Commentary Magazine


From Jayvee to Juggernaut: What Terrorists Learn from Obama’s Mistakes

The press has begun reminding the Obama administration that the president had earlier referred to terrorist groups like ISIS as petty wannabes: “a jayvee team.” Yesterday, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel described them as an unprecedented threat and more worrisome, from a national-security perspective, than al-Qaeda. How did such a ragtag band of impostors become, in less than a year, the most imposing group out there? The answer is easy: they never were a jayvee team. To understand where the Obama administration went wrong, it’s instructive to revisit Obama’s full answer to the New Yorker’s David Remnick for that January story.

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The press has begun reminding the Obama administration that the president had earlier referred to terrorist groups like ISIS as petty wannabes: “a jayvee team.” Yesterday, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel described them as an unprecedented threat and more worrisome, from a national-security perspective, than al-Qaeda. How did such a ragtag band of impostors become, in less than a year, the most imposing group out there? The answer is easy: they never were a jayvee team. To understand where the Obama administration went wrong, it’s instructive to revisit Obama’s full answer to the New Yorker’s David Remnick for that January story.

After making the “jayvee” comment–which Remnick called “an uncharacteristically flip analogy”–Obama expanded on his thinking. He said: “I think there is a distinction between the capacity and reach of a bin Laden and a network that is actively planning major terrorist plots against the homeland versus jihadists who are engaged in various local power struggles and disputes, often sectarian.”

The major folly here was not, therefore, Obama underestimating one particular terrorist group or another. And it was not in the president’s naïve assumption that jihadists in particular hotspots don’t have global ambitions. Those are mistakes, surely. But the worst part was really in Obama’s complete lack of understanding in how individual terrorists operate.

Obama has always tried to draw lines between al-Qaeda and other groups because he wants to limit American action. But those lines were and are arbitrary. And because of that, Obama has tended to think of “new” terrorist groups as freshmen starting out at the bottom of the food chain. In fact, not only do they blur lines between groups and switch allegiances, but all terrorist groups benefit from the transnational architecture built over decades by Hezbollah, al-Qaeda, and other trailblazers.

A Washington Post story from earlier this month offered a good example of this:

U.S. spy agencies have begun to see groups of fighters abandoning al-Qaeda affiliates in Yemen and Africa to join the rival Islamist organization that has seized territory in Iraq and Syria and been targeted in American airstrikes, U.S. officials said.

The movements are seen by U.S. ­counterterrorism analysts as a worrisome indication of the expanding appeal of a group known as the Islamic State that has overwhelmed military forces in the region and may now see itself in direct conflict with the United States.

“Small groups from a number of al-Qaeda affiliates have defected to ISIS,” as the group is also known, said a U.S. official with access to classified intelligence assessments. “And this problem will probably become more acute as ISIS continues to rack up victories.”

The influx has strengthened an organization already regarded as a menacing force in the Middle East, one that has toppled a series of Iraqi cities by launching assaults so quickly and in so many directions that security forces caught in the group’s path have so far been unable to respond with anything but retreat.

Nobody defects to the jayvee team. And it’s been fascinating to watch the Obama administration come to terms with that realization, and adjust its rhetoric accordingly. Every time the administration is confronted with the fact that the global war on terror was not a made-up construct in a fit of warmongering pique but a logical reaction to the fluid, metastasizing threat of global jihadist groups, it struggles to explain its own meaningless distinctions.

So our enemy was al-Qaeda, not terrorism or terrorists more broadly. That, of course, was completely and recklessly false. So now that we have a non-al-Qaeda threat, how does the administration justify its uncompromising fury toward just one group? Here’s Hagel:

“They marry ideology, a sophistication of strategic and tactical military prowess. They’re tremendously well-funded. This is beyond anything that we’ve seen,” Hagel said, adding that “the sophistication of terrorism and ideology married with resources now poses a whole new dynamic and a new paradigm of threats to this country.”

But that’s not really true either. They’re sophisticated, ideological, militarily advanced, and “tremendously well-funded.” But does Hagel think that doesn’t describe any terror groups that preceded them? Would he not have said that about al-Qaeda? Would he not say that has been true of Hezbollah for decades now? You could even argue it described the Taliban once upon a time.

The point is not to split hairs. The point is that the administration made a grave and dangerous error in its attitude toward al-Qaeda, claiming the fight could be limited to card-carrying and dues-paying members of that one club. Obama is simply repeating that mistake again with ISIS. Who will be the next jayvee team that turns into a juggernaut? Whoever it is, they will almost certainly take Obama by surprise.

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Sanctions and Appeasement: 1941 and 2014

There are reasons to doubt whether the sanctions that have been enacted against Russia as a result of its aggression against Ukraine will work. But the argument made against them in today’s New York Times by Paul Saunders about the analogy between today’s sanctions and those imposed on Japan in 1941 isn’t one of them.

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There are reasons to doubt whether the sanctions that have been enacted against Russia as a result of its aggression against Ukraine will work. But the argument made against them in today’s New York Times by Paul Saunders about the analogy between today’s sanctions and those imposed on Japan in 1941 isn’t one of them.

The executive director of the “realist” Center for the National Interest think tank is clearly opposed to Western sanctions on Russia. Instead, he says, the U.S. should be offering the regime of Russian President Vladimir Putin some carrots along with the threat of a stick or two. He worries that that the constant attacks on Russian policy combined with President Obama’s lack of credibility will not only not deter Putin from more adventurism; he thinks it might actually impel Moscow to do the unthinkable and launch invasions of former Soviet republics that are today NATO allies of the U.S. like the Baltic states.

Saunders is right that no matter what policy the administration pursues, without Russia believing that Obama is serious about stopping them, nothing will work. In that sense, sanctions may well ultimately fail.

But Saunders’ argument that the only applicable precedent for the standoff with Russia today is the failed attempt by the United States to force Japan to cease its campaign of aggression in Asia is completely off the mark.

Saunders is correct that the U.S.-Japan dispute involved miscalculations on both sides. President Franklin Roosevelt feared that Japanese aggression in Asia and the Pacific would ultimately end in armed conflict. Yet the oil embargo imposed on the Japanese Empire and the seizure of their assets in the U.S. was an attempt to give Tokyo a chance to back down before it was too late. Rather than seizing an opportunity for negotiations that might have provided them with a chance to avoid a suicidal war, Japanese militarists saw the sanctions as a challenge to their legitimacy that must be met with further aggression. Hence, rather than slow down the path to war, the embargo may have speeded it up.

From this, Saunders draws the lesson that great powers can’t be deterred by economic sanctions, only incited to up the ante in a game of international poker. The Japanese wrongly thought Roosevelt was bluffing and believed the U.S. was too materialistic and spiritually weak to wage a war of annihilation against them. Perhaps, similarly, the Russians today believe, not without some justification, that the Obama administration will ultimately back down if push comes to shove. The fear that Iran has the same evaluation of Obama’s character and fortitude makes the current nuclear negotiations with Tehran all the more perilous.

But the analogy with Japan gives Putin and Russia too much credit. Japan was vulnerable to economic sanctions because of its lack of national resources and dependence on oil imports. But it was also an expanding empire with a crack military machine whose hunger for great power status and hemispheric hegemony was such that it could not be stopped by negotiations or bought off. It had been waging an active genocidal war of aggression in China since 1937 and its occupation of Indochina (today’s Vietnam) illustrated its intentions to expand even further. There was never any chance that anything short of war would ever force Japan to give up its Chinese conquests or their dream of Pacific domination.

By contrast, as dangerous as Putin might be, his nation is a shell of a once formidable empire with a ramshackle military that struggled to deal with Chechen rebels and is now flummoxed by the ragtag army opposing them in eastern Ukraine. Though it stole a march on the Ukrainians and seized Crimea with ease, the Russians appear to be in retreat with little sign that they would dare risk a conflict with the West by attacking members of NATO. Putin would like to reassemble the old Tsarist and Soviet empires. But if the U.S. and its European allies were sufficiently determined to punish Russia—something that is still in doubt even after the atrocity of the shooting down of a civilian airliner over eastern Ukraine by Russian loyalists—Moscow would be put in a difficult spot with little alternative but to back down.

But Saunders, stuck as he is in his realist mindset, seems to miss a broader point about the arc of American foreign policy than just the narrow question of the utility of sanctions. The “proud empire” of Japan that the U.S. sought to deter was an ally of Nazi Germany and already guilty of unimaginable atrocities when sanctions were imposed on them. A U.S. deal that would have left them in possession of China was not an option, even for an American government that would have preferred not to fight. The notion of a reasonable accommodation between the U.S. and Japan was not merely far-fetched but immoral, something that Roosevelt, though hopeful of staying out of the war that had already begun in Europe and Asia, seemed to understand. Just as appeasement of Japan’s ally Germany failed, so, too, would the course of action that Saunders seems to think would have been a good idea.

America’s embrace of sanctions against nations like Japan and Russia is a function of its values and interests, not merely a calculated effort to pursue a great power agenda. Feeding the appetite of nations like Japan and Russia for small nations never works. While some policymakers are too glib about using World War Two-era analogies about the dangers of appeasement, rethinking the virtues of such a discreditable course of action is even more misguided.

Saunders’ fears of a too-forceful use of American economic power is not only misplaced with respect to Russia; the idea that the goal of these confrontations is splitting the difference with aggressors is his real mistake. Offering Japan enough carrots in order to avoid an attack on U.S. territories would have been a disaster. The same is true of any misguided effort to buy off Putin.

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Like ISIS and Al-Qaeda, Hamas Is Fair Game

Hamas supporters came out in their thousands today in Gaza for the funerals of three senior commanders of the terror group’s “military” wing. The trio, along with their chief, Mohammad Deif, whose fate is still unknown, was targeted by Israeli air strikes after days of renewed rocket fire from Gaza on Israeli cities. While no one blinks an eye when the U.S. takes out leaders of al-Qaeda affiliates and other jihadists throughout the Middle East, the deaths of these Hamas figures is being discussed as a provocation that may well lead to more fighting that could have been avoided. But the attempt to draw any meaningful distinctions between Hamas and al-Qaeda or ISIS murderers in Syria and Iraq is mistaken.

