Commentary Magazine


Posts For: October 3, 2013

Obama’s Communications Team Needs an Intervention

Much has been said already about President Obama’s rhetoric regarding the government shutdown–John Steele Gordon and Pete Wehner noted both the president’s dishonest and overheated comments. But there is a third category that rounds out the list: the president is saying an awful lot of things lately that don’t make any sense.

It’s possible that the White House was just caught off guard by the shutdown, but the president seems completely unprepared to talk about it. And to my mind, this undermines Obama more than the other rhetoric: politics ain’t beanbag, so people expect the president to occasionally have moments of incivility. Additionally, after the Obama campaign’s behavior during the 2012 election there isn’t much that should surprise people. The public is probably also getting used to Obama saying things that are flatly contradicted by reality. But I’m not so sure they expect their professor-president to make comments like this:

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Much has been said already about President Obama’s rhetoric regarding the government shutdown–John Steele Gordon and Pete Wehner noted both the president’s dishonest and overheated comments. But there is a third category that rounds out the list: the president is saying an awful lot of things lately that don’t make any sense.

It’s possible that the White House was just caught off guard by the shutdown, but the president seems completely unprepared to talk about it. And to my mind, this undermines Obama more than the other rhetoric: politics ain’t beanbag, so people expect the president to occasionally have moments of incivility. Additionally, after the Obama campaign’s behavior during the 2012 election there isn’t much that should surprise people. The public is probably also getting used to Obama saying things that are flatly contradicted by reality. But I’m not so sure they expect their professor-president to make comments like this:

Now, like every new law, every new product rollout, there are going to be some glitches in the signup process along the way that we will fix.  I’ve been saying this from the start.  For example, we found out that there have been times this morning where the site has been running more slowly than it normally will.  The reason is because more than one million people visited healthcare.gov before 7:00 in the morning. …

Consider that just a couple of weeks ago, Apple rolled out a new mobile operating system.  And within days, they found a glitch, so they fixed it.  I don’t remember anybody suggesting Apple should stop selling iPhones or iPads — or threatening to shut down the company if they didn’t.  That’s not how we do things in America.  We don’t actively root for failure.  We get to work, we make things happen, we make them better, we keep going.

As people pointed out at the time, this is a preposterous analogy. Surely someone in the White House knows that Americans are not mandated to buy iPhones, as they are insurance. Nor, of course, are the members of the House, who hold key budgeting responsibilities, analogous to angry customers threatening to destroy someone else’s private phone manufacturer if a glitch wasn’t fixed–as the president suggested.

But then, we can’t assume too much about the president’s knowledge of the budgeting process. A few days earlier, the president said this:

As for not letting America pay its bills, I have to say, no Congress before this one has ever – ever — in history been irresponsible enough to threaten default, to threaten an economic shutdown, to suggest America not pay its bills, just to try to blackmail a President into giving them some concessions on issues that have nothing to do with a budget. 

Does the president actually think ObamaCare has nothing to do with the budget? He sounded like he believed that line, which is fairly disturbing. As National Review’s Charles C.W. Cooke noted:

This is a law, remember, that was crowbarred through Congress with the questionable use of reconciliation, a parliamentary procedure that is reserved exclusively for budgetary matters; a law that was sold as a deficit-reduction measure; a law that contains a significant spending component, including a 5-10 percent increase in the size of the federal budget; and, alas, a law that boasts a central mandate that was upheld (rewritten) by the Supreme Court as a tax, thus ensuring that any changes to the penalties must be approved by the House.

And then today, Obama offered another bizarre analogy. This time Republicans were not angry iPhone users, but striking workers. And this is how Barack “I’ll walk on that picket line with you, as president of the United States of America” Obama explained it:

If you’re working here and in the middle of the day you just stopped and said, you know what, I want to get something, but I don’t know exactly what I’m going to get.  (Laughter.)  But I’m just going to stop working until I get something.  I’m going to shut down the whole plant until I get something. 

AUDIENCE MEMBER:  You’d get fired. 

THE PRESIDENT:  You’d get fired.  (Applause.)  Right?  Because the deal is you’ve already gotten hired.  You’ve got a job.  You’re getting a paycheck.  And so you also are getting the pride of doing a good job and contributing to a business and looking out for your fellow workers.  That’s what you’re getting.  Well, it shouldn’t be any different for a member of Congress.     

