Commentary Magazine


Posts For: June 25, 2013

Good News and Bad News for Abbas

There’s both good news and bad news for Palestinian Authority head Mahmoud Abbas. The good news is that Secretary of State John Kerry is heading back to the Middle East determined to pursue what virtually no one else believes is an opportunity to achieve peace between Israelis and Palestinians. This is good for Abbas because it gives him a chance to play the reluctant prima donna who needs to be bribed to return to peace talks. Even if he never sits down at the table or, as is even more likely, doesn’t stay long if he ever does, Abbas will be able to extract concessions from Israel in order to satisfy Kerry’s hubristic desire to attempt a feat that better men and women than he failed to accomplish.

The bad news? It’s that Secretary of State John Kerry is headed back to the Middle East determined to pursue what virtually no one else believes is an opportunity to achieve peace between Israelis and Palestinians. Kerry’s insistence on paying more than the usual lip service to peace negotiations puts Abbas in exactly the position that he has been striving to avoid since fleeing the table after former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert offered him virtually everything he wanted including statehood and a share of Jerusalem. Abbas doesn’t want to act in a manner that would place the blame for the lack of peace where it belongs (on himself). But he also can’t afford to be trapped into a process that will allow his Hamas and Islamic Jihad rivals to portray him as being willing to accept the legitimacy of Israel. So while Kerry may think he’s being very clever in wheedling concessions out of Netanyahu in order to get Abbas to talk, it is just as likely that, as has happened often in the past, the attempt to push the Palestinians into an agreement will probably do more to create instability than it will bring the region closer to peace.

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There’s both good news and bad news for Palestinian Authority head Mahmoud Abbas. The good news is that Secretary of State John Kerry is heading back to the Middle East determined to pursue what virtually no one else believes is an opportunity to achieve peace between Israelis and Palestinians. This is good for Abbas because it gives him a chance to play the reluctant prima donna who needs to be bribed to return to peace talks. Even if he never sits down at the table or, as is even more likely, doesn’t stay long if he ever does, Abbas will be able to extract concessions from Israel in order to satisfy Kerry’s hubristic desire to attempt a feat that better men and women than he failed to accomplish.

The bad news? It’s that Secretary of State John Kerry is headed back to the Middle East determined to pursue what virtually no one else believes is an opportunity to achieve peace between Israelis and Palestinians. Kerry’s insistence on paying more than the usual lip service to peace negotiations puts Abbas in exactly the position that he has been striving to avoid since fleeing the table after former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert offered him virtually everything he wanted including statehood and a share of Jerusalem. Abbas doesn’t want to act in a manner that would place the blame for the lack of peace where it belongs (on himself). But he also can’t afford to be trapped into a process that will allow his Hamas and Islamic Jihad rivals to portray him as being willing to accept the legitimacy of Israel. So while Kerry may think he’s being very clever in wheedling concessions out of Netanyahu in order to get Abbas to talk, it is just as likely that, as has happened often in the past, the attempt to push the Palestinians into an agreement will probably do more to create instability than it will bring the region closer to peace.

As Haaretz notes, Abbas is trying to thread the needle when it comes to balancing his desire to avoid being made to appear the obstacle to peace with his equally ardent desire to avoid negotiating with Israel. Thus, he may be softening some of the preconditions he has sought to obtain in advance of talks that would deliver Israeli concessions without the Palestinians giving anything in return. But, as the Israelis already know, the last thing Abbas is likely to do is to keep talking even if he does agree to sit down with Kerry and Netanyahu.

But though virtually no one (except perhaps Kerry) actually believes an accord is possible, the fallout from these talks about talks is not insignificant. As Haaretz reports:

Previously, Abbas had insisted that even before the talks begin, Netanyahu must present a map of the future Palestinian state’s borders; he has now given up this demand. He will now agree to conduct negotiations based on the 1967 lines, land swaps included. Due to Netanyahu’s categorical rejection of this term, Abbas is willing to make do with a commitment from Kerry that the U.S. administration’s position is that the borders of the Palestinian state will be based on the 1967 lines and will include land swaps.

Thus, without really giving an inch, Abbas is being allowed to push the United States even farther away from Israel’s position of talks without preconditions. Like President Obama’s unfortunate squabble with Prime Minister Netanyahu over the 1967 lines in May 2011, the only thing this U.S. move will do is to further isolate Israel without bringing the region closer to peace.

In addition, the Palestinians benefit from the scrutiny the world press devotes to every possible gesture and action from the Israeli government that are consistently interpreted as somehow impacting Abbas’s decisions even though this isn’t remotely the case. Take for example the fuss the New York Times made today about a visit by Netanyahu to a Jewish town in the West Bank. The place, which even the Times conceded is “a 25-year-old community with 500 families,” is located in a settlement bloc near the old green line border that would be included within Israel even if there were a peace deal via the “land swaps” that everyone talks about.

Yet the Times still tried to portray any visit there by Netanyahu as somehow the moral equivalent of the supposed insult suffered by Vice President Biden when Israel announced a housing project in a 40-year-old Jewish neighborhood in Jerusalem during his visit. The administration picked a pointless fight with Israel at the time that accomplished nothing but allowing the Palestinians to think the United States was abandoning its ally. Abbas would like the same thing to happen now, but there’s a good chance that even if Kerry is foolish enough to play into the Palestinians’ hands, President Obama realizes any attempt to tilt the diplomatic playing field in their direction will not entice them to talk peace.

But having encouraged the Palestinians to think they will pressure Israel and force it to make unilateral concessions, Kerry needs to remember that the law of unintended consequences is always at play in the Middle East. Maneuvering Abbas into talks that are bound to lead to nothing could strengthen Hamas at Fatah’s expense. If so, all of Kerry’s well-intentioned diplomacy could actually make a hopeless situation even worse.

