Commentary Magazine


Posts For: January 11, 2013

What is the Purpose of VOA Persian?

I’ve been traveling and so a bit late getting to this, but last week, Sohrab Ahmari, an assistant books editor at The Wall Street Journal (and an occasional COMMENTARY contributor) had an excellent piece examining Voice of America broadcasting into Iran:

Critics also charge that VOA’s Persian coverage is often distorted by an editorial line favoring rapprochement with the mullahs. There is “a clear slant in favor of Iran in terms of its involvement in terrorism,” the current production staffer wrote in response to queries for this article. The network, he said, often refuses to air criticism of Iranian terror unless it is “balanced with the perspective of the Islamic Republic who vehemently [deny] any involvement.” And because “no one in the Islamic Republic gives us interviews anyway,” VOA Persian abandons otherwise informative segments about terrorism.

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I’ve been traveling and so a bit late getting to this, but last week, Sohrab Ahmari, an assistant books editor at The Wall Street Journal (and an occasional COMMENTARY contributor) had an excellent piece examining Voice of America broadcasting into Iran:

Critics also charge that VOA’s Persian coverage is often distorted by an editorial line favoring rapprochement with the mullahs. There is “a clear slant in favor of Iran in terms of its involvement in terrorism,” the current production staffer wrote in response to queries for this article. The network, he said, often refuses to air criticism of Iranian terror unless it is “balanced with the perspective of the Islamic Republic who vehemently [deny] any involvement.” And because “no one in the Islamic Republic gives us interviews anyway,” VOA Persian abandons otherwise informative segments about terrorism.

Ahmari continues to demonstrate that VOA Persian has jettisoned programs with millions of followers in favor of new programs that have no measurable impact.

What happened after publication was even more informative: A VOA Persian producer tweeted (via Sohrab’s twitter account), “Another BS story on VOA Persian but thankfully behind paywall” and then seemed to dismiss the idea of audience reach mattering. The producer then defined VOA Persian’s mission as, “to provide a consistently reliable and authoritative source of news.”

Just my own three cents:

  • The idea that VOA Persian hasn’t allowed its own politics to corrupt it is risible. I had a run in with VOA Persian a couple years ago after I had written a post here questioning whether the State Department should be granting Iranian nationals multiple entry visas when many repressive regimes have used students in the past to spy on one another and dissidents and when the State Department lacked the ability to vet such visa holders adequately. In response, VOA Persian, in the course of a news item (as opposed to an opinion piece) cavalierly labeled me an enemy of the Iranian people. Nothing could be farther from the truth. I wrote about the episode, here. Needless to say, Ramin Asgard, the leader of VOA Persian at the time, lacked the professional courtesy to issue a correction, let alone apologize. His goal, however, was outreach and if that meant personal attacks on critics of Islamic Republic policies, so be it. Asgard has since left VOA.
  • Around the same time, I attended a roundtable that included a former head of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, which also broadcasts into Iran (among other places). One of the topics discussed was the role of U.S. broadcasting and broadcasting strategy. The former official said that the United States’ broadcasters built credibility by airing criticism of itself and simply being another news source. My response: The notion that the U.S. builds credibility by bashing itself is unproven pap. Credibility certainly depends on truthfulness, but editors can choose which news to publish, and both VOA Persian and often Radio Farda appear to lack a general strategy. So, here’s one: U.S.-funded broadcasters neither can do everything nor is it there job to replicate the private sector. Instead, they should focus on those subjects which journalists operating under repressive conditions cannot cover. VOA Persian should be the go-to source for news about human rights in Iran, corruption among the Iranian regime, and explanations countering rather than amplifying the official Iranian line.
  • Lastly, it is important to remember that toward the end of the Bush administration, the National Security Council asked a security-cleared, native Persian speaker to listen to and read VOA broadcasts and document the bias. She did as she was directed and yet Senate staffers—especially those attached to Joseph Biden and Chuck Hagel—tried to kill the report and attack the staffer who wrote the report, rather than the National Security Council official who assigned her the task. How unfortunate it is that VOA Persian complains that they are tarred unfairly and that no one has ever systematically shown bias and yet, when someone did, proponents of uncritical rapprochement with the Islamic Republic’s leadership tried to deep-six it.

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Environmentalist Group Alarmed by Hagel’s Chevron Role

A few weeks ago, I wrote about Chuck Hagel’s position on the board of Chevron, an oil company that’s been criticized for its connection to human rights abuses. His role at the company has troubled environmental activists, and could pit him against progressives who are already wary of his positions on gay rights and abortion

Hagel’s board membership “raises concerns about conflict of interest, especially in an area as geopolitically sensitive as Central Asia,” said Kate Watters, executive director at Crude Accountability, an environmental activist group that focuses on the Caspian Sea basin. “Chevron’s significant investments in Kazakhstan and interest in investing in Turkmenistan—both authoritarian regimes—are at direct odds with the human rights concerns that should be at the forefront of U.S. foreign policy,” she added.

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A few weeks ago, I wrote about Chuck Hagel’s position on the board of Chevron, an oil company that’s been criticized for its connection to human rights abuses. His role at the company has troubled environmental activists, and could pit him against progressives who are already wary of his positions on gay rights and abortion

Hagel’s board membership “raises concerns about conflict of interest, especially in an area as geopolitically sensitive as Central Asia,” said Kate Watters, executive director at Crude Accountability, an environmental activist group that focuses on the Caspian Sea basin. “Chevron’s significant investments in Kazakhstan and interest in investing in Turkmenistan—both authoritarian regimes—are at direct odds with the human rights concerns that should be at the forefront of U.S. foreign policy,” she added.

Crude Accountability has been campaigning against Chevron’s outreach to the authoritarian government in Turkmenistan. In 2010, one of the group’s activist confronted Hagel at a shareholder meeting, and asked whether he would “insist that [Chevron] take a principled stance in favor of human rights in Turkmenistan.” Hagel declined to comment in person, and Crude Accountability was told to send him a letter instead; the group did, but never heard back.

