Commentary Magazine


Posts For: April 9, 2013

Obama’s Determination and Demagoguery Pay Off

President Obama is not one to be intimidated by long odds. That much is clear from his political career in general, but certainly from his dogged pursuit of Obamacare when the polls showed the country hated the bill and thought it was unconstitutional, and even elected a Republican to Ted Kennedy’s old Senate seat in the hopes of stopping the legislation in its tracks.

Advisors told Obama to drop it, pretty much right up until it passed. There were any number of opportunities for the White House to gracefully bow out of the health care reform fight, and they were all ignored. It can certainly be argued that when the public begged the president not to inflict a bad law on them, he should have spared them. But it can’t be argued that the president accepts conventional wisdom on what is politically feasible as the last word. And so it is with gun control.

Read More

President Obama is not one to be intimidated by long odds. That much is clear from his political career in general, but certainly from his dogged pursuit of Obamacare when the polls showed the country hated the bill and thought it was unconstitutional, and even elected a Republican to Ted Kennedy’s old Senate seat in the hopes of stopping the legislation in its tracks.

Advisors told Obama to drop it, pretty much right up until it passed. There were any number of opportunities for the White House to gracefully bow out of the health care reform fight, and they were all ignored. It can certainly be argued that when the public begged the president not to inflict a bad law on them, he should have spared them. But it can’t be argued that the president accepts conventional wisdom on what is politically feasible as the last word. And so it is with gun control.

This is an issue on which the president hadn’t previously shown too much interest, mostly because he wanted to be re-elected. But he saw an opportunity in tragedy, and sought to exploit the nation’s shock and grief to grant another liberal wish. He wanted a ban on so-called assault weapons–though it has become clear the president could not, if asked, identify them–and Harry Reid told him too many Democrats in the Senate wanted to get re-elected to support it. Obama told him the White House would be back for the gun ban at some point.

The idea then was to go forward with what was left of the gun control legislation without the gun ban, which amounted to mostly increased background checks. But civil liberties advocates didn’t like what sounded like a national gun registry and bureaucrats making mental health diagnoses. Democrats started getting cold feet on the background checks too.

But the president, as usual, wasn’t ready to surrender. He wondered aloud how many Republicans care about their children. The majority of Americans disapprove of that kind of offensive rhetoric, and so they disapprove of how the president is handling the gun control issue. But he was just getting started. He went to Connecticut yesterday, held a rally in support of gun control, and said this to the cheering crowd:

What’s more important to you:  our children, or an A-grade from the gun lobby?

The president’s habit of telling the American people that his political opponents are monsters while exploiting grief and tragedy for political purposes is in bad taste. Most politicians know that this kind of thing can get out of hand and poison the political process: the most notorious example is of Ted Kennedy’s shameful attack on Robert Bork, which ruined the judicial confirmation process and scarred the courts, and from which American political discourse has never recovered. President Obama’s rhetoric has not reached such depths, but it is also an attack on the character of a far larger number of people.

In any case, the problem is that it works. Kennedy stopped Bork. Liberals who accused Obamacare’s critics in the Senate of literally wanting to kill thousands of people got their bill. And, the New York Times reports, it appears Obama will at least get a vote on the latest iteration of gun control:

Several Senate Republicans on Tuesday came out publicly against filibustering the first major gun control legislation since 1993 before it is even brought up for debate on the Senate floor, as advocates inched toward breaking a conservative blockade of the measure.

With backers of new gun safety laws increasingly optimistic that they can corral the 60 votes necessary to begin consideration of the measure, Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the majority leader, said he would schedule a showdown vote for Thursday. His comments came as lobbying on gun control stepped up on Capitol Hill, with the families of children killed in Newtown, Conn., four months ago fanning out across the Senate to personally appeal to lawmakers to vote “yes.”

Some Republicans still want clarification of what, exactly, is in the bill before they agree to bring it up for a vote, but it will be interesting to see if the final bill is something that could also pass the House, since the GOP controls that chamber. That means the legislation itself could end up passing the Senate and still not get enacted. Or it could get a vote in the Senate, but lose the vote.

