Commentary Magazine


Posts For: June 11, 2014

More on the Appalling Cantor Meme

Earlier today I called attention to the repugnant idea being floated that Eric Cantor was somehow denied his primary victory in part because he is a Jew. The theme is explored in greater detail in a dumbfounding New York Times story tonight. It has an appropriate headline—“Voters Saw Cantor as Out of Touch, but Not Because of His Jewish Faith, Analysts Say”—but the article itself, by Sheryl Gay Stolberg, features a startlingly bizarre passage:

Analysts do say that Mr. Brat — who has a divinity degree from Princeton Theological Seminary and often invokes God in his speeches — appeals to Christian conservatives in a way that Mr. Cantor simply cannot.

“I think he was able to be an attractive candidate to that particular constituency,” said Geoffrey Skelley, a political analyst at the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics. “Cantor doesn’t employ that kind of rhetoric.”

Mr. Brat, a professor at Randolph-Macon College in Virginia, speaks often about a return to “Judeo-Christian values” and cites his “belief in God.”

Cantor doesn’t use that kind of rhetoric? I’ve heard Cantor use the phrase “Judeo-Christian values” maybe a dozen times in my life. For conservatives like Cantor trying to make a point in moral shorthand, the phrase is akin to a Homeric epithet, pulled out almost at will to fill out a sentence.

But don’t listen to me. A quick Google search of the words “Cantor” and “Judeo-Christian” produces a list of entries, the fifth of which is a denunciation of Cantor from the Washington Monthly in 2009 for daring to use the phrase “Judeo-Christian.” What this proves is that Skelley doesn’t know what he’s talking about, and a reporter for the New York Times doesn’t know how to use Google to make sure the quote she likes passes an elementary factual test.

But hey—who cares so long as there’s a nice opportunity to hint at the possible anti-Semitism of evangelicals?

 

 

 

Earlier today I called attention to the repugnant idea being floated that Eric Cantor was somehow denied his primary victory in part because he is a Jew. The theme is explored in greater detail in a dumbfounding New York Times story tonight. It has an appropriate headline—“Voters Saw Cantor as Out of Touch, but Not Because of His Jewish Faith, Analysts Say”—but the article itself, by Sheryl Gay Stolberg, features a startlingly bizarre passage:

Analysts do say that Mr. Brat — who has a divinity degree from Princeton Theological Seminary and often invokes God in his speeches — appeals to Christian conservatives in a way that Mr. Cantor simply cannot.

“I think he was able to be an attractive candidate to that particular constituency,” said Geoffrey Skelley, a political analyst at the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics. “Cantor doesn’t employ that kind of rhetoric.”

Mr. Brat, a professor at Randolph-Macon College in Virginia, speaks often about a return to “Judeo-Christian values” and cites his “belief in God.”

Cantor doesn’t use that kind of rhetoric? I’ve heard Cantor use the phrase “Judeo-Christian values” maybe a dozen times in my life. For conservatives like Cantor trying to make a point in moral shorthand, the phrase is akin to a Homeric epithet, pulled out almost at will to fill out a sentence.

But don’t listen to me. A quick Google search of the words “Cantor” and “Judeo-Christian” produces a list of entries, the fifth of which is a denunciation of Cantor from the Washington Monthly in 2009 for daring to use the phrase “Judeo-Christian.” What this proves is that Skelley doesn’t know what he’s talking about, and a reporter for the New York Times doesn’t know how to use Google to make sure the quote she likes passes an elementary factual test.

But hey—who cares so long as there’s a nice opportunity to hint at the possible anti-Semitism of evangelicals?

 

 

 

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Cantor’s Loss and the Search for a Unified Field Theory

There’s no question that the defeat of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor was a significant, even unprecedented, political event. As the Washington Post put it, “Historians said that no House leader of Cantor’s rank had ever been defeated in a primary.”

It’s not surprising, then, that there’s been an avalanche of commentary attempting to explain why Mr. Cantor was defeated. Some have argued it was because of his stand on immigration. Others said the majority leader was too closely identified with Wall Street and the GOP “establishment.” Still others argued that Cantor had lost touch with his constituents. Ron Fournier suggests that Cantor’s defeat may signal a “populist revolution.” Mr. Cantor’s pollster, John McLaughlin, says the race was decided by Democratic voters.

Each of these things may well have contributed to the outcome of the race. Or perhaps only some of them. Here’s the thing, though: We’ll never really know, given the limited post-election data we have to examine; and we certainly won’t know how much weight to give (if any at all) to Cantor’s stance on immigration v. the perception that he’s too closely tied with business interests v. the sense among some of his constituents that he had grown aloof.

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There’s no question that the defeat of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor was a significant, even unprecedented, political event. As the Washington Post put it, “Historians said that no House leader of Cantor’s rank had ever been defeated in a primary.”

