Commentary Magazine


Posts For: June 3, 2014

Continued Palestinian Aid Breaks the Law

Yesterday’s decision by the Obama administration to continue funding for the Palestinian Authority despite its alliance with Hamas terrorists was a blow to the cause of peace as well as a slap in the face to the state of Israel. The administration thinks it can hide behind the pretense that such aid isn’t going to Hamas because it is shielded by a Cabinet of technocrats that have been appointed by PA leader Mahmoud Abbas won’t include a member of the terror group. But no one is fooled by this scam. Hamas is now an integral part of the PA apparatus. Since Hamas has not dropped its call for Israel’s destruction and the slaughter of its population, arguments that it has been co-opted by the supposedly more moderate Fatah can’t be taken seriously. The unity agreement is based on a common abhorrence for peace that is shared by the rank and file of both major Palestinian movements, a point that is proved by Fatah’s repeated rejection of Israeli peace offers and decision to strike a deal with Hamas rather than Israel.

This is a body blow to the cause of peace since without U.S. pressure or even a gesture in the direction of accountability, it’s clear the Palestinian leadership will never recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn.

But as frustrating as this betrayal may be for the broad bipartisan pro-Israel coalition in Washington, this is not just a matter of bad policy. By keeping U.S. taxpayer dollars flowing to the PA, the administration is breaking the law. As Senators Mark Kirk and Marco Rubio pointed out in a letter to Secretary of State Kerry yesterday, U.S. law clearly states that continuing aid to the PA if it has entered into a pact with Hamas is illegal under the Palestinian Anti-Terrorism Act of 2006.

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Yesterday’s decision by the Obama administration to continue funding for the Palestinian Authority despite its alliance with Hamas terrorists was a blow to the cause of peace as well as a slap in the face to the state of Israel. The administration thinks it can hide behind the pretense that such aid isn’t going to Hamas because it is shielded by a Cabinet of technocrats that have been appointed by PA leader Mahmoud Abbas won’t include a member of the terror group. But no one is fooled by this scam. Hamas is now an integral part of the PA apparatus. Since Hamas has not dropped its call for Israel’s destruction and the slaughter of its population, arguments that it has been co-opted by the supposedly more moderate Fatah can’t be taken seriously. The unity agreement is based on a common abhorrence for peace that is shared by the rank and file of both major Palestinian movements, a point that is proved by Fatah’s repeated rejection of Israeli peace offers and decision to strike a deal with Hamas rather than Israel.

This is a body blow to the cause of peace since without U.S. pressure or even a gesture in the direction of accountability, it’s clear the Palestinian leadership will never recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn.

But as frustrating as this betrayal may be for the broad bipartisan pro-Israel coalition in Washington, this is not just a matter of bad policy. By keeping U.S. taxpayer dollars flowing to the PA, the administration is breaking the law. As Senators Mark Kirk and Marco Rubio pointed out in a letter to Secretary of State Kerry yesterday, U.S. law clearly states that continuing aid to the PA if it has entered into a pact with Hamas is illegal under the Palestinian Anti-Terrorism Act of 2006.

The subterfuges that the PA is using to avoid losing the U.S. and European funds that keep its kleptocracy operating are so obvious that surely even the Obama administration isn’t falling for them. As the Palestine Media Watch site pointed out, the PA’s practice of paying salaries to imprisoned terrorists is being discontinued. Instead of direct payments from the PA, the murderers will get their checks from the Palestine Liberation Organization. Where will the PLO get its money? From the PA out of the funds donated by the EU and the U.S, that’s where.

This cannot be allowed to stand. Though the president will be able to use the waivers included in the legislation to violate the clear intent of the legislation, Congress must exact a price for this underhanded subterfuge. Though the president can’t be directly stopped from giving the aid, this extralegal maneuver must be countered by either new legislation that prevents him from funding terrorists or by cuts in allocations to the State Department and future foreign aid bills.

As he has repeatedly shown in the past, President Obama views the rule of law as a flexible concept rather than one that obligates him to respect the will of Congress. But having flouted the law in this case, Congress must restrict his ability to funnel money to Palestinian terrorists in the future.

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Don’t Compare War on Coal to Tobacco

As the negative feedback about President Obama’s new regulations aimed at strangling the coal industry from Democrats as well as Republicans continues to pour in, administration cheerleaders aren’t daunted. Writing off coal producing states is no big deal to the coastal elites who have been push the environmental alarmist agenda that forms the rationale for the coal-killing orders from the Environmental Protection Agency. And if it means losing a few more House seats or the Democrats best chance of stealing a Republican Senate seat in Kentucky, for most liberals that seems a small price to pay for the joy of imposing their warming views on the nation. Though, as even the New York Times noted yesterday, the measures will have little if any impact on the amount of carbon in the earth’s atmosphere, a devastating blow to the nation’s economy is considered an unimportant detail to those who believe the earth is melting.

But contempt for economic concerns isn’t the only factor behind the confidence of climate change extremists. They believe there is a precedent for an elitist campaign directed at a specific industry and the regions that depend on it: tobacco. One of the chief liberal talking points on cable news shows as well as the conceit of a feature in today’s Times, is the idea that coal can be defeated as easily as tobacco was in the 1990s as a wave of regulations cut back on a huge business that was once king in some states as well as on Capitol Hill. If big tobacco could be toppled, why not coal, which can’t depend on the loyalty of millions of addicts and hasn’t been promoted by generations of Madison Avenue execs and their ads?

