Commentary Magazine


Posts For: June 16, 2014

Hobby Lobby Critics Demonize Belief

The legal and political world is awaiting the Supreme Court’s decision in the Hobby Lobby case with bated breath. The court’s ruling will determine whether the Obama administration’s efforts to restrict religious freedom or the plaintiffs’ belief that faith may be practiced in the public square will prevail. The arguments over the merits of the case in which the government’s attempt to impose a contraception and abortion drug mandate on private businesses as well as religious institutions have been endlessly rehearsed as a sidebar to the general debate about ObamaCare. But, as I noted earlier this year, rather than confining the debate to the question of constitutional rights, critics of the plaintiffs in Hobby Lobby v. Sebelius have done their best to portray the business owners who seek to strike down the government mandate as not merely wrong but a threat to liberty.

In order to do this, the administration and its cheering section in the mainstream media have sought to transform the debate from one that centers on government using its power to force people of faith to choose between their religion and their business to the dubious notion that dissenters from the mandate wish to impose their beliefs on others. This is a false premise since even if the owners of Hobby Lobby win, its employees won’t be prevented from obtaining birth control or abortion-inducing drugs. The only thing that will change is whether their Christian employers will be forced to pay for them.

But efforts to demonize Hobby Lobby are not confined to these specious arguments. As today’s feature in Politico on the Green family shows, the goal of the liberal critics of Hobby Lobby isn’t so much to draw the line on religious freedom as it is to depict their foes as crazy religious extremists who want to transform America into a “Christian nation.” That this is an unfair distortion of their intent as well as the point of the court case goes without saying. But the fact that mainstream publications feel free to mock the Greens in this manner tells us exactly why the plaintiffs’ fears about restrictions on religious freedom may be justified.

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The legal and political world is awaiting the Supreme Court’s decision in the Hobby Lobby case with bated breath. The court’s ruling will determine whether the Obama administration’s efforts to restrict religious freedom or the plaintiffs’ belief that faith may be practiced in the public square will prevail. The arguments over the merits of the case in which the government’s attempt to impose a contraception and abortion drug mandate on private businesses as well as religious institutions have been endlessly rehearsed as a sidebar to the general debate about ObamaCare. But, as I noted earlier this year, rather than confining the debate to the question of constitutional rights, critics of the plaintiffs in Hobby Lobby v. Sebelius have done their best to portray the business owners who seek to strike down the government mandate as not merely wrong but a threat to liberty.

In order to do this, the administration and its cheering section in the mainstream media have sought to transform the debate from one that centers on government using its power to force people of faith to choose between their religion and their business to the dubious notion that dissenters from the mandate wish to impose their beliefs on others. This is a false premise since even if the owners of Hobby Lobby win, its employees won’t be prevented from obtaining birth control or abortion-inducing drugs. The only thing that will change is whether their Christian employers will be forced to pay for them.

But efforts to demonize Hobby Lobby are not confined to these specious arguments. As today’s feature in Politico on the Green family shows, the goal of the liberal critics of Hobby Lobby isn’t so much to draw the line on religious freedom as it is to depict their foes as crazy religious extremists who want to transform America into a “Christian nation.” That this is an unfair distortion of their intent as well as the point of the court case goes without saying. But the fact that mainstream publications feel free to mock the Greens in this manner tells us exactly why the plaintiffs’ fears about restrictions on religious freedom may be justified.

In Politico’s telling, the Greens are religious fanatics who not only are willing to conduct their businesses along religious lines, including closing their chain of hobby stores on Sunday, but also want to promote their beliefs to others. The Greens may wind up investing hundreds of millions of their vast fortune to the building of a Bible museum in Washington D.C. The also want to promote Bible study and a funding a textbook and curriculum about religious studies they’d like to see be adopted by school systems. According to Politico, these efforts are stirring concern in the ranks of the American Civil Liberties Union, the Freedom From Religion Foundation, and other liberal organs.

Were one of the Greens running for national political office, all this would, of course, be fair game. But it bears repeating that these people are private individuals who are merely using their personal resources to do exactly what the Founders sought to guarantee for all Americans: express their opinions and practice their faith without government interference.

As with their views about contraception or abortion, you don’t have to agree with the Greens to understand that they have every right to practice their faith and to promote their ideas. These are, as Politico admits, not your typical tycoons. They are more interested in faith than profit and are willing to stake their fortune on a fight to preserve their ability to conduct business without being forced to violate their religious beliefs. That may be alien to the mindset of many Americans in an era where much of our popular culture rests on the premise that we live in a world where there is no God and that those whose lives are built on faith are somewhat screwy. But the notion that such people, even very rich ones who build museums and promote Bible study, are a threat to non-believers is utterly fanciful.

Contrary to their government opponents in their lawsuit, the Hobby Lobby owners are not trying to force the actions of others to conform to their beliefs. What they want is to be left alone to practice their faith while also trying to persuade others to share it. Bible study may not be everyone’s cup of tea but the notion that it is a threat to democracy would have been hard to sell to this nation’s Founders. The attacks on the Greens illustrate the intolerance of openly expressed faith that is at the core of the mandate the administration is seeking to enforce. The Greens are no threat to the liberty of non-believers who need not visit their bible museum nor read the religious materials they publish. But a government, egged on by a liberal media establishment, that can’t tolerate Hobby Lobby’s practices is one that has little interest in defending anyone’s religious freedom. In such an atmosphere, it’s little wonder that Hobby Lobby’s advocates see the outcome of this case as a crucial moment in the fight to defend constitutional liberty.

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Terror and the Truth About the Middle East

For decades, even many friends of Israel have tamely accepted the idea that Israel’s presence in the West Bank is, in and of itself, a crime against the Palestinians. Thus, it is hardly remarkable that the mainstream media’s discussion of the kidnapping of three Jewish teenagers in the West Bank is being conducted from a frame of reference that views Palestinian terrorism as an understandable, if regrettable result of Israeli provocations. As Seth noted earlier, that was the clear upshot of a New York Times article about Israeli efforts to find the kidnapping victims. It is also a constant refrain on social media where the teens have been blasted not only for their poor judgment in hitchhiking in an area where attacks on Jews have been frequent but in the very idea that in some way Palestinian violence is justified.

That was the conceit of a particularly outrageous article published yesterday in Haaretz by columnist Gideon Levy in which this leftist extremist said the crime was the natural result of Israeli policy on settlements as well the country’s reluctance to release imprisoned terrorists. It has become commonplace to find anti-Zionist rants in Haaretz’s pages but the notion of treating the captivity of Palestinians who have Israeli blood on their hands as morally equivalent to the kidnapping of children breaks new ground even for that intellectually bankrupt exercise in journalism. While it would be easy to dismiss Levy as an outlier, his callous dismissal of Palestinian terror as merely Israel’s due is very much representative of much of the commentary that is published internationally about the peace process. But in a strange way, Levy got it right when he wrote the following:

If the Gaza Strip doesn’t fire Qassam rockets at Israel, the Gaza Strip doesn’t exist. And if, in the West Bank, yeshiva students aren’t abducted, then the West Bank disappears from Israel’s consciousness.

Levy believes such that such efforts are justified because he claims Israelis have blocked all other paths for the Palestinians except violence. This is, to put it bluntly, a lie. It is the Palestinian Arabs who have consistently and repeatedly rejected offers of peace and statehood from the United Nations partition resolution of 1947 through the Palestinian Authority’s four “no’s” over the last 15 years. But where Levy is right is when he writes of the Palestinians seeing their existence as inextricably tied to the war against Israel. Palestinian national identity has become inextricably tied to terror, whether in the form of missile barrages, kidnappings, or suicide bombings aimed at maiming and killing as many Jews as possible.

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For decades, even many friends of Israel have tamely accepted the idea that Israel’s presence in the West Bank is, in and of itself, a crime against the Palestinians. Thus, it is hardly remarkable that the mainstream media’s discussion of the kidnapping of three Jewish teenagers in the West Bank is being conducted from a frame of reference that views Palestinian terrorism as an understandable, if regrettable result of Israeli provocations. As Seth noted earlier, that was the clear upshot of a New York Times article about Israeli efforts to find the kidnapping victims. It is also a constant refrain on social media where the teens have been blasted not only for their poor judgment in hitchhiking in an area where attacks on Jews have been frequent but in the very idea that in some way Palestinian violence is justified.

That was the conceit of a particularly outrageous article published yesterday in Haaretz by columnist Gideon Levy in which this leftist extremist said the crime was the natural result of Israeli policy on settlements as well the country’s reluctance to release imprisoned terrorists. It has become commonplace to find anti-Zionist rants in Haaretz’s pages but the notion of treating the captivity of Palestinians who have Israeli blood on their hands as morally equivalent to the kidnapping of children breaks new ground even for that intellectually bankrupt exercise in journalism. While it would be easy to dismiss Levy as an outlier, his callous dismissal of Palestinian terror as merely Israel’s due is very much representative of much of the commentary that is published internationally about the peace process. But in a strange way, Levy got it right when he wrote the following:

If the Gaza Strip doesn’t fire Qassam rockets at Israel, the Gaza Strip doesn’t exist. And if, in the West Bank, yeshiva students aren’t abducted, then the West Bank disappears from Israel’s consciousness.

