Commentary Magazine


Posts For: October 19, 2012

Intellectuals and Terrorists

Two years ago, intellectuals went into an uproar when the state of Israel barred linguist Noam Chomsky from entering the West Bank. Leftists howled when the decision to bar the octogenarian and asked what harm he could have done the Jewish state. It was arguable that Israel did itself more harm than good by keeping the icon of anti-American and anti-Israel thought out of the country since it gave the impression that it was suppressing his ideas. That was, of course, nonsense, since free expression of all kinds, including some of the most virulent anti-Zionist agitation, is permitted throughout Israel. But whether it was wise or not, Israel was fully within its rights to keep out a foreign individual who has spent much of his career seeking the country’s destruction.

That decision was brought to mind today as the 83-year-old Chomsky returned to the Middle East, this time to visit the independent Palestinian state in all but name that exists in Gaza. Chomsky crossed from Egypt into the strip and will speak at the Islamic University there. We don’t doubt that he will get a warm welcome from the Islamists at the school as well as from the Hamas tyrants who rule the area with an iron hand. But this episode is a reminder of the double standards and hypocrisy that passes for principle on the intellectual left.

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Two years ago, intellectuals went into an uproar when the state of Israel barred linguist Noam Chomsky from entering the West Bank. Leftists howled when the decision to bar the octogenarian and asked what harm he could have done the Jewish state. It was arguable that Israel did itself more harm than good by keeping the icon of anti-American and anti-Israel thought out of the country since it gave the impression that it was suppressing his ideas. That was, of course, nonsense, since free expression of all kinds, including some of the most virulent anti-Zionist agitation, is permitted throughout Israel. But whether it was wise or not, Israel was fully within its rights to keep out a foreign individual who has spent much of his career seeking the country’s destruction.

That decision was brought to mind today as the 83-year-old Chomsky returned to the Middle East, this time to visit the independent Palestinian state in all but name that exists in Gaza. Chomsky crossed from Egypt into the strip and will speak at the Islamic University there. We don’t doubt that he will get a warm welcome from the Islamists at the school as well as from the Hamas tyrants who rule the area with an iron hand. But this episode is a reminder of the double standards and hypocrisy that passes for principle on the intellectual left.

It should be understood that the entire purpose of Chomsky’s visit to Gaza is to support the Hamas government as he intends to speak against the faltering international blockade of the terrorist state they govern. In doing so and by speaking at the Islamic University, the former MIT professor will be lending his prestige to some of the most brutal thugs in the world whose goal is not merely the destruction of Israel but the suppression of the human rights of their own people.

Though Chomsky will, as he has in the past, disclaim any responsibility for the brutish behavior of his hosts and other Palestinian friends, it is clear that this son of a great Jewish scholar is lending his seal of approval to both attacks on Jews and Israel. This is not the first example of the ongoing infatuation between leftist intellectuals and thugs who attack institutions and people those leftists abhor. But it is no less despicable for being so predictable.

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War of the Late October Gaffes

Last night while appearing on the Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show, President Obama should have considered how to phrase his feelings on the deaths of four Americans in Libya a bit more carefully. Here is the exchange in full context:

Stewart: I would say, even you would admit, it was not the optimal response, at least to the American people, as far as all of us being on the same page.

Obama: Here’s what I’ll say: If four Americans get killed, it’s not optimal.

“Not optimal” is, obviously, an understatement, when discussing the deaths of four Americans, including the first American ambassador to die in the line of duty since 1979. It’s clear from the context of the interview, however, that the president is using Stewart’s phrase to make clear that he agrees that what happened in Benghazi on September 11 of this year was unacceptable.

What this exchange showcases, however, is the lack of scrutiny Obama’s gaffes seem to elicit from the media.
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Last night while appearing on the Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show, President Obama should have considered how to phrase his feelings on the deaths of four Americans in Libya a bit more carefully. Here is the exchange in full context:

Stewart: I would say, even you would admit, it was not the optimal response, at least to the American people, as far as all of us being on the same page.

Obama: Here’s what I’ll say: If four Americans get killed, it’s not optimal.

“Not optimal” is, obviously, an understatement, when discussing the deaths of four Americans, including the first American ambassador to die in the line of duty since 1979. It’s clear from the context of the interview, however, that the president is using Stewart’s phrase to make clear that he agrees that what happened in Benghazi on September 11 of this year was unacceptable.

What this exchange showcases, however, is the lack of scrutiny Obama’s gaffes seem to elicit from the media.

The media narrative for this campaign has, in large part, become set by the talking points of the Obama campaign and young, liberal Tumblr creators. The latest Romney “gaffe” has become, as Alana mentioned earlier, an absolutely exhausting display of liberal faux-outrage, a desperate attempt to drag down Romney’s soaring poll numbers. The media has had an incredible ability to beat to death any real or imagined Romney gaffes while ignoring far more egregious ones from President Obama.

This media focus solely on gaffes, however, may end up hurting the Obama campaign in the long run. The Romney campaign is forced to set its messaging and imaging as precisely as possible, focusing on incredibly minor details in order to avoid a media firestorm. The Romney team knows that any minor misstep is a potential catastrophe, while the Obama campaign has the security in knowing that they abide by a different set of rules. Romney joked about the double-standard last night at the Al Smith dinner, telling the crowd: “And I’ve already seen early reports from tonight’s dinner, headline; “Obama Embraced by Catholics. Romney Dines with Rich People.”

Does this mean that during Monday’s foreign policy debate Romney should mention this Obama statement for an American public that hasn’t heard about “not optimal” in the mainstream media? In a word: No. The Romney campaign has spent the time since the debates began focusing on real issues, not binders and Big Bird. Romney’s success since the first debate can largely be attributed to the fact that before this, Americans had only passing glimpses at the Republican nominee. The night of the first debate many voters realized, for the first time, that Romney is more than a rich, robotic white male. During the first debate he unquestionably performed better than President Obama, and during the second, on the issue that matters to most voters most, the economy, Romney again appeared more capable according to viewer polls. The media’s attempts to paint a caricature of Romney post-debates will certainly be met with far less success than earlier this summer, when Democratic attacks on a “War on Women” actually gained traction among voters, especially females. Now that the American people have seen the candidates speak unfiltered, they understand just what an exaggeration Romney’s supposed gaffes on Big Bird and binders truly are. Only one of the men on stage is running a presidential campaign. The other is, at best, running for student council.

