Commentary Magazine


Posts For: August 21, 2013

Is Obama Already a Lame Duck?

It’s been a bad summer for the Obama administration. At home, the president’s negligible legislative agenda remains stalled as his incessant attempts to demonize Republicans have poisoned efforts to find common ground on even those areas where large elements of both parties might work together. Even Democrats consider the rollout of ObamaCare to be a “train wreck” as implementation of parts of the program are being postponed and the impending devastation on employment and business may be as much if not more of a nightmare than Republicans thought it would be. A late spring of scandals (Benghazi, the IRS, press snooping) has given way to a summer of paranoia about the National Security Agency that the president has proven incapable or unwilling to address.

Abroad, the administration’s embarrassing failures in Syria (where it has ignored the “red line” the president enunciated about chemical weapons), Egypt (where its embrace of the Muslim Brotherhood has been followed by a dangerous ambivalence as the military has launched an effort to decapitate the Islamist movement), Iran (where it has wasted five years on pointless diplomacy as the ayatollahs get closer to a nuclear weapon), and the Israel-Palestinian conflict (where it has invested heavily in a revived peace process that has little chance of success and may do more harm than good) have worsened his standing in the world as well as at home.

When you add all this up, it’s little wonder that the president’s approval ratings have been steadily heading south for months. Given that the only chance for a temporary revival of his political stock is if Republicans shut down the government in a futile and suicidal effort to stop ObamaCare, it’s fair to ask whether this is the moment when Obama must be acknowledged as a lame duck.

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It’s been a bad summer for the Obama administration. At home, the president’s negligible legislative agenda remains stalled as his incessant attempts to demonize Republicans have poisoned efforts to find common ground on even those areas where large elements of both parties might work together. Even Democrats consider the rollout of ObamaCare to be a “train wreck” as implementation of parts of the program are being postponed and the impending devastation on employment and business may be as much if not more of a nightmare than Republicans thought it would be. A late spring of scandals (Benghazi, the IRS, press snooping) has given way to a summer of paranoia about the National Security Agency that the president has proven incapable or unwilling to address.

Abroad, the administration’s embarrassing failures in Syria (where it has ignored the “red line” the president enunciated about chemical weapons), Egypt (where its embrace of the Muslim Brotherhood has been followed by a dangerous ambivalence as the military has launched an effort to decapitate the Islamist movement), Iran (where it has wasted five years on pointless diplomacy as the ayatollahs get closer to a nuclear weapon), and the Israel-Palestinian conflict (where it has invested heavily in a revived peace process that has little chance of success and may do more harm than good) have worsened his standing in the world as well as at home.

When you add all this up, it’s little wonder that the president’s approval ratings have been steadily heading south for months. Given that the only chance for a temporary revival of his political stock is if Republicans shut down the government in a futile and suicidal effort to stop ObamaCare, it’s fair to ask whether this is the moment when Obama must be acknowledged as a lame duck.

Normally, discussion of lame ducks must wait until after the midterm elections when the White House’s political influence declines dramatically and even the president’s party begins to think more about a future without the incumbent than the present. But the spectacle of the ObamaCare meltdown and a divided Congress may accelerate this process.

Tracing the president’s approval ratings this year via the Real Clear Politics average poll bar graph, it’s easy to see that the president’s post-election honeymoon died a lingering death this spring once the season of scandals began and has morphed into something that is starting to resemble George W. Bush’s poll numbers in a similar period. It’s not likely that anything that happens in the coming year will result in a media pile-on such as the one that was produced by the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. But in the absence of anything resembling an economic recovery and with the near certainty that worse is in store abroad courtesy of Iran, his numbers may never recover.

This is more than a semantic question; once the political class in Washington begins to smell the ripe stench of presidential irrelevance it is all over for any resident of the White House. As the president contemplates a fall in which he has far more chances to flop than succeed, the faint echo of quacking is starting to be heard.

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Re: What is Being Done to Protect Copts?

Last week I first raised the issue of Muslim Brotherhood attacks on Christian churches in Egypt as a way of expressing their anger about the military’s toppling of the government of Mohamed Morsi and the crackdown against Islamists in Cairo. Earlier today, our Michael Rubin again highlighted this appalling development and pointed out that the violence was so intense that services were cancelled at one monastery for the first time in 1,600 years. But also today, our Max Boot raised another aspect of this story as part of his argument that the United States should not support the military government in its campaign against the Muslim Brotherhood, a point on which both Michael and I disagree. As Max writes, though opponents of the Brotherhood have used the issue of their attacks on Coptic Christians to justify the military’s behavior, the new government hasn’t lifted a finger to help the victims of these assaults.

Egyptian Christians are angry about this and rightly so. Their lot was not easy under the Mubarak regime and the year of Muslim Brotherhood rule was perhaps even worse. As such, it is hardly surprising that the new power in Cairo has shown little interest in defending religious freedom. But even as we acknowledge one more flaw in a regime that we already knew was, at best, authoritarian in nature, that doesn’t justify an attitude of neutrality when it comes to the conflict between the military and the Brotherhood.

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Last week I first raised the issue of Muslim Brotherhood attacks on Christian churches in Egypt as a way of expressing their anger about the military’s toppling of the government of Mohamed Morsi and the crackdown against Islamists in Cairo. Earlier today, our Michael Rubin again highlighted this appalling development and pointed out that the violence was so intense that services were cancelled at one monastery for the first time in 1,600 years. But also today, our Max Boot raised another aspect of this story as part of his argument that the United States should not support the military government in its campaign against the Muslim Brotherhood, a point on which both Michael and I disagree. As Max writes, though opponents of the Brotherhood have used the issue of their attacks on Coptic Christians to justify the military’s behavior, the new government hasn’t lifted a finger to help the victims of these assaults.

Egyptian Christians are angry about this and rightly so. Their lot was not easy under the Mubarak regime and the year of Muslim Brotherhood rule was perhaps even worse. As such, it is hardly surprising that the new power in Cairo has shown little interest in defending religious freedom. But even as we acknowledge one more flaw in a regime that we already knew was, at best, authoritarian in nature, that doesn’t justify an attitude of neutrality when it comes to the conflict between the military and the Brotherhood.

The Christian minority are, unfortunately, the innocent bystanders in a growing conflict in which they stand little to gain. But the Brotherhood wasn’t wrong in surmising that Christians were, like the vast majority of Egyptians, outraged by Morsi’s push for total power that he would never have peacefully relinquished had the military failed to step in. Principled observers like frequent COMMENTARY contributor Elliott Abrams believe that the U.S. must run the risk of making Egyptians believe we favor the Brotherhood even if that is not the case in order to send a necessary statement about the military’s beastly behavior.