Levy believes such that such efforts are justified because he claims Israelis have blocked all other paths for the Palestinians except violence. This is, to put it bluntly, a lie. It is the Palestinian Arabs who have consistently and repeatedly rejected offers of peace and statehood from the United Nations partition resolution of 1947 through the Palestinian Authority’s four “no’s” over the last 15 years. But where Levy is right is when he writes of the Palestinians seeing their existence as inextricably tied to the war against Israel. Palestinian national identity has become inextricably tied to terror, whether in the form of missile barrages, kidnappings, or suicide bombings aimed at maiming and killing as many Jews as possible.

Levy writes that the idea “that settlers could live in security in the territories” is getting a “wake-up call” about what lies ahead. This stems from his belief that the presence of Jews anywhere in the West Bank or parts of Jerusalem is illegitimate. In making such an argument, Levy is echoing an intolerable, indeed indefensible notion that is routinely put forward by Israel’s enemies that seems rooted more in anti-Semitism than a belief in Palestinian rights. But even if we were to accept the idea that peace could be actually be achieved by Israel withdrawing from every centimeter of those parts of its ancient homeland that came into its possession during the Six-Day War, the notion that terrorism constitutes a proper response to a diplomatic standoff says a lot more about the political culture of the Palestinians than it does about Israeli settlement policies.

Put simply, the notion that anti-Israel terrorism is justified is one that accepts the premise that the Palestinians have the right to evict Jews from any territory that they claim. In Levy’s formulation, Palestinian efforts to murder Jews are indistinguishable from those of the Israel Defense Forces to prevent or punish murder of Jews. In such an upside-down moral universe, Jews are guilty by definition merely by existing even when they are teenage religious students and Palestinians are sympathetic even when engaged in acts of egregious terror.

Yet as absurd as this may sound, Levy’s arguments are the foundation of much of the criticism of Israel and its policies even by those who are too fastidious to justify terrorism. But in writing in this manner, Levy and the countless anti-Israel writers elsewhere who share his point of view are merely proving that the conflict isn’t about territory, settlements, or an occupation but an existential struggle in which Jewish sovereignty or self-defense conducted anywhere in the country, regardless of where its borders are drawn, is viewed as illegitimate.

The majority of Israelis have rightly come to believe that until this culture of hate that dictates Palestinian rejectionism changes, there is no point in further endangering their country by making concessions to the Palestinians. As much as they deplore the rare instances of Israeli vandalism or violence against Arabs, they understand that what happened to the three teenagers is widely supported by Palestinian opinion. No matter what your opinion about what the ideal solution to the Middle East conflict might look like, the justifications of Palestinian terror makes plain that what is at stake here isn’t settlements or settlers but a war against Jews.

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The Consequences of Appeasing Hamas

Yesterday Secretary of State John Kerry rightly condemned the kidnapping of three Israeli teens by what both the U.S. and Israel believe to be Hamas terrorists. But Kerry’s willingness to reiterate standing U.S. policy that classifies Hamas as a terrorist organization rings false. After deciding in the last month that U.S. aid would continue to flow to the Palestinian Authority despite the fact that it is now run by a Fatah-Hamas coalition, the Obama administration cannot pretend that it is an innocent bystander as the Islamist rulers of Gaza revert to what even Kerry pointed out was a history of kidnapping.

By deciding to buy into the fiction that Hamas could be co-opted by PA leader Mahmoud Abbas and help him unify the Palestinian people behind a push for peace, the U.S. didn’t just make a colossal error of judgment. In doing so, the administration abandoned a decades-long principled stand against the Islamist group that may not be resurrected even after this latest atrocity. Washington cannot be said to be directly responsible for Hamas’s decision to revert to terrorism even though the U.S. seemed to be saying that it could be trusted to behave. But the kidnapping illustrates once again what happens when terrorists are appeased. As such, the Obama administration must shoulder some of the responsibility for the violence that followed their seal of approval for Hamas’s presence in the Palestinian government.

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Yesterday Secretary of State John Kerry rightly condemned the kidnapping of three Israeli teens by what both the U.S. and Israel believe to be Hamas terrorists. But Kerry’s willingness to reiterate standing U.S. policy that classifies Hamas as a terrorist organization rings false. After deciding in the last month that U.S. aid would continue to flow to the Palestinian Authority despite the fact that it is now run by a Fatah-Hamas coalition, the Obama administration cannot pretend that it is an innocent bystander as the Islamist rulers of Gaza revert to what even Kerry pointed out was a history of kidnapping.

By deciding to buy into the fiction that Hamas could be co-opted by PA leader Mahmoud Abbas and help him unify the Palestinian people behind a push for peace, the U.S. didn’t just make a colossal error of judgment. In doing so, the administration abandoned a decades-long principled stand against the Islamist group that may not be resurrected even after this latest atrocity. Washington cannot be said to be directly responsible for Hamas’s decision to revert to terrorism even though the U.S. seemed to be saying that it could be trusted to behave. But the kidnapping illustrates once again what happens when terrorists are appeased. As such, the Obama administration must shoulder some of the responsibility for the violence that followed their seal of approval for Hamas’s presence in the Palestinian government.

As I noted earlier, despite the decision of Abbas to embrace Hamas rather than Israel, the U.S. has chosen to treat that choice as an acceptable one. The conceit behind this policy was the notion that Hamas was too broke to pose much of a threat to Abbas’s Fatah faction and that its incorporation into the PA would strengthen the man they continued to call a peace partner, despite his lack of interest in negotiating with Israel. Tension between the two factions continued to simmer and may now overflow as Israel pressures Abbas to cooperate in the search for the kidnapped Israeli kids. But this spring the U.S. position toward both the PA and Hamas had become one that amounted to one in which Washington was resolutely determined to see no evil, hear no evil, and speak no evil about the new Palestinian regime.

This faith in Abbas was partly the result of Obama’s unwillingness to look clearly at a man who has been determined to avoid signing a peace treaty at all costs since he succeeded Yasir Arafat in 2005. But it was also, at least in part, the function of the administration’s innate hostility to Abbas’s Israeli counterpart Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The president’s preference for the veteran terrorist associate now serving the 10th year of a five-year term of office over the man whose three election victories represent the will of Israeli democracy is no secret. But Obama’s antipathy for the prime minister has morphed in the past six years from a quirk to a clear liability for U.S. policymakers. It has blinded Washington to the reality of Palestinian politics, especially after Kerry’s initiative was torpedoed by Abbas’s end run around the U.S. talks by going back to the United Nations as well as by the pact with Hamas.

U.S. policymakers may chalk up the attempt to bolster Abbas even after his Hamas pact as just another well-intentioned effort that was doomed to failure by the intransigence of both sides in the conflict. But the decision to give a Hamas government Washington’s seal of approval may have more far-reaching consequences than the State Department realizes.

Though the kidnapping of the Israeli teens has a lot more to do with Hamas’s long-range plans to supplant Fatah in the West Bank than with U.S. policy, it did not escape their notice, nor that of anyone else, that in doing so the Americans had abandoned a core principle of peacemaking. If Hamas’s continued refusal to abandon its genocidal charter or to cease terrorism didn’t render any government it was part of ineligible for U.S. aid, is there anything the Palestinians can do that would motivate Washington to cut them off?

In this context, Kerry’s condemnation of the kidnapping means nothing more than Abbas’s belated decision to repudiate it. Unless the United States follows up this statement with a demand that Abbas throw Hamas out of his government, Palestinians may be forgiven for thinking that Kerry’s statement was a meaningless bow in the direction of Israel and its friends. The consequences of appeasing Hamas may be measured not only in the decision of the group to up the ante in the West Bank with a spectacular terror operation but in the end of any U.S. influence over the PA. Obama and Kerry may not have intended for their decision to treat Hamas as just another Palestinian political party to be a green light for more terrorism. But, like it or not, that’s exactly what has happened. The only question now is whether it is too late for the administration to walk this terrible error back.

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Hold Turkey and Saudi Arabia Accountable

The Obama administration is looking for some low-cost magic bullet to resolve the mess in Iraq, never mind that its search for a similar remedy in Syria hasn’t materialized. As Max Boot ably demonstrates, reaching out to Iran shouldn’t be the solution: Iran might go in—and, indeed, already has—but it won’t leave. Just look at Lebanon, where Hezbollah continues to wreak havoc 14 years after Israel’s withdrawal.

That said, while Iran has sponsored terrorism that has killed countless Iraqis and scores of Americans in Iraq, and continues to arm and fund hardcore sectarian militias which undercut reconciliation in Iraq, it is as important to recognize that Saudi Arabia and its promotion of radical Islam has historically been as poisonous as the Islamic Republic of Iran (if not more so). Saudi authorities have cracked down slightly after suffering their own blowback a decade ago, but many Saudi charities continue to fund extremism and hate.

