Commentary Magazine


Posts For: August 7, 2013

Rouhani Begins to Play the West

New Iranian President Hassan Rouhani didn’t help himself last week when he gave a speech denouncing the state of Israel as a “sore on the body of the Islamic world.” Iran’s Western apologists may have sought to seize on the fact that he didn’t, as the first Iranian translation released said he did, proclaim that it ought to be removed. But the difference between Rouhani’s remarks and those of his predecessor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was so minimal as to remind even those least interested in pressuring Iran that he is part of a profoundly anti-Semitic regime. But he got back on message yesterday in his first press conference, where he began the process of entrapping the West in another protracted negotiation that will ultimately lead nowhere.

Rouhani stated his desire for a negotiated settlement of the standoff over Iran’s nuclear program and said that he was open to direct talks with the United States on the issue. Some focused on the fact that at this appearance, as well as in his inaugural address on Sunday, Rouhani repeatedly said his country would not give up its nuclear ambition and demanded that any negotiation must begin with the West retreating from, rather than intensifying, sanctions on the Islamic regime. But this was a clever move. While giving away nothing and even doubling down on his attempt to delegitimize Israel and its supporters, Rouhani probably showed just enough leg in this statement to entice the U.S. into more talks about talks. In doing so, Rouhani probably bought Iran’s nuclear engineers and scientists as much as another year of time to get closer to their goal of a weapon that would destabilize the region and threaten the existence of Israel. Though President Obama appears desperate to seize on any excuse to get out from under his promises never to allow Iran to go nuclear, this is a ruse that the United States shouldn’t fall for.

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New Iranian President Hassan Rouhani didn’t help himself last week when he gave a speech denouncing the state of Israel as a “sore on the body of the Islamic world.” Iran’s Western apologists may have sought to seize on the fact that he didn’t, as the first Iranian translation released said he did, proclaim that it ought to be removed. But the difference between Rouhani’s remarks and those of his predecessor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was so minimal as to remind even those least interested in pressuring Iran that he is part of a profoundly anti-Semitic regime. But he got back on message yesterday in his first press conference, where he began the process of entrapping the West in another protracted negotiation that will ultimately lead nowhere.

Rouhani stated his desire for a negotiated settlement of the standoff over Iran’s nuclear program and said that he was open to direct talks with the United States on the issue. Some focused on the fact that at this appearance, as well as in his inaugural address on Sunday, Rouhani repeatedly said his country would not give up its nuclear ambition and demanded that any negotiation must begin with the West retreating from, rather than intensifying, sanctions on the Islamic regime. But this was a clever move. While giving away nothing and even doubling down on his attempt to delegitimize Israel and its supporters, Rouhani probably showed just enough leg in this statement to entice the U.S. into more talks about talks. In doing so, Rouhani probably bought Iran’s nuclear engineers and scientists as much as another year of time to get closer to their goal of a weapon that would destabilize the region and threaten the existence of Israel. Though President Obama appears desperate to seize on any excuse to get out from under his promises never to allow Iran to go nuclear, this is a ruse that the United States shouldn’t fall for.

Though Rouhani is often depicted in the West as a genuine moderate who represents a change in direction from the extreme Islamists that rule Iran, his attempt at a diplomatic opening made it clear that he is as obsessed with anti-Semitic delusions about the Jews as his boss, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. As even the New York Times, whose editorial column has been transformed into a Rouhani fan page in the last two months, noted:

Numerous times during the question-and-answer session, Mr. Rouhani referred to unspecified “warmongering pressure groups” that he accused of confusing the White House at the behest of an unidentified country.

Mr. Rouhani apparently was referring to pro-Israel advocates of strong sanctions against Iran that have publicly praised Congress in recent days for advancing legislation that would greatly intensify the economic consequences on Iran unless it halts uranium enrichment. …

Mr. Rouhani never made any explicit reference to Israel at his news conference. But he said that the interests of “one foreign country” had been imposed on Congress, and that “even the interests of the U.S. are not considered in such actions.”

What Rouhani fails to understand is that opposition to Iran’s nuclear program isn’t the result of manipulation by the so-called “Israel Lobby” but a consensus position that has overwhelming support from both Democrats and Republicans. While Israel is endangered by Iranian nukes, so is the entire West, as well as moderate Arab regimes.

This reliance on the Jewish boogeyman should be a tipoff, even to an Obama administration that urgently seeks an excuse to keep negotiating with Iran after numerous rebuffs and failures, that there is no difference between Rouhani and the rest of the regime.

Rouhani knows that even Obama wouldn’t retreat on the sanctions that are crippling the Iranian economy without Tehran starting the process of dismantling its weapons project. But what he wants is to draw the Americans into another series of talks like the P5+1 multilateral negotiations that served only to buy the Iranians another year while the West achieved nothing. Having already participated in one of the earliest negotiating sessions with the West on the issue and successfully ensnaring his counterparts in a compromise agreement that was soon reneged upon, Rouhani knows the object of the game is that so long as Iran keeps talking about talking, the U.S. is hopelessly drawn into the trap.

