Commentary Magazine


Posts For: March 18, 2014

Could Republicans Govern in 2015?

This past weekend the panic being felt on the left about the 2014 midterms reached epic proportions with a front-page story in the Sunday New York Times about how fear of the “Obama Factor” was sapping Democratic morale. The story rehashed what has long been obvious about this year’s campaign: Democrats are at a huge disadvantage defending red-state Senate seats won in the 2008 Obama-fueled “hope and change” election. The unpopularity of ObamaCare and its disastrous rollout combined with the sinking poll numbers of the president may all combine to bring both houses of Congress under GOP control in January 2015.

With several months left for Republicans to pull defeat from the jaws of victory (as they did in 2010 and 2012 when golden opportunities to take winnable seats were sacrificed by terrible candidates and their gaffes), it’s way too early for the Democrats to give up or the GOP to start celebrating. But it isn’t too early to ask what exactly the Republicans would do if they did control Capitol Hill next year and to ponder what that would mean for the last two years of the Obama presidency. At the Washington Post’s Plum Line column, Paul Waldman takes up these questions and argues that the GOP’s possible 2014 triumph would be short-lived, if not entirely Pyrrhic. Waldman believes the basic antagonism between the House and the Senate will make any cooperation between the two impossible even if Republicans ran them both. Differing approaches to ObamaCare would provoke bitter and unwinnable fights between the varying GOP factions or “unrealistic bills that he [Obama] can veto without worrying about any backlash from the public.” In short, he predicts having the Senate as well as the House would do Republicans no good and maybe even help the Democrats heading into 2016.

Waldman is right that a 2014 win might well lead to plenty of internecine GOP warfare. He’s also correct that the 2016 Senate math (with a host of seats won in the 2010 GOP landslide up for grabs) might give Democrats a golden opportunity to snatch the upper House back, especially if they have a strong Democratic presidential candidate at the top of their ticket. But liberals who imagine that a GOP Congress would be no big deal are delusional. A Republican Senate will make the next two years a nightmare for Obama and give the GOP a chance to undermine his liberal agenda while setting the stage for what they hope will be a return to the White House in 2016.

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This past weekend the panic being felt on the left about the 2014 midterms reached epic proportions with a front-page story in the Sunday New York Times about how fear of the “Obama Factor” was sapping Democratic morale. The story rehashed what has long been obvious about this year’s campaign: Democrats are at a huge disadvantage defending red-state Senate seats won in the 2008 Obama-fueled “hope and change” election. The unpopularity of ObamaCare and its disastrous rollout combined with the sinking poll numbers of the president may all combine to bring both houses of Congress under GOP control in January 2015.

With several months left for Republicans to pull defeat from the jaws of victory (as they did in 2010 and 2012 when golden opportunities to take winnable seats were sacrificed by terrible candidates and their gaffes), it’s way too early for the Democrats to give up or the GOP to start celebrating. But it isn’t too early to ask what exactly the Republicans would do if they did control Capitol Hill next year and to ponder what that would mean for the last two years of the Obama presidency. At the Washington Post’s Plum Line column, Paul Waldman takes up these questions and argues that the GOP’s possible 2014 triumph would be short-lived, if not entirely Pyrrhic. Waldman believes the basic antagonism between the House and the Senate will make any cooperation between the two impossible even if Republicans ran them both. Differing approaches to ObamaCare would provoke bitter and unwinnable fights between the varying GOP factions or “unrealistic bills that he [Obama] can veto without worrying about any backlash from the public.” In short, he predicts having the Senate as well as the House would do Republicans no good and maybe even help the Democrats heading into 2016.

Waldman is right that a 2014 win might well lead to plenty of internecine GOP warfare. He’s also correct that the 2016 Senate math (with a host of seats won in the 2010 GOP landslide up for grabs) might give Democrats a golden opportunity to snatch the upper House back, especially if they have a strong Democratic presidential candidate at the top of their ticket. But liberals who imagine that a GOP Congress would be no big deal are delusional. A Republican Senate will make the next two years a nightmare for Obama and give the GOP a chance to undermine his liberal agenda while setting the stage for what they hope will be a return to the White House in 2016.

Let’s concede that the combative spirit of the House GOP caucus won’t be made any less confrontational by a victory in November. But the dynamic of Congress isn’t only defined by the institutional rivalries that Waldman discusses. By controlling the Senate, Democrats have exercised a pocket veto on everything the House produces, whether the product of centrist consensus or Tea Party fantasy. The unrealistic nature of much of the debate that has taken place on the House side is in no small measure the product of a situation in which nothing they do really matters so long as Harry Reid can frustrate them at will. If Reid is replaced by Mitch McConnell at the majority leader’s desk, that changes. At that point, the House caucus stops being a glorified debating society and becomes part of a governing majority. That won’t magically transform them or their Senate colleagues into a collection of legislative geniuses, but it will mean that suicidal gestures born in despair at their inability to pass bills will be a thing of the past.

Nor should Republicans fear—and Democrats anticipate with glee—the prospect of debates about fixes or alternatives to ObamaCare. Contrary to the liberal talking points echoed by many in the media, there are a number of realistic GOP proposals on health care out there that have been ignored because a Democratic Senate makes any new approaches to the misnamed Affordable Care Act impossible.

It is true that the continued presence of Barack Obama in the White House will mean the GOP will still not be governing the nation. He may well use his veto power more than before and frustrate Republican legislative initiatives. But by the same token, the ability of Republicans to hamstring Obama’s liberal agenda and subject his administration to probes will be enhanced.

The president may respond by accelerating his effort to bypass Congress and to govern by means of executive orders. But doing so as a lame duck will not only strike most voters as problematic from a constitutional point of view; it will also place a burden on Democrats in 2016 that they will be hard-pressed to cope with.

Most importantly, a Republican Senate would end any chance that Supreme Court retirements would allow the president to create a liberal court that could stand for decades or to continue his project of packing the appeals courts with like-minded jurists.

A Republican Congress won’t be able to undo everything Barack Obama has done or impose a Tea Party agenda on the nation. But it will act as a far more effective break on a liberal president than the current split Congress and also give Republicans more forums from which they can promote their ideas as they look to 2016. Any Democrat who doesn’t think that will materially damage his party or its leader will learn differently if the GOP vindicates the pundits and sweeps the board this November.

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GOP Doesn’t Live in Scarborough Country

I’ve been resisting even noticing this story line for a while, but now that both The Atlantic and Politico have assisted the trial presidential balloon being floated by Joe Scarborough, it’s time to deflate it and then never mention it again. Scarborough is the former Republican congressman from Florida who has parlayed good looks and a caustic sense of humor into a lucrative gig on MSNBC, and has been telling people he wants back into politics. After trying for years to get anyone to take the idea seriously some in the media have finally picked up on the hints and are giving some lip service to the notion that the star of Morning Joe is a legitimate long shot GOP candidate for president in 2016.

