Commentary Magazine


Posts For: October 2013

The Mendacious Mr. Obama

The latest parlor game in Washington D.C. is whether or not President Obama knowingly misled us when he repeatedly assured the American people that, in his words, “If you like your healthcare plan, you’ll be able to keep your healthcare plan, period. No one will take it away, no matter what.”

By now we all know that claim was completely false–and thanks to a report by NBC News, we know the Obama administration knew it was false years ago. (So did Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer.) But what about the president? Did he know what he was saying was untrue?

I certainly think so. For one thing, it’s nearly impossible to believe that the president–who is hardly a stupid or ignorant man–was clueless about this despite the fact that many people in the administration knew years in advance that a large percentage of those in the individual market would not be able to keep their plans. Red flags had to have gone up, time and again, at least until the message was sent from on high: Don’t rock the boat and don’t raise objections.

Remember, what we’re talking about isn’t a minor feature of an obscure policy. It’s a central component of Mr. Obama’s signature domestic achievement. And as the Wall Street Journal points out in this editorial, the Affordable Care Act is “dismantling the individual insurance market, as its architects intended from the start … this month’s mass cancellation wave has been the President’s political goal since 2008. Liberals believe they must destroy the market in order to save it.”

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The latest parlor game in Washington D.C. is whether or not President Obama knowingly misled us when he repeatedly assured the American people that, in his words, “If you like your healthcare plan, you’ll be able to keep your healthcare plan, period. No one will take it away, no matter what.”

By now we all know that claim was completely false–and thanks to a report by NBC News, we know the Obama administration knew it was false years ago. (So did Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer.) But what about the president? Did he know what he was saying was untrue?

I certainly think so. For one thing, it’s nearly impossible to believe that the president–who is hardly a stupid or ignorant man–was clueless about this despite the fact that many people in the administration knew years in advance that a large percentage of those in the individual market would not be able to keep their plans. Red flags had to have gone up, time and again, at least until the message was sent from on high: Don’t rock the boat and don’t raise objections.

Remember, what we’re talking about isn’t a minor feature of an obscure policy. It’s a central component of Mr. Obama’s signature domestic achievement. And as the Wall Street Journal points out in this editorial, the Affordable Care Act is “dismantling the individual insurance market, as its architects intended from the start … this month’s mass cancellation wave has been the President’s political goal since 2008. Liberals believe they must destroy the market in order to save it.”

Beyond that, it’s helpful to bear in mind the characteristics of the Obama White House. This is the group that for weeks knowingly misled the public on the events surrounding the lethal attacks on the American diplomatic outpost in Benghazi. That claimed that the Affordable Care Act was both a tax and not a tax, depending on what the circumstances required. That hatched the sequestration idea, then denied it, and then blamed Republicans for it. That has perfected the art of stonewalling. That is lawless. And that ran a campaign in 2012 that was unusually vicious and dishonest, up to and including blaming Mitt Romney for the cancer death of a steelworker’s wife.

We have as president a man who routinely slanders his political opponents, distorting what they believe, even as he bemoans the lack of civility in public discourse. He constantly makes assertions that are obviously untrue. And it doesn’t matter to him. He keeps doing it because, at least until now, the media has given him something approaching a free pass.

I have no idea if Mr. Obama was born mendacious or whether he learned the habit somewhere along the way. What I do know is that Barack Obama is thoroughly post-modern. Words and facts have no objective standing with him; they are socially constructed, unmoored, infinitely malleable, a way to create his own reality and advance his own self-interest.

Mr. Obama clearly believes that because his agenda is right and noble and his opponents are benighted and evil, he has license to say pretty much whatever he wants pretty much whenever he wants. After all, anything that advances his agenda while rebuffing the (choose your descriptor) nihilistic, anarchistic, heartless, ruthless, Taliban-like Republicans is allowable. Even encouraged. It’s the Chicago Way.

Mr. Obama, then, has a deeply defective public character. He simply makes things up as he goes along. He invents his own reality. And the fact that he is inflicting significant and durable harm to our political culture, and to America itself, seems to bother him not one bit.

There is something quite disturbing about this president’s capacity to mislead people with such ease and with such relish. He’s not a man who can be trusted with power.

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The High Price of American Friendship

As the New York Times reports today, Naftali Bennett, the head of the right-wing Habayit Hayehudi Party, is getting blasted in the Israeli media as a hypocrite for opposing the Israeli government’s decision to honor its promise to release more Palestinian terrorist murderers. Bennett happens to be a member of that government and his critics may have a point when they say that if he is as outraged about the release as he purports to be, he can always resign his Cabinet post. It is in that context that the Times and other outlets prefer to view the protests about the freeing of these killers as mere exploitation of the anguish of the families of their victims rather than an expression of genuine outrage, as it probably deserved to be understood.

Whether his detractors like it or not, Bennett can afford to have his cake and eat it too. Netanyahu can’t afford to fire him and probably wouldn’t want to even if he could, since doing so would not make his government any more manageable since that would strengthen Justice Minister Tzipi Livni more than he might like and tilt it farther to the left than he might like. But the hoopla over Bennett’s admittedly futile efforts to derail the release illustrates something a lot more important than the way members of the Israeli Cabinet love to grandstand. Even those who dislike Bennett’s politics and agree with Netanyahu’s decision need to acknowledge that this painful move is far more indicative of the high price of the Obama administration’s good will than the alleged hypocrisy of right-wing politicians. Having forced Netanyahu into a corner by demanding the prisoner release in order to get the Palestinian Authority back to the negotiating table, Washington’s blindness to the consequences of this act is the real issue at stake in this debate.

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As the New York Times reports today, Naftali Bennett, the head of the right-wing Habayit Hayehudi Party, is getting blasted in the Israeli media as a hypocrite for opposing the Israeli government’s decision to honor its promise to release more Palestinian terrorist murderers. Bennett happens to be a member of that government and his critics may have a point when they say that if he is as outraged about the release as he purports to be, he can always resign his Cabinet post. It is in that context that the Times and other outlets prefer to view the protests about the freeing of these killers as mere exploitation of the anguish of the families of their victims rather than an expression of genuine outrage, as it probably deserved to be understood.

Whether his detractors like it or not, Bennett can afford to have his cake and eat it too. Netanyahu can’t afford to fire him and probably wouldn’t want to even if he could, since doing so would not make his government any more manageable since that would strengthen Justice Minister Tzipi Livni more than he might like and tilt it farther to the left than he might like. But the hoopla over Bennett’s admittedly futile efforts to derail the release illustrates something a lot more important than the way members of the Israeli Cabinet love to grandstand. Even those who dislike Bennett’s politics and agree with Netanyahu’s decision need to acknowledge that this painful move is far more indicative of the high price of the Obama administration’s good will than the alleged hypocrisy of right-wing politicians. Having forced Netanyahu into a corner by demanding the prisoner release in order to get the Palestinian Authority back to the negotiating table, Washington’s blindness to the consequences of this act is the real issue at stake in this debate.

The comments from those who are defending what Netanyahu admitted had been one of the toughest decisions he has ever made illustrated the dilemma. Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon, who is often viewed as a hardliner on territorial issues, said the release had to continue because it had to be seen as part of a “long term strategic view” of his country’s position. That might be interpreted as a defense of the peace process. But it is more probably a reference to the fact that Israel’s geostrategic position is largely dependent on its ability to rely on its alliance with the United States.

The one possible benefit to Israel of the release is that it probably strengthens the position of PA leader Mahmoud Abbas vis-à-vis his Hamas rivals. Like the ransom Hamas extracted from Israel in order to gain the freedom of kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit that boosted the Islamist group, it is supposed that this gesture will be seen as a triumph for Abbas and his Fatah Party. But since it is highly unlikely that Abbas would use this advantage to justify genuine progress toward peace, the utility of such tactical moves is limited.

More important for Israel is the fact that releasing the prisoners is really aimed at pacifying President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry. There was little reason to believe reviving peace talks with the Palestinians made any sense when Washington put the screws to Netanyahu to reward Abbas for returning to the talks he abandoned five years ago. And the Palestinians’ continued intransigence and refusal to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn makes that even clearer three months into the stalled negotiations.

But Netanyahu has little choice but to give the Americans want they want. That is not because he is weak, but because only by letting the talks proceed without Israeli objections or hindrances will he have the ability to say no to demands for more concessions once it is obvious that they have failed. His first obligation is to protect his nation’s security, and he can best do that by standing strong on territory and borders, as well as the Iranian nuclear issue even if that means he must do the unthinkable and let murderers walk free.

The onus for this outrage ought to be on President Obama and Secretary Kerry, who have created this moral dilemma. It is they who should be explaining why they think it is all right to ask Jerusalem to do something that no American leader would dream of doing if the freedom of 9/11 murderers and accomplices were in question, as it is for those who perpetrated similar crimes against Israelis. Doing so encourages terrorism and rewards those who promote violence rather than encouraging peace.

As much as some Israelis like to talk about their independence from American influence, the strategic equation still requires their leaders to stay as close as possible to the president of the United States. That doesn’t mean Netanyahu can’t stand up to Obama if the circumstances require it, but he must pick his fights carefully. That killers with blood on their hands be released and then feted by the Palestinians as heroes is a blot on Netanyahu’s record. But it should remind us that the real problem is the high price Obama has demanded for the maintenance of the U.S. alliance.

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On Ike Skelton

Want to know why there is so much partisan deadlock in Washington today? In part it’s because of the rise of a radical Tea Party wing of the Republican Party which is interested in grandstanding, not legislating. But it’s also due to the demise of the centrist wing of the Democratic Party as represented by the likes of Ike Skelton, a Missouri congressman who served 17 terms in the House and has just died.

Skelton represented the area where Harry Truman came from and he often voted like Truman. He was one of the most pro-defense members of Congress–and one of the most knowledgeable experts on military issues. A longtime member of the House Armed Services Committee, he capped his service as its chairman. He made his primary impact not by grandstanding for the cameras but by working quietly behind the scenes to bolster the armed forces. He had a particular passion for enhancing military education and he put in place schooling requirements which remain in effect to this day.

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Want to know why there is so much partisan deadlock in Washington today? In part it’s because of the rise of a radical Tea Party wing of the Republican Party which is interested in grandstanding, not legislating. But it’s also due to the demise of the centrist wing of the Democratic Party as represented by the likes of Ike Skelton, a Missouri congressman who served 17 terms in the House and has just died.

Skelton represented the area where Harry Truman came from and he often voted like Truman. He was one of the most pro-defense members of Congress–and one of the most knowledgeable experts on military issues. A longtime member of the House Armed Services Committee, he capped his service as its chairman. He made his primary impact not by grandstanding for the cameras but by working quietly behind the scenes to bolster the armed forces. He had a particular passion for enhancing military education and he put in place schooling requirements which remain in effect to this day.

His views allowed him to hold office even as his district turned more conservative. But his luck finally ran out in 2010 when he was beaten by a Republican challenger. Two other conservative Democrats–John Spratt of South Carolina and Gene Taylor of Mississippi–lost in the same year.  

Races such as those enabled Republicans to recapture control of the House in 2010. But it’s not your father’s Republican Party anymore. The Tea Party wing is now in effective control in the House–i.e., if not actually able to pass its priorities, it is able to block anyone else’s most of the time. The Tea Party Caucus formally numbers 46 House members but its influence is larger. On the other side of the spectrum are equally ideological members of the Progressive Caucus which now numbers 68 members.  

Unfortunately there are too few Ike Skeltons left. Congress and the country are the poorer for it.