President Obama may feel bound to test Rouhani’s sincerity, but if he is serious about keeping his word on the nuclear issue, he must set firm limits on the time he is willing to expend on such an experiment in spite of the temptation to keep the process going. As this process begins, the Obama foreign policy team should keep Rouhani’s provocations about Israel in mind. Far from being tangential to their goal of gaining an agreement, they are the tipoff that what will follow won’t be in the interests of the United States.

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What Davis Doesn’t Know About Gosnell

For months, most of the mainstream media treated the Kermit Gosnell murder case as if it was as significant as a suburban traffic court dispute. Only in the waning days of the trial of the Philadelphia doctor for the murder of infants born alive as a result of botched abortions did the topic attract much coverage. Yet even then, few journalists chose to think seriously about the implications of a case that raised serious questions about the quality of care and possibly illegal practices at clinics, especially those that specialized in the kind of late-term abortions that Gosnell performed. That unwillingness to address the core issues at the heart of this story would have important political consequences.

The Gosnell coverage deficit and refusal to think about what late-term abortion in this country actually means would dictate the subsequent media treatment of the battle in the Texas legislature over abortion. While the conservatives who proposed a ban on the procedure after 20 weeks were directly influenced by the Gosnell horrors, the mainstream liberal media saw only an attack on the right to abortion on demand and responded accordingly. Thus, when a heretofore-obscure Texas state senator staged a filibuster that successfully prevented (at least for a while) passage of the late term ban, overnight she was turned into a liberal national heroine with no one in her vast cheering section ever pausing to ask what she thought about Gosnell. Nor did they ask about the argument that since medical science now made most such babies viable outside the womb, perhaps the ban was a defense of human rights rather than an attack on women.

Thanks to the Weekly Standard’s John McCormack, we now have an answer to that question. But it appears neither Davis, who appears to be using her status as the pro-abortion champion as a platform to run for governor of Texas, nor her supporters who have responded angrily to the Standard’s chutzpah, have actually given a serious thought to Gosnell or have the slightest understanding of what it means.

McCormack cornered Davis at the National Press Club where she was taking yet another bow from the media for her role in defending the right to abort infants that would likely survive outside the womb:

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For months, most of the mainstream media treated the Kermit Gosnell murder case as if it was as significant as a suburban traffic court dispute. Only in the waning days of the trial of the Philadelphia doctor for the murder of infants born alive as a result of botched abortions did the topic attract much coverage. Yet even then, few journalists chose to think seriously about the implications of a case that raised serious questions about the quality of care and possibly illegal practices at clinics, especially those that specialized in the kind of late-term abortions that Gosnell performed. That unwillingness to address the core issues at the heart of this story would have important political consequences.

The Gosnell coverage deficit and refusal to think about what late-term abortion in this country actually means would dictate the subsequent media treatment of the battle in the Texas legislature over abortion. While the conservatives who proposed a ban on the procedure after 20 weeks were directly influenced by the Gosnell horrors, the mainstream liberal media saw only an attack on the right to abortion on demand and responded accordingly. Thus, when a heretofore-obscure Texas state senator staged a filibuster that successfully prevented (at least for a while) passage of the late term ban, overnight she was turned into a liberal national heroine with no one in her vast cheering section ever pausing to ask what she thought about Gosnell. Nor did they ask about the argument that since medical science now made most such babies viable outside the womb, perhaps the ban was a defense of human rights rather than an attack on women.

Thanks to the Weekly Standard’s John McCormack, we now have an answer to that question. But it appears neither Davis, who appears to be using her status as the pro-abortion champion as a platform to run for governor of Texas, nor her supporters who have responded angrily to the Standard’s chutzpah, have actually given a serious thought to Gosnell or have the slightest understanding of what it means.

McCormack cornered Davis at the National Press Club where she was taking yet another bow from the media for her role in defending the right to abort infants that would likely survive outside the womb:

THE WEEKLY STANDARD: The supporters of these bans, they argue that there really isn’t much of a difference between what happened in that Philadelphia case with abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell [killing born-alive infants] 23 weeks into pregnancy and legal late-term abortions at 23 weeks. What is the difference between those two, between legal abortion at 23 weeks and what Gosnell did? Do you see a distinction between those two [acts]?

SEN. WENDY DAVIS: I don’t know what happened in the Gosnell case. But I do know that it happened in an ambulatory surgical center. And in Texas changing our clinics to that standard obviously isn’t going to make a difference. The state of the law obviously has to assure that doctors are providing safe procedures for women and that proper oversight by the health and human services department is being given. It sounds as though there was a huge gap in that oversight, and no one can defend that. But that’s not the landscape of what’s happening in Texas. 

As McCormack later pointed out, the one thing Davis claimed to know about Gosnell was actually wrong. Gosnell was not operating an ambulatory surgical center, just an ordinary abortion mill that was known for being willing to violate the Pennsylvania law that prohibited late-term abortions. That’s significant because the Texas law she sought to filibuster required clinics in the state to conform to the standards of care at such facilities.

