Commentary Magazine


Posts For: January 28, 2013

Temper the Optimism About Fordow Blast

Iran’s official denial of reports of a major explosion at its underground nuclear facility in Fordow is heartening for those who are hoping that the rumors about a setback for the Islamist regime are true. The optimistic scenario would be based on the notion that if Iran is bothering to deny the stories of something bad happening, then something must have happened. But the unconfirmed rumors with details about hundreds of workers being trapped in the underground facility may also be a matter of hope being father to the wish, as many in the West would like to believe that some sort of covert intelligence activity or computer virus will be so successful as to relieve either the United States or Israel of the need to take overt military action to neutralize the Iranian threat.

If there is one place in Iran that Western observers would like to see spontaneously explode it is Fordow, where hardened bunkers built into the side of a mountain house Iran’s nuclear centrifuges. As the International Atomic Energy Agency reported last fall, it is there that the Iranians have stepped up their activity, enriching uranium at a rate that might soon accumulate enough material to allow Tehran to begin amassing their own nuclear arsenal. But even if the reports about an explosion are true, it is: a) by no means certain that the event was not an accident rather than part of a daring operation conducted by American and/or Israeli intelligence forces, and b) no guarantee that the Iranian program has been dealt anything more than an insignificant setback.

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Iran’s official denial of reports of a major explosion at its underground nuclear facility in Fordow is heartening for those who are hoping that the rumors about a setback for the Islamist regime are true. The optimistic scenario would be based on the notion that if Iran is bothering to deny the stories of something bad happening, then something must have happened. But the unconfirmed rumors with details about hundreds of workers being trapped in the underground facility may also be a matter of hope being father to the wish, as many in the West would like to believe that some sort of covert intelligence activity or computer virus will be so successful as to relieve either the United States or Israel of the need to take overt military action to neutralize the Iranian threat.

If there is one place in Iran that Western observers would like to see spontaneously explode it is Fordow, where hardened bunkers built into the side of a mountain house Iran’s nuclear centrifuges. As the International Atomic Energy Agency reported last fall, it is there that the Iranians have stepped up their activity, enriching uranium at a rate that might soon accumulate enough material to allow Tehran to begin amassing their own nuclear arsenal. But even if the reports about an explosion are true, it is: a) by no means certain that the event was not an accident rather than part of a daring operation conducted by American and/or Israeli intelligence forces, and b) no guarantee that the Iranian program has been dealt anything more than an insignificant setback.

The objective lesson here is the widespread optimism within the U.S. government in late 2011 when the reports about the Stuxnet computer virus were first published. The assumption that the Iranians were either too unsophisticated or too dumb to cope with the virtual attack proved ridiculously optimistic. Stuxnet may have delayed the Iranian program, but it wasn’t stopped. Indeed, the Iranians not only redoubled their efforts in the subsequent year but also counterattacked with their own computer virus attacks against U.S. banks.

Thus, whether the Fordow rumors are substantiated or debunked in the coming weeks and months, no one should assume that this resolves the question about what to do about Iran’s nuclear threat. Making sure that Iran is–as President Obama promised in his foreign policy debate with Mitt Romney–deprived of a nuclear program will require more than cloak and dagger operations. An outcome that removes the danger of an Iranian nuke will mean that either Iran surrenders its nuclear option on its own in a verified program or a full-scale air assault on all of the Iranian facilities that would ensure that it would take many years and more treasure than the Iranians can amass to rebuild them.

Given the apocalyptic stakes involved in a potential nuclear weapon being placed in the hands of the religious fanatics in charge of Iran, the United States and Israel are justified in any effort they undertake to stop the Iranians, up to and including the use of force. That’s why Israelis are hoping that if President Obama is ever truly convinced that diplomacy won’t work, an American attack using Massive Ordinance Penetrator bombs that the Jewish state doesn’t possess will do the job at Fordow. But while we hope that all efforts to stop the Iranians, including diplomacy, sanctions and covert action, are successful, reliance on any measure that falls short of a comprehensive attack or verifiable and complete diplomatic surrender is probably nothing more than wishful thinking.

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Iran Isolated? Don’t Ask Argentina

Many in the United States assume that the international sanctions being enforced against Iran and the threats from American leaders about Tehran’s nuclear program have isolated that Islamist regime. But the reality of Iran’s diplomatic situation gives the lie to the blithe confidence about the West’s ability to make the ayatollahs give up their nuclear ambition. The fact that the Non-Aligned Movement held its conference in Tehran last fall with 120 United Nations member states in attendance–including the Muslim Brotherhood government of Egypt–should have been enough proof that isolation is a figment of the State Department’s imagination. But the decision of Argentina to create a joint “Truth Commission” with Iran to investigate the 1994 bombing of the Jewish Community Center building in Buenos Aires makes it official. Not only are Iran’s relations with most of the world thriving, but the Islamist Republic is also getting an official pass from another American ally for an act of international terror.

Iran was long believed to be behind the atrocity that took the lives of 85 people and injured 300, but in 2006 Argentine prosecutors formally charged both the Iranian government and Hezbollah for the crime. But the case was never pursued and now the government of Argentine President Cristina Kirchner has apparently gone beyond ignoring the past to taking an active step toward covering it up. This is not merely an insult to Jews and to Israel, whose Argentine embassy was also bombed by the same culprits a year before, but to the notion that Iran is without friends. Though some in Israel are hoping that the United States will relieve them of the need to take action on their own against the Iranian nuclear threat, this episode shows that the Obama administration’s belief that the solution to the problem lies in diplomacy may be hopelessly naïve.

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Many in the United States assume that the international sanctions being enforced against Iran and the threats from American leaders about Tehran’s nuclear program have isolated that Islamist regime. But the reality of Iran’s diplomatic situation gives the lie to the blithe confidence about the West’s ability to make the ayatollahs give up their nuclear ambition. The fact that the Non-Aligned Movement held its conference in Tehran last fall with 120 United Nations member states in attendance–including the Muslim Brotherhood government of Egypt–should have been enough proof that isolation is a figment of the State Department’s imagination. But the decision of Argentina to create a joint “Truth Commission” with Iran to investigate the 1994 bombing of the Jewish Community Center building in Buenos Aires makes it official. Not only are Iran’s relations with most of the world thriving, but the Islamist Republic is also getting an official pass from another American ally for an act of international terror.

