Commentary Magazine


Posts For: December 4, 2013

Why Newtown Didn’t Lead to Gun Control

Today’s release of the 9-1-1 tapes from the Newtown massacre has caused America to relive the horror of the awful day on which a mad gunman killed 20 first-graders and six staff members at the Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14, 2012. This has prompted a spirited debate in the media about the wisdom of broadcasting these tapes and news organizations have differed in their decisions. Count me as being on the side of those who chose not to expose the public to the tapes since they add little if anything to our understanding of the event and only serve as a form of crime porn to titillate viewers. But the main question members of the liberal mainstream media are asking today is the same one they will be posing in 10 days when we get to the first anniversary: why didn’t the disgust Americans felt at this atrocity lead to the enactment of stricter gun-control laws? But while they wonder how it is possible that the liberal media offensive didn’t buffalo politicians last winter, they’re even more perplexed as to why Newtown didn’t change public opinion on the issue. Indeed, as a new CNN/ORC poll reveals, a majority of Americans today oppose stricter gun-control laws.

The CNN poll shows that last January, at the height of the media offensive—and after President Obama decided to make the issue the centerpiece of his second-term legislative agenda—on behalf of gun control, 55 percent of the public backed tougher gun-control laws. The new poll shows that number down to 49 percent. This has to shock liberal pundits and journalists who have been operating under the assumption since Newtown that only a crazed minority of gun nuts and NRA members were opposed to the president’s gun agenda.

But the answer to their question isn’t much of a mystery. The majority of Americans understand not only that more legislation won’t stop lunatics from shooting people with legal or illegal guns, but they also don’t trust the government to enforce stricter laws fairly or to respect the constitutional rights of gun owners.

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Today’s release of the 9-1-1 tapes from the Newtown massacre has caused America to relive the horror of the awful day on which a mad gunman killed 20 first-graders and six staff members at the Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14, 2012. This has prompted a spirited debate in the media about the wisdom of broadcasting these tapes and news organizations have differed in their decisions. Count me as being on the side of those who chose not to expose the public to the tapes since they add little if anything to our understanding of the event and only serve as a form of crime porn to titillate viewers. But the main question members of the liberal mainstream media are asking today is the same one they will be posing in 10 days when we get to the first anniversary: why didn’t the disgust Americans felt at this atrocity lead to the enactment of stricter gun-control laws? But while they wonder how it is possible that the liberal media offensive didn’t buffalo politicians last winter, they’re even more perplexed as to why Newtown didn’t change public opinion on the issue. Indeed, as a new CNN/ORC poll reveals, a majority of Americans today oppose stricter gun-control laws.

The CNN poll shows that last January, at the height of the media offensive—and after President Obama decided to make the issue the centerpiece of his second-term legislative agenda—on behalf of gun control, 55 percent of the public backed tougher gun-control laws. The new poll shows that number down to 49 percent. This has to shock liberal pundits and journalists who have been operating under the assumption since Newtown that only a crazed minority of gun nuts and NRA members were opposed to the president’s gun agenda.

But the answer to their question isn’t much of a mystery. The majority of Americans understand not only that more legislation won’t stop lunatics from shooting people with legal or illegal guns, but they also don’t trust the government to enforce stricter laws fairly or to respect the constitutional rights of gun owners.

Liberals counted on a wave of emotion in the wake of Newtown to help bulldoze both Congress and the public into adopting their long-cherished dream to restrict gun ownership and make it more difficult to legally purchase weapons. In the first weeks after the massacre, they seemed to be right and polls reflected a surge in support for more gun laws. But after the nation started to look at the facts, the numbers changed. As CNN writes on their website:

The survey indicates that the intensity of opinion on the issue of gun control, once an advantage for gun control advocates, no longer benefits either side. In January 37% of all Americans strongly favored stricter gun laws, with 27% strongly opposed to them. Now that 10-point difference has completely disappeared, with the number who strongly oppose and strongly favor stricter gun control at essentially the same level.

Though the president and many in the media did their best to exploit the bloodshed, once it became apparent that the remedies proposed by the president had nothing to do with the crime, their momentum was stalled. No amount of rhetorical excess from President Obama or the pundits could cover up the fact that even if every item on his gun-control laundry list had been passed prior to the shooting, none of them would have prevented Adam Lanza from stealing weapons from his mother before killing her and then heading to the school where he committied senseless slaughter.

It is true that support for some measures like increased background checks and closing gun show sales loopholes do have strong support. But even there, resistance to those laws is fed by a sense that the liberals who claim they have no interest in taking anyone’s guns away aren’t telling the truth. As a Rasmussen poll conducted in September showed, 62 percent of those polled don’t think government can be trusted to enforce the laws fairly and 71 percent said it wasn’t possible for new laws to stop future Newtowns from occurring. A subsequent Rasmussen poll showed even more support for enforcing existing laws rather than trying new ones. The focus on so-called assault weapons was also quickly revealed to be more about cosmetics than firepower, further reducing the credibility of gun-control advocates.

The bottom line is that contrary to the expectations of liberals, the American people aren’t stupid. They understand that ideas like resurrecting assault-weapon bans and even more reasonable measures like background checks are items on the liberal legislative wish list, not an authentic response to a problem. While gun crimes are abhorrent, there is little reason to believe the liberal gun project will prevent them. All they will accomplish is to make it harder for law-abiding citizens to own guns. That’s why support for such laws is far lower today than it was 20 years ago when the Brady Bill passed.

More mental health initiatives may do something to stop the Adam Lanzas of the world from killing innocents, but the sense prevails that the push for gun control has more to do with a long-term war on the Second Amendment. That is why although Americans remain scarred by their memories of Newtown, they are even less likely to back liberal gun-control efforts than they were in the aftermath of the crime. Once emotion subsided, reason prevailed.

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China’s Strategic Patience

Because China was not under any serious foreign military threat, its decision to declare an “air defense identification zone” over an area that includes islands claimed by both Japan and China was unnecessary. Because it was unnecessary, there are two obvious ways of looking at it. Either the gratuitous display of power was meant as a prelude to real aggression, or it was a bluff.

If the former, then the second act may have been averted when the U.S. flew B-52 bombers through the airspace, causing China to back down. If the latter, the bluff was called for all the world to see. In either of these scenarios, China looks like a paper tiger–a phrase used often in reference to China, but again repeated when it looked like China would do nothing too troublesome to defend the flag it planted. But both these analyses stem from judging events news cycle by news cycle–a typically Western habit exacerbated in the age of Twitter.