However, I believe the stakes in this conflict are such that neither the world nor the Egyptian people should labor under any doubts about the necessity of the Brotherhood’s complete defeat. As I wrote two weeks ago before the government began clearing out the Islamists’ armed camps in Cairo, this conflict is a zero-sum game in which there are only two choices. It may be possible to, as Max does, view the military’s attacks on the Islamists as morally equivalent to their assaults on churches and the Copts. Neither the military nor the Brotherhood present us with an attractive option in Egypt, but that doesn’t make it any less necessary that the Islamist movement be dealt a crippling blow from which it should never be allowed to recover.

The Islamists present a clear and present danger to non-Muslims, secular and liberal Muslims as well as the State of Israel and the West. Egyptian Christians may not like the military, but they still understand that they are far better off with them in power rather than Morsi and his crowd. Americans should be no less smart in their view of the conflict.

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What Congress?

I’ve written in recent months about the antidemocratic trend of the government “legislating” not through the Congress but through unelected, unaccountable bureaucrats. To be sure, federal agencies often have the appropriate delegated authority to set regulations, but it has become far too common for the executive branch to empower bureaucrats specifically to get around the fact that their objectives would be or have been rejected through the democratic process.

Because liberals are far more enamored of the regulatory state than conservatives are, and because we currently have divided government, the temptation to do this has been especially great for President Obama. As I argued in July, this was key to understanding why Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid was threatening to “go nuclear” and change Senate rules on the fly to eliminate the filibuster for certain executive branch nominees–not over judicial nominees or legislation. Today, the Hill provides us with a story that confirms this:

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I’ve written in recent months about the antidemocratic trend of the government “legislating” not through the Congress but through unelected, unaccountable bureaucrats. To be sure, federal agencies often have the appropriate delegated authority to set regulations, but it has become far too common for the executive branch to empower bureaucrats specifically to get around the fact that their objectives would be or have been rejected through the democratic process.

Because liberals are far more enamored of the regulatory state than conservatives are, and because we currently have divided government, the temptation to do this has been especially great for President Obama. As I argued in July, this was key to understanding why Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid was threatening to “go nuclear” and change Senate rules on the fly to eliminate the filibuster for certain executive branch nominees–not over judicial nominees or legislation. Today, the Hill provides us with a story that confirms this:

President Obama has assembled a new cadre of lieutenants to enact policy shifts through regulation during his second term.

Many of the agency heads and top-ranking officials will be tasked with implementing scores of federal rules that will help shape Obama’s legacy. 

“In general, in a political environment in which passing new legislation is very difficult, most of the policy action is likely to come through actions taken within the executive branch,” said Philip Wallach, a fellow at the Brookings Institution. “Much of that is going to be regulation.”

The “centerpiece” of this regulatory onslaught, the Hill tells us, will be new carbon emissions rules designed to address global warming. This was so unpopular and politically untenable that Obama couldn’t get cap-and-trade legislation passed early in his first term when Democrats controlled both houses of Congress. After former Environmental Protection Agency director Lisa Jackson left her post for a job with Apple, I wrote about her history of authoritarian regulation, which no doubt put her on the administration’s radar years ago. I quoted Joseph Rago’s characterization of her as “an especially abusive and willful regulator, even for the Obama administration, and her epic rule-making bender continues to drag on economic growth.”

So it’s no surprise that the EPA figures so strongly into Obama’s plans to replace Congress with his unaccountable apparatchiks at the agency. More interesting, and more controversial, is another agency the Hill claims will be involved in this:

In the span of three days in mid-July, the Senate confirmed Labor Secretary Thomas Perez, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) Director Richard Cordray and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Gina McCarthy.
 
All three oversee agencies with significant rulemaking authority, and are seen as likely to regulate with gusto….

Observers expect the two-year-old CFPB to remain on the offensive as officials tackle new regulations for prepaid cards, debt services and payday loans.
 
“I don’t think its going to be like this forever but I think in the near term, while Cordray is in office, I can’t imagine that he’s going to take his foot off the accelerator,” said Alan Kaplinsky, a partner at the law firm of Ballard Spahr.

Now why would Cordray work so feverishly to cement his vision of the regulatory state? Because, as the Hill reminds us, Cordray was appointed “in controversial fashion.” Republicans were opposed to confirming Cordray, so Obama declared the Senate to be in “recess” when it unquestionably was not and then made a recess appointment. As Adam White explained, and as his headline blared, this was “An Unconstitutional Appointment to an Unconstitutional Office.” Yes, per the Hill, it was a “controversial” appointment, but it was also a delusional exercise of nonexistent power by a supposed constitutional law expert.

Cordray’s appointment was made on the same day as other magical “recess” appointments that the courts have rightly ruled unconstitutional, and on which the Supreme Court will eventually rule. That casts doubt on whether Cordray’s appointment will escape judicial oversight. In the meantime, he is going full speed ahead so that if his appointment is invalidated his unconstitutional power grab will be difficult to untangle.

And although President Obama’s obsession with control would suggest that these regulations are getting his careful consideration, the Hill story indicates otherwise. When the president was approached by a Republican senator recently about various regulations, he was told to talk instead to Denis McDonough, the chief of staff, who “has emerged as a major player in regulatory decisions.”

Should the American people be worried that McDonough has only been chief of staff since January, and is thus not terribly experienced in this regard? Not at all–the Hill tells us that before coming to the White House, McDonough worked at the liberal Center for American Progress as a global warming advocate. Were the senator’s concerns even addressed by McDonough? Apparently the senator followed up but “there has been no response from the White House.” That, I suppose, is to be expected; in this regulatory strategy, the existence of Congress is irrelevant. It follows that the concerns of a member of Congress would be treated as such.

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What Is Being Done to Protect Copts?

The plight of Coptic Christians in Egypt has caught the attention of Americans, and understandably so—they face a wave of attacks against their businesses, homes, and churches. The culprits are radical Muslims who are eager to hit back at the government for a continuing crackdown but lack the courage or means to fight back directly against the security forces. So instead they are victimizing innocent Copts who are one of the groups in Egyptian society most opposed to the Muslim Brotherhood and its goal of creating a more Islamicized society.

Yet there is more to this story than a simple narrative of reprehensible conduct by supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood and other, more radical Islamist groups. The Egyptian military is eager to publicize attacks on Copts to delegitimize the Brotherhood as a pack of terrorists—a criticism that resounds especially loudly in majority-Christian countries such as the United States. But the army, while eager to denounce church burnings, is doing little to stop them.

