Commentary Magazine


Posts For: January 22, 2014

Israelis Are Right Not to Trust Obama

Last March, President Obama visited Israel for the first time since taking office. There he gave several speeches that must be considered among the most pro-Zionist ever uttered by an American leader. He annoyed supporters of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by asking Israelis to pressure their government to take risks for peace — the same risks, as it happened — that his predecessors had already tried with disastrous results. But the genuinely supportive tone of his remarks persuaded some observers  that despite a first term marred by almost continual fights with Jerusalem, the president might finally win over an Israeli public that had never warmed to him. But less than a year later after that long-delayed visit, it might as well have never have taken place, as far as the Israelis are concerned. A new Times of Israel poll published this week shows that an overwhelming majority do not trust Obama to prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons and a clear majority view him unfavorably.

This frustrates the president’s defenders who cite the strong security cooperation that has continued on his watch, the generous aid to Israel that continues to flow, to the Jewish state, as well as the fact that he retained the support of more than two-thirds of American Jewish voters in his reelection campaign. Obama’s apologists also say he should be trusted to do the right thing on Iran and be given a chance to let diplomacy work to end the nuclear threat. They insist the administration’s push to force the Jewish state to make more concessions to the Palestinians is in Israel’s interests.

Israelis, however, aren’t impressed by any of these arguments. They distrust him more now than they did before his visit. That should prompt Americans who claim to be friends of Israel to ask themselves what the Israelis know that they don’t.

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Last March, President Obama visited Israel for the first time since taking office. There he gave several speeches that must be considered among the most pro-Zionist ever uttered by an American leader. He annoyed supporters of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by asking Israelis to pressure their government to take risks for peace — the same risks, as it happened — that his predecessors had already tried with disastrous results. But the genuinely supportive tone of his remarks persuaded some observers  that despite a first term marred by almost continual fights with Jerusalem, the president might finally win over an Israeli public that had never warmed to him. But less than a year later after that long-delayed visit, it might as well have never have taken place, as far as the Israelis are concerned. A new Times of Israel poll published this week shows that an overwhelming majority do not trust Obama to prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons and a clear majority view him unfavorably.

This frustrates the president’s defenders who cite the strong security cooperation that has continued on his watch, the generous aid to Israel that continues to flow, to the Jewish state, as well as the fact that he retained the support of more than two-thirds of American Jewish voters in his reelection campaign. Obama’s apologists also say he should be trusted to do the right thing on Iran and be given a chance to let diplomacy work to end the nuclear threat. They insist the administration’s push to force the Jewish state to make more concessions to the Palestinians is in Israel’s interests.

Israelis, however, aren’t impressed by any of these arguments. They distrust him more now than they did before his visit. That should prompt Americans who claim to be friends of Israel to ask themselves what the Israelis know that they don’t.

The reason for Obama’s low approval and trust ratings among Israelis is no mystery. He came into office in January 2009 determined to establish daylight between Israel and the United States and wasted no time in achieving that goal. The fights he picked with Netanyahu were largely intended to undermine the prime minister’s standing at home but only served to strengthen him among his countrymen. Netanyahu’s defiance of Obama’s demands was based on positions widely agreed upon by the majority of Israelis such as a refusal to divide Jerusalem. Most Israelis aren’t any more enamored of West Bank settlements than the president, most view American insistence on pushing Israel back to its 1967 borders as madness because, unlike Obama, they vividly recall the events of 2005. In that year the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza produced a hale of rockets fired on their towns and cities along the border which they now see as a clear warning of what would recur if the tragic experiment were repeated.

The president’s disastrous retreat on Syria—after promising that Assad’s use of chemical weapons would be a “red line,” that would trigger an American response —in which he has effectively  conceded that there is nothing the U.S. is prepared to do to restrain an Assad regime backed by both Russia and Iran has also undermined Israeli trust in his judgment, not to mention his promises.

That skepticism is even greater on Iran. Much was made in the American media in 2012 and 2013 about the lack of support for a unilateral Israeli strike on Iran among members of the country’s security establishment and the Israeli public. But that stance was based on a belief that the only way to deal with Iran was in concert with a resolute United States. There is little disagreement in Israel about the absolute necessity for the West to eliminate the Iranian nuclear program as well as to force it to give up its ballistic missile program and to end its support of terrorism. Thus, the U.S. decision to embrace an interim nuclear deal that does nothing to dismantle Iran’s nuclear infrastructure (a position reaffirmed today by Iran’s foreign minister) and loosens sanctions in a way that has led many in Europe to believe that the restrictions will soon be eliminated altogether, has rightly alarmed Israelis.