Iran was long believed to be behind the atrocity that took the lives of 85 people and injured 300, but in 2006 Argentine prosecutors formally charged both the Iranian government and Hezbollah for the crime. But the case was never pursued and now the government of Argentine President Cristina Kirchner has apparently gone beyond ignoring the past to taking an active step toward covering it up. This is not merely an insult to Jews and to Israel, whose Argentine embassy was also bombed by the same culprits a year before, but to the notion that Iran is without friends. Though some in Israel are hoping that the United States will relieve them of the need to take action on their own against the Iranian nuclear threat, this episode shows that the Obama administration’s belief that the solution to the problem lies in diplomacy may be hopelessly naïve.

The idea of a joint commission to investigate the crime supposedly is an effort to solve the mystery behind the explosion. But as the Argentines have already proven, there is no mystery. Iran is the culprit and giving it the right to name half of the jurists who will make up the investigating body assures them of the ability to block any honest finding.

But the main point here is not so much the notion that Iran and its Hezbollah auxiliaries will not be held accountable for mass murder. That was already a given. It is the brazen nature of Argentina’s decision to allow the Iranians to evade justice that really stings. It also ought to serve as one more wake-up call for the White House and State Department about Iran’s ability to continue to act on the international stage despite being branded as a terror sponsor. Under the circumstances, does anyone doubt that Iran believes the talk coming out of Washington about preventing them from going nuclear is mere bluster that they can ignore with impunity?

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U.S. Headed for a Hollow Military?

Sequestration–the process of automatically cutting more than $500 billion from defense spending over the next decade–was momentarily delayed by a last-minute deal between Congress and the White House reached just before it was due to take effect on January 2. But the delay isn’t long–unless a new deal is reached, sequestration will hit on March 2. And odds are no deal will be reached. As Paul Ryan noted on TV this weekend, sequestration is likely to go into effect. This is because the price that the White House is demanding to prevent it–which would include further cuts in defense spending along with tax hikes–is too high for Republicans to stomach.

We don’t know exactly how this process is going to play out, but the Navy has released an instructive memo detailing the very real damage that sequestration will do to our defense capabilities. As summarized by Defense News, the consequences of sequestration include:

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Sequestration–the process of automatically cutting more than $500 billion from defense spending over the next decade–was momentarily delayed by a last-minute deal between Congress and the White House reached just before it was due to take effect on January 2. But the delay isn’t long–unless a new deal is reached, sequestration will hit on March 2. And odds are no deal will be reached. As Paul Ryan noted on TV this weekend, sequestration is likely to go into effect. This is because the price that the White House is demanding to prevent it–which would include further cuts in defense spending along with tax hikes–is too high for Republicans to stomach.

We don’t know exactly how this process is going to play out, but the Navy has released an instructive memo detailing the very real damage that sequestration will do to our defense capabilities. As summarized by Defense News, the consequences of sequestration include:

A drastic cutback in the number of strike group deployments. Aircraft flying hours in the Middle East cut by more than half. Naval operations stopped around Latin America and reduced in the Pacific. Four of the fleet’s nine air wings shut down starting in March. Two carrier strike group deployments “extended indefinitely.” Only partial training for two more strike groups.

Similar consequences will be felt by the other services. As the Marine Corps Times notes, “The Marine Corps is bracing for sudden and severe budget cuts that could throttle programs and services at installations across the globe if Congress and the Obama administration fail to act by March 1.”

Also affected will be the Defense Department’s 800,000 civilian employees. Deputy Defense Secretary Ash Carter told reporters “that if Congress does not come up with a way to avoid mandatory budget cuts by March 1, hundreds of thousands of Pentagon civilian employees will face furloughs and reduced paychecks by April.”

Some of these parlous consequences could be stopped and even rolled back should Congress reach a deal on sequestration after it goes into effect. But given the partisan gridlock on the Hill, there is a very real chance that these cutbacks will not be reversed. If so, the damage to our armed forces will be serious at a time when they confront more threats than ever before–including the Iranian nuclear program, Chinese cyberattacks, Islamist gains in Mali and other countries in Africa and the Middle East, and the instability emanating from the Syrian civil war.

How anyone thinks we can chop defense spending at a time likes this is beyond me; but that is where Washington is heading. The result is likely to be, heaven help us, another “hollow” military like the one in the post-Vietnam years in the 1970s.

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In Kentucky, Do the Interests of MoveOn and the Tea Party Really “Align”?

The sometimes contradictory nature of the grassroots conservative criticism of GOP Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell was apparent a few weeks ago when one conservative group began to advertise against McConnell from the right. It turned out this same group, which rates members of Congress on their dedication to conservative principles and freedom, gives McConnell a 95 percent rating.

That doesn’t mean the group isn’t free to push McConnell on the other 5 percent, or that such groups shouldn’t prioritize high-profile and symbolic fights over more mundane votes in the Senate. Indeed, there is logic to that approach. But it does show why there hasn’t been, and doesn’t appear to be, any real enthusiasm for a primary challenge to the veteran Kentucky senator, whose term is up in 2014. And a Politico story today reports on the possible Tea Party involvement in what sounds like a truly terrible idea:

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The sometimes contradictory nature of the grassroots conservative criticism of GOP Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell was apparent a few weeks ago when one conservative group began to advertise against McConnell from the right. It turned out this same group, which rates members of Congress on their dedication to conservative principles and freedom, gives McConnell a 95 percent rating.

That doesn’t mean the group isn’t free to push McConnell on the other 5 percent, or that such groups shouldn’t prioritize high-profile and symbolic fights over more mundane votes in the Senate. Indeed, there is logic to that approach. But it does show why there hasn’t been, and doesn’t appear to be, any real enthusiasm for a primary challenge to the veteran Kentucky senator, whose term is up in 2014. And a Politico story today reports on the possible Tea Party involvement in what sounds like a truly terrible idea:

Big Democratic donors, local liberal activists and a left-leaning super PAC in Kentucky are telling tea partiers that they are poised to throw financial and organizational support behind a right-wing candidate should one try to defeat the powerful GOP leader in a 2014 primary fight.

The idea: Soften up McConnell and make him vulnerable in a general election in Kentucky, where Democrats still maintain a voter registration advantage. Or better yet, in their eyes: Watch Kentucky GOP primary voters nominate the 2014 version of Todd Akin or Richard Mourdock, weak candidates who may actually lose.