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Why Hamas is Still Bragging About Shalit

One year ago, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu swallowed hard and made a decision that most Israelis understood was unpalatable but necessary: trading 1,027 imprisoned terrorists to Hamas in exchange for the release of kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit. On the anniversary of the unsightly deal, Hamas is still bragging about the ransom it exacted from Israel and promising to kidnap more Jews. As Haaretz reports, Hamas is celebrating not just with its boasts and threats but also by releasing a video about Shalit’s capture and imprisonment. The Israel Defense Forces has been on its guard since Shalit’s capture in 2006 but each cross-border raid from Gaza as well as those that have come via Sinai in the last year have had as their goal the creation of more Gilad Shalit dilemmas for Netanyahu.

In some quarters, this might revive the debate about the wisdom of Netanyahu’s choice that, as his critics pointed out at the time, certainly enhanced the prestige of Hamas and strengthened their grip on Palestinian public opinion. Even if Netanyahu could never have willingly consigned a conscript like Shalit to unending imprisonment or death, those arguments were correct as far as they went. But the real reason to revisit the Shalit episode is not to second-guess the deal but to get a better understanding of Palestinian political culture and the slim chances for peace.

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One year ago, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu swallowed hard and made a decision that most Israelis understood was unpalatable but necessary: trading 1,027 imprisoned terrorists to Hamas in exchange for the release of kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit. On the anniversary of the unsightly deal, Hamas is still bragging about the ransom it exacted from Israel and promising to kidnap more Jews. As Haaretz reports, Hamas is celebrating not just with its boasts and threats but also by releasing a video about Shalit’s capture and imprisonment. The Israel Defense Forces has been on its guard since Shalit’s capture in 2006 but each cross-border raid from Gaza as well as those that have come via Sinai in the last year have had as their goal the creation of more Gilad Shalit dilemmas for Netanyahu.

In some quarters, this might revive the debate about the wisdom of Netanyahu’s choice that, as his critics pointed out at the time, certainly enhanced the prestige of Hamas and strengthened their grip on Palestinian public opinion. Even if Netanyahu could never have willingly consigned a conscript like Shalit to unending imprisonment or death, those arguments were correct as far as they went. But the real reason to revisit the Shalit episode is not to second-guess the deal but to get a better understanding of Palestinian political culture and the slim chances for peace.

The point of Hamas’s chest-thumping 12 months after the Shalit deal is not to twit Netanyahu. As much as many serious thinkers bewailed the ransom, bringing Shalit home to his family only enhanced his popularity. Any reminder of this tough decision actually helps the prime minister as he prepares for a re-election campaign in which the opposition has no credible opponent for the country’s leadership.

What Hamas is doing with its histrionics is to puff its own reputation on the Palestinian street. With the prestige of its Fatah rivals on the decline and the Palestinian Authority seen as a bankrupt and corrupt failed state in the making, Hamas looks to remind ordinary Palestinians that they have done what Mahmoud Abbas cannot do: humiliate Israel and inflict pain and suffering on the Jewish people. Indeed, with Hamas being challenged by even more radical Islamist groups such as Islamic Jihad and other splinter groups, Gaza’s rulers see their key to popularity in reinforcing their image as the tormenters of Israel.

This is important not just because it makes the reliance placed on Abbas and the PA by both Israel and the West look like a shaky proposition but also because it highlights what is still the key to winning the hearts and minds of the Palestinian street: anti-Jewish violence.

The competition between Hamas and Fatah is seen not just in their on-again, off-again attempts to form a unity government but in the way the two churn out anti-Semitic invective in their official media and broadcast outlets.

What friends of Israel ought to remember most about the Shalit deal was not so much the horror of murderers being released by Israel to the consternation of the families of terror victims but the joyous welcome that those who killed without mercy received when they returned to Gaza.

So long as Palestinian groups can only curry favor with their people by boasting of killing or kidnapping Jews rather than by trying to give them a better life (something a genuine moderate like PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad knows only too well), talk about peace between Israelis and Palestinians is futile. That is something the majority of Israelis have come to understand and is one of the reasons why Netanyahu is an overwhelming favorite for re-election. It is to be hoped that this is also a lesson that either Barack Obama or Mitt Romney will take to heart if they are tempted next year to begin another campaign of pressure against Israel to make concessions to Palestinians who have no interest in peace.

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Bay State Senate Race Once Again on National Stage

In September, after the first Senate debate between Massachusetts Republican Scott Brown and his liberal challenger Elizabeth Warren, I criticized Warren’s decision to nationalize the race. In the debate, Brown—a local Bay Stater who sounds the part and speaks with fluency about local issues–repeatedly offered answers to questions that showed his moderate, bipartisan streak and his insistence on voting as he believes Massachusetts voters would want him to. Warren, on the other hand, kept referring to what the U.S. Senate would be like if Republicans won back the majority.

But Warren seems intent on proving such criticism wrong. She has now wagered the entire campaign on this gamble. As the race nears its end Warren has given up on trying to portray Brown as a Tea Partier and instead paints a picture of what has to be a dystopian future in the minds of northeastern liberals. Here is Warren’s closing argument, per her TV ad (followed by the transcript):

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In September, after the first Senate debate between Massachusetts Republican Scott Brown and his liberal challenger Elizabeth Warren, I criticized Warren’s decision to nationalize the race. In the debate, Brown—a local Bay Stater who sounds the part and speaks with fluency about local issues–repeatedly offered answers to questions that showed his moderate, bipartisan streak and his insistence on voting as he believes Massachusetts voters would want him to. Warren, on the other hand, kept referring to what the U.S. Senate would be like if Republicans won back the majority.

But Warren seems intent on proving such criticism wrong. She has now wagered the entire campaign on this gamble. As the race nears its end Warren has given up on trying to portray Brown as a Tea Partier and instead paints a picture of what has to be a dystopian future in the minds of northeastern liberals. Here is Warren’s closing argument, per her TV ad (followed by the transcript):

Just one vote, just one senator, could put Republicans in control of the United States Senate. Scott Brown could be that senator. What would republican control mean? Deep cuts in education, Medicare; new tax breaks for millionaires; the next Supreme Court justice could overturn Roe v. Wade. One vote could make the difference–your vote, against a Republican Senate; your vote for Elizabeth Warren.

And this is the ad (and transcript) Brown is currently playing:

The coal company had moved on, but they didn’t just leave buildings behind. LTV Steel went to court to avoid paying health benefits it promised to retired coal miners. The corporation’s hired gun was Elizabeth Warren. Warren sided with yet another big corporation against working people. First, asbestos victims; now, she worked against coal miners. Elizabeth Warren’s just not who she says she is.