Scarborough was in New Hampshire last weekend to appear at the Northeast Republican Leadership Conference and to sell his latest book. Organizers hoped to inspire a little extra publicity by putting his name on the ballot for a straw presidential poll. But MSNBC demanded that their employee’s name be taken off so Scarborough got the benefit of the buzz from the story without having to actually suffer the indignity of finishing last behind actual prospective candidates like Rand Paul, Chris Christie, Ted Cruz, and Rick Santorum and another media-driven personality in the form of Dr. Ben Carson.

But despite the boost the Scarborough-for-president story got from this, anyone who indulges the Morning Joe host’s fantasy for more than a second has taken leave of their senses. While Scarborough is what passes for a Republican, nay, even a conservative, on some days at MSNBC, even he has to know that the overwhelming majority of Republican primary and caucus voters, be they Tea Partiers or establishment types, don’t live in Scarborough country.

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I’ve been resisting even noticing this story line for a while, but now that both The Atlantic and Politico have assisted the trial presidential balloon being floated by Joe Scarborough, it’s time to deflate it and then never mention it again. Scarborough is the former Republican congressman from Florida who has parlayed good looks and a caustic sense of humor into a lucrative gig on MSNBC, and has been telling people he wants back into politics. After trying for years to get anyone to take the idea seriously some in the media have finally picked up on the hints and are giving some lip service to the notion that the star of Morning Joe is a legitimate long shot GOP candidate for president in 2016.

Scarborough was in New Hampshire last weekend to appear at the Northeast Republican Leadership Conference and to sell his latest book. Organizers hoped to inspire a little extra publicity by putting his name on the ballot for a straw presidential poll. But MSNBC demanded that their employee’s name be taken off so Scarborough got the benefit of the buzz from the story without having to actually suffer the indignity of finishing last behind actual prospective candidates like Rand Paul, Chris Christie, Ted Cruz, and Rick Santorum and another media-driven personality in the form of Dr. Ben Carson.

But despite the boost the Scarborough-for-president story got from this, anyone who indulges the Morning Joe host’s fantasy for more than a second has taken leave of their senses. While Scarborough is what passes for a Republican, nay, even a conservative, on some days at MSNBC, even he has to know that the overwhelming majority of Republican primary and caucus voters, be they Tea Partiers or establishment types, don’t live in Scarborough country.

The pun is, of course, on the name of his old MSNBC show before the network tilted to the far left and, in an inspired piece of casting, he was paired with the insufferable Mika Brzezinski to anchor the network’s morning entertainment. It’s a good watch and even those who can’t stand the liberal tilt of almost all its talking heads can appreciate why it is has become successful. As Mollie Ball notes, its “air of chummy, Acela-corridor knowingness has made it destination viewing for the political class.”

Last year, the New York Times’s Alessandra Stanley captured the tone of the show better than any of its critics or admirers:

At its best, that rambunctious, fast-talking cable talk show, anchored by Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski, can sound like a screwball comedy set in a Washington think tank. On a bad day it turns into a C-Span edition of Eugene O’Neill: Mother is tuned out and the children sip their soup quietly to avoid arousing their choleric father. Mr. Scarborough can be funny and charming, but he occasionally goes on bullying, self-aggrandizing tears that are uninterrupted by a clique of yeasayers that includes Mike Barnicle, Donny Deutsch and Harold Ford Jr. Ms. Brzezinski acts as the foil, but she too often preens for the camera as if it were a mirror.

In the rarified air of Morning Joe, Scarborough’s pontifications are occasional reality checks for liberals, such as his rant about Senate Democrats’ all-night global warming fest that I noted last week. But anyone who thinks seriously about the Republican electorate must also take into account the fact that Scarborough has also spent a great deal of his time on the show not only flaying Republicans for their actual sins of overspending and damaging government shutdowns but also for stands on which they have the support of most conservatives. If he were to run for office again, Scarborough would have a very difficult time explaining to Republicans why he spent most of 2013 ranting about gun control when he was the hero of Vice President Joe Biden and other liberals for spending endless segments of Morning Joe flailing away at the National Rifle Association. No sale.

Scarborough says that if Chris Christie and Jeb Bush don’t run, he could become the establishment favorite in 2016. I don’t think that’s realistic as a host of other potential GOP candidates, including Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, make more sense to represent that constituency. But Scarborough has spent so much time hanging with liberals that he seems to be unaware that his over-the-top anti-NRA rants would make him the liberal RINO, not the establishment guy, in any GOP primary. Which is to say, he has zero chance.

Scarborough’s main selling point these days is that Republicans need to be pragmatic and focused on winning elections rather than engaged in Ted Cruz-style suicide attacks. There is a case to be made for such a point of view, but only if it comes in a package of solid conservative beliefs–and anyone who watches Morning Joe knows that Scarborough has long since become a liberal’s idea of a conservative rather than an actual one. In 2012 we saw exactly what Republicans thought of such a candidate when Jon Huntsman crashed and burned in one of the most embarrassing and costly presidential campaign failures of recent memory, and the former Utah governor was far more plausible than Scarborough, a point that William Kristol recently made on the show.

Ball says that so many former presidential candidates have transitioned from politics to the media that it was inevitable that one should try to move in the opposite direction. But Morning Joe fans shouldn’t worry about the host leaving the show to try his luck in 2016. Joe’s presidential boomlet is a figment of his imagination and his publisher’s business plan. The gap between the MSNBC/Acela axis and Republican primary voters is too great for even as successful a media personality as Scarborough to bridge.

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Class Warfare Has Its Limits

In his entertaining book on the societal impact of James Bond on Britain, Simon Winder describes the Depression-era part of Ian Fleming’s life as so elite and disproportionately privileged that it seemed less realistic than a Soviet satire of Western capitalism would be. “Fleming wandered through life as a sort of walking reproach to capitalism as a rational system based on competitive Darwinian struggle,” Winder writes. “In many cradles of European civilization it had been okay for at least a hundred and fifty years to carve up people like Fleming and set fire to their mansions as a legitimate form of central heating. Somehow in Britain they survived.”

The lack of sufficient desire to eat the rich earned Britain a stability that eventually played a key role in saving Western civilization. “And if this stability was bought at the price of a few thousand Ian Flemings then that was surely an acceptable price,” Winder writes, adding: “Nobody really wanted Buckingham Palace to become People’s Sausage Factory No. 1.”

We have no such tradition of carving up successful people in America, so the affluent in the U.S. generally have less reason to worry when the non-affluent start getting antsy. But it also means that when they warn of grave societal consequences of extreme class warfare they must reach for comparisons to a bygone era in European affairs, and that means they sound like they’ve taken leave of their senses. That’s happened a couple of times recently, and the latest is contained in today’s Politico story on the rich trying to mitigate the Democrats’ unhinged politics of resentment:

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In his entertaining book on the societal impact of James Bond on Britain, Simon Winder describes the Depression-era part of Ian Fleming’s life as so elite and disproportionately privileged that it seemed less realistic than a Soviet satire of Western capitalism would be. “Fleming wandered through life as a sort of walking reproach to capitalism as a rational system based on competitive Darwinian struggle,” Winder writes. “In many cradles of European civilization it had been okay for at least a hundred and fifty years to carve up people like Fleming and set fire to their mansions as a legitimate form of central heating. Somehow in Britain they survived.”