One thing is for sure: this is far from the last time conservatives will be demonized by the president when he wants something from them. And it’s probably not the last time it’ll work, either.

Read Less

Al-Qaeda’s Growth in Syria

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who has an important op-ed in today’s Washington Post, has long expressed reticence about U.S. efforts to arm the Syrian opposition. When I was in Baghdad last fall, both officials and ordinary Iraqis expressed concern about the radicalization of the Syrian opposition. That does not mean that they loved Syrian President Bashar al-Assad more: He had provided the underground railway through which for years so many al-Qaeda terrorists had infiltrated Iraq. Nor does fear of the opposition provide an excuse to enable Iranian supply of Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

Still, the Iraqis—like the Turks and Jordanians—are more attuned to events transpiring in neighboring Syria than are many U.S. senators. And while the senators may be acting with their hearts in the right place, the situation on the ground in Syria has changed dramatically since the debates began. Pundits are correct to question why the Obama administration felt a “responsibility to protect” in Libya, but turned their blind eye toward the suffering in Syria. The best parallel for what is transpiring in Syria, however, is no longer Libya but rather Bosnia, which had no shortage of war criminals on all sides of the fight.

Read More

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who has an important op-ed in today’s Washington Post, has long expressed reticence about U.S. efforts to arm the Syrian opposition. When I was in Baghdad last fall, both officials and ordinary Iraqis expressed concern about the radicalization of the Syrian opposition. That does not mean that they loved Syrian President Bashar al-Assad more: He had provided the underground railway through which for years so many al-Qaeda terrorists had infiltrated Iraq. Nor does fear of the opposition provide an excuse to enable Iranian supply of Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

Still, the Iraqis—like the Turks and Jordanians—are more attuned to events transpiring in neighboring Syria than are many U.S. senators. And while the senators may be acting with their hearts in the right place, the situation on the ground in Syria has changed dramatically since the debates began. Pundits are correct to question why the Obama administration felt a “responsibility to protect” in Libya, but turned their blind eye toward the suffering in Syria. The best parallel for what is transpiring in Syria, however, is no longer Libya but rather Bosnia, which had no shortage of war criminals on all sides of the fight.

The announcement posted yesterday on jihadi forums under Islamic State of Iraq leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s name detailing the union of the Nusra Front in Syria and the Islamic State of Iraq confirms what many analysts have long suspected. “It’s now time to declare in front of the people of the Levant and world that al-Nusra Front is but an extension of the Islamic State of Iraq and part of it,” he declared. In effect, the Nusra Front becomes one more al-Qaeda affiliate to join al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, and Ash-Shabaab in Somalia. The Nusra Front is not simply about Syria: Recent postings by Saudi fighters, demands directed to Beijing by Chinese Muslims fighting in Syria, and the eulogy of a Swedish member all underline the internationalization of the Nusra Front. In effect, Syria has become the new Chechnya.

That should put Washington in a diplomatic quandary. Qatari and Turkish support for the Nusra Front is now effectively aiding an al-Qaeda affiliate sworn not only to kill Bashar al-Assad but also Americans. If Gulf analysts in Bahrain and Kuwait are to be believed, Qatar is mucking about with such groups not simply out of religious solidarity, but also because the emir of Qatar is high on the notion that tiny Qatar can afford to muck about and be a player on the international stage. Turkey would rather pump money to an al-Qaeda affiliate than recognize the rights of Syrian Kurds who will not pay fealty to Turkey’s leader, like the Democratic Union Party (PYD) which now controls most Kurdish areas in Syria.

A no-fly zone, such as that Max Boot advocates, would have once helped ordinary Syrians protect themselves against the excesses of Bashar al-Assad’s rule. And it still may not be such a bad idea, so long as it simply does not do the Nusra Front’s work for it. Nor is simply funding the Syrian opposition wise since neither the State Department nor Central Intelligence Agency is skilled at separating the wheat from the chaff among Syrian opposition groups. Liberals will not rise to the top in any safe-haven when faced with a group bent on their repression at any cost. Whether we like it or not, any strategy for Syria must now prioritize crushing the Nusra Front. Defeating Assad and hoping for the best is not a strategy that will bolster U.S. interests.

