Commentary Magazine


Posts For: November 7, 2013

Kerry Tips the Scales Against Israel

The slow-motion failure that is the revived Middle East peace process sponsored by Secretary of State John Kerry is stumbling along with no sign of anything that might be considered progress by anyone’s definition. That this is so was eminently predictable, given the fact that the Palestinians are divided between Fatah and Hamas and unwilling to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state, while under these circumstances the Israelis are loath to allow the West Bank become another Gaza. Indeed, just about everyone other than Kerry knew this was the case and pushing the parties back to the table at this point was bound to cause more trouble than any good that might come from it.

But the fact that his critics are being proven right seems to be angering Kerry, and he vented his spleen about this today in an interview on Israel’s Channel 2. But rather than seeking to jolt the Palestinians into a realistic view of their options or even giving a “plague on both your houses” approach in which he sought to preserve his status as an honest broker, Kerry threw caution to the winds and launched into a full-bore attack on the Israeli government and even the Israeli people for refusing to obey him by making concessions to the Palestinians.

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The slow-motion failure that is the revived Middle East peace process sponsored by Secretary of State John Kerry is stumbling along with no sign of anything that might be considered progress by anyone’s definition. That this is so was eminently predictable, given the fact that the Palestinians are divided between Fatah and Hamas and unwilling to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state, while under these circumstances the Israelis are loath to allow the West Bank become another Gaza. Indeed, just about everyone other than Kerry knew this was the case and pushing the parties back to the table at this point was bound to cause more trouble than any good that might come from it.

But the fact that his critics are being proven right seems to be angering Kerry, and he vented his spleen about this today in an interview on Israel’s Channel 2. But rather than seeking to jolt the Palestinians into a realistic view of their options or even giving a “plague on both your houses” approach in which he sought to preserve his status as an honest broker, Kerry threw caution to the winds and launched into a full-bore attack on the Israeli government and even the Israeli people for refusing to obey him by making concessions to the Palestinians.

Kerry’s main concern remains Israeli settlements, a term by which he clearly means not only Jewish towns in the West Bank but Jewish neighborhoods in parts of Jerusalem. He rejected the idea that by agreeing to come back to the negotiating table without an Israeli building freeze in these areas the Palestinians agreed to accept any incremental increase in the number of homes or Jews located there. More than that, as the Times of Israel reported, he seems to be placing all of the blame for the lack of peace on the settlements:

We do not believe the settlements are legitimate. We think they’re illegitimate. And we believe that the entire peace process would in fact be easier if these settlements were not taking place. …

“Let me ask you something. How, if you say you’re working for peace and you want peace, and a Palestine that is a whole Palestine that belongs to the people who live there, how can you say we’re planning to build in a place that will eventually be Palestine? So it sends a message that perhaps you’re not really serious.

This is significant not just because it places all the emphasis on the existence of settlements and none on the need of the Palestinians to renounce a “right of return” for the descendants of the 1948 refugees or their non-recognition of Israel as the Jewish state—moves that would signal an end to the conflict rather than merely a pause in it. It is also important because although later in the interview he said the formula for peace would involve land swaps, here he is speaking as if all of the West Bank and part of Jerusalem is, in principle, part of the putative state of Palestine. This illustrates the danger of using the 1967 lines as the starting point for negotiations since both the U.S. and the Palestinians are clearly taking any deviation from the dangerous borders that led to the Six-Day War as the given rather than a point to be negotiated. Moreover, in doing so he’s claiming that all of the areas that every peace processor has always assumed would stay within Israel will be Palestine.

In fact almost all of the building plans that he is complaining about are in Jerusalem neighborhoods and settlement blocs close to the old border where hundreds of thousands of Jews live and that no Israeli government will ever surrender. By speaking in this manner, Kerry seems to be undermining the entire idea of land swaps that peace advocates have counted on.

But Kerry is not only tilting heavily toward the Palestinian talking points; he’s also not shy about threatening Israel with Palestinian violence if they don’t do as he says.

Asking Israelis “if they wanted another intifada,” Kerry went on to claim they had no choice but to surrender:

“If we do not resolve the question of settlements,” he added, “and the question of who lives where and how and what rights they have; if we don’t end the presence of Israeli soldiers perpetually within the West Bank, then there will be an increasing feeling that if we cannot get peace with a leadership that is committed to non-violence, you may wind up with leadership that is committed to violence.”

Kerry also chided the majority of Israelis who have rightly concluded after the Palestinians rejected peace offers and responded to concessions with terror that their only option is to defend themselves and to wait for their neighbors’ culture of violence and hate to change:

“Well, I’ve got news for you,” he said, referring to the Israeli public. “Today’s status quo will not be tomorrow’s or next year’s. Because if we don’t resolve this issue, the Arab world, the Palestinians, neighbors, others, are going to begin again to push in a different way.”