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The GOP’s Foreign Policy Candidate?

It’s not clear how seriously Republicans will take Robert Costa’s report in National Review Online today that John Bolton is exploring the idea of a run for president in 2016. While the prospect of a candidacy from the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations set off chortles on both the far left and the paleo-con right, Bolton’s interest in the Republican presidential nomination may leave most GOP power-brokers and grass roots activists in early primary states cold. With a deep bench of potential Republican presidential candidates including genuine political stars like Chris Christie, Marco Rubio, Paul Ryan, Rand Paul, Ted Cruz and Scott Walker and even 2012 retreads like Rick Santorum lining up for the next contest, there doesn’t seem to be much of a market for a Bolton candidacy.

But though the odds are he never makes it to the starting line, let alone the finish line, the idea of a Bolton candidacy is not quite as insane as it may seem at first glance. With many Republicans starting to flock to the neo-isolationist banner put forward by Rand Paul and with many conservative activists now treating the ongoing war on Islamist terror as being not as important as their dislike of Barack Obama, it is arguable that there is no longer a solid Republican consensus in favor of a strong American foreign policy. Though some of the other possible candidates do differ from Paul about the impulse to pull back from a forward posture abroad, none have prioritized that issue. If Bolton is even talking about what would probably be a quixotic run it is only because he knows it is vital for there to be a vigorous debate about foreign and defense policy so as to turn back the Paulite push.

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It’s not clear how seriously Republicans will take Robert Costa’s report in National Review Online today that John Bolton is exploring the idea of a run for president in 2016. While the prospect of a candidacy from the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations set off chortles on both the far left and the paleo-con right, Bolton’s interest in the Republican presidential nomination may leave most GOP power-brokers and grass roots activists in early primary states cold. With a deep bench of potential Republican presidential candidates including genuine political stars like Chris Christie, Marco Rubio, Paul Ryan, Rand Paul, Ted Cruz and Scott Walker and even 2012 retreads like Rick Santorum lining up for the next contest, there doesn’t seem to be much of a market for a Bolton candidacy.

But though the odds are he never makes it to the starting line, let alone the finish line, the idea of a Bolton candidacy is not quite as insane as it may seem at first glance. With many Republicans starting to flock to the neo-isolationist banner put forward by Rand Paul and with many conservative activists now treating the ongoing war on Islamist terror as being not as important as their dislike of Barack Obama, it is arguable that there is no longer a solid Republican consensus in favor of a strong American foreign policy. Though some of the other possible candidates do differ from Paul about the impulse to pull back from a forward posture abroad, none have prioritized that issue. If Bolton is even talking about what would probably be a quixotic run it is only because he knows it is vital for there to be a vigorous debate about foreign and defense policy so as to turn back the Paulite push.

If we had elections for secretary of state, Bolton would be a serious Republican candidate for the job. Though dismissed as a neo-con warmonger by those who prefer appeasement at the UN and apologies to the world rather than a forthright exposition of American values and interests, Bolton’s views on foreign policy are very much in the mainstream of Republican thought. His sensible analyses of foreign policy on Fox News as well as his occasional contributions to COMMENTARY provide eloquent testimony to his expertise on the issues. But not even in wartime are Americans likely to elect someone whose orientation is toward foreign rather than domestic policy. Even in a wide open 2012 GOP presidential field largely populated by easily-dismissed candidates, Bolton’s brief flirtation with a run failed to attract any interest and there’s even less reason to think he’d do any better next time.

But if both Rubio and Ryan decide against running in 2016, there could be no one willing to take on Paul and his increasingly popular inclination to pull back from the world and pretend the Islamist war on the West is none of our concern. Paul is certain to be a first-tier candidate and strong showings by him in primaries and caucuses could encourage other contenders to start to echo him in an attempt to please war-weary and libertarian-inclined voters. That will leave an opening for someone to speak up on foreign affairs, and perhaps Bolton feels it might as well be a candidate who actually understands the issues.

It is to be hoped that Paul will find himself challenged on foreign and defense policy in 2016 by stronger opposition than a former ambassador who isn’t likely to win a delegate. But though it will probably crash before it takes off, the Bolton trial balloon shows us that there is a desperate need for a GOP foreign policy debate that will head off the surge for Paul. 

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Do Democrats Really Want a War on Coal?

President Obama may think his speech today outlining an unprecedented package of measures aimed at stopping global warming will burnish his legacy. The set of executive orders announced today was exactly what his liberal base has been yearning for throughout his presidency, and the ideological tone of his speech must he highly satisfying for a president who enjoys dictating to what he considers his intellectual inferiors and despises working with a Congress that rejected these measures. But while liberals are cheering Obama’s far-reaching fiat, a lot of Democrats, especially in coal-producing states, must be far from happy.

The president’s orders that will impose new carbon emission levels on existing power plants will raise the price of energy for everyone and harm an already fragile economy that has struggled to maintain an anemic recovery. By itself that may prove to be a political liability for Democrats running in next year’s midterm elections even if by now most Americans have had their natural skepticism about global warming alarmism pounded out of them by an ideological media. But an all-too-candid Obama advisor may have made a crucial gaffe that could kill the president’s party in coal-producing states next year. As the New York Times reported in their piece on the president’s speech:

Daniel P. Schrag, a geochemist who is the head of Harvard University’s Center for the Environment and a member of a presidential science panel that has helped advise the White House on climate change, said he hoped the presidential speech would mark a turning point in the national debate on climate change.

“Everybody is waiting for action,” he said. “The one thing the president really needs to do now is to begin the process of shutting down the conventional coal plants. Politically, the White House is hesitant to say they’re having a war on coal. On the other hand, a war on coal is exactly what’s needed.”

