Commentary Magazine


Posts For: November 20, 2013

What Americans Don’t Know About Palestinian Culture

Some Jewish liberals got a terrible shock last week when British journalist Tom Gross broke a story about a fascist-style military rally held on the campus of Al Quds University. Al Quds is a Palestinian college located in Jerusalem and has had an academic partnership with both Brandeis University and Bard College in the United States. The rally was organized by the Al Quds branch of the Islamic Jihad group (though it was joined by much of the rest of the student body that joined the jihadi storm troopers in marching on an Israeli flag) and followed two other demonstrations sponsored by Hamas to honor suicide bombers at the school.

The story about the event, illustrated by a much-circulated picture of the Islamic Jihad group in black uniforms and masks giving a Nazi-style salute, posed a dilemma for Brandeis. While no one in charge at Bard seemed particularly exercised about the fact that their partner held pep rallies for terrorism the way a typical American school does for football or basketball, Brandeis is an avowedly Jewish institution and when the Washington Free Beacon posed a question about what it was doing in a relationship with such a place, the university was initially flummoxed and hunkered down, offering no comment about the story even as many of their students and faculty expressed outrage. It took more than a week, but yesterday Brandeis extracted its head from the sand and President Frederick Lawrence announced that it was reevaluating its relationship with Al Quds. Lawrence’s move came after he called on Al Quds President Sari Nusseibeh to condemn the rally in Arabic and English. Instead, the renowned Palestine “moderate” rationalized the rally, defended the students, and blamed the controversy on “vilification campaigns by Jewish extremists” leaving Brandeis no choice but to back out of their relationship.

But there’s more to this story than just this distressing exchange. The problem here is not just that terror groups are as accepted at Palestinian universities—even those that are generally respected abroad as Al Quds is—as sports teams are at their American counterparts. It’s that most Americans, including American Jews like those who run Brandeis, haven’t a clue about why this is so or how pervasive this trend is in Palestinian society.

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Some Jewish liberals got a terrible shock last week when British journalist Tom Gross broke a story about a fascist-style military rally held on the campus of Al Quds University. Al Quds is a Palestinian college located in Jerusalem and has had an academic partnership with both Brandeis University and Bard College in the United States. The rally was organized by the Al Quds branch of the Islamic Jihad group (though it was joined by much of the rest of the student body that joined the jihadi storm troopers in marching on an Israeli flag) and followed two other demonstrations sponsored by Hamas to honor suicide bombers at the school.

The story about the event, illustrated by a much-circulated picture of the Islamic Jihad group in black uniforms and masks giving a Nazi-style salute, posed a dilemma for Brandeis. While no one in charge at Bard seemed particularly exercised about the fact that their partner held pep rallies for terrorism the way a typical American school does for football or basketball, Brandeis is an avowedly Jewish institution and when the Washington Free Beacon posed a question about what it was doing in a relationship with such a place, the university was initially flummoxed and hunkered down, offering no comment about the story even as many of their students and faculty expressed outrage. It took more than a week, but yesterday Brandeis extracted its head from the sand and President Frederick Lawrence announced that it was reevaluating its relationship with Al Quds. Lawrence’s move came after he called on Al Quds President Sari Nusseibeh to condemn the rally in Arabic and English. Instead, the renowned Palestine “moderate” rationalized the rally, defended the students, and blamed the controversy on “vilification campaigns by Jewish extremists” leaving Brandeis no choice but to back out of their relationship.

But there’s more to this story than just this distressing exchange. The problem here is not just that terror groups are as accepted at Palestinian universities—even those that are generally respected abroad as Al Quds is—as sports teams are at their American counterparts. It’s that most Americans, including American Jews like those who run Brandeis, haven’t a clue about why this is so or how pervasive this trend is in Palestinian society.

If much of the discussion about the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians on college campuses and throughout the rest of the American liberal world seem so skewed it is not just because Israel is often unfairly smeared as an “apartheid state.” It is also because many Americans simply don’t know the first thing about contemporary Palestinian culture. Websites like Palestine Media Watch and Memri, which provide constant updates about what is broadcast and printed by Palestinian sources, could give them a quick lesson about how deeply hatred of Israel and the Jews is embedded in popular Palestinian culture as well as its politics. But those who bring up these unhappy facts are more often dismissed as biased extremists who don’t understand the Palestinians.

