Commentary Magazine


Posts For: August 16, 2013

Glamorizing Abortion

Last month a Texas state senator shot to fame filibustering a draconian GOP-sponsored bill that would have severely hindered abortion rights in the state by closing some clinics and outlawing certain procedures. She did it in pink running shoes before changing into Reed Krakoff pumps for a Vogue photo shoot about the filibuster. That senator was of course Wendy Davis, and the description above is how reporters in the liberal media framed Davis’s 11-hour standoff against the Republican majority of the Texas legislature.

The majority of Americans, even those who otherwise identify as pro-choice, were uncomfortable with the “rights” that Davis was so enthusiastically defending, according to poll after poll. Despite the narrative that this bill endangered abortion as a whole, it’s clear that Americans see the distinction between first-trimester abortion and what Davis was fighting for: late-term termination of fetuses that have the capability of experiencing pain and surviving outside the womb. At the time Jonathan explained:

I have one question for those insisting that this is the only possible interpretation of what happened yesterday: Doesn’t anybody remember the Gosnell case? After what we saw happen in Philadelphia, no matter whether you favor abortion rights or oppose them, how can any measure that is aimed at preventing late term abortions (which are already illegal in most parts of the country after 24 weeks) and ensuring the places where they occur will be prepared to deal with medical emergencies including live births be dismissed so cavalierly?

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Last month a Texas state senator shot to fame filibustering a draconian GOP-sponsored bill that would have severely hindered abortion rights in the state by closing some clinics and outlawing certain procedures. She did it in pink running shoes before changing into Reed Krakoff pumps for a Vogue photo shoot about the filibuster. That senator was of course Wendy Davis, and the description above is how reporters in the liberal media framed Davis’s 11-hour standoff against the Republican majority of the Texas legislature.

The majority of Americans, even those who otherwise identify as pro-choice, were uncomfortable with the “rights” that Davis was so enthusiastically defending, according to poll after poll. Despite the narrative that this bill endangered abortion as a whole, it’s clear that Americans see the distinction between first-trimester abortion and what Davis was fighting for: late-term termination of fetuses that have the capability of experiencing pain and surviving outside the womb. At the time Jonathan explained:

I have one question for those insisting that this is the only possible interpretation of what happened yesterday: Doesn’t anybody remember the Gosnell case? After what we saw happen in Philadelphia, no matter whether you favor abortion rights or oppose them, how can any measure that is aimed at preventing late term abortions (which are already illegal in most parts of the country after 24 weeks) and ensuring the places where they occur will be prepared to deal with medical emergencies including live births be dismissed so cavalierly?

The narrative formed about Davis from the start centered not on her extreme position on abortion, but instead on her attractive appearance and pink sneakers. A recently published profile in Vogue discusses her looks at length, to the exclusion of the policy that she spent 11 hours defending in her now famous sneakers. In just the first paragraph of the piece, Vogue describes the woman in the image accompanying the text as “a stunning blonde, petite at five feet four inches and barefoot in 7 for All Mankind jeans and barely there makeup.” 

RedState blogger Erick Erickson found himself in quite a bit of hot water this week after referring to Davis as “Abortion Barbie” on his Twitter feed. Liberals are outraged at the comparison between the “stunning blonde” (as Vogue describes her) and the iconic doll known for her attractive blonde looks. The New Yorker‘s Amy Davidson explains that the outrage stems from the assumption that by calling Davis “Abortion Barbie,” Erickson was really demeaning her intelligence. While Erickson’s tweet explains that Davis didn’t understand the facts of the Kermit Gosnell case (which is accurate), he in no way insinuates that is due to stupidity. Davidson seems to believe that implying that someone is a “Barbie,” a doll that has been marketed as a doctor, pilot, architect, and computer engineer, is an insult to intelligence verses a physical descriptor of a thin, attractive blonde woman who favors the color pink. 

The manufactured outrage surrounding Erickson’s comments, with no mention of the shallowness of Vogue‘s treatment of a sitting state senator in a state as large and influential as Texas, speaks volumes to just how committed the left really is to feminism, and how desperate they are to defend what they truly value: abortion, of any kind, on-demand. While Vogue can dwell on Davis’s physical appearance to the exclusion of all else, her detractors are vilified for doing the same. One can understand why Vogue would take this angle: it’s far more preferable to talk about Davis’s fashion choices (which are discussed at length throughout the piece) verses what she was made famous defending: subpar standards at clinics that perform major medical procedures on women and the dismemberment of fetuses who have been scientifically proven to feel pain. The Vogue/Erickson controversy is yet another example how the left insists on having its cake and eating it too, not to mention how the media continues to allow them to get away with it.

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Putin’s Reminder: Politics Trumps Sports

The anger over Russia’s law banning pro-gay “propaganda” is growing as more athletes and fans have expressed their outrage about the prospect of the authoritarian government using next year’s Winter Olympics as a platform to sanitize Vladimir Putin’s regime. While there doesn’t appear to be much support for a boycott of the Sochi games, there’s little question that many athletes and a lot of the media in attendance will be looking to push the envelope on this prohibition and to embarrass their tyrannical hosts as much as they can, as today’s New York Times report on the latest twist in the controversy shows. In that effort, I wish them luck. More than that, I’m glad that by offending an extremely influential group within Western culture and the media, the Russians have reminded us of a truth that is often submerged amid all the hype that is showered onto international sporting events: politics should trump sports.

My only question is why this lesson was ignored when virtually no one paid attention to China’s egregious and massive human rights abuses during the 2008 Summer Olympics? And why didn’t anyone in the soccer universe (the world’s most popular sport) scream bloody murder when Qatar, which like other Gulf states is actually far more repressive than Putin’s Russia, was awarded the 2022 World Cup?

