Commentary Magazine


Posts For: July 9, 2013

Israel’s Effective New Advocate

The official announcement that Ron Dermer is to be appointed Israel’s new ambassador to the United States is only a few hours old but the brickbats being prepared by the Jewish state’s critics are already starting to fly in his direction. Dermer, a close aide to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, had long been rumored to be the successor to Michael Oren when that COMMENTARY contributor left his office this summer after four years in Washington. But while Oren largely escaped much negative scrutiny during his time as Israel’s most important foreign envoy, Dermer should expect to find himself in the cross hairs of left-wing attacks even before he arrives in his new office. As Haaretz’s story on the appointment put it, Dermer is seen by the left as the worst of all possible creatures: a “right-wing neo-con with close ties to the Bush family.”

But rather than seeking to pre-emptively sandbag Dermer in this fashion, the Jewish left should understand that he is ideally suited to be Israel’s ambassador to its superpower ally. Oren, a historian with a better grasp of America’s attitudes toward Israel than virtually anyone else in the Jewish state, was an outstanding diplomat. But Dermer brings to his job the one element most necessary to ensure that misunderstandings between Washington and Jerusalem are kept to a minimum in the coming years. As the person who is as close to Netanyahu as anyone currently working in the prime minister’s office, Dermer will be seen as a direct conduit to Israel’s leader thereby enabling him to play a vital role the U.S.-Israel relationship as efforts to stop Iran’s nuclear program come to a head and Secretary of State John Kerry’s attempts to revive the peace process continue.

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The official announcement that Ron Dermer is to be appointed Israel’s new ambassador to the United States is only a few hours old but the brickbats being prepared by the Jewish state’s critics are already starting to fly in his direction. Dermer, a close aide to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, had long been rumored to be the successor to Michael Oren when that COMMENTARY contributor left his office this summer after four years in Washington. But while Oren largely escaped much negative scrutiny during his time as Israel’s most important foreign envoy, Dermer should expect to find himself in the cross hairs of left-wing attacks even before he arrives in his new office. As Haaretz’s story on the appointment put it, Dermer is seen by the left as the worst of all possible creatures: a “right-wing neo-con with close ties to the Bush family.”

But rather than seeking to pre-emptively sandbag Dermer in this fashion, the Jewish left should understand that he is ideally suited to be Israel’s ambassador to its superpower ally. Oren, a historian with a better grasp of America’s attitudes toward Israel than virtually anyone else in the Jewish state, was an outstanding diplomat. But Dermer brings to his job the one element most necessary to ensure that misunderstandings between Washington and Jerusalem are kept to a minimum in the coming years. As the person who is as close to Netanyahu as anyone currently working in the prime minister’s office, Dermer will be seen as a direct conduit to Israel’s leader thereby enabling him to play a vital role the U.S.-Israel relationship as efforts to stop Iran’s nuclear program come to a head and Secretary of State John Kerry’s attempts to revive the peace process continue.

Like Oren, Dermer is a native of the United States who immigrated to Israel as an adult. He may be best known here for being the co-author of the best-selling The Case for Democracy: The Power of Freedom to Overcome Tyranny and Terror with Natan Sharansky. The book, which puts forward the position that democratic reform is the necessary prerequisite for both peace in the Middle East and any hope for a better life for the Muslim and Arab worlds, was famously embraced by President George W. Bush who said it put into words exactly how he felt about the issue. While this “neo-con” testament is, among other influences, blamed for America’s unsuccessful attempts to bring democracy to the Middle East in the last decade, the truth is, the book is actually quite prescient about the failures of premature experiments in democracy in Iraq, the Palestinian Authority and now in Egypt. Unlike those who fetishize elections as the sole determinant of freedom, Dermer and Sharansky understood that there was more to the concept than casting ballots in the absence of a culture that fostered consensus about democratic values.

But Dermer’s critics dislike more than this one excellent book. They see him as having ties with Republicans that could offend the Obama administration. He was widely, and wrongly, blamed for what many in the press claimed was Netanyahu’s attempt to support Romney in the U.S. presidential election last year. But the spat that erupted between the two countries last September over Netanyahu’s plea that Obama establish “red lines” over the Iranian nuclear threat was more the president’s doing than the prime minister’s. Moreover, Dermer, an American with broad knowledge of the politics of both countries knows, as Oren did, that the primary duty of his new job will be to ensure that the alliance functions smoothly. Anyone who thinks he will be picking fights with the administration, or that the White House and the State Department won’t be smart enough to understand that having direct access to someone with Netanyahu’s ear is in their best interests, knows nothing about diplomacy or how Washington works.

But it should be noted that Dermer’s reputation as a staunch and pugnacious advocate for Israel will be a major asset for him and his country, not a drawback. Dermer has shown over the past few years that he isn’t afraid to speak up about the unfair treatment to which Israel has been subjected. As his famous rebuke in 2011 to the New York Times—in which he refused an offer to have Netanyahu write for its op-ed page because it would have been a fig leaf of fairness after a deluge of critical pieces about the Jewish state—showed, Dermer understands that staying quiet about media bias or distorted views about the conflict doesn’t help. As his own writing illustrates, clear-headed and bold advocacy that isn’t afraid to speak truth to power serves Israel far better than apologetic efforts that don’t address the real problems.

Dermer won’t be as confrontational with Obama and Kerry as he was with the New York Times, but that incident as well as his body of work shows that he understands Israel’s problems in dealing with the world far better than the overwhelming majority of those who work for his country’s Foreign Ministry. In contrast to many of the charming and utterly ineffective persons who have represented Israel abroad, Dermer gets it when it comes to dealing with attacks on his country and the justice of his cause. His eloquent advocacy for Israel’s rights may upset some who see it as always in the wrong, but it’s doubtful that Netanyahu could have made a better choice for this important position.

