Commentary Magazine


Posts For: September 16, 2013

Not News: The U.S. and Israel Cooperate

On her blog today, Margaret Sullivan, the public editor of the New York Times, took issue with her paper’s news judgment. Responding to complaints from readers, she said she disagreed with the paper’s decision not to run a piece following up on a Guardian article alleging that the United States and Israel have shared intelligence that might be derived from intercepts of communications by the National Security Agency. Though I rarely concur with many if not most of the choices made by the Grey Lady’s editors, in this case I think managing editor Dean Baquet was right: the Guardian, which is the main conduit for stories stemming from the leaks of classified U.S. material by Edward Snowden, had hyped a detail gleaned from the stolen material that was neither “significant or surprising.” Though those hostile to Israel (such as Snowden’s journalistic partner Glenn Greenwald) may think this is worth treating as if it were a scandal, the notion that the two allies share data about terrorist suspects or related material is not news. Nor is it anything for anyone who cares about protecting either country from Islamist terrorists to worry about.

While Sullivan apparently thinks anything about the NSA intercepts is newsworthy and may well have succumbed to the cliché about Jews being news, this mini-controversy about what the Times publishes should give us insight into much of the breathless hype about the government’s data mining. Though libertarians, isolationists, and critics of big government have been feeding public paranoia about the NSA, this particular nugget of information tells us just how uncontroversial much of the agency’s activity has been. Just as the intercepts are both legal and a reasonable use of resources, so, too, is the NSA’s sharing of some of material with a country that shares much of its own considerable intelligence resources with the United States. The attempt to render this useful cooperation controversial or, as the Guardian implies, illegal does nothing to protect civil liberties while potentially damaging U.S. national security.

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On her blog today, Margaret Sullivan, the public editor of the New York Times, took issue with her paper’s news judgment. Responding to complaints from readers, she said she disagreed with the paper’s decision not to run a piece following up on a Guardian article alleging that the United States and Israel have shared intelligence that might be derived from intercepts of communications by the National Security Agency. Though I rarely concur with many if not most of the choices made by the Grey Lady’s editors, in this case I think managing editor Dean Baquet was right: the Guardian, which is the main conduit for stories stemming from the leaks of classified U.S. material by Edward Snowden, had hyped a detail gleaned from the stolen material that was neither “significant or surprising.” Though those hostile to Israel (such as Snowden’s journalistic partner Glenn Greenwald) may think this is worth treating as if it were a scandal, the notion that the two allies share data about terrorist suspects or related material is not news. Nor is it anything for anyone who cares about protecting either country from Islamist terrorists to worry about.

While Sullivan apparently thinks anything about the NSA intercepts is newsworthy and may well have succumbed to the cliché about Jews being news, this mini-controversy about what the Times publishes should give us insight into much of the breathless hype about the government’s data mining. Though libertarians, isolationists, and critics of big government have been feeding public paranoia about the NSA, this particular nugget of information tells us just how uncontroversial much of the agency’s activity has been. Just as the intercepts are both legal and a reasonable use of resources, so, too, is the NSA’s sharing of some of material with a country that shares much of its own considerable intelligence resources with the United States. The attempt to render this useful cooperation controversial or, as the Guardian implies, illegal does nothing to protect civil liberties while potentially damaging U.S. national security.

The Guardian’s attempt to blow this detail about Israel into a major aspect of the NSA falls flat. The lede of the piece centers on the fact that some of what is shared with Israel is “raw intelligence” without “sifting it to remove information about U.S. citizens.” The implication is that the NSA is not only wrongly spying on American citizens but that it is facilitating Israel’s efforts to do the same thing. It then goes on to repeat gossip about Israel spying on the U.S. government and attempts to imply that the relationship between the two countries is lopsided in favor of the Jewish state even if it acknowledges further down that many allies, including the U.S., spy on each other.