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Euro Spy Hypocrisy Is Absurd; So Is Ours

Commenting on the hypocrisy being expressed about the news that the United States spies on its European allies is more or less like trying to describe the universe. It’s infinite. The idea that there is anything particularly new or shocking about nations spying on each other even when they are theoretically allied is as childish as it is disconnected from any knowledge of history. Herbert Hoover’s Secretary of State Henry Stimson shut down the country’s main intelligence operation in 1929 and explained the action by infamously saying, “Gentlemen don’t read each other’s mail.” Stimson lived to rue his decision a dozen years later when, while serving as Franklin Roosevelt’s secretary of war, an unprepared U.S. was surprised at Pearl Harbor. Our Max Boot summed up the stupidity of this sort of naïveté here last week and followed up today with another post highlighting the disgraceful effort by the White House to throw the intelligence community under the bus in an attempt to disassociate the president from a policy that it is hard to believe he knew nothing about.

But there’s another angle to this story that deserves to be noted. The complaints of our European allies about the supposedly dastardly behavior of the National Security Agency deserve to be treated with scorn. It should also remind us that the same kind of hypocrisy has sometimes been exhibited by the institutions that should be defended by security-minded citizens today. And by that I’m referring to the near-hysteria that erupts within the U.S. intelligence establishment anytime the notion of clemency for someone else who spied on an ally is mooted. Everyone who is defending the right of Americans to spy on allies, as well as those who think mistakes were made in doing so, should take a deep breath and consider that the crimes of Jonathan Pollard should perhaps be seen in a somewhat different context.

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Commenting on the hypocrisy being expressed about the news that the United States spies on its European allies is more or less like trying to describe the universe. It’s infinite. The idea that there is anything particularly new or shocking about nations spying on each other even when they are theoretically allied is as childish as it is disconnected from any knowledge of history. Herbert Hoover’s Secretary of State Henry Stimson shut down the country’s main intelligence operation in 1929 and explained the action by infamously saying, “Gentlemen don’t read each other’s mail.” Stimson lived to rue his decision a dozen years later when, while serving as Franklin Roosevelt’s secretary of war, an unprepared U.S. was surprised at Pearl Harbor. Our Max Boot summed up the stupidity of this sort of naïveté here last week and followed up today with another post highlighting the disgraceful effort by the White House to throw the intelligence community under the bus in an attempt to disassociate the president from a policy that it is hard to believe he knew nothing about.

But there’s another angle to this story that deserves to be noted. The complaints of our European allies about the supposedly dastardly behavior of the National Security Agency deserve to be treated with scorn. It should also remind us that the same kind of hypocrisy has sometimes been exhibited by the institutions that should be defended by security-minded citizens today. And by that I’m referring to the near-hysteria that erupts within the U.S. intelligence establishment anytime the notion of clemency for someone else who spied on an ally is mooted. Everyone who is defending the right of Americans to spy on allies, as well as those who think mistakes were made in doing so, should take a deep breath and consider that the crimes of Jonathan Pollard should perhaps be seen in a somewhat different context.

Pollard is, of course, the U.S. Navy analyst who broke his oath and spied for Israel against the United States. What Pollard did was indefensible. He deserved to be punished and that has happened. As I wrote back in a COMMENTARY article on the subject in 2011, much of the case made for him by those backing clemency is overblown and underestimates the problems he caused:

There is no underestimating the damage that Pollard and his Israeli handlers did to American Jewry. The decision on the part of a few operatives and their political masters to exploit what may well have been the romantic delusions of a man of questionable judgment and character did far more injury to the countless loyal Jews who have served the United States so well for generations than anything else. It is not inappropriate that Israel’s government would seek the freedom of a man who, however misguided and harmful his mission, served that nation. But whether or not Obama or a future president ever accedes to Israel’s request for Pollard’s release, his unfortunate example will always be exploited as a pretext to justify those enemies of Israel and other anti-Semites who wish to wrongly impugn the loyalty of American Jews.

Long after his release or death, Pollard’s behavior will still be used to bolster the slurs of those who wish to promote the pernicious myth that there is a contradiction between American patriotism and deep concern for the safety of the State of Israel. It is this damning epitaph, and not the claims of martyrdom that have been put forward to stir sympathy for his plight, that will be Jonathan Pollard’s true legacy.

But having said that, the ongoing effort by some to use Pollard in an effort to demonize Israel or to claim that the Jewish state behaved in a manner unbecoming an ally is undermined by the revelations about the United States’ own considerable efforts to snoop on its friends.

What is normal and even expected when it is conducted in the dark can seem indefensible when it is dragged out into the light of day, as American officials hauled before Congress are learning today. One can only hope that the backlash from the Edward Snowden leaks will not lead to a trend in which all intelligence operations will be viewed negatively. The U.S. is still locked in a life-and-death struggle with Islamist terrorists and the last thing we need is a revival of the spirit of the Church Committee, which essentially drafted the CIA into the Boy Scouts back in the 1970s when it dug up the dirt on embarrassing Cold War spy activities.

To acknowledge that American spooks are trying to do the same thing to Germany, France, Britain, and, as has been pointed out before, Israel, does not mean that the decision to use Pollard was not a colossal mistake by his handlers and their political masters. But it should cause those who have been blocking mercy for Pollard to rethink their self-righteous stand.

Though he is no hero and deserves no applause for committing a serious crime, after all these years, there is no rational case to be made for keeping Pollard in prison for spying for a friendly nation. The disproportionate nature of his sentence was obvious even when it was handed down. That is just as true today. America spies on its friends and allies and is, in turn, spied upon in the same fashion. Acknowledging this fact doesn’t mean it’s right or wrong. It’s just the way the world works. That’s a fact that should not be forgotten when clemency for Pollard is discussed.

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Why 2016 Talk Hasn’t Hurt Christie’s 2013

Cory Booker’s victory in the special Senate election held earlier this month to replace Frank Lautenberg was not a surprise. But to many, his margin of victory was. He struggled to meet expectations, and though the election was not close–Booker won by eleven percent–the clumsy nature of Booker’s campaign contributed to the perception that the Newark mayor was lucky he wasn’t contesting a competitive seat.

In contrast, Governor Chris Christie’s poll numbers remain remarkably strong a week out from his own reelection, especially for a Republican in blue Jersey. And today’s poll results, from Quinnipiac, highlight something else about the two elections: both Christie and Booker have national profiles, yet only Booker seems to have been successfully tagged as a “celebrity” politician. PolitickerNJ reports:

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Cory Booker’s victory in the special Senate election held earlier this month to replace Frank Lautenberg was not a surprise. But to many, his margin of victory was. He struggled to meet expectations, and though the election was not close–Booker won by eleven percent–the clumsy nature of Booker’s campaign contributed to the perception that the Newark mayor was lucky he wasn’t contesting a competitive seat.

In contrast, Governor Chris Christie’s poll numbers remain remarkably strong a week out from his own reelection, especially for a Republican in blue Jersey. And today’s poll results, from Quinnipiac, highlight something else about the two elections: both Christie and Booker have national profiles, yet only Booker seems to have been successfully tagged as a “celebrity” politician. PolitickerNJ reports:

Likely N.J. voters say 48-41 percent that they want to see Chris Christie run for president.

A Quinnipiac University poll released today shows that with the governor’s re-election seemingly in hand, respondents want him to run for the White House in 2016.

As for his race against Sen. Barbara Buono, Christie leads 64– 31 percent, the poll shows.

Christie gets a 65–29 percent favorability rating, as even 40 percent of Democrats have a favorable opinion, the poll shows.  Buono gets a negative 26–37 percent favorability rating, with 35 percent who don’t know enough about her to form an opinion.

“From the banks of the Delaware to the beaches of the Atlantic, New Jersey voters like their governor, Christopher Christie.  On the banks of the Potomac?  Less like the governor, but still a lot,” said Maurice Carroll, director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute.

At first glance Christie would appear to be more vulnerable to suspicions that he is tending to national aspirations. Republicans have been asking him to run for president for years now, and New Jersey is a highly Democratic state which tends to be hostile to conservatism. Yet Christie’s national profile hasn’t hampered his standing with NJ voters for a couple of reasons, one of which is unearthed by polls like this Quinnipiac survey: New Jerseyans actually want Christie to have national aspirations.

There’s logic to this: if voters in the state like Christie’s brand of politics, and he’d be term-limited out of office after two consecutive terms anyway, why not export the “Jersey Comeback?” Additionally, a Democrat who likes Christie might want to see him as the nominee of the other party, knowing that if the Democrats lost the presidential election he might be governed by Chris Christie again anyway.

That would be doubly true, presumably, for Jersey Republicans who would probably rather be governed by Christie than whoever replaces him and who would feel more confident in a general election with a candidate with crossover appeal and who could plausibly compete in the northeast.

So that’s one reason Christie wasn’t harmed by his national profile: voters want him to have that profile. But the other reason is that it is quite difficult to make the case that Christie’s possible national ambitions have caused him to neglect New Jersey. Today is, after all, also the anniversary of Hurricane Sandy’s destructive arrival on the Jersey Shore.

Though the storm hit close to the presidential election, Christie famously welcomed President Obama’s presence and praised the government’s response in true bipartisan–or, rather, nonpartisan–spirit. His response to the storm’s damage won justified plaudits from all corners of the state, but especially because it put to rest the idea that he couldn’t focus on his responsibilities as governor with the national spotlight calling. His response to Sandy was famous for how it riled the national GOP and needled congressional conservatives over funding.

That may hold him back in a Republican primary contest, of course. But it obviously wasn’t a drag on his gubernatorial reelection hopes.

There is also one more, less tangible aspect to Christie’s connection with the state’s voters: he is not shy about his genuine love for New Jersey. He gushes about Springsteen, but as I noted in 2011, a Fairleigh Dickinson survey found that Christie was more closely associated with New Jersey in the minds of the state’s inhabitants than even The Boss. At the time, the director of the poll remarked: “I was surprised because no person has ever had enough mentions to make the list — not Sinatra, not Springsteen, not Tony Soprano and not even Snooki.”

Few figures seem to embrace their Jerseyness the way Christie does. When Christie appeared on the Daily Show, Jon Stewart tried to shame Christie for the harsh ways he sometimes talks to his political antagonists. Christie responded: “I’m from New Jersey and so are you, and we don’t mince words.”

Of course, what has served him well in New Jersey could complicate the picture nationally. Conservative primary voters resent Christie’s embrace of the president and criticism of conservative darlings like Rand Paul, and Democrats who like Christie now may not be thrilled if a national primary reawakens them to his conservatism. Yet whatever the right’s beef with Christie’s move to the center, he is currently a pro-life fiscal conservative with a thirty-three point lead in New Jersey, a feat not so easy to dismiss.

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Iran Passes the Point of Nuclear No Return

Good news comes from Vienna today. Or at least that’s what we’re supposed to think. The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency met with representatives of Iran sent by its new President Hassan Rouhani, and the result was a “very productive meeting” according to a joint statement issued by the two parties. In contrast to their usual contempt for the IAEA, the Iranians made “constructive” noises about resuming the nuclear inspections they have been thwarting for years even though no details about what their new proposals might be were revealed. Though a slender reed upon which to base a policy of faith in Iran’s good intentions, it will likely strengthen the resolve of the United States to push ahead with the latest round of the P5+1 talks that will resume next week. Indeed, in defending the decision to allow the U.S. to be drawn into another lengthy negotiation with Iran, Secretary of State John Kerry said in a speech to a dinner for the Ploughshares Fund that he had no patience for those warning about the dangers of such a policy. As the Times of Israel reports:

“Some have suggested that somehow there’s something wrong with even putting that to the test,” the secretary of state continued. “I suggest that the idea that the United States of America as a responsible nation to all of humankind would not explore that possibility would be the height of irresponsibility and dangerous in itself, and we will not succumb to those fear tactics and forces that suggest otherwise.”

