Commentary Magazine


Posts For: December 16, 2013

A Bad Night on 92nd Street

Ever had a bad night? I just had one. Ever lost your cool? I just did.

I was on a panel at the 92nd Street Y in New York about what it means to be pro-Israel. The panelists were Jeremy Ben-Ami of JStreet, David Harris of the American Jewish Committee, and I; the moderator was Jane Eisner of the Forward. In the middle of the panel, I chose to walk off the stage rather than continue.

Eisner has written an account of the event, almost comic in its level of detail, in which she calls me a “rude, angry man.” So let me offer some notes on what may be the least significant tempest-in-a-teapot in the history of world Jewry.

In the course of her account, she claims that “mystifyingly,” I “encouraged” the audience to boo and hiss me. In fact, after a prolonged bout of booing, I responded by suggesting—in a manner that was intended, for what I would have thought were obvious reasons, to be ironic—that the crowd might try hissing too. Which they did. Maybe they didn’t pick up on the irony; Eisner apparently didn’t, given her level of mystification.

Eisner then says I wagged my finger “in a manner threatening and concescending” at Ben-Ami. As it happens, I had no problem with Ben-Ami personally throughout the panel, though we disagreed vehemently. And given that he was five or ten feet away from me and we were having an exchange that was mutually heated, I’m not sure how threatening my condescending finger-wagging could have been. (I am unaware there was any finger-wagging, by the way, but I will stipulate for the sake of comity that some wagging took place.)

Whatever I did, it was, to be sure, no more “threatening” than Eisner’s response, which was to put her hand up close to  me for the purposes of quieting me down. Eisner seems to think that when I spoke in objection to this gesture, which I did angrily, I was perhaps fearful she was going to attack me physically—which is the height of silliness. I was annoyed by the hostility of the crowd, one of whose number had shrieked at me, and I was troubled by Eisner’s effort to shush me.

Bottom line: I’d had a long day and I didn’t see the point in spending more of it getting booed and shushed. So I left. So sue me.

By the way, David Harris was just great on the panel.

 

Ever had a bad night? I just had one. Ever lost your cool? I just did.

I was on a panel at the 92nd Street Y in New York about what it means to be pro-Israel. The panelists were Jeremy Ben-Ami of JStreet, David Harris of the American Jewish Committee, and I; the moderator was Jane Eisner of the Forward. In the middle of the panel, I chose to walk off the stage rather than continue.

Eisner has written an account of the event, almost comic in its level of detail, in which she calls me a “rude, angry man.” So let me offer some notes on what may be the least significant tempest-in-a-teapot in the history of world Jewry.

In the course of her account, she claims that “mystifyingly,” I “encouraged” the audience to boo and hiss me. In fact, after a prolonged bout of booing, I responded by suggesting—in a manner that was intended, for what I would have thought were obvious reasons, to be ironic—that the crowd might try hissing too. Which they did. Maybe they didn’t pick up on the irony; Eisner apparently didn’t, given her level of mystification.

Eisner then says I wagged my finger “in a manner threatening and concescending” at Ben-Ami. As it happens, I had no problem with Ben-Ami personally throughout the panel, though we disagreed vehemently. And given that he was five or ten feet away from me and we were having an exchange that was mutually heated, I’m not sure how threatening my condescending finger-wagging could have been. (I am unaware there was any finger-wagging, by the way, but I will stipulate for the sake of comity that some wagging took place.)

Whatever I did, it was, to be sure, no more “threatening” than Eisner’s response, which was to put her hand up close to  me for the purposes of quieting me down. Eisner seems to think that when I spoke in objection to this gesture, which I did angrily, I was perhaps fearful she was going to attack me physically—which is the height of silliness. I was annoyed by the hostility of the crowd, one of whose number had shrieked at me, and I was troubled by Eisner’s effort to shush me.

Bottom line: I’d had a long day and I didn’t see the point in spending more of it getting booed and shushed. So I left. So sue me.

By the way, David Harris was just great on the panel.

 

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Huckabee and the Other GOP Civil War

Ever since the era of Ronald Reagan, victorious Republican coalitions have always been built via coalitions of disparate but essentially compatible factions. While most of the mainstream liberal media these days tends to lump Republicans into only two categories–establishment types and Tea Party extremists–the same groupings that worked together to elected Reagan as well as the first and second George Bush are still there. Fiscal conservatives, libertarians, social conservatives, and foreign-policy hawks are still the building blocks of the right’s hope to take back Congress and the White House. But the days of GOP unity are long gone as some elements of that coalition are already at odds. Libertarians led by Senator Rand Paul have already clearly broken with the conservative consensus on maintaining a strong American presence abroad and seem willing to not only retreat from the Middle East, as Barack Obama seems to intend, but to pull back on other fronts as well. Disagreements over budget cuts and the sequester have also highlighted the increasing tensions between the fiscal hawks, libertarians, and the shrinking constituency for a strong national defense. But with the campaign for the 2016 GOP nomination already in its early stages, perhaps the most fascinating battle is the one that might be brewing between libertarians and the evangelicals.

The possibility for such a conflict was displayed on Friday when, as Politico reports, the Club for Growth issued a statement slamming former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee for what it considered his insufficiently conservative fiscal record. Given that Huckabee–though a force among Christian conservatives–will be committing against a deep Republican bench of governors and senators that include Chris Christie, Scott Walker, Bobby Jindal, Paul, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, and even the 2012 runner-up Rick Santorum, the decision of the Club to launch a pre-emptive strike on the winner of the 2008 Iowa caucus seems like a curious decision. Why would the home office of the libertarian critique of tax-and-spend liberalism think it worth the time and the effort to take a shot at a favorite of Christian conservatives in this manner? Are they really that concerned about nipping a Huckabee boomlet in the bud before it gains momentum and ultimately harms the chances of candidates like Paul, Cruz, or Walker that are more to their liking? Or is this merely the opening shot of much bigger struggle inside the conservative tent for control of the direction of the party or at least its Tea Party wing?

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Ever since the era of Ronald Reagan, victorious Republican coalitions have always been built via coalitions of disparate but essentially compatible factions. While most of the mainstream liberal media these days tends to lump Republicans into only two categories–establishment types and Tea Party extremists–the same groupings that worked together to elected Reagan as well as the first and second George Bush are still there. Fiscal conservatives, libertarians, social conservatives, and foreign-policy hawks are still the building blocks of the right’s hope to take back Congress and the White House. But the days of GOP unity are long gone as some elements of that coalition are already at odds. Libertarians led by Senator Rand Paul have already clearly broken with the conservative consensus on maintaining a strong American presence abroad and seem willing to not only retreat from the Middle East, as Barack Obama seems to intend, but to pull back on other fronts as well. Disagreements over budget cuts and the sequester have also highlighted the increasing tensions between the fiscal hawks, libertarians, and the shrinking constituency for a strong national defense. But with the campaign for the 2016 GOP nomination already in its early stages, perhaps the most fascinating battle is the one that might be brewing between libertarians and the evangelicals.

The possibility for such a conflict was displayed on Friday when, as Politico reports, the Club for Growth issued a statement slamming former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee for what it considered his insufficiently conservative fiscal record. Given that Huckabee–though a force among Christian conservatives–will be committing against a deep Republican bench of governors and senators that include Chris Christie, Scott Walker, Bobby Jindal, Paul, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, and even the 2012 runner-up Rick Santorum, the decision of the Club to launch a pre-emptive strike on the winner of the 2008 Iowa caucus seems like a curious decision. Why would the home office of the libertarian critique of tax-and-spend liberalism think it worth the time and the effort to take a shot at a favorite of Christian conservatives in this manner? Are they really that concerned about nipping a Huckabee boomlet in the bud before it gains momentum and ultimately harms the chances of candidates like Paul, Cruz, or Walker that are more to their liking? Or is this merely the opening shot of much bigger struggle inside the conservative tent for control of the direction of the party or at least its Tea Party wing?

