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Posts For: August 11, 2014

Why Hamas Isn’t Falling

As I noted earlier today, much of the debate about who won or lost the lingering conflict in Gaza centers on the question of whether Palestinians in Gaza are ready to shuck off the despotic and destructive rule of Hamas. The assumption is that Gazans will draw the only logical conclusion from the Islamist terrorists’ mad decision to launch a war that only increased their suffering. But as in much else that characterizes the Middle East, logic doesn’t necessarily apply here.

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As I noted earlier today, much of the debate about who won or lost the lingering conflict in Gaza centers on the question of whether Palestinians in Gaza are ready to shuck off the despotic and destructive rule of Hamas. The assumption is that Gazans will draw the only logical conclusion from the Islamist terrorists’ mad decision to launch a war that only increased their suffering. But as in much else that characterizes the Middle East, logic doesn’t necessarily apply here.

We’ve heard a great deal recently about the likelihood that Hamas’s weakened military state due to Israel’s successful military action must mean that the group’s hold on Gaza must be slipping. Given that Hamas has achieved none of the principle goals it stated for the conflict, including the release of terrorist prisoners and the end of the international blockade of Gaza, it stands to reason that Palestinians must be thinking seriously about replacing the movement that has ruled over them since taking power in a 2007 coup.

But despite all the talk about the imminent demise of Hamasistan, there is actually no sign whatsoever that its grip on power is slipping. The reasons for that have every thing to do with the peculiar dynamic of Palestinian politics and a basic rule of history. As the Times of Israel notes in a feature today, support for Hamas’s goals and fear of dissent provides the terror group with a strong insurance policy.

Though no one in Gaza had to like the results of the fighting, Hamas’s political stock may actually have gone up due to the perverse culture of Palestinian life. Throughout the last century Palestinians have always given the bulk of their support to whichever faction proved to be the most violent. That dynamic kept Yasir Arafat at the top of the Palestinian pyramid and has inspired the ongoing competition between Hamas and Fatah in the last generation. Since Palestinian national identity has always been inextricably linked to their war on Zionism, peacemaking has always been political poison. Instead of concentrating on development or providing services for their backers, Hamas and Fatah have both concentrated on demonstrating their belligerence, with even moderates like Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas understanding that agreeing to recognize the legitimacy of the Jewish state is simply impossible. That’s why no matter what Hamas does it appears that Gazans will blame their suffering on Israel.

As for possible dissent, it should be noted that the one demonstration held in Gaza against Hamas was met with a stern response. Those involved were executed. That is where the iron rule comes in.

Throughout history, tyrannies have only fallen when they are ready to liberalize, not when they are still prepared to spill the blood of their people. The French revolution happened during the reign of the least tyrannical of the Bourbon kings, not under that of the most bloodthirsty. The Soviet Union fell after glasnost and perestroika, not during the era of Stalin’s bloody purges that took the lives of millions.

Hamas is isolated, militarily defeated, and bankrupt. But so long as it is prepared to use its weapons to suppress possible dissent, intimidate the press, and/or to ensure that Fatah is not in a position to retake Gaza, the odds of it losing power are slim and none.

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Cuomo’s Shoddy Stadium Socialism

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has more than his share of troubles lately. The U.S. attorney’s investigation into his scandalous decision to shut down an ethics commission that got too close to one of his favorite firms raises the specter of possible legal peril and probably signals the end of his presidential ambitions. But Cuomo seems in no danger of losing his race for reelection this year. And, as he demonstrated last week, it is clear that there is no limit to his willingness to spend taxpayer dollars in an effort to bribe voters.

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New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has more than his share of troubles lately. The U.S. attorney’s investigation into his scandalous decision to shut down an ethics commission that got too close to one of his favorite firms raises the specter of possible legal peril and probably signals the end of his presidential ambitions. But Cuomo seems in no danger of losing his race for reelection this year. And, as he demonstrated last week, it is clear that there is no limit to his willingness to spend taxpayer dollars in an effort to bribe voters.

Cuomo’s pledge last week to consider building a new football stadium for Buffalo barely raised a ripple of protest across the state. The Buffalo Bills are the Empire State’s only entrant in the National Football League (New York’s Jets and Giants actually play across the river in New Jersey) and Cuomo’s lip service paid to the effort to ensure that the team stays in Western New York is bound to be popular in the Buffalo region and doesn’t seem to bother the rest of the state. But it should.

