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Posts For: July 16, 2014

Iran Negotiations: the Neverending Story

The Associated Press is reporting what has to vie for the least shocking bit of news this week: Secretary of State John Kerry is preparing to extend the nuclear diplomacy with Iran beyond the deadline. The real news here–though again, not terribly surprisingly–is that the two sides are, according to the AP, getting ready to stop talking before the deadline actually hits. The talks have apparently become somewhat pointless at the current juncture:

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The Associated Press is reporting what has to vie for the least shocking bit of news this week: Secretary of State John Kerry is preparing to extend the nuclear diplomacy with Iran beyond the deadline. The real news here–though again, not terribly surprisingly–is that the two sides are, according to the AP, getting ready to stop talking before the deadline actually hits. The talks have apparently become somewhat pointless at the current juncture:

Both sides had been prepared to talk until Sunday, the informal deadline for the negotiations. But two diplomats have told The Associated Press the talks will probably wind down Friday, because the differences won’t be bridged by Sunday.

The diplomats demanded anonymity because they were not authorized to divulge confidential information. One said the two sides opposed going on until the final hours of the informal deadline because they felt that would give the impression they were desperate for a solution.

Two things we learn from that excerpt. One, the two sides are so far apart that they have no hope of meeting the deadline. Two, they don’t want to “give the impression” they’re desperate for a deal because, let’s face it, this process is pretty much just for show–hence the two sides being so far apart as to make continued talks meaningless in the near term.

Why might that be? We know, from Kerry’s past experience letting the Iranians run circles around him, that the American side would like some kind of deal–something that kicks the can down the road but produces a piece of paper the Obama White House can pretend solves a problem. But going by the administration’s talking points, the Iranians should want a deal far more. After all, despite President Obama’s best efforts, the Congress has instituted some sanctions, though Obama has worked assiduously to delay them or water them down.

Well, about those sanctions. Eli Lake has some bad news:

As U.S. and allied negotiators try to hammer out a nuclear deal with Iran this week in Vienna, they will have less economic leverage on their Iranian counterparts than they had a year ago.

That is the conclusion of a new study from Roubini Global Economics and the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, two groups that have analyzed Iran’s economy—and the international sanctions imposed on the country’s banks, oil exports and leading regime figures.

Their report concludes that in the last year as the United States and other Western countries have begun to ease some of the sanctions on Iran as an inducement to negotiate an end to the country’s nuclear weapons program, the Iranian economy has begun to recover.

The recovery of Iran’s economy is a good thing for the Iranian people, who suffered a currency in free-fall, staggering inflation and a contraction of the country’s Gross Domestic Product. But at the same time, the economic sanctions that President Obama has credited with forcing Iran to begin these negotiations have appeared to lose their bite, according to the study that is scheduled to be released Monday.

The administration has made this mistake elsewhere. When Kerry decided he wanted to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he found a Palestinian leadership hesitant to even come to the table. In order to get negotiations started, Kerry pressured the Israeli government to make concessions, which included releasing terrorist murderers.

Everyone not born yesterday understood what would come next: the Palestinians would accept the concessions, come to the table, and with the deadline approaching find some pretext to walk away, pocketing the concessions without giving anything up and without coming close to a deal. When the talks collapsed, there was a high degree of probability that a Palestinian faction would instigate violence. And that’s exactly what happened.

The idea of “preconditions for negotiations,” in whatever form, is usually counterproductive. There are always exceptions, of course. But generally speaking anyone who needs concessions to even come to the negotiating table doesn’t really want to be at the negotiating table. In the case of Iran, unless their leadership feels squeezed economically time will be on their side.

Obama and Kerry had leverage: economic sanctions. They used up much of that leverage just to get the Iranians to the table, and now the Iranian leadership wants to run out the clock. Thanks to the weakening of the sanctions, and the lack of stronger sanctions to begin with, they’re in a position to do so. And Kerry seems prepared to play along.