What needs to be first understood about these core GOP constituencies is that there is considerable overlap between those who call themselves Tea Partiers and those who identify with Christian conservative causes. Every single one of those Republican leaders who have sought to mobilize party support on behalf of cutting government spending and holding the line on taxes can appeal to evangelicals on key issues like abortion. Indeed, support for the pro-life position is virtually a given in the contemporary Republican Party and encompasses a consensus that even includes so-called moderates like Christie.

That said, although Democrats have emphasized social issues in the last two election cycles as they sought to smear their opponents as waging a faux “war on women” on issues like abortion and the ObamaCare contraception mandate, most Republicans have spent more time in recent years talking about fiscal issues and ObamaCare than abortion. Many of those GOP candidates who were labeled as culture warriors, like the disastrous Missouri GOP Senate candidate Todd Akin, not only lost but helped sink other Republicans as well. As a result, in a party that was primarily focused on stopping or repealing ObamaCare, we haven’t heard as much from Christian conservatives.

But the 2012 GOP primaries should have reminded us that the social-issue vote could still be a powerful force. By winning over the same constituency that made Huckabee a force in 2008, Rick Santorum came from the back of the pack to be the last man standing in the Republican contest other than the eventual nominee Mitt Romney. If groups like the Club for Growth are worried about Huckabee returning to the presidential fray it is because they know that not only is his core constituency an important voting bloc, but that those who identify as evangelicals are often some of the same people rallying to the Tea Party banner.

With a little more than two years to go before that crucial 2016 Iowa caucus, it’s far from clear how exactly these factions or the potential candidates will sort themselves out. But whoever emerges as the frontrunner in Iowa is going to have to appeal to both of these key constituencies. Christie may hope to win via Romney’s more centrist approach as the sole moderate conservative in the field. But as Santorum proved, anyone who can corner the evangelical vote will have a chance in Iowa and many other states. Their votes will be all the more crucial since so many potential candidates will be competing for the same libertarian and Tea Party votes.

Blasting Huckabee, who has shut down the radio show he had for the last year and a half and appears to be gearing up for another presidential run, may seem premature. But the willingness of one of the leading libertarian/fiscal conservative think tanks to put him in the cross-hairs shows that the real GOP civil war may not be the bally-hooed conflict between the Karl Rove types and the grass roots activists that we’ve been hearing so much about in the last year. Instead it may turn out to be a complicated and often confusing battle for the hearts and minds of fiscal conservatives who also happen to think of themselves as Christian conservatives.

That’s why Club for Growth seems so eager to take out Huckabee before he even gets started as well as why many of those GOP candidates who have been obsessing about ObamaCare and taxes in the last year may now start to spend more time talking about abortion and other issues of interest to evangelicals. The Republican who can best unite both factions will have a substantial advantage in 2016.

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The Democrats’ Bad Credit

In Jonathan Franzen’s novel Freedom, the band led by one of the characters gets a streak of decent reviews in the press despite never attaining a large audience or good record sales. At some point, those press mentions disappear, and he figures out what happened: “he’d been buying press attention on credit all along, without realizing it, and that the press had finally concluded that familiarity with the Traumatics was never going to be necessary to anyone’s cultural literacy or street credibility, and so there was no reason to extend him further credit.”

You can see something similar happening with ObamaCare: consistently positive press despite the public’s distaste for it and the assumption that eventually, association with the project will pay off, followed by the sudden realization that public opinion on something they hated is actually likely to stay that way–or that the public was right all along, and the product stinks. But the “credit” extended in this case leaves the debt not primarily on President Obama or the press. It’s on the Democrats who are associated with the law and still have to stand for election.

As the Washington Post reported over the weekend, the president took full advantage of his line of credit by postponing the parts of the law that would reveal the full extent of the harm it would do and thus turn the country against the president before his reelection. It wasn’t just ObamaCare either; much of the president’s policy agenda was considered unpopular, and he had to wait until he was safely reelected to put into place policies he knew the public didn’t want:

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In Jonathan Franzen’s novel Freedom, the band led by one of the characters gets a streak of decent reviews in the press despite never attaining a large audience or good record sales. At some point, those press mentions disappear, and he figures out what happened: “he’d been buying press attention on credit all along, without realizing it, and that the press had finally concluded that familiarity with the Traumatics was never going to be necessary to anyone’s cultural literacy or street credibility, and so there was no reason to extend him further credit.”

You can see something similar happening with ObamaCare: consistently positive press despite the public’s distaste for it and the assumption that eventually, association with the project will pay off, followed by the sudden realization that public opinion on something they hated is actually likely to stay that way–or that the public was right all along, and the product stinks. But the “credit” extended in this case leaves the debt not primarily on President Obama or the press. It’s on the Democrats who are associated with the law and still have to stand for election.

As the Washington Post reported over the weekend, the president took full advantage of his line of credit by postponing the parts of the law that would reveal the full extent of the harm it would do and thus turn the country against the president before his reelection. It wasn’t just ObamaCare either; much of the president’s policy agenda was considered unpopular, and he had to wait until he was safely reelected to put into place policies he knew the public didn’t want:

The White House systematically delayed enacting a series of rules on the environment, worker safety and health care to prevent them from becoming points of contention before the 2012 election, according to documents and interviews with current and former administration officials. …

The Obama administration has repeatedly said that any delays until after the election were coincidental and that such decisions were made without regard to politics. But seven current and former administration officials told The Washington Post that the motives behind many of the delays were clearly political, as Obama’s top aides focused on avoiding controversy before his reelection.

The number and scope of delays under Obama went well beyond those of his predecessors, who helped shape rules but did not have the same formalized controls, said current and former officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the topic.

But though there may have been a greater number of delays, surely the Obama administration was simply using the same process as that of his predecessors, only to greater effect, right? Wrong:

Previous White House operations have weighed in on major rules before they were officially submitted for review. But Jeffrey Holmstead, who headed the EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation in the George W. Bush administration, said the effort was not as extensive as the Obama administration’s approach.

“There was no formalized process by which you had to get permission to send them over,” Holmstead said, referring to rules being submitted to the White House.

But the federal government keeps expanding; perhaps the slow-walking of regulatory action prior to the election was just the new pace of government? Nope:

The recent decision to bring on Democratic strategist John Podesta as a senior White House adviser is likely to accelerate the number of new rules and executive orders, given Podesta’s long-standing support for using executive action to achieve the president’s goals despite congressional opposition.

Back to speed, now that the president is no longer accountable to the voters. But members of his party are, and they’re fairly nervous:

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), who chairs the Judiciary Subcommittee on Oversight, Federal Rights and Agency Action, said he’s concerned about the real-world impact of the postponements in the first term.

“Legal protection delayed is protection denied,” Blumenthal said. “I’ve spoken to officials at the top rungs of the White House power structure and at OIRA and we’re going to hold their feet to the fire, and we’re going to make sure they’re held accountable in a series of hearings.”

It should be noted that the Democrats had plenty to gain from Obama pulling out all the stops to ensure his own reelection. Had the president lost, the Democrats would likely have suffered in down-ticket races and perhaps even more at the state level. As it stands, though ObamaCare has been a disaster thus far, the Democrats still control the White House and the Senate, the latter being even more powerful now that they have shoved aside the filibuster and with it any deference to minority rights.

So postponing parts of ObamaCare to give the reform time to hit its stride was always a better option even for congressional Democrats than a broad Republican victory that would have wasted the Democrats’ early sacrifices on behalf of ObamaCare. This gave them a fighting chance. The problem for Democrats is that Obama’s second term seems focused on piling even more unpopular rulemaking–which congressional Democrats cannot stop or water down–on top of the ObamaCare mess. Obama got his second term on credit, but congressional Democrats are now on the hook for it.

