Commentary Magazine


Posts For: December 3, 2012

On Drawing the Line at Chemical Weapons

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.

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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.

But Syrian civilians under fire from their own regime must be wondering, if news of the secretary of state’s pronouncement reaches them, why it’s OK for Assad to kill them with bombs, artillery shells, and bullets–but not with chemicals. Granted, neither Obama nor Clinton has said that the killing currently being undertaken by the Syrian regime is acceptable. Quite the opposite: Both president and secretary of state have often voiced their condemnation of the regime’s tactics and called for its overthrow. But they have never threatened to respond with force even as Assad’s goons were slaughtering tens of thousands of their own people.

Perhaps one could argue that the use of chemical weapons presents a strategic threat to the United States in a way that the mere killing of innocent Syrians by lower-tech means does not. But that’s not the case. What does present a threat to us is if those chemical weapons are moved out of the country and fall into the hands of groups that may use them against us or our allies. Their use against Syrian civilians is primarily a moral issue–or perhaps more rightly an issue of moral etiquette, because we are more horrified when a child is killed by gas than by bullets. But to the dead child the difference between the two is inconsequential.

I am not objecting to the tough stance the administration is taking on chemical weapons use by the Syrian regime. I just wish its outrage–combined with the willingness to act–extended to all the other horrifying and reprehensible things that Bashar Assad is doing.

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Sanctions Fight Is an Example of Why Bibi Doesn’t Trust Barack

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.

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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.

Of course, the Obama administration has its own justifications for its consistent and adamant opposition to tough sanctions. Here, according to Josh Rogin, is what the White House doesn’t like about the latest round of sanctions:

One of the White House’s chief concerns is that Congress is not providing the administration enough waivers, which would give the United States the option of negating or postponing applications of the sanctions on a case-by-case basis.

The White House also said that secondary sanctions should apply only to those Iranian persons and entities that are guilty of aiding Iran’s nuclear and missile programs. The new legislative language would designate entire categories of Iranian government entities to be sanctioned — whether or not each person or entity is directly involved in such activities.

The new sanctions too broadly punish companies that supply materials, such as certain metals, that could be used in Iran’s nuclear, military, or ballistic missile programs, the White House worries. The bill allows those materials to be sold to Iranian entities that intend to use them for non-military or nuclear-related purposes, but the administration said that the ambiguity in that part of the legislation will make it hard to implement.

Finally, the White House doesn’t want to implement the part of the new legislation that would require reports to Congress on the thousands of boats that dock at Iranian ports and the dozens of Iranian planes that make stops at airports around the world. Those reporting requirements “will impose serious time burdens on the Intelligence Community and sanctions officers,” the White House said in the e-mail.

Too few loopholes and escape routes; too much accountability and work for the White House.

The reason Obama and Netanyahu are often at odds over Iran’s nuclear program is that Netanyahu sees the gap separating Obama’s words and his actions, and he doesn’t like it. Netanyahu also wants assurances on military action, if that’s what it takes, if and when the sanctions fail. Obama’s blasé approach to sanctions indicates the two countries may be working with two different time frames on when Iran would reach what the Israelis refer to as the point of no return.

From the Israeli perspective, an optimist would suggest that Obama isn’t too concerned with sanctions stopping the Iranian program because he is ready and willing to take the requisite action to attempt to crush the program, and doesn’t see the point in alienating the Europeans or other trading partners with onerous sanctions if a.) they are not going to stop the program anyway, and b.) Obama will.

But Obama has obviously not been particularly convincing on this score, as far as Netanyahu is concerned. Obama may be playing his cards close to his chest, but Netanyahu won’t be reassured without seeing his hand. And the pessimist sees something else entirely: an American president who makes lots of campaign promises he doesn’t keep who doesn’t seem to possess any sense of urgency on a matter that, to Israelis, is tied to the very survival of the Jewish state.

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J Street’s Victory Lap

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.

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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.

“This is an incredible victory,” wrote J Street in a November 7 press release. “One that is part of transforming the political atmosphere around Israel in the U.S. that has blocked meaningful American efforts to achieve a two-state solution for decades.”

There’s actually a less dramatic explanation for J Street’s supposed “victories.” After years of getting crushed by AIPAC in the lobbying game, J Street may have found success in the old adage, “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.” The group has started endorsing some sure winners, and then claiming credit when the inevitable happens.