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The plight of Coptic Christians in Egypt has caught the attention of Americans, and understandably so—they face a wave of attacks against their businesses, homes, and churches. The culprits are radical Muslims who are eager to hit back at the government for a continuing crackdown but lack the courage or means to fight back directly against the security forces. So instead they are victimizing innocent Copts who are one of the groups in Egyptian society most opposed to the Muslim Brotherhood and its goal of creating a more Islamicized society.

Yet there is more to this story than a simple narrative of reprehensible conduct by supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood and other, more radical Islamist groups. The Egyptian military is eager to publicize attacks on Copts to delegitimize the Brotherhood as a pack of terrorists—a criticism that resounds especially loudly in majority-Christian countries such as the United States. But the army, while eager to denounce church burnings, is doing little to stop them.

The Wall Street Journal reports that during a wave of anti-Christian attacks in the town of Minya, “security forces were nowhere to be seen,” and “in the days after no suspects appear to have been brought in,” even though “looting of the churches has continued.”

The Journal article quotes one “Christian who lives in a predominantly Muslim neighborhood,” who said “that as the local Bishop Moussa Church was under siege, he made several fruitless calls to the police. With no response from the fire station a few blocks away, either, he said, he and his neighbors put out fires with a garden hose.”

This is part of a long pattern with the Egyptian “deep state” which, in its statements abroad, condemns attacks on Christians but does little to stop them at home. This has bred widespread suspicion that the cynical generals are simply interested in generating fresh victims to justify their continuing crackdown on the Brotherhood.

The Coptic Christians feel used and ill-treated by the military regime. That’s something that American supporters of the generals should keep in mind before they use reprehensible attacks on the Copts to justify equally reprehensible attacks against demonstrators by the security forces.

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Just How Bad Has Egypt Become?

Much has been said about how the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist movements seek to drive Christians from the Middle East. Egyptian Copts are the last vestiges of an Egyptian civilization which predates the Islamic invasion and one of the last vestiges of what once was a far more pluralistic society now that Egypt is also almost completely Judenrein. The violence which the Muslim Brotherhood had directed toward Egypt’s Christians has been amply covered in stories about churches being burned and nuns being humiliated. But to put the situation in historic context, this story from the Egyptian Independent is worth reading:

Minya churches canceled on Sunday the second mass, holding only a brief one. Meanwhile, prayers did not take place at other churches which were attacked. Priest Selwanes Lotfy of the Virgin Mary and Priest Ibram monastery in Degla, south of Minya, said, “We did not hold prayers in the monastery on Sunday for the first time in 1,600 years.”

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Much has been said about how the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist movements seek to drive Christians from the Middle East. Egyptian Copts are the last vestiges of an Egyptian civilization which predates the Islamic invasion and one of the last vestiges of what once was a far more pluralistic society now that Egypt is also almost completely Judenrein. The violence which the Muslim Brotherhood had directed toward Egypt’s Christians has been amply covered in stories about churches being burned and nuns being humiliated. But to put the situation in historic context, this story from the Egyptian Independent is worth reading:

Minya churches canceled on Sunday the second mass, holding only a brief one. Meanwhile, prayers did not take place at other churches which were attacked. Priest Selwanes Lotfy of the Virgin Mary and Priest Ibram monastery in Degla, south of Minya, said, “We did not hold prayers in the monastery on Sunday for the first time in 1,600 years.”

It’s not every day you can say the situation is the worst it has been in 1,600 years. Under such circumstances, perhaps it’s time for the White House to choose a side rather than continue its dawdling. Let us hope when they choose, they recognize the Muslim Brotherhood for what it is rather than what its English speaking spokesmen tell credulous American officials and analysts.

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Lessons from Syria’s Chemical Weapons Use

The situation is murky, but multiple reports suggest that the Syrian regime has used chemical weapons on the outskirts of Damascus killing hundreds, if not more than a thousand. Peter Wehner suggests how the fecklessness of President Obama’s foreign policy has exacerbated the situation. After all, Obama made Syrian chemical weapons use a red line in a speech one year ago today, but then ignored his own pronouncements to justify inaction when reports flooded in beginning in December 2012 that the red line had been breached.

A red line ignored is effectively a green light, but the problem does not start and stop with Obama. If there is one overarching lesson to be drawn from the Syrian chemical weapons abuse it is that the red line imposed on radical and rejectionist regimes should be their acquisition of chemical weapons rather than their use. After all, Syria shows that given enough time, ideological and radical regimes will use the capabilities they have, especially when they are challenged by their own people, as they inevitably will be. No autocracy lasts forever.

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The situation is murky, but multiple reports suggest that the Syrian regime has used chemical weapons on the outskirts of Damascus killing hundreds, if not more than a thousand. Peter Wehner suggests how the fecklessness of President Obama’s foreign policy has exacerbated the situation. After all, Obama made Syrian chemical weapons use a red line in a speech one year ago today, but then ignored his own pronouncements to justify inaction when reports flooded in beginning in December 2012 that the red line had been breached.

A red line ignored is effectively a green light, but the problem does not start and stop with Obama. If there is one overarching lesson to be drawn from the Syrian chemical weapons abuse it is that the red line imposed on radical and rejectionist regimes should be their acquisition of chemical weapons rather than their use. After all, Syria shows that given enough time, ideological and radical regimes will use the capabilities they have, especially when they are challenged by their own people, as they inevitably will be. No autocracy lasts forever.

It has been no secret for years and, indeed, decades that Syria has had a chemical weapons capability. Here, for example, is a 2002 article dealing with Syria’s capabilities. If the Iraq war made preemption a dirty word and the 2002 National Security Strategy of the United States seem destined for the rubbish bin of history, then the events in Syria should spark a reassessment. Sometimes, preempting the ability of a state to acquire the worst weapons is a paramount national and international interest. Let the world condemn Israel for striking Iraq’s nuclear reactor in 1981, and Syria’s secret nuclear plant in 2007, but frankly the world is much better off with those programs and facilities eradicated.

President Obama and his supporters might now reconsider what the Syria situation means for Iran: Should Iran achieve a nuclear weapons capability or outright an arsenal of nuclear weapons, then the chance exists that at some point in time, a situation could arise in which Iranian ideologues choose to use such weaponry. The debate about a supreme leader’s fatwa against nuclear weapons use should be moot, not only because the fatwa does not exist in writing in Ali Khamenei’s compiled collections of fatwas or in a consistent form, but also because Khamenei or his successor(s) can change their minds. The time to act is before rogues can equip themselves with weapons beyond the pale; not after.

