Commentary Magazine


Posts For: June 24, 2013

Sacrificing Security for Mythical Backlash

After the Boston Marathon bombing there were questions as to how the FBI missed the threat from the Tsarnaev brothers despite warnings from the Russian security services about Chechen extremists. But just as alarming were the reports that the elder of the two terrorists had become an advocate of extremism within his mosque, creating scenes that scared and alienated fellow congregants. That story brought to mind the beating the New York City Police Department has taken in the last two years after it was revealed that the cops were devoting resources to monitor suspicious activities at local mosques that might be gathering places for terrorists. But instead of the example of the failure of Boston-area police to pick up on signs that the Tsarnaevs might be dangerous serving to bolster support for NYPD policies, the department finds itself under siege for seeking to do its job.

The New York Times issued another broadside against the NYPD today which expresses support for a lawsuit brought against the police in federal court for surveillance of Muslim sites. Like the attack on the department for its stop and frisk policy, the decision of the Times and other liberals to go all in on efforts to halt scrutiny of places where terror may be advocated approaches the issue with little concern for the safety of New Yorkers or for the Constitution. The NYPD’s actions are not only constitutional but also, as the Boston case illustrated, necessary. Just as important, the lawsuit seems rooted in the notion of a mythical post-9/11 backlash that remains unproven except in the minds of the liberal media and groups that purport to represent Muslims.

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After the Boston Marathon bombing there were questions as to how the FBI missed the threat from the Tsarnaev brothers despite warnings from the Russian security services about Chechen extremists. But just as alarming were the reports that the elder of the two terrorists had become an advocate of extremism within his mosque, creating scenes that scared and alienated fellow congregants. That story brought to mind the beating the New York City Police Department has taken in the last two years after it was revealed that the cops were devoting resources to monitor suspicious activities at local mosques that might be gathering places for terrorists. But instead of the example of the failure of Boston-area police to pick up on signs that the Tsarnaevs might be dangerous serving to bolster support for NYPD policies, the department finds itself under siege for seeking to do its job.

The New York Times issued another broadside against the NYPD today which expresses support for a lawsuit brought against the police in federal court for surveillance of Muslim sites. Like the attack on the department for its stop and frisk policy, the decision of the Times and other liberals to go all in on efforts to halt scrutiny of places where terror may be advocated approaches the issue with little concern for the safety of New Yorkers or for the Constitution. The NYPD’s actions are not only constitutional but also, as the Boston case illustrated, necessary. Just as important, the lawsuit seems rooted in the notion of a mythical post-9/11 backlash that remains unproven except in the minds of the liberal media and groups that purport to represent Muslims.

Contrary to the Times, these measures do not inspire “suspicion and distrust.” Instead, they are quite rational reactions to an unfortunate rash of religion-based terrorism in this country that can be traced directly back to a brand of extremist Islam. Try as they might, critics of the NYPD cannot pretend that a strain of Islamist practitioners has promoted hatred of the West and the United States. All too often, the United States has paid for its indifference to these terror promoters in the blood of its citizens as organized groups and loan wolves threaten mayhem.

It should be specified, as Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly has often said, that the overwhelming majority of American Muslims are loyal and hardworking citizens. But asking the police to ignore major sources of terror in the name of restoring the country to its September 10, 2001 mindset is a recipe for potential disaster.

Kelly is absolutely right to dismiss criticisms of his anti-terror policies. The critics of the department have failed to prove that the investigations of some mosques have in any way hindered the First Amendment rights to freedom of religion of the congregants. What they have done is made it harder for extremists to hijack religious institutions for criminal purposes.

It is to be hoped that the courts will uphold the NYPD’s decisions, but the cumulative weight of efforts to curb the necessary scrutiny of terror on our home shores may yet overwhelm the efforts of those who have taken the responsibility to prevent such crimes. In this case the sympathies of the courts, as well as those of the American people, should be with those who are seeking to defend America, not those who are trying to stop them from doing their jobs.

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The Right Climate to Torpedo the Economy?

You might think that with a historically weak recovery and, as John Steele Gordon wrote this morning, worries about the Federal Reserve’s actions affecting the stock market, this is a time when President Obama would be focusing like a laser beam on the economy. But you’d be wrong about that. As Ross Douthat noted yesterday in the New York Times, the administration’s second term priorities are at odds with those of the public. Instead of dealing with health care costs and entitlement reform (the issues most Americans consider the highest priorities), the president spent the start of his term hyperventilating about gun control. After switching to immigration reform for a while (something that I think is worth doing but is certainly not as important as cleaning up the mess that ObamaCare is about to create or reforming entitlements), tomorrow he will perform another pivot and unveil a major plan to lessen the effects of climate change in a speech at Georgetown University.

As he said over the weekend in a video released by the White House, it will include far-reaching measures that will introduce new limits on carbon dioxide emissions from power plants among other unspecified ideas that will largely be put into force by executive order rather than legislation. In one fell swoop, Obama will not only gratify his liberal base by pandering to their obsessions, he will also undertake a vast expansion of executive power in which the executive branch will assume near dictatorial proportions under the rubric of regulation. Whatever one may think about the science behind this plan—and there is very little sign that the president is operating on anything but on the basis of his ideological biases—there is no question that any plan that will hamper power production on this scale will have a deleterious impact on the chances that the country can sustain its economic recovery by raising the costs of energy and killing jobs. That he will do so in a manner that ought to set off alarm bells about the separation of powers and will generate a blizzard of lawsuits that could tie up his plan for years only illustrates the poor judgment being exhibited by the president.

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You might think that with a historically weak recovery and, as John Steele Gordon wrote this morning, worries about the Federal Reserve’s actions affecting the stock market, this is a time when President Obama would be focusing like a laser beam on the economy. But you’d be wrong about that. As Ross Douthat noted yesterday in the New York Times, the administration’s second term priorities are at odds with those of the public. Instead of dealing with health care costs and entitlement reform (the issues most Americans consider the highest priorities), the president spent the start of his term hyperventilating about gun control. After switching to immigration reform for a while (something that I think is worth doing but is certainly not as important as cleaning up the mess that ObamaCare is about to create or reforming entitlements), tomorrow he will perform another pivot and unveil a major plan to lessen the effects of climate change in a speech at Georgetown University.

As he said over the weekend in a video released by the White House, it will include far-reaching measures that will introduce new limits on carbon dioxide emissions from power plants among other unspecified ideas that will largely be put into force by executive order rather than legislation. In one fell swoop, Obama will not only gratify his liberal base by pandering to their obsessions, he will also undertake a vast expansion of executive power in which the executive branch will assume near dictatorial proportions under the rubric of regulation. Whatever one may think about the science behind this plan—and there is very little sign that the president is operating on anything but on the basis of his ideological biases—there is no question that any plan that will hamper power production on this scale will have a deleterious impact on the chances that the country can sustain its economic recovery by raising the costs of energy and killing jobs. That he will do so in a manner that ought to set off alarm bells about the separation of powers and will generate a blizzard of lawsuits that could tie up his plan for years only illustrates the poor judgment being exhibited by the president.