But the point about campus activities at Al Quds is that there is nothing exceptional about large groups of students demonstrating their hate for Israel and their devotion not to Palestinian nationalism but its extreme Islamist adherents such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad that call for the death of Jews. Such groups are not just welcome at Palestinian schools but an essential part of the fabric of student life as well as the general culture.

Thus, the shock here is not that Brandeis (if not Bard) has been alerted to the true nature of their partner and even a respected front man like Nusseibeh. Rather, it’s that it never occurred to anyone in authority at Brandeis that this was the inevitable result of any cooperation with Al Quds. If it had or if more American academics got their heads out of the sand and realized the cancer of hate that is still the dominating feature of Palestinian political culture, the assumption that Israel is the villain of the Middle East conflict might be challenged more often.

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A Failed Presidency

The bad news keeps piling up for President Obama.

A new CBS News poll shows only 37 percent of Americans now approve of the job Mr. Obama is doing as president, while 57 percent disapprove of him.

A 20-point approval-disapproval gap in politics is worrisome. And so is having your party turn on you with a vengeance.

A case in point: the Hill newspaper reports that Obama’s relationship with congressional Democrats has worsened to an unprecedented low, according to Democratic aides.

According to the story:

They are letting it be known that House and Senate Democrats are increasingly frustrated, bitter and angry with the White House over ObamaCare’s botched rollout, and that the president’s mea culpa in a news conference last week failed to soothe any ill will.

Sources who attended a meeting of House chiefs of staff on Monday say the room was seething with anger over the immense damage being done to the Democratic Party and talk was of scrapping rollout events for the Affordable Care Act.

“Here we are, we’re supposed to be selling this to people, and it’s all screwed up,” one chief of staff ranted. “This either gets fixed or this could be the demise of the Democratic Party.”

“It’s probably the worst I’ve ever seen it,” the aide said of the recent mood on Capitol Hill. “It’s bad. It’s really bad.”

The Hill story went on to report that Democrats in both chambers who are up for reelection in 2014 are unnerved.

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The bad news keeps piling up for President Obama.

A new CBS News poll shows only 37 percent of Americans now approve of the job Mr. Obama is doing as president, while 57 percent disapprove of him.

A 20-point approval-disapproval gap in politics is worrisome. And so is having your party turn on you with a vengeance.

A case in point: the Hill newspaper reports that Obama’s relationship with congressional Democrats has worsened to an unprecedented low, according to Democratic aides.

According to the story:

They are letting it be known that House and Senate Democrats are increasingly frustrated, bitter and angry with the White House over ObamaCare’s botched rollout, and that the president’s mea culpa in a news conference last week failed to soothe any ill will.

Sources who attended a meeting of House chiefs of staff on Monday say the room was seething with anger over the immense damage being done to the Democratic Party and talk was of scrapping rollout events for the Affordable Care Act.

“Here we are, we’re supposed to be selling this to people, and it’s all screwed up,” one chief of staff ranted. “This either gets fixed or this could be the demise of the Democratic Party.”

“It’s probably the worst I’ve ever seen it,” the aide said of the recent mood on Capitol Hill. “It’s bad. It’s really bad.”

The Hill story went on to report that Democrats in both chambers who are up for reelection in 2014 are unnerved.

“They’re freaking out, as they should be,” said one senior Senate Democratic aide, adding that the rollout continues to be “a lasting mess.” Indeed. According to the CBS poll, just seven percent of Americans think the Affordable Care Act is working well and should be kept in place as it is.

This is a fascinating and fluid moment in our politics. The Obama presidency is imploding, with one problem catalyzing another. The combination of a structurally flawed program and staggering incompetence, with the added touch of Mr. Obama’s serial deceptions, has cause a remarkably swift collapse in public support for the president.

This in turn has caused Democrats on Capitol Hill, particular those up for reelection in purple and red states, to turn against the president. Even former President Bill Clinton has decided it’s OK to show up Mr. Obama.

What is most worrisome for Democrats, however, is this epic programmatic failure isn’t about to end. There are more shoes to drop, more problems around the corner, more swelling anger to come from the public.

When it comes to ObamaCare and its multiplying disasters, there doesn’t appear to be an off switch. I don’t think it’ll lead to the demise of the Democratic Party. But it may go some distance toward ensuring a failed presidency for Mr. Obama.

