Commentary Magazine


Posts For: May 6, 2014

Presbyterians Escalate War on Jews

In February of this year I wrote about the latest instance of the Presbyterian Church USA engaging in hostile behavior toward both Israel and the Jewish people. A new study guide and companion CD about the Middle East published by an official Presbyterian group sought to delegitimize Israel and whitewash those who wage war and terrorism against it. Even worse, it compared Zionism to anti-Semitism and said that American Jews who supported Israel were not faithful to their religion. On top of the denomination’s past flirtations with the BDS (boycott, divest, sanction) movement that seeks to wage economic war on Israel, the study guide demonstrated just how deep the hatred for Jews had become among some church officials. But an even more recent incident illustrates that these episodes are not aberrations but reflect a clear desire on the part of church cadres to treat any normal contact with Jews as beyond the pale.

What has happened is that a Virginia Beach pastor who was slated to take a leadership role in a church forum at its annual General Assembly has been pressured to resign by Presbyterian Church USA officials. What was his offense? Taking part in two trips to Israel sponsored by a Jewish group. As Rev. Albert Butzer relates in a piece he wrote about his experience for The Presbyterian Outlook, he had looked forward to being the official moderator of the Committee on Middle East Issues at the denomination’s General Assembly. But he was forced out when it came out that he had gone to Israel on trips organized by the Jewish Community Federation of Richmond, Virginia. Though he had previously been to the region on two trips organized by the Palestinians, the mere fact that he had been exposed to Israel’s side of the story in the conflict was enough to brand him as untrustworthy.

While the question of who sits on church committees may not strike many people as an earthshaking question, Butzer’s treatment is significant. His ouster signals a new turn in interfaith relations. Whereas in the past Israel’s foes in mainline Christian churches have sought to cloak their hostility to Zionism and to affirm that they did not wish to harm interfaith relations, it’s now clear that this is no longer the case. By saying that participation in any trip that allows Christians to hear Israel’s point of view even alongside the voices of Palestinians is beyond the pale, the Presbyterian Church USA is telling us that they are declaring war on American Jews as well as Israel.

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In February of this year I wrote about the latest instance of the Presbyterian Church USA engaging in hostile behavior toward both Israel and the Jewish people. A new study guide and companion CD about the Middle East published by an official Presbyterian group sought to delegitimize Israel and whitewash those who wage war and terrorism against it. Even worse, it compared Zionism to anti-Semitism and said that American Jews who supported Israel were not faithful to their religion. On top of the denomination’s past flirtations with the BDS (boycott, divest, sanction) movement that seeks to wage economic war on Israel, the study guide demonstrated just how deep the hatred for Jews had become among some church officials. But an even more recent incident illustrates that these episodes are not aberrations but reflect a clear desire on the part of church cadres to treat any normal contact with Jews as beyond the pale.

What has happened is that a Virginia Beach pastor who was slated to take a leadership role in a church forum at its annual General Assembly has been pressured to resign by Presbyterian Church USA officials. What was his offense? Taking part in two trips to Israel sponsored by a Jewish group. As Rev. Albert Butzer relates in a piece he wrote about his experience for The Presbyterian Outlook, he had looked forward to being the official moderator of the Committee on Middle East Issues at the denomination’s General Assembly. But he was forced out when it came out that he had gone to Israel on trips organized by the Jewish Community Federation of Richmond, Virginia. Though he had previously been to the region on two trips organized by the Palestinians, the mere fact that he had been exposed to Israel’s side of the story in the conflict was enough to brand him as untrustworthy.

While the question of who sits on church committees may not strike many people as an earthshaking question, Butzer’s treatment is significant. His ouster signals a new turn in interfaith relations. Whereas in the past Israel’s foes in mainline Christian churches have sought to cloak their hostility to Zionism and to affirm that they did not wish to harm interfaith relations, it’s now clear that this is no longer the case. By saying that participation in any trip that allows Christians to hear Israel’s point of view even alongside the voices of Palestinians is beyond the pale, the Presbyterian Church USA is telling us that they are declaring war on American Jews as well as Israel.

What is also interesting about this tale is that Butzer should in no way be considered an ardent advocate for Israel. In his piece, he goes to great lengths to demonstrate his sensitivity and even sympathy for the Palestinian point of view. He is willing to view Israel in a negative light and seems not to challenge the Palestinian narrative. But he is willing to listen to the other side in the conflict and that is something that BDS supporters inside the church rightly consider to be dangerous to their cause.

Of course, the BDS crowd at the Presbyterian Church USA isn’t saying who is sponsoring the various pro-Palestinian dog and pony shows in the region (here and here) that it is schlepping its members to this year.

But the point here is that it is drawing a line in the sand and labeling anyone who makes common cause with mainstream American Jewish groups as beyond the pale. In return, Jews and all Christians and people of faith who truly care about peace should make it clear that so long as the Presbyterian Church USA is waging war on the Jews, they will treat it as a hate group masquerading as a community of faith.

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ObamaCare Remains a Bust with the Public

But Mousie, thou art no thy lane,
In proving foresight may be vain:
The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men
Gang aft agley.

So wrote the 18th century Scottish poet Robert Burns.

He could have had the Affordable Care Act in mind.  

I say that because after President Obama announced that more than seven million (and later more than eight million) Americans had signed up on federal or state exchanges for coverage, the assumption among the White House, liberals, and the elite media was that public opinion would begin to shift rapidly in favor of Obamacare. The resignation of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius was supposed to mark the closing of one (bad) chapter and the beginning of another (good) one. 

The American people would rethink their opposition to Mr. Obama’s signature domestic program. What had been a political negative for Democrats would be transformed into a positive. Or so we were told. But reality intruded yet again.

According to the Washington Post’s Scott Clement and Aaron Blake:

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But Mousie, thou art no thy lane,
In proving foresight may be vain:
The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men
Gang aft agley.

So wrote the 18th century Scottish poet Robert Burns.

He could have had the Affordable Care Act in mind.  

I say that because after President Obama announced that more than seven million (and later more than eight million) Americans had signed up on federal or state exchanges for coverage, the assumption among the White House, liberals, and the elite media was that public opinion would begin to shift rapidly in favor of Obamacare. The resignation of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius was supposed to mark the closing of one (bad) chapter and the beginning of another (good) one. 

The American people would rethink their opposition to Mr. Obama’s signature domestic program. What had been a political negative for Democrats would be transformed into a positive. Or so we were told. But reality intruded yet again.

According to the Washington Post’s Scott Clement and Aaron Blake:

In just one week, a barrage of national polling has reached the same verdict: Obamacare’s Rocky Balboa-esque announcement that 8 million people have signed up for health care has done absolutely nothing to reverse the law’s basic and long-standing unpopularity.

A new high of 55 percent disapproves of the law in a Pew Research Center/USA Today poll. And the Kaiser Family Foundation’s tracking poll, a Post-ABC poll and a NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll last week all found little lasting changes from earlier this year — when the law was at the heart of its implementation struggles.

Messrs. Clement and Blake argue that attitudes toward the Affordable Care Act are deeply entrenched and “Americans’ biggest complaints about the health law are pretty well etched in stone. They existed well before the Web site’s troubles, and the number of Americans who sign up for the law was never the root of the opposition.” Many of the public’s complaints will be hard, if not impossible, to overcome, they write. 

