Commentary Magazine


Posts For: August 20, 2013

Immaturity Over Realpolitik for Obama

An Egyptian court’s decision to order the release of former dictator Hosni Mubarak on the same day the new government arrested the spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood may be seen as the last straw for the Obama administration. After weeks of dithering as it sought to balance America’s obvious interest in seeing the Muslim Brotherhood defeated with the desire to look as if we cared about the cause of democracy, Washington appears on the brink of cutting all aid to Cairo to demonstrate its anger over events there. But this, as the Wall Street Journal’s Bret Stephens so aptly put it today, is an “attitude,” not a policy.

It is also especially galling for this White House to be preening on Egypt in this manner because it was Obama who de-prioritized his predecessor’s effort to promote democracy in Egypt. Over the past five years, this administration drifted aimlessly from a position of strong support for Mubarak to one that embraced his Muslim Brotherhood successor Mohamed Morsi. Now that the military is back in charge, the president finds that authoritarians are no longer to his taste. Some have criticized those of us who have reminded Obama that his choice is between the military and the Brotherhood, not democracy, as practicing a cynical brand of realpolitik. But rather than a principled stand, this latest twist in U.S. policy that threatens, as I wrote yesterday, to reverse America’s landmark achievement of separating Egypt from its Soviet patrons, is a fit of immaturity not principle.

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An Egyptian court’s decision to order the release of former dictator Hosni Mubarak on the same day the new government arrested the spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood may be seen as the last straw for the Obama administration. After weeks of dithering as it sought to balance America’s obvious interest in seeing the Muslim Brotherhood defeated with the desire to look as if we cared about the cause of democracy, Washington appears on the brink of cutting all aid to Cairo to demonstrate its anger over events there. But this, as the Wall Street Journal’s Bret Stephens so aptly put it today, is an “attitude,” not a policy.

It is also especially galling for this White House to be preening on Egypt in this manner because it was Obama who de-prioritized his predecessor’s effort to promote democracy in Egypt. Over the past five years, this administration drifted aimlessly from a position of strong support for Mubarak to one that embraced his Muslim Brotherhood successor Mohamed Morsi. Now that the military is back in charge, the president finds that authoritarians are no longer to his taste. Some have criticized those of us who have reminded Obama that his choice is between the military and the Brotherhood, not democracy, as practicing a cynical brand of realpolitik. But rather than a principled stand, this latest twist in U.S. policy that threatens, as I wrote yesterday, to reverse America’s landmark achievement of separating Egypt from its Soviet patrons, is a fit of immaturity not principle.

It should be conceded that the release of Mubarak at the very moment that it is struggling to maintain support in the West is, at the very least, bad optics for the new government. Mubarak has been held more or less at the behest of the Brotherhood government in the last year after some of the court cases against him collapsed, but the legal details don’t cancel out the fact that there is little doubt that he was a dictator who ordered the death of many opponents. In his defense, the idea that the Islamist totalitarians of the Brotherhood or the military have any standing to judge him is absurd. But keeping in jail and out of sight would have been the smart thing to do.

In fact his release may be a signal that coup leader Gen. Sisi and his regime have lost any hope of winning over Obama and the Europeans and are prepared to rely on the Saudis (who have promised to make good on any aid money withheld by the United States) or to shop for new friends abroad such as the Russians rather than bend to America’s feckless demands.

The president’s stand might have some coherence if it were part of a coherent worldview. But, of course, Obama had already discarded the Bush pro-democracy agenda when he took office as a neo-conservative heresy that needed to be replaced by a more realist approach. Yet now that he is faced with the necessity to put his realistic principles to the test in order to protect a vital Arab country from falling into the hands of Islamists or, worse yet, joining Syria as Vladimir Putin’s allies, the president has discovered a new interest in democracy.

The president had already displayed his contempt for the cause of Egyptian freedom during the year he embraced Morsi, so to pose now as its defender when to do so will be seen by Egyptians as sympathy for a movement most despise is more than hypocritical. Even Mubarak’s release does not offset the fact that what is at stake in Egypt is an effort to ensure that a despotic Islamist movement never gets another chance to rule. Having been offered a chance to choose between demonstrating a grasp of American interests and an immature response, the president has chosen the latter. Given the possibly serious consequences of such a decision, this may be something that Obama’s successors will be dealing with for many years to come. 

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What China Fears

The battle between “idealism” and “Realpolitik” in the making of foreign policy is vividly on display now with regard to Egypt: “Idealists” (aka “neocons”) generally favor cutting off aid to the military regime which is slaughtering its own people in the streets; “Realpolitikers” generally advocate holding our noses and backing the generals as a better alternative to the Muslim Brotherhood. My purpose here is not to engage in the debate about Egypt per se (I will do that separately), but simply to point out that, although the U.S. cannot afford to stick to its ideals in each and every foreign-policy crisis (compromises do sometimes have to be made in the real world), when we deviate too far from our principles we lose what is arguably the most powerful weapon in our arsenal.

Evidence of this proposition comes, in a back-handed tribute, from none other than the reigning Communist emperor of China, Xi Jinping. His minions have just issued a memo, known in proper Orwellian fashion as Document No. 9, that warns Communist apparatchiks about the biggest threat to their rule. No, it does not come from the US 7th Fleet, from the American nuclear arsenal, or any other manifestation of American hard power in which Realpolitikers typically repose all of their faith.

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The battle between “idealism” and “Realpolitik” in the making of foreign policy is vividly on display now with regard to Egypt: “Idealists” (aka “neocons”) generally favor cutting off aid to the military regime which is slaughtering its own people in the streets; “Realpolitikers” generally advocate holding our noses and backing the generals as a better alternative to the Muslim Brotherhood. My purpose here is not to engage in the debate about Egypt per se (I will do that separately), but simply to point out that, although the U.S. cannot afford to stick to its ideals in each and every foreign-policy crisis (compromises do sometimes have to be made in the real world), when we deviate too far from our principles we lose what is arguably the most powerful weapon in our arsenal.

Evidence of this proposition comes, in a back-handed tribute, from none other than the reigning Communist emperor of China, Xi Jinping. His minions have just issued a memo, known in proper Orwellian fashion as Document No. 9, that warns Communist apparatchiks about the biggest threat to their rule. No, it does not come from the US 7th Fleet, from the American nuclear arsenal, or any other manifestation of American hard power in which Realpolitikers typically repose all of their faith.

Rather the peril that Xi warns about comes from seven subversive ideas starting with “Western constitutional democracy.” The others on the list include “promoting ‘universal values’ of human rights, Western-inspired notions of media independence and civic participation, ardently pro-market ‘neo-liberalism,’ and ‘nihilist’ criticisms of the party’s traumatic past.”

The New York Times reporter Chris Buckley, who obtained a copy of the document, writes that it warns cadres, “Western forces hostile to China and dissidents within the country are still constantly infiltrating the ideological sphere.” One Communist propagandist, implementing the document’s advice, told mining officials that “promotion of Western constitutional democracy is an attempt to negate the party’s leadership.”

The Communists are right—the Western ideals embodied, above all, in the Declaration of Independence are a big threat to the rule of anti-American dictators, whether in China or in other countries. Which is the best argument I have ever heard for why the U.S. should be doing more to promote those very ideals. Promoting democracy can be messy in the short-run and isn’t always possible in every circumstance but, in general, it is the best long-term bet for promoting American interests. In the case of China in particular, the U.S. should not be focusing simply on narrow economic or security concerns; instead it should be doing more to spread behind the Bamboo Curtain the subversive ideas which the Communist bosses fear so much.

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The Madness of King Erdogan

Since Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan invited Hamas to Istanbul in 2006, shortly after the Islamist terrorist organization won parliamentary elections in the Palestinian Authority, Israel-Turkey relations have deteriorated.

Erdogan has repeatedly exploited the Palestinian issue to score propaganda points both at home and with Arab and Muslim audiences and has sacrificed a strategic alliance over his pride, especially after the Israeli incursion into Gaza in late 2008 and the Mavi Marmara affair. Why Erdogan would take cheap shots at Israel has been repeatedly discussed here and elsewhere and needs not be rehashed.

But as his vicious rhetoric increasingly flirted with anti-Israel language, there was little opposition inside Turkey to this aspect of Erdogan’s boisterous style on the international stage. Even when he brought his personal animus to a debate with Israeli President Shimon Peres, whom he abruptly abandoned on stage in Davos, or when he sought revenge against Israel at NATO by seeking to exclude Israel from NATO-Mediterranean dialogue programs, or when he set up a kangaroo court against Israeli military personnel in Istanbul, few dared label this trend for what it was: political insanity and a self-inflicted wound.