But lost amid the enthusiasm for diplomacy was yet another troubling statement that ought to chill those hopes for a quick resolution of the nuclear dispute with Iran. Also speaking yesterday in Washington, Olli Heinonen, a former deputy director of the IAEA, said that Iran has, “in a certain way,” already reached the point of no return in its nuclear program. Heinonen confirmed the report released last week by the Institute for Science and International Security that said Iran could enrich enough weapons-grade uranium for a single bomb in about a month. That finding renders moot most of what is being discussed by Western diplomats with the Iranians. If the Iranians have reduced the “breakout time” needed to convert their vast stockpile of low-enriched uranium into nuclear fuel, then even if Tehran agreed to proposals about limiting their enrichment capacity, their path to a weapon is clear. If this is true, the administration’s arguments against tightening sanctions on Iran must be seen as a sign that it is, despite Kerry’s protestations that “no deal is better than a bad deal,” determined to reach an agreement with the ayatollahs that will not remove the threat of an Iranian bomb.

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Good news comes from Vienna today. Or at least that’s what we’re supposed to think. The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency met with representatives of Iran sent by its new President Hassan Rouhani, and the result was a “very productive meeting” according to a joint statement issued by the two parties. In contrast to their usual contempt for the IAEA, the Iranians made “constructive” noises about resuming the nuclear inspections they have been thwarting for years even though no details about what their new proposals might be were revealed. Though a slender reed upon which to base a policy of faith in Iran’s good intentions, it will likely strengthen the resolve of the United States to push ahead with the latest round of the P5+1 talks that will resume next week. Indeed, in defending the decision to allow the U.S. to be drawn into another lengthy negotiation with Iran, Secretary of State John Kerry said in a speech to a dinner for the Ploughshares Fund that he had no patience for those warning about the dangers of such a policy. As the Times of Israel reports:

“Some have suggested that somehow there’s something wrong with even putting that to the test,” the secretary of state continued. “I suggest that the idea that the United States of America as a responsible nation to all of humankind would not explore that possibility would be the height of irresponsibility and dangerous in itself, and we will not succumb to those fear tactics and forces that suggest otherwise.”

But lost amid the enthusiasm for diplomacy was yet another troubling statement that ought to chill those hopes for a quick resolution of the nuclear dispute with Iran. Also speaking yesterday in Washington, Olli Heinonen, a former deputy director of the IAEA, said that Iran has, “in a certain way,” already reached the point of no return in its nuclear program. Heinonen confirmed the report released last week by the Institute for Science and International Security that said Iran could enrich enough weapons-grade uranium for a single bomb in about a month. That finding renders moot most of what is being discussed by Western diplomats with the Iranians. If the Iranians have reduced the “breakout time” needed to convert their vast stockpile of low-enriched uranium into nuclear fuel, then even if Tehran agreed to proposals about limiting their enrichment capacity, their path to a weapon is clear. If this is true, the administration’s arguments against tightening sanctions on Iran must be seen as a sign that it is, despite Kerry’s protestations that “no deal is better than a bad deal,” determined to reach an agreement with the ayatollahs that will not remove the threat of an Iranian bomb.

Throughout the debate about the nuclear threat from Iran, we have been assured by the administration that any danger of the Islamist regime cheating on a deal in order to procure a weapon that they had theoretically renounced was slim because of the lengthy “breakout” period that would be needed before they could complete the construction of a weapon. This is especially crucial since the terms of a proposed agreement seem to center on limiting the Iranians to uranium enrichment below the 20 percent that is required for a bomb. Should they break their word, the U.S. has believed that it would take so long for them to amass the required uranium that it would surely be discovered in the meantime. But if the Iranians only need two weeks to do the trick, those calculations go right out the window.

Given the vast number of centrifuges already enriching uranium in their facilities, this calculus may mean that anything short of Iran’s destruction of their nuclear plants and the export of all of their stockpile would not stop them from building a bomb. But since the Iranians have already stated that their “red line” in the talks is protection of their “right” to enrich and a refusal to give up any of their uranium, it’s difficult to understand what Kerry is talking about when he speaks so enthusiastically about the talks and makes veiled references to Israeli fear-mongering about Iran.

It also means that Iran’s willingness to talk about talking further about letting the IAEA monitor some of its facilities tells us nothing about their behavior or their intentions.

Even more important, this means that Congress should ignore administration pleading not to pass new sanctions against Iran. As even former Obama administration staffer Dennis Ross wrote today in a Los Angeles Times op-ed with Eric Edelman and Michael Makovsky, if the U.S. is really serious about stopping Iran via diplomacy rather than force, it must, among other things:

Intensify sanctions and incentivize other countries to do the same, issue more forceful and credible statements that all options are on the table, initiate new military deployments and make clear the support for Israeli military action if conducted.

The time for eyewash from the administration about the “window of diplomacy” with Iran is over. Having wasted five years on feckless engagement and dead-end diplomacy, the recent information about Iran’s breakout capacity may mean it is already too late to stop them by means short of force. But if the president and Kerry allow themselves to be sucked into another Iranian attempt to run out the clock on nuclear talks, no one should be deceived as to the meaning of such a decision or the potentially lethal consequences for Israel, the Arab nations of the Middle East (that are just as worried about the Iranian threat as the Israelis), and the entire world.

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The War on Rational Conservatism

What exactly are conservatives arguing about these days? After listening to the latest speeches of Senator Ted Cruz denouncing his critics and reading Erick Erickson’s latest piece at Red State in which he angrily denounces the editors of National Review as “well fed” and complacent enablers of liberalism, I think those who are not already clued in to the subtext of the dispute would be forgiven for being puzzled about what it was all about. Those parachuting into this debate from the outside will struggle mightily to see what the two sides disagree about in terms of principles or policies and will discover little evidence of any actual split on anything of importance. All participants oppose President Obama’s policies and ObamaCare. They’d like to see the president replaced by a conservative at the next presidential election and ObamaCare to be repealed. But that unity of purpose isn’t enough to prevent what is starting to take on the appearance of an all-out civil war within the ranks of the conservative movement. Those on the right have grown used to seeing liberal mainstream publications and broadcast outlets doing stories about conservatives tearing themselves apart that are motivated more by a desire to fuel the dispute than any objective proof of a significant split. But in this case, it’s hard to avoid the impression that what we are witnessing is actually nothing less than a full-blown civil war among conservatives that may have profound implications for the outcome of both the 2014 and 2016 elections.

At the heart of this is the ongoing debate about the wisdom of the government shutdown that resulted from the Republican majority in the House of Representatives following Cruz’s advice about tying the continuing resolution funding the government to a proposal to defund ObamaCare. As many sober conservatives predicted, the strategy failed. It accomplished nothing other than to damage the Republican Party in the eyes of most of the nation, although it did burnish Cruz’s reputation among those on the right who think the GOP is an assembly of sellouts because they failed to accomplish the impossible. In response to calls from those who were correct about this for a reassessment, Cruz and his followers have begun a campaign whose purpose seems to be to trash all those who had doubts about the senator’s misguided tactic and to damn them as not merely faint-hearts but traitors to the cause of conservatism. That this is arrant nonsense almost goes without saying. But the longer this goes on and the nastier it gets, the more convinced I’m becoming that far from a meaningless spat that will soon be forgotten, the shutdown may become the impetus for a genuine split within conservative ranks that will fester and diminish the chances that liberals will be prevented from retaining their grip on power in Washington.

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What exactly are conservatives arguing about these days? After listening to the latest speeches of Senator Ted Cruz denouncing his critics and reading Erick Erickson’s latest piece at Red State in which he angrily denounces the editors of National Review as “well fed” and complacent enablers of liberalism, I think those who are not already clued in to the subtext of the dispute would be forgiven for being puzzled about what it was all about. Those parachuting into this debate from the outside will struggle mightily to see what the two sides disagree about in terms of principles or policies and will discover little evidence of any actual split on anything of importance. All participants oppose President Obama’s policies and ObamaCare. They’d like to see the president replaced by a conservative at the next presidential election and ObamaCare to be repealed. But that unity of purpose isn’t enough to prevent what is starting to take on the appearance of an all-out civil war within the ranks of the conservative movement. Those on the right have grown used to seeing liberal mainstream publications and broadcast outlets doing stories about conservatives tearing themselves apart that are motivated more by a desire to fuel the dispute than any objective proof of a significant split. But in this case, it’s hard to avoid the impression that what we are witnessing is actually nothing less than a full-blown civil war among conservatives that may have profound implications for the outcome of both the 2014 and 2016 elections.

At the heart of this is the ongoing debate about the wisdom of the government shutdown that resulted from the Republican majority in the House of Representatives following Cruz’s advice about tying the continuing resolution funding the government to a proposal to defund ObamaCare. As many sober conservatives predicted, the strategy failed. It accomplished nothing other than to damage the Republican Party in the eyes of most of the nation, although it did burnish Cruz’s reputation among those on the right who think the GOP is an assembly of sellouts because they failed to accomplish the impossible. In response to calls from those who were correct about this for a reassessment, Cruz and his followers have begun a campaign whose purpose seems to be to trash all those who had doubts about the senator’s misguided tactic and to damn them as not merely faint-hearts but traitors to the cause of conservatism. That this is arrant nonsense almost goes without saying. But the longer this goes on and the nastier it gets, the more convinced I’m becoming that far from a meaningless spat that will soon be forgotten, the shutdown may become the impetus for a genuine split within conservative ranks that will fester and diminish the chances that liberals will be prevented from retaining their grip on power in Washington.

I think Rich Lowry and Ramesh Ponnuru were on to something when they wrote in their National Review essay that sent Erickson over the edge that the problem behind the angst on the right is despair. I touched on the same theme in an essay in the Intercollegiate Review published last month as part of its symposium on what’s the matter with conservatism, as well as in a blog post published here titled “Tea Party Despair and ObamaCare.” Frustrated by the Supreme Court’s illogical decision that affirmed ObamaCare’s constitutionality and by the results of the 2012 election, many conservatives have more or less given up on conventional politics. Right now all they are interested in is a fight, no matter how quixotic. And anyone who won’t charge over the cliff with them strikes such people as something far worse than a political foe.

In response, Erickson and others who have written about this topic ground their attacks on the so-called Republican “establishment” as being analogous to the situation in the 1950s when William F. Buckley founded the modern conservative movement as part of a protest against the way Republicans had become enablers of the Democrats’ liberal agenda. Regardless of the political facts of the day, they say the only rational response of conservatives to the situation is to take a principled stand much like Buckley’s famous declaration that the purpose of National Review was to “stand athwart history” and to yell “stop.” Those who won’t do that are no better than the Republicans who opposed Buckley. Even more important, they say that those who are more concerned with Republicans winning elections even at the cost of their souls than standing up for principle really are RINOs and traitors no matter what their positions on the issues might be.

But it bears repeating there is a big difference between the state of the Republican Party when Buckley was first yelling “stop” and today.

Buckley and his allies were justified in trying to radically change the nature of the GOP because many of its leaders weren’t “timid” conservatives who were afraid of challenging the legitimacy of liberal government. Nelson Rockefeller and much of the GOP establishment of that time really were liberals and were not shy about saying so. Buckley had no interest in electing more liberals even if they called themselves Republicans, but he also famously said conservatives should always back the most electable conservative, not the most right-wing candidate.

