Commentary Magazine


Posts For: May 1, 2013

Remembering the Victims of Communism

As it does every year, The Volokh Conspiracy blog reminds us today that May 1 should be known as Victims of Communism Day. I heartily agree. Though we don’t hear much about workers’ solidarity in the struggle against capitalism on this date any more, the generation that has grown up in the aftermath of the fall of the Berlin Wall may have lost touch with the fundamental reality of what the Communist nightmare cost humanity in the last century.

As Ilya Somin first noted back in 2007:

May Day began as a holiday for socialists and labor union activists, not just communists. But over time, the date was taken over by the Soviet Union and other communist regimes and used as a propaganda tool to prop up their regimes. I suggest that we instead use it as a day to commemorate those regimes’ millions of victims. The authoritative Black Book of Communism estimates the total at 80 to 100 million dead, greater than that caused by all other twentieth century tyrannies combined. We appropriately have a Holocaust Memorial Day. It is equally appropriate to commemorate the victims of the twentieth century’s other great totalitarian tyranny. And May Day is the most fitting day to do so. I suggest that May Day be turned into Victims of Communism Day….

The main alternative to May 1 is November 7, the anniversary of the communist coup in Russia. However, choosing that date might be interpreted as focusing exclusively on the Soviet Union, while ignoring the equally horrendous communist mass murders in China, Cambodia, and elsewhere. So May 1 is the best choice.

It’s little surprise that the Catholic Church’s designation of May 1—the feats of St. Joseph the worker—as a date to commemorate the victims of Communism had little traction. For decades anti-Communism in this country was wrongly associated with the antics of Senator Joseph McCarthy and blacklists of left-wing artists.

Read More

As it does every year, The Volokh Conspiracy blog reminds us today that May 1 should be known as Victims of Communism Day. I heartily agree. Though we don’t hear much about workers’ solidarity in the struggle against capitalism on this date any more, the generation that has grown up in the aftermath of the fall of the Berlin Wall may have lost touch with the fundamental reality of what the Communist nightmare cost humanity in the last century.

As Ilya Somin first noted back in 2007:

May Day began as a holiday for socialists and labor union activists, not just communists. But over time, the date was taken over by the Soviet Union and other communist regimes and used as a propaganda tool to prop up their regimes. I suggest that we instead use it as a day to commemorate those regimes’ millions of victims. The authoritative Black Book of Communism estimates the total at 80 to 100 million dead, greater than that caused by all other twentieth century tyrannies combined. We appropriately have a Holocaust Memorial Day. It is equally appropriate to commemorate the victims of the twentieth century’s other great totalitarian tyranny. And May Day is the most fitting day to do so. I suggest that May Day be turned into Victims of Communism Day….

The main alternative to May 1 is November 7, the anniversary of the communist coup in Russia. However, choosing that date might be interpreted as focusing exclusively on the Soviet Union, while ignoring the equally horrendous communist mass murders in China, Cambodia, and elsewhere. So May 1 is the best choice.

It’s little surprise that the Catholic Church’s designation of May 1—the feats of St. Joseph the worker—as a date to commemorate the victims of Communism had little traction. For decades anti-Communism in this country was wrongly associated with the antics of Senator Joseph McCarthy and blacklists of left-wing artists.

Some wrongly resented any attempt to honor the tens of millions who died at the hands of the Communists as somehow diminishing efforts to remember those who were slaughtered by the Nazis.

Others deprecated any measure that would sharpen the ideological differences between the West and the East as something that would undermine détente with the former Soviet Union (the same reason some on the left were slow to embrace the cause of freedom for Soviet Jewry). Other liberals felt that any talk of Communist atrocities or the captive nations of Eastern Europe would justify the War in Vietnam (where the American defeat added hundreds of thousands to the toll of Communist atrocities) or later bolster Ronald Reagan’s efforts to stand up to Soviet expansionism and eventually topple the Wall.

Sadly, the collapse of Soviet Communism, a bizarre nostalgia for the bad old days of totalitarianism, has emerged in Eastern Europe and Russia. Here in the West, radical chic heroes like Che Guevara, who was deeply implicated in mass murders after Castro seized power in Cuba, remain popular icons on T-shirts worn by kids who have no idea who or what they are glorifying. This is an offense to history and to the memories of the millions who were sacrificed on the altar of Marx’s mad experiment.

But there is more to this issue than mere sentiment or a desire to refight the political battles of the past. In the 21st century, freedom faces different foes than it did in the 20th, but the stakes are the same. As mad as it might be today to envision radical Islam gaining the kind of power that Communists once possessed, a lapse of vigilance on the part of the West could have unimaginable consequences. If an Islamist regime in Iran is allowed to posses a nuclear weapon or if Islamist governments in Arab countries escalate their war on non-Muslim minorities, anything is possible.

We should remember the victims of Communism for their own sake, but we must continue the struggle for freedom for the sake of uncounted millions whose lives will hang in the balance in the future.

Read Less

The Un-Lyndon Johnson

It finally seems to be dawning on much of the Washington press corps that President Obama doesn’t much like the way governance works in a democracy and so he just doesn’t do what presidents are paid to do: get things done.

It seems that his press conference yesterday, marking the hundredth day of his second term, was more or less of a disaster. He whined that his failure on gun control, cybersecurity, and removal of the sequester was all  the fault of Congress, and especially congressional Republicans. Jennifer Rubin of the Washington Post slices and dices that one most effectively. But Jen, of course, is a conservative. More surprising, Maureen Dowd of the New York Times, also beats him up big time.

Read More

It finally seems to be dawning on much of the Washington press corps that President Obama doesn’t much like the way governance works in a democracy and so he just doesn’t do what presidents are paid to do: get things done.

It seems that his press conference yesterday, marking the hundredth day of his second term, was more or less of a disaster. He whined that his failure on gun control, cybersecurity, and removal of the sequester was all  the fault of Congress, and especially congressional Republicans. Jennifer Rubin of the Washington Post slices and dices that one most effectively. But Jen, of course, is a conservative. More surprising, Maureen Dowd of the New York Times, also beats him up big time.

When Jonathan Karl of ABC, asked the president if he still had the “juice” to pass his agenda, Dowd reported Obama’s response:

Then he put on his best professorial mien to give his high-minded philosophy of governance: Reason together and do what’s right.

“But, Jonathan,” he lectured Karl, “you seem to suggest that somehow, these folks over there have no responsibilities and that my job is to somehow get them to behave. That’s their job. They are elected, members of Congress are elected in order to do what’s right for their constituencies and for the American people.”

Actually, it is his job to get them to behave. The job of the former community organizer and self-styled uniter is to somehow get this dunderheaded Congress, which is mind-bendingly awful, to do the stuff he wants them to do. It’s called leadership.

Obama, in other words, is the un-Lyndon Johnson. Johnson buttered up members of Congress with abandon, threatened them, and made deals as necessary to get his agenda through Congress. As a result, he had the most successful record of any president of the post-war era in bending Congress to his will.