But the main point here is that, like the liberal media, Davis thinks the Gosnell case is irrelevant to the question of whether states should demand that the loose regulatory regime that currently applies to abortion clinics should be changed to require them to be as good as ambulatory surgical centers or whether viable 20+ week babies should be allowed to aborted. Rather than ponder whether such atrocities are occurring elsewhere under the guise of legality, they prefer to grandstand on the issue and claim defending dangerous late-term procedures that often border on, if not cross over into, infanticide is the same as protecting the right to perform abortions in the first trimester.

As McCormack also noted, Davis doesn’t recognize any limits on abortion and, like many others in the pro-choice community, pretends that the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision protected all abortions, including late-term procedures, a position that is patently false.

Predictably, the Standard has been attacked by the left for even raising the question of Gosnell to Davis. In doing so, Media Matters repeated the liberal talking point that what Davis was doing in Texas was protecting the right to legal abortion while what Gosnell was doing was illegal. It quoted former New York columnists as saying that the issue with Gosnell was making abortion accessible and safe. But this is based on the myth that women went to Gosnell because they had no alternatives. In fact, his clinic was located in the middle of Philadelphia, where other clinics, including one run by Planned Parenthood, were available.

It is no small irony that abortion advocates claim that they want the procedure to be safe while simultaneously dismissing the idea that their clinics should have high health standards. While the assertion that all but five clinics in Texas would be closed by the regulations is almost certainly false, it still begs the question of why Davis and her supporters are so adamant about opposing improving facilities at what are well known to be highly profitable businesses.

The fact remains that those like Davis who seek to oppose all restrictions on abortion, even a reasonable one such as a ban after the point of viability is reached, are the real extremists on the issue. Gosnell is relevant to her celebrity because it is built on a willful desire to allow potential atrocities to continue undisturbed and a blind refusal to contemplate the moral and ethical issues behind late-term abortion. That so many in the media still seek to stifle such a discussion is nothing less than a disgrace.

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Libertarian Populism’s Emerging Agenda

In the last few months, there has been spirited debate on the right over the electoral viability of what is being called “libertarian populism.” If the term has a definition at all, it owes much to Tim Carney’s advice to conservatives to “Offer populist policies that mesh with free-market principles, and don’t be afraid to admit that the game is rigged in favor of the wealthy and the well-connected.” That is a concise-enough snapshot of what COMMENTARY contributor Ben Domenech has elsewhere called a “New Fusionism”: “Today the most reliable social conservatives are also the most economically conservative, and there is no monolith on foreign policy,” he wrote back in June.

Since then, the debate has been wide-ranging; here is Reason’s list of links to get various writers’ perspectives on it. Watching from the sidelines of this debate, three lessons stand out thus far from the emergence of the libertarian populists. (It’s a bit of an unwieldy phrase, but I nonetheless fervently hope that Jesse Walker’s abbreviated term, LibPops, never ever catches on. It’s nothing personal, Jesse.) When I say the debate has been conducted “on the right,” I am not exaggerating: liberal commentators have occasionally butted in to lob potted insults and reveal their ignorance of all things libertarian, but never to take constructive part in the debate. The lesson is this: the left is treating libertarians as though they are conservatives, because they are unwelcome on the left.

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In the last few months, there has been spirited debate on the right over the electoral viability of what is being called “libertarian populism.” If the term has a definition at all, it owes much to Tim Carney’s advice to conservatives to “Offer populist policies that mesh with free-market principles, and don’t be afraid to admit that the game is rigged in favor of the wealthy and the well-connected.” That is a concise-enough snapshot of what COMMENTARY contributor Ben Domenech has elsewhere called a “New Fusionism”: “Today the most reliable social conservatives are also the most economically conservative, and there is no monolith on foreign policy,” he wrote back in June.

Since then, the debate has been wide-ranging; here is Reason’s list of links to get various writers’ perspectives on it. Watching from the sidelines of this debate, three lessons stand out thus far from the emergence of the libertarian populists. (It’s a bit of an unwieldy phrase, but I nonetheless fervently hope that Jesse Walker’s abbreviated term, LibPops, never ever catches on. It’s nothing personal, Jesse.) When I say the debate has been conducted “on the right,” I am not exaggerating: liberal commentators have occasionally butted in to lob potted insults and reveal their ignorance of all things libertarian, but never to take constructive part in the debate. The lesson is this: the left is treating libertarians as though they are conservatives, because they are unwelcome on the left.

I’ve written about this before, in comparing the Gary Johnson model of political influence with the Rand Paul model. Johnson, a libertarian, could not convince enough Republicans of the righteousness of his candidacy, and simply bolted the party to run for president as a Libertarian instead of doing something that would have required some measure of cooperation with the GOP but would also have done a great deal to advance libertarianism: run for Senate in his home state of New Mexico.