“We are doing a lot of reaching out to some of the tea party folks across the state,” said Keith Rouda, a field organizer with the liberal group MoveOn and the Democratic super PAC, Progress Kentucky. “What we’re finding — at least in this stage of the race — we’re finding that our interests align. It’s unusual.”

Local Tea Party leaders are not rejecting the idea of joining forces with MoveOn to help Democrats pick the Republican general-election candidate for the seat:

Sarah Durand, president of the Louisville Tea Party, said Democratic donors and activists have told her that they’d be willing to spend seven figures in a GOP primary to help a candidate willing to challenge McConnell. Durand said the challenge for tea party groups is to recruit a candidate who wouldn’t hand the seat to the Democrats, even though, she said, tea party leaders across the state are not satisfied with McConnell’s three-decade tenure in Washington.

Red flags abound. We can start with the obvious differences between McConnell’s seat and the successful tactic Democrats employed to save Claire McCaskill by helping to elevate a Republican opponent who would go on to say something so offensive it would effectively lose two Senate seats in one year for the party. In the latter case, it was an open primary among conservatives to win the chance to challenge an unpopular incumbent Democrat. There was no incumbent Republican to knock off to win the nomination. McConnell, in contrast, is a five-term senator with good fundraising numbers; as of the September filing, he has almost $6.8 million in cash on-hand. And with a 96 percent 2010 ACU rating and an 85 percent 2011 rating he should garner plenty of support among Republicans.

Durand, the Louisville Tea Party president, was plainly apprehensive about the general-election ramifications of primarying McConnell. She should be. As the Politico story notes, Kentucky Democrats have a party registration advantage, so although the electorate is a generally conservative one, it’s not unthinkable for a Democrat to compete. McConnell’s approval ratings are above water, as are those of fellow Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, who supports McConnell’s re-election. On that note, McConnell has broadened his Tea Party support, and brought more conservative members of the party’s congressional delegation under his wing. Between conservative groups and conservative politicians in the state, McConnell has made it exceedingly difficult for his would-be opponents to build an effective electoral coalition to his right.

Kentucky Republicans would also be well advised to take a glance at their putative allies in this fight. Normally, Tea Party groups grumble about the Democrats and liberal Republicans getting to choose GOP candidates, as they believe was the case with John McCain’s nomination in 2008 with some help from open primaries and party apostates like Charlie Crist. Democratic groups like MoveOn are quite publicly trying to do the very same thing here, and simply because they believe this will make it easier to take another seat from the GOP. As Politico reports, one of the leaders of a super-PAC looking to back a primary challenge to McConnell worked for Rand Paul’s Democratic opponent in 2010.

And it should go without saying that MoveOn and other liberal political groups are not exactly champing at the bit to help strong conservative candidates–they want weak conservative candidates. Do groups that give McConnell a 95 percent rating want to roll the dice on candidates that liberal big-money groups identify as the next Todd Akin? And do they really want liberal groups picking both the Democratic and Republican candidates in the next Kentucky Senate election, against the wishes of the Tea Party senator, Rand Paul? It may be easier to sign onto it when it’s other people’s money–in this case, leftist donors’ and activists’ money–but here that seems to be an argument in favor of resisting the temptation.

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Can Social Media Bring Free Speech to China?

Despite the Chinese government’s best efforts to block the spread and influence of social media, it appears that its stranglehold on information is slipping, forcing the government to take steps toward reform. Earlier this month, the Twitter feed administered by the U.S. Embassy in Beijing began to report on the dangerously toxic air quality in the capital. The New York Times reported on the government’s efforts to shut it down:

The existence of the embassy’s machine and the @BeijingAir Twitter feed have been a diplomatic sore point for Chinese officials. In July 2009, a Chinese Foreign Ministry official, Wang Shu’ai, told American diplomats to halt the Twitter feed, saying that the data “is not only confusing but also insulting,” according to a State Department cable obtained by WikiLeaks. Mr. Wang said the embassy’s data could lead to “social consequences.”

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Despite the Chinese government’s best efforts to block the spread and influence of social media, it appears that its stranglehold on information is slipping, forcing the government to take steps toward reform. Earlier this month, the Twitter feed administered by the U.S. Embassy in Beijing began to report on the dangerously toxic air quality in the capital. The New York Times reported on the government’s efforts to shut it down:

The existence of the embassy’s machine and the @BeijingAir Twitter feed have been a diplomatic sore point for Chinese officials. In July 2009, a Chinese Foreign Ministry official, Wang Shu’ai, told American diplomats to halt the Twitter feed, saying that the data “is not only confusing but also insulting,” according to a State Department cable obtained by WikiLeaks. Mr. Wang said the embassy’s data could lead to “social consequences.”

Despite these requests, the feed remains open to this day and is again reporting on hazardous and “beyond index” readings over the last several days. The Twitter feed confirms what Beijing residents already knew: smog levels in the capital are dangerous and are only becoming worse. Two years ago the feed infamously called that day’s pollution levels “crazy bad” when it was reported that the levels had surpassed the scale of the EPA’s Air Quality Index. Earlier this month, the feed registered readings of 755, far above the Index’s upper limit of 500. What was considered “crazy bad” by the U.S. Embassy two years ago is now becoming the city’s new normal. The Atlantic reported on the shift from the state-run national media’s reporting on the crisis, in which the presence of social media was credited with a surprising degree of frankness from officials:

Why, then, would the Chinese government allow such candor on the pollution question? Social media plays a role. Prominent Beijing real estate developer Pan Shiyi regularly tweets information about pollution to his several million followers on Sina’s Weibo [a microblogging site similar to Twitter], and the flurry of similar comments by more ordinary users has brought the pollution issue into the open. At a basic level, the government understands that once an issue hits critical mass, there’s little point in perpetuating the myth any further.

To downplay the pollution levels would have required the state-run media to ask Chinese citizens to completely ignore reality and sources on the readings from trusted social media accounts like those of the U.S. Embassy. Another test of the ability of social media to bring about change in China is currently taking place with the case of a blogger, Zhu Ruifeng, who has forced government officials to face the improper sexual and corrupt behavior of some of their peers. The Wall Street Journal reported on the phenomenon last week:

Officials running into trouble over sexual exploits isn’t new in China, but interest in their illicit sexual affairs of officials has recently soared, fueled by social media, the proliferation of pocket-size video cameras and rising public concerns over officials’ misbehavior.

Unfortunately, in this instance, it appears the Chinese government is striking back against Zhu’s reporting; police made an appearance at the blogger’s door last night. The Washington Post covered the intimidation:

“If tomorrow I still end up being taken away by Chongqing policemen,” Zhu said in his last message of the night, “I hope all of you will continue supporting me.”