It isn’t uncommon for wishful thinking to characterize a president and a party about to experience yet another massive mid-term election setback. And my guess is that Democrats will continue to convince themselves that the Affordable Care Act isn’t a burden, and may even be a benefit, until around mid-day Tuesday, November 4, 2014, when the election returns will begin to come in and Democrats will learn just what a political disaster ObamaCare is. We’ll then see how many of them connect the dots and accept that it’s a political catastrophe because it’s a substantive catastrophe. 

That will probably take a good deal more time, since a political party can only absorb so much grief and inconvenient truth at a time. 

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Obama Invades Strawmanistan While Rubio and Others Offer Ideas

President Obama’s now infamous press conference in Manila last week was marked by the president making two accusations of his critics. First, they are warmongers who would immediately resort to force: “most of the foreign policy commentators that have questioned our policies would go headlong into a bunch of military adventures.” Second, those who don’t want to invade don’t offer alternatives; when asked for specifics, their criticism suddenly “kind of trails off,” the president said.

To emphasize precisely what he meant, the president brought up the Iraq war, so that the audience knew he was specifically and clearly designating his critics as warmongers. This bit of theater no doubt fooled some of the president’s more devoted, and less discerning, fans. But in truth it proved just how insulated the president is from the informed discussion taking place in the public sphere. There are plenty of serious ideas being proposed; it’s a shame the president isn’t aware of them.

Take Ukraine, for example. While there have been debates about sanctions, another idea comes today from Senator Marco Rubio, writing in the Wall Street Journal. Rubio notes that while the ruble has fallen since the beginning of the conflict, the value of the Ukrainian currency, the hryvnia, has been falling even faster, raising the possibility that Vladimir Putin will be willing to take a financial hit to Russia if it means the complete collapse of Ukraine’s economy.

He proposes anchoring the hryvnia to a stable currency:

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President Obama’s now infamous press conference in Manila last week was marked by the president making two accusations of his critics. First, they are warmongers who would immediately resort to force: “most of the foreign policy commentators that have questioned our policies would go headlong into a bunch of military adventures.” Second, those who don’t want to invade don’t offer alternatives; when asked for specifics, their criticism suddenly “kind of trails off,” the president said.

To emphasize precisely what he meant, the president brought up the Iraq war, so that the audience knew he was specifically and clearly designating his critics as warmongers. This bit of theater no doubt fooled some of the president’s more devoted, and less discerning, fans. But in truth it proved just how insulated the president is from the informed discussion taking place in the public sphere. There are plenty of serious ideas being proposed; it’s a shame the president isn’t aware of them.

Take Ukraine, for example. While there have been debates about sanctions, another idea comes today from Senator Marco Rubio, writing in the Wall Street Journal. Rubio notes that while the ruble has fallen since the beginning of the conflict, the value of the Ukrainian currency, the hryvnia, has been falling even faster, raising the possibility that Vladimir Putin will be willing to take a financial hit to Russia if it means the complete collapse of Ukraine’s economy.

He proposes anchoring the hryvnia to a stable currency:

We should encourage the establishment of a Ukrainian currency board, an institutional arrangement that anchors the value of national money to a more stable currency. Under a currency board, the hryvnia would be convertible into the dollar or the euro at a fixed rate, and backed by Ukraine’s own hard currency reserves. The International Monetary Fund would supplement the reserves with a special-purpose loan arrangement.

A currency board would help Ukraine’s money become as reliable and stable as the world’s dominant reserve currencies. The effects would ripple throughout the economy: Foreign investors could have confidence that the hryvnia is not in a death spiral, and Ukrainians would know that Mr. Putin cannot annihilate the value of their personal savings. Such stability would encourage the nation under siege to maintain its faith in free people and free markets.

Equally important: Moscow would immediately face the dismaying reality that Ukraine’s money is suddenly far more dependable than its own. Russia is already on a spending blowout to save the ruble as economic conditions deteriorate: Russia’s central bank has spent more than $23 billion intervening in foreign exchange markets since January. On April 25, the bank raised its key interest rate by 50 basis points to 7.5%, a desperate attempt to tamp down the inflationary effects of a weakening ruble. Monetary policy is not Russia’s forte in global affairs, and so the U.S. and Europe should use their advantage strategically to hurt a vulnerable adversary.

Such a plan would get Europe and the U.S. working with the International Monetary Fund to not only help stabilize Ukraine’s economy but ensure that financial aid to Kiev wouldn’t be obliterated by a collapsing currency. If someone in the White House passes this along to the president, he might be amazed not only at the options at his disposal but the fact that Rubio was able to explain all this without invading any countries. Again, this is a fact that bears repeating: it is Obama, not his conservative opposition, who thinks war is the only alternative.

Another suggestion comes from the Swedish Institute of International Affairs’ Jan Joel Andersson–probably not someone the president blames for America’s intervention in Iraq. Andersson goes back to the question of how to channel a response to Russia through NATO. It’s not an easy question to answer, because it’s not as though Ukraine is in any shape to join NATO now nor does the new government appear interested in doing so anyway. But Andersson has come up with a twist on the idea of expanding NATO: add Sweden and Finland. Andersson explains:

Expanding NATO to Sweden and Finland would achieve several important aims. From a political standpoint, it would bring the NATO border ever closer to Russia, demonstrating that military aggression in Europe carries major geopolitical consequences. Sweden and Finland’s nonalignment has offered Russia a comforting buffer zone along its northwestern border ever since the end of World War II. If Sweden and Finland were to join NATO now, that buffer would be gone, and the alliance would gain two of the world’s most democratic, politically stable, and economically successful countries. NATO would also pick up two very active proponents of transatlanticism that have consistently argued for strong U.S. involvement in Europe.

“From a military standpoint,” Andersson continues, “Sweden and Finland would add technologically sophisticated and well-equipped armed forces to the alliance.” Nor would the historical significance of Sweden and Finland joining the Atlantic alliance be lost on Russia. “Given the upsides, bringing Sweden and Finland into NATO seems like a no-brainer,” Andersson writes. “But the two countries have to agree to it.”

These are but two examples of policy choices on offer that would strengthen alliances and forge transatlantic cooperation without being too costly (or warmongering). They are also examples of the growing chorus of politicians and analysts who seem to be taking the Ukraine crisis far more seriously than the president is.

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Address, Don’t Deny Religious Component to Boko Haram

News out of Nigeria continues to horrify, as the radical Islamist group Boko Haram refuses to release kidnapped school girls and now threatens to sell them into marriage, slavery, or worse. Boko Haram, whose very name in Hausa professes the sinfulness of Western education, roots its belief in religion although, as is so often the case, it often confuses pure theology with local custom. For its victims, however, such footnotes are academic. The group has become infamous in Nigeria for the slaughter of Christians. Boko Haram is neither the first nor will it be the last group to spark outrage on the world stage by embracing and imposing retrograde religious interpretation on society.