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ObamaCare’s Breathtaking Belly-Flop

Since the legislative monstrosity known as ObamaCare was both complex and poorly constructed, its current disastrous rollout should not be too surprising. But it turns out the bill’s critics (most of the country) weren’t the only doubters who foresaw this mess: National Journal points out that the Obama administration also knew exactly what was coming.

The National Journal story includes a chart illustrating how the insurance exchanges work in order to underscore what those who hoped for a seamless debut were up against. But the exchanges are far from the only setback. As Jonathan wrote last week, the administration announced it would postpone by one year the mandate that businesses with more than 50 employees offer them insurance. The mandate is an unbearable financial burden on businesses, so it was delayed until after the midterm elections to give Democrats some breathing space before the economic damage they have done fully sets in.

But there are a couple problems with that. First, the administration’s action is of dubious legality. Second, delaying the employer mandate could drive up the cost of the new law by driving more people seeking insurance into the exchanges. But that’s not how the Congressional Budget Office scored the bill, a point Paul Ryan is making when he asks the CBO to re-score the bill without the first year of the employer mandate–to score the actual law as we have it now, in other words, instead of letting the administration bypass Congress and game the system to fool the CBO.

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Since the legislative monstrosity known as ObamaCare was both complex and poorly constructed, its current disastrous rollout should not be too surprising. But it turns out the bill’s critics (most of the country) weren’t the only doubters who foresaw this mess: National Journal points out that the Obama administration also knew exactly what was coming.

The National Journal story includes a chart illustrating how the insurance exchanges work in order to underscore what those who hoped for a seamless debut were up against. But the exchanges are far from the only setback. As Jonathan wrote last week, the administration announced it would postpone by one year the mandate that businesses with more than 50 employees offer them insurance. The mandate is an unbearable financial burden on businesses, so it was delayed until after the midterm elections to give Democrats some breathing space before the economic damage they have done fully sets in.

But there are a couple problems with that. First, the administration’s action is of dubious legality. Second, delaying the employer mandate could drive up the cost of the new law by driving more people seeking insurance into the exchanges. But that’s not how the Congressional Budget Office scored the bill, a point Paul Ryan is making when he asks the CBO to re-score the bill without the first year of the employer mandate–to score the actual law as we have it now, in other words, instead of letting the administration bypass Congress and game the system to fool the CBO.

Of course, we have no idea what the administration is going to do with the employer mandate (or any other part of the law) going forward now that it has bestowed upon itself the power to unilaterally “suspend” parts of laws when it makes electoral sense to do so. In that respect, it’s not so easy for the CBO to comply with Ryan’s request–there’s really no telling at this point what the administration is going to pretend the law says.

But that’s not the only reason Ryan wants the CBO to re-score the bill. He also wants them to consider yet another piece of news about the ObamaCare rollout: the administration’s announcement that rather than verify that those seeking ObamaCare subsidies meet the eligibility requirements, it will be content with the honor system. At that Hot Air post you’ll find a link to Avik Roy’s explanation for why the two are connected: without the employer mandate, which was key to proving eligibility, the administration has basically given up on verification.

Believe it or not, there’s more. The administration isn’t only running into trouble when trying to suspend parts of the law. It’s also realizing that the law was written in a way as to make certain regulations contradictory or incompatible. As Katherine Connell explains:

Insurers are prohibited from charging older customers more than three times what they charge their youngest customers, since the law depends on making young, healthy people subsidize the cost of care for their elders. But the law also allows smokers to be charged a penalty up to 50 percent of their premiums. The problem is that when you put the two together, it doesn’t always add up.

One solution is that both young and old could end up being charged the maximum penalty. You know, so it’s fair.

And in case that wasn’t enough, ObamaCare’s already problematic expansion of insurance through Medicaid–an expensive and ineffective program–just became even more so, as Bloomberg reports that “Colonoscopies, diabetes screenings and other preventative services mandated by the U.S. health law may be offered only to new Medicaid program enrollees next year, leaving existing patients with second-tier care, a study found.” It will create a “two-tiered” health system for the poor. Of course, fewer doctors are accepting Medicaid patients anyway, so those with the newer, fuller Medicaid coverage may not be able to find a doctor to actually perform those procedures.

Government gets bigger, more intrusive, more expensive, less efficient, and less effective. As expected. The silver lining is that ObamaCare remains unpopular, proving the American public possesses more common sense than the technocrats running the federal government. Also as expected.

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Dems’ Tired Filibuster Hypocrisy

After threatening to do so ever since they took back control of the Senate in 2008, Democrats may finally get around to trying to limit the right to filibuster this month. As the New York Times reports, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid thinks he’s finally got a clear path to hamstringing Republican attempts to use the rules to prevent the president from getting more of his nominees for various offices confirmed. But though they—and their cheerleaders in the mainstream media—believe the time is right to start rolling back filibusters, it is far from certain that even this limited proposal can pass.

Reid appears to be planning to stage some confirmation fights in which he knows he doesn’t have 60 votes for cloture. But this carefully crafted confrontation won’t really be about the kinds of filibusters that generally get the most attention. Democrats are proposing that the new rule will only affect stalls of appointments to federal agencies and cabinet posts but leave in place procedures which require at least 60 votes to end debate on judicial appointments as well as legislation. That will allow Democrats to argue that the only thing they are asking is for Republicans to allow the government to function and to let the president have, as tradition allows, his choice on who should lead Cabinet departments and agencies. But the notion that the motivation for all this is a particularly unique or unprecedented series of actions by Senate Republicans to obstruct the government doesn’t wash. Both the specific nominations that Reid will use to leverage the filibuster limits and the recent history of Democrat stalls undermine the majority’s credibility. Getting even 51 Democrats to buy into making historic alterations in the Senate rules on these flimsy grounds may be a heavier lift than Reid and President Obama think.