First, it is far from clear that any sharing of intelligence data with Israel is illegal or even violates government guidelines. As even the article notes, anything shared with Israel is done under strict rules that prevent any targeting of U.S. individuals and limits use of the information.

Moreover, while there is some understandable concern about the broad-based nature of the NSA intercepts that could occasionally cause them to scrutinize material that is not pertinent to their mission, this story illustrates just the opposite of what most people were worried about. After all, the U.S. is not handing over billions of files but rather individual cases that clearly merit a closer look. Anyone whose “privacy” is intruded upon in such cases is not a random average citizen but most likely someone with clear connections to suspicious if not dangerous foreign contacts. Giving the Israelis a closer look at such information merely enhances the ability of the U.S. to defend our homeland and is not merely a gift to Jerusalem.

While in the anti-Zionist universe in which the Guardian operates any kind of cooperation with Israel is suspect, even the editors of the Times know that the intelligence agencies of the two countries have worked closely together to fight terrorism for many years. Israel has long punched far above its weight in terms of the strategic assistance it gives the United States. While Israel cannot compete with the vast technological resources that the U.S. can bring to bear on the problem, its Mossad is renowned for its skill in ferreting out information about Arab and Muslim radicals. It is obviously in the best interests of the West that the two cooperate, and that is exactly what they should be doing. 

As for any of this being such a big secret, as anyone who paid attention to the presidential campaign last year knows, President Obama and his surrogates spent a disproportionate amount of time bragging about how much he had improved security cooperation between the two countries.

As for the talk about spying, again none of this is new or surprising. All countries, even allies, spy on each other and that includes U.S. spooks that do what they can to learn all of Israel’s secrets.

At the heart of the outrage about the Snowden leaks is a belief on the part of some, especially Greenwald and the Guardian, that there is something inherently wrong with the work of the NSA in fighting Islamist terror. Those who wish to criminalize legal activity that is aimed at enemies of the United States speak of civil liberties being violated, but their main agenda might well be termed counter-counter-terrorism. If that effort dovetails with the anti-Israel agenda of others on the left or the far right, that suits them just fine. But if they succeed, it will be the safety of Americans that will suffer.

The U.S.-Israel alliance is based on common values but also on an understanding that they share common enemies as well. That the Times sees nothing remarkable in this shows that for all of their demonstrated anti-Israel bias, they are still light years removed from the hardened anti-Zionist prejudice that is business as usual at the Guardian and other British papers.

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Obama’s Syria Stumbles Don’t Get Congress Off the Hook

President Obama’s hesitancy and confusion has united pretty much all Republicans in scathing criticism of his lack of leadership over Syria. I have joined in those criticisms. But we should not let Republicans and the rest of the political class—to say nothing of the nonpolitical mass—off the hook either for the loss of American credibility that will ensue from events of recent weeks.

Paul Mirengoff over at Power Line has a powerful and thought-provoking post on this subject. He writes “that the most serious and enduring loss to American credibility stems not from President Obama’s actions or decisions, but from the unwillingness of Congress and the American people to support him when he proposed taking military action against Assad.” Indeed, the failure of Congress to rally to President Obama’s side by supporting a military response to the use of chemical weapons effectively left the president little choice but to grasp the face-saving offer put forward by Russia that will supposedly remove Syria’s chemical weapons at the cost of keeping Bashar Assad in power indefinitely.

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President Obama’s hesitancy and confusion has united pretty much all Republicans in scathing criticism of his lack of leadership over Syria. I have joined in those criticisms. But we should not let Republicans and the rest of the political class—to say nothing of the nonpolitical mass—off the hook either for the loss of American credibility that will ensue from events of recent weeks.

Paul Mirengoff over at Power Line has a powerful and thought-provoking post on this subject. He writes “that the most serious and enduring loss to American credibility stems not from President Obama’s actions or decisions, but from the unwillingness of Congress and the American people to support him when he proposed taking military action against Assad.” Indeed, the failure of Congress to rally to President Obama’s side by supporting a military response to the use of chemical weapons effectively left the president little choice but to grasp the face-saving offer put forward by Russia that will supposedly remove Syria’s chemical weapons at the cost of keeping Bashar Assad in power indefinitely.