Turkey, meanwhile, has become a state sponsor of terrorism in all but official U.S. designation. It has embraced Hamas, helped finance Iran through the sanctions regime, and become an underground railroad through which most foreign jihadis and al-Qaeda wannabes pass on their way into Syria. When pressed, all Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç could say was that Turkey had not supplied the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) with arms; evidence that it provided other logistical support and a safe-haven is overwhelming. Even though ISIS holds 49 Turks hostage in Mosul, the Turkish government refuses to condemn ISIS as a terrorist group. Demanding Turkey stop playing a double game on ISIS is doable, unlike putting boots on the ground in Iraq.

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The Obama administration is looking for some low-cost magic bullet to resolve the mess in Iraq, never mind that its search for a similar remedy in Syria hasn’t materialized. As Max Boot ably demonstrates, reaching out to Iran shouldn’t be the solution: Iran might go in—and, indeed, already has—but it won’t leave. Just look at Lebanon, where Hezbollah continues to wreak havoc 14 years after Israel’s withdrawal.

That said, while Iran has sponsored terrorism that has killed countless Iraqis and scores of Americans in Iraq, and continues to arm and fund hardcore sectarian militias which undercut reconciliation in Iraq, it is as important to recognize that Saudi Arabia and its promotion of radical Islam has historically been as poisonous as the Islamic Republic of Iran (if not more so). Saudi authorities have cracked down slightly after suffering their own blowback a decade ago, but many Saudi charities continue to fund extremism and hate.

Turkey, meanwhile, has become a state sponsor of terrorism in all but official U.S. designation. It has embraced Hamas, helped finance Iran through the sanctions regime, and become an underground railroad through which most foreign jihadis and al-Qaeda wannabes pass on their way into Syria. When pressed, all Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç could say was that Turkey had not supplied the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) with arms; evidence that it provided other logistical support and a safe-haven is overwhelming. Even though ISIS holds 49 Turks hostage in Mosul, the Turkish government refuses to condemn ISIS as a terrorist group. Demanding Turkey stop playing a double game on ISIS is doable, unlike putting boots on the ground in Iraq.

Since the current ISIS/Baathist uprising in Iraq started, Turkey’s behavior has been absolutely reprehensible. There have been photographs circulated in Turkey of an ISIS commander recovering at a Turkish hospital in Hatay. While Turkey claims medical treatment for ISIS terrorists wounded in Syria (or Iraq) is a humanitarian act, the same Turkish government prosecutes doctors who treat protestors wounded in demonstrations against the Turkish government’s authoritarianism in Istanbul.

On Friday, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu complained that the media was portraying ISIS unfairly. Turkey may finally have declared the Nusra Front a terrorist group—only after the group stopped obeying Turkish direction—but it has apparently yet to impose the same designation on ISIS, a group too radical even for al-Qaeda. Iraqi press reports suggest that Iraqi forces have arrested four Turkish officers helping train ISIS in Iraq; while the Turks have denied that accusation, it seems there’s some fire causing that smoke. If any Turkish officer took part in training a terrorist group that has reportedly summarily executed more than 2,000 soldiers, then it is hard to conclude that Turkey does not have blood on its hands.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is no angel, but to blame Iraq’s Shi’ites or a democratically elected government that includes Arabs and Kurds, Sunnis and Shiites and Christians, men and women is unfair. The current strife in Iraq is not because of Shi’ite intolerance but rather because of intolerance of the Shi’ites. Those who say the uprising could have been averted if only Maliki had given more perks, positions, and goodies to Sunni Arabs misunderstand the fact that what Iraqis are fighting against is a noxious and hateful ideology, not simply grievance.

Never again will Iraq be dominated by a small Sunni minority. Nor should it. Shi’ites cannot be expected to sit idly by when Saudi- and Turkish-supported radical groups brag about their plans for genocide against the Shi’ites. It’s important to check Iranian ambitions and to reinforce that Iran does not represent all Shi’ites. If the United States truly wants to encourage peace in Iraq, however, it is time to acknowledge that Shi’ites too have legitimate grievances and face a deadly challenge, one embarrassingly that has a return address in Riyadh and Ankara.

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Why Hillary Complained About America’s “Brutal” Politics

In late June 2012, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrived in St. Petersburg, Russia. That same day, the New York Times carried a Reuters dispatch by Chrystia Freeland arguing that–paraphrasing Canadian political figure Michael Ignatieff–dealing with Russia and China “is the greatest strategic and moral question the West faces today.”

Clinton had some experience with both: as secretary of state, she criticized Russia’s imprisonment of former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who had his assets seized by the state and was thrown in prison for having the temerity to challenge Vladimir Putin in the political arena. And the month before her trip to St. Petersburg, Clinton had been involved in negotiations with the Chinese government for the release of dissident Chen Guangcheng.

Politics is a rough business in China and Russia, as well as a great many other countries Clinton visited as secretary of state. Which makes comments like these seem even more waterlogged with grievance and victimhood than usual:

“Who is the viable woman of either party who could win a primary nomination in 2016, if who not you?” CBS Sunday host Jane Pauley asked Clinton in yet another interview the former First Lady has given during the week of the release of her latest memoir, “Hard Choices.”

“Politics is so unpredictable,” Clinton responded. “Whoever runs has to recognize that the American political system is probably the most difficult, even brutal, in the world.”

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In late June 2012, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrived in St. Petersburg, Russia. That same day, the New York Times carried a Reuters dispatch by Chrystia Freeland arguing that–paraphrasing Canadian political figure Michael Ignatieff–dealing with Russia and China “is the greatest strategic and moral question the West faces today.”

Clinton had some experience with both: as secretary of state, she criticized Russia’s imprisonment of former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who had his assets seized by the state and was thrown in prison for having the temerity to challenge Vladimir Putin in the political arena. And the month before her trip to St. Petersburg, Clinton had been involved in negotiations with the Chinese government for the release of dissident Chen Guangcheng.

Politics is a rough business in China and Russia, as well as a great many other countries Clinton visited as secretary of state. Which makes comments like these seem even more waterlogged with grievance and victimhood than usual:

“Who is the viable woman of either party who could win a primary nomination in 2016, if who not you?” CBS Sunday host Jane Pauley asked Clinton in yet another interview the former First Lady has given during the week of the release of her latest memoir, “Hard Choices.”

“Politics is so unpredictable,” Clinton responded. “Whoever runs has to recognize that the American political system is probably the most difficult, even brutal, in the world.”

Ed Morrissey notes at the link that “there was never going to be a good time for a gaffe of this scale, but it’s hard to think of a worse time for it,” considering the raging sectarian conflict in Iraq that has ISIS marching toward Baghdad, the bloody election season in Afghanistan, the setbacks in Burma, and the Assad “election” in Syria, where the body count has been in the six digits for some time now. He adds:

Hillary wants to run on her record as Secretary of State, in part based on the amount of travel she undertook in that role. It’s indisputable that she traveled around the world, but she doesn’t appear to have learned anything from her travels. Aung Sang Suu Kyi might have a different perspective on brutal in relation to political systems, or perhaps the anti-Chavistas in Venezuela could have informed Hillary of what the word actually means. For that matter, nearly everyone in Syria could have explained it to her back in 2011.

That’s an important point. She went into her job at State with an eye toward 2016. So she studiously avoided the kinds of issues that would bog her down, risk adding major failures to her resume, or prejudice the sides in a dispute she would want to take up later on if she won the presidency. That left traveling. A lot. When asked to name her accomplishments at State, she can’t. Neither can her defenders (try as they might). It always comes down to traveling. She’s been everywhere, man.

But what did she learn? Not enough, apparently. Not that anyone really takes this comment at face value. Rather, this is another instance of Clinton’s overly defensive reflex to work the refs. American politics ain’t beanbag, it’s true. But it’s closer to it than much of the world’s politics.

Clinton has been subject to some unfair attacks–just like other would-be presidents–but she has always taken a conspiratorial view of the world bordering on paranoia. She will be treated far better on the campaign trail than any Republican, and if she wins her party’s nomination she’ll see that right away. She will persist, however, in treating all criticism of her as part of the battle progress (represented by Clinton) must fight against bias, bigotry, and regression (represented chiefly by Republicans, but also journalists who ask her questions).

Clinton was secretary of state at a momentous time (isn’t it always?) for the world, with revolutions sweeping across the Middle East and all the way to Russia’s borders. But in Russia, as in countries such as Egypt, Syria, and Iran, those looking to overthrow their rulers could only have dreamed of the task that faces Hillary: a free and fair election and a peaceful transfer of power. She does the many brave and brutalized dissidents around the world a disservice by putting herself in their company.

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Will Iraq Lead to Retreat on Iran Nukes?