Though I’ve long thought that talking over the heads of Massachusetts voters would harm Warren’s campaign, there is an argument to make that she was left with no choice. Elections like this are often like a chess match: the player who moves first has an advantage in setting the tempo, and controlling the center often gives the player who does so the best chance at winning. As the incumbent, Brown set the tempo by putting his record out there and challenging his opponent to compete within those parameters.

And his moderate record has won control of the center, forcing Warren to his left. But Massachusetts is such an overwhelmingly Democratic state that there are quite a lot of votes left of center. And Brown’s record is popular—even in a blue state, his approval rating is above water. So she can’t run against his record, but must use him as a proxy for his national party.

The ironic aspect to all this is that Brown did something similar when he ran in the 2010 special election to replace Ted Kennedy. Obamacare was on the march and the Democrats thought they needed 60 votes in the Senate to pass it. Since the bill was unpopular in Massachusetts as elsewhere, Brown ran as the 41st vote against Obamacare, and won. Warren is trying to turn the tables on him by re-nationalizing the race, and telling voters that far from being the 41st Republican in the Senate, Brown might actually be the 51st, giving the GOP the majority.

Since voters are usually averse to any approach that involves minimizing their local issues in favor of overarching culture wars, such a strategy often fails. But Warren is betting that a state that voted in an anti-national-healthcare Republican to succeed Ted Kennedy has another surprise in it this year.

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Five (Non-Libya) Questions for Monday’s Debate

Are you safer now than you were four years ago? That’s the most important question that needs to be answered in Monday night’s foreign policy debate. Unfortunately for President Obama, there’s ample evidence that the answer is no. His administration killed Osama bin Laden, but the war on terror is still very much alive. And while the Benghazi attack has been getting most of the attention lately, it’s just the latest symptom of a much more systematic national security problem for this administration.

Here are some questions that are indirectly related to Benghazi that would be interesting to raise at Monday’s debate. And since it’s never a good idea to ask a question at a debate that you don’t know the answer to, the answers to all of these are already known:

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Are you safer now than you were four years ago? That’s the most important question that needs to be answered in Monday night’s foreign policy debate. Unfortunately for President Obama, there’s ample evidence that the answer is no. His administration killed Osama bin Laden, but the war on terror is still very much alive. And while the Benghazi attack has been getting most of the attention lately, it’s just the latest symptom of a much more systematic national security problem for this administration.

Here are some questions that are indirectly related to Benghazi that would be interesting to raise at Monday’s debate. And since it’s never a good idea to ask a question at a debate that you don’t know the answer to, the answers to all of these are already known:

Question One: Did you underestimate al-Qaeda’s Arabian Peninsula affiliate before the 2009 Christmas Day bombing attack?

Answer: Yes.

Obama’s counterterrorism advisor John Brennan surprised reporters when he referred to AQAP as “one of the most lethal, one of the most concerning” extensions of al-Qaeda at a press briefing two weeks after the attack, and noted that “They carried attacks against Prince Mohammed bin Nayef in Saudi Arabia, against Saudi targets, inside of Yemen, against Yemeni as well as against U.S. targets.”

U.S. targets — and yet the Obama administration hadn’t even designated the group as a terrorist organization until after the failed attack.

“We had a strategic sense of sort of where [al-Qaeda-Arabian Peninsula] were going, but we didn’t know they had progressed to the point of actually launching individuals here,” Brennan added. “And we have taken that lesson, and so now we’re all on top of it.” At least until the next attack.

Question Two: Did you call the Christmas Day bomber an “isolated extremist” three days after the attack?

Answer: Yes.

Despite the fact that there was already evidence that showed Christmas Day bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab had been training in Yemen weeks before the attack, and despite a statement from AQAP taking credit for the attack, President Obama called him an “isolated extremist” in his first public speech on the matter.

“This incident, like several that have preceded it, demonstrates that an alert and courageous citizenry are far more resilient than an isolated extremist,” said Obama.

It’s one thing for the president to say he wanted to wait for facts before making a definitive judgment on Abdulmutallab’s al-Qaeda ties. But Obama actually did make a definitive judgment — that Abdulmutallab was not affiliated with al-Qaeda, despite evidence to the contrary.

Question Three: Did John Brennan admit before the U.S. attack that al-Qaeda’s Yemen affiliate was capable of attacking the homeland?

Answer: Yes.

In John Brennan’s January 2010 press conference, he said the Obama administration “saw the plot was developing, but at the time we did not know in fact that they were talking about sending Mr. Abdulmutallab to the United States.” Again, if they saw the plot developing, why had they not characterized AQAP as a threat to the country? Why was Obama so reluctant to say Abdulmutallab was tied to al-Qaeda?

Question Four: Did you underestimate the Pakistani Taliban’s ability to attack the homeland prior to the Times Square bombing?

Answer: Yes.

The administration was caught flat-footed by the 2010 failed Times Square car bomb attack, which was carried out by a terrorist tied to the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). Until then the TTP was not widely regarded as a group that was capable of carrying out an attack on U.S. soil.

And yet after the attack, Brennan told Fox News that the TTP was a significant threat that was “almost indistinguishable” from al-Qaeda.

Question Five: Did you miss warning signs in 2009, when CIA officers were killed in a suicide attack by a double-agent?

Answer: Yes.

Seven CIA operatives were killed when a fake informant working for the Pakistani Taliban blew himself up inside a U.S. base in Afghanistan. A subsequent investigation found numerous red flags and intelligence breakdowns, including one CIA officer who had been warned about the informant weeks in advance, but hadn’t passed on the information. The investigation said that CIA officials may have ignored warning signs because they were desperate to find someone who could lead them to al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri.

The U.S. can’t have eyes everywhere all the time, and there is always the possibility that a plot will be missed. But all of these incidents show that the Benghazi attack wasn’t an isolated lapse. The Obama administration has a pattern of intelligence breakdowns and missing clear signs prior to an attack. It also has a pattern of downplaying threats that may be politically harmful.

This isn’t just a critique of past failings. There are implications here for the future. As Jeffrey Goldberg wrote yesterday: “Biden said [at the vice presidential debate] the U.S. would know if the Iranians had begun to manufacture a warhead. But the U.S. didn’t know its ambassador in Libya would be assassinated. It didn’t know that the World Trade Center would be attacked. American intelligence doesn’t know a lot of things. Such is the nature of intelligence. Biden’s sanguine approach to weaponization suggests either that he strayed far from Obama administration policy, or that the White House is more relaxed and confident about stopping Iran than it should be.”

Can we rely on the Obama administration — the same administration that overlooked the threat from AQAP, dismissed the threat from the Pakistani Taliban, and ignored the multiple attacks on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi that led up to the 9/11/12 attack — to have a clear grasp of the Iranian nuclear threat? Preventing an Iranian bomb means that we’ll need to rely heavily on intelligence, something the Obama administration has not had a great track record of gathering, processing, or acting on for the past four years.