Rand Paul revealed the folly of the Gary Johnson model, where the candidate blames the voters for his own limitations. Paul ran for Senate, won, and now is considered a plausible first-tier candidate for the 2016 GOP presidential nomination. Libertarian populism’s emergence is partially indebted to Paul’s success as a Republican, because that is where libertarians (and Libertarians) can find enough sympathetic voters to advance their agenda. In that sense, Domenech is on to something with his Fusionism, though I have two concerns about the ingredients of the mix, and they apply to the other two lessons on my list.

The next lesson has to do with social conservatism. The two highest profile social issues are gay marriage and abortion. Self-described libertarians will simply never sign on to outlawing gay marriage. (That leaves open the question of whether there is a sensible get-the-government-out-of-marriage-altogether compromise, which I think there is.) On the other issue, what is the libertarian position on abortion? Conveniently enough, Reason magazine editors Matt Welch and Nick Gillespie in 2011 took that as their “ask a libertarian” question of the day and gave a brief video response. They both agreed that, technically, there is no such thing as a “libertarian position on abortion” since there is no litmus test for admission to libertarianism. Well, OK–but how do Welch and Gillespie feel about it? From their answer, it’s clear they think abortion should be at least as legal as it is now.

So what happens when, in Domenech’s formulation, the reliable social conservatives are also the most reliable economic conservatives? In the Reason video, Welch says that about 30 percent or so of self-described libertarians are also pro-life. If he’s right, then 70 percent of them aren’t, and that has to be reconciled. If at least 70 percent of libertarians support abortion and gay marriage, how does libertarian populism survive the contradiction?

More broadly, I ask this question because the two most recognizable libertarians in the U.S. Congress right now are Rand Paul and Congressman Justin Amash–both of whom are staunchly pro-life. Amash told Reason in an interview that abortion violates the unborn child’s Fourteenth Amendment rights, and he seemed to suggest abortion should be legal until no later than three days after conception. I should note that I don’t think this should be a contradiction, it just seems like it is. Amash and Paul are correct: the unborn child is the same human person before and after what we consider “viability,” and they therefore have rights. I’m always baffled by a “libertarian” argument that assigns full human rights only to some people and not others.

The third lesson is that libertarians have been somewhat vague on foreign policy, and there doesn’t currently seem to be a libertarian populist foreign policy. This is to be expected, because the internationalist foreign policy has been dominant in the GOP and conservative movement for some time now, so it makes some sense that libertarians would define their foreign policy prescriptions by what they are against, instead of what they are for. But that question will have to be answered, and we once again return to Paul and Amash.

For an example of the intra-libertarian confusion on this, we can turn to a column in the Daily Caller by John Glaser, headlined “Nonintervention must be part of a ‘libertarian populist’ agenda.” Glaser sings the praises of Justin Amash on bringing the GOP back to where he thinks it belongs on foreign policy. But what does “nonintervention” mean to Glaser? Something very different from what it means to Amash. Glaser says the “bipartisan establishment is already leading America into waging dangerous economic warfare on Iran.” But as I’ve pointed out before, Amash supports that “economic warfare.” He supports sanctions on Iran and has even counseled keeping military action on the table. In Glaser’s definition, Justin Amash is no libertarian populist; he’s a dangerous member of the dreaded bipartisan establishment! Good luck forming a winning electoral coalition on those principles.

I don’t mean to suggest that Glaser speaks for other libertarian populists–I imagine he doesn’t. But back in the Jesse Walker post I linked to, Walker says he interprets libertarian populists as proposing “a new three-legged stool for the GOP: anti-corporatist economics, an anti-imperial foreign policy, and (on the federal level, at least) a defense of privacy and civil liberties.” But “anti-imperial” is an exaggerated response to a straw man. He says nothing else about foreign affairs in that post.

Again, all this seems to be in the formational process, and nobody claims to have all the answers. Additionally, this is a moment when libertarians should be heeded on a host of issues, since their warnings about, say, over-regulation were prescient and their fidelity to constitutional principles is both admirable and necessary. But the prevailing conservative mainstream is pro-life and tends to support an internationalist posture to protect global free trade and America’s traditional postwar role in the world. If libertarians want to provide an alternative to that, it will be a valuable discussion to have; but it will be equally fascinating to discover if and how the current elected libertarians will even have a place in that movement.

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More Anti-Israel Bias at the Times

Earlier this week I took the New York Times to task for its article on the Palestinian “hobby” of throwing rocks at Jews. The piece illustrated the way violence is accepted as normal behavior in Palestinian culture. But the author, Jerusalem Bureau chief Jodi Rudoren, also gave short shrift to the Israeli victims of this hobby and dismissed the thousands of casualties they’ve suffered over the years with one throwaway sentence that gave a second-hand account of one case that resulted in the deaths of two people. The piece failed to ask why Palestinians never thought to try to interact with Jews who live nearby as fellow human beings rather than mere objects that must wounded, maimed, or killed.

