Commentary Magazine


Posts For: June 20, 2014

Is Israel Overreacting to the Kidnapping?

Eight days into the search, Israeli troops have still apparently found no trace of the three teenagers kidnapped last week by Hamas terrorists. Though the army continues to claim that it is tightening the noose around the kidnappers, as the country welcomed the Sabbath, there was no sign that the government’s faith that the victims could be still be rescued would be vindicated in the coming days. Read More

Eight days into the search, Israeli troops have still apparently found no trace of the three teenagers kidnapped last week by Hamas terrorists. Though the army continues to claim that it is tightening the noose around the kidnappers, as the country welcomed the Sabbath, there was no sign that the government’s faith that the victims could be still be rescued would be vindicated in the coming days. Instead, prayers for the safe recovery of the boys are being drowned out in the court of international public opinion by complaints from Palestinians that Israel’s efforts to ferret out the terrorists are an overreaction or that it is inflicting “collective punishment” on innocents even if those complaining about disproportionate use of force are also the same people who have been promoting a social media campaign supporting the kidnapping and mocking its victims. The purpose of Israel’s West Bank offensive is to find the boys and to take down Hamas’ terrorist infrastructure that made the kidnapping possible. But the problem the country faces is that if another few days go by without results, international pressure to stand down and to even release some of the Hamas personnel that have been arrested in recent days will begin to grow.

Those who are lighting an extra three candles tonight for the three boys are holding onto hope that they will soon be found alive, the sobering fact is that the Israel Defense Forces have never yet rescued a Hamas kidnapping victim alive. The prayers of decent people around the world are focused on the desire to see the three boys being the first such victims returned home without Israel being forced to pay a ransom in the form of released killers. But the problem facing Prime Minister Netanyahu this evening is what he will do if by this time next week, the IDF is no closer to bringing this episode to a successful conclusion as it is today. The depressing truth is that in the absence of Israel finding either the victims or their captors, the desire of the Obama administration and its European allies to return the discussion about their recognition of the Fatah-Hamas Palestinian coalition and decision to keep funding that terrorist-backed government back to where it was before the kidnapping will become all too clear.

But before that happens, it should be understand that nothing that Israel has done should be considered an overreaction or a disproportionate use of force. Regardless of its ultimate disposition, as the current sovereign power in the West Bank, Israel has the obligation to both defend its citizens and maintain order. That includes the responsibility to root out terrorists and to rescue anyone who has been captured by them. If that means turning much of the West Bank upside down that will certainly inconvenience a great many Palestinians. But what is disproportionate is for the same people who are cheering the kidnapping with three-fingered salutes and promoting the crime as an act of heroism on social media to carp about Israeli troops searching for the boys. If Palestinians have taken to the streets to protest IDF movements, it is because they wish to hinder the search. So long as they regard any cooperation with the search for the boys as an act of treason and obstruction of their rescue as patriotism, it is difficult to see much hope for peace.

In the meantime, Netanyahu must decide whether the army’s efforts will at some point in the near future reach a point of diminishing returns if none of the three are found. While he will have the support of his nation behind continued efforts whether successful or not, the same cannot be said of his American allies, let alone the Europeans. All this means that sooner rather than later Netanyahu will have to choose whether to continue the counter-attack on Hamas terrorists. While the Americans would like nothing better to pretend none of this happened and that it has nothing to do with the peace process, this incident illustrates the futility of negotiations that treat terrorists and their collaborators as if they were peace partners. The U.S. would like to treat the kidnapping as a lamentable distraction from the business of Middle East peace. But the more Israelis are confronted with the callous three-fingered salutes of the Palestinians, the less likely they will be to ever listen to the siren song of the peace processers again.

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Keeping an Open Mind About Murder

The decision of the Metropolitan Opera to continue with its plan to produce The Death Of Klinghoffer but to cancel the simulcast of the piece to theaters around the world has pleased no one. Critics of the piece, which rationalizes the cold-blooded murder of Leon Klinghoffer, an elderly Jew in a wheelchair by Palestinian terrorists, are still rightly outraged that one of the world’s premiere arts organizations will still be performing the opera. Defenders of the piece and critics of the state of Israel are dismayed that General Manager Peter Gelb succumbed to pleas from the Klinghoffer family and the Anti-Defamation League, to move out off of the Met’s prestigious broadcast schedule. Predictably, one voice that falls into the latter category spoke up today to express dismay at the unsatisfactory compromise: The New York Times editorial page.