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Since Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan invited Hamas to Istanbul in 2006, shortly after the Islamist terrorist organization won parliamentary elections in the Palestinian Authority, Israel-Turkey relations have deteriorated.

Erdogan has repeatedly exploited the Palestinian issue to score propaganda points both at home and with Arab and Muslim audiences and has sacrificed a strategic alliance over his pride, especially after the Israeli incursion into Gaza in late 2008 and the Mavi Marmara affair. Why Erdogan would take cheap shots at Israel has been repeatedly discussed here and elsewhere and needs not be rehashed.

But as his vicious rhetoric increasingly flirted with anti-Israel language, there was little opposition inside Turkey to this aspect of Erdogan’s boisterous style on the international stage. Even when he brought his personal animus to a debate with Israeli President Shimon Peres, whom he abruptly abandoned on stage in Davos, or when he sought revenge against Israel at NATO by seeking to exclude Israel from NATO-Mediterranean dialogue programs, or when he set up a kangaroo court against Israeli military personnel in Istanbul, few dared label this trend for what it was: political insanity and a self-inflicted wound.

As if one could act irrationally on one front while being reasonable on all other fronts, Turkish society continued to back Erdogan. After all, his regional policies appeared briefly to pay dividends–Turkey’s economy was booming, trade with Iran was booming, relations with Syria were thawing, and popularity across the Arab world for standing up to Israel gave Turkey the brief illusion it could regain its role of regional guide it lost at the end of the Ottoman Empire.

Madness, unfortunately, cannot be compartmentalized. Erdogan’s latest outburst–in which he, as Michael Rubin pointed out, accused Israel of being behind Egypt’s military coup while citing as the only evidence a public conversation between French intellectual Bernard Henri-Levy and Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni from two years ago (when she actually was in opposition)–is the acne of a conspiratorial mind that has lost touch with reality. So was, incidentally, the incessant, obsessive accusation, voiced by Erdogan and some of his ministers back in June, that the Gezi Park protests were orchestrated by foreign agents.

Turks should open their eyes to the fact that Erdogan’s obsession with conspiracies are a reflection of a man who is incapable of seeing reality in the eyes–and the increasingly disastrous foreign-policy outcomes of his decisions are one with this mindset, to say nothing of the harm he has inflicted on Turkish democratic standards. Turkey’s decision to flirt with Iran and the Muslim Brotherhood, support Islamist rebels in Syria, throw the strategic relation with Israel to the dogs, and increase tensions over Cyprus are all backfiring.

It was easy to dismiss his anti-Israel posture as clever or eccentric when Turkey’s foreign policy appeared set to conquer one success after another. Now that it is all ending in failure, maybe Turkish society can see that a man who sees dark conspiracies everywhere will not serve his country well–and that the harm he did to the Israel-Turkey relationship is part and parcel of the damage he is causing to the country as a whole.

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The Dangers Facing Ted Cruz

Katrina Trinko of National Review alerts us to the fact that during a question-and-answer session at a Montgomery County GOP dinner Monday night, Senator Ted Cruz was asked, “Why don’t we impeach [Obama]?”

Mr. Cruz responded, “It’s a good question, and I’ll tell you the simplest answer: To successfully impeach a president you need the votes in the U.S. Senate.” (Cruz noted that the Democrats controlled the Senate currently.)

In an interview with National Review Online after his comments, Mr. Cruz amended his remarks, suggesting that he would not pursue impeaching Obama in 2014 even if Republicans control both the House and Senate. “I think we should focus on fights that would make a difference, restoring economic growth and opportunity and fights that we have a realistic prospect of winning,” he told Trinko. About impeaching the president, Cruz said, “that’s not a fight we have a prospect of winning.”

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Katrina Trinko of National Review alerts us to the fact that during a question-and-answer session at a Montgomery County GOP dinner Monday night, Senator Ted Cruz was asked, “Why don’t we impeach [Obama]?”

Mr. Cruz responded, “It’s a good question, and I’ll tell you the simplest answer: To successfully impeach a president you need the votes in the U.S. Senate.” (Cruz noted that the Democrats controlled the Senate currently.)

In an interview with National Review Online after his comments, Mr. Cruz amended his remarks, suggesting that he would not pursue impeaching Obama in 2014 even if Republicans control both the House and Senate. “I think we should focus on fights that would make a difference, restoring economic growth and opportunity and fights that we have a realistic prospect of winning,” he told Trinko. About impeaching the president, Cruz said, “that’s not a fight we have a prospect of winning.”

But of course there’s no prospect of winning the fight to defund the Affordable Care Act, either, since it would require the House and Senate to pass, and the president to sign, a new law doing just that. And there’s no chance of that happening. But in this case Senator Cruz is not only willing to force a government shutdown over defunding the ACA; he said that those who disagree with him are part of the “surrender caucus.”

So has Senator Cruz lost his nerve when it comes to impeaching the president? Is the fact that he won’t pursue impeachment evidence that he’s part of the “surrender caucus”? Has he gone all “establishment” on us? Doesn’t the junior senator from Texas have the courage of his conservative convictions? After all, if trying to defund ObamaCare demands Republicans embrace a losing cause, doesn’t impeaching the architect of ObamaCare require at least as much courage from them?

Just asking.

What’s troubling, because it’s more revealing, is that Senator Cruz, rather than challenging the premise of his questioner, pandered to the audience member. A more responsible and genuinely conservative lawmaker would have answered the question asked of him by saying something like this: “Impeachment requires an impeachable offense. The president has done many things I disagree with, and I’m determined to fight and resist them, but that doesn’t mean he has done anything impeachable. He is the elected president, I’m an elected senator, we each have to fight for what we believe and let voters decide how we’re doing. Impeachment is not a political weapon.”

So what ought we make of all this? A reasonable conclusion, I think, is that Senator Cruz is willing to take positions that are irresponsible and would be harmful to both his party and his country in order to appeal to its hard-core base. By sending a signal to his audience that in his heart of hearts he favors impeachment–and all the political and civic trauma impeachment would cause–Mr. Cruz is showing a lack of public character. He would rather play footsie with fringe theories than to challenge them.

By all accounts Cruz is an intelligent man, so he surely knows better. But he’s also an extraordinarily ambitious person, and one senses he’s a young man in a hurry. I for one hope he slows down; and I hope, too, that he surrounds himself with advisers and friends who are willing to warn him that he (like all of us) possesses particular traits and dispositions that can eventually get him into trouble. One hopes he’s self-aware enough to check them rather than to indulge them.

For those on the right who will rise up in defense of Cruz and lash out at his critics, I’d simply point out two things. The first is that Senator Cruz’s approach–ridiculing Republicans who aren’t willing to shut down the government over ObamaCare here, wishing impeachment were possible there–is harmful to conservatism. Second, there’s nothing principled in what Senator Cruz is doing. He is, in fact, playing a cynical game. He’s actually fairly skillful at it, which is more worrisome still. The danger for him is that the more he gets away with it now, the more likely he is to build on it down the road. It may produce short-term gains–but in the end, things like this often have a way of catching up with people.

Senator Cruz is clearly a talented person, and he could be a powerful voice for conservatism. Or he could, if he’s not careful, fly too close to the sun. Ted Cruz is well read enough to know that it’s a long and painful drop to the sea.

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Bowden on Drones

Much of the best and fairest treatment of the use of drones in the war on terror that I have read comes in this Atlantic article, “The Killing Machines,” by the outstanding reporter Mark Bowden.

The entire article is well worth reading—it surveys fully all of the problems inherent in drone warfare, from concerns that it removes an essential element of warfare by allowing drone operators to kill with no risk to their own safety, to concerns that it creates more enemies than it eliminates by embittering targeted populations. Bowden rightly warns against relying too heavily on drones, and notes that al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula has expanded in size during the time its Yemen-based leadership has been targeted by drones.

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Much of the best and fairest treatment of the use of drones in the war on terror that I have read comes in this Atlantic article, “The Killing Machines,” by the outstanding reporter Mark Bowden.

The entire article is well worth reading—it surveys fully all of the problems inherent in drone warfare, from concerns that it removes an essential element of warfare by allowing drone operators to kill with no risk to their own safety, to concerns that it creates more enemies than it eliminates by embittering targeted populations. Bowden rightly warns against relying too heavily on drones, and notes that al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula has expanded in size during the time its Yemen-based leadership has been targeted by drones.

But he also points out that drones are much more discriminating than bombs or missiles fired from afar and are much less likely to result in civilian casualties than raids by Special Operations Forces. (Bowden attained fame with his book Black Hawk Down, a chronicle of one such raid gone wrong, which resulted in the deaths not only of 18 American soldiers but also at least 500 Somalis.) Even according to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, an anti-drone group, the total number of civilian casualties caused by drone strikes has fallen from 12 percent of total deaths in 2011 to just 3 percent in 2012—an amazing advance in making warfare more humane.

