Commentary Magazine


Posts For: May 20, 2014

Iran’s Latest Nuclear Gamble Seems Safe

Last week’s nuclear talks between Western negotiators and representatives of Iran concluded on Friday with no discernable sign of progress toward an agreement that would end the standoff over Tehran’s quest for a nuclear weapon. Though sources in Vienna were predicting that the whole point of this latest session and those to follow would be to draft another agreement to follow up on the weak nuclear deal signed last November, the talks yielded no sign that a successful conclusion to the diplomatic effort was anywhere in sight, either before the July deadline or after it. Both sides spoke of large gaps between their respective positions on how much of a nuclear infrastructure Iran will be allowed in the future. With Iran demanding that it be allowed to keep 50,000 functioning centrifuges for enriching uranium—a number that would make a mockery of any safeguards to ensure against a “breakout” to a bomb after the deal is struck—the chances of an accord seem remote unless either side substantially alters their positions.

Those pondering what the next step is for both parties must understand that the interim deal fundamentally altered the dynamic of the negotiations in Iran’s favor. With the sanctions regime weakened, Iran is more confident than ever. Tehran is currently negotiating as if both the potential use of force by the West and the impact of sanctions are not major factors. By standing their ground and refusing to agree to terms that would already give them the chance to build a bomb and insisting on being granted a far larger nuclear infrastructure, the ayatollahs are gambling that the West is bluffing about both the use of force and reinstating, let alone strengthening, sanctions. Given the circumstances, that seems prudent.

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Last week’s nuclear talks between Western negotiators and representatives of Iran concluded on Friday with no discernable sign of progress toward an agreement that would end the standoff over Tehran’s quest for a nuclear weapon. Though sources in Vienna were predicting that the whole point of this latest session and those to follow would be to draft another agreement to follow up on the weak nuclear deal signed last November, the talks yielded no sign that a successful conclusion to the diplomatic effort was anywhere in sight, either before the July deadline or after it. Both sides spoke of large gaps between their respective positions on how much of a nuclear infrastructure Iran will be allowed in the future. With Iran demanding that it be allowed to keep 50,000 functioning centrifuges for enriching uranium—a number that would make a mockery of any safeguards to ensure against a “breakout” to a bomb after the deal is struck—the chances of an accord seem remote unless either side substantially alters their positions.

Those pondering what the next step is for both parties must understand that the interim deal fundamentally altered the dynamic of the negotiations in Iran’s favor. With the sanctions regime weakened, Iran is more confident than ever. Tehran is currently negotiating as if both the potential use of force by the West and the impact of sanctions are not major factors. By standing their ground and refusing to agree to terms that would already give them the chance to build a bomb and insisting on being granted a far larger nuclear infrastructure, the ayatollahs are gambling that the West is bluffing about both the use of force and reinstating, let alone strengthening, sanctions. Given the circumstances, that seems prudent.

It must be understood that what the two sides have been negotiating about in Vienna is not whether the Iranians will have the capacity to build a bomb. That was already substantially conceded in the November interim deal when the West tacitly granted Iran the “right” to enrich uranium. With that point no longer in question and with the Iranians possessing the ability to reactivate their stockpile of nuclear fuel any time they like, the only variable in the bomb equation is how long such a breakout will take. The Obama administration’s goal in the talks is apparently to lengthen the current time for a breakout from a few weeks to a few months. That’s not insubstantial, but it also isn’t anything like a guarantee that Iran won’t get a bomb, especially when you realize that Western intelligence about the nuclear program is, at best, fragmentary.

Any idea that the West could parlay their sanctions or a failed diplomatic initiative into justification for the kind of pressure that could really bring Iran to its knees was thrown away in the interim deal. While the talks are reportedly being conducted in a congenial manner and in English, the negotiators seem to be quite comfortable with the process. But the problem with the West’s position is that no one seriously believes they have any more leverage over Iran. The notion that after the process of loosening sanctions has begun the U.S. can cajole a reluctant Europe to tighten the noose on Iran in the event of a diplomatic breakdown is risible. It can’t and won’t be done and the Iranians know it. Just as important is that Tehran knows President Obama will not order a strike on their nuclear facilities no matter what happens in the talks.

Thus, Iran’s seemingly “unrealistic” position on the centrifuges, as one Western negotiator described it to the New York Times, is actually nothing of the sort. Iran knows the only two possible outcomes of the talks is a breakdown that will let them get to a bomb but won’t produce a devastating response from the West or an agreement that will allow them to get to their nuclear ambition a bit more slowly.

Given the possible impact of sanctions on the Iranian economy as well as the danger from an attack, either from the West or from Israel, that would appear to be quite a gamble. But Iran seems to think that the West is bluffing and that Israel is unlikely to contradict President Obama’s demand that they stand down or is too weak to achieve a military task that perhaps only the U.S. can accomplish.