Though this all may be a gigantic Democratic bluff, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has noted during his frequent speeches on the issue, “Majorities are fleeting, but changes to the rules are not. And breaking the rules to change the rules would fundamentally change this Senate.”

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After threatening to do so ever since they took back control of the Senate in 2008, Democrats may finally get around to trying to limit the right to filibuster this month. As the New York Times reports, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid thinks he’s finally got a clear path to hamstringing Republican attempts to use the rules to prevent the president from getting more of his nominees for various offices confirmed. But though they—and their cheerleaders in the mainstream media—believe the time is right to start rolling back filibusters, it is far from certain that even this limited proposal can pass.

Reid appears to be planning to stage some confirmation fights in which he knows he doesn’t have 60 votes for cloture. But this carefully crafted confrontation won’t really be about the kinds of filibusters that generally get the most attention. Democrats are proposing that the new rule will only affect stalls of appointments to federal agencies and cabinet posts but leave in place procedures which require at least 60 votes to end debate on judicial appointments as well as legislation. That will allow Democrats to argue that the only thing they are asking is for Republicans to allow the government to function and to let the president have, as tradition allows, his choice on who should lead Cabinet departments and agencies. But the notion that the motivation for all this is a particularly unique or unprecedented series of actions by Senate Republicans to obstruct the government doesn’t wash. Both the specific nominations that Reid will use to leverage the filibuster limits and the recent history of Democrat stalls undermine the majority’s credibility. Getting even 51 Democrats to buy into making historic alterations in the Senate rules on these flimsy grounds may be a heavier lift than Reid and President Obama think.

Though this all may be a gigantic Democratic bluff, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has noted during his frequent speeches on the issue, “Majorities are fleeting, but changes to the rules are not. And breaking the rules to change the rules would fundamentally change this Senate.”

Though thanks to Frank Capra’s classic Mr. Smith Goes to Washington they are enshrined in American popular culture, filibusters are not mentioned in the Constitution. The Senate can change its rules allowing them any time it wants as the advent of cloture rules requiring 60 votes to stop debate showed.

But the reason why filibusters survive in their current form is the stark knowledge that both parties know they are the only thing that allows minorities in the upper body to have a say in legislation. Without them, the Senate could function like the British House of Commons where a narrow majority can always shove any bill down the country’s throat. The filibuster is important because it is the perfect tool for an institution created by the Constitution specifically to act as a check on majority opinion and impulses.

Critics of the filibuster say it is a fundamentally undemocratic practice and they’re right about that. But the Senate is itself a body created to thwart democracy with small states getting a disproportionate voice in the nation’s affairs and six-year terms meant to stand in contrast to the more frequent election cycles that, at least in theory, keep the membership of the House of Representatives closer to public opinion.

But the main point here is that it was only a few years ago that Senate Republicans were in charge and it was the Democrats who used filibusters to stop George W. Bush’s nominations to the judiciary and even cabinet posts. As I noted in 2009, the New York Times endorsed filibusters as an essential tool that enabled liberals to thwart the GOP, but they changed their minds as soon as Democrats took back the Senate. Since then, Republicans have done their share of obstructionism, but it has been no worse than the Democratic mayhem wreaked on Bush administration plans. If Senate Democrats and the mainstream liberal media are up in arms about the use of the filibuster now, it is only because the dysfunction of Congress has become their main talking point about GOP beastliness, not because what Republicans are doing is any worse—or better—than what President Obama and his party were doing prior to his taking office.

Even more damning is the fact that the specific nominations that Reid has chosen to make his stand over are not typically anodyne confirmations. All of them are controversial not so much because of the individual nominees but because of the manner in which they were appointed or because the agency posts they seek to fill are in and of themselves points of partisan contention.

In particular, Republicans are on very firm ground in seeking to use the rules to stop President Obama’s nominations to the National Labor Relations Board. Four of Obama’s nominees to the NLRB are already serving since the president snuck them into their posts as recess appointments, something that was rightly opposed by the GOP as a power grab. The Supreme Court has accepted the case for review and may well rule that they should never have been appointed in this manner in the first place. The Senate should wait until that case is decided before going any further.

The GOP also has a strong case in opposing other nominations that Reid is seeking to use as a litmus test for the future of the filibuster. Virtually the entire Republican caucus has vowed not to confirm any appointment to the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau until it is reformed in order to create a bipartisan leadership for it rather than having it led by a single political appointee.

While Democrats are eager to get these agencies functioning in a manner that will further their political agenda, these appointments are poor examples of the alleged plague of Republican-inspired dysfunction.

But above all, the key issue here is hypocrisy. As even the New York Times noted today, it was Senator Barack Obama who said the following about GOP threats of changes in the filibuster rules:

If they choose to change the rules and put an end to democratic debate, then the fighting, the bitterness, and the gridlock will only get worse.

The president was right about this issue then, even if he and his followers have attempted to throw that statement and the reasoning behind down the proverbial memory hole. One suspects that more than a few Democrats mindful of the fact that they might find themselves in the minority in 2015 or 2017 will remember that and prevent Reid from changing the rules.

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Obama’s Serial Ineptness

Barack Obama’s serial ineptness in foreign policy is not only continuing; it seems to be accelerating. The most recent example comes from a story in the New York Times in which we read this:

Increasingly frustrated by his dealings with President Hamid Karzai, President Obama is giving serious consideration to speeding up the withdrawal of United States forces from Afghanistan and to a “zero option” that would leave no American troops there after next year, according to American and European officials.