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There’s No Fixing ObamaCare

Those who thought President Obama had “fixed” the inequities in his signature health-care legislation with an announcement last week should have been paying attention on Monday to the results of a meeting held in the White House with insurance industry CEOs. If the companies thought the administration was planning on helping them deal with the fallout from the president’s edict that those who had lost their coverage as a result of ObamaCare could get their old policies back, they were in for a rude awakening. Shifting gears to allow the president to claim that he is making good on his oft-repeated promise after following the law and cancelling those policies is going to create chaos for the industry as well as cost them a fortune. But though the whole mess is his fault, the president made it clear they will get no subsidies or help. Since the president’s solution will rely on companies to take a bath on this as well as the permission of state insurance commissioners, its highly doubtful that those negatively affected by the legislation will get much relief.

This is significant not just because it shows that the president’s hour-long press conference last week during which he apologized for his false promises–even as he made it obvious that he knew all along that his blanket proclamations that no one would lose their coverage or their doctor was false. Nor is it only important because it is one more of a series of problems about ObamaCare that began but certainly did not end with a dysfunctional website. The real issue here is that the problem that has been dumped on the insurance companies and the states with little hope that they can sort it out to the satisfaction of consumers is a foreshadowing of problems to come that we haven’t even imagined.

When ObamaCare was passed in 2010, it was not a secret that the bill was an ill-conceived mess, long on big promises and chock-full of confusing details that no one—especially then House Speaker Nancy Pelosi—had a clue about. If, as she memorably said, the bill had to be passed first before Congress could figure out was in it, she wasn’t kidding. What is now unfolding is not just an administration embarrassment about a website or a president credibility gap. What the president and his party must deal with is a monstrous piece of legislation that is filled with moving parts that don’t fit and that are bound to cause an endless series of controversies that will swell the growing ranks of ObamaCare losers. That is why the president’s poll numbers are sinking to record lows and Democrats must come to terms with the fact that rather than growing in popularity as they hoped and Republicans feared, ObamaCare may be headed for eventual failure.

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Those who thought President Obama had “fixed” the inequities in his signature health-care legislation with an announcement last week should have been paying attention on Monday to the results of a meeting held in the White House with insurance industry CEOs. If the companies thought the administration was planning on helping them deal with the fallout from the president’s edict that those who had lost their coverage as a result of ObamaCare could get their old policies back, they were in for a rude awakening. Shifting gears to allow the president to claim that he is making good on his oft-repeated promise after following the law and cancelling those policies is going to create chaos for the industry as well as cost them a fortune. But though the whole mess is his fault, the president made it clear they will get no subsidies or help. Since the president’s solution will rely on companies to take a bath on this as well as the permission of state insurance commissioners, its highly doubtful that those negatively affected by the legislation will get much relief.

This is significant not just because it shows that the president’s hour-long press conference last week during which he apologized for his false promises–even as he made it obvious that he knew all along that his blanket proclamations that no one would lose their coverage or their doctor was false. Nor is it only important because it is one more of a series of problems about ObamaCare that began but certainly did not end with a dysfunctional website. The real issue here is that the problem that has been dumped on the insurance companies and the states with little hope that they can sort it out to the satisfaction of consumers is a foreshadowing of problems to come that we haven’t even imagined.

When ObamaCare was passed in 2010, it was not a secret that the bill was an ill-conceived mess, long on big promises and chock-full of confusing details that no one—especially then House Speaker Nancy Pelosi—had a clue about. If, as she memorably said, the bill had to be passed first before Congress could figure out was in it, she wasn’t kidding. What is now unfolding is not just an administration embarrassment about a website or a president credibility gap. What the president and his party must deal with is a monstrous piece of legislation that is filled with moving parts that don’t fit and that are bound to cause an endless series of controversies that will swell the growing ranks of ObamaCare losers. That is why the president’s poll numbers are sinking to record lows and Democrats must come to terms with the fact that rather than growing in popularity as they hoped and Republicans feared, ObamaCare may be headed for eventual failure.

It is no small irony that ObamaCare was passed in part because the insurance industry decided that the smart play was to not oppose it. Though it was always at its core a wealth redistribution scheme that would adversely affect much of the middle class in order to benefit some of the poor, the insurance companies figured they could make money off of it as easily as in the existing system. That they are now being left in the lurch on the question of private insurance by the president they embraced as a partner will generate no sympathy for them from conservatives who are bitter about the role they played in passing this monstrosity. Nor will the left, which would prefer to see them run out of business by a national single-payer system, shed a tear for them. But the problems the companies will encounter in trying to pick up the pieces from the president’s broken promise will only add to the growing chaos that is being caused by the bill’s disastrous rollout.

