Commentary Magazine


Posts For: October 17, 2013

Is Netanyahu Bluffing on Iran?

There’s little doubt that Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s continued attempts to persuade the world that the Iranian charm offensive is a fraud are falling flat. With the U.S. privately accentuating the positive about the reconvened nuclear P5+1 talks with Iran this week, the administration is ignoring the PM’s talk about Iranian President Hassan Rouhani being a “sheep in wolf’s clothing.” Moreover, even in Israel, where Netanyahu’s view of Rouhani is widely shared by figures across the political spectrum, the threats he made this week during a speech to the Knesset about the country acting on its own to knock out the Iranian nuclear program were seen by many as an empty bluff. The belief that, no matter what Netanyahu says now, Israel will have little choice but to accept a Western accommodation with Iran, is by no means confined to the prime minister’s critics.

That’s the gist of a Time article in which the magazine’s Jerusalem correspondent Karl Vick discusses what he calls Netanyahu’s “grumbling from the sidelines” while “the West makes progress in Geneva.” But whether or not you believe Israel can or will eventually attack Iran, there’s little question that the international community, led by the Obama administration, is heavily invested in diplomacy with Iran and may well sacrifice the Jewish state’s security in exchange for an opportunity to relieve themselves of the responsibility to act on the nuclear threat and to get Iranian oil flowing to Western markets again.

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There’s little doubt that Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s continued attempts to persuade the world that the Iranian charm offensive is a fraud are falling flat. With the U.S. privately accentuating the positive about the reconvened nuclear P5+1 talks with Iran this week, the administration is ignoring the PM’s talk about Iranian President Hassan Rouhani being a “sheep in wolf’s clothing.” Moreover, even in Israel, where Netanyahu’s view of Rouhani is widely shared by figures across the political spectrum, the threats he made this week during a speech to the Knesset about the country acting on its own to knock out the Iranian nuclear program were seen by many as an empty bluff. The belief that, no matter what Netanyahu says now, Israel will have little choice but to accept a Western accommodation with Iran, is by no means confined to the prime minister’s critics.

That’s the gist of a Time article in which the magazine’s Jerusalem correspondent Karl Vick discusses what he calls Netanyahu’s “grumbling from the sidelines” while “the West makes progress in Geneva.” But whether or not you believe Israel can or will eventually attack Iran, there’s little question that the international community, led by the Obama administration, is heavily invested in diplomacy with Iran and may well sacrifice the Jewish state’s security in exchange for an opportunity to relieve themselves of the responsibility to act on the nuclear threat and to get Iranian oil flowing to Western markets again.

As the Times of Israel reported earlier this week, Netanyahu used a speech at a Knesset session devoted to the anniversary of the 1973 Yom Kippur War to make the case for a unilateral, preemptive strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities. Recalling the complacence of Israeli leaders 40 years ago that led to Egypt and Syria being able to achieve a surprise attack, Netanyahu said that there were important lessons to be learned from this history for the Jewish state:

The first lesson is to never underestimate a threat, never underestimate an enemy, never ignore the signs of danger. We can’t assume the enemy will act in ways that are convenient for us. The enemy can surprise us. Israel will not fall asleep on its watch again,” he vowed.

The second lesson, he added, was that “we can’t surrender the option of a preventive strike. It is not necessary in every situation, and it must be weighed carefully and seriously. But there are situations in which paying heed to the international price of such a step is outweighed by the price in blood we will pay if we absorb a strategic strike that will demand a response later on, and perhaps too late.”

The Israeli leader is right on both points. But Israel’s problem today is different from that of 1973. Then, Prime Minister Golda Meir feared being blamed for starting a war and thought sitting back and taking the first blows would engender greater support from the United States. Indeed, even after it was clear she and Defense Minister Moshe Dayan had blundered and cost the lives of many Israelis, she insisted that her decision had been for the best since it helped ensure the U.S. resupply effort during the course of the war.

Today, Israel’s problem is more complex since an attack on Iran while the U.S. is involved in a diplomatic process with it would be viewed as an even more serious offense to the administration than a preemptive attack in 1973 would have been. Simply put, so long as the Iranians can keep the Americans talking to them, they have nothing to fear from Israel and nothing that Netanyahu said changes that.

More problematic is the clear desire on the part of the administration to buy into what rightly appears to the Israelis as the transparent fraudulence of the Rouhani charm offensive.