Even worse than that, when Israeli reporter Udi Sagal asked him to speak to the pain and horror that Israelis feel when they see the man that he calls a non-violent peace partner embracing and honoring murderers of children, such as the terrorists that he pressured Netanyahu to release, he had no criticisms to make of Mahmoud Abbas or the Palestinians who cheer such criminals. Nor did he utter a single word of comfort for the families of Israeli victims of terror who must now see their killers honored as heroes:

“It’s very difficult. Look, I have no illusions. I know that the vast majority of people in Israel are opposed [to these releases]. I understand that. Prime Minister Netanyahu understands that. And it is a sign of his seriousness that he was willing to make this decision.

In other words, if Israelis don’t like killers of their children being acclaimed by the people who supposedly want peace, they can lump it.

Even before his latest intervention, there was a good chance the Palestinians would use the eventual collapse of these talks as an excuse for more violence. But now they more or less have Kerry’s seal of approval for such behavior. While American diplomats have made some terrible mistakes in the last 20 years in pursuit of Middle East peace, it’s hard to recall a precedent for this sort of incompetence.

Kerry’s obsessive pursuit of Israeli-Palestinian peace is based on his assumption that squaring this circle will magically solve all of America’s other problems in the region. But as we have learned in recent years, the crisis in Syria and Egypt as well as the nuclear danger from Iran—which he hopes to deal with via appeasement—have nothing to do with the complaints of the Palestinians.

Perhaps President Obama seems generally not terribly involved in these negotiations, a strategy that is probably rooted in a desire to avoid any blame for the fool’s errand that Kerry has embarked upon. But he needs to wake up and understand that what his errant secretary of state is doing is setting in place a template that is almost certain now to lead to a blowup that will not easily be contained.

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De Blasio’s Advantage: No One Believes Him

The first lesson to take away from Bill de Blasio’s first-round victory in the Democratic primary and then nearly fifty-point landslide in the general election is that it is quite possible none of it would have taken place but for an early television ad starring his son, Dante. That ad introduced many voters to de Blasio’s diverse family, and he never looked back. The power of presentation seems much better appreciated on the left these days than the right.

More important, however, is the conventional wisdom slowly building about de Blasio’s intentions once in office. The New York Daily News’s insightful opinion editor Josh Greenman tweeted his instinct that de Blasio will treat crime prevention in New York the way Barack Obama treated anti-terrorism policy: “that pragmatism will trump principles to ensure security.” His column on the election, published at about the same time, expanded a bit:

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The first lesson to take away from Bill de Blasio’s first-round victory in the Democratic primary and then nearly fifty-point landslide in the general election is that it is quite possible none of it would have taken place but for an early television ad starring his son, Dante. That ad introduced many voters to de Blasio’s diverse family, and he never looked back. The power of presentation seems much better appreciated on the left these days than the right.

More important, however, is the conventional wisdom slowly building about de Blasio’s intentions once in office. The New York Daily News’s insightful opinion editor Josh Greenman tweeted his instinct that de Blasio will treat crime prevention in New York the way Barack Obama treated anti-terrorism policy: “that pragmatism will trump principles to ensure security.” His column on the election, published at about the same time, expanded a bit:

While too much political friction brings paralysis, too little presents the opportunity for major mistakes. For the good of the city, de Blasio has to see this danger coming. He needs to get used to saying no to his friends, and even turning some of them into enemies. …

Similarly, de Blasio, who has made a career of channeling complaints about the NYPD, will soon be the commander-in-chief of those armed forces, responsible for driving the murder rate lower and holding the line on quality-of-life crimes.

Deep down, despite all his criticism of Bloomberg, de Blasio knows: If he loses a handle on crime, the jig is up.

Indeed it is. De Blasio is unlikely to get himself a second term if he reminds New Yorkers of the bad old days of crime. But what’s more interesting, and no doubt frustrating to conservatives, is the fact that progressives who run on dismantling successful security policies get elected because these days, voters just don’t believe them. Maybe it’s the Obama effect: years of shamelessly vilifying the American national-security establishment turned into obsessive targeted assassination, the surveillance state on steroids, and a third and nearly a fourth new military engagement in the Middle East once Obama grasped the levers of power.

There’s a certain amount of condescension in this view, probably unwarranted with regard to both Obama and de Blasio. Obama has always seemed to understand the difference between foreign entanglements, as he sees them, and domestic security. His tech-heavy campaigns and nanny-state addiction to control foreshadowed his policy agenda. For his part, de Blasio is an experienced political operative who has worked for both Clintons in New York–and for David Dinkins, whose failed mayoralty resulted from the last time New Yorkers elected a Democratic mayor.

