Commentary Magazine


Posts For: October 23, 2013

Can John McCain Win a GOP Primary?

The aftermath of the government shutdown hasn’t done much to cool the tempers of Republicans angered by their humiliating defeat at the hands of President Obama. Rather than accept responsibility for the failure of the no-win strategy they steered their party into, Tea Partiers are venting their frustration at the so-called establishment and vowing to try to defeat all those who don’t meet their standards for conservative purity even if that means dooming any hopes for the GOP to retake the Senate. Front and center on the list of the Republicans on their hit list is, of course, Senator John McCain of Arizona. Which is why his announcement earlier this week that he is seriously considering running for a sixth term in the Senate isn’t so much an indication of his desire to hold his seat as it is his throwing down of a gauntlet to a faction of his party that he hasn’t hesitated to describe as “wacko birds.”

It’s not likely that there is a Democrat in the state that has much of a chance to beat McCain either in 2016 when he will be 80 or even six years after that should he wish to keep going. But despite his general popularity, it is an open question as to whether McCain can win another Republican primary. Which means that if he does want another term, Arizona looks to be ground zero in an all-out war between a man who has become the quintessential GOP moderate and Tea Partiers who regard him as the incarnation of everything they dislike about “moderates.”

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The aftermath of the government shutdown hasn’t done much to cool the tempers of Republicans angered by their humiliating defeat at the hands of President Obama. Rather than accept responsibility for the failure of the no-win strategy they steered their party into, Tea Partiers are venting their frustration at the so-called establishment and vowing to try to defeat all those who don’t meet their standards for conservative purity even if that means dooming any hopes for the GOP to retake the Senate. Front and center on the list of the Republicans on their hit list is, of course, Senator John McCain of Arizona. Which is why his announcement earlier this week that he is seriously considering running for a sixth term in the Senate isn’t so much an indication of his desire to hold his seat as it is his throwing down of a gauntlet to a faction of his party that he hasn’t hesitated to describe as “wacko birds.”

It’s not likely that there is a Democrat in the state that has much of a chance to beat McCain either in 2016 when he will be 80 or even six years after that should he wish to keep going. But despite his general popularity, it is an open question as to whether McCain can win another Republican primary. Which means that if he does want another term, Arizona looks to be ground zero in an all-out war between a man who has become the quintessential GOP moderate and Tea Partiers who regard him as the incarnation of everything they dislike about “moderates.”

It should be recalled that the last time he faced the voters, McCain had to tack considerably to the right in order to win another term. After long being identified as a supporter of immigration reform and a path to citizenship for illegal aliens, McCain sang a slightly different tune in 2010, memorably demanding that the government build a wall along the border with Mexico. The shift, combined with a weaker than expected challenge from former congressman and talk show host J.D. Hayworth, worked nicely and the veteran senator won his primary in a walk and coasted to victory in the general election. But it isn’t likely that he can play the same game again or that he would even want to.

After antagonizing right-wingers by being the leading Republican sponsor of the bipartisan immigration reform bill passed by the Senate (though it will die in the House), McCain’s open contempt for Rand Paul’s filibuster about drone attacks, and his even greater disdain for those like Ted Cruz and Mike Lee, who urged Republicans to threaten a government shutdown to de-fund ObamaCare, his relations with the Tea Party can best be described as open warfare.

With the core of the party tilting further to the right there are those who assume there’s no way that McCain could survive a primary. After having antagonized conservatives on issues like campaign finance reform for decades, the dispute over the shutdown may be the final straw. Should a credible conservative, or at least one more credible than the likes of Hayworth, emerge against him, McCain will be in for the political fight of his life. Given his penchant for reaching across the aisle and an internationalist attitude on foreign policy that seems out of touch with many on the right these days, McCain is now routinely described by even as normally sober a politician as Liz Cheney as a “liberal Republican.” Though the label is more than a bit unfair, it means he will have a hard time winning a primary in such a conservative state.

That said, those who are inclined to write McCain’s reelection off as a lost cause should understand that the rules have always been slightly different for McCain. As a bona fide legendary war hero, McCain’s career has always been based as much on biography as it has a willingness to stick to conservative positions. Five years of torture in the Hanoi Hilton during the Vietnam War earned McCain a lifetime get-out-of-jail-free card as far as many Republicans have been concerned.

It should also be said that branding McCain as “liberal” is a bit of a misnomer. On most issues of concern to conservatives, McCain is with the base of his party. Indeed, the desire of many on the right to exact revenge on him over the perception that he betrayed them on the shutdown is undermined by the fact that, as he said this week, he fought the adoption of the president’s health-care program tooth and nail before Cruz and Lee were even elected to the Senate.

Though there are issues on which he has disagreed with many Republicans, his image as a moderate is based as much on his negative views of Cruz and company and a desire to work with Democrats as much as possible. As such, no shift to the right on any issue such as immigration will win over his conservative critics the way it did in 2010. If he is to win another term, it will have to be by proving that a centrist, or what passes for one in the GOP these days, can still win a primary in a red state. That’s the sort of a challenge the always-combative McCain may relish. Indeed, given the fact that he has talked about retirement, a desire to smack down the Tea Partiers might be the only reason he is thinking about running again. But it flies in the face of everything we know about the changing face of the base of the Republican Party. While it is always a mistake to underestimate the Navy veteran turned Washington institution, the odds against him sitting in the Senate in 2017 are very long.

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Getting Serious on Slavery

As Max Boot noted yesterday, fourteen Caribbean nations are banding together to demand reparations from the trans-Atlantic slave trade, in a case that has no legal foundation. As the New York Times explains:

But the prospects for a modern-day legal case for reparations by victims are far from clear. Roger O’Keefe, deputy director of the Lauterpacht Center for International Law at Cambridge University, said that “there is not the slightest chance that this case will get anywhere,” describing it as “an international legal fantasy.” He argues that while the Netherlands and Britain have accepted the court’s jurisdiction in advance, Britain excluded disputes relating to events arising before 1974. “Reparation may be awarded only for what was internationally unlawful when it was done,” Dr. O’Keefe said, “and slavery and the slave trade were not internationally unlawful at the time the colonial powers engaged in them.”

