Commentary Magazine


Posts For: May 13, 2013

Government They Love Gores Media’s Ox

Many in the liberal mainstream press have long regarded complaints about the growth of government power to be the preserve of wacky right-wingers who fear being seized by federal agents in black helicopters. But today many of the same journalists who expressed indifference if not scorn about conservative complaints about the seemingly insatiable demand for power on the part of the Obama administration are screaming bloody murder about the news that the Department of Justice had secretly seized two months of telephone records belonging to editors and reporters at the Associated Press.

The story about the AP has special resonance because it comes on the heels of the IRS scandal in which officials of the tax agency singled out conservative groups for selective scrutiny because of their criticism of the administration. But while as far as we know now that outrageous instance of abuse of power can only be traced back to Obama’s philosophy rather than directly to orders issued by senior figures in the White House, the infringement of the rights of the AP staff is of sufficient magnitude that it is almost impossible to imagine that it happened without the specific endorsement of Attorney General Eric Holder and possibly with the knowledge of the president. In other words, our chattering classes are getting a taste of the treatment that had heretofore only be meted out to people that were unofficial members of the administration’s unwritten enemies list.

If some of the hysteria breaking out on the Twitter feeds of liberal journalists over this story may be a bit overblown, I share the concerns expressed by the AP about an infringement of their First Amendment rights in which they rightly say information has been seized that “the government has no conceivable right to know.” But rather than merely talking about protecting the rights of the press, what we all ought to be discussing tonight and in the days and weeks that will follow is whether this is just one more symptom of an administration that seems to think there are no legal limits to its power.

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Many in the liberal mainstream press have long regarded complaints about the growth of government power to be the preserve of wacky right-wingers who fear being seized by federal agents in black helicopters. But today many of the same journalists who expressed indifference if not scorn about conservative complaints about the seemingly insatiable demand for power on the part of the Obama administration are screaming bloody murder about the news that the Department of Justice had secretly seized two months of telephone records belonging to editors and reporters at the Associated Press.

The story about the AP has special resonance because it comes on the heels of the IRS scandal in which officials of the tax agency singled out conservative groups for selective scrutiny because of their criticism of the administration. But while as far as we know now that outrageous instance of abuse of power can only be traced back to Obama’s philosophy rather than directly to orders issued by senior figures in the White House, the infringement of the rights of the AP staff is of sufficient magnitude that it is almost impossible to imagine that it happened without the specific endorsement of Attorney General Eric Holder and possibly with the knowledge of the president. In other words, our chattering classes are getting a taste of the treatment that had heretofore only be meted out to people that were unofficial members of the administration’s unwritten enemies list.

If some of the hysteria breaking out on the Twitter feeds of liberal journalists over this story may be a bit overblown, I share the concerns expressed by the AP about an infringement of their First Amendment rights in which they rightly say information has been seized that “the government has no conceivable right to know.” But rather than merely talking about protecting the rights of the press, what we all ought to be discussing tonight and in the days and weeks that will follow is whether this is just one more symptom of an administration that seems to think there are no legal limits to its power.

The details of the case being investigated by the DOJ are not known, but reports indicate that it may be part of a probe into the leaking of classified information. It is suspected that the planting of a story in the AP that told of a successful CIA operation that foiled an al-Qaeda terrorist plot is the reason for the phone records grab. I don’t believe that the rights of the press to privileged status when it comes to revealing sources are absolute. When it comes to matters that are genuine cases of national security violations, the government has the right, if not the obligation, to track down leaks.

But the seizure of two months worth of phone records from such a large number of press figures undermines the notion that what is at stake here is an individual case of the press straying over a clearly demarcated line between illegal activities and doing its job. It smells like a fishing expedition whose purpose is as much to intimidate journalists as it is to uncover the truth about a leak.

It is hard to know when and if we’ll find out more about this case, but the bottom line here is that Holder and his minions have once again demonstrated that they consider themselves empowered to do pretty much anything they like when they wish to either prove a point or establish a precedent. The irony here is that this same tendency has earned the applause of much of the mainstream press when it is applied to implementation of the president’s signature health care legislation or its ability to run roughshod over other constitutional limits on their power. But they tend to see things differently when it comes to their own constitutional rights.

The AP phone records issue is now added to a roster of other scandals involving the IRS and the administration’s failures and lies about the Benghazi terror attack. You don’t have to be a paranoid member of the Tea Party or an embattled State Department whistleblower to understand that the Obama administration needs to be reined in before they make any further encroachments on our liberty. As of this evening, all you need is a press card.

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Gosnell Verdict Isn’t the End of This Story

We can all breathe a little easier this evening knowing that justice triumphed at the trial of Kermit Gosnell. A Philadelphia jury found the abortionist guilty of three counts of first-degree murder for his killing of three infants who were born alive after botched abortions. He was also convicted of a count of involuntary manslaughter for the death of one of his patients as well as more than 200 other charges involving conducting illegal late-term abortions or not observing the mandatory waiting period before performing the procedure. The 71-year-old doctor will now face the sentencing phase of his trial, as the court will decide whether he gets the death penalty or a lengthy prison term.

The trial closes one chapter in the story of this one doctor and the butchery committed at the clinic he ran. But there is more to this controversy than the fate of one person convicted of monstrous crimes. The national media had to be shamed into covering a case that showed the country the dark side to abortion that has rarely been discussed in the decades since the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision legalized abortion. Abortion rights supporters have argued that this is an isolated case and demonstrates the need for support for better health care choices for women. But the question hanging over the country today is whether there are other places where doctors are performing dangerous late-term abortions resulting in similar atrocities.

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We can all breathe a little easier this evening knowing that justice triumphed at the trial of Kermit Gosnell. A Philadelphia jury found the abortionist guilty of three counts of first-degree murder for his killing of three infants who were born alive after botched abortions. He was also convicted of a count of involuntary manslaughter for the death of one of his patients as well as more than 200 other charges involving conducting illegal late-term abortions or not observing the mandatory waiting period before performing the procedure. The 71-year-old doctor will now face the sentencing phase of his trial, as the court will decide whether he gets the death penalty or a lengthy prison term.

The trial closes one chapter in the story of this one doctor and the butchery committed at the clinic he ran. But there is more to this controversy than the fate of one person convicted of monstrous crimes. The national media had to be shamed into covering a case that showed the country the dark side to abortion that has rarely been discussed in the decades since the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision legalized abortion. Abortion rights supporters have argued that this is an isolated case and demonstrates the need for support for better health care choices for women. But the question hanging over the country today is whether there are other places where doctors are performing dangerous late-term abortions resulting in similar atrocities.

While prosecutors brought evidence about seven murdered infants in the last several years, there is no telling how many might have died in the last 30 years during which the doctor masqueraded as a pillar of society. Pennsylvania’s failure to stop Gosnell is in a way similar to the media’s failure to pay sufficient attention to the issue until quite recently. Just as many journalists feared that highlighting Gosnell would boost the right-to-life movement, pro-choice governors of the state and other officials de-emphasized regulations of such clinics because they feared too much scrutiny of the abortion industry would be interpreted as an attempt to restrict women’s choices.

