Commentary Magazine


Posts For: January 2013

Clinton’s Victory Lap Ignores Egypt

Outgoing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is doing a victory lap around the networks this week, taking bows and basking in the admiration of a largely sycophantic media that agrees with President Obama’s glowing praise of her service. We know his praise, as well as the willingness of many in the press to buy into the notion that her willingness to spend a lot of time on airplanes is the same thing as a record of genuine achievement, is strictly political boilerplate. Clinton was a cipher at Foggy Bottom doing Obama’s bidding and has few, if any, actual successes to her credit along with disasters like Benghazi (for which she inexplicably took full responsibility but not blame). But it’s hard to see how her part in directing America’s involvement in the Arab Spring will be seen by history as anything other than placing her in the ranks of the most incompetent stewards of American foreign policy in the country’s history.

Anyone who doubts that evaluation need only ignore the softball interviews and breathless anticipation of another Clinton run for the presidency in 2016 and instead look at accounts of what is going on in Egypt today as the head of that country’s military described it as descending into “chaos.” Since as we noted yesterday, the president told “60 Minutes” that the transition from the Mubarak dictatorship to the current Muslim Brotherhood regime in Cairo was an administration success, those proclaiming Clinton among the greatest of our secretaries of state have some explaining to do.

Read More

Outgoing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is doing a victory lap around the networks this week, taking bows and basking in the admiration of a largely sycophantic media that agrees with President Obama’s glowing praise of her service. We know his praise, as well as the willingness of many in the press to buy into the notion that her willingness to spend a lot of time on airplanes is the same thing as a record of genuine achievement, is strictly political boilerplate. Clinton was a cipher at Foggy Bottom doing Obama’s bidding and has few, if any, actual successes to her credit along with disasters like Benghazi (for which she inexplicably took full responsibility but not blame). But it’s hard to see how her part in directing America’s involvement in the Arab Spring will be seen by history as anything other than placing her in the ranks of the most incompetent stewards of American foreign policy in the country’s history.

Anyone who doubts that evaluation need only ignore the softball interviews and breathless anticipation of another Clinton run for the presidency in 2016 and instead look at accounts of what is going on in Egypt today as the head of that country’s military described it as descending into “chaos.” Since as we noted yesterday, the president told “60 Minutes” that the transition from the Mubarak dictatorship to the current Muslim Brotherhood regime in Cairo was an administration success, those proclaiming Clinton among the greatest of our secretaries of state have some explaining to do.

Even as “60 Minutes” interviewer Steve Kroft was making sure the president and Mrs. Clinton felt safe from being made to look stupid or bad, tens of thousands of protesters had taken over Tahir Square registering their anger about the fact that the Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi has assumed the same tyrannical powers as Mubarak. Today violent clashes are spreading throughout the Egyptian capital as a sense is taking hold that, as the New York Times put it, “the state is unraveling.”

The significance of the statement from Defense Minister Gen. Abdul-Fattah al-Sisi is that the sidelining of the military during the transition after Mubarak’s fall was very much Clinton’s handiwork. While the administration probably gets more blame than they deserve for the end of Mubarak’s rule, they haven’t gotten enough for the way they helped smooth the way for the Brotherhood’s ascendancy. Clinton used the leverage that the more than $1 billion in American aid Egypt gets from the United States in order to force the generals to stand aside and let the Brotherhood take power. Neither she nor the president has shown the slightest inclination to use that same leverage to push the Brotherhood out or even to make it loosen its grip on total power.

Anyone doubting the importance of this in terms of Clinton’s legacy needs to understand that on her watch, the most populous Arab nation has moved from being a force for moderation in the region to being in the grip of an Islamist government that is not only hostile to our values (as Morsi’s anti-Semitic rants and his equally hateful explanations for them illustrate), but also has re-established good relations with our enemies like Iran, strengthened terrorists like the Hamas regime in Gaza and threatened the peace with Israel.

This is a diplomatic setback of the first order. But instead of speaking out in order to try and restrain Morsi from killing his opponents or supporting those Egyptians who want to know how it is that they have swapped a secular dictator for an Islamist one, Clinton and her boss have made it clear that they will continue funding him. If this is their idea of foreign policy success, we’d hate to see what failure looks like.

Read Less

The Shameful Attack on Israel from Amnesty International

One of the hallmarks of Israel’s international critics is their tendency to blame Israel for all the bad things that happen when the Jewish state’s enemies try–and fail–to destroy it. Yet it is rarely so perfectly distilled with such righteous indignation as the statement offered by the NGO Amnesty International today. Amnesty International should be thanked for its honesty, but its behavior represents yet another new low for the human rights community. Reacting to the news that Israel would not participate in the UN Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review of all member states’ human rights records, Amnesty released a statement that began:

If the Israeli government is not careful, it will ruin an important global human rights process for everybody.