The plaintiffs acknowledge their legal case is little but an attempted shake-down:

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As Max Boot noted yesterday, fourteen Caribbean nations are banding together to demand reparations from the trans-Atlantic slave trade, in a case that has no legal foundation. As the New York Times explains:

But the prospects for a modern-day legal case for reparations by victims are far from clear. Roger O’Keefe, deputy director of the Lauterpacht Center for International Law at Cambridge University, said that “there is not the slightest chance that this case will get anywhere,” describing it as “an international legal fantasy.” He argues that while the Netherlands and Britain have accepted the court’s jurisdiction in advance, Britain excluded disputes relating to events arising before 1974. “Reparation may be awarded only for what was internationally unlawful when it was done,” Dr. O’Keefe said, “and slavery and the slave trade were not internationally unlawful at the time the colonial powers engaged in them.”

The plaintiffs acknowledge their legal case is little but an attempted shake-down:

Even lawyers for the Caribbean countries hint that a negotiated settlement, achieved through public and diplomatic pressure, may be their best hope. “We are saying that, ultimately, historical claims have been resolved politically — although I think we will have a good claim in the I.C.J.,” [Plaintiff’s lawyer] Mr. [Martyn] Day said.

In effect, the Caribbean nations hope to use slavery as a means to gain a windfall payment to compensate for years of mismanagement, corruption, and incompetent leadership.

The tragedy is that the same 14 governments—and many more—do not expend their diplomatic energy tackling modern-day slavery. The Walk Free Foundation has recently unveiled a new “Global Slavery Index” that makes for truly shocking reading. While the foundation defines slavery broadly, it does not diminish the basic point that perhaps 30 million people today—1 in 230—find themselves trafficked, in domestic servitude, or traded as property. Regionally, Haiti is a major offender, as are Cuba, Barbados, and Trinidad and Tobago. Internationally, India and Pakistan, Mauritania, Ethiopia, and much of sub-Saharan Africa score poorly.

That the International Criminal Court becomes the forum for diplomatic nonsense such as suing over 18th century offenses while at the same it turns a blind eye to 21st century slavery does much to illustrate why the international legal regime has become such a self-parody. Kudos, however, to the Walk Free Foundation for shining a spotlight on the problem; let us hope that they continue to produce the Global Slavery Index annually, and that what international diplomats won’t seek to accomplish, public shaming might.

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Is Terrorist Arrest an Attack on U.S. Arabs?

The narrative is familiar. Since 9/11, we’ve had a steady drumbeat of accusations bolstered by featured stories in the mainstream media claiming that Arabs and Muslims in America have been subjected to a backlash that has amounted to a wave of discrimination. As I have written several times before (here, here, here, and here), the evidence for this charge is purely anecdotal. No credible studies back it up. If anything, statistics like those compiled by the F.B.I. of hate crimes show that assaults and bias crimes aimed at Muslims are disproportionately small and far less than attacks on Jews in every year since 2001, including the time in the immediate aftermath of the terror attacks.

But that hasn’t stopped groups such as the Council on American Islamic Relations that claim to represent Muslims and Arabs and their cheering sections in the press from continuing to make such charges about Islamophobia. CAIR, which was born as a political front for American supporters of Hamas, has at times advised its supporters not to cooperate with federal investigations of homegrown terrorists. But, as the Associated Press reports, a leader of a similar Chicago-based group has now jumped the rhetorical shark by saying that the arrest of a person convicted of taking part in a terror bombing in Israel is, “an escalation of attacks on our community. … We are very, very angry.”

Like so many other allegations of bias against Muslims and Arabs, this one is unfounded. But it betrays the mindset of groups that think that holding terrorists accountable for their actions is inherently prejudicial.

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The narrative is familiar. Since 9/11, we’ve had a steady drumbeat of accusations bolstered by featured stories in the mainstream media claiming that Arabs and Muslims in America have been subjected to a backlash that has amounted to a wave of discrimination. As I have written several times before (here, here, here, and here), the evidence for this charge is purely anecdotal. No credible studies back it up. If anything, statistics like those compiled by the F.B.I. of hate crimes show that assaults and bias crimes aimed at Muslims are disproportionately small and far less than attacks on Jews in every year since 2001, including the time in the immediate aftermath of the terror attacks.

But that hasn’t stopped groups such as the Council on American Islamic Relations that claim to represent Muslims and Arabs and their cheering sections in the press from continuing to make such charges about Islamophobia. CAIR, which was born as a political front for American supporters of Hamas, has at times advised its supporters not to cooperate with federal investigations of homegrown terrorists. But, as the Associated Press reports, a leader of a similar Chicago-based group has now jumped the rhetorical shark by saying that the arrest of a person convicted of taking part in a terror bombing in Israel is, “an escalation of attacks on our community. … We are very, very angry.”

Like so many other allegations of bias against Muslims and Arabs, this one is unfounded. But it betrays the mindset of groups that think that holding terrorists accountable for their actions is inherently prejudicial.

The case of Rasmieh Yousef Odeh, a 66-year-old Palestinian immigrant to the United States, is in many ways an unexceptional immigration case. Odeh was a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a Palestinian Marxist terror group that ordered her to take part in plots to plant bombs in Israel. One of them was exploded at a crowded supermarket, killing two people and wounding several others. She was caught and sentenced to a long prison sentence for her crime. But, like other lucky Palestinian terrorists down through the years, she was released as part of ransom paid by Israel in exchange for the release of an Israeli soldier who had been captured in Lebanon.

Press accounts don’t say what she did in the intervening years, but we know that in 1995 she left Jordan for the United States and became a citizen in 2004. She lived in suburban Evergreen Park, where she worked as a lawyer and attained the status of a community leader among Arabs. Whatever good she may or may not have done during the last 18 years, we do know one thing: she lied in order to gain entry to the United States. The law is fairly clear about those with prison records disclosing this fact while applying for a visa of any sort. Those with records of terrorism are not eligible for entry, let alone citizenship. So, like many Nazi war criminals who snuck into the U.S. by leaving out their time serving in the SS or as death camp guards on their resumes, Odeh is a prime candidate to be stripped of her citizenship and deported.

No doubt some will claim that years of alleged good works ought to grant her absolution for her crime. But the idea that helping to plant a bomb in a supermarket in order to kill as many Jews as possible is the sort of thing that should be ignored when assessing Odeh is risible. It is especially outrageous when you consider that there is no record of her apologizing for her crime. No doubt, like the many thousands of other Palestinian terrorists who have been released by Israel in order to gain the freedom of captive Jews, her community treated Odeh as a heroine because of what she did, not in spite of it.

But the decision of Arab-American groups to protest on her behalf and to allege discrimination has nothing to do with pleas for mercy. Rather, it is derived from that same sense that those who murder Israelis are “freedom fighters” and not terrorists.

