Commentary Magazine


Posts For: February 2014

Russian Aggression Merits a Response

Men in military fatigues, armed with assault rifles, don’t magically appear out of nowhere. The fact that such individuals have taken control of two key airports in Crimea—a majority Russian-ethnic part of Ukraine—is not an indication of spontaneous protests against the overthrow of Viktor Yanukovych in Kiev. Rather it is a barely covert Russian military offensive designed, one assumes, to separate Crimea from the rest of Ukraine and bring it under de facto Russian sovereignty.

This would not be a new strategy for Vladimir Putin and Russia—it is similar to the way that Moscow has backed the breakaway regions of Transnistria in Moldova and South Ossetia in Georgia, in the latter case justifying an outright invasion of a sovereign neighbor based on the excuse that action was necessary to protect poor abused ethnic Russians. This also recalls how Hitler justified his invasions of Czechoslovakia and Poland on the grounds of protecting ethnic Germans.

Indeed the Russian fingerprints are blatantly obvious all over the Crimea operation even if the men in military uniforms—presumably affiliated with the Russian military, the Interior Ministry special forces, the FSB or some other branch of the Russian state—are not wearing any identification or taking any questions from reporters. Elsewhere in Crimea armored personnel carriers with Russian markings have been spotted on the roads. Russia does not even have to undertake a formal invasion of Ukraine; through such semi-covert action it can make massive trouble for the new pro-Western government in Kiev.

The question now is how the West—assuming such a thing still exists—will respond to Russian aggression. Based on the experience of Georgia in 2008—the last time Russia invaded one of its neighbors, that time using columns of tanks rather than rifle-wielding mystery men—the response will be scant.

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Men in military fatigues, armed with assault rifles, don’t magically appear out of nowhere. The fact that such individuals have taken control of two key airports in Crimea—a majority Russian-ethnic part of Ukraine—is not an indication of spontaneous protests against the overthrow of Viktor Yanukovych in Kiev. Rather it is a barely covert Russian military offensive designed, one assumes, to separate Crimea from the rest of Ukraine and bring it under de facto Russian sovereignty.

This would not be a new strategy for Vladimir Putin and Russia—it is similar to the way that Moscow has backed the breakaway regions of Transnistria in Moldova and South Ossetia in Georgia, in the latter case justifying an outright invasion of a sovereign neighbor based on the excuse that action was necessary to protect poor abused ethnic Russians. This also recalls how Hitler justified his invasions of Czechoslovakia and Poland on the grounds of protecting ethnic Germans.

Indeed the Russian fingerprints are blatantly obvious all over the Crimea operation even if the men in military uniforms—presumably affiliated with the Russian military, the Interior Ministry special forces, the FSB or some other branch of the Russian state—are not wearing any identification or taking any questions from reporters. Elsewhere in Crimea armored personnel carriers with Russian markings have been spotted on the roads. Russia does not even have to undertake a formal invasion of Ukraine; through such semi-covert action it can make massive trouble for the new pro-Western government in Kiev.

The question now is how the West—assuming such a thing still exists—will respond to Russian aggression. Based on the experience of Georgia in 2008—the last time Russia invaded one of its neighbors, that time using columns of tanks rather than rifle-wielding mystery men—the response will be scant.

Certainly John Kerry’s warnings about Russia “crossing a line in any way” cannot carry much weight with Putin, who remembers all too well how President Obama allowed Bashar Assad to cross a previous “red line” on the use of chemical weapons. But the issue is not just Obama’s credibility or lack thereof; George W. Bush was still president in 2008 and he did precious little about Russia’s invasion of Georgia.

The more general issue is that Russia, while no longer a superpower, remains an important power that Washington hesitates to antagonize because of a general feeling that we need Russian help to deal with Iran, Syria, Afghanistan, and other important issues—and a sense that there is not much we can do anyway against a nuclear-armed state. Such sentiments are understandable but they should not be a bar to serious non-military action—for example imposing sanctions on either the Russian economy as a whole or on particular individuals, i.e., senior members of the government and their business world cronies who have built up hefty bank accounts and real estate portfolios in the West. At the very least the Russian elite must be made to pay a price if Putin does not stop his aggression against yet another former Soviet republic. More than that, the West must rally to the cause of the new government in Ukraine and provide the kind of support it needs–beginning with a financial lifeline–to withstand Russian intimidation.

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The Tea Party Five Years In

This past week marked the fifth anniversary of the creation of the Tea Party Movement. Here are some thoughts on it. 

1. The Tea Party arose from a justifiable concern with the expanding size, scope and reach of the federal government. It was an important factor in the epic 2010 mid-term election. At its best it has integrated itself into the GOP while continuing to apply pressure to Republican leaders to re-limit government and waring them against making careless and unprincipled deals.

2. Particularly early on, the elite media smeared the Tea Party as racist. The double standard was particularly evident in how the press covered the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement, which was responsible for violence, sexual assaults, arson and general filth in the areas it choose to occupy. If the Tea Party had committed a fraction of the lawless things done by OWS, it would have dominated news coverage for months. But because OWS was advancing a progressive agenda, the transgressions were politely overlooked. (I wrote about the bias here.)

3. The Tea Party has been an important factor in the political rise of senators like Marco Rubio and Mike Lee, who have been outstanding additions to Congress. But it has also gotten behind other candidates in primaries – Christine O’Donnell, Richard Mourdock, Sharron Angle, Ken Buck and others — who flamed out. The result is that Democrats still retain control of the Senate when they could easily have lost control of it.

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This past week marked the fifth anniversary of the creation of the Tea Party Movement. Here are some thoughts on it. 

1. The Tea Party arose from a justifiable concern with the expanding size, scope and reach of the federal government. It was an important factor in the epic 2010 mid-term election. At its best it has integrated itself into the GOP while continuing to apply pressure to Republican leaders to re-limit government and waring them against making careless and unprincipled deals.

2. Particularly early on, the elite media smeared the Tea Party as racist. The double standard was particularly evident in how the press covered the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement, which was responsible for violence, sexual assaults, arson and general filth in the areas it choose to occupy. If the Tea Party had committed a fraction of the lawless things done by OWS, it would have dominated news coverage for months. But because OWS was advancing a progressive agenda, the transgressions were politely overlooked. (I wrote about the bias here.)

3. The Tea Party has been an important factor in the political rise of senators like Marco Rubio and Mike Lee, who have been outstanding additions to Congress. But it has also gotten behind other candidates in primaries – Christine O’Donnell, Richard Mourdock, Sharron Angle, Ken Buck and others — who flamed out. The result is that Democrats still retain control of the Senate when they could easily have lost control of it.

4.  How positive a force the Tea Party ends up being depends in large part on whether its populist sentiments are channeled in a constructive or destructive way. If the movement becomes one which finds its greatest satisfaction in (a) trying to excommunicate those whom they deem to be the ideologically impure — like those well-known leftists Senator Mitch McConnell and Representative Pete Sessions, both of whom have received 100 percent ratings by the American Conservative Union — and (b) championing tactics like shutting down the federal government, it will damage conservatism by discrediting it.

If on the other hand the Tea Party directs its energies toward supporting serious, principles candidates with cross-over appeal and who will advance far-reaching conservative reforms in areas like Medicare, health care, the tax code, elementary, secondary and higher education, and energy, it will be a hugely positive force in American politics.

5. It’s not clear right now which direction the Tea Party will go or what will ultimately become of it. At this particular moment the key to understanding what is animating members of the Tea Party is frustration and outright anger with what they derisively refer to as The Establishment, most especially the GOP establishment, which they see as supine, weak, craven, and timid. That is the thing I’ve heard most often from those who identify with the Tea Party – that Republicans, and in particular GOP leaders, are seized by an “abject fear” of the left, that they are constantly “caving it” to President Obama and Democrats, and simply unwilling to fight. 

Those feelings, while not wholly unjustified, have, I think, led the Tea Party down some blind alleys and into some silly mistakes. The danger is that those feelings are stoked by demagogues in and out of office and that they intensify; that the Tea Party becomes more agitated, more consumed by resentments, and more apocalyptic in its rhetoric and outlook. That would ultimately be self-destructive.

This fate isn’t a foregone conclusion by any means. The Tea Party movement itself (as opposed to some of the organizations that claim to speak for it) is more variegated than is commonly thought, political movements are subject to shifting currents, and Republicans would be unwise to give up on the Tea Party or render sweeping, definitive judgments about it. What Republicans have to hope for is that figures emerge whom members of the Tea Party trust and who can help guide and direct the Tea Party in constructive and conservative, rather than a destructive and radical, ways.

A great deal in American politics hinges on whether such individuals materialize. 

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The State of the Tea Party 2014

Five years ago this week, CNBC commentator Rick Santelli delivered an on-air tirade from the floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange in which he talked about organizing a tea party to protest government bailouts and stimulus spending. What followed was the birth of a nationwide movement that adopted the name Tea Party that has transformed American politics. That anniversary was commemorated this week with a Capitol Hill conference of the Tea Party Patriots—one of a number of groups that seek to represent the views of this movement—at which a number of conservative politicians either sought to channel Santelli’s initial rabble-rousing spirit or to harness it to a more pragmatic campaign to win both houses of Congress and the White House. But those seeking to assess the current strength of the Tea Party idea are wrong to measure it solely in partisan political terms or even the relative influence of any of those who claim to fly the movement’s flag. The most important thing to realize about the Tea Party is that it is a broad set of ideas, not a coherent or distinctly organized movement that takes orders from any one leader or leaders.

What both conservatives and liberals often forget about the Tea Party is that the driving spirit of this movement is not so much Republican as it is one of rebellion against those who defend a Washington status quo that perpetuates a government tax and spending machine. The mainstream media sees the Tea Party as the embodiment of the Washington event at which, like all such conferences, an eclectic gathering of ordinary citizens network with political outliers. But the Tea Party that turned the 2010 midterms into a historic GOP landslide is more than a convention of grass roots activists. It is the expression of frustration with the inability of the political class to reform itself and preserve the vision of limited government promised in the Constitution.

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Five years ago this week, CNBC commentator Rick Santelli delivered an on-air tirade from the floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange in which he talked about organizing a tea party to protest government bailouts and stimulus spending. What followed was the birth of a nationwide movement that adopted the name Tea Party that has transformed American politics. That anniversary was commemorated this week with a Capitol Hill conference of the Tea Party Patriots—one of a number of groups that seek to represent the views of this movement—at which a number of conservative politicians either sought to channel Santelli’s initial rabble-rousing spirit or to harness it to a more pragmatic campaign to win both houses of Congress and the White House. But those seeking to assess the current strength of the Tea Party idea are wrong to measure it solely in partisan political terms or even the relative influence of any of those who claim to fly the movement’s flag. The most important thing to realize about the Tea Party is that it is a broad set of ideas, not a coherent or distinctly organized movement that takes orders from any one leader or leaders.

What both conservatives and liberals often forget about the Tea Party is that the driving spirit of this movement is not so much Republican as it is one of rebellion against those who defend a Washington status quo that perpetuates a government tax and spending machine. The mainstream media sees the Tea Party as the embodiment of the Washington event at which, like all such conferences, an eclectic gathering of ordinary citizens network with political outliers. But the Tea Party that turned the 2010 midterms into a historic GOP landslide is more than a convention of grass roots activists. It is the expression of frustration with the inability of the political class to reform itself and preserve the vision of limited government promised in the Constitution.

Like all such movements the transition from the stump to the halls of government power has been rough. Effecting change in a democracy is more than a matter of demonstrations or even getting out the vote. It requires persuasion and a commitment to the sort of nose-to-the-grindstone political work that is antithetical to the spirit of rebellion Santelli and those who followed him have sought to harness.

