Commentary Magazine


Posts For: August 8, 2013

Hezbollah Feels Unappreciated

Last month, I wrote about one misguided response to the European Union’s decision to blacklist the “military wing” of Hezbollah: the concern by a Mideast analyst that Hezbollah would cease being a “stabilizing” force in Lebanon in a fit of pique. I objected that, first, Hezbollah was not actually a stabilizing force in Lebanon because the article concerned spillover into Lebanon from the war in Syria, a conflagration Hezbollah was actively feeding by fighting on the side of Bashar al-Assad’s forces and thus Lebanon was absorbing retribution, not provocation.

Second, I criticized the flawed logic that held that appeasing Hezbollah could keep the group from carrying out attacks in Lebanon and elsewhere when that is exactly what Hezbollah has already been doing for decades, because that is the group’s raison d’être. But apparently, though not entirely unsurprisingly, the belief in the power of appeasement is present among media covering the international force tasked with trying to keep the peace (and Hezbollah in check) in southern Lebanon, the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon. The Financial Times reports that the decision has left “some observers even fearing for the peacekeepers’ safety.” Those “observers” are mostly absent from the report, and UNIFIL commanders deny there’s an issue. So do Hezbollah representatives, but the Financial Times isn’t so sure:

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Last month, I wrote about one misguided response to the European Union’s decision to blacklist the “military wing” of Hezbollah: the concern by a Mideast analyst that Hezbollah would cease being a “stabilizing” force in Lebanon in a fit of pique. I objected that, first, Hezbollah was not actually a stabilizing force in Lebanon because the article concerned spillover into Lebanon from the war in Syria, a conflagration Hezbollah was actively feeding by fighting on the side of Bashar al-Assad’s forces and thus Lebanon was absorbing retribution, not provocation.

Second, I criticized the flawed logic that held that appeasing Hezbollah could keep the group from carrying out attacks in Lebanon and elsewhere when that is exactly what Hezbollah has already been doing for decades, because that is the group’s raison d’être. But apparently, though not entirely unsurprisingly, the belief in the power of appeasement is present among media covering the international force tasked with trying to keep the peace (and Hezbollah in check) in southern Lebanon, the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon. The Financial Times reports that the decision has left “some observers even fearing for the peacekeepers’ safety.” Those “observers” are mostly absent from the report, and UNIFIL commanders deny there’s an issue. So do Hezbollah representatives, but the Financial Times isn’t so sure:

However, even if Hizbollah as an organisation has decided not to turn up the heat on European peacekeepers, villagers angered by the decision might confront a Unifil convoy, Mr Goksel said. And extremist groups known to operate in the south might take advantage of the situation to launch an attack on Unifil, a Lebanese security official said.

The security environment in the south is murky, and two years ago, unknown assailants targeted French and Italian peacekeepers. More than a dozen were wounded by three roadside bombs.

Yes, the security situation there is “murky”–if only there were an international force on the ground to keep things in order! Perhaps there’s money in the UN budget for a peacekeeping force to protect the peacekeeping force from threats the Financial Times says lurk in shadows. Of course, UNIFIL has a history of watching Hezbollah rearm for another potential conflict with Israel, so it well knows who Hezbollah’s weapons are aimed at anyway.

Sitting on the sidelines, however, might be better than what UNIFIL tends to do in times of war. In 2006, UNIFIL posted Israeli troop movements on its website, a helpful guide for Hezbollah to follow if it wanted to know where Israeli reinforcements might turn up. (After the war in 2006, I called a UNIFIL official on the ground in south Lebanon to ask him what they were thinking. He claimed they were only copying what the IDF was doing, but a simple comparison of the two websites debunked the excuse.)

Those who claim that UNIFIL might as well formally take sides against Israel instead of feigning neutrality are usually dismissed as cranks. But actually, that’s how Hezbollah sees it. The Financial Times explains why Hezbollah’s supporters were so disappointed in the EU’s terror designation:

In Hizbollah’s eyes, the foreign troops in the country’s south that were bulked up after the 2006 war are under their protection. Though the peacekeepers are supposed to help the Lebanese army curb Hizbollah’s military activities in the south, their mandate to enforce this is limited. The force, meanwhile, and particularly the Europeans in it, provides Hizbollah with a buffer against future Israeli attacks.

The EU designation has tested Hizbollah’s relationship with Unifil. “We as locals in the south treated the Unifil like sacred guests – we protected them,” says Ali Ahmed Zawi, the pro-Hizbollah mayor of one south Lebanon village. “What do they do in return? Put us on the terrorist list.”

That is an actual quote, though the whole thing reads like a parody. Hezbollah thinks UNIFIL is like a litter of strays taken in by the magnanimous Hassan Nasrallah. In Nasrallah’s mind, the roles are inverted: Hezbollah is the humanitarian relief agency keeping the peace. And this is the thanks he gets!

It’s worth pointing out here that some observers saw all this coming a mile away. As Benny Avni wrote in the New York Sun in October 2006, it took only a couple months for the pessimists’ fears to be confirmed. Here is how he described the concerns of the naysayers who were soon vindicated:

Back then, pessimists said an international force would need to maintain close ties and avoid confrontation with Shiite supporters of Hezbollah if it were to succeed. Consequently, the beefed-up U.N. Interim Force in Lebanon would hinder Israel’s ability to carry pinpoint operations across the border. Hezbollah would gain an ally, while the Israeli army would face a new obstacle.

