Commentary Magazine


Posts For: June 17, 2013

“Khaybar”—A Middle East Reality Check

Much of the discussion about the Middle East peace process tends to focus almost entirely on what Israelis do and what the implications of more concessions to the Palestinians will be for the Jewish state. Some of this emphasis is justified, as Israel ought to do what is not only right but is in its long-term interest. For some on the left that means ignoring not only the openly stated intentions of the Palestinians and their supporters in the Muslim and Arab worlds but also their long record of rejecting peace. But as difficult as it might be to focus the international press as well as liberal Jews on the historical record of the Palestinians and their political culture that makes peace improbable if not impossible, it may be just as important to broaden the discussion to that of the culture of the entire region. If Palestinians have never found the will to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn it is in no small measure because doing so is viewed as treason to the general anti-Zionist cause.

It is that context an item brought to our attention by the Elder of Ziyon website. In one we are informed that a new blockbuster miniseries slated for broadcast throughout the Muslim world in July as part of the region’s version of sweeps week for the Ramadan holiday may not be aired after all. But rather than “Khaybar” being axed for its widely reported anti-Semitic theme, the series may be in trouble because it portrays some of the Prophet Muhammad’s “companions” and therefore offends the religious sensibilities of Dubai TV and other broadcasters. While I have no position about what Muslims ought to consider taboo, the fact that “Khaybar” is still slated to run in most of the Middle East tells us more about what the contemporary Arab world thinks about Jews than canned statements about peace intended for the Western press that peace advocates rely upon.

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Much of the discussion about the Middle East peace process tends to focus almost entirely on what Israelis do and what the implications of more concessions to the Palestinians will be for the Jewish state. Some of this emphasis is justified, as Israel ought to do what is not only right but is in its long-term interest. For some on the left that means ignoring not only the openly stated intentions of the Palestinians and their supporters in the Muslim and Arab worlds but also their long record of rejecting peace. But as difficult as it might be to focus the international press as well as liberal Jews on the historical record of the Palestinians and their political culture that makes peace improbable if not impossible, it may be just as important to broaden the discussion to that of the culture of the entire region. If Palestinians have never found the will to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn it is in no small measure because doing so is viewed as treason to the general anti-Zionist cause.

It is that context an item brought to our attention by the Elder of Ziyon website. In one we are informed that a new blockbuster miniseries slated for broadcast throughout the Muslim world in July as part of the region’s version of sweeps week for the Ramadan holiday may not be aired after all. But rather than “Khaybar” being axed for its widely reported anti-Semitic theme, the series may be in trouble because it portrays some of the Prophet Muhammad’s “companions” and therefore offends the religious sensibilities of Dubai TV and other broadcasters. While I have no position about what Muslims ought to consider taboo, the fact that “Khaybar” is still slated to run in most of the Middle East tells us more about what the contemporary Arab world thinks about Jews than canned statements about peace intended for the Western press that peace advocates rely upon.

As the Anti-Defamation League reported in February, there isn’t much doubt about the intent of people that made “Khaybar”—which centers on the historical conflict between early Muslims and Jewish tribes in the Arabian Peninsula during the Prophet’s lifetime:

In an interview with Al-Masry Al-Youm, an Egypt-based daily news­paper, on January 16, Al-Jindy said, “The goal of the series is to expose the naked truth about the Jews and stress that they can­not be trusted.”

Commenting on the recent changes in the region, Al-Jindy described the importance of recognizing the parallels between “the era of the Khaiber battle” and “contemporary times.”

Al-Jindy also seemed to sug­gest that the series will have a global effect. “I think it is time to expose them [the Jews] even in America itself. I am confident that the United States will realize that it paid a high price for supporting them.”

Khaybar has resonance with those seeking to destroy Israel because the Jewish tribes of the Medina area were conquered, treated with great cruelty and eventually expelled from the region in the year 642. Al Jindy authored another miniseries with anti-Semitic context called “The Wandering Jew.” Its producers are hoping to repeat the success of another series based on the fraudulent “Protocols of the Elders of Zion” that was a huge hit during Ramadan a decade ago.

Rather than dismissing this as irrelevant to the discussion of peace, the popularity of such smears should send a chill down the backs of those who continue to argue that Palestinians and the Arab world are ready to give up their hundred-year-old war to eradicate the Jewish presence in the region. So long as Khaybar remains a safe theme for broad-based Muslim popular culture, we’re a long way from peace in the Middle East.

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Immigration and the Republicans

Writing today in the Corner at National Review Online, Jonah Goldberg takes up the point I discussed earlier today about the necessity for Republicans not to frame the immigration reform issue as one in which their principal motivation is to avoid allowing more Hispanics to become Democratic voters. He agrees with me that’s wrong, but he also says that supporters of the gang of eight bill are mistaken to try and sell their legislation to the GOP on the grounds that it is good politics. He thinks the debate on the bill should rise and fall on its merits, and I’m perfectly happy to join him in supporting that sentiment.

Reform of a failed immigration system that makes a mockery of the rule of law and replacing it with something that both strengthens border security and provides productive and otherwise law-abiding residents of the United States a path to legalization is good policy. Contrary to many of our friends on the right who claim Republicans have a vital interest in derailing efforts to bring about that change, I see no conservative principle at stake in either defending the status quo or an unrealistic call for the deportation of 11 million people that we know are going nowhere. As many conservatives and most of the business community have long argued, immigration is not only a response to economic reality, it continues to be one of America’s great strengths and should be encouraged rather than opposed.

However, I disagree with Goldberg when he says that Republicans should not consider the political implications of the issue. He’s right that votes on the bill should be determined by “the national interest” on such a major issue and that, as I noted in my piece, there is no guarantee that poor Hispanics will become Republicans just because the party backs immigration reform. But while the bill isn’t going to be sold to the party simply because it is good politics, the problem is that strident anti-immigration voices on the right have already put the GOP in a position where it must do something to rebrand itself on the issue in order to have a hope of turning the situation around.

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Writing today in the Corner at National Review Online, Jonah Goldberg takes up the point I discussed earlier today about the necessity for Republicans not to frame the immigration reform issue as one in which their principal motivation is to avoid allowing more Hispanics to become Democratic voters. He agrees with me that’s wrong, but he also says that supporters of the gang of eight bill are mistaken to try and sell their legislation to the GOP on the grounds that it is good politics. He thinks the debate on the bill should rise and fall on its merits, and I’m perfectly happy to join him in supporting that sentiment.

Reform of a failed immigration system that makes a mockery of the rule of law and replacing it with something that both strengthens border security and provides productive and otherwise law-abiding residents of the United States a path to legalization is good policy. Contrary to many of our friends on the right who claim Republicans have a vital interest in derailing efforts to bring about that change, I see no conservative principle at stake in either defending the status quo or an unrealistic call for the deportation of 11 million people that we know are going nowhere. As many conservatives and most of the business community have long argued, immigration is not only a response to economic reality, it continues to be one of America’s great strengths and should be encouraged rather than opposed.

However, I disagree with Goldberg when he says that Republicans should not consider the political implications of the issue. He’s right that votes on the bill should be determined by “the national interest” on such a major issue and that, as I noted in my piece, there is no guarantee that poor Hispanics will become Republicans just because the party backs immigration reform. But while the bill isn’t going to be sold to the party simply because it is good politics, the problem is that strident anti-immigration voices on the right have already put the GOP in a position where it must do something to rebrand itself on the issue in order to have a hope of turning the situation around.

