Commentary Magazine


Posts For: August 26, 2013

The Real West Bank Terror War

The Israelis have done it again. After Secretary of State John Kerry managed to drag both parties back to the peace table, the Israelis are doing their utmost to sabotage the talks by provoking the Palestinians with violent incursions into Palestinian towns and villages that have resulted in the indiscriminate use of gunfire by the Israel Defense Forces that led to several deaths of innocent Arabs. If the Palestinian Authority has stayed away from the negotiations in order to protest this, then it is the only way they have of protecting their people against Israeli outrages. Or so we are being told.

The prevailing narrative of the incidents alluded to in the preceding paragraph follow this line in which the presence of Israeli forces in Palestinian areas is not merely a provocation but a standing argument for the need to force the Jewish state to pull back to the 1967 lines. But the problem with this narrative is that it is based on a lie. Incidents like the one that occurred today in Qalandia that resulted in three Palestinian deaths and last week’s confrontation in Jenin do illustrate the problem with the peace process, but it is not the one that the liberal mainstream media and the international press think it is. The idea that Israel is staging these attacks to undermine the talks is false. The fact that the IDF is forced to enter built-up areas in order to track down terrorist suspects shows just how unreliable the Palestinian Authority is as a peace partner. Moreover, the willingness of mobs in these towns to rally to defend suspects and attack the IDF with gunfire and rocks is testimony to how deeply rooted support for terror operations is in a Palestinian population that we are told is ready for an end to the conflict.

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The Israelis have done it again. After Secretary of State John Kerry managed to drag both parties back to the peace table, the Israelis are doing their utmost to sabotage the talks by provoking the Palestinians with violent incursions into Palestinian towns and villages that have resulted in the indiscriminate use of gunfire by the Israel Defense Forces that led to several deaths of innocent Arabs. If the Palestinian Authority has stayed away from the negotiations in order to protest this, then it is the only way they have of protecting their people against Israeli outrages. Or so we are being told.

The prevailing narrative of the incidents alluded to in the preceding paragraph follow this line in which the presence of Israeli forces in Palestinian areas is not merely a provocation but a standing argument for the need to force the Jewish state to pull back to the 1967 lines. But the problem with this narrative is that it is based on a lie. Incidents like the one that occurred today in Qalandia that resulted in three Palestinian deaths and last week’s confrontation in Jenin do illustrate the problem with the peace process, but it is not the one that the liberal mainstream media and the international press think it is. The idea that Israel is staging these attacks to undermine the talks is false. The fact that the IDF is forced to enter built-up areas in order to track down terrorist suspects shows just how unreliable the Palestinian Authority is as a peace partner. Moreover, the willingness of mobs in these towns to rally to defend suspects and attack the IDF with gunfire and rocks is testimony to how deeply rooted support for terror operations is in a Palestinian population that we are told is ready for an end to the conflict.

It needs to be understood that the relative lack of terrorism directed at Israel from the West Bank is not solely the work of the security fence that is reviled by the left for its role in preventing suicide bombings. It is also the function of proactive IDF actions in the West Bank, including checkpoints that make it harder for killers to move about with impunity, and raids such as the ones that have recently led to shootings where the Israelis can arrest those planning or guilty of having committed terrorism.

Going after these terrorists is dangerous work, especially when ordinary Palestinians still venerate those who seek to kill Jews and are willing to risk injury to prevent their arrest. The notion that IDF troops should submit to live fire as well as lethal rock showers without seeking to defend themselves is not a standard that anyone would apply to any other army or police force in the world.

However, the argument that the IDF should forebear from seeking to capture these killers in order to protect the talks is one that is incompatible with their duty to protect the Jewish state’s citizens against terrorism. If the PA and the Palestinian people want such incidents to cease, then they have only to police their own population—as they promised to do in the 1993 Oslo Accords.

The idea that the West Bank should be treated in the same manner as Gaza—a no-go zone where terrorists should be free to live without fear of arrest—represents a peculiar take on peace. Expecting Israel to turn a blind eye to terror while the talks are going on only sets up the process for more trouble since it is unlikely that Israel’s critics would think the Jewish state would be justified if they called a halt to negotiations to protect a successful attack.

Since the peace process is supposed to be predicated in no small part on the cessation of terrorism and a Palestinian commitment to deal with terrorism, it’s difficult to understand why the IDF should be criticized for stepping into the vacuum left by an incompetent and corrupt PA. That members of PA head Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah Party are often responsible for terror, and not just their Hamas rivals, further undermines the rationale for further empowering the PA.

The attitude toward terror on the part of the PA—which is routinely lauded by the United States for its cooperation with Israeli security forces—is a crucial stumbling block to the peace process. If Israel cannot trust the PA to stop terror without having to send its own forces in, it begs the question of what will happen once these towns are safely inside a Palestinian state and therefore immune to IDF action.

Rather than criticizing the Israelis, the Palestinians’ foreign cheerleaders should be increasing pressure on the PA to act on its own to squelch terror. If they don’t, it won’t be fair to blame Israel for acting to defend their populations from Palestinian attacks. That Israel finds itself obligated to go into Arab towns to keep terrorists from killing more Jews is nothing more than the latest evidence that genuine peace is a long way off.

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The Disparate Impact of Holder’s War on Private Schools

As we approach the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, the civil-rights milestone will continue to loom large in the ideological media. The right will talk about how much progress we’ve made, the left will talk about how far we have to go, and the president himself will give a speech marking the occasion this week in which he’ll talk both about the progress and the ground that must still be covered. His speech will be all the more powerful for the obvious symbolism, though the speech text will likely be thoughtful and somewhat moving in addition.

