Commentary Magazine


Posts For: March 20, 2014

Hillary’s Dubious Iran Credentials

Last night Hillary Clinton spoke at a dinner for the American Jewish Congress and continued her effort to attempt to craft a narrative in which her four years at the State Department are depicted as making her uniquely qualified for the presidency. The centerpiece of this argument is that during her time as America’s top diplomat she was a leader in the struggle to stop Iran’s nuclear program. This is a delicate task that demands both exaggerations and outright fibs, especially when it comes to her position on sanctions. It also requires her to both embrace President Obama’s foreign-policy record while at the same time position herself slightly to his right. But while her cheering section may be buying her sales pitch, a closer examination of what Clinton did on the issue undermines any notion that she was anything but an enabler of an Obama policy of engagement that has led to the current diplomatic dead-end.

Clinton’s claim is that her toughness toward Iran and diplomatic skill helped create the international sanctions that brought the Islamist regime to the negotiating table. Though she expressed some skepticism about Iran’s willingness to listen to reason, the former first lady endorsed the interim nuclear deal signed by her successor and agreed with Obama’s opposition to the passage of any more sanctions even if they would not be put into effect until after the current talks fail. But it’s no small irony that Clinton would be bragging about her tough stand on Iran in the same week that the blowup with Russia led to the almost certain collapse of the diplomatic solution that she had banked on.

It was Clinton, after all, who was the primary champion of the comical “reset” with Russia that convinced Vladimir Putin that the Obama administration could be discounted in conflicts involving his ambition to reassemble the old Tsarist/Soviet empire. But even more importantly, the conceit of Clinton’s efforts to build the international coalition for Iran sanctions was that she would be able to harness Russia and China to American foreign-policy objectives. That assumption has been blown out of the water by the conflict over Crimea. Any idea that Russia would stick with the West to pressure Iran to give up its drive for a nuclear weapon or keep them isolated via sanctions is no longer realistic.

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Last night Hillary Clinton spoke at a dinner for the American Jewish Congress and continued her effort to attempt to craft a narrative in which her four years at the State Department are depicted as making her uniquely qualified for the presidency. The centerpiece of this argument is that during her time as America’s top diplomat she was a leader in the struggle to stop Iran’s nuclear program. This is a delicate task that demands both exaggerations and outright fibs, especially when it comes to her position on sanctions. It also requires her to both embrace President Obama’s foreign-policy record while at the same time position herself slightly to his right. But while her cheering section may be buying her sales pitch, a closer examination of what Clinton did on the issue undermines any notion that she was anything but an enabler of an Obama policy of engagement that has led to the current diplomatic dead-end.

Clinton’s claim is that her toughness toward Iran and diplomatic skill helped create the international sanctions that brought the Islamist regime to the negotiating table. Though she expressed some skepticism about Iran’s willingness to listen to reason, the former first lady endorsed the interim nuclear deal signed by her successor and agreed with Obama’s opposition to the passage of any more sanctions even if they would not be put into effect until after the current talks fail. But it’s no small irony that Clinton would be bragging about her tough stand on Iran in the same week that the blowup with Russia led to the almost certain collapse of the diplomatic solution that she had banked on.

It was Clinton, after all, who was the primary champion of the comical “reset” with Russia that convinced Vladimir Putin that the Obama administration could be discounted in conflicts involving his ambition to reassemble the old Tsarist/Soviet empire. But even more importantly, the conceit of Clinton’s efforts to build the international coalition for Iran sanctions was that she would be able to harness Russia and China to American foreign-policy objectives. That assumption has been blown out of the water by the conflict over Crimea. Any idea that Russia would stick with the West to pressure Iran to give up its drive for a nuclear weapon or keep them isolated via sanctions is no longer realistic.

Of course, Clinton’s boasts about her record on Iran sanctions are also misleading. Though it is true, as Clinton said yesterday, that she “voted for any sanction on Iran that came down the pipe” when she was in the Senate, like many of her other stands on Israel-related issues, that changed once she became secretary of state. While the administration now claims that it is these tough sanctions that enabled them to make diplomacy work with Iran, it should be remembered that Clinton and her boss President Obama fiercely opposed these same sanctions when Congress was considering them.

As much as she may be trying to differentiate herself from the incumbent while trying not to sound disloyal, an honest look at Clinton’s term at Foggy Bottom is not flattering. On the two issues that count most today—Russia and Iran—she must bear a great deal of the responsibility for the current mess. Even more to the point, she was as much a champion of Iran engagement as anyone else in the administration, a point that she conveniently omits from her resume, especially when speaking to pro-Israel groups.

A lot can and probably will happen on foreign policy in the two years between now and the 2016 presidential campaign. But the likely Democratic nominee must understand that events may ultimately make her record on Iran and Russia look even worse than it does today. On her watch, Iran moved closer to a nuclear weapon while Clinton earned frequent-flyer miles assembling a coalition in favor of weak sanctions dependent on her Russian reset partner for success. Though Democrats may not care much about her actual record, the facts about Iran and Russia hardly make for the sort of credentials that will enhance her chances of prevailing in a general election.

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How Rational Is Putin’s Threat Perception?

During the Ukrainian election of 2004, Angus Roxburgh sat down with Sergei Markov, who was helping the pro-Putin candidate, Viktor Yanukovych, at the behest of the Kremlin. Roxburgh, who describes the encounter in his book on Vladimir Putin, asked Markov what he thought of the opposition candidate, Viktor Yushchenko. He could hardly believe the answer. Markov told him that he believed Yushchenko was completely controlled by his wife, who was a radical Ukrainian nationalist in league with Nazis and with Polish instigators who, through his wife, were installing Yushchenko in order to most likely start a war with Russia.

This is, to put it mildly, not the most rational assessment. Roxburgh continues: “These are quite astonishing claims, but they are important, for it is highly likely that Markov’s apocalyptic view was shared by his masters in the Kremlin.” That is, Vladimir Putin probably believed this nonsense. Putin is nothing if not paranoid–that chapter of Roxburgh’s book is called “Enemies Everywhere”–and his policies are often based on these kinds of ludicrous conspiracy theories. It’s worth recalling at this point that Yushchenko was poisoned during the election.