But though the analogy is exactly what liberals want to be told, the analogy is a false one. The superficial comparisons between a once-unchallenged sector of the economy and another that is in the crosshairs of the Obama administration may seem like sense. But it is based on a fallacy. Americans could be persuaded to stop smoking and to place restrictions on the ability of the tobacco industry to sell or to market their product to minors. But coal is not a symbol of teenage rebellion or an unpleasant personal habit. It is a vital cog in the engine of the American economy that lights homes and keeps factories working. It may be supplanted in part by natural gas (which the warming crowd also hates) but it is not going away any time in the foreseeable future. America needs coal.

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As the negative feedback about President Obama’s new regulations aimed at strangling the coal industry from Democrats as well as Republicans continues to pour in, administration cheerleaders aren’t daunted. Writing off coal producing states is no big deal to the coastal elites who have been push the environmental alarmist agenda that forms the rationale for the coal-killing orders from the Environmental Protection Agency. And if it means losing a few more House seats or the Democrats best chance of stealing a Republican Senate seat in Kentucky, for most liberals that seems a small price to pay for the joy of imposing their warming views on the nation. Though, as even the New York Times noted yesterday, the measures will have little if any impact on the amount of carbon in the earth’s atmosphere, a devastating blow to the nation’s economy is considered an unimportant detail to those who believe the earth is melting.

But contempt for economic concerns isn’t the only factor behind the confidence of climate change extremists. They believe there is a precedent for an elitist campaign directed at a specific industry and the regions that depend on it: tobacco. One of the chief liberal talking points on cable news shows as well as the conceit of a feature in today’s Times, is the idea that coal can be defeated as easily as tobacco was in the 1990s as a wave of regulations cut back on a huge business that was once king in some states as well as on Capitol Hill. If big tobacco could be toppled, why not coal, which can’t depend on the loyalty of millions of addicts and hasn’t been promoted by generations of Madison Avenue execs and their ads?

But though the analogy is exactly what liberals want to be told, the analogy is a false one. The superficial comparisons between a once-unchallenged sector of the economy and another that is in the crosshairs of the Obama administration may seem like sense. But it is based on a fallacy. Americans could be persuaded to stop smoking and to place restrictions on the ability of the tobacco industry to sell or to market their product to minors. But coal is not a symbol of teenage rebellion or an unpleasant personal habit. It is a vital cog in the engine of the American economy that lights homes and keeps factories working. It may be supplanted in part by natural gas (which the warming crowd also hates) but it is not going away any time in the foreseeable future. America needs coal.

The tactics that helped mollify tobacco-growing states aren’t likely to work with coal. Raising the price of tobacco via the imposition of draconian taxes could induce many Americans to quit a nasty habit that could eventually kill them. But as even the Times pointed out:

The government’s method of weaning the nation from each product — by raising the price — has a regressive impact. In the case of carbon emissions, it hits not just the poor who can least afford higher energy prices but also those in rural areas who tend to drive long distances.

The impact of raising the cost of fossil fuels would be broader than taxing tobacco. Smokers, in the end, can quit, difficult as that may be. A Montana rancher cannot give up his pickup truck.

Measures aimed at putting more than 600 coal-fired power plants around the country out of business won’t just inconvenience those who work to mine coal which is, after all, a group that could be retrained or bought off by the government in some way. But cutting back on the availability of power will send everyone’s electricity costs skyrocketing and put more people out of work than can be subsidized by federal largesse.

Moreover, tobacco was already on the way out as demand for the product lessened in the decades after the first warnings about the connection between smoking and cancer as well as other diseases. Environmentalists may dislike coal but it is still a staple of the U.S. economy and doesn’t bring with it the sort of opprobrium that was brought down on smoking as the culture changed.

Though it was once considered not merely socially acceptable but a staple of our culture, tobacco was always a luxury product, not a necessity, let alone a pillar of the economy. Weaning individuals and even regions from dependence on it was hard but not impossible. But though many on the left believe in alternatives to fossil fuels the way toddlers cling to the Tooth Fairy, there is little likelihood that wind or solar or nuclear (which is a viable option but even more politically incorrect than coal) can replace oil, gas or coal. If it is to continue to prosper, America will need coal for decades to come.

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Obama’s Dishonorable Deal

Even I, a consistent and at times quite a harsh critic of President Obama, have been taken aback by the latest turn of events.

To recapitulate: Mr. Obama released five high-value, high-risk terrorists from Guantanamo Bay in exchange for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who it appears was a deserter–and has been known to be a deserter for a couple of years. People who served with him are calling on the military to court martial Bergdahl. Media reports indicate that at least six Americans died  in their efforts to rescue him.

In de facto negotiating with the Taliban and acceding to their demands, the president violated a law he signed, requiring him to inform Congress 30 days in advance of any prisoner release from Guantanamo Bay. And the effect of this deal will be to incentivize the capture of more Americans, since it obviously pays dividends.