Vick discussed the analysis of Gary Samore, President Obama’s former top advisor on weapons of mass destruction, who said that any deal that gave the Iranians the ability to convert their stockpile of nuclear material to a bomb in a matter of months would compromise Israel’s security as well as that of the West. But since that is all the Iranians are offering the West, one has to question the motives of an administration when one of its top negotiators tells the New York Times in an off-the-record interview that, “I have never had such intense, detailed, straightforward, candid conversations with the Iranian delegation before,” when they have done nothing but recycle old proposals that have been previously rejected.

Under the circumstances, no wonder Netanyahu feels the need to rattle Israel’s saber at Iran. Unless he can convince the United States to start acting as it means to keep President Obama’s promises on the issue, it looks as the new diplomatic track will result in a deal that will compromise Israel’s security or buy the Iranians months if not years of extra time to get closer to their nuclear goal.

Netanyahu may not be bluffing about being willing to take the heat that a strike on Iran would generate. Indeed, if the West makes the kind of deal that Iran is offering, he may someday feel he has no choice but to do so. But until the Iranians blow off this attempt to negotiate the way they have every previous attempt, it’s likely that Washington doesn’t believe him.

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Can Sebelius Survive Rollout Disaster?

Pundits and politicians are spending a lot of time today arguing about who were the biggest winners and losers of the government shutdown. Some are obvious. President Obama won. Republicans lost. Ted Cruz fits into both categories, as he did his party great damage but may have strengthened his popularity among Tea Partiers thinking about 2016. But lost amid the hubbub is the person who might have been the greatest beneficiary of the crisis: Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.

Sebelius seems an unlikely candidate for this honor but as the person who has presided over the disastrous rollout out ObamaCare, she owes a huge debt to Cruz, Mike Lee and the House Republicans for bringing Washington to a standstill for 16 days. Had they not put forward the strategy that led to the government shutdown while monopolizing the attention of the media, it’s likely that most Americans would have spent this period obsessing about the incompetence of Sebelius and her department. Though the “glitches” of the Affordable Care Act’s website did not escape public notice, this was a story that would have been the lede of every newscast and at the top of the front page of every newspaper in the country. Instead, it was an afterthought. This bought Sebelius precious time to try and fix some of the problems at Healthcare.gov. But now that the shutdown is over, it’s time to assess just how long she can survive and whether she will be the inevitable administration scapegoat for a problem that goes a lot deeper than bad computer programming.

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Pundits and politicians are spending a lot of time today arguing about who were the biggest winners and losers of the government shutdown. Some are obvious. President Obama won. Republicans lost. Ted Cruz fits into both categories, as he did his party great damage but may have strengthened his popularity among Tea Partiers thinking about 2016. But lost amid the hubbub is the person who might have been the greatest beneficiary of the crisis: Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.

Sebelius seems an unlikely candidate for this honor but as the person who has presided over the disastrous rollout out ObamaCare, she owes a huge debt to Cruz, Mike Lee and the House Republicans for bringing Washington to a standstill for 16 days. Had they not put forward the strategy that led to the government shutdown while monopolizing the attention of the media, it’s likely that most Americans would have spent this period obsessing about the incompetence of Sebelius and her department. Though the “glitches” of the Affordable Care Act’s website did not escape public notice, this was a story that would have been the lede of every newscast and at the top of the front page of every newspaper in the country. Instead, it was an afterthought. This bought Sebelius precious time to try and fix some of the problems at Healthcare.gov. But now that the shutdown is over, it’s time to assess just how long she can survive and whether she will be the inevitable administration scapegoat for a problem that goes a lot deeper than bad computer programming.

 As White House press secretary Jay Carney has argued, ObamaCare is more than a clunky website. He’s right about that but for an administration that has always rightly prided itself on their comfort level with technology and new media, somebody has to take responsibility for the fact that the president’s signature legislation is being implemented with a system that reeks of bureaucratic incompetence and lack of forethought.

Moreover, if Sebelius and her staff couldn’t even get a simple website business model right, it’s fair to ask how they can possibly manage what will eventually become a major expansion of government power that will influence the way Americans get their health care. Given that we already know that the implementation of many of its arcane and little understood nuances have caused the president to delay portions of its rollout, it’s more than likely than the website fiasco isn’t the last serious problem HHS will have in trying to manage this leviathan.

That leaves the president with a considerable dilemma.