It’s not surprising, then, that there’s been an avalanche of commentary attempting to explain why Mr. Cantor was defeated. Some have argued it was because of his stand on immigration. Others said the majority leader was too closely identified with Wall Street and the GOP “establishment.” Still others argued that Cantor had lost touch with his constituents. Ron Fournier suggests that Cantor’s defeat may signal a “populist revolution.” Mr. Cantor’s pollster, John McLaughlin, says the race was decided by Democratic voters.

Each of these things may well have contributed to the outcome of the race. Or perhaps only some of them. Here’s the thing, though: We’ll never really know, given the limited post-election data we have to examine; and we certainly won’t know how much weight to give (if any at all) to Cantor’s stance on immigration v. the perception that he’s too closely tied with business interests v. the sense among some of his constituents that he had grown aloof.

This will not, of course, keep political commentators from instantly and authoritatively interpreting the outcome of the race, often in ways that advance their own pre-existing views. (If you’re a critic of “comprehensive immigration reform,” for example, you’re probably more likely to interpret Cantor’s loss as a result of him holding views at odds with your own.) What I’ve learned over the years is that what will soon emerge is a perceived wisdom, which may be largely baseless but will nevertheless be important. Important because lessons that are incomplete or wrong, when internalized, still influence how people act.

So let’s assume for the sake of the argument that Cantor’s stance on immigration was a contributing but not an overriding factor in his loss. Yet if the post-election “narrative” is that his approach on illegal immigration cost Cantor his seat–if that is seen as the dominant issue–that is what other Republicans will take away from the race. And they will adjust to what they think reality is, whether or not it happens to be true.

There’s a natural human tendency to interpret things in life, including in political life, in somewhat superficial ways. Nuances and subtleties give way to simplistic explanations. That happens a lot in politics; and I imagine it’ll be amplified in this instance. Because the bigger the event, the greater the temptation to produce a Unified Field Theory. Such theories can often be interesting and creative; but usually they are mistaken. And that actually matters.

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Cantor: The Fire This Time?

Since August 2011, the overall disapproval rating of Congress has hovered somewhere between 9 and 18 percent—the worst numbers ever and numbingly consistent. Everyone who pays attention to politics has known there was something going on that suggested there would be some kind of “fire next time.” You can’t have a public this disgusted without there being some kind of explosion.

But the general political response has been relatively static. Incumbents weren’t booted out in the 2012 election the way some people expected they might be, and in the run-up to 2012 only one significant longtimer (Sen. Richard Lugar) was ousted from his comfortable perch.

“The fire next time” isn’t ever really conceivable until it arrives. Maybe it arrived yesterday in Virginia’s seventh district.

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Since August 2011, the overall disapproval rating of Congress has hovered somewhere between 9 and 18 percent—the worst numbers ever and numbingly consistent. Everyone who pays attention to politics has known there was something going on that suggested there would be some kind of “fire next time.” You can’t have a public this disgusted without there being some kind of explosion.

But the general political response has been relatively static. Incumbents weren’t booted out in the 2012 election the way some people expected they might be, and in the run-up to 2012 only one significant longtimer (Sen. Richard Lugar) was ousted from his comfortable perch.

“The fire next time” isn’t ever really conceivable until it arrives. Maybe it arrived yesterday in Virginia’s seventh district.

It was a local election and therefore one should be careful about extrapolation. But we have an unprecedented result (the first primary ousting of a House majority leader since the post was established in 1899). We also had a candidate in Eric Cantor who, despite all the talk about his evil embrace of “amnesty,” was at crucial moments a champion of the approach of the House’s most conservative wing—and therefore not exactly the perfect example of a politician with a target on his back. (Lugar was a relatively liberal Republican, as was Sen. Mike Castle, defeated in the 2010 Delaware primary by Christine O’Donnell.)

What Cantor was, though, was one of the faces of the Republican party in Washington. He faced a candidate whom he first ignored and then attacked in very inconsistent and incoherent ways. He was, in his own way, the perfect target for voters to express their disgust and discomfort with Congress and the way Washington is working.

It’s in the nature of potential disaster that it’s difficult to maintain vigilance when the threat is not immediately on the horizon. It was for Sen. Mitch McConnell and Sen. Lindsay Graham, both of whom knew they were in primary trouble and designed races to overcome it. Eric Cantor didn’t see it coming, and the question now is whether what happened to him is a harbinger. And not just for Republicans, but for incumbents from both parties facing even minimally plausible opponents.

So it might just be that more jaws are going to drop this year, and in November. Democrats are likely to convince themselves that the anti-Washington mood that nailed Cantor is just a Republican thing. If they do not see warning signs here, they themselves might find the fire this time engulfing them as well.

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Obama’s Retreat and Jihad’s Rise

Back in 2012, the State Department’s “Country Reports on Terrorism” stated that “The loss of bin Laden and these other key operatives puts the [al-Qaeda] network on a path of decline that will be difficult to reverse.”