The shock of the Islamic Revolution in Iran was that it shook faith in the forward momentum of history. The shah was far from perfect, but he actively sought to modernize his country. That he did so unevenly and brokered few means to dissent legally simply threw fuel on the Islamist backlash that ultimately ushered in reactionary cleric Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. Far from being the “progressive force for human rights” that William Miller, now with The Iran Project described, or a man whom the United States should trust, as Princeton University’s Richard Falk suggested, Khomeini took women, minorities, and much of Iranian society headlong into the past, stripping Iranians of centuries of rights and brutalizing them in manners once thought condemned to centuries past. The problem is not Shi’ism, per se, but rather Khomeini’s and his successor Ali Khamenei’s interpretation. To this day, their exegesis remains a minority view, forced on society at the barrel of a gun, with dissenting clergy marginalized, imprisoned, or worse.

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News out of Nigeria continues to horrify, as the radical Islamist group Boko Haram refuses to release kidnapped school girls and now threatens to sell them into marriage, slavery, or worse. Boko Haram, whose very name in Hausa professes the sinfulness of Western education, roots its belief in religion although, as is so often the case, it often confuses pure theology with local custom. For its victims, however, such footnotes are academic. The group has become infamous in Nigeria for the slaughter of Christians. Boko Haram is neither the first nor will it be the last group to spark outrage on the world stage by embracing and imposing retrograde religious interpretation on society.

The shock of the Islamic Revolution in Iran was that it shook faith in the forward momentum of history. The shah was far from perfect, but he actively sought to modernize his country. That he did so unevenly and brokered few means to dissent legally simply threw fuel on the Islamist backlash that ultimately ushered in reactionary cleric Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. Far from being the “progressive force for human rights” that William Miller, now with The Iran Project described, or a man whom the United States should trust, as Princeton University’s Richard Falk suggested, Khomeini took women, minorities, and much of Iranian society headlong into the past, stripping Iranians of centuries of rights and brutalizing them in manners once thought condemned to centuries past. The problem is not Shi’ism, per se, but rather Khomeini’s and his successor Ali Khamenei’s interpretation. To this day, their exegesis remains a minority view, forced on society at the barrel of a gun, with dissenting clergy marginalized, imprisoned, or worse.

The same was true with the Taliban in Afghanistan. The notion that the Central Intelligence Agency created the Taliban is silly, the product of anachronistic and lazy analysis. Some Afghans embraced the Taliban in the years after the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan because the group promised security, but the group itself was quickly co-opted by Pakistan. Ever since the loss of East Pakistan and its subsequent independence as Bangladesh in 1971, leaders in West Pakistan—or simply Pakistan as it became—embraced religious radicalism as a glue to hold their fissiparous country together. While more than a decade of war has conditioned Americans to see infiltration across the Afghanistan/Pakistan border as one way from Pakistan into Afghanistan, throughout much of the last century, Afghan irregulars were infiltrating—if not outright invading—Pakistan.

Because the ethnic fault lines in Pakistan are seldom far beneath the surface of society, sponsoring the Taliban—and thereby prioritizing religion over Pashto identity—was meant to immunize the Northwest Frontier Province from the attractiveness of Pashto nationalism. That it came upon the blood and repression of Afghan women was a price the Pakistani leadership was willing to bear. The shear brutality of the Taliban shocked the world, even though the State Department was more than willing to normalize ties with the group. The Taliban really were a throwback to the twelfth century, albeit harboring a twentieth and now twenty-first century technology to kill.

Any number of other religious radicals has reinterpreted faith to justify horror. The Muslim Brotherhood has justified the murder of those who do not share their vision, and some Brotherhood theologians have contributed directly to the vision embraced by al-Qaeda.

There is a tendency among many to deny the religious component to much modern terrorism. That is what drives, for example, UN bodies to try to criminalize so-called Islamophobia, and also drives local groups like the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) to stigmatize and punish free speech and open debate. To do so is a mistake, and to deny that those from Boko Haram’s leaders to 9/11 hijackers to the Beslan child murders were not motivated by Islam, however twisted and irregular an interpretation, is disingenuous.

Too many who deny the role of religion say that Islam is misunderstood. Jihad, for example, means not Holy War but an internal struggle to improve oneself. While it is true that a 21st century interpretation of jihad prioritizes internal struggle or defensive fighting, there is a logical flaw inherent in embracing only the most evolved interpretation of jihad. Islamist radicals dismiss 21st century society as a perversion, corrupted by Western thought and liberalism. They uphold instead an interpretation of centuries past as the golden age of Islamic civilization and so strip away centuries of religious interpretation as illegitimate and corrupt. Just as zealous Christians might have burned a woman at the stake 500 years ago for the sin of publicly reading the Bible, the manner in which Boko Haram treats local girls and women is rooted in an interpretation of Islam that it seeks to revive from the past.

While I fully support the separation of church and state that the U.S. Constitution demands (although I agree with Jonathan’s interpretation here), too many American policymakers use that separation to paralyze the American policy response on the global stage. American diplomats and officials should not promote religion but they cannot ignore it either, as it plays a far greater place in the world than perhaps it does in the fairly elite schools from which many diplomats come. Peoples from Afghanistan to Iran to Nigeria are engaged in a battle of religious interpretation. Those who would deny a relationship between Islam on one hand, at least as practiced by the Taliban and Boko Haram, and terrorism and misogyny on the other simply surrender the battlefield to those promoting extreme interpretations.

Too often, American officials and religious activists, whether out of excessive political correctness or some other motive, dismiss religious motivation to terrorism by decreeing that the actions of those radicals—Taliban stoning women in Afghanistan, al-Qaeda hijacking planes in America, or Boko Haram kidnapping and selling girls in Nigeria—do not represent true Islam. Make no mistake: It is not the job of any American official—from the president on down—to determine what true religion is. We have to accept that religion is what its practitioners believe it to be in any time and place; what the president says, an ambassador says, or a professor of theology says is simply academic.

Denying horror won’t make it go away. Nor is it the place of the United States to preach. But just as radicals in Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and elsewhere promote these horrific groups—the Turkish government has apparently supplied Boko Haram—it behooves the United States to support those seeking to roll them back, be they Egyptian generals, Indonesian Sufis, or Moroccan mourchidat. While America promotes and encourages religious tolerance and seeks to strengthen liberal and moderate interpretations of Islam, those who feed and justify Boko Haram’s ideological hate—even if American allies—must be recognized for what they are: culpable in terrorism.

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Cut off Aid to the Palestinian Authority? Just Enforce the Law.

Last week, Senator Rand Paul set off a furious debate by putting forward a bill that would cut off aid to the Palestinian Authority because of the decision by its leaders to conclude a unity pact with the Islamist terrorists of Hamas. But rather than reap the applause of Israel’s backers, his bill was opposed by AIPAC. Paul’s latest attempt to curry favor with Jews and other members of the pro-Israel community was excoriated by the Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin and wound up failing in the Senate.

I thought Paul was wrong to blast AIPAC as betraying its mandate. I also think his isolationism and steadfast opposition to vital military aid to Israel calls into question his bona fides as the author of legislation he called the “Stand With Israel Act of 2014.” But I also disagreed with those who thought the libertarian was wrong to call into question the continued flow of U.S. taxpayer dollars to the PA. The basic flaw in America’s efforts to bolster the peace process from Bill Clinton’s day to the Obama era has been an unwillingness to make the Palestinians accountable for their actions.

