Commentary Magazine


Posts For: September 2013

EU: What’s Fine for Spain Is Unacceptable for Israel

Recent news reports from Spain beautifully illustrate why nobody should take the European Union’s pretensions to moral superiority seriously–and especially not when it comes to Israel. Spain is now committing virtually every “abuse” the EU sanctimoniously accuses Israel of, without a peep of protest from its European peers.

For instance, Spain recently erected checkpoints along its border with Gibraltar that are creating real hardship. The checkpoints have lengthened travel times from 45 minutes to two hours for cross-border commuters and also increased costs, since people who used to drive now combine foot travel and taxis to reach work on time. These are precisely the complaints Europeans routinely level at Israeli checkpoints: that they undermine the Palestinian economy by increasing the time and expense of commuting to work or moving cargo.

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Recent news reports from Spain beautifully illustrate why nobody should take the European Union’s pretensions to moral superiority seriously–and especially not when it comes to Israel. Spain is now committing virtually every “abuse” the EU sanctimoniously accuses Israel of, without a peep of protest from its European peers.

For instance, Spain recently erected checkpoints along its border with Gibraltar that are creating real hardship. The checkpoints have lengthened travel times from 45 minutes to two hours for cross-border commuters and also increased costs, since people who used to drive now combine foot travel and taxis to reach work on time. These are precisely the complaints Europeans routinely level at Israeli checkpoints: that they undermine the Palestinian economy by increasing the time and expense of commuting to work or moving cargo.

But unlike the Spanish checkpoints–which blatantly violate the EU’s open-border rules–Israeli checkpoints are perfectly legal under international law, even if you accept the EU’s definition of the West Bank as “occupied territory” (which Israel doesn’t; it considers the area disputed territory). Under the laws of belligerent occupation, an occupying army is entitled to take reasonable military measures within the occupied territory to ensure its country’s security; it isn’t restricted to operating along the border. And Israel’s checkpoints were established to stop Palestinian suicide bombers.

Spain’s checkpoints, in contrast, are officially there to stop cigarette smuggling, though Gibraltar claims they are pure retaliation for its efforts to curb Spanish overfishing in its waters. By any standard, stopping suicide bombers is a stronger justification. Yet the same European officials who vociferously condemn Israel’s checkpoints have nothing to say about the Spanish ones.

Then there are the hundreds of thousands of Catalonians who formed a 250-mile human chain this month to demand independence from Spain. Catalonians also gave an absolute majority to pro-independence parties in last year’s provincial elections. Yet Spain adamantly refuses to let the province hold a referendum on secession.

By any standard, Israel has more justification for caution about Palestinian statehood than Spain does about Catalonian statehood. Catalonia has never threatened Spain in any way, nor is there any Catalonian terrorism. In contrast, large swathes of Palestinian society still call for Israel’s destruction, and every previous Israeli cession of land to the Palestinians has produced a security nightmare: nonstop rocket fire from Gaza, and endless suicide bombings and shooting attacks from the West Bank (until Israel reoccupied it). Indeed, of the roughly 1,800 Israelis killed by terrorists since Israel’s founding in 1948, fully two-thirds–about 1,200–were killed after Israel began ceding land to the Palestinians under the 1993 Oslo Accords.

Yet the European officials who repeatedly demand Israel’s immediate withdrawal from the West Bank haven’t said a word to support Catalonia. Apparently, Catalonians have no right to self-determination.

Then there are the Basques, whose oft-proclaimed desire for independence can’t be tested in a vote because Spain repeatedly bars pro-independence parties from running on the grounds of alleged ties to the Basque terror group ETA. That also doesn’t bother anyone in Europe, even though Europe objects vociferously when Israel refuses to talk to Palestinian parties that actively support terror, like Yasser Arafat’s PLO during the second intifada. Nor was Europe troubled when Spain severed peace talks with ETA at the very first terror attack, which killed exactly two people, though it condemned Israel viciously for halting talks with Arafat over repeated terror attacks that killed more than 1,000 people.

In short, Europe denounces Israeli actions as unacceptable even as it deems the exact same actions by Spain unexceptionable. There’s a name for such double standards, and it isn’t “human rights.” It’s known as hypocrisy.

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Rouhani Fever at the UN

I am old enough to remember how some hardline conservatives criticized Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher for concluding that Mikhail Gorbachev was someone they could do business with. For their temerity, Reagan and Thatcher were denounced in some quarters as dupes and sell-outs–but they were absolutely right: Gorbachev really was a new kind of Russian leader. Arms-control deals that had been concluded with his hardline predecessors were worthless, but Gorbachev really was interested in reducing tensions and cutting the USSR’s defense budget. Even so, Reagan didn’t give away the house–remember that he refused to trade away SDI (“Star Wars”) at the 1988 Reykjavik summit even in return for major cuts in nuclear forces.

All this history needs to be kept in mind as Washington is gripped by Rouhani fever, with expectations spiking that the presidents of Iran and the United States will meet for the first time since the Iranian Revolution and that a deal might be concluded to stop the Iranian nuclear program. Reagan’s experience should teach us that we can’t dismiss the possibility that Rouhani is serious about a deal–but that we shouldn’t get so giddy about achieving that goal that we lose sight of the bottom line: One way or another, we need to stop Iran from going nuclear.

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I am old enough to remember how some hardline conservatives criticized Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher for concluding that Mikhail Gorbachev was someone they could do business with. For their temerity, Reagan and Thatcher were denounced in some quarters as dupes and sell-outs–but they were absolutely right: Gorbachev really was a new kind of Russian leader. Arms-control deals that had been concluded with his hardline predecessors were worthless, but Gorbachev really was interested in reducing tensions and cutting the USSR’s defense budget. Even so, Reagan didn’t give away the house–remember that he refused to trade away SDI (“Star Wars”) at the 1988 Reykjavik summit even in return for major cuts in nuclear forces.

All this history needs to be kept in mind as Washington is gripped by Rouhani fever, with expectations spiking that the presidents of Iran and the United States will meet for the first time since the Iranian Revolution and that a deal might be concluded to stop the Iranian nuclear program. Reagan’s experience should teach us that we can’t dismiss the possibility that Rouhani is serious about a deal–but that we shouldn’t get so giddy about achieving that goal that we lose sight of the bottom line: One way or another, we need to stop Iran from going nuclear.

The tentative outreach from Hassan Rouhani since his election is welcome; certainly it’s preferable to the poisonous hostility of his predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. But let’s keep in mind that Rouhani hasn’t made any real concessions yet–he has certainly not done anything as dramatic as Anwar Sadat did when he flew to Israel to prove his commitment to peace. Wishing Jews a happy Rosh Hashanah isn’t quite on the same level.

Moreover, even if we were to assume that Rouhani really is a Gorbachev-like figure who is committed to a deal, we need to keep in mind that he doesn’t wield Gorbachev-like power. Real authority in the Iranian system is vested in the supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, whom no one would mistake for a born-again moderate.

Indeed, the New York Times today has a bracing exposition of the supreme leader’s views courtesy of regime insider Hamid-Reza Taraghi:

“We have no intention to change,” said Mr. Taraghi. “Our ideology will remain the same. Iran will remain the same even after possible talks.”

By this he meant that Iran would never recognize the state of Israel or stop supporting Palestinian groups fighting what it calls “the Zionist entity.” In nuclear matters, it means accepting nothing less than full recognition of what Iran says is its “right” to a nuclear program under its own control. Support for the Syrian government will continue, as will Iran’s overall confrontational stance toward the West.

Given such thinking in Tehran, the odds are that those who expect rapprochement between the U.S. and Iran are likely to be disappointed. Khamenei seems to be calculating that the U.S. is so weak now (see recent events in Syria) that it will drop sanctions and accept Iran’s ambitions to dominate the Middle East in return for a cosmetic slowdown in its nuclear development. It is critical that President Obama stick to a high standard for any possible deal, as outlined by the Foreign Policy Institute’s Robert Zarate.

What does this mean in practice? “1. Any Iranian nuclear deal should require ‘zero enrichment’ to close off Iran’s path to a nuclear bomb using centrifuges to produce weapons-usable high enriched uranium…. 2. Any Iranian nuclear deal should require ‘zero reprocessing’ to close off Iran’s path to a nuclear bomb using plutonium that could be separated from a reactor’s spent nuclear fuel…. 3. Any Iranian nuclear deal should require Iran to fully comply with its international obligations through ‘complete and total transparency’—that is, by allowing nuclear inspection activities far beyond those required by its NPT-required IAEA safeguards agreement.”

If Rouhani can agree to such terms and get the rest of the Iranian establishment, led by Ayatollah Khamenei, to go along, then he is what he seems to be–a true moderate who is interested in de-escalating the confrontation between Iran and the West. If not, Rouhani is up to his old tricks–using negotiations to buy time for the nuclear program to develop, as he has previously admitted to doing.

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Why Republicans Are Sniping at Cruz

Even if, like me, you don’t agree with Senator Ted Cruz’s belief that Republicans should go down in flames in a vain effort to defund ObamaCare, it’s hard not to sympathize with him over the way the Texas senator is being treated by some of his colleagues. The revelation by Fox News host Chris Wallace that he received opposition research and possible questions to be posed to Cruz in advance of an announced interview with him from the staffs of both Democrats and fellow Republican senators makes it clear just how disliked the freshman legislator has become in just nine months in office. Cruz’s response to this in which he said these senators feared anything that “changes the clubby way Washington does business” is undoubtedly true.

But while a lot of the antagonism currently being directed at Cruz can be attributed to the way he chooses not to play the traditional go-along-to-get-along Capitol Hill game, it would be a mistake to dismiss it as merely an effort by the Senate club to protect the dysfunctional culture of their institution. I actually like the way Cruz is willing to muss up his colleagues’ hair on routine as well controversial issues in an effort to shake up the Senate. But no matter where you come down on the question of which tactics the GOP should adopt in fighting the implementation of ObamaCare, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that the only thing Cruz has actually accomplished lately is to become the focus of an unprecedented amount of attention for a first-year legislator. If Republicans loathe and fear him it is also because they know the path that he would lead them down is one that has no possible conclusion but their political destruction while he is left standing blaming the debacle on their timidity rather than his foolhardiness. Refusing to be part of a failed system is a virtue. But in Cruz’s case it is one that may be overwhelmed by the egotism he is displaying in charting a path for his party that has no end game other than the political aggrandizement of the junior senator from Texas.

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Even if, like me, you don’t agree with Senator Ted Cruz’s belief that Republicans should go down in flames in a vain effort to defund ObamaCare, it’s hard not to sympathize with him over the way the Texas senator is being treated by some of his colleagues. The revelation by Fox News host Chris Wallace that he received opposition research and possible questions to be posed to Cruz in advance of an announced interview with him from the staffs of both Democrats and fellow Republican senators makes it clear just how disliked the freshman legislator has become in just nine months in office. Cruz’s response to this in which he said these senators feared anything that “changes the clubby way Washington does business” is undoubtedly true.