Though Obama has consistently pledged to stop Iran from getting a bomb, Israelis view the American embrace of diplomacy with the Islamist regime very differently from the president’s supporters in the United States. While many Americans accept the administration’s arguments that the only alternative to its engagement with Iran is war, Israelis understand that the talk emanating from Washington about détente with Tehran represents nothing short of a profound betrayal of Obama’s pledges.

The United States seems to be retreating from the Middle East, a position that frightens many Arabs as well as the Israelis. They see the drift toward the appeasement of Iran as a sign that this administration is prepared to accept a compromise with Tehran that will leave the nuclear threat in place. Under these circumstances, it’s hard to blame the Israelis for believing that Obama can’t be trusted. American friends of Israel—including those who voted for Obama—have good reason to take a long, hard look at the Israeli poll results and reconsider their longstanding unblinking trust in this president.  

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Are There Any Winners in Syria?

Is it possible for all sides to lose a war? That is a question the Syrian civil war may just answer. Over the last couple of days, stories that are dispiriting but also illuminating have been streaming out of reporting on the conflict. In President Obama’s much-talked about interview with the New Yorker’s David Remnick, the president says of his Syria policy: “I am haunted by what’s happened,” though he added: “I am not haunted by my decision not to engage in another Middle Eastern war.”

The phrase “engage in another Middle Eastern war” isn’t crystal clear. It could mean a full invasion and occupation. Or he could simply mean that virtually any noticeable involvement constitutes engagement. To the president, it seems to be a combination of both, as he continued:

It is very difficult to imagine a scenario in which our involvement in Syria would have led to a better outcome, short of us being willing to undertake an effort in size and scope similar to what we did in Iraq. And when I hear people suggesting that somehow if we had just financed and armed the opposition earlier, that somehow Assad would be gone by now and we’d have a peaceful transition, it’s magical thinking.

Such straw men are never far when Obama is speaking. Perhaps it’s “magical thinking” to say that if we financed the opposition earlier Assad would be gone and there would be peace. But the president’s critics aren’t saying that. They are saying we could have turned the tide against Assad; not that a cash infusion would wave a magic wand and make Assad disappear. But you can tell that this is how the president’s mind works, and it helps explain why his foreign policy is such a mess. Obama lacks patience and strategic thinking. He acts as though difficulty precludes victory. And that strategic weakness has been exploited.

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Is it possible for all sides to lose a war? That is a question the Syrian civil war may just answer. Over the last couple of days, stories that are dispiriting but also illuminating have been streaming out of reporting on the conflict. In President Obama’s much-talked about interview with the New Yorker’s David Remnick, the president says of his Syria policy: “I am haunted by what’s happened,” though he added: “I am not haunted by my decision not to engage in another Middle Eastern war.”

The phrase “engage in another Middle Eastern war” isn’t crystal clear. It could mean a full invasion and occupation. Or he could simply mean that virtually any noticeable involvement constitutes engagement. To the president, it seems to be a combination of both, as he continued:

It is very difficult to imagine a scenario in which our involvement in Syria would have led to a better outcome, short of us being willing to undertake an effort in size and scope similar to what we did in Iraq. And when I hear people suggesting that somehow if we had just financed and armed the opposition earlier, that somehow Assad would be gone by now and we’d have a peaceful transition, it’s magical thinking.

Such straw men are never far when Obama is speaking. Perhaps it’s “magical thinking” to say that if we financed the opposition earlier Assad would be gone and there would be peace. But the president’s critics aren’t saying that. They are saying we could have turned the tide against Assad; not that a cash infusion would wave a magic wand and make Assad disappear. But you can tell that this is how the president’s mind works, and it helps explain why his foreign policy is such a mess. Obama lacks patience and strategic thinking. He acts as though difficulty precludes victory. And that strategic weakness has been exploited.

A pair of stories in the UK Telegraph draw attention to the strategy gap. The paper reports that Bashar al-Assad accurately gauged the West’s (understandable) hesitation to do anything that could inadvertently empower Islamist terrorists in Syria:

The Syrian regime of President Bashar al-Assad has funded and co-operated with al-Qaeda in a complex double game even as the terrorists fight Damascus, according to new allegations by Western intelligence agencies, rebels and al-Qaeda defectors.

Jabhat al-Nusra, and the even more extreme Islamic State of Iraq and al-Shams (ISIS), the two al-Qaeda affiliates operating in Syria, have both been financed by selling oil and gas from wells under their control to and through the regime, intelligence sources have told The Daily Telegraph.