But the previous day in a different article on the settlements, Rudoren also threw in a false statement in which she claimed the United States considered Israeli communities in the West Bank and Jerusalem to be “illegal.” This is false, and credit should go to Adam Kredo of the Washington Free Beacon for calling her out on this point. The U.S. may disapprove of Israeli building, but it does not take the position that the settlements are, a priori, illegal. In response, the Times has now issued a correction on that point acknowledging that the U.S. does not take a position on their legality. That’s a minor victory, but this isn’t the first time Rudoren has made an egregious error with regard to settlements. Assuming they care about the integrity of their pages, this latest mistake should prompt both the reporter and her editors to think seriously about the biased manner in which the Times continues to report about Israel and its conflict with the Palestinians.

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Earlier this week I took the New York Times to task for its article on the Palestinian “hobby” of throwing rocks at Jews. The piece illustrated the way violence is accepted as normal behavior in Palestinian culture. But the author, Jerusalem Bureau chief Jodi Rudoren, also gave short shrift to the Israeli victims of this hobby and dismissed the thousands of casualties they’ve suffered over the years with one throwaway sentence that gave a second-hand account of one case that resulted in the deaths of two people. The piece failed to ask why Palestinians never thought to try to interact with Jews who live nearby as fellow human beings rather than mere objects that must wounded, maimed, or killed.

But the previous day in a different article on the settlements, Rudoren also threw in a false statement in which she claimed the United States considered Israeli communities in the West Bank and Jerusalem to be “illegal.” This is false, and credit should go to Adam Kredo of the Washington Free Beacon for calling her out on this point. The U.S. may disapprove of Israeli building, but it does not take the position that the settlements are, a priori, illegal. In response, the Times has now issued a correction on that point acknowledging that the U.S. does not take a position on their legality. That’s a minor victory, but this isn’t the first time Rudoren has made an egregious error with regard to settlements. Assuming they care about the integrity of their pages, this latest mistake should prompt both the reporter and her editors to think seriously about the biased manner in which the Times continues to report about Israel and its conflict with the Palestinians.

It’s worth remembering the correction the paper was forced to make about a story published in December, in which Rudoren swallowed a Palestinian lie about the building of a new Jewish suburb in the Jerusalem area cutting off Bethlehem and the southern part of the West Bank from Ramallah and areas to its north. As Elliott Abrams noted, Rudoren’s work reflects the prejudices of the far left of Israeli society, leading her to misunderstand the country’s politics (in which that far left has been completely marginalized) and to misreport security and settlement issues.

It needs to be remembered that these issues are not minor goofs. The West Bank is disputed territory in which both Israelis and Palestinians can put forward historic and legal claims. If peace is ever to be achieved, it will have to be done on a basis in which the two sides acknowledge the legitimacy of their antagonists’ position, not on the total surrender of one or the other. By adopting the Palestinian canard about Jews having no right to live or build in the heart of their ancient homeland, Rudoren is affirming the position that the settlers are thieves who deserve violence. In doing so, the Times dehumanizes these people and portrays the conflict as a morality play in which only Palestinians are victims and never the perpetrators of crimes.

In this context, it is also worth repeating the point I made on Monday when I noted that Rudoren’s choice of the village of Beit Omar to profile Palestinian hobbyists was particularly ironic because the surrounding neighboring settlements predate the 1948 War of Independence. The Gush Etzion bloc was the site of Jewish communities that were overrun by murderous Arab gangs, and their inhabitants were either massacred or captured. After the 1967 Six-Day War they were rebuilt. Of course, mentioning this history would have undermined the Palestinian narrative of victimization and Israeli usurpation and illegality.

Many in Israel and in the pro-Israel community have long since given up hoping for fair coverage of Israel in the New York Times. But while we are used to the bias on their opinion pages and the slanted nature of their news coverage, it really isn’t asking too much to expect them to at least get their facts straight and to put stories in an accurate context. Unfortunately, so long as Ms. Rudoren is in place and supervised by editors who don’t seem to care much about these concerns, there is little reason to expect anything better than her appalling “hobby” report.

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Barack Obama’s Learning Curve

Much of the initial reaction to the announcement that President Obama will cancel his planned meeting with Vladimir Putin has cast the move as an acknowledgement by the president that his beloved “reset” had failed. That may or may not be the case; even leftists long ago stopped pretending the reset existed, so it’s more likely that Obama waited until Putin danced in the end zone to finally respond publicly.

“There have been times where they slip back into Cold War thinking and a Cold War mentality,” the president told Jay Leno last night, referring to the Russian government. This is the stock insult from Obama. If you take a tough line against Russia, you’re stuck in a “Cold War mind warp.” If Russia takes a tough line, they are stuck in a “Cold War mentality.” Pity the president, who has spent so much time and effort mocking the idea that the Cold War has any relevance to modern international relations and now can’t stop uttering the phrase.