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The decision of the Metropolitan Opera to continue with its plan to produce The Death Of Klinghoffer but to cancel the simulcast of the piece to theaters around the world has pleased no one. Critics of the piece, which rationalizes the cold-blooded murder of Leon Klinghoffer, an elderly Jew in a wheelchair by Palestinian terrorists, are still rightly outraged that one of the world’s premiere arts organizations will still be performing the opera. Defenders of the piece and critics of the state of Israel are dismayed that General Manager Peter Gelb succumbed to pleas from the Klinghoffer family and the Anti-Defamation League, to move out off of the Met’s prestigious broadcast schedule. Predictably, one voice that falls into the latter category spoke up today to express dismay at the unsatisfactory compromise: The New York Times editorial page.

It termed Gelb’s move “lamentable” and not only dismissed the ADL’s fears about the opera helping promote anti-Semitism, particularly in Europe, but defended the piece as a fair-minded and even-handed approach to a divisive issue. While anything that smacks of censorship is bound to raise hackles among the elites in America’s arts capital, the paper’s decision to not only trash the opera’s critics as uninformed but to speak up for John Adams’ opera speaks volumes about its animus for Israel and soft approach to terrorism directed at Jews. As I noted previously, The Times is right to assert that one of the purposes of art is to challenge its audience. Many great works of art, including many operas, have their origins in issues that were, in their day, deeply controversial but were eventually transcended by the value of the piece. But what we are discussing here is not so much a question of art versus politics but the decision on the part of the artist to view atrocities as simply a matter of opinion.

The Times is right that, to some extent, The Death of Klinghoffer is even-handed about the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. The Jews, and specifically the Klinghoffers are allowed to denounce their captors as cowardly terrorists and murders. But the balance of the piece is tilted in favor of the alleged grievances of the Palestinians, which are not only exaggerated and taken out of context, but put forward in the most prejudicial manner possible and backed by some of the most inspired and powerful music in the opera. You don’t need to read the program or do much research to see where composer John Adams’ sympathies lie.

Moreover, the entire premise of the piece, that even the most atrocious and callous act of murder may be rooted in the complaints of the perpetrators — the alleged theft of the Palestinians’ homes by the Jews — is to frame the issues in a manner in which Israel’s existence is treated as the real crime. But while it is possible to debate the rights and wrongs of the complex Middle East conflict, surely the morality of terrorism and the murder of a helpless old man are not debatable. Such a crime does not cry out for an even-handed analysis of the two sides but Adams’ choice of Klinghoffer’s murder as the focus of his art, places his opera in a context that is not merely controversial but fundamentally ammoral.

New Yorkers who view this fuss from the perspective of the Times may think the Jews and friends of Israel complaining about the opera are merely narrow-minded censors. But they need to ask themselves whether they would stomach the Met’s production of an opera about 9/11 in which the positions of the hijackers and their thousands of victims were treated as two moral equivalent sides of the same question? Would even ultra-liberal New York tolerate an even-handed artistic approach to al-Qaeda’s mass murder? Would the same arts world that lionizes John Adams’ and proclaims it a “masterpiece” be equally willing to stand up for an opera or play that justified the actions of the Ku Klux Klan or other racists who committed acts of violence against African-Americans?

The answer to these questions is more than obvious. But if they wouldn’t tolerate a pro-al-Qaeda or Klan opera, why is it that they think the Met is right to produce one whose purpose is to put a Jewish victim on the same moral plane as his terrorist murderer whose goal is not some abstract plea for justice for the downtrodden but the destruction of the only Jewish state on the planet? The willingness to countenance such even-handedness only when it comes to attacks on Jews is indistinguishable from the rising tide of anti-Semitism that the ADL and the U.S. State Department have both said is gripping Europe.

What the Times doesn’t understand is that the problem with the Klinghoffer opera is not that it is controversial but that it is even-handed about a subject about which no decent person ought to be neutral. Indeed, Adams won a Pulitzer Prize for his choral piece commemorating 9/11, On the Transmigration of Souls that managed to discuss that atrocity without giving equal time to al-Qaeda. To, as the Times put it, “give voice to all sides in this terrible murder but offer no resolutions” as this opera does, is to implicitly endorse the cause of the murderers and to degrade their victims. Just as no New Yorker thinks it necessary to keep an open mind about 9/11 or the Klan, the rights and wrongs of Klinghoffer’s murder is not a matter of opinion. But it is hardly surprising that a newspaper whose record of slanted coverage and biased opinion against Israel would think that this is the sort of issue about which informed people may disagree. The Met had no business producing this amoral piece. It is to be hoped that, by one means or another, it never disgraces the stage of America’s leading opera company.

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Thad Cochran Gets Creative

In the wake of Eric Cantor’s surprise primary defeat earlier this month, there were musings (which appear to have been incorrect) that Democrats may have cost Cantor his seat by crossing over and voting in the GOP primary. Democratic involvement in such races has recently taken the form of meddling on behalf of the most conservative–and therefore, to Democrats, most beatable–Republican candidate. It is usually unwelcome. But not always.