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Don’t Just Worry About Iranian Influence in Iraq

Within the United States, conventional wisdom relates that Iraq is now a puppet of Iran. There is real reason for concern, and I won’t be one that will downplay Iranian attempts to influence, if not dominate, Iraq. That said, Iraqi Shi’ites are traditionally not pro-Iranian; they are pro-Iraqi. After all, during the Iran-Iraq War, the bulk of Iraqi conscripts on the front line hailed not from Saddam’s hometown of Tikrit and its Sunni environs, but rather from Baghdad and the largely Shi’ite towns and villages of Iraq’s south. They fought against the Shi’ite brethren because they saw themselves as Iraqis and Arabs first, not Persians.

That said, Iranian influence is on the increase. Iran’s true Achilles’ heel is Shi’ism. Because the supreme leader claims to be the deputy of the Messiah on earth, with ultimate political and religious authority, the theologically independent ayatollahs in Najaf, Iraq, undercut his authority whenever they contradict him. Iran will never tolerate the rise of an ayatollah to the political leadership in Iraq because that would pose a threat to the supreme leader. However, the Iranians will try to dominate Iraq to ensure that Iranian strategic interests remain paramount. Certainly, it need not have been this way: Had the United States retained a presence in Iraq, even if a limited number of forces simply kicked their heels in isolated bases, their presence would have enabled Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to better resist Iranian demands. For many Middle Eastern countries, diplomacy is about balance. Iran will ratchet up its pressure and perhaps its presence in Iraq as its grasp on Syria falters. Iraqis worry openly that they will become Iran’s new frontline.

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Within the United States, conventional wisdom relates that Iraq is now a puppet of Iran. There is real reason for concern, and I won’t be one that will downplay Iranian attempts to influence, if not dominate, Iraq. That said, Iraqi Shi’ites are traditionally not pro-Iranian; they are pro-Iraqi. After all, during the Iran-Iraq War, the bulk of Iraqi conscripts on the front line hailed not from Saddam’s hometown of Tikrit and its Sunni environs, but rather from Baghdad and the largely Shi’ite towns and villages of Iraq’s south. They fought against the Shi’ite brethren because they saw themselves as Iraqis and Arabs first, not Persians.

That said, Iranian influence is on the increase. Iran’s true Achilles’ heel is Shi’ism. Because the supreme leader claims to be the deputy of the Messiah on earth, with ultimate political and religious authority, the theologically independent ayatollahs in Najaf, Iraq, undercut his authority whenever they contradict him. Iran will never tolerate the rise of an ayatollah to the political leadership in Iraq because that would pose a threat to the supreme leader. However, the Iranians will try to dominate Iraq to ensure that Iranian strategic interests remain paramount. Certainly, it need not have been this way: Had the United States retained a presence in Iraq, even if a limited number of forces simply kicked their heels in isolated bases, their presence would have enabled Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to better resist Iranian demands. For many Middle Eastern countries, diplomacy is about balance. Iran will ratchet up its pressure and perhaps its presence in Iraq as its grasp on Syria falters. Iraqis worry openly that they will become Iran’s new frontline.

While Washington should certainly do what it can to constrain Iranian influence in Iraq, it would be a mistake to focus only on Iran. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s whirlwind trip to Russia and the announcement of a multibillion-dollar arms purchase should underline this point. True, Maliki can say that he sought first to purchase weapons from the United States, but Kurdish opposition (the Kurds believe Maliki might use the weapons against them) slow-rolled the deal and convinced Maliki to look elsewhere. That said, the Iraqi government is not simply reaching out to Iran as a last resort. Throughout the Baathist period, Iraq cultivated close relations with the Soviet Union. Many Iraqis studied in the Soviet Union and the East Bloc. Many have residual ties to Russians and feel comfortable doing business the Russian way. Russians tend not to worry about niceties such as transparency or human rights, and that works just fine for some Iraqis.

It’s not just Russia and Iran which are making plays for the Iraqi market. China is a growing presence. In 2010, the United States was Iraq’s fifth largest source of imports, but was still Iraq’s No. 1 trade partner. While I do not have access to the most recent statistics, Iraqi politicians have said that the United States might now be number four or five, after Iran, Russia, Turkey, and China. The Chinese have been quite aggressive. In the scandal/power play which led to the resignation of the minister of trade, Muhammad Allawi, one factor was a Maliki ally in the ministry whom some government officials say is on the payroll of the Chinese telecommunication firm Huawei. According to their accusations, the woman in question—who clashed repeatedly with Muhammad Allawi—would repeatedly undercut efforts by American businesses to work more in Iraq in order to privilege Huawei. The problem is not just in central Iraq. In the Iraqi Kurdish city of Sulaymani, Huawei sports a fancy new store. While the Kurdish ruling families’ notorious corruption has stymied some American investment, again, the Chinese are not so particular.

American officials are right to worry about Iranian influence. Focusing exclusively on the Iranian threat to the neglect of others, however, will be counterproductive. Saddam’s ouster was about resolving a threat to U.S. national security, and the efforts to offer Iraqis a future beyond dictatorship was the right move. Let us hope, however, that White House neglect will not mean that Iraq slides further into an Iranian-Russian-Chinese economic axis, not even a year after the departure of the last American troops.

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Pro-Obama Poll Formula: Overcount Dems

New York Times blogger and statistical analyst Nate Silver did his usual thorough job yesterday explaining why he’s not taking Mitt Romney’s strong performances in the Gallup tracking poll too much to heart. His piece, “Gallup v. the World” rightly pointed out that the firm’s tracking polls, which have given Romney leads of 6, 7 and 6 points in the last three days, are the most favorable yet published for the Republican. He conceded that Gallup is the most reliable of the tracking polls in that it employs the largest samples and employs a methodology for counting cell phone owners as opposed to landlines only. But he claimed that Gallup has a history of inaccuracy in recent elections that ought to cause us to take their conclusions with a grain of salt. That’s a fair point, though it should be noted that we never heard much about Gallup’s shortcomings in recent months when its results (which showed Obama with a lead) were unquestioned while the rival Rasmussen poll (which generally gave Romney better numbers) was consistently called into question.