It is also a speech to which the president’s attorney general, Eric Holder, should listen carefully. His latest crusade is to sue the state of Louisiana for giving black students in failing public schools vouchers to attend better schools on the grounds that the voucher program is resegregating Louisiana’s public schools. That is not an exaggeration, and I have to admit to being somewhat hesitant to even write about this for fear that Holder is kidding–because, well, he has got to be kidding.

Here, for example, is the Holder DOJ’s logic, as expressed in a petition to get the district court to enjoin the state from awarding additional scholarships to students from school districts still under federal desegregation orders:

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As we approach the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, the civil-rights milestone will continue to loom large in the ideological media. The right will talk about how much progress we’ve made, the left will talk about how far we have to go, and the president himself will give a speech marking the occasion this week in which he’ll talk both about the progress and the ground that must still be covered. His speech will be all the more powerful for the obvious symbolism, though the speech text will likely be thoughtful and somewhat moving in addition.

It is also a speech to which the president’s attorney general, Eric Holder, should listen carefully. His latest crusade is to sue the state of Louisiana for giving black students in failing public schools vouchers to attend better schools on the grounds that the voucher program is resegregating Louisiana’s public schools. That is not an exaggeration, and I have to admit to being somewhat hesitant to even write about this for fear that Holder is kidding–because, well, he has got to be kidding.

Here, for example, is the Holder DOJ’s logic, as expressed in a petition to get the district court to enjoin the state from awarding additional scholarships to students from school districts still under federal desegregation orders:

For example, in 2011-2012, Celilia Primary School in St. Martin Parish School District enrolled a student body that was 30.1 percent black, 16.4 [sic] percentage points lower than the black composition (64.5 percent) of St. Martin Parish School District as a whole. In 2012-2013 Celilia lost six black students as a result of the voucher program, thereby increasing the difference between the school’s black student percentage from the district’s and reinforcing the school’s racial identity as a white school in a predominantly black school district.

Got that? The school had a “racial identity” as a white school, and the state of Louisiana awarded scholarships to a group of black students to get them out of the white failing school and into a better private school. According to Eric Holder’s Justice Department, the Louisiana voucher program gave private school vouchers to too many black students. What this means in practice is that Holder would not challenge them on segregation grounds if, merely because of their race, the state allotted fewer vouchers to black students in favor of giving the scholarships to white students.

But the DOJ wasn’t done. The Justice Department wants to appear to be an equal-opportunity offender, crushing the hopes and educational futures of children of all races. So the DOJ found a school that the United States federal government says has too many black students and criticized the voucher program for selecting white students:

Similarly, the Independence Elementary School in Tangipahoa Parish School District enrolled a student body that was 61.5 percent black, which was only 14 percentage points greater than that of Tangipahoa Parish School District (47.5 percent black), but it lost five white students as a result of the voucher program and, thus, increased its black student percentage away from the district-wide black student percentage, again reinforcing the racial identity of the school as a black school.

But of course Holder isn’t an equal-opportunity offender: black students are absorbing the brunt of the Justice Department’s crusade against education. As the state explained:

While the federal petition would let courts approve vouchers in those school systems next year, Brian Blackwell, attorney for the Louisiana Association of Educators, said it likely would take a lot of time, effort and evidence to persuade the judges.

State Education Superintendent John White took issue with the suit’s primary argument and its characterization of the program. Almost all the students using vouchers are black, he said. Given that framework, “it’s a little ridiculous” to argue that students’ departure to voucher schools makes their home school systems less white, he said. He also thought it ironic that rules set up to combat racism were being called on to keep black students in failing schools.

Almost all the students using vouchers are black, according to the superintendent. This is a program largely designed to find ways to get black students stuck in failing schools an education. The government’s public-school monopoly, designed to enrich union bosses, is failing. The Louisiana government, under the leadership of Governor Bobby Jindal, isn’t willing to give up on those students, and is throwing them a rope. The United States Department of Justice, under the leadership of Eric Holder, will do anything to cut that rope.

The left likes to talk a lot about disparate impact. In ruling against the NYPD’s stop and frisk program, Judge Shira Scheindlin even found a new term for it–“indirect racial profiling.” So imagine what Democrats would make of a policy that disproportionately harmed black students trying to get a decent education if the partisan roles were reversed. In some ways, then, it’s appropriate that this incident coincides with the anniversary of a key moment in the fight for civil rights for black Americans. No one watching the behavior of this Justice Department, after all, could claim there are no longer government-sanctioned obstacles in their way.

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The South Carolina Test Case

South Carolina conservatives smell blood. After a year in which Lindsey Graham has been identified with unpopular causes like immigration reform, opposing shutting down the government to defund ObamaCare, and reaffirmed his status as one of the leading internationalists in the Senate, the woods appear to be full of Republicans who think he’s vulnerable. With three candidates having already declared their intention to challenge the incumbent, you’d think Graham would be running scared about the chances of holding onto his seat in a state where the right predominates. But if Graham has spent 2016 acting like a politician desperate to modify his behavior in order to convince the grass roots he isn’t the RINO caricature they claim him to be, he has good reason. Not only does he have an enormous advantage in fundraising, the sheer number of opposing candidates is going to make it difficult for any one of them to break out and turn a GOP primary into a one-on-one contest that a relative moderate like Graham might lose.