The lack of sufficient desire to eat the rich earned Britain a stability that eventually played a key role in saving Western civilization. “And if this stability was bought at the price of a few thousand Ian Flemings then that was surely an acceptable price,” Winder writes, adding: “Nobody really wanted Buckingham Palace to become People’s Sausage Factory No. 1.”

We have no such tradition of carving up successful people in America, so the affluent in the U.S. generally have less reason to worry when the non-affluent start getting antsy. But it also means that when they warn of grave societal consequences of extreme class warfare they must reach for comparisons to a bygone era in European affairs, and that means they sound like they’ve taken leave of their senses. That’s happened a couple of times recently, and the latest is contained in today’s Politico story on the rich trying to mitigate the Democrats’ unhinged politics of resentment:

In two-dozen interviews, the denizens of Wall Street and wealthy precincts around the nation said they are still plenty worried about the shift in tone toward top earners and the popularity of class-based appeals. On the right, the rise of populists including Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz still makes wealthy donors eyeing 2016 uncomfortable. But wealthy Republicans — who were having a collective meltdown just two months ago — also say they see signs that the political zeitgeist may be shifting back their way and hope the trend continues.

“I hope it’s not working,” Ken Langone, the billionaire co-founder of Home Depot and major GOP donor, said of populist political appeals. “Because if you go back to 1933, with different words, this is what Hitler was saying in Germany. You don’t survive as a society if you encourage and thrive on envy or jealousy.”

There are a great many foolish and irresponsible populist politicians in America, but they are not Nazis and they are not looking to put Ken Langone and his friends in camps. The class warfare, waged mostly by Democrats, is quite harmful enough without possessing any Hitlerite parallels. And certainly the well-to-do will not help their public image by casting themselves as victims.

But if successful Americans have begun to see the tide of class war retreat a bit, as the Politico story claims, perhaps it has something to do with the fact that their accusers on the left must themselves resort to demented behavior to try to sufficiently rile up their base because in America, like in Fleming’s Britain, the people just generally do not feel like murdering their neighbors. And this rhetorical excess does plenty on its own to dull its effects, because Americans are also not lunatics, and so are less susceptible to some of the petty frauds trying to stir up hate on a massive scale in order to remain in power.

Like Harry Reid, for example. Pete has discussed Reid’s McCarthyite campaign to tar politically conservative activists as “un-American”–a very important milestone in the Obama-era left’s use of government to assault the lives and careers of Americans who dare exercise their right to participate in the political process. Reid’s latest bout of conspiracist paranoia was to blame the Koch brothers for the American government’s debate over aid to Ukraine.

And so I have no doubt that, as Politico writes, American business owners are working to defend themselves from the creepy behavior of the Harry Reid/Elizabeth Warren/Bill de Blasio Democrats in power. But I would also submit that such attacks have limited purchase in the United States. There were not enough Harry Reids in Ian Fleming’s Britain to turn Buckingham Palace into People’s Sausage Factory No. 1, and I have enough faith in Americans to believe there aren’t enough Harry Reids here to do the same to the Kochs’ philanthropic empire.

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Campus Israel-Bashers Practice Intimidation, Not Free Speech

The level of anti-Israel hostility proliferating at our universities is hardly any great secret. Yet what to do in the face of this challenge has proven far less apparent. Putting aside the fact that many of the academics quietly, and not so quietly, approve of the actions taken by students seeking to demonize Israel, university authorities tend to be deeply wedded to high-minded notions about not “censoring” the free exchange of ideas. At Northeastern University, however, matters were getting so out of hand that there was no longer any escaping the fact that the kind of intimidation taking place on the campus clearly had nothing to do with legitimate political debate. With the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) pointing out to Northeastern that Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act protects students from racial and ethnic discrimination at federally-funded educational institutions, the university eventually felt compelled to temporarily suspend the Students for Justice in Palestine group operating on its campus.

Now, however, the activists are appealing that decision in a stunningly cynical attempt to invoke arguments about freedom of expression and open discussion so as to allow them to continue in their harassment of students. The readiness of the most illiberal forces to hijack the liberties afforded by liberal democracy, for no purpose other than to use this freedom against itself, is something that should concern all of us. There is little hope of being able to make Israel’s case fairly to those willing to listen, while open displays of bigotry are being allowed to drown out reasonable discourse and shut down discussion through the tactics of intimidation.

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The level of anti-Israel hostility proliferating at our universities is hardly any great secret. Yet what to do in the face of this challenge has proven far less apparent. Putting aside the fact that many of the academics quietly, and not so quietly, approve of the actions taken by students seeking to demonize Israel, university authorities tend to be deeply wedded to high-minded notions about not “censoring” the free exchange of ideas. At Northeastern University, however, matters were getting so out of hand that there was no longer any escaping the fact that the kind of intimidation taking place on the campus clearly had nothing to do with legitimate political debate. With the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) pointing out to Northeastern that Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act protects students from racial and ethnic discrimination at federally-funded educational institutions, the university eventually felt compelled to temporarily suspend the Students for Justice in Palestine group operating on its campus.

Now, however, the activists are appealing that decision in a stunningly cynical attempt to invoke arguments about freedom of expression and open discussion so as to allow them to continue in their harassment of students. The readiness of the most illiberal forces to hijack the liberties afforded by liberal democracy, for no purpose other than to use this freedom against itself, is something that should concern all of us. There is little hope of being able to make Israel’s case fairly to those willing to listen, while open displays of bigotry are being allowed to drown out reasonable discourse and shut down discussion through the tactics of intimidation.

The kinds of activities engaged in by SJP at Northeastern are shocking to say the least. As well as storming a Holocaust commemoration event and vandalizing the statue of a Jewish donor to the university, the group’s faculty advisor M. Shahid Allam told members that they should consider being called anti-Semites a badge of honor and boasted that their tactics had helped make pro-Israel students feel too afraid to speak out. Under pressure to be seen to be doing something about all of this, the university authorities attempted to engage with SJP in an effort to have them tone down their tactics. Yet, during this year’s anti-Israel “Apartheid Week” SJP posted mock eviction notices under the doors of student dorms, telling them that this is what Israel does to Palestinians. When Northeastern’s Hillel put out an online message trying to reassure Jewish students, SJP saw fit to mock this too. That was the final straw provoking the temporary suspension.

The activists in question are now attempting to fight the suspension by invoking the most disingenuous arguments about the First Amendment and the importance of free discussion. The Jewish leader and spokesperson for Northeastern’s SJP group, Max Geller, has been at the forefront of speaking out against the suspension. During an interview with Democracy Now’s Amy Goodman, who was eager to emphasize Geller’s Jewishness, the talk was all about how Jewish students identify with universal human rights and equality. Geller claims that he is “troubled” by attempts to stifle debate of the “Israeli-Palestinian question.” According to him his activities are just about helping students make “informed decisions,” claiming that it is actually his group’s “viewpoint” that is being demonized.