The battle that was waged over the soul of the GOP over the next quarter century after NR’s founding was fierce because there were real ideological differences at stake. By contrast, Cruz and Erickson’s targets are not merely fellow conservatives but among the most conservative individuals and outlets in the country. Their sin is not the genuine dispute about the virtue of the welfare state and big government that drove the internal arguments in the Republican Party in that era, but rather one of attitudes. The editors of NR as well as hard-core conservatives like Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell are not blasted for their beliefs as Nelson Rockefeller and Co. were but because they differ with Cruz on tactics.

What we are seeing here is nothing less than a call for a Leninist-style schism on the right in which NR and McConnell are treated as the Mensheviks to the Tea Party’s Bolsheviks. Anyone who won’t hue to the Cruz party line isn’t merely wrong but, as Erickson’s piece seems to indicate, worthy of being read out of the conservative movement and denounced as betrayers.

This makes sense only if you are of the mindset that anyone not willing to shut down the government is indistinguishable from Barack Obama no matter how conservative they might be. As such, what we are witnessing is not an attempt to convert the Republican Party into a gathering of conservatives—something a previous generation of conservatives accomplished under the leadership of Ronald Reagan—but a war on rational conservatism whose only end is the immolation of the movement the Gipper helped build.

What does this portend?

It’s too soon to know for sure, but right now I’m starting to think that those inclined to pooh-pooh the chances for a genuine split are wrong. If that portion of the conservative base listens to Cruz and Erickson they are going to spend much of the next year trying to exact revenge on the senator’s critics. And if that means helping to knock off genuine conservatives like McConnell who will almost certainly be replaced in the Senate not by more Cruz clones but by liberal Democrats, they think it’s no great loss because such people are more interested in purifying the GOP than in beating the Democrats. Assembling a national coalition that could enable conservatives to govern is a matter of complete indifference to them and they seem openly contemptuous of the necessity of gaining Republican majorities and a Republican president in order to advance the conservative agenda.

This drama will be played out in many states next year in the midterm elections, but it will come to a head in 2016 when a single formidable moderate conservative may possibly be opposed by a split field of right-wingers in the race for the GOP presidential nomination. If so, those today yelling about the betrayal of Cruz are likely to be louder and even more self-destructive. A few more years in which Tea Partiers stop seeing themselves as the vanguard of the conservative movement but as members of a different political alignment altogether could lead to exactly the kind of right-wing walkout from the GOP that was threatened in 2008 and 2012 but never actually materialized. If so, we may look back on the aftermath of the shutdown as not just a foolish argument started by frustrated conservatives but the beginning of a schism that enabled the Democrats to consolidate their hold on power in Washington for the foreseeable future.

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ObamaCare and Arbitrary Power

Following on the heels of CBS’s Benghazi report, NBC News is joining in the “now it can be told” parade. With the president safely reelected and ObamaCare surviving its key challenges at the Supreme Court, it is now apparently safe to start reporting on the fact that the health-care reform law was constructed on a very transparent falsehood. “Obama administration knew millions could not keep their health insurance” screams the headline, and the article notes that “the administration knew that more than 40 to 67 percent of those in the individual market would not be able to keep their plans, even if they liked them.”

President Obama stuck by the ludicrous promise that those who liked their insurance could keep their insurance–“period,” as the president liked to emphasize. This was never true, as conservatives pointed out time and again. The law was specifically designed to prevent this promise from being kept. But the media kept repeating it, so the president kept saying it. What’s new in the NBC report is not that Obama knew he was peddling a false promise; of course the White House knew what it was up to. Rather, what’s interesting is the degree to which the Obama administration concentrated on making sure that people couldn’t keep their policies, even if it meant rewriting key parts of the law’s regulations after the fact:

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Following on the heels of CBS’s Benghazi report, NBC News is joining in the “now it can be told” parade. With the president safely reelected and ObamaCare surviving its key challenges at the Supreme Court, it is now apparently safe to start reporting on the fact that the health-care reform law was constructed on a very transparent falsehood. “Obama administration knew millions could not keep their health insurance” screams the headline, and the article notes that “the administration knew that more than 40 to 67 percent of those in the individual market would not be able to keep their plans, even if they liked them.”

President Obama stuck by the ludicrous promise that those who liked their insurance could keep their insurance–“period,” as the president liked to emphasize. This was never true, as conservatives pointed out time and again. The law was specifically designed to prevent this promise from being kept. But the media kept repeating it, so the president kept saying it. What’s new in the NBC report is not that Obama knew he was peddling a false promise; of course the White House knew what it was up to. Rather, what’s interesting is the degree to which the Obama administration concentrated on making sure that people couldn’t keep their policies, even if it meant rewriting key parts of the law’s regulations after the fact:

None of this should come as a shock to the Obama administration. The law states that policies in effect as of March 23, 2010 will be “grandfathered,” meaning consumers can keep those policies even though they don’t meet requirements of the new health care law. But the Department of Health and Human Services then wrote regulations that narrowed that provision, by saying that if any part of a policy was significantly changed since that date — the deductible, co-pay, or benefits, for example — the policy would not be grandfathered.

ObamaCare continues to be the epitome of arbitrary government. Not only was the law unpopular when it was passed, but the administration then kicked the public while it was down by changing the law on the fly and ensuring that a key promise used to pass the law would be unfulfilled. Unilaterally extending deadlines, waiving requirements for interest groups, delaying aspects of the law: it turns out we didn’t have to pass the law to find out what was in it, since it simply didn’t matter what was in it.

Speaking of arbitrary power, key administration advisor Valerie Jarrett took to Twitter last night to attempt to spin the story. Even by the standards of this administration, Jarrett’s effort was both inept and bitterly defensive:

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As Mary Katherine Ham noted, this “delusion” amounts to: “no change is required by you under Obamacare unless your insurance company goes and changes your existing plan to comply with Obamacare.” Jarrett’s combination of contempt for private industry and self-indulgent blame shifting is characteristic of the Obama administration.

Blaming the insurance industry was perhaps inevitable. But other attempts to spin the news don’t do much better since there’s no refuting the core of this latest PR disaster. Here, for example, is Time magazine’s headline: “The Bright Side of Obamacare’s Broken Promise.” There’s no question it’s a broken promise; but the president’s defenders hope they can mitigate that damage by explaining that the government deceived you for the greater good. Welcome to the team.

Here is how Time’s report opens: “President Obama has broken his promise that Americans who like their health insurance plans can keep them under the Affordable Care Act. Citing the new law, insurers have recently mailed policy cancellation notices to hundreds of thousands of people across the country, providing more ammunition to critics who say the law is bad for consumers.” It’s true: the continuing confirmation that the law is bad for consumers will provide ammunition to those who point out that the law is bad for consumers.

Then Time warns: “And that number may grow.” It seems it already has. CBS reports that “more than two million Americans have been told they cannot renew their current insurance policies — more than triple the number of people said to be buying insurance under the new Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare.”

Given all this, Obama’s motivation for peddling the false promise becomes clear. The public already disliked the law, and he was barely able, through procedural tricks and horse trading, to muster the votes to pass it. Imagine how much more difficult his task would have been had the sales pitch for ObamaCare not been “If you like your plan, you can keep your plan,” but rather “If you like your plan, you’re selfish and don’t know what’s good for you, and you need to be coerced into doing your part to help the president establish a new entitlement scheme.”

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Obama Throws Intel Community Back Under the Bus

The revelations about NSA spying on allied leaders are now officially a scandal. No, that scandal isn’t that the U.S. spies on its allies–all nations do that and some go further than that. See, for instance, this report claiming that South Korea has been stealing U.S. military technology. No, the scandal is that, faced with embarrassing allegations, President Obama is trying to throw General Keith Alexander, the head of the NSA, and the rest of the intelligence community under the bus by claiming that he had no idea what was going on.

Not surprisingly, anonymous leakers in the intelligence community are pushing back to shred the White House alibi. According to the Los Angeles Times:

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The revelations about NSA spying on allied leaders are now officially a scandal. No, that scandal isn’t that the U.S. spies on its allies–all nations do that and some go further than that. See, for instance, this report claiming that South Korea has been stealing U.S. military technology. No, the scandal is that, faced with embarrassing allegations, President Obama is trying to throw General Keith Alexander, the head of the NSA, and the rest of the intelligence community under the bus by claiming that he had no idea what was going on.

Not surprisingly, anonymous leakers in the intelligence community are pushing back to shred the White House alibi. According to the Los Angeles Times:

Obama may not have been specifically briefed on NSA operations targeting a foreign leader’s cellphone or email communications, one of the officials said. “But certainly the National Security Council and senior people across the intelligence community knew exactly what was going on, and to suggest otherwise is ridiculous.”

If U.S. spying on key foreign leaders was news to the White House, current and former officials said, then White House officials have not been reading their briefing books.

The intel community isn’t happy about being blamed for conducting what Obama implies is a rogue operation: “People are furious,” said a senior intelligence official. “This is officially the White House cutting off the intelligence community.”

Not only is Obama blaming the intel community for doing something wrong, he is leaking word that he will order a ban on spying on allied leaders. One wonders how “allies” will be defined since no nation stands with the U.S. on every single important issue. Germany, for example, supported us in Afghanistan but not in Libya. (I am tempted to say Germany didn’t support us in Syria either but since we have no coherent policy on Syria it is hard to say whether they support us or not.) If he is serious about it, Obama’s actions will result in a loss of valuable intelligence and will hardly appease the NSA’s critics who think that all data-hunting operations except perhaps those focused on Ayman al-Zawihiri’s emails should be shut down.

Obama was aware earlier in his administration of the danger of stigmatizing the hard-working intelligence professionals he needs to keep America safe; that’s why the administration shut down attempts to prosecute CIA personnel over the use of torture. But now, in a frenzy to appease European critics, the president is demoralizing the intel community and sending them a signal that aggressive collection efforts will not be rewarded. That’s a bad tradeoff.

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New Benghazi Information, Same Story of Clinton’s Incompetence

Conservatives are basically of two minds regarding the report on the attack on the American mission in Benghazi aired by CBS’s 60 Minutes last night. On the one hand, it always was a legitimate story and it’s encouraging for any mainstream network to emerge even temporarily from the president’s tank and acknowledge reality. Indeed, CBS reporter Sharyl Attkisson put up with plenty of nonsense for her willingness to do great reporting on the attack.

On the other hand, it is impossible not to notice the timing. The media became collectively unmoored from the pretense of balanced journalism during the 2012 presidential election when Mitt Romney dared criticize President Obama’s incompetent handling of the event and the administration’s dishonesty thereafter. Who can forget CNN’s Candy Crowley diving into a debate she was “moderating” to shield Obama from criticism despite having her facts wrong? (Then again, who can blame members of the Obama administration’s farm team from playing for the name on the front of their jerseys?)

But while it may seem too late for the media to try and earn some of its credibility back on Benghazi, it’s worth pointing out that the straight reporting offered by CBS is still somewhat gutsy. After all, the tick-tock of the tragedy paints then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as staggeringly incompetent and irresponsible with power. And Clintonworld has already been working overtime to chill coverage of her ahead of her expected 2016 presidential candidacy.

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Conservatives are basically of two minds regarding the report on the attack on the American mission in Benghazi aired by CBS’s 60 Minutes last night. On the one hand, it always was a legitimate story and it’s encouraging for any mainstream network to emerge even temporarily from the president’s tank and acknowledge reality. Indeed, CBS reporter Sharyl Attkisson put up with plenty of nonsense for her willingness to do great reporting on the attack.