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The anger over Russia’s law banning pro-gay “propaganda” is growing as more athletes and fans have expressed their outrage about the prospect of the authoritarian government using next year’s Winter Olympics as a platform to sanitize Vladimir Putin’s regime. While there doesn’t appear to be much support for a boycott of the Sochi games, there’s little question that many athletes and a lot of the media in attendance will be looking to push the envelope on this prohibition and to embarrass their tyrannical hosts as much as they can, as today’s New York Times report on the latest twist in the controversy shows. In that effort, I wish them luck. More than that, I’m glad that by offending an extremely influential group within Western culture and the media, the Russians have reminded us of a truth that is often submerged amid all the hype that is showered onto international sporting events: politics should trump sports.

My only question is why this lesson was ignored when virtually no one paid attention to China’s egregious and massive human rights abuses during the 2008 Summer Olympics? And why didn’t anyone in the soccer universe (the world’s most popular sport) scream bloody murder when Qatar, which like other Gulf states is actually far more repressive than Putin’s Russia, was awarded the 2022 World Cup?

I love sports, but prefer the kind that doesn’t mix up nationalism with games. But most Americans, like sports fans everywhere, like our televised sports and we don’t like inconvenient human rights causes interfering with the fun. So perhaps many of us sympathized with Russian gold medal-winning pole-vaulter Yelena Isinbayeva’s plea that “politics” not interfere with the pageantry and the competition at Sochi. But in fact, the willingness of gays to speak up and not be put off by the desire of those who profit from sports to insulate their business from political consideration should set an example that should not be limited to Sochi.

The fact is international sports competitions are political almost by definition. The Olympics in particular are often used as PR photo ops for the host governments because the nationalism and the flag waving will always be used by regimes that wish to be viewed in a more positive light. The 1936 Berlin Olympics is the classic example. While we in the United States tend to only remember it for Jesse Owens’s triumph that disproved the Nazi theories about Aryan superiority, those games were actually an even bigger triumph for Adolf Hitler. The prestige and power of his government was enhanced by the world coming to his capital. It was one of many factors that led him to believe that the world would accept anything he did to groups he despised, like Jews, without causing much trouble–and he was right about that. That was also true 72 years later when the Chinese proved that you could be the world’s biggest human rights offender and hear hardly a peep of protest from the West when they ran their Olympics extravaganza in 2008.

Thus, I think the prospect of gay protesters disrupting the Games is an encouraging development. Rather than be sidelined by the impulse to not let such causes interfere with the bread and circuses, activists should do everything possible to promote their cause.

Governments that engage in massive human rights abuses should not be, as they have been many times in the past, allowed to use sports to burnish their image. But it shouldn’t stop there. The same activists and others should be prepared to do the same in the Gulf states that discriminate against Jews as well as gays when the soccer jamboree is held there in 2022, an event that will garner even more viewers. If not, we have a right to ask why.

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GOP Shouldn’t Fear Competitive Primary

I mentioned in my earlier post the fact that Hillary Clinton’s supposed inevitability in 2008 never materialized, and that few remember how central Clinton’s strength as a candidate was to her potential rival GOP campaigns. Few also seem to remember just how acrimonious was the drawn-out primary battle that eventually produced Barack Obama’s nomination. There were worries all along on the left that the vicious contest would split the Democratic Party and weaken the eventual nominee.

Neither happened, and Clinton eventually went on to serve as Obama’s secretary of state before getting Obama’s obvious support for her 2016 run. The party managed to avoid civil war as well as the attempts to nominate Al Gore–yes, Al Gore–on the second ballot at the Democratic National Convention that year. Despite that seemingly cheerful epilogue, some Republicans apparently worry that a drawn-out primary process could hamper the party’s hopes of taking back the White House in 2016–though this concern is slightly different than the Democrats’ 2008 version in that Republicans are unnerved by the sheer number of potential GOP candidates. They fear not a split, but a shattering, according to the Hill:

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I mentioned in my earlier post the fact that Hillary Clinton’s supposed inevitability in 2008 never materialized, and that few remember how central Clinton’s strength as a candidate was to her potential rival GOP campaigns. Few also seem to remember just how acrimonious was the drawn-out primary battle that eventually produced Barack Obama’s nomination. There were worries all along on the left that the vicious contest would split the Democratic Party and weaken the eventual nominee.

Neither happened, and Clinton eventually went on to serve as Obama’s secretary of state before getting Obama’s obvious support for her 2016 run. The party managed to avoid civil war as well as the attempts to nominate Al Gore–yes, Al Gore–on the second ballot at the Democratic National Convention that year. Despite that seemingly cheerful epilogue, some Republicans apparently worry that a drawn-out primary process could hamper the party’s hopes of taking back the White House in 2016–though this concern is slightly different than the Democrats’ 2008 version in that Republicans are unnerved by the sheer number of potential GOP candidates. They fear not a split, but a shattering, according to the Hill:

More than two dozen Republicans are eyeing the GOP presidential nomination, while on the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton looks like she could coast to the crown.

Only a handful of Democrats are even circling Clinton, while the potential GOP field just continues to grow.

“To beat Hillary Clinton in 2016, you need a strong candidate,” GOP strategist Ford O’Connell said of his party’s 2016 contenders. “A crowded field has the potential to give Hillary a bigger leg up than she currently has.”

The contrast poses opportunities and threats for the GOP.

A winning candidate could emerge from a crowded primary stronger and battle tested, much as President Obama was strengthened from a 2008 primary fight with Clinton.

But a crowded primary could also weaken a GOP nominee by extending the fight and exhausting the eventual winner physically and financially.

Or, it could muddle things enough to allow a weaker nominee to emerge.

I’m not quite sure either of the assumptions underlying this concern holds up under scrutiny. Was Obama really “strengthened” by his battle with Clinton? On the other hand, he surely wasn’t weakened enough to lose or low enough on resources not to set records for campaign fundraising. That, I think, gets to the point of why these stories are logical but overheated: nominate a strong candidate, he will not be held back by the primary. Nominate a weak candidate, and it won’t matter.

Obama was a strong general-election candidate, and John McCain was not. Thus, the fact that Obama had a bitter struggle to gain the nomination while McCain effectively had his wrapped up by Super Tuesday had no real effect on the general election. It was Obama, not McCain, who was flush with cash. And it was McCain, not Obama, who had trouble uniting his party behind his candidacy.