Senator Mike Lee of Utah summed up the challenge for the Tea Party when he said this week, “The way to defeat establishment inertia is not by finding and discarding heretics as much as it is about winning a civil debate. A civil debate, not a civil war.” He’s right about that and those who see only a war between the party establishment and the activists need to remember that the Tea Party has already won the ideological war within the Republican Party.

Though coverage of the Tea Party mostly focuses on the fights between Senator Ted Cruz and some of his GOP colleagues, what is often forgotten is that there is no debate within the party about the principles that the Tea Party movement embodies. All endorse the Tea Party view about the need to fight back against President Obama’s efforts to increase the power of government. Anger against ObamaCare and a government that is too big to fail and too powerful to be held accountable for its out-of-control spending is universal in the GOP. The only differences are about tactics, not the ideas that catapulted the movement into the public square after the stimulus and the Affordable Care Act were past by a Democratic Congress in 2009 and 2010.

The Tea Party has stumbled at times when it allowed the emotions of the debate to overwhelm good sense and dictate destructive tactics like the government shutdown to undermine their cause. It has sometimes pursued party purity over the less exciting business of building governing coalitions. But what its liberal critics forget is that while Ted Cruz and government shutdown advocates are not trusted by most Americans, the same public anger that gave birth to the Tea Party is even greater today than it was five years ago. The challenge for Republicans is to remember that the Tea Party is not just a bunch of activists who go to conventions but, in fact, a broad cross-section of Americans who share their basic beliefs about the role of government. That mass movement of voters took liberal pundits by surprise in 2010 when the Tea Party that they derided as a band of racist cranks turned out in numbers sufficient to oust a Democratic Congress.

The Tea Party is not tied to specific organizations bearing the name but to an idea of reform. To the extent that Republicans continue to embody that concept while also showing themselves worthy of the people’s trust, they will win. That’s why, for all of its ups and downs in recent years, Democrats who prefer to believe the myth that the Tea Party is a top-down concept created by corporate funders may discover they are as wrong about it today as they were when it first started. 

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The “War on Women” for Dummies

Liberal activists and lobbyist groups used today’s New York Times story on identity politics to loudly declare two things: there is a “war on women,” and these groups couldn’t be happier. That may sound strange at first glance. After all, some of these groups are ostensibly “women’s groups,” and this is indeed a counterintuitive way to react to political bias.

But that’s only if they actually believe their rhetoric; keep in mind, the White House fabricated the “war on women” to win elections. If that’s the case, why would these women’s groups repeat the story, especially considering just how demeaning and dehumanizing it is to women for these liberal groups to reduce them to their gender or reproductive organs? They’re surprisingly frank about their answer:

Democrats do not just get mad when they hear those words. They cash in.

In fact, they are trying to find even more examples by tracking Republican opponents, their surrogates and conservative news media personalities, then blasting their comments out to supporters to build voter lists and drum up donations, casting aside the well-worn advice to shrug off sexist comments lest they draw attention to gender over issues.

It is proving effective. Emily’s List, the political action committee that backs female candidates who support abortion rights, has raised a record $25 million this election cycle. On Tuesday, the group put out an online petition, “Tell the G.O.P.: Pregnant Women Are Not ‘Hosts,’ ” after Steve Martin, a state senator in Virginia, referred to a pregnant woman as the child’s “host” in a Facebook message.

“Instead of fearing sexist attacks, we wait gleefully for the next one,” said Jen Bluestein, a political strategist who formerly ran communications at Emily’s List.

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Liberal activists and lobbyist groups used today’s New York Times story on identity politics to loudly declare two things: there is a “war on women,” and these groups couldn’t be happier. That may sound strange at first glance. After all, some of these groups are ostensibly “women’s groups,” and this is indeed a counterintuitive way to react to political bias.

But that’s only if they actually believe their rhetoric; keep in mind, the White House fabricated the “war on women” to win elections. If that’s the case, why would these women’s groups repeat the story, especially considering just how demeaning and dehumanizing it is to women for these liberal groups to reduce them to their gender or reproductive organs? They’re surprisingly frank about their answer:

Democrats do not just get mad when they hear those words. They cash in.

In fact, they are trying to find even more examples by tracking Republican opponents, their surrogates and conservative news media personalities, then blasting their comments out to supporters to build voter lists and drum up donations, casting aside the well-worn advice to shrug off sexist comments lest they draw attention to gender over issues.

It is proving effective. Emily’s List, the political action committee that backs female candidates who support abortion rights, has raised a record $25 million this election cycle. On Tuesday, the group put out an online petition, “Tell the G.O.P.: Pregnant Women Are Not ‘Hosts,’ ” after Steve Martin, a state senator in Virginia, referred to a pregnant woman as the child’s “host” in a Facebook message.

“Instead of fearing sexist attacks, we wait gleefully for the next one,” said Jen Bluestein, a political strategist who formerly ran communications at Emily’s List.

Essentially what the story makes clear is that liberals have realized that the extent of their dominance of mainstream media and cultural institutions has enabled them to create a new dialect of the American political lexicon, and until someone gives Republicans a Rosetta Stone to the left’s Orwellian language, they will struggle to communicate according to the approved rhetoric.

Now, it’s important to note: there are certainly instances of clear sexist language being used against Democratic women. It doesn’t quite rise to the level that the left deploys against conservative women, for example the National Organization of Women declaring that a woman with conservative political views is not a woman at all, but in fact, as far as NOW is concerned, a man. Nonetheless, not all the outrage is ginned up out of nothing; occasionally someone steps over the line, and there’s nothing wrong with pointing that out.

But actual sexist remarks are only one of three categories of comments that the Times story attempts to seamlessly blend into one, considering all of them to be overtly sexist. The other two consist of insults that are offensive but not inherently sexist, and comments that are neither offensive nor sexist. The Times explains that to Democratic lobby groups seeking to raise money, the latter two categories, when applied to women, become sexist merely because the target of the comment is a woman.

The story gives one example of the second of the three categories: Claire McCaskill’s opponent said she was like a dog playing “fetch” by going to Washington to push for taxes and regulation that then get brought back to the people of Missouri. It’s obviously offensive to liken someone to an animal, and this particular analogy is also nonsensical. But it was also clearly not meant as a comment on her physical appearance.

As an example of the third and final category, the Times explains that a GOP communications official called Kentucky candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes an “empty dress,” referring to her campaign’s lack of policy specifics. This is obviously the same insult as calling someone an “empty suit,” standard fare for political debate. The only difference was that the GOP figure acknowledged that Grimes is a woman. This is the opposite of sexist (using a male version of the insult would have brought the accusation that Grimes was being called a man).

One is tempted to suggest that all this would be easier if the Democrats’ ministry of communications would just publish a book of what words and phrases Republicans are permitted to say in America. But that would defeat the purpose, which is, liberals explain, to ensure Republicans say the wrong thing so the left can raise money, as a former Obama official made startlingly clear:

“It comes down to your ability to not just ride the wave, but create the wave,” said Marie Danzig, deputy digital director for Mr. Obama’s 2012 campaign and head of creative and delivery at Blue State Digital, which works with Emily’s List.

If a wave’s not there, they’ll “create” it. And all they need is your generous donation to do so.

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The Shelved Iran Report and Diplomacy

With the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s annual conference starting this weekend in Washington, the debate about the Iranian nuclear threat is back in the headlines. But, as the AIPAC activists know all too well, in their efforts to mobilize Congress to support increased sanctions on Iran the administration has effectively checkmated them on the issue by claiming the measure would derail diplomacy. Opponents of sanctions have falsely sought to frame the issue as being a choice between war and diplomacy even though the new sanctions, which would not go into effect until after the current negotiations with Iran are seen to have failed, would clearly strengthen the administration’s hand in the talks. But the problem with treating the diplomatic process as sacrosanct is that in doing so, the truth about the nature of the threat may be sacrificed without the West getting any closer to its goal of thwarting Iran’s nuclear program.

That dilemma was illustrated this week when it was revealed that the International Atomic Energy Agency had shelved a new report about Iran’s nuclear project because it was felt its publication would harm the diplomatic process. Sources told Reuters that the report would have been a wider review of the Iranian program including crucial analysis of Tehran’s military research. But the IAEA, whose reports over the last few years have raised awareness of the nuclear threat, ultimately decided that putting out more information about the topic now would, like the sanctions being debated in Washington, harm diplomacy.

After the Reuters report was published, Israel called on the IAEA to release the report. In response, the agency claimed today that it doesn’t exist. But all that tells us is that the decision to spike the report took place before it was formally prepared. The bottom line remains the same. Whatever new information the IAEA has obtained about military dimensions of Iran’s program is not going to be published because the more the Western public knows about the subject the less likely they are to give diplomats the leeway they need to craft a nuclear deal that will fall short of their stated goal of preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

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With the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s annual conference starting this weekend in Washington, the debate about the Iranian nuclear threat is back in the headlines. But, as the AIPAC activists know all too well, in their efforts to mobilize Congress to support increased sanctions on Iran the administration has effectively checkmated them on the issue by claiming the measure would derail diplomacy. Opponents of sanctions have falsely sought to frame the issue as being a choice between war and diplomacy even though the new sanctions, which would not go into effect until after the current negotiations with Iran are seen to have failed, would clearly strengthen the administration’s hand in the talks. But the problem with treating the diplomatic process as sacrosanct is that in doing so, the truth about the nature of the threat may be sacrificed without the West getting any closer to its goal of thwarting Iran’s nuclear program.

That dilemma was illustrated this week when it was revealed that the International Atomic Energy Agency had shelved a new report about Iran’s nuclear project because it was felt its publication would harm the diplomatic process. Sources told Reuters that the report would have been a wider review of the Iranian program including crucial analysis of Tehran’s military research. But the IAEA, whose reports over the last few years have raised awareness of the nuclear threat, ultimately decided that putting out more information about the topic now would, like the sanctions being debated in Washington, harm diplomacy.

After the Reuters report was published, Israel called on the IAEA to release the report. In response, the agency claimed today that it doesn’t exist. But all that tells us is that the decision to spike the report took place before it was formally prepared. The bottom line remains the same. Whatever new information the IAEA has obtained about military dimensions of Iran’s program is not going to be published because the more the Western public knows about the subject the less likely they are to give diplomats the leeway they need to craft a nuclear deal that will fall short of their stated goal of preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

We don’t know what a new IAEA report on Iran would have said. Given that the interim nuclear deal signed by the U.S. in November did not provide for inspections of Iranian facilities where military research is being conducted, it may be that the agency has not learned of any breakthroughs or further evidence of Iran’s clear intent to build a bomb. But past IAEA reports have served an important purpose in clarifying the danger involved in letting Tehran continue to use diplomacy to run out the clock until they reach their nuclear goal. But whether the IAEA acted on its own or if it succumbed to pressure, the effect is the same. The Obama administration and its P5+1 partners understand that the more information is released about the ongoing Iranian efforts to circumvent the diplomatic process, the harder it is to silence criticism of their tactics or to prevent Congress from seeking to put more sanctions in place.

There is no disagreement between the administration and its critics about whether a diplomatic solution is the best way to resolve this issue. No one wants the U.S. to be forced into a position where its only choice really is between the use of force and accepting a situation in which Iran becomes a nuclear power. But the suppression of the free flow of information about the nature of that threat raises suspicions that what is going on now is more about preserving diplomacy for its own sake than anything else.

