Commentary Magazine


Posts For: February 7, 2014

Does Obama Know What the Muslim Brotherhood Wants?

Within the United States, the debate about the character of the Muslim Brotherhood and the proper U.S. policy toward the group remains strong. Mohamed Morsi was Egypt’s first democratically elected president, and the coup against him both engenders sympathy in some policy circles and creates a conundrum for those who hope for greater democratization in the region.

With the exception of Qatar, no such doubt exists among the leadership of the Gulf Cooperation Council. It is one thing for officials in these states to describe the Muslim Brotherhood as an unrepentant terrorist group; after all, the Brotherhood’s platform runs in direct contradiction to the policies of the Gulf monarchies. What has very much surprised me, however, is the vehemence with which most liberals and advocates for democracy and progressivism in this corner of the Arab world, some of whom had previously had an open mind with regard to the movement, now condemn the Brotherhood.

Read More

Within the United States, the debate about the character of the Muslim Brotherhood and the proper U.S. policy toward the group remains strong. Mohamed Morsi was Egypt’s first democratically elected president, and the coup against him both engenders sympathy in some policy circles and creates a conundrum for those who hope for greater democratization in the region.

With the exception of Qatar, no such doubt exists among the leadership of the Gulf Cooperation Council. It is one thing for officials in these states to describe the Muslim Brotherhood as an unrepentant terrorist group; after all, the Brotherhood’s platform runs in direct contradiction to the policies of the Gulf monarchies. What has very much surprised me, however, is the vehemence with which most liberals and advocates for democracy and progressivism in this corner of the Arab world, some of whom had previously had an open mind with regard to the movement, now condemn the Brotherhood.

While the Brotherhood spoke well about democracy and charmed diplomats, reporters, and Egyptians alike who were sick of the corruption that permeated the Mubarak regime, they quickly showed that they had not evolved, either in ideology or in structure. While the Brotherhood is deeply organized, it was unable to shed its internal authoritarianism and its strict embrace of hierarchy and seniority. Young adherents may have hoped to voice their concerns, but what they found was that they were expected to follow the Brotherhood’s orders without question or debate. To do otherwise would result in discipline, expulsion, or worse.

Many regional liberals have engaged their Egyptian counterparts and asked them why they have changed their minds on outreach to and inclusion for the post-coup Brotherhood and thrown their support unreservedly behind Gen. Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. The deciding factor for many liberals has been asking their Muslim Brotherhood friends what exactly they want. Their answers—which, of course, I am only hearing secondhand—make clear that the Brotherhood will neither compromise on Morsi’s return nor actualizing the slogan, “Allah is our objective. The Prophet is our leader. The Koran is our law. Jihad is our way. Dying in the way of Allah is our highest hope.” The group sees terrorism not as anathema, but the same as its embrace of democracy—as tactic to achieve an end goal of power.

This does not mean Sisi is a savior; indeed, he could be quite dangerous. It is unclear whether he recognizes that the reason for such popular anger toward President Hosni Mubarak was the corruption in which not only Mubarak but also so many senior military officers engaged. If Sisi simply returns to business as normal now that the Egyptian public has recognized the Brotherhood’s true face, then he opens the door for either a Brotherhood comeback, perhaps under a leadership more skilled than Morsi, or a broader, more destructive rebellion.

How frustrating it is for Arab liberals to see Obama’s continued flirtation with the Muslim Brotherhood, even as that group dismisses talk of tolerance and re-embraces terror as the tactic of choice. Over at the Washington Free Beacon, Adam Kredo broke the story that President Barack Obama welcomed Anas Altikriti, senior member of the Iraqi Muslim Brotherhood, into the White House. Let us hope that Obama asked Altikriti what exactly he and the Muslim Brotherhood want. If he did so, he should be shocked. Here’s a video (skip ahead to around minute 15) in which Altikriti engages in the crudest sectarianism, condemning the army for including Shi’ites at a Brotherhood rally in Great Britain.

While the White House spokesman told Kredo “that Altikriti was brought to the meeting to serve as a translator for al-Nujaifi,” this is only half-right: Altikriti was both translator and Iraqi parliamentary speaker Usama Nujaifi’s advisor. He was not a functionary, but rather the chief aide. Just as when Obama posed with a terrorist leader at Nelson Mandela’s funeral, it seems that Obama’s National Security Council and his handlers are again neglecting to conduct the most basic due diligence. Sectarianism is poison. Rather than tolerate it from either Sunnis or Shi’ites, Obama should deny its crudest instigators the White House as a platform. Instead, he might want to engage more fully with those who dismiss such sentiments and seek a more progressive future in which politicians promote tolerance and embrace accountability rather than ridicule such sentiments.

 

Read Less

Kerry’s Motives Are Beside the Point

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman had a point when he chided those Israelis—especially some of his Cabinet colleagues—who have been attacking U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. Though he has a well-earned reputation as the political equivalent of a bull in a china shop, Lieberman played the diplomat to help calm a growing dispute after the Obama administration took umbrage when Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon and then Economics and Trade Minister Naftali Bennett tore into Kerry for his “obsessive” pursuit of a deal with the Palestinians and his warning that the Jewish state would be boycotted if his quest failed. Lieberman vouched for Kerry’s bona fides as “a true friend of Israel” and even praised the secretary for behaving appropriately in seeking to create a framework of principles on which the parties could negotiate.

What is Lieberman—who is every bit as right-wing on settlements and security as either Yaalon or Bennett—up to? First, there’s Lieberman’s desire to be viewed as a credible successor to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, rather than just an ideologue. He also relished the chance to take a swipe at Bennett (another would-be Netanyahu successor) and to mock him for the fact that his response to the peace process hasn’t caused him to abandon the governing coalition.

But there’s another important reason that Israelis shouldn’t succumb to the temptation to personalize the dispute with Kerry. Making the secretary’s personality or statements the issue is a distraction from the substance of the major differences between the U.S. and Israel. Reducing those differences to accusations of anti-Semitism undermines the arguments against Kerry’s positions since it turns him into a victim. The greater problem with John Kerry’s policies is not that his intentions are evil; it’s that the process he advocates—and the threats he’s made to America’s only democratic ally in the region—and which he’s determined to pursue regardless of the obstacles or his dim chances of success is setting into motion a series of events that are deeply damaging to Israel. If Israel is to minimize the harm he’s doing while also maintain its alliance with the United States, the wisest course is to keep this from becoming a personal quarrel.

Read More

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman had a point when he chided those Israelis—especially some of his Cabinet colleagues—who have been attacking U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. Though he has a well-earned reputation as the political equivalent of a bull in a china shop, Lieberman played the diplomat to help calm a growing dispute after the Obama administration took umbrage when Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon and then Economics and Trade Minister Naftali Bennett tore into Kerry for his “obsessive” pursuit of a deal with the Palestinians and his warning that the Jewish state would be boycotted if his quest failed. Lieberman vouched for Kerry’s bona fides as “a true friend of Israel” and even praised the secretary for behaving appropriately in seeking to create a framework of principles on which the parties could negotiate.

What is Lieberman—who is every bit as right-wing on settlements and security as either Yaalon or Bennett—up to? First, there’s Lieberman’s desire to be viewed as a credible successor to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, rather than just an ideologue. He also relished the chance to take a swipe at Bennett (another would-be Netanyahu successor) and to mock him for the fact that his response to the peace process hasn’t caused him to abandon the governing coalition.