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Hamas supporters came out in their thousands today in Gaza for the funerals of three senior commanders of the terror group’s “military” wing. The trio, along with their chief, Mohammad Deif, whose fate is still unknown, was targeted by Israeli air strikes after days of renewed rocket fire from Gaza on Israeli cities. While no one blinks an eye when the U.S. takes out leaders of al-Qaeda affiliates and other jihadists throughout the Middle East, the deaths of these Hamas figures is being discussed as a provocation that may well lead to more fighting that could have been avoided. But the attempt to draw any meaningful distinctions between Hamas and al-Qaeda or ISIS murderers in Syria and Iraq is mistaken.

The targeted killings of this latest group of Hamas murderers will, no doubt, set off the usual chorus of critiques of Israel from those who will claim that this action will somehow be the cause of more violence. As with acts of Israeli self-defense, we will be told that their deaths will sow the seeds of new generations of terrorists.

Throughout the history of Israel’s battles with Palestinian terror factions, Israel’s security services have been constantly lectured about the costs of their successes as well as their near misses.

Whenever attempts to take out known terrorists fail or result (as is often the case with similar attacks by the U.S. on al-Qaeda figures) in casualties among civilians or family members of the targets, Israel is lectured for its inability to differentiate between combatants and non-combatants. But when it does manage to take out Hamas members personally responsible for terror attacks, it is then told that doing so will anger the Palestinians so much that it will only cause them to double down on their war on the Jewish state.

But this is a circular argument. Palestinian terrorists have been waging war on the Jewish presence in the country for almost a century. Their determination to keep fighting has not been deterred by the Jewish acceptance of various partition plans to share the country or peace offers. Nor has it ever been primarily motivated by any particular Israeli counter-attack or defensive measure. Hamas will continue attacking Israel—as it has this week after the collapse of the latest ceasefire—not because they’re upset about what happened to Deif and his comrades but because their belief system will not allow them to make peace, no matter what the Israelis do. The next generations of terror are not motivated so much by specific tales of “martyrs”—be they terrorist killers or civilian casualties—as they are by the mission of avenging the real offense given by Israelis: their presence in their historic homeland that Hamas and other Palestinian factions believe should be cleansed of Jews.

It is precisely the implacable nature of the conflict with Hamas that makes the distinctions drawn between U.S. strikes on al-Qaeda and now ISIS so unfair and misleading.

While House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and other credulous liberals may believe the propaganda spewed by Hamas ally Qatar about it being a social welfare organization, the truth is that it is just as much a terror group as those more notorious groups that target Westerners and Americans. Though much of the Western media seems intent on sanitizing Hamas and ignoring its use of human shields, it needs no lessons in brutality from either al-Qaeda or ISIS, as the deaths of the Palestinians who have been killed for dissenting from their tyrannical rule of Gaza could attest.

As is the case with ISIS, there is no compromising with Hamas. Just as the Islamist terrorists in Iraq and Syria will not be bribed or cajoled into giving up their goal of imposing their religiously inspired nightmare vision on the world, neither will Hamas be satisfied with anything less than the eradication of Israel and the genocide of its Jewish population.

As with ISIS, there is no “political solution” to a conflict with Hamas, only a military one. So long as Hamas is allowed to remain in power in Gaza, there is no hope for peace between Israel and the Palestinians. Like Osama bin Laden and those who seek to kill Americans today, Hamas operatives are fair game for targeted assassinations. While the aim of Israeli Defense Force strikes on Hamas targets may not be any more perfect than those of their American counterparts elsewhere, they provide the only answer to an ideology that can’t be appeased.

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No, Virginia, There Is No Swing Voter

If a tree falls in the forest, and only swing voters are around to hear it, does it make a sound?

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If a tree falls in the forest, and only swing voters are around to hear it, does it make a sound?

Whatever your answer is to the original philosophical question, it should remain unchanged in this version. Swing voters, like political “independents,” are rarely more than science fiction.

That is not to say that voters never change their minds. It’s that when they do so, they tend to trade one opinion for another, not graduate from being undecided (no matter what they tell pollsters). More evidence for this comes from Columbia University’s Andrew Gelman, who takes to the Washington Post’s Monkey Cage blog to explain the results of his latest political science survey, conducted along with coauthors David Rothschild, Sharad Goel, and Doug Rivers.

At the blog, Gelman quotes the study’s abstract:

How can election polls swing so much given the increasingly polarized nature of American politics, where switching one’s support between candidates is a significant move? We investigate this question by conducting a novel panel survey of 83,283 people repeatedly polled over the last 45 days of the 2012 U.S. presidential election campaign. We find that reported swings in public opinion polls are generally not due to actual shifts in vote intention, but rather are the result of temporary periods of relatively low response rates by supporters of the reportedly slumping candidate. After correcting for this bias, we show there were nearly constant levels of support for the candidates during what appeared, based on traditional polling, to be the most volatile stretches of the campaign. Our results raise the possibility that decades of large, reported swings in public opinion — including the perennial “convention bounce” — are largely artifacts of sampling bias.

He adds:

The short story is much of the apparent changes in public opinion are actually changes in patterns of nonresponse:  When it looked like Romney jumped in popularity, what was really happening was that disaffected Democrats were not responding to the survey while resurgent Republicans were more likely to respond.

Gelman also notes a bit of humorous backstory:

This is a big deal and it represents a major change in my thinking compared to my 1993 paper with Gary King, “Why are American Presidential election campaign polls so variable when votes are so predictable?” At that time, we gave an explanation for changes in opinion, but in retrospect, now I’m thinking that many of these apparent swings were really just differential nonresponse.  Funny that we never thought of that.

That original question, though, arguably has accrued more relevance over the last two decades. It also seems like a fascinating reversal of process. Polls always carried with them a sense of scientific authority (today they are just plain fetishized). So even though the variability of polls in many elections just didn’t seem right, there wasn’t much more to that. The numbers said one thing and instincts or personal experience another. The numbers always won out. Gelman and Co. have flipped the script in a way.

The polling “swings” are consequential, however. As the authors note in their paper, they inspire a narrative of momentum and create a bandwagon effect:

For example, the Romney campaign saw a surge in donations and volunteers in the days following the debate, attributed in part to his perceived viability. Moreover, of the $400 million raised in the month between the debate and election day, donors making rational investment decisions would have likely directed some of their contributions to tighter senatorial elections if they did not believe the race for president was so close. Further, in an age of highly targeted campaign strategies (Hillygus and Shields 2009), misunderstanding voter intent likely affects decisions ranging from state-by-state spending (over $650 million was spent in that final month) to the general tone of the candidates. Finally, major poll movements often extend into the wider world, affecting, for example, stock and commodity prices (Snowberg, Wolfers and Zitzewitz 2007).

This helps explain why Barack Obama’s campaigns have been so successful. In both 2008 and 2012, the GOP presidential nominee was not exactly beloved by the party’s base. Obama had no such struggles. As I wrote here last month, we may scoff at the methods by which the Obama team fires up the Democratic base, but it is undeniable that firing up the base is an important component of a successful campaign.

In 2012 especially, it appeared bizarre that Obama had abandoned “independent” voters for Big Bird and birth control–a strategy that relied on the angry left to power the campaign. There’s a good reason to ignore independents: as I’ve argued before, they don’t exist, at least not in the numbers the media thinks. The country is deeply polarized; according to Pew, “Republicans and Democrats are further apart ideologically than at any point in recent history.” Vote swings are not the result of swing voters, and campaigns should plan accordingly.

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Parsing Paul’s ‘Evolution’ on Aid to Israel

Has Senator Rand Paul’s “evolution” on support for Israel and aid to the Jewish state gone far enough? That’s the question the pro-Israel community is asking these days as the 2016 Republican presidential contender attempts to navigate a changed foreign-policy environment in the wake of recent events in the Middle East. But while some credible voices think he should be given credit for moving closer to Israel, skeptics about both his position shifts as well as his ability to bring vast numbers of young voters to his party still have the better argument.

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Has Senator Rand Paul’s “evolution” on support for Israel and aid to the Jewish state gone far enough? That’s the question the pro-Israel community is asking these days as the 2016 Republican presidential contender attempts to navigate a changed foreign-policy environment in the wake of recent events in the Middle East. But while some credible voices think he should be given credit for moving closer to Israel, skeptics about both his position shifts as well as his ability to bring vast numbers of young voters to his party still have the better argument.

One voice raised on behalf of giving Paul a chance to prove himself is Abby W. Shachter, the author of Acculturated, the indispensable cultural blog, who writes in the Pittsburgh Tribune that both left- and right-wing critics of Paul on Israel are mistaken. While acknowledging the doubts about Paul’s sincerity about being a friend of Israel, she thinks friends of Israel shouldn’t consider his longstanding opposition to foreign aid a disqualifying factor. As Shachter notes, his position on aid to Israel has evolved since he began public life as a supporter of his extremist libertarian father’s presidential candidacies. Paul now claims he’s never really advocated ending assistance to Israel and says that even if all foreign aid is eliminated, Israel should be last on the list to be cut and even voted this summer for additional funding for the Iron Dome missile defense system that has saved countless lives from death at the hands of Hamas missiles.

Even more significantly, the recent controversy over President Obama’s willingness to use aid as a lever to pressure Israel may make Paul’s position on the question more defensible. Many Israelis believe the president’s decision to halt ammunition sales and transfers to Israel at the height of the fighting in Gaza so as to force the Jewish state to buckle to his demands about a cease-fire should force their country to ponder whether the price of this aid is too high in terms of their independence and security. If so, then maybe Paul’s position should be regarded as actually one that is helping Israel rather than a threat to its well-being.

Shachter goes even further and cautions conservative friends of Israel to think long and hard about labeling the libertarian senator as a foe of the Jewish state. She believes his ability to bring more young voters to the GOP has caused Democrats to fear him more than other Republicans. If Paul is spurned, she fears Republicans will rue the day they repelled the youth/libertarian voters that support the Kentucky senator, especially if they back libertarian or fringe candidates in November 2016.

But I’m afraid Shachter is giving Paul too much credit for both his “evolution” on the Middle East and his ability to help Republicans win in 2016.