De Blasio capitalized on the public’s Bloomberg fatigue, but even the outgoing mayor, having been a campaign target, told the New York Times after the two met post-election that he wasn’t sure de Blasio was silly enough to govern as he campaigned:

Still, Mr. Bloomberg offered a hint that his successor may find governing a metropolis to be slightly more complicated than the more abstract terrain of a political campaign.

“He’s got to make his own decisions,” Mr. Bloomberg said. “Some things will look easy, and then he gets into them, he’ll find them more difficult, and maybe he’ll change his mind.”

There’s that condescension again, as the Times translates Bloomberg’s message: governing is “slightly more complicated” than not governing. De Blasio is getting the Obama treatment at this point. The true liberal governing agenda is so reckless that most people on the left just assume liberals are making empty promises, and those on the right hope they are.

It’s the strange reality of post-9/11 politics, and a testament to the success of figures like Rudy Giuliani. New York has suffered through periods in which it was difficult to imagine the city at or near its true potential. It is now difficult for New Yorkers to imagine that mindset, thanks in large part to the public servants who helped rescue the city from the Dinkins era. It is characteristic of this new confidence–which borders, at times, on a very un-New York complacency–that few are willing to believe a progressive will govern as a progressive, that liberalism is fun in theory but there are too many lives at stake to put it into practice.

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Backing Away From Iran Sanctions

When the Obama administration began to contemplate testing the Iranians this summer after the “election” of Hassan Rouhani as their new president, it reassured both the American people and U.S. allies that it would not overreact to the charm offensive that event launched. The president and Secretary of State John Kerry promised that there would be no move to dismantle the economic sanctions that had been implemented against the Islamist regime for anything short of an agreement that would end Tehran’s nuclear threat. But it as it headed back to round two of the reconstituted P5+1 nuclear talks today in Geneva, the administration is steering in exactly the direction it said it would never contemplate. As the Washington Post reports, the United States has agreed to offer Iran an interim deal that would begin the process of dismantling the sanctions in exchange for a temporary freeze in uranium enrichment on the part of the Islamist regime.

Defenders of this strategy, including Kerry, say this is not appeasement or a step toward containment rather than stopping Iran’s nuclear program. It is, they claim, merely a finely calibrated effort to coax the Iranians back from the brink that would give them limited carrots in exchange for real progress toward making them give up their nuclear dreams. But even if the administration’s motives here are pure, what they are proposing is a path to let Iran off the hook, not a diplomatic solution to a threat posed to the West, the Arab world and the State of Israel.

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When the Obama administration began to contemplate testing the Iranians this summer after the “election” of Hassan Rouhani as their new president, it reassured both the American people and U.S. allies that it would not overreact to the charm offensive that event launched. The president and Secretary of State John Kerry promised that there would be no move to dismantle the economic sanctions that had been implemented against the Islamist regime for anything short of an agreement that would end Tehran’s nuclear threat. But it as it headed back to round two of the reconstituted P5+1 nuclear talks today in Geneva, the administration is steering in exactly the direction it said it would never contemplate. As the Washington Post reports, the United States has agreed to offer Iran an interim deal that would begin the process of dismantling the sanctions in exchange for a temporary freeze in uranium enrichment on the part of the Islamist regime.

Defenders of this strategy, including Kerry, say this is not appeasement or a step toward containment rather than stopping Iran’s nuclear program. It is, they claim, merely a finely calibrated effort to coax the Iranians back from the brink that would give them limited carrots in exchange for real progress toward making them give up their nuclear dreams. But even if the administration’s motives here are pure, what they are proposing is a path to let Iran off the hook, not a diplomatic solution to a threat posed to the West, the Arab world and the State of Israel.

The conceit of the proposal is, in the words of the Post’s anonymous administration source, to put “time back on the clock” by halting any further Iranian progress toward a bomb. That gives more room for diplomatic efforts as well as relieving the pressure on the West to act before it is too late. But while that seems to make a lot of sense, in practice it could work to undermine the goal that the president has been articulating since before he took office.

Iran saying that it has frozen enrichment is one thing. Making sure that they are abiding by such a pledge is quite another. The Iranians have repeatedly shown themselves to be very good at hiding their nuclear plants and equipment while inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency are left to chase their tails or kept outside the country. Just as the North Koreans lied and cheated their way to a nuclear bomb, it doesn’t take much imagination to conceive of how Iran could do the same.

But while the Iranians could easily be cheating on their pledge and keep some of their centrifuges spinning, the West would be keeping its word and easing up the pressure on the ayatollahs. Even worse, while Iran could resume uranium enrichment—as well as research on a plutonium alternative—any time it liked, the cumbersome sanctions process is not so easily turned on and off. Europe, like the Obama administration, was slow to impose tough sanctions (the U.S. only did so at the insistence of Congress over the protests of the White House). Once they start to unravel, it is almost impossible to imagine how they will be put back into place. That is especially true once these governments assure their people that diplomacy is working. Nothing, not even blatant Iranian cheating, is likely to be enough to motivate either Europe or President Obama to go back to them, let alone to toughen them, as Congress now rightly would like to do.