Mr. Obama is committed to ending America’s military involvement in Afghanistan by the end of 2014, and Obama administration officials have been negotiating with Afghan officials about leaving a small “residual force” behind. But his relationship with Mr. Karzai has been slowly unraveling, and reached a new low after an effort last month by the United States to begin peace talks with the Taliban in Qatar.

Mr. Karzai promptly repudiated the talks and ended negotiations with the United States over the long-term security deal that is needed to keep American forces in Afghanistan after 2014.

A videoconference between Mr. Obama and Mr. Karzai designed to defuse the tensions ended badly, according to both American and Afghan officials with knowledge of it.

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Barack Obama’s serial ineptness in foreign policy is not only continuing; it seems to be accelerating. The most recent example comes from a story in the New York Times in which we read this:

Increasingly frustrated by his dealings with President Hamid Karzai, President Obama is giving serious consideration to speeding up the withdrawal of United States forces from Afghanistan and to a “zero option” that would leave no American troops there after next year, according to American and European officials.

Mr. Obama is committed to ending America’s military involvement in Afghanistan by the end of 2014, and Obama administration officials have been negotiating with Afghan officials about leaving a small “residual force” behind. But his relationship with Mr. Karzai has been slowly unraveling, and reached a new low after an effort last month by the United States to begin peace talks with the Taliban in Qatar.

Mr. Karzai promptly repudiated the talks and ended negotiations with the United States over the long-term security deal that is needed to keep American forces in Afghanistan after 2014.

A videoconference between Mr. Obama and Mr. Karzai designed to defuse the tensions ended badly, according to both American and Afghan officials with knowledge of it.

Remind me again, but wasn’t one of the key selling points of Mr. Obama in 2008 that he would improve America’s relations in the world; that he would sit down with other leaders and reach agreements his predecessor did not; and that Afghanistan was the “good war” that America would prevail in under his inspired leadership?

Instead, America’s image in the world is worse than ever, the leaders of many other nations have sheer contempt for the president, and the Afghanistan war is in the process of being lost. Mr. Obama seems to think a retreat substitutes for a strategy and that a defeat is the same thing as a victory.

He’s wrong on both counts.

I realize President Karzai isn’t an easy individual to deal with. But that’s always been the case, yet relations have never been this chilly. And it seems as if it hasn’t quite dawned on Obama that a president doesn’t get to choose his interlocutors.

Afghanistan embodies the Obama approach to international relations in a single case study. The president’s approach to it has been confused, contradictory, inept, weak and unsuccessful. He is a (prickly) man who is simply overmatched by events and by other leaders. And in nation after nation, we’re seeing the bitter fruits of his artlessness and incompetence. 

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Rally Shows Erdoğan Doesn’t Get It

At a rally in Germany, Turkey’s Culture and Tourism minister Ömer Çelik sought to rally the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) masses:

“You brought the AKP [Justice and Development Party] to power in 2002 to establish your will and your vision. We have gone through junta plots and assassination plots against the AKP. But we all know: First God, then comes the nation,” Çelik said

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At a rally in Germany, Turkey’s Culture and Tourism minister Ömer Çelik sought to rally the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) masses:

“You brought the AKP [Justice and Development Party] to power in 2002 to establish your will and your vision. We have gone through junta plots and assassination plots against the AKP. But we all know: First God, then comes the nation,” Çelik said

There certainly is more to the story than the newspaper lets on. Germany castigated Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in the wake of his brutal and extra-legal crackdown on protestors in Gezi Park, a crackdown which continues to this day. Eighty thousand Turks rallied in Germany against Erdoğan, an important sign of how Turks feel considering Turks in Germany tend to be more religious than many of their counterparts inside Turkey. Erdoğan, true to his character, was defiant.

Erdoğan addressed the rally by video in which Çelik spoke. The implication of the rally was clear on a number of levels:

  • First, make no mistake: The AKP might embraces the wrappings of democracy, but it disdains any system which puts people above God.
  • Second, Erdoğan and senior AKP officials have on numerous occasions urged Turks not to assimilate into Europe. By rallying his supporters inside Germany, he is subtly warning German authorities that, should they not change their posture to him, he can mobilize his masses in other ways. The Germans may not want to admit that, but it is Erdoğan’s clear intention.
  • Lastly, it’s time to put any hope that peace talks with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) will succeed. The AKP may believe they can overcome national animosity by putting Islam above nationalism, but there’s no indication that the Kurds are willing to stop embracing nationalism as their chief identity.

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Why Everybody Hates Eliot

Earlier today, MSNBC’s Morning Joe program provided a public service when it supplied us with an answer to the question that had been bothering me for the last day: why is it that the liberal political and media establishment is so unwilling to give one of their own a second chance? Given an opportunity to sell a national audience on his quest for personal redemption and a renewed political career, former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer talked about his regrets about his hubris as well as his desire to return to public service by running to be controller of New York City. But not satisfied with that, Spitzer felt the need to eschew the intellectual arguments for his return to the public eye and tried for some emotion. When asked how he had changed in the years since he crashed and burned in the midst of his prostitution scandal, Spitzer attempted to manufacture some tears when speaking about “the pain” he had gone through. But, like his brief term as governor that was disrupted by out-of-control behavior that involved both public and private misconduct, the effort was a failure. No tears fell.