Let’s first understand that Paul’s attempt to spin his record on Israel is blatantly insincere. If the senator has moved far closer to mainstream views on Israel since his presidential ambitions became manifest, that also illustrates just how far he has had to come from his starting point as a supporter of his father’s hostile attitude toward the Jewish state and the need for a strong American position on the Middle East. While he never explicitly singled out Israel for aid cutoffs, it’s also true that he has always opposed any assistance, a position that he still maintains to a large degree.

It is also true that many friends of Israel are rethinking the value of aid since Obama has used the assistance to pressure Israel to adopt policies that are against its interests. Paul is right when he says Israel would be better off if it were not dependent on the United States for military aid. But the problem is that even after the disheartening spectacle of Washington betraying its sole democratic ally in the Middle East in this manner, Israel doesn’t really have an alternative to this aid, no matter how many strings come with it.

The plain fact is that while Israel has a thriving arms industry of its own, if it is to maintain its qualitative edge over its Arab and Muslim foes, it’s going to need continued help from the United States. Without U.S. funding (started under the George W. Bush administration and continued under Obama), the Iron Dome system would not have been deployed as quickly or in the numbers needed to stop Hamas’s rocket offensive this year. Iron Dome might be the most prominent example of the utility of U.S. military assistance, but it is not the only one. Like it or not, Israel needs U.S. weapons and ammunition, especially when it is forced into shooting wars where resupply of stocks becomes necessary. Seen in that context, Paul’s rhetoric about aid cutoffs being to Israel’s benefit is beside the point, if not completely insincere.

Nor does Paul’s opposition to aid make sense even from a strictly American viewpoint. The U.S. has always gained nearly as much from security cooperation with Israel as the recipients. The U.S. not only benefits from Israeli technology and intelligence but the money is almost entirely spent in the United States. The assistance given is as much aid to the U.S. arms industry as it is to Israel.

As for Paul’s ability to bring in hordes of youthful libertarians who can tip the balance in 2016, that may be more of a myth than anything else. As Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight blog noted earlier this week, polls give us no evidence of any potential for such a massive swing vote. Young liberals may like Paul’s foreign policy, but not much else about the libertarian. But that shouldn’t recommend him to Republicans because the only reason they do like him is that his views are actually to the left of President Obama’s generally weak posture on foreign and defense issues. Even so, there is little evidence that liberals will back a conservative libertarian for president. Nor is it likely that any defection of libertarians, who have been hostile to every GOP presidential nominee for a generation, would be enough to cost Republicans the presidency.

Thus, while Paul should be encouraged to continue to evolve, his position on Israel is still unsatisfactory. More to the point, his position on aid reflects an even greater desire for an American retreat from the Middle East than that of Obama. In the unlikely event that his views truly change, pro-Israel conservatives should give him a chance. Until then, they would do well to seek an alternative that will both support Israel and have a better chance of being elected president.

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Victory Isn’t a Dirty Word

One of the points of discord between the Israeli military establishment (plus much of its political establishment) and the West is the concept of victory. President Obama has long been criticized for wanting to “end” wars instead of win them, painting a picture of a fatigued America on the run. Western Europe has not exactly been a model of resolve in the face of aggression either. But Israelis don’t have the luxury of retreat and can’t treat as quaint the notion of victory. Military victory, in fact, has been the necessary precursor to peace for Israel.

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One of the points of discord between the Israeli military establishment (plus much of its political establishment) and the West is the concept of victory. President Obama has long been criticized for wanting to “end” wars instead of win them, painting a picture of a fatigued America on the run. Western Europe has not exactly been a model of resolve in the face of aggression either. But Israelis don’t have the luxury of retreat and can’t treat as quaint the notion of victory. Military victory, in fact, has been the necessary precursor to peace for Israel.

And now again we see Israel’s enemy, this time Hamas, on the ropes. Yet the international community either doesn’t realize it or doesn’t care. To wit: yesterday Israel killed three top Hamas commanders, including two involved in the kidnapping of Gilad Shalit. One of those terrorists, Mohammed Abu Shamaleh, was also the head of Hamas’s southern command. There were rumors, not confirmed but not debunked either, that Israel had also taken out Hamas military chief Muhammad Deif.

Hamas’s latest series of rocket barrages does not appear to have much of a strategy, and calls to mind Hamas’s visible desperation after Israel found and destroyed most of the terror tunnel network earlier in Operation Protective Edge. Furthermore, Walter Russell Mead points to a Wall Street Journal report on a planned donor conference led by Norway and hosted by Egypt to raise money for the postwar rebuilding of Gaza–a conference whose hosts don’t want Hamas in control of the cash:

“The people of Gaza are suffering, and emergency help is urgently needed,” said Borge Brende, Norway’s Minister of Foreign Affairs. “Basic infrastructure must be repaired, so that people get electricity, water and sewage.”

The Norwegian government said the damages in Gaza were still being assessed, but were more significant than after the 2008-2009 war. This is the third time in five years that donors have to support a reconstruction of Gaza, the government said.

“The donors want to send a clear signal that basic conditions in Gaza have to change. Gaza can’t be reconstructed as it was,” said Mr. Brende. “The international society can’t simply be expected to contribute to another reconstruction.”

Mr. Brende said the donors want President Mahmoud Abbas to receive the aid, with his Western-backed government of technocrats responsible for handling the reconstruction of Gaza.

That article is making two points: first, that Gazans will need basic infrastructure built after the war, and second–crucially–that Hamas is not the proper vehicle for that aid. It calls attention to something Israel and its supporters have been saying, and which the war has proved, time and again: giving money and goods to Hamas will not help the people of Gaza. It will, in fact, hurt them because it will enable their further deprivation at the hands of Hamas as well as turn them into human shields when Hamas uses the money and supplies to attack Israel.

This is something critics of Israel’s continued military campaign keep missing. Today, Haaretz columnist Chemi Shalev tries to coax Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Obama into patching things up. After blaming Netanyahu for John Kerry’s absence from the ceasefire talks, Shalev writes:

But without America – even a weakened America headed by a reluctant president – there can be no long-lasting arrangement in Gaza: only America can guarantee Israel’s commitments, only America can give proper backing to the Palestinian Authority and only America can lead the kind of international effort that is needed in order to rebuild Gaza and hopefully bring about its disarmament as well. And with all due respect to the regional changes that Netanyahu mentioned in his press conference, only America is capable of facilitating the kind of diplomatic process that would lead to the “new political horizon” that Netanyahu alluded to on Wednesday, in a transparent effort to woo coalition partners on his left as well as Israel’s more centrist-minded public.

America the indispensable. Which it is. And yet, I can’t help but point out that there’s something missing here. Why was Kerry “ejected” (Shalev’s word) from the talks? It’s not because Kerry was trying to “lead the kind of international effort that is needed in order to rebuild Gaza and hopefully bring about its disarmament as well.” Kerry’s failure, in fact, was that he wasn’t doing so.

Kerry had been duped (to be generous) into presenting the kind of ceasefire that Israel’s enemies wanted and would have enabled Hamas to live to fight another day, perhaps even using those tunnels that were later destroyed. Kerry wasn’t on pace to bring about Gaza’s disarmament. What Shalev (correctly) wants out of a resolution to this conflict would have been made impossible if Kerry had his way.

Hamas once again appears to be on the ropes. A ceasefire that truly brings peace and prevents future war and terror is surely desirable. In its absence, the Israeli government shouldn’t be blamed for pursuing victory.

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Is Hillary Rooting for a GOP Senate?

For Democrats looking for some early consolation heading into a midterm election in which their party seems fated to suffer the loss of the Senate, the New York Times provides some comfort. A piece by John Harwood in today’s paper claims that while a Republican Senate would blight the last two years of the Obama presidency, it might well guarantee the election of Hillary Clinton in 2016. But while there is a superficial logic to his thesis the notion that the former secretary of state should be rooting for Mitch McConnell to become majority leader next January is a bit of a stretch.

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For Democrats looking for some early consolation heading into a midterm election in which their party seems fated to suffer the loss of the Senate, the New York Times provides some comfort. A piece by John Harwood in today’s paper claims that while a Republican Senate would blight the last two years of the Obama presidency, it might well guarantee the election of Hillary Clinton in 2016. But while there is a superficial logic to his thesis the notion that the former secretary of state should be rooting for Mitch McConnell to become majority leader next January is a bit of a stretch.

The argument that a Republican Senate would help Clinton’s presidential hopes is simple. If the GOP controls both the House and the Senate heading into the 2016 election, that will make it even easier for Democrats to run against what they will undoubtedly label a “do-nothing” or “obstructionist” Congress. The confrontations between the Republicans and the White House would escalate in 2015 with the president seeking to govern on his own via executive orders. At the same time, as Politico notes in an interesting preview of 2015, McConnell is planning a series of actions meant to stymie Obama’s attempts to circumvent constitutional checks and balances that could lead to a veto battle and Republicans daring Obama to shut down the government in order to force them to fund his pet projects. These struggles will feed into the media’s favorite meme about dysfunctional government in which both parties will, not without some justification, be damned as part of the problem rather than the solution.

But the notion Harwood advances that this will allow Clinton to present herself as an outside-the-Beltway figure who is not tied to this fracas is hard to swallow.

The longer an unpopular president and his more-unpopular partisan adversaries battle to a standstill, the easier it is to offer herself as a fresh start.

“It would be bad for the country,” said Stanley B. Greenberg, President Bill Clinton’s former pollster, but “total gridlock would allow Hillary to be the change.”

Mrs. Clinton has had as many political personality changes as she’s had hairdos in her decades in the public eye, but the idea that this grizzled veteran of Washington could present herself as “the change” that voters want is laughable.

Clinton’s in a strong position to win the presidency no matter what happens in November 2014. As the prohibitive favorite for the Democratic nomination, unless a credible left-wing alternative emerges to force her to abandon her criticisms of Obama’s foreign-policy failures, she has already begun the pivot to the center that most candidates can’t attempt until after they’ve won their party’s nod. More than that, as the potential first woman to be elected to the presidency, she has a compelling narrative as well as the loyalty of most party activists even if they are to her left on many issues. And with so many Republicans defending Senate seats in 2016 as the class of 2010 seeks reelection, Democrats will, with the help of their traditionally large presidential-year turnouts, have a chance to take the Senate back.