What we now need to know is whether this lack of scrutiny has enabled this industry to erase the line between early abortions that may have majority support and legal protection and late-term procedures that border on, if not cross over into, infanticide. That is especially true since medical science now makes it possible for premature infants to survive long after they would have been written off when Roe v. Wade was decided.

Supporters of abortion rights may regret the fact that Gosnell has given a new impetus to their pro-life opponents. But the reason that may be true is that perhaps for the first time since Roe, we have glimpsed a disturbing vision of what abortion can mean. Instead of being able to argue that legalization ended back-alley abortions where women were victimized by quacks, Gosnell has shown that Roe brought us exactly that situation, only this time with the imprimatur of the law up until just three years ago when agents investigating the sale of illegal drugs at the clinic (for which Gosnell will go on trial in the fall) stumbled into his house of horrors.

Let’s remember that a Planned Parenthood official testified in Florida earlier this year against a bill that would have required doctors to come to the assistance to babies born as the result of botched abortions and said the issue was one of choice rather than obligation. Gosnell seemed to think he was being paid to kill infants and remains puzzled as to what the fuss is about.

While it is unlikely that Gosnell will lead to a reversal of Roe, what it ought to do is to light a fire under health authorities across the nation to see what is going on at abortion clinics under their jurisdiction. We can hope that their efforts will show that Gosnell is an exception, but there is good reason to fear they will find he isn’t the only person making a living terminating pregnancies that have crossed the line into infanticide.

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Newseum Backtracks on Hamas Honor

After first defending its decision to honor two members of the Hamas terrorist organization, the Newseum–a museum dedicated to the media, located in Washington D.C.–seems to have reversed course. On Friday, I wrote about the museum’s exhibit honoring journalists killed on the job, and the inclusion on that list of two Hamas members who did propaganda work for the terrorist group who were killed in Hamas’s latest round of fighting with Israel.

The Newseum’s first instinct was to try to justify including the Hamasniks in the memorial, telling the Washington Free Beacon that they had the letters “TV” on the car they were in. Therefore, they said, the two men were journalists. This was ridiculous, and apparently as soon as they said it they realized just how silly it was and began the process of reconsidering. They were also criticized by a range of organizations who opposed honoring terrorists posing as journalists. Now, reports the Free Beacon, the Newseum’s leadership has decided to drop the terrorists from the exhibit–probably:

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After first defending its decision to honor two members of the Hamas terrorist organization, the Newseum–a museum dedicated to the media, located in Washington D.C.–seems to have reversed course. On Friday, I wrote about the museum’s exhibit honoring journalists killed on the job, and the inclusion on that list of two Hamas members who did propaganda work for the terrorist group who were killed in Hamas’s latest round of fighting with Israel.

The Newseum’s first instinct was to try to justify including the Hamasniks in the memorial, telling the Washington Free Beacon that they had the letters “TV” on the car they were in. Therefore, they said, the two men were journalists. This was ridiculous, and apparently as soon as they said it they realized just how silly it was and began the process of reconsidering. They were also criticized by a range of organizations who opposed honoring terrorists posing as journalists. Now, reports the Free Beacon, the Newseum’s leadership has decided to drop the terrorists from the exhibit–probably:

Cathy Trost, the Newseum’s vice president of exhibits, programs, and media relations, told the Free Beacon that the two Hamas operatives in question could be included in the Journalist’s Memorial at a future ceremony.

“The process is that serious questions were raised and we’re going to look in to the nature of their work,” Trost told the Free Beacon following the ceremony. “Based on a pending investigation, yes,” the two could be included in the memorial.

“We’ll look into the nature of their work,” Trost said. “We’re reevaluating.”

Since “the nature of [Hamas’s propaganda] work” is really quite horrifying, it’s doubtful the Newseum will reverse its reversal. The Newseum is treating this as a bit of a teaching moment about the need to double-check first impressions in the fog of war, but not everyone was thrilled about the way that debate took shape. After Foundation for Defense of Democracies President Cliff May suggested FDD would move a conference planned for the Newseum to a new venue, the Washington Post’s Max Fisher tweeted:

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Fisher elaborated today in a blog post after the Newseum backed away from the Hamasniks, and raised the question of where the line should be drawn delineating who is a legitimate journalist and who isn’t. Journalists working for state-run media, Fisher noted, pose a challenge. But he suggested perhaps they should get the benefit of the doubt that, say, a Voice of America reporter gets, or even an NBC news anchor when there’s a possible conflict of interest with the station’s corporate owners:

But there are three important caveats to that case for including them in the Newseum honor. First, sometimes we do consider journalists with state-owned outlets to be serving the interests of their ownership over journalistic principle; for example, few would argue that the scribes at Pyongyang’s Korean Central News Agency are much more than propagandists (al-Aqsa is not KCNA, but neither is it the BBC). Second, journalists in the employ of combatants are sometimes considered components of that military force: this might include, as the writer Andrew Exum has argued, Serbian state media that helped incite ethnic violence in 1999; it might also include uniformed army soldiers who carry cameras, such as Goldberg’s hypothetical Israeli military cameraman. Third, though the Al-Aqsa cameraman were not uniformed, both Hamas and Al-Aqsa are classified by the U.S. government as terrorist organizations, so perhaps the line between journalist and combatant is easier to cross when you’re employed by such people.

That last detail is what makes the case of Hamas pretty clear cut. Hamas is a designated terrorist organization, and the members of Hamas who sometimes drove around in a car that said “TV” were terrorists. They were killed during their organization’s attempt to annihilate the Jewish state. Fisher may be a bit generous to BBC reporters when assuming their accuracy or integrity but for all the BBC’s failings, it is not a terrorist organization.

The question of whether a Hamas terrorist is a journalist is not an interesting one, but the question when applied more generally is interesting, and important. We do, after all, have “shield” laws which are meant to absolve a reporter, in most cases, from having to divulge a source even under legal pressure–a right not given to most citizens. So who gets that right? It’s a challenging question to answer, and can even undermine the shield laws themselves. For example, having spent part of my career as a newspaper reporter and editor, I am sympathetic to the journalistic value of being able to protect a source. But I’ve never been thrilled about the prospect of letting the government–which, after all, is generally the entity pressuring reporters to give up their sources or go to prison–choose who gets that designation.

The Newseum didn’t need to dive too deeply into the question because this was an open and shut case. Additionally, the Free Beacon’s report has the other way the Newseum could have figured out the answer to this one: the full-page advertisement it took out for the exhibit features the following text: “Some were targeted deliberately while others were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. All were working to expand the reach of a free press around the world.”

How the Newseum could ever think to justify applying that description to Hamas propagandists, who are absolutely working against the establishment of a free press everywhere it can, we’ll never know. If they truly have dropped the Hamasniks from their exhibit, they made the right call. But by the Newseum’s own criteria, those two names should never have been on the list to begin with.

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The Times Joins the Six-Penny Press

An addendum, if I may, to Peter’s excellent dissection of the New York Times editorial page and Jonathan’s equally excellent dissection of the Times’s journalistically astonishing story on the IRS this morning and, especially, its even more astonishing headline. It should be noted that the Times has, apparently, decided to jettison 180 years of newspaper history and revert to the journalism of the six-penny press that flourished in this country in the early days of the Republic.