Rebels and defectors say the regime also deliberately released militant prisoners to strengthen jihadist ranks at the expense of moderate rebel forces. The aim was to persuade the West that the uprising was sponsored by Islamist militants including al-Qaeda as a way of stopping Western support for it.

The allegations by Western intelligence sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity, are in part a public response to demands by Assad that the focus of peace talks due to begin in Switzerland tomorrow be switched from replacing his government to co-operating against al-Qaeda in the “war on terrorism”.

If true—and a follow-up story lends credence to it—Assad has very skillfully played the West. But the headline of that follow-up story might give the West too much credit, failing to learn the lesson of its own revelations: “Syria’s duplicity over al-Qaeda means West will not trust Assad.” Syria’s duplicity means the West should not trust Assad. But Western leaders, in agreeing to the Russian chemical-weapons proposal to partner with Assad, may not have given themselves much of a choice at this point.

Which means ultimately they—the West—will lose by being made to look feckless in pronouncing that Assad must go and also having Islamist terror networks thrive in place of moderate rebels partially because of—not in spite of—the West’s decision to sit this one out. Assad will lose too, because terrorist groups will not willingly give up lucrative real estate in Syria, instigating a war of attrition against Assad. If Assad ultimately loses, so does Russia. The moderate rebels will lose for all the obvious reasons, including that they basically already have lost. Come to think of it, perhaps there will be a winner after all: thus far, everything’s coming up al-Qaeda.

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McDonnell Case Shows Character Counts

There are a number of unhappy conclusions to be drawn from the sad details of the indictment of former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell and his wife on federal corruption charges yesterday. Whether you believed McDonnell was a legitimate contender for national office (as many of his backers did until yesterday’s revelations), he was an able governor and a talented politician who had every reason to look forward to other opportunities to serve his country even if he hadn’t sought the 2016 Republican presidential nomination. That’s over now, even in the unlikely event that he is acquitted of the numerous criminal charges of taking gifts from a wealthy contributor.

One of the facts of American political life exemplified by the McDonnell case is the dilemma faced by all politicians who are not independently wealthy. Lacking their own sources of riches they must raise vast sums of money almost continually and thus find themselves thrown together with unusually wealthy people whose lifestyles are very different from those of the middle class from which many politicians spring. If elected, their duties include entertaining on a scale that is difficult, if not impossible, to manage on the admittedly generous salaries they are paid for holding public office. The temptation to accept what at first may seem kindnesses from their rich friends—who often have a clear financial motive to ingratiate themselves with officials—can overwhelm their better judgment. Though Americans are deeply cynical about the ethics of their politicians, most in public office do manage to avoid trouble. But a certain percentage fall prey to the attraction of easy money and lavish gifts

But rather than merely demonstrating the McDonnells’ poor judgment or the advantages the wealthy enjoy when running for and staying in office, what this episode also illuminates is the importance of public morals and character in our politicians.

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There are a number of unhappy conclusions to be drawn from the sad details of the indictment of former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell and his wife on federal corruption charges yesterday. Whether you believed McDonnell was a legitimate contender for national office (as many of his backers did until yesterday’s revelations), he was an able governor and a talented politician who had every reason to look forward to other opportunities to serve his country even if he hadn’t sought the 2016 Republican presidential nomination. That’s over now, even in the unlikely event that he is acquitted of the numerous criminal charges of taking gifts from a wealthy contributor.

One of the facts of American political life exemplified by the McDonnell case is the dilemma faced by all politicians who are not independently wealthy. Lacking their own sources of riches they must raise vast sums of money almost continually and thus find themselves thrown together with unusually wealthy people whose lifestyles are very different from those of the middle class from which many politicians spring. If elected, their duties include entertaining on a scale that is difficult, if not impossible, to manage on the admittedly generous salaries they are paid for holding public office. The temptation to accept what at first may seem kindnesses from their rich friends—who often have a clear financial motive to ingratiate themselves with officials—can overwhelm their better judgment. Though Americans are deeply cynical about the ethics of their politicians, most in public office do manage to avoid trouble. But a certain percentage fall prey to the attraction of easy money and lavish gifts

But rather than merely demonstrating the McDonnells’ poor judgment or the advantages the wealthy enjoy when running for and staying in office, what this episode also illuminates is the importance of public morals and character in our politicians.

While we are continually told by pundits and even much of the public that all they care about are results, the perils of modern democracy turn out to place greater emphasis than we might have thought on the need to recruit upstanding people to run for office.