Well it’s good to know that all along Obama really sided with Scott Walker. Meanwhile, it’s not so easy to take the president seriously when he’s reciting lines like this–and that’s even more the case if he’s coming up with the lines himself. The president is fond of trying to convince the press that policy failures are really failures of communication. Whether or not they account for the perception of policy failure, the failures of communication are undeniable.

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For Our Arab Allies, It’s “East of Suez” All Over Again

Evelyn Gordon is absolutely correct when she writes that the U.S. romance with Iran “terrifies” our Arab allies, but she hits only the tip of the iceberg. Obama’s “bromance” with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is only the latest in a long line of presidential statements, decisions, and actions which have antagonized America’s Arab allies.

Bahrain, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, and the Sultanate of Oman have quietly but steadily supported the United States for years. Bahrain and Kuwait host important U.S. military contingents (I write this from the Louisville, Kentucky airport where I am returning from a brief with a Fort Knox-based U.S. Army unit heading to Kuwait in a few months). The Sultanate of Oman has been a force for moderation and quiet backchannel diplomacy for years, and played a crucial role in the months after 9/11 as action neared in Afghanistan. The United Arab Emirates has been at the forefront of the fight against the Muslim Brotherhood, the most dangerous group to both democracy and stability in the Arab Middle East.

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Evelyn Gordon is absolutely correct when she writes that the U.S. romance with Iran “terrifies” our Arab allies, but she hits only the tip of the iceberg. Obama’s “bromance” with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is only the latest in a long line of presidential statements, decisions, and actions which have antagonized America’s Arab allies.

Bahrain, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, and the Sultanate of Oman have quietly but steadily supported the United States for years. Bahrain and Kuwait host important U.S. military contingents (I write this from the Louisville, Kentucky airport where I am returning from a brief with a Fort Knox-based U.S. Army unit heading to Kuwait in a few months). The Sultanate of Oman has been a force for moderation and quiet backchannel diplomacy for years, and played a crucial role in the months after 9/11 as action neared in Afghanistan. The United Arab Emirates has been at the forefront of the fight against the Muslim Brotherhood, the most dangerous group to both democracy and stability in the Arab Middle East.

Imagine how the “Pivot to Asia” sounded to Gulf Arab leaders who, in their childhoods, heard British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan’s “East of Suez” speech and then saw the British military promptly abandon their Arab allies. It was against the backdrop of the British withdrawal that the United Arab Emirates, for example, experienced Iranian aggression firsthand when the Iranian military (with President Richard Nixon’s tacit approval) seized the disputed Tonb islands and Abu Musa.

Then, early in Obama’s first term, Hillary Clinton floated a trial balloon to extend a nuclear umbrella over the Gulf states should Iran ever go nuclear. Privately, our Gulf partners asked how they could ever trust such a guarantee since Obama and Clinton had been so willing to abandon the previous rock-solid guarantee that Iran would never go nuclear.

The Obama doctrine is a doctrine of betrayal. Just ask Georgia, Israel, Taiwan, South Korea, Honduras, Poland, and every Gulf Arab ally. Maybe pundits can spin, but there is no denying it in the perception of our Gulf allies. Alas, the reverberations of so quickly dispensing with commitments to allies will last long after Obama retires, and will be an insurmountable burden for U.S. diplomacy for decades to come.

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Iran’s Imprisoned Ayatollah Suffers Heart Attack

In July, I reported on the grave situation of Hossein Bourojerdi, one of Iran’s most courageous dissidents. Bourojerdi, who carries the honorific Shia Muslim title of “ayatollah,” is a veteran opponent of Iran’s ruling system of velayat e faqih, whereby Islamic jurists exercise total control over society and its institutions.

Bourojerdi was first incarcerated in 2006. At the time, hundreds of the ayatollah’s supporters valiantly attemped to stop him from being dragged out of his south Tehran home by the police. Since then, reports of Bourojerdi’s failing health have regularly surfaced. Now, Iranian human-rights activists have passed on the news that Bourojerdi, who is languishing in Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison, began experiencing heart failure last Sunday.

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In July, I reported on the grave situation of Hossein Bourojerdi, one of Iran’s most courageous dissidents. Bourojerdi, who carries the honorific Shia Muslim title of “ayatollah,” is a veteran opponent of Iran’s ruling system of velayat e faqih, whereby Islamic jurists exercise total control over society and its institutions.