To see what I mean, just compare the Times’s egregiously and unabashedly slanted story on this hot-button political issue to today’s story in the Washington Post, which is hardly a wholly-owned subsidiary of the far right. The latter’s headline is, “IRS targeted groups critical of government, documents from agency show.” The Post’s editorial opinion can be summed up in one word, finding the IRS action, “appalling.”

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An addendum, if I may, to Peter’s excellent dissection of the New York Times editorial page and Jonathan’s equally excellent dissection of the Times’s journalistically astonishing story on the IRS this morning and, especially, its even more astonishing headline. It should be noted that the Times has, apparently, decided to jettison 180 years of newspaper history and revert to the journalism of the six-penny press that flourished in this country in the early days of the Republic.

To see what I mean, just compare the Times’s egregiously and unabashedly slanted story on this hot-button political issue to today’s story in the Washington Post, which is hardly a wholly-owned subsidiary of the far right. The latter’s headline is, “IRS targeted groups critical of government, documents from agency show.” The Post’s editorial opinion can be summed up in one word, finding the IRS action, “appalling.”

In the early days, newspapers were all unabashedly partisan and, usually, funded by the political parties whose causes they espoused. They were little more than editorial pages surrounded by a few pages of highly tendentious news. That is what the Times has become, at least with regard to domestic political news. Even the Times’s public editor, Margaret Sullivan, writes regarding the IRS story, “Many on the right . . . do not think they can get a fair shake from The Times. This coverage won’t do anything to dispel that belief.”

But the six-penny press disappeared beginning in 1835, when a grumpy, disheveled, (and extremely cross-eyed) journalist named James Gordon Bennett founded the New York Herald and changed journalism forever. Although he was a Democrat, his paper was not. Instead of telling his readers what he thought they ought to know, he told them what he thought they wanted to know: the news of the world that was beyond their immediate ken. And he told it straight, keeping his opinions to the editorial page.

His journalistic innovations were almost endless. He was the first to print, in a general circulation newspaper, a weather report, stock tables, sports news, society gossip, and crimes (the bloodier the better, to be sure). His was the first out-of-town newspaper to have correspondents in Washington, making him the founder of the Washington press corps. He was the first to have correspondents in foreign capitals. He even coined the word leak in its journalistic sense.

The Herald was an immediate success and would have the largest circulation of any American newspaper for much of the 19th century. Later newspapers such as the New York Tribune (founded in 1841) and the New York Times (1851) necessarily modeled themselves after the Herald.

And the Times used that model to become, unquestionably, the greatest newsgathering organization in the world, with the Pulitzer Prizes to prove it. In many ways it still is. But not, these days, when it comes to any story touching on American politics. With politics, like the old six-penny press before the revolution in journalism wrought by Bennett and the Herald, it now is merely a conveyor of the party line, a preacher to the choir, its political content not to be trusted by honest men.

That is an American tragedy.

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The Real Libya Scandal

The dramatic testimony of Gregory Hicks, former U.S. deputy chief of mission in Libya, has shone the media spotlight on what happened in Benghazi on September 11, 2012, when U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans were killed in a terrorist attack. Republican lawmakers and conservative journalists have managed to raise substantial and serious questions about the administration’s response to the attack, both as it was occurring and in the days that followed. The mainstream news media have been obliged to follow suit, putting White House spokesmen on the defensive, even if charges of a “cover up” remain far from proven.

But, oddly enough, almost no one is talking about what I regard as the real scandal here–the shameful failure of the Obama administration to extend state-building assistance to Libya’s pro-Western leaders after having helped them to overthrow the Gaddafi regime. The inability of the Libyan government to control its own territory created the conditions that led to the 2012 attack–and those conditions have not changed since.

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The dramatic testimony of Gregory Hicks, former U.S. deputy chief of mission in Libya, has shone the media spotlight on what happened in Benghazi on September 11, 2012, when U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans were killed in a terrorist attack. Republican lawmakers and conservative journalists have managed to raise substantial and serious questions about the administration’s response to the attack, both as it was occurring and in the days that followed. The mainstream news media have been obliged to follow suit, putting White House spokesmen on the defensive, even if charges of a “cover up” remain far from proven.

But, oddly enough, almost no one is talking about what I regard as the real scandal here–the shameful failure of the Obama administration to extend state-building assistance to Libya’s pro-Western leaders after having helped them to overthrow the Gaddafi regime. The inability of the Libyan government to control its own territory created the conditions that led to the 2012 attack–and those conditions have not changed since.

A recent Reuters dispatch from Tripoli notes: “More than 18 months after the fall of dictator Muammar Gaddafi, Libya’s new rulers have yet to impose a firm grip on a country awash with weapons. Rebel groups that helped to overthrow him are still refusing to disband, and remain more visible on the streets than the state security forces.”

Libya ostensibly has democratic institutions, but in reality it seems to be prey to mob rule. At the end of last month, for example, gunmen besieged the foreign and justice ministries, demanding the passage of a law to ban anyone who had held a senior position in the Gaddafi government. As Reuters further notes: “Parliament bowed to the demand and approved the legislation a week later, despite criticism from rights groups and diplomats who said it was sweeping, unfair and could cripple the government.”

The U.S. is being derelict in not doing more to help the elected government in Libya to establish its authority–and in the process we are allowing an opening for al-Qaeda and its ilk. Shouldn’t someone in a position of authority in Washington be talking about this? And, even better, doing something about it?

No doubt President Obama, in the full grip of Iraq Syndrome, regards any attempts to stabilize Libya as the first step toward getting involved in a “quagmire.” And no doubt, too, Republicans are loathe to criticize him on this front because “nation building” remains as anathema in their ranks as it does in the Obama administration. But in the process we are not doing nearly enough to address the critical threat in Libya, which could result in more attacks on U.S. personnel and interests in the future.

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Obama Doubles Down on Benghazi Denial

President Obama faced the press briefly today in a joint press conference with British Prime Minister David Cameron. He got out in front of the IRS scandal by condemning the actions of officials who targeted conservative organizations for special treatment. But his response to a question about the Benghazi terror attack demonstrated that he has yet to come to terms with the fact that the administration won’t be able to go on pretending the issue can be ignored as a case of partisan sniping by Republicans.

But what was most instructive about the president’s presentation at the press conference was the contrast between the clinical way in which he described his disagreement with the blatantly illegal actions of the IRS and the passionate manner with which he claimed there was “nothing new” to discuss about Benghazi while demanding that the press and the public ignore the growing pile of troubling evidence of incompetence, cowardice and lies by administration figures in the days preceding and following the attack on 9/11/12 that took the lives of four Americans.

The president had a chance to acknowledge that what the American people were told last September was the product of talking points concocted by his aides in order to deflect attention from the revival of al-Qaeda as well as the administration’s culpability for failing to provide security for U.S. personnel. But instead he chose to bluster and sarcastically treat the whole thing as a plot by Republicans to make a mountain out of a molehill. And his use of terms like “sideshow” to describe the growing inquiries about the discrepancies between what was said then and the truth or to claim “there’s no there there” tells us more about his arrogant approach to governing than it does about the shelf life of this scandal.