With no firm assurances that the website will be fixed and little likelihood that enough healthy people can be herded in to the exchanges to pay more for insurance than they are used to in order to finance those who will pay nothing, the prospect of an ObamaCare collapse is no longer a far-fetched scenario. Ultimately, everyone’s coverage and rates will be affected by this fiasco. That’s why the belief that sooner or later the general public would regard ObamaCare as untouchable once it went into effect was misplaced. Unlike other expansions of government benefits such as Social Security and Medicare that were paid for by future taxpayers, the ObamaCare losers are made up of the middle class of the present.

Like the insurance companies, this vast class of consumers won’t be getting any bailout or congressional-style exemptions. Rather than making another historic addition to the roster of entitlement programs envisioned by progressives, all the president may have done is to create a vast group of Americans who are finding out they are being bilked by the administration. And there’s no fix for that in the president’s tool kit or in the IT experts called in to repair the website.

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Yet Another Broken ObamaCare Promise

Part of the panic from Democrats at the ObamaCare rollout is that each day brings new, somehow unexpected disasters from the reform law. (I say “somehow” because conservatives warned of all this, but the left strictly enforced its own epistemic closure during the ObamaCare debates and Democratic lawmakers famously wanted to pass the bill so they could find out what was in it, rather than read it before voting.)

At yesterday’s press briefing, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney gave an indication of the next of ObamaCare’s false promises to be exposed. Along with his now-infamous promise that if you like your health-care plan you can keep it, President Obama also promised that “If you like your doctor, you will be able to keep your doctor. Period.” This is also not true, as Time explains:

In order to participate in health-insurance exchanges, insurers needed to find a way to tamp down the high costs of premiums. As a result, many will narrow their networks, shrinking the range of doctors that are available to patients under their plan, experts say.

At Hot Air, Mary Katherine Ham pulls the video of Carney trying to walk back this promise and makes an important point:

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Part of the panic from Democrats at the ObamaCare rollout is that each day brings new, somehow unexpected disasters from the reform law. (I say “somehow” because conservatives warned of all this, but the left strictly enforced its own epistemic closure during the ObamaCare debates and Democratic lawmakers famously wanted to pass the bill so they could find out what was in it, rather than read it before voting.)

At yesterday’s press briefing, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney gave an indication of the next of ObamaCare’s false promises to be exposed. Along with his now-infamous promise that if you like your health-care plan you can keep it, President Obama also promised that “If you like your doctor, you will be able to keep your doctor. Period.” This is also not true, as Time explains:

In order to participate in health-insurance exchanges, insurers needed to find a way to tamp down the high costs of premiums. As a result, many will narrow their networks, shrinking the range of doctors that are available to patients under their plan, experts say.

At Hot Air, Mary Katherine Ham pulls the video of Carney trying to walk back this promise and makes an important point:

You think people are mad about losing their plans? Even losing one’s doctor is not always the hugest deal to a healthy adult. You don’t see them that often anyway. But this thing really starts to spiral out of control when people’s children start losing their doctors. Pediatricians are dang near family members to many parents. Parents who vote.

Indeed, parents put a lot of effort into finding the right pediatrician for their kids and a lot of trust in them when they decide on a doctor. Kids, in turn, don’t tend to trust just anybody, and losing their pediatrician means losing the institutional knowledge and intuition that doctor built up over the years treating children who are not always the best communicators (especially younger children, obviously). Parents will be more than inconvenienced–this is, in many cases, a disruption that they will understandably see as an unnecessary risk to their child’s wellbeing.

So how would the White House weasel out of this one? Here’s the response Carney gives to ABC’s Jon Karl:

Q    Jay, a couple quick things.  First, the President, as you know, many times said some variation of this — we will keep this promise to the American people.  If you like your doctor, you will be able to keep your doctor, period.  Is that promise still operative?

MR. CARNEY:  Jon, the President made clear throughout the effort to pass the Affordable Care Act and throughout the period that continues to this day in which Republicans have sought to repeal it that the vast majority of the American people, those who have insurance through their employers, who have insurance through Medicare or Medicaid, will not see a change, and that includes to how their plans allow them to get access to different doctors.

The reality of the insurance system that we’ve seen over the years is that these plans change all the time.  So there are limits — if you’re building on the private-insurance-based system that the President is doing, using the model from a Republican governor of Massachusetts, as he did — this is not a government-run insurance program — what is the case is that, if you’re purchasing insurance in the marketplace, you have a variety of options available to you from less expensive plans to more expensive, more comprehensive plans. 