In 2014, the terrorist organization stands on the brink of statehood. Not so difficult, really. The United States withdrew from the Middle East and al-Qaeda didn’t. With jihadists now taking city after city in Iraq, we’re hearing murmurs of a rising caliphate.

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Back in 2012, the State Department’s “Country Reports on Terrorism” stated that “The loss of bin Laden and these other key operatives puts the [al-Qaeda] network on a path of decline that will be difficult to reverse.”

In 2014, the terrorist organization stands on the brink of statehood. Not so difficult, really. The United States withdrew from the Middle East and al-Qaeda didn’t. With jihadists now taking city after city in Iraq, we’re hearing murmurs of a rising caliphate.

Through it all, the Obama administration has bragged about its grit and wisdom. As the president told Mitt Romney in their third debate, “We ended the war in Iraq, refocused our attention on those who actually killed us on 9/11, and as a consequence, al-Qaeda’s core leadership has been decimated.” Responding to charges of appeasement at a White House press conference in 2011, Obama boasted: “Ask Osama bin Laden and the 22 out of 30 top al-Qaeda leaders who’ve been taken off the field whether I engage in appeasement.”

It would probably be more useful to ask the thousands of al-Qaeda associates who’ve been bombing and beheading their way to glory in Mesopotamia. You could also ask the Taliban five. And for good measure, you might want to pose the question to Hamas, whose political legitimacy has been given the Obama seal of approval.

Most Americans consented to our retreat from the Muslim world. It was easy to look back at the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan with regret as long as you ignored the alternatives. If warnings of a regional jihadist uprising were nothing more than hyped-up neocon scare-mongering, American military action looked like tragic overreach. But with that alternative no longer hypothetical, George W. Bush’s post-9/11 policies are beginning to look more like what they were: difficult but necessary initiatives aimed at stunting Islamist aggression.

Undoubtedly many Americans still think of the Great Islamist Comeback as a foreign disturbance with little bearing on their day-to-day lives. But that too requires some ignoring. Today, reports abound of terrorists plotting against the United States in Libya and the Syria-Iraq corridor. Even the Nigerian kidnapping crew Boko Haram is reportedly working on plans to hit American targets. Will Americans wait until those hypothetical concerns also become real before they accept the necessity of a strong U.S. presence in the Middle East? Al-Qaeda roared back to life with ease. Somehow the path that still remains difficult to reverse is our own.

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Is Skyrocketing Gun Violence a Wake-Up Call for de Blasio?

Important caveats apply, but the news out of New York City on gun violence is not good. The New York Post reports:

The number of shooting victims has skyrocketed across the city this year — up 43 percent in just the last month — while fewer guns are coming off the streets, NYPD statistics reveal.

Police Commissioner Bill Bratton has repeatedly shifted the focus from shootings to a steep decline in homicides, and claims he is not worried about the gun violence.

But sources told The Post it will only get worse in the hotter summer months, and that the alarming trend is the result of a more “reactive” police force handicapped by the inability to use tactics like stop-and-frisk.

“Cops aren’t putting their hands on anyone,” a source said.

It’s early yet, and Police Commissioner Bill Bratton is not entirely wrong, as a Post editorial concedes, that “Crime goes up, it goes down.” But as the Post also points out, crime fluctuates for a reason. There has always been a contradiction bordering on hypocrisy in liberal calls to crack down on legal gun ownership and Second Amendment rights to reduce gun violence while tying the hands of the police and impeding the proven–and constitutional–efforts to actually reduce gun violence.

Part of the left’s argument against the NYPD was that its “stop and frisk” policy resulted in relatively few arrests. They took this to mean that in such cases the stops themselves were unnecessary. It’s easy to spot the logical flaw here: the point was not to fill the prisons but to prevent crime. Which is exactly what the policy did:

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Important caveats apply, but the news out of New York City on gun violence is not good. The New York Post reports:

The number of shooting victims has skyrocketed across the city this year — up 43 percent in just the last month — while fewer guns are coming off the streets, NYPD statistics reveal.

Police Commissioner Bill Bratton has repeatedly shifted the focus from shootings to a steep decline in homicides, and claims he is not worried about the gun violence.

But sources told The Post it will only get worse in the hotter summer months, and that the alarming trend is the result of a more “reactive” police force handicapped by the inability to use tactics like stop-and-frisk.

“Cops aren’t putting their hands on anyone,” a source said.

It’s early yet, and Police Commissioner Bill Bratton is not entirely wrong, as a Post editorial concedes, that “Crime goes up, it goes down.” But as the Post also points out, crime fluctuates for a reason. There has always been a contradiction bordering on hypocrisy in liberal calls to crack down on legal gun ownership and Second Amendment rights to reduce gun violence while tying the hands of the police and impeding the proven–and constitutional–efforts to actually reduce gun violence.