There is a third way of looking at it, though, and there is reason enough to think it aligns with how the Chinese government viewed the episode, which is still unfurling with Joe Biden’s visit to China today. This perspective is hinted at on the map of the air defense zone, of which the New York Times has an excellent version here. The Chinese air defense zone is predominantly in conflict with Japan’s airspace claims, but about a third of the zone looks to be encroaching on Taiwanese airspace, which, of course, is much closer to the Chinese mainland. It also overlaps with some airspace claimed by South Korea.

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Because China was not under any serious foreign military threat, its decision to declare an “air defense identification zone” over an area that includes islands claimed by both Japan and China was unnecessary. Because it was unnecessary, there are two obvious ways of looking at it. Either the gratuitous display of power was meant as a prelude to real aggression, or it was a bluff.

If the former, then the second act may have been averted when the U.S. flew B-52 bombers through the airspace, causing China to back down. If the latter, the bluff was called for all the world to see. In either of these scenarios, China looks like a paper tiger–a phrase used often in reference to China, but again repeated when it looked like China would do nothing too troublesome to defend the flag it planted. But both these analyses stem from judging events news cycle by news cycle–a typically Western habit exacerbated in the age of Twitter.

There is a third way of looking at it, though, and there is reason enough to think it aligns with how the Chinese government viewed the episode, which is still unfurling with Joe Biden’s visit to China today. This perspective is hinted at on the map of the air defense zone, of which the New York Times has an excellent version here. The Chinese air defense zone is predominantly in conflict with Japan’s airspace claims, but about a third of the zone looks to be encroaching on Taiwanese airspace, which, of course, is much closer to the Chinese mainland. It also overlaps with some airspace claimed by South Korea.

China did not win anything in the near term from the United States, it would appear. But that doesn’t mean China didn’t win anything at all in the near term, or that China didn’t win anything in the long run from the U.S. The opposite seems to be the case. First, from the Times, what the Chinese have won in the near term:

The vice president’s goal appears to be to neutralize the destabilizing impact of the air defense zone in the region by persuading the Chinese authorities to stop scrambling fighter jets or otherwise disrupt the busy air corridors between Japan and China.

China will likely interpret this as to some extent legitimizing China’s right to contest control of the airspace, just not to have that claim recognized as a fact in itself. It’s unclear what, if anything, the U.S. can do beyond this. It’s therefore likely that, far from miscalculating, the Chinese leadership assessed the situation accurately. It may not be a monumental victory, but it’s more than they started with.

And the Washington Post’s writeup of Biden’s visit hints at what China may have won in the long run:

Aides said the vice president’s goals would include getting the Chinese to agree not to establish other such zones without first discussing their intentions with potentially affected countries.

China has reason to view this as a win on two levels: first, that the U.S. will essentially stay out of such regional line-drawing; and second, that “discussing their intentions with potentially affected countries” before rearranging borders is a loophole big enough to fly a B-52 bomber through.

It also suggests the Obama administration knows China is playing the long game. As Harry Kazianis notes at the Diplomat, an air defense zone over the disputed islands with Japan is presumably the opening act:

Beijing could use such wording to openly declare such a new ADIZ in the South China Sea — an area with sovereignty disputes involving multiple claimants. In fact, Beijing has already gone so far to claim 80 percent of the area, effectively taking control of Scarborough Shoal last summer, which is well within the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of the Philippines and is pressing its claims now on Second Thomas Shoal. China has also deployed its new aircraft carrier to the region in what could be seen as a show of force (although, let’s be frank, the carrier won’t be operational for sometime, however, the point is still made).

Second, when America’s Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) gave guidance that U.S. domestic carriers should inform Beijing of their flight plans, Washington not only gave de facto approval of the East China Sea ADIZ, but also suggested that future moves would not be met with strong resistance. Truth be told, the Obama Administration was in a tight bind on the decision — not giving the information to Beijing could have put such flights and American lives in danger, and no one wants to see an accident turn into a crisis that won’t be easy to untangle considering the stakes. Yet, any move that gives this ADIZ declaration on China’s part any legitimacy will certainly be used by Beijing as a sign of acceptance. If we got away with it once, why not try the same move again and again?

President Obama’s openness to granting countries such as Russia and Iran their own spheres of influence will surely invite such challenges, but the Chinese air defense zone declaration is not really about Obama. It’s more about what he represents to some leaders: a weary, inward looking, declining power that at some point will be unwilling to challenge a major act of Chinese aggression either in the South China Sea or Taiwan. That day is not today, but the Chinese leadership is almost certainly curious as to when that will change.

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Gravitas Shmavitas

So now we know what Barack Obama really wants to be when he grows up: the host of an ESPN sports show. And not even one of the ones where sporty sages provide deep analysis of the sports biz–games, teams, leagues, athletes. No, as he told a group of Hollywood high-flyers during his latest mutual-ego-massage trip there, his heart’s desire is ESPN’s SportsCenter’s Top 10 list–the show where you can find countdown lists about “everything from major sports to bull fighting to high school basketball.”

Okay, okay. So he was joking (supposedly). As someone who heard the president’s remark told the Hollywood Reporter, “everyone had a good giggle.”

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So now we know what Barack Obama really wants to be when he grows up: the host of an ESPN sports show. And not even one of the ones where sporty sages provide deep analysis of the sports biz–games, teams, leagues, athletes. No, as he told a group of Hollywood high-flyers during his latest mutual-ego-massage trip there, his heart’s desire is ESPN’s SportsCenter’s Top 10 list–the show where you can find countdown lists about “everything from major sports to bull fighting to high school basketball.”

Okay, okay. So he was joking (supposedly). As someone who heard the president’s remark told the Hollywood Reporter, “everyone had a good giggle.”

But I’m not laughing. Seems to me it’s just Mr. Obama’s speed, and right up his alley. I only wish he’d thought of it sooner, like in about 2007 or so.

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Obama’s Plan Won’t Persuade Palestinians

Anyone who thought the Obama administration is concentrating so much on its push for détente with Iran that it can’t simultaneously launch a new push for Israeli concessions to the Palestinians was wrong. As the New York Times reports this afternoon, a former U.S. commander in Afghanistan that is currently serving as an advisor to Secretary of State John Kerry is heading to the Middle East to brief the Israelis on a detailed plan for the West Bank that the U.S. envisages will be implemented in the wake of a peace agreement. Though President Obama has repeatedly pledged that he would not seek to impose a U.S. plan on the parties, the Times’s friendly sources at the State Department say retired Marine General John Allen will be bringing with him a specific scheme for the future of the West Bank.