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Elizabeth Warren Stops Pretending

Yesterday on Twitter, the Senate Democrats sent out a message that seemed to attribute the following paraphrased declaration to Elizabeth Warren: “Remember the government shutdown? That was started by a GOP effort to let employers deny workers access to birth control.” Because it was unclear, and because this statement is so utterly and obviously false, Twitter users were left wondering if Warren could really have said something so outrageously fictitious. It turned out that, yes, Warren made this comment, having finally and fully descended into self-parody.

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Yesterday on Twitter, the Senate Democrats sent out a message that seemed to attribute the following paraphrased declaration to Elizabeth Warren: “Remember the government shutdown? That was started by a GOP effort to let employers deny workers access to birth control.” Because it was unclear, and because this statement is so utterly and obviously false, Twitter users were left wondering if Warren could really have said something so outrageously fictitious. It turned out that, yes, Warren made this comment, having finally and fully descended into self-parody.

The Washington Examiner’s Ashe Schow posted the video and transcript of Warren’s remarks in context. Here is what the senator said:

In 2012, the Republicans tried to pass the Blunt amendment, a proposal that would have allowed employers and insurance companies to deny women access to health care services based on any vague moral objections.

Democrats said ‘no.’ The president said ‘no.’ The American people said ‘no’ to this offensive idea.

But instead of listening to the American people, Republicans in Washington doubled down.

Remember last year’s government shutdown that nearly tanked our economy? That fight started with a GOP effort to hold the whole operation of the federal government hostage in order to try to force Democrats and the president to let employers deny workers access to birth control.

Well, we rejected the hostage-taking. Democrats said ‘no.’ The president said ‘no.’ The American people said ‘no’ to this offensive idea.

Schow explains, in case any readers were foolish enough to believe Warren, how none of Warren’s claim is true. The government shutdown, of course, was not about birth control but about a budget impasse and features native to ObamaCare (which the contraception mandate was not), and their selective enforcement.

Additionally, no one, under any reading of this controversy, was trying to “deny women access” to anything. The only question was whether some companies with religious objections to possible abortifacients would be forced to pay for services that violate their beliefs while still paying for 80 percent of birth control products. But again, that wasn’t the issue over which the government was shut down anyway.

As I have noted, joining the Senate seems to have erased any attempt at seriousness left over from Warren’s previous career as a consumer advocate. Conservatives have been disappointed because the intellectual bankruptcy of modern liberalism has left them with few liberals capable of conducting an intelligent debate on policy. Warren seemed to present a real challenge to conservatives, but she dropped her academic pretensions before she even joined the Senate, having run her campaign not on policy but on fabricated “war on women” victimhood and rants against “Big Oil.”

Warren has revealed herself to be a conventional leftist, and that’s why her made-up storylines about birth control actually matter. As Mary Katherine Ham notes over at Hot Air:

Back in 2013, at the time of the shutdown, she was saying the same thing because the entire strategy for this great, fresh intellectual hope of the Democratic Party is to yell about how no one can achieve anything outside the collective, and unless the collective provides every single necessity for basic living, free of cost, we are cast into the darkest of ages. It makes no difference to her that birth control was readily available to everyone, subsidized and provided free by the government, and covered by almost all employer-based insurance plans before a bureaucrat at Health and Human Services decided to force every employer in America to provide it without a copay, regardless of their religious beliefs. It was even available to Hobby Lobby employees before the Hobby Lobby case was decided and will remain available to them after that decision.

Indeed, the left was overjoyed at the prospect of Warren joining the Senate because it would put a faux-intellectual sheen on their unflinching statist impulses. Warren wasted no time in delivering on that promise, but she has gradually lost the ability to act as though there’s more to her liberalism than increasing and overusing government authority. After a center-left think tank criticized Warren’s Occupy Wall Street populism, she used her perch on the Senate Banking Committee to demand that think tanks disclose their Wall Street donors to discredit any pro-business scholarship and so she would know precisely who in the private sector dared criticize her.

Warren is fighting a battle against reality and good governance in the name of expanded and intrusive government power. She has also, apparently, given up pretending otherwise.

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The Nobility of Politics

William Kristol, among his many duties, hosts Conversations with Bill Kristol, which feature in-depth conversations with leading figures in American public life. (The interviews are sponsored by the Foundation for Constitutional Government, a not-for-profit organization devoted to supporting the serious study of politics and political philosophy.) Among those interviewed by Kristol are Elliott Abrams, Leon and Amy Kass, Charles Murray, and Harvey Mansfield.