Since President Obama has already shown that he can sell the American people on the virtues of a weak Iran deal, Tehran figures that he can be pushed harder. Rather than come away from the upcoming rounds of talks with nothing and be forced to confront a foe that he would rather engage, the Iranians are of the opinion that he will give in and give them what they want. That might be a miscalculation that could lead to more suffering from the Iranian people. But this is what happens when tyrants negotiate with a democracy led by a weak leader. Even if Obama comes to his senses now and refuses to provide a diplomatic fig leaf to cover an Iranian arms push, it may be too late to convince Tehran’s leaders that he means business. If Iran is gambling that it can force another weak deal, it is hard to argue with their assessment of Obama. Right now it looks like their gamble is the safest possible bet. 

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Erdogan Unhinged

The German government’s publicly expressed discomfort with a visit by Recep Tayyip Erdogan–Turkey’s increasingly authoritarian, anti-Semitic premier–will be familiar to those who have covered Erdogan’s career or followed his exploits. Germany has no issue with Erdogan’s visit per se as much as they don’t like the idea of him giving an address to the country’s Turkish diaspora.

Turkey is a NATO member and, if you ask European Union officials on the record, a perennial candidate for eventual EU membership (though an obviously unrealistic one). So why is a European country eschewing the standard multiculti fare and worrying aloud about the Islamist leader’s speech? Because Erdogan is a loose cannon, whose public profile has always had to be managed carefully by party leaders lest the world hear a set of Erdogan Unplugged and come to the conclusion that the Turkish leader is a raving maniac.

The rise of social media–which Erdogan has tried to ban–and the spread of public protest movements to Turkey have tested Erdogan and his party. They have begun to come unglued. The latest test of Turkish leadership was the awful tragedy of the mine explosion in the Turkish city of Soma on May 13. Our Michael Rubin explained that the disaster–or, rather, its aftermath–encapsulated a couple of the major problems of Erdogan’s rule, most notably incompetence and blame-shifting.

After a government official was caught on camera beating a defenseless protester, tragedy descended into farce, as the Telegraph reports today:

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The German government’s publicly expressed discomfort with a visit by Recep Tayyip Erdogan–Turkey’s increasingly authoritarian, anti-Semitic premier–will be familiar to those who have covered Erdogan’s career or followed his exploits. Germany has no issue with Erdogan’s visit per se as much as they don’t like the idea of him giving an address to the country’s Turkish diaspora.

Turkey is a NATO member and, if you ask European Union officials on the record, a perennial candidate for eventual EU membership (though an obviously unrealistic one). So why is a European country eschewing the standard multiculti fare and worrying aloud about the Islamist leader’s speech? Because Erdogan is a loose cannon, whose public profile has always had to be managed carefully by party leaders lest the world hear a set of Erdogan Unplugged and come to the conclusion that the Turkish leader is a raving maniac.

The rise of social media–which Erdogan has tried to ban–and the spread of public protest movements to Turkey have tested Erdogan and his party. They have begun to come unglued. The latest test of Turkish leadership was the awful tragedy of the mine explosion in the Turkish city of Soma on May 13. Our Michael Rubin explained that the disaster–or, rather, its aftermath–encapsulated a couple of the major problems of Erdogan’s rule, most notably incompetence and blame-shifting.

After a government official was caught on camera beating a defenseless protester, tragedy descended into farce, as the Telegraph reports today:

A Turkish prime ministerial aide who rose to international attention after being photographed kicking a prone demonstrator has been given sick leave after suffering injuries to the same leg he used to carry out the attack.

Images of Yusef Yerkel assaulting the protester on the streets of Soma on May 14 a day after a mining disaster that killed 301 people quickly went viral after they were posted on the internet.

They also became emblematic of a perceived insensitivity to the tragedy on the part of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s prime minister and Mr Yerkel’s boss, who was visiting Soma when the incident occurred.

That’s quite the generous workers’ comp plan on offer in Erdogan’s government. But the spectacle spread, perhaps inevitably, when the prime minister himself was confronted by protesters:

“Why are you running away, Israeli spawn?” Recep Tayyip Erdogan is heard yelling at a protester in video footage circulated by the opposition Sozcu newspaper, using an expression considered a curse in Turkish.

That sentence is key to understanding the rot of Erdogan’s world. To be called an Israeli is apparently by definition supposed to be an insult in Turkey. The tensions between Turkey and Israel have much to do with geopolitics but enough to do with Erdogan’s Islamism to shine a spotlight on anti-Semitism in that country, and the way Erdogan is happy to express it and fan it when he feels threatened.

Falling back on anti-Semitism and specifically claims of Jewish disloyalty (hence a Turk being called “Israeli spawn”) is old hat for the region’s autocrats when they need to distract the public from their own corruption. It’s an especially important tool for Erdogan because he’d like to extend his influence throughout the Middle East but would be something of an outsider to the region’s Arabs. Anti-Semitism and anti-Israel incitement are seen by thugs like Erdogan to be unifying themes, and reveal the absurdity of Western leaders like Barack Obama “anchoring” regional policy in a petty aspiring tyrant like Erdogan.