As for the perception of the party among the general voting public, the number of candidates matters less than the quality of those candidates. The Hill goes on to name the prospective GOP candidates, and includes people like Donald Trump, Sarah Palin, and Steve King. But the list of potential first-tier candidates who are more likely to actually run and to garner enough votes to participate in the televised debates goes something like this: Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, Chris Christie, Bobby Jindal, Scott Walker, Ted Cruz, perhaps Paul Ryan and John Kasich.

There are others, but those names are the reason many conservatives have been optimistic about the future of the movement and the GOP. A popular perspective from the right is that a lineup like that is a good problem to have, and that you really can’t have too many good candidates at a time like this. Whether they actually turn out to be good candidates remains to be seen, of course. But if each of them didn’t have constituent appeal there would be no concern about splitting the vote.

The party will have its debate and choose its standard bearer, and that debate looks to be wide-ranging, diverse, and almost certainly contentious. But it’s doubtful conservatives would rather have a coronation.

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Caring for Pigs More Than for Humans

Reading Jonathan Tobin’s take on Scandinavian outrage with the Israeli ambassador to Norway, who dared compare the release of Palestinian murderers with letting Anders Breivik free, I was reminded of an odd news item which appeared only three days ago in a Swedish English-language local news outlet. The story, published in The Local on August 13, was headlined “Sweden demands mate for man’s lonely pig.”

The report, I kid you not, concerns a pig on a farm who has no friends to play with or partners to mate with. It is of course a fate that may befall many a creature, even more charming ones than this lonely Swedish hog. But in Sweden, it appears, it is the business of government to ensure that a pig, deemed as the article helpfully explains to be a social animal, is not raised alone–or lonely, so to speak.

And lest farmers hold the law in contempt, there are animal welfare inspectors at hand to ensure that a pig will get satisfaction–until it’s sausage season, at least.

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Reading Jonathan Tobin’s take on Scandinavian outrage with the Israeli ambassador to Norway, who dared compare the release of Palestinian murderers with letting Anders Breivik free, I was reminded of an odd news item which appeared only three days ago in a Swedish English-language local news outlet. The story, published in The Local on August 13, was headlined “Sweden demands mate for man’s lonely pig.”

The report, I kid you not, concerns a pig on a farm who has no friends to play with or partners to mate with. It is of course a fate that may befall many a creature, even more charming ones than this lonely Swedish hog. But in Sweden, it appears, it is the business of government to ensure that a pig, deemed as the article helpfully explains to be a social animal, is not raised alone–or lonely, so to speak.

And lest farmers hold the law in contempt, there are animal welfare inspectors at hand to ensure that a pig will get satisfaction–until it’s sausage season, at least.

That carries significant consequences for society–for when you have such regulations you must also have regulators, and all that jazz about pigs and their right to a friend ends up costing quite a bit of public money to implement. That fact raises the question of social priorities–which in turn helps explain why, when the Israeli ambassador sought to elicit empathy among his audience by asking how people would feel if Breivik were to be released, his listeners probably thought he came from another planet. Notice that they were not being asked to identify with Israel, just to understand at a human level what it means to see the murderer of your loved ones go free.

The ambassador’s listeners, who would probably sympathize with the pig’s plight and support active state intervention to cater to its needs, were at a loss to see why the victims of Anders Breivik inhabited the same moral category of the victims of Palestinian terrorists. His mistake–and ours, in so far as we continue to speak about common Western values in reference to certain segments of European society–was to plead for a common humanity, when in truth there is none left.

They care about pigs more than they care about Jews.

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Mistakes, Not Abuse at NSA

“The National Security Agency has broken privacy rules or overstepped its legal authority thousands of times each year since Congress granted the agency broad new powers in 2008, according to an internal audit and other top-secret documents.”

That’s the lead of the latest Washington Post story based on documents stolen by NSA-defector Edward Snowden. Sounds pretty alarming, doesn’t it? The Post article makes it sound as if the NSA is precisely what Snowden claims it is–an out-of-control outfit routinely breaking the law to spy on innocent Americans.

The details tell a somewhat different story. As the New York Times notes:

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“The National Security Agency has broken privacy rules or overstepped its legal authority thousands of times each year since Congress granted the agency broad new powers in 2008, according to an internal audit and other top-secret documents.”

That’s the lead of the latest Washington Post story based on documents stolen by NSA-defector Edward Snowden. Sounds pretty alarming, doesn’t it? The Post article makes it sound as if the NSA is precisely what Snowden claims it is–an out-of-control outfit routinely breaking the law to spy on innocent Americans.

The details tell a somewhat different story. As the New York Times notes:

The largest number of episodes — 1,904 — appeared to be “roamers,” in which a foreigner whose cellphone was being wiretapped without a warrant came to the United States, where individual warrants are required. A spike in such problems in a single quarter, the report said, could be because of Chinese citizens visiting friends and family for the Chinese Lunar New Year holiday.

“Roamer incidents are largely unpreventable, even with good target awareness and traffic review, since target travel activities are often unannounced and not easily predicted,” the report says.

In another case, “the system collected metadata logs about a ‘large number’ of calls dialed from Washington – something it was already doing through a different program – because of a programming error mixing up the district’s area code, 202, with the international dialing code of Egypt, 20.”

Doesn’t exactly sound like Big Brother, does it? It doesn’t even sound like the work of the FBI in the old days when it was wiretapping Martin Luther King Jr. and other political figures. This sounds as if the NSA operatives committed innocent errors due to inadvertent mistakes which were then caught and corrected in an internal audit. In other words, the system worked exactly as it was supposed to, and there is zero evidence presented here that NSA wiretappers gathered any information for personal or non-professional reasons.

This was not NSA employees spying on their ex-wives or trying to get an unfair advantage in the stock market. For the most part it is not even the NSA spying on Americans. Indeed the regulations regarding “roamers” highlight an absurdity that terrorists can exploit–it is much easier for the NSA to tap suspects abroad than when they are on American soil, where they can presumably do the most damage.