It was the sort of transparently false and feeble performance that has killed many a theatrical career but it also may have provided something of an explanation as to why the same liberal organs that once lionized Spitzer are now determined to thwart his comeback bid. Hypocrisy is a common failing among the chattering classes—especially its liberal battalion—but chutzpah on this scale in which a fallen pol seeks to use money and celebrity to reclaim his hold on power appears to be a bridge too far for most of them. That was shown today as the New York Times responded to Spitzer’s assault on the electorate with a two-pronged counter-attack. A front-page feature highlighted the dismay of the city’s liberal elites about his candidacy as well as the disgust of labor unions and the business community, and was echoed by a scathing editorial. The editorial made it clear that unlike the equivocal if not largely favorable response to fellow reformed miscreant Anthony Weiner’s comeback attempt, the Times and its main constituencies were prepared to stop at nothing to derail him. The would-be redeemed sinner’s chutzpah is simply too much to take even for the Times. Everybody, it seems, hates Eliot Spitzer.

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Earlier today, MSNBC’s Morning Joe program provided a public service when it supplied us with an answer to the question that had been bothering me for the last day: why is it that the liberal political and media establishment is so unwilling to give one of their own a second chance? Given an opportunity to sell a national audience on his quest for personal redemption and a renewed political career, former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer talked about his regrets about his hubris as well as his desire to return to public service by running to be controller of New York City. But not satisfied with that, Spitzer felt the need to eschew the intellectual arguments for his return to the public eye and tried for some emotion. When asked how he had changed in the years since he crashed and burned in the midst of his prostitution scandal, Spitzer attempted to manufacture some tears when speaking about “the pain” he had gone through. But, like his brief term as governor that was disrupted by out-of-control behavior that involved both public and private misconduct, the effort was a failure. No tears fell.

It was the sort of transparently false and feeble performance that has killed many a theatrical career but it also may have provided something of an explanation as to why the same liberal organs that once lionized Spitzer are now determined to thwart his comeback bid. Hypocrisy is a common failing among the chattering classes—especially its liberal battalion—but chutzpah on this scale in which a fallen pol seeks to use money and celebrity to reclaim his hold on power appears to be a bridge too far for most of them. That was shown today as the New York Times responded to Spitzer’s assault on the electorate with a two-pronged counter-attack. A front-page feature highlighted the dismay of the city’s liberal elites about his candidacy as well as the disgust of labor unions and the business community, and was echoed by a scathing editorial. The editorial made it clear that unlike the equivocal if not largely favorable response to fellow reformed miscreant Anthony Weiner’s comeback attempt, the Times and its main constituencies were prepared to stop at nothing to derail him. The would-be redeemed sinner’s chutzpah is simply too much to take even for the Times. Everybody, it seems, hates Eliot Spitzer.

The Times editorial was remarkable in a number of respects. For an editorial column that has seemed to pride itself in recent years on unrelieved stuffiness and terminal pomposity, the paper’s willingness to cut loose on Spitzer in this manner was as refreshing as it was unexpected. The piece lambasted Spitzer and Weiner as “charter members of the Kardashian Party,” who seek to use their notoriety as “the quick, easy path to redemption.” It even referred to Spitzer as “Client 9”—the infamous codename for the former governor used by the prostitution establishment that he patronized—an astonishing breach of the paper’s normally highfalutin tone. Honestly, I didn’t know they had it in them. Spitzer’s odious character is apparently enough to cause even the most hidebound liberal talking shop to lose their cool.

To the Times’s credit, the paper rightly noted (as our John Steele Gordon did yesterday) that his predilection for purchasing illicit sex wasn’t the only thing wrong with Spitzer when he was forced to resign. The lying and the cheating (as well as the illegal money laundering methods he employed to hide his rather extravagant payments to the “escort” service) about sex was bad. But it was not as awful as what he did in Albany as the self-described “steamroller,” which alienated allies as well as opponents. The reason his sexual transgression resonated with so many people is that it seemed of a piece with everything else he did. It made sense that a man who acted like a thug and bully in public would feel the need to purchase women whom he could command in that manner.

Along with Weiner, Spitzer has condemned New York to what the Times rightly calls “a summer of farce” in which their personal quest for ego gratification after being deprived of the attention they crave will overshadow discussion of the issues. No doubt we will have more fake tears from Spitzer as well as more tedious attempts from the former governor to portray himself as the solution to New York’s problems rather than the embodiment of the cancer eating away at our public life.

I don’t know whether the revulsion toward Spitzer on the part of so many liberal elites will be enough to offset his advantage in name recognition and money stemming from his family’s vast personal fortune. Perhaps, as the Times editorial seems to indicate, there is a growing recognition that the Bill Clinton paradigm of giving politicians a pass for misconduct undermines public ethics. All of us are flawed and Americans love the idea of second chances, but we also know that it isn’t too much to ask those entrusted with high public office to behave themselves or to ask them to stay out of the limelight when they cannot. But whether or not Spitzer or even Weiner can be stopped, it is a sign of health in our political culture that so many who might have once been counted on to give them a pass in the name of solidarity with liberal stalwarts are no longer willing to silently acquiesce to this sordid circus. 

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Rand Paul, the “Southern Avenger,” and the End of the Benefit of the Doubt

Rand Paul’s political career got off to a rough start. Almost immediately after winning the GOP Senate primary in 2010, and thus becoming the odds-on favorite to win the general election to be Kentucky’s junior senator, he was asked by Rachel Maddow a question he had been asked many times before about the Civil Rights Act. Maddow asked him the question because he has always given a long and winding response to it–something that would crater on a political talk show designed for sound bites regardless of the topic but was particularly egregious given the subject.