Such incitement is often dismissed as mere rhetoric, but aside from the actual danger to Israel–such as embracing and funding Hamas, for example–the toll such hate takes on Jews in Turkey should not be overlooked. In a post at Hurriyet Daily News, Haymi Behar explains “what it is to be born as ‘Israeli spawn’ in Turkey.” Here’s a sample:

It means your favorite team Fenerbahçe playing against Maccabee Tel Aviv – which you only know by name – and your classmates who go to matches with asking you: “Are you supporting ‘us’ or ‘them?’”

It means internalizing Anne Frank’s Diary as you grow up.

It means being a part of a mere 13 million tribe in a sea of 7 billion in the world, and being a small sample of the 17,000 “spawn brothers” in Turkey.

It means trying to figure out why you are being held personally responsible Jesus’ crucifixion and the killing of Sultan Fatih the Conqueror, even though Jews only make up 0.2 percent of the world’s population.

It means having the ability to have all the answers ready, waiting in your mind, to respond anytime in your life to all these colossal historic questions.

It means trying to create a happy life for yourself while baring the burden of your ancestors having been enslaved, expelled constantly, despised and being the victims of the most massive industrially planned genocide ever committed.

It means keeping in your mind the question, “How did we manage to be the leading actors of so many conspiracy theories with such a small population?”

It means getting used to hearing hate speech and discrimination any God given day.

This is what can be revealed to the world when Erdogan speaks his mind, and it’s why the German government was holding its breath–because putting faith in Erdogan’s better judgment is like putting faith in any number of comforting, but nonexistent, entities.

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Spain, Basketball, and Jew Hatred

Spain has recently attempted to woo back the descendants of Jews who were expelled from the country in 1492. The offer of citizenship to those Sephardi Jews who can’t trace their ancestry back to the exile from the Iberian peninsula is primarily motivated by a desire to attract both capital and tourism to a country that is in dire economic straits. But if any Jews are tempted to take Madrid up on its offer, and apparently some may be, they should take into consideration the fact that Spain ranked third in the list of most anti-Semitic countries in Europe in the survey of international opinion published last week by the Anti-Defamation League.

Anyone who doubted the accuracy or the methods employed by the ADL in compiling its poll, especially with regard to Spain, ought to have second thoughts today. The reaction of Spaniards to the defeat of the Real Madrid basketball team at the hands of the Maccabi Tel Aviv team in the European championship game on Sunday is deeply troubling to the small Jewish community in that country. But the rash of anti-Semitic statements, especially on Twitter, in reaction to the victory of the Israeli squad shouldn’t be dismissed as only the sour reaction of supporters of a losing sports team. That the outcome of a basketball game would lead so many to resort to anti-Semitic language is not an accident or people just blowing off steam. The willingness to invoke traditional stereotypes of Jew-hatred as well as echoes of the Holocaust under these circumstances illustrates not only how deeply entrenched such attitudes are in European culture but the way Israel has become a stand-in for traditional anti-Semitism.

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Spain has recently attempted to woo back the descendants of Jews who were expelled from the country in 1492. The offer of citizenship to those Sephardi Jews who can’t trace their ancestry back to the exile from the Iberian peninsula is primarily motivated by a desire to attract both capital and tourism to a country that is in dire economic straits. But if any Jews are tempted to take Madrid up on its offer, and apparently some may be, they should take into consideration the fact that Spain ranked third in the list of most anti-Semitic countries in Europe in the survey of international opinion published last week by the Anti-Defamation League.

Anyone who doubted the accuracy or the methods employed by the ADL in compiling its poll, especially with regard to Spain, ought to have second thoughts today. The reaction of Spaniards to the defeat of the Real Madrid basketball team at the hands of the Maccabi Tel Aviv team in the European championship game on Sunday is deeply troubling to the small Jewish community in that country. But the rash of anti-Semitic statements, especially on Twitter, in reaction to the victory of the Israeli squad shouldn’t be dismissed as only the sour reaction of supporters of a losing sports team. That the outcome of a basketball game would lead so many to resort to anti-Semitic language is not an accident or people just blowing off steam. The willingness to invoke traditional stereotypes of Jew-hatred as well as echoes of the Holocaust under these circumstances illustrates not only how deeply entrenched such attitudes are in European culture but the way Israel has become a stand-in for traditional anti-Semitism.

The fact that so many Spaniards adopt anti-Semitic attitudes is remarkable not only because of their nation’s desire to attract Jews and to honor the lost heritage of the Jewish communities that were destroyed by the expulsion and the Inquisition. It must be understood that most Spaniards have had little or no contact with Jews. Yet many Spaniards seem to have retained the remnants of the vicious anti-Semitic attitudes that led to the expulsion even all these centuries later. As Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s late father wrote in his definitive history of the Inquisition, the persecution of the many Jews who converted and remained in Spain after 1492 was not so much a function of religious prejudice as it was a form of racism that would lay the foundation for future European horrors.