Obama signaled that he would prioritize his beliefs about the climate in his second inaugural speech, so no one should be surprised by his decision to gamble his dwindling supply of political capital on an issue that is liable to hurt rather than help the economy. The president will, of course, argue that his green plan is good for the economy in the long run and tout his belief that more regulations will help transform the country and create jobs in industries that provide alternatives to the burning of fossil fuels. But the country has already been down this road in the first term as Obama’s stimulus boondoggle provided cash for Solyndra and other “green” corporations that proved to be cash cows for the president’s major contributors but a disaster to the taxpayers that were fleeced to bolster companies that couldn’t stand on their own.

The administration’s defense of this decision to bypass Congress will be to claim that the legislative branch has failed to act. But there is a reason why both Republicans and Democrats have been reluctant to implement the sort of Christmas tree of regulations that will be presented tomorrow: it is likely to hurt an already skittish economy. The high-minded gloss of idealism and gloom and doom predictions about our future that fuel the president’s climate push will be used by liberals to dismiss objections about the impact on the economy of this project. But Obama and his cheerleaders in the liberal media—who have been urging him to usurp power in this manner to further the global warming agenda for years—the danger that adding on new layers of federal regulations to an industry already sinking under the weight of government rules is real.

It should also be noted that given the anger on Capitol Hill and among the electorate about a trio of scandals that center on abuse of government power, the notion that the president would seek to govern on his own in this manner is curious. One would think the administration would be wary of feeding suspicions about extra-constitutional usurpation of power right now. But, like worries about the economy, concerns about the Constitution are always going to run second to ideology in the Obama White House.

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Kerry Doesn’t Set American Foreign Policy

When rumors first started after the 2008 election that President Obama was going to nominate Hillary Clinton to serve as secretary of state, there were concerns in some corners that she would be trouble for the president. She had her own “Washington power base” and was thought to have retained her desire to one day be president and would want to shape her legacy at State accordingly. That turned out not to be the case, as Clinton was a loyal soldier.

And that wasn’t because she agreed with Obama on the administration’s major foreign policy strategies. Though we didn’t quite know it at the time, Clinton actually disagreed with Obama on fairly significant issues. When Clinton left the State Department, we learned that she had pushed for a plan to arm the Syrian rebels last year and increase American intervention in that country’s bloody civil. She was rebuffed by the president. After the November election, she also made a speech that was far more critical of Russia than her boss ever was, and in fact expressed the kind of hostility that Obama was mocking Republicans for:

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When rumors first started after the 2008 election that President Obama was going to nominate Hillary Clinton to serve as secretary of state, there were concerns in some corners that she would be trouble for the president. She had her own “Washington power base” and was thought to have retained her desire to one day be president and would want to shape her legacy at State accordingly. That turned out not to be the case, as Clinton was a loyal soldier.

And that wasn’t because she agreed with Obama on the administration’s major foreign policy strategies. Though we didn’t quite know it at the time, Clinton actually disagreed with Obama on fairly significant issues. When Clinton left the State Department, we learned that she had pushed for a plan to arm the Syrian rebels last year and increase American intervention in that country’s bloody civil. She was rebuffed by the president. After the November election, she also made a speech that was far more critical of Russia than her boss ever was, and in fact expressed the kind of hostility that Obama was mocking Republicans for:

“There is a move to re-Sovietize the region,” Clinton lamented.

“It’s not going to be called that. It’s going to be called customs union, it will be called Eurasian Union and all of that,” she said, referring to Russian-led efforts for greater regional integration. “But let’s make no mistake about it. We know what the goal is and we are trying to figure out effective ways to slow down or prevent it.”

The criticism coupled with the threat to derail the customs union was a marked departure from the previous four years of U.S.-Russia diplomacy. The point is that the foreign policy espoused by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton differed, sometimes dramatically, from her ideal foreign policy. We got the former instead of the latter because secretaries of state are not policymakers. They are unelected (though Senate-confirmed) representatives of the policy standpoints of the elected president. It’s a lesson of which John Kerry and his backers at the New York Times need reminding, if this past weekend’s puff piece on Kerry’s new role at Foggy Bottom is any clue.

As I wrote recently, Kerry’s visit to Moscow last month to nudge Vladimir Putin on Syria was a belly flop. Putin kept him waiting, all but ignored him when they met, and then continued crossing Washington’s wishes in the Middle East. But the New York Times has a slightly different recollection than everyone else who reported on the meeting. It’s not that they dispute what happened; they’re just able to put a heroic gloss on it:

Secretary of State John Kerry flew to Moscow early last month, determined to involve Russia in a new push to try to end the carnage in Syria. After a two-and-a-half-hour meeting with the Russian president, Vladimir V. Putin, and a private stroll with Sergey V. Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, the two sides announced they would convene a conference in Geneva to bring representatives of the Syrian government together with the opposition, possibly by the end of May.

The idea of a conference was a bold move — and so far, at least, an unsuccessful one.

This is diplomacy, Kerry-style. Call for a conference whose futility is painfully obvious and return home to the paper of record’s ticker tape parade. A bold move, thunders the Times. In the next paragraph we are told that although the “bold move” was a bust, Kerry was “undaunted.” That’s because of Kerry’s desire to differentiate himself from Clinton–whom the Times refers to here as a mere “global celebrity”–and “carve out a legacy as one of the most influential secretaries of state in recent years by taking on some of the world’s most intractable problems.”

But of course Kerry is in no position to decide for himself where he’d like to take American foreign policy, because of what the Times calls “the centralization of foreign policy decision-making in a White House that has famously maintained a tight grip on foreign policy — so much so that before taking the job, Mr. Kerry received an assurance that he would be consulted before major foreign policy decisions were made.”

No one should begrudge Kerry–or any secretary of state–the desire to leave a lasting legacy, especially since he has spent so much time in Washington and would presumably like to be remembered for something other than losing a presidential election. But policy is made in the White House. If Obama wants Kerry to undertake a 2013 version of shuttle diplomacy to engineer peace in the Middle East then that’s what Kerry will do. And even in such a case, Kerry would still be constrained by the parameters of what the White House is willing to offer and what they are not.

Kerry’s record on foreign affairs suggests we should keep our expectations of him modest. But no matter his abilities or ambitions, he, like every chief U.S. diplomat, answers to the president.

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Arizona Gov Declares Border Surge Victory

Most critics of the bipartisan immigration reform bill being debated in the Senate were nonplussed by the latest compromise offered by the gang of eight. The so-called “border surge” proposed by Senators Bob Corker and John Hoeven was panned by many conservative activists, writers and politicians who seemed to be looking for excuses to dismiss the massive commitment to border security as somehow not enough or not a credible plan to deal with the problem of illegal immigration. But one of the main players in the ongoing efforts by conservatives to force the federal government to act to curb illegal immigration has endorsed the measure. Yesterday on Fox News, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer endorsed the gang’s bill and declared it “a victory for Arizona.”

Brewer has been in the cross hairs of liberals like President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder for her state’s attempt to cope with the flood of illegals that federal apathy had created. Indeed, the state bill she signed into law and then defended in the federal courts that sought to allow law enforcement officers to ask about a crime suspect’s immigration status made her public enemy No. 1 for the left. But while some on the right have been falling over themselves to prove to the GOP grass roots that they won’t agree to any reform of our immigration laws that allows a path to citizenship, Brewer made it clear that the bipartisan measures satisfied her well known objections to existing federal policy on illegals. It remains to be seen how much influence Brewer’s decision will have on Congress, but this is a clear blow to the campaign being waged on the right to pressure Republicans to block the immigration bill.