As I wrote yesterday, since it is understood that sanctions forced Iran to negotiate, it is simply illogical to assume that further economic pressure will scare them away from the table. But once unraveled, even if it is only supposed to happen for a limited period, it is not likely that we will ever see them put back together.

With each passing day, it is clear that the administration’s real priority with Iran is to avoid having to take action, not stopping the threat of an Iranian bomb. While it is right to argue that no stone should be left unturned in an effort to solve the problem by methods short of war, by undermining their negotiation position in this manner they are guaranteeing that diplomacy will fail. If that is not their intention, they need to refrain from measures that will only encourage the Iranians to believe they can’t be stopped.

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Britain Pushes Back on Snowden

Edward Snowden’s defenders–and, alas, he has many, even after he has shown his true colors by taking refuge in Vladimir Putin’s illiberal fiefdom–claim that he is not damaging American security but simply fostering a much-needed debate about once-secret NSA surveillance.

That’s not how our British allies see it. The chiefs of the major British intelligence agencies–MI5, MI6, and GCHQ (Government Communications Headquarters, the British counterpart to NSA)–have just testified before Parliament that his leaks have done grave harm to British security and aided al-Qaeda. The New York Times reports:

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Edward Snowden’s defenders–and, alas, he has many, even after he has shown his true colors by taking refuge in Vladimir Putin’s illiberal fiefdom–claim that he is not damaging American security but simply fostering a much-needed debate about once-secret NSA surveillance.

That’s not how our British allies see it. The chiefs of the major British intelligence agencies–MI5, MI6, and GCHQ (Government Communications Headquarters, the British counterpart to NSA)–have just testified before Parliament that his leaks have done grave harm to British security and aided al-Qaeda. The New York Times reports:

“The leaks from Snowden have been very damaging, and they’ve put our operations at risk,” said John Sawers, the head of the foreign intelligence service, MI6. “It’s clear that our adversaries are rubbing their hands with glee. Al Qaeda is lapping it up.”

Iain Lobban, the director of the eavesdropping agency, the Government Communications Headquarters, said terrorist groups in Afghanistan, South Asia and the Middle East “and closer to home” have discussed the Snowden revelations. They have assessed “the communications packages they use now and the communication packages they wish to move to,” he said, “to avoid what they now perceive to be vulnerable communications methods.”

Mr. Lobban called that “a direct consequence” of the leaks, adding: “Yes, I can say that explicitly. The cumulative effect of global media coverage will make our job far, far harder for years to come.”

Naturally Snowden and his acolytes will dispute such claims as being self-serving propaganda from unaccountable spy chiefs. And really there is no way to prove the damage Snowden has done. Even if terrorist plots are carried out in the future and innocents die, there is no assurance they would have been disrupted if Snowden had not come forward to inform the whole world of the NSA’s capabilities.

But at the very least let us not compound the damage that this arrogant traitor–who takes upon himself the role of determining which intelligence operations are legitimate and which are not–has done by curbing or shutting down the NSA’s surveillance. As they used to say after 9/11: that would be allowing the terrorists to win.

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Christie’s Rivals Should Pipe Down

It is to be expected that those who are likely to oppose Chris Christie for the 2016 presidential nomination are not joining in the chorus of hosannas for the New Jersey governor after his landslide reelection on Tuesday. But the transparent nature of the carping being thrown in his direction by some of them is not doing them or their future prospects much good. As Rand Paul, his father Ron, and Marco Rubio proved, sometimes you’re better off not trying to rain on the other guy’s parade even if every fiber of your being is impelling you to do so.

Among the top political viral videos from yesterday was Senator Paul’s rant aimed at Christie during a Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Subcommittee meeting. Picking up the gauntlet thrown down a year ago by Christie about conservatives stalling a Hurricane Sandy relief bill, Paul groused about some of the aid money being spent on tourism ads encouraging people to visit the Jersey Shore in the summer after the disaster. While Paul tried to make an issue about federal aid being spent on ads, his real problem was the fact that the ads featured an appearance by somebody “running for office” (named Chris Christie) and went on to complain about this being a “conflict of interest.” While he might have had a small point, it was lost amid his obvious ill humor at anything that might have done his potential rival a spot of good.

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It is to be expected that those who are likely to oppose Chris Christie for the 2016 presidential nomination are not joining in the chorus of hosannas for the New Jersey governor after his landslide reelection on Tuesday. But the transparent nature of the carping being thrown in his direction by some of them is not doing them or their future prospects much good. As Rand Paul, his father Ron, and Marco Rubio proved, sometimes you’re better off not trying to rain on the other guy’s parade even if every fiber of your being is impelling you to do so.