Many Hispanics already believe that people like Steve Deace and Steve Stockman accurately reflect Republican sentiments about Hispanics. I don’t think this is true, but in the absence of a party decision to throw in their lot with those advocating immigration reform, it will be hard to claim they are wrong.

There is no way of telling what will happen in the next few years in American politics. Issues and events may arise to redefine party loyalties and shift votes in ways we don’t yet envision. It is possible that Republicans may thrive even if they oppose immigration reform and may decline even if they embrace it. But the level of vituperation from some on the right about the prospect of increasing the Hispanic vote is becoming so conspicuous that it is the sort of thing that could have greater resonance than even the outcome of the debate on the bill. My point is not just that it is wrong for Republicans to talk that way as well as bad politics, though it certainly is both those things, but that a failure to aggressively combat those statements will be so dangerous to the party with Hispanics (as well as many other Americans) that it won’t really matter whether the reform bill is stopped or not.

Republicans may not have to embrace immigration reform to survive and shouldn’t vote for the bill on any ground other than whether it is right. But if they don’t act to aggressively counter those intolerant voices on the right that are writing off any possibility of GOP outreach to Hispanics, they are in big trouble. If someone can find a better way of convincing Hispanics that Deace and Stockman don’t speak for the party other than by supporting this bill, I’d like to hear it. But in the absence of such a suggestion, I’d suggest they’d do well to start thinking about strengthening the gang of eight’s bill rather than torpedoing it.

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Last Javan Synagogue Destroyed

Alas, bad news from Indonesia, which otherwise has managed its counter-radicalization program well in recent years. The last synagogue in Java—a historical building that predated Indonesian independence—has been destroyed after having been blockaded for several years by Indonesian Islamists. From the Jakarta Globe:

The last vestige of one Indonesia’s oldest and largest Jewish communities is now just a pile of rubble. Beth Shalom in Surabaya — Java’s one and only synagogue — was demolished in May after being sealed off by Islamic hard-liners in 2009. “It’s not clear when exactly it was demolished and who did it,” Freddy Istanto, the director of the Surabaya Heritage Society (SHS), told the Jakarta Globe. “In mid-May, I was informed by a member of the SHS that the synagogue was destroyed. In disbelief, I went over there and it had been flattened.”

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Alas, bad news from Indonesia, which otherwise has managed its counter-radicalization program well in recent years. The last synagogue in Java—a historical building that predated Indonesian independence—has been destroyed after having been blockaded for several years by Indonesian Islamists. From the Jakarta Globe:

The last vestige of one Indonesia’s oldest and largest Jewish communities is now just a pile of rubble. Beth Shalom in Surabaya — Java’s one and only synagogue — was demolished in May after being sealed off by Islamic hard-liners in 2009. “It’s not clear when exactly it was demolished and who did it,” Freddy Istanto, the director of the Surabaya Heritage Society (SHS), told the Jakarta Globe. “In mid-May, I was informed by a member of the SHS that the synagogue was destroyed. In disbelief, I went over there and it had been flattened.”

The Jewish community in Indonesia may have withered, but the protection of such heritage sites is crucial to any semblance of tolerance in society. Many hardline Islamists seek to not only rid their present society of religious and sectarian diversity, but also retroactively cleanse their past so that the presence and contribution of minorities are forgotten. Indonesia now has only one synagogue left. Let us hope that the Indonesian government will not once again turn a blind eye. To do so will be to convince radicals that they have carte blanche to act outside the law, and will convince the outside world that Indonesia’s reputation for moderation and tolerance is ill-deserved.

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Rowhani and the Path to Containment

New Iranian President Hassan Rowhani is already proving the truth of my assertion that allowing his election was the smartest thing his country’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has done in a long time. Speaking for the first time since winning in a landslide last Friday, Rowhani presented a far more reasonable face to the world than his predecessor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The Islamist cleric that had the distinction of being the most “moderate” of the regime supporters that Khamenei allowed to run said he wanted to reduce tensions with the United States. Though he reiterated that he would never budge from defending Iran’s “right” to continue to enrich uranium that the world rightly fears will be used to make bombs, this half-hearted olive branch is probably all he thinks he needs to do to string the West along for another round of negotiations that will do nothing but buy more time for Iran to achieve its nuclear ambition.

The bad news is that he’s probably right about that.

The willingness of White House chief of staff Dennis McDonough to embrace Rowhani’s election as “a potentially hopeful sign” was a signal that President Obama is ready to head down the garden path with the Iranians again despite the fact that every previous such effort has ended in a failure that only advanced the ayatollahs toward their nuclear goal. As our Max Boot noted earlier today, the “myth of the moderate mullah” dies hard in Washington. But the problem here probably goes a lot deeper than the nonsense being spouted on cable news shows about the nonexistent chances that Rowhani represents the start of a chance to transform Iran from an Islamist tyranny to something less awful. Given the fact that everyone knows that real power resides in the hands of the supreme leader, the desire to pump meaning into his election may be more about the desire of the president and those elements of the foreign policy establishment that are keen to avoid having to face up to the truth about the Iranian nuclear peril than any belief in Rowhani’s moderation.

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New Iranian President Hassan Rowhani is already proving the truth of my assertion that allowing his election was the smartest thing his country’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has done in a long time. Speaking for the first time since winning in a landslide last Friday, Rowhani presented a far more reasonable face to the world than his predecessor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The Islamist cleric that had the distinction of being the most “moderate” of the regime supporters that Khamenei allowed to run said he wanted to reduce tensions with the United States. Though he reiterated that he would never budge from defending Iran’s “right” to continue to enrich uranium that the world rightly fears will be used to make bombs, this half-hearted olive branch is probably all he thinks he needs to do to string the West along for another round of negotiations that will do nothing but buy more time for Iran to achieve its nuclear ambition.

The bad news is that he’s probably right about that.

The willingness of White House chief of staff Dennis McDonough to embrace Rowhani’s election as “a potentially hopeful sign” was a signal that President Obama is ready to head down the garden path with the Iranians again despite the fact that every previous such effort has ended in a failure that only advanced the ayatollahs toward their nuclear goal. As our Max Boot noted earlier today, the “myth of the moderate mullah” dies hard in Washington. But the problem here probably goes a lot deeper than the nonsense being spouted on cable news shows about the nonexistent chances that Rowhani represents the start of a chance to transform Iran from an Islamist tyranny to something less awful. Given the fact that everyone knows that real power resides in the hands of the supreme leader, the desire to pump meaning into his election may be more about the desire of the president and those elements of the foreign policy establishment that are keen to avoid having to face up to the truth about the Iranian nuclear peril than any belief in Rowhani’s moderation.

As the New York Times notes today:

Many of the leading strategists on Iran from Mr. Obama’s first term have become increasingly critical of the president’s handling of the issue this year. Early optimism that Iranian negotiators were ready to discuss the outlines of a deal — one that would have frozen the most immediately worrisome elements of the country’s nuclear program in return for an acknowledgment of the country’s right to enrich uranium under a highly obtrusive inspection regimen — faded in April, when the talks collapsed.

But Mr. Obama chose, after some internal debate, not to allow the breakdown in talks to become a crisis, partly because he was immersed in the debate over American intervention in the Syrian civil war. “There were a lot of distractions,” said one former senior official who remains involved in the internal debates.