By agreeing to negotiations that tacitly recognized Iran’s “right” to enrich uranium and loosened existing sanctions, the administration has allowed Tehran to believe that it will never have to dismantle its nuclear infrastructure. Having triumphed in the interim talks, it is little surprise that Iran’s leaders believe they will achieve their nuclear goal either through diplomacy or by stalling the process until the point where their bomb is a fait accompli. It is to be hoped that the administration means what it says about preventing an Iranian bomb. But the more President Obama seeks to suppress the truth about the Iranian threat and to silence debate about sanctions, the harder it is to believe that he will keep his promises. The goal must be to make it impossible for the Islamist regime to build a bomb, not detente. A diplomatic process that aims for anything less than that is not worth the effort or the sacrifices of the truth required for keeping it alive.

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The Zen of Defense Budget Cuts: Rashomon or Kabuki?

Max and Peter have already discussed the scale and meaning of President Obama’s recently revealed defense budget cuts. Yet there are so many different interpretations of what is really happening that it feels like a Washington D.C. version of Rashomon. I would add only three points, each of which has a different interpretation of the issue.

First, there is strong betting in Washington that all this is kabuki theater. The administration already submitted an FY1015 budget that is $115 billion above sequestration levels, while going forward, Congress will keep delaying cuts until sequestration simply falls apart. If so, then the past 36 months of angst have been a gigantic waste of time. Not because some weapons systems have not been delayed or terminated and end strength reduced, but because all this political theater has done nothing to reduce the national deficit (as anyone remotely aware of fiscal reality already knew).

Worse, the military has been forced to take a “six of one, half dozen of the other” approach that leaves it with no clarity as to its real future sizing or posture, and is unclear how to best reshape itself to deal with new threats. In a sense, however, a kabuki-like outcome would actually be good news for the long run, as the military will be spared the worst of the cuts, as Congress puts money back in for favored programs, and as the whole idea of placing an uneven burden on the Pentagon to cut government discretionary spending simply fades from sight. It’s almost unbelievably unserious governing, but it’s all kabuki.

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Max and Peter have already discussed the scale and meaning of President Obama’s recently revealed defense budget cuts. Yet there are so many different interpretations of what is really happening that it feels like a Washington D.C. version of Rashomon. I would add only three points, each of which has a different interpretation of the issue.

First, there is strong betting in Washington that all this is kabuki theater. The administration already submitted an FY1015 budget that is $115 billion above sequestration levels, while going forward, Congress will keep delaying cuts until sequestration simply falls apart. If so, then the past 36 months of angst have been a gigantic waste of time. Not because some weapons systems have not been delayed or terminated and end strength reduced, but because all this political theater has done nothing to reduce the national deficit (as anyone remotely aware of fiscal reality already knew).

Worse, the military has been forced to take a “six of one, half dozen of the other” approach that leaves it with no clarity as to its real future sizing or posture, and is unclear how to best reshape itself to deal with new threats. In a sense, however, a kabuki-like outcome would actually be good news for the long run, as the military will be spared the worst of the cuts, as Congress puts money back in for favored programs, and as the whole idea of placing an uneven burden on the Pentagon to cut government discretionary spending simply fades from sight. It’s almost unbelievably unserious governing, but it’s all kabuki.

A second interpretation, however, is much more troubling. President Obama is about to hand his predecessor one of the most hobbled militaries in recent American history, one that Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey said would be so unready that it would be “immoral” to use. If the president and Congress are indeed serious about their unserious budget cutting, then when sequestration finally takes effect in 2016, tens of billions of dollars will have to be precipitously cut. Max has already outlined what that would mean in terms of canceled and mothballed ships and planes, not to mention personnel cuts.

But just imagine what type of military the next president would inherit on January 20, 2017. Instead of a bad policy competently implemented, the incoming commander in chief will get a disastrous policy incompetently shoved down the military’s throat. When that force is unable to carry out needed missions does anyone think that Barack Obama, Harry Reid, Rand Paul, or others will be blamed? They all will escape mainstream criticism even as they have handed America a military that will be expected to carry out its full range of missions with dramatically lower levels of readiness and capacity.

Both of these interpretations above are, to me, among the clearest condemnations of the overall unseriousness, incompetence, and unaccountable behavior by all our nationally elected leaders. Washington D.C. increasingly is a cabal run against the interests of the American people even as it endlessly fleeces them.

There is a third interpretation, however, one that tracks more closely with Peter’s observation. He argues that President Obama is consciously engineering America’s decline. From a slightly angled perspective, nothing he is doing runs counter to a strategic agenda that seeks to reduce the country’s ability to play the type of global role it has for the past 70 years. Put another way, if you’re not really interested in holding the line against instability, coercion, and aggression abroad–if you don’t plan on confronting those states that are causing disruption in the world–then you don’t need the type of military we’ve fielded for decades.

Every cut, whether thought through or not, makes sense if it derives from a manifestation of political will that seeks a radically different global role for the United States. A shrunken military means America must correspondingly reduce its presence, effectiveness, and influence abroad. From that perspective, President Obama knows exactly the type of military he wants to bequeath to his successor, not to mention what type of country.

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The Wall Compromise and the “Judaizers”

When Jewish Agency chair Natan Sharansky proposed the creation of a pluralist prayer space at Jerusalem’s Western Wall last year, there was good reason for skepticism that the scheme would be stopped long before it became a reality. However, the Muslim Wakf that controls the Temple Mount overlooking the Wall hasn’t—at least not yet—tried to stop any construction in the area, as I feared they might. The Orthodox group that currently administers the Western Wall plaza   also seems content to let the plan go forward because Sharansky’s plan to create three separate sections allows them to retain control over the men’s and women’s sections. That would, at least in theory, shunt non-Orthodox Jews who want egalitarian services at the Wall into the Robinson’s Arch section that is currently not accessible from the main plaza.

This is a deft compromise that deserves to be put into effect as soon as possible. Israelis may not care much about religious pluralism, but the spectacle of women seeking to pray in the manner of Reform or Conservative Jews being arrested at the Wall undermines the notion that it belongs to all of the Jewish people rather than just the Orthodox and hurts Israel’s image among non-Orthodox Jews in America. But the announcement that the Robinson’s Arch area that will be set aside for the egalitarians will be administered by the City of David Foundation is causing some to wonder whether the Israeli government is backing away from Prime Minister Netanyahu’s pledge to support Sharansky’s pluralist vision. The Foundation has run the City of David archeological park outside the Old City walls. It is identified with the nationalist/settler cause and is assumed, not unreasonably, to support the Orthodox in the debates about pluralism.

This move contradicts Sharansky’s plan that sought to place the egalitarian prayer space at the Wall under the control of a pluralist council. As such, the involvement of the City of David Foundation casts doubt on the future of the plan to change the Wall plaza. If those fears are confirmed, the Israeli government should revoke the Foundation’s control of the area. But criticisms of the move haven’t been limited to worries about pluralism. Left-wing activist Emily Hauser wrote today in the Forward not merely to condemn the decision about the Wall but to slam the Foundation as “Judaizers” who should not be allowed near any of Jerusalem’s holy sites. But while supporters of pluralism may see her article as validating their concerns, they should be wary of conflating the argument about the Wall with Hauser’s agenda that seeks to divide Jerusalem. While leftists may distrust the Foundation’s motivation in rescuing ancient Jewish sites in eastern Jerusalem neighborhoods, they need to remember there is no such thing as “Judaizing” Israel’s ancient capital.

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When Jewish Agency chair Natan Sharansky proposed the creation of a pluralist prayer space at Jerusalem’s Western Wall last year, there was good reason for skepticism that the scheme would be stopped long before it became a reality. However, the Muslim Wakf that controls the Temple Mount overlooking the Wall hasn’t—at least not yet—tried to stop any construction in the area, as I feared they might. The Orthodox group that currently administers the Western Wall plaza   also seems content to let the plan go forward because Sharansky’s plan to create three separate sections allows them to retain control over the men’s and women’s sections. That would, at least in theory, shunt non-Orthodox Jews who want egalitarian services at the Wall into the Robinson’s Arch section that is currently not accessible from the main plaza.

This is a deft compromise that deserves to be put into effect as soon as possible. Israelis may not care much about religious pluralism, but the spectacle of women seeking to pray in the manner of Reform or Conservative Jews being arrested at the Wall undermines the notion that it belongs to all of the Jewish people rather than just the Orthodox and hurts Israel’s image among non-Orthodox Jews in America. But the announcement that the Robinson’s Arch area that will be set aside for the egalitarians will be administered by the City of David Foundation is causing some to wonder whether the Israeli government is backing away from Prime Minister Netanyahu’s pledge to support Sharansky’s pluralist vision. The Foundation has run the City of David archeological park outside the Old City walls. It is identified with the nationalist/settler cause and is assumed, not unreasonably, to support the Orthodox in the debates about pluralism.

This move contradicts Sharansky’s plan that sought to place the egalitarian prayer space at the Wall under the control of a pluralist council. As such, the involvement of the City of David Foundation casts doubt on the future of the plan to change the Wall plaza. If those fears are confirmed, the Israeli government should revoke the Foundation’s control of the area. But criticisms of the move haven’t been limited to worries about pluralism. Left-wing activist Emily Hauser wrote today in the Forward not merely to condemn the decision about the Wall but to slam the Foundation as “Judaizers” who should not be allowed near any of Jerusalem’s holy sites. But while supporters of pluralism may see her article as validating their concerns, they should be wary of conflating the argument about the Wall with Hauser’s agenda that seeks to divide Jerusalem. While leftists may distrust the Foundation’s motivation in rescuing ancient Jewish sites in eastern Jerusalem neighborhoods, they need to remember there is no such thing as “Judaizing” Israel’s ancient capital.

Many Israelis are opposed to efforts to create space for Jews to live in what are now predominantly Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem. But treating the area in Silwan that the group rescued from neglect and transformed into an archeological park that allows visitors to see the remnants of King David’s Jerusalem as an “illegal settlement” is outrageous. It is one thing to support a two-state solution and even to imagine that parts of Jerusalem will be part of a putative Palestinian state. But when Jews employ the term “Judaizers” to denigrate those who honor the Jewish history of the city they are adopting the language of anti-Zionism, not peace.

It should be remembered that all of Israel is the product of similar efforts to recover the history of the ancient homeland of the Jewish people that had been either erased or forgotten during centuries of foreign rule. That’s why Palestinian nationalism has always sought to deny Jewish history, especially in Jerusalem. It’s disturbing that some on the left have remained silent about the shocking vandalism of artifacts by the Wakf while condemning the efforts of those who have worked to preserve and protect the ancient Jewish heritage of the city.

The Sharansky plan for the Western Wall is worth fighting for, and if the City of David Foundation is an obstacle to that effort they should not be allowed to administer Robinson’s Arch. But their work at the City of David deserves praise, not condemnation. Whatever American Jews think about the peace process, they should avoid confusing their justified concerns about pluralism and the Wall with arguments about dividing Israel’s capital. Jerusalem is a city of both Jews and Arabs, but its ancient history is proof of Jewish ties that run deep in its history as well as the hearts of Jews everywhere.

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Why Won’t Western Churches Condemn Muslim Oppression of Christians?

The news of how Christian communities in Syria are being forced to purchase their lives by signing treaties of submission to jihadi overlords is just one of the more recent reminders of the worsening plight of Christians in the Middle East. This is a subject that struggles to receive much comment from Western leaders, or apparently provoke much serious outrage in the general public. Naturally, Christian groups and media outlets do periodically go through the motions attempting to draw some attention to this matter. Yet among some of the liberal churches, the alleged oppression of Palestinian Muslims by the Jewish state seems to keep them far too busy to devote much time to campaign about the genuine oppression of Christians by Muslims.