So before we get too deep into outrage over NSA “rule-breaking,” let’s take a deep breath. A small number of inadvertent errors–and the number is small given the number of overall NSA operations going on–is hardly cause to discontinue valuable intelligence-gathering programs that are helping to keep us safe from a resurgent al-Qaeda.

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Scandinavia: Jews Deserve Terror, Not Us

In the view of many Europeans, and in particular Scandinavians, not all victims of terror are alike. If, for example, you are an innocent Norwegian child who is gunned down by a deranged right-wing fanatic, you are deserving of compassion and your killer must be punished to the fullest extent of the law. However, if you are a Jew who is gunned down or bombed by a Palestinian, you had it coming and your killer should be released and honored.

That’s the only possible way to interpret the anger being expressed in the region this week in response to remarks made by Israel’s Ambassador to Sweden Isaac Buchman. The ambassador is under fire for asking listeners on Swedish Radio to think about how they would feel if Anders Breivik, the perpetrator of the Utoya Island massacre, were released. Buchman complained that Israel wasn’t getting credit for it’s freeing of 26 Palestinian terrorist murderers in order to entice the Palestinian Authority back to the negotiating table. But rather than sympathize with the families of Israelis victimized by Palestinian murderers, people in Norway and Sweden are angry about any comparison between their sorrow and that of Jews killed by Arabs. Indeed, as one Swedish paper put it, the families of the Utoya incident are “seething” about the ambassador’s analogy.

In other words, there seems to be some sort of consensus that Breivik’s crimes are beyond the pale while the Jews have it coming when Palestinians kill them. While the Swedes and the Norwegians probably think they are speaking without prejudice, their views display how deep the roots of anti-Semitism run in European culture.

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In the view of many Europeans, and in particular Scandinavians, not all victims of terror are alike. If, for example, you are an innocent Norwegian child who is gunned down by a deranged right-wing fanatic, you are deserving of compassion and your killer must be punished to the fullest extent of the law. However, if you are a Jew who is gunned down or bombed by a Palestinian, you had it coming and your killer should be released and honored.

That’s the only possible way to interpret the anger being expressed in the region this week in response to remarks made by Israel’s Ambassador to Sweden Isaac Buchman. The ambassador is under fire for asking listeners on Swedish Radio to think about how they would feel if Anders Breivik, the perpetrator of the Utoya Island massacre, were released. Buchman complained that Israel wasn’t getting credit for it’s freeing of 26 Palestinian terrorist murderers in order to entice the Palestinian Authority back to the negotiating table. But rather than sympathize with the families of Israelis victimized by Palestinian murderers, people in Norway and Sweden are angry about any comparison between their sorrow and that of Jews killed by Arabs. Indeed, as one Swedish paper put it, the families of the Utoya incident are “seething” about the ambassador’s analogy.

In other words, there seems to be some sort of consensus that Breivik’s crimes are beyond the pale while the Jews have it coming when Palestinians kill them. While the Swedes and the Norwegians probably think they are speaking without prejudice, their views display how deep the roots of anti-Semitism run in European culture.

As the Swedish paper The Local reports:

“I think it is ridiculous to compare this with a mass murderer from Norway,” Trond Blattmann, whose son Torjusdatter was killed when Breivik opened fire on Utøya, told The Local. “There’s no similarity at all. This is a ridiculous way to talk.”

“The comparison does not make sense,” added Bjørn Ihler, who survived the massacre by hiding on the southern tip of the island. “Breivik was a solo terrorist whose actions were based purely on an unreal situation. The situation in the Middle East is very different. There is a real fight for Palestinian freedom going on.”

Middle East expert Per Jönsson with the Swedish Institute for International Affairs (Utrikespolitiska institutets – UI) also slammed Bachman’s Breivik comparison.

“The comparison with Breivik is insane in several ways. Breivik is very special. These people that Israel is now releasing are freedom fighters, murderers, and in some cases terrorists, but they are nevertheless rather normal people,” he told the Aftonbladet newspaper.

Contrary to the belief of the Utoya families, the blood of the Jews slaughtered in cold blood by the Palestinians that were acclaimed as heroes this week after their release was no less red than that of Breivik’s victims. The grief of their families was no less profound. The outrage of the people of Israel—and all decent people everywhere—about these wanton acts of murder carried out by Palestinians was no less justified.

The Utoya families view Breivik’s actions as “unreal” and therefore a random act of madness that must somehow be seen as on a different moral plane from Palestinian killings of Jews. But the rationale of each of those Palestinian murderers—some of whom were personally embraced by Israel’s peace partner, Palestinian Authority head Mahmoud Abbas—was no less mad or random. Most simply seized any opportunity to find a Jewish victim to kill and claimed the blood they shed was in the name of “freeing Palestine.” Perhaps they should read the accounts of some of these released prisoners to understand the brutality of their crimes and how divorced they were from any rational political struggle.

This is not just the old debate about one person’s terrorists being another’s “freedom fighter.” This is about what is, in the words of the so-called Middle East expert quoted in the Swedish paper, defined as “normal.” In his view, and apparently in the opinion of most of the Swedes and Norwegians who agree with him, there is something “normal” about an average Palestinian wanting to kill a Jew because it is part of an existential desire to eradicate the Jewish presence in the country. By being in Israel (and most of their victims were not “settlers” even though even the members of that apparently despised group also have a right not to be murdered), the Jew is transformed into prey. Like a deer or other animal during hunting season, Europeans seem to think any Israeli is a legitimate target.

Whatever you may think about where Israel’s borders should be drawn, by treating terror carried out by Palestinians against Jews as legitimate, Europeans are signaling not only that they approve of this cause but also that Jewish lives are less precious than their own. The families of the Utoya victims deserve our sympathy in their grief. But they, and other Europeans who are “seething” about any comparison between their children and dead Jews, have crossed the line into anti-Semitism. 

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Obama on Egypt: No Defense of American Interests or Values

President Obama resorted to one of his favorite rhetorical memes yesterday when he complained that both supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood and the military government in Egypt that toppled the Islamists from power last month are criticizing him. As he likes to do on domestic issues when criticizing his opponents and pretends to be the only adult in the room, the president is trying to carve out room in the center of the Egypt controversy by condemning the government’s actions against Brotherhood demonstrators and suspending joint military exercises but not cutting off U.S. aid.