The longer he leaves Sebelius in office the worse things are likely to get for ObamaCare. He had counted on the unpopular bill gradually winning over the public once many Americans started to enjoy their new benefits even if more Americans would be inconvenienced or harmed rather than helped. But the Sebelius-led department may already be in over its head on the issue. Without both a leadership change and a commitment to re-evaluating the entire department’s performance, the government’s growing health care bureaucracy may simply do what such entity’s generally do: sink deeper and deeper into the quicksand of red tape and lack of accountability. That may mean the expected boost from the ACA’s beneficiaries may have to wait a lot longer than the president expected. Perhaps it will be too long to do the Democrats any good in the 2014 midterm elections.

But canning Sebelius now or sometime in the near future will carry its own serious political risks.

Firing the secretary will mean doing something that Obama rarely does: admit a mistake. But more than that it will mean the start of a confirmation process and hearings that will, without any great effort on the part of the president’s Republican critics, turn into a public trial of the legislation and the competence of his administration. Coming off his triumph in the shutdown crisis, that might be enough to knock the president back to where he was two months ago as a series of failures and scandals had all but placed a sign reading “lame duck” on the front door of the White House.

Had the last two weeks been devoted to an exploration of Sebelius’ incompetence that might have created too much pressure on the president to resist the impulse to clean house now before the problem morphed into something that couldn’t be controlled.

Instead, it has bought Sebelius more time to vindicate her department and the ACA. But at some point, and probably sooner rather than later, it won’t be just Republicans calling for Sebelius’s head, but Democrats who will want someone to take the fall for an ObamaCare disaster that will spread as its impact on the economy grows. If, as is more than likely, she continues to fail, the president may have no choice but to have her walk the plank and start a controversial and perhaps damaging process to replace the secretary. If so, he may come to view the extra time the shutdown bought Sebelius as a curse disguised as a blessing that he might have good reason to regret.

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Exaggerating the Shutdown’s Cost

The federal government of the United States, the largest fiscal entity on the planet, was shut for 16 days. What was the economic impact?

The mainstream media, of course, is always happy to report bad news that they can blame on Republicans. The New York Times, for instance, reported today “economists said that the intransigence of House Republicans would take a bite out of fourth-quarter growth, which will affect employment, business earnings and borrowing costs. The ripple from Washington will be felt around the globe.” The intransigence of Harry Reid and Barack Obama, apparently, had nothing to do with it.

To be sure there were costs. Hotel reservations in Washington, D.C., were down about 8.3 percent (but liquor sales, always robust in the District, were up about 3 percent.) Enterprises dependent on shuttered national parks, such as restaurants, hotels, and souvenir shops, certainly took a hit. Furloughed federal employees did not receive their salaries, and their travel and other expenses ceased.

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The federal government of the United States, the largest fiscal entity on the planet, was shut for 16 days. What was the economic impact?

The mainstream media, of course, is always happy to report bad news that they can blame on Republicans. The New York Times, for instance, reported today “economists said that the intransigence of House Republicans would take a bite out of fourth-quarter growth, which will affect employment, business earnings and borrowing costs. The ripple from Washington will be felt around the globe.” The intransigence of Harry Reid and Barack Obama, apparently, had nothing to do with it.

To be sure there were costs. Hotel reservations in Washington, D.C., were down about 8.3 percent (but liquor sales, always robust in the District, were up about 3 percent.) Enterprises dependent on shuttered national parks, such as restaurants, hotels, and souvenir shops, certainly took a hit. Furloughed federal employees did not receive their salaries, and their travel and other expenses ceased.

According to ABC News, Moody’s Analytics says that the shutdown cost $23 billion, or $1.4375 billion per day. The country’s GDP is about 46 billion a day. Standard and Poor’s, which had estimated 4th quarter growth at 3 percent, now says it will be closer to 2 percent. Others have different figures. IHS  Global Insight, according to NBC News, cut its 4th quarter GDP estimates from 2.2 percent growth to 1.6 percent growth. These figures, especially this early after the end of the shutdown, are guesstimates at best.

But the important point is how much of that lost GDP is lost forever? The trip to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park that was cancelled last week might well be rescheduled for next week, or next year. Government orders for goods and services were put on hold, but they will be ordered now that the shutdown is over. The furloughed federal workers will now be paid for the days they were idled.

The last shutdown, which lasted 17 days in 1995-96, caused a hit to the GDP in those quarters. But the next two quarters saw above average economic growth, so that the long-term economic growth was essentially unaffected. Indeed, the only real loss here in the long term may be the work product of the furloughed federal workers. But I’ll guess that the productivity of federal bureaucrats is not one of the wonders of the world.

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Is 2016 Behind Christie’s Immigration Flip?