Bowden concludes with a measured paean to drones: “They are remarkable tools, an exceedingly clever combination of existing technologies that has vastly improved our ability to observe and to fight. They represent how America has responded to the challenge of organized, high-level, stateless terrorism—not timidly, as bin Laden famously predicated, but with courage, tenacity, and ruthless ingenuity.”

Anyone reading Bowden’s remarkable article with an open mind will be compelled to agree.

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What the Palestinians Already Won

As I noted yesterday, the Palestinian Authority has good reason to try and keep coverage of the recently restarted peace talks with Israel under wraps. Having done so much to foment hatred of Jews and Israelis on its broadcast outlets and education system, the Palestinians aren’t ready for coexistence, let alone genuine peace. That places the PA and its leaders under pressure from a culture of intolerance, but it also gives them the incentive to spin the negotiations in such a way as to make it look as if their decision to return to the talks was a great victory. It’s in that context that we should view PA negotiator Saeb Erekat’s claim that prior to deciding to sit down with the Israelis, they obtained serious concessions from both the United States and the European Union even before Israel agreed to release more than 100 terrorist murderers from prison.

As the Times of Israel reports:

In a lengthy interview with Nazareth-based A-Shams radio, Erekat said that the US had assured Palestinians in writing that talks would recognize the pre-1967 lines as the basis of a Palestinian state; would deal with all core issues (Jerusalem, refugees, borders, security and water); would take place within a six- to nine-month timetable; and would not allow for any provisional or interim solutions before a final status agreement was signed. Erekat also said that an American-Israeli agreement existed regarding settlements, but did not elaborate on its contents. …

Erekat also claimed that the European Union’s new directives outlawing all EU cooperation with settlements and other Israeli entities over the 1967 lines were part of a deal reached with Europe in exchange for returning to negotiations. He noted that the Palestinian Authority was currently holding talks with Latin American countries, China, Russia, Japan and the African Union to adopt similar sanctions toward settlements.

While none of this is terribly surprising, it does make clear not only what the Palestinians have gained by going along with Secretary of State John Kerry’s initiative to restart peace talks for the first time since 2008, but also how the U.S. and the EU have given them little incentive to make concessions of their own in the months of talks that lie ahead. With such assurances securely in their pocket, the Palestinians believe they have no reason to budge from their current positions not only making the failure of the talks certain but also emboldening them to think they have everything to gain and nothing to lose from such an outcome. While Kerry has been taking bows for having reconvened the talks, if this is what he considers a diplomatic triumph, I’d hate to see what he’d consider a defeat.

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As I noted yesterday, the Palestinian Authority has good reason to try and keep coverage of the recently restarted peace talks with Israel under wraps. Having done so much to foment hatred of Jews and Israelis on its broadcast outlets and education system, the Palestinians aren’t ready for coexistence, let alone genuine peace. That places the PA and its leaders under pressure from a culture of intolerance, but it also gives them the incentive to spin the negotiations in such a way as to make it look as if their decision to return to the talks was a great victory. It’s in that context that we should view PA negotiator Saeb Erekat’s claim that prior to deciding to sit down with the Israelis, they obtained serious concessions from both the United States and the European Union even before Israel agreed to release more than 100 terrorist murderers from prison.

As the Times of Israel reports:

In a lengthy interview with Nazareth-based A-Shams radio, Erekat said that the US had assured Palestinians in writing that talks would recognize the pre-1967 lines as the basis of a Palestinian state; would deal with all core issues (Jerusalem, refugees, borders, security and water); would take place within a six- to nine-month timetable; and would not allow for any provisional or interim solutions before a final status agreement was signed. Erekat also said that an American-Israeli agreement existed regarding settlements, but did not elaborate on its contents. …

Erekat also claimed that the European Union’s new directives outlawing all EU cooperation with settlements and other Israeli entities over the 1967 lines were part of a deal reached with Europe in exchange for returning to negotiations. He noted that the Palestinian Authority was currently holding talks with Latin American countries, China, Russia, Japan and the African Union to adopt similar sanctions toward settlements.

While none of this is terribly surprising, it does make clear not only what the Palestinians have gained by going along with Secretary of State John Kerry’s initiative to restart peace talks for the first time since 2008, but also how the U.S. and the EU have given them little incentive to make concessions of their own in the months of talks that lie ahead. With such assurances securely in their pocket, the Palestinians believe they have no reason to budge from their current positions not only making the failure of the talks certain but also emboldening them to think they have everything to gain and nothing to lose from such an outcome. While Kerry has been taking bows for having reconvened the talks, if this is what he considers a diplomatic triumph, I’d hate to see what he’d consider a defeat.

It should be remembered that during his visit to Israel this past March, President Obama explicitly endorsed Prime Minister Netanyahu’s position in which he offered to negotiate with the Palestinians anywhere, anytime without preconditions of any sort. But in order to entice the PA and its leader Mahmoud Abbas, who rejected an offer of a Palestinian state including almost all of the West Bank and a share of Jerusalem in 2008, Obama allowed Kerry to throw his promise in the same trash can in which the administration stored President Bush’s pledges to respect Israel’s position on the major settlement blocs as part of the U.S. incentives given to Ariel Sharon when he withdrew from Gaza in 2005.

But the problem goes deeper than another broken promise. The American position backing up Palestinian demands doesn’t obligate Israel to give in to them on all of the points about settlements, Jerusalem, and borders. But putting the U.S. in the position of endorsing Palestinian demands prior to the talks gives the Palestinians another incentive to refuse to budge an inch on any important issue and to then claim that it was the Israelis who are intransigent.

Presumably Obama and Kerry think that backing up the Palestinians on borders, settlements, and Jerusalem will give them the courage to back down on the key existential issues at stake: recognizing the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn and giving up the so-called right of return to Israel for the descendants of the 1948 Arab refugees. But since Abbas and Erekat have shown no sign that they will ever be able to do either, all the U.S. has done is to give them a free pass for not negotiating seriously on any other issue. With the Palestinian leadership only there in order to avoid blame for the failure of Kerry’s effort, it’s a given that they will use the U.S. support for their positions not in order to make peace, as Washington hoped, but as justification for heating up the conflict once the whole thing collapses. The American cooperation with the EU’s blackmail of Israel on settlements is also disturbing.

Seen from this perspective, we see clearly just how disastrous the Kerry “triumph” could turn out to be, especially when you consider the likelihood that Abbas will use the failure of the talks which he plans to engineer to justify violence. Though Kerry is taking bows right now, it’s fairly obvious that it is Abbas who is the winner in the talks, no matter what follows, and Israel the loser.

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Benghazi Scapegoats Reinstated

In May, Senator Rand Paul criticized the Obama administration’s lack of discipline over the attack on the American mission in Benghazi. In particular, Paul claimed that “no one was fired.” Was that true? The Washington Post’s “fact-checker” Glenn Kessler was determined to evaluate the truth of Paul’s claim. Kessler found that four officials were removed from their State Department posts but were not actually “fired,” as we understand the term.

They were instead placed in a foggy category at Foggy Bottom which presumably enabled the administration to pretend it had taken action when in fact it hadn’t. But it didn’t seem fair to hope for their firings anyway, since it was then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s responsibility to answer for the fate of the mission, and she was inexcusably negligent in her work. She deserved, of course, to be the one to lose her job. But that would have been politically untenable for her boss, President Obama, who was getting some help in his reelection campaign from Hillary’s husband.

So it was fairly clear they had found scapegoats to take the fall, and wanted to protect those scapegoats from having their careers ruined to protect Clinton’s presidential aspirations. When time came for Kessler to return a verdict on Rand Paul’s obviously true statement, he punted. “Verdict pending,” he decided:

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In May, Senator Rand Paul criticized the Obama administration’s lack of discipline over the attack on the American mission in Benghazi. In particular, Paul claimed that “no one was fired.” Was that true? The Washington Post’s “fact-checker” Glenn Kessler was determined to evaluate the truth of Paul’s claim. Kessler found that four officials were removed from their State Department posts but were not actually “fired,” as we understand the term.

They were instead placed in a foggy category at Foggy Bottom which presumably enabled the administration to pretend it had taken action when in fact it hadn’t. But it didn’t seem fair to hope for their firings anyway, since it was then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s responsibility to answer for the fate of the mission, and she was inexcusably negligent in her work. She deserved, of course, to be the one to lose her job. But that would have been politically untenable for her boss, President Obama, who was getting some help in his reelection campaign from Hillary’s husband.

