Commentary Magazine


Posts For: July 31, 2014

Justice Ginsberg’s Blind Spot

The fallout from the Hobby Lobby decision continues to be a top Democratic Party talking point as liberals hope to rally female voters to the polls. But the leading dissenter on the court in this decision isn’t content to stay on the sidelines of that debate. According to Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the only reason the majority decided that religious freedom trumped a newly-minted right to free contraception is their gender.

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The fallout from the Hobby Lobby decision continues to be a top Democratic Party talking point as liberals hope to rally female voters to the polls. But the leading dissenter on the court in this decision isn’t content to stay on the sidelines of that debate. According to Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the only reason the majority decided that religious freedom trumped a newly-minted right to free contraception is their gender.

In an interview with Katie Couric on Yahoo Global News, Ginsburg said she thinks the five male conservative justices who voted to uphold the rights of religious owners of corporations had a “blind spot” toward women.

Do you believe that the five male justices truly understood the ramifications of their decision?” Couric asked Ginsburg of the 5-4 Hobby Lobby ruling, which cleared the way for employers to deny insurance coverage of contraceptives to female workers on religious grounds.

“I would have to say no,” the 81-year-old justice replied. Asked if the five justices revealed a “blind spot” in their decision, Ginsburg said yes.

The feisty leader of the court’s minority liberal bloc compared the decision of her five male peers to an old Supreme Court ruling that found discriminating against pregnant women was legal.

“But justices continue to think and can change,” she added, hopefully. “They have wives. They have daughters. By the way, I think daughters can change the perception of their fathers.

In response one could say that Ginsburg seems to have a “blind spot” toward the First Amendment and its protections of religious liberty. But just imagine if one of her five colleagues in the majority had said the only reason Ginsburg and Justices Elena Kagan or Sonia Sotomayor had voted against the Hobby Lobby Corporation was because they were women. They would be excoriated as chauvinists who didn’t respect women or believe they were capable of reaching principled decisions on constitutional issues simply because of their gender. Such a statement would be universally condemned, and rightly so.

Let’s remember what was at stake in this decision. The ruling did not invalidate past Supreme Court cases that established a right to contraception, the use of which was once illegal in some municipalities or states. Rather it merely said that the Health and Human Services Department’s interpretation of the Affordable Care Act did not trump the First Amendment. The HHS Mandate proclaimed not so much a right to access to contraception—something that is not in dispute—as a right to free contraception. Rather than protecting a long established or settled right, the mandate was a newly-minted government fiat that threatened to run roughshod over the rights of religious believers who were told they had a choice between violating their religious beliefs or forfeiting their businesses.

That has nothing to do with the rights of women who can easily obtain contraception on their own without their employers paying the bill. The notion of free contraception is merely a policy prescription by the Obama administration, not a principle grounded in law or the Constitution.

The point is, one doesn’t have to share the religious beliefs of the Hobby Lobby owners or the many others who had similar objections to understand that if their religious freedom could be violated in this manner, no one’s rights were safe against the power of a government that was no longer constrained by the protections afforded citizens by the First Amendment. Nor does that have anything to do with being male or a particular variety of religious believer.

Justice Ginsburg is rightly held in great respect by the country. But what she did in her Hobby Lobby dissent is to confuse liberal ideology with the Constitution. Perhaps someday the Congress will pass laws mandating free contraception for all—something that is actually not in the ObamaCare law—but if so it cannot compel religious business owners to pay the bill. Women, like men, deserve the protections of the First Amendment. To say that its defense is an act of insensitivity toward women is not merely incorrect; it is an act of rank partisanship that shows little respect for the Constitution or the high court.

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“Unacceptable?” Israel Must Press On

Today the White House raised the pressure on Israel to stop fighting in Gaza by terming the shooting at a United Nations school yesterday as “totally unacceptable.” White House spokesman Josh Earnest’s joining the international media pile-on is another demonstration of the administration’s determination to box in the Israeli government.

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Today the White House raised the pressure on Israel to stop fighting in Gaza by terming the shooting at a United Nations school yesterday as “totally unacceptable.” White House spokesman Josh Earnest’s joining the international media pile-on is another demonstration of the administration’s determination to box in the Israeli government.

The criticism may have played a role in Israel’s decision to accept a 72-hour humanitarian cease-fire scheduled to begin tomorrow. But it’s not clear whether Hamas will hold its fire. Nor is there any assurance they won’t resume shooting rockets or using the tunnels that remain in their control when it suits their purpose. When they do, Prime Minister Netanyahu should not be deterred from continuing the campaign.