But there’s another important reason that Israelis shouldn’t succumb to the temptation to personalize the dispute with Kerry. Making the secretary’s personality or statements the issue is a distraction from the substance of the major differences between the U.S. and Israel. Reducing those differences to accusations of anti-Semitism undermines the arguments against Kerry’s positions since it turns him into a victim. The greater problem with John Kerry’s policies is not that his intentions are evil; it’s that the process he advocates—and the threats he’s made to America’s only democratic ally in the region—and which he’s determined to pursue regardless of the obstacles or his dim chances of success is setting into motion a series of events that are deeply damaging to Israel. If Israel is to minimize the harm he’s doing while also maintain its alliance with the United States, the wisest course is to keep this from becoming a personal quarrel.

Many Israelis and their friends abroad tend to treat all American advocacy for land-for-peace deals, concessions to the Palestinians, or opposition to settlements as prima facie evidence of hatred for Israel. Some of those who do take those positions are, in fact, hostile to Israel. Yet many of those who believe it is in Israel’s interest to divest itself of the West Bank do so in good faith. Like some Israelis, they believe the country must be saved from itself. When stands such as theirs are expressed in terms as if they’re unquestionably right and therefore should override the views of those elected by the Israeli people to run their own government, it is highly offensive. But it is not the same as being a supporter of boycotts of Israel or an opponent of the existence of the state.

What Kerry has done and said in the last six months provides ample of evidence for those who think he’s no friend to Israel. His evident indifference to the violence of Palestinian incitement and to the spectacle of terrorist murderers being freed by Israel at his behest being embraced as heroes by the Palestinian Authority was deeply offensive. The same could be said of his recent rationalization, if not endorsement, of those seeking to boycott Israel when he said such efforts would succeed if his peace treaty weren’t signed by the Israelis. After such statements, it’s clear that Kerry’s affection for Israel seems dependent on Israeli obedience to him rather than on the common values that bind the U.S. and the Jewish state.

But making Kerry’s personality or any implied animus on his part the issue does little to help Israel navigate this crisis.

Fortunately, Lieberman, like the prime minister, has understood that Israel’s government does better by keeping as close as it can to the Obama administration. That’s why they have apparently decided to make to the Palestinians what amounts to a fourth offer of an independent state that would include 90 percent of the West Bank and are even willing to accept a framework of principles that would allow the negotiations Kerry is sponsoring to continue beyond the original nine-month period originally envisioned. Netanyahu and Lieberman are, as I wrote earlier this week, clearly betting on a Palestinian rejection of their peace offer. Though this won’t convince Israel’s foes and critics to change their minds, Netanyahu and Lieberman are correct in believing that as long as the Obama administration and Kerry know that they weren’t the ones to say no, they will be able both to preserve Israel’s security and its alliance with the United States.

The success of this gambit depends not so much on the Palestinians playing their familiar rejectionist role in this drama but on Kerry’s psychological makeup. The hope is that, like Bill Clinton, who never forgave Yasir Arafat for rejecting peace at Camp David in 2000 thus denying him a Nobel Peace Prize, Kerry will have no choice but to feel the same after he fails. It is a matter of opinion whether Kerry is as good a friend of Israel as Lieberman says. But the odds that he will react rationally after the ultimate and inevitable failure of his mission won’t be hurt by Israel’s senior leaders behaving as if his motives are as untainted as they would like them to be.

Read Less

Eavesdropping and Troublemaking

The European political class seems to have interrupted their bout of indignation at NSA eavesdropping to express indignation over a phone call between Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland and U.S. Ambassador to Kiev Geoffrey Pyatt in which Nuland is heard saying: “[It] would be great, I think, to help glue this thing and have the UN help glue it, and you know f*** the EU!”

And how is it that we have come to listen to Nuland’s private phone call on YouTube? No one is exactly sure but all the signs point to the Russian intelligence service, the FSB, since the audio was first highlighted in public by a Russian official and posted with Russian subtitles. As Nuland herself noted, “It was pretty impressive tradecraft. [The] audio quality was very good.”

The supposition of Russian responsibility was heightened by the fact that another telephone call has also surfaced on YouTube, this one featuring an EU foreign-policy official named Helga Schmid complaining about the U.S. to the EU ambassador to Kiev, Jan Tombinski. As Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty notes: “The recording appears to show Schmid expressing annoyance at the United States for criticizing the EU for being ‘too soft’ to impose sanctions and other pressure tactics against Ukraine. ‘It’s very annoying,’ she adds.”

Read More

The European political class seems to have interrupted their bout of indignation at NSA eavesdropping to express indignation over a phone call between Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland and U.S. Ambassador to Kiev Geoffrey Pyatt in which Nuland is heard saying: “[It] would be great, I think, to help glue this thing and have the UN help glue it, and you know f*** the EU!”

And how is it that we have come to listen to Nuland’s private phone call on YouTube? No one is exactly sure but all the signs point to the Russian intelligence service, the FSB, since the audio was first highlighted in public by a Russian official and posted with Russian subtitles. As Nuland herself noted, “It was pretty impressive tradecraft. [The] audio quality was very good.”

The supposition of Russian responsibility was heightened by the fact that another telephone call has also surfaced on YouTube, this one featuring an EU foreign-policy official named Helga Schmid complaining about the U.S. to the EU ambassador to Kiev, Jan Tombinski. As Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty notes: “The recording appears to show Schmid expressing annoyance at the United States for criticizing the EU for being ‘too soft’ to impose sanctions and other pressure tactics against Ukraine. ‘It’s very annoying,’ she adds.”

This is the kind of harmless expression of frustration which is common in private conversations–and which is very different from the way anyone, much less a diplomat, speaks in public. Which is why there is widespread speculation the FSB leaked the calls so as to embarrass both Americans and Europeans and to drive a wedge between them, making it more difficult for them to counter the Russian power play in Ukraine.

Yet somehow much of the European outrage over the Nuland call has focused on the content of her conversation rather than the violation of her privacy. Europeans seem to be ignoring the obvious lesson here that the NSA is hardly alone in intercepting communications–and indeed other countries use such capabilities far more obnoxiously than the NSA does. But then it’s so much more fun to beat up on the big bad Americans rather than on the Russian, Chinese, or European intelligence services, all of which are very much in the eavesdropping business too. Don’t expect to hear a peep, of course, from that noted privacy champion Edward Snowden who happens to be living in Russia thanks to the hospitality of the Putin regime.

Read Less

Afghanistan and Diplomacy Unhinged

Next week, my new book on the history of U.S. diplomacy with rogue regimes and terrorist groups will officially come out. A major theme of the book is that contrary to the statements of many State Department officials across administrations, it can very much hurt to talk.

Eli Lake has a piece at the Daily Beast that confirms what long has been rumored: U.S. officials have neglected to go after the Haqqani network’s finances because to do so, the Obama administration believed, might undercut diplomacy:

Read More

Next week, my new book on the history of U.S. diplomacy with rogue regimes and terrorist groups will officially come out. A major theme of the book is that contrary to the statements of many State Department officials across administrations, it can very much hurt to talk.