So it was fairly clear they had found scapegoats to take the fall, and wanted to protect those scapegoats from having their careers ruined to protect Clinton’s presidential aspirations. When time came for Kessler to return a verdict on Rand Paul’s obviously true statement, he punted. “Verdict pending,” he decided:

None of these officials have the jobs they had when the attacks in Benghazi took place. All of them appear to be in some Kafkaesque bureaucratic limbo that allows no closure in the matter. Presumably, their government careers are largely over.

Yet they have not been separated from government service, which some (such as Paul) might define as “fired.” As we have shown, achieving this is not as easy as it might appear if the sin is leadership failure as opposed to malfeasance. But under some definitions, they are as good as fired. In Maxwell’s case, it appears he would actually prefer to be “fired” since that would give him more options to challenge his situation.

Given this limbo, we can’t rule Paul’s statement as correct or not. We will monitor what happens to these officials in the future before making a final ruling.

Kessler will be happy to know both that he can make a ruling on the statement and that he was wrong about their government careers being “largely over.” Josh Rogin reports that Secretary of State John Kerry “has determined that the four State Department officials placed on administrative leave by Hillary Clinton after the terrorist attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi do not deserve any formal disciplinary action and has asked them to come back to work at the State Department starting Tuesday.”

That the four officials have been restored from their “Kafkaesque bureaucratic limbo”–though they will be “reassigned”–is based on the finding that they cannot be plausibly blamed for what happened, otherwise they would surely “deserve … formal disciplinary action.” And that is believable, in fact. It seemed at the time unjust not that these officials were spared heavyhanded punishment but that they were punished at all, thanks to the likelihood that they were merely pawns in a manic damage-control scheme.

That, really, was the point of Paul’s tirade anyway. When Clinton eventually was called to testify on Benghazi, Paul said he would have fired her for her incompetence. As for the officials back at work after being put through this bit of theater, no harm no foul, right? Not so fast, according to Raymond Maxwell, a scapegoat from the bureau of Near Eastern Affairs:

“No explanation, no briefing, just come back to work. So I will go in tomorrow,” Maxwell said.

Maxwell previously told The Daily Beast that the reasons for his administrative leave designation had never been explained to him. He contended that he had little role in Libya policy and no involvement whatsoever in the events leading up to the Benghazi attack.

“The overall goal is to restore my honor,” Maxwell had said.

While not a formal discplinary (sic) action, Maxwell regarded his treatment as punishment because he was not able to work and was publicly identified as being blamed for the tragedy that cost the lives of four Americans, including his friend Ambassador Chris Stevens.

His reputation had been unfairly sullied with no explanation. He was reactivated with no explanation. But he has spent the better part of a year having been blamed by the administration for the death of an American ambassador and three others, so what will the administration do to make sure his name is cleared? What will Clinton do to make it right?

Furthermore, if these officials aren’t (fully) to blame for what happened, who is? Surely the fact that disciplinary action was taken suggests the State Department believes someone deserves opprobrium for the tragedy–or was it not serious enough, in Kerry’s judgment, to warrant anything more than a shuffling of desks around the office?

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Miranda’s Rights

To a casual follower of the news, it would be easy to believe that Great Britain is turning into a police state and that among its victims is the Brazilian partner of Glenn Greenwald, the far-left American expatriate blogger who has attained fame as the amanuensis of NSA turncoat Edward Snowden. David Michael Miranda, Greenwald’s partner, was detained at Heathrow Airport for nine hours of questioning and his electronic equipment was confiscated before he was released without charge.

Greenwald claims this was a move designed to intimidate him and he vows it won’t work. Indeed Greenwald has reacted to Miranda’s temporary detention in the way that a mafia capo might react to a rival family making a move on one of his lieutenants—he has vowed revenge. “I’m going to publish many more things about England,” Greenwald threatens, adding, menacingly, “I think they’ll regret what they’ve done.”

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To a casual follower of the news, it would be easy to believe that Great Britain is turning into a police state and that among its victims is the Brazilian partner of Glenn Greenwald, the far-left American expatriate blogger who has attained fame as the amanuensis of NSA turncoat Edward Snowden. David Michael Miranda, Greenwald’s partner, was detained at Heathrow Airport for nine hours of questioning and his electronic equipment was confiscated before he was released without charge.

Greenwald claims this was a move designed to intimidate him and he vows it won’t work. Indeed Greenwald has reacted to Miranda’s temporary detention in the way that a mafia capo might react to a rival family making a move on one of his lieutenants—he has vowed revenge. “I’m going to publish many more things about England,” Greenwald threatens, adding, menacingly, “I think they’ll regret what they’ve done.”

What seems to be forgotten here is that Greenwald has already published a great deal not only about the secret activities of the NSA but also those of its British partner, GCHQ. (Among the early headlines generated by Snowden’s theft was the news that GCHQ had spied on the Russian delegation during an international conference in London.) Britain takes that kind of thing seriously—its laws, notably the Official Secrets Act, are tilted much more heavily toward preserving government secrecy than are the laws in the United States. Which is why it makes perfect sense that British officials would detain Miranda when he happened to alight in their jurisdiction.

He was not on a pleasure trip. He was traveling from Berlin, where he had met with Laura Poitras, a filmmaker and anti-American propagandist who, like Greenwald, has been one of the key enablers allowing Snowden to reveal the existence of classified NSA activities whose outing can only help America’s (and Britain’s) enemies. Miranda was, in fact, serving as a courier between Poitras and Greenwald: “Mr. Miranda told reporters in Rio on Monday,” according to the New York Times, “that all of the documents encrypted on the thumb drives came from the trove of materials provided by Mr. Snowden.”

What a scandal: the British authorities are trying to seize back secrets that had been unlawfully pilfered by Snowden and then published with the help of Greenwald and Poitras. It is doubtful whether the British move actually did much to stop Snowden’s slow-motion campaign to cripple the electronic-intelligence gathering capabilities of the U.S. and its allies; Snowden and his confederates appear to be canny enough to stash multiple copies of his stolen documents in various places. But it’s hard to blame the Brits for trying.

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The Difference Between Syria and Egypt

For many, the Egyptian army’s crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood is reminiscent of both Muammar Gaddafi’s savagery in Libya and of the start of the civil war in Egypt. It is neither. While the Egyptian government—and the Muslim Brotherhood—have used live ammunition against each other in the streets with predictable consequences, the fighting remains largely confined to public spaces where the two sides meet in battle. There is not as yet, thankfully, evidence of the death squads which go through villages and disappear or simply execute those suspected of backing the other side.

There are major differences between the conflict in Egypt and that in Syria:

For many, the Egyptian army’s crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood is reminiscent of both Muammar Gaddafi’s savagery in Libya and of the start of the civil war in Egypt. It is neither. While the Egyptian government—and the Muslim Brotherhood—have used live ammunition against each other in the streets with predictable consequences, the fighting remains largely confined to public spaces where the two sides meet in battle. There is not as yet, thankfully, evidence of the death squads which go through villages and disappear or simply execute those suspected of backing the other side.

There are major differences between the conflict in Egypt and that in Syria:

  • In neither country has the violence been random. Syrian forces—both government and opposition—have readily engaged in ethnic and sectarian cleansing to carve out cantons for themselves. That is not the case in Egypt, where the two sides have fought openly in the streets. The closest Egypt comes is to the Muslim Brotherhood’s targeting of Christians for no other reasons than sheer religious and ideological spite.
  • While the Egyptian security forces have cracked down on the Muslim Brotherhood in the streets and at demonstrations, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime sought to crush dissent by targeting children. The case of Hamza Alial-Khateeb really was the point of no return: The regime thought that it could curtail political opposition among parents if it targeted their children; instead, it crossed the point of no return. Syrians are likely to take far more seriously the videos of Hamza’s brutalized body rather than Secretary of State John Kerry’s calls for compromise. The Egyptian military, to its credit, has not hunted down and killed children for the sake of killing children.

Egypt may face an insurgency for years to come, but they should no more compromise with the Muslim Brotherhood than should the United States compromise with Hamas, Hezbollah, or al-Qaeda. What is happening in Egypt is tragic, but this conflict has been brewing for quite some time and facile demands for diplomacy or compromise can do more harm than good. Tahrir is not Tiananmen, and Egypt is not Syria. Journalists too often look for analogies, but they should do so with care. Picking the wrong analogy can lead to dangerously flawed policy.