And as is the case in insurance markets and networks all over the country, the more comprehensive plans tend to have broader networks.  So if you are looking for — if you want coverage from your doctor, a doctor that you’ve seen in the past and want that, you can look and see if there’s a plan in which that doctor participates.  And that reflects the way that the private insurance system has long worked.

In other words, no. The promise is not “still operative.” Karl wasn’t fooled. He followed up: “So is this another promise where he needs to kind of modify? Because that’s not what he said.”

Carney responded again with a somewhat revealing answer. And again, the answer seemed to be no. After telling Karl that “everybody understands how the insurance system works” and that the private insurance market is subject to “an enormous amount of churn,” Carney offered a response that included three very telling sentences.

First: “If your insurance was canceled regularly, if it was changed regularly, that is part of a system that the ACA was designed in part to improve.” Not prevent–just improve. If your insurance was canceled regularly and now it’s canceled less frequently, you’re welcome!

Second: “And what is the case is that in state after state after state, individuals have more options than they’ve ever had before.” Which individuals? And this is a dodge: if a person loses the doctor they’re happy with, what kind of consolation prize is it that their benevolent state has permitted them to choose a different doctor?

Third: “They have different levels of coverage to choose from, and depending on the level of coverage they choose from, they’ll likely have a broader network of doctors and specialists to be able to see.” There’s a key word there: likely, which follows soon after an awfully conspicuous depending. For all Carney’s attempts to cloud the issue, he could not have been clearer: yes, the president’s promise about keeping your doctor–“period”–was false.

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Obama’s Israel Spat Boosts Iran’s Leverage

Western negotiators sat down again today in Geneva with Iran’s representatives hopeful that they could strike a nuclear deal with Tehran. But after seemingly coming so close to an agreement when the parties last met two weeks ago, most of the spin coming from the Obama administration about this issue wasn’t so much on whether they could entice the Islamist regime to sign an accord as it was on aggressively pushing back against critics of their approach to Iran. In the last several days, the president’s foreign-policy team has been intent on squelching dissent from Israel and Saudi Arabia about Washington’s desire to strike an interim deal with Iran that would leave in place the regime’s nuclear program and its “right” to enrich uranium. The president and Secretary of State Kerry have gone all-out to lobby Congress against increasing sanctions on Iran as well as to justify a decision to start the process of loosening sanctions without Iran having to dismantle its nuclear infrastructure. Enlisting their allies in the media like the New York Times’s Thomas Friedman and a host of others, their main goal has been as much to delegitimize skeptics about their Iran policy, especially supporters of Israel who rightly see what is going on as the beginning of a betrayal of the president’s repeated promises on the subject.

For the moment, the administration has succeeded. The Senate will not vote on increasing sanctions until after the Thanksgiving recess, giving Kerry plenty of time to get his deal before Congress could theoretically scare the Iranians away from the table. Moreover, by seeking to depict the argument as one between those seeking a peaceful solution to the problem and those who really want the U.S. to fight a war, they have put themselves in line with the same war weariness that helped obstruct the president’s faltering attempts to deal with the crisis in Syria. But the collateral damage from this strategy will be considerable. While Obama and Kerry seem most focused on beating Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Jewish state’s American supporters, what they have failed to realize is that by shifting their focus in this manner they may have actually made their goal of an agreement with Iran even more difficult to obtain. And by alienating both Israel and moderate Arab states and treating their understandable concerns about Iran’s nuclear ambitions as secondary to the president’s desire to get out from under his campaign promises on the issue, they may have set the stage for a train of events they will not be able to influence or stop.

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Western negotiators sat down again today in Geneva with Iran’s representatives hopeful that they could strike a nuclear deal with Tehran. But after seemingly coming so close to an agreement when the parties last met two weeks ago, most of the spin coming from the Obama administration about this issue wasn’t so much on whether they could entice the Islamist regime to sign an accord as it was on aggressively pushing back against critics of their approach to Iran. In the last several days, the president’s foreign-policy team has been intent on squelching dissent from Israel and Saudi Arabia about Washington’s desire to strike an interim deal with Iran that would leave in place the regime’s nuclear program and its “right” to enrich uranium. The president and Secretary of State Kerry have gone all-out to lobby Congress against increasing sanctions on Iran as well as to justify a decision to start the process of loosening sanctions without Iran having to dismantle its nuclear infrastructure. Enlisting their allies in the media like the New York Times’s Thomas Friedman and a host of others, their main goal has been as much to delegitimize skeptics about their Iran policy, especially supporters of Israel who rightly see what is going on as the beginning of a betrayal of the president’s repeated promises on the subject.