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How Strong a Horse Is General Sisi?

Author and Weekly Standard senior editor Lee Smith set a high standard that few others have met with his seminal book The Strong Horse, about the political culture of the Arab world. So when Smith writes about the current conflict in Egypt to bitterly criticize military government leader General Abdul Fattah al-Sisi, we should all pay attention. But while I think his evaluation of Sisi as “rash and dangerous” in a piece published in Time might be true, it doesn’t necessarily follow that the general presents a threat to his country’s peace with Israel or that he is taking Egypt down a path to destruction. As much as the coup government needs to be watched closely, his clear disagreement with those of us who have been urging Washington to recognize that the choice in Egypt is between the military and the Brotherhood seems to be off the point.

Last month, in the days before the military toppled Mohamed Morsi, Smith predicted in Tablet that sooner or later Egypt would launch a new war against Israel to distract its people from their domestic problems. His article in the Weekly Standard today cautioning supporters of Israel to worry more about Sisi than the Brotherhood seems to be an attempt to resurrect that thesis. But there is even less reason to believe him on that point today than there was then.

In the weeks since that Tablet article, Sisi has made it very clear he intends to wage war on the Muslim Brotherhood, not Israel. Though there is good reason to worry about Egypt’s future as the conflict with the Islamists heats up and its economic and societal woes only get worse, the idea that Sisi will strike Israel in order to avoid a civil war makes very little sense. Though anti-Semitism runs deep in Egyptian society, if there is one thing the Egyptian army has shown us in the 34 years since Anwar Sadat signed the peace treaty, it is that it has no intention of risking a certain military defeat against Israel that could have catastrophic consequences for its hold on the government in Cairo.

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Author and Weekly Standard senior editor Lee Smith set a high standard that few others have met with his seminal book The Strong Horse, about the political culture of the Arab world. So when Smith writes about the current conflict in Egypt to bitterly criticize military government leader General Abdul Fattah al-Sisi, we should all pay attention. But while I think his evaluation of Sisi as “rash and dangerous” in a piece published in Time might be true, it doesn’t necessarily follow that the general presents a threat to his country’s peace with Israel or that he is taking Egypt down a path to destruction. As much as the coup government needs to be watched closely, his clear disagreement with those of us who have been urging Washington to recognize that the choice in Egypt is between the military and the Brotherhood seems to be off the point.

Last month, in the days before the military toppled Mohamed Morsi, Smith predicted in Tablet that sooner or later Egypt would launch a new war against Israel to distract its people from their domestic problems. His article in the Weekly Standard today cautioning supporters of Israel to worry more about Sisi than the Brotherhood seems to be an attempt to resurrect that thesis. But there is even less reason to believe him on that point today than there was then.

In the weeks since that Tablet article, Sisi has made it very clear he intends to wage war on the Muslim Brotherhood, not Israel. Though there is good reason to worry about Egypt’s future as the conflict with the Islamists heats up and its economic and societal woes only get worse, the idea that Sisi will strike Israel in order to avoid a civil war makes very little sense. Though anti-Semitism runs deep in Egyptian society, if there is one thing the Egyptian army has shown us in the 34 years since Anwar Sadat signed the peace treaty, it is that it has no intention of risking a certain military defeat against Israel that could have catastrophic consequences for its hold on the government in Cairo.

Smith is right to urge us to pay more attention to Sisi. Senator Lindsey Graham told the New York Times that the apparent caudillo of the post-coup government struck him as being “a little bit intoxicated by power.” Whether that shows that he wishes to emulate fellow military ruler Hosni Mubarak and play pharaoh or go further and try for the role of charismatic popular dictator in the mold of Gamal Abdul Nasser remains to be seen. But I think it’s reasonable to believe that this graduate of the U.S. Army War College is sufficiently educated in modern history to understand that military dictatorships rarely survive military defeats, especially when there is a viable opponent like the Brotherhood waiting for them to demonstrate their impotence.

The one guiding principle of the Egyptian military since it avoided another debacle in the 1973 Yom Kippur War only by the grace of Soviet threats and Henry Kissinger’s diplomacy was to never again risk a whipping at the hands of Israel. Sadat switched sides in the Cold War to escape from the trap Russian antagonism toward the U.S. and Israel had forced his country into. In exchange for embracing America and making peace with Israel, Egypt got a hefty annual bribe in the form of U.S. aid that went mostly toward propping up the military. The shiny toys it purchased from the U.S. helped solidify its rule. There has never been even a hint that any of the military owners of those planes and tanks have even dreamed of risking them by employing them in a confrontation with Israel that everyone knows would end in utter defeat for Egypt. That’s even truer today now that the military is finally being called upon to fire some weapons in anger, albeit against domestic Islamist foes rather than the traditional Zionist enemy.

While Smith attempts to argue in the Standard that there is a split between American friends of Israel who have urged Washington to back the military and an Israeli government that has kept to a wise official silence on the question, I see no evidence that there is any disagreement here. In fact, as the New York Times reported earlier this week, although it is rightly issuing no statements, Israel is actually making a major diplomatic push to persuade both the U.S. and Europe not to abandon Sisi in a fit of righteous anger about the violence in Cairo.

While, as Smith pointed out in his book, dictators of failed states like Egypt have always sought to export the violence brewing inside their countries, maintaining one’s status as the “strong horse” also involves knowing which fights to pick. In this case, only a suicidal madman would contemplate engaging an untested and generally lightly regarded fighting force like the Egyptian Army in a war with the region’s best military. Nasser may have survived his defeats in 1956 (courtesy of Dwight Eisenhower) and 1967 (by blaming the fiasco on the myth of U.S. involvement in the Six-Day War), but surely Sisi understands that he wouldn’t be as lucky. Nor would many of his fellow generals, who form his main constituency of the moment, agree to such folly. The evidence of close cooperation between the Egyptian military and Israel in repressing outbreaks of terror in the Sinai in the last month and its hostility to the Gaza enclave run by the Brotherhood’s Hamas allies further debunks the notion that Sisi would attack the Jewish state.

Being the “strong horse” in Egypt right now means controlling the streets of Cairo and beating the Brotherhood into submission. Can he succeed? Doubts on that score are reasonable. But the widespread assumption of Sisi’s critics that we are in for an Egyptian rerun of the bloody Algerian civil war of the 1990s may not be right. Egypt is a very different place than Algeria. When the Algerian military ousted an Islamist party from government launching a civil war, that was a country that had gone through a terrorist insurgency only 30 years earlier during the struggle for independence against France. Egypt has never undergone such a war and there is no indication that most Egyptians (the vast majority of whom seem to have approved of the coup) would tolerate one. As Smith points out, the Brotherhood has survived more than 80 years of repression, but it is unprepared for war. By taking the Machiavellian tactic of crushing opponents, Sisi may have undertaken the sort of pre-emptive strike that will make an Algerian-style conflict unlikely.