Read Less

State Sovereignty and Social Media

In her memoirs, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice recalls meeting with young Russian entrepreneurs in Moscow and, thinking the audience sympathetic to her concerns, knocked Russia’s state-dominated–and seemingly Soviet inspired–television stations. One of the men agreed: “Here is what our news looks like: The first story is about the great man [Putin]. The second is about agricultural production being up. The third is about whatever innocent people the United States killed today. The fourth is about the chosen successor to the great man.”

But having identified the problem, he seemed to dismiss it in the same breath. “But who watches television? We’re all on the Internet,” he told Rice. The secretary of state then went to meet with Putin’s handpicked successor Dmitry Medvedev, and lodged the same complaint to him about Russian state media. He too agreed, and then added: “But who watches television? We’re all on the Internet.”

Read More

In her memoirs, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice recalls meeting with young Russian entrepreneurs in Moscow and, thinking the audience sympathetic to her concerns, knocked Russia’s state-dominated–and seemingly Soviet inspired–television stations. One of the men agreed: “Here is what our news looks like: The first story is about the great man [Putin]. The second is about agricultural production being up. The third is about whatever innocent people the United States killed today. The fourth is about the chosen successor to the great man.”

But having identified the problem, he seemed to dismiss it in the same breath. “But who watches television? We’re all on the Internet,” he told Rice. The secretary of state then went to meet with Putin’s handpicked successor Dmitry Medvedev, and lodged the same complaint to him about Russian state media. He too agreed, and then added: “But who watches television? We’re all on the Internet.”

Rice was surprised by Medvedev’s candor and the young Russians’ nonchalance about state TV propagandizing. No one in Russia, however, would have been: the rowdy Russian blogosphere has long replaced conventional media interaction, though there is some opposition engagement on radio. In the land of head-spinning bureaucracy, the Internet remained largely free and served as a valuable release valve for the Russian people.

But the Russian government has, since Medvedev’s conversation with Rice, sought to chip away at that freedom. And its efforts have increased since the Arab Spring demonstrated–even if it may have exaggerated–the power of social media and online organizing to work toward a more level playing field. Vladimir Putin’s approach to governing in Russia has been guided by the grand bargain: don’t challenge Putin in the political sphere, and you can have basic freedom in your private life. Once Putin sensed the danger the Internet posed to his authority, it went from the latter to the former, as Andrei Soldatov and Irina Borogan write at Foreign Policy:

The Single Register, officially introduced on Nov. 1, 2012, aimed to solve this problem. Three government agencies — the Roskomnadzor (the Federal Service for Supervision of Communications), the Federal Antidrug Agency, and the Federal Service for the Supervision of Consumer Rights and Public Welfare — submit data for the government’s black list of sites. Service providers are then required to block access to sites within 24 hours of their blacklisting on the Single Register.

Since November 1, hundreds of websites have been banned from the Russian Internet….

In August 2012, at a meeting organized by the Ministry of Communications, a working group of representatives of the country’s biggest telecom companies concluded that the only way to implement the law which established the Single Register was through deep packet inspection (DPI) technology, which allows Internet service providers to peer into people’s Internet traffic and read, copy, or even modify e-mails and webpages. DPI also helps identify users — what is downloaded by whom, and who looked for what on the Internet. By late fall 2012, all the biggest telecoms in Russia had DPI operational on their networks.

This effort also built on earlier initiatives. Russia’s security services started buying special software from companies such as Analytic Business Solutions, SyTech, iTeco, and Medialogia for monitoring in the mid-2000s. The most famous example was in 2006, on the eve of the G8 summit in St. Petersburg, when the Interior Ministry bought a “Random Information Collection System” from the Russian software company Smartware — as a precaution, it claimed, against extremism. Now dozens of Russian companies supply software to monitor the activities of opposition groups — or anyone, theoretically — in social networks.