But as long as we’re discussing methodology, it’s worth pointing out that the only surveys keeping the president’s head above water in the national average of polls are two whose credibility are very much in doubt. I wrote earlier in the week that the Washington Post/ABC News poll published on Monday that showed President Obama with a three-point lead was called into question by the sample employed by the pollsters. That poll was based on a sample that had nine percent more Democrats than Republicans; a figure that is far more than is reasonable. The same thing can be said about a new Hartford Courant/University of Connecticut poll that also shows Obama up by three but on the basis of a sample that has eight percent more Democrats than Republicans. If you adjust both of these samples to create a more representative group of Americans, even one that showed the Democrats with an edge in affiliation, it would mean they would show Romney and not the president ahead in the race.

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New York Times blogger and statistical analyst Nate Silver did his usual thorough job yesterday explaining why he’s not taking Mitt Romney’s strong performances in the Gallup tracking poll too much to heart. His piece, “Gallup v. the World” rightly pointed out that the firm’s tracking polls, which have given Romney leads of 6, 7 and 6 points in the last three days, are the most favorable yet published for the Republican. He conceded that Gallup is the most reliable of the tracking polls in that it employs the largest samples and employs a methodology for counting cell phone owners as opposed to landlines only. But he claimed that Gallup has a history of inaccuracy in recent elections that ought to cause us to take their conclusions with a grain of salt. That’s a fair point, though it should be noted that we never heard much about Gallup’s shortcomings in recent months when its results (which showed Obama with a lead) were unquestioned while the rival Rasmussen poll (which generally gave Romney better numbers) was consistently called into question.

But as long as we’re discussing methodology, it’s worth pointing out that the only surveys keeping the president’s head above water in the national average of polls are two whose credibility are very much in doubt. I wrote earlier in the week that the Washington Post/ABC News poll published on Monday that showed President Obama with a three-point lead was called into question by the sample employed by the pollsters. That poll was based on a sample that had nine percent more Democrats than Republicans; a figure that is far more than is reasonable. The same thing can be said about a new Hartford Courant/University of Connecticut poll that also shows Obama up by three but on the basis of a sample that has eight percent more Democrats than Republicans. If you adjust both of these samples to create a more representative group of Americans, even one that showed the Democrats with an edge in affiliation, it would mean they would show Romney and not the president ahead in the race.

These kind of misleading polls are not doing the Democrats any service. While these misleading numbers may help encourage the president’s supporters, they are potentially setting them up for a great fall on November 6. While, as Silver has rightly argued, party affiliation isn’t set in stone and reflects the changing fortunes of the candidates, the idea that there are more Democrats prepared to vote for Obama in 2012 than there were in 2008 when he won in a walk is ludicrous.

All polls are fallible and their results are open to interpretation. But the decision of publications to go ahead and put out polls that they already know are based on faulty samples demonstrates either bad judgment or political bias. Overcounting Democrats in polls may produce numbers that tell liberals what they want to hear. But those with more reasonable methodologies are pointing in a very different direction. With the race coming down the homestretch, it appears that some in the media are determined to portray the election in the most positive light for their side even if it means bending the truth a little.

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Obama’s Bad Luck: Last Debate on Foreign Policy Won’t Shift Race

Both parties agreed upon the terms and rules for the presidential debates. But right now, the Obama campaign has to be kicking itself for going along with a schedule that devoted the last of the three encounters between President Obama and Mitt Romney to foreign policy. The Democrats have acted as if security and defense issues were a strength for them throughout the year, but it’s doubtful that the president thinks a foreign policy pitch is his best closing argument for the American people with only a couple of weeks left before the election.

That’s not just because the Benghazi terror attack has compromised the president’s stance as the man with an impeccable security record, but also because a debate that doesn’t allow him to deploy his class warfare and “war on women” themes is one that isn’t likely to help him pick up the votes he needs to secure re-election. Even worse, it gives Romney an opportunity to recoup his losses from the last debate in which he flubbed a question on Libya that he should have been able to use to hammer the president. While Democrats may hope the president repeats his aggressive performance from the second debate rather than his lackluster first debate, Monday night’s topic is a handicap that comes at just the moment when he needs a game changing victory to reverse Romney’s momentum.

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Both parties agreed upon the terms and rules for the presidential debates. But right now, the Obama campaign has to be kicking itself for going along with a schedule that devoted the last of the three encounters between President Obama and Mitt Romney to foreign policy. The Democrats have acted as if security and defense issues were a strength for them throughout the year, but it’s doubtful that the president thinks a foreign policy pitch is his best closing argument for the American people with only a couple of weeks left before the election.

That’s not just because the Benghazi terror attack has compromised the president’s stance as the man with an impeccable security record, but also because a debate that doesn’t allow him to deploy his class warfare and “war on women” themes is one that isn’t likely to help him pick up the votes he needs to secure re-election. Even worse, it gives Romney an opportunity to recoup his losses from the last debate in which he flubbed a question on Libya that he should have been able to use to hammer the president. While Democrats may hope the president repeats his aggressive performance from the second debate rather than his lackluster first debate, Monday night’s topic is a handicap that comes at just the moment when he needs a game changing victory to reverse Romney’s momentum.

The Obama camp is acting as if the president’s bout of righteous indignation during the Hofstra University debate at the notion that he and his foreign policy team would “play politics or mislead” the public about Libya closed the topic for future discussion. It was a powerful rhetorical moment, but it won’t shut off discussion about the fact that that is exactly what he and his associates did. Having the third debate devoted to foreign policy helps Romney re-open the issue. It will allow him to argue that the weeks the administration devoted to claiming the murder of the ambassador was merely film criticism run amuck were closely linked to the president’s campaign theme in which Osama bin Laden’s death has been represented as a conclusive victory over al-Qaeda. Even if, due to Romney’s inept grasp of the narrative and moderator Candy Crowley’s intervention, Obama won the point on Tuesday night, he’s not likely to be able to squirm off the hook next week. The Libya incident’s political importance is that it dishes the president’s main foreign policy theme because it shows that the war on terror (a Bush-era phrase banned from use by the White House) is not over.

The foreign policy debate works for the president in one respect in that it will allow the president to continue running against his predecessor. Obama has spent most of this year running as much against George W. Bush as he has against Romney, and his pose as the man who ended the war in Iraq and will do the same in Afghanistan is a potential strength. This will force Romney to walk the same fine line on Afghanistan that Paul Ryan had some trouble with in the vice presidential debate. The GOP is right to argue that the pullout deadline set by Obama will hand Afghanistan over to the Taliban and al-Qaeda. But Romney can’t speak as if he wants U.S. troops to remain there indefinitely since few Americans are happy about that prospect.

However, the next debate will also expose Obama to more criticism of his record on the Iranian nuclear threat. Romney should be ready to pounce if the president repeats anything resembling Vice President Biden’s wildly inaccurate claim that the Iranians are not enriching uranium for a nuclear weapon. This will also help Romney differentiate his position on the alliance with Israel, which the president has sought to downgrade by putting more daylight between the two countries’ positions on the peace process than on the Iran threat.