Yet unlike those domestic disputes, in which most of the mainstream media buys into Obama’s conceit, it isn’t working this time. Indeed, not only is the president viewed with contempt and anger by both sides in what is rapidly assuming the look of a civil war inside Egypt, but he’s also getting backtalk from liberal outlets that normally echo administration talking points. Hence, the editorial page of the New York Times is pressuring the president to cut off aid and even publishing a screed from a Brotherhood supporter this morning. Even stronger was a piece in Politico that said bluntly that he had “chosen America’s interests over its values — and the pragmatists in his administration over the human-rights idealists.”

But the problem with U.S. policy toward Egypt isn’t that he has made such a choice. It’s that he’s never made a choice at all. In fact, by raising the heat on the military government and abusing it publicly at a time when it is locked in a death struggle with a totalitarian movement bent on power, he’s not defending U.S. interests or the country’s values.

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President Obama resorted to one of his favorite rhetorical memes yesterday when he complained that both supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood and the military government in Egypt that toppled the Islamists from power last month are criticizing him. As he likes to do on domestic issues when criticizing his opponents and pretends to be the only adult in the room, the president is trying to carve out room in the center of the Egypt controversy by condemning the government’s actions against Brotherhood demonstrators and suspending joint military exercises but not cutting off U.S. aid.

Yet unlike those domestic disputes, in which most of the mainstream media buys into Obama’s conceit, it isn’t working this time. Indeed, not only is the president viewed with contempt and anger by both sides in what is rapidly assuming the look of a civil war inside Egypt, but he’s also getting backtalk from liberal outlets that normally echo administration talking points. Hence, the editorial page of the New York Times is pressuring the president to cut off aid and even publishing a screed from a Brotherhood supporter this morning. Even stronger was a piece in Politico that said bluntly that he had “chosen America’s interests over its values — and the pragmatists in his administration over the human-rights idealists.”

But the problem with U.S. policy toward Egypt isn’t that he has made such a choice. It’s that he’s never made a choice at all. In fact, by raising the heat on the military government and abusing it publicly at a time when it is locked in a death struggle with a totalitarian movement bent on power, he’s not defending U.S. interests or the country’s values.

The pictures coming out of Cairo this week are shocking. With hundreds dead and more violence today as the Brotherhood took to the streets again for a “Day of Rage,” it’s difficult for a U.S. administration that spent a year embracing the Islamist party after it took power to remain silent about the casualties. Yet by adopting a tone of outrage about the attack on the Brotherhood camps in Egypt’s capital, he is squandering what little is left of America’s leverage over the situation.

It is true that the president doesn’t have any really good options. It would have been better had there been a genuine third force in Egyptian politics that would have promoted a liberal democratic alternative to the Islamists of the Brotherhood. Such a faction never had much of a chance to compete with the Brotherhood in elections, and it should be noted that unlike George W. Bush who actively sought to promote a democratic alternative in Egypt, Obama gave short shrift to that cause. But in the absence of genuine democrats in the fray, we are left with only two choices: the military or the Brotherhood.

As even the New York Times reports today, most Egyptians have little trouble picking sides in such a tangle: they believe the military was right to act to clear the capital of armed encampments of supporters of deposed president Mohamed Morsi. They understand that the Brotherhood is not without blame for this confrontation or the violence and even point out, as we did on Wednesday, that Islamists are retaliating for the coup by burning churches.

While the attacks on the president for his failure to cut off aid from both liberal outlets and Republicans like Senators John McCain and Rand Paul (Egypt appears to be the one issue these two antagonists agree on at the moment) are rooted in a belief that he is trashing American values by not distancing Washington further from the Egyptian military, this is based on a profound misunderstanding of how we should define both U.S. interests and moral values in this case.

If there was any period during which American values were being put on hold in Egypt it was the year during which the president and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton appeared to endorse Morsi and his Brotherhood government. This was interpreted by many Egyptians, who rightly feared the consequences of Morsi’s drive for total power, as abandoning them to the clutches of an Islamist movement that would never peacefully relinquish power. They also knew that the administration had pressured the military to allow the Brotherhood to take power after it won elections by threatening an aid cutoff.

Once we understand that democracy isn’t an option in an Egypt divided between Brotherhood and those who understand the military is their only shield against the threat of an Islamist state, it’s clear that America’s interests lie in supporting the military and hoping they will eventually construct a new government that can avoid the excesses of the Mubarak era, rebuild the economy, and keep the peace with Israel.

But our values are also at stake in such a policy. If the U.S. went on backing Morsi or were to use our aid as a lever by which we would seek to get the Brotherhood back in power, we would be trashing any hope for any sort of freedom in Egypt. As Michael Rubin wrote earlier today, democracy, if it is ever to triumph in Egypt, can only be established once the Brotherhood is conclusively defeated. As much as Americans may be shocked by the violence in Cairo, our interests and our values will be advanced once that happens. But so long as President Obama continues in a futile attempt to play both ends against the middle in Egypt, that transition will be impeded.

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The Perils of Proportionality

Much of the outrage directed at the Egyptian military is a direct result of the death toll from Wednesday’s battles on the streets of Cairo. Make no mistake: the Egyptian state may have had better weaponry, but these were battles plain and simple. The interior ministry says it lost several dozen officers, and that too is a tragedy. The notion that the United States should castigate or abandon the Egyptian army because it caused more deaths than the Muslim Brotherhood is short-sighted and based on the corrosive notion that the stronger side has a responsibility for restraint.

One of the biggest differences between the right and the left today is that the left always demonizes power, while the right recognizes that power can be used for good or for ill. Too many in the media and the State Department suffer from the David and Goliath syndrome in which they bestow sympathy and perhaps even a sense of justice on the weakest side, regardless of its beliefs and goals.