Smith may consider support for the coup to be morally repugnant, but it is hard to find any sensible person who actually thinks the Brotherhood government was an expression of genuine democracy. Right now there isn’t much doubt that Sisi is preferable to the Brotherhood.

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Re: American Jewry’s Pro-BDS Fifth Column

Yesterday morning I discussed the troubling emergence of BDS sympathizing at major New York City Jewish organizations, namely the JCC in Manhattan and the 92nd Street Y. The post revolved around a recent editorial by Isaac Zablocki, a JCC employee, in the Huffington Post on the dangers of BDS on the Israeli artistic community. The original piece made clear that while Zablocki abhors artistic boycotts, he believes that other forms of boycott are of crucial importance. The line I quoted from the original Huffington Post piece read as follows:

In the case of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, nonviolence is a welcome form of protest for the region, and the importance of the use of boycott to get international attention towards pressuring Israel to end the occupation is unquestionable. However, the protest of art, culture and education brings up dangers in the realm of freedom and evolution of thought.

If you visit the piece on the Huffington Post website right now, however, that paragraph has been altered considerably. The paragraph currently begins with:

In the case of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, nonviolence is a welcome form of protest for the region. However, the protest of art, culture and education brings up dangers in the realm of freedom and evolution of thought.

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Yesterday morning I discussed the troubling emergence of BDS sympathizing at major New York City Jewish organizations, namely the JCC in Manhattan and the 92nd Street Y. The post revolved around a recent editorial by Isaac Zablocki, a JCC employee, in the Huffington Post on the dangers of BDS on the Israeli artistic community. The original piece made clear that while Zablocki abhors artistic boycotts, he believes that other forms of boycott are of crucial importance. The line I quoted from the original Huffington Post piece read as follows:

In the case of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, nonviolence is a welcome form of protest for the region, and the importance of the use of boycott to get international attention towards pressuring Israel to end the occupation is unquestionable. However, the protest of art, culture and education brings up dangers in the realm of freedom and evolution of thought.

If you visit the piece on the Huffington Post website right now, however, that paragraph has been altered considerably. The paragraph currently begins with:

In the case of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, nonviolence is a welcome form of protest for the region. However, the protest of art, culture and education brings up dangers in the realm of freedom and evolution of thought.

The most egregious line, which I quoted in my post yesterday, has now disappeared with a note from the Huffington Post explaining the deletion: “This post has been revised by the blogger since it’s (sic) original publication. It previously included a line referring to the importance of BDS.” Despite the JCC in Manhattan executive director Rabbi Joy Levitt’s claim to the JNS news service 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,” even the Huffington Post recognizes that the most egregious line made clear that Zablocki found that BDS was important. Levitt’s statement is laughable to anyone who read Zablocki’s original post, which clearly was an implicit endorsement of some forms of BDS, as long as they weren’t against the artistic community in Israel. 

While this quiet deletion five days later is troubling from a journalistic standpoint, it highlights that even while Levitt was defending Zablocki there was a recognition from someone in power at the JCC that Zablocki’s comments were beyond the pale. The alteration in no way excuses the original statements, nor does it make them actually disappear, but it does give a glimmer of hope that within the walls of the JCC in Manhattan there are still lines that cannot be crossed. What needs to come next before both donors and supporters can be comfortable with the situation is an open acknowledgement that a wrong has been committed as well as an explanation on why the post was published in its original form. Was it approved by a JCC staff member? If it was, that person’s judgement should also be called into question, and if not, protocols need to be established before staff members publish items as potentially explosive as Zablocki’s.

With these acknowledgements and explanations, an apology not just from Zablocki but also from Levitt is also of vital importance. The outrage surrounding this situation won’t disappear as easily as a sentence from a blog post without it. 

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Rabbi Sacks on Multiculturalism’s Dangers

In the two decades that he served as the United Kingdom’s Chief Rabbi, Sir Jonathan Sacks continued the tradition of his predecessor, the late Lord Immanuel Jakobovits, of positioning the office as a key voice in national debates. While Jakobovits was famously aligned with the views of Margaret Thatcher, in marked contrast to the established Church of England, Sacks adopted a more non-partisan approach, venturing insights into a range of issues–most importantly, on multiculturalism–that were not beholden to the orthodoxies of either the Conservative or Labor parties.

This week, Sacks again dived into the multiculturalism debate. In an interview with the London Times (subscription only) to mark his departure from office, Sacks reiterated his dismay at how the concept of multiculturalism has been interpreted and applied in Britain. “The real danger in a multicultural society,” Sacks argued, “is that every ethnic group and religious group becomes a pressure group, putting our people’s interest instead of the national interest.”

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In the two decades that he served as the United Kingdom’s Chief Rabbi, Sir Jonathan Sacks continued the tradition of his predecessor, the late Lord Immanuel Jakobovits, of positioning the office as a key voice in national debates. While Jakobovits was famously aligned with the views of Margaret Thatcher, in marked contrast to the established Church of England, Sacks adopted a more non-partisan approach, venturing insights into a range of issues–most importantly, on multiculturalism–that were not beholden to the orthodoxies of either the Conservative or Labor parties.

This week, Sacks again dived into the multiculturalism debate. In an interview with the London Times (subscription only) to mark his departure from office, Sacks reiterated his dismay at how the concept of multiculturalism has been interpreted and applied in Britain. “The real danger in a multicultural society,” Sacks argued, “is that every ethnic group and religious group becomes a pressure group, putting our people’s interest instead of the national interest.”

As Sacks explained in his 2007 book, The Home We Build Together, this societal Balkanization is inimical to a healthy democracy. “Liberalism is about the rights of individuals, multiculturalism is about the rights of groups, and they are incompatible,” he stated baldly. In his conversation with the Times, Sacks honed in on Britain’s unresolved anguish over the integration of its growing Muslim population. The radical contrast between the Jewish and Muslim experiences of living as minorities is, Sacks said, critical to understanding why uncomplicated integration has succeeded with the former, but not the latter: “The norm was for Muslims to live under a Muslim jurisdiction and the norm, since the destruction of the first Temple, was for Jews to live under a non-Jewish jurisdiction.”