The sources say it won’t be presented to the Israelis as a take-it-or-leave-it proposal. But there’s little question that the general’s arrival must be seen as part of an effort to strong arm the Israelis into abandoning the West Bank and specifically giving up most of its demands that a future Palestinian state be prevented from posing a military or terrorist threat to its Jewish neighbor. More to the point, it may be part of an effort to impose an international military presence in the region that would replace Israeli forces.

It’s possible that Israel will agree to some of the elements of the American plan even though they are loath to put themselves at the mercy of Western powers that will, as with other peacekeeping forces, be more interested in preserving the status quo than in preventing terror. But the real obstacle to the administration’s hubristic push for an agreement will come from the Palestinians. The same article that spoke of Allen’s mission discussed the remarks of chief Palestinian Authority negotiator Saeb Erekat at a dinner last week in Jerusalem in honor of the United Nations’ annual “day of solidarity” with the Palestinians. Erekat’s remarks in front of a friendly audience made it clear that if President Obama is serious about achieving Middle East peace, he needs to be concentrating on pressuring the Palestinians to see reason rather than expending so much effort on trying to strong arm the Netanyahu government.

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Anyone who thought the Obama administration is concentrating so much on its push for détente with Iran that it can’t simultaneously launch a new push for Israeli concessions to the Palestinians was wrong. As the New York Times reports this afternoon, a former U.S. commander in Afghanistan that is currently serving as an advisor to Secretary of State John Kerry is heading to the Middle East to brief the Israelis on a detailed plan for the West Bank that the U.S. envisages will be implemented in the wake of a peace agreement. Though President Obama has repeatedly pledged that he would not seek to impose a U.S. plan on the parties, the Times’s friendly sources at the State Department say retired Marine General John Allen will be bringing with him a specific scheme for the future of the West Bank.

The sources say it won’t be presented to the Israelis as a take-it-or-leave-it proposal. But there’s little question that the general’s arrival must be seen as part of an effort to strong arm the Israelis into abandoning the West Bank and specifically giving up most of its demands that a future Palestinian state be prevented from posing a military or terrorist threat to its Jewish neighbor. More to the point, it may be part of an effort to impose an international military presence in the region that would replace Israeli forces.

It’s possible that Israel will agree to some of the elements of the American plan even though they are loath to put themselves at the mercy of Western powers that will, as with other peacekeeping forces, be more interested in preserving the status quo than in preventing terror. But the real obstacle to the administration’s hubristic push for an agreement will come from the Palestinians. The same article that spoke of Allen’s mission discussed the remarks of chief Palestinian Authority negotiator Saeb Erekat at a dinner last week in Jerusalem in honor of the United Nations’ annual “day of solidarity” with the Palestinians. Erekat’s remarks in front of a friendly audience made it clear that if President Obama is serious about achieving Middle East peace, he needs to be concentrating on pressuring the Palestinians to see reason rather than expending so much effort on trying to strong arm the Netanyahu government.

While lamenting his lack of military leverage over Israel, Erekat stated again that despite even the Obama administration’s acceptance of the idea of territorial swaps that would accommodate Israeli settlement blocks, the PA’s idea of a two-state solution remained the “1967 border.” But aside from inflexibility on territory rooted in a desire to ethnically cleanse the West Bank and much of Jerusalem of hundreds of thousands of Jews and refusing to disavow the “right of return” for the descendants of the 1948 refugees, Erekat also signaled that any peace deal would not end the conflict:

Mr. Erekat told the diplomats that the Palestinians could never accede to Israel’s demand that they recognize it as the nation-state of the Jewish people. “I cannot change my narrative,” he said. “The essence of peace is not to convert each other’s stories.”

Why is Erekat’s stance so crucial?

Palestinian apologists dismiss Israeli demands that the Palestinians simply accept that whatever territory is left to the Jews after a theoretical deal is a Jewish state as irrelevant to a deal. What difference, we are asked, does it make whether the Palestinians accept Israel as the Jewish state so long as they accept the concept of peace and take what is offered them? But it does matter so long as the Palestinian leadership continues enable a political culture that is rooted in rejection of Israel’s legitimacy.

If Israel is to accede to U.S. demands that it give up the bulk of the West Bank, let alone compromise on Jerusalem, it cannot be on any terms but on those that conclusively end the conflict. And that can only happen once the Palestinians give up the dream of eradicating the Jewish state, either immediately or in stages. A peace deal that only sets the stage for future violence on more advantageous strategic terms for the Palestinians is not a rational option for Israel no matter what the United States says now or what guarantees it makes. Right now, the Palestinian “story” is one that is based on the idea that Israel’s existence, not its policies or post-1967 borders, is a crime. Until that changes, there is no way to argue that peace is possible.

That’s why all the U.S. pressure on Israel is utterly misplaced. Even if Israel bowed to Obama’s dictates, the negotiations into which Secretary Kerry has invested so much effort will inevitably run aground on the shoals of Palestinian intransigence. PA leaders know that so long as the culture of intolerance they have promoted is in place and so long as its Islamist Hamas rivals run Gaza, they cannot sign off on a peace deal that recognizes Israel’s legitimacy and ends the conflict. Like Kerry’s talks, Allen’s mission is a fool’s errand. If President Obama wants an outcome that differs from every other attempt to make peace with the Palestinians he will have to something different. A place to start means telling the Palestinians that they must do exactly what Erekat says they will never do.

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A Frightening Portent for New York City

One interesting aspect of Bill de Blasio’s landslide victory in the New York mayoral race last month is that it leaves the city with very little electoral life outside the Left. The City Council speaker will almost certainly be someone as left-wing as the mayor; the new public advocate hails from the same left-wing political machine (the Working Families Party) as de Blasio; and most of the newly elected members of the City Council are doctrinaire as well. So the question immediately arises: Who will stand against Leftist infamies when they occur? We will find out in the next day or so, because the first major one has just happened.

There is a new City Council member from the neighborhood in Brooklyn called Crown Heights, which is ethnically the city’s most interesting—a mix of blacks mostly of Caribbean origin and ultra-Orthodox Jews mostly from the Lubavitch Hasidic sect. Her name is Laurie Cumbo, and this week she decided to take to Facebook to express some thoughts about the recent spate of violent “knockout game” attacks in which passers-by find themselves being struck hard in the face by someone’s fist for no reason. She reports that at a community meeting called to discuss the violence, she said this:

many African American/Caribbean residents expressed a genuine concern that as the Jewish community continues to grow, they would be pushed out by their Jewish landlords or by Jewish families looking to purchase homes. I relayed these sentiments at the forum not as an insult to the Jewish community, but rather to offer possible insight as to how young African American/Caribbean teens could conceivably commit a “hate crime” against a community that they know very little about.