Now, it can be argued that part of the failure of Congress to support the president is due to his own vacillations—his strong rhetoric combined with vows that any strike would be “incredibly small” and would not be designed to topple Assad left national-security hawks scratching their heads. Undoubtedly some strong-on-defense types would have supported a more robust American response, but had so little confidence in what Obama was proposing that they indicated they would vote no.

But I don’t believe this is the whole picture. If President Obama had signaled a tough response designed to use air strikes in conjunction with arming the opposition to topple Assad, he would have picked up support from some hawks but would have lost even more support among the large number of doves of both parties.

It now appears clear that there was little chance of an authorization for the use of force passing whatever Obama said or did. Which is a good reason Obama should never have asked for congressional authorization to begin with—something he did, the Wall Street Journal reveals today, without bothering to consult with leaders of Congress in advance and over the objections of his own senior staff.

But I’m with Mirengoff: The president’s stumbles don’t excuse the mood of isolationism—or, if you prefer, non-interventionism—which is taking root in both parties and which applies far beyond Syria. The American people, through polls and their elected representatives, have made clear they are war-weary, eager to curtail overseas commitments, and sick of dealing with the world’s problems. Yet another manifestation of the same trend is the imposition of sequestration—across-the-board cuts in the defense budget amounting to more than $500 billion over the next ten years. A year ago there was widespread hope that such cuts would never be imposed or that, if they were, they would soon be repealed. Now there is a mood of resignation in Washington, and a growing realization that sequestration is never going to be repealed.

Even in the Republican Party, which since at least the days of Theodore Roosevelt has been the party of international engagement and military leadership (with a brief detour into isolationism that began under Warren Harding, Calvin Coolidge, and Herbert Hoover and ended with Eisenhower’s defeat of Robert Taft for the 1952 presidential nomination), there are few voices speaking up for a tough response to the world’s predators. John McCain stands virtually alone in this regard and he is widely seen in the party as an outsider.

The most vocal Republican voice on foreign policy is Rand Paul, a born-again isolationist who, if he succeeds, will consign the GOP to perpetual irrelevance. We need to hear more from the Chris Christies, Marco Rubios, Jeb Bushes, and others who support a Reaganite policy of global leadership but are being drowned out by Tea Party isolationists. So, too, in the Democratic Party we need to hear more from the liberal internationalists such as the Clintons to explain why we can’t simply turn our backs on war crimes.

Just because we choose to ignore the world’s problems doesn’t mean they will go away. Just the opposite: Without American leadership, problems such as the Syrian chemical-weapons program or Iran’s nuclear-weapons program will simply become more dangerous. Ultimately we will be drawn into dealing with the fallout, like it or not, and a failure to engage early on all but guarantees we will have to face higher costs down the road. If most Americans don’t understand that, it’s up to their leaders to educate them—as an earlier generation of leaders educated Americans to support the Marshall Plan, NATO, and the containment policy. Unfortunately, there is scant evidence of that kind of leadership today in either party.

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ObamaCare Exemption Is GOP Landmine

Now that President Obama’s humiliation at the hands of Russia over Syria’s chemical weapons has made it safe for Americans to go back to ignoring foreign policy, conservatives are set to resume their own civil war on funding ObamaCare. The efforts of some on the right to try and force the Republican-controlled House of Representatives to play chicken with the administration on defunding ObamaCare implementation remains a priority for Tea Partiers. In the unlikely event that they succeed in buffaloing the House leadership into going along with a plan that has zero chance of success in stopping ObamaCare, it would give a faltering President Obama the only chance he has of reversing the downward spiral of his lame-duck presidency. But the members of the suicide caucus that back this mad plan aren’t the only Republicans who are blind to political reality. Those Republicans and their staffers who are seeking to aid Democrats in stopping Senator David Vitter’s drive to prevent Congress from giving itself an exemption from ObamaCare are just as stupid. Should the GOP go along with the inside-the-beltway campaign to protect the generous federal subsidies given to congressional employees, it is playing with political dynamite.