Let’s dispense with the defense being offered by McDonnell and his lawyers that his hobnobbing with a wealthy contributor is no worse than what President Obama or other politicians do while raising money. McDonnell claims that if the government can’t prove that he actually traded some benefit for the gifts he received, he’s guilty of nothing other than poor judgment. But the line between fundraising and bribes is, in reality, a bright one. As much as we lament the influence of money on politics—something that no law or set of laws can ever prevent—or the complicated nature of many of the laws that limit gifts, the rules about what a politician can and cannot do are not complicated. Office-holders can take money for their campaigns but they can’t take personal compensation as a perk of the job. As Byron York writes in the Washington Examiner, the facts about the watches, the cash, and the stocks McDonnell and his wife took from a pharmaceutical mogul are sordid. So were their attempts to cover all this up.

While McDonnell and his wife don’t come off as sympathetic figures in the account presented by the government or even in their own defense, the path of politicians who don’t enter public office with private wealth is not an easy one. The demands on their private purses as well as the fact that they are obligated to spend a great deal of time in the homes of the rich can make many feel out of place. While, as York notes, they can easily cash in on their former status once they leave office, while they are in public harness they and their families must be satisfied with what they have. That is why many talented people who can earn far more in the private sector want no part of politics even without considering the scrutiny and abuse that comes with it.

But it also means those who place their desire for power and their potential to do good above their desire for money or privacy must be made of sterner stuff than the McDonnells. Moreover, the process of selecting candidates also requires voters and journalists who often treat the private failings of candidates as less important than their stands on issues to rethink that notion. As much as we should avoid prurient investigations into candidates’ private lives or treating minor peccadilloes as outweighing an individual’s potential to be an effective leader, public morals do matter. As much as our democracy needs men and women of intelligence and ability, it also needs people of good character. When we ignore that aspect of a candidate, focusing only on the resume, we can — and often do — wind up with scandals, both fiscal and moral, that debase our democracy, undermine the rule of law and decrease public respect for office-holders and thus government itself.

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Obama’s Choice in Afghanistan

If the Wall Street Journal is to be believed, U.S. military commanders are telling President Obama that he should leave either 10,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan after 2014 or none at all. This seems like wise advice given the president’s proven predilection for splitting the difference–and for providing only the barest of bare bones necessary to carry out a strategy. For example, when he ordered the initial surge of forces into Afghanistan in 2009, he sent 30,000 troops, not the 40,000 that Gen. Stanley McChrystal had asked for, and imposed a time limit that hindered their mission.

For months, the White House has been leaking that no more than 8,000 U.S. troops would remain in Afghanistan past 2014–and possibly quite a few fewer. The military is right to warn that at a certain level, U.S. forces cannot sustain or defend themselves or their colleagues in the State Department and intelligence agencies. A handful of commandos cannot drop out of the sky and operate successfully–they need an infrastructure in place to support them. Same goes for military trainers, advisers, diplomats, and spies. 

So to that extent the military’s advice is on the money–although it is certain to be unwelcome in the White House which has long had a neuralgic reaction to leaks of force recommendations which Obama believes (perhaps rightly) are an attempt to “box him in” by the armed forces. 

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If the Wall Street Journal is to be believed, U.S. military commanders are telling President Obama that he should leave either 10,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan after 2014 or none at all. This seems like wise advice given the president’s proven predilection for splitting the difference–and for providing only the barest of bare bones necessary to carry out a strategy. For example, when he ordered the initial surge of forces into Afghanistan in 2009, he sent 30,000 troops, not the 40,000 that Gen. Stanley McChrystal had asked for, and imposed a time limit that hindered their mission.

For months, the White House has been leaking that no more than 8,000 U.S. troops would remain in Afghanistan past 2014–and possibly quite a few fewer. The military is right to warn that at a certain level, U.S. forces cannot sustain or defend themselves or their colleagues in the State Department and intelligence agencies. A handful of commandos cannot drop out of the sky and operate successfully–they need an infrastructure in place to support them. Same goes for military trainers, advisers, diplomats, and spies. 

So to that extent the military’s advice is on the money–although it is certain to be unwelcome in the White House which has long had a neuralgic reaction to leaks of force recommendations which Obama believes (perhaps rightly) are an attempt to “box him in” by the armed forces. 

But for an outside analyst what is troubling about the Journal report is not the troop figure recommendation. It is, rather, that the military is supposedly telling Obama, as a sweetener, that the entire force can be withdrawn by the time he leaves office–i.e., by early 2017. 

It is hard to imagine how any responsible commander could so recommend at this point–i.e., in early 2014–so perhaps the report is inaccurate. I hope so, because it is simply impossible to know now what Afghanistan will look like in 2017. Perhaps Afghan forces will have made so much progress by then that they will no longer need much American support. That is certainly what everyone, including me, hopes. But it’s not likely to happen given the extreme poverty of Afghanistan and the size of the security challenge it faces from an undefeated Taliban insurgency.