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Foreign Troops Won’t Solve Peace Tangle

Secretary of State John Kerry’s latest trip to Israel is already over, but his continued effort to sell his plan on security arrangements to the parties seems to be getting nowhere. The plan, which is predicated on importing foreign troops into the West Bank and the Jordan River crossings in the aftermath of a two-state peace deal being reached, doesn’t please either the Israelis or the Palestinians. But while the Israeli government is continuing to talk to Kerry about the scheme in spite of the fact that Prime Minister Netanyahu is less than thrilled with his idea, the Palestinians appear to have rejected it out of hand.

The Israelis have good reason to worry about placing their security in the hands of other nations, a point that was re-emphasized to the country yesterday when an Israeli soldier patrolling the northern border with Lebanon was shot and killed by a terrorist sniper. Terrorism has continued despite the presence of United Nations peacekeepers and the supposed commitment of Lebanese Army troops to the cause of keeping the border quiet. But despite Israel’s obvious misgivings about the scheme, it is the Palestinians who are most upset by it even though its purpose is to clear the way for the independent state they want. The reasons for their respective positions tell us all we need to know about likely futility of Kerry’s pursuit of an agreement at this point in time.

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Secretary of State John Kerry’s latest trip to Israel is already over, but his continued effort to sell his plan on security arrangements to the parties seems to be getting nowhere. The plan, which is predicated on importing foreign troops into the West Bank and the Jordan River crossings in the aftermath of a two-state peace deal being reached, doesn’t please either the Israelis or the Palestinians. But while the Israeli government is continuing to talk to Kerry about the scheme in spite of the fact that Prime Minister Netanyahu is less than thrilled with his idea, the Palestinians appear to have rejected it out of hand.

The Israelis have good reason to worry about placing their security in the hands of other nations, a point that was re-emphasized to the country yesterday when an Israeli soldier patrolling the northern border with Lebanon was shot and killed by a terrorist sniper. Terrorism has continued despite the presence of United Nations peacekeepers and the supposed commitment of Lebanese Army troops to the cause of keeping the border quiet. But despite Israel’s obvious misgivings about the scheme, it is the Palestinians who are most upset by it even though its purpose is to clear the way for the independent state they want. The reasons for their respective positions tell us all we need to know about likely futility of Kerry’s pursuit of an agreement at this point in time.

Those arguing in favor of Kerry’s idea point to the relative success of international peacekeepers in maintaining border security on two of Israel’s former war fronts.

Along the border between the Israeli Negev and the Egyptian Sinai where once the two countries’ main armored forces faced off in four wars, the international observer force has had little to do. Indeed, when problems arise, as was the case during the last year, when the since-deposed Muslim Brotherhood government in Cairo gave Islamist terrorists the freedom they needed to try to cause trouble for the Jewish state, the Egyptian Army cooperated fully with the Israel Defense Forces.

The same is true along the border between the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights and Syria. Indeed, though at times the Syrian civil war has threatened to spill over into Israel, the frontier between these two bitter enemies has been largely peaceful since the aftermath of the Yom Kippur War some 40 years ago.

But neither situation is comparable to what would happen in the West Bank. Egypt and Syria are both sovereign nations and however much antipathy they may have for Israel, their national identity is not bound up in rejection of the legitimacy of Israel no matter where its borders are drawn, as is the case with the Palestinians. The main Palestinian forces, both in Hamas-controlled Gaza and in the Fatah-led West Bank, aren’t merely hostile to Israel; their legitimacy is predicated on a struggle not to evict Israel from a particular piece of land but to its eventual destruction. That’s why even the moderates of the Palestinian Authority who wish to go on talking with Israel still refuse to recognize it as the Jewish state or give up the “right of return” for the descendants of the 1948 refugees: because doing so would end the conflict for all time.

Writing in Haaretz, Steven Klein argues the better comparison would be to the success of peacekeepers in Bosnia and Kosovo where the existence of those two nations was guaranteed by the presence of NATO peacekeepers that ensured that their Serb foes would have to give up claims to their territory. But as nasty as the conflicts between Bosnian Muslims and the Kosovars against the Serbs were, it should be remembered that unlike the long history of Palestinian Arab rejection of Israel, neither group sought Serbia’s annihilation, merely the right to break away from the largest of the post-Yugoslav states and determine their own future.

If Mahmoud Abbas rejected Kerry’s scheme saying that it “looked like a plan drafted by Israel,” it is because however much it might constrain Israeli self-defense, its premise remains a future in which the Palestinian state would be essentially demilitarized and prevented from allowing foreign forces hostile to Israel to enter its territory (the very acts that set off the 1967 Six-Day War that led to the current situation).

As for the Israelis, as Klein notes, the very notion of placing Israel’s security in foreign hands is anathema to Israel’s government. Klein is wrong to think of Netanyahu’s Likud as being uniquely hostile to such ideas because of the writings of Vladimir Ze’ev Jabotinsky, the founder of the movement from which the Israeli nationalist camp sprung, since Labor Zionist icons like David Ben Gurion were just as leery of such schemes. While the “American bayonets” that Klein envisages as the solution to the Middle East conflict are not as likely to behave as badly as the UN forces currently in Lebanon or be as feckless as their predecessors that fled the border with Egypt in 1967 when that country’s dictator Gamel Abdul Nasser told them to leave, Israelis are right to worry about placing so much reliance on even as friendly an ally as the U.S.

But the key to the problem isn’t so much the technical difficulties of a scheme or the fact that a war-weary American public isn’t likely to be enthusiastic about placing U.S. troops in harm’s way in the West Bank or to be more pro-active about keeping the peace there than are peacekeepers elsewhere in the region. Rather, it is the same basic problem that has always been the greatest obstacle to peace: the Palestinian refusal to give up their war on Israel rather than merely accepting a temporary truce that would allow them to continue the conflict on more favorable terms in the future. Until a sea change in Palestinian political culture occurs that enables leaders like Abbas to sign a peace deal without fear of losing power to more radical factions like Hamas, Kerry’s plans will remain irrelevant details.

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What Diplomats Can Learn from Marines

A minor theme of my forthcoming history of U.S. diplomacy with rogue regimes and terrorist groups is that the State Department undercuts the effectiveness of its diplomacy by always looking forward but seldom considering the past. Self-criticism and the study of past mistakes are the best ways to avoid repeating mistakes. The inability of Arab militaries to self-criticize for cultural and political reasons was a major factor in Col. Norvell B. De Atkine’s seminal article “Why Arabs Lose Wars.”

The State Department, however, has seldom if ever conducted a lessons-learned exercise about why some of its previous initiatives have failed. Enter Donald Bishop, a retired Foreign Service officer and public diplomacy specialist, who served as the policy advisor to General James Conway (U.S. Marine Corps) between 2006 and 2008. Writing recently for the Public Diplomacy Council, Bishop recalled his service in an article entitled, “Learning from the Marines: Schoolhouses, Debate, Public Affairs, and Recognition,” and provides a useful comparison between the culture of the Foreign Service and that of the U.S. Marine Corps and finds that diplomats might learn a great deal from Marines.

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A minor theme of my forthcoming history of U.S. diplomacy with rogue regimes and terrorist groups is that the State Department undercuts the effectiveness of its diplomacy by always looking forward but seldom considering the past. Self-criticism and the study of past mistakes are the best ways to avoid repeating mistakes. The inability of Arab militaries to self-criticize for cultural and political reasons was a major factor in Col. Norvell B. De Atkine’s seminal article “Why Arabs Lose Wars.”