This is a recurring problem for the West in trying to predict Putin’s behavior. I noted yesterday that the idea that NATO expansion can or should be blamed for Putin’s behavior is not only amoral–those nations should have a say in their own affairs independent of the Kremlin–but nonsensical. And yet, after Russia invaded Ukraine in order to seize the Crimean peninsula and destabilize Ukrainian politics, we heard this canard again from various quarters. Today’s New York Times contains an important response to that claim in what is one of the best articles on the Ukraine crisis yet. The Times writes about European self-delusion toward both Russia and Ukraine, and adds with regard to the expansion of the European Union:

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During the Ukrainian election of 2004, Angus Roxburgh sat down with Sergei Markov, who was helping the pro-Putin candidate, Viktor Yanukovych, at the behest of the Kremlin. Roxburgh, who describes the encounter in his book on Vladimir Putin, asked Markov what he thought of the opposition candidate, Viktor Yushchenko. He could hardly believe the answer. Markov told him that he believed Yushchenko was completely controlled by his wife, who was a radical Ukrainian nationalist in league with Nazis and with Polish instigators who, through his wife, were installing Yushchenko in order to most likely start a war with Russia.

This is, to put it mildly, not the most rational assessment. Roxburgh continues: “These are quite astonishing claims, but they are important, for it is highly likely that Markov’s apocalyptic view was shared by his masters in the Kremlin.” That is, Vladimir Putin probably believed this nonsense. Putin is nothing if not paranoid–that chapter of Roxburgh’s book is called “Enemies Everywhere”–and his policies are often based on these kinds of ludicrous conspiracy theories. It’s worth recalling at this point that Yushchenko was poisoned during the election.

This is a recurring problem for the West in trying to predict Putin’s behavior. I noted yesterday that the idea that NATO expansion can or should be blamed for Putin’s behavior is not only amoral–those nations should have a say in their own affairs independent of the Kremlin–but nonsensical. And yet, after Russia invaded Ukraine in order to seize the Crimean peninsula and destabilize Ukrainian politics, we heard this canard again from various quarters. Today’s New York Times contains an important response to that claim in what is one of the best articles on the Ukraine crisis yet. The Times writes about European self-delusion toward both Russia and Ukraine, and adds with regard to the expansion of the European Union:

“But once a country signs up, it is in Weight Watchers and, if they follow the regimen, they change,” she said. “Russia realized this and did not like it.” Indeed, she added, Russia had already been deeply alarmed by the transformation of countries like Poland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania after they entered the European Union in 2004.

Their joining the European Union was followed swiftly by their admission to NATO, a sequence that strengthened Moscow’s view that Brussels served as a stalking horse for the American-led military alliance.

In the case of Ukraine, Europe never offered even the possibility of it one day joining the European Union, and NATO dropped Ukraine as a potential future member back in 2008. This raised hopes in Brussels that Moscow might not object too strongly. Russia initially expressed little unease about Europe’s Eastern Partnership plans, lulling Europe into a false sense of clear sailing ahead.

After Mr. Putin’s return to the Kremlin in 2012, after a four-year stint as prime minister, previous talk of shared interests in free trade and close cooperation gave way to increasingly forceful calls for the establishment of a Moscow-dominated rival to the European Union called the Eurasian Union.

By last summer, Moscow embarked on a sustained campaign of pressure to dissuade former Soviet lands, including Ukraine, from siding with Europe.

The whole article is worth reading, especially for its portrayal of Brussels as hopelessly naïve to the point of negligence in its conduct of foreign affairs. But the point about economic ties throwing up red flags in the Kremlin is an important one. Russia had been “deeply alarmed” by the financial success of Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia. It proved, it seemed, that breaking away from Moscow in favor of the West was the way to improve life for your citizens.

Latvia, no matter when it was admitted to NATO, has no plans to invade Russia. And anyway the argument that Putin’s Russia reacts to perceived threats to its security is not one that should govern the West’s conduct, for two main reasons: first, Putin’s perception of risk is not rational, and second, Putin includes economic integration and improvement in his overall assessment of foreign security threats. Hence the Eurasian Union proposal. Putin sees countries as either collaborators or competitors. There is no such thing as neutrality, there is only loyalty and disloyalty.

If Putin sees economic cooperation as a prelude to military cooperation, should the West also cease expanding economic ties with countries Putin wants to control? Ukraine is in Europe; should Europe not be permitted to trade freely with a European country if that’s what both want? What this saga (and the Times piece) makes clear is that Putin does not want to see his neighbors thrive economically or their living standard improved independent from Moscow’s direction.

In other words, what Putin wants is not a multipolar world but a bipolar world; he simply exploits the West’s desire for a multipolar world in order to draw the line as far from Moscow as he can. The Times suggests this whole incident is a wake-up call for Brussels. It should also be one for Washington, which has not been free of its own wishful thinking toward Putin’s Russia.

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Obama Needs Israel to Rattle Its Saber

The Obama administration may be acting as if its rift with Russia won’t affect the attempt to broker a nuclear deal with Iran. It can hope against hope that Russia will forget its quarrel with the Americans and maintain solidarity with the U.S. and the European Union in the Iran talks and continue as if nothing has changed. But there’s little doubt that the open hostility between Washington and Moscow has reduced the already slim chances for a satisfactory P5+1 agreement with Iran. Since the diplomatic option that the president has defended so vigorously in recent months depends entirely on Russian cooperation including the enforcement of sanctions that Putin never really supported, the aftermath of the Crimea conflict has left the administration with little diplomatic leverage.

If so, where does that leave Israel?

The obvious answer to that question is that it is left in a highly precarious situation. Even if one discounts the possibility that Iran would use a bomb to make good on its genocidal threats against the Jewish state, Tehran’s acquisition of a nuclear capability would transform the strategic balance in the region in a manner that would drastically affect Israel’s security. That means Israel must either learn to live with a nuclear Iran or ponder the possibility of striking the Islamist regime on its own. While it’s not clear whether Iran or anyone else takes this seriously, Jerusalem is nonetheless acting as if they should. So should President Obama.

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The Obama administration may be acting as if its rift with Russia won’t affect the attempt to broker a nuclear deal with Iran. It can hope against hope that Russia will forget its quarrel with the Americans and maintain solidarity with the U.S. and the European Union in the Iran talks and continue as if nothing has changed. But there’s little doubt that the open hostility between Washington and Moscow has reduced the already slim chances for a satisfactory P5+1 agreement with Iran. Since the diplomatic option that the president has defended so vigorously in recent months depends entirely on Russian cooperation including the enforcement of sanctions that Putin never really supported, the aftermath of the Crimea conflict has left the administration with little diplomatic leverage.

If so, where does that leave Israel?

The obvious answer to that question is that it is left in a highly precarious situation. Even if one discounts the possibility that Iran would use a bomb to make good on its genocidal threats against the Jewish state, Tehran’s acquisition of a nuclear capability would transform the strategic balance in the region in a manner that would drastically affect Israel’s security. That means Israel must either learn to live with a nuclear Iran or ponder the possibility of striking the Islamist regime on its own. While it’s not clear whether Iran or anyone else takes this seriously, Jerusalem is nonetheless acting as if they should. So should President Obama.