Interestingly, the firestorm of outrage that typically greets such remarks has centered not on Sacks, but on the unlikely figure of media mogul (and Times owner) Rupert Murdoch, whose appreciative tweet–”Good for UK Chief Rabbi Sacks! ‘Let’s put multiculturalism behind us’. Societies have to integrate. Muslims find it hardest.”–angered Muslim activists in his native Australia. Mohammed Tabbaa of the Islamic Council of Victoria warned that Muslims “feel the full brunt” of such comments, while Nareen Young of Australia’s Diversity Council bemoaned the fact that Murdoch’s support for Sacks had left “a whole lot of Muslim Australians” nursing “hurt feelings.”

One is tempted to say that these reactions deliberately miss the point. Sacks has contested neither the reality nor the desirability of a multi-ethnic society; instead, he has consistently argued that the communally-centered model of multiculturalism that prevails in Britain has frustrated attempts to forge an overarching British identity. No one is talking about how to persuade Muslims to leave the historically Christian nations in which they’ve settled, but rather how they might remain on peaceable terms.

The example of Britain’s Sharia courts, which provide an alternative venue for Muslims to settle their legal disputes, neatly illustrates the wider problem which Sacks has addressed. As the BBC reported last year, an estimated 85 Sharia councils are now operating in Britain, all of them dealing with a growing caseload. “On average, every month we can deal with anything from 200 to 300 cases,” Sheikh Haitham al-Haddad of the Islamic Sharia Council told reporter Divya Talwar. “A few years ago it was just a small fraction of that.”

What al-Haddad didn’t say is that the judgments arrived at in Sharia courts routinely violate the sensibilities of a liberal democratic society. Indeed, al-Haddad himself is a notorious offender in that regard; as the blogger Ben Six has noted, here is an individual who “endorses genital mutilation, tells parents to marry their daughters off while they are young, orders women to obey their husbands, and tells people not to question men who beat their wives.” (You can see a video of al-Haddad nonchalantly supporting the practice of female genital mutilation here.)

To paint objections to this Saudi-esque judicial philosophy as a hangover from the days when opposition to immigration was grounded upon race–as the British Muslim writer Sunny Hundal did in a recent piece for the Guardian–doesn’t just willfully misrepresent what critics of multiculturalism, like Sacks, are saying. It also condemns the victims of Sharia courts, many of whom are women seeking a way out of abusive marriages, to an indefinite purgatory in the name of tolerance. While Hundal insists that multiculturalism’s critics refuse “to get to grips with how Britain has changed,” the truth is more nuanced: registering that these changes have occurred does not imply a duty to passively acquiesce to them.

In highlighting the historic unwillingness within Islam to accept that there are situations in which Muslims will be a minority, Sacks has captured one of the key reasons why British Muslim leaders are preventing their flocks from following the precedent set by other immigrant groups–like the French Huguenots, the Jews, and the Afro-Caribbeans–in maintaining their native identities while embracing the broader notion of Britishness. Perhaps the violent collapse of Islamist rule in Egypt, at the fulcrum of the Muslim world, will persuade nervous Britons that Sacks has a point after all.

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Discrediting the Muslim Brotherhood

Egypt is rarely just about Egypt. So a full conversation about whether to sustain American aid to the military government currently in power in Cairo has to include a widening of the scope to the broader Middle East. The Muslim Brotherhood, which the army deposed in a coup and the recent crackdown, is not just another domestic political party, so its defeat is not just a domestic concern. The Brotherhood represents the recent ascendancy of pan-Islamism that threatens to destabilize any non-Islamist government in the region.

A perfect example of that comes today from Reuters, which reports that Hamas, the Palestinian offshoot of the Brotherhood, is foundering now that its ally next door is out of power. Hamas’s relationship with its Iranian patron was strained by the civil war in Syria, which Iran and its proxies joined on the side of Bashar al-Assad, putting them at ideological odds with Hamas. The Gaza-based terrorist group therefore had arguably the most to lose with the Brotherhood’s exit from power in Egypt.

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Egypt is rarely just about Egypt. So a full conversation about whether to sustain American aid to the military government currently in power in Cairo has to include a widening of the scope to the broader Middle East. The Muslim Brotherhood, which the army deposed in a coup and the recent crackdown, is not just another domestic political party, so its defeat is not just a domestic concern. The Brotherhood represents the recent ascendancy of pan-Islamism that threatens to destabilize any non-Islamist government in the region.

A perfect example of that comes today from Reuters, which reports that Hamas, the Palestinian offshoot of the Brotherhood, is foundering now that its ally next door is out of power. Hamas’s relationship with its Iranian patron was strained by the civil war in Syria, which Iran and its proxies joined on the side of Bashar al-Assad, putting them at ideological odds with Hamas. The Gaza-based terrorist group therefore had arguably the most to lose with the Brotherhood’s exit from power in Egypt.

A weakened Brotherhood means a weakened Hamas, which means a slightly strengthened Fatah in the West Bank, which benefits the peace process and keeps American influence in the region active while Iran struggles to maintain its ability to make mischief in the Palestinian territories while simultaneously distracted in Syria. Additionally, the Reuters story notes that Hamas was relying on funding from the Qatari emir, but the emir’s heir does not seem to be nearly as interested in doling out cash to Hamas. The story also quotes an Israeli analyst arguing that Hamas will have to swallow some of its pride–and principles–to go crawling back to Iran:

Israeli analyst Yaari thought Iran would exact a price for welcoming Hamas back into the fold. “It will require them to stop opposing Assad and stop any criticism of Hezbollah’s intervention (in Syria) and Iranian support of Assad,” he said.

Even so, with the Brotherhood out of power in Egypt Hamas will have far more difficulty smuggling Iranian-funded weapons into the Gaza Strip. The next question, then, is: How much trouble is the Brotherhood in, at least in Egypt? The Washington Post argues today that it is facing “what many are describing as the worst crisis to confront Egypt’s 85-year-old Muslim Brotherhood.”

The primary reason seems to be that the Brotherhood cannot simply go back to its pre-Arab Spring role. Before the presidency of the Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi, the organization was an underground opposition network that offered a religious alternative to the Mubarak police state. But most importantly, it offered something to the non-Islamists as well. As the Post explains:

The Brotherhood is more than a political or religious group. It has been almost a shadow state in modern Egypt, winning over supporters over the decades with a vast network of charitable services, including dental clinics and thrift shops. It is the “mother of all Islamist movements,” in the words of Shadi Hamid, a Middle East expert at the Brookings Doha Center, having spawned dozens of related groups worldwide since its founding in 1928.