Yet the Obama administration took this humiliating accommodation and portrayed it as a victory of American values and purpose. The president held a Rose Garden event on Saturday extolling the deal. National Security Adviser Susan Rice referred to it as an “extraordinary day for America” that deserves to be “celebrated.” And Ms. Rice said of Sgt. Bergdahl, “He served the United States with honor and distinction.” 

Really, now? A deserter who, according to the New York Times, “left a note in his tent saying he had become disillusioned with the Army, did not support the American mission in Afghanistan and was leaving to start a new life,” is a person who served with “honor and distinction”? By what ethical calculus does she claim this to be so?

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Even I, a consistent and at times quite a harsh critic of President Obama, have been taken aback by the latest turn of events.

To recapitulate: Mr. Obama released five high-value, high-risk terrorists from Guantanamo Bay in exchange for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who it appears was a deserter–and has been known to be a deserter for a couple of years. People who served with him are calling on the military to court martial Bergdahl. Media reports indicate that at least six Americans died  in their efforts to rescue him.

In de facto negotiating with the Taliban and acceding to their demands, the president violated a law he signed, requiring him to inform Congress 30 days in advance of any prisoner release from Guantanamo Bay. And the effect of this deal will be to incentivize the capture of more Americans, since it obviously pays dividends.

Yet the Obama administration took this humiliating accommodation and portrayed it as a victory of American values and purpose. The president held a Rose Garden event on Saturday extolling the deal. National Security Adviser Susan Rice referred to it as an “extraordinary day for America” that deserves to be “celebrated.” And Ms. Rice said of Sgt. Bergdahl, “He served the United States with honor and distinction.” 

Really, now? A deserter who, according to the New York Times, “left a note in his tent saying he had become disillusioned with the Army, did not support the American mission in Afghanistan and was leaving to start a new life,” is a person who served with “honor and distinction”? By what ethical calculus does she claim this to be so?

This illustrates quite well the fundamental differences the president and his aides and I have. My response to what has occurred is not just intellectual but visceral. I consider what occurred, when everything is taken into account, to be substantively indefensible and morally dishonorable. The president, in my estimation, has rendered a great service to our enemies, and they know it. (Mullah Omar, the head of the Taliban, hailed the release of the top five Taliban commanders from Guantanamo as a “great victory” for the mujahideen of Afghanistan.) The president’s decision may well endanger American lives down the road. And his administration has elevated an apparent deserter–one whose actions were reported on in the past (see this 2012 Rolling Stone article by Michael Hastings) and who is responsible for the death of fellow soldiers who tried to rescue him–into a hero. 

This strikes me as morally grotesque. Yet for Mr. Obama and some of those in the progressive movement, the events of the last few days count as a fantastic achievement, one worth venerating and exalting.

Years ago John Gray wrote a book called Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus. In this case, it’s the president and I who occupy different worlds, including different moral worlds. Mr. Obama is proud of a series of acts that I would think he would, after careful reflection, feel regret for and even (when it comes to his administration lionizing Sgt. Bergdahl) some shame.

At times individuals interpret the same events at such different angles of vision that their actions are nearly incomprehensible one to another. I will confess that more than I ever imagined, I have that feeling with my president.

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Why Russia’s Other Neighbors Are Worried

President Obama just visited Poland, trying to offer reassurance to U.S. allies rattled by Russian aggression. The Poles and their neighbors will have to take Obama’s word for it that the U.S. will stop anything bad from happening to them, because he didn’t offer much in the way of concrete help. Of course America’s word isn’t worth much in these days when red lines can be crossed with impunity. (Note that Bashar Assad is able to use chlorine gas with virtually no pushback beyond some mildly critical rhetoric from the U.S.)

The best the president could do was to roll out a $1 billion “European Reassurance Initiative” (not a very stirring title), which will pay for additional U.S. military exercises and additional aid to the region. Obama definitely didn’t deliver what the Poles and other Eastern European members of NATO would like to see–namely a substantial and permanent U.S. troop presence on their soil. 

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President Obama just visited Poland, trying to offer reassurance to U.S. allies rattled by Russian aggression. The Poles and their neighbors will have to take Obama’s word for it that the U.S. will stop anything bad from happening to them, because he didn’t offer much in the way of concrete help. Of course America’s word isn’t worth much in these days when red lines can be crossed with impunity. (Note that Bashar Assad is able to use chlorine gas with virtually no pushback beyond some mildly critical rhetoric from the U.S.)

The best the president could do was to roll out a $1 billion “European Reassurance Initiative” (not a very stirring title), which will pay for additional U.S. military exercises and additional aid to the region. Obama definitely didn’t deliver what the Poles and other Eastern European members of NATO would like to see–namely a substantial and permanent U.S. troop presence on their soil. 

As Radek Sikorski, Poland’s foreign minister, told the New York Times: “For the first time since the Second World War, one European country has taken a province by force from another European country, America, we hope, has ways of reassuring us that we haven’t even thought about. There are major bases in Britain, in Spain, in Portugal, in Greece, in Italy. Why not here?”