Earnest’s condemnation was intended to raise the heat on Israel to agree to an immediate humanitarian cease-fire even though it has been Hamas that has been the one vetoing cease-fires and continuing to fire rockets at the Jewish state since the start of the fighting. But in doing so he was echoing most of the talking heads on television and liberal pundits who keep telling us that the Israeli counter-attacks against the Islamist terror movement are “disproportionate” or pointless. Stories such as those that highlight Palestinian casualties are becoming the leads of every news program with talking heads constantly asking what Israel could be accomplishing.

But even though the attacks on Israel are becoming more vituperative, sentiment in Israel is still solidly behind Netanyahu’s policies. Today, Isaac Herzog, the opposition leader in the Knesset restated his support for the ongoing military offensive against Hamas rocket launching and terrorist tunnels:

“The decisions that were taken so far were responsible and focused,” Herzog said during a conference call with reporters. “I hope they will bring an end to the fighting.” …

“There is a national consensus in Israel as to the justification of this operation for a few reasons,” he said. First, the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu acted with restraint, seeking to avoid conflagration. “We tried to contain [the conflict]. And Hamas, for its own strategic reasons, decided to flare it up.”

Israelis understand that criticism of their tactics is a distortion of reality. Hamas fires on Israelis from the proximity of homes, schools, mosques, and areas where civilians are taking shelter. The notion that the use of these human shields should require Israeli troops to hold their fire when terrorists are shooting at them or launching rockets is unsupportable. Nor is it a standard that the White House or the Pentagon would impose on U.S. troops in action in Afghanistan or anywhere else. Despite the calls from the White House for Israel to live up to higher standards, the Israeli army’s rules of engagement are every bit as stringent as those of the U.S. Armed Forces.

But in spite of the opprobrium Israel should push on specifically because the assertion that its efforts are accomplishing nothing is false.

Even Israel’s critics claim that it has the right to defend itself. But the notion that it should stop fighting before all the terror tunnels that Hamas has dug are discovered and destroyed or while the Islamists are still in possession of an arsenal of thousands of rockets gives the lie to the lip service being paid to that right.

It’s not clear whether Netanyahu will push on and seek to demilitarize Gaza even though that is the only way this issue will ever be resolved. But for Israel to pull back now simply because Western critics think too many Palestinians are being killed is to grant Hamas an undeserved victory. Israelis rightly think that the only reason the Palestinian casualty toll is so high is because Hamas has done everything it can to sacrifice their compatriots.

By focusing almost exclusively on Palestinian casualties rather than the tactics of Hamas, the West is granting impunity to terrorists. The death toll, like the blockade the international community has imposed on Gaza since the 2007 Hamas coup, is solely the fault of the Islamist movement. The shooting, like the isolation, can be ended as soon as Hamas surrenders in the same way that any war ends. Stopping before that moment comes won’t bring peace. Indeed, it will retard efforts to create a two-state solution since the only lesson from such an outcome will be to convince Israel than any more territorial withdrawals will create more such Hamasistans.

As difficult as it may be to watch the pictures coming out of Gaza, the suffering there will only end once and for all once Hamas lays down its arms. To the extent that the U.S. and the international community place obstacles in the way of that outcome with pressure on Israel, the more blood will be shed in the long run.

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Reality Is Neoconservative

“The facts of life are conservative,” said Margaret Thatcher. It was her way of pointing out that, regardless of political fights, the world trudges on behaving in ways that vindicate conservatives’ skepticism of perfectibility schemes: Markets make more efficient use of limited resources than do expert planning bodies. Handouts erode the human spirit. Well-intentioned policies have damaging unintended consequences. “Out of the crooked timber of humanity,” said Kant, “no straight thing was ever made.” It is the predictably misshapen fruit of man’s efforts that conservatives are (at their best) prepared to catch and to handle—within the bounds of reasonable expectation.

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“The facts of life are conservative,” said Margaret Thatcher. It was her way of pointing out that, regardless of political fights, the world trudges on behaving in ways that vindicate conservatives’ skepticism of perfectibility schemes: Markets make more efficient use of limited resources than do expert planning bodies. Handouts erode the human spirit. Well-intentioned policies have damaging unintended consequences. “Out of the crooked timber of humanity,” said Kant, “no straight thing was ever made.” It is the predictably misshapen fruit of man’s efforts that conservatives are (at their best) prepared to catch and to handle—within the bounds of reasonable expectation.

In the summer of 2014, is it not clear that reality is neoconservative?  That is to say, disposed toward violence and chaos in the absence of an American-led liberal world order. Recently, the case was made unwittingly not by a neoconservative, but rather by CBS News’s Bob Schieffer. “Trying to understand the news of this terrible summer,” he said, “it is hard to come away with any feeling but that we are in the midst of a world gone mad.” He went on:

On one side of the world, an ego-driven Russian leader seems to yearn for the time of the czars, when rulers started wars on a whim or a perceived insult — and if people died, so be it.
 In the Middle East, the Palestinian people find themselves in the grip of a terrorist group that has embarked on a strategy to get its own children killed in order to build sympathy for its cause — a strategy that might actually be working, at least in some quarters.