This was one of what Avni called “worst-case scenarios.” But notice how this went from worst-case scenario to reality to Hezbollah’s revisionist history of the intent and mission of the force. Hezbollah thinks they took UNIFIL under their wing and developed a rapport based on mutual cooperation and appreciation. The problem is not that the EU’s terror designation disrupted that fantasy, but that UNIFIL ever let that fantasy take root in the first place.

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Charles Blow’s Brave New World

When Sarah Palin first warned about death panels and ObamaCare, the president and his allies were quick to laugh. Sending grandma off to an icy, watery grave was the stuff of Inuit legends, never the intention of liberals fighting to pass a law that could and would have serious implications for America’s senior citizens, despite the AARP’s inexplicable endorsement. Reading Charles Blow’s column in the New York Times yesterday, however, one can appreciate the origins of Palin’s concerns. Considering progressives’ descriptions of children as burdens, not blessings, it’s understandable that they would feel similarly about another “useless” subsection of our society: the elderly.

Blow’s column focuses on the burdens that an aging population places on society. These elderly are burdens, apparently, because they are beyond “what we currently conceive as working-age,” and because disease “ravages the mind and body.” This betrays a fundamental difference between how liberals and conservatives view a person’s role in society. Conservatives see them for what they are: individuals. Liberals see these individuals as part of a larger group, judging their value on how usefully they serve the collective. To a conservative, does it matter that an elderly member of society cannot work or be totally self-sufficient? Of course not. These individuals are important no matter what their perceived financial contributions (or burdens) may be. We love grandma not because she may give good presents and writes nice birthday checks, but because she is a valued member of the family and of the community. She’s important not because of what she can and does give us materially, but because of who she is and what she means to us.

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When Sarah Palin first warned about death panels and ObamaCare, the president and his allies were quick to laugh. Sending grandma off to an icy, watery grave was the stuff of Inuit legends, never the intention of liberals fighting to pass a law that could and would have serious implications for America’s senior citizens, despite the AARP’s inexplicable endorsement. Reading Charles Blow’s column in the New York Times yesterday, however, one can appreciate the origins of Palin’s concerns. Considering progressives’ descriptions of children as burdens, not blessings, it’s understandable that they would feel similarly about another “useless” subsection of our society: the elderly.

Blow’s column focuses on the burdens that an aging population places on society. These elderly are burdens, apparently, because they are beyond “what we currently conceive as working-age,” and because disease “ravages the mind and body.” This betrays a fundamental difference between how liberals and conservatives view a person’s role in society. Conservatives see them for what they are: individuals. Liberals see these individuals as part of a larger group, judging their value on how usefully they serve the collective. To a conservative, does it matter that an elderly member of society cannot work or be totally self-sufficient? Of course not. These individuals are important no matter what their perceived financial contributions (or burdens) may be. We love grandma not because she may give good presents and writes nice birthday checks, but because she is a valued member of the family and of the community. She’s important not because of what she can and does give us materially, but because of who she is and what she means to us.

Blow expresses concern for the future of the entitlement system, given the likelihood that the current structure is due to collapse under the top-heavy weight of an aging population. This is a serious worry for many financial planners on the city, state, and federal level and has been discussed by commentators and politicians on both the left and right. When pension contracts are written and entitlement benefits drafted, one never knows how long recipients will live. Would the more logical solution be to deny life-extending medical treatment to individuals? Or would it perhaps make more sense to re-adjust our entitlements system to compensate for a lengthening lifespan? To Blow, it seems that the more appealing solution would be to end scientific investigation and research, content that we have traveled far enough in our quest for a longer and more fulfilling life. The cessation of the advancement of science and discovery is somehow more appealing to Blow than reevaluating the generous life-long financial commitments made to millions with public money. 

The Orwellian ramifications of Blow’s worries over an aging population are vast. If individuals are only worthy of membership in society if they are able bodied, where does the line get drawn? If life-extending treatments become verboten, lest society be burdened with what Blow seems to believe are useless individuals, would the physically and mentally infirm also be denied life-saving treatments? While eugenics is often seen as part of the past, one cannot forget the legacy that those who championed its use carry in our modern world. The mother of what is now Planned Parenthood, Margaret Sanger, was outspoken in her support of eugenicist policies. In her 1920 book Sanger argued that “birth control is nothing more or less than the facilitation of the process of weeding out the unfit [and] of preventing the birth of defectives.” Those questioning how effective Sanger’s campaign to weed out the unfit has been can look at the latest data on abortion rates for fetuses who test positive for Down Syndrome (studies place the number at over 90 percent).  

The fact that Blow’s column has received little attention and even less denouncement should concern anyone interested in keeping our society morally intact. While Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World is seen as a work of fiction, we may one day, if Charles Blow’s vision of society is realized, see it as prophetic instead. 