These factors complicate what might otherwise be a perfect example of the struggle for the future of the Republican Party that is convulsing the GOP in the aftermath of their 2012 defeat. Graham would seem to be the perfect test case to see if a conservative senator who a) is willing to work with Democrats on some controversial issues like immigration; b) is more interested in preserving his niche as a moderating voice on foreign affairs along with his friend John McCain than in feeding conservative paranoia about government spying, in the manner of Rand Paul and Ted Cruz; and c) refuses to join the suicide caucus in the Senate like Cruz in order to pander to the Tea Party can survive a Republican primary in a conservative state. Though Graham ought to be marked for extinction because of these factors, circumstances and the absence of a single strong opponent may enable him to survive.

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South Carolina conservatives smell blood. After a year in which Lindsey Graham has been identified with unpopular causes like immigration reform, opposing shutting down the government to defund ObamaCare, and reaffirmed his status as one of the leading internationalists in the Senate, the woods appear to be full of Republicans who think he’s vulnerable. With three candidates having already declared their intention to challenge the incumbent, you’d think Graham would be running scared about the chances of holding onto his seat in a state where the right predominates. But if Graham has spent 2016 acting like a politician desperate to modify his behavior in order to convince the grass roots he isn’t the RINO caricature they claim him to be, he has good reason. Not only does he have an enormous advantage in fundraising, the sheer number of opposing candidates is going to make it difficult for any one of them to break out and turn a GOP primary into a one-on-one contest that a relative moderate like Graham might lose.

These factors complicate what might otherwise be a perfect example of the struggle for the future of the Republican Party that is convulsing the GOP in the aftermath of their 2012 defeat. Graham would seem to be the perfect test case to see if a conservative senator who a) is willing to work with Democrats on some controversial issues like immigration; b) is more interested in preserving his niche as a moderating voice on foreign affairs along with his friend John McCain than in feeding conservative paranoia about government spying, in the manner of Rand Paul and Ted Cruz; and c) refuses to join the suicide caucus in the Senate like Cruz in order to pander to the Tea Party can survive a Republican primary in a conservative state. Though Graham ought to be marked for extinction because of these factors, circumstances and the absence of a single strong opponent may enable him to survive.

As the New York Times reports today, the GOP field for 2014 in South Carolina is already crowded. Though Nancy Mace, the first female graduate of the Citadel, would seem to be the perfect alternative to Graham, she is beset by her own problems relating to her connection with a political gossip website that gained notoriety in 2010 when it was part of an attack on Governor Nikki Haley. Neither of the other two, State Senator Lee Bright and Richard Cash, seems to have much on the ball, though it’s far too early to judge them.

But so long as Graham can find safety in numbers on the primary ballot, he may well be able to avoid the fate of other Republicans like Richard Lugar who were perceived as Washington institutions that lost touch with the sentiments of their local party.

That’s an interesting development in a year when we’re supposed to think that the GOP is trending so far to the right that anyone who can be accused of choosing realistic opposition to the Obama administration, rather than to join in the rush to take the party over the cliff, is supposed to be marked for extinction.

That said, Graham is far from safe. South Carolina is also the home state of former Senate colleague and current Heritage Foundation chief Jim DeMint, who has taken to promoting the idea that any Republican that won’t vote to defund the government over ObamaCare should be replaced. Should immigration reform and his internationalist stands become even more radioactive on the right than they are now, it will heighten his difficulties. Moreover, if a viable challenger like Mace emerges from the field, then Graham may be in more trouble than he seems to be in now.

However, a Graham victory in a South Carolina GOP primary, no matter what the circumstances, will be rightly seen as a sign that Republicans are not quite as far gone as the liberal mainstream media hopes them to be.

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Remember Bashar the Reformer?

Bashar al-Assad is in the running for the most dangerous man in the world. There are not too many world leaders who would acquire such reserves of chemical weapons and then seek to use them against anyone, let alone civilians. While the U.S. military conducts lessons-learned exercises all the time in order to learn from their mistakes and make themselves a more effective force, I am not aware of a single time in which the State Department or senior U.S. government officials have acknowledged error and conducted a similar lessons-learned exercise to identify where they went wrong.

Let’s hope that, if they ever start, they consider how the Syrian regime pulled the wool over their eyes. Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad may have spent some time in the West, but just because Islamists and autocrats spend time in the West does not mean that they acquire Western values; instead, they learn only how to speak to Westerners and cultivate useful idiots.

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Bashar al-Assad is in the running for the most dangerous man in the world. There are not too many world leaders who would acquire such reserves of chemical weapons and then seek to use them against anyone, let alone civilians. While the U.S. military conducts lessons-learned exercises all the time in order to learn from their mistakes and make themselves a more effective force, I am not aware of a single time in which the State Department or senior U.S. government officials have acknowledged error and conducted a similar lessons-learned exercise to identify where they went wrong.

Let’s hope that, if they ever start, they consider how the Syrian regime pulled the wool over their eyes. Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad may have spent some time in the West, but just because Islamists and autocrats spend time in the West does not mean that they acquire Western values; instead, they learn only how to speak to Westerners and cultivate useful idiots.

At any rate, here are some blasts from the past, American officials who for ego or because of animosity toward George W. Bush did their best to end Assad’s isolation. It’s always fun to read their statements reporting Assad’s willingness to solve mutual problems.

  • Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Ca.), who took time out to tour the markets to maximum benefit for Syrian state television.
  • Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), more John Kerry, and even more John Kerry. That second story reminds how the Obama administration once went so far as to give Syria spare parts for its planes.
  • Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), who seems to have relished his defiance of Bush.
  • The late Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Penn.), at the time still a Republican, might have acted as a tour guide: His trip with Nelson and Kerry was his 16th taxpayer-funded trip to Damascus, and it was not his last.
  • Secretary of State Hillary Clinton may not have gone herself, but she used her senate colleagues’ experience meeting Assad to justify her description of him as a reformer. “There’s a different leader in Syria now,” she told CBS’s Face the Nation, explaining, “Many of the members of Congress of both parties who have gone to Syria in recent months have said they believe he’s a reformer.”
  • Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) spent nearly $8,000 on two trips to Damascus, while Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-NY) spent nearly twice that, according to Legistorm.
  • Gen. David Petraeus repeatedly asked President George W. Bush for permission to go tête-à-tête with Assad in Damascus; let’s be glad Bush said no, both because it saved Petraeus the embarrassment and denied Assad a propaganda coup.

