Secretary of State Hillary Clinton reiterated today what President Obama had said earlier, announcing while in Prague that any use of chemical weapons by Bashar Assad is “a red line for the United States.” She went on to issue a not-so-veiled threat: “I’m not going to telegraph in any specifics what we would do in the event of credible evidence that the Assad regime has resorted to using chemical weapons against their own people. But suffice to say we are certainly planning to take action.”
On one level this is unobjectionable. Chemicals are a terrible weapon, a fact widely recognized since their widespread use in World War I. The Chemical Weapons Convention (to which Syria has not signed up) is intended to ban their possession. Their very awfulness–combined with their limited utility (gas, after all, has a way of wafting back to one’s own lines)–has limited their use in warfare over the past hundred years. So it makes sense that Obama and Clinton are making clear their abhorrence of this weapon and signaling stern consequences if it is employed.
It’s no secret that President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu don’t trust each other. Personality conflicts are slightly less troubling–they can dislike each other and still respect and even trust each other. But trust is seemingly nowhere to be found in the distressed relationship between the two leaders. (We got another reminder of this at the Saban Forum, when Ehud Olmert restated on the record comments that Rahm Emanuel, once Obama’s chief of staff, had made at the forum off the record. The comments were tinged with anger and resentment at Netanyahu.)
And that’s why the issue of Iran will always be the greatest source of friction between the two. Arguments over settlements are mostly background noise; Iran represents an existential threat to Israel, a major security threat to Europe, an ongoing security threat to the United States, and is in pursuit of what would be perhaps the bitterest of Obama administration failures–a nuclear-armed Iran setting off a nuclear arms race in the Middle East. Obama has repeatedly said he won’t let this happen, so why doesn’t Netanyahu trust him? One answer is something that cropped up again almost unnoticed just before the weekend: Obama’s consistent opposition to tough Iran sanctions. The president has repeatedly tried to kill sanctions, then delay them, then water them down, then as a last resort attach so many waivers as to leave the sanctions looking like Swiss cheese.
J Street backed 71 candidates in last month’s election. Sixty-nine of the candidates won. In July, the group issued a statement supporting the latest round of Iran sanctions legislation. The bill passed the Senate by unanimous consent the next day.
To hear J Street and supporters tell it, these are signs its influence is growing.
One characteristic that Islamists share around the world is that they have no sense of humor. As I had recounted in my October COMMENTARY essay on the Muslim Brotherhood, rather than tackle Egypt’s housing crisis or move to jump start the Egyptian economy, one of the first actions of the Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt was to seek revenge against the famous Egyptian comic actor Adel Emam, who in the 1990s appeared in several films lampooning Islamic fundamentalists; an Egyptian court sentenced him to three months in prison for insulting Islam.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan likewise suffers a humor deficit. When, early in his government, a cartoonist depicted him as a cat tangled in a ball of string, Erdoğan sued the cartoonist. Alas, that was not the exception but the rule in Turkey today. Turkey’s Supreme Board of Radio and Television (RTÜK) has just fined a Turkish television channel for broadcasting “The Simpsons”. The problem?
Last week we noted that if Rand Paul wanted to be a serious presidential contender as opposed to a libertarian gadfly he was going to have to distance himself from his father’s extreme anti-Israel views. No one should be holding their breath waiting for the Kentucky senator to speak a word against Ron Paul, but there’s no question he is preparing to cast himself as a different kind of candidate in 2016. To that end, not only did he take the trouble to engage in an exchange with COMMENTARY about his views on Israel, but as Business Insider reported last week, he is also planning a trip to the Jewish state next month.
Trips to Israel by senators and members of Congress are so common that they are hardly newsworthy. But for a devoted opponent of military aid to the Jewish state to be journeying there for the first time is a clear sign that Rand Paul wants to be seen as someone whose views on foreign policy are not the sort of grab bag of libertarian cant and isolationism that characterizes his father’s stance. Even more telling is that Paul will be accompanied on his trip by a group of evangelical leaders. The signal being given here is that the senator wants to be seen by the Republican base as a mainstream conservative and not a libertarian outlier.