Paul’s answer left unforgivably unclear whether he would actually have supported the 1964 Civil Rights Act, leading to days of press speculation and inquiries as to where the senator-to-be stood on the landmark piece of civil rights legislation. (He began future answers by stating clearly he would have voted for it.) But this was more than just a case of a rookie politico mishandling a sensitive question from a hostile host; it went to the very heart of whether libertarians could shed an image that is in many cases unfair and exaggerated but continues to put a ceiling of popular support over their heads.

And that image owes much not to libertarians’ political rivals but to their own political figures, like former Congressman Ron Paul, in whose name a racist newsletter was published and whose followers spewed baldly anti-Semitic chants at American politicians. (The politicians in question weren’t Jewish, but no one ever accused the snarling bigots of adhering to logic and reasoning.) Ron Paul, who proclaimed America to blame for the terrorism perpetrated on its soil and elsewhere, is also Rand Paul’s father.

It may be unfair to brand the son with the sins of the father. But as our former COMMENTARY colleague Alana Goodman reveals over at the Free Beacon, the son is undermining any argument in favor of giving him the benefit of the doubt:

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Rand Paul’s political career got off to a rough start. Almost immediately after winning the GOP Senate primary in 2010, and thus becoming the odds-on favorite to win the general election to be Kentucky’s junior senator, he was asked by Rachel Maddow a question he had been asked many times before about the Civil Rights Act. Maddow asked him the question because he has always given a long and winding response to it–something that would crater on a political talk show designed for sound bites regardless of the topic but was particularly egregious given the subject.

Paul’s answer left unforgivably unclear whether he would actually have supported the 1964 Civil Rights Act, leading to days of press speculation and inquiries as to where the senator-to-be stood on the landmark piece of civil rights legislation. (He began future answers by stating clearly he would have voted for it.) But this was more than just a case of a rookie politico mishandling a sensitive question from a hostile host; it went to the very heart of whether libertarians could shed an image that is in many cases unfair and exaggerated but continues to put a ceiling of popular support over their heads.

And that image owes much not to libertarians’ political rivals but to their own political figures, like former Congressman Ron Paul, in whose name a racist newsletter was published and whose followers spewed baldly anti-Semitic chants at American politicians. (The politicians in question weren’t Jewish, but no one ever accused the snarling bigots of adhering to logic and reasoning.) Ron Paul, who proclaimed America to blame for the terrorism perpetrated on its soil and elsewhere, is also Rand Paul’s father.

It may be unfair to brand the son with the sins of the father. But as our former COMMENTARY colleague Alana Goodman reveals over at the Free Beacon, the son is undermining any argument in favor of giving him the benefit of the doubt:

A close aide to Sen. Rand Paul (R., Ky.) who co-wrote the senator’s 2011 book spent years working as a pro-secessionist radio pundit and neo-Confederate activist, raising questions about whether Paul will be able to transcend the same fringe-figure associations that dogged his father’s political career.

Paul hired Jack Hunter, 39, to help write his book The Tea Party Goes to Washington during his 2010 Senate run. Hunter joined Paul’s office as his social media director in August 2012.

From 1999 to 2012, Hunter was a South Carolina radio shock jock known as the “Southern Avenger.” He has weighed in on issues such as racial pride and Hispanic immigration, and stated his support for the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln.

During public appearances, Hunter often wore a mask on which was printed a Confederate flag.

Prior to his radio career, while in his 20s, Hunter was a chairman in the League of the South, which “advocates the secession and subsequent independence of the Southern States from this forced union and the formation of a Southern republic.”

There is much more at the link, including comments from Hunter himself in an interview with the Beacon.

During the George W. Bush years, one surefire way to tell someone had a conspiratorial view of foreign policy was if they would whine wild-eyed about the Jewish “neocons” who supposedly steered American foreign policy according to Israel’s wishes. The far left and Ron Paul’s followers on the right were particularly obsessed with this idea, and they retained this psychosis long after Bush left office. The inane among them still talk this way, and apparently that category includes Hunter–the man who speaks for Rand Paul’s social media apparatus:

randpaultweet

It should go without saying that this is a silly way for a United States senator to talk, not least because Americans would like to believe their representatives are above this sort of thing. But I suppose it’s nice to know at least that the voice behind this asininity is Hunter’s, not Paul’s. But if the best thing you can say about Paul in this regard is that he hired a dim neoconfederate clown to speak for him, that doesn’t reflect all too well on Paul, does it?

Rand Paul seems to surround himself with the same sort of people you had the unfortunate experience of encountering around Ron Paul. And according to Goodman’s article on Hunter, Rand Paul’s staff are under the impression that Rand agrees with Ron on policy, but is just willing to “play the game” (i.e. mislead the public) better than Paul the elder. Perhaps that means it’s time for Rand Paul to make perfectly clear where he stands on all these issues, rather than issuing vague pronouncements and letting the public guess.

Rand Paul is widely respected even by those with whom he often disagrees as being a straight-talking man of principle. But his close advisor and sometime spokesman suggests Rand is really just a less honest version of Ron. If Rand thinks he’s worthy not just of a Senate seat but of the Oval Office, he’s going to have to do a hell of a lot better than that.

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Germany Again Seeks to Cheat on Iran Sanctions

Germany has certainly been among Europe’s weakest links when it comes to upholding sanctions against Iran. While the White House continues to grant waivers to Germany, German companies have attended trade and investment fairs in Iran. The German-Iranian Chamber of Commerce has also helped shepherd German companies through the process of investing in Iran’s energy sector, never mind the sanctions regime. Now it seems the German government is at it again. According to Germany’s “Stop the Bomb” campaign:

Under the patronage of German Federal Environment Minister Peter Altmaier and Federal Minister of Economics Philipp Rösler, on 10 July 2013 a conference will be held with the title “Energy Security – How to Feed and Secure the Global Demand.” Among the speakers are Federal Environment Minister Peter Altmaier and Iranian Oil Minister Rostam Ghasemi, a General of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards… According to a press release on the conference “high level policy maker” will discuss “political developments in producing countries” and “geostrategic implications of changing global energy supply routes.” However, the EU imposed sanctions against Iran’s energy sector and the Iranian Ministry of Petroleum is as an entity on the EU sanctions list.