As I wrote last Friday, the fight about the subsidies has gotten personal. Anger over Vitter’s efforts to tie up the Senate in order to derail the Democratic majority’s efforts to protect the subsidies—which are illegal under current legislation that mandates that Congress must live by the same flawed ObamaCare system it has imposed on the rest of the country—crosses party lines. Both members of Congress and, just importantly, their staffs, will suffer financially should they be forced into Obama-created health exchanges. According to Politico:

 Sources said that multiple Republican offices have reached out to Democrats to ensure that either the [Vitter] amendment doesn’t get a vote or that if it does, it fails.

If this is true, and I don’t doubt that it is, that poses an interesting question for Republicans. While they may believe that defying an ill-considered Tea Party campaign to force them to defund the government over ObamaCare will not lead to a revolt from the grass roots, do they really think they can get away with exempting themselves from the consequences of ObamaCare? If so, they may be in for a rude surprise.

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Now that President Obama’s humiliation at the hands of Russia over Syria’s chemical weapons has made it safe for Americans to go back to ignoring foreign policy, conservatives are set to resume their own civil war on funding ObamaCare. The efforts of some on the right to try and force the Republican-controlled House of Representatives to play chicken with the administration on defunding ObamaCare implementation remains a priority for Tea Partiers. In the unlikely event that they succeed in buffaloing the House leadership into going along with a plan that has zero chance of success in stopping ObamaCare, it would give a faltering President Obama the only chance he has of reversing the downward spiral of his lame-duck presidency. But the members of the suicide caucus that back this mad plan aren’t the only Republicans who are blind to political reality. Those Republicans and their staffers who are seeking to aid Democrats in stopping Senator David Vitter’s drive to prevent Congress from giving itself an exemption from ObamaCare are just as stupid. Should the GOP go along with the inside-the-beltway campaign to protect the generous federal subsidies given to congressional employees, it is playing with political dynamite.

As I wrote last Friday, the fight about the subsidies has gotten personal. Anger over Vitter’s efforts to tie up the Senate in order to derail the Democratic majority’s efforts to protect the subsidies—which are illegal under current legislation that mandates that Congress must live by the same flawed ObamaCare system it has imposed on the rest of the country—crosses party lines. Both members of Congress and, just importantly, their staffs, will suffer financially should they be forced into Obama-created health exchanges. According to Politico:

 Sources said that multiple Republican offices have reached out to Democrats to ensure that either the [Vitter] amendment doesn’t get a vote or that if it does, it fails.

If this is true, and I don’t doubt that it is, that poses an interesting question for Republicans. While they may believe that defying an ill-considered Tea Party campaign to force them to defund the government over ObamaCare will not lead to a revolt from the grass roots, do they really think they can get away with exempting themselves from the consequences of ObamaCare? If so, they may be in for a rude surprise.

Much of the discussion about the Vitter amendment has focused on the personal attacks launched by Democrats against the Louisiana senator. In an effort to humiliate Vitter and/or to blackmail him into dropping his objections to the exemption, the Senate majority is considering including its own amendment to the bill preventing any member who is suspected of soliciting prostitutes from getting a subsidy. Since Vitter’s disgraceful role in the “D.C. Madam” scandal makes him the only senator that we know of that fits into that category, there is no doubt of its purpose. The public already holds Congress in low repute, but this sort of thing can only make things worse.

Vitter has largely escaped any accountability for his involvement in the scandal (and thanks to Louisiana’s ethically challenged political culture was reelected in 2010), but the use of his past against him in this manner is more of an ethical violation than his misdeeds. Though it’s hard to believe that the Senate would actually pass legislation that would be the moral equivalent of a bill of attainder, the willingness to play hardball with Vitter shows just how determined many in Congress are to keep their sweet health-care deals even as the rest of the country is forced into ObamaCare.