Government action against Odeh is, at best, merely justice delayed. While the vast majority of Muslim and Arab Americans are loyal, hard-working citizens, those who embrace terrorists like Odeh or who claim prosecution of her is an example of bias are discrediting the cause of an entire community. Not to mention, the claim of a mythical post-9/11 backlash.

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ObamaCare’s Self-Sabotage

Earlier today Jonathan tackled the accusation from the left that conservatives rooting for ObamaCare to collapse under its own weight were being disloyal. Indeed, there has been a broad attempt to force dual responsibility for the law by instituting a “good Samaritan law” of the sort that landed the Seinfeld klatch in jail in the show’s finale for laughing at the realtime misfortune of others. Here is Dana Milbank’s unconvincing plaint:

Their outrage has not been softened by the knowledge that the bulk of the sign-up problems has been in the states led by critics of the law who refused to cooperate with the federal government on the rollout. Essentially, Republicans are complaining about flaws created in part by their own sabotage.

When the spin is this laughable, you know the truth must be devastating. The law provided the states the choice of setting up their own exchanges. Those who didn’t voluntarily do what the Obama administration wanted them to are apparently saboteurs, not for rooting for the law’s failure but merely for not saving the Democrats’ asinine plans from themselves. Milbank seems to be suggesting that allowing the Democrats full control over the implementation of massive reform is a devastating mistake. I’m sure most Republicans agree with that, at least.

But now there’s some indication that rooting for the law, or at least the healthcare.gov insurance portal, to fail is actually the humane thing to do. That’s because, as Milbank’s colleague at the Post Sarah Kliff reports, there are problems with what is referred to as the 834 transmission, which “is the one form, in the giant machinery of HealthCare.gov, that lets insurance companies know who signed up for their product.” It’s a very important digital record, but those 834 transmissions are also glitchy: many of them apparently have the wrong consumer information on them, which Kliff says is a much larger problem than a slow website:

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Earlier today Jonathan tackled the accusation from the left that conservatives rooting for ObamaCare to collapse under its own weight were being disloyal. Indeed, there has been a broad attempt to force dual responsibility for the law by instituting a “good Samaritan law” of the sort that landed the Seinfeld klatch in jail in the show’s finale for laughing at the realtime misfortune of others. Here is Dana Milbank’s unconvincing plaint:

Their outrage has not been softened by the knowledge that the bulk of the sign-up problems has been in the states led by critics of the law who refused to cooperate with the federal government on the rollout. Essentially, Republicans are complaining about flaws created in part by their own sabotage.

When the spin is this laughable, you know the truth must be devastating. The law provided the states the choice of setting up their own exchanges. Those who didn’t voluntarily do what the Obama administration wanted them to are apparently saboteurs, not for rooting for the law’s failure but merely for not saving the Democrats’ asinine plans from themselves. Milbank seems to be suggesting that allowing the Democrats full control over the implementation of massive reform is a devastating mistake. I’m sure most Republicans agree with that, at least.

But now there’s some indication that rooting for the law, or at least the healthcare.gov insurance portal, to fail is actually the humane thing to do. That’s because, as Milbank’s colleague at the Post Sarah Kliff reports, there are problems with what is referred to as the 834 transmission, which “is the one form, in the giant machinery of HealthCare.gov, that lets insurance companies know who signed up for their product.” It’s a very important digital record, but those 834 transmissions are also glitchy: many of them apparently have the wrong consumer information on them, which Kliff says is a much larger problem than a slow website:

An 834 transmission contains enrollment data like an individual’s social security number, their dependents and the plan that they picked. That data is, obviously, critical: If it comes in wrong, an applicant may not get the right plan, or family members may not be covered, or identity may not be verifiable.

And guess what would turn the 834 transmissions glitch into a full-fledged disaster: that’s right, fixing the website too soon! Kliff explains:

Right now, health-insurance plans say they can manage these problems. Few enough enrollment forms are coming in that they’re able to hand-check each one. “What our company, and I’m assuming others, are doing is throwing people at it,” one insurer told Wonkblog. “We’re overcoming the tech flaws with manual reviews and manual rigor and manual processes. That’s fine right now, but when you start looking at the scale of what the Obama administration wants to do, that’s just not going to scale up.”

This approach undermines the very point of 834s, which is to make it possible for the computer system to automate the process of enrolling tens or even hundreds of thousands of applicants each day.

“The purpose of the electronic transaction is to be able to do this with a minimum amount of human intervention,” says Stanley Nachimson of Nachimson Advisors, a health IT consulting firm. “The hope would be that the health plan’s computers will be able to understand the transaction and do all the processes automatically.”

Some in the industry believe HealthCare.gov’s traffic problems have been a blessing-in-disguise for the program: If applicants were being able to sign up easily but the 834 forms were coming in with this many errors the results could be disastrous.

Let that sink in. The “train wreck” rollout of ObamaCare via a horrendous website was a blessing in disguise because it likely would have been a lot worse if people had actually been able to get coverage. It’s possible the system can overcome its initial failure, but ObamaCare might not have been able to survive its own success.

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Is It Wrong to Root for ObamaCare to Fail?

As Democrats attempt to deflect the torrent of criticism coming their way in the wake of an ObamaCare rollout that was an undeniable fiasco, one of their key talking points centers around an attempt to blame it all on mean Republicans who can’t let go of their opposition of the president’s signature legislation. As liberal blogger Ezra Klein wrote in the Washington Post, there’s a certain cognitive dissonance involved when those who actually want to repeal a piece of legislation complain that it is being incompetently administered. Maybe so. However, the implication coming from many of the administration’s defenders is that there’s something inappropriate if not unpatriotic about anyone wanting the government to fail. It’s almost as if they’re saying that hoping for ObamaCare to crash and burn is like rooting against the U.S. Marines if you didn’t happen to approve of the president’s decision to send them to fight in a particular war. After all, we all follow the flag and support our troops no matter what we think of the commander in chief or his policies. Or at least we should.

But ObamaCare is not the moral equivalent of an unpopular war. It’s a massive government program whose implementation infringes on the liberty of citizens (forcing them to purchase a product they may or may not want), taxing them in the form of penalties, and expanding the scope of government interference in a major industry and almost certainly damaging the economy. ObamaCare may not fail in the sense that it is theoretically possible that the administration will eventually figure out how to run a website, implement its provisions, and enforce it, though, given its track record, that is far from a given.

But those who believe it to be a wrongheaded and dangerous scheme are fully within their rights to hope that it collapses of its own weight long before it becomes part of the basic infrastructure of the federal leviathan. Indeed, conservative arguments against it have always centered, at least in part, on the fact that government simply hasn’t the competence to run health care and should not be allowed to try. Why should we blame them for saying “I told you so” as they toast the hard work of Kathleen Sebelius and the rest of the president’s minions to prove them right?