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William Kristol, among his many duties, hosts Conversations with Bill Kristol, which feature in-depth conversations with leading figures in American public life. (The interviews are sponsored by the Foundation for Constitutional Government, a not-for-profit organization devoted to supporting the serious study of politics and political philosophy.) Among those interviewed by Kristol are Elliott Abrams, Leon and Amy Kass, Charles Murray, and Harvey Mansfield.

My intention is to eventually focus on each of the conversations, which are fascinating. But I want to start with the discussion Kristol had with his former teacher, Dr. Mansfield, a longtime professor of political philosophy at Harvard.

Professor Mansfield started out intending to be a political scientist but moved to political philosophy. A teacher of Mansfield’s, Sam Beer, convinced him that political science needed a theoretical background, a foundation underneath it. As an undergraduate, Mansfield concluded that:

political science was not enough by itself because it doesn’t judge. When you study facts, facts ask to be judged. A fact presents itself as something, which is either good or bad – and people who deal with facts either deserve to be praised or blamed.

It doesn’t seem really possible to stop and say, “I’m not going to be concerned with evaluation.” Political philosophy is concerned with evaluation because political facts aren’t sufficient by themselves and they ask to be judged.

This is quite a crucial point; it is what’s known in philosophy as the facts-value distinction, in which facts are considered “what is” and values are “what ought to be.” Facts may be true and explain the material world, but they can’t see beyond the material to help us understand the good, the beautiful and the true. They can’t elucidate what is justice and why human beings have inherent dignity. Facts alone can’t impart wisdom or explain what is right and moral. They can’t quite make sense of statements like “My kingdom is not of this world” and “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”

One of the distinctions between the ancients and the moderns–with Machiavelli being considered the founder of modern political philosophy–is that the former, most especially Plato and Aristotle, were more concerned with “the invisible standing behind the visible and necessary to it,” in Mansfield’s words. In Book VII of Aristotle’s Politics, for example, we’re told about the primacy of the good of the soul and that “the best way of life, both for states and for individuals, is the life of goodness.” Moderns, on the other hand, begin from what is visible and are never really able to transcend it.

To be sure, in politics, as in life, facts matter. We can’t operate in our own universe; we have to lead our lives within the four corners of reality. Politics, then, is about respecting facts and being empirically minded. But politics rightly understood is also about ascertaining what the good life and the proper end of the state are. Political philosophy should not aim for the “transvaluation of values”; its aim should be promoting virtue (arête) and human flourishing (eudaimonia).

In speaking about Aristotle, Professor Mansfield says this:

he much more criticizes Plato than, I think, is necessary for him to do. And this too is perhaps a kind of stance on Aristotle’s part to show that Plato had this failing – or maybe it isn’t altogether a failing – of giving too low a view of politics. Politics deserves – there’s a certain nobility to it, in fact, a terrific nobility to it.

And, so Aristotle wanted to bring to our attention the splendor of politics and of the moral virtue that people show in politics. And he thought that Plato had not done this sufficiently. And, so on every page, so to speak, there is a kind of critique of Plato and then Aristotle’s Ethics – there’s an, actually, statement of disagreement with his revered teacher, which he says that he loves his friend, but he loves the truth more, the most beautiful kind of criticism you could give or get.

The nobility and splendor of politics is often obscured; that is the product of being broken people, often passionately holding competing points of view, imperfectly trying to order our lives together. Yet at its deepest level, beneath all the conflict and noise and triviality, there is–there has been, there can be–an ennoblement to politics. From time to time it can bend the arc of the moral universe a bit closer toward justice, make life a little more decent, treat people somewhat more humanely. And that’s actually something worth reminding ourselves about now and then, as Professor Mansfield and his former student Bill Kristol do in their splendid conversation.

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Are Israel’s Enemies Losing Ground in the PR War?