Chris Christie has built his political career on his reputation as a straight shooter who never waffles, let alone flip-flops. But he’s set himself up for a barrage of abuse from some conservatives after his announcement during a gubernatorial debate earlier this week when he announced that he had changed his position on allowing illegal immigrants to get in-state tuition benefits at New Jersey public colleges. This is a clear departure from his past stands on this issue or on those involving any benefits for illegals. That pretty much guarantees that anti-immigration forces will be accusing him of being a second Mitt Romney should he jump into the 2016 presidential race. But, Christie who is clearly carving out a niche for himself in the center of his party on a variety of issues may not care.

Like his embrace of President Obama last fall in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, Christie’s “evolution” on immigration is bound to infuriate many Republicans but it is also good politics in terms of his re-election. With a lead over his Democratic opponent that ranges from the mid- to the high 20’s, Christie has few worries in terms of his chances of getting a second term in Trenton. But the governor also understands that tilting more to the center on immigration probably suits his 2016 plans better than sticking to his previous position on the issue. Though the GOP roster of potential presidential candidates is crowded in terms of those competing for Tea Party and religious conservative voters, the field is wide open in terms of so-called moderates. Moreover, given the rapid growth in the number of Hispanic voters, he may also calculate that distancing himself from the anti-immigrant tone that has infected much of conservative discourse on the issue is exactly what he needs to solidify his image as the most electable Republican in terms of a general election.

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Chris Christie has built his political career on his reputation as a straight shooter who never waffles, let alone flip-flops. But he’s set himself up for a barrage of abuse from some conservatives after his announcement during a gubernatorial debate earlier this week when he announced that he had changed his position on allowing illegal immigrants to get in-state tuition benefits at New Jersey public colleges. This is a clear departure from his past stands on this issue or on those involving any benefits for illegals. That pretty much guarantees that anti-immigration forces will be accusing him of being a second Mitt Romney should he jump into the 2016 presidential race. But, Christie who is clearly carving out a niche for himself in the center of his party on a variety of issues may not care.

Like his embrace of President Obama last fall in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, Christie’s “evolution” on immigration is bound to infuriate many Republicans but it is also good politics in terms of his re-election. With a lead over his Democratic opponent that ranges from the mid- to the high 20’s, Christie has few worries in terms of his chances of getting a second term in Trenton. But the governor also understands that tilting more to the center on immigration probably suits his 2016 plans better than sticking to his previous position on the issue. Though the GOP roster of potential presidential candidates is crowded in terms of those competing for Tea Party and religious conservative voters, the field is wide open in terms of so-called moderates. Moreover, given the rapid growth in the number of Hispanic voters, he may also calculate that distancing himself from the anti-immigrant tone that has infected much of conservative discourse on the issue is exactly what he needs to solidify his image as the most electable Republican in terms of a general election.

Christie’s excuse for his switch on the issue is economic. As Fox News reports, he gave the following rationale for his stand:

“What I always have said is that when economic times got better, that that would be one of the things that I would consider,” Christie said during the debate at Montclair State University, where he faced his opponent, Democrat Barbara Buono, who long has been an emphatic supporter of in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants. “It’s time now — given that economic times are getting better and the state budget revenues are going up.”

But this disclaimer doesn’t quite walk back a lot of his previous rhetoric on the question of the treatment of illegal immigrants.

In 2011, Christie took issue with a comment by Texas Gov. Rick Perry, a fellow Republican who, during the GOP primaries for the presidential election, said those who opposed giving undocumented immigrants some help to afford college were “heartless.”

Shortly after, Christie said at a meeting at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library: “I want every child who comes to New Jersey to be educated, but I don’t believe that for those people who came here illegally, we should be subsidizing with taxpayer money, through in-state tuition their education.”

He added: “And let me be very clear from my perspective: That is not a heartless position, that is a common sense position.”

Nor did he shy away from directly taking on the question of how this would apply in New Jersey, a state with a large Hispanic community as well as what is estimated to be one of the largest populations of illegals.

In an [2011] appearance in New Jersey, Christie addressed the issue and raised the state’s fiscal problems, but he also noted that he opposed to giving breaks to people who break immigration laws.

“I can’t favor that, because we need to have an immigration system where people follow the rules,” Christie said at the time, “and I can’t in a difficult time of budget constraints support the idea that we should be giving money in that regard to people who haven’t followed the rules, and take that money from people who have.”

This is consistent with his economic rationale as well as helping highlight his claim that New Jersey has prospered under his administration. But it is a clear departure from a stance in which he claimed that all immigrants must play by the same rules.