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In the wake of Eric Cantor’s surprise primary defeat earlier this month, there were musings (which appear to have been incorrect) that Democrats may have cost Cantor his seat by crossing over and voting in the GOP primary. Democratic involvement in such races has recently taken the form of meddling on behalf of the most conservative–and therefore, to Democrats, most beatable–Republican candidate. It is usually unwelcome. But not always.

In a creative reversal of the trend, the establishment candidate in Mississippi’s GOP Senate primary runoff is enlisting Democrats to help him beat back a more conservative challenge. Specifically, incumbent Senator Thad Cochran is trying to appeal to the state’s black voters to help him at the polls. Black voters make up 36 percent of Mississippi’s registered voters, the largest such share in the country. But because the state is politically conservative, it doesn’t tend to make much of a difference in statewide races. (Cook Political Report has the Senate seat at “likely Republican.”)

The Times reports on the campaign:

The Cochran outreach campaign is taking many forms. The “super PAC” supporting the senator, Mississippi Conservatives, is paying African-American leaders, including Mr. Crudup, to help lift black turnout on Tuesday, said Pete Perry, a Republican strategist here who is working for the group.

“We’re working with a whole bunch of different folks, and Crudup is one of them,” said Mr. Perry, noting with a chuckle that his introduction to the church-based black politics of the South has been “a real education.” Mr. Perry declined to say exactly how much Mississippi Conservatives was paying to increase African-American turnout but said “sure” when asked whether it was in the five-figure range.

Another group, All Citizens for Mississippi, paid for an advertisement that ran in two black-oriented Jackson newspapers and highlighted Mr. Cochran’s work for African-Americans. The group lists Mr. Crudup’s church as its address.

This is both a fascinating experiment and a long shot, to say the least. Primary turnout already gets the more motivated party voters to turn out instead of waiting for the general election, and a runoff gets even fewer. As such, in the age of the Tea Party they tend to favor the conservative insurgent. (David Dewhurst, for example, defeated Ted Cruz in their primary by double digits, yet didn’t garner enough of the vote to avoid a runoff. Cruz returned the favor in a relatively easy runoff victory.)

So Cochran’s challenge is more than getting his supporters out to a low-turnout runoff; he’s trying to get the voters who never vote for him in the general election to come to his aid in the runoff. It’s possible Cochran can get the right combination of his own supporters plus traditional Democrats to overcome the challenge from opponent Chris McDaniel. But the state’s black voters often give 90 percent or more of their support to Democrats, so it’s not as though he’s bidding for swing voters.

Just as interesting, however, is the argument black leaders are making in support of Cochran, and what it says about American politics:

Mr. Cochran had helped Mississippi’s blacks during his six terms, Mr. Crudup said, and it was now time to repay him with their support in the political fight of his life, especially against an opponent who was known to have made racially insensitive remarks when he was a talk-show host. …

Some of Mr. Cochran’s supporters and some top black Mississippi Democrats say the suggestion is indeed reasonable because the senator is not an ideological firebrand and has used his status as a senior member of the Appropriations Committee to deliver projects to Mississippi. Mr. Simmons, who represents a largely black district in the Delta, reeled off the money that Mr. Cochran had secured for health centers, historically black colleges and infrastructure.

“He has been able to do a lot of good for the state of Mississippi,” said Mr. Simmons, who said his efforts for Mr. Cochran were entirely voluntary. “He did not have to ask me, I told him I was supporting him.”

So having Cochran in the Senate helps the state’s black communities on important issues such as health and education. He’s even earned the voluntary support of some black officials for the runoff. Yet it’s still considered exceptional for the black community to vote for him.

No doubt there are historical issues at play, and I don’t presume to be an expert on Mississippi politics. And of course, it’s possible that the Democratic candidate in each statewide election will be materially better for the black community than the Republican candidate, each and every time. But I find that to be unlikely. It’s worth taking note that one of the unintended effects of this get-out-the-vote campaign for Cochran has been black voters happily admitting that the GOP–the party they almost never vote for–has been good to them.

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Rand Paul, the GOP’s Anti-Reagan

In an illuminating essay for National Journal, Michael Gerson writes about the foreign-policy debate roiling the GOP. Going back to Dwight Eisenhower’s victory over Robert Taft in 1952, Gerson points out that since that moment the GOP has been an internationalist party.

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In an illuminating essay for National Journal, Michael Gerson writes about the foreign-policy debate roiling the GOP. Going back to Dwight Eisenhower’s victory over Robert Taft in 1952, Gerson points out that since that moment the GOP has been an internationalist party.

There have been differences for sure–most notably Ronald Reagan’s challenge of Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger’s policy of détente, with Reagan embracing the roll-back of the Soviet empire–but they have all been differences among internationalists. Mr. Gerson argues that the rise of Kentucky Senator Rand Paul represents an effort by non-interventionists to remake the core national-security doctrine of the GOP. Gerson quotes George Mason Professor Colin Deuck, who says of Paul’s approach: “This is not just a rejection of Bush 43. It goes way beyond Reagan versus Nixon. It is an attempt to undo the Eisenhower administration, which locked Republicans into an internationalist stance.”