Eli Lake has a piece at the Daily Beast that confirms what long has been rumored: U.S. officials have neglected to go after the Haqqani network’s finances because to do so, the Obama administration believed, might undercut diplomacy:

In the last 17 months since the U.S. government financially blacklisted the Haqqani Network, one of the deadliest insurgent groups in Afghanistan and Pakistan, not a single dollar associated with the group has been blocked or frozen, according to U.S. officials and one of the Congressman who oversees the Treasury Department’s financial war on terrorism. But it’s not just the Haqqanis—an ally today in the Taliban’s fight against U.S. troops and the Afghan government—who seem to have been spared from America’s economic attacks. According to a Treasury Department letter written in late November, not a single dollar been seized from the Pakistani Taliban, either, at least for 2012. The reason why, according to a leading Congressman, is that enforcing such sanctions might upset delicate negotiations between America, Pakistan, Afghanistan, the Taliban, and other insurgent groups.

The whole article is worth reading. For what it is worth, such inconsistent and counterproductive outreach to the Haqqanis is not limited to the Obama administration, but also extends far back into the Bush administration. Regardless, the episode highlights a consistent problem with U.S. strategy that transcends U.S. administrations and their approach to both terrorist groups and rogue regimes and explains why U.S. diplomacy consistently fails. The idea that ameliorating and offering concessions to adversaries enables successful diplomacy is demonstrably false. Rather, the most successful diplomatic outcomes come when the United States acts from a position of strength and seeks to coerce and weaken its opponents.

Targeting the Haqqani network with an aim to bankrupting it is the only way to succeed. Make no mistake: the conscious decision to allow the Haqqanis access to financial resources results directly in Haqqani terror attacks, as the network tries to leverage violence into a position of greater strength and influence. Never should the United States forfeit its leverage for the sake of hope and wishful thinking. Adversaries will come to the table when they have no other choice, and it should be the policy of the United States government to ensure they have no other choice. It is time to stop holding back when it comes to countering terrorists and rogues, and make their defeat by all prudent means the central pillar of U.S. policy.

Read Less

Republicans Wise to Punt on Immigration Reform

I’m favorably disposed to the immigration reforms outlined by House Republicans like Paul Ryan–and yet I’m very glad that Speaker John Boehner has indicated (presumably with the support of Ryan) that an immigration bill will not pass in 2014.

The politics are such that pushing immigration in the current environment would only (badly) divide Republicans and unify Democrats. Among other things, my guess is that the debate would end up highlighting some of the worst and most irresponsible voices on immigration. (See the criticisms of the Coca-Cola Super Bowl ad as a preview of coming attractions. Speaking of which, Jon Stewart’s segment on critics of the ad is worth watching.)

It’s fitting, too, that President Obama is paying the price for his promiscuous lawlessness. Republicans simply don’t trust Mr. Obama to enforce those aspects of the law he disagrees with–and they are right not to trust him. I rather like the idea of the GOP saying no to this Imperial President.

Read More

I’m favorably disposed to the immigration reforms outlined by House Republicans like Paul Ryan–and yet I’m very glad that Speaker John Boehner has indicated (presumably with the support of Ryan) that an immigration bill will not pass in 2014.

The politics are such that pushing immigration in the current environment would only (badly) divide Republicans and unify Democrats. Among other things, my guess is that the debate would end up highlighting some of the worst and most irresponsible voices on immigration. (See the criticisms of the Coca-Cola Super Bowl ad as a preview of coming attractions. Speaking of which, Jon Stewart’s segment on critics of the ad is worth watching.)

It’s fitting, too, that President Obama is paying the price for his promiscuous lawlessness. Republicans simply don’t trust Mr. Obama to enforce those aspects of the law he disagrees with–and they are right not to trust him. I rather like the idea of the GOP saying no to this Imperial President.

If immigration reform eventually is embraced by the GOP, it’ll probably take a presidential nominee who ran on the issue and won the primary contest to make it happen. Until then, the GOP is taking a wise and prudent course of action. Focus on the president’s failed agenda, on the weak economy and on the multiplying failures of the Affordable Care Act, and on other elements of its governing agenda–including policies dealing with poverty, health care and higher education, and social mobility. The result may be maintaining control of the House, winning control of the Senate, and another blow that badly weakens the Obama presidency.

Read Less

“Kelo”: The Shame of a Nation

When Sarah Palin was criticized for her inability to answer a series of questions in interviews after her selection as John McCain’s running mate, various commentators each had the one that bothered them the most. The one that caught and held my attention was when Palin was asked which Supreme Court decision–other than Roe v. Wade–she disagreed with. I wasn’t bothered so much by a supposed lack of judicial expertise but rather reminded that conservatives have been too negligent in their outrage at one ruling in particular: the 2005 Kelo decision.

That was when the Supreme Court shredded property rights by upholding a Connecticut town’s eminent domain seizure of private property to transfer to a developer under the guise of improving blighted neighborhoods and thus fulfilling the “public use” requirement under the Fifth Amendment. It’s bunk, of course. I would like to be able to expect conservatives not simply to mention Kelo when asked what non-Roe decision they oppose, but to hiss the words through gritted teeth, preferably with smoke rising from their ears. Kelo was indefensible, an assault not simply on the Constitution but on the pillars of a free society, and a nation that forgets or excuses the high court for its role in this travesty should be ashamed of itself.

I’ve been reminded of this yet again by two very good pieces on the upcoming ninth anniversary of Kelo, one on National Review Online and one in the Weekly Standard, which recount the case and focus on the infuriating fact that the land in question lies empty, a flat monument to loathsome abuse of power and the toxic combination of governmental incompetence and contempt for the law. The essence of the case is that the government is able to forcefully purchase property if its new purpose is for the “public use.” For some time, this phrase was taken literally–land for a rail line, a public road, etc. Justice Stevens’s decision for the majority is a pristine example of how rights can be eroded over time by governmental discretion:

Read More

When Sarah Palin was criticized for her inability to answer a series of questions in interviews after her selection as John McCain’s running mate, various commentators each had the one that bothered them the most. The one that caught and held my attention was when Palin was asked which Supreme Court decision–other than Roe v. Wade–she disagreed with. I wasn’t bothered so much by a supposed lack of judicial expertise but rather reminded that conservatives have been too negligent in their outrage at one ruling in particular: the 2005 Kelo decision.

That was when the Supreme Court shredded property rights by upholding a Connecticut town’s eminent domain seizure of private property to transfer to a developer under the guise of improving blighted neighborhoods and thus fulfilling the “public use” requirement under the Fifth Amendment. It’s bunk, of course. I would like to be able to expect conservatives not simply to mention Kelo when asked what non-Roe decision they oppose, but to hiss the words through gritted teeth, preferably with smoke rising from their ears. Kelo was indefensible, an assault not simply on the Constitution but on the pillars of a free society, and a nation that forgets or excuses the high court for its role in this travesty should be ashamed of itself.

I’ve been reminded of this yet again by two very good pieces on the upcoming ninth anniversary of Kelo, one on National Review Online and one in the Weekly Standard, which recount the case and focus on the infuriating fact that the land in question lies empty, a flat monument to loathsome abuse of power and the toxic combination of governmental incompetence and contempt for the law. The essence of the case is that the government is able to forcefully purchase property if its new purpose is for the “public use.” For some time, this phrase was taken literally–land for a rail line, a public road, etc. Justice Stevens’s decision for the majority is a pristine example of how rights can be eroded over time by governmental discretion:

On the other hand, this is not a case in which the City is planning to open the condemned land–at least not in its entirety–to use by the general public. Nor will the private lessees of the land in any sense be required to operate like common carriers, making their services available to all comers. But although such a projected use would be sufficient to satisfy the public use requirement, this “Court long ago rejected any literal requirement that condemned property be put into use for the general public.” Id., at 244. Indeed, while many state courts in the mid-19th century endorsed “use by the public” as the proper definition of public use, that narrow view steadily eroded over time. Not only was the “use by the public” test difficult to administer (e.g., what proportion of the public need have access to the property? at what price?), but it proved to be impractical given the diverse and always evolving needs of society. Accordingly, when this Court began applying the Fifth Amendment to the States at the close of the 19th century, it embraced the broader and more natural interpretation of public use as “public purpose.”