To which Democrats running in places like Pennsylvania, Ohio, Kentucky, West Virginia and more than a dozen other coal-producing states may say, “Thanks for nothing.”

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President Obama may think his speech today outlining an unprecedented package of measures aimed at stopping global warming will burnish his legacy. The set of executive orders announced today was exactly what his liberal base has been yearning for throughout his presidency, and the ideological tone of his speech must he highly satisfying for a president who enjoys dictating to what he considers his intellectual inferiors and despises working with a Congress that rejected these measures. But while liberals are cheering Obama’s far-reaching fiat, a lot of Democrats, especially in coal-producing states, must be far from happy.

The president’s orders that will impose new carbon emission levels on existing power plants will raise the price of energy for everyone and harm an already fragile economy that has struggled to maintain an anemic recovery. By itself that may prove to be a political liability for Democrats running in next year’s midterm elections even if by now most Americans have had their natural skepticism about global warming alarmism pounded out of them by an ideological media. But an all-too-candid Obama advisor may have made a crucial gaffe that could kill the president’s party in coal-producing states next year. As the New York Times reported in their piece on the president’s speech:

Daniel P. Schrag, a geochemist who is the head of Harvard University’s Center for the Environment and a member of a presidential science panel that has helped advise the White House on climate change, said he hoped the presidential speech would mark a turning point in the national debate on climate change.

“Everybody is waiting for action,” he said. “The one thing the president really needs to do now is to begin the process of shutting down the conventional coal plants. Politically, the White House is hesitant to say they’re having a war on coal. On the other hand, a war on coal is exactly what’s needed.”

To which Democrats running in places like Pennsylvania, Ohio, Kentucky, West Virginia and more than a dozen other coal-producing states may say, “Thanks for nothing.”

Even if one accepts the constant lecturing from the White House and much of the media that claims there is no debate about their dire predictions of warming—a point that was undermined by a New York Times story published earlier this month which spoke of rising temperatures having actually slowed over the last 15 years rather than going through the roof, as we keep being told—the impact of Obama’s plans on the economy could be severe. While the ideological left is more worried about their doomsday predictions for the planet than the job-killing aspects of the president’s proposals, most Americans have their eyes firmly fixed on their wallets in an economy that remains in the doldrums despite the optimism created by housing prices and a booming stock market (until the last week).

Coal is still responsible for 37 percent of America’s energy production and with new technologies for mining it is no longer the ecological nightmare that it was routinely depicted as being for decades. That means that the president’s new regulations will have a drastic impact on energy prices and reduce the income of a vast cross-section of Americans.

By signaling to the country that, despite official denials by the White House, what the administration is contemplating is a “war on coal,” the president is more or less consigning Democrats in coal-producing states to a grim fate. The president’s cheerleaders are quick to remind us that elections have consequences and that since Obama campaigned on these issues, we should not be surprised that he would attempt to govern as he campaigned. They’re right about that. But now that the “war on coal” tag can be directly traced to an architect of the president’s plan rather than being attributed to GOP propaganda, it may be that there will be elections in the future with consequences that Democrats don’t care for as much as the one in 2012.

Liberals have been delighted with the idea that the president would use his executive powers to enact measures that have already been turned down by Congress. Though cap and trade bills were defeated by huge margins, Obama is now putting them into effect for all intents and purposes by a vote of 1-0. Yet it is exactly the freedom to act with impunity by a reelected president that should scare many Democrats. Were these issues put to congressional debate and votes, Democrats in coal states could count on using the legislative process to derail any war on coal.

But with Obama acting alone all they can do is stand by and watch in horror. The war on coal may cost American consumers dearly. But it may cost some Democrats their seats in the House and the Senate.

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Was Weiner Ethically Obliged Not to Run?

Today’s New York Times story on the continuing harassment and humiliation of the women at the center of the Anthony Weiner scandal is a play in two acts. Two weeks ago the Times first posted the story, but it was immediately taken off the website and replaced with a production note: “An article was posted on this page inadvertently, before it was ready for publication.”

The Times declined to comment further in response to Politico’s inquiries, but pointed readers to a post by the Times’s public editor, explaining: “From what I’ve been able to piece together, there was a miscommunication among Times editors. Some thought the article was ready to go, and sent it on through the editorial production cycle. At least one other editor — higher up on the food chain — disagreed about its readiness and did not intend it to be published, at least not at that point.”

Yet as time went by, the story didn’t reemerge on the paper’s website. So Buzzfeed’s Andrew Kaczynski used Google searches to try to piece together the story, and published his findings yesterday. You can probably guess what happened next: the Times immediately published the article–for good (it appears), denying, of course, that their decision had anything to do with Kaczynski’s piece. The result is that the former liberal hero Weiner’s coverage in the Times goes from bad to worse.

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Today’s New York Times story on the continuing harassment and humiliation of the women at the center of the Anthony Weiner scandal is a play in two acts. Two weeks ago the Times first posted the story, but it was immediately taken off the website and replaced with a production note: “An article was posted on this page inadvertently, before it was ready for publication.”

The Times declined to comment further in response to Politico’s inquiries, but pointed readers to a post by the Times’s public editor, explaining: “From what I’ve been able to piece together, there was a miscommunication among Times editors. Some thought the article was ready to go, and sent it on through the editorial production cycle. At least one other editor — higher up on the food chain — disagreed about its readiness and did not intend it to be published, at least not at that point.”

Yet as time went by, the story didn’t reemerge on the paper’s website. So Buzzfeed’s Andrew Kaczynski used Google searches to try to piece together the story, and published his findings yesterday. You can probably guess what happened next: the Times immediately published the article–for good (it appears), denying, of course, that their decision had anything to do with Kaczynski’s piece. The result is that the former liberal hero Weiner’s coverage in the Times goes from bad to worse.