President Obama’s proposal to Republicans to avoid going over the so-called fiscal cliff — huge tax increases, huge spending increases, and no serious entitlement reform — is risible. What the president is offering up is essentially his last budget, which didn’t win a single vote of support from any member of Congress.
It may be that this proposal was simply an extreme negotiating position that will be dramatically reshaped over the next 27 days. Or it may be that the president is, for political reasons, happy to have us go over the cliff. The calculation would be that he’s confident he can pin blame on Republicans for this having happened, portraying them as willing to increase taxes on the middle class and wreck the economy in order to keep taxes on the richest 1 percent from going up to Clinton-era rates.
Breitbart reports that ABC’s Christiane Amanpour is slated to host a new ABC mini-series on the history and roots of the Middle East conflict. Amanpour has never even tried to keep her antipathy toward Israel (or America) under wraps, so it’s not clear why ABC is setting itself up for such a huge credibility hit:
Join ABC News’ Christiane Amanpour on the ultimate road trip as she travels to the lands of the Bible to explore the powerful stories from Genesis to the Birth of Jesus. “Back to the Beginning” peels back the layers of history and faith that has inspired billions. Amanpour, the veteran war correspondent, wanted to investigate the roots of those stories that have created so much conflict, and at the same time so much of the healing she has seen across her career. It is an extraordinary journey through the deserts and cities of the ancient world, to the historical and pilgrimage sites associated with the epic tale that is the backbone of Judaism, Christianity and Islam today. “BACK TO THE BEGINNING,” a two-part, four-hour special, airs on FRIDAY, DECEMBER 21 (9:00 – 11:00 pm ET) and FRIDAY, DECEMBER 28 (9:00 – 11:00 pm ET)on the ABC TELEVISION NETWORK.
Those hoping that the seemingly endless 2012 presidential campaign would lead to a shorter run-up to the 2016 contest are out of luck. As Politico reports, not only is there no shortage of aspirants for what will be two open nominations but the hopefuls are already making a beeline to major donors hoping to line up support for a race that may be four years away but seems to have already started. According to their story, a gaggle of ambitious Republican governors who attended the Republican Governors Association meeting in Las Vegas last month managed to take time from their busy schedules to meet with casino mogul Sheldon Adelson in hope of winning his heart and the sort of financial support that could make them viable presidential candidates.
Among those lining up to see the philanthropist/mega donor were Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, Bob McDonnell of Virginia and John Kasich of Ohio. All three appear to be testing the presidential waters. The story also noted that Rick Perry and Rick Santorum, who both fell short in their 2012 runs, are also keeping close to their big donors in hopes of keeping their options open for another try.
It is true that a viable candidacy requires funding, and the ability to raise money — either from a host of small donors or a few big ones — is an essential skill for any would-be president. But anyone thinking that a nod from Adelson or Santorum’s backer Foster Friess or any of the Texas businessmen that backed Perry is tantamount to a key to the presidency wasn’t paying attention last year. Money gives a candidate a chance, and large donations like those that Newt Gingrich received from Adelson a year ago kept him in the race longer than he might otherwise have lasted. But the lesson of 2012 is that no single donor or even group of large donors or their super PACs can win elections by themselves. Which is why the attention given large contributors may be somewhat misleading.
The New Yorker’s David Remnick writes that Hillary Clinton’s Friday night address at the Saban Forum (and the fawning video introduction) left no doubt that she’s running in 2016:
Friday night, however, was on the record—and surprisingly revealing. Hillary Clinton was the main speaker. In a packed ballroom of the Willard Hotel, she was greeted with a standing ovation and then a short, adoring film, a video Festschrift testifying to her years as First Lady, senator, and, above all, secretary of state. The film, an expensive-looking production, went to the trouble of collecting interviews with Israeli politicians—Benjamin Netanyahu, Ehud Barak, Tzipi Livni—and American colleagues, like John Kerry. Tony Blair, striking the moony futuristic note that was general in the hall, said, “I just have an instinct that the best is yet to come.”