The implication of the outcome of this internal White House debate is deeply troubling and ought to chasten those of the president’s defenders who continue to insist that Obama will in the end do the right thing and stop Iran from going nuclear even if that means using force. The point is, if everyone in the administration already knows that what happened last Friday was, as Jeffrey Goldberg (one of those who have vouched for Obama’s policy on Iran as aimed at stopping their nuclear program) called it, a “fake election in a fake democracy,” then the willingness of his new foreign policy team to treat Rowhani’s victory as an excuse for more diplomacy stems more from a desire to avoid making a choice about taking action than it does about any actual confidence that more talks will succeed.

It should be conceded that there has never been anything wrong with the president’s rhetoric about stopping Iran. He has been consistent on that point since he was first running for president in 2008. Having wasted much of his first term on a feckless policy of engagement with an Iranian regime that wanted no part of such outreach and the rest of it on assembling a shaky international coalition on behalf of sanctions and failed diplomacy, the president has left himself very little wriggle room. His own experience, let alone that of his predecessors, shows that any further talks will only serve Iran’s interests in that they will help run out the clock until their bomb is finished. Rowhani has bragged about playing this game with representatives of the Europeans and the George W. Bush administration. If the president is to embrace Rowhani’s minimalist olive branch as an excuse for more diplomacy it can only mean that Obama is seizing any excuse to put off the inevitable moment of truth about whether he will keep his word on Iran.

The only question about Obama’s openness to using Rowhani as a pretext for more talks is whether they will treat it as the final opportunity for Iran to stand down or as the starting point of an administration walk-back on the nuclear issue that will end with a policy of containment. True believers in Obama will, no doubt, claim it is the former, but everything we’ve seen in the last four and a half years makes it hard to believe it is anything but the latter.

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Turkey’s Terrorism Confusion

One of the bedrocks of the U.S.-Turkey partnership has been U.S. provision of so-called counter-terrorism assistance to Turkey. In theory, the counter-terrorism assistance is meant to allow Turkey to counter its Kurdish insurgency, long led by the Kurdistan Workers Party, better known by its Kurdish acronym, the PKK. However, for the past three months, the Turkish government and PKK have been in active peace talks and the truce between them has held.

I have written before about how a lack of a universal definition of what terrorism is hampers the fight against it. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan will label the PKK as terrorists, but somehow say that Hamas is not a terrorist group. Indeed, as the Foundation for Defense of Democracies’ Jonathan Schanzer pointed out, Erdoğan took time out from managing the state response to protests by liberals, secularists, trade unionists, educators, and others to meet with senior Hamas leaders today.

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One of the bedrocks of the U.S.-Turkey partnership has been U.S. provision of so-called counter-terrorism assistance to Turkey. In theory, the counter-terrorism assistance is meant to allow Turkey to counter its Kurdish insurgency, long led by the Kurdistan Workers Party, better known by its Kurdish acronym, the PKK. However, for the past three months, the Turkish government and PKK have been in active peace talks and the truce between them has held.

I have written before about how a lack of a universal definition of what terrorism is hampers the fight against it. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan will label the PKK as terrorists, but somehow say that Hamas is not a terrorist group. Indeed, as the Foundation for Defense of Democracies’ Jonathan Schanzer pointed out, Erdoğan took time out from managing the state response to protests by liberals, secularists, trade unionists, educators, and others to meet with senior Hamas leaders today.

The problem has become even more striking in Turkey today. Egemen Bağış, Turkey’s minister for European Union affairs and a close Erdoğan aide, has said that anyone who protests against the government in Taksim Square should be considered terrorists.

It is clear that Erdoğan’s definition of “terrorist” has less to do with violence and true terrorism and more to do with political opposition to him personally. As such, the provision of any lethal assistance or other counter-terrorism aid, such as provision of drones to Turkey, is inappropriate and should be stopped. The damage to U.S. policy of appearing to side with Erdoğan’s crackdown is simply too great, and against U.S. interests.

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A Simple Question for Obama on Syria

Like Max, I couldn’t help but notice our president’s ambivalence about the Syrian civil war. But I was surprised to read this sentence, in the Times story that Max quotes: “Coming so late into the conflict, Mr. Obama expressed no confidence it would change the outcome, but privately expressed hope it might buy time to bring about a negotiated settlement.” This, to me, is a perfect example of how fetishizing diplomacy undermines it.

It is appropriate for that quote to appear in a story in the New York Times, because the Times has reported extensively on how diplomacy is probably President Obama’s most glaring weakness of statecraft. And they deserve credit for doing so, because it is rare for the mainstream media to report on domestic politics in ways that contradict their own narratives. Since the narrative on Obama is that he is a thoughtful proponent of engagement, it took some contrarian instincts for the Times to reveal what many of us already knew: no, he’s not. He’s an egotist who believes in the power of his own command, and the cult of personality that surrounded him for so long insulated him from the reality of his own limitations.

If Obama can’t fool the media into thinking he wants to win in Syria, what are the odds he can fool the Kremlin? One of the complaints about Obama from the right and from the interventionist center-left is that he avoids talk of victory–everything he does and says is about ending a given conflict, not winning the conflict. Telegraphing this substantially reduces his negotiating leverage. It’s ironic, but Obama’s obsession with engagement severely weakens his ability to engage.

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Like Max, I couldn’t help but notice our president’s ambivalence about the Syrian civil war. But I was surprised to read this sentence, in the Times story that Max quotes: “Coming so late into the conflict, Mr. Obama expressed no confidence it would change the outcome, but privately expressed hope it might buy time to bring about a negotiated settlement.” This, to me, is a perfect example of how fetishizing diplomacy undermines it.

It is appropriate for that quote to appear in a story in the New York Times, because the Times has reported extensively on how diplomacy is probably President Obama’s most glaring weakness of statecraft. And they deserve credit for doing so, because it is rare for the mainstream media to report on domestic politics in ways that contradict their own narratives. Since the narrative on Obama is that he is a thoughtful proponent of engagement, it took some contrarian instincts for the Times to reveal what many of us already knew: no, he’s not. He’s an egotist who believes in the power of his own command, and the cult of personality that surrounded him for so long insulated him from the reality of his own limitations.

If Obama can’t fool the media into thinking he wants to win in Syria, what are the odds he can fool the Kremlin? One of the complaints about Obama from the right and from the interventionist center-left is that he avoids talk of victory–everything he does and says is about ending a given conflict, not winning the conflict. Telegraphing this substantially reduces his negotiating leverage. It’s ironic, but Obama’s obsession with engagement severely weakens his ability to engage.

That’s because negotiations aren’t the traditional goal in conflict; victory is. So Obama has it backwards: he wants to arm the rebels not because he thinks they can win but because perhaps it will bring everyone back to the negotiating table and end the slaughter. But in fact it is just as likely to do the opposite: if the U.S. more officially takes sides and then America’s “side” loses anyway, it will give Russia and Bashar al-Assad less reason to go looking for a deal. I’m not suggesting Obama should get even more involved on the side of the rebels–as I’ve said before, I think the window to empower more moderate elements among the rebels probably closed a long time ago, if it was ever open to begin with–but there isn’t much logic in taking action that won’t turn the tide.

Here’s a simple question to highlight the confusion of White House policy: Do they want the rebels to win? If the answer is yes, then they have a funny way of showing it. If the answer is no, then why help them at all or give them weapons they can’t be trusted with? Of course, there’s a third possibility: the White House wants the rebels to neither win nor lose. Here’s Dan Drezner on Friday:

To your humble blogger, this is simply the next iteration of the unspoken, brutally realpolitik policy towards Syria that’s been going on for the past two years.  To recap, the goal of that policy is to ensnare Iran and Hezbollah into a protracted, resource-draining civil war, with as minimal costs as possible.  This is exactly what the last two years have accomplished…. at an appalling toll in lives lost.   