Bourojerdi was first incarcerated in 2006. At the time, hundreds of the ayatollah’s supporters valiantly attemped to stop him from being dragged out of his south Tehran home by the police. Since then, reports of Bourojerdi’s failing health have regularly surfaced. Now, Iranian human-rights activists have passed on the news that Bourojerdi, who is languishing in Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison, began experiencing heart failure last Sunday.

Only after Bourojerdi coped with extreme pain and shortness of breath for a full day did the Evin guards finally escort him from his cell for what passes for medical attention, by which point the ayatollah had undergone a heart attack. “Not only was he not given any medication while at the infirmary,” noted the latest bulletin on Bourojerdi’s plight, “the prison authorities continued to refuse his family’s delivery of medication that he had been prescribed before.”

A few days before his heart attack, Bourojerdi sent a thunderous appeal to the United Nations General Assembly urging the international body to once and for all confront the issue of human-rights abuse by the Iranian regime:

I sit here, at the start of my eighth year of captivity; jailed by a religious dictatorship and charged with defending the freedom of thought, speech and expression and refusing to align with tyrants who forcibly lord over Iran… Has the time not come for your assembly to demand that these brutal totalitarians respond to how they dare to speak of Bahrain, Syria and Palestine, under the guise of sympathy, when they have plundered and stolen the wealth and national income of every Iranian, rendering them impoverished and putting them in the ultimate financial and economic crisis?

That time, of course, has not come. Bourojerdi’s missive passed unnoticed amidst all the cooing over the charm offensive launched by Hassan Rouhani, Iran’s new and–as we are endlessly informed–”moderate” president. While President Obama did, in his phone call with Rouhani, raise the continuing imprisonment of Saeed Abedini, a Christian pastor with American citizenship who has also been detained in Evin for the last year, the suffering of a Muslim cleric who has tirelessly advocated for the separation of mosque and state was deemed unworthy of even a mention.

But Bourojerdi’s case may yet receive the attention it warrants from an unexpected source. Ahmad Shaheed, the former foreign minister of the Maldives who presently serves as the UN’s “Special Rapporteur on the situation of Human Rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran,” has won plaudits from Iranian democracy activists for his forthright reports on the mullah’s human-rights abuses. Shaheed is certainly aware of Bourojerdi’s situation, having received a letter from supporters and family members of the ayatollah in 2011, in which they asserted that an “illegal ban” on prison visits was designed to compel Bourojerdi to confess to fabricated crimes.

In his most recent report, Shaheed carefully traced the regime’s repression of religious minorities, citing the predicament of Christians and Bahais who are especially vulnerable to legal charges of heresy and apostasy. Significantly, Shaheed concluded that:

There has been an apparent increase in the degree of seriousness of human rights violations in the Islamic Republic of Iran…alarming reports of retributive State action against individuals suspected of communicating with UN Special Procedures raises serious concern about the Government’s resolve to promote respect for human rights in the country (my emphasis.)

In other words, as well as refusing cooperation with UN nuclear inspectors, the regime is also criminalizing those who talk to the international body’s human-rights investigators. So far, Rouhani has given no indication that he will curb this intimidation. Indeed, his appointment of a hardliner with strong ties to Iran’s security apparatus, Mostafa Pourmohammadi, as the country’s minister of justice, does not bode well for Ayatollah Boroujerdi or any of the other activists that have run afoul of the Tehran regime.

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Erdoğan Embraces “Separate but Equal”

Millions of Turks have migrated to Europe; Turks comprise the largest minority in Germany. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with that: Many of the Turks living in Germany work hard and seek to integrate into German society. In the most recent German elections, Cemile Giousouf, a 35-year old daughter of a Turkish immigrant, was elected to the Bundestag as a member of Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union. That is good news. For too long, Europe has been a pot in which little has melted.

Alas, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan now seeks to keep it that way. He has now demanded that European countries teach the children of the Turkish Diaspora in Turkish, rather than the language of the land:

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Millions of Turks have migrated to Europe; Turks comprise the largest minority in Germany. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with that: Many of the Turks living in Germany work hard and seek to integrate into German society. In the most recent German elections, Cemile Giousouf, a 35-year old daughter of a Turkish immigrant, was elected to the Bundestag as a member of Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union. That is good news. For too long, Europe has been a pot in which little has melted.