Hagel’s role at Chevron has attracted very little media attention so far, even as progressive activists are preparing for a major PR battle with the company. Mother Jones’s Andy Kroll reported earlier this week that a deep-pocketed coalition of left-wing groups is set to launch a campaign targeting several companies, including Chevron. With that fight on the horizon, the White House has to be hoping Hagel’s affiliation with the oil giant escapes notice.

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What’s Makes an Outpost Illegal?

For years, Israel’s critics have been railing against the construction of illegal outposts by Jews in the West Bank. The hilltop enclaves are erected without government permits and are therefore illegal, but the settlers have often been able to win delays from sympathetic politicians or to otherwise tie up their status in court. This is seen as a failure of the rule of law in Israel but the Palestinians have apparently been taking notes from the settlers’ tactics. Today a group of Palestinians erected a tent city in the controversial E1 area just outside Jerusalem protesting plans to incorporate the area into the city and the Jewish state. Police told them they would eventually be evicted, but those involved say they are on Arab-owned land and intend to stay until their camp is incorporated into a independent Palestinian state rather than Israel.

This is an effective tactic, but at the heart of their stunt is a concept that doesn’t necessarily work in favor of their cause. If, as their sympathizers will argue, Palestinians have the right to live and/or build on Arab-owned land anywhere in the country, then why shouldn’t Jews, who want to do the same thing, have that same right? In other words, is an outpost only truly illegal, not because of the lack of government building permits, but because the residents of the tent are Jewish rather than Arab?

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For years, Israel’s critics have been railing against the construction of illegal outposts by Jews in the West Bank. The hilltop enclaves are erected without government permits and are therefore illegal, but the settlers have often been able to win delays from sympathetic politicians or to otherwise tie up their status in court. This is seen as a failure of the rule of law in Israel but the Palestinians have apparently been taking notes from the settlers’ tactics. Today a group of Palestinians erected a tent city in the controversial E1 area just outside Jerusalem protesting plans to incorporate the area into the city and the Jewish state. Police told them they would eventually be evicted, but those involved say they are on Arab-owned land and intend to stay until their camp is incorporated into a independent Palestinian state rather than Israel.

This is an effective tactic, but at the heart of their stunt is a concept that doesn’t necessarily work in favor of their cause. If, as their sympathizers will argue, Palestinians have the right to live and/or build on Arab-owned land anywhere in the country, then why shouldn’t Jews, who want to do the same thing, have that same right? In other words, is an outpost only truly illegal, not because of the lack of government building permits, but because the residents of the tent are Jewish rather than Arab?

According to those Palestinians interviewed by the New York Times, there is a distinction between their outpost and Jewish ones. It is that they think that only they have a right to live there and that Jews are foreign invaders. But the area involved is one in which both peoples have claims. Those of the Jews are backed by the League of Nations Mandate for Palestine as well as by history. Moreover, Israeli settlements are almost all on land that is not owned by individual Arabs. The point is, if the Arab tent city in E1 can be justified, so, too, most Jewish hilltop settlements as well as others that have been built with permission.

Those who oppose the Jewish presence in the West Bank or parts of Jerusalem often argue that incorporating these areas makes a two-state solution to the conflict impossible or undermine Israel’s future as a Jewish state. But the E1 area is not some remote hilltop outpost deep in the West Bank that would likely be given up in the event of a peace accord. It is a close Jerusalem suburb that would be incorporated into Israel in any treaty under the concept of land swaps that even President Obama supports. Should the Palestinians ever decide to make peace and accept the legitimacy of a Jewish state next door, having the E1 area under Israeli control won’t prevent them from creating an independent nation next to it. 

While Israel’s critics complain about Jews building in the West Bank and Jerusalem, the Palestinians are building there all the time. But by choosing to seize an area that is in between two large Jewish areas, they are, in fact, the ones complicating any possible two-state scheme. Their true goal is not really to create a new Arab town but to ultimately evict Jews from their homes in Maale Adumim next door.

The notion that Arabs can live anywhere in the West Bank or Jerusalem but that Jews may not is a recipe for unending conflict, not peace. Peace will only come when Palestinians reconcile themselves to the existence of Israel. But such a peace isn’t likely to last if a Palestinian state remains off limits to Jews. 

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Afghanistan Withdrawal and Drone Strikes

The agreement announced today by President Obama and Afghan President Karzai to speed up the transition of U.S. troops from combat to an advisory role is largely symbolic, since our troops will not be prohibited from engaging in combat. But the desire of the president to pull out as quickly and completely as possible is palpable.

No doubt if he decides to leave only a token residual force behind, or none at all, he will claim that the U.S. can adequately disrupt and deter terrorist groups with the lightest of light footprints. But is that actually true? This Washington Post article reports, not surprisingly, that the CIA is planning its own downsizing in Afghanistan to go along with the military drawdown:

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The agreement announced today by President Obama and Afghan President Karzai to speed up the transition of U.S. troops from combat to an advisory role is largely symbolic, since our troops will not be prohibited from engaging in combat. But the desire of the president to pull out as quickly and completely as possible is palpable.

No doubt if he decides to leave only a token residual force behind, or none at all, he will claim that the U.S. can adequately disrupt and deter terrorist groups with the lightest of light footprints. But is that actually true? This Washington Post article reports, not surprisingly, that the CIA is planning its own downsizing in Afghanistan to go along with the military drawdown:

A former U.S. intelligence official with extensive experience in Afghanistan said the CIA has begun discussing plans to pare back its network of bases across the country to five from 15 or more because of the difficulty of providing security for its outposts after most U.S. forces have left….

“As the military pulls back, the agency has to pull back,” the former U.S. intelligence official said on the condition of anonymity, particularly from high-risk outposts along the country’s eastern border that have served as bases for running informant networks and gathering intelligence on al-Qaeda and Taliban strongholds in Pakistan.

Such a retrenchment could slow the process of identifying fresh targets for drone strikes, although the agency is expected to continue operating the remotely piloted planes from fortified bases, such as a landing strip in Jalalabad.

“Essentially we will become Fort Apache in Kabul and the major cities,” the former U.S. intelligence official said, describing a pared back CIA presence. Even if the drones continue to take off and land, the diminished presence in Khost and other locations could hamper “our ability to gather intelligence on where Zawahiri is and what al-Qaeda is doing in the North-West Frontier Province” of Pakistan, he said, referring to al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri and the region now known as Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.