But Obama, it seems, can hardly stand to shake hands with a member of Congress. Instead, as Dowd, says, he treats them the way professors treat not-overbright students. He explains what is the right thing to do and then expects them to do it, no questions asked, let alone self-interests pursued.

As his lame duck status intensifies, his chilly personality, utter disdain for any opinion but his own, and professorial ways will make him ever less effective, although it seems he is already about as ineffective as a president can be. He might want to read up on how Woodrow Wilson, another professor with a chilly personality, fared in the waning days of his term. It wasn’t pretty.

Read Less

Did Rubio Call an Audible?

One of the obstacles to garnering support for comprehensive immigration reform is the federal government’s poor reputation for enforcing the laws on the books. Advocates for immigration reform correctly point out that the current system amounts to a kind of unofficial, but clear, amnesty for illegal immigrants. While that claim is often deployed in defense of the current immigration reform efforts, it does raise the seeming contradiction of the bill’s proponents acknowledging the government’s underwhelming track record while asking the public to believe the government will get it right this time.

This is a common problem for supporters of any major overhaul. When President Obama talked about offsetting Medicare provider cuts by rooting out waste, fraud, and abuse (that slippery target that perennially plays Road Runner to the government’s Wile E. Coyote), the obvious response was to ask him why they haven’t already simply eliminated the waste, fraud, and abuse if they know it’s there, and why they need a reform bill to do so at all. So it is with “securing the border” and other elements of immigration reform. And Marco Rubio, a member of the “gang of eight” senators behind the current immigration reform legislation, is conceding as much. Politico reports that, because of those concerns, Rubio doesn’t think his own bill could pass the House:

Read More

One of the obstacles to garnering support for comprehensive immigration reform is the federal government’s poor reputation for enforcing the laws on the books. Advocates for immigration reform correctly point out that the current system amounts to a kind of unofficial, but clear, amnesty for illegal immigrants. While that claim is often deployed in defense of the current immigration reform efforts, it does raise the seeming contradiction of the bill’s proponents acknowledging the government’s underwhelming track record while asking the public to believe the government will get it right this time.

This is a common problem for supporters of any major overhaul. When President Obama talked about offsetting Medicare provider cuts by rooting out waste, fraud, and abuse (that slippery target that perennially plays Road Runner to the government’s Wile E. Coyote), the obvious response was to ask him why they haven’t already simply eliminated the waste, fraud, and abuse if they know it’s there, and why they need a reform bill to do so at all. So it is with “securing the border” and other elements of immigration reform. And Marco Rubio, a member of the “gang of eight” senators behind the current immigration reform legislation, is conceding as much. Politico reports that, because of those concerns, Rubio doesn’t think his own bill could pass the House:

“The bill that’s in place right now probably can’t pass the House,” Rubio told Mike Gallagher, a nationally syndicated talk show host. “It will have to be adjusted, because people are very suspicious about the willingness of the government to enforce the laws now.”

He continued: “That is a very legitimate suspicion, it’s one that I share, and if there’s anything we can do to make [the bill] even tighter … that’s exactly what we should be working on.”

In a separate radio appearance Tuesday, Rubio elaborated on the challenges facing the legislation in the House, saying the enforcement mechanisms in the Senate legislation would need to be much stronger in order to pass the lower chamber.

Critics will wonder why those enforcement mechanisms weren’t strengthened before Rubio and the gang of eight unveiled the bill. But it’s possible that opinion has been fairly fluid on the bill, and that it was difficult to take the public’s temperature–or that of the House GOP caucus–on a bill that didn’t yet exist, especially one more than 800 pages that had to be acceptable to the bipartisan group.

The bill is also in a precarious state from start to finish anyway. As I wrote last week, for the bill to pass the House, it would need strong conservative support in the Senate. Therefore, much would depend on how senators like Rand Paul voted. Because Rubio and Paul are considered potential 2016 candidates, GOP primary politics play into it. The trick on immigration for the candidates is to be conservative enough to survive the primaries but not too conservative for the general electorate. As such, if none of the 2016 candidates from the Senate opposes the bill, Rand Paul could easily get to the rightmost edge of the group by offering amendments that would pull the bill to the right without torpedoing it.

But the subject of my post from earlier today, Ted Cruz, may throw a wrench in such calculations. If Cruz opposes the bill–and when Cruz opposes something, he does not do so quietly–and it passes, as far as GOP border hawks are concerned Paul might as well be Rubio, who might as well be John McCain all over again. That depletes Paul’s incentive to have anything to do with the bill unless he can pull it much farther to the right, in which case he and Rubio will still be in the same boat but they will have left less space to their right for Cruz. If they can do that, they may lose border hawks to Cruz but Cruz will lose out among Hispanics and libertarians, possibly offsetting his advantage in the primaries while dooming his prospects should he win the nomination.

Thus, if Rubio believes Cruz is going to enter the 2016 race, his best play is to nudge the bill to the right. But he’s already produced his version of the bill, so someone else would have to do that. Having Paul do so would increase the chances that Paul will vote in favor of the final bill, leaving Cruz to the right of both of them. Since Rubio’s original strategy was almost certainly not to produce a bill and then go on talk radio to bash it, he seems to have been calling an audible here. And that audible was most likely intended to encourage Paul to beef up his amendments, especially on border security, so they could end up with a final bill they both could vote for while marginalizing conservative opposition.

When Rubio says the bill can’t pass the House as it currently stands, then, he may be right–but he’s probably not thinking primarily about the House.

Read Less

Newseum and Freedom House Smear Israel

Freedom House released its annual report on press freedom throughout the world today at an event sponsored by the Newseum in Washington. But along with the usual and appropriate condemnations of dictatorships and totalitarian states, the group decided to slam the one democracy in the Middle East as well as one of the few states in the region where press freedom actually exists: Israel.

Karin Karleklar, the organization’s project direct for monitoring press freedom, told an audience at the Newseum streamed live over the Internet this morning that Israel’s status was being downgraded from “free” to “partly free.” This is astonishing by itself, but the bizarre nature of this judgment is only made clear when one hears the reasons. Two of the reasons stated by Karleklar—the indictment of a journalist for possessing stolen classified materials and the problems that one television station has had in getting its license renewed—are hardly violations of freedom but do speak to issues that could be misinterpreted as tyrannical if they were discussing a country where there wasn’t a vibrant free press. But the third is so absurd as to call into question not merely the judgment but the impartiality of the entire report.

The report claims that the appearance on the scene of Israel Hayom, a relatively new Israeli newspaper, is a threat to press freedom because it is a success that has hurt the business prospects of its competitors. No, you didn’t misread that sentence. Freedom House is taking the position that the fact that Israel Hayom has claimed an impressive share of the hyper-competitive newspaper market is undermining the freedom of the press. The justification for this ridiculous claim is that Sheldon Adelson, the casino mogul and well-known contributor to Republican candidates, has “subsidized” the paper and that its editorial line favors Prime Minister Netanyahu. The paper, which is distributed free of charge, is now the most-read paper in Israel, a state of affairs which Freedom House not unreasonably connects to the demise of Maariv, a longtime mainstay of the Hebrew daily press. But the question readers of this report have to ask is what in the name of Joseph Pulitzer does the ability of Adelson’s paper to succeed where many other print papers are failing have to do with freedom of the press?