Among the top political viral videos from yesterday was Senator Paul’s rant aimed at Christie during a Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Subcommittee meeting. Picking up the gauntlet thrown down a year ago by Christie about conservatives stalling a Hurricane Sandy relief bill, Paul groused about some of the aid money being spent on tourism ads encouraging people to visit the Jersey Shore in the summer after the disaster. While Paul tried to make an issue about federal aid being spent on ads, his real problem was the fact that the ads featured an appearance by somebody “running for office” (named Chris Christie) and went on to complain about this being a “conflict of interest.” While he might have had a small point, it was lost amid his obvious ill humor at anything that might have done his potential rival a spot of good.

Let’s specify that the practice of incumbent governors, including those running for reelection, appearing on their state’s tourism ads is a bit cheesy. But it is something that virtually all of them do and few people have ever bothered to complain about it. But for Paul to claim that trying to convince people in neighboring states that generally spend part of their summers at New Jersey’s beach and boardwalk towns that the region had recovered sufficiently from the hurricane was a waste of federal aid dollars is a weak argument. Taken altogether, the sour manner in which Paul lashed out at Christie didn’t hurt the governor and only made the senator, who has been taking shots over alleged plagiarism charges lately, look like a sore loser.

The same could be said of Paul’s father going on Fox News to predict that all the praise being thrown Christie’s way was pointless because he was just another “McCain and Romney.” That’ll be a talking point for Christie’s opponents in 2016, but does anyone—even the most hardcore libertarian Paulbots—think Christie is, as the elder Paul says, “wishy washy?” That kind of rhetoric is not likely to persuade many conservatives to vote for his son Rand.

Just as awkward was the dance that Marco Rubio tried to do when asked about Christie by Dana Bash on CNN yesterday. Unlike the Pauls, Rubio tried hard not to sound like a jerk. He congratulated Christie, praised him as a tough competitor, and said he has a good relationship with him and likes the governor. But his attempt to downplay the significance of Christie’s win again was the part of the interview that got the most play and it betrayed the senator’s obvious discomfort at the way Christie has become the national political flavor of the month.

With more than two years to go before a single vote is cast in a Republican primary or caucus, Christie will have plenty of opportunities to flip-flop on a key issue or to display his famously thin skin and hair-trigger temper. But right now, the best thing his GOP rivals can do is to pipe down and let him enjoy the moment. Getting in the middle of the discussion about Christie’s ability to win the votes of demographic sectors that don’t normally vote Republican is an invitation to a bad sound bite for anyone thinking of running against him.

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Candidates, Not Process, Is the Key for GOP

A year ago, their defeat in the presidential election set off an understandable bout of introspection in many Republicans. This week’s defeat of GOP candidate Ken Cuccinelli in the Virginia governor’s race has set off another round of arguments about how the party can avoid the same fate in the future. However, some of the advice Republicans are getting is not likely to help them much. In particular, the recriminations about Cuccinelli’s campaign and the way he won his party’s nomination ignore the real problems of the GOP both in Virginia and elsewhere. One example of this is the New York Times’s front-page story today titled “GOP Weighs Limiting Clout of Right Wing.” The conceit of the story is that Cuccinelli’s winning the Republican nod for governor was primarily due to the party’s decision to choose its candidate via a convention rather than an open primary. Since conventions are, by definition, less representative of the general public, that allows “fringe” candidates (i.e. Tea Partiers) to emerge. Establishment figures that have been tearing down Cuccinelli all year are thus cited to blame all the GOP’s woes on such “fringe” characters and their supporters dragging it down to defeat.

To say that this is an oversimplification of the matter is an understatement. As I’ve written previously, Cuccinelli’s big problem wasn’t that he was an extremist. Nor was he foisted on an unwilling Republican party by a tiny band of outliers. If Republicans are to fix what is wrong with their party, it will not be by procedural tricks to ensure that Tea Partiers don’t get nominated. Rather, it will be because they recruit and run better candidates and more professional campaigns on issues that resonate with voters. Everything else is inside baseball and more about factional score settling than advancing the cause of conservatism.

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A year ago, their defeat in the presidential election set off an understandable bout of introspection in many Republicans. This week’s defeat of GOP candidate Ken Cuccinelli in the Virginia governor’s race has set off another round of arguments about how the party can avoid the same fate in the future. However, some of the advice Republicans are getting is not likely to help them much. In particular, the recriminations about Cuccinelli’s campaign and the way he won his party’s nomination ignore the real problems of the GOP both in Virginia and elsewhere. One example of this is the New York Times’s front-page story today titled “GOP Weighs Limiting Clout of Right Wing.” The conceit of the story is that Cuccinelli’s winning the Republican nod for governor was primarily due to the party’s decision to choose its candidate via a convention rather than an open primary. Since conventions are, by definition, less representative of the general public, that allows “fringe” candidates (i.e. Tea Partiers) to emerge. Establishment figures that have been tearing down Cuccinelli all year are thus cited to blame all the GOP’s woes on such “fringe” characters and their supporters dragging it down to defeat.