The State Department, however, has seldom if ever conducted a lessons-learned exercise about why some of its previous initiatives have failed. Enter Donald Bishop, a retired Foreign Service officer and public diplomacy specialist, who served as the policy advisor to General James Conway (U.S. Marine Corps) between 2006 and 2008. Writing recently for the Public Diplomacy Council, Bishop recalled his service in an article entitled, “Learning from the Marines: Schoolhouses, Debate, Public Affairs, and Recognition,” and provides a useful comparison between the culture of the Foreign Service and that of the U.S. Marine Corps and finds that diplomats might learn a great deal from Marines.

He observes, “Anyone who thinks the Marines are all brawn and no brain should visit The Basic School with its emphasis on decision making; the Center for Advanced Operational Cultural Learning, which trains Marines to understand how they will encounter people from different cultures; and the Marine Corps Command and Staff College for its emphasis on planning and integration of all the elements of national power.” While the Foreign Service provides supplementary training and has embraced specialized language institutes, it has no corollary to the Marines when it comes to expanding the academic self. 

He continues, “The Marine Corps cultivates professional debate and even dissent, using the Marine Corps Gazette as a vehicle for the expression of opinion and new ideas. It so values contention over ideas, responsibly stated, that contributors to that journal are honored even when junior opinions make senior eyes roll, or when opinions are strongly contrary.” Much depends on any particular unit’s command environment, but I have heard far more rigorous debate openly among military personnel, with and in the presence of their superiors, than I have in embassies. And woe to any diplomat who uses the established dissent channel, for that would be a career killer.

Bishop makes other apt comparisons as well, and his whole short article is worth reading. That the cultural divide between military and non-military spheres has widened ever since the end of the draft is undeniable. Few diplomats and even fewer in academe have much understanding of who the military is and how they operate. That such a divide remains might be inevitable. That bureaucratic cultures in practice do not learn from each other’s best practices, however, is unfortunate.

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It’s Time to Close the Camps

The last quarter century has been a time of great change across the globe, much of which has been for the better. The number of electoral democracies has grown from 69 in 1989 to 118 today. Despite Russia’s resurgence, the instability wrought by the Arab Spring, and the dangers posed by rogue regimes, the world remains far freer now than at any point in history.

How tragic it is, then, that so many tens of thousands remain effectively imprisoned in political concentration camps. North Korea, of course, is the world’s worst violator. According to the Guardian, the left’s flagship paper, up to 200,000 North Koreans remain imprisoned. CNN has detailed some of the ongoing horror in the six camps, and any report from the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea is worth reading. The Hermit Kingdom is not alone, though.

For decades, China has also maintained a series of “re-education through labor” [laojiao] camps. And while the Chinese government has recently promised to dismantle its network, actions ultimately speak louder than words.

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The last quarter century has been a time of great change across the globe, much of which has been for the better. The number of electoral democracies has grown from 69 in 1989 to 118 today. Despite Russia’s resurgence, the instability wrought by the Arab Spring, and the dangers posed by rogue regimes, the world remains far freer now than at any point in history.

How tragic it is, then, that so many tens of thousands remain effectively imprisoned in political concentration camps. North Korea, of course, is the world’s worst violator. According to the Guardian, the left’s flagship paper, up to 200,000 North Koreans remain imprisoned. CNN has detailed some of the ongoing horror in the six camps, and any report from the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea is worth reading. The Hermit Kingdom is not alone, though.

For decades, China has also maintained a series of “re-education through labor” [laojiao] camps. And while the Chinese government has recently promised to dismantle its network, actions ultimately speak louder than words.

The United States might have little leverage over China and North Korea, but low-hanging fruit which could be resolved with American diplomatic pressure does exist. The Mujahedin al-Khalq (MKO) is correct to castigate those who believe that the Iranian government or its militia proxies should enjoy an open season on group members. Opposing massacres is not synonymous with support for the group, however; it may no longer be a U.S.-designated terror group, but remains just as much an authoritarian cult. And while MKO spokesmen may castigate the Iraqi government and the Iranian regime, the real victims of the MKO lay within the group itself. Camp Liberty—the successor to Camp Ashraf—exists as much if not more to keep MKO members insulated from the real world and under the control of MKO leader Maryam Rajavi’s commissars than as a means of protection for group members.

Other camps exist in the Tindouf province of southwestern Algeria. Here, perhaps 40,000 residents of southern Morocco, Algeria, western Mali, and northern Mauritania languish in camps controlled by the once-Marxist Polisario Front, largely kept from returning home by the group’s political commissars and the Algerian government. During a recent visit to Dakhla, in Western Sahara, I had the opportunity to speak to former members who described not only their own escape from the camps, but the attempts by others who were forcibly returned to the camps, where Polisario authorities punished them for the audacity of seeking to return home rather than languish in camps 22 years after the war between Morocco and Algeria ended. Simply put, Polisario realizes that if the camps close, the gravy train of international assistance would end and the Polisario would lose its raison d’être.

The Polisario is not the only Cold War remnant stubbornly holding hostages. The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia also engages in the practice, holding some prisoners for more than a decade. While some journalists parachute in and whitewash just what happens in FARC camps, it is hard to see “cultural programming” as anything other than an attempt at ideological re-education.

The Obama administration came into office seemingly committed to prioritizing human rights, never mind the debates about how best to guarantee rights, freedom, and liberty. The State Department became a revolving door not only for journalists, but for human-rights advocates, most notably Human Rights Watch’s Tom Malinowski and writer Samantha Power. Increasingly, however, it seems such figures are either window dressing for an administration so disinterested in human rights that it is willing to sanction political concentration and re-education camps or, worse yet, that these figures are so permeated by moral equivalency and skewed in their understanding of what universal human rights are that they are willing to normalize with the regimes, sponsors, and groups which engage in such practices.

Concentration camps and slavery (discussed in a previous post) are two phenomena that simply should not exist in the 21st century. That they do is a sad testament to the reality of regimes like North Korea’s, China’s, Algeria’s, Venezuela’s, and Cuba’s, and the choices which successive U.S. administrations–both Democrat and Republican–have made to not let such issues be stumbling blocks to engaging with the United States on other issues.

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AQAP’s Global Threat

Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula doesn’t get the kind of publicity that al-Qaeda central, based in Pakistan, receives but it has emerged as one of the deadliest terrorist groups on the planet–and one that is a direct threat to the United States.

If you want to know how bad AQAP is, all you have to do is look at the horrifying video footage of its attack on a military hospital in Sanaa, the capital of Yemen. The Wall Street Journal summarizes some of the atrocities the terrorists committed:

A gunman walks toward more than a dozen men and women clustered in the hospital corridor. He raises his assault rifle in his left hand as if to shoot them, but then puts his right hand up and tosses a grenade into the crowd a few feet away. It lands at the feet of a frail-looking man stooped over an IV pole. He stares down at it for a moment, then a woman lunges to try to clear the grenade, her black robe whirling around her in the seconds before it explodes.

Some 63 people died in this ruthless and merciless mass murder spree.

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Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula doesn’t get the kind of publicity that al-Qaeda central, based in Pakistan, receives but it has emerged as one of the deadliest terrorist groups on the planet–and one that is a direct threat to the United States.

If you want to know how bad AQAP is, all you have to do is look at the horrifying video footage of its attack on a military hospital in Sanaa, the capital of Yemen. The Wall Street Journal summarizes some of the atrocities the terrorists committed:

A gunman walks toward more than a dozen men and women clustered in the hospital corridor. He raises his assault rifle in his left hand as if to shoot them, but then puts his right hand up and tosses a grenade into the crowd a few feet away. It lands at the feet of a frail-looking man stooped over an IV pole. He stares down at it for a moment, then a woman lunges to try to clear the grenade, her black robe whirling around her in the seconds before it explodes.