Schieffer closed with his own apt quote from Will Durant: “Barbarism, like the jungle, does not die out, but only retreats behind the barriers that civilization has thrown up against it, and waits there always to reclaim that to which civilization has temporarily laid claim.” The barbarians are back.

And just think of what Schieffer’s inventory of barbarism ignored. This week in Iraq, ISIS forced the last of Mosul’s Christians from the city under the threat of death. The United States evacuated its embassy in post-Gaddafi Libya, owing to an orgy of violence taking place there. In a recent 10-day period 1,800 Syrian civilians were killed in the ongoing civil war—a new conflict record.

And when Iran develops its fervently sought nuclear weapon, this will look in retrospect like our last carefree summer.

In the Washington Post, Fred Hiatt has called the current state of affairs “as close to a laboratory experiment on the effects of U.S. disengagement as the real world is ever likely to provide.” In Barack Obama’s global laboratory, the experiment persists even as it fails. The experimental design was laid out in his first speech before the United Nations General Assembly in the fall of 2009. Explaining the hypothesis to be tested, the president said, “In an era when our destiny is shared, power is no longer a zero-sum game. No one nation can or should try to dominate another nation. No world order that elevates one nation or group of people over another will succeed.”

Globally interdependent benevolence. It was a nice thought, and, given its uncontested dominance in the academic institutions of which Obama is a product, its implementation was inevitable. But being president of merely one country, Obama could ensure only that it followed the new rules. That country, the United States, was the linchpin of the peaceful post-WWII global order, and national experimentation put the whole planet at risk. Because reality is neoconservative, no one else obeyed. Bad actors around the world mobilized to exploit the new dispensation.

In 2011, a thinker named Richard Tokumei wrote a book arguing that while modern liberals usually believe in evolution, their policy prescriptions tend not to incorporate it. Conversely, says Tokumei, conservatives are more likely to doubt evolution while supporting policies that reflect it. I make no claims for the evolutionary convictions of neocons, but this is at heart an argument about understanding human nature. Neoconservatism is grounded in it. Globally interdependent benevolence is a dream.

The challenge is that reality has only a glancing relationship with political expediency. In the wake of Iraq and Afghanistan, neoconservatism remains politically unpopular. That could very well change, depending on the duration and rigor of Obama’s experiment. But whether or not we see a neocon comeback anytime soon, we’ve certainly not seen a serious challenge to neoconservative reality. Which is sad for us all.

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OFA the Undead: A Political Zombie’s Lessons for Conservatives

Mary Katherine Ham called attention last night to a rather humorous ongoing correspondence between Organizing for Action and the Washington Post. OFA is the perpetual Obama reelection campaign, which has been retooled to act as a campaign organization without a campaign. It’s an organizational zombie, which reflects the Obama administration’s own attitude toward their perceived value in the permanent campaign, even when there are no elections left (they even run the Barack Obama Twitter account). But there are lessons, I think, for conservatives in OFA’s story.

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Mary Katherine Ham called attention last night to a rather humorous ongoing correspondence between Organizing for Action and the Washington Post. OFA is the perpetual Obama reelection campaign, which has been retooled to act as a campaign organization without a campaign. It’s an organizational zombie, which reflects the Obama administration’s own attitude toward their perceived value in the permanent campaign, even when there are no elections left (they even run the Barack Obama Twitter account). But there are lessons, I think, for conservatives in OFA’s story.

The basic story is that, as Ham notes, Post political blogger Philip Bump wrote a piece in May that called attention to the fact that OFA was a purposeless shell, aimlessly wandering the country and unable to make a legislative impact on its pet political issues. Bump wrote about OFA’s announcement that with the midterms approaching and the need to maximize fundraising to candidates, it will stop accepting large donations. “Even without that news,” he added, “it’s not clear how much longer OFA will survive.”

OFA, coming from its formative experience as an Obama campaign machine, handles bad press about as well as you would expect the humorless president’s cultish fan clubs would. They challenged Bump over the next couple months to acknowledge and grade their work. He did, and he found that he was right. They’re a joke:

Organizing For Action has spent two months sending emails to the Post, trying to convince us of its effectiveness. (They were unhappy with this post asking how long the organization could survive.) So, we decided to look at what the group’s executive director, Jon Carson, was sending us. To catalog it. To do exactly what Carson apparently intended: Evaluate their work.