Yet while both sides will have opportunities to score points on Monday night, the topic will still deprive the president of issues on which he has a clear advantage over Romney. Without the ability to raise social issues or to take cheap shots at Romney’s wealth, Obama will find himself on equal ground with his challenger. Given the way the race has shift toward Romney in the last weeks and with no other major opportunity to alter the course of events before Election Day, that is very bad luck indeed for the Democrats.

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How to Kill a Joke, Obama Campaign Style

We’re on Day Four of “bindergate,” and what started as a kind-of-funny Twitter meme has turned into a horribly long and boring lecture by feminists and the progressive-left. When you take something that’s essentially an Internet joke and try to squeeze outraged commentary out of it, you end up with self-parodies like this one from today’s Time’s “Ideas” section:

So, to help you out, here are four reasons why bindergate isn’t just a superficial “gotcha moment” …

3. In our paperless society, binders are terribly old-fashioned. They invoke a time when the only jobs women could get in offices involved secretarial duties like putting together binders for the men who would do the real work. And given that women still occupy so few upper management and CEO positions, the thought of being relegated to an old-fashioned office supply item is such a perfect symbol of so many things that irk us.

4. And, as hundreds of online commenters (male and female) have pointed out, the word binder implies, well, binding. And we’re kind of sick of being bound up unless it’s in an E.L. James novel.

Did you get that? Binders sounds like binding, which sounds like foot-binding, and women aren’t just going to sit back and let Romney drag America back to 16th century China. Moreover, binders are old-fashioned, which reminds women of other old-fashioned things like not being allowed to vote, own property, or drive. Or something.

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We’re on Day Four of “bindergate,” and what started as a kind-of-funny Twitter meme has turned into a horribly long and boring lecture by feminists and the progressive-left. When you take something that’s essentially an Internet joke and try to squeeze outraged commentary out of it, you end up with self-parodies like this one from today’s Time’s “Ideas” section:

So, to help you out, here are four reasons why bindergate isn’t just a superficial “gotcha moment” …

3. In our paperless society, binders are terribly old-fashioned. They invoke a time when the only jobs women could get in offices involved secretarial duties like putting together binders for the men who would do the real work. And given that women still occupy so few upper management and CEO positions, the thought of being relegated to an old-fashioned office supply item is such a perfect symbol of so many things that irk us.

4. And, as hundreds of online commenters (male and female) have pointed out, the word binder implies, well, binding. And we’re kind of sick of being bound up unless it’s in an E.L. James novel.

Did you get that? Binders sounds like binding, which sounds like foot-binding, and women aren’t just going to sit back and let Romney drag America back to 16th century China. Moreover, binders are old-fashioned, which reminds women of other old-fashioned things like not being allowed to vote, own property, or drive. Or something.

The “outrage” over the binders comment is so ridiculous that it’s not going to convince anyone who doesn’t already think Romney is a misogynistic jerk (and most people don’t). It’s a desperate shot by a campaign that’s losing ground with women voters and has no good argument to win them back.

Don’t get me wrong — Romney’s comment was lame and worth making fun of. But the joke died as soon as the Obama campaign picked it up and tried to turn it into a serious issue. This isn’t the first time Obama has a killed a Twitter meme, either. The “Big Bird” line was amusing too, until Democrats jumped in and started yelling about how Romney wanted to kill Sesame Street.

This whole Obama strategy of picking up laugh lines on Twitter and then centering his campaign around them is weak. If a joke stops being funny when you have to explain it, then it definitely stops being funny when you have to explain why we should all be outraged by it.

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Obama Abandons Independent Voters

With the presidential election just two and a half weeks away, it’s no surprise that President Obama is now solely focused on turning out his base. But it’s still somewhat jarring to read stories like today’s New York Times piece on Obama’s closing argument, and Byron York’s report on the same. From the Times:

With 19 days left before Americans go to the polls in a closely fought presidential campaign, President Obama is distilling his stump speech into the essential pitch of any political race: Vote.

No fewer than half a dozen times, Mr. Obama urged supporters at a rally here on Thursday to go to the polls. Each time he criticized Mitt Romney, drawing boos from the crowd, he repeated his call to arms: “Don’t boo — vote.” When the crowd began chanting, “Vote, vote, vote,” a satisfied-looking Mr. Obama replied, “All right, you guys are getting it.”

Obama’s closing argument is to rest his case. But what exactly is that case? York writes that it essentially amounts to an admission that he’s got nothing left in the tank:

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With the presidential election just two and a half weeks away, it’s no surprise that President Obama is now solely focused on turning out his base. But it’s still somewhat jarring to read stories like today’s New York Times piece on Obama’s closing argument, and Byron York’s report on the same. From the Times:

With 19 days left before Americans go to the polls in a closely fought presidential campaign, President Obama is distilling his stump speech into the essential pitch of any political race: Vote.

No fewer than half a dozen times, Mr. Obama urged supporters at a rally here on Thursday to go to the polls. Each time he criticized Mitt Romney, drawing boos from the crowd, he repeated his call to arms: “Don’t boo — vote.” When the crowd began chanting, “Vote, vote, vote,” a satisfied-looking Mr. Obama replied, “All right, you guys are getting it.”

Obama’s closing argument is to rest his case. But what exactly is that case? York writes that it essentially amounts to an admission that he’s got nothing left in the tank:

Obama’s real second-term agenda, as outlined in his speeches and other campaign appearances, is protecting the work of his first term. He’ll keep troops out of old war zones. He’ll protect Obamacare from repeal. He’ll keep pushing, and funding, green energy. The critics who (correctly) say Obama doesn’t have a second-term agenda sometimes miss the fact that much of Obama’s argument for re-election is that he needs another term to keep in place the things he has already done.

Put two and two together, and you have an abandonment of the chase for independent voters. Obama’s exhortation to just vote is made to his supporters at rallies–people he knows (or assumes) are in his camp. And that is exactly to whom his issue-based pitch is made. The broad electorate has soured on Obama’s foreign policy, nearly erasing the lead he once had on the subject. And that’s because the country thinks a foreign policy must be about more than just adhering to withdrawal timetables. But that’s what Obama’s left-wing base wanted out of him on foreign policy. And that’s all they got.

His base wants Obamacare, but independents don’t. (Nor do many Democrats.) And the green energy mix of crony capitalism and bad investments, as in the case of Solyndra, and opposition to the Keystone pipeline, which would bring jobs in a time of high unemployment and oil at a time of high gas prices, is not pragmatic policymaking. It’s just another sop to the base.