But after hanging around the capital in one guise or another and engaging in some of the nastiest gutter fights there for more than 20 years, Clinton can’t pretend to be a breath of fresh air in hyper-partisan Washington. Nor, after serving as secretary of state for four years, can she completely evade the tag of running for a third term for the Obama administration.

Just as important, if, as is likely, the next two years are marked by more bitter partisan warfare, the likely Democratic presidential candidate in 2016 won’t be able to stand aloof from Obama’s struggles with Congress. While the GOP House and Senate will undoubtedly make for attractive targets for Clinton’s scorn, that will tie her even more closely to Obama’s autocratic governing style rather than allowing her to distance herself from his troubled presidency. Republicans will be able to point out that Clinton’s own positions on the environment and immigration will make her just as likely to try to override the will of Congress as Obama has been.

As Harwood points out, President Obama will likely see a Clinton victory as the best chance to solidify his legacy. So will the voters. Moreover, Clinton’s opponent in 2016 won’t be McConnell or House Speaker John Boehner, much though she would love to run against either of them. In contrast to Clinton, the Republican nominee may turn out to be someone who actually is from outside the Beltway or one of those members of the Senate who are seeking to stop the business-as-usual approach to politics that Clinton embodies.

It may be that Clinton’s strengths will enable her to overcome the handicap of being tied to an unpopular and unsuccessful incumbent. But a Republican Senate won’t make that any easier. The loss of the Senate will be a body blow to liberal plans to expand government even more than Obama has already done. Doing so may not stop Clinton from winning in 2016, but it won’t make it any easier for her either.

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Why the Passive Voice on Confronting ISIS?

There is something to be said for having an aloof, unemotional intellectual as commander in chief. He is more likely to avoid the kind of trap that Ronald Reagan fell into when, deeply distressed by the fate of American hostages seized in Lebanon, he authorized what became known as an “arms for hostages” swap with Iran. (In fairness, Reagan probably convinced himself that’s not what he was doing–that he was actually undertaking a broader opening to Iran.) This deal did get a few hostages out of captivity, but Iran’s proxies in Lebanon promptly seized more hostages, thus showing for neither the first time nor the last time why it doesn’t make sense to deal with terrorists.

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There is something to be said for having an aloof, unemotional intellectual as commander in chief. He is more likely to avoid the kind of trap that Ronald Reagan fell into when, deeply distressed by the fate of American hostages seized in Lebanon, he authorized what became known as an “arms for hostages” swap with Iran. (In fairness, Reagan probably convinced himself that’s not what he was doing–that he was actually undertaking a broader opening to Iran.) This deal did get a few hostages out of captivity, but Iran’s proxies in Lebanon promptly seized more hostages, thus showing for neither the first time nor the last time why it doesn’t make sense to deal with terrorists.

President Obama was not able to resist the temptation to make a deal in return for the release of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl but he was right to do so–notwithstanding the tragic consequences–in the case of kidnapped American journalist James Foley. It is now emerging that the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria wanted a ransom of more than $100 million for his release. European states routinely make such deals, turning them into al-Qaeda’s biggest financial supporters. (By one estimate Europeans have paid $125 million in ransom to al-Qaeda and its affiliates since 2008.) The problem is that while paying ransom may succeed in freeing one hostage or one group of hostages, it is almost certainly consigning more innocents to hellish captivity. The fact that the Obama administration refuses to pay up is to its credit; that Europeans are willing to deal with terrorists is to their ever-lasting shame.

And not only did Obama refuse to pay up, he ordered Delta Force to undertake a high-risk mission to free the hostages from a location in Syria deep in ISIS-controlled territory. That, too, was the right call. It shows, once again, that this is a president who is willing to pull the trigger on Special Operations missions that past presidents might have decided were too risky to authorize. Unfortunately that mission failed and James Foley wound up being barbarically murdered.

Obama was eloquent in denouncing this act of televised sadism, but he was unclear about what he will do in response. The most he would say was: “The people of Iraq, who with our support are taking the fight to ISIL, must continue coming together to expel these terrorists from their communities. The people of Syria, whose story Jim Foley told, do not deserve to live under the shadow of a tyrant or terrorists. They have our support in their pursuit of a future rooted in dignity.” Note how passive this paragraph is–Obama is deliberately putting the onus on Iraqis and Syrians to fight ISIS without committing the U.S. to that group’s destruction.

Secretary of State John Kerry also issued a strong statement of condemnation, which concluded: “ISIL and the wickedness it represents must be destroyed, and those responsible for this heinous, vicious atrocity will be held accountable.” Note again the curious sentence construction, which leaves unclear who exactly will “destroy” ISIS and who will hold Foley’s murderers “accountable.”

Unfortunately the president’s words and those of his aides don’t mean much in the world today–not after they have allowed red lines to be crossed with impunity from Syria to Ukraine. Strong action is needed and that action should be designed, as I have previously said, to annihilate ISIS.

General John Allen (USMC, ret.), Obama’s former commander in Afghanistan, gets it. He just wrote: “A comprehensive American and international response now — NOW — is vital to the destruction of this threat. The execution of James Foley is an act we should not forgive nor should we forget, it embodies and brings home to us all what this group represents. The Islamic State is an entity beyond the pale of humanity and it must be eradicated. If we delay now, we will pay later.”

I agree with General Allen, but does President Obama? It’s hard to tell. Alas, the longer we wait the more chance ISIS has to go to ground and thus withstand American military action. Already there are credible reports of ISIS “emirs” fleeing Iraq for Syria. But why should they find haven there? The Iraq-Syria border barely exists anymore. The U.S., working closely with local allies (Kurds, Sunni tribesmen, Iraqi security forces, Free Syrian Army fighters) must pursue ISIS wherever it hides and destroy it. It is far from clear, however, that President Obama will order any such action. It is a paradox that this president, so decisive in ordering Special Operations strikes, appears to be so hesitant and hand-wringing when it comes to larger decisions. The time for bureaucratic deliberation is fast disappearing; it is time, as General Allen says, for action now.

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The Nasty, Brutish World of Richard Dawkins

Richard Dawkins is an evolutionary biologist, a prominent atheist, and a moral fool.

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Richard Dawkins is an evolutionary biologist, a prominent atheist, and a moral fool.

I say that in part (but only in part) because a woman seeking advice from him via Twitter confessed that she wouldn’t know what to do if she were pregnant with a child with Down syndrome. “Real ethical dilemma,” she wrote. But not for Dr. Dawkins. He tweeted this back: “Abort it and try again. It would be immoral to bring it into the world if you have the choice.”

Now that is a revealing adjective, isn’t it? Note what Dr. Dawkins isn’t saying. He didn’t say (as he later claims, when clumsily and misleadingly trying to clean up his mess) that he was merely recommending that the woman abort the child. Nor did he say it’s a morally complicated decision that should evoke sympathy. Or that it’s an agonizing matter she should, say, pray over.

No siree. From his Moral Mt. Olympus Dr. Dawkins decrees that parents who decide to give birth to, and unconditionally love, a Down syndrome child are committing a moral wrong, a moral evil.

Which raises some questions: Having given birth to a Down syndrome child, what should happen to that child? Under the theory that it’s better late than never, should the infant’s life be terminated post-birth since it was immoral to allow him to be born in the first place? If not, why not? On what basis does Dawkins decide people have moral worth? What’s the intelligence quotient that allows one to be welcomed in life rather than terminated? What other imperfections morally compel us to abort a child? And why stop there? What physical and mental imperfections should be eliminated by society in order to help us meet the ethical standards of Richard Dawkins? (Those standards, for the unaware, include a defense of “mild pedophilia”.)

Dr. Dawkins doesn’t seem to understand that Down syndrome children can live rewarding lives and can themselves touch the hearts and souls of others; and that there are parents of Down syndrome children who come to see the extra chromosome as not only associated with delays and impairments but also sweetness, joy, wonder, patience, and love.

For Dawkins, human dignity is not intrinsic; people’s worth is judged on whether or not they have 46 (thumbs up) or 47 (thumbs down) chromosomes. If children have intellectual disabilities or developmental delays–if they have flattened facial features, short necks, small heads–then off with their head. Or, to be more precise, suck out their brains, which collapses their skulls. In the nasty, brutish world of Richard Dawkins, this is what the mother and father of a Down syndrome child are morally obligated to do.

In our neighborhood there’s a young man with Down syndrome whom we often see running. My 10-year-old son and I have several times talked about him and how we admire him. Just the other week David asked me what the person’s condition was, and I explained to him what Down syndrome is. We spoke a bit about how a person’s worth isn’t based on intellectual abilities; it’s based on being a child of God. And that character matters more than intelligence.

Last night, after reading the comments by Dawkins, I asked my son what in particular he liked about this fellow. He replied, “I like that he’s so dedicated even though he has a sickness [Down syndrome].” He added, “I like that he’s so dedicated when so many other people who don’t have Down syndrome aren’t that way.” And then he added, “He’s kind of inspiring.”

Indeed he is. That person’s life has as much meaning as does Richard Dawkins’s. I would also wager a good deal of money that if he isn’t the intellectual equal of Dawkins, he is morally superior to him. And I for one would much rather have the young man with Down syndrome in my neighborhood than Richard Dawkins.

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The Myth of the Palestinian Underdog

One of the enduring myths of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is that much of the West supports the Palestinians out of natural sympathy for the underdog. Victor Davis Hanson of Stanford’s Hoover Institution effectively demolished that myth last week, pointing out that if sympathy for the underdog were really driving the massive pro-Palestinian demonstrations sweeping the West, one would expect to see equally massive demonstrations in support of occupied Tibet, the undoubted underdog against superpower China, or embattled Ukraine, the equally undoubted underdog against superpower Russia. In reality, he argued, anti-Israel sentiment flourishes not because Israel is Goliath, but because it is David:

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One of the enduring myths of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is that much of the West supports the Palestinians out of natural sympathy for the underdog. Victor Davis Hanson of Stanford’s Hoover Institution effectively demolished that myth last week, pointing out that if sympathy for the underdog were really driving the massive pro-Palestinian demonstrations sweeping the West, one would expect to see equally massive demonstrations in support of occupied Tibet, the undoubted underdog against superpower China, or embattled Ukraine, the equally undoubted underdog against superpower Russia. In reality, he argued, anti-Israel sentiment flourishes not because Israel is Goliath, but because it is David:

Israel is inordinately condemned for what it supposedly does because its friends are few, its population is tiny, and its adversaries beyond Gaza numerous, dangerous and often powerful.