Whereas the June 12 Times article explained to readers that Weiner was a vicious, shallow, disloyal, and ineffectual congressman, today’s reminds readers that his sexting scandal was not just about him. And he’s not the only one trying to put this incident in the past. The headline is “For Women in Weiner Scandal, Indignity Lingers,” and the story reads as if the intent is to shame Weiner for running for mayor:

Anthony D. Weiner’s improbable campaign for mayor of New York City is a wager that voters have made peace with his lewd online behavior, a subject he has largely left behind as he roils the race with his aggressive debating style and his attention-getting policy proposals.

But for the women who were on the other end of Mr. Weiner’s sexually explicit conversations and photographs, his candidacy is an unwanted reminder of a scandal that has upended their lives in ways big and small, cutting short careers, disrupting educations and damaging reputations.

It should be noted that for some of these women the scandal is the result of choices they have made. They knew who Weiner was when they got involved with him, and presumably knew the risks. For one of them, Weiner’s political star power was much of the draw. But that’s not true of all the women. One young college student said she only talked politics with him, and that she “was shocked by his unwanted advance.” And then Weiner made a famous misstep:

When Mr. Weiner inadvertently posted the image publicly on Twitter, the Internet quickly rendered its own verdict, branding Ms. Cordova, incorrectly, she says, a participant in his online dalliances. The news media dug up Ms. Cordova’s old yearbooks and sifted through police records, publicizing her youthful indiscretions. The attention prompted her to withdraw from academic classes. She moved from Seattle to New York City, before Mr. Weiner’s decision to run for mayor, eager to leave a place where she had become known for her ties to the unfolding drama.

But, with Mr. Weiner back in the spotlight, the story has followed her across the country. A few weeks ago, a reporter showed up, unannounced, at her office, asking her about Mr. Weiner.

You can argue that if Cordova wanted to get away from the attention brought on by her association with Anthony Weiner, moving from Seattle to New York City–Weiner’s home town and the media capital of the world–wasn’t the best choice. But Cordova at least seems to have wanted neither the lascivious attention of Anthony Weiner nor the prying attention of the news media. One of the other women involved, who exchanged explicit messages with the former congressman and is now writing a book about it, is a far less sympathetic figure in this story.

Another of the women, a former adult film actress, asked Weiner not to run for mayor because of the story. That brings up an interesting question: Does Anthony Weiner have a responsibility to these women to stay out of the limelight? The answer with regard to the women who sought Weiner’s affections and now the publicity of a book tour is clearly no. But what about the others?

I suppose that’s one question the voters of New York City will answer in the fall election. They may think–as the Times seems to–that Weiner is humiliating these women all over again to feed his own ego and desire for power. But the election will truly test how difficult it is to regain political stature after a sex scandal. Weiner has admitted that there are more lewd photos out there, which means the mayoral election won’t take place after the scandal, but amid the scandal. If he’s elected in those conditions, it will prove voters to be forgiving and the rest of the field of candidates to be even less formidable than they seemed.

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Left Lives in the Past on Voting Rights

Listen to the hue and cry from liberals over the Supreme Court’s decision today in Shelby County v. Holder and you would think the conservative majority had just overturned Brown v. Board of Education or declared discrimination on the basis of race to be legal. Of course, the 5-4 decision on the future of the Voting Rights Act did nothing of the kind. The high court not only reaffirmed the validity of the act but also even left in place Section 5, which created a mechanism that would require pre-clearance by the federal government of any changes in voting procedures in states and localities that were deemed by Congress to be habitual violators of the right to vote. But what it did do was to declare the existing formula stated in Section 4 to be the places where such scrutiny would be carried out to be unconstitutional. The reason for this is so obvious that it barely deserves to be argued: the Jim Crow south that Congress put under the federal microscope five decades ago isn’t the same place today. If there is to be a formula that would require some places to get the government’s prior permission to do anything that affects voting, it should be one based on the current situation, not one crafted to deal with the problems faced by Americans during the Lyndon Johnson administration.

Why then are political liberals and the so-called civil rights community so riled up about the decision? Some are merely offended by the symbolism of any alteration in a sacred piece of legislation. But the reason why the left is howling about this isn’t so much about symbolism as it is about their ability to manipulate the law to their political advantage. Under the status quo, enforcement of the Voting Rights Act isn’t about reversing discrimination so much as it is in applying the political agenda of the left to hamper the ability of some states to enact commonsense laws, such as the requirement for photo ID when voting or to create districts that are not gerrymandered to the advantage of liberals. By ending pre-clearance until Congress puts forward a new scheme rooted in evidence of systematic discrimination going on today, it has placed all states on an equal footing and made it harder for the Obama Justice Department to play politics with the law. It has also given racial hucksters that continue to speak as if a nation that has just re-elected an African-American president of the United States was little different from the one where blacks couldn’t vote in much of the country.

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Listen to the hue and cry from liberals over the Supreme Court’s decision today in Shelby County v. Holder and you would think the conservative majority had just overturned Brown v. Board of Education or declared discrimination on the basis of race to be legal. Of course, the 5-4 decision on the future of the Voting Rights Act did nothing of the kind. The high court not only reaffirmed the validity of the act but also even left in place Section 5, which created a mechanism that would require pre-clearance by the federal government of any changes in voting procedures in states and localities that were deemed by Congress to be habitual violators of the right to vote. But what it did do was to declare the existing formula stated in Section 4 to be the places where such scrutiny would be carried out to be unconstitutional. The reason for this is so obvious that it barely deserves to be argued: the Jim Crow south that Congress put under the federal microscope five decades ago isn’t the same place today. If there is to be a formula that would require some places to get the government’s prior permission to do anything that affects voting, it should be one based on the current situation, not one crafted to deal with the problems faced by Americans during the Lyndon Johnson administration.