If, as is now being reported, the U.S. and Iran are planning to work together to contain the Sunni insurgency in Iraq, the consequences for the Middle East and U.S. foreign policy are incalculable. Given the stakes involved in the sweep through Iraq being conducted by the radical Sunni Islamists, it is clear that the Obama administration must do more than wring its hands with the president once again playing Hamlet as an international crisis gets out of control. Iran is even more heavily invested in the survival of the Shiite majority government in Baghdad, so it is likely that it will be only too happy to coordinate with the U.S.–though the ayatollahs may be about to discover that Barack Obama is a much better person to have as an adversary than as an ally. But even if the U.S. proves to be too fearful of being drawn back into a war that the president has constantly boasted of having “ended” to be of much use in Iraq, the Iranians still have a lot to gain from cooperation on this front.

As our Michael Rubin observed earlier today, past efforts at U.S.-Iran coordination in Iraq did not exactly work to the benefit of the Americans—or the Iraqis. The example he cited of what happened when Iranian auxiliaries become entrenched—as was the case in Lebanon—is very much to the point. Any hopes that the free Iraq that thousands of Americans died to create—and which seemed well within reach when George W. Bush left the presidency after his victorious surge—can be salvaged seem utterly lost. But there is another, potentially bigger problem that stems from this decision to work with Tehran that is being forgotten amid the justified concerns about the collapse of Iraq: Iran’s nuclear program.

Though the Iranians don’t wish to see the Shiite-dominated government in Baghdad fall, this crisis couldn’t have come at a better time for them. After months of stonewalling the Obama administration’s efforts to craft another nuclear deal that would at least look like the West was doing something to stop Tehran’s weapons program, Iran’s leverage over Washington and its European allies has just increased exponentially.

There is plenty of blame to go around here. Critics of the U.S. invasion of Iraq are right when they point out that Iran was immeasurably strengthened by the fall of Saddam Hussein as well as by the diversion of attention from their terrorism and nuclear program. It must also be acknowledged that President Obama’s haste in fleeing from Iraq led directly to the successful revival of the Sunni insurgency.

The administration’s zeal for a deal that would end the confrontation over Iran’s nuclear ambitions has been no secret since it concluded an interim pact last November that tacitly recognized Iran’s “right” to enrich uranium and started the unraveling of the economic sanctions that had taken years to enact and enforce. The Iraqi crisis not only strengthens Tehran’s already strong bargaining position in the continuing P5+1 talks; it also gives President Obama one more reason to seek to appease Iran rather than pressure it to make concessions on outstanding issues such as its ballistic missile program or its nuclear military research.

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If, as is now being reported, the U.S. and Iran are planning to work together to contain the Sunni insurgency in Iraq, the consequences for the Middle East and U.S. foreign policy are incalculable. Given the stakes involved in the sweep through Iraq being conducted by the radical Sunni Islamists, it is clear that the Obama administration must do more than wring its hands with the president once again playing Hamlet as an international crisis gets out of control. Iran is even more heavily invested in the survival of the Shiite majority government in Baghdad, so it is likely that it will be only too happy to coordinate with the U.S.–though the ayatollahs may be about to discover that Barack Obama is a much better person to have as an adversary than as an ally. But even if the U.S. proves to be too fearful of being drawn back into a war that the president has constantly boasted of having “ended” to be of much use in Iraq, the Iranians still have a lot to gain from cooperation on this front.

As our Michael Rubin observed earlier today, past efforts at U.S.-Iran coordination in Iraq did not exactly work to the benefit of the Americans—or the Iraqis. The example he cited of what happened when Iranian auxiliaries become entrenched—as was the case in Lebanon—is very much to the point. Any hopes that the free Iraq that thousands of Americans died to create—and which seemed well within reach when George W. Bush left the presidency after his victorious surge—can be salvaged seem utterly lost. But there is another, potentially bigger problem that stems from this decision to work with Tehran that is being forgotten amid the justified concerns about the collapse of Iraq: Iran’s nuclear program.

Though the Iranians don’t wish to see the Shiite-dominated government in Baghdad fall, this crisis couldn’t have come at a better time for them. After months of stonewalling the Obama administration’s efforts to craft another nuclear deal that would at least look like the West was doing something to stop Tehran’s weapons program, Iran’s leverage over Washington and its European allies has just increased exponentially.

There is plenty of blame to go around here. Critics of the U.S. invasion of Iraq are right when they point out that Iran was immeasurably strengthened by the fall of Saddam Hussein as well as by the diversion of attention from their terrorism and nuclear program. It must also be acknowledged that President Obama’s haste in fleeing from Iraq led directly to the successful revival of the Sunni insurgency.

The administration’s zeal for a deal that would end the confrontation over Iran’s nuclear ambitions has been no secret since it concluded an interim pact last November that tacitly recognized Iran’s “right” to enrich uranium and started the unraveling of the economic sanctions that had taken years to enact and enforce. The Iraqi crisis not only strengthens Tehran’s already strong bargaining position in the continuing P5+1 talks; it also gives President Obama one more reason to seek to appease Iran rather than pressure it to make concessions on outstanding issues such as its ballistic missile program or its nuclear military research.

Earlier this year the president demonstrated that he could sell even an embarrassingly weak deal with Iran to the country by branding its critics as warmongers when they tried unsuccessfully to get Congress to pass new sanctions legislation. But if he can claim that Iran is helping out in Iraq, it will be that much easier for him to stifle criticism of the next nuclear pact even if all it does is to make it a little bit harder for Tehran to “break out” and obtain a weapon after the deal is signed. Even worse, it may provide an excuse for the administration to backtrack from his 2012 promise that he would never countenance a policy of “containment” of a nuclear Iran. Since Iran’s conduct in Iraq will be portrayed as evidence of its rationality and willingness to be part of the international community, its potential to create a nuclear arsenal will likely also be dismissed as regrettable but no great threat to U.S. security.

But any such assumption would be a tragic mistake.

If Washington were to make the leap from irresolute diplomacy to a policy shift that treated the nuclear issue as a sidebar to the more important question of Iraq, the result would make an already unstable Middle East even more dangerous for the U.S. and its allies. While the prospect of letting either parts or the entirety of Iraq fall into the hands of al-Qaeda-allied Islamists is a grim one, American acceptance of Iran’s nuclear dreams would be an even greater calamity. As President Obama has already repeatedly stated, Iranian nuclear weapons would be “a game changer” that would plunge the region into further conflict and instability even if the “rational” rulers of Tehran never used one. Iran’s network of state-sponsored international terrorists would gain a nuclear umbrella. Moderate Arab states would, at best, be endangered and would look to obtain their own nuclear option. The already remote chances of Middle East peace would be finished.

The president’s defenders may claim that he is capable of working with the ayatollahs in Iraq without abandoning his pledges never to accept an Iranian nuke. There is also no question that the administration must act expeditiously in Iraq and some coordination or at least communication about the struggle with Iran is necessary. But given that the entire thrust of U.S. diplomacy in the last year has been focused not so much on a nuclear compromise as on an effort to foster a new détente with the Islamist regime, it is difficult to imagine how the events of the last week will do anything but diminish his already flagging determination to stop Iran.

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Remember Previous U.S.-Iran “Cooperation” in Iraq?

Prior to the initial U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, there was furious and sustained U.S. and British diplomacy with Iran. At the time, British foreign secretary Jack Straw elicited a promise from Iranian foreign minister Kamal Kharrazi that Iran would not interfere in Iraq. Separately, Mohammad Javad Zarif, at the time Iran’s ambassador to the United Nations and now Iran’s foreign minister, told Zalmay Khalilzad, the National Security Council official responsible for Iraq, the same thing.

Just weeks later, however, according to Iranian journalists like Ali Reza Nourizadeh, a writer close to former president Mohammad Khatami and aides like Hassan Rouhani, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) infiltrated 2,000 fighters, militiamen, and Qods Force personnel into Iraq. The White House acknowledged concerns over the infiltration and took action. Within six months of the start of major combat in Iraq, coalition forces had detained more than a hundred Iranians in Iraq. Simply put, Iran looks at diplomacy as an asymmetric warfare strategy to distract adversaries while they establish facts on the ground.

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Prior to the initial U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, there was furious and sustained U.S. and British diplomacy with Iran. At the time, British foreign secretary Jack Straw elicited a promise from Iranian foreign minister Kamal Kharrazi that Iran would not interfere in Iraq. Separately, Mohammad Javad Zarif, at the time Iran’s ambassador to the United Nations and now Iran’s foreign minister, told Zalmay Khalilzad, the National Security Council official responsible for Iraq, the same thing.

Just weeks later, however, according to Iranian journalists like Ali Reza Nourizadeh, a writer close to former president Mohammad Khatami and aides like Hassan Rouhani, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) infiltrated 2,000 fighters, militiamen, and Qods Force personnel into Iraq. The White House acknowledged concerns over the infiltration and took action. Within six months of the start of major combat in Iraq, coalition forces had detained more than a hundred Iranians in Iraq. Simply put, Iran looks at diplomacy as an asymmetric warfare strategy to distract adversaries while they establish facts on the ground.