In short, we were not terribly impressed. …

By the most important metric, the group is largely ineffective. Of the priorities above — which, according to the group’s mandate, are meant to bolster federal efforts — none has seen national legislative action. The president introduced new restrictions on carbon pollution, but that was an executive action, not legislation. Immigration reform has stalled; there hasn’t been a national minimum wage increase. All of these things are difficult, given the opposition the president faces from Republicans in Congress, but that’s the point, right? Encourage people to take action in their communities? Bottom up change and all that?

Nonetheless, there are a couple things conservatives can learn from OFA’s good days and bad.

The first is that they should not dismiss OFA’s raison d’être. Though we often criticize the means by which the Democrats drum up support from their base–I regularly knock the White House’s “war on women” and took a shot at the pitiful attempts to get the GOP to talk impeachment–rallying the base itself is something conservatives should get used to, and the Obama campaign was very good at it.

Conservatives have tended to recoil a bit from the politicization of everything, and with good reason. But getting involved in partisan politics in a democracy is, as our Pete Wehner noted a couple weeks ago, a noble effort. I’m often reminded of the Jews in DP camps after World War II organizing themselves into political parties, ready to combat the tyranny they were subjected to not with more tyranny but with party politics as practiced by free men–even before they were truly free.

The instinct to organize and vote in or out policies and politicians according to your values and principles is the right way to change what needs changing. Liberal activism often has the feel of mob rule because that’s exactly what it is–except when those same activists who spend their time ostracizing the people they disagree with or destroying the livelihood of a thought criminal show up to the polls and vote. It’s terrible that liberals want to undo the protections in the First Amendment. But they give their authoritarian dreams hope of becoming reality by electing senators who actually introduce their wish lists as bills in Congress. Boosting turnout and organizing political action is the way they do that. Conservatives can’t expect to stop them by hoping John Roberts finds his spine.

The other lesson for conservatives is that the OFA zombie is a very leftist creature. I don’t just mean the politics, which are shallow and conventionally liberal. Its walking dead routine is the logical result of applying the liberal world view to any such organization. It becomes a bureaucracy that never disappears and simply prowls the night desperate for something to feed on.

Conservatives should learn not only from the left’s strengths but their weaknesses. This was a lesson conservatives may have learned from the spectacular failure of the Romney campaign’s get out the vote program. It had many problems, but one was surely its overly hierarchical command structure.

The Tea Party is best placed to relate to the organizing of the left because it is a grassroots movement that got candidates elected to Congress. The existence of a Tea Party Caucus is a good example of how these organizations get bureaucratized and then stuck in place, ultimately working against their own best interests thanks to their obsession with their brand. But there’s still a lot the right can learn from an Obama campaign organization that now seems to be plodding off, arms outstretched, into the sunset.

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UNRWA’s Terrorist Connections

Yesterday three young Israeli soldiers, all in their early twenties, were killed by an explosion in one of Hamas’s many booby-trapped tunnels. This is just one example of the terrible price Israelis are paying as part of their efforts to keep their families safe from Islamist terrorism. But there is more to yesterday’s tragedy.

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Yesterday three young Israeli soldiers, all in their early twenties, were killed by an explosion in one of Hamas’s many booby-trapped tunnels. This is just one example of the terrible price Israelis are paying as part of their efforts to keep their families safe from Islamist terrorism. But there is more to yesterday’s tragedy.

The booby-trapped tunnel in question had its opening situated in a small health clinic run by UNRWA, the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees. That fact alone should be shocking enough. But it comes just days after a cache of rockets was discovered at one of UNRWA’s schools. Worse still, this was the third such discovery since Israel’s operation Protective Edge began. The UN’s personnel in Gaza can no longer plead negligence; anyone considering the facts must inevitably conclude that UNRWA is actively collaborating with Hamas.

As Evelyn Gordon noted, in the case of the first stockpile of rockets, the United Nations staff simply handed the rockets over to the “Gaza authorities”—read: Hamas. In the case of the second stockpile we were told that the rockets “went missing.” They had vanished as mysteriously as they had appeared, and supposedly the UNRWA staff knew nothing about what had happened in either case. Of course the UN’s secretary-general Ban Ki-moon expressed his deepest concerns. But who knows where any of these rockets ended up? For all we know they could have already been fired at civilians in Israel by now.

Israel has long accused UNRWA of being mixed up in Palestinian extremism, that UNRWA projects are used for the purposes of incitement and radicalization against Israel. But it has been during the course of this latest explosion of violence that the extent of UNRWA’s complicity with terrorism has been exposed. And of course, it is quite possible that we have not yet seen the full extent of UNRWA’s entanglement with Hamas’s terror infrastructure. These four recent examples of UN sites being used for terrorist purposes could well prove to only be the tip of the iceberg.

