Commentary Magazine


Posts For: July 29, 2013

The Myth of Big Money and Gun Control

One of the chief talking points of liberals who have denounced National Rifle Association’s stand against President Obama’s efforts to pass more gun control laws has been to claim that the opposition has been mainly a function of the malign influence of money on politics. Their argument is to assert that the NRA’s influence is more a function of the large contributions gun manufacturers lavish on the group rather than the donations and the political fervor of its members. Following this playbook, the liberal mainstream media has consistently portrayed the efforts of those seeking to increase the regulation of gun ownership as the poor David fighting the wealthy NRA Goliath. Much of this narrative was undermined by the intervention in the debate by Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who has invested many millions in the Mayors Against Illegal Guns group whose purpose it is to combat the NRA in local political races. But a story in yesterday’s New York Times illustrates how much of a myth is the notion that gun rights advocates are a function of big business while their opponents are the expression of a grass roots movement.

The piece depicts the struggle to recall two Democratic members of the Colorado legislature that voted for what the paper called “some of the strictest gun control measures in the country” passed last year. State Senators John Morse and Angela Giron are portrayed as writing a new chapter in the annals of courage for standing up to the NRA as anger over their decision has fueled a push to evict them from office that both sides in this political battle see as sending a message to politicians who might vote for gun legislation. But the narrative of victimization for the pair is undermined by two key paragraphs that are buried at the bottom of the story:

Ms. Giron has support from powerful Democrats — including Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia, who has campaigned for her — and there is a political action committee supporting her. The PAC has hired a staff member from President Obama’s re-election campaign, Chris Shallow, who handled field operations in North Carolina for the Obama campaign.

Ms. Giron and Mr. Morse are raising and spending far more than their opponents. Ms. Giron’s supporters have raised more than $87,000 and Mr. Morse’s more than $153,000, according to campaign disclosures. Each campaign has received thousands from progressive groups in Colorado and $35,000 apiece from the Sixteen Thirty Fund, a Washington group that supports liberal and environmental causes, and $3,500 each from the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

In other words, big moneyed interests are fighting the battle over guns–but the side with deep pockets isn’t the one attempting to uphold the Second Amendment.

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One of the chief talking points of liberals who have denounced National Rifle Association’s stand against President Obama’s efforts to pass more gun control laws has been to claim that the opposition has been mainly a function of the malign influence of money on politics. Their argument is to assert that the NRA’s influence is more a function of the large contributions gun manufacturers lavish on the group rather than the donations and the political fervor of its members. Following this playbook, the liberal mainstream media has consistently portrayed the efforts of those seeking to increase the regulation of gun ownership as the poor David fighting the wealthy NRA Goliath. Much of this narrative was undermined by the intervention in the debate by Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who has invested many millions in the Mayors Against Illegal Guns group whose purpose it is to combat the NRA in local political races. But a story in yesterday’s New York Times illustrates how much of a myth is the notion that gun rights advocates are a function of big business while their opponents are the expression of a grass roots movement.

The piece depicts the struggle to recall two Democratic members of the Colorado legislature that voted for what the paper called “some of the strictest gun control measures in the country” passed last year. State Senators John Morse and Angela Giron are portrayed as writing a new chapter in the annals of courage for standing up to the NRA as anger over their decision has fueled a push to evict them from office that both sides in this political battle see as sending a message to politicians who might vote for gun legislation. But the narrative of victimization for the pair is undermined by two key paragraphs that are buried at the bottom of the story:

Ms. Giron has support from powerful Democrats — including Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia, who has campaigned for her — and there is a political action committee supporting her. The PAC has hired a staff member from President Obama’s re-election campaign, Chris Shallow, who handled field operations in North Carolina for the Obama campaign.

Ms. Giron and Mr. Morse are raising and spending far more than their opponents. Ms. Giron’s supporters have raised more than $87,000 and Mr. Morse’s more than $153,000, according to campaign disclosures. Each campaign has received thousands from progressive groups in Colorado and $35,000 apiece from the Sixteen Thirty Fund, a Washington group that supports liberal and environmental causes, and $3,500 each from the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

In other words, big moneyed interests are fighting the battle over guns–but the side with deep pockets isn’t the one attempting to uphold the Second Amendment.

Far from illustrating how a small group is manipulating the debate about gun legislation in order to frustrate the liberal post-Newtown massacre push, what the Times has done is to remind us that the real struggle here is between big liberal money and small town activists who want to protect their rights:

In Colorado Springs, supporters of the recall set up a political action committee, the Basic Freedom Defense Fund, and started printing bumper stickers, hiring paid signature-gatherers and taking donations. They have collected $19,750 to date, including $250 in ammunition that was donated as door prizes for volunteers. The vast majority of contributions have come from donors around Colorado Springs … In Pueblo, Mr. Head took a hiatus from his job fixing water heaters, borrowed $4,000 from his grandmother and set to gathering the 11,000 signatures needed for a referendum on Ms. Giron.

There is a good argument to be made that the recalls are unnecessary and a waste of time and money no matter which side you are on. Morse is, after all, retiring next year and Giron was scheduled to face the voters again next year anyway. One can also claim that the measures the pair voted for—more background checks and limits on magazine size—are not unreasonable.

But the lesson here is not so much on the merits of the gun debate as it is on the falsity of the idea that the gun rights lobby is the 800-pound gorilla in the struggle. If anything, it is obvious that liberals are as much, if not more, capable of mobilizing financial resources to get their way on gun restrictions and far less dependent on grass roots activism than the pro-gun forces. No matter who wins in the recall votes scheduled for September, this campaign has undermined the liberal talking point about big money and guns. What it has also done is to show that efforts to impress upon legislators that they must listen to voters is one that works as much if not more to buttress the NRA’s position as it does that of Bloomberg.

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Shutdown Would Be Crazy But Cruz Isn’t

The genius of Senator Ted Cruz’s push to have Republicans defund the implementation of ObamaCare is that even those members of his party who have denounced the idea as madness would probably like to do it. Cruz is saying Republican bigwigs who have rejected his effort are “scared.” He’s 100-percent right about that. They are scared out of their wits about the prospect of another confrontation with the Democrats in which they would be depicted as playing chicken with the health of the nation’s economy by taking a stand that, for all intents and purposes, would amount to a government shutdown if they didn’t get their way on spiking ObamaCare. But the question is whether they are right to be.

