Commentary Magazine


Posts For: October 14, 2013

A Bad Deal is the Only Kind Iran is Offering

Secretary of State John Kerry sounded a note of appropriate caution this past weekend when he said that although he believed the window for diplomacy with Iran was “cracking open,” he believes “no deal is better than a bad deal.” His willingness to admit that there was such a thing as a bad deal with Tehran was a sign that there were some limits to the wave of optimism sweeping through official Washington and the foreign policy establishment about the supposedly moderating influence of new Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Iran’s position on its drive for nuclear capability.

But coming as it did the same day that an Iranian government spokesman made it clear that all Tehran would offer the West tomorrow when the diplomats convene in Geneva for another round of the P5+1 talks was exactly the kind of bad deal that Kerry said he fears, it is by no means clear as to whether his stance is more than rhetoric aimed at soothing the fears of a gathering of supporters of AIPAC to whom Kerry’s remarks were directed. It remains an open question as to whether the U.S. would adhere to President Obama’s declared refusal to countenance an Iranian bomb and therefore insist that they cease refining uranium and export all of their existing stockpile even if that means passing up the opportunity for an agreement that would end the danger of a conflict over the issue. Just as important, it is also uncertain that even if Kerry means what he says about an American refusal to accept an obviously inadequate agreement whether its European allies would follow suit. As last week’s signals from Britain and France to Israel showed, the rest of the members of the P5+1 negotiating team are united mostly by their desire to get out from under their commitments to stopping Iran rather than following through with more sanctions or force if a deal is never reached. If France and France jump ship and join Russia and China in seeking to put the issue aside with a deal that Iran can easily ignore or break, then Kerry’s promise may soon be put to the test.

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Secretary of State John Kerry sounded a note of appropriate caution this past weekend when he said that although he believed the window for diplomacy with Iran was “cracking open,” he believes “no deal is better than a bad deal.” His willingness to admit that there was such a thing as a bad deal with Tehran was a sign that there were some limits to the wave of optimism sweeping through official Washington and the foreign policy establishment about the supposedly moderating influence of new Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Iran’s position on its drive for nuclear capability.

But coming as it did the same day that an Iranian government spokesman made it clear that all Tehran would offer the West tomorrow when the diplomats convene in Geneva for another round of the P5+1 talks was exactly the kind of bad deal that Kerry said he fears, it is by no means clear as to whether his stance is more than rhetoric aimed at soothing the fears of a gathering of supporters of AIPAC to whom Kerry’s remarks were directed. It remains an open question as to whether the U.S. would adhere to President Obama’s declared refusal to countenance an Iranian bomb and therefore insist that they cease refining uranium and export all of their existing stockpile even if that means passing up the opportunity for an agreement that would end the danger of a conflict over the issue. Just as important, it is also uncertain that even if Kerry means what he says about an American refusal to accept an obviously inadequate agreement whether its European allies would follow suit. As last week’s signals from Britain and France to Israel showed, the rest of the members of the P5+1 negotiating team are united mostly by their desire to get out from under their commitments to stopping Iran rather than following through with more sanctions or force if a deal is never reached. If France and France jump ship and join Russia and China in seeking to put the issue aside with a deal that Iran can easily ignore or break, then Kerry’s promise may soon be put to the test.

Caution notwithstanding, it’s clear that the administration is more than eager to play along with the Rouhanimania that has caused the West to revive a P5+1 process that has repeatedly failed. For all of the fact that President Obama and Kerry have always said the right thing about stopping Iran, their actions have never matched their rhetoric. From the point of view of this U.S. foreign policy team, the “window of diplomacy” they constantly refer to, is never closed no matter how often the Iranians have shut it in their faces. Their commitment to diplomacy and engagement with Iran is not so much a tactic as it is a function of their near blind faith in international agreements, the United Nations and multilateralism.

The Iranians know that as their decision to make it clear that they will never agree to the export of their stockpile of enriched uranium illustrates. They also know that the Europeans have never swerved from their intention to craft a nuclear deal that would allow the ayatollahs to hold onto a functioning nuclear program, albeit one with safeguards that would theoretically prevent it from being converted to nuclear use.

Thus rather than give the Iranians an incentive to face facts and give up their nuclear dream, the prelude to the latest talks have given them good reason to give nothing in their proposals that impinge on their ability to flout any deal and move quickly to realizing their nuclear ambition much as North Korea did after a similar round of diplomatic appeasement aimed at stopping them.

In Kerry’s favor is the fact that he won’t be in Geneva tomorrow, a source of no small amount of frustration for the Iranians. If he was offered the opportunity for a dramatic announcement and photo op, it’s hard to imagine that he would have the character or the principles to turn it down even if meant accepting a bad deal. What the Iranians are clearly hoping is that by using their time honored tactics of prevarication and delay, they can not only drag out the process — and thus buy their scientists even more time — but to lure Kerry to a future gathering where such a temptation might prove too much for him.