This policy doesn’t require any course correction… so long as rebels are holding their own or winning. A faltering Assad simply forces Iran et al into doubling down and committing even more resources.  A faltering rebel movement, on the other hand, does require some external support, lest the Iranians actually win the conflict.  In a related matter, arming the rebels also prevents relations with U.S. allies in the region from fraying any further.

That’s one way of saying Obama wants everyone to lose. But that, of course, means the bloody civil war goes on. Additionally, there are a couple of problems with this. First, helping the rebels just enough to keep the war balanced but not enough to enable them to take control is quite the needle to thread. And second, there’s no way to help the rebels and remain neutral–unless Obama is prepared to help Assad if need be, and I don’t think that’s in the offing (nor should it be).

That means that the rebels become, in the minds of the regional actors, an American (or, more generally, Western) proxy. A defeat for the rebels would be much more difficult for the Obama White House to disown, and would certainly not improve the Western position at the negotiating table. The president needs to stop thinking about diplomatic summits and start thinking a few moves ahead.

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The Dark Side of the Immigration Debate

As I noted earlier today, Marco Rubio is taking the brunt of the backlash from some conservatives who oppose efforts to reform America’s failed immigration system. But whatever impact Rubio’s stand in favor of the bipartisan compromise bill currently being considered by the Senate has on his presidential prospects, Republicans should be worried about the tenor of the debate that is developing on the right about the legislation.

While I think GOP critics of the immigration reform bill that claim any path to citizenship for illegals undermines the rule of law have a weak case (since the status quo makes a mockery of the rule of law), it is at least an argument based in principle. But if the main theme of those trying to block reform becomes one that centers on the idea that illegals that become citizens will by themselves tip the political balance of the country toward Democrats, as talk show host Steve Deace writes today in Politico, then the problem is not so much Rubio’s as it is the party as a whole. It is a short leap from that assertion to one of general resentment of a national demographic shift in which the percentage of Hispanics has risen. Loose talk along these lines has become endemic in some quarters of the right and it is time for leading Republicans—including those who disagree with Rubio on the reform bill—to stamp it out before it saddles the GOP with liberal attacks that won’t be easily answered by the usual (and generally correct) rejoinder about media bias.

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As I noted earlier today, Marco Rubio is taking the brunt of the backlash from some conservatives who oppose efforts to reform America’s failed immigration system. But whatever impact Rubio’s stand in favor of the bipartisan compromise bill currently being considered by the Senate has on his presidential prospects, Republicans should be worried about the tenor of the debate that is developing on the right about the legislation.

While I think GOP critics of the immigration reform bill that claim any path to citizenship for illegals undermines the rule of law have a weak case (since the status quo makes a mockery of the rule of law), it is at least an argument based in principle. But if the main theme of those trying to block reform becomes one that centers on the idea that illegals that become citizens will by themselves tip the political balance of the country toward Democrats, as talk show host Steve Deace writes today in Politico, then the problem is not so much Rubio’s as it is the party as a whole. It is a short leap from that assertion to one of general resentment of a national demographic shift in which the percentage of Hispanics has risen. Loose talk along these lines has become endemic in some quarters of the right and it is time for leading Republicans—including those who disagree with Rubio on the reform bill—to stamp it out before it saddles the GOP with liberal attacks that won’t be easily answered by the usual (and generally correct) rejoinder about media bias.

Deace’s main theme is that Rubio is toast in the Republican presidential nomination contest because anti-immigration sentiment is so strong on the right that it renders him an untouchable. We’ll get the conclusive verdict on that prediction three years from now, but I think that assumption is about as reliable as the one many conservatives (including this writer) made two years ago about Mitt Romney’s ObamaCare problem being an obstacle to his nomination in 2012 in a GOP in which Tea Party activists had a huge say in the outcome. Of course, Romney went hard right on immigration, but if Deace thinks that was why he was able to best candidates like Rick Perry and Newt Gingrich (both of whom had notably more liberal positions on immigration) then he was watching a different contest than the rest of us.

But far more problematic than Deace’s premature obituary for Rubio’s presidential hopes is his prediction that granting legal status to people who have been in this country for many years will doom the Republican Party in the Southwest. He quotes Texas Representative Steve Stockman as saying “you can kiss my state of Texas goodbye (for Republicans) as well as Arizona and Florida. It will be just like what happened in California after the ’86 amnesty.” The assumption that any growth in the Hispanic vote may benefit Democrats is not unfounded, especially since Democrats have shown themselves to be advocates for immigrant rights while a large portion of the Republican Party has taken positions that are rooted in hostility to immigrants.

You don’t have to be part of the liberal media establishment to understand that if Republicans move from talking about their objections to rewarding people for illegal behavior to yapping about how the increase in Hispanic voters needs to be curbed, this will be interpreted as reflecting bias.

It should be noted that Stockman’s claim that California turned blue because of the 1986 immigration bill (which granted a path to citizenship for illegals but didn’t provide effective border control) is, at best, an exaggeration. It may be that a lot of former illegals became registered Democrats, but the collapse of the GOP in Ronald Reagan’s home base was not purely the result of immigration. But even if we focus solely on racial demographics, the problem was a failure to appeal to legal Hispanics, not the small percentage that became citizens after being illegal.

It is true that, as was the case nationally, Mitt Romney won a majority of white voters in California in last year’s election. The ability of President Obama and other Democrats to get the lion’s share of the African American and Hispanic vote swung the election. That’s a fact that can’t be denied. America is becoming more racially diverse and that is not going to be altered by a bill or political argument. But if the Republican reaction to this is focused more on trying to prevent more Hispanics from eventually becoming voters than on trying to sell their conservative values and ideas to this population, then triumphalist predictions of permanent Democratic rule on the left will turn out to be true.

Forget about what this means for Rubio, whose Hispanic background and support for immigration reform could potentially give Republicans a chance to eat into the Democrats’ advantage in 2016 if he runs for president. This kind of loose talk about preventing Hispanics from voting from people like Deace and Stockman is political poison to every Republican candidate in the country.

What those who purport to speak for conservatives on this issue have to remember is that a strategy based on telling Hispanics to go to the devil is a formula for perpetual Republican defeat. It is true, as they claim, that merely embracing immigration reform by itself will not transform Hispanics from being part of the liberal base into swing voters. But any effort to do so must start there. Deace, Stockman and those who agree with them can claim they aren’t against Hispanics per se, but few Hispanics will believe them if they continue to speak as if they agree with the left that demography is political destiny.

Republicans have a tough but not impossible task ahead of them if they intend to claim a greater share of this increasingly crucial segment of the electorate. As more Hispanics became part of the middle class and reject the idea that their security is grounded in preservation of the excesses of the welfare state, there is plenty of room for GOP growth there, especially if they can produce leaders who can appeal to more than just your average Iowa Republican caucus-goer. But that effort will be doomed if Republicans allow their party to be branded as the one that is willing to do anything to prevent the prospect of more Hispanic voters.

Marco Rubio may not be the future of the Republican Party. But if it is to have a future, Republicans must reject those voices urging them to turn their backs on Hispanics.