Perhaps in this age of budget-cutting, it would be useful to ask Pelosi, Kerry, and Nelson—all of whom still serve publicly—about what in hindsight they see as the value of their trips to Syria, and someone might ask Clinton which is more important: the established and brutal record of dictators, or what they happen to tell her colleagues in his palace over tea and coffee.

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Will Obama Finish What He Starts in Syria?

The fact that United Nations weapons inspectors came under fire today in Syria as they attempted to visit the site of last week’s chemical weapons attacks didn’t do much to enhance the credibility of a mission that never had a chance of success. This episode will only make it even likelier that, at long last, the Obama administration will respond forcefully to the latest atrocity committed by the Assad regime. If the noises emanating from Western European capitals are to be believed, what follows may well be a mission with the imprimatur of NATO. If the optimists about President Obama finally having made up his mind to act on Syria after years of dithering are right, then the response may be some sort of concerted air campaign rather than a symbolic yet meaningless strike consisting of lobbing a few missiles that change nothing on the ground.

If true, better late than never will probably be the response of many observers to such a decision. But even if he does shed the restraint he has showed and does something, the question we should be asking right now is not so much whether the president finally makes good on his year-old threat about “red lines” about chemical weapons, but whether the United States is prepared to finish what it starts in Syria. If, as may be likely, a strike on Syria comes under the NATO flag, the credibility of the West won’t be vindicated by symbolism. Having chosen to avoid involvement in the Syrian civil war when Assad might have been toppled without that much trouble, the president must understand that the stakes are far higher today than one or two years ago. With Iran and Hezbollah now heavily invested in the conflict and Russia still committed to keeping Assad afloat, the West probably won’t be able to get away with a repeat of its Libyan intervention or even a more large scale Kosovo-style air offensive and think it will change the tide of war there.

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The fact that United Nations weapons inspectors came under fire today in Syria as they attempted to visit the site of last week’s chemical weapons attacks didn’t do much to enhance the credibility of a mission that never had a chance of success. This episode will only make it even likelier that, at long last, the Obama administration will respond forcefully to the latest atrocity committed by the Assad regime. If the noises emanating from Western European capitals are to be believed, what follows may well be a mission with the imprimatur of NATO. If the optimists about President Obama finally having made up his mind to act on Syria after years of dithering are right, then the response may be some sort of concerted air campaign rather than a symbolic yet meaningless strike consisting of lobbing a few missiles that change nothing on the ground.

If true, better late than never will probably be the response of many observers to such a decision. But even if he does shed the restraint he has showed and does something, the question we should be asking right now is not so much whether the president finally makes good on his year-old threat about “red lines” about chemical weapons, but whether the United States is prepared to finish what it starts in Syria. If, as may be likely, a strike on Syria comes under the NATO flag, the credibility of the West won’t be vindicated by symbolism. Having chosen to avoid involvement in the Syrian civil war when Assad might have been toppled without that much trouble, the president must understand that the stakes are far higher today than one or two years ago. With Iran and Hezbollah now heavily invested in the conflict and Russia still committed to keeping Assad afloat, the West probably won’t be able to get away with a repeat of its Libyan intervention or even a more large scale Kosovo-style air offensive and think it will change the tide of war there.

A lot has changed since President Obama first starting predicting that Assad’s fall was inevitable. Rather than giving up, he has dug in, and with the help provided by Russia as well as the Iranian “volunteers” from Tehran’s Revolutionary Guard and Hezbollah reinforcements, he has seized the initiative in the war. While air strikes could cripple his chemical supplies, heavy weapons, and air power, it’s a trifle optimistic to believe a series of bombing raids or cruise missile strikes will defeat Assad.

That means that if President Obama is serious about Syria, he’s going to have to risk a long-term commitment to the conflict. Though he is probably not contemplating putting any boots on the ground, the cost of a prolonged air offensive will not be cheap. Coming at a time when the American people are already weary of war after Afghanistan and Iraq, fighting another one even with airpower alone is quite a political risk.

Count me among those who believe that the U.S. cannot afford to make threats such as those made by Obama and let them slide. But if the U.S. attacks and Assad survives, America’s credibility—and that of the president—will be hurt, not enhanced. At this stage, mere gestures won’t be enough. To the contrary, once the West enters the war, nothing short of Assad’s defeat will be a satisfactory outcome. Indeed, with the administration preparing to engage in another round of diplomacy with Iran over its nuclear project, both the ayatollahs and their sometime allies in Moscow will be measuring the Western response in Syria and judging whether they should worry about continuing to stonewall Washington. A failure to finish what begins this week will leave Iran, Russia and Assad as big winners. Getting into Syria won’t be difficult; getting out with a result that will not make things in the region even worse won’t be so easy. 

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For ObamaCare’s Enemies, the Law

In my discussion recently of the scourge of bureaucratic lawmaking during the Obama administration, I’ve generally focused on federal agencies enacting rules that could not be passed by Congress, thus undermining the democratic process. But another important problem posed by the “rise of the fourth branch” of government, in Jonathan Turley’s phrase, is the treatment of duly passed legislation that simply empowers federal regulators without limiting them.