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Much of the outrage directed at the Egyptian military is a direct result of the death toll from Wednesday’s battles on the streets of Cairo. Make no mistake: the Egyptian state may have had better weaponry, but these were battles plain and simple. The interior ministry says it lost several dozen officers, and that too is a tragedy. The notion that the United States should castigate or abandon the Egyptian army because it caused more deaths than the Muslim Brotherhood is short-sighted and based on the corrosive notion that the stronger side has a responsibility for restraint.

One of the biggest differences between the right and the left today is that the left always demonizes power, while the right recognizes that power can be used for good or for ill. Too many in the media and the State Department suffer from the David and Goliath syndrome in which they bestow sympathy and perhaps even a sense of justice on the weakest side, regardless of its beliefs and goals.

This was the case with Occupy Wall Street, an amorphous group with a huge sense of entitlement but no defined ideology besides the nihilistic. And, when it comes to terrorism, too many in the West bend over backwards to comprehend the terrorists’ point of view. There are two general ways to interpret terrorist motivation: One is through the prism of grievance and the other through an understanding of religious ideology. If analysts embrace the idea that grievance motivates terrorism, then the natural policy response is to try to address that grievance and force concessions from the stronger side. The reality of Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood, Al-Shabaab, Hezbollah, the Taliban, and other Islamist movements, however, is that grievance is often window-dressing for ideological totalitarianism.

Even if the United States does not officially believe in direct diplomacy with all of these groups, it and the United Nations often seek to transform them into Davids, no matter how murderous their intent. Hence, Israel is castigated when—pushed to the limit by Hamas rockets—it responds with targeted strikes that kill Hamas activists and sometimes, unfortunately, bystanders. Never mind that Hamas targets civilian areas and Israel bends over backwards to mitigate collateral damage. One of the more disingenuous arguments that comes from defenders of Palestinian terrorism is that terrorists must fire homemade rockets or detonate suicide vests because they don’t have F-16s and advanced tanks. The reason why such arguments fall flat is they imply that if Palestinians did have advanced jet aircraft and armor, they would simply use that to attack Israel and thus make the casualty count more proportionate.

The same holds true for Iraq. Diplomats and journalists criticized Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki for an incident in Fallujah in which a clash between government forces and Sunni protestors resulted in the deaths of several dozen Sunni protestors. That the Iraqi government first moved in with water cannons and were fired upon by supposedly “non-violent” protestors waving al-Qaeda flags was justification enough. That government troops didn’t die in numbers proportional to the Sunni extremists is not something to condemn, but rather to applaud, for it shows good training.

Back to Egypt: in recent days, the Muslim Brotherhood has suffered the brunt of the violence, but that does not exculpate it: The Brotherhood is frenzied enough that if it had access to greater weaponry, it would simply kill more.

John Kerry and Barack Obama may embrace the idea of negotiated settlements in Egypt and Syria, but history suggests the idea of diplomatic settlements absent first a violent resolution to conflict is fantasy. Before diplomacy can succeed, all parties must recognize that they can only get through the negotiating table what they cannot get through violence. Often, that occurs when one side wins decisively and the other side loses. This was a lesson best encapsulated by the late Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, hailed as a hero for peace, but who decided to negotiate only after trying to achieve his aims via war, only to suffer a humiliating defeat.

So what should the United States do? So long as the Muslim Brotherhood seeks to turn back the clock, impose its hateful and intolerant ideology upon Egyptians of all religiosities and religions, and refuses to abide by the pathway to transitional elections, and so long as it continues to fight in the streets, then it should suffer the consequences of its actions. And if those consequences result in exponentially higher Brotherhood casualties than army casualties, then so be it. That is the truest path to peace.

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Enough About “Electability”

In August 2007, Marc Ambinder noticed something in a fundraising letter from the presidential campaign of Rudy Giuliani. The letter pitched Giuliani as the only Republican who could win the 2008 general election, and referred occasionally to the specter of Democratic victory. It was early in the primary process, so there was no Democratic nominee yet. But then the letter slipped, writing that the recipients’ donations “will go a long way in helping Rudy go the distance and beat Hillary Clinton next November.”

In the end, of course, Clinton did not win her nomination, and Giuliani did not win his. Nonetheless, what is often forgotten is that Hillary’s supposed “inevitability” in 2007-2008 inspired Giuliani to base his candidacy in large part on his ability to defeat her in the general election. Giuliani did this because he was too far removed from the base of the party ideologically to run as one of them (though there were plenty of impressive conservative accomplishments in Giuliani’s time as mayor of New York), so he ran as the guy who could win.

Last night at a closed-door gathering of the Republican National Committee in Boston, another tough-on-crime Republican from the Northeast, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, made a similar pitch about 2016:

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In August 2007, Marc Ambinder noticed something in a fundraising letter from the presidential campaign of Rudy Giuliani. The letter pitched Giuliani as the only Republican who could win the 2008 general election, and referred occasionally to the specter of Democratic victory. It was early in the primary process, so there was no Democratic nominee yet. But then the letter slipped, writing that the recipients’ donations “will go a long way in helping Rudy go the distance and beat Hillary Clinton next November.”

In the end, of course, Clinton did not win her nomination, and Giuliani did not win his. Nonetheless, what is often forgotten is that Hillary’s supposed “inevitability” in 2007-2008 inspired Giuliani to base his candidacy in large part on his ability to defeat her in the general election. Giuliani did this because he was too far removed from the base of the party ideologically to run as one of them (though there were plenty of impressive conservative accomplishments in Giuliani’s time as mayor of New York), so he ran as the guy who could win.

Last night at a closed-door gathering of the Republican National Committee in Boston, another tough-on-crime Republican from the Northeast, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, made a similar pitch about 2016:

“We are not a debating society,” Christie told the 168 members of the committee and other Republican operatives gathered for lunch in a Boston hotel ballroom — a remark received as a continuation of their feud. “We are a political operation that needs to win.”

“See I’m in this business to win,” he continued. “I’m in it to win. I think that we have some folks who believe that our job is to be college professors. College professors are fine I guess. Being a college professor is — they basically spout out ideas but nobody ever does anything about them. For our ideas to matter we have to win. Because if we don’t win, we don’t govern. And if we don’t govern, all we do is shout into the wind.”