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Cruz’s Rise Is a Threat to Rand Paul

Sometimes it’s hard to remember that a little more than a year ago Ted Cruz was just an underdog candidate for a Texas Senate seat that was assumed to be in the pocket of the state’s longtime lieutenant governor David Dewhurst. Fast-forward a year and Cruz not only has a pair of decisive victories in the GOP primary and general election under his belt, but is also the favorite of Tea Partiers nationwide and widely spoken of as a likely presidential candidate for 2016. But Cruz isn’t stopping to appreciate his meteoric rise. He’s taking it all in stride as if it is his due and even acting in ways that make it apparent he is taking the presidential talk seriously.

Cruz’s visits to early-voting states like Iowa are a clear indication of the way he’s sampling the presidential waters after only a few months in the Senate. So, too, is the disproportionate attention he’s generating in the liberal media, as illustrated by the Daily Beast’s piece published yesterday that allowed the senator’s Princeton roommate and others to trash him as a “creepy” and “arrogant” ideologue. That’s the sort of unfair treatment that the mainstream media usually reserves for GOP frontrunners (i.e. last year’s Washington Post scoop about Mitt Romney’s high school pranks), not long shots three years in advance of an election.

But just as significant was the way Cruz handled “birther” questions about his eligibility for the presidency. To say that the discussion is premature is to understate the matter, but Cruz wasn’t taking any chances about the story spreading in the fever swamps of the right where he is quite popular. The senator released his birth certificate, confirming that his mother was a U.S. citizen living in Canada at the time he was born, and renounced any thought of Canadian nationality. That makes him a citizen and unless some judge rules otherwise (presumably after he has already been sworn in, which is the only time anyone would have any standing to take the issue to court), that’s that.

But while this is fascinating material for liberal Cruz-haters who have elevated him to the status of the new Joe McCarthy, the person who should really be worried about the Texan’s rise is not a Democrat: it’s the senator’s libertarian ally Rand Paul.

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Sometimes it’s hard to remember that a little more than a year ago Ted Cruz was just an underdog candidate for a Texas Senate seat that was assumed to be in the pocket of the state’s longtime lieutenant governor David Dewhurst. Fast-forward a year and Cruz not only has a pair of decisive victories in the GOP primary and general election under his belt, but is also the favorite of Tea Partiers nationwide and widely spoken of as a likely presidential candidate for 2016. But Cruz isn’t stopping to appreciate his meteoric rise. He’s taking it all in stride as if it is his due and even acting in ways that make it apparent he is taking the presidential talk seriously.

Cruz’s visits to early-voting states like Iowa are a clear indication of the way he’s sampling the presidential waters after only a few months in the Senate. So, too, is the disproportionate attention he’s generating in the liberal media, as illustrated by the Daily Beast’s piece published yesterday that allowed the senator’s Princeton roommate and others to trash him as a “creepy” and “arrogant” ideologue. That’s the sort of unfair treatment that the mainstream media usually reserves for GOP frontrunners (i.e. last year’s Washington Post scoop about Mitt Romney’s high school pranks), not long shots three years in advance of an election.

But just as significant was the way Cruz handled “birther” questions about his eligibility for the presidency. To say that the discussion is premature is to understate the matter, but Cruz wasn’t taking any chances about the story spreading in the fever swamps of the right where he is quite popular. The senator released his birth certificate, confirming that his mother was a U.S. citizen living in Canada at the time he was born, and renounced any thought of Canadian nationality. That makes him a citizen and unless some judge rules otherwise (presumably after he has already been sworn in, which is the only time anyone would have any standing to take the issue to court), that’s that.

But while this is fascinating material for liberal Cruz-haters who have elevated him to the status of the new Joe McCarthy, the person who should really be worried about the Texan’s rise is not a Democrat: it’s the senator’s libertarian ally Rand Paul.

Paul and Cruz seemed to have adopted a friendly, if somewhat wary relationship as they’ve joined forces on several issues like the push to de-fund ObamaCare and spreading fear about the National Security Agency. But Cruz represents the most potent threat to Paul’s efforts to establish himself as a first-tier presidential candidate in 2016.

Unlike other possible presidential contenders, Paul has not bothered trying to maintain a diffident air about the possibility of trying for the White House. Like the media that covers him, he often speaks as if it is a given that he will run. The assumption is that he has inherited the libertarian fan base of his father Ron, who was a perennial, if marginal, candidate. Paul has taken that faction mainstream and the success of his 13-hour filibuster was a signal that he could not be ignored as a gadfly.

But though Rand appeals to a far wider audience than Ron did, that libertarian and Tea Party base is not so broad as to allow him to survive a viable competitor. If Cruz continues to grow in influence on the right, it won’t bother more moderate conservatives like Chris Christie, outsiders like Scott Walker, or even Marco Rubio, whose stand on immigration now positions him closer to the middle of the spectrum. But it presents a clear and present danger to Paul’s ability to capture the right wing of the party. Libertarians may be a greater force in the GOP than they have ever been before, but it is not so great as to allow both Cruz and Paul to run without essentially torpedoing each other.

The more attention, including from hostile liberals, that Cruz gets on the national stage the more worried Rand Paul should be.

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Bahrain in Perspective

Bahrain is a country that has a special place in my heart. The Bahrainis are—hands down—the warmest people in the Persian Gulf. The country is tolerant, multi-ethnic, and hosts Jewish and Christian communities alongside Muslim ones. Whereas the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, and Kuwait have erased much of their past, Bahraini culture through the decades and, indeed, centuries is still evident.

That said, Bahrain is still a very conflicted society. Much of the recent social tension in Bahrain is rooted in very deep, real, and inexcusable discrimination against that country’s Shi’ite majority. After visiting Bahrain last year, I reported here, here, here, and here about some of the issues. At one point, I had speculated that Bahrain might be heading for a “bloodbath,” and on that score I was wrong.

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Bahrain is a country that has a special place in my heart. The Bahrainis are—hands down—the warmest people in the Persian Gulf. The country is tolerant, multi-ethnic, and hosts Jewish and Christian communities alongside Muslim ones. Whereas the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, and Kuwait have erased much of their past, Bahraini culture through the decades and, indeed, centuries is still evident.

That said, Bahrain is still a very conflicted society. Much of the recent social tension in Bahrain is rooted in very deep, real, and inexcusable discrimination against that country’s Shi’ite majority. After visiting Bahrain last year, I reported here, here, here, and here about some of the issues. At one point, I had speculated that Bahrain might be heading for a “bloodbath,” and on that score I was wrong.

While I still believe that Bahrain must reform—the Shi’ites in Bahrain must have real opportunity and say in governance; the king must do more to implement his promises; and the prime minister should retire before his intolerant policies exacerbate the conflict more. True, too many casualties could have been avoided had Bahraini security forces not fired tear gas into a confined area or if they did not hamper medical treatment for injured protestors. On the other hand, much of the Bahraini opposition is sincere, but there are some elements which seek a very different future for Bahrain. Too often, leading figures’ quotes in English and Persian are radically different, and this breeds suspicion. Any trip to a Bahraini religious bookstore can be a scary visit given all the pro-Hassan Nasrallah, Imad Mughniyeh, or Ali Khamenei propaganda, as well as the CDs with the speeches of legal opposition leader Ali Salman set to religious music and distributed by al-Manar, the television station of Hezbollah.

Nevertheless, the Bahraini government also deserves credit for its relative restraint, especially in juxtaposition to the situation in Egypt. Alas, the United States for too long has bashed Bahrain despite the Bahraini government’s invaluable assistance to the United States in general and the United States Navy in particular. While we need to encourage real reform in Bahrain, when we compare the monarchy to other governments in the region, we see just how level-headed it is. That should be appreciated, instead of condemned. With such chaos in the Middle East, it is long past time that the United States value and reward friendship, even as it pressures for needed reforms.

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The Shutdown Movement Is Losing

Judging by what the media’s been saying the last few weeks, the Republican Party is about to go over the cliff with another attempt to shut down the government. That belief is the foundation of the “Eve of Destruction” stories about the GOP’s future we’ve been reading lately and why liberals like Chris Matthews are now operating under the assumption that Rand Paul and his libertarians will take complete control of the party by 2016, if not sooner. That works fine for both Paul and the liberals who assume, not without reason, that if that’s the way everything plays out, Democrats will not only be in position for a blowout in the next presidential election but in great shape to do better than expected in the 2014 midterms. But there’s one problem with this rosy scenario: it’s not happening.

Ted Cruz, Mike Lee, and Marco Rubio may be all over the media still preaching to the choir about how Republicans who won’t threaten to shut down the government if ObamaCare isn’t defunded aren’t sincerely against the president’s signature health care plan. Former senator Jim DeMint may have mobilized the resources of the Heritage Foundation that he now heads to back this play and is speaking at town hall meetings to reinforce that message. But the real news here is that most of the GOP still wants nothing to do with a shutdown. So long as House Speaker John Boehner, Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and a host of other genuine conservative leaders like Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker are making it clear they oppose a suicidal charge on ObamaCare, there is virtually no likelihood of it coming to pass. Though House backbenchers and Senate lone wolves like Cruz may create some drama over the plan to take the country to the brink this fall, the chances of them actually doing so are slim to none. Most Republicans may sympathize with the goals of the Tea Party, but they aren’t going to be held hostage by it.