Just as important, this latest outbreak is a reminder that for many Europeans, expressing prejudice against Israel, even in the crudest manner possible that invokes memories of the Holocaust, has become legitimized by the campaign of demonization of the Jewish state that has been conducted by intellectuals and other elites. A Europe in which Israel is falsely accused of being a rerun of Nazi Germany is one in which anti-Semitism is starting to migrate from the margins of society in the wake of 1945 to the contemporary mainstream.

While I doubt that efforts by Spanish Jews to sue those who insulted them and Israel on Twitter will do much good, they deserve credit for not taking this hate lying down. While it would be hoped that the spectacle of an Israeli team winning a basketball game against Europe’s best would help to convince Spaniards and others that it is a normal country that should be accorded the same respect or indifference given other nations, that is probably too much to hope for. Anti-Semitism, including its anti-Zionist variety, is not really about anything the Jews do but the function of the sick minds of the anti-Semites. But in Europe today, it is becoming all too typical for any event involving Israel, be it good or bad, to serve as an excuse for hate.

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When a President Learns Everything on TV

Today, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney sought to partially walk back his statement yesterday in which he said President Obama learned about the growing scandal at the Veterans Administration by watching a report on the topic on CNN. After realizing just how bad that sounded, Carney returned to the daily briefing with the White House press corps today to say that his statement was being misinterpreted. According to Carney, what he really meant to say was that the president had only heard of the “specific allegations” about misconduct at VA hospitals by watching television. But, he insisted, the president was aware of problems at the VA, as proved by statements he had made during his 2008 presidential campaign when he promised to fix the agency.

Which is to say that, yes, Barack Obama had heard of the VA and had some vague intention to improve it as part of an effort to pose as someone who cares about our nation’s veterans. But between his arrival in the Oval Office and his subsequent appointment of retired Army General Eric Shinseki to head the VA in 2009 and the moment when he stumbled into awareness about the scandal during the course of spending some quality time with his remote control, he hadn’t given the topic much, if any, thought.

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Today, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney sought to partially walk back his statement yesterday in which he said President Obama learned about the growing scandal at the Veterans Administration by watching a report on the topic on CNN. After realizing just how bad that sounded, Carney returned to the daily briefing with the White House press corps today to say that his statement was being misinterpreted. According to Carney, what he really meant to say was that the president had only heard of the “specific allegations” about misconduct at VA hospitals by watching television. But, he insisted, the president was aware of problems at the VA, as proved by statements he had made during his 2008 presidential campaign when he promised to fix the agency.

Which is to say that, yes, Barack Obama had heard of the VA and had some vague intention to improve it as part of an effort to pose as someone who cares about our nation’s veterans. But between his arrival in the Oval Office and his subsequent appointment of retired Army General Eric Shinseki to head the VA in 2009 and the moment when he stumbled into awareness about the scandal during the course of spending some quality time with his remote control, he hadn’t given the topic much, if any, thought.

The administration’s problem here is not just that the VA scandal is far more serious than even Carney is currently willing to admit and that any action it is currently taking to address the plague of mismanagement and corruption that may have cost the lives of at least 40 veterans while they awaited treatment is too little and too late. As I noted last week, having an absentee president is bad for both the health of veterans and the nation. The president may have gotten away with treating the IRS scandal as no big deal and questions about Benghazi as merely a Republican witch hunt. But the spectacle of widespread corruption at the heart of a government health-care system that led to the deaths of veterans is not one you can pass off as a product of the fevered imaginations of his opponents. That’s especially true when you consider that Rep. Jeff Miller, the chair of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, wrote specifically to the president a year ago to bring to his attention what was already believed to be a widespread problem involving inefficiency and deceptive practices.

The fact that the White House resorted to what has become its standard second-term excuse for government scandal with a line about the president hearing about it on TV or by reading the newspapers raises serious questions about both his leadership and the intelligence of his staff. After all, surely it must have occurred to someone at the White House that using the same excuse about hearing of it in the media wasn’t likely to work after it had been employed with little success to distance him from the IRS and other scandals. Such intellectual laziness speaks to a West Wing that is both collapsing from intellectual fatigue as well as having acquired an almost complete contempt for both the press and public opinion.

The consequences here aren’t limited to the growing credibility gap that this administration continues to build. It’s bad enough that no one—not even his most ardent supporters—really believe that the president is on top of these issues. But what really stings is that Carney and the rest of the inhabitants of the Obama echo chamber have really come to believe that no one cares whether they are telling the truth or not.

Just as important is the reality of a government that is out of the control of its leader. A year ago Miller noted that one of the chief problems at the VA was a lack of accountability. That’s still true of the agency, as the deaths of veterans has provoked a low-key administration response that has left Secretary Shinseki in charge of a problem that grew worse on his watch. But it is also true of President Obama.