Or to put it more bluntly, condemning Israel entails no costs and frequently provides benefits, whereas supporting it could invite retaliation from its numerous enemies. So just as Western countries are reluctant to push China on Tibet for fear that China will retaliate by barring access to the world’s largest market, or to push Russia too hard on Ukraine because Russia is a major natural gas producer with no qualms about cutting off supplies to its political opponents, they often find it easier to push Israel than to push its enemies.

Take, for instance, the cases of Qatar and Turkey, currently Hamas’s two main patrons. Qatar is Hamas’s leading financier, giving it hundreds of millions of dollars per year to build its rocket arsenal and tunnel network; it hosts Hamas leader Khaled Meshal; it reportedly torpedoed an emerging Hamas-Israel cease-fire deal by threatening to kick Meshal out if he signed; and according to former Israeli Military Intelligence chief Amos Yadlin, about a third of all cement imported to Gaza for Qatari-sponsored projects was instead diverted to Hamas’s tunnel network–presumably with Doha’s willing cooperation, since EU-managed projects suffered no similar diversions.

Turkey also gives Hamas hundreds of millions of dollars a year, and hosts about a dozen senior Hamas officials, including Saleh Arouri–who, over the past week, has both admitted to being behind the kidnapping of three Israeli teens in June and been accused by Israel’s Shin Bet security service of organizing a massive terror network in the West Bank tasked with starting a third intifada and overthrowing the Palestinian Authority. Israel has arrested some 90 members of this network and confiscated weapons and funds; the PA took the accusation seriously enough to launch its own investigation.

In fact, it’s no exaggeration to say that without the support Hamas receives from Turkey and Qatar, it could never have built the war machine that enabled it to start this summer’s war, and thus the death and destruction the world is now decrying in Gaza would never have happened.

Since both America and the European Union have designated Hamas as a terrorist organization, one might expect this flagrant support for Hamas to prompt sanctions on Qatar and Turkey as state sponsors of terrorism. But Qatar is the world’s largest natural gas exporter and richest country, as well as home to the main U.S. air force base in the Middle East, while Turkey is a NATO member and major emerging economy. So in fact, far from sanctioning Qatar and Turkey, both America and Europe consider them key partners. In short, it’s simply easier for the West to condemn Israel’s response to Hamas attacks and pressure it to accede to Hamas demands than it would be to condemn and penalize Turkish and Qatari support for Hamas.

Clearly, Israel has many strengths, including a thriving economy, a relatively powerful army, and strong American support. But as Hanson noted, it’s still a tiny country with few friends and many enemies, and anti-Israel protesters intuitively sense this. So don’t be fooled by their pretensions to “moral indignation” against Israel’s “oppression of the underdog.” They’re just doing what mobs have done since time immemorial: targeting a victim they see as fundamentally vulnerable.

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GOP Must Exploit Cuomo’s Woes

There was good news and bad new for New York Republicans in a new Quinnipiac poll. On the one hand, it showed that New Yorkers think corruption is a problem and that Governor Andrew Cuomo is part of that problem. On the other hand, he still has a huge lead in his reelection race. Should that lead the national GOP to go on ignoring the Republican who is trying to upset the incumbent?

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There was good news and bad new for New York Republicans in a new Quinnipiac poll. On the one hand, it showed that New Yorkers think corruption is a problem and that Governor Andrew Cuomo is part of that problem. On the other hand, he still has a huge lead in his reelection race. Should that lead the national GOP to go on ignoring the Republican who is trying to upset the incumbent?

Apparently, the answer to that question is yes.

Most national GOP leaders believe the Empire State is a lost cause and it’s hard to blame them for thinking so. The state party is in a state of complete collapse and hasn’t run a credible candidate, let alone a winner, for governor or for the U.S. Senate since 2002 when George Pataki won the last of his three terms in Albany. The New York City suburbs that once were the backbone of the state GOP along with the upstate regions have gone from red to purple to deep blue in the last 20 years.

Republicans in New York are leaderless, broke, and have shown little fight in the last decade. Though they have, for once, put up a serious challenger to Cuomo in Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, his 56-28 deficit in the Quinnipiac poll leaves little hope of an upset despite the major ethical problems that have beset Cuomo recently. Indeed, Republican Governors Association chair Chris Christie made it clear to Astorino that while he wished him well, he wouldn’t get a penny of the RGA’s money in order to try a run at Cuomo even after the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York indicated that the governor was under suspicion of tampering with an ethics investigation of his donors, and perhaps even obstruction of justice.

Given the mess that is the New York GOP, Christie’s decision, which echoes that of many major GOP donors, seems wise. But it is actually a big mistake. While Astorino and the New York Republican Party both seem like lost causes, if the party is serious about winning presidential elections it needs to find a way to make the state at least marginally competitive. Looking forward to 2016, Republicans already know they can write off two of the nations biggest Electoral College prizes in California and New York. That starts them off with a huge deficit that means they must, as they had to in 2012, win most if not all of the battleground states.

Can that be changed?

New York looks like a one-party state now. But it wasn’t that long ago that Republicans were able to elect governors and senators there. Admittedly, New York’s demographic makeup and the overwhelmingly liberal electorate in the state with the communications capital of the nation makes it hard to imagine how any Republican will win it in the foreseeable future. But even those who accept how difficult that task will be need to understand you have to start somewhere. And Cuomo’s ethical problems are a perfect opportunity to begin the process of rebuilding.

Cynics about Astorino’s campaign need to also understand that the Quinnipiac numbers are in no small measure the result of the media’s ignoring Cuomo’s scandal. While the state’s press, like everyone else in the print and broadcast world, treated Christie’s Bridgegate woes as if it was Watergate and World War Three rolled into one, the far more serious charges that Cuomo may face didn’t get a fraction of the air time or space as the New Jersey scandal. If Astorino had the resources to start pounding Cuomo on his efforts to quash an ethics investigation and then cover it up, the governor’s margin might very well be far smaller. A serious investment in his campaign on the part of the national party might give him the ability to get Cuomo’s misbehavior back on the radar screen of voters or at least make them more aware of a scandal that was largely downplayed or ignored. Boosting Astorino, who is the kind of candidate who could stand up to the thin-skinned Cuomo, would also help Republicans running for the legislature and make it easier for the party to begin building for the future.

Ignoring Astorino and New York is a pennywise and pound-foolish decision. Cuomo’s wrongdoing is giving the GOP a chance to get back in the game. National Republicans are foolish to pass it up.

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Did the Democrats Just Save Rick Perry?

Yesterday after turning himself in, Rick Perry posed for his mug shot and then treated himself to an ice cream cone. It’s hard to tell which of those activities he enjoyed more.

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Yesterday after turning himself in, Rick Perry posed for his mug shot and then treated himself to an ice cream cone. It’s hard to tell which of those activities he enjoyed more.

Perry’s booking was a formality, of course, after having been indicted on looney-tunes charges denounced by all corners of the left–traditionally his political opponents–except for the most extreme partisans of the left-wing fringe, such as Barack Obama’s former campaign manager Jim Messina and Esquire’s Charles Pierce. Everyone else, from the editorial boards of the New York Times and Washington Post to liberal bloggers and political activists, opted for sanity and distanced themselves from the Texas Democrats’ textbook example of criminalizing politics.

And so the indictment, which was a vengeful attempt to derail Perry’s possible presidential candidacy, seems to have backfired. But it’s backfired in an interesting way.

Perry was always going to be something of a longshot for the GOP presidential nomination in 2016. His last candidacy crashed on the rocks of his memorable debate stumbles, and a first impression on the national stage is tough to shake, even if he’d been a known quantity in Texas. Additionally, Ted Cruz appears to be considering a presidential run in 2016. Not only would a Cruz candidacy erode Perry’s Texas base of support, but it also highlights the trouble Perry has had with the base since 2012. Cruz, after all, beat Perry’s lieutenant governor to win his Senate seat.

Perry is leaving office after three terms, and his squabbles with his right flank seemed to mark him as a has-been in the minds of his erstwhile supporters. But this indefensible liberal witch hunt has rallied them to his side. Just as his previous candidacy was greeted with hashtags playing up his tough-guy Texan image, such as #RickPerryFacts, so too yesterday brought us #UseAMovieQuoteToCaptionPerryMugshot and perhaps the more fitting #smugshot. Perry’s swagger has returned.

And he capitalized on it further by releasing a video on the controversy that pulls no punches:

The indictment looks even worse with the revelation that one of the members of the grand jury that indicted Perry “was an active delegate to the Texas Democratic Party convention during grand jury proceedings” and that she “attended, photographed, and commented on an event with Democratic state Sen. Kirk Watson”–who was a witness on the grand jury–“while grand jury proceedings were ongoing.”

After the mug shot (and the ice cream), Perry was gearing up for a trip to New Hampshire:

Governor Rick Perry, fresh off an indictment and then a brief stop Tuesday at a Texas courthouse to be fingerprinted and released, is shining up his boots to stage a New Hampshire comeback tour this week.

Yet in an odd political twist, Perry’s clash with the law may prove to be a valuable selling point in his bid to run for the GOP presidential nomination.

New Hampshire political scientists say they cannot recall another would-be presidential candidate showing up while under indictment. But many New Hampshire Republicans are rushing to Perry’s defense, talking about what they consider a politically motivated indictment last week, instead of focusing on Perry’s disastrous 2012 run for president.

“It would be in his favor for a lot of Republicans, I think,” said Bill O’Connor, a commercial airline pilot who is chair of the Strafford County Republican Party, which includes Dover and Durham.

It is quite remarkable how the indictment has helped him bounce back and change the conversation. And it’s provided him with a very different kind of momentum from 2012.