As Haaretz reported today,

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon have ordered the army to continue preparing for a possible military strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities at a cost of at least 10 billion shekels ($2.89 billion) this year, despite the talks between Iran and the West, according to recent statements by senior military officers.

Three Knesset members who were present at Knesset joint committee hearings on Israel Defense Forces plans that were held in January and February say they learned during the hearings that 10 billion shekels to 12 billion shekels of the defense budget would be allocated this year for preparations for a strike on Iran, approximately the same amount that was allocated in 2013.

The leaking of this information this week makes it clear that Netanyahu would like both the Iranians and his American ally to think that he is still actively considering a unilateral strike on the Islamist regime’s nuclear facilities. The same interpretation might be put on statements from Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Benny Gantz, who boasted yesterday that the IDF has the ability to carry out military operations anywhere on the globe, including Iran.

Opposition to a solo Israeli attack on Iran has been stiff within the country’s military and security establishment. This reluctance has been rooted not so much in a belief that Israel was incapable of dealing Iran a devastating blow but that the blowback from such an operation might be almost as bad as the scenario that it would be intended to avert. Even assuming Israeli forces could make enough sorties into Iranian airspace to knock out Tehran’s nuclear facilities without unacceptable losses, it might set off a regional conflict. Iran’s Hezbollah allies on Israel’s northern border and Hamas and Islamic Jihad in the south in Gaza might launch their own strikes at Israeli cities and embroil the country in a costly three-front war.

Just as important, many Israeli security officials have always felt that dealing with Iran was primarily America’s responsibility. If push came to shove, the far more numerous American air and naval forces in the region would also be in a much better position to do the job. Moreover, they also know that if it did act on its own, Israel risks deepening its diplomatic isolation and creating more problems with the Obama administration.

But if, thanks to Russia, America’s diplomatic option to stop Iran is no longer viable and few take seriously the notion that President Obama would use force against Tehran under any circumstances, that would put Netanyahu in a position where he might think the IDF was the last and perhaps only hope of preventing an Iranian bomb.

While Netanyahu has said he won’t be deterred from acting by American diplomacy, anyone who thinks he will order an attack on Iran while the P5+1 talks are ongoing is not thinking clearly. An Israeli attack under those circumstances would create a quarrel with Washington that the prime minister rightly wishes to avoid at all costs. Force only becomes a possibility once those talks are seen to have failed and even then both Obama and the Iranians may think the Israelis wouldn’t dare act on their own. Only time will tell if they are right.

Nevertheless, Obama should be encouraging Netanyahu to rattle his saber as loudly and as much as possible. With Russia determined to thwart any U.S. foreign-policy initiative, the only possible hope for a P5+1 deal is for Iran to believe that the alternative is an Israeli attack that, however costly, would inflict a decisive blow to their nuclear ambitions.

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Israel Can Make Ultimatums Too

As is his custom, Palestinian Authority head Mahmoud Abbas has been making declarations and ultimatums, issuing threats about what unilateral actions the PA will take should Palestinian demands not be met. With the time frame for the current round of U.S.-sponsored negotiations about to expire, it appears that Abbas is working hard to create a climate in which the Palestinians will be able to exit talks confident in the knowledge that Israel will be made to take the blame. With both the European Union and the Obama administration already pushing a version of events that sets Israel up as the fall guy in the event the Palestinians walk, Prime Minister Netanyahu’s main concern is fast becoming how best to deflect the accusations once they start raining down. But if the Israelis simply attempt to avoid being blamed, then they risk either being forced into making a never-ending series of concessions, or otherwise putting themselves in a position of weakness. If the Israelis cannot find a way to set the agenda surrounding these negotiations then they will lose, and then they’ll be blamed.

Returning from his visit to Washington, Abbas declared that he will not “capitulate.” Presumably this is a reference to the pressure he is under to say that he accepts Israel as a Jewish state–in line with Secretary Kerry’s overarching peace framework. Yet Abbas also said cryptically, “We carried the deposit, and we are guarding the deposit.” This perhaps refers to the make-or-break issues that the Palestinians are insisting they will not compromise on. This ought to be enough to convince anyone that chances for peace really rest on the attitude of the Palestinians. Yet, Abbas is also maneuvering matters so as to blame the Israelis when his side backs out of Kerry’s process. Most critical of all is the question of whether Israel will release more Palestinian terrorists and whether or not the Palestinians will continue to pursue statehood through international bodies.

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As is his custom, Palestinian Authority head Mahmoud Abbas has been making declarations and ultimatums, issuing threats about what unilateral actions the PA will take should Palestinian demands not be met. With the time frame for the current round of U.S.-sponsored negotiations about to expire, it appears that Abbas is working hard to create a climate in which the Palestinians will be able to exit talks confident in the knowledge that Israel will be made to take the blame. With both the European Union and the Obama administration already pushing a version of events that sets Israel up as the fall guy in the event the Palestinians walk, Prime Minister Netanyahu’s main concern is fast becoming how best to deflect the accusations once they start raining down. But if the Israelis simply attempt to avoid being blamed, then they risk either being forced into making a never-ending series of concessions, or otherwise putting themselves in a position of weakness. If the Israelis cannot find a way to set the agenda surrounding these negotiations then they will lose, and then they’ll be blamed.

Returning from his visit to Washington, Abbas declared that he will not “capitulate.” Presumably this is a reference to the pressure he is under to say that he accepts Israel as a Jewish state–in line with Secretary Kerry’s overarching peace framework. Yet Abbas also said cryptically, “We carried the deposit, and we are guarding the deposit.” This perhaps refers to the make-or-break issues that the Palestinians are insisting they will not compromise on. This ought to be enough to convince anyone that chances for peace really rest on the attitude of the Palestinians. Yet, Abbas is also maneuvering matters so as to blame the Israelis when his side backs out of Kerry’s process. Most critical of all is the question of whether Israel will release more Palestinian terrorists and whether or not the Palestinians will continue to pursue statehood through international bodies.

To get the current round of negotiations going Israel was essentially forced into purchasing the Palestinian presence at the negotiating table by agreeing to release 104 convicted Palestinian terrorists. These releases were to be made in installments so as to ensure that the Palestinians didn’t simply take this costly concession and run. The final installment is due shortly. However, the Palestinians are now saying that if we get to April without a framework having been agreed upon, then they will discontinue their involvement in the talks anyway.

A growing number of Israelis, including Cabinet ministers, are asking why Israel should make this painful and dangerous concession if the Palestinians won’t even agree to continue with the very peace talks for which these releases are being made. In response to the suggestion that the prisoner release won’t be completed without further assurances that talks will carry on, Abbas is now threatening that if the prisoner release is not forthcoming then the PA will resume its efforts to achieve statehood unilaterally at the United Nations, in direct contravention of the Oslo peace agreements.