Alas, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan now seeks to keep it that way. He has now demanded that European countries teach the children of the Turkish Diaspora in Turkish, rather than the language of the land:

“Those people who contribute to the economy of the country they reside in by working and [turn an honest penny] for more than half of a century have become, to a great extent, permanently settled. However, a large part of those [Turkish] citizens have not been granted education in their mother tongue despite their great efforts and demands,” Erdoğan told European education ministers.

Erdoğan would essentially promote a system of separate but equal in which Turkish emigrants would attend Turkish schools while other German, Danish, Dutch, and Swedish students attended their own separate schools in the language of the land. In effect, the man caricatured as a would-be sultan back home now seeks to impose a modified version of the Ottoman millet system. His demands also reflect the bigotry at the heart of the Turkish leader, who categorizes citizens on the basis of religion and ethnicity rather than in terms of national citizenship. Erdoğan’s demands follow revelations that the Turkish government has maintained secret race codes for use by its own education ministry.  

Immigration can enrich societies, but not at the expense of the embrace of common values which underlays citizenship. How sad it is that the religious and ethnic lens trumps all else in 21st century Turkey, as Turkish liberalism and secularism continues to slide backward. Let us hope that European leaders will be confident enough in their own societies to ignore Erdoğan and his backward demands.

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The Age of Invective

Even for our time, the invective is remarkable.

In the current debate about the continuing resolution and the government shutdown, and because of their determination to begin to unwind the highly unpopular Affordable Care Act, Republicans are being referred to as jihadists, arsonists, anarchists, terrorists, extortionists, racists, gun-to-the-head hostage takers, grave threats to American democracy, the heirs of Joe McCarthy, and the architects of “insidious and anti-constitutional acts of racist vandalism.”

There are several points to be made about this, the most obvious of which is that these charges are being leveled by President Obama and the aides and allies of Mr. Obama–a man, it’s worth recalling, who promised he would “turn the page” on the “old politics” of division and anger. He would end a politics that “breeds division and conflict and cynicism.” He would help us to “rediscover our bonds to each other and … get out of this constant petty bickering that’s come to characterize our politics.” 

Yet things are worse now than before; and they are worse in large measure because of Mr. Obama himself.

Now, even if you believe what the GOP is doing is unwise–even if you believe the Affordable Care Act is one of the great achievements in American history–the characterization of Republicans by the left is not just unfair but slanderous. One can actually believe the Affordable Care Act is harmful and should be undone without being “people with a bomb strapped to their chest,” in the words of White House aide Dan Pfeiffer. But the kind of sulfuric rhetoric that’s being commonly used these days is also, on a deep level, damaging to our country.

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Even for our time, the invective is remarkable.

In the current debate about the continuing resolution and the government shutdown, and because of their determination to begin to unwind the highly unpopular Affordable Care Act, Republicans are being referred to as jihadists, arsonists, anarchists, terrorists, extortionists, racists, gun-to-the-head hostage takers, grave threats to American democracy, the heirs of Joe McCarthy, and the architects of “insidious and anti-constitutional acts of racist vandalism.”

There are several points to be made about this, the most obvious of which is that these charges are being leveled by President Obama and the aides and allies of Mr. Obama–a man, it’s worth recalling, who promised he would “turn the page” on the “old politics” of division and anger. He would end a politics that “breeds division and conflict and cynicism.” He would help us to “rediscover our bonds to each other and … get out of this constant petty bickering that’s come to characterize our politics.” 

Yet things are worse now than before; and they are worse in large measure because of Mr. Obama himself.

Now, even if you believe what the GOP is doing is unwise–even if you believe the Affordable Care Act is one of the great achievements in American history–the characterization of Republicans by the left is not just unfair but slanderous. One can actually believe the Affordable Care Act is harmful and should be undone without being “people with a bomb strapped to their chest,” in the words of White House aide Dan Pfeiffer. But the kind of sulfuric rhetoric that’s being commonly used these days is also, on a deep level, damaging to our country.

The reason is that there are such things as civic bonds, and they are quite important. In his book Our Sacred Honor, William Bennett reminds us that the word “civility” comes from the Latin root civitas, meaning city–and civis, meaning citizen. “Civility, then,” Bennett writes, “is behavior worthy of citizens living in a city or in common with others.” It uplifts our common life. And how we treat one another goes some distance toward determining the degree to which we achieve “domestic tranquility.”