Some 63 people died in this ruthless and merciless mass murder spree.

If you want to know why this of concern beyond Yemen’s borders, consider the little-noticed arrest over the weekend of an airport technician in Wichita, Kansas, named Terry Lee Loewen. (Why do assassins and would-be assassins always seem to have three names?) He was arrested for plotting to set off a car bomb at the Wichita airport. Luckily the FBI was onto his plot and the man who he thought was helping him turned out to be an FBI agent. Easy to overlook in the perfunctory news reports on Loewen’s arrest was the fact that he was a jihadist with a devotion to AQAP whose act of would-be violence was inspired by AQAP’s late propagandist, the American-born Anwar al-Awlaki.

Of course the threat from jihadist terrorists is hardly confined to AQAP. The Iraq and Syria chapters of al-Qaeda, among others, remain particularly active and particularly deadly. Al-Qaeda bombings in Iraq, in particular, have become so commonplace that they barely make the news anymore. (See, e.g., the latest, little-noticed report of an attack that killed 23 Shiite religious pilgrims who were walking from Baghdad to Karbala.)

Keep all this in mind as you read of proposals to “reform” or rein in the NSA. What is it in the international scene that makes so many people so confident we don’t need the kind of wide-ranging surveillance NSA has undertaken since 9/11? We’re lucky not to have seen “another 9/11″ on American soil, but our success in stopping terrorist plots has been due in part to the very measures which are now deemed “controversial” and likely to be tapered off.

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Sheriffs Think Gun Laws Are Waste of Time

One of the leading talking points for those advocating more gun laws has been the support many such measures have gotten from law enforcement personnel. As a rule, police officers generally prefer working in environments where the populace is unarmed. That’s understandable since, at least in theory, fewer guns ought to make it safer for cops to do their jobs. But just as the consensus about the need for more gun control in urban sectors breaks down once you leave the suburbs and head into the exurbs and rural areas, the same might be said about peacekeepers. As the New York Times reports today in a front-page feature, a growing number of county sheriffs are not only saying they think the latest wave of state laws passed in the wake of last year’s Newtown massacre are wrongheaded or unnecessary. They’re also saying they won’t enforce them because they are unconstitutional or a waste of time.

This is happening not only in rural Colorado, which has become the cutting edge of the gun debate, but also in upstate New York, where Governor Andrew Cuomo made new laws restricting firearms and ammunition magazines a priority in 2013 as well as in Florida and California. The trend stems in part from pro-gun sentiment. But just as important to the discussion is the notion that outside of cities, laws whose sole aim is to make it harder to legally possess weapons are seen as vague, unenforceable, and burden already overworked law enforcement officials with busywork. Many sheriffs simply say they’ve had enough and even if their attempts to nullify legislation on constitutional grounds are unlikely to succeed, their protests illustrate the growing discontent about legislation that is out of touch with the culture of rural America.

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One of the leading talking points for those advocating more gun laws has been the support many such measures have gotten from law enforcement personnel. As a rule, police officers generally prefer working in environments where the populace is unarmed. That’s understandable since, at least in theory, fewer guns ought to make it safer for cops to do their jobs. But just as the consensus about the need for more gun control in urban sectors breaks down once you leave the suburbs and head into the exurbs and rural areas, the same might be said about peacekeepers. As the New York Times reports today in a front-page feature, a growing number of county sheriffs are not only saying they think the latest wave of state laws passed in the wake of last year’s Newtown massacre are wrongheaded or unnecessary. They’re also saying they won’t enforce them because they are unconstitutional or a waste of time.

This is happening not only in rural Colorado, which has become the cutting edge of the gun debate, but also in upstate New York, where Governor Andrew Cuomo made new laws restricting firearms and ammunition magazines a priority in 2013 as well as in Florida and California. The trend stems in part from pro-gun sentiment. But just as important to the discussion is the notion that outside of cities, laws whose sole aim is to make it harder to legally possess weapons are seen as vague, unenforceable, and burden already overworked law enforcement officials with busywork. Many sheriffs simply say they’ve had enough and even if their attempts to nullify legislation on constitutional grounds are unlikely to succeed, their protests illustrate the growing discontent about legislation that is out of touch with the culture of rural America.

It should first be admitted that lawsuits filed by sheriffs challenging new gun laws on constitutional grounds are stunts, rather than a serious legal argument. County sheriffs have no more right to refuse to enforce gun laws passed by their states because they say they violate the Second Amendment than the mayors and city councils of those municipalities that have publicly stated they won’t enforce immigration laws have to act in that manner. Being a sheriff or a mayor doesn’t give you the right to assume the role of the Supreme Court when it comes to determining the constitutionality of legislation, whether it is passed by a state or the federal government. Selective enforcement of the law is itself a violation of due process and those law enforcement officials that play this game are undermining their own credibility. They may not like gun laws any more than liberal legislators in the People’s Republic of Berkley, California like immigration regulations, or the administration when it comes to immigration or parts of their own ObamaCare law they find inconvenient, but they are just as obligated to see to it that the law isn’t mocked.

But the sheriffs are on much firmer ground when they note that much of the new gun legislation–and especially those measures that were rushed through some legislatures after Newtown as liberals sought to capitalize on public outrage over that atrocity–were more of a nuisance than a deterrent to gun crimes. Background checks for individuals selling their guns and high-capacity magazines makes sense to city dwellers who may not even know anyone who owns a gun for hunting or target shooting. But they are seen as irrelevant to the real problems of much of the country. As the Times points out:

Even Sheriff W. Pete Palmer of Chaffee County, one of the seven sheriffs who declined to join the federal lawsuit because he felt duty-bound to carry out the laws, said he was unlikely to aggressively enforce them. He said enforcement poses “huge practical difficulties,” and besides, he has neither the resources nor the pressure from his constituents to make active enforcement a high priority. Violations of the laws are misdemeanors.

“All law enforcement agencies consider the community standards — what is it that our community wishes us to focus on — and I can tell you our community is not worried one whit about background checks or high-capacity magazines,” he said.

The fact that such laws wouldn’t have prevented Newtown or most other high-profile acts of gun violence further undermines support for them among non-city dwellers. Thus, while sheriffs who have joined lawsuits against these laws have no right to say they will try to unilaterally nullify legislation on the basis of their own sketchy legal expertise, it may very well fall within their competence to declare such gun laws to be the moral equivalent of obsolete statutes criminalizing spitting on the sidewalk that are routinely ignored by city cops.

The problem here isn’t a gun lobby like the National Rifle Association that liberals like to demonize or out-of-control local officials as it is laws that are simply out of touch with the needs of much of the country. This goes to the heart of the debate about guns. Were liberals able to prove that burdening legal gun owners would substantially decrease gun violence they might have a leg to stand on in states like Colorado or upstate New York when it came to enforcing new pieces of legislation. But since they can’t, gun owners and sheriffs who sympathize with them consider the point of the exercise to take away their constitutional rights rather than a reasonable effort aimed at making for a safer society. That is why a year after Newtown support for more gun laws is no greater today than it was before that incident.

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Zurab Adeishvili and the Trouble with Interpol

Interpol is in many ways a strange organization. Strange, because most of what people know about it is wrong. For example, it’s not an international police force; it’s more like an international police bulletin board. Strange because, unlike too many international organizations, it exists more for what it does than what it says. And strange because, though like the U.N. it’s numerically dominated by the autocracies, it has escaped being organizationally dominated by them: the secretary general of Interpol has always been French, British, or–as today–American.

The democratic dominance of Interpol likely reflects the fact that it does something useful. Democracies have no great incentive to invest scarce diplomatic capital in reforming the various U.N. talking shops, but if Interpol goes badly awry, terrorists, fraudsters, and child molesters will have a much longer leash. To my mind, the democratic lack of interest in the U.N. is short-sighted, because talk does have consequences. But it’s clear that the U.S. is willing to give the U.N. a pass on bad behavior that it would never countenance from Interpol.