But will all that even inspire his reliable supporters? He’s asking for a vote of appreciation, not a vote of confidence. He did what he came here to do, he’s saying, and he intends to rest on his laurels and sit on his hands in a second term. The Times story closes with the words of an Obama supporter in New Hampshire that perfectly sum up the president’s predicament:

“People aren’t fighting for Obama as outwardly as the last time,” she said.

Ms. Bliss, who was at the rally with her children, said she was not sure that Mr. Obama would improve his prospects by visiting New Hampshire again before the election. “Whenever he comes, my Republican friends, they’re so annoyed because he stops all the traffic,” she said.

Even his supporters aren’t too excited, and the best thing he can do for his prospects is to stay away from anyone outside his base. Judging by Obama’s recent campaign speeches, you don’t have to tell him twice.

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A Weak Case for Inaction in Syria

There is something that I don’t get about opponents of greater American action in Syria, such as the freelance reporter Benjamin Hall, who was recently in Aleppo. He points out, as other observers have, that the rebels are disorganized and that various factions are often at odds with one another. They don’t have a central, unified leadership. Moreover, the rebel ranks include  “Salafi jihadists” who “talk of slaying the minority Alawites, and [who] call for both the immediate support of America, and its immediate demise. These extremist groups are getting weapons from Saudi Arabia and Qatar already; they are not groups that the West would choose to arm. Compared with them, it is not clear that Mr. Assad is the bigger foe.” Therefore, Hall recommends not arming the rebels–although he is open to the imposition of a no-fly zone.

Here’s where I don’t follow the logic: Granted, everything he is saying is true–but that is what is happening now, while the U.S. is not arming the rebels and is not imposing a no-fly zone or helping to set up buffer zones for refugees. What makes Hall think that, given the current situation, there is any option of allowing Assad to remain in power and re-impose control? That seems extremely unlikely. What seems more likely, if we continue on the current path, is that the war will continue taking a deadly toll, jihadists will continue to play an ever-bigger role, and chaos will continue to spread across Syria.

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There is something that I don’t get about opponents of greater American action in Syria, such as the freelance reporter Benjamin Hall, who was recently in Aleppo. He points out, as other observers have, that the rebels are disorganized and that various factions are often at odds with one another. They don’t have a central, unified leadership. Moreover, the rebel ranks include  “Salafi jihadists” who “talk of slaying the minority Alawites, and [who] call for both the immediate support of America, and its immediate demise. These extremist groups are getting weapons from Saudi Arabia and Qatar already; they are not groups that the West would choose to arm. Compared with them, it is not clear that Mr. Assad is the bigger foe.” Therefore, Hall recommends not arming the rebels–although he is open to the imposition of a no-fly zone.

Here’s where I don’t follow the logic: Granted, everything he is saying is true–but that is what is happening now, while the U.S. is not arming the rebels and is not imposing a no-fly zone or helping to set up buffer zones for refugees. What makes Hall think that, given the current situation, there is any option of allowing Assad to remain in power and re-impose control? That seems extremely unlikely. What seems more likely, if we continue on the current path, is that the war will continue taking a deadly toll, jihadists will continue to play an ever-bigger role, and chaos will continue to spread across Syria.

Admittedly, stepping in to help topple Assad brings no guarantee of an idyllic post-Assad state–far from it. There is indeed, as Hall notes, a great danger of continuing instability and civil war even after Assad is gone. This could be Libya on steroids or, put another way, a replay of Iraq without U.S. troops to serve as a stabilizing force.

I get all that, but the status quo is hardly peaceful either–Syria is already seeing at least as much bloodshed as Iraq saw during the height of its own internal war. There is no guarantee that the situation will be improved with Assad gone, but there is a guarantee that the situation will remain pretty awful as long as Assad is in power. And there is at least the chance that if the U.S. acts decisively, in cooperation with allies, to topple Assad, it will give us a greater say in the composition of a post-Assad regime, allowing us to help steer Syria in a more moderate direction.

There is no perfect policy choice in Syria–only least bad and worst options. But the worst option of all, I would argue, is to allow the current conflict to rage unabated.

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Sometimes It’s the Little Things

Mitt Romney was hilarious at the Al Smith Dinner in New York last night, unexpectedly (so I think), as he doesn’t have a reputation for great comic delivery. My favorite line was a dig at the press, describing how the headlines would report the $2500-a-plate dinner: “Obama Embraced by Catholics; Romney Dines with Rich People.”

Gallup yesterday had Romney up 52-45, with a plus- or minus-2 percent margin of error. Bob Beckel, a dyed-in-the-wool Democrat (he managed Walter Mondale’s 1984 campaign), said that, “. . . if those numbers are correct, it is over. It is over. So I mean, you’re not going to bring Romney back under 50% from 52%, not a challenging candidate . . .”

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Mitt Romney was hilarious at the Al Smith Dinner in New York last night, unexpectedly (so I think), as he doesn’t have a reputation for great comic delivery. My favorite line was a dig at the press, describing how the headlines would report the $2500-a-plate dinner: “Obama Embraced by Catholics; Romney Dines with Rich People.”

Gallup yesterday had Romney up 52-45, with a plus- or minus-2 percent margin of error. Bob Beckel, a dyed-in-the-wool Democrat (he managed Walter Mondale’s 1984 campaign), said that, “. . . if those numbers are correct, it is over. It is over. So I mean, you’re not going to bring Romney back under 50% from 52%, not a challenging candidate . . .”

Real Clear Politics has moved North Carolina from toss-up to leans Romney. This gives Romney the lead in Electoral College votes for the first time, 206-201, with 131 still in the toss-up category.

All this is, of course, very good news. But what most impressed me in watching the news last night was a short clip of Romney leaving a hotel in the morning, on his way to the next campaign stop. The voiceover was all about the campaign, but the visual was simply Romney pulling his own suitcase as he came out the door.  He’s worth a gazillion dollars, has a vast campaign staff at his beck and call, and yet, like those of us in the 99 percent, he was handling his own luggage.

I wonder how many others noticed it. It’s sort of like product placement in a movie. It’s not highlighted; it’s just there. But there’s a reason companies pay for product placement: it helps sell the product.

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Libya Jihadist Defiant in Interview

Just when the situation in Libya couldn’t get much more embarrassing for the Obama administration, now comes the news that Ahmed Abu Khattala, a leader of the jihadist group Ansar al Shariah who was seen by witnesses directing the attack on the American consulate, is living openly and defiantly in Benghazi. He is lounging around a seaside hotel and breathing defiance in an interview with a New York Times reporter, bragging that Libya’s nascent army is too “chicken” to come after him. He says he has no plans to go into hiding.

