, the Clinton secretary of defense, and George Shultz, the Reagan secretary of state, had an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal recommending a response to this Russian aggression. They call for providing military equipment and training to Ukraine, for deploying forces in the Baltic states, and for strengthening sanctions. They don’t spell out what stronger sanctions are needed but the most damaging step the U.S. could take would be to pass financial sanctions that prevent all Russian companies from access to the U.S. financial system and from doing dollar-denominated transactions. This could be coupled with secondary sanctions, as with Iran, to force foreign companies to choose between doing business with Russia and doing business with the U.S.

Of course Putin will retaliate in any way he can, but it is well past time to care about Russian retaliation. It is time to step up our response, whatever the cost, to the outrageous and illegal steps that Putin is taking to invade Ukraine before the most basic norm of the post-1945 world order–the norm against cross-border invasions and annexations of neighboring states–entirely disappears.

Read Less

Was Putin’s Syria Advice Really Trenchant?

With ISIS’s consolidation of control across broad swaths of Syria and its rapid expansion into Iraq, a number of American pundits and even policymakers quietly suggest that perhaps Russian President Vladimir Putin was right all along in his embrace of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his warning to the United States not to take action against him which could benefit the Syrian opposition, much of which is more dominated by radicals than American proponents of supporting the Free Syrian Army would like to admit.

Read More

With ISIS’s consolidation of control across broad swaths of Syria and its rapid expansion into Iraq, a number of American pundits and even policymakers quietly suggest that perhaps Russian President Vladimir Putin was right all along in his embrace of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his warning to the United States not to take action against him which could benefit the Syrian opposition, much of which is more dominated by radicals than American proponents of supporting the Free Syrian Army would like to admit.

After forces aligned with Assad apparently used chemical weapons in a Damascus suburb, a humanitarian tragedy and a challenge to President Obama’s blunt red line, Putin scrambled to prevent any America military strikes. In a New York Times op-ed almost a year ago, Putin offered this advice:

A strike would increase violence and unleash a new wave of terrorism. It could undermine multilateral efforts to resolve the Iranian nuclear problem and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and further destabilize the Middle East and North Africa. It could throw the entire system of international law and order out of balance. Syria is not witnessing a battle for democracy, but an armed conflict between government and opposition in a multireligious country. There are few champions of democracy in Syria. But there are more than enough Qaeda fighters and extremists of all stripes battling the government.

Sounds prescient, but was it? Assad is a terror sponsor who has worked closely not only with Hezbollah and, in the past, Hamas, but also with the al-Qaeda-linked extremists he now fights, whose passage through Syria and into Iraq he enabled. Russia likewise criticized and, at times, sought to undercut American action against al-Qaeda and its fellow travelers in Afghanistan. Over at The Hill, the European Foundation for Democracy’s Anna Borshchevskaya (full disclosure, my wife, who was a refugee from Russia and also spent much time in Syria and who, alas, sometimes also considers me her Medvedev), points out how curious it is that so many of those who point to this op-ed ignore Putin’s earlier New York Times op-ed which said quite the opposite when it came to battling extremism: “No government can stand idly by when terrorism strikes. It is the solemn duty of all governments to protect their citizens from danger. Americans obviously understand this concept… But when a society’s core interests are besieged by violent elements, responsible leaders must respond.”

When it comes to the use of military power—or reticence against its role in the fight against terror—Putin may seem inconsistent. Actually, though, he is not, so long as it is understood that his advice is not meant to actually illuminate the best way to counter terror in places like Syria. Rather, he is motivated by a singular desire to pursue Russia’s interests and check those of America. As Borshchevskaya rightly concludes, “Looking back to Putin’s two op-eds, it is clear that he is not guided by genuine principle. Ultimately Putin pushes his own agenda, often aimed at criticizing and undermining the United States.”

Read Less

Why Exposing the Facts Doesn’t Change the Media’s Anti-Israel Narrative

Anybody who has worked in an actual newsroom knows that mainstream media bias–most pungently against conservative cultural mores and the State of Israel–is real and pervasive. The question that crops up time and again is: Why? Where does the bias come from, why can’t it be corrected? Yesterday Matti Friedman, in an in-depth piece on media coverage and the Arab-Israeli conflict, gave an answer, at least with regard to media bias against Israel. He’s right. And much of the pro-Israel world wishes he weren’t.