Why not indeed, unless the administration is concerned about offending Russia with such a move. Certainly assurances that Washington gave to Moscow in the 1990s that we would not station troops in Eastern Europe should be regarded as a dead letter–as much of a dead letter as Russia’s assurances that it would respect Ukrainian sovereignty.

As long as the administration and our European allies refuse to do more to counter Russian aggression, Vladimir Putin will just keep pushing forward. Sure, Putin has redeployed some troops away from Ukraine’s border. But his henchmen continue to infringe Ukrainian sovereignty. The latest news: well-armed separatists have attacked the border command post in Luhansk in eastern Ukraine. Already the border is porous, allowing Russian extremists to come and go with virtual impunity. If the command post falls, Ukrainian hopes of defending their eastern border will be dashed for the foreseeable future.

Please don’t tell me that this aggression is occurring independently of the Kremlin. If Putin wanted to, he could shut off the pro-Russian independence movement in Ukraine–which didn’t exist until a couple of months ago–with a snap of his fingers. The fact that separatists continue fighting, plunging eastern Ukraine into what looks increasingly to be a civil war, is a sure sign that the Kremlin hasn’t given up its imperialist designs. 

No wonder Russia’s neighbors are so worried. And the administration’s “reassurance” initiative will not exactly reassure them. Only a more substantial show of American strength will do that. But American strength and resolve have been in short supply lately.

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Misguided Dem Optimism in Iowa and Miss.

Hope springs eternal in the hearts of all political pundits. Even in a year in which Democrats face heavy odds in their efforts to hold on to the Senate, President Obama’s party has had some positive story lines of their own, especially those concerning the efforts of embattled red-state incumbents like Arkansas’s David Pryor and Louisiana’s Mary Landrieu to stay atop the polls. Yesterday’s announcements of new Environmental Protection Agency regulations that amount to an administration declaration of war on coal states like Kentucky and West Virginia will have a devastating impact on Democratic candidates. But today Democrats are hoping that the victory of Tea Party-backed candidates in both Iowa and Mississippi will brighten their chances of winning those states.

Yet despite the antipathy that many liberals have for Iowa favorite Joni Ernst and the hope that connections to a scandal will sink Chris McDaniel, Democrats shouldn’t get their hopes up. If, as expected, Ernst wins the GOP Senate nomination in Iowa and McDaniel topples incumbent Republican Senator Thad Cochran, neither of those developments is likely to work in the Democrats’ favor.

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Hope springs eternal in the hearts of all political pundits. Even in a year in which Democrats face heavy odds in their efforts to hold on to the Senate, President Obama’s party has had some positive story lines of their own, especially those concerning the efforts of embattled red-state incumbents like Arkansas’s David Pryor and Louisiana’s Mary Landrieu to stay atop the polls. Yesterday’s announcements of new Environmental Protection Agency regulations that amount to an administration declaration of war on coal states like Kentucky and West Virginia will have a devastating impact on Democratic candidates. But today Democrats are hoping that the victory of Tea Party-backed candidates in both Iowa and Mississippi will brighten their chances of winning those states.

Yet despite the antipathy that many liberals have for Iowa favorite Joni Ernst and the hope that connections to a scandal will sink Chris McDaniel, Democrats shouldn’t get their hopes up. If, as expected, Ernst wins the GOP Senate nomination in Iowa and McDaniel topples incumbent Republican Senator Thad Cochran, neither of those developments is likely to work in the Democrats’ favor.

Ernst bolted to the top of a crowded Iowa Senate primary field with a pair of commercials that conservatives adored. By speaking about growing up castrating hogs and then being filmed as she shot at targets, Ernst tickled the fancy of her intended audience even though elites on both coasts were appalled. Some may assume that her down-home style will invite ridicule in a general election, but even experienced pundits sometimes forget that all politics is local and that she is running in a state where farm interests dominate. That’s something that Democrat nominee Rep. Bruce Braley forgot when he famously told a fundraiser before trial lawyers to think how horrible it would be if the Senate Judiciary committee would be chaired by “an Iowa farmer”—Chuck Grassley—if the GOP wins the Senate.

Far from being a weak outlier beloved by the Tea Party in the fashion of Christine O’Donnell or Sharron Angle, Ernst has garnered both insurgent and establishment support with disparate figures such as Mitt Romney and Sarah Palin both endorsing here. She is actually the strongest Republican in the race. While Braley is still favored over all the GOP contenders, he is in for the fight of his life against Ernst. Democrats shouldn’t count on the hog-castrating sharpshooting National Guard colonel being an easy mark in November.

As for Mississippi, the spin coming from much of the liberal mainstream media is that a McDaniel victory in today’s primary puts that seat into play. Their thinking is that McDaniel’s supposed connection to a stunt in which one of his supporters snuck into the nursing home room of Cochran’s ailing wife will fatally damage him in a general election even if it doesn’t prevent the challenger from winning the primary.

There’s no doubt a lot of Mississippians are disgusted by this story. Until that happened, the aging Cochran, who was first elected to the Senate in 1972, seemed headed for defeat. Anger at McDaniel’s response to the incident seemed for a while to doom him but as the weeks have passed, many conservatives have felt that he was being unfairly blamed for the action of a person over whom he had no control. Moreover, Cochran’s main strength—bringing home the bacon to Mississippi—is no longer seen as such a great idea to Republicans who understand that the taxpayers always have to pay the bill when senators give out gifts. Cochran’s lackluster style isn’t inspiring confidence in his camp. Just as important, if neither candidate wins an outright majority tonight, it’s highly unlikely that Cochran can win a July runoff against McDaniel.