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Most critics of the bipartisan immigration reform bill being debated in the Senate were nonplussed by the latest compromise offered by the gang of eight. The so-called “border surge” proposed by Senators Bob Corker and John Hoeven was panned by many conservative activists, writers and politicians who seemed to be looking for excuses to dismiss the massive commitment to border security as somehow not enough or not a credible plan to deal with the problem of illegal immigration. But one of the main players in the ongoing efforts by conservatives to force the federal government to act to curb illegal immigration has endorsed the measure. Yesterday on Fox News, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer endorsed the gang’s bill and declared it “a victory for Arizona.”

Brewer has been in the cross hairs of liberals like President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder for her state’s attempt to cope with the flood of illegals that federal apathy had created. Indeed, the state bill she signed into law and then defended in the federal courts that sought to allow law enforcement officers to ask about a crime suspect’s immigration status made her public enemy No. 1 for the left. But while some on the right have been falling over themselves to prove to the GOP grass roots that they won’t agree to any reform of our immigration laws that allows a path to citizenship, Brewer made it clear that the bipartisan measures satisfied her well known objections to existing federal policy on illegals. It remains to be seen how much influence Brewer’s decision will have on Congress, but this is a clear blow to the campaign being waged on the right to pressure Republicans to block the immigration bill.

Though many on the right have complained, with some justification, that the predictions of doom for the GOP if they oppose immigration reform are overstated and an effort to “intimidate” them, the real intimidation is the attempt by conservatives to buffalo House Republicans into thinking they will be defeated in primaries by the minority of the party that opposes any immigration measure, no matter how reasonable or how much it prioritizes border security.

Conservatives have come up with a variety of reasons to oppose the reform bill in the past few days. Some have put forward procedural arguments, claiming the bill is too complicated or too lengthy. That’s a fair point, though its advocates should be honest enough to admit it is more pretext than cause as Republicans never scrupled to support long, complicated bills if they approved of their purpose. But conscious of the fact that the key issue for most Americans on immigration has been border security, their most effective line of argument has been the claim that the Corker-Hoeven Amendment is either a sham or won’t actually do the job its proponents claim it can do. But Brewer, who has been on the front lines of the border battle more than any other Republican politician in recent years, gives the lie to this assertion.

Brewer has said that Congress should look carefully at the bill and try to make it better if possible. But the bottom line for her is that Congress finally seems on the brink of passing a measure that heeds the cries for help that Arizonans have made for years. It’s easy for those who aren’t dealing with the problems incurred by the porous border to be skeptical about doubling the number of border patrol personnel or finishing 700 more miles of fence, among other measures in the bill. But Brewer knows that this will make a tangible difference for a state that has borne the brunt of the federal government’s indifference and incompetence. If Jan Brewer, of all people, considers this bill a victory for those who have been pushing for the United States to assert its sovereignty over the border with Mexico, how can others credibly complain that it does nothing to alleviate the concerns of critics of the status quo?

For years, conservatives have said any plan to address immigration reform must include a serious scheme to bolster border security. The Corker-Hoeven Amendment provides just that. While the eventual fate of the bill is still very much in doubt, Brewer’s endorsement puts its opponents on notice that no one is going to buy their claims that the reason they are trying to torpedo it has anything to do with protecting America’s borders.

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Putin Is Cleaning Obama’s Clock

Barack Obama’s “reset” with Russia is really going well, don’t you think?

Russia is defying America by granting Edward Snowden, who exposed some of the most classified secrets of our government, safe haven as he continues to elude capture. As Reuters reports:

Washington was stung by Russian defiance… The White House said it expected the Russian government to send Snowden back to the United States and lodged ‘strong objections’ to Hong Kong and China for letting him go. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said during a visit to India that it would be “deeply troubling” if Moscow defied the United States over Snowden, and said the fugitive “places himself above the law, having betrayed his country”. But the Russian government ignored the appeal and President Vladimir Putin’s press secretary denied any knowledge of Snowden’s movements. Asked if Snowden had spoken to the Russian authorities, [Dmitry] Peskov said: “Overall, we have no information about him.”

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Barack Obama’s “reset” with Russia is really going well, don’t you think?

Russia is defying America by granting Edward Snowden, who exposed some of the most classified secrets of our government, safe haven as he continues to elude capture. As Reuters reports:

Washington was stung by Russian defiance… The White House said it expected the Russian government to send Snowden back to the United States and lodged ‘strong objections’ to Hong Kong and China for letting him go. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said during a visit to India that it would be “deeply troubling” if Moscow defied the United States over Snowden, and said the fugitive “places himself above the law, having betrayed his country”. But the Russian government ignored the appeal and President Vladimir Putin’s press secretary denied any knowledge of Snowden’s movements. Asked if Snowden had spoken to the Russian authorities, [Dmitry] Peskov said: “Overall, we have no information about him.”

This comes on top of Russia defying America’s wishes in the Syrian civil war, with Russia once again reasserting its presence in the Middle East after having been essentially expelled from there in the 1970s (a product of Henry Kissinger’s masterful diplomacy).

Russia was an early and strong supporter of the Assad regime, while America is a late and weak supporter of the rebel groups. President Obama wants Russia to help us; Putin wants Assad to win. And thanks in good measure to Russia, Assad (and hence Iran) is winning.

The Syrian debacle comes in the aftermath of Obama scrapping in 2009 a missile-defense system the Poles and the Czech Republic had agreed to house despite Russian threats, as a way to pacify Putin. (“The U.S. reversal is likely to please Russia, which had fiercely opposed the plans,” CNN reported at the time.)

Add to that Putin’s support for Iran’s nuclear ambitions and his crackdown at home. (The Washington Post writes that in “an attempt to suppress swelling protests against his rigged reelection and the massively corrupt autocracy he presides over, Mr. Putin has launched what both Russian and Western human rights groups describe as the most intense and pervasive campaign of political repression since the downfall of the Soviet Union.”). Taken all together, you can see that the Obama “reset”–which at the dawn of the Obama administration was described as a “win-win” strategy for both nations–has been a rout for the Russians.

With the Snowden situation, Vladimir Putin seems intent not only defying America but embarrassing her. It turns out that an irresolute amateur like Barack Obama was the best thing that the brutal but determined Putin could have hoped for.

He’s cleaning Obama’s clock.

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Don’t Count on Iran Regime Change

Michael Rubin is on target when he writes today to say that in much of the discussion about the dangerous game Iran has been playing throughout the Middle East, too much focus has been on putting out the fire and not enough on stopping the arsonist. The main problem in dealing with the nuclear issue as well as a host of other conflicts in which the ayatollahs have a finger in the pie is the Islamist regime, not their specific decisions to create havoc. The problems of the United States, the moderate Arab regimes and Israel, will, as he says, never be fully resolved until the malevolent influence of Tehran is ended by replacing the Islamic Republic with a government that neither oppresses its people nor funds terror abroad. But to argue, as he also does, that this should be the sole focus of American policy toward Iran is not a practical plan for dealing with the situation in Syria, let alone the clear and present danger of an Iranian nuclear weapon.