That’s not necessarily the fault of Congress, though it is a warning to those who seek to pass complex pieces of legislation. In the case of ObamaCare, it is simply the president who has decided that he has the power to suspend and postpone parts of the law at will, or else hand out waivers to favored constituencies. Though the beneficiaries of such governance seem obvious–the president and those who receive the favors they request from him–there is actually a third group whose members benefit greatly: the crafters of the law.

Conservatives often talk about the ill effects of moral hazards in politics. And the Hill reminded us over the weekend that the more complex the law, the more ad hoc its implementation, the more room for its interpretation, and the more troubled its legal groundwork, the more the crafters of the law stand to gain. The worse the governance, the better off its practitioners, at least in certain situations, will be. The members of Congress who voted for ObamaCare may not understand the law, but those who wrote it do–and are cashing in on the regulatory monstrosity:

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In my discussion recently of the scourge of bureaucratic lawmaking during the Obama administration, I’ve generally focused on federal agencies enacting rules that could not be passed by Congress, thus undermining the democratic process. But another important problem posed by the “rise of the fourth branch” of government, in Jonathan Turley’s phrase, is the treatment of duly passed legislation that simply empowers federal regulators without limiting them.

That’s not necessarily the fault of Congress, though it is a warning to those who seek to pass complex pieces of legislation. In the case of ObamaCare, it is simply the president who has decided that he has the power to suspend and postpone parts of the law at will, or else hand out waivers to favored constituencies. Though the beneficiaries of such governance seem obvious–the president and those who receive the favors they request from him–there is actually a third group whose members benefit greatly: the crafters of the law.

Conservatives often talk about the ill effects of moral hazards in politics. And the Hill reminded us over the weekend that the more complex the law, the more ad hoc its implementation, the more room for its interpretation, and the more troubled its legal groundwork, the more the crafters of the law stand to gain. The worse the governance, the better off its practitioners, at least in certain situations, will be. The members of Congress who voted for ObamaCare may not understand the law, but those who wrote it do–and are cashing in on the regulatory monstrosity:

ObamaCare has become big business for an elite network of Washington lobbyists and consultants who helped shape the law from the inside.
 
More than 30 former administration officials, lawmakers and congressional staffers who worked on the healthcare law have set up shop on K Street since 2010….

“Healthcare lobbying on K Street is as strong as it ever was, and it’s due to the fact that the Affordable Care Act seems to be ever-changing,” Adler said. “What’s at stake is huge. … Whenever there’s a lot of money at stake, there’s a lot of lobbying going on.”

The voracious need for lobbying help in dealing with ObamaCare has created a price premium for lobbyists who had first-hand experience in crafting or debating the law.
 
Experts say that those able to fetch the highest salaries have come from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) or committees with oversight power over healthcare.

The most telling quote in the story, and the one that explains why ObamaCare belongs in the discussion of unaccountable bureaucracy usurping congressional authority, is this:

“Congress is easy to watch,” said Tim LaPira, a politics professor at James Madison University who researches the government affairs industry, “but agencies are harder to watch because their actions are often opaque. This leads to a greater demand on K Street” for people who understand the fine print, he said.

The delays and postponements and waivers so far have made it pretty clear that the Obama administration finally understands just how harmful ObamaCare is, but this hasn’t troubled them so much because they don’t feel bound by the law. The administration is the law, with regard to ObamaCare.

What recourse do you have if you are not part of Obama’s favored constituencies to whom the law doesn’t apply? You have the courts. In a sign of how problematic ObamaCare really is, it appears headed back to the Supreme Court because of the law’s unconstitutional abridgement of religious freedom. As the Hill reported late last week:

ObamaCare’s birth control mandate is putting the president’s signature legislative issue on a fast track back to the Supreme Court. 



Lawyers on both sides of the issue say the high court will almost certainly have to rule on the controversial policy, possibly as early as its next term. 



Two federal appeals courts have come down with opposite rulings on an important question related to the policy: whether for-profit businesses and their owners have the right to challenge in court the requirement that businesses provide contraception as part of their insurance coverage.

As Jonathan wrote in June, the high-profile case of the Hobby Lobby, a chain of stores owned by religious Christians, won a key victory this summer, though there have been setbacks in other similar cases. But the Hill story points out just why the battle over the contraception mandate is so important:

“Would an incorporated kosher butcher really have no claim to challenge a regulation mandating non-kosher butchering practices?” the 10th Circuit asked. “The kosher butcher, of course, might directly serve a religious community … But we see no reason why one must orient one’s business toward a religious community to preserve Free Exercise protections.”



The administration’s position, and that of some appeals courts, has been that the religious freedom of the owners of a corporate entity does not transfer to the company itself. That is, there is a separation between the business and its owners, and religious freedom applies to the latter. A company can’t pray, goes the simplistic logic.

Of course, the 10th Circuit judges had it right. The contraception case is important because it will set precedent on the issue, and will determine whether United States law considers religious practice a privilege, not a right, when it conflicts with the government’s agenda. In this way, it won’t be much different from the rest of ObamaCare’s arbitrary and corrupt implementation.

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Jody Bottum’s World-Weariness

Joseph Bottum, formerly the editor of the conservative-leaning religious journal First Things, has written an essay in Commonweal magazine titled, “The Things We Share: The Catholic Case for Same-Sex Marriage.” The essay got a big assist with a story in the New York Times.

Mr. Bottum isn’t saying he personally supports same-sex marriage; he’s saying he believes the Catholic Church should give up its opposition to the government sanctioning same-sex marriages. His shift on the issue has elicited, and will continue to elicit, quite a response, including this insightful one from Rod Dreher. 