Will Cochran loyalists abandon McDaniel in November thus handing the seat to the Democrat Travis Childers?

No doubt some establishment Republicans are angry enough at McDaniel’s cheek in challenging the longtime incumbent and bitter about the way Cochran’s personal life was invaded in a no-holds-barred style. But the idea that this will lead to a massive desertion to the Democrats is a fantasy. Few Mississippi conservatives are willing to take the risk of their deep-red state being responsible for keeping Harry Reid as majority leader. And even if a percentage of GOP voters do back Childers, this is such a Republican electorate that it isn’t likely to make a difference. The worst mistake national Democrats could make would be to invest money in a race they can’t win in Mississippi rather than using it to help an incumbent elsewhere with a decent shot at victory.

Liberals may be looking for some hope in the featured primaries today, but even if the Republicans they think they want win their races, that won’t help the Democrats hold onto the Senate.

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America and Poland: the Return of History?

The concern over disappearing red lines has given way to disappearing border lines in Ukraine. A key battle over a border command center in eastern Ukraine yesterday highlighted the fact that while the conflict may be changing, it isn’t yet subsiding. “The scale of the fight reflected the critical importance of the border to both sides,” the Washington Post reported. “In recent weeks, it has been penetrated frequently by separatists bringing reinforcements and supplies from Russia to eastern Ukraine. The shipments have helped transform the insurgency from a somewhat ragtag guerrilla force to one capable of carrying out major military assaults.”

Against that backdrop, it’s no surprise that President Obama’s efforts to reassure Eastern European allies are meeting a hopeful but not quite relieved welcome. Obama is in Warsaw today to deliver the message in person that the United States is putting its money where its mouth is: he is asking Congress to fund a $1 billion “European reassurance initiative,” according to the New York Times. The fund would enable military cooperation and training–including aid to Ukraine, Moldova, and Georgia–as well as increased American military presence in the region.

The Times notes that it might not be enough for Russia’s Western-oriented neighbors:

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The concern over disappearing red lines has given way to disappearing border lines in Ukraine. A key battle over a border command center in eastern Ukraine yesterday highlighted the fact that while the conflict may be changing, it isn’t yet subsiding. “The scale of the fight reflected the critical importance of the border to both sides,” the Washington Post reported. “In recent weeks, it has been penetrated frequently by separatists bringing reinforcements and supplies from Russia to eastern Ukraine. The shipments have helped transform the insurgency from a somewhat ragtag guerrilla force to one capable of carrying out major military assaults.”

Against that backdrop, it’s no surprise that President Obama’s efforts to reassure Eastern European allies are meeting a hopeful but not quite relieved welcome. Obama is in Warsaw today to deliver the message in person that the United States is putting its money where its mouth is: he is asking Congress to fund a $1 billion “European reassurance initiative,” according to the New York Times. The fund would enable military cooperation and training–including aid to Ukraine, Moldova, and Georgia–as well as increased American military presence in the region.

The Times notes that it might not be enough for Russia’s Western-oriented neighbors:

But it was unclear whether Mr. Obama’s new announcement would satisfy regional leaders previously unimpressed by the relatively token forces sent in recent months. Mr. Obama dispatched additional rotations of aircraft and support personnel as well as about 600 paratroopers to Poland and other allies in the region after Russia seized Crimea from neighboring Ukraine in the spring.

Anxious about the threat from Moscow, Polish leaders have been pressing for a more robust deployment and even a permanent base despite a NATO-Russia agreement following the end of the Cold War in which the western alliance said it would refrain from deploying substantial forces in eastern territory. Polish officials have argued that Russia had effectively abrogated that agreement by annexing Crimea.

“For the first time since the Second World War, one European country has taken a province by force from another European country,” Radoslaw Sikorski, the Polish foreign minister, said in a telephone interview before Mr. Obama’s arrival. “America, we hope, has ways of reassuring us that we haven’t even thought about. There are major bases in Britain, in Spain, in Portugal, in Greece, in Italy. Why not here?”

Disappearing borders are precisely the sort of events that change the calculus in Eastern Europe in general, but particularly for Poland when those borders are Ukraine’s. The U.S. and EU like to pretend the end of history is near, but Eastern Europeans don’t have that luxury. That said, what Obama is proposing deserves to be taken seriously by our unnerved allies, because a beefed-up American military presence really does put more skin in the game, and would presumably have some deterrent effect.

Additionally, while the Obama administration has at times behaved appallingly toward Poland, the drift between the two countries is not all one-sided. A fascinating angle to this, which the Times explored yesterday, is the nature of changing alliances in the post-Cold War world combined with the effects of integration into the European Union.