Her insight into why a thug would punch a 19 year-old Hasidic kid in the face in the middle of her district while his friends watched, in other words, boils down to Jewish money. Cumbo knows she is treading on delicate ground here, so she attempts to mitigate the damage: “I respect and appreciate the Jewish community’s family values and unity that has led to strong political, economic and cultural gains.” And then she went all in: “While I personally regard this level of tenacity, I also recognize that for others, the accomplishments of the Jewish community triggers feelings of resentment, and a sense that Jewish success is not also their success.”

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One interesting aspect of Bill de Blasio’s landslide victory in the New York mayoral race last month is that it leaves the city with very little electoral life outside the Left. The City Council speaker will almost certainly be someone as left-wing as the mayor; the new public advocate hails from the same left-wing political machine (the Working Families Party) as de Blasio; and most of the newly elected members of the City Council are doctrinaire as well. So the question immediately arises: Who will stand against Leftist infamies when they occur? We will find out in the next day or so, because the first major one has just happened.

There is a new City Council member from the neighborhood in Brooklyn called Crown Heights, which is ethnically the city’s most interesting—a mix of blacks mostly of Caribbean origin and ultra-Orthodox Jews mostly from the Lubavitch Hasidic sect. Her name is Laurie Cumbo, and this week she decided to take to Facebook to express some thoughts about the recent spate of violent “knockout game” attacks in which passers-by find themselves being struck hard in the face by someone’s fist for no reason. She reports that at a community meeting called to discuss the violence, she said this:

many African American/Caribbean residents expressed a genuine concern that as the Jewish community continues to grow, they would be pushed out by their Jewish landlords or by Jewish families looking to purchase homes. I relayed these sentiments at the forum not as an insult to the Jewish community, but rather to offer possible insight as to how young African American/Caribbean teens could conceivably commit a “hate crime” against a community that they know very little about.

Her insight into why a thug would punch a 19 year-old Hasidic kid in the face in the middle of her district while his friends watched, in other words, boils down to Jewish money. Cumbo knows she is treading on delicate ground here, so she attempts to mitigate the damage: “I respect and appreciate the Jewish community’s family values and unity that has led to strong political, economic and cultural gains.” And then she went all in: “While I personally regard this level of tenacity, I also recognize that for others, the accomplishments of the Jewish community triggers feelings of resentment, and a sense that Jewish success is not also their success.”

Cumbo hastens to make clear she is against such crime–against it! “If one person attacks another, regardless of the motivation, there is no justification for such an action. We should never blame a victim, or try to explain away any wrongdoing. The issue of race or religion is but a red-herring one when it comes to crime.”

Cumbo just can’t leave it there, because she feels the “system” is rigged and so she is being compelled to argue for something that makes her unhappy: “I feel torn because I feel apart of [sic] the very system that has caused the destructive path that so many young people have decided to take while I am simultaneously demanding that they be arrested by that same system.”

So here we have it. (I am indebted to Sonja Sharp of DNAInfo for exposing the story.) Jews are crowding out black people in Crown Heights, they are stoking resentment because of their financial success, and while there can be no justification for acts of violence, it’s a terrible pain for someone like Cumbo to say those perpetrating the violence should be arrested because they are victims too. Such textbook apologetics and excuses for crime hearken back to a different and far worse time for New York City, as does the nauseating stench of Cumbo’s classic anti-Semitic stew.

It was in the very neighborhood Cumbo now represents that the worst anti-Jewish event in modern American history took place: A three-day riot in 1991 following the accidental killing of an African-American child by a limousine driven by a Hasidic man. Two men were killed, stores were looted, and homes were targeted by Molotov-cocktail throwers through spotting the mezuzot on the doorfames. It was a shattering event for the city, not least because the mayor at the time, David Dinkins, seemed to feel as though he was powerless to act as the riot spread. His conduct during Crown Heights was so shameful it came to be one of the key reasons Rudy Giuliani ousted Dinkins from City Hall—even though the election took place two years later.

One thing New Yorkers knew in the wake of the Giuliani election was this: Acts of violence were going to be addressed, not excused; and anti-Semitic conduct would be greeted with roars of protest and outrage from City Hall. Eight years of Giuliani stilled and calmed the city; 9/11 created a new era of good common feeling; the perpetuation of Giuliani policies under Michael Bloomberg helped keep the urban peace. Now, only a month before the inauguration of DeBlasio, something ugly and evil is rearing its head. Who is there to speak out against Cumbo’s words?

De Blasio?

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Enrichment Leaves Iran Path to the Bomb

The U.S. foreign-policy establishment has been adamant in its support for President Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran. They believe criticism of the accord reached in Geneva from Israel and Americans who worry the president has thrown away the West’s economic leverage in pursuit of a foolish hope of détente with the Islamist regime is wrong because the deal is a reasonable first step toward ending the threat of a bomb. If America’s policy were actually to achieve that end and conclusively forestall any hope of an Iranian bomb, that establishment consensus will prove to be correct. But unfortunately the indications coming out of Washington make those assumptions look silly.

Though it didn’t make headlines, the confirmation that any follow-up deal with Iran will protect their “right” to enrich uranium is the worst sign that the ultimate conclusion to this story won’t wind up making Obama and his cheerleaders look too smart. The Washington Free Beacon first reported yesterday that the administration was exploring ways to craft a nuclear agreement that would give Iran its own “domestic” enrichment program:

“Over the next six months, we will explore, in practical terms, whether and how Iran might end up with a limited, tightly constrained, and intensively monitored civilian nuclear program, including domestic enrichment,” White House National Security Council (NSC) spokesman Caitlin Hayden told the Washington Free Beacon.

“Any such program,” she said, “would be subject to strict and verifiable curbs on its capacity and stockpiles of enriched uranium for a significant number of years and tied to practical energy needs that will remain minimal for years to come.”

But the problem with the curbs any such deal would put in place is that they could be easily and quickly evaded in any nuclear breakout toward a bomb. By leaving Iran’s nuclear infrastructure in place and giving them the ability to build up their stockpile of nuclear fuel, the West is relying on monitoring, inspections, and agreements to ensure that won’t happen. But the only way to ensure that it won’t is to insist on Iran dismantling its centrifuges and exporting its hoard of enriched uranium. By not only tacitly acknowledging Iran’s enrichment in the current deal and then also openly saying that it won’t insist on those practical measures in follow-up talks, the administration is dooming any hope that its strategy will achieve the objective of preventing an Islamist nuke.

