Commentary Magazine


Posts For: December 19, 2013

Duck Dynasty, Free Speech, and Hypocrisy

I don’t write this every day but sometimes it needs to be said. Liberals have a point. Not about ObamaCare or their plans to increase spending and taxes. But about Phil Robertson and the hypocrisy of some of his conservative supporters who are outraged about the fact that the Duck Dynasty star was suspended for uttering critical remarks about homosexuality as well as some bizarre comments about the Jim Crow era that for some reason got less attention than his conservative Christian take on gays and sex.

Robertson was suspended yesterday by the A&E network that runs the hit reality show about a family business that makes duck calls after an outcry over things the hunting patriarch said in a GQ interview. In response, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal said Robertson (who is a resident of his state) was a victim of the “politically correct crowd.” Sarah Palin weighed in with her trademark lowbrow pandering style on her Facebook page:

Free speech is an endangered species. Those “intolerants” hatin’ and taking on the Duck Dynasty patriarch for voicing his personal opinion are taking on all of us.

Are they right? Not really.

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I don’t write this every day but sometimes it needs to be said. Liberals have a point. Not about ObamaCare or their plans to increase spending and taxes. But about Phil Robertson and the hypocrisy of some of his conservative supporters who are outraged about the fact that the Duck Dynasty star was suspended for uttering critical remarks about homosexuality as well as some bizarre comments about the Jim Crow era that for some reason got less attention than his conservative Christian take on gays and sex.

Robertson was suspended yesterday by the A&E network that runs the hit reality show about a family business that makes duck calls after an outcry over things the hunting patriarch said in a GQ interview. In response, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal said Robertson (who is a resident of his state) was a victim of the “politically correct crowd.” Sarah Palin weighed in with her trademark lowbrow pandering style on her Facebook page:

Free speech is an endangered species. Those “intolerants” hatin’ and taking on the Duck Dynasty patriarch for voicing his personal opinion are taking on all of us.

Are they right? Not really.

Robertson is entitled to his opinion about faith, sex, race, or anything else on his mind. But his right to free speech doesn’t entitle him to a job on an A&E show. If the network doesn’t wish to be associated with such views, they are free to tell him to take a hike. For the same reason MSNBC was within its rights to can actor Alec Baldwin when he used a homophobic slur and then lied about it. The same network was also right when it eased Martin Bashir, one of the network’s left-wing opinion slingers, out after he used despicable language about the same Sarah Palin. At that time conservatives (including me) wondered what was going on when for weeks Bashir went unpunished for behaving in such an atrocious manner. Nobody on the right thought Bashir’s right of free speech was at stake. Instead, they correctly identified the issue as the hypocrisy of liberals who are quick to brand conservatives who speak out of turn as extremists and radicals who are primarily responsible for the lack of civility in politics today.

The right to free speech has nothing to do with having a gig on television. No one has a right to such a job and nothing prevents those who run these outfits from choosing who works for them. That applies to Bashir as well as to Robertson.

Those defending Robertson are making a broader point. They fear that anyone who is critical of gays and states it from a conservative theological frame of reference is particularly vulnerable to being singled out for being politically incorrect. There’s something to that, as popular culture has rendered those with negative views about homosexuality, whether rooted in faith or not, as anathema. Gays shouldn’t be subjected to abuse or insults, but the fact that Robertson’s comments about them sparked more outrage than his Christian chauvinism or his idiotic assertion that blacks were happy under Jim Crow tells us a lot about our culture these days.

It should also be pointed out that there’s something odd about A&E punishing a member of the cast of Duck Dynasty for uttering comments that seem in character for a program whose conceit is an opportunity to see backwoods hunters at home, work, and play. But if they think the bearded stars of the hit show shouldn’t offend people in this manner, then they can discharge him–although the suspension for future work would make more sense if they took the reruns that continue to appear on their channel off the air too. Reality shows are peopled largely by outrageous figures that specialize in foolish or vulgar behavior. Jindal wasn’t entirely wrong when he said on Twitter that there was something faintly ridiculous that there was plenty of room in the entertainment business for a trashy vulgarian like Miley Cyrus but none for the likes of Robertson.

But hypocrisy works both ways. Those who are chortling about Jindal and Palin’s support for Robertson were silent when Bashir was trashing the former Alaska governor. Liberals are quick to seize on any outrageous thing said by a figure on the right and shrug their shoulders or ignore it when left-wing politicians, pundits, or TV talkers make hateful or prejudicial remarks.

What we need here is not so much more civility—though that would be nice—but some consistency when it comes to outrage. If you think gays shouldn’t be subjected to negative or prejudicial remarks on TV, then try to be just as interested when people of faith or conservatives are given the same treatment. The same advice applies to conservatives. Selective outrage that is only generated when someone whose political opinions you disagree with crosses the line is what is really turning our public square into a verbal junkyard.

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The Discrediting of Government Continues

President Obama’s recent troubles have evoked various comparisons to his predecessor, whether they were the parallels between specific policies or simply the climbing disapproval ratings. To these we can add one more: the question of succession. Indeed the discussion about the makeup of the Democrats’ 2016 primary roster is quite relevant to this particular debate.

When George W. Bush left office amid low approval ratings, the Republican Party faced the challenge of trying to figure out its post-Bush identity–chiefly in the form of its 2008 presidential nominee–on the fly, without the benefit of years in the wilderness. Though Obama’s second term is far from over, Democrats will still face the same challenge.

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President Obama’s recent troubles have evoked various comparisons to his predecessor, whether they were the parallels between specific policies or simply the climbing disapproval ratings. To these we can add one more: the question of succession. Indeed the discussion about the makeup of the Democrats’ 2016 primary roster is quite relevant to this particular debate.

When George W. Bush left office amid low approval ratings, the Republican Party faced the challenge of trying to figure out its post-Bush identity–chiefly in the form of its 2008 presidential nominee–on the fly, without the benefit of years in the wilderness. Though Obama’s second term is far from over, Democrats will still face the same challenge.

In Hillary Clinton, for example, primary voters will have a reminder of the more successful Democratic governance of her husband but also the unprincipled, soulless pursuit of power that characterizes the Clintons’ political life and Hillary’s statist agenda. If Jerry Brown runs, they’ll see a candidate at once a throwback to 20th century politics of stagnation and a warning from the future, in the form of the failing state administration of California, as to where that leads. And if Brian Schweitzer runs, he’ll embody a halfhearted left-libertarianism that at least gestures toward a government less inclined to violate your personal space. The latest Gallup polling on the size and scope of government, however, does not bode as well for Clinton or Brown:

Seventy-two percent of Americans say big government is a greater threat to the U.S. in the future than is big business or big labor, a record high in the nearly 50-year history of this question. The prior high for big government was 65% in 1999 and 2000. Big government has always topped big business and big labor, including in the initial asking in 1965, but just 35% named it at that time.