While no president can micromanage every Cabinet department, if Obama really did care about veterans, how is it that in the years between his first use of the issue as a campaign tactic and the moment when it exploded in the media he managed never to do a thing about the issue, even when specifically warned about the “allegations” that Carney claims he didn’t know about?

The lack of confidence in government is a natural response to events like the VA scandal, but it is compounded by a presidential response that makes it clear that Obama doesn’t pay much attention to the issues he raised in his own campaigns and that he is slow to act even after learning about such disasters on television. This scandal makes it clear, if it hadn’t already been so, that the Obama administration has run out of steam, ideas, or even a willingness to pretend that it cares about public opinion. It’s going to be a long slog until January 2017.

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Can the GOP Define Dem Senate Challengers?

Today’s primaries in six states across the nation are providing a multiplicity of narratives, but the most popular is the one in which the Tea Party is being depicted as the big loser. If polls are correct those Republican candidates most closely identified with the Tea Party are set to lose to politicians who are backed by the so-called GOP establishment. But as with a number of previous elections in which Tea Partiers have lost, this is somewhat misleading. Though some running under the Tea Party banner, like Matt Bevin in Kentucky, are certain losers, that is more a reflection of the weaknesses of these individuals or the strengths of their opponents (in Bevin’s case, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell) than any lack of support for the cause of fiscal conservatism that first swept the nation in 2010.

But once the dust settles after today’s primaries the real question facing Republicans will not be about the future of a Tea Party that has already won due to the conversion of virtually the entire Republican Party to Tea Party principles about taxation and spending. Rather, it will be whether they can define Democratic opponents whose challenges in two key races threaten to prevent the GOP from taking back the Senate. While most of the attention has been focused on the GOP Senate primaries in Kentucky (where McConnell is fending off Bevin) and Georgia where a free-for-all has weakened the party and made a runoff likely, the Democratic standard-bearers are already known. Kentucky’s Alison Lundergan Grimes and Georgia’s Michelle Nunn both look to be formidable general-election candidates.

But more to the point, the GOP intramural fights have allowed both women, who already have the advantage of name recognition stemming from their famous politician fathers, to emerge largely unscathed to this point. While they can expect that to change once their opponents are named, the conceit of both of their campaigns is to run as centrists who are not identified with President Obama or his unpopular ObamaCare legislation. The question is whether or not it is possible for Republicans to convince the public that, in fact, both are liberals who will seek to implement the president’s agenda rather than pursue the centrist course they claim to support. If Republicans can’t define these two challengers in this manner, their chances of winning control of the Senate may be lost.

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Today’s primaries in six states across the nation are providing a multiplicity of narratives, but the most popular is the one in which the Tea Party is being depicted as the big loser. If polls are correct those Republican candidates most closely identified with the Tea Party are set to lose to politicians who are backed by the so-called GOP establishment. But as with a number of previous elections in which Tea Partiers have lost, this is somewhat misleading. Though some running under the Tea Party banner, like Matt Bevin in Kentucky, are certain losers, that is more a reflection of the weaknesses of these individuals or the strengths of their opponents (in Bevin’s case, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell) than any lack of support for the cause of fiscal conservatism that first swept the nation in 2010.

But once the dust settles after today’s primaries the real question facing Republicans will not be about the future of a Tea Party that has already won due to the conversion of virtually the entire Republican Party to Tea Party principles about taxation and spending. Rather, it will be whether they can define Democratic opponents whose challenges in two key races threaten to prevent the GOP from taking back the Senate. While most of the attention has been focused on the GOP Senate primaries in Kentucky (where McConnell is fending off Bevin) and Georgia where a free-for-all has weakened the party and made a runoff likely, the Democratic standard-bearers are already known. Kentucky’s Alison Lundergan Grimes and Georgia’s Michelle Nunn both look to be formidable general-election candidates.

But more to the point, the GOP intramural fights have allowed both women, who already have the advantage of name recognition stemming from their famous politician fathers, to emerge largely unscathed to this point. While they can expect that to change once their opponents are named, the conceit of both of their campaigns is to run as centrists who are not identified with President Obama or his unpopular ObamaCare legislation. The question is whether or not it is possible for Republicans to convince the public that, in fact, both are liberals who will seek to implement the president’s agenda rather than pursue the centrist course they claim to support. If Republicans can’t define these two challengers in this manner, their chances of winning control of the Senate may be lost.

In Grimes’s case, she has already been under fire from McConnell’s formidable political machine but has, at least to date, been able to portray herself as a centrist alternative to a rabidly partisan minority leader, even if the senator’s primary opponent has absurdly blasted him as a liberal. She can expect those attacks to intensify in the coming months but it is not clear whether efforts to portray her as an Obama acolyte will overcome McConnell’s own low popularity in what polls show to be a dead heat.