Let’s specify that the Bills are a beloved institution in Buffalo and important to the city’s civic pride. The fact that the most lucrative sports enterprise in the country—the National Football League—maintains franchises in at least a couple of small markets like Buffalo and Green Bay is a charming reminder of the sport’s origins. I fully sympathize with the team’s fans who rightly worry that the impending sale of the team will cause it to be moved some place where the new owners could make more money than they could in the Bills’ current home.

But the idea that states and municipalities benefit from building sports stadiums is a myth that ought to have been put to rest a long time ago. While popular with some sectors of the electorate—like those of us who like to attend games or watch them on television—the expenditure of massive amounts of taxpayer dollars on these edifices does little to boost local economies. They are, instead, nothing more or less than a direct transfer of wealth from ordinary taxpayers to the wealthy individuals who own the teams. In this case, such an “investment” by Cuomo would be nothing less than a gift in the form of hundreds of millions of dollars filched either from the already leaking Albany budget or money wrung from the state’s bondholders to the next owner of the Bills whether it is Jon Bon Jovi (rumored to be a favorite) or some other rich person who is lucky enough to be invited to join the exclusive NFL owners club.

The equation in Buffalo is the same as it has been in many other places where states and cities were blackmailed into bankrolling new stadiums even as their schools and other basic infrastructure are in bad shape. Though Bon Jovi and others who wish to buy the Bills are going through the ritual of promising to keep them in Buffalo, there will be nothing keeping the singer or anyone else from moving them some other place if they can make more money by doing so.

Though that would be a sad day for the citizens of Buffalo, that is what happens in a market economy and there is nothing illegal about it. But as bad as that would be, allowing Cuomo to raid the treasury in an effort to win favor among Bills fans would be far worse.

As in just about every other instance of new stadium building where the state paid the bill, the losers would be the taxpayers. They would pay a heavy burden in new taxes and fees to pay for a new stadium whose only purpose is to allow the Bills’ ownership to make more money on suites, tickets, concessions and parking. Even in those areas where stadiums played a part in revitalizing a neighborhood—such as Camden Yards in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor—the math doesn’t add up. The citizens won’t get so much as a hot dog out of the transaction while Bon Jovi or whoever it is that winds up getting the Bills will be made immeasurably richer.

What Cuomo is proposing is nothing less than socialism for rich people and the fact that it has been done many times before elsewhere doesn’t make it any more defensible. It is bad enough when states and cities are asked to spend massively to provide new infrastructure to neighborhoods where team owners build stadiums, as was the case with the New York Yankees’ new home that opened in 2009. The Steinbrenner family put up their own cash to erect a new home for their team but it did so with the help of the state and city, which together paid for a new train station and other expensive structures. But in many other instances, such as the two baseball and two football stadiums build in Pennsylvania a decade ago, the owners of the Phillies, Pirates, Eagles, and Steelers got more or less a free ride from the Commonwealth.

Real economic development in New York would require Cuomo to ignore the Luddite environmentalist left wing of his party and approve fracking. Instead, the embattled liberal prefers a scheme that won’t offend his party base even if it will do little or nothing to help Western New York survive the Obama recovery.

This ought not to be allowed to happen again anywhere, but especially not in a state as hard up as the one misgoverned by Cuomo. Bribing voters with their own money is a basic form of corruption that is as old as the hills. But the expiration date on this particular sort of scam should have been reached a long time ago. While we may hope that the Bills stay in Buffalo, that shouldn’t be accomplished on the backs of New York taxpayers, most of which couldn’t care less about the NFL team.

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Cultural BDS and the Tricycle Theater

The boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement (BDS) has several branches. There’s the traditional commercial boycott, in which activists refuse to buy Israeli products (usually food) that they don’t need or really want, instead of, say, lifesaving medical equipment. There is the academic boycott, which enables anti-Israel fanatics to wall themselves off from intellectual diversity even more, ensuring their towering ignorance of world affairs survives unadulterated by stray molecules of logic and reason.

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The boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement (BDS) has several branches. There’s the traditional commercial boycott, in which activists refuse to buy Israeli products (usually food) that they don’t need or really want, instead of, say, lifesaving medical equipment. There is the academic boycott, which enables anti-Israel fanatics to wall themselves off from intellectual diversity even more, ensuring their towering ignorance of world affairs survives unadulterated by stray molecules of logic and reason.