Yes, you read that right. The Israel-obsessed behavior of a corrupt UN body that exists solely to scapegoat the Jewish state while having counted as members Qatar, China, Russia, Libya, and Cuba is not ruining an important human rights process. What is ruining the process is Israel’s unwillingness to participate in its own rigged show trial. But all that is nothing compared to the way Amnesty closes its statement:

Read More

One of the hallmarks of Israel’s international critics is their tendency to blame Israel for all the bad things that happen when the Jewish state’s enemies try–and fail–to destroy it. Yet it is rarely so perfectly distilled with such righteous indignation as the statement offered by the NGO Amnesty International today. Amnesty International should be thanked for its honesty, but its behavior represents yet another new low for the human rights community. Reacting to the news that Israel would not participate in the UN Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review of all member states’ human rights records, Amnesty released a statement that began:

If the Israeli government is not careful, it will ruin an important global human rights process for everybody.

Yes, you read that right. The Israel-obsessed behavior of a corrupt UN body that exists solely to scapegoat the Jewish state while having counted as members Qatar, China, Russia, Libya, and Cuba is not ruining an important human rights process. What is ruining the process is Israel’s unwillingness to participate in its own rigged show trial. But all that is nothing compared to the way Amnesty closes its statement:

If Israel fails to fully engage in its examination under the Universal Periodic Review during 2013 as required, will the victims of human rights violations, from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe, thank the Israeli government?

Amnesty wants Israel to take its beating or it will not-so-subtly suggest to the victims of the Taliban that they can blame the Jewish state. It would certainly be convenient for Amnesty to do so, since the organization could simply stop putting researchers at risk in dangerous countries and just consolidate its branches in its office in Tel Aviv, where its staffers can unironically fault Israel for every human rights violation unharassed by the democratically-elected Israeli government it is scapegoating.

Israel’s review was supposed to take place this afternoon, and be conducted by three nations–one of them Venezuela. As if it’s unclear why a country would opt-out of such a sham, the United States was apparently engaged in a last-minute push to convince Israel to take its medicine. The Times of Israel reports:

“Tough talks” were held on the matter between senior State Department officials and the head of the Foreign Ministry’s department for foreign organizations, Aharon Leshno-Yaar, the paper reported Sunday. The US officials also said that even though Israel’s boycott might be justified, it would eventually harm Israel’s reputation in the international arena.

“We have encouraged the Israelis to come to the council and to tell their story and to present their own narrative of their own human rights situation,” Eileen Donahoe, Washington’s ambassador to the UNHRC, told reporters in Geneva last week. “The United States is absolutely, fully behind the Universal Periodic Review and we do not want to see the mechanism in any way harmed.”

Israel is also expected to not cooperate with a probe into the country’s reported use of drones against Palestinian targets, launched last week, Haaretz reported. Israel does not admit to using drones in aerial strikes. The US and Britain are expected to work with the investigation, which does not have official backing from the UNHCR, but was prompted by requests from China, Russia and Pakistan.

I don’t know exactly what the story means when it says the U.S. plans to “work with” the drone investigation, but I’ll give the White House and Foggy Bottom three guesses as to which country is likely to be the next subject of a drone investigation initiated by Pakistan.

Just as Amnesty vowed retribution for Israel’s intransigence, the UN Human Rights Council warned that “appropriate action would be taken.” For its part, the Israeli government made no attempt to hide its contempt for being lectured by the “dictator protection racket,” as the Wall Street Journal has so aptly dubbed the UN:

“It’s hard to understand how the countries that initiated this investigation have any moral right to review or to opine on human rights records of other countries,” an anonymous Israeli official said. “Such countries that have long records jailing and/or assassinating their political opponents are in no position to lecture anyone on human rights.”

That gets it about right. The UN, of course, has every right to ask Israel to participate in the review and drone investigation and take offense when they are rebuffed. But there is no excuse for the shameful comments from Amnesty, an organization that ought to be above making it official policy to blame Israel for human rights violations made by terrorists and dictators simply because the Israelis won’t lend credibility to their perennial accusers.

Read Less

Fox News Fights Back Against Obama Smear

Recently in an interview with the liberal magazine the New Republic on “his enemies, the media and the future of football,” President Obama took aim not just at his antagonists on Capitol Hill but also those in the press, particularly Fox News. He told the New Republic

One of the biggest factors is going to be how the media shapes debates. If a Republican member of Congress is not punished on Fox News or by Rush Limbaugh for working with a Democrat on a bill of common interest, then you’ll see more of them doing it.