Yet, this peace and love act couldn’t be more cynical, for Geller himself cuts a pretty macabre figure. This student’s apparent affinity with the most murderous forms of anti-Semitic terrorism is truly chilling. As well as having been photographed in the West Bank posing with a PK-class machine gun and sporting a bullet-belt strung around his neck, Geller has attended demonstrations and campus wearing an Islamic Jihad headband and a Hezbollah T-shirt. By all accounts he favors a bipartisan approach to the glorification of terror groups, yet the indiscriminate murder of civilians is the defining characteristic that both of these Islamist factions hold in common. And perhaps most disturbing of all is the photograph of Geller boldly showing off his T-shirt emblazoned with an image of the Hezbollah leader Hassan Nazrallah, a man who has said he welcomes Jews gathering in Israel so as to save Hezbollah the trouble of having to pursue them worldwide.  

The story of the hard-left’s attraction to the most brutal and nihilistic forms of violence is a long and apparently unending one. As with the Baader-Meinhoff gang, Jews seem to be a common fixation for those mesmerized by such bloodlust. But to see those who revel in this kind of thing operating so openly on American college campuses is more than just a little disconcerting. And the idea that the First Amendment protects those seeking to target and intimidate Jewish and pro-Israel students simply does not stand. Freedom of expression should not be limited at universities or anywhere else, but there is a clear dividing line between free speech and the sustained campaign of intimidation used to target students.      

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Obama Setting Israel Up to Take the Blame

Yesterday’s meeting between President Obama and Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas brought no surprises. In contrast to the frosty reception that greeted Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu two weeks ago, Abbas basked in Obama’s praise. In his public remarks the president also chose to emphasize those elements of the U.S.-sponsored framework for Middle East peace that conform to some of the Palestinians’ demands, such as a state along the 1967 borders with mutually agreed territorial swaps. But though the president also said that the Palestinians needed to take risks for peace, there was none of the heavy-handed pressure or criticism of Abbas that Netanyahu received. Nor was there even a mention of the need for Abbas to say the two little words that would guarantee a surge of Israeli support for concessions to the Palestinians: “Jewish state.”

Abbas didn’t miss the significance of that omission, which was foreshadowed by Secretary of State Kerry’s complaint last week about the necessity of making the Palestinians make a statement signaling the end of their war to destroy Israel. As the New York Times noted in a story published today, the president seems to be at pains to “right the balance” in the negotiations. Apparently, the White House has come to the conclusion that Secretary Kerry’s efforts to revive the peace process have been too focused on measures intended to convince Israelis that the Palestinians are finally ready for peace or guarantee their security in the event a deal is struck. The president appears to think it’s time to shift back to the combative tone he struck toward Israel during most of his first term prior to his election-year Jewish charm offensive. Even though the Israelis have shown that they will accept Kerry’s framework that reportedly includes a Palestinian recognition of a Jewish state, Obama’s intention seems to be aimed at placing the onus for the potential failure of the talks squarely on the Israelis.

That’s good news for Abbas who has made it clear he has no intention of agreeing to the framework. But it begs the question of whether Obama is more interested in venting his spleen at Netanyahu or brokering peace.

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Yesterday’s meeting between President Obama and Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas brought no surprises. In contrast to the frosty reception that greeted Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu two weeks ago, Abbas basked in Obama’s praise. In his public remarks the president also chose to emphasize those elements of the U.S.-sponsored framework for Middle East peace that conform to some of the Palestinians’ demands, such as a state along the 1967 borders with mutually agreed territorial swaps. But though the president also said that the Palestinians needed to take risks for peace, there was none of the heavy-handed pressure or criticism of Abbas that Netanyahu received. Nor was there even a mention of the need for Abbas to say the two little words that would guarantee a surge of Israeli support for concessions to the Palestinians: “Jewish state.”

Abbas didn’t miss the significance of that omission, which was foreshadowed by Secretary of State Kerry’s complaint last week about the necessity of making the Palestinians make a statement signaling the end of their war to destroy Israel. As the New York Times noted in a story published today, the president seems to be at pains to “right the balance” in the negotiations. Apparently, the White House has come to the conclusion that Secretary Kerry’s efforts to revive the peace process have been too focused on measures intended to convince Israelis that the Palestinians are finally ready for peace or guarantee their security in the event a deal is struck. The president appears to think it’s time to shift back to the combative tone he struck toward Israel during most of his first term prior to his election-year Jewish charm offensive. Even though the Israelis have shown that they will accept Kerry’s framework that reportedly includes a Palestinian recognition of a Jewish state, Obama’s intention seems to be aimed at placing the onus for the potential failure of the talks squarely on the Israelis.

That’s good news for Abbas who has made it clear he has no intention of agreeing to the framework. But it begs the question of whether Obama is more interested in venting his spleen at Netanyahu or brokering peace.

Israelis will, no doubt, be surprised to learn that the administration thinks it has spent the last few months tilting the diplomatic playing field in their direction. After all, it was the Jewish state that paid a high price in terms of U.S. pressure that demanded the release of more than 100 terrorist murderers in order to persuade Abbas to come back to the negotiating table. And it was Israel that was the prime focus of pressure from Kerry throughout the first months of the talks as the secretary threatened it with a new intifada and growing economic boycotts if they failed to make sufficient concessions to the Palestinians in statements that appeared to justify such acts.

Kerry included in his framework the Jewish state demand as well as more concrete measures aimed at ensuring that the new Palestinian state would not pose a security threat to Israel. In doing so Kerry was rightly seeking an agreement that would actually bring a conclusion to the conflict rather than a pause before the Palestinians resumed it on more advantageous terms. But that was apparently too much for both the Palestinians and their friend in the White House. Thus, rather than using this visit by Abbas to pressure him to say those two little words and to recognize that peace must be final, the president appears to have employed it as a signal to Israel to back off lest it be blamed for the collapse of the talks.

The president is being assisted in this gambit by a liberal mainstream news media that knows how to pick up on administration cues. The headline on the Times article, “Jewish State Declaration is Unyielding Block to a Deal,” made it clear that Washington wants to leave no doubt that even though it is Abbas that is the one who is saying “no” to a peace framework, they blame the Jews for asking him to do something unreasonable.

Abbas’s refusal to take the steps necessary to make peace is nothing new when you consider that he and his predecessor Yasir Arafat have already turned down three Israeli offers of peace and statehood. This has been a consistent pattern for the PA. As the Washington Post’s Jackson Diehl noted on Sunday, Abbas thinks he can get away with this because the Obama administration has no intention of pressuring him or holding him accountable for Palestinian incitement, terror connections, or diplomatic intransigence.

If the president were genuinely interested in pursuing peace he would be hammering the Palestinians for their behavior and making it clear they would pay a high price for saying no to Kerry’s framework. Instead, he has given Abbas carte blanche to maintain the same obdurate stance he has taken since he took over the PA from his longtime boss Arafat.

What will this accomplish? It won’t advance the cause of peace. But it will make it easier for Israel’s critics to blame Netanyahu for the inevitable collapse of Kerry’s effort and serve to rationalize the violence and the boycotts the secretary threatened the Jewish state with. All Obama is doing is setting up Israel to take the fall for a fourth Palestinian “no” to peace.