Cruz represents the issue here as one pitting career politicians (everybody who doesn’t agree with the junior senator from Texas) and those who have put principle above the desire to get along. If it were that simple, there would be no excuse for House Republicans not to pass a continuing resolution funding the entire government but excluding ObamaCare and for at least 41 Republican senators to line up to prevent any Democratic effort to pass a budget that included the president’s signature legislation. A last minute stand of this sort will only result in a standoff that will play right into Obama’s hands and do nothing to stop the implementation of the program. Indeed, it’s what the president has hoped Republicans would do in every fiscal impasse of the last two years. So what’s wrong with an attempt to rally the troops for a glorious last stand on the issue? The answer to that question tells us all we need to know about the divide in the Republican Party.

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The genius of Senator Ted Cruz’s push to have Republicans defund the implementation of ObamaCare is that even those members of his party who have denounced the idea as madness would probably like to do it. Cruz is saying Republican bigwigs who have rejected his effort are “scared.” He’s 100-percent right about that. They are scared out of their wits about the prospect of another confrontation with the Democrats in which they would be depicted as playing chicken with the health of the nation’s economy by taking a stand that, for all intents and purposes, would amount to a government shutdown if they didn’t get their way on spiking ObamaCare. But the question is whether they are right to be.

Cruz represents the issue here as one pitting career politicians (everybody who doesn’t agree with the junior senator from Texas) and those who have put principle above the desire to get along. If it were that simple, there would be no excuse for House Republicans not to pass a continuing resolution funding the entire government but excluding ObamaCare and for at least 41 Republican senators to line up to prevent any Democratic effort to pass a budget that included the president’s signature legislation. A last minute stand of this sort will only result in a standoff that will play right into Obama’s hands and do nothing to stop the implementation of the program. Indeed, it’s what the president has hoped Republicans would do in every fiscal impasse of the last two years. So what’s wrong with an attempt to rally the troops for a glorious last stand on the issue? The answer to that question tells us all we need to know about the divide in the Republican Party.

As a practical matter, Cruz’s tactic doesn’t have much chance of succeeding. Even if Republicans stand together on this—something that is almost certainly not going to happen—success would depend on President Obama blinking before House Speaker John Boehner in negotiations to resolve the standoff. Obama would not only have no problem with such an impasse, he would actively encourage it since it would validate all of his excuses for the failure of his administration to accomplish much since his first two years in office. The plain fact is that with control of only the House with the Democrats still in firm control of the Senate and the White House, there is only so much the GOP can do. The last chance to stop ObamaCare was lost when Chief Justice John Roberts inexplicably voted to affirm its constitutionality, and nothing can alter that fact.

But the problem with letting wiser heads prevail over Cruz’s idealistic fervor is that it is much easier, as well as more appealing, to–as he keeps saying over and over–take a stand that is based purely on principle.

So the argument here is not so much about the efficacy of the tactic as it is one about philosophy: is it the purpose of a political party to help government function properly or to stand up for its ideas?

The answer is obviously both. Republicans can’t pretend they have no responsibility to keep the engine of government functioning since its basic functions such as providing for the common defense or paying our debts is vital. Yet a party that is so immersed in the Washington power game that it is immune to the appeal of ideology is not one that serves its voters well either. That’s why those Republicans who oppose Cruz (who has been joined in this effort by Mike Lee and Marco Rubio) should actually be listening to him.

Cruz has been a bull in a china shop throughout his first seven months in office and many of his colleagues on both sides of the aisle can’t stand him. The argument against him is that such a confrontational approach won’t allow anything to get done, and since the talking heads are always telling us Americans want politicians to compromise, Cruz is impeding the will of the people. But given the train wreck that ObamaCare has become, surely it makes sense for Republicans to do what any effective legislative minority has always done: wage a fierce guerrilla war to make it difficult if not impossible for the administration to have its way on the issue.

The problem with Cruz’s critics is not that they are wrong about the foolishness of a government shutdown, but that many of them really are scared of the administration. You don’t have to want another shutdown to understand that a lot of the reaction to him is more about his abhorrence of the close-knit establishment club that the Senate has become than it is about his particular ideas. While a quixotic charge at ObamaCare won’t work, the GOP is wrong to dismiss the spirit that is behind this impulse. Party leaders who wonder about his popularity among the rank and file should understand that for all of his faults, he has tapped into something that ordinary Americans want in their politicians: a willingness to take risks on behalf of the principles he campaigned on. 

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The Left’s Evolving Blame Game on Detroit

The Sunday morning political shows got the most attention this week for what appeared to be the collective effort to bury the candidacy of Anthony Weiner. But there was a far more interesting debate over the future of Detroit between George Will and Steven Rattner on This Week. Rattner had earlier published a column in the New York Times that argued for government intervention to bail out the city of Detroit, which has been bankrupted by health and retirement liabilities and corrupt mismanagement.

Rattner had argued that “apart from voting in elections, the 700,000 remaining residents of the Motor City are no more responsible for Detroit’s problems than were the victims of Hurricane Sandy for theirs, and eventually Congress decided to help them.” Will referenced that comment Sunday morning, reminding Rattner that those votes went for “60 years of incompetence, malcontents, and in some cases criminals.” He argued that Detroit had experienced a “cultural collapse” and is now reckoning with the consequences of their decisions. Rattner, in an illuminating and noteworthy response, said:

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The Sunday morning political shows got the most attention this week for what appeared to be the collective effort to bury the candidacy of Anthony Weiner. But there was a far more interesting debate over the future of Detroit between George Will and Steven Rattner on This Week. Rattner had earlier published a column in the New York Times that argued for government intervention to bail out the city of Detroit, which has been bankrupted by health and retirement liabilities and corrupt mismanagement.

Rattner had argued that “apart from voting in elections, the 700,000 remaining residents of the Motor City are no more responsible for Detroit’s problems than were the victims of Hurricane Sandy for theirs, and eventually Congress decided to help them.” Will referenced that comment Sunday morning, reminding Rattner that those votes went for “60 years of incompetence, malcontents, and in some cases criminals.” He argued that Detroit had experienced a “cultural collapse” and is now reckoning with the consequences of their decisions. Rattner, in an illuminating and noteworthy response, said:

So that’s fine. And so what do you want to do, do you want to leave them sitting in exactly the situation you just described, or in the spirit of America trying to help people who are less fortunate, whether their (sic) victims of natural disasters or their own ignorance or whatever, do you want to reach out and try to help them and try to reinvent Detroit for not a lot of money. We’re talking about a couple billion dollars here, this is small potatoes in the great scheme of life, or else you have your scenario, just leave them all sit (sic) with feral dogs for the rest of their lives.