A major theme of my recent book was that while the U.S. military constantly examines its mistakes in order to learn from them, the State Department does not engage in lessons-learned exercises. Secretary of State John Kerry is absolutely right that the United States and Iran have a shared interest in Iraq. Then again, firefighters and arsonists have a shared interest in fires.

Let us hope that President Obama understands that it is a lot easier to bless Iran’s entrance into Iraq than achieve its exit. If he has any doubts, he can just as the Lebanese, who have been struggling against an Iranian-created proxy group if not IRGC advisors for almost 32 years or, if charitable, for 14 years after Israel’s withdrawal from southern Lebanon.

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A Disgraceful Attempt to Tie Israel’s Hands

For the sake of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and the politically correct fictions necessary to sustain it, several facts must be ignored: that the Palestinian side regularly initiates rounds of violence to which Israel responds; that Mahmoud Abbas is decidedly opposed to full IDF withdrawal from the West Bank, since his own security team can’t protect it from Hamas; and that the international community asks far more of Israel than of anyone else, and indeed than is reasonable.

All of them come crashing into the open the moment violence intrudes. This week’s crisis over the three kidnapped yeshiva students highlights the way the press treats every action as if it were in a vacuum in order to hamstring Israel’s self-defense. As such, the New York Times paints the destabilizing act not as the Hamas-Fatah unity deal or the kidnapping, but Israel’s response. It’s especially risible since we don’t yet know the fate of the boys, and so an all-out search is both warranted and eminently reasonable. Yet here is the Times’s Jerusalem chief Jodi Rudoren:

The teenagers, Eyal Yifrach, 19, and Gilad Shaar and Naftali Frankel, both 16, were last heard from Thursday night as they tried to hitchhike home from Jewish settlements in the West Bank where they study in yeshivas. The growing search for them and their captors further destabilized Israeli-Palestinian relations, and challenged the new Palestinian government’s ability to hold together disparate political factions and reunite the West Bank and Gaza after a seven-year split.

What destabilized Israeli-Palestinian relations in the eyes of the Times? The search for the kidnapped boys. What challenged the Palestinian government’s unity? The search for the kidnapped boys. The way Rudoren phrases that paragraph, it’s clear she–and those who share the Times’s world view–see the events of the past week as challenges to Palestinian unity rather than the result of Palestinian unity. If the unity government can survive only by being permitted to carry out terrorism against Israel without response or consequences, it is not so much a government as a sadistic terrorist gang.

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For the sake of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and the politically correct fictions necessary to sustain it, several facts must be ignored: that the Palestinian side regularly initiates rounds of violence to which Israel responds; that Mahmoud Abbas is decidedly opposed to full IDF withdrawal from the West Bank, since his own security team can’t protect it from Hamas; and that the international community asks far more of Israel than of anyone else, and indeed than is reasonable.

All of them come crashing into the open the moment violence intrudes. This week’s crisis over the three kidnapped yeshiva students highlights the way the press treats every action as if it were in a vacuum in order to hamstring Israel’s self-defense. As such, the New York Times paints the destabilizing act not as the Hamas-Fatah unity deal or the kidnapping, but Israel’s response. It’s especially risible since we don’t yet know the fate of the boys, and so an all-out search is both warranted and eminently reasonable. Yet here is the Times’s Jerusalem chief Jodi Rudoren:

The teenagers, Eyal Yifrach, 19, and Gilad Shaar and Naftali Frankel, both 16, were last heard from Thursday night as they tried to hitchhike home from Jewish settlements in the West Bank where they study in yeshivas. The growing search for them and their captors further destabilized Israeli-Palestinian relations, and challenged the new Palestinian government’s ability to hold together disparate political factions and reunite the West Bank and Gaza after a seven-year split.

What destabilized Israeli-Palestinian relations in the eyes of the Times? The search for the kidnapped boys. What challenged the Palestinian government’s unity? The search for the kidnapped boys. The way Rudoren phrases that paragraph, it’s clear she–and those who share the Times’s world view–see the events of the past week as challenges to Palestinian unity rather than the result of Palestinian unity. If the unity government can survive only by being permitted to carry out terrorism against Israel without response or consequences, it is not so much a government as a sadistic terrorist gang.

And that’s probably why the Times and their ilk don’t want to recognize this for what it is. If Hamas were behind it, supporters of the unity government would have egg on their faces, for they would have been proposing the unleashing of Hamas. But even if Hamas isn’t behind this kidnapping, the response to Israeli self-defense is still shameful.

Not that the Times is the only voice that can’t quite seem to confront the reality of the situation. Here are two tweets from the last several days from Kenneth Roth, the director of Human Rights Watch. I thought the contrast was particularly disturbing. First on ISIS, the terrorist army on the march toward Baghdad:

ISIS in #Iraq reportedly tried not to alienate local population, unlike PM Maliki & his violent, sectarian repression http://trib.al/LqfFrjZ

That kind of moral equivalence should offer a preview of how Roth reacted to the kidnapping of Jewish boys:

Attending school at illegal settlement doesn’t legitimize apparent kidnapping of #Israel teens. They should be freed http://trib.al/lBrgfoF

Amazing, no? Roth has to begin his call to release kidnapped teens with an implicit condemnation of where they go to school (hint: in a town Roth believes should be Jew-free). The director of a group called Human Rights Watch has a pretty strange idea of who is entitled to which human rights and why. His first words about the boys are that they shouldn’t have been where they were in the first place. One wonders what other victims Roth would talk about this way.

What Roth and the Times seek is to tie Israel’s hands. Thus the Israeli response–to search for the kidnapped boys–is deemed a threat to Palestinian stability. It is never asked, apparently, what kind of stability it is that features the kidnapping of innocents, or why Israel should be obliged to help prop up such a government by abandoning its citizens to the terrorists.

Running interference for a terrorist group should be beneath a supposed “human rights” group, and propagandizing against Israeli self-defense should be beneath the standards of a Western newspaper. But Israelis continue to value human life far more than their critics do.

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“Their Presentation Partook Less of Argument Than of a Tribal Incantation”

James Forsyth is the marvelous senior pastor at McLean Presbyterian Church. He wisely doesn’t give sermons on politics. But he said something that I (and not necessarily he) took to have has some application to politics.

The Reverend Forsyth warned that one of the dangers within Christianity is that “every issue becomes a hill to die on.” He had in mind doctrinal differences that should, in the broad scheme of things, be relatively minor, yet which some people instantly elevate to a matter of high principle. Every issue becomes a referendum on the authority of Scripture. Which leads to unnecessary divisions. And those who disagree with us are people who are not only wrong; their views are a product of bad faith.

Something similar, I think, occurs in politics. For some political activists, both right and left, all issues are of nearly equal importance. All constitute a hill to die on. Those who see things in a different, less apocalyptic light, are deemed to be unprincipled, weak, and hopelessly compromised.

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James Forsyth is the marvelous senior pastor at McLean Presbyterian Church. He wisely doesn’t give sermons on politics. But he said something that I (and not necessarily he) took to have has some application to politics.

The Reverend Forsyth warned that one of the dangers within Christianity is that “every issue becomes a hill to die on.” He had in mind doctrinal differences that should, in the broad scheme of things, be relatively minor, yet which some people instantly elevate to a matter of high principle. Every issue becomes a referendum on the authority of Scripture. Which leads to unnecessary divisions. And those who disagree with us are people who are not only wrong; their views are a product of bad faith.

Something similar, I think, occurs in politics. For some political activists, both right and left, all issues are of nearly equal importance. All constitute a hill to die on. Those who see things in a different, less apocalyptic light, are deemed to be unprincipled, weak, and hopelessly compromised.

My own sense of things is that driving all this is a kind of psychic satisfaction that is produced by engaging in relentless combat, including (and sometimes especially) with the perceived infidels on one’s own side. Those who possess this cast of mind revel in polarization. They crave separation. They are in principle opposed to comprise. Their mindset is that the other side is malevolent and needs to be destroyed, not negotiated with. The willingness to die on every hill is a moral virtue, a sign of commitment and purification.

To be sure, there are some hills that are (figuratively) worth fighting for and dying for and some lawmakers who will never take a principled stand for fear of blowback. And none of us can know with certainty how to determine whether we are compromising on a key principle or not. We all have issues that are important to us and drawn lines we will not cross. Yet increasingly I have come to believe that where we choose to fight has less to do with the issues per se than with our dispositions and emotional make-up. And unless we understand that, we won’t fully understand what is really at play. We think we’re debating the merits of an issue when we’re really at odds over temperament and certain deeply help perceptions and attitudes.

The Scottish author and politician John Buchan, in writing about the Liberal Party in Scotland in the early part of the 20th century, said, “Its dogmas were so completely taken for granted that their presentation partook less of argument than of a tribal incantation.”