On the other hand, it is impossible not to notice the timing. The media became collectively unmoored from the pretense of balanced journalism during the 2012 presidential election when Mitt Romney dared criticize President Obama’s incompetent handling of the event and the administration’s dishonesty thereafter. Who can forget CNN’s Candy Crowley diving into a debate she was “moderating” to shield Obama from criticism despite having her facts wrong? (Then again, who can blame members of the Obama administration’s farm team from playing for the name on the front of their jerseys?)

But while it may seem too late for the media to try and earn some of its credibility back on Benghazi, it’s worth pointing out that the straight reporting offered by CBS is still somewhat gutsy. After all, the tick-tock of the tragedy paints then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as staggeringly incompetent and irresponsible with power. And Clintonworld has already been working overtime to chill coverage of her ahead of her expected 2016 presidential candidacy.

The Benghazi reporting has followed a pattern conservatives recognize a mile away. The press first does its best to ignore or downplay a story damaging to vulnerable Democrats. When the conservative media are able to drive the story into the open, the conservatives themselves become the story. (How dare conservative politicians politicize politics! Etc.) If a member of the mainstream media breaks ranks and eventually files a story on it after the initial storm has passed, the response from the left is that there’s really nothing new here anyway, so it’s not a game changer.

Now it’s true, of course, that last night’s report isn’t a game changer. But that should not be confused with something that is unimportant. CBS correspondent Lara Logan spoke with a security official in Benghazi now using the pseudonym Morgan Jones (he appeared on camera, as you can see at the initial link). Jones arrived in Benghazi several months before the attack and immediately noticed that “black flags of al-Qaeda” were flying over buildings in the city. He then arrived at the American compound to see a woefully inadequate band of security guards. His warnings went ignored, and then proved prophetic.

Logan also spoke with others who had previously testified on Benghazi, like Gregory Hicks. That all the increased reporting and testimony confirms, rather than upends, what we know about Benghazi should not be helpful to Clinton. The picture that emerged last year and has been confirmed time and again was that there were patterns that suggested the mission was in danger and then warnings that made the threat more explicit. Al-Qaeda-linked terrorists threatened various targets, including the American mission, and then followed through, and all the while Washington ignored the warnings they received on the ground and the intelligence that predicted the attack.

It is not uncommon for both left and right to look at the same set of facts and come to radically different conclusions as to their implications. But if CBS’s reporting, along with a slightly less defensive posture from the media, is any indication, Obama may be mostly in the clear–but Clinton cannot expect to join him there quite yet.

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Late-Term Abortion Still the Issue in Texas

Abortion-rights activists are celebrating this afternoon in the wake of the news that a federal court has struck down a provision of a controversial Texas law. This seems like sweet revenge for the many liberals (especially those in the media) who applauded State Senator Wendy Davis’s filibuster of the first attempt by Republicans to get a controversial bill through the Texas legislature. Unlike fellow Texan Ted Cruz, whose anti-ObamaCare filibuster was widely reviled in the mainstream media, Davis’s attempt to obstruct the bill imposing new regulations on abortion clinics and restrictions on late-term abortion made her a national star and a likely Democratic candidate for governor. Any chipping away at the legislation, which was eventually passed when the legislature reconvened in Austin, is going to be treated as a victory for the pro-choice side of the abortion debate.

But those cheering this development should take a deep breath. Federal District Court Judge Lee Yeakel ruled the bill’s provision demanding that all doctors performing abortions in Texas have admitting privileges at hospitals was an unreasonable restriction of abortion rights. But the main parts of the legislation remain in place. Texas abortion clinics are still required to meet the health standards required of all ambulatory surgery centers. More importantly, the ban on abortions after 20 weeks—the point where modern medical science has largely rendered fetuses viable outside the womb—is also unchallenged. As such, the key issues involved in the debate about the Texas law are still on the table.

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Abortion-rights activists are celebrating this afternoon in the wake of the news that a federal court has struck down a provision of a controversial Texas law. This seems like sweet revenge for the many liberals (especially those in the media) who applauded State Senator Wendy Davis’s filibuster of the first attempt by Republicans to get a controversial bill through the Texas legislature. Unlike fellow Texan Ted Cruz, whose anti-ObamaCare filibuster was widely reviled in the mainstream media, Davis’s attempt to obstruct the bill imposing new regulations on abortion clinics and restrictions on late-term abortion made her a national star and a likely Democratic candidate for governor. Any chipping away at the legislation, which was eventually passed when the legislature reconvened in Austin, is going to be treated as a victory for the pro-choice side of the abortion debate.

But those cheering this development should take a deep breath. Federal District Court Judge Lee Yeakel ruled the bill’s provision demanding that all doctors performing abortions in Texas have admitting privileges at hospitals was an unreasonable restriction of abortion rights. But the main parts of the legislation remain in place. Texas abortion clinics are still required to meet the health standards required of all ambulatory surgery centers. More importantly, the ban on abortions after 20 weeks—the point where modern medical science has largely rendered fetuses viable outside the womb—is also unchallenged. As such, the key issues involved in the debate about the Texas law are still on the table.

Critics of the Texas law are not off base when they claim that it is an attempt to make abortions more difficult to obtain. Rather than trying to overturn the Roe v. Wade case that legalized abortion nationwide, pro-lifers have cleverly refocused their efforts in recent years on issues where they can count on the support of most Americans. While support for first-term abortion is still a mainstream political reality, groups like NARAL and Planned Parenthood that have become the political engines of the pro-choice side have been slow to realize that late-term abortions are a very different thing in the eyes of most Americans. Once a healthy fetus is old enough to survive on its own, abortion becomes less a matter of a “choice” than infanticide. Moreover, the Gosnell case and other similar instances of abortion clinic horrors have brought into focus the way that industry clearly requires the sort of regulation that will bring it into line with the standards hospitals and other health-care providers are expected to meet.

The Texas law’s hospital admission provision may well have been excessive since qualified doctors practicing medicine could well do so without being affiliated with a hospital. But the key issues here are stopping late-term abortions and making the people who own abortion clinics—generally a highly profitable business—assure the public that they are not harboring more Gosnells. Nothing in the Texas decision changes that. That means that while Wendy Davis’s fans may be encouraged today, they need to remember that the important aspects of the Texas law they have tried so hard to trash remains in place. More than that, they should comprehend that the growing understanding of the barbarity of late-term abortion means they are on the wrong side of history as well as morality.

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Nothing Legitimate About Anti-Semitic Slur

Former British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw is pleading innocent. Called out for comments made during a Round Table Global Diplomatic Forum held at the House of Commons last week, Straw insists that there’s nothing anti-Semitic about raising points that he says are merely matters of genuine concern. As the Times of Israel reports, former Labor Party Knesset member Einat Wilf, who took part in the debate, described Straw’s presentation in the following manner:

Wilf participated in the debate and posted some of what she said were Straw’s comments on her Facebook page, saying she nearly fell off her chair when she heard them: “Listing the greatest obstacles to peace, he said ‘unlimited’ funds available to Jewish organizations and AIPAC in the US are used to control and divert American policy in the region and that Germany’s ‘obsession’ with defending Israel were the problem. I guess he neglected to mention Jewish control of the media….”

The British politician is right when he says criticizing Israel’s policies is not anti-Semitic. But, like many others who want to bash Israel without being branded as Jew-haters, he crossed a very important line when he injected traditional anti-Semitic stereotypes about Jewish money and insidious attempts to control the policy discussion into the question of how best to advance the cause of peace. That’s why someone like Wilf, who opposes the Netanyahu government, was so outraged. In doing so, he not only demonstrated ignorance of how American politics works as well as insensitivity to Israel’s position, but also showed the way disagreements with the Jewish state quickly morph into conspiracy theories that are thinly veiled new versions of traditional myths about Jews. While Straw is neither the first nor the last member of Parliament or prominent Briton to play this game, the fact that someone who was a former foreign minister would not only feel free to vent this nasty stuff, but also think there’s nothing wrong with it, tells you all you need to know about the rising tide of anti-Semitism in Europe.

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Former British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw is pleading innocent. Called out for comments made during a Round Table Global Diplomatic Forum held at the House of Commons last week, Straw insists that there’s nothing anti-Semitic about raising points that he says are merely matters of genuine concern. As the Times of Israel reports, former Labor Party Knesset member Einat Wilf, who took part in the debate, described Straw’s presentation in the following manner:

Wilf participated in the debate and posted some of what she said were Straw’s comments on her Facebook page, saying she nearly fell off her chair when she heard them: “Listing the greatest obstacles to peace, he said ‘unlimited’ funds available to Jewish organizations and AIPAC in the US are used to control and divert American policy in the region and that Germany’s ‘obsession’ with defending Israel were the problem. I guess he neglected to mention Jewish control of the media….”

The British politician is right when he says criticizing Israel’s policies is not anti-Semitic. But, like many others who want to bash Israel without being branded as Jew-haters, he crossed a very important line when he injected traditional anti-Semitic stereotypes about Jewish money and insidious attempts to control the policy discussion into the question of how best to advance the cause of peace. That’s why someone like Wilf, who opposes the Netanyahu government, was so outraged. In doing so, he not only demonstrated ignorance of how American politics works as well as insensitivity to Israel’s position, but also showed the way disagreements with the Jewish state quickly morph into conspiracy theories that are thinly veiled new versions of traditional myths about Jews. While Straw is neither the first nor the last member of Parliament or prominent Briton to play this game, the fact that someone who was a former foreign minister would not only feel free to vent this nasty stuff, but also think there’s nothing wrong with it, tells you all you need to know about the rising tide of anti-Semitism in Europe.

As for Straw’s charges, they are easily dismissed. Contrary to the Walt-Mearsheimer “Israel Lobby” conspiracy theory thesis, the vast, wall-to-wall bipartisan coalition that supports the Jewish state is a function of American public opinion, not Jewish money. As frustrating as it may be for Israel’s critics, support for Zionism is baked into the DNA of American politics and is primarily the function of religious attitudes as well as the shared values of democracy that unite the U.S. and Israel. Other lobbies (such as the one that promotes the oil interests or pharmaceuticals) have far more money. Hard as it is for some people to accept, the reason why American politicians back Israel’s democratically elected government is because opposing them is bad politics as well as bad policy.

Making such accusations is offensive rather than just wrong because, as Straw knows very well, talking about Jewish money buying government policy is straight out of the anti-Semitic playbook of the The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. The purpose of such claims is not to argue that Israel’s supporters are misguided so much as that they are illegitimate.

That Straw is similarly frustrated with German refusals to try and hammer the Israelis is equally appalling. While Germany’s government has, contrary to Straw’s comment, often been highly critical of Israel, if Berlin has some sensitivity to Israel’s position as a small, besieged nation, it is because they understand that the underlying factor that drives hostility to Zionism is the same anti-Semitism that drove the Holocaust.

But the main point to be gleaned from this story is the way Straw has illustrated just how mainstream anti-Semitic attitudes have become in contemporary Britain. It is entirely possible that Straw thinks himself free from prejudice. But that is only possible because in the intellectual and political circles in which he and other members of the European elite move, these ideas have gone mainstream rather than being kept on the margins as they are in the United States. The ease with which Western European politicians invoke these tired clichés about Jewish power and money is a reflection of the way attitudes have changed in the last generation as the memory of the Holocaust fades and people feel empowered to revive old hate. Chalk it up to the prejudices of intellectuals, especially on the left, as well as to the growing influence of Muslim immigrants who have brought the Jew-hatred of their home countries with them.