There is something different about the reaction to the latest Israel-Gaza conflict. The level of anger, the amount of hate, the fury being directed against Israel by protesters seems more unhinged, more ferocious, and, one is tempted to say, more disproportionate than ever before. But perhaps as a result something else is happening. One senses that a growing number of commentators and observers are seeing Israel’s detractors with new eyes. Both Hamas and its apologists are coming under real criticism unlike during either of the previous Gaza conflicts. It is possible that those who demonize Israel are beginning to expose themselves for what they are and with that comes the possibility of that movement becoming increasingly consigned to the fringes.

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There is something different about the reaction to the latest Israel-Gaza conflict. The level of anger, the amount of hate, the fury being directed against Israel by protesters seems more unhinged, more ferocious, and, one is tempted to say, more disproportionate than ever before. But perhaps as a result something else is happening. One senses that a growing number of commentators and observers are seeing Israel’s detractors with new eyes. Both Hamas and its apologists are coming under real criticism unlike during either of the previous Gaza conflicts. It is possible that those who demonize Israel are beginning to expose themselves for what they are and with that comes the possibility of that movement becoming increasingly consigned to the fringes.

The backlash against Israel has been almost incomprehensible. Those attending a pro-Israel demonstration in Los Angeles were violently set upon by armed Palestinian supporters leading to a police officer firing his gun in an apparent effort to regain control over the situation. In Boston a pro-Israel activist was attacked by a woman screaming “Jewish go to hell!” In London a mob gathered outside the Israeli embassy, brandishing placards proclaiming a “Palestinian Holocaust” to be underway and accusing Israel’s prime minister of being “Hitler’s clone.” By the following morning a Jewish family home in that city was daubed with swastikas and days later a Jewish lady was randomly assaulted by demonstrators. Similarly, violent protests erupted in several German cities and in Antwerp the crowd openly chanted “slaughter the Jews.” But the most shocking scenes took place in Paris, where one synagogue was firebombed, while another came under siege from an angry mob that trapped Jewish worshipers inside the building for several hours.

What has made these events all the more outrageous is the utter disconnect between the levels of rage and the actual events that anti-Israel campaigners purport to be so enraged by. Not only did Hamas force this conflict with an unprovoked barrage of rockets targeting Israeli civilians, and not only has Hamas ignored all efforts for a ceasefire, but the casualty figures in Gaza are still dramatically lower than in all comparable conflicts and they have also remained far lower than during the first Israel-Gaza war in 2009. It should be clear to any honest observer that despite Hamas’s use of human shields, Israel is going to extraordinary lengths to avoid civilians wherever possible. Hamas on the other hand is indiscriminately targeting Israel’s civilians with a large and highly sophisticated arsenal supplied by Iran. Seventy percent of Israel’s population is within reach of Hamas’s long range Fajr-5 missiles and the terror group is equipped with anti-tank mortars and even unmanned drones.

What is all the more galling is that onlookers who never seemed visibly troubled by far more horrendous conflicts in the region, and who would never have turned out to protest the casualty figures of their own governments’ military interventions, have obsessively condemned Israel at every turn. And the rhetoric from those doing the condemning has become wildly visceral, with the most appalling comparisons between the Jewish state and Nazi Germany, coupled with the equally sickening #HitlerWasRight hashtag.

Yet behavior this extreme can’t go unnoticed indefinitely. It has long been suggested, and not without justification, that the media bears a great deal of responsibility for provoking much of these anti-Israel sentiments. The British media has been particularly notorious in the past and indeed during this latest round of hostilities much of the reporting has been just as misleading. However, alongside this dishonest reporting there has been a growing chorus of voices speaking in opposition to the prevailing anti-Israel sentiment.

At the Telegraph, in response to the latest frenzy of Israel bashing, several writers have spoken-up, with a particularly strong piece by Dan Hodges reminding readers that history demonstrates why Israel cannot afford weakness. At the Spectator Rod Liddle authored a post bluntly titled “Will the BBC Accept that Hamas Wants to Kill Lots of Jews?” And Hugo Rifkind, also of the Spectator, went with “If Britain Was Being Shelled, as Israel Now is, How Would We Respond?” Even the left-leaning Independent ran a piece asking why no one cares about Palestinians starved by Assad. But perhaps the most blistering attack on the anti-Israel crowed came from Brendon O’Neil with his outspoken editorial: “There’s Something Very Ugly in This Rage Against Israel: the line between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism gets thinner every day.”