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Germany has certainly been among Europe’s weakest links when it comes to upholding sanctions against Iran. While the White House continues to grant waivers to Germany, German companies have attended trade and investment fairs in Iran. The German-Iranian Chamber of Commerce has also helped shepherd German companies through the process of investing in Iran’s energy sector, never mind the sanctions regime. Now it seems the German government is at it again. According to Germany’s “Stop the Bomb” campaign:

Under the patronage of German Federal Environment Minister Peter Altmaier and Federal Minister of Economics Philipp Rösler, on 10 July 2013 a conference will be held with the title “Energy Security – How to Feed and Secure the Global Demand.” Among the speakers are Federal Environment Minister Peter Altmaier and Iranian Oil Minister Rostam Ghasemi, a General of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards… According to a press release on the conference “high level policy maker” will discuss “political developments in producing countries” and “geostrategic implications of changing global energy supply routes.” However, the EU imposed sanctions against Iran’s energy sector and the Iranian Ministry of Petroleum is as an entity on the EU sanctions list.

Alas, it seems that the erosion of American credibility has occurred not only among U.S. adversaries but also with regard to U.S. allies. What to do? Germany wants its defense minister to take the helm of NATO. If the Obama administration wanted to be taken seriously, it would make German seriousness regarding one of the greatest collective security threats the West faces a condition of signing off on any such appointment. Alas, it seems, Obama’s strategy appears to assuage Berlin by undermining U.S. credibility even further.

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Snowden’s Nuclear War on Intelligence

For too many Americans, the saga of Edward Snowden has become a vehicle to vent their understandable anger about the growth of government and its power to infringe on our privacy. But the leaker’s activities and his farcical flight to his current perch somewhere in the Moscow airport has allowed these worries to overshadow the true nature of what he has done in spilling so much information about the National Security Agency. Though his campaign to torpedo America’s ability to monitor terrorists should have already alerted even his most ardent fans to the true nature of his activity, his interview in this week’s issue of Der Spiegel is new proof that what he and his supporters in the press and elsewhere are attempting to do is something a great deal more ambitious than curbing the overreach of a government body. By discussing the cooperation of various foreign intelligence agencies and specifically talking about the joint efforts of the United States and Israel to thwart Iran’s quest for nuclear weapons, he has crossed yet another line that shows his true intentions. His is not a war to protect privacy. It’s a war against intelligence and American foreign policy goals.

Snowden’s decision to expand his revelations from the NSA’s monitoring of calls and emails to Stuxnet—the computer virus that was reportedly employed to try to sabotage Iran’s nuclear program—is highly instructive. If Snowden’s leaks were solely about brushing back the spooks’ snooping on Americans, he might have refused to talk about the NSA’s efforts directed at Iran. By choosing to wade into specific intelligence efforts that have nothing to do with individual privacy issues, Snowden is making it clear that for all of the talk about his heroism or his defense of constitutional rights, what he is most interested in doing is making the world a little safer for those whom American intelligence is tasked with stopping. By treating the NSA’s work against Iranian nukes and its cooperation with Israel as fodder for his exposure as much as anything else, Snowden and his backers are treating a consensus objective of American policy as somehow illegitimate.

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For too many Americans, the saga of Edward Snowden has become a vehicle to vent their understandable anger about the growth of government and its power to infringe on our privacy. But the leaker’s activities and his farcical flight to his current perch somewhere in the Moscow airport has allowed these worries to overshadow the true nature of what he has done in spilling so much information about the National Security Agency. Though his campaign to torpedo America’s ability to monitor terrorists should have already alerted even his most ardent fans to the true nature of his activity, his interview in this week’s issue of Der Spiegel is new proof that what he and his supporters in the press and elsewhere are attempting to do is something a great deal more ambitious than curbing the overreach of a government body. By discussing the cooperation of various foreign intelligence agencies and specifically talking about the joint efforts of the United States and Israel to thwart Iran’s quest for nuclear weapons, he has crossed yet another line that shows his true intentions. His is not a war to protect privacy. It’s a war against intelligence and American foreign policy goals.

Snowden’s decision to expand his revelations from the NSA’s monitoring of calls and emails to Stuxnet—the computer virus that was reportedly employed to try to sabotage Iran’s nuclear program—is highly instructive. If Snowden’s leaks were solely about brushing back the spooks’ snooping on Americans, he might have refused to talk about the NSA’s efforts directed at Iran. By choosing to wade into specific intelligence efforts that have nothing to do with individual privacy issues, Snowden is making it clear that for all of the talk about his heroism or his defense of constitutional rights, what he is most interested in doing is making the world a little safer for those whom American intelligence is tasked with stopping. By treating the NSA’s work against Iranian nukes and its cooperation with Israel as fodder for his exposure as much as anything else, Snowden and his backers are treating a consensus objective of American policy as somehow illegitimate.

The link between the monitoring of phone calls or emails of terrorists and Stuxnet is that both are to some degree the fruit of America’s cyber warfare. But whatever concerns some Americans may have about the metadata mining of calls or emails, the Stuxnet virus and, indeed, the entire cyber warfare campaign against Iran have nothing to with privacy and everything to do with national security efforts that are supported by the overwhelming majority of the American people.