In all of this Abbas is essentially acting as a self-fulfilling prophet. He is constructing a series of trajectories all of which lead to the same outcome: pursuing statehood at the UN. The only thing that would prevent this would seem to be Abbas agreeing to extend the negotiation period, but he has already pledged he won’t do that. So whether Israel releases the prisoners or not, it seems clear that Abbas will not agree to recognize Israel as a Jewish state, meaning he won’t signup to the framework, meaning he won’t extend negotiations, meaning he will go to the UN. Given that the only person who has the final say in any of this is Abbas, it’s strange to think that Israel will likely take the blame.

Indeed, it increasingly appears that no matter what Israel does, much of the international community, and particularly the Obama administration, will castigate Israel. The EU ambassador to Israel Lars Faaborg-Andersen has made no secret of this and Brussels is only holding off on implementing a divestment policy for as long as negotiations continue. Secretary Kerry has made thinly veiled threats about the boycotts and isolation that await Israel should talks fail, implying that this is only to be expected if Israel won’t surrender to pressure.

In the now infamous Bloomberg interview from earlier this month, Obama painted Netanyahu as a hardened obstructionist, responsible for jeopardizing Israel’s entire future. Condescendingly Obama asked what alternative Netanyahu had to offer. Well, perhaps Israel should start reminding observers that it does have an alternative, and its not one that the Palestinians, Obama, or the Europeans are going to like very much.

In January, former Israeli ambassador to the United States Michael Oren wrote about reviving Ariel Sharon’s plan for unilateral withdrawal/unilateral annexation. Large and growing numbers of Israeli parliamentarians are advocating that if talks fail Israel should take the initiative and begin by applying full Israeli sovereignty to the strategically important West Bank settlement blocs.

Netanyahu need not embrace this policy himself. But it wouldn’t hurt to remind those it concerns that there are forces gathering in Israel that are prepared to do this. Obama implies the negotiations are some huge favor to Israel, Abbas acts as if being part of talks to create the Palestinians a state is some terrible sacrifice. Israel needs to avoid the kind of weakness that would make it possible for it to be blamed by projecting its strength. Warning Abbas and Obama about the prospect of Israeli ultimatums would be one way of doing this.     

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Voting Rights and Proof of Citizenship

Liberals are expressing outrage today about the court ruling that a federal agency is required to help Kansas and Arizona ensure that those registering to vote are citizens. The case decided in a U.S. district court in Wichita revolved around the U.S. Election Assistance Commission’s decision to deny the requests from the two states that proof of citizenship be added to a national voter registration form when distributed in Kansas and Arizona. Judge Eric F. Melgren rightly ruled that the agency had no authority to tell the states their requests were invalid. He noted that the decision by the election commission to deny the states’ requests was “unlawful and in excess of its statutory authority.” This is a phrase that could well be applied to a great many other Obama administration decisions and executive orders.

In its ruling on Arizona’s controversial immigration law last year, the U.S. Supreme Court made it clear that only Congress could determine the rules for voting in federal elections. But significantly, it also determined that states had the right to demand proof of citizenship in state and local elections. The federal registration form only asks those registering to affirm that they are citizens. Kansas and Arizona want those seeking to vote to prove it and unless a higher court overrules Melgren, that principle has upheld.

While this case is being largely viewed as part of the ongoing debate about illegal immigration, it should also be understood as integral to the equally contentious question of whether states may require potential voters to produce photo ID. As such, liberals and Democrats are worried that the decision will impact this year’s election. But those arguing against the ruling need to answer the same question that voter ID opponents do their best to avoid: what is wrong, let alone illegal, about asking a voter to produce proof of their identity?

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Liberals are expressing outrage today about the court ruling that a federal agency is required to help Kansas and Arizona ensure that those registering to vote are citizens. The case decided in a U.S. district court in Wichita revolved around the U.S. Election Assistance Commission’s decision to deny the requests from the two states that proof of citizenship be added to a national voter registration form when distributed in Kansas and Arizona. Judge Eric F. Melgren rightly ruled that the agency had no authority to tell the states their requests were invalid. He noted that the decision by the election commission to deny the states’ requests was “unlawful and in excess of its statutory authority.” This is a phrase that could well be applied to a great many other Obama administration decisions and executive orders.

In its ruling on Arizona’s controversial immigration law last year, the U.S. Supreme Court made it clear that only Congress could determine the rules for voting in federal elections. But significantly, it also determined that states had the right to demand proof of citizenship in state and local elections. The federal registration form only asks those registering to affirm that they are citizens. Kansas and Arizona want those seeking to vote to prove it and unless a higher court overrules Melgren, that principle has upheld.

While this case is being largely viewed as part of the ongoing debate about illegal immigration, it should also be understood as integral to the equally contentious question of whether states may require potential voters to produce photo ID. As such, liberals and Democrats are worried that the decision will impact this year’s election. But those arguing against the ruling need to answer the same question that voter ID opponents do their best to avoid: what is wrong, let alone illegal, about asking a voter to produce proof of their identity?

The answer from the left is twofold. On the one hand, they continue to assert that there is no such thing as voter fraud in the United States. On the other, they claim that requiring voter ID and now proof of citizenship disproportionately affects the poor, the elderly, and all those who might not have proper identification even though they are U.S. citizens who are eligible to vote.

Though widely repeated, the first claim is preposterous. Voter fraud is hard to detect (especially in districts where the legal authorities are affiliated with parties that hope to benefit from illegal votes). Assuming that the lack of prosecutions for such crimes is due to its nonexistence is a proposition that requires us to forget everything we know about American political history as well as human nature. Protecting the integrity of the vote is vital to the defense of democracy. Treating measures designed to ensure that only those who are registered or citizens are voting as political ploys rather than reasonable measures supported by the vast majority of Americans is absurd.

It is true that voter ID or proof of citizenship might inconvenience some legal voters. But states that have passed such laws also have provided citizens with means of obtaining alternatives to driver’s licenses or lost passports. The point is, anyone who is entitled to vote and wants to can almost always find a way to do so legally.

Voting should not be made onerous, but there is something slightly disingenuous about the arguments claiming that a requirement for a voter ID or proof of citizenship is a racist plot to deny the franchise to minority groups. Polls have consistently shown that the vast majority of Americans, including minorities, think there is nothing unreasonable about being asked to produce the same kind of ID that is required to purchase prescriptions, cigarettes, beer, perform the simplest bank transaction, or board an airplane when doing something that is arguably a lot more important, like voting.

There’s little doubt that most Americans are just as dubious about the idea that proof of citizenship is a minor detail that should be ignored by authorities in charge of voting. Whatever your opinion about immigration reform or the rights of illegals, if Democrats think they can rally public opinion around the notion that the government should not interfere with non-citizens attempting to vote, they are taking a stance that is as indefensible as it is politically unpopular. A state that is indifferent to non-citizens who commit fraud to vote in effect denies legal voters meaningful exercise of the franchise/right to vote.