Actually the situation could be even more grim than that because if we don’t make a substantial commitment to Afghanistan’s government post-2014, its willingness to allow us to continue any counter-terrorist missions is very much in doubt. As former U.S. ambassador to Kabul Ron Neumann notes in an op-ed:

A presence of 3,000 to 6,000 troops is a counterterrorist policy that gives up on serious support for the Afghan military and focuses on killing our enemies. It offers nothing to Afghans except endless killing and, hence, will face increasing Afghan rejection. Further, since our forces will need local allies for intelligence and logistical support, such a tiny presence is likely to further empower the very warlords who have done so much to foment corruption. If the Afghan state collapses without our support, our presence will be unsustainable. In sum, a counterterrorist strategy is superficially attractive but a bankrupt strategic choice.

Neumann is right. The withdrawal of almost all U.S. military forces from Afghanistan will have a disastrous impact on the ability of the CIA to gather intelligence on, and target, terrorists not only in Afghanistan but, crucially, in Pakistan too. This is a worrisome eventuality because Pakistan remains home to some of the most dangerous terrorist groups in the world, ranging from the Haqqani Network to the Pakistani Taliban, al-Qaeda, and others. If we lose our bases in Afghanistan, we will lose the ability to fight these groups–a signature initiative of this president who has elevated the role of drone strikes to unprecedented levels.

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Another GOP Politician Falls into Akin’s Trap

I have some common-sense, but apparently very sorely needed, advice for Republican lawmakers: You have one position and one position only on rape: it is bad. That’s it. If anyone asks you, you say it is a tragedy that no woman (or man, for that matter) should live through and your prayers go out to victims. Many on the right are, justifiably, frustrated that reporters continue to ask questions of candidates and lawmakers on rape, but, in the media’s defense, when Republicans keep giving answers as stupid as those of Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock, it’s hard to blame them.

Unfortunately for Republicans, another lawmaker has weighed in the rape issue, this time Representative Phil Gingrey of Georgia. The Marietta Daily Journal reports: 

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I have some common-sense, but apparently very sorely needed, advice for Republican lawmakers: You have one position and one position only on rape: it is bad. That’s it. If anyone asks you, you say it is a tragedy that no woman (or man, for that matter) should live through and your prayers go out to victims. Many on the right are, justifiably, frustrated that reporters continue to ask questions of candidates and lawmakers on rape, but, in the media’s defense, when Republicans keep giving answers as stupid as those of Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock, it’s hard to blame them.

Unfortunately for Republicans, another lawmaker has weighed in the rape issue, this time Representative Phil Gingrey of Georgia. The Marietta Daily Journal reports: 

“And in Missouri, Todd Akin … was asked by a local news source about rape and he said, ‘Look, in a legitimate rape situation’ — and what he meant by legitimate rape was just look, someone can say I was raped: a scared-to-death 15-year-old that becomes impregnated by her boyfriend and then has to tell her parents, that’s pretty tough and might on some occasion say, ‘Hey, I was raped.’ That’s what he meant when he said legitimate rape versus non-legitimate rape. I don’t find anything so horrible about that. But then he went on and said that in a situation of rape, of a legitimate rape, a woman’s body has a way of shutting down so the pregnancy would not occur. He’s partly right on that.”

Gingrey pointed out that he had been an OB-GYN since 1975.

“And I’ve delivered lots of babies, and I know about these things. It is true. We tell infertile couples all the time that are having trouble conceiving because of the woman not ovulating, ‘Just relax. Drink a glass of wine. And don’t be so tense and uptight because all that adrenaline can cause you not to ovulate.’ So he was partially right wasn’t he? But the fact that a woman may have already ovulated 12 hours before she is raped, you’re not going to prevent a pregnancy there by a woman’s body shutting anything down because the horse has already left the barn, so to speak. And yet the media took that and tore it apart.”

In all three instances, Republican lawmakers were trying their best to justify their opposition to abortion in the cases of rape and incest. The media’s double standard here is clear. While Akin, Mourdock and Gingrey and other Republicans have been asked to defend their positions, Democrats with equally “extreme” positions on abortion never are. During the last election, Paul Ryan was repeatedly asked to explain his stance on abortion in the instances of rape and incest by a hostile media anxious to trap the vice presidential candidate in the same “gotcha” moment that ended Akin’s and Mourdock’s runs for the Senate. Fortunately for the national ticket, Ryan stuck to a very rehearsed and well-thought out script each and every time he was asked and started to sound like a broken record on the subject by the end of the campaign. His Democratic counterpart, Joe Biden, was given a pass on favorable comments made in China about their one-child policy (that is often enforced by forced abortions and infanticide). President Obama’s incredibly controversial votes on the Born-Alive Infants Protection Act were also ignored by a media set out to trap Republicans fumbling over the issue of rape and abortion.

While this media double standard is incredibly unfair to Republicans, the deck has been stacked in this manner (against Republican candidates and politicians) for some time. It’s time for Republicans to practice the restraint that Rep. Paul Ryan did during the most recent election and decide on a script and stick to it. Continuing to talk off the cuff about abortion and rape has already sunk the careers of two senatorial candidates. One would think other Republicans would have learned from their mistake. 

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Hagel Should Be the Red Line for Pro-Israel Dems

Senator Chuck Schumer hasn’t publicly taken a side in the Chuck Hagel debate yet, but as Politico reports, his final decision could tip the scales:

Schumer, the most powerful Jewish Democrat in Congress, has been noncommittal in his public statements on Hagel’s nomination. But privately, several sources say he has told senators it would be “very hard” for him to support Hagel as the next defense secretary because of his positions on Israel over the years. In New York, Schumer has told allies and power brokers in the Jewish community that he’s uneasy about Hagel’s nomination, a concern he reiterated at a private breakfast in Manhattan’s posh Park Avenue Winter restaurant on Wednesday.

If Schumer were to oppose Hagel, it would almost certainly amount to a fatal blow to his candidacy since a number of pro-Israel Democrats who are squeamish about the nominee could very well be influenced by the No. 3 Democrat’s position. It would also give bipartisan political cover to Republicans and neocons fighting Hagel’s nomination.