I want to set aside for the moment Bottum’s arguments related to same-sex marriage and focus instead on a quote Bottum gave to the Times.

“I’ve given up on politics,” Mr. Bottum said, as we sat on his wide porch after lunch. “I’ll vote Republican, because I’m a Republican. But I don’t believe a change in culture can come from politics. It can only come from re-enchantment with the world.”

I have several reactions to this, starting with this one. What exactly does it mean to “give up on politics”? To give up on the importance of national elections? To give up the battle of ideas in which politics is the arena? To give up on the back-and-forth about matters like war and peace, justice and injustice, and the moral good?

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Joseph Bottum, formerly the editor of the conservative-leaning religious journal First Things, has written an essay in Commonweal magazine titled, “The Things We Share: The Catholic Case for Same-Sex Marriage.” The essay got a big assist with a story in the New York Times.

Mr. Bottum isn’t saying he personally supports same-sex marriage; he’s saying he believes the Catholic Church should give up its opposition to the government sanctioning same-sex marriages. His shift on the issue has elicited, and will continue to elicit, quite a response, including this insightful one from Rod Dreher. 

I want to set aside for the moment Bottum’s arguments related to same-sex marriage and focus instead on a quote Bottum gave to the Times.

“I’ve given up on politics,” Mr. Bottum said, as we sat on his wide porch after lunch. “I’ll vote Republican, because I’m a Republican. But I don’t believe a change in culture can come from politics. It can only come from re-enchantment with the world.”

I have several reactions to this, starting with this one. What exactly does it mean to “give up on politics”? To give up on the importance of national elections? To give up the battle of ideas in which politics is the arena? To give up on the back-and-forth about matters like war and peace, justice and injustice, and the moral good?

Memo to Jody Bottum: Politics is one place–not the only place, but one important place–where we work for the good and health of our earthly city. Politics produced the American Constitution, the Emancipation Proclamation, and the Civil Rights Act. In the 20th century politics produced leaders like Reagan, Thatcher, Churchill, and FDR. There are many other achievements and individuals one could name. Are we supposed to believe such things simply don’t matter anymore? That we should be indifferent to who our political leaders (and therefore, among other things, our Supreme Court Justices) are? Is politics just one giant game of Trivial Pursuit?

Such a view isn’t intellectual or morally serious–and because Bottum is a serious individual, I assume such statements must be the product of something else. I’ll assume world-weariness for now.

As for Bottum’s claim that “I don’t believe a change in culture can come from politics. It can only come from re-enchantment with the world.” This statement, too, is false. As Michael Gerson and I argue in City of Man: Religion and Politics in a New Era, sometimes culture is upstream of politics–but sometimes politics is upstream of culture. The interaction between the two is constant and ongoing. 

“A polity is a river of constantly changing compositions,” George Will wrote in Statecraft as Soulcraft, “and the river’s banks are built on laws.” The laws of a nation embody its values and shape them, in ways large and small, obvious and subtle, direct and indirect, sometimes immediately and often lasting. The most obvious examples from our own history concern slavery and segregation, but there are plenty of others, from welfare to education, from crime to drug use, to Supreme Court decision like Dred Scott v. Sandford, Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, and Roe v. Wade.

Laws express moral beliefs and judgments. Like throwing a pebble into a pond, the waves ripple outward. They tell citizens what our society ought to value and condemn, what is worthy of our esteem and what merits our disapprobation. They both ratify and stigmatize. That is not all the laws do, but it is among the most important things they do.

The welfare system we had for much of the 20th century undermined personal responsibility and upward mobility–and the passage of welfare reform in 1996 started to reverse it. Rudy Giuliani’s policies in the 1990s helped transform New York, not only making it a far safer city but dramatically improving its spirit and ethos.

One final example: In April 1963 a group of eight Birmingham clergy members made an argument about the limits and dangers of political activism. In the Birmingham News, the clergymen criticized civil-rights activism as “unwise and untimely,” and urged Christians to show patience. (Perhaps they even believed the only way to end segregation was to rely on “enchanting” individuals like George Wallace and “Bull” Connor.)

Martin Luther King Jr., then in the Birmingham City Jail, began writing a response. “Frankly,” he said, “I have yet to engage in a direct-action campaign that was ‘well timed’ in the views of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation.” Dr. King’s counter-argument was simple and convincing: patience for political injustice comes more easily for those who are not currently experiencing injustice. The result was one of the masterpieces in American political thought, King’s Letter from Birmingham City Jail.

Changing a culture of bigotry required not just waiting for changes in hearts; it required changes in laws. And the important work of instituting the right laws won’t be achieved by the world-weary among us.

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Is the Pentagon Prepared for East Med Gas?

More good news out of the Eastern Mediterranean, as even more gas has been discovered in the Levant Basin between Israel and Cyprus. The last decade has seen new gas and oil fields discovered around the world, but the Levant Basin is special: It is close enough to major markets in Europe to make it easy both to produce and distribute. Eastern Mediterranean gas can bypass Russia, Iran, and Turkey—all sources of regional instability—and also need not transit choke points such as the Strait of Hormuz, the Bab al-Mandab, or the Suez Canal to get to market.

As Eastern Mediterranean gas development continues, and the region becomes increasing strategically important, it behooves the United States to plan ahead to ensure the safety not only of American personnel working in the region, but also of the energy infrastructure. To do so would not simply be to spend American resources to defend the flow of oil and gas to China, as the United States effectively does in the Persian Gulf, but rather to protect an energy corridor which undercuts and diminishes the leverage and income of American adversaries.