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A Much-Improved Slate of Russia Sanctions

Now that’s more like it. After an anemic first round of sanctions on Monday, targeting only 11 Ukrainian and Russian individuals, today President Obama announced wider-ranging sanctions in response to the illegal annexation of Crimea.

Facing asset freezes and travel bans are 20 more people including Putin pals such as Viktor Ivanon, an old KGB man who now heads the Federal Drug Control Service; Sergei Ivanov, Putin’s chief of staff; Alexei Gromov, the first deputy chief of staff; Vladimir Yakunin, chairman of the state-owned Russian Railways; Vladimir Kozhin, head of administration to Putin; and Arkady Rotenberg and Boris Rotenberg, two of the biggest contractors behind the Sochi Olympics. These are people who have close relationships with Putin–including close financial relationships–so sanctioning them will get Kremlin’s attention.

Possibly even more significant is the fact that a Russian bank–Bank Rossiya, which has $10 billion in assets and is known to be owned and used by members of Putin’s inner circle–is being frozen out of dollar-denominated transactions. This is a major blow to the bank and a warning of more to come if other Russian financial institutions are added to the sanctions list.

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Now that’s more like it. After an anemic first round of sanctions on Monday, targeting only 11 Ukrainian and Russian individuals, today President Obama announced wider-ranging sanctions in response to the illegal annexation of Crimea.

Facing asset freezes and travel bans are 20 more people including Putin pals such as Viktor Ivanon, an old KGB man who now heads the Federal Drug Control Service; Sergei Ivanov, Putin’s chief of staff; Alexei Gromov, the first deputy chief of staff; Vladimir Yakunin, chairman of the state-owned Russian Railways; Vladimir Kozhin, head of administration to Putin; and Arkady Rotenberg and Boris Rotenberg, two of the biggest contractors behind the Sochi Olympics. These are people who have close relationships with Putin–including close financial relationships–so sanctioning them will get Kremlin’s attention.

Possibly even more significant is the fact that a Russian bank–Bank Rossiya, which has $10 billion in assets and is known to be owned and used by members of Putin’s inner circle–is being frozen out of dollar-denominated transactions. This is a major blow to the bank and a warning of more to come if other Russian financial institutions are added to the sanctions list.

There is of course more that can be done to punish Russia for the illegal annexation of Crimea, although much of it will require cooperation from our European allies which may not be forthcoming. France should immediately cancel the production of two amphibious assault ships being built in a French shipyard for the Russian navy. Britain should freeze the assets of Putin’s cronies which are held in the city of London. Britain and France will be deeply reluctant to take such action because it will come with an obvious price to their own economies, but this is where American diplomacy must come in: Obama and Secretary of State Kerry must convince our European friends that we had better hang together in pressuring Putin lest he get the idea that he can slice off further parts of Ukraine with impunity.

There are also military steps that could be taken, such as providing equipment, training, intelligence, and advice to Ukraine to enable it to defend its borders; positioning more U.S. troops in Poland and the Baltic Republics; and rolling back planned cuts in the U.S. defense budget. Those are all hard-sells, for one reason or another: NATO is afraid that aiding Ukraine will tempt Putin into further aggression, while rolling back defense cuts will run into opposition in Congress. There is no doubt that retaliation will come in one form or another–extending beyond Putin’s farcical announcement that nine senior U.S. officials will be denied entry to Russia. (As if they were planning a vacation in Novosibirsk.)

But the imperative of standing up to Russia and making clear to the entire world–especially to states such as Iran and China–that aggression does not pay should override concerns about Russian retaliation. The issue here extends far beyond Crimea or even Russia. It is a question of what kind of world we want to live in: a world where states more or less abide by the dictates of international law or a world where the law of the jungle prevails.

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Battle for Fiscal Sanity Moves to Illinois

In the past few years, public-sector unions have faced severe challenges to their ability to dictate pension and benefit packages to states and municipalities that are sinking the country in a sea of debt. In Indiana, Ohio, New Jersey, and especially Wisconsin, Republican governors took on the unions with varying degrees of success. But after the victory of Bruce Rauner in the Illinois GOP primary on Tuesday, the prospect of another such confrontation in President Obama’s home base has turned the governor’s race in that very blue state into one of the most interesting elections of 2014.

Rauner is a millionaire businessman who has made reform of the state’s out-of-control spending policies the centerpiece of his campaign to unseat incumbent Democrat Pat Quinn. In order to win the Republican nomination, Rauner had to fend off a tough challenge from a veteran state senator who was the beneficiary of a strategic decision by the unions to try and nip the challenge to their state gravy train in the bud. But unlike other examples in which liberal Democrats have been able to pick their GOP opponents by helping weak Republicans knock off strong general-election candidates (i.e. Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill’s clever gambit in which she helped the hapless Todd Akin become her opponent in 2012), this time the trick didn’t work.

As a result of Rauner’s primary win, Illinois will provide the country with a test case in which we will see whether the Democrats’ effort to make income inequality the central issue of the election can prevail over Rauner’s attempt to clean up a corrupt system in which unions have been able to raid the state treasury at will. At stake is the question of whether the cause of restoring fiscal sanity is one that is powerful enough to overturn the political balance of power in Illinois.

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In the past few years, public-sector unions have faced severe challenges to their ability to dictate pension and benefit packages to states and municipalities that are sinking the country in a sea of debt. In Indiana, Ohio, New Jersey, and especially Wisconsin, Republican governors took on the unions with varying degrees of success. But after the victory of Bruce Rauner in the Illinois GOP primary on Tuesday, the prospect of another such confrontation in President Obama’s home base has turned the governor’s race in that very blue state into one of the most interesting elections of 2014.

Rauner is a millionaire businessman who has made reform of the state’s out-of-control spending policies the centerpiece of his campaign to unseat incumbent Democrat Pat Quinn. In order to win the Republican nomination, Rauner had to fend off a tough challenge from a veteran state senator who was the beneficiary of a strategic decision by the unions to try and nip the challenge to their state gravy train in the bud. But unlike other examples in which liberal Democrats have been able to pick their GOP opponents by helping weak Republicans knock off strong general-election candidates (i.e. Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill’s clever gambit in which she helped the hapless Todd Akin become her opponent in 2012), this time the trick didn’t work.

As a result of Rauner’s primary win, Illinois will provide the country with a test case in which we will see whether the Democrats’ effort to make income inequality the central issue of the election can prevail over Rauner’s attempt to clean up a corrupt system in which unions have been able to raid the state treasury at will. At stake is the question of whether the cause of restoring fiscal sanity is one that is powerful enough to overturn the political balance of power in Illinois.