But it’s the breakdown of the results by political party that is really striking:

Each party group currently rates big government as the greatest threat to the country, including a record-high 92% of Republicans and 71% of independents, as well as 56% of Democrats. Democrats are most likely of the partisan groups to name big business as the biggest threat, at 36%; relatively few Republicans, 4%, view big business as the most threatening.

It’s not just that a majority of Democrats (and large majority of independents) see government as the greatest threat to the country. It’s also the trajectory of those numbers that stands out. During the Bush administration 62 percent of Democrats felt this way, but were slowly reassured as the Democrats took back Congress and then Obama was elected president; the number dropped to 32 percent.

Some of Democrats’ fears about the government can be attributed, I suppose, to Republicans taking back the House earlier in this presidency. But they have not sponsored bills that chip away at individual liberty–just the opposite, they have stood opposed to ObamaCare’s mandates, EPA overregulation, Democrats’ anti-gun legislation, and so forth. It’s what made it so amusing when Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid tried to spin congressional approval ratings against the GOP today by tweeting:

Congress is finishing this year less popular than a cockroach, and mindless, knee-jerk obstruction from Republicans is exactly why.

Not only was this the sort of tedious cant voters have come to expect from Reid, but it comes right after the Senate approved a bipartisan budget deal driven in large part by Paul Ryan. Reid, in other words, looks even more ridiculous than he normally would. But even more than Reid’s statement being patently false was its tone-deaf character: even a majority of Democrats see the government as getting too intrusive for comfort. Actions that put the breaks on this behavior are not what’s wrong with government. If anything, Reid only exacerbates this by deploying the “nuclear option” to get rid of the filibuster. Not only is Reid the problem, not the solution, but he’s advertising himself as such.

It won’t matter much to Reid, who isn’t running for president. But if ObamaCare isn’t fixed, the public’s faith in government will continue to collapse–among Democrats as well as Republicans. As the Democrats seek a presidential nominee that best embodies the party’s post-Obama identity, this will no doubt be a factor–and it could very well hold back the statists and elevate a candidate with a more rational approach to governance.

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Cairo Drama: Morsi, Hamas, and Obama

Human-rights organizations and many other Egypt-watchers are pouring scorn on the charges levied on deposed president Mohamed Morsi and other Muslim Brotherhood activists by the military government in Cairo this week. The military has already charged Morsi for his complicity in attacks on demonstrators seeking his overthrow last summer. This is, of course, terribly hypocritical since, if anything, the military may have killed more people when it cracked down on the Brotherhood in the aftermath of the coup that knocked Morsi out of power and into jail. But they didn’t stop there. The government has now charged Morsi and others with engaging in terrorist plots with Hamas and Hezbollah operatives.

Much of the skepticism put forward by Human Rights Watch about all of this is justified. If the point of the charges is to claim Morsi was handing Hamas or Hezbollah control of Egypt or conspiring to give them vital national secrets, the whole thing is ridiculous. But Western observers should not be blinded to the basic facts upon which military prosecutors seem to have embroidered an extra layer of conspiracy theory. There is little doubt that Morsi regarded Hamas, and to a lesser extent Hezbollah and its Iranian sponsors, as natural allies in a nation and a region where the Brotherhood is regarded with suspicion and fear. Take away the paranoia about foreign influences that lies not far below the surface in Egyptian culture and what you have is the reality of a Muslim Brotherhood government that naturally looked to Hamas for support in a pinch. Rather than all this being a cause for the Obama administration to further distance itself from the current Egyptian government, it ought to provoke some soul-searching on the part of those in the State Department and the White House that were prepared to assist Morsi’s ascent to the presidency of Egypt and his efforts to stay there.

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Human-rights organizations and many other Egypt-watchers are pouring scorn on the charges levied on deposed president Mohamed Morsi and other Muslim Brotherhood activists by the military government in Cairo this week. The military has already charged Morsi for his complicity in attacks on demonstrators seeking his overthrow last summer. This is, of course, terribly hypocritical since, if anything, the military may have killed more people when it cracked down on the Brotherhood in the aftermath of the coup that knocked Morsi out of power and into jail. But they didn’t stop there. The government has now charged Morsi and others with engaging in terrorist plots with Hamas and Hezbollah operatives.

Much of the skepticism put forward by Human Rights Watch about all of this is justified. If the point of the charges is to claim Morsi was handing Hamas or Hezbollah control of Egypt or conspiring to give them vital national secrets, the whole thing is ridiculous. But Western observers should not be blinded to the basic facts upon which military prosecutors seem to have embroidered an extra layer of conspiracy theory. There is little doubt that Morsi regarded Hamas, and to a lesser extent Hezbollah and its Iranian sponsors, as natural allies in a nation and a region where the Brotherhood is regarded with suspicion and fear. Take away the paranoia about foreign influences that lies not far below the surface in Egyptian culture and what you have is the reality of a Muslim Brotherhood government that naturally looked to Hamas for support in a pinch. Rather than all this being a cause for the Obama administration to further distance itself from the current Egyptian government, it ought to provoke some soul-searching on the part of those in the State Department and the White House that were prepared to assist Morsi’s ascent to the presidency of Egypt and his efforts to stay there.

The facts about relations between the Morsi government and the Brotherhood and their putative allies in Gaza and Lebanon are a little murky. It’s difficult to judge from afar exactly where the reality of a Brotherhood-Hamas alliance ends and the judicial railroading of Morsi and his colleagues by the military government begins. Suffice it to say that some of the charges may be either exaggerated or misinterpretations of routine interactions between these groups. It should also be noted that relations between the Brotherhood and Hamas were not all peaches and cream during their year in charge of things in Cairo. At various times, Morsi shut down the smuggling tunnels between Egypt and Gaza in a belated effort to rein in the growing chaos in the Sinai that had been unleashed by the fall of Hosni Mubarak and the infiltration of al-Qaeda and other Islamist groups.

But what can’t be denied is that Morsi still regarded Hamas as a close ally and a potential resource in the Cairo power game as well as the regional balance of power. Hamas had, as we have long known, helped Morsi break out of jail during the waning days of the Mubarak regime. Hamas was originally founded as an offshoot of the Brotherhood and Morsi looked to it as a natural ally. The notion that he helped arm it as well as being prepared to cooperate in various other ways–including as a backup against domestic opposition–shouldn’t strike anyone as far-fetched. Nor should we be surprised by allegations about Morsi and his crew contemplating an opening with fellow Islamists in Iran.