Mr. Gerson highlights Senator Paul’s positions on various national-security issues:

The talented, ambitious Republican senator, with little background in foreign affairs, has proposed defense cuts, opposed the “perpetual war” against terrorism, questioned American troop deployments in Germany and South Korea, and sought to limit presidential authority over the use of force (urging, for example, the congressional deauthorization of the Iraq and Afghan wars)… Paul has systematically opposed the forward deployment of American influence: drone strikes, military engagement, and foreign assistance (which, he argues, encourages “lethargy” and “insolence”). Paul’s “constitutional foreign policy” denies the legal basis of the war on terrorism, would place severe constraints on the executive, and hints at the existence of an oppressive national security state.

The political and policy atmosphere of 2013—conflict fatigue, the Arab’s Spring’s frightening turn, public concerns about drone policy, revelations about NSA spying—could hardly have been more favorable to Rand Paul’s rise. It is particularly revealing what a leader says when he is on top of the world. During his 12-hour, 52-minute drone filibuster, Paul felt enough support and permission to make extraordinary claims about the potential misuse of presidential power. “That Americans could be killed in a café in San Francisco,” he said, “or in a restaurant in Houston or at their home in Bowling Green, Kentucky, is an abomination.”

This was the perfect melding of domestic and foreign policy libertarianism—an assertion that the national security state might not only violate your privacy but also take your life during lunch. It was also a paranoid delusion. Taken as a serious argument, it would mean that the president of the United States can’t be trusted with advanced weaponry.

Senator Paul understands that his libertarian convictions are still out of step with many in the GOP, which is why he’s careful in how much he reveals, careful in the battles he chooses, and why he insists his views are Reaganesque (his latest effort can be found in his op-ed in today’s Wall Street Journal).

Having worked in the Reagan administration and having read a great deal about Reagan and his presidency, it is risible for Paul to claim his philosophy mirrors Reagan’s. America’s fortieth president, among other things, was not drawn to bizarre conspiracies, which Paul can be. (For example, Paul accused Vice President Cheney of being in favor of the Iraq war because of his ties to Halliburton and warns that the NSA might soon “start using the GPS feature in your phone to track whether or not you go to gun shows.”) Rand Paul’s philosophy is much closer to his father Ron Paul’s than Reagan’s or, for that matter, Eisenhower’s.

Senator Paul, then, does not represent simply a different point on the GOP’s post-World War II foreign-policy continuum. He is a break from that tradition. Whether that is wise or not is open to debate. But Mr. Paul should at least have the courage of his libertarian convictions. Particularly if he decides to run for president in 2016, Paul should level with us about how radically different his foreign policy as president would be from those of the last six Republican presidents.

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Paul’s Isolationism Isn’t a Viable Alternative

In the last week the collapse in Iraq has re-ignited the debate over President Bush’s decision to invade Iraq in 2003 as well as President Obama’s to abandon it in 2011. That has allowed many liberals to return to their favorite pastime of bashing neoconservative advocates for the war and conservatives to excoriate an administration that decided to bug out of Iraq just at the point when the conflict seemed to have been won. Both of the last two presidents made mistakes in Iraq and these exchanges have left no one’s reputation intact. But for isolationists, this latest crisis is an opportunity for them to claim that they alone have avoided blame for both the bloody war that followed the fall of Saddam Hussein and the current battles in which much of the country appears to be falling into the hands of a Sunni coalition made up of al-Qaeda sympathizers and former Baathists.

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In the last week the collapse in Iraq has re-ignited the debate over President Bush’s decision to invade Iraq in 2003 as well as President Obama’s to abandon it in 2011. That has allowed many liberals to return to their favorite pastime of bashing neoconservative advocates for the war and conservatives to excoriate an administration that decided to bug out of Iraq just at the point when the conflict seemed to have been won. Both of the last two presidents made mistakes in Iraq and these exchanges have left no one’s reputation intact. But for isolationists, this latest crisis is an opportunity for them to claim that they alone have avoided blame for both the bloody war that followed the fall of Saddam Hussein and the current battles in which much of the country appears to be falling into the hands of a Sunni coalition made up of al-Qaeda sympathizers and former Baathists.

That’s the conceit of Senator Rand Paul’s op-ed in today’s Wall Street Journal in which he joins the pile-on against both Bush and Obama. According to Paul, the main lesson to be derived from recent developments in Iraq is that anyone connected to or supportive of the original invasion as well as those who support the president’s disastrous retreat from the region need to admit their errors and cease advocating for what he considers to be failed policies. Fair enough. But once everyone who was for the war and also those who urged withdrawal say they’re sorry, what does the man who must be considered one of the frontrunners for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016 think the U.S. should do in Iraq now? The answer is apparently, not much. Paul seems to be skeptical about any action to try and push back against the ISIS advance, a position that may be wrong but is not irrational. Not unreasonably, he also believes any presidential decisions should seek authorization from Congress for any new initiative.