They also report on the evidence that Russia’s foreign intelligence agency is working to develop software that would enable it to manipulate social media at home and abroad, specifically aimed at the former Soviet states in Russia’s near-abroad. At a recent international conference, Soldatov and Borogan write, the Russian delegation pushed for Internet-based “sovereignty” protections which, when combined with the attempts to control social media in nominally independent Eastern European states, would amount to a kind of digital sphere of influence–something they plan to push for again at the next meeting of the G8. Soldatov and Borogan also raise the possibility that Putin will try to force companies like Facebook, Twitter, and Google (mainly for its Gmail component) to host their Russian activities on Russian soil: “If this were to happen, such services would then be subject to local legislation and forced to build in backdoors for monitoring or manipulation by the secret services.”

Putin may be overestimating his ability to control Russia’s Internet or stay one step ahead of his savvy and spirited opposition. But he certainly hasn’t misread the West, which has done everything possible in the last few years to reinforce Putin’s sense of entitlement to a sphere of influence. If he can have such leeway on land, it’s no surprise he believes he can have such border control in cyberspace. Activists the world over will no doubt be paying close attention to whether the West will fold on this too.

Read Less

Keep U.S.-Egypt Joint Exercises on Ice

I was surprised to hear recently from deploying U.S. troops that among their deployment plans was participation in Bright Star, the once-annual U.S.-Egypt military exercise delayed as a result of the political turmoil that led to Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak’s ouster. In February, CENTCOM commander General James Mattis and U.S. Ambassador Anne Patterson met to discuss the resumption of Bright Star with Egyptian Defense Minister Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi’s appointee.

In recent weeks, Sisi has apparently been turning a blind eye as the Muslim Brotherhood sends its own as cadets into Egypt’s military academy in an effort to change the army’s character. The army has also proven itself ineffective as Islamists target Christians in what might best be described as pogroms.

Read More

I was surprised to hear recently from deploying U.S. troops that among their deployment plans was participation in Bright Star, the once-annual U.S.-Egypt military exercise delayed as a result of the political turmoil that led to Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak’s ouster. In February, CENTCOM commander General James Mattis and U.S. Ambassador Anne Patterson met to discuss the resumption of Bright Star with Egyptian Defense Minister Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi’s appointee.

In recent weeks, Sisi has apparently been turning a blind eye as the Muslim Brotherhood sends its own as cadets into Egypt’s military academy in an effort to change the army’s character. The army has also proven itself ineffective as Islamists target Christians in what might best be described as pogroms.

Ties between military officers can be incredibly important, especially when it comes to de-escalating crises. During the 1999 Kargil Crisis—which for a short time appeared could spark a nuclear conflict between India and Pakistan—it was the personal ties between American and Pakistani officers more than formal diplomacy that helped calm the situation.

Still, prominent exercises as Bright Star often imply a greater partnership than Egypt deserves. As Egypt’s military changes, it increasingly poses a threat to its neighbors and its own people. Bilateral military ties might continue with occasional meetings, but it is both too early and unwise for Egypt to host Bright Star. Let us hope Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel might spend the money the Pentagon now plans to expend on Egypt instead on the upkeep and training of U.S. forces and equipment.

Read Less

Thatcher and the Politics of Prudence

Yesterday Mark Levin, popular radio talk show host and best-selling author, suggested (without mentioning my name) that my post on Margaret Thatcher was fundamentally at odds with, and even schizophrenic with, my post last week, in which I spoke about a conservatism that “places a premium on prudence and takes into account shifting circumstances and public sentiments.”

How could I praise political moderation and prudence one week and the Iron Lady the next?

A fair question, and one that affords me an opportunity to explain why the Thatcher example actually underscores my point about the conservative temperament and political moderation rightly understood.

Margaret Thatcher was a tower of political strength–principled, strong, determined, and courageous. (A nice summary of her accomplishments can be found here.) But what was the one area, as both a candidate and as prime minister, she stayed away from? The National Health Service–England’s socialized medical system. In fact, in her memoirs she praised the NHS. And Thatcher promised in her 1982 Conservative Party Conference speech that the NHS was “safe with us.”

Read More

Yesterday Mark Levin, popular radio talk show host and best-selling author, suggested (without mentioning my name) that my post on Margaret Thatcher was fundamentally at odds with, and even schizophrenic with, my post last week, in which I spoke about a conservatism that “places a premium on prudence and takes into account shifting circumstances and public sentiments.”