Why then are political liberals and the so-called civil rights community so riled up about the decision? Some are merely offended by the symbolism of any alteration in a sacred piece of legislation. But the reason why the left is howling about this isn’t so much about symbolism as it is about their ability to manipulate the law to their political advantage. Under the status quo, enforcement of the Voting Rights Act isn’t about reversing discrimination so much as it is in applying the political agenda of the left to hamper the ability of some states to enact commonsense laws, such as the requirement for photo ID when voting or to create districts that are not gerrymandered to the advantage of liberals. By ending pre-clearance until Congress puts forward a new scheme rooted in evidence of systematic discrimination going on today, it has placed all states on an equal footing and made it harder for the Obama Justice Department to play politics with the law. It has also given racial hucksters that continue to speak as if a nation that has just re-elected an African-American president of the United States was little different from the one where blacks couldn’t vote in much of the country.

The Voting Rights Act was needed in 1965 because for a century the federal government had failed to enforce the 15th Amendment—that guaranteed the right to vote of former slaves and any other American citizen—in the states of the old Confederacy. Though Americans were long taught that the period of “Radical Reconstruction” that followed the Civil War was an abuse that was rightly abandoned, the truth is the attempt to reconstruct the south didn’t go far enough and was ended too soon. What ensued was a Jim Crow regime in the south that was kept in place by a Democratic coalition of northern liberals and southern racists and enabled by apathetic Republicans. That is a sorry chapter of American history, but the achievements of the civil rights era have put it firmly in our past.

The reality of 2013 is that even the left is hard pressed to find anyplace in the country where anyone who is legally entitled to vote and wants to exercise their franchise is being prevented from doing so. Stating that is not to deny that racism still exists in some quarters of American society anymore than any other species of hatred. Nor does it imply that our electoral system is perfect or incapable of betterment. But to leave in place a legal formula that treated some states differently than others solely because of history is not only absurd, it is unconstitutional discrimination. In a country where, as it was argued before the court, Mississippi may have a more healthy voting rights environment in some respects than Massachusetts, preserving the battle lines of the fight against Jim Crow is not only meaningless, it actually hampers efforts to combat illegal practices.

But the main interest of those dedicated to preserving the status quo wasn’t in preventing states from denying a right to vote that is not in question. It was in holding onto their capacity to use federal law to prevent some states from passing voter ID laws that have been wrongly branded as a form of discrimination or voter suppression. The vast majority of Americans—including the members of those groups that civil rights advocates claim will be injured by voter ID laws—think these measures are merely a matter of common sense to ensure the integrity of the election system. But by disingenuously waving the bloody shirt of Jim Crow, the left has sought to brand race-neutral laws like voter ID a form of racism.

Opponents of the majority decision claim this is a judicial usurpation of the prerogative of the legislature since Congress has re-authorized the Voting Rights Act without changing the formula that placed all or parts of 15 states under the Justice Department’s control with regard to voting. But that is due to the fact that the vote to retain the act became a ritual by which members were forced to prove their anti-racist bona fides, not a rational debate about the actual provisions of the law. Congress lacked the courage to face facts on a part of the law that had past its expiration date, so the court was forced to deal with it.

Neither this decision nor the debate that will follow it will affect the ability of Americans to vote because that is a right that is no longer in dispute. What it will do is send a reminder to Americans that we have moved on from our unhappy past and that if we are to protect voting rights, it must be done on the basis of reality rather than sentiment or symbolism. That will make it harder for the left to accuse their opponents of racism without basis. But an American society that has thankfully moved on from this debate will be better off for it.

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Nations Swinging Away at the Obama Pinata

White House press secretary Jay Carney, in responding to Hong Kong and China allowing National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden to flee to Moscow, said “The Chinese have emphasized the importance of building mutual trust. And we think that they have dealt that effort a serious setback. If we cannot count on them to honor their legal extradition obligations, then there’s a problem.” He added, “We are just not buying that this was a technical decision by a Hong Kong immigration official. This was a deliberate choice by the government to release a fugitive despite a valid arrest warrant, and that decision unquestionably has negative impact on the U.S.-China relationship.” Mr. Carney went out of his way to express “our frustration and disappointment with Hong Kong and China.”

To which the Chinese must be shrugging their shoulders and asking, “Who cares?”

I wonder if it has begun to dawn on the administration that nations are lining up to demonstrate their indifference to, or contempt for, President Obama’s wishes. A headline in the Washington Post today, for example, reads this way: “Through Snowden, Ecuador seeks fight with U.S.” Fine, but only after Hong Kong, China, and Russia get their chance to swing at the Obama piñata. And the Snowden debacle is only the latest, and in some respects the least important, example of this. 

“Nobody’s afraid of this guy,” Professor Eliot Cohen told the Post. “Nobody’s saying there are any real consequences that would come from crossing him – and that’s an awful position for the president of the United States to be in.”

It is indeed; but that is where we find ourselves in the Obama Era.

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White House press secretary Jay Carney, in responding to Hong Kong and China allowing National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden to flee to Moscow, said “The Chinese have emphasized the importance of building mutual trust. And we think that they have dealt that effort a serious setback. If we cannot count on them to honor their legal extradition obligations, then there’s a problem.” He added, “We are just not buying that this was a technical decision by a Hong Kong immigration official. This was a deliberate choice by the government to release a fugitive despite a valid arrest warrant, and that decision unquestionably has negative impact on the U.S.-China relationship.” Mr. Carney went out of his way to express “our frustration and disappointment with Hong Kong and China.”

To which the Chinese must be shrugging their shoulders and asking, “Who cares?”

I wonder if it has begun to dawn on the administration that nations are lining up to demonstrate their indifference to, or contempt for, President Obama’s wishes. A headline in the Washington Post today, for example, reads this way: “Through Snowden, Ecuador seeks fight with U.S.” Fine, but only after Hong Kong, China, and Russia get their chance to swing at the Obama piñata. And the Snowden debacle is only the latest, and in some respects the least important, example of this. 