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Re: The Reckless Rhetoric of Palin and Cain

Pete Wehner has rightly called out Sarah Palin for claiming that the US is “becoming a totalitarian surveillance state.” That is not her only mindless and stupid comment of late. She also had this to say Saturday about the terrible conflict in Syria:

I say until we know what we’re doing, until we have a commander in chief who knows what he’s doing, well, let these radical Islamic countries who aren’t even respecting basic human rights, where both sides are slaughtering each other as they scream over an arbitrary red line, ‘Allah Akbar,’ I say until we have someone who knows what they’re doing, I say let Allah sort it out.”

This is both offensive and puzzling. Start with puzzling: She claims that Syrians are fighting over a “red line.” Perhaps she’s confusing it with the Green Line that once divided Christian Beirut from Muslim Beirut during the Lebanese Civil War? In Syria the only “red line” is the imaginary one that Obama drew to discourage Bashar Assad from using chemical weapons.

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Pete Wehner has rightly called out Sarah Palin for claiming that the US is “becoming a totalitarian surveillance state.” That is not her only mindless and stupid comment of late. She also had this to say Saturday about the terrible conflict in Syria:

I say until we know what we’re doing, until we have a commander in chief who knows what he’s doing, well, let these radical Islamic countries who aren’t even respecting basic human rights, where both sides are slaughtering each other as they scream over an arbitrary red line, ‘Allah Akbar,’ I say until we have someone who knows what they’re doing, I say let Allah sort it out.”

This is both offensive and puzzling. Start with puzzling: She claims that Syrians are fighting over a “red line.” Perhaps she’s confusing it with the Green Line that once divided Christian Beirut from Muslim Beirut during the Lebanese Civil War? In Syria the only “red line” is the imaginary one that Obama drew to discourage Bashar Assad from using chemical weapons.

Now to the offensive: Palin is expressing indifference to the slaughter of more than 90,000 people in Syria because most of them happen to be Muslims. This is merely confirming the worst stereotypes in the Muslim world about the West.

What makes her comment even more appalling is that Palin is echoing, consciously or not, a statement of great inhumanity uttered in the course of Christianity’s internecine wars. The phrase she is alluding to is “Kill them all. God will recognize his own”–supposedly uttered in the 13th century by a French monk accompanying an army of Crusaders who were attacking a town in southern France where a heretical Christian sect known as the Cathars was based. One of the Crusader soldiers asked the monk, Arnaud Amalric, how to sort out Cathars from Catholics. This was the chilling reply he got, at least according to legend. The result was a massacre in which the pope’s army killed at least 20,000 people, including women and children.

Is this a precedent Palin endorses–or thinks is applicable in modern-day Syria? Or–the charitable explanation–is she simply mindlessly nattering on without knowing what she is talking about?

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The Real “Pinkwashing” Scandal

When Sarah Schulman’s November 2011 op-ed on “pinkwashing” appeared in the New York Times, I had a conflicted reaction. There was the urge to respond, since such pseudo-academic fraudulence is not merely anti-intellectual at its heart but a voluble and angry protest against honest intellectual pursuit and thus threatened to further embarrass American academia. But there was also the understanding that no response was needed, because the column revealed that the idea of “pinkwashing”–the assumption that Jews grant rights to gays merely to manipulate them as part of Israel’s globalized chicanery–collapses immediately on its own expression.

For example, in one sentence Schulman criticizes Israel’s gay-friendly culture as a ruse because some in Israel’s public life are supposedly “homophobic.” But in the next sentence, she writes that Israeli pinkwashing “not only manipulates the hard-won gains of Israel’s gay community, but it also ignores the existence of Palestinian gay-rights organizations. Homosexuality has been decriminalized in the West Bank since the 1950s, when anti-sodomy laws imposed under British colonial influence were removed from the Jordanian penal code, which Palestinians follow.” In other words, Schulman’s own protestation against Israeli pinkwashing engages in thorough pinkwashing of Palestinian culture.

What this revealed was not only the unserious nature of Schulman’s “scholarship” but that the purpose of her op-ed was not about calling out pinkwashing; indeed, the op-ed is, to date, the clearest example of pinkwashing in print. Instead, Schulman was simply attacking Israel on behalf of the Palestinians from another direction. Call it the triumph of hope over experience, but I expected that since this was so obvious, the academic left wouldn’t sully its reputation any more by embracing this nonsense. I was wrong, of course, having given the academic left too much credit. In April the City University of New York hosted a conference on pinkwashing at which, as James Kirchick reports in detail, Schulman’s anti-Israel animus was made undeniable:

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When Sarah Schulman’s November 2011 op-ed on “pinkwashing” appeared in the New York Times, I had a conflicted reaction. There was the urge to respond, since such pseudo-academic fraudulence is not merely anti-intellectual at its heart but a voluble and angry protest against honest intellectual pursuit and thus threatened to further embarrass American academia. But there was also the understanding that no response was needed, because the column revealed that the idea of “pinkwashing”–the assumption that Jews grant rights to gays merely to manipulate them as part of Israel’s globalized chicanery–collapses immediately on its own expression.

For example, in one sentence Schulman criticizes Israel’s gay-friendly culture as a ruse because some in Israel’s public life are supposedly “homophobic.” But in the next sentence, she writes that Israeli pinkwashing “not only manipulates the hard-won gains of Israel’s gay community, but it also ignores the existence of Palestinian gay-rights organizations. Homosexuality has been decriminalized in the West Bank since the 1950s, when anti-sodomy laws imposed under British colonial influence were removed from the Jordanian penal code, which Palestinians follow.” In other words, Schulman’s own protestation against Israeli pinkwashing engages in thorough pinkwashing of Palestinian culture.

What this revealed was not only the unserious nature of Schulman’s “scholarship” but that the purpose of her op-ed was not about calling out pinkwashing; indeed, the op-ed is, to date, the clearest example of pinkwashing in print. Instead, Schulman was simply attacking Israel on behalf of the Palestinians from another direction. Call it the triumph of hope over experience, but I expected that since this was so obvious, the academic left wouldn’t sully its reputation any more by embracing this nonsense. I was wrong, of course, having given the academic left too much credit. In April the City University of New York hosted a conference on pinkwashing at which, as James Kirchick reports in detail, Schulman’s anti-Israel animus was made undeniable:

The CUNY conference promised to be a “pioneering, historic event, uniting a uniquely diverse array of speakers from many countries, ethnicities, nationalities, genders, ages, communities, universities, and academic fields in discussion around a new arena of thought.” Noticeably absent from this list of diverse and welcome attributes, however, was any allowance for the thoughts and real-life experiences of gay Israelis, American Jews, and others who might diverge in any way from Schulman’s message—as a look at several papers rejected by the conference reveals. And Schulman’s interactions with the people who submitted these snubbed paper topics seem to confirm that any proposal that challenged the existence of “homonationalism” and “pinkwashing” as parts of an Israeli government plot, or that even offered some nuance in discussing gay rights in Israel, never had a chance of being aired. When asked why Schulman had rejected these critical proposals, she wrote that they were themselves examples of the problem she is trying to combat: “We rejected proposals that were pinkwashing. The conference was a critique of pinkwashing. So, for example, if the conference had been about dismantling homophobia in the family, we would not have welcomed papers from ‘family values’ religious groups who saw homosexuality as a sin.”

Leave aside, for the moment, the fact that Schulman is openly acknowledging here that the purpose of the conference was not enlightened debate but pure, unadulterated pro-Palestinian propaganda. The fact remains that her explanation is just plain untrue. Not only were papers that challenged the existence of pinkwashing rejected, but even papers that embraced the premise were rejected on the grounds that they allowed for a motivation of Israel’s pinkwashers beyond a desire to oppress Palestinians.