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President Obama faced the press briefly today in a joint press conference with British Prime Minister David Cameron. He got out in front of the IRS scandal by condemning the actions of officials who targeted conservative organizations for special treatment. But his response to a question about the Benghazi terror attack demonstrated that he has yet to come to terms with the fact that the administration won’t be able to go on pretending the issue can be ignored as a case of partisan sniping by Republicans.

But what was most instructive about the president’s presentation at the press conference was the contrast between the clinical way in which he described his disagreement with the blatantly illegal actions of the IRS and the passionate manner with which he claimed there was “nothing new” to discuss about Benghazi while demanding that the press and the public ignore the growing pile of troubling evidence of incompetence, cowardice and lies by administration figures in the days preceding and following the attack on 9/11/12 that took the lives of four Americans.

The president had a chance to acknowledge that what the American people were told last September was the product of talking points concocted by his aides in order to deflect attention from the revival of al-Qaeda as well as the administration’s culpability for failing to provide security for U.S. personnel. But instead he chose to bluster and sarcastically treat the whole thing as a plot by Republicans to make a mountain out of a molehill. And his use of terms like “sideshow” to describe the growing inquiries about the discrepancies between what was said then and the truth or to claim “there’s no there there” tells us more about his arrogant approach to governing than it does about the shelf life of this scandal.

The president’s barely concealed rage about having to answer questions about Benghazi explains Jay Carney’s tap dance last week in front of a frustrated White House press corps when he denied that there was any contradiction between the lies told by the administration eight months ago and the equally disingenuous spin it has been trying to sell the country in the last week. Clearly, Carney’s boss is taking the position that neither he nor the subordinates who did his dirty work for him on Benghazi have anything to answer for. Yet rather listen to any counsel about owning up to the problem and thereby taking the sting out of the attacks coming in from Republicans, the president is letting his temper get the best of him.

The premise of the president’s Benghazi tirade is twofold.

On the one hand, he seems to genuinely believe there was nothing wrong with a set of talking points that deliberately omitted the fact that Benghazi was a terror attack and tried to foist the false story that it was a case of a movie review run amok. But his claim that this narrative—which fit like a glove with his re-election campaign boasts about having destroyed al-Qaeda—was the product of the best intelligence available at the time is flatly contradicted by the emails between staffers about the talking points.

While the president insists there’s nothing new to discuss, the emails and the testimony of the whistle-blowers to Congress last week makes it clear there’s plenty of evidence to show that there was a deliberate intention to deceive the American people by both the State Department and the White House. His Nixonian denial of the problem illustrates not only his arrogance but also the way the White House bubble insulates him from political reality and inconvenient facts. Far from being a sideshow, the president’s rhetorical question about his critics providing help in ensuring that these events are not repeated is easily answered. The best way to do so is make sure those who made these mistakes are held accountable for them.

The president’s demeanor also indicates his confidence that the liberal mainstream media as well as Democrats will continue to support an administration stonewall on Benghazi. Accustomed as he is to a press that goes into the tank for him and an adoring public, he has little patience with the thought of having to apologize or backtrack from a stance that absolves the White House of any responsibility for what occurred in Benghazi or the lies that followed it. He seems sure that if he keeps saying Benghazi is just a GOP attack, he’ll get away with it. But, as I wrote yesterday, the cracks starting to appear in an otherwise solid, liberal wall of omerta about the administration’s folly may be the prelude to a general free-for-all in the press that will follow once a congressional investigation with subpoena power starts to unravel the web of deception and incompetence.

Obama’s challenge now places the ball squarely in the court of House Speaker John Boehner, who has the power to create a select committee to get to the bottom of the Benghazi mess. What the president did today was to more or less dare Boehner to do so. He should not delay in picking up the gauntlet and unleash investigators who may take the smirk off of the president’s face.

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The IRS Scandal: the Future of Big Government Is Now

Regardless of where the investigation into the IRS’s enormous abuse of power leads, the scandal is already a headache for the Obama administration–and the Democratic Party in general–for the simple reason that it highlights the irresponsibility of the left’s project of ever-expanding and unaccountable big government. The fact that the IRS has been engaged in a campaign of harassment, intimidation, and suppression of conservative non-profits during the Obama presidency has rightly been the focus of reporting on the scandal. But there is an important detail that should not be overlooked.

We now know that the IRS campaign targeted not just explicitly “Tea Party” or other patriotic-sounding organizations, but “ones worried about government spending” and those who “criticize[d] how the country is being run,” as the Wall Street Journal reported. In other words, the IRS targeted anyone who disagreed with the president. Yet as outrageous as this is, there is an element of inevitability to it. The IRS is empowered to silence groups that IRS officials believe may oppose the IRS’s powers–which the IRS is abusing at will for its own financial and political benefit. So they simply used the powers they were given, and which are expanding under ObamaCare, to protect themselves and the administration from their common foes.

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Regardless of where the investigation into the IRS’s enormous abuse of power leads, the scandal is already a headache for the Obama administration–and the Democratic Party in general–for the simple reason that it highlights the irresponsibility of the left’s project of ever-expanding and unaccountable big government. The fact that the IRS has been engaged in a campaign of harassment, intimidation, and suppression of conservative non-profits during the Obama presidency has rightly been the focus of reporting on the scandal. But there is an important detail that should not be overlooked.

We now know that the IRS campaign targeted not just explicitly “Tea Party” or other patriotic-sounding organizations, but “ones worried about government spending” and those who “criticize[d] how the country is being run,” as the Wall Street Journal reported. In other words, the IRS targeted anyone who disagreed with the president. Yet as outrageous as this is, there is an element of inevitability to it. The IRS is empowered to silence groups that IRS officials believe may oppose the IRS’s powers–which the IRS is abusing at will for its own financial and political benefit. So they simply used the powers they were given, and which are expanding under ObamaCare, to protect themselves and the administration from their common foes.

Conservatives and liberals have been engaged in a debate over the size and scope of government to a greater degree in the Obama era in part because the president takes a radically different approach to the issue than his predecessors, both Republican and Democrat. (It was the Democrat Bill Clinton, after all, who declared the era of big government to be over.) Conservatives have long argued that restraining big government is a worthy goal in itself. But in the era of Obama, Democrats have been arguing just the opposite nonstop.

That’s why liberals scoffed at the recent Medicaid study showing, once again, that a central and expensive element of ObamaCare doesn’t work. But as was clear from Paul Krugman’s response, with few exceptions Democrats don’t see ObamaCare as a means to improving health; they see it as a massive expansion of government empowered to transfer wealth and play favorites. Expanding government’s power and reach–if possible, without a related increase in transparency or accountability–is the central ideological component of the modern Democratic Party’s worldview.

When Republicans warned of “death panels,” the overheated rhetoric was describing an entirely realistic scenario: ObamaCare putting unaccountable bureaucrats between patients and their doctors. And the line of attack resonated because the Democrats’ plans were so baldly undemocratic and invasive. As the Washington Post reported in February, a new Pew poll showed that “for the first time in at least the last two decades, a majority of Americans say Washington actually poses a threat to their ‘personal rights and freedoms.’”