This is significant because it makes clear that the left will not see Detroit as evidence of the need for fiscal sanity. Even after liberal policies drive a major U.S. city to bankruptcy and collapse, the left will argue not only that the city should be bailed out by taxpayers but that it’s really a minor incident–just a couple billion dollars, which is, in Rattner’s words, “not a lot of money.” To do otherwise, Rattner says, would not be “in the spirit of America.”

So there you have it. Liberals will argue that it is imperative to promise unaffordable pension and health benefits to government workers, and once that predictably ends in financial ruin, that it isn’t in the “spirit of America” not to fork over billions more. At no point is a consideration for sustainable economic policymaking introduced into the process.

But there’s another element to this evident in Rattner’s remarks: the question of victimhood and culpability. This was more fully fleshed out in a Salon column published on Saturday. The column, by Andrew O’Hehir, follows the classic model of blaming racism (real and imagined) for Detroit’s woes. O’Hehir is “tempted” to offer an alternative theory for the collapse of Detroit, which is probably the most ridiculous thing yet written about the Motor City’s financial meltdown:

As payback for the worldwide revolution symbolized by hot jazz, Smokey Robinson dancin’ to keep from cryin’ and Eminem trading verses with Rihanna, New Orleans and Detroit had to be punished. Specifically, they had to be isolated, impoverished and almost literally destroyed, so they could be held up as examples of what happens when black people are allowed to govern themselves.

It’s unconscious, he believes, as he assures readers he is no conspiracy theorist. Most of O’Hehir’s column was ignored because of the sheer effort and self-discipline required to read beyond that paragraph which, for racial thinking, may have even surpassed Timothy Noah’s classic column classifying the Wall Street Journal’s discussion of President Obama’s skinniness as “a coded discussion of race.”

But O’Hehir’s linking of Detroit’s collapse and Hurricane Katrina is instructive. In the column, he reviews several causes of Detroit’s bankruptcy, including that “investment capital flowed away from the Rust Belt and into low-tax, non-union jurisdictions in the Sun Belt and around the world.” Later, he repeats that the city’s residents “have already been victimized by several generations of high crime and failing services and the flight of capital.” He closes by asking what the rest of the world thinks “when they see country-club denizens of the leafy suburbs a few miles away, most of them people who grew up in Detroit and made their fortunes there, angrily protest that they have no common interest with the inhabitants of the city and no responsibility for their plight?”

Beyond the ridiculous accusations of racial animus lies a belief commonly held on the left: the rest of the country should pay to bail out Detroit, because this is (at least partly) their fault. That is, those who choose to govern themselves more responsibly and successfully than Detroit have helped cause Detroit’s collapse because if they didn’t create sustainable communities the people and businesses fleeing Detroit would have no where to go.

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Nothing “Reasonable” About Mideast Divide

Thanks to Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s decision to swallow a painful and embarrassing concession to please the Palestinians, Secretary of State John Kerry had his moment of triumph today. In announcing the start of a new round of Middle East peace talks, Kerry has seemingly justified the way he has concentrated his efforts on an issue that was not in crisis mode and with little chance of resolution while treating other more urgent problems such as Egypt, Syria, and the Iranian nuclear threat as lower priorities. But now that he has had his victory, the focus turns to the talks where few, if any, observers think there is a ghost of a chance of that the negotiations can succeed despite Kerry’s call for “reasonable compromises.”

The reason for that is that despite the traditional American belief that the two sides can split the difference on their disagreements, as Kerry seems to want, the problem is much deeper than drawing a new line on a map.

Ironically, proof of this comes from a new poll that some are touting as evidence that both Israelis and Palestinians support a two-state solution. The poll (h/t Shmuel Rosner) was a joint project of the Harry S. Truman Research Institute for the Advancement of Peace at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research in Ramallah. It shows, among other often contradictory results, that:

A majority of Israelis (62%) supports a two-state solution while 33% oppose it. Among the Palestinians, 53% support and 46% oppose the two-state solution.

But the question to ask about this poll and the conflict is what the two sides mean by a two-state solution. The answer comes in a subsequent query:

We asked Israelis and Palestinians about their readiness for a mutual recognition as part of a permanent status agreement and after all issues in the conflict are resolved and a Palestinian State is established. Our current poll shows that 57% of the Israeli public supports such a mutual recognition and 37% opposes it. Among Palestinians, 42% support and 56% oppose this step.

In other words, Israelis see a two-state solution as a way to permanently end the conflict and achieve peace. But since a majority of Palestinians cannot envision mutual recognition even after all issues are resolve and they get a state, they obviously see it as merely a pause before the conflict would begin anew on terms decidedly less advantageous to Israel.

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Thanks to Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s decision to swallow a painful and embarrassing concession to please the Palestinians, Secretary of State John Kerry had his moment of triumph today. In announcing the start of a new round of Middle East peace talks, Kerry has seemingly justified the way he has concentrated his efforts on an issue that was not in crisis mode and with little chance of resolution while treating other more urgent problems such as Egypt, Syria, and the Iranian nuclear threat as lower priorities. But now that he has had his victory, the focus turns to the talks where few, if any, observers think there is a ghost of a chance of that the negotiations can succeed despite Kerry’s call for “reasonable compromises.”

The reason for that is that despite the traditional American belief that the two sides can split the difference on their disagreements, as Kerry seems to want, the problem is much deeper than drawing a new line on a map.

Ironically, proof of this comes from a new poll that some are touting as evidence that both Israelis and Palestinians support a two-state solution. The poll (h/t Shmuel Rosner) was a joint project of the Harry S. Truman Research Institute for the Advancement of Peace at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research in Ramallah. It shows, among other often contradictory results, that:

A majority of Israelis (62%) supports a two-state solution while 33% oppose it. Among the Palestinians, 53% support and 46% oppose the two-state solution.

But the question to ask about this poll and the conflict is what the two sides mean by a two-state solution. The answer comes in a subsequent query:

We asked Israelis and Palestinians about their readiness for a mutual recognition as part of a permanent status agreement and after all issues in the conflict are resolved and a Palestinian State is established. Our current poll shows that 57% of the Israeli public supports such a mutual recognition and 37% opposes it. Among Palestinians, 42% support and 56% oppose this step.