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Much of the initial reaction to the announcement that President Obama will cancel his planned meeting with Vladimir Putin has cast the move as an acknowledgement by the president that his beloved “reset” had failed. That may or may not be the case; even leftists long ago stopped pretending the reset existed, so it’s more likely that Obama waited until Putin danced in the end zone to finally respond publicly.

“There have been times where they slip back into Cold War thinking and a Cold War mentality,” the president told Jay Leno last night, referring to the Russian government. This is the stock insult from Obama. If you take a tough line against Russia, you’re stuck in a “Cold War mind warp.” If Russia takes a tough line, they are stuck in a “Cold War mentality.” Pity the president, who has spent so much time and effort mocking the idea that the Cold War has any relevance to modern international relations and now can’t stop uttering the phrase.

But it’s also encouraging, for the same reason. The left’s insistence on ignoring the lessons of the Cold War was always a dangerous mentality for the president to embrace. It’s one thing for the professional left, who were so wrong so often during the ideological conflict, to pretend the entire second half of the 20th century never happened. But what the president says actually matters. Adopting historical amnesia as his foreign policy doctrine has resulted in fairly predictable confusion about America’s role in the world.

This disinterest in Cold War history is characteristic of the intellectual milieu from which the president emerged. You would think that in an age of yet another global ideological conflict–the Arab Spring has done for pan-Islamism what Nasser could never do for pan-Arabism–understanding how the West won the last one would be useful. But there is evident impatience for it on the left.

The New York Times is a good example. In 2009, the paper reviewed David Priestland’s The Red Flag: A History of Communism, and the reviewer complained that the book is mostly “a stolid and largely by-the-numbers recitation of communism’s rise and its spread, in various manifestations, across the globe.” Historians, he said, have “pounded what’s left of our interest in communism to tatters in recent years.” In 2012, when Max Frankel reviewed Anne Applebaum’s The Iron Curtain for the Times, he was strikingly dismissive because, Frankel said, “the heart of her story is hardly news.” He added, sighing: “It is good to be reminded of these sordid events, now that more archives are accessible and some witnesses remain alive to recall the horror. Still, why should we be consuming such a mass of detail more than half a century later?”

This mentality, that history has nothing to offer but superficial slogans, is a way for the left to avoid discussion of the 45 years they spent floundering in error. Steeped in this way of thinking, Obama took his time to wake up to reality. But though his decision to cancel the meeting with Putin seems minor, it has symbolic value. It is not the end of the reset–if that reset ever actually began, it ended in failure almost immediately. Rather, it may be the beginning of a real reset. And the mainstream journalists who have spent so much time ignoring Putin’s malevolence have woken up as well: Putin has insulted Obama, and the scales have finally fallen from their eyes.

Awake to the injustices perpetrated by the Putin regime, the media has begun calling attention to the anti-gay laws pushed through by Putin and his allies. The Times reports on the growing concern about the upcoming Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. Not only do human rights activists want to raise public outrage over Russia’s state-backed anti-gay policies, but the Olympic athletes themselves have to watch what they do. The Times explains:

Just as Russia now prohibits “propaganda” in support of “nontraditional” sexual orientation, the Olympic charter prohibits athletes from making political gestures during the Winter and Summer Games.

So it is entirely possible that any bobsledder or skier wearing a pin, patch or T-shirt in support of gay rights could be sent home from Sochi, not by Russian authorities, but by another group that suppresses expression: the International Olympic Committee.

Would the I.O.C. inflict such a public-relations disaster on itself? Perhaps not. But Olympic officials worldwide, including those in the United States, along with NBC and corporate sponsors, have put themselves and athletes in an awkward position by only tepidly opposing the Russian law that bans “homosexual propaganda.”

The Olympics is a business. NBC can gain viewership, and thus revenue, by loudly proclaiming Republicans to be anti-gay bigots. They can lose revenue by doing the same to an authoritarian anti-gay leader whose country is hosting the Olympics. It isn’t rocket science to figure out when supposed bedrock principles get air time and when they don’t.

As for Obama, there has always been a disconnect between the president’s pro-gay rights speechmaking and his unwillingness to take any action in support of vulnerable gay men and women abroad. Our Abe Greenwald summed it up in his 2012 post: “Pro-Gay WH Ensures Anti-Gay Haven,” referring to the Middle East. Russia is another example, but perhaps this really is the beginning of a new reset, and Obama will find the courage of his convictions and “evolve,” as his defenders like to call his waffling and flip-flopping, on this too. Either way, the education of Barack Obama continues apace.

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Israelis Immune to Peace Optimism

There may be no objective reason to believe that the new round of peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians will succeed and a good chance that they will actually make things worse in the Middle East. But that hasn’t stopped Secretary of State John Kerry’s fans on the op-ed pages of our leading newspapers from continuing to applaud his efforts. Both the Washington Post’s David Ignatius and the New York Times’s Thomas Friedman think Kerry’s efforts are inspired and even clever. But apparently most Israelis don’t agree. That’s the takeaway from a new poll conducted by the Israeli Democracy Institute and Tel Aviv University published yesterday.