There is “Zionist BDS,” which holds that BDS is OK as long as you draw an arbitrary line to geographically separate the good Jews from the bad. And there is the cultural boycott, which is similar to the academic boycott but also commits the BDSer to a life of oafish groupthink in his enjoyment of entertainment and the arts. All have their own odious, hateful qualities. But there’s something about cultural BDS that really brings out the worst in the critics of the Jewish people. And the latest piece of evidence for that was brought to light last week when London’s Tricycle Theater said it wouldn’t host this year’s UK Jewish Film Festival.

Reaction has been fairly heated, and the Guardian has a response from the Jewish Film Festival’s chairman:

The Tricycle Theatres decision to give the UKJFF an ultimatum over a £1,400 grant it receives from the Israeli embassy has stirred debate around the UK and among film-makers after the theatre’s artistic director, Indhu Rubasingham, asked organisers to forgo the money and use of the embassy logo on publicity material for the festival – due to take place in part at the Tricycle in November, as it has for seven years – so they could not be perceived as taking sides in an “emotional, passionate situation”. She later accused the film festival of politicising the dispute.

“It’s a matter of principle that we should not be told who we should take funding from. Every state gives cultural grants,” said [Stephen] Margolis, who dismissed Rubasingham’s offer to find alternative funding as a “publicity stunt”. “It was never about the money, it’s about the whole attitude towards the festival from the start,” he said. The dispute arose amid international protests over the Gaza conflict. There have been reports from Jewish organisations of rising levels of incidents of antisemitism. Demonstrators outside the Tricycle on Thursday evening, and on a Facebook protest page, have accused the Tricycle of feeding that rise.

Margolis makes the classic mistake of injecting logic into the debate:

“This has all taken on a life of its own,” said Margolis. “People have been offended and outraged by the Tricycle’s approach. Why do they feel they have the moral high ground? Everybody deplores what is going on in Gaza. They are a cinema for hire and we are often more criticised for showing leftwing films which are anti-Israeli government policy than the opposite. We’re known for a wide range of content, reflecting all sides. It was pointed out that one of our opening films was going to be a Palestinian story, and we had a Palestinian actor coming to attend the screening. The Israeli embassy itself has never made any comment about festival content and I’m sure there are some films they don’t like.”

If Rubasingham were making a rational decision, this might have real force. But the theater’s artistic director isn’t making a political argument about Israeli policy, and therefore the fact that the film festival would have a diverse array of views, including criticism of Israeli policy, has nothing to do with it.

The theater is merely stigmatizing and penalizing Britain’s Jews for the actions of the Israeli government. Unlike the Orwellian and deeply creepy “Zionist BDS,” the Tricycle Theater is not interested in dividing Jews between good and bad. If a Jew somewhere does something of which Rubasingham disapproves, Rubasingham holds all accountable or forces them to denounce and cut ties with their brethren. Communal guilt with a splash of Stalinist paranoia is, unfortunately, par for the course for BDSers.

There’s a larger point here, however. Art and popular culture happen to be particularly poisonous avenues to politicize precisely because they are so good at bridging gaps. The fact that political opponents watch the same films and read the same books, more or less, injects a dose of compassion and empathy into even the most contentious of issues.

But art is also easily politicized, and it can be far more dispiriting when art fails to bridge gaps than when politicians fail. (Sayed Kashua’s announcement that he’s leaving Israel permanently comes to mind.) Art failing is one thing, however. Art being forced to fail by theater directors looking for an excuse to ostracize the Jews of Britain is quite another. Margolis, the Jewish festival chairman, is stunned to find that the film festival’s diversity of opinion doesn’t save it from Rubasingham’s discrimination. But actually, that diversity is probably a major source of her disapproval.

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Did Hamas Win? Not Exactly.

In today’s New York Times, Yediot Aharonot military analyst Ronen Bergman has some sobering conclusions about the fighting in Gaza. While he agrees that in an objective sense, Hamas was defeated on the battlefield by the Israel Defense Forces, it must be acknowledged that the terrorist group exposed some of the army’s deficiencies and may well have established itself as “an equal party in the Israeli-Palestinian dispute.”

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In today’s New York Times, Yediot Aharonot military analyst Ronen Bergman has some sobering conclusions about the fighting in Gaza. While he agrees that in an objective sense, Hamas was defeated on the battlefield by the Israel Defense Forces, it must be acknowledged that the terrorist group exposed some of the army’s deficiencies and may well have established itself as “an equal party in the Israeli-Palestinian dispute.”