He went on to say this:

While I believed in party government and in party loyalty, I never attained to the happy partisan zeal of many of my friends, being painfully aware of my own and my party’s defects, and uneasily conscious of the merits of my opponent. Like Montaigne I could forgive “neither the commendable qualities of my adversaries nor the reproachful of those I followed.”

I will be the first to acknowledge that seeing our own (and our party’s own) defects and the merits of our opponents is among the hardest things in politics to achieve. As I understand Buchan, though, it doesn’t mean that we give up on core principles or refuse to criticize those whom we think are making errors, particular grave errors. Rather, I take him to be saying that many of us ought to be a bit less dogmatic, that even our understanding of eternal truths periodically requires what he calls “spring-cleaning,” and that many of us should demonstrate something of a lighter touch as we journey through this world. And if in the process we now and then dispense a healing grace, so much the better.

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The Kidnapping and Palestinian Politics

The kidnapping of three Israeli teens last week by Hamas terrorists has largely flown below the radar in the mainstream American media over the weekend. The alarming developments in Iraq are part of the reason for this since Americans are generally indifferent to foreign news and have trouble focusing on more than one foreign crisis at a time. But just as the Sunni Islamist offensive overturned the Obama administration’s claim that it had successfully ended the war in Iraq, so, too, does the kidnapping challenge its assumptions about the Palestinians.

The ho-hum reaction of the international community, and especially the United States, to the recent decision of the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority to sign a unity pact with Hamas was rooted in a belief that both major Palestinian movements were essentially political entities that had transcended their violent pasts. Instead of understanding that the deal was a sign that both Fatah and Hamas were united in being irretrievably opposed to signing a peace accord with Israel rather than ready for peace, both the Obama administration and the European Union preferred to believe that the Jewish state was to blame for the collapse of Secretary of State John Kerry’s initiative. The conventional wisdom peddled by the foreign-policy establishment instructed us that Hamas’s financial problems and its isolation in the wake of the fall last year of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood government meant that it was being forced to knuckle under to the dictates of PA leader Mahmoud Abbas, the man whom the administration had dubbed a courageous leader for peace.

If all that was true, what then could possibly explain the decision of Hamas to commit a spectacular act of terrorism that may well lead to further violence and endanger the vital foreign aid that keeps the new Fatah-Hamas Palestinian government afloat? The answer is simple. In hurting Israel in this fashion, Hamas is giving the West a basic lesson in Palestinian politics. Far from surrendering to Fatah, the kidnapping shows Hamas is hopeful of not only holding onto Gaza but of extending its influence in the West Bank.

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The kidnapping of three Israeli teens last week by Hamas terrorists has largely flown below the radar in the mainstream American media over the weekend. The alarming developments in Iraq are part of the reason for this since Americans are generally indifferent to foreign news and have trouble focusing on more than one foreign crisis at a time. But just as the Sunni Islamist offensive overturned the Obama administration’s claim that it had successfully ended the war in Iraq, so, too, does the kidnapping challenge its assumptions about the Palestinians.

The ho-hum reaction of the international community, and especially the United States, to the recent decision of the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority to sign a unity pact with Hamas was rooted in a belief that both major Palestinian movements were essentially political entities that had transcended their violent pasts. Instead of understanding that the deal was a sign that both Fatah and Hamas were united in being irretrievably opposed to signing a peace accord with Israel rather than ready for peace, both the Obama administration and the European Union preferred to believe that the Jewish state was to blame for the collapse of Secretary of State John Kerry’s initiative. The conventional wisdom peddled by the foreign-policy establishment instructed us that Hamas’s financial problems and its isolation in the wake of the fall last year of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood government meant that it was being forced to knuckle under to the dictates of PA leader Mahmoud Abbas, the man whom the administration had dubbed a courageous leader for peace.

If all that was true, what then could possibly explain the decision of Hamas to commit a spectacular act of terrorism that may well lead to further violence and endanger the vital foreign aid that keeps the new Fatah-Hamas Palestinian government afloat? The answer is simple. In hurting Israel in this fashion, Hamas is giving the West a basic lesson in Palestinian politics. Far from surrendering to Fatah, the kidnapping shows Hamas is hopeful of not only holding onto Gaza but of extending its influence in the West Bank.

Abbas belatedly condemned the kidnapping today, but his reluctance to use the full force of his Western-backed regime on his would-be Islamist partner stems from his understanding of the political culture of his people. He knows that rather than undermining support for Hamas, the atrocity will bolster its popularity, especially on the West Bank where the lives of ordinary Palestinians may well be disrupted by Israeli efforts to find the kidnappers and their victims. Just as the national cause of Palestinian Arabs has always been inextricably tied to efforts to battle Zionism rather than the cause of building up their own culture and identity, their political factions have always understood that attacks on Jews were the only credentials that counted when it came to gaining support on the Palestinian street. Since neither Fatah nor Hamas can compete for such backing by pointing to their records in governance as the Islamists’ rule of Gaza has proved to be every bit as disastrous as Fatah’s West Bank kleptocracy, they must, instead, always revert to violence. The fact that the Palestinian media has generally welcomed the kidnapping rather than denouncing it illustrates this point.

As Avi Isacharoff writes in the Times of Israel, since the unity agreement was signed in April, Hamas has been working hard to foment unrest in the West Bank. Part of that was its exploitation of a hunger strike being undertaken by terrorists in Israeli prisons, but the main object of this activity hasn’t been so much an effort to undermine their Zionist enemy but to destabilize Abbas’s West Bank government even as it was in the process of absorbing Hamas and trying to retake control of Gaza.

Hamas must surely believe that a repeat of its triumph in both kidnapping Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit and then trading him for over a thousand captured terrorists will put them in a stronger position to not only hold onto the independent Palestinian state in all but name that they have ruled in Gaza but also give them a shot at toppling Abbas in the West Bank. Even worse, they know that if Abbas cooperates with Israel in finding the kidnapped teens, as Prime Minister Netanyahu has rightly demanded, it will undermine him just at the moment when he was basking in praise for rejecting the Jewish state’s peace offers and bringing Hamas back into the PA’s fold.

All this illustrates the utter folly that was the foundation of both Kerry’s peace initiative and the complacence with which the administration accepted the Hamas unity pact. So long as the Palestinian factions believe they stand to gain by practicing terrorism, an end to the conflict is nowhere in sight. Though Washington preferred to believe that Fatah and even Hamas had abandoned violence and were amenable to peace if Israel could be pressured into making even more concessions than those contained in previous rejected peace offers, the kidnapping offers President Obama a lesson in the basics of Palestinian politics that he has so far chosen to ignore.

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Putin Pounces Amid Iraq Distraction

One of the peculiarities of the American political system is that we can seemingly only focus on one crisis at a time. Thus the disaster in Iraq has driven out of the headlines the disaster in Ukraine. But let’s not forget that bad things are still happening in Ukraine where Russia continues to pursue its semi-covert campaign of aggression designed to wrest the eastern provinces away from Kiev’s control.

In some ways the Russians are actually getting more brazen. The U.S. government has confirmed, for example, that Russia is now providing Ukrainian “rebels” with heavier weaponry–”a convoy of three T-64 tanks, several BM-21 multiple rocket launchers and other military vehicles crossed the border near the Ukrainian town of Snizhne.”

Those same “rebels” have also been provided by someone, presumably a Russian someone, with potent anti-aircraft missiles because such a missile just shot down a Ukrainian Il-76 military transport plane that was about to land in the eastern city of Luhansk. Forty-nine Ukrainian military personnel, most of them paratroopers, are reported to have been killed.

Oh and Gazprom, the Russian energy giant which is owned by the Russian government, has just announced it will suspend all further gas deliveries to Ukraine. If Gazprom sticks to the cutoff, and no alternative suppliers are found, Ukraine will lose 63 percent of the natural gas it consumes.

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One of the peculiarities of the American political system is that we can seemingly only focus on one crisis at a time. Thus the disaster in Iraq has driven out of the headlines the disaster in Ukraine. But let’s not forget that bad things are still happening in Ukraine where Russia continues to pursue its semi-covert campaign of aggression designed to wrest the eastern provinces away from Kiev’s control.

In some ways the Russians are actually getting more brazen. The U.S. government has confirmed, for example, that Russia is now providing Ukrainian “rebels” with heavier weaponry–”a convoy of three T-64 tanks, several BM-21 multiple rocket launchers and other military vehicles crossed the border near the Ukrainian town of Snizhne.”

Those same “rebels” have also been provided by someone, presumably a Russian someone, with potent anti-aircraft missiles because such a missile just shot down a Ukrainian Il-76 military transport plane that was about to land in the eastern city of Luhansk. Forty-nine Ukrainian military personnel, most of them paratroopers, are reported to have been killed.

Oh and Gazprom, the Russian energy giant which is owned by the Russian government, has just announced it will suspend all further gas deliveries to Ukraine. If Gazprom sticks to the cutoff, and no alternative suppliers are found, Ukraine will lose 63 percent of the natural gas it consumes.