By now the administration should have learned that the only deal they would ever get from Iran is a bad one. No amount of economic pain felt by their citizens can convince Rouhani’s boss, Supreme Leader Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to see reason and abandon their nuclear ambition. Nor do they believe in Obama’s threats. The ayatollahs see the president as a paper tiger that will never make good on the promise to use force as a last resort. And their contempt for him will grow if they can peel off his European allies away from the flimsy coalition against Iran that the president built. But in the long run, with Washington as enthralled by the false promise of Iranian moderation as London and Paris (let alone, Moscow or Beijing), the odds of Kerry being able to retain his aversion to a bad deal must be considered slim.

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Rand Paul and the War on Christians

Senator Rand Paul may be the leading advocate of a new isolationism in American foreign policy but he sounded an appropriate note of alarm over the weekend when he decried a worldwide war on Christianity at the Values Voter Summit. Noting the vast upsurge in attacks on Christians throughout the Muslim world, Paul rightly blamed “a fanatical element of Islam,” rather than all adherents of the faith. But he also made it clear that this upsurge in violence is not the product of a tiny outlier minority but of an international movement of Islamists who number in the tens of millions.

Paul said the primary responsibility to deal with this problem rests with moderate, peaceful Muslims and he’s right about that. However, it is impossible to separate this religious conflict from the broader terrorist aims of Islamists rendering his call to action on this issue at odds with his other foreign policy stands in which he favors what would in effect be an American withdrawal from a forward policy against these forces. But I’ll leave my fervent disagreements with his worldview that constitutes a genuine threat to a viable U.S. foreign and defense policy aside for the moment. Let’s give him credit for speaking up on an issue of grave concern that most politicians ignore and which most of the foreign policy establishment has been actively seeking to bury. Even more important, let’s address some of the criticism he has been receiving over this speech from some liberals as well as those who claim to speak for American Muslims. Whatever the political motivations for Paul’s speech (one suspects he is trying to woo Evangelicals who dislike his cool attitude toward Israel), those who deny this problem or, even worse, try to depict anyone who calls attention to Muslim intolerance as a bigot, are doing neither Islam nor Muslims any good.

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Senator Rand Paul may be the leading advocate of a new isolationism in American foreign policy but he sounded an appropriate note of alarm over the weekend when he decried a worldwide war on Christianity at the Values Voter Summit. Noting the vast upsurge in attacks on Christians throughout the Muslim world, Paul rightly blamed “a fanatical element of Islam,” rather than all adherents of the faith. But he also made it clear that this upsurge in violence is not the product of a tiny outlier minority but of an international movement of Islamists who number in the tens of millions.

Paul said the primary responsibility to deal with this problem rests with moderate, peaceful Muslims and he’s right about that. However, it is impossible to separate this religious conflict from the broader terrorist aims of Islamists rendering his call to action on this issue at odds with his other foreign policy stands in which he favors what would in effect be an American withdrawal from a forward policy against these forces. But I’ll leave my fervent disagreements with his worldview that constitutes a genuine threat to a viable U.S. foreign and defense policy aside for the moment. Let’s give him credit for speaking up on an issue of grave concern that most politicians ignore and which most of the foreign policy establishment has been actively seeking to bury. Even more important, let’s address some of the criticism he has been receiving over this speech from some liberals as well as those who claim to speak for American Muslims. Whatever the political motivations for Paul’s speech (one suspects he is trying to woo Evangelicals who dislike his cool attitude toward Israel), those who deny this problem or, even worse, try to depict anyone who calls attention to Muslim intolerance as a bigot, are doing neither Islam nor Muslims any good.

One such example comes in today’s Daily Beast from Dean Obeidallah who writes that Paul’s attempt to draw attention to the problem is nothing less than an act of hate speech and even likened it to utterances of Al Qaeda leaders seeking to inflame Muslims against Westerners. He writes:

Paul’s speech is likely a mirror image of one that would be given by an al Qaeda recruiter.  The difference being that an al Qaeda leader would cite isolated bad actions committed by the West and claim these incidents were proof that the West was waging an all out war on Islam.

Let’s be brutally honest: If Rand Paul had given a 19 minute speech listing every bad act committed by Jews anywhere in the world under the guise of “warning” people about Jews, he would rightfully be dubbed an Anti-Semite.  Or if Paul had given a similar speech setting forth a litany of crimes committed by African-Americans in the US as defining that race, he would be deemed a racist.

The problem with this formulation is not just that, for all of his faults, there isn’t the slightest comparison between Paul and a terrorist movement. It’s that treating a worldwide upsurge in anti-Christian violence as merely the acts of a few random malefactors is an act of brazen denial that is divorced by the reality of the Muslim world.

Let me brutally honest in reply to Obeidallah. If Jews were committing violence against Christians or Muslims around the world on the scale that Muslims are doing against non-Muslims, and if a branch of Judaism that could call on the support of a substantial plurality if not the majority of most Jews in many countries were using faith to justify terrorism or to wage war against all non-Jews, such a statement would be justified.