Among the papers Schulman rejected were those that criticized Israel’s trumpeting of its gay-rights accomplishments as cynical attempts to drum up tourism. Attacking Israel for manipulating human rights to make money would seem to be suitably antagonistic toward the Jewish state for a conference devoted to gobsmackingly dim-witted conspiracy theories about Jewish racialist domination. But it was not. One author whose paper was rejected but who was nonetheless sympathetic to Schulman’s work seems to have been screened out of even attending the conference (an experience shared by others).

As if that weren’t enough, Kirchick explains that those who accused Israel of trying to make money rather than subjugating Palestinians were accused by Schulman of being “Israeli government operatives.” Kirchick’s detailed account of it should be read in full, but he is surely correct when he writes: “Schulman’s behavior—accusing someone (by all accounts falsely) of being a spy for a foreign government and then compiling a dossier full of inaccurate ‘evidence’ when challenged on the veracity of her claim—is the work of an activist, or of a secret policeman in the old Soviet-bloc states, not a scholar.”

The reason for that is that Schulman’s work isn’t scholarship–something that was clear as day from her infamous New York Times op-ed. More concerning is how readily Schulman was accepted into the ranks of the academic left based solely on her hostility to Israel. It wasn’t deemed surprising that all it took was a creative–if fantastically silly–new angle from which to demonize Israel to win her approval from those circles. And that, surely, is the real scandal.

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Rubio’s High Stakes Gamble

With immigration reform at the top of the domestic agenda as Congress prepares to vote in the coming weeks on the bipartisan gang of eight bill, the spotlight is shining very brightly right now on Florida Senator Marco Rubio. Rubio remains the key player on immigration because he is the link between the gang and conservatives. Without him, the scheme has no chance, no matter how it is modified, of ever gaining approval in both houses of Congress. The bill gives Rubio the opportunity to run for president in 2016 after having actually accomplishing something important, showing that he is a doer and not just a talker as well as demonstrating that the GOP can appeal to Hispanics. But all the attention he is getting isn’t necessarily helping him.

As a package of features in Politico today makes clear, Rubio is under attack from both the right and the left. Some on the right are now damning him as a dupe of the left and a Washington insider while some of his allies in the gang of eight are suspecting that Rubio’s attempts to toughen up the enforcement aspects of the legislation will destroy it. Both the right and Rubio’s liberal gang colleagues worry that he is betraying them. Having decided to prove that he was a politician of substance, the senator is finding that it is easier to run your mouth without taking responsibility for trying to fix a problem. While some critics wonder whether he has the intestinal fortitude to stick with a position under fire and guide a complicated piece of legislation to passage, a portion of his own party is already writing him off for 2016 because of the hostility reform has engendered among grass roots conservatives who are openly hostile to immigrants.

All of which proves that the senator’s decision to stake his reputation on immigration reform is a gamble that could make or break him. But while the bill’s future is very much up in the air, the question of how Rubio will come out of this depends more on the way he conducts himself in the coming weeks than it does on whether the reform package becomes law.

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With immigration reform at the top of the domestic agenda as Congress prepares to vote in the coming weeks on the bipartisan gang of eight bill, the spotlight is shining very brightly right now on Florida Senator Marco Rubio. Rubio remains the key player on immigration because he is the link between the gang and conservatives. Without him, the scheme has no chance, no matter how it is modified, of ever gaining approval in both houses of Congress. The bill gives Rubio the opportunity to run for president in 2016 after having actually accomplishing something important, showing that he is a doer and not just a talker as well as demonstrating that the GOP can appeal to Hispanics. But all the attention he is getting isn’t necessarily helping him.

As a package of features in Politico today makes clear, Rubio is under attack from both the right and the left. Some on the right are now damning him as a dupe of the left and a Washington insider while some of his allies in the gang of eight are suspecting that Rubio’s attempts to toughen up the enforcement aspects of the legislation will destroy it. Both the right and Rubio’s liberal gang colleagues worry that he is betraying them. Having decided to prove that he was a politician of substance, the senator is finding that it is easier to run your mouth without taking responsibility for trying to fix a problem. While some critics wonder whether he has the intestinal fortitude to stick with a position under fire and guide a complicated piece of legislation to passage, a portion of his own party is already writing him off for 2016 because of the hostility reform has engendered among grass roots conservatives who are openly hostile to immigrants.

All of which proves that the senator’s decision to stake his reputation on immigration reform is a gamble that could make or break him. But while the bill’s future is very much up in the air, the question of how Rubio will come out of this depends more on the way he conducts himself in the coming weeks than it does on whether the reform package becomes law.

With a not-inconsiderable portion of the Republican Party still resolved to try and stop any bill that provides a path to citizenship for illegal aliens, Rubio has become the main scapegoat on the right for what they claim is a betrayal of the rule of law and the GOP. But as much as Rubio has never tried to distance himself from conservatives or his Tea Party roots, it’s also possible that the senator understands that being the most right-wing candidate in 2016 isn’t necessarily the best path to the presidency. By showing his willingness to think outside a narrow partisan box and to try to deal with a seemingly intractable dilemma in America’s failed immigration system, Rubio has enhanced his appeal to the center of both his party and the general electorate. He will pay a price for this, and it is likely this issue will cost him votes in the Iowa caucus from conservatives who think outreach to Hispanics is treason to Republicans. But the notion that this will doom his chances is nuts.

Immigration is just one among a raft of issues that are important to conservatives. Yet getting out in front on this issue is probably the best way Rubio has to prove to mainstream Republicans that he has what it takes to be president. After all, many of them not only support immigration reform in principle but also understand that it is vital to beginning the process of persuading the fastest growing demographic group in the country that they have a home in the GOP. As the last two Republican nomination contests have proved, the race doesn’t necessarily go to the candidate who carves out the most right-wing position in the party.

What would be fatal for Rubio is not being identified as an advocate for the dread “amnesty” for illegals—a misnomer since, as Rubio has pointed out, the real “amnesty” is what is happening now—but rather being labeled as an indecisive politician who was not ready for prime time.

That’s the danger for Rubio as he seeks to cajole the Senate to toughen up the bill while still getting it passed. But damning his efforts to strengthen enforcement as waffling misses the point. Without getting more conservatives into the fold on the issue, the Senate bill will die in the House. Perhaps that is what some liberals want since it will enable them to continue to use the issue to flay the GOP. But if they want a bill passed they need to give Rubio room to reel in conservatives who are skeptical about the measure’s enforcement provisions.

If his efforts to bridge the gap between the gang of eight and conservative Senate colleagues collapse and he winds up voting against his own bill (an unlikely, yet still possible, conclusion to the drama), he will look foolish, which is worse than being called a dupe of Chuck Schumer by radio talk show hosts. But if he weathers the storm and forces his liberal allies on immigration to accept a stricter enforcement regime and gets the bill closer to passage, he will emerge looking like a real leader.

Rubio is still so untested on the national scene that the jury is out on how he will do. But those who doubt his abilities to stand his ground in a fight need to remember that for all of the comparisons to Barack Obama, Rubio was not a no-show in state politics before being elevated to the United States Senate. He was majority leader and then speaker of the Florida House of Representatives. Though he is now playing on a much bigger stage than the state house in Jacksonville, this is not his first legislative rodeo.