The film was like an international endorsement four years in advance of the Iowa caucus and the New Hampshire primary. The tone was so reverential that it resembled the sort of film that the Central Committee of the Communist Party might have produced for Leonid Brezhnev’s retirement party if Leonid Brezhnev would only have retired and the Soviets had been in possession of advanced video technology. After it was over there was a separate video from the President. Looking straight into the camera, Obama kvelled at length: “You’ve been at my side at some of the most important moments of my Administration.”
Ma’ale Adumim, located immediately east of Jerusalem, and the E-1 corridor that connects it to the city, have always been (as Jonathan noted) part of the “Everyone Knows Two-State Solution”–“everyone knows” it will remain in Israel while the Palestinians get close to 95 percent of the disputed territory. In an editorial yesterday entitled “The Logic of E-1,” the Jerusalem Post shows that the Netanyahu government’s decision to authorize planning for E-1 “follows in the footsteps of a long chain of governments – both left wing and right wing,” going all the way back to Yitzhak Rabin; its retention was endorsed by Shimon Peres when he was prime minister; was allocated to Israel in the 2000 “Clinton Parameters;” and was retained in the 2008 Olmert offer.
Ma’ale Adumim is not going to be dismantled in any conceivable peace agreement – not only because there are nearly 40,000 Israelis living there, but because it is located on the hills that overlook Jerusalem and the Jordan Valley. It is one of the most strategic areas in the Land. Whoever holds it commands the high ground, which is why no Israeli prime minister will ever yield it. Its retention (along with other major settlement blocs) would not preclude a contiguous Palestinian state on land equal to about 95 percent of the West Bank, as David Makovsky proved last year in his extensive report for the Washington Institute; and it is obviously part of defensible borders for Israel.
The cycle of liberal big-government experiments is by now familiar: the left suggests a major expansion of state power to tackle a public policy problem; conservatives object and predict the range of unintended consequences that will result; liberals ridicule the right’s objections and the plausibility of those unintended consequences; the program is enacted; unintended consequences rain down on the project almost immediately; conservatives say “I told you so”; liberals lash out at those who dared to be correct about the project, then as now.
Bethany recently wrote about one such case: Obamacare’s incentives for companies to cut employment or move employees from full-time to part-time to avoid the onerous penalties associated with the health care reform monstrosity. Liberals lashed out at those companies, though none of their critiques revealed even a modest familiarity with basic economics (not to mention these liberals’ own culpability in the whole Obamacare disaster). The bigger the statist project, the more far-reaching the unintended consequences, and so the European Union—recently awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for starting bloody wars and then allowing the United States and the Russians to save them from themselves—is one such project.
Just in case there were any doubts, last week provided conclusive proof: Yes, Palestinian violence pays. And the so-called “enlightened” countries–those Western states who claim to deplore violence and favor the peaceful resolution of conflicts–are the very ones who will reward violence the most. That’s precisely what happened with the Palestinians’ successful bid for UN recognition as a nonmember observer state.
Most European countries understood that this move would at best not advance the peace process, and at worst hinder it. So some had planned to vote no, while others planned to abstain. But then Hamas dramatically escalated its rocket fire on Israel, forcing Israel to respond; Hamas thus became the center of world attention while the Palestinian Authority was sidelined. So in an effort to give the PA a boost, European governments switched their votes at the last minute: Those who had planned to vote no abstained, and those who had planned to abstain voted yes. In other words, they agreed to support something they had previously considered “unhelpful” just because Hamas fired lots of rockets at Israel.
I have no talent for creating plots and characters, and so I must leave it to God to do that job for me; I write history instead of fiction. Fortunately, He is very good at plots and characters. Has there ever been a better sea story than that of the Titanic’s maiden (and final) voyage? Could the best practitioner of the art of “romance fiction” have come up with a story to match the reality of Edward VIII and Mrs. Simpson?
History, of course, can shade off into fiction, sometimes with terrible results but sometimes with sublime ones. Docudramas make up dialogue but are supposed to stick to historical reality otherwise. Historical fiction, however, can alter historical reality for dramatic purposes.