In other words, Israelis see a two-state solution as a way to permanently end the conflict and achieve peace. But since a majority of Palestinians cannot envision mutual recognition even after all issues are resolve and they get a state, they obviously see it as merely a pause before the conflict would begin anew on terms decidedly less advantageous to Israel.

There are lots of reasons why the peace negotiations are likely to fail. The Palestinians are deeply split with Gaza being ruled by the Islamists of Hamas who still won’t even contemplate talks with Israel, let alone peace. Kerry praised Palestinian Authority head Mahmoud Abbas today, but he is weak and hasn’t the ability to make a peace deal stick even in the unlikely event that he signs one. Though Netanyahu went out on a political limb to enable the talks to begin by releasing over 100 Palestinian terrorists, Abbas has shown in the past that he will say no, even when offered virtually everything that he has asked for. Netanyahu will rightly drive a harder bargain and refuse to contemplate a deal that involves a complete retreat to the 1967 lines or a Palestinian state that isn’t demilitarized. But it’s hard to imagine Abbas ever recognizing the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn.

But the real problem isn’t about where negotiators would draw those lines. As the poll indicates, even after Israel withdraws from almost all of the West Bank (reports indicate Netanyahu is ready to give up 86 percent of it), a substantial majority of Palestinians still can’t fathom the possibility of mutual recognition and normal relations.

How can that be?

The reason is very simple and is not something that Kerry or his lead negotiator Martin Indyk (a veteran of numerous diplomatic failures who hasn’t seemed to learn a thing from any of them) can fix. Palestinian nationalism was born in the 20th century as a reaction to Zionism and not by focusing on fostering a separate identity and culture from that of other Arab populations. That doesn’t mean that they aren’t now a separate people with their own identity, but it does explain why they see that identity as indistinguishable from the effort to make Israel disappear.

While a “reasonable compromise” can be forged in theory between two nations determined to live in peace with each other once a border is devised, it is not possible in the absence of such recognition. Given the constant incitement and fomenting of hate against Israel and Jews in the official PA media (let alone that run by Hamas), it’s difficult to see how Abbas could ever agree to anything that would require a true end to the conflict rather than a mere truce. Until a sea change in Palestinian culture that would change that takes place, this won’t happen.

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The Myth of Authoritarian Stability

For years American presidents gave a blank check to Hosni Mubarak in Egypt. The only attempt to pressure him into making any meaningful political reforms occurred during President George W. Bush’s first term in office and was abandoned in the second term when then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice reasserted a traditional stability-above-all foreign policy that was continued by President Obama during his first two years in office. We know where that got us: to a revolution in 2011 which overthrew Mubarak and led to the election of a Muslim Brotherhood regime bent on consolidating power at all costs, the Brotherhood being the best-organized opposition group in the entire country. Now that Brotherhood government, too, has been overthrown and Egypt stands on the brink of civil war.

There is a lesson here in our relations with other dictatorial Middle Eastern states: Washington needs to push them to provide an opening to the moderate opposition and gradually transform in a democratic direction as the Philippines, Taiwan, and South Korea did in the 1980s. Simply clamping down harder is only a recipe for creating a bigger explosion later.

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For years American presidents gave a blank check to Hosni Mubarak in Egypt. The only attempt to pressure him into making any meaningful political reforms occurred during President George W. Bush’s first term in office and was abandoned in the second term when then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice reasserted a traditional stability-above-all foreign policy that was continued by President Obama during his first two years in office. We know where that got us: to a revolution in 2011 which overthrew Mubarak and led to the election of a Muslim Brotherhood regime bent on consolidating power at all costs, the Brotherhood being the best-organized opposition group in the entire country. Now that Brotherhood government, too, has been overthrown and Egypt stands on the brink of civil war.

There is a lesson here in our relations with other dictatorial Middle Eastern states: Washington needs to push them to provide an opening to the moderate opposition and gradually transform in a democratic direction as the Philippines, Taiwan, and South Korea did in the 1980s. Simply clamping down harder is only a recipe for creating a bigger explosion later.

Yet that is precisely what Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and other Gulf states are doing, emboldened by the overthrow of the Brotherhood government in Egypt with what is seen, rightly or wrongly, as the connivance of the West. The Wall Street Journal reports that the Saudi crackdown extends not only to Muslim Brothers and other Sunni fundamentalists but also to Shiite protesters and, most worrisome of all, to more liberal demonstrators such as the women petitioning for the right to drive.

It is easy for Washington to ignore human rights in its dealings with these regimes, and hard, if it does bring up the human rights issue, to avoid the charge of hypocrisy, although the more so when the Obama administration does so little to help dissidents in Iran or to protest the ongoing crackdown in Egypt. Yet the U.S. will be making a historic mistake–the same mistake, in fact, that it made in Egypt–if it turns a blind eye to the abusive internal conduct of its Middle Eastern allies. Sooner or later there will be a reckoning for these authoritarian regimes and their backers in the West. The best way for the Gulf kingdoms to ensure their stability in the long run is not to crack heads now but to create an opening for constitutional monarchies to slowly develop.

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Where Is Marco Rubio?

In its analysis of the latest round in the Rand Paul-Chris Christie dust-up over the future of conservative foreign policy, the Washington Post writes: “Typically, a fight produces a winner and a loser. But that’s not the case in the spat between New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) and Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.). In their clash over national security ideology, both men stand to gain politically in the near term.” That may be true, but it isn’t the case that there is no loser here. It can be plausibly argued that in this current bout Christie and Paul both win, but that someone else still loses: Marco Rubio.

Rubio has been noticeably quiet as the conservative movement seeks to shape its approach to the world for the next presidential election. Yet it was Rubio who was the first 2016 prospect to grapple with the challenges of maintaining American global engagement in the post-Cold War world, and certainly in the post-Iraq and Afghanistan world. Rubio entered the Senate as a Tea Party favorite who advocated a robust American foreign policy. He sensed that despite the political rhetoric about bullying Americans–especially from Europe and the Middle East–those grandstanding politicians still retained the hope that America would do the thankless jobs that have fallen on its shoulders for over half a century. And as a 2012 Miami Herald profile of Rubio revealed, the senator from Florida was right:

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In its analysis of the latest round in the Rand Paul-Chris Christie dust-up over the future of conservative foreign policy, the Washington Post writes: “Typically, a fight produces a winner and a loser. But that’s not the case in the spat between New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) and Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.). In their clash over national security ideology, both men stand to gain politically in the near term.” That may be true, but it isn’t the case that there is no loser here. It can be plausibly argued that in this current bout Christie and Paul both win, but that someone else still loses: Marco Rubio.