The fact that a UN agency would so actively collaborate with terrorist organizations is appalling, but there is a still more sickening point to be considered here. Not only does it now seem clear that UNRWA has assisted militants who target Israeli civilians, but by permitting schools and medical sites to be used for any kind of military purpose, they have apparently joined with Hamas in its vile strategy of using human shields to protect its weapons and tunnels. Not only is this the most appalling breach of UNRWA’s primary duty to see to the welfare of civilians in Gaza, but it is also illegal as a war crime under international law.

Of course, UNRWA employs many of the local people in Gaza and it would not be at all difficult for those sympathetic to Hamas to infiltrate the lower echelons of the organization. But even if we grant this benefit of the doubt to those coming from outside to oversee UN work in Gaza, that does not absolve them of all culpability. Given that Palestinian militants are known to use ambulances as their preferred means of transportation and that Gaza’s al-Shifa hospital has previously been exposed as teeming with Hamas combatants, any genuinely well-meaning person coming to direct UNRWA’s work should have been all the more on their guard against this kind of thing.

In the end it just isn’t credible for UNRWA’s staff to plead ignorance. After all, the construction of a tunnel and the booby-trapping of the walls of a clinic with large amounts of explosives isn’t the kind of thing just discreetly undertaken overnight. We have already seen how Hamas has harassed journalists in Gaza and prevented them from reporting freely. It is possible that UNRWA’s senior figures, finding themselves caught between a dreadfully difficult task and the tyrannical rule of Hamas, reached the conclusion that they had no option but to make a pact with the devil, so to speak. Whatever the calculation, the human cost of these actions has already been horrendous.

Wherever responsibility lies, the fact is a UN agency has clearly had wide-scale involvement with both terrorism and the use of human shields. It stands to reason that these outrageous breaches should be prosecuted, but as we have seen before, the UN has awarded itself the kind of diplomatic immunity that has made legal action essentially impossible in the past. The only option now is for the world’s decent nations to embrace a policy of divestment against UNRWA, just as the Dutch parliament recently voted to halt funding to the Palestinian Authority. Some may argue that this will have harsh consequences for the local population. But if UNRWA is collaborating with the terrorists, then it is no friend of the people of Gaza.

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Cuomo and the Bridgegate Precedent

Today, the investigation of questionable conduct in undermining the work of a New York state ethics commission stopped being a tiff between Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York Times. When the office of the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York issues a letter saying that it believes commissioners are being influenced to give false statements, Cuomo’s problem has become a matter of legal peril rather than bad public relations. But don’t expect this story to dominate the news cycle the way New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s Bridgegate problems did a few months ago.

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Today, the investigation of questionable conduct in undermining the work of a New York state ethics commission stopped being a tiff between Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York Times. When the office of the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York issues a letter saying that it believes commissioners are being influenced to give false statements, Cuomo’s problem has become a matter of legal peril rather than bad public relations. But don’t expect this story to dominate the news cycle the way New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s Bridgegate problems did a few months ago.

Ironically, the blowup in the Cuomo investigation comes just a day after Politico ran a feature asking whether Christie had recovered sufficiently from the Bridgegate mess to return to his former status as a formidable Republican presidential contender. The jury is out on that question but Cuomo’s legal problems and the relative lack of interest in the story by the cable news channels that were all-Bridgegate all-the-time at the start of 2014 raises some interesting questions about media bias.

The first point to be made about federal investigation of the way Cuomo’s office sabotaged the Moreland Commission before the governor disbanded it is that it is a lot more serious than the batty decision to create traffic jams on the George Washington Bridge last fall.

As I wrote on Monday, Cuomo empowered the commission to investigate the endemic practice of pay-to-play in state government that has made Albany an ethics cesspool for decades. But, as the New York Times reported last week, as soon as it started poking around into businesses that were linked to the governor, the word went out from the governor’s office to cease and desist. Cuomo’s appointees followed orders, though apparently some members of the commission protested since they had foolishly thought the governor was serious when he told them to ferret out corruption. Seeing that the commission was going to be a problem and not the sort of harmless stunt that would make a show of his concern for probity, he quickly disbanded it.

Not unreasonably, this has prompted the Justice Department to look into the matter. At the very least, some people on Cuomo’s staff may be in peril of obstruction of justice charges that will taint the governor’s office. But given his own reputation as a political bully with a predilection for issuing threats to political opponents and allies alike, it is not unreasonable to suspect the chief executive may also be involved in efforts to quiet witnesses or perhaps even involvement in the original effort to stop the investigation of a firm that had helped him get elected. That all has yet to be determined, but the willingness of the Times to buy into this scandal with the sort of space and prominent placement and the decision of the U.S. attorney for the Southern District—who is, by the way, a Democrat and an Obama appointee—to double down in the charges with the latest letter illustrates the seriousness of this problem.

In other words, Cuomo is in big trouble and not just media-firestorm trouble but in the kind of legal problem that ends political careers in disgrace.