If history has taught anything, it is that premature pullouts of U.S. forces can sacrifice all that they have fought so hard to achieve. See, most recently, Iraq. Or before that, Haiti, Somalia, Vietnam, post-World War I Europe… the list is a long one of squandered opportunities. Whereas if U.S. forces stay for the long-term, near-miraculous progress is possible. See Germany, Japan, Italy, the former Yugoslavia, South Korea, and other examples.

It is certainly possible, even probable, that U.S. forces in Afghanistan will be able to responsibly draw down over the years. But any such withdrawal should be based on realities on the ground–not on an artificial desire to give President Obama a political coup by announcing the “end” of the Afghan War before the end of his term of office. We’ve seen in Iraq that a similar impulse led to more war, not less. The same danger looms in Afghanistan.

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Ornstein vs. Ornstein on Presidential Recess Appointments

On the New York Times op-ed page, Norman J. Ornstein argues the pending challenge to President Obama’s recess appointments “represents the biggest threat to presidential power in decades”–something he views with alarm. He concedes the recess power was not intended to deal with political disputes between the president and the Senate, but only to allow presidents to appoint officials when it was impractical to summon the Senate back to Washington to confirm them. But he views the recess appointment power as “a modest safety valve to ameliorate the worst abuses of Senate power” when the opposition party controls the Senate.

Seven years ago, with a different president and a different opposition party, Ornstein viewed something else with alarm–presidential recess appointments.

President Bush gave recess appointments to Sam Fox as ambassador to Belgium, Susan Dudley to the Office of Management and Budget, and Andrew Biggs as deputy commissioner of the Social Security Administration. Ornstein viewed the Biggs appointment “an ‘up yours’ gesture to the Senate Finance Committee”; the Dudley appointment “shocking,” because she “probably” would have been approved under normal procedures; and the Fox appointment as one made during the Senate’s Easter and Passover break. Here was his analysis, in an article entitled “Time for Congress to Stand Up to Bush on Recess Appointments”:

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On the New York Times op-ed page, Norman J. Ornstein argues the pending challenge to President Obama’s recess appointments “represents the biggest threat to presidential power in decades”–something he views with alarm. He concedes the recess power was not intended to deal with political disputes between the president and the Senate, but only to allow presidents to appoint officials when it was impractical to summon the Senate back to Washington to confirm them. But he views the recess appointment power as “a modest safety valve to ameliorate the worst abuses of Senate power” when the opposition party controls the Senate.

Seven years ago, with a different president and a different opposition party, Ornstein viewed something else with alarm–presidential recess appointments.

President Bush gave recess appointments to Sam Fox as ambassador to Belgium, Susan Dudley to the Office of Management and Budget, and Andrew Biggs as deputy commissioner of the Social Security Administration. Ornstein viewed the Biggs appointment “an ‘up yours’ gesture to the Senate Finance Committee”; the Dudley appointment “shocking,” because she “probably” would have been approved under normal procedures; and the Fox appointment as one made during the Senate’s Easter and Passover break. Here was his analysis, in an article entitled “Time for Congress to Stand Up to Bush on Recess Appointments”:

Were I Associate Justice Antonin Scalia, an avowed originalist, looking at the plain language of the Constitution, the words of the authors of the document and those addressing the issue during the ratification debates, and the context for the framers at the time, my conclusion would be crystal clear. Back in those days Congress met only for brief periods and was adjourned for many months at a time. There were many occasions when important posts were vacant and nine months might pass before the Senate could convene to confirm the president’s nominees. No one at the time–no one–argued that the recess appointment power was to be used for other, broader purposes, especially in cases where the president was simply trying to make an end run around the Senate. …

In modern times, when Congress is in session virtually year-round, the original rationale for recess appointments has shriveled, leaving very few truly legitimate cases. … In his eight years in the White House, President Ronald Reagan made 243 recess appointments. President George H. W. Bush made 77 in his single term; President Bill Clinton made 140 in two terms. President George W. Bush has made 171 so far. Most of these were relatively minor, but some, including judges, were not. …

The bottom line is that if these [Bush appointments] are not the first recess appointments that skirted the intent of the framers and distorted and abused the Constitution, they are among the most blatant. … Every time a president abuses a power like this one, stretching the circumstances under which he will use recess appointments, it becomes a precedent for his successors, who will use his actions as a base point to stretch the power even further. The more the power is used with impunity, the more the core principles of the separation of powers are eroded. … [I]t is time to put some limits on a presidential abuse of power that has gone way too far.