Throughout its history, the Brotherhood has repeatedly clashed with Egypt’s authoritarian governments, enduring arrests, torture and imprisonment. But what’s different now, analysts say, is that it’s battling not only a military-backed government but also the disdain of a broad swath of society. Many Egyptians are irate at Morsi for the country’s economic slide and the rise in crime during his one-year rule. Others complain that the Brotherhood tried to grab power by excluding minority political groups and trying to insulate its decisions from judicial review.

“It’s the first time to see the Muslim Brotherhood in conflict not only with the state — but with the whole of the state, [including] the bureaucracy, and the political elite, and an important part of society. It’s not a limited confrontation,” Rashwan said.

Gaining authority over the most significant and populous Arab country presented the Brotherhood with a classic high-risk, high-reward opportunity. The reward was obvious–power, influence, a certain degree of regional hegemony if not over neighboring governments then over their chief domestic opposition. The risk was that if it didn’t work out, it would not be so simple to go back to the way things were.

In Cairo, it did not work out. The Brotherhood in opposition was able to provide services to a public greatly in need of them, especially since Mubarak’s reign was marked by empty promises of economic reform. But then the Brotherhood came to power and turned its totalitarian oppression on the entire state.

If an Egyptian considered himself an atheist and a socialist, but only had access to dental care because of the Brotherhood, he was likely to still consider the Brotherhood an acceptable, and possibly preferable, alternative to the Egyptian state. That is no longer the case, and it explains why the Brotherhood, whose defeat would greatly benefit the West, is on the ropes.

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Obama’s “Red Line” a Year Later

It was a year ago today that President Obama said Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad should step down and that the use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime against rebel forces would constitute crossing a “red line.”

Today President Assad is more powerful than he was a year ago and Sky News is reporting that according to Syria’s main opposition group, the National Coalition, more than 1,300 people have been killed in a chemical weapons attack near Damascus. (For the record the government says the claims are “totally false” and the international news organizations reporting them are “implicated in the shedding of Syrian blood and support terrorism.”)

A nurse at the Douma Emergency Collection facility, Bayan Baker, told Reuters the death toll collated from medical centers was at least 213. ”Many of the casualties are women and children. They arrived with their pupils constricted, cold limbs and foam in their mouths. The doctors say these are typical symptoms of nerve gas victims,” the nurse said. (Exposure to sarin gas causes pupils in the eyes to shrink to pinpoint sizes and foaming at the lips.)

Allegations of these latest attacks come in the wake of our allies having informed the United Nations that there was credible evidence that Syria has used chemical weapons on more than one occasion since December 2012–a finding the Obama administration belatedly and reluctantly concurred with.

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It was a year ago today that President Obama said Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad should step down and that the use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime against rebel forces would constitute crossing a “red line.”

Today President Assad is more powerful than he was a year ago and Sky News is reporting that according to Syria’s main opposition group, the National Coalition, more than 1,300 people have been killed in a chemical weapons attack near Damascus. (For the record the government says the claims are “totally false” and the international news organizations reporting them are “implicated in the shedding of Syrian blood and support terrorism.”)

A nurse at the Douma Emergency Collection facility, Bayan Baker, told Reuters the death toll collated from medical centers was at least 213. ”Many of the casualties are women and children. They arrived with their pupils constricted, cold limbs and foam in their mouths. The doctors say these are typical symptoms of nerve gas victims,” the nurse said. (Exposure to sarin gas causes pupils in the eyes to shrink to pinpoint sizes and foaming at the lips.)

Allegations of these latest attacks come in the wake of our allies having informed the United Nations that there was credible evidence that Syria has used chemical weapons on more than one occasion since December 2012–a finding the Obama administration belatedly and reluctantly concurred with.

Set aside for a moment the horrors of the Syrian civil war, in which more than 100,000 people have been killed. Think instead of the damage done to American credibility for Obama to declare that if the Assad regime used chemical weapons it would be crossing a “red line” and that it would constitute a “game changer.” What that means, in the language of international affairs, is that if Assad used chemical weapons, the United States would retaliate with military force. The president said what he said because, as an Obama official told the Washington Post last August, “there’s a deterrent effect in making clear how seriously we take the use of chemical weapons or giving them to some proxy force.”

Except that the deterrent effect didn’t work. Chemical weapons have been used. The man who sternly assured us us “as president of the United States, I don’t bluff” was, in fact, bluffing. The entire world knows it. And our allies and our adversaries, each in their own way, are adjusting accordingly.

This is just the latest example of an administration whose foreign policy is feckless, incoherent, and inept. The Middle East is undergoing convulsive changes. Chaos, disorder, and violence are spreading. And the words of the president of the United States have been rendered nugatory. It is an astonishing thing to behold; and a depressing one, too. 

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McAuliffe’s Lead Should Worry GOP

Up until the returns came in last November, many Republicans were still in denial about Virginia. Barack Obama’s 2008 victory there showed that a changing population had altered the assumption that it was a reliably red state. But Bob McDonnell’s gubernatorial landslide the following year allowed Republicans to believe that the 2008 result was an anomaly. However, Obama’s narrow margin last fall made it apparent that the Old Dominion must be regarded as, at best, a purple state rather than a GOP stronghold. If there was any remaining doubt about that it, looks as if this year’s race for governor will confirm it. A new poll from Quinnipiac shows Democrat Terry McAuliffe with a six-point lead over Republican Ken Cuccinelli among likely voters. While such a margin shows that the race is still competitive, it is significant given the avalanche of bad publicity in recent weeks about the Democratic candidate’s ethical shortcomings. If McAuliffe can a survive a summer of bad press and emerge with his biggest lead of the year, then he’s in good shape heading into the homestretch this fall.

McAuliffe’s ability to overcome polls that show voters are divided on the question of his honesty can be attributed in part to Cuccinelli’s reputation as a candidate of the hard right as well as the way Governor McDonnell’s serious ethical lapses have overshadowed any attention devoted to the Democratic candidate’s questionable private-sector activities. But no matter how you choose to spin the various elements that have produced a race that appears tilting to McAuliffe, the inability of Cuccinelli to overcome these factors must be put down primarily to the changing electoral landscape of Virginia. If even a tarnished candidate like McAuliffe can be this far ahead at this point in the race, it is a sign that the days of Red Virginia are at an end.