As Steve Rosen pointed out at Foreign Policy, many of the candidates J Street endorsed were also backed and more heavily financed by AIPAC-associated PACs. The same goes for last summer’s Iran sanctions legislation. Both parties in congress overwhelmingly support tough sanctions, as does President Obama (at least publicly). 

So how can we know know if J Street’s clout on the Hill has actually grown, or if it’s just piggybacking off of already-popular candidates and bills? Well, the latest positions J Street has taken are worth keeping an eye on. It’s opposing any congressional response to the Palestinian UN declaration, and any efforts to sanction the PLO mission in Washington.

Several lawmakers have already proposed action against the Palestinian Authority. But what about the members of Congress J Street said it helped get elected? Will they object to these proposals, and support the J Street position? Or did J Street’s “incredible victory” end on election day?

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D’oh! Turkey Fines the Simpsons

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?

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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?

RTÜK said the fine had been levied due to CNBC-E “making fun of God, encouraging the young people to exercise violence by showing the murders as God’s orders and encouraging them to start drinking alcohol on New Year’s Eve night.” “One of the characters is abusing another one’s religious belief to make him commit murders. The bible is publicly burned in one scene and God and the Devil are shown in human bodies,” the RTÜK report said. In another scene, God serves coffee to the Devil, which can be considered an insult to religious beliefs, according to the report, which explained the motive behind the fine.

Alas, so long as the members of the Turkish Congressional Caucus are received as VIPs at the Turkish ambassador’s residence and in Istanbul and Ankara, U.S. officials might still work under the illusion that Turkey is a country on the trajectory for European Union membership, and not a country positioning itself to be the new Egypt.

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Rand Paul Can’t Fool Pro-Israel Christians

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.

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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.

Given his opposition to military assistance and his worldview that calls for a weaker U.S. presence in the world, that won’t be easy. But the trip to Israel and Jordan is a start. But the outreach here isn’t to AIPAC and its donors, who rightly regard the younger Paul as just a more presentable version of a father who remains an implacable foe of the U.S.-Israel alliance.

Ron Paul was able to build up a passionate following of libertarians who applauded his rants about the Federal Reserve as well as his isolationist tirades that sounded at times as if they were lifted from the left’s playbook. But he was never able to break through to conservative Christians. His son understands that he will also fail with that demographic and have little chance to win the GOP nomination if they view him as a clone of his father. Christian conservatives view support of Israel as even more of a litmus test than most Jews, so it is incumbent on Rand Paul to either moderate his views or to present them in such a way as to avoid being classified as an opponent of Zion.

However, Christian supporters of Israel won’t be so easily fooled as liberal Jewish supporters of the Jewish state.

Barack Obama was able to pass inspection by liberals by mouthing some platitudes (some of which he quickly retracted) and making an election-year campaign trip to Israel in 2008. So long as he was reliably liberal on other issues, few would look closely at his questionable associations and views on the subject.

But pro-Israel evangelicals are made of sterner stuff than that. Though he is being accompanied by a delegation of pastors and will, no doubt, make the usual stops in Jerusalem and perhaps even be schlepped to southern Israel to inspect the damage done by Hamas missiles, they will judge him on his record, not mere symbolism. Unless he truly changes his views on the subject, he is not likely to make much headway in a community that will judge him harshly for being a false friend to Israel.

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President Obama, Architect of Pain

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.

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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.

The president, fresh off his re-election victory, does have a strong hand to play. But I agree with those (like Keith Hennessey and Charles Krauthammer) who believe Mr. Obama may well over-reach and in the process severely injure his second term. Because if we go over the fiscal cliff, and as a result unemployment rises to above 9 percent and we go into another recession, there is no way the president escapes responsibility for that. We saw a version of this during the 44-day debt negotiations in the summer of 2011, an ugly and unsatisfying process that left everyone associated with it — including the president — diminished and damaged (for more, see Bob Woodard’s instructive book, The Price of Politics). If we go over the fiscal cliff, it will make that episode look like a model of good government. The public will be enraged at everyone who played a part in this failure — and the most conspicuous person of all will be Mr. Obama.

His first term was characterized by anemic economic growth and job creation — and if no deal is struck between now and the New Year he may well see to it that his second term is no better. This time, by the way, he won’t be able to blame George W. Bush for his failures. Which is another way of saying that the next few weeks could go some distance toward determining whether Obama’s presidency one day ranks as among the most economically ruinous in American history.