Unfortunately, in recent years, thanks to the machinations of its autocratic members, Interpol itself has begun to go slightly off the rails. The problem began in 2003, when Interpol brought its I-24/7 network into operation. This electronic system has made it easier for law enforcement agencies to cooperate internationally–which is good–but also easier to submit requests for official Interpol circulation (in the form of Interpol Red Notices) of national wanted notices.

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Interpol is in many ways a strange organization. Strange, because most of what people know about it is wrong. For example, it’s not an international police force; it’s more like an international police bulletin board. Strange because, unlike too many international organizations, it exists more for what it does than what it says. And strange because, though like the U.N. it’s numerically dominated by the autocracies, it has escaped being organizationally dominated by them: the secretary general of Interpol has always been French, British, or–as today–American.

The democratic dominance of Interpol likely reflects the fact that it does something useful. Democracies have no great incentive to invest scarce diplomatic capital in reforming the various U.N. talking shops, but if Interpol goes badly awry, terrorists, fraudsters, and child molesters will have a much longer leash. To my mind, the democratic lack of interest in the U.N. is short-sighted, because talk does have consequences. But it’s clear that the U.S. is willing to give the U.N. a pass on bad behavior that it would never countenance from Interpol.

Unfortunately, in recent years, thanks to the machinations of its autocratic members, Interpol itself has begun to go slightly off the rails. The problem began in 2003, when Interpol brought its I-24/7 network into operation. This electronic system has made it easier for law enforcement agencies to cooperate internationally–which is good–but also easier to submit requests for official Interpol circulation (in the form of Interpol Red Notices) of national wanted notices.

The volume of traffic has since grown more than tenfold, and it is now too large for Interpol to apply effectively its constitutionally-mandated standard of avoiding involvement in political and religious cases. Since Interpol operates on the presumption that all of its members–Iran and the U.S. alike–are legally equal, the potential for abuse is obvious. Autocracies have realized that they can use the Interpol system to harass dissidents, political opponents, and unlucky businessmen, and they have done so with avidity. And since Interpol wants to keep everyone in the boat, it unfortunately also has an incentive not to uphold its own standards.

A Red Notice makes it dangerous to travel and difficult to keep a bank account open, and in the eyes of much of the world, it brands its subject as a wanted criminal. For places like Russia, that has been a godsend. The British NGO Fair Trials International two weeks ago published a damning report on cases of Interpol abuse, and–with my co-author, Dave Kopel–I have released a Heritage Foundation paper on Interpol’s achievements and dilemmas. It is hard, thanks to the secrecy that–to an extent understandably–surrounds Interpol to get an accurate sense of the number of abuse cases as a percent of the total. But problems occur with depressing regularity.

The case of Zurab Adeishvili illustrates the point. Adeishvili was a Georgian reformer and a leading member of the pro-Western government of Mikheil Saakashvili. Just before the elections of October 2012 that resulted in the defeat of Saakashvili’s party and the victory of the pro-Russian Georgian Dream party (led by Bidzina Ivanishvili), Adeishvili was accused of responsibility for abuses in the prison system, an accusation that likely played a role in the election’s outcome. In late 2012 and early 2013, Adeishvili was charged in absentia with a wide-ranging set of crimes, including the “attempted bankruptcy” of Cartu Bank, which by a curious coincidence was owed by now-Prime Minister Ivanishvili and his family.

It’s dangerous to pronounce on guilt or innocence in a pending case. But the evidence that the case against Adeishvili was predominantly political is strong. Georgia’s new foreign minister defended the prosecution of Saakashvili’s supporters on the grounds that they were “criminals and guilty.” A wide-ranging group of Western political figures, including the secretary-general of NATO, a series of U.S. senators and congressmen, many European politicians and newspapers, and then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expressed concerns that the new Georgian regime was selectively prosecuting opposition leaders. The charge of “attempted bankruptcy” is also a warning sign: under Putin, Russia and its friends have been fond of using charges of corruption to smear anyone who gets in their way.

All of this should have been enough to prevent Interpol from acting in the Adeishvili case, especially as he has since been granted refugee status by Hungary. Interpol had been warned that the case against Adeishvili bore the marks of a political prosecution. But in mid-November 2013, it issued a Red Notice on Adeishvili, in much the same way as it acted against U.S. businessman Ilya Katsnelson in 2008 (targeted by Russia), Iranian exile Shahram Homayoun in 2009 (Iran), and Estonian politician Eerik-Niiles Kross (Russia again) earlier this year.

The latest twist in the Adeishvili case came last week, when a major witness was himself arrested and recanted his evidence. A year ago, Max Boot commented on the Red Notice case of former Iraqi Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi that, even if al-Hashemi is guilty, the fact that Iraqi courts are not credibly independent creates the perception that the case is a political vendetta. The same is true here: the question for Interpol is not whether Adeishvili is guilty, a matter that it is neither its job nor ours to assess. It is whether the case appears to be sufficiently political to create reasonable doubt. If there was not enough doubt before, there certainly is now.

In cases like this, Interpol may deem it safer to give the benefit of the doubt not to the accused, but to its member state. But that involves Interpol in political cases and makes it into an agent of the autocracies. It also imperils Interpol’s standing in the democracies. This is how international organizations go bad, and while Interpol is far from bad today, it is time for the democracies to take action to make sure it continues to serve a useful and proper role.

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How Government Weakens Societal Trust

Yesterday, the Barack Obama Twitter feed (@BarackObama) sent out two humorously timed messages. First it tweeted out a quote from the president, timed for Bill of Rights Day: “The Bill of Rights is the foundation of American liberty, securing our most fundamental rights.” It then followed about an hour later with this one: “There’s a lot to do during the holidays. Check this off your to-do list now,” with a link to a BarackObama.com page about signing up for ObamaCare–a juxtaposition that may remind the public, even if unintentionally, of the incompatibility of some of those “fundamental rights” and the president’s vision for the country.

It was one of many such tweets from the account, which is a spin shop run by the remnants of the president’s reelection campaign, seeking to make the Christmas holiday about Obama and his health-care law. Another: “May your days be merry and bright, and may your Christmas include a conversation about health insurance.” Now, the president’s intrusive behavior and his supporters’ creepy propaganda campaigns are not exactly shocking; I’ve written about them before, as when they tried to make Thanksgiving not about your family but about the First Family. And it’s also not surprising because an administration that forces the government into your bedroom (as ObamaCare does) will not hesitate to join you in the living room, dining room, kitchen, and wherever else it can pester you about politics.

But the timing of this campaign is instructive because it coincides with some troubling new social science research that it also helps explain. The Economist’s Lexington column recently attempted to tackle the issue of new polling and research that shows plummeting levels of societal trust in America. Lexington is quick to point out that Americans’ sense of their own country’s corruption is wildly out of proportion; a visit to Europe or Asia would disabuse them of the notion that they are living in a relatively corrupt nation. But that’s actually part of the point; the perception is itself a great challenge. Lexington writes:

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Yesterday, the Barack Obama Twitter feed (@BarackObama) sent out two humorously timed messages. First it tweeted out a quote from the president, timed for Bill of Rights Day: “The Bill of Rights is the foundation of American liberty, securing our most fundamental rights.” It then followed about an hour later with this one: “There’s a lot to do during the holidays. Check this off your to-do list now,” with a link to a BarackObama.com page about signing up for ObamaCare–a juxtaposition that may remind the public, even if unintentionally, of the incompatibility of some of those “fundamental rights” and the president’s vision for the country.