The swipe at Fox wasn’t the president’s first, though it appears to have struck a nerve at the network. Two Fox personalities, Megyn Kelly and Kirsten Powers, responded to the president’s remarks. In a blog post on the Fox website, Kelly’s remarks were partially transcribed by the network, indicating the following was the main thrust of Fox’s argument against the statement:

Read More

Recently in an interview with the liberal magazine the New Republic on “his enemies, the media and the future of football,” President Obama took aim not just at his antagonists on Capitol Hill but also those in the press, particularly Fox News. He told the New Republic

One of the biggest factors is going to be how the media shapes debates. If a Republican member of Congress is not punished on Fox News or by Rush Limbaugh for working with a Democrat on a bill of common interest, then you’ll see more of them doing it.

The swipe at Fox wasn’t the president’s first, though it appears to have struck a nerve at the network. Two Fox personalities, Megyn Kelly and Kirsten Powers, responded to the president’s remarks. In a blog post on the Fox website, Kelly’s remarks were partially transcribed by the network, indicating the following was the main thrust of Fox’s argument against the statement:

“For me this isn’t about what he said about Fox News [...] it’s about once again the president saying that if somebody disagrees with him, if Republicans disagree with him, it’s because someone has ‘gotten’ to them,” she told Fox News Digital political editor Chris Stirewalt. “It sounds dismissive of heartfelt beliefs that Republicans may hold or their constituents may hold that just don’t line up with his.”

One of Fox’s most vocal liberals, Kirsten Powers, took to the Fox opinion page to discuss Obama’s “war on Fox News.” 

Whether you are liberal or conservative, libertarian, moderate or politically agnostic, everyone should be concerned when leaders of our government believe they can intentionally try to delegitimize a news organization they don’t like. 

In fact, if you are a liberal – as I am – you should be the most offended, as liberalism is founded on the idea of cherishing dissent and an inviolable right to freedom of expression. 

That more liberals aren’t calling out the White House for this outrageous behavior tells you something about the state of liberalism in America today. 

Powers’s entire column is a must-read and holds the president’s feet to the fire on his administration’s efforts to remove Fox from the national conversation by denying the network equal access to conference calls and interviews. Despite Fox’s record-setting ratings, the president has deemed the network an illegitimate source of news while his allies at Media Matters declared their intention to destroy the network through “guerrilla warfare and sabotage.” It’s easy to imagine the kind of uproar President George W. Bush would have faced if he had made a similar attempt at stifling MSNBC or another liberal news outlet. It’s more difficult, however, to imagine President Bush actually attempting something so hostile to the free exchange of ideas and information.

While some media liberals spent the eight years of the Bush administration accusing the president of fascism, one would hope that the current president’s attempts to limit the freedom of the press to do their jobs would elicit a response of some kind. That no liberal but a Fox News paid contributor has forcefully pushed back against the president’s efforts portends a sad future for American liberalism, as Powers herself notes: “That more liberals aren’t calling out the White House for this outrageous behavior tells you something about the state of liberalism in America today.”

Read Less

Hateful Cartoon Merited Murdoch Apology

The fallout from the controversy over the publication by London’s Sunday Times of an anti-Semitic cartoon on Holocaust Memorial Day has generated a debate of sorts about where the line must be drawn between fair–if offensive–comment about Israel and blatant Jew-hatred. Predictably, some on the left have piped up to say there was nothing wrong with depicting Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu as a villainous murderer dripping with the blood of Arab victims that he was cementing into what we are supposed to think was his country’s security fence. One British defender of artist Gerald Scarfe claimed it was OK to draw Netanyahu in this way since previous cartoons had also roughed up Syrian dictator Bashar Assad. Behind most of the complaints about the outrage expressed by many Jewish journalists and organizations is the usual attitude in which Jews are told to stop being so sensitive and just shut up and let the world say what it wants about Israel.

Fortunately, Rupert Murdoch, the owner of the Sunday Times, isn’t listening to those voices and yesterday issued an apology on Twitter:

Gerald Scarfe has never reflected the opinions of the Sunday Times. Nevertheless, we owe major apology for grotesque, offensive cartoon.

Murdoch deserves credit for stepping up and putting the issue in its proper perspective. But before the dust settles the arguments put forward by Scarfe’s defenders need to be refuted in more detail. There is nothing wrong with criticizing Netanyahu any more than there would be with sniping at any other politician. But the symbolism of Scarfe’s cartoon as well as its timing reflected a disturbing willingness not merely to validate lies about Israeli policies but to portray the country as a heartless murderer of Arabs.

Read More

The fallout from the controversy over the publication by London’s Sunday Times of an anti-Semitic cartoon on Holocaust Memorial Day has generated a debate of sorts about where the line must be drawn between fair–if offensive–comment about Israel and blatant Jew-hatred. Predictably, some on the left have piped up to say there was nothing wrong with depicting Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu as a villainous murderer dripping with the blood of Arab victims that he was cementing into what we are supposed to think was his country’s security fence. One British defender of artist Gerald Scarfe claimed it was OK to draw Netanyahu in this way since previous cartoons had also roughed up Syrian dictator Bashar Assad. Behind most of the complaints about the outrage expressed by many Jewish journalists and organizations is the usual attitude in which Jews are told to stop being so sensitive and just shut up and let the world say what it wants about Israel.