For those who have acted as if Hamas is the victor in the fighting because it forced Israel to counter-attack and thus created havoc in Gaza, our John Podhoretz’s opinion on this issue published last week in the New York Post still holds. Hamas didn’t win. It lost much of its arsenal and saw its carefully built network of border tunnels destroyed before they could be used to pull off a massive terrorist atrocity. And for all the talk about Israel losing in the court of public opinion, it’s not clear that the latest war changed a thing in that battle. Due in no small measure to the rising tide of anti-Semitism, hatred for Israel is greater than ever. But support for the Jewish state here in the United States remains high.

And yet, as the always insightful Bergman notes, the IDF has plenty of lessons to learn from the last month. Iron Dome proved to be one of the greatest technological advances in recent military history as it effectively negated Hamas’s vast arsenal of long- and medium-range rockets (something that was very bad news indeed for Hezbollah which now realizes that their rocket threat on Israel’s northern border is now also officially useless). But along with the high-tech victory, there were also obvious intelligence failures. The Israelis underestimated the size of Hamas’s arsenal as well as the fighting ability of its cadres in Gaza. Nor was the army ready for the size or the scope of the tunnel threat once the fighting started. It will have to invest heavily in efforts to detect tunnel building or face a rerun of that episode in the future. Bergman also notes correctly that Israel’s special forces proved unable or unwilling to pull off any major operations that might have either inflicted great damage on Hamas or deal a devastating blow to the Islamists’ morale.

Does that all add up to a situation in which the war ends pretty much the way it started but “with significant damage to Israel’s deterrence,” as Bergman summed it up?

The hope within Israel’s Defense Ministry is that the devastating damage done to Hamas’s infrastructure will mean that it will be years before the terrorists think about starting another round. But considering that with Hamas seemingly determined to keep the rockets flying until it gets want it wants in negotiations, it is far from certain that this war is really over. Hamas is hoping to keep up a war of attrition and that is the sort of conflict that is hard for any democracy, even one, like Israel, that understands it is locked in a battle for the survival of their homeland, to win.

Moreover, Bergman’s conclusion about Hamas improving its status in negotiations with Egypt and Israel is inarguable. By surviving this war of choice that it started, Hamas can claim a victory of a sort. No matter how badly its forces are whipped in the field or how pathetic its rocket offensive has become with almost no real damage done to Israel despite thousands of attacks, as long as it is still standing when the shooting stops, it hasn’t entirely lost.

Nor does the talk about replacing Hamas with the supposedly more moderate and utterly irrelevant Palestinian Authority—at least at the border crossings—amount to much. Anyone who expects the humanitarian aid—including the concrete for rebuilding Gaza—that will inevitably flow into the strip to be kept out of Hamas’s hands is dreaming. Hamas isn’t giving up power voluntarily and there is no sign that it can be overthrown.

What Bergman’s conclusions do mean is that, as John noted last week, Israel’s only option in this conflict is to stay strong and prepare as best it can for the inevitable next round of a long war. Contrary to President Obama and others who want to save the Jewish state from itself, that war can’t be ended by territorial withdrawals on the West Bank that would create a larger and more dangerous version of Gaza.

Israel has good reason to be proud of its army after the last month. But no one should assume that their victories mean that the threat from Hamas has really been diminished. No one wants to give the murderers and war criminals of Hamas any credit but while their organization remains in charge in Gaza, they haven’t really been defeated. If Israel wants to change that unpalatable strategic conclusion, it’s going to have to do what it understandably appears unwilling to do: re-occupy Gaza and finish the Islamist terror movement once and for all.

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Is It Over for Maliki?

It is hard to exaggerate the drama or the stakes of the leadership battle now playing out in Baghdad. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is desperately clinging to power, even summoning elite troops to the Green Zone where the government is based. Yet many in his own Dawa party are deserting him. Enough Shiite politicos have turned against Maliki that his own State of Law slate (a larger grouping of Shiite parties which includes Dawa along with others) has nominated another candidate–Haider al-Abadi–as prime minister. Iraq’s president has now asked Abadi to form a government, which he has 30 days to do.