Straw may not be alone in not liking the Netanyahu government, but he can’t get out off the hook for the anti-Semitic rationale for his views that he put forward. The pity is, he’s speaking for all too many Europeans when he speaks in this manner.

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How to Cut Medical Costs 101

Give consumers an incentive to care about the cost of medical care and the cost of medical care will decline. That’s economics 101 (a course Barack Obama obviously didn’t take), straight out of Adam Smith.

A beautiful illustration of that is reported in today’s Wall Street Journal regarding a new concept called “reference pricing.” With traditional health insurance (which ObamaCare mandates) patients needing a procedure pay a deductible and then the insurance covers the rest of the cost, whatever that might be. This is, of course, an open invitation for care providers to jack up the prices, which they have been doing far in excess of inflation for decades. With reference pricing, the insurance company pays a certain amount and anything above that is the patient’s responsibility, concentrating their minds wonderfully.

Calpers, the giant California state retirement system, handles health insurance for its hundred of thousands of public employees, dependents and retirees and noticed that knee and hip replacements cost anywhere from $20,000 to $120,000 depending on the institution where they were performed but with no difference in outcomes:

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Give consumers an incentive to care about the cost of medical care and the cost of medical care will decline. That’s economics 101 (a course Barack Obama obviously didn’t take), straight out of Adam Smith.

A beautiful illustration of that is reported in today’s Wall Street Journal regarding a new concept called “reference pricing.” With traditional health insurance (which ObamaCare mandates) patients needing a procedure pay a deductible and then the insurance covers the rest of the cost, whatever that might be. This is, of course, an open invitation for care providers to jack up the prices, which they have been doing far in excess of inflation for decades. With reference pricing, the insurance company pays a certain amount and anything above that is the patient’s responsibility, concentrating their minds wonderfully.

Calpers, the giant California state retirement system, handles health insurance for its hundred of thousands of public employees, dependents and retirees and noticed that knee and hip replacements cost anywhere from $20,000 to $120,000 depending on the institution where they were performed but with no difference in outcomes:

In January 2010, the retirement organization established a $30,000 reference-price limit on what it would pay, and the administrators identified 41 hospitals that charged less than the limit while scoring well on quality criteria. Calpers launched an outreach program informing employees that they had their usual coverage at these “value-based” facilities but would have to pay the extra money charged elsewhere.

Well, guess what:

The percentage of Calpers patients selecting low-price hospitals increased to 63% in the year after reference pricing was introduced, from 48% in the year before, and the trend continued into the second year after the introduction.

Even more striking was the effect on pricing strategies. Half of the high-price hospitals cut their rates, many by a considerable amount. (Guess which number they were trying to hit.) Across all hospitals, prices charged to Calpers for joint-replacement surgery declined by 26% in the first year and by even more in the second. The combination of changes in market share and cuts in prices reduced Calpers’ expenditures over two years by $6 million, . . .

The fact is, 315 million consumers of health care saying, “How much is this going to cost” will rein in healthcare expenditures far more effectively than 315,000 government bureaucrats meddling in the marketplace.

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Make ObamaCare’s Failure the Story

Former Bush press secretary and current Fox News host Dana Perino has some good advice for House Republicans planning on questioning beleaguered Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius this week: don’t be jerks. That’s the short version of a piece she ran on the Fox News website today and members of the Energy and Commerce Committee should take her five tips to heart when Sebelius comes before them on Wednesday. But the hearing is more than just an opportunity for the much-reviled House GOP to prove they can appear in public without making fools of themselves. After Saturday Night Live’s deft satire of Sebelius this past weekend, the secretary has already been elevated from an obscure former Kansas governor to a national laughing-stock. What Republicans need to do now is not only, as Perino points out, avoid making her look sympathetic but to start focusing on how this happened as well as the major ObamaCare problems that go far beyond a dysfunctional website.

As John Steele Gordon previously noted, the Daily Caller’s story published last week about the identity of the company that was given the contract to build Healthcare.gov raises tantalizing questions about whether this was just another sweetheart deal to an Obama contributor, not to mention the possible ties of one of its chief officers to the first lady. Congress should not ignore these leads, but neither should they be overplayed in a high-handed manner. As Perino writes, the committee members should act like they know what they’re talking about instead of just spouting and wind up making viewers feel sorry for Sebelius; they should come armed with facts, “bottle the fake outrage,” channel the frustration of conservatives about this boondoggle, and be able to say what they’re for as well as what they’re against.

But we also need to move beyond the website problem to the dire consequences for many Americans of what happens once this legislation is put into action. The president promised the country no one would lose the plans they already had or have their costs go up. We already know that isn’t true. Policies are being cancelled because they don’t meet ObamaCare’s specifications, forcing many Americans to buy new plans with theoretically better coverage but also at much higher prices. Indeed, at this point, it may well be that more people have lost their existing coverage than have signed up for ObamaCare.

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Former Bush press secretary and current Fox News host Dana Perino has some good advice for House Republicans planning on questioning beleaguered Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius this week: don’t be jerks. That’s the short version of a piece she ran on the Fox News website today and members of the Energy and Commerce Committee should take her five tips to heart when Sebelius comes before them on Wednesday. But the hearing is more than just an opportunity for the much-reviled House GOP to prove they can appear in public without making fools of themselves. After Saturday Night Live’s deft satire of Sebelius this past weekend, the secretary has already been elevated from an obscure former Kansas governor to a national laughing-stock. What Republicans need to do now is not only, as Perino points out, avoid making her look sympathetic but to start focusing on how this happened as well as the major ObamaCare problems that go far beyond a dysfunctional website.

As John Steele Gordon previously noted, the Daily Caller’s story published last week about the identity of the company that was given the contract to build Healthcare.gov raises tantalizing questions about whether this was just another sweetheart deal to an Obama contributor, not to mention the possible ties of one of its chief officers to the first lady. Congress should not ignore these leads, but neither should they be overplayed in a high-handed manner. As Perino writes, the committee members should act like they know what they’re talking about instead of just spouting and wind up making viewers feel sorry for Sebelius; they should come armed with facts, “bottle the fake outrage,” channel the frustration of conservatives about this boondoggle, and be able to say what they’re for as well as what they’re against.

But we also need to move beyond the website problem to the dire consequences for many Americans of what happens once this legislation is put into action. The president promised the country no one would lose the plans they already had or have their costs go up. We already know that isn’t true. Policies are being cancelled because they don’t meet ObamaCare’s specifications, forcing many Americans to buy new plans with theoretically better coverage but also at much higher prices. Indeed, at this point, it may well be that more people have lost their existing coverage than have signed up for ObamaCare.

For the past few months, the main story in American politics was what seemed to be the obsessive determination on the part of Republicans to obstruct ObamaCare. Now, thanks to a website that demonstrated anew the incapacity of Democrats and the government they worship to run a complicated sector of the economy, the GOP is getting a second chance to show the country what they were up in arms about. But if the confrontation with Sebelius turns into a circus that will allow the media to claim the Republicans are playing games, it will allow the architects of this disaster to slither out of peril.

The best indicator of the administration’s vulnerability is that for the first time it looks like Democrats may be abandoning the president’s sinking ship. Whereas congressional Democrats have heretofore loyally stuck with the health-care legislation in the past, the fact that ten Senate Democrats signed onto New Hampshire Senator Jeanne Shaheen’s letter calling for a delay in the deadline for open enrollment demonstrates that we may be almost at the tipping point for this issue. While we can expect many congressional Democrats to stick to their “fix it, don’t nix it” mantra, the GOP has to leave some room for some fair-minded members of Obama’s party to chime in on the outrage over incompetence and possible corruption. But if Republicans flub their bout with Sebelius, that chance may be wasted.

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A President Who Only Cares About Politics

As Seth points out this morning, the development of the ObamaCare website had no one in over-all charge. As the Wall Street Journal today explains, there was one group in Bethesda, Maryland, drawing up specifications for the insurance marketplace, computer experts—who answered to different bosses—at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid in Baltimore building the software and hardware components, and political operatives in the White House often stalling important decisions until after the 2012 election.

Meanwhile, the president whose name is on the whole program was blissfully unaware that anything was amiss until he read press reports that a debacle was underway after it launched October 1. It’s a good thing the president reads the newspapers for otherwise he’d not have a clue about anything the United States government, of which he is the chief executive, was doing.

You don’t need an MBA (which, by the way, George W. Bush had earned at Harvard) to know that someone has to be in charge of the development of a large, complex project if disaster is to be avoided. Armies need generals, and “unity of command,” to win battles.

But it gets worse. The main company hired (with a no-bid contract) to design the software is Canadian. Does the country that contains Silicon Valley not have a firm that could handle this project?

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As Seth points out this morning, the development of the ObamaCare website had no one in over-all charge. As the Wall Street Journal today explains, there was one group in Bethesda, Maryland, drawing up specifications for the insurance marketplace, computer experts—who answered to different bosses—at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid in Baltimore building the software and hardware components, and political operatives in the White House often stalling important decisions until after the 2012 election.

Meanwhile, the president whose name is on the whole program was blissfully unaware that anything was amiss until he read press reports that a debacle was underway after it launched October 1. It’s a good thing the president reads the newspapers for otherwise he’d not have a clue about anything the United States government, of which he is the chief executive, was doing.

You don’t need an MBA (which, by the way, George W. Bush had earned at Harvard) to know that someone has to be in charge of the development of a large, complex project if disaster is to be avoided. Armies need generals, and “unity of command,” to win battles.

But it gets worse. The main company hired (with a no-bid contract) to design the software is Canadian. Does the country that contains Silicon Valley not have a firm that could handle this project?

According to Mark Steyn, the company, CGI, has a bit of a track record:

CGI is not a creative free spirit from Jersey City with an impressive mastery of Twitter, but a Canadian corporate behemoth. Indeed, CGI is so Canadian their name is French: Conseillers en Gestion et Informatique [Consultants in Management and Information processing]. Their most famous government project was for the Canadian Firearms Registry. The registry was estimated to cost in total $119 million, which would be offset by $117 million in fees. That’s a net cost of $2 million. Instead, by 2004 the CBC (Canada’s PBS) was reporting costs of some $2 billion — or a thousand times more expensive. . . .

But it proved impossible to “improve” CFIS (the Canadian Firearms Information System). So CGI was hired to create an entirely new CFIS II, which would operate alongside CFIS I until the old system could be scrapped. CFIS II was supposed to go operational on January 9, 2003, but the January date got postponed to June, and 2003 to 2004, and $81 million was thrown at it before a new Conservative government scrapped the fiasco in 2007. Last year, the government of Ontario canceled another CGI registry that never saw the light of day — just for one disease, diabetes, and costing a mere $46 million.

Why would even the most managerially incompetent administration in history hire a firm with that sort of track record to handle its signature project? Well, call me cynical, but the Daily Caller has noted that the senior vice president of the company was a classmate of Michelle Obama at Princeton, and spent “Christmas with the Obamas” at the White House seven months after she got her job at CGI.

The administration is taking a beating to be sure. The Economist is calling them incompetent and even Ted Rall, the loony-left cartoonist, is calling “Obama and his gang of golfing buddies,” “idiots.” But the problem is, at its heart, that President Obama cares only about politics, rewarding his buddies, and the perks of power. The rest of the presidency just bores him.

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Israel and Evangelical Christians

Robert W. Nicholson has written a fascinating essay for Mosaic magazine titled “Evangelicals and Israel: What American Jews Don’t Want to Know (but Need to).” That essay, in turn, has generated commentaries by Wilfred McClay, Elliott Abrams, Gertrude Himmelfarb, and James Nuechterlein. Each of them has a somewhat different take on what Nicholson wrote; all are worth reading.