Still, Schumer could also provide critical support for Hagel’s nomination. Should he support Hagel, it very likely would ride on what the former Nebraska GOP senator eventually says on Israel at an upcoming one-on-one meeting with the New York Democrat and during his confirmation hearings before the Senate Armed Services Committee. Schumer declined to be interviewed Thursday for this story. The White House also declined to comment.

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Senator Chuck Schumer hasn’t publicly taken a side in the Chuck Hagel debate yet, but as Politico reports, his final decision could tip the scales:

Schumer, the most powerful Jewish Democrat in Congress, has been noncommittal in his public statements on Hagel’s nomination. But privately, several sources say he has told senators it would be “very hard” for him to support Hagel as the next defense secretary because of his positions on Israel over the years. In New York, Schumer has told allies and power brokers in the Jewish community that he’s uneasy about Hagel’s nomination, a concern he reiterated at a private breakfast in Manhattan’s posh Park Avenue Winter restaurant on Wednesday.

If Schumer were to oppose Hagel, it would almost certainly amount to a fatal blow to his candidacy since a number of pro-Israel Democrats who are squeamish about the nominee could very well be influenced by the No. 3 Democrat’s position. It would also give bipartisan political cover to Republicans and neocons fighting Hagel’s nomination.

Still, Schumer could also provide critical support for Hagel’s nomination. Should he support Hagel, it very likely would ride on what the former Nebraska GOP senator eventually says on Israel at an upcoming one-on-one meeting with the New York Democrat and during his confirmation hearings before the Senate Armed Services Committee. Schumer declined to be interviewed Thursday for this story. The White House also declined to comment.

It’s hard to overstate Schumer’s power in this debate. Pro-Israel Senate Democrats who aren’t getting much guidance on this issue from AIPAC (at least not officially) will look to Schumer for cues. This is particularly important in the case of his fellow New York Senator, Kirstin Gillibrand, whose vote on the Armed Services Committee could be the deciding factor in whether Hagel’s nomination is referred to the floor.

But If Schumer backs him, it would essentially give Hagel’s views the kosher seal of approval, letting the White House claim that any criticism of his Israel record is a faux controversy drummed up by the GOP. Politically, Schumer probably has an interest in doing this: the White House would owe him a major favor, and he’d be able to dodge a high-profile fight he has a real possibility of losing.

Pro-Israel Democrats should ask themselves this. How did they get to a point where the leader of their party is nominating one of the most anti-Israel senators who ever walked the halls of the Capitol–a man who routinely made the anti-Semitic Washington Report of Middle East Affairs’ annual Congressional Hall of Fame list?

The party is shifting around them. The ranks of the pro-Israel Democrats in Congress are shrinking. Representatives Rothman, Frank, Berman, Ackerman, Weiner, and Senator Joe Lieberman are gone. The advocacy groups and think tanks incubating the next generation of Democratic leaders are increasingly moving against Israel.

There is still a strong up-and-coming generation of pro-Israel Democrats. But they have fewer leaders to look to and fewer roles to fill in the party. If people like Schumer won’t stand up against Hagel, what message would this send to these young activists and operatives working in the trenches? That they should either change their opinions or their party affiliation?

Hagel is the red line. He is the most anti-Israel defense secretary nominee in memory, chosen at a time when Iran is on the verge of nuclear weapons capability. If pro-Israel Democrats cave on his confirmation, what would they possibly stand against?

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GOP Identity: It’s Not Just 2016 Contenders

There has been, and will continue to be, buzz around certain young conservative politicians who are expected to be in consideration for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination. These young stars, such as Marco Rubio, Paul Ryan, Rand Paul, Chris Christie, and others, have their every statement and every vote examined for its relevance to the 2016 nomination battle.

One reason for this is that the GOP seems to have finally shed its allegiance to next-in-linism, the practice of nominating last cycle’s runner-up or someone with the right pedigree, or even someone viewed as having paid his dues. The party that does not hold the White House is usually in search of an identity. But this is even more the case with regard to the current Republican Party, which has no obvious nominee waiting in the wings, and as such, no obvious leader. But the party’s identity going forward is going to be shaped as much by up-and-coming politicians who aren’t vying for the 2016 nomination as those who are.

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There has been, and will continue to be, buzz around certain young conservative politicians who are expected to be in consideration for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination. These young stars, such as Marco Rubio, Paul Ryan, Rand Paul, Chris Christie, and others, have their every statement and every vote examined for its relevance to the 2016 nomination battle.

One reason for this is that the GOP seems to have finally shed its allegiance to next-in-linism, the practice of nominating last cycle’s runner-up or someone with the right pedigree, or even someone viewed as having paid his dues. The party that does not hold the White House is usually in search of an identity. But this is even more the case with regard to the current Republican Party, which has no obvious nominee waiting in the wings, and as such, no obvious leader. But the party’s identity going forward is going to be shaped as much by up-and-coming politicians who aren’t vying for the 2016 nomination as those who are.

Last week, GOP Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell appointed as his two “counsels” Senators Kelly Ayotte and Bob Corker. New Texas Senator Ted Cruz has been a conservative favorite from the moment he declared his Senate candidacy, and is garnering profiles from publications left and right. And today Mike Allen’s Politico “Playbook” carries part of his interview with Washington State Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers, who had a prominent place at the GOP’s convention in the fall and who has now become the highest-ranking Republican woman in the House.

Aside from the fiscal conservative nature of today’s congressional GOP, this group gives us a few hints as to the identity of the party post-2012.

1. The Republican Party is not a “regional” party, as so many on the left would have us believe. McMorris Rodgers represents a northwestern state; Cruz is from Texas, at this point virtually its own region of the country; Corker is from Tennessee; Ayotte is from New Hampshire. When you combine this with the classic GOP strongholds in the Midwest and Republican statehouse success in places like Michigan–not to mention the unignorable Chris Christie in New Jersey–and young officeholders like Susana Martinez in New Mexico, you have a national party, full stop.