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The Reverberations of American Weakness

Myopia is epidemic in Washington, and always has been. So too is compartmentalization. When a crisis occurs in Syria, anyone who’s anyone within government stumbles over themselves to get into the crisis meetings, and everything else falls off the radar screen. Two months ago, if someone in government called a meeting about Crimea, perhaps two or three people would show up, and one of them would be an intern hoping to avoid Xerox duty; today, any Crimea meeting would be packed. Those in the meetings will look at the immediate next steps for U.S. policy with regard to the immediate belligerents, but discussion does not go broader.

The real world is the polar opposite. What happens in Crimea doesn’t stay in Crimea. In 1994, Russia, the United States, the United Kingdom, and Ukraine signed the Budapest Memorandum. In short, Russia recognized Ukrainian sovereignty over Crimea, Ukraine gave up its nuclear weapons, and the United States and Great Britain offered Ukraine security guarantees. In hindsight, only the Ukrainians kept their promise; everyone else broke their pledge.

The problem is not simply potential Russian aggressiveness against former Soviet states like Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Moldova, but rather the notion that U.S. and European security guarantees are meaningless: Russia invaded a sovereign state and Obama reacted by putting Russian President Vladimir Putin on the diplomatic equivalent of double-secret probation. Rogue states and America’s adversaries do not ignore the world around them. In Dancing With the Devil, I document how Iranian negotiators treat North Korea as an example to replicate, not a rogue to condemn. So, where might the next crisis be?

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Myopia is epidemic in Washington, and always has been. So too is compartmentalization. When a crisis occurs in Syria, anyone who’s anyone within government stumbles over themselves to get into the crisis meetings, and everything else falls off the radar screen. Two months ago, if someone in government called a meeting about Crimea, perhaps two or three people would show up, and one of them would be an intern hoping to avoid Xerox duty; today, any Crimea meeting would be packed. Those in the meetings will look at the immediate next steps for U.S. policy with regard to the immediate belligerents, but discussion does not go broader.

The real world is the polar opposite. What happens in Crimea doesn’t stay in Crimea. In 1994, Russia, the United States, the United Kingdom, and Ukraine signed the Budapest Memorandum. In short, Russia recognized Ukrainian sovereignty over Crimea, Ukraine gave up its nuclear weapons, and the United States and Great Britain offered Ukraine security guarantees. In hindsight, only the Ukrainians kept their promise; everyone else broke their pledge.

The problem is not simply potential Russian aggressiveness against former Soviet states like Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Moldova, but rather the notion that U.S. and European security guarantees are meaningless: Russia invaded a sovereign state and Obama reacted by putting Russian President Vladimir Putin on the diplomatic equivalent of double-secret probation. Rogue states and America’s adversaries do not ignore the world around them. In Dancing With the Devil, I document how Iranian negotiators treat North Korea as an example to replicate, not a rogue to condemn. So, where might the next crisis be?

The Korean War initially broke out when Kim Il-song interpreted Secretary of State Dean Acheson’s “Defensive Perimeter” speech as a sign that the United States would no longer defend its ally on the Korean Peninsula. Is there any reason why President Obama believes Kim Jong-un, the dear leader’s grandson and new dear leader, will interpret Obama’s weakness any differently?

Likewise, Putin acted in Ukraine against the backdrop of stagnation in the Russian economy. Whipping up nationalist sentiment seems to have successfully distracted Russians from Putin’s own domestic incompetence. If sparking a crisis can distract from economic woes without fear of reprisal, why shouldn’t the Argentine government make its move against the Falkland Islands? After all, the age of Reagan and Thatcher is over. Israel, too, must recognize that American security guarantees aren’t worth the paper upon which they are written, even if Kerry returns from Geneva waving a paper and boasting that he has Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s signature upon it.

The greatest difference between left and right in America today when it comes to national security is that the left always demonizes power, while the right recognizes that power can be used for good or bad. What Obama and his supporters do not recognize, however, is the reverberations of American weakness. Altruistic powers will not fill the vacuum; dictatorships will. When a Niccolò Machiavelli challenges a Neville Chamberlain, not only will the Chamberlains not win, but death and destruction will follow.

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Russia Was Always a Bad Bet to Stop Iran

The Obama administration has always seemed to have trouble managing even one foreign-policy crisis at a time. But the opening of the next stage of the P5+1 nuclear talks with Iran in the same week that Russia, the West’s nominal partner in trying to negotiate a resolution of the nuclear question with Tehran, is annexing Crimea is posing a particularly difficult dilemma for the administration. After all, President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry have been counting on Moscow to back up the West’s efforts to get the Iranians to give up their quest for nuclear weapons or at least not to sabotage either the talks or the sanctions on the Islamist regime. But with the U.S. and the European Union contemplating sanctions to punish the Putin government for its aggression against Ukraine, how can they possibly expect the Russians to act as partners in an effort to pressure Iran in the exact same manner?

Those worries are the conceit of a story in today’s New York Times in which an anonymous “senior American official” could do no better than to express the “hope” that the defiant Russians would not “put these negotiations at risk.” But the problem with the administration’s approach to the Iran talks goes deeper than merely it being bad luck that the Ukraine crisis has happened at just the moment when the president was hoping to swing a deal with Tehran. Even in the best of times, Russia’s equivocal attitude toward pressuring Iran was always a liability to the Western negotiators. But the open breach between Russia and the West over its seizure of Crimea makes an agreement that would actually prevent Iran from getting a bomb in the long run even more unlikely than it was before. Rather than re-evaluate an approach that was already rooted in weakness, the president and Kerry are apparently determined to stick with a losing hand. If Iran’s negotiators weren’t already confident about their ability to take Obama to the cleaners in the talks, they are now.

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The Obama administration has always seemed to have trouble managing even one foreign-policy crisis at a time. But the opening of the next stage of the P5+1 nuclear talks with Iran in the same week that Russia, the West’s nominal partner in trying to negotiate a resolution of the nuclear question with Tehran, is annexing Crimea is posing a particularly difficult dilemma for the administration. After all, President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry have been counting on Moscow to back up the West’s efforts to get the Iranians to give up their quest for nuclear weapons or at least not to sabotage either the talks or the sanctions on the Islamist regime. But with the U.S. and the European Union contemplating sanctions to punish the Putin government for its aggression against Ukraine, how can they possibly expect the Russians to act as partners in an effort to pressure Iran in the exact same manner?

Those worries are the conceit of a story in today’s New York Times in which an anonymous “senior American official” could do no better than to express the “hope” that the defiant Russians would not “put these negotiations at risk.” But the problem with the administration’s approach to the Iran talks goes deeper than merely it being bad luck that the Ukraine crisis has happened at just the moment when the president was hoping to swing a deal with Tehran. Even in the best of times, Russia’s equivocal attitude toward pressuring Iran was always a liability to the Western negotiators. But the open breach between Russia and the West over its seizure of Crimea makes an agreement that would actually prevent Iran from getting a bomb in the long run even more unlikely than it was before. Rather than re-evaluate an approach that was already rooted in weakness, the president and Kerry are apparently determined to stick with a losing hand. If Iran’s negotiators weren’t already confident about their ability to take Obama to the cleaners in the talks, they are now.