Fortunately, Rupert Murdoch, the owner of the Sunday Times, isn’t listening to those voices and yesterday issued an apology on Twitter:

Gerald Scarfe has never reflected the opinions of the Sunday Times. Nevertheless, we owe major apology for grotesque, offensive cartoon.

Murdoch deserves credit for stepping up and putting the issue in its proper perspective. But before the dust settles the arguments put forward by Scarfe’s defenders need to be refuted in more detail. There is nothing wrong with criticizing Netanyahu any more than there would be with sniping at any other politician. But the symbolism of Scarfe’s cartoon as well as its timing reflected a disturbing willingness not merely to validate lies about Israeli policies but to portray the country as a heartless murderer of Arabs.

Haaretz’s Anshel Pfeffer claims Scarfe is innocent of the charge of anti-Semitism because the drawing of Netanyahu contains no Jewish symbols like a Star of David, so the offensive libel should be seen as only aimed at the prime minister and not the Jewish state or the Jewish people. Pfeffer also claims not to see any Holocaust imagery.

But the Netanyahu of the cartoon is not a generic political bad guy. He is a hook-nosed killer with blood dripping from his hands. This is straight out of the traditional playbook of Julius Streicher’s Nazi propaganda in which Jews were shown as horrifying defilers of innocent non-Jews. And while Netanyahu’s politics are fair game for comment, the idea of demonizing the security fence as a way by which Israelis are killing Arabs is particularly offensive since it is a clear allusion to the walled ghettos where Nazis killed Jews–a conclusion that most readers picking up the cartoon on Holocaust Memorial Day were hard-pressed to avoid. Nor does Pfeffer’s observation that the dead Palestinians in the cartoon were not children remove the stigma of the blood libel from the cartoon. One of the victims was clearly an adolescent, but blood libels were not only about killing gentile children but about Jews enjoying spilling any non-Jewish blood, a myth this drawing reinforces. To argue that showing Israel’s prime minister spilling the blood of Arabs has nothing to do with libels against his country or people is to make a distinction without a difference. In this case, Netanyahu is just a surrogate for traditional tropes of anti-Semitism.

Moreover, attempts to portray the fence as a crime against Palestinians is particularly hateful. As the editors at the Times surely knew, it was built to keep Arab murderers from slaughtering Jews in suicide bombings, not to facilitate attacks on Palestinians. This trick of trying to pretend that Jewish self-defense is really an act of murder is of a piece with the entire genre of slurs that seek to paint Israel as a new version of Nazi Germany. Like Streicher’s filth, the purpose of such attacks is to relieve anti-Semites of any guilt about their hatred for Jews.

Lastly, the idea that Scarfe should get a pass for smearing Netanyahu because he has also attacked Assad is a further indictment of the mindset of the artist and his defenders. Such a false equivalence seems almost too foolish to need to take down, but let’s point out a few obvious differences between the two men.

The first is that Assad is a dictator who has spent the last two years murdering tens of thousands of his own people in an attempt to hold onto absolute power in Syria. That his father did the same sorts of things during a bloody 30-plus-year reign of terror is no defense of his son’s behavior. Netanyahu is the elected leader of a democracy charged with the defense of his nation against terrorists who are sworn to destroy Israel and to slaughter its people. That sort of moral equivalence isn’t merely wrong-headed, it is a product of the effort to delegitimize Israel and to whitewash those who truly do wish to carry on Hitler’s murderous legacy.

The Scarfe cartoon is troubling not just because of its timing but because it betrays a willingness to smear Israel with the symbols of anti-Semitic invective which have become commonplace among the Jewish state’s European detractors. It merited Murdoch’s apology. But more than that, it ought to cause those who cheered its disgusting imagery and defended its artists to think twice about how European elites have been co-opted into defending and echoing the anti-Semitic myths about Jews and Israel that have become commonplace throughout the Muslim and Arab worlds.

Read Less

Exposing the Gulags of North Korea

Decades after the construction of city-sized gulags, it appears that the world’s attention may finally be focusing on human rights abuses in North Korea. Predictably, after North Korea’s latest statements on the probability of a nuclear test in the near future, the spotlight is back on the regime. In the past, boisterous proclamations about their nuclear program elicited attention solely on the program. This time, however, “citizen journalists” and Google Maps contributors have shifted the focus to the fate of citizens of North Korea, not just their government, becoming the latest push to expose the country’s miserable human rights record.