Part of the left’s argument against the NYPD was that its “stop and frisk” policy resulted in relatively few arrests. They took this to mean that in such cases the stops themselves were unnecessary. It’s easy to spot the logical flaw here: the point was not to fill the prisons but to prevent crime. Which is exactly what the policy did:

Research has converged on the conclusion that a shift from reactive to proactive policing by the N.Y.P.D. has played the crucial role in what the criminologist Franklin Zimring called a “Guinness Book of World Records crime drop.” Starting with community policing under Mayor David Dinkins, and greatly intensifying under Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani with the Compstat system’s intensive monitoring of crime, the city flouted the leading theory that police cannot reduce crime but can only respond to it.

While crime rose in many large cities over the past decade, it continued to decline in New York City. Zimring singles out the use of focused vigilance with “hot spot” policing, which began in 2002, as a particularly plausible explanation. Our research shows that a central element of that approach is the increased use of stop and frisk in high-crime neighborhoods.

Yet activist judge Shira Scheindlin embraced the very same logical flaw that the left was trying to push against the NYPD, and dramatically escalated the left’s war-on-the-war-on-crime by including it in a ruling outlawing the practice. That gave ammunition to those seeking to oust the successful police commissioner Ray Kelly, and far-leftist Bill de Blasio’s victory in the mayoral election sealed Kelly’s fate.

Getting rid of Kelly was only an element of the plan to discard the strategies that had helped bring down crime and save the lives of countless New Yorkers, especially those in minority neighborhoods. Now the NYPD is on the defensive because gun confiscation is down and gun violence is up.

Bratton’s spin includes bragging about the fact that while shootings are up, homicides are down. This, as California police officer “Jack Dunphy” (a pseudonym) writes, is not due to police work:

The fact that more people are being shot but fewer of them are dying is more of a testament to the state of emergency medicine in New York than to anything Bratton might be doing. Those two lines on the graph cannot diverge for long, and with the police effectively neutered, the criminal class surely will take advantage.

It’s great that a combination of emergency medicine and, probably, luck has kept the homicide rate from spiking along with the gun violence. But de Blasio must know–and Bratton surely knows–that if the numbers don’t improve soon, or if they get worse, the NYPD better have a strategy to turn things around.

As I’ve written in the past, the success of Rudy Giuliani’s administration may have helped get de Blasio elected by taking a problem off the table for the Democrats, but it will, for the same reason, likely make the voters less willing to give de Blasio a break if things head south. After the Giuliani and Bloomberg years, New Yorkers have had two decades of steadily improving quality of life and have come to expect a degree of safety in the city streets.

Those who have been in the city long enough to remember the situation Giuliani inherited will see its return coming a mile away, and vote accordingly (with their feet if necessary, by leaving the city). Those who have never known a less safe New York may very well panic at the first sign of disintegrating public safety. Either way, de Blasio and Bratton don’t have much room for error. If these numbers are not a fluke, New Yorkers will know precisely who to blame.

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Hagel’s Unconvincing Spin

If there is one good aspect of the dismaying advance of Islamist extremists in Iraq from the Obama administration’s standpoint, it is that these events are distracting attention from the continuing controversy over the Bowe Bergdahl prisoner swap.

More embarrassing stories continue to emerge. The Wall Street Journal, for instance, reports that the U.S. intelligence community assessed that four out of the five released Taliban were likely to return to the fight and that two of them would assume senior positions. Foreign Policy, meanwhile, reports that the two senior U.S. military commanders in the region–General Joe Dunford in Kabul and General Lloyd Austin at Central Command–were not informed of the deal beforehand (although they knew about the ongoing negotiations).

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If there is one good aspect of the dismaying advance of Islamist extremists in Iraq from the Obama administration’s standpoint, it is that these events are distracting attention from the continuing controversy over the Bowe Bergdahl prisoner swap.

More embarrassing stories continue to emerge. The Wall Street Journal, for instance, reports that the U.S. intelligence community assessed that four out of the five released Taliban were likely to return to the fight and that two of them would assume senior positions. Foreign Policy, meanwhile, reports that the two senior U.S. military commanders in the region–General Joe Dunford in Kabul and General Lloyd Austin at Central Command–were not informed of the deal beforehand (although they knew about the ongoing negotiations).

Little wonder that senior administration officials who have trooped to Capitol Hill for briefings have not managed to satisfy members’ concerns. The latest to try is Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel who told the House Armed Services Committee that the U.S. had not actually negotiated with terrorists. Why not? Because Bergdahl was being held by the Haqqani Network and the U.S. instead talked with the Taliban through the good offices of Qatari officials. As one Republican congressman said, “These responses are very, very tortuous.”