It would take a constitutional law instructor from Chicago to think up a way to make “in your face” recess appointments in a manner so abusive they dwarfed what Bush did–and perhaps only the New York Times to publish an op-ed suggesting the Supreme Court write an opinion “leaving intact the accepted practices,” written by someone who seven years ago not only didn’t accept them, but realized the plain language of the Constitution doesn’t either.  

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The Number of ObamaCare Losers Grows

The decision by the Target Corporation to join Trader Joe’s, Home Depot, and other retailers and end health-insurance coverage for part-time employees brings both good news and bad for those hoping that ObamaCare would survive its disastrous rollout and emerge as a permanent part of the American economic and political landscape. The good news is that by dropping 10 percent of its part-time employees from its company insurance, the retailing giant has delivered a significant number of its 361,000 total employees into the ObamaCare insurance exchanges since they have no other option and many will be eligible for subsidies. Since a majority of them may be relatively young and healthy, they could help bolster the anemic ObamaCare enrollment figures and help redress the imbalance created by the disproportionate number of older and sick people on the new plans.

The bad news is that the thousands of Target employees who’ll now be forced to choose between ObamaCare and no coverage at all are not likely to be happy with either option. Unlike the poor and those with pre-existing conditions who understandably view the ACA as a godsend, these new recruits will be saddled with coverage that, even if it is not more expensive is, unlikely to be as good as the insurance they had with their employer. In other words, Target’s decision, like those of many other large businesses that are laying off workers or reducing others to part-time status because of the higher costs of meeting ObamaCare’s new standards, means that the number of Americans who will lose the coverage they had because of the new law is growing.

As Bloomberg reports, the Target decision is directly related to ObamaCare:

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The decision by the Target Corporation to join Trader Joe’s, Home Depot, and other retailers and end health-insurance coverage for part-time employees brings both good news and bad for those hoping that ObamaCare would survive its disastrous rollout and emerge as a permanent part of the American economic and political landscape. The good news is that by dropping 10 percent of its part-time employees from its company insurance, the retailing giant has delivered a significant number of its 361,000 total employees into the ObamaCare insurance exchanges since they have no other option and many will be eligible for subsidies. Since a majority of them may be relatively young and healthy, they could help bolster the anemic ObamaCare enrollment figures and help redress the imbalance created by the disproportionate number of older and sick people on the new plans.

The bad news is that the thousands of Target employees who’ll now be forced to choose between ObamaCare and no coverage at all are not likely to be happy with either option. Unlike the poor and those with pre-existing conditions who understandably view the ACA as a godsend, these new recruits will be saddled with coverage that, even if it is not more expensive is, unlikely to be as good as the insurance they had with their employer. In other words, Target’s decision, like those of many other large businesses that are laying off workers or reducing others to part-time status because of the higher costs of meeting ObamaCare’s new standards, means that the number of Americans who will lose the coverage they had because of the new law is growing.

As Bloomberg reports, the Target decision is directly related to ObamaCare:

The law doesn’t require most companies to cover part-time workers, and offering them health plans may disqualify those people from subsidies in new government-run insurance exchanges that opened in October … The health law requires all companies employing 50 or more people to offer health insurance to those working at least 30 hours a week starting in 2015. Those that don’t comply may be liable for fines of as much as $3,000 per worker. … The move should also reduce the cost of Target’s health benefits.

We already knew that the bland assurances the American public heard repeatedly from the president in his notorious “If you like your health-care plan, you can keep your health-care plan” were patently false. The administration tried to weasel its way out of that lie by claiming that the numbers of those who couldn’t keep their coverage or their doctors were negligible. It soon became clear that several million people who privately purchased insurance would be thrown off their old plans and forced into new ones that were not only more expensive but failed to offer the coverage they wanted. Others lost their doctors as a result of the changes.

But what most of us didn’t realize was that ObamaCare’s negative impact would go far beyond the private insurance market. As the Target decision illustrates, the law’s regulations will force companies to make decisions that will place heavy economic burdens on many of their employees and cause others to lose their jobs entirely or their hard-won full-time status. And that, in turn, means that the pool of ObamaCare losers is increasing so rapidly and precipitously that they’re well on their way to vastly outnumbering those who are better off because of the law’s passage.

Nor is it clear that even more moves such as that of Target, which will push thousands of consumers into the ObamaCare exchanges, will be sufficient to fill them with enough young and healthy people to ensure that the system becomes fiscally sound. With enrollment still millions short of the number needed to keep the scheme afloat, the prospect of federal bailouts for the system creates the likelihood that new battles will keep ObamaCare on the political front burner in a way that could fatally handicap Democrats in the midterm elections.