But while a lot of the antagonism currently being directed at Cruz can be attributed to the way he chooses not to play the traditional go-along-to-get-along Capitol Hill game, it would be a mistake to dismiss it as merely an effort by the Senate club to protect the dysfunctional culture of their institution. I actually like the way Cruz is willing to muss up his colleagues’ hair on routine as well controversial issues in an effort to shake up the Senate. But no matter where you come down on the question of which tactics the GOP should adopt in fighting the implementation of ObamaCare, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that the only thing Cruz has actually accomplished lately is to become the focus of an unprecedented amount of attention for a first-year legislator. If Republicans loathe and fear him it is also because they know the path that he would lead them down is one that has no possible conclusion but their political destruction while he is left standing blaming the debacle on their timidity rather than his foolhardiness. Refusing to be part of a failed system is a virtue. But in Cruz’s case it is one that may be overwhelmed by the egotism he is displaying in charting a path for his party that has no end game other than the political aggrandizement of the junior senator from Texas.

If Cruz were proposing to his fellow Republicans a strategy that had a prayer of accomplishing the goal of stopping ObamaCare or in any way discomfiting their Democratic antagonists, their resentment of his lack of concern for their sensibilities would be laughable. The Senate is always in need of a few members who don’t fear to step on their colleagues’ toes and Cruz’s disdain for the clubby nature of the institution is laudable. Indeed, it is exactly why Texans sent him to the Senate instead of some other Republican willing to become a member of the D.C. establishment.

But the problem is that there is no discernible endgame to his demand to refuse to fund the government if it means allowing ObamaCare to go forward that would give the GOP a chance of success. ObamaCare should be stopped, but so long as the White House and the Senate are both controlled by Democrats, that won’t happen. Republicans can’t make up for their failure to win the 2012 elections by a filibuster. The person who is really cheering for the GOP to be led by Cruz is President Obama. He knows that a government shutdown is the one way to save his presidency and doom the Republicans to defeat in 2014. A GOP-controlled Congress would have the leverage to start chipping away at the way the president’s signature health-care legislation erodes our liberties and expands the power of the government. But if Republicans listen to Cruz and make a Custer’s Last Stand on the issue now, they will lose that chance.

Moreover, the way Cruz has hogged the spotlight while denouncing everyone who doesn’t drink the suicide caucus’s Kool-Aid lends credence to the idea that what he is really about is making himself look good at the expense of more sensible conservatives. Playing the righteous prophet now might help bolster Cruz’s possible presidential candidacy in 2016 but it does nothing to really stop ObamaCare or to help the GOP take back the Senate.

Seen in that light, the desire of some Republicans to see Cruz taken down a notch or two must be seen as not only an act of spite but one aimed at averting their party’s destruction.

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Ian Lustick’s Iron Dice

As both Jonathan Tobin and Jonathan Marks have previously written here, University of Pennsylvania political scientist Ian Lustick, author of a recent op-ed promoting the “one-state solution” and featured prominently in the New York Times, isn’t an outlier. To the contrary, American academe is full of Lusticks: 60-something Jewish radicals who went through some transient phase of simplistic far-left Zionism before discovering that the real Israel is complex. Disillusioned, they rode their leftism to minor eminence as repentants in departments and centers of Middle Eastern studies, where Jewish critics of Israel provide ideal cover for the real haters. Such Jews used to be devotees of a Palestinian state, but now they’re scrambling to keep up with the freakish fad of a “one-state solution” set off by the late Edward Said’s own famous conversion (announced, of course, on the pages of the New York Times, in 1999). Because Lustick’s piece ran in the Times, it was a big deal for some American Jews who still see that newspaper as a gatekeeper of ideas. In Israel, it’s passed virtually unnoticed.

Whatever the article’s intrinsic interest, it’s particularly fascinating as a case study in intellectual self-contradiction. For Lustick has reversed his supposedly well-considered, scientifically informed assessment of only a decade ago, without so much as a shrug of acknowledgement.

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As both Jonathan Tobin and Jonathan Marks have previously written here, University of Pennsylvania political scientist Ian Lustick, author of a recent op-ed promoting the “one-state solution” and featured prominently in the New York Times, isn’t an outlier. To the contrary, American academe is full of Lusticks: 60-something Jewish radicals who went through some transient phase of simplistic far-left Zionism before discovering that the real Israel is complex. Disillusioned, they rode their leftism to minor eminence as repentants in departments and centers of Middle Eastern studies, where Jewish critics of Israel provide ideal cover for the real haters. Such Jews used to be devotees of a Palestinian state, but now they’re scrambling to keep up with the freakish fad of a “one-state solution” set off by the late Edward Said’s own famous conversion (announced, of course, on the pages of the New York Times, in 1999). Because Lustick’s piece ran in the Times, it was a big deal for some American Jews who still see that newspaper as a gatekeeper of ideas. In Israel, it’s passed virtually unnoticed.

Whatever the article’s intrinsic interest, it’s particularly fascinating as a case study in intellectual self-contradiction. For Lustick has reversed his supposedly well-considered, scientifically informed assessment of only a decade ago, without so much as a shrug of acknowledgement.

Let’s briefly recap Lustick’s dismissive take on the two-state solution in his new article. It is “an idea whose time has passed,” it is neither “plausible or even possible,” it’s a “chimera,” a “fantasy.” The “obsessive focus on preserving the theoretical possibility of a two-state solution is as irrational as rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.” Conclusion? “The pretense that negotiations under the slogan of ‘two states for two peoples’ could lead to such a solution must be abandoned.” In fact, negotiations do actual harm: “Diplomacy under the two-state banner is no longer a path to a solution but an obstacle itself. We are engaged in negotiations to nowhere.”

The ultimate two-stater

Yet only a decade ago, Lustick thought that the success of the “peace process” in achieving its aim of two states wasn’t only plausible and possible. It was inevitable. Lustick explained his thesis in a lengthy 2002 interview peppered with analogies and metaphors, including this one:

I like to think of it as a kind of gambler throwing dice, except it’s history that’s throwing the dice. Every throw of the dice is like a diplomatic peace process attempt. In order to actually succeed, history has got to throw snake eyes, 2. And, you know, that’s not easy, you have to keep throwing the dice. Eventually, you’re going to throw a 2. All of the leadership questions and accidents of history, the passions of both sides, the torturous feelings of suffering, the political coalitions, the timing of elections will fall into place.

What is Lustick saying here? Remember that the odds of throwing snake eyes on any given toss of the dice are 36 to 1, so only a fool or an idiot would despair after, say, a dozen or even two dozen throws. Even failure is just a prelude to success, since as long as you keep throwing, “eventually, you’re going to throw a 2.” The old sawhorse that insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result is belied by the dice-thrower, who repeats the same action knowing that each result will be different. And that’s why the United States keeps repeating the diplomatic moves that Lustick now finds so tiresome. The “peace processors” are just adhering to his logic, circa 2002, which guarantees that one of these initiatives is destined to succeed—provided there are enough of them.

And what did Lustick in 2002 have to say to those Israelis who “want the West Bank and Gaza to remain permanently under Israeli rule”? “You will have to roll a 13,” Lustick told them.

But you can’t roll a 13, which is to say that the right has no plan for how it can successfully keep the territories anymore. They don’t even advocate as a realistic option expelling the Palestinians. So they have no plan. So if you are the right and you know you have to roll a 13, the strategy is, don’t let the dice get rolled, keep trying to stop every initiative and subvert it if it gets started…. It’s the only rational thing to do in order to prevent history from eventually producing what it will produce, which is a two-state solution.

So the Israeli version of a one-state solution—an Israel from the river Jordan to the Mediterranean—was the hopeless cause of dead-enders who defied “history” itself. In 2002, Lustick was certain that “one of these days,” Israel would leave the West Bank:

Israel is caught between the inability to make the issue disappear by making the West Bank look like Israel, and the inability to make it disappear by actually withdrawing, by getting through that regime barrier, that regime threshold. Some day, one of these days, that regime threshold is going to be crossed.

The Palestinian version of the one-state option? Lustick didn’t even mention it in 2002.

So Lustick was the ultimate two-state believer. I don’t think even the inveterate “peace processors,” whom he now dismisses so contemptuously, ever assumed that repeated failures would bring them closer to their goal. Lustick did believe it: one couldn’t “prevent history from eventually producing what it will produce, which is a two-state solution,” and it was just a matter of time before “that threshold is going to be crossed.” So certain was Lustick of the inexorable logic of the two-state solution that he believed even Hamas had acquiesced in it. And because Israel had spurned Hamas, Israel had squandered an opportunity to turn it into a “loyal opposition.”

Here lies the problem—perhaps dishonesty is a better word—in Lustick’s latest piece. Lustick ’13 never takes on Lustick ’02, to explain why “history,” destined to lead to two states only a few years ago, is now destined to end in one state. It’s tempting to make light of the seemingly bottomless faith of “peace processors,” and I’ve done it myself, with relish. But the case Lustick made for them in 2002 had a certain logic. The case he’s made against them in 2013 is weak. Indeed, he never really builds much of a case at all.

Is it the number of settlers? If so, he doesn’t say so. Lustick knows how many settlers there are, and he numbered them in a lecture in February. In 2002, he says, there were 390,000 (West Bank and East Jerusalem). In 2012, he says, there were 520,000. That’s 130,000 more (two-thirds of it, by the way, natural growth). Presumably, some significant proportion of the 130,000 have been added to settlements whose inclusion in Israel wouldn’t preclude a two-state solution, because of their proximity to pre-1967 Israel. So we are talking about some tens of thousands. Which 10,000 increment, between 2002 and 2013, put Israel past the “point of no return”?

Lustick doesn’t say. In the Times, he claims that American pressure could have stopped Menachem Begin’s re-election in 1981, precluding the building of “massive settlement complexes” and prompting an Oslo-like process a decade earlier, in the 1980s. It’s a we’ll-never-know counter-factual, but it doesn’t solve the conundrum. Lustick knew all this in 2002, and it didn’t dampen his faith in the historic inevitability of the two-state solution. So the question remains: what’s happened since 2002 to change Lustick’s mind so drastically?

“The state will not survive!”

Here we come to Lustick’s supposedly original contribution to the “one-state” argument. He isn’t repeating the usual claim that Israeli settlements have made a Palestinian state unachievable. He’s arguing that the Israeli state is unsustainable. “The disappearance of Israel as a Zionist project, through war, cultural exhaustion or demographic momentum, is at least as plausible” as an Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank. The best indicator? Israelis say so! “Many Israelis see the demise of the country as not just possible, but probable. The State of Israel has been established, not its permanence. The most common phrase in Israeli political discourse is some variation of ‘If X happens (or doesn’t), the state will not survive!’”

I don’t know any research that’s established “the most common phrase in Israeli political discourse,” and I’m guessing that Ian Lustick doesn’t either. He just made it up. In his February lecture, he did cite one work, from 2009, that counted how many articles published in the left-wing Haaretz employed the phrases “existential danger” or “existential threat.” There’s a bump up after 2002 (Second Intifada), then a spike up in 2006 (Second Lebanon War). The “study” proves absolutely nothing. After all, this is Haaretz, the Wailing Wall of the Israeli left. A perfectly plausible explanation is that the paper’s editorial bias, exacerbated by the eclipse of the left, has tended to favor doomsday prognostication.