The presence of Russia and China in the group negotiating with Iran was always Iran’s ace in the hole in the talks. While both countries have expressed their opposition to the prospect of an Iranian bomb, their role in this diplomatic equation was always complicated. Russia has been a major supplier of nuclear technology as well as arms to Iran, including anti-aircraft missiles that would make a strike on their facilities even more difficult. Russia also has an extensive trade relationship with Tehran. Meanwhile China is the ayatollah’s leading trade partner in the vital oil sales that keep the Islamist regime afloat financially. Under the most favorable circumstances for diplomacy, those factors created an even greater conflict of interest than the strong trade ties between America’s European allies and Iran.

But Russia’s ties with Iran are also connected with Putin’s desire to recreate the old Soviet empire. The Bashar Assad government in Syria, Moscow’s principal Middle East ally, has only been kept in power because of Iran’s intervention in the civil war in that country. Though the Obama administration has always been beguiled by its hopes for a “reset” with Russia, the guiding principle of Moscow’s foreign policy in the Putin era is its desire to expand its influence abroad at America’s expense. Though Putin would rather not see a nuclear-armed Iran on the southern border of the old Soviet Union, his commonality of interests with Tehran always threatened to overshadow any desire on his part to cooperate with Western diplomacy.

However, getting Russia to be part of the international coalition against Iran was always a priority for the administration. In theory, this was a sensible decision since without Russia as well as China sanctions were never going to work against Iran. But Washington’s dependence on them also forced those sanctions to be watered down. It was also part of the reasoning that led Obama to conclude that it was smarter for the West to give up its military and economic leverage over Iran in order to conclude an interim deal that gave Iran far more than it gave up last fall.

All of this means that Iran is in an even stronger position vis-à-vis the West in the talks than the already formidable stance it was able to sustain in earlier rounds of diplomacy. Secure in the knowledge that Russia will never agree to a re-imposition of the sanctions that were dropped in November or impose tougher ones (such as the program Congress is still considering) that would shut down Iran’s oil trade for good, Tehran can simply stand its ground in the talks. That means that if President Obama wants an agreement—and he’s already demonstrated that he’s willing to do just about anything to get out of his promise to stop Iran’s nuclear quest—he’s going to have to let Tehran keep its nuclear program and give up the sanctions.

But those inclined to blame Obama’s weak position on Iran on bad luck, bad timing, or Russian aggression are mistaken. The diplomatic path chosen by the administration was always dependent on Russian goodwill that was never likely to be forthcoming. The flaws in the P5+1 formula were already there long before Putin seized Crimea.

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Where Were Mistakes Made on Russia, Turkey, and Iran?

One of the biggest patterns that became apparent in the course of researching the history of U.S. diplomacy with rogue regimes and terrorist groups is that diplomats leading the engagement never set firm metrics ahead of time to judge whether diplomacy is successful, and seldom step back after the fact to determine, in hindsight, where they made mistakes and what the key points were where a different strategy might have altered the outcome.

By the definition of rogue regime (or backlash state) laid out by Tony Lake, Bill Clinton’s national security advisor, Turkey most certainly is not a rogue, Russia may have become one, and Iran certainly is. Nevertheless, all three have become increasingly problematic to U.S. national security and all may come to symbolize the failure of American diplomacy in the first decades of the 21st century. Clearly, the United States got Turkey and Russia wrong: Turkey is more a dictatorship than a democracy, and more an adversary than ally. Russia also is less a partner than a relic of the Cold War. As for Iran, recent reports that Iran is buying nuclear parts on the black market do not give confidence that Iran is negotiating in good faith.

While President Obama and his national security team react to events in the Crimea and to Russia’s bluster, there has been little or no introspection by the State Department or White House about where the mistakes were made with regard to Russia. It’s not simply a matter of partisan finger pointing, for there is enough blame to go around: President Bush looked into Putin’s eyes and saw a soul. He responded with little more than rhetoric after Russia’s invasion of Georgia. Hillary Clinton pushed the reset button; Obama threw Poland and the Czech Republic under the bus to appease Russian concerns; and his hot-microphone moment conveyed a stronger desire to reduce American arms than even Congress was comfortable with. All the while, there was lower-level diplomacy and Russian actions which in hindsight might have provided warnings, had the State Department been ready to recognize them. Perhaps it is time for an independent committee to review the last decade of Russo-American diplomacy to determine, with hindsight, where the United States should have recognized the reality of Putin and his ambitions. Only by studying past mistakes can future diplomats hope to avoid repeating them.

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One of the biggest patterns that became apparent in the course of researching the history of U.S. diplomacy with rogue regimes and terrorist groups is that diplomats leading the engagement never set firm metrics ahead of time to judge whether diplomacy is successful, and seldom step back after the fact to determine, in hindsight, where they made mistakes and what the key points were where a different strategy might have altered the outcome.

By the definition of rogue regime (or backlash state) laid out by Tony Lake, Bill Clinton’s national security advisor, Turkey most certainly is not a rogue, Russia may have become one, and Iran certainly is. Nevertheless, all three have become increasingly problematic to U.S. national security and all may come to symbolize the failure of American diplomacy in the first decades of the 21st century. Clearly, the United States got Turkey and Russia wrong: Turkey is more a dictatorship than a democracy, and more an adversary than ally. Russia also is less a partner than a relic of the Cold War. As for Iran, recent reports that Iran is buying nuclear parts on the black market do not give confidence that Iran is negotiating in good faith.

While President Obama and his national security team react to events in the Crimea and to Russia’s bluster, there has been little or no introspection by the State Department or White House about where the mistakes were made with regard to Russia. It’s not simply a matter of partisan finger pointing, for there is enough blame to go around: President Bush looked into Putin’s eyes and saw a soul. He responded with little more than rhetoric after Russia’s invasion of Georgia. Hillary Clinton pushed the reset button; Obama threw Poland and the Czech Republic under the bus to appease Russian concerns; and his hot-microphone moment conveyed a stronger desire to reduce American arms than even Congress was comfortable with. All the while, there was lower-level diplomacy and Russian actions which in hindsight might have provided warnings, had the State Department been ready to recognize them. Perhaps it is time for an independent committee to review the last decade of Russo-American diplomacy to determine, with hindsight, where the United States should have recognized the reality of Putin and his ambitions. Only by studying past mistakes can future diplomats hope to avoid repeating them.

The same holds true with Turkey: Warning signs extend back well over a decade, but the State Department refused to recognize them. In 2004, I researched a piece—based on a lot of leakage and documentary contributions from Turkish journalists and government officials who could not speak publicly—about Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s money laundering schemes and slush funds. The piece upset the Turkish government. According to Wikileaks, the U.S. Embassy in Ankara assured that there was nothing to the report. How comforting, except that they did not apparently do anything other than ask government officials who had every interest in covering up the financial irregularities. The ambassador at the time blindly accepted the idea that Erdoğan was a reformer; he did not ask who the sources were and upon what the allegations were based.