Read More

Freedom House released its annual report on press freedom throughout the world today at an event sponsored by the Newseum in Washington. But along with the usual and appropriate condemnations of dictatorships and totalitarian states, the group decided to slam the one democracy in the Middle East as well as one of the few states in the region where press freedom actually exists: Israel.

Karin Karleklar, the organization’s project direct for monitoring press freedom, told an audience at the Newseum streamed live over the Internet this morning that Israel’s status was being downgraded from “free” to “partly free.” This is astonishing by itself, but the bizarre nature of this judgment is only made clear when one hears the reasons. Two of the reasons stated by Karleklar—the indictment of a journalist for possessing stolen classified materials and the problems that one television station has had in getting its license renewed—are hardly violations of freedom but do speak to issues that could be misinterpreted as tyrannical if they were discussing a country where there wasn’t a vibrant free press. But the third is so absurd as to call into question not merely the judgment but the impartiality of the entire report.

The report claims that the appearance on the scene of Israel Hayom, a relatively new Israeli newspaper, is a threat to press freedom because it is a success that has hurt the business prospects of its competitors. No, you didn’t misread that sentence. Freedom House is taking the position that the fact that Israel Hayom has claimed an impressive share of the hyper-competitive newspaper market is undermining the freedom of the press. The justification for this ridiculous claim is that Sheldon Adelson, the casino mogul and well-known contributor to Republican candidates, has “subsidized” the paper and that its editorial line favors Prime Minister Netanyahu. The paper, which is distributed free of charge, is now the most-read paper in Israel, a state of affairs which Freedom House not unreasonably connects to the demise of Maariv, a longtime mainstay of the Hebrew daily press. But the question readers of this report have to ask is what in the name of Joseph Pulitzer does the ability of Adelson’s paper to succeed where many other print papers are failing have to do with freedom of the press?

The implication of the report is that there is something sinister in the way Israel Hayom has conducted its business and that its backing of Netanyahu creates a quasi-official press organ. But that is specious reasoning that bears no relation to either truth or the realities of the publishing business.

Newspapers that are distributed free of charge are not exactly an innovation. Many local sheets are run in that manner all across the United States. Moreover, the Metro papers that are available in a number of major urban markets including New York are operated in the same fashion without anyone—other than their competitors or critics of their superficial content—crying foul.

If Israel Hayom has won the affection of a plurality of Israeli readers in a country where people are, as Freedom House notes, avid consumers of newspapers in a fashion that is no longer the case in places like the United States, it is not because of a supposedly unfair advantage but because readers prefer it. And that is something that relates directly to the false implications of Freedom House’s report that tries to allege that its appearance is an attempt to suppress opposition views.

It will come as little surprise to Americans who are aware of the way their own press tilts to the left that this is even more true in Israel. The Hebrew press in Israel has always had a strong left-wing tilt with a particular bias against Netanyahu’s Likud Party and its predecessors. If there was any criticism to be made of the press in Israel in the past it was the lack of ideological diversity, a situation that was admittedly troubling in the era before the first Likud government was elected in 1977, when government ownership of the few broadcast outlets as well as its interests in the press allowed little room for dissent from the Labor Party.

But, like the appearance of Fox News and talk radio in the United States, Israel Hayom has helped rectify a historical imbalance. Its rivals may decry its success, but the fact that it has thrived is testimony to Israeli freedom, not its absence. If more people prefer its columns to that of, say, Haaretz, which enjoys an undeserved reputation for excellence abroad, it is due to the fact that the latter regularly attacks not just Netanyahu but the entire idea of a Jewish state. Like Murdoch, Adelson’s paper has captured an underserved niche that happens to consist of approximately half of the Israeli public.

As for the other two complaints against Israel, they are easily dismissed.

One concerns the indictment of Haaretz’s Uri Blau for possession of state secrets. It may be unusual for governments in free countries to prosecute journalists who obtain classified documents in addition to the leakers. But it should be remembered that Israel remains a nation at war, besieged by real enemies who shoot rockets and launch terrorist attacks against it as well as threatening it with extinction. That military censorship of security-related stories still exists is regrettable but necessary. When one considers that the documents that he received dealt with actual operational details of the Israeli military rather than outdated items that didn’t deserve a classified rating, the seriousness of the crime can’t be underestimated.

As it happens, Blau got off rather lightly for trafficking in stolen top-secret documents when he received four months of community service for an offense with troubling implications for the country’s ability to defend itself. Suffice it to say that if any American journalist had behaved similarly during a war when our own survival was at stake, as in World War II, they would not have received such merciful treatment.

The third black mark against Israel concerned the licensing of Channel 10, an independent television channel that had broadcast highly critical reports about Netanyahu. Its license was held up leading to charges that the Likud had retaliated against Channel 10. But even the Freedom House report admits that the real problem with the network is that it was deeply in debt and couldn’t pay its bills. But rather than suppressing a hostile news outlet, the government actually stepped in and helped the channel repay its debts over an extended period allowing it to keep its license. Any idea that this represents the heavy hand of government repression is simply contradicted by the facts.

It boggles the mind how any of this could possibly be interpreted by an impartial evaluator as proof that Israel’s lively press is less free. As muddled as Freedom House’s views on the Blau and Channel 10 cases might be, their arguments are within the bounds of reasonable opinion. But for the group to treat the success of a news organization that has actually made the mainstream press in Israel more diverse as a blow to freedom is not reasonable. In fact, it betrays an ideological bias that undermines the credibility of their report.

The focus of any attempt to defend freedom of the press ought to be on the efforts of governments throughout the globe to repress dissent and to threaten and imprison journalists, not to defend the hegemony of liberals in democracies. Israel remains a bulwark of liberty in a region where despotism is the rule, including a nation like Egypt which recently replaced an authoritarian dictator with a theocratic tyranny. Freedom House ought to be ashamed of tarnishing its impressive brand in this manner. They need to retract the attack on Israel Hayom and restore the Jewish state’s rating to “free.”

Read Less

America is Forfeiting the Space Race

A former colleague brings to my attention two stories which should raise concern. President Obama talks about investment in science but, in practice, such investment gets siphoned off into entitlements or teachers unions, rather than research.

First, this, an article reporting that the Pentagon is using a Chinese satellite for its U.S. Africa Command:

Use of China’s Apstar-7 satellite was leased because it provided “unique bandwidth and geographic requirements” for “wider geographic coverage” requested in May 2012 by the U.S. Africa Command, according to Lieutenant Colonel Monica Matoush, a Pentagon spokeswoman.

Read More

A former colleague brings to my attention two stories which should raise concern. President Obama talks about investment in science but, in practice, such investment gets siphoned off into entitlements or teachers unions, rather than research.