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It is hard to exaggerate the drama or the stakes of the leadership battle now playing out in Baghdad. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is desperately clinging to power, even summoning elite troops to the Green Zone where the government is based. Yet many in his own Dawa party are deserting him. Enough Shiite politicos have turned against Maliki that his own State of Law slate (a larger grouping of Shiite parties which includes Dawa along with others) has nominated another candidate–Haider al-Abadi–as prime minister. Iraq’s president has now asked Abadi to form a government, which he has 30 days to do.

It appears that Maliki’s day may be done. There are rumors that even Iran, which in many ways is the strongest political actor in Iraq, at least on the Shiite side, is willing to see him leave office. If that’s the case then Maliki will find it impossible to mount a coup because the militias and sectarian military units he would need would be unlikely to march without the acquiescence of Iran. If, however, Maliki manages to cling to office somehow despite his rampant unpopularity, Iraq is unlikely to survive and all-out civil war becomes more likely. The Obama administration has been doing the right thing by pressing for Maliki’s departure and by standing behind the right of Iraq’s president to nominate a different prime minister.

Assuming that Maliki can be ushered out of office, this opens up a new opportunity for Iraq–and a new challenge for President Obama.

So far the president has justified his minimalist strategy for Iraq–he only ordered warplanes into action last week when Yazidis were in danger of being massacred–on the grounds that the U.S. does not want to help a sectarian regime dominated by Iran. Fair enough. I think that the U.S. on balance should have been doing more militarily against ISIS in cooperation with the Kurdish pershmerga and Sunni tribes and certain units of the Iraqi Security Forces. But Obama’s stance is understandable and perhaps justifiable.

What, however, will the president do if we no longer have Maliki to kick around? That will be the moment of truth. Will we stick to a minimalist containment strategy designed to prevent ISIS from taking Erbil and murdering the Yazidis? Or will we implement a much more ambitious strategy to enable the defeat of ISIS?

I believe the U.S. must opt for the latter option. We cannot tolerate the indefinite existence of a terrorist state like the Islamic State stretching across the borders of Iraq and Syria. But to defeat ISIS would require a much more substantial commitment–of advisers, Special Operations Forces, and aircraft–than Obama has hitherto been willing to make. Will Obama finally own up to the challenge of fighting ISIS and commit the commensurate resources for the task–or will he persist with the minimalist, nibbling-around-the-edges approach that he inaugurated last week?

That is the dilemma he will no longer be able to avoid if and when Maliki is gone from the scene.

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If the Yazidis Were Mainstream Muslims, Would the West Still Save Them?

The decision to strike ISIS in Iraq and airlift supplies to save the besieged Yazidis from their Islamist pursuers is the right thing to do. Never was a genocide so easily prevented, and the United States has an obvious stake not just in Iraq’s future and the (relative) stability of the region but in containing, wherever possible, the spread of ISIS terrorism and tyranny. And yet, there is something disquieting in the self-satisfaction and backslapping pride the West is taking in this supposedly most moral of doctrines.

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The decision to strike ISIS in Iraq and airlift supplies to save the besieged Yazidis from their Islamist pursuers is the right thing to do. Never was a genocide so easily prevented, and the United States has an obvious stake not just in Iraq’s future and the (relative) stability of the region but in containing, wherever possible, the spread of ISIS terrorism and tyranny. And yet, there is something disquieting in the self-satisfaction and backslapping pride the West is taking in this supposedly most moral of doctrines.

The support for saving the Yazidis has brought the realist right and the humanitarian-interventionist left to join traditional interventionists in a broad call for action. It’s a heartening coalition, and it’s always encouraging to see what’s left of American realists assert the primacy of moral action, just as it is encouraging to see the remaining interventionist Democrats free themselves from the angry gaze of the antiwar left long enough to take a stand. Nonetheless, the rhetoric coming from some of these quarters, while meant well, does not reflect nearly as well on the Western conscience as it appears.

The Yazidis fit certain qualifications, according to this coalition of the willing. Foremost among them is that they are a persecuted community on the verge of being the victims of genocide. They are an ethnoreligious minority sect in Iraq (and elsewhere) whose theology has traces of Islamic and other influences, often mentioned alongside Zoroastrianism.

But what if they weren’t? What if they were mainstream Muslims indistinguishable from those around them, being persecuted because of a political rivalry gone violent? I think the answer is: the West wouldn’t lift a finger to save them. And this is not something to be proud of. Noninterventionists who support helping the Yazidis are certainly in the right here. But they also seem eager to check a box–to have something on their resume to dispute their characterization as heartless or borderline isolationist.