What is not reasonable is the context of Paul’s position. Though he continues to insist that what he is proposing is analogous to the policies carried out by Ronald Reagan, having opposed virtually every U.S. initiative in the Middle East, it is hard to see his proposal as anything but a prescription for U.S. abandonment of both its interests and allies in the Middle East. This may have some superficial appeal to war-weary Americans who have grown tired of dealing with the region’s problems. But doing so will neither enhance the nation’s security nor allow it to ignore the threats that regularly emerge to challenge it.

Paul’s harping on the idea of others admitting their mistakes is a not-so-subtle way of asserting that he has made none. It is true that he bears no responsibility for getting the U.S. into Iraq or for President Obama’s bungling of a war that the administration claimed had been successfully concluded in his first term. But to claim that simply staying out of Iraq would have avoided all the problems of a rising Islamist tide in the region is to miss the point of the events of the last few years. By passing on an early intervention in Syria that might have toppled the Assad regime and avoided having the country fall into the hands of Islamists, President Obama set in motion a chain of events that has not only left the country in ruins, created more than a million refugees, and left more than 100,000 dead. He also helped create the circumstances that have fueled the chaos in Iraq. In doing so, Obama was doing just as a President Paul would do, only with the pretense that he was actually in control of events as his “lead from behind” mantra tried to indicate.

It is one thing to advocate for the U.S. to adopt a Reaganesque stance of only using force when U.S. interests are directly threatened, as Paul counsels. But Paul’s consistent position is always for the U.S. to stay out of the fight against Islamist terrorists, no matter where they are or what they are doing. He opposes drone strikes on al-Qaeda leaders and even U.S. aid to regional allies like Israel as well as less friendly and stable countries. Though he couches his position in “realist” terms that evoke Republicans of the past, a Rand Paul foreign policy would signal a retreat from the defense of the U.S. interests that Ronald Reagan would never have countenanced. Far from being an alternative to the follies of both the last two presidents, Paul would take U.S. foreign policy far to the left of what most Republicans already rightly think is Obama’s retreat from the world stage.

There is clearly no appetite in the country now for a new commitment to ground combat in Iraq, but Paul’s isolationism represents a dangerous extension of Obama’s cut-and-run philosophy. Though foreign policy will always take a back seat to domestic concerns, as Republicans begin to think seriously about 2016 they need to start thinking about whether they really want a presidential candidate who wants to abandon America’s interests and allies even more than Obama has done.

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Ryan to IRS Commissioner: “This is Unbelievable. … Nobody Believes You.”

In a hearing about the IRS targeting of conservative groups, Representative Paul Ryan–during his exchange with IRS Commission John Koskinen–leveled a devastating criticism of Koskinen, essentially accusing him of being a liar. Mr. Ryan runs through the layers of deception, and pattern of abuse, we’re seen from the IRS so far, which now includes the fantastic claim that it has lost ex-IRS official Lois Lerner’s hard drive with emails relevant to the (illegal) audits of conservative groups. Lois Lerner’s crashed hard drive has been recycled, we’re now being told. (The Internal Revenue Service also revealed earlier this week that it can’t produce emails from six more employees involved in the targeting of conservative groups, including from Nikole Flax, the chief of staff to former IRS commissioner Steven Miller, who was fired in the wake of the targeting scandal.)

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In a hearing about the IRS targeting of conservative groups, Representative Paul Ryan–during his exchange with IRS Commission John Koskinen–leveled a devastating criticism of Koskinen, essentially accusing him of being a liar. Mr. Ryan runs through the layers of deception, and pattern of abuse, we’re seen from the IRS so far, which now includes the fantastic claim that it has lost ex-IRS official Lois Lerner’s hard drive with emails relevant to the (illegal) audits of conservative groups. Lois Lerner’s crashed hard drive has been recycled, we’re now being told. (The Internal Revenue Service also revealed earlier this week that it can’t produce emails from six more employees involved in the targeting of conservative groups, including from Nikole Flax, the chief of staff to former IRS commissioner Steven Miller, who was fired in the wake of the targeting scandal.)

And here’s Ryan’s colleague, Kevin Brady, grilling Mr. Koskinen, saying this (h/t: HotAir.com):

Mr. Commissioner, why, at this point, why should anyone believe you? The IRS denied for two years targeting of Americans based on their political beliefs. That wasn’t the truth. They said it was a few rogue agents in Cincinnati. That wasn’t the truth. You said you were targeting liberal organizations. That wasn’t the truth. Then you assured us you would provide us all the emails in May and that wasn’t the truth. And today, you’re telling us out of thousands of IRS computers, the one that lost the emails was a person of interest in an ongoing congressional investigation. And that is not the truth either. This is the most corrupt and deceitful IRS in [American] history.