Yesterday the New York Times published an op-ed advocating for increased engagement with North Korea over its human rights abuses:

Read More

Decades after the construction of city-sized gulags, it appears that the world’s attention may finally be focusing on human rights abuses in North Korea. Predictably, after North Korea’s latest statements on the probability of a nuclear test in the near future, the spotlight is back on the regime. In the past, boisterous proclamations about their nuclear program elicited attention solely on the program. This time, however, “citizen journalists” and Google Maps contributors have shifted the focus to the fate of citizens of North Korea, not just their government, becoming the latest push to expose the country’s miserable human rights record.

Yesterday the New York Times published an op-ed advocating for increased engagement with North Korea over its human rights abuses:

Abuses are so widespread and severe that the former U.N. special rapporteur on human rights in North Korea, Vitit Muntarbhorn, described the country as “sui generis — in a category of its own.” He called on the United Nations to take up the case “at the pinnacle of the system” and urged the international community to “mobilize the totality of the U.N. to … support processes which concretize responsibility and an end to impunity.” Until very recently, his calls fell on deaf ears.

Momentum is now gathering pace, however, for the establishment of a commission of inquiry to investigate crimes against humanity in North Korea. For the first time, factors favorable to achieving this have come together, providing a window of opportunity. But that window is narrow.

The current composition of the U.N. Human Rights Council means that such a proposal, at the approaching session in March, stands a good chance of being passed. So it is now a matter of leadership and initiative. A government, or a group of governments, most likely from Europe but with strong backing from Japan, South Korea and the United States, needs to respond to the challenge and put forward a recommendation.

Last week I discussed the possibility that North Korea’s newfound belligerence is due to its desire to secure more international aid amidst a famine. Thanks to “citizen journalists” recruited inside the reclusive nation, more details are coming to light about the famine and reported instances of cannibalism:

The grim suggestion that North Koreans are turning to cannibalism were reported by the Asia Press, and published in the Sunday Times.

They claim a ‘hidden famine’ in the farming provinces of North and South Hwanghae has killed 10,000 people, and there are fears that cannibalism is spreading throughout the country.

The reports come as sanctions are tightened against the backdrop of angry rhetoric over missile testing.

In one particularly disturbing report, a man was said to have dug up his grandchild’s corpse. Other lurid reports included the suggestion that some men boiled their children before eating them.

Asia Press is a specialist news agency based in Osaka, Japan, which claims to have recruited a network of “citizen journalists” inside North Korea. The reports are considered credible.

Today Google Maps added numerous North Korean locations for the first time, making the existence of several city-sized gulags accessible anyone with an internet connection (that includes only several hundred North Koreans, most of whom who have no access to the Internet as we know it). While the information has been available on Google Earth for some time, this is the first time that the more widely used Google Maps application will feature information on the most closed-off country in the world. 

With a nuclear test close on the horizon, North Korea is drawing the world’s attention to its nuclear capabilities, but Kim Jong-un and his associates may want to be careful what they wish for. Increasingly that attention isn’t just focusing on North Korea’s nuclear weapons, but also its human rights abuses–which just became a bit more difficult to hide.

Read Less

Conservatives and Immigration

The early indications are that President Obama may not seek to torpedo the bipartisan immigration reform proposal put forward yesterday by six U.S. senators. Having wisely put their plan before the public before the president could grandstand on the issue and continue to use it as a partisan cudgel to attack Republicans, the group led by Chuck Schumer, Dick Durbin, John McCain and Marco Rubio made it difficult for the president to avoid endorsing their efforts even if he can be counted on to push for a more liberal approach than GOP members of the reform coalition will accept. But if Obama keeps his promise to Schumer and Durbin and doesn’t try to torpedo their scheme in the hope of making political hay out of a dispute with the GOP over its terms, the real drama will be on the right as conservatives begin their own debate on the issue.

Pushback against the proposal from the right wasn’t long in coming. Rush Limbaugh denounced it on the radio, as did many others who helped sink previous reform plans by branding them as “amnesty.” Even more troubling was the negative reaction on Fox News from commentators Jonah Goldberg and Charles Krauthammer, who both poured cold water on the bipartisan scheme by claiming that its promise of border control and enforcement of the laws was not credible and that, as had been the case after Ronald Reagan’s try at dealing with the problem, illegal immigration would continue unabated. Others took on the rationale that Republicans should back the bill in order to get more Hispanic votes. Heather Mac Donald wrote in National Review to rightly point out (as Seth did last year) that many Hispanics like liberal policies and are unlikely to switch parties even if the GOP stopped positioning itself as the anti-immigrant party.

These are reasonable arguments but they are not persuasive. Republicans ought to get behind the immigration compromise not because it will help them politically but because opposition to it is bad public policy.