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As Democrats attempt to deflect the torrent of criticism coming their way in the wake of an ObamaCare rollout that was an undeniable fiasco, one of their key talking points centers around an attempt to blame it all on mean Republicans who can’t let go of their opposition of the president’s signature legislation. As liberal blogger Ezra Klein wrote in the Washington Post, there’s a certain cognitive dissonance involved when those who actually want to repeal a piece of legislation complain that it is being incompetently administered. Maybe so. However, the implication coming from many of the administration’s defenders is that there’s something inappropriate if not unpatriotic about anyone wanting the government to fail. It’s almost as if they’re saying that hoping for ObamaCare to crash and burn is like rooting against the U.S. Marines if you didn’t happen to approve of the president’s decision to send them to fight in a particular war. After all, we all follow the flag and support our troops no matter what we think of the commander in chief or his policies. Or at least we should.

But ObamaCare is not the moral equivalent of an unpopular war. It’s a massive government program whose implementation infringes on the liberty of citizens (forcing them to purchase a product they may or may not want), taxing them in the form of penalties, and expanding the scope of government interference in a major industry and almost certainly damaging the economy. ObamaCare may not fail in the sense that it is theoretically possible that the administration will eventually figure out how to run a website, implement its provisions, and enforce it, though, given its track record, that is far from a given.

But those who believe it to be a wrongheaded and dangerous scheme are fully within their rights to hope that it collapses of its own weight long before it becomes part of the basic infrastructure of the federal leviathan. Indeed, conservative arguments against it have always centered, at least in part, on the fact that government simply hasn’t the competence to run health care and should not be allowed to try. Why should we blame them for saying “I told you so” as they toast the hard work of Kathleen Sebelius and the rest of the president’s minions to prove them right?

In claiming that Republicans are wrong to root against ObamaCare, Democrats also attempt to spin this as a heartless attempt to rip health insurance from the hands of the needy. From this point of view, the plight of those who stand to benefit from the plan are analogous to the spilled blood of Americans fighting for their country while Republicans sit on their hands. But again this is nonsense. Republicans, in particular Rep. Paul Ryan, had their own plans for expanding health coverage without creating the vast structure of ObamaCare. Since they believe that the president’s bill was not only poorly written but bound to cause as much if not more harm to the rest of the country (like those who are losing their jobs due to companies cutting back in reaction to the prospect of the government enforcing the employer mandate), what they are doing is nothing more than advocacy for an alternative to legislation that remains as unpopular today as it was when the president forced it down the country’s throat on a partisan vote enabled by legislative trickery.

It is true, as Klein warns, that if ObamaCare fails, Democrats will be back not with a smaller, more manageable idea comparable to Ryan’s suggestions, but with a massive single payer system that will really be the next step toward socialized medicine. But rather than causing conservatives to swallow the so-called compromise of ObamaCare, it is rightly motivating them to draw a line in the sand across which liberal statists ought not to be allowed to cross.

The truth is, ObamaCare’s flaws are baked into the system it is trying to impose on the country and not just a matter of website “glitches.” It is likely to continue to careen from one disaster to another over the course of its life whether the GOP is chortling about it or not. This is a tragedy for the country. But the sooner we find this out the better. A flawed idea from the start, all its critics are doing to ObamaCare at this point is holding up a mirror to the administration’s failure and warning the country not to repeat their mistakes. If that’s wrong, I don’t want to be right.

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Remembering the 1983 Marine Barracks Bombing

If there’s such a thing as a Teflon nation, Iran is it: No matter how much terror the Islamic Republic perpetrates or sponsors against the United States, the regime manages to escape any significant accountability. Thirty years ago today, an Iranian-sponsored terrorist drove a truck bomb into the U.S. Marine Barracks in Beirut. Most of the Marines—on a peacekeeping mission—were asleep; 241 perished. James “Ace” Lyons, the deputy chief of Naval Operations at the time and truly a national treasure, has an important piece in today’s Washington Times recalling the episode:

The National Security Agency issued a highly classified message dated Sept. 27, 1983, which contained the instructions that Iranian Ambassador Ali Akbar Montashemi in Damascus had previously received from Tehran and then gave to Husayn al-Musawi, the leader of the Islamic Amal. Those instructions directed the terrorist group to concentrate its attacks on the Multi-National Force but take a “spectacular” action against the U.S. Marines.

I was deputy chief of naval operations at that time, and I did not receive that message until Oct. 25, two days after the bombing. That same day, I was called out to the CIA’s Langley headquarters because CIA Director William Casey wanted to see me. At the meeting, Casey asked me whether I would develop plans to take out the perpetrators if he discovered who they were and where they were located. I readily agreed.

President Reagan had the opportunity to hit the perpetrators and planners almost immediately, but Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger objected.

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If there’s such a thing as a Teflon nation, Iran is it: No matter how much terror the Islamic Republic perpetrates or sponsors against the United States, the regime manages to escape any significant accountability. Thirty years ago today, an Iranian-sponsored terrorist drove a truck bomb into the U.S. Marine Barracks in Beirut. Most of the Marines—on a peacekeeping mission—were asleep; 241 perished. James “Ace” Lyons, the deputy chief of Naval Operations at the time and truly a national treasure, has an important piece in today’s Washington Times recalling the episode:

The National Security Agency issued a highly classified message dated Sept. 27, 1983, which contained the instructions that Iranian Ambassador Ali Akbar Montashemi in Damascus had previously received from Tehran and then gave to Husayn al-Musawi, the leader of the Islamic Amal. Those instructions directed the terrorist group to concentrate its attacks on the Multi-National Force but take a “spectacular” action against the U.S. Marines.

I was deputy chief of naval operations at that time, and I did not receive that message until Oct. 25, two days after the bombing. That same day, I was called out to the CIA’s Langley headquarters because CIA Director William Casey wanted to see me. At the meeting, Casey asked me whether I would develop plans to take out the perpetrators if he discovered who they were and where they were located. I readily agreed.

President Reagan had the opportunity to hit the perpetrators and planners almost immediately, but Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger objected.

Fast forward 13 years: Iran dusted off its playbook and ran a similar operation in Khobar, Saudi Arabia, this time targeting American airmen. The FBI concluded that Iran was behind that attack but President Clinton ordered their report withdrawn and destroyed so as not to undercut his hope for diplomacy and a “dialogue of civilizations.” That dialogue went nowhere, and simultaneous to it, Iran accelerated its covert nuclear program and, during that dialogue, began experimenting with nuclear triggers.