First, this, an article reporting that the Pentagon is using a Chinese satellite for its U.S. Africa Command:

Use of China’s Apstar-7 satellite was leased because it provided “unique bandwidth and geographic requirements” for “wider geographic coverage” requested in May 2012 by the U.S. Africa Command, according to Lieutenant Colonel Monica Matoush, a Pentagon spokeswoman.

Mike Rogers (R-Alabama) is absolutely correct to raise alarm, but there should be greater consequences. The Pentagon spends tens of millions of dollars in background investigations, yet it evidently doesn’t yet screen for good judgment. The decision chain to use a Chinese satellite for sensitive communications does great harm, but those making it will face no consequence. That the United States is now in a position where it must rely on its No. 1 cyber enemy for satellite access is a sad testament to a couple decades of space program mismanagement.

And as the Pentagon prepares to furlough civilian employees, those unemployed or underemployed should read this:

NASA is paying $424 million more to Russia to get U.S. astronauts into space, and the agency’s leader is blaming Congress for the extra expense. NASA announced its latest contract with the Russian Space Agency on Tuesday. The $424 million represents flights to and from the International Space Station aboard Russian Soyuz spacecraft, as well as training, for six astronauts in 2016 and the first half of 2017. That’s $70.6 million per seat — well above the previous price tag of about $65 million. Russia currently provides the only means of getting people to and from the space station, and its ticket prices have soared with each new contract.

When the United States loses capability, it will end up paying through the nose to those who maintain it. Politicians who figure that countries like Russia would give the U.S. a good deal when given a monopoly probably don’t know the first thing about the free market. How shameful that the former communists must be the ones to school the White House.

There is countless waste in Washington, and scores of programs that come nowhere near the core mission of the U.S. government and could be better managed by the private sector. For those reasons alone, the U.S. government should shed them. While private companies are picking up some slack in space—and probably could advance further if not hampered by make-work government regulators—there remains a huge role for the resources of government-employed researchers to keep America in the lead.

On May 25, 1961, President John F. Kennedy declared, “I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth.” How sad that just over a half-century later, the president who fancies himself as the successor to Camelot presides over a space program that enriches Russia and advances China.

Read Less

An Important Warning on Iraq

Ryan Crocker is quite simply the best diplomat of his generation, and not a person given to hyperbole, so when he writes that recent events in Iraq “are reminiscent of those that led to virtual civil war in 2006 and resulted in the need for a surge in U.S. troop levels, a new strategy and very heavy fighting”–then attention must be paid.

He is alarmed, and rightly so, by the resurgence of al-Qaeda in Iraq and its affiliate in Syria, the al-Nusrah Front. He notes: “These developments threaten not only to unravel the gains made since 2007, but also to energize the forces of violent extremism in the heart of the Arab world, already burning in Syria.”

In essence, he is sketching out the dire consequences of President Obama’s failure to keep U.S. troops in Iraq past 2011, although he is too diplomatic to come out and say so.

Read More

Ryan Crocker is quite simply the best diplomat of his generation, and not a person given to hyperbole, so when he writes that recent events in Iraq “are reminiscent of those that led to virtual civil war in 2006 and resulted in the need for a surge in U.S. troop levels, a new strategy and very heavy fighting”–then attention must be paid.

He is alarmed, and rightly so, by the resurgence of al-Qaeda in Iraq and its affiliate in Syria, the al-Nusrah Front. He notes: “These developments threaten not only to unravel the gains made since 2007, but also to energize the forces of violent extremism in the heart of the Arab world, already burning in Syria.”

In essence, he is sketching out the dire consequences of President Obama’s failure to keep U.S. troops in Iraq past 2011, although he is too diplomatic to come out and say so.

The only part of his article I disagree with is his ending: “Though the United States has withdrawn its troops from Iraq,” he writes, “it retains significant leverage there. Iraqi forces were equipped and trained by Americans, and the country’s leaders need and expect our help.”

Maybe so, but what I see is that our departure has opened the way for Iran to eclipse our influence–and to the extent that we still have influence we haven’t been doing enough to exercise it, because President Obama prefers to delegate all matters relating to Iraq to underlings, as if he couldn’t be sullied with dealing with the fallout of “George W. Bush’s war.”

As it happens, that war, after tragic early mistakes, was nearly won by the time Obama assumed office. If Iraq does indeed spin out of control, history will not look kindly on the almost casual manner in which Obama aborted negotiations on a Status of Forces Agreement and turned his back on Iraq. The misguided fashion in which we “ended” the war (or, more accurately, ended our involvement in keeping the peace) may eventually be judged as serious a mistake as the misguided manner in which we began it.

Read Less

Hamas Schools Teaching Children How to Kill Israelis–with Real Guns

Having complained frequently about the media’s failure to report anything that might detract from their preferred narrative of Israel-as-villain, I’m delighted to discover that one British paper is bucking this trend. The Telegraph ran two articles this week describing the miserable situation in Hamas-run Gaza. And as reporter Phoebe Greenwood makes clear, the culprit isn’t Israel, but the elected Hamas government.

The first describes how Hamas has introduced military training into the curriculum of Gaza high schools–after having previously excised sports from said curriculum on the grounds that there wasn’t time for it. The mandatory weekly classes include learning how to shoot a Kalashnikov rifle; students who so choose can learn more advanced skills, like throwing grenades, at optional two-week camps. The article also includes video footage of Hamas militants demonstrating their skills for the students on a school playground: They carry out a mock raid on an Israel Defense Forces outpost, killing one soldier and capturing another, then demolish the outpost with a rocket-propelled grenade.

Read More

Having complained frequently about the media’s failure to report anything that might detract from their preferred narrative of Israel-as-villain, I’m delighted to discover that one British paper is bucking this trend. The Telegraph ran two articles this week describing the miserable situation in Hamas-run Gaza. And as reporter Phoebe Greenwood makes clear, the culprit isn’t Israel, but the elected Hamas government.

The first describes how Hamas has introduced military training into the curriculum of Gaza high schools–after having previously excised sports from said curriculum on the grounds that there wasn’t time for it. The mandatory weekly classes include learning how to shoot a Kalashnikov rifle; students who so choose can learn more advanced skills, like throwing grenades, at optional two-week camps. The article also includes video footage of Hamas militants demonstrating their skills for the students on a school playground: They carry out a mock raid on an Israel Defense Forces outpost, killing one soldier and capturing another, then demolish the outpost with a rocket-propelled grenade.

Needless to say, educating schoolchildren to view Israelis solely through the sights of a rifle doesn’t contribute to peaceful coexistence. And as Samar Zakout of the Gaza-based human rights groups Al Mezan noted, it also willfully endangers the students: If Hamas is using schools as military training bases, they could become targets for Israeli airstrikes in a future conflict.

But Hamas also engages in more direct forms of abuse, as Greenwood’s second article makes clear. It describes the victims of Hamas’s modesty patrols. In April alone, police arrested “at least 41 men” for crimes such as wearing low-slung pants or putting gel in their hair. Most were brutally beaten; they also had their heads forcibly shaved. One victim described being dragged into a police station and seeing “a mountain of hair, it looked like it had been shaved from 300 heads.” Another described being beaten on the soles of his feet with a plastic rod “for at least five minutes. I was crying and screaming with agony. It was the worst pain I’ve ever felt.”