“Nobody’s afraid of this guy,” Professor Eliot Cohen told the Post. “Nobody’s saying there are any real consequences that would come from crossing him – and that’s an awful position for the president of the United States to be in.”

It is indeed; but that is where we find ourselves in the Obama Era.

If there is anything good that might emerge from what has happened to America during the Obama presidency, it might be that we have tested in the real world the theories and ideas that animate Mr. Obama’s progressive foreign policy vision. They include the belief that American power is the source of animosity against us; that serial apologies for America’s past would win us the favor of our adversaries; and that “leading from behind” would increase America’s influence in the world. Each of those myths has been exploded by events. So, too, has Mr. Obama’s belief that placating our enemies would win us their favor (it hasn’t) and that losing wars is the same thing as ending wars (it is not).

Over and over again during the 2008 campaign, and early in his presidency, Barack Obama said he would “restore America’s standing in the world” and make us more “respected.” He has done neither. America today, under Obama, is viewed as feeble, supine, and enervated.

I am reminded of what Ronald Reagan said (in 1980) about America under Jimmy Carter. “Adversaries large and small test our will and seek to confound our resolve,” according to Reagan:

but the Carter Administration gives us weakness when we need strength; vacillation when the times demand firmness. Why?  Because the Carter Administration live in the world of make-believe.  Every day, it dreams up a response to that day’s troubles, regardless of what happened yesterday and what will happen tomorrow.  The Administration lives in a world where mistakes, even very big ones, have no consequence. The rest of us, however, live in the real world.  It is here that disasters are overtaking our nation without any real response from the White House… Who does not feel a growing sense of unease as our allies, facing repeated instances of an amateurish and confused Administration; reluctantly conclude that America is unwilling or unable to fulfill its obligations as leader of the free world? Who does not feel rising alarm when the question in any discussion of foreign policy is no longer, “Should we do something?”, but “Do we have the capacity to do anything?”

Reagan went on to describe the Carter years as “years of weakness, indecision, mediocrity and incompetence.”

What once was, is again. And America, now as then, is paying a high price for the irresolution and weakness of its commander in chief. 

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How the Case for Race-Based Admissions Fell Apart

When the Supreme Court signaled it was about to rule on its most prominent race-based admissions case yesterday, advocates on both sides of the contentious issue prepared to erupt either in outrage or celebration. Neither, it turned out, was called for in the end. The court voted overwhelmingly to send Fisher v. University of Texas, which challenges the system of race-based admissions in higher education, back to the lower court to apply a stricter level of scrutiny to the admissions process and rule again.

As the Wall Street Journal notes, yesterday’s decision “is a disappointment for those who hoped the High Court would overturn its 2003 decision in Grutter v. Bollinger that allowed racial preferences in higher education.” But the (victorious) defendant in that case, current Columbia University President Lee Bollinger, isn’t too enthused by yesterday’s decision either. He takes to the pages of the New York Times today to express his disapproval of what he considers the court’s overly technical approach to the issue, in which it deferred to colleges’ judgment of the educational benefit of racial diversity in admissions but called for a rigorous process to determine the necessity and extent of race-based considerations.

Bollinger thinks the justices erred in focusing so closely on the constitutional aspect of the case because the Supreme Court “is as much an educator, a moral instructor, as an interpreter of the fundamental law of the land.” Bollinger’s frustration is representative of the broader, if tacit, acknowledgement on the American left that their side on this argument is weak on the merits but will resort to public moral shaming of those who disagree as a last resort. But the real heart of this case, and where it completely falls apart for Bollinger’s side, is when he writes this:

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When the Supreme Court signaled it was about to rule on its most prominent race-based admissions case yesterday, advocates on both sides of the contentious issue prepared to erupt either in outrage or celebration. Neither, it turned out, was called for in the end. The court voted overwhelmingly to send Fisher v. University of Texas, which challenges the system of race-based admissions in higher education, back to the lower court to apply a stricter level of scrutiny to the admissions process and rule again.

As the Wall Street Journal notes, yesterday’s decision “is a disappointment for those who hoped the High Court would overturn its 2003 decision in Grutter v. Bollinger that allowed racial preferences in higher education.” But the (victorious) defendant in that case, current Columbia University President Lee Bollinger, isn’t too enthused by yesterday’s decision either. He takes to the pages of the New York Times today to express his disapproval of what he considers the court’s overly technical approach to the issue, in which it deferred to colleges’ judgment of the educational benefit of racial diversity in admissions but called for a rigorous process to determine the necessity and extent of race-based considerations.

Bollinger thinks the justices erred in focusing so closely on the constitutional aspect of the case because the Supreme Court “is as much an educator, a moral instructor, as an interpreter of the fundamental law of the land.” Bollinger’s frustration is representative of the broader, if tacit, acknowledgement on the American left that their side on this argument is weak on the merits but will resort to public moral shaming of those who disagree as a last resort. But the real heart of this case, and where it completely falls apart for Bollinger’s side, is when he writes this:

In many school districts, racial segregation is as bad as it was before Brown. About 40 percent of black and Hispanic children attend K-12 schools where 10 percent or fewer of their classmates are white. Residential racial segregation remains deeply entrenched. Proposition 209, a voter-sanctioned ban on affirmative action at California’s public universities, led to a sharp decrease in representation of black students at the Berkeley and Los Angeles campuses.

Bollinger’s point about “residential” segregation is true. But it is not an argument for basing college admissions on systematized racial discrimination. It is an argument against the government monopoly on pre-college education and in favor of school choice. Indeed, Bollinger’s argument collapses from one sentence to the next. He bemoans residential racial segregation–which is currently the basis of liberal education policy in this country–and then moves on to university admissions. What’s the difference? Universities, unlike public high schools, don’t care which town you grew up in.