For the moment, the administration has succeeded. The Senate will not vote on increasing sanctions until after the Thanksgiving recess, giving Kerry plenty of time to get his deal before Congress could theoretically scare the Iranians away from the table. Moreover, by seeking to depict the argument as one between those seeking a peaceful solution to the problem and those who really want the U.S. to fight a war, they have put themselves in line with the same war weariness that helped obstruct the president’s faltering attempts to deal with the crisis in Syria. But the collateral damage from this strategy will be considerable. While Obama and Kerry seem most focused on beating Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Jewish state’s American supporters, what they have failed to realize is that by shifting their focus in this manner they may have actually made their goal of an agreement with Iran even more difficult to obtain. And by alienating both Israel and moderate Arab states and treating their understandable concerns about Iran’s nuclear ambitions as secondary to the president’s desire to get out from under his campaign promises on the issue, they may have set the stage for a train of events they will not be able to influence or stop.

The main problem with the current U.S. approach to Iran is that it is based on the assumption that Iran’s desire to get economic sanctions lifted is greater than their commitment to achieving their nuclear goal. Preserving their nuclear option is, as they have repeatedly stated, their “red line” in negotiations. Having prevaricated and delayed talks with the West with this object in mind for more than a decade, it is a fundamental error to think that they have any intention of giving up now, especially since they have gotten so close to achieving it.

From the Iranian point of view, the charm offensive led by new President Hassan Rouhani has already succeeded since it has driven a wedge between the United States and Israel as well as Saudi Arabia. But by escalating the argument with Israel in this manner, President Obama has failed to realize that by demonstrating his zeal for a deal, even at the cost of heightening tensions with two key allies and alienating a key domestic constituency, he may be influencing the Iranian negotiating position more than he imagines. By trashing all those counseling caution in dealing with Iran as warmongers, the administration may have not so much empowered the alleged “moderates” in Iran but actually given the country’s supreme leader a reason to hold out for even better terms than the West is offering.

The regime’s true boss, Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, made clear his contempt for President Obama’s diplomatic efforts yesterday in a speech to members of his Basij paramilitary forces broadcast live in on Iranian TV when he not only put the U.S. down as weak but supplied the usual denunciation of Israel as “an “illegitimate regime” led by “untouchable rabid dogs.” Having demonstrated throughout the last five years that he thought President Obama was a paper tiger whose threats should be discounted, it is difficult to imagine that the last two weeks–during which the administration has shown its eagerness to find a way to appease Iran and its desire to distance itself from Israel and the Saudis–have altered Khamenei’s view of the confrontation.

By beating back efforts to impose even tougher sanctions on Iran and essentially marginalizing Israel in this fashion, the president may think he has given himself more room to make diplomacy work. But what he may really have done is to convince Khamenei that, as with Iran’s past decisions to stonewall the West’s efforts, further delay will only net him an even more favorable deal. While raising the pressure on Iran would have given the regime an incentive to compromise or even back down, the American decision to cut Israel loose in this fashion may have done the opposite.

Just as bad is the long-term damage the president’s push for an Iran deal has done to America’s allies in the Middle East. Both Israel and the Saudis understand, even if Obama does not, that Iran will not abide by even the most generous of Western deals and sooner or later will evade or cheat their way to a nuclear weapon. But after being cut out of the diplomatic process in this fashion, they will have less reason to listen to American advice in the future and may even consider acting on their own to stop Iran despite Obama’s insincere assurances that he is looking out for their interests. The net result is a lack of trust that will only undermine Middle East stability and make it less likely anyone will heed the president’s warnings or advice even after Iran goes nuclear.

By downgrading the alliance with Israel and Saudi Arabia and trying to delegitimize his critics as warmongers, the president has strengthened Iran’s bargaining position and made it less rather than more likely that there will be a satisfactory conclusion to both the current negotiations and those that will follow. Rather than allowing diplomacy to succeed, what he has done may have ensured that Iran will never be convinced to give up its nukes by any means short of a use of force that no one wants.