Hindsight, however, shows the initial concerns warranted and the specifics of the article accurate. Likewise, Daniel Fried, a senior American diplomat, described Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) as little more than the Turkish version of a Christian Democratic Party. This, too, was nonsense but it would be useful to see how diplomats came to reach such a conclusion. Many other former ambassadors to Turkey, some of whom had long been cheerleaders for the Erdoğan experiment, have now come around to the recognition that there is rot in Ankara, and there is not a democratic bone in Erdoğan’s body. The question for the State Department is not about the fact that they were wrong—there is no shame in that—but, with the benefit of hindsight, what were the warning signs they missed? Where was trust misplaced? Where did sources mislead? Absent such introspection, it is unclear why anyone should expect more accurate reporting or analysis from the U.S. Embassy in Turkey or Bureau of European Affairs in the future.

Iran is a more politicized topic but, given what is at stake, a more serious one: It is wrong to suggest that there were no negotiations with Iran in the decades between Jimmy Carter and Barack Obama: There was plenty, but John Kerry and negotiator Wendy Sherman seem intent on reinventing the wheel without consideration to how the same people upon whom they now rely have in the past lied and cheated. That does not mean that history is bound to repeat, but repetition is much more likely if senior American officials do not care to learn from past mistakes.

Just as to a hammer everything looks like a nail, to the State Department everything seems a subject for talks. It should not surprise that Foggy Bottom does not want to consider its mistakes, because to do so might undermine the drive to dialogue. Introspection, however, does not diminish diplomacy; it simply makes it more effective. Perhaps, however, if the State Department is unwilling to do what’s necessary, it is time for Congress to exercise its oversight.

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Romney’s Vindication Is Complete

In the summer of 2012, Politico broke the news that Mitt Romney was planning to travel abroad to make a series of speeches intended to earn some foreign-policy credibility in his effort to defeat Barack Obama. One item on the itinerary was expected to be “a public address in Poland, a steadfast American ally during the Bush years and a country that shares Romney’s wariness toward Russia.” It made perfect sense: Russia had been causing trouble in its near abroad and in the Middle East, and allies who had been ignored (or worse) by the Obama administration were justifiably nervous.

To Obama-era Democrats, however, obsessed with erasing the Cold War from memory, countries like Poland stopped existing the moment they became independent from Moscow. Obama, in one of his trademark leaden attempts at humor, even dipped into junior-high parlance and taunted Romney that “the 1980s are now calling to ask for their foreign policy back.” (Perhaps he was all out of knock-knock jokes.) Hence all the nonsense about blaming NATO enlargement for Vladimir Putin’s actions, as if the countries themselves should have no say in their own affairs but still be subject to Russia’s veto.

The idea of blaming NATO has been discredited of course, thoroughly refuted by events: Obama froze NATO expansion long before Russia invaded Ukraine, for example. But the idea of even recognizing those countries’ existence is generally treated as preposterous by the left, and so Romney’s proposed itinerary was received in the media as though he were visiting another planet. Laura Rozen tweeted that “his reported itinerary only seems 25 [years] out of date”–a sign that she was a better presidential stenographer than humorist. She followed that up later that month by devoting an entire story to various Obama administration officials’ equally ignorant snarking about Romney’s trip.

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In the summer of 2012, Politico broke the news that Mitt Romney was planning to travel abroad to make a series of speeches intended to earn some foreign-policy credibility in his effort to defeat Barack Obama. One item on the itinerary was expected to be “a public address in Poland, a steadfast American ally during the Bush years and a country that shares Romney’s wariness toward Russia.” It made perfect sense: Russia had been causing trouble in its near abroad and in the Middle East, and allies who had been ignored (or worse) by the Obama administration were justifiably nervous.

To Obama-era Democrats, however, obsessed with erasing the Cold War from memory, countries like Poland stopped existing the moment they became independent from Moscow. Obama, in one of his trademark leaden attempts at humor, even dipped into junior-high parlance and taunted Romney that “the 1980s are now calling to ask for their foreign policy back.” (Perhaps he was all out of knock-knock jokes.) Hence all the nonsense about blaming NATO enlargement for Vladimir Putin’s actions, as if the countries themselves should have no say in their own affairs but still be subject to Russia’s veto.

The idea of blaming NATO has been discredited of course, thoroughly refuted by events: Obama froze NATO expansion long before Russia invaded Ukraine, for example. But the idea of even recognizing those countries’ existence is generally treated as preposterous by the left, and so Romney’s proposed itinerary was received in the media as though he were visiting another planet. Laura Rozen tweeted that “his reported itinerary only seems 25 [years] out of date”–a sign that she was a better presidential stenographer than humorist. She followed that up later that month by devoting an entire story to various Obama administration officials’ equally ignorant snarking about Romney’s trip.

There were signs that the media had begun to figure out that they’d been had–that the Obama White House talking points they were parroting were making them look ridiculous. As Russia took center stage on world affairs in recent months, Romney began receiving respectful hearings on liberal cable news outlets and a refrain of “Romney was right” could be heard bouncing around among the left. Now Vice President Joe Biden is visiting Poland on his own reassurance tour and Romney has taken to the pages of the Wall Street Journal to describe the strategic and diplomatic failures that led to this point. This morning, the New York Times’s Mark Landler tweeted:

Sitting in Warsaw reading Mitt Romney on POTUS: I think we can all agree the 80′s got its foreign policy back.

Romney’s op-ed in the Journal is being discussed as a classic “I told you so,” but Romney’s far too polite to say it. It’s also not necessary. Nonetheless, he certainly does criticize Obama’s leadership, noting that each time a potential crisis turns into an actual crisis, the president throws up his hands and defensively demands just what he’s supposed to do about it. There’s a reason for that, Romney writes:

A large part of the answer is our leader’s terrible timing. In virtually every foreign-affairs crisis we have faced these past five years, there was a point when America had good choices and good options. There was a juncture when America had the potential to influence events. But we failed to act at the propitious point; that moment having passed, we were left without acceptable options. In foreign affairs as in life, there is, as Shakespeare had it, “a tide in the affairs of men which, taken at the flood leads on to fortune. Omitted, all the voyage of their life is bound in shallows and in miseries.”

If anything, Romney is actually too charitable toward Obama when he writes:

When protests in Ukraine grew and violence ensued, it was surely evident to people in the intelligence community—and to the White House—that President Putin might try to take advantage of the situation to capture Crimea, or more. That was the time to talk with our global allies about punishments and sanctions, to secure their solidarity, and to communicate these to the Russian president. These steps, plus assurances that we would not exclude Russia from its base in Sevastopol or threaten its influence in Kiev, might have dissuaded him from invasion.

But in fact it’s not clear the administration knew anything of the sort. The intelligence community leaked that there would surely be no Russian invasion on the eve of the Russian invasion. Romney assumes that because he understands Putin and is therefore able to predict his behavior with some accuracy, the president does as well. The evidence suggests, however, that this isn’t the case. It remains to be seen if Obama finally gets it, now that Putin has made his point impossible to ignore.

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The Crimea Precedent

As of this writing the Russian stock market is up more than 4 percent today after a 3.7 percent bump up yesterday. At this rate the annexation of Crimea is going to spark a major rally for Russian stocks.