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Judging by what the media’s been saying the last few weeks, the Republican Party is about to go over the cliff with another attempt to shut down the government. That belief is the foundation of the “Eve of Destruction” stories about the GOP’s future we’ve been reading lately and why liberals like Chris Matthews are now operating under the assumption that Rand Paul and his libertarians will take complete control of the party by 2016, if not sooner. That works fine for both Paul and the liberals who assume, not without reason, that if that’s the way everything plays out, Democrats will not only be in position for a blowout in the next presidential election but in great shape to do better than expected in the 2014 midterms. But there’s one problem with this rosy scenario: it’s not happening.

Ted Cruz, Mike Lee, and Marco Rubio may be all over the media still preaching to the choir about how Republicans who won’t threaten to shut down the government if ObamaCare isn’t defunded aren’t sincerely against the president’s signature health care plan. Former senator Jim DeMint may have mobilized the resources of the Heritage Foundation that he now heads to back this play and is speaking at town hall meetings to reinforce that message. But the real news here is that most of the GOP still wants nothing to do with a shutdown. So long as House Speaker John Boehner, Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and a host of other genuine conservative leaders like Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker are making it clear they oppose a suicidal charge on ObamaCare, there is virtually no likelihood of it coming to pass. Though House backbenchers and Senate lone wolves like Cruz may create some drama over the plan to take the country to the brink this fall, the chances of them actually doing so are slim to none. Most Republicans may sympathize with the goals of the Tea Party, but they aren’t going to be held hostage by it.

The foolishness of a tactic whose success is predicated on the willingness of Democrats and President Obama to blink and sacrifice their one real achievement of the past five years just because conservatives play tough has been thoroughly debunked a number of times here. But I understand how attractive such an attempt might seem to conservatives who are frustrated with the failure of Republicans to derail ObamaCare. But once Obama was reelected and Democrats maintained control of the Senate last year, any notion of a legislative rebellion that would capitalize on the House’s power of the purse became unrealistic. Democrats would love to see the GOP shut down the government over this issue since it would change the conversation from the health care plan’s manifest failures to the obstructionism of the Republicans. Standing up for principle is always a laudable goal, but the downside to the country and the party from such an attempt would be considerable.

But while everyone keeps talking about a shutdown as something that will likely occur when Congress resumes work after August, the plain fact of the matter is that Cruz and company simply don’t have the votes to make it happen. They will scream bloody murder over this fact and perhaps DeMint will stick to his belief that any Republicans who won’t go along should be replaced. But at some point in the next few weeks they are going to have to acknowledge that few in the party’s leadership or its rank and file on the Hill are ready to join this forlorn hope.

This is a significant development since it indicates that for all the smoke and thunder emanating from Tea Party and libertarian loyalists this summer, they don’t speak for a majority, let alone all, of the Republican Party. This doesn’t mean that most in the GOP are sellouts or that dread word, moderates. What it shows is that while it is a conservative party, it is also one that hasn’t lost its mind. Though the failure to go down in flames may disappoint many on the right, that is something that should console conservatives who wonder about the nation’s future and worry Democrats.

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Livni Already Making Excuses for Failure

The “only Nixon could go to China” cliché may be overused, but it has aged surprisingly well. The underlying principle, in fact, has been a key theme in understanding Israeli domestic politics since Oslo. It helps explain why the last major settlement dismantling was carried out by Ariel Sharon, and why Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud has been less willing to order ground troops into hostile territory than his predecessors.

“Only Labor can make war and only Likud can make peace” is a broad oversimplification, but it should not be disregarded that despite the struggles of the Israeli left, Netanyahu has accepted the two-state solution, agreed to a settlement freeze, and released Palestinian terrorists in repeated bids to just get the Palestinian leadership to the negotiating table–all while bringing his right-of-center coalition, which includes an explicitly pro-settlements party, along for the ride.

You would think this development would be encouraging for Tzipi Livni, who was designated the chief peace negotiator. Livni is thus empowered to lead the peace talks Netanyahu made concessions to bring about. Since her party, Hatnuah, won only a handful of Knesset seats in the last election, Livni might have been expected to be more judicious about her ability to make demands. But Livni’s political instincts have failed her time and again in her career, and as the Times of Israel reports, they have done so again:

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The “only Nixon could go to China” cliché may be overused, but it has aged surprisingly well. The underlying principle, in fact, has been a key theme in understanding Israeli domestic politics since Oslo. It helps explain why the last major settlement dismantling was carried out by Ariel Sharon, and why Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud has been less willing to order ground troops into hostile territory than his predecessors.

“Only Labor can make war and only Likud can make peace” is a broad oversimplification, but it should not be disregarded that despite the struggles of the Israeli left, Netanyahu has accepted the two-state solution, agreed to a settlement freeze, and released Palestinian terrorists in repeated bids to just get the Palestinian leadership to the negotiating table–all while bringing his right-of-center coalition, which includes an explicitly pro-settlements party, along for the ride.

You would think this development would be encouraging for Tzipi Livni, who was designated the chief peace negotiator. Livni is thus empowered to lead the peace talks Netanyahu made concessions to bring about. Since her party, Hatnuah, won only a handful of Knesset seats in the last election, Livni might have been expected to be more judicious about her ability to make demands. But Livni’s political instincts have failed her time and again in her career, and as the Times of Israel reports, they have done so again:

Livni told Israel Radio on Tuesday morning that the Jewish Home party opposes the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a stance that makes her job as peace negotiator more difficult.

Economy and Trade Minister Naftali Bennett, who heads the Jewish Home party, posted a link to his Facebook page on Tuesday afternoon from the right-wing Israel National News site that bore the headline, “Livni: Jewish Home is making it difficult for me.”

Bennett was dismissive in his response to the article. And he was brief. He wrote, in a single Hebrew word, “Get over it.”

Bennett can afford to be dismissive of Livni’s criticism. But Livni didn’t stop there. She wants the governing coalition remade in her image to benefit the negotiations:

In her Israel Radio interview, Livni insisted there would be greater support for the peace process in the government if Jewish Home were replaced by the left-wing Labor Party. Jewish Home’s opposition to the two-state solution made it difficult to conduct negotiations, she said, adding that political backing was necessary for any decisions that would have to be made in the negotiations.

Livni has always been her own worst enemy, picking the least-sensible fights and consistently misreading the domestic political atmosphere. Not only is she in no position to call for the expulsion of parties that are twice as popular as her own, but her justification for her request is really an argument against it.

The last sentence in her comments above makes two claims: that Bennett’s presence in the government makes negotiations more difficult, and that political support is necessary to carry out any agreements made with the Palestinians. The first claim doesn’t make much sense, considering that Livni got her negotiations only after the current coalition made painful concessions to the Palestinians. The second claim is unobjectionable, but from which she draws the wrong conclusion.

Livni seems to occasionally forget that as messy as Israeli politics can be, the country is still a democracy. That means the reason for Bennett’s presence in the government is that the voters put him there. And the same is true for the other parties in the coalition. The Israeli left lost the public’s trust with regard to security and the peace process. Livni cannot simply declare them to be popular, worthy stewards of the public trust if the public disagrees.

Now, of course Labor can be brought into the governing coalition without a public referendum–that is also how Israeli democracy works. But the point is that doing so would undermine the chances of political acceptance of the terms of the peace process. There is a logical reason for this: not only have the policies of the Israeli left failed miserably, but the peace negotiations are naturally centered on what land Israel would have to give up to the Palestinians. Can the Israeli left be trusted to be reasonable in giving up land it doesn’t seem to value? The voters don’t think so.

Any land swap with the imprimatur of the Israeli right is guaranteed to have more legitimacy and credibility with the Israeli public. If Livni wants to strike a deal with the Palestinians and to have sufficient political backing to enforce that agreement, she should be the last one advocating for Bennett’s expulsion from the Israeli government. Instead, she appears to be anticipating the peace talks’ failure–and her own–and making excuses for it.

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Erdoğan’s Anti-Semitic Obsession

Presidents and diplomats have for decades described Turkey as a model. In 2004, for example, President George W. Bush stood before a crowd of journalists in Ankara and praised Turkey. “I appreciate so very much the example your country has set on how to be a Muslim country and at the same time a country which embraces democracy and rule of law and freedom.” After the Arab Spring, politicians began to suggest that Turkey—with its supposed combination of Islam and democracy—might be a model for the Arab states in which Islamist parties sought for the first time to compete freely in elections.