But it’s also important to point out that Bollinger is dishonestly framing the effects of Proposition 209. First of all, the year after the ban was passed the Berkeley campus announced a 30 percent increase in minority students over the previous year. Second, many of the students who didn’t get into the two UC campuses Bollinger mentions simply went to other UC campuses. And third, as a Duke University study found, “minority graduation rates increased after Prop 209 was implemented, a finding consistent with the argument that affirmative action bans result in better matching of students to colleges.”

Even more importantly, they were found in California to have positive effects on the education of minority students at the grade school and high school level. As the New York Times reported in 1999:

Finally, ending affirmative action has had one unpublicized and profoundly desirable consequence: it has forced the university to try to expand the pool of eligible minority students. Outreach programs like the one underwritten by Proposition 3 have proliferated; the State Legislature authorized $38.5 million for such efforts last year and has required the public schools to spend an additional $31 million on similar initiatives. U.C. campuses are now reaching down into the high schools, the junior highs and even the elementary schools to help minority students achieve the kind of academic record that will make them eligible for admission, thus raising the possibility that diversity without preferences will someday prove to be more than a fond hope. Academics and administrators throughout the system admit that the university would never have shouldered this burden had it not been for the elimination of affirmative action; and many say that the price is worth paying.

In other words, the educators are educating now that the law compels them to. There are too many variables to know which way the issue will go in the coming years. But it is simply wrong to imply that because racism has not been completely eradicated we must enforce racial discrimination in college admissions. It’s also wrong to claim this discrimination is beneficial; the evidence suggests it is not.

And we should take Bollinger and his ilk at their word and enlist them in the efforts to bring educational opportunities to all those minorities currently being excluded by the government’s policy of residential racial segregation in public education. After all, if Bollinger thinks a Supreme Court justice is “an educator, a moral instructor,” certainly a university president is as well.

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Taliban Again Prove the Obvious

If the Taliban are supposed to be making peace, their suicide bombers don’t seem to have gotten the message.

On Tuesday four suicide bombers, driving coalition-style vehicles and dressed in coalition uniforms complete with fake badges, tried to bluff their way into the presidential palace compound in Kabul–and also allegedly into the CIA headquarters at the Ariana hotel. Three security guards, along with all four attackers, wound up being killed in the ensuing shoot-out.

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If the Taliban are supposed to be making peace, their suicide bombers don’t seem to have gotten the message.

On Tuesday four suicide bombers, driving coalition-style vehicles and dressed in coalition uniforms complete with fake badges, tried to bluff their way into the presidential palace compound in Kabul–and also allegedly into the CIA headquarters at the Ariana hotel. Three security guards, along with all four attackers, wound up being killed in the ensuing shoot-out.

The Taliban proudly claimed credit for the attack while noting that it would not affect “the political track”–i.e., the peace talks which are supposed to happen in Doha. Actually such actions should affect the negotiations because they underline the obvious point–the Taliban aren’t interested in peace. They are doing everything they can to escalate the conflict. It is only a wonder that the Obama administration–desperate for a face-saving way out of Afghanistan–can possibly convince itself otherwise.

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Sequester Already Taking Toll on Military

The news media have, by and large, stopped writing about sequestration and Congress has stopped agitating about it. So it stands to reason that it’s not that big of a deal, right? Surely the doomsayers who predicted grave consequences from willy-nilly cutting $1 trillion from the budget over the next decade–including more than $500 billion in defense cuts–have been proven wrong. Not quite. In fact, sequestration is already taking a serious toll on our military readiness–and the impact is only going to get worse over time.

In the Wall Street Journal, retired Air Force general David Deptula warns:

In the Air Force alone, more than 30 squadrons are now grounded, along with aircrews, and maintenance and training personnel. The U.S. military’s foremost air-combat training exercise—Red Flag—has been canceled for the rest of the year. The graduate schools for Air Force, Navy and Marine combat aviators have been canceled. Equipment testing and upgrades to F-22s, F-15s, F-16s and other aircraft have been delayed.

And it’s not just the Air Force that is feeling the hit. In the Washington Post, columnist David Ignatius writes:

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The news media have, by and large, stopped writing about sequestration and Congress has stopped agitating about it. So it stands to reason that it’s not that big of a deal, right? Surely the doomsayers who predicted grave consequences from willy-nilly cutting $1 trillion from the budget over the next decade–including more than $500 billion in defense cuts–have been proven wrong. Not quite. In fact, sequestration is already taking a serious toll on our military readiness–and the impact is only going to get worse over time.

In the Wall Street Journal, retired Air Force general David Deptula warns:

In the Air Force alone, more than 30 squadrons are now grounded, along with aircrews, and maintenance and training personnel. The U.S. military’s foremost air-combat training exercise—Red Flag—has been canceled for the rest of the year. The graduate schools for Air Force, Navy and Marine combat aviators have been canceled. Equipment testing and upgrades to F-22s, F-15s, F-16s and other aircraft have been delayed.

And it’s not just the Air Force that is feeling the hit. In the Washington Post, columnist David Ignatius writes:

The Army is sharply cutting training above the basic squad and platoon level. All but one of the Combat Training Center rotations scheduled for brigades this fiscal year have been canceled. Depot maintenance has been halted for the rest of the fiscal year, meaning that six divisions won’t have the necessary equipment readiness. The Army will cut 37,000 flying hours from its aviation training, creating a shortfall of 500 pilots by the end of the fiscal year….

The Navy reports that by the end of this fiscal year, two-thirds of its non-deployed ships and aviation squadrons won’t meet readiness targets. The Navy has also delayed planned fleet deployments, including the aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman to the Persian Gulf and the frigate USS Thach to the South Atlantic. “In the near term, we will not be able to respond in the way the nation has expected and depended on us,” Adm. Jonathan Greenert, the chief of naval operations, told Congress in February.