That post was quickly deleted, apparently by censors.

The Post also explained the far-reaching implications of Zhu’s case: “If local authorities are allowed to punish whistleblowers, experts warn, the anti-corruption campaign will lose what little momentum it has gained in the past two months.”

The Chinese government’s response to outcry over Beijing pollution was heartening and it was hoped that with the increasing prevalence and power of social media, the government would have to bend more frequently to public opinion. The situation with Zhu could demonstrate the limits to the government’s new-found flexibility. How Zhu’s readers respond to his muffling has implications not only for his case and the latest anti-corruption campaign, but also for the future of free speech in China. 

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Does Obama Want an Immigration Bill?

Last week I wrote about the effort by a bipartisan group of eight senators to come up with a workable compromise on immigration reform that could pass Congress. The group collectively has enough clout to give them cover on both the left and right flanks of their parties to move a bill that would both address the need to control the border and provide a path to legality for the approximately 11 million illegals currently in the country. At that time, the group was planning on announcing their joint proposal this coming Friday. But the wild card was President Obama’s scheduled speech tomorrow in Las Vegas, where he plans to discuss immigration. The concern was that if the president staked out a more extreme position on the issue and used it–as he has throughout his time in office–to demagogue the issue in order to demonize Republicans to Hispanics, it would blow up any chance for bipartisan compromise.

But the group of eight decided not to wait to see if Obama would sabotage their efforts. They released a copy of their memo of understanding over the weekend and plan to formally present it to the press today. While the process of translating this memo into a piece of legislation will not be easy and will require more compromises from both sides of the aisle, it does raise the stakes for the president. Rather than just a hazy prospect of bipartisan compromise, the announcement presents a concrete option for reform that has not been previously possible. That means that if the president doesn’t get behind it or at least get out of its way, it will be the White House and not congressional Republicans or immigration opponents who will be responsible for its failure. Obama’s comments this week may answer the question as to whether he is actually interested in progress on the issue or whether he is uninterested in it except as a cudgel with which to beat his political opponents.

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Last week I wrote about the effort by a bipartisan group of eight senators to come up with a workable compromise on immigration reform that could pass Congress. The group collectively has enough clout to give them cover on both the left and right flanks of their parties to move a bill that would both address the need to control the border and provide a path to legality for the approximately 11 million illegals currently in the country. At that time, the group was planning on announcing their joint proposal this coming Friday. But the wild card was President Obama’s scheduled speech tomorrow in Las Vegas, where he plans to discuss immigration. The concern was that if the president staked out a more extreme position on the issue and used it–as he has throughout his time in office–to demagogue the issue in order to demonize Republicans to Hispanics, it would blow up any chance for bipartisan compromise.

But the group of eight decided not to wait to see if Obama would sabotage their efforts. They released a copy of their memo of understanding over the weekend and plan to formally present it to the press today. While the process of translating this memo into a piece of legislation will not be easy and will require more compromises from both sides of the aisle, it does raise the stakes for the president. Rather than just a hazy prospect of bipartisan compromise, the announcement presents a concrete option for reform that has not been previously possible. That means that if the president doesn’t get behind it or at least get out of its way, it will be the White House and not congressional Republicans or immigration opponents who will be responsible for its failure. Obama’s comments this week may answer the question as to whether he is actually interested in progress on the issue or whether he is uninterested in it except as a cudgel with which to beat his political opponents.

The group, which is composed of Republicans John McCain, Lindsey Graham, Marco Rubio and Jeff Flake and Democrats Charles Schumer, Robert Menendez, Richard Durbin and Michael Bennett, has created a document that is a remarkable achievement and deserving of the broadest possible political support. It is premised on securing the country’s borders and not giving undue advantages to those who have come into the country illegally. But it also recognizes reality in that it proposes that we drop the fiction that illegal immigrants can be deported en masse or that there is some benefit to the nation in allowing them to continue to exist outside the legal and economic framework of the nation. This is long overdue and, by presenting a way for illegals to eventually become citizens without putting them ahead of those who apply legally, it could satisfy many, if not most liberals and conservatives.

But because it is a compromise, it still leaves open the possibility that extremists will seek to sink it. It is a given that some House Republicans will oppose anything that can be branded as “amnesty” for illegals. But with staunch conservatives like Rubio (who rightly argues that the status quo has created a different and even worse form of amnesty) and Representative Paul Ryan behind it, as well as growing chorus of other Republicans who understand the party must attempt to reach out to Hispanics, there is good reason to believe it could pass.

Yet while it was conservatives who spiked President Bush’s principled effort to pass immigration reform, it is now liberals—and specifically the liberal in the White House—who is the greatest threat to this effort.

President Obama ought to be behind this effort since it gives him the chance to help pass a bill that he could rightly claim to be an important part of his legacy. Moreover, since his re-election he ought to have less of a motive to avoid resolution of the issue. However, everything the president has done since November would lead one to believe that he has no interest in working with Republicans even if it meant achieving one of the goals that he has set for his administration.

Just as he seemed to want to blow up a fiscal cliff compromise with inflammatory remarks given even while his representatives were negotiating with Republicans on the legislation that eventually passed, it is entirely possible that he would prefer that the bipartisan compromise proposed by the eight senators fail so he can continue blaming the GOP for being mean to Hispanics. His total warfare strategy against Republicans seems aimed at winning the 2014 midterms so he can have complete Democrat control in the following two years and a blank check to enact far-reaching liberal legislation. Thus, he may actually think that sabotaging a bipartisan deal on immigration now will make it easier for him to get a far more liberal bill that will de-emphasize border security and penalties on illegals in 2015.

Such jaw-dropping cynicism is entirely in character with the president’s record. It would be a stab in the back for Schumer, Menendez, Durbin and Bennett. But it would also show Hispanics (who may be forgiven for wondering why the president never tried to pass immigration reform from 2009-11 when he had control of both Houses of Congress) that their supposed defender is more interested in playing politics than in protecting the interests of immigrants.

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Political Debate As Theater

I’ve been critical of CNN’s Piers Morgan in the past, but his interview with former House Speaker Newt Gingrich was quite good and enlightening. I say that because both men laid out reasonable arguments to support their case. 