[…]

“The emphasis was on electability,” said Texas GOP Chairman Steve Munisteri. “And he made the case that he is electable, so I think you saw a foreshadowing of 2016.”

“His whole pitch was: as a party all you should be thinking about is winning, and look I’ve got the winning formula,” Munisteri recounted.  “I took all that to mean: I’m going to be a candidate in 2016. If you want to win…I’m your candidate.”

Christie is generally thought to be among the more electable potential 2016 candidates, but it’s a mistake to push this line of argument. Simply put, the party’s primary voters don’t care. Conservatives were told that Mitt Romney was the electable candidate in 2012, which was supposed to be his saving grace. Similar comments were made about John McCain, who was considered a moderate with bipartisan credentials and who the media seemed to actually like. The party is in no mood to hear that they should vote for someone because they are “electable.”

And there’s another reason this is an ill-considered defense of his (still theoretical) candidacy. Giuliani had no other options because he was pro-choice. That’s not true with Christie. While I tend to think Giuliani was more conservative than he’s often given credit for, the abortion issue is generally a disqualifier for too much of the party. Giuliani was reduced to arguing that he could win, and that once he did, he’d surround himself in office with conservatives.

Not only is the “electability” argument unconvincing to GOP voters, but Christie shouldn’t have to pitch himself as a compromise candidate. Moreover, in doing so Christie is validating accusations that he isn’t a conservative–accusations he’ll have to push back against if he wants the GOP nomination.

To be fair, the Time report mentions that Christie did trumpet his record in office, specifically taking on teachers unions and his efforts to reduce New Jersey’s deficit. Ironically, Christie’s combative approach may actually be a hindrance to his conservative posturing. He styles himself a straight-talker who doesn’t pander or owe anyone an explanation. The very idea of him having to justify his credibility is dismissed with a wave of his hand.

But that stubbornness could prove costly in a GOP primary. Saying something to the effect of “I can win” won’t convince conservative voters, nor should it. The Republican Party is (mostly) out of power and in the midst of a major generational transition from party elders to a new crop of congressmen and governors. Electability is important, but it’s not a statement of principles or the forging of an identity. And it’s a claim the GOP base is tired of hearing.

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Former Ombudsman’s Nonsensical Screed

The Washington Post’s former ombudsman, a fellow by the name of Patrick Pexton, wrote an “open letter” to the new owner of the Post, Jeff Bezos, with advice on personnel. Mr. Pexton goes after one individual in particular–my former COMMENTARY colleague Jennifer Rubin.

How to describe what Pexton wrote? How about intemperate and embarrassing for starters. If that judgment sounds harsh, allow me a moment to prove my case. Mr. Pexton claims that Rubin’s columns are “at best political pornography.” (One can only imagine what her less-than-best writings conjure up in Pexton’s imagination.) We’re told she “peddles every silly right-wing theory to come down the pike.” (“Every” is quite a lot.) She is guilty of “treachery” against the Romney campaign. This isn’t an open letter; it’s an open screed. Mr. Pexton’s claims are so ludicrous, in fact–so filled with transparent rage–that they shatter his credibility.

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The Washington Post’s former ombudsman, a fellow by the name of Patrick Pexton, wrote an “open letter” to the new owner of the Post, Jeff Bezos, with advice on personnel. Mr. Pexton goes after one individual in particular–my former COMMENTARY colleague Jennifer Rubin.

How to describe what Pexton wrote? How about intemperate and embarrassing for starters. If that judgment sounds harsh, allow me a moment to prove my case. Mr. Pexton claims that Rubin’s columns are “at best political pornography.” (One can only imagine what her less-than-best writings conjure up in Pexton’s imagination.) We’re told she “peddles every silly right-wing theory to come down the pike.” (“Every” is quite a lot.) She is guilty of “treachery” against the Romney campaign. This isn’t an open letter; it’s an open screed. Mr. Pexton’s claims are so ludicrous, in fact–so filled with transparent rage–that they shatter his credibility.

As someone who worked on the Romney campaign, allow me to clear Rubin of the charge of treachery. Mr. Pexton has worked himself to such a lather that he apparently forgets that he once defended Rubin for statements that he now attacks her for having made. (See this piece by Slate’s David Weigel.) I also got a chuckle out of the fact that “Rubin was the No. 1 source of complaint mail about any single Post staffer while I was ombudsman,” as if that is supposed to mean anything at all. What it undoubtedly means is that a lot of liberals complained to Pexton because Rubin is a conservative.

We’re also told that among others, “Thinking conservatives didn’t like her.” Really now? I know a lot of thinking conservatives–perhaps more than even Pexton knows–and many of them like Rubin. And even some of us unthinking conservatives like her as well. Nor does it help Pexton’s argument that during his ombudsman days, he said of Rubin, “She has excellent sources in the House and Senate leadership, and lots of Republicans read her and trust her.” 

Jennifer Rubin has been, in fact, a wonderful addition to the Post. Her writing is intelligent and informed. She isn’t afraid to engage in intra-conservative debates. She’s opinionated and fearless, a fine writer and thinker, and well plugged in to the Hill.

I have no idea what is behind Mr. Pexton’s tantrum, and I’m not all that interested in finding out. I’m happy to judge him simply on what he wrote–and what he wrote is dyspeptic nonsense.

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The Naïveté of a Bishop on Iran

For the past several days, I have been the guest of the Chautauqua Institution in western New York. A truly fantastic experience, Chautauqua is dedicated to the arts and intellectual growth. It’s hard to cut across the community’s expansive grounds without stumbling onto a concert, a show, an opera, or a lecture.  On Monday, I gave a lecture on Turkey, which was followed be a series of other lectures approaching different aspects of Turkish state and society. Commendably, the institution brought in a wider range of speakers who approached the topic from different perspectives, giving greater breadth than the usual academic or think tank conference.