Yet Greenwood’s articles, unsparing though they are, still leave out one crucial point: The situation isn’t much better in the Palestinian Authority-controlled West Bank. There, too, Palestinians are subject to arbitrary arrest for such crimes as insulting PA President Mahmoud Abbas on Facebook. There, too, Palestinian schoolchildren are taught to view all of Israel, even in the pre-1967 lines, as “stolen” Palestinian land that must be reclaimed someday. There, too, murderers of Israelis, like the one who killed a father of five this week, are glorified as “heroes”; the PA even gave the honor of launching its UN statehood campaign to the proud mother of four sons who are serving a combined 18 life sentences for murdering Israelis. It’s no wonder that, according to a new Pew poll, Palestinians are the biggest supporters of suicide bombings in the Islamic world.

This is the reality journalists and diplomats consistently ignore, because it disrupts their comfortable theory that Israeli-Palestinian peace could be made tomorrow if Israel would just cede a little more territory. But the truth is that Israeli-Palestinian peace will never be made until Palestinian leaders do two things: stop teaching their children that killing Israelis is life’s greatest glory, and start providing their people with a decent life instead.

Read Less

The Complicated Question of a Cruz Presidential Candidacy

If Republican primary voters were huddled in a laboratory underground creating their ideal presidential candidate for the 2016 political climate, it’s easy to imagine this candidate’s resume. He would have grassroots bona fides, preferably by defeating an “establishment” Republican in a primary. He would come from a red state with a strong conservative political base. He would be able to blunt the party’s poor reputation among minorities. He would be unafraid to publicly challenge Democrats wherever he could find them. He would be a skilled debater. He would be young and telegenic. He would be connected to major party donors. He would have an Ivy League education. And he would provoke irrational hatred from the media.

He would be, basically, Ted Cruz. This fact is apparently not lost on many on the right, including Ted Cruz. National Review’s Robert Costa is out with a story today on the Cruz-in-2016 buzz. But there are some questions about a Cruz candidacy–aside from the one of his eligibility, since he was born in Canada to an American mother–that are more difficult to answer definitively than they may seem. The first question is: Though the speculation that he’ll run is good for his reputation, would actually running for president in 2016 be good for Ted Cruz’s career? Obviously, if he won the presidency the answer is yes. But because he’s a freshman senator with no real record in office yet, a general-election loss would make him a has-been before his first term is up.

Read More

If Republican primary voters were huddled in a laboratory underground creating their ideal presidential candidate for the 2016 political climate, it’s easy to imagine this candidate’s resume. He would have grassroots bona fides, preferably by defeating an “establishment” Republican in a primary. He would come from a red state with a strong conservative political base. He would be able to blunt the party’s poor reputation among minorities. He would be unafraid to publicly challenge Democrats wherever he could find them. He would be a skilled debater. He would be young and telegenic. He would be connected to major party donors. He would have an Ivy League education. And he would provoke irrational hatred from the media.

He would be, basically, Ted Cruz. This fact is apparently not lost on many on the right, including Ted Cruz. National Review’s Robert Costa is out with a story today on the Cruz-in-2016 buzz. But there are some questions about a Cruz candidacy–aside from the one of his eligibility, since he was born in Canada to an American mother–that are more difficult to answer definitively than they may seem. The first question is: Though the speculation that he’ll run is good for his reputation, would actually running for president in 2016 be good for Ted Cruz’s career? Obviously, if he won the presidency the answer is yes. But because he’s a freshman senator with no real record in office yet, a general-election loss would make him a has-been before his first term is up.

It would be less harmful to Cruz if he didn’t win the nomination, since the loss would sting but he could always run again and win, as John McCain and Mitt Romney both did. But those two candidates were centrist Republicans who wanted to appeal to the middle. A rejection by the base only confirmed their perceived status. If Cruz were to be rejected by the base, it could be interpreted as a rejection of his brand of politics, which is specifically designed to appeal to the base. Romney and McCain still had the self-styled centrists; Cruz would be isolated if rejected by the grassroots.

The key here is that a long career in the Senate–something his potential rivals, who are more focused on the party’s legislative agenda, would likely embrace–doesn’t seem to be what Cruz wants. “He didn’t run for the Senate to get cozy,” a former Cruz colleague tells Costa. If that’s the case, then he should choose his inevitable national election wisely.

Is a Cruz presidential candidacy good for the GOP? Chatter about Cruz being a serious presidential candidate helps the GOP by highlighting yet another possible future star and reinforcing the impression that the party has a fairly deep bench and a diverse collection of lawmakers. And since the media like to caricature conservatives as racist and anti-intellectual, a Cruz candidacy would introduce the voters to a side of the Republican Party the right desperately wants to showcase. Additionally, Cruz’s debating skills are well known, something that would matter greatly if the Democratic nominee in 2016 is Hillary Clinton (though it would matter far less if the Democrats nominated Joe Biden or Martin O’Malley).

However, there are two aspects to a Cruz candidacy the party might consider. First, it isn’t necessarily a good thing for the party for its leading agenda-setters in Congress to also be its leading presidential candidates. The skills needed to advance a successful legislative agenda in Congress often clash with the considerations that go into a presidential candidacy. This isn’t to single out Cruz specifically. But if the party’s principal House and Senate figures are all considering a run for the presidency, that will shape the legislation they put forward and the bills they choose to support or oppose. In one sense, that’s productive: the instant-accountability to GOP voters means they know they’ll answer for their vote. In another sense, it’s counterproductive: the state or district that elected each lawmaker is not the same he’ll face in a GOP primary, which may mean he’ll sacrifice his constituents’ interests on the altar of national ambitions.

Second, as Christian Heinze points out, Cruz could absorb enough of the conservative vote to clear a path for a candidate seen as more moderate. That may be good for the party’s general-election fortunes–Heinze mentions Chris Christie as a possible beneficiary of this, and Christie is almost surely a more electable general-election candidate–but it might not be what primary voters had in mind. To expand on the point: Cruz could split the Hispanic vote with Marco Rubio, the libertarian vote with Rand Paul, the social conservative vote with Mike Pence (and others), etc.

Cruz’s command of the issues and his experience–which includes clerking for former Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist–mean his detractors are probably underestimating his ability to appeal to centrists. He is unlikely to be underestimated, however, by his fellow candidates if he chooses to run.

Read Less

No Lethal Aid for Syrian Rebels

Peter Wehner is absolutely correct to lambaste President Obama and his failure of leadership on Syria. There is nothing more corrosive to U.S. credibility than voided red lines. The fact that Obama turned his back on the Syria chemical weapons red line just after the 25th anniversary of Operation Praying Mantis, the largest surface naval engagement since World War II and President Reagan’s response to Iranian mining of the Persian Gulf, shows just how far American credibility has tumbled in recent decades.