But this damage control is also being overshadowed by the ongoing disaster in Iraq. Before long the administration will be able to say that Bergdahl is “old news” and thus duck further inquiries. Unfortunately from the standpoint of the rest of the world, the Bergdahl and Iraq stories are merging to create an appearance of American weakness in dealing with al-Qaeda and its ilk.

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An Appalling Cantor Meme

As the commentariat rushes to find meta-meaning in the defeat of Eric Cantor last night—a difficult task, because his primary loss was clearly the result of several smaller factors that added up into one serious shellacking—there’s one that’s especially cheap and especially disgraceful. So disgraceful, in fact, that it’s only hinted at in either an easily denied or giggly sort of way. And that is the idea that Cantor lost in his district because he is a Jew.

Among the reasons adduced by the regrettable Norman Ornstein in the New York Daily News: “He was highly visible as the only Jewish Republican in the House, in a district with a strong evangelical presence.” The fact that Cantor has served the district as a Jew for 23 and a half years is not noted, nor is the fact that evangelicals are more likely to be philo- than anti-Semitic.

Reid Epstein of the Wall Street Journal proffered his own version in this cute set of sentences:  “David Brat, the Virginia Republican who shocked House Majority Leader Eric Cantor Tuesday, wrote in 2011 that Hitler’s rise ‘could all happen again, quite easily.’ Mr. Brat’s remarks, in a 2011 issue of Interpretation: A Journal of Bible and Theology, came three years before he defeated the only Jewish Republican in Congress.” How Brat’s invocation of Hitler relates to Cantor’s Judaism is not clear, but Epstein decided to link them, and the link is suggestive, and not in a good way.

Eric Cantor is a proud Jew, and it is indeed unfortunate that the Republican party is left without a single Jewish elected voice in Washington. But his Judaism had nothing to do with his loss, and the only reason for suggesting otherwise is to tar David Brat and the voters of the seventh congressional district in Virginia with the taint of anti-Semitism. Shameful.

 

As the commentariat rushes to find meta-meaning in the defeat of Eric Cantor last night—a difficult task, because his primary loss was clearly the result of several smaller factors that added up into one serious shellacking—there’s one that’s especially cheap and especially disgraceful. So disgraceful, in fact, that it’s only hinted at in either an easily denied or giggly sort of way. And that is the idea that Cantor lost in his district because he is a Jew.

Among the reasons adduced by the regrettable Norman Ornstein in the New York Daily News: “He was highly visible as the only Jewish Republican in the House, in a district with a strong evangelical presence.” The fact that Cantor has served the district as a Jew for 23 and a half years is not noted, nor is the fact that evangelicals are more likely to be philo- than anti-Semitic.

Reid Epstein of the Wall Street Journal proffered his own version in this cute set of sentences:  “David Brat, the Virginia Republican who shocked House Majority Leader Eric Cantor Tuesday, wrote in 2011 that Hitler’s rise ‘could all happen again, quite easily.’ Mr. Brat’s remarks, in a 2011 issue of Interpretation: A Journal of Bible and Theology, came three years before he defeated the only Jewish Republican in Congress.” How Brat’s invocation of Hitler relates to Cantor’s Judaism is not clear, but Epstein decided to link them, and the link is suggestive, and not in a good way.

Eric Cantor is a proud Jew, and it is indeed unfortunate that the Republican party is left without a single Jewish elected voice in Washington. But his Judaism had nothing to do with his loss, and the only reason for suggesting otherwise is to tar David Brat and the voters of the seventh congressional district in Virginia with the taint of anti-Semitism. Shameful.

 

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Maliki Must Go

Not satisfied with seizing control of Fallujah and Mosul, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) continues to advance from victory to victory. In a lightning fast offensive–the terrorist version of a blitzkrieg–its fighters have now taken control of Tikrit, Saddam Hussein’s hometown, and Baiji, home to Iraq’s largest oil refinery. We can expect that they will next march on Baqubah, capital of Diyala province, and then on Baghdad itself. Indeed, in some ways the battle for Baghdad has already begun with ISIS regularly setting off massive car bombs in the capital and with Shiite extremist groups retaliating with atrocities against innocent Sunnis. The Sunni Triangle is rapidly falling under the control of a group so radical and violent that even al-Qaeda’s leader, Ayman al Zawahiri, disowned it.

Perhaps most dismaying of all is that the Iraqi army appears to be falling apart under the sustained assault it is receiving. Its soldiers evacuated Mosul so fast that many left their uniforms behind. Obviously they did not see, much less emulate, Sunday’s episode of Game of Thrones in which an embattled garrison of the Night’s Watch managed to throw back a much larger wildling horde. In Iraq the wildlings are on the march and there is little to stop them before they get to the Shiite heartland.