2. The GOP’s lack of clarity and focus on foreign policy is likely to be (very) temporary. As the Washington Post story on Ayotte and Corker notes:

Ayotte has also struck up a friendship with Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who along with former senator Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.) were often dubbed the “three amigos” for their frequent globe-trotting and general agreement on foreign policy. With Lieberman’s departure, he deemed Ayotte as his capable — and more attractive — successor in the trio.

Leaving aside the comment on Ayotte’s looks, Lieberman’s approval of Ayotte on foreign policy is significant, and she could scarcely have chosen a better mentor.

Corker, meanwhile, is now the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. (John McCain is joining the committee, but has said he won’t challenge Corker for leadership.)

McMorris Rodgers, in her interview with Allen, alluded to the issue of immigration, perhaps the issue on which the younger generation of conservative politicians is most clearly separating itself from party elders. (Though it should be noted that McCain and Lindsey Graham are both notably pro-immigration.) Immigration is no longer simply about domestic policy. In a globalized world, understanding cultures abroad is increasingly essential to domestic politics, and it’s encouraging that the GOP seems to finally recognize this.

3. Republicans love to tease the left that the Tea Party is far more diverse than, say, the snow-white Occupy movement or Barack Obama’s cabinet, but aside from the political point-scoring the GOP’s diversity is a significant step forward for the party. As John Steele Gordon wrote last month, the trajectory of South Carolina Senator Tim Scott’s career, which included defeating Strom Thurmond’s son for his House seat and now serving in the Senate delegation in which Strom Thurmond once served, to become the Senate’s only African-American of either party, is quite a story. This, combined with Barack Obama’s reelection, will hopefully inspire the Democratic Party to free itself from its poisonous obsession with racial division. This would be good for the country, but it would also be good for the Democrats.

Cruz is the one member of this group that is a wild card, since there is already buzz about him as a possible 2016 contender. But he seems more likely to stay in the Senate to build a record and a following, for now. Questions about his eligibility would be raised–he was born in Canada to an American mother–but he is almost certainly constitutionally eligible to hold the office. Looking at the 2016 contenders is only one way to gauge the direction of the party. By the time that election rolls around, the next generation of congressional leaders may have already taken the baton.

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Money Alone Won’t Bail Out the West Bank

As I noted yesterday, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is on the road this week attempting to persuade Arab countries to give him money. Unfortunately for Abbas, his upgrade at the United Nations last month hasn’t made his panhandling act any more popular with those who voted to upgrade his status at the world body. In fact, the Palestinian Authority is broke. Though this isn’t the first time the PA has had cash flow problems, the current shortage is especially acute and enough to provoke a stern editorial from the New York Times blaming the problem primarily on Israel. But while Israel has withheld some tax revenue from Abbas, the problem in the West Bank goes a lot deeper than the current dispute between the Netanyahu government and the PA.

The Times is right that it is in no one’s interest that the PA collapse, but its call for more money from Israel, the United States, the Arab world and the international community to be poured into Abbas’s coffers misses the point about what is going on in the West Bank. No amount of foreign aid can fix a government and a society that is completely dysfunctional. The issue of the PA’s insolvency is directed related to its steadfast refusal to make peace. Though a Palestinian government that isn’t a basket case is needed to make a two-state solution to the Middle East conflict work, the issue here isn’t just that the PA is corrupt and incompetent. It is corrupt and incompetent in large measure because the political culture of Palestinian society is still more interested in perpetuating the conflict with Israel than in building a state.

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As I noted yesterday, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is on the road this week attempting to persuade Arab countries to give him money. Unfortunately for Abbas, his upgrade at the United Nations last month hasn’t made his panhandling act any more popular with those who voted to upgrade his status at the world body. In fact, the Palestinian Authority is broke. Though this isn’t the first time the PA has had cash flow problems, the current shortage is especially acute and enough to provoke a stern editorial from the New York Times blaming the problem primarily on Israel. But while Israel has withheld some tax revenue from Abbas, the problem in the West Bank goes a lot deeper than the current dispute between the Netanyahu government and the PA.

The Times is right that it is in no one’s interest that the PA collapse, but its call for more money from Israel, the United States, the Arab world and the international community to be poured into Abbas’s coffers misses the point about what is going on in the West Bank. No amount of foreign aid can fix a government and a society that is completely dysfunctional. The issue of the PA’s insolvency is directed related to its steadfast refusal to make peace. Though a Palestinian government that isn’t a basket case is needed to make a two-state solution to the Middle East conflict work, the issue here isn’t just that the PA is corrupt and incompetent. It is corrupt and incompetent in large measure because the political culture of Palestinian society is still more interested in perpetuating the conflict with Israel than in building a state.

Though the Arab and Muslim states that profess to support the Palestinians have done little to help them, throughout the nearly 20 years of its existence, the PA has been the recipient of vast sums of aid from Israel, the United States and the international community. For the most part, this money has been either stolen or wasted. The portion of it that did filter its way down to the Palestinian public was often spent on backing terrorist groups or on a vast scheme of public employment. That did little to develop the economy of the West Bank but it did serve to solidify the loyalty of those getting no-show or no-work jobs to first Yasir Arafat and then his successor Abbas.

In recent years, as the Times notes, there has been an effort by PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad to actually serve his people and to foster development as well as good government. The problem is that as much as the Americans and Israelis would like to help Fayyad, his efforts are still the exception to the rule. The unpopular Fayyad has little real influence over the PA’s future. He will also be sidelined if the Fatah-Hamas merger ever is brought to fruition.

More importantly, the failure of the West Bank economy is due to the refusal of Abbas to talk or make peace with Israel. Had he done so in 2008 when Ehud Olmert offered him statehood, things would be very different today. That is also true of Arafat’s refusal of Ehud Barak’s peace offers in 2000 and 2001. The second intifada that he launched ruined the West Bank’s economy.

The plain truth is that there is no assurance that the money that the United States, Israel or the Europeans are asked to hand over to Abbas will do anything more than prop up a failed regime. It may be that subsidizing failure is a better alternative than the chaos that would ensue if the PA completely collapsed, but it is not the answer to the problem.