It would be silly to pretend that political passions don’t create divisions. (We know that political differences almost destroyed the wonderful friendship that existed between Jefferson and Adams. They eventually reconciled, thanks to the intervention of their mutual friend Benjamin Rush.) Nor do I believe politics should be stripped of intense debates or criticisms of others. Quite the opposite, in fact. Standing against policies one believes to be wrong and even unjust can be commendable.

My point is that I’ve found myself in the middle of plenty of disagreements over the years – and the temptation to pivot from sharp substantive disagreements to denigrating and demonizing those with whom we disagree is ever-present. I’m certain there are lines of propriety I’ve crossed. But in our calmer and wiser moments we all understand that those are precisely the temptations we need to try to resist, even if imperfectly; and that even our political opponents are deserving of being treated with a certain dignity.

Our greatest president understood this perhaps better than anyone. Upon taking office during the most polarized period in our history, Abraham Lincoln closed his first inaugural address by reminding us that we are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies, he said. And then he added this: 

Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.

The divisions in America today are undeniably deep–and sometimes it seems as if those on the left and the right are operating in different worlds, based on a different set of values. Neither side can understand why the other doesn’t see things as they do. (I say that not as a detached observer floating comfortably above the fray but as a conservative who is involved in the daily back-and-forth of politics and whose worldview is very different than that of modern-day progressives.)

Yet we are nowhere near the place we were in 1860. And now, like then, the bonds of affection that unite Americans need to be attended to. We’re all worse off if they fray. Nor do we need to portray those with whom we disagree as moral monsters. That might be worth recalling at a time in which the political rhetoric has spun ludicrously out of control.

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In Oil and Gas, We’re No. 1

Guess who is the world’s largest producer of liquid and gaseous hydrocarbon fuels (oil, natural gas, and natural gas liquids)? For years it has been Russia, which is deeply dependent on the production and export of such products (taxes and tariffs on them provide 40 percent of the government’s budget).

But this year, probably already, Russia will be overtaken by the United States, according to an article in the Wall Street Journal. U.S. oil production increased by more than a million barrels a day last year, the largest annual increase since oil production began in 1859. Russian oil production has been falling.

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Guess who is the world’s largest producer of liquid and gaseous hydrocarbon fuels (oil, natural gas, and natural gas liquids)? For years it has been Russia, which is deeply dependent on the production and export of such products (taxes and tariffs on them provide 40 percent of the government’s budget).

But this year, probably already, Russia will be overtaken by the United States, according to an article in the Wall Street Journal. U.S. oil production increased by more than a million barrels a day last year, the largest annual increase since oil production began in 1859. Russian oil production has been falling.

This has huge geopolitical implications and those implications all favor the United States. Imports of oil and gas are falling, down 15 and 32 percent respectively in the last five years, improving the balance of trade and reducing the political leverage of such countries as Russia, Saudi Arabia, and Venezuela.

Whether the environmentalists like it or not (and they don’t), the world runs on hydrocarbons and will for the foreseeable future. Having ever more abundant domestic supplies, with vast additional supplies in neighboring, and friendly, Canada and Mexico, is a strategic advantage that would be very hard to overestimate.

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NYT’s Anti-Bibi Editorial Not Aging Well

Yesterday’s edition of the New York Times featured the paper’s very silly editorial attacking Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for advocating on behalf of his country’s fundamental rights–a basic responsibility of political leadership and one that should not be considered controversial. But the editorial was unwise not only for its inanity but also because it was the kind of editorial that would most likely rot rather than ripen with age.

And it only took a day for that process to emerge, as several stories today make clear. But first, it’s instructive to review the point of the editorial, which can be understood in one of the paragraphs helpfully placed early on in the editorial:

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Yesterday’s edition of the New York Times featured the paper’s very silly editorial attacking Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for advocating on behalf of his country’s fundamental rights–a basic responsibility of political leadership and one that should not be considered controversial. But the editorial was unwise not only for its inanity but also because it was the kind of editorial that would most likely rot rather than ripen with age.

And it only took a day for that process to emerge, as several stories today make clear. But first, it’s instructive to review the point of the editorial, which can be understood in one of the paragraphs helpfully placed early on in the editorial:

Mr. Netanyahu has legitimate reasons to be wary of any Iranian overtures, as do the United States and the four other major powers involved in negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program. But it could be disastrous if Mr. Netanyahu and his supporters in Congress were so blinded by distrust of Iran that they exaggerate the threat, block President Obama from taking advantage of new diplomatic openings and sabotage the best chance to establish a new relationship since the 1979 Iranian revolution sent American-Iranian relations into the deep freeze.