In light of that, Republicans should continue to act in a reasonable and responsible way, as Speaker Boehner has with his offer to raise tax revenues in exchange for spending cuts and some steps toward entitlement reform. It may be that the president comes to his senses, and if so they should be ready to deal. But if not, and if the president insists that the GOP jettison its beliefs and simply accede to Mr. Obama’s liberal wish list, Republicans should — in a respectful but firm way — say no thanks. If they do so, Republicans shouldn’t pretend that going over the cliff won’t hurt them. But they shouldn’t be blind to the fact that it will also hurt Mr. Obama, and perhaps permanently.

Republicans, then, are in a somewhat stronger position than they may think. And even if they weren’t, capitulation — which increasingly is what the president seems to demand of them — would be undignified and unwise. If we go over the fiscal cliff, the country will unfortunately suffer. But so, politically, will Barack Obama, the architect of the pain.

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Bias Alert: Amanpour to Host Israel Series

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.

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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.

The last time Amanpour hosted a similar mini-series, 2007’s “God’s Warriors” on CNN, she brought on John Mearsheimer for an uncritical interview about the “Israel Lobby” and portrayed Israeli settlements as the main obstacle to a two-state solution, according to CAMERA. For her efforts, she won the title of Dishonest Reporter of the Year from Honest Reporting.

And it’s not just pro-Israel groups that have noticed Amanpour’s anti-Israel bias. Washington Post TV columnist Tom Shales cited this as one of the main reasons she shouldn’t have been hired to host ABC’s This Week — which proved prescient after the ratings tanked and she stepped down. Why ABC would choose such a polarizing and overtly biased commentator like Amanpour to lead a mini-series on the Middle East conflict is baffling.

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It Takes More Than a Mega-Donor to Win the White House

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.

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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 best example of this was not Gingrich, a Republican veteran whose baggage and lack of discipline doomed his candidacy from the start. Rather, it was Jon Huntsman, whose father Jon Huntsman, Sr., was noted in the Politico piece as the mega donor behind his son’s campaign. The point here is that Huntsman had no shortage of money and was given fawning coverage throughout the mainstream media as well as puff pieces from conservative writers like George Will. But all the money and the media attention in the world could not convince Republican primary voters that a feckless moderate like Huntsman ought to be president.

Mitt Romney’s money gave him an advantage in the GOP race, but Politico’s explanation of his win — “a pro-Romney super PAC obliterated the field” — is misleading. Though he fell short in November against President Obama, he won the GOP nomination because he was the most viable candidate in the field, a factor that no amount of money given to either Gingrich or Santorum could overcome.

While all of the possible candidates on both sides of the aisle would do well to find themselves a friend like Adelson, one such person or even a few won’t elect a person who can’t attract the support of the voters. If you don’t believe me, just ask president-elect Gingrich or president-elect Santorum.

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Clinton Previews 2016 Campaign?

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.”

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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.”

Haim Saban is one of Clinton’s biggest and most loyal financial backers, so it makes sense she’d start warming up for a 2016 run at his annual conference. Clinton’s speech — one of the few on the record at the forum — was heavy on foreign policy, particularly the Israeli-Palestinian conflict:

Well, look, I think Israelis have good grounds to be suspicious. And I would never be one who tries to rewrite or dismiss history. The Palestinians could have had a state as old as I am if they had made the right decision in 1947. They could have had a state if they had worked with my husband and then-Prime Minister Barak at Camp David. They could have had a state if they’d worked with Prime Minister Olmert and Foreign Minister Livni. …

I’m not making excuses for the missed opportunities of the Israelis, or the lack of generosity, the lack of empathy that I think goes hand-in-hand with the suspicion. So, yes, there is more that the Israelis need to do to really demonstrate that they do understand the pain of an oppressed people in their minds, and they want to figure out, within the bounds of security and a Jewish democratic state, what can be accomplished. …

And I think that, unfortunately, there are more and more Israelis and Palestinians who just reject that idea out of hand: Why bother? Why try? We’ll never be able to reach an agreement with the other. But in the last 20 years, I’ve seen Israeli leaders make an honest, good-faith effort and not be reciprocated in the way that was needed. …

So I think that – I really believe this with all my heart. I think that even if you cannot reach a complete agreement that resolves all these incredibly hard issues, it is in Israel’s interest to be trying. It gives Israel a moral high ground that I want Israel to occupy. That’s what I want Israel to occupy, the moral high ground.