What the PA really needs is not so much a handout as a sea change in its culture that would allow Abbas or a successor to end the conflict and to start the business of building a stable society that is not obsessed with violence against Israel. So long as that doesn’t happen, the Palestinians will continue to be beggars and the Israeli public will never support a withdrawal that might lead to the West Bank becoming a terrorist launching pad the way Gaza has become since 2005.

The PA’s bankruptcy is as much moral as it is financial. Until the Palestinians and those like the Times who want to help them realize this, aid to them will continue to be a case of throwing more money down the rabbit hole.

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Was War the Problem, or Nation-Building?

Many of Chuck Hagel’s more vocal supporters have trumpeted his supposed anti-war credentials: He was against the Iraq war (after he was for it) and he was a skeptic about the Afghan war (again, after he was for it). Let’s put aside the fact that while senators can blow with the wind, the job of the defense secretary isn’t to abandon conflict when the winds of war change, but to adjust strategy in order regain momentum, fulfill the mission, and achieve the best results for U.S. national security.

There are plenty of mistakes to go around in Iraq and Afghanistan, but the ousting of Saddam Hussein and the Taliban government are not among them. What drove up the cost of the conflicts in both countries was not the initial military action, but rather all the nation building in which the United States subsequently engaged. While diplomats and politicians speak loftily of soft-power and development, the truth is that neither worked in Iraq and Afghanistan. The irony here, of course, is that while Zalmay Khalilzad and Ryan Crocker have endorsed Hagel, they were the ones most responsible for the prolongation of the Iraq mission with their decision to scrap plans for a provisional government prior to Operation Iraqi Freedom (and, no, despite the nonsense in the press, pre-war plans did not envision anointing Ahmad Chalabi as Iraqi leader). Had the United States exited Iraq in 2003, Iraq would not look much different than it does today. Likewise, if the United States abandons Afghanistan—as it seems the Obama administration is wont to do—it will simply return that country to the dark days of its civil war.

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Many of Chuck Hagel’s more vocal supporters have trumpeted his supposed anti-war credentials: He was against the Iraq war (after he was for it) and he was a skeptic about the Afghan war (again, after he was for it). Let’s put aside the fact that while senators can blow with the wind, the job of the defense secretary isn’t to abandon conflict when the winds of war change, but to adjust strategy in order regain momentum, fulfill the mission, and achieve the best results for U.S. national security.

There are plenty of mistakes to go around in Iraq and Afghanistan, but the ousting of Saddam Hussein and the Taliban government are not among them. What drove up the cost of the conflicts in both countries was not the initial military action, but rather all the nation building in which the United States subsequently engaged. While diplomats and politicians speak loftily of soft-power and development, the truth is that neither worked in Iraq and Afghanistan. The irony here, of course, is that while Zalmay Khalilzad and Ryan Crocker have endorsed Hagel, they were the ones most responsible for the prolongation of the Iraq mission with their decision to scrap plans for a provisional government prior to Operation Iraqi Freedom (and, no, despite the nonsense in the press, pre-war plans did not envision anointing Ahmad Chalabi as Iraqi leader). Had the United States exited Iraq in 2003, Iraq would not look much different than it does today. Likewise, if the United States abandons Afghanistan—as it seems the Obama administration is wont to do—it will simply return that country to the dark days of its civil war.

Meanwhile, there has been very little accountability at USAID: How is it that USAID could spend billions of dollars of taxpayer money and not make noticeable progress on Iraq’s re-electrification? Why is it they could spend millions of dollars on schools in Iraq and Afghanistan that crumble within months? Why is it that they build roads in Afghanistan that villagers don’t want and which catalyze land-grabbing?

The wars were not one decision but many:

  • To use military force or not
  • To replace one dictator with another or encourage democratization or a broad-based government
  • To reconstruct and redevelop or not

In Afghanistan, our mistakes were over-centralization and the speed of reform. Throughout Afghan history, speed of reform and breadth of insurgency has always been proportional. In Iraq, our mistakes centered on state-building. The irony is that, in the rush to blame neoconservatives, folks forget who it was that urged a quick turn-over to Iraqis (and indeed castigated neoconservatives for that) and who it was that instead sought state-building. If, once the Bush administration decided on a longer-term occupation, neoconservatives worked to take the situation that had been dealt and maximize the U.S. national gain, that is nothing to regret. The problem, instead, is the typical Washington types who will shift with the wind but do nothing to solidify U.S. national security.

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The Gun Control Bubble Pops

In the weeks since the Newtown shooting, the conventional wisdom has been that the country was so outraged about gun violence that the basic rules of Washington politics had been forever altered. The assumption was that a re-elected President Obama would get any sort of gun control legislation passed that he wanted and that the National Rifle Association would be powerless to stop him. But even before next Tuesday’s announcement of the recommendations made to the president by Vice President Biden, it appears as if everyone in the capital knows that it is highly unlikely that the administration will be able to pass any sort of major gun control bill. That’s the upshot of a New York Times article published this morning which, following up on the hints dropped by Biden yesterday, made it clear that the White House was probably more interested in lowering expectations about what they could achieve than bashing the NRA.

This has to leave a lot of liberals, who have been watching the talking heads on CNN and MSNBC spend the last month telling them that the Republicans would reinforce their status as the “stupid party” if they tried to obstruct Obama’s gun plans, wondering what happened. It turns out that the while most Americans probably support measures calling for more background checks or restrictions on ammunition, the massive shift in public opinion and among politicians that we were told had happened since Newtown is a figment of the liberal imagination. As even NBC’s Andrea Mitchell said on “Morning Joe” today, an attempt to reinstate an assault weapons ban or to pass a more far-reaching gun ban is never going to be passed.

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In the weeks since the Newtown shooting, the conventional wisdom has been that the country was so outraged about gun violence that the basic rules of Washington politics had been forever altered. The assumption was that a re-elected President Obama would get any sort of gun control legislation passed that he wanted and that the National Rifle Association would be powerless to stop him. But even before next Tuesday’s announcement of the recommendations made to the president by Vice President Biden, it appears as if everyone in the capital knows that it is highly unlikely that the administration will be able to pass any sort of major gun control bill. That’s the upshot of a New York Times article published this morning which, following up on the hints dropped by Biden yesterday, made it clear that the White House was probably more interested in lowering expectations about what they could achieve than bashing the NRA.