Democrats have assumed all along that once implemented, ObamaCare would be too popular to be repealed or even modified. Republicans shared the same assumption and even now many worry that no matter how grievous the impact of the law on the American economy, it will be impossible to rescind coverage from those who have gained it via ObamaCare.

But what neither party anticipated was the emergence of an entirely new demographic—the millions upon millions of ObamaCare losers—whose anger over the law could well be a game-changer. More corporate decisions such as Target’s that have the potential to increase the size of this group is bad news indeed for ObamaCare and the Democratic Party that, without a single Republican vote, foisted it upon an unwilling public.

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American Liberalism’s Necessary Fictions

Wendy Davis is not handling her latest controversy very well, but she’s been nothing if not completely predictable. After it was revealed that she fudged details of her biography on her way to liberal stardom, she followed her party’s playbook to the letter. Anyone who followed other recent liberal campaigns knew exactly what was coming next. Rather than simply admit that she misled the public on her personal story, she was almost certain to follow Elizabeth Warren’s example.

When it was revealed that Warren had claimed dubious minority status to take advantage of affirmative action on her way to tenure at Harvard Law, she immediately did two things: she blamed the campaign of her opponent, Scott Brown, and she shamefully accused Brown of sexism, complaining that a female candidate such as herself could never get a fair shake from someone like Brown.

Davis was clearly paying attention. First she absurdly blamed her GOP opponent, Greg Abbott. Then she hit Abbott on identity politics: “I’m not surprised that the Abbott campaign would resort to attacking the story of a single mother who worked hard to get ahead.” Of course, the news was broken by the Dallas Morning News, not the Abbott campaign. And the only “story of a single mother” anyone was criticizing was the part that was made up. But if the facts mattered to Davis, we wouldn’t be having this conversation in the first place.

Nonetheless, to a certain extent you can’t really blame Davis. After all, Elizabeth Warren is now a wealthy, powerful senator. Her biographical creativity helped her get ahead and never caught up to her. And it isn’t as if Warren wrote the playbook; she merely copied it. There’s no question Barack Obama’s back story is both inspiring and in its own way quintessentially American—a living case for American exceptionalism and social progress. But adoring biographer David Maraniss then revealed that Obama’s autobiography consisted of made-up personalities who inspired made-up epiphanies: Obama wrote not so much a memoir as a piece of historical fiction loosely based on the person Obama thought his fellow liberals wanted him to be. As Andrew Ferguson wrote in his review of Maraniss’s book:

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Wendy Davis is not handling her latest controversy very well, but she’s been nothing if not completely predictable. After it was revealed that she fudged details of her biography on her way to liberal stardom, she followed her party’s playbook to the letter. Anyone who followed other recent liberal campaigns knew exactly what was coming next. Rather than simply admit that she misled the public on her personal story, she was almost certain to follow Elizabeth Warren’s example.

When it was revealed that Warren had claimed dubious minority status to take advantage of affirmative action on her way to tenure at Harvard Law, she immediately did two things: she blamed the campaign of her opponent, Scott Brown, and she shamefully accused Brown of sexism, complaining that a female candidate such as herself could never get a fair shake from someone like Brown.

Davis was clearly paying attention. First she absurdly blamed her GOP opponent, Greg Abbott. Then she hit Abbott on identity politics: “I’m not surprised that the Abbott campaign would resort to attacking the story of a single mother who worked hard to get ahead.” Of course, the news was broken by the Dallas Morning News, not the Abbott campaign. And the only “story of a single mother” anyone was criticizing was the part that was made up. But if the facts mattered to Davis, we wouldn’t be having this conversation in the first place.

Nonetheless, to a certain extent you can’t really blame Davis. After all, Elizabeth Warren is now a wealthy, powerful senator. Her biographical creativity helped her get ahead and never caught up to her. And it isn’t as if Warren wrote the playbook; she merely copied it. There’s no question Barack Obama’s back story is both inspiring and in its own way quintessentially American—a living case for American exceptionalism and social progress. But adoring biographer David Maraniss then revealed that Obama’s autobiography consisted of made-up personalities who inspired made-up epiphanies: Obama wrote not so much a memoir as a piece of historical fiction loosely based on the person Obama thought his fellow liberals wanted him to be. As Andrew Ferguson wrote in his review of Maraniss’s book:

Obama himself drops hints of this in Dreams. He writes in his introduction that the dialogue in the book is only an “approximation” of real conversations. Some of the characters, “for the sake of compression,” are “composites”; the names of others have been changed. All of this is offered to the reader as acceptable literary license, and it is, certainly by the standards of the early 1990s, back in the day when publishers flooded bookstores with memoirs of angst-ridden youth and there were still bookstores to flood. Yet the epiphany-per-page ratio in Obama’s memoir is very high. The book derives its power from the reader’s understanding that the events described were factual at least in the essentials. Maraniss demonstrates something else: The writer who would later use the power of his life story to become a plausible public man was making it up, to an alarming extent.