How could I praise political moderation and prudence one week and the Iron Lady the next?

A fair question, and one that affords me an opportunity to explain why the Thatcher example actually underscores my point about the conservative temperament and political moderation rightly understood.

Margaret Thatcher was a tower of political strength–principled, strong, determined, and courageous. (A nice summary of her accomplishments can be found here.) But what was the one area, as both a candidate and as prime minister, she stayed away from? The National Health Service–England’s socialized medical system. In fact, in her memoirs she praised the NHS. And Thatcher promised in her 1982 Conservative Party Conference speech that the NHS was “safe with us.”

This is similar to what Ronald Reagan did with the New Deal, promising not to dismantle it. On the contrary, Reagan spoke about our nation’s “ironclad commitment to Social Security.” Reagan, in 1980, even went so far as to reassure people he would not dismantle Medicare, which of course was a product of the Great Society. (Avik Roy points out that “the closest thing to Medicare reform that Reagan tried was to introduce a new system of price controls into the program, called the Resource-Based Relative Value Scale, in 1988…. Indeed, Reagan’s most significant contribution to our health-care system was to help create a new entitlement—EMTALA–that guaranteed that anyone could get free access to emergency room care regardless of their ability to pay, including illegal immigrants.”)

What to make of these decisions by both Thatcher and Reagan?

I suppose one could argue–quite unfairly in my view–that they were unprincipled, weak, and RINO-like. The other interpretation is that they were conservative in the way I described last week: prudent, realistic, and wise enough not to engage in a political Pickett’s Charge.

Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan picked their battles wisely, didn’t make the perfect the enemy of the good, and didn’t fight on issues that may well have led to their electoral loss–and therefore, in the process, foreclosed their chance at being historically great figures. They also took into account the settled views of the public, at least at the moment in time in which they governed. That doesn’t mean that over time things couldn’t change–as indeed they have on Medicare, with Republicans offering conservative reforms that go far beyond anything envisioned by Reagan. 

But I for one wouldn’t criticize Thatcher for not engaging in a frontal assault on NHS or Reagan for not engaging in a frontal assault on the New Deal. They marshaled their political capital in order to make profound changes in other areas, where they had a decent chance for success. So Reagan, for example, ushered in the supply side revolution while Thatcher privatized many British industries that had been state-controlled.

I wish, by the way, that Prime Minister Thatcher had been able to undo NHS and replace it with a free market system. But what one might have wanted her to do based on a conservative wish list, and what she was in fact able to do, are two different things. The conservatism I described last week is, I think, the conservatism Thatcher and Reagan more or less subscribed to in practice.

There is something of a divide on the right, perhaps not so much in terms of the end most of us seek (lower taxes, limited government, more competition, accountability and free market reforms) than in terms of how conservatives ought to deal with political reality as they try to advance conservative causes. Margaret Thatcher made her own inner peace with the NHS. And she was still one of the most consequential and successful conservative leaders of the 20th century.

Read Less

How to Deter North Korea?

So far the Obama administration has hung commendably tough in its response to North Korean saber rattling. Unlike his predecessors, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, President Obama has resisted the urge to make concessions to North Korea to stop their warmongering. Instead, he has deployed military assets to the region to make clear that any North Korean attack will be met with an overwhelming response.

But that hard-line stance may be starting to waver under the continuing pressure being applied by young dictator Kim Jong-un, who appears eager to prove that, like his old man (departed Dear Leader Kim Jong-il), he too can extract concessions from Washington and win a propaganda victory. His latest move is to close down the Kaesong industrial complex where some 50,000 North Koreans are employed by South Korean firms. This is a vital source of hard currency for the North, so this cut-off-your-nose-to-spite-your-face maneuver indicates just how far Kim is willing to go.

Read More

So far the Obama administration has hung commendably tough in its response to North Korean saber rattling. Unlike his predecessors, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, President Obama has resisted the urge to make concessions to North Korea to stop their warmongering. Instead, he has deployed military assets to the region to make clear that any North Korean attack will be met with an overwhelming response.