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Note to Obama: Egypt Is a Zero-Sum Game

It’s not clear whether Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham really thought their presence in Cairo would help bring about reconciliation or at least an agreement between Egypt’s military government and the Muslim Brotherhood. But now that their mission has failed to influence the military to be more accommodating to a Brotherhood that clearly thinks it has no choice but to stand its ground on not accepting the coup that deposed Mohamed Morsi, the Obama administration is back where it was a month ago, pondering what to do about Egypt. With the military openly threatening more violence, the United States must once again decide whether its priority is to back the principle of democracy or back a government whose primary purpose dovetails with America’s long-term interests.

When Egypt’s interim president Adli Mansour said yesterday that, “the phase of diplomatic efforts has ended,” it was apparent that Western attempts to broker some sort of deal between the two sides of the standoff were not going to work. Since the Brotherhood may feel it has nothing to gain from backing away from a confrontation that will inevitably mean more violence, that puts President Obama in the difficult position of having to abandon the pretense that restoration of democracy in Egypt is either possible or desirable. While he along with McCain and Graham may think a solution must mean involving the Brotherhood in a new government, General Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi, the military commander who really runs the country, has no such illusions. Sisi seems to have grasped something that many of Egypt’s foreign backers seem not to understand: the conflict between the Brotherhood and the rest of the country is a zero-sum game. Any ground gained by the Islamists or a deal that will let them inch their way back to power is a mistake that will set the country back on the same path that led to the coup. It’s past time the United States understood it too. The choice there isn’t between the military and democracy. It’s between the military and Islamist rule.

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It’s not clear whether Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham really thought their presence in Cairo would help bring about reconciliation or at least an agreement between Egypt’s military government and the Muslim Brotherhood. But now that their mission has failed to influence the military to be more accommodating to a Brotherhood that clearly thinks it has no choice but to stand its ground on not accepting the coup that deposed Mohamed Morsi, the Obama administration is back where it was a month ago, pondering what to do about Egypt. With the military openly threatening more violence, the United States must once again decide whether its priority is to back the principle of democracy or back a government whose primary purpose dovetails with America’s long-term interests.

When Egypt’s interim president Adli Mansour said yesterday that, “the phase of diplomatic efforts has ended,” it was apparent that Western attempts to broker some sort of deal between the two sides of the standoff were not going to work. Since the Brotherhood may feel it has nothing to gain from backing away from a confrontation that will inevitably mean more violence, that puts President Obama in the difficult position of having to abandon the pretense that restoration of democracy in Egypt is either possible or desirable. While he along with McCain and Graham may think a solution must mean involving the Brotherhood in a new government, General Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi, the military commander who really runs the country, has no such illusions. Sisi seems to have grasped something that many of Egypt’s foreign backers seem not to understand: the conflict between the Brotherhood and the rest of the country is a zero-sum game. Any ground gained by the Islamists or a deal that will let them inch their way back to power is a mistake that will set the country back on the same path that led to the coup. It’s past time the United States understood it too. The choice there isn’t between the military and democracy. It’s between the military and Islamist rule.

It is very much to Secretary of State John Kerry’s credit that he seemed to signal last week that the administration is finally putting away its illusions about Egypt. Kerry caused a minor stir when he said last Thursday that rather than the coup (although, like all American officials he is constrained by law from calling the military takeover by its correct name) being an attack on democracy, it was actually an effort to restore it. Since the military had acted on the request of “millions and millions” of people, as he put it, he’s not wrong about that. But unfortunately, many otherwise sensible observers in the United States remain ready to cut off aid to the military government at any sign that it is prepared to use force to put down the Brotherhood’s campaign to restore Morsi. Indeed, even Kerry said that any more violence like the killings of Islamist demonstrators by the military in recent weeks was “unacceptable.”

Some of this is a hangover from the administration’s misguided embrace of the Brotherhood while it was in power. Fortunately, the president seems to have learned his lesson on this point. But as much as the United States is right to discourage violence in Cairo, President Obama must understand that Sisi is right to fear that if he lets the Brotherhood protests continue unmolested, he is setting the stage for trouble.

The coup was made necessary because Egypt’s experiment in democracy had gone terribly wrong. The Brotherhood was able to win elections because it was the only truly organized mass party in the country. But once in power, it showed that its drive for hegemony would not be restrained by anything. Had the military not acted, there is little doubt that Morsi and the Brotherhood would never have peacefully relinquished power or stopped until they had remade Egypt in their own image.

In the coming days and weeks as the Brotherhood continues to push for Morsi’s return to power, they are hoping that the West will be hamstrung by a desire to avoid the charge of hypocrisy and cut off the military. But the U.S. mustn’t fall into their trap. There is more to democracy than voting, and any solution that risks giving Morsi another chance to consolidate power would be a disaster for Egypt and the United States. Washington must be prepared to stick with the military no matter what happens in the streets of Cairo. In a zero-sum game with would-be Islamist totalitarians, there is no room for compromise. Sisi gets this. Let’s hope Obama does too.

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Never Too Early to Get Ahead for 2016

If you aren’t a political junkie, the growing attention being paid to the maneuverings of the prospective presidential candidates is more irksome than merely boring. But it’s clear that although we are two years away from when the period of active campaigning will start, the contenders are already facing up to the fact that the impressions they are leaving on prospective voters are laying the foundation for the political landscape of the next presidential race. So even as we concede that two years from now nobody will remember the polls and maybe even the controversies of the summer of 2013, that contest will likely be affected by what is going on today.