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More good news out of the Eastern Mediterranean, as even more gas has been discovered in the Levant Basin between Israel and Cyprus. The last decade has seen new gas and oil fields discovered around the world, but the Levant Basin is special: It is close enough to major markets in Europe to make it easy both to produce and distribute. Eastern Mediterranean gas can bypass Russia, Iran, and Turkey—all sources of regional instability—and also need not transit choke points such as the Strait of Hormuz, the Bab al-Mandab, or the Suez Canal to get to market.

As Eastern Mediterranean gas development continues, and the region becomes increasing strategically important, it behooves the United States to plan ahead to ensure the safety not only of American personnel working in the region, but also of the energy infrastructure. To do so would not simply be to spend American resources to defend the flow of oil and gas to China, as the United States effectively does in the Persian Gulf, but rather to protect an energy corridor which undercuts and diminishes the leverage and income of American adversaries.

German scholar Niklas Anzinger highlights growing threats to the region in an essay he wrote for the American Enterprise Institute:

  • First there’s Turkey: “After Noble Energy Inc. began drilling for oil and gas in the Eastern Mediterranean in September 2011, Turkey’s European Union Affairs Minister Egemen Bağış threatened to use military force against Cyprus. ‘This is what we have the navy for,’ he declared, adding, ‘We have trained our marines for this; we have equipped the navy for this. All options are on the table; anything can be done.’”
  • Then there’s Russia: “In 1967, Moscow formed the 5th Operational Squadron in the Mediterranean to counterbalance the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the US Sixth Fleet. The 5th Operational Squadron remained in the region until 1992, when it withdrew after the Soviet Union’s fall. In May 2013, against the backdrop of the Syrian civil war, Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered a new Russian taskforce comprised of 16 warships and support vessels to the Eastern Mediterranean.”
  • Next there’s Lebanon: “While Kofi Annan, former secretary general of the United Nations, certified Israel’s withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000, the countries’ maritime boundary and 330 square miles of territorial waters remain in dispute… Nabih Berri, speaker of the Lebanese parliament and a close ally to Hezbollah, said in September 2012 that ‘we will not compromise on any amount of water from our maritime borders and oil, not even a single cup.’”
  • Hezbollah, of course, remains a particular problem: “During its 2006 war with Israel, Hezbollah crippled the Israeli warship INS Hanit, which was cruising eight to nine miles offshore, with an Iranian version of the Chinese C-802 missile… Hezbollah may also maintain an amphibious sabotage and coastal infiltration unit. Recruits may receive training in an IRGC underwater combat school in Bandar Abbas and in a camp near the Assi River in the northern Bekaa Valley.”

There’s much, much more, and the whole essay is worth reading. Too often, American military planners focus on the last conflict. There is no shortage of discussion about what resources are needed to counter Iranian ambitions, but too little strategic planning about what resources the United States might need to protect interests in the Eastern Mediterranean in the years to come.

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Want to Appease Iran? Demonize Israel

The willingness of much of the foreign-policy establishment and the mainstream media to embrace any opportunity to avoid conflict with Iran has never been much of a secret. Throughout the last five years, the administration has been able to count on unflinching support for its efforts to keep investing precious time and energy in a diplomatic process with Tehran that was dead in the water even before President Obama took office in 2009. After years of “engagement,” and two rounds of P5+1 talks that accomplished absolutely nothing, there’s no reason to believe the Iranians view negotiations as anything other than a clever tactic to buy more time to get close to their nuclear goal. But the election of a new Iranian president in June set off a new round of calls for yet more diplomacy. Hassan Rouhani’s false reputation as a “moderate” isn’t based on much; he’s a veteran of the Khomeini revolution, the regime’s involvement with foreign terror, and someone who has boasted of his success in fooling the West in nuclear talks. But as far as the New York Times editorial page is concerned, it’s enough to put on hold any toughening of sanctions on Iran, let alone talk about the use of force.

That the Times is eager to promote Rouhani as the solution to the nuclear question is not a surprise. But what it is a surprise is just how desperate they are to justify their position. In an editorial published today under the astonishingly obtuse headline of “Reading Tweets From Iran,” the newspaper seeks to treat the Iranian regime’s social media offensive as evidence of a genuine change in Tehran. To invest that much importance in what Rouhani’s staff says on Twitter in posts that are directed solely toward the West is laughable. No journalist at the paper would ever take the tweets produced by the official accounts of American politicians as anything but spin.

But far worse is the Times’s attempt to shift blame for the standoff from an anti-Semitic regime that is directly involved in atrocities in Syria and terrorist attacks around the globe onto Israel and its supporters in Congress. In doing so, the newspaper and the chattering classes whose views it represents are attempting to lay the foundation for President Obama to break his promises about stopping Iran and to treat those who object to such appeasement as opponents of peace. The editorial is right about one thing. If the administration is to betray its principles and appease Iran, it will require it to stop focusing on that regime’s record and instead lash out at those who are pointing out the truth about the threat it constitutes to the region and the world.

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The willingness of much of the foreign-policy establishment and the mainstream media to embrace any opportunity to avoid conflict with Iran has never been much of a secret. Throughout the last five years, the administration has been able to count on unflinching support for its efforts to keep investing precious time and energy in a diplomatic process with Tehran that was dead in the water even before President Obama took office in 2009. After years of “engagement,” and two rounds of P5+1 talks that accomplished absolutely nothing, there’s no reason to believe the Iranians view negotiations as anything other than a clever tactic to buy more time to get close to their nuclear goal. But the election of a new Iranian president in June set off a new round of calls for yet more diplomacy. Hassan Rouhani’s false reputation as a “moderate” isn’t based on much; he’s a veteran of the Khomeini revolution, the regime’s involvement with foreign terror, and someone who has boasted of his success in fooling the West in nuclear talks. But as far as the New York Times editorial page is concerned, it’s enough to put on hold any toughening of sanctions on Iran, let alone talk about the use of force.