While much can and should, as Michael wrote in COMMENTARY three years ago, be done to promote regime change, counting on such efforts bearing fruit in the limited time left until the Iranians are able to enrich enough weapons-grade uranium to create a bomb strikes me as being as realistic as the blind faith President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry seem to have in diplomacy doing the trick. Moreover, to rule out air strikes on Iran’s nuclear facilities, as Michael also urges, would seem to be giving the regime an ironclad guarantee that no one will interfere with their plans. Whatever the ultimate effect of such strikes on Iran’s nuclear timetable might turn out to be—and others are far more optimistic about their impact than Michael—such an attack may not only be the best method available to stop the Iranians, they may also be the only measure that is remotely feasible for the United States to implement if President Obama is to make good on his pledge to never allow Tehran to get such a weapon.

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Michael Rubin is on target when he writes today to say that in much of the discussion about the dangerous game Iran has been playing throughout the Middle East, too much focus has been on putting out the fire and not enough on stopping the arsonist. The main problem in dealing with the nuclear issue as well as a host of other conflicts in which the ayatollahs have a finger in the pie is the Islamist regime, not their specific decisions to create havoc. The problems of the United States, the moderate Arab regimes and Israel, will, as he says, never be fully resolved until the malevolent influence of Tehran is ended by replacing the Islamic Republic with a government that neither oppresses its people nor funds terror abroad. But to argue, as he also does, that this should be the sole focus of American policy toward Iran is not a practical plan for dealing with the situation in Syria, let alone the clear and present danger of an Iranian nuclear weapon.

While much can and should, as Michael wrote in COMMENTARY three years ago, be done to promote regime change, counting on such efforts bearing fruit in the limited time left until the Iranians are able to enrich enough weapons-grade uranium to create a bomb strikes me as being as realistic as the blind faith President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry seem to have in diplomacy doing the trick. Moreover, to rule out air strikes on Iran’s nuclear facilities, as Michael also urges, would seem to be giving the regime an ironclad guarantee that no one will interfere with their plans. Whatever the ultimate effect of such strikes on Iran’s nuclear timetable might turn out to be—and others are far more optimistic about their impact than Michael—such an attack may not only be the best method available to stop the Iranians, they may also be the only measure that is remotely feasible for the United States to implement if President Obama is to make good on his pledge to never allow Tehran to get such a weapon.

Rubin is right to raise the issue of regime change because one constant element of the P5+1 negotiations between the West and Iran has been the presumption that any deal would obligate the powers to foreswear efforts to overthrow the Islamist regime. While the Iranians show no sign of being wise enough to accept that deal, this is an extremely shortsighted policy. Nevertheless, even if all of Michael’s proposals to “hasten the day” when the world will no longer have to cope with this terrorist theocracy succeed eventually, there is no reason to believe that this would be the magic bullet that would eliminate the regime in time to avert the prospect of its Supreme Leader Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei having his finger on the nuclear button.

In 2010, Michael rightly pointed out that an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities would probably cause most Iranians to rally around the regime even if they didn’t like being ruled by them. But he also said that didn’t rule out the need for an air strike: History offers lessons in what not to do. Iranians may dislike their government, but they dislike foreign invaders even more. Even limited U.S. military action would likely strengthen the regime even if the initial effect would be to cause it to teeter. This does not mean that military action might not be necessary; an Islamic Republic with nuclear weapons is the worst possible scenario. But we should not count on military action providing a deathblow to the regime.

That formulation of the relative importance of these two issues is even more apt today as the Iranians are three years closer to realizing their nuclear ambition and even more confident that their diplomatic prevarications will continue to succeed to fend off the feeble Western attempts to resolve the problem. It is possible that Michael is right that even successful air strikes on Iran’s facilities would not end the threat for all time and might necessitate further attacks in the future. But the assumption that an Iran whose economy is weakened by sanctions would be able to start again so easily may be mistaken. At worst, such strikes would give the West additional time to work on regime change or to tighten sanctions to the point where such an outcome might actually be possible. Without the credible threat of force, no effort at diplomatic engagement will ever resolve this problem. But by the same token, neither would efforts aimed at regime change work on their own.

Just as important is the fact that we can’t approach the Iranian problem as if it were a theoretical problem rather than one that takes place in an actual political context. Like it or not, Barack Obama is the president and will be in office for the next three years, not a figure like George W. Bush who would be more open to talk about regime change. Though he ought to be working toward that end, it is highly unlikely an Obama administration will ever do what is needed to facilitate a change in power in Tehran. Though it is far from certain that the day will ever dawn when the president will admit diplomacy has failed and take the necessary military action to forestall an Iranian bomb, there is a better chance that will happen than a scenario in which the U.S. actively pushes to overthrow the Islamists. At this point arguing against military strikes even as a last resort amounts to a unilateral pledge of non-interference against Iran, not a way to facilitate the end of Islamist tyranny.

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Obama’s Diplomatic Humiliation

Forget “Where in the world is Carmen Sandiego?” The hottest real-time game in the world is: Where in the world is Edward Snowden? The rogue NSA techie—who, in the judgment of the NSA’s head, Gen. Keith Alexander, “has caused irreversible and significant damage to our country and to our allies”—has fled Hong Kong and wound up in Moscow. He was rumored to be heading to Ecuador via Havana but he didn’t make the Aeroflot flight he was expected to take, leaving a pack of journalists who bought tickets to photograph an empty seat. So presumably Snowden remains in Russia at least for the time being, with rumors swirling that Ecuador or possibly Venezuela remain his destination of choice.

No matter what he’s up to, he’s making the United States government look foolish. Hong Kong’s decision—which, in effect, means Beijing’s decision—to let him leave even though he is wanted on felony charges in the United States and had his passport suspended suggests that notwithstanding the positive atmospherics from the recent summit meeting between President Obama and President Xi Jinping, there remain sharp limits on how far the Communist regime is willing to go to accommodate American concerns. Indeed, Beijing seems to be positively reveling in Snowden’s unfortunate revelations about the NSA’s penetration of Chinese computer networks, which serves to deflect attention from the much more massive intrusions into computer networks both foreign and domestic that Beijing routinely undertakes. Vladimir Putin, for his part, doesn’t seem to have heard of any “reset” in relations with the U.S. He, too, appears happy to grant Snowden sanctuary, at least for a short while, as a way of giving Uncle Sam the middle finger.

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Forget “Where in the world is Carmen Sandiego?” The hottest real-time game in the world is: Where in the world is Edward Snowden? The rogue NSA techie—who, in the judgment of the NSA’s head, Gen. Keith Alexander, “has caused irreversible and significant damage to our country and to our allies”—has fled Hong Kong and wound up in Moscow. He was rumored to be heading to Ecuador via Havana but he didn’t make the Aeroflot flight he was expected to take, leaving a pack of journalists who bought tickets to photograph an empty seat. So presumably Snowden remains in Russia at least for the time being, with rumors swirling that Ecuador or possibly Venezuela remain his destination of choice.

No matter what he’s up to, he’s making the United States government look foolish. Hong Kong’s decision—which, in effect, means Beijing’s decision—to let him leave even though he is wanted on felony charges in the United States and had his passport suspended suggests that notwithstanding the positive atmospherics from the recent summit meeting between President Obama and President Xi Jinping, there remain sharp limits on how far the Communist regime is willing to go to accommodate American concerns. Indeed, Beijing seems to be positively reveling in Snowden’s unfortunate revelations about the NSA’s penetration of Chinese computer networks, which serves to deflect attention from the much more massive intrusions into computer networks both foreign and domestic that Beijing routinely undertakes. Vladimir Putin, for his part, doesn’t seem to have heard of any “reset” in relations with the U.S. He, too, appears happy to grant Snowden sanctuary, at least for a short while, as a way of giving Uncle Sam the middle finger.