But, of course, we know just the opposite is true. The Muslim world is the driving force behind the international upsurge of anti-Semitism in which hatred for the state of Israel is used as a thinly veiled cover for traditional Jew hatred. The one Jewish state on the planet may have its faults but its Muslims citizens are equal before the law, something that cannot be said of those nations with a Muslim majority. And please don’t waste our time citing puppets like the intimidated remnant of Iranian Jewry as an example of Islamist tolerance or democratic Israel’s attempts to defend itself against a war fought by those who seek to destroy it as an analogy to al-Qaeda.

Radical Islam is a threat not just because of its vicious nature but because it can draw on the support of a large body of Muslim opinion and a long tradition of jihadist warfare against non-believers. The reason why there are virtually no Jews left in Muslim countries and an embattled, discriminated against remnant of Christians there is not due to the actions of outliers who can be easily disowned but a culture and a political system that regards such people as Dhimmi who can be abused with impunity.

What is really troubling about the debate about Paul’s speech is the way that purveyors of the myth of the post-9/11 backlash against Muslims will use it to justify their attempt to impose a new political correctness on discussions of Islamism. To listen to groups like CAIR, a group that masquerades as a defender of civil rights but which was founded as a political front for Hamas fundraisers, to even speak of terrorism or of Islamist violence against non-believers offends the sensibilities of Muslims. In so doing, they seek to effectively silence critiques of American Islamists and to stifle investigations of homegrown terrorism. To this end, they’ve largely succeeded in convincing most of the media that Islamists are more sinned against than they are culpable. Every time an act of Islam-inspired terror occurs, the reflex action of both the government and the media is to deny that religion plays any role in the crime even when we know that it has done so.

Discrimination or prejudice against Muslims is as hateful as that aimed against Jews or Christians. But what those who would damn Paul as a bigot for his speech are doing is, despite their disclaimers, to deny the reality of Islamist hate and to silence those who wish to bring attention to crimes that should outrage all Americans. American Christians should heed Paul’s speech (at least on this topic) and treat religious persecution of non-Muslims as an important issue. And they should ignore those who seek to distract us from the reality of mainstream Muslim intolerance.

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Was One Week Enough Time to Interrogate Libya Terror Suspect?

Abu Anas al-Libi, the al-Qaeda suspect nabbed by Delta Force in a raid on Libya on October 5, spent the past week being interrogated by intelligence officers aboard a navy ship. Now he has been brought to New York to stand trial for his role in the 1998 bombing of two US embassies in Africa. This is bound to prove controversial with those who believe he rightly belongs at the Guantanamo detention center, followed by trial in by a special tribunal rather than in a federal district court.

For my part I am agnostic about the venue of trial and the issue of where he and other terrorist suspects are held–as long as it is possible to arrest them, conduct interrogations without having them “lawyer up,” and then to convict and punish them for their attacks. Whether those attacks are defined as criminal acts or acts of war is less important than the issue of whether they will be brought to some kind of justice and whether their full intelligence value is exploited along the way.

It’s hard to know whether this happened in Al-Libi’s case.

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Abu Anas al-Libi, the al-Qaeda suspect nabbed by Delta Force in a raid on Libya on October 5, spent the past week being interrogated by intelligence officers aboard a navy ship. Now he has been brought to New York to stand trial for his role in the 1998 bombing of two US embassies in Africa. This is bound to prove controversial with those who believe he rightly belongs at the Guantanamo detention center, followed by trial in by a special tribunal rather than in a federal district court.

For my part I am agnostic about the venue of trial and the issue of where he and other terrorist suspects are held–as long as it is possible to arrest them, conduct interrogations without having them “lawyer up,” and then to convict and punish them for their attacks. Whether those attacks are defined as criminal acts or acts of war is less important than the issue of whether they will be brought to some kind of justice and whether their full intelligence value is exploited along the way.

It’s hard to know whether this happened in Al-Libi’s case.

The administration gets credit for sending Delta Force to grab him, rather than relying on the dysfunctional Libyan legal system to arrest and extradite him. Give Obama credit also for allowing him to be interrogated (without, one hopes, being read his Miranda rights) for a week aboard a Navy ship–Obama’s substitute for the CIA “black sites” initially favored by the Bush administration. But one week is not a very long time to interrogate such a potentially valuable suspect. A thorough interrogation would involve establishing a rapport with him or otherwise getting him to talk and then crosschecking his information with other sources, going back to him to probe inconsistencies and lies, etc.

Let’s hope he sang like a canary and that his interrogators got everything out of him there is to know. If not, that would be a shame, because he may well have information that could foil future terrorist plots. And let us hope that the legal case against him is ironclad enough to guarantee conviction by a civilian jury without risk of having to disclose classified information in open court.

Assuming those two tests have been met, there should be no objection to the way the administration has handled him. But we don’t have enough information yet to say whether that has in fact occurred.

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Is Racial Equality Unconstitutional?

This week, the U.S. Supreme Court returns to the question of the legality of affirmative action policies on the part of universities that favor specific classes of applicants such as racial minorities. In the past, the court has preserved the right of schools to consider race provided that each person so favored is considered as an individual rather than making it a function of an illegal quota. Such policies were preserved in a 2003 case that allowed the University of Michigan Law School to have race-conscious admissions as well as one decided last spring that did the same for the University of Texas so long as there are no “workable race-neutral alternatives.” But those determined to keep racial discrimination of this sort alive are back at the court demanding something very different. Now they want to make it illegal for a state’s voters to ban affirmative action.