The second paragraph is bad in context, and sounds even worse out-of-context (which is how it will be used in political ads). Suggesting that Israelis don’t understand the pain of an oppressed people, or aren’t generous enough isn’t exactly diplomatic coming from the secretary of state, and it’s not smart coming from someone who is presumably about to launch a presidential campaign. As Clinton said herself, the Israelis have made “honest, good-faith efforts” that haven’t been reciprocated. Maybe she tossed the comment in for some false “balance,” but she shouldn’t be surprised if it comes back at her during a presidential campaign.

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Ma’ale Adumim, E-1, and the Two-State Solution

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.

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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.

Back in 2008, in the midst of the year-long Annapolis Process–which eventually produced the third Israeli offer within eight years of a Palestinian state on substantially all the West Bank and Gaza–Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice met with Ahmed Qurei, who was then the Palestinian prime minister leading the Palestinian negotiating team. According to Al Jazeera, in a report on the “Palestine Papers” leaked in 2011, the following conversation took place:

Rice: I don’t think that any Israeli leader is going to cede Ma’ale Adumim.

Qurei: Or any Palestinian leader.

Rice: Then you won’t have a state!

No Israeli prime minister is ever going to trade Ma’ale Adumim and E-1 for the magic beans of a Palestinian peace agreement, particularly now that the Palestinians have broken the one they already signed, which prohibited them (as Alana Goodman showed) from taking “any step” to change the legal status of the disputed territories outside of final status negotiations.

In going to the UN for a symbolic state (they don’t qualify for a real one), the Palestinians not only violated their central commitment under the governing document of the “peace process,” but enshrined in their resolution a demand for land Israel will obviously retain if there is ever a peace agreement that can be enforced, as opposed to merely signed. Assuming a (second) state is their goal, the Palestinians set it back, and now are predictably complaining about the consequences of their own action.

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What Catalan Nationalism Tells Us About the European Union

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.

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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.

The latest in the long list of unintended consequences of the EU is its effect on secessionist movements, including the parties in support of Catalan independence in Spain. To be sure, Catalan independence is an old movement that long preceded the European Union. But the EU has had two effects on Catalan independence. First, an unintended consequence of EU supra-nationalism is the resurgence of more basic nationalism and the urge to reclaim both the identity and sovereignty that were pick-pocketed by the antidemocratic EU. Second is how the Union factors into the case against secession, especially in Spain, and how it is really more an indictment of the EU than the case against sovereignty. (This isn’t new; another example is how eurocrats insist that a country leaving the currency union could conceivably drag down the entire EU, meaning the project is basically a suicide pact. File it under “now they tell us”—except that conservatives, well, did tell them.)

The Catalan independence movement had spent the last few months picking up steam, but the late-November election slowed its momentum considerably–in part because it took place during a recession and in part because the result necessitated coalition governing in Catalonia rather than give the party of charismatic Catalan President Artur Mas a mandate to govern alone. But the pre-election momentum spooked committed EU statists enough to warrant something of modern classic in Economist editorials.

There is, certainly, a case against Catalan independence; as the Wall Street Journal explains here, independence could offset its own financial advantages by forcing the new Catalan state to assume its portion of Spanish debt and the added costs of having to re-apply to join the EU, which are not inconsiderable.

There is a substantial degree of frustration in Catalonia at having to prop up the finances of the rest of Spain’s less productive regions. The Economist concedes Barcelona this point, but then offers a remarkable justification for disregarding it:

The argument that Catalans should not subsidise feckless Andalusians is a dangerous one: apply that more widely and the euro zone would fall apart. Indeed, far from welcoming Catalonia as an independent member, the euro zone’s leaders hardly yearn for an extra nation-state.

Let’s unpack these two sentences, because this is eurocracy in a nutshell. The first sentence recalls the EU suicide pact: add a dose of logic to EU policymaking and the whole enterprise falls apart. The project cannot survive personal accountability because the continent has too much economic dead weight for its own good.

And as to the second sentence: welcome to the twisted world of the ever-expanding state that swallows up anyone who runs from it but runs from those who embrace it. The eurozone wants you kicking and screaming; anyone that wants in is immediately suspect. (There is, admittedly, a certain unimpeachable logic to wondering why on earth someone would still want to join the EU at this point.)