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The U.S. foreign-policy establishment has been adamant in its support for President Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran. They believe criticism of the accord reached in Geneva from Israel and Americans who worry the president has thrown away the West’s economic leverage in pursuit of a foolish hope of détente with the Islamist regime is wrong because the deal is a reasonable first step toward ending the threat of a bomb. If America’s policy were actually to achieve that end and conclusively forestall any hope of an Iranian bomb, that establishment consensus will prove to be correct. But unfortunately the indications coming out of Washington make those assumptions look silly.

Though it didn’t make headlines, the confirmation that any follow-up deal with Iran will protect their “right” to enrich uranium is the worst sign that the ultimate conclusion to this story won’t wind up making Obama and his cheerleaders look too smart. The Washington Free Beacon first reported yesterday that the administration was exploring ways to craft a nuclear agreement that would give Iran its own “domestic” enrichment program:

“Over the next six months, we will explore, in practical terms, whether and how Iran might end up with a limited, tightly constrained, and intensively monitored civilian nuclear program, including domestic enrichment,” White House National Security Council (NSC) spokesman Caitlin Hayden told the Washington Free Beacon.

“Any such program,” she said, “would be subject to strict and verifiable curbs on its capacity and stockpiles of enriched uranium for a significant number of years and tied to practical energy needs that will remain minimal for years to come.”

But the problem with the curbs any such deal would put in place is that they could be easily and quickly evaded in any nuclear breakout toward a bomb. By leaving Iran’s nuclear infrastructure in place and giving them the ability to build up their stockpile of nuclear fuel, the West is relying on monitoring, inspections, and agreements to ensure that won’t happen. But the only way to ensure that it won’t is to insist on Iran dismantling its centrifuges and exporting its hoard of enriched uranium. By not only tacitly acknowledging Iran’s enrichment in the current deal and then also openly saying that it won’t insist on those practical measures in follow-up talks, the administration is dooming any hope that its strategy will achieve the objective of preventing an Islamist nuke.

Most of the discussion about uranium has focused on the efforts of Western negotiators to get the Iranians to agree not to enrich up to 20 percent or higher, the threshold at which the material becomes suited for military purposes rather than civilian energy production or research. Thus we are told that accords that limit Iranian enrichment to below five percent is the magic bullet that will prevent the nightmare of an Iranian bomb. But what those putting this message out consistently fail to say is that uranium enriched at low levels could be refined to get to the far higher percentage needed for a bomb. While the process to do this is not done in the snap of a finger, such a breakout is not a long-term project. With enough centrifuges—and the Iranians already have enough—it would only take a matter of weeks. The interim agreement President Obama got the Iranians to sign only lengthens that breakout period to a matter of weeks.

What all this means is that if the final agreement that the administration is hoping to get Iran to sign leaves them the ability to keep enriching uranium and the equipment to perform a breakout, the entire concept is based more on trusting the Iranians to keep their promises than anything else. Indeed, with the U.S. stating this openly now, there is no reason for the Iranians not to plan on breaking out whenever they think the time is right.

Perhaps President Obama is hoping that moment will come in 2017 or later when he is safely out of office and can hope to evade the blame for such a disaster. But whenever it happens—and given the importance the ayatollahs have placed on their nuclear quest, in the absence of measures that would actually prevent it, there is no reason to think it won’t eventually happen—there should be no doubt about what led to such a result.

The West entered negotiations with Iran with all the advantages on its side: tough economic sanctions that crippled its economy and a credible military threat from either the U.S. or Israel to take out Iran’s nuclear facilities if the ayatollahs remained obdurate. But instead of using that edge to force the Iranians to dismantle their program, President Obama opted instead to act as if he had no choice but to bow to Iran’s demands. The alternative to appeasement wasn’t war but more pressure on Iran to get an outcome that would end the nuclear threat. Instead the president has chosen to leave the Iranians a path to a weapon in the hope that diplomacy could achieve a genuine détente with a terrorist-sponsoring regime that spews hate and hostility to the West. By agreeing to enrichment, Obama is leaving a loophole a mile wide for the Iranians to push through to a bomb.

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Barack and Bibi Can’t Do It Alone

It’s not every day that New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman agrees, even in part, with something I’ve written. On Monday, I wrote that if President Obama was actually serious about negotiating a deal with Iran that will end the threat from that country, he should be encouraging Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu to be as vocal as possible with his complaints about any deal that would leave the Islamist regime leeway to achieve their nuclear ambition. If there is any hope the ayatollahs will think that they have to negotiate in good faith rather than cheat, it will only happen if they are convinced that Israel can and will act unilaterally to avert the danger of a nuclear Iran. Friedman seems to be saying something of the same thing when he points out in a column published today that ensuring that the chances that Iran doesn’t get a bomb will be enhanced, “if Bibi is occasionally Bibi and serves as our loaded pistol on the negotiating table.”

But Friedman doesn’t stop there and that’s where he predictably veers off course. He extrapolates from that kernel of truth to imagine all the great things “Barack and Bibi” can accomplish together if all they are willing to cooperate. He thinks the combination of Obama’s “cool” with Netanyahu’s “crazy” is the formula to not only deal with Iran but to make peace with the Palestinians as well. An Israel that accommodated the Palestinians would, he says, be more likely to garner support from Europe to stop Iran as well as to transform its functional alliance with Saudi Arabia on the nuclear issue into a genuine relationship with “trade and open relations.” Sounds nice. But the problem with this thesis is that it focuses only on one side of the negotiations with Iran and the Palestinians. Even if Obama and Netanyahu had common goals—and the president has given us every reason to think that he is not genuinely interested in ensuring Israel’s security on either front—all the Barack “cool” and Bibi “crazy” in the world can’t convince Iran to give up nukes or the Palestinians to make peace if they don’t want to. Like most liberal critiques of Israeli policy and Netanyahu, it makes the mistake of pretending that all that is needed to transform the Middle East is a willingness on the part of Israel or the U.S. to make nice.

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It’s not every day that New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman agrees, even in part, with something I’ve written. On Monday, I wrote that if President Obama was actually serious about negotiating a deal with Iran that will end the threat from that country, he should be encouraging Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu to be as vocal as possible with his complaints about any deal that would leave the Islamist regime leeway to achieve their nuclear ambition. If there is any hope the ayatollahs will think that they have to negotiate in good faith rather than cheat, it will only happen if they are convinced that Israel can and will act unilaterally to avert the danger of a nuclear Iran. Friedman seems to be saying something of the same thing when he points out in a column published today that ensuring that the chances that Iran doesn’t get a bomb will be enhanced, “if Bibi is occasionally Bibi and serves as our loaded pistol on the negotiating table.”