At stake in Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action is whether an amendment to the Michigan state constitution banning the practice can be ruled unconstitutional. That’s what a 8-7 majority of the U.S. Court of Appeals Sixth Circuit did when it explicably claimed that an amendment that stated that public institutions of higher learning “shall not discriminate against, or grant preferential treatment to, any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin” is a form of discrimination against racial minorities. In doing so, they want to turn the dictionary definition of discrimination on its head in a manner that is worthy of George Orwell’s 1984. If they succeed, it will not only be a setback for the goal of a color-blind non-discriminatory society but to democracy itself.

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This week, the U.S. Supreme Court returns to the question of the legality of affirmative action policies on the part of universities that favor specific classes of applicants such as racial minorities. In the past, the court has preserved the right of schools to consider race provided that each person so favored is considered as an individual rather than making it a function of an illegal quota. Such policies were preserved in a 2003 case that allowed the University of Michigan Law School to have race-conscious admissions as well as one decided last spring that did the same for the University of Texas so long as there are no “workable race-neutral alternatives.” But those determined to keep racial discrimination of this sort alive are back at the court demanding something very different. Now they want to make it illegal for a state’s voters to ban affirmative action.

At stake in Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action is whether an amendment to the Michigan state constitution banning the practice can be ruled unconstitutional. That’s what a 8-7 majority of the U.S. Court of Appeals Sixth Circuit did when it explicably claimed that an amendment that stated that public institutions of higher learning “shall not discriminate against, or grant preferential treatment to, any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin” is a form of discrimination against racial minorities. In doing so, they want to turn the dictionary definition of discrimination on its head in a manner that is worthy of George Orwell’s 1984. If they succeed, it will not only be a setback for the goal of a color-blind non-discriminatory society but to democracy itself.

The argument in favor of overturning the amendment is that by banning affirmative action, the state is denying equal protection to racial minorities favored by such practices. As the New York Times editorial page explains, doing so means that those who would like the state to adopt admissions policies that favor different groups like alumni only have to lobby those who run colleges and universities to see things their way but those who want them to choose methods that discriminate on the basis of race must convince a majority of Michiganders to vote to repeal the constitutional provision that bans it. Since the former process is easier than the latter, that means a constitutional ban of affirmative action must thereby be considered unconstitutional.

But this piece of imaginative liberal legal manipulation passes neither the smell test nor one of rudimentary logic. Michigan’s position is that equality before the law when it comes to race is a fundamental value of law, and thus wrong in of itself — malum in se. As Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette, said “It’s fundamentally wrong to treat people differently on the color of their skin.”

He’s right. To claim that a legal provision that prohibits discrimination on the basis of race is discriminatory because it injures those who would benefit from such discrimination is not just a poor argument; it’s exactly the kind of legal knot that liberals must tie themselves up in to justify an indefensible policy.

Those who wish to overturn the amendment further argue that the result of the Michigan law has led to a decline in the admissions of African Americans to Michigan Law is down 33 percent since its adoption in 2006. That’s a matter of concern but it says more about the school’s inability to come up with better policies not based in race to make their student body diverse than it does about the virtues of affirmative action.

It has long been apparent that the real problem in admissions has to do with the advantages of class and wealth than those rooted in race. Had Michigan Law and other schools that are committed to race-based admissions more out of political ideology than anything else chosen to institute new policies that helped those who were financially disadvantaged the numbers of African Americans might not have been affected as badly. Admitting someone to a school with less academic qualifications than other students solely because of race has often led to failure for both the student and the school. If instead those committed to affirmative action were to work to create new standards that would help those who are genuinely disadvantaged rather than merely of the right race or background regardless of their income, the result would promote genuine diversity. It would also not contribute to the poisoning of race relations that has often been the bottom line of affirmative action policies that work to discriminate against groups not so favored.

It should also be understood that the amendment in question was approved by 58 percent of Michigan voters. If their democratic will is to be overturned by a court fiat, liberals will have to come up with something better than the arguments they have mustered. To claim, as the Times does, that ballot initiatives are “prone to abuse” or that the process was “rife with fraud and deception” does not protect the integrity of democracy, it basically invalidates it. Were the court to rule against Michigan, it would be saying that the only votes that count are those of judges, not citizens. That is a position that cannot be allowed to stand.

Given recent court trends and the fact that Justice Elena Kagan has been forced to recuse herself from the case because of her involvement with the case while serving in the Obama administration, there is good reason to believe the court will do just that. If so, it will be a victory for the causes of equality before the law, logic and democracy.

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The Wages of Default

There has been much wringing of hands and gnashing of teeth over the prospect that the United States Government might actually default if Congress and the President can’t agree to raise the debt ceiling by Thursday, when, according to Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, the Treasury will be empty.