Mr. Morgan, in response to Gingrich’s concern that politicians should not be in the business of deciding how to “permit” Americans to exercise their Second Amendment rights, pointed out that Gingrich himself believes the same thing. That is, Mr. Gingrich agrees we should ban automatic weapons–which means he agrees the government ought to be in the business of drawing lines and granting, or not granting, permission to use certain types of weapons.

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I’ve been critical of CNN’s Piers Morgan in the past, but his interview with former House Speaker Newt Gingrich was quite good and enlightening. I say that because both men laid out reasonable arguments to support their case. 

Mr. Morgan, in response to Gingrich’s concern that politicians should not be in the business of deciding how to “permit” Americans to exercise their Second Amendment rights, pointed out that Gingrich himself believes the same thing. That is, Mr. Gingrich agrees we should ban automatic weapons–which means he agrees the government ought to be in the business of drawing lines and granting, or not granting, permission to use certain types of weapons.

On the flip side, Gingrich pressed Morgan on why he doesn’t advocate banning handguns, since the overwhelming number of gun-related homicides in America are caused not by “semi-automatic, military-style assault weapons” but handguns. And Gingrich, while conceding that he believes automatic weapons should be banned for civilian use, argued that we should be very cautious about extending to government the power to ban yet more weapons; that this step will embolden the government to further restrict the right of Americans to bear arms.

The weakest ground for Gingrich, then, was when the argument was narrowly focused on explaining why Americans should have a right to own a weapon that fires 100 rounds per minute if Americans are already banned (with some exceptions) from owning automatic weapons like machine guns. The weakest ground for Morgan was in not following the logic of his own assumptions, which would lead him to ban handguns if he could, and in not admitting how little the world would change if he got his ban on so-called assault weapons. 

As a general matter, the intensity of this debate is wildly disproportionate to the practical effects of its outcome. What we’re really talking about is precisely where to draw a line everyone concedes needs to be drawn. And whether or not we draw it where Piers Morgan wants it or Newt Gingrich wants it, it’s unlikely that very many, if any, lives will be saved. It strikes me that this is something too many people on both sides of this super-charged debate–starting with the president–won’t acknowledge.

I recognize that there’s a certain emotional satisfaction in pretending that one is either standing in solidarity with grieving parents or defending the sanctity of the Second Amendment. But that’s really not what’s happening here. It’s a public policy debate that will have very few ramifications in the real world. There’s an element to theater in this whole discussion that should end, but probably won’t.

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The Risk of Iraqi Civil War

It hasn’t gotten much attention, but Iraq was badly shaken by an incident that occurred Friday in Fallujah: security forces fired on a crowd of anti-government protesters, killing at least seven people. The people of Fallujah got their revenge by killing at least two soldiers and kidnapping three more. As press accounts note, mourners in Falluja shouted, “The blood of our people will not be lost in vain,” and they set fire to an army checkpoint.

This is, to put it mildly, a worrisome situation. Fallujah was one of the epicenters of Al Qaeda in Iraq and, more generally, of Sunni resistance to a Shiite-dominated government in Baghdad. Along with the rest of Anbar Province, it has been relatively peaceful since the “surge” of 2007-2008, when most Sunnis elected to join with the U.S. and its Iraqi allies, but the situation is now becoming volatile because of the vendetta that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is pursuing against senior Sunni politicians.

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It hasn’t gotten much attention, but Iraq was badly shaken by an incident that occurred Friday in Fallujah: security forces fired on a crowd of anti-government protesters, killing at least seven people. The people of Fallujah got their revenge by killing at least two soldiers and kidnapping three more. As press accounts note, mourners in Falluja shouted, “The blood of our people will not be lost in vain,” and they set fire to an army checkpoint.

This is, to put it mildly, a worrisome situation. Fallujah was one of the epicenters of Al Qaeda in Iraq and, more generally, of Sunni resistance to a Shiite-dominated government in Baghdad. Along with the rest of Anbar Province, it has been relatively peaceful since the “surge” of 2007-2008, when most Sunnis elected to join with the U.S. and its Iraqi allies, but the situation is now becoming volatile because of the vendetta that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is pursuing against senior Sunni politicians.

Unless Maliki does something concrete to placate Sunnis and convince them that he is not a Shiite sectarian, then the odds are that some incident–if not this one, then some future clash–could well set off a more general outbreak of civil war. And of course with U.S. troops entirely gone, there is no external stabilizing force. The Iraqis are on their own.

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Scott Brown’s Poll Numbers and the Lessons of 2012

Over the weekend, the MassInc Polling Group released the results of a poll on a hypothetical matchup for John Kerry’s soon-to-be-open Senate seat in Massachusetts. The poll contains some very good news for the possible Republican candidate, Scott Brown, but also offers a reminder of why his support and high approval numbers don’t by any means guarantee him true frontrunner status.

Brown learned that the hard way, of course, in November. He went into his election against liberal class warrior Elizabeth Warren with numbers any incumbent member of Congress, especially a senator, would feel good about. His approval rating was at 57 percent. He was viewed as bipartisan as well–essential to his success as a Republican in Massachusetts. That would normally insulate most senators in a general election (a primary would be another story). But Brown lost, and the good news/bad news disparity in this poll is a good summary of why:

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Over the weekend, the MassInc Polling Group released the results of a poll on a hypothetical matchup for John Kerry’s soon-to-be-open Senate seat in Massachusetts. The poll contains some very good news for the possible Republican candidate, Scott Brown, but also offers a reminder of why his support and high approval numbers don’t by any means guarantee him true frontrunner status.

Brown learned that the hard way, of course, in November. He went into his election against liberal class warrior Elizabeth Warren with numbers any incumbent member of Congress, especially a senator, would feel good about. His approval rating was at 57 percent. He was viewed as bipartisan as well–essential to his success as a Republican in Massachusetts. That would normally insulate most senators in a general election (a primary would be another story). But Brown lost, and the good news/bad news disparity in this poll is a good summary of why:

Brown takes 53 percent support in the poll, over [Representative Edward] Markey at 31 percent. A match-up of Brown against a generic Democratic ballot is considerably closer, but Brown still leads, 44-36 percent….

His decision comes even as Markey has racked up numerous big-name endorsements from prominent Massachusetts and national Democrats, notably Kerry himself and the National Democratic Senatorial Committee. 


Brown has a strong favorability rating with Massachusetts voters, at 55 percent positive, but his numbers in head-to-head match-ups against the Democrats are possibly inflated because voters are unfamiliar with the Democratic candidates.