This is a significant escalation of the conflict by Vladimir Putin, notwithstanding his pro forma denials that he knows anything about what’s going on in Ukraine. Suffice it to say, anti-aircraft missiles and tanks are high-end pieces of equipment that aren’t available for sale in military surplus stores (where Moscow improbably claimed that the “green men” who seized Crimea got their uniforms from). Russia is escalating the conflict before Ukraine’s newly elected President Petro Poroshenko can succeed in rolling back the “rebels.” (I’m putting “rebels” in quotes to emphasize that this is not an indigenous uprising but rather one manufactured by the Kremlin.)

So what is Washington going to do about it? Apparently we are going to hurl some really strong rhetoric at the Russians. A State Department spokeswoman said, in response to the sighting of the Russian tanks on Ukrainian territory: “This is unacceptable. A failure by Russia to de-escalate this situation will lead to additional costs.”

Uh-huh. Putin has heard that before–and he still hasn’t paid a significant cost for his aggression in Ukraine. What are the odds that he will have to pay a price now that Washington is distracted by the fresh crisis in Iraq?

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Obama’s Test

There are many tests of a president, but one of the most important is: Can he (or in the future she) abandon cherished programs when they simply do not work in the real world and adopt a policy that does?

Many great presidents have passed this test. Truman abandoned the defense drawdown after the North Korean invasion of South Korea and launched a massive defense buildup. Eisenhower abandoned his campaign policy of “rollback” in favor of continuing Truman’s policy of containment. Carter abandoned his general dovishness after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and launched a defense buildup. Reagan abandoned his outreach to Iran after it became public and his peacekeeping deployment in Lebanon after the bombing of the Marine barracks. George H.W. Bush abandoned his “no new taxes” pledge to get a budget agreement that helped to eliminate the deficit. Bill Clinton abandoned his health-care plan to adopt a more centrist approach to governing. And George W. Bush abandoned his “small footprint” approach in Iraq to order the surge, which saved the country from collapse.

Now President Obama is facing this test in his foreign policy. Can he pivot away from failure?

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There are many tests of a president, but one of the most important is: Can he (or in the future she) abandon cherished programs when they simply do not work in the real world and adopt a policy that does?

Many great presidents have passed this test. Truman abandoned the defense drawdown after the North Korean invasion of South Korea and launched a massive defense buildup. Eisenhower abandoned his campaign policy of “rollback” in favor of continuing Truman’s policy of containment. Carter abandoned his general dovishness after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and launched a defense buildup. Reagan abandoned his outreach to Iran after it became public and his peacekeeping deployment in Lebanon after the bombing of the Marine barracks. George H.W. Bush abandoned his “no new taxes” pledge to get a budget agreement that helped to eliminate the deficit. Bill Clinton abandoned his health-care plan to adopt a more centrist approach to governing. And George W. Bush abandoned his “small footprint” approach in Iraq to order the surge, which saved the country from collapse.

Now President Obama is facing this test in his foreign policy. Can he pivot away from failure?

As Fred Hiatt argues in the Washington Post, the collapse of Iraq invalidates the arguments of administration foreign-policy Minimalists led by Joe Biden who triumphed in internal councils over Engagers such as Bob Gates, Leon Panetta, Hillary Clinton, and David Petraeus who favored a more activist approach, especially in the Middle East. In recent years Obama has consistently taken the advice of the Minimalists in Syria, Iraq, and Libya and arguably Afghanistan too. In Syria the U.S. has avoided involvement in the civil war; in Iraq the U.S. pulled out its troops; in Libya the U.S. did little to aid a new government after Gaddafi’s overthrow; and in Afghanistan the White House announced timetables for American withdrawal.

As Hiatt notes: “Unfortunately, disengagement turns out not to work. A drones-first policy has stoked anti-American fervor from Pakistan to Yemen. Libya is on the brink of civil war. Syria has become ‘the most catastrophic humanitarian crisis any of us have seen in a generation,’ as Mr. Obama’s U.N ambassador said. Now Iraq is disintegrating.”

The question is: Will Obama rethink his approach now that it has backfired? He has offered some hints about doing more to help the Syrian opposition and possibly even launching air strikes in Iraq, but there is no sign of a fundamental recalibration so far. Indeed, when he addressed Iraq last week, pretty much the first words out of the president’s mouth were that we are not going to send ground troops–indicating that he is still more fixated on staying out of conflicts than on defending American interests in a vital region.

Obama is one of our smartest presidents so he must know how badly things are going. But he is also one of our most arrogant presidents so it will be especially hard for him to admit that what he’s done before simply isn’t working. How will this conflict resolve itself? Impossible to say but the answer to that question will determine whether U.S. foreign policy becomes more successful–or at any rate less unsuccessful–in the remaining two and a half years of the Obama presidency.

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Obama Drops the Ball in Egypt

It must be hard for President Obama to keep up with the cascade of crises that have erupted on the world stage, especially when there are more pressing issues such as a discussion with American Indian youth in North Dakota, a trip for which Obama could find no room on Air Force One for his national security advisor.

It seems like ancient history now, but before the current crisis in Iraq, and before the Russian invasion of Crimea, and before China began threatening its maritime neighbors from Japan to the Philippines to Vietnam, Egypt was at the eye of the storm. In the weeks and months after Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s fall, al-Qaeda-affiliated Islamist groups established themselves in the Sinai Peninsula. During Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi’s abbreviated tenure, the Muslim Brotherhood turned a blind eye to the worsening security situation in the Sinai and, indeed, may even have encouraged it.

After the Egyptian people rose up against Morsi, an event followed in short succession by the Egyptian military’s putsch, Gen. Abdel Fattah el-Sisi moved to restore security. He sought American assistance, but received only lackluster commitment. Finally, however, the Obama administration came around and approved the transfer of ten Apache helicopters to Cairo in order to assist the Egyptian fight against terrorism. Both Secretary of State John Kerry and CENTCOM commander Lloyd Austin have testified that the Apaches were a central part of Egypt’s fight against terror. Egyptians celebrated the administration’s decision to lift the ban on sending the Apaches to Egypt as a sign that, despite disputes regarding Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood, and the democratic process, Washington was ready to re-engage with Cairo and move on.

Enter Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont): Upset with Morsi’s fate, Leahy put a hold on $650 million in security assistance to Egypt, although he has now approved $572 million. What he continues to put his foot down upon is the transfer of the Apaches, currently warehoused in Fort Hood. The longer the Apaches sit in Texas, the more potent the threat in the Sinai becomes. If there’s one lesson the administration and Congress should have learned, it is that allowing al-Qaeda affiliates to sink roots in any territory spreads instability.

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It must be hard for President Obama to keep up with the cascade of crises that have erupted on the world stage, especially when there are more pressing issues such as a discussion with American Indian youth in North Dakota, a trip for which Obama could find no room on Air Force One for his national security advisor.

It seems like ancient history now, but before the current crisis in Iraq, and before the Russian invasion of Crimea, and before China began threatening its maritime neighbors from Japan to the Philippines to Vietnam, Egypt was at the eye of the storm. In the weeks and months after Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s fall, al-Qaeda-affiliated Islamist groups established themselves in the Sinai Peninsula. During Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi’s abbreviated tenure, the Muslim Brotherhood turned a blind eye to the worsening security situation in the Sinai and, indeed, may even have encouraged it.

After the Egyptian people rose up against Morsi, an event followed in short succession by the Egyptian military’s putsch, Gen. Abdel Fattah el-Sisi moved to restore security. He sought American assistance, but received only lackluster commitment. Finally, however, the Obama administration came around and approved the transfer of ten Apache helicopters to Cairo in order to assist the Egyptian fight against terrorism. Both Secretary of State John Kerry and CENTCOM commander Lloyd Austin have testified that the Apaches were a central part of Egypt’s fight against terror. Egyptians celebrated the administration’s decision to lift the ban on sending the Apaches to Egypt as a sign that, despite disputes regarding Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood, and the democratic process, Washington was ready to re-engage with Cairo and move on.

Enter Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont): Upset with Morsi’s fate, Leahy put a hold on $650 million in security assistance to Egypt, although he has now approved $572 million. What he continues to put his foot down upon is the transfer of the Apaches, currently warehoused in Fort Hood. The longer the Apaches sit in Texas, the more potent the threat in the Sinai becomes. If there’s one lesson the administration and Congress should have learned, it is that allowing al-Qaeda affiliates to sink roots in any territory spreads instability.

It would be wrong for Obama to simply blame Leahy for the failure of the United States to uphold its commitments. The White House actually has various tools at its disposal to legally maneuver around Leahy’s hold. Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

The Pentagon does have some budgetary discretion and flexibility, although it needs direction from the White House and Office of Management and Budget (OMB). Some more familiar with procedures on Capitol Hill than I am point out that the Apaches were procured and transfer funding was included in the FY 2009 funding package, and so OMB has some flexibility to reprogram that funding. If the question is merely funding for the transfer and Leahy won’t budge, perhaps it is worthwhile to see whether a third party could provide that resource: After all, many countries have a joint interest in denying safe-haven for al-Qaeda, even if the good senator from Vermont does not.