We do not seem to be on the cusp of Catalan independence just yet. But this episode is notable for its confirmation of the intellectual poverty of the eurocause, and for the reminder that not all unintended consequences are deleterious. Sometimes, as with the resurgence of identity and democratic self-reliance, each can be a corrective to liberal excesses.

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Europe Once Again Shows that Palestinian Violence Pays

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.

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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.

But the hypocrisy doesn’t end there. These same European countries are now furious at Israel’s response: They thought they had an understanding with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that Israel would let the UN vote pass quietly. And in fact, they did. The only minor detail they’re overlooking is that Netanyahu agreed not to retaliate for the UN vote in exchange for what he thought was a European commitment to either vote against or abstain. In short, the Europeans reneged on their side of the unwritten deal, but are furious that Israel isn’t upholding its side anyway.

That is a microcosm of what’s wrong with the peace process as a whole: As far as most of the world is concerned, bilateral Israeli agreements are binding on one side only: Israel. Thus it’s perfectly fine with the Europeans for the PA to violate one of its cardinal commitments under the peace process: that all disputes will be resolved through negotiations rather than unilaterally–or as the 1995 Israeli-Palestinian Interim Agreement put it, “Neither side shall initiate or take any step that will change the status of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip pending the outcome of the permanent status negotiations.” But it’s an outrage, completely beyond the pale, for Israel to respond by doing something that no signed agreement actually bars it from doing: In no agreement did Israel ever promise to halt construction in the West Bank or East Jerusalem.

So here’s what we’ve learned from the past week’s events: Palestinians should keep shooting rockets at Israel, because Europe will reward them for it by punishing Israel. And Israel should never again make any agreement with the Palestinians, because the Palestinians won’t be bound by it at all, whereas Israel will be bound not only by what the deal actually says, but by what the Palestinians and their Europeans allies think it should have said.

You’d think countries that claim to abhor violence and favor diplomacy could find better lessons to be teaching, wouldn’t you?

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Spielberg’s Lincoln

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.

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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.

At its best, historical fiction can be a wonderful window into the past. If you would like to be vastly entertained while getting a real sense of what mid-18th century England was like, you can’t beat the movie of Tom Jones. The Hornblower novels of C. S. Forrester are, likewise, an accurate as well as page-turning introduction to the realities of the Nelsonian Royal Navy. (But stay far, far away from the recent television dramatization of the Hornblower saga. It was appallingly, insulting-to-the-intelligence ahistorical, like a symphony played with half the instruments out of tune.)

All this is in introduction to Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln, which opened last month to great reviews. It is historical fiction, to be sure, but like the best historical fiction it is a window into a lost world of the past, in this case the final months of the Civil War.

There are occasions when the movie parts company with historical reality for its own, legitimate purposes, as the noted Lincoln scholar Harold Holzer pointed out in the Daily Beast. Mary Todd Lincoln would never have listened to debates in the House of Representatives in 1865, still less accompanied by her black servant. Thanks to gas light, the interiors would have been much better lit than they appear in the movie. The Gettysburg Address had not yet become iconic. Lincoln did not appear on the 50-cent piece. (Indeed only allegorical figures appeared on American coinage until 1909, when Lincoln was put on the penny to celebrate his hundredth birthday.)

But none of that matters. Daniel Day-Lewis’s amazing portrayal of Lincoln brings the 16th president to life as, say, Daniel Chester French’s magnificent statue in the Lincoln Memorial could never do. French’s statue is the Lincoln of legend, the quite literally larger-than-life figure who saved the Union. Day-Lewis’s Lincoln is the story-telling, disheveled, deceptively shrewd prairie lawyer with the emotionally unstable wife. He is the Lincoln who fought his personal demons every day, kept his fractious, ambitious cabinet under firm but subtle control, and practiced down-and-dirty politics with genius to achieve his goals.

The other characters are also extremely well portrayed (especially Mary Todd Lincoln, played by Sally Field, and Thaddeus Stevens, played by Tommy Lee Jones). The settings and scenes, especially the killing field around Petersburg and the petitioner-clogged halls of the White House, could hardly be better.

If you would like to know the historical Lincoln, there are a thousand biographies. Perhaps the best recent one is David Herbert Donald’s Lincoln. But if you would like to get a glance of the real Lincoln, the human Lincoln, you must see the movie. It is a masterpiece.

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