Like it or not, the dustup between New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and Kentucky Senator Rand Paul over foreign policy is the first defining moment of the 2016 race and, if you believe the latest polls coming out of New Hampshire, made them the only true first-tier candidates in the running. Just as significant is the fact that Florida Senator Marco Rubio, who was running neck and neck with Paul earlier in the year in a PPP poll, has now fallen to the back of the pack. These standings will mean nothing two years from now, let alone in January 2016 when New Hampshire Republicans vote for nominee that could stand up against Hillary Clinton (who seems to be cruising to the Democratic nomination by acclimation as if she were already the incumbent in the White House). But the longer a narrative in which only Christie or Paul seem to be plausible winners stays in place, the harder it will be for any of the many others who want the nomination to raise enough money to challenge them.

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If you aren’t a political junkie, the growing attention being paid to the maneuverings of the prospective presidential candidates is more irksome than merely boring. But it’s clear that although we are two years away from when the period of active campaigning will start, the contenders are already facing up to the fact that the impressions they are leaving on prospective voters are laying the foundation for the political landscape of the next presidential race. So even as we concede that two years from now nobody will remember the polls and maybe even the controversies of the summer of 2013, that contest will likely be affected by what is going on today.

Like it or not, the dustup between New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and Kentucky Senator Rand Paul over foreign policy is the first defining moment of the 2016 race and, if you believe the latest polls coming out of New Hampshire, made them the only true first-tier candidates in the running. Just as significant is the fact that Florida Senator Marco Rubio, who was running neck and neck with Paul earlier in the year in a PPP poll, has now fallen to the back of the pack. These standings will mean nothing two years from now, let alone in January 2016 when New Hampshire Republicans vote for nominee that could stand up against Hillary Clinton (who seems to be cruising to the Democratic nomination by acclimation as if she were already the incumbent in the White House). But the longer a narrative in which only Christie or Paul seem to be plausible winners stays in place, the harder it will be for any of the many others who want the nomination to raise enough money to challenge them.

In the WMUR/University of New Hampshire poll published on Tuesday, Christie leads the GOP field with 21 percent of the vote on a multi-candidate ballot. Paul is a strong second with 16 percent. But Rubio has fallen to fifth place (behind Rep. Paul Ryan and Jeb Bush) with only six percent, less than half of the 15 percent he received in the same poll back in April.

There’s no question that Rubio’s (praiseworthy in my opinion) role in pushing for a bipartisan compromise on immigration reform has hurt him with many conservatives. But I think his lurch back to the right as he makes common cause with Paul and Ted Cruz in a quixotic effort to shut down the government to stop ObamaCare probably isn’t helping him much either. Though this stand is very much in line with his political roots as a Tea Partier, it looks as if he is trying to appease his critics and that is the kind of thing that smells like (to quote The Godfather) a sign of weakness. It’s not just that, as our Peter Wehner wrote on Friday, his position doesn’t make sense, it’s that it conveys (fairly or unfairly) a sense of panic about his standing with party stalwarts. His absence for the foreign policy debate in which Christie has jousted with libertarians and isolationists in Congress is, as Seth wrote last week, also troubling.

It should also be noted that the same poll also rates Ryan as having the highest favorability ratings of any Republican. That echoes the findings of a Quinnipiac survey we noted earlier this week that showed the former veep candidate as the most popular Republican politician. Though Ryan may prefer to stay in the House rather than put himself through the agony of a presidential candidacy, these are the kinds of numbers that make his many fans salivate about the possibility of his running.

It may be a little premature for the kind of handicapping that GOP activist Patrick Hynes gave us in an interesting Politico article in which he gave Paul a slight edge over Christie in New Hampshire. There’s plenty of time for seeming front-runners to drop out, also-rans to recover, and for new candidates to emerge out of the 2014 midterms. But Hynes is right to note that the strengths of both of these candidates are formidable. They are likely to be telling in early primaries like the one in the Granite State where independents and Democrats, who tend to favor Christie, may vote. As early as it is, the longer Christie and Paul remain ahead of the field, the harder it will be to knock them off once the votes start being counted.

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The Jihad Farm System

Eli Lake and Josh Rogin’s Daily Beast scoop on the big al-Qaeda conference call that shut down 22 American embassies contains an important little detail that shouldn’t go unnoticed:

Also on the call were representatives of aspiring al Qaeda affiliates such as al Qaeda in the Sinai Peninsula, according to a U.S. intelligence official.

So much for that sophisticated distinction between big-time terror networks and what people like to downplay as “al-Qaeda inspired groups.” If you’ve got a bomb and a dream you’re halfway in the club. Al-Qaeda in the Sinai Peninsula doesn’t even have a Wikipedia entry and they’re doing transnational deals with Ayman al-Zawahiri, the global CEO of terror. According to Lake and Rogin, they weren’t the only “aspiring al Qaeda” types on the call.