And Lustick is contradicted by real research on real people, which he either ignores or of which he’s ignorant. The Israel Democracy Institute’s latest large-scale poll, for 2012, shows that optimists outnumber pessimists among Israeli Jews by a margin of 79 percent to 18 percent. Over 85 percent say Israel can defend itself militarily and only 33 percent think Israel will become more isolated than it now is. The Tel Aviv University academic who oversees the poll summarized the results: “It is important to note that most Israelis view the country’s future optimistically. Our national resilience rests heavily on the fact that even though people are negative on Friday evenings at their family dinner table and the zeitgeist is discouragement, when you scratch a little deeper, people are not really depressed here.” That may be an understatement. Israel is ranked eleventh in the world in the latest UN-commissioned World Happiness Index, which hardly correlates to any level of depression.

According to the Peace Index poll ahead of this Jewish New Year, only 16 percent of Jewish Israelis think the country’s security situation will worsen. 46 percent think it will stay the same, and 28 percent think it will actually improve—this, despite the chaos in Syria and the Sinai, and the spinning centrifuges in Iran. The only thing Israelis are persistently pessimistic about is the “peace process,” but that doesn’t sour the overall mood—except for the small minority, including those op-ed writers for Haaretz, who apparently constitute Lustick’s “sample.”

(Lustick also alludes to “demographic momentum” as working against Israel, and he has puttered around with figures in an attempt to show that Israelis are lining up to emigrate. He got away with this until an actual demographer, Sergio DellaPergola, took a hammer to one of his amateur efforts and left nothing intact. It’s a must-read takedown.)

Israel the balloon

But in the end, for Lustick, it doesn’t really matter how prosperous or stable or viable Israel appears to be, even to Israelis. That’s because Israel is like… wait for it… a balloon. “Just as a balloon filled gradually with air bursts when the limit of its tensile strength is passed, there are thresholds of radical, disruptive change in politics.” Zionist Israel is a bubble that’s bound to burst. It’s been inflated by American support, and the “peace process” has protected it from rupture. But the larger the balloon gets, the more devastating that rupture will be. In February, Lustick revealed that he is writing an entire book on this thesis, evoking “history” again, with a fresh analogy to exchange rates:

History will solve the problem in the sense of the way entropy solves problems. You don’t stay with this kind of constrained volatility forever. When you constrain exchange rates in a volatile market by not allowing rates to move even though the actual economy makes them absurd, rates will eventually change, but in a very radical, non-linear way. The more the constraint, the less the adaptation to changing conditions, the more jagged and painful that adaptation is going to be.

Better, thinks Lustick, that the “peace process” in pursuit of the two-state solution be shut down now, so that both sides can slug it out again—this time to “painful stalemates that lead each party to conclude that time is not on their side.” Israel, which has defeated the Palestinians time and again, has to stop winning. Pulling the plug on the “peace process,” he writes in the Times, would

set the stage for ruthless oppression, mass mobilization, riots, brutality, terror, Jewish and Arab emigration and rising tides of international condemnation of Israel. And faced with growing outrage, America will no longer be able to offer unconditional support for Israel. Once the illusion of a neat and palatable solution to the conflict disappears, Israeli leaders may then begin to see, as South Africa’s white leaders saw in the late 1980s, that their behavior is producing isolation, emigration and hopelessness.

And that’s where we want to be! Enough rolling of the diplomatic dice! It’s time to roll the iron dice! It may sound cynical to you, but Lustick thinks it’s destiny: “The question is not whether the future has conflict in store for Israel-Palestine. It does. Nor is the question whether conflict can be prevented. It cannot.” Remember, this is someone who just a few years ago insisted that a two-state solution was inevitable. Now he argues exactly the opposite. The world should get out of the way and let the inescapable violence unfold—only this time, the United States won’t be in Israel’s corner, and so Israel will be defeated and forced to dismantle itself.

The problem with rolling the iron dice, as even an armchair historian knows, is that the outcome is uncertain. What Lustick would like “history” to deliver is a defeat of Zionist Israel of such precise magnitude as to create a perfect equilibrium between Jew and Arab. But it may well be that the outcome he desires is the equivalent of rolling a 13, because Israel has deep-seated advantages that would be magnified greatly were Israel ever to find itself up against a wall. (The fortieth anniversary of the 1973 Yom Kippur war may be an apt moment to remember that.) Or something in his scenario could go wrong. As Clausewitz noted about war, “No other human activity is so continuously or universally bound up with chance.”

One of the possible outcomes Lustick imagines is that “Israelis whose families came from Arab countries might find new reasons to think of themselves not as ‘Eastern,’ but as Arab.” Given that even “the Arabs” don’t think of themselves anymore as “Arabs” (especially when they gas or bomb one another), and that Jews never thought of themselves as “Arabs” even when they lived in Arabic-speaking countries and spoke Arabic, one wonders how many thousands of dice rolls it would take to produce that outcome.

Prophet of Philly

In the end, it’s pointless to debate Lustick on his own hypothetical grounds, invoking rolling dice, bursting balloons, and volatile exchange rates. That’s because nothing has happened since 2002 between Israel and the Palestinians, or in Israel, that can possibly explain his own total turnaround. I suspect his Times article has nothing to do with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and everything to do with Lustick’s attempt to keep his footing in the shifting sands of American academe.

Ever since Edward Said veered toward the “one-state solution,” the pressure has been growing, and it’s grown even more since Rashid Khalidi, the Edward Said Professor at Columbia, finally gravitated toward the same position (something I predicted he would do well before he actually did it). This turn of events left Lustick in the rear of the radical vanguard and far from the action. Ever since Tony Judt passed on, there’s been a vacancy for a professorial Jewish supporter of the “one-state solution.” So this is Lustick’s late-career move, and I anticipate it will do for him a bit of what it did for Judt, transforming him from an academic of modest reputation into an in-demand hero. Invitations will pour in. Soon we will hear of a controversy involving an invitation rescinded, which will raise his standing still higher. And it’s quite plausible that the Times piece will land him a heftier advance for his next book (as of February, “I’ve not written the conclusion yet”), and the promotional push of a major publisher.

In anticipation, Lustick is already casting himself as a prophet of Israel, exemplified in this quote from an answer he gave to a question last winter:

I argued in 1971 that 1,500 settlers in the West Bank were a catastrophe that would lead Israel into a political dungeon from which it might never escape. I was laughed at. I also argued for a Palestinian state alongside of Israel in the early 1970s, but it took twenty-five years before the mainstream in Israeli politics agreed with that. It may take another twenty-five years before they realize that what I’m saying is true now and will be even truer if Israel is still around in twenty or twenty-five more years.

This is not a human measure of prescience, as Lustick himself has acknowledged. How far in advance would anyone have been able to imagine the Iranian revolution or the fall of the Soviet Union? Lustick: “Ten years? No. Five years? Maybe two, if you were very, very good.” If, as Lustick claims, he consistently sees the future of Israel twenty-five years forward, he must inhabit a sphere far above the regular run of prognosticating political scientists. He is now compiling the Book of Ian. Read it, O Israel (enter credit card here), and weep.

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Syria’s Self-Fulfilling Prophecy

When President Obama addressed the nation two weeks ago, he explained his hesitancy in launching a punitive strike against Syria with his now common refrain: “I was elected to end wars, not to start them.” Joyce Karam already noted last June how this refrain appears increasingly as the central theme of Obama’s foreign-policy legacy.

President Obama certainly must have seen it that way when he ordered American airpower into action over Libyan skies in March 2011–and whatever the political outcomes of the Libyan civil war’s aftermath, Western airpower tilted the balance in the battlefield in such a dramatic way that it helped bring that war to an end.

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When President Obama addressed the nation two weeks ago, he explained his hesitancy in launching a punitive strike against Syria with his now common refrain: “I was elected to end wars, not to start them.” Joyce Karam already noted last June how this refrain appears increasingly as the central theme of Obama’s foreign-policy legacy.

President Obama certainly must have seen it that way when he ordered American airpower into action over Libyan skies in March 2011–and whatever the political outcomes of the Libyan civil war’s aftermath, Western airpower tilted the balance in the battlefield in such a dramatic way that it helped bring that war to an end.

There is only one problem: President Obama’s decision not to launch a strike against the Syrian regime contradicts, rather than flows, from his claim. An American intervention would, if anything, help end the war. By contrast, American inaction will prolong Syria’s civil war, and it will potentially make its outcomes worse for American interests.

One such outcome–the jihadi nature of part of the rebel forces–was routinely cited by administration officials as a reason for caution. And yet, it is increasingly obvious that there is a direct correlation between Western inaction and the rise of jihadis among the rebels.

Today, the Washington Post reports that the flow of weapons to Syria’s opposition is going mostly to Islamist rebels–thanks to a renewed commitment from Gulf donors not to let the Sunni rebellion lose out after America threatened and then cancelled a military strike.

Clearly, if there is no Western support for moderate forces, fears that aid to the rebels may end up strengthening jihadi elements will have become a self-fulfilling prophecy with far-reaching consequences. One will be that if Syria falls to the rebels, it will be a hub for jihadi activities. Another is that the more jihadi foreign fighters survive the war to return to their homes, the more jihadis will be ready for more action against the West in years to come. So much for defeating al-Qaeda and making it irrelevant, then–America’s choice of delegating a role in this conflict to regional powers will dilute American efforts to eradicate the al-Qaeda franchise from the region.

This is just one aspect of the Syria conundrum that clearly undermines the president’s rhetoric. It is not the only one, but it suffices to show that in fact, President Obama’s legacy will not be to end wars but only to ensure that America avoids them at all costs–whatever the long-term consequences for America and its vital interests.

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Oh To Be Young and Socialist Again

If the polls are correct, in less than two months New York City will elect Bill de Blasio as its next mayor. A doctrinaire liberal, his impending victory seems to be, as Seth noted last month, the return of the Dinkins Democrats to power in New York after 20 years of Rudy Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg. De Blasio’s left-wing populism and hostility to both the business community and the police tactics that have helped fuel New York’s revival bode ill for the city’s future. But today’s New York Times gives us further insight into de Blasio that gives new meaning to the stories indicating that Gotham’s political balance of power is lurching to the hard left. In an effort to gain further understanding of the Democratic primary winner’s character, the Times takes us back to de Blasio’s misspent youth when he was no limousine liberal but rather a full-blown hardcore leftist who traveled to Nicaragua to support the Marxist Sandinista government. Even before traveling to Central America, the Times tells us the future mayor had no doubts about his goal for society:

Mr. de Blasio became an ardent supporter of the Nicaraguan revolutionaries. He helped raise funds for the Sandinistas in New York and subscribed to the party’s newspaper, Barricada, or Barricade. When he was asked at a meeting in 1990 about his goals for society, he said he was an advocate of “democratic socialism.”