They are not Netanyahu’s supporters in Congress but rather supporters of preventing a nuclear Iran. But acknowledging that would disrupt, of course, the leftist media’s obsession with the idea that Netanyahu is ever meddling where the New York Times thinks he doesn’t belong, namely American politics. The editors also stop just shy of calling the Israeli prime minister a liar, but indicate that they expect him to manipulate Congress into spreading false information. They also seem to think the American political system is powerless to stop Netanyahu from controlling American foreign policy even when the president of the United States disagrees with him.

And that’s only the third paragraph. “Wait till I get going,” a Times editorialist might say, echoing Vizzini. A day later, however, it’s appearing that the Times’s faith in Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s willingness to negotiate in good faith is baffling to … Hassan Rouhani:

Elsewhere, Rouhani elaborated on the achievements of his recent visit to New York during which he attended and addressed the UN General Assembly session, held meetings with different world leaders, and had a phone talk with US President Barack Obama, and said, “During the recent visit to the UN, we strove to prevent a new war in the region and we came to be successful in the trip.”

Referring to his phone talk with Obama on the way back to Iran from New York, he said, “Before my trip (to New York), the Americans had sent 5 messages to arrange a meeting between me and Obama, but I turned them down.”

Now, Rouhani did not, according to this report in the Iranian news agency, rule out the very idea of a “meeting,” though he does not get any more specific about the details of such a meeting. But he’s basically bragging about turning down the American president, who appears desperate to meet with him in this account. If Rouhani is telling the truth, then he assesses communication with the Obama administration strictly through its propaganda value. And if he’s not telling the truth, then he assumes he can make up stories designed to embarrass Obama with no consequences. Because Rouhani’s past does not reveal an inclination toward peaceful statesmanship, none of this will come as a surprise to those familiar with recent history.

And as Michael Rubin noted this morning, Rouhani is also apparently ruling out the contours of any reasonable deal on Iran’s nuclear program. Meanwhile, it appears that even John Kerry thinks Netanyahu was making sense:

Secretary of State John Kerry, in his first remarks about Iran since Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel warned the United States to be wary of talks with the country, said on Thursday that the United States would negotiate with Tehran only if it provided proof that it would not pursue nuclear defense programs.

“Our hope is that there is a way forward,” Mr. Kerry said at a news conference here after a meeting with Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and the Japanese defense and foreign ministers, adding that he could assure Israel that “nothing we do is going to be based on trust. It’s going to be based on steps,” in which Iran must prove it is not going to pursue a nuclear program, or it will face a cold shoulder from the United States. “A country that generally wants to have a peaceful program does not have difficulty proving that it’s peaceful,” he said.

If the Times has lost John Kerry, Benjamin Netanyahu should be the least of their worries.

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Mission Impractical

The Washington Post today provides fresh details about the anemic CIA program to train moderate Syrian rebels. Reporter Greg Miller writes that “the CIA program is so minuscule that it is expected to produce only a few hundred trained fighters each month even after it is enlarged, a level that officials said will do little to bolster rebel forces that are being eclipsed by radical Islamists in the fight against the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.”

The fact that the CIA is providing so little support is not accidental, nor is it due to logistical constraints. It’s due to the mission statement given to the covert operators by their political masters in the White House. Writes the Post: “The CIA’s mission, officials said, has been defined by the White House’s desire to seek a political settlement, a scenario that relies on an eventual stalemate among the warring factions rather than a clear victor. As a result, officials said, limits on the agency’s authorities enable it to provide enough support to help ensure that politically moderate, U.S.-supported militias don’t lose but not enough for them to win.”

Now there’s an inspiring battle cry: Go out and risk your lives for a stalemate. One can only imagine what morale must be like among not only the Syrian rebels who are expected to risk their necks but also among the CIA handlers who are expected to prepare them for this pointless mission. Indeed the Post story suggests the CIA is already in CYA mode: “Mindful of the criticism and investigations that accompanied many of those operations, senior CIA officials have raised the concern that the limits imposed in Syria will do little to shield the agency from criticism if something goes wrong. ‘What happens when some of the people we trained torture a prisoner?’ said a former senior U.S. intelligence official familiar with agency operations in the Middle East.”