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Up until the returns came in last November, many Republicans were still in denial about Virginia. Barack Obama’s 2008 victory there showed that a changing population had altered the assumption that it was a reliably red state. But Bob McDonnell’s gubernatorial landslide the following year allowed Republicans to believe that the 2008 result was an anomaly. However, Obama’s narrow margin last fall made it apparent that the Old Dominion must be regarded as, at best, a purple state rather than a GOP stronghold. If there was any remaining doubt about that it, looks as if this year’s race for governor will confirm it. A new poll from Quinnipiac shows Democrat Terry McAuliffe with a six-point lead over Republican Ken Cuccinelli among likely voters. While such a margin shows that the race is still competitive, it is significant given the avalanche of bad publicity in recent weeks about the Democratic candidate’s ethical shortcomings. If McAuliffe can a survive a summer of bad press and emerge with his biggest lead of the year, then he’s in good shape heading into the homestretch this fall.

McAuliffe’s ability to overcome polls that show voters are divided on the question of his honesty can be attributed in part to Cuccinelli’s reputation as a candidate of the hard right as well as the way Governor McDonnell’s serious ethical lapses have overshadowed any attention devoted to the Democratic candidate’s questionable private-sector activities. But no matter how you choose to spin the various elements that have produced a race that appears tilting to McAuliffe, the inability of Cuccinelli to overcome these factors must be put down primarily to the changing electoral landscape of Virginia. If even a tarnished candidate like McAuliffe can be this far ahead at this point in the race, it is a sign that the days of Red Virginia are at an end.

In a more GOP-friendly environment, McDonnell’s problems (which have put an end to any talk about him having a political future) might not be dragging Cuccinelli down. Nor would the attempts of the liberal mainstream media to tar the Republican candidate as an extremist be working quite as well if Republicans could still count on the more conservative southern and western parts of the state being able to turn out votes that could overwhelm the margins Democrats racked up in the northern districts close to Washington. But, as the last two presidential contests showed, that is no longer the case.

The Republicans may be working on the assumption that the off-year turnout for the Democrats in 2013 will resemble that of 2009 when McDonnell won rather than 2012 when large numbers of minority and young voters helped Obama hold Virginia. But the ability of a flawed and not terribly popular Democrat to stay ahead of Cuccinelli speaks not only to the Republicans’ problems but also to the fact that the state has to be seen as tilting to the left.

All politics is local, but if these numbers hold up in November, this is a very bad sign for the GOP. The conventional wisdom is that the national turnout in the 2014 midterms will be drastically down from that of 2012 and look more like the 2010 numbers when the Tea Party revolution helped generate a Republican landslide that took back the House of Representatives. That may well be the case, but the Virginia governor’s race could show that Democrats have the ability to turn out their voters in sufficient numbers to hold onto battleground states even in off-year elections.

Coming as it always does the year after the presidential election, the Virginia race is often seen as a bellwether. That will be even more the case this year since the only significant election this November—the New Jersey’s governor’s race—is a foregone conclusion with Chris Christie coasting to an easy win.

Despite the predictions of doom from the liberal press about the future of the Republican Party, 2014 looks to be a golden opportunity for the GOP to win back the Senate and set themselves up nicely for 2016. But Virginia presents an ominous indication that talk of changing demographics with larger numbers of minority voters is not merely liberal hype. Conservatives who believe their party shouldn’t worry about trying to attract Hispanics or blacks or independents need to look closely at Virginia this year and see that their assumptions about turnout may wind up being as misleading as they were last year when Romney lost. Complacence about changing demographics is a luxury Republicans can’t afford.

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Will Erdoğan End His Career in Prison?

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan may think he is riding high. Despite the recent Gezi protests, he remains popular among a large segment of society and, during his last election, he surpassed 50 percent of the vote. He may believe demography is on his side, for religious Anatolians upon whose support he relies have more babies than the more Europeanized, Mediterranean Turks who tourists falsely believe dominate the country based on interactions in historic districts of Istanbul and along the Mediterranean coast. Even though frustration with Erdoğan runs high throughout Turkey and anxiety about the true state of the Turkish economy has increased in recent months, the prime minister can take solace in the impotence of the opposition’s leadership.

Erdoğan at best sees himself as a combination between Russian President Vladimir Putin and an Ottoman sultan, and at worst has become unhinged. He appears above the law, shuttering opposition media willy-nilly to the point where Turkey now rests in the bottom 15 percent in world press freedom, behind such enemies of freedom as Russia, the Palestinian Authority, Zimbabwe, and Venezuela, and only just above Belarus and Egypt. The imprisonment of journalists, generals, and civil society activists has made a mockery of Turkish justice, making Midnight Express look like Turkish courts’ liberal, open, golden age. Erdoğan, who was imprisoned two decades ago for religious incitement, is far more interested in settling scores than he is in reforming or democratizing Turkey.

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Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan may think he is riding high. Despite the recent Gezi protests, he remains popular among a large segment of society and, during his last election, he surpassed 50 percent of the vote. He may believe demography is on his side, for religious Anatolians upon whose support he relies have more babies than the more Europeanized, Mediterranean Turks who tourists falsely believe dominate the country based on interactions in historic districts of Istanbul and along the Mediterranean coast. Even though frustration with Erdoğan runs high throughout Turkey and anxiety about the true state of the Turkish economy has increased in recent months, the prime minister can take solace in the impotence of the opposition’s leadership.

Erdoğan at best sees himself as a combination between Russian President Vladimir Putin and an Ottoman sultan, and at worst has become unhinged. He appears above the law, shuttering opposition media willy-nilly to the point where Turkey now rests in the bottom 15 percent in world press freedom, behind such enemies of freedom as Russia, the Palestinian Authority, Zimbabwe, and Venezuela, and only just above Belarus and Egypt. The imprisonment of journalists, generals, and civil society activists has made a mockery of Turkish justice, making Midnight Express look like Turkish courts’ liberal, open, golden age. Erdoğan, who was imprisoned two decades ago for religious incitement, is far more interested in settling scores than he is in reforming or democratizing Turkey.

The problem is few Turkish leaders are as secure as they come to believe. By imprisoning journalists, opposition parliamentarians, and generals for little more than their belief in secularism and Western-style liberalism, Erdoğan is creating a precedent for his own future. Erdoğan—and, according to U.S. diplomatic documents, some of his top cronies like Egemen Bağış and Cuneyt Zapsu—are corrupt; Erdoğan himself has more than a dozen suspended corruption probes against him that, theoretically, will restart once he loses his immunity.

Many of those sentenced to prison on trumped-up charges and conspiracies will not likely end their lives or careers in prison, even if their immediate situation appears dire. Sometimes, the sultan wears no clothes. Unfortunately for Erdoğan, he has paved the way for his new set to be a prison uniform, probably sooner than he realizes.

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