The Nicholson essay explores the explanation for Christian Zionism, locating it in eschatology for some Christians while in God’s eternal covenant with Israel for others. Mr. Nicholson argues that many evangelicals feel not only a strong sense of protectiveness toward the State of Israel but a deep cultural affinity with the Jewish people. But he also highlights the growing strength among evangelicals of what he calls a “new anti-Israeli and pro-Palestinian movement.” 

The latter is something I can testify to first-hand. Several years ago my wife and I left a Washington D.C. church we were members of over what I came to discover was a deep, though previously hidden-from-view, hostility to Israel. The more I probed the matter, the more disturbing it was, to the point that I didn’t feel we could continue to worship there in good conscience. So we left, despite two of our children having been baptized there and despite having developed strong attachments to the church and many of its congregants over the years.

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Robert W. Nicholson has written a fascinating essay for Mosaic magazine titled “Evangelicals and Israel: What American Jews Don’t Want to Know (but Need to).” That essay, in turn, has generated commentaries by Wilfred McClay, Elliott Abrams, Gertrude Himmelfarb, and James Nuechterlein. Each of them has a somewhat different take on what Nicholson wrote; all are worth reading.

The Nicholson essay explores the explanation for Christian Zionism, locating it in eschatology for some Christians while in God’s eternal covenant with Israel for others. Mr. Nicholson argues that many evangelicals feel not only a strong sense of protectiveness toward the State of Israel but a deep cultural affinity with the Jewish people. But he also highlights the growing strength among evangelicals of what he calls a “new anti-Israeli and pro-Palestinian movement.” 

The latter is something I can testify to first-hand. Several years ago my wife and I left a Washington D.C. church we were members of over what I came to discover was a deep, though previously hidden-from-view, hostility to Israel. The more I probed the matter, the more disturbing it was, to the point that I didn’t feel we could continue to worship there in good conscience. So we left, despite two of our children having been baptized there and despite having developed strong attachments to the church and many of its congregants over the years.

Mr. Nicholson does an excellent job explaining the rise of pro-Palestinian sentiment among some segments of American evangelicalism. The basis for this movement rests in part on the belief that Israel is a nation whose very founding in 1947 was illegitimate and immoral; since then, it is said, Israel has become an enemy of justice and peace. Authentic Christianity therefore requires one to embrace the pro-Palestinian narrative, or so this line of argument goes. “The bottom line is simply this,” writes Nicholson. “More and more evangelicals are being educated to accept the pro-Palestinian narrative – on the basis of their Christian faith.”

As for my own attitudes toward the Jewish state, I find myself closely aligned to the view of Nuechterlein. “In the present instance,” he writes, “one need not depend on biblical prophecy or covenantal theology to find reasons to support the state of Israel.”

Israel has the only truly democratic political culture in the Middle East. It is a friend of the West in politics and political economy, and, more important, a consistent and unswerving ally of the United States. It is a regional bulwark against the radical Islamists who are its and America’s sworn enemies. The more I see of the populist Arab spring, the stronger is my commitment to Israel. I support Israel not because I am a Christian—though nothing in my Christian beliefs would preclude that support—but because that support coincides with the requirements of justice and the defense of the American national interest. 

That strikes me as quite right. In a region filled with despots and massive violations of human rights, Israel is the great, shining exception. Indeed, based on the evidence all around us, it is clear that Israel, more than any nation on earth, is held not simply to a double standard but to an impossible standard. Its own sacrifices for peace, which exceed those of any other country, are constantly overlooked even as the brutal acts of its enemies are excused. (I offer a very brief historical account of things here.)

Israel is far from perfect—but it is, in the totality of its acts, among the most estimable and impressive nations in human history. Its achievements and moral accomplishments are staggering—which is why, in my judgment, evangelical Christians should keep faith with the Jewish state. Set aside for now one’s view about the end times and God’s covenantal relationship with Israel. Israel warrants support based on the here and now; on what it stands for and what it stands against and what its enemies stand for and against; and for reasons of simple justice. What is required to counteract the anti-Israel narrative and propaganda campaign is a large-scale effort at education, not simply with dry facts but in a manner that tells a remarkable and moving story. That captures the moral imagination of evangelicals, most especially young evangelicals.

I’m sure some evangelical Christians would appreciate it if more American Jews showed more gratitude toward them for their support of Israel over the years. But frankly that matters very little to me, and here’s why: What ought to decide where one falls in this debate on Israel are not the shadows but the sunlight. On seeing history for what it is rather than committing a gross disfigurement of it. And on aligning one’s views, as best as one can, with truth and facts, starting with this one: The problem isn’t with Israel’s unwillingness to negotiate or even any dispute over territory (Israel has repeatedly proved it is willing to part with land for real peace); it is with the Palestinians’ unwillingness to make their own inner peace with the existence of a Jewish state.

The suffering the Palestinian people (including Palestinian Christians) are enduring is real and ought to move one’s heart. Many Palestinians suffer from circumstances they didn’t create. And so sympathy for their plight is natural. But these circumstances they suffer under are fundamentally a creation not of Israel but of failed Palestinian leadership, which has so often been characterized by corruption and malevolence. Checkpoints and walls exist for a reason, as a response to Palestinian aggressions. Nor has anyone yet emerged among the Palestinian leadership who is either willing or able to alter a civic culture that foments an abhorrence of Jews and longs for the eradication of Israel. That is the sine qua non for progress. 

To my coreligionists I would simply point out an unpleasant truth: hatred for Israel is a burning fire throughout the world. Those of the Christian faith ought to be working to douse the flames rather than to intensify them.

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Cruz’s Critics Aren’t Just GOP Establishment

Senator Ted Cruz is the darling of the Republican base these days. Though most observers on both sides of the aisle consider the government shutdown he helped engineer to have been a disaster for his party, many conservatives love the fact that he was willing to fight the president and the Democrats to the last ditch on ObamaCare. Some even believe his claim that had everyone in the GOP drunk the Kool-Aid he was handing out in the Capitol, the tactic would have succeeded even if there is no rational reason to think so. More importantly, many think that any Republican who warned that the shutdown was a dumb tactic without a chance of success is a RINO traitor and part of the problem in Washington to which the Texas freshman is the only solution.

This Cruz-inspired schism seems to be the main topic for discussion about the Republican Party these days, and made the Texan’s visit to Iowa this past weekend to give a speech a matter of more than passing political interest. His appearance in the first-in-the-nation caucus state highlighted the traction he has gained among Tea Partiers, and Cruz continued to milk it with barbed comments that were aimed just as much at less militant Republicans than they were at Obama and the Democrats. But when Rick Santorum called out Cruz on Meet the Press for hurting the party more than he helped it with the shutdown, it’s time to admit there is more going on in the GOP right now than a simple split between the Tea Party and the so-called party establishment.

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Senator Ted Cruz is the darling of the Republican base these days. Though most observers on both sides of the aisle consider the government shutdown he helped engineer to have been a disaster for his party, many conservatives love the fact that he was willing to fight the president and the Democrats to the last ditch on ObamaCare. Some even believe his claim that had everyone in the GOP drunk the Kool-Aid he was handing out in the Capitol, the tactic would have succeeded even if there is no rational reason to think so. More importantly, many think that any Republican who warned that the shutdown was a dumb tactic without a chance of success is a RINO traitor and part of the problem in Washington to which the Texas freshman is the only solution.

This Cruz-inspired schism seems to be the main topic for discussion about the Republican Party these days, and made the Texan’s visit to Iowa this past weekend to give a speech a matter of more than passing political interest. His appearance in the first-in-the-nation caucus state highlighted the traction he has gained among Tea Partiers, and Cruz continued to milk it with barbed comments that were aimed just as much at less militant Republicans than they were at Obama and the Democrats. But when Rick Santorum called out Cruz on Meet the Press for hurting the party more than he helped it with the shutdown, it’s time to admit there is more going on in the GOP right now than a simple split between the Tea Party and the so-called party establishment.

Just a year and a half ago Santorum was leading the opposition to the establishment in the Republican presidential primaries. Though he failed to stop the Mitt Romney juggernaut, the long-shot candidate won Iowa and several other primaries and caucuses on his way to being the runner-up in the GOP race. Santorum clearly hopes to try again in 2016 and that explains, at least in part, his willingness to criticize a potential opponent like Cruz.

But in doing so, he illustrated that there are more than just two factions within the GOP. Cruz may be the leading spokesman for the Tea Party critique of Washington Republicans’ inability to defeat ObamaCare and the rest of the liberal project. But Santorum’s ability to tap into working-class resentments of a party that seems at times to be dominated by big business as well as his ability to speak for social conservatives should remind us that there are elements in the party outside of Capitol Hill or K Street that are not solely motivated by Cruz’s concerns about small government.

Of course, there is a great deal of overlap between Santorum’s core constituency and those who are attracted to Cruz. The same can also be said of many of the Republicans who supposedly fall into the category of establishment supporters because of their disdain for the shutdown strategy. Almost all Republicans these days want smaller government and oppose ObamaCare. But it needs to be understood that many of those who were appalled at the party’s embrace of a big-business establishment-type figure like Romney are not necessarily going to jump on Cruz’s bandwagon or accept his single-minded tactics that brand anyone who isn’t ready to follow him into every fight, no matter how quixotic, as a closet liberal.

Santorum’s dogged social conservatism seems the antithesis of the belief of a RINO, but even he understood that the gap between what he conceded was Cruz’s “laudable” goal of eliminating ObamaCare and a coherent plan to accomplish it was huge.

Moreover, Santorum reminded Republicans that the notion that Cruz is the face of the Republican Party today is laughable.

Unlike the Democratic Party, which has the president, there isn’t a leader in the Republican Party right now. That’s part of the reason for the mess and the confusion in the party. But that’s always the way it is with a party out of power. You have lots of different faces and those faces, as we’ve seen, they come and they go.

Santorum is hoping that his time as a leading Republican isn’t in the past tense, but we won’t know that for sure until we see whether his brand of religious conservatism can hold its own against that of Cruz, Rand Paul, or even Marco Rubio or Chris Christie. But while the latter may be the stand-in for Romney for GOP voters, the others will be battling each other for a share of the conservative vote.

The point here is not that Santorum or any of the other potential candidates can beat Cruz. Rather, the point to be gleaned from this exchange is that for all of Cruz’s recent notoriety, he is just one man in a party full of potential presidents with a variety of conservative constituencies rather than a mere standoff between Cruz’s rebels and the establishment. Those who think the only real story about the Republicans in the coming years is whether Cruz will lead a successful purge of all who opposed him are missing that.

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Just Don’t Tell the President

When Harry Truman was getting settled in the White House and catching up on all the information FDR kept from his vice president, his aide Harry Vaughan brought him a sampling of the FBI wiretaps in which Roosevelt indulged. FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover had opened something of a Pandora’s box with the wiretapping capability, which FDR utilized to spy on everyone he could–including the wife of a White House advisor, as Vaughan showed Truman.

“Tell them I don’t authorize any such thing,” David McCullough quotes Truman as responding. Truman was offended by the casual eavesdropping and the blackmail that resulted from the activity. In his diary, he compared the FBI to the Gestapo, and he determined to significantly scale back Hoover’s activities. Here’s what Truman didn’t do: he didn’t wait until the snooping was discovered and made public and then pretend he had no idea what was going on. Barack Obama would do well to read up on his Truman. Obama, as the Wall Street Journal reports, is responding to the latest NSA revelations, which allege that the U.S. listened in on the phone calls of world leaders like Germany’s Angela Merkel, the same way he responds to every scandal: he claims to have no idea what is taking place within his administration. From the Journal:

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When Harry Truman was getting settled in the White House and catching up on all the information FDR kept from his vice president, his aide Harry Vaughan brought him a sampling of the FBI wiretaps in which Roosevelt indulged. FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover had opened something of a Pandora’s box with the wiretapping capability, which FDR utilized to spy on everyone he could–including the wife of a White House advisor, as Vaughan showed Truman.