There was more, of course. The September 11, 2001 attacks were chiefly an al-Qaeda operation but, according to the 9/11 investigation, Iran had provided assistance to many of the 9/11 hijackers in their transit to and from their Afghan training camps. Iran never paid the price for that either.

Lyons concludes his piece by noting:

At the time of these “acts of war,” President Obama was still a student at Columbia University and later at Harvard. He was probably more involved in absorbing the wisdom of the leftist agenda than on the tragic events carried out by Iran against our military. However, he is certainly aware today of the thousands of our military personnel who have died as the result of Iran’s actions in Iraq and Afghanistan. He also must realize that Iran has provided material and training support to the September 11 hijackers. Iran was found guilty of providing such support by Judge George B. Daniels of U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York in December 2011. Previously, Judge Royce Lamberth of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia found Iran guilty in the Marine barracks bombing.

Iran remains the world leader in state-sponsored terrorism. It is a rogue regime that will do anything to ensure the survivability of the corrupt theocracy. The mullahs have not spent billions to build underground nuclear facilities, as well as absorbing crippling economic sanctions, to simply negotiate away their nuclear weapons objectives. In August 1995, Russia offered to provide Iran with a 10-year supply of fuel for their nuclear plant at Bushehr for only $30 million. Iran adamantly rejected the proposal because Russia insisted that Iran return the spent fuel rods to Russia for reprocessing. Case closed. Iran, with enough oil and gas to last at least a few hundred years, doesn’t need nuclear capability for electricity.

With Mr. Obama’s eagerness to negotiate with Iran, it has been reported that he is weighing the possibility of unfreezing billions in Iranian assets in response to “potential” concessions by Iran. Such a move would be nonsensical. If Mr. Obama were to unfreeze billions of Iranian assets, then the money should not go to Iran, but to the surviving families of the Marine barracks bombing, as well as to the surviving families of the September 11, 2001, atrocity, as our courts have mandated.

Let us hope that Obama is listening and that he does not believe that sophistication requires sacrificing justice and accountability.

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Obama Advisors Try to Salvage Their Reputations

Some of the headaches of a president’s second term stem from the “don’t blame me” stories in which administration officials seek to use the press to wipe their fingerprints off of their boss’s policy failures. It’s their way of updating their resumes; unlike the president, they’ll need a job in the near future. Sometimes that means trying to bury old hatchets, and sometimes that means anonymously leaking details of their unheeded prophecies to the New York Times, as “dozens of current and former members of the administration, foreign diplomats and Congressional officials” did for today’s deep dive into the administration’s feckless and confused Syria policy.

One of the more recent additions to President Obama’s Cabinet, Samantha Power, has turned this into an art form. While working for Obama’s presidential campaign in 2008, she called Hillary Clinton a “monster.” But now she realizes that the Democrats want to hand Clinton the next presidential nomination, and feels the need to tell NBC that she has “regretted it pretty much every day since,” and that the incident “just completely broke my heart that there is a fair amount of negativity heaped upon her that I find massively unfair, and the idea that I could have contributed in some way to that narrative, it was terrible.” And oh by the way, Power wants Hillary to know that she thinks Clinton is “a total rock star–she’s changed the world in a thousand ways.”

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Some of the headaches of a president’s second term stem from the “don’t blame me” stories in which administration officials seek to use the press to wipe their fingerprints off of their boss’s policy failures. It’s their way of updating their resumes; unlike the president, they’ll need a job in the near future. Sometimes that means trying to bury old hatchets, and sometimes that means anonymously leaking details of their unheeded prophecies to the New York Times, as “dozens of current and former members of the administration, foreign diplomats and Congressional officials” did for today’s deep dive into the administration’s feckless and confused Syria policy.

One of the more recent additions to President Obama’s Cabinet, Samantha Power, has turned this into an art form. While working for Obama’s presidential campaign in 2008, she called Hillary Clinton a “monster.” But now she realizes that the Democrats want to hand Clinton the next presidential nomination, and feels the need to tell NBC that she has “regretted it pretty much every day since,” and that the incident “just completely broke my heart that there is a fair amount of negativity heaped upon her that I find massively unfair, and the idea that I could have contributed in some way to that narrative, it was terrible.” And oh by the way, Power wants Hillary to know that she thinks Clinton is “a total rock star–she’s changed the world in a thousand ways.”

Vicious comments aimed at a rival in the heat of a presidential campaign are not unheard of, however. More difficult for Power to shake might be the fact that she spent her career naming and shaming Clinton administration officials she deemed bystanders to the atrocities in Rwanda and then she joined a presidential administration intensely focused on being bystanders to the atrocities in Syria. Because of Power’s career as a proponent of humanitarian intervention, the Obama White House gains much-needed credibility for sitting on the sidelines because the administration can point to Power’s presence in the Cabinet. For her silence, Power gets to live it up in the ambassador’s suite at the Waldorf Astoria hotel.

But she seems aware that history may not look kindly on her career trajectory. She’ll likely be asked, as the Bouncing Souls sang, “How high was your price, and was it worth it?” Thus, Power appears in the Times article waging a noble but losing battle to intervene with the president’s chief of staff:

Denis R. McDonough, the deputy national security adviser and one of the biggest skeptics about American intervention in Syria, was promoted to White House chief of staff. Mr. McDonough had clashed frequently with his colleagues on Syria policy, including with Samantha Power, a White House official who had long championed the idea that nations have a moral obligation to intervene to prevent genocide.

Ms. Power came to believe that America’s offers of support to the rebels were empty.

“Denis, if you had met the rebels as frequently as I have, you would be as passionate as I am,” Ms. Power told Mr. McDonough at one meeting, according to two people who attended.

“Samantha, we’ll just have to agree to disagree,” Mr. McDonough responded crisply.

It’s tempting to write this off as realism defeating idealism and present it as the theme of the Obama presidency. But as the Times article makes clear, the president didn’t seem to think or care enough about the mess in Syria to formulate anything resembling a coherent ideological or theoretical analysis. The Times’s sources stop just shy of accusing the president of playing Angry Birds during Syria briefings:

Even as the debate about arming the rebels took on a new urgency, Mr. Obama rarely voiced strong opinions during senior staff meetings. But current and former officials said his body language was telling: he often appeared impatient or disengaged while listening to the debate, sometimes scrolling through messages on his BlackBerry or slouching and chewing gum.