It was one of many such tweets from the account, which is a spin shop run by the remnants of the president’s reelection campaign, seeking to make the Christmas holiday about Obama and his health-care law. Another: “May your days be merry and bright, and may your Christmas include a conversation about health insurance.” Now, the president’s intrusive behavior and his supporters’ creepy propaganda campaigns are not exactly shocking; I’ve written about them before, as when they tried to make Thanksgiving not about your family but about the First Family. And it’s also not surprising because an administration that forces the government into your bedroom (as ObamaCare does) will not hesitate to join you in the living room, dining room, kitchen, and wherever else it can pester you about politics.

But the timing of this campaign is instructive because it coincides with some troubling new social science research that it also helps explain. The Economist’s Lexington column recently attempted to tackle the issue of new polling and research that shows plummeting levels of societal trust in America. Lexington is quick to point out that Americans’ sense of their own country’s corruption is wildly out of proportion; a visit to Europe or Asia would disabuse them of the notion that they are living in a relatively corrupt nation. But that’s actually part of the point; the perception is itself a great challenge. Lexington writes:

Grim findings have been coming thick and fast. Most Americans no longer see President Barack Obama as honest. Half think that he “knowingly lied” to pass his Obamacare health law. Fewer than one in five trust the government in Washington to do what is right all or most of the time. Confidence in Congress has fallen to record lows: in America, as in Italy and Greece, just one in ten voters expresses trust or confidence in the national parliament. Frankly straining credulity, a mammoth, 107-country poll by Transparency International, a corruption monitor, this summer found Americans more likely than Italians to say that they feel that the police, business and the media are all “corrupt or extremely corrupt”.

Americans are also turning on one another. Since 1972 the Chicago-based General Social Survey (GSS) has been asking whether most people can be trusted, or whether “you can’t be too careful” in daily life. Four decades ago Americans were evenly split. Now almost two-thirds say others cannot be trusted, a record high. Recently the Associated Press sought to add context to the GSS data, asking Americans if they placed much trust in folk they met away from home, or in the workers who swiped their payment cards when out shopping. Most said no.

Some of this is unremarkable; the president wasn’t truthful with the public, so he has lost their trust. Lexington then brings up the debate over ObamaCare to illustrate this lack of trust, knocking conservatives for painting the health-care law as redistributionist and therefore proving themselves to lack compassion and fuel suspicion: “The country faces a crisis of mutual resentment, masquerading as a general collapse in national morale.” And yet, it is the voices of the left most loudly declaring ObamaCare to be a wealth transfer; see here and here, for example. It is advertised as such.

And that illuminates an important point. It’s not the opposition to ObamaCare that threatens to fray the ties that bind American society; it’s the support. The Barack Obama Twitter feed is a perfect example of this. ObamaCare and its attendant propaganda campaign do two things. First the law itself elbows in on space reserved for civil society and the private sector by having the government call the shots on the transformation of the American health-care sector. It does this by forcing Americans off private health insurance and onto government-run versions; eroding the various voluntary constructs to get group health insurance; outlawing faith groups’ practices; and other ways.

Second, the politicization of society that comes with the government both eroding the private sector and declaring national and religious holidays to now be about Obama poisons previously nonpartisan events. The public may have already been more divided along partisan lines, but that line was not supposed to be part of Thanksgiving dinner. You could be reasonably expected to check your partisanship at the door, because there are more important things than the president’s ego–pretty much everything, in fact.

There are millions throughout the country now dealing with the fact that ObamaCare has taken away their health insurance. The president wants his young devotees to find members of their family dealing with this stress and pour salt into the wound by spinning it as a good thing. Of course, plenty of families talk politics anyway at the dinner table. But when the government arms its supporters with talking points and instructions to push those talking points on their family and friends, the partisan line elbows its way into everything. That’s not healthy for the country–no matter what insurance they have.

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Kerry’s Self-Defeat Ahead of Syria Conference

Sometimes it seems that Secretary of State John Kerry lives in an alternate universe, one in which the Palestinian Authority seeks peace, the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood is liberal, Iran’s Islamic Republic seeks only to generate electricity, and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is a leader who for the good of humanity might give up power to an opposition against whom he maintains a military edge.

Hence, Kerry is moving full-steam ahead with plans for the “Geneva II” conference to discuss Syria’s future. Thirty-two countries—including Iran—will participate, because in Kerry world, having as many countries as possible attend a conference makes it easier to reach a solution. Even Iran will attend because, again in Kerry’s alternate reality, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps answers to Iranian diplomats.

One group will not be attending the Geneva II talks, but not for lack of desire. That group—which embraces secularism, fights actively against the al-Qaeda-affiliated Nusra Front, and controls thousands of square miles inside Syria—has found its participation in Geneva II actively blocked by Kerry.

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Sometimes it seems that Secretary of State John Kerry lives in an alternate universe, one in which the Palestinian Authority seeks peace, the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood is liberal, Iran’s Islamic Republic seeks only to generate electricity, and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is a leader who for the good of humanity might give up power to an opposition against whom he maintains a military edge.

Hence, Kerry is moving full-steam ahead with plans for the “Geneva II” conference to discuss Syria’s future. Thirty-two countries—including Iran—will participate, because in Kerry world, having as many countries as possible attend a conference makes it easier to reach a solution. Even Iran will attend because, again in Kerry’s alternate reality, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps answers to Iranian diplomats.

One group will not be attending the Geneva II talks, but not for lack of desire. That group—which embraces secularism, fights actively against the al-Qaeda-affiliated Nusra Front, and controls thousands of square miles inside Syria—has found its participation in Geneva II actively blocked by Kerry.

The Democratic Union Party (PYD), led by Salih Muslim, is Kurdish and runs its own autonomous government in and around Qamishli, the largest town in northeastern Syria. In its effectively autonomous zone, children attend school, businesses remain open, and women can go shopping or walk in the street without fear of kidnapping, rape, or murder. The PYD’s sin, it seems, is its affiliation with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in Turkey, a group which once waged an insurgency against the Turkish army and which the United States continues to designate a terrorist group, less on its merits and more out of deference to Turkey. Herein is the irony: the Turkish political leadership has for years engaged with the PKK, and the two sides have negotiated a ceasefire. The PYD is to Syria what the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) are to Iraq. Of course, both the Clinton and Bush administrations engaged with the KDP and PUK; they recognized it was in the United States’s interest to do so.

How sad it is that terror sponsors receive the enthusiastic embrace of the Obama administration, but those groups which not only talk about peace and stability, but also achieve it are given the cold shoulder. The PYD’s sin seems to be its neutrality: It has long claimed that the Syrian opposition is too radical, a position for which the United States has sought to punish it, even as most in Congress come to recognize the truth of that position. The State Department also claims that the PYD is pro-Assad. This is a misreading: The PYD has sought to be neutral in the conflict; that neutrality has meant keeping lines open to Assad, which is exactly what Kerry is doing at Geneva II. That Kerry and crew seek to ban the PYD and undo its success demonstrates once again the administration’s skewed values and strategic incompetence. It’s time to give the PYD a seat at the table.

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Oh the Irony; Liberal NYC Elites are ObamaCare Losers

In the last few weeks the country has gradually become acquainted with the large and growing class of Americans that fall into the category of ObamaCare losers. The president and his cheerleaders in the liberal media have tried to change the subject from the dysfunctional website and the broken promises about keeping your coverage to one about the poor and those with pre-existing conditions who will now get health insurance. But it’s been hard to ignore the equally numerous people who have lost their coverage and been forced to accept more expensive plans that don’t suit their personal needs and come with enormous deductibles and other hidden costs. Most of these people are small business owners, contractors, and skilled craftsman in Middle America that aren’t likely to hobnob with the chattering classes. But it turns out that some of the biggest ObamaCare losers in the country are liberal elites living in the media capital of the world. And, though they thought the whole concept of bringing government into the health-care business was great, they are none too pleased about personally being victimized by the president’s big idea.