Ferguson reviewed the many such examples and noted: “Obama wasn’t just inventing himself; he was inventing himself inventing himself. It made for a story, anyway.” It certainly did. What it amounted to was that Obama basically took the measure of his fellow American liberals and judged them to be idiots. He was exactly who he said he was and honestly rendered his cultural and political outlook. But he also understood that to Democrats, your opinion is only valid if it matches a certain biography.

In part this is because modern liberalism is so intellectually conformist. Elizabeth Warren’s opinions are a dime a dozen, especially in a place like Harvard. But her opinions took on a sudden value when her employers could pretend she was a minority. So she did, and they did, and everybody won (except, of course, the actual minority whose opportunity she likely snagged).

Wendy Davis understands this all too well. Her pro-abortion extremism, so out of step with the country and especially her state of Texas, is the standard Democratic line. But—as with Warren—the party wants to be able to avoid talking about the issues and instead push a bogus narrative consisting of false accusations and character assassination. For that, Davis—or, rather, the person Davis has claimed to be—was perfect.

And it also explains the outrage these politicians display when being exposed. Like method acting, the necessary fictions are integrated into their everyday selves. “It’s not a lie if you believe it,” George Costanza said, presaging the future of American liberalism.

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Europe’s Jihadis in Syria Will Come Home to Roost

As world leaders gather in Switzerland for the Syrian peace summit, there are still ever more horrific stories of atrocities emerging daily from Syria. The cost of Syria’s ongoing civil war has, of course, first and foremost been paid by Syrians. Thus far Western countries have experienced little in the way of repercussions from their policy of non-intervention and inaction.

However, increasingly Western intelligence agencies are growing concerned about the phenomenon of Muslims from their own countries traveling to Syria to join Islamist militants fighting there. The concern being that with tens of thousands of foreign fighters in Syria, including from Europe and even the United States, the day will come when these men will seek to return to their home countries, highly radicalized and well trained for terrorist activities.

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As world leaders gather in Switzerland for the Syrian peace summit, there are still ever more horrific stories of atrocities emerging daily from Syria. The cost of Syria’s ongoing civil war has, of course, first and foremost been paid by Syrians. Thus far Western countries have experienced little in the way of repercussions from their policy of non-intervention and inaction.

However, increasingly Western intelligence agencies are growing concerned about the phenomenon of Muslims from their own countries traveling to Syria to join Islamist militants fighting there. The concern being that with tens of thousands of foreign fighters in Syria, including from Europe and even the United States, the day will come when these men will seek to return to their home countries, highly radicalized and well trained for terrorist activities.

Indeed, the Daily Telegraph has recently reported on this subject after having received information from a militant insider who defected from the Islamist faction ISIS (the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham). The defector confirmed that al-Qaeda in Syria is indoctrinating and training young men from European countries and encouraging them to travel back to their countries of origin to establish terror cells there.

Currently it is thought that among the foreign fighters in Syria there are, for instance, as many as 700 from France alone. Estimates put Britain close behind with around 500 Muslims from there believed to have joined jihadists in Syria. MI5 is reported to be continually increasing the resources it allocates to confronting this security threat, while French Interior Minister Manuel Valls has said that this phenomenon is the biggest threat that his country faces in coming years.   

Indeed, the Telegraph’s informant told the paper of the extent to which young European Muslims coming to Syria are being initiated into a hardline anti-Western ideology, with many of the foreign fighters expressing that they are “proud of 9/11 and the London bombings.”

On the one hand this growing threat is a reminder that non-intervention can have its own unforeseen consequences and that refusing to take responsibility for problems around the world, under the attitude that the West always makes matters worse, comes with a price. Allowing this kind of instability to ferment in one place only opens the way for it to spread to others.

Yet, the threat to European countries from al-Qaeda-trained jihadis returning from Syria has also grown out of an irresponsible policy at home. Many European countries have taken a laissez faire attitude to integrating their immigrant communities and this, coupled with bouts of an active policy of multiculturalism, has allowed for the development of a sizable minority that not only feels no loyalty to their host country, but that can also be all-too-easily persuaded to become thoroughly hostile the values of that host society.  

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