“I’ve said before, the United States cannot and should not intervene every time there’s a crisis in the world,” President Obama said when announcing the airstrikes. Fair enough, and he described the plight of the Yazidis:

In recent days, Yezidi women, men and children from the area of Sinjar have fled for their lives.  And thousands — perhaps tens of thousands — are now hiding high up on the mountain, with little but the clothes on their backs.  They’re without food, they’re without water.  People are starving.  And children are dying of thirst.  Meanwhile, ISIL forces below have called for the systematic destruction of the entire Yezidi people, which would constitute genocide.  So these innocent families are faced with a horrible choice:  descend the mountain and be slaughtered, or stay and slowly die of thirst and hunger.

Good for the president for going back to Iraq when the situation called for it, and certainly preventing genocide is an admirable, if obvious, red line. But the Yazidis are neither the first nor the last Iraqi minority to find itself in the ISIS crosshairs. “Most analysts agree there’s not a religious or ethnic minority in northern Iraq — Shabaks, Turkmens, Yazidis, Christians — that isn’t in danger,” the Washington Post reported last week. After the establishment of a self-styled ISIS caliphate, the Post went on, “one day in mid-July, Christian homes were marked.” While the Christians were being erased, “militants were hunting Shiite Turkmens, who speak a language that derives from Turkish and, according to Islamic State dogma, are apostates.” And on and on.

There’s another argument being deployed that I’m not particularly fond of. In an otherwise eloquent and forceful column, Ross Douthat writes that the case for action has three elements: “a distinctive obligation, a distinctive (and thus potentially more expansive) evil,” and “a clear strategic plan”:

But in this case, such a plan is visible. We do not need to re-invade or restabilize Iraq to deal ISIS a blow and help its victims, because Kurdistan is already relatively stable, and the line of conflict is relatively clear. And the Kurds themselves, crucially, are a known quantity with a longstanding relationship to the United States — something that wasn’t on offer in Libya or Syria.

Yes, we know who the good guys are and who the bad guys are. Except the same good guys–the Kurds–and the same bad guys–ISIS–are in Syria too. The borders in this conflict have become essentially meaningless. There are enclaves we’d like to protect, minorities in the line of fire, and savage terrorists all throughout the region.

What’s the message to other groups, especially Sunni or Shiite Muslims, staring into the barrel of a gun? You’re not on the edge of extinction? You’re not being killed with certain kinds of chemical weapons, only other kinds of chemical weapons that aren’t on a random list, plus conventional weapons? You look or sound too much like the other guys for us to figure out who’s who?

We should save the Yazidis. But we should do so because it’s the right call, not because they look and sound distinctive enough for us to tell the difference between them and their enemies.

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The Return of Senator Hillary

If there were any doubt that Hillary Clinton is preparing for another presidential run, it was erased by her interview with Jeffrey Goldberg in the Atlantic. In it we saw not only the inevitable pre-2016 distancing from President Obama but a return, at least as far as foreign policy is concerned, of the centrist stances that were articulated by Senator Hillary Clinton prior to her becoming secretary of state. While welcome, the phrase caveat emptor should be stamped all over the piece.

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If there were any doubt that Hillary Clinton is preparing for another presidential run, it was erased by her interview with Jeffrey Goldberg in the Atlantic. In it we saw not only the inevitable pre-2016 distancing from President Obama but a return, at least as far as foreign policy is concerned, of the centrist stances that were articulated by Senator Hillary Clinton prior to her becoming secretary of state. While welcome, the phrase caveat emptor should be stamped all over the piece.

Let’s specify that the analyses of world problems and policy choices that Clinton articulates in this interview are almost uniformly sensible and are informed by a sensibility that under Obama, the U.S. appears to be withdrawing from the world stage. The contrast with President Obama’s recent defense of his foreign policy in a New York Times interview with Thomas Friedman that I discussed yesterday couldn’t be clearer. While attempting to pose as the advocate of a position that is balanced between what she calls the too bellicose policies of George W. Bush and Obama’s retreat, there is a distinctly neo-conservative spirit to Clinton’s remarks in which an American freedom agenda comparable to the U.S.’s Cold War strategy is needed.