Of course, the Treasury receives on average about $14 billion a business day in receipts. That vastly exceeds the daily interest costs on the debt.  Old debt can be simply rolled over without increasing the total debt. But apparently the Treasury’s system of paying the bills is mostly on autopilot and there is no prioritizing. So interest on the debt and paying a contractor for roadwork stand in the same line. Still, I find it impossible to believe that emergency action cannot be taken to see that default does not occur. If such action doesn’t comport with every jot and tittle of the law, so what?  As Justice Robert H. Jackson wrote in 1949, in the common paraphrase of the actual quote, “the Constitution is not a suicide pact.”

And while a contractor being paid late would be, at the least, an embarrassment, a real default would be, if not financial suicide, a body blow to the American—and thus the world—economy. Something like a quarter of GDP flows through the federal government in the course of a year. Stopping that flow, or even curtailing it, would be about as disruptive to the economy as anything short of nuclear war could be. Millions of families depend on Social Security and other federal payments. They would stop. Consumption would thus decline markedly and that would ripple through the economy throwing us back into recession. The world would follow along in short order.

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There has been much wringing of hands and gnashing of teeth over the prospect that the United States Government might actually default if Congress and the President can’t agree to raise the debt ceiling by Thursday, when, according to Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, the Treasury will be empty.

Of course, the Treasury receives on average about $14 billion a business day in receipts. That vastly exceeds the daily interest costs on the debt.  Old debt can be simply rolled over without increasing the total debt. But apparently the Treasury’s system of paying the bills is mostly on autopilot and there is no prioritizing. So interest on the debt and paying a contractor for roadwork stand in the same line. Still, I find it impossible to believe that emergency action cannot be taken to see that default does not occur. If such action doesn’t comport with every jot and tittle of the law, so what?  As Justice Robert H. Jackson wrote in 1949, in the common paraphrase of the actual quote, “the Constitution is not a suicide pact.”

And while a contractor being paid late would be, at the least, an embarrassment, a real default would be, if not financial suicide, a body blow to the American—and thus the world—economy. Something like a quarter of GDP flows through the federal government in the course of a year. Stopping that flow, or even curtailing it, would be about as disruptive to the economy as anything short of nuclear war could be. Millions of families depend on Social Security and other federal payments. They would stop. Consumption would thus decline markedly and that would ripple through the economy throwing us back into recession. The world would follow along in short order.

(It has been argued that Social Security could continue because the Social Security Trust Fund has many billions in federal bonds that it could sell to keep the checks flowing. Unfortunately, they are special Treasury bonds and are not negotiable. They can only be sold back to the Treasury at par. In this situation the Treasury would have no money and would be unable to raise money in the bond market.)

And the blow to American prestige would be immense.  The cost of future borrowing would increase, as the risk of a new default—long thought non-existent—would now be priced in.

It has been widely said, including by President Obama that the United States has never defaulted on either the principal or interest of its debt. That’s not so.

The United States was in default in the 1780’s, after the Revolutionary War and Britain’s closing of West Indian ports to American ships threw the country into deep depression. It was that financial crisis that led to the present Constitution.

Then in November of 1814, with Washington, D.C., in ruins and with American soldiers going unpaid, the Treasury defaulted on some bonds. The default was temporary and quickly forgotten as the war ended soon afterwards.

In 1979, another dust up over the debt ceiling caused the Treasury to be late, for up to a week, on redeeming $122 million in Treasury bills. The Treasury blamed it on new word-processing software and called it a “delay,” but the market called it a default and the interest rate on T-bills rose 0.6 percentage points and stayed up. A study in 1989 calculated that that cost us $12 billion.

But I suspect that the best guarantee against a default this time around is the certainty that any default would result in a firestorm of anger on the part of the American population. A recent poll showed that the people are in a throw-the-bums-out mood, with 60 percent of the people agreeing that everyone in Washington, including their own representatives, should be kicked out of office. If the country defaults that will go to over 90 percent and a lot of bums will be thrown out come next November.

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The Democratic Moment Won’t Last

With days to go before the artificial deadline set for the national debt ceiling to expire, there’s little doubt that Democrats believe the political pendulum has swung in their direction. Polls show them to be the beneficiaries of the disgust felt over the government shutdown and the general dysfunction evident in Washington. But they are just as encouraged by what they not reasonably conclude is division in the ranks of their foes. Republicans still seem split between those who are working to find a way out of the dead end that advocates of the shutdown have steered them into and those who are still insisting that what is needed is more determination to stick to their principles on the debt and ObamaCare while waiting for the Democrats to blink even if it is more likely that hell will freeze over first. President Obama spent the last two years daring the Republicans to shut down the government in the hope that it would be a political disaster for the GOP. Now that he seems to have been proven right, Democrats believe a moment has arrived in which they may not only rout the Tea Party but perhaps alter the dynamic of budget negotiations that have seemed to run against their big government beliefs for the past few years.

That’s what motivated Senator Harry Reid to refuse to accept what might have been considered a Republican surrender offer over the weekend. Rather than accept a so-called clean bill that would reopen the government and lift the current debt ceiling with no conditions as they had been calling for over the last month, Democrats raised the ante in the talks about finding a way out of the current impasse. Now they are demanding a relatively quick end to sequester budget cuts and are refusing even to accept a permanent repeal of the ObamaCare medical device tax, a face-saving measure that would allow the Republicans to act as if they had not been completely defeated.