In some sense, the precarious predicament of Christian communities in the Middle East is somewhat more complicated than it may appear. In both Iraq and Syria, the Baathist regimes co-opted the Christian community into supporting what were already minority-run states. In Syria in particular, it made sense for the Assads’ Alawite minority to enlist the help of Christian communities in maintaining power over the Sunni majority. The disintegration of these regimes has naturally left Christians exposed to the resentments of the wider populace. Nevertheless, the most extreme and sustained violence against the region’s Christian minorities is primarily coming from radicalized and emboldened Islamist terror groups. From the Copts in Egypt, to the Christians under Hamas in Gaza, to the state-sanctioned oppression in Iran, to the sporadic attacks on Christians in Pakistan, the same extremist Islamic forces are at work.

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The news of how Christian communities in Syria are being forced to purchase their lives by signing treaties of submission to jihadi overlords is just one of the more recent reminders of the worsening plight of Christians in the Middle East. This is a subject that struggles to receive much comment from Western leaders, or apparently provoke much serious outrage in the general public. Naturally, Christian groups and media outlets do periodically go through the motions attempting to draw some attention to this matter. Yet among some of the liberal churches, the alleged oppression of Palestinian Muslims by the Jewish state seems to keep them far too busy to devote much time to campaign about the genuine oppression of Christians by Muslims.

In some sense, the precarious predicament of Christian communities in the Middle East is somewhat more complicated than it may appear. In both Iraq and Syria, the Baathist regimes co-opted the Christian community into supporting what were already minority-run states. In Syria in particular, it made sense for the Assads’ Alawite minority to enlist the help of Christian communities in maintaining power over the Sunni majority. The disintegration of these regimes has naturally left Christians exposed to the resentments of the wider populace. Nevertheless, the most extreme and sustained violence against the region’s Christian minorities is primarily coming from radicalized and emboldened Islamist terror groups. From the Copts in Egypt, to the Christians under Hamas in Gaza, to the state-sanctioned oppression in Iran, to the sporadic attacks on Christians in Pakistan, the same extremist Islamic forces are at work.

The latest events in Syria specifically concern the Christian communities in the province of Raqqa, which is currently under the control of the militia forces of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), an Islamist group which claims association with al-Qaeda. There the leaders of the community faced either forced conversion to Islam or death if they did not agree to sign a treaty of submission, which forbids them from practicing their faith openly. By imposing this treaty ISIS is following orthodox Sharia practices, which compel Christians in Islamic society to live in a subservient state of dhimmitude. Nor was the convert-or-die threat an empty one. In the past year alone, 1,213 Christians were murdered in Syria in what were recorded as killings motivated by the victims’ religion.

All of which, one might have thought, would be of great concern to churches in the West. Clearly many of these congregations have a strong sense of social conscience and are no strangers to activism and campaigning. Yet, in the case of several of the liberal churches, the campaign of choice is not one to support their beleaguered and persecuted coreligionists in the Islamic world; instead they have set upon the campaign to demonize the Jewish state, incidentally the only place in the entire Middle East where the number of Christians is actually growing.

As Jonathan Tobin has written about here, the Presbyterian Church USA has not only seen attempts to pass boycott motions within the church, but most recently the Presbyterians’ Israel Palestinian Mission Network has released a study guide that is fiercely anti-Zionist. Similarly, the Methodist Church in Britain has witnessed an ongoing controversy over its moves to issue a boycott of Israel. And of particular prominence this year was the move by St James’s Church in London to mark the Christmas festivities by erecting a graffiti-covered 26-foot-high replica of Israel’s security barrier. Reportedly this stunt cost the congregation over $50,000. Presumably no more worthy or needy cause could be thought of at the time.

While both Malcolm Hoenlein, the long-serving head of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, and former British Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks have both publicly expressed outrage at the persecution of the Middle East’s Christians and called for action to prevent its continuation, it seems that the same passions have not been stirred among certain liberal Christian congregations in the West. Apparently they reserve their sense of righteous indignation primarily for expressing opposition to the Jewish state’s efforts to defend its civilians from Islamic terrorism.  

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Obama’s Crisis of Competence

Earlier in the week I wrote about a Defense Department nominee that Republicans were questioning over whether the administration knew of Russian treaty violations while it was pushing the Senate to ratify New START. But that nominee, Brian McKeon, turned out not to have been the subject of controversy at the ensuing committee hearing. Instead, it was two of his fellow nominees who clashed with John McCain and subsequently had their nominations put on hold.

The fireworks between McCain and Bob Work, nominated to be deputy defense secretary, and Christine Wormuth, nominated to be under secretary for defense policy, were in some sense inevitable. McCain was already losing patience with the constant stream of Obama nominees who fell into one of two categories: either they were ambassadorial posts given to staggeringly uninformed big-money donors or they were–like Work and Wormuth, and higher-ranking nominees before them such as Chuck Hagel–given important defense policy-related nominations but struggled to answer questions about that subject.

The Washington Times recounts this particular committee hearing, in which the two apparently “failed to provide adequate responses to questions” McCain asked them:

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Earlier in the week I wrote about a Defense Department nominee that Republicans were questioning over whether the administration knew of Russian treaty violations while it was pushing the Senate to ratify New START. But that nominee, Brian McKeon, turned out not to have been the subject of controversy at the ensuing committee hearing. Instead, it was two of his fellow nominees who clashed with John McCain and subsequently had their nominations put on hold.

The fireworks between McCain and Bob Work, nominated to be deputy defense secretary, and Christine Wormuth, nominated to be under secretary for defense policy, were in some sense inevitable. McCain was already losing patience with the constant stream of Obama nominees who fell into one of two categories: either they were ambassadorial posts given to staggeringly uninformed big-money donors or they were–like Work and Wormuth, and higher-ranking nominees before them such as Chuck Hagel–given important defense policy-related nominations but struggled to answer questions about that subject.

The Washington Times recounts this particular committee hearing, in which the two apparently “failed to provide adequate responses to questions” McCain asked them:

At one point, Mr. McCain focused his attention Mr. Work’s lack of familiarity with a critical 2013 government report that outlined cost issues associated with the Littoral Combat Ship.

Recent years have seen the ship experience a series of cost overruns, and Mr. McCain expressed shock when Mr. Work indicated that he had not seen the report.

The Senator then questioned Mr. Work’s qualifications to be Deputy Defense Secretary. “You haven’t read it? I’m stunned that you haven’t,” Mr. McCain scoffed.

Mr. McCain’s frustration toward Ms. Wormuth stemmed from a separate exchange in which the senator accused her of ducking his request for additional information on al Qaeda.

The confirmation hearing for Hagel was an unmitigated disaster, but the concern appears to be that Hagel was only the beginning. McCain has obvious disagreements with the president on policy, but the recent global emergencies have cast doubt on the process that leads to policy in this administration. The confused, ad hoc nature of crisis response in the Obama White House makes it all the more important that Hagel at least have competent, knowledgeable employees he can lean on. Someone’s got to steer the ship, in other words.

On the other side of this nominating circus are the ambassadors. I wrote here about the Obama donor tapped to be ambassador to Norway who didn’t know anything about Norway and the Hungarian ambassador who couldn’t name America’s strategic interests in Hungary, who were joined in their ranks by the ambassador to Argentina who had never been to Argentina (but what a perfect reason to visit!).

And on that issue, McCain wasn’t the only one fed up. Olivier Knox reported earlier this week that the American Foreign Service Association, which represents some 31,000 current and former diplomats, was so alarmed by President Obama’s envoy fire sale that they went so far as to write an embarrassingly elementary how-to guide for Obama:

A good nominee ideally “has experience in or with the host country or other suitable international experience, and has knowledge of the host country culture and language or of other foreign cultures or languages,” AFSA said in its six-page report.

“The actions and words of an ambassador have consequences for U.S. national security and interests far beyond the individual country or organization to which he or she is accredited,” AFSA said. “It is essential, therefore, that ambassadors chosen to represent the president and lead our diplomatic missions possess the attributes, experience and skills to do so successfully.”

The report landed at a time when a handful of Obama’s nominees — some of them seemingly picked for no reason other than to reward them for scooping up vast piles of re-election campaign cash — have raised eyebrows in Congress.

AFSA tried to be as–forgive me–diplomatic as possible, by claiming they weren’t writing this guide for Obama personally, just for anyone who happens to be president and who may be tempted to auction off diplomatic postings. McCain may have seemed to lose his temper, but this instruction manual is far more insulting: its language is downright condescending.

It’s also more evidence that the Chuck Hagels aren’t exceptions; they’re just high-profile enough to garner the publicity. When the light is shined on other nominees, it’s clear this White House neither takes foreign affairs especially seriously nor has the presence of mind to pretend it does.

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How Will Obama Soothe Abbas’s Rage?

President Obama came into the White House determined to prioritize the Middle East peace process in 2009. That decision caused him to spend much of his first term immersed in picking fights with the Israeli government while doing nothing to actually advance the chances of peace. Since his 2012 election-year Jewish charm offensive in which such disputes were avoided, the president has largely distanced himself from the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, letting Secretary of State John Kerry bear the burden and the opprobrium for pursuing what most savvy observers think is a fool’s errand. But, if today’s report in the New York Times is correct, he may be returning to his old hobby with a vengeance next month and using meetings with both Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas to keep Kerry’s effort alive.

But the most important aspect of another presidential deep dive into the complicated negotiations isn’t about whether it will ultimately succeed. Given the distance between the parties on the main issues of Jerusalem, refugees, borders, settlements, and whether the Palestinians will recognize Israel as a Jewish state, it’s doubtful any amount of pressure exerted by the White House on either side will produce the document that will earn Kerry his Nobel Peace Prize. Rather, Obama’s objective is to merely keep the negotiations initiated by the secretary alive by getting Israel and the Palestinians to agree to a framework to keep the talks going beyond the nine-month period originally agreed upon last year. Since, despite some clear misgivings about Kerry’s purpose, the Israelis appear ready to agree to keep talking, the only real variable is whether the Palestinians will do the same. But rather than go along in order to avoid shouldering the blame for the collapse of the peace process, Abbas apparently intends to squeeze the Americans. The question is what will Obama give him in order to win his assent.

Altering the negotiations in his favor was the obvious intent of Abbas’s temper tantrum last week during his meeting with Kerry in Paris. Though widely reported in the Palestinian and Israeli press, Abbas’s fit over what he termed Kerry’s “insane” framework wasn’t even mentioned in the Times account. That means the key points to watch about the Washington meetings is whether Obama will change the framework by discarding its insistence on Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state or security guarantees in order to keep Abbas talking.

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President Obama came into the White House determined to prioritize the Middle East peace process in 2009. That decision caused him to spend much of his first term immersed in picking fights with the Israeli government while doing nothing to actually advance the chances of peace. Since his 2012 election-year Jewish charm offensive in which such disputes were avoided, the president has largely distanced himself from the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, letting Secretary of State John Kerry bear the burden and the opprobrium for pursuing what most savvy observers think is a fool’s errand. But, if today’s report in the New York Times is correct, he may be returning to his old hobby with a vengeance next month and using meetings with both Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas to keep Kerry’s effort alive.

But the most important aspect of another presidential deep dive into the complicated negotiations isn’t about whether it will ultimately succeed. Given the distance between the parties on the main issues of Jerusalem, refugees, borders, settlements, and whether the Palestinians will recognize Israel as a Jewish state, it’s doubtful any amount of pressure exerted by the White House on either side will produce the document that will earn Kerry his Nobel Peace Prize. Rather, Obama’s objective is to merely keep the negotiations initiated by the secretary alive by getting Israel and the Palestinians to agree to a framework to keep the talks going beyond the nine-month period originally agreed upon last year. Since, despite some clear misgivings about Kerry’s purpose, the Israelis appear ready to agree to keep talking, the only real variable is whether the Palestinians will do the same. But rather than go along in order to avoid shouldering the blame for the collapse of the peace process, Abbas apparently intends to squeeze the Americans. The question is what will Obama give him in order to win his assent.