The essence of the change is that partnership with the U.S. focuses on security while integration into Europe is about economics. The Times dispatch is centered on the fact that Poland is far from anti-American, but is not the U.S. cheerleader it once was. The drop in Polish enthusiasm for the U.S. mixed with the regional security concerns make Obama’s trip an uphill climb. In part, however, this is due to the success of Poland. For two decades a new Polish generation has needed the U.S. much less while getting a chance to discover its European neighbors (and identity) after the fall of Communism and the Polish accession to the EU:

What happened, Mr. Smolar said, was that Poland’s entry into the European Union in 2004, and the subsequent ability of Poles to travel freely throughout the Continent for the first time, have made the United States less attractive both as a romantic ideal and as a place where Poles dream of living.

Entry into the European Union pushed Poland to adopt European norms, from human rights to cleanliness standards in restaurants. Poles rapidly saw the benefits in such things as better roads and glittery malls.

“The E.U. became seen as a way of getting rich and respectable, though we continued to be connected to the U.S. for security,” Mr. Smolar said. “We began to realize that, for 90 percent of the problems we have, the solution is in Europe, not in America.”

The dependence on the U.S. for some of its security has made the Polish “much less anti-American than Western Europeans,” according to another of the article’s sources. Which raises an interesting question: Euro-integration has been an obvious success for countries like Poland, but is the other side of EU accession an inevitable slide into Western European anti-Americanism?

It would indeed be a sad irony if European integration meant indoctrination in the anti-Americanism of the smug hypocritical elites in some Western European countries. It would also be ironic if that slide were interrupted or derailed by Moscow’s military adventurism and the confirmation that even a war-weary America is still the foremost guarantor of security in Europe.

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Art Shows Fuel Conflict by Rewarding Palestinian Misbehavior

As Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu aptly noted yesterday, it’s “strange” that even as European governments loudly condemn anti-Semitic attacks like the one on the Brussels Jewish Museum, they “speak about friendship with a Hamas unity government that commits these very same acts and glorifies them.” The same goes for the Obama administration, which condemns terror with one side of its mouth while rushing to recognize the new Fatah-Hamas unity government with the other, even though Hamas leaders openly refuse to recognize Israel, give up anti-Israel terror, or disarm.

Yet this willingness to whitewash and even reward Palestinian misbehavior isn’t confined to government circles. As examples, consider two recent art shows–one sponsored by the Ottawa municipality and the Ontario Arts Council, the other by a Pittsburgh museum.

The Ottawa municipality is currently hosting an exhibition by Palestinian-Canadian artist Rehab Nazzal. It features a video called “Target,” which, according to official publicity material, shows “artists, writers and leaders” who were “assassinated” by Israel. But when Israeli Ambassador to Canada Rafael Barak watched the video, he discovered that many of these “assassinated artists and writers” were actually leading terrorists. They include Khalil al-Wazir, planner of the 1978 Coastal Road massacre, in which PLO terrorists hijacked an Israeli bus and killed 37 civilians; Dalal Mughrabi, one of the perpetrators of that attack; Salah Khalaf, founder of the PLO faction that massacred 11 Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics; and Khaled Nazzal, a senior official of another PLO faction that massacred 22 Israeli schoolchildren at Ma’alot in 1974.

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As Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu aptly noted yesterday, it’s “strange” that even as European governments loudly condemn anti-Semitic attacks like the one on the Brussels Jewish Museum, they “speak about friendship with a Hamas unity government that commits these very same acts and glorifies them.” The same goes for the Obama administration, which condemns terror with one side of its mouth while rushing to recognize the new Fatah-Hamas unity government with the other, even though Hamas leaders openly refuse to recognize Israel, give up anti-Israel terror, or disarm.

Yet this willingness to whitewash and even reward Palestinian misbehavior isn’t confined to government circles. As examples, consider two recent art shows–one sponsored by the Ottawa municipality and the Ontario Arts Council, the other by a Pittsburgh museum.

The Ottawa municipality is currently hosting an exhibition by Palestinian-Canadian artist Rehab Nazzal. It features a video called “Target,” which, according to official publicity material, shows “artists, writers and leaders” who were “assassinated” by Israel. But when Israeli Ambassador to Canada Rafael Barak watched the video, he discovered that many of these “assassinated artists and writers” were actually leading terrorists. They include Khalil al-Wazir, planner of the 1978 Coastal Road massacre, in which PLO terrorists hijacked an Israeli bus and killed 37 civilians; Dalal Mughrabi, one of the perpetrators of that attack; Salah Khalaf, founder of the PLO faction that massacred 11 Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics; and Khaled Nazzal, a senior official of another PLO faction that massacred 22 Israeli schoolchildren at Ma’alot in 1974.

Moreover, several people featured in the video were actually killed by fellow Palestinians–including both Khalaf and one genuine artist, a caricaturist murdered for drawing derogatory cartoons of PLO leader Yasser Arafat. Still others were indeed killed by Israel, but hardly “assassinated”: Mughrabi, for instance, died in a shootout with Israeli soldiers who stormed the bus in an effort to stop the massacre. In short, Nazzal’s work is a piece of vile anti-Israel incitement and a glorification of terrorism, funded wholly by Canadian taxpayers.

No Western government would finance works glorifying, say, the 9/11 terrorists or the London subway bombers. But when Barak and local Jewish groups protested this exhibit, city hall trotted out the standard excuse: It was chosen by a committee of artists, and politicians shouldn’t interfere with artistic decisions.