Reid and the president are hoping Republicans are sufficiently spooked by the prospect of a default to surrender on those humiliating terms. But as strong as their position seems to be today, Democrats are still very much in danger of overplaying their hand. That’s not just because if the nation does slide into economic difficulties as a result of the expiration of the current debt ceiling and the shutdown the administration and its allies will be blamed along with the GOP. But by moving the discussion from what is perceived to be an unreasonable Republican demand to shut down the government if ObamaCare isn’t defunded to one about expanding debt and spending, Democrats are shifting the struggle back onto strong ground for their opponents.

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With days to go before the artificial deadline set for the national debt ceiling to expire, there’s little doubt that Democrats believe the political pendulum has swung in their direction. Polls show them to be the beneficiaries of the disgust felt over the government shutdown and the general dysfunction evident in Washington. But they are just as encouraged by what they not reasonably conclude is division in the ranks of their foes. Republicans still seem split between those who are working to find a way out of the dead end that advocates of the shutdown have steered them into and those who are still insisting that what is needed is more determination to stick to their principles on the debt and ObamaCare while waiting for the Democrats to blink even if it is more likely that hell will freeze over first. President Obama spent the last two years daring the Republicans to shut down the government in the hope that it would be a political disaster for the GOP. Now that he seems to have been proven right, Democrats believe a moment has arrived in which they may not only rout the Tea Party but perhaps alter the dynamic of budget negotiations that have seemed to run against their big government beliefs for the past few years.

That’s what motivated Senator Harry Reid to refuse to accept what might have been considered a Republican surrender offer over the weekend. Rather than accept a so-called clean bill that would reopen the government and lift the current debt ceiling with no conditions as they had been calling for over the last month, Democrats raised the ante in the talks about finding a way out of the current impasse. Now they are demanding a relatively quick end to sequester budget cuts and are refusing even to accept a permanent repeal of the ObamaCare medical device tax, a face-saving measure that would allow the Republicans to act as if they had not been completely defeated.

Reid and the president are hoping Republicans are sufficiently spooked by the prospect of a default to surrender on those humiliating terms. But as strong as their position seems to be today, Democrats are still very much in danger of overplaying their hand. That’s not just because if the nation does slide into economic difficulties as a result of the expiration of the current debt ceiling and the shutdown the administration and its allies will be blamed along with the GOP. But by moving the discussion from what is perceived to be an unreasonable Republican demand to shut down the government if ObamaCare isn’t defunded to one about expanding debt and spending, Democrats are shifting the struggle back onto strong ground for their opponents.

The Republican stand on funding the government is widely seen as being driven by an ideological position on ObamaCare even if the other side is no less ideological in their insistence on preserving the president’s signature health care legislation despite its disastrous rollout and the deleterious impact it will have on the economy. That places them at a real disadvantage so long as the question is finding a way to reopen the government and ensure that the government doesn’t default.

But once the discussion turns, as Reid’s attempt to do away with sequester cuts indicates, to whether Congress will allow the government to go back to the free spending ways that actually got the country into this mess, the Democratic advantage disappears. While the sequester is not the smartest way to cut government spending and has done some damage, especially to national defense, it is not unpopular because the American people have understandably come to the conclusion that it is only by such draconian means that the nation’s spending addiction can be brought under control.

Once we stop arguing about whether the government will continue to operate or whether the national debt will be paid, the question becomes one of whether Washington is capable of reforming the entitlement spending that is sinking the nation in a sea of red ink and reducing the size of government to one that can be paid without increasing the debt. And that is where the Republicans have not only the stronger argument but also the ability to rally a majority to their side.

The question for the Republican Party isn’t really so much whether Senator Ted Cruz and the Tea Party will cause it to crash and burn and loose the 2014 midterms, as it is whether it can keep the national discussion focused on taxes and spending. If, fueled by their belief that the GOP is a rudderless and sinking ship, Obama and Reid choose to try and roll back the sequester cuts and refloat the liberal agenda in the coming weeks and months, what they will be doing is actually reviving the Republicans rather than placing a stake in their hearts. The Democratic moment we are currently experiencing is real but that irresistible liberal temptation is an almost sure guarantee that it will pass.

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Critiquing Anti-Semitism With Restraint

In the preface to his important new book, The Devil That Never Dies: The Rise and Threat of Global Anti-Semitism, former Harvard professor Daniel Jonah Goldhagen says he considered many options before conceptualizing anti-Semitism as the devil. He realized some people might think the metaphor overdrawn, but he believes it is not: anti-Semitism has induced people to “commit mass murder again and again, including one of humanity’s most cataclysmic assaults, the attempted murder of an entire people, felling six million of them in one historical instant,” and it “threatens a similar destruction again.”

The book is a chilling explication of the explosion of anti-Semitism in the last two decades, fueled by the Internet and other modern means of global communication, as well as a sophisticated analysis of the inter-related international institutions and political trends that underpin it. It is essential reading.