Nevertheless, Christie is hardly alone in his party when it comes to realizing that integrating illegals into the economy and society makes a lot more sense than pretending they can all be deported or putting up with a status quo in which they remain in the shadows outside of the mainstream economy. Legislation like the DREAM Act has become a litmus test for Hispanic voters. Moreover, given the increasingly strident tone of anti-immigration activists that may well taint the GOP for a generation, having party leaders like Christie start to move away from positions that can be identified with hostility to immigrants makes good political sense as well as good policy.

That still leaves Christie vulnerable to attacks from conservative rivals who will claim he has flipped on the position for political reasons rather than principle. The betting here is that he will handle it better than Romney simply because his abrasive personality and blunt approach to politics will enable him to represent the switch as a matter of common sense and will refrain from the apologetics and rhetorical twists and turns that undermined Romney’s ability to explain his positions.

But no matter how successful he is in selling this point, there seems little doubt that his decision to change his coat on immigration is one more sign that he has 2016 on his mind.

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Tea Party v. Establishment — What’s Next?

Yesterday I was critical of Representatives Fleming and Harris for living in what I called a fantasyland, a dream world, in which they convinced themselves that the government shutdown and fight over the debt ceiling was a victory for the right. That is transparently not true; and if Messrs. Fleming and Harris believe it’s true then they are living on another planet.

But they hardly represent all, or even most, of conservatism, or even the Tea Party. For example, this morning on Bill Bennett’s (excellent) radio program I listened to Bennett’s interview with Representative Trey Gowdy, whose conservative credentials are beyond question. Mr. Gowdy spoke honestly and self-reflectively about what went wrong and what needs to be done going forward. According to Representative Gowdy, the mistake of House Republicans (and by implication Senator Cruz and his allies in the Senate) was that they took an unpopular law, the Affordable Care Act, and hurt themselves by going after it with an even more unpopular tactic — a willingness to shut down the government and not raise the debt ceiling if ObamaCare were not defunded.

That is by my lights precisely what happened, and what many people warned in advance would happen. For now, though, what matters most is to turn what happened into a “teachable moment,” to use a favorite phrase from President Obama.

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Yesterday I was critical of Representatives Fleming and Harris for living in what I called a fantasyland, a dream world, in which they convinced themselves that the government shutdown and fight over the debt ceiling was a victory for the right. That is transparently not true; and if Messrs. Fleming and Harris believe it’s true then they are living on another planet.

But they hardly represent all, or even most, of conservatism, or even the Tea Party. For example, this morning on Bill Bennett’s (excellent) radio program I listened to Bennett’s interview with Representative Trey Gowdy, whose conservative credentials are beyond question. Mr. Gowdy spoke honestly and self-reflectively about what went wrong and what needs to be done going forward. According to Representative Gowdy, the mistake of House Republicans (and by implication Senator Cruz and his allies in the Senate) was that they took an unpopular law, the Affordable Care Act, and hurt themselves by going after it with an even more unpopular tactic — a willingness to shut down the government and not raise the debt ceiling if ObamaCare were not defunded.

That is by my lights precisely what happened, and what many people warned in advance would happen. For now, though, what matters most is to turn what happened into a “teachable moment,” to use a favorite phrase from President Obama.

I for one found Representative Gowdy’s candor and open-mindedness refreshing and encouraging. And as we move past the shutdown and the debt ceiling debacle, which inflamed passions on the right, it’s worth having people on both sides work toward bridging the divide that exists between the Tea Party and to so-called “establishment.”

To be sure, some of the divisions are significant and shouldn’t be glossed over (I for one certainly made my differences with Senator Cruz crystal clear). And both sides are of course free to critique the other, in the spirit of iron sharpening iron. Artificial rapprochements tend not to last. At the same time, it’s worth bearing in mind that the intra-conservative dispute we’ve just gone through wasn’t over ends but means. They were, at least in some important respects, tactical differences rather than strategic and substantive ones. Every conservative I know wants the Affordable Care Act undone; the question has always been how best to do that, and how best to mitigate the damage and strengthen the conservative cause given the political alignment that exists.

So yes, important differences – including differences over tone and temperament, over what is prudent and achievable, and what a genuine conservative cast of mind means – emerged during the last several weeks. Those differences are real and shouldn’t (and won’t) be ignored. But if conservatism is to be advanced, it will require some effort to find common ground and join in common cause. For those in each camp to appreciate what the other brings to the debate. We’ll see if that happens. My guess is it will, though it may require a bit more time for the intensity of this most recent battle to subside.

We’ll know soon enough.

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Can the Obama Revival Succeed?