Of course, De Blasio characterizes his views differently today, calling himself a “progressive” and saying merely that seeing the Sandinistas up close merely motivated him to see that the government protects the poor. While he now says he disapproved of the suppression of dissenting views by the Marxist tyrants he backed so fervently, then it was a different story. Nor did he seem terribly interested in supporting human rights when he chose to spend his honeymoon in Communist Cuba, a decision that his daughter told the New York Daily News she thinks is “badass”—which is her way of saying she approves of the choice.

There will be those who say that none of this tells us much about the choices New York faces today and they will have a point. As George W. Bush used to say, “When I was young and irresponsible, I was young and irresponsible.” But the romantic gloss that is being applied to this portion of de Blasio’s biography tells us a lot not only about him but also about the revisionist history that is the foundation for this story.

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If the polls are correct, in less than two months New York City will elect Bill de Blasio as its next mayor. A doctrinaire liberal, his impending victory seems to be, as Seth noted last month, the return of the Dinkins Democrats to power in New York after 20 years of Rudy Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg. De Blasio’s left-wing populism and hostility to both the business community and the police tactics that have helped fuel New York’s revival bode ill for the city’s future. But today’s New York Times gives us further insight into de Blasio that gives new meaning to the stories indicating that Gotham’s political balance of power is lurching to the hard left. In an effort to gain further understanding of the Democratic primary winner’s character, the Times takes us back to de Blasio’s misspent youth when he was no limousine liberal but rather a full-blown hardcore leftist who traveled to Nicaragua to support the Marxist Sandinista government. Even before traveling to Central America, the Times tells us the future mayor had no doubts about his goal for society:

Mr. de Blasio became an ardent supporter of the Nicaraguan revolutionaries. He helped raise funds for the Sandinistas in New York and subscribed to the party’s newspaper, Barricada, or Barricade. When he was asked at a meeting in 1990 about his goals for society, he said he was an advocate of “democratic socialism.”

Of course, De Blasio characterizes his views differently today, calling himself a “progressive” and saying merely that seeing the Sandinistas up close merely motivated him to see that the government protects the poor. While he now says he disapproved of the suppression of dissenting views by the Marxist tyrants he backed so fervently, then it was a different story. Nor did he seem terribly interested in supporting human rights when he chose to spend his honeymoon in Communist Cuba, a decision that his daughter told the New York Daily News she thinks is “badass”—which is her way of saying she approves of the choice.

There will be those who say that none of this tells us much about the choices New York faces today and they will have a point. As George W. Bush used to say, “When I was young and irresponsible, I was young and irresponsible.” But the romantic gloss that is being applied to this portion of de Blasio’s biography tells us a lot not only about him but also about the revisionist history that is the foundation for this story.

Any attempt to refight the political wars of the 1980s may be a futile endeavor, but the willingness of the press to allow de Blasio to paint his support for the Sandinistas as part of the journey that led him to the mayoralty bodes ill for the city. That’s not just because the Sandinista cause was largely discredited when they were finally forced by the stalemate in the fighting to face the people of Nicaragua in a democratic election. Their defeat at the polls vindicated the efforts of the Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations to support the rebels who resisted the Marxists and exposed the group’s supporters like de Blasio as fronts for Communist killers.

That may not be a disqualifying attribute to many New York voters, but it ought to give pause to those whose livelihoods and safety will depend on de Blasio and the wrecking crew he brings to City Hall next January not demolishing all that Giuliani and Bloomberg accomplished in the last 20 years.

To those who are either too young or too deluded by liberal propaganda to know better, the struggle against the socialism that de Blasio backed was the most important battle fought in the last half of the 20th century. Those who aimed at stopping socialism were not trying to hurt the poor; they were defending human rights against a political cause that sacrificed more than 100 million victims on the Marxist altar. The verdict of history was delivered as the Berlin Wall fell and the “socialist motherland” collapsed, and along with it much of the ideological house of cards that liberals had built as they sought to discredit or defeat anti-Communists. It says a lot about de Blasio’s commitment to that vicious political faith that even after the Iron Curtain fell and the peoples of captive Eastern Europe celebrated the defeat of the Communist cause that he would make a pilgrimage to one of its last strongholds in Cuba to celebrate his marriage.

If de Blasio were willing to admit that much of what he said in defense of the Sandinistas and Cuba was wrong, there would be nothing to say now about his past other than to state that he had learned from it. But since he appears to be proud of his support for tyrants, it is fair game for his critics. More to the point, it is also worth asking just how much those experiences still influence a politician who will have at his disposal the vast powers of the mayoralty. 

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The Remarkable Pope Francis

In his 12,000 word interview with Antonio Spadaro, editor in chief of La Civilta Cattolica, the Italian Jesuit journal, Pope Francis revealed the heart of an extraordinary man.

The former archbishop of Buenos Aires, Jorge Bergoglio, did not change Catholic Church doctrine. But six months into his papacy, through his words and his actions, he has changed its emphasis and tone.

Richard B. Hays, a widely respected scholar on New Testament ethics, has written that any ethic that intends to be biblical must seek “to get the accents in the right place.” And that is, I think, what Francis is attempting to do. It isn’t that he believes the church’s position on homosexuality and abortion are wrong. “The teaching of the church … is clear and I am a son of the church,” he said. But in his words, “it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time. The dogmatic and moral teachings of the church are not all equivalent. The church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently.”

“We have to find a new balance,” Francis went on to say, “otherwise even the moral edifice of the church is likely to fall like a house of cards, losing the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel.”

Francis is on to something quite important. A friend of mine once told me he doesn’t want to equivocate about truth. But he does believe it’s far too easy for us to think that we “know” the mind of God, even though we all see through a glass darkly. He also worries, as do I, that in the name of “truth” we sometimes create an exclusionist religious culture where moral rules are elevated above grace.

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In his 12,000 word interview with Antonio Spadaro, editor in chief of La Civilta Cattolica, the Italian Jesuit journal, Pope Francis revealed the heart of an extraordinary man.

The former archbishop of Buenos Aires, Jorge Bergoglio, did not change Catholic Church doctrine. But six months into his papacy, through his words and his actions, he has changed its emphasis and tone.

Richard B. Hays, a widely respected scholar on New Testament ethics, has written that any ethic that intends to be biblical must seek “to get the accents in the right place.” And that is, I think, what Francis is attempting to do. It isn’t that he believes the church’s position on homosexuality and abortion are wrong. “The teaching of the church … is clear and I am a son of the church,” he said. But in his words, “it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time. The dogmatic and moral teachings of the church are not all equivalent. The church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently.”

“We have to find a new balance,” Francis went on to say, “otherwise even the moral edifice of the church is likely to fall like a house of cards, losing the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel.”

Francis is on to something quite important. A friend of mine once told me he doesn’t want to equivocate about truth. But he does believe it’s far too easy for us to think that we “know” the mind of God, even though we all see through a glass darkly. He also worries, as do I, that in the name of “truth” we sometimes create an exclusionist religious culture where moral rules are elevated above grace.

In describing his vision of the church, Francis speaks about it as “a field hospital after battle.”

“It is useless to ask a seriously injured person if he has high cholesterol and about the level of his blood sugars. You have to heal his wounds. Then we can talk about everything else.”

“This church with which we should be thinking is the home of all, not a small chapel that can hold only a small group of selected people,” according to Pope Francis. “The church sometimes has locked itself up in small things, in small-minded rules,” he added. And he spoke about the church as “the people of God on the journey through history, with joys and sorrows.”

The thing the church needs most today, Jorge Bergoglio said, “is the ability to heal wounds and to warm the hearts of the faithful; it needs nearness, proximity.” The minsters of the Gospel must be people “who walk through the dark night with [others], who know how to dialogue and to descend themselves into their people’s night, into the darkness, but without getting lost.” And then he added this: “The proclamation of the saving love of God comes before moral and religious imperatives.”

As a Christian (but non-Catholic), this strikes me as quite right. The church was created in large part to be a refuge, a source of support and fellowship; a place characterized by love and gentleness, encouragement and accountability. And a place that helps restore integrity and wholeness to our lives. Those who share my faith believe there is liberation to be had and peace to be found in knowing that we are God’s beloved and by living in alignment with His purposes for our lives. But all of us come to Him with brokenness in our lives, and that ought to command from us some degree of humility and empathy–and some aversion to judgmentalism and censoriousness. In a world in which people hold profoundly different views and hold them with some passion–and where moral truths need to be affirmed–it isn’t easy for people of faith to be known more for mercy than condemnation, for words that encourage and uplift rather than wound. But that is what we’re called to be. 

For those who believe that framing things this way is a clever but mistaken way of pitting moral rectitude against love–who believe it is equivocating when people of faith should be standing strong and tall in a world of rising licentiousness and immorality–there’s no way to prove who is definitively right or wrong. The devil can quote Scripture for his purposes, Shakespeare wrote. Our life experiences, dispositions, and temperaments draw us to different interpretations and understandings of the true nature of things. 

My own perspective is that life is filled with joy and wonder to be sure; but there is also the pain and hardship of living in a fallen world. That people whose lives seem so well put together on the surface are struggling with fears and failures below it. And that often we find ourselves living somewhere else than we thought we’d be. Many of us, then, find ourselves in need of grace and redemption. Which is why the words of this remarkable pope have such resonance with us.

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The ObamaCare Shutdown Crackup

It started as an appeal to principle against pure pragmatism. It is ending as farce. After getting their way in the House of Representatives last Friday when House Speaker John Boehner agreed to push through a bill funding the government but not ObamaCare, Tea Party hardliners were faced with a problem. Once the bill was in the Senate’s hands, the Democratic majority would trash it. So in order to continue their quixotic quest, Senator Ted Cruz, whose fiery rhetoric and implicit threats of primary opposition for any Republican who didn’t join his suicide caucus had helped create this dilemma, had to come up with a tactic that would keep the fight going without immediately kicking it back to the House. Ever resourceful, Cruz found an answer. But it is not one that is going to do his cause any good.

Cruz’s solution to the problem was to effectively back a filibuster of the House bill that he supports. No, that’s not a typographical error. In order to stop ObamaCare, Senate conservatives are going to have to vote against cloture of the bill that they spent the last few weeks cajoling and threatening the House GOP to pass. But as they say in Texas, that is a dog that will not hunt.

Theoretically, the tactic will trigger the showdown with President Obama and the Democrats that Cruz has been assuring the GOP grass roots can be won if only Republicans don’t lose their nerve. But in order to get there he is forcing Senate Republicans to adopt a hypocritical stance that is too much for even some of the most stalwart conservatives and libertarians. Put simply, if even Rand Paul thinks this is a situation where some compromise is called for, it’s time to drop the curtain on the government shutdown drama that has convulsed the Republican Party and threatens to rescue an Obama administration that is about to fade into lame-duck irrelevancy.

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It started as an appeal to principle against pure pragmatism. It is ending as farce. After getting their way in the House of Representatives last Friday when House Speaker John Boehner agreed to push through a bill funding the government but not ObamaCare, Tea Party hardliners were faced with a problem. Once the bill was in the Senate’s hands, the Democratic majority would trash it. So in order to continue their quixotic quest, Senator Ted Cruz, whose fiery rhetoric and implicit threats of primary opposition for any Republican who didn’t join his suicide caucus had helped create this dilemma, had to come up with a tactic that would keep the fight going without immediately kicking it back to the House. Ever resourceful, Cruz found an answer. But it is not one that is going to do his cause any good.