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In the preface to his important new book, The Devil That Never Dies: The Rise and Threat of Global Anti-Semitism, former Harvard professor Daniel Jonah Goldhagen says he considered many options before conceptualizing anti-Semitism as the devil. He realized some people might think the metaphor overdrawn, but he believes it is not: anti-Semitism has induced people to “commit mass murder again and again, including one of humanity’s most cataclysmic assaults, the attempted murder of an entire people, felling six million of them in one historical instant,” and it “threatens a similar destruction again.”

The book is a chilling explication of the explosion of anti-Semitism in the last two decades, fueled by the Internet and other modern means of global communication, as well as a sophisticated analysis of the inter-related international institutions and political trends that underpin it. It is essential reading.

In yesterday’s New York Times Book Review, Jeffrey Goldberg reviewed the book and found it written in “a hyperventilating style, starting with its title,” which he considers “heavy breathing.” (Mr. Goldberg suffers on occasion from breathing in and out too rapidly himself: he thinks Sarah Palin may be a “rapture-enraptured evangelical” who “hopes that I will convert to Christianity and then die;” last week he wrote – the day after 700,000 people gathered in Jerusalem to mourn the death of Ovadia Yosef, a former chief rabbi of Israel – that Yosef was the “Israeli Ayatollah,” whose admitted good works Goldberg argued could not ameliorate his “egregious words”). 

In his review, Goldberg quoted the following paragraph from the book (it is Goldhagen’s one-paragraph conclusion following three pages of description of Turkey’s sustained, serious, and systematic mistreatment of Kurds, Greeks, Armenians, Cypriots, and others): 

“In a rational world, the Turks’ systemic and large-scale violence against and suppression of Kurds’ legitimate rights and national aspirations, not to mention the Turks’ genocide of the Armenians, and mass killings of Greeks and others, not to mention their invasion, dismembering and occupation of half a sovereign country, Cyrus, in 1974, the occupation lasting now for almost forty years, might have brought upon Turkey the world’s condemnation and generated in international organizations, including the United Nations, a preoccupation with its predations and the production of intensively negative beliefs and passions, including prejudice (if one believes, as all those who blame Jews and Israel for the existence of anti-Semitism believe, that prejudice is a reaction to a people’s misdeeds) similar to and perhaps far exceeding that against Jews. But it has not – not even 1 percent as much.” 

Goldberg wrote that: 

Goldhagen’s strengths and weaknesses are on display in this previous (typically dense and over-intricate) paragraph. He makes a valid point, but the hectoring tone and the hyperbole – how did he reach the conclusion that Turkey is criticized 1 percent, and not 2 percent, as much as Israel? – undermine the message. … Goldhagen’s book has its uses, but today we need something decidedly better: a book on anti-Semitism that combines original reporting, accessible writing and a sense of restraint.” 

My impression is Goldhagen was being charitable: the real percentage, rounded down, is probably zero. But admittedly, I haven’t done the research. So yes, perhaps what we really need is for someone to run down the exact Turkish-Israeli percentage, and write it up in a restrained and easy-to-understand way. But those who read Goldhagen’s book will not likely think this is a morally serious reaction to it. 

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Iran Fears Women More Than the West

Ahmad Khatami, a senior Iranian cleric and a member of the Assembly of Experts that chooses the next Supreme Leader has warned Iranians not to fall into the trap of negotiating resolution of the nuclear issue with the United States. “If this issue is resolved, the [US] will raise the issue of human rights,” he said, explaining, “Today their problem is the nuclear issue, and when this issue is resolved, they will raise the issue of human rights and say whatsoever rights men have, women should have them, too.”

Almost two decades ago, I head Azar Nafisi, who would a few years later become a New York Times bestselling author, speak in Philadelphia. While in the rest of the Middle East women fought for rights they never had, she commented, in Iran they were fighting for rights that had been taken away from them. Alas, that is no longer true today, because many Arab states and Turkey have followed Iran’s path in stripping away women’s rights.

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Ahmad Khatami, a senior Iranian cleric and a member of the Assembly of Experts that chooses the next Supreme Leader has warned Iranians not to fall into the trap of negotiating resolution of the nuclear issue with the United States. “If this issue is resolved, the [US] will raise the issue of human rights,” he said, explaining, “Today their problem is the nuclear issue, and when this issue is resolved, they will raise the issue of human rights and say whatsoever rights men have, women should have them, too.”

Almost two decades ago, I head Azar Nafisi, who would a few years later become a New York Times bestselling author, speak in Philadelphia. While in the rest of the Middle East women fought for rights they never had, she commented, in Iran they were fighting for rights that had been taken away from them. Alas, that is no longer true today, because many Arab states and Turkey have followed Iran’s path in stripping away women’s rights.

I only wish that President Obama, Vice President Biden, Secretary of State John Kerry, and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel cared an iota for human rights and defending Western liberalism. When they worked in the senate, they certainly did not and since assuming their executive branch positions, they have grown even more willing to dispense with any notion of caring for women’s rights, human rights, or individual liberty.