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What the U.S.-Israel Dispute Is Really About

Usually when the source of U.S.-Israel tensions is revealed to be a simple misunderstanding, the two sides can again breathe easy. But this week’s argument over Iran sanctions relief may have the opposite effect. Commentators on both sides appear to be missing the real significance of the tiff over the dollar value of the sanctions relief sought by President Obama. In yesterday’s edition of the New York Times, a story on sanctions relief contained this:

For his part, Mr. Kerry has questioned publicly whether Mr. Netanyahu is aware of all the details in the agreement. And in some cases, Israeli officials appear to have distorted what Iran would get in return.

At a briefing with international journalists on Wednesday, Yuval Steinitz, Israel’s minister of strategic affairs, said the deal would directly erase $15 billion to $20 billion of what he estimated was the $100 billion the current sanctions are costing Iran annually, and lead to relief of up to $40 billion because of indirect effects. The State Department immediately debunked those numbers, noting the sanctions relief would be for only six months, not a year. And the Americans put the figure at under $10 billion. But Israeli leaders have continued to cite the higher estimates.

The media watchdog CAMERA called attention to the editorialized nature of the reporting–accusations that Israelis “appear to have distorted” the deal instead of simply disagreeing with the estimates. They also note that the reporters say the State Department “debunked” Israel’s numbers, which is manifestly untrue. The State Department denied the Israelis were correct, but Steinitz simply appears to be correctly calculating the sanctions relief were it to be extended to a year, instead of the six months the Obama administration claims. And that’s why this disagreement is more than just a math problem.

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Usually when the source of U.S.-Israel tensions is revealed to be a simple misunderstanding, the two sides can again breathe easy. But this week’s argument over Iran sanctions relief may have the opposite effect. Commentators on both sides appear to be missing the real significance of the tiff over the dollar value of the sanctions relief sought by President Obama. In yesterday’s edition of the New York Times, a story on sanctions relief contained this:

For his part, Mr. Kerry has questioned publicly whether Mr. Netanyahu is aware of all the details in the agreement. And in some cases, Israeli officials appear to have distorted what Iran would get in return.

At a briefing with international journalists on Wednesday, Yuval Steinitz, Israel’s minister of strategic affairs, said the deal would directly erase $15 billion to $20 billion of what he estimated was the $100 billion the current sanctions are costing Iran annually, and lead to relief of up to $40 billion because of indirect effects. The State Department immediately debunked those numbers, noting the sanctions relief would be for only six months, not a year. And the Americans put the figure at under $10 billion. But Israeli leaders have continued to cite the higher estimates.

The media watchdog CAMERA called attention to the editorialized nature of the reporting–accusations that Israelis “appear to have distorted” the deal instead of simply disagreeing with the estimates. They also note that the reporters say the State Department “debunked” Israel’s numbers, which is manifestly untrue. The State Department denied the Israelis were correct, but Steinitz simply appears to be correctly calculating the sanctions relief were it to be extended to a year, instead of the six months the Obama administration claims. And that’s why this disagreement is more than just a math problem.

As the Times notes, American officials are alarmed by the fact that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “has often raised the specter of an Israeli strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities even if a deal is signed,” yet they fail to make the connection. American officials are pushing back because they think Israel is moving up the date at which a military strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities would be prudent. The Israelis are wary of this deal because they think it does the exact same thing. That is, the Israelis aren’t seeking to move up the timing of a strike; they worry that the Americans are in the process of doing that.

The Times mentions the divergence of opinion between the U.S. and Israel on what would constitute Iran crossing a red line. (Though, it must be said, Obama has squandered any credibility on “red lines” anyway.) Neither side appears to believe Iran is at that point right now, so the American side is wondering what’s wrong with this proposed nuclear deal. Later in the article, we get something of an answer:

The reason appears to be that Iran would agree to convert some of its medium-enriched uranium — fuel enriched to 20 percent purity, or near bomb grade — into an oxide form that is on the way to becoming reactor fuel. But that process can be easily reversed, notes Olli Heinonen, the former chief inspector of the International Atomic Energy Agency. Mr. Netanyahu’s camp and some Israeli analysts say the Israeli leader’s unstinting opposition is both substantive and political. He truly believes that a deal lifting sanctions without fully halting enrichment and dismantling centrifuges is a terrible mistake. But he has also staked his premiership on fighting the Iranian nuclear threat, and the change in approach by his closest allies leaves him a bit rudderless.