“Tell them I don’t authorize any such thing,” David McCullough quotes Truman as responding. Truman was offended by the casual eavesdropping and the blackmail that resulted from the activity. In his diary, he compared the FBI to the Gestapo, and he determined to significantly scale back Hoover’s activities. Here’s what Truman didn’t do: he didn’t wait until the snooping was discovered and made public and then pretend he had no idea what was going on. Barack Obama would do well to read up on his Truman. Obama, as the Wall Street Journal reports, is responding to the latest NSA revelations, which allege that the U.S. listened in on the phone calls of world leaders like Germany’s Angela Merkel, the same way he responds to every scandal: he claims to have no idea what is taking place within his administration. From the Journal:

Officials said the internal review turned up NSA monitoring of some 35 world leaders, in the U.S. government’s first public acknowledgment that it tapped the phones of world leaders. European leaders have joined international outrage over revelations of U.S. surveillance of Ms. Merkel’s phone and of NSA’s monitoring of telephone call data in France.

The White House cut off some monitoring programs after learning of them, including the one tracking Ms. Merkel and some other world leaders, a senior U.S. official said. Other programs have been slated for termination but haven’t been phased out completely yet, officials said.

The account suggests President Barack Obama went nearly five years without knowing his own spies were bugging the phones of world leaders. Officials said the NSA has so many eavesdropping operations under way that it wouldn’t have been practical to brief him on all of them.

If the administration thinks this is “plausible deniability,” the Obama team has lost touch with reality. Was the president briefed on national security for five years without knowing that these intelligence briefings were the result of, you know, intelligence collected by his intelligence agencies? Is the argument that the most sensitive and potentially embarrassing intelligence procedures do not require his approval? At what point does Obama think it becomes necessary for him to admit that, yes, he’s the president?

The more troubling question, however, is: Why does the president think this is an appropriate response to every controversy? The president took some criticism last week for the administration’s claim that Obama didn’t know the degree to which his signature achievement, which bears his name, was at great risk of melting down immediately upon launch.

Yet as the Journal also reported last night, the president actually does have plausible deniability on ObamaCare because no one knew who was in charge:

As it becomes clear that no single leader oversaw implementation of the health law’s signature online marketplace—a complex software project that would have been difficult under the best circumstances—the accounts of more than a dozen current and former officials show how a disjointed bureaucracy led to the site’s disastrous Oct. 1 launch.

It would be easy to blame bureaucracy again and leave it at that. But the problem is more endemic to modern liberalism’s governing philosophy. Another way of saying “plausible deniability,” after all, is “lack of accountability.” Bureaucracies are so often incompatible with healthy democracy precisely because they provide plausible deniability, which in turn incentivizes government ineptitude.

The pursuit of deniability makes bureaucracy an inviting refuge for an aspiring government official determined to shift the blame for anything that happens on his watch. It’s especially attractive to someone, like Barack Obama, who always wants to appear to be an outsider taking on the establishment. Yet that same “deep state” structure he claims to be appalled by is where he takes shelter every time there’s a controversy to disown.

Sometimes the deniability the president claims is believable, sometimes it isn’t. But it’s a poor excuse because it reveals his desperate avoidance of accountability. That the president is out of the loop is one thing; that he’s there by choice is quite another.

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Venezuela’s Ministry of Happiness

“Orwellian” is an oft-misused term, mainly because those who employ it forget that it properly applies to closed societies, rather than open ones. For that same reason, “Orwellian” is the most appropriate adjective to describe Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s announcement that he has created a new “Ministry of Supreme Social Happiness,” a body that could quite easily feature in one of 1984 narrator Winston Smith’s surreptitious diary entries.

The ministry’s creation rather underlines the fact that, after enduring fourteen years of chavismo, Venezuela is a supremely unhappy society. Despite sitting atop the world’s largest reserves of oil, the country that could have been Latin America’s powerhouse is instead a basket case. Oil revenues are either squandered, for example through the annual provision of around $12 billion of heavily-subsidized oil to communist Cuba, or used to settle foreign debts, as in the case of China, which has lent $42.5 billion to Venezuela over the last six years, and which now receives close to 600,000 barrels of oil per day as repayment. Ironically, only the much-maligned United States, which receives about 800,000 barrels of Venezuelan oil per day, pays for its imports in cash.

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“Orwellian” is an oft-misused term, mainly because those who employ it forget that it properly applies to closed societies, rather than open ones. For that same reason, “Orwellian” is the most appropriate adjective to describe Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s announcement that he has created a new “Ministry of Supreme Social Happiness,” a body that could quite easily feature in one of 1984 narrator Winston Smith’s surreptitious diary entries.

The ministry’s creation rather underlines the fact that, after enduring fourteen years of chavismo, Venezuela is a supremely unhappy society. Despite sitting atop the world’s largest reserves of oil, the country that could have been Latin America’s powerhouse is instead a basket case. Oil revenues are either squandered, for example through the annual provision of around $12 billion of heavily-subsidized oil to communist Cuba, or used to settle foreign debts, as in the case of China, which has lent $42.5 billion to Venezuela over the last six years, and which now receives close to 600,000 barrels of oil per day as repayment. Ironically, only the much-maligned United States, which receives about 800,000 barrels of Venezuelan oil per day, pays for its imports in cash.

The rot eating away at Venezuela’s oil sector–run, for the last decade, by regime loyalists after the professional bureaucrats who administered the national oil company, PDVSA, were ruthlessly purged by the late Hugo Chavez–has spread to the rest of the country in dramatic fashion. Back in September, a power outage plunged 70 percent of the country, including the capital, Caracas, into darkness. Industry analysts blamed poor management practices for the interruption of the electricity supply, while the regime pointed its finger at the CIA and at the leader of the opposition MUD coalition, Henrique Capriles. Exactly the same response is offered when it comes to explaining the other woes, like shortages of basic foodstuffs and household items like toilet paper, that are plaguing the country.

The Happiness Ministry is, therefore, Maduro’s way of acknowledging that support for the Chavez model of revolution is being eroded among precisely those whom it is meant to benefit. Chavez’s program of creating “social missions” among the poorest demographics was, from the beginning, funded by a combination of external debt and misuse of oil revenues. In exchange, it guaranteed him the political loyalties and votes that Maduro is now desperate to shore up, which is why the new ministry will be in charge of coordinating the 33 missions, which cover a range of areas from improving literacy to building cheap public housing.

The opposition has countered that Maduro’s strategy is all about politics, since there is little, if any, economic logic here. Accusing anyone who stands up to him of “sabotage” conveniently masks the obvious point that these social missions cannot be indefinitely sustained. And that is why, after the September power outage, the regime’s immediate response was to deploy agents of the SEBIN secret police “across the nation to protect the population.”

With the December 8 municipal elections on the horizon, Maduro is anxious to deny the opposition the opportunity of turning the vote into a national referendum on his rule. Mindful of the widespread allegations of fraud that marked Maduro’s victory in the April presidential election, the opposition parliamentarian Maria Corina Machado–who was brutally assaulted in the National Assembly after she accused Maduro of rigging the vote–has warned that “suspending the vote or scheming up an outright fraud should not be excluded from the options of the National Electoral Council (CNE).”

Intimidating voters is another tactic which the regime has used to its advantage in the recent past. Just before he announced the creation of the Happiness Ministry, Maduro declared that the elections on December 8 would be trumped by something much more important: “a day of loyalty and love for Hugo Chavez,” as he put it, as well as a reminder that the “only enemies of the country are the ‘evil trilogy’”–Henrique Capriles, Leopoldo Lopez, and Maria Corina Machado–“who have been commissioned to sabotage electricity, food and unleash an economic war.” Anyone arriving at the voting stations on December 8 can expect to be greeted by red-shirted chavistas brandishing pictures of Chavez, exactly as happened during the April vote, when these same operatives were filmed ushering voters into the polling booths to “assist” them with their electronic ballots.

If anyone remains unconvinced that Maduro is using Chavez’s legacy to set up a full-fledged dictatorship, look no further than his proposed Enabling Law, ostensibly designed to fight corruption and economic decline. As the dissident blogger Daniel Duquenal points out, when the chavistas came to power, one dollar was exchanged for 50 Bolivars: fourteen years later, it’s 50,000 Bolivars and rising. In analyzing how the passage of the law would enable Maduro to exercise complete control over the economy, Duquenal asks, “does anyone still think we are not in a dictatorship?” Actually, it’s impossible to think anything else.

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Is Iraq’s Present Afghanistan’s Future?

Back in 2011, President Obama tried briefly and not very hard to attain a Status of Forces Agreement that would have allowed U.S. forces to remain in Iraq past 2011. That effort failed, as we know, with disastrous consequences–the civil war that was all but extinguished by the surge in 2007-2008 has reignited with a vengeance as al-Qaeda in Iraq has come roaring back from the grave. As the Washington Post notes, recent violence in Iraq “has virtually erased the security gains made in the past five years. More than 5,300 Iraqis have been killed this year.”

There are many reasons why the U.S.-Iraq accord failed to be completed. One of the less noticed but more important was Obama’s unwillingness to send more than a few thousand U.S. troops to Iraq in spite of U.S. commanders’ recommendations that he send at least 15,000 to 20,000. Many Iraqi politicians figured that a commitment of fewer than 5,000 U.S. troops would be mainly symbolic and ineffectual and would not be worth the resulting political controversy.

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Back in 2011, President Obama tried briefly and not very hard to attain a Status of Forces Agreement that would have allowed U.S. forces to remain in Iraq past 2011. That effort failed, as we know, with disastrous consequences–the civil war that was all but extinguished by the surge in 2007-2008 has reignited with a vengeance as al-Qaeda in Iraq has come roaring back from the grave. As the Washington Post notes, recent violence in Iraq “has virtually erased the security gains made in the past five years. More than 5,300 Iraqis have been killed this year.”

There are many reasons why the U.S.-Iraq accord failed to be completed. One of the less noticed but more important was Obama’s unwillingness to send more than a few thousand U.S. troops to Iraq in spite of U.S. commanders’ recommendations that he send at least 15,000 to 20,000. Many Iraqi politicians figured that a commitment of fewer than 5,000 U.S. troops would be mainly symbolic and ineffectual and would not be worth the resulting political controversy.

Is history repeating itself in Afghanistan? It’s too soon to say, but there is cause for concern when one reads articles like this one in the New York Times today reporting that “NATO has endorsed an enduring presence of 8,000 to 12,000 troops, with two-thirds expected to be American.” That translates into 5,300 to 8,000 U.S. troops, considerably below the 13,600 that Gen. Jim Mattis, former commander of Central Command, estimated to be necessary–and that itself was a low-ball estimate in the judgment of many military experts.

At some point there is a real risk of Afghan politicos, like their Iraqi counterparts, deciding there is no point in having their sovereignty violated and being exposed to anti-American criticism in return for a token force that can accomplish little. If that were to happen, the future of Afghanistan isn’t hard to imagine. Just look at Iraq today–only Afghanistan will probably be worse off because it faces a more malignant insurgency with more entrenched cross-border bases and its government and security forces are weaker than their Iraqi counterparts.

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