The excuses! We once had a consensus on public use, which amounted to: words have meaning. The courts now admit that, well, words are pregnant with meaning, aren’t they? A test of rights that would be “difficult to administer” becomes justification to discard those rights. Constitutional rights prove “impractical,” because of the “always evolving needs of society.” And who better than the government to interpret which rights go out the window when the “needs of society”–as divined by pompous politicians at the top of local political machines given unconscionable imprimatur of the United States Supreme Court–assert themselves?

I should like to know what other rights are “impractical.” The obvious response to this ridiculous display of state power is: if you think governing according to the Constitution and the God-given rights of a free people is too difficult, then get out of government. And don’t let the door hit you on the way out. Instead, the court seems to sympathize. The state is taking from the poor and giving to the rich, in most cases and almost by definition of this interpretation. But according to the court, the victims here just don’t understand that their further impoverishment and displacement so the government can give their property to those they prefer have it is really about the “always evolving needs of society.”

In 1999, the esteemed historian of Russia Richard Pipes took a break from his usual work to publish a book called Property and Freedom. “The subject of this book differs from that of every book I have ever written, all of which (apart from a college textbook on modern Europe) have dealt with Russia, past and present,” Pipes wrote. “And yet it grows naturally out of my previous work. … In the case of Russia, it is not the presence but the absence of property that is taken for granted.”

Pipes notes that the Western understanding of property has expanded from tangible assets to intellectual property. But it didn’t stop there. He explains that “in Western thought during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries it acquired a still more comprehensive meaning to include everything that one can claim as one’s own, beginning with life and liberty. The whole complex of modern ideas connected with human rights has its source in such an extensive definition of property. This was noted two hundred years ago by James Madison.”

He goes on to quote Madison to that effect. Respect for private property rights is an essential foundation for a free society–and our Founders knew it and said so. The court’s decision in Kelo looks worse with every passing year, and we shouldn’t forget it for a moment.

Read Less

The Risible ObamaCare Counterattacks

I wrote a column earlier this week in which I said that the report by the Congressional Budget Office on the federal budget over the next decade might have delivered the “death blow” for ObamaCare. Pete Wehner responded here by saying he was not as “optimistic” as I. The truth is that I didn’t write the column in a spirit of optimism or pessimism. What was striking to me about the CBO report was how it detailed a problem with ObamaCare that had gone all but unnoticed in the debates over its passage and in the criticisms of it since: The way in which its complex system of subsidies might create perverse incentives for people who receive the subsidies. The very real possibility is that this “disincentive to work,” as the CBO’s own director put it to Congress, will be the proverbial straw that breaks ObamaCare’s back. It’s not the report itself, in other words; it’s what the report reports.

This is far from the worst aspect of ObamaCare, really, but it’s a problem no one who supports the bill could possibly have wanted to have to cope with. Add it to all the other bad news since ObamaCare’s official launch on October 1 of last year, and you have a program that is increasingly difficult to defend on its own merits, that might pose profound political risks to those who do try to defend it, and that may provide profound political benefits to those who oppose it and seek its repeal and replacement by a better set of health-care reforms.

Read More

I wrote a column earlier this week in which I said that the report by the Congressional Budget Office on the federal budget over the next decade might have delivered the “death blow” for ObamaCare. Pete Wehner responded here by saying he was not as “optimistic” as I. The truth is that I didn’t write the column in a spirit of optimism or pessimism. What was striking to me about the CBO report was how it detailed a problem with ObamaCare that had gone all but unnoticed in the debates over its passage and in the criticisms of it since: The way in which its complex system of subsidies might create perverse incentives for people who receive the subsidies. The very real possibility is that this “disincentive to work,” as the CBO’s own director put it to Congress, will be the proverbial straw that breaks ObamaCare’s back. It’s not the report itself, in other words; it’s what the report reports.

This is far from the worst aspect of ObamaCare, really, but it’s a problem no one who supports the bill could possibly have wanted to have to cope with. Add it to all the other bad news since ObamaCare’s official launch on October 1 of last year, and you have a program that is increasingly difficult to defend on its own merits, that might pose profound political risks to those who do try to defend it, and that may provide profound political benefits to those who oppose it and seek its repeal and replacement by a better set of health-care reforms.

Its defenders have been reduced, over the past couple of days, to a series of risible partisan “gotcha” responses that indicate just how desperate things are getting for those who support ObamaCare. 

Risible response #1: Republicans dishonestly mischaracterized its findings by claiming the report said 2 million will be thrown out of work when all it said was that the lure of subsidies will cause the departure of workers from the workforce equivalent to 2 million full-time jobs. OK, perhaps there was a failure of nuance in the effort to seek quick political gain, but the Talmudic analysis of the difference between the two is ridiculous. Fine, so 2 million won’t be thrown out of work; rather, they will leave working voluntarily because the deal they get from the government for not working is too good to pass up. That’s a better argument?

Risible response #2: Republicans and conservatives are hypocrites because they also claim to want to decouple health care from employment. For decades now, conservative health-care reformers have pointed out that the single worst policy decision in this entire mess was to give employers the tax deduction for providing health care rather than giving the deduction to each individual worker. But the reason for this was to empower individuals and to give them the responsibility for policing their own health care decisions rather than creating a deranged system in which the consumer has no idea what anything actually costs and has no incentive to shop around for a better deal. It wasn’t to decouple health care from employment by making the dole more attractive than self-sufficiency.

Risible response #3: Conservatives mischaracterized the report’s findings on the number of uninsured under ObamaCare. Without it, the report says, there would be 57 million uninsured by 2024. With it, the report says, there will be 31 million uninsured by 2014. Thus, ObamaCare will provide health care to 26 million people who otherwise wouldn’t have it. So it’s good. The point I made in my column was that President Obama said in September 2009 there were 31 million uninsured. The report says in 2024 there will be 31 million uninsured. If 31 million uninsured was unacceptable in 2009 and the key fact in creating this new $2 trillion program, how could the projection that there will be 31 million uninsured in 2024 be considered an endorsement of ObamaCare’s success? In any case, what is missing from any such projection is the fact that one way or another, had there been no ObamaCare, there would still have been significant revision at some point of the health-care system, which everyone acknowledges is broken. Since we can’t know what other changes might have been made, we can’t possibly know how many uninsured there might have been in this alternate 2024.

The law’s defenders are finding it necessary to fight battles on its behalf they had no idea they would have to fight and for which they are understandably ill-prepared. It’s one thing to say the law is necessary, and that it will have good effects; it’s quite another to have to say it’s OK that it will lead people out of the workforce in order to collect government benefits—and nyah nyah nyah Republicans and conservatives. ObamaCare is now law, and the degree to which is is a badly-designed, jury-rigged mess is mostly what people are coming to know about it. That is why I said this report may mark the moment its doom was sealed—because it’s springing leaks in places no one ever thought he was going to have to patch, even as Obama and his people continue to try to plug the holes that everyone already knows about. 