If the process can be “easily reversed,” then the deal would enable Iran to play for time while enjoying the billions of dollars in sanctions relief they would get for something they want anyway: diplomatic delay. So the deal would need real teeth, which it doesn’t appear to have. What’s more, Steinitz’s estimates show the credibility gap the Obama administration is dealing with after its Syria fiasco.

As Jonathan wrote two weeks ago, Iran sanctions don’t have a simple power switch. It takes time to get sanctions in place, often over the opposition of our European allies and usually over the objections of President Obama himself. Obama, in fact, has been a consistent obstacle to sanctions during his presidency. It is reasonable to doubt not only that Obama could crank the sanctions back to where they need to be after a six-month interlude, but that he would even want to. Ramping sanctions back up would also mean the deal failed; it’s reasonable to doubt, as well, that Obama would ever admit it.

So Steinitz’s gripe is not with the dollar figures, but the overall process. It’s an indication that the Israelis don’t believe the Obama administration would hold Iran to account if they didn’t abide by the terms of the deal. That, in turn, would make this the beginning of the end of the non-military effort to stop Iran from getting the bomb. Whether Steinitz is right about that remains to be seen, but those who focus on whether he’s right about the exact dollar figure are missing the point.

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Desperate Syrian Rebels Turn to Al-Qaeda

Two profiles of Syrian rebel commanders–one in the New York Times yesterday, the other in the Wall Street Journal today–capture the changing face of the conflict.

The Times article is on the death of a “pragmatic” rebel leader, killed in a recent government air strike: “The commander, Abdulkader al-Saleh, 33, was a recognized and accessible leader in a fragmented insurgency that has few. He managed to gather ragtag local militias into the Tawhid Brigades, for a time one of the most organized and effective rebel battle groups, and to bridge the gap between relatively secular army defectors and Islamist fighters.”

The Journal article focuses on one of the foreign jihadist fighters who have become increasingly prominent as the influence of homegrown “moderates” like Saleh have declined–Tarkhan Batirashvili, an ethnic Chechen who once served in the Georgian army and who has “recently emerged from obscurity to be the northern commander in Syria of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Sham (ISIS), an al Qaeda-connected coalition whose thousands of Arab and foreign fighters have overrun key Syrian military bases, staged public executions and muscled aside American-backed moderate rebel groups trying to topple President Bashar al-Assad.”

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Two profiles of Syrian rebel commanders–one in the New York Times yesterday, the other in the Wall Street Journal today–capture the changing face of the conflict.

The Times article is on the death of a “pragmatic” rebel leader, killed in a recent government air strike: “The commander, Abdulkader al-Saleh, 33, was a recognized and accessible leader in a fragmented insurgency that has few. He managed to gather ragtag local militias into the Tawhid Brigades, for a time one of the most organized and effective rebel battle groups, and to bridge the gap between relatively secular army defectors and Islamist fighters.”

The Journal article focuses on one of the foreign jihadist fighters who have become increasingly prominent as the influence of homegrown “moderates” like Saleh have declined–Tarkhan Batirashvili, an ethnic Chechen who once served in the Georgian army and who has “recently emerged from obscurity to be the northern commander in Syria of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Sham (ISIS), an al Qaeda-connected coalition whose thousands of Arab and foreign fighters have overrun key Syrian military bases, staged public executions and muscled aside American-backed moderate rebel groups trying to topple President Bashar al-Assad.”

The fact that jihadist extremists are coming to the fore is utterly predictable. In fact, Saleh predicted it himself: “a Syrian insurgency with nowhere else to turn, he said nearly a year ago, would tilt toward foreign fighters and Al Qaeda.”

And why does the Syrian insurgency have nowhere else to turn? In large part because the U.S., the only country with commensurate resources, has refused to step into the vacuum and provide a counter-balance to the copious aid being provided to Bashar Assad’s odious regime by Russia, Iran, and Hezbollah. Sure, President Obama has allowed the CIA to provide some arms and training, but not very much. He has refused to provide, in particular, the antitank weapons the rebels need. Nor has he been willing to use American airpower to ground Assad’s air force and to hit regime targets–as he did previously in Libya and as Bill Clinton did in Kosovo and Bosnia.

If the U.S. had not done more in those previous conflicts, undoubtedly jihadists would have gained more of a foothold in those Muslim lands. Now that the U.S. is doing so little in Syria, the jihadists are predictably ascendant on the rebel side while Hezbollah and the Iranian Quds Force are growing increasingly powerful on the government side.

This grim outcome was not inevitable–it is the direct result of American inaction.

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