Rubio has been noticeably quiet as the conservative movement seeks to shape its approach to the world for the next presidential election. Yet it was Rubio who was the first 2016 prospect to grapple with the challenges of maintaining American global engagement in the post-Cold War world, and certainly in the post-Iraq and Afghanistan world. Rubio entered the Senate as a Tea Party favorite who advocated a robust American foreign policy. He sensed that despite the political rhetoric about bullying Americans–especially from Europe and the Middle East–those grandstanding politicians still retained the hope that America would do the thankless jobs that have fallen on its shoulders for over half a century. And as a 2012 Miami Herald profile of Rubio revealed, the senator from Florida was right:

Rubio said that, while foreign heads of state and politicians, bash the United States publicly, their tone changes in private.

“They’re begging for U.S. influence and leadership,” he said. “They’re not threatened by us. They’re not scared of us. They’re not worried about the United States being involved because we have a track record.”

That feeling was reinforced “by driving through the streets of Tripoli and seeing pro-American graffiti on the walls. Of having people come up to me on the streets and thank the United States – thank you America for what you did – by the enthusiastic greeting we received in the hospital that we visited or people we met people in the square.”

That view of international relations, gleaned from interpersonal exchanges rather than the stock anti-Americanism found in the media, informed Rubio’s belief in American global engagement. Just before that Miami Herald profile was published, Rubio gave a major foreign policy address at the Brookings Institution in which he acknowledged both the successes of the American-led postwar world and the challenge of post-Cold War superpower status:

So this is the world America made, but what is the role for America now? Is now finally the time for us to mind our own business? Is now the time for us to allow others to lead? Is now the time for us to play the role of equal partner?

I always start by reminding people that what happens all over the world is our business. Every aspect of lives is directly impacted by global events. The security of our cities is connected to the security of small hamlets in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia. Our cost of living, the safety of our food, and the value of the things we invent, make, and sell are just a few examples of everyday aspects of our lives that are directly related to events abroad and make it impossible for us to focus only on our issues here at home.

The next question I am asked is why doesn’t someone else lead for a change? Why do we always have to be taking care of all the problems of the world? Isn’t it time for someone else to step up?

I always begin my answer to that question with a question of my own. If we start doing less, who’s going to do more? For example, would a world order where China, at least as we know it right now, was the leading power be as benignly disposed to the political and economic aspirations of other nations as we are?

This is not a detailed exposition of precisely how America should address every foreign policy challenge, but a statement of purpose. It was also interpreted by many to represent Rubio’s grand entrance onto the national stage with regard to foreign affairs. And yet the truth is that as time passes, Rubio’s voice only seems to fade. And now with the debate about the future of conservative foreign policy breaking out into the open, Rubio’s silence is deafening.

Rubio’s decision to stand aside as this debate plays out has created a vacuum. Countering Rand Paul’s still vague, but seemingly retrenchment-centric, foreign policy has been left to Chris Christie–a governor without much foreign policy experience–and Congressman Peter King. Both seem to be considering a run for the presidency, though Christie is far more likely than King to ultimately run. Rubio had been collecting the experience and authority to be the advocate of an engaged America on the 2016 debate stage. Yet that debate has started already.

The obvious explanation for Rubio’s mysterious disappearance from the foreign policy debate is that he has raised his voice on other issues and is boxed in. He led the effort in the Senate to reform the nation’s immigration system, which has caused his stock among the party’s base to plummet. He has tried to win them back by stepping into the national abortion fight, offering to sponsor a bill that would restrict abortion in a way that is popular nationally but especially among the conservative grassroots.

And the assumption is that taking on Rand Paul over domestic surveillance would once again put him at odds with the base. It’s actually unclear whether retrenchment chic is truly sweeping the conservative movement for three reasons. First, Paul is the only high-profile politician occupying that space right now; as I wrote late last week, other libertarians like Justin Amash actually favor foreign intervention and sanctions. Second, we don’t actually know if Paul himself feels this way, because he has been unclear on certain aspects of the issue–evidence, perhaps, that he isn’t sure the base actually believes in retrenchment either. And third, Rubio’s silence has contributed to this confusion because there is no erudite counterweight to Paul, certainly not one with grassroots and Tea Party bona fides.

There is good reason, in other words, this debate was always expected to be between Paul and Rubio. Paul showed up. Whether or not he has an apparently justifiable reason for it, Rubio has not.

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NBC Miniseries Won’t Do Hillary a Favor

The news that NBC is planning to film a miniseries on the life of Hillary Clinton may be interpreted in some quarters as just another lollipop being thrown by the network at its Democratic crush. The movie will star actress Diane Lane as the former first lady, senator, and secretary of state and will cover her life from the 1998 Monica Lewinsky scandal up until the present day. Though we are told the work would include “aspects that were both critical of Mrs. Clinton and supportive of her,” it’s not likely the network with a cable news outlet where nary a discouraging word is uttered about liberalism and the Democrats will exert itself to highlight the less savory parts of the Clinton story. But anyone under the assumption that this project, which must be completed and aired before Clinton announces for the presidency in 2016 to avoid NBC having to give her opponents equal time, will boost the drive to make Hillary President Obama’s successor is probably wrong. As the Clintons were reminded this past week as the Weiner scandal caused many Americans to think back on l’affaire Lewinsky, this kind of scrutiny, even if done by friends, doesn’t help them.

If, as Fred Dicker reports today in the New York Post, Bill and Hillary are “livid” about the comparisons being made between their conduct and that of the couple that married at their Chappaqua estate, it can’t be just because they think the former president’s dalliances with an intern in the Oval Office and escapades with various girlfriends and mistresses during his time as governor of Arkansas are not as icky as Weiner’s bizarre Internet activities (a point I thought Peter Beinart rightly disputed last week). It’s because Huma Abedin’s pathetic performance last week beside her disturbed husband is highly reminiscent of the decision by Hillary to stand by her man and to regard his critics as merely the effusion of a “vast right-wing conspiracy.” Hillary’s potential candidacy is at its intimidating best—at least to serious Democratic contenders who will probably pass on the presidency rather than taker her on—when the discussion is about the need for America to elect its first female president. When the conversation turns to the history of Mrs. Clinton’s troubled marriage, her expected coronation in January 2017 seems a bit less inevitable.