The point here is that the anti-intelligence campaign being waged by Snowden and his supporters draws no distinctions between alleged invasions of privacy and efforts to forestall a deadly nuclear threat to the world. While I believe the NSA’s controversial efforts to monitor communications with terrorists are defensible, there should be no argument about whether it’s work in cooperating with Israel to hamstring Iran’s nuclear weapons threat is both legal and absolutely necessary.

Moreover, those who would like to applaud Snowden’s exposures while still asserting their support for Western efforts to stop terrorism and the potentially genocidal intentions of Iran’s Islamist regime need to ask themselves whether they can really draw the line between intelligence operations they don’t like and those that they don’t wish to impede. If all of the NSA’s cyber warfare efforts are somehow illegitimate, as Snowden and his fans seem to be saying, then what they are asking for is not civil liberties but unilateral disarmament on the part of the West against terrorists and terrorist-sponsoring regimes like Iran that also wish to obtain nuclear weapons. Some of President Obama’s staffers (reportedly his favorite general) may have already spilled the beans on American cyber warfare to the press. But by discussing Stuxnet in the context of his attack on all cooperation between security agencies, Snowden has illustrated what we will lose if we allow our libertarian instincts about privacy to hamstring the NSA.

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Karzai’s Conundrum and the “Zero Option”

Some analysts might deduce that White House aides are leaking word that “President Obama is giving serious consideration to speeding up the withdrawal of United States forces from Afghanistan and to a ‘zero option’ that would leave no American troops there after next year” as a ploy to pressure Hamid Karzai to be more accommodating to the U.S. in negotiations over a Status of Forces Agreement and in hoped-for negotiations with the Taliban. Not me. I take this president at his word. I believe the odds are growing that he will, in fact, pull all U.S. forces out of Afghanistan by the end of 2014 notwithstanding the likelihood that this will lead to a disaster, with the Taliban and their extremist allies (to include al-Qaeda) taking over, at a minimum, much of southern and eastern Afghanistan.

But then the complete U.S. pullout from Iraq has already had disastrous consequences–violence in that country is at its highest level since 2008, al-Qaeda in Iraq has again become a potent force, and Iranian influence is at an all-time high, with Prime Minister Maliki working hand-in-glove with Tehran to ferry supplies and support to the embattled Assad regime in Syria. If President Obama has any regrets about this foreseeable tragedy, he has never expressed them. Odds are that he’s simply happy U.S. troops are out of Iraq–he no doubt thinks that ending American military involvement in Iraq trumped all other considerations. So, too, in Afghanistan he appears entranced by his own rhetoric about the “tide of war” receding–and he would no doubt like to bring about an American pullout, even if the likely consequences will be dire.

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Some analysts might deduce that White House aides are leaking word that “President Obama is giving serious consideration to speeding up the withdrawal of United States forces from Afghanistan and to a ‘zero option’ that would leave no American troops there after next year” as a ploy to pressure Hamid Karzai to be more accommodating to the U.S. in negotiations over a Status of Forces Agreement and in hoped-for negotiations with the Taliban. Not me. I take this president at his word. I believe the odds are growing that he will, in fact, pull all U.S. forces out of Afghanistan by the end of 2014 notwithstanding the likelihood that this will lead to a disaster, with the Taliban and their extremist allies (to include al-Qaeda) taking over, at a minimum, much of southern and eastern Afghanistan.

But then the complete U.S. pullout from Iraq has already had disastrous consequences–violence in that country is at its highest level since 2008, al-Qaeda in Iraq has again become a potent force, and Iranian influence is at an all-time high, with Prime Minister Maliki working hand-in-glove with Tehran to ferry supplies and support to the embattled Assad regime in Syria. If President Obama has any regrets about this foreseeable tragedy, he has never expressed them. Odds are that he’s simply happy U.S. troops are out of Iraq–he no doubt thinks that ending American military involvement in Iraq trumped all other considerations. So, too, in Afghanistan he appears entranced by his own rhetoric about the “tide of war” receding–and he would no doubt like to bring about an American pullout, even if the likely consequences will be dire.

The latest excuse for this pull-out talk, ironically, is something eminently reasonable that Karzai has done. I am no defender of the Afghan president who is mercurial, often impossible to deal with, and complicit in massive corruption. But Karzai was justified to pull out of nascent “peace talks” with the Taliban, who have given every indication that they have little interest in peace and much interest in enhancing their international legitimacy by opening a quasi-embassy in Qatar. But Obama has his heart set on “peace talks” with the Taliban to provide cover for an American pullout, and he is said to be furious at Karzai for throwing sand into the gears of his grand scheme.

Karzai simply can’t win here: Either he agrees to talks that legitimate a faster American pullout–or he refuses to engage in this charade, thereby angering Obama, and spurring, you guessed it, a faster American pullout.

It is Obama’s right as commander in chief to decide he wants nothing more to do with Afghanistan. But if that is in fact the decision he has reached–or at least seriously mulling–perhaps he should explain first to himself and then to the American people, and specifically to the troops that he sent to fight and bleed there, why he once considered it a “necessary” war. Why did he more than triple America’s troop presence, knowing that a certain percentage of those he deployed would not come home unharmed and that some would not come home at all, and why did he pressure America’s allies to similarly step up their commitment–why did he do all this if he decides, in the end, to abandon Afghanistan to the tender mercies of the Taliban?

Perhaps there is a good explanation for why he is seriously contemplating aborting a war effort that still has a reasonable chance of success, and thereby making worthless the sacrifices of so many American service personnel and their Afghan allies. But pique at Karzai’s refusal to sit down with the Taliban–who are committed to reimposing their totalitarian rule and have given no indication of any interest in suing for peace or giving up their alliance with al-Qaeda–won’t cut it.

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