Rauner’s task in this race is a daunting one. Democrats have an overwhelming registration advantage in Illinois and the GOP has lost the last three gubernatorial elections. Moreover, Rauner poses a direct challenge to the state’s political establishment that will provoke a strong response not only from the unions but a Democratic machine that knows it has a lot to lose if the GOP nominee prevails.

His problems are further compounded by the fact that unlike other successful Republican governors like Mitch Daniels in Indiana, Scott Walker in Wisconsin, John Kasich in Ohio, and Chris Christie in New Jersey, Rauner is a political novice. While he cultivates an ordinary guy persona, as a wealthy businessman rather than a middle-class politician he must also face comparisons with Mitt Romney. As with President Obama’s reelection effort in 2012, Rauner’s wealth plays right into the Democratic playbook in which the GOP can be portrayed as insensitive to the needs of the middle class and the poor. Quinn’s primary night invocation of the minimum wage—Obama’s issue of the moment—indicates that this is exactly how the Democrats intend to take down Rauner.

But in a state whose political class is far more corrupt than most of the counterparts elsewhere, Rauner’s outsider status may prove impervious to the sort of class warfare tactics that have destroyed other Republicans. Moreover, by seizing the issue of taming the public-sector unions and championing lower taxes, Rauner may have found a political sweet spot that will enable him to appeal to middle and working class Democrats and independents. In a year in which big government boondoggles like ObamaCare will be front and center and Obama’s popularity has plummeted, it may be the ideal moment for a candidate who is promising to sweep Springfield clean.

While we are always rightly cautioned about over-interpreting midterm elections, a Rauner win would be a significant and perhaps final defeat for a union movement that has seen its power decline nationwide. Having failed to exact revenge on Scott Walker for demolishing union power in Wisconsin in the 2012 recall vote and with him a favorite for reelection this year, the union movement’s focus will be on stopping Rauner even if means helping a Democrat like Quinn who has not always done their bidding. If they fail, it will not only be a sign that Republicans can win on the issue of clipping back the power of unions even in a state where they have always been powerful, but a significant win for the cause of fiscal reform.

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Clinton’s Advantage over Biden: She Got Out in Time

The volume of coverage for the 2016 presidential election has put a premium on any analysis that makes an original (but plausible) point. A touch of contrarianism always helps as well, which makes Joel K. Goldstein’s guest column at Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball website intriguing. Goldstein argues that the general assumption that the vice presidency is a poor launching pad for the presidency is based on faulty logic and bad numbers.

He references the current corollary, the belief that Joe Biden–already an underdog against Hillary Clinton–simply cannot win in 2016. Goldstein isn’t attempting to boost a Biden candidacy, but he seeks to correct the basis for skepticism toward American veeps. They have a better record, when we account for various important and mitigating variables, than we tend to think. He writes:

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The volume of coverage for the 2016 presidential election has put a premium on any analysis that makes an original (but plausible) point. A touch of contrarianism always helps as well, which makes Joel K. Goldstein’s guest column at Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball website intriguing. Goldstein argues that the general assumption that the vice presidency is a poor launching pad for the presidency is based on faulty logic and bad numbers.

He references the current corollary, the belief that Joe Biden–already an underdog against Hillary Clinton–simply cannot win in 2016. Goldstein isn’t attempting to boost a Biden candidacy, but he seeks to correct the basis for skepticism toward American veeps. They have a better record, when we account for various important and mitigating variables, than we tend to think. He writes:

Those who dismiss the vice presidency as a good source of presidential candidates often note that only four of the 47 men who have held the nation’s second office were elected president upon the retirement of the chief executive with whom they served. Yet the 1/12 ratio is a highly misleading measure. Nine of the 47 vice presidents became president through the death or resignation of their predecessor. Accordingly, they could not have been elected directly from the vice presidency. Nor could most of the seven vice presidents who died in office or the two who resigned. (Yes, these numbers include George Clinton and John C. Calhoun, who theoretically could have been elected president before serving a second vice presidential term with a new president. But being passed over for James Madison and Andrew Jackson respectively is hardly a disgrace.) Of the remaining 29 vice presidents, 12 (including Biden) were effectively blocked because a president of their party with whom they served sought another term.

Of the 17 other sitting vice presidents, eight were chosen as a national presidential candidate and four were elected. So once the denominator is reduced by eliminating those sitting VPs who essentially could not have succeeded their predecessor by election, some 47% of America’s sitting vice presidents have been nominated for the presidency (8/17), and 24% of the eligible pool were elected (4/17). Of the nine others, some, like Dick Cheney, credibly disclaimed any presidential ambition.

Though the modern era would seem to be less hospitable to sitting vice presidents than some earlier eras, Goldstein writes that this isn’t so: “since 1953, each of the four sitting vice presidents who sought the presidency following the retirement of the incumbent (Nixon, Hubert H. Humphrey, George H.W. Bush and Al Gore) won the nomination and were either elected (Bush) or ran dead-even races for president against formidable opponents.”

Additionally, he writes, we tend to use arguments against the vice president that we don’t against others. We like to say, for example, that Americans are more likely to elect a governor as president. But we don’t talk about all the governors who don’t become president, or the odds that the successful governor-turned-president had to overcome.

I don’t intend to argue with Goldstein’s numbers. But I would say that one aspect of this that directly affects Biden’s chances has to do with the popularity and perceived success of the administration in which the veep serves. Look at the vice presidents Goldstein mentions. Nixon served Eisenhower, who left office (via Gallup) with a 59 percent approval rating. George H.W. Bush served Reagan, who left office with a 63 percent approval rating. Gore served Bill Clinton, who left office at 66 percent approval. Humphrey served Lyndon Johnson, who left with 49 percent approval.

We don’t know where Barack Obama will fall on that list. But he’s struggling now, and this is of particular concern for Biden because his likely opponent, Hillary Clinton, has already left the administration and can thus, in classic Clinton form, ditch unpopular policies and pretend to have had strong strategic instincts from the beginning. Biden cannot.

For example, Biden announced the administration’s “reset” with Russia, which turned out to be an appalling fiasco. But Clinton, as the nation’s chief diplomat, took high-profile stewardship of the reset. The disastrous policy still follows Biden around, as he must survey the wreckage of his administration’s failures and try to contain the damage. Clinton mocked Mitt Romney’s contention about Russia’s geopolitical threat to America, but now, freed from the administration, she can simply pretend she isn’t totally and catastrophically naïve about Russia:

Former secretary of state Hillary Rodham Clinton has urged Canada to forge a unified front with its U.S. neighbour to counter what she portrayed as heightened aggression by Russia in the Arctic.