I have previously pointed out that this was not fated to happen–that this dire situation might have been averted if President Obama had kept U.S. troops in Iraq after 2011. But he didn’t. Now what? In today’s Wall Street Journal, Ken Pollack of the Brookings Institution offers some inventive ideas for reforms that can transform the Iraqi political system to enable it to meet this threat.

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Not satisfied with seizing control of Fallujah and Mosul, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) continues to advance from victory to victory. In a lightning fast offensive–the terrorist version of a blitzkrieg–its fighters have now taken control of Tikrit, Saddam Hussein’s hometown, and Baiji, home to Iraq’s largest oil refinery. We can expect that they will next march on Baqubah, capital of Diyala province, and then on Baghdad itself. Indeed, in some ways the battle for Baghdad has already begun with ISIS regularly setting off massive car bombs in the capital and with Shiite extremist groups retaliating with atrocities against innocent Sunnis. The Sunni Triangle is rapidly falling under the control of a group so radical and violent that even al-Qaeda’s leader, Ayman al Zawahiri, disowned it.

Perhaps most dismaying of all is that the Iraqi army appears to be falling apart under the sustained assault it is receiving. Its soldiers evacuated Mosul so fast that many left their uniforms behind. Obviously they did not see, much less emulate, Sunday’s episode of Game of Thrones in which an embattled garrison of the Night’s Watch managed to throw back a much larger wildling horde. In Iraq the wildlings are on the march and there is little to stop them before they get to the Shiite heartland.

I have previously pointed out that this was not fated to happen–that this dire situation might have been averted if President Obama had kept U.S. troops in Iraq after 2011. But he didn’t. Now what? In today’s Wall Street Journal, Ken Pollack of the Brookings Institution offers some inventive ideas for reforms that can transform the Iraqi political system to enable it to meet this threat.

For example, he argues for “a constitutional amendment imposing a two-term limit on the presidency and prime ministership,” “a new national-unity government, including a leading Kurd as defense minister and a leading Sunni from one of the opposition parties as interior minister,” and “a constitutional amendment that redefines Iraq’s executive authority, with security and foreign affairs under the president, and the economy and domestic politics under the prime minister.”

These are good ideas but unlikely to be realized, as Pollack himself acknowledges, given the current state of Iraqi politics and given the weakness of American influence in Iraq today. Instead of lobbying for such extensive changes the U.S. might be better off lobbying for a new prime minister. Maliki’s political party came out on top in the April parliamentary elections but it lacks the votes to form a government on its own. It needs the support of other parties, especially other Shiite parties and the Kurds. The U.S. should exert whatever influence it still has to prevent that from happening.

Maliki has presided over the disintegration of Iraq. He doesn’t deserve a third term. The country desperately needs a new leader. Until a change of leadership happens, there is little point in sending more U.S. aid which, if Mosul is anything to go by, is likely to wind up arming the insurgents.

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Did the Oslo Accords Kill the Peace Process?

One of the striking aspects of the last two decades of Shimon Peres’s long career in Israeli public life is how much of a prisoner he was to his own near-success. Peres was a driving force behind the Oslo peace process and the crucial negotiations that led to the Declaration of Principles before the agreement melted under the hot lights of reality. Yet in many ways the deal trapped him, having to carry its banner and defend the possibility of its fulfillment for the rest of his time in office.

Peres was on the Israeli left, sure, but his career had been marked–as so many of his contemporaries in both generations–by partisan fluidity. The AFP analysis Jonathan mentioned yesterday illustrates this: it says Peres was once considered a hawk because, in part, he ordered the shelling of Lebanese territory in 1996. Yet that was after Oslo. By such an accounting, Peres was a pragmatist. But with Oslo only mostly dead, he was never really able, aside from a token move to leave Labor for Kadima under Ariel Sharon, to get out of its shadow.

This is hardly surprising considering the fact that Oslo has trapped, to a large extent, Peres’s country on the whole, including Israeli politicians who don’t support or defend it. Consider the Herzliya conference in Israel this week. While former ambassador Michael Oren’s “Plan B” idea for a new direction in the peace process–something akin to a coordinated unilateralism–has been discussed for months, BuzzFeed reports that Herzliya has seen something of a parade of alternative peace plans.

Finance Minister Yair Lapid, former settlers’ advocate Dani Dayan, and Economy Minister Naftali Bennett have all offered their ideas. Here’s the crux of Dayan’s:

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One of the striking aspects of the last two decades of Shimon Peres’s long career in Israeli public life is how much of a prisoner he was to his own near-success. Peres was a driving force behind the Oslo peace process and the crucial negotiations that led to the Declaration of Principles before the agreement melted under the hot lights of reality. Yet in many ways the deal trapped him, having to carry its banner and defend the possibility of its fulfillment for the rest of his time in office.