When he entered the last race for the Republican presidential nomination, Perry was the frontrunner. Voters saw the GOP field as weak, lacking a candidate with grassroots support, executive experience, and fundraising prowess, as well as a base of support in a conservative stronghold. Enter Perry.

Yet when he flamed out in the debates, that seemed to be the end of it. Now, however, he’s simply replaced the old narrative with a new one: he’s the comeback kid, the unjustly persecuted victim, the resilient underdog they just can’t shake.

He’s still a longshot, of course. But he’s also got nothing to lose, since he’s leaving office anyway and his last run was such a disaster. Before the indictment, he was a prospective candidate in search of a compelling narrative. The Democrats just gave him one.

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Obama Is Wired All the Wrong Way

Our own Max Boot, whose commentary has been indispensable on all things national security related, wrote this earlier today:

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Our own Max Boot, whose commentary has been indispensable on all things national security related, wrote this earlier today:

What is needed now is not strongly worded condemnation of [James] Foley’s murder, much less a hashtag campaign. What is needed is a politico-military strategy to annihilate ISIS rather than simply chip around the edges of its burgeoning empire. In the Spectator of London I recently outlined what such a strategy should look like. In brief, it will require a commitment of some 10,000 U.S. advisors and Special Operators, along with enhanced air power, to work with moderate elements in both Iraq and Syria–meaning not only the peshmerga but also the Sunni tribes, elements of the Iraqi Security Forces, and the Free Syrian Army–to stage a major offensive to rout ISIS out of its newly conquered strongholds. The fact that Nouri al-Maliki is leaving power in Baghdad clears away a major obstacle to such a campaign. Now it is simply a matter of resources and resolve on the part of the U.S. and its allies. That, of course, remains the big unknown–how far will President Obama go?

That is, I think, the operative question. I dearly hope Mr. Obama will do what’s necessary, and go as far as he needs to, given the stakes involved. I will admit I’m quite skeptical. That skepticism is based on the entire arc of the Obama presidency, which is itself the manifestation of Mr. Obama’s deepest convictions. All of his training and education, all his political and moral reflexes, all his actions as president, indicate he won’t do what is needed at this moment in time. He is simply not up to the challenge.

Mr. Obama is the most dogmatic person to serve as president that I can name. He seems arrogantly settled in his ways, always alert to invent an excuse for his multiplying failures. So far he’s shown he doesn’t have the cognitive flexibility, the proper regard for empirical data, or the wisdom to change as circumstances do. For Mr. Obama to meet the rising threat of the Islamic state, as well as the disorder sweeping the world, will require him to reverse course, to re-examine his core suppositions, to alter his most cherished beliefs (the most important one being that Obama was right from the start).

We’re asking him to do what I don’t think he is emotionally able to do. He’s wired all the wrong way.

I hope I’m proved wrong. I rather doubt I will be.

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Israel Doesn’t Cause Anti-Semitism

Is the rising tide of hatred that is being directed at Jews in Europe and elsewhere the fault of Israel? That’s what many anti-Zionists have been claiming, and now their argument is echoed by the Forward’s J.J. Goldberg who writes in his column that the assumption that only Israelis face the consequences of their government’s policies is now being again proved false. He has a point in that, obviously, Jews everywhere are at risk of attack from those who hate Israel. But the fallacy here is that these anti-Semitic attacks are in any way Israel’s fault.

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Is the rising tide of hatred that is being directed at Jews in Europe and elsewhere the fault of Israel? That’s what many anti-Zionists have been claiming, and now their argument is echoed by the Forward’s J.J. Goldberg who writes in his column that the assumption that only Israelis face the consequences of their government’s policies is now being again proved false. He has a point in that, obviously, Jews everywhere are at risk of attack from those who hate Israel. But the fallacy here is that these anti-Semitic attacks are in any way Israel’s fault.

Goldberg’s main objective in this column is not so much to blame the Jewish state for what is happening to Jews elsewhere—though clearly he intends to wrongly lay some of the responsibility for these outbreaks on the Netanyahu government—as is it is to make a broader point that Israel needs to listen to the Diaspora rather than reject out of hand criticisms of its policies. He believes that Israelis must understand that as the nation state of the Jewish people, what Jerusalem does—whether in terms of war and peace issues or domestic ones that concern the rights of non-Orthodox denominations—has an impact on Jews elsewhere. I think he’s right about that and also right to advocate that Israel must think of its security in global terms that extends to the wellbeing of Jews everywhere.

The problem with this argument does not lie with the effort to wake up Israelis to the need to think more about the ties to Diaspora Jews. Rather, the flaw here is more fundamental. Goldberg’s attempt to draw a clear distinction between what he calls “old anti-Semitism” that was driven by “myths and fantasies disconnected from reality like drinking Christians’ blood or killing God” and what he calls the “new anti-Semitism” is misleading. So, too, is the assumption that anti-Semitism, whether we are talking about the hate directed at Jews during the medieval era, the Nazi-era assault, or today’s “new” variant, is the natural byproduct of Jewish actions rather than the psyches and the dark intentions of the anti-Semites. Goldberg writes about the current wave of hate:

The new anti-Semitism includes some of that, but it starts with something else: an anger at Jews over something that actually happened. Israel was created on land that Muslims, like it or not, considered part of their sacred waqf, the indivisible House of Islam. Many Muslims haven’t gotten over it. Hey, Osama bin Laden wanted Spain back.

While Goldberg acknowledges that it can be asserted that Israel’s existence or anger about its actions are a mere pretext that are used to legitimize expressions of hate that stem from the same beliefs that motivate “old anti-Semitism,” he thinks Hamas and others those who stoke hatred of Jews with traditional calumnies “would have a much smaller audience for their ravings if Israel could find a way to lower the flames of the conflict.”

Let’s draw some distinctions here. There is nothing anti-Semitic about criticizing Israel’s policies. It is a vibrant democracy and people there, like Americans and any other free people, criticize their government all the time. But those who believe that the Jews, unlike every other people on the planet, have no right to their own country and no right to defend themselves are subjecting them to discriminatory treatment. Anti-Zionism is, by definition, an act of prejudice against Jews. Moreover, those who campaign against Israel’s existence are drawing on the same anti-Semitic playbook that “traditional” Jew-haters have always used, including the same irrational myths that Goldberg cites.

Anyone taking a good look at the rhetoric and the signs that are present at anti-Israel demonstrations understands that what is on display is not the function of a political debate but a visceral hatred against Jews that is very much in tune with classic anti-Semitism. That is made abundantly clear by the manner with which these haters target not only Israelis but also everything connected with the Jews for boycott, including kosher food or Jewish ritual practices like circumcision.

Anti-Israel terrorists like Hezbollah and Hamas have, as Goldberg correctly notes, attacked Diaspora targets in the past and may well do so again. But to focus on such crimes as the 1994 bombing of the AMIA as purely the function of a tit-for-tat conflict between Israeli security forces and the terrorists and to see the recent outbreaks as being primarily a reaction to the fighting in Gaza is fundamentally mistaken.

Old style anti-Semitism wasn’t really pushback against the bad behavior of the Jews, though there were always some who thought it could be eradicated by every Jew being on their best behavior. Jews weren’t hated because they were capitalists or because they were socialists any more than because they were too rich or too poor. Their refusal to assimilate wasn’t the problem any more than fears about the willingness of many Jews to assimilate in the post-enlightenment era. Similarly, anti-Semitism, like anti-Zionism, is a function of the psychoses of the anti-Semites, not an understandable or rational response to Jewish or Israeli actions.

That’s still true today as anti-Semitic behavior is rationalized, if not excused, by false arguments about Israeli actions. The Israel-haters aren’t merely hypocrites since their outrage about the fighting in Gaza isn’t matched by a similar concern about far greater problems and casualties elsewhere. They are also dishonest because the “free Gaza” they support is actually an Islamist tyranny and those who claim to be resisting the “occupation” are not seeking to end the Jewish presence on the West Bank but rather trying to eradicate it inside the 1967 lines.

Jews have long labored under the delusion that they can reduce anti-Semitism by behaving differently and those who think Israel can lower the level of hatred by making concessions to the Palestinians or refraining from acts of self-defense are just as wrong as those who believed it could be accomplished by different types of behavior in the past.

Anti-Semitism is, as Ruth Wisse has wisely termed it, the most successful ideology of the 20th century in that it has outlived its various host organisms—including traditional religious believers, fascism, Nazism, and Communism. Its new partners—Islamism and anti-Zionism—are no different than the old ones.

What can be done about this? The Jews can defend themselves against anti-Semites and they can call attention to this ideology in an effort to rally decent people against the haters. But they can’t make it go away by being less aggressive in defending their rights any more than they can do so by other actions. Those who believe that Israel can reduce anti-Semitism by behaving differently are buying into the same myths that tormented previous generations. Both the Israeli government and Diaspora Jewry should ignore their suggestions.

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Why Politics Matters

My Ethics and Public Policy Center colleague Yuval Levin, who edits the quarterly National Affairs, recently was interviewed by William Kristol as part of his “Conversations With” series.

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My Ethics and Public Policy Center colleague Yuval Levin, who edits the quarterly National Affairs, recently was interviewed by William Kristol as part of his “Conversations With” series.

In the course of their conversation Mr. Levin, in speaking about policy, says it’s about problem-solving–not ultimate problems but practical ones. This is vital in allowing a society to function well and to become its best self. And he added this:

Politics in the end is moved by arguments. The intellectual work does matter. I think it does absolutely shape outcomes. But it happens in a way that relies on a kind of food chain. Things have to move through our intellectual world and it doesn’t move directly from that kind of work to policymaking; there has to be some time to digest, to think it through. I think that happens on a lot of important issues in our politics. So I am impressed with how ideas move politics but you know it’s not a direct process. Not a simple one.

This is vital to remember. In thinking about politics, after all, people are frustrated with the gridlock and the conflict, the deal-making, the maneuvering, and the mundane. They are disenchanted with the pace and direction of change and those who are in public life for personal aggrandizement. Americans are frustrated and angry with politicians, with politics, and with one another. And so it’s important to remind ourselves, as Levin does, that politics is moved by arguments–haltingly, imperfectly, but inevitably.