But Friedman doesn’t stop there and that’s where he predictably veers off course. He extrapolates from that kernel of truth to imagine all the great things “Barack and Bibi” can accomplish together if all they are willing to cooperate. He thinks the combination of Obama’s “cool” with Netanyahu’s “crazy” is the formula to not only deal with Iran but to make peace with the Palestinians as well. An Israel that accommodated the Palestinians would, he says, be more likely to garner support from Europe to stop Iran as well as to transform its functional alliance with Saudi Arabia on the nuclear issue into a genuine relationship with “trade and open relations.” Sounds nice. But the problem with this thesis is that it focuses only on one side of the negotiations with Iran and the Palestinians. Even if Obama and Netanyahu had common goals—and the president has given us every reason to think that he is not genuinely interested in ensuring Israel’s security on either front—all the Barack “cool” and Bibi “crazy” in the world can’t convince Iran to give up nukes or the Palestinians to make peace if they don’t want to. Like most liberal critiques of Israeli policy and Netanyahu, it makes the mistake of pretending that all that is needed to transform the Middle East is a willingness on the part of Israel or the U.S. to make nice.

On Iran, Friedman is right to note that Iran would never have even bothered to come to the negotiating table had not Israel posed a credible threat of force. Even more to the point, the U.S. and the Europeans would never have imposed tough sanctions on Iran had they not needed to create a viable diplomatic alternative to the prospect of an Israeli strike on the Islamist regime’s nuclear facilities. However, the problem with the cool/crazy negotiating theory is that if President Obama is actually more interested in détente with Iran than in ending the nuclear threat and pushing back against the ayatollahs’ sponsorship of international terrorism, then the whole idea amounts to nothing. Iran has good reason to think that Obama’s zeal for a deal at almost any price is what is driving Western diplomacy. They’ve shown repeatedly that they discount Western threats and think Obama is a paper tiger. Attaining nuclear capability has become integral to the regime’s identity, which is why they’ve successfully insisted on protecting their “right” to enrich uranium even though the West had all the leverage in the talks.

As for the Palestinians, Friedman’s argument is familiar but has been repeatedly discredited. Had the Palestinians genuinely wanted peace they would have accepted any of the past deals of statehood offered by the Israelis. But they haven’t and even the so-called “moderates” of the Palestinian Authority have shown no willingness to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn. If the latest round of talks with the Palestinians promoted by the administration is stuck in neutral it is not because of Israel’s positions on settlements or Jerusalem but because, as most serious observers have long understood, for a variety of reasons (including the fact that Hamas rules Gaza) the PA leadership is simply incapable of making peace.

Similarly, the notion that Israel’s functional alliance with Saudi Arabia against Iran can somehow morph into friendly relations involving trade is another example of how a supposed realist like Friedman is prone to engage in magical thinking. Though the two countries have a common foe, the Wahabi ideology of the Saudi monarchy makes any open relations with Israel impossible in the foreseeable future. As with Iran and the Palestinians, all the imagination and openness that Obama and Netanyahu can conjure up can’t transform the other side of the equation. Contrary to Friedman, Israel’s presence in the West Bank has little to do with the problems of the Middle East. As Jeffrey Goldberg rightly noted on Monday, the crises in Syria, Egypt, and the Iranian nuclear threat would exist no matter where Israel’s borders were placed.

Like most liberal thinkers on foreign policy, Friedman tends to overvalue the impact of technology and economics and undervalue the hold of religious fanaticism and cultural obstacles to peace. By focusing almost exclusively on the decisions that Israel or the West might make, they strip the Arab and Muslim worlds of any agency in their own fate or in their decisions on the conflicts they continue to pursue. Though the main irritant in the U.S.-Israel relationship comes from President Obama’s embrace of a policy of feckless appeasement, Friedman is right that the two nations can still work toward a common goal. But even if that happened, analysts who refuse to think seriously about the hold of ideology on the positions and goals of Iran and the Palestinians don’t have much that is of value to offer the discussion. 

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Scott Brown, ObamaCare, and Regionalism

Scott Brown’s career on the national stage has been a study in contradictions. He is a Northeast Republican with a working class, rather than coastal elite, political identity. He won Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat when the late senator passed away by running against the health-care reform effort that was associated with Kennedy perhaps more than any other politician aside from President Obama. He then accrued broad popularity and high approval ratings, yet lost his reelection bid anyway.

Out of office, the contradictions continued: he declined to run for Massachusetts’s other Senate seat when it opened up, and so he was a popular and skilled politician without office–a gifted campaigner without a campaign to run. Yet passing on the other Senate seat still made some sense, because he could run for governor of Massachusetts instead. That election would likely pit him against less formidable competition for an office to which Bay State Republicans get elected routinely, unlike the Senate. And it would offer him a chance to raise his national profile, in the event that he, like most politicians, was looking downfield.

But then he passed up the gubernatorial election as well. What gives? Perhaps, some wondered, he was actually considering running for the Senate from neighboring New Hampshire. The Granite State is more hospitable for Republicans than Massachusetts, and it would be a boon to any national aspirations he had because Republican support in New Hampshire is not the anomaly it is in Massachusetts. Now, it seems, Brown has taken another step in that direction:

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Scott Brown’s career on the national stage has been a study in contradictions. He is a Northeast Republican with a working class, rather than coastal elite, political identity. He won Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat when the late senator passed away by running against the health-care reform effort that was associated with Kennedy perhaps more than any other politician aside from President Obama. He then accrued broad popularity and high approval ratings, yet lost his reelection bid anyway.

Out of office, the contradictions continued: he declined to run for Massachusetts’s other Senate seat when it opened up, and so he was a popular and skilled politician without office–a gifted campaigner without a campaign to run. Yet passing on the other Senate seat still made some sense, because he could run for governor of Massachusetts instead. That election would likely pit him against less formidable competition for an office to which Bay State Republicans get elected routinely, unlike the Senate. And it would offer him a chance to raise his national profile, in the event that he, like most politicians, was looking downfield.

But then he passed up the gubernatorial election as well. What gives? Perhaps, some wondered, he was actually considering running for the Senate from neighboring New Hampshire. The Granite State is more hospitable for Republicans than Massachusetts, and it would be a boon to any national aspirations he had because Republican support in New Hampshire is not the anomaly it is in Massachusetts. Now, it seems, Brown has taken another step in that direction:

Former US senator Scott Brown will headline the New Hampshire GOP holiday dinner this month, furthering speculation that he is considering a run for the Senate in that state. …

Brown himself has remained coy about his plans. He has changed his Twitter handle from @ScottBrownMA to @SenScottBrown.