This has to leave a lot of liberals, who have been watching the talking heads on CNN and MSNBC spend the last month telling them that the Republicans would reinforce their status as the “stupid party” if they tried to obstruct Obama’s gun plans, wondering what happened. It turns out that the while most Americans probably support measures calling for more background checks or restrictions on ammunition, the massive shift in public opinion and among politicians that we were told had happened since Newtown is a figment of the liberal imagination. As even NBC’s Andrea Mitchell said on “Morning Joe” today, an attempt to reinstate an assault weapons ban or to pass a more far-reaching gun ban is never going to be passed.

That’s got to puzzle those who were certain that Newtown had fundamentally changed the discussion in this country about guns. But as the Wall Street Journal’s Kimberly Strassel points out in an insightful analysis today, the president can’t even count on Democratic support for an assault weapons ban, let alone Republicans. Indeed, it’s far from clear that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid or Joe Manchin, who was the media’s poster child for gun lovers who had seen the light, will back an assault weapons ban.

The president may talk about more gun control and Newtown in his second inaugural speech and hope it will be a useful stick with which to keep beating Republicans. But since the House will wait to see if anything passes the Senate before voting it down, the odds are that it will be Senate Democrats who fear being portrayed as foes of the Second Amendment that will be the ones administering the coup de grace on any far-reaching legislation that Biden puts forward.

Moreover, the notion that the White House will prioritize the gun issue in the coming months also fails to take into account that the president has a much more important fight on his hands with the budget and the upcoming debt ceiling showdown. Since he is in a stronger position on that one, not to mention that the state of the economy will have a lot more to do with whether his second term turns out to be a nightmare, gun control advocates are probably dreaming if they think Obama will spend much of his finite political capital on assault weapons.

This shouldn’t cause anyone to think that the NRA is totally out of the woods. Senate Democrats who don’t dare ban weapons will look to support some part of Biden’s proposals. That means the gun lobby will probably lose some part of this battle since the White House appears to be willing to take what they can get rather than waste the coming months pushing a forlorn hope.

But the main point to take away from this turnaround is the fashion in which media elites are disconnected from political reality.

The aftermath of Newtown did give gun control advocates an opening to refloat all of their old proposals with more traction than they have had in many years. And the NRA flubbed the aftermath of the shooting with a press conference that was remarkable for its tone and cluelessness.

But none of that changes the fact that there is still a reliable majority in Congress that is opposed to infringement on the right to possess guns and little proof that any such legislation would stop tragedies like Newtown from happening. There is probably a consensus that can be built on issues on the margin of this issue, like background checks, but nothing more.

That so many talking heads blithely assumed that all this would change after Newtown was merely wishful thinking on their part. That’s something to remember the next time liberals make similar assumptions about the conventional wisdom that they are trying to foist on the country.

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Assassinations in Paris: Was it Turkey or Iran?

Sometime in the afternoon or evening of January 9, three Kurdish activists were assassinated in their office in Paris, France. To enter the office required being buzzed in and the office was not marked by signs. This was no random mugging or robbery: Whoever entered and shot dead Sakine Cansiz, a co-founder of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK); Fidan Doğan, a representative of the Brussels-based Kurdistan National Congress; and Leyla Söylemez was deliberate. French Interior Minister Manuel Valls visited the site of the murders and called the slaughter “intolerable.”

There are two main suspects: Turkey and Iran. Many Kurds are pointing the finger at Ankara. After all, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan feigns moderation toward the Kurds only when it suits him, but embraces a hardline approach when he wants to whip up Turkish nationalists. In recent years, the PKK has been winning its insurgency: The Turkish army has effectively lost control of much territory which the PKK now administers in far southeastern Anatolia.

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Sometime in the afternoon or evening of January 9, three Kurdish activists were assassinated in their office in Paris, France. To enter the office required being buzzed in and the office was not marked by signs. This was no random mugging or robbery: Whoever entered and shot dead Sakine Cansiz, a co-founder of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK); Fidan Doğan, a representative of the Brussels-based Kurdistan National Congress; and Leyla Söylemez was deliberate. French Interior Minister Manuel Valls visited the site of the murders and called the slaughter “intolerable.”

There are two main suspects: Turkey and Iran. Many Kurds are pointing the finger at Ankara. After all, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan feigns moderation toward the Kurds only when it suits him, but embraces a hardline approach when he wants to whip up Turkish nationalists. In recent years, the PKK has been winning its insurgency: The Turkish army has effectively lost control of much territory which the PKK now administers in far southeastern Anatolia.

A more likely suspect is Iran. Not only is there precedent—the Iranian regime assassinated Kurdish leaders in Vienna on July 13, 1989, just a month after Ayatollah Khomeini’s death. European diplomats dismissed that attack as a rogue event. It wasn’t: As I discuss in this article, one of the hit men was a Qods Force colonel who returned to Iran and received his first star as brigadier general. In 1992, German foreign minister Klaus Kinkel proposed a critical dialogue with Iran. The Qods Force responded by ordering a hit on Kurdish dissidents at a Berlin café. There is a clear pattern: When anyone reaches out their hand and asks the Iranian government to unclench their fist, the Iranian leadership sees not conciliation but a sign of weakness to exploit.

Why would the Iranians, however, go after Turkish Kurds? According to this report from the Iran Human Rights Documentation Center, Tehran’s fear of Kurdish separatism has increased tremendously since the fraudulent 2009 election. There is no doubt that Kurdish nationalists, including those based in Turkey, have strong links with their Iranian brethren. One of the reasons why the Iranian government supported militias in Iraq was not only to target American soldiers, but also Iraqi Kurdish federalists in Kirkuk and other disputed areas: The logic, as the Iraqi Kurds explained to me, went something like this: If Iraqi Kurdistan wins strong federalism with oil-rich Kirkuk included, then the potential blowback among Iranian Kurds could be great. If Shi’ite militias could disrupt that Iraqi Kurdish federalism, so much the better.

There is also precedent when it comes to Paris: French authorities already blame Iranian hit men for 11 assassinations of dissidents since Iran’s revolution. What’s one more?