The prosecutions against Morsi and other Brotherhood officials are politically motivated and no one should expect them to get a fair trial from the military. But had he remained in power there’s equally little doubt that the Islamist alliances he was making could have altered not only the face of Egypt but also that of the rest of the region.

All this should serve as a reminder to Washington of how foolish its policies were in the prelude to the Brotherhood’s brief period of power as well as during its period of ascendancy. The Obama administration always sought to portray itself as neutral as to who ran things in Cairo, but the only times it has exercised its considerable leverage over Egypt is when it persuaded the military to let the Brotherhood take power and afterwards to punish the generals for ousting Morsi.

In doing so, it undid decades of hard work and investment of billions of aid dollars by previous administrations to keep Egypt as a U.S. ally so long as it kept the peace with Israel. It first failed to see the danger in allowing an Islamist authoritarian group to take control of the most populous Arab nation and then miscalculated how its pique about the coup would cause the military to embrace the efforts of the Russians to get their foot back in the door in Cairo. As I wrote earlier this week, the culmination of an arms deal between Russia and Egypt sets the stage for a decline in U.S. influence in the region and enhances Vladimir Putin’s ability to make mischief.

The reassertion of brutal military rule in Egypt is nothing to cheer about. But the only alternative in the form of an Islamist Brotherhood government was far worse. Morsi’s ties with Hamas are being used to trump up a dubious legal case against him, but they were still a threat to U.S. influence and regional stability. Instead of crying crocodile tears for Morsi (who is now getting the same treatment that he was happy to dish out to his foes), those who care about peace should be glad that the military is doing its utmost to ensure that he never gets another chance to disrupt the Middle East.

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A Solution in Search of a Problem

The President’s Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies is getting a lot of publicity for its recommendations to substantially scale back NSA surveillance. But reading its report, which has just been released, it’s not obvious what problem the panel is addressing or why its proposed “solution” is an improvement on the status quo.

The report includes a summary of how the government has in the past used the exigencies of war to trample on civil liberties–a theme developed more fully in panel member Geoffrey Stone’s book Perilous Times. All of the usual horrors are cited, from the Sedition Act of 1798, to the detention of Japanese-Americans in World War II, and the CIA/FBI spying on antiwar activists in the 1960s. The panel piously intones: “Too often,  we have overreacted in periods of national crisis and then later, with the  benefit of hindsight, recognized our failures, reevaluated our judgments,  and attempted to correct our policies going forward. We must learn the lessons of history.”

I kept expecting a similar set of excesses to be cited arising from the USA Patriot Act and the heightened activities it authorized on the part of the NSA. I waited in vain. The panel cites no examples–not one–of actual abuses committed by the NSA or other surveillance agencies today. In fact from everything we know the NSA has been scrupulous in its use of metadata. Although it has maintained a vast database of American calls overseas it queried that database only 300 times last year under procedures supervised by both Congress and the courts.

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The President’s Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies is getting a lot of publicity for its recommendations to substantially scale back NSA surveillance. But reading its report, which has just been released, it’s not obvious what problem the panel is addressing or why its proposed “solution” is an improvement on the status quo.

The report includes a summary of how the government has in the past used the exigencies of war to trample on civil liberties–a theme developed more fully in panel member Geoffrey Stone’s book Perilous Times. All of the usual horrors are cited, from the Sedition Act of 1798, to the detention of Japanese-Americans in World War II, and the CIA/FBI spying on antiwar activists in the 1960s. The panel piously intones: “Too often,  we have overreacted in periods of national crisis and then later, with the  benefit of hindsight, recognized our failures, reevaluated our judgments,  and attempted to correct our policies going forward. We must learn the lessons of history.”

I kept expecting a similar set of excesses to be cited arising from the USA Patriot Act and the heightened activities it authorized on the part of the NSA. I waited in vain. The panel cites no examples–not one–of actual abuses committed by the NSA or other surveillance agencies today. In fact from everything we know the NSA has been scrupulous in its use of metadata. Although it has maintained a vast database of American calls overseas it queried that database only 300 times last year under procedures supervised by both Congress and the courts.

For all of his leaks, Edward Snowden could not cite a single actual example of the NSA spying on someone it wasn’t supposed to be spying on or using the information it attained for personal or partisan advantage rather than to safeguard the national interest. The review group can’t cite a single such example either; it is forced to resort to generalized concerns about “privacy” being invaded by the government, even though the collection of metadata is a lot less intrusive than widespread surveillance by security cameras on the streets or by Internet commerce companies online. In short it seems that we have learned from history and figured out how to collect intelligence without committing the abuses of the past. But that doesn’t stop the panel from recommending steps that will hamper the NSA’s attempts to monitor terrorist groups and other threats to national security.

The headline recommendation is that “that Congress should end such storage and transition to a system in which such metadata is held privately for the government to query when necessary for national security purposes.” The panel claims that “this approach would allow the government access to the relevant  information when such access is justified, and thus protect national security without unnecessarily threatening privacy and liberty.”

This would obviously make searching the metadata more difficult, especially if the government has to contact multiple firms to get data rather than going to a single source. And why on earth do the panel members trust employees of Verizon and AT&T–much less of some potential future private corporation that would hold metadata records from all of the existing telecom firms–more than they trust the employees of the NSA?

Those NSA employees are carefully vetted and overseen and they operate with an ethos of service to the nation. Why should we repose more trust in random telecom company employees, who are motivated (and rightly so) by profits not patriotism, to hold records that the panel believes are so important? Elsewhere in the report, the panel calls for cutting back or eliminating the use of private firms to do background checks on intelligence community employees such as Edward Snowden. But while reining in private firms in one area, the panel seems to be reposing vast trust in them in another area.

Is the principle here that Big Business is more trustworthy than the U.S. government? This is a curious position for a panel appointed by a liberal Democratic administration to take, given that Democrats are normally suspicious of the excesses of big business, and rightly so given the fraud committed by large firms such as Qwest and WorldCom (both, interestingly enough, telecom companies). Are we supposed to believe our data is safer with Bernie Ebbers (the former Worldcom CEO who is now in jail) than with Gen. Keith Alexander, the head of the NSA?

In reality neither big corporations nor the government should automatically be trusted. In both cases safeguards and oversight need to be built in to prevent abuse. Such a system was built after 9/11 and it seems to be functioning well. It’s hard to see why we should mess with something that’s working and run the risk of making life easier for terrorists.