But yesterday, Senators Marco Rubio and Mark Kirk provided a timely reminder as to why Paul’s bill was really unnecessary: an aid cutoff because of the Hamas alliance is already mandated by U.S. law.

As Rubio and Kirk wrote in a joint letter to Secretary of State John Kerry:

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Last week, Senator Rand Paul set off a furious debate by putting forward a bill that would cut off aid to the Palestinian Authority because of the decision by its leaders to conclude a unity pact with the Islamist terrorists of Hamas. But rather than reap the applause of Israel’s backers, his bill was opposed by AIPAC. Paul’s latest attempt to curry favor with Jews and other members of the pro-Israel community was excoriated by the Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin and wound up failing in the Senate.

I thought Paul was wrong to blast AIPAC as betraying its mandate. I also think his isolationism and steadfast opposition to vital military aid to Israel calls into question his bona fides as the author of legislation he called the “Stand With Israel Act of 2014.” But I also disagreed with those who thought the libertarian was wrong to call into question the continued flow of U.S. taxpayer dollars to the PA. The basic flaw in America’s efforts to bolster the peace process from Bill Clinton’s day to the Obama era has been an unwillingness to make the Palestinians accountable for their actions.

But yesterday, Senators Marco Rubio and Mark Kirk provided a timely reminder as to why Paul’s bill was really unnecessary: an aid cutoff because of the Hamas alliance is already mandated by U.S. law.

As Rubio and Kirk wrote in a joint letter to Secretary of State John Kerry:

The Palestinian Anti-Terrorism Act of 2006 sets detailed requirements for the continuation of U.S. assistance should Hamas be brought into the Palestinian Authority government. The law is very clear. If Hamas comes to have a role in governance, there must be public acknowledgment of the Jewish state of Israel’s right to exist as well as acceptance of all previous agreements the Palestinians have made with Israel, the United States, and the international community. The law also requires that demonstrable progress be made toward dismantling of Hamas’ terrorist infrastructure and purging of individuals with ties to terrorism. Moreover, Hamas would need to halt its anti-American and anti-Israel incitement. The bar is high because the stakes are high and we must make sure to stand firmly by what we have said. Failing to do so will diminish the credibility of the United States.

Rubio and Kirk are right. No new legislation is needed to make the Palestinians accountable. All that is needed is for the administration to start enforcing the law.

That it won’t do so is pretty much a given. The reason put forward by some in the pro-Israel community for keeping the flow of Uncle Sam’s cash to the PA is a reasonable one. They claim that Israel needs the PA to continue to exist. A collapse caused by the cutoff of Western funds would cause huge problems for the Israelis who always need a Palestinian interlocutor. Israel has no desire to directly interfere in the lives of West Bank Palestinians, most of whom are governed by the corrupt and incompetent PA. It also relies on security cooperation with PA forces to help keep a lid on terrorism, though it can be argued that the PA and its fearful leadership benefits even more from the relationship because the Israelis ensure that Hamas and/or Islamic Jihad can’t topple them as they did the Fatah government of Gaza in 2006.

But as Rubio and Kirk noted in their letter, the deal between Hamas and Fatah explicitly states not only that Hamas won’t disarm or cease support for terror and recognize Israel. Hamas believes the agreement forbids further security cooperation between the PA and Israel.

That pronouncement illustrates Prime Minister Netanyahu’s point about Abbas having to choose between peace with Israel and peace with Hamas. In his desire to flee Kerry’s peace talks rather than be maneuvered into signing a peace agreement he can’t enforce, Abbas has chosen the latter. And U.S. law dictates that consequences must follow.

The key point here isn’t so much about the money, though U.S. aid plays a vital role in keeping the PA kleptocracy afloat. Rather it is that for more than 20 years U.S. governments have been whitewashing and excusing Palestinian actions and defending those decisions by saying that holding the PA accountable is bad for peace, security, and stability. Just as the failure of Kerry’s initiative was due in no small measure to the refusal of the administration to tell the truth about Abbas—who was wrongly praised as a man of peace while Netanyahu was falsely blasted as intransigent—that led the Palestinian to believe that he could stall and then walk out of talks with impunity.

Until the U.S. government starts enforcing those consequences, their behavior will never change. Paul’s bill may have been a piece of unnecessary grandstanding and friends of Israel are right to be wary of an isolationist whose rise bodes ill both for the future of American foreign policy and the U.S.-Israel alliance. But the issue he highlighted is real and demands action that unfortunately won’t be forthcoming from Obama or Kerry. 

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Another Try for Kerry’s Middle East Fiasco?

Since the collapse of the U.S.-sponsored negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, Secretary of State John Kerry has been all dressed up with nowhere to go. But if the administration has anything to do with it, that may be about to change. The State Department is now denying earlier reports that it is dismantling its negotiating team. By all accounts plans are afoot to send them all back again. And if that wasn’t enough, apparently Kerry is still mulling submitting his parameters to the two sides. What on earth for? The last time he came close to doing so PA head Mahmoud Abbas preempted him by issuing his own impossibly outlandish list of red lines.

State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf denies that there are any plans to dismantle “the team” and simply stated, “We’re going to see where this goes from here and, you know, figure out what makes sense in terms of staffing.” Perhaps what would “make sense in terms of staffing” would be for Kerry to let his chief negotiator Martin Indyk go, which after all seems to be what Indyk wants. Rumor has it that after some off-the-record comments were attributed to Indyk, he is looking to resign and is eager to return to the peace and quiet of the Brookings Institution in Washington, away from all those tiresome Israelis. For the comments widely attributed to Indyk certainly make no secret of the speaker’s feelings toward that quarter.

The comments in question were such that they would irreversibly burn any bridges of trust between the Israelis and whoever said them. Would Indyk have intentionally made sure that it became known that the comments had come from him? If so, it would make for a pretty one-directional escape from the sinking ship of Kerry’s hubristic peace mission. Much like President Obama’s now infamous Bloomberg interview, the voice speaking in the Yedioth Aharonoth interview portrays Abbas as a Gandhi-like figure and the Netanyahu government as a cynical pack of colonialists, indifferent to peace, hell-bent on robbing the Palestinians of their land, and outrageously trying to nudge the outcome of the talks in a direction that might protect at least some of Israel’s security concerns.

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Since the collapse of the U.S.-sponsored negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, Secretary of State John Kerry has been all dressed up with nowhere to go. But if the administration has anything to do with it, that may be about to change. The State Department is now denying earlier reports that it is dismantling its negotiating team. By all accounts plans are afoot to send them all back again. And if that wasn’t enough, apparently Kerry is still mulling submitting his parameters to the two sides. What on earth for? The last time he came close to doing so PA head Mahmoud Abbas preempted him by issuing his own impossibly outlandish list of red lines.

State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf denies that there are any plans to dismantle “the team” and simply stated, “We’re going to see where this goes from here and, you know, figure out what makes sense in terms of staffing.” Perhaps what would “make sense in terms of staffing” would be for Kerry to let his chief negotiator Martin Indyk go, which after all seems to be what Indyk wants. Rumor has it that after some off-the-record comments were attributed to Indyk, he is looking to resign and is eager to return to the peace and quiet of the Brookings Institution in Washington, away from all those tiresome Israelis. For the comments widely attributed to Indyk certainly make no secret of the speaker’s feelings toward that quarter.