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Eli Lake and Josh Rogin’s Daily Beast scoop on the big al-Qaeda conference call that shut down 22 American embassies contains an important little detail that shouldn’t go unnoticed:

Also on the call were representatives of aspiring al Qaeda affiliates such as al Qaeda in the Sinai Peninsula, according to a U.S. intelligence official.

So much for that sophisticated distinction between big-time terror networks and what people like to downplay as “al-Qaeda inspired groups.” If you’ve got a bomb and a dream you’re halfway in the club. Al-Qaeda in the Sinai Peninsula doesn’t even have a Wikipedia entry and they’re doing transnational deals with Ayman al-Zawahiri, the global CEO of terror. According to Lake and Rogin, they weren’t the only “aspiring al Qaeda” types on the call.

After the Tsarnaev brothers bombed the Boston Marathon, the American vice president referred to them as “knock-off jihadis.” Never mind the real bombs, the real deaths, and the real Islamic radicalism—they were wannabe terrorists because only two confused posers could elude the sophisticated security apparatuses of at least two countries and successfully execute a deadly double bomb plot in broad daylight. The point is this: the knock-off-real-deal jihad distinction is one we make for political reasons—acknowledging the scope of the threat would mean expanding the scope of the fight. This distinction is wholly nonsensical to our enemy. Al-Zawahiri doesn’t use the Joe Biden jihad legitimacy test. Give a little, give a lot; the important thing is that you give.

It’s very enterprising of al-Qaeda proper to support and utilize lesser affiliates. It’s also likely to increase as the organization comes to see that Americans won’t wage war on mere knock-offs. 

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McAuliffe, Cuccinelli, and Virginia’s Future

The state of Virginia has a powerful claim to be a genuine swing state worth fighting over. It has voted Democratic in the last two presidential elections, solidly Republican before that, and in the last four elections picked the eventual winner. It is home to the U.S. House majority leader, and currently has a Republican governor who succeeded a Democratic one. Additionally, its gubernatorial elections are on off-years, so the candidates must win without presidential (or congressional, for that matter) coattails.

President Obama’s two consecutive Virginia victories, combined with the influx of left-leaning voters from D.C. to the Virginia suburbs, left Democrats crowing that the state was turning blue. But Obama’s first victory there was followed almost immediately by Republican Governor Bob McDonnell’s 17-point drubbing of Democrat Creigh Deeds for what was effectively an open seat. It’s worth pointing out that McDonnell didn’t just beat Deeds. The Washington Post manufactured a story about a decades-old school paper of McDonnell’s and assaulted its readers with the story day in and day out, despite the fact that voters–get this–were basing their votes on the issues of the day and not an ancient school essay by one of the candidates. McDonnell’s victory, then, was a colossal rout.

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The state of Virginia has a powerful claim to be a genuine swing state worth fighting over. It has voted Democratic in the last two presidential elections, solidly Republican before that, and in the last four elections picked the eventual winner. It is home to the U.S. House majority leader, and currently has a Republican governor who succeeded a Democratic one. Additionally, its gubernatorial elections are on off-years, so the candidates must win without presidential (or congressional, for that matter) coattails.

President Obama’s two consecutive Virginia victories, combined with the influx of left-leaning voters from D.C. to the Virginia suburbs, left Democrats crowing that the state was turning blue. But Obama’s first victory there was followed almost immediately by Republican Governor Bob McDonnell’s 17-point drubbing of Democrat Creigh Deeds for what was effectively an open seat. It’s worth pointing out that McDonnell didn’t just beat Deeds. The Washington Post manufactured a story about a decades-old school paper of McDonnell’s and assaulted its readers with the story day in and day out, despite the fact that voters–get this–were basing their votes on the issues of the day and not an ancient school essay by one of the candidates. McDonnell’s victory, then, was a colossal rout.

But Virginia’s term limit rules mean there is no incumbent in gubernatorial elections, and November’s election is no less important to Virginia’s aspirations to be a bellwether state. It pits the smarmy, made-for-QVC Terry McAuliffe against the conservative firebrand and state attorney general Ken Cuccinelli. Polls show a close race with a narrow edge to McAuliffe, a former spokesman for Hillary Clinton.

One major difference between this race and the 2009 gubernatorial election is that this one has all the personality the previous election lacked. It is never quite clear whether McAuliffe is trying to sell you on his candidacy, a ShamWow, or some slam-dunk investment opportunity his cousin told him about virtually guaranteed to mint money. His campaign slogan might as well be “McAuliffe: Act Now!” So it isn’t a complete surprise that McAuliffe is under investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission for his car salesmanship. As the Washington Post reported:

An electric-car company co-founded by Virginia gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe (D) is being investigated by the Securities and Exchange Commission over its conduct in soliciting foreign investors, according to law enforcement documents and company officials.

In May, the SEC subpoenaed documents from GreenTech Automotive and bank records from a sister company, Gulf Coast Funds Management of McLean. The investigation is focused, at least in part, on alleged claims that the company “guarantees returns” to the investors, according to government documents.

GreenTech has sought overseas investors through a federal program that allows foreigners to gain special visas if they contribute at least $500,000 to create U.S. jobs. Gulf Coast, which is run by Anthony Rodham, the brother of former secretary of state Hillary Rodham Clinton, seeks investors for GreenTech and arranges the visas.