I’m not sure why it’s relevant that the president chewed gum other than for these sources to present the commander in chief in a disquietingly condescending manner–petty enough to remind the reader that many of these sources are grinding axes. Which brings us back to Power. The expected defense of her lavish, taxpayer-funded acquiescence to inaction seems to be that she wanted to intervene but cannot exactly force the president of the United States to heed her advice.

But what did she expect? She well knew the president’s outlook on foreign intervention, the Arab Spring, and on Syria specifically. Obama made no secret of the fact that he didn’t want to get involved and didn’t intend to do anything about ridding the Middle East of Bashar al-Assad. She cannot pretend to be some frustrated idealist stuck trying to change the system from the inside. The president’s policy of inaction on Syria was clear and close to unshakeable, and she accepted the president’s offer to sit in the Waldorf and not make trouble while this policy continued to be carried out.

And she’s not the only one. So while all these sources may have a point about Obama’s ambivalence on Syria, their self-serving revisionism should be taken with more than a grain of salt.

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Obama Sticks With Incompetence

Yesterday on CNN embattled Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said she had not informed President Obama about the problems affecting the Healthcare.gov website prior to it going live on October 1. That the person in charge of implementing the president’s signature health-care legislation was not only incapable of protecting the administration from a major embarrassment but actually kept him out of the loop about an impending debacle ought to be enough to get her (or anyone in similar circumstances) fired. But as Politico reports today, the consensus in Washington is that Sebelius is still untouchable because of the political difficulties involved in replacing her.

That Sebelius’s job is not in jeopardy because of politics tells us a lot about what’s wrong with this administration. Though the president and his followers seem to spend most of their time excoriating their Republican opponents as mindless partisans, once again this seems to be a case of projection. The fact that Republicans and conservative pundits are calling for Sebelius’s head seems to be enough reason to keep her in office despite her painfully obvious incompetence demonstrated during the ObamaCare rollout. The president has said that Republicans would stop calling it ObamaCare once they saw that it worked. But now that it isn’t working and with no assurances that it will be functioning properly anytime soon, he may be thinking that Reason’s Nick Gillespie was onto something when he suggested the other day that the White House may now be thinking that it should be renamed “SebeliusCare.”

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Yesterday on CNN embattled Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said she had not informed President Obama about the problems affecting the Healthcare.gov website prior to it going live on October 1. That the person in charge of implementing the president’s signature health-care legislation was not only incapable of protecting the administration from a major embarrassment but actually kept him out of the loop about an impending debacle ought to be enough to get her (or anyone in similar circumstances) fired. But as Politico reports today, the consensus in Washington is that Sebelius is still untouchable because of the political difficulties involved in replacing her.

That Sebelius’s job is not in jeopardy because of politics tells us a lot about what’s wrong with this administration. Though the president and his followers seem to spend most of their time excoriating their Republican opponents as mindless partisans, once again this seems to be a case of projection. The fact that Republicans and conservative pundits are calling for Sebelius’s head seems to be enough reason to keep her in office despite her painfully obvious incompetence demonstrated during the ObamaCare rollout. The president has said that Republicans would stop calling it ObamaCare once they saw that it worked. But now that it isn’t working and with no assurances that it will be functioning properly anytime soon, he may be thinking that Reason’s Nick Gillespie was onto something when he suggested the other day that the White House may now be thinking that it should be renamed “SebeliusCare.”

The feeling in the White House seems to be that attacks on Sebelius are just the latest Republican tactic in their ongoing campaign to stop ObamaCare. There’s some truth to that. But by framing the issue in this manner, they are looking at the problem through the wrong end of the telescope. Of course, conservatives are going to be quick to find fault with anything to do with legislation that they bitterly opposed. But the president, who focused more on trying to sell the country on a bill that is already the law of the land and can’t be repealed while he is in office than on analyzing the website’s problems during his speech earlier this week, needs to forget about what Republicans are saying and understand that the bad performance of his own appointees is what is killing the program.

It is true that replacing Sebelius would set off a confirmation fight that would make it difficult to get virtually anyone approved to run HHS. That would provide the GOP with a chance to essentially re-litigate their complaints about legislation they believe is an unwarranted expansion of government power that hurts as many if not more people as it helps. But if he watched the CNN interview, the president has to be thinking that if he’s stuck with Sebelius for the duration of this mess, he’s in bigger trouble than even some of his critics think.

The assumption on the left is that the website problem is, as the White House continues to insist, mere “glitches.” But if, as more and more are starting to suspect, the real trouble is systemic rather than one involving technological quirks, what is needed at HHS is someone who understands such issues or at least someone capable of hiring people who do. What is so damning about Sebelius’ behavior is not so much that she doesn’t understand website design but that when confronted with a system that was clearly not ready for prime time, she didn’t have the presence of mind to consult with the president and alert him to the probability that sticking to the October 1 launch date was an invitation to disaster.

The reaction to criticism of Sebelius illustrates that the president is far more interested in preventing further discussions of the merits of the legislation than in actually seeing that it is properly administered. Though Democrats claim no one could be confirmed to replace her, were the president to seek out a non-political figure from the business world with experience with these sorts of problems, such a person would likely be confirmed without too much trouble.

The president may think that his appointment of acting Office of Management and Budget Director Jeff Zients to oversee the website problems essentially gets Sebelius off the hook. Perhaps Sebelius also thinks so. But the idea that the person and department charged with overseeing ObamaCare is not also responsible for its full implementation is laughable. This confusion also further confirms GOP arguments that the whole thing is just too complicated for the D.C. bureaucracy to handle.

This is just the rollout of the first part of a complicated and costly piece of legislation that will have a potentially devastating impact on the economy. If Sebelius can’t handle this, what makes anyone think she’ll do any better with the rest of it? And if Obama is so obsessed with not listening to his critics that he is willing to stick with a proven incompetent, what does that say about his management skills?

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Extremism in the Defense of Liberty Is No Virtue

One of the most famous political quotes of the last half-century comes to us courtesy of Barry Goldwater, who in his 1964 GOP acceptance speech said, “Let me remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice. And let me also remind you that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.”

This quote has been on my mind of late, having been cited in a recent New York Times book review, in a National Affairs essay by Jonathan Rauch, and by my colleague Yuval Levin during a recent Heritage Foundation panel discussion he and I participated in. Levin said that many times in practical politics extremism in defense of liberty “is a vice. It is a very great vice. It is our vice.” That strikes me as quite right, and it’s important for conservatives to understand why it is right.

Before making my case, it’s important to acknowledge that we can all envision circumstances in which extreme measures can be justified. But they are rare, particularly in a republic like ours, where methods of persuasion are the usual (and much preferred) recourse. Nor would I deny that at certain points in our history extremists (like the abolitionists) made useful contributions to an important cause.