The comments in question were such that they would irreversibly burn any bridges of trust between the Israelis and whoever said them. Would Indyk have intentionally made sure that it became known that the comments had come from him? If so, it would make for a pretty one-directional escape from the sinking ship of Kerry’s hubristic peace mission. Much like President Obama’s now infamous Bloomberg interview, the voice speaking in the Yedioth Aharonoth interview portrays Abbas as a Gandhi-like figure and the Netanyahu government as a cynical pack of colonialists, indifferent to peace, hell-bent on robbing the Palestinians of their land, and outrageously trying to nudge the outcome of the talks in a direction that might protect at least some of Israel’s security concerns.

Whoever made these comments either hasn’t been paying attention or is simply fabricating facts, particularly with their claim that talks collapsed on account of the settlements. Freezing settlement activity was never a predicate for the talks, and even after a dispute over prisoner releases and Palestinian moves at the United Nations the negotiations limped on, only finally and definitively collapsing when the Palestinians stunned Kerry and his team by announcing a Fatah-Hamas unity deal. That was the point at which talks were closed; settlements had nothing to do with it.

It is strange, however, that the U.S. official speaking in the Yedioth Aharonoth interview was so praiseful of Israel’s chief negotiator Tzipi Livni. If it were true, as the official claims, that Israel had an unreasonable negotiating position then why all the praise for Livni? Or are these comments really just about attacking Netanyahu and the Israeli right? Livni has her own political rivalries to think of and if Netanyahu had really dealt her a bad hand to play wouldn’t she have protested, if not to smear the prime minister then at least to save herself from being setup as the government’s fall guy? Yet Livni’s only real protests were against Abbas and his unreasonable positions.

If there was any doubt about the bad faith coming from the individual who made these comments, that is surely settled by their remarks about how, whether the Israelis like it or not, the Palestinians “will get their state in the end — whether through violence or by turning to international organizations.” This blatant indifference to the repercussions for Israel, and blasé attitude to Palestinian terrorism, would certainly ensure that whoever is speaking here can never come back from this as an impartial negotiator. Not surprising, then, that many have tied these comments to reports of Indyk’s return to Washington. 

If Indyk is to retire from Kerry’s ill-advised foray into the delights of the Israel-Palestinian impasse, then it remains to be seen as to who will replace him. But no matter who Kerry puts on his team, it won’t change the fact that Abbas has just put Hamas prime minister Ismail Haniyeh on his.  

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Why are Kay Hagan and Rand Paul Backing the Same Dead Horse?

Over the weekend, as the New York Times reported, Senator Rand Paul hosted Rupert Murdoch at the Kentucky Derby. While we don’t know whether this interesting attempt by the 2016 presidential hopeful to ingratiate himself with the influential media mogul paid off, apparently neither of the two made any money at the track while betting on the ponies. The horse Paul was backing in the big race “died” in the last hundred yards, while Murdoch left Louisville saying that he had “contributed enough to Kentucky.” But Paul’s not done betting on horses that are probably not fated to win.

Yesterday he was in North Carolina campaigning for Greg Brannon, one of the candidates in the Republican senatorial primary. Paul has been fairly cautious in the past few years about trying to exercise influence in this manner but by showing up on the eve of today’s primary, rather than just mailing in an endorsement, he was gambling his reputation on the fortunes of a fellow libertarian who has been trailing frontrunner Thom Tillis by double digits throughout the race.

While there is little doubt about who will finish first tonight in North Carolina, Brannon is hoping to keep Tillis’s vote under the 40 percent mark. That would force a runoff to be held on July 15. As it happens, embattled Democratic incumbent Kay Hagan is hoping for the same outcome. A delay in selecting the GOP nominee would give her an important boost heading into the fall general-election campaign. That is why Hagan has been paying for ads trashing Tillis as a weak conservative who is soft on ObamaCare, a not-so-subtle effort to try and help Brannon, a candidate that is likely to be a much easier opponent for the Democrat. Thus, while Paul may be seeking to enhance his reputation as a conservative kingmaker who can help the Tea Party knock off a candidate who is identified with the Republican establishment, the net effect of his efforts may be to boost the chances of the Democrats holding onto the Senate in November.

If all this sounds familiar, it should.

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Over the weekend, as the New York Times reported, Senator Rand Paul hosted Rupert Murdoch at the Kentucky Derby. While we don’t know whether this interesting attempt by the 2016 presidential hopeful to ingratiate himself with the influential media mogul paid off, apparently neither of the two made any money at the track while betting on the ponies. The horse Paul was backing in the big race “died” in the last hundred yards, while Murdoch left Louisville saying that he had “contributed enough to Kentucky.” But Paul’s not done betting on horses that are probably not fated to win.

Yesterday he was in North Carolina campaigning for Greg Brannon, one of the candidates in the Republican senatorial primary. Paul has been fairly cautious in the past few years about trying to exercise influence in this manner but by showing up on the eve of today’s primary, rather than just mailing in an endorsement, he was gambling his reputation on the fortunes of a fellow libertarian who has been trailing frontrunner Thom Tillis by double digits throughout the race.

While there is little doubt about who will finish first tonight in North Carolina, Brannon is hoping to keep Tillis’s vote under the 40 percent mark. That would force a runoff to be held on July 15. As it happens, embattled Democratic incumbent Kay Hagan is hoping for the same outcome. A delay in selecting the GOP nominee would give her an important boost heading into the fall general-election campaign. That is why Hagan has been paying for ads trashing Tillis as a weak conservative who is soft on ObamaCare, a not-so-subtle effort to try and help Brannon, a candidate that is likely to be a much easier opponent for the Democrat. Thus, while Paul may be seeking to enhance his reputation as a conservative kingmaker who can help the Tea Party knock off a candidate who is identified with the Republican establishment, the net effect of his efforts may be to boost the chances of the Democrats holding onto the Senate in November.

If all this sounds familiar, it should.

By using her campaign treasury to undermine the most electable Republican, Hagan is taking a page out of Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill’s underhanded but very successful push to persuade her state’s Republican primary voters to nominate Rep. Todd Akin. That investment paid huge dividends when Akin became her opponent and wound up sinking his own candidacy as well as damaging Republicans around the country with his stupid comments about rape and pregnancy.

As for Paul’s push for Brannon, a victory for the GOP underdog in North Carolina would not only enhance his prestige within the party but also herald a comeback for a Tea Party movement that the national media has been trying to bury for the last year.

But Paul’s clear affinity for his fellow doctor and libertarian shouldn’t deceive conservatives who may be hoping that Brannon is another Ted Cruz who can topple a party favorite and then go on to easily win a Senate seat. Brannon has general-election disaster written all over him. While Hagan’s use of an out-of-context quote to make it appear that Tillis was for ObamaCare is deceptive, there’s no getting around the fact that, like Akin, Brannon is a liberal dream. His controversial comments about food stamps and, in particular, his unwillingness to disagree with a 9/11 truther brand him as an extremist who has no shot at beating a competitive, if vulnerable Democrat like Hagan.