But as dangerous as such a double standard would be for the entire institution, it would be doubly so for Republicans, especially those facing reelection next year. Whatever anyone thinks of Vitter as an individual, he is dead right about opposing the exemption. He’s also right that the law should be extended to requiring White House officials and other federal political appointees to be forced into the exchanges along with the rest of the hoi polloi.

Should he fail and the exemption is preserved and if Republicans had a hand in such a crooked, self-interested deal, you can bet that everyone that supports it will face a primary opponent that will use such a vote as a cudgel to beat them.

While many Republicans rightly fear the consequences of such a bloodletting that might lead to the defeat of many GOP members and candidates who are far more electable than their Tea Party opponents, this is the sort of issue that will not go away or be explained.

Those who say that forcing Congress into ObamaCare will cost the institution many skilled and experienced staffers are right. That would be a shame. Any further financial hardships imposed on them and on members, most of whom labor under the burden of having to maintain two households on an inadequate salary (even though it is more than most voters make) would also be unfortunate. But like state legislatures that raise their pay on the assumption that the public understands that the measure is reasonable, Republicans who preserve the ObamaCare exemption will learn that there are some sins that the public just doesn’t forgive.

Instead of joining efforts to sandbag Vitter, GOP members need to stand with him. If they don’t, they will live to regret it.

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ObamaCare’s Desperate Defenders

Liberal opinion writers who feel duty-bound to defend President Obama’s signature health-care reform law have been quite creative in trying to blame the GOP for the flaws in what was a law passed by Democrats against bipartisan and public opposition. The most recent narrative, that Republicans are “sabotaging” the law, is quite clearly nonsensical. But they are opinion writers, so we can understand their efforts to spin the policy failure.

Yet there is really no excuse for supposedly impartial reporters to not only infuse their news writing with such silliness but even openly rant about it as a prelude to the facts. That, however, is exactly what USA Today does when reporting on the latest USA Today/Pew Research poll on ObamaCare. The poll finds that–surprise!–the unpopular law is still unpopular. And in fact there’s some news in this one: only 49 percent of the uninsured approve of it, with 46 percent disapproving. That means the targets of the law’s new entitlement structure are pretty evenly divided on whether they even want what the government is offering.

You have to go Pew’s website for that piece of information. The USA Today piece is mostly an epic rant against the GOP. Here is how the article opens (and remember, this is a newspaper, not a left-wing blog or the president’s press secretary):

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Liberal opinion writers who feel duty-bound to defend President Obama’s signature health-care reform law have been quite creative in trying to blame the GOP for the flaws in what was a law passed by Democrats against bipartisan and public opposition. The most recent narrative, that Republicans are “sabotaging” the law, is quite clearly nonsensical. But they are opinion writers, so we can understand their efforts to spin the policy failure.

Yet there is really no excuse for supposedly impartial reporters to not only infuse their news writing with such silliness but even openly rant about it as a prelude to the facts. That, however, is exactly what USA Today does when reporting on the latest USA Today/Pew Research poll on ObamaCare. The poll finds that–surprise!–the unpopular law is still unpopular. And in fact there’s some news in this one: only 49 percent of the uninsured approve of it, with 46 percent disapproving. That means the targets of the law’s new entitlement structure are pretty evenly divided on whether they even want what the government is offering.

You have to go Pew’s website for that piece of information. The USA Today piece is mostly an epic rant against the GOP. Here is how the article opens (and remember, this is a newspaper, not a left-wing blog or the president’s press secretary):

Republican lawmakers have failed in dozens of attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act, but a new USA TODAY/Pew Research Center Poll shows just how difficult they have made it for President Obama’s signature legislative achievement to succeed.