Read Less

The GOP’s Immigration Dilemma

It is possible that House Speaker John Boehner’s comments yesterday casting doubt that immigration reform legislation can be passed this year isn’t the final word on the subject. Boehner wants to tackle the issue and knows it’s in the best interests of the Republican Party that the GOP not be seen as the sole obstacle to fixing a broken system. But he also knows that a majority of the House Republican caucus as well as much of the conservative grassroots activists that provide the ground troops in campaigns want no part of a bill that would provide “amnesty” to illegals or, for that matter, anything that smacks of compromise with President Obama and the Democrats. So just a week after the House leadership issued a set of principles on immigration that seemed to hold out the promise of a compromise with the White House—especially after the president expressed his willingness to accept a bill that did not include a direct path to citizenship for illegals—Boehner’s comments were an acknowledgement that the bulk of his party simply won’t tolerate any immigration bill at all.

This pleases conservatives who feared an intra-party battle over immigration would derail what appeared to be an excellent chance of victory in the midterm elections this November. They argued the debate over immigration would distract voters from ObamaCare and supress GOP turnout. Since Republicans have good reason to believe that the president won’t enforce the border security parts of any new package, there seemed no reason for Boehner to risk his party’s unity—and his Speakership—to take up this hot potato.

But assuming that this is the final word on the subject in 2014 and not just Boehner’s feint to the right before addressing the issue later this year–as immigration reform advocates still hope–this decision is nothing for Republicans to celebrate. Even if we accept the premise that a debate on immigration would harm the GOP’s chances to take back the Senate this fall, a Republican decision to obstruct reform is a terrible mistake that will cause more damage to the party in the long run than an internecine battle over the issue would do this year.

Read More

It is possible that House Speaker John Boehner’s comments yesterday casting doubt that immigration reform legislation can be passed this year isn’t the final word on the subject. Boehner wants to tackle the issue and knows it’s in the best interests of the Republican Party that the GOP not be seen as the sole obstacle to fixing a broken system. But he also knows that a majority of the House Republican caucus as well as much of the conservative grassroots activists that provide the ground troops in campaigns want no part of a bill that would provide “amnesty” to illegals or, for that matter, anything that smacks of compromise with President Obama and the Democrats. So just a week after the House leadership issued a set of principles on immigration that seemed to hold out the promise of a compromise with the White House—especially after the president expressed his willingness to accept a bill that did not include a direct path to citizenship for illegals—Boehner’s comments were an acknowledgement that the bulk of his party simply won’t tolerate any immigration bill at all.

This pleases conservatives who feared an intra-party battle over immigration would derail what appeared to be an excellent chance of victory in the midterm elections this November. They argued the debate over immigration would distract voters from ObamaCare and supress GOP turnout. Since Republicans have good reason to believe that the president won’t enforce the border security parts of any new package, there seemed no reason for Boehner to risk his party’s unity—and his Speakership—to take up this hot potato.

But assuming that this is the final word on the subject in 2014 and not just Boehner’s feint to the right before addressing the issue later this year–as immigration reform advocates still hope–this decision is nothing for Republicans to celebrate. Even if we accept the premise that a debate on immigration would harm the GOP’s chances to take back the Senate this fall, a Republican decision to obstruct reform is a terrible mistake that will cause more damage to the party in the long run than an internecine battle over the issue would do this year.

As our Peter Wehner detailed in a sobering post yesterday, the Republican Party has a demographic problem that can’t be ignored or wished away. With minorities making up an increasingly large percentage of the American population, the GOP’s chances of winning back the presidency in 2016 or in subsequent elections hinge on its ability to appeal to non-whites and specifically the growing Hispanic population. While many conservatives are right to argue that passing immigration reform isn’t a magic bullet that will persuade predominantly liberal Hispanic voters to embrace the Republicans, it must be understood that as long as the party is viewed as implacably hostile to the interests of Hispanics, its chances of making even minor inroads in that group are minimal. As the numbers that Pete discussed illustrate, a failure to change this electoral equation seals the fate of the GOP in presidential politics for the foreseeable future.

But the damage isn’t limited to the resentment Hispanics feel about a party dominated by those who seem intent on clinging to the fantasy of deporting 11 million people. The implacable resistance to “amnesty” on the part of some conservatives seems rooted as much in hostility to growing ethnic diversity as it is to a reluctance to acknowledge that the illegals already here must be given a chance to get right with the law. That image hurts Republicans with more than just Hispanics. With some on the right saying they oppose immigration because they wish to prevent more Hispanics from becoming voters, this less attractive aspect of the immigration debate can’t be ignored. Republican leaders must confront and reject such views and the only effective way to do it is to pass a reform bill now and put this issue in their rear-view mirror.

Nor can we assume that reform can be put off until next January, when the GOP hopes it will control both houses of Congress. Even if Republicans are in charge of the Senate as well as the House next year, the same dynamic that pits conservative/Tea Party rebels against the so-called establishment will still be in play. If anything, the Republican caucus will be even less likely to listen to reason on immigration in 2015 than it is in 2014. Due to gerrymandering and the growing division between the parties, GOP representatives have grown more conservative in each new Congress. This year won’t reverse that trend. Thus, it will be even harder for Boehner or any Republican leader to keep his troops in line in order for the GOP to pass a bill that will soften the Democrats’ advantage with Hispanics prior to 2016.

It is true that President Obama deserves some of the blame here. By choosing to use his State of the Union address to justify a shift toward efforts to bypass Congress and rule by executive order, he played right into the hands of conservatives who accurately point out the president has already demonstrated that his administration will only enforce the laws he agrees with. That means the enforcement element of any immigration package may prove illusory even if Democrats agree to the tough measures Republicans have rightly demanded.

But Obama will not be president forever. Immigration reform is not just good politics but also good public policy. Fixing the system is an imperative, as is policing the border. But if Republicans succumb to the temptation to procrastinate or oppose reform for the sake of avoiding an intra-party squabble, they will not only be making a mistake on the merits of the issue but committing a long-term political error that will ensure their dissatisfaction with the occupant of the Oval Office for decades to come.

Read Less

Regional Reverberations of a Bad Iran Deal

In 1971, as Britain prepared to grant the United Arab Emirates its independence and as British forces withdrew from the Greater and Lesser Tonb Islands and Abu Musa, Iranian forces swooped in and seized the islands. While legally the islands belong to the United Arab Emirates, the United States turned a blind eye and, as per the Nixon Doctrine of embracing pivotal states, may actually have encouraged Iran, the pillar of American policy in the region at the time. (An alternate academic argument sympathetic to Iranian sovereignty can be found here.)

What once may have seemed as a stabilizing influence turned disastrous for the United States after the Islamic Revolution in Iran because of the strategic location of the islands in the Persian Gulf, and how the extension of Iranian territorial waters impacts maritime traffic.

Read More

In 1971, as Britain prepared to grant the United Arab Emirates its independence and as British forces withdrew from the Greater and Lesser Tonb Islands and Abu Musa, Iranian forces swooped in and seized the islands. While legally the islands belong to the United Arab Emirates, the United States turned a blind eye and, as per the Nixon Doctrine of embracing pivotal states, may actually have encouraged Iran, the pillar of American policy in the region at the time. (An alternate academic argument sympathetic to Iranian sovereignty can be found here.)

What once may have seemed as a stabilizing influence turned disastrous for the United States after the Islamic Revolution in Iran because of the strategic location of the islands in the Persian Gulf, and how the extension of Iranian territorial waters impacts maritime traffic.