While a large majority of both Jewish and Arab Israelis favor conducting peace talks, most Israeli Jews think it would be a mistake for their country to follow Kerry’s advice and withdraw almost completely from the West Bank and dismantle many settlements, even if the Jewish state were allowed to retain most of the major settlement blocs:

The poll … found that 63 percent of Jews in Israel oppose a withdrawal to the 1967 lines with land swaps as part of any peace arrangement with the Palestinian Authority, even if it meant Israel would hold onto the Etzion Bloc, directly south of Jerusalem; Ma’aleh Adumim, east of the capital; and Ariel in the central West Bank about 34 kilometers (21 miles) east of Tel Aviv. Assuming Israeli retention of Ariel, Ma’aleh Adumim and other settlement blocs, 58% of Jewish respondents were opposed to the dismantling of other settlements.

The poll was conducted among 602 respondents in late July, after the announcement of new peace talks with the Palestinians, and has a statistical error of 4.5%. According to the survey, 50% of Jewish Israelis also oppose the transfer of Arab neighborhoods in Jerusalem to Palestinian Authority control with a special arrangement for Jewish holy sites.

These results, which seemingly contradict other surveys that show that a majority would back a peace deal if it were put to a referendum, will doubtlessly be interpreted in some quarters as evidence that proves Israelis really don’t want peace. But all these numbers tell us is that most Israelis have a better understanding of Palestinian political culture than Kerry, Friedman, or Ignatius. Though the desire for peace in Israel remains high, if most there don’t think territorial withdrawals are a good idea, it’s because they have no faith in the willingness of the Palestinians to make peace or to abstain from violence even if an accord was signed.

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There may be no objective reason to believe that the new round of peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians will succeed and a good chance that they will actually make things worse in the Middle East. But that hasn’t stopped Secretary of State John Kerry’s fans on the op-ed pages of our leading newspapers from continuing to applaud his efforts. Both the Washington Post’s David Ignatius and the New York Times’s Thomas Friedman think Kerry’s efforts are inspired and even clever. But apparently most Israelis don’t agree. That’s the takeaway from a new poll conducted by the Israeli Democracy Institute and Tel Aviv University published yesterday.

While a large majority of both Jewish and Arab Israelis favor conducting peace talks, most Israeli Jews think it would be a mistake for their country to follow Kerry’s advice and withdraw almost completely from the West Bank and dismantle many settlements, even if the Jewish state were allowed to retain most of the major settlement blocs:

The poll … found that 63 percent of Jews in Israel oppose a withdrawal to the 1967 lines with land swaps as part of any peace arrangement with the Palestinian Authority, even if it meant Israel would hold onto the Etzion Bloc, directly south of Jerusalem; Ma’aleh Adumim, east of the capital; and Ariel in the central West Bank about 34 kilometers (21 miles) east of Tel Aviv. Assuming Israeli retention of Ariel, Ma’aleh Adumim and other settlement blocs, 58% of Jewish respondents were opposed to the dismantling of other settlements.

The poll was conducted among 602 respondents in late July, after the announcement of new peace talks with the Palestinians, and has a statistical error of 4.5%. According to the survey, 50% of Jewish Israelis also oppose the transfer of Arab neighborhoods in Jerusalem to Palestinian Authority control with a special arrangement for Jewish holy sites.

These results, which seemingly contradict other surveys that show that a majority would back a peace deal if it were put to a referendum, will doubtlessly be interpreted in some quarters as evidence that proves Israelis really don’t want peace. But all these numbers tell us is that most Israelis have a better understanding of Palestinian political culture than Kerry, Friedman, or Ignatius. Though the desire for peace in Israel remains high, if most there don’t think territorial withdrawals are a good idea, it’s because they have no faith in the willingness of the Palestinians to make peace or to abstain from violence even if an accord was signed.

Let’s start by noting that most Israelis find it impossible to forget something that the peace processers keep trying to flush down the memory hole: the Palestinians have already rejected Israeli offers of statehood and withdrawal from almost all of the West Bank three times. With Hamas still in control of Gaza, the notion that a weak Mahmoud Abbas would accept a deal that the more powerful Yasir Arafat refused requires a leap of faith that most sensible people are unable to make.

But even if we leave aside that natural skepticism, why wouldn’t most Israelis accept such withdrawals in exchange for a peace agreement? Aren’t they persuaded by demographic arguments that claim that a continuation of the status quo will ultimately compromise Israel’s Jewish majority? And don’t they think the country would be more secure if it had an internationally recognized border that kept most of the Palestinian Arabs outside of the Jewish state?

Most Israelis would probably be happier if there were no demographic threat, even if the predictions of doom might be exaggerated. There’s also no question that they desire peace as ardently as those who think the country must be saved from itself.