Peres was on the Israeli left, sure, but his career had been marked–as so many of his contemporaries in both generations–by partisan fluidity. The AFP analysis Jonathan mentioned yesterday illustrates this: it says Peres was once considered a hawk because, in part, he ordered the shelling of Lebanese territory in 1996. Yet that was after Oslo. By such an accounting, Peres was a pragmatist. But with Oslo only mostly dead, he was never really able, aside from a token move to leave Labor for Kadima under Ariel Sharon, to get out of its shadow.

This is hardly surprising considering the fact that Oslo has trapped, to a large extent, Peres’s country on the whole, including Israeli politicians who don’t support or defend it. Consider the Herzliya conference in Israel this week. While former ambassador Michael Oren’s “Plan B” idea for a new direction in the peace process–something akin to a coordinated unilateralism–has been discussed for months, BuzzFeed reports that Herzliya has seen something of a parade of alternative peace plans.

Finance Minister Yair Lapid, former settlers’ advocate Dani Dayan, and Economy Minister Naftali Bennett have all offered their ideas. Here’s the crux of Dayan’s:

He wants to ignore the peace process entirely and to loosen restrictions on Palestinians and improve their daily lives without waiting for a negotiated solution. Dayan, an advocate of one shared state for Palestinians and Israelis, is pressing the Israeli government to remove the separation barrier — a looming symbol of Israel’s military occupation of the West Bank — that separates Israeli and Palestinian communities. Israelis and Palestinians should be allowed to live wherever they want, he argues, and travel into one another’s territories. …

Many of Israel’s right-wing leadership, including Danny Danon, the deputy defense minister, have also thrown their weight behind the plan.

“In general I think that we should try to find ways to make the lives of the Palestinians easier,” Danon said. “That’s something I support.”

The plan has also been well-received by former Israeli defense officials. Moshe Arens, a former defense minister, has publicly backed the plan.

And here, according to the Wall Street Journal, are Lapid’s and Bennett’s:

Ministers have revived two previously rejected proposals that suggest opposite directions for Israel. One, touted by Economy Minister Naftali Bennett, whose hard-line party represents Jewish settlers in the West Bank, calls for annexing parts of the territory claimed by Palestinians for a future state.

A contrasting proposal made by centrist Finance Minister Yair Lapid on Sunday at a national-security conference envisions a military withdrawal from the West Bank and evacuations of Jewish settlements to spur an eventual peace deal.

Whatever their merits, these plans have two main obstacles. The first is the unity agreement between Fatah and Hamas. The Journal’s headline says it all: “Israel Ministers Press for New West Bank Strategy.” Indeed, West Bank strategy. There is no deal to be had with Hamas in Gaza, which essentially has constructed its own state–Somalia instead of Singapore, as Dayan correctly terms it–and which will seek to export its ideology to the West Bank. It’s possible that if the two are truly separate, a deal can be had with the West Bank. The sense of urgency is there anyway, since Israel left Gaza completely but has a far more integrated relationship with the West Bank.

But the other obstacle is the peace process everyone’s running away from. As Rick Richman likes to point out, the peace processers are beholden to this idea that “everybody knows” what a final-status deal would look like. This belief is strangely impervious to evidence.

Or perhaps not so strangely. The longer this dedication to Oslo goes on, the easier it is to at least understand why its adherents can’t bring themselves to quit cold turkey.

There’s always the chance that a confluence of ideas like what took place at Herzliya will change the calculus–that if left, right, and center all push for a grand rethinking of the peace process it might happen. But that’s not been the case in recent years. And the dedication to the status quo, which ignores changes on the ground and keeps policymakers of the future glued to discredited ideas of the past, negates critical thinking and discourages creative solutions. If that doesn’t change, Oslo will continue to be associated with preventing peace, not presaging it.

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Tory Rivalry Obscures Islamism Debate

In Britain, the storm surrounding the attempted Islamist takeover of several public schools continues to play out, but much of the debate is becoming willfully side-tracked. I wrote about the case itself on Monday; since the story initially broke, a number of other spin-off debates have emerged. Not least among them has been a particularly fraught war of accusations at the top of Britain’s governing Conservative party. This, as it turns out, has had as much to do with internal rivalries for the party leadership as it has with a fundamental disagreement over the handling of the matter itself. Then there have been attempts by the left to stoke a debate about Islamophobia and another about Britain’s state-funded parochial schools—a real red herring given that the problem here had nothing to do with faith schools and exclusively concerned events at secular public schools. The preference of many in the media for focusing on these secondary debates is perhaps itself an indication of just how poisonous confronting radical Islam can be in Britain.