But that hard-line stance may be starting to waver under the continuing pressure being applied by young dictator Kim Jong-un, who appears eager to prove that, like his old man (departed Dear Leader Kim Jong-il), he too can extract concessions from Washington and win a propaganda victory. His latest move is to close down the Kaesong industrial complex where some 50,000 North Koreans are employed by South Korean firms. This is a vital source of hard currency for the North, so this cut-off-your-nose-to-spite-your-face maneuver indicates just how far Kim is willing to go.

Now there are leaks emerging from Washington that some within the administration are worried that the hard line may be going too far–that our response, or South Korea’s, to North Korean aggression could actually provoke a war. Thus we saw yesterday the plugged-in Washington reporter David Sanger reporting in the New York Times that American officials are preparing exquisitely proportional responses to any North Korean attacks: “For example, if the North Koreans were to shell a South Korean island that had military installations, as has occurred in the past, the plan calls for the South to retaliate quickly with a barrage of artillery of similar intensity.”

As for the possibility of North Korea launching a ballistic missile, “Pentagon officials said they would be ready to calculate its trajectory within seconds and try to shoot it down if it appeared headed toward impact in South Korea, Japan or Guam, an American territory. But they planned to do nothing if it were headed toward open water, even if it went over Japan, as one previous North Korean test did.”

This is precisely the wrong signal to send to Pyongyang. The North Koreans may be isolated, but they read the New York Times too–and the message they will take away from Sanger’s story is that they don’t have much to fear from an attack–the worst that could happen is a few rounds of artillery falling on their soil. South Korea’s new president, Park Geun-hye, has gone much further by threatening that North Korean attacks could be met with South Korean military action against Northern command and control centers–attacks which could presumably target Kim Jong-un and his coterie.

There are good arguments to be made on both sides of the debate about how far any counter-attack against the North should go–there are clear risks in Park Geun-hye’s threatened approach (the risk of provoking a wider war) just as there are in the milder approach telegraphed by Sanger (the risk of not deterring North Korean attacks). But of one thing I am certain: it is a mistake to dispel Pyongyang’s doubts about the nature of a unified South Korean-American response to any attacks on their part. Only if Kim Jong-un fears the worst will he refrain from attacking. But having read the New York Times, he is likely to be less restrained now.

Read Less

Don’t Be Fooled by Kurdish Peace Process

Speaking in Istanbul on Sunday, Secretary of State John Kerry praised the peace process between Turkey and the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). Standing beside Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, he told a news conference, “We welcome the PKK’s commitment to lay down its arms. We discussed our work to combat terrorism in all its forms … including the violence that has plagued Turkey for three long decades,” he said, adding, “No peace process is easy. It always takes courage and determination.”

Kerry would be foolish, however, to believe that Turkey’s current outreach to the PKK is about peace, or permanent reconciliation with Turkey’s Kurds. Rather, two other factors are at play, both of which suggest that political cynicism and greed rather than sincerity are at the root of Turkey’s rush to negotiation with the Kurdish group.

Read More

Speaking in Istanbul on Sunday, Secretary of State John Kerry praised the peace process between Turkey and the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). Standing beside Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, he told a news conference, “We welcome the PKK’s commitment to lay down its arms. We discussed our work to combat terrorism in all its forms … including the violence that has plagued Turkey for three long decades,” he said, adding, “No peace process is easy. It always takes courage and determination.”

Kerry would be foolish, however, to believe that Turkey’s current outreach to the PKK is about peace, or permanent reconciliation with Turkey’s Kurds. Rather, two other factors are at play, both of which suggest that political cynicism and greed rather than sincerity are at the root of Turkey’s rush to negotiation with the Kurdish group.

The first factor that influences Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s behavior is the 2020 Summer Olympics. The announcement on Nowruz, the traditional Persian and Kurdish New Year’s celebration, came just days before a team from the International Olympic Committee came to survey Istanbul, one of three finalists for the 2020 games. Erdoğan seeks the games not only to propel Turkey—and himself—further onto the world stage but also because the Summer Olympics could provide him with a financial bonanza. Sponsoring the Olympic Games might be a money loser to many countries, but the prime minister has not been shy about directing major development contracts to a firm run by his son-in-law. Erdoğan has gone from being a humble politician with a humble salary to a millionaire, many times over. Explaining away his wealth as the product of gifts presented at his son’s wedding is not convincing. The International Olympic Committee will make its decision in September. Whatever they decide—and Istanbul is likely the frontrunner—as soon as the decision is made, Erdoğan no longer needs to pretend to pursue peace.