Cruz’s solution to the problem was to effectively back a filibuster of the House bill that he supports. No, that’s not a typographical error. In order to stop ObamaCare, Senate conservatives are going to have to vote against cloture of the bill that they spent the last few weeks cajoling and threatening the House GOP to pass. But as they say in Texas, that is a dog that will not hunt.

Theoretically, the tactic will trigger the showdown with President Obama and the Democrats that Cruz has been assuring the GOP grass roots can be won if only Republicans don’t lose their nerve. But in order to get there he is forcing Senate Republicans to adopt a hypocritical stance that is too much for even some of the most stalwart conservatives and libertarians. Put simply, if even Rand Paul thinks this is a situation where some compromise is called for, it’s time to drop the curtain on the government shutdown drama that has convulsed the Republican Party and threatens to rescue an Obama administration that is about to fade into lame-duck irrelevancy.

To say that Senate Republicans aren’t buying Cruz’s cynical stand is an understatement. While no one should ever underestimate the willingness of U.S. senators to twist themselves into pretzels to gain a momentary advantage, asking the GOP to filibuster the very bill they begged the House to pass is a bridge too far even for Cruz. There is no way that he will get 41 Republicans to go along with this farce, and for good reason.

Even if one thought that, at least in theory, it was possible for Republicans to go to the brink with the president over defunding the government over ObamaCare, to do so in this manner isn’t just suicidal; it’s insane. As difficult a sell as a shutdown would be for the GOP, to do so while filibustering your own party’s bill should be considered excessive even by Cruz’s standards. The president was always going to win such a standoff, but if that is the ground on which the Republicans choose to make their stand, the administration doesn’t even have to make much of an effort to convince the public that any damage that results from a shutdown should be blamed on the GOP.

And that should lead those who have spent the last week blasting Boehner as a craven hostage of his Tea Party caucus to rethink their evaluation of the speaker. By going along with those conservatives clamoring for eliminating funding for ObamaCare, he seemed to be caving in and supporting a shutdown. But what he has done is to merely serve the ball back into Cruz’s court, knowing full well that the Texan has no viable option to continue the battle. Rather than setting a shutdown in motion, Boehner’s action may actually be the first step toward a rational agreement that will allow the GOP to avoid going over the cliff with the Tea Party. Since he has given his members a chance to vote to defund ObamaCare, the failure of the Senate firebrands may enable him to ask the House to pass a compromise that will avoid catastrophe.

Cruz and his followers will denounce such rational behavior, but if Boehner eventually gets his way President Obama will have good reason to be disappointed. As much as ObamaCare is a mess that should never have been passed, there is simply no path to its elimination so long as the Democrats control the White House and the Senate. Recognizing this fact isn’t the act of a RINO, it is merely rational analysis of the problem. The crackup of the shutdown effort illustrates that Cruz and company are all about the rhetoric but never had a game plan to actually get their way. Republicans should pay close attention to the way this is playing out and thank Providence if their party narrowly avoids the disaster they seemed headed for last week.

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The Mistaken Focus on “Core Al-Qaeda”

President Obama may or may not be right when he claims, as he often does, that “the core of Al Qaeda in Afghanistan is on the way to defeat.” But it is clear that the broader movement of violent Islamism, which has been identified with al-Qaeda but which is actually much broader, is far from defeated.

Consider just the terrible news of the past weekend.

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President Obama may or may not be right when he claims, as he often does, that “the core of Al Qaeda in Afghanistan is on the way to defeat.” But it is clear that the broader movement of violent Islamism, which has been identified with al-Qaeda but which is actually much broader, is far from defeated.

Consider just the terrible news of the past weekend.

In Nairobi, a squad of gunmen from the Somali group al-Shabab have massacred at least 68 people in an upscale mall while holding others hostage–an attack reminiscent, albeit on a slightly smaller scale, of the Mumbai terrorist attack of 2008.

In Iraq, one suicide bomber blew himself up at a funeral in Baghdad, killing at least 16 and wounding more than 30, while another blew up in a residential area of Kirkuk, wounding at least 35 people. These are the latest in a series of terrible attacks in Iraq, which, according to the Associated Press, have seen “more than 4,000 people … killed between April and August, a level of carnage not seen since 2006 to 2008, when Iraq was nearing civil war.”

Yet another suicide attack in Peshawar, Pakistan, killed at least 78 people, including 34 women and seven children, at a church. This was presumably the handiwork of the Pakistani Taliban.

Oh, and two Israeli soldiers were slain in the West Bank, one by a sniper, the other by a duplicitous Palestinian acquaintance.

All of these attacks do not suggest that Islamist groups are on their way to seizing power in countries from Somalia to Pakistan. Indeed, the Shabab attack was, in many ways, a sign of the group’s weakness in Somalia, where it has suffered defeats on the ground from Kenyan and African Union troops. Shabab is turning to terrorist attacks against soft targets in Uganda and Kenya to remain relevant.

But what these attacks show is that Islamist groups–some of them affiliated with al-Qaeda, others not–are far from defeated. They still have considerable capacity to wreak carnage and, given the weakness of regimes that are fighting them across the Middle East and Africa, they can make substantial inroads into failed states.

President Obama and the American national security establishment have been too focused on “core” al-Qaeda while downplaying the menace from these other groups on the periphery, which continue to pose as big a threat as ever.

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Palestinian Leaks Show Failure of Talks Is Foreordained

Palestinians have killed two Israeli soldiers in planned attacks over the last three days; the armed wing of Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah party has proudly claimed responsibility for both killings (though Israeli officials are skeptical); and the Palestinian Authority that Abbas heads–Israel’s so-called peace partner–has yet to muster even a lukewarm condemnation of the murders. In a normal universe, this might raise doubts about the prospects of the current Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. But anyone who has been following the negotiations already knows these prospects are nonexistent: Aside from all the reasons I listed three weeks ago, the constant stream of PA leaks about the talks is a dead giveaway.

Ever since negotiations resumed in late July, PA officials having been giving the media gloomy progress reports on an almost daily basis, thereby violating the explicit commitment both sides gave Secretary of State John Kerry not to talk about what happens at the negotiating sessions. That alone attests to bad faith. But what’s really remarkable is that while all the Palestinian leaks agree the talks are going nowhere, they offer blatantly contradictory reasons for this conclusion. In other words, the “facts” on which this conclusion is supposedly based can’t possibly be true.

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Palestinians have killed two Israeli soldiers in planned attacks over the last three days; the armed wing of Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah party has proudly claimed responsibility for both killings (though Israeli officials are skeptical); and the Palestinian Authority that Abbas heads–Israel’s so-called peace partner–has yet to muster even a lukewarm condemnation of the murders. In a normal universe, this might raise doubts about the prospects of the current Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. But anyone who has been following the negotiations already knows these prospects are nonexistent: Aside from all the reasons I listed three weeks ago, the constant stream of PA leaks about the talks is a dead giveaway.

Ever since negotiations resumed in late July, PA officials having been giving the media gloomy progress reports on an almost daily basis, thereby violating the explicit commitment both sides gave Secretary of State John Kerry not to talk about what happens at the negotiating sessions. That alone attests to bad faith. But what’s really remarkable is that while all the Palestinian leaks agree the talks are going nowhere, they offer blatantly contradictory reasons for this conclusion. In other words, the “facts” on which this conclusion is supposedly based can’t possibly be true.

Over the space of just a few days earlier this month, one Palestinian official said Israel had done nothing for the past six weeks but present the issues it wants to discuss; another said Israel had proposed an interim deal for a Palestinian state with temporary borders on 60 percent of the West Bank; and a third said Israel had made an unacceptable final-status offer that would give Palestinians 90 percent of the West Bank while leaving Israel in control of the border crossings with Jordan. These three statements are clearly mutually exclusive: If, for instance, Israel has done nothing but outline the issues it wants to discuss, it can’t have offered either temporary or permanent borders. Similarly, if Israel has made a final-status offer, then it hasn’t just proposed an interim deal. 

In short, the Palestinian claim of “no progress” is evidently independent of whatever actually happened in the talks, and Palestinian officials don’t even care who knows it: They have no problem espousing mutually contradictory explanations. But if the “no progress” claim is unrelated to actual developments in the talks, then its obvious purpose is to prepare world opinion to blame Israel when the negotiations reach their foreordained breakdown. After months of hearing nonstop Palestinian complaints about how Israel is stymieing the talks, without Israel offering any counter-narrative (since it has thus far honored its pledge to stay mum), the world will obviously be primed to believe that Israel is at fault.

Nor need one look far to understand why the PA would plan for a breakdown a priori: The talks have zero support among ordinary Palestinians. As the Jerusalem Post’s Khaled Abu Toameh reported back in July, not a single Palestinian faction favored resuming the negotiations, and yesterday, several Palestinian groups launched a public campaign to demand an end to the talks while also opposing any Palestinian concessions whatsoever as part of a deal.

So with no support for a deal at home, Abbas has little choice but to plan for how to blame Israel for a breakdown. The only question is whether the U.S. is willing to let him get away with it.

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The Big Problem in Jerusalem Isn’t the Jews

In time for the Jewish calendar’s fall holiday season (Jews around the world are celebrating Sukkot—the feast of tabernacles—this week), today’s New York Times took up the delicate issue of Jerusalem’s Temple Mount where, we are told, troublemaking Jews are breaking the rules and making coexistence, if not peace, that much more difficult. Since some Jewish extremists do foolishly dream of replacing the mosques that are atop the Mount (which looks down on the Western Wall) with a rebuilt Third Temple, a scheme that would set off a religious war no sane person would want, Israel has always sought to keep the peace in the city by limiting Jewish visits and prohibiting Jewish prayer there. So with increasing numbers of Jews wanting to look around and perhaps even surreptitiously utter a prayer, the conceit of the Times piece appears to be that this is just one more instance in which Israelis are giving their Arab neighbors a hard time and pushing them out of a city that is sacred to the three monotheistic faiths.

But however dangerous any idea of endangering the Dome of the Rock or the Al Aqsa Mosque might be to world peace, the Jews are not the problem in Jerusalem. That’s because the dispute in the city isn’t really so much about who controls the Temple Mount but the Muslim effort to deny the Jewish history that is literally under their feet. Were it just a question of sharing sacred space, reasonable compromises that would give full Muslim autonomy over their holy sites while allowing Jewish prayer at the spiritual center of Judaism would be possible since Jewish extremists who want to evict Islam from the place are a tiny minority. Yet as long as the official position of both the Muslim Wakf religious authority, which has been allowed by Israel to govern the place since the 1967 Six-Day War, and the Palestinian Authority is that the Temples never existed and that Jews have no rights to their ancient capital, that will constitute the real obstacle to peace.