It does not seem, however, that Leahy is intractable. The administration has yet to actually fight Leahy. Given the chaos in Iraq and Syria, the necessity for Egypt to protect itself against terrorists based in the Sinai is clear. Unfortunately, once again, it seems the White House is letting the ball drop.

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The Boycott That Dare Not Speak Its Name

Much has already been said, here and elsewhere, about the anti-Israel boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement (BDS). But a particularly unpleasant turn in this saga has been the infiltration of mainline Protestant churches by pro-boycott activists. Jonathan Tobin has written extensively about how this phenomenon has played out within the Presbyterian Church. The United Methodist Church, however, has until now held out firmly against those within their movement who would see them go the way of the Presbyterians. Yet last week the church’s pension board announced that it would be divesting from the British security company G4S on account of the fact that it provides equipment for Israeli prisons and the military operating in the West Bank.

The problem is that back at their convention two years ago, Methodists voted in an overwhelming 2-1 majority against divestment from companies operating in Israel. This decision, it would seem, was simply taken independently by the pension’s board. But given that the grassroots of the Methodist Church (America’s largest mainline Protestant denomination) don’t appear to share this antipathy to Israel, there has been a certain degree of backlash. And rather than defend their actions for what they are—a legitimization of the fiercely anti-Israel BDS movement—the pensions board has shamefully attempted to deny that any such divestment has taken place.

In a “clarification” released over the weekend, the church’s pension board insisted that this move wasn’t about Israel but rather was specific to G4S, claiming the initial investment had been a mistake because the church has a policy of not investing in prisons. Rather, the statement blamed the media and activist groups for labeling this move as a symbolic gesture in favor of divestment against Israel. Given that the investment in question concerns just $110,000 in stock this move was clearly always symbolic. But the explanation given by the Methodists and their pension board just isn’t convincing.

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Much has already been said, here and elsewhere, about the anti-Israel boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement (BDS). But a particularly unpleasant turn in this saga has been the infiltration of mainline Protestant churches by pro-boycott activists. Jonathan Tobin has written extensively about how this phenomenon has played out within the Presbyterian Church. The United Methodist Church, however, has until now held out firmly against those within their movement who would see them go the way of the Presbyterians. Yet last week the church’s pension board announced that it would be divesting from the British security company G4S on account of the fact that it provides equipment for Israeli prisons and the military operating in the West Bank.

The problem is that back at their convention two years ago, Methodists voted in an overwhelming 2-1 majority against divestment from companies operating in Israel. This decision, it would seem, was simply taken independently by the pension’s board. But given that the grassroots of the Methodist Church (America’s largest mainline Protestant denomination) don’t appear to share this antipathy to Israel, there has been a certain degree of backlash. And rather than defend their actions for what they are—a legitimization of the fiercely anti-Israel BDS movement—the pensions board has shamefully attempted to deny that any such divestment has taken place.

In a “clarification” released over the weekend, the church’s pension board insisted that this move wasn’t about Israel but rather was specific to G4S, claiming the initial investment had been a mistake because the church has a policy of not investing in prisons. Rather, the statement blamed the media and activist groups for labeling this move as a symbolic gesture in favor of divestment against Israel. Given that the investment in question concerns just $110,000 in stock this move was clearly always symbolic. But the explanation given by the Methodists and their pension board just isn’t convincing.

G4S has been at the top of the BDS hit list for some time now, along with other favorites like Sodastream and Ahava. More to the point, this move by the pensions board came after considerable lobbying by United Methodist Kairos Response, a hardline pro-Palestinian activist group within the Methodist Church that has been advocating and campaigning for divestment from Israel for some years. When this move was announced they were under no doubt that they had had a victory and announced it as such, celebrating the move as a “landmark divestment action.” David Wildman, United Methodist executive secretary for human rights and racial justice at the General Board of Global Ministries, similarly released a statement referring to Israel’s “illegal … military occupation” and calling the move a “strong human rights message both to G4S specifically and to other companies whose business operations support longstanding human rights abuses against Palestinians.” And while the Methodist pension board has attempted to blame the New York Times for this move being reported as an act of BDS, their own United Methodist Reporter quite openly recorded that, “The United Methodist Church’s General Board of Pension and Health Benefits is divesting its investments with a company for the first time due to Israel’s illegal settlements and military occupation.”

It is difficult to make sense of any of this. But the most likely explanation is that this is another instance of an activist vanguard hijacking the relevant committees of moderate institutions with the intention of directing them toward an extreme end. Given that this agenda is completely out of line with the grassroots consensus of the Methodist Church, there has been an attempt to obscure what is being done here. That still leaves others to celebrate this as a blow struck for the anti-Israel agenda, and more importantly it opens the way to legitimizing further divestment and boycott actions in the future.

And underlying all of this, it is impossible to discount the specter of resurgent Christian anti-Semitism, which now sees its greatest growth potential in the liberal rather than the conservative denominations. One can’t imagine that most Methodists would wish to go the way of the Presbyterians, or for that matter their British counterparts who, during their 2010 national conference, voted for a boycott amidst speeches where delegates spoke of being the “heirs of Abraham” as part of a “new covenant” that “never speaks of the land or owning it” and rejects “a racist God with favorites.” We should be open eyed about where all of this may be going, but also about where some of this is coming from.

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Could Jordan Fall?

I spoke about the situation in Iraq Saturday morning on C-Span’s Washington Journal. Many callers expressed skepticism at any American involvement in Iraq, arguing simply that no American interests are at stake. I respectfully disagree with that assessment.

That the United States cannot afford to allow terrorists safe haven is a lesson that not only American policymakers but also the general public should have learned after allowing al-Qaeda and other terrorists groups to set up shop in the Taliban’s Afghanistan. It is a truism that other countries have learned, be they Pakistan after the ill-considered Malakand Accord, or Lebanon, which allowed Hezbollah to fill the vacuum in its south following the Israeli withdrawal, a decision that directly led to a destructive war just six years later.

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I spoke about the situation in Iraq Saturday morning on C-Span’s Washington Journal. Many callers expressed skepticism at any American involvement in Iraq, arguing simply that no American interests are at stake. I respectfully disagree with that assessment.

That the United States cannot afford to allow terrorists safe haven is a lesson that not only American policymakers but also the general public should have learned after allowing al-Qaeda and other terrorists groups to set up shop in the Taliban’s Afghanistan. It is a truism that other countries have learned, be they Pakistan after the ill-considered Malakand Accord, or Lebanon, which allowed Hezbollah to fill the vacuum in its south following the Israeli withdrawal, a decision that directly led to a destructive war just six years later.

If ISIS is able to consolidate control, and given its ideological antipathy to nation-state borders, then it will likely turn its sights on Jordan. After all, while ISIS considers Jews, Christians, and Shi’ite Muslims to be heretics deserving of a slow and painful death, its main victims have always been Sunnis.

Security officials acknowledge that ISIS already has cells in Jordan. King Abdullah II of Jordan does himself no favors. Like Mikhail Gorbachev in Russia or Ayad Allawi in Iraq, Abdullah is far more popular abroad than he is at home. Indeed, when he assumed the throne upon the death of his father, Abdullah was fluent in English but stumbled through Arabic. His wife Rania might charm Western audiences and might be imagined to attract Palestinian support because of her own heritage, but her profligate spending and tin ear to the plight of ordinary people has antagonized many Jordanians.

Many tensions Jordan faces are not Abdullah’s fault: While Jordan has, more than any other Arab state, worked to integrate the Palestinian refugee population, it has also been hit by waves of refugees, first from Iraq and then from Syria. Those working among the Syrian refugees in Turkey and Jordan report that they have not previously seen such a radicalized population. Jordan also does not have the natural resources of some of its neighbors: Saudi Arabia and Iraq are oil-rich and Israel now has gas.

The left-of-center Center for American Progress last week released an excellent new report looking at the pressures Jordan faces as well as the Islamist landscape in the Kingdom. Anything by the Washington Institute’s David Schenker is also worth reading.

An element of blowback also exists. Speaking on the Chris Matthews Show almost a decade ago, King Abdullah II warned of a “Shi’ite crescent,” a specter he subsequently explained in this Middle East Quarterly interview. For those who see an Iranian hidden hand behind every Shi’ite community, Abdullah’s warning had resonance. For Arab Shi’ites, however, it was unrestrained bigotry. Abdullah was not simply content to warn, however. He transformed Jordan into a safe haven for Iraqi Sunni insurgents and spared little effort to undermine Iraqi stability. He, like Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, was too clever for his own good: By supporting those who justified violence against Shi’ites on sectarian grounds and by working for his own sectarian reasons to undercut Iraqi stability, he set the stage for the blowback which is on the horizon.

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