The second factor is Erdoğan’s own political future. Erdoğan is currently overseeing efforts to rewrite the constitution and convert Turkey to a presidential system in which the president, rather than the prime minister, will hold sway. This would give Erdoğan perhaps two more terms of perhaps five to seven years each. Erdoğan figures he needs Kurdish support to support a new constitution with a strong presidential system. As soon as the new constitution is approved, however, Turkey’s Kurds again become expendable.

Too often, American officials imagine that peace partners are sincere. Erdoğan has been quite vague about what concessions he will be willing to make to the Kurds, and whether any of the Kurds’ basic aspirations will be met. PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan, for example, seeks federation. That is not likely something Erdoğan could deliver, even if he were so willing. 

Let us hope that Secretary of State John Kerry recognizes that with insincere interlocutors, talk is more about the process than the peace, and often more about the money and personal power than achieving a final settlement. That was certainly the case with Yasir Arafat and it also appears to be the major factor at play with Turkey’s prime minister.

Read Less

America Could Use Some “Question Time”

The death of Margaret Thatcher has, predictably, led to an outpouring of remembrance of this remarkable human being, including her zest for political combat. This has resulted in numerous clips of her at question time, that hour every day when the queen’s ministers face often very hostile questions from the opposition across the floor of the House of Commons (and, far less often, from their own party). Powerline has posted one such video, of Thatcher’s last appearance in parliament as Prime Minister. She is obviously thoroughly enjoying herself.

I have often thought that it is very unfortunate that nothing like question time has developed in this country, for it has been an enormously positive force in British politics. Unlike journalists, who are inescapably locked in a mutual back scratching society with politicians and thus can’t be too tough on them, the opposite party is only too happy to force them to respond—on the fly—to embarrassing questions. This, in turn, has empowered British journalists to ask tougher questions than American journalists usually ask. The Sunday talk shows in this country are all too often softball exhibitions.

Read More

The death of Margaret Thatcher has, predictably, led to an outpouring of remembrance of this remarkable human being, including her zest for political combat. This has resulted in numerous clips of her at question time, that hour every day when the queen’s ministers face often very hostile questions from the opposition across the floor of the House of Commons (and, far less often, from their own party). Powerline has posted one such video, of Thatcher’s last appearance in parliament as Prime Minister. She is obviously thoroughly enjoying herself.

I have often thought that it is very unfortunate that nothing like question time has developed in this country, for it has been an enormously positive force in British politics. Unlike journalists, who are inescapably locked in a mutual back scratching society with politicians and thus can’t be too tough on them, the opposite party is only too happy to force them to respond—on the fly—to embarrassing questions. This, in turn, has empowered British journalists to ask tougher questions than American journalists usually ask. The Sunday talk shows in this country are all too often softball exhibitions.

It has also forced British politicians to be very nimble on their verbal feet, and wit—which is often in very short supply in American politics—is greatly prized on the other side of the Atlantic. Many of Winston Churchill’s famous turns of phrase, such as “terminological inexactitude” and “parsimonious with the truth,” came out of question time. And then there was the famous exchange in the 18th century when one member, losing his temper, said of another, “You, sir, shall die of the pox or upon the gallows!” His interlocutor instantly replied, “And which it is to be, sir, depends on whether I embrace your mistress or your principles!”

Wouldn’t it be great if the entire cabinet and the heads of the major agencies had to appear in the House of Representatives once a week and answer whatever questions the other party chose to throw at them, while members hooted their derision or shouted, “hear! hear!”? At the very least, it would make for great political theater, once they sharpened their debating skills. Senator John McCain in his 2008 campaign for president said that if elected he would ask the Congress to appear before both houses regularly to answer questions. I doubt that would have come to pass, however, for constitutional reasons.

Read Less




Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.