Sure, Snowden’s revelations are embarrassing. But let’s not compound the embarrassment by doing things we will regret later–as happened once before, in the 1970s, when Congress and the Carter administration severely hampered our intelligence capabilities in the wake of a series of scandals. Today, by contrast, the only scandal is that Snowden has turned traitor; there is no sign that the NSA is doing anything it isn’t authorized to do or that the U.S. has become a less free place over the last decade because of its activities. In other words, the review panel is offering solutions to address a nonexistent problem.

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Putin’s Smoke and Mirrors

You have to hand it to Vladimir Putin. As a tactical politician, he has few if any equals in the world today; Barack Obama is a naïf by comparison. Just look at what Putin has accomplished this fall. He began by wrong-footing the U.S. in Syria, cobbling together a deal that keeps his ally Bashar Assad in power with de facto connivance from the U.S., all at the small price of disarming Syria of its chemical weapons. More recently he has wrested Ukraine away from the European Union with a generous bribe–er, loan–of $15 billion and a price reduction in the natural gas that Ukraine buys from Russia. And now, to complete his tour de force, he is magnanimously freeing from jails a few of the political dissidents he had earlier locked up.

On Wednesday, Russia’s rubber-stamp parliament passed a bill that will likely offer amnesty to two members of Pussy Riot and 30 Greenpeace activists who are currently in the slammer. Today, Putin suggested out of nowhere that he would release Mikhail B. Khodorkovsky, once the richest man in Russia, who was arrested in 2003 on charges that were widely seen to be politically inspired, his crime being in essence to oppose Putin. Now that Khodorkovksy has lost control of Yukos Oil, and been subjected to a grueling confinement, Putin, in the manner of a medieval czar, will show his generosity of spirit by releasing him. Of course there is an obvious political payoff to Putin: he no doubt hopes that these prisoner releases will decrease the amount of controversy at the upcoming Sochi Winter Olympics in Russia.

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You have to hand it to Vladimir Putin. As a tactical politician, he has few if any equals in the world today; Barack Obama is a naïf by comparison. Just look at what Putin has accomplished this fall. He began by wrong-footing the U.S. in Syria, cobbling together a deal that keeps his ally Bashar Assad in power with de facto connivance from the U.S., all at the small price of disarming Syria of its chemical weapons. More recently he has wrested Ukraine away from the European Union with a generous bribe–er, loan–of $15 billion and a price reduction in the natural gas that Ukraine buys from Russia. And now, to complete his tour de force, he is magnanimously freeing from jails a few of the political dissidents he had earlier locked up.

On Wednesday, Russia’s rubber-stamp parliament passed a bill that will likely offer amnesty to two members of Pussy Riot and 30 Greenpeace activists who are currently in the slammer. Today, Putin suggested out of nowhere that he would release Mikhail B. Khodorkovsky, once the richest man in Russia, who was arrested in 2003 on charges that were widely seen to be politically inspired, his crime being in essence to oppose Putin. Now that Khodorkovksy has lost control of Yukos Oil, and been subjected to a grueling confinement, Putin, in the manner of a medieval czar, will show his generosity of spirit by releasing him. Of course there is an obvious political payoff to Putin: he no doubt hopes that these prisoner releases will decrease the amount of controversy at the upcoming Sochi Winter Olympics in Russia.

But while Putin is a skilled tactician, his larger vision is lacking. Russia has done relatively well on his watch because of its mineral wealth–it is Saudi Arabia with snow. But now the economy has slowed (growth next year is expected to be a paltry 1.4 percent) and even Putin’s own economy minister predicts that “stagnation will continue.” Indeed it will, for Russia is a ticking demographic time bomb.

Its population has been in freefall, as Reuters notes: “The population started declining sharply in the early 1990s amid political and economic turmoil, falling by 3.4 million in the 2000-2010 decade, according to census data. The impact is set to be felt sharply from now on, exactly when children born in 1990s would have started entering the workforce. The consequences are already being felt. Russia will close more than 700 schools this year for lack of pupils and the jobless rate has dipped to a record low of around 5 percent, not because the economy is booming but because the country is running out of people who can take the jobs.”

Even if Russia’s birth rate has now risen above its death rate, this is not a country with a healthy future. And while much of that is due to the legacy of 70 years of Communist failures, Putin has not done a good job of recovering from the baleful legacy he inherited. Instead he has focused on building up and milking the big oil companies, buying off or jailing opposition, and accumulating all power in his own hands. Putin may fool himself and some of his people that Russia remains a great power, but in fact it’s largely a matter of smoke and mirrors.

Putin deserves credit, I suppose, for his Machiavellian machinations. But no number of tactical victories in the realm of geopolitical maneuvering will improve life for average Russians (whose per capita GDP is lower than East Timor’s)–or Russia’s long-term prospects as a country, which would be better served by cooperation with, rather than animosity against, the West.

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Iran Knows Where It’s Going. Does Kerry?

Secretary of State John Kerry’s cheerleaders in the foreign-policy establishment and the mainstream media continue to write of his nuclear deal with Iran as if it were an unalloyed success. Having defended the agreement on the premise that the choice was between recognizing the legitimacy of Iran’s nuclear program and war, Kerry’s supporters have treated criticism as tantamount to a rejection of peace. The decision to tacitly recognize Iran’s “right” to enrich uranium and keep their nuclear facilities may have only made the threat more potent in the long run. But the willingness of the Iranians to sign any agreement seems to have engendered a sense that what the administration has done is to essentially take worries about conflict with Tehran off the table. But a look at what they’re saying about the agreement in Iran reminds us that whatever it is that Kerry did in Geneva, it did not alter Iran’s long-term goals and what they think the deal means for the future of their program and sanctions.

As the Times of Israel reports, the same foreign minister that Kerry has been dealing with told students in Tehran yesterday that the so-called freeze of enrichment that Iran agreed to can be reversed in a flash:

“The structure of our nuclear program has been maintained and the 20 percent enrichment can be resumed in less than 24 hours,” Mohammad Javad Zarif told a gathering of Iranian students in Tehran.

He added that “the structure of the sanctions and the antagonistic atmosphere created by the West against Iran is falling apart,” according to the semi-official Fars news agency.

Javad Zarif is right. Though Kerry and administration apologists defend the deal because it prevents Iran from enriching uranium at weapons grade levels, all it would take is a snap of Supreme Leader Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s fingers to turn up the dials on the centrifuges that President Obama and Kerry have decided they can keep.