I am currently in the Persian Gulf and have spent the last week in various countries and have been fortunate to have a number of very senior meetings with diplomatic and security officials. Attitudes and concerns of course differ between countries, but there have been a few consistencies: First, a sense that the United States is being outplayed by Iran; second, a belief that the nuclear deal being negotiated will not resolve the Iranian nuclear impasse because of the loopholes which American negotiators have allowed and so will simply legalize it; and third, real anger that the United States did not consult its allies and instead seems prepared to throw them under the bus. On this third point, the argument is not against diplomacy, but rather how the Obama administration conducts it without a sense of the region’s history, its allies’ interests, and its allies’ experience.

Because American allies remain effectively in the dark, they feel they must make accommodation with Iran in order to prepare for a post-American order. The Iranians believe they are winning, and they are eager to extract the concessions they believe their strengthened hand deserves.

Enter the disputed islands. The Iranians have been negotiating with the Emiratis for the return of the islands to UAE sovereignty. Sounds good on the surface, but the coming deal is disastrous. While Iran might evacuate the islands—not a huge deal since their population consists only of small Iranian garrisons—the Iranians would win claim to their waters, and so would maintain their military exclusion zone. In addition, the Iranians would win a facility on Oman’s Musandam Peninsula, on the other side of Iran from the strategic Strait of Hormuz. According to ArabianBusiness.com:

“Iran will retain the sea bed rights around the three islands while the UAE will hold sovereignty over the land,” they continued. “Oman will grant Iran a strategic location on Ras Musandam mountain, which is a very strategic point overlooking the whole Gulf region. “In return for Ras Musandam, Oman will receive free gas and oil from Iran once a pipeline is constructed within the coming two years,” the source added.

Perhaps the United States believes, here too, that reaching a deal trumps the substance of a deal. But any Iranian presence on Musandam should be a non-starter: It doesn’t matter what the safeguards in the deal are: possession is everything. Sultan Qaboos, the leader of Oman, is progressive and pro-Western, but he is also is aging, has no children, and so no apparent heir. When he passes away, Tehran will not only work to influence his succession, but can simply create a fait accompli while any new leader consolidates control. UAE officials, however, feel that with the United States weak and Iran strong, this is the best for which they can hope. That is the tragedy of the situation.

Read Less

Rescuing the Constitution from “Constitutional Conservatives”

National Review’s Charles C.W. Cooke takes issue with an essay Michael Gerson and I wrote in National Affairs. Mr. Cooke, a thoughtful writer, cites this passage from our essay: 

many of the functions of the modern-day federal government, including Social Security and other social-service programs, were not envisioned by the framers, nor did the enumerated powers of the Congress specifically comprehend such programs. But neither do these federal roles violate a principle of our system or run counter to the prescient mindset of the founders.

Cooke reacts to this observation this way:

I hope I am not being unfair when I say that I detect a whiff of living constitutionalism in this passage — a tendency to subordinate “enumerated powers” to the subjectively imagined “principle of our system” or “prescient mindset of the founders.” The ultimate value of the rule of law is not that it entrenches the positions of men who are long dead but that it establishes the regulations by which governments may operate, outlines the political scheme for all to see, and short-circuits the temporary government’s capacity for caprice. If the authors believe that “the enumerated powers of the Congress” did not “specifically comprehend such programs” as Social Security — which, remember, is not justified by an amendment but by judicial reinterpretation — then they should be up in arms about it. I fail to see how one can acknowledge in one breath that a governing document that is the collective work of a generation of thinkers is being violated, and in the next say that that is what they would have wanted.

Actually, our argument is different than what Cooke presents. The fact that there exist programs created in the 20th century that our Federalist founders didn’t (and couldn’t possibly) envision doesn’t mean that those programs necessarily violate the system of government created by them. Gerson and I lay out in some detail the case for concluding that, “The government created in the late 18th century by the inhabitants of a coastal, agrarian republic was designed to accommodate the development of a more spacious and ambitious nation: an eventuality that many of the founders foresaw and embraced.”

Read More

National Review’s Charles C.W. Cooke takes issue with an essay Michael Gerson and I wrote in National Affairs. Mr. Cooke, a thoughtful writer, cites this passage from our essay: 

many of the functions of the modern-day federal government, including Social Security and other social-service programs, were not envisioned by the framers, nor did the enumerated powers of the Congress specifically comprehend such programs. But neither do these federal roles violate a principle of our system or run counter to the prescient mindset of the founders.

Cooke reacts to this observation this way:

I hope I am not being unfair when I say that I detect a whiff of living constitutionalism in this passage — a tendency to subordinate “enumerated powers” to the subjectively imagined “principle of our system” or “prescient mindset of the founders.” The ultimate value of the rule of law is not that it entrenches the positions of men who are long dead but that it establishes the regulations by which governments may operate, outlines the political scheme for all to see, and short-circuits the temporary government’s capacity for caprice. If the authors believe that “the enumerated powers of the Congress” did not “specifically comprehend such programs” as Social Security — which, remember, is not justified by an amendment but by judicial reinterpretation — then they should be up in arms about it. I fail to see how one can acknowledge in one breath that a governing document that is the collective work of a generation of thinkers is being violated, and in the next say that that is what they would have wanted.

Actually, our argument is different than what Cooke presents. The fact that there exist programs created in the 20th century that our Federalist founders didn’t (and couldn’t possibly) envision doesn’t mean that those programs necessarily violate the system of government created by them. Gerson and I lay out in some detail the case for concluding that, “The government created in the late 18th century by the inhabitants of a coastal, agrarian republic was designed to accommodate the development of a more spacious and ambitious nation: an eventuality that many of the founders foresaw and embraced.”

As for the charge of embracing a “living Constitution”: It is one thing, and I believe quite a problematic thing, for judges to invent and create and impose on the public invented rights. But in the representative democracy the founders created, they certainly believed that within certain parameters the will of the people, ratified in election after election and by Congress after Congress, needed to be taken into account. And Social Security has been ratified in dozens of staggered elections (presidential, Senate, and House) over the course of most of the 20th century and all of the 21st century. No elected representative of any serious standing is arguing for the repeal of Social Security on constitutional grounds; and it hasn’t faced a serious constitutional challenge under either a liberal or a conservative-led Supreme Court in more than a half-century. Yet Cooke seems to believe conservatives should be “up in arms” about it and, I can only assume, energize their movement around an effort to largely dismantle, on constitutional grounds, the New Deal and more.

To help clarify what is, in truth, a pretty interesting and important philosophical discussion–how narrowly or broadly should the enumerated powers in the Constitution be interpreted–it would be instructive for Mr. Cooke to respond to some queries, perhaps starting with this one: Is Social Security unconstitutional? If he believes it is, does Cooke therefore believe conservatives and Republicans should run for elective office and base their governing agenda on repealing Social Security on the grounds that it qualifies as an assault on the Constitution? He seems to suggest they should.

In addition, what do Cooke and others, including so-called “constitutional conservatives” who praised his article, make of the fact that Ronald Reagan, the most important figure in the history of modern conservatism, praised Social Security and went out of his way to assure voters he had no intention of dismantling the New Deal?

In the 1964 speech that effectively launched his political career, Reagan, in describing conservatives, said, “we’re for a provision that destitution should not follow unemployment by reason of old age, and to that end we’ve accepted Social Security as a step toward meeting the problem.” And on April 20, 1983, Reagan signed a bill to preserve Social Security, saying, “This bill demonstrates for all time our nation’s ironclad commitment to Society Security.”