It’s fairly obvious, I think, that what has occurred is the destruction of evidence related to a congressional investigation about the abuse of power of one of the two most powerful agencies in government. Daniel Henninger of the Wall Street Journal makes the case that “The IRS tea-party audit story isn’t Watergate; it’s worse than Watergate. The Watergate break-in was the professionals of the party in power going after the party professionals of the party out of power. The IRS scandal is the party in power going after the most average Americans imaginable.”

Whether it turns out to be worse than Watergate is impossible to know at this point. But it is bad enough. One question–not the only one, but an important one–is whether and how deep this scandal reaches into the rest of the Obama administration, including the Obama White House.

Inquiring minds want to know.

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Two More Myths About Israeli Settlements Bite the Dust

One encouraging element to the gross media bias against Israel is that eventually, many of the lies spread about Israel and republished uncritically in the press finally become undeniably impossible to believe. This realization leads to stories that emerge, Austin Powers-like, from a time machine, awkwardly in perpetual awe of facts any informed person knew years, if not decades, before.

Jewish settlement is frequently the subject of such stories. One of my all-time favorites is this 2009 piece in the New York Times by Ethan Bronner and Isabel Kershner, declaring that an Israeli-Palestinian deal might indeed be possible because, through “scores of interviews over several months, including with settler firebrands,” they have learned that the settlers “are unlikely to engage in organized armed conflict with the Israeli military” should a deal be struck.

It was a long story, the upshot of which was to repeatedly proclaim, as if they had invented the wheel, that Jews living in their historic homeland are not, in fact, psychotic mobs of violent fanatics. Better late than never for Bronner and Kershner, I suppose, but it was only news to those who get all their information from the New York Times.

The popular Mideast news site Al-Monitor has a new entry in this field. Headlined “Youths’ abduction stirs Israeli sympathy for settlers,” the author proceeds to explain that Israelis don’t think Jews deserve to be kidnapped by terrorists just because they found themselves outside the green line:

Throughout the first and second intifadas, there were many voices in the public discourse blaming the settlers for the series of terrorist attacks in Israel. The left regarded the settlements as an obstacle to peace; the right regarded them as an obstacle to war. On the left, authors, intellectuals, pundits and politicians took the position that Israel’s very domination of the territories was the main cause of Palestinian violence. For many Israelis, life beyond the Green Line was like living in another country. Time after time, surveys confirmed that most Israelis had never set foot in the territories and that many of them had never actually seen a settlement up close.

Then the three teenagers were abducted. It’s hard to think of another event in the territories that has evoked so much sympathy among Israelis.

This is apparently troublesome, though, because:

The [Israeli] minister even expressed his concern that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu might actually exploit the past few days’ outpouring of support to even expand further the settlement enterprise in the occupied territories.

For some people, there’s always a downside to Jews supporting other Jews. In this case, it is that Jews will continue supporting their fellow Jews. But let’s look at that minister’s concern that Netanyahu will expand the settlement enterprise. One of the persistent myths about Netanyahu is that he is a pro-settlement hardliner. It is pervasive and false. It’s easy for uninformed Westerners to believe it, because they want to believe it, but it also exposes their ignorance of Israeli politics. In fact, not only is Netanyahu not a pro-settlements ideologue, but his actions as prime minister actually leave the opposite impression.

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One encouraging element to the gross media bias against Israel is that eventually, many of the lies spread about Israel and republished uncritically in the press finally become undeniably impossible to believe. This realization leads to stories that emerge, Austin Powers-like, from a time machine, awkwardly in perpetual awe of facts any informed person knew years, if not decades, before.

Jewish settlement is frequently the subject of such stories. One of my all-time favorites is this 2009 piece in the New York Times by Ethan Bronner and Isabel Kershner, declaring that an Israeli-Palestinian deal might indeed be possible because, through “scores of interviews over several months, including with settler firebrands,” they have learned that the settlers “are unlikely to engage in organized armed conflict with the Israeli military” should a deal be struck.

It was a long story, the upshot of which was to repeatedly proclaim, as if they had invented the wheel, that Jews living in their historic homeland are not, in fact, psychotic mobs of violent fanatics. Better late than never for Bronner and Kershner, I suppose, but it was only news to those who get all their information from the New York Times.