Republicans are wrong, however, to pressure Obama to begin provision of lethal arms to the Syrian rebels. If the United States could not vet two Chechen immigrants living in Cambridge, Massachusetts, with regard to their ties to radical Islam, it is doubtful that U.S. authorities can do so with regard to Syrian personnel who do not speak English and for whom background checks and vetting would be considerably more difficult, as they live in a war zone. Nor can the United States count on Turkey which, under the leadership of its unabashedly Islamist prime minister, has made a policy decision to support the Nusra Front, a group which the United States considers to be an al-Qaeda affiliate.

Read More

Peter Wehner is absolutely correct to lambaste President Obama and his failure of leadership on Syria. There is nothing more corrosive to U.S. credibility than voided red lines. The fact that Obama turned his back on the Syria chemical weapons red line just after the 25th anniversary of Operation Praying Mantis, the largest surface naval engagement since World War II and President Reagan’s response to Iranian mining of the Persian Gulf, shows just how far American credibility has tumbled in recent decades.

Republicans are wrong, however, to pressure Obama to begin provision of lethal arms to the Syrian rebels. If the United States could not vet two Chechen immigrants living in Cambridge, Massachusetts, with regard to their ties to radical Islam, it is doubtful that U.S. authorities can do so with regard to Syrian personnel who do not speak English and for whom background checks and vetting would be considerably more difficult, as they live in a war zone. Nor can the United States count on Turkey which, under the leadership of its unabashedly Islamist prime minister, has made a policy decision to support the Nusra Front, a group which the United States considers to be an al-Qaeda affiliate.

While the United States’ support to Syrian rebels might once have enabled more moderate factions to establish control, those days have long since passed. It is a conceit among many American politicians to believe that they can engage in extended debate without regard or particular attention to the fact that the world does not stop while they carry on. Nor is there any evidence that those whom the State Department chooses to engage have any sway on the ground.

So where does that leave the United States? Credibility is important, and so something needs to be done. Some might seek a Clinton-like solution where, in the wake of the 1998 East Africa embassy bombings, he shot a couple cruise missiles into Sudan and Afghanistan. Destroying some key Syrian military infrastructure—an airfield for example—might symbolically show that Obama’s word isn’t totally empty, but it would not enhance U.S. national security.

An Assad victory—with his support for Iran and Hezbollah—is like dying of cancer, while a rebel victory—with the rise of al-Qaeda affiliates within its midst—is like dying of a heart attack. It’s time for the United States to take care of itself. The key problem from a U.S. standpoint is the chemical weapons depots. These cannot be dismantled as was Libya’s WMD program. Back in 2003, it took U.S. personnel about ten days, and that was without anyone shooting at us. Perhaps the best course of action would be to bomb the depots from above (leafleting ahead of time to warn local residents) as contamination could be significant, but neither side in the Syrian civil war can be trusted with chemical weapons access.

In the debate over red lines, however, the true lesson is being missed: The time to worry about a murderous regime with chemical weapons or other means of mass destruction is before they acquire that capability. When Colin Powell, John Kerry, and Nancy Pelosi traipsed to Damascus in the past decade, they believed that either incentives or their own persuasive power might convince Assad to come in from the cold. Assad, however, saw his American interlocutors as useful idiots, whose presence and belief in diplomacy allowed him the time and space to augment his arsenal. Obama may have hemorrhaged U.S. credibility, but the real error started before he even took his oath of office.

Read Less

Turkey Augments Iran Trade

It’s hard to believe that anyone—outside the White House—takes President Obama seriously anymore. It’s crystal clear that foreign leaders think that the U.S. president is a paper tiger. Enemies calculate that the former senator leading a team of former senators is heavy on rhetoric but light on action. And friends, too, understand that at best Obama is a nice prop around which to take a photo, but when push comes to shove they need not listen to him.

Put aside Obama’s willful abandonment of his Syria chemical weapons red line, an “I told you so moment” for hardliners from Pyongyang to Tehran to Caracas and perhaps Buenos Aires, who are likely now chastising any handwringing moderates who worried what crossing Washington might have cost. Friends, too, are getting in on the game. In just a couple weeks, Obama will be hosting Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan at the White House, never mind that Erdoğan snubbed the U.S. request that he cancel a planned trip to the Gaza Strip to meet with Hamas leaders, a group which Erdoğan has long supported.

Read More

It’s hard to believe that anyone—outside the White House—takes President Obama seriously anymore. It’s crystal clear that foreign leaders think that the U.S. president is a paper tiger. Enemies calculate that the former senator leading a team of former senators is heavy on rhetoric but light on action. And friends, too, understand that at best Obama is a nice prop around which to take a photo, but when push comes to shove they need not listen to him.

Put aside Obama’s willful abandonment of his Syria chemical weapons red line, an “I told you so moment” for hardliners from Pyongyang to Tehran to Caracas and perhaps Buenos Aires, who are likely now chastising any handwringing moderates who worried what crossing Washington might have cost. Friends, too, are getting in on the game. In just a couple weeks, Obama will be hosting Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan at the White House, never mind that Erdoğan snubbed the U.S. request that he cancel a planned trip to the Gaza Strip to meet with Hamas leaders, a group which Erdoğan has long supported.

Key to Obama’s strategy on Iran is to simultaneously reach out to Iran and sanction the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program, never mind that the most effective sanctions for which Obama now takes credit were passed against his objection. Turkey has long been the biggest leak in the sanctions regime, helping Iran bypass restrictions by exchanging gold (and ships) for oil. Despite this, Obama has consistently issued Turkey waivers, despite the fact that such waivers are only meant for governments making good-faith efforts to extricate themselves from dependence on Iranian crude.

While Turkish gold transfers to Iran declined slightly in January—something to which proponents in the White House of business-as-usual could point—the latest reports from Turkey suggest that the gold trade is again thriving. Reports Hürriyet Daily News:

Turkey’s gold exports Iran has rose more than twofold through March during a time its overall gold trade receded, suggesting the two countries’ trade of gold for natural gas has been continuing increasingly after a one-month halt in January. Turkey exported almost $381 million worth of gold to Iran in March, Turkish Statistics Institute (TÜİK) data showed, while the overall Turkish gold exports declined by 15 percent to $467.6 million. The exports to Iran and United Arab Emirates (UAE) have undertaken 92 percent of the country’s overall exports.

Erdoğan is visiting the White House later this month, a visit that Turks interpret as Obama endorsement of Turkey’s policies. Perhaps it is time for Congress to stand up where the White House won’t and offer the Turkish leader some pointed criticism so that he understands just what damage he does to the Middle East with his tacit support for terrorist groups and Iranian proliferation. Obama may shirk his responsibility to restore American credibility, but that is no reason for Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, Hillary Clinton, and other potential candidates for president in 2016 to do so.

Read Less

Is the Arab Peace Plan Really About Peace?