On the one hand, Brown’s numbers against a sitting Democratic congressman with high-profile endorsements (including from the man relinquishing the seat) are high. On the other, the numbers are much closer against a “generic” Democrat, since so many of the state’s voters are Democrats who would prefer an acceptable Democrat to a “good” Republican.

There are some conditions working in Brown’s favor. First of all, he won the last Senate special election and lost the full election, which took place in a presidential year, with President Obama on the ballot and the high turnout associated with presidential elections. The conditions of this special election, to take place later this year, would obviously resemble the conditions of the election he won more than the one he lost. Additionally, Brown ran against a weaker opponent in the first special election in Martha Coakley; if Markey begins the race with low numbers, it may signal that he is a weaker candidate than others who might want to run against Brown for the seat (hence “generic” Democrat’s lead over Markey).

And paradoxically, his recent election loss could help him find his way back to the Senate. One of the issues that Warren worked effectively during the race was the idea that re-electing Brown could tip control of the Senate to the Republican Party, so that even if Massachusetts voters liked Brown, they should think strategically about who they would empower in the nation at large with their votes. This year, since the Democrats have 55 seats in the Senate (including the two independents who caucus with the Democrats), Brown could not make a noticeable difference–or at least not a significant enough difference to worry Massachusetts voters. One takeaway from November’s election was that the state’s voters seemed to want both Brown and Warren in the Senate if they could so choose; they would–if Brown runs in this election–now have their chance.

However, Brown surely understands that his high approval numbers didn’t save him in November and they might fail to do so again if he runs. Further, Kerry’s seat is up in 2014. That means Brown would only have a year in the Senate to prepare for a general election again. But it also means he won’t have to run for re-election this time in a presidential year. Brown also has a choice: he can run for governor instead. If he chooses that path, he may get to run against Coakley again, and in general it would be easier under normal circumstances for Republicans to win the governorship in Massachusetts–as they have often done–than to win a Senate seat there.

The poll, then, is being reported as the kind of news that would encourage Brown to run for the seat, while instead it contains a reminder of why he may have an easier path back to political office by passing on the Senate seat. The national Republican Party would surely want Brown to choose the Senate seat over the governorship, but they may also underestimate the electoral strength of “Generic Democrat” in Massachusetts. It’s doubtful Brown would make the same mistake.

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Will Human Rights Activists Make War More Deadly?

The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has announced an inquiry into the use of drones in Somalia, Yemen, Pakistan, and the Palestinian Territories, and whether drones violate international law. The inquiry comes at the request of Russia, China, and Pakistan, a triad of countries not known for their concern about human rights. That Syria is not also a co-sponsor is probably an oversight on the part of the UN.

Human rights lawyers are notoriously myopic, but this might take the prize. States have made drones a key tool in the fight against terror for one major reason: Drones can access areas inaccessible by ground troops and attack targets with precision. Absent the use of drones, the other option available to states challenged with terrorists operating from hostile or ungoverned territories is to mount an expedition. It is the difference between conducting surgery with a scalpel versus an axe.

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The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has announced an inquiry into the use of drones in Somalia, Yemen, Pakistan, and the Palestinian Territories, and whether drones violate international law. The inquiry comes at the request of Russia, China, and Pakistan, a triad of countries not known for their concern about human rights. That Syria is not also a co-sponsor is probably an oversight on the part of the UN.

Human rights lawyers are notoriously myopic, but this might take the prize. States have made drones a key tool in the fight against terror for one major reason: Drones can access areas inaccessible by ground troops and attack targets with precision. Absent the use of drones, the other option available to states challenged with terrorists operating from hostile or ungoverned territories is to mount an expedition. It is the difference between conducting surgery with a scalpel versus an axe.

Human rights activists increasingly obsess about proportionality. Somehow, they believe that if terrorists or rogue groups have limited weaponry–rockets, mortars, and plastic explosives, for example–it is wrong to attack them with drones, F-18s, or JDAMs. This is nonsense, for the underlying implication is either that those conducting counter-terror operations must use substandard weaponry or that terrorists like Hamas, the Haqqani Network, and Al Qaeda should have access to F-18s and JDAMs as well. In effect, what humanitarian activists want to do is outlaw at least one aspect of the Powell Doctrine: The idea that if the United States is challenged, it should use overwhelming force against its enemy.

I’ve never been opposed to targeted assassination. In 2006, I wrote a lengthy piece for National Review arguing for more targeted killings, especially when their use can save civilian lives. (It is ironic that criticism of the piece among the left stopped when President Obama came to office and made drones his signature counter-terror tool; it seems among many progressive websites, politics trumps principle.)

This does not mean to say that the tactic cannot be over-used: Over-reliance on drones along the Af/Pak border has pushed Al Qaeda elements not into caves, but into the Punjab’s dense urban jungle, a phenomenon which promises to plague international security for decades. Still, the desire to slowly ban military tools in an undeclared war against war itself risks a blowback that few human rights activists fully understand. The best defense against civilian casualties is not for the United Nations to launch politicized crusades against those engaged in the defense of democracies against terrorists, but rather to take a no-nonsense approach to terrorists and their sponsors.

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Iraq’s Lessons for France in Mali

The French are having initial and not unexpected success in Mali. Their fast-moving troops have taken the major city of Gao and are now about to enter fabled Timbuktu. Their advance was made possible–just as with the rapid American success in Afghanistan in 2001 and in Iraq in 2003–by the revulsion of ordinary people with a hated and despotic regime. Incredibly, Malians are shouting “Vive la France” to welcome their onetime colonial rulers back.

The epitaph–at least for the time being–for Islamist rule in northern Mali comes from a 26-year-old Malian student quoted in the New York Times lamenting: “No smoking, no music, no girlfriends. We couldn’t do anything fun.” This recalls the Iraqi man who famously greeted the American invasion of Iraq with those immortal words: “Democracy! Whiskey! Sexy!”

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The French are having initial and not unexpected success in Mali. Their fast-moving troops have taken the major city of Gao and are now about to enter fabled Timbuktu. Their advance was made possible–just as with the rapid American success in Afghanistan in 2001 and in Iraq in 2003–by the revulsion of ordinary people with a hated and despotic regime. Incredibly, Malians are shouting “Vive la France” to welcome their onetime colonial rulers back.