Give the architects of the Republican attempt to use the threat of a shutdown to stop ObamaCare funding some credit. They have done what few of us thought was possible only a couple of months ago. In August, even liberals were discussing President Obama’s slide into irrelevancy as he morphed from a re-elected president to a scandal-plagued lame duck. Yet after several months of a weak economy, failed legislative initiatives, domestic scandals and foreign humiliations, the president was able to emerge today and rightly claim victory over conservatives in the shutdown and debt ceiling crisis. In the best humble brag fashion, he claimed no one had won in the shutdown but having worked hard to bring just such a confrontation about for the past two years, it’s obvious that he has emerged as the strongest player in the capital from the political chaos that has just concluded.

It bears repeating that had Senators Ted Cruz and Mike Lee and their friends in the House of Representatives not coaxed House Speaker John Boehner into going along with a strategy that had no chance of succeeding, conservatives could have used the last two weeks highlighting the disastrous ObamaCare rollout. But instead of focusing the country on this classic illustration about the perils of big government, Obama was able to stand before the country today and extol the virtues of government in a way that would have been difficult had not conservatives played right into his hands.

But now that the GOP is picking itself off the floor after their humiliating surrender yesterday, the question remains as to whether the president has regained enough momentum to score some other victories over them in the coming months. It is difficult to gauge exactly how much political capital the president has gotten out of his tough guy approach to the shutdown. But even if we concede that he is certainly a lot stronger than he was two months ago, he is not likely to enjoy another such moment of triumph again. That is, provided that Boehner and the rest of the Republican Party don’t let Cruz anywhere near the driver’s wheel again.

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Give the architects of the Republican attempt to use the threat of a shutdown to stop ObamaCare funding some credit. They have done what few of us thought was possible only a couple of months ago. In August, even liberals were discussing President Obama’s slide into irrelevancy as he morphed from a re-elected president to a scandal-plagued lame duck. Yet after several months of a weak economy, failed legislative initiatives, domestic scandals and foreign humiliations, the president was able to emerge today and rightly claim victory over conservatives in the shutdown and debt ceiling crisis. In the best humble brag fashion, he claimed no one had won in the shutdown but having worked hard to bring just such a confrontation about for the past two years, it’s obvious that he has emerged as the strongest player in the capital from the political chaos that has just concluded.

It bears repeating that had Senators Ted Cruz and Mike Lee and their friends in the House of Representatives not coaxed House Speaker John Boehner into going along with a strategy that had no chance of succeeding, conservatives could have used the last two weeks highlighting the disastrous ObamaCare rollout. But instead of focusing the country on this classic illustration about the perils of big government, Obama was able to stand before the country today and extol the virtues of government in a way that would have been difficult had not conservatives played right into his hands.

But now that the GOP is picking itself off the floor after their humiliating surrender yesterday, the question remains as to whether the president has regained enough momentum to score some other victories over them in the coming months. It is difficult to gauge exactly how much political capital the president has gotten out of his tough guy approach to the shutdown. But even if we concede that he is certainly a lot stronger than he was two months ago, he is not likely to enjoy another such moment of triumph again. That is, provided that Boehner and the rest of the Republican Party don’t let Cruz anywhere near the driver’s wheel again.

It needs to be remembered that one aspect of the president’s victory speech today was true. There were no true winners in the shutdown because, as the polls consistently showed, everyone in Washington has suffered a decline in popularity including the president and the Democrats. Republicans are, of course, in a worse position than the Democrats as surveys showed that anywhere from 10 to 20 percentage points more people though the GOP deserved more of the blame for the shutdown than the Democrats. But every poll has also showed negative favorability ratings for the President and his party too. Any other president who got only a 37 percent favorable rating (as was the case in one AP poll last week) would be considered to be in a free fall as was the case the last time it happened during George W. Bush’s second term.

The next big fight will be in the budget negotiations that will soon start as Congress begins the slow motion prelude to the next threat of a shutdown or debt ceiling expiration. The president’s “no negotiations” stance during the shutdown was irresponsible and helped precipitate the crisis but it also strengthened his standing with his supporters. After that performance, it is not likely that Republicans can be persuaded to think that he will blink the next time the two parties go to the brink.

But if the GOP can avoid be tagged with threats of shutdowns and defaults, they will remember that talks about reforming entitlements and cutting spending are their strong points. The acceptance of the sequester — which may not be ideal but has illustrated that cutting spending is possible — has shown that they’ve largely won the argument about the need to reduce expenditures and the debt. So long as Cruz and Lee are not allowed to steer the GOP into another ditch, Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell stand a good chance of gaining a far more favorable resolution of the next budget crisis.