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The news that NBC is planning to film a miniseries on the life of Hillary Clinton may be interpreted in some quarters as just another lollipop being thrown by the network at its Democratic crush. The movie will star actress Diane Lane as the former first lady, senator, and secretary of state and will cover her life from the 1998 Monica Lewinsky scandal up until the present day. Though we are told the work would include “aspects that were both critical of Mrs. Clinton and supportive of her,” it’s not likely the network with a cable news outlet where nary a discouraging word is uttered about liberalism and the Democrats will exert itself to highlight the less savory parts of the Clinton story. But anyone under the assumption that this project, which must be completed and aired before Clinton announces for the presidency in 2016 to avoid NBC having to give her opponents equal time, will boost the drive to make Hillary President Obama’s successor is probably wrong. As the Clintons were reminded this past week as the Weiner scandal caused many Americans to think back on l’affaire Lewinsky, this kind of scrutiny, even if done by friends, doesn’t help them.

If, as Fred Dicker reports today in the New York Post, Bill and Hillary are “livid” about the comparisons being made between their conduct and that of the couple that married at their Chappaqua estate, it can’t be just because they think the former president’s dalliances with an intern in the Oval Office and escapades with various girlfriends and mistresses during his time as governor of Arkansas are not as icky as Weiner’s bizarre Internet activities (a point I thought Peter Beinart rightly disputed last week). It’s because Huma Abedin’s pathetic performance last week beside her disturbed husband is highly reminiscent of the decision by Hillary to stand by her man and to regard his critics as merely the effusion of a “vast right-wing conspiracy.” Hillary’s potential candidacy is at its intimidating best—at least to serious Democratic contenders who will probably pass on the presidency rather than taker her on—when the discussion is about the need for America to elect its first female president. When the conversation turns to the history of Mrs. Clinton’s troubled marriage, her expected coronation in January 2017 seems a bit less inevitable.

There’s never been much evidence that movies, whether produced for the big screen or the small one, have much impact on presidential elections. Last year, many Republicans feared that various films that focused on the killing of Osama bin Laden would give President Obama a huge edge. But while they probably didn’t hurt the Democratic campaign, it’s not as if Americans—who were reminded about bin Laden’s shooting by Navy SEALs in virtually every speech the president gave for more than year—needed a movie to remind them of the fact. Obama’s historic status and slavish press coverage ensured his reelection and no film, whether positive or negative, was going to change that.

An even better example is the impact that The Right Stuff, the 1983 film version of Tom Wolfe’s book about the original Mercury astronauts, had on the 1984 presidential election. One of the Mercury seven, Ohio Senator John Glenn, was portrayed in the book as something of a prig. That caused some to worry that the film would harm his prospects for the Democratic nomination in 1984. But Ed Harris’s portrayal of Glenn made him appear to be not just moral, but a shining example of a true American hero and the film was thought to boost his chances. But not even a Hollywood lollipop that reminded the nation that the senator had been the first American to orbit the earth was enough to turn Glenn into a viable candidate, and he spent the next 20 years trying to pay off his $3 million campaign debt.

No matter how adoring the film will be, any movie about the Clintons in 1998, even one that also discusses her subsequent government service, distracts the public from the story her campaign will want to tell about her intended rendezvous with history in 2016. Even worse, any biopic will serve as an excuse for critics and defenders to rehash past scandals, whether it involves the Rose law firm, Whitewater, or Paula Jones, that the Clintons had hoped were permanently in their rear view mirror. As much as her career has its roots in her husband’s overwhelming electoral success and the continuing admiration he inspires among Democrats, Hillary’s presidential hopes are based not so much on a desire to go back to the 1990s as on a view of her career that is independent of that of her spouse.

Should Clinton run for president, as everyone assumes will happen, she will be the presumptive Democratic nominee no matter whether Lane makes her seem a goddess or not. But, like the Weiner blowback on Hillary because of her close ties to Abedin, a revival of interest in the most memorable incident of her time in the White House should not be considered a favor to her.

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The CFPB Pays Itself—and Very Well Too

One of the reasons the compensation of CEOs has been rising so quickly in recent decades—much to the distress of the left—is that very often they get to determine for themselves what their compensation will be. To be sure, it is the board that actually sets the figure, but corporate boards are, all too often, effectively controlled by top management, not the other way around. And even in companies where the boards rule, the fact that other companies are paying their top executives more puts pressure on them to keep pace.

That doesn’t happen in the federal government, where the salaries and perks of the vast bureaucracy are set by act of Congress.

Except, of course, for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau established by Dodd-Frank. The CFPB is not an agency of the executive branch of the government, but rather a part of the Federal Reserve, although not subject to any oversight by the Fed. Indeed, effectively it is not subject to any oversight at all, an open invitation to abuse its power. As the Founding Fathers understood, those sorts of invitations are always, sooner or later, accepted.

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One of the reasons the compensation of CEOs has been rising so quickly in recent decades—much to the distress of the left—is that very often they get to determine for themselves what their compensation will be. To be sure, it is the board that actually sets the figure, but corporate boards are, all too often, effectively controlled by top management, not the other way around. And even in companies where the boards rule, the fact that other companies are paying their top executives more puts pressure on them to keep pace.

That doesn’t happen in the federal government, where the salaries and perks of the vast bureaucracy are set by act of Congress.

Except, of course, for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau established by Dodd-Frank. The CFPB is not an agency of the executive branch of the government, but rather a part of the Federal Reserve, although not subject to any oversight by the Fed. Indeed, effectively it is not subject to any oversight at all, an open invitation to abuse its power. As the Founding Fathers understood, those sorts of invitations are always, sooner or later, accepted.

Nor is it funded by congressional appropriation. It simply tells the Federal Reserve how much money it needs and the Fed sends over a check.

And its employees’ compensation is not determined by congressional act. It is set by the CFPB.

So guess what. Just as with many CEOs, it pays its employees very well indeed. According to the Washington Examiner, there are no fewer than 56 CFPB employees who earn more than the $199,700 salary earned by Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke.  The average salary at the CFPB is $118,000, and fully 61 percent of the employees earn more than $100,000. The Examiner reports that, “The top grossing CFPB employee is Gail K. Hillebrand who receives $251,288. She is assistant director for consumer education and engagement. Previously, Hillebrand was a marketing manager at Consumers Union.”