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In time for the Jewish calendar’s fall holiday season (Jews around the world are celebrating Sukkot—the feast of tabernacles—this week), today’s New York Times took up the delicate issue of Jerusalem’s Temple Mount where, we are told, troublemaking Jews are breaking the rules and making coexistence, if not peace, that much more difficult. Since some Jewish extremists do foolishly dream of replacing the mosques that are atop the Mount (which looks down on the Western Wall) with a rebuilt Third Temple, a scheme that would set off a religious war no sane person would want, Israel has always sought to keep the peace in the city by limiting Jewish visits and prohibiting Jewish prayer there. So with increasing numbers of Jews wanting to look around and perhaps even surreptitiously utter a prayer, the conceit of the Times piece appears to be that this is just one more instance in which Israelis are giving their Arab neighbors a hard time and pushing them out of a city that is sacred to the three monotheistic faiths.

But however dangerous any idea of endangering the Dome of the Rock or the Al Aqsa Mosque might be to world peace, the Jews are not the problem in Jerusalem. That’s because the dispute in the city isn’t really so much about who controls the Temple Mount but the Muslim effort to deny the Jewish history that is literally under their feet. Were it just a question of sharing sacred space, reasonable compromises that would give full Muslim autonomy over their holy sites while allowing Jewish prayer at the spiritual center of Judaism would be possible since Jewish extremists who want to evict Islam from the place are a tiny minority. Yet as long as the official position of both the Muslim Wakf religious authority, which has been allowed by Israel to govern the place since the 1967 Six-Day War, and the Palestinian Authority is that the Temples never existed and that Jews have no rights to their ancient capital, that will constitute the real obstacle to peace.

At the heart of this conundrum is an error in Times Jerusalem Bureau chief Jodi Rudoren’s story. In an effort to give some historical background to the dispute, she writes the following:

In 2000, a visit by Ariel Sharon, then Israel’s opposition leader, accompanied by 1,000 police officers, prompted a violent outbreak and, many argue, set off the second intifada.

Many may argue that, but it is a flat-out lie. As figures within the Palestinian Authority have long since publicly admitted, the intifada was planned by then leader Yasir Arafat long before Sharon took a stroll on the site of the Temples around the Jewish New Year. The intifada was a deliberate strategy in which Arafat answered Israel’s offer of an independent Palestinian state in almost all of the West Bank, Gaza, and a share of Jerusalem that would have included the Temple Mount. The terrorist war of attrition was intended to beat down the Israelis and force them and the United States to offer even more concessions without forcing the Palestinians to recognize the legitimacy of the Jewish state no matter where its borders were drawn. Sharon’s visit was merely a pretext that has long since been debunked.

Rudoren deserves to be roasted for passing along this piece of propaganda without even noting the proof to the contrary. But the problem here is more than just an error that shows the way she tends to swallow Palestinian lies hook, line, and sinker. That’s because the significance of the Sharon story lies in the way, Palestinian leaders have used the Temple Mount for generations to gin up hate against Israelis.

It bears pointing out that almost from the very beginning of the Zionist enterprise, those seeking to incite an Arab population that might regard the economic growth that came with the influx of immigrants as a good thing used the mosques on the Mount to whip up anti-Jewish sentiment. The pretext for the 1929 riots in which Jews were attacked across the country and the ancient community of Hebron was wiped out in a pogrom was a false rumor about the mosques being attacked. Arafat used the same theme to gain support for his otherwise inexplicable decision to tank the Palestinian economy in his terrorist war. Similarly, inflammatory sermons given in the mosques have often led to Muslim worshippers there raining down rocks on the Jewish worshippers in the Western Wall plaza below.

Israelis can argue about whether restoring even a minimal Jewish presence on the Temple Mount is wise. Some Orthodox authorities have always said that due to doubt about the presence of the Temple’s most sacred precincts no Jew should step foot on the plateau, although that is a point that seems less salient due to recent archeological discoveries. Others believe that any effort to contest Muslim ownership of the site converts a territorial dispute into a religious or spiritual one and should be avoided at all costs.

But, like so many internal Jewish and Israeli debates, these arguments miss the point about Arab opinion. As with other sacred sites to which Muslims lay claim, their position is not one in which they are prepared to share or guarantee equal access. The Muslim view of the Temple Mount is not one in which competing claims can be recognized, let alone respected. They want it Jew-free, the same way they envision a Palestinian state or those areas of Jerusalem which they say must be their capital.

It is in that same spirit that the Wakf has committed what many respected Israeli archeologists consider a program of vandalism on the Mount with unknown quantities of antiquities being trashed by their building program. Since they recognize no Jewish claim or even the history of the place, they have continued to act in this manner with, I might add, hardly a peep from the international community.

Thus while many friends of Israel will read Rudoren’s article and shake their heads about Israeli foolishness, the real story in Jerusalem remains the Palestinians’ unshakable determination to extinguish Jewish history as part of their effort to delegitimize the Jewish state. In the face of their intransigence and the fact that such intolerance is mainstream Palestinian opinion rather than the view of a few extremists, the desire of many Jews to visit a place that is the historic center of their faith (the Western Wall is, after all, merely the vestige of the Temple’s outer enclosure) doesn’t seem quite so crazy.

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Obama Talks From Weakness, Not Strength

After flubbing his plan for an attack on Syria and being trapped into a Russian-sponsored process designed to preserve the Assad regime, President Obama doesn’t have much foreign-policy credibility these days. But what little he has left is about to be spent on a new diplomatic initiative with Iran that will apparently be kicked off this week in New York with a face-to-face meeting between the leader of the free world and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. Perhaps even more than Obama’s effective handing off of responsibility for Syria’s chemical weapons to Russian President Vladimir Putin, the appointment with Rouhani will make it clear that this administration has no appetite for a confrontation with its enemies, signaling a new era in the Middle East in which the tyrants of Tehran and Damascus and their terrorist auxiliaries need not fear the United States.

That is a conclusion that the president’s defenders reject absolutely. They claim that whatever the provenance of the Russian proposal or the lack of “style” points (to use the president’s own words) in his fumbling approach to Congress on Syria, if it results in Assad losing his chemical weapons it is still a good thing. They argue that Obama’s inability to pull the trigger on Syria will have no impact on Iran’s evaluation of American intentions on its nuclear ambitions. Further, they say the U.S. has nothing to lose in talking to Iran and much to gain, since failure in negotiations will simply strengthen the president’s hand when he then decides to use force.

If the administration was operating from a position of strength and with its intentions to uphold its interests undoubted, then these arguments might make sense. But the problem with both the Syrian fiasco and the opening to Iran is that it is no secret that the president has agreed to them out of weakness, not strength. What’s more, both the Syrians and the Iranians know it. The United States may be still be the world’s sole superpower and Syria and Iran midgets by comparison. But so long as these countries and their Russian friend know America is led by a man who choked when he could have struck Syria and is desperate for excuses to avoid the confrontation he has long threatened Iran with, they know who has the upper hand in talks.

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After flubbing his plan for an attack on Syria and being trapped into a Russian-sponsored process designed to preserve the Assad regime, President Obama doesn’t have much foreign-policy credibility these days. But what little he has left is about to be spent on a new diplomatic initiative with Iran that will apparently be kicked off this week in New York with a face-to-face meeting between the leader of the free world and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. Perhaps even more than Obama’s effective handing off of responsibility for Syria’s chemical weapons to Russian President Vladimir Putin, the appointment with Rouhani will make it clear that this administration has no appetite for a confrontation with its enemies, signaling a new era in the Middle East in which the tyrants of Tehran and Damascus and their terrorist auxiliaries need not fear the United States.

That is a conclusion that the president’s defenders reject absolutely. They claim that whatever the provenance of the Russian proposal or the lack of “style” points (to use the president’s own words) in his fumbling approach to Congress on Syria, if it results in Assad losing his chemical weapons it is still a good thing. They argue that Obama’s inability to pull the trigger on Syria will have no impact on Iran’s evaluation of American intentions on its nuclear ambitions. Further, they say the U.S. has nothing to lose in talking to Iran and much to gain, since failure in negotiations will simply strengthen the president’s hand when he then decides to use force.

If the administration was operating from a position of strength and with its intentions to uphold its interests undoubted, then these arguments might make sense. But the problem with both the Syrian fiasco and the opening to Iran is that it is no secret that the president has agreed to them out of weakness, not strength. What’s more, both the Syrians and the Iranians know it. The United States may be still be the world’s sole superpower and Syria and Iran midgets by comparison. But so long as these countries and their Russian friend know America is led by a man who choked when he could have struck Syria and is desperate for excuses to avoid the confrontation he has long threatened Iran with, they know who has the upper hand in talks.

Jeffrey Goldberg remains one of the more sensible of Obama’s defenders and he has rightly derided the president’s record on Syria as “disturbing.” He also rightly puts down Rouhani’s charm offensive as “nothing more than public relations until proven otherwise.” But he also continues to cling to the notion that what has brought about the unsatisfactory deal with Russia on Syria and enticed Rouhani to come calling was Obama’s “toughness.” But for any objective observer to categorize the U.S. stance in the Middle East as “tough” requires us to come up with a new definition for the word.

Goldberg concedes Obama looked bad on Syria but still insists that his threat of force made any deal possible. But what happened was damaging not just because it has resulted in what looks to be U.S. acquiescence to Assad remaining in power indefinitely but because it showed that the president wouldn’t follow through once he had threatened force. In other words, the world now knows the president lacks the will to act on his own authority and is also sadly aware that there is a bipartisan congressional majority opposing any use of force. That’s a worse blow to U.S. credibility than if he had never issued any threats at all. The notion that Obama will now be empowered to strike if the Syrians and Russians thwart accountability on chemical weapons is absurd. They know very well that no matter what John Kerry says, the administration has moved on and will never attack Syria.

As for Iran, Goldberg also gives Obama credit for imposing tough sanctions on Iran that has created pressure on the regime. He also thinks the team of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu playing “bad cop” to Obama’s “ambivalent cop” can force Iran to make a nuclear deal that will work. But the record of the last five years in which Obama’s actions have never matched his rhetoric has convinced the real boss in Tehran—Supreme Leader Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei—that what was needed was a soft voice to entice Obama into endless negotiations, not the cartoonlike harshness of Rouhani’s predecessor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. By meeting with Rouhani, Obama is signaling that he is falling for this tactic. But rather than Rouhani being on the spot as Goldberg insists, it is actually President Obama who will feel the need to make concessions to keep the talks going so as to avoid being put in a position where he will be forced to act.

Iran wants sanctions lifted, but there is no evidence that the supreme leader is the one who thinks he’s in a corner. The ayatollahs have already observed that the one place Obama never wants to be is in a corner where he is forced to back up his threats. Meeting with Rouhani and treating this more presentable thug as an equal and a negotiating partner will send a signal throughout the Middle East that Iran is emerging from its diplomatic isolation. Combined with its triumph in Syria where, along with the Russians, it has saved Assad, that allows the Islamist regime to believe it can string out the West for as long as it needs to achieve its nuclear ambitions with no real fear that the U.S. will ever pull the plug on the talks or back up its threats.