As the health care exchanges at the heart of the law open for enrollment in two weeks, the public’s views of it are as negative as they have ever been, and disapproval of the president’s handling of health care has hit a new high. Confusion and misinformation about the law haven’t significantly abated, especially among the law’s main targets.

That makes it sound like Republicans are sowing “confusion and misinformation”–after all, the first paragraph tells us they are the ones who have “made it” difficult for the law to succeed. But then in the very next paragraph, we are told this:

Among the 19% polled who are uninsured, nearly four in 10 don’t realize the law requires them to get health insurance next year. Among young people, whose participation is seen as crucial for the exchanges to work, just 56% realize there’s a mandate to be insured or face a fine.

So in other words, the most controversial aspects of the law, and the ones Republicans have been shouting about from the beginning, still have not fully seeped into the public consciousness. And USA Today thinks this is holding back support for the law? Because people don’t know the government is now forcing them to buy a product or face a fine? I’m guessing that if USA Today would like some help getting the word out about the individual mandate, Republicans would be happy to pitch in.

No story like this would be complete, of course (though keep in mind we haven’t even approached the in-depth explanation of the poll itself), without a wildly out-of-proportion (and factually unsustainable) historical analogy:

“There has been a full-court press from Day One from the opposition to characterize and demonize the plan,” says Thomas Mann of the Brookings Institution, who wrote about the GOP efforts in a 2012 book about Washington he co-authored, It’s Even Worse Than It Looks. “The campaign against the law after it was enacted, the range of steps taken, the effort to delegitimize it — it is unprecedented. We’d probably have to go back to the nullification efforts of the Southern states in the pre-Civil War period to find anything of this intensity.”

Republicans have pursued their opposition to ObamaCare through the constitutional process. First, Republicans and Democrats rallied public opinion. Then they voted against the law. Then they challenged the law’s constitutionality in court. They lost. Now they are trying to pass congressional legislation to either repeal the bill or limit its harm. When they lose, they do not pretend they won; they simply redouble their efforts for another try, which is what really bothers commentators like Mann.

This whole process, of advocating for the concerns of their constituents and then taking part in the legislative process, is a pretty basic part of congressional work. That leftists don’t seem to understand it or have patience for it is unfortunate. That they are enraged beyond reason by it is more than troubling. That some of them, like USA Today and think-tankers like Thomas Mann, have identified this democratic process as the enemy pretty conclusively demonstrates that it isn’t the Republican Party or the conservative movement whose adherents have become unhinged by ObamaCare, but the president’s increasingly desperate supporters.

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Time for Kerry to Stop Pretending on Syria

Right now, it seems most people in Washington are happy about President Obama’s astonishing retreat on Syria in which he has handed a major victory to Russian President Vladimir Putin and war criminal Bashar Assad. The president is glad to have found a way, no matter how humiliating, to talk his away out of the box in which he had placed himself on Syria’s chemical weapons and the red line he first enunciated last year. Democrats are glad not to have to defend a military action that they were never enthused about. And even some Republicans appear willing to give the administration’s hopes for a diplomatic solution the benefit of the doubt in order to spare themselves and the country a divisive debate about authorizing force that would have exposed the split between isolationists and internationalists in their own party. If that leaves the people of Syria exposed to further bloody depredations by an Assad regime that has been more or less given impunity to kill them so long as it is not with poison gas, so much the worse for them.

But the problem with the administration’s position is that in the course of moving from calling for Assad’s overthrow and punishment via military force that was “incredibly small” (according to Secretary of State John Kerry) but not a “pinprick” (President Obama’s words) to one in which they have embraced Russian-sponsored diplomacy is that they are still pretending to care about Syria. Thus, the U.S. and its allies are still talking tough about what would happen if Assad and his Russian and Iranian enablers don’t cooperate with those entrusted with rounding up the chemical weapons. Today, Kerry and his French and British colleagues called for a United Nations resolution on Syria that would include the use of force in order to make it clear to Assad that there would be consequences if he doesn’t keep his word about giving up the chemical weapons he has been telling the world he doesn’t have. Such threats are entirely appropriate. But there’s only one problem with them. Since Russia has made it just as clear they will countenance no threats of force against their Syrian ally, it is just talk. That leaves Assad free to answer the West’s talk of coercion with the traditional schoolyard response, “Or what?”