Although he denied being part of the attack, he admitted being on the scene and refused to condemn the murder of the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans. “From a religious point of view, it is hard to say whether it is good or bad,” he said, no doubt disingenuously.

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Just when the situation in Libya couldn’t get much more embarrassing for the Obama administration, now comes the news that Ahmed Abu Khattala, a leader of the jihadist group Ansar al Shariah who was seen by witnesses directing the attack on the American consulate, is living openly and defiantly in Benghazi. He is lounging around a seaside hotel and breathing defiance in an interview with a New York Times reporter, bragging that Libya’s nascent army is too “chicken” to come after him. He says he has no plans to go into hiding.

Although he denied being part of the attack, he admitted being on the scene and refused to condemn the murder of the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans. “From a religious point of view, it is hard to say whether it is good or bad,” he said, no doubt disingenuously.

One can only wonder if the U.S. government knows where Abu Khattala is, or whether this is another instance, as I noted in an earlier post, of the news media knowing more about what’s going on than the intelligence community. And if the U.S. government knows as much as the New York Times, and can track Abu Khattala, the obvious question is why we have not acted to bring him to justice–something that Libya’s government is plainly too weak to do?

Add those to the pressing questions being raised by this whole dismaying episode which, for the moment at least, conveys a lamentable image of American weakness. That could change, of course, if commandos swoop in to capture or kill Abu Khattala or if a drone appears over his house to launch a Hellfire missile–something that is well within the capabilities of the Joint Special Operations Command and CIA.

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The Costs of Inaction on Iran

Last month, liberal outlets touted a report aimed at stifling calls for action on Iran. “Weighing the Benefits and Costs of Military Action Against Iran” was seen as the definitive answer to those calling for the establishment of red lines about Iran’s nuclear program. The report, sponsored by The Iran Project, was signed and endorsed by an all-star cast of foreign policy establishment figures (including some who have a record of hostility toward Israel) who were eager to support a study that purported to prove that an attack on Iran’s facilities would not be worth the effort in the event that the United States were to decide that all other options had been exhausted in the effort to prevent Tehran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. That report’s one-sided arguments were all that was needed for those who aren’t particularly enthusiastic about American action on Iran to claim that the military option ought not be considered. But the biggest problem with the study was the question it did not ask: What are the costs of doing nothing about Iran?

That more pressing question is answered by a new study that has just been published by the Foreign Policy Project of the Bipartisan Policy Center, “The Costs of Inaction: Analysis of Energy and Economic Effects of a Nuclear Iran.” The report acknowledges that taking action entails courting severe risks for the United States, the West and Israel. But it makes clear that these not inconsiderable dangers pale beside the consequences of a policy rooted in a foolish belief that Iran can be talked out of its nuclear ambitions. The result will be the creation of an Islamist nuclear power led not by rational military figures such as in Pakistan but by a theocracy whose extremist leaders may well seek to use such weapons as well as to employ them to back up their terrorist auxiliaries. But less understood is the way a nuclear Iran would have a significant impact on the cost and supply of oil. While Americans are understandably war weary after a decade of conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan, they need to know that listening to the counsels of those who wish to accommodate or ignore the Iranian threat will lead not just to a more unstable Middle East but bring with it a rise in the price of oil that could lead to them paying as much as an extra $1.40 per gallon of gas at the pump.

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Last month, liberal outlets touted a report aimed at stifling calls for action on Iran. “Weighing the Benefits and Costs of Military Action Against Iran” was seen as the definitive answer to those calling for the establishment of red lines about Iran’s nuclear program. The report, sponsored by The Iran Project, was signed and endorsed by an all-star cast of foreign policy establishment figures (including some who have a record of hostility toward Israel) who were eager to support a study that purported to prove that an attack on Iran’s facilities would not be worth the effort in the event that the United States were to decide that all other options had been exhausted in the effort to prevent Tehran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. That report’s one-sided arguments were all that was needed for those who aren’t particularly enthusiastic about American action on Iran to claim that the military option ought not be considered. But the biggest problem with the study was the question it did not ask: What are the costs of doing nothing about Iran?

That more pressing question is answered by a new study that has just been published by the Foreign Policy Project of the Bipartisan Policy Center, “The Costs of Inaction: Analysis of Energy and Economic Effects of a Nuclear Iran.” The report acknowledges that taking action entails courting severe risks for the United States, the West and Israel. But it makes clear that these not inconsiderable dangers pale beside the consequences of a policy rooted in a foolish belief that Iran can be talked out of its nuclear ambitions. The result will be the creation of an Islamist nuclear power led not by rational military figures such as in Pakistan but by a theocracy whose extremist leaders may well seek to use such weapons as well as to employ them to back up their terrorist auxiliaries. But less understood is the way a nuclear Iran would have a significant impact on the cost and supply of oil. While Americans are understandably war weary after a decade of conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan, they need to know that listening to the counsels of those who wish to accommodate or ignore the Iranian threat will lead not just to a more unstable Middle East but bring with it a rise in the price of oil that could lead to them paying as much as an extra $1.40 per gallon of gas at the pump.

The bipartisan study analyzes a number of different scenarios that would likely arise in the event of Iran reaching its nuclear goal. Among them is domestic instability in Saudi Arabia, the destruction of Saudi oil facilities and the possibility of nuclear exchanges between Iran and Israel as well as Saudi Arabia, which would almost certainly try to acquire nukes if its dangerous Gulf rival got them.

All those scenarios point not just to the possibility of catastrophe in terms of lives lost and regimes toppled, but to disruptions in the global oil supply that will devastate economies and lead to price spikes that will be felt far away from the battlefields of the Middle East.

The futility of the P5+1 negotiations and the other attempts to talk the ayatollahs out of their nuclear plans show that faith in diplomacy and sanctions not backed up by a credible use of force means only one thing: a nuclear Iran. While the study lauded by the New York Times that sought to caution against the use of force pointed to problems that would arise from military action, the Bipartisan Center’s analysis gives a clearer picture of what will happen if the “realists” get their way.

Containment of Iran is, as even President Obama has conceded, not a viable option. Without the red lines sought by Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu that imply that force will be used if Iran continues to prevaricate on this question, the world will be faced with a terrible choice. But that choice is not between a world spared from the after shocks of military action and one in which Iran is denied nuclear weapons. It is between using force and facing the sort of catastrophic consequences that will create economic chaos as well as untold human suffering. Looked at in that way, it’s really not much of a choice at all.

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