To say that this is an oversimplification of the matter is an understatement. As I’ve written previously, Cuccinelli’s big problem wasn’t that he was an extremist. Nor was he foisted on an unwilling Republican party by a tiny band of outliers. If Republicans are to fix what is wrong with their party, it will not be by procedural tricks to ensure that Tea Partiers don’t get nominated. Rather, it will be because they recruit and run better candidates and more professional campaigns on issues that resonate with voters. Everything else is inside baseball and more about factional score settling than advancing the cause of conservatism.

Let’s specify that those who complain about state parties relying on conventions rather than primaries are absolutely right. The idea of reviving the proverbial smoke-filled rooms where party bosses dickered and chose candidates without bothering to gain the consent of the rank and file, let alone the voters, is absurd. It is, in general, a way for small unrepresentative groups—such as Ron Paul’s libertarian foot soldiers—to gain control of party structures that they could not obtain if they were forced to win primaries.

However, the state convention method used to pick Cuccinelli is not to blame for the ultimate Democratic victory. There’s every reason to believe the state attorney general would have beaten Lieutenant Governor Bill Bolling in a Republican primary, just as he did in the convention. The problem was that Bolling and his backers feared that he would lose a GOP primary so they sought to change the rules to turn such an election into an open vote in which independents and Democrats would also have a say in the Republican candidate rather than just members of the party. In response, Cuccinelli’s people reversed the decision and sought a convention that in addition to nominating him also gave him a genuine extremist as a running mate in the form of Minister E. W. Jackson, who did hurt the Republican campaign.

But the focus on process here is beside the point. As I wrote Tuesday night, had Cuccinelli’s Tea Party allies in Congress not shut down the government on October 1, that may have allowed the country more time to focus on the ObamaCare rollout disaster, a factor that might have allowed him to do better. But, Cuccinelli’s main problem in Virginia was the same faced by the more moderate Mitt Romney: the changing demographics in a state that has shifted from red to purple, if not blue, in the last generation.

Moreover, the narrative that the Tea Party is destroying the Republicans is a flimsy structure by which to explain everything that happens throughout the country. Not all Tea Partiers are bad electoral bets. In Utah, where Mike Lee upset incumbent Republican Bob Bennett in a 2012 state convention, that move had no impact on the GOP’s ability to hold a safe seat in a deep-red state. The same is true of Ted Cruz’s Texas primary victory in 2012 over a slightly less conservative Republican. The most flagrant instances where terrible Tea Party candidates have cost the GOP Senate seats—Sharon Angle in Nevada and Christine O’Donnell in Delaware—happened when both won primaries over more electable Republicans.

Instead of grousing about conventions, Republicans need to focus on recruiting able people to run for office in the future. What Republicans need is the same thing that Democrats want: good candidates. They come in a variety of sizes, shapes, and political hues. Smart, able people will always be able to beat fringe figures if properly vetted and backed with money and organization. Any diversion from that simple truth will only lead the Republicans back to the same circular firing squad that they seem to trot out every time they lose an election. 

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ObamaCare’s Crony Capitalism: Worse than We Thought

At times it seems like the sheer magnitude of bad news about ObamaCare can redound to its own benefit. It’s easy for individual pieces of bad news to get lost in the sea of failure that has characterized the Obama administration’s signature “achievement.” That might be the case with the most important story to appear about ObamaCare this week, from Tuesday’s edition of the New York Times.

The paper reported that the Obama administration has ruled that the federal health-care program be exempted from the category of laws considered “federal health care programs.” Now, this is obviously dishonest: the federal government is running insurance exchanges, funding health-care subsidies under the law, and employing federal workers to help manage the law–all of which are clearly “federal health care programs.” So why would the administration choose not to label them according to observable reality? Because, as the Times explained, this decision–believe it or not–exempts ObamaCare from kickback restrictions and anti-fraud protections:

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At times it seems like the sheer magnitude of bad news about ObamaCare can redound to its own benefit. It’s easy for individual pieces of bad news to get lost in the sea of failure that has characterized the Obama administration’s signature “achievement.” That might be the case with the most important story to appear about ObamaCare this week, from Tuesday’s edition of the New York Times.

The paper reported that the Obama administration has ruled that the federal health-care program be exempted from the category of laws considered “federal health care programs.” Now, this is obviously dishonest: the federal government is running insurance exchanges, funding health-care subsidies under the law, and employing federal workers to help manage the law–all of which are clearly “federal health care programs.” So why would the administration choose not to label them according to observable reality? Because, as the Times explained, this decision–believe it or not–exempts ObamaCare from kickback restrictions and anti-fraud protections:

The surprise decision, disclosed last week, exempts subsidized health insurance from a law that bans rebates, kickbacks, bribes and certain other financial arrangements in federal health programs, stripping law enforcement of a powerful tool used to fight fraud in other health care programs, like Medicare.