One of the other lecturers was the Rt. Reverend John Bryson Chane, the retired Episcopalian Bishop of Washington, DC. Chane focused his talk on the role Turkey might play in mediating the Iranian nuclear dispute, and shifted quickly to the issue of the so-called fatwa issued by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei banning nuclear weapons or their use. According to the local newspaper’s write-up of the event:

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For the past several days, I have been the guest of the Chautauqua Institution in western New York. A truly fantastic experience, Chautauqua is dedicated to the arts and intellectual growth. It’s hard to cut across the community’s expansive grounds without stumbling onto a concert, a show, an opera, or a lecture.  On Monday, I gave a lecture on Turkey, which was followed be a series of other lectures approaching different aspects of Turkish state and society. Commendably, the institution brought in a wider range of speakers who approached the topic from different perspectives, giving greater breadth than the usual academic or think tank conference.

One of the other lecturers was the Rt. Reverend John Bryson Chane, the retired Episcopalian Bishop of Washington, DC. Chane focused his talk on the role Turkey might play in mediating the Iranian nuclear dispute, and shifted quickly to the issue of the so-called fatwa issued by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei banning nuclear weapons or their use. According to the local newspaper’s write-up of the event:

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, has issued several fatwas stating that Iran does not seek to produce nuclear weapons. One of the earliest fatwas, delivered to the IAEA in 2005, states, “The Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has issued a fatwa that the production, stockpiling and use of nuclear weapons are forbidden under Islam and that the Islamic Republic of Iran shall never acquire these weapons.” Once a fatwa is issued, Chane explained, it must be obeyed. To not do so is to be guilty of a grievous sin.

Much of this is nonsense but, for the sake of argument, let’s take Chane’s understanding as accurate. If fatwas cannot be rescinded, then the Iranian regime with whom Chane seeks to normalize relations still hopes to murder British author Salman Rushdie for having dared to write a book of which Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini did not approve.

Chane does not consider that fatwas, however, can be rescinded and disputed just as easily as they are issued. The very basis of Shi’ism embraces the plurality of religious opinion. One ayatollah’s fatwa is not necessarily respected by another ayatollah or his followers.

And sometimes fatwas are simply false. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei lists all the fatwas he has issued on his website, and yet the nuclear fatwa to which Chane refers is not listed. There is no such thing as a secret fatwa, however. A comparison of how Iranian officials refer to it suggests that it is a rhetorical tool that has no basis in reality. To base national security on a lie is very dangerous indeed. And the willingness to trust Iran’s leadership when they will not do so much as put their alleged statement on paper is even more troubling still. How ironic it is that the right reverend is willing to believe what is not on paper, but refuses to acknowledge the threat by so-called pragmatist Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani to launch a pre-emptive first strike on Israel using an Iranian nuclear bomb. That—and a number of other Iranian nuclear threats—are documented here.

What might motivate Chane’s naïveté? One of the worst mistakes a diplomat or intelligence analyst can make is to engage in projection, and to assume that others share the same thought processes and value system as he or she does. As I’ve quipped before, multiculturalism isn’t simply about appreciating each other’s differences or the ability to walk into a sushi restaurant and order a mojito, but rather it is about the recognition that some people can think and act very differently from others. There is a tendency among too many liberal theologians who would never think about swearing falsely in God’s name who assume that other theologians would also not lie. But growing up Ali Khamenei is quite different than growing up John Chane, even if the policy recommendations of both would achieve the same aim.  

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When Is a Coup Not a Coup?

If you walk into Grand Central Terminal from Lexington Avenue, you will see a clock on the wall above the entrance to the Main Concourse. Below, carved in the stone, it says, “Eastern Standard Time.” That was Grand Central’s year-round time zone when it opened in 1913. But these days, from mid-March to early November, the clock displays eastern daylight time, not standard time.

The lesson here, obviously, is be careful what you carve in stone.

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If you walk into Grand Central Terminal from Lexington Avenue, you will see a clock on the wall above the entrance to the Main Concourse. Below, carved in the stone, it says, “Eastern Standard Time.” That was Grand Central’s year-round time zone when it opened in 1913. But these days, from mid-March to early November, the clock displays eastern daylight time, not standard time.

The lesson here, obviously, is be careful what you carve in stone.

Putting something into law is carving it in stone. Laws are always far easier to enact than they are to repeal. And we have just had a beautiful example of why putting something into law is often a dumb thing to do. Since 1961, when the Foreign Assistance Act was signed, the law requires that should a foreign country experience a coup d’état, U.S. aid to that country must cease. This is fine in theory. This country would very much like the whole world to be governed by democratic governments elected in free and fair elections. We could cut the military budget by ninety percent if it were.

But that is not the way the whole world works and we have to live with reality. The purpose of U.S. foreign aid is not to convince the world that we are a bunch of nice guys but to advance American interests. And sometimes interests other than fostering democratic government must take priority. During the Cold War, we had to make nice with some very unsavory regimes.

What happened in Egypt on July 5 was as clearly a coup as anything could be. The Egyptian military, employing force majeure, overthrew the first democratically elected government in Egyptian history and took the president into custody, where he remains, incommunicado. If that wasn’t a coup, whatever could be? But for valid reasons of state, the Obama administration has been flatly refusing to call a coup a coup. To be sure, the Morsi government had been democratically elected, but so had Hitler and the Nazi Party in Germany in 1933. And, like the Nazis, once in office, the Morsi government immediately began subverting democracy at every turn. Given what we know now, would we have objected to the Wehrmacht giving Hitler the boot in 1934? It would have been a coup, for sure, but thank God for it. After all, both Hitler and Morsi were, in effect, carrying out their own coups d’état from within.

Politicians have often had to be semantically artful. In 1941, as FDR slowly maneuvered the country into joining the allies in a war the country did not want to fight but which Roosevelt knew had to be fought, he agreed to take over the defense of Iceland from the hard-pressed British. But he had a problem: he had promised the American people he would not station U.S. forces outside North America.  What to do? Simple: Roosevelt just declared that Iceland was actually part of North America. It was geographically doubtful to say the least, but politically sound.

The Obama administration is anything but artful when it comes to foreign policy. They have managed to alienate just about every political faction in Egypt. But they’re right not to call a coup a coup in this case.

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