I’m guessing Clintonland isn’t exactly thrilled about this. Cuccinelli’s obstacles include getting out of the shadow of scandal thrown over McDonnell’s acceptance of gifts while in office. But he has won plaudits from conservatives for being an early and outspoken opponent at the state level of ObamaCare and for his social conservatism. As the Post reports, that is how this election is being framed thus far:

Every day, it seems, Cuccinelli’s forces find ways to portray McAuliffe as an unethical and unprincipled carpetbagger, a political opportunist who doesn’t possess the government experience or knowledge of Virginia needed for the state’s top job.

At the same time, McAuliffe’s team pounces at the chance to depict Cuccinelli as a conservative zealot who is anti-gay and anti-woman and whose views on social issues are too extreme for a state evolving into a hub of cosmopolitan life.

Cuccinelli seems to like his chances if voters internalize this characterization of the election as the social conservative vs. the traveling salesman. But it will be a consequential election either way. If McAuliffe wins, it will buoy claims of the red-to-blue trend Democrats insist is underway in Virginia. If Cuccinelli wins, it will paint the last two presidential elections as flukes and cast doubt on Democrats’ ability to win statewide without presidential coattails.

It would also show the limits of the Democrats’ obsession with “war on women” rhetoric scripted by the White House. It would not be the end of the debate over social issues in the state, however. Cuccinelli is a supporter of Virginia’s recent updates to its regulations for abortion clinics, which mandate state inspections of the clinics and upgrades to the facilities–oversight vociferously opposed by Democrats. The results of individual state elections can sometimes be under-interpreted and other times over-interpreted. Thanks to the national attention Virginia’s election is sure to draw and the issues at play, the implications of the race are in no danger of being underappreciated.

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How Moderate Are Iran’s Missiles?

Complacence about Iran’s nuclear program is based on three assumptions that are not necessarily mutually exclusive. All of them are, at best, questionable and are embraced by some in the foreign policy establishment and the left largely because to believe in them absolves one of any obligation to act to prevent Iran from achieving its nuclear ambition. They are: that Iran is either not really building a nuke or that it can be talked or bargained out of it; that even if Iran gets nukes it would never use them; and lastly that even if Iran had nukes, they couldn’t effectively deliver one to a target, whether in Israel, a moderate Arab nation, or somewhere in the West.

The growing stockpile of evidence of nuclear weapons-grade uranium and work on military uses of nuclear power such as triggers make the first assumption ridiculous, as does the more than a decade of failed negotiations that illustrated that Iran only views talks as a method to gain time and to deceive the West. The brutal nature of the regime, its willingness to fund terrorism, and the fanatical theocratic views of its leaders, at the very least, cast doubt on the second assumption.

As for the third argument, that was actually the strongest argument in favor of complacence, but a report published by the Times of Israel now makes that assumption seem like a bad bet:

Western intelligence analysts say a new missile launching facility in Iran will likely be used for testing ballistic missiles, not for launching satellites into space as claimed by the Iranians.

The IHS Jane’s Military and Security Assessments Intelligence Centre published a photo taken last month of the newly discovered site, which is located 25 miles south east of the city of Shahrud in northern Iran.

Analysts at the Centre said the unfinished site has no storage for the liquid rocket fuel used in Iran’s domestic satellite program, suggesting it is built for ballistic missiles using solid fuel.

Shashank Joshi, a research fellow at the Royal United Services Institute who has written about the Iranian missile program, told The Telegraph: “We often talk about Iran’s nuclear program, but what really spooks countries in the region is the ballistic missiles that could act as a delivery system.

Like the claims that their nuclear program’s purpose is for power production (in an oil rich country?) or medical research, the notion that Iran is building missiles for space was always laughable. But there is nothing funny about the prospect of a nation that is getting closer every day to nuclear weapons capability being able to build a ballistic missile that could, at least in theory, reach Europe or even the United States. While worries about Iranian missiles are not new, this latest report should put any decision to invest another year in fruitless diplomacy with Iran because of the election of a supposed moderate as president in perspective.

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Complacence about Iran’s nuclear program is based on three assumptions that are not necessarily mutually exclusive. All of them are, at best, questionable and are embraced by some in the foreign policy establishment and the left largely because to believe in them absolves one of any obligation to act to prevent Iran from achieving its nuclear ambition. They are: that Iran is either not really building a nuke or that it can be talked or bargained out of it; that even if Iran gets nukes it would never use them; and lastly that even if Iran had nukes, they couldn’t effectively deliver one to a target, whether in Israel, a moderate Arab nation, or somewhere in the West.

The growing stockpile of evidence of nuclear weapons-grade uranium and work on military uses of nuclear power such as triggers make the first assumption ridiculous, as does the more than a decade of failed negotiations that illustrated that Iran only views talks as a method to gain time and to deceive the West. The brutal nature of the regime, its willingness to fund terrorism, and the fanatical theocratic views of its leaders, at the very least, cast doubt on the second assumption.

As for the third argument, that was actually the strongest argument in favor of complacence, but a report published by the Times of Israel now makes that assumption seem like a bad bet:

Western intelligence analysts say a new missile launching facility in Iran will likely be used for testing ballistic missiles, not for launching satellites into space as claimed by the Iranians.