The main purpose of the anti-kickback law, as described by federal courts in scores of Medicare cases, is to protect patients and taxpayers against the undue influence of money on medical decisions. …

Under the Affordable Care Act, millions of people will be able to buy insurance from “qualified health plans” offered on exchanges, or marketplaces, run by the federal government and by some states.

Most of the buyers are expected to be eligible for subsidies to make insurance more affordable. The subsidies, paid directly to insurers from the United States Treasury, start in January and are expected to total more than $1 trillion over 10 years.

Ms. Sebelius said the Health and Human Services Department “does not consider” the subsidies to be federal health care programs. She reached the same conclusion with respect to federal and state exchanges, built with federal money, and with respect to “federally funded consumer assistance programs,” including the counselors, known as navigators, who help people shop for insurance and enroll in coverage through the exchanges.

This has two effects on the law: first, it encourages precisely the kickback schemes this statute was put in place to prevent; and second, it could easily produce an enormous financial burden on the government. The prescription drug “kickback” scheme is how federal law enforcement officials describe the practice in which drug companies give customers coupons to purchase their brand-name medications instead of lower-cost alternatives. The coupons reduce the cost for consumers, but not for insurers or government agencies paying out reimbursement costs. This creates a windfall for the drug companies at high cost to insurers and the government.

So why would the government actively facilitate corruption under ObamaCare, especially at the risk of ballooning its own costs and collapsing its budget estimates?

The answer has to do with the revelations of major drug companies’ cooperation with President Obama on shepherding ObamaCare to the finish line. In June 2012, the Wall Street Journal explained how this particular partnership formed. In 2009, drug companies were concerned that an Obama-led health-care reform effort would emphasize price controls and re-importation allowance–the latter being the process by which drugs sold cheaper abroad could be re-sold here, a case of foreign quasi-socialist health-care systems undermining the market forces in the U.S. that enable companies to be able to conduct the research and development that produces the drugs in the first place.

The administration worked out a deal with the pharmaceutical giants, but then Democratic Representative Henry Waxman demanded further concessions from the drug industry. The White House stepped in to protect them, and the drug companies responded with more pro-ObamaCare advertising.

That appeared to be the extent of the already-nauseating crony capitalism at the heart of ObamaCare. But the Times story suggests otherwise. And the inconsistency is the giveaway: the Justice Department is prosecuting high-profile companies (like Johnson & Johnson) for a practice the government plainly considers an illegal kickback scheme. And yet now that same government is giving the green light to the practice, which will be a financial boon to the companies that helped ObamaCare pass in the first place.

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The Crucial Question for John Kerry

Secretary of State John Kerry is currently in the Mideast to try to rescue faltering Israeli-Palestinian talks. But he would do better to take a break from his shuttle diplomacy and ponder the question Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu posed in a television interview this week: If the Palestinians “can’t even stand behind the agreements that we had, that we release prisoners but we continue building, then how can I see that they will actually stand by the larger issues that will require them far greater confrontation with received opinion and fixed positions in their society?”

Earlier this week, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas threatened that unless Israel halts construction in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, it “is likely to bring about the termination of the talks, without results” and “the situation is likely to explode.” The PA also threatened to seek action against Israel in international forums on account of this construction. But as Netanyahu correctly pointed out, Israel never promised a construction freeze as part of the deal Kerry brokered to relaunch the talks–something Kerry himself has confirmed. What Israel did promise was to free 104 Palestinian murderers in four installments, which have so far occurred on schedule.

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Secretary of State John Kerry is currently in the Mideast to try to rescue faltering Israeli-Palestinian talks. But he would do better to take a break from his shuttle diplomacy and ponder the question Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu posed in a television interview this week: If the Palestinians “can’t even stand behind the agreements that we had, that we release prisoners but we continue building, then how can I see that they will actually stand by the larger issues that will require them far greater confrontation with received opinion and fixed positions in their society?”

Earlier this week, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas threatened that unless Israel halts construction in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, it “is likely to bring about the termination of the talks, without results” and “the situation is likely to explode.” The PA also threatened to seek action against Israel in international forums on account of this construction. But as Netanyahu correctly pointed out, Israel never promised a construction freeze as part of the deal Kerry brokered to relaunch the talks–something Kerry himself has confirmed. What Israel did promise was to free 104 Palestinian murderers in four installments, which have so far occurred on schedule.