The betting here is that whatever the eventual fate of the bill in the House, Rubio’s gamble will pay off in increased respect for his abilities as a legislator and a leader. That may make him too much of an insider to suit some in his party, but in the long run Rubio can’t lose if he’s seen as a politician who is more about policy than just being one with a glib tongue, a handsome face and a Hispanic background.

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The Myth of the Moderate Mullahs

The West’s capacity for self-delusion when it comes to Iran never ceases to amaze me. Witness the ecstatic reaction to supposed centrist Hassan Rohani’s election in a rigged election. According to The Wall Street Journal: “The Obama administration and its European allies—surprised and encouraged by Hassan Rohani’s election as Iran’s next president—intend to aggressively push to resume negotiations with Tehran on its nuclear program by August to test his new government’s positions.”

Really? Seriously? Is this on the level? Do leaders in Washington and other Western capitals still believe in the myth of “moderate mullahs” who will make a deal on Iran’s nuclear program if only we reach out to them? This flies in the face of decades of evidence that the Iranians have no intention of giving up their cherished nuclear ambitions whose realization they see (perhaps rightly, if the example of North Korea is anything to go by) as the ultimate guarantor of their revolution.

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The West’s capacity for self-delusion when it comes to Iran never ceases to amaze me. Witness the ecstatic reaction to supposed centrist Hassan Rohani’s election in a rigged election. According to The Wall Street Journal: “The Obama administration and its European allies—surprised and encouraged by Hassan Rohani’s election as Iran’s next president—intend to aggressively push to resume negotiations with Tehran on its nuclear program by August to test his new government’s positions.”

Really? Seriously? Is this on the level? Do leaders in Washington and other Western capitals still believe in the myth of “moderate mullahs” who will make a deal on Iran’s nuclear program if only we reach out to them? This flies in the face of decades of evidence that the Iranians have no intention of giving up their cherished nuclear ambitions whose realization they see (perhaps rightly, if the example of North Korea is anything to go by) as the ultimate guarantor of their revolution.

It also flies in the face of all the evidence that the real decision-maker in Iran is not the figurehead president but the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has held power since 1989. That is a long enough period that he should have dispelled any naive hopes that he is a closet reformer who has any ambition other than maintaining repression at home and expanding Iranian influence abroad at the expense of the U.S. and our moderate allies in the region.

For that matter, even if Rohani had any real power there is scant reason to think he would reach any deal with the West unless it allows Iran a tactical advantage. As Sohrab Ahmari reminds us in the Wall Street Journal: “For 16 years starting in 1989, Mr. Rohani served as secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council. During his tenure on the council, Mr. Rohani led the crackdown on a 1999 student uprising and helped the regime evade Western scrutiny of its nuclear-weapons program.”

Numerous other accounts note that when Rohani was Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator from 2003 to 2005, he oversaw a temporary pause in enrichment activities–but he later bragged that this had relieved pressure on Iran and allowed it to make critical advances in its nuclear program.

There is scant cause to think that Rohani’s election now will change Iran’s quest for nuclear weapons–except to make it easier by dragging the West into further fruitless negotiations that will buy time for the mullahs to produce an atomic bomb.

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Our Ambivalent Commander in Chief

Has there ever been a more ambivalent and self-doubting commander in chief than Barack Obama? Possibly. But not in recent memory. Obama can be decisive and determined when pushing for something he really believes in–like higher taxes, massive stimulus bills, and universal, subsidized medical coverage. But in the foreign policy arena he is typically wracked by indecision and winds up trying to come up with some halfway solution that satisfies no one. The one exception was the raid that killed Osama bin Laden–his finest hour. But when it comes to making most other major foreign policy decisions, he acts more like a law professor conducting an endless seminar than a commander-in-chief in wartime.

In Afghanistan he ordered a troop surge after a lengthy internal debate, but imposed a timeline that undermined its impact. In Iraq he delayed the troop pullouts he had promised during the 2008 campaign and made a half-hearted attempt to keep a few thousand troops after 2011 but then pulled the plug on the negotiations at the first obstacle. In Libya he agreed to intervene, but did as little as possible–both to topple Muammar Gaddafi and, even more importantly, to impose order after he was gone.

Now add Syria to the list.

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Has there ever been a more ambivalent and self-doubting commander in chief than Barack Obama? Possibly. But not in recent memory. Obama can be decisive and determined when pushing for something he really believes in–like higher taxes, massive stimulus bills, and universal, subsidized medical coverage. But in the foreign policy arena he is typically wracked by indecision and winds up trying to come up with some halfway solution that satisfies no one. The one exception was the raid that killed Osama bin Laden–his finest hour. But when it comes to making most other major foreign policy decisions, he acts more like a law professor conducting an endless seminar than a commander-in-chief in wartime.

In Afghanistan he ordered a troop surge after a lengthy internal debate, but imposed a timeline that undermined its impact. In Iraq he delayed the troop pullouts he had promised during the 2008 campaign and made a half-hearted attempt to keep a few thousand troops after 2011 but then pulled the plug on the negotiations at the first obstacle. In Libya he agreed to intervene, but did as little as possible–both to topple Muammar Gaddafi and, even more importantly, to impose order after he was gone.

Now add Syria to the list.

Last week, after two years of resisting taking an active role as the civil war spiraled out of country, he finally agreed to provide some arms to the opposition. But he did so with such obvious reluctance that no one in Syria–on either the government or the rebel side–sees the American intervention decisively changing the course of events. As Peter Baker, the ace White House correspondent of the New York Times, noted:

When Mr. Obama agreed this week for the first time to send small arms and ammunition to Syrian rebel forces, he had to be almost dragged into the decision at a time when critics, some advisers and even Bill Clinton were pressing for more action. Coming so late into the conflict, Mr. Obama expressed no confidence it would change the outcome, but privately expressed hope it might buy time to bring about a negotiated settlement.

His ambivalence about the decision seemed evident even in the way it was announced. Mr. Obama left it to a deputy national security adviser, Benjamin J. Rhodes, to declare Thursday evening that the president’s “red line” on chemical weapons had been crossed and that support to the opposition would be increased. At the time, Mr. Obama was addressing a gay pride event in the East Room. On Friday, as Mr. Rhodes was again dispatched to defend the move at a briefing, the president was hosting a Father’s Day luncheon in the State Dining Room.

Clearly Obama is not familiar with that old saying “in for a penny, in for a pound.” He’s in for about a nickel: He wants to aid the rebels, but only a little–not enough to actually enable them to topple Assad but just enough to bring Assad to the negotiating table. Does Obama really imagine that there are circumstances today that would allow the Syrian civil war to end in a negotiated solution that would be acceptable to Assad? It’s hard to see how negotiations could even be conducted since the rebel groups do not truly accept a single leader or command structure.

The rebels are not impressed and neither is Assad. Both sides know that the real game changers would be the provision not of light arms bur rather heavier weapons that would allow the rebels to take out Assad’s armor and air power. Apparently the U.S. isn’t going to provide those, although it might wink if Saudi Arabia or Qatar do so. The most important step the U.S. could take–to impose a no-fly zone over all or part of Syrian territory–does not appear to be in the cards even though this is the action that would be most likely to have a major impact on the ground.

Obama acts as if he is unfamiliar with the lesson learned by such wartime commanders in chief as Winston Churchill, Abraham Lincoln, William Pitt the Younger, Georges Clemenceau, and, on a lesser level, even George W. Bush during his surge in Iraq: that war is primarily a test of wills and victory is impossible without resolution. The president is not showing much resolution on Syria today, and that will make it hard to achieve anything approximating a victory for the West and a defeat for Iran.