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The Washington Post today provides fresh details about the anemic CIA program to train moderate Syrian rebels. Reporter Greg Miller writes that “the CIA program is so minuscule that it is expected to produce only a few hundred trained fighters each month even after it is enlarged, a level that officials said will do little to bolster rebel forces that are being eclipsed by radical Islamists in the fight against the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.”

The fact that the CIA is providing so little support is not accidental, nor is it due to logistical constraints. It’s due to the mission statement given to the covert operators by their political masters in the White House. Writes the Post: “The CIA’s mission, officials said, has been defined by the White House’s desire to seek a political settlement, a scenario that relies on an eventual stalemate among the warring factions rather than a clear victor. As a result, officials said, limits on the agency’s authorities enable it to provide enough support to help ensure that politically moderate, U.S.-supported militias don’t lose but not enough for them to win.”

Now there’s an inspiring battle cry: Go out and risk your lives for a stalemate. One can only imagine what morale must be like among not only the Syrian rebels who are expected to risk their necks but also among the CIA handlers who are expected to prepare them for this pointless mission. Indeed the Post story suggests the CIA is already in CYA mode: “Mindful of the criticism and investigations that accompanied many of those operations, senior CIA officials have raised the concern that the limits imposed in Syria will do little to shield the agency from criticism if something goes wrong. ‘What happens when some of the people we trained torture a prisoner?’ said a former senior U.S. intelligence official familiar with agency operations in the Middle East.”

History shows that covert operations, like standard military campaigns, are only likely to produce results if they are designed to produce victory–as in the case of the program to arm Afghan mujahideen in the 1980s. Aiming for stalemate is a prescription for failure.

Why would the Obama administration make this their goal? Their de facto policy–not their declared policy but their real policy–appears to be a variation of Henry Kissinger’s famous quip that it was a shame that both sides couldn’t lose in the Iran-Iraq War. Likewise in Syria it’s hard to choose between Hezbollah and the Quds Force on one side and, on the other, al-Qaeda affiliates such as ISIS (the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) and the al-Nusra Front, even if the latter make up only a minority of rebel fighters. (The Post cites intelligence estimates that jihadists comprise 20 percent of the 100,000 rebel fighters.)

The problem is that, while it’s possible for both groups of extremists to lose (which is what would happen if moderate rebel factions prevail), it is also possible for both sides to win–which is what would happen if today’s stalemate were to continue indefinitely. Under those circumstances, the current trend of the country being split between jihadist and Assadist areas will accelerate: the al-Qaeda groups will continue to exercise sway in the north while Iran’s allies control Damascus and the Alawite strongholds.

This is not a win for the United States. It’s actually our nightmare scenario. And President Obama’s half-hearted policy of not really supporting the moderate rebels–or only supporting them enough to perpetuate the stalemate–is helping to bring it about. Incidentally, American apathy is also enabling the war to rage on and to kill thousands more people every month. This is neither moral nor strategically smart.

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Rouhani Declares Enrichment Non-Negotiable

Last Friday, President Obama surprised the press when he announced that he had a telephone conversation with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, the first direct conversation between the U.S. and Iranian presidents since the Islamic Revolution. Obama expressed his optimism after his conversation that a nuclear deal was possible.

Perhaps someone should tell that to Rouhani. On October 2, Rouhani spoke to the Iranian press and gave his summary of the conversation. According to a translation provided by the Open Source Center, Voice of the Islamic Republic Radio 1 reported: “Speaking to journalists after a cabinet meeting on 2 October, Rouhani assured his countrymen that there will be no talks about the issue of nuclear technology and enrichment inside Iran.”

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Last Friday, President Obama surprised the press when he announced that he had a telephone conversation with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, the first direct conversation between the U.S. and Iranian presidents since the Islamic Revolution. Obama expressed his optimism after his conversation that a nuclear deal was possible.

Perhaps someone should tell that to Rouhani. On October 2, Rouhani spoke to the Iranian press and gave his summary of the conversation. According to a translation provided by the Open Source Center, Voice of the Islamic Republic Radio 1 reported: “Speaking to journalists after a cabinet meeting on 2 October, Rouhani assured his countrymen that there will be no talks about the issue of nuclear technology and enrichment inside Iran.”

Rouhani’s statements are not the exception, but the rule. Over at the Iran Tracker, analysts Will Fulton and Amir Touraj have catalogued a number of Iranian officials’ press statements in the past day or two walking back some of the flexibility that Rouhani implied.