Would Brown be viewed too much as a carpetbagger to win in New Hampshire? It’s an interesting question, because it would test the extent to which regionalism can trump localism in Northeastern politics. By that I mean: we are constantly being told that Northeast Republican candidates for national office (usually the presidency) can offset their lack of ideological bona fides by competing for states Republicans don’t usually win during presidential elections.

Mitt Romney was an example of this. No, the thinking went, he can’t win Massachusetts, but maybe he can win New Hampshire. In the end, he could not win New Hampshire, but the idea was only on the table because he hailed from a nearby state. Rarely do we speak of regionalism this way for other areas of the country. It’s true that there is something to being a southerner, but much of that is tangled up in liberals’ evergreen amateurish smears that Republican success in the South means they must be racist. And anyway “the South” is a bit amorphous and far more diverse than it is given credit for, making regionalism a tough sell.

At other times, race and ethnicity do play into regional assessments, but in a more positive way. Republicans may speak of success in the Southwest, for example, in terms of outreach to Hispanic voters instead of, say, being from Phoenix. But the Northeast continues, against all odds, to play this siren song on a loop. In many ways, a Scott Brown Senate run from New Hampshire would be an even better test of this theory than a presidential contest, because it would put state issues front and center and really assess their portability.

But it turns out that were Brown to run in New Hampshire, he might preempt this test by injecting national issues into the race, indicating the limitations of Northeast regionalism. The issue Brown is most likely to raise would be the one that played a role in his initial Massachusetts win: ObamaCare. As the Washington Post reports:

In the FoxNews.com op-ed, Brown focuses on the effects of the federal health-care law in New Hampshire — not Massachusetts, notably — and appears to take a shot at his would-be opponent, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.).

“Many other Americans are experiencing fewer medical options as insurers restrict their choice of doctors and hospitals in order to keep costs low,” Brown writes, adding: “For example, in New Hampshire, only 16 of the state’s 26 hospitals are available on the federal exchange, meaning patients must either pay more to keep their current doctor or seek inferior care elsewhere.”

Brown then mentions New Hampshire a second time: “New Hampshire is not alone. Across the country, some of the best hospitals are not available on plans on the exchange, leaving patients with difficult choices and unwanted sometimes, life threatening decisions.”

The irony here is that nationalizing issues was something his Massachusetts opponent, Elizabeth Warren, used against him in her successful bid to turn him out of office. Warren herself was a transplant to Massachusetts, though she arrived in the state long before she had senatorial ambitions. If New Hampshire’s voters dislike ObamaCare enough, they’d probably be open to an out-of-stater who promises to help unburden them. That appears to be Brown’s bet–if he runs, something he has made a steady habit of avoiding so far.

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It Turns Out Obama Was Nothing But a Community Organizer All Along

It’s fitting that on the same day President Obama’s latest health-care offensive began, the Washington Post featured a story on its front page reporting that that healthcare.gov is making frequent enrollment errors affecting up to one-third of the people who have signed up for the health plans since October 1. The mistakes include failure to notify insurers about new customers; duplicate enrollments or cancellation notices for the same person; incorrect information about family members; and mistakes involving federal subsidies.

This comes on top of the fact that we’ve learned that officials at the Department of Health and Human Services warned in September that the security of the site had not been properly tested before it opened, creating “a high risk,” and that online security experts are warning that it could take a year to secure the risk of “high exposures” of personal information on the federal ObamaCare online exchange.

And you can add to all this rising costs for premiums and deductibles and the fact that due to the Affordable Care Act, around five million people have lost their private health insurance, with estimates that as many as 80 million people with employer health plans could find their coverage canceled next year because they are not compliant with the ACA.

Yet the president is betting that three weeks of his speeches, spin, and PR events will undo the damage; that his reassuring words and assault on the GOP will make up for his epic governing incompetence.

This is a delusional hope.

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It’s fitting that on the same day President Obama’s latest health-care offensive began, the Washington Post featured a story on its front page reporting that that healthcare.gov is making frequent enrollment errors affecting up to one-third of the people who have signed up for the health plans since October 1. The mistakes include failure to notify insurers about new customers; duplicate enrollments or cancellation notices for the same person; incorrect information about family members; and mistakes involving federal subsidies.

This comes on top of the fact that we’ve learned that officials at the Department of Health and Human Services warned in September that the security of the site had not been properly tested before it opened, creating “a high risk,” and that online security experts are warning that it could take a year to secure the risk of “high exposures” of personal information on the federal ObamaCare online exchange.

And you can add to all this rising costs for premiums and deductibles and the fact that due to the Affordable Care Act, around five million people have lost their private health insurance, with estimates that as many as 80 million people with employer health plans could find their coverage canceled next year because they are not compliant with the ACA.

Yet the president is betting that three weeks of his speeches, spin, and PR events will undo the damage; that his reassuring words and assault on the GOP will make up for his epic governing incompetence.

This is a delusional hope.

The problem Mr. Obama faces isn’t a communications failure; it’s a facts-on-the-ground failure. He is the author and architect of a perfectly awful law. A few clever lines delivered from an increasingly unpopular and discredited president won’t make any difference. The public is both turning on the president and tuning him out.

Americans are tired of Mr. Obama; and they are tired of the pain and trauma, the ineptness and dishonesty, of his presidency.

Maybe he was just a Chicago community organizer after all.

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Conservatives and Poverty

In a recent Mars Hill Audio Journal discussion, Ken Myers interviewed the church historian Peter Brown on the early church’s approach to wealth and poverty. (Brown is also author of the masterful 1967 biography, Augustine of Hippo.)

According to Myers, while those in ancient Rome did participate in alms giving, in Roman and Greek culture there wasn’t the compassion for the poor that was present in Jewish and Christian understanding because “there was nothing like Yahweh’s love for the oppressed in their moral imagination.” For the pre-Christian cultures of antiquity, he observed, civic generosity involved a love for the city but not a love for the poor as such.

This is how Professor Brown put it in a lecture:

In directing so much attention to the care of the poor, Jews and Christians were not simply doing on a more extensive scale what pagans had already been doing in a less whole-hearted and well-organized manner. Far from it. It takes some effort of the historical imagination to realize that around the year 360 CE, love of the poor was a relatively novel and for many humane and public-spirited persons still a largely peripheral virtue. As for organized care of the poor, this was a practice that cut against deeply ingrained and still vigorous traditions of public giving from which direct charity to the poor was notably absent.