All of these developments are highly worrisome for anyone who thinks–as I do–that U.S. military strength is the greatest force for peace in the world. Because sequestration is a relatively recent development it would not be hard to reverse the slide in readiness–now. But as the months and years go by, the lack of training for our fighting men and women will become harder and harder to reverse. We are, on the current trajectory, headed for a reprise of the “hollow” military of the 1970s.

That period of military weakness was an invitation to Communist aggression from Afghanistan to Nicaragua. Communism is no longer a mortal danger to the United States, but Islamism is. We can only wait and worry to see how today’s looming weakness will invite aggression from our current enemies.

It is high time that the Joint Chiefs of Staff and other senior officers spoke out more vocally about the self-inflicted destruction the forces under their command are now experiencing. There have been a few warnings from the brass–for instance the statement quoted above from Admiral Greenert–but, on the whole, they have been all too silent in the face of looming disaster, presumably because they have been muzzled by a White House that is de facto committed to not repealing sequestration unless Republicans agree to massive tax hikes.

The admirals and generals have a legal and moral duty to speak the truth, and to warn us about the degradation of the combat forces they lead. They must make clear to lawmakers and the public that it is not too late to stop this disaster, but time is running out.

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Awarding Olympics to Istanbul Would Discourage Reform

I have written before about the International Olympic Committee’s fast approaching decision about which city to award the 2020 Summer Olympics. There are three finalists: Istanbul, Madrid, and Tokyo. At the core of my initial criticism was that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was framing Turkey’s right to host the Olympics in terms of religion: Turkey would be the first Muslim-majority country to host the games. That would have set a negative precedent in which religious quotas rather than other host qualities become a predominant factor. Regardless, the point should be moot for other reasons: Dubai is the front runner for 2024 and is also majority Muslim, but unlike Turkey, its ruler has not framed the city’s bid in religion.

I also admittedly have been cynical about Erdoğan’s broader motivation: according to a diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks, the prime minister has used his position to amass great wealth. The billions in construction contracts that would accompany an Istanbul Olympics could propel Erdoğan—a man who already has more than a dozen corruption cases against him—into the ranks of the world’s richest man.

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I have written before about the International Olympic Committee’s fast approaching decision about which city to award the 2020 Summer Olympics. There are three finalists: Istanbul, Madrid, and Tokyo. At the core of my initial criticism was that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was framing Turkey’s right to host the Olympics in terms of religion: Turkey would be the first Muslim-majority country to host the games. That would have set a negative precedent in which religious quotas rather than other host qualities become a predominant factor. Regardless, the point should be moot for other reasons: Dubai is the front runner for 2024 and is also majority Muslim, but unlike Turkey, its ruler has not framed the city’s bid in religion.

I also admittedly have been cynical about Erdoğan’s broader motivation: according to a diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks, the prime minister has used his position to amass great wealth. The billions in construction contracts that would accompany an Istanbul Olympics could propel Erdoğan—a man who already has more than a dozen corruption cases against him—into the ranks of the world’s richest man.

When I criticized Istanbul’s case, however, on Erdoğan’s illiberal policies, correspondents pointed out that the International Olympic Committee has never associated the hosting of the Olympics with an endorsement of any particular country’s human rights situation. That’s true historically, as the 1936 Berlin, 1980 Moscow, and 2008 Beijing games demonstrate, and it is also the case with regard to the 2014 Sochi winter games and the Dubai 2024 bid. But in the post-Cold War era, there has also been an undercurrent that the Olympics might improve society or encourage continued liberalization. That certainly was a factor in the Beijing award.

Alas, as the IOC’s September 2013 decision looms about the 2020 Games, they should recognize that, in the aftermath of the Gezi Park protests, confirming the 2020 Olympics on Istanbul could do serious harm to Turkey. Rather than recognize that the protests are largely a reaction to his own autocratic style, Erdoğan has doubled down on both his own intolerance, endorsement of police brutality, and bizarre anti-Semitic conspiracies. No longer, it seems, is the “Interest Rate Lobby,” as Erdoğan now labels his imagined Jewish conspiracy, just targeting Turkey. Rather, it has Brazil in its sites as well. Nor are the Jews the only conspirators with which Erdoğan now obsesses: On August 5, a judiciary whose independence Erdoğan has eroded will render judgment against dozens of former military officers, journalists, and other officials whom Erdoğan has patched together in a convoluted conspiracy that doesn’t pass the most basic of smell tests. To cap it off, rather than investigate the police abuse which helped sparked Turkey’s recent unrest, Erdoğan has endorsed it.

Turkey is in a fragile state: The Gezi protests have exposed long-simmering fissures which will only worsen if Erdoğan can use the 2020 Olympics as his excuse to bulldoze over political opponents and civil society. Nor are the Kurdish peace talks going well. While Turks celebrated a peace process announced with the long-outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) just two days before the International Olympic Committee’s official visit to Istanbul, both Turks and Kurds are beginning to recognize that the agreement was not just for the PKK to lay down its arms, but that the PKK seeks equally momentous decisions on Turkey’s end, including the release of imprisoned PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan, and eventual confederation between Turks and Kurds inside Turkey. If the Turks are not prepared to meet such demands, violence could return to Turkey in the run-up to the Olympics. Istanbul, after all, is now the city with the largest Kurdish population in the world.

Someday Istanbul will host the Olympics, and it will do so with a charm and a friendliness that few other cosmopolitan cities can match. That day cannot come during Erdoğan’s tenure, however, for should the International Olympic Committee choose Istanbul when they meet in Buenos Aires on September 7, they will ensure that the 2020 Olympics will be associated with strife, not celebration.

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