Speaking to a sold-out crowd in Montreal on Tuesday night, the former first lady and possible future presidential candidate used her podium to denounce Russian President Vladimir Putin’s actions not just in Ukraine, but closer to Canada’s borders.

Putin is coming for you, Canada! This comes on the heels of Clinton’s comparison of Putin to Hitler. Such verbal gymnastics are not so easy for Biden, who is still serving in this administration and therefore can’t rewrite his own history the way Clinton can. Which makes him much more likely to go down with the ship, as Clinton and her life raft float off in the distance.

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A Corrupt Criminal Justice System

Glenn Reynolds not only runs the indispensable Instapundit website, he is also a distinguished law professor at the University of Tennessee and writes a regular column for USA Today. Today’s column is an important one, “Our Criminal Justice System Has Become a Crime.”

The problem with the system is that prosecutors have acquired far too much power and face few consequences for bad behavior. Prosecutorial discretion—deciding whom to go after and whom to ignore—is an open invitation to corruption. And this corruption can have consequences beyond the individuals involved. Had Senator Ted Stevens not been convicted a week before he narrowly lost reelection in 2008 in a trial that involved “gross prosecutorial misconduct,” he undoubtedly would have been reelected and the Democrats would not have had the sixty votes in the Senate they needed to ram ObamaCare through.

Criminal statutes have proliferated to such an extent that the federal government doesn’t even know how many federal criminal statutes there are. People break laws all the time without knowing it. So a prosecutor investigating an individual can often find evidence of dozens, even hundreds, of “crimes” and charge the individual with them. And usually the case never goes to trial. Instead the person charged is offered a plea bargain and has no real option but to take it.

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Glenn Reynolds not only runs the indispensable Instapundit website, he is also a distinguished law professor at the University of Tennessee and writes a regular column for USA Today. Today’s column is an important one, “Our Criminal Justice System Has Become a Crime.”

The problem with the system is that prosecutors have acquired far too much power and face few consequences for bad behavior. Prosecutorial discretion—deciding whom to go after and whom to ignore—is an open invitation to corruption. And this corruption can have consequences beyond the individuals involved. Had Senator Ted Stevens not been convicted a week before he narrowly lost reelection in 2008 in a trial that involved “gross prosecutorial misconduct,” he undoubtedly would have been reelected and the Democrats would not have had the sixty votes in the Senate they needed to ram ObamaCare through.

Criminal statutes have proliferated to such an extent that the federal government doesn’t even know how many federal criminal statutes there are. People break laws all the time without knowing it. So a prosecutor investigating an individual can often find evidence of dozens, even hundreds, of “crimes” and charge the individual with them. And usually the case never goes to trial. Instead the person charged is offered a plea bargain and has no real option but to take it.

As Reynolds points out, while a criminal trial positively bristles with due process—especially the jury’s power to determine guilt—the pretrial process has little due process. Prosecutors decide whom to investigate and what charges to file. Grand juries seldom refuse to indict.

Reynolds has solutions:

First, prosecutors should have “skin in the game” — if someone’s charged with 100 crimes but convicted of only one, the state should have to pay 99% of his legal fees. This would discourage overcharging. (So would judicial oversight, but we’ve seen little enough of that.) Second, plea-bargain offers should be disclosed at trial, so that judges and juries can understand just how serious the state really thinks the offense is. Empowering juries and grand juries (a standard joke is that any competent prosecutor can get a grand jury to indict a ham sandwich) would also provide more supervision. And finally, I think that prosecutors should be stripped of their absolute immunity to suit — an immunity created by judicial activism, not by statute — and should be subject to civil damages for misconduct such as withholding evidence.

As Reynolds likes to say, read the whole thing. This problem needs much more attention.

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Kerry’s Diplomatic Double Standards

So, Secretary of State John Kerry is deeply upset and insulted that Israel’s defense minister, Moshe Yaalon, criticized U.S. strategy and suggested that the United States is exuding weakness. One would think the former senator from Massachusetts would have a thicker skin, and might also consider if there was something to Yaalon’s remarks, however undiplomatic they might have been. Never mind, however. What is truly revealing is how Kerry acts in other circumstances when officials from other countries make similar statements castigating U.S. policy.

Here, for example, is Hossein Salami, the deputy commander of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, speaking earlier this month: “America no longer creates events in the region; rather it is the Muslims who create events and the Americans are forced to be another actor in decline, although not a dominant player. Meanwhile, the Americans have lost operational power against Syria today and this is a great proof for Muslims.” Kerry’s reaction? Crickets. Obama’s reaction? Nada. And, lest this be seen as an exception rather than the rule, here is an excerpt (and my analysis) of a statement from Tehran that went even further last month. And where is Kerry every time Iranian leaders encourage chants of “Death to America” after Friday prayers in central Tehran?

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So, Secretary of State John Kerry is deeply upset and insulted that Israel’s defense minister, Moshe Yaalon, criticized U.S. strategy and suggested that the United States is exuding weakness. One would think the former senator from Massachusetts would have a thicker skin, and might also consider if there was something to Yaalon’s remarks, however undiplomatic they might have been. Never mind, however. What is truly revealing is how Kerry acts in other circumstances when officials from other countries make similar statements castigating U.S. policy.

Here, for example, is Hossein Salami, the deputy commander of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, speaking earlier this month: “America no longer creates events in the region; rather it is the Muslims who create events and the Americans are forced to be another actor in decline, although not a dominant player. Meanwhile, the Americans have lost operational power against Syria today and this is a great proof for Muslims.” Kerry’s reaction? Crickets. Obama’s reaction? Nada. And, lest this be seen as an exception rather than the rule, here is an excerpt (and my analysis) of a statement from Tehran that went even further last month. And where is Kerry every time Iranian leaders encourage chants of “Death to America” after Friday prayers in central Tehran?

The Obama administration’s heightened sensitivity to criticism doesn’t apply to the Palestinian Authority either. Kerry remains silent when his much-heralded partner in peace talks not only rejects American positions but also lionizes terrorists and murderers, hardly an attitude that advances U.S. interests in the region.

Bashing allies isn’t going to bring respect back to the United States on the world stage, nor is forcing allies to genuflect. Diplomatic temper tantrums aren’t going to imbue Kerry with an aura of competence that his policies and actions haven’t managed to achieve. Sometimes, tough words from friends are necessary, even with the moral inversion that currently underpins Obama and Kerry’s words and actions.

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Obama’s World of Make Believe

For anyone who has observed Barack Obama over the years, it’s obvious that a fundamental part of his self-identity involves seeing himself, and having others see him, as pragmatic rather than ideological, reality-based, driven by reason instead of bias.

This has never actually been true. Mr. Obama is, in fact, unusually dogmatic, blind to counter-evidence, and mostly unable to adjust his views to the way things are. So when his worldview collides with reality, he often can’t adjust. He instead creates his own make believe world.