But the problem is that, unlike Kerry, Friedman, and Ignatius, they also remember what happened when their country withdrew every settlement, soldier, and individual Jew from Gaza. The result was the creation of a terror state on their doorstep and few in Israel want to risk repeating that mistake in the far more strategic West Bank. Simply put, they don’t trust Abbas and his Fatah Party, which demanded the release of terrorists with blood on their hands as the price for the privilege of negotiating with them and continues to laud murderers of Jews as heroes in their official media, to make peace. If a majority thinks creating a sovereign state largely along the 1967 lines where Israeli forces could not enter is a mistake, it’s because their experience teaches them that doing so would be an invitation to more violence. Similarly, the lack of enthusiasm for dividing Jerusalem must be seen as a vote of no confidence in the willingness of the PA to not use their foothold in the city to unleash a new wave of violence.

That said, I still think that if Abbas were to actually sign a peace deal recognizing the legitimacy of a Jewish state and giving up the “right of return” for the descendants of the 1948 Arab refugees, a majority of Israelis might vote to approve such an agreement even if it included the withdrawals that most now think would be foolish. But since few believe Abbas can do that, talk about giving up territory merely for the sake of an accord that seems a pipe dream is inevitably seen as quixotic.

This poll should serve as a reminder that the calls for Israel to take great risks in the name of peace in the absence of any indication the other side means business are bound to fall on deaf ears. Neither Prime Minister Netanyahu nor his people are likely to be scared into making such sacrifices by threats of future Palestinian violence, as Ignatius thinks is Kerry’s plan. In the absence of a genuine sea change in Arab political culture that would enable Abbas to credibly pledge to keep the peace, a majority of Israelis obviously think they are better off not weakening their security. If Israelis are largely immune to peace process enthusiasm, it is because they understand their antagonists a lot better than many Americans do.

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In the Middle East, Follow the Violence

“Follow the money” has become a catchphrase in both journalism and politics, seemingly applicable to almost any subject. But if you want to understand what really matters to Middle Eastern Muslims, a better rule might be “follow the violence.”

A case in point is the still widespread delusion that what Muslims care about most is “Western aggression”–firstly Israel’s “occupation” of the Palestinians, and secondly America’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Based on Muslim rhetoric, that’s a plausible conclusion. But if you look at what Muslims care enough to put their lives on the line for–a far better indication of concern than mere talk–a very different conclusion emerges.

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“Follow the money” has become a catchphrase in both journalism and politics, seemingly applicable to almost any subject. But if you want to understand what really matters to Middle Eastern Muslims, a better rule might be “follow the violence.”

A case in point is the still widespread delusion that what Muslims care about most is “Western aggression”–firstly Israel’s “occupation” of the Palestinians, and secondly America’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Based on Muslim rhetoric, that’s a plausible conclusion. But if you look at what Muslims care enough to put their lives on the line for–a far better indication of concern than mere talk–a very different conclusion emerges.

Two recent developments made this blindingly evident. The first was a religious ruling by Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, one of the most influential clerics in the Sunni Muslim world, whose weekly television show on Al Jazeera attracts tens of millions of viewers. As Thomas Hegghammer and Aaron Y. Zelin reported in the July 7 issue of Foreign Affairs, on May 31, Qaradawi said that any Sunni “trained to fight … has to go” join the war in Syria. What makes this noteworthy, the report said, is that Qaradawi hasn’t issued similar rulings in other cases: “In 2009, he wrote a book titled Jurisprudence of Jihad, in which he dismissed the individual duty argument for the jihad in Palestine, Iraq, and Afghanistan.”

Though Qaradawi deemed all those cases “legitimate jihad,” meaning any Muslim who wished to fight there was permitted to do so, only in Syria’s case did he say that Muslims able to do so must join the fight. Thus he clearly views the Syrian war as more important than those in “Palestine, Iraq, and Afghanistan,” even though the latter all pitted Muslims against either Israel or America, while the former is a strictly intra-Muslim affair pitting Sunnis against Shi’ites, with no Israeli or American involvement whatsoever.

In short, important parts of the Sunni Muslim world view the Sunni-Shi’ite conflict as more important than the battle against either Israeli or American “aggression.”

The same conclusion emerges from last week’s New York Times report on the rising number of Western Muslims joining the war in Syria–about 600 so far. “More Westerners are now fighting in Syria than fought in conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia or Yemen,” the report says. Western Muslims have also largely sat out the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (a 2003 suicide bombing in Tel Aviv perpetrated by two British Muslims made headlines precisely because it was so anomalous). And the same goes for non-Western Muslims: Altogether, the Times reported, some 6,000 non-Syrian Muslims are now fighting in Syria; by contrast, only a handful of non-Palestinian Muslims have fought in the West Bank and Gaza in recent decades.

Again, the implication is clear: To many Muslims, the Sunni-Shi’ite conflict is much more important than the conflict with either Israel or America.

Unfortunately, Western governments don’t seem to have gotten the message: Stuck in their time warp, America and Europe are still obsessing over the Israeli-Palestinian sideshow rather than focusing on the conflict Muslims actually care about.

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