The popular Mideast news site Al-Monitor has a new entry in this field. Headlined “Youths’ abduction stirs Israeli sympathy for settlers,” the author proceeds to explain that Israelis don’t think Jews deserve to be kidnapped by terrorists just because they found themselves outside the green line:

Throughout the first and second intifadas, there were many voices in the public discourse blaming the settlers for the series of terrorist attacks in Israel. The left regarded the settlements as an obstacle to peace; the right regarded them as an obstacle to war. On the left, authors, intellectuals, pundits and politicians took the position that Israel’s very domination of the territories was the main cause of Palestinian violence. For many Israelis, life beyond the Green Line was like living in another country. Time after time, surveys confirmed that most Israelis had never set foot in the territories and that many of them had never actually seen a settlement up close.

Then the three teenagers were abducted. It’s hard to think of another event in the territories that has evoked so much sympathy among Israelis.

This is apparently troublesome, though, because:

The [Israeli] minister even expressed his concern that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu might actually exploit the past few days’ outpouring of support to even expand further the settlement enterprise in the occupied territories.

For some people, there’s always a downside to Jews supporting other Jews. In this case, it is that Jews will continue supporting their fellow Jews. But let’s look at that minister’s concern that Netanyahu will expand the settlement enterprise. One of the persistent myths about Netanyahu is that he is a pro-settlement hardliner. It is pervasive and false. It’s easy for uninformed Westerners to believe it, because they want to believe it, but it also exposes their ignorance of Israeli politics. In fact, not only is Netanyahu not a pro-settlements ideologue, but his actions as prime minister actually leave the opposite impression.

As Elliott Abrams and Uri Sadot write at Foreign Affairs, Netanyahu has slowed construction in settlements to the point that it “can hardly sustain even natural population growth.” Additionally:

A geographic analysis of the data, moreover, suggests that the settlers have an additional reason to worry: under Netanyahu’s current government, construction outside the so-called major settlement blocs — the areas most likely to remain part of Israel in a final peace settlement — has steadily decreased. Over the past five years, the number of homes approved for construction in the smaller settlements has amounted to half of what it was during Netanyahu’s first premiership in 1996–99. Moreover, the homes the government is now approving for construction are positioned further west, mostly in the major blocs or in areas adjacent to the so-called Green Line, the de facto border separating Israel from the West Bank. The 1,500 units that Israel announced plans for earlier this month were also in the major blocs and in East Jerusalem, continuing the pattern.

Despite the fact that this might qualify as a bombshell to those in the press, Abrams and Sadot have another piece of news. After talking about land swaps and the geography of the peace process, they write:

Accusations that Netanyahu is reluctant to negotiate for peace bury the true headline: that his government has unilaterally reduced Israeli settlement construction and largely constrained it to a narrow segment of territory. This might well be the signal that Israel’s historical settlement enterprise is nearing its end, and whatever its reasons — international pressures, demographic fears, or a shift in public opinion — it is a trend that deserves U.S. attention.

Let’s repeat that: Benjamin Netanyahu’s behavior toward the settlements raises the possibility that “Israel’s historical settlement enterprise is nearing its end” and that Netanyahu is the one who might preside over it. Liberal critics of Israel have slammed Netanyahu as a prime minister who could make true history by striking a peace deal but is letting ego and ideology get in the way. The reality is that he may just make history of the kind those leftist critics thought they could only dream of, and they don’t even realize it.

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How Obama Misread the Public

A new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll shows public support for President Obama’s foreign policy at 37 percent–a record low. How can this be when an earlier Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll found that 47 percent of those surveyed want the U.S. to be “less active” abroad? Isn’t a “less active”–aka “lead from behind”–foreign policy precisely what Obama has been delivering? If so, why isn’t the public rapturous?

I am reminded of the old saying in football and other sports: When the coach starts listening to the fans he will before long join their ranks. President Obama has been listening to the public and giving the voters precisely what they say they want. The only problem is the public is schizophrenic. It doesn’t know what it wants.

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A new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll shows public support for President Obama’s foreign policy at 37 percent–a record low. How can this be when an earlier Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll found that 47 percent of those surveyed want the U.S. to be “less active” abroad? Isn’t a “less active”–aka “lead from behind”–foreign policy precisely what Obama has been delivering? If so, why isn’t the public rapturous?

I am reminded of the old saying in football and other sports: When the coach starts listening to the fans he will before long join their ranks. President Obama has been listening to the public and giving the voters precisely what they say they want. The only problem is the public is schizophrenic. It doesn’t know what it wants.

On the one hand Americans like the idea of letting others sort out their own problems, of pulling back, and focusing on “nation-building at home.” On the other hand Americans don’t like cutting deals with terrorists (to release Bowe Bergdahl), letting other states get invaded with impunity (Ukraine) or seeing a hard-won victory in Iraq unravel following American withdrawal.

What Americans really don’t like is when they perceive a lack of leadership in the Oval Office–when the U.S. does not look strong abroad and when our enemies are on the march. That is the case now.