We’ve seen it time and time again with the Affordable Care Act. (Earlier this month the president declared ObamaCare “is working the way it should.” He may be the only person in America who believes such a thing.) We’ve also seen this in Mr. Obama’s dealings with Vladimir Putin, who with lightning speed has seized Crimea, threatens Ukraine, and whose top officials are now openly mocking the president (including with tweets ending with smiley faces). Yet President Obama insists that Putin is acting “out of weakness, not out of strength” in attempting to take control of Crimea. This is an effort to seek comfort by engaging in an almost clinical level of delusion. And it’s not isolated to Mr. Obama.

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For anyone who has observed Barack Obama over the years, it’s obvious that a fundamental part of his self-identity involves seeing himself, and having others see him, as pragmatic rather than ideological, reality-based, driven by reason instead of bias.

This has never actually been true. Mr. Obama is, in fact, unusually dogmatic, blind to counter-evidence, and mostly unable to adjust his views to the way things are. So when his worldview collides with reality, he often can’t adjust. He instead creates his own make believe world.

We’ve seen it time and time again with the Affordable Care Act. (Earlier this month the president declared ObamaCare “is working the way it should.” He may be the only person in America who believes such a thing.) We’ve also seen this in Mr. Obama’s dealings with Vladimir Putin, who with lightning speed has seized Crimea, threatens Ukraine, and whose top officials are now openly mocking the president (including with tweets ending with smiley faces). Yet President Obama insists that Putin is acting “out of weakness, not out of strength” in attempting to take control of Crimea. This is an effort to seek comfort by engaging in an almost clinical level of delusion. And it’s not isolated to Mr. Obama.

As Russia began its aggression against Crimea, Secretary of State John Kerry said, “You just don’t in the 21st century behave in 19th century fashion by invading another country on completely trumped up pretext.” Except that Russia did exactly that. Earlier this week Mr. Kerry said Putin’s speech announcing the Crimean annexation “just didn’t jibe with reality.” But the reality is that Crimea is once again part of Russia.

The president puts in place sanctions that are so farcically weak that it would have been better to remain silent and done nothing rather than huff and puff and do as little as he has. (In response to the announcement of sanctions, the Russian stock market actually rose.)

Mr. Putin, meanwhile, is in the process of restoring the Russian empire. He is besting Mr. Obama at every turn, from arms control agreements to Crimea and Ukraine to Syria, Egypt, and Iran. Russia has established a major presence in the Middle East for the first time since the 1970s. Early in his presidency President Obama canceled a missile defense agreement with Poland and the Czech Republic–and got nothing in return from Putin. Our adversaries are emboldened; our allies are afraid. Confidence in America is collapsing. 

Yet the president seems clueless to all this; his failures don’t seem to compute with him. Even Jimmy Carter eventually understood the errors of his ways and adjusted his dealings with the Soviet Union. Mr. Obama remains off in his own world.

In psychiatry, there’s a condition known as dissociative disorder. It’s considered to be a coping mechanism, when the person literally dissociates himself from a situation or experience too traumatic to integrate with his conscious self. A person escapes reality in ways that are unhealthy.

That pretty well sums up the Obama foreign policy. He cannot understand how someone as brutish, crude, aggressive and chauvinistic as Vladimir Putin is acting as he is. The fact that in the process Mr. Obama is being humiliated is simply too much for him to bear. And so he’s created a fantasy world where disengagement translates into influence and we’re strong and Putin is weak.  

For Barack Obama, the world is made of faith, and trust, and pixie dust.

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Tape Suggests Turkey Supports Terror

This winter has been a turbulent one in Turkey, as a political dispute between Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his former political ally, Islamist movement leader Fethullah Gülen has led to a series of revelations and leaks, each more embarrassing than the last. Initially, the leaks centered on corrupt ministers, like former European Union Affairs Minister Egemen Bağış, who apparently enriched themselves on Erdoğan’s coat tails. Then they exposed how Erdoğan bullied the press. The latest leaks of recorded phone calls suggest something more nefarious afoot.

For the past several years, sectarian violence has escalated in Nigeria, and Islamist groups such as Boko Haram have conducted horrific massacres against Christian men, women, and children. Now, it seems, Turkey may have had something to do with that. The most recent leaked tapes record a conversation between an advisor to Erdoğan and the private secretary of the CEO of Turkish Airlines. The Turkish Airlines official, according to the tape, said that he does not feel comfortable with the (secret) weapons shipments to Nigeria, and he asks whether those weapons “are to kill Muslims or Christians.” The context of the conversation suggests he worries only after the former instead of the latter. The prime minister’s advisor, however, tries to assure him and says he will check with Hakan Fidan, the director of Turkish intelligence and get back to Turkish Airlines with an answer.

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This winter has been a turbulent one in Turkey, as a political dispute between Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his former political ally, Islamist movement leader Fethullah Gülen has led to a series of revelations and leaks, each more embarrassing than the last. Initially, the leaks centered on corrupt ministers, like former European Union Affairs Minister Egemen Bağış, who apparently enriched themselves on Erdoğan’s coat tails. Then they exposed how Erdoğan bullied the press. The latest leaks of recorded phone calls suggest something more nefarious afoot.

For the past several years, sectarian violence has escalated in Nigeria, and Islamist groups such as Boko Haram have conducted horrific massacres against Christian men, women, and children. Now, it seems, Turkey may have had something to do with that. The most recent leaked tapes record a conversation between an advisor to Erdoğan and the private secretary of the CEO of Turkish Airlines. The Turkish Airlines official, according to the tape, said that he does not feel comfortable with the (secret) weapons shipments to Nigeria, and he asks whether those weapons “are to kill Muslims or Christians.” The context of the conversation suggests he worries only after the former instead of the latter. The prime minister’s advisor, however, tries to assure him and says he will check with Hakan Fidan, the director of Turkish intelligence and get back to Turkish Airlines with an answer.

Turkish Airlines, for its part, denies that they have smuggled arms, but it is a state company and no other state company has been able to stand up to the prime minister, nor has there been any indication that any of the telephone calls, while illegally recorded, are inaccurate in content.

There is already great evidence that Turkey has supported al-Qaeda-affiliated rebels in Syria, and the prime minister is quite open about his support for Hamas and, at times, Hezbollah as well. That Turkey appears to be supporting terrorism in Nigeria takes the problem outside the realm of the Arab-Israeli conflict and, if true, makes Turkey a full-blown sponsor of terrorism. Why any congressman remains in the Congressional Turkey Caucus is beyond me. And why, so long as such allegations hang over Turkish Airlines, U.S. authorities continue to allow it to fly over American cities or handle baggage transferred onto American airlines is a question that more responsible congressmen should begin to ask.

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