That the Times is eager to promote Rouhani as the solution to the nuclear question is not a surprise. But what it is a surprise is just how desperate they are to justify their position. In an editorial published today under the astonishingly obtuse headline of “Reading Tweets From Iran,” the newspaper seeks to treat the Iranian regime’s social media offensive as evidence of a genuine change in Tehran. To invest that much importance in what Rouhani’s staff says on Twitter in posts that are directed solely toward the West is laughable. No journalist at the paper would ever take the tweets produced by the official accounts of American politicians as anything but spin.

But far worse is the Times’s attempt to shift blame for the standoff from an anti-Semitic regime that is directly involved in atrocities in Syria and terrorist attacks around the globe onto Israel and its supporters in Congress. In doing so, the newspaper and the chattering classes whose views it represents are attempting to lay the foundation for President Obama to break his promises about stopping Iran and to treat those who object to such appeasement as opponents of peace. The editorial is right about one thing. If the administration is to betray its principles and appease Iran, it will require it to stop focusing on that regime’s record and instead lash out at those who are pointing out the truth about the threat it constitutes to the region and the world.

The Times concludes its editorial in the following manner:

President Rouhani is sending strong signals that he will dispatch a pragmatic, experienced team to the table when negotiations resume, possibly next month. That’s when we should begin to see answers to key questions: How much time and creative thinking are he and President Obama willing to invest in a negotiated solution, the only rational outcome? How much political risk are they willing to take, which for Mr. Obama must include managing the enmity that Israel and many members of Congress feel toward Iran?

The notion that Rouhani’s tweets and other PR measures intended to deceive the West constitute “strong signals” that Rouhani will abandon a nuclear ambition that both he and the real power in Tehran—Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei—are committed to is not a serious argument. If President Obama is going to break his promises to stop Iran’s nuclear program and to refuse to countenance a policy of “containment” of it, he and his cheering section at the Times are going to have to do better than this.

But far more insidious is the way the Times seeks to goad Obama into treating the “enmity” of supporters of Israel toward Iran as the real problem.

Of course, the reason why so many Americans don’t trust Iran isn’t the “enmity” they feel toward the ayatollahs. It is due to Iran’s record of tyranny and anti-Semitism at home and terrorism abroad. But those who are bound and determined to ignore Iran’s record in order to justify not merely another round of diplomacy but a deal that would allow it to continue its nuclear program understand that whitewashing Iran requires demonizing its opponents.

Israel’s efforts to call attention to the dwindling time available to the West to do something about Iran have long been subjected to attack from venues like the Times as alarmist or rooted in some other agenda than preventing a genocidal regime from obtaining a weapon that would give them a chance to put their fantasies into action. But the cries of alarm emanating from Israel and Congress about Iran are not based in mindless hatred, as the Times implies. Instead they are based on a far more realistic assessment of Iran’s behavior and the ideology that drives people like Khamenei and Rouhani. But since telling the truth about Iran doesn’t help build support for more feckless diplomacy, the newspaper brands it as irrational antagonism.

The use of chemical weapons by Iran’s ally Bashar Assad is more proof that Iran represents a cancer in the Middle East. The Iranian regime’s goal is to establish its hegemony over the regime via its Syrian and Hezbollah allies. As much as we might wish it otherwise, there is nothing reasonable about this quest, nor is it remotely likely that the “strong forces” the Times imagines pulling the two sides to a deal will persuade Iran’s leaders to negotiate in good faith. But to those who wish to avoid conflict with Iran at any price, any justification—including blaming Israel for the problem—will do.

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How’s That Reset with Russia Going?

It was during the 2008 Presidential race that Russian forces invaded the Republic of Georgia, and even then-Senator Barack Obama’s advisors were shocked by how weak his reaction was. Still, five years after the Russian invasion, Obama’s drive to better relations between Washington and Moscow has shown few if any results. Obama seems unable to understand that far from seeking to reset relations, Russian President Vladimir Putin sees the world as a zero-sum game and seeks to humiliate the United States.

White House attention might be on Russia’s behavior in Syria, especially in light of the Syrian regime’s alleged chemical weapons strike, but Putin’s trip on Sunday to the Russian puppet state of Abkhazia should be seen in the same light.

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It was during the 2008 Presidential race that Russian forces invaded the Republic of Georgia, and even then-Senator Barack Obama’s advisors were shocked by how weak his reaction was. Still, five years after the Russian invasion, Obama’s drive to better relations between Washington and Moscow has shown few if any results. Obama seems unable to understand that far from seeking to reset relations, Russian President Vladimir Putin sees the world as a zero-sum game and seeks to humiliate the United States.

White House attention might be on Russia’s behavior in Syria, especially in light of the Syrian regime’s alleged chemical weapons strike, but Putin’s trip on Sunday to the Russian puppet state of Abkhazia should be seen in the same light.

In the aftermath of the war, Russia formally recognized both Abkhazia and South Ossetia, breakaway regions of Georgia, as independent states. No one but Russia, Venezuela, Nicaragua and Nauru have recognized the two breakaway states, and Nauru only did after Russia gave them a substantial bribe to do so. That Obama cannot even leverage his influence for a U.S. ally when the international community is so firmly on the same side says a lot about how unsuccessful Obama’s strategy has been, and why so many countries have become so reticent to stick their necks out as loyal allies for the United States.

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