Read More

Anybody who has worked in an actual newsroom knows that mainstream media bias–most pungently against conservative cultural mores and the State of Israel–is real and pervasive. The question that crops up time and again is: Why? Where does the bias come from, why can’t it be corrected? Yesterday Matti Friedman, in an in-depth piece on media coverage and the Arab-Israeli conflict, gave an answer, at least with regard to media bias against Israel. He’s right. And much of the pro-Israel world wishes he weren’t.

Friedman worked for the Associated Press, and saw firsthand how the Western media operates when the subject turns to Israel. It’s an experience shared by all but the most liberal reporters, who don’t notice the bias because of their cloistered worldview. In fact, Friedman considers himself “a liberal, and a critic of many of my country’s policies.” It’s just that he has an affinity for the truth and a belief in the noble role the media can and should play in disseminating the facts.

As a prelude to a rundown of examples of how the AP and other major news organizations omit much of importance in service to their blame-Israel narrative, Friedman writes:

A reporter working in the international press corps here understands quickly that what is important in the Israel-Palestinian story is Israel. If you follow mainstream coverage, you will find nearly no real analysis of Palestinian society or ideologies, profiles of armed Palestinian groups, or investigation of Palestinian government. Palestinians are not taken seriously as agents of their own fate. The West has decided that Palestinians should want a state alongside Israel, so that opinion is attributed to them as fact, though anyone who has spent time with actual Palestinians understands that things are (understandably, in my opinion) more complicated. Who they are and what they want is not important: The story mandates that they exist as passive victims of the party that matters.

After listing much of what is missing from coverage of the conflict, he gives a particularly glaring example:

The fact that Israelis quite recently elected moderate governments that sought reconciliation with the Palestinians, and which were undermined by the Palestinians, is considered unimportant and rarely mentioned. These lacunae are often not oversights but a matter of policy. In early 2009, for example, two colleagues of mine obtained information that Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert had made a significant peace offer to the Palestinian Authority several months earlier, and that the Palestinians had deemed it insufficient. This had not been reported yet and it was—or should have been—one of the biggest stories of the year. The reporters obtained confirmation from both sides and one even saw a map, but the top editors at the bureau decided that they would not publish the story.

Some staffers were furious, but it didn’t help. Our narrative was that the Palestinians were moderate and the Israelis recalcitrant and increasingly extreme. Reporting the Olmert offer—like delving too deeply into the subject of Hamas—would make that narrative look like nonsense. And so we were instructed to ignore it, and did, for more than a year and a half.

This decision taught me a lesson that should be clear to consumers of the Israel story: Many of the people deciding what you will read and see from here view their role not as explanatory but as political. Coverage is a weapon to be placed at the disposal of the side they like.

It was a big story (when it was finally revealed), and it really would have been quite a scoop. Many observers would be frankly shocked to learn about the proclivity of editors to lose out on an important scoop because the facts of the story aren’t anti-Israel enough. But that’s the reality of the international, especially Western, media.

And seemingly minor stories can also make a big difference. A good example came in late 2012 from New York Times Jerusalem bureau chief Jodi Rudoren, whose tenure thus far has been undeniably disastrous. Slanting a story is one thing, but Rudoren has taken to simply redrawing maps. She wrote a patently ridiculous story asserting that building in the E-1 corridor near Jerusalem would divide the West Bank in two. The article contained even more errors than that, and they were mistakes that could have been prevented by glancing at a map.

Does the Times have access to a map? Has anyone at the Times looked out a window while in Jerusalem? Of course. What’s happening is not a series of slip-ups–no one with any experience in the matter could possibly make Rudoren’s claims with a straight face. What’s happening is bias-as-policy, as Friedman points out.

Rudoren’s story is just one of many examples. But the point is that while defenders of the anti-Israel press tend to think Israel’s defenders read the coverage of the conflict in the hopes of finding bias wherever and whenever possible, the opposite is true. Israel and her defenders, in general, wish fervently that Friedman’s assessment is wrong.

That’s because if the unreliable reporting were simply a matter of inexperience and ignorance, it could be remedied. Israel has made far more effort in recent years to get its side of the story out. If the media were truly interested in getting the story right, this would make a difference. It isn’t, and so it hasn’t. That’s the bleak reality of the mainstream media’s coverage of Israel.

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.