The rise in bureaucracy alarmed Robert Nisbet, who wrote nearly 40 years ago:

Few things so clearly separate the liberalism of the nineteenth century from twentieth-century liberalism and progressivism as the nearly complete acceptance by the latter of bureaucracy. It is one of the tragedies of our age that the pluralism to be seen in so much of the social thought of the late nineteenth century and the concomitant inclination toward the local and the voluntary have virtually disappeared in our time, commonly referred to, if referred to at all, as archaisms and atavisms….

This is, of course, precisely the situation that Weber had in mind when he wrote early in the century about the conflict between bureaucracy and democracy, with the latter tending toward ever greater excesses of demagoguery. The paradox presented is tragic indeed. Through democracy, historically, bureaucracy has constantly expanded, the result of the rising number of social and economic functions taken on by the democratic state. But when bureaucracy reaches a certain degree of mass and power, it becomes almost automatically resistant to any will, including the elected will of the people, that is not of its own making….

Poll after poll among all elements of the population will reveal widespread hostility, but for the bureaucracy such evidence bespeaks only ignorance and the need of still greater bureaucracy for the purpose of liberating the people from their prejudices.

Nisbet closes that particular train of though on a quite pessimistic note:

More and more, I suspect, revolt in the West in whatever form it takes–peaceful and political, violent and terroristic, or military–will consist of hatred of bureaucracy and passionate desire to destroy it. It is the immensity of bureaucracy at the present time, and the growing immensity of opposition to it, that promises a drive toward total reconstruction that must itself be laden with implications of despotism.

Put simply, growing and unaccountable bureaucracy pits the government against the people. That is what we are seeing on a chilling scale with the IRS scandal. That is why Americans have remained so opposed to ObamaCare and other elevations of the bureaucracy over the public will–at the public’s personal expense, it should be noted, and for which the IRS comes collecting each year to fund its further insulation from the democratic process.

And that is why Americans expect the administration to take this scandal as seriously as they do and take action that would sufficiently curtail the taxman’s ability to run interference for the president and suppress his political opponents. Significant steps to rein in the IRS have to be taken–that much we know. The only question remaining is whether Democrats will move to clean up IRS corruption or continue profiting from it.

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In Pakistan, Expect More of the Same

The fact that 60 percent of Pakistanis voted in parliamentary elections, thereby defying Pakistani Taliban intimidation, is a good sign. So is the likelihood that Pakistan will see the first succession since the country’s founding in 1947 from one elected government to another after the first government had completed its full term in office.

But we should not expect much change in foreign policy from presumptive prime minister Nawaz Sharif, who got his start in politics as a protégé of the Islamist military dictator General Muhammad Zia ul-Haq in the 1980s. In the 1990s, during an earlier stint as prime minister, he was a supporter of the Afghan Taliban and has remained cozy with Islamic militant groups ever since; during this campaign he refused to come out strongly against the Pakistani Taliban, which helps to explain why that group did not attack rallies held by his Pakistan Muslim League party. Although Sharif is said to favor better ties with India, his most famous act as prime minister occurred in 1998 when he approved Pakistan’s first nuclear test, thereby ratcheting up tensions with India.

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The fact that 60 percent of Pakistanis voted in parliamentary elections, thereby defying Pakistani Taliban intimidation, is a good sign. So is the likelihood that Pakistan will see the first succession since the country’s founding in 1947 from one elected government to another after the first government had completed its full term in office.

But we should not expect much change in foreign policy from presumptive prime minister Nawaz Sharif, who got his start in politics as a protégé of the Islamist military dictator General Muhammad Zia ul-Haq in the 1980s. In the 1990s, during an earlier stint as prime minister, he was a supporter of the Afghan Taliban and has remained cozy with Islamic militant groups ever since; during this campaign he refused to come out strongly against the Pakistani Taliban, which helps to explain why that group did not attack rallies held by his Pakistan Muslim League party. Although Sharif is said to favor better ties with India, his most famous act as prime minister occurred in 1998 when he approved Pakistan’s first nuclear test, thereby ratcheting up tensions with India.

Sharif promises better relations with the United States too, but it is doubtful that he could deliver even if he meant it–and it’s doubtful that he does. As the Indian Express notes: “Sharif has criticized unpopular U.S. drone attacks targeting al-Qaida and Taliban militants in Pakistan, and has called the Afghan conflict ‘America’s war.’ The Punjab government, controlled by Sharif’s party, turned down over $100 million in American aid in 2011 to protest the bin Laden raid.”

Even if Sharif were pro-American and secularist (he is neither), he would still not call the shots in Pakistan. Real power, at least when it comes to foreign policy and national security policy, is still held by the army, while in the domestic sphere the judiciary has proved increasingly important of late. President Asif Ali Zardari has been a figurehead. So too with his previous prime ministers. Real power has been increased by the army chief of staff, General Ashfaq Kayani, and the Supreme Court’s chief justice, Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, who succeeded in removing Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani from office last year. Both Kayani and Chaudhry are due to retire this year and their replacements will be more consequential than the change of elected leadership.

In foreign policy, however, there is unlikely to be much change since pretty much the entire army leadership–not just General Kayani–supports Pakistan’s existing policies, which include aiding and abetting groups such as the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani Network, which are killing Americans and their Afghan allies. It is high time we woke up to what Pakistan is up to. Instead of pretending it is a sometimes-wayward ally, we must recognize that Pakistan’s strategic interests–especially in Afghanistan–are squarely at odds with ours, and we must work to counter Pakistani influence as we would do with any other hostile power.

In Pakistan itself, we should work to bolster civil society and the power of civilians in government, but we should not delude ourselves that such efforts will have much impact in the short run–and possibly not even in the long run. Pakistan’s state is deeply dysfunctional and is unlikely to fundamentally change for the better under Nawaz Sharif.

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Fethullah Gulen: Islamize or War

On March 21, 2013, after years of armed struggle, Abdullah Öcalan—Turkey’s imprisoned Kurdish leader—accepted a peace deal proffered by Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. While Erdoğan will claim credit for winning an agreement to have PKK fighters withdraw, the life expectancy of the deal remains in question because Erdoğan seems unwilling to implement the confederation which Turkey’s Kurds and Öcalan’s followers demand. Such a confederation would not only require political reorganization, but would also demand fundamental reform of Turkey’s arm forces and security services to enable Kurds to serve in the bodies which once oppressed them.

So what is Turkey’s motive for pushing a peace process which the Turkish leadership is not willing to see to the end? In my Kurdistan Tribune column, I cynically suggested two theories: First was Erdoğan’s desire to win the Kurdish vote for any constitutional referendum that could propel Erdoğan into a revamped presidency, offering him even greater powers. And the second was a desire to win the 2020 Summer Olympics, the award of which to Turkey could personally net Erdoğan’s family hundreds of millions of dollars since, regardless of what debt hosting the Olympics might incur to the Turkish people, seldom is there a large project which Erdoğan cannot direct to Çalik Holdings, a company run by his son-in-law.