It is this Jewish and Christian understanding that eventually helped shift people’s attitudes. “Securing justice for the poor and upholding the cause of the needy,” in the words of the Psalms, became not just a private but also a public concern. Throughout the Scriptures, in fact, rulers are judged by whether the weak and the disadvantaged in society are cared for or exploited.

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In a recent Mars Hill Audio Journal discussion, Ken Myers interviewed the church historian Peter Brown on the early church’s approach to wealth and poverty. (Brown is also author of the masterful 1967 biography, Augustine of Hippo.)

According to Myers, while those in ancient Rome did participate in alms giving, in Roman and Greek culture there wasn’t the compassion for the poor that was present in Jewish and Christian understanding because “there was nothing like Yahweh’s love for the oppressed in their moral imagination.” For the pre-Christian cultures of antiquity, he observed, civic generosity involved a love for the city but not a love for the poor as such.

This is how Professor Brown put it in a lecture:

In directing so much attention to the care of the poor, Jews and Christians were not simply doing on a more extensive scale what pagans had already been doing in a less whole-hearted and well-organized manner. Far from it. It takes some effort of the historical imagination to realize that around the year 360 CE, love of the poor was a relatively novel and for many humane and public-spirited persons still a largely peripheral virtue. As for organized care of the poor, this was a practice that cut against deeply ingrained and still vigorous traditions of public giving from which direct charity to the poor was notably absent.

It is this Jewish and Christian understanding that eventually helped shift people’s attitudes. “Securing justice for the poor and upholding the cause of the needy,” in the words of the Psalms, became not just a private but also a public concern. Throughout the Scriptures, in fact, rulers are judged by whether the weak and the disadvantaged in society are cared for or exploited.

Which brings me to the here and now. According to a recent Washington Post story, next year, for the 50th anniversary of Lyndon Johnson’s “War on Poverty” crusade, Representative Paul Ryan “hopes to roll out an anti-poverty plan to rival his budgetary Roadmap for America’s Future in scope and ambition.”

A conservative plan to combat poverty would of course differ–and in my estimation should differ–from a liberal anti-poverty approach. But for the purposes of this post, I don’t want to examine the substantive policy differences, as salient as they are. Rather, I want to underscore the fact that focusing attention on those living in the shadows of American society is the responsibility of a great political party; and how to create greater opportunity and social mobility for those stuck on the bottom rungs of society should be part of any conservative governing vision.

To be sure, the problem of poverty is complicated, different in important respects from in the past, and defies simplistic partisan explanations. The solutions certainly extend beyond the actions of government. Indeed, misguided government policies have done a great deal to perpetuate inter-generational poverty. But it’s hard to argue that politics and government don’t have significant roles to play, direct and indirect, both in putting an end to failed policies and in supporting what works. And certainly the Republican Party has to do better than declaring utter indifference to the poor (which was the approach some otherwise very impressive individuals took in the 2012 presidential race). 

Helping those most in need should be considered more than a peripheral virtue; and like Jews and Christians of old, we should all make more room in our moral imaginations for the care of the poor. Certainly if we’re told that God identifies with the least of these, so should we.

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A Method to Karzai’s Madness?

Hamid Karzai’s refusal to sign the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) with the U.S., which has been laboriously negotiated with the Obama administration, is maddening–but it does come with a silver lining: Karzai’s foot-dragging is showing that there is widespread popular support for a continuing American troop presence and of course for the money that comes with it. There was a telling vignette at the loya jirga that Karzai called to endorse the agreement–and whose verdict he is so far ignoring. As Najib Sharifi, a Kabul-based analyst, notes:

Almost 40 minutes into Karzai’s speech, a female senator, Belqis Roshan, from Farah, a province which lies along the border with Iran, raised a banner covered with anti-BSA slogans that compared the signing of the agreement to committing Watan Feroshi, or treason.

What the senator had not judged was the response she received from other participants. Chants of “Death to slaves of Pakistan” and “Death to slaves of Iran” suddenly filled the hall, prompting even Karzai to laugh, something he has not done publically for years. He finally intervened, urging calm, and called on the jirga participants to not accuse those who opposed the BSA of being spies for neighboring countries.

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Hamid Karzai’s refusal to sign the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) with the U.S., which has been laboriously negotiated with the Obama administration, is maddening–but it does come with a silver lining: Karzai’s foot-dragging is showing that there is widespread popular support for a continuing American troop presence and of course for the money that comes with it. There was a telling vignette at the loya jirga that Karzai called to endorse the agreement–and whose verdict he is so far ignoring. As Najib Sharifi, a Kabul-based analyst, notes:

Almost 40 minutes into Karzai’s speech, a female senator, Belqis Roshan, from Farah, a province which lies along the border with Iran, raised a banner covered with anti-BSA slogans that compared the signing of the agreement to committing Watan Feroshi, or treason.

What the senator had not judged was the response she received from other participants. Chants of “Death to slaves of Pakistan” and “Death to slaves of Iran” suddenly filled the hall, prompting even Karzai to laugh, something he has not done publically for years. He finally intervened, urging calm, and called on the jirga participants to not accuse those who opposed the BSA of being spies for neighboring countries.

How often do you hear those who oppose a U.S. military presence in their country being denounced as traitors? Especially in a Muslim country? Yet that is what is now happening in Afghanistan where everyone, it seems, except for the Taliban, is urging Karzai to get on with it and sign an agreement that will enable the government’s survival past 2014.

Why isn’t Karzai complying so far? Afghanistan, like other countries in the Middle East and Central Asia, is notorious for its conspiracy theories and Sharifi has a good one to explain Karzai’s actions:

By holding off on signing the agreement, he is generating further domestic support for the pact. In other words, he is effectively building public pressure against himself. Why? Because there is a historical stigma attached to any agreement that includes the establishment of foreign military bases in the country. While Afghans currently support the creation of these bases, with the country’s uncertain political future, Karzai is worried about his legacy and he does not want to be seen as the person who facilitated this development if the domestic sentiment changes. By increasing the public pressure, he is creating an environment that would allow him to sign the BSA, while claiming that he had no other choice but to yield to the public demand.

Far be it from me to predict or explain Karzai’s actions, but this actually seems like a compelling theory. I just hope that Sharifi is right that Karzai will soon end the charade and sign the BSA, because if he doesn’t the Obama administration can use that as an excuse to walk away, leaving Afghanistan–and U.S. interests in the region–in the lurch.

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