Altering the negotiations in his favor was the obvious intent of Abbas’s temper tantrum last week during his meeting with Kerry in Paris. Though widely reported in the Palestinian and Israeli press, Abbas’s fit over what he termed Kerry’s “insane” framework wasn’t even mentioned in the Times account. That means the key points to watch about the Washington meetings is whether Obama will change the framework by discarding its insistence on Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state or security guarantees in order to keep Abbas talking.

Kerry’s obsessive pursuit of an Israeli-Palestinian agreement has earned him a lot of criticism from some members of Netanyahu’s Cabinet, who wonder what’s the point of their country being badgered to make concessions to Palestinians who show no sign of being willing to end the conflict. Kerry’s approach takes for granted that Israel will give up almost all of the West Bank to create a new Palestinian state in the West Bank for Abbas and Fatah to go along with the one that exists in all but name in Gaza under the rule of Hamas. But Kerry has agreed to some far-reaching security commitments about the disposition of the West Bank that, while arguably impractical because of the commitment of NATO or U.S. troops, still are incompatible with the Palestinian conception of sovereignty. The Kerry framework also leaves the future of Jerusalem open and, more importantly, commits the Palestinians to recognizing Israel as a Jewish state.

The Jewish state demand has been much abused by Israel’s critics who wrongly claim it is a new and unnecessary demand cooked up by Netanyahu in order to derail the talks. But without it, the Palestinians are not obligating themselves to end the conflict for all time and thus alter the point of their national movement from one of eradicating every vestige of Zionism to a more positive one about building a better life for their people in a partitioned country.

The path to peace won’t be found by soothing Abbas’s rage at being maneuvered into having to accept negotiations when signing a deal is the last thing he wants to do. Rather than returning to his default position of pressuring Netanyahu, the keynote of President Obama’s involvement should be making it clear to Abbas that he must accept the framework. The Israelis have already paid dearly, with concessions that included the release of over 100 Palestinian terrorist murderers and a de facto freeze in settlement building outside of their settlement blocs that would be retained in any agreement, in order to persuade Abbas to come back to the table last year. It would be outrageous for Obama to respond to Palestinian blackmail by simply acquiescing to their demands and expect Israel to proceed without the assurance that the framework will be kept in place.

If the president’s new foray into the peace process blindly follows the familiar pattern of Obama’s past conduct in which Netanyahu is ambushed and then strong-armed into making more concessions to Abbas, it would be grossly unfair. But more than that, it would undermine any chance of ever getting the Palestinians to realize that the price of independence means accepting the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn. Peace requires a sea change in Palestinian politics. But it will also mean a similar change in the president’s knee-jerk impulse to put the entire onus for the impasse on an Israel that has already proved it is willing to take risks for peace.

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Of Course Joe Biden Will Run in 2016

Vice President Joe Biden isn’t just a bloviating cliché machine when on the stump. He inspires the same qualities in all who seek to write about him. Thus, it’s little surprise that “Joe Biden in Winter,” Glenn Thrush’s lengthy profile of the vice president published today in Politico Magazine, would resort to the usual tags of “happy warrior” and “motor mouth” when describing Biden. But the piece, which mixes agonizing detail with some keen insights about this career politician, does get one big thing right about him that most of those commenting on the likelihood of Biden running for president in 2016 generally don’t: there’s no way Biden is passing on his last chance to achieve a lifelong dream.

Thrush’s history of Biden’s ups and downs with President Obama and his inner circle is the kind of inside baseball account that resonates with a certain kind of political junkie. And policy types will be interested in the fact that he has more in common with his predecessor Dick Cheney in terms of influence than he does with Al Gore. But the only really important facts here are the ones that all point toward a Biden presidential bid in 2016. It’s not just that Biden is seen here quoting Dylan Thomas’s poem in which he writes “Do not go gentle into that good night, Old age should burn and rave at close of day; Rage, rage against the dying of the light.” Rather, it’s that every fiber of his still vibrant being has been aiming at a presidency throughout his career. While most of us simply assume, with very good reason, that he has absolutely no chance to beat Hillary Clinton if she decides to run, Biden looks at the situation from a completely different angle. He thinks he should be president. Indeed, he has always thought so and the idea that he would get as close to it as he is now without giving it a try is simply inconceivable if you know anything about him.

After all, there is one pertinent fact about the Biden-Clinton rivalry that virtually everyone seems to forget. Hillary Clinton was the inevitable Democratic nominee in 2008 just as she is in 2016. Leading up to that year, Biden was just a senator, not a heartbeat away from the presidency. And his only previous attempt to win the presidency wasn’t just a flop. His 1988 run was a devastating humiliation that collapsed after it was revealed that he had not only plagiarized his stump campaign speech from British Labor Party leader Neil Kinnock but also lied about his law school record and seemingly buried his national ambitions forever. But Biden was undeterred and tried again, assuming it was his last shot at the presidency. If he didn’t shy away from taking on Hillary then, why would he do so now as the sitting vice president?

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Vice President Joe Biden isn’t just a bloviating cliché machine when on the stump. He inspires the same qualities in all who seek to write about him. Thus, it’s little surprise that “Joe Biden in Winter,” Glenn Thrush’s lengthy profile of the vice president published today in Politico Magazine, would resort to the usual tags of “happy warrior” and “motor mouth” when describing Biden. But the piece, which mixes agonizing detail with some keen insights about this career politician, does get one big thing right about him that most of those commenting on the likelihood of Biden running for president in 2016 generally don’t: there’s no way Biden is passing on his last chance to achieve a lifelong dream.

Thrush’s history of Biden’s ups and downs with President Obama and his inner circle is the kind of inside baseball account that resonates with a certain kind of political junkie. And policy types will be interested in the fact that he has more in common with his predecessor Dick Cheney in terms of influence than he does with Al Gore. But the only really important facts here are the ones that all point toward a Biden presidential bid in 2016. It’s not just that Biden is seen here quoting Dylan Thomas’s poem in which he writes “Do not go gentle into that good night, Old age should burn and rave at close of day; Rage, rage against the dying of the light.” Rather, it’s that every fiber of his still vibrant being has been aiming at a presidency throughout his career. While most of us simply assume, with very good reason, that he has absolutely no chance to beat Hillary Clinton if she decides to run, Biden looks at the situation from a completely different angle. He thinks he should be president. Indeed, he has always thought so and the idea that he would get as close to it as he is now without giving it a try is simply inconceivable if you know anything about him.

After all, there is one pertinent fact about the Biden-Clinton rivalry that virtually everyone seems to forget. Hillary Clinton was the inevitable Democratic nominee in 2008 just as she is in 2016. Leading up to that year, Biden was just a senator, not a heartbeat away from the presidency. And his only previous attempt to win the presidency wasn’t just a flop. His 1988 run was a devastating humiliation that collapsed after it was revealed that he had not only plagiarized his stump campaign speech from British Labor Party leader Neil Kinnock but also lied about his law school record and seemingly buried his national ambitions forever. But Biden was undeterred and tried again, assuming it was his last shot at the presidency. If he didn’t shy away from taking on Hillary then, why would he do so now as the sitting vice president?

The point here isn’t just that the thumbnail profile of Biden as a “happy warrior” who can’t conceive of life outside of politics is true. It’s that Biden truly believes he should be president. Biden didn’t run in 2008 simply because he wanted the big desk in the Oval Office. He thought Americans deserved one last chance to do the right thing and make him president, as he thought they should have done in 1988. The fact that they didn’t was, in his estimation, their mistake, not his.

As Thrush correctly notes, Biden was thinking 2016 all through 2011 and 2012, despite the fact that president’s campaign staff refused to let him raise money in Silicon Valley and Hollywood, prime turf for a Democrat. Nor will he be put off by not having a PAC that will be able distribute campaign cash to Democrats who might help him in two years. Being cut out of the budget negotiations in Congress by a jealous Harry Reid hasn’t deflated Biden’s conception of himself as vital to the administration. The same applies to the criticism that has rained down on his head from observers of his often-unhelpful role in shaping U.S. foreign and defense policy during the last five years. Nothing that has happened or could happen will ever convince Joe Biden he shouldn’t be president.

To acknowledge this about him is not to exaggerate his chances of winning the big prize. Even if Clinton doesn’t run, Biden is a one-man gaffe machine and his well-earned gasbag reputation combined with his age (he’ll be 73 during the 2016 primaries) would render him vulnerable to potential Democratic challengers, all of whom will be able to depict themselves as newcomers by comparison. If Clinton does run, his chances of beating her are slim to none. But, as Thrush correctly concludes, that won’t stop him:

The things that make Biden so unfashionable—his affection for politics and the politicians who practice it, his boundless love of bullshitting, the rush he gets from cutting a deal—would, at the very least, offer a stark contrast to Clintonworld’s calculated opacity, palace intrigue and cult of personality.

Biden is the son of a car salesman and has practiced politics like one for over 40 years in public life. Even if he knows he won’t win, he won’t pass up the chance to sell himself to the American people one more time.

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At Least Joe McCarthy Wasn’t Senate Majority Leader

The other day I was highly critical of Republicans for not being more vocal in their criticisms of the repulsive comments by rock guitarist Ted Nugent. But at least some Republicans were willing to distance themselves from them. I rather doubt the same will be said of Democrats when it comes to what Senator Majority Leader Harry Reid said on the Senate floor yesterday, when he targeted conservative philanthropists David and Charles Koch.

“It’s too bad that they’re trying to buy America, and it’s time that the American people spoke out against this terrible dishonesty of these two brothers who are about as un-American as anyone I can imagine,” Reid said.

Harry Reid is probably not the person who should be preaching against dishonesty, given his smear of Mitt Romney in 2012 (see here and here). Just the other day Reid accused Americans who say they’ve been harmed by the Affordable Care Act of being liars. And let’s not forget that Reid insisted the surge in Iraq was failing long after it was clear it was succeeding, leading one to reasonably conclude that Reid was intentionally trying to undermine the chances of an American success in the Iraq war. So he’s a loathsome figure to be sure. But even by Mr. Reid’s standards, what he did yesterday was fairly extraordinary: A majority leader of the United States Senate falsely accused two private citizens of being “un-American.” (The definition of “un-American” seems to be opposing Harry Reid, as the indispensable Ed Morrissey has put it.)

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The other day I was highly critical of Republicans for not being more vocal in their criticisms of the repulsive comments by rock guitarist Ted Nugent. But at least some Republicans were willing to distance themselves from them. I rather doubt the same will be said of Democrats when it comes to what Senator Majority Leader Harry Reid said on the Senate floor yesterday, when he targeted conservative philanthropists David and Charles Koch.

“It’s too bad that they’re trying to buy America, and it’s time that the American people spoke out against this terrible dishonesty of these two brothers who are about as un-American as anyone I can imagine,” Reid said.

Harry Reid is probably not the person who should be preaching against dishonesty, given his smear of Mitt Romney in 2012 (see here and here). Just the other day Reid accused Americans who say they’ve been harmed by the Affordable Care Act of being liars. And let’s not forget that Reid insisted the surge in Iraq was failing long after it was clear it was succeeding, leading one to reasonably conclude that Reid was intentionally trying to undermine the chances of an American success in the Iraq war. So he’s a loathsome figure to be sure. But even by Mr. Reid’s standards, what he did yesterday was fairly extraordinary: A majority leader of the United States Senate falsely accused two private citizens of being “un-American.” (The definition of “un-American” seems to be opposing Harry Reid, as the indispensable Ed Morrissey has put it.)