Last week at the Chautauqua Institution, I gave a lengthy address suggesting that the notion of Turkey as a model for the Middle East was both wrong and dangerous, but Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has proven to be a model in other ways: He has single-handedly shown how even Islamist leaders embraced in the West as the most moderate harbor noxious anti-Semitism and conspiracy theories. Almost two years ago, I wrote here about how Turkey was embracing the crudest anti-Semitism. Then, earlier this summer as Turks across the political spectrum rose up against Erdoğan’s increasing authoritarianism, he lashed out at some mysterious “Interest Rate Lobby,” a not-too-subtle reference to international Jewry which Erdoğan believes controls the markets. Not to be outdone, he has now accused Jews of masterminding the ouster of former Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi. That’s right: Those Jews control the Egyptian military.

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Presidents and diplomats have for decades described Turkey as a model. In 2004, for example, President George W. Bush stood before a crowd of journalists in Ankara and praised Turkey. “I appreciate so very much the example your country has set on how to be a Muslim country and at the same time a country which embraces democracy and rule of law and freedom.” After the Arab Spring, politicians began to suggest that Turkey—with its supposed combination of Islam and democracy—might be a model for the Arab states in which Islamist parties sought for the first time to compete freely in elections.

Last week at the Chautauqua Institution, I gave a lengthy address suggesting that the notion of Turkey as a model for the Middle East was both wrong and dangerous, but Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has proven to be a model in other ways: He has single-handedly shown how even Islamist leaders embraced in the West as the most moderate harbor noxious anti-Semitism and conspiracy theories. Almost two years ago, I wrote here about how Turkey was embracing the crudest anti-Semitism. Then, earlier this summer as Turks across the political spectrum rose up against Erdoğan’s increasing authoritarianism, he lashed out at some mysterious “Interest Rate Lobby,” a not-too-subtle reference to international Jewry which Erdoğan believes controls the markets. Not to be outdone, he has now accused Jews of masterminding the ouster of former Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi. That’s right: Those Jews control the Egyptian military.

Let’s be blunt: If Erdoğan is a model, then he is a model for bigotry. Turkey has an anti-Semitism problem, and it is personified by its leader. Any of those who still seek to embrace Erdoğan or see him as a friend through whom the United States can work are effectively endorsing a worldview that is little different from Russian ultranationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky or Muslim Brotherhood ideologue Yusuf Qaradawi.

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Setting America’s Position in the Mideast Back 40 Years

I sympathize with the frazzled Israeli diplomats who argue that halting U.S. aid to Egypt could endanger Israeli-Palestinian talks. Those talks are the only Mideast issue the Obama administration has shown any real interest in, and good salesmen always try to frame their pitch to appeal to their listeners’ interests. The argument is even correct, as far as it goes: The ousted Muslim Brotherhood government did back Hamas against the Palestinian Authority, while the current military government backs the PA against Hamas; that’s why the PA lauded the coup while Hamas denounced it.

Nevertheless, given that the talks haven’t a prayer of succeeding, backing Egypt’s military coup for their sake would be ridiculous. A much better argument, if anyone in Washington is still capable of hearing it, is the one Haaretz columnist Chemi Shalev makes today: Not backing the coup could reverse one of America’s biggest foreign policy achievements of the 1970s–flipping Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and other Arab states from the Soviet to the American camp. Today, Shalev warns, Saudi Arabia is begging Washington to support the coup, and refusing might send it and America’s other Arab clients straight back into Russia’s orbit:

To help make their point, the Saudis might attach the once-unthinkable photo of the meeting held earlier this month between their own Prince Bandar and a smiling Vladimir Putin. The Russian President, after all, has a proven track record in Syria of standing by an ally, even one who massacres his opponents by the tens of thousands. If Cairo turns to Moscow, Washington would be hard put to recover from the political black eye and the regional loss of face.

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I sympathize with the frazzled Israeli diplomats who argue that halting U.S. aid to Egypt could endanger Israeli-Palestinian talks. Those talks are the only Mideast issue the Obama administration has shown any real interest in, and good salesmen always try to frame their pitch to appeal to their listeners’ interests. The argument is even correct, as far as it goes: The ousted Muslim Brotherhood government did back Hamas against the Palestinian Authority, while the current military government backs the PA against Hamas; that’s why the PA lauded the coup while Hamas denounced it.

Nevertheless, given that the talks haven’t a prayer of succeeding, backing Egypt’s military coup for their sake would be ridiculous. A much better argument, if anyone in Washington is still capable of hearing it, is the one Haaretz columnist Chemi Shalev makes today: Not backing the coup could reverse one of America’s biggest foreign policy achievements of the 1970s–flipping Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and other Arab states from the Soviet to the American camp. Today, Shalev warns, Saudi Arabia is begging Washington to support the coup, and refusing might send it and America’s other Arab clients straight back into Russia’s orbit:

To help make their point, the Saudis might attach the once-unthinkable photo of the meeting held earlier this month between their own Prince Bandar and a smiling Vladimir Putin. The Russian President, after all, has a proven track record in Syria of standing by an ally, even one who massacres his opponents by the tens of thousands. If Cairo turns to Moscow, Washington would be hard put to recover from the political black eye and the regional loss of face.

Actually, almost any rational Mideast player today (Israel excepted) would rather have Moscow and Tehran as backers than Washington. Between them, Russia and Iran have supported their Syrian client with arms, diplomatic cover, money, and troops, while America has given the Syrian rebels nothing but empty rhetorical support. America has also done virtually nothing to help NATO ally Turkey, which has suffered both cross-border violence and a massive influx of Syrian refugees, even though Turkey’s prime minister is one of Obama’s favorite world leaders. Nor has it done much to help longstanding ally Jordan cope with the influx of refugees that threatens to overwhelm it.

Granted, Riyadh and its allies would be reluctant to share Russia’s patronage with Iran, which they loathe; they also remember who sent troops to protect them when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in 1990. But Washington’s current passivity is making Saudi Arabia fear that America has become a broken reed; hence its feelers to Russia, via the Bandar-Putin meeting. If Washington now abandons Egypt, that could be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. And if Riyadh leaves the American camp, Egypt would swiftly follow suit.

Once, American politicians on both sides of the aisle understood that America has interests as well as values, and that sometimes, the only choices are between two evils. As an example, Shalev aptly cites America’s alliance with the Soviets during World War II. And currently, as Jonathan has argued repeatedly, Egypt’s army is the lesser evil compared to the radical Islamists of the Brotherhood.

But today, leading Republican foreign-policy voices like John McCain and Lindsey Graham are joining leading Democrats to demand that Obama jettison American interests in favor of a “clean hands” policy: We don’t care what becomes of the Middle East as long as we can dissociate ourselves from the violence.

If Obama succumbs to these demands, he will set America’s position in the Mideast back 40 years–to a time when it had no allies at all among countries that remain vital to global energy supplies.

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Obama’s Epic Middle East Failures

So now we learn that the Obama administration has secretly suspended most forms of military aid to Egypt.

As a matter of public policy, this strikes me–as it does several of my COMMENTARY colleagues–as unwise. It will only succeed in alienating the ruling power in Egypt. (The Wall Street Journal reports that “Egypt’s military-led government said it was ‘reviewing’ its strategic relationships with the U.S. and other Western governments critical of its crackdown on Islamists, deepening the divide between the Obama administration and Cairo.”) And for all our understandable reservations about supporting the Egyptian military in this conflict, especially after its recent crackdown, the military is still the preferable option. It’s not really a close call. Like the National Socialists in Germany in 1933, the Muslim Brotherhood won an election and took the occasion to impose an increasingly repressive, anti-Semitic, and anti-American rule. So from the perspective of American national security and morality, having the Muslim Brotherhood in power is considerably worse than having the Egyptian military in power. Among other things, at least the latter considers its main enemy to be Islamism rather than Israel.

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So now we learn that the Obama administration has secretly suspended most forms of military aid to Egypt.

As a matter of public policy, this strikes me–as it does several of my COMMENTARY colleagues–as unwise. It will only succeed in alienating the ruling power in Egypt. (The Wall Street Journal reports that “Egypt’s military-led government said it was ‘reviewing’ its strategic relationships with the U.S. and other Western governments critical of its crackdown on Islamists, deepening the divide between the Obama administration and Cairo.”) And for all our understandable reservations about supporting the Egyptian military in this conflict, especially after its recent crackdown, the military is still the preferable option. It’s not really a close call. Like the National Socialists in Germany in 1933, the Muslim Brotherhood won an election and took the occasion to impose an increasingly repressive, anti-Semitic, and anti-American rule. So from the perspective of American national security and morality, having the Muslim Brotherhood in power is considerably worse than having the Egyptian military in power. Among other things, at least the latter considers its main enemy to be Islamism rather than Israel.