Read More

The early indications are that President Obama may not seek to torpedo the bipartisan immigration reform proposal put forward yesterday by six U.S. senators. Having wisely put their plan before the public before the president could grandstand on the issue and continue to use it as a partisan cudgel to attack Republicans, the group led by Chuck Schumer, Dick Durbin, John McCain and Marco Rubio made it difficult for the president to avoid endorsing their efforts even if he can be counted on to push for a more liberal approach than GOP members of the reform coalition will accept. But if Obama keeps his promise to Schumer and Durbin and doesn’t try to torpedo their scheme in the hope of making political hay out of a dispute with the GOP over its terms, the real drama will be on the right as conservatives begin their own debate on the issue.

Pushback against the proposal from the right wasn’t long in coming. Rush Limbaugh denounced it on the radio, as did many others who helped sink previous reform plans by branding them as “amnesty.” Even more troubling was the negative reaction on Fox News from commentators Jonah Goldberg and Charles Krauthammer, who both poured cold water on the bipartisan scheme by claiming that its promise of border control and enforcement of the laws was not credible and that, as had been the case after Ronald Reagan’s try at dealing with the problem, illegal immigration would continue unabated. Others took on the rationale that Republicans should back the bill in order to get more Hispanic votes. Heather Mac Donald wrote in National Review to rightly point out (as Seth did last year) that many Hispanics like liberal policies and are unlikely to switch parties even if the GOP stopped positioning itself as the anti-immigrant party.

These are reasonable arguments but they are not persuasive. Republicans ought to get behind the immigration compromise not because it will help them politically but because opposition to it is bad public policy.

A considerable portion of the conservative movement has always supported a more rational policy on immigration that recognized the need to do something to bring millions of illegal immigrants out of the shadows. But most on the right have treated this issue as one in which the rule of law was at stake and saw any proposal that called for giving legal status to the more than 11 million illegals already here as an amnesty bill. Opposition to rewarding law-breakers is rational and understandable. But since, as Rush noted yesterday, nobody on the right is seriously talking about trying to deport all of those people (something that would, in any case, be virtually impossible anyway), it is hard to understand how a refusal to create a process by which the illegals could become documented is a defense of the rule of law. As Marco Rubio has argued, what we have now is de facto amnesty.

Charles Krauthammer’s objections are also not to be dismissed. After decades of neglect, there is good reason to be skeptical of any federal commitment to secure the border. But the strength of the bipartisan proposal is that this is probably our best chance to force Washington to deal with the issue that we are ever likely to get. Since the implementation of the plans for giving legal status to the illegals is dependent on concrete steps toward making it far more difficult to cross the border with impunity, the administration and its liberal supporters in Congress have an incentive to acquiesce to more security and to see that the law is enforced. Those who rightly complain about the porous nature of the border need to understand that absent a comprehensive immigration deal there isn’t likely to be any funding or backing either now or in the future for the kind of measures that are needed to tighten up the border.

That said, the idea that Republicans are trolling for Hispanic votes on this issue is troubling. Treating the issue as if it were a simple transaction in which the GOP would flip on immigration in order to purchase Hispanic votes is misleading and inaccurate.

No matter what happens in this debate, many Hispanic voters will not forget the inflammatory rhetoric about illegal immigrants used by Republican candidates like Mitt Romney. Were Republicans to approach this matter in such a cynical manner it would do them little good politically. Nor will Republicans ever be able to outbid the Democrats when it comes to offering more government benefits and entitlements.

The best Republicans can hope for here is to take the issue off the table and therefore deny Democrats the ability to falsely claim that they are the defenders of the immigrants. Dropping their opposition to reform won’t put the GOP on an even playing field with Democrats for Hispanics, but it will give them a chance to begin making inroads. Republicans need to recognize that pushing illegals to get on the citizenship track, pay taxes and get ahead like all other previous immigrant groups is good for America and the GOP. If they do, they will prosper and become, like their predecessors from Ireland, Germany and a hundred other places, the sort of people who will be inclined to embrace the conservative doctrine of free markets and limited government.

Leaving the Hispanic vote aside, the rationale for Republican support for immigration reform is actually about a core principle of conservatism: a recognition that government can’t try to use legislation to override basic economics. So long as there are jobs in the United States that Americans are not filling and there is a large population of unemployed workers just outside our border, those people will be finding a way to get to those jobs no matter what the laws say. It is far better to accept this and accommodate the laws to economic reality than to attempt the opposite.

Moreover, despite the issues in some border states where a large population of illegals has created serious problems, we also need to understand that the overwhelming majority of illegal immigrants are here to work, not to try to collect welfare benefits. These are the sorts of people America has always needed and welcomed, and the idea that they are a threat to our way of life is grounded in inaccurate ideas about their role in our society and the economy. Worries about maintaining a large unassimilated population are best addressed through reform measures that encourage the learning of English in order to get on a path to citizenship, not empty talk about treating the immigrants as lawbreakers.