Then we come to Ecuador, whose president, Rafael Correa, appears to be bidding for leadership of the anti-American bloc in Latin America—a position left open by Fidel Castro’s enfeeblement and Hugo Chavez’s death. He has already granted refuge in Ecuador’s London embassy to WikiLeaks founder and accused rapist Julian Assange. Now he may very well try to grant sanctuary to Snowden too. He is entitled to do that, but Washington should make clear to him that if he does so he will suffer the consequences—including a loss of trade privileges that could threaten the $10.7 billion worth of goods that nation exports to the U.S. every year.

This is all, it must be said, a colossal embarrassment for President Obama. He looks, to unsympathetic eyes at least, to be a budding tyrant (witness all of the absurd and overheated comparisons between the NSA’s measured and carefully controlled activities and those of authoritarian states such as China and Iran which spy on their own people to suppress dissent)—and a notably ineffectual one at that who can’t even snare one Pepsi-swilling, pizza-gobbling computer geek.

It may well be that case that a Republican president—John McCain or Mitt Romney—would have had no more success in apprehending Snowden, but the equanimity with which other states rebuff our appeals for his apprehension makes clear that the U.S. is suffering a significant loss of respect. Quite simply, the U.S. is no more universally loved than it was prior to Obama’s ascension—and now we are less respected too. As anyone who consults Machiavelli will know, this is not a recipe for a prince’s success.

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From Fugitive to Hostage for Snowden?

Such is the interest in Edward Snowden’s travel plans that a plane taking off without him on board is newsworthy. But the news that a Moscow-to-Cuba plane left Sheremetyevo Airport without Snowden is receiving prominent placement–and three reporter bylines, as well as seven contributing bylines for background on the story–on the New York Times’s website.

That may seem like overkill, but in fact it’s appropriate. And it may signal that the diplomatic angle of this case is about to escalate. Over the weekend, Snowden left Hong Kong with Cuba or Ecuador as his expected destination but with a stopover in Moscow first. Though he was seemingly there only to catch his connecting flight, that would have been a strange development, considering that Vladimir Putin has more to gain from virtually any scenario other than one in which Snowden just passes through Russia on his continuing search for asylum.

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Such is the interest in Edward Snowden’s travel plans that a plane taking off without him on board is newsworthy. But the news that a Moscow-to-Cuba plane left Sheremetyevo Airport without Snowden is receiving prominent placement–and three reporter bylines, as well as seven contributing bylines for background on the story–on the New York Times’s website.

That may seem like overkill, but in fact it’s appropriate. And it may signal that the diplomatic angle of this case is about to escalate. Over the weekend, Snowden left Hong Kong with Cuba or Ecuador as his expected destination but with a stopover in Moscow first. Though he was seemingly there only to catch his connecting flight, that would have been a strange development, considering that Vladimir Putin has more to gain from virtually any scenario other than one in which Snowden just passes through Russia on his continuing search for asylum.

The Obama administration has asked Russia to send Snowden back to the U.S. for prosecution. That means Putin can win points from the Obama administration and its allies in the West by complying and cooperating. Or he can play to domestic anti-Americanism–as China did by refusing to extradite Snowden–and let the fugitive leaker continue on his journey. But each of those two options can be “supersized,” so to speak, by detaining Snowden first.

Earlier reports from the Times shed light on the timing of Snowden’s departure from Hong Kong:

Two Western intelligence experts, who worked for major government spy agencies, said they believed that the Chinese government had managed to drain the contents of the four laptops that Mr. Snowden said he brought to Hong Kong, and that he said were with him during his stay at a Hong Kong hotel.

If that were the case, they said, China would no longer need or want to have Mr. Snowden remain in Hong Kong.

Chinese authorities seemed anxious to get rid of Snowden since they didn’t want to hand him over to the U.S. and didn’t want to be the center of public pressure over it. But they obviously wanted to know everything Snowden knew, and since no thinking person would ever take Snowden’s word for anything, they could not just ask him. There was likely no need to ask anyway, and the Times report suggests that was indeed the case.

So China chose Option No. 2: play to domestic anti-Americanism and let Snowden go. But the Chinese leadership made sure to maximize its benefits by getting access to all of Snowden’s information first. Letting Snowden leave was almost certainly a strategic error on China’s part, since they could have won credit for returning Snowden to the U.S. while still obtaining all the U.S. government secrets Snowden carried with him and ensured that no one else would gain access to Snowden.

Russia and China may act in concert at the UN Security Council, but they are rivals. Letting Snowden go to Russia enabled the Russian security services to try their hand at wringing secrets out of Snowden, and perturbed the U.S. For the same reasons, it would have been strategically foolhardy for Russia to simply ignore Snowden. And today’s Times report very credibly hints that Putin never truly considered this option:

It was unclear how Mr. Snowden spent his time at the airport or precisely where. The departure of the flight to Havana from Moscow came after an all-night vigil by journalists who were posted outside a hotel in the transit zone of the airport where Mr. Snowden was apparently staying. But on Monday morning, hotel staff said that no one named Snowden was staying there.

Russian news services had reported that Mr. Snowden would take the flight to Cuba, prompting a late rush for tickets from the horde of journalists gathered at the airport. But others dismissed it as a ruse to put the news media and others off Mr. Snowden’s trail.

One of the reasons Snowden’s decision to flee to Hong Kong was so detrimental to the U.S. was because, as Max Boot pointed out presciently and immediately, he would be almost certainly unable to hide the information he held on electronic devices from the Chinese government, even if he wanted to withhold the state secrets. It’s unclear whether Russian hacking abilities match those of the Chinese government, but what the Putin regime may lack in technological proficiency it can certainly make up in persuasive questioning from the FSB.

Snowden’s detour through Russia, then, is likely to yield an intelligence windfall for Putin regardless of what he decides to do with Snowden once Snowden goes from being a useful idiot to a useless idiot. Thus it never made much sense for Putin to stand aside. Today’s reports align much more with common sense. Now, if Putin does get the intel he’s looking for from Snowden, what he does next will depend on whether he cares more about domestic opinion or America’s. Putin can do what China did and appeal to nationalist sentiment by refusing to extradite Snowden to the U.S. Or he can one-up China by gaining Snowden’s intelligence and then winning Western plaudits by cooperating.

Russian public opinion has not recently been at the forefront of Putin’s mind, but then again neither has Obama’s. Of course, he could hand Snowden over to American authorities only in return for some additional concession, outplaying both the U.S. and China. It would be ironic, certainly, for Snowden to flee the U.S. in the name of openness and transparency only to become a hostage of the Russian security services.