Secretary of State John Kerry hailed the idea of reviving the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative put forward yesterday in Washington by a delegation from the Arab League. Kerry, who reportedly is hoping to host a multi-party peace conference this spring, was pleased that Qatar’s foreign minister had suggested that the proposal might be modified from its original take-it-or-leave-it demand that Israel return to the 1967 lines to one that allowed for a mutually-agreed “minor swap of land” that would modify the border.

This is progress of a sort, and should not be entirely dismissed. But before those advocating for more Israeli concessions in response to the proposal get too excited, it’s important to remember why this initiative flopped the first time around: it’s not really a peace proposal.

While the Arab Peace Initiative continues to be cited by Israel’s critics as proof that the Jewish state really does have partners, this idea has always been more about polishing the image of the Arab world in the United States than anything else. Conceived in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks when the Arab states, and in particular Saudi Arabia, were viewed with disgust by most Americans, the initiative was part of an effort to rehabilitate their image. But despite the fact that New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman (who claimed it stemmed from a conversation he had with Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah) and others in the foreign policy community promoted the idea, it fizzled. Why? Because it was not an invitation to negotiate, but a diktat. Even worse, it contained a vital poison pill: the return of Palestinian refugees to Israel that would, in effect, mean the end of the Jewish state, not peace with it.

Read More

Secretary of State John Kerry hailed the idea of reviving the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative put forward yesterday in Washington by a delegation from the Arab League. Kerry, who reportedly is hoping to host a multi-party peace conference this spring, was pleased that Qatar’s foreign minister had suggested that the proposal might be modified from its original take-it-or-leave-it demand that Israel return to the 1967 lines to one that allowed for a mutually-agreed “minor swap of land” that would modify the border.

This is progress of a sort, and should not be entirely dismissed. But before those advocating for more Israeli concessions in response to the proposal get too excited, it’s important to remember why this initiative flopped the first time around: it’s not really a peace proposal.

While the Arab Peace Initiative continues to be cited by Israel’s critics as proof that the Jewish state really does have partners, this idea has always been more about polishing the image of the Arab world in the United States than anything else. Conceived in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks when the Arab states, and in particular Saudi Arabia, were viewed with disgust by most Americans, the initiative was part of an effort to rehabilitate their image. But despite the fact that New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman (who claimed it stemmed from a conversation he had with Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah) and others in the foreign policy community promoted the idea, it fizzled. Why? Because it was not an invitation to negotiate, but a diktat. Even worse, it contained a vital poison pill: the return of Palestinian refugees to Israel that would, in effect, mean the end of the Jewish state, not peace with it.

While the initiative does not specifically mention the so-called “right of return” by which the descendants of the Arab refugees of 1948 would be allowed to enter Israel, Prince Abdullah made this clear when he said this on the day the Arab League adopted the proposal:

I propose that the Arab summit put forward a clear and unanimous initiative addressed to the United Nations security council based on two basic issues: normal relations and security for Israel in exchange for full withdrawal from all occupied Arab territories, recognition of an independent Palestinian state with al-Quds al-Sharif as its capital, and the return of refugees.

It should be conceded that this is better than the famous “three no’s” enforced throughout the Arab world in the aftermath of the 1967 Six-Day War, when Muslim countries said they would not make peace, recognize or negotiate with Israel. But the effect is not all that different. The Arab League proposal envisions normal relations with an Israel that has been forced to retreat from all territories it won in a defensive war in 1967. But the Israel they want to make peace with is one that would be forced to accept millions of Arabs who would change it from a Jewish nation into yet another Arab one.

If Kerry really wants to promote the cause of peace, what he needs to do is tell the Arab League that while their support for recognition of Israel might be helpful, their proposal will not be allowed to be used as a distraction from the direct peace talks without preconditions that both President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu have endorsed. The Palestinian Authority, which has neither the will nor the ability to end the conflict or recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn, has been trying to avoid such talks.

Instead of providing a distraction from this crucial question, the Arab League needs to be prodding the PA to drop its excuses and return to the negotiating table. The PA walked away from direct talks more than four years ago in order to avoid having to respond to the last Israeli proposal that offered them an independent state. With Hamas stronger than ever and emboldened by its friendship with the Islamist governments of Egypt and Turkey, the odds of getting the PA back to the table, let alone agreeing to peace, are slim.

Negotiations, rather than fiats that dictate the results even before talks begin, are the only path to statehood for the Palestinians. Yesterday, Netanyahu repeated his support for the creation of a Palestinian state living in peace alongside Israel. If the Palestinians can ever get past their ideologically-driven rejection of the Jewish state’s legitimacy, they will find there is a sturdy Israeli majority in favor of peace even along lines that many Israelis will find difficult to accept. But so long as the Arab world continues to attempt to divert the world with public-relations tricks, the Palestinians will continue to believe that if they wait long enough, the world will deliver Israel to them on a silver platter.

No peace proposal that has an attempt to sneak in the right of return at its core is really about peace. It’s time the U.S. told the Arab world to forget about this disingenuous idea and face reality. What the Middle East needs is not a John Kerry photo op in Washington but a sea change within the culture of the Palestinians that will enable their leaders to come to grips with the need to end the conflict and recognize the Jewish state. Until that happens, this latest version of Abdullah’s PR initiative will be as much of a dead end as the first time it was trotted out by Friedman.

Read Less

What Obama Should Have Said About the Gitmo Hunger Strikes

In 1981, when IRA terrorist Bobby Sands was starving himself to death while in a British prison, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher did not order him force fed, she did not give in to his political demands (to be recognized as a political prisoner, not a common criminal)–and she did not mourn his passing. She declared on the floor of the House of Commons: “Mr. Sands was a convicted criminal. He chose to take his own life. It was a choice that his organization did not allow to many of its victims.” With statements like that, Thatcher established her reputation as the Iron Lady–a leader not to be trifled with.

What reputation, one wonders, is President Obama establishing with his response to the hunger strike mounted by 100 or so of the detainees being held at Guantanamo Bay? Instead of saying that terrorists are welcome to starve themselves to death if they so desire, Obama predictably expressed a desire to cave in to their demands–if he could. At a news conference on Tuesday, he reiterated his desire to close Gitmo, something that Congress has not allowed him to do. This is what he said:

Read More

In 1981, when IRA terrorist Bobby Sands was starving himself to death while in a British prison, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher did not order him force fed, she did not give in to his political demands (to be recognized as a political prisoner, not a common criminal)–and she did not mourn his passing. She declared on the floor of the House of Commons: “Mr. Sands was a convicted criminal. He chose to take his own life. It was a choice that his organization did not allow to many of its victims.” With statements like that, Thatcher established her reputation as the Iron Lady–a leader not to be trifled with.