But, as consumers of our 24/7 news cycle may have noticed, despite the involvement of the country’s liberal flagship newspaper, this Ethics Comissiongate (suggestions for a better scandal “gate” moniker will be welcomed) is still flying below the radar on the same stations that obsessed over Bridgegate.

To state this fact is not to assume Cuomo’s guilt or to deny the seriousness of Bridgegate. The bridge scandal was an example of what happens when small-minded officials and staffers use the great power that has been put in their hands to maliciously inconvenience ordinary citizens in order to pursue petty feuds against other political figures. Anyone involved in plotting this piece of lunacy deserves all the opprobrium that can be rained down on his or her worthless heads.

It is also true that Bridgegate resonated with the public because it illustrated another side of Christie’s well-known public behavior. His penchant for bluntly scourging his critics and punishing his foes was seen as amusing and made him a YouTube star when it was limited to foils like union officials and obnoxious liberals. But even if the genesis of the traffic jam cannot be directly linked to Christie, it is fair to note that those staffers who were involved seemed to be acting in a manner that was consistent with the governor’s instincts. That is something that is always going to be held against Christie and, as Politico noted, his ongoing arrogant behavior toward friends and foes alike merely adds fuel to the fire. This far out from the 2016 contest, it is impossible to know whether Christie still has a chance. But Bridgegate will remain a problem for him if only because it is the sort of scandal that is easily understood (everybody hates traffic jams and has cursed those who create them) and is prime fodder for TV comics.

Cuomo’s legal peril is not quite as comedic or visceral in nature. But it is far more serious. The willingness of the governor to allegedly quash a subpoena on a firm that was a campaign vendor is a classic example of corruption. The governor’s effort to spin this, perhaps aided by an effort to coach witnesses to echo his denials, is, at best, suspicious, and very likely criminal in nature. That means Cuomo can forget about running for president someday and should instead concentrate on staying out of federal prison.

But instead of panels endlessly examining the evidence and pondering the political implications, most of the media yawns. At its peak, Bridgegate got more coverage than other more serious scandals such as the IRS’s discriminatory treatment of conservative groups, government spying, Benghazi, or even wrongdoing at the VA. So it is hardly surprising that Cuomo’s woes aren’t generating the same wall-to-wall attention. Could the reason for that be that Christie was a Republican and these other scandals involve Democrats and the Obama administration? Anyone who can’t connect those dots hasn’t been paying attention to the way the media works.

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An “Economic Peace” for Gaza?

One of the themes we return to time and again on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is that the international community’s Oslo vision of the peace process requires the rejection of the only tactics and strategies that have proved successful. The momentum for a two-state solution outran the establishment of the conditions in the Palestinian territories that would foster and support what is otherwise a worthy goal.

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One of the themes we return to time and again on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is that the international community’s Oslo vision of the peace process requires the rejection of the only tactics and strategies that have proved successful. The momentum for a two-state solution outran the establishment of the conditions in the Palestinian territories that would foster and support what is otherwise a worthy goal.

At the top of this list is what’s referred to as “economic peace,” the attempts led by Benjamin Netanyahu to increase economic cooperation with and development in the West Bank to improve the lives of Palestinians until a final-status agreement can be reached. As I’ve pointed out here before, economic peace actually has a track record of success, unlike most of the West’s meddling in the peace process.

Opponents of economic peace–including American officials current and former–have tended to argue that it’s a scam, a way for Netanyahu to forestall the two-state solution without publicly saying so. They’re wrong, of course: anything that replaces desperation with economic growth helps the Palestinian moderates and shows the value of cooperating with Israel. There’s also been another element to economic peace: demonstrate that the Hamas way is a dead end. And now Netanyahu is taking that argument to the next step, the New York Times reports:

After years in which Israel’s prevailing approach to the Gaza Strip was a simple “quiet for quiet” demand, there is growing momentum around a new formula, “reconstruction for demilitarization.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is only the latest in a string of Israeli leaders who saw Gaza mainly as an irritant to be controlled with periodic crackdowns and as a roadblock to resolving the nation’s broader conflict with the Palestinians. But as Israel’s latest military bout with the Islamist Hamas faction, which dominates Gaza, has proved tougher than previous rounds, even Mr. Netanyahu has begun talking about Gaza’s need for “social and economic relief” from decade-old Israeli restrictions on trade and travel.

This is basically economic peace for Gaza. And its purpose is twofold. The first is to buy time: Israel is essentially negotiating with the international community at this point, repeatedly justifying its legitimate right of self-defense. The international community very quickly gets tired of seeing the images of war, and calls for an end to the fighting regardless of the military objectives accomplished or the near-certainty that the cease-fire would allow Hamas to rearm and restock for the next war.