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Gaza Illustrates Palestinian Statehood

Secretary of State John Kerry is about to head to the Middle East again to restart the peace process between Israelis and Palestinians. His goal remains a deal to create an independent Palestinian state and thereby end the conflict for all time. But as much as Israelis crave peace, along with the rest of the world they are getting another good look today at what happens in an independent Palestinian state and the result is far from pretty. That’s the only rational way to process what happened earlier today as the Islamic Jihad group fired half a dozen rockets at southern Israel from Gaza. Israel responded with air strikes on the terrorists and the upshot was that for the first time in six months the fragile cease-fire between the Hamas rulers of the strip and Israel seemed in danger. But as the Times of Israel pointed out, the rockets were not so much aimed at Israelis (though if some Jews had been killed that would have been considered a welcome bonus by the shooters) as they were at Hamas.

That sounds confusing, but it actually makes perfect sense. Hamas and Islamic Jihad share a commitment to violence against Israel and imposing Islamist law on Palestinians. But the two have different patrons. Islamic Jihad is now backed by Iran, which used to supply Hamas with weapons, while Hamas now is tight with Turkey, which is opposing the Iranians in Syria. But with Hamas worried about starting another round of fighting with Israel just at the time when it wants to keep pressure up on its real rival—Fatah and the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank—support for Islamic Jihad is apparently starting to grow. That has led to a crackdown of sorts by Hamas on Islamic Jihad. Hence, the rockets fly as the Palestinians maneuver against each other by shooting at Jews.

While the fight between two factions of extremist terrorists may not seem particularly relevant to Americans, Washington should be paying close attention to this battle since it is a preview of what may happen in the even more strategic West Bank in the unlikely event that Kerry gets his way and Israel is forced to abandon not just settlements but the military presence that keeps a lid on terrorism. With all the talk about the need to create a Palestinian state for the sake of justice or even to assure that Israel remains a Jewish state, Gaza provides a daily clinic on the consequences of more Israeli territorial withdrawals.

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Secretary of State John Kerry is about to head to the Middle East again to restart the peace process between Israelis and Palestinians. His goal remains a deal to create an independent Palestinian state and thereby end the conflict for all time. But as much as Israelis crave peace, along with the rest of the world they are getting another good look today at what happens in an independent Palestinian state and the result is far from pretty. That’s the only rational way to process what happened earlier today as the Islamic Jihad group fired half a dozen rockets at southern Israel from Gaza. Israel responded with air strikes on the terrorists and the upshot was that for the first time in six months the fragile cease-fire between the Hamas rulers of the strip and Israel seemed in danger. But as the Times of Israel pointed out, the rockets were not so much aimed at Israelis (though if some Jews had been killed that would have been considered a welcome bonus by the shooters) as they were at Hamas.

That sounds confusing, but it actually makes perfect sense. Hamas and Islamic Jihad share a commitment to violence against Israel and imposing Islamist law on Palestinians. But the two have different patrons. Islamic Jihad is now backed by Iran, which used to supply Hamas with weapons, while Hamas now is tight with Turkey, which is opposing the Iranians in Syria. But with Hamas worried about starting another round of fighting with Israel just at the time when it wants to keep pressure up on its real rival—Fatah and the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank—support for Islamic Jihad is apparently starting to grow. That has led to a crackdown of sorts by Hamas on Islamic Jihad. Hence, the rockets fly as the Palestinians maneuver against each other by shooting at Jews.

While the fight between two factions of extremist terrorists may not seem particularly relevant to Americans, Washington should be paying close attention to this battle since it is a preview of what may happen in the even more strategic West Bank in the unlikely event that Kerry gets his way and Israel is forced to abandon not just settlements but the military presence that keeps a lid on terrorism. With all the talk about the need to create a Palestinian state for the sake of justice or even to assure that Israel remains a Jewish state, Gaza provides a daily clinic on the consequences of more Israeli territorial withdrawals.

Hard as it is for some people to remember, when Israel withdrew every last soldier or settler from Gaza in 2005, it was not assumed that the strip would become a terrorist base. Rather, there was hope that it would provide a chance for the Palestinians to show that they truly could govern themselves. But from the first day after the withdrawal—when mobs burned abandoned synagogues and tore down the greenhouses that had been purchased from their owners to give to the Palestinians to use—what has happened in Gaza is a walking, talking illustration of what the world could expect if the independent Palestinian state that we are endlessly told is the only solution to the conflict ever actually comes to pass.

Of course, as I’ve pointed out repeatedly, Gaza is for all intents and purposes already an independent Palestinian state in all but name. Though some claim that the fact that it doesn’t have complete control over its borders means it is still “occupied,” that is nonsense. It is true that both Israel and Egypt have sought to isolate the Hamas regime, but the Islamist group exercises effective sovereignty over the area. Moreover, if that is the measure of independence, do advocates of complete Palestinian independence over the West Bank expect Israel to accept a militarized West Bank or one that is free to allow the entry of foreign weapon supplies or even armed forces? If so, then the danger that such a state would pose to Israel is even greater than some have thought.

The point here is not so much to dismiss all the arguments that have been assembled on behalf of the creation of a Palestinian state by both Americans and Israelis out of hand. Most Israelis would like to be separated from the Palestinians of the West Bank. Indeed, after the terrorism of the second intifada, most want nothing to do with them and reject the idea that there can be any ultimate solution to the conflict that does not involve two states that would allow the two peoples to exercise their right of self-determination alongside each other. So long as violent groups dedicated to the destruction of the Jewish state dominate the political culture of the Palestinians, the prospect of the West Bank becoming another Gaza makes the high-flown rhetoric about the two-state solution look naive at best.

The main obstacle to peace remains the inability of Fatah to do what Hamas and Islamic Jihad will not consider: recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn and to renounce the so-called right of return that would swamp Israel with the descendants of the 1948 Arab refugees. If they were ever able to do that and to convincingly promise that this ended the conflict rather than just pausing it, they’d find Israel ready to deal. After all, Israel has already offered the Palestinians a state three times only to find each one rejected. But so long as Palestinian independence is synonymous with terror groups and their infighting, Kerry will find few serious observers heeding his calls. Anyone who wants to know why Israelis are skeptical about a Palestinian state in the West Bank need only look at Gaza.

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The Fed Hints

One major part of the job of the Federal Reserve is to keep the economy on an even keel, not booming too much nor going into recession. (The other major parts are to protect the banking system, and to prevent inflation.) So when the Great Recession hit in 2008, the Fed dropped the Fed Funds rate to near zero, which has the effect of lowering interest rates generally, hopefully stimulating the economy. It also began flooding the street with money through open-market operations, buying federal bonds, thus increasing the cash balances of banks, giving them more money to lend.

That’s the easy part of keeping the economy on an even keel. The tricky bit is when and how abruptly to reverse course. The balance sheet of the Fed has grown enormously in the last few years and at some point the money it has created has to be withdrawn from the economy, again by open-market operations, this time selling federal bonds. If that weren’t done, it’s possible a 1970s inflation could break out. But there is always strong political pressure to keep money cheap.

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One major part of the job of the Federal Reserve is to keep the economy on an even keel, not booming too much nor going into recession. (The other major parts are to protect the banking system, and to prevent inflation.) So when the Great Recession hit in 2008, the Fed dropped the Fed Funds rate to near zero, which has the effect of lowering interest rates generally, hopefully stimulating the economy. It also began flooding the street with money through open-market operations, buying federal bonds, thus increasing the cash balances of banks, giving them more money to lend.