As for the Obama administration, the American Interest’s Walter Russell Mead concludes his long piece with this assessment:

Meanwhile, at least somebody is getting some benefit out of America’s miserable crawl through the desert. For Egypt’s generals, hungry to use every scrap of material to whomp up patriotic fervor for their cause, every sign of American displeasure, every jet not delivered and every lecture sternly read, is pure gold. The one thing everybody in Egypt agrees on now is that the Americans are about the most horrible people around—arrogant, stupid, judgmental, impractical, and not to be trusted when the going gets tough. The liberals, the generals, the Mubarak family, the Christians, the Islamists: on this one point they can all agree.

With Professor Mead’s words in mind, I’d urge people to re-read Mr. Obama’s June 4, 2009 “New Beginning” speech in Cairo. We were assured it would be “momentous,” “groundbreaking,” “epic,” and “historic.” It would fulfill, in Obama’s words, his campaign commitment to “remake” relations with the Muslim world.

That was then. Today we have Egypt being torn apart by violence, Syria riven by civil war, Iraq being convulsed by increasing violence, Jordan being destabilized, Libya looking increasingly like a failed state, the war in Afghanistan sputtering toward failure, Iran continuing its march toward nuclear weapons, worrisome developments in Pakistan and Turkey, and Russia re-establishing a presence for the first time since the early 1970s. And that doesn’t even exhaust the list. America’s reputation is at a low ebb.

Even if you are willing to grant, as I do, that (a) governing is harder than giving speeches and (b) America’s capacity to shape events is limited, the president’s Middle East failures, especially when juxtaposed with his unearned arrogance, are staggering. And it’s certainly reasonable to judge Mr. Obama by his own words and standards.  

Barack Obama promised that if he were elected president he would “remake” the world. He has; and America is paying a terrible price for it.

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American Jewry’s Pro-BDS Fifth Column

There’s a disturbing trend that seems to be emerging in the professional Jewish community: Jewish professionals, working for organizations that receive millions of dollars from stalwart defenders of the State of Israel, are increasingly becoming apathetic of and even sympathetic to the anti-Semitic BDS (boycott, divestment, and sanctions against Israel) movement. Despite the claim that the movement is aimed solely at “correcting” the behavior of the State of Israel against its Palestinian neighbors, the reality of what they advocate is pure bigotry, something they accuse Israelis of on a daily basis. When individuals are boycotted due solely to their nationality (which is tied to their religion in the case of Israel), not their actions, that is not a valid form of protest. Despite this, we’ve seen several recent instances of Jewish organizations and individuals that work at them engaging the BDS movement in destructive ways.

Last week an employee of the JCC in Manhattan, which is funded in part by the UJA-Federation of New York, published a piece for the Huffington Post sympathetic to some forms of BDS. Isaac Zablocki, the director of film programs at the Israel Film Center for the JCC in Manhattan, wrote in opposition to the efforts of some BDS activists to boycott Israeli film and works of art. While this is admirable, there were several incredibly troubling paragraphs within his piece that made clear that in some instances, Zablocki supports anti-Israel boycotts. Being an artist, it’s not surprising that Zablocki possesses an inflated sense of how monumentally important art is, and it seems that respect for art does not extend to that of “products or businesses” produced in Israel by Israelis (and Arabs who work there, for that matter). If “the importance of the use of boycott to get international attention towards pressuring Israel to end the occupation is unquestionable,” as Zablocki claims in the Huffington Post piece, and only the boycott against artists and their work is addressed, one can only assume that all other forms of boycott, including those against Israeli businesses, are fair game. This is, despite Zablocki’s later claims via his superiors at the JCC and as a blog comment on the piece yesterday, an implicit endorsement of the principles of BDS.

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There’s a disturbing trend that seems to be emerging in the professional Jewish community: Jewish professionals, working for organizations that receive millions of dollars from stalwart defenders of the State of Israel, are increasingly becoming apathetic of and even sympathetic to the anti-Semitic BDS (boycott, divestment, and sanctions against Israel) movement. Despite the claim that the movement is aimed solely at “correcting” the behavior of the State of Israel against its Palestinian neighbors, the reality of what they advocate is pure bigotry, something they accuse Israelis of on a daily basis. When individuals are boycotted due solely to their nationality (which is tied to their religion in the case of Israel), not their actions, that is not a valid form of protest. Despite this, we’ve seen several recent instances of Jewish organizations and individuals that work at them engaging the BDS movement in destructive ways.

Last week an employee of the JCC in Manhattan, which is funded in part by the UJA-Federation of New York, published a piece for the Huffington Post sympathetic to some forms of BDS. Isaac Zablocki, the director of film programs at the Israel Film Center for the JCC in Manhattan, wrote in opposition to the efforts of some BDS activists to boycott Israeli film and works of art. While this is admirable, there were several incredibly troubling paragraphs within his piece that made clear that in some instances, Zablocki supports anti-Israel boycotts. Being an artist, it’s not surprising that Zablocki possesses an inflated sense of how monumentally important art is, and it seems that respect for art does not extend to that of “products or businesses” produced in Israel by Israelis (and Arabs who work there, for that matter). If “the importance of the use of boycott to get international attention towards pressuring Israel to end the occupation is unquestionable,” as Zablocki claims in the Huffington Post piece, and only the boycott against artists and their work is addressed, one can only assume that all other forms of boycott, including those against Israeli businesses, are fair game. This is, despite Zablocki’s later claims via his superiors at the JCC and as a blog comment on the piece yesterday, an implicit endorsement of the principles of BDS.

Zablocki’s description of what the BDS movement’s mission is speaks to how sympathetic he is to its aims: “The BDS movement fights against the normalization of the occupation of the State of Israel and pushes to exclude Israel from any international program as long as it is violating the human rights of Palestinians.” In just this one sentence, Zablocki accuses Israel of “occupation” and of “violating the human rights of Palestinians”–there are no qualifiers within this sentence or subsequent ones to make clear that this is the wrong-headed opinion of those who support BDS, not fact. Despite this, Rabbi Joy Levitt, executive director of the JCC in Manhattan, came to her employee’s defense, claiming that “Mr. Zablocki’s intention with his Huffington Post article was the exact opposite of its perception and was written to reject BDS as insidious.” Zablocki’s own words clearly indicate that is not the case.

Earlier this summer Jonathan took New York City’s 92nd Street Y to task for hosting writer Alice Walker at an event with the Vagina Monologues‘ Eve Ensler. Walker is a clear case of how anti-Israel activism is often a thinly-veiled disguise for pure anti-Semitism. The most famous example of this anti-Semitism is Walker’s refusal to have her most famous novel, The Color Purple, translated into Hebrew. Jonathan discussed her other equally egregious examples of prejudice in June:

I’ve written about how the BDS movement is inherently prejudicial, but Walker’s case is one that doesn’t require us to resort to theoretical arguments. Jonathan Kay added some insight to our knowledge of Walker’s belief earlier this month when he pointed out her embrace of a book that put forward bizarre conspiracy theories involving UFOs and Jew hatred. But apparently Walker is not satisfied with applauding other writers’ wacky anti-Semitism. As the Anti-Defamation League writes in a report on her new book The Cushion in the Road, Walker has crossed the line between any notion of legitimate criticism of Israel and anti-Semitism. She doesn’t merely rationalize Palestinian terror, trash the state of Israel and compare it to Nazi Germany. She also blasts Judaism and traditional Jewish beliefs (for which she blames any alleged misbehavior by individual Israelis or the state itself) and writes of Israelis in terms that are undeniably anti-Semitic.

These incidents, both in the geographic center of American Jewish life and involving institutions of great importance in the Jewish community, are troubling to say the least. Some of those who work for and represent the JCC in Manhattan, as well as those who organize events at the 92nd Street Y, are frighteningly sympathetic to those working to destroy the State of Israel. The directors of both organizations, when faced with overwhelmingly negative publicity regarding these individuals and events, chose to double down. As of now it appears Zablocki still works for the JCC in Manhattan and the 92nd Street Y ended up hosting the event featuring Alice Walker.

The delegitimization of the State of Israel is something supporters of these two major organizations are working to counteract, and despite this, the institutions are paying the salaries of those whose beliefs do not align with the supposed missions of their workplaces. If these organizations care to continue to serve the purpose of their stated missions, it’s time to get everyone involved in their work on board, or they should be shown the nearest exit.

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