Even so, even if Iranian hardliners have less to worry about from this administration than they might expect, Khatami’s comments should be an important reminder that the problem with the Islamic Republic isn’t merely some diplomatic understanding, but rather a backwards ideology which has oriented Iran’s clerical leadership toward permanent hostility with not only the United States but also modernity.

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George Orwell Call Your Office

Not long ago, The American Association of University Professors (AAUP) underscored its longstanding commitment to the free exchange of ideas by chiding the Association for Asian American Studies, which voted last year to support an academic boycott against Israel. Apparently, this rebuke did not sit well with Ashley Dawson, the editor of the Journal of Academic Freedom, which AAUP publishes. Dawson has devoted almost the whole of the current issue to the Boycott Israel movement.

The story Dawson tells about how the issue came about is revealing. The journal issued a call for papers on these questions: “How … is the expansion of US higher education around the world and the increasing international integration of academia affecting academic freedom? In what ways conversely, is the globalization of higher education transforming academia within the United States, shifting and impinging upon traditional notions of academic freedom.” The call for papers identified five topics that “might be germane” to the discussion, including the AAUP’s rejection of the Boycott Israel campaign: “Can a case be made for endorsing the campaign without infringing academic freedom?”

It turns out the answer is yes. No one should be surprised. Dawson, as he unbelievably fails to disclose in the introduction to the issue, has endorsed the US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (USCABI) and edited a 2012 volume entitled Why Boycott Israel?: A Dossier on Palestine Today. Similarly, no one will be surprised that seven of the nine articles in this issue on globalization and academic freedom are devoted to the Boycott Israel movement. Evidently Israel is responsible not only for the problems of the entire Middle East but also for at least 7/9 of the problems posed for academics by globalization.

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Not long ago, The American Association of University Professors (AAUP) underscored its longstanding commitment to the free exchange of ideas by chiding the Association for Asian American Studies, which voted last year to support an academic boycott against Israel. Apparently, this rebuke did not sit well with Ashley Dawson, the editor of the Journal of Academic Freedom, which AAUP publishes. Dawson has devoted almost the whole of the current issue to the Boycott Israel movement.

The story Dawson tells about how the issue came about is revealing. The journal issued a call for papers on these questions: “How … is the expansion of US higher education around the world and the increasing international integration of academia affecting academic freedom? In what ways conversely, is the globalization of higher education transforming academia within the United States, shifting and impinging upon traditional notions of academic freedom.” The call for papers identified five topics that “might be germane” to the discussion, including the AAUP’s rejection of the Boycott Israel campaign: “Can a case be made for endorsing the campaign without infringing academic freedom?”

It turns out the answer is yes. No one should be surprised. Dawson, as he unbelievably fails to disclose in the introduction to the issue, has endorsed the US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (USCABI) and edited a 2012 volume entitled Why Boycott Israel?: A Dossier on Palestine Today. Similarly, no one will be surprised that seven of the nine articles in this issue on globalization and academic freedom are devoted to the Boycott Israel movement. Evidently Israel is responsible not only for the problems of the entire Middle East but also for at least 7/9 of the problems posed for academics by globalization.

Or perhaps, I should say 6/9, since Dawson admirably includes one mild defense of the AAUP’s position among the 7 essays. The remainder were penned by, and I am not kidding: a founding committee member of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel; a founding committee member of USCABI, an advisory board member of USCABI; an endorser of that same campaign who also signed the Association for Asian American Studies boycott resolution; a signatory of a 2009 letter to then President-Elect Obama, gently urging him to view Israel as the perpetrator of “one of the most massive, ethnocidal atrocities of modern times”; a former contributor to the Electronic Intifada, and another Electronic Intifada contributor who wrote “Answering Critics of the Boycott Movement.”

Of course, the authors repeat the same old canards. The pro-BDS position is suppressed, they freely say in the journal of an organization that opposes their position. Israel itself does not honor academic freedom, they say, though Freedom House, an organization not at all shy about criticizing Israel, calls Israel’s universities “centers of dissent.”

But it is not my intention to rejoin the debate between Israel and its radical critics. Instead, I want to draw attention to the remarkable self-caricature over which Ashley Dawson has presided, an issue purportedly devoted to “sparking a broad conversation” about “academic freedom and faculty rights beyond U.S. borders” that focuses almost entirely on Israel and consists mainly of essays written by declared supporters of and leading activists within the BDS movement. I do not think it would be fruitful for AAUP’s editorial board to condemn the mockery that has here been made of AAUP’s devotion to “the free search for truth” by an editor with no qualms about turning its flagship publication into a vehicle for his personal anti-Israel activism. Dawson at least makes it clear that the publication of this issue “does not necessarily indicate any change in AAUP policy or even an intention to directly consider such change.” But one does wish that individual members of the board would rouse themselves, not to make the case for Israel, but to make the case against devoting a journal purportedly devoted to “scholarship” to a barely disguised hit job.

CORRECTION: Although the book, Why Boycott Israel? A Dossier on Palestine Today, appeared on two current versions of Ashley Dawson’s c.v. at the time of posting, Dawson denies having edited such a book and knowledge of how it got on to his c.v. The book apparently does not exist. I apologize for the error.

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