The Pittsburgh museum’s behavior was, if possible, even worse. After Palestinian “anti-normalization” activists launched an online campaign to pressure Palestinian artists to quit a show featuring works by Palestinians, Israelis, and Americans, the Israelis–in my view wrongly, but certainly generously–offered to withdraw instead. Yet the Palestinians still withdrew, and one even published a vicious statement accusing the “Jewish lobby” of forcing them out.

Then, rather than letting the Israelis and Americans exhibit anyway, alongside a note explaining why the Palestinians withdrew, the Mattress Factory museum opted to penalize the innocent by canceling the entire show. Even worse, it cravenly issued “a public apology to all Palestinians everywhere for the misunderstanding of this exhibition.”

Both exhibitions thus sent the same message: Palestinians can engage in anti-Israel incitement, glorification of terror, and online bullying, but not only will they suffer no penalty, they will even be rewarded. Respected institutions will provide taxpayer funding for these activities, expel Israeli and American artists to accommodate them, and even issue fawning apologies for offending Palestinian sensibilities.

Needless to say, rewarding such behavior encourages Palestinians to continue it. And in so doing, well-meaning Westerners actually perpetuate the Palestinian-Israeli conflict by ensuring that Palestinians never have an incentive to develop the culture of peace needed to end it.

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Bergdahl Disgrace Not Like Israel’s Shalit

Did President Obama expect to be showered with praise for his exchange of five senior Taliban terrorists for U.S. Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl? The president defended the swap today while speaking in Europe as simply part of his obligation to leave no American behind on the field of battle, a position that is eminently defensible. But given the public splash made by the White House about this story over the weekend, it’s clear that some in the West Wing thought the retrieval of Bergdahl would dovetail nicely with the president’s West Point speech extolling his decision to abandon the war in Afghanistan. The return of the only missing American soldier from that conflict would put a period on the war Democrats once extolled as the “good war” in contrast to George W. Bush’s “bad war” in Iraq.

If a Bergdahl photo op with the prisoner’s parents at the White House was not quite the moral equivalent of the Situation Room photos on the night of Osama bin Laden’s killing, it’s possible that some in the presidential echo chamber believed it would still boost Obama’s image in a second term badly in need of a triumph. But only two days after the president walked arm-in-arm with the Bergdahl family at the White House, those expectations have been exploded.

News stories about the anger felt by Bergdahl’s army comrades who allege that he deserted rather than being captured have tainted any good feelings about the exchange. National Security Advisor Susan Rice’s tone deaf comments on ABC’s This Week claiming Bergdahl “served the United States with honor and distinction” now look to be as big a lie as her September 2012 Sunday show blitz about the Benghazi attack being the reaction to a video rather than terrorism. Congress is rightly grousing about the executive branch violating the law by not informing them of the prisoner exchange and many voices are being raised questioning the wisdom of releasing five top Taliban officials likely to return to the war against America for the freedom of a man who, if reports are correct, hated his country and abandoned his post on the field of battle.

Yet as the debate continues to rage about Bergdahl, the administration’s defenders have been able to put forward one coherent argument. If the Israelis can trade more than 1,000 terrorists for Gilad Shalit, one of their soldiers who had been kidnapped by Hamas, what’s so terrible about Obama bartering five Taliban prisoners for one American? As I wrote on Sunday, there are good arguments to be made that the seniority of the five released Taliban operatives as well as the implication that the U.S. is bugging out of the conflict in Afghanistan makes the American swap look even more lopsided than the Shalit deal. But the nature of the two redeemed hostages should also have told the White House that it was a mistake for them to expect to garner the applause that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu got for his decision on Shalit.

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Did President Obama expect to be showered with praise for his exchange of five senior Taliban terrorists for U.S. Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl? The president defended the swap today while speaking in Europe as simply part of his obligation to leave no American behind on the field of battle, a position that is eminently defensible. But given the public splash made by the White House about this story over the weekend, it’s clear that some in the West Wing thought the retrieval of Bergdahl would dovetail nicely with the president’s West Point speech extolling his decision to abandon the war in Afghanistan. The return of the only missing American soldier from that conflict would put a period on the war Democrats once extolled as the “good war” in contrast to George W. Bush’s “bad war” in Iraq.

If a Bergdahl photo op with the prisoner’s parents at the White House was not quite the moral equivalent of the Situation Room photos on the night of Osama bin Laden’s killing, it’s possible that some in the presidential echo chamber believed it would still boost Obama’s image in a second term badly in need of a triumph. But only two days after the president walked arm-in-arm with the Bergdahl family at the White House, those expectations have been exploded.

News stories about the anger felt by Bergdahl’s army comrades who allege that he deserted rather than being captured have tainted any good feelings about the exchange. National Security Advisor Susan Rice’s tone deaf comments on ABC’s This Week claiming Bergdahl “served the United States with honor and distinction” now look to be as big a lie as her September 2012 Sunday show blitz about the Benghazi attack being the reaction to a video rather than terrorism. Congress is rightly grousing about the executive branch violating the law by not informing them of the prisoner exchange and many voices are being raised questioning the wisdom of releasing five top Taliban officials likely to return to the war against America for the freedom of a man who, if reports are correct, hated his country and abandoned his post on the field of battle.