Clinton rightly notes that the West’s failure to act in Syria early in the civil war that broke out there three years ago is the root cause of the current catastrophe in Iraq. While the president claims nothing the U.S. could have done in 2011 would have made a difference in Syria, Clinton rightly believes that the administration’s failure to sufficiently back the moderates who started the revolt against Bashar Assad not only ensured the dictator’s survival but also set in motion the chain of events that led to the rise of ISIS and the potential collapse of Iraq.

The former first lady also made it clear that the direction of administration policy on the Iran nuclear negotiations was wrong:

“I’ve always been in the camp that held that they did not have a right to enrichment,” Clinton said. “Contrary to their claim, there is no such thing as a right to enrich. This is absolutely unfounded. There is no such right. I am well aware that I am not at the negotiating table anymore, but I think it’s important to send a signal to everybody who is there that there cannot be a deal unless there is a clear set of restrictions on Iran.

Again, this is a direct rebuke of the decision of her successor John Kerry’s policies. Kerry tacitly recognized an Iranian right to enrichment in the weak interim deal signed with Tehran last November. She also seemed to be staking out a position in opposition to the administration’s likely acceptance of a deal that would leave Iran’s nuclear infrastructure intact while dismantling the international sanctions that she labored to put in place.

On the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Clinton sounded more like a candidate for a New York Senate seat than one seeking the nomination of the party whose supporters are, polls show, less supportive of Israel than the Republicans. Clinton not only took direct aim at some of Israel’s administration critics of its military tactics in Gaza but she more or less endorsed the Netanyahu government’s inclination to avoid any further territorial withdrawals on the West Bank—such as those advocated by President Obama—in the absence of credible security guarantees that are obviously not forthcoming. She also rightly noted the role that anti-Semitism plays in the protests against Israel’s efforts to defend itself against Hamas terrorism.

Even more telling is that Clinton seemed to be saying that the basic underpinning of Obama’s approach to foreign affairs is basically clueless:

She finds his approach to foreign policy overly cautious, and she made the case that America needs a leader who believes that the country, despite its various missteps, is an indispensable force for good. At one point, I mentioned the slogan President Obama recently coined to describe his foreign-policy doctrine: “Don’t do stupid shit” (an expression often rendered as “Don’t do stupid stuff” in less-than-private encounters).

This is what Clinton said about Obama’s slogan: “Great nations need organizing principles, and ‘Don’t do stupid stuff’ is not an organizing principle.”

She’s completely right about that, but what do we make of this decision by Clinton to draw a sharp distinction between her approach and those of the president she served for four years?

On the one hand, Clinton’s willingness to criticize Obama, especially on Syria, Israel, and Iran, is most welcome. At a time when the president’s feckless foreign policy is spreading chaos, it is high time that some one in the Democratic Party noted his failures and proposed something different.

But what Clinton doesn’t tell us is why we should take her current common sense seriously when her record as secretary of state showed that she was just as culpable for Obama’s bad record on foreign policy as the president. These are, after all, very similar to the positions she articulated in 2008 when she first ran for president and before that when she was a senator from New York.

While Clinton claims in her latest memoir to have been the voice of reason on Syria within administration counsels, there’s no evidence that she was successful or that she influenced Obama on Israel or Iran. Indeed, she played the point person at times in the president’s efforts to undermine and pressure Netanyahu. The insincerity of her latest switch (she embraced Suha Arafat while first lady and then sounded like a Likudnik while running for the Senate) is so brazen that it is almost shocking.

Even more to the point, her about face on the administration shows that the most important line on her resume is somewhat misleading. While her supporters claim she was a great secretary of state, the reality is that she was a doormat at Foggy Bottom who had little or no influence on policy except on issues like Russia, where she also failed (such as the “reset”).

As far as 2016 is concerned, what is significant about these remarks is that they seem to reflect a belief that she has truly cleared the field of potential challengers. Her foreign-policy centrism is bound to be unpopular with the liberal Democratic base and might make her vulnerable if she had a viable primary opponent. But in the absence of a new Barack Obama or even someone who would only give her a good scare, Clinton seems to think that she can start her general-election campaign more than two years before facing the voters. That gives her a tremendous advantage, especially given the divisions among Republicans on foreign policy.

But as much as this interview signals her confidence, it is also a warning sign that Clinton may not have as easy a time rallying her base as she thinks. Though she may not get a primary opponent, her decision to give the back of her hand to Obama and the left-wing core of her party may yet backfire in the form of a less enthusiastic liberal base that could come back to haunt her when it is time for them to turn out to elect her president.

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