While the key to Paul’s 2016 strategy is clearly to rally the Tea Party behind him, his decision to go all in on Brannon is a mistake. Unwittingly aiding Hagan won’t endear him to most North Carolina Republicans. If his candidate does force a runoff or even somehow wins the nomination that might be a victory that he, and fellow Republicans, would come to regret.

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Israeli Independence Day and the New Reality for World Jewry

As fighting picked up in Ukraine and the government in Kiev proved helpless to stop its spread, it was easy to miss a three-paragraph story in Haaretz about the Jews caught up in the unrest. And once reading the story, it was just as easy to forget it. The news item was about Israeli security experts being dispatched to Ukraine to train the Jewish community, because of the fear that should anti-Semitism–not exactly alien to Ukraine–bubble back to the surface, the government would be unable (or unwilling) to protect them.

The fact that the story of Israeli-facilitated self-defense passed without much notice says much about the way the existence of the State of Israel has completely changed the conversation about the world’s Jews. It’s a point especially worth remembering today on Yom Haatzmaut, Israel’s Independence Day, the year preceding which we saw speculation on the once-unthinkable notion that French Jews might have to take up an “aliyah of rescue”–a development that serves as an alarming reminder of the status of European Jewry.

Those two stories, one about the concept of an aliyah of rescue and the other about Israel dispatching trained security professionals to Jews in isolated communities, demonstrate a crucial point about Israel’s value to the Jewish world: not only do Jews feel safer in Israel than in most places in the world, but Jews feel safer all around the world simply because of Israel. Compare the situation in Ukraine, for example, to previous episodes in Jewish history. In 1881, Tsar Alexander II was assassinated by revolutionaries, some of whom were Jews. In her new history of Israel, Anita Shapira describes what happened next:

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As fighting picked up in Ukraine and the government in Kiev proved helpless to stop its spread, it was easy to miss a three-paragraph story in Haaretz about the Jews caught up in the unrest. And once reading the story, it was just as easy to forget it. The news item was about Israeli security experts being dispatched to Ukraine to train the Jewish community, because of the fear that should anti-Semitism–not exactly alien to Ukraine–bubble back to the surface, the government would be unable (or unwilling) to protect them.

The fact that the story of Israeli-facilitated self-defense passed without much notice says much about the way the existence of the State of Israel has completely changed the conversation about the world’s Jews. It’s a point especially worth remembering today on Yom Haatzmaut, Israel’s Independence Day, the year preceding which we saw speculation on the once-unthinkable notion that French Jews might have to take up an “aliyah of rescue”–a development that serves as an alarming reminder of the status of European Jewry.

Those two stories, one about the concept of an aliyah of rescue and the other about Israel dispatching trained security professionals to Jews in isolated communities, demonstrate a crucial point about Israel’s value to the Jewish world: not only do Jews feel safer in Israel than in most places in the world, but Jews feel safer all around the world simply because of Israel. Compare the situation in Ukraine, for example, to previous episodes in Jewish history. In 1881, Tsar Alexander II was assassinated by revolutionaries, some of whom were Jews. In her new history of Israel, Anita Shapira describes what happened next:

The tsar’s assassination sent shock waves throughout the Russian Empire, as well as a spate of pogroms in Ukraine. The Church and the government made no effort to rein in the mob, and Jews suspected both of collaborating with the rioters. While the damage was mainly to property, the shock was great: mass rioting against Jews had not occurred in Eastern Europe during the previous century. The assumption had been that the strengthening of the absolutist state ensured public order and security. Now it suddenly appeared that, whereas in most of Europe and in America the Jews were citizens with equal rights, the Russian masses could still go on the rampage while the government either stood passively by or was itself involved in the rioting.

Even after educational reforms brought the Jews far more inclusion into society, and even after the Jews of the Russian Empire thought they had solved the riddle of how to establish themselves as a protected minority, pogroms broke out in Ukraine–coincidentally, the riots began on today’s date on the Jewish calendar–from which they were left indefensible. Back to the Haaretz story about violence in the wake of the fall of the Ukrainian power structure:

Three instructors from Ozma — a special project supported by the forum that sends Israeli security specialists to communities around the world where local Jews are under threat – will run the workshop. A similar workshop was held in Brussels last month.

The Ozma instructors are all former members of the Israeli security services with training in first aid. About thirty members of the Kiev Jewish community are expected to participate in the workshop. Besides teaching them self-defense techniques, the instructors will also focus on crisis management tactics required in emergency situations.

There is a prosperous, strong, democratic Jewish state that answers the call when Jews are in danger anywhere in the world. This gets at why, in addition to the obvious reasons, the noxious accusations of dual loyalty or undue Jewish influence on politics in the West ring so false. Among the great many things that Israel Lobby conspiracy theorists like to ignore is the fact that when they argue for a weaker, more isolated Israel they are arguing for weaker Jews around the world.

They may not intend this to be the case; it’s quite likely that their ignorance of politics and history has left them plainly unaware of the implications of their own ideas. But that’s the reality. When you combine this with the religious implications of the existence of Jewish sovereignty in Israel–a concept that pervades much of Jewish practice, from rituals to prayer services to religious education–you can begin to understand what Israel’s Independence Day means even for those who have yet to step within its borders.

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Assad Misses Chemical-Weapons Deadline

The deadline has come and gone for Bashar Assad to turn over all of his chemical weapons. Naturally, he did not fully comply with his obligations, turning over some 93 percent while holding onto a substantial stockpile. The Washington Post reports that “Syria is holding on to 27 tons of sarin precursor chemicals as leverage in a dispute with the international community over the future of facilities used to store the deadly agents.”

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, which is overseeing the destruction of the Syrian arsenal, insists that the tunnels and buildings used to hold the weapons should be destroyed. Assad wants to keep them intact and he is holding onto the remaining 27 tons of precursors until he gets his way–in violation, of course, of the agreement reached between Russia and the U.S. back in September.

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The deadline has come and gone for Bashar Assad to turn over all of his chemical weapons. Naturally, he did not fully comply with his obligations, turning over some 93 percent while holding onto a substantial stockpile. The Washington Post reports that “Syria is holding on to 27 tons of sarin precursor chemicals as leverage in a dispute with the international community over the future of facilities used to store the deadly agents.”

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, which is overseeing the destruction of the Syrian arsenal, insists that the tunnels and buildings used to hold the weapons should be destroyed. Assad wants to keep them intact and he is holding onto the remaining 27 tons of precursors until he gets his way–in violation, of course, of the agreement reached between Russia and the U.S. back in September.

Nor is this Assad’s only apparent violation. There have also been widespread reports of the Syrian government dropping bombs filled with chlorine on residential areas. “The use of the widely available industrial chemical in munitions known as barrel bombs,” the Post notes, “would constitute a violation of the Chemical Weapons Convention, which Damascus joined last fall under the threat of U.S. cruise missile strikes.” 

There is no sign of Assad being willing to give up his use of chlorine; indeed there are reports that Iran is replenishing his arsenal with Chinese-made chlorine bombs.

Why would Assad be flouting international norms in this way? Why not? The passing of the American red line on the use of chemical weapons last fall, without any military action on the part of the U.S., signaled clearly that Assad will not face any serious consequences no matter what he does. As long as he sort of–but not really–complies with the international agreement, he knows that President Obama will not launch air strikes. 