Yet as the debate continues to rage about Bergdahl, the administration’s defenders have been able to put forward one coherent argument. If the Israelis can trade more than 1,000 terrorists for Gilad Shalit, one of their soldiers who had been kidnapped by Hamas, what’s so terrible about Obama bartering five Taliban prisoners for one American? As I wrote on Sunday, there are good arguments to be made that the seniority of the five released Taliban operatives as well as the implication that the U.S. is bugging out of the conflict in Afghanistan makes the American swap look even more lopsided than the Shalit deal. But the nature of the two redeemed hostages should also have told the White House that it was a mistake for them to expect to garner the applause that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu got for his decision on Shalit.

At the time of the Shalit exchange, many in both Israel and the United States for the deal with Hamas blasted Netanyahu. He was reminded of his own writings on the subject of such prisoner swaps which spoke of the harm they do in encouraging terrorism and undermining his country’s ability to deter its enemies. But despite these compelling arguments, the overwhelming majority of Israelis cheered his decision. Gilad Shalit was a typical conscript who was merely doing his duty along with thousands of other young men and women when he was snatched by terrorists who crossed into Israeli territory. There was no question of misconduct on his part and concern about his welfare during his years of captivity became a national obsession. Shalit was considered every Israeli’s son. Leaving him in the hands of Hamas, even if the cost was the freedom of hundreds of terrorists, was unthinkable.

But unfortunately for Obama, Bergdahl is not an American version of Shalit. The emails he wrote damning the United States and the U.S. Army undermine sympathy for his plight. So do the angry denunciations of his fellow soldiers who not only resent his abandonment of his post but also point out that six Americans were killed trying to rescue a man who wasn’t loyal to his comrades. That the freedom of such a person was bought with the release of dangerous terrorists only makes it worse.

Rather than Bergdahl’s release being a cause for celebration as Rice foolishly described it, it is developing into yet another scandal dragging down the president’s public standing. And rather than diminishing in the days to come, it will only get worse as the Army is forced to begin an investigation of his behavior that is not likely to have a happy outcome for Bergdahl or his commander-in-chief.

It would have been far better for all concerned for the swap to be treated as an unfortunate necessity rather than a cause for cheering. The president didn’t have to host the Bergdahls—whose bizarre statements have only added to the embarrassment—or send Rice and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel onto the Sunday news shows to tell the American people things that were obviously not true. Obama may have thought he would bask in the applause of a grateful public like Netanyahu did after Shalit was freed, but that was never going to happen. It is arguable that had the administration done this deal without trying to sell it as a triumph, it might have come across less like another public deception. But in the days, weeks, and months to come, they will continue to pay for yet another unforced error that revealed their lack of honesty.

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Can the White House Be Trusted on Iran Deal?

President Obama’s decision to release five senior Taliban prisoners in exchange for a captive American soldier who, according to numerous media reports, was also a deserter was political malpractice. The terrorists released were not simply Taliban, but rather the Taliban leadership who helped forge the group’s relationship with al-Qaeda. Secretary of State Chuck Hagel both denied that the deal was equivalent to negotiating with terrorists and also denied that releasing such high-value terrorists in exchange for a traitor would incentivize further terrorism.

Hagel is either being disingenuous or intellectually incompetent. That Obama violated the law with the release is simply icing on the cake of poor White House judgment. National Security Advisor Susan Rice again rushed to appear on Sunday talk shows for which she was unprepared and in which she was not truthful when characterizing Bowe Bergdahl’s service. The Taliban are rightly celebrating their victory, while Obama and some of his senior aides appear genuinely surprised at the uproar which their deal has sparked.

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President Obama’s decision to release five senior Taliban prisoners in exchange for a captive American soldier who, according to numerous media reports, was also a deserter was political malpractice. The terrorists released were not simply Taliban, but rather the Taliban leadership who helped forge the group’s relationship with al-Qaeda. Secretary of State Chuck Hagel both denied that the deal was equivalent to negotiating with terrorists and also denied that releasing such high-value terrorists in exchange for a traitor would incentivize further terrorism.

Hagel is either being disingenuous or intellectually incompetent. That Obama violated the law with the release is simply icing on the cake of poor White House judgment. National Security Advisor Susan Rice again rushed to appear on Sunday talk shows for which she was unprepared and in which she was not truthful when characterizing Bowe Bergdahl’s service. The Taliban are rightly celebrating their victory, while Obama and some of his senior aides appear genuinely surprised at the uproar which their deal has sparked.

Given the detachment of the White House from reality, perhaps it’s time now to double down on the demand that the White House not be trusted to make a deal with Iran without Congress carefully vetting the terms of that deal. The United States and regional states will have to live with whatever Obama’s negotiators decide, but Obama’s team has clearly demonstrated that they have little sense of strategic consequences. Perhaps if there’s any lesson that can be learned from the Bergdahl debacle, it can be that it provides warning that Obama left to his own devices uses secrecy to shield himself from criticism, but is prone to damaging American credibility. What’s at stake with Iran’s nuclear program is simply too important to defer to Obama’s judgment alone.

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