That said, the embarrassing and all-too-public fight that has broken out among government ministers has brought to the surface significant factional rivalries as well as some key disputes regarding Britain’s strategy for dealing with Islamic extremism. The fight involves two particularly charismatic and powerful figures within David Cameron’s cabinet: Home Secretary Teresa May and Education Minister Michael Gove. It is widely speculated that May is positioning herself as a potential successor to Cameron, while Gove is understood to be more closely allied with the chancellor of the exchequer George Osborne, who has been suggested as another potential candidate for the leadership, although in truth neither May nor Osborne is particularly liked by the British public. Still, they haven’t acquired quite the reputation that Michael Gove has. His proactive and radically conservative education reforms have seen him wildly demonized by teachers unions and a large part of the British press. Gove’s efforts to roll back the follies of “child-centered learning,” to drive up standards through a traditional curriculum, and his latest policy advocating that “British values” be taught in school have won him admiration with a conservative hardcore, while provoking fierce criticism from many other quarters.

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In Britain, the storm surrounding the attempted Islamist takeover of several public schools continues to play out, but much of the debate is becoming willfully side-tracked. I wrote about the case itself on Monday; since the story initially broke, a number of other spin-off debates have emerged. Not least among them has been a particularly fraught war of accusations at the top of Britain’s governing Conservative party. This, as it turns out, has had as much to do with internal rivalries for the party leadership as it has with a fundamental disagreement over the handling of the matter itself. Then there have been attempts by the left to stoke a debate about Islamophobia and another about Britain’s state-funded parochial schools—a real red herring given that the problem here had nothing to do with faith schools and exclusively concerned events at secular public schools. The preference of many in the media for focusing on these secondary debates is perhaps itself an indication of just how poisonous confronting radical Islam can be in Britain.

That said, the embarrassing and all-too-public fight that has broken out among government ministers has brought to the surface significant factional rivalries as well as some key disputes regarding Britain’s strategy for dealing with Islamic extremism. The fight involves two particularly charismatic and powerful figures within David Cameron’s cabinet: Home Secretary Teresa May and Education Minister Michael Gove. It is widely speculated that May is positioning herself as a potential successor to Cameron, while Gove is understood to be more closely allied with the chancellor of the exchequer George Osborne, who has been suggested as another potential candidate for the leadership, although in truth neither May nor Osborne is particularly liked by the British public. Still, they haven’t acquired quite the reputation that Michael Gove has. His proactive and radically conservative education reforms have seen him wildly demonized by teachers unions and a large part of the British press. Gove’s efforts to roll back the follies of “child-centered learning,” to drive up standards through a traditional curriculum, and his latest policy advocating that “British values” be taught in school have won him admiration with a conservative hardcore, while provoking fierce criticism from many other quarters.

The latest dispute has erupted as both May and Gove’s offices sought to very publicly implicate one another for the failings that allowed hardline Muslims to seize control of the running of several schools in Birmingham. The criticism from Gove’s side appears to have been that the Home Office has been too focused on targeting terrorism at the expense of efforts to counter the culture of hardline Islam that breeds the terror threat in the first place. For her part, May accused the ministry of education of having failed to act upon warnings from 2010 that Islamist practices were being implemented in some of Birmingham’s state schools. Over the weekend the prime minister was forced to intervene, Gove was required to apologize, and May was obliged to fire one of her advisers.

It is unfortunate to see these two figures squabbling in this way. While May’s record is somewhat mixed, as home secretary she has shown a serious commitment to confronting both law and order issues and the threat from radical Islamic preachers, who she has gone to great lengths to have extradited where possible. Michael Gove is arguably even stauncher in his opposition to radical Islam. His 2006 book Celsius 7/7: How the West’s Policy of Appeasement Has Provoked Yet More Fundamentalist Terror and What Has to Be Done Now is one of the few serious intellectual defenses of the war on terror to have come out of Britain.

It is hard to imagine that this fight is nearly as significant as the Conservative party’s more fundamental split over Europe, or between Cameron’s “modernizing” faction and the social conservatives in the party. Yet in addition to the pages and pages given over to that story, much of the media has kicked the real issues into the long grass, concentrating instead on arguments about parochial schools and Islamophobia. While the BBC has continued to express skepticism about the authenticity of the so called “Trojan Horse” letter that first sparked this episode, the findings of the government investigation have at least done something to demonstrate that the initial concerns were warranted. Now, however, those who were always hostile to the notion of state-funded parochial schools are seeking to use this scandal as another opportunity to advocate for their abolition. And of course Jewish faith schools have been a common point of reference, despite how relatively few of Britain’s faith schools are affiliated with the Jewish community. Yet whether one favors parochial schools or not, that debate is irrelevant here. The issue at hand concerns secular public schools, and presumably this whole affair could have happened in a Britain in which faith schools never existed.

The preoccupation with internal Conservative party wrangling, with arguments about Islamophobia, and the campaign pieces for and against faith schools all demonstrate just how spooked many British journalists are by the prospect of having to grapple with the actual facts of this case. Only a very few have actively done so. It would be a very great mistake to shy away from having a hard-headed discussion about the influence of Islamism in British public life and civil society by instead becoming side-tracked with these secondary debates.

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