The point is that–despite how hostile the British media has typically been to Israel–if these writers can come to see the campaign against Israel for what it is, then ultimately any reasonable person, confronted with the reality of this phenomenon, should be capable of seeing the inherent bigotry of this hateful movement. And a similar shift could well emerge at the diplomatic level too. The way in which the Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird recently slammed the UN human rights commissioner for her disingenuous words against Israel’s military operation, or the fact that Australia’s Ambassador Dave Sharma took to twitter to highlight the reality of Hamas rockets, is all a far cry from the atmosphere in 2009.

None of this is to suggest that some grand awakening has taken place. The New York Times and Guardian aren’t changing tune. But as the campaign against Israel becomes ever more extreme and violent, there is a chance for the fair-minded to see things anew.

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Erdoğan’s Projection of Hatred

Israel’s exercise of self-defense brings out the worst in those prone to hate the Jewish state, or Jews themselves. Hence, protestors of the Israeli campaign against Hamas—action brought on by Hamas’s kidnapping and killing of Israeli (and American) teens and the launching of rockets itself—in Paris sought to sack synagogues. German police allowed anti-Israel protestors to use a police megaphone to incite the crowd with anti-Semitic chants. A University of Michigan professor turned polemicist was particularly unhinged with this piece as he performs intellectual somersaults to ignore the fact that Gaza is not occupied, Hamas is motivated by ideology rather than grievance, and that Hamas’s charter blesses genocide against not Israelis but Jews everywhere. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Turkey’s authoritarian and virulently anti-Semitic ruler, can be counted on to take hatred to a new level.

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Israel’s exercise of self-defense brings out the worst in those prone to hate the Jewish state, or Jews themselves. Hence, protestors of the Israeli campaign against Hamas—action brought on by Hamas’s kidnapping and killing of Israeli (and American) teens and the launching of rockets itself—in Paris sought to sack synagogues. German police allowed anti-Israel protestors to use a police megaphone to incite the crowd with anti-Semitic chants. A University of Michigan professor turned polemicist was particularly unhinged with this piece as he performs intellectual somersaults to ignore the fact that Gaza is not occupied, Hamas is motivated by ideology rather than grievance, and that Hamas’s charter blesses genocide against not Israelis but Jews everywhere. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Turkey’s authoritarian and virulently anti-Semitic ruler, can be counted on to take hatred to a new level.

Here, for example, is Erdoğan comparing Israel’s policy to Hitler’s, while accusing Israel of perpetrating state terrorism. The irony here is that it was under Erdoğan that Mein Kampf became a Turkish best-seller, apparently because of mysterious Turkish subsidies, and a Turkish film endorsed by Erdoğan’s wife brought blood libel to the big screen. There’s a reason why Turkey’s centuries-old Jewish community is now beginning to flee.

But what about the charge of state terrorism? Hamas, of course, is in violation of the Geneva Accords by hiding among civilians, eschewing uniforms, and placing weaponry in homes, schools, and mosques. Despite this, Israel, however, has bent over backwards to prevent civilian casualties. They are the only military force in the world to utilize roof-knocking, for example, to warn civilians to evacuate buildings in which Hamas built bomb factories or sheltered terrorists.

But what about Turkey? On December 28, 2011, Turkish fighter jets fired at a column of unarmed Kurds near the border, killing 34, half of whom were children. While Erdoğan has claimed that Muslims don’t kill Muslims, dozens of widows, parents, and orphans beg to differ. And while Erdoğan claims that Israel pays money for the deaths of those on the Mavi Marmara, he has refused to pay compensation for the Kurds for whose deaths he is responsible. That’s certainly reflective of Erdoğan’s hypocrisy. But taken together, it creates a certain irony: a racist, hate-mongering ruler who censors the press, slaughters innocents on the basis of their ethnicity, and then accuses others of acting like Hitler. Perhaps when Erdoğan invokes such analogies, he projects a bit too much?

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