The epitaph–at least for the time being–for Islamist rule in northern Mali comes from a 26-year-old Malian student quoted in the New York Times lamenting: “No smoking, no music, no girlfriends. We couldn’t do anything fun.” This recalls the Iraqi man who famously greeted the American invasion of Iraq with those immortal words: “Democracy! Whiskey! Sexy!”

Unfortunately, Iraqi elation at being liberated soon turned to anger because the U.S. did not do enough to secure the country, allowing the creation of chaotic conditions in which insurgents and criminals ran rampant. That is a lesson France must keep in mind today even as French politicians constantly affirm their desire to evacuate Mali as soon as possible–a hope that echoes the sentiments of Donald Rumsfeld and Tommy Franks during the initial invasion of Iraq.

The French desire to leave Mali is understandable–as was the American desire to leave Iraq. But if the Iraq War taught us anything it should be that an invading force cannot responsibly head for the exits until it has made some provision to maintain stability and security.

In the case of Mali this will be a formidable and long-term challenge. The Malian army is feeble, better at staging coups than fighting hardened Islamist rebels. The peacekeeping force contributed by neighboring West African states is not much better–it is badly armed, ill-trained, and lacking in the most basic equipment. In any case a few thousand troops, even if they were trained and equipped to a much higher standard, would find it challenging to secure an area the size of Texas.

The French troops are currently in the “clear” phase of their counterinsurgency campaign, but unless they stick around for follow-on “clear and hold” operations, their initial gains are likely to prove fleeting. The Islamist guerrillas are retreating so they can fight another day. Stopping them from coming back is going to prove, at least for the short term, beyond the capabilities of the African military forces on the ground. Either France stays and helps to do the job itself or the cheers its troops are now hearing will soon turn to jeers.

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Why Is Obama Bragging About Egypt?

Nobody could have seriously expected President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to be pushed to explain their record of foreign policy failures in their joint interview on “60 Minutes” last night. With presidential sycophant Steve Kroft asking the questions there was little probing other than about their personal interrelations and the obligatory question about 2016 (which reminded us that the only real loser in the interview was Vice President Joe Biden who, despite being the adult in the White House when it comes to getting things passed through Congress, was sent the clear message that he is still an also-ran as far as the president is concerned). But there was one real nugget of information about the future of American foreign policy that the president let slip, and it actually deserves more attention than the titillating details about the Obama-Clinton alliance.

The real headline out of the interview ought to center on the following remark by the president in response to a rather soft question about his “lead from behind” strategy in the Middle East:

President Obama: Well, Muammar Qaddafi probably does not agree with that assessment, or at least if he was around, he wouldn’t agree with that assessment. Obviously, you know, we helped to put together and lay the groundwork for liberating Libya. You know, when it comes to Egypt, I think, had it not been for the leadership we showed, you might have seen a different outcome there.

Let me get this straight. President Obama is not merely bragging about a conflict in Libya that led to chaos not only in that country that produced the murders of four Americans including our ambassador. He is also saying that he thinks he positively impacted the outcome of the power struggle in Egypt over the last two years and actually thinks his “leadership” helped create a situation about which we are happy. So what he’s telling us is that he’s not merely pleased with what he did or didn’t do, but that he thinks the current situation in Cairo in which the most populous Arab country is now run by a Muslim Brotherhood government led by a raving anti-Semite is a good thing about which he can brag on national TV.

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Nobody could have seriously expected President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to be pushed to explain their record of foreign policy failures in their joint interview on “60 Minutes” last night. With presidential sycophant Steve Kroft asking the questions there was little probing other than about their personal interrelations and the obligatory question about 2016 (which reminded us that the only real loser in the interview was Vice President Joe Biden who, despite being the adult in the White House when it comes to getting things passed through Congress, was sent the clear message that he is still an also-ran as far as the president is concerned). But there was one real nugget of information about the future of American foreign policy that the president let slip, and it actually deserves more attention than the titillating details about the Obama-Clinton alliance.

The real headline out of the interview ought to center on the following remark by the president in response to a rather soft question about his “lead from behind” strategy in the Middle East:

President Obama: Well, Muammar Qaddafi probably does not agree with that assessment, or at least if he was around, he wouldn’t agree with that assessment. Obviously, you know, we helped to put together and lay the groundwork for liberating Libya. You know, when it comes to Egypt, I think, had it not been for the leadership we showed, you might have seen a different outcome there.

Let me get this straight. President Obama is not merely bragging about a conflict in Libya that led to chaos not only in that country that produced the murders of four Americans including our ambassador. He is also saying that he thinks he positively impacted the outcome of the power struggle in Egypt over the last two years and actually thinks his “leadership” helped create a situation about which we are happy. So what he’s telling us is that he’s not merely pleased with what he did or didn’t do, but that he thinks the current situation in Cairo in which the most populous Arab country is now run by a Muslim Brotherhood government led by a raving anti-Semite is a good thing about which he can brag on national TV.

Let me specify that I think many on the right give the president too much credit for what happened in Egypt. Sclerotic dictator Hosni Mubarak was going to fall no matter how much the U.S. tried to prop him up, so pinning the blame for the longtime U.S. ally’s collapse solely on Obama’s decision to cut him loose is to give that factor more importance than it deserves.

But Obama and Clinton do deserve serious blame for not continuing the Bush administration’s attempt to aid genuine Egyptian liberals prior to Mubarak’s fall. More importantly, they played a not unimportant role in helping to undermine the Egyptian military in its effort to prevent the country from sliding into the grip of the Muslim Brotherhood over the last year. Rather than back the military, the administration clearly signaled via threats of aid cutoffs that they should stand down and let the Brotherhood complete their power grab.

It would be one thing for the administration to approach the question of Egypt by saying that the creation of an Islamist government in Cairo with few, if any, checks on their power, endangering religious minorities, the peace with Israel and spouting hate wasn’t their fault. But for the president to actually brag about how his “leadership” played a key role in allowing Islamist Mohamed Morsi to achieve exactly the sort of power that we deplored when it was held by America’s friend Mubarak on the same weekend when tens of thousands of Egyptians returning to Tahrir Square this weekend to protest the Brotherhood putsch speaks volumes about his foreign policy agenda.

This is not merely an administration that doesn’t have a steady hand on the rudder, as its clueless approach to Syria demonstrates, but one that thinks having a hatemonger like Morsi and his Islamist crew achieving hegemony in Cairo is something they can brag about as a triumph for American foreign policy. It’s little wonder that Iran, Hamas and Hezbollah are so confident that they need not fear the impact of American “leadership” in the next four years.