That said, my concern about those who endorse extremism is that it is by its very nature militant, a break with the kind of moderation that is essential for a free society. Extremism, of course, characterized the French Revolution, which (unlike the American Revolution) so unnerved Edmund Burke. It leads to dogmatism and distorted thinking, to viewing politics in apocalyptic terms.

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One of the most famous political quotes of the last half-century comes to us courtesy of Barry Goldwater, who in his 1964 GOP acceptance speech said, “Let me remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice. And let me also remind you that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.”

This quote has been on my mind of late, having been cited in a recent New York Times book review, in a National Affairs essay by Jonathan Rauch, and by my colleague Yuval Levin during a recent Heritage Foundation panel discussion he and I participated in. Levin said that many times in practical politics extremism in defense of liberty “is a vice. It is a very great vice. It is our vice.” That strikes me as quite right, and it’s important for conservatives to understand why it is right.

Before making my case, it’s important to acknowledge that we can all envision circumstances in which extreme measures can be justified. But they are rare, particularly in a republic like ours, where methods of persuasion are the usual (and much preferred) recourse. Nor would I deny that at certain points in our history extremists (like the abolitionists) made useful contributions to an important cause.

That said, my concern about those who endorse extremism is that it is by its very nature militant, a break with the kind of moderation that is essential for a free society. Extremism, of course, characterized the French Revolution, which (unlike the American Revolution) so unnerved Edmund Burke. It leads to dogmatism and distorted thinking, to viewing politics in apocalyptic terms.

Those who hold extreme views tend to favor immoderate, uncompromising, and even fanatical methods. It’s no wonder, then, that one of the antonyms of extremism is “conservative.” Extremism, therefore, cannot reliably serve the ends of conservatism–and using extremist measures to advance social stability and ordered liberty borders on being oxymoronic. Self-command, composure, and temperateness in the pursuit of justice can, in fact, be a virtue. And extremism in the defense of liberty can easily backfire.

All of which explains why I am a good deal more sympathetic to what Leo Strauss wrote in his essay Liberal Education and Responsibility (which can be found in this volume): “Moderation will protect us against the twin dangers of visionary expectations from politics and unmanly contempt for politics.”

To be sure, moderation itself is not enough to make politics meaningful. There is an indispensable role for those who are deeply committed to a cause, for passionate activists and polemicists. (For my part, no one could reasonably claim that I have not been critical, and at times harshly critical, of the current occupant of the Oval Office.) But Goldwater’s endorsement of extremism is, I think, a dangerous temptation for precisely the people who are most inclined to be active in politics. I would add that in America, as Goldwater himself found out, there has never been much of an appetite for extremism. Americans seem to have an instinctive aversion to it. Indeed, on the evidence of the American Revolution, they preferred that even their revolutionary leaders be, in the main, prudent, percipient, and judicious. James Madison was hardly anyone’s idea of a fanatic, nor are the Federalist Papers fierce and bellicose in either tone or substance.    

So at a time when more radical impulses seem to be making inroads in our politics, it seems to me to be important to reclaim conservatism, which recoils from extremism of any sort and from any side.

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Anti-Israel Prejudice Claims Non-Israeli Victims in Dubai

A minor sports tournament held in Dubai and Qatar over the last two weeks offers an unusually clear glimpse of the corrosive effects of the world’s casual tolerance of anti-Israel prejudice. Needless to say, both hosts of this leg of the FINA Swimming World Cup blatantly violated the rule requiring all participants to be treated equally regardless of nationality: The Israeli flag wasn’t flown (a fact Qatar’s foreign minister boasted of in a joint press conference with Secretary of State John Kerry on Monday); the word “Israel” never appeared; and to avoid having to utter it, announcers in Dubai even referred to Israeli competitors as the swimmers “from ISR.” But as swimmer Gal Nevo explained upon his return to Israel this week, the organizers’ petty spite also produced a lot of non-Israeli collateral victims:

“In order that our national flag and name wouldn’t appear, the results of every race we competed in were not publicized … Competitors swim with us in the heats in the morning, and expect to see the results on the scoreboard in order to know whether they’ve qualified for the final. But on the screen they’re already broadcasting the next race, without mentioning the names and times from the previous heat.”

In short, the entire tournament was disrupted, with competitors forced to run around madly trying to find out whether or not they had advanced to the final. Swimmers from other countries complained about the disorganization, and Nevo said they were stunned when their Israeli colleagues explained that this “disorganization” was actually carefully orchestrated from above.

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A minor sports tournament held in Dubai and Qatar over the last two weeks offers an unusually clear glimpse of the corrosive effects of the world’s casual tolerance of anti-Israel prejudice. Needless to say, both hosts of this leg of the FINA Swimming World Cup blatantly violated the rule requiring all participants to be treated equally regardless of nationality: The Israeli flag wasn’t flown (a fact Qatar’s foreign minister boasted of in a joint press conference with Secretary of State John Kerry on Monday); the word “Israel” never appeared; and to avoid having to utter it, announcers in Dubai even referred to Israeli competitors as the swimmers “from ISR.” But as swimmer Gal Nevo explained upon his return to Israel this week, the organizers’ petty spite also produced a lot of non-Israeli collateral victims:

“In order that our national flag and name wouldn’t appear, the results of every race we competed in were not publicized … Competitors swim with us in the heats in the morning, and expect to see the results on the scoreboard in order to know whether they’ve qualified for the final. But on the screen they’re already broadcasting the next race, without mentioning the names and times from the previous heat.”

In short, the entire tournament was disrupted, with competitors forced to run around madly trying to find out whether or not they had advanced to the final. Swimmers from other countries complained about the disorganization, and Nevo said they were stunned when their Israeli colleagues explained that this “disorganization” was actually carefully orchestrated from above.

What makes this so shocking is precisely the fact that the event is so trivial: This was prejudice devoid of any purpose. Anti-Israel prejudice is often excused on the grounds that it furthers a goal many people support. When, for instance, the EU imposes sanctions on activity in “Israeli-occupied territory” while actively funding activity in Turkish-occupied Cyprus and Moroccan-occupied Western Sahara, this double standard is excused because it serves the goal of pressuring Israel to withdraw from this territory.

But a petty refusal to post race results does absolutely nothing to pressure Israel or advance the Palestinian cause; it didn’t even prevent an Israeli swimmer from winning medals in both Doha and Dubai. All it did was make life miserable for a lot of non-Israeli swimmers, while making a mockery of the equal treatment rules that FINA, like other international sporting organizations, claims to uphold.