I’ll be interested to see if the elite media devote a fraction of the coverage or demonstrate near the outrage at Mr. Reid as they did at Ted Nugent–and whether they press other Democrats to defend or distance themselves from Reid’s calumny. After all, Ted Nugent is a rock musician, not a U.S. senator. 

What Harry Reid said is slander of a high order. But at least Joe McCarthy wasn’t majority leader.

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New York Times: Soft Spot for Khalidi?

There’s a brouhaha at Ramaz, the private Orthodox high school on the Upper East Side, around Rashid Khalidi, the Edward Said professor at Columbia and promoter of the Palestinian hard line. Some students invited him to speak, but the head of the school didn’t like the idea and disinvited him. Khalidi has said nothing, but he doesn’t have to. He only benefits from these episodes, and it’s not the first time. In 2005, he was dropped from a New York City teacher ed program, with the same predictable result of turning him into a free speech martyr. This tableau seems destined to be repeated over and over again.

I’m not an officer, donor, trustee, student, teacher, or parent stakeholder at Ramaz, so I don’t care how many pretzels they have to twist over Rashid Khalidi. But I do care how the New York Times reported one aspect of the story this morning: “Critics have accused the professor of having had ties to the Palestine Liberation Organization, which he has denied.” The reference here is to the activities of Khalidi when he resided in Beirut in the 1970s and up until Israel’s 1982 invasion. In those days, the PLO ran an exterritorial gangland, and was neck-deep in terrorism planned by Arafat and his mob.

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There’s a brouhaha at Ramaz, the private Orthodox high school on the Upper East Side, around Rashid Khalidi, the Edward Said professor at Columbia and promoter of the Palestinian hard line. Some students invited him to speak, but the head of the school didn’t like the idea and disinvited him. Khalidi has said nothing, but he doesn’t have to. He only benefits from these episodes, and it’s not the first time. In 2005, he was dropped from a New York City teacher ed program, with the same predictable result of turning him into a free speech martyr. This tableau seems destined to be repeated over and over again.

I’m not an officer, donor, trustee, student, teacher, or parent stakeholder at Ramaz, so I don’t care how many pretzels they have to twist over Rashid Khalidi. But I do care how the New York Times reported one aspect of the story this morning: “Critics have accused the professor of having had ties to the Palestine Liberation Organization, which he has denied.” The reference here is to the activities of Khalidi when he resided in Beirut in the 1970s and up until Israel’s 1982 invasion. In those days, the PLO ran an exterritorial gangland, and was neck-deep in terrorism planned by Arafat and his mob.

Note this phrase: “Critics have accused…” Today’s article thus repeats a trope that appeared back in 2008, when the Times ran a piece on Khalidi prompted by his past association with Barack Obama:

He taught at universities in Lebanon until the mid-’80s, and some critics accuse him of having been a spokesman for the Palestine Liberation Organization. Mr. Khalidi has denied working for the group, and says he was consulted as an expert by reporters seeking to understand it.

Again, it’s the “critics” who “accuse him.”

Well, I’m a critic, but we critics didn’t just imagine Khalidi’s PLO affiliation. We were alerted to it by a parade of highly regarded journalists, including two from the New York Times. So here are the “critics” who first leveled the “accusation” (still more sourcing here):

• Joe Alex Morris Jr., reporting from Beirut for the Los Angeles Times on September 5, 1976, quoted Khalidi and described him as “a PLO spokesman.”

• James M. Markham, reporting from Beirut in the New York Times on February 19, 1978, quoted Khalidi and described him as “an American-educated Palestinian who teaches political science at the American University of Beirut and also works for the P.L.O.”

• A Pacifica Radio documentary, reporting in 1979 from Beirut, interviewed Khalidi “at the headquarters of the PLO in Beirut,” and described him as “an official spokesperson for the Palestinian news service Wafa,” “PLO spokesperson,” “official spokesperson for the PLO,” and “the leading spokesperson for the PLO news agency, Wafa.”

• Thomas Friedman, reporting from Beirut in the New York Times on June 9, 1982, quoted Khalidi and described him as “a director of the Palestinian press agency, Wafa.”

• Doyle McManus, reporting on rumored American-PLO contacts in the Los Angeles Times on February 20, 1984, quoted Khalidi and described him as “a former PLO official.”

• James Rainey, reporting on Khalidi’s connection to Obama for the Los Angeles Times on October 30, 2008, described him as “a renowned scholar on the Palestinians who in the 1970s had acted as a spokesman for Yasser Arafat’s Palestine Liberation Organization.” (As I noted at the time, the Los Angeles Times thus honorably stood by the 1976 reportage of its legendary, long-dead Beirut correspondent, Joe Alex Morris Jr.)

• Thomas W. Lippman, for thirty years a diplomatic, national security, and Middle East correspondent for the Washington Post, in a letter published in that paper on November 1, 2008, wrote that “Khalidi was indeed ‘a PLO spokesman.’ In the early years of the Lebanese civil war, Mr. Khalidi was the Beirut-based spokesman for the Palestine Liberation Organization, and his office was a stop on the daily rounds of journalists covering that conflict. As we used to say in the pre-electronic newspaper business: Check the clips.”

None of these people were or are “critics” of Rashid Khalidi, and two of them were reporting for the New York Times itself. So why does the Times repeatedly inform us that it is only Khalidi’s “critics” who have “accused” him, when in fact a raft of esteemed journalists who interviewed him in Beirut identified him as a PLO spokesman, as a fact? This is not another he-said she-said (or Jew-says Arab-says) question. As Thomas Lippman said: Check the clips.

This is another opportunity to urge the New York Times to get off its derriere and get to the bottom of the Khalidi story. It is unthinkable that a Brooklyn-born, Yale-educated U.S. citizen operated in PLO headquarters in Beirut in the late 1970s, and wasn’t known to the personnel of the U.S. embassy and the CIA station. That was over thirty years ago, so some documents must have been declassified. Can we get some investigative reporting here? Instead all we’ve ever read about Khalidi in the Times is the puff piece. How boring.

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Obama (Still) Out of Excuses on Keystone

Proponents of the Keystone XL pipeline have always had the science, the politics, and the economics on their side. But the Obama administration, wary of upsetting the extreme voices in the environmentalist movement, has been looking for excuses to defy the science, politics, and economics and trash the pipeline anyway.

Last month, the president ran out of excuses–or so it seemed. The great hope of the left was that the administration could be relied upon to find a kernel of bad news on Keystone that it could exploit and exaggerate to kill the project. Thus they waited with bated breath on the State Department’s environmental impact report. At the end of January, it was released: the State Department confirmed the pipeline “would be unlikely to alter global greenhouse gas emissions.”

The left still had one straw at which to grasp, however. An investigation had been launched into whether the State Department violated conflict-of-interest rules in the course of conducting the environmental review. Yesterday, the inspector general’s report was released, absolving the State Department of the charges:

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Proponents of the Keystone XL pipeline have always had the science, the politics, and the economics on their side. But the Obama administration, wary of upsetting the extreme voices in the environmentalist movement, has been looking for excuses to defy the science, politics, and economics and trash the pipeline anyway.

Last month, the president ran out of excuses–or so it seemed. The great hope of the left was that the administration could be relied upon to find a kernel of bad news on Keystone that it could exploit and exaggerate to kill the project. Thus they waited with bated breath on the State Department’s environmental impact report. At the end of January, it was released: the State Department confirmed the pipeline “would be unlikely to alter global greenhouse gas emissions.”

The left still had one straw at which to grasp, however. An investigation had been launched into whether the State Department violated conflict-of-interest rules in the course of conducting the environmental review. Yesterday, the inspector general’s report was released, absolving the State Department of the charges:

The State Department’s inspector general largely cleared the department on Wednesday of allegations that it had violated its conflict-of-interest procedures when selecting a contractor to analyze the Keystone XL oil pipeline — the latest in a series of defeats for environmental groups fighting a last-ditch effort to block the project’s approval.

Republicans quickly claimed victory.

“Another day and another government report that finds no reason to continue blocking this common-sense, job-creating project,” Brendan Buck, a spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner, said in a statement. “It’s long past time the president stop pandering to his extremist allies and just approve it so we can get people back to work.”

The Keystone pipeline system transports oil from Canada to refineries in the U.S. and the “XL” extension would further increase the system’s capacity, creating jobs along the way. The oil from Canada would go somewhere, of course, so blocking the pipeline wouldn’t change the environmental picture, it would simply reject an ally’s mutually beneficial project so leftist extremists wouldn’t be angry with Obama.

For a president who obnoxiously promised to “restore science to its rightful place,” and who has done precisely the opposite, Keystone was a chance for him to come back to reality. He’d rather not. But if the scientific facts, economic benefits, and job creation aren’t convincing to this president, he also has another reason to embrace the pipeline: safety.

There has been an unfortunate amount of scapegoating of the oil industry for accidents involving the rail transport of oil. The oil, after all, doesn’t make a train more likely to crash, regardless of how much the left would like to publicly shame energy companies. But if they don’t want to transport the oil by train, they’ll have to build the pipeline infrastructure necessary to ensure its timely delivery.

Well they don’t have to, I suppose. Perhaps they can teleport it. Or they can try sticking oil into an envelope and have the postal service mail it. Or they can eschew the oil altogether and ask the country’s motorists to follow the Flintstones method of powering their vehicles; the first lady, and her Let’s Move anti-obesity campaign, would surely approve.

This is the natural progression of progressivism, of course. I’ve written before about how the over-regulated state of New Jersey resulted in the government mandating activity it was also essentially legally prohibiting. In such cases, there is almost no way for the average citizen involved in certain activities to follow the law without also breaking the law. It sounds humorous, but to the people living under such a regime it’s not funny at all. It’s also morally repugnant, and evidence of a government filled with bureaucrats mad with power and contempt for the rule of law, to say nothing of basic democracy.

The oil transport situation isn’t quite there yet, to be sure. But it’s reminiscent of the same attitude that leads us there. We must transport oil, but we’re also not allowed to transport oil. The Obama administration is completely out of excuses–the president never had good reasons, only feeble excuses–to reject the pipeline. It’s time to act accordingly.

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Carter Should Stay Away from Venezuela

Former President Jimmy Carter has a poor reputation on many issues, among them Venezuela, where pro-democracy activists view him as a stalwart ally of the ruling chavista regime. So, with much of the country still convulsed by protests, their reaction to the news that Carter is planning another visit to Venezuela is somewhere on the scale between indifference and contempt. As the Christian Science Monitor notes:

Carter is accepted by the normally anti-American government—(current President Nicolas) Maduro praised him at a news conference Friday. But some members of the opposition harshly criticized the Carter Center for validating a 2004 recall referendum that (the late President Hugo) Chavez won amid complaints that the process leading up to the vote unfairly favored him.

An especially irate response to Carter’s announcement came in the form of an open letter penned by the dissident writer Daniel Duquenal, whose blog has been one of the most incisive guides to the events of recent weeks. Here is how Duquenal signs off:

I can assure you that half of the country has no respect nor credibility for you and the other half thinks you are a mere fool that they can use and discard as needed.

I think that not only you should desist from your trip, but should never mention us again. You have cursed us enough as it is. We will appreciate your future silence since nothing good ever comes from your statements on Venezuela. Worry not, I am sure we will find more worthy mediators.