Wonder what the Communist leadership in Beijing is thinking now as they contemplate the possibility of making an armed grab for the Senkakus or some other piece of coveted real estate? Perhaps they’re thinking that the consequences of such a move would not be all that deleterious–a few days of bluster from the U.S. followed by sanctions on fewer than a dozen individuals. Why not go for it?

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As of this writing the Russian stock market is up more than 4 percent today after a 3.7 percent bump up yesterday. At this rate the annexation of Crimea is going to spark a major rally for Russian stocks.

Wonder what the Communist leadership in Beijing is thinking now as they contemplate the possibility of making an armed grab for the Senkakus or some other piece of coveted real estate? Perhaps they’re thinking that the consequences of such a move would not be all that deleterious–a few days of bluster from the U.S. followed by sanctions on fewer than a dozen individuals. Why not go for it?

It is imperative that President Obama not stop with the extremely mild sanctions announced Monday. He needs to go after the assets of major Kremlin powerbrokers and their oligarch allies–and he needs to send a shot across Putin’s bow by barring at least one Russian bank from conducting cross-border transactions, as suggested by Mark Dubowitz. That is the way to really hurt Putin–to go after his assets and those or his cronies and to prevent the financial institutions they operate from functioning as per normal. Obama should also be providing military aid to Ukraine, to make clear that further Russian aggression will meet a determined response.

That, however, runs the risk of Russian retaliation which the U.S. and EU so far have not been willing to run. So the Russian stock market continues to waft ever upward and Putin is no doubt congratulating himself for his successful bout of Realpolitik. Having transgressed all international norms, Putin has prudently signaled that he is not preparing to go any further at this time, that he will leave eastern Ukraine alone for the time being, causing Russia’s neighbors to breathe a palpable but premature sigh of relief.

Once again the tsar in the Kremlin appears to be running rings around the leaders of the West, who appear to be weak and confused by comparison. If he can do it twice (in Georgia and Ukraine) he can do it a third time and a fourth. That is a terrible precedent to be setting, and one that the entire world will be taking note of.

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The Liberal Slandering of Paul Ryan

If you want to know how fearful the left is of Paul Ryan, consider the efforts they make to slander him. In the past, they’ve portrayed him as someone eager to (literally) throw grandma over a cliff. The reason? Ryan wanted to make eminently sensible and absolutely necessary changes to Medicare.

Then came Barack Obama, who, when describing Ryan’s budget, made recklessly untrue assertions, saying (among other things) that Republicans want the elderly and autistic and Down syndrome children to “fend for themselves.”

And now, as Jonathan Tobin has written, comes the latest attempted mugging of Ryan, this time for what he said on Bill Bennett’s “Morning in America” program last week. When discussing his forthcoming effort to combat poverty, the House Budget Committee chairman and 2012 GOP vice presidential candidate said this:

We have got this tailspin of culture, in our inner cities in particular, of men not working and just generations of men not even thinking about working or learning the value and the culture of work, and so there is a real culture problem here that has to be dealt with.

The left immediately attacked. Some, like Representative Barbara Lee, accused Ryan of mounting a “thinly veiled racial attack”–one that “cannot be tolerated.” Others, like New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, wrote that Ryan’s words amounted to a “racial dog whistle.”

These charges, and there are plenty of others like them, are grotesquely false. I have known Ryan since he was a colleague at Empower America in the 1990s. One of the reasons he was so close to both Bennett and Jack Kemp is because Ryan had a deep concern for those living in the shadows of society, including in America’s inner cities. He also believes Republicans have not focused enough on the problems plaguing the underclass. Both help explain his latest effort to offer conservative solutions to rising poverty. 

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If you want to know how fearful the left is of Paul Ryan, consider the efforts they make to slander him. In the past, they’ve portrayed him as someone eager to (literally) throw grandma over a cliff. The reason? Ryan wanted to make eminently sensible and absolutely necessary changes to Medicare.

Then came Barack Obama, who, when describing Ryan’s budget, made recklessly untrue assertions, saying (among other things) that Republicans want the elderly and autistic and Down syndrome children to “fend for themselves.”

And now, as Jonathan Tobin has written, comes the latest attempted mugging of Ryan, this time for what he said on Bill Bennett’s “Morning in America” program last week. When discussing his forthcoming effort to combat poverty, the House Budget Committee chairman and 2012 GOP vice presidential candidate said this:

We have got this tailspin of culture, in our inner cities in particular, of men not working and just generations of men not even thinking about working or learning the value and the culture of work, and so there is a real culture problem here that has to be dealt with.

The left immediately attacked. Some, like Representative Barbara Lee, accused Ryan of mounting a “thinly veiled racial attack”–one that “cannot be tolerated.” Others, like New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, wrote that Ryan’s words amounted to a “racial dog whistle.”

These charges, and there are plenty of others like them, are grotesquely false. I have known Ryan since he was a colleague at Empower America in the 1990s. One of the reasons he was so close to both Bennett and Jack Kemp is because Ryan had a deep concern for those living in the shadows of society, including in America’s inner cities. He also believes Republicans have not focused enough on the problems plaguing the underclass. Both help explain his latest effort to offer conservative solutions to rising poverty. 

It should matter that what Ryan told Bennett is true, as anyone who has spent time in America’s inner cities and working with kids there can testify. The reasons for the hardships facing those living in America’s inner cities are complicated and not simply cultural; they are economic as well. But to say that there isn’t a problematic culture that has taken root in America’s inner cities is a lie; and to attack those like Ryan who speak about it is to compound the lie.

Why are some liberals doing this? For one thing, they are intellectually exhausted. They know they cannot win the debate on the merits, and so they resort to ad hominem attacks. It is what some on the left instantaneously resort to. Mr. Krugman is a prime example of this. He is a man who seems to gain energy from nursing his political hatreds and takes delight in degrading political commentary. (The latter isn’t an easy achievement.) 

But as Jonathan points out, there’s something more fundamental going on here. Liberals who have complicity in the problems plaguing America’s inner cities are attempting to make an honest conversation about poverty impossible. They are signaling that they intend to try to take out Republicans who want to address some of the root causes, the behavioral causes, of poverty.

The danger here is two-fold. One is that by promiscuously invoking racism when it doesn’t apply, they are draining the term of real meaning. Many people already have stopped, and many more will stop, paying attention when the term is so carelessly bandied about.

The other is that some on the left not only aren’t focusing on the institutions, policies, and individuals who are responsible for exacerbating poverty; they are actually building a protective wall around them. For them the villain isn’t, say, the ruinous public school systems in Chicago, Detroit, and D.C. that are destroying the lives and future of hundreds of thousands of kids; it’s Paul Ryan, who among other things supports school choice for inner-city parents. This is what large parts of liberalism have been reduced to: the praetorian guard of corrupt, poverty-creating institutions and organizations.

Paul Ryan is among the most decent and admirable politicians in America. He’s also among the smartest. Which explains the obsession and hatred many on the left have with him. He’s a threat to their ideas, to their policies, and ultimately to their power. The viciousness of their attacks is a testimony to his effectiveness. What was said by those who supported Franklin Roosevelt can also be said by those who admire Paul Ryan: We love you for the enemies you have made.

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