Nor can the president assume he will win on other issues, such as his desire for a comprehensive farm bill boondoggle or even on immigration reform, where he can count on the support of many Republicans. As his failed effort to get gun control legislation through Congress earlier this year showed, the president has no talent for building coalitions or persuading people to compromise. That’s because he is personally allergic to the concept and openly contemptuous of his political foes in a way that makes it impossible for him to win them over even when it might be in their interests to join with him.

Once he lost control of both houses of Congress in 2010 after the public punished the Democrats for the stimulus and ObamaCare, we found out this is a president who can only win when the GOP hands him a victory on a silver platter. Without such aid, he will always falter due to his lack of leadership and decisiveness. And he will continue to be dogged by the ongoing failure of ObamaCare whose negative impact on the economy will soon overshadow the talk about the damage down by the shutdown. Those factors should weigh more heavily in voters’ minds next November than Cruz’s antics, leaving the president even weaker in his final two years in office.

This is a good day for the president and he would be a fool not to try and use it as the launching point for a political counter-offensive aimed at making us forget how miserable the first nine months of 2013 were for him. But unless the Republicans blow themselves up again without much Democratic assistance, this may be as good as it gets until it’s time to pack up and go home.

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Stop Intelligence Sharing with Turkey

Evelyn beat me to the punch this morning highlighting David Ignatius’s bombshell column reporting that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Turkish intelligence chief Hakan Fidan purposely blew an Iranian spy ring to spite Israel. The fact that Turkey would betray to Iran citizens who were working to shed light on a nuclear program that Iranian diplomats claims is transparent and peaceful is outrageous. Most of these Iranians likely died horrendous deaths. And Evelyn is right that the revelation “should also lead to mass resignations from the Congressional Turkey Caucus, if Congress is as serious about stopping Iran’s nuclear program as it has hitherto shown itself to be.”

The implications of Turkey’s actions go far beyond simply Iran’s nuclear program, however. This part of Ignatius’ column is especially scandalous, for it shows the lack of seriousness with which President Obama treats national security:

The Turkish intelligence chief, Hakan Fidan, is also suspect in Israel because of what are seen as friendly links with Tehran; several years ago, Israeli intelligence officers are said to have described him facetiously to CIA officials as “the MOIS station chief in Ankara,” a reference to Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security. The United States continued to deal with Fidan on sensitive matters, however. Though U.S. officials regarded exposure of the Israeli network as an unfortunate intelligence loss, they didn’t protest directly to Turkish officials.

Today, Turkey has become more an enemy than an ally.

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Evelyn beat me to the punch this morning highlighting David Ignatius’s bombshell column reporting that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Turkish intelligence chief Hakan Fidan purposely blew an Iranian spy ring to spite Israel. The fact that Turkey would betray to Iran citizens who were working to shed light on a nuclear program that Iranian diplomats claims is transparent and peaceful is outrageous. Most of these Iranians likely died horrendous deaths. And Evelyn is right that the revelation “should also lead to mass resignations from the Congressional Turkey Caucus, if Congress is as serious about stopping Iran’s nuclear program as it has hitherto shown itself to be.”

The implications of Turkey’s actions go far beyond simply Iran’s nuclear program, however. This part of Ignatius’ column is especially scandalous, for it shows the lack of seriousness with which President Obama treats national security:

The Turkish intelligence chief, Hakan Fidan, is also suspect in Israel because of what are seen as friendly links with Tehran; several years ago, Israeli intelligence officers are said to have described him facetiously to CIA officials as “the MOIS station chief in Ankara,” a reference to Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security. The United States continued to deal with Fidan on sensitive matters, however. Though U.S. officials regarded exposure of the Israeli network as an unfortunate intelligence loss, they didn’t protest directly to Turkish officials.

Today, Turkey has become more an enemy than an ally.

COMMENTARY has previously warned about Fidan and his pro-Iranian proclivities. For the United States, however, the fact that Obama has been willing to share state-of-the-art technology and secrets with the Turkish regime so willing to betray them to China and Iran raises questions about his strategic judgment. Under Erdoğan and Fidan, Turkey has been taking U.S. technology and working to reverse engineer it for their own economic benefit. Turkey is a liability. Trusting Turkish officials with intelligence would be about as wise as renewing Edward Snowden’s security clearance.