That’s the easy part of keeping the economy on an even keel. The tricky bit is when and how abruptly to reverse course. The balance sheet of the Fed has grown enormously in the last few years and at some point the money it has created has to be withdrawn from the economy, again by open-market operations, this time selling federal bonds. If that weren’t done, it’s possible a 1970s inflation could break out. But there is always strong political pressure to keep money cheap.

The economy has clearly been improving, with corporate profits up and housing prices now rising. Since most families’ net worth is concentrated in their homes, a rising housing market makes people feel richer. And that makes them more likely to go out and buy, pumping up the economy. To be sure, unemployment is stubbornly high, but it’s a lagging indicator, tending to recover more slowly than other economic indicators.

So Ben Bernanke, the chairman of the Federal Reserve, has begun to hint that the Fed’s quantitative easing is drawing to a close. It’s been buying $85 billion worth of federal bonds a month. The markets have been reacting badly to Bernanke’s Delphic pronouncements. The Dow was above 15,300 last Tuesday. Right now it’s below 14,700, a drop of four percent. With the prospect of interest rates rising, bonds have been declining as well.

But these are short-term flutters in the stock market. It is corporate profits that determine the movement of equities. As long as corporate profits are strong and growing, the market will not swoon. Rising interest rates, however, will cause bond prices to decline in proportion.

The Fed has an unenviable job right now. If it acts too slowly, inflation could set in. If it acts too quickly, the economy could be tipped back into recession. And those with a dog in the fight—which is practically every interest group in the country—will be pushing hard to get its way.

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If Iran Is the Problem, Why Focus on Syria?

A major reason why so many American strategists believe it is imperative to aid the Syrian rebels is because Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s fall would significantly roll back Iranian influence. Syria has been Iran’s only consistent ally since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, and the Syrian-Iranian axis has enabled the two terror sponsors to expand their global reach. Riding high since its 2006 war with Israel, Hezbollah would soon find out how truly weak its position is should its lifeline through Syria disappear. Had it not been for the interference of Bashar al-Assad and his late father Hafez, Lebanon might have thrived and Beirut might have maintained its position as “the Paris of the Middle East,” rather than simply been the tenuous oasis it is today with the Sword of Damocles always hovering just overhead.

Iran hovers above other policy debates as well: It was always the elephant in the room during discussions of Iraq, and it remains the predominant concern in western Afghanistan, even if concern regarding its influence is overshadowed by that of Pakistan in Kabul. Dating back to the Karine-A and before, Iran had become a chief impediment to Palestinian compromise with Israel. Iranian involvement in Sudan poses an increasing threat to U.S. strategic interests.

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A major reason why so many American strategists believe it is imperative to aid the Syrian rebels is because Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s fall would significantly roll back Iranian influence. Syria has been Iran’s only consistent ally since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, and the Syrian-Iranian axis has enabled the two terror sponsors to expand their global reach. Riding high since its 2006 war with Israel, Hezbollah would soon find out how truly weak its position is should its lifeline through Syria disappear. Had it not been for the interference of Bashar al-Assad and his late father Hafez, Lebanon might have thrived and Beirut might have maintained its position as “the Paris of the Middle East,” rather than simply been the tenuous oasis it is today with the Sword of Damocles always hovering just overhead.

Iran hovers above other policy debates as well: It was always the elephant in the room during discussions of Iraq, and it remains the predominant concern in western Afghanistan, even if concern regarding its influence is overshadowed by that of Pakistan in Kabul. Dating back to the Karine-A and before, Iran had become a chief impediment to Palestinian compromise with Israel. Iranian involvement in Sudan poses an increasing threat to U.S. strategic interests.

Alas, in Iraq, Afghanistan, and now in Syria, American strategists advocate extinguishing the fire rather than addressing the arsonist. Certainly, it is an American strategic interest not to allow Iran to prevail in Syria, although it is doubtful whether the opposition as it is now composed would pose any less of a threat to U.S. interests. Those to whom the Syrian quagmire is predominantly a human rights concern may also counsel intervention, but certainly it is also true that the Iranian leadership cares little if its “export of revolution” kills tens of thousands not only in Syria, but also in Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon, Gaza, or elsewhere.

Simply put, the chief impediment to peace and stability in the Middle East is Iran, and it’s long past time the United States begins to realize that there will be no breakthrough on any issue of concern to U.S. national security until the Islamic Republic no longer exists. It should be the policy of the United States to hasten that day.

Now, make no mistake: seeking regime change does not mean bombing Iran let alone any action which would put any foreign troops in that country. Not only would the U.S. economy not stand it, but military intervention would strengthen the Iranian regime. The best thing that ever happened to Ayatollah Khomeini’s Islamic Revolution was Saddam Hussein’s invasion, because the Iraqi aggression enabled Khomeini to rally the Iranian people around the flag just when it appeared that the revolution would collapse upon Khomeini’s cruelty and the emptiness of his ideology.

Nor is bombing wise: I have always opposed military strikes on Iran for a simple reason: Military strikes might delay the ayatollahs’ ambition for two or three years but, unless the United States has a policy to take advantage of that delay, Washington would essentially be using our men and women in uniform to kick the can down the road because Washington was unable to formulate a policy. That would not only have tremendous cost in terms of blood and treasure—both American and Iranian—but it would also be a misuse of the American military. At present, when people talk about military strikes on Iran “as a last resort,” they are essentially talking about bombing Iran every two or three years, and that is not acceptable.

While the State Department no longer considers the Mujahedin al-Khalq Organization (MKO) a terrorist organization, that group is at best a creepy cult and, regardless, is no less noxious to ordinary Iranians who may dislike the Islamic Republic, but hate the MKO even more. Thinly-disguised bribes to American officials does not legitimacy make.

Nevertheless, there are many other strategies that could promote direct citizen empowerment in Iran, make life difficult for the regime, and move to hasten its downfall. Some of them I addressed in COMMENTARY back in 2010, and other technologies I was only introduced to later. Outreach to dissidents, open discussion of Iran’s corruption and human rights situation on the part of U.S.-sponsored Persian language broadcasting, and support for independent labor and civil society groups should also be on the table. After all, if the Iranian regime is so confident in its election participation numbers, why not allow independent groups to compile their own statistics? Surely the Iranian government does not fear truth?

While some lobbyists look at the election of Hassan Rowhani as a sign that Washington should seek reconciliation with Tehran, they are wrong. Not only is Rowhani not the moderate some suggest him to be, but also no one should learn the wrong lesson from the crowds which celebrated his victory: Had anyone more liberal than Rowhani been allowed to run—especially someone who did not pay fealty to the Supreme Leader—that person would have won in a landslide.

Alas, since the 1989 inauguration of George H.W. Bush, the policy of the United States has been at best incoherent and at worst a quarter century replication of the elder Bush’s “Chicken Kiev” approach to international relations. Neither Obama nor Kerry are strategic thinkers, but perhaps there is space among their successors in both the Democratic and Republican parties for some serious discussion about how the region might be different if the Islamic Republic did not exist, and then what the United States might do to achieve that goal.

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Memo to Fox’s Bolling: America Isn’t Iran

In an interview with former Governor Sarah Palin, Fox’s Eric Bolling–in speaking in part about the National Security Agency surveillance program–said, “It feels to me like we’re either in Iran or Communist China.”

He’s serious.