There should be a cautionary lesson for the Obama administration, Senator Kerry, and perhaps Senator Hagel and John Brennan: Reaching out to Iran often sparks the worst aspects of Iranian regime behavior. It may sound counterintuitive, but the historical pattern is clear.

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The Israeli Elections and Political Reality

David Horovitz, editor of the Times of Israel, writes that there will likely be “a different Israel” after the January 22 election–one that has voted to reject a Palestinian state. He attributes the “dramatic imminent shift” not to the Israeli electorate moving right (total seats held by the right and left may not change materially), but to a right that has become “far-right.” The prime minister will stay the same, but he will head “a very different party.”

 This analysis ignores an important fact: the Israeli left has also moved right–and its own shift has been even more dramatic. In “We Gave Peace a Chance,” Daniel Gordis notes that what destroyed the Israeli left was four years of the “Palestinian Terror War (mistakenly called the second intifada),” which disabused Israelis of the idea that the Palestinian leadership wanted a deal, and the fact that Arabs have become ever more candid about their ultimate goal, with Mahmoud Abbas telling Egyptian TV “he would never, in a thousand years, recognize a Jewish state.” Gordis writes that “Israelis across the spectrum are acknowledging what they used to only whisper: the old paradigm is dying”:

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David Horovitz, editor of the Times of Israel, writes that there will likely be “a different Israel” after the January 22 election–one that has voted to reject a Palestinian state. He attributes the “dramatic imminent shift” not to the Israeli electorate moving right (total seats held by the right and left may not change materially), but to a right that has become “far-right.” The prime minister will stay the same, but he will head “a very different party.”

 This analysis ignores an important fact: the Israeli left has also moved right–and its own shift has been even more dramatic. In “We Gave Peace a Chance,” Daniel Gordis notes that what destroyed the Israeli left was four years of the “Palestinian Terror War (mistakenly called the second intifada),” which disabused Israelis of the idea that the Palestinian leadership wanted a deal, and the fact that Arabs have become ever more candid about their ultimate goal, with Mahmoud Abbas telling Egyptian TV “he would never, in a thousand years, recognize a Jewish state.” Gordis writes that “Israelis across the spectrum are acknowledging what they used to only whisper: the old paradigm is dying”:

Naftali Bennett of the Bayit Yehudi party explicitly states that “land for peace” is dead and advocates annexing the portion of the West Bank known as Area C. Yair Shamir of Yisrael Beytenu says that regardless of Netanyahu’s Bar-Ilan speech, the Likud never endorsed a Palestinian state. Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party’s website makes no mention of going back to the negotiating table.

Neither does the Labor Party platform.

Even Meretz recently acknowledged that Oslo is dead.

The “dramatic imminent shift” is not a shift, but a realization; not imminent, but rather what happened over many years; and not dramatic, but rather the slow accumulation of many events: (1) the barbaric terror war against Israeli civilians, commenced after the first Israeli offer of a state; (2) the Palestinian rejection of the Clinton Parameters, after Israel formally accepted them; (3) the Palestinian failure to carry out even Phase I of the three-phase Roadmap; (4) the transformation of Gaza into Hamastan after Israel withdrew every settler and soldier; (5) the election of Hamas in 2006 and the Hamas coup in 2007; (6) two rocket wars from Judenrein Gaza, and the continuing prospect of more; (7) the year-long negotiation in the Annapolis Process that produced still another offer of a state, from which Abbas walked away; (8) Abbas’s announcement in 2009 that he would do nothing without a construction freeze, followed by his doing nothing after he got one; (9) the continual “reconciliation” attempts by Abbas with the terrorist group he promised to dismantle; (10) his failure to give a Bir Zeit speech to match Netanyahu’s Bar-Ilan one; (11) the inability of the Palestinians to hold an election, much less build the institutions of a peaceful democratic state; (12) the violation of their express Oslo commitments with repeated end-runs at the UN; (13) a Palestinian society, media and educational system steeped in anti-Semitism; (14) et cetera.

It is to the credit of Israeli democracy that it reacted to all of this not with a “dramatic imminent shift” but with repeated efforts, over more than a decade, to give the Palestinians a state if they would recognize a Jewish one with defensible borders. Four prime ministers from three different parties (representing the left, center, and right) tried, and each met the same response. After January 22, Israel will be not a different state but a more realistic one–having delivered a message that will reflect, in Gordis’s words, “what the Israeli electorate, across the spectrum, is saying.”

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The Non-Response to Benghazi, Four Months Later

Today marks four months since the attack on our consulate in Benghazi, which killed our ambassador and three other Americans. Justice still has not been done—and it looks increasingly unlikely that it will ever be done.

Just a couple of days ago a Tunisian court freed Ali Harza, a Tunisian man who was one of the few to be charged in connection with the assault. This is what comes from giving the FBI the lead in the response to this assault on American territory. The criminal investigation appears to be going nowhere fast, which is hardly surprising given how hard it is to gather evidence and bring indictments under such chaotic conditions. The only mystery is why this isn’t being treated as what it is—an act of war on the United States that deserves a military response.

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Today marks four months since the attack on our consulate in Benghazi, which killed our ambassador and three other Americans. Justice still has not been done—and it looks increasingly unlikely that it will ever be done.

Just a couple of days ago a Tunisian court freed Ali Harza, a Tunisian man who was one of the few to be charged in connection with the assault. This is what comes from giving the FBI the lead in the response to this assault on American territory. The criminal investigation appears to be going nowhere fast, which is hardly surprising given how hard it is to gather evidence and bring indictments under such chaotic conditions. The only mystery is why this isn’t being treated as what it is—an act of war on the United States that deserves a military response.

The Obama administration does not hesitate to use extra-judicial means to kill our enemies in Pakistan, Yemen, or Somalia, but in Libya it appears to be hamstrung by legalistic niceties. There are, to be sure, legitimate concerns about undermining the sovereignty of a fledgling pro-American regime. But while unilateral American action could prove embarrassing for Libyan officials, doing nothing is the worst course of all. It sends a signal—similar to the non-response to the USS Cole bombing by the Clinton and Bush administrations—that a symbol of America can be attacked and Americans killed with impunity. That is a very dangerous message to send in a very rough region of the world.

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