The IHS Jane’s Military and Security Assessments Intelligence Centre published a photo taken last month of the newly discovered site, which is located 25 miles south east of the city of Shahrud in northern Iran.

Analysts at the Centre said the unfinished site has no storage for the liquid rocket fuel used in Iran’s domestic satellite program, suggesting it is built for ballistic missiles using solid fuel.

Shashank Joshi, a research fellow at the Royal United Services Institute who has written about the Iranian missile program, told The Telegraph: “We often talk about Iran’s nuclear program, but what really spooks countries in the region is the ballistic missiles that could act as a delivery system.

Like the claims that their nuclear program’s purpose is for power production (in an oil rich country?) or medical research, the notion that Iran is building missiles for space was always laughable. But there is nothing funny about the prospect of a nation that is getting closer every day to nuclear weapons capability being able to build a ballistic missile that could, at least in theory, reach Europe or even the United States. While worries about Iranian missiles are not new, this latest report should put any decision to invest another year in fruitless diplomacy with Iran because of the election of a supposed moderate as president in perspective.

The report about the missile notes that in the past the United States has worried that Iran could be able to test a ballistic missile by the end of 2015. That hasn’t been a priority for Western intelligence up until this point. But once Iran has weapons capability—and they may well have accumulated more than enough enriched uranium to that purpose long before that moment—the question of Iran’s delivery capacity will become paramount.

Right now, the world is focused on new President Hassan Rouhani and the Obama administration seems determined to give him a chance to prove his alleged moderation by giving diplomacy another try. Rouhani’s personal role in using talks as a delaying tactic is a matter of record. But the latest news about Iran’s military research illustrates the fact that the costs of months or even years of delay before the United States decides that it must act could be considerable.

A nuclear weapon would not make Iran a superpower or anything like it. But a nuclear Iran with missiles that can reach not just regional targets but those on other continents changes the equation of this problem. Though Israel is the understandable focus of much of the concerns about Iranian weapons, the development of sophisticated weapons should serve as reminder to Americans that their security is as much at stake in this standoff as that of the Jewish state. The idea of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei possessing both missiles and potential nuclear weapons ought to scare the daylights out of all Americans. It should also help dispel the illusions fostered by the false assumptions that buttress the complacence that so many in Washington exhibit on this issue. 

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The Melodramatic and Self-Important World of Ruth Marcus

In her column earlier this week Ruth Marcus wrote this:

Don Graham’s decision to sell The Washington Post was his reverse Sophie’s Choice moment.

She had to decide which cherished child to save and which to send to the gas chamber. Don and the Graham family weren’t forced to make an anguishing choice but did so anyway. They relinquished the newspaper they love in order to protect it.

If the comparison sounds hyperbolic, you don’t know the Grahams.

Now I don’t know the Grahams–but yes, the comparison does sound hyperbolic to me. Worse, actually. I for one would feel rather awkward explaining to my children why I’d consider the choice between selling a newspaper and sending one of them to Auschwitz to be a coin flip. (To be clear, the Grahams didn’t use this analogy; Ruth Marcus did.)

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In her column earlier this week Ruth Marcus wrote this:

Don Graham’s decision to sell The Washington Post was his reverse Sophie’s Choice moment.

She had to decide which cherished child to save and which to send to the gas chamber. Don and the Graham family weren’t forced to make an anguishing choice but did so anyway. They relinquished the newspaper they love in order to protect it.

If the comparison sounds hyperbolic, you don’t know the Grahams.

Now I don’t know the Grahams–but yes, the comparison does sound hyperbolic to me. Worse, actually. I for one would feel rather awkward explaining to my children why I’d consider the choice between selling a newspaper and sending one of them to Auschwitz to be a coin flip. (To be clear, the Grahams didn’t use this analogy; Ruth Marcus did.)

Ms. Marcus herself is, she informs us, “reeling.” The announcement of the sale of the Post to Jeff Bezos is “the day our earth stood still.” And then she informs us of this:

My e-mail has been buzzing, my phone ringing, with family, friends, government officials, asking the same question: Are you okay? They don’t mean economically. They mean emotionally.

The answer: Not really. Because, at least for me, after three decades here, this is a moment at once hopeful and ineffably sad.

Enough already. I understand the attachment one can feel to an institution and to individuals in that institution. But the Post is not disappearing; it’s being sold to a new owner–an individual who is very wealthy and whom Don Graham carefully selected. This move was necessary and may, in fact, end up saving the Post from ruin.  

Ms. Marcus illustrates the melodrama and self-importance that some (certainly not all) journalists are afflicted with. They live in a make-believe world in which they fashion themselves as shining knights, truth tellers, exposers of corruption, defenders of the weak.

Now I happen to like the Post as a newspaper. I’m one of the shrinking number of people in the D.C. area who still subscribe to it. I admire some of its reporters. And they are home to some outstanding columnists. But it is hardly a sacred, flawless, and fearless institution. It is, in fact, liberal in its orientation. It plays favorites. It tends to back down from speaking truth to power when those in power are of the left. And while Don Graham in particular seems like a fine man, the mythic personality some of his employees have created around him and Katherine Graham is a bit creepy.