Mr. Bolling may want to take some time to read this State Department report on Iran. It points out that the Islamic Republic of Iran is a theocratic republic. Its surveillance and monitoring of citizens’ online activities belongs in an entirely different category than what is being done in America. (As Max Boot points out, the NSA’s surveillance programs “are hardly rogue operations. Both programs were initiated by President George W. Bush and continued by President Barack Obama with the full knowledge and support of Congress and continuing oversight from the federal judiciary.”) And on Iran there’s also this (courtesy of the State Department report):

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In an interview with former Governor Sarah Palin, Fox’s Eric Bolling–in speaking in part about the National Security Agency surveillance program–said, “It feels to me like we’re either in Iran or Communist China.”

He’s serious.

Mr. Bolling may want to take some time to read this State Department report on Iran. It points out that the Islamic Republic of Iran is a theocratic republic. Its surveillance and monitoring of citizens’ online activities belongs in an entirely different category than what is being done in America. (As Max Boot points out, the NSA’s surveillance programs “are hardly rogue operations. Both programs were initiated by President George W. Bush and continued by President Barack Obama with the full knowledge and support of Congress and continuing oversight from the federal judiciary.”) And on Iran there’s also this (courtesy of the State Department report):

The most egregious human rights problems were the government’s severe limitations on citizens’ right to peacefully change their government through free and fair elections; restrictions on civil liberties, including the freedoms of assembly, speech, and press; and the government’s disregard for the physical integrity of persons whom it arbitrarily and unlawfully killed, tortured, and imprisoned. Other reported human rights problems included: disappearances; cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, including judicially sanctioned amputation and flogging; politically motivated violence and repression, such as beatings and rape; harsh and life-threatening conditions in detention and prison facilities, with instances of deaths in custody; arbitrary arrest and lengthy pretrial detention, sometimes incommunicado; continued impunity of security forces; denial of fair public trials, sometimes resulting in executions without due process; political prisoners and detainees; the lack of an independent judiciary; … arbitrary interference with privacy, home, and correspondence; severe restrictions on freedoms of speech (including via the Internet) and press; harassment of journalists; censorship and media content restrictions; severe restrictions on academic freedom; severe restrictions on the freedoms of assembly, association, and religion; … legal and societal discrimination and violence against women, children, ethnic and religious minorities, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) persons based on perceived sexual orientation and gender identity; incitement to anti-Semitism and trafficking in persons; and severe restrictions on the exercise of labor rights. 

Call me an old-fashioned conservative, but when those on the right begin to put the United States in the same category as Iran and Communist China, it’s problematic. This is a variation of the kind of thing one heard in the late 1960s and early 1970s by the Weather Underground, the Chicago Seven, and Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dorn (though thankfully without the calls for an “armed struggle”).

I agree on the need for vigilance when it comes to potential abuses in the NSA program. And I know, too, that there are serious people who object to what the NSA is doing. But the kind of unreasonable and uncontrolled rhetoric we’re hearing from some on the right is quite stunning. America, even under Barack Obama, is not Iran or Communist China; and the last people in the world who should have to be informed of that fact are conservatives. 

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AJCongress Must Revoke Erdoğan’s Award

On January 26, 2004, the American Jewish Congress presented Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan with its “Profiles of Courage” award for promoting peace between cultures. In a press release, the AJC reported:

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan yesterday told the American Jewish Congress that Turkey will stand firm to eradicate terrorism worldwide, offers security to its Jewish citizens, and will work to achieve peace in the Middle East.

Nothing could be farther from reality. Erdoğan has become Hamas’s leading cheerleader, a promoter of terrorism, and a force for instability in the region. It should have been clear at the time, however, that Erdoğan was insincere. After all, Erdoğan already had a history of embracing rabid anti-Semitism and harboring conspiracy theories during his tenure as Istanbul’s mayor.

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On January 26, 2004, the American Jewish Congress presented Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan with its “Profiles of Courage” award for promoting peace between cultures. In a press release, the AJC reported:

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan yesterday told the American Jewish Congress that Turkey will stand firm to eradicate terrorism worldwide, offers security to its Jewish citizens, and will work to achieve peace in the Middle East.

Nothing could be farther from reality. Erdoğan has become Hamas’s leading cheerleader, a promoter of terrorism, and a force for instability in the region. It should have been clear at the time, however, that Erdoğan was insincere. After all, Erdoğan already had a history of embracing rabid anti-Semitism and harboring conspiracy theories during his tenure as Istanbul’s mayor.

The fact that Erdoğan filters everything through a religious lens became clear to me in 2005. After I had published an article about Erdoğan’s shady finances, a Turkish Jewish businessman in Istanbul contacted a Turkish Jew in Washington to tell me that Erdoğan was upset. I responded that if Erdoğan was upset, he might contact the Turkish embassy and have them, in turn, contact me care of the American Enterprise Institute. That Erdoğan thought that the proper way to do business was through religious channels, and that he saw American Jews as Jewish first and not as “real Americans,” quickly became clear in subsequent conversations. Alas, Erdoğan is not alone among Turkish officials and senior diplomats who, even if not sincere in their religious bias, certainly understand that the way to get ahead during Erdoğan’s tenure is at best to be silent and at worst try to outdo each other in their theories about world Jewry, dual loyalty, and the like.

Some in American Jewish organizations may take solace in the fact that Turkey was not historically anti-Semitic. Indeed, the basis of the Turks’ historical warm attitude toward Jews had to do with the fact that during the Ottoman Empire, Jews did not rebel the way so many others did. A little known fact about World War I was that so many Turkish Jews fought at Gallipoli, as the bulk of the Ottoman army was fighting the Russians on the eastern front when the ANZAC offensive began. Incitement takes its toll, however. President Barack Obama may toast Erdoğan, and the 135 members of the Congressional Turkey Caucus may run interference for Turkey’s worst excesses, but a decade of constant media incitement by Erdoğan’s state-controlled television and Erdoğan-endorsed film companies has, effectively, wiped out centuries of tolerance that Turkey has exhibited toward Jews, if not Armenians, Kurds, and others.

In recent weeks, Erdoğan has doubled down on bigotry. This culminated last week when the newspaper he uses as his proxy accused yours truly and the American Enterprise Institute of fabricating an elaborate plot culminating in the Istanbul protests. Never mind that the story is false. To Erdoğan and his followers, the Jews are like the Borg from Star Trek, all interconnected and occasionally ensnaring non-Jews like Secretary of State Donald Rumsfeld and Ambassador John Bolton in our nefarious plots.

Now, it’s perhaps a bit too much to expect that the White House would ever condemn such nonsense outright, even if anti-Semitism is often the canary in the coal mine warning of far greater problems. Nor should anyone ever expect the State Department to stand on the side of moral clarity, as Ambassador Francis Ricciardone’s statement made clear to all those Turks on the receiving end of police abuse and, alas, the new generation of Turks.

Perhaps the lesson for the American Jewish Congress and other Jewish organizations should be this: Base awards on lifetime achievement, not only wishful thinking. The risk of bestowing legitimacy on platforms that run contrary to the AJCongress’ mission is otherwise too great. The AJCongress’ award to Erdoğan not only did not stop Erdoğan’s anti-Semitism, but rather it for too long provided cover for it. Perhaps the organization can now mitigate the damage it has caused—and also deflate Erdoğan’s buffoonery—by publicly revoking its award.

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