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Secretary of State John Kerry’s cheerleaders in the foreign-policy establishment and the mainstream media continue to write of his nuclear deal with Iran as if it were an unalloyed success. Having defended the agreement on the premise that the choice was between recognizing the legitimacy of Iran’s nuclear program and war, Kerry’s supporters have treated criticism as tantamount to a rejection of peace. The decision to tacitly recognize Iran’s “right” to enrich uranium and keep their nuclear facilities may have only made the threat more potent in the long run. But the willingness of the Iranians to sign any agreement seems to have engendered a sense that what the administration has done is to essentially take worries about conflict with Tehran off the table. But a look at what they’re saying about the agreement in Iran reminds us that whatever it is that Kerry did in Geneva, it did not alter Iran’s long-term goals and what they think the deal means for the future of their program and sanctions.

As the Times of Israel reports, the same foreign minister that Kerry has been dealing with told students in Tehran yesterday that the so-called freeze of enrichment that Iran agreed to can be reversed in a flash:

“The structure of our nuclear program has been maintained and the 20 percent enrichment can be resumed in less than 24 hours,” Mohammad Javad Zarif told a gathering of Iranian students in Tehran.

He added that “the structure of the sanctions and the antagonistic atmosphere created by the West against Iran is falling apart,” according to the semi-official Fars news agency.

Javad Zarif is right. Though Kerry and administration apologists defend the deal because it prevents Iran from enriching uranium at weapons grade levels, all it would take is a snap of Supreme Leader Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s fingers to turn up the dials on the centrifuges that President Obama and Kerry have decided they can keep.

Optimists about the deal are also ignoring the dynamic between the two sides since the deal was signed on November 24. The agreement has not gone into effect because it is such a complicated mess that it requires follow-up negotiations to implement it. This is considered a mere detail to be cleared up by those extolling the accord, but it is actually a crucial reason why Iran thinks it is still in control of the conflict. By continuing their normal diplomatic practice of prevarication during the negotiations about implementation (as evidenced by their walk-out from those talks in Vienna last week), Iran hopes to delay and confuse an Obama administration that seems more interested in creating an opening for a game-changing détente with Iran than in spiking their nuclear ambitions.

But as Javad Zarif indicated, not only is the restriction on enrichment above five percent essentially meaningless in terms of its ability to prevent or lengthen the period of an Iranian “breakout” to nuclear capability, Tehran also thinks Kerry’s loosening of sanctions means that the West’s campaign of economic restrictions is doomed. As much as Kerry has been at pains to argue the contrary opinion, it’s hard to argue with the Iranian’s logic.

The whole point of the sanctions had been to persuade the Iranians to give up their nuclear dreams. But now that Kerry has signaled that Tehran will keep its nuclear program even after a final agreement, the implicit threat of the use of force should Iran balk is effectively off the table. Under those circumstances its difficult to imagine Washington’s European partners will be any more enthusiastic about enforcing the existing sanctions, let alone toughening them during follow-up negotiations.

More to the point, the Iranians seemed to have made their point about what they consider the spirit of Geneva. By arguing against an effort to toughen sanctions against Iran proposed by a bipartisan congressional coalition, both Obama and Kerry have said any further pressure on Tehran would “break faith” with their diplomatic partners. That gives the Iranians the power to brand any effort by the United States, including the enforcement of existing sanctions, as a reason for breaking off negotiations. This will allow them to drag out the preliminaries as well as anything that follows the six-month period when the two sides will supposedly be working on a final agreement.

The point is, Iran no longer thinks, if it ever did, that the U.S. has the will to stop them. And having gotten the administration to agree to the maintenance of their nuclear infrastructure, it is only a matter of time before they get their bomb, whether by evading agreements or stonewalling their implementation. As Javad Zarif’s statement and others coming out of Tehran demonstrate, they know where they’re going. The question is, does Kerry?

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Is Schweitzer the Dems’ Chris Christie?

At a 2007 event in Jacksonville, Florida for his presidential primary campaign, Fred Thompson offered a version of a line he used repeatedly when campaigning in the South: “I can’t tell you how much I appreciate it to be back somewhere that they don’t think I talk with a funny accent.” (I vaguely remember hearing an even better version, in which he responded to a question about who his constituency was supposed to be by quipping that to many Republican voters, he was the only candidate in the race who spoke without an accent.)

The line worked because that year the better-known GOP candidates were from Massachusetts (Mitt Romney), New York (Rudy Giuliani), and Arizona (John McCain). But it would strike a chord in either party; in 2007, the three most recent Democratic presidents were Bill Clinton (Arkansas), Jimmy Carter (Georgia), and Lyndon Johnson (Texas). Yet beyond the specific issue of accents, politicians from coastal enclaves often struggle to relate to Middle America. And that’s why former Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer might just make some trouble for Hillary Clinton in 2016–in part because of the possible presence in the race of, as Jonathan noted earlier, the California gadfly Jerry Brown.

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At a 2007 event in Jacksonville, Florida for his presidential primary campaign, Fred Thompson offered a version of a line he used repeatedly when campaigning in the South: “I can’t tell you how much I appreciate it to be back somewhere that they don’t think I talk with a funny accent.” (I vaguely remember hearing an even better version, in which he responded to a question about who his constituency was supposed to be by quipping that to many Republican voters, he was the only candidate in the race who spoke without an accent.)

The line worked because that year the better-known GOP candidates were from Massachusetts (Mitt Romney), New York (Rudy Giuliani), and Arizona (John McCain). But it would strike a chord in either party; in 2007, the three most recent Democratic presidents were Bill Clinton (Arkansas), Jimmy Carter (Georgia), and Lyndon Johnson (Texas). Yet beyond the specific issue of accents, politicians from coastal enclaves often struggle to relate to Middle America. And that’s why former Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer might just make some trouble for Hillary Clinton in 2016–in part because of the possible presence in the race of, as Jonathan noted earlier, the California gadfly Jerry Brown.

I say “make some trouble” because it’s not as though Schweitzer would be a juggernaut in a primary. He doesn’t have the name recognition of the others, and it’s doubtful his fundraising could keep pace with well-known candidates from California and New York. Additionally, in the Democratic Party coastal elitism sells, so Schweitzer may not have an advantage even if he can come across as the “normal” candidate. (And let’s be honest: if your opponent is known as “Moonbeam” Brown, you’d better come across as the normal candidate.)

In fact, the case can be made that Schweitzer would be more like the Democratic version of Chris Christie: perhaps too moderate for the base despite that crossover appeal’s advantage in a general election. Schweitzer’s moderation comes on an issue of new resonance to the Democratic Party’s base but on which they stand opposed to public opinion: gun rights.