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Former President Jimmy Carter has a poor reputation on many issues, among them Venezuela, where pro-democracy activists view him as a stalwart ally of the ruling chavista regime. So, with much of the country still convulsed by protests, their reaction to the news that Carter is planning another visit to Venezuela is somewhere on the scale between indifference and contempt. As the Christian Science Monitor notes:

Carter is accepted by the normally anti-American government—(current President Nicolas) Maduro praised him at a news conference Friday. But some members of the opposition harshly criticized the Carter Center for validating a 2004 recall referendum that (the late President Hugo) Chavez won amid complaints that the process leading up to the vote unfairly favored him.

An especially irate response to Carter’s announcement came in the form of an open letter penned by the dissident writer Daniel Duquenal, whose blog has been one of the most incisive guides to the events of recent weeks. Here is how Duquenal signs off:

I can assure you that half of the country has no respect nor credibility for you and the other half thinks you are a mere fool that they can use and discard as needed.

I think that not only you should desist from your trip, but should never mention us again. You have cursed us enough as it is. We will appreciate your future silence since nothing good ever comes from your statements on Venezuela. Worry not, I am sure we will find more worthy mediators.

Since Carter is unlikely to heed Duquenal’s candid advice, it’s worth revisiting his woeful record on Venezuela. As Duquenal notes, Carter has never condemned the notorious “Tascon list”–the illegal publication, by chavista National Assembly member Luis Tascon, of the names of millions of petitioners who signed up in favor of the 2004 referendum, and who faced harassment and discrimination from the regime as a consequence.

Nor has Carter ever revised his frankly bizarre view, expressed to the Miami Herald‘s Andres Oppenheimer following the fraud-stained presidential election of April 2013, that the “voting part” of that ballot was “free and fair.” Said Oppenheimer in response:

Is it fair to call “the voting part” of an election “free and fair,” when the opposition’s claims of irregularities have not been fully investigated? Is it fair to separate the “voting part” of an election from the entire electoral process, when a president has a more than 10-1 advantage in television time? And if the election was clean, why didn’t Venezuela allow credible international election observers?

Then there was the quite disgraceful tribute to Chavez on the occasion of the latter’s death one year ago. “Although we have not agreed with all of the methods followed by his government, we have never doubted Hugo Chavez’s commitment to improving the lives of millions of his fellow countrymen,” droned Carter’s statement. “President Chavez will be remembered … for his formidable communication skills and personal connection with supporters in his country and abroad to whom he gave hope and empowerment.”

For the hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans currently taking to the streets, Chavez is remembered as the architect of a system that has brought their oil-rich nation to the brink of collapse, with food shortages, hyperinflation, and rampant crime all staples of daily life. It was Chavez who appointed Maduro as his successor, and it was Chavez who empowered the army officers who stand behind Maduro. And yet, the best Carter can manage is the following anemic remark: “It is difficult for elected officials from opposition parties to resolve differences when they feel threatened and persecuted.”

Note the qualification: “they feel,” not “they are.” Note, too, the absence of any mention of jailed opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, any concern about the use of the Cuban-inspired colectivos–paramilitary gangs on motorbikes–to repress demonstrators, or any acknowledgement of the refusal of Henrique Capriles, the leader of the opposition MUD coalition, to hold talks with Maduro at the Miraflores Palace on the grounds that the president’s residence “is not the place to talk about peace – it’s the center of operations for abuses of human rights.”

The wooliness, of course, is not confined to Carter. The Obama administration has also engaged in its usual equivocation, despite the expulsion of three U.S. diplomats by Maduro’s regime on the preposterous grounds that the protests have been orchestrated in Washington. Still, surely there is someone in the State Department who understands the imperative of preventing Carter from handing Maduro yet another PR victory? Can State not prevail upon Carter–perhaps more politely than Duquenal did–to stay away from Venezuela?

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The Real Victims of Israel Apartheid Week Aren’t Israelis

On Tuesday, I discussed how Israel Apartheid Week, which is taking place this week and next, feeds off latent anti-Semitism. But it’s a truism that anti-Semitism never harms the Jews alone, and IAW is a classic example. To understand why, consider three news reports from the last two weeks.

Some 500,000 Syrian civilians, or perhaps even more, have fled Aleppo in response to the government’s aerial bombing campaign, “creating what aid workers say is one of the largest refugee flows of the entire civil war”–an impressive achievement for a war that’s already created 2.4 million refugees and caused 6.5 million to be internally displaced. Tens of thousands of Muslims are fleeing spiraling violence in the Central African Republic, “in what human rights groups and a top United Nations official characterized … as de facto ethnic cleansing.” And in South Sudan, where a fragile truce has broken down, almost 900,000 people have been displaced, while “millions could go hungry if fields remain unplowed before the coming rainy season.”

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On Tuesday, I discussed how Israel Apartheid Week, which is taking place this week and next, feeds off latent anti-Semitism. But it’s a truism that anti-Semitism never harms the Jews alone, and IAW is a classic example. To understand why, consider three news reports from the last two weeks.

Some 500,000 Syrian civilians, or perhaps even more, have fled Aleppo in response to the government’s aerial bombing campaign, “creating what aid workers say is one of the largest refugee flows of the entire civil war”–an impressive achievement for a war that’s already created 2.4 million refugees and caused 6.5 million to be internally displaced. Tens of thousands of Muslims are fleeing spiraling violence in the Central African Republic, “in what human rights groups and a top United Nations official characterized … as de facto ethnic cleansing.” And in South Sudan, where a fragile truce has broken down, almost 900,000 people have been displaced, while “millions could go hungry if fields remain unplowed before the coming rainy season.”

And those are just samples. Altogether, millions of people round the world are being killed, displaced, and/or facing starvation. Yet IAW activists are blanketing campuses throughout the West with a campaign aimed at persuading educated young people that the world’s biggest problem, the one they should focus on persuading their governments to solve, is a low-level conflict that isn’t generating mass slaughter, mass displacement, or mass starvation–one whose total casualties over 65 years are barely a tenth of those produced by Syria’s civil war in less than three. And because the miserable Syrians, Central Africans, and South Sudanese have no comparably well-funded and well-organized group to press their cases, a great many well-meaning Westerners have become convinced that Israel’s “oppression” of the Palestinians truly is the world’s most pressing problem, and are lobbying their governments to direct their efforts accordingly.

In democracies, governments tend to react to public pressure. A classic example is the “Kony 2012” video, which detailed the atrocities committed by Joseph Kony’s militia, the Lord’s Resistance Army, in Uganda, Democratic Republic of Congo, and South Sudan: The video went viral, and its popularity is credited with spurring Western governments to make hunting down Kony a higher priority, which in turn helped persuade the African Union to launch a mission to do so. Yet any government has only so much time, energy, money, and political capital to spend; thus a greater investment in one cause inevitably comes at the expense of other causes for which there is less public pressure.

Consequently, to the degree that groups like IAW succeed in generating public pressure for Western governments to make “Israel’s oppression of the Palestinians” a top priority, they inevitably cause these governments to devote less attention to real crimes happening in places like Syria, Central African Republic, and South Sudan. In other words, they are contributing directly to the ongoing slaughter, displacement and hunger in those countries by persuading Western citizens, and hence Western governments, that far more effort should be invested in trying to create a Palestinian state than in trying to ease the much greater distress elsewhere in the world.

Thus while Israelis are IAW’s main targets, they are far from being its main victims. The real victims are the millions being massacred, displaced, and starved while the West ignores them, because it’s too busy obsessing over Israel.

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The Silence of the Imams

In discussing the horrendous massacre of children in Nigeria, stabbed and burned alive by Muslim extremists as they slept, Bob Beckel, on Fox News’s The Five wondered why incidents such as this—and such incidents are frequent—are never condemned by Muslim leaders, secular or religious. It’s a good point. The silence on the part of the leaders of the Muslim world, even avowed moderates, is deafening. Even 9/11 and the attack at Fort Hood were not condemned.

But the reason for that silence is, I suspect, simple: moderates in the Muslim world are afraid to speak out and condemn these atrocities carried out in the name of Islam.

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In discussing the horrendous massacre of children in Nigeria, stabbed and burned alive by Muslim extremists as they slept, Bob Beckel, on Fox News’s The Five wondered why incidents such as this—and such incidents are frequent—are never condemned by Muslim leaders, secular or religious. It’s a good point. The silence on the part of the leaders of the Muslim world, even avowed moderates, is deafening. Even 9/11 and the attack at Fort Hood were not condemned.

But the reason for that silence is, I suspect, simple: moderates in the Muslim world are afraid to speak out and condemn these atrocities carried out in the name of Islam.

The situation is highly reminiscent of Japan of the 1930s, when secret societies carried out politics by means of assassinations and coups. Anyone who advocated anything but militant aggression and ultra-patriotism or who criticized atrocities carried out in the name of that ideology was very likely to find himself dead.  Organizations that didn’t advocate militarism and an all-powerful army were destroyed. The fanatics effectively silenced all opposition and Japan, held in the grip of their militant ideology, hurtled down the road to utter disaster.

The Muslim world, of course, is not a unified state, still less, thank heavens, a great power as Japan was. That makes the defeat of the poisonous ideology espoused by such groups as Boko Haram, which carried out the massacre in Nigeria, that much more difficult to accomplish. But defeated it will have to be if the Muslim world is ever to enjoy the fruits of modernity.

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The Enemy Still Gets a Vote

A few days ago I noted that the current defense budget, which cuts all the services and the Army most of all, is predicated on wishful assumptions. Such Pollyannaish thinking is exemplified in this New York Times editorial backing the defense cuts.

The sages of the Times sanguinely opine: “The country is tired of large-scale foreign occupations and, in any case, Pentagon planners do not expect they will be necessary in the foreseeable future.”

Well, that settles it: If the people of America don’t want to engage in “large-scale foreign occupations” and if Pentagon planners don’t expect any such occupations in the future–then they won’t occur. Perhaps while we’re at it we can get rid of the entire Defense Department on the assumption that America will never be involved in wars in the future because we don’t like to fight them.

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A few days ago I noted that the current defense budget, which cuts all the services and the Army most of all, is predicated on wishful assumptions. Such Pollyannaish thinking is exemplified in this New York Times editorial backing the defense cuts.

The sages of the Times sanguinely opine: “The country is tired of large-scale foreign occupations and, in any case, Pentagon planners do not expect they will be necessary in the foreseeable future.”

Well, that settles it: If the people of America don’t want to engage in “large-scale foreign occupations” and if Pentagon planners don’t expect any such occupations in the future–then they won’t occur. Perhaps while we’re at it we can get rid of the entire Defense Department on the assumption that America will never be involved in wars in the future because we don’t like to fight them.

Of course that argument sounds silly–even if it once sounded rational enough in the 1920s when the Kellogg-Briand Pact outlawing war, the proud achievement of the Coolidge administration, was signed. But if it’s silly to expect that wars will cease, it is only marginally less silly to expect that whatever wars we confront can be dealt with by a small force–with an army at its smallest size since 1940–augmented by “Mr. Hagel’s proposed increase in investment in special operations, cyberwarfare and rebalancing the American presence in Asia.”

If only America’s enemies would cooperate with the assumptions held by the Obama administration and the New York Times, then everything will work out just fine. But the nature of enemies is that they operate on different assumptions and seek to exploit vulnerabilities when they occur. And, make no mistake, being unprepared to fight a major conventional war–much less two conventional wars, the strategic construct which governed force structure for decades–creates a major vulnerability, whether we want to prepare for occupations or not.