Indeed, Arab states routinely violate these rules–see, for instance, Dubai’s refusal to let Israel’s Shahar Peer participate in a tennis tournament there in 2009, or Libya’s refusal to grant visas to Israeli chess players to attend the 2004 World Chess Championships. Yet no matter how often this happens, they keep being allowed to host international tournaments. So it’s not surprising they have become so contemptuous of the rules that they no longer hesitate to make non-Israelis collateral victims.

And that is precisely the point: Like any other kind of prejudice, the anti-Israel kind ultimately ends up claiming victims far beyond its intended targets. And the consequences–from vandalized factories and a weakened rule of law in Britain through the loss of valuable expertise on water purification in South Africa to laid-off Palestinian workers in the West Bank–are usually far more destructive than a mere disorganized swimming tournament.

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Turkish Jews Begin to Leave

Turkish Jews have long had a secure position in Turkish society. Jews were one of the few peoples who had not rebelled against the Ottoman Empire, and so Turks—and Turkish school books—always treated them as far more loyal citizens than others. It was no wonder, therefore, that Turkey retained a relatively large Jewish community—probably the second-largest in the Middle East, as Iran’s Jewish population has continued to decline. The stability of the Turkish Jewish community has been one straw upon which those in denial about the change in Turkey have grasped. It’s time to stop the denial. According to Hürriyet Daily News:

Anti-Semitism, triggered by harsh statements from the Turkish government, has led to the migration of hundreds of Jewish youngsters from Turkey to the U.S. or Europe, Nesim Güveniş, deputy chairman the Association of Turkish Jews in Israel, told the Hürriyet Daily News on Oct. 21. This unease went before the Mavi Marmara incident, and was aggravated by the notorious “one minute” spat between the Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Israeli President Shimon Peres in Davos, according to Güveniş.

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Turkish Jews have long had a secure position in Turkish society. Jews were one of the few peoples who had not rebelled against the Ottoman Empire, and so Turks—and Turkish school books—always treated them as far more loyal citizens than others. It was no wonder, therefore, that Turkey retained a relatively large Jewish community—probably the second-largest in the Middle East, as Iran’s Jewish population has continued to decline. The stability of the Turkish Jewish community has been one straw upon which those in denial about the change in Turkey have grasped. It’s time to stop the denial. According to Hürriyet Daily News:

Anti-Semitism, triggered by harsh statements from the Turkish government, has led to the migration of hundreds of Jewish youngsters from Turkey to the U.S. or Europe, Nesim Güveniş, deputy chairman the Association of Turkish Jews in Israel, told the Hürriyet Daily News on Oct. 21. This unease went before the Mavi Marmara incident, and was aggravated by the notorious “one minute” spat between the Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Israeli President Shimon Peres in Davos, according to Güveniş.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has used religious incitement to reinforce his domestic political constituency, and anti-Semitism has permeated the Turkish bureaucracy. Rather than a bastion of tolerance, Turkey is a country in which the prime minister’s political allies can finance a movie featuring a subplot about Jews smuggling organs and then the prime minister’s wife can urge everyone to see it.

That the emigration occurs against the backdrop of Turkey’s economic boom of the past decade suggests that Turkish Jews aren’t simply taking advantage of their minority status to seek better economic opportunities. Rather, they are leaving because they are afraid of what Turkey is becoming. More liberal Turks and Turkish tour guides still like to point out the religious diversity of Istanbul society. They may need to change their talking points. Emigration often starts slowly, but it is a tide difficult to reverse. Within a decade or two, Turkey’s Jewish community might much more resemble Egypt’s. Unfortunately, that is a result Erdoğan and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu would probably call success.

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Iraq Surpasses Iran in Oil Exports to China

My American Enterprise Institute colleague Derek Scissors points out to me that, according to China’s General Administration of Customs, Iraq has surpassed Iran as a source of crude oil exports to China in the first three quarters of 2013. That is both good and bad news. Good news because, despite all those who said sanctions would not work on Iran and that China would fill the gap left behind by Western companies, it seems both that China has decided to look elsewhere and that Iranian capacity to fulfill demand has declined. Earlier this year, the Iranian Statistics Agency announced that the Iranian economy had retracted 5.4 percent; the Islamic Republic is certainly feeling the bite of sanctions and decades of its own mismanagement. No wonder Tehran wants quick relief in response to a diplomatic charm offensive.

The United States no longer gets much oil from the Middle East—the markets are fungible, but Middle Eastern oil largely supplies China, India, and Europe. China and India, and to some extent Europe, are essentially free-riders benefiting from decades of American security investment. That Iraqi oil exports are increasing is good news for Iraq, and would be better news if Iraq would invest more of that income in its economy and not simply use it to pay the salaries of a bloated bureaucracy that is an order of magnitude too large.

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My American Enterprise Institute colleague Derek Scissors points out to me that, according to China’s General Administration of Customs, Iraq has surpassed Iran as a source of crude oil exports to China in the first three quarters of 2013. That is both good and bad news. Good news because, despite all those who said sanctions would not work on Iran and that China would fill the gap left behind by Western companies, it seems both that China has decided to look elsewhere and that Iranian capacity to fulfill demand has declined. Earlier this year, the Iranian Statistics Agency announced that the Iranian economy had retracted 5.4 percent; the Islamic Republic is certainly feeling the bite of sanctions and decades of its own mismanagement. No wonder Tehran wants quick relief in response to a diplomatic charm offensive.

The United States no longer gets much oil from the Middle East—the markets are fungible, but Middle Eastern oil largely supplies China, India, and Europe. China and India, and to some extent Europe, are essentially free-riders benefiting from decades of American security investment. That Iraqi oil exports are increasing is good news for Iraq, and would be better news if Iraq would invest more of that income in its economy and not simply use it to pay the salaries of a bloated bureaucracy that is an order of magnitude too large.

Still, while Chinese investors are ubiquitous in southern Iraq and increasingly in Iraqi Kurdistan, it is a shame that after so much investment in blood and treasure, too many American investors continue to give Iraq a wide berth. President Obama has long looked at Iraq as original sin and rushed to wash his hands of it. Sure, there were diplomatic pronouncements and agreements about continuing relationships, but Obama has done little if anything to fulfill those agreements. In effect, because of disagreements about Saddam’s ouster more than a decade ago, Obama decided to forgo a lasting relationship with Iraq, even though the Iraqis want one to balance out Iran, Russia, and China. That China has become a primary beneficiary of the Iraq War wasn’t inevitable, but simply the result of White House disinterest if not disdain.

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