As the New York Times reported over the weekend, some prominent New York City liberals have recently found out just how unaffordable the so-called Affordable Care Act turned out to be. As many as 400,000 New Yorkers who are lawyers, doctors, writers, photographers, independent teachers, and even opera singers, who have been getting their health insurance via creative guilds and other entities that allowed these people to buy coverage in groups, have now been thrown into the individual market by ObamaCare.

They are part of an unusual, informal health insurance system that has developed in New York, in which independent practitioners were able to get lower insurance rates through group plans, typically set up by their professional associations or chambers of commerce. That allowed them to avoid the sky-high rates in New York’s individual insurance market, historically among the most expensive in the country.

But under the Affordable Care Act, they will be treated as individuals, responsible for their own insurance policies. For many of them, that is likely to mean they will no longer have access to a wide network of doctors and a range of plans tailored to their needs. And many of them are finding that if they want to keep their premiums from rising, they will have to accept higher deductible and co-pay costs or inferior coverage.

The result is that a large number of liberals are getting a good look at the business end of ObamaCare and don’t like the view.

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In the last few weeks the country has gradually become acquainted with the large and growing class of Americans that fall into the category of ObamaCare losers. The president and his cheerleaders in the liberal media have tried to change the subject from the dysfunctional website and the broken promises about keeping your coverage to one about the poor and those with pre-existing conditions who will now get health insurance. But it’s been hard to ignore the equally numerous people who have lost their coverage and been forced to accept more expensive plans that don’t suit their personal needs and come with enormous deductibles and other hidden costs. Most of these people are small business owners, contractors, and skilled craftsman in Middle America that aren’t likely to hobnob with the chattering classes. But it turns out that some of the biggest ObamaCare losers in the country are liberal elites living in the media capital of the world. And, though they thought the whole concept of bringing government into the health-care business was great, they are none too pleased about personally being victimized by the president’s big idea.

As the New York Times reported over the weekend, some prominent New York City liberals have recently found out just how unaffordable the so-called Affordable Care Act turned out to be. As many as 400,000 New Yorkers who are lawyers, doctors, writers, photographers, independent teachers, and even opera singers, who have been getting their health insurance via creative guilds and other entities that allowed these people to buy coverage in groups, have now been thrown into the individual market by ObamaCare.

They are part of an unusual, informal health insurance system that has developed in New York, in which independent practitioners were able to get lower insurance rates through group plans, typically set up by their professional associations or chambers of commerce. That allowed them to avoid the sky-high rates in New York’s individual insurance market, historically among the most expensive in the country.

But under the Affordable Care Act, they will be treated as individuals, responsible for their own insurance policies. For many of them, that is likely to mean they will no longer have access to a wide network of doctors and a range of plans tailored to their needs. And many of them are finding that if they want to keep their premiums from rising, they will have to accept higher deductible and co-pay costs or inferior coverage.

The result is that a large number of liberals are getting a good look at the business end of ObamaCare and don’t like the view.

“I couldn’t sleep because of it,” said Barbara Meinwald, a solo practitioner lawyer in Manhattan.

Ms. Meinwald, 61, has been paying $10,000 a year for her insurance through the New York City Bar. A broker told her that a new temporary plan with fewer doctors would cost $5,000 more, after factoring in the cost of her medications.

Ms. Meinwald also looked on the state’s health insurance exchange. But she said she found that those plans did not have a good choice of doctors, and that it was hard to even find out who the doctors were, and which hospitals were covered. “It’s like you’re blindfolded and you’re told that you have to buy something,” she said.

This is exactly what conservative critics of ObamaCare have been saying. Though the president and his liberal defenders have been claiming the individual plans canceled by ObamaCare provided bad coverage, these New York elites beg to differ. They liked their plans and, more to the point, they liked being able to band together in creative and business association guilds so as to pool their resources and get more affordable coverage.

But that ran afoul of the redistributionist social engineering of the ACA that views these professionals not as citizens entitled to the best care at affordable prices but as healthy fodder whose sole purpose is to be gouged by the government system in order to pay for free care for less healthy and poorer people. Being shuffled into the state exchanges means these New Yorkers not only get lousier coverage but also are facing exorbitant rate increases.

To say that these generally liberal New Yorkers don’t care for the experience is an understatement.

It is not lost on many of the professionals that they are exactly the sort of people — liberal, concerned with social justice — who supported the Obama health plan in the first place. Ms. Meinwald, the lawyer, said she was a lifelong Democrat who still supported better health care for all, but had she known what was in store for her, she would have voted for Mitt Romney.

It is an uncomfortable position for many members of the creative classes to be in.

“We are the Obama people,” said Camille Sweeney, a New York writer and member of the Authors Guild. Her insurance is being canceled, and she is dismayed that neither her pediatrician nor her general practitioner appears to be on the exchange plans. What to do has become a hot topic on Facebook and at dinner parties frequented by her fellow writers and artists.

“I’m for it,” she said. “But what is the reality of it?”

Conservatives may be forgiven a few chortles at their expense. But their plight is no less a source of concern than that of millions of other Americans who have similarly been given the shaft by the president’s signature health-care legislation. The political problem faced by liberals who have assumed that once ObamaCare was implemented it would become popular is that unlike Social Security and Medicare, the number of Americans who are net losers under the bill’s provisions may wind up being as numerous as those who benefit from it. That some of them are “Obama people” is ironic, but it also highlights the fact that those who are being hurt by ObamaCare are a group that cuts across geographic, class, and political lines.

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Did Obama Pose with Terrorist Leader?

President Obama’s handshake with Cuban President Raul Castro and his “selfie” photograph with the Danish prime minister dominated the diplomatic headlines emerging from Nelson Mandela’s memorial service last week. It gets worse, however. The Polisario Front—an Algeria- and Cuba-sponsored, Cold War relic movement which claims to be fighting for independence in the Western Sahara but is better known for its authoritarian leadership and massive human-rights abuses against its own members—was represented in Soweto by its leader, Mohamed Abdulaziz.

Abdulaziz approached Obama for a photo and, if the photo is to be believed, Obama obliged. How embarrassing: While the Polisario Front is not formally designated a terrorist group by the U.S. Treasury Department, it is by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and many outside groups.

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President Obama’s handshake with Cuban President Raul Castro and his “selfie” photograph with the Danish prime minister dominated the diplomatic headlines emerging from Nelson Mandela’s memorial service last week. It gets worse, however. The Polisario Front—an Algeria- and Cuba-sponsored, Cold War relic movement which claims to be fighting for independence in the Western Sahara but is better known for its authoritarian leadership and massive human-rights abuses against its own members—was represented in Soweto by its leader, Mohamed Abdulaziz.

Abdulaziz approached Obama for a photo and, if the photo is to be believed, Obama obliged. How embarrassing: While the Polisario Front is not formally designated a terrorist group by the U.S. Treasury Department, it is by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and many outside groups.

Perhaps Obama didn’t know with whom he was posing: The president is asked for dozens pf photos at every appearance he makes. But security was tight at the South African ceremonies, and dignitaries were sequestered in their own section. When Abdulaziz ambled up to Obama, the president and his handlers knew it wasn’t the South African equivalent of “Joe the Plumber.” So what to make of the photo? Let us hope that Obama didn’t know with whom he was posing, but the president’s recent antics with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Castro suggest that Obama maintains no moral threshold to his relationships. Quite the contrary, Obama and his aides increasingly embrace radical chic attitudes toward the world’s leftists and revolutionaries. But, if Obama is given the benefit of the doubt, then how incompetent his aides must be to allow leaders whom they cannot identify or do not know to take a photo which a radical or terrorist group can use to imply endorsement.

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