But Nunn’s ability to get a free pass from the press and the GOP may have already compromised the Republicans’ ability to hold a seat being vacated by the retiring Saxby Chambliss. To date, Nunn has escaped much scrutiny for refusing to take a stand on most of the president’s policies, even refusing to say whether she would have voted for ObamaCare when it was passed in 2010 or what she would do about the deficit other than the usual empty clichés about stopping fraud and eliminating waste. Unless Republicans can effectively highlight this deceptive strategy, she has a decent chance of winning a Senate seat largely on the strength of being former Senator Sam Nunn’s daughter.

If Republicans want to see what happens to challengers–especially women who are newcomers to politics–when their opponents seek to define them as out of the mainstream, they should look to Oregon where the most formidable GOP Senate candidate seeking the party’s nomination today has been damaged by stories about her supposed stalking of a former boyfriend and husband. Dr. Monica Wehby gained national attention in the last month with her ad titled “Trust,” which featured the parent of one of the patients she treated in her capacity as a pediatric neurosurgeon. Wehby is pretty much a political consultant’s dream in that she is bright, principled, and has no political baggage. As such, she looked to have a better than average chance to put the seat currently held by Democrat Jeff Merkley into play despite the fact that Oregon is a very blue state. But the stories about stalking have put that in doubt. While any candidate is responsible for his or her own behavior, the willingness of Democrats to try to use what appear to be minor, non-violent personal disputes to depict her as a real-life version of the Glenn Close character in Fatal Attraction shows just how miserable a business politics can be.

While Wehby may yet survive this siege, the lesson here for Republicans is that their opponents’ bare knuckles tactics illustrate just how far they are willing to go in order to hold their Senate majority. While hopefully the GOP won’t sink to that level in order to defeat Grimes or Nunn, neither can they sit back and just hope the voters will wake up and realize that electing them is a vote for Obama and Majority Leader Harry Reid, not centrist politics. In an election that hinges on the GOP’s ability to hold its own seats while beating vulnerable Democratic incumbents, the ability to define challengers may be the key to the 2014 midterms.

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Maliki’s Power Play

What’s bad policy may sometimes be good politics. So it proved in Iraq where Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has presided over a disastrous collapse of security since the departure of U.S. troops at the end of 2011 left the Iraqis entirely on their own. As The Wall Street Journal notes: “More than 7,800 Iraqi civilians were killed in 2013—the most civilian deaths since the nearly 18,000 killed in 2007 at the height of the sectarian conflict, according to the United Nations. At least 2,300 were killed so far this year.”

Much of this increase in violence is due to Maliki’s short-sighted alienation of the Sunnis whose leaders he has been persecuting and sidelining. This has allowed al-Qaeda in Iraq to revive itself in the new guise of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. And this has given an opening for militant Shiite extremists backed by Iran to start committing their own atrocities against Sunnis in retaliation for Sunni car bombings of Shiites. Thus has the cycle of violence started spinning again. 

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What’s bad policy may sometimes be good politics. So it proved in Iraq where Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has presided over a disastrous collapse of security since the departure of U.S. troops at the end of 2011 left the Iraqis entirely on their own. As The Wall Street Journal notes: “More than 7,800 Iraqi civilians were killed in 2013—the most civilian deaths since the nearly 18,000 killed in 2007 at the height of the sectarian conflict, according to the United Nations. At least 2,300 were killed so far this year.”

Much of this increase in violence is due to Maliki’s short-sighted alienation of the Sunnis whose leaders he has been persecuting and sidelining. This has allowed al-Qaeda in Iraq to revive itself in the new guise of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. And this has given an opening for militant Shiite extremists backed by Iran to start committing their own atrocities against Sunnis in retaliation for Sunni car bombings of Shiites. Thus has the cycle of violence started spinning again. 

Part of the problem here is the Syrian civil war, which has spilled over the border into western Iraq. But the largest part of the problem is Maliki’s conspiratorial, dictatorial worldview that treats as enemies those he should have been trying to win over.

The course he is embarked on is terrible for Iraq but it seems that it is good for his political prospects. In the recently completed elections his State of Law party emerged as the top vote-getter, winning 92 seats in parliament. That puts Maliki in a strong position to cobble together a coalition that will keep him in the prime minister’s office for a third term, thereby allowing him to further increase his already worrisome accumulation of power.

Why did Maliki win the election in spite of the terrible impact of his policies? He is in the position of arsonist turned firefighter: Having stoked sectarian passions and alarmed Shiites, he is now posturing as a strongman who can save the Shiites from further violence. This perception does not accord with the facts–Maliki is the problem, not the solution–but it is not the first or last time that voters have fallen for a politician who abets the very insecurity he is purporting to solve. Vladimir Putin is a beneficiary of the same trend, although he has increasingly disposed with the trappings of democracy which Iraq still has–but for how long?

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We’re Still Talking About ObamaCare Because Obama Designed It That Way

A reliable indicator of the troubled start to the age of ObamaCare is how much President Obama complains about the attention paid to his signature achievement. He is proud of it, supposedly, and thinks Democrats should be as well. Yet, puzzlingly, he’d really wish people would stop talking about it.