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On March 21, 2013, after years of armed struggle, Abdullah Öcalan—Turkey’s imprisoned Kurdish leader—accepted a peace deal proffered by Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. While Erdoğan will claim credit for winning an agreement to have PKK fighters withdraw, the life expectancy of the deal remains in question because Erdoğan seems unwilling to implement the confederation which Turkey’s Kurds and Öcalan’s followers demand. Such a confederation would not only require political reorganization, but would also demand fundamental reform of Turkey’s arm forces and security services to enable Kurds to serve in the bodies which once oppressed them.

So what is Turkey’s motive for pushing a peace process which the Turkish leadership is not willing to see to the end? In my Kurdistan Tribune column, I cynically suggested two theories: First was Erdoğan’s desire to win the Kurdish vote for any constitutional referendum that could propel Erdoğan into a revamped presidency, offering him even greater powers. And the second was a desire to win the 2020 Summer Olympics, the award of which to Turkey could personally net Erdoğan’s family hundreds of millions of dollars since, regardless of what debt hosting the Olympics might incur to the Turkish people, seldom is there a large project which Erdoğan cannot direct to Çalik Holdings, a company run by his son-in-law.

In a recent speech, Fethullah Gülen, the controversial Turkish religious thinker in self-imposed exile in the United States, has suggested a third goal. According to Hürriyet Daily News:

Gülen has spoken out on the peace process, calling on everyone to “find religion as the common ground…” Gülen said groups should unite over what they hold in common, “our God, our prophet, our religion,” warning people against ignoring these common points, which would lead them to “disunity.”

That sounds good but, in effect, Gülen is arguing Kurds—who tend to prioritize ethnic identity over religious identity—should embrace more Islamist thinking in order to find commonality with their oppressors. It is worth noting where we have heard such thinking before: In 1971, after the Pakistani Army lost Bangladesh (formerly East Pakistan), the Pakistani military and President Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto sought consciously to promote religion as the identity which would unite all Pakistanis regardless of ethnic group. (Pakistan had been formed as a state for the Muslims but, in practice, ethnic identity remained as important if not more so among the Pashtun, Baluchi, and Bengalis). The result was a deliberate—and largely successful—attempt to radicalize the population.

Pakistan is a mess today largely because the Pakistani military and its component, the Inter-Services Intelligence–implemented Bhutto’s vision. It got worse: After the Soviets invaded Afghanistan, Pakistan was able to leverage its position as the only point of egress for the West into Afghanistan as a way to exclusively support the so-called Peshawar Seven, in effect transforming Pakistan’s religious obsession into their far more liberal neighbor, forever changing that land as well.

Make no mistake: It is long past time for Turkey to make peace with the Kurds. Let us hope that Turkey does not believe that the path to peace lies in promoting religious identity over righting historical wrongs.

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Assad’s Fall Is Far from Inevitable

The Obama administration’s stand-on-the-sidelines policy in Syria has been premised on the assumption that it was only a matter of time before Bashar Assad’s downfall–his “days are numbered,” administration officials have been saying for the past two years. Not so fast. This dispatch from Washington Post reporter Liz Sly in Beirut suggests that the battle is actually swinging in Assad’s direction, thanks in large part to the extensive aid he is receiving from Iran and Hezbollah.

Iranian Quds Force and Lebanese Hezbollah fighters are actively engaged in hostilities–not only fighting themselves but also helping the Assad regime to organize and train a new militia force made up primarily of Alawites that is far more loyal to the regime than the Sunni-dominated ranks of the regular army. The National Defense Force, as this militia is known, is using guerrilla-style tactics against the rebels, fighting them block by block.

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The Obama administration’s stand-on-the-sidelines policy in Syria has been premised on the assumption that it was only a matter of time before Bashar Assad’s downfall–his “days are numbered,” administration officials have been saying for the past two years. Not so fast. This dispatch from Washington Post reporter Liz Sly in Beirut suggests that the battle is actually swinging in Assad’s direction, thanks in large part to the extensive aid he is receiving from Iran and Hezbollah.

Iranian Quds Force and Lebanese Hezbollah fighters are actively engaged in hostilities–not only fighting themselves but also helping the Assad regime to organize and train a new militia force made up primarily of Alawites that is far more loyal to the regime than the Sunni-dominated ranks of the regular army. The National Defense Force, as this militia is known, is using guerrilla-style tactics against the rebels, fighting them block by block.

“Meanwhile,” Sly writes, “the regime can still call on its conventional superiority to project its power into areas where the rebels hold sway on the ground, including air strikes, ballistic missiles and artillery. And unlike the rebel force, which has received only sporadic supplies of relatively low-caliber weaponry from its reluctant Western and Arab allies, Assad’s military can count on steady supplies of arms and ammunition from Iran and Russia.” Those arms supplies soon could include the provision of sophisticated air-defense systems from Russia.

One might add, based on the evidence of recent weeks, that the Assad regime can also employ its chemical stockpile without fear of retribution from the West. For all these reasons, Assad’s fighters have put the rebels on the defensive and are starting to push them back.

It is time to think the unthinkable: What would happen if Assad were to succeed in suppressing the rebellion? While a rebel victory would be problematic from America’s standpoint, because of the increasing role of jihadist radicals in the rebel ranks, a victory for the regime would be catastrophic. It would leave in place a government that was even more beholden to Hezbollah and Iran than was the case previously. It would, in short, solidify Iran’s beachhead in the middle of the Levant and it would deal a serious blow to the interests of the United States, Israel, and moderate Arab regimes, which have been supporting the rebels.

It is not too late to avert this dire outcome, but that will require Obama to rethink his policy of inaction.

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All the Banality That’s Fit to Print

I rarely read editorials by the New York Times anymore, not because they’re liberal (Michael Kinsley is liberal and worth reading) but because they’re banal. I was reminded of this when I actually did read a recent Times editorial, in this case one titled “The Republicans’ Benghazi Obsession.”

The editorial is worth referencing only to make a broader point, which is the dangers that can happen to journalists when they begin to view themselves as on a team rather than as individuals dedicated to unearthing truth (the role of reporters) or deepening the public’s understanding of issues (the role of commentators). I spoke about this issue during the last few minutes of my interview on NPR’s program On Point.

What often happens is ideology trumps detached judgment. So in the case of the Times, a cover-up by the Obama administration is characterized as nothing more than a GOP obsession. A false account of a lethal attack on an American diplomatic outpost given by the president, the vice president, the secretary of state, the U.N. ambassador, and the president’s press secretary? Not a problem. Because the point isn’t to find out the truth, let alone speak “truth to power.” It’s to be a fierce advocate for a fixed ideology. 

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I rarely read editorials by the New York Times anymore, not because they’re liberal (Michael Kinsley is liberal and worth reading) but because they’re banal. I was reminded of this when I actually did read a recent Times editorial, in this case one titled “The Republicans’ Benghazi Obsession.”

The editorial is worth referencing only to make a broader point, which is the dangers that can happen to journalists when they begin to view themselves as on a team rather than as individuals dedicated to unearthing truth (the role of reporters) or deepening the public’s understanding of issues (the role of commentators). I spoke about this issue during the last few minutes of my interview on NPR’s program On Point.