Those who refuse to contemplate any policy on illegal immigration other than punishment and stricter border security are living in a fantasy world. It is long past time for Republicans to stop trying to pretend that there is any solution to deal with millions of illegals other than to accept them. Any deal that strengthens border security and penalizes the illegals is the best conservatives will ever get. The GOP should embrace it and then move on to other, more important fights.

Read Less

Are Hagel and Obama “Soul Mates” on Defense Policy?

On January 10, 2007, then-Senator Barack Obama explained his opposition to the Iraq surge of additional troops by making a prediction: “I am not persuaded that 20,000 additional troops in Iraq is going to solve the sectarian violence there. In fact, I think it will do the reverse.” It was an early indication of Obama’s poor judgment and instinct to substitute ideological stubbornness for serious analysis. As we soon found out, Obama was just about as wrong as could be. I say “just about,” because Obama’s error was, surprisingly, eclipsed the very next day by the one man who turned out to be more mistaken than Obama, by saying the surge was “the most dangerous foreign policy blunder in this country since Vietnam, if it’s carried out.”

That man, of course, was Chuck Hagel. Obama and Hagel would develop a friendship, and repeat this pattern. They would travel to Iraq together, where Hagel was dismissive and suspicious of the military’s top brass. Obama would take office and do the same. Hagel would speak out against tough Iran sanctions, and Obama would work against them from the White House, opposing several iterations of them and finally watering them down when he couldn’t prevent sanctions from passing Congress. Hagel would loudly criticize even the contemplation of military action against Iran, and Obama would have his secretary of defense deliver a similar message to Israel. It is this pattern that has led Hagel’s critics to express concern about his nomination to be secretary of defense. Many worry Obama shares Hagel’s views; Obama’s defenders assure us he does not. The Washington Post’s Bob Woodward says the critics are right, and relays a conversation Obama and Hagel had at the beginning of Obama’s first term:

Read More

On January 10, 2007, then-Senator Barack Obama explained his opposition to the Iraq surge of additional troops by making a prediction: “I am not persuaded that 20,000 additional troops in Iraq is going to solve the sectarian violence there. In fact, I think it will do the reverse.” It was an early indication of Obama’s poor judgment and instinct to substitute ideological stubbornness for serious analysis. As we soon found out, Obama was just about as wrong as could be. I say “just about,” because Obama’s error was, surprisingly, eclipsed the very next day by the one man who turned out to be more mistaken than Obama, by saying the surge was “the most dangerous foreign policy blunder in this country since Vietnam, if it’s carried out.”

That man, of course, was Chuck Hagel. Obama and Hagel would develop a friendship, and repeat this pattern. They would travel to Iraq together, where Hagel was dismissive and suspicious of the military’s top brass. Obama would take office and do the same. Hagel would speak out against tough Iran sanctions, and Obama would work against them from the White House, opposing several iterations of them and finally watering them down when he couldn’t prevent sanctions from passing Congress. Hagel would loudly criticize even the contemplation of military action against Iran, and Obama would have his secretary of defense deliver a similar message to Israel. It is this pattern that has led Hagel’s critics to express concern about his nomination to be secretary of defense. Many worry Obama shares Hagel’s views; Obama’s defenders assure us he does not. The Washington Post’s Bob Woodward says the critics are right, and relays a conversation Obama and Hagel had at the beginning of Obama’s first term:

According to an account that Hagel later gave, and is reported here for the first time, he told Obama: “We are at a time where there is a new world order. We don’t control it. You must question everything, every assumption, everything they” — the military and diplomats — “tell you. Any assumption 10 years old is out of date. You need to question our role. You need to question the military. You need to question what are we using the military for….

Obama did not say much but listened. At the time, Hagel considered Obama a “loner,” inclined to keep a distance and his own counsel. But Hagel’s comments help explain why Obama nominated his former Senate colleague to be his next secretary of defense. The two share similar views and philosophies as the Obama administration attempts to define the role of the United States in the transition to a post-superpower world.

Hagel’s foreign policy insight isn’t exactly stellar, to say the least. But it impressed Obama because, according to Woodward, it mirrors his own. Now it’s true that Hagel has been going around Capitol Hill claiming to support whatever policies Obama also says he supports and whatever policies he’ll need to support to ensure successful confirmation. But it is just silly to try and pretend that Obama doesn’t have a record and history of agreeing with Hagel on many of these issues.