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The Reckless Rhetoric of Palin and Cain

According to Sarah Palin, the GOP’s vice presidential candidate in 2008, the United States is “becoming a totalitarian surveillance state.” And Herman Cain, who ran as a GOP presidential candidate in 2012, said, “This train is running full speed down the tracks towards socialism and towards communism. Yes, I said it. Before we stop it and reverse it, we got to slow it down. That’s what we do in 2014.”

Now, we actually know what genuine totalitarian surveillance states and communist nations look like, and America is nothing close to becoming anything like them. Whatever one thinks of the NSA’s data mining and surveillance techniques, they are legal, overseen by a FISA court and Congress, and they are not anything like the Soviet Union under Stalin or North Korea under Kim Jong-un. Nor is America speeding down the tracks toward becoming Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge or Cuba under Castro.

So why use such reckless rhetoric? It’s hard to know the precise reasons. They could range from Obama Derangement Syndrome to efforts to gain attention. Whatever the case, by now I’m familiar with the pushback. Why pay any attention to what Mr. Cain and Ms. Palin say? Isn’t criticizing them merely evidence of wanting to be embraced by the liberal “establishment”–a sign of being unprincipled, ideologically soft and a RINO (Republican In Name Only)? Why not ignore their words in order to focus on the venom of the left and the genuine threat posed to America by the Obama presidency?

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According to Sarah Palin, the GOP’s vice presidential candidate in 2008, the United States is “becoming a totalitarian surveillance state.” And Herman Cain, who ran as a GOP presidential candidate in 2012, said, “This train is running full speed down the tracks towards socialism and towards communism. Yes, I said it. Before we stop it and reverse it, we got to slow it down. That’s what we do in 2014.”

Now, we actually know what genuine totalitarian surveillance states and communist nations look like, and America is nothing close to becoming anything like them. Whatever one thinks of the NSA’s data mining and surveillance techniques, they are legal, overseen by a FISA court and Congress, and they are not anything like the Soviet Union under Stalin or North Korea under Kim Jong-un. Nor is America speeding down the tracks toward becoming Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge or Cuba under Castro.

So why use such reckless rhetoric? It’s hard to know the precise reasons. They could range from Obama Derangement Syndrome to efforts to gain attention. Whatever the case, by now I’m familiar with the pushback. Why pay any attention to what Mr. Cain and Ms. Palin say? Isn’t criticizing them merely evidence of wanting to be embraced by the liberal “establishment”–a sign of being unprincipled, ideologically soft and a RINO (Republican In Name Only)? Why not ignore their words in order to focus on the venom of the left and the genuine threat posed to America by the Obama presidency?

To which I would respond in several ways. The first is that some of us do call out the left on their slanders. And not only don’t I have a problem with those offering sharp, pointed critiques of Barack Obama; I do it myself on a fairly regular occasion (most recently on Friday).

But some of us also believe that those who claim to be conservative need to be held to certain standards as well; that to berate only the left for rhetorical overkill is to employ a double standard; and that irresponsible and careless language used by former governors and vice presidential candidates like Sarah Palin and former presidential candidates like Herman Cain helps discredit conservatism and the GOP. It is prima facie evidence of intemperate minds. And it actually helps Mr. Obama when his critics sound apocalyptically detached from reality. The real world case against the president is sufficient.

I’d add one other point: What Cain and Palin are doing damages public debate because it corrupts language and thought. Thinking clearly, George Orwell wrote in his classic essay on the debasement of our language, “is a necessary step toward political regeneration.”

The Republican Party is in need of political regeneration, which will be achieved by offering principled alternatives to Mr. Obama and a fundamentally different governing agenda to Obamaism. Most conservatives get that. But a few on the right can’t resist the temptation to portray the president as the architect of a coming American gulag. They should–for their sake and for the sake of the cause they claim to care about. 

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Snowden Continues to Discredit Himself

Edward Snowden seems to be afraid that the CIA, NSA and other parts of the U.S. intelligence apparatus will mount a massive campaign to discredit him. Actually, they don’t have to bother. He’s doing an excellent job of discrediting himself. Notwithstanding his egregious violations of the security classifications that protect our most important secrets, Snowden had initially won some public sympathy, at least among libertarians of both the left and the right, for exposing U.S. government programs that, he claimed, spy on Americans.

In reality the programs he disclosed are focused primarily on foreigners and operate under strict safeguards to avoid violations of Americans’ privacy. But never mind–at least to the casual observer Snowden may have come across initially as a simply a concerned citizen, a whistleblower who had the country’s best interests at heart. Certainly that was how he tried to present himself.

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Edward Snowden seems to be afraid that the CIA, NSA and other parts of the U.S. intelligence apparatus will mount a massive campaign to discredit him. Actually, they don’t have to bother. He’s doing an excellent job of discrediting himself. Notwithstanding his egregious violations of the security classifications that protect our most important secrets, Snowden had initially won some public sympathy, at least among libertarians of both the left and the right, for exposing U.S. government programs that, he claimed, spy on Americans.

In reality the programs he disclosed are focused primarily on foreigners and operate under strict safeguards to avoid violations of Americans’ privacy. But never mind–at least to the casual observer Snowden may have come across initially as a simply a concerned citizen, a whistleblower who had the country’s best interests at heart. Certainly that was how he tried to present himself.

That pretense has not survived Snowden’s second round of revelations, which is focused not on how the NSA spies on Americans but how it spies on foreigners abroad–which is precisely what it is supposed to do.

First the renegade NSA contractor provided the South China Morning Post with details about how the NSA monitors Internet activity in China. The Hong Kong-based newspaper reported: “The detailed records – which cannot be independently verified – show specific dates and the IP addresses of computers in Hong Kong and on the mainland hacked by the National Security Agency over a four-year period. They also include information indicating whether an attack on a computer was ongoing or had been completed, along with an amount of additional operational information.”

This is the kind of sensitive, operational detail that can only aid the Chinese secret police in protecting Chinese computer networks from American hacking–which is designed, in no small part, one suspects, to keep an eye on how the Chinese are penetrating U.S. computer networks. Note that Snowden revealed nothing about extensive Chinese attempts to penetrate American computers or to limit its own citizens’ access to the Internet with suffocating censorship.

Now, the Guardian has published two more stories based on information provided by Snowden detailing how the NSA, working hand-in-glove with its British partner, GCHQ, intercepted communications from diplomats attending G20 summits in London in 2009–and specifically their success in accessing communications from then-Russian President Dmitri Medvedev.

Such intercepts are standard operating procedure among all of the major intelligence services of the world; there is no doubt that Russia, China, and even friendly states such as France and Israel try to intercept communications among American leaders, and we return the favor. There is nothing scandalous here.

But Snowden’s revelations could well tip off the Russians or others to holes in their electronic security and thereby make such operations harder in the future. Snowden’s leaks also provide propaganda points for Beijing and Moscow–two illiberal regimes that operate two of the biggest Internet hacking operations in the world. Now they can deflect attention away from their own activities and paint the U.S. as the bad guy when, in fact, Internet operations in the U.S. are among the freest in the world.

These are not the actions of a whistleblower concerned about American liberties. They are the actions of a traitor–now, quite possibly, a defector to China–who is trying to do as much harm as he can to American national security.

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