Indeed the U.S. has a strong incentive not to kick up too much of a fuss about Assad’s violations because everyone knows that last thing in the world that Obama wants is to get involved in another war. As Obama’s foreign policy goes from failure to failure, pretty much the only thing the president can boast of anymore is that he hasn’t gotten us involved in any fresh wars.

Of course Assad knows this. So does Putin. So does Khamenei. So does Xi Jinping. And Kim Jong-un. And pretty much everyone else who counts. They all know that they can get away with pretty much anything these days–and they are taking advantage of the opportunity.

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“Punished for Protesting” in Venezuela

Human Rights Watch has published a searing indictment of the Venezuelan regime’s brutal response to the recent protests in which 41 people lost their lives. Aptly entitled “Punished for Protesting,” HRW’s report is welcome for many reasons, not the least of them being the credibility that the NGO enjoys among liberal and left-wing opinion formers. Thanks to HRW’s efforts, it will be that much harder for the regime’s western apologists to stick to their portrait of chavismo as a noble exercise in wealth redistribution.

The report contains scores of harrowing testimonies from victims of abuse, medical professionals, journalists, and others. Particularly striking is the testimony of Keyla Josefina Brito, a 41-year-old woman from Barquisimeto, in the western state of Lara. On March 2, Brito and her 17-year-old daughter set out for a local butcher’s store just as the security forces were dispersing a demonstration. In the chaos, a female pedestrian was hit by a passing car. Brito and her daughter flagged down a truck and got inside with the seriously wounded woman and several others seeking to escape to safety. After driving a few blocks, the truck was stopped by the National Guard. All the passengers were detained, including the woman who’d been hit by the car and who required urgent medical attention. They then spent several hours in a detention facility where female National Guard members cut off their hair and beat them viciously with helmets, batons and fists. The women were also threatened with rape. Only when they agreed to sign a document confirming they had not been mistreated were they released.

Such outrages are not isolated instances, as HRW makes clear. Says the report:

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Human Rights Watch has published a searing indictment of the Venezuelan regime’s brutal response to the recent protests in which 41 people lost their lives. Aptly entitled “Punished for Protesting,” HRW’s report is welcome for many reasons, not the least of them being the credibility that the NGO enjoys among liberal and left-wing opinion formers. Thanks to HRW’s efforts, it will be that much harder for the regime’s western apologists to stick to their portrait of chavismo as a noble exercise in wealth redistribution.

The report contains scores of harrowing testimonies from victims of abuse, medical professionals, journalists, and others. Particularly striking is the testimony of Keyla Josefina Brito, a 41-year-old woman from Barquisimeto, in the western state of Lara. On March 2, Brito and her 17-year-old daughter set out for a local butcher’s store just as the security forces were dispersing a demonstration. In the chaos, a female pedestrian was hit by a passing car. Brito and her daughter flagged down a truck and got inside with the seriously wounded woman and several others seeking to escape to safety. After driving a few blocks, the truck was stopped by the National Guard. All the passengers were detained, including the woman who’d been hit by the car and who required urgent medical attention. They then spent several hours in a detention facility where female National Guard members cut off their hair and beat them viciously with helmets, batons and fists. The women were also threatened with rape. Only when they agreed to sign a document confirming they had not been mistreated were they released.

Such outrages are not isolated instances, as HRW makes clear. Says the report:

What we found during our in-country investigation and subsequent research is a pattern of serious abuse. In 45 cases, we found strong evidence of serious human rights violations committed by Venezuelan security forces, which included violations of the right to life; the prohibition on torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment; the rights to bodily integrity, security and liberty; and due process rights. These violations were compounded by members of the Attorney General’s Office and the judiciary who knew of, participated in, or otherwise tolerated abuses against protesters and detainees, including serious violations of their due process rights.

This account flies in the face of President Nicolas Maduro’s claim that the violence was largely provoked by the protestors whom, for good measure, he frequently denounced as “fascists” and agents of the CIA. The response of the authorities, HRW argues, had little to do with enforcing the law. Instead, the chavistas marshaled the police, the National Guard, the secret services, and a compliant judiciary to “punish people for their political views or perceived views.”

The HRW report is a boon for those U.S. legislators who have diligently tracked the erosion of basic human rights in Venezuela over the last fifteen years, first under Hugo Chavez and now under Maduro, his appointed successor. When the House Foreign Affairs Committee convenes later this week for a hearing on the Venezuelan abuses, there will be no shortage of pertinent questions to ask–including the issue, not addressed in “Punished for Protesting,” of alleged Cuban involvement in the repression, something that Florida Senator Marco Rubio has repeatedly stressed. In making the case for sanctions against Venezuelan officials involved with the repression, Rubio has also criticized the current administration for its anemic stance toward the mounting crisis over which Maduro presides. “This current government in Venezuela acts as enemy of the United States,” Rubio told the Washington Free Beacon last month. “For those reasons alone we should care about what this government is doing, and so far under this administration the stance has been silence.”  

Maduro’s latest innovation–a “shopping card intended to combat Venezuela’s food shortages”­–will hardly allay the fear that his regime is further embracing the Cuban model of socialism. The measures accompanying the card will involve, according to Reuters, “fingerprint machines at checkout counters to keep track of supplies.” Small wonder, then, that his regime is beginning to crack from within: This week, Juan Carlos Caguaripano Scott, a captain in the National Guard, announced his decision to “break the silence” by charging the government with conducting “fratricidal war.”

While the death toll from the protests suggests that Venezuela has some way to go before reaching the depths of other authoritarian states, Scott’s words indicate that the potential to do so is there. With almost 80 percent of Venezuelans, among them supporters of Maduro, now acknowledging the country’s dire predicament, the question now is how much longer the outside world, most obviously the United States, can continue acting as a bystander.

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Is the Culture of the Senate to Blame?

The Obama administration is foundering, with its principals stumbling from gaffe to gaffe. Long after then-Senator John Kerry was famously for it before he was against it, Secretary of State Kerry’s rhetoric repeatedly serves to nurture extremism rather than achieve peace, as he convinces rejectionists that time is on their side and rejectionism works. Now Kerry, apparently speaking from the cuff, bashes religiosity. Vice President Joe Biden, of course, makes Kerry appear taciturn. After a disastrous confirmation hearing and ill-chosen words suggesting bigotry, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has apparently learned that silence is golden because whenever he does open his mouth, he tends to get in trouble. Obama himself has mouthed off in ways that undercut both diplomacy and America’s strategic position. Indeed, USA Today asked whether Obama had actually made foreign policy by gaffe.

Senators are a funny bunch. They take several hundred votes per year, most on ordinary business—for example, confirmations and cloture votes—but some for more substantive bills. Whether they vote for or against, each is but one of 100 voices. Success is easy to claim, and responsibility easy to shirk. They must be masters of everything, and so are often skin deep on any particular issue. Rhetoric comes easy: Anyone who has ever testified at a hearing understands that he or she is merely a prop as senators make speeches geared more for their local papers before leaving the room. Over time, posturing becomes both second-nature and the key to success.