(It’s probably worth adding here, if only as a side note, that in America we tend to romanticize our past. Even the Constitutional Convention of 1787–which featured the most extraordinary collection of political minds since ancient Athens–had its own low moments, frustrations and fierce, polarizing battles. It was one of our greatest founders, James Madison, who in Federalist #55 wrote, “Had every Athenian citizen been a Socrates, every Athenian assembly would still have been a mob.” And our greatest president, Lincoln, presided over a nation that was a good deal more polarized–lethally polarized–than ours is today. So some perspective is in order.)

There are several layers to public and political arguments. One of them is focused on hard facts and empirical data, on social science and different governing approaches related to a range of issues like crime, education, health care, welfare, economic growth, and social mobility.

But the other, deeper layer has to do with arguments grounded in political theory, dealing with matters like liberty and equality, individual responsibility and civic duty, justice and human dignity. The greatest practitioners of statecraft are able to make both sets of arguments–to show a mastery of public policy and the ability to articulate a public philosophy. To explain the means and the ends of government and the good society.

At the core of every social, political, and economic system is a picture of human nature, to paraphrase the 20th century columnist Walter Lippmann. The way that picture developments determines the lives we lead, the institutions we build, and the civilization we create. The political philosophy of Madison produces one set of results; the political philosophy of Marx produces another. So yes: ideas move politics in one direction or the other, toward justice or away from it. Like all things human, it’s imperfect, frustrating, and fraught with failure. It’s a long, hard grind. And it’s not always aesthetically pleasing. But cynicism that leads to political disengagement–the world-weary, pox-on-both-your-houses, what difference does it make, I don’t give a damn attitude that seems rather fashionable and trendy these days–can lead to disaster. Because someone’s ideas will prevail. If ones that advance justice and human flourishing win out, it won’t be by accident or by default. It’ll be the product of determined effort; of those who do not grow weary in doing good.

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Can Holder and the Feds Fix Ferguson?

Attorney General Eric Holder is scheduled to arrive in Ferguson, Missouri today leading some to hope that his presence will somehow ease tensions as the ongoing conflict stemming from the police shooting of a young black man continues. But the expectation that having Holder parachute into this mess will somehow magically fix the problem or halt the civil unrest there is not merely unrealistic; it reflects a misunderstanding of both the judicial process and what the protestors want.

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Attorney General Eric Holder is scheduled to arrive in Ferguson, Missouri today leading some to hope that his presence will somehow ease tensions as the ongoing conflict stemming from the police shooting of a young black man continues. But the expectation that having Holder parachute into this mess will somehow magically fix the problem or halt the civil unrest there is not merely unrealistic; it reflects a misunderstanding of both the judicial process and what the protestors want.

As the New York Times reports today, there are some on the left that see Holder’s persistent race baiting from the bully pulpit of the Justice Department as a necessary counter-weight to President Obama’s amorphous calls for calm in crises such as the one unfolding in Ferguson. Holder, a man who called Americans a “nation of cowards” on race and who continues to speak as if the Jim Crow era were not a half century in the country’s rearview mirror, seems like just the sort of legal activist who could swoop in the maelstrom of Ferguson and somehow convince protesters to stand down while ensuring that justice is done.

Symbolism plays a not inconsiderable role in this dispute as a town with a population that is heavily African-American but few black police officers turned out to be a tinderbox waiting to burst into flame at the slightest provocation. But the willingness of the national media to frame this story as an example of how racism isn’t dead in America has transformed it from a troubling while complicated legal case in which the facts are a matter of dispute into merely the latest excuse for racial conflict. The demonizing of the police and their response to rioters there has created little room for the legal process to play out in a dispassionate and fair manner.

Despite the agitation from race hucksters like Al Sharpton and others who have also parachuted into the town, there is no evidence that either the country prosecutor or any other responsible legal authority is dragging their feet in the case or behaving improperly. Nor is there a reasonable case to be made that the state and local authorities should be shoved aside to make room for a federal prosecution led by Holder’s department.

The plain fact of the matter is that tensions have now been raised to the point where nothing short of the indictment of the police officer who shot Michael Brown will appease either the peaceful demonstrators in Ferguson or the thugs who have hijacked some of the protests with violence aimed at law enforcement authorities as well as the looting of local businesses.

Since the Grand Jury process is not immune to political pressures, they may well get their wish and, to be fair, it is entirely possible that such a result may be justified. But, as the Times noted in a separate story, the reality of the Brown shooting may not be as cut and dried as the “hands up, don’t shoot” chants of the protesters indicate. The very different accounts of the shooting of Brown by the officer seems to indicate a strong possibility that we may be heading to a replay of last year’s Trayvon Martin shooting trial in which the media’s insistence on imposing a narrative of racism run amok on the story didn’t necessarily reflect the facts of the case. If so, then Holder’s intervention may be deeply mistaken.

There are instances when federal intervention into murder cases is justified. If the justice system in Missouri were so riddled with institutionalized racism that it never prosecuted the killers of blacks, there would be a strong argument for the Justice Department to step in. In cases where prosecutions failed due to negligence or jury nullification of the law (such as often happened in Jim Crow states prior to the passage of the Civil Rights Act or when a New York jury acquitted a black man in the murder of Hasidic Jew during the Crown Heights riot, even though he was literally caught red-handed after the murder), the attorney general ought to step in. But in the absence of those circumstances, or at least until the locals have proven to be unfair or incompetent, Holder’s presence in Ferguson must be seen as mere grandstanding and an attempt to complicate or delegitimize the local prosecution, not the cavalry coming to the rescue of the justice system.

Public officials who weigh in on complicated cases merely in order to placate a mob—such as Missouri Governor Jay Nixon’s call for a “vigorous prosecution” of the case rather than a vigorous investigation—prior to the evidence being fully revealed do nothing to advance the cause of justice or racial healing.

Holder can’t fix Ferguson. That is not merely because his instincts are so skewed on race issues that he can’t be trusted to behave fairly. It is also because the only thing that will improve the situation is an effort to defend the integrity of the legal system on the part of local and national political leaders who seem to have a vested interest in stirring the racial pot rather than promoting healing and justice.

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De Blasio and the Left: Reality Bites

After Bill de Blasio’s landslide victory, I wrote that New York’s incoming mayor had benefited greatly from what I called “the Obama effect.” President Obama had developed the blueprints for an inexperienced far-left activist to win a general election: rely on lofty rhetoric, because no one believes it anyway. That is, no one believes a modern-day politician would be foolish or reckless enough to actually carry out all the left’s preferred economic and security policies. Today’s New York Times confirms that I was mostly right: I should have said “almost no one.”

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After Bill de Blasio’s landslide victory, I wrote that New York’s incoming mayor had benefited greatly from what I called “the Obama effect.” President Obama had developed the blueprints for an inexperienced far-left activist to win a general election: rely on lofty rhetoric, because no one believes it anyway. That is, no one believes a modern-day politician would be foolish or reckless enough to actually carry out all the left’s preferred economic and security policies. Today’s New York Times confirms that I was mostly right: I should have said “almost no one.”

It turns out that some delusional true believers really do expect liberal politicians to trash the private sector in the name of social “justice” and sacrifice public safety out of some deranged hatred of the police. And they are unhappy with de Blasio. The new mayor might have thought he earned a bit of patience from the left. After all, he has already restricted effective and legal policing, and the results are clear: shootings have increased as the police have taken fewer guns off the street.

But that appears to have only whetted the appetites of the city’s hard-leftists. They got a taste of mayhem, and want more of it:

The mayor who shot to fame denouncing stop-and-frisk tactics and luxury condominiums is now defending hard-nosed policing and cutting deals with developers, bowing to the realities of leading an unruly city but also angering an activist left that propelled his rise to the Democratic elite.

Impatience with the mayor is now spilling into outcry. On Wednesday, housing advocates will march in Harlem to highlight what they say is a too-weak effort by City Hall to build affordable homes. And the Rev. Al Sharpton is planning a march on Saturday to call for an end to aggressive policing in the wake of a black Staten Island man’s death after being placed in a chokehold during a routine arrest.

Mr. de Blasio, who advisers say is deeply concerned about disappointing his supporters, has struggled to explain that the lofty liberal rhetoric of his mayoral campaign cannot be imported wholesale into City Hall — that there may be a limit on how many affordable units can be extracted from developers, that the so-called broken-windows policing strategy often credited with helping to lower crime cannot be abandoned overnight.

Really the whole story is worth reading. De Blasio, of course, isn’t actually tough on crime–by normal standards, at least. Only in the fever swamps of the left is he taking a hard line. And in a way, you can’t blame them. He did tell them he was one of them. On the other hand, there was no reason to believe him–the idea that de Blasio was being completely honest on the campaign trail did not really occur to seasoned observers. De Blasio’s base wants him to govern as if he were insane. He’s not insane. Therefore they will continue to be disappointed.

But the fact that he’s not insane is not a high enough bar. Public safety has already receded, and some of the miraculous gains made by de Blasio’s predecessors are beginning–only beginning–to fade. He’s at a crossroads, but it does offer de Blasio an opportunity: he has plenty of time to correct his mistakes and keep New York City on an even keel for the rest of his term.

It’s early enough that the damage from de Blasio’s mistakes is far from irreversible. And I think the Times story is unfair to de Blasio when it says: “Yet at home, Mr. de Blasio, who swept into office on the promise that New York City could be governed from the left, is discovering that liberalism has its limits.”

Is it true that de Blasio is discovering that liberalism has limits? I doubt it. Surely de Blasio has some terrible ideas about governing, as would anyone who was inspired to public service by the Marxist Sandinistas. But the manifold failures of big-government liberalism throughout the last century make it unlikely that any politician smart enough to win a serious office like New York City mayor in a landslide is just learning, on the job, that liberalism has limits. Liberalism is nothing but limits.

What de Blasio is dealing with now is a sector of the left–grown increasingly louder and more numerous in recent years–that doesn’t consider the results of public policy to be relevant. For the dedicated left, the value in a policy is its intentions and the purity of its identity politics. Gun crime is up, and to the left it matters not. De Blasio is not learning that his policies reduce public safety. He’s learning that his left-wing base wants those policies anyway.