Having gone down the garden path with Putin on Syria, Kerry knows very well that there is no answer to that pointed question.

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Right now, it seems most people in Washington are happy about President Obama’s astonishing retreat on Syria in which he has handed a major victory to Russian President Vladimir Putin and war criminal Bashar Assad. The president is glad to have found a way, no matter how humiliating, to talk his away out of the box in which he had placed himself on Syria’s chemical weapons and the red line he first enunciated last year. Democrats are glad not to have to defend a military action that they were never enthused about. And even some Republicans appear willing to give the administration’s hopes for a diplomatic solution the benefit of the doubt in order to spare themselves and the country a divisive debate about authorizing force that would have exposed the split between isolationists and internationalists in their own party. If that leaves the people of Syria exposed to further bloody depredations by an Assad regime that has been more or less given impunity to kill them so long as it is not with poison gas, so much the worse for them.

But the problem with the administration’s position is that in the course of moving from calling for Assad’s overthrow and punishment via military force that was “incredibly small” (according to Secretary of State John Kerry) but not a “pinprick” (President Obama’s words) to one in which they have embraced Russian-sponsored diplomacy is that they are still pretending to care about Syria. Thus, the U.S. and its allies are still talking tough about what would happen if Assad and his Russian and Iranian enablers don’t cooperate with those entrusted with rounding up the chemical weapons. Today, Kerry and his French and British colleagues called for a United Nations resolution on Syria that would include the use of force in order to make it clear to Assad that there would be consequences if he doesn’t keep his word about giving up the chemical weapons he has been telling the world he doesn’t have. Such threats are entirely appropriate. But there’s only one problem with them. Since Russia has made it just as clear they will countenance no threats of force against their Syrian ally, it is just talk. That leaves Assad free to answer the West’s talk of coercion with the traditional schoolyard response, “Or what?”

Having gone down the garden path with Putin on Syria, Kerry knows very well that there is no answer to that pointed question.

Let’s be clear about what was said by the U.S. and its allies today. The Syrians and the Russians both know that there will be no attack by the West on Syria no matter what Assad does in the next year.

It is possible that if Assad were to use chemical weapons again on his own people that might prompt some sort of response from President Obama. He would then have every right to order a unilateral strike on Syrian forces, just as he could have done after the last chemical attack under the War Powers Act. Indeed, having already tried diplomacy his use of force would be even more justified than before. But after all we have been through in the last few weeks, does anyone seriously believe this president has the will to go to war in Syria even under those circumstances?

Assad would be mad to give the U.S. that kind of a justification. But let’s assume he’s not that crazy and ponder the more likely scenarios in which he merely drags out the process of surrendering these weapons or claims that most of them have been destroyed or lost or, as he already has claimed against all the evidence, that the rebels are the real culprits. With Russian diplomatic backing in the form of a Security Council veto, there is no chance of a UN resolution authorizing force against their client. And as we have seen, there is no appetite on either side of the political aisle in the United States for action on Syria, no matter how many people are dying there. The political classes in D.C. would prefer to get back to squabbling about ObamaCare and the budget and leave foreign policy alone. Though almost all politicians pay lip service to human-rights concerns, they might as well echo Neville Chamberlain and ask why they should be asked to fight in a “faraway country between people of whom we know nothing.”

As dispiriting as this indifference may be, perhaps it is better than the hypocritical display Kerry is putting on. The secretary’s rhetoric about Syria was (aside from the silly quote about the size of the U.S. military response) always stronger than that of the president. Indeed, in his testimony about the now-shelved administration request for a resolution authorizing force, Kerry seemed to rise to the occasion in a way he has seldom done before. Having been hung out to dry by the president’s indecisive response to the crisis, perhaps he feels his honor requires the pretense that the U.S. still intends to press the Syrians. Perhaps he even believes what he is saying about holding Assad’s feet to the fire. But if so, he is one of the few who does believe there is any chance of that happening.