The top-paid bureaucrats in the executive branch—GS-15, step 10—who are based in Washington earn $155,500 in salary.

The Nancy Pelosi 111th Congress abandoned its most potent constitutional powers, the power of the purse and the power of oversight, in creating this constitutional outrage. We’ll probably have to wait until at least 2017 to undo it.

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Egyptian Military Playing with Fire

It is possible for regimes to get away with massacres of unarmed protesters. China’s ruthless repression of the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989 is evidence of that. But it only works if there is a strong regime that is internally united behind the need for repression and that maintains the tacit support of most citizens. Otherwise, trying to shoot protesters can backfire, as both Muammar Gaddafi and Bashar Assad have learned in the past few years: Their ham-handed attempts at repression instead sparked civil wars.

It is impossible to know into which category Egypt will fall, but the latter possibility–a crackdown triggering a civil war–looks more likely than the former at this point, a crackdown being sullenly accepted by regime opponents and the population at large. Yet Egypt’s generals, who have seized back the reins of power, seem oblivious to this danger. Buoyed by popular protests against “terrorism” that they themselves organized, they gave the go-ahead to the security forces to open fire on crowds of Muslim Brotherhood supporters in Cairo. At least 72 people were killed on Saturday, many, it seems, with a single shot to the torso or head–most likely denoting police or army snipers at work.

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It is possible for regimes to get away with massacres of unarmed protesters. China’s ruthless repression of the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989 is evidence of that. But it only works if there is a strong regime that is internally united behind the need for repression and that maintains the tacit support of most citizens. Otherwise, trying to shoot protesters can backfire, as both Muammar Gaddafi and Bashar Assad have learned in the past few years: Their ham-handed attempts at repression instead sparked civil wars.

It is impossible to know into which category Egypt will fall, but the latter possibility–a crackdown triggering a civil war–looks more likely than the former at this point, a crackdown being sullenly accepted by regime opponents and the population at large. Yet Egypt’s generals, who have seized back the reins of power, seem oblivious to this danger. Buoyed by popular protests against “terrorism” that they themselves organized, they gave the go-ahead to the security forces to open fire on crowds of Muslim Brotherhood supporters in Cairo. At least 72 people were killed on Saturday, many, it seems, with a single shot to the torso or head–most likely denoting police or army snipers at work.

Predictably, Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim claimed that the shooting was all the work of protesters and that his police officers “have never and never will shoot a bullet on any Egyptian.” The bulk of the evidence–including videos released by participants–suggests otherwise. While the crowd of protesters may have thrown some rocks at police and built barricades and may even have fired a few shots, the violence was shockingly one-sided, as indicated by the casualty toll–there were few reports of police officers being killed or wounded and many, many reports of casualties among the demonstrators.

The military, emboldened by the ease with which it ousted the Morsi government from power, appears to imagine that it no longer needs to make any compromises–that it can simply crush the Muslim Brotherhood by force. And perhaps it can. But the generals are making a dangerous gamble: They are pushing a large, well-organized movement–indeed the largest and most effective organization in Egypt outside the army itself–into a corner from which violence offers the only avenue of escape. The New York Times’s Robert F. Worth, who has been providing yeoman coverage from Cairo, notes perceptively “the Brotherhood’s only reliable partners now are other Islamist groups whose members may be more willing to use violent or radical tactics.”

Worth also points out: “Its options are limited in any case, because to back down now, with no guarantee from Egypt’s interim government that the Brotherhood would be spared deeper repression in the future, could be political suicide.” Even if Brotherhood leaders do want to back down, their ability to do so may be limited because young hotheads are going to fight back and they could wind up dragging their more cautious elders with them.

For years the Brotherhood put its resources behind peaceful regime change, a strategy that culminated in its victory in the first and so far only post-Mubarak election. The military’s overthrow of that regime and now its willingness to slaughter Brotherhood supporters in the street may toss that peaceful commitment out the window and plunge Egypt into the vortex of civil war.

Maybe there is still a way out of this impasse, but it is hard to have any confidence that Egypt’s generals–who have enriched themselves for years while the country has stagnated around them–know what they are doing. It appears they are simply doing what comes naturally to military men: using force–and never mind the consequences.

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Rebuilding Life in the Aftermath of Grief

Last April Matthew Warren, the 27-year-old son of the best-selling author and evangelical pastor Rick Warren, committed suicide. In a letter written to his church, Warren said his son died after years of mental illness resulting in deep depression and suicidal thoughts.

“In spite of America’s best doctors, meds, counselors, and prayers for healing, the torture of mental illness never subsided. Today [April 5], after a fun evening together with Kay and me, in a momentary wave of despair at his home, he took his life,” Warren wrote.

This past weekend Warren and his wife Kay addressed their congregation for the first time since their son’s suicide. According to this report in Time:

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Last April Matthew Warren, the 27-year-old son of the best-selling author and evangelical pastor Rick Warren, committed suicide. In a letter written to his church, Warren said his son died after years of mental illness resulting in deep depression and suicidal thoughts.

“In spite of America’s best doctors, meds, counselors, and prayers for healing, the torture of mental illness never subsided. Today [April 5], after a fun evening together with Kay and me, in a momentary wave of despair at his home, he took his life,” Warren wrote.

This past weekend Warren and his wife Kay addressed their congregation for the first time since their son’s suicide. According to this report in Time:

The Warrens spoke honestly about their spiritual struggles with Matthew’s mental illness. “For 27 years, I prayed every day of my life for God to heal my son’s mental illness. It was the number one prayer of my life,” Rick preached. “It just didn’t make sense why this prayer was not being answered.” Kay spoke of how she couldn’t even read certain Scripture passages about hope for months after Matthew’s death.

“Can it be any profit to the gods to heap upon us mortal men beside our other woes this further grief for children lost, a grief surpassing all?” Euripides asks in Medea.

“A grief surpassing all” is what the Warren family is now enduring. But rather than turn on the gods, or on God, they are determined to see that something good arises from their ruin. In speaking to his congregation:

Rick [Warren] then made a promise: Saddleback’s next big ministry push will be to remove the stigma associated with mental illness in the church. “Your illness is not your identity, your chemistry is not your character,” he told people struggling with mental illness. To their families, he said, “We are here for you, and we are in this together.”  There is hope for the future: “God wants to take your greatest loss and turn it into your greatest life message.” … A larger program to address the specifics of mental illness has yet to be revealed, but it will be similar, Rick said, to the way their church has helped to tackle the HIV crisis.