Given Turkey’s pivot to China, Iran, and Hamas, it may also be time to reconsider Turkey’s position in NATO. The indefatigable David Schenker, a scholar who has unlike so many in Washington never compromised principle for access, had the foresight to call for NATO to reconsider Turkey’s membership years ago. Not only has Turkey held the alliance hostage to its own diplomatic and ideological whims, but it has also threatened NATO defense in an unconscionable way.

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Turkey Shops Israeli Agents to Iran

If anyone still believes President Barack Obama’s vow to keep Iran from going nuclear, today’s bombshell from the Washington Post’s David Ignatius ought to dispel this illusion. According to Ignatius, Turkey deliberately gave Tehran the identities of up to 10 Iranians working as informants for Israel, resulting in a “significant” loss of intelligence about Iran’s nuclear program. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan personally approved this decision, and it followed several other incidents in which Erdoğan’s handpicked spy chief gave Iran “sensitive intelligence collected by the U.S. and Israel.” Yet not only did Washington refuse to even lodge a protest with Ankara, it warmed relations with Turkey even further, to the point that “Erdoğan was among Obama’s key confidants.”

Needless to say, someone serious about stopping Iran’s nuclear program would be raging over the loss of “significant” intelligence about it, not rewarding the person responsible for this loss by elevating him to the role of key confidant. By this behavior, Obama signaled Tehran that he’s quite content to remain in ignorance about its race toward the bomb. Someone serious about stopping this program would also stop sharing “sensitive” intelligence about it with a person who known to have passed it on to Tehran, rather than continuing to treat him as a confidant.

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If anyone still believes President Barack Obama’s vow to keep Iran from going nuclear, today’s bombshell from the Washington Post’s David Ignatius ought to dispel this illusion. According to Ignatius, Turkey deliberately gave Tehran the identities of up to 10 Iranians working as informants for Israel, resulting in a “significant” loss of intelligence about Iran’s nuclear program. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan personally approved this decision, and it followed several other incidents in which Erdoğan’s handpicked spy chief gave Iran “sensitive intelligence collected by the U.S. and Israel.” Yet not only did Washington refuse to even lodge a protest with Ankara, it warmed relations with Turkey even further, to the point that “Erdoğan was among Obama’s key confidants.”

Needless to say, someone serious about stopping Iran’s nuclear program would be raging over the loss of “significant” intelligence about it, not rewarding the person responsible for this loss by elevating him to the role of key confidant. By this behavior, Obama signaled Tehran that he’s quite content to remain in ignorance about its race toward the bomb. Someone serious about stopping this program would also stop sharing “sensitive” intelligence about it with a person who known to have passed it on to Tehran, rather than continuing to treat him as a confidant.

But even without the Ignatius bombshell (which should also lead to mass resignations from the Congressional Turkey Caucus, if Congress is as serious about stopping Iran’s nuclear program as it has hitherto shown itself to be), the contrast between this week’s negotiating session with Iran and Obama’s meeting with Benjamin Netanyahu last month provided pretty clear evidence of Obama’s attitudes. According to Haaretz, Obama complained to the Israeli premier that Israeli-Palestinian talks were progressing too slowly and demanded that they be accelerated, saying otherwise, the nine-month deadline wouldn’t be met. Nothing irreversible is likely to happen that would make a deal impossible if this deadline were missed, yet even so, Obama considered the once-a-week negotiating sessions insufficient.

On Iran, in contrast, time is really of the essence: Its nuclear program is continuing apace even during the negotiations, and experts predict that at this rate, it will reach “critical capability” – the ability to produce nuclear weapons undetected – by mid-2014 at the latest. Yet on this issue, Obama seems to have all the time in the world: Following this week’s opening session in Geneva, talks between Iran and the so-called P5+1 will resume only in another three weeks’ time, on November 7.  The contrast between Obama’s impatience on the non-urgent Israeli-Palestinian issue and his seemingly inexhaustible patience on the urgent Iranian one is cogent proof of which issue he really cares about and which he doesn’t.

Last month, a poll found that two-thirds of Jewish Israelis no longer believe Obama’s promise to stop Iran from getting the bomb, and after Ignatius’ revelation sinks in, I’d expect the number to climb even higher. That’s precisely why, contrary to the New York Times’ fond delusion that Netanyahu is “increasingly alone abroad and at home,” the Israeli public is now solidly behind him: In another recent poll, fully two-thirds of Israelis said they would back a unilateral Israeli strike on Iran, a sharp reversal from the 58% who opposed it just last year. Israelis, it seems, are starting to realize that nobody will stop Iran from getting nukes if they don’t. 

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