Yet now, having pocketed that concession, the Palestinians are threatening to renege on their part of the deal–nine months of talks, plus refraining from action against Israel in international forums–on account of Israeli actions that the deal itself allowed. So what confidence can Israel have that the same wouldn’t happen with a full-fledged peace deal? What confidence can it have that after it withdraws from additional territory, the Palestinians will honor their commitments to fight terrorism, end their international sanctions campaign against Israel, stop agitating for a “right of return,” combat anti-Israel incitement, and so forth? And why should Israel take the risk of territorial withdrawals if it can’t be reasonably confident of this?

The question is doubly important because of the Palestinians’ consistent track record of not honoring previous deals. For instance, they pledged to fight terror in no fewer than five signed agreements (1993, 1994, 1995, 1997, and 1999). Yet instead, these deals resulted in terror of unprecedented dimensions: Over the past 20 years, Palestinian terrorists have killed some 1,200 Israelis, roughly double the figure in the 45 years before the 1993 Oslo Accord.

Moreover, these agreements explicitly state that “Neither side shall initiate or take any step that will change the status of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip pending the outcome of the permanent status negotiations.” Yet that didn’t stop Abbas from unilaterally seeking UN recognition of these territories as a Palestinian state last year.

But rather than address this problem, Kerry has been actively encouraging the Palestinians’ bad faith. On his current trip, for instance, he publicly and repeatedly denounced Israeli construction as “illegitimate” and “disturbing,” even though it doesn’t violate any Israeli commitments–including those five signed agreements, not one of which mandated a construction freeze. Yet he hasn’t said a word about PA actions that explicitly violate previous commitments, such as its ongoing campaign of incitement (barred by all its signed agreements) and push for international boycotts and sanctions against Israel. And Europe, needless to say, has been even worse.

The result is that Palestinians have concluded they can violate any agreement with impunity. And Israelis wonder why, in that case, they should ever bother signing one.

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The Shutdown and the VA Governor’s Race

Some of the most vocal advocates for shutting down the federal government if the Affordable Care Act wasn’t defunded (always a delusional hope) are now blaming the Republican “establishment” for the defeat of Ken Cuccinelli in Tuesday’s race to be the next governor of Virginia. Some voices on the right are even suggesting that the “establishment” wanted Cuccinelli to lose. Why? In order to deny the Tea Party a victory.

That may (regrettably) be true in some cases. But there’s something else that complicates this theory a bit, and something which Jonathan touched on in his post. According to Cuccinelli’s own campaign, one of the factors for his loss–not the only one for sure, but one of them–was the government shutdown. Why? Because Virginia is home to hundreds of thousands of federal employees. So the shutdown succeeded in diverting attention away from the Affordable Care Act onto the government shutdown. Meaning that for a couple of crucial weeks Cuccinelli was on defense as opposed to offense. And in a close race, that could have made a difference.

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Some of the most vocal advocates for shutting down the federal government if the Affordable Care Act wasn’t defunded (always a delusional hope) are now blaming the Republican “establishment” for the defeat of Ken Cuccinelli in Tuesday’s race to be the next governor of Virginia. Some voices on the right are even suggesting that the “establishment” wanted Cuccinelli to lose. Why? In order to deny the Tea Party a victory.

That may (regrettably) be true in some cases. But there’s something else that complicates this theory a bit, and something which Jonathan touched on in his post. According to Cuccinelli’s own campaign, one of the factors for his loss–not the only one for sure, but one of them–was the government shutdown. Why? Because Virginia is home to hundreds of thousands of federal employees. So the shutdown succeeded in diverting attention away from the Affordable Care Act onto the government shutdown. Meaning that for a couple of crucial weeks Cuccinelli was on defense as opposed to offense. And in a close race, that could have made a difference.

As this story reports:

As Obamacare was about to roll out to the public on Oct. 1, Cuccinelli stepped up criticism of the new system. But the government shutdown started that same day, forcing the candidate to shift gears and pronounce his support of federal workers, even as he continued to lead followers in rousing declamations of the federal government as “the biggest opponent of them all.”

“We were debating the shutdown and not the Obamacare fight,” [Chris LaCivita, Cuccinelli’s chief campaign strategist], said.

After the election Mr. LaCivita said, “I can’t help but ask myself, what would have been the result had he had five weeks of this discussion instead of just 2½?”

A good question.

As a Virginian who proudly voted for Cuccinelli, here’s the post-election thought I have: If Ted Cruz and Mike Lee, and those who supported their efforts, hadn’t undertaken their doomed-from-the-start gambit, Mr. Cuccinelli would have done better. Whether Cuccinelli would have won if the government shutdown had never taken place is impossible to know, and in retrospect the national party could certainly have done more to help Cuccinelli. But this much is clear: advocates of the shutdown ended up temporarily helping rather than hurting ObamaCare. And in the process they lent a big assist to Governor-elect Terry McAuliffe.

Remind me again why the shutdown was such a great idea.

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