What often happens is ideology trumps detached judgment. So in the case of the Times, a cover-up by the Obama administration is characterized as nothing more than a GOP obsession. A false account of a lethal attack on an American diplomatic outpost given by the president, the vice president, the secretary of state, the U.N. ambassador, and the president’s press secretary? Not a problem. Because the point isn’t to find out the truth, let alone speak “truth to power.” It’s to be a fierce advocate for a fixed ideology. 

The mindset is transparent: One’s “team” is under attack and it must be defended at all costs. The editorial writers for the Times, for example, are not engaged in a journalistic enterprise. They are engaged in an ideological one. Their role isn’t to enlighten the public; it’s to be a weapon in a partisan war.

This isn’t a crime. And I’d certainly grant you that good arguments can be made by partisans. My point is that readers simply need to understand that the Times has a self-selected role to play: use facts–and if necessary manipulate facts–in order to serve their client (the Obama administration) and their cause (liberalism). So if the same events had occurred during the presidency of George W. Bush or Ronald Reagan instead of Barack Obama, they would trigger a feeding frenzy. But because this cover-up is occurring under a liberal president, the offenses need to be systematically ignored or underplayed–or better yet, turned on Republicans.

Now this phenomenon isn’t confined merely to those on the left. Both sides engage in it. And the truth is that none of us is perfectly detached and capable of viewing things from Olympian heights. We all bring to events certain biases, a particular cast of mind, a certain angle at which we view things. The question, I think, is where we find ourselves on the continuum, how willing we are to hold our own side to account, and the degree to which people can trust our interpretation of events. How much do we attempt to push back, if at all, against our ideological predilections in order to ascertain the reality of things? 

The English essayist William Hazlitt once said of Burke that he “enriched every subject to which he applied himself, and new subjects were only the occasions of calling forth fresh powers of mind which had not been before exerted.”

In this regard, as in so many other regards, the Times is thoroughly un-Burkean. Its editorial writers produce polemics rather than reasoned arguments–and they do so in the most hackneyed way imaginable. To be rigidly dogmatic is bad enough; to be shallow and boring in the process mightily compounds the error.

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Asking the Wrong Questions About the IRS

For anyone wondering what liberal elites really think about the IRS scandal, the front page of today’s New York Times gave us the answer. After burying the story inside over the weekend, the headline on the front page screamed the fears of the media establishment: “IRS Focus on Conservatives Gives GOP an Issue to Seize On.” The story gives the latest updates on the controversy in which conservative groups were targeted for scrutiny, including the troubling time line about knowledge of the abuses by top leaders of the IRS which gives the lie to their assurances to Congress in 2012 that no such abuses were going on. It also points out that the special treatment was not limited to organizations with the words “Tea Party” or “Patriot” in their names but extended to those who didn’t like the way the country was being run.

Virtually no one is defending the IRS this morning, but most mainstream commentary on it is stressing that to date there has been no link established between the White House or top Obama administration figures and this scandal. That is true, but as angry as citizens should be about what the tax agency has done, few are asking the crucial questions about it: why did it happen? How is it possible that what amounts to a political purge of conservatives from the roll of tax-exempt organizations was undertaken by what we are told was only a bunch of low-level civil servants in an office in Cincinnati? Can anyone truly believe that a decision to target conservatives and those who were unhappy with a government led by a liberal Democrat was simply a spontaneous event with no political guidance or input?

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For anyone wondering what liberal elites really think about the IRS scandal, the front page of today’s New York Times gave us the answer. After burying the story inside over the weekend, the headline on the front page screamed the fears of the media establishment: “IRS Focus on Conservatives Gives GOP an Issue to Seize On.” The story gives the latest updates on the controversy in which conservative groups were targeted for scrutiny, including the troubling time line about knowledge of the abuses by top leaders of the IRS which gives the lie to their assurances to Congress in 2012 that no such abuses were going on. It also points out that the special treatment was not limited to organizations with the words “Tea Party” or “Patriot” in their names but extended to those who didn’t like the way the country was being run.

Virtually no one is defending the IRS this morning, but most mainstream commentary on it is stressing that to date there has been no link established between the White House or top Obama administration figures and this scandal. That is true, but as angry as citizens should be about what the tax agency has done, few are asking the crucial questions about it: why did it happen? How is it possible that what amounts to a political purge of conservatives from the roll of tax-exempt organizations was undertaken by what we are told was only a bunch of low-level civil servants in an office in Cincinnati? Can anyone truly believe that a decision to target conservatives and those who were unhappy with a government led by a liberal Democrat was simply a spontaneous event with no political guidance or input?

As I noted yesterday, the damning nature of these investigations has put liberals in a position where they have been forced to join conservative condemnations of the IRS, though it is interesting to note that one exception to that rule is the Times editorial page, which curiously has yet to respond to the scandal in the three days since it broke. No doubt their editorial board, which endorsed a regime of politicized IRS scrutiny against Tea Partiers in March 2012, is pondering how to square their past stand with what even liberal ideologues understand is the need to distance themselves from an embarrassing mistake by the government.

The key to the scandal is to be found in that dilemma. As today’s Times news story points out:

The I.R.S. has been under pressure from Democrats and campaign finance watchdogs for some time to crack down on abuse of the 501(c)4 tax exemption, which is supposed to go to organizations primarily promoting “social welfare” but which is routinely granted to overt political advocacy groups with little or no social welfare work.

It is true that there may be some who seek tax-exempt status that didn’t deserve it. But the notion that this species of organization is to be found only on the right rather than across the spectrum is an idea that was nurtured by liberal elites. The IRS policy was rooted in a belief that such conservatives are beyond the pale of acceptable opinion and that there was something illegitimate about disagreement with President Obama’s policies or distrust of government. The president articulated this point of view last week only days before the government gave us even more reason to worry about his program to expand its power.

What must follow is a thorough investigation of these abuses. We already know that the chief liberal media organ in the country was urging the IRS to behave in this manner. We also need to learn whether, despite denials, someone within the administration whispered in the ears of IRS personnel about this topic.

In the meantime, the left would be foolish to think President Obama can survive this scandal unscathed by their attempt to frame this story, as the Times did this morning, as just a tool for Republicans to attack the administration.

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Palestinians Say No; the West Hears Yes

Last week, Pew Research published a poll with a seemingly encouraging headline: “Despite Their Wide Differences, Many Israelis and Palestinians Want Bigger Role for Obama in Resolving Conflict.” The poll indeed showed pluralities of both groups wanting President Barack Obama to up his involvement, and if you only read the headline, the implication would be clear: The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is solvable if America would just push a little harder, and both sides truly want it to do so.

Yet reading the entire poll produces the opposite conclusion: The conflict clearly isn’t solvable right now, because when asked whether there’s “a way for Israel and an independent Palestinian state to coexist peacefully,” a whopping 61 percent of Palestinians said “no,” while only 14 percent said “yes.” (Israelis, in a triumph of hope over experience, said “yes” by a 50-38 margin.) In other words, a huge majority of Palestinians said that even if a Palestinian state is established, the conflict will continue as long as Israel continues to exist. So where does that leave the chances for Israeli-Palestinian peace?