Schweitzer’s support for gun rights was, once upon a time, part of what made him seem a dream candidate for Democrats–that combined with the fact that after Al Gore and John Kerry, the Democrats were worried they had nothing but self-serious, humorless, and completely unlikeable candidates to offer in national elections. In 2006, the New York Times’s profile of Schweitzer captured this dynamic perfectly. It began:

It’s fun being governor of Montana. Just watch Brian Schweitzer bouncing around the streets of Helena in the passenger seat of the state’s official S.U.V., fumbling with wires, trying to stick the flashing police light on the roof. When he spots some legislators on the sidewalk, he blasts them with the siren, then summons them by name on the loudspeaker. The men jump, and the governor tumbles out of the car, doubled in laughter, giving everyone a bear hug or a high-five or a soft slap on the cheek. Schweitzer, a Democrat in his first term, marches into a barroom in blue jeans and cowboy boots and a beaded bolo tie, and his border collie, Jag, leaps out of the vehicle and follows him in. The governor throws back a few pints of the local brew and introduces himself to everyone in the place, down to the servers and a small girl stuck there with her parents. He takes time from the backslapping to poach cubes of cheese from the snack platter and sneak them to the girl, who is now chasing his dog around the bar. “This is how you make friends with Jag,” he advises her. “Just hold it in your hand and let him take it.”

As soon as Schweitzer was elected in 2004 — the same night that George W. Bush carried Montana by 20 percentage points — pundits began declaring him the future of the Democratic Party. Never mind that it was his first elected office: the 51-year-old farmer and irrigation contractor had folksy charm and true-grit swagger. He shot guns, rode horses, took his dog to work and decimated his opponents with off-the-cuff one-liners heavy on the bull-and-horse metaphors. He didn’t act like a Democrat, in other words, and to many Democrats, reeling from consecutive losses to Bush, that seemed like a pretty good thing.

Schweitzer himself seems to view his support for gun rights as not just cultural, but ideological: National Journal calls his worldview a “brand of libertarian populism.” This certainly overstates the case: the same article even starts off with a riff on Schweitzer’s support for single-payer health care. But this does get at why Schweitzer would be a reasonably effective general-election candidate. In today’s Democratic Party, he is considered “libertarian,” underlining just how far to the left the Democrats have shifted as a national party.

That ideology would be a pleasant contrast with Hillary Clinton’s baldly statist impulses (“there isn’t really any such thing as someone else’s child,” etc.), and with Moonbeam Brown’s failed-state bureaucracy. And to many voters, he’d also be the only one without an accent.

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The Democrat Hillary Should Worry About

Since Barack Obama’s reelection, pundits have understandably focused their attention on Hillary Clinton’s intentions to run in 2016. The former secretary of state and first lady is the overwhelming frontrunner for the next Democratic presidential nomination. No other Democrat is anywhere close to Clinton in any poll of possible candidates with even Vice President Joe Biden trailing far behind her. Though one should always be careful about predicting political events this far in advance, with a little more than two years to go until the Iowa caucuses, the nomination is clearly hers for the asking.

But that near certainty hasn’t stopped the speculation about who will challenge Clinton in that caucus and other primaries in the first months of 2016. Unlike the last Democratic go-round when no one chose to play the gadfly and force President Obama to defend his record to party members, Clinton won’t go unopposed. But given the overwhelming odds against such an effort succeeding, the assumption is that no one, except perhaps Biden–who would be a plausible candidate were Clinton not in the running–would dare risk diminishing their political brand by engaging in a futile run. Any Democrat that did so would be deeply resented by party leaders and even some in the grass roots for doing the Republicans’ dirty work by taking shots at Clinton that would pave the way for even tougher GOP attacks in the general election. What they want is a coronation of Clinton, not a test of her mettle before she asks the voters to make her the first female president.

That means would-be Democratic stars like New York’s Governor Andrew Cuomo or Maryland’s Governor Martin O’Malley or Senator Kirsten Gillibrand will stay out of the 2016 race. That’s left other, less highly regarded figures like former Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer making noises about taking on Clinton from the left. Schweitzer might surprise us, but he isn’t the Democrat that Hillary should be worrying about. The real wild card for Democrats in 2016 is the same guy that gave heartburn to the last two Democrat presidents before Obama in primaries: Jerry Brown.

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Since Barack Obama’s reelection, pundits have understandably focused their attention on Hillary Clinton’s intentions to run in 2016. The former secretary of state and first lady is the overwhelming frontrunner for the next Democratic presidential nomination. No other Democrat is anywhere close to Clinton in any poll of possible candidates with even Vice President Joe Biden trailing far behind her. Though one should always be careful about predicting political events this far in advance, with a little more than two years to go until the Iowa caucuses, the nomination is clearly hers for the asking.

But that near certainty hasn’t stopped the speculation about who will challenge Clinton in that caucus and other primaries in the first months of 2016. Unlike the last Democratic go-round when no one chose to play the gadfly and force President Obama to defend his record to party members, Clinton won’t go unopposed. But given the overwhelming odds against such an effort succeeding, the assumption is that no one, except perhaps Biden–who would be a plausible candidate were Clinton not in the running–would dare risk diminishing their political brand by engaging in a futile run. Any Democrat that did so would be deeply resented by party leaders and even some in the grass roots for doing the Republicans’ dirty work by taking shots at Clinton that would pave the way for even tougher GOP attacks in the general election. What they want is a coronation of Clinton, not a test of her mettle before she asks the voters to make her the first female president.

That means would-be Democratic stars like New York’s Governor Andrew Cuomo or Maryland’s Governor Martin O’Malley or Senator Kirsten Gillibrand will stay out of the 2016 race. That’s left other, less highly regarded figures like former Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer making noises about taking on Clinton from the left. Schweitzer might surprise us, but he isn’t the Democrat that Hillary should be worrying about. The real wild card for Democrats in 2016 is the same guy that gave heartburn to the last two Democrat presidents before Obama in primaries: Jerry Brown.

The California governor is 75 years and thought by some to be too old to be even thinking about running for president in 2016. Brown is in some respects an artifact of American political history. He has been running for public office for more than 40 years with mixed success. He’s been elected governor of California three times (1974, 1978, 2010) as well as winning terms as the state’s secretary of state (1970) attorney general (2006), and mayor of Oakland (1998, 2002). But he’s also lost a lot of elections, including three runs for president (1976, 1980, and 1992) and one for the U.S. Senate (1982). Brown has said he isn’t ruling out a run, a stance that is fueling some of the speculation about him. There are good reasons to think that someone who will turn 78 in 2016 will take a pass, but the opportunity to play the spoiler may be too tempting.