In explaining to the rest of us why the Grahams have created such a strong bond, we’re told a couple of stories, including this one. Fifteen years ago Marcus’s book group was reading Katherine Graham’s autobiography and they asked Marcus to invite Graham to attend. Take it away Ruth:

I send a note upstairs, preemptively apologetic. I’m sure you’re too busy. Please do not feel obliged.

Perhaps 15 minutes later, a call from her assistant. That date doesn’t work, would it be possible to do it the following week? Mrs. Graham came, and she stayed for hours. I think she enjoyed herself, but I also know that she did feel, in the best possible way, a sense of noblesse oblige.

And so like God descending from heaven to earth, the Great and Mighty Kay Graham deigned to meet with mere mortals to discuss an autobiography about Kay Graham–an event that all these years later is still seared in the memory and imagination of Ruth Marcus.

What Mrs. Graham did was a nice and commendable thing. But there’s no need to invest in that act quite the saintly meaning that Ms. Marcus has. If you want to understand some of what’s gone wrong with modern journalism, you should read Ruth Marcus’s column.

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The Peace Process’s Turkey Problem

As Jonathan noted yesterday, Israeli pessimism about renewed Israeli-Palestinian peace talks stems from certain important facts that Americans like to ignore but Israelis find impossible to forget. I’d like to add another fact to his list. You might call it the Turkey problem–specifically, President Barack Obama’s blithe disregard of Turkey’s violation of a deal with Israel that he himself brokered.

Any Israeli-Palestinian agreement would presumably involve certain American guarantees, particularly on security. Washington even assigned a very prominent retired general, former commander in Afghanistan John Allen, “to consult with the Israelis about how the United States can help them meet security challenges posed by a Palestinian state,” as the Washington Post’s David Ignatius put it. But America can’t offer this kind of guarantee anymore, because under Obama, U.S. promises to Israel have repeatedly proven worthless. The Turkish deal is a classic example.

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As Jonathan noted yesterday, Israeli pessimism about renewed Israeli-Palestinian peace talks stems from certain important facts that Americans like to ignore but Israelis find impossible to forget. I’d like to add another fact to his list. You might call it the Turkey problem–specifically, President Barack Obama’s blithe disregard of Turkey’s violation of a deal with Israel that he himself brokered.

Any Israeli-Palestinian agreement would presumably involve certain American guarantees, particularly on security. Washington even assigned a very prominent retired general, former commander in Afghanistan John Allen, “to consult with the Israelis about how the United States can help them meet security challenges posed by a Palestinian state,” as the Washington Post’s David Ignatius put it. But America can’t offer this kind of guarantee anymore, because under Obama, U.S. promises to Israel have repeatedly proven worthless. The Turkish deal is a classic example.

While visiting Israel in March, Obama personally twisted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s arm to get him to apologize and pay compensation for Israel’s 2010 raid on a Turkish-sponsored flotilla to Gaza. Since the flotilla sought to break a blockade that even the UN recognizes as legal, and since the Turkish casualties occurred only because an “organized and violent” group of Turks attacked Israel’s boarding party with “iron bars, staves, chains, and slingshots” (to quote the UN’s report on the incident), wounding several soldiers and capturing and abusing three, most Israelis considered an apology unwarranted: The soldiers opened fire only in self-defense. Nevertheless, Netanyahu agreed, even making the telephoned apology in Obama’s presence.

In exchange, Turkey was supposed to return its ambassador to Israel, end its show-trials (in absentia) of senior Israeli officials, and otherwise restore normal relations. Five months later, not only has none of this happened, but Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc made clear last month that it never will, because Turkey has appended two new conditions that weren’t part of the deal: Israel must agree that it committed a “wrongful act” (in the original apology, whose wording was carefully negotiated, Israel acknowledged operational errors but not legal wrongdoing), and it must end the Gaza blockade.

Yet Obama hasn’t breathed a word of criticism for this new Turkish stance, much less exerted any pressure on his good friend Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to keep his side of the bargain. So Israel made concessions upfront, the other side pocketed them and then reneged on the promised quid pro quo, and Obama didn’t utter a peep. That hardly encourages Israel to do the same on the Palestinian front.

Clearly, this isn’t the first time Obama has broken a promise to Israel. He reneged on his predecessor’s oral agreement to let Israel continue building in the settlement blocs, outraging even leftists like Haaretz editor Aluf Benn by denying the agreement’s very existence; he reneged on his predecessor’s written promise that any Israeli-Palestinian deal must leave Israel with the settlement blocs and “defensible borders”–a promise Israel paid for by vacating every last inch of Gaza and evicting every last settler–instead publicly declaring that the border must be based on the indefensible 1967 lines; and he reneged on UN Resolution 242, which also promised Israel both defensible borders and the right to keep some of the territory captured in 1967, thereby abandoning the position of every U.S. government since 1967. All this taught Israelis that his successors might similarly scrap any promises he makes Israel today.

But in the Turkey case, he’s shown that he won’t even uphold his own promises to Israel. And that makes the conclusion inescapable: Any cession of real security assets like territory in exchange for American guarantees is a losing proposition for Israel.

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