Yesterday’s other Hagel revelation, if you can call it that, was what he said at a 2009 J Street conference. J Street had been refusing to release the video of Hagel’s speech, but it turned out that the prepared text was online the whole time at Hagel’s old think tank, as Yair Rosenberg discovered. J Street’s refusal to release the video suggested there might be some offensive content in it. That doesn’t appear to be the case. Instead, it just seems to have been a case of J Street being J Street–secretive, bizarrely defensive, reminiscent of when J Street claimed it was not funded by George Soros when in fact it was greatly funded by George Soros.

In the speech, Hagel offers an endorsement of an obnoxious Thomas Friedman column and seems to hold by the discredited “linkage” theory of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He also called the attempt to isolate Syria’s Bashar al-Assad “bewildering.” It is neither a well-informed nor wise speech text, but it doesn’t seem to contain any real surprises either. Nor is it a surprise, however, to read Woodward refer to Hagel as Obama’s “soul mate” on defense policy. And that is precisely what worries his critics the most.

Read Less

The Virtue of Moderation

I recently read a splendid book by Harry Clor, On Moderation: Defending an Ancient Virtue in a Modern World, whose purpose is to “articulate a coherent, defensible case for moderation as a virtue, the possession and encouragement of which is important for us.”

Maybe the best way to begin is to be clear on what Clor says moderation is not. Political moderation is not, he writes, the antithesis of holding principled and wholehearted commitments. It’s not simply a matter of being in the middle of two extremes. It is not “tepid, middle compromise” between opposing ideals.

Like thoughtful scholarship, political moderation, according to Clor, takes a disinterested account of opposing perspectives on complex questions. It is synonymous with proportionality. And it recognizes limits and takes into account circumstances. For example, determining how much liberty and how much restraint a society embraces can’t be answered in the abstract; it depends on circumstances. “A course of action, policy, or pronouncement that is valid in some or most cases would be wrong, even disastrous, in certain situations, and there will be exceptions to any proposition you could affirm,” Clor writes. Immoderation, on the other hand, “is characterized by a one-sided or absolute commitment to a good that is in fact only one good among several.”

Read More

I recently read a splendid book by Harry Clor, On Moderation: Defending an Ancient Virtue in a Modern World, whose purpose is to “articulate a coherent, defensible case for moderation as a virtue, the possession and encouragement of which is important for us.”

Maybe the best way to begin is to be clear on what Clor says moderation is not. Political moderation is not, he writes, the antithesis of holding principled and wholehearted commitments. It’s not simply a matter of being in the middle of two extremes. It is not “tepid, middle compromise” between opposing ideals.

Like thoughtful scholarship, political moderation, according to Clor, takes a disinterested account of opposing perspectives on complex questions. It is synonymous with proportionality. And it recognizes limits and takes into account circumstances. For example, determining how much liberty and how much restraint a society embraces can’t be answered in the abstract; it depends on circumstances. “A course of action, policy, or pronouncement that is valid in some or most cases would be wrong, even disastrous, in certain situations, and there will be exceptions to any proposition you could affirm,” Clor writes. Immoderation, on the other hand, “is characterized by a one-sided or absolute commitment to a good that is in fact only one good among several.”

Professor Clor goes on to warn that we should want politics that incorporates moderation and “you should be quite afraid of any leaders, movements, or polities wholly lacking them.”

I quite agree, and while there is a danger that one can be frozen because of the inability to decide on the merits of competing claims, the greater danger faced by most of us is more nearly the opposite: acting as if every course of action we have chosen is obvious and enlightened and could only be opposed by knaves or fools; and that every decision should be viewed as a zero-sum proposition, with all the arguments favoring one side (ours) and disfavoring the other. We go in search of data and studies that reinforce our preexisting views and ignore (or dismiss) the others. It’s of course easy to see these tendencies in others, and much harder to see them in ourselves.

“Willingness to entertain doubts is a moderating virtue when it reminds me, before I launch into some totalistic commitment, that there is more than one viewpoint or consideration to take into account,” Clor writes. “Moderation is intertwined with humility of a sort, the kind of humility that keeps us aware of our inevitable limitations – that we are all limited beings, limited in our capacity to master the unavoidable uncertainties and contingencies of life.”

This is something thinkers from Aristotle to Montaigne to Burke to Lincoln to C.S. Lewis understood, in one way or another; and it’s an insight all of us, of every political persuasion, would be wise to reacquaint ourselves with. Because moderation and humility, rightly understood, will help us to better ascertain the truth of things. And in politics, like life more generally, the truth shall set us free.

Read Less

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.

Read More

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.

Read Less

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.

Read More

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?

Read Less

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:

Read More

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.

Read Less

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:

Read More

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.

Read Less

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.”

Read More

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. 

Read Less

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.

Read More

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.

Read Less

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.

Read More

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.

Read Less

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.

Read More

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.

Read Less

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:

Read More

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.

Read Less

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.

Read More

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.

Read Less

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!”

Read More

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.

Read Less

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.

Read More

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.

Read Less