Having decided to back down on Syria and let the Russians have their way, the administration would do better to stop the play-acting by the secretary. The boat has sailed on any chance of the U.S. ever attacking Syria or punishing Assad for his war crimes. American credibility is already in the gutter. The sooner the U.S. stops pretending that it will do something that will not happen, the easier it will be for it to begin repairing the damage on other issues.

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The Obama Mythology Has Been Shattered

During a recent press briefing, White House press secretary Jay Carney–in attempting to defend President Obama’s Syria policy–said this:

I would simply say that when it comes to being Commander-in-Chief, I think that the American people, at least in my assessment, appreciate a Commander-in-Chief who takes in new information and doesn’t celebrate decisiveness for the sake of decisiveness.

Taking in new information is fine; pursuing a policy characterized by head-snapping shifts, ambivalence, ineptness, and bipolarity is not. 

Let’s see if we can help Mr. Carney out by summarizing for him some (but hardly all) of his boss’s epic incompetence, starting with declaring that Bashar al-Assad must leave–and now taking steps that secure Assad’s grip on power. Then there’s the president warning the Syrian regime not to cross the “red line” of using chemical weapons–and doing nothing when it did (on several different occasions).

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During a recent press briefing, White House press secretary Jay Carney–in attempting to defend President Obama’s Syria policy–said this:

I would simply say that when it comes to being Commander-in-Chief, I think that the American people, at least in my assessment, appreciate a Commander-in-Chief who takes in new information and doesn’t celebrate decisiveness for the sake of decisiveness.

Taking in new information is fine; pursuing a policy characterized by head-snapping shifts, ambivalence, ineptness, and bipolarity is not. 

Let’s see if we can help Mr. Carney out by summarizing for him some (but hardly all) of his boss’s epic incompetence, starting with declaring that Bashar al-Assad must leave–and now taking steps that secure Assad’s grip on power. Then there’s the president warning the Syrian regime not to cross the “red line” of using chemical weapons–and doing nothing when it did (on several different occasions).

But there’s more, including President Obama promising to arm rebels attempting to overthrow Assad–and delaying doing so for many crucial months; indicating he’d by-pass Congress when it came to seeking a use-of-force resolution–and then shocking everyone, including his entire staff, by reversing direction; putting British Prime Minister Cameron in a position where he needed to go to Parliament for a vote in order to approve an imminent strike–and then pulling back from the strike, leaving Mr. Cameron hung out to dry; insisting that Assad must be militarily punished for using chemical weapons–and now pursuing a fruitless diplomatic strategy in which Assad will not be on the receiving end of a military strike. And let’s not forget Mr. Obama’s secretary of state, who framed the conflict with Syria as (a) a “Munich moment” before (b) assuring people that a strike against our modern-day Hitler would be “incredibly small” followed by (c) engaging in negotiations destined to fail with the man he called “thug” and “murderer” who is guilty of committing a “moral obscenity.”

Poor Jay Carney. In the wake of this debacle he’s trying to recreate the mythic Obama–the post-ideological, objective, empirically driven statesman who would, through “smart diplomacy,” open an exciting new chapter in relations with the Arab and Islamic world.

It was all a mirage; and all the world now knows it was a mirage. The situation in virtually every nation in the broader Middle East and North Africa–including Syria, Egypt, Iraq, Iran, Lebanon, Jordan, Libya, Pakistan, Turkey, and Afghanistan–is worse now then it was when Mr. Obama was sworn in as president in 2009. With that in mind Mr. Carney might consider, for his own credibility, giving up his pathetic reinvention effort. Because all the president’s horses and all the president’s men can’t put Barack Obama’s presidency back together again.

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