It is, after all, a role he has played before. In 1976 when Jimmy Carter seemingly had the Democratic nomination sewn up, Brown was a late entry into the race and won several primaries, giving the Georgia governor a good scare before finally losing. His 1980 candidacy flopped as Ted Kennedy assumed the role of chief challenger to Carter. He failed again in 1992 but had more of an impact on the race eventually won by Bill Clinton. He won several primaries in small states and did more to discomfit Clinton in debates than any of the other candidates, especially by being the only one not afraid to bring up his troubled personal life.

Brown entered the national consciousness as “Governor Moonbeam” in the 1970s, but has lasted so long because there is a certain authenticity about a man who has stuck to the same left-wing populist style even as generations, styles, and political trends have come and gone. It is that authenticity as well as his perennial gadfly style that has the potential to unsettle Hillary. A conventional Democrat, especially a male one, has no answer to the push on the part of Clinton’s supporters to elect the first woman to the presidency. But Brown, who delights in playing the outlier, is the kind of person that could attract enough discontented Democrats who are sick of the Clintons to give Hillary reason to worry. As a governor who is perceived as something of a success, he would also be following the playbook of some potential Republican candidates, who realize the public wants candidates who are not tied to the current mess in Washington.

This isn’t to say Brown can beat Hillary Clinton. I don’t think there’s a chance that he would. But he is just offbeat enough to be able to portray her as the ultimate establishment figure and take advantage of it with primary voters who may be willing, as they occasionally have been in the past, to cast protest votes intended to shake up the nominee. With nothing to lose and no prospects for future presidential runs, Jerry Brown might be just the person to make Hillary’s life hell for a few months in 2016.

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Preserving Burma’s Last Synagogue

Voice of America picked up a fascinating story about efforts to preserve Burma’s (Myanmar’s) last synagogue:

The Mesmuah Yeshua synagogue is in a neighborhood typical of colonial Rangoon. Mosques, Hindu temples, churches, and Buddhist pagodas dot busy streets of markets, hawkers, and hardware shops. The protected heritage building dates back to 1896, and has been under the care of a member of the Samuels family for generations… Author and historian Thant Myint-U heads the Yangon Heritage Trust, an organization dedicated to saving Rangoon’s heritage buildings. He says the synagogue’s preservation effort is about more than just the building: it’s about recovering Burma’s past, to help people understand the city’s rich multiethnic history.

The whole story is worth reading, especially against the backdrop of the destruction of Java’s last synagogue earlier this summer, the razing of the Jewish quarters in both Sulaymani and Erbil in Iraqi Kurdistan, the end of the Jewish community in both Afghanistan and Iraq, and the start of what might well become a Jewish exodus from an increasingly intolerant Turkey. Sixteen years ago, I watched the Jewish community in Tajikistan build a guest house near the Jewish cemetery to prepare for the end of what they assumed would be that country’s permanent Jewish community.

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Voice of America picked up a fascinating story about efforts to preserve Burma’s (Myanmar’s) last synagogue:

The Mesmuah Yeshua synagogue is in a neighborhood typical of colonial Rangoon. Mosques, Hindu temples, churches, and Buddhist pagodas dot busy streets of markets, hawkers, and hardware shops. The protected heritage building dates back to 1896, and has been under the care of a member of the Samuels family for generations… Author and historian Thant Myint-U heads the Yangon Heritage Trust, an organization dedicated to saving Rangoon’s heritage buildings. He says the synagogue’s preservation effort is about more than just the building: it’s about recovering Burma’s past, to help people understand the city’s rich multiethnic history.

The whole story is worth reading, especially against the backdrop of the destruction of Java’s last synagogue earlier this summer, the razing of the Jewish quarters in both Sulaymani and Erbil in Iraqi Kurdistan, the end of the Jewish community in both Afghanistan and Iraq, and the start of what might well become a Jewish exodus from an increasingly intolerant Turkey. Sixteen years ago, I watched the Jewish community in Tajikistan build a guest house near the Jewish cemetery to prepare for the end of what they assumed would be that country’s permanent Jewish community.

Religious intolerance is spreading across the Middle East and many places in Asia as populist and radicalized clergy urge their followers to make life intolerable for Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Hindu, or Buddhist minorities. Traveling over the years in Iraq, Pakistan, Syria, Yemen, Egypt, and Iran, I have heard older generations describe the cosmopolitan atmosphere of their youth, playing with friends of different religions. One former associate remembers how he was taught the Lord’s Prayer in Peshawar, Pakistan, by a Muslim babysitter because she figured since he was Catholic and it was bedtime, he should learn to pray as Catholics do. That she would know Catholic prayer was simply the result of growing up in a multicultural, multi-ethnic environment that is now a faded memory.

The story out of Rangoon seems a good idea not only for Burma but for other countries as well. To allow the tolerance and diversity of past generations to be forgotten simply confirms the victory of radicals, populists, and forces of intolerance. Three cheers for Thant Myint-U and the Yangon Heritage Trust, which provide a model that should be replicated.

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“We Thought That [Obama] Was Going to Be the Next Messiah”

In an interview Barbara Walters did with CNN’s Piers Morgan, this exchange took place:

MORGAN: You have interviewed every president of my lifetime. Why is Obama facing so much opposition now? Why is he struggling so much to really fulfill the great flame of ambition and excitement that he was elected on originally in 2009?

 

WALTERS: Well, you’ve touched on it to a degree. He made so many promises. We thought that he was going to be – I shouldn’t say this at Christmastime, but – the next messiah. And the whole ObamaCare, or whatever you want to call it, the Affordable Health Act, it just hasn’t worked for him, and he’s stumbled around on it, and people feel very disappointed because they expected more.

Ms. Walters is right to say it might not be quite appropriate to say around Christmastime that Mr. Obama had been widely thought to be “the next messiah,” though I’d recommend that be expanded to include anytime, not just Christmastime.

What’s revealing, of course, is that Ms. Walters ever thought that is what Obama would be. And note the use of the pronoun “we”–as if we, all of us, had messianic expectations for Mr. Obama. Actually, many of us did not, though I think it’s fair to say some of Ms. Walters’ colleagues in the media and other members of the political class did.

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In an interview Barbara Walters did with CNN’s Piers Morgan, this exchange took place:

MORGAN: You have interviewed every president of my lifetime. Why is Obama facing so much opposition now? Why is he struggling so much to really fulfill the great flame of ambition and excitement that he was elected on originally in 2009?

 

WALTERS: Well, you’ve touched on it to a degree. He made so many promises. We thought that he was going to be – I shouldn’t say this at Christmastime, but – the next messiah. And the whole ObamaCare, or whatever you want to call it, the Affordable Health Act, it just hasn’t worked for him, and he’s stumbled around on it, and people feel very disappointed because they expected more.