Removing this stigma would be a wonderful achievement. If you have ever witnessed people who have tried (often unsuccessfully) to move heaven and earth to cure a person suffering from a mental disorder, you’ll know why.

Mental illness was once viewed as everything from a sign of demonic possession to personal weakness. What we now know is that the etiology of mental illnesses is extremely complicated and difficult to pin down, cast as they are in mist and shadows. But depending on what the particular illness is–schizophrenia, obsessive compulsive disorder, bipolar disorder, autism, et cetera–genetic and biological factors, including chemical imbalances, often play a crucial role. A study earlier this year in the medical journal the Lancet, for example, found that a wide variety of psychiatric illnesses “share several genetic glitches that can nudge the brain along a path to mental illness.” And so a child raised by loving and attentive parents, having been given every opportunity in life, can still suffer from debilitating mental illness. We know, too, that the stigmas associated with mental illness have created feelings of shame, self-doubt, and isolation. Any effort to impart discernment in an area characterized by ignorance is all to the good.

The grief Rick and Kay Warren and their two other children, Amy and Josh, are experiencing is impossible for most of us to sympathize with. A few of their closest friends and family members will walk this journey with them; the rest of us can admire them for the path they have chosen to follow. And if they find it within themselves to offer aid and comfort and understanding to others, then they will have found some element of redemption even in so great a loss. And remarkably, they have found some element of renewed hope as well. 

Matthew’s body was buried in brokenness, Kay Warren said at Saturday night’s service, but will be raised in strength. And according to Time, “As the service closed, Rick joined the worship team in singing a favorite evangelical hymn, ‘Blessed Be Your Name.’ He lifted his Bible high above his head and declared boldly to the God he serves: ‘You give and take away, my heart will choose to say, Lord blessed be your name.’” 

The Warren family would undoubtedly exchange whatever blessings their new endeavors bring to others simply to be able to turn the clock back, to have their son back. But they know that loss cannot be undone; their choice is either to be consumed by grief and bitterness or to move forward, through tears, in faith. They are living somewhere else than they ever expected to be. And so to watch them, and to watch others like them, begin to pick up the pieces of their shattered lives–to struggle with doubt and still believe that a morning star will one day rise in their heart–is a beautiful and inspiring thing to behold.

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Lessons From Korea

This past Saturday marked the 60th anniversary of the armistice which ended the Korean War. The day passed quietly in South Korea, where I am spending some time–marked by a few fly-bys of South Korean F-16K jets and a low-key ceremony at the War Memorial in Seoul where President Park Geun-hye expressed her hope for lasting peace on the peninsula. It was a different story in Pyongyang where the Communist regime marked “Victory Day,” its self-serving label for the armistice, with a grandiose parade of military hardware including what were, in all probability, phony ICBMs and suitcase nukes adorned with ostentatious radioactive warning symbols. 

It’s hard to more accurately symbolize the divide between South and North–between, respectively, a peaceful, prosperous and democratic government and one that is militaristic, impoverished, and repressive. If the years since the Korean War and in particular the years since the demise of South Korea’s Sunshine Policy (1998-2008) should have us taught anything, it is that outreach from Seoul and Washington does nothing to melt the icy hostility of the North, which must preserve a continuing state of tensions to justify the despotic rule of the Kim dynasty. Providing subsidies or diplomatic recognition to North Korea in response to its threats and provocations only brings more of the same. Yet somehow the urge to placate the North proves irresistible. 

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This past Saturday marked the 60th anniversary of the armistice which ended the Korean War. The day passed quietly in South Korea, where I am spending some time–marked by a few fly-bys of South Korean F-16K jets and a low-key ceremony at the War Memorial in Seoul where President Park Geun-hye expressed her hope for lasting peace on the peninsula. It was a different story in Pyongyang where the Communist regime marked “Victory Day,” its self-serving label for the armistice, with a grandiose parade of military hardware including what were, in all probability, phony ICBMs and suitcase nukes adorned with ostentatious radioactive warning symbols. 

It’s hard to more accurately symbolize the divide between South and North–between, respectively, a peaceful, prosperous and democratic government and one that is militaristic, impoverished, and repressive. If the years since the Korean War and in particular the years since the demise of South Korea’s Sunshine Policy (1998-2008) should have us taught anything, it is that outreach from Seoul and Washington does nothing to melt the icy hostility of the North, which must preserve a continuing state of tensions to justify the despotic rule of the Kim dynasty. Providing subsidies or diplomatic recognition to North Korea in response to its threats and provocations only brings more of the same. Yet somehow the urge to placate the North proves irresistible. 

President Park is now offering the North a $7.3 million bribe–excuse me, humanitarian aid–to reopen the Kaesong Industrial Complex, which the North closed in April during a round of saber rattling. The industrial complex consists of South Korean owned-and-operated factories in North Korea, just north of the DMZ (from where it is visible), which employs more than 50,000 North Korean workers and generates at least $90 million in hard currency for the North. The whole thing is a giant boondoggle, run by the South as a sop to the North. Why Seoul is trying to reopen it is a mystery: if Pyongyang wants to close it and lose the benefits it derives from Kaesong, why is the South standing in the way and, in essence, demanding the right to continue subsidizing the North Korean regime?

This is to, put it mildly, counterproductive. The same might be said about Jimmy Carter’s umpteenth trip to North Korea, now being planned to free Kenneth Bae, a Korean-American tour operator and missionary who was arrested in the North and sentenced to 15 years’ hard labor. This is part of a long-standing pattern with the North, which likes to lock up Westerners to entice high-profile figures such as Bill Richardson, Bill Clinton, or Jimmy Carter to visit. Those visits, in turn, are presented to the North Korean population as if these leading Americans are paying obeisance to the Kims–which in some respects they are, albeit unintentionally. If Carter succeeds in freeing Bae it will be a good deed, but also one that will ensure more such kidnappings in the future.

It’s well past time for South Korea and the rest of the West to stop kidding themselves about the North Korean regime. It is not going to moderate itself. The only way the situation will improve is if the North Korean regime peacefully collapses–and providing any support or outreach to the unrepentant Stalinists of the North in the meantime is counterproductive.

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