There are many reasons for this. To know ObamaCare is to despise ObamaCare, so to talk about ObamaCare is usually to criticize ObamaCare. Additionally, the president has been selectively implementing the health-care reform law as well as adding regulations to it, and he’d prefer the lawlessness and inherent cronyism of ObamaCare not be exposed to too much sunlight.

But complaining about people talking about ObamaCare is hypocritical for another reason: this is precisely how the president designed it. I don’t just mean his embracing of the ObamaCare moniker. Here’s the president in his own words, displaying the bitterness and resentment that has come to define his rhetoric:

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A reliable indicator of the troubled start to the age of ObamaCare is how much President Obama complains about the attention paid to his signature achievement. He is proud of it, supposedly, and thinks Democrats should be as well. Yet, puzzlingly, he’d really wish people would stop talking about it.

There are many reasons for this. To know ObamaCare is to despise ObamaCare, so to talk about ObamaCare is usually to criticize ObamaCare. Additionally, the president has been selectively implementing the health-care reform law as well as adding regulations to it, and he’d prefer the lawlessness and inherent cronyism of ObamaCare not be exposed to too much sunlight.

But complaining about people talking about ObamaCare is hypocritical for another reason: this is precisely how the president designed it. I don’t just mean his embracing of the ObamaCare moniker. Here’s the president in his own words, displaying the bitterness and resentment that has come to define his rhetoric:

Appearing at a Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee event at a Potomac, Maryland, residence on Monday evening, the president said he wanted a national conversation between the two parties on the efficacy of government programs.

“But that’s not the debate that’s taking place right now,” Obama said. “The debate we’re having right now is about, what, Benghazi? Obamacare? And it becomes this endless loop. It’s not serious. It’s not speaking to the real concerns that people have.”

Americans, of course, still disagree. Here’s the takeaway from Gallup’s latest polling, with a particularly revealing phrasing:

American voters have a clearly differentiated sense of which issues will or will not be important to their vote for Congress this year. They give economy-related issues, including the distribution of income and wealth, along with the Affordable Care Act, above-average importance. Hot-button issues such as immigration and global warming, and issues that have been much in the news recently, such as foreign affairs and immigration, have below-average importance.

Not health care, but ObamaCare specifically–a change Conn Carroll noticed and pointed out on Twitter this morning. Indeed, in the poll, there is no result for health care, only ObamaCare. The category is called “The Affordable Care Act, also known as ‘Obamacare’.”

As strange as it may sound, this makes a fair amount of sense–but Democrats should be the last ones complaining about it. That’s because the whole point of ObamaCare was to upend the entire health-care system, regardless of the fact that Democrats had to lie about it repeatedly and brazenly in order to get the bill passed. We’re long since passed the point where liberals can claim this is not government control of the insurance market and not be laughed out of the room.

ObamaCare’s coverage expansion rested on two pillars. The first was an explicit government program, Medicaid. It’s a failed and expensive program that in many cases is actually worse for the patient than having no insurance at all. It’s insurance, in other words, but often not really health care. The second pillar was to kick millions of Americans off their insurance policies and mandate by law that they buy a new policy. This aspect of ObamaCare is not designed to insure the uninsured. It’s designed to enable the government to control the health-insurance market by greatly restricting legal health-care plans, raising the prices for those the government thinks can pay and offering subsidies to those who can’t. Those who are permitted to keep their insurance plans will see their access to doctors restricted under ObamaCare and their premiums, in many cases, skyrocket.

It’s a scam, sure, but it’s a government scam. In reality, this means that even those who don’t buy insurance from the government will have their insurance impacted by the government in all sorts of ways. It becomes nearly impossible to avoid ObamaCare, even if you don’t depend directly on the federal government for your insurance under ObamaCare.

This was always the point, and it’s one of the great many reasons the law was so ill-conceived and had to be sold on false advertising. One of the central claims of ObamaCare’s backers was, as Sarah Kliff and Ezra Klein hilariously asserted in January: “Here’s the biggest thing to know about Obamacare: Most people will never notice it.”

No one who understood the law or the basics of the health-care sector could possibly have written such a thing with a straight face. And the crafters of ObamaCare certainly didn’t plan it that way–however it was sold. So it’s not terribly surprising that Gallup has incorporated the reality of ObamaCare into its polling instead of relying on the administration’s propaganda. And it shouldn’t be surprising to the president that, now that the law has been passed, Americans are finding out what’s in it.