President Obama is not doing what he’s doing in foreign policy because of the public opinion polls; he’s doing it because he really believes in the benefits of retreat and retrenchment. But no doubt he has been comforted in his decisions by the public opinion surveys which show large public approval of his most dovish actions. In retrospect that public support turns out to be illusory.

So now Obama should take with a grain of salt polls which show that the public opposes further involvement in Iraq. That may be the case but the public also opposes the establishment of terrorist states. Obama should have the courage to do the right thing in Iraq–as President Bush did during the surge which was initially unpopular–regardless of what the polls say today.

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But I Thought There Weren’t Any Weapons of Mass Destruction…

The latest bad news from Iraq now includes the reports that ISIS have captured one of Saddam Hussein’s chemical-weapons facilities at Al Muthanna 45 miles north of Baghdad. Naturally this has caused a certain degree of disquiet, but U.S. officials have reassured that they don’t believe the weapons there are usable and have stressed that it is unlikely that the rebels would be able to use the facilities to produce chemical weaponry. Indeed, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki attempted to calm concerns that the Islamists could use the weapons by insisting that “it would be very difficult, if not impossible, to safely move the materials.” But who ever said jihadis are concerned with safety? If anything the volatility of this material—most of which is currently sealed away in bunkers—surely should only add to our concerns.

Nevertheless, aren’t we forgetting something here? It’s somewhat disorienting to have had ten years of a prevailing narrative that says the public was misled over the claims that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction only to now be told that there are concerns that Saddam’s chemical weapons have fallen into the hands of a group too extreme even for the tastes of al-Qaeda. Perhaps it is quite true that the weapons stored at this site are now too old be used effectively, and perhaps it is also true that the rebels lack the means and the knowhow to convert these materials into something usable, but that’s not the same thing as saying that the Saddam regime couldn’t have eventually turned these facilities around to produce weapons of mass destruction once again.

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The latest bad news from Iraq now includes the reports that ISIS have captured one of Saddam Hussein’s chemical-weapons facilities at Al Muthanna 45 miles north of Baghdad. Naturally this has caused a certain degree of disquiet, but U.S. officials have reassured that they don’t believe the weapons there are usable and have stressed that it is unlikely that the rebels would be able to use the facilities to produce chemical weaponry. Indeed, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki attempted to calm concerns that the Islamists could use the weapons by insisting that “it would be very difficult, if not impossible, to safely move the materials.” But who ever said jihadis are concerned with safety? If anything the volatility of this material—most of which is currently sealed away in bunkers—surely should only add to our concerns.

Nevertheless, aren’t we forgetting something here? It’s somewhat disorienting to have had ten years of a prevailing narrative that says the public was misled over the claims that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction only to now be told that there are concerns that Saddam’s chemical weapons have fallen into the hands of a group too extreme even for the tastes of al-Qaeda. Perhaps it is quite true that the weapons stored at this site are now too old be used effectively, and perhaps it is also true that the rebels lack the means and the knowhow to convert these materials into something usable, but that’s not the same thing as saying that the Saddam regime couldn’t have eventually turned these facilities around to produce weapons of mass destruction once again.

This latest turn in the Iraq crisis further demonstrates a truth about the war in Iraq that can’t be stated often enough: There is a reasonable distinction to be drawn between the still robust case for the overthrow of Saddam and the less defensible matter of how the situation in Iraq was handled following that overthrow. Removing Saddam by no means made the following insurgencies and civil war inevitable. Yes, allied forces failed to fully anticipate what might happen in the wake of totally dismantling the Baathist regime and not adequately securing stability in the country after that. But even with all of that in mind, culpability for the violent sectarianism that now engulfs Iraq has to ultimately be placed with the violent sectarians. A Saddam-free Iraq is not by necessity a war of all against all; the people who live in that country did have another alternative before them.

The reminder of the extensive chemical-weapons facility at Al Muthanna should force us to consider what Iraq would be like today had there been no invasion in 2003. Is it really conceivable that the so-called Arab Spring would have simply passed Iraq by? North of the border in Syria things are just about as bad as they could be and that was without an invasion or any kind of Western military intervention. Indeed, Iraq’s most serious problem right now—ISIS—has mobilized from Syria. And given Saddam’s wild track record of suppressing internal uprisings (often with the use of chemical weapons) can anyone really say that right now Saddam would be showing any more restraint than Assad is?

Saddam may not have had weapons of mass destruction good to go, but we have been reminded that he had maintained the facilities to quite rapidly produce such weapons. The fact that these sites and their lethal materials are now in the hands of ISIS, and indeed that ISIS is racing across Iraqi territory at all, is a sign of just how supremely irresponsible the Obama administration has been. To invade Iraq was in a sense a very great gamble, but arguably one necessitated by circumstance. But to then walk away from Iraq with the job barely half done, as Obama has, is unforgivable.

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