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Does Obama Want a Political Solution–Or a Talking Point?

Most presidents are stubborn and self-confident. They wouldn’t have gotten into office otherwise. In fact it takes an almost superhuman level of stubbornness and self-confidence for most aspirants to imagine they have what it takes to win the Oval Office. But, like with most good traits, if carried to extremes stubbornness and self-confidence can become self-destructive. We saw that with George W. Bush’s unwillingness to change course in Iraq between 2003 and 2006 when the situation was rapidly deteriorating. We are seeing it now with President Obama’s unwillingness to rethink his misbegotten timeline for pulling U.S. forces out of Afghanistan.

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Most presidents are stubborn and self-confident. They wouldn’t have gotten into office otherwise. In fact it takes an almost superhuman level of stubbornness and self-confidence for most aspirants to imagine they have what it takes to win the Oval Office. But, like with most good traits, if carried to extremes stubbornness and self-confidence can become self-destructive. We saw that with George W. Bush’s unwillingness to change course in Iraq between 2003 and 2006 when the situation was rapidly deteriorating. We are seeing it now with President Obama’s unwillingness to rethink his misbegotten timeline for pulling U.S. forces out of Afghanistan.

The disastrous situation in Iraq today shows what happens when U.S. forces leave prematurely from a fragile state. Yet the president appears to be sticking by his politically imposed timetable for withdrawal from Afghanistan. While he is willing to keep 10,000 troops next year (a bare minimum to meet military requirements), he will reduce U.S. forces by half, to just 5,000 troops, by the end of 2015 and pull them out altogether by the end of 2016.

The New York Times quotes an anonymous Obama aide saying: “People have said, ‘Doesn’t this [situation in Iraq] show that you should never take the troops out of Afghanistan?’ He said, ‘No, it actually points to the imperative of having political accommodation. There’s a limit to what we can achieve absent a political process.’ ”

Huh? The very reason why the U.S. troop pullout from Afghanistan was so harmful was that it made it much harder for the political factions to pursue accommodation because they feared that, in the absence of U.S. troops, politics had become a winner-takes-all death match. Thus Nouri al-Maliki pursued a vendetta against Sunnis which created the soil for ISIS to spring up. By contrast, accommodation had been possible after the success of the surge in 2007-2008 which gave politicos some breathing room to compromise.

Has Obama truly learned nothing from history? Is he willing to let Afghanistan go down in flames as Iraq has been doing simply so that he can leave office bragging that he “ended” wars? If so, that goes beyond stubborness and into the realm of hubris for which, according to Greek mythology, there is inevitably a reckoning. That price will be paid in Obama’s historical reputation and, even worse, in the loss of American strategic objectives and the lives of Afghans who, like many Iraqis, foolishly trusted American promises of support.

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Time to Annihilate ISIS; Here’s How

The videotaped beheading of American journalist James Foley reveals both the barbarism and the weakness of ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria).

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The videotaped beheading of American journalist James Foley reveals both the barbarism and the weakness of ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria).

The barbarism is obvious: how else would one describe the carefully choreographed and televised murder of this innocent reporter who had been kidnapped in Syria? This merely confirms what Army Colonel Joel Rayburn, one of the most astute observers of Iraq around, has previously said: that ISIS is a Middle East version of the Khmer Rouge. It is, in short, a death cult that will commit unimaginable crimes against humanity unless it is stopped.

What of ISIS’s weakness? That too was revealed by the video, which was a poor response to the military setbacks ISIS has suffered in the past week as Kurdish peshmerga militia have managed to retake Mosul Dam with the assistance of American firepower (and most likely U.S. Special Operations Forces, although their involvement has not been publicized). Recall the last time that al-Qaeda publicly murdered an American journalist. That would have been my former Wall Street Journal colleague Daniel Pearl, who was killed in early 2002 at a time when, thanks to the U.S. offensive in Afghanistan, al-Qaeda was on the run. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed killed Pearl for the same reason some ISIS fanatic killed Foley: to convey an impression of strength. But such desperate measures instead telegraph, well, desperation–and far from cowing anyone they are only likely to redouble the resolve of the civilized world to smash this group of genocidal jihadists.

What is needed now is not strongly worded condemnation of Foley’s murder, much less a hashtag campaign. What is needed is a politico-military strategy to annihilate ISIS rather than simply chip around the edges of its burgeoning empire. In the Spectator of London I recently outlined what such a strategy should look like. In brief, it will require a commitment of some 10,000 U.S. advisors and Special Operators, along with enhanced air power, to work with moderate elements in both Iraq and Syria–meaning not only the peshmerga but also the Sunni tribes, elements of the Iraqi Security Forces, and the Free Syrian Army–to stage a major offensive to rout ISIS out of its newly conquered strongholds. The fact that Nouri al-Maliki is leaving power in Baghdad clears away a major obstacle to such a campaign.

Now it is simply a matter of resources and resolve on the part of the U.S. and its allies. That, of course, remains the big unknown–how far will President Obama go? He has been willing in the last few weeks to apply a liberal interpretation of his original mandate for U.S. forces in Iraq, which was to protect Americans in Erbil and Baghdad. But beyond protecting the Yazidis and retaking Mosul Dam we still need a strategy to annihilate ISIS. It can be done–and if done right it will be the best, indeed the only worthy, response to James Foley’s barbaric demise.

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Why Is Hamas Still Shooting?

Earlier today and not long after Israel had agreed to extend the temporary cease-fire that existed in Gaza, a new barrage of rockets was fired from the Hamas-run strip into Israel. Hamas’s latest rupture of a cease-fire caused Israel to pull its negotiators out of the talks in Cairo where Egyptian and American interlocutors have attempted to craft a compromise solution that would allow an agreement to end the shooting. But before the U.S. starts pressuring Israel to send its diplomats back to the table, Americans should realize that the reason why Hamas is still firing missiles has not a little to do with their expectations about the international reaction to their behavior that have been confirmed by the Obama administration.

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Earlier today and not long after Israel had agreed to extend the temporary cease-fire that existed in Gaza, a new barrage of rockets was fired from the Hamas-run strip into Israel. Hamas’s latest rupture of a cease-fire caused Israel to pull its negotiators out of the talks in Cairo where Egyptian and American interlocutors have attempted to craft a compromise solution that would allow an agreement to end the shooting. But before the U.S. starts pressuring Israel to send its diplomats back to the table, Americans should realize that the reason why Hamas is still firing missiles has not a little to do with their expectations about the international reaction to their behavior that have been confirmed by the Obama administration.

Like the thousands launched in the last month as the latest fighting raged, those fired today were either shot down by Iron Dome or exploded harmlessly in empty fields. But the massive nature of this provocation makes it clear that the rockets were not the act of isolated or rogue groups in Gaza but a concerted effort by Hamas to pressure both Israel and the other parties to the talks to give in to their demands to lift the blockade of the strip without the Islamists agreeing to any real limits on their ability to re-arm.

Some observers, like reporters from the New York Times, think the back and forth between Hamas and Israel is some kind of pantomime show with no real purpose. As the Times piece noted, both sides know they won’t get what they want in the talks. But it needs to be understood that so long as Hamas believes the international community will be so concerned about the plight of the people of Gaza–whose lives have been devastated by the war the terror group launched–that they will eventually be able to corner the Israelis and force them and the Egyptians to loosen the blockade, the violence will continue.

The willingness of Hamas to keep firing despite their complete military defeat at the hands of the Israelis illustrates a key point about the asymmetrical warfare in which the two sides have been engaged.

Hamas rocket barrages have been a fiasco as almost none of the thousands of rockets fired have found their targets. Their enormous investment in building dozens of tunnels aimed at facilitating cross-border terror attacks has been thrown away. Indeed, their decision to launch an ill-timed war this summer not only undid years of work before the tunnels could be exploited, it also led to their planning for a coup in the West Bank against Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority to be discovered in advance of that plot being set in motion.

And yet the reality that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu must face is that despite the victories won by Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system and the Israel Defense Forces’ successful incursion into Gaza, Hamas is not only undeterred from launching more rockets; it also doesn’t consider itself to have been defeated.

By understandably halting that offensive without toppling Hamas because of the great cost such a battle would exact from his country, Netanyahu has tacitly accepted that this last month would not be the last battle fought with Hamas. But the question before Israel is not whether Netanyahu will order an all-out offensive designed to rid the strip of its Hamas tyrants once and for all. That decision has already been made and Netanyahu has already made clear that Israel won’t or can’t pay such a price in blood and international pressure that a re-occupation of the strip would entail.

Instead, the question yet to be answered is whether international pressure—and in particular pressure from the United States—will force the Israelis to allow a loosening of the blockade so as to help Gaza rebuild and Hamas to re-arm. By keeping the rocket barrages going even though it knows that they will do little or no damage to Israel, Hamas is counting on that pressure being increased. More rockets will force more Israeli counter-strikes and those will, without doubt, worsen the situation of the Palestinians in Gaza and therefore increase the agitation going on around the globe against Israel’s measures of self-defense.

That is why if the Obama administration is serious about crafting a cease-fire that means anything, it must signal to Hamas that it must abandon its hopes for a political victory in Cairo that will overshadow its military defeat. Yet while still insisting that it disdains Hamas, the administration’s determination to pick fights with Israel and to force it to back down on demands for the demilitarization of the strip have unintended consequences. By pushing for Israel to halt the fighting and for it to give in to some of Hamas’s demands, the U.S. has once again set in motion a series of events that will only lead to more violence.

Netanyahu is determined not to unnecessarily exacerbate the relationship with the U.S. and President Obama’s brutal attempts to force it to stop fighting by halting weapon shipments have reduced Israel’s room to maneuver. But he should resist pressure to return to Cairo. As bad as Hamas’s intermittent missile barrages may be, agreeing to a formal cease-fire that would open up the floodgates for the resupply of the group’s arsenal via shipments from Iran would be far worse. Hamas is still firing in no small part to convince Obama to crack down even harder on Israel. The president should refuse to play along. But if he does, Israel must not agree to a deal that will make the next round of fighting with Hamas just as bad, if not worse, than the last one.

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