Ms. Walters is right to say it might not be quite appropriate to say around Christmastime that Mr. Obama had been widely thought to be “the next messiah,” though I’d recommend that be expanded to include anytime, not just Christmastime.

What’s revealing, of course, is that Ms. Walters ever thought that is what Obama would be. And note the use of the pronoun “we”–as if we, all of us, had messianic expectations for Mr. Obama. Actually, many of us did not, though I think it’s fair to say some of Ms. Walters’ colleagues in the media and other members of the political class did.

To appreciate the hagiography once surrounding Mr. Obama, it’s worth going beyond the thrill he sent up the leg of Chris Matthews. Consider as well that the historian Garry Wills favorably compared Obama’s 2008 “A More Perfect Union” speech, on the issue of race and his relationship with Jeremiah Wright, to Abraham Lincoln’s 1860 Cooper Union speech. In the Nation magazine Tom Hayden, Barbara Ehrenrich, Bill Fletcher, Jr. and Danny Glover wrote that Obama’s address on race “was as great a speech as ever given by a presidential candidate, revealing a philosophical depth, personal authenticity, and political intelligence that should convince any but the hardest of ideologues that he carries unmatched leadership potentials for overcoming the divide-and-conquer tactics that have sundered Americans since the first slaves arrived here in chains.”

Immediately after his election, on the November 7, 2008 broadcast of PBS’s Charlie Rose, the historian Alan Brinkley said, “I don’t think we’ve had a president since Lincoln who has the oratorical skills that Obama has. Obama has that quality that Lincoln had.” David Remnick of the New Yorker also compared Obama’s rhetorical skills to Lincoln. (It got to the point that Remnick had to say, “We’ll climb out of the tank soon.”) Nor should we forget when in 2009 presidential historian Michael Beschloss said of Obama: “He’s probably the smartest guy ever to become President.”

Speaking as one of those Americans who didn’t invest god-like power in Mr. Obama or even once confuse him with Lincoln–and who, I will confess, didn’t even expect him to slow the rise of the oceans and heal our planet–the fact that Obama has failed isn’t all that surprising. What is, though, is just how comprehensive his failures have been. They have come early in his term and later, on economics and in foreign policy, in the conduct of war and in the art of diplomacy; in reducing poverty and in raising standards of living. He has failed when it comes to his promises of transparency, bipartisanship, and depolarization, basic competence and truth telling. In reviewing the five years of his presidency, what stands out is that he has striking few real successes to his name. His greatest legislative achievement, the Affordable Care Act, is politically toxic and a policy disaster.

Some of us weren’t expecting Mr. Obama to be the next messiah. We would have settled if he had simply been mediocre. But it turns out he’s fallen far short even of that. For the sake of the nation, he should have remained a community organizer in Chicago.

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What Goes Around in Turkey…

Turkey has become a banana republic. It may sound harsh, but events of the last few days simply underline the point. When the Justice and Development Party (AKP) swept to power in November 2002, it promised clean government and democratic reform. The election of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to the premiership made a mockery of that promise, since the AKP leader had more than a dozen corruption cases pending against him, cases immediately suspended because of parliamentary immunity. Other senior AKP officials—Cuneyt Zapsu, Egemin Bağış (a contender to replace Namık Tan as ambassador early next year) among others—were accused even by AKP associates of corruption, according to U.S. documents published by WikiLeaks. All, however, like Erdoğan himself profited nicely in the new order.

The democratic reform rhetoric also turned out to be a joke played out both on the Turkish public and well-meaning American diplomats. Erdoğan consolidated his power and used it arbitrarily to target his opponents. He entered a marriage of convenience with Fethullah Gülen’s movement, an Islamist movement which had itself consolidated control over the security forces. These he used to great effect, targeting and arresting opponents, many of whom languished for years in prison without trial. Erdoğan and his allies then tried his opponents on fantastical conspiracies utilizing evidence which outside experts deemed anachronous and clearly fabricated. Never mind justice, Erdoğan and his sympathizers figured: the ends justify the means.

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Turkey has become a banana republic. It may sound harsh, but events of the last few days simply underline the point. When the Justice and Development Party (AKP) swept to power in November 2002, it promised clean government and democratic reform. The election of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to the premiership made a mockery of that promise, since the AKP leader had more than a dozen corruption cases pending against him, cases immediately suspended because of parliamentary immunity. Other senior AKP officials—Cuneyt Zapsu, Egemin Bağış (a contender to replace Namık Tan as ambassador early next year) among others—were accused even by AKP associates of corruption, according to U.S. documents published by WikiLeaks. All, however, like Erdoğan himself profited nicely in the new order.

The democratic reform rhetoric also turned out to be a joke played out both on the Turkish public and well-meaning American diplomats. Erdoğan consolidated his power and used it arbitrarily to target his opponents. He entered a marriage of convenience with Fethullah Gülen’s movement, an Islamist movement which had itself consolidated control over the security forces. These he used to great effect, targeting and arresting opponents, many of whom languished for years in prison without trial. Erdoğan and his allies then tried his opponents on fantastical conspiracies utilizing evidence which outside experts deemed anachronous and clearly fabricated. Never mind justice, Erdoğan and his sympathizers figured: the ends justify the means.

Alas, like so many tyrants before him, Erdoğan is now learning that what goes around comes around. After picking a fight with the Gülen movement by seeking the closure of its lucrative exam prep schools, Erdoğan and his allies found themselves on the opposite end of the Gülen-controlled security forces, who arrested family members of several AKP ministers, as well as prominent AKP supporters on charges of corruption. Erdoğan is now crying foul, but he wins little sympathy after engaging in the same shenanigans. The prime minister eviscerated the independence of the judiciary, and now he cries that it has fallen under a rival’s control.

Events in Turkey now are incredibly important. There is a real race for the mayor in Istanbul; if the opposition wins—the polls show the two candidates are neck-and-neck—then Turks will conclude that Erdoğan is vulnerable. The arrest of the prime minister’s allies simply underscores how the situation has changed since Erdoğan attacked his own people during this summer’s Gezi protests. Erdoğan may once have seen himself as invincible, a cross between Ottoman Sultan Selim and Russian President Vladimir Putin, but as events unfold, the notion that Erdoğan will himself end his career in prison or in exile in Saudi Arabia a few years down the road becomes a welcome possibility. Let us just hope his successor will break Turkey’s tragic cycle and focus more on the future rather than on revenging past grievances.

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