Goldberg is right when he says that the only constant in the world is change. But if there’s one thing we’ve learned it is that President Obama and his foreign-policy team are incapable of reacting to the shifting sands of the Middle East or to present their positions to the world in a way that makes dangerous regimes fear us. Whatever follows from these diplomatic initiatives will be the result of the president’s weakness, not his strength.

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A Brief History of Iranian Holocaust Denial

Iranian Holocaust denial—while the stuff of international headlines—during the Mahmoud Ahmadinejad presidency neither began when Ahmadinejad took office nor did it end when Ahmadinejad’s term ended. Some journalists believe that the bedrock ideology of the Islamic Republic has changed since Hassan Rouhani’s election. Some American journalists appear to have given more credence to Rouhani’s alleged Rosh Hashanah tweet than they do the Islamic Republic’s record.

When it comes to Iranian Holocaust denial and revisionism, George Michael, author of The Enemy of my Enemy, had an informative article in the Middle East Quarterly several years back:

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Iranian Holocaust denial—while the stuff of international headlines—during the Mahmoud Ahmadinejad presidency neither began when Ahmadinejad took office nor did it end when Ahmadinejad’s term ended. Some journalists believe that the bedrock ideology of the Islamic Republic has changed since Hassan Rouhani’s election. Some American journalists appear to have given more credence to Rouhani’s alleged Rosh Hashanah tweet than they do the Islamic Republic’s record.

When it comes to Iranian Holocaust denial and revisionism, George Michael, author of The Enemy of my Enemy, had an informative article in the Middle East Quarterly several years back:

Holocaust denial was an outgrowth of Iranian anti-Semitism, propelled by the Islamic Republic’s antipathy toward Israel. Long before Ahmadinejad shocked the West with his blunt rhetoric, Supreme Leader ‘Ali Khamenei suggested the Holocaust to be an exaggeration. ‘Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, an Iranian figure often labeled a pragmatist by Western journalists, voiced morale support for Holocaust revisionists in the West, suggesting the West persecuted one prominent denier for “the doubt he cast on Zionist propaganda.” However, it was during the presidency of Mohammad Khatami, whose rhetorical calls for a dialogue of civilizations won European and U.N. plaudits, that the Islamic Republic became a sanctuary for revisionists. Tehran granted asylum not only to [Swiss Holocaust denier Jürgen] Graf but also to Wolfgang Fröhlick, an Austrian engineer who argued in court under oath that Zyklon-B could not be used to kill humans. Indeed, it was under Khatami that Iranian policy shifted from anti-Zionism to unabashed anti-Semitism.

In August 2003, the Iranian government invited Frederick Töben, a retired German school teacher living in Australia, to speak before the International Conference on the Palestinian Intifada held in Tehran in which he impugned the Holocaust by contending that Auschwitz concentration camp was physically too small for the mass killing of Jews….

Of course, this was at a time when Rouhani was a top regime official and when pundits now singing Rouhani’s praises in the New York Times and elsewhere actually worked in the Foreign Ministry’s “Institute for Political and International Studies,” a sponsor of the Holocaust revisionism.

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The Havoc of Prosecutorial Misconduct

With the exoneration of Tom Delay in Texas yesterday, yet another high-profile case of prosecutorial misconduct has emerged. This follows such other cases as that of Ted Stevens in 2008, and the notorious Duke Lacrosse case. But these were all cases in which top-flight legal talent was able to uncover the misconduct. There are many more that go unrecognized. The Innocence Project of Florida lists numerous examples, including one in which a man spent 25 years in jail for the murder of his wife, a murder he didn’t commit. They have a list of 1,100 exonerations in the years 1989-2012. Forty-two percent of those false convictions were caused by official misconduct, roughly half by the police and half by prosecutors.

Beyond the individual tragedy of an innocent man rotting in jail, these cases can have national repercussions. Senator Ted Stevens was convicted of seven counts of making false statements on October 27th, 2008. Outrageous prosecutorial conduct was soon revealed and Attorney General Holder asked that the convictions be set aside, which they were.

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With the exoneration of Tom Delay in Texas yesterday, yet another high-profile case of prosecutorial misconduct has emerged. This follows such other cases as that of Ted Stevens in 2008, and the notorious Duke Lacrosse case. But these were all cases in which top-flight legal talent was able to uncover the misconduct. There are many more that go unrecognized. The Innocence Project of Florida lists numerous examples, including one in which a man spent 25 years in jail for the murder of his wife, a murder he didn’t commit. They have a list of 1,100 exonerations in the years 1989-2012. Forty-two percent of those false convictions were caused by official misconduct, roughly half by the police and half by prosecutors.

Beyond the individual tragedy of an innocent man rotting in jail, these cases can have national repercussions. Senator Ted Stevens was convicted of seven counts of making false statements on October 27th, 2008. Outrageous prosecutorial conduct was soon revealed and Attorney General Holder asked that the convictions be set aside, which they were.

But a week after his trial, the 7-term senator lost re-election by 3,724 votes. There can be little doubt that had this case not been brought, which it obviously should not have been, he would have cruised to re-election. What difference, except to Ted Stevens, did that make? A lot: his successful Democratic rival provided the 60th vote in the Senate in 2010 to push ObamaCare through.

It was prosecutorial misconduct that gave us the most unpopular major piece of legislation in American history. 

Why does this happen so often in this country? In a high-profile case, there can be tremendous pressure on both the police and the prosecutors to produce a perp and then a conviction. Cutting corners is one way to do that. But also, prosecuting attorneys in this country, uniquely in the common-law world, are politicians. Winning a major case is a big addition to their résumé.

While there was no misconduct in the prosecution of Martha Stewart, it is highly unlikely that there would have been a criminal case at all had she merely been rich and not both rich and very famous. At worst, she would have been forced to “disgorge the profits.” So, basically, Martha Stewart was tried for the crime of being Martha Stewart. (To be sure, her legal team completely bungled the case, making her conviction much more likely.)

It is impossible to take the politics out of the office of prosecuting attorney. It is too deeply imbedded in the American system. (Tom Dewey, after all, went from Manhattan District Attorney to the very door of the White House in less than a decade.) But severely punishing prosecutorial misconduct—complete with disbarment and serious jail time—would go a long way towards making ambitious prosecutors think twice before withholding exculpatory evidence and other such misconduct.

But such misconduct is hardly ever punished. No one thinks the prosecutor in the Tom Delay case will suffer any penalty. The prosecutors in the Ted Stevens case were fired from the Justice Department, but remain free men. Only Mike Nifong, the prosecutor in the Duke Lacrosse case, was punished by disbarment. Convicted of criminal contempt, he spent one day in jail.

Lawyers, it seems, take care of their own, regardless of how deeply they stain the profession of law.

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The Excuses for Failure Are About to Begin

Now that House Republicans have done what Senators Ted Cruz, Mike Lee, Rand Paul, and Marco Rubio (and others) asked, which is to vote to defund the Affordable Care Act, we’ll be able to test whether it will achieve its purpose.

It won’t.

It’s been obvious since the hour this idea was hatched that the Affordable Care Act would not be defunded given the current political conditions. But those who have been pushing the defunding strategy pretended this was a possibility, which is why they insisted this moment was so vital. If you didn’t come on board the defunding campaign, it was said, then you owned ObamaCare. Those who championed what Cruz and Company advocated desperately tried to frame this as a debate between those who were against the Affordable Care Act and those who were willing to live with it.

This was never true. Virtually every Republican wants to put an end to ObamaCare. The problem is that it’s not doable as long as Barack Obama is president and Democrats control a majority in the Senate. Which means the debate all along was about nothing more than symbolism and tactics.

That’s all.

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Now that House Republicans have done what Senators Ted Cruz, Mike Lee, Rand Paul, and Marco Rubio (and others) asked, which is to vote to defund the Affordable Care Act, we’ll be able to test whether it will achieve its purpose.

It won’t.

It’s been obvious since the hour this idea was hatched that the Affordable Care Act would not be defunded given the current political conditions. But those who have been pushing the defunding strategy pretended this was a possibility, which is why they insisted this moment was so vital. If you didn’t come on board the defunding campaign, it was said, then you owned ObamaCare. Those who championed what Cruz and Company advocated desperately tried to frame this as a debate between those who were against the Affordable Care Act and those who were willing to live with it.

This was never true. Virtually every Republican wants to put an end to ObamaCare. The problem is that it’s not doable as long as Barack Obama is president and Democrats control a majority in the Senate. Which means the debate all along was about nothing more than symbolism and tactics.

That’s all.

As this process unfolds, and as this defunding gambit is exposed for what it was—a very bad, misleading, and half-baked idea—those who championed it will be in a vulnerable position. So here’s a prediction: They will engage in a frantic face-saving operation. They’ll argue that the problem wasn’t with them and their unwise idea; they’ll say it failed because of the lack of solidarity from other Republicans; they’ll claim that Republicans unfortunately signaled they weren’t serious about defunding and therefore the effort failed. they’ll say the blame rests not with them (intrepid Men of Principle) but with others (spineless RINOs).

This will be an excuse, and a particularly pathetic one. But it’s the only card they have to play, and play it they will. So sit back and watch the revisionism begin. 

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What to Make of Rouhani’s Letter?

Over at AEI-Ideas, I take a look at Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s op-ed in today’s Washington Post and argue that, while we shouldn’t be afraid to take “yes” for an answer, Rouhani’s sincerity is extremely unclear. Both the late Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and the late Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi made grand gestures to demonstrate their respective changes of heart.

Alas, reading the tea leaves back in Tehran does not give cause for optimism. As Will Fulton points out in his invaluable “Iran News Round Up,” on September 17, Rouhani suggested creating a commission “to pursue spiritual and material compensation” from the United States and United Kingdom for their role in the 1953 coup against Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddeq.

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Over at AEI-Ideas, I take a look at Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s op-ed in today’s Washington Post and argue that, while we shouldn’t be afraid to take “yes” for an answer, Rouhani’s sincerity is extremely unclear. Both the late Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and the late Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi made grand gestures to demonstrate their respective changes of heart.

Alas, reading the tea leaves back in Tehran does not give cause for optimism. As Will Fulton points out in his invaluable “Iran News Round Up,” on September 17, Rouhani suggested creating a commission “to pursue spiritual and material compensation” from the United States and United Kingdom for their role in the 1953 coup against Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddeq.

While that might sound good to a self-flagellating audience of American intellectuals, putting aside whether the coup was wise or not given the Cold War context, the simple fact is that the Iranian clergy was complicit in the coup and, indeed, had made an alliance of convenience with the U.S., British, and Iranian military: All feared Mosaddeq’s populism, which, to be frank, was about as democratic as Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s in Haiti.

That Rouhani wants the United States to pay Iran for the 1953 coup which his teachers and predecessors supported shows just how manipulative and insincere he is in his populist games in Tehran and Washington.

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Turkish Pianist Sentenced for Blasphemy

Just over four months ago, President Obama stood beside Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and spoke warmly of the relations between the two countries and his personal friendship with Turkey’s leader. While they stood together, Erdoğan’s security forces were seizing yet another independent media company; it would soon be transferred to his political allies.