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Making a Federal Case Out of “The”

The D.C. Circuit’s 46-page opinion in Canning v. NLRB (ably analyzed by John Steele Gordon) is a master class for law students, legislators, and lawyers–an illustration of the first rule of constitutional interpretation: before you refer to legislative or judicial history, or how a “living” Constitution might read if you could re-write it, or the words in invisible ink in the “penumbras”–look at the words as written, and determine what they meant to those who adopted them.

The Recess Appointments Clause provides the “President shall have Power to fill up all Vacancies that may happen during the Recess of the Senate.” Canning contended “the Recess” is the period between sessions of the Senate, when it is by definition unavailable to receive and act on nominations from the president. The NLRB argued the president could act during any break in the Senate’s business (and determine for himself when a sufficiently long one occurred). The court held the NLRB failed to note that the Constitution references “the Recess,” not “recesses.” Here is the key portion of the opinion:

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The D.C. Circuit’s 46-page opinion in Canning v. NLRB (ably analyzed by John Steele Gordon) is a master class for law students, legislators, and lawyers–an illustration of the first rule of constitutional interpretation: before you refer to legislative or judicial history, or how a “living” Constitution might read if you could re-write it, or the words in invisible ink in the “penumbras”–look at the words as written, and determine what they meant to those who adopted them.

The Recess Appointments Clause provides the “President shall have Power to fill up all Vacancies that may happen during the Recess of the Senate.” Canning contended “the Recess” is the period between sessions of the Senate, when it is by definition unavailable to receive and act on nominations from the president. The NLRB argued the president could act during any break in the Senate’s business (and determine for himself when a sufficiently long one occurred). The court held the NLRB failed to note that the Constitution references “the Recess,” not “recesses.” Here is the key portion of the opinion:

When interpreting a constitutional provision, we must look to the natural meaning of the text as it would have been understood at the time of the ratification of the Constitution. [Citation]. Then, as now, the word “the” was and is a definite article. See 2 Samuel Johnson, A Dictionary of the English Language 2041 (1755) … Unlike “a” or “an,” that definite article suggests specificity. As a matter of cold, unadorned logic, it makes no sense to adopt the Board’s proposition that when the Framers said “the Recess,” what they really meant was “a recess.” This is not an insignificant distinction. In the end it makes all the difference.

 Six times the Constitution uses some form of the verb “adjourn” or the noun “adjournment” to refer to breaks in the proceedings of one or both Houses of Congress. … Not only did the Framers use a different word, but none of the “adjournment” usages is preceded by the definite article. All this points to the inescapable conclusion that the Framers intended something specific by the term “the Recess,” and that it was something different than a generic break in proceedings.

The court went on to address the Federalist Papers, the purpose of the provision, the history of its use, the opinions in other circuits, and other legal materials, but the crux of the opinion was its starting point–the actual words of the provision in dispute, and what they meant to those who enacted them.  

It is worth remembering that the history of American constitutional law shows that even a semi-colon or comma can affect the meaning of a provision. In The Citizen’s Constitution: An Annotated Guide, Seth Lipsky describes the battle over the comma after the word “Excises” in Article 1, Section 8. That provision gives Congress the power to “lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay Debts and provide for the common Defense and general Welfare of the United States.” Lipsky recounted that:  

One of the wiliest of the founders, Gouverneur Morris, plotted at the Convention in Philadelphia to change this comma to a semi-colon. He wanted to alter the meaning of the sentence to create, in the clause following this comma, a separate and unlimited [general welfare] power. In the sentence as it currently exists — its original form — the grammar is that the words following the comma are not a general grant of power … but a limitation on the taxing power. … [Morris’s] plot to change the text by adding a dot point over the comma was discovered and foiled by the other founders, a point on which Albert Gallatin testified to the House of Representatives in 1798.

President Obama has occasioned a large number of constitutional moments, as he sought to make the Commerce Clause a power to regulate decisions not to engage in commerce; established a new “shared responsibility payment” power to uphold the Obamacare penalty as a “tax”; argued he can ignore legislation regarding an individual’s passport if he determines it could affect the Middle East “peace process”; and issued executive orders on things he previously said he lacked presidential power to mandate. In Canning, he sought a power to make appointments whenever he determined the Senate was in “a recess,” even though it was not in “the Recess.” The case turned on the Constitution’s use of the definite article “the” and the singular word “Recess.”

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Obama Flunks Mali’s Lesson

After criticizing French plans to counter Al Qaeda-affiliated terrorists in northern Mali, the Obama administration is slowly increasing its support to the French, as the French military conducts a mission vital to U.S. interests as well as their own.

Mali is a beautiful country, one which I visited as a tourist a decade ago. (My thoughts from the time are encapsulated in this New Republic article). It was also the Muslim majority country which Freedom House had, for years, rated as most free. Despite being one of the poorest countries on earth and democratic, Mali was for years ignored by the United States.

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After criticizing French plans to counter Al Qaeda-affiliated terrorists in northern Mali, the Obama administration is slowly increasing its support to the French, as the French military conducts a mission vital to U.S. interests as well as their own.

Mali is a beautiful country, one which I visited as a tourist a decade ago. (My thoughts from the time are encapsulated in this New Republic article). It was also the Muslim majority country which Freedom House had, for years, rated as most free. Despite being one of the poorest countries on earth and democratic, Mali was for years ignored by the United States.

Only with last year’s coup—and the acceleration of insurgency fueled by loose weapons from Libya—has Mali come to America’s strategic notice. Simply put, with the consolidation of Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb’s presence in northern Mali, officials on both sides of the Atlantic recognize the danger of a vacuum.

Obama may congratulate himself on once again leading from behind, but his actions on Mali only highlight the fact that the president does not understand—or care—that far from resolving the problem, he is on the verge of making it worse. Perhaps France, in conjunction with contingents from some neighboring West African states, will contain the problems in Mali, but Obama does not recognize that by creating a vacuum in Afghanistan, he will be setting the stage for further Al Qaeda empowerment. No one will be able to rely on neighboring states when those states are Iran and Pakistan. And while India should take a greater regional role, it is too inward looking—and the logistical hurdles too great for landlocked Afghanistan—for it to take the actions it should to help buttress Afghanistan.

With the United States abdicating its international responsibilities so that Obama can claim to be true to his own political schedule, the question is not who will fill the vacuum Obama helps to create in Afghanistan, but rather who will be the victims of Al Qaeda’s return to Afghanistan.

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