What reputation, one wonders, is President Obama establishing with his response to the hunger strike mounted by 100 or so of the detainees being held at Guantanamo Bay? Instead of saying that terrorists are welcome to starve themselves to death if they so desire, Obama predictably expressed a desire to cave in to their demands–if he could. At a news conference on Tuesday, he reiterated his desire to close Gitmo, something that Congress has not allowed him to do. This is what he said:

The notion that we’re going to continue to keep over a hundred individuals in a no-man’s land in perpetuity, even at a time when we’ve wound down the war in Iraq, we’re winding down the war in Afghanistan, we’re having success defeating al Qaeda core, we’ve kept the pressure up on all these transnational terrorist networks, when we’ve transferred detention authority in Afghanistan — the idea that we would still maintain forever a group of individuals who have not been tried, that is contrary to who we are, it is contrary to our interests, and it needs to stop…. I don’t want these individuals to die. Obviously, the Pentagon is trying to manage the situation as best as they can. But I think all of us should reflect on why exactly are we doing this? Why are we doing this?

Not exactly Thatcherite–to say nothing of Churchillian–defiance of the terrorists’ demands, to say the least. He could easily have explained why we are doing this: Because there is a group of terrorists who cannot be convicted in a civilian court but who must remain locked up because they represent a continuing threat. He could have gone on to point out that a long list of detainees released from Gitmo have returned to terrorism, and he could have concluded by making clear that he would do whatever is necessary to keep Americans safe–even if it provokes protest from those locked up.

The president is a master orator who could easily have used his eloquence and his global reputation to defend America’s counter-terrorism efforts. Instead, he seemed to agree with the detainees’ claim that the U.S. is doing something wrong by keeping them locked up–a policy ratified by overwhelming majorities in both houses of Congress and by the American people.

Read Less

The GOP Begins to Find Its Groove

It’s been clear for some time that President Obama’s strategy on sequestration cuts–to speak as if they would unleash the seven plagues from the book of Revelations and, when that didn’t occur, attempt to magnify pain on the American people–has been a failure. The latest evidence of this was late last week when President Obama and congressional Democrats jettisoned their position that they would resolve the issue of furloughed air traffic controllers only in the context of a broader agreement to end all the sequestration cuts.

The House, by a margin of 361-to-41, approved a deal to give the secretary of transportation the financial flexibility to shift hundreds of millions of dollars to the air traffic control system–flexibility that Republicans have insisted on and Mr. Obama originally refused. (The House vote came after the Senate acted.)

Originally, the president and Democrats said they would only replace the sequester cuts with tax increases. They are now, slowly and against their will, embracing the GOP approach of applying cuts in a reasonable and prioritized way. Read More

It’s been clear for some time that President Obama’s strategy on sequestration cuts–to speak as if they would unleash the seven plagues from the book of Revelations and, when that didn’t occur, attempt to magnify pain on the American people–has been a failure. The latest evidence of this was late last week when President Obama and congressional Democrats jettisoned their position that they would resolve the issue of furloughed air traffic controllers only in the context of a broader agreement to end all the sequestration cuts.

The House, by a margin of 361-to-41, approved a deal to give the secretary of transportation the financial flexibility to shift hundreds of millions of dollars to the air traffic control system–flexibility that Republicans have insisted on and Mr. Obama originally refused. (The House vote came after the Senate acted.)

Originally, the president and Democrats said they would only replace the sequester cuts with tax increases. They are now, slowly and against their will, embracing the GOP approach of applying cuts in a reasonable and prioritized way.This development is a vindication for those who argued earlier this year that Republicans should avoid a showdown on raising the debt ceiling, which the GOP would almost certainly have lost, in order to move toward the much stronger ground of sequestration cuts. Republicans have made other wise tactical decisions as well, from Speaker of the House John Boehner insisting that the Senate take up President Obama’s gun control measures first (where those measures died) to Senate Republicans avoiding an ill-considered filibuster on background checks led by Ted Cruz, Mike Lee, and Rand Paul.

Republicans have a long way to go before their party is where it needs to be. But this year they have mostly made the right decisions in the right order. They’ve demonstrated patience and prudently picked their battles. And they now head into May in a stronger position than they were and with the president on the defensive, with many parts of his second-term agenda crippled and with public approval for the Affordable Care Act now down to 35 percent.

It’s too early for Republicans to say happy days are here again. But the worst days may have passed, even as the storm clouds for the president seem to be gathering.

Read Less

Can History Repeat Itself in Massachusetts?

Yesterday’s Senate primaries in Massachusetts have set up an intriguing possibility. Is it possible for an attractive newcomer with moderate positions to steal a seat for the Republicans in a match-up against a dull, veteran Democratic politician? If that scenario sounds familiar, it should. That was the setup three years ago when Scott Brown knocked off Martha Coakley in the special election to replace the late Ted Kennedy. This year, GOP nominee Gabriel Gomez is cast in the same role as Brown and he has the biography as well as the campaign funds to put up a stiff challenge against Democrat Representative Ed Markey.

But while Gomez must be considered to have a fighting chance, there are two factors that were decisive in 2010 that seem to be missing this time. In their absence, any Republican optimism about a repeat of Brown’s historic upset should be tempered with realism.

Read More

Yesterday’s Senate primaries in Massachusetts have set up an intriguing possibility. Is it possible for an attractive newcomer with moderate positions to steal a seat for the Republicans in a match-up against a dull, veteran Democratic politician? If that scenario sounds familiar, it should. That was the setup three years ago when Scott Brown knocked off Martha Coakley in the special election to replace the late Ted Kennedy. This year, GOP nominee Gabriel Gomez is cast in the same role as Brown and he has the biography as well as the campaign funds to put up a stiff challenge against Democrat Representative Ed Markey.

But while Gomez must be considered to have a fighting chance, there are two factors that were decisive in 2010 that seem to be missing this time. In their absence, any Republican optimism about a repeat of Brown’s historic upset should be tempered with realism.

The first factor is the lack of a crusading issue that could galvanize the electorate. In 2010, Brown had such an issue in ObamaCare, which was even more unpopular in Massachusetts because it already had its own health care insurance bill courtesy of former governor Mitt Romney. Brown ran as the man who could prevent the Democrats from getting a filibuster-proof majority. That was the sort of thing that could attract independents to his cause as well as some Democrats.

Also missing from the Republican plan is an opponent who can do an excellent impression of a cardboard cutout. Markey is a grizzled veteran with more than 36 years in Congress, but the one thing he won’t do is repeat Martha Coakley’s mistake of running as if the election was already decided. Markey won’t underestimate Gomez. He’ll fight hard and play dirty. Markey will smear Gomez as a threat to Social Security as well as putting out slurs on his business record, effectively replaying the nasty attacks Democrats used against Romney last year.

But Gomez does have one thing going for him. The match-up in terms of personalities is all in his favor. The Republican is a young, successful former Navy SEAL. Markey is a walking, talking advertisement for term limits with his ’70s haircut and the fact that he has been in Congress since Gerald Ford was president. In an off-year election with a small turnout, that gives Gomez an opportunity.

But it should be remembered that even with a more favorable match-up, Brown barely beat Coakley. Gomez is going to have to prove to be every bit the campaigner that Brown proved to be and that is not an easy lift. In the next couple of months, we’ll find out if the tiny Massachusetts Republican party can come with a second political star in the space of three years. If Gomez is that star, he might win. But nothing short of a brilliant performance by Gomez will enable the Republicans to repeat their 2010 coup.

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.