Does Cooke detect a “whiff of living constitutionalism” and a “tendency to subordinate ‘enumerated powers’” in Reagan’s words? Surely he must, since Reagan never challenged the constitutionality of Social Security and the New Deal and in fact affirmed them. Reagan, rather than being “up in arms” over Social Security, the New Deal, and much of the modern state, made his own inner peace with their constitutional legitimacy. Others should as well.

Mr. Cooke also makes this claim: “The federal government is able to do only what the Constitution permits it to do — and, until around 1913, the Constitution prohibited the federal government from doing almost everything.” I can’t help but note that even Thomas Jefferson, who was more skeptical of a strong federal authority than many others of the Founders, managed to conclude the Louisiana Purchase without amending the Constitution to permit so massive an exercise of federal power. The founders, from Washington through Monroe, presided over what at the time were massive changes in the scope and reach of the national government. That continued through the post-founding period to the Civil War–despite the fact that the Constitution was amended only twice during that period (in 1795, limiting suits against states; and in 1804, revising the electoral-college procedure). In addition, the claim that Abraham Lincoln believed the Constitution prohibited the federal government from doing “almost everything” is slightly bizarre. (See the Civil War, the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus, the transcontinental railroad, and the imposition of tariffs and a federal income tax for more.)

It’s worth pointing out, too, that as president James Madison signed the act establishing the Second National Bank. He had opposed the creation of the First National Bank on constitutional grounds but, in revising his views, Madison wrote this:

The charge of inconsistency between my objection to the constitutionality of such a bank in 1791, and my assent in 1817, turns on the question, how far legislative precedents, expounding the Constitution, ought to guide succeeding legislatures, and to overrule individual opinions.

… It was in conformity with the view here taken of the respect due to deliberate and reiterated precedent, that the Bank of the United States, though on the original question held to be unconstitutional, received the executive signature in the year 1817. The act originally establishing a bank had undergone ample discussions in its passage through the several branches of the government. It had been carried into execution through a period of twenty years, with annual legislative recognition –in one instance, indeed, with a positive ramification of it into a new state — and with the entire acquiescence of all the local authorities, as well as of the nation at large; to all of which maybe added, a decreasing prospect of any change in the public opinion adverse to the constitutionality of such an institution. A veto from the executive, under these circumstances, with an admission of the expediency, and almost necessity, of the measure, would have been a defiance of all the obligations derived from a course of precedents amounting to the requisite evidence of the national judgment and intention …

In other words, the conduct of elections that tacitly or explicitly endorse existing policy, and people’s decisions with the passage of time to rearrange their own lives in light of the law, all amount to a public ratification. “Madison asserted that legislation passed by Congress and carried out successfully with the approval of the people over a significant period of time sets a precedent of constitutional interpretation for future legislation,” is how one commentator put it. It’s worth recalling that Madison is not only one of the authors of the Federalist Papers, the greatest interpretative work of the Constitution; he is also widely regarded as the “father of the Constitution.” So his example ought to carry significant weight.

One other observation. In a 1981 speech (featured in this book), Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan made this observation: 

Perhaps the most important act of the Continental Congress was the Northwest Ordinance which provided a direct federal subsidy for education. Almost the first act of the Congress established by the present Constitution was to reaffirm this grant. A plaque on the Sub-Treasury on Wall Street commemorates both actions. This does not invalidate the view that the federal government ought not to exercise any responsibility, but it does make nonsense of the view that the Constitution – presumably because it does not mention the subject – somehow bars such an exercise.

Pace Charles C.W. Cooke, I do not think that virtually the entire modern state–including Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, the National Institutes of Health, and so much more–is unconstitutional. But he and others like him apparently do, so they really should lay out what they realistically intend to do about it. And in doing so, they should explicitly state whether they consider Ronald Reagan, whom I consider to be among the handful of greatest presidents in our history, to have been an apostate when it comes to fidelity to the Constitution he swore to uphold.

Read Less

Alkarama Doubles Down on Al-Qaeda

I have written several times, for example, here, here, here, and here, about the extensive relationship between the Alkarama Foundation, a self-professed human-rights organization, and Western human-rights organizations like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. In addition, the State Department has incorporated some reporting from Alkarama into its annual country human-rights reports.

The reason for concern is that the U.S. Treasury Department has determined that the organization’s founding president Abdul Rahman Omeir al-Naimi also happens to be an al-Qaeda financier. Here is the indefatigable Eli Lake’s article which broke the story.

In the wake of the scandal, Naimi said he would resign, but it was a bait-and-switch: He tendered his resignation, but Alkarama’s board did not accept it. Naimi then resumed his position. Alkarama tweeted me to call attention to their subsequent statement, “The Arab world needs bridge building, not terrorist listing.” Alkarama’s statement concluded, “If the U.S. wants to address the root causes of terrorism, it should avoid destroying the bridges which have been built between communities or taking the side of those attacking the rare fora – such as this organization – where tolerance, mutual understanding and exchange are made possible.”

Read More

I have written several times, for example, here, here, here, and here, about the extensive relationship between the Alkarama Foundation, a self-professed human-rights organization, and Western human-rights organizations like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. In addition, the State Department has incorporated some reporting from Alkarama into its annual country human-rights reports.

The reason for concern is that the U.S. Treasury Department has determined that the organization’s founding president Abdul Rahman Omeir al-Naimi also happens to be an al-Qaeda financier. Here is the indefatigable Eli Lake’s article which broke the story.

In the wake of the scandal, Naimi said he would resign, but it was a bait-and-switch: He tendered his resignation, but Alkarama’s board did not accept it. Naimi then resumed his position. Alkarama tweeted me to call attention to their subsequent statement, “The Arab world needs bridge building, not terrorist listing.” Alkarama’s statement concluded, “If the U.S. wants to address the root causes of terrorism, it should avoid destroying the bridges which have been built between communities or taking the side of those attacking the rare fora – such as this organization – where tolerance, mutual understanding and exchange are made possible.”

Such words seem nice, but they reflect a greater phenomenon among many Islamist movements: While many in the United States and the West assume that greater interaction breeds tolerance, often among the most ideologically-committed Islamists exposure to the West brings not bridge-building, but rather a greater understanding about how to speak to Westerners and liberals. If people say the right thing, too often the Western NGO community and diplomats assume those people mean it. Actions matter more than words, however, which is why the terror designation is so disturbing. Neither Naimi nor Alkarama have moved to address the evidence behind the designation. Let us be clear: financing a group, in any way, shape, or form that is committed to the violent eradication of the region’s states and which commits the most heinous terror atrocities targeting civilians does not advance human rights; it mocks them.

It is time for Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and the United States Department of State to divorce themselves completely of Alkarama, and to withdraw and amend any reports which incorporated directly or indirectly information supplied by Alkarama. The old adage, “Garbage in, Garbage out” holds true. To continue to incorporate Alkarama research into these reports undercuts the entire corpus of those reports.

The situation gets worse, however. Readers of COMMENTARY need no reminder about the ineffectiveness of the United Nations Human Rights Committee. Alkarama now seeks observer status at the Committee. To do so would be to effectively grant al-Qaeda’s lobbyist a seat at the table. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon may complain about the criticism the UN receives from Americans, Canadians, and others. But should he allow this to continue, he will do more damage to the UN and its human-rights committee than any secretary-general since the UN selected former Wehrmacht officer Kurt Waldheim to be secretary-general. Then again, for the UN, perhaps such decisions are now par for the course.