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The PA, Refugees, the Holocaust, and Peace

Haaretz reported yesterday that if the Palestinian Authority’s planned Fatah-Hamas unity government actually arises, the U.S., like the European Union, will probably recognize it. Since Hamas has repeatedly said it will neither recognize Israel nor renounce violence, Israel is understandably upset at American and European willingness to peddle the fiction that a government in which Hamas is a full partner complies with those requirements. But Israel itself has helped to peddle a no less outrageous fiction for years–that PA President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah party, unlike Hamas, is a “partner for peace.” To understand how ridiculous this claim is, consider two recent developments: last week’s Haaretz op-ed by chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat, and a decision by Al-Quds University’s academic union two weeks earlier.

Erekat’s op-ed consisted mainly of standard Palestinian lies and half-truths about the Nakba–like omitting any mention of the five Arab armies who invaded Israel in 1948, thereby starting the war that created the Palestinian refugees. Nevertheless, one sentence stood out: “In my own home town, Jericho, there are two refugee camps where thousands continue to live in miserable conditions.” That happens to be completely true. What Erekat neglected to mention, however, is that Jericho was the first city Israel turned over to Palestinian rule, way back in 1994. In other words, Jericho has been under Palestinian rule continuously for the last 20 years, during which time the PA has been the largest per capita recipient of foreign aid in the world. Yet not one cent of that money has been spent on improving conditions in Jericho’s refugee camps. Instead, 20 years later, Erekat is still blaming Israel for the “miserable conditions” in those camps.

This is not a trivial issue, because the entire peace process is predicated on the theory that Fatah actually wants a Palestinian state. Yet having a Palestinian state means taking responsibility for the Palestinians’ problems, including the refugees living in those camps, rather than continuing to blame Israel for them. And as Erekat’s statement shows, the Fatah-led PA has no interest in doing any such thing: It prefers leaving the refugees in their misery as a way to score points against Israel with international public opinion. In other words, it would rather pursue its war against Israel than actually exercise sovereignty by improving its people’s lives.

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Haaretz reported yesterday that if the Palestinian Authority’s planned Fatah-Hamas unity government actually arises, the U.S., like the European Union, will probably recognize it. Since Hamas has repeatedly said it will neither recognize Israel nor renounce violence, Israel is understandably upset at American and European willingness to peddle the fiction that a government in which Hamas is a full partner complies with those requirements. But Israel itself has helped to peddle a no less outrageous fiction for years–that PA President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah party, unlike Hamas, is a “partner for peace.” To understand how ridiculous this claim is, consider two recent developments: last week’s Haaretz op-ed by chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat, and a decision by Al-Quds University’s academic union two weeks earlier.

Erekat’s op-ed consisted mainly of standard Palestinian lies and half-truths about the Nakba–like omitting any mention of the five Arab armies who invaded Israel in 1948, thereby starting the war that created the Palestinian refugees. Nevertheless, one sentence stood out: “In my own home town, Jericho, there are two refugee camps where thousands continue to live in miserable conditions.” That happens to be completely true. What Erekat neglected to mention, however, is that Jericho was the first city Israel turned over to Palestinian rule, way back in 1994. In other words, Jericho has been under Palestinian rule continuously for the last 20 years, during which time the PA has been the largest per capita recipient of foreign aid in the world. Yet not one cent of that money has been spent on improving conditions in Jericho’s refugee camps. Instead, 20 years later, Erekat is still blaming Israel for the “miserable conditions” in those camps.

This is not a trivial issue, because the entire peace process is predicated on the theory that Fatah actually wants a Palestinian state. Yet having a Palestinian state means taking responsibility for the Palestinians’ problems, including the refugees living in those camps, rather than continuing to blame Israel for them. And as Erekat’s statement shows, the Fatah-led PA has no interest in doing any such thing: It prefers leaving the refugees in their misery as a way to score points against Israel with international public opinion. In other words, it would rather pursue its war against Israel than actually exercise sovereignty by improving its people’s lives.

This preference for continuing the war on Israel over making peace also emerges from an April 30 decision by Al-Quds University’s academic union to expel a professor for the “crime” of taking his students to Auschwitz. By so doing, the union said, Prof. Mohammed Dajani was guilty of “behavior that contravenes the [union’s] policies and norms.”

Al-Quds isn’t some Islamic university deep in Hamas-controlled Gaza; it’s a flagship PA institution, located in East Jerusalem, that even had a partnership with Brandeis University, and whose president for almost 20 years (until his resignation in March at age 65) was prominent Fatah member Sari Nusseibeh, considered a leading Palestinian moderate. Yet for this “moderate” university, simply daring to expose students to the historical truth of the Holocaust is a crime worthy of expulsion from the academic union. Why? Because, as another teacher explained, it might lead students to have some sympathy for “the false Zionist narrative.” Or in other words, it might actually contribute to peacemaking by facilitating mutual understanding.

As long as the “moderates” of Fatah are unwilling either to accept the basic responsibilities of sovereignty, like helping their own refugees, or to acknowledge basic historical truths like the Holocaust, they are no more “peace partners” than Hamas is. And by peddling the fiction that they are, Israel and the West aren’t bringing peace closer. They’re merely ensuring that Fatah has no incentive to change.

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