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Last week, Pew Research published a poll with a seemingly encouraging headline: “Despite Their Wide Differences, Many Israelis and Palestinians Want Bigger Role for Obama in Resolving Conflict.” The poll indeed showed pluralities of both groups wanting President Barack Obama to up his involvement, and if you only read the headline, the implication would be clear: The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is solvable if America would just push a little harder, and both sides truly want it to do so.

Yet reading the entire poll produces the opposite conclusion: The conflict clearly isn’t solvable right now, because when asked whether there’s “a way for Israel and an independent Palestinian state to coexist peacefully,” a whopping 61 percent of Palestinians said “no,” while only 14 percent said “yes.” (Israelis, in a triumph of hope over experience, said “yes” by a 50-38 margin.) In other words, a huge majority of Palestinians said that even if a Palestinian state is established, the conflict will continue as long as Israel continues to exist. So where does that leave the chances for Israeli-Palestinian peace?

Palestinians have actually been telling pollsters this for years. In a 2007 poll, for instance, 77 percent of Palestinian respondents said “the rights and needs of the Palestinian people cannot be taken care of as long as the state of Israel exists.” And in a 2011 poll, 61 percent of Palestinians said they saw a two-state solution only as a stepping-stone to Israel’s ultimate eradication. Thus the problem isn’t that Palestinians are dishonest about their intentions; it’s that Westerners consistently choose to ignore their frank avowals and focus instead on anything that could possibly be interpreted as grounds for optimism–like the desire for greater American involvement voiced in last week’s poll.

Another example of this tendency is Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo’s statement after meeting Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas last month: “I felt that he is willing to negotiate a peace process.” On what grounds? “He asked me to convey a message that he would like to see confidence-building measures regarding political prisoners and the problem of the settlements.”

In other words, what Abbas actually said is that he wants Israel to make two major unilateral concessions: freeing Palestinian terrorists and freezing settlement construction. How does a demand for unilateral Israeli concessions in the absence of negotiations translate into a desire for reciprocal concessions agreed on through negotiations, which is what a peace process entails? The answer, of course, is that it doesn’t: The two are antithetical. As another senior PA official, Muhamed Shtayyeh, bluntly explained this month, “We want Israel to give. The Arabs are not required to give.”

This, incidentally, also explains the Pew finding with regard to Obama: When Palestinians say they want more American involvement, what they mean is more pressure on Israel to make unilateral concessions. But like Garcia-Margallo, Pew wanted to see hope where none exists.

This wishful thinking often stems from a genuine desire to see the conflict resolved. Yet there’s no chance of that happening if Westerners keep ignoring the real source of the problem–Palestinian unwillingness to make peace with Israel–rather than addressing it head-on. On the contrary, such behavior actually encourages Palestinian intransigence, because they know the West will whitewash this intransigence rather than penalize it.

And thus, out of a sincere desire to end the conflict, well-meaning Westerners are making it even more intractable.

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Play with Terrorism; Get Burned

There is an unfortunate pattern in which countries believe that they can utilize al-Qaeda against their enemies, and never suffer the consequence for such cynicism at home. In the early 1990s, for example, Saudis both publicly and privately donated to al-Qaeda. The extremists’ jihad was fine—even honorable—many Saudis believed so long as they fought abroad and not within Saudi Arabia itself. While al-Qaeda was perfectly happy accepting Saudi largesse, within a decade al-Qaeda terrorists were striking at the Kingdom, targeting not only foreign compounds but also seeking to assassinate members of the ruling family.

Syria likewise played with al-Qaeda throughout much of the last decade, turning Syrian territory into an underground railroad for suicide bombers and other terrorists destined for Iraq. The Sinjar documents (analyzed here in an excellent report by Brian Fishman and Joseph Felter) show how al-Qaeda transited Syria with the cognizance if not direct assistance of senior Syrian officials. Today, of course, al-Qaeda-linked radicals have turned their guns on the Syrian regime. Bashar al-Assad played with fire, and his regime got burned.

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There is an unfortunate pattern in which countries believe that they can utilize al-Qaeda against their enemies, and never suffer the consequence for such cynicism at home. In the early 1990s, for example, Saudis both publicly and privately donated to al-Qaeda. The extremists’ jihad was fine—even honorable—many Saudis believed so long as they fought abroad and not within Saudi Arabia itself. While al-Qaeda was perfectly happy accepting Saudi largesse, within a decade al-Qaeda terrorists were striking at the Kingdom, targeting not only foreign compounds but also seeking to assassinate members of the ruling family.

Syria likewise played with al-Qaeda throughout much of the last decade, turning Syrian territory into an underground railroad for suicide bombers and other terrorists destined for Iraq. The Sinjar documents (analyzed here in an excellent report by Brian Fishman and Joseph Felter) show how al-Qaeda transited Syria with the cognizance if not direct assistance of senior Syrian officials. Today, of course, al-Qaeda-linked radicals have turned their guns on the Syrian regime. Bashar al-Assad played with fire, and his regime got burned.

Turkey may very well be the latest country to figure out that channeling al-Qaeda and its fellow travelers has a very high price at home. A car bomb in a Turkish border town has killed upwards of 40 people. While the Turks may point the finger at forces aligned with Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad—a charge the Syrians deny—some Turks suggest that the al-Qaeda-affiliated Nusra Front, a group which some in the Turkish government have supported, may be responsible and might have conducted the attack to try to frame Assad and goad the Turks into greater involvement. A gag order issued by a court in Hatay forbidding many journalists from reporting regarding alleged—though unconfirmed—Nusra Front claims of responsibility has exacerbated the rumors.

While the Turks will attribute responsibility to whichever group most merits Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s animus of the moment, beyond the speedy accusations lurk three major suspects:

1)      The Nusra Front: The bomb was—despite Turkish denials—the work of the Nusra Front. This suggests that the devil’s bargain the Turks made, in which the Nusra Front would limit its attacks to Kurds and other enemies of the Turkish government, has broken down.

2)      The Syrian Regime: The same blowback theory, alas, also applies to the Syrian regime which up to just a couple years was courted and supported by Ankara. Indeed, Erdogan’s government supported Syria against Lebanon during the Cedar Revolution, and Erdogan famously invited the Assads to vacation with him along the Turkish Mediterranean coast.

3)      Internal radicals: The most recent reports suggest that the suspects rounded up by Turkish security forces are actually Turkish citizens, not Syrian refugees. Such a scenario suggests that the internal rot in our NATO ally is deeper than many American policymakers realize, both in terms of Turkey’s growing radicalism and in the weakness and incompetence of the Turkish security service in the wake Prime Minister Erdogan’s repeated purges.

Make no mistake: The terrorists targeting civilians are fully to blame; terrorism is never acceptable, no if’s, and’s, or but’s. Perhaps, however, the Turkish government will reconsider its approach to counterterrorism, in which it now condemns all terrorism except that conducted for causes to which the prime minister is sympathetic. Every country engaging in such à la carte terror support sooner rather than later discovers that what goes around, comes around.

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