What is truly alarming and hilarious is the trust that the Times editorialists place in “Pentagon planners”–trust which is not forthcoming from the Times when it comes to how the military deals with sexual abuse, gay rights, or other hot-button social issues, or when the military asks for a large force commitment to execute counterinsurgency operations in Afghanistan. When it suits its assumptions, however, the Times apparently believes “Pentagon planners” are infallible.

As it happens, however, the Times is confusing and conflating “administration political appointees” with “Pentagon planners.” Sure, some officers in the Pentagon believe that the era of ground wars and occupations has passed. They’re by and large in the Air Force and Navy–services that are desperate to take resources away from the Army in a time of declining budgets. But few Marine or Army officers believe that the era of ground wars and occupations has passed; they’re simply not being vocal about their real views because they’ve been told to do so would be seen as an act of disloyalty by the administration.

Even if there were unanimity among “Pentagon planners,” those planners could easily be wrong. How many of them anticipated in the 1950s America’s involvement in a big ground war in Vietnam? How many anticipated in the 1990s (the decade of high-tech “network centric” warfare) major ground wars in Iraq and Afghanistan? As former defense secretary Bob Gates has accurately warned:

When it comes to predicting the nature and location of our next military engagements, since Vietnam, our record has been perfect. We have never once gotten it right, from the Mayaguez to Grenada, Panama, Somalia, the Balkans, Haiti, Kuwait, Iraq, and more — we had no idea a year before any of these missions that we would be so engaged.

The upshot of Gates’s remarks is that we need to prepare for a wide array of contingencies–something that the current budget cuts make impossible. Alas Gates’s wisdom is being disregarded on Capitol Hill, at the White House, in the Pentagon–and now in the headquarters of the New York Times.

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Reading John B. Judis Very Closely

In a New Republic article entitled “Conservative Critics Say My New Israel Book Is Anti-Semitic. They Must Not Have Read It Very Closely,” John B. Judis challenges the “condemnatory reviews” of his book by Ron Radosh, Jordan Chandler Hirsch, and “Robert Richman in Commentary.” I’m pretty sure he means me, although I am not sure he read my review very closely, since he mangles the reviewer’s name and quotes only from the conclusion, without addressing any points in between. He writes that his “usual policy” with critical reviews is to ignore them, since “any publicity is good publicity as long as the reviewers spell my name correctly.”

His New Republic response denies that he wants to “abolish or delegitimize” Israel–but he is unable to support that claim by citing anything he actually wrote in his book. He suggests instead that reviewers should have read what he, as the author, did not write in the book, but which he thinks should be inferred from his encouraging words elsewhere for Barack Obama and John Kerry:

Radosh talks about delegitimization. Richman hints at darker designs. He accuses me of having “written a book that insists the source of the conflict was the Jewish desire for a state… Judis’s policy preference is entirely clear to those with eyes to see. Judis suggests he is bringing a moral vision to Americans who lack a historical perspective, but he lacks the courage to spell out his obvious conclusion.” Richman seems to think I support the replacement of Israel with an Arab-majority state, but that I was fearful of expressing this proposal in my book.

What I was fearful of doing was making proposals that would look outdated within months of my book’s publication, so I avoided any statements about borders or refugees or East Jerusalem. But you’d not have to graduate from a fancy law school to understand that I thought Barack Obama’s initial proposals in September 2009 and John Kerry’s in 2013 for a two-state solution were attempts to resolve rather than exacerbate the conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians. If Kerry succeeds, I conclude, “the time for an end to the irrepressible conflict could finally come.”

If Radosh or Richman had any doubts about my views, they could have consulted my articles that over the years supporting the attempt to achieve a two-state solution.

Here’s precisely why I accused Judis of having “written a book that insists the source of the conflict was the Jewish desire for a state.”

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In a New Republic article entitled “Conservative Critics Say My New Israel Book Is Anti-Semitic. They Must Not Have Read It Very Closely,” John B. Judis challenges the “condemnatory reviews” of his book by Ron Radosh, Jordan Chandler Hirsch, and “Robert Richman in Commentary.” I’m pretty sure he means me, although I am not sure he read my review very closely, since he mangles the reviewer’s name and quotes only from the conclusion, without addressing any points in between. He writes that his “usual policy” with critical reviews is to ignore them, since “any publicity is good publicity as long as the reviewers spell my name correctly.”

His New Republic response denies that he wants to “abolish or delegitimize” Israel–but he is unable to support that claim by citing anything he actually wrote in his book. He suggests instead that reviewers should have read what he, as the author, did not write in the book, but which he thinks should be inferred from his encouraging words elsewhere for Barack Obama and John Kerry:

Radosh talks about delegitimization. Richman hints at darker designs. He accuses me of having “written a book that insists the source of the conflict was the Jewish desire for a state… Judis’s policy preference is entirely clear to those with eyes to see. Judis suggests he is bringing a moral vision to Americans who lack a historical perspective, but he lacks the courage to spell out his obvious conclusion.” Richman seems to think I support the replacement of Israel with an Arab-majority state, but that I was fearful of expressing this proposal in my book.

What I was fearful of doing was making proposals that would look outdated within months of my book’s publication, so I avoided any statements about borders or refugees or East Jerusalem. But you’d not have to graduate from a fancy law school to understand that I thought Barack Obama’s initial proposals in September 2009 and John Kerry’s in 2013 for a two-state solution were attempts to resolve rather than exacerbate the conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians. If Kerry succeeds, I conclude, “the time for an end to the irrepressible conflict could finally come.”

If Radosh or Richman had any doubts about my views, they could have consulted my articles that over the years supporting the attempt to achieve a two-state solution.

Here’s precisely why I accused Judis of having “written a book that insists the source of the conflict was the Jewish desire for a state.”

He asserts the “darker side of Zionism” was “the attempt to impose a Jewish state on a people who had lived in Palestine for 1,300 years” (page 133). He argues that there was a “moral contradiction” in political Zionism: “by attempting to establish a Jewish state in Palestine, Zionists would be ‘encroaching upon the native population’” (page 170). He repeats the point 14 pages later, writing that there were “moral contradictions that afflicted political Zionism” (page 184). He declares it “correct” that the “Balfour Declaration was itself to blame” for the problem of Palestine (page 251). He asserts that Zionists “conspired” with the British “to screw the Arabs out of a country that by the prevailing standards of self-determination would have been theirs” (page 251). He asserts “Israel today has become one of the world’s last colonial powers” (page 356).

And lest any reader miss what he really thinks is the true source of the conflict, here is what Judis wrote on pages 351-352 as “the main lesson” of his entire book:

[T]he Zionists who came to Palestine to establish a state trampled on the rights of the Arabs who already lived there. That wrong has never been adequately addressed or redressed, and for there to be peace of any kind between the Israelis and Arabs, it must be.

You don’t have to be a graduate of a fancy law school–you just have to be able to read–to understand that Judis portrays political Zionism as infected by a dark side, premised on a fundamental moral defect, imposing a state on a native people who were “screwed” out of the state that in his view should have been theirs; that the Balfour Declaration supporting a Jewish national home in Palestine was “itself to blame”; that Israel is “one of the world’s last colonial powers”; and that the “trampling” on the rights of the Arabs by the “Zionists who came to establish a state” not only needs to be addressed but–even more seriously–“redressed.” That’s why I wrote that Judis “insists the source of the conflict was the Jewish desire for a state.” He spends the first 128 pages of his book arguing that position.

As for his refusal in his book to state his policy preference (thus leaving it to the imagination or inference of readers to divine what policy would follow from delegitimizing Zionism), Judis now alleges in the New Republic that he was “fearful” of making policy proposals because they might “look outdated” within a few months after his book’s publication. That, however, is not what he wrote in his book.

What he wrote in his book was that he did not specify his preferred policy because he was supposedly not “thoroughly acquainted with the current actors” (page 8). He thought he knew them well enough, however, to criticize Prime Minister Netanyahu, “who was nothing if not clever,” for setting conditions for a Palestinian state “that Palestinians had already rejected,” such as Palestinian recognition of a Jewish state (page 366). But that recognition has always been the core issue, long before Netanyahu raised it; it goes to the heart of whether the “peace process” is about peace, or about creating a state that retains a specious but relentlessly asserted “right of return” to “redress” what Judis spends 400 pages describing as a great historical screwing and trampling by what he deems an immoral movement, political Zionism.

It is nice that Judis wishes John Kerry well in ending what Judis calls an “irrepressible conflict.” But Judis’s book will be used to prop up those who object to any Jewish state, who think Israel is the sole cause of the conflict, who believe the philosophy that created Israel is fundamentally immoral, and who assert that Israel is a colonialist state. His faux-scholarly book will be used, in sum, not to end the conflict, but to continue it–by delegitimizing Israel, giving a tool to those whose ultimate goal is to abolish it completely.

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“The Philosopher Deals with Truth; the Statesman Addresses Contingencies.”

In his foreword to Raymond Aron’s book Memoirs: Fifty Years of Political Reflection, Henry Kissinger wrote:

For a man like myself, involved for many years in the mundane tasks of diplomacy, Aron’s book is not always comfortable reading. Clearly, his judgment of my efforts as a statesman is less admiring than mine of his contributions to Western thought. This is as it should be. The philosopher deals with truth; the statesman addresses contingencies. The thinker has a duty to define what is right; the policymaker must deal with what is attainable. The professor focuses on ultimate goals; the diplomat knows that his is a meandering path on which there are few ultimate solutions and whatever “solutions” there are, more often than not turn into a threshold for a new set of problems.

I thought about this passage while reflecting on the tension that often takes place between activists, academics, and commentators on the one hand and lawmakers and policy makers on the other. They inhabit, if not different worlds, then different continents in the same world.

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In his foreword to Raymond Aron’s book Memoirs: Fifty Years of Political Reflection, Henry Kissinger wrote:

For a man like myself, involved for many years in the mundane tasks of diplomacy, Aron’s book is not always comfortable reading. Clearly, his judgment of my efforts as a statesman is less admiring than mine of his contributions to Western thought. This is as it should be. The philosopher deals with truth; the statesman addresses contingencies. The thinker has a duty to define what is right; the policymaker must deal with what is attainable. The professor focuses on ultimate goals; the diplomat knows that his is a meandering path on which there are few ultimate solutions and whatever “solutions” there are, more often than not turn into a threshold for a new set of problems.

I thought about this passage while reflecting on the tension that often takes place between activists, academics, and commentators on the one hand and lawmakers and policy makers on the other. They inhabit, if not different worlds, then different continents in the same world.

Writers, intellectuals, and those commenting on daily events have the luxury of judging those in power against the standard of perfection, often forgetting that those in authority have to make difficult judgments in imperfect conditions, where opposing parties exist and one’s will cannot be imposed.

Those in positions of political power, on the other hand, need to be held accountable by those who are not. When you work in the highest reaches of government the dangers of insulation and self-justification are enormous, and it’s perfectly legitimate for commentators to offer critical critiques. But in doing so analysts should admit that it’s not all that difficult to offer up harsh judgments about public officials when you’re sitting behind a camera, a microphone, or a keyboard. It’s harder to run a campaign than to comment on one; it’s more difficult to govern than to eviscerate those who do.

Near the end of Memoirs, Aron, in a chapter that is both sympathetic and critical of Secretary Kissinger’s tenure, writes, “For a half century, I have limited my freedom of criticism by asking the question; in his place, what would I do?”

This didn’t keep Aron, a philosopher and journalist of great insight and intellectual courage, from offering powerful and necessary criticisms over the course of his life. (When Marxism and anti-Americanism were in vogue in France, Aron refused to be swept up into those powerful currents.) Yet his assessments were tempered by his appreciation of the different roles played by public intellectuals and those who are in the arena. Here, like in many ways, the qualities Aron possessed are worth emulating.

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