Oops. Just as Palestine Liberation Organization chairman Yasser Arafat once said one thing to American officials and quite the opposite to his domestic audience, so it seems that Rouhani is now doing the same. President Clinton for too long was willing to ignore Arafat’s duplicity, ultimately leading to a foreign policy train wreck. Let us hope that Obama has learned that a real change of Iranian policy would require saying the same thing to American and Iranian journalists. The White House should accept nothing less.

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Presidential Delusion

Politicians fudge the truth all the time. And sometimes they flat-out lie. Bill Clinton’s infamous, “I did not have sex with that woman,” is the modern exemplar of presidential mendacity. At least it was until yesterday, when Barack Obama gave John Harwood of CNBC an interview. One response to a question makes President Clinton’s finger-wagging whopper sound like the Gettysburg Address:

PRESIDENT OBAMA: John, I think it’s fair to say that—during the course of my presidency—I have bent over backwards to work with—the Republican party. And have purposely kept my rhetoric down. I think I’m pretty well known for being a calm guy. Sometimes people think I’m too calm.”

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Politicians fudge the truth all the time. And sometimes they flat-out lie. Bill Clinton’s infamous, “I did not have sex with that woman,” is the modern exemplar of presidential mendacity. At least it was until yesterday, when Barack Obama gave John Harwood of CNBC an interview. One response to a question makes President Clinton’s finger-wagging whopper sound like the Gettysburg Address:

PRESIDENT OBAMA: John, I think it’s fair to say that—during the course of my presidency—I have bent over backwards to work with—the Republican party. And have purposely kept my rhetoric down. I think I’m pretty well known for being a calm guy. Sometimes people think I’m too calm.”

The mind boggles. This is a president who did not meet with the Republican minority leader in the Senate until a year and a half into his presidency; who excluded Republicans from any part in the shaping of the ObamaCare legislation, and forced it through on a strictly party-line vote; who excluded Republicans from any input on the stimulus bill; who invited Paul Ryan to a conference on health care and then insulted him to his face when Ryan could not reply; who accused Republicans of wanting only to deny health care to 30 million Americans; who called them “bitter clingers,” and told his supporters to get in their faces.

The only thing President Obama, the most divisive, partisan president in the history of the republic, has ever bent over backwards to do was to get out of a sand trap. He has kept his rhetoric down only to the extent of not advocating violence against Republicans.

I’m not a psychiatrist, so I don’t know whether this is just an utterly cynical remark, made in the knowledge that the lap-dog media will not call him on it, or whether it is an artifact of deep problems in telling reality from fantasy.

History will not treat this man kindly.

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Turkey Endangers NATO

While the U.S. media focused for much of the past two weeks on President Obama’s “bromance” with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and the government shutdown, Turkey has made some moves which should raise alarm bells at both the Pentagon and in Brussels.

Three months ago, I blogged here about how Turkey was considering a Chinese bid for an anti-aircraft system. Integrating a Chinese missile system into NATO’s early warning network would require giving the Chinese company access to top secret NATO software. Earlier this week, however, Turkey announced that it would award a $4 billion air defense contract to co-produce a long-range missile defense system with a Chinese firm sanctioned by the United States for its proliferation activities with Iran.

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While the U.S. media focused for much of the past two weeks on President Obama’s “bromance” with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and the government shutdown, Turkey has made some moves which should raise alarm bells at both the Pentagon and in Brussels.

Three months ago, I blogged here about how Turkey was considering a Chinese bid for an anti-aircraft system. Integrating a Chinese missile system into NATO’s early warning network would require giving the Chinese company access to top secret NATO software. Earlier this week, however, Turkey announced that it would award a $4 billion air defense contract to co-produce a long-range missile defense system with a Chinese firm sanctioned by the United States for its proliferation activities with Iran.

This is not the first time that Turkey has undercut NATO security to the benefit of the Chinese. The Turkish Air Force has held war games with the Chinese Air Force without first alerting NATO. Turkey has also turned its back on the European Union and sought to join the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, a club for anti-Western dictatorships.

With even the Turkish press questioning the wisdom of the deal, Defense Minister İsmet Yılmaz has defended the purchase. “We had asked for joint production and a technology transfer,” Yılmaz said. “If other countries cannot guarantee us that, then we will turn to ones that can.”

How sad it is that, as Turkey pivots to China, and endangers U.S. security, the Obama administration not only proposes no consequence, but continues to share technology with an untrustworthy regime.

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