Being a leader, however, is different. The buck stops at the executive’s desk, whether for good or for bad. There’s a whole literature out there about why governors make better presidents, although some suggest the reality behind such conventional wisdom is uncertain. George Washington, John Adams, John Kennedy, Dwight D. Eisenhower, and Harry S. Truman were all great presidents, but none served as governor. Washington and Eisenhower, however, were generals and so did rise from a position of leadership. Adams was a lifelong politician and diplomat, and Kennedy and Truman both served time in the Congress.

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The Obama administration is foundering, with its principals stumbling from gaffe to gaffe. Long after then-Senator John Kerry was famously for it before he was against it, Secretary of State Kerry’s rhetoric repeatedly serves to nurture extremism rather than achieve peace, as he convinces rejectionists that time is on their side and rejectionism works. Now Kerry, apparently speaking from the cuff, bashes religiosity. Vice President Joe Biden, of course, makes Kerry appear taciturn. After a disastrous confirmation hearing and ill-chosen words suggesting bigotry, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has apparently learned that silence is golden because whenever he does open his mouth, he tends to get in trouble. Obama himself has mouthed off in ways that undercut both diplomacy and America’s strategic position. Indeed, USA Today asked whether Obama had actually made foreign policy by gaffe.

Senators are a funny bunch. They take several hundred votes per year, most on ordinary business—for example, confirmations and cloture votes—but some for more substantive bills. Whether they vote for or against, each is but one of 100 voices. Success is easy to claim, and responsibility easy to shirk. They must be masters of everything, and so are often skin deep on any particular issue. Rhetoric comes easy: Anyone who has ever testified at a hearing understands that he or she is merely a prop as senators make speeches geared more for their local papers before leaving the room. Over time, posturing becomes both second-nature and the key to success.

Being a leader, however, is different. The buck stops at the executive’s desk, whether for good or for bad. There’s a whole literature out there about why governors make better presidents, although some suggest the reality behind such conventional wisdom is uncertain. George Washington, John Adams, John Kennedy, Dwight D. Eisenhower, and Harry S. Truman were all great presidents, but none served as governor. Washington and Eisenhower, however, were generals and so did rise from a position of leadership. Adams was a lifelong politician and diplomat, and Kennedy and Truman both served time in the Congress.

The problem, however, might simply be treating the president in isolation. Even if a president has emerged from the Congress, often he surrounds himself with a diverse cabinet whose experience does not mirror his own. Kennedy might have appointed a career politician to be his vice president, but he chose former military officer and lifelong diplomat Dean Rusk to be his secretary of state, and Robert McNamara, his secretary of defense, had been president of the Ford Motor Company. Johnson, for his part, kept Rusk and McNamara in State and Defense, until he replaced McNamara with lawyer Clark Clifford toward the end. Gerald Ford nominated businessman Nelson Rockefeller as his vice president and kept Kissinger in place, even if he appointed politicians and bureaucrats to the defense portfolio. Truman might have chosen fellow politician Alben Barkley as his vice president, but surrounded himself with a host of secretaries of state, war, and later defense whose backgrounds were more varied.

Barack Obama seems to be the first president who has, at least in his second term, awarded all of his key foreign-policy posts to former senators, amplifying the unique personality of that position onto his administration. Poor policy and ill-thought out strategy are one-thing, but the number of own-goals Obama’s team has so far inflicted on American national security, as well as a superficial understanding of world affairs, seems to have at least some roots in Obama choosing to fish from a very narrow pool of like-minded politicians, all of whom tend to duplicate rather than correct the president’s own flaws.

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News Bulletin: Obama Believes He’s Too Good for Us

Poor Barack Obama.

According to David Remnick, a biographer of the president and the editor of the New Yorker, “The profile [of President Obama] that I published in the New Yorker was somebody that eerily, eerily seemed to be claiming himself–it was a sense of not giving up, but of deep frustration–that was the profile that I published in the New Yorker. Somebody frustrated and disappointed.”

Remnick went on to add, “And that’s what’s frustrating to me sometimes about Obama is that the world seems to disappoint him. Republicans disappoint him, Bashar al-Assad disappoints him, Putin as well.” (H/T: the Weekly Standard.)

How hard life must be for The One We’ve Been Waiting For, who must travel in this fallen world, amongst mortal man, tolerating such folly and failure? It’s little wonder that Mr. Obama, whom top aides referred to in the 2008 campaign as the “Black Jesus,” is disappointed in the world.

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Poor Barack Obama.

According to David Remnick, a biographer of the president and the editor of the New Yorker, “The profile [of President Obama] that I published in the New Yorker was somebody that eerily, eerily seemed to be claiming himself–it was a sense of not giving up, but of deep frustration–that was the profile that I published in the New Yorker. Somebody frustrated and disappointed.”

Remnick went on to add, “And that’s what’s frustrating to me sometimes about Obama is that the world seems to disappoint him. Republicans disappoint him, Bashar al-Assad disappoints him, Putin as well.” (H/T: the Weekly Standard.)

How hard life must be for The One We’ve Been Waiting For, who must travel in this fallen world, amongst mortal man, tolerating such folly and failure? It’s little wonder that Mr. Obama, whom top aides referred to in the 2008 campaign as the “Black Jesus,” is disappointed in the world.

But in return consider this: Think about how disappointed the world must be in Barack Obama. The man who promised to slow the rise of the oceans, heal the planet, and end a politics that breeds division and conflict and cynicism–who promised us new beginnings and hope and change–has overseen an increasingly disordered and chaotic world, enemies who are emboldened and allies who are alienated, the worst economic recovery on record, startling failures plaguing his signature domestic achievement, a record number of Americans on food stamps and in poverty, a widening gap in income inequality, and a riven and polarized political culture.

These are the hallmarks of a failed presidency. And the president and his courtiers are already settling on their explanation: Barack Obama was simply too good for the world.

The president thinks we have failed him. In reality, he has failed us. 

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Paying the Corporate Income Tax

Who actually pays the corporate income tax has long been a problem for economists. Depending on the particular competitive circumstances in an industry, the tax is paid through some combination of lower wages for workers, lower capital gains for investors, and higher prices for consumers. 

A new study from Ben Southwood of the Adam Smith Institute calculates that, on average, workers pay 57.6 percent of the corporate income tax. In other words, a tax that was instituted under President William Howard Taft in order to tax the rich, who owned almost all corporate stock in the early 20th century, now taxes mostly the average guy.

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Who actually pays the corporate income tax has long been a problem for economists. Depending on the particular competitive circumstances in an industry, the tax is paid through some combination of lower wages for workers, lower capital gains for investors, and higher prices for consumers. 

A new study from Ben Southwood of the Adam Smith Institute calculates that, on average, workers pay 57.6 percent of the corporate income tax. In other words, a tax that was instituted under President William Howard Taft in order to tax the rich, who owned almost all corporate stock in the early 20th century, now taxes mostly the average guy.

In 2013 the corporate income tax yielded $273 billion in revenue to the federal government, a little less than 10 percent of all federal revenues. Because it was never coordinated with the personal income tax that was instituted after the adoption of the 16th Amendment in 1913, it has been one of the main drivers of the ever greater complexity of the tax code as taxpayers have sought to legally avoid taxes by playing one tax off against the other.

While, heaven knows, the whole tax code needs to be junked and completely rethought, a good place to start would be by abolishing the corporate income tax.

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