Alas, the situation is going from bad to worse in Turkey. From today’s Hürriyet Daily News:

World-renowned Turkish pianist Fazıl Say, who was sentenced to 10 months in prison for blasphemy in April, was again sentenced to 10 months by an Istanbul court today in a retrial. Say had received a suspended 10-month prison sentence on charges of “insulting religious beliefs held by a section of the society,” for re-tweeting several lines, which are attributed to poet Omar Khayyam… Say was convicted after tweeting the following lines: “You say its rivers will flow in wine. Is the Garden of Eden a drinking house? You say you will give two houris to each Muslim. Is the Garden of Eden a whorehouse?”

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Just over four months ago, President Obama stood beside Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and spoke warmly of the relations between the two countries and his personal friendship with Turkey’s leader. While they stood together, Erdoğan’s security forces were seizing yet another independent media company; it would soon be transferred to his political allies.

Alas, the situation is going from bad to worse in Turkey. From today’s Hürriyet Daily News:

World-renowned Turkish pianist Fazıl Say, who was sentenced to 10 months in prison for blasphemy in April, was again sentenced to 10 months by an Istanbul court today in a retrial. Say had received a suspended 10-month prison sentence on charges of “insulting religious beliefs held by a section of the society,” for re-tweeting several lines, which are attributed to poet Omar Khayyam… Say was convicted after tweeting the following lines: “You say its rivers will flow in wine. Is the Garden of Eden a drinking house? You say you will give two houris to each Muslim. Is the Garden of Eden a whorehouse?”

Perhaps senior diplomats—some former U.S. ambassadors to Turkey and men like Assistant Secretary of State Dan Fried, who downplayed Erdoğan’s Islamism and suggested his party was nothing more than the Turkish equivalent of a European Christian Democratic Party—might want to consider how they got Turkey so wrong. 

For Turkish liberals, businessmen, students, and secularists who are striving for a constitutional order where rule-of-law trumps any prime minister’s personal orders and an independent judiciary reigns supreme, the worst aspect of American behavior is that so many American figures are lending their endorsement not to Turkish-American relations but rather to Erdoğan’s agenda. Namik Tan, Turkey’s ambassador to the United States, has made it clear that the Turkish government interprets membership in the Congressional Turkish Caucus as a sign of endorsement of Turkey’s anti-liberal, anti-democratic, anti-secularist, and anti-free speech agenda. And yet, despite everything, more than 130 members of Congress, continue to effectively endorse a government which engages in blasphemy trials with a frequency now rivaling Iran and Saudi Arabia.

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Of The Great Escape, History, and Collective Amnesia

Earlier this month, I traveled to Zagan, Poland, to talk to a Polish military unit on their way to Afghanistan. I had never heard of Zagan before, but I should have: It was the site of the “Great Escape” memorialized in the 1963 Steve McQueen/James Garner film. On a free day, some colleagues and I went to the site of Stalag Luft III, the prison camp from which the mass escape occurred. The museum commemorating the prisoners of the camp was small, but stellar. While the movie took great liberties—first and foremost, Americans were not present in the camp at the time of the escape—Germans did intern American airmen at the camp at other times, including three veterans of the Doolittle Raid over Tokyo, one of whom has just recently passed away.

The museum historian who provided a personal tour has interacted with many of the former prisoners or their families, and has collected a number of fantastic mementos of the American presence, including sketches done in the camp by an American prisoner of other American prisoners. New discoveries are being made almost weekly, as curators continue to scour the substantial grounds with metal detectors. Not too long ago, site personnel even discovered the remains of another tunnel. Next year, I believe, will be the last reunion for the Stalag Luft III prisoners as old age claims those the Germans did not. In recent years, some German former guards have also joined the reunions, the most recent of which was held in Dayton.

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Earlier this month, I traveled to Zagan, Poland, to talk to a Polish military unit on their way to Afghanistan. I had never heard of Zagan before, but I should have: It was the site of the “Great Escape” memorialized in the 1963 Steve McQueen/James Garner film. On a free day, some colleagues and I went to the site of Stalag Luft III, the prison camp from which the mass escape occurred. The museum commemorating the prisoners of the camp was small, but stellar. While the movie took great liberties—first and foremost, Americans were not present in the camp at the time of the escape—Germans did intern American airmen at the camp at other times, including three veterans of the Doolittle Raid over Tokyo, one of whom has just recently passed away.

The museum historian who provided a personal tour has interacted with many of the former prisoners or their families, and has collected a number of fantastic mementos of the American presence, including sketches done in the camp by an American prisoner of other American prisoners. New discoveries are being made almost weekly, as curators continue to scour the substantial grounds with metal detectors. Not too long ago, site personnel even discovered the remains of another tunnel. Next year, I believe, will be the last reunion for the Stalag Luft III prisoners as old age claims those the Germans did not. In recent years, some German former guards have also joined the reunions, the most recent of which was held in Dayton.

I came across many Holocaust survivors growing up; when I briefly taught at a Sunday school in Connecticut while in graduate school, I brought an escapee from Sobibor to talk to my class. And, of course, growing up I knew many World War II veterans. That so many eyewitnesses to these decisive episodes of history are now dying out is sad. That their stories and an understanding of what they fought for are now diminished if not ignored in high school and university history classes is tragic. So seldom have intellectuals turned their backs on so much history. That a museum such as that in Zagan so enthusiastically chronicle is fortunate; that only a handful of Americans and Europeans will ever see them is a poor reflection on our collective ability to appreciate our recent past.

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RE: Will the Warming Debate Cool Off?

When investigating financial matters, the old adage is “follow the money.” That works in politics very often as well. As John Hinderaker points out over at PowerLine, billions of dollars flow from government to scientists who espouse the mantra of climate change and nearly none to those who doubt it. So it’s not surprising that climate scientists tend to believe in the climate change hypothesis: It’s in their self-interest to do so.

But there’s another reason both government and climate scientists love the idea of anthropogenic global warming: power.

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When investigating financial matters, the old adage is “follow the money.” That works in politics very often as well. As John Hinderaker points out over at PowerLine, billions of dollars flow from government to scientists who espouse the mantra of climate change and nearly none to those who doubt it. So it’s not surprising that climate scientists tend to believe in the climate change hypothesis: It’s in their self-interest to do so.

But there’s another reason both government and climate scientists love the idea of anthropogenic global warming: power.

Let’s accept for a moment the predicate that global warming is a real threat and caused by human activity. That would be a problem that could be addressed by government only. So it would greatly increase the scope of government’s reach into the economy and peoples’ lives. That, in turn, would greatly increase the power of politicians. But politicians would need the help and advice of experts in order to formulate policy. So they would need climate scientists to advise them. Getting to whisper in the ears of the powerful is itself a form of power. And as James Madison explained, “Men love power.” So politicians and climate scientists love the idea of anthropogenic global warming.

The exact same phenomenon happened two generations ago when Keynesian economics swept through the profession and then through government. Keynes advocated having government actively work various economic levers in order to keep supply and demand in balance and thus keep the economy humming along smoothly. But in order for politicians to take on the new and empowering role of being the engineers of the economic locomotive, they needed the advice of economists, who were only too happy to give it. Within a generation the line “We are all Keynesians now” was born. 

So follow the money, but also follow the power.

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Conservatives and the Quest for Political Purification

For some conservatives, using the threat of a government shutdown to defund the Affordable Care Act is an issue with which they have honest differences with other conservatives. For others on the right, however, the “principled” and “patriotic” Republicans support the effort to defund ObamaCare while “pseudo-conservatives”—the spineless, craven, and cowardly types—oppose the effort.

For this group, which includes prominent lawmakers such as Senator Ted Cruz, the defunding strategy has become a litmus test, a true “red line,” a historic moment in which the right-wing wheat and the RINO chaff are once and for all separated. To find a comparable moment in history, think of William Barret Travis at the Alamo (played by Mr. Cruz) and Henry V at Agincourt (played by Senator Rand Paul). “We few, we happy few, we band of Tea Party brothers.”

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For some conservatives, using the threat of a government shutdown to defund the Affordable Care Act is an issue with which they have honest differences with other conservatives. For others on the right, however, the “principled” and “patriotic” Republicans support the effort to defund ObamaCare while “pseudo-conservatives”—the spineless, craven, and cowardly types—oppose the effort.

For this group, which includes prominent lawmakers such as Senator Ted Cruz, the defunding strategy has become a litmus test, a true “red line,” a historic moment in which the right-wing wheat and the RINO chaff are once and for all separated. To find a comparable moment in history, think of William Barret Travis at the Alamo (played by Mr. Cruz) and Henry V at Agincourt (played by Senator Rand Paul). “We few, we happy few, we band of Tea Party brothers.”

What a shame all this melodrama is a mirage, a farce, a game.

The choice is not, and never has been, between those willing to defund ObamaCare and those willing to fund it. That supposed choice is in fact an illusion. To defund the ACA would require the House and Senate to pass new legislation, which Barack Obama would have to sign. And no one, not even Senators Cruz, Paul, Lee and Rubio, believes the president would do that. 

All the posturing that’s being done to present this as a battle between Intrepid Republicans versus the Surrender Caucus is nothing more than political theater.

It also appears that Captain Courageous himself, Ted Cruz, and some of his colleagues are now engaging—at least for now—in a premature surrender. House Republicans are incensed at Cruz for going wobbly on the filibuster he once seemed to favor, putting all the responsibility back on the House.

“For weeks, House Republicans have said the prospects of passing a defund bill in the Senate are grim, and Senators Lee, Cruz, and Rubio have responded by saying nothing is impossible if we fight hard enough. Now they are getting exactly what they asked for, and they issue a press release conceding defeat and refusing to join the fight they demanded in every TV appearance. It’s time they put their money where their mouths are, and do something other than talk,” a House GOP leadership aide told National Review. And Representative Sean Duffy took to Twitter, saying, “House agrees to send ‪#CR to Senate that defunds Obamacare. ‪@SenTedCruz & ‪@SenMikeLee refuse to fight. Wave white flag and surrender.”

There will be plenty of twists and turns ahead, so we’ll have to see how this all plays out. (Mr. Cruz may have to move forward on a filibuster just to save face.) But it does raise the question: How did this silly idea become all the rage?

For some the answer has to do with pent up fury in need of an outlet, and the effort to defund the ACA is that outlet. It also appeals to those who find it satisfying to turn every debate into an apocalyptic clash. And even if Republicans fail, at least they “fought the good fight.” (Ronald Reagan referred to people of this mindset as those who enjoyed “going off the cliff with all flags flying.”)

But there’s also a tendency among some on the right—not all, certainly, but some—to go in search of heretics. They seek to purify the conservative movement—to eliminate from it the defilement, the debasement, and the corruption they see all around them—and they bring to this task an almost religious zeal. They are the Keepers of the Tablets. And they are in a near constant state of agitation. Living in an imperfect world while demanding perfection (or your version of perfection) from others can be hard. 

This is not conservatism either in terms of disposition or governing philosophy. It is, rather, the product of intemperate minds and fairly radical (and thoroughly unconservative) tendencies. Such things have always been with us; and some of the uncontained passions and anger will eventually burn out. The question is how much damage will be done in the process. 

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