The international community has not been persuaded by Israel’s clear military objectives, because they could not care less about the repercussions of leaving the task undone. Anyone who decries the imbalance of fatalities by pointing to how few Jews have been killed so far is not going to be moved by the possibility of terrorism against Israel. Even Human Rights Watch’s director Ken Roth got in on the action, unilaterally rewriting the laws of conflict to wave away the rights of Israeli soldiers on Israeli territory. So Netanyahu understands that while he’s quite obviously right–Israel cannot pretend those tunnels aren’t there–the world’s indifference to Israel’s fate means being right isn’t enough.

An economic peace for Gaza asks the world to envision a demilitarized Gaza’s potential for peace and economic success, and to have the patience to see that vision through. And it also has one other purpose: it gives Palestinians, and their international backers, a choice. Do they prefer Gaza to be controlled by a weaponized terrorist machinery, or do they prefer a much-improved standard of living and engagement with the outside world?

For this argument, Netanyahu at least has the wind at his back. After all, the current war in Gaza has demolished any and all arguments in favor of lifting the siege without demilitarization. Nothing illustrates this better than the terror tunnels. Hundreds of thousands of tons of cement and other supplies to build an underground city to which only terrorists have access while Palestinians above suffer: it’s irrefutable proof lifting import restrictions would only help Hamas at the expense of the Palestinian civilians.

And in doing so, it would lay the groundwork for the next war, in which the Palestinians would be used by Hamas as human shields and we’d be having this discussion all over again. When people decry the “cycle of violence,” they usually mean the Israelis and Palestinians are equally culpable. But though that particular definition of the phrase is ignorant and morally objectionable, they are onto something. There is a cycle of violence, and it goes like this: Hamas terrorists attack Israel, step up rocket attacks while Israel shows restraint, and eventually provoke an Israeli counteroffensive in self-defense.

Netanyahu is proposing to break the cycle. Demilitarize Gaza, he argues, and the restrictions on trade would lose their primary justification. Demilitarizing Gaza would force Israel’s hand with regard to the siege. He is, in effect, calling the bluff of those who claim to care more about Palestinian life than Israeli death. The international community’s response will tell us much about which of those two they see as the greater priority.

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How to Help the Anti-ISIS Backlash

Word is trickling out of Mosul that Iraqis are starting to chafe under the heavy-handed rule of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. New York Times correspondent Tim Arango reports of anger against ISIS for destroying a shrine to the biblical prophet Jonah. Residents actually gathered around Mosul’s ancient leaning minaret to prevent its destruction too.

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Word is trickling out of Mosul that Iraqis are starting to chafe under the heavy-handed rule of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. New York Times correspondent Tim Arango reports of anger against ISIS for destroying a shrine to the biblical prophet Jonah. Residents actually gathered around Mosul’s ancient leaning minaret to prevent its destruction too.

There is also understandable concern that ISIS isn’t making life better for the people–its specialty, after all, is suicide bombings, not municipal governance. The Times quotes one Mosul resident interviewed by phone: “There are unorganized groups fighting ISIS now. If we had the power and the supplies, we could have kicked ISIS out of Mosul by now.”

This is a positive sign–it shows how unpopular Islamist fundamentalists are whenever they achieve power. But we should keep our euphoria about a potential anti-ISIS revolt firmly in check. The history of ISIS suggests that, however much Iraqis may resent their rule, they will successfully rise up only if they have strong outside support. Resentment of al-Qaeda in Iraq (the ISIS predecessor) did not boil over in Anbar Province until 2006 and even then it required American efforts during “the surge” to forge tribesmen into a 100,000-strong Sons of Iraq militia to fight against AQI. In prior years, nascent revolts in Anbar had been repressed with great brutality by AQI.

The question now is where can outside support come from to support an anti-ISIS revolt in western and northern Iraq? Probably not from the Iraqi government, which is identified with a Shiite sectarian agenda that only drives Sunnis further into ISIS’s arms and whose army has shown a depressing inability or unwillingness to fight hard under the political hacks appointed by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

It is possible a change of leadership in Baghdad can revitalize the Iraqi army, lessen the government’s sectarian taint, and thereby allow effective partnering with the Sunni tribes. But don’t count on it. Even if a new prime minister is selected, there will still be deep-seated suspicion in the Sunni community, and understandably so. The only force the Sunnis would trust–despite our prior abandonment of them–is the United States.

But to become an effective catalyst for a Sunni revolt, the U.S. will have to send a lot more than 825 troops to Iraq–the current number. This week I testified before the House Armed Services Committee, presenting my own plan for rolling back ISIS gains. I suggested, in essence, a multi-pronged approach based on supporting relatively moderate factions in both Iraq and Syria–to wit, the Free Syrian Army, elements of the Iraqi security forces which have not been totally subordinated to the Iranian Quds Force, the Sunni tribes, and the Kurdish peshmerga.