Read Less

The Jobs Report

In January the economy added 113,000 new jobs. That’s better than December’s dismal 75,000 but nowhere near the 200,000 jobs that the economy was adding from August through November last year, nor the number needed to feed robust economic growth. The unemployment rate went down to 6.6 percent from 6.7 percent.

But the labor participation rate ticked up two notches to 63, from 62.8 last month. It’s still below the 63.6 where it was last January.

Read More

In January the economy added 113,000 new jobs. That’s better than December’s dismal 75,000 but nowhere near the 200,000 jobs that the economy was adding from August through November last year, nor the number needed to feed robust economic growth. The unemployment rate went down to 6.6 percent from 6.7 percent.

But the labor participation rate ticked up two notches to 63, from 62.8 last month. It’s still below the 63.6 where it was last January.

Teenage unemployment went up (to 20.7 percent from 20.2 percent) as did black unemployment (from 11.9 to 12.1). Those unemployed for more than 27 weeks decreased by 232,000 to 3.646 million, while those working part time who would rather be working full time dropped from 7.771 million to 7.257 million.

In short, it’s another typical Obama-era jobs report: not disastrous, but a long way from what a jobs report would look like in a healthy, growing economy.

Read Less

The UK’s Pro-Iran Lobby

At a recent meeting of the British Parliament’s All-Party Parliamentary Group on Iran, a strange tone dominated proceedings. Not only was the atmosphere unmistakably leaning toward an attitude favorable to Iran, but there were open expressions of anti-American and anti-Israel views from the parliamentarians. Some of the members seemed so pro-Iranian that they even made sure to take a good swipe at Saudi Arabia, Iran’s primary rival in the Islamic world. Nor were these expressions coming from fringe members of the House, but from Conservative and Labour politicians who have held some of the highest offices in the land.

Leading the way throughout the proceedings was former foreign secretary Jack Straw. Straw, who has inexplicably become one of the Islamic Republic’s staunchest defenders in recent years, could barely contain his enthusiasm for the country. Whereas he took the opportunity to lambast the pro-Israel lobby in America, Straw spoke warmly of “the big and vibrant Iranian diaspora in the United States.” Like some sort of travel agent he also reflected whimsically on his trips to Iran, insisting “people thought I was going to the Moon or something. It was absolutely amazing. In fact Tehran feels like Madrid or Athens rather than Cairo or Mumbai.” Straw is right, Tehran is nothing like Cairo or Mumbai; in those cities one doesn’t find people being publicly executed on charges of drug dealing and homosexuality. As for Athens and Madrid, Straw must have caught them on an off day.

Read More

At a recent meeting of the British Parliament’s All-Party Parliamentary Group on Iran, a strange tone dominated proceedings. Not only was the atmosphere unmistakably leaning toward an attitude favorable to Iran, but there were open expressions of anti-American and anti-Israel views from the parliamentarians. Some of the members seemed so pro-Iranian that they even made sure to take a good swipe at Saudi Arabia, Iran’s primary rival in the Islamic world. Nor were these expressions coming from fringe members of the House, but from Conservative and Labour politicians who have held some of the highest offices in the land.

Leading the way throughout the proceedings was former foreign secretary Jack Straw. Straw, who has inexplicably become one of the Islamic Republic’s staunchest defenders in recent years, could barely contain his enthusiasm for the country. Whereas he took the opportunity to lambast the pro-Israel lobby in America, Straw spoke warmly of “the big and vibrant Iranian diaspora in the United States.” Like some sort of travel agent he also reflected whimsically on his trips to Iran, insisting “people thought I was going to the Moon or something. It was absolutely amazing. In fact Tehran feels like Madrid or Athens rather than Cairo or Mumbai.” Straw is right, Tehran is nothing like Cairo or Mumbai; in those cities one doesn’t find people being publicly executed on charges of drug dealing and homosexuality. As for Athens and Madrid, Straw must have caught them on an off day.

He took quite a different attitude to the U.S. however. Straw claimed that “neocons in the Bush Administration” had derailed his efforts to broker a nuclear deal with Iran and pursued a policy that got Ahmadinejad elected as Iranian president: “they begat the Ahmadinejad regime.” But elsewhere Straw has also claimed that the same neocons in the Bush administration essentially had him fired as foreign secretary. Their channels of influence were beyond parallel it seems.

Where Straw really surpassed himself was when he treated the parliamentary committee to a diatribe about the influence of Israel and the “axis” of the Israel lobby, before indulging in some pop-psychiatry about the driving force behind American foreign policy:

What worries me, at the same time, is that there is an agenda by the right-wing in Israel, typified by Netanyahu and those to the right of him in the very fractious coalition he leads, and those in the United States, with the axis being the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. It suits them to demonise Iran. I think that for a long time there has been a pervasive vulgarity to part of the narrative of American foreign policy. It requires there to be a demon. For a long time, the obvious demon was the Soviet Union, and that suited everybody. That collapsed and we have moved on to other demons. They need a demon. It is not about foreign policy analysis; they have a psycho-political need. Iran is that demon. The parody of Iran that comes across the Atlantic is extraordinary in my view.

These remarks are reminiscent of those that former Israeli MK Einat Wilf reported from Straw when she told of how, during one meeting, Straw had spoken of how “unlimited funds available to Jewish organizations and AIPAC in the U.S. are used to control and divert American policy in the region and that Germany’s obsession with defending Israel were the problem.” Indeed, with these comments and the others mentioned here, Straw not only advocates for Iran, he even appears to be parroting Iranian conspiracies. Last year Straw penned a piece in the Times of London titled “Israel must learn that cruelty does not pay,” which is presumably what attracts Straw to the mullahs and their anti-cruelty regime in Iran.

This effort to explicitly demonstrate how much more virtuous than Israel the Iranians are seems to be a favorite of Straw’s. Apparently forgetting that Iran is a signatory of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, or ignoring the vast body of intelligence that exists to indicate that Iran is in breach of that treaty, Straw said:

You can make that case against any international partner at all—you can easily make it against Israel, let me say, who signs up to all sorts of things and then doesn’t do them—but on the whole, the history of Iran is that where they sign up to texts, they implement them.

What the proceedings of this committee demonstrated, however, is that Straw’s views are not simply those of someone going head-to-head with Jimmy Carter to be known as the leading out-of-office crank. For also during the hearing, Labour MP Jeremy Corbyn expressed his view that “the UK Government are right to develop relations with Iran; there is no question about that” and warned against what he described as the “rightwing” view in America that aims to isolate Iran. Corbyn spoke, almost hopefully, of how “there might be an interesting parting of the ways between the USA and western Europe somewhere down the line.”

Also adding to the chorus of Iranian sympathizes was former-Chancellor Norman Lamont, who claimed that Saudi Arabia and Israel had distorted Iranian president Rouhani’s words against him. Lamont added “I think both Saudi Arabia and Israel, and it is convenient for them, want to keep Iran as a country that is beyond the pale. They would face a challenge if there was any normalization of relations and then there would be another power in the area with some influence on the West.”  

British politicians, in their readiness to embrace Iran, seem to be forgetting the many British servicemen killed by Iranian-made IEDs, the British naval personnel kidnapped in 2007, or the storming of the British embassy in Tehran in 2011.   

Read Less




Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.