I argued that we need to send at least 10,000 troops to act as advisers, intelligence gatherers, air controllers (to call in air strikes), and Special Operations raiders and that in Iraq these personnel need to be evenly distributed between the Iraqi army, the Sunni tribes, and the peshmerga. U.S. troops would not be on the frontlines of ground combat but they would be enabling proxies to fight far more effectively, as we have previously done in countries as disparate as Kosovo, Libya, and Afghanistan. This should be done in conjunction with a political strategy focused on replacing Maliki with a more inclusive figure.

Alas there is no sign that the Obama administration is seriously rethinking its abandonment of Iraq or its misguided policy of arming the current sectarian regime in Baghdad without real American oversight over how the weapons we provide are employed. Unless the administration is willing to roll up its sleeves and get more involved in Iraq (admittedly a difficult political pill for the anti-interventionist president to swallow), anti-ISIS sentiment among Sunnis is unlikely to lead to a serious revolt and ISIS will continue to strengthen its terrorist caliphate.

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IDF Fatalities Destroy Last Remaining Justification for Gaza Pullout

Has anyone noticed that the last remaining justification for Israel’s unilateral pullout from the Gaza Strip has just disappeared? Proponents’ claims that the pullout would bring peace, security, and international support have long since been disproven; what it actually brought was 16,500 rockets and mortars fired at Israel from Gaza–including 13,800 before the current war began–and unprecedented international vitriol every time Israel tried to fight back (see the current anti-Semitic pogroms in Europe or the infamous Goldstone Report). Yet disengagement supporters still had one trump card to play: “At least our soldiers aren’t dying in Gaza anymore.” And to many Israelis, that gain was worth the terrible price.

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Has anyone noticed that the last remaining justification for Israel’s unilateral pullout from the Gaza Strip has just disappeared? Proponents’ claims that the pullout would bring peace, security, and international support have long since been disproven; what it actually brought was 16,500 rockets and mortars fired at Israel from Gaza–including 13,800 before the current war began–and unprecedented international vitriol every time Israel tried to fight back (see the current anti-Semitic pogroms in Europe or the infamous Goldstone Report). Yet disengagement supporters still had one trump card to play: “At least our soldiers aren’t dying in Gaza anymore.” And to many Israelis, that gain was worth the terrible price.

But now, Israeli soldiers are once again dying in Gaza, at a rate that wipes out all the gains of the previous few years. Here are the figures, compiled from B’Tselem statistics:

Between the start of the second intifada, in September 2000, and the pullout in August 2005, 87 Israeli soldiers were killed in Gaza. Over the next eight years, it’s not true that no soldiers died in Gaza, but military fatalities did drop significantly: Altogether, 33 soldiers were killed either in Gaza or in southern Israel by fire from Gaza.

Even that “achievement” is actually an indictment of the disengagement, because in the West Bank, which Israel didn’t quit, military fatalities fell far more sharply: from 136 between September 2000 and August 2005 to just 13 in the subsequent nine years. But since Operation Protective Edge began earlier this month, even this meager gain has disappeared: 53 soldiers have so far been killed in or by attacks from Gaza, and the number will likely continue climbing as the operation progresses. In other words, Gaza has now claimed 86 military fatalities from Israel since the pullout–almost identical to the 87 it claimed during the second intifada–even as military fatalities have fallen sharply in the West Bank.

In contrast, had the Israel Defense Forces remained in Gaza, military fatalities would almost certainly have registered a decline similar to that in the West Bank, because Hamas wouldn’t have been able do either of the two things that are now costing so many soldiers their lives: smuggle in vast quantities of sophisticated weaponry or build an extensive network of attack tunnels.

The bottom line, therefore, is that the last remaining “achievement” of the Gaza pullout has proved as chimerical as all its other vaunted achievements: The pullout hasn’t saved soldiers’ lives; it has almost certainly cost them.

To be clear, I never liked the argument that saving soldiers’ lives was worth the cost of incessant rocket fire on the south; soldiers are supposed to put their lives on the line to protect civilians, not the other way around. But I understand why it was so persuasive to many Israelis: Almost every Israeli has a father, husband, brother, or son in the army, while far fewer have relatives and friends in rocket-battered southern communities; thus many Israelis felt they personally benefited from the tradeoff, even if other Israelis were paying the price.

Now, however, even that illusion is gone: By quitting Gaza, not only has Israel gotten 16,500 rockets and mortars on its country, but it hasn’t saved the life of a single soldier. In fact, it has almost certainly lost more soldiers than it would have had it stayed.

Israel may have no choice but to reoccupy Gaza someday. But whether it does or not, one thing is crystal clear: It would be insane to repeat this experiment in the West Bank.

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